Calm mum wannabe

I'm just a calm mum wannabe, muddling on through from tantrum to tantrum, one big deep breath at a time. Ommmm....

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The great Spanish "puente"

Have you heard of the great Spanish invention, the "puente"? Unlike bank holidays in the UK, which are usually moved to the nearest Monday, here in Spain holidays fall when they fall and if it's a weekend then bad luck, but if it's a Tuesday you can take the Monday off work and make a nice "bridge" (puente) between the weekend and the holiday. Well, Tuesday and Thursday were holidays last week, so we had ourselves a big ole mama aqueduct.

We decided to go away with my sister-in-law and her family to the Picos de Europa, the mountains of Cantabria, one of Spain's hidden treasures. We stayed in a cottage in the picturesque village of Tudes. It's a working village -the cows and sheep are herded right past your window daily, and chickens roam freely through the streets.

You can walk out of the cottage and straight up the mountain path with spectacular views all around you in every direction. You'd never think you were in Spain -it's just like Switzerland, with cows grazing in the lush green hills and craggy snow-topped peaks in the background. My Swiss-loving friends are going to lynch me now, because my photos really don't do it justice...

We walked to an abandoned village, not far from Tudes. Here's a picture of the tiny church. Of course we had to give the bell a ring.

My youngest and I ended up lagging behind the others. Not-quite-three-year-old legs don't walk so fast, you see. We took our time getting home and had a photo shoot along the way. I took a few pictures of him...

And he took a very fetching one of me!

It was a fantastic trip. I've not disconnected so well in ages. And the best thing about the December puente is that it comes just as the festive season begins, so it's like a pre-Christmas-holiday holiday. Man, I love Spain!

Friday, 2 December 2011

Longest time-out ever

For a while, things were relatively easy around here. I even started to think I might need a change of blog theme. And that's of course when it hits you -bam! And you're back on the slippery slope down to the deepest depths of feral toddler (and mummy) behaviour. In short, there have been far too many time-outs and shouty moments in our household of late. And this is the story of my youngest son's longest time-out ever.

Rewind a few days, we are at my in-laws' house for the weekend. I am in the bedroom and the sounds of a bit of a "ruckus" come floating up from the kitchen. The next thing I hear is Alejandro marching our youngest son up the stairs and shutting him in the bedroom opposite for a time-out. (I don't like time-outs, but they do help all parties calm down and get some thinking time...)

The only problem is that there is a lock on the inside of the bedroom door. And yes, you guessed it -my curious not quite 3 year old gives it a try. So when we go to get him out, we can't. My mother-in-law goes into panic mode and my 4 year old bursts into tears, crying hysterically as if he's seen his little brother get abducted by aliens or worse. "Mi hermano! My brother!!" he wails over and over again, changing languages depending on who is nearby to listen.

On the other side of the door, my youngest son remains pretty unfazed by all of this. He lies down on the floor by the door and plays "I can see you!" for a while. I try to talk him through the "this is how you unlock the door" process, but although he seems to be giving it a go, his little fingers can't quite manage to turn it back.

Meanwhile, out in the garden, my parents-in-law and my partner get a long ladder and prop it up against the balcony of the bedroom. My mother-in-law climbs up the ladder and over the railings onto the balcony, but the bedroom window and door to the balcony are firmly shut. Dang.

Alejandro and his dad come inside with a whole array of scary-looking tools that they're intending to open the door with -there's a giant crow bar, a radial saw, screwdrivers and a heavy hammer. They remove the doorhandle, dismantle the doorframe, and make small cuts in the wood, but it's a sturdy oak door and it ain't budging. An alarming smell of burning pervades after the use of the radial saw, bringing with it a cloud of thick smoke and a fresh round of hysterics from my eldest son. And I'm starting to panic now as well.

My mother-in-law is keeping my youngest entertained through the window, by telling stories and drawing smiley faces in the condensation on the glass. It's foggy and wintery out there on the balcony and she hasn't got a coat.

My attention is divided between calming my eldest son's fears ("We're never going to go home to Madrid"!?!) and liaising between the break-the-door-down team and my mother-in-law out on the balcony, making sure my youngest son (who I can't see, but she can) is far away from any demolition activity (which I can see, but she can't).

It takes well over an hour for my partner and his dad to get into the room. Those doors are made of solid oak. They are beautiful doors that have been there as long as the house my father-in-law built when my partner was a boy. Well, they were beautiful. Now, Alejandro's old bedroom door looks like this...

(And that's my first photo insertion. Woo hoo! Going all high tech here...)

Oh well. At least it was only the door that got hurt. In the end it was a simple hammer-a-hole-through job that did the trick.

