Project Parenting: Applying Project Management Principles to Child-Rearing

DETAILED PROJECT PLAN: PROJECT PARENTING

PROJECT SPONSOR

Whether or not you planned on becoming a parent – and whether you like it or not – YOU are the sponsor of “Project Parenting”. Sometimes the project participants (also known as children) may be of the opinion that they are the sponsors. This may be expressed in the form of statements such as “You are not the boss of me!” Whilst you may sometimes wish that this were the case, you are the boss of these participants and you may not resign as the project sponsor.

PROJECT CHARTER

Scope

The scope of Project Parenting is vast and includes:

meeting physical needs of the child(ren), i.e. food, shelter, clothing, education

Some project participants – particularly girls – may present you with out-of-scope clothing requirements. The only way that said participants will be persuaded of this is if you make reference to the project budget. You need to state unequivocally that a particular item(s) of clothing are not provided for in the budget. If the participant suspects that funds can be channeled from another budget (home maintenance, sibling clothing fund, education, groceries) they will stop at nothing until such funds have been re-allocated.

– meeting emotional needs of the child(ren)

Take solace in Philip Larkin’s poem with the lines “They f*ck you up, your Mum and Dad/ They don’t mean to but they do/ They fill you with the faults they had/ And add some extra, just for you”.

Do your best to raise an emotionally well-balanced child, but when you fail, you can always resort to laying on the guilt and exclaiming that “It’s so hard to be a mother/ father! You will see one day when you have your own children.”

Objectives

1. To raise a child who hopefully moves out of your house around the time they start having sex. Often times, the project budget will not allow for this since the scope of the project includes the provision of an education which may extend beyond schooling. However, tertiary education will hopefully assist you to achieve objective number 2 below:

2. To raise a child who becomes financially independent before you and your spouse are too old to enjoy your new-found financial freedom.

Participants

– Project Manager: you, the parent(s). This role can sometimes be outsourced to:

– nannies (as many as project budget allows)

– teachers

– grannies (and progressive grandfathers)

Project Participants: your children plus any of their friends who may be tagging along at any given time.

PROJECT APPROACH

Sleep when you’re dead. (Lack of sleep is an opportunity cost of child-rearing often not quantified, nor included in the project budget.) Your approach to Project Parenting should be that the project is always “live”.

PROJECT LIFE CYCLE

The timelines for Project Parenting are indeterminable. However, take solace in the fact that once Objective Number 2 has been achieved, the intensity of the project may lessen for a period, until your project moves on to its next stage: Project Grandparenting. Project Grandparenting is not as time-consuming as Project Parenting and handovers to parents occur regularly and after short periods.

PROJECT GOVERNANCE

Project parenting includes governance structures such as: Mother-in-laws and Other Parents. Some mother-in-laws have a hands-on governance approach which may include feeding, bathing, nappy changing, school lifts and sleepovers. Others may take more of a steering approach where they dispense parenting advice and point out the flaws in your project management style. If your mother-in-law takes the latter approach, you may duly note this in the risk log but you may find it more effective to move countries.

PROJECT BUDGET

Rest assured that your project will always be over budget. Period.

RISK LOG

The risk log for Project Parenting is a large and ever-changing document. It should be up-dated regularly and then leather-bound and presented to the project participants on their 21st birthdays. Here are some more common risks and issues:

1. The iteration that “Everyone else’s parents allow them to… (insert potentially risky activity)”. This is an effective tool for participants to employ if they sense that you are concerned about appearing “uncool”. If not, you can employ the age old retort “If everyone else’s parents were to jump into the fire, should I do so too?” If, however, you are concerned about being branded Most Old-Fashioned Parent Ever (sadly, my parents never were), then you will need to put in a few calls to fellow parents to find out the lay of the land.

2. Tantrums. There are various ways of dealing with these risks which are totally unavoidable. All children come with equipped with an innate predisposition to totally freak out when their desires are not met. The modern methods of threats to deny access to expected sugary foods and/ or TV seem to have the most instantaneous effects. Sometimes, however, one actually has to deny, not only threaten, and this often leads to elevated freak outs. These must be endured by parents with the aid of loud music/ earphones, yoga/ meditation and/or wine.

BUSINESS CASE

Once upon a time, when man lived off the land and when manual labour was critical for procuring food for survival, the business case for procreation was clear: your children would hunt for you and thus provide for you in your old age. However, since the advent of the knowledge economy, project management experts have been trying to devise a return on investment formula for Project Parenting. Thus far, they have been unsuccessful. Project participants cost more to raise than ever before and will not necessarily be in a position to send you and your spouse on a Carribean cruise in your twilight years.

In light of this, human capital experts have put forward a less tangible business case for Project Parenting. These include the velvet feel of a baby’s skin, cradling a perfectly contented, sound asleep infant, having your toddler crawl into your bed and cuddle you… and other such parenting perks.

Postprandial infant nap on the chest. One of the perks of parenting
Postprandial infant nap on the chest. One of the perks of parenting

Validation & The Stay-at-home Mom

We all want the same thing: to feel comfortable with our choices and to feel validated by those around us.                                                                                      Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In

It took just over two years for me to experience validation in my role as a stay-at-home mom. One of the teachers who helped out at my daughter’s play school described her as “clever”. For the first time in two years I felt a sense of achievement, and, I suppose, validation. Of course, the praise was not directed at me, it was about my child. But somehow, in this particular instance, coming from an external party, it felt like I was being validated.

I have some theories about why it’s hard to feel validated as a stay-at-home mom.

1) They’re kids, not colleagues.
The first and most obvious reason is that in the eyes of our children, we exist as extensions of themselves. Of course we do. And of course this is natural. (There are times when I think I still see my own mother as an extension of myself). Children cannot empathise with our roles, our feelings, our challenges. And neither should they have to. But as stay-at-home moms they are our colleagues, our peers, our friends, our family. They are the people we spend our days with, talk to (even when they can’t talk back) and share moments with. And yet it is not their job to tell us that we’re doing a good job.

