Global Parents: Tamara and James

Tamara and Tom

We shift back over to London for the next segment of Global Parents. In fact, we wanted to introduce you to the real 'Mr and Mrs' behind the chic boutique and luxury hotel website known as Mr and Mrs Smith. Having been together for 12 years, Tamara and James (both co-founders of the business) now reside in what Tamara calls the 'leafy London suburb of Chiswick...' with their son Tom - who will be happily turning 2 years old at the end of May. Of course, there's always more than meets the eye when trying to operate a growing and successful business such as theirs, and raise an energetic 2 year old! So, naturally we had some questions for Tamara:

Where in the world did you get the idea to open your own hotel website?
We started Mr & Mrs Smith before James and I married, and, of course before we had children. It was born of the frustration of not being able to find decent places for our weekend escapes from the city. We both ran our own businesses at the time, which we eventually gave up to run Smith. In the first few years we travelled enormously – that's why we moved to Chiswick, to be near Heathrow airport. Back then, I could never have coped with having children. Now the business is more established and we have teams of people who can visit hotels, so we don’t need to travel as much and can therefore spend more time with Tom.

You say that you don't travel as much now that things are more established with the business. However, do you still do any hotel visits - with Tom in tow perhaps? We did alot of travelling with our son within his first 3 years and we are curious as to whether you've embraced it, or if you'd rather not mix business with pleasure.
I still travel for work and I do take Tom if I'm going to be away for more than a couple of days – I can’t bear to be away from him for longer. I’ve taken him on work trips to Spain, New York and the Caribbean in the past year, but, if it's a short trip, it's easier and less disruptive for him if I go on my own. I have a big trip to Australia coming up which I’ve decided not to take him on – I'm not sure a 24-hour plane trip is something a two-year-old, or his mother, could cope with just yet!

Mum and Tom in St Lucia

What's the average morning ritual like at your home?
My son is an early riser – usually 5.30 (he has too much energy!). So we get up and make some tea and milk. Then we usually sit in bed watching the news on television and then make our way down to breakfast. Tom and I always sit down to have breakfast together – he gets upset if ever he does happen to sleep in and misses the opportunity. He always chooses his own breakfast and lays the table. Tom will usually choose muesli – he especially loves picking out the dried fruit. Our favourite is a brand called Dorset Cereals, but he likes them all. His second favourite is Marmite on toast – a very British thing that people tend to love or loathe. James doesn't have breakfast with us usually because he is showering (he entertains Tom while I’m in the shower), so he’s a little behind us in the morning!! I shower whilst James brushes Tom's teeth and then our nanny arrives at 8 so I can go to work.

So, Tom doesn't leave home to go to any kind of pre-school, etc?
Our nanny lives just up the road. Tom will be starting at nursery in a couple of months – I know he will love being with other children as he enjoys having them round to his house when we have playdates.

It must be very difficult to be the mother and father also running a thriving business, especially where you always have to be on the go. How do you both pull this off?

Getting the nanny right is crucial – being able to leave every morning in the knowledge your child is happy and having a great time is the best thing. It wasn't always like that; the first nanny I had was terrible – when I left for work I had a sinking feeling, I worried alot and in the three weeks she worked for me I would have to go back home more often than not because Tom was so unhappy. It was a tough time because I was just starting to go back to work, but I was also determined to continue breastfeeding so I used to have to rush back home at feeding times or spend ages pumping and freezing batches of milk.

I'm strict about leaving work on time and getting quality time with Tom before he goes to bed. I'm lucky he doesn't need much sleep so he's usually up until 8.00pm. I also have two great grandmothers who adore him and love to spend time with him so I have fantastic support. Because it was my own business, I had to go back to work when Tom was three months old; it was really tough and I don't think I could have done it without my mum. If I had my time again, I wouldn't have gone back to work so early. It was too early for him and for me.

It's not an easy decision for many mothers. Especially the pumping and separation anxieties, right?
I tried not to pump at work but I did have a room I could go into so I could be private. It’s my own business so I was never made to feel bad about doing this. I think the thing that most stressed me out was the rushing from home to work and back again constantly – babies can’t wait for their food and so I felt I was in a constant rush. I was lucky I was close to home so I could actually get back to a breastfeed. I do regret not being there more in his 3rd, 4th and 5th months when I was going back to work – I feel he sometimes needs to be close to me now because he felt me pull away then. Because my first nanny wasn’t good (Tom just didn’t like her), this just added an extra layer of stress to the day. In the back of my mind I knew he wasn’t happy with her. She didn’t last long, but I remember leaving work every day she was there with a sinking feeling – and when I found out she was a moody person who was on medication, I felt more guilty for not listening to my instincts sooner.

What happens around lunch time on the average day? Any special concerns around food, or diets, etc?
Tom's going though a very picky phase so meal times can be difficult. He's never really liked anything that is soft or mushy and he is very independent and doesn't let me feed him. As a result, it's hard to be inventive with food. I have to hide vegetables as much as I can.