My son was happily crayoning away at the table when the rescue mission finally met with success. He couldn't work out what all the fuss was about.

Needless to say, we'll be choosing our time-out locations more carefully next time...

Sunday, 20 November 2011

A trip to a previous life (or "my meandering career")

I had a glimpse of my previous life last week. Ten years ago, when I first came to Madrid, I was working for a big company in business development. I knew all the ridiculous business management buzz words and could play bullsh*t bingo with the best of them. The job was all I'd thought I wanted international travel, British Airways gold card, posh hotels, corporate credit card, you name it... All the trappings of the corporate life. But there was something missing. It wasn't really me.

Well, I had my big escape plan in place so I could put up with the fish-out-of-water feeling because I knew it was only temporary. I aimed to stay in Madrid for a couple of years to improve my Spanish, then do postgraduate studies in Hispanic literature (my first love), go back to the UK and teach at a university if possible or college/school otherwise.

Ha! Life got in the way of that plan, just a tad... I never made it home and I never taught Spanish lit, but I did begin to spend my days doing what I love –all things language-related. 

I started off on track with my plan, doing postgrad studies at Salamanca University. If you've never been to Salamanca, put it on your things-to-do-before-I-die list. The whole city is steeped in history and culture. Many of the great names in Spanish philosophy and literature studied and/or worked there. History seeps through the metre-thick walls of the ancient buildings. Plus it's simply stunning. The beauty of the baroque façades sends your heart leaping into your mouth at every corner you turn. There’s theatre in the streets, poetry readings and conferences with visiting writers. It's a book lover’s heaven and literature comes alive there.

After my student days (re-visited again, but that's another story!) I taught at a university in the south of Spain, so I can tick that off my life plan too. I worked in the English department, not the Spanish one, but it was a great experience. I was only there for a couple of years, and although I enjoyed the job, it was long enough for me to realize that a career in higher education wasn't for me either. (Narrowing it down here, we'll get there eventually!)

During that time I fell pregnant with my first son, and I found out that my teaching contract at the uni was disguised as a scholarship, (a money-saving tactic that is common in Spanish universities) so I had to become a freelancer to pay my own social security to be covered for routine check-ups in the (normally universal) Spanish health system. It was annoying at the time, but it's worked out wonderfully and I've not looked back. That was five years ago and I've been working as a freelancer ever since –translating and proofreading and, more recently, writing English-teaching materials for companies here in Madrid.

Lengthy background history there, I really must get better at summarizing… Now let’s skip to last week when I stood in for my friend, Sarah, as a trainer on a HR course in English for a big financial corporation here in Spain. It wasn’t exactly on my life plan but, since the opportunity popped up, I thought it would be interesting to bring my two areas of experience (business and languages) together.

So, it’s 6.40am on Thursday morning and, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I climb into the taxi to go to the company’s offices in the business district of downtown Madrid where the company bus will take us to their posh new “learning campus” in the outskirts. It feels like the olden days when I’d catch taxis like it was going out of fashion.

I arrive at the offices half an hour early due to the unpredictability of Madrid traffic and because I’m borderline obsessive-compulsive. I take a walk around the area I used to know so well. Memories come flooding back as I pass the Corte Inglés, the detested department store where I had many a nightmare shopping trip ten years ago, buying mobile phones, printers, etc. to set up the business development office for our three man team -my boss, a colleague and myself. (No procurement department here, so the honour fell to yours truly. And by the way, I really hate shopping!) I walk on, glad that chapter of my life is closed, and find a café around the corner where I have a coffee to kill some time and get my head around what I’m about to do. 

7.30am soon comes around and I get on the corporate bus. I am like an excited school kid, craning my neck as we go past many of my old haunts. There’s “Sí Señor”, the Mexican restaurant on the Paseo de la Castellana, where my colleagues and I downed many a slushy margarita in years gone by. We go right past the Real Madrid stadium and my old apartment just opposite, where I used to hang off the balcony soaking up the pre- and post-match excitement (and hoping for a glimpse of the lovely Zinedine Zidane or perhaps señor Beckham).

In my enthusiasm for revisiting my old life, I almost forget my nerves about the course I’m about to give. I’ve come straight out of Mumsville and I’m about to stand out there in front of a room full of business folk, all experts in their field. The expression “deer in the headlights” springs to mind.

It's OK, folks. I survived. Despite the knots in my stomach, the two day course went quite well. I was amused to see that, whilst the business concepts are pretty much the same as ten years ago, there are a few new management buzz words that have since appeared. Some genius has come up with the terms “onboarding” and “blended learning” since I was last in that world. Snigger snigger.