2) Modern moms compete
We seek validation from other moms through our children’s achievements. This too, I think is fine and natural. But, to refer to Sheryl Sandberg once again, we women are our own worst enemies: we compete with one another, rather than support each other. When your child first sat, walked, spoke, started counting in Spanish (thank you, Dora The Explorer), swam unaided: these become points of comparison. Partly I think this is a female problem that extends to so many areas of life besides parenting and partly I think it’s because we were raised in a competitive culture. It’s almost as though we are already competing on our children’s behalf when they are six months, a year, two, three, four or five because we somehow feel we’d be disadvantaging them if we weren’t. In any event, despite the fact that other moms might be our de facto colleagues, it is sadly not inherent in our culture to praise and support our female peers. (Much has been written on this topic of late, so hopefully we are heading towards a tipping point for change in this respect).

3) Partners may struggle to relate to full time parenting…
A while ago I read a brilliant article in the Huffington Post entitled “Please don’t ask me what I’m up to today“. The author described how her husband left the house when she and the kids were in pyjamas surrounded by a messy kitchen and eating area. When he arrived home in the evenings, the scene looked the same: pyjamas and post-meal mess. Sometimes, just feeding multiple kids several times a day feels like an achievement, but it’s not really one you can expect validation for. “Guess what, honey? I fed the kids three times today, did the school run twice, soothed six tantrums, got a quote for the leaking pool, went food shopping, picked up the dry-cleaning, built a Lego house, took the kids to swimming and went for a run. Can I get a whoop whoop?” This is hardly what you are going to say to your partner after their long day at the office. And the energy required to assuage a meltdown or negotiate putting on shoes with a toddler is immeasurably great – you actually have to experience it to believe it.

So much about parenting doesn’t produce fast, tangible results. And even when it does, isn’t it lame to expect validation from our spouse for something that our kids – not us – have achieved?

So, how then, do stay-at-home moms find validation? Some examples I have seen or experienced include party planning/ cake baking/ crafting, charity work, blogging, serving as “Class Mom”, sporting goals or part-time studies.

One of my personal quests for validation included signing up for the 94.7 cycle challenge when my son was 10 days old. He was not quite four months when I rode the race, never having ridden a bicycle with cleats in my life. I was so determined to finish the race in the cut off time of 6 hours that I refused to stop to apply sunscreen when my husband warned me that my legs were burning. These were the results:

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How silly, in hindsight. But that’s how desperately I was seeking some sort of sense of achievement and validation…

To the stay-at-home moms out there, do you feel validated by those around you and if so, how do you achieve this? I would love to hear your comments…

Flying with Kids: Who Needs Pants Anyway?

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You know those recurring nightmares where you dream that you go to school/ to town/ to a party without any pants on? Well, sometimes dreams do come true…

Yesterday we flew to Port Elizabeth for this Sunday’s Ironman South Africa. The kids were wearing their “When I Grow Up I Want to Be an Ironman” t-shirts, David met a Kona qualifier (Ironman World Champs) in the row behind us so we were all excited and in good spirits. Plus we were travelling “light” – ie our car & trailer had been driven down to PE the day before. It was a one hour 4o minute flight with one parent per child, so I thought, “how hard can this be?”

Despite the fact that a 12:25pm take-off is clearly “lunch time” no matter where in the world you are, SAA is evidently cutting costs and served a packet of Lays crisps for “lunch”. Not the kind of rubbish I like to give my kids but I find that crisps do have their travel advantages compared to sweets and chocolate: they contain no caffeine and hardly any sugar so they shouldn’t make kids hyper, they don’t make kids sticky and they are loaded with a whole lot of crap that makes them taste great so they can keep kids busy for ages. For peace on an aeroplane, I am willing to overlook the health hazards…

I confess that I ate a few myself and noticed that the particular “sour cream & chives” variant is kind of rich. Joe, my 20 month old, is not used to being handed a bag of chips to do with what he likes, so before I knew it, he’d polished off two thirds of the bag.

Other than that, the flight wasn’t too bad. Not too much fighting over the Ipad, no number two’s and no major tantrums. But then as we were coming in to land, I realised that Joe was about to vomit. I could see the air sick bag in the pouch in front of me, but somehow I froze, holding my wretching son and hoping that he was done. By the third projection, I had mobilised myself to get hold of the bag and managed to catch some of that batch. Most of it, however, had gone all over him, all over my lap and then spilled over onto my seat, which now contained large flecks of sour cream Lays and some poorly chewed Trailmix (also courtesy of SAA). In order to avoid sitting in the vomit, I squatted above the seat for some time, but after a while my quads couldn’t handle the strain anymore and I surrendered and planted my arse in the squelch. By this time, Chiara (4) had produced a small sympathy vomit which David had managed to catch in a bag. She was holding her nose and pronouncing that Joe and I STANK and David was handing me bum wipes to try and mop up the vomit.

Welcome to Port Elizabeth.

We’d had a similar experience about 6 months earlier and it had been unpleasant only until I was able to get a clean pair of jeans out of my luggage once it arrived on the carousel. So this time, I just told myself to be patient until we got our bags. Just before the bags arrived, however, it dawned on me that I’d sent all my clothes for the trip ahead of us in the trailer (now parked at our hotel) and that I had only toiletries and a few kids’ items in my check-in luggage. My jeans were literally soaked in vomit, replete with little flecks of thrown up food which David noticed while we stood at the carousel and which he tried to remove with bum wipes (thank god for those things).

Walking to the toilets to change Joe, I considered my options. Maybe I could buy a pair of shorts or ANY bottoms at the airport? I surveyed the shops but all I could see in the way of clothing was mohair scarves in a gift store and then a tourist shop selling nothing but T-shirts. Absolutely nothing for the lower half of the body.

I changed Joe and carried on thinking. I could use a muslin or a baby blanket as a skirt. But of course, on this particular occasion, I really had packed light and had neither of those items. I actually could not stomach wearing my vomit drenched jeans a second longer. I would simply wear my long jacket. Except that when I put it on without pants I found it actually wasn’t long or even longish at all. If I stood dead still, it barely covered my panty line. All I could find was a cardigan which I tied around my waist so that at least from the back it looked like I was wearing shorts or a mini skirt covered by a jersey. From the front it look like, er, well, it looked like I didn’t have any bottoms on.

