Denise Lewis: My precious moments

Denise Lewis: My precious moments 

Olympic Gold medal-winning athlete Denise Lewis talks about struggling to survive sleepless nights, and how her three children share her love of sport

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Did you always plan to be a mum?

I didn't, actually, it wasn't really on my to-do list. I was so heavily involved in sport, and I'm sure a lot of career women can relate to being engrossed in their job. But then I became pregnant and loved it. I was really fortunate to have good pregnancies.

Describe birth in one word

One word is too difficult! It's more than pain!

Who's your biggest parenting influence?

I gained a lot from reading magazines, and of course now there are brilliant websites for mums. You have your own parents too, but I think there's always something you reckon they might have done better, so talking to loads of other mums is really invaluable.

What's the best thing about being a mum?

Snuggle time with my boys – I love it!

And what have you had to give up?

Sleep. At times the sleep deprivation feels like torture. Kane was very difficult. He wouldn't be swaddled or take a dummy, and he was an early walker, so he'd abseil out of the cot and we'd hear him running across the landing – imagine Chucky! It went on and on and I thought I'd lose my mind, so my husband had to take over. But after a week I couldn't bear listening to Kane crying and not going to him. He was so willful. He's five now and still wakes in the night sometimes... But I miss the baby days! My best friend has just had a baby and when I saw him I was so broody it was ridiculous. He was only an hour old and he was latched on – so happy, just knowing what he needed to do. I love babies.

What's your perfect family day?

I love it when we can all eat together. We're big eaters and quite a foodie family, so mealtimes are fun for us. In the summer we have big barbecues with meat and salads. The children are great, they eat anything – they love mixed leaves with cucumber and sweet peppers. In the winter we make fajitas with shrimps or chicken. Sundays are brilliant: it's all hands on deck and the children help prepare the veg.

How did you choose your children's names?

I was rubbish at choosing baby names. I was so indecisive that my daughter remained nameless for three days! In the end, I guess I wanted simple names. I chose Lauryn, but thought I was adding a bit of flair by using a 'y' instead of an 'e'. Now she says, 'Why can't I just be a normal Lauren?' I wanted the boys' names to be short and strong. I thought Ryan was nice because it shared some letters with Lauryn's name. Kane – well, I had a feeling he was going to be trouble! He's very strong-willed and his name suits him.

Any parenting advice you can offer?

Parents hear so much advice, and everything depends on your children. But I'd say pick your battles, otherwise you could drive yourself potty. You want to stick to your principles, but you need to be flexible sometimes as well.

Biggest mistakes you've made?

So many, but I suppose you always think you're making mistakes as a parent, don't you? None of it is easy. You have to do so much as a mum, you develop amazing foresight. You're the one who sees the drink before it's about to spill, the door as it's about to close on little fingers. Mistakes aside, mothers are amazing.

What makes your children laugh?

Daddy really makes them laugh. They're into Moshi Monsters as well – I am driven mad by those songs. Also, with the boys, bottoms, farts, willies – they find all that stuff hilarious.

Are they sporty?

Yes, they do all sorts: tennis, badminton, gymnastics, netball, football, rugby. Ryan, who's seven, is really into rugby; recently his school won the chance to play at Twickenham. They played tag rugby at half time in a big Harlequins game; the stadium was packed and he was so excited, he was beside himself.

Any embarrassing moments with them?

So many! A while ago I was involved in the sports day at Ryan's school and took Kane along. I was giving out prizes when I realised some of the parents were giggling. Kane had decided he needed the loo, so had just pulled his pants down and was having a wee where he was standing. I was mortified! Of course, I've also been 'that' parent on the flight, whose child is banging the tables, kicking the seat in front, spilling the drinks...

And your biggest panic?

Lauryn got lost in Mothercare when she was about five. You go from being relatively calm, thinking, 'She'll be in the next aisle... It's Ok, she must be in the next one...' to blind panic. I combed every inch of the store, the shop assistants helped, and we couldn't find her. I was in a big shopping centre, so I ran to the information desk, because I was thinking she could have gone anywhere. Eventually I went back to the shop, and she just appeared from nowhere. Then, you know, relief turned to fury!

What could you do better?

Hmm, that comes back to food. I always think I could be the mother who cooks and freezes meals for the week. I could be more organised with that and recipes, it'd save a lot of time.

What does your husband do better?

Nothing – ha ha! Ok, he says I'm a control freak. I think he has more tolerance – when things are about to reach fever pitch, he is the one who can rationalise the situation.

What would you pass on to your children?

I guess you can't really pass on happiness, but that's the one thing anyone really wants for their kids, isn't it?

What have they taught you?

That I can't control everything, and some things you have to just work your way through. You don't have the power to make things happen a certain way. You learn as you go.

Have they ever shocked you?

Sometimes I'll feel Lauryn, who's 11, doesn't quite get the bigger picture, then she'll come up with something really insightful. Your children are maturing all the time, always striving to do more – it can be surprising when you realise they are ready for things.

What's your guilty pleasure?

Popcorn nights!

What would you invent for new mums?

A machine to freeze time. So when you think, 'This isn't quite going to plan!' you could just stop time, get yourself a cuppa and calm down. Then you could go back, catch the drink that's about to spill or whatever, and put things as they should be.

Denise was chatting to Pip Jones

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