The Good Old Days

“Being a modern parent is terrible. I’d give my left kneecap to have parented in the 70s and 80s when all you had to do to be considered a good mom is to remember to wind down the windows when you smoke in the car.” Bunmi Laditan 

How often have you heard an older person saying, “In my day, we had to walk a whole kilometre to school on our own and it cost 22 pence to buy a packet of chips.”?

The world changes at such a rapid rate that what was relevant and acceptable in generations gone by, is often either not appropriate or even possible anymore. There are many factors at play in this dynamic, most significant is that human beings and the society they construct are constantly transforming and modifying.

A lot of older generations of parents believe in the adage “children should be seen and not heard” and a lot of middle-aged generations of parents feel newer generations of parents are overthinking everything. And, in some ways, they may very well be right.

While we often lament the passing of the ‘good old days’ where kids rode their bikes all day unsupervised, where kids were more polite and respectful and nobody batted an eyelash at a parent spanking their kid, some of the aspects of “the good old days” are debatable. We need to adapt as we learn, we cannot simply apply past learnings without trying to improve upon them.

There are certain things we should be trying to repurpose into today’s parenting strategies.

One aspect of the ‘good old days’ that I believe deserves repurposing is chores and giving kids from all ages a certain amount of responsibility. New generation parents need to learn from the past and make our kids do stuff for themselves. Because when they realise all that their parent’s do for them, they will realise a level of appreciation not just for those parents but for what hard work looks like and that will definitely stand them in good stead for the real world one day. Instead of making their lives so cushy that when they do venture out into the big wide scary world, they receive such a mean bitch slap, that they come running home with their tales between their legs and an irreparably wounded sense of self.

Chores are not just about helping to alleviate the load on parents, but also about self-worth. Responsibilities have shown to increase a child’s self-worth. It also teaches them perspective and that they are a part of something bigger than themselves.

Multiple studies have shown that children who had chores fared better later in life. One reason is that kids who do chores, feel more competent and capable. Another reason is that children who do chores feel like they are part of the team and are more able to understand the importance of helping others out and acting for the better of the whole team, not just themselves.

In the ‘good old days,’ there were far fewer screens, and the screens that were available were not mobile. Children’s lives were not as structured, they had more free time, time to explore and dream. The had more time to just play and be kids, they had less pressure and fewer expectations. Their time was not all tied up in school, homework, extra murals, extra lessons and Next Presidents Club meetings.

In the ‘good old days’, before the internet, smartphones, Facebook or SnapChat, children built stuff, experimented, wandered and wondered, stared at the sky, poked mud with sticks and organised treasure hunts or breath holding competitions. They were not passively consuming, they were actively creating.

This lack of structure and abundance of free time resulted in one of the most powerful forefathers of creativity – boredom. Children in the ‘good old days’ were free to be bored and with this freedom, they were responsible for finding a way out of that boredom. And the antithesis or antidote for boredom is imagination. When you are bored, all of a sudden a stick resembles a pirate’s sword and a bush becomes a castle under siege.

According to Paediatrics Magazine, January 2007 (vol. 119, issue 1), “A hurried overly pressured education that is focused on academic preparation and an overly scheduled lifestyle are interfering and interrupting the ability of children to have “child-driven” play.”.

Writer Thomas Kersting, in his book Disconnected, wrote, “Boredom is to your brain what weightlifting is to your muscle.”. He calls boredom “mental fertilizer” and urges parents not to fill up every minute of their child’s life with external stimulation, especially electronic stimulation.

Parents today, need to stop trying to make everything fun and stop helping them to have fun. Do what parents of the “good old days” did – let them get bored so they go outside and find their own fun. Let them actually interact with other little human beings in person, not in Fortnite, WhatsApp or Google Hangouts.

Again I quote Bunmi Laditan to sum it up succinctly as to where the new age parents need to take a page out of the ‘good old day’ parents’ book, “I think this generation of parents is the first one to believe they need to create good memories for their kids via structured activities forgetting that childhood, when safe and watered, is intrinsically fun.”

In principle, I agree with everything she has to say about parenting in present-day. Parents today overthink everything and try to control everything.

But in the same breathe, I think that sometimes this desire to control is a very real and legitimate response to having to raise children in a very different world to that of our predecessors. And the reality of this world cannot be overlooked in choosing what, when, where and how to overthink and overreact. It is at this point that the ‘good old days’ loses much of its appeal.

In the ‘good old days’ children didn’t wear seatbelts, never mind sitting in a car seat. In the ‘good old days’ women drank and smoked for the duration of their pregnancies.

In the ‘good old days’ dads were not really involved in child rearing and mothers were not really involved in the career-making.

In the ‘good old days’ if you didn’t fit into the box of the perfect feminine form, then you were not considered beautiful. There was a very narrow definition of beautiful and it excluded more women than it included.

In the ‘good old days’ bias was just the way things were, if people wanted to be different, or more accurately wanted to just be tolerated or accepted for their differences, then they must deal with the fallout. It’s not the problem of normal people to make the few weirdos feel better about themselves.

In the ‘good old days’ parents were always right, even when they weren’t. A parent would never admit fault and an apology to a child was not even an option. Parents in the ‘good old days’ would never take the time get down on their child’s level and say sorry for losing their temper unfairly or for any other of the million mistakes parents make on a daily basis.

In the ‘good old days’ consent was not something you spoke to your kids about, but that didn’t mean that abuse wasn’t happening, we just weren’t really talking about.

In the ‘good old days’ children were taught to be obedient and compliant. They were taught that when an adult speaks, they must listen and when an adult asks, they must comply. How many of us growing up felt uncomfortable with our parent’s telling us to kiss Auntie So-And-So on the lips hello and goodbye? But more importantly, how many of us were taught by this interaction that we as children have no sovereignty over our own bodies and personal boundaries?

In the ‘good old days’ children were taught that they were not the boss of anything, not even their own bodies.

And in the ‘good old days’ girls were taught to be submissive and sweet, while boys were taught to be assertive and bold. Girls needed to be nice and boys were expected to be naughty.

But thankfully, the ‘good old days’ saving grace was that it was insular. All the bad stuff was still there lurking in the shadows, but it was more confined, geographically, physically. And the saying “ignorance is bliss” was a hallmark of these older generations, as a parent, you were unaware of the danger, how could you fear it, never mind try to outsmart it.

Today, parents know better. Ignorance is no longer an option and threats to our children are not physically confined. Because the bad stuff has gone viral, it is free to travel around the world in a virtual network that knows no bounds and moves at the speed of light. And because we are a part of this global network, we are exposed to the bad stuff daily, if not hourly.

For want of a better, less gimmicky word, our generation of parents woke up and for the first time were confronted by the overwhelming nature of the world in which we live, the world in which we are raising our children, the world in which the light is struggling to fight back the darkness. And this awakening made us over-correct and we became overly protective and overly controlling.

But now we are conscious, and this consciousness may just be what saves the world from itself, we as a generation – millennials, generation y or whatever label they have given us – are determined to not let sleeping dogs lie. We are going to use the power of connectivity and global citizenship for good and not bad. We are going to use our newly found consciousness to change the things that were bad about the ‘good old days’.

My consciousness has awoken with a headache with regards to certain issues. One such issue is gender equality, I awoke from being a woman with minor feminist tendencies that would rather let things go than cause a stir or be impolite to a full-blown bra burning, pussy hat knitting, Trump hating, Serena loving, angry face emoji-ing and searing rant delivering nasty and bossy mominator. A person that would have been labelled as a ‘dike’ or a ‘ball-buster’ in the ‘good old days’.

Because when Izzy was born, suddenly I had a dog in the fight, my daughter would not live in a world that didn’t give her every opportunity, respect and choice offered to her male counterparts. If I fully intend to raise a fearless girl, I need to help fight for a world that will not break her.

This shift in consciousness and desire to help change the world for my daughter leached into adjacent areas of concern, like body positivity or bias or intolerance against all who are different or previously marginalised.

But one adjacent arena has stirred me up the most, I am sure this topic has many mothers around the world wringing their hands in anxious discomfit, an area that goes beyond gender equality into gender security. This is the concept of consent and bodily autonomy.

Because this is one aspect of parenting in the ‘good old days’ that was just plain wrong. In present-day we know better, now we understand the importance of kids knowing that they have full power over their body and that if anything makes them uncomfortable they have the authority to refuse to engage.

