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!
A few weeks ago, I was privileged enough to go skiing in France. The resort our friends recommended was Val Thorens, part of the Three Valleys (made up of Val Thorens, Meribel and Courcheval) in the French Alps. The nearest airport is Geneva which is approximately two and a half hours’ drive from Val Thorens. When I met my friends in Geneva, they had heard news at Charles de Gaulle airport that the road to Val Thorens was closed because an enormous boulder had fallen onto it the previous evening.
Soon enough, this rumour was confirmed by, Thierry, our taxi driver. He had been delayed getting to Geneva because of the road closure and as we drove, he listened to radio up-dates about the situation. Since 6am that morning, a tiny alternative route was being used. This road was so narrow it only allowed for one-way traffic and, as such, the local authorities had chosen to allow traffic down the mountain. It was a Saturday and the second last day of school holidays for the Paris school zone so it made sense to try to allow the people whose sojourns were ending that day, to exit the village.
At one stage we heard that vehicles would be allowed up the mountain at 2pm. But 2pm came and went and that wasn’t the case. By then we’d been in our mini-van for about four hours, driven alongside the magnificent Lake Annecy.
We’d managed to avoid a fair amount of bottle necks, thanks to our taxi drivers’ knowledge of back routes. We finally came to a halt in the village of Moutiers – at the foot of the closed road – and drank beer and espresso inside the local Carrefour’s cafe, where men still in ski gear, sat. They had made it down the mountain via the one-way road, but I overhead them saying that some had chosen to walk the last six kilometres as it was the quickest way down at that stage. The latest official information was that the (two-way) road would re-open at 6pm.
At about 4pm, our taxi driver raced into Carrefour and hustled us back to his van. He’d heard a rumour that the road might be opening. Once again, this proved untrue and instead we read our books in the van, while Thierry chatted to fellow taxi drivers and locals peered out of their windows at the curious sight of stationery cars lining their streets. By this stage of the day, there were cars lined up in every direction, up and down every nearby road.
At around 4:30pm, the authorities made way for buses to begin lining up in front of the closed off road as there were to be allowed up first. At exactly, 6:05pm, the road was opened to all traffic. Thanks to Thierry, we were well positioned towards the front of the queue.
We then began making our way up the mountain. Besides a crane and other machinery, there were no signs of any disruption.
About half way up the pass, a woman taxi driver from the region was being interviewed about the situation. Her emotions were running high and she went on and on about the local metro police, about how unreasonable she had found them and how she vehemently disagreed with the way things had been handled. Lots of anger, lots of superlatives and lots of repetition. I confess if the rant had been translated into English and given a South African accent, I would have felt completely at home – as though I was tuned in to Radio 702 and someone had called in to complain about our local metro cops policing a road closure. In short, it sounded exactly like a quintessential South African whine, but instead it was being delivered by a French taxi driver in the Alps.
I try not to seek solace for the troubles of my country by finding fault with other countries, but hearing this woman losing her marbles and lambasting the authorities, did make me smile, in spite of the latter. This takes absolutely nothing away from France – the world’s most visited country with 84 million tourists per annum. It has just given me another perspective on whining: I no longer regard it to be quite so unique to privileged South Africans.
Thierry’s response to the crisis is probably one of many reasons France has such a booming tourist industry. He fielded calls from clients and potential clients all day and was ultra professional throughout. He must have lost out on a fortune of revenue that day, but he never showed an ounce of frustration. He simply did what he could to make our experience as comfortable as possible, under the circumstances. He even went as far as to lend me Euros to buy lunch until we could get to a bank machine.
Despite the possibility that we may have been stranded in the village of Moutiers along with thousands of other tourists in the same boat, we were in our hotel having dinner by 8pm that night.
Sometimes, no matter its provenance, the glass really is half full…
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.
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 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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.).
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.)
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
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).
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.
In the eight years we have lived with our current landline, I actually have largely good things to say about my experiences with Telkom, especially with respect to fault-reporting and speed of fault resolution. But this story is too funny not to share. No embellishment is required.
On Thursday, I walk into the new-ish Telkom store in Sandton City (to sort out some non-urgent landline-related paperwork I haven’t bothered to prioritise until now). The store is large, airy, modern and bright. Besides a payment counter to the right as you walk in, there are two counters. Each one has a large sign above it, in big, bold, modern type-face:
I need assistance with my home phone and I want to respect the clearly demarcated division of labour, so I initially approach the desk sporting the “HOME” sign above it. The gentleman behind that desk is on the phone so I smile at his colleague who does not look busy. (I am the only person in the store, besides three employees).
