What’s in a Word: Native Americans, Tigers & Gauteng

Photo courtesy of Secret Sunrise Johannesburg's FB page
Photo courtesy of Secret Sunrise Johannesburg’s FB page

I love Secret Sunrise: you get to dance to an amazing selection of music, without: 

a) queueing until 11pm when night clubs open;
b) killing your feet in stilettos;
c) nursing a hangover the next day.

So, when I took my best friend to this Sunday’s first edition of Secret Sunday, I had to laugh when she pulled her earphones away from her ears, and shouted: “Let’s go on a trip”. Secret Sunrise is pretty trippy – just without the drugs. By suggesting that we go on a trip, she actually meant, let’s dance move around through the crowds and explore the space and the participants.

The theme for this Sunday’s Secret Sunrise was “Cowboys & Native Americans”. I didn’t think too much about it beforehand, other than realising that I had no appropriate dress-up garb. So we arrived in our yoga gear, rather than our cowboy boots and hats or our feather head-dresses. If you’ve never been to Secret Sunrise before, I need to explain that each song has an “instructor” who sort of narrates ideas, perspectives or vague instructions for the crowd to follow or to be inspired by (though mostly you can just let loose and dance freestyle, to the music). The first instructor introduced the choice of theme of Cowboys & Native Americans: with all the conflict breaking out globally right now, it seemed a good time to learn from history, to investigate the idea of conflict and to think about how to resolve conflict in one’s own life. When he said the words “Cowboys and Native Americans”, I briefly stopped dancing around the warehouse in New Doornfontein. They sounded strange and my instinct was to correct him. “It’s Cowboys and Indians”, I wanted to shout. It was only a fleeting moment before my intellect overtook my instinct. Cowboys and Indians had gone together like a horse and carriage in my childhood and while I perfectly understood the rationale behind the up-dated version, I simply wasn’t accustomed to it.

Ironically, a few hours later, I was in a theatre watching a rendition of Peter Pan aimed at young children. When Wendy and her brothers fly to Never Land with Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, they encounter a group of “Indians” replete with pigtails, tassled clothes and teepees. The show’s writers had not up-dated the script and the tribe was made to speak halting English, in the present tense, devoid of prepositions, uttering phrases such as “Brave Girl sad”.

It sounded a whole lot stranger than “cowboys and Native Americans”. It sounded like stereotyping and paternalism from another era. And that’s when I realised that the words we use – as jarring or as pedantic as the politically correct versions may seem sometimes – really do matter.

When I begin to recite “eeny, meeny, miny, mo” to my children, I instinctively open my mouth to recite a very offensive word. It has remained in my subconscious since childhood, when I had no knowledge of its meaning – quite literally. Now, I choose the word “tiger” for the alliteration:

Eeny, meeny, miny, mo,
Catch a tiger by his toe,
If he hollers let him go,
Eeny, meeny, miny, mo,

Soon enough, “tiger” will sound as natural as the name of my adopted province – Gauteng. And the “n” word will sound as out of place as the word “Transvaal”.

BPO: Not Just “Birthday Party Outsourcing”

When it comes to child-rearing, I’m in favour of outsourcing if you have the option and if you manage it in a way that works for you emotionally – i.e. it’s pointless to outsource if you’re going to be racked with guilt.

Over the years I’ve outsourced a huge range of activities. I’ve had the luxury of night nurses. I’ve outsourced the making of baby food and had it delivered to my doorstep. Despite numerous attempts at potty training – which are ongoing with my youngest –  my kids were/are more motivated to get out of nappies by their peers and teachers at play school. They are learning ball skills at tennis and playball. I’ve used party planners for their birthday parties a couple of times. On occasion, I may even outsource play-date supervision, cup-cake baking, bathing, hair washing and feeding. I make use of childminders at play areas, my children are members of the Kids Club at the gym and I’m in a lift club for school.

In contrast, I have a stay-at-home mom friend who has never employed the services of a night nurse. She successfully potty-trained her boys uncharacteristically early. She bakes their birthday cakes. And – I say this with love – she is not Martha Stewart. In the tequila-swigging days of our pre-children youth, her domestic repertoire consisted of one chicken dish. But she has learnt to bake for her boys. She plays football tirelessly with them, she cooks the family meals and she doesn’t lift club. Her kids have never been put to bed by a babysitter. Her husband made his firstborn’s mushy food from scratch when he started solids, slaving over the stove on weekends and freezing little ice cube portions. He baths the children every night if he’s not travelling for work and he does Saturday morning extra-murals.