That is why I won’t ever tell Izzy to give anyone a kiss or a hug, why I won’t ever carry on tickling her after she says stop or enough, why I won’t ever pretend to cry when she doesn’t feel like cuddling me, why I ask often “who is the boss of Izzy’s body?” and wait till she says, “Me”. And why I ask her “Who is the bossy of mommy’s body?”, when I want her to stop doing something to me that I don’t like. Because consent goes both ways. And so does consciousness.

Consciousness is a two-way street. While we are battling the dragons of old – abuse, bias, hatred, persecution, inequality, harmful stereotypes, ignorance – we need to use our consciousness to apply balance to the lives of our children and to develop a level of consciousness within them.

We need to consciously parent, we need to step in when needed and step back too. Let your child fail sometimes, let your child get bored, let your child help you and themselves, let your kids just be and just be kids. I have labelled this ‘lazy parenting’ in a previous post, but actually, I don’t think it is lazy at all, it is a conscious choice. I think it is better described as ‘lean back parenting’, where you remove yourself a little and give your child space and opportunity to test the boundaries of their potential. Give them the gift of space and set the example for them to develop their own self-awareness.

Because these controlled experiments of conscious parenting or leaning back are going to equip them far more to succeed when faced with the real dangers of the world. It will give them a strong foundation and base from which to have the courage of conviction to stand by their beliefs, their desires and their sense of self.

We need to learn from, the good and the bad, of the ‘good old days’ and look to the new days where we are raising children to be tolerant, socially conscious and kind adults with integrity and compassion, because if the world is going to stop being such a shit show in the future, that seems obvious as to what we should all be striving for.

And remember, we are never going to get it one hundred per cent perfect all of the time, but consciousness is not perfection, consciousness is about trying and learning to be open and aware of yourself and the world. As Jodi Picoult said, “The very fact that you worry about being a good mom means that you are already one.”

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Time’s Up on Everything

I am feeling scared at the moment. The world is on fire and we as a human race seem quite happy to sit by the wayside and enjoy the flames. No matter where I turn the flames are raging, it seems no-one and no place is safe.

I am feeling desperate at the moment. The world is on fire and the air is thick with smoke and we as the human race seem quite content to choke on our own inhumanity. I am struggling to breathe. My eyes are burning with the hot tears of rage and frustration. I am anxiously scouring the horizons for some light, some sign of change, some kind of shift in our trajectory.

I am feeling exhausted at the moment. The world is on fire and the flames are licking at the sides of the pot, the water is heating up and we as the human race, like the frog in the pot, are ignorantly, or obstinately, sitting and waiting to be boiled alive. I am ready to give up, to succumb. My heart is heavy, my brain is overwhelmed and my soul is weary. I don’t know how to make a difference and even if I did know how, I don’t know if it would – make a difference.

From Donald Trump mocking a victim of sexual assault, to the man accused of the sexual assault winning his seat in the Supreme Court, to immigrant children separated from their parents and held in internment camps, to a video of two women along with their children, one of which is just an infant strapped to her back, being marched to their death, to countless rhinos being brutally murdered over the equivalent of finger nail, to Jacob Zuma and his sly laughter at the expense of every South African citizen, to governments and politicians that loot their country’s riches and exploiting those who trusted them, the dictators that are fearlessly thriving and the even scarier ones that lurk in the shadows of shaky democracies, to climatologists warning that we have until 2040 (which is like two minutes away) to sort our shit out, to a seven-year-old girl being raped in a bathroom of a restaurant, to canned lion hunting, to the body of woman found in a park down the road from my home, to the plastic in the ocean, to the rampant racism that like a hydra arises from decapitation with even more heads spewing hatred and anger, to crucial natural forests being decimated in the name of money, to the Sudanese teenager sentenced to death after killing her rapist because he also happened to be her husband, to the mass extinction of countless species of animals and plants that is happening right under our noses, to #metoo and #himtoo and #webelieveher, to the to the Anita Hills, the Kwezis, the Matthew Shepards, the Philando Castiles, the Allison Bothas, the Baby Daniels to the Harvey Weinsteins, the Bill Cosbys, the Mduduzi Mananas, the Brock Turners, the Oscar Pistoriuses, the Shrien Dewanis, the Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the Larry Nassars, the Qedani Mahlangus. Really, I could go on like this forever, the list of human-on-human, human-on-nature, adult-on-child, man-on-woman, rich-on-poor, powerful-on-vulnerable atrocities are endless.

The lack of empathy and compassion for our fellow beings is soul destroying. We have become so wrapped up in our own hurt, legitimate or illegitimate, that we cannot see anyone or anything else.

The human race is waiting for a saviour, a single entity with all the answers who will wave a hand and all our problems will disappear and everything will be made right in the world. Depending on your beliefs that person may be a God, a scientist, a politician, an activist, a philanthropist or a visionary.

From where I sit right now, I find myself seriously questioning whether we even deserve to be saved. What qualities of our species redeems us? Why should we be saved, when the human race is most infamous for our ability to hurt and oppress, our arrogant belief that we are the superior beings and our relentless march towards self-destruction all in the name of progress?

Diana Prince once said, “I used to want to save the world. This beautiful place. But I knew so little then. It is a land of beauty and wonder, worth cherishing in every way. But the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness simmering within. I used to want to save the world. To end all war and bring peace to mankind. But then, I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both.”

And even if we are adamant in our belief that someone is coming to save us, can we afford to wait? If we wait, if we do not start working to save ourselves and start right now. If we don’t start changing our ways today will there be anything left to save when that figure finally arrives? Time is up, there is no more trying, no more planning, the time for that is over, there is only time left for doing, for being. We have to save ourselves, we cannot wait. The only people that are here and now, are us, there is no one else. There is no more time to waste.

We have but one saving grace, one quality that makes us worthy of survival, worthy of deliverance. That redemptive aspects of the human condition, almost equal in measure to the parts filled with hatred and a propensity for violence, are love and a propensity for growth and progress. We need to harness our desire for progress and forge ahead towards peace, we need to grow towards kindness, we need to rebuild our humanity. We need to see the value and necessity of tolerance, acceptance, compassion, selflessness, generosity and inclusivity.

We need to stop being so driven by money and power, power and fame, fame and ego, ego and ideology. The term, “money makes the world go round”, shouldn’t be the truth and before human beings, it wasn’t. What will it take for us to recognize that we are mere specks in a scheme that is far greater than our small-mindedness can comprehend? And instead of fighting each other, stepping on each other, pulling each other down in the race for these false idols, we should be reflecting on our place in the world and using our tremendous creativity to build a world based on love.

This is a choice that each of us needs to make, and we need to make it fast because time is well and truly up. Do we choose to be better, do we choose the light? Do we choose to love unconditionally? Do we choose a species united? Or do we choose to remain divided by our differences and our self-imposed borders? If we choose foolishly, we are doomed by our own stupidity and hubris. Doomed to let the darkness blanket our existence and swallow us and everything near us whole.

This is how I feel as a human being and as a woman, but as a mother, these feelings are even bigger, even scarier, even more desperate, and even more exhausting. They have become almost oppressive in their inescapable-ness. I cannot un-see the fire, I cannot ignore the flames, I cannot pretend I do not feel the heat, I cannot pretend the world is not burning. I cannot turn my back on humanity. I have to fight. Because I am not just fighting for me but for her as well. I brought her into this world and I will be damned if I give up trying to make it better for her.

Moms, we have a responsibility, we have the power and we have the love to change the world, not just for my kid or your kid but for all of our kids. We cannot let them inherit a carcass of a world writhing with hate, discord and violence. No mother would want that. We have a choice to make – embrace the light or succumb to the dark.

“The choice each must make for themselves – something no hero will ever defeat. I’ve touched the darkness that lives in between the light. Seen the worst of this world, and the best. Seen the terrible things men do to each other in the name of hatred, and the lengths they’ll go to for love. Now I know. Only love can save this world. So I stay. I fight, and I give… for the world I know can be. This is my mission, now. Forever.”, Diana Prince.

Mothers don’t have capes, or armour, or superpowers, but we are still Wonder Women. And armed with our infinite capacity for love and our lioness-like ability to protect our loved ones, we are frightfully capable of changing the world. But we cannot wait for a sign, for the bat signal, we need to act now, we cannot waste another moment. If we do not act now, the world is doomed and our children’s inheritance will not only be worthless, not only a burden, it will be a wasteland.

Time is up not only for sexual abuse, but for all the horrors and hurt we inflict on each other and the world. Time’s up, moms, we need to act.

