Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Guilt of the Working Mother

I've spent the last few weeks dipping in and out of the notorious Sheryl Sandberg book: Lean In. It courted controversy when it was published and divided opinionShe was criticised for not breaking any new ground, and leaving out issues such as how to overcome patriarchy, race and finances.

You were either for her, or against her. And a lot of people were against her. 

I'll be honest, I'd kind of made my mind up about it before I started and I was in the 'against' camp. What could a billionaire tell me, an ordinary working mother, about how best to run my life, my career? How was Sheryl, with access to the best and most comprehensive support, childcare and even wardrobe, going to relate to the woman on the street?

Well I've finished the book and I'll give you my opinion. 

I was pleasantly surprised. I'm just going to say it: I loved the book. Her style is self-deprecating and her prose is peppered with personal anecdotes which reveal her to be disarmingly human.

She admits that she feels like a fraud. She feels fear. She is unsure. She credits her husband with being crucial to her success. One of my favourite quotes is this:

“When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.” 

She also speaks of being wracked with guilt when leaving her children each day. Now this is where my ears pricked up. 

Real maths that I have done in my head, on the way to work in the morning:

  • 8 hours - Total time I'm out of the house on a typical day
  • 2.5 hours - Total time Baby Britney is asleep during this time
  • 5.5 hours - Total time she is awake during this time, and thus with the nanny 
  • 4 hours - Total waking time she spends with me
Which means that the nanny is 90 minutes in credit versus me. I have tortured myself over those 90 minutes. Hoping that the 48 hours at the weekend when the nanny is off-duty make up for it.

Now, I'll take a wild guess here, but I think it's fair to say that no man has ever attempted these mental calculations. And that's not because they don't care, or don't love their children. They just don't feel the guilt that women do. And why should they? Why do we women do it to ouselves? 

Sheryl actually quotes research that confrms our guilt is unfounded: 

"Exclusive maternal care is not related to better or worse outcomes for children.  There is no reason for mothers to feel as though they are harming their children if they decide to work. Parents who work outside the home are still capable of giving their children a loving and secure childhood. 
Some data even suggests that having two parents working outside the home can be advantageous to a child's development, particularly for girls.” 

So should you read this book? Yes. Yes you should. Even if you're a man.

As Sheryl herself said, she wrote the book: "For any man who wants to understand what a woman - a colleague, wife, mother, or daughter - is up against so that he can do his part to build a more equal world.” 

Amen to that.

Holding Back the The Ravages of Time

My skinspiration. LOVE BLAKE.
There are few words more wonderful than: "You look lovely today. Really young and fresh-faced." 

That's what someone said to me, this weekend. They were followed up by: "Have you been sneaking off to see a plastic surgeon?"

Ha! Ha ha ha ha ha! No comment! Whilst I haven't succumbed to the surgeon's knife (yet), it's no secret that I'm a fan of anything that will keep the ageing wolf from the door.  I'd rather not embrace the Bride of Wildenstein look, but I see nothing wrong with attempting to maintain a level of grooming and facial upkeep that is younger than my years. Just keep within reason, yes?

After I'd hugged the deliverer of this great compliment tightly and managed not to faint right away through shock, I checked the diary: when did I last invest in some 'facial (ahem) rejuvination'? I was pretty surprised to see that it was April. That's five months ago. I'm usually booked in every three months, so that's a pretty good achievement. I've checked the mirror, and although there are a few signs of wear and tear, I'm pleased to confirm that I haven't shrivelled up into an old raisin.

So what have I been doing differently? Well, I've invested in a Nutri-Bullet - but that's a recent purchase. I can't see it will have impacted my skin that much in the seven days that I've been forcing the resulting concotions down.

I've been running twice a week, which definitely helps with circulation and all-round appearance. But it's hardly marathon efforts.

So I can only surmise that the Celergen has been working its magic. You may remember I started on my Celergen journey back in June. It has a whole host of ingredients that claim to help in many different ways and it looks like the Peptide E Collagen is the ingredient that's working its magic. Apparently it’s easily absorbed and rebuilds outer skin layers from the inside out – so helping to improve lines and wrinkles.

I'm still taking it (who wouldn't?!) so I'll keep you posted.

If you want to try it yourself you can order online and they'll deliver it to you, wherever you are, for free.

