2018, winter and other news

January 27, 2018

2018, here you are. This year my primary resolution is to manage the time I spend on electronic devices. I find that people are half present these days because they always have at least one foot in cyberspace.

I worry I’m too preoccupied with my iPhone. The problem is that it has become my one stop shop for so many things – photos, to-lists, maps, encyclopaedia, conversations with friends etc.  In my defence, at least I don’t yak on the phone for hours the way my parents’ generation did so maybe I shouldn’t feel so guilty.

I need my phone and other devices because they are my pipes to the outside world but I’ve decided that, in 2018, if I’m going to be on my phone or computer, it has to be worthwhile. I’m going to spend less time twirling around the internet and reading toxic, fear-mongering articles and news reports that give me a nervous twitch.  This year, I’m going to spend more time with my new friends Judy, Gordon, Aaron and James.   I bought myself a subscription to masterclass.com for Christmas and it is fantastic. I’m taking virtual cooking courses with Gordon Ramsay and Wolfgang Puck, writing classes with Judy Blume and James Patterson and I’m learning screenwriting with Aaron Sorkin, just for fun. Annie Leibovitz is also going to teach me how to take decent photos. The masterclasses are filmed as if these fabulous people are talking directly to me, as if I am their pal and we are having a chat at a coffee shop. Wonderful!

Winter, urgh

I always divide winter into two parts – there’s the bit before Christmas and the bit after Christmas. November and December are fun because there’s the festive build up to Christmas and the excitement of the first snowfall. January and February are intense. You just have to hunker down and focus ahead to spring. The problem is that I have weather dependent moods so if it is grey outside, I feel grey inside. The low lying cloud over the lake has reappeared and I hate the Wuthering Heights, mist-in-the-moors vibe.  I find that the longest, most exhausting days are the ones when we stay at home and unfortunately we do this more often in winter.  We also walk to and from school so we are at the mercy of all weather conditions.  Try walking in horizontal rain with three kids.  Fun.

Skeletal trees and day in day out greyness

One thing I struggle with in winter, particularly with little kids, is the heat. Yes, you heard me right. I said the heat. The Swiss heat their buildings to roughly the temperatures of the inside of a pottery kiln. Swiss buildings are hotter inside in winter than they are in summer.

Overheated buildings are challenging because as soon as the kids feel the slightest bit warm or uncomfortable, they strip.   They are quick to fling their clothes off but slow to put them on. Often when we leave the house, Kate is bundled in my wrap and becoming hot and agitated while the others are still half naked and faffing about. Jessica thinks it’s fine to leave the house in ballet pumps and a leotard when it is zero degrees outside.

Sometimes I wish Megan and Jessica helped me a little more. They are only 5 and 3 years old, I know, but I’m not asking for them to make their own dinner or operate the washing machine. I would just like them to help me by putting on their shoes and a jacket when I ask. Maybe I expect too much.

I’ve concluded that children are exactly like these collapsible push puppets. Whenever you push them and need them to do something – put on their shoes, eat dinner, get in the car, tidy up their toys etc – they collapse and become floppy and uncooperative.

Other news

This is Al’s busy period so he is working long hours. He’s warned me well in advance so when he phones and says, ‘I’m going to be late tonight’, then I can’t be passive aggressive and disappointed like I usually am when he is 15 minutes late (15 minutes feels like 150 minutes at dinner/bed/bath time).

A picture of Daddy drawn by Jessica (age 3).

Kate is chunkier and losing that newborn fragility. She still has no interest in her baby toys, possibly because she has enough stimulation from her two older sisters who are like two human, life-size rattles.

Boisterous sister love

Kate usually sleeps non-stop from about 8pm to 4am, which I consider sleeping through the night. Whoo hoo! It baffles me why babies insist we stand while soothing them. Whenever I sit down and rock Kate in my arms, she objects until I stand up and do it. That’s why parents are so zonked – we can never sit down. It was the same with Megan and Jessica. Why do babies do that? It’s a mystery.

I find I sometimes struggle to go back to sleep from 4am onwards but any sleep deprivation is my fault, not Kate’s. I sit quietly breastfeeding in the dead of night and my body sees this as a moment for deep thinking – dissecting the past, planning for the future and analysing the present. My brain careers around like a runaway horse. I remember one of my favourite writers saying, ‘My mind is a scary neighbourhood to wander alone in at night.’

My newest challenge is the TV. That’s another reason why I hate winter – because we are indoors more and the TV or ipad are such temptations. It’s crack for kids. It is a mood-altering, trance-inducing sedative that turns Megan and Jessica weepy, sluggish and irritable after the initial high. It may give parents respite but the aftermath is annoying. Today I had enough of the tears and rage when I turned off the TV so I’ve banned it indefinitely … or until tomorrow.

Megan and Jessica adore their schools. I’m so happy they’re happy.  They rarely recount what happened during their days but Megan jabbers in French and she plays by re-enacting her experiences in the classroom with Jessica as her pupil so I see what goes on indirectly.


To end off, I want to share a profound thought from Aaron Sorkin’s Masterclass course.  He said that in life you will never be able to please everybody so you shouldn’t even try. He said, ‘Think of beef.  There are so many ways to prepare beef.  You can make boeuf bourguignon, filet mignon, beef wellington, you name it. But, if you want to cook beef in the way that the least number of people find objectionable, then you would make a McDonald’s hamburger.  McDonald’s hamburgers are nice, but they’re just ok, nothing special, nothing memorable.  If you were a chef, you wouldn’t aspire to make them.’  This a lovely lesson, especially for chronic people pleasers like me.  Do I want to be the human equivalent of a Big Mac? Ew, no way.  I love this image so much that I’ve now absorbed it into the daily Surycz family lingo.   Be steak, be stew, be a roast.  Be interesting, be different, be you.