Starting today, I, Leigh Tayler, Mother, Woman, Human Being, Animal, pledge to live in love, kindness, compassion, tolerance, gentleness, consciousness and harmony. To see through our differences and find our commonalities. To treat others as I would like my daughter to be treated. To tread lightly on this Earth as it is not mine to squander, the planet belongs to no-one and to everyone and everything at the same time. To not stand silently and passively by when witnessing injustice or hatred but to counter this with the steel of my protective instinct and the soft touch of a mother’s hand. To hold everyone, including my friends and family, accountable to a new standard, one that is shaped from love, open-mindedness, humility and peacefulness. To be my own saviour and the saviour of the human race one person at a time. I pledge this in the name of my daughter, Isabelle Hazel Tayler whom I cannot, will not fail.

Plan to make lots and lots of mom friends

“Hi, nice to see you again. If you want, when Luka’s better we should arrange a playdate (they can play and we can have coffee or gin – winky face emoji)? Nice to have a friend nearby. Anyway, have a good week. Cheers, Leigh”

In my mind the monkey covering its face emoji was loudly shouting at me “with all due respect, that was so lame and needy”.

This is an example of me “making friends” on WhatsApp. When did I regress to become an insecure fifteen-year-old boy with an unreliably high pitched voice and braces trying to flirt with a girl in my class via paper aeroplane note? Beats me but it has happened.

For me, and hopefully, many others, making friends is flippin hard. I have often laughed with my friend Lisa (the one who moved to the States) that, for us non-cool, non-PTA, non-soccer, non-perfect moms, trying to make friends is as bad as dating. So much so that we are thinking of registering our new business venture – Friendr – I mean why should only the romantic heterosexual and homosexual relationships get an app? Moms need to find soulmates too. And what better way to find them than with a swipe to the left or right?

I have recently been pleased to see this affliction is not mine and Lisa’s alone, others suffer too. The symptoms of this illness are not dissimilar to dating in high school – overuse of emojis, uncomfortable jokes, awkward handshakes that could have been intended as a peck on the cheek and embarrassing WhatsApps that reek of trying too hard.

Your momates are critical to surviving motherhood. And their selection is as important, if not more important, than the search for your spouse. These friends will “get you” more than anyone else can, not even your life partner will get you like these friends.

They share similar parenting styles, outlooks on life, values, dietary habits, deep-seated beliefs, confidence levels, social calendars and attitudes towards motherhood in general.

But if you are anything like me, socially awkward, not particularly cool or stylish, have a habit of making cheesy jokes and are often overwhelmed by bouts of rage and sarcasm, then finding your momate might be a tad challenging.

I cannot comment on the success rate of the cool PTA soccer mom types in terms of forming social groups but from the outside looking in it looks a lot easier to find your momate when you are a more mainstream mom.

Ultimately, I have a sneaky suspicion that we all end up crying in the shower, in our parked cars or in the tinned goods aisle of the supermarket, as we feel isolated and alone in our journey more often than we would like to admit. But I can’t help but feel high school style popularity is still to a degree in play in Momland.

I am not that person who needs or wants an endless list of friends, I do need and want some sort of list of friends, even if there is only one name on it, as long as there is at least one friend that constitutes my ride-or-die.

I watched a Melissa McCarthy movie recently, and in it, Maya Rudolph plays McCarthy’s character’s BFF, she defends her with lioness fierceness at her friend’s divorce mediation hearing. She throws shade at the ex and the woman he shacks up with. She encourages her to follow her dreams, even when those dreams lead her down a road of a whole bunch of crazy. When she is hit in the vagina by her friend’s fiercely stray squash ball she laughs in pain and commands her friend to apologise in person to her vagina, Julie, and as this momate thing is a two-way street, her friend bends over and does just that. She laughs like a hyena when her friend phones in the middle of the day to share a tale of a library stacks sexual encounter with a boy half her age. I want that. The friend, not the public copulation.

I want a Thelma to my Louise. A Dionne to my Cher. A Skinny Becka to my Fat Amy. A Meredith to my Christina. A Willow to my Buffy. A Rachel to my Monica. An Amy to my Tina. A Romy to my Michele. A Blanche to my Dorothy. Or even a Rose. Who am I kidding, I would even settle for Sophia.

In truth when considering why I have struggled to find my momate, I have come to the conclusion that it is less complicated than social structures and hierarchy, a matter of cool versus uncool, the reality, I fear, is far less dramatic and not nearly as cinematic. It boils down to time and energy.

Relationships are built on time and energy, the giving of timing, the giving of energy. Time and energy spent being thoughtful and considerate. Time and energy spent on being there, on being available, on listening without interrupting, on being devoted to that person when they need you. Time and energy spent making that person feel special and loved.

And this is where every momates’ good intentions pave the road to broken dreams and abandoned playdates, where what was once a promising coupling fizzles out quietly and unspectacularly, almost as if it never happened, almost as if you imagined the spark – like a damp squib. Why is this the destiny for most budding momate relationships? Because the one characteristic that all moms lack is the one characteristic that a strong and rewarding friendship needs – time and energy.

How can a mom truly commit to time for anyone other than her own creation, her own monster that is a time and energy vampire, sucking her dry day in and day out?

If we have to do the math, we cannot commit to listening without interruption because our child will interrupt at some point, we cannot commit to being thoughtful when we struggle to remember our own birthday, never mind someone else’s. I for one know that I do not have any time nor energy to spare. And if I do is it enough to sustain a meaningful relationship? Or do I spend the little bit left over to look after myself and retain a tiny glimpse of me before mom me.`

Perhaps in some parallel universe where time moves more slowly, my momate and I are living our best lives and making it work. Maybe they’ll send a sign or a postcard.

Can we ever really keep our kids safe?

This belief was quite quickly extinguished by all that I have described to this point. I couldn’t keep her safe even when she was inside of me, never mind when she was brought out into the wide open world.

We are not in control of a lot of things that endanger our children throughout their childhood and later lives, least of all illness.

As I sit writing this book, this morning I was faced with a dreadful reminder that the belief that a parent is somehow superhumanly able to keep their children safe simply not true – I cannot keep my child safe. Short of bubble wrapping her and locking her in a nuclear fall-out shelter, you cannot protect your kids from everything this world threatens to hurt them with. You cannot be there for them every second of every day. You cannot keep them safe.

At 11:15am on a normal Tuesday morning, I received a message on the WhatsApp group set up by her class teacher that included all the parents of the children in Isabelle’s class – The Green Class. This is not unusual, Teacher Lisa, often sends updates, reminders, pictures and notes on the group chat.

The message read: “Hi Parents, just to let you know that all the children are safe. We are on lockdown with all the children inside. We will keep them inside until we get the all clear from the police. Leslie Rd by Design Quarter (the shopping centre directly opposite the pre-school my child attends) is closed. No need to fetch the children at this time. We will keep you posted.”

I read and reread the message, not really comprehending the meaning of the message. I was the first parent to respond, “What are you talking about?” Shortly afterwards, my message was followed by a rally of beeps. “What do you mean?”, “What is happening?”, “What’s going on, why are there police at the school?”, “More information, please!”.

I did what any self-respecting millennial mother would do, went to a credible news source – Twitter – and searched for mentions of Fourways. Only one tweet came up, “What’s happening in Fourways? Cash in transit heist?” accompanied by pictures of a police helicopter landed in the middle of the intersection right by my daughter’s school.

The WhatsApp group then sprung back to life, with answers from other parents and the class teacher.

“Shoot-out at Design Quarter”

“Cash in transit shoot-out”

“Lots of shots fired, a police helicopter flew over the playground. Not sure the exact story yet.”

Twitter then delivered more information and more bystander footage of the scene. It seemed to have been a car chase between the police and armed burglars (who had just fled an armed robbery in a neighbouring suburb) that had come to ahead near my home and kid’s school. All the robbers were apprehended, two of them sustained gunshot wounds and one of the centre’s security guards was shot in the fracas. As far as the reports indicated no-one was fatally injured.

The children were fine. Everyone was safe and Izzy was collected by Mildred, her nanny, at the normal time, she fell asleep in the pram, woke up had lunch and played without a care in the world – none the wiser of the danger that unfolded no more than fifty metres away from her earlier in the day.

That morning’s series of events reminded me of another experience, except this time I was revisiting it anew from my mother’s perspective. Thirteen years ago, I was living in London and working in Westminster. It was a normal Thursday morning, as I walked up from the underground and my normal morning tube ride on the Jubilee Line.

The actual tube journey had been uneventful, just like every other day before it for the past ten months – platform queues, sardine filled carriages, armpit height standing space only, airless dark tunnel stops for leaves on the track somewhere along the 36.2 kilometres of track and my new silver iPod mini filled with illegally downloaded music.

