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Category Archives: Musings

Sometimes You Just Need a Cave

By | Cape Town, Hikes, Musings | No Comments

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.

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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.

 

 

S-U-G-A-R – How Getting it ‘Right’ turned out to be Wrong

By | Musings | One Comment

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.

Candy-floss!

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.

 

Biting Off More Than You Can Chew?

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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!

xxx

The Choices. The Guilt. The Beauty.

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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.

 

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Sugar – How Scared Do We Really Need To Be? My Story.

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Sugar is a touchy subject for me. This is because I am without a doubt, unequivocally, dependent on it. When the ‘sugar’ debate is raised I am the first to jump to its defence. We need sugar! It’s essential for cell function. It’s from a plant, it can’t be that bad. I can keep going. My arguments are weak at best, at worst, completely wrong. This has led me to a place where I allow far too much sugar into not only my diet, but my children’s too. When the new World Health Organisation recommendation is 6 teaspoons per day, and a 40gram serving of dried mango has 7, I have some thinking to do.

A few months ago I posted my story on how Lola, my then 5 year old, refused to open her mouth at the dentist. My repercussion was banning sugar of any kind from her diet, until she went. I clearly remember thinking that I would never fight that fight again because it was so incredibly hard, and not just for her. She was moody, grumpy, teary, didn’t sleep well, and I am only now realising why.

She was detoxing from sugar!

For someone who has studied both mental health and alternative health, I feel like a complete halfwit for not realising this sooner. If I’m honest with myself, I actually feel a bit like an addict. I have fooled myself into ignoring what I can see right in front of me. I don’t want to see the effects sugar has on the kids, or me, so I carry on anyway, too chicken to make the change.

When I was a teenager and had bad skin, I mentioned to my dermatologist that I had noticed a correlation in how much sugar I ate and how bad my skin was. He told me categorically, that I was wrong. There is no connection. I knew that I was right, but I wanted to believe him, so I did. A couple of years later I started taking my cycling training more seriously, and recognising that my body was doing strange things when I ate too much sugar, I cut it out. Instead of sucrose (normal table sugar) I ate fructose (fruit sugar), ladled it into my tea, poured honey on my (sugar free) bread, drank ‘diet’ soft drinks and bought sweets that had ‘non-nutritive’ sweetener instead of sugar. I could pour into the details of how those sweets upset my stomach, and played havoc with my moods, but what came next was worse. I got cancer. A malignant melanoma. While this may have absolutely nothing to do with my diet, we will never know. I have liked to argue that it didn’t, but I have always had my niggling doubts. There is now a definite correlation between both sugar and non-nutritive sweetener, and cancer development. My doubt only grows. Your diet is you. It’s what fuels your cells and grows your muscles. How could there possibly be no connection?

A couple of months after I ‘gave up’ sugar, I ‘accidentally’ drank a frulata – a milkshake with fruit in it. As I stood up with my friend to leave the coffee shop I almost fainted. My head was spinning and my vision was going blotchy. I had to lie down in the restroom for half an hour before I could see properly again. I knew then what sugar was capable of. But being the sensible 20 year old that I was, I decided the best thing to do was increase my sugar levels so this kind of thing didn’t happen again. My avoidant self decided cutting sugar out of my diet was obviously not good for me, instead of acknowledging that it was the having it that was the problem.

Fast forward 10 years. I am plagued by the same ‘sugar spots’ I had as a teenager. They appear after a sugar binge. I am also plagued by the feeling of ants on my brain. This too is after a sugar binge. I get sore throats and feel like I’m coming down with something the day after eating a handful of sour worms – this happens without fail. Too much sugar makes me unable to think clearly and my body feels lethargic, but at the same time irritable. This is helped only by the intake of vast amounts of water. A binge can be 1 chocolate bar or the icing on a cake. It doesn’t take a lot, or so I thought.

Two nights ago we watched a movie called That Sugar Film. I’ve been wanting to watch it for a while, not because I really wanted to see it, but because I know my system is fighting what I am putting into it.

