Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kids N Action

Today, I found myself in an indoor amusement park.

That alone would be bad enough. But my time in this neon hell coincided with the very window of time in which I was expected to review a considerable volume of work and provide meaningful feedback to my colleagues.

How, you might ask, did I get myself into this?


I am on vacation this week. However, we are in the throes of kitchen renovation, so rather than expanding my kids' experience by trekking through the rainforests of West Africa or visiting monasteries in Tibet, I have been dragging them around Home Depot, Lowes, and shady tile warehouses in the industrial nether regions of Brooklyn. This, coupled with the fact that there are projects at work that I cannot just walk away from, means that downtime with my kids has been somewhat challenged.

During this afternoon's home-improvement excursion, we passed Kids N Action, and my youngest asked, very nicely, if we might go in. Considering that I had recently plied them with a 2-pound cinnamon bun apiece to keep them quiet in Ikea, I should have known better. But I caved. 

Kids N Action, I discovered, is a glatt kosher version of Chuck E Cheese. There were play tunnels, a ball pit, go carts, and -- la pi├Ęce de no-parental-resistance -- an indoor roller coaster. A cacophonic whirl of sensory overstimulation, the place might aptly be renamed Parents N Purgatory.

There was not, unfortunately, a bar. 

I managed to find a seat in the cafe, and opened up my laptop. Before switching on, I glanced over to check on the boys, and realized that they were already on their fifth roller coaster ride, which considering the cinnamon buns they had recently put away, could only end badly. Feeling faintly guilty that I had unleashed my over-sugared kids on the other inhabitants of this brightly-colored plastic jungle, I dutifully ignored my gut, and started reviewing work. 

Two cups of bad coffee later, I eventually sent feedback, which may or may not have been meaningful. I had one of my heads coming on, and could not wait to get home and take 3 Excedrin (migraine-strength) with a glass of wine. I extracted my kids from the ball pit, with considerable difficulty.

"Mummy, this place is FANTASTIC!"
"I mean, I can't believe we've never been here before!"
"Do you like it mummy?"

Silence, as I wondered how to answer.

My youngest answered for me.

"I bet you do mummy, because you have fun when you see us having fun, right?"

There it is, in a nutshell. The reason places like Parents N Purgatory exist. We have fun when we see them having fun. No matter how miserable we are.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I had an 8am call yesterday morning, to present work to an extended client team in the US and EU.

This is way earlier than should be legal. While I truly don't mind getting up early -- like it, even -- the fact that I am expected to be cogent, compelling, and persuasive before my second cup of tea is terrifying. I decided to take the call from home, which would give me a little longer to rally my rambling thoughts.

What should be pointed out here is that my summer mornings are a harried whirl of multi-tasking activity. There are soccer boots to be found, water bottles to be filled, lunches to be packed, breakfasts to be made, sunscreen to be applied, screen-time rules to be laid down, arguments to be had...god forbid I have time for a shower.

So of course, this morning I was in my usual state of disarray.

I hopped out of the shower and onto the call, wearing nothing but a towel. I started off in decent fashion, pretty authoritative I thought, for 8am. And then it occurred to me. What if my clients and colleagues could see me right now?

The authoritative note slipped out of my voice, and I clutched my towel a little tighter.

I am thankful beyond expression that videoconferencing has not taken off in a big way in the business environment. While I love Skype and will happily chat away to my parents in my pyjamas, having to be well-groomed and ironed at any time of the day or night for business calls would be way beyond my capabilities.

This morning's call went smoothly. Nobody guessed I was looking for something clean to wear as we discussed the ideas, or was groping under the bed for my shoe as we decided on next steps. Everyone left the call happy, and I left it dressed.

Videoconferencing would put an end to this kind of multi-tasking. Which would be a shame. Because I went to work clean. And I smelt great.

Odorconferencing. Now that I could cope with.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Presentation skills

My son recently had to give a speech at his graduation. He was the salutatorian (I had to look it up), and so was asked to inspire his fellow graduates and their families with erudite, pithy, and amusing words of wisdom.

He is 10. And while I am a firm believer in allowing kids to do their own work and make their own mistakes, I couldn't let the lad fail in front of 500 people. So I became, for two brief weeks, a stage mom.

We brainstormed ideas for his speech. ("You need one idea. No rambling nonsense. If you tell them more than one thing, you've told them too much.")

He wrote it, and I reviewed it. Ruthlessly. ("Where's the structure? It's all about structure. Repetition and structure.")

And then we rehearsed. And rehearsed. And rehearsed again.

I had the poor fellow recite it in the kitchen. ("Slow down.") On the stairs looking down at a family audience of 3 people and 2 cats. ("Slower.")  With his notes. ("Pause between each sentence.") Without his notes. ("You need to know this inside and out so you can think on your feet.")

I was unbearable. Because I do this a lot. And I know that you had better be prepared, because things don't always go according to plan.

Just yesterday, we had a presentation at work. There were 30 people squeezed into a conference room that bulges at the seams with 20. My jacket was tight. It was hot. I was thirsty. I stood up to present, and realized to my horror that I was quite unable to draw a breath. I gasped. I spluttered a sentence. I sipped some water. I took a shallow breath, in order not to burst the buttons on my jacket, and spluttered some more. It was the most uncomfortable presentation experience of my life.

Afterwards, a colleague mentioned that she liked the way I took my time, and drew deep, thoughtful breaths between each point. I disabused her of this notion, and explained that I was in fact hyperventilating, and had almost died for want of a paper bag to breathe into.

"Oh," she replied. "I thought you were doing it for emotional effect."

At least they didn't see the whites of my eyes.

On graduation day, my son was spiffy and smart in his new suit and shiny shoes. He climbed up to the podium, where he had to stand on a stool so he could see over the top. He looked around calmly (just like mummy told him to), smiled (ditto), and took a deep breath (ditto, although he was in no danger of losing his buttons). Then he began...

He did a lovely, lovely job. I commented that he looked so comfortable up there, as if he presented to 500 people on a regular basis.

"Were you nervous?"
"Yes. My trousers were shaking."

Bless his heart.

I was so proud. Because even with shaking trousers, he didn't let us see the whites of his eyes.

Monday, August 1, 2011


I am in Boston for a pitch. Once again, my powers of packing appropriately for the task at hand have failed me.

I cannot claim exhaustion, having packed this morning at a leisurely pace. So how exactly I find myself standing here in my hotel room at midnight with no toothbrush, toothpaste, eye make up remover, or clean undergarments is entirely beyond me.

I called the concierge, who assured me in a smiley voice that the hotel can furnish me with complimentary oral hygiene products; fifty-seven minutes later, hope is fading fast that these will in fact materialize.

Decide to take eye make up removal into my own hands using hotel shower gel, with disastrous results. My eyes, surrounded by indelible black smudges, appear to be bleeding.

Wipe my teeth clean on a towel and get into bed.

Lie awake, concerned.

Quite how I will deal with the undergarment situation tomorrow morning remains to be seen. Maybe I can do something creative with the disposable shower cap.

Transparent plastic knickers.

I shudder myself to sleep.