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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 


Being five and other news

May 15, 2017

Megan starts formal schooling (like kindergarten) in September and I recently discovered that at the end of the year, in May 2018, her class will go on a 2 night camp. So she will be away from home for TWO WHOLE NIGHTS at the teeny tiny, insy winsy, little age of FIVE YEARS OLD. Oh my hat. I’m not comfortable with that. This French/Swiss crowd is so different to what I am used to. I went on my first school camp at the age of 11 and I was wrecked with homesickness the entire time. Maybe, for all I know, Megan will love it and be gung-ho and on board with the idea. She is a lot more chilled out than I ever was as her age but five still feels too young for a trip like that. I sense that I may butt heads with the Swiss system.

I spoke to two moms who said they will need to have more sleepovers to practice and get their children used to the idea. This bothers me too. I know my friends well but not their older children, extended family, neighbours or husbands and you never know what could go on in the dark of night in someone else’s house. Until Megan understands boundaries and what constitutes appropriate behaviour and has the vocabulary to communicate anything disturbing to me afterwards, then she ain’t going on no sleepover.

Handling rejection early on

Talking about Megan, I recently discovered that one of her classmates had a party and she wasn’t invited. I’m not sure of the circumstances around it and maybe the birthday girl only selected one or two close friends. I wish people wouldn’t hand out invitations at school. Either invite everyone or the parents should liaise quietly and discreetly about it off school premises.

Why are people so insensitive? But that’s life and I guess Megan has to get used to it sooner rather than later. The incident hurt me more than it did Megan. Sometimes I am surprised by the force and power of the love I have for my children. It is the kind of love that brings out the lioness deep inside me, that part of me that could easily kill, maim or destroy any person who harms my beloved cubs. This love has ferocity so unquestioning, so vast, that if anything happened to my babies, I know I would feel unhinged and empty as if I myself had ceased to exist.

Another reason why this incident bothered me was because, above all else, I want my children to have confidence. I want them to have a deep, unwavering sense of self-worth. The party rejection is a potentially classic confidence-damaging incident. My life experience so far has taught me that confidence trumps intelligence. It is great to have both qualities but I reckon that confidence is a greater guarantee of happiness and success than intelligence alone. If I could give my children just one gift ever for the rest of their lives it would be this: Confidence.

Living hard core

Moving on … I present to you a picture of Megan’s shoes. I initially thought that shoes could be passed from one child to the other to save cash, like clothes. But shoes, particularly takkies, must be replaced regularly. To Megan, shoes are not just coverings for the feet. They make great brakes as she slides her feet along the ground for more resistance. After a few weeks, she wears the front out and her toes peek out.

The sandals on the right were brand spanking new a week ago and have been worn only three times!

I think this picture sums up children. From the time they wake up to the time they nod off at night, it’s full on and go go go. Children have two modes – ON or OFF, like a blender. I know that some children wear their parents out in such a way that they feel a bit like those shoes look.

I told Al that I reckon Megan’s shoes are a model for life. Obviously we shouldn’t destroy our lives in the way Megan does her shoes but I love the way she uses them to the full and stretches them to the limits. I think we are supposed to live passionately and fully and well, and that’s what toddlers tend to do.

Jessica’s winning streak

This month I broke my winning streak when Jessica got an ear infection and had to go to the doctor for the first time. She is almost three and never been to the doctor in her entire life, other than for routine vaccinations and growth check ups. I’ve been so proud of her healthy record. I thought it was an interesting coincidence that a week after my breastmilk dried up, she needed a doctor’s intervention for the first time. I calculated that by having three children, I will have breastfed for about 9 years non-stop. I am so chuffed about that because I think breastfeeding is like a dirt-cheap natural, fortifying, magic elixir (for both the mom and child, funnily enough).

I need new glasses so I called the optician who said that eyes change during pregnancy so I should only book an appointment when ‘the pregnancy related stuff is over’. ‘When exactly is that?’ I asked. She said come in when I have finished breastfeeding. Bwhahahahahahaha. ‘So you mean I must wait another four years until my new child is weaned before I can get new glasses?’