I know I need a change, but I have been resisting. I have been resisting my whole life.

Watching this movie was eye opening. It’s an entertaining documentary by Damon Gameau as he records the effects of a perceived ‘healthy’ diet, eating foods that are low fat and made with ‘good’ sugars. What blew me away was how quickly his health deteriorated once he started eating this perceived ‘good’ food, and how easy it was to eat 40 teaspoons of sugar a day without eating any ‘junk’. Trust me, you would be dumbfounded.

My head was in a whirl, and I decided it was about time I worked out how much sugar we were spooning into our diet. What foods was I packing into my kids’ lunch boxes under the guise of it being ‘healthy’? I’ve always encouraged dried fruit of any kind, just keen to keep up their fibre intake. Turns out this isn’t such a good idea. Fruit juice – incredibly high in sugar. Health bars – sugar. Smoothies – sugar! Whether this sugar is fructose or sucrose, it doesn’t really matter. That is something I didn’t know. Both are absorbed as easily as each other, both cause your body to spike insulin production, and both cause crashes once the sugar is carried out of your blood stream. I had always thought fruit sugar was ok, and it is, but in small amounts. Turns out the amount of fruit sugar we consume in our food is far from ok. If you start reading your food labels, you will notice sugar is added to almost everything. I don’t want to regurgitate the movie for you, but I found it incredibly interesting, and it is something I would highly recommend watching. What I do want to say is that I can relate to almost every symptom from excitable highs and moody lows, to a foggy brain and inability to concentrate. I spend my days looking forward to my next ‘high’, a warm cup of tea (1 sugar please), a comforting cookie (3 sugars) or some chocolate after dinner (anything from 3 sugars to 10 sugars in one sitting! – depending on my mood of course). I recognise this in my daughter; her behaviour is as I remember mine being. What I am struggling to grapple with is how to teach your children that although they desperately want sugar, it is not good for them. How, because I as a seasoned 33 year old, am still not able to fully accept it.

I have decided that it is time I made a life change. Just writing that down makes me nervous. It makes me realise what a hold sugar has over me, and that in itself is terrifying. I don’t want to never enjoy a piece of birthday cake or a warm apple pie, but to get to the once off enjoyments, I have to break through the everyday crutches. I can’t appreciate a subtle sweetness because my mouth is desensitised to the awesomeness of natural flavours. I add sugar to everything, and if not sugar then salt. We’ve joked about it for years, but I know it can’t be a joke forever, not if I am to raise healthy, stable, energetic children. I know the next few weeks are going to be ‘less enjoyable’ simply because my body is recalibrating. Finally though, I think this is something I want to work towards. I’m terrified I might give up, cave to my current sugar cravings, but what kind of recovering addict would I be if I gave up on day 2!

A very interesting side note from the movie:
Despite keeping his calorie intake exactly the same as it was before undertaking this dietary change, Damon gained almost 10kg’s in 2 months. This taught me something else I did not know – all calories are not made equal.

It’s the Little Things

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This afternoon I was reminded that it doesn’t take a lot to make your children happy. Lola, now 6, and Lincoln, 5, are inseparable. When they’re not at school they are together, always together. So much so, that when one of them has a play date, I arrange one for the other as well. I’m always trying to keep things ‘fair’, the less fighting I have to deal with the more likely I am to be a nice person. Even with a 14 month age gap the kids think they are equals, they see no distinction in rank or ability; I consider this an incredibly fortunate thing, most of the time.

When it comes to what they do, they always have to be doing the same thing. It would be grossly unfair for one of them to be at a friend while the other is stuck at home. But being the unfair, negligent mother that I am, this is what I did today. I did not arrange a play date for Lola while Lincoln was at his friend. What was she going to do all afternoon? The extreme iniquity of the situation was unbearable.