In short, they are not prone to outsourcing. So I could not have been more surprised when they told me that their son was having biking lessons. I’m not sure what surprised me more: that such a service existed or that they had procured it.

I’d made some strides in the biking department: I’d researched to find the lightest possible bike available in SA for children and bought it. I’d vowed to run behind Chiara, holding her upright, every day, until she could ride. But just one lap around our postage stamp-sized pool was back-breaking. I’d enlisted David to do the same but even super fit, flexible, Ironman competitors have their limitations. He’d also finished a lap clutching his lower back. Consequently, this expensive piece of German engineering sat in our back garden and intimidated all three of us.

So when I heard that even the most hands-on parents I know had not taught their son to ride, I put in a call to the Bike Whisperer. He’s a tennis coach when he’s not teaching kids to ride and he arrived with patience, energy and tons of experience. Chiara LOVED the first lesson and couldn’t wait for the next. I felt hopeful. During the second lesson she moaned, she was listless and kept wanting to take breaks. I thought there was a strong chance we’d need to extend our five-lesson package. I chose not to watch the third lesson, but decided that we’d better put our backs into it again – quite literally – and planned a trip to Emmarentia that afternoon. Before we left, Chiara had a meltdown and demanded that we take her plastic scooter bike. We refused.

While David was getting Joe cycling-ready, Chiara and I went ahead to the entrance to Emmarentia. She climbed on her bike, asked me to hold her steady, proceeded to pedal three times and demanded that I let go. Off she went! I could not believe my eyes. She was riding!

BPO – Bicycle Proficiency Outsourcing – has proved way more efficient and effective than I could ever have imagined. And it’s got me thinking: if you can hire a sleep trainer who comes to you, why can’t you hire a travelling potty trainer in Sandton? I’m Googling that now…

Pink mohawk on the move!
Pink mohawk on the move!
Proud new rider!
Proud new rider!

 

 

 

 

 

When Middle-class Kids Need A Weekend in Warmbaths

The only sushi-related foodstuff my kids have ever eaten is wasabi. And that only transpired because Joe was sitting on my lap while we were enjoying a sushi-feast with my in-laws. He was too young to talk but he was not too young to scream and point. Somehow he got it in his head that he WANTED WASABI!!! After his initial glee at getting his own way, his facial expression turned to one of horror and then pain. Suffice it to say that my kids have not begged for sushi since.

I don’t offer them sushi, because, as my mother used to say, they’ll “have nothing to look forward to” later on in life.

I recall once reading a piece by a British journalist who recounted a family holiday to the Caribbean where she and her husband travelled business class while their kids sat in economy. She believed that children should only travel business class if they paid for their tickets themselves. This resonated with me. Unfortunately, my kids are a bit young for this particular lesson. On a recent trip back from Mauritius, we sat opposite (in business class) an older couple whom I later realised had this exact policy in place. They tucked into the champers as soon as their butts hit the seats. She’d packed her pink sleep mask and a stack of magazines and he had a copy of the paper. They reclined their seats as soon as the plane began cruising and looked set to enjoy their good fortune. Our kids, obviously, couldn’t have cared less: the bigger the seat, the better it was for bouncing on; the more buttons it had, the more it could be driven like a bumper car. Somehow the airline managed to run out of kiddie goodie bags and the hostess saw no reason not to give the last bag to only one of our two children. Of course, an almighty feud then broke out on the injustice of it all and who had more rights to the dinky-sized colouring pencils. Eventually, the stewardess came round and whispered that “people” were starting to complain and could our children please settle down? For the rest of the flight, I am happy to report, Joe had one of those poos that sink right to the bottom of the nappy and cannot be detected by a parental eye when you pull the nappy away from the child’s back to assess whether a change was needed. As a result, I only confirmed my suspicions once we’d landed. I am sure the smell would have wafted across the aisle…

When we got off the flight, Derby and Joan from next door were reunited with their teenage offspring, while our two kids continued to believe that oversized seats and extra legroom were entirely the norm when travelling.

The other night, I had dinner with a friend who has a five year old. Apparently, she recently started asking to “go for fine dining”. Date night is now dead and Friday nights are spent at the local steak house with the two kids, for their fill of “fine dining”. Mercifully, our two children still believe that any dining establishment that boasts a jungle gym or jumping castle is more than “fine”. And my husband is an honest-to-goodness fan of The Spur, so fine dining for them is still Sunday nights at The Spur in their pj’s.

