Taking on a festive role, at this time of year, involves making a list of those you really 'need' to gift. Basically Thank YOU packages for those who persevere with our offspring and their ludicrous spelling, others who put our homes back together after an overly-sociable weekend or he who delivers weekend newspapers when none of my housemates want to walk down the road in their PJs. But, what I'll now call tactical giving, is reaching an all-time peak... mostly because our gifting competitors are ensuring the how to show your appreciation bar is unbearably high.
The way I see it, there's an opt IN or opt OUT tick box system going . If I opt in, I'm going to end up spending more on the form teachers, the music teachers, our drycleaners (not my idea, His) than I will do on my nearest/dearest – because, in all honestly, Father Christmas only half heartedly drops by our gaff on the eve of the turkey-eating marathon. Plus, I'd need to immediately buy shares in Jo Malone, Space NK or even setting up an affiliate marketing programme with JohnLewis.com to enter this gift-rat-race.
Opting out has its own set of risks: will the teachers think I'm only semi-grateful? Or will I look like the meanest, tightest, not in the least bit involved mum if I simply fling a bottle of something strong their direction – in exchange of their detailed school report and exhausted faces?
So I've decided that my logic is to be instinctive and personal. Gifting doesn't need to be excessive. In fact, the more excessive, the more uncomfortable so while the most curious of mothers – laden with more gifts than Santa – totter up to the school gates, I'll hide behind their reindeer and watch the teachers squirm.
I was never very good at being that hostess with the most-est. All the excitement up front – the invitation, stocking up the fridge, fresh flowers by the bedside and the sweet-smelling bread in the oven. But then, as soon as the guest has unpacked, I start glancing at the clock, waiting for this long-awaited friend to depart. You see, home is my sanctuary; a place where I totally switch off, shuffle around in slippers and wear BAD tracksuits.
But this particular guest was never invited. He simply dug his way into our lives and now seems to act like he's ruling our roost. OUR casa is HIS casa, or so it seems.
Of course I immediately called in the 4th emergency service to get this furry (non)friend evicted. Traps were set and poison laid down. But no, he still reins on; over us mere lodgers in his castle.
Now known by our other 5* hotel guests as 'The Other Him', the pest is dead (if only) keen on midnight feasting, tireless scurrying and general frolicking. In short, TOH is living it up chez nous. And I'm now not seeing the funny side of this intruder. So another appointment has been booked and this time it's HIM or ME.
I know, I know. Those who live surrounded by green fields have many such infiltrators, some even with longer tails. I know that he's a great deal smaller than me. I know he's potentially harmless (if you don't count the countless health risks carried by these pests) but I absolutely refuse to cohabit one more day with an overly curious, entirely intrusive, trap-dodging RODENT.
I just wonder if they think I'm a DREADFUL mum?' a self-crucifying (yet highly successful) mother confessed to me earlier this week over a steaming cup of hot coffee. And she wasn't referring to her children's assessment of her parental skills either. This inherent fear of judgement was attributed to those other mums at the school gates. I quickly reassured her and moved on.
'Do you think that they think that we are totally MAD?' a friend asked me a couple of days later as I sprinted to catch a bus in the pouring rain. I honestly had no idea who or what she was talking about but pacified her all the same.
'But what will THEY say if we book a holiday THERE?' He asked me last last night. I was too tired to even respond, let alone question.
But, right here and now - after these three questions and so, so many more - I am realising that I (quite frankly) don't give a damn what the next person thinks about any personal decisions I make in my life. Anyone disapproving or querying or even daring to judge me is quite frankly irrelevant if that decision works for me and us and them. Actually, it doesn't even cross my mind to peer over the garden fence to see how and why others lead their lives.
Am I'm in the minority and do most others care about those ever-present Jones-es. In reality, I can't see how this over the shoulder glancing could ever work out well. Of course it's human nature to want to be liked and accepted but a burning need to 'fit in' will absolutely prevent you from being YOU. Besides, all humans are constantly in a state of flux so, just when you're finally slotting in, someone somewhere will change their view and you'll be flung back out in the cold.
I was chatting away on the phone to a client who lives up in Scotland. She was wondering if any of my blogger friends might want to visit her business and learn more about the great Scottish tartan tailoring. And right then and there, I saw my chance to plan a 48-hour escape.
Because the reality is that this mum doesn't really business travel. My work is always within a tube journey of the Smalls and often needs to be completed before the end of school bell sounds.
So a small bag was packed, minutia arrangement made and some train tickets booked before six of us travelled into a land of chequered colour. We visited a mill, learnt how to make a kilt, picnicked by the Tweed, drank good wine and laughed. Really really properly laughed until our tummies hurt.
And as I'm now travelling home and already excited to cuddle those Smalls, I've realised just how much we all need to escape from time to time.
As London Fashion Week rears its pointed toe, most of us in the digital fashion world will have our cameras and iphones at the ready in every effort to snap, post and share those most likable instagram pictures. But is our world in squares, along with the other social platforms, a suitable place for our Smalls to play? When, where, how and WHY I'm asked repeatedly – perhaps because my day job – should we allow the underage into our mindless playground?
But it's not as easy as that. In fact, it's a debatable topic that none of us are knowledgeable enough to give any proper advice on. Many of us can see the advantage of children understanding how social media works and there is always the argument that – by denying access – you are over hyping it and therefore provoking the naughties to go behind your back... perahps one dark day.
The truth is that a great deal of what's out there being shared by closed communities (those with privacy settings) is harmless and therefore very dull for the Under 13s (the recommended age). But there are of course those ugly bits. From what I hear, children mostly stumble across these on YouTube and mine have been given this strict advice: if it's horrid, turn it off immediately and tell an adult.
For better or for worse, my Mini loves Instagram. She loved scrolling through my feed for more than a year before I conceded (read: fought Him) and allowed her to open her own account. With 20 followers and a passion for taking and editing her photos, it all feels pretty harmless. My logic is that when the rest of her peers are allowed access, she'll behave like a normal social media freak rather than one feeling the need to push boundaries and behave inappropriately. The novelty is here and now.
But, as I said, there's no right or wrong answer to this debate. It's highly personal and with a close eye, privacy settings to keep out the baddies and limited screen time, I think she might just survive.