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.

Some Home Truths About Losing That Baby Weight

Home Truth No. 1: Meet the Prolactin Hormone

After I gave birth to my daughter, I “shed” around 8kg in the first two weeks. This should sound ridiculous to you because it is. I believe the cause was acute anxiety and severe insomnia. As the acuteness of the anxiety wore off, I took to comfort eating and – surprise! – the weight piled on swiftly. With my second child, I was calm and and after 10 days, I had “lost” my son’s birthweight almost to the gram – nothing more. Knowing that I would be at home alot with my infant and that it would be tempting to reward/ comfort myself with food, I took myself off to Weight Watchers when he was two weeks old. I followed their breastfeeding formula (when you can eat WAY more than a member who is not breastfeeding, but way less than I would otherwise have eaten). Some weeks I was really good about sticking to the programme, other weeks I wasn’t as good for as many days. It didn’t seem to matter. Each week I would step onto the scale and I would be 200g lighter. “It’ll creep off,” the Group Leader would smile encouragingly. Awesome!

At my 6 week check-up with my gynae I relayed my experiences. I found his response utterly liberating. He explained that during the first 12 weeks after birth, your prolactin levels are high and this meant that weight loss would be slow during this time. Obviously, my gynae wasn’t suggesting that I ate whatever I liked during this time, so I carried on trying to stick to Weight Watchers but was no longer disappointed with my weekly 200g loss as I believed this would improve after 12 weeks – which it did. (I have also read that prolactin can stimulate appetite – no doubt because it is connected to milk production and on a basic level it is egging the body on to store up fat reserves in the event of famine which would endanger the baby.)

Home Truth No. 2: Newsflash: Breastfeeding Does Not Cause Weight Loss. Get Over It.

My GP told me this long ago. My dietician told me this after my first child was born. But despite hearing it from trained professionals, it still felt like the whole world was declaring that “breastfeeding causes weight loss”. Even the pamphlet at the hospital where I gave birth to my son listed weight loss as one of the advantages of breastfeeding. Based on some high level research, anecdotal evidence and my own experiences, these are my thoughts on what I believe to mostly be a myth.

Let’s be honest – it is not in the best interests of medical professionals to actively dispel the myth that breastfeeding will make you thin. On a basic nutritional level, experts agree that “breast is best” so if women think of breastfeeding as a calorie quaffer, so much the better.

Here’s why I think that so many women (incorrectly) attribute their post-baby weight loss to breastfeeding:

Experts seem to agree that if you’re breastfeeding, you need to eat about 500 calories (about 2,000kj) more per day than you would otherwise need, to maintain your weight. (This may sound like a lot but if you are stuffing your face with cakes, macaroons and muffins, 500 calories is nothing.) I suspect that there is a significant category of women who continue to eat roughly the same as what they ate before breastfeeding – or maybe just slightly more. They would then automatically create a calorie deficit and therefore lose weight. One study calls such women “restrained eaters”. On the extreme end of “restrained eaters” we have the Heidi Klums and Angelina Jolies of this world. Classic examples of the post hoc fallacy (I knew that Economics course would come in handy): they breastfed and then they lost weight and so they concluded that breastfeeding caused the weight loss. I can’t attest to what these women did or didn’t put in their mouths, but my guess would be that a) they were super skinny before they fell pregnant and gained the minimum amount of weight possible during pregnancy  and b) they ate very, very carefully post birth. A simple case of “calories in” versus “calories out” rather than some breastfeeding miracle.

Home Truth No. 3: Comfort Eating Leads to Self-Loathing

I thought I’d start out with some tough love on this topic, because it really is that simple but oh-so hard to put into practice. If you’re prone to comfort eating, try to do it in moderation because when you’re housebound and you have so little time to yourself and you’re up half the night, you could find yourself virtually comfort eating around the clock. Find something that’s realistic and practical to do in its place, like watching a DVD series while you feed – without a bag of chips next to you. For me, walking around my neighbourhood became my refuge. These are things that don’t require pre-planning and that you can fit in at the last minute (essential with small babies) and which you can do more than once a day. And they don’t involve food.

