Sunday, 23 March 2014

Just generous

While I'm on the subject of kindness, I must tell you about Michelle.

Michelle is a Kiwi. She lives in Edinburgh but weekly commutes to London.  She (doesn't look old enough but nonetheless) has a 27 year old son who is still in New Zealand, who she hasn't seen in six years when he came over here for his twenty-first birthday.

She had the misfortune to be on a flight from Gatwick to Edinburgh about four weeks ago.

We were there.  We were tired.  We had been going, at this point, for about twenty two hours.  The end of a wonderful holiday but with the inevitable delays, missed connections and more delays.   No one was crying, but quite a lot of us felt like it.

Michelle started talking to the girls as we waited by the gate.  They told her all about their holiday and their school and their family. She kept an eye on them while I nipped to the loo. (B was wrangling M, who was a little, shall we say, crotchety).

We said goodbye at the door of the plane (actually I ran back to say thank you, as they shoved us and our unruly children on first) and thought never to see her again.

As we waited for our bags at Edinburgh, tired, and by this stage pukey children slumped into the uncomfy chairs by the carousel, I heard someone calling my name.

It was Michelle, and a large carrier bag. 

I bought these for the children, she said.  They're not from New Zealand, but we'll pretend they are.

Four teddy bears.  One each.  For no reason other than that she was kind.

I did cry then.  And hugged her.  And we really will now never see her again.

But two of the bears are called Michelle, and one is Michael.  The last is Thomas, but you can't have everything.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The Gherkin goes viral

Watch this (hopefully it's there now - sorry for anyone who clicked when it wasn't).

And sponsor the gherkin to run the London Marathon (probably in under 3 1/2 hours).  He's going to be the fastest building you'll ever see.

And if you can't sponsor, please share, whether by blogging, facebooking, tweeting or just telling your friends (or corporate donors).  A viral gherkin's got to be worth supporting.

It's for the Cure Parkinson's Trust, and if you want to know why this matters to me, read this.

Go Gherkin!

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Generous to a fault?

We were on holiday with my in-laws recently. 

I know, lucky us.  No really.  It was Antigua.  Lucky us.

Anyway, my mother in law bought the children all a little token present.  A souvenir sort of thing.  S's was a necklace, made of shell, with a little dolphin pendant on it.  It wasn't expensive, but it was rather lovely: pretty and delicate, and significantly more tasteful than the ones either A or L chose.

Back in Blighty, Primary 1 are still working through their sounds, and this week's is ph.

Dolphin's got a ph in it.  said S, proudly, to me on Tuesday. That's why I took my dolphin necklace to school.
 It has, said I, encouragingly.  But where's your necklace now, S?
I gave it to my friend Molly.  She liked it so I said she could have it.

So I rang Molly's mother.  Who found it and promised to give it back.

We had Molly to play today, and I remembered the dolphin necklace when her mother came to pick her up. 

She'd given it back, apparently.  Or at least she'd given it to Molly to give back at school.

S, what did you do with your necklace?
I gave it to Annie.  Everyone really liked it and so I said Molly could have it first and then Annie.  Zoe's next.

So I texted Annie's mother.  Who rang back;  Annie is very distressed.  She has broken the necklace, and the dolphin has disappeared.

It doesn't matter really, it's not valuable, and I'm much more worried that Annie doesn't get into trouble for it, but what to say to S?

Because my immediate reaction was to tell her off for taking precious things into school and giving them away.  She can't do that, surely? 

But the more I think about it, the more proud I am of her.  She has something she loves but when someone else loves it, what is her reaction? She gives it to them.   That's more generous and less materialistic than I suspect I would be.

Actually, forget "suspect".  Than I know I would be.  Because although I have told S it was very kind of her to give it to both Molly and Annie, I've also told her that she's not to do it with anything else.

But I have a horrid feeling that was the wrong thing to say...

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Greener grass

I've been thinking about five women, of whom I am one, today.  We are all the same age.  We were all at the same university at the same time.  Different subjects, obviously, but broadly, you could say back then that we were similar, or at least had the same opportunities.  All of us went straight into further education or jobs on graduating.