Me: Hi! I would like to sort out some paperwork for my landline. I have all the documents here as per what I was told I needed by the Rosebank branch a while ago… (I launch into great detail about what I have done to date and what I understand I still need to do instore).
Telkom teller: You need to go back to Rosebank.
Me: No, no. You don’t understand. I haven’t handed in any documents yet, so I’d rather just do it here.
Telkom teller: No, you need to go to Rosebank because we only deal with mobile in this store.
I pause, look up, and allow my eye to settle on the “home” sign above us.
Me: Um, but there’s a big sign that says “HOME” right there (I point at the sign.
Telkom teller: That’s just for decoration.
(I would just like to state, for the record, that those were his words VERBATIM).
Me: No, come on. (smiling).
Still no reaction from said gentleman.
I really believe that the only rational explanation is that he has an odd sense of humour, despite the fact that he looks very serious.
There is pregnant pause which I feel compelled to fill. (Still smiling)
Me: Are you joking?
Telkom teller: No. I am not joking. We get alot of people coming in here just like you, wanting to sort out home phone issues.
(You do? Surprise!)
Telkom teller: But we’re the mobile store.
Telkom teller: Yes
Me: I see
But I still can’t quite believe it and I’m not quite ready to give up just yet…
Me: Gosh, I didn’t even know that Telkom did mobile!
Telkom teller: You didn’t KNOW we did mobile?
Me (gathering my thoughts and searching my memory bank): Oh yes. Doesn’t the 8ta mobile brand belong to Telkom?
Telkom teller: Yes! (he’s animated now and apparently relieved that we’re finally on the same page)
I look around the store. I can’t see any 8ta branding. Not a sign. Not a pamphlet. Nothing.
Me: Shew, so nothing to do with Telkom landlines, then.
Me: That does seem like a curious business decision. I’m sure your rent here is huge plus there’s alot of empty space. You would have thought one could have squeezed in another desk for “home” phones. You even have the big “HOME” sign…You know, the one for “decoration”?
I finally give up, smile and bid him farewell. I still haven’t gone to Telkom in Rosebank. Instead I went back to Sandton City and took pictures of the store for this blog.
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)
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:
I felt that today, on the eve of your 70th birthday, it was important for me to tell you publicly, why I am so glad that you are my Dad.
Although I was too young to recall doing puzzles with you, I am told that we bonded over jigsaws when I was still in nappies. When you sat patiently with me, separating the inside pieces from the outside pieces and, together we built puzzles. It explains why I love puzzles so much. I only wish humans had the capacity for earlier memories.
One of my earliest memories is our family trip to Durban when I was “three and three quarters”. I know I was that age because you had told me so and I, in turn, told anyone who asked. And I told them earnestly and with pride. To this day, your sense of humour and that memory, make me smile.
I recall your being tasked with the job of ensuring that I was warm enough at bedtime in winter – an impossible task as I have never been known to declare that I feel sufficiently warm when it’s cold.
“Are you warm enough?” you’d ask.
“No!” I’d reply.
And you’d fetch me another blanket (one of those thick, old-fashioned, heavy, rug-like blankets). This would be repeated two or three times before you’d say:
“This is just weight now, Natalie! It’s not warmth!”
And I’d giggle in mock protest and insist that I was still cold and you’d obligingly go down the passage to find me another blanket until all of the spare blankets in the house were on top of me. I think about those moments every single time I am cold, in bed and wishing for another blanket.
From Standard Two to Standard Five, for each and every test I ever wrote, my studying process was never complete until you had “tested me”. I still have visions of us sitting on the couch, you holding my school notebook and patiently asking me questions about the subject matter to test my knowledge. Those sessions with you were not only a lot of fun, but they gave me such confidence. It’s probably good that I was forced to go-it-alone at boarding school in high school or I don’t think I would have passed my university degree without you there to test me.
In Standard Five, I came home mortified after my Maths exam. I’d left out a certain number of marks in the paper. It was printed double-sided and I hadn’t realized and had left out an entire page. You and Mom tried to console me. I felt as though it were the end of the world but deep down I did understand that it was just one of those too-bad-so-sad things that happen in life and that I’d need to grow up and get over it. The next day, however, I was called to the principal’s office and there you were, seated across the desk from him. You’d convinced him to let me complete the paper then and there.
25 years later, it’s irrelevant what I got for Maths in Standard Five but what will always stick with me is how you fought for me, without even being asked. I’m not sure that the self-involved twelve year old version of me ever did thank you. Thank you, Dad.