Books read in 2017

January 1, 2018

In 2016, for the first time ever, I started keeping a list of the books I read during the year. It was fun, so I did the same in 2017. I read less this year. I didn’t read a single thing the whole of October as my mind was fluffy and distracted after the birth of Kate and my horrendous flu. Then, in November, I read the French translation of Jojo Moyes’s book ‘Me Before You’ and that was a slow chug. When I read anything French, I stay in first gear all the way.

I love reading. These days everyone reads a lot all the time. You can’t help it because we are constantly force fed words from every angle on our phones and computers. The non-stop bombardment of words from the news, whatsapps, Facebook, emails etc feels as if I am living beside a 100 piece marching band.

Reading an actual book is different. A book is not something that adds to the noise; it quietens my world down. I don’t have time to read in long leisurely stretches but I grab every spare moment I can. I step inside a book, I enter it and the world around me fades away for five minutes or so at a time. There’s nothing more magical than getting lost inside a fabulous book. This year, thanks to my reading, I’ve stayed at home while I travelled to Rwanda, North Korea, Cambodia, China, India, Somalia, South Africa, the UK, the US, Japan and Germany.  I’ve also gone back in history multiple times.  Pretty cool hey?

I’m not sporty. I can’t draw. I can’t paint. I can’t sing (completely tone deaf). I can’t play a musical instrument. I can’t sew. I can sort of cook. My art is words. I LOVE words. Nothing moves me like beautifully crafted sentences strung together in beautifully crafted paragraphs. Libraries are my art galleries, my museums. A big, quiet, old, dusty library is a sacred and magical place.

I believe it is my parenting duty to carve out a little time to read every day. I want my children to read so I should too. Someone once said to me that children tend not to do as you want them to but they often imitate you. For a while Megan starting saying ‘oh heck’.  This bothered me. I said to Al, ‘Who the heck taught her to say that?’ Oops. I reckon the best way to teach certain behaviour is to model it. I want Megan, Jessica and Kate to have interests and passions so I must show them that I have mine.  It’s a paradox that the things you don’t need to live – books, art, music, dance, theatre, connecting with nature and so on – are the things you need to live.

I read many great books this year. In fact, I never finish a book that isn’t good. Some are better than others and the notable mentions are written in red on my list below.


I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell – Maggie O’Farrell is one of my favourite authors so I inhale anything she writes. I read on my Kindle but I always buy Maggie’s books in hard copy so I can hold them and touch them and stroke them. Any book she writes is a totem, a precious object to be treasured forever. When she releases a new book, I buy it on the day it comes out and then I ration it and allocate myself a small portion to read every day so I draw out the heavenly experience and make it last as long as possible.

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay – This book is the diary from when Dr Adam Kay was a doctor with the National Health Service in the UK. Given the broad spectrum of people who use the NHS, you can imagine how hilarious this book is. I couldn’t put it down. It’s light and fun with serious undertones. It opened my eyes and made me grateful for people who work in the medical profession, so much so that when I was in hospital for three days when Kate was born, I gushed thank-yous, you’re amazings and I’m so gratefuls to every nurse and doctor that came into my room.

A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart – This book is about an autistic boy told from the perspective of his dad. It has a warm and happy ending and was beautifully written. It’s the kind of book where I wanted to cry at the end, not because the story was particularly sad but because the book was finished. A good book should leave you feeling bereft at the last page and this one did exactly that.

I also recommend the classic war book ‘With the Old Breed’ by EB Sledge and the memoir called ‘Rena’s Promise’ by Rena Kornreich Gelissen. Both of these were educational and humbling and I think they should be compulsory reading in schools. The world would be a kinder, gentler place if everyone read them. 

