It has become quite apparent to me over the last week or so, just how spoilt we are. I don’t mean this in an ‘I get everything I want’ kind of way, I mean it in an ‘I have such an easy life’ kind of way. I should probably just title this post “#blessed”, but I’m not sure if that is the truth of it. Read More
Category Archives: Musings
It’s always the people you meet that add the special moments to an adventure. The stories you hear, the cultures you learn about; they add the little bits of ‘real life’ to an otherwise beautiful yet foreign setting. We have spent the last 3 days in Etosha with a social calendar that rivals ours in Cape Town. It’s been such a lovely few days. Feels like we’ve been able to have a bit of normal in an otherwise bizarrely abnormal life arrangement. Read More
It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never lived in Africa just what it entails. How after weekends like this, Africa and its many complexities reverberate in your bones, the challenges right on your doorstep can shake you to your core. Cape Town is always plagued by fires at this time of year, having our annual rainfall in winter means summers are usually dry, but this summer is worse. We have enough water in our reservoirs to last about another 60 days, after that we are the mercy of the Rain Gods. Fires have been raging on our mountain sides like they normally do, but Friday night’s fire took hold in a far more devastating way. It started in a shack in the informal settlement Mandela Park, located in Hout Bay. With shacks built one upon another with barely enough room to walk between, let alone enough room for fire-truck access or even firemen with hoses, the fire wrecked devastation, burning roughly 1000 houses, claiming numerous lives, and leaving a yet unconfirmed number of people, but estimates are around 10 000, with virtually nothing.
Living in the Hout Bay valley has been a sombre experience this weekend. We watched as thousands of people covered in soot, carrying what few possessions they could carry out of their homes, amble their way down to the main road, as blackened leaves and ash rained down around us. Sometimes all people could carry was the young, disabled or the elderly, while they left everything else to burn. We are used to fires, we – sadly – are even used to homeless people, but this was so different. Listening to the sounds of exploding gas bottles every few minutes, which sounded like bombing, made me feel like we were fighting our own kind of war. It seems wholly unfair; people who have so little, losing what few possessions they have.
There is a huge disparity between rich and poor in South Africa, and a natural segregation that comes with it. One of the positives of living in Hout Bay is that our children grow up with their eyes wide open, aware of people who have less, and those that have more. We see their houses, we spend time with them and we share stories. When devastation like this happens our children are virtually on the front lines. They see the queues of people waiting for food and water, and we are forced to talk about these issues, the fact that we have so much more than so many people in the world, and there are things we can do to help. Sharing our clothes, our toys and our food with people who have lost what little they had seems the least we could do. As much as I want to protect my children from the big-bad-ugly world, I also want them to know how privileged they are, I want them to know gratitude, and I want to teach them that they have a responsibility to give back to people who need help. We are not alone on this planet; we are each other’s keepers.
It’s so easy to look past what’s going on next to you, think that someone else will deal with it, rationalise why it’s not your problem, but if we all did that who on earth would help? Thankfully Hout Bay seems to have a lot of people who don’t behave that way. There has been a spur to action to the point where there is no bread left in most of our shops, the shelves are being cleared by Hout Bay residents who are buying food and dropping it at designated locations where volunteers feed, clothe and medically attend to those affected by the fire. Organisations are rallying to collect funds to purchase new school supplies and uniforms for children who have nothing. The community at large seems to be doing wardrobe ‘clean outs’ and donating clothing to people with nothing more than the pyjamas they were wearing when they ran from their shacks in the middle of the night. It really is something inspiring to see, when your community and your neighbours stand up and do what they can to help. They give what they can give, and pass on all the love they can. I have seen more than a few onlookers in tears and heard parents talking about their children not being able to sleep because they are worrying about their friends from school who live in Mandela Park. Let us hope this care and concern carries on, because our community will need help for a while yet, with thousands homeless and many of them needing trauma counselling and support. We all need to do our part, whatever that part is, and we need to keep doing it after all the hype dies down. Thankfully the Hout Bay community has an incredible track record of pulling together. They are a beacon of light in a country that is still torn by inequality and racial differences. Despite our many problems, and we have them – make no mistake – there are few Hout Bay residents that will turn a blind eye on what’s going on around them.
After a heavy weekend, our own disappointments pale into insignificance when looking through the smoky haze of unfairness that surrounds us. Our own problems shouldn’t be ignored, but a disaster like this certainly puts them in perspective.
Love and thanks to all those volunteers out there who selflessly continue to give of their time and energy.
Thank you to www.sullivanphotography.org for the incredible images.
FYI – As of Monday morning there was still no electricity or water in the whole of Mandela Park, including the area that was unaffected by the fire. What most people consider basic human rights, are inaccessible for a large portion of the Hout Bay population. So while our attention is needed by those directly affected by the fire, don’t forget to check in with others from Mandela Park, make sure they have a way to prepare and cook food, enough water for basic ablutions, or offer those you know, at the very least, the opportunity to get clean at your house until water pipes are mended and electricity restored.