It was fun to get a glimpse of my previous life and (whilst I’m not about to nick off with my friend’s job) it’s heartening to see there’s well-paid work out there in my field. It’s tempting: the work has the potential to pay more in a couple of days than I earned in a month at the uni for what is essentially the same job, just with a few more important-sounding meaningless phrases thrown in. All I’d have to do is put on smart clothes and be prepared to spout business school speak and convince someone to employ me. Oh yeah, and I’d probably have to polish up my bullsh*t bingo skills.

Will I go down that route? I doubt it, but time will tell, I guess. I have to admit, I rather like my cushty job working from home, where my only commute in the mornings (after school and playgroup drop-offs) is from the kettle in the kitchen to my laptop in the lounge. I feel very fortunate to have been able to dip into my previous life and to go back to the freedom of working in jogpants or even pyjamas if it takes my fancy.

But can I just say hats off to all the women out there who are juggling “proper jobs” outside the home and mum duties. It just about finished me off last week. They really are two different worlds. And what a logistical operation it was to get everything in place so that my kids were fed, looked after, dropped off and picked up at all the right times. Huge thanks to Ursula yet again and Alejandro, for doing all the ferrying around, meal duties and handovers. Thanks also to Sarah, for giving me a helping hand back into the corporate world. You guys rock.

Friday, 21 October 2011

My first triathlon

Yes, that's right folks. Om in Mom is a triathlete. Well, of sorts, anyway. It was a very mini one (300m swim, 8km bike, 2-3km run nice bit of Spanish precision there, nobody seemed to know what distance the run was, but it certainly felt looong to me!). And no, you didn't miss the post about all the training I was doing. That would be because I trained the Wing-It-Weezy way. Oh well. It should make it easier to improve on my time next year. Because I definitely will be there again next year. I'm still on a high. It was such a fantastic day.

So, it's race day at siesta time and I haul my bike onto the train, find myself a seat and sit down to prepare myself for the afternoon's race. It is time to chill out after spending the morning baking muffins, buying running shoes (I kid you not) and sorting out childcare arrangements for a meeting I have in Madrid next week (big thank you to Ursula for covering the nursery-nanny gap).

I get off the train in central Madrid and ride my bike across a bridge over the river to the Casa de Campo park, where the triathlon is to be held. It feels wonderful to cycle along the shady avenues of downtown Madrid. I'd like to do this more often, I think to myself, as I take in the sights royal palace, cathedral, cable cars, etc.

The event site in Casa de Campo has a festival atmosphere, except that instead of beer and live music the stalls have officials who check your ID card and give you a brown envelope with your swimming hat, running/biking number and a few freebies thrown in. I am all fingers and thumbs as I attempt to thread my number onto the elastic I bought for the occasion. I didn't realize that it was supposed to be thick elastic so the number won't flop about too much. Oh well. Spot the newbie.

Nerves are high before the race. I'm relieved to find my friend Stacey, who seems calm and prepared in comparison to my flustering. Our other friend Meredith arrived earlier and promptly got a puncture, so she is making a mad dash home to swap it for her husband's tyre, none of us having a repair kit to hand. The girl starting next to me has forgotten her helmet, and her boyfriend is rushing back home to pick it up for her. These are hairy moments, all adding to the nerves, but when the final call comes over the loud speakers both Meredith and my race companion slip into place just in time. Phew! They will get to participate after all.

We walk across a blue carpeted area to the lake where the swim will be. It's marked out by four gigantic orange buoys. I wonder to myself why they need to be so huge –surely normal-sized buoys would do the job? The race starts in three stages, at one minute intervals. We are the pink hats the last ones to start. I wish I'd paid attention to the orange hats' start a minute ago. I am waiting for some Spanish version of "On your marks... Get set... Go!" But no. They cut straight to the klaxon guess that was the "go" part. That'd be Om in Mom still standing on the blocks then...

I dive off the blocks into the lake, mere miliseconds after my companions. The water is cold, but there's not really time to think about that. There are swimmers thrashing about all over the place, and I've got to remember to keep the buoys on my left at all times. Now I know why they are so huge it's virtually impossible to see where you're supposed to be going. This ain't no straight laned swimming pool. My goggles fill up with greenish water and I swallow a mouthful too. It tastes of weeds. I make a mental note to do the rest of the swim with my mouth shut.

I'm starting to think I should have trained for this. The swim is supposed to be my best of the three sports, and it's only 300m. But it's the longest 300m I've ever swum. I even resort to breaststroke a few times, can't believe I'm being such a granny but it really is quite a struggle. I pull myself out of the water at the end and run with leaden legs to the transition area.