  1. Band of Brothers by STEPHEN E AMBROSE
  2. With the Old Breed by EB SLEDGE
  3. Son of Hamas by MOSAB HASSAN YOUSEF
  4. The Taming Queen by PHILLIPA GREGORY
  5. Beyond Band of Brothers by MAJOR DICK WINTERS
  6. Sweet Revenge by JANE FALLON
  7. An African Love Story by DAME DAPHNE SHELDRICK
  8. The Little House by PHILLIPA GREGORY
  9. Trophy Child by PAULA DALY
  10. The Key to Rebecca by KEN FOLLETT
  11. Helmet for my Pillow by ROBERT LECKIE
  12. Europa, Europa by SOLOMON PEREL
  13. In My Hands by IRENE GUT OPDYKE
  14. Rena’s Promise by RENA KORNREICH GELISSEN
  15. A Train in Winter by CAROLINE MOOREHEAD
  16. As the Lilacs Bloomed by ANNA MOLNAR HEGEDUS
  17. First They Killed My Father by LOUNG UNG
  18. China Marine by EB SLEDGE
  19. Le Garcon en Pyjama Raye by JOHN BOYNE
  20. The Break Down by BA PARIS
  21. Big Little Lies by LIANE MORIARTY
  22. Lying in Wait by LIZ NUGENT
  23. Village of Secrets by CAROLINE MOOREHEAD
  24. Lion by SAROO BRIERLEY
  25. Marry Me Tomorrow by CARLA BURGER
  26. A Boy Made of Blocks by KEITH STUART
  27. Unravelling Oliver by LIZ NUGENT
  28. Into the Water by PAULA HAWKINS
  29. Glass Half Full by CARO FEELY
  30. Harvest for Hope by JANE GOODALL
  31. A Respectable Trade by PHILLIPA GREGORY
  32. Maybe in Another Life By TAYLOR JENKINS REID
  33. They all have their Exits By AIREY NEAVE
  34. Emmanuel Macron by ANNE FULDA
  35. Holiday in the Hamptons by SARAH MORGAN
  36. The Gustav Sonata by ROSE TREMAIN
  37. The Mayor of Mogadishu by ANDREW HARDING
  38. The Alice Network by KATE QUINN
  39. The Identicals by ELIN HILDERBRAND
  40. They All Fall Down by TAMMY COHEN
  41. Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign by JONATHAN ALLEN AND AMIE PARNES
  42. Then She Was Gone by LISA JEWELL
  43. The Map that Leads to You by JP MONNINGER
  44. Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza
  45. I Am, I Am, I Am by MAGGIE O’FARRELL
  46. The Last Anniversary by LIANE MORIARTY
  47. Cry Freedom by JOHN BRILEY
  48. In Order to Live by YEONMI PARK
  49. God and the Transgender Debate by ANDREW WALKER
  50. The Choice by EDITH EGER
  51. The Girl in Cabin 10 by RUTH WARE
  52. This is Going to Hurt by ADAM KAY
  53. The Girl with Seven Names by HYEONSEO LEE
  54. Our Souls at Night by KENT HARUF
  56. The Bonfire of Berlin by HELGA SCHNEIDER
  57. Paris for One and Other Stories by JOJO MOYES
  58. Very British Problems by ROB TEMPLE
  59. How to Stop Time by MATT HAIG
  60. Reasons to Stay Alive by MATT HAIG
  61. The Humans by MATT HAIG
  62. Avant Toi by JOJO MOYES



Surycz December Update

December 3, 2017

Can you believe it is almost the end of 2017? Where has this year gone? It is important to us that Megan and Jessica understand the true meaning of the Christmas season. It is our responsibility as parents to talk to them about the nativity because they are unlikely to learn about it in any other way in this godless, secular country. Megan’s class has a Christmas theme throughout December and not once will they mention Jesus, I guarantee you.  I’m pleased to see the Christmas story is sort of sinking in because Jessica explained that Mary had a baby in her tummy and then Jesus ‘came out of her bum’ in the stable.

Usually at this time of year, a layer of fog hangs over the lake. It’s like living under a wet grey blanket for weeks on end. The constant dreariness sets off a sour and persistent seasonal depression in even the most upbeat of people. So far this winter there’s been no sign of the clouds. Hooray! It’s not the cold of winter that bothers me most, but the weakness and scarcity of light. If there’s blue skies and sunshine, then I’m happy.

During the past two months, my life has become really busy. Not in a stressful or complicated way, but enough to make me topple into bed like a felled oak at about 20h30 every night. This busyness is a combination of the baby, Megan’s new school routine and the shorter winter days which mean there is less time in which to fit activities, chores and appointments.

Kate is 8 weeks old and growing exponentially. Sometimes I look at her in the morning and I notice she has changed overnight. I am up to my eyeballs in baby clothes. Kate has more clothes than me. Babies grow so fast so I have loads of little outfits in various sizes and it’s hard to keep order so I can make good use of the array of gifts, hand-me-downs and clothes I’ve bought myself. I detest clutter, excess and waste so this frustrates me. The funny thing is that the cupboard looks too overwhelming so I end up putting Kate in more or less the same clothes every day.

So far Kate sleeps like a champ at night. She wakes up once or twice for a short time. The day times are more of a challenge because she rarely naps beyond 45 minutes at a time and likes to be held or wrapped up on my chest in the baby carrier. It’s difficult for her to settle during the day because she’s constantly jigged about by her boisterous older sisters or we need to get going to fetch kids from school, head to an activity etc. It’s Murphy’s Law that as Kate settles into a deep, peaceful sleep, we must leave the house. ‘Righto! Up you get! Let’s get going!’ I’ve also told Megan and Jessica that when Kate has her eyes closed, they must stay away but I’m struggling to drum in this concept. Megan will say, ‘I didn’t wake her. She woke up herself.’ Yes, she woke up herself after you bounced on her or kissed her or after you breathed on her with your face 1cm from hers.

Megan and Jessica have no concept of how delicate a baby is. They treat Kate like their dolls that they love very much but also carry round the house by their feet. They are caring and maternal and want to be involved. I have to keep one eye on them because if, say, Jessica wipes Kate’s nose, she may pull it off or suffocate her.

Sister love

The key to managing three children under five is to be organised and to let some things slide – my personal appearance is an example. It’s a challenge enough getting the kids dressed to leave the house when they don’t listen to my instructions or when they demand to be dressed by me and then they make themselves as floppy as a jellyfish or as stiff as a board. I have about thirty seconds to sort out myself, which is just about enough time to brush my teeth and that’s it. I don’t care! I just make sure to avoid mirrors and sometimes when I catch my reflection in a shop window, it makes me yelp. Our handyman remarked on how lovely my wedding photo is and then asked in shock and surprise, ‘Is that you?’ as he struggled to connect me with the person in the picture. I reckon I have plenty of time in the future to get rid of the soft, sponginess of my post-baby body and use make up, hairbrushes and colour coordinated clothing again.