I walked my normal route past Big Ben, past the parliamentary buildings and down the uneven side streets of one of the older parts of London. Arriving at my office building – Her Majesty’s Royal Court Services. I began my day a civil servant, an administrator, as usual by doing time in the post room, sorting post, once finished I made tea and returned to my desk to begin the tedious task of data entry.

We all had our tricks for checking our mail and wasting time browsing the internet without arousing the suspicions of our slave-driving boss – Angela. She reminded me of the Velociraptors from the first Jurassic Park. Silent. Stealthy. Sneaky. Deadly. But that morning just before nine ‘o clock Angela looked less Velociraptor and more terrified mouse. As she and some other serious looking people moved around the open plan office the noise began to surge like a Mexican wave in a sports stadium, as people began to talk. There had been an incident on the underground, and it was closed until further notice. No-one seemed particularly worried, there were often incidents on the tube – albeit none as seemingly serious as this. But our naïve minds could not comprehend anything sinister to be at the root of the problem.

We turned on the radio and heard in shock as the news anchor explained that there had been three explosions at 8:49am on the underground – Circle line and Piccadilly line. Authorities were asking citizens to remain calm, stay indoors and off the streets. The cause of the explosions was yet to be confirmed. Initial reports suggested that there had been a massive power surge on the Underground’s power grid that had caused certain power circuits to explode.

I quickly sent a message to my housemates to see they were ok. They were. None of us seemed to grasp the significance or weight of the situation. I checked my email and my dad had emailed me, from South Africa, saying that he and my mom had heard there was a problem in London, some sort of explosion. Was I ok? What was happening?

I responded with a brief email, that was skirting annoyance, to say I was fine, I didn’t know what it was all about it seemed like some sort of technical issue. And that I would call mom later when I got home.

An hour later a bus blew up in Tavistock Square. It became crystal clear this was not a mistake, not some technical disaster, this was planned and directed, it was intended to terrorise and hurt innocent people. This was an example of a term that had only entered the collective language of the man on the street in most parts of the world four years earlier when we watched a second plane fly into the twin towers in New York City – this was a terror attack.

At this point, London went into self-defence. All public transportation modes in Zone 1 (central city) were shut down. We were told to make our way home, either by foot or taxi (good luck with that) or get to Zone 2 or 3 transport routes. I SMSed Michelle, my housemate and closest friend, she worked on the other side of Westminster in Soho, we agreed to meet at Big Ben and walk home together along the Thames.

Then I tried to call my mom, having by now well and truly lost my snarkiness and replaced it with the overwhelming desire to collapse in a ball and shout – “I want my mommy!”. But my call would not go through. I tried to send a message, no luck. I tried to call again. Not working.

Others in the office were experiencing the same thing. It was later reported that by 10am many of the mobile networks were unable to keep up with the volume of activity on their networks. There was also speculation from the BBC that the telephone system was shut down by security services to prevent communication between the terrorists and the use of mobile devices in detonating any more bombs.

After walking 3km alone, I found Shell, on the banks of the Thames and we discovered that several boats had been put to use as an impromptu ferry system transporting people from the centre of London to outlying areas along the river – whether these boat owners volunteered or were sequester, I have no idea, nor do I care. We got on the first boat that had space and we were taken to Canada Water which was a short and non-high profile walk to our house. We were safe, we could breathe again, we could stop pretending to be brave. Besides, no terrorist would want to bomb Canada Water, unless it was someone with a violent hatred of the Canadian geese that cluttered the waterways there.

I was only able to contact my mom in the afternoon. And while I had been kept busy navigating the streets and riverways of London to get home. While my friend and I had had the comfort of not being alone, by having a hand to hold. My mom and dad had none of that. They were 13 087.9 kilometres away with no contact, no information and no idea of whether I was safe or in danger. Dead or alive.

And the same applied to each and every one of the “children” with whom I shared my home – three Australians, one New Zealander and one Brit who parents lived outside of London. That day the city was filled with scared children missing them moms. And the world was filled with worried parents beating themselves up for not failing in their responsibility to keep their children safe.

I can only imagine what that felt like. And yesterday morning I got a taste of what it had felt like for my mom over a decade ago and many times before and since. Helpless. Useless. Defenceless. As the desire to keep her child safe was once again proven futile and impossible.

I would like to say that being a victim of a terrorist attack is highly unlikely, but in today’s day and age, it’s not as unlikely as one would like to believe. This year alone, according to Wikipedia, there have been 901 attacks around the world and almost 5000 fatalities.

Thankfully, Southern Africa is not a hotbed for terrorist activity, so us moms don’t have to worry about it as much as say a mom living in France or even worse Afghanistan.

But I don’t have to tell anyone living in South Africa, what our country lacks in acts of terrorism and mother nature, like hurricanes, earthquakes and tornados, it makes up for with horrific crime statistics.

I am not going to go into the stats, cause those of us who live here know them all too well. But suffice it say that every day our children leave the house – at whatever age – they stand a good chance of falling victim to crime, and that crime is often violent.

Part of the criminal danger that we feel we must protect our children from is that of predation. I have used this term as a holdall for many threats to children – from sexual abuse to trafficking.

Recently my Facebook feed has been overflowing with reports and videos of children being abducted, which obviously has caused widespread panic amongst parents. Some of these are absolutely true and my heart breaks for their families, but some are fake and spread in order to ignite fear and anxiety, for what purpose I cannot begin to fathom. But I also cannot fathom a young man stepping onto a train and blowing himself and a few hundred people around him to smithereens.

And this lack of ability to understand what makes evil tick is the crux of why the belief that we can protect or keep our children safe is misplaced – the world is often a crazy scary place, filled with people trying to make it burn and they have a far greater capacity to devise evil ways to hurt and torment than you could ever think of to guard against.

Surely, the best way to protect is to teach and the best way to keep safe is to empower. This is a philosophy that I first heard ten years ago, long before Izzy was even a twinkle in my eye when I heard of a woman named Lenore Skenazy. She had been dubbed by the American media and seemingly, the public too as America’s Worst Mom.

What was her crime? She published a column in the local newspaper describing her decision to let her nine-year-old son take the New York City Subway home alone. She had raised her child on the philosophy of free-range parenting, which purports that a child who has never had to face strangers or walk alone or is far more likely to fall prey to predators as they lack the experience and protective instinct to recognise danger.

She essentially was a proponent of street smarts for kids. She even went further to say, modern parents need to fight against our popular “belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers, unstructured playtime and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.”

Her approach to parenting really resonated with me and the type of childhood I would wish for my child. I wanted my child to know greater independence and less parental oversight. I wanted her to be empowered and have more free play and less scheduled activities.

The notion of going into tiger mode and cracking the whip on my four-year-old to perfect a Brahms Concerto on the violin whilst reading two grades ahead of her age also made me feel queasy. Life is hard as an adult. Why would I want to force my child to sacrifice their childhood to satisfy my ambitions and desire for excellence and perfection? If I wasn’t able to achieve to my own high standards, why would my child?

I might go so far as to say that this insane drive is less about your child’s destiny fulfilment are more for personal vanity that verges on narcissism. Too far? Too far, ok, sorry, no more psychobabble, no more presumption.

Just the thought of helicoptering around my children and keeping one hand on them at all times to cushion their fall exhausted me. Not fun for me and definitely not fun or empowering for my child.

I know some of you are muttering under your breath – “lazy bitch”. And you might well be right. But where you see lazy, I see the space and trust for my child to take on the world in incrementally bigger steps. If being lazy means my daughter will be empowered to know her own boundaries and those of others in relation to her. If being lazy means raising a self-sufficient confident young woman who knows how to look after herself in a crazy wonderful and dangerous world.

If being lazy means my child avoids feeling the pressure of adulting’s impending hamster wheel for as long as possible and is given a pass to coast every now and then in an area that doesn’t excite her. If it means not obsessing over my child’s grade four maths mark because it will almost certainly never impact her life or future. If being lazy means not culturing my own organic yoghurt or not stone grinding artisanal flour to bake preservative free sourdough. If being lazy means letting her eat flings for supper every now and then because it’s fun and she is a kid. If being lazy means letting her watch Timmy Time and Charlie & Lola on TV every day so I can read a magazine, make a poop or just stare at the ceiling. If being lazy means leaving my child to develop her imagination, curiosity and creativity as a means to combat boredom and empty time because I refuse to entertain and stimulate her every waking moment.

Then yes, I guess you are right, I am lazy AF. I am 100% here for lazy.

