Why Group Aerobics Classes Are Sort of Like High School

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I started participating in group aerobics classes about half-way through high school. “Body Concept” – aptly named for its era – was the local gym in George, at a time when it was wholly acceptable to work out in a g-string leotard over a pair of cycling shorts. (At least this was thought to be cool in George, in the mid-nineties.) My high school was hockey obsessed and seeing as I couldn’t really run in my teens – let alone run while connecting a hockey bat to a ball – going to aerobics classes across the road from my boarding school was a welcome escape into the anonymity of the adult world. Or so I first thought…

Because before long, I recognised that the Kingdom of Aerobics possessed all the hallmarks of a high school class – except without the boys. If you were an unpopular instructor, you were toast. No-one spoke to you, no-one wanted to hang out after class and worst of all, group exercise goers would simply boycott your class. If, God forbid, there was a last minute change to the regular roster and one or two unsuspecting souls hadn’t called to double check who was giving a particular class, they would arrive and, the moment they saw the uncool instructor walk up to the teaching podium, they would walk out. The poor instructor might be left with one newbie, or no-one at all, to teach.

The popular instructor, on the other hand, wielded untold power. She commanded a following which would arrive up to thirty minutes before, marking their territory with their sweat towels, thereby staking a claim on their favourite spot on the sprung floor. By this stage, I had found a space off to the side, where I could safely head before every class, not yet claimed by any Smug Regulars who had come before me and who would therefore have held a position of greater seniority than I. Here, in this space on the side, I would be free to break out into a grapevine with confidence.

During my university years, I graduated to the Health & Racquet Club in Cape Town’s Mouille Point. This was the big leagues and competition for spaces in the popular group exercise classes was stiff. We’d arrive, well in advance, and request a numbered ticket at reception. If you got there too late, there would be no tickets left and access to the class would be denied. By this stage, Step Aerobics had gained massively in popularity and participants were expected to be able to move around, over and across, their steps, according to the instructor’s signals. Heaven help you if you moved in the opposite direction to what what was instructed and put yourself on a collision path with the participant to your left. The Smug Regular would then have every right to look at you with the utmost condescension as if to say, “How dare you come to the Advanced Class if you cannot perform at this level?” You would then gingerly pick up your Reebok step and shuffle off to the back of the class, to join the other rejects who were unable to keep up with the routine.

Unlike George, in Cape Town and Joburg, you might get the odd male participant. Amongst these, there were usually one or two who would engage in a “simply Step” routine. This literally means that they were simply present to step up and down. They made no bones about the fact that following a routine was completely beyond their capabilities and so they just stepped for 60 minutes, to great music and a good vibe. Amongst this grouping, one might have come across The Class Clown. The Class Clown liked to try to provide entertainment for his fellow participants. His idea of doing so would be to deliberately go right when everyone went left, thereby creating mock collisions and ceremoniously roaring with laughter at his own joke. He was tolerated by those around him, but not seen as a serious aerobics contender otherwise.

In recent years, after a hiatus of some time, I returned to Step aerobics. I was a little rusty, but felt inwardly that my years of dedication to the cause afforded me certain rights: the rights to a good spot (not right at the back with the rejects), for example, fairly close to the front with a view of the instructor plus a bit of mirror space. But nothing in my years as an aerobics practitioner, had prepared me for Patronising Peggy. Completely unsolicited, this stranger turned to me at the end of the class and told me to “keep on coming and trying my best” since I would “eventually get the hang of it”. I stared at her, in her fluorescent headband. I actually think she may have been wearing leg warmers. I wanted to say: “well maybe if I’d been alive as long as you have been doing aerobics, I would have reached your level of proficiency.”

Long live group exercise with its Smug Regulars, Class Clowns and too-cool-for-school instructors!

Chiara’s Fifth Birthday Party: Eloise from The Plaza, NY

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There is a scene in the Sopranos in which Mrs Soprano tries to coax her teenage daughter out of her moodiness by suggesting that they go into the city and have tea at The Plaza with Eloise. I must have had some prior notion of the legend of Eloise and The Plaza from American popular culture, because Mrs Soprano’s suggestion made sense to me at the time. This time last year, my mom visited my sister in New York and was taken to The Plaza and introduced to the tale of Eloise. She returned with one of the Eloise storybooks and read it to Chiara over and over. For Christmas, my sister’s in-laws gave Chiara a copy of the original Eloise story, published in 1955, with a personal inscription by the illustrator.

