Reflections on “Rookie Parent” Holidays

Last December, The Husband and I made some colossal “rookie parent” holiday mistakes with our nine month old. These were the major errors, which we try to remind ourselves of, before planning holidays with kids:

1) We went to three destinations:

We went to Cape Town for five nights; Hermanus for 17 nights; returned home for two nights; went to The Seychelles for six nights. Total packing and unpacking time: an estimated 40 hours or the equivalent of exactly one normal work week (outside of France). And those 40 hours exclude shopping for the holidays…

2). We stayed in a five star hotel

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for luxury accommodation. The problem was that the establishment we chose only altered its “no children under 12 policy” a few months before we arrived and it soon became clear that this was an economic decision to increase occupancy levels during the recession – strangely enough, they weren’t longing for screaming kids to adorn their secluded swimming pool area. Not only were there obviously absolutely zero facilities for babies or children, there were also naturally no family rooms on offer. Booking a second five-star room for The Princess and her night nurse was not an option, so we waved goodbye to our then, full-time nurse and said hello to 17 virtually sleepless nights with an unsettled child and her clueless parents in our lovely five star suite, overlooking the ocean.

3) We thought we’d survive sans nanny and sans changing station for 18 days

After three days of carrying a nine month old and solo nappy changing on a hotel bed, I felt about a hundred years old, possibly older. I thought I had somehow cracked a rib or pulled one of my intercostal muscles in my sleep. I struggled to breathe if I tried to walk even slightly quickly – that included walking around town with a pram, so I was honestly not attempting to walk particularly quickly at all. I couldn’t laugh because it hurt too much. By around 9am every morning I had lower back pain which only abated after lying on my back for the night, but then it would start up again the next morning. I honestly thought I had somehow sustained a severe rib-cage injury. It took me several days to figure out what was wrong. The Husband then tried to take over carrying The Princess as much as possible when he wasn’t cycling. A few days later he was complaining of severe pain in his left arm… Basically, we made a great, full-time, parenting duo.

4). We took a five hour flight to the Seychelles leaving at 1 in the morning

Even at nine months old, The Princess was not one to miss out on action. We arrived at the airport at around 8pm, believing that she would shortly fall asleep in her pram. No such event ensued. Instead, she reveled in all the action around her and got progressively more and more excited during the long wait in the check-in queue. At about 11pm, after approximately 90 minutes of queuing and many more minutes getting through security and passport control, we arrived at the lounge where our friends and travel companions’ 11 month old had been sound asleep in his pram since 8pm. She finally allowed herself to be pushed to sleep in her pram for 30 minutes before we had to board the flight. This cat nap was precisely the second wind The Princess needed. During the five hour flight to Mahe, The Princess and I pretty much enjoyed an all-nighter.

The return journey from the Seychelles equally eventful. Our pick-up for the airport was at 6am. As though sensing that we had an early wake-up ahead of us, The Princess decided to pre-empt things, and woke up – for the day – at 2:30 in the morning. When it became obvious that she wasn’t going to go back to sleep, The Great Pack began, lasting approximately three hours, until nearly 5:30am – close to perfect timing for our pick up. Then, just to liven things up a bit, The Princess had started to show signs of gastro-like symptoms towards the end (fortunately) of our holiday. She had one enormous vomit (could have been way worse, of course) and developed diarrhea. Subsequent laboratory tests revealed that she had contracted not just salmonella, but also some type of ecoli. (In defence of the beautiful Seychelles, these two lurgies can apparently be contracted anytime, anywhere…)

We did, however, get one thing very, very right during last summer’s holiday. We took a nanny with us to the Seychelles. At the end of the holiday, The Husband turned to me and said, “We should never have wasted money taking a nanny with us.”

Me: “You’re joking, right?”

The Husband: “Of course not! The cost of booking a separate room, the flight, all of that…”

I was incredulous. I thought it was the best money ever spent. To this day, I would forgo new clothes, new shoes, manis, pedis, holidays and hairdressers for three years if I had to choose between these things and holidaying with a nanny. I wasn’t too sure how to get this across to The Husband, so I tried a different tack:

“Taking a nanny on holiday with a baby is value for money. Owning seven bicycles – ​that ​is a waste of money”.