I marched back through the airport with throngs of Ironman competitors and supporters trying to hide the fact that I was half naked, by staying close to Joe’s pram. Maybe David had some bottoms in his luggage I could borrow. But he had also sent all his clothing in the trailer – which was probably a good thing, in hindsight. If I had pulled on a pair of my Ironman husband’s pants and found they wouldn’t pass my thighs, I think my day would have gotten significantly worse. Instead, I climbed into the transfer vehicle and planted my handbag on my lap to cover my bare legs. When I got out, I tried to strategically position my bag in front of my things and then walked over to the front desk half hiding my lower body behind the pram.

The side view remained a bit of an issue…

I managed to survive the check-in procedure, the packed lobby and my fellow guests in the mirrored lifts…

Never in my life have I been so excited to see a hotel robe.

On the bright side, I don’t have to swim 3.8km, cycle 180km and run a marathon on Sunday like all these crazy Ironman athletes. I am walking around in workout gear though, just so that I don’t stick out too much. Feels great to be wearing pants again!

Mauritius with Young Kids: Sugar Beach vs The Westin

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Our family of four has been privileged enough to have spent part of the last two December holidays in Mauritius. In December 2013 we stayed at the beautiful, colonial style Sugar Beach on the west coast. At the time, Chiara, our daughter was just over two and a half and our son, Joe was nearly five months old.

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The Manor House at Sugar Beach Resort

In December 2014, we stayed at The Westin, Turtle Bay (formerly the Grand Mauritian Hotel) in the north west of the island. Chiara was therefore about three and a half and Joe was 17 months.

The Westin, Turtle Bay
The Westin, Turtle Bay

The aim of this blog post is to compare our experiences at each. I specifically mention the ages of the children because tiny, little people and their needs change a huge amount in just twelve months and said tiny, little people and their needs can largely determine the extent to which their parents enjoy their holiday. (First world problems, I know).

THE POOLS
Sugar Beach has the most stunning pool called “The Quiet Pool” – literally. Kids are not banned from The Quiet Pool but there is a guy who walks around and tells anyone (big or small) who is making a noise to please be quiet. I have no problem with this (I fondly recall the days when I read books next to pools before I had kids) and we did manage to spend a few glorious early evenings at The Quiet Pool as Joe was still an infant and, at two and a half, Chiara could be made to understand that she needed to be quiet. A year later, however, I wouldn’t have gone near this pool with a seventeen month old.

The kid friendly pool with a fairly large shallow section at Sugar Beach is very nice, but we were there in peak season and we were NEVER organised enough to go early and put our belongings on the loungers to “reserve” them for when we had finished breakfast. So we never really had a spot to sit at this pool. I think the hotel was pretty full and the pool reflected this.

Aerial View
The kid-friendly pool with a shallow section at Sugar Beach

At The Westin, we LIVED at the “main” pool. (Not the “Reflections Pool”, in the “Whisper Zone” – we never went there as we never trusted our kids to whisper in or around the pool).

Kid friendly pool at the Westin with large shallow section
Kid friendly pool at the Westin with large shallow section

The main pool has an enormous shallow end which was amazing for the kids. It feels brand new and gorgeous, it’s enormous and we loved it. I doubt the hotel was very full (it re-opened under the Westin brand some time in 2014 so they are still building up a clientele) and we had a choice of well located loungers every morning. After about 5 days, the staff started booking our preferred loungers for us near the shallow end. I suppose it will become alot busier as the hotel gets more and more popular but I think it would still feel more spacious than the main pool at Sugar Beach.

THE BEACHES
Both the Westin and Sugar Beach Hotels have sandy beaches. The Beach at The Westin wasn’t huge but it was cute and never very busy. There was a lovely giant rock pool and the sea was nice and gentle for small kids.

The beach at The Westin Turtle Bay
The beach at The Westin Turtle Bay

If memory serves, the beach at Sugar Beach is alot longer and more sprawling. Rubber or neoprene water shoes are recommended for kids and adults alike.

But our kids at this age seem to be happiest at the pool, given the choice, so we didn’t spend large amounts of time on the beach. The beaches and the sea are very nice at both resorts, but if you’re after velvety sand and long, sprawling beaches first and foremost, rather venture to the four star Paradise Sun on Praslin in the Seychelles (the pool is average and the flight times from Joburg are hell with small kids but the beach and sea are unbeatable, in my opinion.).

THE ROOMS
David, my husband spoilt us and booked superior interleading rooms for both holidays. Our rooms at Sugar Beach were nice. There wasn’t much space to spare but they were bigger than the standard rooms.

Our rooms at The Westin were utterly unbelievably luxurious, gorgeous, massive, brand spanking new, magnificent. We could have moved in forever. We paid roughly the same amount for both holidays but I strongly suspect that The Westin heavily discounted its rates to attract people to it and I think that by December 2015, our interleading rooms will be charged out at alot more. (According to the paperwork from The Holiday Factory – the tour company that our travel agent booked our holiday through – we booked “Ocean Deluxe” rooms, but when we arrived, one of the rooms had the word “suite” attached to it. But even the room that wasn’t called a suite with twin beds, was huge and stunning, as were the bathrooms.)

A top floor version of our room (ground floor doesn't have this view, but makes pram usage so much easier)
A top floor version of our room (ground floor doesn’t have this view, but makes pram usage so much easier)

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION (OF YOUR ROOM)

At Sugar Beach, I requested ground floor rooms not close to the main pool as I was worried that Joe wouldn’t sleep during the day if there was too much noise. This turned out to be a mistake because getting to the kid friendly pool and the main restaurant was an almightly schlep (Sugar Beach is an enormous resort). I would definitely request a room near the main pool and restaurant next time.

At the Westin, I simply requested ground floor rooms. Fortunately, the rooms we were allocated were a stone’s throw from the restaurant and the main pool which was really convenient and just made our lives so easy with the kids and all the paraphernalia you somehow always need with them.

THE KIDS CLUB, BABYSITTING & KIDS’ MEALS

At Sugar Beach, you can drop your kids at the kids club from the age of 3, whilst at The Westin, they need to be 4 or older. If your kids are younger than these minimum ages you need to hire a babysitter to be with them at the Kids Club. In terms of the physical premises, the Kids Club at Sugar Beach is in need of a revamp (but the staff more than make up for that), whereas at The Westin, the Kids Club is brand new and gorgeous. You can also go and hang out there with your children if they are too young to be left which you might fancy doing if it’s raining or you just need to get out of the heat for a bit.