Thinking that an afternoon alone with my daughter is a treat I am rarely allowed, I tell her that I will play with her. Unconvinced, she stalks into the house to find something else to moan about. At this point I make a conscious decision to spend the full 2 hours that my son is at his friend, with Lola.
So, we make lunch, and eat in Dad’s office, stifling giggles while he’s on a conference call. We feed him lunch and discuss Lola’s art from the last week. We mix up some icing and scrounge around for Marie biscuits to ice, decorate them with sprinkles and make numerous cups of tea. After distributing cookies to Dad, our cleaning lady and our gardener, we take the rest outside to have a picnic in the garden. Aside from the photo’s I took of her with her cookies, I did not look at my phone or reply to an email.
When 4 o’clock rolled around and I announced it was time to fetch Lincoln, she was horrified.
“This was the best fun ever! Better than all my other play dates. Can’t we have just 5 more minutes?”
And my heart melted.

Such a small thing, 2 hours alone with my daughter, and this is from a mom who is home in the afternoons. You think you are available, in-between running errands, answering calls and organising their lives. Then you stop, and actually give them your full attention, no “I just quickly” or “in a minute”. You stop your world for them, just for 2 hours, and it’s better than any gift you could buy in a store. Something so pure and simple, and you can see the sun shining out of their soul.

cookies

The end product - the new bedroom!

A Family DIY Affair

By | Cape Town, Musings | No Comments

Now this is a rare treat, a blog post about the Wuth family at home. While my normal writing covers our adventures outside the home, I thought it about time I let you glimpse the chaos within our walls. Given that the weather has been somewhat frosty of late, we felt the time had come to undertake a project we have been putting off for quite some time… mounting beds to the wall in the kids room, so they could both be ‘on the top bunk’ as the request went.

When they came to us with this idea a few months ago, we immediately put it into the ‘never gonna happen’ box. After a little thought and a lot of research, I found a do-it-yourself guide to building and mounting beds at your chosen height. This meant we could provide them both with the optimal ‘top bunk’ position, without having to fit four beds into one room.

I subsequently spent the next two months perfecting my plan and deciding what we needed to make this work. I thought my plan was pretty solid. The fact that I have no idea about engineering or ‘weight bearing joints’ was irrelevant, I was going to figure it out as I went. If the beds were a little wobbly, well, the kids would just have to be more careful on them.
So the kids and I spent the last week of the holidays painting their new room. Lola wanted black, Lincoln wanted blue. We called a truce with one wall of each. We were ready for the hard labour to begin.

 

Now something I probably should have mentioned earlier is that Shaun is not a fan of DIY. In fact, he rather detests it. Things never go according to plan, it always takes about 5 times longer than you think, and the finished product is never perfect.
So, after convincing Shaun that this was something that had to happen sooner or later, I drafted the plans for him… he was less than pleased with my design…

Shaun: “What happens if 5 children are bouncing on the bed at the same time?”

Mary: “Well they can’t can they? They will bump their heads on the ceiling!”

Shaun: “What happens when we’re all up there together?”

Mary: “Well we’ll have to move slowly.”

Shaun: “What happens if the bed collapses with the children in it?”

Mary: “Well then they’ll land on the mattress and it’ll be a soft fall.”

This carried on for a while. Nowhere in our marriage preparation classes did they cover DIY conflict. This should be rectified.

So, we (Shaun) spent the whole of Saturday morning redesigning my structural work, while I watched 2 months of fruitless preparation disintegrate in front of my eyes. We then spent the whole of Saturday afternoon at the hardware store, followed directly by the toy store where we had to pick up Lincolns birthday present for the next day. These shops are not places you should take your children to!
They literally pretended to be dogs at the hardware store, hiding in the kennels and crawling around on the floor. Have you ever seen the state of a hardware store’s floor at the end of a day? You should have an idea of condition they were in when we got home then.

We began our ‘Saturday morning’ project at 4 o’clock that afternoon. Anything tip you off that we were off to a bad start? By the kids bed time, 7pm, we had built the ladder and measured where the beds were going to go. If nothing else, Shaun and I have stubbornness in common. This meant the kids where going to listen to our drilling long into the night, so long in fact, that they were begging us to go to bed.