Looking after Kate in the car – holding her hand and making sure she has some company

I’m slowly getting into a groove and learning lessons along the way. For example, we need to eat dinner at 17h00 in order for the children (and sometimes me!) to be asleep by 19h30. I can’t cook from scratch in the evenings because of the distractions so I batch cook on the weekends or do it in the morning when the girls are at school.  Al keeps wanting to invite people over for teas, dinners and braais and I reckon, no problem … in about 5 years.

Dinner time is my biggest juggle and weakest point of the day. Someone is always weeping/screaming during this time. A child (or all of them) demand to sit on my lap or be fed. They refuse to eat what I serve or they do so at snail pace. They want to watch TV. They refuse to clean up the lounge. Someone starts undressing.  There’s rage and frustration because I poured their drink into the wrong cup or gave the wrong colour plate. Someone cries because someone else poked them with a fork. Someone knocks over a glass of water or a bowl of peas – we can’t go through dinner time without some sort of spillage. Kate tends not to cry and emits more of a squeak, like one of those plastic bath toys. So I’m wiping, stirring, chopping, serving, comforting and feeding while bouncing Kate who emits a non-stop, rolling squeaksqueaksqueaksqueaksqueaks. Often it gets a bit much and I daydream of walking outside, slamming the front door and sitting on the stoep by myself with a glass of wine and a cigarette (not that I’ve ever smoked before in my life).

I’m grateful for my full and busy but simple life. Since it is almost the end of 2017, here is a picture of our Happy Jar that I have been diligently filling every day for the past three years. I’m very proud of it. Every evening we reflect on our day and we write down what moment made us feel most happy (or least unhappy, if things are rough). A happy moment is something you create in a day. It is not a moment for which we are grateful because I believe gratitude and happiness are different and gratitude is no guarantee of joy.

I want my children to understand that happiness does not necessarily revolve around success, wealth, popularity and brilliance. You are likely to be more content if you notice the significance in the ordinary little things. Happiness is less of a luck-based feeling that you wait to fall on you like magic fairy dust, but is instead something you choose to make for yourself and seek out in every day. Suffering is inevitable, but joy is not. I’ve learned that enjoying life is more about appreciating the journey, rather than being completely focused on the destination. This makes life a lot like paper mache. You layer it on, one piece over the other, one experience over the next until you have something richly textured and vibrant at the end.

I once read somewhere that life is a series of battles and blessings. Battle, blessing, battle, blessing, good, bad, good, bad. I don’t think life is necessarily as linear as that. Sometimes the battles and blessings, the good and bad are mixed in together and you must learn to identify and pick out the blessings hidden inside the battles. I want this to become our family’s habit. The reality is that life naturally tilts towards the negative so we must push back against misery and relentlessly pursue the light. I think it is rather special that all five members of our family have the same blood type. Each of us is B+ (B positive). How’s that for a sign to BE POSITIVE! Here’s to many Happy Moments in 2018!

Getting into a groove and other news

November 3, 2017

This month we’ve been getting to know Kate. Newborns remind me so much of miniature old people. They’re all shrivelled, toothless, hunched and sleepy. It feels as if I’ve had a 105 year old woman sucking on my breast. Newborns, especially those in a sling or wrapped against their mom, also remind me of treefrogs. It’s the way they suction to their mother’s chest and their limbs are so thin and angular and crunched up under their trunks. Once I said to someone with a newborn, ‘Awwww sweet! He looks just like a treefrog.’ I honestly meant it in a good, complimentary way.

I’ve set the bar very low (or is it high?) and my primary focus has been to keep Kate alive. Last week I nearly dropped her. I read somewhere that babies have no worries or fears except for one – they are scared of falling. My poor girl. I’m trying so hard to be a good mom and there I go, almost legitimizing her greatest fear. As you can imagine, that incident gave me a sleepless night as I lay in bed, stared at the ceiling and worked myself into a tizz over the what ifs.

Kate’s two older sisters love her so much and probably a bit too much. It is a very real possibility that they could kiss or hug her to death. Megan and Jessica like to hold Kate and have a fixation on carrying her around the house. I think they want to copy me. Megan says, ‘I want to walk and carry her.’ This cannot happen, it must not happen without adult supervision so I cannot leave Kate unattended for a second. This is the most stressful and exhausting part of having a newborn baby. I can’t even go to the loo on my own and I now do my ablutions at high speed. Megan and Jessica mean no harm but they don’t understand how delicate Kate is or how easy it is to trip or slip on the toys and other land-mines strewn on the floor.

Playing with make up … and Kate

My saving grace is my Moby Wrap. Best invention ever! I tie it round me and stick Kate inside it and this frees up my hands. I’m rather like a kangaroo and Kate is my little joey tucked in my pouch.  She sleeps soundly when she’s in it, possibly because this is the only place where she feels so safe and protected from her over loving sisters.

Even when I am around to supervise, things get a little hairy such as when I was driving and I noticed in the rear-view mirror than Megan had shoved her foot into three week old Kate’s face. ‘I’m just showing her the hole in my sock,’ she said.

This is why Kate struggles to sleep during the day unless she’s in the wrap

I turn my back and they’ve painted Kate’s nails. Luckily it’s just marker pen and not real polish.