Here’s one of the ironies about Europe. No one breast feeds for long (3 months max) yet they are totally fine with women breastfeeding in public. I’ve done it discreetly anywhere and everywhere and I’ve only ever been regarded with respect and admiration. You can also go to the pool without a bikini wax and no one is fussed.  My Texan friend said that where she comes from in America, breastfeeding for longer is more common but it is frowned upon to do it in public. You have to hide yourself under a kind of breastfeeding burkha or huddle in specially allocated breastfeeding areas.

Remember I said how I was fascinated by the creative ways children play and what goes on up in their little heads?  I will end off with two photos of Jessica’s play this week:

Dollies put to bed beneath drink coasters

When Jessica plays with play dough, she gathers the Barbies and rips off all their clothes. Then she covers them with the play dough, starting first with the boobs and genital area. Fascinating!


Triangles

April 2, 2017

I haven’t been feeling great lately because … I’m pregnant! I’ve had that crazy first trimester fatigue where you feel leaden, as if you’ve been sedated or are severely jet lagged. I’ve also been so nauseous. One day I was hunched over the loo and explained to Megan not to worry as it was the baby in my tummy that was making me feel so sick. ‘Why don’t you just take it out then?’ she asked.

Retching and vomiting are ho-hum and commonplace in our house these days. Every time Jessica coughs, she says she’s vomiting. I once realised Jessica was upstairs in the bathroom on her own. ‘What are you doing up there?’ I shouted up to her. ‘I’M VOMITING!!!!!’ she bellowed back. Actually she wasn’t. She thinks it’s the standard response when you spend a lot of time in the bathroom. She was simply fiddling in the cupboard and unravelling the toilet paper.

When I finished school, the future unfurled before me and my friends like a long, welcoming magic carpet. The possibilities were endless. We had grand plans for our lives, most of which went something like this: Go to university, travel, get a high-flying job, make lots of money, get married, buy a house, have kids, settle down and live happily ever after.

We thought we could pick off what we wanted out of life in the same way you pick items off the shelf when you are shopping – I want this, I want that. I’ll take this, I’ll take that. It turns out that life is not always like that. It is full of surprises, false starts, twists and turns. Some things have worked out as I expected, others better than I expected and others not at all as I expected.

One of the areas that has come relatively easily and where I have been able to pick my desires off the shelf is around falling pregnant. I calculated that most of my close friends have struggled with fertility issues or have not been able to conceive at all. I have watched them on these long, painful fertility journeys over stormy oceans and across endless deserts and some still haven’t found their oasis. I am profoundly humbled that I haven’t needed to personally endure this angst and longing. Why me and not others? I don’t know. Life can be so strange and unfair. It is one of life’s great ironies that some of the most morally bankrupt, neglectful, dregs of society have supersonic reproductive systems and breed like bunnies whereas the most deserving, potentially awesome parents struggle so much. I will never understand this. So, my ability to have my own children is a luxury for which I am on-my-knees grateful. Not a day goes by where I don’t feel deeply thankful for this privilege.

Many people have asked why I want three children. No one questions a person’s decision to have one or two kids but it appears that a bigger family requires an explanation. I kind of understand the sentiment. I once met someone with seven kids and my first thought was, ‘In this day and age, why the *&£%$ do you need seven children?’

The decision to expand our family has been a big debate between me and Al and between me and my inner voices for years. Last week I walked through the vineyards with some friends. Megan, Jessica and their buddies played near a trickling stream that I only realised later, flowed into a large open storm water drain that disappeared into the bowels of the earth.  Good grief.  When I saw it, I had that vertigo you get when you look down from a really high building. What if they had fallen in? I couldn’t sleep that night as I tossed and turned and contemplated the what ifs.   Parenting is an enormous responsibility. When people ask me why I want to bring an additional person into the world, I suppose then that it is a legitimate question.

