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.

 

To Two or Not To Two?

That is the question.

So, Izzy is 20 months old today, if this were a leap year and February had a 29th day. Despite our rocky beginning, she is spectacular. A feral bundle of grit, crazy, sass and sweetness packaged in blue eyes, blonde hair and dimples. And we are very much bonded to one another.

But here is the dilemma…

The plan (I use that word knowing full well that planned parenthood is an ironic oxymoron) was to always have two children. In 5.5 months I turn another year older, my daughter will by then be two years old and I need to decide within myself if I am actually up for baby number two.

I thought I would share the things I know, the things I don’t know, the things that keep me going back and forth over what I want:

#1: The value of a sibling

Siblings are a gift. A gift that sometimes you wish you could return, but for the most part a gift you could not imagine life without.

I want to give that gift to Izzy. I want her to know the feeling of having a lifelong side-kick or a partner-in-crime. I want her to have a person – someone she can rely on, bitch to when her mother is unyielding or her father is too uptight, someone who gets her and wont judge her too harshly. I want her to have someone who laughs at her jokes, even if no-one else does, someone who tells her the hard truths that no-one else will. Someone who knows her history, someone who shares her history.

I also want Izzy to know the responsibility and privilege of being that person to someone else.

#2: Economies of scale are rare

As much as we try to fool ourselves, saying things like, “once you have one, a second won’t make so much of a difference.”. WRONG!

Take the money spent, take time spent, take shopping trips, running around, doctor’s appointments, nappy changes, lunchboxes packed, and everything else you currently do and times all of those things by two, or at best 1.5.

Then take your energy levels, your patience, your focus, your time spent on you (wait while I wipe the tears of laughter and despair from my eyes), your time with your husband – alone, your spare cash (again I am overcome by such naïve optimism) and divide that by 4. If you are questioning my math, either you are one of those perfect mom unicorns that I don’t believe exist (#weknow) or you do not yet have children and live in that blissful bubble of ignorance – in either case, this blog might not quite be the place for you.

Kids are black holes when it comes to emotional, economic, mental and physical resources. And while the return on investment is precious, a lot like a gold nugget or a diamond, it does not balance the scales of every deficit created. You will be in debt on some level of resource for the rest of your life and let’s face it the greater the number of kids, the bigger the debt.

#3: The world is overpopulated

Many reading this are probably saying, “Whoa, she is way overthinking this!”, but the reality is that every single human being on earth today has to consider their impact on future generations, we are all responsible to find ways to reduce our toll on the planet.

Recently, I was faced with a scary diagram on Facebook, that hammered this thought home. Canadian researchers identified the number one lifestyle choice for reducing greenhouse gases – “have one fewer child”. This action has by far the biggest impact, at 58.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide saved per year. The next closest action is living car free, which saves only 2.4 tonnes per year. Even switching to a Vegan lifestyle doesn’t even come close, saving only 0.8 tonnes.

Part of my internal debate around this matter, stems from not wanting to bring another child into a world that may not have the space for her/him. Space to live a healthy, happy and safe life. I cannot in good conscious simply want to have a child and selfishly not worry about their future and their children’s future on this earth. I must be conscious of the life my children and their children and their children will eke out on this one size fits all planet of ours.

Shew, see what I mean about the size of this decision, and here I thought deciding to have the first one was a big decision. That was when I still lived in the blissful bubble of ignorance.

#4: The grossness of birth is seared into my memory

Another big deterrent is the level of grossness associated with giving birth. I don’t care what anyone says, giving birth is not beautiful – the child is beautiful, the moment is beautiful – the act and what follows in the days afterwards is not.

Just some of the highlights of my experience of birth include the joyful device known as the catheter, having my lady parts shaved with a disposable razor by a nurse in a shared ward, “hemorrhoids the size of Kimberly” (the doctors exact words, not mine), the spoon “massage” from a nurse to get my breast milk flowing that resulted in bruised and battered boobs that had a good flow of milk, blood clots the size of cricket balls slinking out of my uterus and body for days afterwards, their size and severity causing me to think I was bleeding internally (I have since been told these are a treat we all get to enjoy regardless of natural birth or birth via C-section), and endless suppositories, some of which I am equal parts ashamed and proud to say were administered by my saint of a husband.

Giving birth is a messy, undignified affair. Who on earth would ever put themselves through that more than once in their lifetime? Oh right, almost 3.8 billion people – the female half of the world’s population.

#5: The bad feelings are not extinguished

When it comes to my fight with postpartum depression, I have won many battles, but the war is not yet over. The feeling reminds me of Voldemort from The Harry Potter books – no matter how hard I fight it, no matter how much I weaken it, it just will not die.

Even now, 20 months on, the feeling lurks in the dark places, when I am tired or stressed, when Izzy feels overwhelming, when work feels overwhelming or when my life as I knew it seems a distant memory never to be relived.

In those moments the feeling tries to drag me back under, but these moments are few and far between. The good feelings are far more dominant than the bad, and now Izzy more often than not takes my breath away in a most wonderful way – those are the feelings I cling to, when the other feeling tries to snake its way back into my life.

