One (Wo)man’s Fat Jeans…

…might just be another (wo)man’s goal weight jeans…

In my post Is Your Body Lotion Making You Fat? I joked about how that diet’s literature counselled users not to use body lotions as the creams could be “absorbed by the skin as fat”. I still find the statement hilarious. As to its veracity, I can’t say I bothered consulting with anyone in the medical field (apart from the medical practitioners you pay to give you the diet) so I have no idea if it’s true or not. It just sounds ludicrous. Nonetheless, since I first started eating meals that looked like this:

A typical lunch or dinner on "the body lotion diet"
A typical lunch or dinner on “the body lotion diet”

on the body lotion diet, I’ve lost 13kg – with the application of body cream (believe it or not).

This is me at 71kg in mid-March:

71kg on 19 March 2014
The head that goes with the body to prove it really was me
The head that goes with the body to prove it really was me

I look drab because I dressed drab and I dressed drab because I felt drab. I didn’t have “no energy” and sure, I wasn’t morbidly obese (although, technically, I might have been had my body fat percentage been taken) but my new favourite Country Road pants were cutting into me at the waist and I just felt kak. I hated getting dressed in the morning, I hated catching sight of my body in the mirror. And it pissed me off that I had gained enough weight to technically make me need to buy size 14 pants – all in the space of a few months (not that I was skinny before).

I felt like I needed to do something really drastic and different to change the central role that food and eating was playing in my life (and has always played ever since I can remember). I was also pissed off that my weight was taking up so, so much of my headspace. I mean – what a serious waste of brainpower and energy, right? Because I knew that it didn’t have to be this way. I knew I could look – and feel different. I was the only thing standing in my way.

Fast forward four months. This is me last night just before a rare and wonderful date night with my husband:

58kg on 13 July
58kg on 13 July

I’m stoked, to put it mildly. I now weigh 58kg (butt naked, first thing in the morning “pre-coffee and post-wee” as Susan Hayden once elegantly put it). I am 1.66m tall and according to Weight Watchers I should weigh between 55kg and 69kg. That’s based solely on height, not bone structure but I know I’m not a mesomorph (Serena Williams) so I shouldn’t weigh 69kg and I know I’m not an ectomorph (Kate Moss) so I doubt I need to weigh 55kg. I have tiny wrists but I have child-bearing hips (as my first ever personal trainer was frank enough to put it), my mother’s non-existent arse, her broad back and my paternal grandmother’s “problem” thighs. And thanks to my recent weight loss I no longer have boobs. Yip, I am officially an A-cup. But I have two skinny friends whose boobs disappeared after breastfeeding so I have been well counselled in the way of push-up bras. And my very generous husband is happy to buy me boobs. And I am more than happy to accept his generous offer. Feminist shock horror, I know. I actually do consider myself somewhat of a feminist – albeit a far less fervent one than I was in my “youth”. I’m just a vain feminist and if buying boobs is on offer, then I’d like a pair. Thanks, Babe.

Despite exercising 4-6 times a week on average for the past 5 years (including resistance training twice a week with a personal trainer), my tummy and thighs are still – even at 58kg – soft and spongy. But for the 3 weeks a year a spend in a bikini in public, I can totally live with that. Or I can train harder for a harder stomach. Whatever. Life is short.

As for other (wo)mens’ fat jeans… I distinctly remember my neighbour letting slip what she weighed when we were both around 6 months pregnant with our second children last year. 53kg. I think I might have weighed that in Standard Three – before I got boobs. (I used to have boobs). I am now very proud to say that I am wearing her “fat” jeans. Okay, they are incredibly low and I can’t bend over but whatever – they’re Replays and they once belonged to someone who weighed 53kg when she was six months pregnant. Who needs to bend over? These are them jeans:

Proudly wearing my neighbour's fat jeans
Proudly wearing my neighbour’s fat jeans

Naturally, I am so thrilled with my new body that I could get slightly evangelical about the body lotion diet. But I am not here to punt it at all. I found it soul destroyingly difficult at first – yes, soul destroyingly difficult. I have no other words. The extreme deprivation was literally soul destroying. I didn’t (couldn’t) follow it nearly as closely as I was advised to by the doctor and nurse who counselled me. I didn’t really enjoy the fact that you’re advised to only do light cardio a few times a week owing to the low calorie intake. (I’m a stay at home mom – I now LIKE going to the gym). And I didn’t fully listen to that either. I took breaks from the diet many times which wasn’t advised. I gained back a bit of weight when I took my first two week break but when I took the second two week break, I exercised alot, ate a bit more carefully and didn’t gain back the weight.