For over two weeks after Kate was born, I was laid up with horrid flu. I developed a cracking, whip of a cough that left me more limp and weary than I’ve felt in ages. I was worried Kate would catch it given the way I was breathing and spluttering all over her. ‘Are you breastfeeding?’ the midwife asked, ‘Then she will be absolutely fine’. And she was. I couldn’t believe that she didn’t catch any of my germs, not even the slightest sniffle. It was like my breastmilk was this magical protective shroud. Nature can be so awesome.

My problem – and it’s a good problem to have – is that I have an oversupply of milk and my boobs are squirting left, right and centre. Every feed takes me less than five minutes but Kate takes in a lot of air as she gulps down the milk. I spend a while helping her burp out these elusive air bubbles that cause her such pain and discomfort and make her thrash and writhe about like she’s a hooked fish. I’ve forgotten how onerous this burping malarkey is. I don’t have the patience or skill for it. I angle her in all directions, thump her on the back, bounce her up and down, rock her about and still nothing happens. Sometimes, when I’m really tired and the burp won’t budge, I want to hang her upside down and bang her on the back with a judge’s gavel. It must be confusing for Megan and Jessica that we disapprove when they burp but there’s relief and celebration when Kate does it.

My mom was here for seven weeks and has now left. Alastair and I agree that the best way to love us is to love our children and Granny does this so well. Now that she’s gone, I’m figuring out my new routine and ironing out the weak points. Dinner time with three little kids is a particular challenge. It’s like a chimpanzee’s tea party. Why is it that everything falls to pieces at dinner time? I hoped that Kate would sleep while I feed the other girls but she’s wide awake and rock n roll. I’ve always had visions of sitting round the dinner table and calmly reflecting on the highs and lows of our day. Instead, Alastair’s still at work, Megan and Jessica turn feral and there’s generally a lot of weeping and wailing. All three children want to sit on my lap and Megan and Jessica suddenly become incapacitated and unable to feed themselves. I say to them, ‘Why is it that I never need to spoon feed you ice cream but I have to spoon feed you your lasagne?’

Then we have a lot of: I WANTED THE PINK PLATE! WHERE’S THE BUNNY SPOON? I CAN’T EAT THIS WITHOUT THE BUNNY SPOON! I don’t understand why food tastes completely different if you put it on a green plate vs a pink plate. Why does food taste better on princess utensils? One of my friends said her children have the same reaction if they break their arm or if you put their juice in the wrong cup. Hell hath no fury like a 4 year old whose sandwich has been cut into squares when he wanted triangles.

Alastair says that if dinner time becomes too much of a battle, then I should just give up and send the children to bed with empty tummies. I can’t bear this because I want them to eat my food dammit. I put so much effort into making fresh, home-made meals from scratch and it breaks my heart to see it unappreciated. I know I just need more discipline. ‘Consequences Julie’, my mom said. ‘They just need consequences.’ But what are the most effective consequences for bad behaviour? I’ve tried star charts, treat deprivation, no TV, time out etc etc. I find the best thing is threatening a paddywhack on the bum, but this is not really the mom I aspire to be. I don’t like frothing at the mouth and chasing my kids round the house with the wooden spoon.

Next to Kate – doing a poo and watching the iPad

During this past month, I’ve realized that love is limitless but my attention is not. I only have 2 hands and there are only 24 hours in a day. That’s the juggle but, after the years of mind-shrivelling, soul-corroding jobs in my twenties, I’m up for the challenge.

My friends love sharing articles on Facebook that go viral because they are about how amazing moms are, how hard core parenting is and how we need to give ourselves grace and carve out more ‘Me Time’. They share articles and advice on how motherhood is the hardest and most unappreciated job in the world. They discuss sleep deprivation and how gruelling this phase of our lives is and what a fantastic job we’re all doing. It’s very go-girl, mom-power, sisterhood kind of encouragement. I thought I was the only person on the planet who finds these things so nauseating until I read one of these articles on a Facebook link and then skimmed through the comments at the end. Some person somewhere in the world, called Sydney Chandler, wrote a response that resonated with me so much that I copied and pasted it into my journal.

Whenever I feel frazzled or like I’m operating as a flying saucer looking for a place to land, then I read it for some healthy perspective. Here it is verbatim:

Sydney Chandler ·

This is the life you chose and every other day there’s some article with these women patting themselves on the back for making a choice no one forced them to make. You are not a soldier dropped in a hot zone risking your life. That’s REAL stress and battle. You’re not law enforcement, federal or otherwise, once again risking your life. You are a mother and many women before you and after you have and will be one. Stop acting as if you’re reinventing the wheel and applying for sainthood and martyrdom. My mom was a professional and raised 3 kids and guess what, not one time did she whine, moan and complain, she and my dad just got on about their lives and that was that. She had tons of friends, went to lunch, dinner, shopped, had a successful career and was a role model to us. She never said I had to become a mother, she said live the life I wanted to live. Enough with these poor me, I need constant adulation and gold stars articles about motherhood. You’re not special. If you’re having a hard time and let yourself go, then that’s on you. Toughen up, pull up your big girl panties and stop the whining.







Exquisite pain and then … Kate Rose!

October 10, 2017

Birthing each of my three children has without a doubt been the highlight of my life.  I love the buoyancy and general zen I feel while pregnant.  I enjoy the suspense and anticipation of exactly when the birth will happen, the searing raw agony of the event itself and then the final glory and that enormous firework display of pride and love at the end.  I’m blown away by the vast, screaming, mucousy, bloody, pulsing majesty of it all.  I have never felt so fully alive as I do in the moment of childbirth. It’s almost spiritual, like I’m the closest I’ve ever been to heaven on earth, like I’m on holy ground.  It’s been my personal burning bush encounter.  No recreational drugs, no bungee jumping, no sky diving and other stereotypical high-inducing activities could possibly beat the emotional, physical and spiritual buzz of pushing a baby out through my hips.