(I think he secretly agrees – not about the bikes, of course).

Too Many Dudes, Dude.

The Princess and I are currently in Cape Town, staying with The Brother-in-law, The Sister-in-law and their one, two, three, FOUR (adorable) kids. Just after The Princess has had her very first bath with her six month old cousin, The Sister-in-Law casually asks if I’d mind babysitting whilst she and The Brother-in-law attend a parent teachers evening at their eight year old’s school. Now, we have every intention of giving The Princess a baby brother or sister one day, so I should be perfectly capable of sticking a dummy into the mouth of my beautiful niece, in the very unlikely event that she wakes up and cries. Right?

Right.

It’s 7:20pm – a full hour since I started giving The Princess her bedtime bottle – and she is still writhing in my arms, refusing to sleep. It’s been a rough afternoon visiting an unwell Father Figure and I am not in the mood for a fight with an eleven month old.

Enter The Princess’ crying six month old cousin.

No problem.

The Princess and I will just go next door for a dummy dash.

We stand next to the cot and a pair of large blue eyes stares up at eyes. This does not look like a baby in the throes of a deep slumber, merely in need of a dummy but I try anyway.

She spits.

I try again.

She spits and screams.

I try again.

Now she’s upset. And really screaming. Very, very loudly.

I panic. In the last day and a half I’ve spent with this little angel, I’ve never heard her cry. But now she is P*SSED off. She’s woken up in the middle of the night and she’s got some stranger who is NOT her mommy trying to shove her dummy in her mouth. Not happy.

So I pick her up and sink into the feeding chair next to her cot – The Princess in one arm and her cousin in the other. The Princess is smiling sweetly at her crying cousin and even reaching across to her as if to console her. It’s adorable but it’s not helping at all. Her cousin is going BALLISTIC now.

As my eight-year old nephew is roused from his sleep and walks in, offering to help, I realise I have failed dismally trying to take care of two small children and I ask him to please call his baby sister’s live-in nanny. Thank God for her. She’s in the bath but she’ll come as soon as possible.

Enter my darling little niece’s nanny and she stops crying immediately.

Phew.

I return to The Princess’ room and at once, the sweet, consoling older cousin version of her is gone and I am left with a screaming eleven month old, nearly an hour into her bed-time, refusing to go to sleep.

Finally, after what seems like years, but is “only” one hour forty minutes, I put The Princess down. She stirs and almost sees me standing near her cot, but she somehow doesn’t see me and she seems to roll over and at least attempt sleep. This leaves me on all fours, hiding behind the darkened side of her camp cot as opposed to the see-through, net side, trying to crawl silently to the door where freedom awaits…

I manage to make it out, collapse onto my bed and pick up my phone to read a mail just in from The Sister, newly settled in NYC. She’s forwarded me her party invite for this weekend:

Subject: heads up for Friday night
I’m having a few friends over to Le Parker Meridien near 56th and 6th Ave, 7pm – 10pm.
Heated rooftop pool + fun little suite. Cocktails and swimming etc.
Please come and bring a girl-friend. We have TOO MANY DUDES.

Night Nurses and Bad Mommies

The Husband knows me well. He knows how grumpy I get when I am sleep deprived. For this reason, he wanted to arrange a night nurse well before The Princess’ birth. I resisted. I told him I would manage. I said, “So what if I don’t sleep all night? I have help during the day and I don’t have a job to go to, I’ll sleep during the day.” He begged me to at least get the names and numbers of night nurses before the birth. I refused. And so he got onto it himself while we were in the hospital. He asked around and it turned out that one of the Park Lane nurses worked as a night nurse during her off days. She gave him her number. Still, I resisted. We went home with The Princess and I think I lasted one and a half nights. At 3am on the second night, both delirious with fatigue, emotions and, for me, insomnia and hormones, we had a huge blow-up. So when The Husband said, “NOW, can we get a night nurse?” I relented.