James and Tom

So, How is Chiswick for raising a child?
Chiswick is very child-friendly. There’s lots of green space to run around, we live near Kew Royal Botanical Gardens which is a stunning park complete with kids’ centre. There are tonnes of kids classes – from music and dancing to football and painting. Our nanny was a nursery teacher so she organises activities at our house for other children too! So, Tom is kept busy.
Having travelled to many cities, I would have to say that London is extremely child-friendly – the parks, restaurants, cafés, city zoos, museums, etc.

How about taking Tom out to restaurants?
Oh yes; he loves going out to restaurants and I find he eats better because there are so many distractions. I try and take him out to eat at least once a week. He also loves picnics with other children, and, with Kew Gardens near our house, we do that as soon as the weather permits. Of course, the restaurant has to be child-friendly, otherwise I find it stressful, Tom picks up on this and then starts to act up. There are some places in London that provide a very welcoming, relaxed atmosphere where nothing is too much trouble and you also feel comfortable as a parent – they are hard to find. My favourite café in London – Coffee and Crayons in Fulham. And, my favourite restaurant chain for taking kids in London is Carluccio’s because the chicken is always good quality and they don’t serve fries! My favourite children’s park in London is the Princess Diana Memorial Playground because it has a full size pirate ship, sand pit, and lots more - as well as a lovely adjoining café. It’s a very special place for children and parents.

How about books or toys?
We devour books in our home. I can hardly keep up. I have heard other mothers say they read the same books over and over but Tom won't allow that. He does have favourites that he will beg for again and again but after about the 10th read he won't want to go back to it and it's on to the next new batch. We love the Mick Inkpen’s Kipper stories because they range from the simple baby stories to more complex and funny tales – Tom’s favourite is The Blue Balloon
. We’re also fans of Bridget Fidget and Dougal Digger, which was a real find. Our local library has been a godsend for keeping a steady flow of new books and for keeping down the cost. In toy terms, I scour the internet for great 'making' toys and love Wikki Stix a great US invention. Tom adores his wheelbarrow too, but far and away the best thing we have ever bought him has been his indoor trampoline, which he bounces on every every morning to work off his excitement at the new day, and at night to drain those last bits of energy (normally just after he's had a full bottle of milk!).

the wheelbarrow!

Anything special you like to do with Tom?
At the weekends, James and I love taking Tom along the river Thames which is near where we live – we feed the ducks and swans and then walk to a nearby park where people take their dogs. Tom loves them so we spend time meeting new dogs and playing 'kickball' before walking home over the railway bridge. We always have to stop and wait for a train to go under and often the drivers toot their horn at Tom waving. It's a Sunday ritual that we all cherish.

What kind of snacks do you like to give him?
I don't tend to give much in terms of snacks – just an apple or some raisins – he doesn't seem to need much.

It sounds like Tom isn't a fan of taking naps?
Tom only has one nap a day for about 45 minutes (did I mention he has far too much energy?). If we’re anywhere but home he doesn’t sleep at all – he gets too excited. It has been limiting over the past two years because we have to make sure we get home for his nap or the end of the day descends into chaos as he gets grumpy and overtired. Now he's not quite as bad if he misses it.

What's the usual for dinner? Any special foods, etc...?
Tom’s a huge fan of pasta and pesto, Bolognese, chicken fingers and roast parsnips – like his father he has an aversion to all things green and healthy. I always try to give him his favourite meals or food I know he will eat happily in the evening and make it more varied and experimental at lunch time . He seems to reject food more easily at night I think it's because he's not as hungry as lunchtime.

And how about bedtime?
Our bedtime routine entails an hour of wind down after the bath. At 7, we have milk and then stories; Tom insists on choosing the books and we have to read at least four or he feels hard done by. Before tucking him up in bed, I always talk to Tom about my day and his day. He's normally in bed by 8 and talks to himself until about 8.15, or 8.30 if he’s in a chatty mood.

Any ideas from the past about parenting that are coming back to haunt you, or instruct you (from your own parents, etc), or help you, or scare the hell out of you now???
I wish I had read fewer 'bringing up baby' guide books in the very early months and gone more by instinct. They made me a bit paranoid that I was doing the wrong thing, that I should instigate a routine. I used to worry about Tom not having enough sleep and not having naps at the right time. I thought I was doing something wrong to not allow him to sleep properly and we battled around nap times – something I regret. It took a while for me to realise he simply did not need as much sleep as other babies. When it came to potty training, I decided I wasn't going to read a single book and just trust my own instinct. About a month ago I bought a potty and Tom now uses it regularly. It's been the most non-stressful, pleasurable experience – we have great fun reading stories on the potty. I don't know whether I am doing it right or not but I don't care – it's working.

Ah, nice, another Nonchalant Mom! Hey, any special remedies or foods in your home life that you might like to share?
I was tipped off by an organic cook that hemp seeds were a fantastic addition to a child's diet. We call them mummy's special nuts and Tom's only allowed them on special occasions! He loves them and I feel great every time he eats them. Other than that I'm pretty relaxed, I try and buy organic where I can, Luckily I have a nanny who loves to cook so all his meals are home-cooked. I try to stay away from chips and biscuits but I do give them to him occasionally because I don't want him to crave them.