The world is a mess isn’t it? There’s a lot to be concerned about. We seem hellbent on vandalizing the future. Look at Trump. The most baffling, horrifying part of that situation is that he was elected to power in a democratic process. People – very stupid, hypocritical, selfish people with myopic thinking – chose this morally challenged, idiotic oaf.   Look at the environment. We humans are a unique kind of parasite that is systematically destroying our host, the planet. I have visions of my grandchildren living waste deep in skeletons as they scrounge for food in an arid, post nuclear wasteland. People! That’s the problem with the world. Closer to home, someone recently defaced the wall outside Megan’s school. We regularly pick up litter (mainly Red Bull cans) on our walks round the village. People rarely say ‘thanks’ when I give way to them when driving. My experience of humans is that our reflex is to be selfish and unkind.   Someone famous once said that the heart of the human problem is the problem with the human heart.

The other side of the coin is that we want our family to be part of the solution, not the problem. I want us to be the change we want to see in the world. Al and I hope our children will be roses in among the thorns. We plan to bring them up in such a way that they give back to the world more than they take from it. This is possibly a cheek since, at the moment, I may not be a net contributor myself. I’m trying hard though and I have some social and environmental causes that I am becoming more and more passionate about.

In the past, I struggled to understand what living life to the full meant for me. I think each of us has unique ideas and experiences of what a full life entails. In my early years, I went on life’s rollercoaster and through the merry-go-round in search of this elusive fullness. Recently I’ve realized that, for me, this fullness, this peace, this stillness, this fulfilment has come from my Christian faith together with being a mother and a wife.  It mostly comes from building a secure and happy family.

Many of my mom friends want an identity independent of being a mother and that’s understandable and absolutely ok. Many of them think they have lost their true identity in the chaos of motherhood but I feel I have found mine. I’m happy to just be a mom and I derive much of my personal meaning and fullness from that. I didn’t realize I would enjoy being a mother so much. I never realized I was so domesticated.   I love fussying and clucking over my precious babies, my sweet little chickens. I am by no means a perfect mother and I have many moments of spinning and feeling frazzled. It’s just that at the end of the day I don’t mind feeling wiped out with exhaustion because, for the first time in my life, I feel as if I am pouring my energy into a chalice rather than down a drain.

I don’t think that motherhood needs to be as stressful, demanding and exhausting as many people paint it out to be. At my mom’s group, we sometimes have presentations by people who say, ‘You moms are amazing. You are doing the hardest job in the world. You are down there in the trenches.’ And then we are supposed to feel good about ourselves and give ourselves a clap and pat on the back. When they say that, I roll my eyes and I wonder ‘Is being a mom really the hardest job in the world?’ I think being, for example, an air traffic controller at Heathrow or a trauma surgeon in ER is pretty hectic. I’m a world war history buff and we wouldn’t glibly compare motherhood to the frontlines or the trenches if we knew what fighting like that truly involved.

Logic told me that two kids are adequate in this day and age but something inside me didn’t feel our family was complete. One of my friends is one of three siblings and she said, ‘we are like the three corners of a triangle.’ It is hard to explain but deep down I’ve felt that my children are missing another corner.

I would have loved another sibling, like to have one to hold in each hand. When I was growing up, I felt loved but never secure and the ground was always wobbly under my feet. My brother was and is the only person who can relate to my childhood because we had exactly the same experiences and circumstances and walked exactly the same road side by side (albeit with different personalities!). We both would have enjoyed an additional person on our team. Blood is thicker than water and although I have good friends and a large extended family, no one is there for me like my brother is. He has my back more than anyone else and vice versa. I thought that, since Al and I are able and our life circumstances lend themselves to it, I would like to give Megan and Jessica this extra gift, this precious luxury, this deeply valued privilege and complete their team triangle.

A picture to end off and show the comfort and affection between sisters. I walked into the room and Megan said she was cutting Jessica’s toenails … with her teeth.  Of course the moment of love didn’t last long and Jessica ended up wailing when Megan nearly bit off her baby toe.


Spring?

March 16, 2017

This seemingly interminable winter is finally coming to an end. For many reasons, this winter has been my most gruelling in years. We spent the start of it enveloped and then embedded in that grey wet fog-cloud. That didn’t bode well for someone like me with weather dependent moods. Then we had minus slap-in-the-face cold temperatures for a few weeks, then snow, then snowdrifts, then constant grey and now I’ve had enough. I’m fed up of walking outside and feeling as if someone has thrown a bucket of ice water over me.