Courtesy of the luxury of having a night nurse, we did “date night” one night some weeks later. I squeezed myself into my jeans, my baby belly bulging over the waistband. I then squashed my swollen feet into a pair of agonisingly tight heels and off we went to a restaurant 250m from home. The restaurant was deserted but for a few drinkers. The hostess was dressed in a white mini-skirt that she couldn’t quite pull off. She was overly obliging, she desperately needed to have her roots done and the food was abominable. Nonetheless, we had an amazing time. It was on this night that we discussed how long we were going to employ a night nurse for. I was thinking three, maybe four month tops, when The Husband announced that he would be prepared to fork out for a night nurse for a year. One year? It sounded totally insane. It was around May 2011 at the time and a night nurse for one year would mean having someone until the end of March 2012. The Princess would already be a year old and I imagined her practically reading to herself by then – one year seemed a lifetime away.

Now, here we are, eight and a half months later and I am as attached to Margie, our night nurse, as The Princess is. And this is despite the fact that, very soon after we met, she asked me what I weighed. I resent being asked that by grown women who buy size 13-14 pants. I know she wears children’s clothes because she told me so – somewhat smugly, if I’m not mistaken. She also asked The Mother Figure how old she was. I was hoping my mom would give her the same response she used to give The Sister and I when we were growing up – “I’m as old as the moon and as young as the stars” but instead I laughed out loud at the audacity of the question, thereby disturbing The Princess who started to cry and so everyone’s attention was diverted from the “how old” question to the baby. And of course, I refused to tell her how much I weighed.

My attachment to my night nurse is even strong enough to withstand the fact that, basically, she thinks I’m not the best mother. Here’s how I know this. We brought her to Cape Town with us last week so we’d have the evenings free to catch up with friends without disrupting The Princess’ night routine. Oh yes, and also so we could sleep all night, as we are so fortunately accustomed to doing. Margie was supposed to be off work all day, only working nights, but by 8:30 one morning, The Princess’ crying and moaning disturbed her sleep and she came downstairs looking concerned, if not a little cross. She wanted to know why The Princess wasn’t yet asleep and offered to put her down herself (because I obviously wasn’t succeeding). This is the exchange that followed:

Me: She just won’t go to sleep. I’m not a bad mother, Margie. (Smiling). (I was totally, totally kidding. I think I’m a great mother).

Total, earth shattering silence.

Me: Margie, I can see she’s exhausted, but she refuses to fall asleep. I tried for ages and ages. Seriously, I’m not a bad mother. (Still smiling).

At this stage, I was fully expecting her to say, “No, no, of course, you’re not a bad mother.” Instead, here’s what she said:

Margie: You know, Natalie, it’s not my place to rank you as a mother. That’s not what I’m employed to do.

Dead, dead silence.

I said nothing. I think I just stared at her with raised eyebrows. I was sort of paralysed somewhere between shock and amusement.

Luckily, I’m pretty thick skinned when it comes to people who look after my child while I get a full night’s sleep so I can’t say I took major offence.

Later that day, I gave Margie some proper ammunition to back up her bad mother theory. The Husband had managed to put The Princess down in the afternoon for the first time ever. He was very proud of himself and declared that we were not allowed to wake her until she woke up herself. “I want her to sleep the full time,” he said. “Sleep is good for her, right?”.

As a result we arrived at The Husband’s brother’s house about an hour late, at 4pm, for The Princess’ first meeting with her three month old cousin. The Princess’ supper time is normally between 5 and 5:30 but somehow, I was feeling super relaxed, we were on holiday and I just went into some sort of zone where baby chores don’t exist.

When we got back from our late tea date, I dashed straight to Woolworths to shop for a dinner party we were hosting that night, while Margie and The Husband bathed The Princess. I was back by about 6:30 and as I walked in the door, The Husband shouted down, slightly annoyed: “Has she had supper?”

I paused… slowly re-entering the zone…Hmmm….Food…The Princess…5pm…supper time…

Crap!