Kate Rose Surycz was born at 19h41 on Wednesday 4 October.

Whenever you have a vaginal birth, the first question people ask is, ‘Did you have an epidural?’  When you have your appendix out, no one asks if you had an anaesthetic.  I suppose that giving birth without pain relief is the equivalent of putting your body through a challenging physical feat such as the Ironman or Comrades Marathon. It’s impressive and a big test of stamina.

I decided many weeks ago that this time I would have no epidural. When Jessica was born, I suspected my epidural had been administered too late and had therefore not worked anyway.  This time, and since it’s my last baby, I wanted to go for the burn and feel what pure childbirth involves. I’m not the slightest bit sporty so childbirth sans epidural seemed an interesting opportunity to test my physical endurance, just for the fun of it. On Wednesday evening when I was in the midst of intense contractions and only a measly 3cm dilated, the gynae asked if I would like an epidural.  I fleetingly remembered my commitment to no pain relief and said without hesitation, ‘Yes please! I would like an epidural’.  That was a quick test of my willpower – i.e. non existent.

It turned out the epidural was not necessary as I went from 3cm to fully dilated in about 20 minutes and it was too late anyway. I had to just ride it out head on as the pain chewed into me and turned me inside out.  Screaming required too much energy.  Instead I groaned and grunted, like an animal.  I’ve never heard sounds coming out of me like that before.  Childbirth is so raw and primal.  It only lasted about forty minutes and then it was over.  It wasn’t so bad, in hindsight.  In the moments of pushing, I felt as if I was being unzipped and torn in two from top to bottom but, in actual fact, I didn’t tear at all or require any stitches down below, which was a surprise.  I’m not sure if I’m most chuffed with myself for doing childbirth without an epidural or doing it all in French.

This time I got Al to video the birth and I’ve watched it over and over.  Al couldn’t understand my interest in reliving such a gruelling experience  and didn’t see the point in video souvenirs.  I said, ‘Al if you don’t video this for me, we will need to have a forth child’. Needless to say, he did a super job of filming.  I also wanted to watch the expulsion of the placenta.  It looks like a big steak.  I can’t believe my body made that.  I’ve examined Kate’s fingers, nails, eyebrows, eyes, ears, toes and other body parts and thought ‘My body made this.  My body made that’. (Well, God did but using my body – you know what I mean). It’s surreal and amazing that a new and complete little human grew out of me.  I keep studying her and whispering, ‘Kate, I can’t believe you were inside me.’

One of the reasons I’m so awed by childbirth is this raging torrent of love I felt when blue, bloody, mucousy Megan, Jessica and now Kate were finally pulled out and then placed on my chest.  It’s amazing how love expands and multiples.  It’s not like you get a finite quantity of love to distribute among all your children.  There’s so much to go around. I love them all equally and abundantly.

There are different types of love in a family.  My love for Alastair is completely different to the love I have for my children. The love between a husband and wife is conditional whereas my love for my children is not.  I always scoff when people say they have unconditional love for a spouse.  Alastair and I agree that our love for each other is dependent on certain non negotiable deal breakers – fidelity is an example.  This makes spousal love like a crystal glass. It’s beautiful and treasured and precious but oh so delicate and breakable.

There is nothing fragile about maternal love.  It is like a thick steel rope that connects me to my girls. It cannot break.  It is completely and utterly unconditional.  There are no deal breakers, it’s for forever and always and will never ever end.  There is nothing that can possibly make me love them less.  I will easily maim, kill, or destroy anyone who tries to harm them.  I am the lioness and they are my cubs.

My milk has come in fast and furious and for Kate it’s like drinking out of a burst fire hydrant.  Breastfeeding on both sides takes about 10 minutes.  As expected, now that I have given birth and I’ve got my milk, I’ve lost the zen I had in the last months of pregnancy and my hormones are ricocheting around my body.  I knew this would happen.  I braced myself for the hormonal backlash and expected it would feel as if I’ve freefallen off an emotional cliff face.  I believe this is a fault in our design and a flaw in the childbirth process.  Why, God?  Why does one need to feel so emotional and unhinged in the aftermath and especially as the milk comes in?  It’s ridiculous!  

Megan and Jessica are enthralled by their new sister.  They seem to love her, possibly a bit much.  I may have to teach them how to channel their love and adoration in calm and gentle ways because I’m worried that their version of a hug is putting Kate in a head lock and their version of a kiss is more like mouth to mouth resuscitation.  I can already see that Kate will build up good germ resistance, thanks to her big sisters.  Megan and Jessica discovered her dummy when they arrived at the hospital for a visit.  They each sucked and sampled it and gave it a good fiddle in their grubby paws.  Once they left and before I could give the dummy a thorough clean, the midwife popped it back in Kate’s mouth.  I remember when Megan was born, I sterilized her dummies every day.  Sorry Kate!

I’m looking forward to starting our new normal as a family of five. Some people take it upon themselves to be prophets of doom and warn me how hard it will be to juggle life with three kids but my theory is that running an efficient household and feeling on top of things is mostly about routine, organisation and general good project management.  Now to put that theory to the test.  