Earlier this week I sensed something different in the air. It started off very slight, almost imperceptible. I was sure there was a hint of spring in the air. I’m like a bird that is so in tune with nature that I can pick up these small shifts in temperature, air and light. Now it’s becoming more obvious and I’m almost certain spring has arrived. All of a sudden, I feel so much more buoyant and I have this urge to clean up the house. That’s probably where the word ‘spring clean’ comes from. I’ve noticed dust and grime and things that need to be cleaned or repaired. I want to declutter and sort and chuck out junk I don’t need.

Spring cleaning in Switzerland

The problem is that getting rid of stuff is not so easy in a place like Switzerland. That is why I’m so militant about not accumulating possessions other than what I absolutely need. If we want to dump items, our village charges us per kilo to dispose of it. I don’t want my old junk going into landfill because I detest this kind of waste.  I prefer to find a decent new home for my old belongings but this is often difficult to do. Some things that I would like to get rid of are not worthy enough to be sold so I would like to give them away. It’s not that simple.  ‘Give it to the poor’, my mom said. What poor? Where? In a place like Switzerland, there are needy people around but finding them takes some time and effort.

When we redid our kitchen, our renovator dismantled our old kitchen and tossed it in the rubbish dump. He chucked an oven that was old-fashioned but in perfectly good working order. ‘WHAT!?!?!!’ I shrieked when he told me. ‘I THOUGHT IT WAS GOING TO THE NEEDY!!!!’ He shrugged and explained he didn’t have time to locate the needy nor did he have the money to ship my old kitchen to Eastern Europe where it would definitely be appreciated. I was mortified and ashamed at the excess and waste. That’s a big problem with the world. If only there was a cheaper, easier way to connect those who are so willing to give with those people and places that are in need. It sickens me when I see the food and possessions that end up in landfill in rich, first world countries.

It is not like South Africa where the impoverished are so visible. My mother said that every Thursday afternoon when her complex puts out the bins for collection, women gather round to rummage inside them. At least when you dispose of things in South Africa, you can be guaranteed your second hand stuff is appreciated and put to good use and you feel as if you are helping someone.

My neighbour kept giving me her children’s old toys. At first, I thought she was so kind and generous but then I realised she was palming old crap on me as she didn’t know how else to get rid of it. Stuffed toys, for example, are near to impossible to dispose of and even charities refuse them for hygiene reasons. My cleaner gave me her daughter’s old bike. When she handed it over, I was so touched that she wanted to give me such a big gift for free. I was prostrate with gratitude until I realized the damn thing has no brakes and it will cost more to repair them than replace the entire bike. She passed it on to me – ‘last touch!’ – and now I must dispose of it at my hassle and expense.

Al

Moving on to other news. Al has had an intense and gruelling time at work. He described January and February as his worst year end ever. For the last while Al’s work has sunk its greedy fangs into the soft flesh of his neck and sucked and sucked and sucked the very life out of him and left him a dried up old husk of his former self. Now that the whirlwind busy period is supposedly winding down, his mission is to rediscover his mojo and joie de vivre.

Granny

Recently Granny was here for three weeks. No one gets down on their knees and relates to my children at their level with such love, interest and patience in the way my mother does. Megan and Jessica adore her so much so that, when she is not here and they are in a tight spot with me or Al, they always wail ‘Granny! Granny!’ as if they hope she will appear in a puff of smoke from South Africa and rescue them, like a genie out a magic lamp.

The girls

The girls are delightful as usual. I just wish they listened more. The most challenging part of motherhood for me is asserting my authority and maintaining discipline. Parenting would be a breeze if the kids followed instructions and obeyed when I spoke. Supper’s ready, come and eat. Get in the bath. Get out the bath. Put on your clothes. Wash your hands. Stop that now. No, you can’t eat that. Turn off the TV. Come here. Tidy up. Brush your teeth. Turn out the light. Bed time. Go to sleep. Etc etc etc. Megan and Jessica rarely listen first time round and they generally always opt for the path of most resistance. I once thought they had auditory issues and could do with a visit to the ENT to unblock the canals or syringe the ears but then I noticed that if unwrap a sweet in the kitchen or whisper, ‘chocolate?’ then they scuttle to me and fall at my feet in submission.

