BPO: Not Just “Birthday Party Outsourcing”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

How to Holiday with a Mamil: Take them to Madikwe, not Mauritius

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Ma-mil. Noun. The term “mamil” was coined in the 21st century and stands for “middle aged man in lycra”. It came about to refer to an increasing sub-set of the male species who spend large amounts of time in cycling or triathlon attire, training for amateur, endurance sporting events, with the aim of being awarded a circular object (usually bronze in colour) which can be hung about the neck.

Mamils have the ability to procreate, should they find a suitable partner to mate with. Mamil-related pursuits may or may not be present during the mating process. Often, instinctive Mamil behaviour begins in earnest once offspring have arrived on the scene.

Cycling is a favourite pursuit amongst Mamils. It enables them to be absent from the homestead for upwards of three to seven hours of a Saturday morning. From the time of waking, preparations begin. There is the pumping of tyres, the application of lubricants – both to the machine as well as to the person – the selection of tools, the mixing of special liquids to ensure hydration levels are maintained, and finally, a clothing choice must be made. Mamils are typically born with especially well-developed eye-sight which can detect brand names worn by packs of Mamils riding up ahead. This enables them to understand where in the pecking order, their fellow Mamils lie, in the real, hunter-gatherer, Monday-to-Friday, world.

Once the Mamils have been out on their bicycles for a number of hours, they will head off in groups, in search of food. This forms an important aspect of their socialization. Whether the groups integrate socially or not, they tend to cluster at the same set of watering holes. This allows them to keep an eye on the competition and to obtain a close-up view of who’s wearing what gear.

Once the Mamil has fed, he has little choice but to return to the homestead. By this time, he will understandably seek out some much-needed rest. It difficult for him to comprehend why his mate cannot empathise with this primal need. He has spent the week hunting, to provide for his family. The sixth day, is a day of riding and then of rest. On the seventh day, the Mamil would naturally be restless and edgy without a mandatory visit to the gym or a long run, depending on the season.

I married a Mamil – though he was neither middle-aged nor sporting lycra at the time. (With the exception of an incident involving a Speedo on Camps Bay beach in the summer of ’99, but we won’t go there.)

Holidays with Mamils (let alone their offspring) are not usually relaxed affairs. Food is often readily available – no hunting required – and this means that a Mamil usually has a heightened sense of portliness. This is followed by a desperate, animalistic instinct to exercise. If holidays are your idea of spending time with your Mamil mate, then Plett in December is a disaster. Mamils migrate south in the summer and descend upon the N2’s Engen garage on their bicycles each morning, to ride to Nature’s Valley and back. If you envisaged mornings at rock pools with your young children followed by family beach walks in search of pansy shells… think again. The Mamil might make it to the beach when the sun is nearing its highest point in the sky and the children are famished and exhausted.

Mauritius may seem a safe bet, with its coma-inducing humidity and hotel gyms equipped with three pieces of machinery. Not so. Resort pools cry out to the Mamil –  who is quietly attempting to mind his own business on a nearby lounger –  to “do laps! do laps!” And then there are invariably other Mamils around the pool who saunter over, sweat-drenched in their fluourescent Nike gear, obviously just in from a run. No Mamil likes to be outdone in this manner. I recall a particular Mauritius holiday, before my mate had begun his pursuit of Ironman. Unusually for a Mamil, he could barely swim. (I say this with love). Despite this, the idea of reading a book poolside for a week was so anxiety-inducing, that he took up windsurfing. He worked at it, morning and evening, capsizing more times than he stood up, but at least he was active. A summer holiday in the Alps meant hiking with children in backpacks, a boat trip on the Amazon meant traipsing through mosquito-infested swamps in a desperate attempt to raise his heart-rate. In short, a day without exercise was a day wasted.

Until I took my Mamil to Madikwe last month….Surrounded by wild mammals, he was trapped. We woke up in the morning, we readied ourselves for breakfast in a leisurely fashion, we ate, we strolled to the pool, we played board games and kicked balls around, we went to lunch, we napped and we read, we went on an afternoon game drive, we bathed the kids, we ate supper, we went to bed and repeated all this for THREE WHOLE DAYS! Okay, there was an instance when we tried to march around the camp while the kids rode their bikes. David even had my Garmin Forerunner and was measuring our distance intensely but after about 10 laps, we’d covered a grand total of about 1km, the bikes had punctured from the thorns and we called it a day. There was also an attempt to turn the 1980’s rockery around the pool into a rock-climbing wall.