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This is a story which for me, is very connected to my mom, and also to my sister, living far away in New York. It is also incredibly cleverly written and amusing to read and has become one of my favourite children’s books. So it was a natural choice as a theme for Chiara’s 5th birthday party. Here are some classically precocious quotes which encapsulate the book’s spirit:

Eloise is a little girl who lives at The Plaza Hotel in New York. She is not yet pretty, but she is already a Person. She is interested in people when they are not boring.

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Nanny is my nurse. She wears tissue paper in her dress and you can hear it. She is English and has 8 hairpins made out of bones. She says that’s all she needs in this life for Lord’s sake.

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Oooooooo I absolutely love Room Service. They always know it’s me and they say “Yes, Eloise?” And I always say “Hello, this is me, ELOISE and would you kindly send one roast-beef bone, one raisin and seven spoons to the top floor and charge it please. Thank you very much.”

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My day is rawther full. I have to call the Valet and tell him to get up here and pick up my sneakers to be cleaned and pressed and have them back for sure without fail. Then I have to play the piano and look in the mirror for a while. Then I have to open and close the door for a while and as soon as I hear talking and laughing I skidded out and run down the hall… Oh my Lord I am absolutely so busy I don’t know how I can possibly get everything done. Then I have to hop around for a while.

I started the party planning by choosing an Eloise invitation template on Etsy for $10. The designer, Nerdy Fox, is based in Georgia in the US. I placed the order with my custom text requests at night in SA and by the next morning, it was in my Inbox.

Eloise Etsy invite

Next up was inspiration from Pinterest. I basically got the idea that you can quite easily get the theme across just by using the right colours: cerise, black and white plus a bit of baby pink thrown in.

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Next stop was The Party Spot in Woodmead to purchase all manner of things black, white and pink: from paper straws to napkins to pink and white sweets. I even found a set of suspenders for the birthday girl’s Eloise outfit. This picture was taken when we tried on the outfit a few days before. On the day, Chiara put the outfit on under great duress, before taking herself off to her room after about 10 minutes and changing into a bright orange dress. Not part of the theme, but it was her party, after all…

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Pinterest was also the source of novelty cake options. I narrowed it down to three and Chiara chose her favourite from these:

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Her favourite was this three-tiered cake which I ordered from Helen’s Cakes in Craighall Park.

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I did not, however, specify, dimensions when I placed the order – I only sent the Pinterest photo. When the cake arrived, the driver had difficulty carrying it as it was so enormously large and heavy. It would have dwarfed most wedding cakes, so it did come across as a tad OTT. Beautiful, nonetheless but will be sure to give measurements next time!

I couldn’t resist ordering some Eloise printables from Etsy. I hesitated before buying the water bottle labels because I wondered if I would actually sit there and glue them to the bottles the night before, but Pritt worked well and it went a little quicker than expected. “The Plaza” icon next to the “restroom” sign is part of a set of printables I ordered on Etsy.

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A few days before the party, I popped in to In Good Company in Parkhurst. I’ve learnt to head to The Party Spot first to try to get pretty much everything I need and then just to spend an indulgent hour at In Good Company to check if there’s anything I really can’t live without. I found some gorgeous pom poms in just the right colours. The cerise and baby pink table overlays were purchased on sale for an absolute song, during a previous excursion to the store and they were perfect additions to the Eloise decor.

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I ordered the adult snacks from caterer, Lindi Perrin*, based in Athol, and they were delicious, light and came on beautiful platters, replete with a note for Domestic Goddesses like myself, detailing how best to heat her fare.

Below are pictures of the main party table. The children climbed onto benches next to the table and helped themselves to sweets. My sister suggested throwing in some NY icons to add to the decor. We borrowed Joe’s NY cab (a gift from his New Yorker uncle, Justin), for example, plus some sidewalk souvenirs like a mini Statue of Liberty.