But I feel like we have gone mad. I saw a quote from one of my favourite mommy bloggers turned author, Bunmi Laditan, in which she describes parenting in 2017 as “make sure your children’s academic, emotional, psychological, mental, spiritual, physical, nutritional and social needs are met while being careful not to over stimulate, under stimulate, improperly medicate, helicopter, or neglect them in a screen-free, processed foods-free, GMO-free, negative energy-free, plastic-free, body positive, socially conscious, egalitarian but also authoritarian, nurturing but fostering of independence, gentle but not overly permissive, pesticide-free, two-story, multi-lingual home, preferably in a cul-de-sac with a backyard and 1.5 siblings spaced at least two years apart for proper development, also don’t forget the coconut oil.

How to parent in literally every generation before ours: Feed them sometimes.”

I want my child to have the freedom to grow and learn from her own mistakes, to feel boredom and to stretch her imagination, to not feel the pressure of life and the need to succeed and achieve just yet. There is plenty of time for that to consumer her. I want my child to have confidence and independence. To feel she has some sort of control of her own world and the maturity and poise to accept that not everything is within her realm of control. To feel equipped to deal with life’s curveballs. To feel safe, powerful and formidable despite living in a world that is not always safe.

Maybe I am not quite free-range, because Lenore Skenazy in all her controversy and questionable practices still pitches herself as having all the answers. As know how this parenting-thing works. That her plan for raising a child is the right plan. But I call bullshit. There is no plan for parenting because a plan requires prediction and anticipation. Because isn’t motherhood all about the trial & error? The experiment? The hit & miss?

Maybe I am more of a Unicorn Mom. A mom who’s not perfect (and would never presume to think she is). A mom who enjoys the odd glass of wine or gin and tonic. A mom who has no qualms about escaping the house and her children to indulge in me-time – when she can get her hands on said mythical time. A mom who knows the only way to survive is to laugh at herself, her kid, her situation. If you can’t laugh, then you will have to cry. A mom who is not afraid to say out loud that she doesn’t always like her kids, won’t lie to herself and others about feeling #blessed every damn minute of every damn day. A mom who is not necessarily confident in herself or her decisions, but could not care less what you think of her or her choices. A mom who always tries her best and never gives up.

Yip. That’s definitely me – all magically sprinkling environmentally friendly glitter everywhere, farting rainbows and shit. I am totes a unicorn.

And my daughter will definitely be fierce enough and empowered enough to look after herself, and until then I will keep trying to never be too far from hand.

A Mixed Bag of Emotions

January is a month of mixed emotion for many mothers. After more than a month of quality time with your kids, the day draws near where your precious bundles of joy will be returned to school and your life will return to the semi-childless routine of the school term.

But before this can happen there are certain tasks to be completed. First, buying school stationary – what a treat. Every retailer worth their salt is running a back to school promotion, so the hardest decision is who to choose to buy from. Except that is definitely not the hardest decision. There are several.

I wrote this blog post as a guest writer for the McCain Blog . I love how the brand is championing real South African moms and collaborating with bloggers and writers to create content that really shows how every mom has to find her own way on this journey of motherhood. Check out the website or their Facebook pages to check out all the exciting stuff the brand is getting up to.

Family holidays are just the best, aren’t they?

In South African terms, my family of five is a relatively small one – but then we all coupled up and bred. My family of five grew to be a family of thirteen. Now, I know for many South Africans this is still quite small and gatherings for other families can easily reach twenty or more people. And this is only counting the early branches on the family tree – parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and the in-laws.

But in my case thirteen is more than enough to handle, especially when it comes to the annual family holiday. You see what I have come to realise, is that like most things in life, there is always a bright side and a dark side. Not to get all yin and yang deep – but it’s true there is always a catch.

Catch #1: The Trip

Ironically, you cannot go away on a nice relaxing holiday without taking an incredibly stressful trip to get there.

I am terrified of flying – sweat dripping, eye darting, white knuckling, praying out loud terrified. But turns out I am more terrified of being trapped in a vehicle for eleven hours with my toddler, so on the plane we got.

Having travelled by several modes of transport and observed many a family endure the headache that is travelling with children, the trip is always unpleasant. This fact is true whether the trip takes place on a plane, a train, a bus or in a car.

Unless you are a masochist, in which case the trip may be a highlight of your holiday. Masochism brings me to the next catch.

Catch 2: Feeding The Family

We already know that it’s “women’s work” to do grocery shopping and to cook said groceries and feed the family – men are in charge of other things, allegedly. But I am not even going to go down this road – it’s another can of worms for another day on another blog.

Anyone who claims to enjoy grocery shopping and cooking for large numbers of people is either a professional chef and therefore being paid for this torture or is, again, a masochist.

Roughly every three days we rolled out of the supermarket with two trolley loads of food. I spent my monthly food budget for a family of three in  just two of these shopping trips – because my family are not casual diners, they are foodies. There is a general belief in my family that a braai with only one meat group, is not a braai – there must be at least three types of meat. Breakfast is not breakfast unless there is a fruit salad and yoghurt to start and piles of bacon, eggs and toast in the middle and maybe some champagne to finish. Now all of this lux may sound wonderful – some might go so far as to call me a holiday Grinch – but when you are on an average joe budget and the rest of your family are rolling like they won the lotto, a humble meal of peanut butter sandwiches every now and then wouldn’t hurt anyone. Would they?

It’s also important to point out that if this was all we were spending on food then fine, I guess thirteen mouths is a lot of mouths to feed. But in my family’s book eating in every meal does not a holiday make. We must go out and explore the local cuisine. I am not talking cheeseburgers at the local pub, I am talking seafood platters at restaurants which required we book our table for thirteen at least six months before the holiday.

At least the clean up after feeding was easy, especially with all those minions, I mean kids, around to help clean up. Oh sorry, I thought I was writing a work of fiction for a moment. In our house, to get a fourteen and eighteen year old to help clean up is like expecting said teenagers to grow wings and fly to the moon – in other words ridiculous. The younger ones tried but it takes as much energy to constantly remind them to help as it does to just do it yourself.

This leads me neatly into my next catch.

Catch 3: The Clash of the Parenting Styles

It’s amazing how four sets of parents can have such varied approaches to parenting, even though half of them were raised in the same house by the same people.

When you go on holiday and the whole family stay under the same roof, parenting becomes a spectators sport and all the spectators double as referees.

This holiday’s child compliment was made up of one recently matriculated eighteen year old boy, one fourteen year old girl, one eight year old boy, one six year old boy and one eighteen month old girl. Oh and of course the three middle aged children that still fall under the rule of our elderly parents. Never mind the three adult children whose parents are not a part of this little equation but are bound by marriage to this train wreck of a power struggle. This is intersectionality at its most basic.

Never a day went by when there wasn’t at least one strop (explosion or implosion). The king and queen of the stop were predictably the teenagers, who failed to understand why the holiday was not tailor made around their desires. Their chief complaint was that they are not children and why are the adults not being more nice to them – this being muttered under breath whilst determinedly glaring at screen and moaning to the diaspora of equally downtrodden teenagers dotted around the country via WhatsApp.

The younger ones were just as stroppy but thankfully they do not yet have the endurance that the teens have built over the years, so their strops were intense but short lived.

While the shenanigans of the children added some unneeded salt and stress to the holiday, the adults were the worst when it came to being high strung and hyper sensitive. This one didn’t say good morning to that one, that one didn’t put their coffee cup in the dishwasher, this one went to the beach and didn’t invite the rest of them, that one ate all the left over braai meat, I can go on for a while but I think my point is made.

These offenses were never more barbed than when relating to something your child has done that he or she shouldn’t have done or something you have not done but should have done for your child.

There were several recurring topics of conversation that everyone felt free to weigh in on; “should you really let the baby eat beach sand?”, “she will probably be speaking better if you didn’t let her always have her dummy”, “do you think you are feeding her enough vegetables?” (often said as this very same person is offering the child in question a non-vegetable based sweet), and my personal favourite, “she’s old enough to start having time outs, if I was you I would put her in a time out.”.

I would love to say I was the only victim of this, but in truth we were all like a pack of wild dogs jostling for position – so everyone got their kicks in and everyone got kicked.

“I know he is eighteen, but should he really be having another Jack and Coke.”, “He hasn’t finished his good food, are you really going to order him pudding?”, “Those shorts are really short on her, do you think it’s appropriate?”,  “That attitude is unacceptable, I hope you plan on having a conversation about it.”, just to name a few of the grenades thrown.

I believe that a lot of this ‘friendly’ fire is due to the fact that individuals within one family grow up to have very different attitudes, beliefs and styles from each other and even from their parents. This causes tension as it seems to the rest of the family as incongruous. It seems so foreign to the group, that a member of the same group would have traits or ideas at odds with the rest of the group.