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This involved David teaching Chiara elaborate rock climbing moves. She then decided she wanted to do it all by herself, but she lost her footing and fell – SPLAT – into the pool. David responded by jumping in fully clothed. Thankfully, we now know that her instinct to swim when landing in deep water is fully honed, so there was actually no need for any David Hasselhoff moves. But at least David got his heart rate up once over the holiday…Moral of the story: mamils must be surrounded by other mammals and then they will ignore nature’s constant calling and actually relax!

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:

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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.

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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

A Belt Buckle from Leadville

The Father Figure drew this remarkable likeness of The Husband competing in the Leadville 100 mountain bike race on Saturday. Leadville, Colorado is at an altitude of 3,000m (about double that of Jozi) and the race goes up into the mountains to about 3,600m – hence the oxygen tank on The Husband's back and the puff of carbon dioxide billowing from his mouth.

The Sister and I were lucky enough to be selected as The Husband's official soigneuses for this epic race. (The competition was stiff, but I'm pleased to say, we came out on top). Soigneur duties involved waking up at the ungodly hour of 3:30am. I'd made some calculation errors (I'm blaming the on-line conversion tool) and Aspen is not exactly 50km from Leadville – it's more like 55 miles away – i.e. 90km. Still, you'd rather be in Aspen every single day of the week. Not only is Leadville a bit of a dump, it is also (we subsequently learned) one of the coldest places in the United States. So when we dropped The Husband at the start of the race at 6:30am, the temperature was precisely zero degrees celsius. Just another summer's day in Leadville.

After queuing for coffee, The Sister and I made our way back to our big-ass Chrysler rental, which we'd kitted out with duvets, pillows and enough snacks to keep us entertained for our 12 hour soigneur shift. Yip – 12 hours of 'butt-on-bike' for The Husband. At least, that's what we were hoping for because 12 hours was the cut-off time for the Leadville 100 mile race. If you finish the race in over 12 hours, there will be no belt buckle for you. No, Sir-ee! And yeah, you sure did hear right: I sure did say "belt buckle". That's right. That's what ya get for cycling 160km in Leadville – a bonnie, bright 'n shinin' belt buckle! Eyes on the prize, mountain bikers!

By Pitstop 2, things were hotting up. Literally, thank God. The sun was out and the temperature had risen substantially. Whole families of American supporters were out along the sides of the race track. They had camping chairs, cooler boxes, sign boards and LOADS of spirit. The favourite cheer was "Good job! Good job!" but my personal fave was: "Yeah! Keep goin'! That's BUCKLE pace!"

After just over 4 hours of riding, The Husband tore in to Pitstop 2. The Sister and I had forgotten our vuvuzelas to try and catch his attention so we had to improvise and waved him over with my red pashmina instead. At this point, he was on track to make cut-off with only 10 minutes to spare, so we were under major time pressure with our soigneur duties. We'd lined up sandwiches, energy drinks, water bottles, chocolates, food shakes, you name it. We felt a bit like the tyre changes at a Grand Prix, only less…er…less able to change a tyre. We were also less able to unscrew the top of his Camelbak to fill it with water.

All in all, we proved utterly useless. As we stood there helplessly, watching The Husband try to hop out of his leggings and wolf down a sandwich simultaneously, a random supporter appeared from across the track. "You got lube, man?" he wanted to know. The Sister and I looked at each other blankly. At that point, I think the dude realised who he was dealing with and lost no time running to other supporters for lube. Before we knew it, The Husband's bike was lubed up, the Camelbak had been unscrewed and topped up with water and our mystery man was practically picking The Husband up and putting him on his bike.

Pitstop 2 = success.

By Pitstop 3, we'd made friends with another random supporter –  Jaime from Texas – so when The Husband came screeching down the hill, Jaime provided much-needed back-up. This soigneuse thing wasn't turning out to be so hard, after all. You just had to be strategic about it.

At Pitstop 4, we found Nemo:

Pitstop 5 was the finish line, back in Leadville's main street. I knew The Husband would want to murder a large burger within half an hour of finishing, so just after Pitstop 4, The Sister and I went in search of one.