At Sugar Beach, we hired a babysitter every evening through the Kids Club. She was fantastic. Some mornings we hired another babysitter to watch the kids for just over an hour so that my mother-in-law and I could walk on the beach which was such a treat. I remember it being a really easy and seamless process and it felt like everyone I encountered at the Kids Club was exceptionally nice and very experienced with children.

At The Westin, hiring a babysitter felt like alot more of a mission. Their policy states that you have to physically go to the Kids Club and select your babysitter from their list (pictures included) of ladies. You then hire the person directly and pay them directly in cash (local currency), plus you need to pay them for their transport (which added quite a bit to the cost). So hiring a babysitter for an hour’s walk on the beach was more effort and money than it was worth. We also happened to have very little cash (in any currency) on us and the nearest ATM was about a 20 minute taxi journey away, so we only hired a babysitter twice during our stay. The effort of needing to pre-plan and pre-book with someone external to the hotel (aside from having to mission in to town to get cash) made the option a little less attractive. That said, the ladies who work in the Kids’ Club are allowed to do babysitting when they are not on duty, but I only found that out later and when I asked one of these ladies to babysit there was a schedule clash.

There were alot of South Africans staying at the hotel while we were there and I noticed that most people put their babies to sleep in their prams and brought them to dinner. We did that twice with Joe and it worked well. Fortunately we had met a great couple with a daughter Chiara’s age and they entertained one another at dinner (with the help of an iPad). Otherwise, most nights we put the kids to bed in one of the rooms and had room service in the adjoining room, watched movies and sipped wine on the balcony. (The downside was that in-room dining doesn’t form part of the half-board offering).

At Sugar Beach, the Kids’ Club offered a kids dinner from about 5pm or 5:30pm which suited my kids’ usual routine perfectly. At The Westin, we tried to organise early dinners a couple of times for the kids but it was a huge mission and 6pm was the earliest it could be arranged so the best for us was simply to order a starter from room service for them at around 5pm. Joe lost his sense of humour at around 6:15pm every night, gulped down his bottle and pointed to his bed by 6:30pm so the 6pm dinner thing didn’t work for us.

WASHING & STERILISING BOTTLES

At Sugar Beach, I dropped Joe’s bottles and dummies off at the Kids’ Club where they were washed and sterilised for me with a smile. At The Westin, I called room service and they were equally great. (I took Medela microwave steriliser bags with me both times). Some large international hotel chains have policies about washing and sterilising bottles (in case they get sued, I guess), so one might not always be so lucky…

THE RESTAURANTS & THE FOOD

Main restaurant at The Westin
Main restaurant at The Westin

Personally, I loathe buffets – especially at dinner. It feels like musical chairs and kills the mood. Fortunately, both hotels have a variety of a la carte options for dinner (and lunch). These all come at a price, of course, but at least you have options. I don’t remember too much about the food at Sugar Beach so I assume that it was pretty good!

We stayed at the Westin before we had kids in 2010 (when it was The Grand Mauritian) and found the food to be excellent. We found it equally fantastic this time. The lunches were fresh and delicious (with deliciously expensive price-tags to match).

THE SERVICE AND THE STAFF

In general, I recall the service and the staff at Sugar Beach to be outstanding. At The Westin, we had a more mixed experience – some staff members were amazing, some were not great at all. I would say overall that there was a much better culture amongst the staff at Sugar Beach, whereas I felt like I heard alot of “I am not able to do that because we have a policy…” – i.e. very rules based culture, presumably based on a fear of being sued.

COSTS & EXTRAS

As I mentioned, I think The Westin’s prices for December 2014 were significantly lower than their prices for December 2015 will be so I am not sure they will necessarily compare well with Sugar Beach from a cost perspective, even though they are both five star resorts. At both resorts, any food or drinks that were not included in our half board packages were exorbitant (but, in my experience, that is the same in all the luxury Mauritian resorts).

CONCLUSION

We would choose The Westin again over Sugar Beach for one simple reason: the main pool. Perhaps the resort will grow in popularity and there will be a bun fight for sun loungers, but until then, I would go again tomorrow.

Please comment below if you have experiences at Mauritius resorts with young children that you’d like to share.

The New Telkom Store at Sandton City: A True Story

Telkom store in Sandton City
Telkom store in Sandton City

In the eight years we have lived with our current landline, I actually have largely good things to say about my experiences with Telkom, especially with respect to fault-reporting and speed of fault resolution. But this story is too funny not to share. No embellishment is required.

On Thursday, I walk into the new-ish Telkom store in Sandton City (to sort out some non-urgent landline-related paperwork I haven’t bothered to prioritise until now). The store is large, airy, modern and bright. Besides a payment counter to the right as you walk in, there are two counters. Each one has a large sign above it, in big, bold, modern type-face:

“HOME” and
“MOBILE”

Telkom: "Home" and "Mobile" (ostensibly)
Telkom: “Home” and “Mobile” (ostensibly)

I need assistance with my home phone and I want to respect the clearly demarcated division of labour, so I initially approach the desk sporting the “HOME” sign above it. The gentleman behind that desk is on the phone so I smile at his colleague who does not look busy. (I am the only person in the store, besides three employees).

Me: Hi! I would like to sort out some paperwork for my landline. I have all the documents here as per what I was told I needed by the Rosebank branch a while ago… (I launch into great detail about what I have done to date and what I understand I still need to do instore).

Telkom teller: You need to go back to Rosebank.

Me: No, no. You don’t understand. I haven’t handed in any documents yet, so I’d rather just do it here.

Telkom teller: No, you need to go to Rosebank because we only deal with mobile in this store.

I pause, look up, and allow my eye to settle on the “home” sign above us.

Me: Um, but there’s a big sign that says “HOME” right there (I point at the sign.

Telkom teller: That’s just for decoration.

(I would just like to state, for the record, that those were his words VERBATIM).

Me: No, come on. (smiling).

Still no reaction from said gentleman.

I really believe that the only rational explanation is that he has an odd sense of humour, despite the fact that he looks very serious.

There is pregnant pause which I feel compelled to fill. (Still smiling)

Me: Are you joking?

Telkom teller: No. I am not joking. We get alot of people coming in here just like you, wanting to sort out home phone issues.