The last catch, for me and my husband anyway, is that these holidays almost always occur at the beach. To many a beach holiday would be a point that falls in the positive column but this is not true for everyone. This is one such idiosyncrasy my family cannot begin to comprehend.

Catch 4: Sunscreen, sand and OCD

You see a beach holiday is not actually everyone’s cup of tea, there is a small but passionate population of people who would be happy to never experience a family trip to the beach. These people are characterized by being incredibly fair skinned (meaning we don’t tan, we burn, go pink, peel and return back to lily white), we are scared of sharks, seaweed and the Kraken so we don’t really swim and we are tortured by the OCD attack inducing combination of sun cream, sand and skin. Throw in a melting ice cream cone and it’s a recipe for mental malfunction and the only remedy is to abandon everything and run screaming back to the safety of the car.

On this point of sand, it’s also worth mentioning that sand has many talents, not limited to triggering OCD PTSD. A common cause of family tension was sand – sand in the car, sand in the bath, sand on the floor and sand on the couch. It seems to me that trying to prevent sand from being walked into a beach house is counter intuitive, like trying to play tennis with a fishing rod. Perhaps some in my family are not as honest about their OCD as I am.

So, now that I have made it sound like my family holiday was a brutal hunger games kind of affair, I need to return to my original point – yin and yang.

The ultimate catch is that there is something that makes all the less desirable stuff tolerable.

Spending time with your family

There are so many redeeming qualities of family time. These are the people that won’t judge you for snorting when you laugh. The people who know  your history, they helped write it. Time spent with them is not always easy but its time well spent. Cooking alongside your mom and sister – joking about your inability to touch raw chicken. Seeing your niece and nephews playing with their youngest cousin – the eighteen year old letting her win at wrestling. Knowing that when they are all adults they will have each other’s backs. Playing 30 Seconds and getting the whole card right before the sand runs out because that’s how well you all know each other. Going for silent walks on the beach, because talking is sometimes overrated. Many hands available to help with the kids. And best of all endless cups of tea made for you by your mom.

And if you struggle to find the good side to family holidays, there is always gin and tonic. I prefer mine with a slice of lime not lemon.

I wrote this blog post as a guest writer for the McCain Blog . I love how the brand is championing real South African moms and collaborating with bloggers and writers to create content that really shows how every mom has to find her own way on this journey of motherhood. Check out the website or their Facebook pages to check out all the exciting stuff the brand is getting up to.

 

The World Needs More Fearless Girls

Last November, an article, I wrote, was published in Destiny Magazine and I thought I should share it on my blog. It was written from the point of view of Leigh – the Advertising Professional, but as I am sure most moms can agree, putting my mom hat away isn’t that easy.

So with no further adieu…

“Last year I became a mom and while I was pregnant, the weight of the responsibility about to devolve on me was brought to bear. I was struck by all the fears and anxiety around raising a little human being into a happy, stable, respected and respectful adult. But then I had a girl.

I have been working in advertising for ten years and while the typical portrayal of women in media has often irked me, once I became responsible for the future of a girl in this world this feeling of discomfit became glaringly inescapable. What did the future look like for my little girl? Was she destined to be objectified, belittled and boxed? Would her world be limited to the flawless home executive, the ditsy blonde with a great rack, the bossy insufferable ball buster, the airbrushed bikini model staring temptingly into the camera or the apologetic and flustered personal assistant to Mr. CEO?

I’m not the only one feeling the need to shed light on these stereotypes of women and expand the world of a girl as shown by media. This is a social and cultural shift gaining momentum around the world. Madonna Badger, Chief Creative Officer of Badger & Winters advertising agency in New York City took up the torch for all women and their objectification within advertising. She challenged the norms of how women are portrayed in advertising and the old ad adage of “sex sells”, turning this glib assertion on its head by ultimately questioning “sex sells”, but to who? Definitely not to women, who are roughly 50% of the world’s population, a group that in most countries have incredible buying power and influence. Badger asserts that this shift is not only the right thing but also the smart thing to do.

A particularly noteworthy example that magnifies the deep need for new and different representations of women is the statue of the Fearless Girl that was raised on Wall Street defiantly staring down  Corporate America, a gender inequality stronghold, symbolised by the Wall Street Bull. This little statue has not only become a huge part of America’s social cultural landscape but she has shaped it. And her reach is not limited to the borders of the USA: her impact is felt much further afield. I’d even go as far as calling her a modern-day Statue of Liberty. A shining beacon of hope for all women and their future in the world.

Unfortunately, not everyone thinks this way. There are still those who see this topic as “typical” of attention-seeking, hysterical females. But such shortsightedness will cost these denialists dearly as they fail to remain relevant in a changing world and they fail to future-proof their businesses.

So, if it takes more fearlessly hysterical females to ensure a shift in stereotypes, then let’s all become a little more hysterical and whole lot more fearless. As part of an industry that is a powerful social influencer, my silence and inaction is not only wrong but foolish. But as a mother of a daughter my silence and inaction is not only foolish but unforgivable.”

Destiny Magazine, November, 2017

Plan for Nothing to Go To Plan (Part 2: The NICU)

I recently watched an episode of Black-Ish where Bow has to have an emergency C-Section to deliver her baby 8 weeks early. This episode ended with Bow being unable to get up to go to the NICU to see her baby, so she sent Dre and he is overwhelmed by a mixed bag of emotions at the sight of his tiny baby attached to a bundle of wires which in turn fed into a number of machines. This image stirred up a number of memories of Izzy’s first few weeks of life.

And I realised I never wrote the second instalment of Plan for Things to Never Go to Plan post. So, just over 12 months since the first plan went down the toilet, followed, unceremoniously, by almost every other best laid plan me and my new mom brain hatched, I thought I should return to the scene of epic plan fail – part 2.

JUST A QUICK RECAP: Five weeks before my due date and four weeks before my Ceasar date I was admitted to hospital in preterm labour. After four days of being in hospital, my placenta failed and Izzy went into distress which prompted an emergency C-Section. Luckily, the delivery went well and Izzy seemed in great health but a few hours after the birth Izzy had still not been brought into the maternity ward and we were informed she would have to spend an indefinite period of time in NICU due to a number of complications. So, for her first night in the world, my tiny baby (like Bow & Dre’s) slept in a machine, attached to wires and drips, lulled by the sounds of beeping, under the watchful eye of a stranger, her nurse Patience.

The next eight days would prove to be just as disconcerting as the first. Everything was so up in the air it seemed we would never know the comfort of solid ground again. Instead of the answers, we were desperate to have, we were almost always left with more questions. And the truth of a premature baby’s circumstance is that nobody can predict with 100% certainty what will happen – and even more truthfully nobody wants to in case they get it wrong.

After attending pre-natal classes and lots of time spent in the College of Google, I learnt about something called, skin-to-skin, where a baby is cuddled naked against the naked chest of her mom (or dad), this has proven to assist newborns in regulating their body temperature, heart rate and obviously has major bonding benefits. This sounded like an amazing way to nudge a brand new Earthling into the crazy world. I had planned for lots of skin-to-skin time. Unfortunately, when your daughter is in an incubator and attached to wires and drips, skin-to-skin is not impossible but it is definitely not the dreamy soft focus vision that comes to mind.

For almost the same reason my plan for breastfeeding was foiled. Not only were the drips and wires an added layer of difficulty to an already challenging task, the level of privacy in a NICU is almost zero. For those who are lucky enough to never have been inside a NICU it is busy, bright and confined (some might say cramped), so when it comes to doing anything you are never far away from the next someone trying to do their own something. I had begun pumping from day one to get my milk going but the first time I actually tried breastfeeding was a few days later in the NICU, with only a rickety hospital screen shielding us from the rest of the bustling hospital ward.

It was all a bit too much for me, so I decided to wait for her to come home before I tried that again. Instead, I became a dairy cow. While in hospital, I would wake up every two or three hours, express for about 45 minutes, walk my small but precious produce to the NICU, a floor up and on the other side of the building, to be ready and waiting for Izzy’s next feed. A hospital is a lonely, and eerie, place at 3 am, especially when you are gingerly shuffling around in slippers and three-day old PJs.

I carried on with this routine until I left the hospital and then once home, through out the night, I would build a store of barely half filled little milk bottles, supplied by the hospital. Every morning I would arrive with my Tropika-branded cooler bag containing my stash of milk (labelled in Sharpie with name, date and quantity).