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In terms of party favours, I know kids love them. However, I’m not a fan. If you don’t want to cram your party packs full of more junk food (just what you want in your kids’ laps in the car when you’re leaving a party at 5pm), then you have two options: 1) trinkets from the Chinese markets which break instantly or 2) spend a small fortune on age appropriate gifts. I opted for balloons. The night before though, I discovered an Instax camera which I’d bought for David for Christmas (for “the man who has it all”). A polaroid photograph thus became our party favour. The kids were quite entranced by the idea of an actual hard copy photo coming out of a machine, so it was cute, but it was only a viable option because it was lying in our drawer, with two films already. (And yes, I did have many a puzzled child ask me where the party packs were…)

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If you’re intrigued by the character of Eloise, you can buy a set of four hardcover Eloise books on Takealot (delivery time is 10 to 15 working days). I highly recommend the stories. Oooooooo, I absolutely love Eloise!

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*Lindi Perrin can be reached on 082 572 4060

On Turning 37 & Riding Through Paris In A Sports Car

Me in my gown on my 37th birthday. (rare Mom photo - iPhone was unattended & 4yr old pounced. Doesn't get more real than this!)
Me in my gown on my 37th birthday. (rare Mom photo – iPhone was unattended & 4yr old pounced. Doesn’t get more real than this!)

One of the perks of being married to an older man (7.5 years) and having a fair number of close girlfriends who have already turned 40, is that I feel relatively young when my birthday comes around each year. They’ve already turned 35 or 36 or 38, have complained about getting old and have commented on my relative youth.

In addition, I grew up in an era where having an “older” mom was unusual. My mom might easily be ten years older than her “peers” – my friends’ moms. This gave her the benefit of a decade of hindsight from which to reflect upon how silly it was that she thought herself “old” at 40, or 50 or whichever milestone someone ten years her junior might be celebrating. A lot of her mantras (which I have written about already) such as “youth is beauty” or “you can’t put an old head on young shoulders”, as well as her wise “old” outlook on age, contributed to my view on the birthdays and “ageing”, for want of a better word. I have no issue telling anyone my age – hence the title of this post!

(Sidebar: In SA, in any case, I would probably prefer to leave my age off my CV if possible, because I think that one of the unintended consequences of BEE and/or of being part of an economy undergoing huge transformation, is ageism. It certainly shocked me in the workplace, when I was last part of it – before the Rinderpest admittedly – age and thus experience, unless there was an incredibly intimidating title to match, were mocked rather than revered. But that’s merely IMHO – in my humble opinion).

Yesterday was my 37th birthday. When anyone turns 37 I think about the birthday gift one of our friends planned for his then girlfriend, in celebration of her 37th birthday. Some months before his girlfriend’s birthday, he told us that he was secretly planning to take her to Paris so that she could “ride through Paris in a sports car, with the warm wind in her hair”. Because, of course, he explained, these were the lyrics to The Ballad of Lucy Jordan. (The song became a hit in the year I was born – although it was originally written much earlier – so naturally I’d never heard of it at the time). Lucy Jordan is a frustrated housewife in a “white suburban bedroom” in a “white suburban town” and, alone at home, with the kids at school and her husband at work, it dawns on her that:

At the age of 37
She realised she’d never ride
Through Paris in a sports car
With the warm wind in her hair

At the time, I must have been around 26 years old and this original and imaginative birthday gift left an impression on me. For this reason, I can’t separate my 37th birthday with this song. In some ways, I relate to Lucy Jordan. (I don’t think that there are many stay-at-home moms who don’t miss the stimulation of the workplace). But in other ways, I am so grateful that her wistful thoughts do not at all reflect how I feel as I enter my 38th year. Thanks to David and my very… ahem… extensive “sabbatical”, I feel like I have seen a fair bit of the world. Although travel is wonderful, I quite like suburbia too. At the same time, I recognise that it’s very easy for me to love what most people understandably experience as the shackles of opting for the white picket fence life. I am married to a man who thrives on the idea of adventure and the idea that anything is possible so I suppose I feel that I could leave suburbia if I so chose. (On a practical note, I can’t even get my kids to get into the car by asking once, so the idea of acting as their teacher whilst sailing around the world holds absolutely zero appeal. ZERO.) What I am trying to say is that, as I hit my mid-thirties, I am indescribably grateful to at least feel as though I am part of a very big, very wide world (even if Fourways mentally feels like another country, when I am not travelling) and that if I wanted to drive a sports car through Paris with the warm wind in my hair, I possibly could, thanks to David.