I forgot to feed her!

Bad, bad, bad mother!

Of course, Margie had noticed that there was something remiss during bath time and wanted to know if she had eaten, given the fact that feeding her would have been her useless mother’s responsibility.

Whilst frantically preparing The Princess’ supper, I tried to make light of my oversight by reminding Margie and The Husband, that very often The Princess refused to eat more than one or two tiny mouthfuls of supper anyway. But of course, Murphy’s Law, on this particular evening, when offered food at 6:45, The Princess ate like a ravenous wild animal. At one stage, she even grabbed the spoon out of my hand because I wasn’t shoveling the food into her little mouth quickly enough.

Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad mother!

Now, we’re spending eleven nights in Hermanus without Margie. I am viewing this as training for when her time with us comes to an end on 1 February next year. So far, we’ve sort of survived three nights. The first night was a very rude awakening to night-time parenting. The Princess woke up at midnight for some reason and just wouldn’t go back to sleep until 3:30. We walked, we rocked, we sang, we shushed. We tried everything. We would’ve dosed her with Calpol but we recently discovered that Calpol is like Espresso for her – it totally gives her a buzz. Luckily, the past two nights have only involved a few dummy dashes and she’s slept like a little angel.

Holding thumbs for the next eight nights until we’re re-united with Margie for one more blissful month of sleeping all night…

Poetry & Babyccinos in Cape Town

There's no denying it: Cape Town spots have character. And style. And creativity. And charm. And they're chic and sophisticated with a touch of art. I wouldn't necessarily have said that Cape Town places are poetic, but then I came across this counter coffee-shop-cum-deli opposite Cavendish yesterday:

No wonder Capetonians are so chilled out. I mean, who wouldn't like a little bit of TS Eliot with their morning latte? 

Even the babyccinos are served in style, here in the Southern Suburbs. They come on little heart-shaped, over-sized saucers. From mommy to toddler, with love:

But back to TS Eliot. I absolutely love the "coffee spoons" passage from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock about life, longevity, reflection, regret and banal, everyday indulgences:

For I have known them all already, known them all,
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons

If you'd like to see the whole poem (just as readable as this fabulous extract), click on this link:

http://www.poetry-online.org/eliot_the_love_song_j_alfred_prufrock.htm

I'm off to go raid my suitcase for every red, yellow, green and black item in it. I'm willing to go out in public looking like a Rastafarian gone wrong. Only because I want Ghana to slaughter the Uruguayans and their blonde nancy boy, Diego Forlan, tonight. That would be poetic justice.

In Search of a Sports Scientist

After 3 weeks of Spanish tapas, French baguettes and about a barrel of Beaujolais per day, I returned to Jozi determined to get in shape. I was looking for new inspiration for this very, very, old goal when I realized that there was one weight loss avenue I hadn’t yet tried. I’d tried dieticians, Weigh Less, Herbalife, half marathons, you name it, but I hadn’t actually been to see a sports scientist. Not wanting to discriminate against this branch of the weight loss industry, I resolved to find one.
Yeah, right.
After hours of nearly googling myself into a coma, I had found absolutely nothing. Not a single Doctor of Sports Science to be found in the city of Johannesburg. Seriously. And not because they don’t exist in South Africa. Not at all. They completely exist. They just all live in Cape Town. I guess why would a Sporty Spice who studies sports science choose to settle down in the Big Smoke? They wouldn’t, basically. They’d choose to live in the fair cape where they can hike, kite-surf and ride their bicycles up mountains, every day, from 4pm onwards.
I was lamenting this sorry state of affairs over a bottle of wine with mates. (Couldn’t possibly start the health kick without the help of my as yet, non-existent sports scientist.) And that’s when I realised why all sports scientists live in Cape Town. Their clients all live there. Unlike chiropractors, who would have no clients in Cape Town. Listen to this: one of our banker friends told us that his chiropractor makes so much money in Joburg, he now works “mornings only”. According to Dr Half-Day, long hours sitting behind personal computers have stuffed up peoples’ necks and backs so badly, that he will be in the money as long as people spend vast amounts of time in front of their PC’s.
So Banker Boy was like “Wow! That’s great for you, Doc. Half-days and still making a killing? But jeez, if you’re only working half-day, you might as well move to Cape Town?”
“Nah,” replied Dr Half-Day. “Can’t. Not too many sore necks in Cape Town – people don’t work long enough hours down there.”
It’s Wednesday evening and The Husband and I have just arrived in the Mother City for the quarter finals on Saturday. I may go and hunt down a sports scientist while I’m here – I’ll be sure to start my search and 10am and end it by 1.
Then again, how often does the World Cup come to SA? Maybe I’ll start my diet next Monday…
PS: I did find a great sport scientist on-line: a Dr Ross Tucker, PhD. He writes a blog all about sporty stuff, but he also wrote a phenomenal series on exercise and weight loss – there most coherent, to-the-point writing I’ve come across on the topic. If you want to check it out, here’s the link to the first article in the series.
And yes, Dr Tucker lives in Cape Town too…