And though I loathed you for it at the time, I respected you for turning the car around with my friend and I inside, when you discovered that we’d rented a 2-18 movie for the weekend. You didn’t have to say much: the mortification of handing it back to the video store owner twenty minutes later, was punishment enough.
But the main reason why I am so glad you are my Dad and one of the reasons why my childhood is so full of such wonderful home and family memories is because you were always there: dropping us at school, testing us, checking our homework, at bath time, at supper time, watching the A-team at 7pm, at bedtime, at sports day (the one time I accidentally made it to interschools), at prize-giving, at Rotary Exchange interviews – you were there, always, loving us and looking after that.
And these are the things I treasure about you, Dad.
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.
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.
In 2012, I took my first mommy vacation to visit my sister in New York. I arrived on the Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend, so the Monday was a public holiday, and I left for JFK early on the Tuesday morning.
I loved, loved, LOVED Manhattan. At the time, my sister was living in a shared apartment in the West Village. I arrived in her tree-lined, facebrick, quiet, gorgeous street and decided that this was better than the movies. Not even hauling my suitcase up five flights of stairs could put me off. Naturally, her apartment – shared by three twenty-somethings – was minute. But it was irrelevant. We were hardly there. We had brunch at the Gramercy Park Hotel, ran in Central Park, shopped at Lulu Lemon, ate sustainable, free-range eggs at Bubby’s, dined on brown rice sushi at Dean & Deluca and swanned around The Met. It was divine.
When I returned to New York last month, however, all of my senses went into shock. Mainly my ears though. Manhattan on Memorial Day weekend was a very different place to Manhattan in late July. The place was LOUD. It felt as though the whole of Manhattan was “under construction”. My sister had moved to the “vibier” (read noisier) Lower East Side, and buildings were being razed right there on her road.
So the tips below were heavily influenced by my current phase of life: I hate noise, I don’t do crowds but I do love acquiring beautiful books, clothes and bags and eating yummy food in trendy establishments. This is how I’d recommend negotiating Manhattan for anyone with similar proclivities:
Like death, you can’t avoid the 8.875% New York sales tax. No matter what the dodgy midtown salesman tells you about not charging you tax but shipping your bill to your distant cousin in another state. (He forgets to mention that your cousin will be liable for the tax). The annoying part is that tax is not included in the marked price – unlike VAT in SA – so it’s hard to remember to include it when have your hand on a beautiful handbag that is borderline in terms of budget…
Bloomingdales, however, has mercy on foreign shoppers. I was offered a 10% discount to negate the sales tax when a very proactive and helpful salesgirl picked up my accent.
Hotel taxes come to more than 8.875% – around 15-% if I’m not mistaken, which I omitted to factor in when I booked The Standard online. Sure, the site said the price quoted excluded tax but I figured the amount would be negligible. Ahem, not so.
(My sister’s stylish French friend met us for lunch at Cafe Gitane at The Jane Hotel in the West Village and proffered this handy tip: The Jane costs around $220 per night – inclusive of tax – which is unusual for a boutique hotel in a fabulous location, within walking distance to the High Line and cute shops in the Meatpacking district. It’s also well-positioned if you want to go for a run along the Hudson River, all the way into the financial district. There are lots of runners but there’s also lots of place to run, walk and cycle and the area is well kept and clean.)
2. When You Gotta Go
My romantic notions of strolling along Fifth Avenue, holding David’s hand and exclaiming ” Oh my God, would you look at that gorgeous jacket/ bag/ dress!” were crushed in seconds. Sure, the shops are amazing but when you’re on the “sidewalks” you may as well be on London’s Oxford Street – ie it’s MANIC!!! This is where I figured out that the best places to “spend a penny” (the McDonalds staff keep an eye-out for non-consumers using their restrooms) were in the beautiful old department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodmans. (I could live in these stores). Which brings me to my next tip…
3. Books at Bergdorfs
On my way out of the restrooms at Bergdorfs, I happened upon the children’s section and couldn’t resist taking a peak. One item of designer kid’s clothing would feed our household for a month, but the books sell for the recommended retail price on their dust jackets and they are magnificent. I could run my hands over the silky paper all day. Here’s what I picked up for the kids:
4. Shop till you drop
Something I noticed was that some branded items cost exactly the same as they do in SA. I don’t know how this works with SA’s import duties, but a pair of Nike running pants purchased at Totalsports in Joburg in June compared with the exact same pair I saw at a sports store in New York in July, cost the same (give or take a few cents for the Rand/ Dollar exchange rate on the day). I also compared the price of an I-pod Touch which was a bit cheaper in New York, but honestly not a saving to write home about.