If I really, really wanted to.

But I don’t, really. As 2016 begins, I am grateful to be in my homely home, in a leafy suburb of Sandton. I’ve lived for varying periods in Keurbooms/ Plett, George, Brussels, Cape Town, Rome and London but within a year of moving to Joburg in 2003, I have felt most at home in the City of Gold.

One day I hope that the words “a white suburban bedroom” refer only to the colour of my bedroom linen and are not a reflection of the effects of the 1950 Group Areas Act. 2016 ripped open the wounds of Apartheid like never before. As mortified as I was to be part of the same ethnic group as the likes of Penny Sparrow, at least we can stop pretending that we’re not racist or neoliberal or whatever.

A post for another day, gentle readers. One day, when I am older and wiser. (And possibly a little bit braver).

 

I Carry Her Heart, I Carry It in My Heart

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My mom, reading to me, on Keurbooms beach, circa 1980

A few days after my mom’s funeral in early October, I published an unfinished post about her death, prematurely. When I realised what I’d done, I deleted it and have not attempted to complete it until now. Over the years I have been writing blogs, I don’t think I mentioned my mom extensively. She was an extremely private person and perhaps that is part of the reason. But now that she is gone, I feel it would be impossible to write about anything else, without first writing about her and how much she meant to me.

As I mentioned in my unfinished post, she died of a “dissecting aortic aneurism”. She was nearly 74, and, as far as we knew, healthy and fit for her age. (She looked after Chiara and Joe for a week in June while I joined David in France, for example). So it was a huge shock to lose her so unexpectedly. I have spoken with the GP her performed her autopsy, plus the pathologist who inspected her heart, as well as her own GP, my GP and a cardiologist. She died of something rare and unlucky. We were told that had she been in hospital when it happened, it’s unlikely she would have been saved – once the wall of the aorta bursts, death comes quickly.

The thing about death is that there is nothing more final. It is completely non-negotiable. And so there is little point wondering about what might have been: Did she experience pain and tell no-one and therefore could we have had her diagnosed and saved her life? Had she not been a smoker for so many years (like so many of her generation) would this not have happened? What should I have done differently in the last few months of her life?

There is little point torturing myself with such questions. Instead, I want to pay tribute to her memory.

My mom married her first husband when she was 26. Very tragically, he was killed working as an electrician six weeks later. I imagine that in her life plan, she would have had children in her late twenties. But it was not until she was in her mid-thirties, that she met my father. During those ten years, she nurtured her maternal instincts by spending time with her nieces and her cousin’s young daughters. My mother used to say that she could not understand a woman who did not want to have children. I realise this might be highly offensive to many women and I happen not to share her view, but I write this to illustrate the central role that motherhood played in her own life. I don’t suggest that my mother’s way of parenting is the only way or the best way, but I am grateful to have been the recipient of a woman who absolutely loved being a mother, possibly above all.

In my first job in Johannesburg, I had a colleague in her fifties who must have overhead a telephone conversation I had with my mother at work. She expressed some surprise and longing with respect to how she, herself had been parented. Her conclusion was not that her parents had been bad parents or bad people, but that they had simply not been very interested in their children. I feel incredibly blessed by how very interested my mother was in my sister and I. I think this is connected to what I do miss, and will continue to miss, the most, about her presence.

If I was suffering from the slightest ailment – either physical or emotional – my mother was there to pour over me bucketloads of empathy and support. If I had exciting news to share, she would be the proudest, the most excited, of anyone. On the day she died, I had relayed to our family that Joe had been diagnosed with tonsillitis. Her last message to me was to wish Joe and I a peaceful night’s sleep. With all my spoilings of nannies, not needing to get up and contribute to our family’s income, she still felt my potential pain of sleep deprivation as though it were her own.

I bitterly miss recounting to her every little adorable or amazing thing that Chiara and Joe say or do. Children fascinated her – not least her own grandchildren, of course – and she never grew tired of hearing the tiniest details about their little lives. I think it will be years before the involuntary urge to tell her about something they do or say, disappears.