Home Truth No. 4: Walk! (or something)

I fully agree with Scary Mommy who said that she can’t relate to people who claim to have lost weight from “running after their children“. Like Scary Mommy, I only mix running with child-rearing if I hear something like a loud thud signalling imminent danger for my offspring. Child rearing is exhausting but it probably doesn’t burn as many calories as we’d like to think and that’s why if you want to boost weight loss attempts, I believe it’s best to do some dedicated exercise. I don’t really count vacuuming although it certainly can’t hurt, but I don’t think it should replace a brisk walk – or if you’re a Sporty Spice then whatever you do for exercise. I’m advocating walking because you can do it with your kid in a pram and for most of us, there’s really no excuse to open that front door and go for a walk.

So How Do I Shed This Freaking Weight, Then?

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably not a “restrained eater” and you probably find it hard to listen to women who say “just eat normally!” Personally, I need a framework – even if I don’t stick to it entirely. Weight Watchers is great because it’s really flexible in terms of what you eat plus they have a specific breastfeeding programme. I also love the app MyFitnessPal which my friend Megan introduced me to after she had her third child. It takes a little getting used to and some discipline to input everything that goes in your mouth, but after a while you should have an idea of what you need to eat to create a calorie deficit – which, as well all know deep down, is the only way to lose weight.

(PS: My girlfriends and I finally quaffed that “goal weight” champers a couple of months ago)

5 Me-centric Mantras I Wish I’d Known As A New Mom

Kind of how Kristen Armstrong (the ex Mrs Lance Armstrong) told Oprah she believed that marriage was the world’s “greatest conspiracy”, I think a much greater conspiracy exists in the West for new moms. Whilst it may be true that no-one can ever prepare you for motherhood, I felt as though people should have at least tried a little harder. These are some of the things I wish I’d known early on as a first-time mom.

1. “Banish guilt“. These were the words uttered to me by my ante-natal teacher when my daughter was about 10 days old. I had phoned her in desperation as I was battling to breastfeed and battling with my new reality in general. She sat cross-legged on the nursery floor and dispensed just the kind of advice I needed, which included telling my husband and I to go out for dinner that night, telling me to drink champagne to stimulate my milk flow (whether I believe this or not, it was what I needed to hear at that moment). She also told me to banish guilt – forever. Of course, this is much easier said than done when you’re a mother but sometimes it’s exactly what you need to tell yourself. I think of her words often. They make me realise that my feelings of guilt help no-one and that they are a waste of energy.

2. “Be kind to yourself”. These are the words of my high school friend, Callia. And I think they are so applicable to new moms – whether this means that you’ll get take-aways/ eat leftovers more often than normal or go out for a girls’ lunch sans enfant once in a while. Just remember that it’s okay to be kind to yourself – your baby will be fine. One of the things Callia did with both her children as part of her “be kind to yourself” campaign was getting her nanny to do a night nurse duty once a week so that she and her husband could go out for dinner without worrying about the baby waking up later. There are many ways to be kind to yourself and this goes hand in hand with banishing guilt.

3. Pick and choose which advice to follow based on what makes sense to you. The world of parenting is awash with advice – and much of it feels contradictory, even when it’s being dispensed by paediatricians, gynaes and midwives. For example, I was advised by a breastfeeding consultant to express every three hours around the clock to stimulate my milk. For me, at the time, it was the worst advice ever. I couldn’t sleep a wink, knowing that I’d better fall asleep pronto because, in two and a half hours, I’d have to jump up in the middle of the night, wash and sterilise the breast pump and start the pumping process again. Things were put into perspective for me when a less uptight friend with a baby three weeks older than mine, wrote me an email about her first few days of motherhood. “The paed told me to wake up and feed every two hours,” she wrote. “I ignored him! I was way too exhausted!”. And she had a very positive breastfeeding experience – probably partly because she was so relaxed and only paid attention to advice that made sense to her.*

4. “Most Fortune 500 CEO’s were breastfed as infants“. Seriously? No. I totally made that up. There’s a reason we don’t have a line item on our CV’s stating whether we were breastfed as babies – because it really doesn’t matter. If you want to breastfeed and you’re able to – awesome. If you want to and aren’t able to, then know that your child will be just fine. The implication by lactation specialists that brain development will not be optimal when a baby is not breastfed is infuriating. Brain development will not be optimal if the kid is starving or if the mother is stressed out of her mind. What helped me when I was battling to breastfeed my first child, was thinking of all the highly intelligent, accomplished adults I knew who were formula fed – my husband being one of them. My mom and mother-in-law were helpful in citing many other examples (mothers of their generation with children of my generation whom I knew) and this really put things in perspective for me. I also saw a recent comment by a Facebook friend who is in her late thirties and one of four children, “My mother can’t exactly remember which of us kids she breastfed and which of us she didn’t”. Case in point.