Now, over fifteen years later, between us we have nine children and four husbands.

Two of us are employed full time. One of us is a full time mother.  One works part time, and one is trying to find a job where the interviewers will ask her about her skills (many) and experience (vast) rather than how she's going to manage picking her children up from school and cooking her husband's supper.
 One lives in a tiny village.  Two in small towns.  Two in cities.  

One of us was decorated in the New Year's Honours.

One, the only one I don't know personally (although some of the others do), is a FTSE100 chief executive.

Two of us have fish. One of us has a dog. 

One travels widely.  One hasn't had a holiday in over 18 months.

Some read, some knit.  Some sing, some go to the gym.  Three write blogs.  None has as much time for herself as she would like.

All of us, I suspect, have moments where we want some of what the others have. 

None of us has it all.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Feeling sorry for myself on my birthday.

It's my birthday.

I'm 37 today.

B is not here so I am single-parenting four children. He was working in Milton Keynes on Friday and then at a thing (the sort of thing you only get invited to twice in your life and that you don't, as a result, turn down, wife's birthday or no) in Oxford last night.  He is, I am told, now on the motorway heading home.  I expect him, with a delicious dinner he will have picked up at the motorway services*, probably around five-ish.
I am very tired, having been up 'til gone midnight wrapping presents and making an ice-cream igloo for those who don't like Christmas pudding.

The children are fractious and scrapping like small tigers, all teeth and claws and lots and lots of noise.

It is, in fact, just a normal day.  With the addition of a lovely new shirt, which I am wearing, and the promise of cake later when my sister and her boyfriend get here, the first of the Christmas arrivals.

So better than a normal day really.  And actually with four children under seven, an absent husband, and thirteen people for lunch in three days' time I probably shouldn't have expected anything else.

But it's my birthday so I'll cry if I want to.

Or laugh.  Because it appears that the children have internalised some of what B must have told them; as I type the screaming next door is taking on a topical note:


So near, but yet so far...


*Tebay, so while that is strictly true, it is also much, much better than it sounds.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Read with mother

What's your favourite bit of the day?

Clearly it's the five minutes after they're all in bed.  Isn't it? 
No.  Scratch that, it's the five minutes after they're all in bed and have stopped coming downstairs with spurious excuses about imaginary spiders and empty stomachs.

But apart from that bit, what's your favourite bit of the day?

When I stop to think about it, and am not racing through in the hope of bringing the previously mentioned moment forward by forty-eight seconds, it's the one in the picture.
 That moment, or something a little like it, because actually they each get individual stories (ish, S and A share, as they do a bedroom, but they do get two), happens in our house every day.  It happened every day for me when I was little too; it's just part of our bedtime ritual.  It would never occur to me not to do it, any more than it would occur to me not to clean their teeth.

But apparently that's not true of everyone any more. I hesitate to come out with a statistic, because if you google it, you get numbers varying from only one-fifth to a slightly better but still, to me, surprisingly low one-third, but whatever the true number, many, many parents don't read to their children every night, and many children are turning to screens rather than books to fill their leisure time.
So, to help me read with our children at bedtime, and yes, this is a sponsored post, M&S sent me some new pyjamas, and some lovely books.  The asked, too, why reading to the children was important to me, and what I felt we all got out of it.
 Now, clearly there's an element of preaching to the converted here: they're not getting me to do anything I wasn't already doing after all, but that's why I was happy to take their pjs. 

As I say, though, M&S haven't brilliantly converted a non-reading parent to a reading one with the bribe of a pair of Thomas pyjamas and a book of fairy stories, but what they have done is made me sit and think about why I read to them and what I think it does for all of us. 