To shop at places like Zara & H&M, make sure you have your big girl panties on, because you are going to need them. I’m talking, chaos, crowd control, queues for change rooms, queues to pay… Not to mention the fact that I was literally policed by shop assistants for trying on a cardigan on the shop floor. Apparently this is not allowed. The prices at Zara in SA might be higher but I’d say it’s worth it for the shopping experience.
5. Far From the Madding Crowds in the West Village
My neighbour did me a huge favour when she put in an order for a Marc Jacobs tote. My sister could see that I wasn’t coping well with the crowds and suggested that we hit the mini designer stores in the West Village instead. Sure, you won’t get the range that you’d get in a huge department store and not all the brands are there by far, but it’s a really pleasant experience compared to the madness of Soho, Broadway and Fifth Ave.
6. Sharing is Caring
Vanity aside, there is a reason there are no fat people in Manhattan (I blogged about this in 2012): it just isn’t practical. According to a 2013 census, 1.6million people live on the 59 square km island – excluding the additional 2.3 million commuters who come in on business days. Often, the tables in little cafes were so close together, I literally didn’t think I would fit through them sideways – or certainly not without knocking over my neighbour’s latte. So I had to get used to feeling like I was also having brunch with the table next to me. It is completely impossible not to hear every single word they say to one another but sometimes this comes in handy – like when they see you eyeing their banana bread, hear you and your sister contemplating ordering some and they feel obliged to share their experience of it with you. Hell, the setting is so intimate at one point I though they were going to offer us a taste and was inwardly panicking re the appropriate response. But that’s the other reason Manhattanites aren’t fat – the portions aren’t huge – so sharing does have its limits.
7. BYOB on Broadway
I’m told there are more affordable Broadway shows and less affordable ones. (I was told this after booking tickets). For the show Book of Mormon there are only two ticket prices: unbelievably effing expensive and literally double that. We got over that before leaving SA but thought nothing of grabbing a drink at the theatre’s bar before the start of the show. The damage for two average double whiskeys and a sparkling water was no less than $76. And when David balked and asked the barman to please repeat, he shouted back “That’s RIGHT! Seventy six AMERICAN dollars!” That, really, was the cherry on top and David vows he’ll never set foot on Broadway again.
8. The World of Water in the States
I absolutely LOVE the fact that it is perfectly acceptable to ask for tap water in all types of American restaurants. And when you’re on the run, you can totally buy bottled still water anywhere. But sometimes, when I really want to let my hair down, I do like some bubbles. Unlike SA, however, where every affordable brand of still water (Valpre, Bon Aqua, Woolworths, you name it) has an affordable bubbly equivalent, in the States sparkling water equals Perrier equals imported from France equals really expensive.
8. Modern Art
The beauty of New York is that most of the waiters/ bellhops/ hostesses/ receptionists double up as struggling actors/ writers/ artists. We learnt that Jeff Koons was having a solo exhibition at The Whitney thanks to a waiter at The Standard. The exhibition blew my mind. Jeff Koons chose a Polish-Italian porn star as a muse, fell in love with her and married her, she somehow became a member of parliament (only in Italy) and he shocked the world with their sexually explicit “art” (basically pornographic photography) but otherwise most of his work is fun, fabulous, playful, ironic, over the top and, in short, like nothing I’ve ever seen. I loved the experience.
Something to note is that The Met is moving most of its modern art collection to The Whitney and The Whitney is moving from the Upper East Side to new premises near the start of the High-Line in the Meatpacking District. As a result, there is currently hardly any modern art available to view at The Met (it’s all in the process of being packed etc) but then there is always the Guggenheim and MOMA which I am gutted I didn’t get to see.
9. Flats Are the New Black
My sister told me that flats are totally acceptable in lieu of high heels in NY and I must say I did notice a definite trend. Heels still seem to be the footwear of choice amongst girls fresh off the boat, lining up for the night club on the top floor of The Standard, but otherwise, I did feel kinda last season in my heels – tragic, as I only bust them out for really special occasions.