By 10 o’clock, we had one wall bolt in the corner of one bed and realised we had drilled the wrong size holes for all the others. We checked out for the night before one of us filed for divorce papers. As it turns out, Shaun and I aren’t that good at DIY’ing together. We don’t see eye to eye, particularly when things start going wrong.

Sunday was a new day; we would tackle the problems when we were fresh. The fact that it was Lincoln’s birthday would just mean that the beds would be a birthday present. The 2 social engagements we had planned for the day would have to be shuffled around. Totally do-able.

After a rocky start with a few ‘poorly drilled’ holes, prematurely dried cement and scraping my fresh paint off the wall, we got the job done at 6 o’clock that evening. Leaving enough time to take Lincoln out for his birthday dinner.

 

They did get to sleep in their new beds that night and the joy of it almost made the effort worthwhile. I know as the hard work fades to a distant memory it will look like a terribly sensible project. It is certainly flavour of the moment and all current play dates happen on the top of the bunk beds, yes, five bouncing children. Maybe Shaun was right all along, but that’s not something I’m going to admit in a hurry.

Rapunzel-the-dentist dress rehearsal in progress.

Parenting 101: The Ultimatum

By | Cape Town, Musings | 4 Comments

For two long weeks I have been waiting for this moment, when I could sit down and pour my heart onto paper, or the keyboard, whatever. The big sticky mess of frustration, anger, sadness and heartbreak has to be released. Who knew sugar could be the cause of something more than fat or diabetes. I have just spent two weeks saying no to my daughter. No, you can’t eat that. No you can’t have that, or that, or that. It was no, no, no. And it was hard!
Let me lay it out for you.

Act 1. I make an appointment for the kids at the dentist (they have never been). I very dramatically act out what happens to teeth if children eat sugar and don’t go to the dentist. I think I am very clever.

Act 2. We take Lola and Lincoln to their appointment. As is customary, Lincoln goes first. He’s generally happy to be the guinea pig. After having his teeth counted, he has some x-rays taken of his fingers, his teeth, and his shoes, and hops off the chair to collect his well-done gift from the dentist.

Act 3. Lola’s turn. After her normal warm up period we were expecting a little hesitation, we were not expecting wide eyes and head shaking. We were certainly not expecting frantic kicking, a blatant refusal to sit in the ‘space-rocket’ chair and then a hasty departure into the waiting room. I took it calmly, sat next to her and reiterated what I had said before, that children who don’t go to the dentist can’t eat sugar because sugar is bad for your teeth. Now at this point I was convinced I was on a winning streak, there is just no way Lola would choose to not eat sugar! Lola loves sugar more than life itself. If you ask her how her day was, she will reply with gushingly positive adjectives relating to the treats she received that day. If she had an incredible adventure but no treats, it will receive mediocre reviews. She lives for her food, for sweet food. To understand her decision you have to understand that.
So back to the scene, Lola asks me if she can still have milk, to which I replied with my first flutter of uncertainty with the direction I was heading, yes. She agrees to the terms and signs up for no sugar. I was paralysed. I knew what she was doing even if she didn’t. All she could think about was how much she didn’t want to sit in the dentists chair. All I could think about was how on earth I was going to stick to my guns.

Lesson 1 in parenting: Don’t make a threat unless you intend to follow through with it. This is vital. Any parent can tell you if you don’t follow through you are as good as a movie in a foreign language with no subtitles. They stop hearing you because what you say doesn’t matter. No follow through, no respect.

With this crushing weight of what I had just begun, I hastily made another appointment for her for that Friday, she had 4 days to rethink her decision. I was sure I would win. No way she could keep it up. I was wrong. She started drinking banana ‘milkshakes’ (consisting of frozen banana, milk and cinnamon) and told me they were the most delicious things she had ever eaten. She turned her head when anything sugary was produced and requested dates and raisins as her treat. That was when I knew she was making a point. She hates raisins.