Disclaimer: This product was given to me for free for the purposes of reviewing, however all opinions were independently formed by little old me.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What's the Weather Like?

Make it stop!!!
It's a standard joke that Brits are obsessed with the weather. In a country known for its grey, overcast days, it becomes a fallback conversation starter, but also a very real logistical challenge. What, precisely, does one wear on a British summer' day, which could run the full gamut of drizzle, sunshine, wind, rain? But mainly rain.

I'll let you into a secret. Even though I live in a country with blue sky and sunshine 360 days of the year, we are also obsessed with the weather. We talk about it ALL the time. This builds into a frenzy in August, when it feels like the Summer is never going to end.

How hot is it? How humid is it? Is it hotter or cooler than last year? Will the Summer ever end? Is a sandstorm on its way? And most thrilling of all: IS IT RAINING WHERE YOU ARE?!

I'm currently in a frenzy as the humidity has dropped in the past week. This means that although it's so hot (49 degrees today!) you feel like your eye balls are peeling away from your lids, it's somehow more bearable than being drenched with water 30 seconds after leaving the house.

Mid August is a real test. For those of us who've stayed through Ramadan and most of the hottest months of the year, you start to feel like the Summer is going to last until December. Any tiny dip in temperature is embraced, discussed and regarded as a tiny chink of hope in the heat quagmire.

We're now casually throwing around the phrase: "Just one more month to go!" Which, sadly, is a total lie. It doesn't cool down until November. So that'll be another two months. Two months two weeks, really. Oh lord.

Just one more month to go!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

What Does Having a Baby Teach You?

Guess which one I am?!
As Baby Britney approaches her first birthday (yikes!) I'm in a reflective mood.

I still can't believe that this time last year I was pregnant, with all its associated stress, pain and daily woes. I remember it like it was yesterday, but I just somehow can't believe it ever happened. It's hard to equate the rambunctious, squeaking, peachy-headed munchkin in front of me to the 8 months of pregnancy I endured.  Which is quite ridiculous really, but there you go. 

So what have I learned over the last year? What does having a baby teach you? I won't wax lyrical about the capacity for love you realise exists deep within you, blah blah blah. That's a given. Trust me on this one.

I've thought long and hard about this and decided the number one thing I've learned is...patience. 

I'm a fast moving kinda gal. I walk fast, eat fast, talk fast. Speed is integral to my being. (Have you ever sat round a table with a group of PR people? They speak like the wind. A non PR friend likened it to: "Being put through a washing machine. On spin cycle.") 

Some people see this speed, this mercurial tendency, as a negative. They assume that to move so quickly, you must be feeling pressured and stressed. Quite the contrary. I love a bit of vigour, a bit of gumption. I'm at one with the universe when I'm making things happen, organising events/people. It's my version of Zen.

Then along comes a baby. They operate to their own, crazy timetable of insanity. They wake, eat, poop, scream, EXACTLY when they want. They are marching at the beat of their own teeny, tiny, ever so slightly bonkers drum. And there's very little you can do to influence them, in the early months. As they get bigger, sure, you can get them onto a routine. But things still take forever. You can't rush through bathtime. You can try. You can cut corners. But essentially, that baby won't be rushed through the process.

When you're pacing the floor in the dead of the night, sssh-patting for the third hour, for the fourth time that evening, you may wish with every fibre of your being that you can fast-forward through the torture. But you can't. You inch forward on your hands and knees, one second, one minute, one never-ending hour at a time.

Mealtimes are another thing that just cannot be rushed. Have you ever tried to feed a 9 month old baby that isn't interested in food? It takes cunning and wile. In this house we have to allow at least 30 minutes per meal. Often more. No scoffing food, no inhaling a tin of tomatoes and some brown rice, no existing on a banana and a handful of multi vitamins (her mother's staple diet) for Baby Britney.

You have to offer finger foods, which may or may not be eaten. (May not, frequently). When these finger foods are wobbling towards the tiny tyrant's mouth, you go in, like a ninja, with a spoon of lovingly made home cooked food. When this is inevitably rejected, you offer an Ella's pouch. 

You try to spoon feed. This is resisted. Food is flung on the floor. The walls. The ceiling. The cat. You cave, and food is slurped directly from the pouch. The pouch is then rejected. You scramble around inside the fridge for another option. This goes on, in all it's comedic glory, for a period of time that feels long enough for the Beatles to consider re-forming. Throw in the fact that your kitchen now resembles a Jackson Pollock painting and it's enough to give a clean freak like me a slow lingering heart attack.