5. A little bit of make-up goes a LOOOONG way. It may sound incredible if you have not had a baby, but there will be days when getting out of your pyjamas seems like an insurmountable challenge. My advice is to enjoy the odd pyjama day or the odd day without make-up, but don’t make this your norm. A little bit of make-up really does go a long, long way to making you feel like your old self – before you walked around all day with baby puke on your left shoulder.

You will be glamorous again. And it will be much, much sooner than you think it could ever be right now… Of course, this advice is only the tip of the iceberg, but the baby is probably about to wake up for yet ANOTHER feed and your me-time is nearly up – for now.

* The world of contradictory advice on the rearing of infants was brilliantly and hilariously summed up by a frustrated American mom whose rant went viral. Well worth reading:

http://www.today.com/parents/exhausted-new-moms-hilarious-take-expert-sleep-advice-goes-viral-6C9559908

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.

Do Cry for Me, New York City

Yesterday, I spent several hours fantasising about being a high-powered career woman. The fantasy was brought on by Chiara’s incessant crying, moaning, general ill-discipline and toddler delinquency. In my fantasy, I would be wearing a pair of Kurt Geiger black patent leather stilettos – exactly like a magnificent pair I used to own before losing them at an office party where I’d removed them to dance, before waking up the next morning having no recollection of how I got home and finding myself sans cell phone and sans my beautiful shoes. Still, I don’t think the headache I had that morning rivalled the headache brought on by my unplayable toddler. Not even close.

Anyway, back to my fantasy in which one of my greatest dilemmas would be how I would make it across our company’s skywalk to get to a meeting and back in said stilettos which were not built for long distance… Another dilemma would be whether I’d make it to my Step class on time and which dinner invitation I’d accept for later that evening. Of course there’d be other dilemmas like deadlines, deliverables and office politics but this week, that all seemed a whole lot more appealing than a screaming toddler.

Besides my screaming child, the other reason I found myself in another world in my head over the last few days, was because I was quite literally supposed to physically be in another part of the world – in New York City, to be precise. I was supposed to be blogging on Bleecker Street, running in Central Park, sipping cocktails at The Standard, brunching in Brooklyn, shopping at Lulu Lemon, strolling around the Met and watching James Franco on Broadway. That was the plan. I would be a footloose and fancy-free 35 year old getting a tiny taste of my younger sister’s glamorous life in New York. But fate had other ideas.

On Sunday morning, David was man-down with what we thought was a stomach bug. By the evening, the nausea was so severe that I took him to the Emergency Room at Morningside. We were in a curtained cubicle for several hours while he was pricked, jabbed, tested and questioned. Separated by only a curtain from the bed next door, we couldn’t help hearing that patient’s violent vomiting every few minutes, nor could we help overhearing her explain her medical history to the doctor. She’d had a gastric by-pass and a history of stomach ulcers. I don’t know whether the by-pass made her prone to ulcers but what I do know is that I wouldn’t wish the pain and suffering she was experiencing on my worst enemy. Not even to be eternally thin. It was traumatising just to hear her.

By the next day, David appeared to be recovering but Chiara had been coughing her lungs out all weekend, had woken up at midnight complaining of a sore ear and needed to see a doctor. The doctor diagnosed an ear and throat infection and put her on antibiotics. By Monday night, Joe was coughing his head off too. When he finally settled, I went back to my bedroom where David was in agony with stomach cramps. Our GP arrived at 11:30pm and by midnight I was in my car to find the 24 hour pharmacy at Olivedale Hospital. Imagine my horror when I was greeted by a sign at the entrance which explained that, on 31 March 2014 (that very night), the pharmacy would be closed for stock-take until approximately 1am. (Fortunately, they re-opened promptly at 1am and I was back home with much-needed painkillers by 1:30am.)

The next day – the day I was due to jet off to New York – Chiara stayed home from school with her persistent cough, I took Joe to the doctor and we waited to hear whether the gastroenterologist could perform an urgent gastroscopy on David. A couple of hours later my mother-in-law – who had gamely taken Chiara to Pappachinos followed by a trip to Sandton City, replete with pizza, ice-cream and any number of treats – phoned to say that Chiara was inconsolable and wouldn’t stop crying for mommy. So I went to fetch her and brought her back to the hospital where she played on her I-pad while I proceeded to pass out on David’s hospital bed. Apparently the head nurse was not amused.

