Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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December Planning

Much as I like to subscribe to a spontaneous, seat-of-the-pants style of operating that would allow me to take up an invitation to go trekking in Patagonia with five hours’ notice, I actually have to be fairly organised. I’m divided. The real me is a dreamy, peripatetic traveller armed with a notebook and some chocolate, but the current me is a busy mother of three, with a job, lots of friends, a husband who would occasionally like my attention and three lunches to pack. Reality is that I vacillate between the two poles, being either relatively organised or utterly forgetful.

I have friends who are really organised, who get their tax returns back in January, who have colour-coded wardrobes, and who have a place for everything in their homes. I admire them, but try not to compare myself. Some of those friends don’t have children (which opens up many gazillions of free hours), others have live-in help (ditto) and others don’t work. When I’m beating myself up for not being perfectly organised, I have to remind myself that everyone’s situation is unique. My strategy is always people over things, so my children get more attention than the kitchen cupboards, my friends get more attention than the laundry and my husband, when he’s here, gets more attention than, say, the mop.

So, bearing in mind that people come first, and that Christmas is no fun when Mummy’s running around in increasingly small circles emitting a high-pitched shrieking noise, here is my answer to BlogLily’s request to share my planning for December:

1. To hand in my last two pieces of freelance work on 14 December, and to not work again until after New Year.

2. To use some of those free hours to work on my new collection of short stories (one in the writing, another six in the planning).

3. To enjoy and relish the week of 17 to 21 December, during which time I must bake and prepare for Daisy’s home birthday, Daisy’s kindergarten birthday and a joint birthday party I am hosting for myself and two friends (potential guest list 50-100?).

4. To have enough, but not too much food, in the house for the week of 22 to 28 December. We won’t starve, even if we don’t have immediate access to stem ginger, mince pies and rum-dipped dates.

5. To relax and enjoy the company of my darling family, especially that of my lovely brother who is making his first-ever journey to Europe to Christmas with us.

6. To buy less stuff.

It’s all about the fun, the love, about some – but not too much – gorgeous food and, if possible, much less stuff.


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The Mummy Managers

I’ve just read an article in The Times about a woman who’s putting the skills she acquired as an Arthur Andersen management consultant to good use managing the lives of her four children. She uses negotiation, time management, financial planning, delegation, outsourcing and performance appraisal. And now that she’s got her home life all nicely wrapped up, she’s written a book about it too (called Time Management for Manic Mums), thus cleverly capitalising on her resources. Bully for her.

Allison Mitchell decided that applying her management techniques to her family would make her home run more smoothly and give her more control as a mother. I can see her point. As a journalist on one of Johannesburg’s dailies, I was forced to meet deadlines with mere seconds to spare – often with a news editor tapping his pencil and staring at me urgently over his spectacles. To this day, I am religious about my deadlines. I am also pretty anal about getting to ballet/swimming/speech therapy/play dates/school pick-up on time, often arriving ten minutes early. There’s a skill, especially given that I am usually marshalling three people and all their necessary equipment. I am applying my time management skills fairly successfully in making things run smoothly.

However, when time management and people management start to clash, then things can go awry for me. For example, when I worked as an inhouse journalist one of my roles was to ensure that our inhouse magazine came out on deadline, despite the attentions of a perfectionist editor. He wanted blisteringly perfect prose; I wanted on deadline and it was my job to juggle the two. It’s a bit like trying to leave our house for the school/kindergarten drop-off on time when someone needs a particularly complex hairstyle or a certain pair of shoes that cannot be found. I’m thinking shoes without holes in will do, and small child is thinking she wants the pink ones, with the flowers on, that haven’t been seen since last Tuesday. The skill of biting my tongue while an editor rethinks headlines at the 11th hour has been lost in the mists of time: in the name of getting to kindergarten before the doors are locked (good time management), I may resort to yelling (bad people management). I wonder what Allison would recommend?

Painful work experiences are also good practise for parenting. For a short time I worked as an assistant to a fundraiser. To her, “assistant” was a wide-ranging term, covering everything from representing her at meetings and writing fundraising appeals, to doing her grocery shopping and taking her dog to the vet. With my three South African degrees, I was having The Devil Wears Prada experience about fifteen years earlier than Lauren Weisberger (just not quite as glamourously, although I did once shake the hand of the Duke of Edinburgh and trespass the Houses of Parliament on the same day, but that’s for another post). What the experience did teach me was to cope with randomness. The ability to handle unexpected random orders is brilliant skills training for having children. In the course of any given five minutes, I may be required to build a tower, rustle up a delicious snack from three pieces of dried pasta and a raisin, draw a mermaid, bathe a wound and have a philosophical discussion about the nature of friendship. Unlike Allison, I am really, really good at being delegated to.

Allison’s book is for the Manic Mums amongst us. While I do have the odd frenzied moment, my daily life is lived at the pace of a six, four and one-year-old. Things can be somewhat slow. Tolerating the lack of eventfulness and enjoying the company of the same group of people are skills I learnt while working as a writer at a not-to-be-named German software company. Cutting-edge software companies can be very s-l-o-w places to work: systems crash, software must be tested and tested again, developers change their minds and redo things. As a documentation writer, I must have spent 30% of my time actually working and the rest of the time waiting to work. But I always managed to keep entertained: typing away on my keyboard (e-mails to my friends), going to meetings (with my friends), having coffee (same friends) and lunch too (ditto friends). That kind of slow beingness amongst a limited group was great training for parenting.

While I really admire the likes of Allison and her ability to manage her family, what my working life taught me was how to cope with being managed by my family. They do it so well too: my performance is frequently appraised (“you don’t sing very well, Mummy”), they outsource (“let Daddy do Ollie’s nappy so that you can carry on drawing princesses with us”) and they negotiate (“if I finish my vegetables, can I watch the Dinosaurs DVD?”). But best of all, they are very good at rewarding performance – I am the happy recipient of a lot of kisses and large hugs. It’s not a bad pay package.