4 days of pig-headedness, of her sullen, joyless face every time her brother ate anything sweet, and still she refused to go. At this point I insisted she tell me when she was prepared to go, cracks were beginning to form in her resolve and I’d be damned if I let that glimmer of hope slip me by. She agreed to go in a week. With the appointment I could get that would take us to exactly 2 weeks after our first attempt. Let me reiterate, it was a long 2 weeks. This path is not for everybody, there were times I simply couldn’t bare her desolate face any longer and had to wrestle myself away from caving. The only thought that kept me going was the knowledge that if I caved, there was absolutely no way I would get her to open her mouth at the dentist. That much I knew. So I soldiered on. No treats, biscuits or ice-lollies. No chutney with her dinner, no sugar or honey with her tea and no juice of any kind.

There was nagging, sulking, complaints of it not being fair, but at no point did she get sneaky and help herself to treats out the pantry. What I realised through these trying 2 weeks, was how incredibly stubborn, but also how extraordinarily proud my 5 year old could be. She would arrive home from school with her baking wrapped up and hand it over for safekeeping. She froze her slices of birthday cake she received at parties and packed her sweets she was given away in the pantry. I hoped that if I let her hoard all of her treats it would eventually be enough of a temptation to get her into the blasted dentists chair so she could then devour it all. My intention was never to wean her off sugar, I don’t need that kind of misery in my life.

During this time we didn’t make a point of keeping sugar out of sight because the whole objective was to tempt her to go, keep life normal, but in so doing I was forced to keep pointing out what was already a hard decision for her. It was constantly reminding her, rubbing it in, and even though it was hard for me, it was worse for her. It meant that instead of having a fight with your child, going to bed that night and waking up with a fresh start to a new day, we were waking up and fighting the same fight everyday. It was probably annoying and infuriating for her but it was heart breaking for us. No parent enjoys making their child sad, especially when it is purposefully done to try and get them to do something they are refusing to do. I felt like such a terrible mother.

By the end of the 2 weeks I was begging her to go to the dentist. I couldn’t take feeling like such a horrid parent and I couldn’t take her sadness, her hiding away in her room when her brother and his friends were eating lollies, or her waking up at night, every night, being sad. On the day of her final appointment, I arrived at school to fetch her with all the treats she had been amassing. I wanted every little bit of temptation to be there so she didn’t back out at the last moment. She was still hesitant, but she was prepared to lie on the chair, on top of me, as long as I opened my mouth when she did. After our tandem dentist appointment I was ready to go home and pop open a bottle of champagne. Finally, it was over!

I learned that there is nothing I can be so sure of when it comes to my children. I might know them better than anybody else, but they still surprise me, everyday, sometimes in the biggest ways. You learn early as a parent to pick your battles, sometimes you pick them but you just don’t see the size or the strength of the army you are choosing to fight. This couldn’t have been truer of this battle. I had, without a doubt, underestimated the strength of the fight in this one. Luckily, through sheer gritting my teeth, Lola learned that refusing to do something has consequences. This lesson came at a good time as ‘no’s’ have been flowing fast and heavy in this house. I’m hoping that winning ‘the dentist’ battle will set a good precedent for the rest. I’m not sure I’m equipped emotionally to push through another battle like that one.

On arriving the next day at school, I mouthed to her teacher that she had done it. There was a squeal of excitement and the classroom erupted in chatter and applause, Lola even tolerated a few hugs (not common). That evening I got a message from one of her classmates parents saying her son had reported back, with much relief, that Lola had now been to the dentist. All was right in the world… Until the next time.

The first nibbling of sugar after 2 weeks!.. in the car post dentist visit.

The first nibbling of sugar after 2 weeks!.. in the car post dentist visit.

“Are we there yet?” The Broader Picture

By | Musings | One Comment

We have just conquered the Easter Holidays. I don’t say that with either contempt or exhaustion, I love holidays, and I love spending quality time with my kids. I say it with the despondency of a mother who didn’t take her kids away on an exciting holiday. When asking them at the beginning of the holidays what they wanted to do, I was met with answers of North America, skiing and Mexico! – hardly destinations we were able to attain. Now I realise we may have set the bar pretty high, when in the first 4 years of their lives they spent 5 months doing exactly those things, I’m not sure what answers I was expecting. I guess I was hoping for answers of, the science centre, the beach or the movies, something more on our radar.

