I’ve booked a three-week trip to South Africa over Easter 2015. Alastair is coming for a shorter time which means I will travel there on my own. Some people are wondering how I will cope with two kids during the flight.
One of my friends travelled long distance on her own with her three children. She said it was manageable because her high-energy three year old son was subdued thanks to the loud suction of the onboard toilet which ‘scared the shit out of him’. If he misbehaved, she whispered, ‘Right! To the toilet! Now!’
If Megan acts feral during the flight and I feel I am losing control, I will take her into the little bathroom and flush the loo a few times. See, it will be fine.
Everyone said that two kids would be intense. I only find it overwhelming when they are sick, when the weather is bad, when Alastair travels for work, when we prepare to leave the house, when I need to enforce boundaries and between 5 and 7pm every evening.
Generally I don’t think it’s that hard with two kids provided you are good at project management and tone down the sound board. Life is like a sound board with different channels for different phases or aspects of life. When you have young children, you have to accept that the ‘children’ channel is dialled far up and other ones such as ‘fitness’, ‘restful sleep’ or ‘personal down time’ must be dialled lower for a season because there is not enough time and energy to be everything and do everything.
Switzerland is not Entertainment Central for kids and it is particularly rough when the weather is bad. I discovered my local shopping centre has a play area and babysitting service. I left Megan there with a gentle Filipino lady this week. There was only one babysitter and no backup and this concerned me. I asked, ‘When you go to the toilet, what do you do?’
She looked confused and replied, ‘Usually just a wee’.
I hurriedly explained that, oh dear, I didn’t mean what do you actually do in the toilet but what do you do with the children when you need to go.
Anyway, Megan loved it so we will go back there.
Jessica is already three months old. She’s becoming more alert and stays awake for longer, cooing and smiling. She’s past the flimsy, breakable stage of a newborn and, when she’s naked, her skinny legs are no longer all bent up at angles like an uncooked chicken. I miss that. Every time I bath her or change her nappy, I grip her chunky legs and wonder where the time has gone.
The second child is much easier. I am more confident and Jessica is chilled because she has to be. She is aware of her place in the hierarchy and knows that Megan calls the shots, sibling-wise.
When Megan was a baby, she had cot mobiles and rattles and squeaky toys and rotating entertainment systems. She had a sun that sang when you tapped it, a dog that broke into song when you pulled its tail and a frog that croaked and vibrated when you stretched out its legs. Megan has tapped, pulled and stretched these toys with such enthusiasm and force that the frog will not croak or vibrate another day in its life, the sun can no longer sing and the dog has lost its tail. Megan constantly rips the animals off Jessica’s cot mobile so there’s little point in using it. Shame, poor Jessica. But actually she doesn’t need these things because Megan is like a giant, living toy. Her big sister’s giggles, shrieks, wails and whines are all the stimulation and entertainment Jessica needs.
The cot mobile that Megan enjoyed when she was a baby:
Jessica’s version of the same cot mobile:
We have redone our kitchen which is now open-plan with extra surface space. The process was supposed to take 2 weeks but I had no work tops, no sink, no tap and no water for more than a month thanks to the abysmal customer service we received from suppliers in France and Switzerland.
I’ve been thinking about how, when I was a first year articled clerk and a naive and unguided missile of enthusiasm, I was sitting in my cubicle and overheard one of my colleagues on the phone to a client. She barked, ‘Listen up. If you don’t have the documentation ready when I arrive on Monday, I will chop off your balls.’ I thought that was rude. Now after all these years, I am jaded and impatient and it gave me great pleasure when I imagined what it would be like to slice off our two kitchen suppliers’ balls and pass them through the woodchipper.
Businesses here have no concept of customer service. One supplier said my French was bad (although as I was speaking, I thought it was bad too) and another disappeared off the face of the earth after we paid him. The biggest problem with service in this place is that no one takes responsibility and says, ‘Look, I made a mistake. I’m sorry.’ That is all I ask. When something goes wrong, the first thing people do is pass the buck.
I asked our granite suppliers for a discount for the pain and inconvenience and they said that is unheard of in this part of the world. If something is wrong, they will fix it but they never reduce the price. My contact said I can write a letter to the head-honcho to justify in detail why I believe I deserve a discount. What a cheek! As if it is not obvious already!
When I booked my tickets to SA, I rang Lufthansa on a German number. I was put through to a lady who spoke perfect English with an accent I couldn’t place immediately but I thought it sounded a lot like mine. She was so lovely and so kind and I knew it was unlikely she was based in Europe.
I asked her where she was located and guess what she said? ‘I’m in Cape Town. You’ve been put through to the Lufthansa call centre in South Africa.’ That explains it. For all its problems, South Africa still offers the warmest, most sincere service. After the kitchen ordeal, it was like I got a hug from Mama Africa.