This picture of a sleeping Megan and Jessica basically sums up my desire for my children – that they always love each other, that they become best friends and that they have each other’s backs.


Drowning, twirling and other news

September 17, 2017

This past month, I nearly drowned. For about two nights after the incident, I couldn’t sleep as I tossed and turned and contemplated the what-ifs and beat myself up for being such an idiot for putting myself in such a precarious situation in the first place.

It was Saturday and a sunny day so we picnicked by the lake. I watched from the shore as Alastair, Megan and Jessica pedalled on a hired boat out on the water. ‘That’s not too far’, I thought. ‘I’ll swim and join them’.

I walked out as far as I could and when the ground disappeared under my feet and the water was deep, I swam. I breast-stroked towards the boat, feeling light and buoyant and overflowing with the joys of life (remember I told you I’m always so zenned and energised in the last phase of pregnancy?)

I kept going until I reached the buoys demarcating the end of the swimming area. Alastair and the girls looked too far away – further than I had originally anticipated – and I was tired so I decided to toss my plan and head back to shore. No sweat. I turned around and then, OH MY GOODNESS, I didn’t realize I had swum out so far! ‘Don’t panic, don’t panic’ I whispered as I panicked and my thoughts rushed around my head like frightened rats in a burning building.

It’s funny how, in just an instant, things can go from OK to not OK. The lake, which had been so inviting and refreshing, all of a sudden turned ominous and menacing, as if it would devour me and suck me down into its depths. My muscles burned and I felt so tired, so very very tired. My big tummy became a lead weight and I felt it pulling me downwards. I swam a little further on my front, then on my back and realized that my hands were not giving me enough pull and momentum, like the flippers they had been in the beginning. I lost all notion of strokes and flailed about as the water slid pointlessly through my open fingers.

I quickly realized I couldn’t cope and I needed to call for help, but how? Everyone seemed to be in the distance, small and oblivious, completely and utterly absorbed in their own fun – laughing and chatting and splashing and boating and building sandcastles and eating their picnics. No one noticed my plight. I was invisible. I wasn’t sure I even had the energy to muster a big splash or yell. I imagined myself sinking quietly to the depths of the lake with no one realizing a thing. I pictured my family returning to the abandoned picnic blanket and wondering how and to where I had vanished. ‘Oh God, I’ve done something so silly. I’ve made a terrible mistake. Please help me,’ I begged.

Out the corner of my eye I saw a guy on his paddle board about 20m away. I coughed and spluttered and waved for him to row to me. I clung to his board while he towed me to shore. My saviour, my heroic little tugboat. Long story short – a lesson learned. This incident gave me a massive jolt and left a deep impression on my already fear-inclined psyche. I will never ever again swim out in such deep areas on my own.


Megan started school and seems to love it. I always greet her after school as if I’m a Labrador. She’s not into recounting her day in the intricate detail I pant for – she mostly just gives me scraps. Sometimes she is a fountain of feedback at 21h30 at night when she’s supposed to be asleep, but other than that she’s not very responsive when I pepper her with questions. How was your day? What did you do? Are you happy? Who did you sit with? Who did you play with? Did you sing/paint/draw/colour? Did you enjoy the snack I made you? What did you like about it? She’s always gung-ho to go to school, so she must enjoy it. I wish I had a Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak so I could observe what goes on when I’m not around.

Most kids must be similar because my friend’s son started school in the UK and he loves it but she reckons it’s like a secret society because, when he gets home, he can’t seem to remember or relate what he did there.

I’ve noticed Megan and Jessica are starting to absorb and display interesting nuances of French culture. These are Frenchy quirks that I haven’t learned about from my books and studies. An example is they tend to exclaim, ‘oopla!’ when they, say, drop something or make a little mistake. I think ‘oopla’ is the French version of ‘oops’. They’re also mixing French words with English ones so Megan may say, ‘Mom can I grimp (climb) that tree?’ When she’s asked her name in French, she responds in a French accent with the French pronunciation which is ‘Mare-Gun’ and if she’s asked in English, she just says ‘Megan.’ It’s so cute.

It pleases me that Megan and Jessica are integrating into the Swiss/French society because I want them to have a cultural identity to which they can belong and identify. They aren’t South Africans (in spite of Al and me) and they aren’t British (in spite of their passports).

People say that in this day and age where we are so connected and mobile and spread apart, the world is our home rather than one particular country. I don’t like that idea. I want Megan and Jessica to feel rooted somewhere – here ideally.

Megan’s prayers

Every night Megan prays this prayer or a version similar to it:

Megan’s favourite drawing subject – princesses!  This is a princess mermaid.

Thank you Jesus for pink.

Thank you Jesus for unicorns.

Thank you Jesus for princesses and French toast.

Thank you Jesus for ice cream tomorrow.

Thank you Jesus for Mommy and Daddy and Jessie.

Thank you Jesus I love you.


It’s getting colder and the girls can no longer wear dresses and skirts. Today, Alastair insisted Jessica wore trousers and not a skirt. She was fed up and said to him, ‘How am I supposed to do twirls? I can’t twirl in trousers!’ I adore the purity and simplicity of a happy child’s life. Life is grey and dull when we lose our appreciation for things such as twirls and pink and unicorns and princesses.  I reckon the world would be a happier place if we all twirled more.