We ended up doing my prized suggestion of things, and a few more, like the park, a grocery shopping trip or two, and cleaning out their cupboards, obviously all things that spark elation. I sat each night mulling over the idea that I had failed them. Then one night, half way through my second slab of chocolate, it dawned on me that the person I was actually failing was myself. I wanted to go on those North-America-skiing-Mexico holidays even more than they did. They were more than content to stay home and mess about with what ever happened to cross their path, I on the other hand, was not.

Now in a brazenly honest statement, there is just no way we could afford to go on any of those wonderful holidays right now unless we did something drastic, like sell our house, for example. It was in one of those mulling moments that I realised I was willing to sell my house! I was willing to let go of the things I love and feel attached to, to head off on another adventure. That is in my braver moments. In my more level headed state, when I’m not looking at friends travel pictures or researching where we should jet off to next, in other words, when I’m behaving like all other ‘normal’ 32 year olds with 2 children and a mortgage, I realise that what I have is magnificent, and all I ever wanted when I was growing up. Selling my house would be terrifying in the, ‘now we’re homeless and 32 and not in my life plan’ kind of way.  Why can I not be more like my children? Simply, more content.

I’d like to take all the credit for their incredibleness, I mean I have raised them, so obviously their wonderful behaviour is of my (ok to be fair, and my husbands) doing, and of course I made them in my womb, so from start to finish I have just done one hell of a good job. This is discounting all other input from grandparents, family and friends, but sometimes taking the credit is just better for morale. I am willing to attribute all character faults to the aforementioned, thereby not neglecting their efforts entirely (you know I love you guys).
So, my easy going, happy children, content with staying home and sorting recycling, would not begrudge us selling our house. They would not care if we told them to choose their favourite things and pack the rest to give away. I mean they may protest and dislike the idea initially, but they’d be over any upset quickly enough. Why is it that they are so easy going? When did I become so ‘attached’ to my everyday life, to stuff? I have reached the point in my life where I have everything I ever dreamed of, I have a wonderful husband, 2 magnificent children, a house, 2 cars, we have travelled the world (well part of it), and I live in arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I have attained that most desirable point in life where I have everything I need and wanted, so now it’s time to start wanting more, right? More stuff, more things I don’t use, gadgets to make my life easier and toys my children don’t play with. The media tells me what I should want, they suggest things to me everyday, and by God they’re right, I do want those things! Why hadn’t I thought of them before? Lounge cushions that define me, with words like ‘L.O.V.E’ printed on them in an earthy washed out tone. Bright lamp shades with metal birds on the stand, contrasting the rustic earthiness of the material with the starkness of the metal. Bowls in a different shape from our two current sets because the shapes we have aren’t quite right as desert bowls, they are too big, meaning we end up eating too much desert. When did I lose my self control? When did I stop thinking about what I actually wanted and let the media tell me what I should be spending my money on? I mean, if I weigh up cushions, lamp shades and dinner sets against an experience as treasured as exploring our world, travelling through other countries or summiting new mountains, when did I let myself get bullied into wanting ‘things’?

My children don’t want things. They would much rather spend time with us, doing anything! Having a picnic in the garden, riding their bikes on the promenade, climbing a mountain. Skiing is obviously high on their list but only because it was simply one of the best things we have taken them to do. Obviously not owning a house would mean we would have to rent one, so one could argue that it’s wiser to keep our own, but my sentiment remains – why are things and stuff more valuable than places and experiences? In my moments of self reflection over these holidays I began to realise that maybe I’m ready to start behaving more like my children, being less attached to stuff and more concerned with experiences. Maybe I’m ready to give the media the finger and write my own list of wants. Scatter cushions be damned, maybe I want to climb the Matterhorn or watch Alpaca’s graze on the slopes of the Andes. Where exactly are we trying to get to? What am I aiming for with all my stuff? My answer to the question: Are we there yet? Is: Are we where yet? It’s high time I started charting a course that set a value and a direction on doing more things, not getting more things. If we can’t have it all, I’d put my eggs in the basket that valued life experience, not a life full of stuff. Shouldn’t we all, for our children’s sake. What are we teaching them?