I’m not sure where to begin, it feels a little like I’m in a confessional; it has been many months since I last wrote an article on my training. But documenting my training each week got boring fast, I can just imagine how dull it must have been to read about it, except for a few sadistic friends who find their amusement in my discomfort – and fair enough. It’s laborious enough to actually do the training, writing about it every week seemed a little self-absorbed, and quite frankly lacked the passion with which I have tried to tackle this training journey. When I began all of this I wanted to give you a run down of what it takes to get an everyday mum to the point of ‘race ready’ for a half iron man, but you are going to have to settle for a nervous account of where I am instead… 2 days from the start line. I can tell you no amount of training takes away the nerves! Every niggle and twitch of a muscle begs for further inspection. And every free minute has your brain obsessed with logistics, nutrition, transitions and gear. I am all consumed.
But I will save you from my brains anxious misfires. There are things I have learned along this journey that might mean something to you. So instead of blabbing on about my current state of mind, here are my points to ponder and my lessons learned… Maybe some of it will resonate with you. Maybe even inspire you…
“We will never be as young as we are now.” These lyrics (from a song called ‘As We Are Now’ by Saint Raymond) rang more true than I wanted to admit. If we don’t grab today, and use it, we’ll look back on this time and say, “why didn’t I do … when I was young and full of energy?” I don’t always feel full of energy, but I am wise enough to know that’s not going to improve as I get older. This is probably the best I’m going to feel for the rest of my life. Scary right? So grab this moment, and the next, and do something you’ll be proud of when you look back.
Overcome the scary things; don’t let them stop you. “You swim 2km in the sea?? But aren’t you scared of sharks?” … I can’t tell you how many people have asked me this question. And the answer is YES, I most certainly am! But I am also scared of vehicle accidents and I still drive a car. It’s about focussing your attention on what matters. You can’t control everything, and this has been a great lesson for me. I was a nervous wreck the first time I swam any distance in the sea, to the point where I thought I would vomit from the nerves. The second time, it was better, much better. I panicked twice while I was in the sea and chuckled at myself when I looked at my heart-rate graph after the swim. There were 2 notable spikes and I know exactly what I was thinking when they happened. My third sea swim was better again. The spikes this time round were from pushing hard, not panicking hard. It’s about getting into a rhythm, almost a meditation while you swim. You focus on what you know will get you to the end, when doubts creep up you silence them by focussing on what matters. It’s an incredible exercise in silencing your thoughts.
It’s easier than you think to turn into a hypochondriac. I’ve always liked the fact that I have a pretty level head. I’m a good person to have around in a crisis; I don’t panic. When it’s not a crisis however, I know just how to get myself into a knot. Shaun has documented my transition from nonchalance to quivering wreck over something as commonplace as a shin splint. This little terror that took hold of my leg was enough to send my once chilled mind over to the dark side. Fear can creep up on you when you’re not looking, and most of us aren’t. Recognising your fears for what they are, giving them due thought and then dismissing them is an important part of the process. Letting every ache after a training session throw you into a fit of worry is unwarranted, and needs checking at the door.
It’s embarrassing to admit, given my age, but I have never really tried this hard or trained this much for an event. I am as much afraid of failing as the next guy, and for most of my life I have let this stand in my way, not wanting the judgement I thought trying might bring. What I’ve realised is when you start trying, and you actually get into it, the journey becomes enjoyable. It doesn’t make race day any easier, and I still feel compelled to ‘race’. I’m not sure exactly who I’m racing, I’m certainly not going to win, but I feel like I’m racing an idea I have in my mind of what I should be able to do. But what I’m trying to say is there is so much enjoyment around trying; in the preparation and the camaraderie, that despite being fraught with nerves, and having a stomach made of jelly, the experience is exhilarating.
Having said all the above, I might say something very different on Sunday after the race! But I’m hoping not. I’ve put a lot of myself into this training, but not more than I had to give, and I think that’s made for a balanced last couple of months, and a positive outlook on the experience. Here’s hoping the weekend is as fun as the training has been! …. I’ll keep you posted 🙂
When your husband has an above average intelligence, there are certain things you learn to expect as a mother. Yes, mother, because when the bulging IQ is passed down to the children, and they combine that with their own love of various subjects, that is when your general knowledge begins to fall far short. You have to learn to stomach correction from people who can’t tie their own shoelaces and who don’t brush their teeth unless they’re told to.
Me: “These are lovely leaves, I wonder what kind of plant it is.”
Lola: “It’s a bamboo.”
Me: “ … um, of course it is.”
Me: “Oh little duck please don’t cross the road.”
Lola: “Where’s a duck?”
Lola: “You mean the Egyptian goose?”
Me: “… um, yes.”
Me: “I can’t get this peddle off.”
Lincoln: “That’s because you’re turning it the wrong way.”
Me: “ … ” sigh.
This kind of thing I am getting quite used to, but being called up on my behaviour by my own child, it something quite new. Let me tell you, it was a rather humbling experience.