I can honestly say that getting down to even 60kg has been sort of life changing. I like looking in my full length mirror. I like getting dressed in the morning. I enjoy shopping for clothes. And I don’t really mind what the size tag says – as long as they fit. (Okay, I won’t buy a size 14 even if it’s a Lilliputian size 14 but maybe one day I’ll get over that too). The nude coloured spaghetti strap top in the picture above is a top I bought from Witchery yesterday. It’s an XS and I truthfully I am just teensy bit stoked. (I have a medium-sized bone structure and I am not really an XS and Woolies is really generous with their sizing but whatever. The label says XS, okay? I might frame it…)

I feel on top of the world writing this post. I know there is a very real risk that I could gain all the weight back and more, but that is one of the reasons I am putting this in writing and making my experience very public. And it’s a very vain and shallow post to write but I am a stay-at-home mom and/or a housewife and it’s taken me years to utter those words out loud so I’m okay with calling myself vain and shallow.

But I’m not really fundamentally vain or shallow. Which is why I want to end off this post with something written by Amber Jones from Go Kaleo. Leigh – a close friend of my sister’s and a trained nutritionist “introduced” me to Amber Jones by posting a comment about her on my blog when I wrote about the deprivation of the body lotion diet. I don’t identify with absolutely everything Amber says about diets and food and weight but she sounds highly intelligent, I do relate to many things she writes and I have no doubt that she’s changing lives as we speak. This is an extract from something she wrote recently. It is so magnificently written and so profound, that I get a lump in my throat every time I read it. Despite the vain and shallow things I’ve written above, I agree with every single one of Amber’s words below:


This picture of me does not tell you how happy I am. It does not tell you how much value I bring to the lives of others. It does not tell you how many people love me. It does not signify that I am better or worse than anyone else. It does not convey the works I create in this world.

Being fit is awesome, because it keeps me healthy and strong so I can go out in the world and do awesome things. Being fit, itself, is not the goal. Being fit is a means to accomplish my true goals. If your goal ends at ‘being fit’, think bigger! The world has so much more for you!

This is one of many links to Amber’s full article. To my fellow Fat to Fit challengers on Gaelyn Cokayne’s programme, entering Week 5 of the challenge, think about Amber’s words when you feel guilty for sharing a pizza with your toddler.

And to the love of my life: thank you for your unwavering support on this journey. You inspire me to be better – in every way. I look forward to so many runs, hikes, rides and adventures with you and our beautiful children.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Is Your Body Lotion Making You Fat?

When I started Weight Watchers five months after Chiara was born, I resigned myself to the fact that no matter how long it took, I wanted this to be the last “diet” I ever went on. A year later, I was 13kg slimmer. I wasn’t super skinny but I was within a few kilos of the lower end of the healthy weight range for my height and build. Then I fell pregnant with Joe and I used this as an excuse to indulge. By the end of my pregnancy I had packed on nearly 14kg.

Thanks to an easy birth and a wonderful night nurse, I was back at Weight Watchers 10 days after giving birth and back at personal training when Joe was two weeks old. My gynae explained to me that it would be difficult to shift weight in the first 12 weeks following child birth and he was absolutely right. It did get slightly easier after that and by the December holidays, I had managed to shed close to 11kg of the 14kg gained in pregnancy. But then came Mauritius, overseas guests, Christmas, New Years, my birthday, kiddies’ birthday parties… Every excuse in the book for me to gain back 6kg out of the 11kg I had managed to shift. And if you deduct Joe’s birth weight from the equation, it meant that 8 months after his birth, I was exactly 1.7kg slimmer than the day I gave birth.

Enter severe self-loathing and the decision to do something drastic.