10. Top of the Standard
Undoubtedly, the most beautiful bar in the whole wide world. The almost 360 degree views of the city are just spectacular. Even the sexy little dolly bird waitresses in their silk mini dresses whom you just expect to be bitches are SUPER nice (and actually really fast and efficient). And then the foie gras mini burgers with truffle oil are possibly the most delicious of any food I have ever tasted. And thanks to the new fashion, you can even go in flats…
David did his first ultra triathlon at Buffelspoort in March this year. A few weeks later he was itching for more and took a leap of faith by signing up for the half Ironman in St Croix in the US Virgin Islands. British Airways lost his bike (fortunately it arrived the night before the race) but he had the most incredible experience and loved the race. The bug had bitten and in early May we tucked the kids in and scoured the Ironman website in search of potential races. I was definitely going to New York at some point for sister bonding time and he was going wherever he could swim, bike, run. It meant we’d be apart alot so when he saw that there was a full Ironman in New York State, instead of being terrified, he was bursting with excitement. (Yes, people regularly tell him he’s mad and I totally concur).
When we told my parents-in-law of David’s plan to sign up for a full Ironman so that we could combine our travel objectives as a couple, his Dad stated the obvious: why didn’t David just come to New York with me for a holiday? David’s response: “How long have you known me, Dad?”
Understandably, excitement did give way to outright panic within 24 hours but by then David had purchased his charity ticket with the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation to enter the race (the only remaining option, ten weeks before the race) and there was no going back. We were going to New York, baby! There was just this small matter of a 3.8km swim, 180km cycle, followed by a marathon (42.2km).
Rather him, than me, was all I kept thinking…
Fast forward to race day in Lake Placid on Sunday 27 July. We were up at 4:15am and walking to Mirror Lake in the heart of the town by 5am. When I asked David how he was feeling he responded that he’d “gone non-verbal”. I, on the other hand, seemed to have gone “emotional”. A supporter rode past the other competitors and supporters walking to the start and wished everyone good luck with such exuberance, my eyes started to well up. I saw a man in a wheelchair with the tell-tale blue armband signifying that he was a competitor and I started to drizz. I kissed David goodbye as he made his way amongst the 2,700 competitors to his spot on the lake and I had a lump in my throat. They played the Star Spangled Banner before the gun went off and I found that emotional. And all I could think of was something that has been cropping up in my head alot lately: hashtag firstworldproblems.
A few months ago I saw a Twitter post with a picture of someone, somewhere, in a third world country, standing in front of a grass hut with the hashtag “first world problems”. It read something like this: “My house is so big, I need two modems to access wi-fi all over #firstworldproblems”. I think this hit home because most days I am seriously annoyed that the wi-fi coverage is not expansive enough for my needs. And here I was, on a luxury vacation in America, crying my eyes out because people with $15,000 tri bikes may or may not finish a crazy race called the Ironman? #firstworldproblems, I kept telling myself.
I pulled myself together, found my sister and her boyfriend who’d driven up from New York City for the weekend, and we watched the swimmers head off on their first lap. We managed to spot David amongst the crowd coming out of the water to start his second lap. By this time, the weather predictions had come true and it had started to rain fairly heavily. I saw a supporter with a badge which read “F*ck Cancer!”. That set me off. A little later I was standing in the rain watching competitors coming out of the water, having finished their swim. From Mirror Lake, they had to run about 400m to get to the transition area to climb onto their bikes. That was when I saw a man carrying the paraplegic competitor in his arms and sprinting, in the pouring rain, to the transition area. He was running like his life depended on it.
By now I was bawling my eyes out.
When I was standing at the finish line, expecting David any minute, the MC introduced a finisher and told the crowds she’d had a double mastectomy in 2011. Now she was – as the MC was calling the finishers – “an Ironman”. (Needless to say, that had me blubbing again).
Of the 2,700 competitors (a handful of whom were professionals) I saw many people with incredible, athletic physiques. I tend to categorize those people as different to me – naturally very talented at sport – and then it makes sense to me why they can compete in a full Ironman. But it seemed that for every super athletic looking person, there was a very “normal”, non-athletic looking competitor getting out of their wetsuit, grinding uphill on their bikes, jogging past me in their running shoes. Sure, they had strong, muscular quads, but many were overweight. Not obese, but honestly, quite chubby. I don’t say this as a criticism at all. To me, this proved that I was ultimately witnessing a testament to the power of the mind. For some, finishing the race was the equivalent of screaming “F*ck cancer!”. For some, it was a tribute to someone they had lost to cancer (or perhaps in other ways). Some may have been competing to overcome a “firstworldproblem”. And some may have simply competed for the personal challenge.
Regardless, it was inspiring – and very, very emotional – to watch.
Here is the story of David’s amazing achievement in pictures. He came 405th out of 2,772 athletes who started the race. Hashtag determination (and talent), my love. Well done!