Let me set the scene: I have had a rough 2 weeks. I feel like that’s all the explanation that’s needed, and quite frankly, I don’t have all that much more to add. Grown-ups are always on about how they’re having a rough time for some reason or the other, it almost goes without saying. We’re dropping balls, forgetting to do things and running late for meetings. Same same but different.
So here we are. I am in the kitchen, irritated that the children aren’t listening to me, and stewing over how they are able to put me on mute whenever they feel like it. Lola wanders in and in my mind I am already cross. She doesn’t even have a chance to ask what she can do and I am issuing instructions.
“Pass the salt,” I say, without a second thought.
“Do you think maybe you forgot your manners?” she says with a wry little smile.
I am stumped. I literally stood there with my mouth open.
She is completely right. Who do I think I am? I correct them all day on being polite and having manners, and then I turn around and behave like a ‘rude’ child. I was horrified at myself. A seemingly small event put my cogs into motion and I mulled over what had happened for the rest of the day.
Seriously, where do we ‘grown-up’s’ get off?
We run around believing we are entitled to bad moods and hormonal fluctuations. We blame ‘waking up on the wrong side of the bed’ and not getting enough sleep. Work stress or family drama. We act like we, alone, experience this, expecting the best from our children at all times. Anyone who’s read a parenting book can tell you that children have hormonal fluctuations at various ages, behaving like moms with PMS and dad’s with testosterone surges. Most of us place little weight on this information, scoffing at it, shrugging it off as less important than our own issues, possibly even choosing to forget it, but the facts remain.
They have bad days in the same way we do, and they sometimes don’t get a good night’s sleep. You might say, “But I told them to go to bed early!” and you would be right. But how many times have you stayed awake for whatever reason, past what you knew was a good time to go to bed? I’d wager many, many nights. We all do this and we all know how it influences us the next day. It is no different for them. Would we berate another adult for making a mistake and lose our temper with them? Probably not. We would, however, not tolerate rudeness because they were tired and grumpy. If they behaved badly we would probably give them a wide berth, and tell them when we didn’t agree with their behaviour. I don’t think most of us offer our children the same courtesy.
Do we think we have somehow earned the right to treat our children with less respect than we would treat another adult?
I know with absolute certainty I would not yell at an adult in the same way I have yelled at my kids. Yes, they may have been asked several times to do something. Yes, they may choose to ignore us. And yes, they may do seemingly ridiculous things. But let’s be honest, they don’t even have a quarter of the life experience we do. It is our job to demonstrate how to behave, to be the example, especially when they are flailing about on the sidelines. I’m not for one moment saying don’t discipline your children, quite the contrary. Set boundaries and stick to them, just don’t fly off the handle when your children push against them, because they will.
Sometimes they may not feel very social, or they may feel downright bolshie. Accept it, we ‘grown-up’s’ have those days too. Don’t insist they give granny a hug or make them feel like an awful person because they didn’t. Explain why it might be important that they give granny a hug, and tell them it would be nice if they behaved in a different way the next time, but don’t humiliate them or reprimand them in public. I can’t say enough how a quiet word, alone with my kids, has gone a long way in improving their behaviour. I’m pretty sure my kids aren’t alone in this. We need to choose how to react to our kid’s behaviour; with every reaction we are teaching them something. It’s one hell of a responsibility.
All this thinking has made me realise just how important ‘tagging out’ is. Having someone we can hand the baton to when we know our patience is waning. Sometimes all we need is a little space. This is true of every person in the world. Playing ‘tag’ with your spouse is an absolute necessity! If you don’t have that as an option then ‘tag out’ with a friend or a grandparent, use the TV or mandatory quiet time. Invent a way to give yourself some time alone to regroup, so you can continue to treat your children with the respect every person on the planet deserves, regardless of age.
I’m not pointing fingers and my intention is certainly not to preach, I’m the first to admit fault. I am simply asking if we should all reassess how we treat our children? Take a look at our own individual parenting quirks that may, in fact, be constituted as ‘rude’ if we behaved that way to another adult. I can’t help but feel we exercise less patience with our kids, when we should be using more. It’s certainly worth a thought.
This struggle is real. There, I’ve said it. I’ve said what mothers aren’t supposed to say about their kids, or about parenting. But I am owning this difficulty. I don’t see being competitive or non-competitive as a failing, I just see them as being un-harmonious exercise partners, and I have reason for my sudden outburst too. We’ve just done a Parkrun with the kids. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a 5km timed, free event, done around the world every Saturday morning. We decided to go and do the one in Stellenbosch where you wind through the vineyards, views of the misty morning mountains in all directions; it’s nothing short of exquisite. Hard to think of something I would enjoy more on my Saturday morning. Couple that with being with my family and I’m thinking this is the best possible start to the weekend. But let’s put that thought on hold.
I worried that Lola wouldn’t want to do it fast, so I said I’d go with her and we could do it at her pace, while Shaun and Lincoln ran ahead. I did N.O.T. realise what I was committing myself to.