Tracy Hogg, the Baby Whisperer (say what you like, I love her book) identifies this pretty early on and actually defines SLOW as: Stop, Listen, Observe, What's Up? It really applies to tiny babies who can't easily tell you what's wrong. You know, when they try their best to tell you by screaming for three hours every night from 4-7 pm. But it definitely applies to parenthood in general.

It's going to take you longer to leave the house, get in the car, leave the car. I'll be honest, that bit hasn't bothered me so much. Like I said, I'm a natural organiser, so I'm pretty much ready to leave at a moment's notice anyway. 

The hard bit was surrendering to the  general slow down in pace. Because surrender you must. You'll drive yourself mad trying to speed them up, it just isn't going to happen. The good thing about this? Babies live very much in the moment. Unlike adults, they're not ruminating and dissecting the previous day. Worrying about the past, scared of the future. They're just living their baby lives, one crazy minute at a time. Experiencing every touch, every sensation, every taste. Finding joy in the small things. 

As I type this, Baby Britney is chewing the tail of a toy cat. She's been at it for the last 15 minutes. Every few minutes she stops, inspects the tail, looks at me, and smiles a toothless smile of contentment. I'm telling you, babies have a lot to teach us. Slow down, and you'll hear them more clearly.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Keeping Up Appearances When Pregnant - in 45 Degrees

Great inspiration, even when not up the duff.
I strode into pregnancy determined to keep a grip on all things beauty and fashion related. 

"I am not letting myself go!" I exclaimed loudly to anyone who would listen (mainly Molly the Cat). 

I attempted to take inspiration from this gorgeous blogger in Dubai, who puts a non pregnant woman to shame, and this previosly pregnant blogger in San Francisco. Her wardrobe is to die for.

There were times when I looked less than be fair after after emergency surgery and two weeks on bed rest, my looks were not my number one priority - but my vanity did win out, and I tried to keep some semblance of normality on things.

Here are my top three beauty tips for surviving pregnancy in the Dubai summer:

The girls at Feel Pink are regular visitors to our villa. I dialled them up every few weeks when pregnant and they dutifully arrived, laden with kit. 

This means no faffing about in the car travelling to the mall or a salon in 45 degree heat, no trying not to smudge your nails on the way out, a simple call and they're at your sofa. A classic mani/pedi is a snip at 150 dirhams,  done and dusted in 45 minutes, and they do a fantastic job. Extra points for their giddiness about impending baby Britney, which reached fever pitch. And now they get to see the lady herself every time they visit - it's really very sweet.

The only small issue is manoeuvring an eye-rolling husband out of the lounge when they arrive. Not as easy as it sounds if he is mid-way through watching a spaghetti western (don't ask!).

There is only so much you can do when it's 45 degrees and 90% humidity, but I wasn't about to take hair Vietnam lying down. I discovered this stuff a few years ago when working on a beauty project. In this region women are all over hair oil - thick Middle Eastern hair needs taming. Women religiously apply this overnight and wash out in the morning.

But it is, as you can imagine, messy. So the clever boffins at P&G came up with this as an alternative. It looks just like a normal conditioner, feels just like a normal conditioner, but it isn't. You're supposed to take handful of it and leave it in over night - I just use it after washing and rinse it straight out. 

I don't look quite like Cat Deeley after using it, but it does tame my hideously huge humid helmet to manageable sleek (ish) proportions.

If your waistline (and backside) is going to expand, it might as well look bronzed, in my opinion. Hence a weekly spray tan became as essential as breathing - which has always been my stance when it comes to tanning, more so when lumbering around like a whale in a bikini.

Getting to and from the salon without sweating it off became more challenging as summer progressed, so I did an at home job. L'Oreal is my favourite - minimal smell and air dries really quickly. Obviously I go for medium/dark not light- what's the point otherwise?

The Dubai Boom: It's Back!

What will this skyline look like in ten years time?
Dubai is booming again. Ever since we won Expo2020 there's been a whiff of hysteria in the air. Part of my love affair with Dubai comes from the ambition, the positivity, the drive to make things happen and get things done, so this excitement is great to see, hear and feel.