Last week on the way home from school, Chiara announced that one of her friends has “never been to Mauritius!” I felt like amusing myself and feigned shock at this fellow five year old who had never had an island holiday. But then I gently explained to her that the first time I had set foot in Mauritius was when I was nearly 30 years old. She looked at me with pity. And that’s when I decided that a weekend in Warmbaths is in order…

Chiara’s Fifth Birthday Party: Eloise from The Plaza, NY

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There is a scene in the Sopranos in which Mrs Soprano tries to coax her teenage daughter out of her moodiness by suggesting that they go into the city and have tea at The Plaza with Eloise. I must have had some prior notion of the legend of Eloise and The Plaza from American popular culture, because Mrs Soprano’s suggestion made sense to me at the time. This time last year, my mom visited my sister in New York and was taken to The Plaza and introduced to the tale of Eloise. She returned with one of the Eloise storybooks and read it to Chiara over and over. For Christmas, my sister’s in-laws gave Chiara a copy of the original Eloise story, published in 1955, with a personal inscription by the illustrator.

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This is a story which for me, is very connected to my mom, and also to my sister,  living far away in New York. It is also incredibly cleverly written and amusing to read and has become one of my favourite children’s books. So it was a natural choice as a theme for Chiara’s 5th birthday party. Here are some classically precocious quotes which encapsulate the book’s spirit:

Eloise is a little girl who lives at The Plaza Hotel in New York. She is not yet pretty, but she is already a Person. She is interested in people when they are not boring.

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Nanny is my nurse. She wears tissue paper in her dress and you can hear it. She is English and has 8 hairpins made out of bones. She says that’s all she needs in this life for Lord’s sake.

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Oooooooo I absolutely love Room Service. They always know it’s me and they say “Yes, Eloise?” And I always say “Hello, this is me, ELOISE and would you kindly send one roast-beef bone, one raisin and seven spoons to the top floor and charge it please. Thank you very much.”

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My day is rawther full. I have to call the Valet and tell him to get up here and pick up my sneakers to be cleaned and pressed and have them back for sure without fail. Then I have to play the piano and look in the mirror for a while. Then I have to open and close the door for a while and as soon as I hear talking and laughing I skidded out and run down the hall… Oh my Lord I am absolutely so busy I don’t know how I can possibly get everything done. Then I have to hop around for a while.

I started the party planning by choosing an Eloise invitation template on Etsy for $10. The designer, Nerdy Fox, is based in Georgia in the US. I placed the order with my custom text requests at night in SA and by the next morning, it was in my Inbox.

Eloise Etsy invite

Next up was inspiration from Pinterest. I basically got the idea that you can quite easily get the theme across just by using the right colours: cerise, black and white plus a bit of baby pink thrown in.

Eloise party pinterest screenshot

Next stop was The Party Spot in Woodmead to purchase all manner of things black, white and pink: from paper straws to napkins to pink and white sweets. I even found a set of suspenders for the birthday girl’s Eloise outfit. This picture was taken when we tried on the outfit a few days before. On the day, Chiara put the outfit on under great duress, before taking herself off to her room after about 10 minutes and changing into a bright orange dress. Not part of the theme, but it was her party, after all…

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Pinterest was also the source of novelty cake options. I narrowed it down to three and Chiara chose her favourite from these:

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Her favourite was this three-tiered cake which I ordered from Helen’s Cakes in Craighall Park.

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I did not, however, specify, dimensions when I placed the order – I only sent the Pinterest photo. When the cake arrived, the driver had difficulty carrying it as it was so enormously large and heavy. It would have dwarfed most wedding cakes, so it did come across as a tad OTT. Beautiful, nonetheless but will be sure to give measurements next time!

I couldn’t resist ordering some Eloise printables from Etsy. I hesitated before buying the water bottle labels because I wondered if I would actually sit there and glue them to the bottles the night before, but Pritt worked well and it went a little quicker than expected. “The Plaza” icon next to the “restroom” sign is part of a set of printables I ordered on Etsy.

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A few days before the party, I popped in to In Good Company in Parkhurst. I’ve learnt to head to The Party Spot first to try to get pretty much everything I need and then just to spend an indulgent hour at In Good Company to check if there’s anything I really can’t live without. I found some gorgeous pom poms in just the right colours. The cerise and baby pink table overlays were purchased on sale for an absolute song, during a previous excursion to the store and they were perfect additions to the Eloise decor.