The kids are stellar in the mountains, they can climb, they can run, they have endurance, and they usually love our adventures. Sometimes it takes a bit of convincing, but Shaun and I generally know what will get them fired up. Today was a different day – we don’t win every outdoor adventure with the kids.
I have written many articles about the kids and their differing personalities, Lincoln’s double speed, and Lola’s gentle calm nature. I know who she is, but I guess I don’t always know who I am. Sometimes I surprise myself.
I wasn’t always like this you see. If you ask my parents, they will probably paint a very different picture of me as a kid. Fun loving, happy-go-lucky, always up for an adventure, but not if it meant too much effort on my part. I preferred to be the cheerleader at cycling races where my mum and brothers raced competitively, always there to support, but I found the pressure of my racing with the intention to win, too much. Every time I got to a serious level in my sport, I caved. As soon as the pressure was on I stopped enjoying it. I know this about myself, and I recognise this in Lola. Sure, she may only be 7, but some attributes present themselves early, some fights we have already fought. She is sporty, she is a fast runner and she can do anything she puts her mind to. The problem is she doesn’t like putting her mind to it very often. She gets upset if she doesn’t come first so she often opts not to try. This I understand very well, because it is a carbon copy of me. A genetic blue print if you will. It is also why I struggle to parent her through it. I hate that quality about myself, and it has taken me 34 years of growing up to talk myself through it. She on the other hand only has 7 years of growing up behind her, and many frustrating sporting years ahead, learning that failure is normal and nothing to be embarrassed about. If you give it your all, that’s all anyone can ask.
The problem is, after all this time I have come to enjoy healthy competition, and even though I don’t like being beaten, I’m a little more mature about it now. That is, until a middle aged male looking like he hasn’t run further than from his tv to his fridge in the last 30 years shuffles past me, while Lola and I are walking at a snails pace down a flat road because she doesn’t feel like running. That is when maturity and I part ways. It is also when I bend down very calmly and tell Lola that if she doesn’t pick up her pace I am going to leave her behind.
Now if you know Lola, you know this threat would mean nothing, not because I don’t follow through, but because she does nothing unless she wants to do it. Threats are a vapid string of words to her; it’s like whispering into the wind. She will hold her head high, and with the dignity of the queen mother, dare you with her eyes. She has terrified many an adult with this look. It’s a challenge I always feel compelled to accept, the only problem in a situation like this is that I got 100meters down the road and stopped to wait for her because it’s not entirely safe leaving her alone. While I waited for her to catch up, two sweet old ladies walked past talking about her being like a fairy in a forest. Not half a kilometre up the road we had to stop while Lola had a ‘quick’ look in a forest we were walking past. Their description couldn’t have been more prophetic.
While I stood and watched Lola gazing into the forest, I remembered what I had said to her, we could do the race at her pace. What kind of mother am I if I don’t stick to my word? I knew the answer, I didn’t have to think about it. After a few deep breaths, I decided on a new approach. We would actually do the race at her pace. This meant not trying to make her run, not threatening to go ahead if she didn’t run, and not telling her that her brother and dad were probably already finished in the hopes she’d hurry up. None of which are proud parenting moments for me, but sometimes we mothers slip up too.
I am pleased to say that after that point, we skipped, we galloped, we stopped to smell the flowers – literally, and we walked, even when we were the absolute last people on the course. Ok in all honesty, I did do a bit of encouraging to get her to pass another 7 year old boy and his family so we didn’t come absolutely stone last. That, and the smell of the coffee proved too much for me, and I may have dragged her a little on the home stretch so I could drown myself in a large latte for my sins.
It would be an immense exaggeration to say that I enjoyed the race. For the duration of the event that I was ‘racing’ in my head, I was frustrated, annoyed and ready to throw in the towel. With every glimpse of a short cut home I had to practice good parenting and lecture about perseverance and not giving up. I’m not sure if the lecture was for her or for me. But when I changed my intention, and realised if we were going to finish this thing at all, I had to do it the way I told her we would, at her pace, it suddenly became fun and happy time together. It would be grossly misleading of me to tell you I could do this every time though. I enjoy pushing myself, I enjoy taking up a challenge and seeing what I’ve got, and it’s frustrating that I can’t seem to convince Lola that it’ll be fun. I want her to enjoy it like I do. But then I remind myself what I was like as a youngster, and I remember the wise words my mom shared with me after another rant I was having about the kids.
She said, no matter how much I might want to, I cannot wrap up my experience and give it to my children as a gift. They will make their own mistakes.
Who knows, maybe Lola won’t look back with regret; maybe not competing won’t bother her in the slightest. Maybe, like her mother, she will wish she had taken on the challenge a little more. But it is ultimately her path to forge, and her choices to make. All I can do is encourage, offer opportunities, and watch who she becomes. Keeping my competitive nature to myself will be a challenge, but if this race taught me anything, it’s that I had better stick to my word, because telling her we can take it slow while my every intention is to convince her to run, makes for a very unpleasant morning. And if I multiply that out a little, it will make for one unpleasant childhood as well. And that simply, isn’t fair.