But it has taken a long time to feel the deep love that was advertised. I can recognize it now, but for at least the first 16 months I wasn’t sure I had it.

I know I can carry on fighting because, now, I know the feeling lies, it cheats and it steals. The feeling blocked me from the joy that should have been mine, the joy of unconditional love, of creating a new life with the love of your life. It stole my husband’s partner, the one he knew and needed. It stole some of his confidence in me and my commitment to our family. The feeling lied to me about Izzy and her role in all of this and it cheated her out of a present and emotionally engaged mom when she was at her most vulnerable. The feeling stole all this from me, from Izzy and from my husband.

But I also know the feeling, like Voldemort in The Goblet of Fire, will return with renewed strength at the worst possible time – post the birth of a second child. This is my biggest fear. A fear that my doctor cannot dispel, because research has shown that a woman’s likelihood of suffering postpartum increases with each and every childbirth. That’s why a mother of three can be debilitated after her third but have breezed through one and two. Ultimately, my doctor and I have agreed that I should expect another bout, as my chances of relapse are almost unequivocally certain.

And should I decide to have a second child, I will need to mentally, emotionally and physically prepare for my second internal world war. As will my family, little Izzy included, another innocent casualty to consider when making this decision.

#6: Broodiness

Despite all my misgivings, despite all the reasons why not, my biology is betraying me. I want it, I want the pregnancy, I want the kicks to my liver, I want the ultrasound heartbeat, I want the baby breathe, I want the scrawny chicken legs and arms, I want the first gummy smile, I want the tiny hand holding my one finger, I want it all, I want it all over again.

And even more, the eternally gullible optimist in me wants what I didn’t get the first time – the instant bond, the profound feelings, the exhausted joy, the presence of mind, the presence of heart and soul, the wonderment, the content cherub baby and the happy family.

I am able to momentarily fool myself. “Maybe next time will be different?”, “Maybe it won’t be so bad?”, “Maybe it will be a fleeting feeling.”. Maybe all of these things could be true. But I just don’t know and no-one can tell me with 100% certainty what the next time will be like.

#7: The next time might be worse

It could very well be worse. What if the new baby never sleeps? What if he/she doesn’t eat? What if he/she is sickly? What if the depression and anxiety lasts even longer? What if it is even more profound? What if I need to be hospitalised? What if I am so mentally distressed I do something to hurt myself?

That’s a lot of “what ifs”, a lot of maybes and a lot of unknowns. How can I be expected to make an informed, responsible decision if I don’t have all the facts, if I can’t predict the outcome, if I there are so many variables? And therein lies the rub, I cannot rely on absolutes. No-one can, not when it comes to children. Because as I have already established in previous posts, nothing goes according to plan. It is uncharted territory, always new, always changing, always different. It’s a leap of faith, a risk.

The only absolute at your disposal, is the answer to an incisive question: Do you believe the potential gain outweighs the potential risk? Can you manage that risk by focusing on the gain? Yes or No.

I wish I had the answer. Not yet. But I will let you know, when I know. Well, when I know what’s right for me and my family anyway, you will need to make your own arbitration.

 

Wake up, Mom, your dreaming.

So, Izzy is now 8 months old, where has the time gone? She is crawling, has two teeth and is so busy she cannot keep still. My mom tells me that her busy-ness is thanks to me, seems I too had ants in my pants as a child.

But I must say I am really enjoying her. She is still hard work and sometimes I feel like it is too much. Then she does something dorky, because that’s another thing she gets from me, and you remember why you can do it. Her antics include laughing at her own jokes, making farts louder than her father, finding the weirdest stuff amusing, she loves to make disgusting noises with the copious amounts of drool she mass produces and she is obsessed with our two dogs and their constantly wagging tails.

And while she is an adorable little clown, she is still often a massive pain in the arse. This is evident in a range of activities: Her absolute determination to electrocute herself by putting her figures in the plug points (I can recommend the plug covers from Dischem, they are only 30 bucks for a whole bunch – no I was not paid to say that, unless they are willing to pay in which case…), to her love/hate relationship with food which she tactfully communicates by kung-fu-ing the spoon away send pureed hake, sweet potato and cheese flying in all directions (thank the pope for washable wall paint and tiled floors) and her hatred of being strapped into anything, especially the car seat, demonstrated by kicking and screaming (LITERALLY). My mature response is to turn Human by Rag & Bones Man way up and belt it out.

Lastly, I have saved the best for last. She hates being changed, always has (both nappy and clothes changes – hates it) and her retribution is cruel and vicious. I am 5 foot 6-ish and not small in the bust department (and post pregnancy my boobs have decided to migrate a little south). As luck would have it when she is on her compactum she is exactly the right height, that when she protests her abuse she is able to kick me straight in the boobs. And I am not referring to one or two swats with her tiny little feet, it is a volley of kicks as if they were a punching bag. It’s super cute. Insert sigh of love here.

Hilariously, despite all of this, I still cling to the belief that raising a child is like the fairytale that many books, movies, and Facebook show it to be. My darling’s favourite pastime is to take out her bazooka and blow that fantasy away.