Fortunately, David’s procedure went well and we were all home that evening. David and Chiara are back at work and back at school but poor Joe has thrown up three times in the last twelve hours, including once at 5am this morning when I was trying to tuck him into bed with me to convince him to go back to sleep. So much for that. I’m heading back to the doctor with him at lunch-time.

Chiara’s mood has improved and my fantasies of tripping down corporate corridors have become less intense… although my book club recommended Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” which, I have to say, is pretty inspiring. She’s obviously an exceptional case but she provides some study-based evidence about women who have families and careers, indicating greater levels of satisfaction within this demographic. Food for thought while I sign off this blog post and attempt to tackle the topic of the first derivative and differentiation for my Maths worksheet for Monday.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy weekend.

Natalie xx

 

 

 

Little Girls & the “F” Word

I don’t know how long we’ll be able to maintain this, but for now, the “F” word is banned in our house. “Fat” is not a word my daughter – nearly three – has ever uttered. I know this will change but when it does, I’ll pretend not to notice. We still read Jack Sprat to her and she sees the picture of the morbidly obese Mrs Sprat in her Richard Scarry nursery rhyme book, but I don’t think she has any negative associations towards the poor woman who could “eat no lean.”

I was in no way conscious of body size when I was a little girl. That is, until I went to school. I turned 6 a few weeks after starting Sub A. (I never went to play school or nursery school). Shortly thereafter, and ever since then, I have thought of myself as some form of “fat” – overweight, slightly overweight, downright fat – somewhere on that spectrum. I am pretty sure it began when the Std 5’s chose mascots for inter-house Athletics. I wasn’t picked and it wasn’t hard for my 6 year old brain to figure out why. The girls who were chosen were tiny – short and skinny and just miniscule and adorable. Those of us who were taller – and perhaps chubbier but not necessarily – were not destined to be mascots for the Blue Team. And that’s how I knew I was fat and that fat did not equal cute.

At the age of 6 I had come face to face with the concept of body image in the Western world. I was probably fortunate to have this realisation relatively late. But I lived in a seaside village with a generator and no TV and I can’t see how I will be able to protect The Princess in the same way that I was sheltered for so long.  Still, I would like to try and keep the “F” word as a banned word, for as long as possible. And I would more or less like to put into practice exactly what blogger and university student, Sarah Koppelkam, wrote last year in her post, “How to talk to your daughter about her body.” Sarah’s article was picked up by The Huffington Post and it quickly went viral. I came across it randomly when a London-based school friend of mine shared a copy and paste version of it on Facebook – one that had initially been posted on Facebook by a personal trainer in New Zealand – to give you a sense of just how viral we’re talking. I think it went viral because so many women identified with it. It is also incredibly beautifully written. If you haven’t yet come across it, here it is, with a link to the original post on Sarah’s blog below.

How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works.

Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight.

If you think your daughter’s body looks amazing, don’t say that. Here are some things you can say instead:

“You look so healthy!” is a great one.

Or how about, “you’re looking so strong.”

“I can see how happy you are – you’re glowing.”

Better yet, compliment her on something that has nothing to do with her body.

Don’t comment on other women’s bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, not a nice one or a mean one.

Teach her about kindness towards others, but also kindness towards yourself.

Don’t you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter, or talk about your new diet. In fact, don’t go on a diet in front of your daughter. Buy healthy food. Cook healthy meals. But don’t say “I’m not eating carbs right now.” Your daughter should never think that carbs are evil, because shame over what you eat only leads to shame about yourself.

Encourage your daughter to run because it makes her feel less stressed. Encourage your daughter to climb mountains because there is nowhere better to explore your spirituality than the peak of the universe. Encourage your daughter to surf, or rock climb, or mountain bike because it scares her and that’s a good thing sometimes.

Help your daughter love soccer or rowing or hockey because sports make her a better leader and a more confident woman. Explain that no matter how old you get, you’ll never stop needing good teamwork. Never make her play a sport she isn’t absolutely in love with.

Prove to your daughter that women don’t need men to move their furniture.

Teach your daughter how to cook kale.

Teach your daughter how to bake chocolate cake made with six sticks of butter.

Pass on your own mom’s recipe for Christmas morning coffee cake. Pass on your love of being outside.

Maybe you and your daughter both have thick thighs or wide ribcages. It’s easy to hate these non-size zero body parts. Don’t. Tell your daughter that with her legs she can run a marathon if she wants to, and her ribcage is nothing but a carrying case for strong lungs. She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants.

Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul.

http://hopeave.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/how-to-talk-to-your-daughter-about-her-body/

Mommy’s Weekend Away

I have heard a handful of stories about high-powered women pumping breast milk in corporate bathrooms with a two week old baby at home. Since I’ve been “on sabbatical” for the past four years, I haven’t had to worry about expressing in bathrooms or empty boardrooms. In May, at 28 weeks pregnant, I decided to implement a self-imposed travel ban until December this year. I had dragged The Princess on about 40 domestic and international flights by the age of two and I was not going to do the same with two kids. But a few months into my “travel ban”, I received an invitation to the wedding of one of my favourite school friends in George. I quickly calculated that The Prince would be about two and a half months old at the time of the celebrations – too young for me to lift the ban, I thought.

But The Husband – having enjoyed a two week cycling trip abroad when The Prince was just a month old – encouraged me to fly solo and to go and enjoy the wedding on my own while he looked after the kids (with reinforcements, I must stress). So I booked my flights and began a regime of expressing extra milk.

Aside from planning to leave refrigerated breast milk behind, I hadn’t really thought through what it means to leave your baby while you’re breastfeeding. When I told my neighbour (and fellow mom of a newborn) that I was looking forward to wearing a cleavage busting dress for the wedding, she raised an eyebrow and pointed out that I’d have to wear a feeding bra and breastpads too. Hmm. I hadn’t thought of that. She also mentioned that if I didn’t pump while I was away, not only would my boobs explode, but I’d also risk inadvertently drying up my milk supply. I also hadn’t really thought of that.

Okay, so I’d need to pack my pump.

Then, another wise mommy friend, Mandy, asked me how I was planning on sterilising the pump while I was away. I somehow hadn’t thought of that either. My glamorous mommy’s weekend away was starting to look alot less glamorous…  But Mandy – having produced enough milk for her two children to supply a neo-natal ward – had a plan.

“Are you really going to keep the milk you express? How are you going to ensure it stays chilled when you bring it back on the plane? You don’t want to take any risks… Not to mention the fact that it’ll be full of wedding champagne… Why don’t you just toss it?”

My initial reaction was shock and horror. I recalled battling to eke out a breast milk supply for The Princess. Back then, pumping sessions would very rarely yield more than a meagre 20ml at a time. Expressing 30ml was an infrequent triumph! This time around, when I express before going to bed, I can often pump up to 120ml. Still, because of my experience with The Princess, I regard every drop of breast milk as liquid gold and therefore balked when Mandy suggested throwing this away. But I confess that the thought of having to sterilise the pump’s parts after every session did not appeal. And the idea of indulging in an unlimited amount of bubbly certainly did. For these reasons I decided to take Mandy’s advice and, sniff, sniff, toss out The Prince’s liquid gold supply.

As I checked in on Saturday morning, my thoughts not only wandered to bubbly but also to the unlimited intake of coffee I would be able to indulge in…

Enter Vide e Caffe:

Image

Secure in the knowledge that all breastmilk toxins would literally be going down the drain for the next 30 hours or so, this was my first airport stop for a fully caffeinated, GRANDE cappuccino.

Aside from the caffeine indulgence, I must admit that it felt odd sitting down quietly and alone at a table with only my industrial breast pump as hand luggage: no pram/ Baby Bjorn/ nappy bag and especially no toddler wanting to race around the entire departure lounge. And on the flight I had a whole two hours to read, to sleep… This was, however, interrupted by the SWD Eagles rugby team who treated the aircraft like a school bus, with the back row shouting across to their teammates 15 rows in front. They put the “brains vs brawn” debate firmly to rest for anyone in doubt by shouting out things like:

“Ladies & gentleman… 20 minutes in the toilet! What has he been doing in there?”

Surprisingly, my fellow passengers failed to break out into uproarious laughter but this did not deter one of these 130kg hulks, who were all well-oiled with canned Klippies ‘n Coke by then. Ignoring the definition of insanity, the hulk blurted out his toilet “joke” again and again, evidently hoping for a more positive response at each attempt. It was at this point that I started to wonder whether I’d rather be on a plane with a screaming toddler or a team of drunk rugby players. I came to the conclusion that I’d probably have more luck reasoning with The Princess, owing to her innate brainpower advantages.

