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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.

 

we-are-our-choices

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

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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.