Rollercoasters, doughnuts and other news

August 25, 2017

Our lovely, unobtrusive Swiss neighbours have moved to the US and are renting out their house. I’ve been hoping for friendly tenants with young, housetrained kids, no vicious dogs and no cats. Our horror of a neighbour on the other side (with the out-of-control bamboo) has about 6 cats and that adds a lot to the already large neighbourhood contingent of roaming felines. I detest these cats especially since one of them peed on my pram and it took me forever to remove the embedded pine-coney hone.

We’ve noticed some activity in the house and I saw two cars parked outside but I’ve not yet met the people. I observed to Al that, judging by their cars, these new neighbours appear a bit low class and scruffy. He then pointed out that, ‘Julie, judging by our cars, we also appear low class and scruffy.’ Oh yes, true.


I’ve said this before and I will say it again and again. The thing that most stuns me about parenting is how it can be both absolutely exhilarating and absolutely petrifying at exactly the same time. It’s a lot like the thrill and adrenalin rush of a rollercoaster.

Last week Megan, Jessica and I went for a walk with the scooters along some farm roads nearby. Jessica doesn’t yet know how to brake. With a burst of bravado and self-confidence, she broke away from my grip on her just as we approached an incline. She then lost control and careened down the hill, screaming in terror. The incident lasted about 10 seconds but in that time I used up my entire body’s supply of adrenalin as I sprinted after her in spite of my 9 month pregnant belly and my bust-up coccyx.

You know how you have those dreams where you need to get somewhere desperately and urgently but you are stuck and can’t move? It felt like that. I pushed my body to the absolute limits in those 10 seconds. I literally galloped, just like a horse.  Talk about a mother’s love. I still couldn’t catch up to her. Do you know how much speed a scooter can gather in 10 seconds? Jessica eventually veered into the verge, tumbled a few times and stood up weeping but remarkably unscathed. I feel like cats get nine lives but children are allocated a lot more. One of my great challenges with parenting is to keep the kids alive and intact without being neurotic and overprotective. It is such an enormous responsibility. I’m surprised I haven’t yet developed a nervous twitch.

Jessica and the potty

Talking about Jessica, she’s now almost fully potty trained. Whoop, whoop – big milestone! My theory is that she was ready ages ago but she was too lazy to give it a go. She preferred to stand still on the spot and continue colouring or watching TV while she did a whizz in her nappy. Now that it is the peak of summer, it is hot and stifling in a thick nappy so she’s been more game to try panties and run to the potty. We leave it in the lounge, so at least there is easy access.

Playing Lego, watching TV, doing puzzles, playing with the kitchen and doll house … while on the potty.

The other day Al said he noticed flecks of poo on the wall in the downstairs loo. This is because Jessica won’t leave her business in the potty and let me empty it. She likes to follow through the process to the very end and do it herself – ‘I do it! I do it!’ – so I must drop what I am doing, spring up from wherever I am and race to prevent her from sloshing the contents across the house as she heads to the bathroom.


I’ve been wondering. The other day, when we were at the self-service bakery section of the supermarket, I caught Megan and Jessica licking their fingers and then gently wiping them on about 6 luminous pink iced doughnuts. Do you think it would have been socially respectful and responsible for me to have then bought all 6 doughnuts? Maybe it depends on who saw them do it. As that saying goes, ‘If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ If a child fiddles with a doughnut and no one is around to see it, does it matter?

I asked a friend for her opinion and she said that her son recently popped up next to her at the checkout at the supermarket with sticky brown paws and a miniature toy car. She realized he had just squeezed open a Kinder egg so she reprimanded him and then beetled out the shop at high speed. She felt she spends enough money at this store and why the heck do they put these sweets at adult thigh height and within easy reach of a three year old?   .

Another thing that surprises me about parenting is how completely and utterly dependent children are on us for protection, guidance and moral instruction. They exit the womb as a blank sheet of paper and tend towards the feral. It is our responsibility as parents to mould them and tame them and turn them into well-adjusted, respectful citizens. When I saw Megan and Jessica giggling and pawing the doughnuts, I wanted to grab them by the feet and lasso them across the shop but I also have to pick my battles and I didn’t feel that was one of them. I already have my hands full teaching them how to brake on a scooter and not pee in their trousers, so it frustrates me that shops make our already challenging jobs so difficult by deliberately putting pink doughnuts and Kinder eggs within easy reach of hungry, inquisitive toddlers.

The next phase

One more month and then the baby arrives. I am always so zenned and content in the last phase of pregnancy. It’s not like the beginning bit when I vomited every day for three months. I’m bracing myself for that period after the birth when my hormones ricochet around my body and, for about 3 weeks, I feel like I’ve free fallen off an emotional cliff and I cry for no reason at all.

I will miss my belly. I love feeling the baby inside me, alive and well and kicking about but still safe and protected. It amazes me how I can love someone so much already, before I’ve even met them. As with the birth of all my children, it is strange to finally meet someone for the first time and for which I already have a vast, solid, unshakeable kind of love. The pain is worth it, just so I can meet them once it’s over. It’s an exquisite kind of physical pain. In all the negativity and brokenness of the world, it is special to have and to remember the privilege of having experienced three such moments of peace, beauty and joy.

Our big girl growing up. First day of school and what excitement! Her happy moments recently have been ‘Going to School’.

Megan’s 5th birthday party which we did at home with games and the works. We pulled out all the stops. Kids’ parties are hard core. Al and I were so exhausted and that night we toppled into bed like felled oaks.

Megan and Jessica’s play quirks continue to amuse and baffle me. The other day Megan carried 5 undies on her doll carrier at the back of her bike. I also came across undies stuffed in my Tupperware containers.