Archive for March, 2011

Getting it right.

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011


Finally! I have time to write a blog! Apologies for my lengthy absence; I have been very unproductive for the last few weeks on all fronts, and I’d love to blame this on my children. But I can’t, it wouldn’t be fair. Because it’s my husband’s fault. He’s just had two weeks off work and although it’s been lovely to have him around (childcare is so much easier when there’s two of you) it has meant that my routine has rather gone out of the window, and especially as far as writing is concerned. I’m at a particularly delicate bit of the manuscript at the moment, my characters are in terrible emotional distress, the scenes are highly charged and it’s taking quite a lot out of me to write. In many ways I wish I didn’t have to get involved with their difficult and complicated lives, but there we are. So picture this scene if you will: there I am, focussing and concentrating, trying to think how I would feel if it were me going through these difficult emotions, and as any writer will know when you’re writing this stuff you are actually there with your characters. The scene will absorb you, you are living their lives. And then in wanders my husband and on goes the cricket in the background. And from that point on I am subjected to a running commentary of the game; who has thrown what ball, how many runs have been made by whatever player. I quickly become very familiar with the state of Kevin Pietersen’s limbs and how many spectators the ground can hold as my husband gently chatters away. All fascinating stuff, I’m sure, but not when I’m in the process of wrecking my characters’ lives. And interspersed with the essential cricket updates he’ll also discuss any interesting news articles that he’s found, “Darling, have you seen they’ve discovered a new type of worm?” etc. And then when he’s run out of ways to try and have a conversation with me, there’s the questions:

“I’m going to have a coffee, do you want one?”

“No, thank you.”

“Are you sure? Do you want anything else?”

“No, I’m fine, thanks.”

“Really? Not even a cup of tea?”

“YES. I’m sure.”

“OK.”

So then he bangs about making said coffee, he might flick the radio on for a minute and as he idles his way back to the cricket he might stop to glance over my shoulder or give me a kiss – all lovely but it does make me grit my teeth when I’m trying to write. So the sum of this is: I got absolutely nothing done when he was off work. Today is the first day in about three weeks that he has actually left the house to go to work and I am quite enjoying the peace, a whole day stretches before me with no cricket……or worm news.

Sophie Raworth was in the headlines yesterday on a rather interesting topic – how much time should we be spending with our children? And by spending she means actually focussing on and engaging with, not merely being present in the same building. It’s a very interesting question. The issue has come up because many parents are forced to work long hours and therefore some form of childcare is a necessity. In most families both parents work, and even more so if they want things like private education, foreign holidays, second home in Gstaad, Jaguars, boats – whatever it is. Sophie talks about the American concept FAST – Families and Schools Together – and experiments with spending a solid fifteen minutes focussing solely on one of her three children whilst her phone beeps with emails and texts that she cannot look at and her other two children vie for her attention. She finds it harder than she thinks. I imagine this is because she is a working parent and is used to being able to attend to her work duties freely. Fifteen minutes I could manage easily because I don’t have a 9-5 job and I’m used to being a stay at home mother, but therefore no-one understands better than me just how boring it can be sometimes to spend time with your children. There are times when I am deeply grateful to have my BlackBerry by my side so I can check Facebook while I pretend to watch Angelina Ballerina. It is all about balance. And so, the question really becomes – if you are working so hard to afford a nice lifestyle for your children that you barely see them, when is it better to forfeit some luxuries in exchange for simply spending time at home with them? I don’t know anyone who has an ideal balance, most of my acquaintances are feeling their way through life tentatively trying to make the best decisions that they can, whether they have one child or four or are just considering having a baby. I have a friend who has just begun a year’s sabbatical from her very successful career, enabling her to spend more time at home with her daughter, and from speaking to her there were a number of factors, not least that she felt that she could afford to at this point in time. I imagine a decision like that is a difficult one.

For me, I do consider myself a good parent. I make sure my children eat the right food at the right times, I make sure they’re in bed by 7:30pm each night; I make sure they drink lots of water and get plenty of fresh air. I take them to school and I pick them up. I watch school matches and swimming galas. I help  with homework, I ask my eldest daughter about her day in school and listen as she tells me about her lessons and her friends. We discuss the things that she enjoys and the things that she would rather not do. I help her make decisions about things she finds difficult or scary. I watch for signs that something is wrong. I read my younger daughter endless stories and help  her craft princesses out of plasticine (no mean feat, let me tell you). We bake cakes together and go for walks. Currently, I spend much time listening to her eulogise about the Ice Age films. BUT – this aside – I am very, very bad at playing with my girls. I can do all the above willingly and happily, but ask me to get on the floor and be a cat and I simply cannot do it. Neither can I do role-play with Barbies, Disney princesses or farmyard animals. Games of hide and seek – yes, a game where we all have to pretend to be a character from Peppa Pig – no. Absolutely not. In these situations I pass the baton to my husband, who is much, much better than I am.

Does this make me a bad parent? I have no idea. My natural sense of confidence in my parenting ability makes me think not. Again, I don’t know anyone who considers themselves a perfect parent, ultimately we learn as we go along and we hope not to make too many mistakes. But as Sophie ultimately concludes, I believe that if I give my children my time, love and attention they will want for very little else. Except perhaps a mother who can be Cinderella or Mummy Pig at the drop of a hat. Although I must be honest and say I don’t know any mother who has those particular skills.

My debate today will be: do I let my youngest daughter watch her new DVD twice in a row? Good parenting sense dictates no, my need to write dictates yes. If her father were here they would be watching cricket together. So there we are – I may not be subjected to interminable facts about Andrew Strauss and Freddie Flintoff today but I will have to entertain my four year old alone. Suddenly a whole day without her father being around seems rather long……..


Sophie’s article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12664259