The Modern Marriage Officer: American Cupid with a Mexican Wingman

I've been known to be prone to a bit of a drizz during Hollywood chick flicks and romantic weddings. But this weekend's wedding brought about a particularly intense case of the waterworks. At the risk of sounding super soppy, it was just…sniff…unbelievably romantic. The venue was a campsite in the Cederberg and the dress code was "comfortable" – so there was nothing remotely Top Billing or Avianto-esque about the occasion. The ceremony took place in front of a dam, with the wild, craggy Cederberg mountains and the setting sun in the background.

 

The couple’s story itself is wildly romantic: for the past 8 years they have each (separately) divided their time between Cape Town and Seattle. During this time, they shared mutual friends, a love of rock-climbing and probably some transatlantic flights. So they had known one another for many years before their actual romance began just 10 months ago in a tequila bar in Seattle. I know the precise location of the start of their relationship because their marriage officer gave us a great highlights package while he conducted the ceremony. He was evidently as swept up by the romance of their story as I was, because he ended his short ceremony with the words “and they give hope to all us single people out there.” I swear I caught one or two people counting out months on their fingers as they calculated that they too, could be partnered and betrothed by Easter 2011. This may make more sense if I told you that the marriage officer was a full-time Seattle-based attorney and part-time marriage officer to his high school mates. I suppose that using the bride and groom as an example of hope for singletons, is a lot more inspiring than throwing a bouquet or a garter at a bunch of unhitched people and hoping for the best.

 

Later on, though, I realized that this attorney-cum-marriage officer was a lot more pragmatic than his speech suggested. While the inspiration for hook-ups would come from his words about the newlyweds, the implementation would come straight from Mother Tequila. The good stuff had traveled to the Cederberg from Mexico City via Seattle and Cape Town and was working its Mexican magic like no bridal bouquet had ever done. Coupled with the memory of one of the most romantic weddings ever and a dance floor under the stars, Mr Marriage Officer’s work was beautifully done.

NYR Countdown


I’ve always firmly believed that actioning one’s NYR’s (New Year’s Resolutions) on 1 January is just irresponsible. Probably mainly because NYR No. 1 – i.e. Getting in Shape – on holiday, is just no fun. Although my holiday is not quite over, the fat lady is starting to sing. (‘Scuse the pun). This hit me when we landed on SA soil in Cape Town yesterday morning. And so I decided that the thing to do was to walk up Lion’s Head – being in Cape Town and intending to Get in Shape and all.

The vibe, the view, everything, was so invigorating that I started lamenting the fact that if only I lived in Cape Town I’d do this every day! Imagine! That was before The Husband reminded me that in four and half years of residing in Cape Town, I’d walked up Lion’s Head exactly once.

Oh ja. I remember now.