Our enquiry at the local diner as to the availability of take-away burgers, was met with: "We only got Buffalo Burgers." Now, call me blonde, but I really thought that a "Buffalo Burger" was some kind of Buffalo Bill Hillbilly All American Mid-West Special, so I politely asked, "what's in a buffalo burger?".

I was honestly expecting to hear that there'd be an extra patty or some deep fried bacon or something. Instead, the dolly looked at me as though as I was just plain stoopid. Even the drunk dude at the bar turned to look at me as though I was just plain stoopid. He decided to answer my question on the waitress' behalf.

"It's buffalo," he said in his best imitation of my accent. Don't ask me why, but I was still kind of confused.

"Ah, so you mean it's not like meat from a cow, it's like meat from a buffalo?"

Alrighty, then. No burger for The Husband.

Armed with a hot dog instead, The Sister and I positioned ourselves at the finish, hoping and praying that The Husband would make "buckle pace" and would cross the line before the 12-hour gun went off. At 30 minutes to go, I was getting mildly concerned. At 15 minutes to go, I was panicking. Then, with 13 minutes to spare, The Husband came into sight and crossed the finish. It was a perfect vuvuzela moment. We'd flown halfway across the world and he'd made it!

The Sister and I joined him. He was looking half-dead but also elated. He had a medal around his neck, but no belt buckle. "Where's your buckle?" I wanted to know. One of the volunteers at the finish overhead us and told us that the buckles would be handed out at a prize-giving ceremony at 7:30am the next day. There was no way that we were going to leave Aspen at 6am the next day to make the prize-giving, so The Husband decided to see if he could make another plan. It looked as though the dude in charge was the guy who was about to fire the 12-hour cut-off gun. The Husband turned to the very friendly volunteer next to us and asked if it would be wise to approach him about his buckle. She literally replied, "I don't know, he's got a gun." And she didn't look like she was joking.

Nonetheless, The Husband had just spent 11 hours and 47 minutes on his bicycle and he wanted his buckle, so he decided to approach the man with the weapon. I watched from afar. The guy was wearing a pair of denim dungarees and had the longest, wildest beard I have ever seen. But The Husband strode up to him confidently to enquire about getting his buckle ahead of the prize-giving.

Scary dude's response was: "There is no f*cking way that is ever gonna happen, son!"

So that was that. The Husband, The Sister and I climbed into our van for the long drive back to Aspen. The Husband had come, had seen and had conquered the Leadville 100 mountain biking race.

Apparently, his buckle's in the mail.

Avoiding Sport in Aspen

Summer in Aspen is all about the sport. Wherever you look, tanned Americans with bodies to die for are biking, running, hiking, walking, climbing, golfing, kayaking, fishing or playing tennis.

The Husband was in HEAVEN.

When on holiday and surrounded by sporting opportunities, his motto is "which sport's next?" When on holiday…when on sabbatical…when in Jozi…whenever…my motto is: "one sport a day".

I thought The Sister was on board with my mantra, but it seems she can be heavily influenced by The Husband. It was either that – or the Bad Billy's All American Beef Burger she was struggling to digest which made her want to chase me around the tennis court for 90 minutes (at an altitude of 2,400m) AND go jogging – all in one day.

So the next day, before those two got any bright ideas about hiking up the mountain, I came up with a plan for a decoy: a cultural outing. I found it in a brochure in the hotel lobby and it was entitled "Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous Tour". I decided to read them the promotional blurb on the tour. It went like this:

If you like People Magazine, you will love this tour!…You'll see the beautiful homes of Movie Stars, Television Stars, Sports Stars, Music Stars, Super Models, Fortune 500 CEO's and Royalty!…You'll have incredible stories to tell your friends when you get home!

(Capital letters NOT mine, by the way…)

The Sister and The Husband heard this, raised their eyebrows, looked at each other and then looked at me as though we couldn't possibly be related. The Sister then verbalised their thoughts, telling me that we weren't "those kinds of people".

Mission "Avoid Sport" had failed.