(You do? Surprise!)

Telkom teller: But we’re the mobile store.

Me: Really?

Telkom teller: Yes

Me: I see

But I still can’t quite believe it and I’m not quite ready to give up just yet…

Me: Gosh, I didn’t even know that Telkom did mobile!

Telkom teller: You didn’t KNOW we did mobile?

Me (gathering my thoughts and searching my memory bank): Oh yes. Doesn’t the 8ta mobile brand belong to Telkom?

Telkom teller: Yes! (he’s animated now and apparently relieved that we’re finally on the same page)

I look around the store. I can’t see any 8ta branding. Not a sign. Not a pamphlet. Nothing.

Me: Shew, so nothing to do with Telkom landlines, then.

Silence.

Me: That does seem like a curious business decision. I’m sure your rent here is huge plus there’s alot of empty space. You would have thought one could have squeezed in another desk for “home” phones. You even have the big “HOME” sign…You know, the one for “decoration”?

Deafening silence.

I finally give up, smile and bid him farewell. I still haven’t gone to Telkom in Rosebank. Instead I went back to Sandton City and took pictures of the store for this blog.

To the Hairdresser with 2 Toddlers in Tow

Joe fringe

When Chiara’s fringe first starting hanging in her eyes when she was little, David decided he should be the one to give her, her first haircut. Trimming a fringe sounds like a simple task, but we’ve subsequently learned that there is skill involved. Chiara’s fringed looked hacked at and it was too short to fix for months.

So when Joe’s fringe started brushing across his eyes (as per the pic), I booked an appointment with a professional and the other day, we set for the hairdresser.

Total time taken to: park car; wake Chiara up; unstrap two children; pick up a grumpy Chiara in one arm and Joe in the other; negotiate the locking of the car with the assistance of the car guard; cross the road on a blind corner; get up the stairs into the salon; try to put down unsettled and crying children; throw down handbag and nappy bag; remove jackets; sit down = 8 minutes.

Total time taken to cut fringe = 1.5 minutes.

This seemed hugely inefficient to my Type-A mind. What could I possibly do to maximise the efficiency of what felt like an expedition?

Well, I was in a hair salon so perhaps they could wash and blow dry my hair and I could walk out looking fabulous AND Joe would no longer have hair hanging in his eyes. As it turned out, Joe’s hairdresser was able to squeeze me in. So off we traipsed to the basins where Joe obediently sat on my lap and Chiara sat happily in the chair next to us.

Towards the end of the wash, I started mentally high-fiving myself and thinking what a great idea this was.

After the wash, we passed the reception area and the receptionist offered Chiara a sucking sweet. I was about to refuse on her behalf but to be perfectly honest, I thought it might occupy her for five minutes. Instead, I carefully explained to my three and a half year old that those sweets needed to be sucked for a long, long time and that they couldn’t be swallowed whole . She probably didn’t fully understand but instinctively she knew that any sign of non-comprehension would jeopardize her chances of being given the sweet so she nodded sagely and popped it in her mouth.

I settled down in the hairdresser’s chair with a toddler on each knee – one happily sucking her sweet and one whose phobia of hair dryer noise I had conveniently forgotten. As soon as the apparatus was switched on, Joe screamed as I have only heard him scream when an inoculation needle pierces his upper thigh. He’d stop for breath and allow himself to become distracted every so often and the screeching would relent – but only momentarily.

And then Chiara started coughing. Or was she gagging? Or possibly choking on that wretched sweet? I bashed her on the back just in case but she seemed fine. And then she was gagging again and not so fine. I needed to do something, stat. If only I’d taken notes in that First Aid Course. I shoved Joe in the direction of the twenty-something hairdresser. I’m not sure who looked more terrified at this point – the hairdresser or Joe. She was half paralysed in fear, still brandishing a roaring hair dryer.

“Take the baby!” I was forced to yell at her, simultaneously shoving Joe into her arms.

I then proceeded to pound a gagging and spluttering Chiara on her back and had just remembered the part from the First Aid course about putting them on your knees and whacking them between their shoulder blades, when a purple, syrup-y thing flew out of her mouth.

Thank God.

I then settled back down in the chair with the kids on my lap. Joe went back to screaming his lungs out as soon as the hairdryer started up, the hairdresser looked mildly traumatised by the near choking ordeal and my hair was only half-finished. I think in an effort to normalise the situation, the hairdresser asked me for the second time if I was certain I wouldn’t like that cappuccino? I’m not sure what kind of multi-tasking, supermom can sip cappuccino with a screaming one year old on one knee and a freaked out three year old (vowing never to eat sweets again) on the other, but I’m not that mom.

As the poor woman next to me got up to leave, I apologised profusely for disturbing her experience so and mumbled something about forgetting about Joe’s phobia of hairdryers.

“Don’t worry,” she replied. “My two year old has a fear of people and screams when she comes into contact with strangers.”

I felt mortified for disturbing her tiny tranche of me-time.

Moral of the story: going to the hairdresser to get a boy’s fringe cut is an inefficient process – accept it.

Second moral of the story: leave your kids at home with the nanny when you want to have your hair done.

New York: 10 Tips for Surviving a Stay in Manhattan

View from the gym at The Standard
View from the gym at The Standard

In 2012, I took my first mommy vacation to visit my sister in New York. I arrived on the Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend, so the Monday was a public holiday, and I left for JFK early on the Tuesday morning.

I loved, loved, LOVED Manhattan. At the time, my sister was living in a shared apartment in the West Village. I arrived in her tree-lined, facebrick, quiet, gorgeous street and decided that this was better than the movies. Not even hauling my suitcase up five flights of stairs could put me off. Naturally, her apartment – shared by three twenty-somethings – was minute. But it was irrelevant. We were hardly there. We had brunch at the Gramercy Park Hotel, ran in Central Park, shopped at Lulu Lemon, ate sustainable, free-range eggs at Bubby’s, dined on brown rice sushi at Dean & Deluca and swanned around The Met. It was divine.

When I returned to New York last month, however, all of my senses went into shock. Mainly my ears though. Manhattan on Memorial Day weekend was a very different place to Manhattan in late July. The place was LOUD. It felt as though the whole of Manhattan was “under construction”. My sister had moved to the “vibier” (read noisier) Lower East Side, and buildings were being razed right there on her road.