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I ordered the adult snacks from caterer, Lindi Perrin*, based in Athol, and they were delicious, light and came on beautiful platters, replete with a note for Domestic Goddesses like myself, detailing how best to heat her fare.

Below are pictures of the main party table. The children climbed onto benches next to the table and helped themselves to sweets. My sister suggested throwing in some NY icons to add to the decor. We borrowed Joe’s NY cab (a gift from his New Yorker uncle, Justin), for example, plus some sidewalk souvenirs like a mini Statue of Liberty.

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In terms of party favours, I know kids love them. However, I’m not a fan. If you don’t want to cram your party packs full of more junk food (just what you want in your kids’ laps in the car when you’re leaving a party at 5pm), then you have two options: 1) trinkets from the Chinese markets which break instantly or 2) spend a small fortune on age appropriate gifts. I opted for balloons. The night before though, I discovered an Instax camera which I’d bought for David for Christmas (for “the man who has it all”). A polaroid photograph thus became our party favour. The kids were quite entranced by the idea of an actual hard copy photo coming out of a machine, so it was cute, but it was only a viable option because it was lying in our drawer, with two films already. (And yes, I did have many a puzzled child ask me where the party packs were…)

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If you’re intrigued by the character of Eloise, you can buy a set of four hardcover Eloise books on Takealot (delivery time is 10 to 15 working days). I highly recommend the stories. Oooooooo, I absolutely love Eloise!

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*Lindi Perrin can be reached on 082 572 4060

I Carry Her Heart, I Carry It in My Heart

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My mom, reading to me, on Keurbooms beach, circa 1980

A few days after my mom’s funeral in early October, I published an unfinished post about her death, prematurely. When I realised what I’d done, I deleted it and have not attempted to complete it until now. Over the years I have been writing blogs, I don’t think I mentioned my mom extensively. She was an extremely private person and perhaps that is part of the reason. But now that she is gone, I feel it would be impossible to write about anything else, without first writing about her and how much she meant to me.

As I mentioned in my unfinished post, she died of a “dissecting aortic aneurism”. She was nearly 74, and, as far as we knew, healthy and fit for her age. (She looked after Chiara and Joe for a week in June while I joined David in France, for example). So it was a huge shock to lose her so unexpectedly. I have spoken with the GP her performed her autopsy, plus the pathologist who inspected her heart, as well as her own GP, my GP and a cardiologist. She died of something rare and unlucky. We were told that had she been in hospital when it happened, it’s unlikely she would have been saved – once the wall of the aorta bursts, death comes quickly.

The thing about death is that there is nothing more final. It is completely non-negotiable. And so there is little point wondering about what might have been: Did she experience pain and tell no-one and therefore could we have had her diagnosed and saved her life? Had she not been a smoker for so many years (like so many of her generation) would this not have happened? What should I have done differently in the last few months of her life?

There is little point torturing myself with such questions. Instead, I want to pay tribute to her memory.

My mom married her first husband when she was 26. Very tragically, he was killed working as an electrician six weeks later. I imagine that in her life plan, she would have had children in her late twenties. But it was not until she was in her mid-thirties, that she met my father. During those ten years, she nurtured her maternal instincts by spending time with her nieces and her cousin’s young daughters. My mother used to say that she could not understand a woman who did not want to have children. I realise this might be highly offensive to many women and I happen not to share her view, but I write this to illustrate the central role that motherhood played in her own life. I don’t suggest that my mother’s way of parenting is the only way or the best way, but I am grateful to have been the recipient of a woman who absolutely loved being a mother, possibly above all.

In my first job in Johannesburg, I had a colleague in her fifties who must have overhead a telephone conversation I had with my mother at work. She expressed some surprise and longing with respect to how she, herself had been parented. Her conclusion was not that her parents had been bad parents or bad people, but that they had simply not been very interested in their children. I feel incredibly blessed by how very interested my mother was in my sister and I. I think this is connected to what I do miss, and will continue to miss, the most, about her presence.

If I was suffering from the slightest ailment – either physical or emotional – my mother was there to pour over me bucketloads of empathy and support. If I had exciting news to share, she would be the proudest, the most excited, of anyone. On the day she died, I had relayed to our family that Joe had been diagnosed with tonsillitis. Her last message to me was to wish Joe and I a peaceful night’s sleep. With all my spoilings of nannies, not needing to get up and contribute to our family’s income, she still felt my potential pain of sleep deprivation as though it were her own.