In many ways, it has been a gloomy start to 2016. After the most wonderful family holiday, we rolled into Jan with a dash of apprehension, but mostly, loads of gusto. We had served ourselves a plate of work piled so high, we knew it was going to be soul crushing to get through it. But there it was. We needed all the momentum we could muster to speed roller our way through it. So we hit the year running, determined not to let it get the better of us.
Lola and Lincoln were both punching into big school now so there were wonderful changes afoot, while we were still fastening the wheels back onto the cart after a tumultuous 2015 in our company. And then before we knew it, the year had started.
Two weeks into the year I had a miscarriage. Not the start we had planned, and although you always think you understand when someone else goes through it, dealing with it yourself suddenly opens up a world you knew nothing about. I am a sharer, but this is one piece of our story I have held very close to my heart. It still aches. The timing of it was of course impeccable too, we were on the precipice of a make or break moment for our company. So packaging our emotions neatly into a box where we could safely look through them later, we blundered on. Shaun, into 20-hour workdays punctuated every few weeks by a few hours off. Me, into full time single parenting, mornings of work, and weekends of trying to keep the children busy, in the hopes they won’t ask why dad isn’t with us, again. It’s been Groundhog Day for 4 months.
May the 3rd was our D-day.
Through no easy feat, we accomplished what we had to, scraping in a full 24 hours before the deadline. This in itself was a miracle. It had been a real team effort. We had all taken a hit from the workload, and it was time to get out as a family again. These adventures have been few and far between in the last few months, so we let the kids dictate our movements for the day, while we followed along, thankful we could ride the coattails of their enthusiasm, and just pleased to be spending some quality time together. So after very little deliberation, we hit the road towards town, they wanted to climb Lions Head. This time they added a twist, they wanted to see the cave we have always talked about but never actually been to. So with the route set, we began our climb up the mountain.
The day was perfect.
Perfect in the kind of way only Cape Town can be at the changing of the seasons. The sun’s rays gently caressed the mountain while the day warmed up through beautifully filtered light. There wasn’t a breath of wind and the calm of our surroundings seemed to permeate through us all. Autumn is truly Cape Town at its best.
Sneaking up the front of Lions Head, we managed to avoid the majority of the crowds as we made our way up the city side of the mountain. Steeper and more rugged, it suited us perfectly. The kids could saunter, scramble and race each other at their own pace, leaving us both to reflect, freewheel and file away as we climbed. It was the therapy we needed after the past while and I couldn’t have imagined a better destination.
At the point where you reach the first rocky cliff, you follow the path left and walk around Kloof Neck side of Lions Head, facing Camps Bay. As you round this corner and look up, you stare into the bowels of what was once, undoubtedly, the home of many a Capetonian caveman. We were not alone, there were others on this quest, but they were few and far between, possibly also looking to escape the crowds in search of a place to unpack their own inner chaos. And there it was, inside that cave, the sounds of silence, nothing but a postcard in front of you. The perfect place to unload the heavy satchel you’ve been carrying, scattering your worries amongst the wisps of cloud.
When you live in a bustling city, a place where you can loose yourself to your work, your chequebook, your never ending to-do list or the hurts that haunt you, being able to escape to a sanctuary carved into the side of a mountain, is a blessing no Capetonian should take for granted.
It seemed like the most fitting place to be to reflect, hiding out in our cave on the side of a mountain. Having faced down some of our most challenging moments in the past few months, being able to rest, together and happy, just a little worn down, is treasured time. It’s moments like this when you look at what you’ve been through and realise how fortunate you really are. Simply having a family to be with is one of the greatest blessings.
I’m not sharing our story for sympathy. I’m not sharing it because I think everyone wants to hear our drama. I’m sharing it in the hopes that it can help the people who need to hear it, the ones having a hard time, or the ones who think everyone else has it sorted. There are times when we all need to let go of things, acknowledge what we’ve been through so we can move forward, sometimes to bigger and better things, but sometimes just to peace. Decompression is so necessary. It doesn’t always take a day, in fact it almost never does. But it’s a start. I hope you all have a ‘cave’ you can visit to do just this.
I wish you all moments of peaceful, indispensable, reflection, wherever your cave may be.
Emotional outbursts and grumpy children are not my thing. Really, if I could avoid them entirely I would. Through arduous documentation and testing, I have established that sugar highs and their rivalling lows, cause far more of these than I would like. This has caused certain rules to be put in place in our house:
Rule # 1 – No sugary breakfast cereals! There is an exception to this rule however… Sundays. The day the rulebook is tossed out the window and the children can eat what their hearts desire most. Thankfully their hearts generally desire Frosties and not frosted doughnuts, but this morning their hearts desired possibly the worst breakfast I could think of.