So the tips below were heavily influenced by my current phase of life: I hate noise, I don’t do crowds but I do love acquiring beautiful books, clothes and bags and eating yummy food in trendy establishments. This is how I’d recommend negotiating Manhattan for anyone with similar proclivities:

1. Tax

Like death, you can’t avoid the 8.875% New York sales tax. No matter what the dodgy midtown salesman tells you about not charging you tax but shipping your bill to your distant cousin in another state. (He forgets to mention that your cousin will be liable for the tax). The annoying part is that tax is not included in the marked price – unlike VAT in SA – so it’s hard to remember to include it when have your hand on a beautiful handbag that is borderline in terms of budget…

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Bloomingdales, however, has mercy on foreign shoppers. I was offered a 10% discount to negate the sales tax when a very proactive and helpful salesgirl picked up my accent.

Hotel taxes come to more than 8.875% – around 15-% if I’m not mistaken, which I omitted to factor in when I booked The Standard online. Sure, the site said the price quoted excluded tax but I figured the amount would be negligible. Ahem, not so.

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We loved our stay at The Standard (& yes, the logo is meant to be upside down – it’s art, okay?)

(My sister’s stylish French friend met us for lunch at Cafe Gitane at The Jane Hotel in the West Village and proffered this handy tip: The Jane costs around $220 per night – inclusive of tax – which is unusual for a boutique hotel in a fabulous location, within walking distance to the High Line and cute shops in the Meatpacking district. It’s also well-positioned if you want to go for a run along the Hudson River, all the way into the financial district. There are lots of runners but there’s also lots of place to run, walk and cycle and the area is well kept and clean.)

2. When You Gotta Go

My romantic notions of strolling along Fifth Avenue, holding David’s hand and exclaiming ” Oh my God, would you look at that gorgeous jacket/ bag/ dress!” were crushed in seconds. Sure, the shops are amazing but when you’re on the “sidewalks” you may as well be on London’s Oxford Street – ie it’s MANIC!!! This is where I figured out that the best places to “spend a penny” (the McDonalds staff keep an eye-out for non-consumers using their restrooms) were in the beautiful old department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodmans. (I could live in these stores). Which brings me to my next tip…

3. Books at Bergdorfs

On my way out of the restrooms at Bergdorfs, I happened upon the children’s section and couldn’t resist taking a peak. One item of designer kid’s clothing would feed our household for a month, but the books sell for the recommended retail price on their dust jackets and they are magnificent. I could run my hands over the silky paper all day. Here’s what I picked up for the kids:

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4. Shop till you drop

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So what if heels are last season? These still look sexy, I’m sorry…

Something I noticed was that some branded items cost exactly the same as they do in SA. I don’t know how this works with SA’s import duties, but a pair of Nike running pants purchased at Totalsports in Joburg in June compared with the exact same pair I saw at a sports store in New York in July, cost the same (give or take a few cents for the Rand/ Dollar exchange rate on the day). I also compared the price of an I-pod Touch which was a bit cheaper in New York, but honestly not a saving to write home about.

To shop at places like Zara & H&M, make sure you have your big girl panties on, because you are going to need them. I’m talking, chaos, crowd control, queues for change rooms, queues to pay… Not to mention the fact that I was literally policed by shop assistants for trying on a cardigan on the shop floor. Apparently this is not allowed. The prices at Zara in SA might be higher but I’d say it’s worth it for the shopping experience.

 5. Far From the Madding Crowds in the West Village

My neighbour did me a huge favour when she put in an order for a Marc Jacobs tote. My sister could see that I wasn’t coping well with the crowds and suggested that we hit the mini designer stores in the West Village instead. Sure, you won’t get the range that you’d get in a huge department store and not all the brands are there by far, but it’s a really pleasant experience compared to the madness of Soho, Broadway and Fifth Ave.

 

6. Sharing is Caring

The eensy weensy space between tables
The eensy weensy space between tables

Vanity aside, there is a reason there are no fat people in Manhattan (I blogged about this in 2012): it just isn’t practical. According to a 2013 census, 1.6million people live on the 59 square km island – excluding the additional 2.3 million commuters who come in on business days. Often, the tables in little cafes were so close together, I literally didn’t think I would fit through them sideways – or certainly not without knocking over my neighbour’s latte. So I had to get used to feeling like I was also having brunch with the table next to me. It is completely impossible not to hear every single word they say to one another but sometimes this comes in handy – like when they see you eyeing their banana bread, hear you and your sister contemplating ordering some and they feel obliged to share their experience of it with you. Hell, the setting is so intimate at one point I though they were going to offer us a taste and was inwardly panicking re the appropriate response. But that’s the other reason Manhattanites aren’t fat – the portions aren’t huge – so sharing does have its limits.

7. BYOB on Broadway

I’m told there are more affordable Broadway shows and less affordable ones. (I was told this after booking tickets). For the show Book of Mormon there are only two ticket prices: unbelievably effing expensive and literally double that. We got over that before leaving SA but thought nothing of grabbing a drink at the theatre’s bar before the start of the show. The damage for two average double whiskeys and a sparkling water was no less than $76. And when David balked and asked the barman to please repeat, he shouted back “That’s RIGHT! Seventy six AMERICAN dollars!” That, really, was the cherry on top and David vows he’ll never set foot on Broadway again.

8. The World of Water in the States

I absolutely LOVE the fact that it is perfectly acceptable to ask for tap water in all types of American restaurants. And when you’re on the run, you can totally buy bottled still water anywhere. But sometimes, when I really want to let my hair down, I do like some bubbles. Unlike SA, however, where every affordable brand of still water (Valpre, Bon Aqua, Woolworths, you name it) has an affordable bubbly equivalent, in the States sparkling water equals Perrier equals imported from France equals really expensive.

8. Modern Art

Jeff Koons balloon dog
Jeff Koons: balloon dog

The beauty of New York is that most of the waiters/ bellhops/ hostesses/ receptionists double up as struggling actors/ writers/ artists. We learnt that Jeff Koons was having a solo exhibition at The Whitney thanks to a waiter at The Standard. The exhibition blew my mind. Jeff Koons chose a Polish-Italian porn star as a muse, fell in love with her and married her, she somehow became a member of parliament (only in Italy) and he shocked the world with their sexually explicit “art” (basically pornographic photography) but otherwise most of his work is fun, fabulous, playful, ironic, over the top and, in short, like nothing I’ve ever seen. I loved the experience.