Children so clearly reveal the inherent rebelliousness in human nature but the other, more precious side of the coin is that they also highlight the beauty and creativity within all of us. These are the moments I treasure. They make parenting so rich and rewarding and worthwhile.

I love watching Megan play. It’s so interesting up there in her head. I’m not sure whether all kids are like this but Megan has a highly creative, borderline whacky way of playing. She tends to create small piles of random toys around the house, little toy turds. Her playing generally involves reorganising, redistributing and rearranging rather than organised, structured entertainment. Lately her playing always includes her underpants. She has Sophia the First and Disney Princess pants that she prefers to play with rather than wear. I once walked in on her neatly arranging them on the lounge carpet. She explained this was her garden and in it she was growing undies.

In the picture below, you can see she has created a mountain out of sheets and blankets and then tossed books and a sprinkle of undies on top. The other photo is an arrangement of animals, finished off with undies poking out the chest of drawers.

Megan continues to write her name as ‘Amahit’ even though she can write her proper name. If I look for a picture of hers on the wall at her school, I can’t look for ‘Megan’. It will be ‘Amahit’.

I love letting Megan and Jessica’s creativity loose. Their free expression is so pure and beautiful. I see it in the grungy, bohemian, off-the-wall way they dress themselves. Their teacher once asked if they ever wear matching socks. I don’t think they realize socks are designed in pairs. Who cares! Anyway, who says socks need to match?

Ok, that’s all for now folks.  I feel I haven’t written in a while and I have more to say but, since this has become long enough already, I’ll save it for other posts.


Play

June 2, 2016

One of the things that surprises me about motherhood is the way children play. I always imagined play was a reflex and was something that kids automatically knew how to do, such as breathing. There are certain aspects to play that are not as natural and inherent as I imagined. Playing independently for longer than five minutes seems to be a learned skill and maybe this is something Megan and Jessica will develop as they get older.

Right now, at aged 4 and under, Megan and Jessica’s play is short and chaotic. It involves a lot of destruction – ripping, messing, dumping, chucking, unravelling and unpacking – and then it usually ends with tears and a demand to be hugged or carried, like this:

rainbow

Based on my own experience and that of friends in the area, it appears that children assume their parents are their playmates. Can I tell you a secret? No parent admits this because of course we all adore our precious babies but playing with toddlers every day for long periods of time is actually kind of boring. Did I just say that out loud? Oops.

play2There was once an article that did the rounds on Facebook. There was a picture of a mother at a playground and she was engrossed in her cell phone. The writer wrote a shaming piece about how this woman should put down the technology and connect with her kids. Life is short, the article said, and children are precious and need our time and attention so stop pecking at your iPhone in their presence. ‘What a judgmental article’, I thought. Maybe that woman was a stay-at-home mother and had already had quality time with her children that day. I also catch up on my whatsapping at the playground. Do you have any idea how boring playgrounds can be, especially if you visit them multiple times a week?

I love being with my poppets but I find it tiring that they prefer to play with me or beside me. Their favourite place is on the iPad, the TV or my lap. I often say to Megan, ‘Go off and play. Play! PLAY. Why aren’t you PLAYING?’

My love and gratitude for Megan and Jessica is deep and intense and because this is a passing season and time flies, I feel I must soak up every moment. If my girls want me to play with them, I mostly put it above other tasks and feel guilty saying ‘later’ or ‘no’.

A friend said that she analysed her life and realised that one of the reasons why she is permanently knackered is because of the pressure she feels to be her son’s playmate. Her son loves trains and so he likes to play them with his mom. He doesn’t want her to necessarily interact with him. He wants her to sit on the floor next to him. He is happy if she plays with some trains and he plays with others. She feels this push-pull of emotions (love, gratitude but also boredom, frustration and guilt) because she cherishes the time she has with her little boy yet she finds it mind-numbing sitting on all fours steering Thomas the Tank Engine round and round the tracks on the lounge floor.