I knew of someone who had shed a fortune of weight very quickly through one of these expensive medical slimming programmes. I generally don’t like diets that make me drink my food instead of eating it, nor do I like ones where I can hardly eat anything. This diet had both of those elements plus one added bonus: a daily injection in the arse. Awesome.

Nonetheless I made an appointment, had a big fat pizza the night before and went to the consultation prepared to starve myself to thinness. I had to smile. The questionnaire wanted to know why I was overweight, as if it were one of life’s great mysteries. “I eat too much,” I wrote.

The briefing with the nurse offered some good news and some bad. The bad news was that the hormone we were to inject daily would take a week to arrive. Psychologically I needed to start immediately. So this was really bad. The good news was that exercise wasn’t really encouraged since you’d be eating basically “eff all”. I could work with that.

Another bad sign was that I was asked three times, by three different people (therapist, nurse, doctor) whether I’d done this before.

“No!” I felt like screaming, “if I done this before I’d be skinny, right? Right? RIGHT?”

Of course the worst news of all was the daily meal plan:

– 30ml of skim milk
– 2 small fruits (excluding bananas and grapes)
– a shake for breakfast
– lunch and dinner: 75g of lean chicken/ fish with 120g of steamed veggies but not the yummy ones like butternut
– 3 provitas (and boy do I look forward to those three bad boys)

The theory behind the programme is that when you inject yourself with the hormone that is activated when humans actually face potential starvation – the HCG hormone – your brain tells your body to attack your fat reserves. But you can’t trick your brain into thinking that you’re starving if you’re not – hence the fact that you can barely eat.

Although I haven’t felt starving on the programme (supposedly the hormone means you don’t feel hungry) I have felt utterly deprived and at times miserably depressed. It has honestly been the hardest diet I have ever been on – and boy, have I been on plenty in my life. However, I have managed to shift 5.5kg after 20 days of (more or less) sticking to the regime in a 30 day period. So, I would argue that it has been worth it, even if I do gain back 1kg after eating one Easter egg this weekend.

Having said this, winter is not the most ideal time of year to go on this diet, because, according to the programme’s literature, you could be giving up cupcakes only to have your starving body guzzle up the calories in your cocoa butter. This is the warning:

“Body lotion and body butter: You will be surprised at the amount of calories body cream, oil, body butter and lotions contain. During the initial 6 week period, it is advisable not to apply any body lotion or cream or oil to your body. The absorption of fat by the skin can make a difference to the total amount of calories consumed…”

So with the beginning of winter and Joburg’s high altitude, I look and feel like a crocodile but at least I’m a slightly skinnier crocodile than I was a month ago…

The Trouble with Teenage Study Buddies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That didn’t seem fair, I empathised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nonetheless, we exchange telephone numbers.

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

At about 10am I get a missed call.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




The Middle-aged Man in Crisis: The Age of Endurance Sport

He was not a carouser or a sportscar guy, and he already had a shed full of high-end bicycles – that other refuge of the middle-aged man in crisis.

Tim Lewis, “Land of Second Chances: The Impossible Rise of Rwanda’s Cycling Team”

I suppose it’s no accident that, as a 35 year old suburban mom, most of the men I come into contact with are… ahem…”middle-aged”. They are the spouses or partners of my friends and fellow mommies and they are in their late thirties or early forties. As to whether these men are “in crisis”, I can’t presume to know, but what I do know is that more than a handful of them have taken up endurance sports with the zeal of semi-professional athletes.

When The Princess was born, two dads we know ran their first Comrades Marathons within months of the birth of their first children.

Holidaying in Mauritius in December, we met a dad who had recently run the Otter African Trail Run and become obsessed with the sport. In fact, he was scanning the Mauritian landscape during our transfer from the airport and was considering doing a race whilst on holiday. His wife and I looked at one another knowingly. He responded by asking if she’d rather he found himself “a blonde from Benoni”. She said yes, she would actually prefer that, as he would’ve tired of the blonde more quickly.

I think she may have had a point.