OK, bike next. This is definitely my worst leg, but at least there's no more lakewater to swallow. I pull my helmet on first, chuck on socks, trainers and my floppy elastic number, grab my bike and off I go. If I hadn't seen my partner take the kid seat off my bike a few hours ago, I'd swear there's a giant toddler (or perhaps a sumo wrestler) on the back as I huff and puff my way up the first hill. I marvel at how many women are overtaking me. It's like I'm going in slow motion backwards.

I spend the whole of the bike section surreally watching myself get further and further towards the back of the race. There's just one woman who seems to be as slow as me. She's faster going up the hills, but I am reckless on the downhill bits and keep catching back up with her.

As we pull into the transition area once more, I hear a little voice shout "Mummy!" and I spot my boys waving to me from the sidelines. Yay! They made it! This cheers me up no end (although I seem to be fighting back the tears hold it together woman, not a good time to get emotional). I make a huge effort to look like I've got loads of energy left as I whizz past them, all smiles and waves.

In the transition area I jump off my bike, hook it on the stand, change my bike helmet for a baseball cap and turn my race number around to my front for the run, as per triathlon regulations. I start my run and I swear I've never felt less like running in my life. I wonder if I'm going to have to walk some of the way. Not now though, because I'm passing my boys again. Keep going Om in Mom, it's only 2-3km! (Never mind that the only running I've done in the last five years is when I've been late for the bus, the train or my goddaughter's christening...)

It turns out that the running course is a linear route along a road: 1-1.5km out, 1-1.5km back. It's horribly disheartening to see the elite triathletes coming into the finish when you're only just starting out. Maybe I'm a defeatist, but I find this really hard mentally, until I see Meredith ahead of me on her way back just past the halfway mark. This helps me to keep going and soon enough it's me who's on the home stretch shouting some "whoop whoop, nearly half way!" type comment to Stacey, who's not far behind.

The run gets easier towards the end. It may even be slightly downhill. As I pass my boys for the last time, I manage to pull out some more fake energy to show them how hardcore their mum is. By some minor miracle I have just enough strength left for a cheeky sprint to the finish line. Woohoo! What a feeling of elation. Meredith greets me with a nice sweaty hug she finished just ahead of me. We turn around to cheer Stacey into the finish line and we're done. All that remains is to take a photo for posterity Facebook and drink a free can of Aquarius. Marvellous.

And that was my first triathlon experience. Almost no training whatsoever, brand new running shoes, bought the same day, and I don't know what other triathlon preparation rules may have been broken along the way. Thankfully I lived to tell the tale, with no blisters or injuries (but it's not big or clever, you know). What an incredible day though. I will definitely be back for more next year. Who's going to join me? You never know, I might even try training next time...

Monday, 12 September 2011

The end of summer

"Bye bye pool!" we find ourselves saying today, as the men begin to put the fence up around our swimming pool and pull on the blue tarpaulin. It's a sad moment that folks in southern Spain don't experience. In Murcia, where we used to live, you could swim all year round. (Theoretically anyway. After living there for a year, we went native and declared it way too chilly to swim in winter).

Anyway, I digress. What rhymes with "bye bye pool"?

"Hello school" right?

You'd think. But no. My 4 year old, who's been fit as a fiddle all summer, suddenly developed tonsils the size of golf balls and a fever last night. So we've been hanging out at home today, just the three of us, on what was supposed to be my eldest's first day back at school. Sometimes I have to wonder about his timing.

Oh well. Time to reflect on summer's end. I love the unhurriedness of long summer days. I love the creativity it seems to induce in children that are left alone to just be. I love the crazy things my boys have been up to with their cousins, both here and in the UK - running around barefoot, building a house for a slug (named Jeff), constructing dens and tents, catching frogs, and chasing lizards and butterflies and footballs... Happy days.

But September brings with it a new beginning and a feeling of excitement too. I remember going to bed with anticipation the night before the first day back at school, looking forward to seeing my friends again, wondering which teachers I'd have and being uncoolly excited by blank exercise books and new pencils.

I'm not sure my 4 year old feels the same way. But anyway, who's complaining that our summer holidays just got extended by a day or two?

Um... Me.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Where I'm from

I'm from clean sheets on Wednesdays, squirrels chasing across green lawns, from page-a-day diaries and green Fairy soap bars.

I am from tinkering sounds on the piano, singing and clapping in the kitchen, cake smells wafting and chlorine smells lingering.

I am from the sunflower, the daffodil and the forget-me-not.

I'm from first in last out, finish what's on your plate and give up your bed for visitors.

I am from midnight vigils with stinky incense that gets up your nose, from we-are-all-sinners and confess to the robed man in the darkened box. And little girls can tell lies.