My No. 1 NYR became even more real when there turned out to be two models amongst our Lion’s Head group. And I don’t mean gorgeous girls who really just should have been models – I mean actual, professional schmodels. One of whom I learned is on a diet. She’d already done a round trip on foot from Vredehoek to Loop Street as a warm-up that morning and was now ascending Lion’s Head at a vicious pace. In a long-sleeved black fleece in the midday sun.

A model as my role-model? Nah, probably unhealthy and will only result in psychological trauma. Scrap that.

List of NYR’s:

1. Get in shape/ lost weight/ achieve goal weight etc etc

2. Start a business

3. Master my Mac

4. Become fluentish in Italian

5. Develop sufficient skill (and confidence) to participate in social tennis

6. Read the paper – get a Business Day subscription (and not just for the Wanted mag)

7. Quit Coke Lite

Think I’ll stop there. Problem is I’ve been Lost In Translation-style awake since 2am this morning. (Last night’s flight from Buenos Aires was Concorde-like quick – 7 hours. Hardly enough time for dinner, a movie and a decent kip.)

What to do when one is wide-eyed at 5am? I wonder if the gym’s open yet? Nope – that won’t work – middle of night snack not yet digested.

Would have begun eating plan but then realised today’s Tuesday and you can’t start a diet on a Tuesday. Duh!

Cape Town International

I’ve always reckoned that a good rule of thumb on 'planes is that if your neighbour hasn’t proved to be Chatty Pants in the first ten minutes, then you’re home free. A couple of weeks ago, though, I realised that I’m going to need to modify this theory on the free booze flights (the few that still exist). Two mini bottles of Chenin Blanc down, my 60-something neighbour decided it was time we met, JUST as we were preparing to land. By this stage all my leave-me-the-eff-alone-accessories had been dutifully packed away (laptop, I-pod, book) and I was left with little option but to speak back.

He was an ex-Joburger who’d emigrated to CT and was a die hard Kaapener my whole life before converting to Jozi-ism. Invariably, we had the “why-Cape-Town-is-so-much-better-than-Joburg” debate. My favourite. No, really. In the same way as Jews for Jesus are even more fervent than their reborn counter-parts, I am constantly shooting my mouth off about how FAN-tastic Joburg is.

Anyhoo, after old Chenin Blanc had run through all the obvious CT selling points (wine, mountains, wine, the new stadium and wine), he launched into his promotional pitch for the new airport. “It’s bigger, better, faster, classier, sharper, hotter, cooler, hipper, better,” etc, etc.

Great,” I thought, a week later. Because, you see, yesterday, I walked Cavendish square STUKKEND for a Christmas present for my darling husband – aka “the-man-who-has-everything-or-if-he-doesn’t-he’ll-buy-it”. (This characteristic of his is fantastic when you need any make or shape of electronic device – pronto, but it’s less fun when you need to buy him a present.) However, given old Chenin’s sales pitch on the super new, super fab airport, I figured I’d simply pick up something there. So NOT. Unless you are looking for a wooden Giraffe carving from not one but TWO curio stores (out of a total of about 8 shops), do not leave your holiday shopping to the last minute. Needless to say, my husband cannot be left cooped up in a security enclosed retail space without being absolutely compelled to contribute to consumer spending. Bless him. Even under the utterly miserable retail conditions in Cape Town’s new international airport, he managed to get some gadgets. (All I can do now is hi-jack his goods and wrap them up as his Christmas gift).

On the bright side, though, Cape Town really has made airport security a mega-priority. I was lucky enough to experience this first hand when I witnessed three uniformed policemen trying to sweet-talk the Premier lounge receptionist into smuggling out free drinks for them. But she was hardcore and she wasn’t having any of it. “Can you see the cameras?” she responded, wagging her finger at them. “There they are”.

Nice one, officers.

Failing in that little endeavour, the Kaap se Coppers decided to amuse themselves in other ways. I happened to be standing at the reception desk at the time.

“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” the one asked.

Mentally rolling my eyes, I replied that I didn’t think so as I tried to stay on the right side of the law. (I don’t think he saw the irony).

Naai, man,” he said, “aren’t you on the TV?”

Much better, dude.
For that you can have a celebrity smile.