Over the past several years, it feels to me as though The Iron Man and the “Half Iron” have become buzzwords. And I think David starting feeling left out. In December 2012 he took part in his first triathlon in St Francis Bay (a sprint distance triathlon).

But it wasn’t until about six weeks ago that he started talking seriously about the Buffelspoort Triathlon on 9 March. He would pop to the gym a few times a week to swim, he did a few slow runs with me (which I blogged about here) and kept up his cycling. Not being well versed in the in’s and out’s of triathlons, I assumed he was talking about a sprint distance triathlon (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run) or perhaps an Olympic distance triathlon (1.5km swim, 40km cycle, 10km run). But when I stopped to confirm the distances about 3 weeks ago, he was referring to a…gulp…ultra triathlon: 1.9km swim, 90km cycle and 21.1km run. The same as the Half Iron Man event. A few weeks ago his training dipped when he was travelling for work and he told me that he was having second thoughts about doing it. I completely encouraged him to laugh it off. When I was “training” for the 94.7 I wanted to be talked out of it when I moaned to my spouse so I figured it would only be fair to make him feel better about opting out. A week later he was still contemplating what to do. And then he said the key words:

“I’ll be in such a bad mood on that day if I don’t do it.”

“You should definitely do it,” I said immediately.

The night before Sunday’s event, he was literally cramming for the swim by studying an article in Triathlon magazine on common mistakes that triathletes make with respect to their swimming techniques.

The next day, our alarms went off at 3:30am, we were on the road by 4:15am and we arrived at Buffelspoort Dam in the North West Province by 6am for race registration.

Receiving a competitor body marking from the high school girl volunteers - possibly not the worst experience for middle-aged men in crisis
Receiving a competitor body marking from the high school girl volunteers – possibly not the worst experience for a middle-aged man in crisis

Once David had his body marking, it was time for him to set up his cycling and running gear in his transition area. Ever the light traveller, he just packed a few essentials:

All the gear...
All the gear…

Unfortunately, we were to discover that a triathlete’s transition area is not quite the same as a walk-in closet. You were not allowed to bring along a plastic version of a suitcase.

The next challenge was for him to put his newly purchased wetsuit on. We learnt that there is a special technique for this but fortunately, the lovely Carol from Troi Sports (herself an Olympic paddler, I believe) was there to help:


She also told David that he should try to relax. She had no idea that he’d have had a better chance of giving birth at that juncture.


Finally, at 7:11am the ultra competitors were off. David had said he’d be breaststroking the swimming leg (not his sporting forte). I thought that there was no way he would have the balls to do breaststroke in front of a bunch of cool, fit ultra triathletes.

But apparently, he did. Out of 170 swimmers, I could identify David as the only swimmer whose head bobbed up and down and whose arms did not exit the water. As a supporter, it was very convenient in terms of identification.

After two laps in the Buffelspoort Dam, David was out of the water and in his transition area to get kitted for the cycle. Here, it would be safe to say that Oscar nominees probably take less time to get dressed for their event. His transition time clocked in at no shorter than 6 minutes and 57 seconds. To give this some perspective, the winner took 1 minute 37 seconds, whilst most people took between 2 and 3 minutes. A few were slower and took just over 4 minutes. I even saw David folding his clothes and placing them in special, individual bags at one point.

But then he caned it on the cycle leg and also did very, very well on the run.

In the end, he came 60th out of 170 ultra competitors who finished the race. Not bad for a middle-aged man!

The 60th of 170 finishers
The 60th of 170 finishers
David's youngest supporter
David’s youngest supporter

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.

Running with Husbands

A couple of years ago, The Husband suggested that we start running together again. I agreed – albeit somewhat apprehensively as he tends to take his sport very seriously. I reminded him that I hadn’t run in a long time and asked him how far he wanted to go.

“An absolute minimum of 5km. Anything shorter and it takes you longer to get dressed,” he replied.

“Not necessarily,” I said, “depends how long it takes you to run 5km”.

More recently, The Husband announced that he will be doing a triathlon on 9 March. A day or so later, he announced that he had begun his running training and had run 1km on the treadmill.

I burst out laughing. The man has spent more hours on a bicycle in the last five years than French people have spent at their desks and he was proud of himself for running 1km?