But despite the bruisers on the plane and having to express every four hours, I was thrilled that The Husband had pushed me to go to the wedding. The experience was worth every ounce of discarded liquid gold. And The Prince and Princess were even cuter and cuddlier than I remembered when I arrived home the next day.

On Blogging, Breasfeeding, Mess & Me-Time

Bless me, oh God of Blogs, for I have sinned. It has been one and a half months since my last blog post…

20 minutes ago, I fired off this tweet:

1) no husband 2) no help 3) a broken stove 4) 2 kids under 3
= 4 good reasons to eat out & drink wine all weekend long #overwhelmed

And now, miracle of miracles, I am seated in front of my laptop as both kids are sound asleep – The Princess upstairs in her bed and my two month old Prince next to me in his pram. The silence is almost freaky. I keep my head down and focused on my keyboard and screen in an attempt to ignore the unbelievable mess that is my home. The amount of havoc that one toddler has wreaked during the 8 hours she has been awake since 4pm on Friday, is truly staggering. Okay, she did have a little help from her friend. Note: “friend” – singular – only one other toddler monster. But this particular child takes messy eating to brand new heights: she managed to smooth cream cheese into the actual weave of the playroom rug. I stare at the white moosh on my brown mat and wonder how in God’s name one would go about removing it entirely.

Fortunately, when I am in survival mode – and I have probably been in that mode for the past two and a half years since The Princess’ birth – I can live in, around and on top of, mess. I don’t like mess, but I like cleaning up even less. In rare moments when kids are not being fed, bathed, changed, entertained, placated or put to sleep, there are just too many more interesting things to do in this life, to waste time tidying up. Like writing blogs, watching The Sopranos from start to finish – my current entertainment during breastfeeds, going for walks with the jogger, reading, the list goes on…

Of course those moments are ridiculously rare but I crave them anyway. A fellow full-time mommy recounted a story that she heard from a mom of three. This mom reported that after her second child, she stopped expecting any more microscopic moments of time to herself and that was how she coped. I still expect those moments. To give up that expectation would be to lose myself completely and I just don’t think I could cope with that. I need “me time” or, what I should rather call “Mac time” – time alone with my laptop: reading, writing, researching, shopping, corresponding, catching up on admin. My sanity depends on it.

I let my ears take in the sweet sound of two kids sleeping simultaneously…

The Prince was due for his three hourly feed five minutes ago but I just can’t bring myself to wake him up – even at the risk of messing with my milk supply. On that topic, my milk has mysteriously evaporated at every 6:30pm feed of the day. I managed to breastfeed exclusively for 7 weeks before The Prince had his first taste of formula and now, literally overnight for the past 10 days, I have virtually no milk at that time of day. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a breastfeeding crusader – certainly not amongst groups who have the means to procure alternatives and the infrastructure to ensure proper sterilisation. I know of too many examples of extremely intelligent adults whose mothers were unable to breastfeed to believe that formula cannot ensure the same level of brain development as breastmilk. Some women just don’t manage to breastfeed or to breastfeed exclusively (I struggled tremendously with The Princess and found it hugely stressful). However, personally, I just would have liked to have given The Prince formula less often than once a day for the first four months. But yesterday my neighbour told me something interesting. Her nurse told her that 200ml of breastmilk per day is just as good as an exclusive breastmilk diet. She equated this to eating All Bran: you can eat one bowl of All Bran or three bowls of All Bran but you’ll get everything you need in terms of fibre etc, from just one bowl. I have no idea if this assertion has been scientifically proven, but I like the theory so I’m choosing to believe its veracity.

Other than feeding every three hours, my life at present – as per my tweets – is mostly taken up with training for the 94.7 cycle challenge on 17 November. On 10 August when The Prince was just two weeks old, our family of four was driving out to my cousin’s daughter’s wedding in The Cradle. There were hundreds of cyclists out and amongst them were a notable number of women. I thought I saw The Husband look longingly at what appeared to be couples cycling together and I must have had a rush of blood to the head as I heard myself announcing confidently that I would ride the 94.7. For non-Jozi dwellers, the 94.7 cycle challenge gets its name from the frequency of a local radio station and is, just to be cute, literally 94.7 kilometres long. It sound like a “cute” idea at the time, but as I started training, I realised how hard cycling actually is, compared to being just generally quite fit from gym, a 5km run once a week, some personal training, regular speed walking etc. That incredible burn in your legs – there is just nothing like it. And don’t even get me started on cleats…

But more about that in a future blog. The Prince has just woken up and is screaming for his lunch!