I am from the dancer from Wales and the musician from Stratford. I am from the plane crash survivor and three generations of teachers. And a string of surnames that are no good for an aspiring writer.

I am from the dairy owner who gave free milk to the poor families, from the young Welsh military wife who became a mother in India and lost her husband shortly after on the battlefields of France. I'm from the company director and twice-elected golf club president who wanted "Cheeky Charlie" for his confirmation name as a boy.

I am from now-what-did-I-come-upstairs-for and I'll-just-double-check-that-to-be-sure. I'm from the list maker and the accounts keeper, although you'd never know it. From stiff upper lip on one side and effusive displays of affection on the other. And from massive generosity and daft jokes on both sides.

I am from many journeys with a pack on my back in hot sun and in pouring rain. A thousand farewells and reunions; snatched anecdotes and shared sympathies over pints of beer and cups of tea.

I'm from tears on my pillow and happy faces smiling out from photos in frames on walls and on sideboards and in fading albums stacked high on bowing shelves.

I am from here, there and everywhere; far away friendships never forgotten and simple acts of kindness to a stranger passing through. And I'm just trying to find a way to pass it all on somehow.

Inspired by OneZenMom's unmatchably beautiful words, and the Where I'm from creative writing exercise. Why don't you try it?

Friday, 19 August 2011

Ever screwed up?

I could write this post a thousand ways. I could come up with a hundred excuses as to why I went back to the UK for my goddaughter's christening and spent most of the day picking up a fricking hire car... but the bottom line is I screwed up. Big time.

I've always had a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of attitude to trains, planes and er hire cars, but why oh why did I not just pick the darn thing up the day before? Yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

To avoid blathering on unnecessarily about the so-awful-it-was-almost-funny farce of running from church to church in the ____ area of London before finding the right one, I will try and sum up the learning points here:
  1. Don't rely on Google maps or sat nav predictions for getting from A to B, ’specially not in London. Ouch. 
  2. Never fling the only set of directions and addresses you have at your partner in a moment of panic. (We are suddenly going in two cars –my bro’s and his girlfriend’s- as the queue to pick up the hire car is an hour and a half long and we only have just over an hour to get to the christening). If time gets tight (ha!) it may be necessary to by-pass the house and go straight to the church.
  3. Mobile phones can’t be relied on in these situations either.
  4. Don't believe a pensioner when they tell you a church is in walking distance pensioners walk a lot. (I make this mistake three times, foolishly leaving the car behind at church number one – my bro’s girlfriend clearly thinking I am bonkers by church number three, but me insisting, ever the optimist and trusting the pensioners).
  5. Never run in flip-flops. I've buggered my left foot due to this one. (Mind you, the beautiful red high-heels I brought with me from Spain would have been even less appropriate running footwear. They didn't make it out of the suitcase anywaya logistical cock-up due to the last-minute time constraints).
Bet you’re glad you’re getting the condensed version... We finally make it to the right church. This is church number five we skipped number four because we’ve made mobile contact with the other half of the party and we now know where to go. There are still people milling around outside waiting to go in. Phew. Only fashionably late then. But still no hire car. (And we’re going on a family holiday to Wales the next day, stopping over in the Midlands that night.)

The ceremony goes well, except that my eldest spends most of it lying stretched out plank-style on the front row pew. I leave him to it and hope God won't mind too much. At least he is being quiet –for a four year old. My youngest starts playing up immediately the service begins, so my partner scoots outside with him and they spend it eating blackberries from the church garden. (Evidence of which is clearly visible all down my son’s smartest shirt –not that smart anyway, ’cos I forgot to pack posh outfits for the boys...)

After the christening I walk back to the house with Nic (my best mate and my goddaughter’s mum) and we get a chance to chat. Why don’t I click when she tries to convince me to find another solution to the hire car problem? Why do I imagine the after-christening party will just be folks standing around in the garden eating sausages on sticks? Why don’t I get that there will be speeches, toasts and a cake, all of which I’ll miss if I bugger off to get the sodding hire car?  

Anyway, there it is. Off I go with my ever-patient younger brother (who’s been lurking around outside the church in his Sunday best Monster Munch t-shirt in case I need more ferrying around) and I eventually pick up the stoopid rent-a-car. It takes a “mere” three hours, thanks to London traffic and Europcar’s pitiful customer service. So yeah, I messed up monumentally. I ended up missing most of the party back at the house.

My sweet goddaughter didn't seem to mind. I had a quiet play with her on the floor when I sidled in at the end of the afternoon feeling like a giant fool. We didn’t get a photo together –I felt way too sheepish to ask, as if trying to fool posterity into thinking I'd been there the whole time. And now I’m kicking myself for that naïve sincerity –when will we be in our posh frocks again, the two of us? (Actually, I plan to get plenty more use out of mine, but I don't suppose a 9 month old gets much chance to wear her frilly number again).