Shortly after she died, I was reminded of a line from a poem by ee cummings which I think I have not had sight of since high school. There is something a little bit comforting about the notion that one can carry a loved one’s heart, in one’s own heart. The poem is meant for lovers, but it somehow manages to remind me that my mother will always be with me.

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is youhere is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

* My sister, Sylvia, transcribed an “interview” she did with my mom last year, about my mom’s experience as a florist, and her relationship with plants and flowers. She posted it on her blog, Growing On Up, shortly after my mom died.

South Africa Through the Eyes of a Joburg Cab Driver

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Amidst the horror of the most recent spate of xenophobic violence that has gripped South Africa, I wanted to write a positive piece about people, preconceptions and othering.

It is 2003 and I have just moved to Joburg after a year in London and Rome and before that, four years in Cape Town.

Growing up, we made the long trip from Keurbooms to Joburg a few times to visit family and to experience some city buzz. The last time I visited Joburg with my parents I was ten years old. It was 1989 and there was a bomb scare while we shopping in one of the northern suburbs malls. In high school we were made to read some horrific Nadine Gordimer short story involving high walls and electric fences. I forget the details but either the dog or the owner of the dog is frazzled by their own electric fence. The story was set in Joburg. To me, it may as well have been Bogota or Baghdad. A society of such violence felt foreign and far away from the safety of my surroundings in Keurbooms, Plett, George and even, later, Cape Town. Joburg was the wild west. A menacing metropolis that someone from the Western Cape (or certainly, almost anyone I knew) would never imagine living in.

But love is a powerful thing. And that is what leads me to move to the Big Smoke in 2003. I recall a brief conversation with a stranger on a subway platform in Rome. He must have asked me where I was from/ moving to and I must have answered “Johannesburg”. He responded by telling me that it was the second most dangerous city in the world.

Nonetheless, I arrive in Joburg in June 2003 with the contents of a backpack and a boyfriend with a townhouse in Illovo. No job and – more critically – no wheels. I don’t know Hillbrow from Hobart Road and I am going for interviews anywhere and everywhere around the city.

About a week into my arrival, I am to meet a recruitment agent at a coffee shop in Bedfordview. I don’t remember how I get there but I do recall that my only way of getting back is to order a cab. So, after the meeting I phone a taxi company and a driver duly arrives to collect me. In an effort to be very nouveau South Africa or something, I climb into the front seat of his car.

“Look,” my 24 year-old self is trying to say, “we are equal. I’m not sitting at the back like some Apartheid-era Madam!” If he thinks anything of this gesture, he does not let on.

I don’t really recall what we speak about during the drive but what happens next will remain with me forever. We are stopped at a red light and, somehow, he gets started talking to a the driver of the vehicle next to me. They are speaking loudly and animatedly in Zulu.

“Did you understand what we just said?” he asks me as we pull away.

I reply that I am embarrassed to say that I did not. Not a word.

And then he turns to me and says, “And we could have been planning to murder you and you wouldn’t even have known?”

I smile.

And he smiles back.

I feel exhilarated. In that one moment in my first week in Joburg, this taxi driver has laid bare our country’s issues of violence, equality, language, race, class, education and has challenged me to confront them.

I dream that one day, we will all live in that South Africa. A South Africa in which we speak to one another as equals, regardless of the colour of our skins or whether we are expats or refugees seeking a better life here. A South Africa in which everyone feels truly free.

Project Parenting: Applying Project Management Principles to Child-Rearing

DETAILED PROJECT PLAN: PROJECT PARENTING

PROJECT SPONSOR

Whether or not you planned on becoming a parent – and whether you like it or not – YOU are the sponsor of “Project Parenting”. Sometimes the project participants (also known as children) may be of the opinion that they are the sponsors. This may be expressed in the form of statements such as “You are not the boss of me!” Whilst you may sometimes wish that this were the case, you are the boss of these participants and you may not resign as the project sponsor.

PROJECT CHARTER

Scope

The scope of Project Parenting is vast and includes:

meeting physical needs of the child(ren), i.e. food, shelter, clothing, education

Some project participants – particularly girls – may present you with out-of-scope clothing requirements. The only way that said participants will be persuaded of this is if you make reference to the project budget. You need to state unequivocally that a particular item(s) of clothing are not provided for in the budget. If the participant suspects that funds can be channeled from another budget (home maintenance, sibling clothing fund, education, groceries) they will stop at nothing until such funds have been re-allocated.