This incredibly nutrient deficient substance made an appearance in our house after a carnival-style sand castle competition on our local beach. Under much duress, and the incredible manipulative powers of a 5 and 6 year old, I was convinced to buy the aforementioned pink junk, the remainder of which was thrown into the pantry with the hopes of it being forgotten so I could toss it into the trash. Much to my dismay, the only thing they wanted this particular morning, was the emotional outburst in a bag, disguised cleverly, as strands of spun sugar.
Being the push over that I am, I decided the faster they could eat it and be done with it the better, so we grabbed the pink awesomeness and hit the road. Possibly the only thing worse than eating this stuff at home is going out and doing it in public, but dad needed a sleep in, so they were shopping with me. Oh the joys.
About 20 minutes later, well into their sugar high, when they were sliding under clothing rails and swinging from the hangers, I realised what I must look like to other parents. I’m ‘that’ mom, the one who gives her children whatever they yearn for (like candyfloss for breakfast) and then let them run amok in the shops, all but ruining the calm and serenity of everyone else’s Sunday morning.
Now although this may be true of this particular day, it is not my normal MO. You see, I am a bit of a sugar warrior. After being off-the-hook addicted to sugar for most of my life, I now consider myself in ‘recovery’. This ‘recovery’ process has had rather large repercussions for not only myself, but my family too. For example, hubby’s after dinner chocolate stash has somewhat diminished due to my refusal to ‘feed’ this habit, as has my children’s afternoon treat selection (but clearly not their Sunday morning breakfast binge).
When I went off sugar last year, I was committed, possibly a little over the top. I planned low GI meals, refused to buy any processed carbs and made my kids start eating things like lentils and cauliflower rice. I knew they were looking at me like I was crazy, I knew it because they were also saying it, but I soldiered on. Both of them are dairy and wheat intolerant so meals have always been a little bit different, taking out processed foods took this craziness to the next level. No more refined maize pastas or gluten free muffin mixes. I was full throttle.
I started baking health muffins with almond and coconut flour, taking out all sugar and replacing it in much smaller quantities with honey, maple syrup and xylitol. I kept telling them that banana was a natural sweetener and if we added dates and raisins it meant they didn’t need sugar. They were incredibly good natured about it all. They sampled batters and professed how delicious it all was, they even smiled the first few times they got the muffins in their lunch boxes.
But then reality set in – other children don’t eat like this.
They started bringing their food home from school and saying it wasn’t so nice anymore. They were tired of these ‘other’ muffins, can’t they just have a sandwich? That was when I knew the wheels had fallen off. My kids were asking for a sandwich in their lunch box! They wanted marmite or peanut butter for heaven’s sake. The expensive, life-sustaining, hunger-busting, muffins I spent my Sunday afternoons baking for them were being given the boot. Rule # 2 in our house being: You will finish all the food in your lunch box before I make you another meal, meant that I was in a battle of wills with the kids every afternoon to get them to eat their healthy, low GI, no sugar, almond flour muffins. There was coercing, negotiating, stubbornness, and the occasional story about starving children in Africa who have no food at all (I know I know, I tried not to go there but I was running out of options).
Then on one particularly ‘emotionally grey’ evening in our house, Shaun broke the news to me. I had gone a little too far with our family’s eating plan. We are not banters. We are not ‘no-carb nazis’. We pride ourselves on being exceptionally level-headed people. Yet in my attempt to get us all eating healthily I had gone a little wayward. My best attempts at cleaning out the junk and finding low GI recipes had, without my realising it, set me down a path I had not intended on travelling. Yes the kids need to eat healthy meals and not a diet based around sugar, but they also need balance. They need to be kids.
Many of my favourite childhood memories revolve around treats; the ones I baked, the ones I bought, the ones I was given (and the ones I snuck out of my grannies sweetie tin). I wouldn’t change any of those memories for the world, but I don’t want my kids to be as addicted to sugar as I was. I thought last year when I was getting myself off sugar, that if I got them off it too, they wouldn’t have the same needy relationship with it that I had.
But that’s not how it works.
Our children don’t live in isolation. They go to school, they spend time with other kids, they go to parties. It takes a very special kind of child to go to a party and not be seduced by the brightly coloured sugary bursts-of-awesomeness in every shape and size. I was not that special kind of child. I’m afraid I don’t have those children either. Treat temptation runs heavy in this house. I don’t think it’s a failure to admit that either. I’m trying to be a realistic parent and set realistic habits for my family; sustainable habits that can carry our children healthily into their future.
What I realised through all of this is that removing sugar from their diet and creating this ‘healthy way of eating’, was going to cause more long term damage to their relationship with sugar than just letting them have it (in moderation of course). Making such a big deal about something leaves a lasting impression on children, the last thing I want to create a hype about is sugar!
So if you see me in the shops on a Sunday morning and the children are swinging from the light fittings or leopard crawling under the trolley, please don’t judge me. I promise it’s not everyday they are allowed to behave like this.
The beginning of a new year, time to restructure, reorganise, streamline our lives. All the best intentions, coupled with ‘achievable’ goals and healthy eating plans. We know it’s gone wrong in the past but this time it’s different; we know what to change.