Much soul-searching and self-flagellating later, I realize the main issue is that I need to slow right down and smell the roses. I have a long-held tendency to overload my plate, both metaphorically and gastronomically. The latter I’m loath to give up but seriously, will I ever learn to stop trying to cram so much into my days? And next time things go belly up, I need to remember to stay calm and not make rash decisions in panic mode.

The main reason I'm writing this is to say a ginormous sorry to Nic, Dan and my beautiful goddaughter and to our mutual friends Sarah and Russ, all of whom I’d been looking forward to spending the day with. And a massive thank you and apologies for all the faffing to my bro and his girlfriend, who taxied my clan and me all around London in two cars at a moment’s notice. Thanks also to my beloved partner, for not completely despairing of me. Ugh.

So, will Wing-It Weeza learn from this fiasco or will I be back in a few months to tell the tale of my next collossal bodge up? I sincerely hope it's the former, but I ain't promising nuffink.

What's that scratching noise? Om in Mom being crossed off people's potential godmother/bridesmaid lists everywhere. Damn.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Special day

One thing you don't realize as a kid is that every time your birthday comes around, your parents remember back to that long night or day however many years ago, when you arrived and their lives changed forever.

It was my eldest's fourth birthday the other week. We decided to forgo all party shenanigans and just have a special day, the four of us. In the morning we gave him his present, all wrapped up except for the underneath part -well how do you wrap a bike anyway?  He spotted the opening straight away and dived underneath. He came out grinning "A bike!" The most original way to open a present yet.

He was so excited with his new wheels, and his little brother was pretty pleased with his hand-me-down balance bike too. They wanted to spend all day zooming around the tennis court. Eventually we managed to persuade them that it would be fun to go to the zoo.

I have mixed feelings about zoos but I put them away for the day and just enjoyed the magic through the eyes of the kids. As he hopped along holding our hands, our eldest looked up at his daddy and me and said "This is a great invention for my birthday!"

The highlight of the day had to be the gorillas. I saw one of them clutching something to her chest. I'm not normally that observant but something compelled me to keep watching. She held the thing we couldn't see close to her and did a sort of pencil roll over towards the window, right next to where we were standing. Her fierce scowl said it all: no messing with mummy gorilla. Eventually the poor tired gorilla loosened her grip and a teeny-tiny black foot emerged, soon followed by the most achingly cute face of a newborn gorilla.

And I was transformed to the day, four years earlier, when I had held my own baby on my chest the same way mama gorilla was holding her baby now. Um yeah, and I must have got something in my eye then. Ahem. We were so privileged to have got a glimpse.

The gorilla carer and the zoo photographer came up behind us to try and get a good look at the zoo's newest member. They told us that the baby gorilla had been born that very day. "Like me!" exclaimed the birthday boy, his eyes shining. And that just about put the lid on our perfect day.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Almost a duck

This post is about how my eldest son was almost a duck in the school play. Almost. He was so close. A baseball cap was transformed into a duck's face, web feet cut out, feather boa in place. Unfortunately, when the big day came around, my would-be duck came home with a temperature of 39ºC, doubled over with tummy pains. So that was it. Duck fame aspirations over. The almost-duck didn't seem remotely bothered to miss the big event, but I've traipsed the shops for the last month or so to find all the necessary items. So, dammit, I'm making him dress up today for a picture. (Will post here if he complies).

(OK, so I cheated... This picture was posted 6 months later, due to a complete refusal on behalf of my eldest to even try on the duck costume! Luckily, my youngest was happy to wear it for Halloween. He didn't think much of the tickly feathers though...)

This duck outfit marks a coming-of-age moment for me. It's the first school costume I've made. As I sewed the feathers on, I felt an invisible connection with my mother. My mum had a fantastic repertoire of dressing-up costumes that she would whip up for school festivals or birthday parties. My brothers and I won many a fancy dress prize thanks to Mum's deftness with the needle. Sadly, it's not a trait I've inherited.

Times have changed since the 70s. My mum would never have been thinking as her needle worked away, "I could just glue this" or "It would have been cheaper and easier to buy this at the Chinese shop down the road" or "This is the first and last time I do this by hand." So let's raise a glass to mothers everywhere for all those special things they did (and were probably never thanked for). Cheers Mum. I love you.

Friday, 6 May 2011

What's your passion?