I bitterly miss recounting to her every little adorable or amazing thing that Chiara and Joe say or do. Children fascinated her – not least her own grandchildren, of course – and she never grew tired of hearing the tiniest details about their little lives. I think it will be years before the involuntary urge to tell her about something they do or say, disappears.

Shortly after she died, I was reminded of a line from a poem by ee cummings which I think I have not had sight of since high school. There is something a little bit comforting about the notion that one can carry a loved one’s heart, in one’s own heart. The poem is meant for lovers, but it somehow manages to remind me that my mother will always be with me.

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
                                 
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

* My sister, Sylvia, transcribed an “interview” she did with my mom last year, about my mom’s experience as a florist, and her relationship with plants and flowers. She posted it on her blog, Growing On Up, shortly after my mom died.

Children: Coping with Competition & Learning the Art of Losing

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A friend of a friend quipped the other day that she was preparing to launch her 11 year old as an IPO. What she meant was that she was about to embark on a roadshow to try to secure him a place at one South Africa’s top high schools. She was joking of course, but the first world problem of competing for spots at good schools is one that keeps parents up at night. It’s playground talk amongst moms in the 12 to 24 month age category at Clamber Club in Dunkeld. The fact is, demand exceeds supply, at present, and kids are competing for a limited number of places. Make no mistake, it’s a competitive world out there.

When I think about children and competition, I often think about the scene in the movie Parental Guidance (with Billy Crystal and Marisa Tomei) where the kids play non-competitive baseball – i.e. no-one can be struck out. Ever. So everyone remains equal and no-one wins or loses. It’s a spoof on a kind of new-age notion that competition is dangerous for a child’s self esteem.

Of course, I do understand that there are well-researched arguments for more collaborative, less competitive child-rearing approaches. I just don’t think that sheltering children almost entirely from competition prepares them for the current mainstream reality. I would argue that a more realistic approach for building confidence is to a) try to avoid creating competition where it need not exist and b) to teach children how to cope with losing – a skill even the most gifted must certainly need at times.

I sometimes catch myself doing the exact opposite of avoiding competition where it needn’t be present. I believe I do this in the interests of speed and efficiency – or perhaps because I’ve been hardwired that way since Sub A. For example, if I want to get the kids bathed quickly, I say “who wants to be washed first?” or if I want to get somewhere fast and they’re dawdling, my natural instinct is to make it a “race”. In contrast, my daughter’s neighbour and BFF, Kayla, regularly declares during complex kids’ suppers: “It’s not a race!” Indeed, the exercise of eating dinner should not be a competition (even though getting small kids to eat is often so laborious that I sometimes wish it were). I try to borrow Kayla’s maxim when situations that really needn’t be competitive, could turn into a contest.

Perhaps partly because I have vivid and mortifying memories of being a terrible loser as a child, I believe this is a critical coping mechanism that I want to equip my children with from a young age. No-one loves losing but I think some of us inherently mind it more than others. The other day I played “memory game” with my four year old daughter for the first time (jumbled up pairs of cards placed face down that you have to try to match, pair by pair, by recalling where they were lying when previously flipped over). I remember doing well at this game as a young child. Turns out that as an adult, I am rubbish. My daughter was cleaning up. She was on a winner’s high. I was deliberately competing as I would against an adult – i.e I was NOT letting her win. But then I got a bit lucky towards the end (when it’s much, much easier as they are far fewer cards left) and I began to collect quite a few pairs. Suddenly, my child looked set to lose and the prospect was devastating. She was completely unable to cope and proceeded to have a spectacular tantrum.

That was when I realised it was time I started gently teaching her how to have fun competing, but also, how to cope with losing.

As for her IPO roadshow, we opted out of the Grade 000 launch and I’m currently working on her marketing strategy for the Grade 0 race next year…

Being a Role Model to a Daughter as a Stay-at-home Mom

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People tell me how great kids turn out when they’ve had their moms at home with them before they start Grade 1. People also tell me how they want their kids to see them working as mothers so they can be female role models for their daughters. I don’t disagree with either points of view.

When I studied part-time last year, my three year old daughter, Chiara, didn’t like it. Obviously. I hadn’t done it the year before or the year before and now suddenly I was dashing off to lectures and leaving her at home with her nanny. I only went to lectures three times a week, but still, she was not impressed.