Something to note is that The Met is moving most of its modern art collection to The Whitney and The Whitney is moving from the Upper East Side to new premises near the start of the High-Line in the Meatpacking District. As a result, there is currently hardly any modern art available to view at The Met (it’s all in the process of being packed etc) but then there is always the Guggenheim and MOMA which I am gutted I didn’t get to see.

9. Flats Are the New Black

My sister told me that flats are totally acceptable in lieu of high heels in NY and I must say I did notice a definite trend. Heels still seem to be the footwear of choice amongst girls fresh off the boat, lining up for the night club on the top floor of The Standard, but otherwise, I did feel kinda last season in my heels – tragic, as I only bust them out for really special occasions.

10. Top of the Standard

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View from the Top of the Standard

Undoubtedly, the most beautiful bar in the whole wide world. The almost 360 degree views of the city are just spectacular. Even the sexy little dolly bird waitresses in their silk mini dresses whom you just expect to be bitches are SUPER nice (and actually really fast and efficient). And then the foie gras mini burgers with truffle oil are possibly the most delicious of any food I have ever tasted. And thanks to the new fashion, you can even go in flats…

Finally, some quintessential NY pics:

My sister, hailing us a cab on the Lower East Side
My sister, hailing us a cab on the Lower East Side
An exhausted tourist catches a nap while waiting for his table at The Boathouse, Central Park
An exhausted tourist catches a nap while waiting for his table at The Boathouse, Central Park
Running over the Williamsburg bridge from the Lower East Side into Brooklyn
Running over the Williamsburg bridge from the Lower East Side into Brooklyn
At a food stall at a vintage market in Brooklyn
At a food stall at a vintage market in Brooklyn
Manhattan & the Empire State Building from Brooklyn
Manhattan & the Empire State Building from Brooklyn

Left-Brain Overload & Right-Brain Reignition: A Personal Up-date

I should have been a man. I am a terrible multi-tasker. I HATE juggling lots of balls at once. I like to focus on one thing at a time, finish it and then change focus. And I am a terrible, terrible procrastinator. Only my mother, my father, my sister and my husband understand how bad my procrastination truly is. I am sure I should hire a coach or a hypnotist or a psychologist or a fortune-teller or someone to help me confront this problem but quite frankly, I don’t feel like it. Right now, I just feel like there are too many puzzles to build, places to see, play-dates to be had, books to be read, interesting courses to study, friends to have dinner with, runs to go on, for me to want to dedicate time to learning about the implementation of anti- procrastination techniques. Perhaps one day I’ll feel differently but so far, in my life, I have never been a fan of following methodologies. I don’t say they are not good or they don’t work – they are just not for me.

And so for the last two months my focus has been on passing a first year Microeconomics test, passing my very first university level Maths test and passing the Ecos exam. During that time I also expended an enormous amount of energy 1) stressing about the latter 2) waking up in the middle of the night with anxiety in my chest stressing about not having really begun preparing for the latter 3)  finding hugely important domestic and administrative tasks to attend to (some of which I had procrastinated doing for two to three years) to avoid studying for the latter.

In short, it took me back to my boarding school days where I would leave studying for tests and exams to the 11th hour and would then go and cram for them by lying in an empty bath after lights out until the early hours of the morning. (Lights out was a strict policy but the bathroom lights remained on all night so this was a cramming method employed by myself and other, fellow crammers. (Remember that, Busi Roberts? I can still visualise us cramming together in the middle of the night in Std. 9).

I had exactly four weeks between my Maths test in late May and my Ecos exam in late June and I VOWED beforehand that now that I was 35 years old, I would no longer procrastinate and I would calmly study daily for 4 weeks.

WhatEVER!

Just before my exam, my amazing husband agreed to help with the kids (together with our amazing weekend nanny, Thembi) while I holed myself up in The View Hotel in Auckland Park for two nights prior to my exam. All I can say is, thank God for David who has been supportive of my desire to randomly study commerce subjects “for fun” – both in principle and in practice. Despite everything I have said about the type A stress that I bring upon myself when I study or work, it has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in recent years.  Yes, I’ve hated it at times, but overall I’ve absolutely loved it and I am so grateful for the privilege.

So that is why I have felt “unable” to blog over the past two months or so. I’ve loved the challenge of engaging my under-used left brain but I’ve also very much missed the right-brain stuff like writing my blog and reading books. It feels really good to be back in this space. To kickstart things I took part in a blogathon at The Common Room in Parkhurst organised by Elance on Thursday evening. I almost pulled out when I saw the topics which were very much geared towards freelance writers and on which I had very little insight and zero experience. But it felt good to sit down and write, to meet professional writers or part-time writers, to log-in to my blog again and to start thinking about blogging and writing again. It also prompted me to finally do something about the writing course gift voucher that my sister gave me for my birthday (in late January – oops). I am booked and will be attending next Monday. I am told to bring – wait for it – a notebook and pen. How cute is that? My handwriting is so atrocious I can barely read my own shopping lists but it’s at Croft & Co in Parkview and I do love a good excuse to visit Parkview (and Croft & Co, quite honestly). My mom went to Parkview Junior and Parktown Girls, my grandparents and my mom and uncles were members of the Anglican Church in Parkview for decades and the suburb has retained a pretty and interesting main drag  – the likes of which have largely been decimated by shopping malls, high walls and complex living.

And, of course, David pranged his car in Parkview on an evening in April 2006, a couple of hours before proposing to me in Scusi Restaurant…

It’s now 5:30 and I can hear Joe chatting to himself over the monitor. Time to go and warm up his bottle on this lazy, family Sunday morning. Adieu, gentle reader. I will be back in a few days to blog about losing 11kg since mid-March and all that good dieting/ food stuff I am so obsessed with.

The Trouble with Teenage Study Buddies

During orientation week at UCT back when I started my first year, there were loads of fun activities arranged for non-res. dwellers: parties every night, trips to the beach, walks up the mountain, etc. There was also a series of important sessions designed to enhance academic success at university, such as tours of the library, for example. When one of the very cool third years in charge of O-week, reminded us Freshers about a beach activity taking place the next day, I – nerd that I am – pointed out that it clashed with computer skills training.