Another incident that caught me by surprise had little to do with Izzy and everything to do with post-birth hormone pandemonium. On the evening of the third day, Will had left to go home and spend some QT with our fur-babies, I was on my own and out of the blue a tear rolled down my cheek, then another, then another, then another. It was not a trickle, it was not a stream, it was a torrent of tears. So what would any self-respecting woman do – she SMSed her bestie for advice on how to turn it off.

As a mother of two she responded to say it was fine, don’t fight it, they will stop eventually, its normal and giving birth releases a roller coaster of hormones. Her advice was punctuated by the perfect summation; “Having a baby is not for sissies.”.

This interaction had a dual effect, one was relief that I was not going stark raving mad, and two, a fresh round of flooding as my bestie had recently immigrated to America and I was once again reminded why I needed her here with me, not 2000 leagues over the sea in stupid Palo Alto, I mean FFS WTF.

Yet another plan thwarted, the plan to have an experienced and composed best friend nearby to hold my hand, had to happen virtually not physically.

In fairness, not all plans that went awry upset me – for one thing, we never so much as witnessed (never mind tackled) the dreaded tarriness of a baby’s first poop – called meconium. I for one do not feel less of a parent for dodging that bullet.

The NICU is a place of complicated and unpleasant feelings. But perhaps the most loathsome feeling we had as parents in that room was something I can’t label but was akin to gratitude tinged with smugness. We were by far the luckiest parents in that room, Izzy was never on a ventilator, feeding tube and her complications were seemingly benign compared to some of the other baby’s. Therefore it was hard not stare and try to imagine what the family next door or across the ward were going through and thank our lucky stars that our baby’s suck reflex was strong, that I had had steroids so her lungs were strong and that she was only four weeks early versus eight. Seeing others even teenier than our little spider monkey with ventilators covering their mouths, feeding tubes snaking into their noses in addition to the monitors and drips was almost too much to look at but at the same time, morbid curiosity meant we did.

The day Izzy was released could not have come sooner, my husband and I were both struck by such relief to be away from the distress of the pediatric wards, it is a place where a group of strangers together simultaneously experience the worst and best moments of their lives all the while isolated in their own little biome of hope and despair, anguish and joy, grit and helplessness, self-control and vulnerability.

How ironic that in less than 48 hours we would be begging to return our daughter to the familiarity of hospital and the protection of its trained professionals.

Myth Busted: NOT All Mothers are Pre-Programmed to Love their Child

Turns out I was one such mother. Shocking admission, right? Imagine how I felt…

I have always loved babies and children, and this love was only cemented by having been an aunt to two nieces and four nephews. From around my late twenties I was seriously broody, but we only felt “ready” (bahahahaha) once we were well into our thirties.

So, when I fell pregnant I was beyond thrilled, finally it was my turn. After seeing friend after friend after friend fall pregnant and 9 months later witness them moon over their precious miracles, now I would get to experience it for myself. I would have my own beloved miracle, a creation that would illicit feelings so profound that they would overwhelm me.

I did experience overwhelming feelings, only they weren’t of love and wonderment, they were the total opposite. In those first few weeks, I struggled with my feelings towards my daughter, I honestly can’t say I loved her, in fact I more and more felt I didn’t even like her.

I have already shared the story of my daughter’s birth and to say it was not how I fantasised her arrival would be an understatement. And ultimately, I don’t think that helped my attitude. But the moment that signalled the beginning of my unravelling was the first weekend we brought her home – she screamed and screamed and screamed seemingly in unbearable pain – and I realised I was entirely unprepared for the mammoth job of looking after a tiny baby. But really, deep down what I realised was that I wasn’t sure I wanted the job at all.

Izzy has been an incredibly difficult baby – the picture of discontent for pretty much the first 12 weeks of her life. And while I am sure that her troubles contributed to my dark feelings and thoughts, they were not soley to blame. Add one unhappy baby, tortured by severe reflux and colic, to a woman with wild hormones and a history of depression and anxiety and you have the makings of the perfect storm.

In those first few weeks I quickly realised that you should not believe every hashtag you read. People do not portray the whole truth on social media. #Blessed, #lightofmylife, #lovebubble, #noregrets, #wishthistimewouldlastforever and #heartontheoutsideofmychest – these set me up for failure. Why was my experience not lining up with EVERYONE else’s? Why did I not feel what EVERY other mom seemed to feel? Why was I not getting it right, it looked like it came naturally to EVERYONE else?

As the days passed my mood disintergrated. I became completely disinterested in everything. Food became a subject of contention as my mom and husband tried to get me to eat something, anything. As far as diets go, it was effective as I lost 15kgs in six weeks, but I certainly don’t recommend the postpartum depression eating plan.

Sadly, the primary object of my disinterest was the miracle baby that for so long had been my wish. I felt empty, a shell, a husk. I barely engaged, except to reiterate that I knew I was not capable of doing this baby thing, or to unexpectedly burst into tears. I retreated into myself and my phone – Candy Crush became an obsession (still is if I am honest). Looking back it is incredible how I managed to remove myself emotionally and mentally – even her inconsolable crying didn’t reach me. A lot of the time I silently relinquished my responsibility to everyone else, anybody else really, knowing if I didn’t react someone would attend to her. I honestly would have given her to a stranger to look after if I thought they would agree to do it.

As I was still breastfeeding, I was forced to interact with her regularly, but I wasn’t present, I would sit and stare out the window while she fed (wishing to be anywhere but in that rocking chair, with her) or I would stare at her as if she were an alien being that I would never understand or connect with. Once she was finished, I would hand her over to my mom, sister, sister-in-law or husband and either go back to bed or to my phone.

I had been told that breastfeeding offered the most special moments a mom could experience. So many times I had heard that these moments, just the two of you, quietly bonding, were priceless. But for me the price seemed too dear. Being alone with her was my worst nightmare. And at 3 ‘o clock in the morning, in the darkness, in the quiet, in the rocking chair, I couldn’t be more alone. Alone with her and my thoughts. These were not moments I would come to treasure.

Daytime was a little better, because there was almost always someone with me, but whenever that someone looked like they were getting ready to leave, I could not help the tears from streaming, the voice from cracking, the nausea from rising and the sweat from prickling. My poor mother literally gave up three months of her life to care for two children – her’s and mine.

The lack of sleep exacerbated my depression, so my psychiatrist recommended that along with a change in meds (The Betty Ford clinic would even raise an eyebrow at the number of pills I was taking everyday – #yestohappypills) we employed a night nurse – without her help, I don’t know if I would have survived those first 12 weeks. Instead, I only had to survive 12 hours each day. The nurse arrived at 6pm and would take over till 6am the next morning. I began counting the hours from about 9am in the morning to her arrival, and glorious relief. Adversely, as dawn drew closer my anxiety sky rocketed. As soon as I heard the birds start their morning song, my stomach became a pit of dread and the tears welled at the thought that I would soon have to take over caring for the baby, my baby.

At 4 weeks I stopped breasfeeding with the hope that it would alleviate the stress and anxiety I was experiencing. But even without breastfeeding, I was still living in groundhog day. Every day was the same, living feed to feed, every three hours. Change, feed, vomit, cry, rock, sleep, hold. Repeat. I had nothing but time, but no time at all. And time passed achingly slowly. I wished it away, I wished her life away, desperate for her to reach these milestones that were promised to make things easier. 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 6 months… but of course for Izzy the adjustment meant 10 weeks, 16 weeks… the goal posts constantly moving away from me.

Now I am going to risk sounding heartless, but I think her helplessness was what disturbed me most, her neediness, her reliance on me. I couldn’t bear it. It was too much pressure. I was struggling to keep myself going, how could she expect me to keep her going too. She had trapped me, like a shackle, I was no longer free to go and do as I pleased. Try peeing while you hold a newborn, good luck if you need a number 2. I was anchored to a rocking chair and the anchor was my baby – my world had become the size of a pea, a very dry shrivelled sad pea. The long term permance of this shackle amplified the feelings of claustraphobia, would I ever get my freedom back? And of course, these types of thoughts and feelings are always coupled with the guilt of feeling and thinking them.

My friends and family were amazing during this time, regularly visiting and putting up with their ghost of a loved one. In that time, my mom-friends all confessed to how dark their thoughts had been in those first weeks, and they were dark indeed. Morbidly, this made me feel better about my own thoughts. As I often fantasised about getting in the car and not coming back, finding her a new family that could love her better than me, I even considered hurting myself, but worst of all were the times I wished I could turn back time and leave things the way they were – before Izzy.

And ultimately, that is what I wanted. I wanted my life back the way it was, the life I knew, the life where I was in control.

