Thursday, 25 August 2011

Can a woman have it all?

I went to a school where we were told to reach for the sky. There were no more barriers for women. You could get married, have children and still reach dizzying heights of professional success. If you tried hard enough, the world would be yours. I have believed this all my life. I now realise that, whilst combining these three things is still possible, it is pretty damn hard. Discovering that these things were not in fact my birthright was a bit of a shock.

I am still hoping against the odds to do all three. I am however discouraged by the realisation that I may have made a strategic error in my selection of a husband. Not that I don’t love my husband – far from it – but his alpha male ambition is a bit of a hindrance.   What you really need is a husband willing to take a secondary role, be able to pick the kids up from school every day, and take a day off when they are sick. The mistake ambitious women make is not having children, but marrying a similarly ambitious man. I ponder this issue as I contemplate my husband’s unexpected departure to Benghazi in a few days time (a career booster) and my month home alone with the boys. But the truth is that I don’t want to go to Benghazi right now (or possibly ever), I would be miserable if I did not look after my boys at this early stage of their life. And therein lies the rub – I want to raise my own children, and do it well. But I also don’t want to give up my career. So whilst I hate to admit it, perhaps the alpha husband isn’t the main issue.

To do really well professionally means competing with people without children, or those with stay at home wives. So in the end it comes down to a question of time. Part-time work, flexitime all sound great, but there are only so many hours in the day, and if you can devote less of your time than your competitors then they will eventually pull ahead. Professional success and being a mother will only sit well together if unpaid leave, part-time work and flexitime in high profile professions become a non-damaging (in career terms) thing to do.  And that means they need to be a normal thing for successful men to do, not just something women do whilst trying to juggle work and a family.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Post Pregnancy Fallout

 Pregnancy is obviously a wonderful thing. How could creating another human life be anything but? It is also an excellent preparation for the many years you will need to put someone else’s needs before your own. It starts in subtle ways – your weakened immune system– and builds to the ultimate sacrificial climate of giving birth. It doesn’t stop there however. Quite aside from the challenge of staying awake, is the tedious process of trying to regain your pre-pregnancy figure. And it is definitely worse second time around.

I am one of those women that gains an extraordinary amount of weight when pregnant. There were no warning signs beforehand, I had always been a fairly slim individual. But literally minutes after getting pregnant, I start to swell.  I am therefore, jealous of those skinny pregnant women you see around – the ones that look like they have just swallowed a basketball. These are the women that wear their pre-pregnancy jeans home from the hospital. Sadly, my experience involves an expensive gym membership and a lot of running.

First time around the weight seemed to drop off without too much trouble. This time however, more work seems necessary. My mum, always direct, summed it up pretty well. ‘You’ve just got to stop eating and do more exercise’. But that is just so dull. However, there is nothing like a family holiday in the sun by a pool to harden your resolve. Wandering round for a few days in my fatty costume (the one I reserve for post –pregnancy swimming) with mirrors and svelte women everywhere is an ideal start to the weight loss programme.

So far, it’s off to a wobbly (in every sense) start. On the plus side, going on holiday with 14 people means that there is rarely any food left to eat, and with 5 teenagers, certainly no chance of a sugary fizzy drink. On the other hand, the divebombing teenagers do make swimming lengths even more tedious. And I need to swim a lot of lengths. Perhaps next time (if there is such a thing), someone could politely remind me not to eat so much?  

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


I had thought I had travelling with small children pretty well sown up, having travelled with my first son, often alone, on 10 flights before he reached the age of 2. So I approached our journey to Spain for a family holiday with an unjustified sense of calm. So what if my husband had decided he couldn’t possibly travel with us, but would follow on later- I had Granny and my 13 year old niece instead. Never mind if we couldn’t carry even our hand luggage, we would hire a handsome Peruvian man to take the bags. It was all going swimmingly well – all ready on time, no tantrums, Peruvian man loaded with luggage - until all trains to Gatwick were cancelled. So the Peruvian bag carrier had to be ditched and a taxi procured. No need to panic though, still got 3 ½ hours to catch our flight (a consequence of travelling with Granny). Boys still cheerful – son number 1 cooperatively falls asleep and son number 2 is happy enough so far. But then it starts to come apart at the seams. Taxi is largely stationery. We watch as people abandon cars and drag suitcases along the hard shoulder. Not a good sign. Shame the Peruvian couldn’t fit in the taxi. Granny starting to look very tense. Baby starting to cry. But I am still calm. Still time yet. We finally get to the airport, and there is an enormous queue to check-in. We wait. Baby wants to be fed, but no seats. Now breastfeeding standing up. Orange-skinned girls with peroxide hair sniggering. I am not amused. We make the check-in deadline, just. We are running now, through security, Granny shouting at the security men when they ask her to remove her shoes. They are unmoved by her tirade. The woman behind us says loudly that we should have left earlier. Brave move as Granny is looking a bit wild about the eyes. But there is no time to punch her as we are running to the gate, closing flight signs flashing. Thank God for 13 year old niece, who has replaced Peruvian as designated carthorse and children’s entertainer. Son number 1 seems to be enjoying the occasion and, for once, is running in the right direction.

Once aboard, we start to recover. Except baby starts to scream and will not stop. So I sit under a black blanket with baby and I wonder whether it is all going to be worth it in the end. I wonder the same thing when Granny has a meltdown at the car-hire station. As I feed the baby in the back of the car (turns out this one will only feed in dimly lit environments –who knew?), Granny is shouting we should move the car to the middle of the carpark ramp exit, despite the inconvenience for other users, because ‘it is cooler there’. The car hire men know better than to interfere. One final hair-raising car journey and the trauma is over. Or is it? Why didn’t anyone tell me holidays are more work than staying at home? At least though we don’t have to get on a plane for a couple of weeks.