I'm not going to apologise for the sizeable hiatus since my last post. I'm not Single Dad Laughing. I'm me. And I'm not trying to build a big blog here. Actually I'm not sure where this blog is going at all. Will it ever be a mum blog other than in name? A blog about writing perhaps? Or going after your dream? I have no idea. I change my mind a lot.

But I write because it's my passion. And I hope to write always. For the rest of my life. Every. Single. Day. But I've made a pact with myself. My growing flock of -woohoo- seven followers (hello followers!) will be glad to hear it's an anti-spam pact. I'm only going to blog when I've got something to say. No more horse manure. Enough self-deprecatory "I can't find my muse" posts. I promised my sister-in-law I'd stop calling myself a wannabe, at least on the writing front. (I suspect that as a mum I'll always be somewhere on the journey to calm, rather than taking up permanent residence there...)

Enough about me. What's your passion? What's your dream? Has it been a while since you thought about it? Dust it off. Re-visit it. Breathe some life into it. Where do you want to be five years from now? How about ten? Or twenty? A quick look at how you spend your days will give you a good idea where you are heading. (Ahem. I feel a self-imposed Facebook ban coming on...)

The existentialists say that our actions define us and how we spend every moment of every day makes us the person we are. Labels don't. They breed complacency. (Compare "I'm a writer" with "I write"). The past is irrelevant. Now is what matters. Until the moment we die, all we have is the present. We are not our past achievements or our mistakes; we are continually reinventing ourselves. And that can only happen in this instant. Right Brand-Spanking-New Now.

So grab life with both hands. Blow raspberries in the face of convention. Do something you've never done before. Hug a tree. Live your passion. Become your dream. And stick two fingers up at the judgemental bastards who sneer or put you down. Poor them.

I for one don't want to die with my music still in me. I didn't make that up, by the way, Jurgen Wolff did (author of Your Writing Coach ). But he's got a bloody good point. What does your music sound like? And are you belting it out at the top of your lungs?

Right, I'm off to hug that tree. See you when I'm next feeling inspired. Could be a week, a month or maybe even more. I'll still be writing in the meantime though. Just chucking lots more bits of paper at the bin.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Horse manure

Um...  hello.  (Small voice drifting up from a hole a long way underground). I'm not joking. I really am stuck here. What have I done? I shared my dirty secret. I exposed myself as a big giant wannabe and now I have no chuffing clue what to write about.

Dali's nightmares have nothing on this. The top of my head opens like a hinged box. A huge pile of horse manure spews out. Horrified, I try to grasp at my bits of manure, but they slip away through my fingers, floating off into the blogosphere. Anyone know the number of a good psychologist?

Why would a normally private person do this to herself? Create a blog, call it a mum blog, rant about a few things, mostly off-topic, and then post a link to your nearly 200 friends on Facebook. Nice one, Om in Mom. Pure genius.

Forget it folks. I must have momentarily lost my marbles. How about we just switch off our iPhones, laptops and all other electronic devices and do something a little less futile? Hey I know. Go to the freezer. Pull out a bag of frozen peas. Count them. All of them. Do it three times. And then write a blog about it. Yeah.

OK, rant over. I only posted today because Dan Pearce of Single Dad Laughing said that to build a successful blog you should aim to post every day. (I'd insert a link to said blog if I knew how...) Well, nice idea Dan, but I think I'll be the one to decide the optimum frequency for my self-humiliation process. Thank you.

So that's all for today. (Om in Mom taking a bow and retreating hastily backstage). Doubt I'll be back tomorrow. Got a plane to catch, and an impressive amount of hand luggage to pack.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

One woman band and a celebrity spotting

We're home in England for a week. For now I'll just tell you about the journey over, flying solo with my two boys and an inordinate amount of hand luggage. My amazing partner takes us to the airport on his lunch break. He drops us at the check-in desk, pulls out a luggage strap and, with a nifty little knot, he invents a fabulous contraption that enables me to push the buggy with my two year old in, my three year old on the buggy board and all our luggage attached. All with one hand. He's quite something my man.

We say our goodbyes and I make my way to departures, gliding effortlessly through the airport, boys and baggage all under control. A veritable one woman band. I am so pleased with myself and my contraption that I have to text my partner on my mobile using my free hand. Because I can. I bask in the admiring looks and comments as I zip past people who are struggling with far inferior amounts of luggage.

Until, that is, I get to the security gate queue. I eye the zigzag cordon with a sinking feeling. I forge ahead resolutely, taking the corner posts with me at every direction change. Horace goes skiing springs to mind. I receive amused, sympathetic reactions from the people behind me in the winding tailback. As I turn the final corner, I catch the eye of a friendly man, and give him a “phew I made it” look. He smiles. I smile back. And then I freeze. It’s Boris Izaguirre (a Venezuelan-Spanish TV presenter: funny, camp, immensely likeable). Why do I get tongue-tied around famous people?