– meeting emotional needs of the child(ren)

Take solace in Philip Larkin’s poem with the lines “They f*ck you up, your Mum and Dad/ They don’t mean to but they do/ They fill you with the faults they had/ And add some extra, just for you”.

Do your best to raise an emotionally well-balanced child, but when you fail, you can always resort to laying on the guilt and exclaiming that “It’s so hard to be a mother/ father! You will see one day when you have your own children.”

Objectives

1. To raise a child who hopefully moves out of your house around the time they start having sex. Often times, the project budget will not allow for this since the scope of the project includes the provision of an education which may extend beyond schooling. However, tertiary education will hopefully assist you to achieve objective number 2 below:

2. To raise a child who becomes financially independent before you and your spouse are too old to enjoy your new-found financial freedom.

Participants

– Project Manager: you, the parent(s). This role can sometimes be outsourced to:

– nannies (as many as project budget allows)

– teachers

– grannies (and progressive grandfathers)

Project Participants: your children plus any of their friends who may be tagging along at any given time.

PROJECT APPROACH

Sleep when you’re dead. (Lack of sleep is an opportunity cost of child-rearing often not quantified, nor included in the project budget.) Your approach to Project Parenting should be that the project is always “live”.

PROJECT LIFE CYCLE

The timelines for Project Parenting are indeterminable. However, take solace in the fact that once Objective Number 2 has been achieved, the intensity of the project may lessen for a period, until your project moves on to its next stage: Project Grandparenting. Project Grandparenting is not as time-consuming as Project Parenting and handovers to parents occur regularly and after short periods.

PROJECT GOVERNANCE

Project parenting includes governance structures such as: Mother-in-laws and Other Parents. Some mother-in-laws have a hands-on governance approach which may include feeding, bathing, nappy changing, school lifts and sleepovers. Others may take more of a steering approach where they dispense parenting advice and point out the flaws in your project management style. If your mother-in-law takes the latter approach, you may duly note this in the risk log but you may find it more effective to move countries.

PROJECT BUDGET

Rest assured that your project will always be over budget. Period.

RISK LOG

The risk log for Project Parenting is a large and ever-changing document. It should be up-dated regularly and then leather-bound and presented to the project participants on their 21st birthdays. Here are some more common risks and issues:

1. The iteration that “Everyone else’s parents allow them to… (insert potentially risky activity)”. This is an effective tool for participants to employ if they sense that you are concerned about appearing “uncool”. If not, you can employ the age old retort “If everyone else’s parents were to jump into the fire, should I do so too?” If, however, you are concerned about being branded Most Old-Fashioned Parent Ever (sadly, my parents never were), then you will need to put in a few calls to fellow parents to find out the lay of the land.

2. Tantrums. There are various ways of dealing with these risks which are totally unavoidable. All children come with equipped with an innate predisposition to totally freak out when their desires are not met. The modern methods of threats to deny access to expected sugary foods and/ or TV seem to have the most instantaneous effects. Sometimes, however, one actually has to deny, not only threaten, and this often leads to elevated freak outs. These must be endured by parents with the aid of loud music/ earphones, yoga/ meditation and/or wine.

BUSINESS CASE

Once upon a time, when man lived off the land and when manual labour was critical for procuring food for survival, the business case for procreation was clear: your children would hunt for you and thus provide for you in your old age. However, since the advent of the knowledge economy, project management experts have been trying to devise a return on investment formula for Project Parenting. Thus far, they have been unsuccessful. Project participants cost more to raise than ever before and will not necessarily be in a position to send you and your spouse on a Carribean cruise in your twilight years.

In light of this, human capital experts have put forward a less tangible business case for Project Parenting. These include the velvet feel of a baby’s skin, cradling a perfectly contented, sound asleep infant, having your toddler crawl into your bed and cuddle you… and other such parenting perks.

Postprandial infant nap on the chest. One of the perks of parenting
Postprandial infant nap on the chest. One of the perks of parenting