“A lot of people laughed when I told them that, but I have a plan!” he said. “It involves increasing your mileage in small increments.”

The following Saturday he wanted to know whether I cared to join him for a 2km run?

I took great pleasure in replying that it would take me longer to put my shoes on than it would to run 2km.

Then, on Sunday, he invited me to join him for a 3km run. Since the beginning of the year, my new running buddy, Judy, and I, have actually gone on a few very slow 5-6km trots, so I felt that I could continue to push myself beyond the 3km mark. I told The Husband that I knew a 5.5km route but that he was welcome to cut it short and run his 3km while I carried on. He agreed. Monday morning came along and off we set on our run around the neighbourhood.

I think I would have actually eaten my running shoe had The Husband waved goodbye and turned around after 1.5km.

We did 6km on Monday.

On Tuesday, we started to plan our Wednesday run.

“How far can you go?” he wanted to know.

“Um, since I’ve only actually been on about 5 runs in the last year and none of those have been further than 6km, I can run 6km.”

“That’s not far enough” said the man who, only three days before, had invited me on a 2km run. “What about 8km?”

Clearly, the man had a hearing problem but I didn’t feel like arguing.

“Fine, whatever, but what happened to your planning of adding 1km every run?”

“Oh no,” he said, “I ran out of time so I decided to add 1km every day, but if I miss a day of running then I still add another km the next day.”

“Right,” I nodded. “So, according to your custom training programme, how far are we supposed to be running tomorrow?”

The answer was 11km.

And I almost got bullied into signing up for the 21km route for the Hyundai Rock The Run on 16 March. Then I remembered announcing that I would ride the 94.7 cycle challenge last year and how tough it was to train for that race. So I stuck to my guns and declared that I would do the 10km route or nothing at all.

10km should be a breeze – in terms of The Husband’s training schedule we should be on about 39km a day by mid-March.

Who Needs Maths Anyway?

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

Apparently, I do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Re-entering the Hallowed Halls of Academia

Ever since I quit my job in April 2009, I have been toying with the notion of studying Economics. Before my kids came along, however, I was extremely tied up doing all the things I didn’t have the luxury of doing when I was working full time, like travelling without counting leave days, taking afternoon naps, checking Facebook, going to gym, getting my nails done and shopping at 11am on a Wednesday morning. In short, there was simply no time study. No time at all. There was no way I was going to choose a tutorial on marginal costing over a cruise on the Peruvian Amazon.

And then my beautiful kids came along and now a romantic cruise in search of pink dolphins in the Amazon seems about as likely a trip to the moon. Being able to take a sabbatical before having children was possibly the greatest gift my husband could ever have given me. And having the opportunity to enjoy the first few years of motherhood free from the stresses of the workplace is something I am immensely grateful for.

But tonight I will attend my first university lecture – the first step in a journey towards re-entering the working world in some shape or form.

In November last year, when The Prince was four months old, I took myself off to Wits Plus (centre for part-time studies) to hand in my application for 2014. When I started at UCT in 1998 I was more worried about what to wear to class and whether the drunken words of “fresh meat!” being bandied about in a Rondebosch bar were being directed at me or not. The administrative details of actually registering were a very minor priority in my life at the time. Now I was returning to university as a…ahem… mature student, concerned only with being accepted for my choice of subjects. I had diligently prepared my application pack exactly according to the university’s specifications. I had noted that I needed sign-off from a certain member of the Economics department, but an e-mail sent to the lecturer in question, requesting such sign-off, had gone unanswered for weeks. On the day of application, I was sent by the Wits Plus staff to track down this lecturer in the Commerce building. As I set off, I wondered whether I looked like those mature students I used to see sticking out like sore thumbs on the UCT campus. And then I was addressed as “Ma’am” by a student I approached for directions and I had my answer.

I finally found the office of the lecturer I was looking for. There were many names on the door and each name was accompanied by a weekly sliver of office consultation time: for example: Tuesdays from 12:30 to 2pm. I was in between breastfeeds, eager to get my application in on that day and just praying that I would be able to sweet talk this man into signing my form outside of his usual office hours.