The one woman band is made to completely disassemble for the X-ray machine and then reassemble again. All bags and boys are on board. Tickets. Passports. Double-check. Boris is long gone. Damn. In a parallel universe we’d have gone for a coffee and I’d have told him about a night in Salamanca five years ago when I went to a party at my literature professor’s house with a bunch of other post-grads. My tipsy prof read aloud some passages from Boris’s (rather steamy) novel. Surely every writer would love to hear about a scene like this involving the reception of their book. Boris, I’m sure you read a lot of mum blogs... If you’re out there could I just say thanks for the beautiful moment. My dynamic, passionate and illustrious literature professor loved your book.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

A different kind of picnic

Hello! I'm still here. Just been living in a hole for a few days with a poorly three year old, a stir crazy two year old and a giant to-do list that's growing by the minute. We went to the hills of Segovia over the weekend with my partner's sister, two cousins and all our kids. It was fabulous: paddling in the stream, drinking fresh milk from the farmer down the road, eating free range eggs, feeding donkeys. Good old fashioned fun. Boy did it feel good to get out into nature and recharge a bit of om.
Still no pearls though... Wait, how about this one for tired mummies stuck at home with sick kids climbing the walls? Lower your standards, let your hair down and hang out on the floor a bit more. I did today. We had a lounge picnic. Super simple – blanket on living room floor, leftover chicken in sandwiches, slices of pear and apple. Preparation time: approx. 2 minutes. Fun factor: 10. At one point my eldest decided to lie down to eat his sandwiches. Of course his younger brother followed suit. What could I do but adopt this new sandwich-eating position as well? My three year old summed the whole thing up nicely: “This is a different kind of picnic. It’s a relaxation picnic.” :-)

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The critic within

Aaaaaargh! I don't know where to go from here. Over the last few days since my first post, my head has been swimming with ideas, all being crossed out with a big black X by my inner critic. (Crossing out with an X is something my 3.5 year old loves to do when he is angry about something: "X in your face, Mummy").

Why on earth did I claim I was going to deliver pearls of wisdom in my blog? That was enough to make anything resembling wisdom vanish from my head in a big puff of smoke, right there and then. If it was ever there in the first place. I'm feeling horribly naked here, having exposed my dream to the big wide world. (Well, to my three readers -soon to be more, I'm thinking of inviting my mum).

So I think I'm going to have to twiddle with my blog theme a little. With my first post I definitely set myself up to overpromise and underachieve, and not vice versa as an old boss of mine once advised me to do. I feel my blog objectives need amending with this important addition: "Chit chat. Mummy ramblings. And sometimes I'm just going to talk crap." There, much better.

There may not be a pearl of wisdom in every post, or indeed in any posts. But don't de-follow me just yet, OK Mum? Mum! Come baaaaaaaaack!

Monday, 28 March 2011

From Mom to Om

Hi. I'm Louisa, a calm mum wannabe and dream-seeker. Join me on the journey to calm parenting and going after a more fulfilling life.

Ever since I was a teenager I've felt the need to disappear into nature every now and again, and replenish the "om" as an antidote to the fast pace of city life. Now I'm a mum of two boys aged 2 and 3.5, who are continuously finding ways to put my parenting skills to the test, the need to find the "om" within has taken on a whole new level.

Before I began this motherhood malarkey, I never thought I had anger issues. Not easy-going, laid back me? Yup. So over the last few years I've dabbled with meditation, yoga and all things a little bit hippy, in the search for new ways of getting to calm.

My  reasons for writing this blog are to search for and share little pearls of calm parenting related wisdom and to connect with like-minded people. Well, that and to go after my dream of being a writer. Did I really just share that with this giant scary thing that is the blogosphere? Gulp! Can we delete posts? Anyone know?!

Might as well follow that up by embarrassing myself further with a cheesy quote. Here it is, an old childhood favourite from the musical South Pacific: "You've got to have a dream. If you don't have a dream, how're you gonna have a dream come true?" (I should warn you that my cheese-o-meter exploded years ago).

You see whilst I'm on the meandering path towards my dreams, I'd like to reach out to people doing similar soul searching. I'd love to inspire others to follow the direction of their dreams as well.

So that's a bit about me, and what I'm aiming to do with this 'ere blog. It's been hard to take the plunge and actually post here. I've procrastinated on this so long, it should probably be called the "Um in Mum", plus I'm a Brit, so that's how I spell it anyway. Boom boom.

Did I just break the first rule in blogging? Keep it brief. Oops.