The shock of how permanent and devastating the change this baby brought was overwhelming, I couldn’t see a way through it. And the more everyone, and I mean everyone, told me it would get better, the more I didn’t believe them. Because as each milestone passed nothing changed, in some ways it got harder.

I was obviously not coping to anyone who took one look at me, between my seriously unwashed hair and pajama uniform (each pair often worn day and night for more days than I care to mention). Suffice it to say I was pretty gross, cudos to my husband for turning a blind eye (and nose) and giving me cuddles whenever I needed them.

I remember my first visit to the paediatric nurse, Izzy screamed the place down from the moment we arrived, through the consultation and whilst I tried to pay. The other moms were staring in simultaneous horror and relief that that was not their baby. The nurse and her assistant were worried enough about my state of mind that the assistant took Izzy and ordered me to go into their kitchenette and make tea. After about 10 minutes of “making tea” (i.e. crying and wishing for a different life), I retrieved my still crying baby and exited with a stream of pitying looks and words of encouragement. My amazing nurse and her wonderful receptionist still tell me that some of the moms who were there that day ask, “How is that mom, with that crying baby?”. AHA, I am now the stuff of legend, the mom that others measure their experience against– “OMG, Debs, you won’t believe this poor mom at the clinic… I won’t ever complain again when Ollie gives me a bit of a hard time.”.

As I have said in previous posts there are two sides to every story – especially those relating to motherhood. And while everything I have written above is absolutely true and absolutely distressing to admit, there was eventually light at the end of the tunnel.

After seeing a therapist several times, she managed to get me to realise that what I was feeling was OK, that I needed to reframe my language. I didn’t like Izzy, now. I didn’t enjoy being a mom, today. These feeling were time sensitive. She gave me permission to not like my baby, “What’s to like at the moment? She is not very likeable or enjoyable at the moment but that’s OK, she won’t be like this forever.”. She was completely right, no one in their right mind would enjoy those first 12 weeks of Izzy’s life, but 12 weeks in the great grand scheme of things is a drop in the ocean. It’s just almost impossible to see that when you are drowning in that drop.

Another thing many people tried to get through to me was that I kept saying, “I can’t do this!”, but I was doing it. And even if what I really meant was, “I don’t want to do this!”, I had no choice and as my husband resorted to reminding me (with the delicacy of a sledgehammer) – “You wanted this, you still want it, you just don’t see it right now.”. What I slowly realised was that actions speak louder than thoughts or feelings, I was caring for Izzy, maybe not in the way I hoped, maybe not with the joy people expect, but regardless she was thriving. A prem baby with severe reflux and colic – she was gaining weight week by week, catching up to the 50th percentile and reaching her age appropriate milestones.

I was actually doing a really good job – and my paediatrician, nurse, friends and family all praised me for it. And that felt good, knowing despite her mom being a bit of disaster, Izzy was getting all the right things from me. She didn’t care that I had these negative feelings. Why? I can’t say for sure, but I think that for a newborn the best sign of love is care – food when she is hungry, warmth when she is cold, changing when she is uncomfortable and a gentle touch when she needs comfort. She didn’t know that my feeling were left wanting, because as far as she was concerned, she was getting all that she needed. I was speaking her love language, even if I wasn’t particularly fluent or poetic.

I am embarressed to say that my daughter, with only a few weeks on earth under her belt loved me right from the beginning. And I was too disconnected to recognise it. I was the person her blurry squint little eyes sought out, the person who she wanted as her comforter, the first person she smiled for and the person she shrieks for most loudly. These latter signs I see, I see her now clearly, as a little person who is struggling as much as I have been. I didn’t hate her at all, I hated her problems and how they made her behave. I now take the wins, big and small, I only wish I had been able to see them sooner. But better late than never.

Plan for Nothing to Go To Plan (Part 1: The Birth)

Izzy is now 15 weeks old and it feels like those 15 weeks have been the longest of my life. Especially when I think back on all that has happened in just under four months, almost all of which did not go according to my perfectly laid out plans.

On 29 June 2016 Isabelle was born, via emergency c-section, four weeks earlier than expected. This was due to a failing placenta which sent her into distress as she wasn’t getting enough oxygen. I was already in hospital after being admitted four nights earlier with a bad kidney tract infection that had caused preterm labour. Doctors tell me the two were unrelated and actually, it was lucky I was in hospital and being monitored so the distress was caught early.

On the Saturday I was admitted with the kidney tract infection, I discovered my Gynae was away for two weeks, so now I was meeting her replacement, a lumbering bear-like elderly man with the bedside manner of a tactless bulldozer. I had never been to a male gynaecologist. And only one other man had ever been “down there” – my husband. Having suffered from a disorder called Vaginismis (a whole other story for a whole other blog), examinations are difficult at the best of times. However, on being told of my disorder, my new doctor misguidedly thought an inordinate amount of lube would solve the problem of any discomfit – it didn’t. Having my cervix checked in my bed in the labour ward, where all that seperated me from the three other pregnant women and their families during visiting hours was a thin blue curtain, was a definite highlight.

Despite any of his shortfalls, I have to say he was dedicated, thorough and available. I don’t think I could have been in better hands even with my actual doctor.

Anyhow, on the day I was told I would be going home, I had my usual 5am tracing (a test of the fetal heart rate and the uterus wall) and I could tell after 15 minutes the nurses were concerned. A short while later they began the test again but now for an hour (I had only ever had it for 15 minutes), so for an hour, I tried to remain calm playing Candy Crush because when my heart rate went up so did the baby’s. After an hour the doctor reviewed the results and had me wheeled down to his rooms ASAP to have an ultrasound. On a side note, my unshakeable doctor kindly used a bottle warmer to take the edge off the lube and in his haste to get the scan going he squirted the melted gel all over me (face, hair, chest and most importantly tummy). But who cares, we all wanted to know what was wrong and one Robyn Williams impression from the movie Nine Months wasn’t going to distract us for long. The scan did not deliver good news. So, instead of going home, I was told that in a 1 hour I would be going into surgery. In 1 hour and 15 minutes I would be holding a baby, my baby.

My response to this news was to ugly cry with fear, shock and the fact that this was not the way it was supposed to go. I had a plan. I mean for goodness sake the nursery wasn’t even finished. I wasn’t going to be able to shave my lady bits at home in the privacy of my own bathroom. I hadn’t yet packed my hospital bag nor her hospital bag. I hadn’t wrapped up at work – who would facilitate the workshop I was meant to be running in two days? How could my daughter be a Cancerian, she was due to be a Leo like me? Oh, the things your stupid brain thinks of when you are freaking out.

Thankfully my husband was with me that day and my sister arrived for moral support soon after I got the news. I was wheeled into theatre without having seen or spoken to my mom or dad as they got there too late. The speed at which the surgical team (Gynae, assistant surgeon, nurses, anaethetist and paediatrician) were mobilised was incredible, and an indication of the danger.

On another side note, at one point I looked over to my left and noticed a teenage girl in scrubs, only to be told this schoolgirl would be observing my c-section as part of a job shadowing programme. Of course she would, why wouldn’t my surgical team include a 17 year old red head with no medical experience? Anyone else want to watch me at my most vulnerable and exposed, how about the guy with the sweetie and sandwhich trolley?

The actual birth was incredibly quick once the spinal block was in effect. The most time was spent stiching me back up. Once again, my plans were chucked out the window. I had envisioned my daughter being placed on my chest, skin to skin, and she would stay there all the way to the maternity ward. Instead she lay on my chest for three minutes before she was whisked away to be examined by the Paed. Her apgar scores (a standardised measure of a newly born infant) were excellent, we were told they wanted to take her to NICU briefly for a blood sugar test. My husband went with her. Twenty or so minutes later I was wheeled into the recovery section, where my husband found me. Our daughter would be staying in NICU for a couple of hours, but they would bring her down to me as soon as they could. So, off I was wheeled to the maternity ward, without a baby.

After several hours, my husband went to find out where the baby was. Bad news. Her blood sugars were all over the show, her platelets were low and she had an infection, which would need intravenous antibiotics. The doctors were worried, not very worried, but worried enough to make us VERY worried. We were told that she would need to be in NICU indefinitely – maybe three days, maybe three weeks.

Again my plan of having my tiny bundle of joy in a basinet next to my hospital bed on her first night on earth was foiled. We didn’t even have a name for her yet as we hadn’t really had a chance to meet her properly.

So, for her first night in the world, Baby Tayler slept in a machine, attached to wires and drips, lulled by the sounds of beeping, under the watchful eye of a stranger, her nurse Patience.

Definitely not the plan.