Sunday, 05 October 2014
Michaela Strachan: My precious moments
TV presenter Michaela Strachan says that motherhood is a constant balancing act, but also gives you the excuse to enjoy children's games all over again
Did you always plan to be a mum?
No. When I was younger I was so involved with my career, I thought I probably wouldn't have any children. But then at about 35 I read about a TV presenter who said it was all very well going to nice hotels every weekend, but was there more to life? It felt like a heck of a decision to say I would never have children. I had Ollie when I was 39.
Did you enjoy being pregnant?
Describe birth in one word.
Who's your biggest parenting influence?
Definitely my mum. I had a really happy childhood and I had, and still do have, a brilliant relationship with her.
Favourite thing about being a mum?
It's made me think of the bigger picture. It also gives you an excuse to do things you realise you still love doing, but are thought of as children's activities – like going to a theme park or building a den.
Perfect family day?
I love it when we all go for a walk and aren't bothered by distractions – no phones ringing and no one answering a text. Ollie sometimes complains, but after ten minutes he really gets into it, and it's so important to get children outdoors. They need to have that connection with the environment to grow into healthy adults. We're in danger of raising a generation who've been brought up in virtual reality.
Best advice you've been given?
When Ollie was a toddler, I was (and am still, I think) very guilty of arranging his diary, always keeping him busy. But someone told me that sometimes the best thing you can do is let children be bored, because then their own imagination and creativity begin to soar.
What have you had to give up?
Selfishness, and the total freedom to do what I want. One thing we have given up as a couple is nights out. I still travel a lot for work, and my partner does too. So when I'm home, I actually don't want to go out.
Biggest mistakes you've made?
Giving him juice! I really wish I'd just given him water. Now, like me, he doesn't drink much water, and of course we hear about all the sugar in juice. So being a sporty boy, and living in a hot country (Cape Town, South Africa), he drinks a lot. So his tummy fills up, then he doesn't eat dinner. I kick myself now!
What's been your most embarrassing moment with Ollie?
Probably on a flight to Australia, when he started projectile vomiting. It was traumatic, but also sooo embarrassing. We were in that bulkhead seat, thank god, not behind someone – that would have been awful!
And your biggest panic?
It was more than a panic really. When he was a toddler he had a lot of chest infections, so they did tests and became concerned that he might have cystic fibrosis. He didn't, but someone saying something that could have completely changed our lives – that was scary.
What could you do better?
Occasionally I think I could balance my life better. Sometimes I think I have it just right, but it's a juggle, and there are constant readjustments. Oh, I could also play cricket better! Cricket is Ollie's passion.
What does his dad do better than you?
Sport, without a doubt. Ollie was a mummy's boy when he was little, and I remember looking at Nick and saying, 'Argh, why can't he just go to you instead of me for once!' At the time, everyone said that if he got into sport, I'd rue the day I said that. It's true! Now I'm like, 'Ollie, don't you want to do some arts and crafts or something?' Ha!
Does Ollie share your love of nature?
He loves being outdoors, and likes animals too, but maybe not as much as I'd like him to; I'd really like to pass on my love of wildlife and the environment to him. We recently went for a long weekend to the Victoria Falls and then to Botswana on a safari. Knowing that he's very competitive, I set him a challenge to find an A to Z of animals: I asked him to find one for every letter of the alphabet. That worked really well, and he was so desperate to complete it.
Has he ever shocked you?
Once, when he was about five, he had a cough and I was giving him homeopathic medicine. He had a few friends round, and I guess he was showing off. He got the little pills and just shoved them all down him. All of them.
I thought, oh my god, if that had been conventional medicine, we'd be rushing to the hospital. He was fine but it was shocking.
What do mums have to accept?
That their life is going to be very different. Wonderful and rewarding in many ways, but it can sometimes be frustrating too. When Ollie was little, I'd read him a bedtime story, but then he'd want me to stay with him until he fell asleep. To start with I found that so frustrating, because I had other things to do, but then I realised I just had to accept that it was going to take an hour every night to get him to sleep, and enjoy it.
What's your guilty pleasure?
If you could invent something for new mums, what would it be?
A little fairy, for those moments when you get to your wits' end with your child, to calm you down before you explode. It happens to the best of us at some point.
Michaela was chatting to Pip Jones at the launch of Littlewoods' Treehouse of the Year competition