“Wahahahahaha!” he laughed. “Who needs computer training? Come to the beach, man!”

My campus street cred. (if it ever existed) evaporated as he shouted this across the large group of first years. He then hastened to add:

“But I do suggest that you go to registration.”

And that was when I gathered that if Mr Cool was urging us to be present at registration, it must be an important event.

Fast forward 16 years later to a couple of weeks ago on campus at Wits. Because most students at Wits Plus lectures are working full time, it was hard not to notice a guy who looked alot younger than the rest of us, who frequently arrived at 5pm lectures dressed in shorts. His attire led me to gather that it was unlikely that he was gainfully employed so I surmised that he would be flexible during the day. All of this led me to earmark him as a potential study buddy.

So one day I went up to him and introduced myself. He was indeed under the age of 20 and unemployed. Why then, wasn’t he a full-time student?

“You see, what happened was, when I arrived at Wits at the beginning of the year, they’d given my place away.”

That didn’t seem fair, I empathised.

“I know!” he replied. “I mean, I missed registration but I was in Cape Town. I was on holiday. I wasn’t, like, going to come up early for registration. You know what I mean?”

Totally, dude. Like, fully. Who’d cut their Cape Town holiday short for registration?

Perhaps I should’ve taken this as a warning sign, but he was available during the day, he lived in the Parks…  these were key factors in his favour, I rationalised.

I decided to find out more about my potential study buddy. It wasn’t hard:

“I had a contract to play provincial rugby after school but that was before my accident…I know, you’re thinking I don’t look like a professional rugby player but I used to gym every day. But now I don’t play rugby so I don’t do gym anymore, ’cause what’s the point, right? But at least it was really easy for me to get into varsity – I didn’t need too many points because I’m previously disadvantaged. Because of my accident. Basically, I’m black.”

At this point I don’t know whether I am speaking to a teenager with a mild form of brain damage following an accident or a kid who looks pastier than Prince Phillip himself but who reckons he’s black and might have actually ticked that race group on his university application form.

Then he wants to know how old I am. I tell him I am 35 and he informs me that I am 5 years younger than his mom. Awesome. (And, as I tweeted at the time, my husband and his dad are exactly the same age.)

Nonetheless, we exchange telephone numbers.

The next day, I’m at my desk, busy with an Economics tutorial and I’m unclear on a few things. I’m conscious it’s 8:30am and I’m doubtful whether a 19 year old who only has lectures that evening, would be awake at this hour. So I text him. And then I wait. And wait. And wait.

At about 10am I get a missed call.

“Sorry,” says my study buddy, “I was watching rugby.”

We discuss as much as we can over the phone but it’s not ideal so we agree to meet that afternoon at 4pm after lectures. It’s his idea. He says he’ll be in the library from 3pm.

I fly into the Commerce Library just after 4pm, having dragged myself away from a screaming Chiara begging me not to go to “letchers”. I scan the desks for my study buddy but there is no sign of him. I figure he’s running late and I start working while I wait for him.

An hour and a half later it’s time for our lecture to start and I head to class. Still no sign of my study buddy.

The lecture starts and the penny drops. He’s not coming. It’s a non-compulsory revision lecture on a Friday night before our test the following Tuesday.

The next morning I arrive for our Saturday morning Maths lecture and run into my “study buddy” having a cigarette outside the building, looking a bit rough.

“I’m SO sorry about yesterday!” he exclaims. “I started drinking in the afternoon and …” His voice trails off and he smiles sheepishly.

I have subsequently found myself a nerdy, female, Actuarial Science drop-out, studying third-year Economics, whom I employ on an hourly basis to tutor me.

I guess it’s as the Economists say, “there is no such thing as a free lunch”.

Who Needs Maths Anyway?

When The Sister was trying to get a job in consulting in London along with thousands of other bright, motivated grads from all over the world, she was subjected to some first round numeracy tests which are designed to separate the numerically gifted from the rest of us. She had higher grade Matric Maths and a major in Economics behind her but despite this, these little tests were nasty. So when she beat two Oxbridge candidates in a final round group interview and landed her dream job in consulting, she was relieved that her future was not, after all, going to be determined by a mini Maths test. The subject of her e-mail to announce to her nearest and dearest that she’d got the job, was: Who Needs Maths Anyway?

Apparently, I do.

My very first lecture as a mature student in Economics last night began with this little hand-out:

How good is your understanding of Matric Maths? You may think you are a Maths whizz (and good for you if you are) but if you struggle to answer any of the following questions with your current understanding of Maths, you are going to struggle with the Economics 1 course material. These are examples of the type of Maths problems that you need to be able to solve in order to pass this course…These examples are considered easy for the purposes of passing this course.

He then “whizzed” through an hour of “easy” examples. Not only, did I not find the examples easy, I understood close to nothing. Nada. Niente. Rien du tout. It was absolutely traumatising. I wanted to jump out of my seat and run out of the lecture theatre, get into my mommy car with it’s BABY ON BOARD sticker, race home and be faced with problems that I understand, like why The Princess has a tantrum when I tell her she can’t have another biscuit. Things that my brain can rationalise and process and relate to. Suddenly the frustrations of being a stay-at-home mom seemed so much safer than getting my head around the derivative of a function. The worst part was that I sensed that this was not difficult stuff. It was just impossibly, unfathomably difficult to me.

The good news is that I am married to a Maths nerd. And by Maths nerd, I don’t mean someone who was pretty good at Maths at school. I mean someone who did all the Maths problems in his Matric text book the summer before Matric began. For fun. As you do…That kind of Maths nerd. And one who has a University major in Maths.

The bad news was that if I asked him for help, it would be blatantly obvious to him how little I knew.

But it was also blatantly obvious to me that if I didn’t get help, I would fail the course.

And so, this morning, while The Princess watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, The Husband started explaining last night’s Maths problems to me. And very slowly, I realised that the material was not entirely impossible to comprehend. It might not be my forte, but with the right help, I hope to get my head around it.

The moral of the story? Marry a Maths nerd. Must get The Princess to understand this from an early age. (Unless she has inherited her Daddy’s Maths brain which, of course, is first prize.)