Farmer_s_Day_transparentThis mindset that we need to be our children’s playmate must be a modern phenomenon. Back in the old days, parents didn’t have vast swathes of time to always play with their kids and the children didn’t expect it either. I doubt they felt any less loved. All family members, even toddlers, were too busy doing household chores such as feeding the animals, milking the cows, cleaning the chicken coop, ploughing the fields or carrying pails of water up from the river. All that physical labour, fresh air and sunshine must have been so healthy and calming for children. Sometimes when Megan can’t concentrate and is bored and at my feet, I reckon that feeding the chickens would do her the world of good.

One of my theories why children don’t play well independently is because we parents are watching them constantly. We like to keep them within eyesight or calling distance in order to protect them from drowning, suffocating, choking hazards, falls, paedophiles and child snatchers. We never leave children alone without adult supervision so it is no wonder they assume we are their playmates, best friends and buddies.

micromanaging-parentsOur hovering must surely affect the quality of their play, especially with friends. I struggle to be around mothers who referee their children’s play.  It’s annoying.  Having Mom solve squabbles and coordinate the sharing of toys is probably one of the reasons why 21st century kids are so delicate and wussy. My theory is that, from the earliest age possible, children should learn to stand up for themselves and resolve their play conflicts themselves.

I see now that there are some aspects of play that need to be taught or demonstrated. I didn’t know that when I first became a mother. The other day I looked after a friend’s child. He is the same age as Megan. The afternoon was not as successful as I expected, mainly because they lacked direction. It had been raining and I had seen lots of earthworms rolling in the soil. I gave them each a bucket and spade and suggested they dig for worms. They looked at me like startled cattle. It was a simple activity that I assumed came naturally to any child but they needed guidance and a demonstration.

They half-heartedly filled a bucket with mud and then tipped it on the terrace, just outside the door so I had to leap over it to get outside. I find that usually 20 minutes of inventive, creative play by Megan requires 20 minutes of cleaning by me.

Later that afternoon, I overheard Megan say to her friend, ‘I will be Jesus on the cross.’ Kids are baffling – they couldn’t dig for worms with any enthusiasm yet they were keen to re-enact the crucifixion.

I’ve realized that my girls are less interested in plastic made-in-China toys and prefer playing with things round the house such as plasters, wrapping paper, sticky tape, cutlery, crockery and Tupperware. A box of plasters costs CHF4 and amuses Megan for up to 45 minutes, which I think is excellent value for money.

Blog plasters

Megan playing

Now that Megan is getting older, I see glimpses of direction and structure in her play. Her creativity and imagination blow me away. I took this photo of a dinner table she set for Peppa Pig and George, complete with a music box in the centre of the arrangement. Cute hey? The result of independent, content, organised play – hitting the sweet spot, I say.

Megan playing2

 


SPRING!!!!! (and clothes and food and sleep)

March 22, 2016

Spring budThere’ve been some fantastic developments for someone like me who leads a weather-dependent life. SPRING IS IN THE AIR. Hooray! Happiness! This is my favourite season. There’s something miraculous about soft little buds that erupt from dried up old twigs. I love the joy, hope and relentless optimism in the new growth of spring after the bleakness of winter. It reminds me that I am part of some great cycle, some pattern that is above and beyond me and only God’s purpose to truly understand.

One of the advantages of warmer weather is that dressing the kids is easier and leaving the house becomes less of a rigmarole. Not that I bother much with Megan’s clothing anymore, winter or no winter. Am I a bad mother to say that? Yes, would say the little old Swiss ladies who stop me in the street to remark on Megan’s exposed flesh. Swiss kids are always wrapped up for a trek across the Antarctic.