We went to the zoo the other day, myself, hubby, sister-in-law, her two littlies and of course Izzy. I had this vision of us skipping around the zoo while Izzy happily sits in her pram cooing over the animals, rounding a wonderful day up with a picknick on the grass.

Wake up, mom.

Unbeknownst to us, the same day we decided to plan an idyllic family outing, Izzy had different plans. Her plan involved a tooth cutting through her bottom gum. Which understandably caused a great deal of pain and grouchiness. One of her protest actions was to refuse sleep – so from 5 am to 1 pm sleep was a fanciful notion. Her other form of protest was physical torture. Izzy decided she would be carried, the pram would remain empty for the entire duration of our time at the zoo. So between my husband and I, we carried our squirming and jabbering 8.5kg treasure up and down the hill from enclosure to enclosure for four hours. To our credit, many others (those who have half a brain cell) would have given up and gone home, not us, we were determined to have the idyllic family outing that we had planned. No amount of screaming (her) sweating (us), arm aching (us) or hair pulling (both) was going to deter us.

Eventually, we left at 1 pm after having been there since 9 am, we high-fived as we got into the car and congratulated ourselves on our success. What fun, a day at the zoo! Never would you hear us say out loud anything to the contrary, that actually we would rather have spent our precious Sunday driving spikes under our fingernails.

I have so many examples to choose from where I have deluded myself into thinking this fantasy world exists. Another good one, was when she was 6 weeks old (please see the previous blog post in order to understand the horror that was Izzy’s first 12 weeks of life), I decided to sign up for baby massage. I had always planned (there is that word again, so silly) on going. I had a vision of this class of moms all sitting around bonding with their babies, sharing loving tales of cuteness and drinking cups of tea. These moms and I as well as our adorable brood would grow to become best of friends. Luckily, I have made a great friend thanks to baby massage, but this and the tea were the only part of the dream that came true. In the four weeks of baby massage and subsequent 6 weeks of BabyGym, so a total of 10 classes, I probably managed to fully participate in 3. Baby massage for Izzy and I entailed bouncing on the dreaded pilates ball (the story of my hatred of these balls will have to wait for another blog post) while she screamed, watching the other moms’ enjoy QT with their babas. The tea and biscuits at the end were awesome though because either Izzy had fallen asleep in my arms or Joanne, the lovely lady who ran the class would take Izzy away from me so I could enjoy my tea and EET-SUM-MOR.

The worst part, even worse than bouncing on the damn ball, was watching the other babies in the class lie peacefully and enjoy the time spent interacting with their mommies. Did I really just pay hard earned cash to watch other moms and their precious little angels? Further highlighting how far from that Izzy and I were. That being said, I still highly recommend these types of activities as they definitely helped me with my bonding issues and they act as a support group when times are tough.

So, to sum up, this whole baby thing is no fantasy, dreams do not come true but nightmares do. Nonetheless, what I have learnt is that you can’t hold your breath waiting for those fairytale moments (chances are you’ll pass out long before), the only way to survive is to find the funny in everything, see and celebrate the small wins and, lastly, accept that your tiny tot has their own plans, regardless of whatever you have dreamt up for them.

Remember, don’t take it personally and you can always get them back when they are older.

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.

The Ugly Truth of Being a Mom

So, today my daughter, Izzy, turned 11 weeks old. I thought it fitting for me to publish my first blog post today. But before I get into my story, I feel I have some explaining to do…

To many the title of my blog and this post may seem harsh, bitter, almost blasphemous. And I want to assure you this blog is not intended to offend or undermine the miracle that is children and the joy a parent receives throughout that child’s life.

However, there is two sides to every story, and I think it is safe to say that bringing a child into this world and raising it to be a decent human being is not always roses and unicorns. Some days are horrific, especially in the beginning, and on those days any parent who says they do not think at least one of these thoughts: “I wish I could run away.”; “This suxs!”; “Why on earth did I do this to myself.” – or my personal favourite – “FML”; is lying to you and themselves.

I started this blog to not only vent my own feelings, but show what I have discovered as the flip side of the coin of parenting. No-one can prepare you for how hard it is. It is the hardest thing you will ever do because there is no training for it, there’s no manual to learn, no guru to rely on, no wikihow, no right or wrong answer because there is no definitive answer for anything. Why? Because every single one of our journeys and experiences are unique, every baby/child is unique, so what worked for one won’t necessarily work for another. And to make it even harder what worked for you on Monday might not work again on Tuesday.

This constant state of flux and constant trial and error means that being a parent is not always fun, because nobody really likes to be tested everyday of their lives without the opportunity to study the course material and be confident they know if not all, at least 80% of the answers.

What I have learnt over the past 11 weeks is that no-one has all the answers, most don’t even have 20% of the answers. Everyone (even the mom who looks like she has her shit together) is doing this parenting thing through trial and error, experimentation, gut instinct and a whole lot of contradictory advice from multiple sources.

If any of this sounds familiar, take comfort in knowing you are not the only one out there who feels this way. There are more of us out there than are willing to let on, but not having all the answers doesn’t make you a bad mom. Because a good, no a great, mom is the one that, despite not knowing the answers, never gives up trying to ace the tests that each day of being a mom will throw at you.