And then the year begins.
One month in and I’m starting to see the cracks in the outer shell. We’ve made it to Feb, but I’m meaning we’ve screamed in, kicking and shouting, limbs flailing about, troops all ragged. The calm and organisation I had planned for the year seems to have been replaced with a Burundi warzone. Just mentioning the words ‘overtired’ and ‘children’ in the same sentence can send any parents within earshot into a flat spin, perspiration breaking out on their already lined foreheads. A sure fire way to ruin a day is drag an overtired child around with you. So this is where I am. But with two overtired children.
Despite my best intentions, I have already agreed to too much. With eyes bigger than my stomach, I have dived into the year with extra murals on everyday, a full social calendar and work deadlines our company could drown in. The kids have a full plate, which in theory is fine if they are getting enough downtime and sleeping 11- 12 hours a night, but they’re not. Their plates are piled high with fun activities and exciting new sports, but without the rest, they are moving at a snails pace and have replaced their ears with beautiful ornaments (that for aesthetic value only) any rugby player would pay top dollar for. They simply don’t work at all. Not only is this extremely frustrating, but the lack of hearing causes even slower children, resulting in more frustration, more tardiness, a grumpier mother and general misery in the house.
Today is Saturday. I am sitting down for the first time since last weekend, to do something I want to do as opposed to something that is in my calendar or on my To-Do list and has to be done. How is it possible that almost a week can go by without a ‘time-out’ for myself? And the year has only just begun.
I know I am not alone in how I am feeling, yet no one wants to talk about it.
I also know my kids are not the only ones feeling the pressure, acting up and not listening because they simply can’t cope with the volume of ‘stuff to-do’ at their young ages. School in the mornings, busy sporting afternoons, play dates, birthday parties, late nights when parents have friends over, the list goes on. No parent wants their child to be left behind so collectively we are all making our kids do so much, everyone trying to keep up with everyone else. How did we get here? When did parenting become a competition?
At 6 years old I certainly hadn’t mastered every swimming stroke. I hadn’t tried almost every sport offered to preschool children, in fact, most sports our kids play weren’t even offered to preschool children when I was young! Play dates happened infrequently, leaving me to play with my siblings, entertaining ourselves in the garden with make believe games and toys we made from sticks and acorns. Life was simpler. My mother was certainly not trying to one-up the neighbours and post our achievements all over Facebook. Am I misrepresenting the 80’s or was that time easier on everyone’s self-esteem? Without social media constantly telling our parents what everyone else’s kids were doing we were allowed to back off a little, play outside and have a few afternoons to explore our exciting world. But this is not our reality anymore.
Life is only getting faster. What we are now faced with is not wanting to be left behind. The feeling of everyone else leaping ahead while we wander slowly along. So we don’t. We fall for it. We dive in with swimming lessons, prance through modern and ballet only to tumble our way into our gymnastics class. Not forgetting the staples like tennis and soccer. We’d be nothing without self discipline so karate is kicked in too, followed closely by extra science lessons to expand the mind and ecology classes because we must also be saving the environment. This is all on top of a full day at school and excludes extra-extra lessons when competitions and eisteddfods are in full swing. It’s exhausting just writing it down.
The obvious addition to all of this is the expense of it all. We seem to be in a whirlpool going further down into the depths and it’s getting harder to pull ourselves out. I find myself constantly glancing around for a sea-rescue boat that can pull us back into calmer waters.
I have pondered this little predicament all week, desperately searching for a way to still do all the things we do but without all the insanity. Without all-the running from one place to another, packing bags, wolfing down lunch and darting off in another direction.
I know I have answered my own question though.
There is no way to ‘do it all’ and avoid at least some insanity. It’s a hard pill for me to swallow because I don’t want my kids to be the ones left behind. But there it is.
I know if I want my kids to enjoy the simpler life, having time to lie under the trees and stare up at the golden leaves filtering the suns warm rays, or draw pictures in the dirt with sticks whilst laughing with their siblings, I am going to have to teach them that that is what life is about. At the moment, that is not what they are learning, not what I am teaching them. Squashing my own competitive nature is proving hard to do.
The world is their oyster and they need time to discover it, instead of running from one place to another in a series of frantic bursts accompanied by banshee-like yelling from their mother. The only challenge now is to take a step in the right direction.
Does anyone have the balance right? Is it even possible? Please please tell me how you do it!
I never thought being a grown up would be like this: the constant constraints on your time, the requests, the pressure, the guilt when you don’t get it all right. It never ends. The enthusiastic view from the children constantly bubbles out, “When I grow up…” they say with such delight, with such awe and excitement in their voices. How wonderful to be in that world. A magical fairy-tale place where things are the way you imagine them to be.
When Shaun and I had children, we didn’t realise how defining the roles we chose, would be. The world was still a place where, in part, things were the way we imagined them to be. We lacked the knowledge that comes with age, with experience. I wanted to stay at home with the kids, I wanted to give them my full attention; Shaun wanted a good balance of both work and dad time. In theory our choices were simple, and easy. They were made before we realised that no parenting decision is ever simple, and easy.