04950e2cffaa02aead472a9cb968a298My nonchalance stems from the fact that Megan is almost four years old and if she is cold, she can say so. If she doesn’t want to wear a jacket, then so be it. I make sure it’s always available to her but I’m not going to exasperate myself by forcing it on her while she protests and resists by becoming either stiff as a board or boneless and floppy. I pick my battles. All I care about is that she covers her genitals when we leave the house.

I’ve accumulated so many children’s clothes. I find most clothing spends more time stacked in the cupboard or strewn around the house that it does on my children’s bodies. As soon as she sets foot inside, Megan strips down to the lightest, softest, oldest clothes she can find. When we’re in the car, she takes off her shoes before I’ve even strapped her in and, one time, she was in such a hurry to rip off her Reebok takkies that she flung one out the open window and I drove off without it. For the rest of the day and until we got home, she walked around with one shoe.

We have these piles, these molehills of clothing scattered around the house. There always seem to be shirts, socks and undies lying in the lounge, in the bathroom, on the stairs, in the passage and on bedroom floors.  I can never tell what is clean and what must be chucked in the wash. I spend a lot of time picking up, inspecting, smelling and folding tiny clothes. It’s one of my least favourite domestic tasks.

Clothes, socks and shoes also accumulate in the car, which is basically just a big cupboard. It drives Alastair insane. Twice now I’ve thought Jessica’s shoes were in the car and, when we got to our destination, I realized they weren’t there so she had to pad around in her socks. She looked like a street urchin, oops.

I see some girls dressed in frilly ensembles with brushed and clipped back hair and I wonder how their parents get them to look so coiffed and girly. Megan chooses her own clothes and dresses herself. She hates brushing, washing or cutting her hair. She’s a fan of the bird nest style. She wants me to stay away from her hair, like she’s a female Samson. Last week we went to the hairdresser and it was an ordeal fraught with tears, rage and anxiety. I even rang Al to ask if he could pop by and help negotiate with Megan or pin her down. He was about to start a conference call. ‘Is this urgent?’ he asked.

‘Yes. I’m at the hairdresser and I can’t cope. Please come quickly.’ He didn’t (our definitions of urgent are different). Anyway, long story short, Megan’s next haircut will need to be administered under general anaesthetic.

Grapevine - cheeseOne of the battles I seem to have lost is around food. I bust myself to keep my family healthy. I still breastfeed both kids. At 18 months old Jessica hasn’t yet sampled sweets or chocolate. I breed kefir. I fry with coconut oil. I home-make all meals from scratch out of mostly fresh, organic ingredients. You would think my children would automatically follow my natural, earthy example but they are on their own mission. All Megan wants to eat are rice cakes, maize balls, granola and pop corn – basically any kind of puffed grain.

Megan and Jessica think life is one big buffet. They’re always snacking, probably because rice cakes are not filling. They want to eat all the time except at breakfast, lunch and dinner. My French friend says it is ridiculous the way we expat Anglophones let our kids snack so much. The French eat three proper meals a day and snack once at around 15h30 and that’s it.

On Mondays I take Jessica to a play group. I wish she would play but instead I often catch her hovering alone by our pram, rummaging for ‘nacks’ as she calls them. When we are out and about, Megan and Jessica hang off me, fiddle in my bag and pant for a snack within 5 minutes of arriving at our destination. It’s like going out with two chimpanzees. Or, they want to eat in the car, which is so full of dry and mouldy food that it’s become a big petri-dish for breeding germs. It’s not just me. Most of my friends’ cars look like cesspits.

Family in bedAnother area where we need to set some limits is in the sleep department. Jessica hollers, guaranteed, at 11pm every night and then I bring her into our bed where she remains, sucking on me for the rest of the night. Sometimes Megan joins us and then Al is squeezed further to the side, where he balances on a sliver of mattress and is one roll from falling off the bed. One of my friends said, ‘Who cares! It’s only for a season! How many 16 year olds sleep with their parents?’ No.  We must do something because poor Al doesn’t sleep soundly with Jessica’s toes up his nostrils.

So, clothing is a battle I’m happy to lose but I can’t admit defeat in the sleep and food departments. Boundaries and limits coming up shortly! I just have to muster the willpower to enforce them.