It manifests itself in a number of different ways. The most obvious, before Ramadan, was the traffic. We'd returned to the 2008 glory days of being stuck for hours in the evenings after work. Getting into the office became an incredible journey each morning, and has resulted in me flinging myself from a moving vehicle at the nearest metro station and walking over the bridge to Emaar Square, rather than sit in stationary traffic for 45 minutes.

The other is the building sites. They're popping up everywhere again. With a remit of 200 extra hotels by 2020, there's no time to waste. But it's not just hotels. Apartments, villas, offices, you name it, it's appearing, in what feels like record time.

On a conference call yesterday we looked out of the window. Aside from being able to see the sea (joy!) we also overlook the new Citywalk development. You know, the lovely lunch place a stone's throw from Downtown. Well, they're also building a whole residential area too. We counted 39 cranes. 39! 

There's also a huge office tower coming up right next to the window. We're so nonchalant about these monoliths appearing almost overnight that they don't really register any more. But when you walk through the Metro station, and see crowds of tourists gazing into these building sites in awe, I'm reminded. They are pretty special, it's true.


Handsome no doubt. As many sociopaths are...
I was a teeny tiny bit obsessed with the Oscar Pistorius trial. It gripped me in a way not seen since Madeleine McCann went missing (guilty!).

I don't know what it was about the whole story. I'm not at all interested in athletics, could barely have picked OP out in a line up before the hideous tragedy occurred. 

think it's this: something about his self serving emotional outpourings, the controlling texts, the reluctance to ever admit being in the reminds me of twenties.

It's a sad fact of life that almost every woman I know of a certain age (ahem) has experienced life with a sociopath. And alarm bells the size of South Africa have been ringing ever since I started watching the trial and listening to the evidence.

I've blogged about this before: what makes successful, intelligent women succumb to men like this? It's a tough one to answer. We never really reached a conclusion. If I could travel back in time I'd have some sage advice for my twenty-something self. Whether I'd take it or not is another matter, of course.

On the 11th September, Oscar Pistorius will hear his conclusion. The verdict will be announced. I watch with interest. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Fealing the Fear

SO worth a read.
Have you read this book? If you haven't, you really should. I came across it about 5 years ago and it completely changed my life. I make an effort to re-read it every year (preferably on a sun lounger). 

The last time I did this (in Mauritius, on sun-lounger, with fizz) I returned home to discover that the author, Susan Jeffershad died. Very sad news and the fact that it happened just as I was hearing her voice through the pages made her passing even more poignant.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, before I had a baby, before I got pregnant (and let's be honest, the whole way through my pregnancy) I was gripped by fear. Aside from being out of control, having a dramatic pregnancy and in and out of hospital every two minutes, I had some very tangible, real fears. Want to hear them?

1) Lack of Sleep

If you have a baby that sleeps then look away now (in fact don't even speak to me!). This fear was totally founded. Times a million. Enough said.

2) Screaming

I've never been a fan of screaming babies (is anyone?) and I was terrified of this. Again, I was right to be. 

For me, it' s not just the sound, which is like nails being hammered into your soul, but the fact that sometimes you just don't know how to stop it. You are completely and totally powerless. And it can strike any time, any place.  Obviously you get better at this as time goes on, but the first few months were hellish. 

A highlight for me was a neighbour knocking on the front door to see if everything was ok. "The baby has been crying for a very long time," she helpfully pointed out. Thank god she came to check - I mean I never would have noticed....

3) I Wouldn't Love the Baby

I look back on this now and laugh. Actually chuckle. I was GRIPPED by this fear. I've never been maternal, not a huge fan of children, never been a baby snuggler. I lay awake the night before my c-section wondering if it had all been a big mistake and feeling so sad for Baby Britney. That I might not love her at all.

If only I could whisper in my pre-baby ear that this really was the least of my worries. The absolute one thing that I shouldn't have given an inch of thought to. It might not rush over you instantly (rather a fierce protective instinct) but when the love comes, it is incredible. 

Every cliche is true: it takes your breath away, makes your heart stop beating, makes the world stop turning. It's like falling in love, every second and every minute of the day. Apart from the minutes when they're screaming, obv. 

Of course, this love is also coupled with a crippling sense of responsibility that also takes your breath away, but by this stage you're so drunk in love with your tiny tyrant that this is bearable (most of the time.)

The moral of the story? Feel the fear. Jump off the cliff. You'll survive. I promise.