Without making a big deal of it, I try to make her aware of the fact that stay-at-home moms are not the norm. I also suggest that although I may not currently be working, I may wish to do so in the future. I say this not only because I do miss working and would like to be part of the workforce again. I say it also because I want her to aspire to great things as girl and I want her to feel and believe that little girls can become anything they want to.

Chiara just turned four and a few weeks ago, she and her three year old cousin decided to play “Mommy Baby”. While preparing for the game, she turned to her cousin and announced:

“I’ll be the mommy because mommies get to go to work.”

No sooner had these words come out of her mouth when she moderated them:

“No,” she declared, “I’ll be the mommy because mommies get to stay up late!”

Then, a couple of days ago, she and her classmate were discussing which mommies were going to be at a playdate that afternoon. I pointed out that one of the moms they were discussing wouldn’t be able to be there as she would be at work. At this, Chiara turned to her friend and said:

“But my mom doesn’t work.”

I cautiously suggested that this may not always be the case, to which she replied emphatically:

“Yes, because if you don’t work then you won’t learn!”

It seems as though, at the tender age of four, she somehow has a fairly positive view of women and work – even if staying up late at night is a more attractive prospect than a rocking career, at this stage! Of course, it is easy for her to be positive when her mom is always around and not actually, “getting to” go to work or “learning” at work… But I am nonetheless glad that she is aware that work can be enjoyable and rewarding for women and mothers.

Although I have been concerned about creating this awareness in my daughter, when I really think about the kind of role model I would like to be, I come to the following conclusion: I believe that the best mother in the world is the mom who is the most comfortable in her own skin – whether she’s a CEO or a full time mom. If she does whatever she does with conviction and zest, then she is a good role model for her children. And I guess that is actually the ultimate challenge for all us mothers.

4 Mantras I learnt from my Mom

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On my Dad’s 70th birthday last year, my sister wrote a tribute to our parents on her blog & cited some of the mantras she remembered our mom repeating throughout our childhood. These are some of them as well as others I recall and admire:

1. “You can’t put an old head on young shoulders” 

The older I get, the more I try to take in this truth.  It is, however, by it’s very nature, impossible to completely appreciate until one is actually “old”. Mary Schmich puts it best in her 1997 column entitled “Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young”, which was later made famous when Baz Luhrmann borrowed the words for his hit song “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen)”.* Schmich writes:

 Enjoy the power & beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power & beauty of your youth until they’ve faded, but trust me, in twenty years’ time, you will look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now, how much possibility lay before and how fabulous you really looked…

This quote, which I heard again for the first time last year, at the age of 35, is one I plan to have inscribed on a canvas that hangs in my home – as a daily reminder to myself to at least try to appreciate the power and beauty of my own relative youth, and, as something which will hopefully ring true in my children’s ears in time to come. This is exactly what my mother was trying to teach me when I was growing up, just in different words.

2. You’ll have nothing to look forward to

loathed hearing these words when I was a child. From Sub B (Grade 2, age 7/8), my classmates started having parties that started at 4pm and ended at 8pm which my mother disparagingly referred to as “night parties”. Needless to say, I was not allowed to attend said “night parties”. The explanation given was that I was too young and that I would “have nothing to look forward to” later on in life. This was re-iterated when I was sixteen and everyone my age growing up in the entirety of the Garden Route was allowed to go to the Plett night club “The Cave”. Ditto for New Years Eve on Plett beach. Naturally, I felt very disgruntled by these rules and I found the explanation even more insufferable.

Now, with a daughter of my own (although she’s only four), I do want to protect her from having seen it all and experienced it all, before her time.

3. ‘Boring’ is a banned word/ there’s no such thing as bored 

My mother literally banned my sister and I from uttering the words “boring” or “bored”. Naturally, this infuriated me but it definitely worked. Such a clever parenting tool. Because we were forbidden from whining that we were bored, when we felt the urge to moan that we had nothing to do, we were forced to find something to do.

Now, with young children, I instinctively avoid these words. I don’t want to introduce them into my children’s vocabulary, I want to delay their awareness of the concept of boredom. And I will definitely be borrowing the mantra from my mother!

4. Sunburnt little girls make wrinkled old ladies 

As it turns out, my mom and Mary Schmich have a fair amount in common. Not only do they agree that youth is wasted on the young, but that sunscreen is critical. I think that truth has become self-evident in recent years and I am so grateful to my mother for making me so vigilant about sunburn from an early age.