I dived into my choice of roles with vigour. I revelled in every moment I got to spend with Lola after she was born, and even more so when my friends with babies were going back to work. I made conscious choices about her diet, her activities and her nap times. When I fell pregnant with Lincoln I poured as much of me as I could into those same decisions with him. As hard a parenting two children one year apart was, I was thankful that I had the opportunity to do it.
Shaun poured himself into his work with equal vigour, he enjoyed his thinking time, and then he came home and enjoyed his children time. The balance wasn’t always there, but we were always striving for it. We knew what we were aiming for.
Fast forward 6 years; through buying a house, starting a company, travelling overseas for 6 months and all the in between, and the roles we started off choosing have become as much a part of us as our finger prints. Despite being responsible for all internal functioning, budgeting, admin and being general dogs body in our company, my primary role is still with the children. So much so that when I have to try and fit a few hours work into my day I struggle to find the headspace. Between remembering what extra murals are on, who I’m lifting where, school outings, what I’m cooking for dinner, if there are enough groceries in the house, what home maintenance needs doing and general family admin, my mind is all a blur with mundane chores. Since having children I’m not sure I’ve experienced the focus and clarity you can put into your work when you are allowed to relinquish the humdrum of daily life. When I’m with the kids I have half a mind on work and when I’m working I have half a mind on the kids and the house. I feel I am never giving anything my full attention. Always checking my watch, always racing somewhere. I find myself envious of the amount of work Shaun fits into his day.
I know the balancing act isn’t reserved for moms, on the other side of the spectrum, Shaun, who carries the work flag, is plagued with pressures at work while trying to manage his own desire to ‘just be with his family’. This isn’t helped by the kids questions of, “Why are you always working? Why can’t you spend more time with us like mommy does?” The guilt hovers around like flies in a summer heat. When he is at work his mind is focused entirely on the pressures and demands of running a company. This is a good thing. It is, however, primarily his responsibility to make sure the work flows in, so when it’s not he spends his ‘family time’ worrying about it. He can’t leave work at work and I can’t leave home at home. We carry around the weight of our seemingly simple decisions with us no matter what role we are trying to fill.
Some of the added baggage I have just lumped onto myself is the guilt of having a daughter who now thinks that women don’t work as hard as men! The issue of woman working has come up before and I have explained that women do work. Some have full time jobs, just like men, and they work just as hard. Some women choose to be at home after they have children, not all women are lucky enough to have that choice however. Although she understands at the time, it is still a recurring theme.
We had two woman at our house the other day doing a quotation for window blinds, Lola looked confused and later whispered rather loudly in my ear, “but mommy, why are they women?” I blushed a desperate shade of red. What must they have thought? That I teach my daughter that woman don’t work? Lola knows in theory that I work in the morning when she is at school, but she never sees me doing it because when she is around I am almost solely available for them, they come first. I can’t explain that looking after a family and a home is work, because it’s a different kind of work. It’s first and foremost, a love.
I hope as she gets older she comes to understand the different roles women play, but at the moment she is happily oblivious to the pressures and the guilt that plague most moms, possibly all parents. The roles we choose going into parenthood define us in our children’s eyes. They also define us in our own eyes. I know most ‘stay at home’ moms don’t feel of enough value when being judged by society’s yardstick. The position of woman in the home is sorely undervalued. The position of women, or more particularly mothers, in the work place is equally sorely disrespected. The pressure and expectation that work will come before your children and your family is crippling our society, putting unnecessary pressure on moms and making the choices we are faced with when we have children even harder. We have enough parenting guilt without corporates loading on an extra dollop for good measure. Moms aren’t the only ones having their portion sizes increased either, dads are taking it in equal share. The fathers who want to be home in the evenings to tuck their little ones into bed are laughed at when they dart out of company drinks early, or looked down on when they excuse themselves from ‘voluntary’ overtime.
Tonight as I tried to sneak out the room while the kids where falling asleep, Lola asked me why I don’t sit with them until they are asleep, “like daddy does”, she says. “Daddy works harder than you do, but he can still sit with us”. It was like taking a punch in the gut. I was trying to sneak out the room to finish drilling holes in the shower wall to hang the toiletries rack, clean the kitchen after dinner, sort out the notices they brought home from school, and then finish some work at my computer. I’m pretty sure if I talk to her about it in 30 years time she would have quite a different opinion on it. If I ask my mom about all the insensitive things I said to her this was probably right up there on the list too.
I can’t expect my 6 year old to understand the complexities of what I juggle, that is the beauty of childhood. Her turn too, shall come. At least I hope it will come, because as challenging and draining and pressure filled as being a grownup is, I get to kiss those cheeks goodnight before bed, even if I can’t always sit and watch them turn a rosy pink as they drop off to sleep. Being a grownup can suck at times, but the love you feel for your little people and the joy that they bring, that is the beauty of adulthood.