If only I could find him.

A polite knock on the door yielded one lone voice seated at a desk in a sea of empty desks. Of course, it would have been too coincidental if he had been my man, but at least I could ask him where to find said lecturer. Alas, the colleague did not know his whereabouts but suggested I e-mail him. I told him that I had done so many weeks ago but had received no response. Only then did was I told that, in fact, he hadn’t been seen on campus “for weeks”. In short, I wasn’t going to track him down between breastfeeds. I was directed to the office of the Economics co-ordinator instead.

After getting somewhat lost again, I found myself outside the co-ordinator’s door. I could hear him on the phone which meant that he was in – phew! While I waited patiently outside his door, I had plenty of time to study the very detailed process flow diagram he had designed for the channeling of Economics queries:

The Hallowed Halls of Academia
The Hallowed Halls of Academia

I decided to feign ignorance and did not attempt to plug my query into his process flow chart, fearing it would direct me elsewhere. When I could hear that he had finished his phone call, I knocked on the door. He barely looked old enough to drive but he knew alot more than I did when it came to applying to study Economics. He pointed out that if I intended to take Economics to third year level, I would need to study Computational Maths and Business Statistics. This was news to me, but I was glad that he had brought it to my attention. Since my brief interaction with him thus far had been positive, I decided to ask him a question that was fairly central to my long term study plan: would I effectively hold a major in Economics if I completed the course to third year level, since I already held an undergraduate degree?

Before opening his mouth to respond, he looked at me pointedly for what felt like hours in the way that people do when they want you to know that you’ve asked a really, really stupid question.

“Here’s the thing,” he said: “Wits Plus doesn’t award degrees. Faculty… “(he said the word ‘faculty’ extremely slowly and with emphasis in case it was new to my vocabulary) “awards degrees. Do…you…understand?”

“Uh, yes, well, sort of… er… I have a vague recollection of the term “faculty” from the hazy days of my undergraduate degree,” I stammered, tempted to add “which I obtained while you were in pre-primary school.” But I smiled meekly because I had no idea what he was talking about and I need him to sign my application. Thankfully, he signed but not before sending me off to the Office of the Dean (or something like that) to find out whether there were other subjects I needed to take if I intended to study Economics to third year level.

I found the offices without getting lost but there was a small hitch. The offices were all housed behind one master door with a list of names and extension numbers next to an internal phone. I was literally locked out and didn’t have an actual name of someone to phone so I would have to irritate someone with my whole story and hope that they would  be able to help me. Fortunately, someone decided to exit at this point and I politely accosted her with my problem. She was unable to help and in fact, in her opinion, this bank of offices was not where my answer would lie. Instead, she sent me off to another branch of academic administration in the building. Before long, I was lost again but I saw a Professor-y looking type to ask for directions. He was very nice and started explaining where I needed to go but then looked down at his watch and looked back at me with empathy: “You’d better hurry because it’s ten to one and admin staff take their lunch breaks very seriously.”

I literally RAN (one benefit of being a stay-at-home mom is that I’m always in flats) to said admin office. There was still someone behind the reception kiosk. Relief. She directed me to another person within a corridor of locked offices which she granted me access to. The office of the person I was supposed to consult with was empty. I scanned through the offices to find a human. I happened upon someone and explained that the Economics co-ordinator suggested I confirm what other subjects I needed to do in order to be allowed to take the subject to third year level. She told me to have a seat and started leafing through a rather thick official-looking handbook.

“Hmm,” she said, “It doesn’t look like there are any pre-reks for Economics.”

“Um, by pre-rek, do you mean a pre-requisite?”

She looks at me as though I’ve just asked whether Maths is short for Mathematics.

Okay, I could change my vocabulary but I was a bit concerned that she wasn’t 100% certain of her answer and that the answer may or may not have resided in a very thick book where it could very easily be over-looked.

I asked her if she was sure about four times and I found none of her answers to be re-assuring.

In the end I left and convinced myself that Computational Maths and Business Stats sounded like good subjects to do and if they turned out not to be the correct “pre-reks” for obtaining a major in Economics that may or may not be granted by “faculty”, then so be it.