And so off we went on what was supposed to be a leisurely, meandering bike ride. The first 5km was utterly pleasant: we cruised along paved, flat bike trails, in amongst trees, alongside bubbling brooks. All very civilised and manageable. But then the gentle pathways turned into monstrously steep hills. Before I knew it, I was huffing and puffing like the Big, Bad Wolf. The worst was, there didn't seem to be any end in sight. In times like these, when I ask The Husband important questions like "how much longer is this effing hill?" or "how many more of these frigging hills are there?" he actually lies to me. He'll say that the hill we're on is the "last one". And when we get to the next one and I call him on it, he'll say that he wasn't lying, because, in fact, this hill is not at all like "one of the frigging hills" I was asking about – it's steeper. By this point, I feel like ramming my front tyre into his rear derailer – not that I would actually be able to identify one of those – but of course he's half-way up the mountain by then and there's no way I can catch him.

The Sister wasn't helping matters either. She took to this whole hill thing like a duck to water and soon she was wanting to see if we could cycle to the next town, Snowmass, just to "see what's there". And so, on I rode – or rather, on I wove because the hills were so steep I couldn't actually ride up them in a straight line. I kept thinking that I could have been swanning around the holiday homes of the rich and famous, listening to some American tour guide gushing about their marble kitchen counter tops and who they'd allegedly shagged on said counter tops.

Infinitely more appealing.

Three hours, one spate of tears and one numb bum later, we returned to Aspen. As we were wheeling our bikes back to the bike hire place, we passed a gorgeous looking jewellery store. But it wasn't just any jewellery store. This store had a very special sign in its window. It went like this:

"YOUR HUSBAND CALLED. HE SAID BUY ANYTHING YOU WANT".

Gotta love this town.

A Pair of Previously Loved Yves in Aspen


It is not every day that cycling trips lead me to cut price designer shoes. The last cycling trip, for example, took me to Badplaas. Other cycling destinations that spring to mind are shopping meccas like Op-die-Berg, Grabouw, Viscos and Himeville.

You get my point.

Aspen, however, is a little gem of an exception – if your Daddy's a billionaire. Still, I was content just to stare lovingly at the window displays of Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Chanel, J Crew and Fendi. I tried to go in to some of these stores to stare lovingly at the wares from the inside, but a part of me always feels like the salesgirls are onto me…they take one look at my Havaianas and they know I have absolutely no intention of buying a single thing. I've always admired a good friend of mine who has absolutely no qualms entering any sort of luxury store whatsoever – even the ones with those 2m-wide tuxedoed doormen out front. Her policy goes like this: "If I earn more than the shop assistants, I'll be coming inside – in my takkies". Great policy. My shrink and I are working on it.

Anyhoo, things got infinitely more exciting yesterday when The Sister and I discovered "the consignment store". We ventured in a little apprehensively, expecting a bit of an Oxfam-style set up. What we found was a little bit of heaven. So, "consignment store" is code for second-hand. Instinctively, we'd already worked that out. But here, they don't degrade their vintage designer merchandise by using terms like "second-hand". No. One refers to the luxury items as "new or like new" and on occasion you may hear, in hushed tones, the term "previously owned". Whilst the word "new" deserves a bit of an eye-brow raise, the words "like new" are totally authentic. Imagine a store filled with tons of immaculately preserved Kate Spade pumps, Manolo Blahnik slingbacks, Robert Cavalli cocktail dresses and Chanel handbags – all looking as good as new. In fact, looking even better with their significantly reduced price-tags.

Between us, The Sister and I may have tried on every piece of footwear in our size, determined to provide these orphaned shoes with a loving new home…

I fell for a pair of pointy Yves St Laurents with heels alot higher than anything I've worn since the start of my sabbatical. My half-hearted lament of "but when would I wear them?" was met with the following shocked retort from The Sister: "When would you NOT wear them?"

Quite.

Besides, who can say no to a pair of Yves St Laurents with a Nine West price tag?

So, just to prove to myself that my new acquisition had deep-seated logical foundations, I wore them to dinner last night. I have to say that the three and a half blocks between the hotel and the restaurant resembled physical torture I haven't experienced since compulsory cross country in high school.

I'm blaming it on Aspen's cobbled streets – quaint to look at but very hard to navigate in stilettos. When I turned to The Sister for sympathy – or perhaps to blame her for talking me into buying this weapons of torture – she was like, "Duh! You put your plakkies in your handbag and your change your shoes around the corner from the restaurant! And PS: You'd never survive in London."