It Needs to Burn, But It’s Still Unbearable to Watch

By | Cape Town, Musings | No Comments

The Raging Inferno, formerly know as the Southern Cape. Day 4. The fire has consumed those of us living in its ever-present shadow. I struggle to think of much else. The degree of destruction is beginning to feel like natural disasters we hear about in the rest of the world but rarely experience in our beautiful country. We are no longer exempt. Close on 5000 hectares of Cape Fynbos has now burned. It is devastating.

The fact that no one has been seriously injured shows the incredible people we have managing this fire and looking after the communities that are being circled in flames. The tragedy lies in the houses that have burned to the ground, the destruction of our neatly tarred roads, the ‘humanisation’ of this beautiful, natural environment. The heartache however, lies in the devastation to the animal and plant kingdom, the thousands of traumatised and lifeless animals engulfed in smoke and flames. I have felt overwhelmed on numerous occasions in the last few days when looking at my surroundings and seeing the extent of the damage. I think a large part of that came from the realisation that this is possible. That from a tiny flame can come so much destruction. It’s almost unbelievable. If I am honest though, a lot of that sadness comes from the knowledge that my countryside isn’t as beautiful as it is expected to be, as it ordinarily is.With parents who are avid nature lovers, I grew up in the knowledge that fynbos is a plant type that thrives after fire. The Cape Floral Kingdom is a uniquely adapted environment, which actually needs burning. The burning is a purification of the plants and a redistribution of nutrients to the soil. Seeds and bulbs lying long dormant in the ground are given sunlight and room to grow while larger bushes are prevented from taking over and growing too abundantly in an area. This is the reality of the incredible vegetation that surrounds us. What we are witnessing is a ‘resetting’ of the biome. All this knowledge doesn’t make the destruction any less severe however.

In an interesting conversation last night with a friend, we were discussing the obliteration of our landscape. I was sharing the weight of what I felt was a huge knock to Cape Town. She shared what she thought was a cleansing and a rebirth not only to the vegetation, but people’s spirits too. This fire, she said, may not be what we as people want to see, but it is what the vegetation needs. As difficult as it is to admit, our pain in what we are witnessing may be substantially more selfish than we would like to admit. We as a civilisation have positioned ourselves slap-bang in the middle of an area, which evolved over millennia, around the need to ignite, not regularly, but every 10 – 15 years. This is however, far more often than we would like. Part of the reason so many of us live here is because of the beauty, how could it not sadden us to look around and see a post-apocalyptic wasteland in front of us, we would not be human if we did not feel some sadness at the loss. And I think that’s precisely what was meant by cleansing people’s spirits. A large portion of the Cape Town population has rallied around the fire fighters, pilots and rescue crews. There has been more support shown for these brave men and women than I think I have ever witnessed in our country. We have looked, as a people, beyond our own selves and seen a greater need. There is nothing more cleansing to the soul than that. It has breathed new life into us all.

It is impossible to ignore the heartache the natural world has experienced, nor should we try. What I am suggesting is that we look at this ‘tragedy’ with fresh eyes. Eyes that can see forward to the new growth of plants, to bulbs already stirring under the soil from the heat and smoke from the flames, getting ready to sprout flowers not that different in colour to the flames themselves. The rebirth of vegetation along with new life currently burrowed under the soil, will stir our hearts when we see it. Our mountain may not be much to behold right now, but in time, it will be what it once was. Let’s look forward with anticipation to those first precious buds pushing through the burnt crust of earth.

My hope is that along with the beauty of our floral kingdom, will come a beauty of the human spirit, a burst of new life into the community in ways we have not done before. Let’s keep looking beyond ourselves, there are Fire Lillies among us.

For further reading on fynbos’ need for fire, see Out of the ashes: Notes on the March 2015 Cape Town Wildfire.