*In a recent post, I quoted a different part of Mary Schmich’s most brilliant column, but attributed the words to Baz Luhrmann, not realising that they were originally written by the Chicago Tribune writer.

Rock Around The Clock Tonight: Braving Sleep Training

Buckham Family-120

Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts, and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”

Baz Lurhmann: Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen)

When I moved to Jozi as a grad in 2003, I wound up in sales (recruitment). My boyfriend (now husband) had many years of sales experiences under his belt and gave me a piece of advice he’d picked up on a training course: “Clients/ customers only buy goods or services when they feel pain.”

In the months following the departure of my first child’s night nurse, I realised that this was how I had come to view sleep training. It was something I knew I probably needed to buy into at some stage. Although I was in pain every time we had a bad night, the agony wasn’t consistent enough for me to attempt sleep training. The idea of sleep training was something I instinctively experienced as a kind of physical fear: the terrorised crying, the guilt of abandoning your helpless infant, the fear of inflicting permanent psychological damage, the self-doubt as to whether the child might be physically ill… it all just seemed too barbaric a concept for me to face. And, in a nutshell, too hard, really. It somehow felt easier to just suffer through four hours of rocking my child and begging her to sleep every three or four nights. Because in between those hellish nights, she’d mostly sleep through and I’d have a chance to recover – physically and emotionally.

But when my daughter, Chiara, was 15 months old, something cracked. We just had too many three or four hour stints where I could not, for love or money, get her back to sleep in the middle of the night. (To this day, I don’t know why she sometimes woke up, but I do know that she had no idea how to put herself back to sleep because she had never been given the opportunity to learn that skill). A few hours cradling a baby in an armchair in the middle of the night might not sound like the worst thing on earth – especially if you have the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom in privileged South Africa. But there is something absolutely soul destroying about the experience when you are going through it. I repeat: soul destroying. Perhaps you have to have experienced it yourself to know what I mean…

I’m glad I finally reached rock bottom because I would not have had the determination to attempt sleep training otherwise.

A few months earlier, I’d had lunch with a friend who was regularly spending an hour and a half putting her one year old to bed. She wasn’t pushy or evangelical at all on the topic but merely stated that sleep training had “changed their lives”. She described how, after the training, her daughter would point to her cot after only a few minutes. It seemed almost too good to be true and I wasn’t ready to put her advice into practice, but I secretly fantasized about a child who pointed at her cot.

So, when I was ready (read absolutely desperate and in emotional pain), I emailed my friend and asked her for her “method” for Project Sleep Training. To date, at 15 months old, Chiara, had only ever been rocked to sleep, pushed to sleep or fallen asleep on her nanny’s back or in a moving car. My mother-in-law first mentioned “putting her down awake” when she was six months old. I’d never heard of such a crazy concept in my life and I though my mother-in-law was mad. It was only later that the information started to sink in…

My friend’s method was gleaned from a range of online sources and she explained it to me in simple terms:

1) Put baby in cot (yes, awake! Imagine?)

2) Leave room

3) Time three minutes on your phone

4) If s/he is still crying after three minutes, go in and lay your hand on him/her to reassure them for less than a minute. Don’t pick them up.

5) Leave the room and time four minutes on your phone

6) If the baby is still crying after four minutes, go in and lay your hand on him/her to reassure them for less than a minute. Don’t pick them up.

7) Leave the room and time five minutes on your phone…

The next day, you start by leaving the baby for four minutes, then five, then six etc. You’ll be surprised at how fast these kids catch on…

For me, sleep training was indeed life changing. It took about two or three days of applying the above method by the book before my daughter got the message. I never experienced another night of being up for two to four hours on the trot – which had previously happened about three times a week.

Of course if your baby isn’t completely well, sleep training is not a good idea. Rather wait till you feel confident that your child is healthy. As for teething, it can be hellish for some babies but teething goes on for two years so it’s worth fitting in sleep training somewhere along the line.

Going away did disrupt my child’s sleep somewhat, but not to the same extent as it had prior to sleep training. I did find that when we got home, it was helpful to re-start the training for a night or two.

When my second child came along, I cuddled and rocked him to my heart’s content, secure in the knowledge that I could train him to self soothe as soon as he – or rather, I – was ready.

This post first appeared on Parenting Hub
http://parentinghub.co.za/2015/04/30/rock-around-the-clock-tonight-braving-sleep-training/

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