And I think it varies as they get older.  For S and A still, and certainly M (who was, if the truth be told, much more chuffed with the pjs than the stories), there is, I suspect, an element of the story serving mainly to stave off the hideous prospect of having to go to bed, and it is their stories I more often race through unthinkingly, but it is also a calm time, a quiet time, a time which can redeem an awful half hour of whinging in the bath and help make the transition into bed just that little bit easier for all of us. 
For L though, it's increasingly about the love of the book.   At six and a half, she is beginning to understand that books can take her places she can never otherwise get to, and for me reading to her (and the fact that I won't let B do it is telling, I feel) is properly precious time.  We cuddle up in bed together and share something as equals, often something I remember from my own childhood: we're reading The Dolls' House at the moment, complete with my (approximately) seven year old handwriting in it, and last week I sobbed my way through the final chapter and a half of Charlotte's Web, while L looked utterly bemused (she's not got the whole loving books that make you cry thing yet, clearly).   She honestly said to me today (and I realise this is going to sound insufferable, but she really did say it): " I think reading is my favourite thing to do".

And there's the rub.  Because reading is my (or one of my) favourite things to do too.  And I couldn't be more delighted that she loves it.  But she's beginning to love reading more than she loves being read to.  She didn't get a story tonight because she said she'd rather read to herself instead.  This may partly be because she's got a Rainbow Fairy book (truly as hideous as it sounds) out of the library and I just can't bring myself to go anywhere near them (hence the library), but I think also she's just beginning to get the pleasure of losing herself in the book of her choice.

I don't think her time of being read to is coming to an end, but I do think, sadly, that it is time limited and I am not, as I had rather hoped to be, going to be the female version of the father who read to his daughter every night until she turned 18.  I hope we'll get to 10, maybe a little longer, but there will come a time when I no longer read to any of them, and I will miss it.

Still, at least I've got three more goes at Charlotte's Web before then.  Who knows, I may not even need tissues when it's M's turn...

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Giving good present.

As I say, it's A and S's birthday tomorrow.

It is also, today my Mum's birthday.  And my sister's boyfriend's.   On Sunday it was my cousin's.  It's my brother's on Saturday.

And eleven days later (with my own birthday in between, though fortunately I'm not responsible for buying the presents for that one) it's You Know What.  For which, not including the ones from You Know Who, I have to buy 49 separate gifts.

I'm doing a lot of shopping at the moment.  Stashed away in my secret cupboard with my highly confidential client files I've got playmobil and lego, cashmere and silk, chopping boards and mixers, games and puzzles.  Literally.

But actually the present I'm most excited by is the one I've just bought.

It's a Deki voucher.  Or three Deki vouchers.  £10 each for each of the girls.

Deki contacted me to tell me about themselves and the vouchers, but they aren't giving me anything to write this post. I am genuinely, boringly (I've told everyone I've seen since) excited by this.

Because Deki do micro-loans.  A small sum loaned by my children to someone in a developing country to help them set up a business, and (hopefully) in due course repaid.  And from my children's point of view, the best bit is that with Deki, you get to choose who the money goes to.  Deki is, I think (from a cursory google search), the only UK-based charity through whom this is possible.

So after Christmas and the consumption has died down, the girls and I can sit round the computer and decide.  Do they want to give their money to Lucy's restaurant in Malawi or do they think that Heleine's shop in Togo is a better place for it? 

Once they've decided, they lend their money, all £10 of it, to the person they've chosen.  And, hopefully, in due course, it comes back into their Deki account.  Once it does, they can, if they wish, cash it in and spend it on sweets, or, I hope, invest it in someone else. 

They will receive no interest on the money, but they should (Deki has a 99% repayment rate) get it all back.  Interest is charged on the loans but this is used by Deki's not-for-profit operating partners in the countries concerned to cover operating costs only.  Deki itself is a charity and its costs are covered by donations.

My children are still very young.  They have very little understanding of money, other than that it has value to other people, so I don't think this is going to teach them much about money or finance or lending, but I do hope that, at the very least, it will encourage them to take an interest in people with very different lives, and I'd like to think that Deki, or micro-lending generally will become a habit.  I certainly intend it to for me.

I don't want to sound smug or sanctimonious, but I genuinely do think that this might be the present we all remember long after the playmobil has been packed back into its box.