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!

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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.


Groundhog Days

January 25, 2016

islandI can’t believe it’s almost the end of January.   Christmas feels like a distant memory. Al took two weeks off in December. We had good quality family time but he didn’t return to work as relaxed and raring to go as he would have liked. I know he craved the light, zenned feeling of someone who had spent the break lying on a lilo in a swimming pool while sipping a pina colada and stirring the water with their feet. Poor chap, but that kind of mental and physical abandonment won’t happen for the next few years.

Al said that after the two weeks on holiday as a stay-at-home dad, he now understands why I ring him and ask, ‘where the hell are you?’ at 18h33, when he is three minutes late and not home at the expected 18h30 on the dot. Kids are delightful but full time parenting is intense, no doubt about that.

We are back in our routine again, hooray. Megan returned to playgroup and I took a photo of her dressed up in her favourite ensemble – her swimming costume and mismatching socks – before she set off for her first day:

Meggie costume

I’ve said over and over that parenting is full of paradoxes. January has gone by quickly but then again, it also hasn’t. Time flies, but it also doesn’t.  Al has worked every weekend, which has been intense. This past week we all suffered from gastro. It didn’t reduce the children’s energy but simply redistributed it into incessant whining, like a constant low hum in my ear that tested the limits of my patience.

For the first two weeks of 2016, it rained nonstop. It was like I was back in the UK. Every day felt like Groundhog Day. I woke up, opened the curtains, saw the grey and the rain AGAIN and wondered what on earth I could organise to keep us entertained. Rainy days feel so looooooooong.

I know I complain a lot about the weather. It’s too wet, too cold, too snowy, too grey, too foggy, too hot or too windy. I feel like Goldilocks. I love Switzerland but it is an outdoorsy kind of place and there is not much to do with exuberant toddlers when the weather is grim. Every rainy day we’ve mostly hung about, trapped in the house like pinned butterflies.

I am an introvert and I love my home. I don’t mind chilling within my four walls, with just me and my poppets. But there are only so many banana muffins I can make and puzzles I can do over and over before I go stir crazy. When the house develops that thick, warm, stale aroma of a becalmed submarine, I have to GET OUT THE HOUSE NOW OR ELSE.

A little bird_front panel boxes_rainy days (2)The challenge is that on rainy days, there is nowhere to go. Go to the library, I hear you say. But my local one is marginally bigger than a cupboard. There are no indoor soft play options. It’s too cold for parks. The indoor swimming pool only opens at the awkward hour of 16h00 every day.

When the weather clears, I always attempt a walk so we can profit (as the French say) from the fresh air. We spend about 30 minutes putting on the winter gear and usually, shortly after we have left the house, one of the girls begins to weep. When we walk we rarely get beyond the end of the road.

Go to a friend, you may suggest. I do but I don’t have as many options as I would like. My neighbour pointed out that local, French-speaking people work. Friendships in expat circles ebb and flow. One minute it feels as if you have a new best friend and then, the next minute, you don’t. People in the international crowd are often away or they have visitors or they work. Or, they aren’t available because they are pregnant and incapacitated by morning sickness or they’ve quarantined themselves owing to sniffles and other seasonal illnesses. Many have older children with busier schedules or they have different routines to me and are up for a playdate around 16h30 when we are winding down to dinner time.

For me, the advantage of living close to family is not so much for the help but the company. I would love to spontaneously ring my mom and say, ‘Yo! Wassup! Come hang with me!’ I love my life and I am not lonely in a negative, slit-my-wrists way but I long for more buddies on tap.

I sometimes go to the mall and Megan loves the pay-by-the-hour crèche there. You have to be over three to attend so Jessica and I shop or wander about. I let Jessica loose and she then goosesteps at high speed or toddles in zig zags from one end of the mall to the other, crashing into shoppers and then pointing and shouting at random intervals like an intoxicated sailor. I can’t let her out of my sight for a second or else she will disappear, as you will understand from the video below:

I’ve met Al for lunch a few times but the chaos involved in taking children to restaurants agitates our square, black-and-white, accountant-like sensibilities. We can only manage a quick coffee in a cafe and even then I have to down it in one go like a shot of tequila or else the table ends up like this:

Coffee

Recently we had Sunday lunch at a friend’s place. They invited another couple with two children the same age as Megan and Jessica. Al put Frozen on the iPad and the children watched it for about half an hour. The dad remarked to his daughter that it was probably the most TV she had ever watched. Al and I looked at each other and mouthed, ‘WTF?!?!’ Whenever someone says they don’t allow their kids to watch TV, I guarantee you that those people work full time or have household help such as au pairs or nannies.

child-watching-TV-illustPeople say TV destroys imagination and creativity. It depends on what you watch, I suppose. I watched plenty TV as a child and I still find it dead easy to float up with the fairies. My favourite way to relax, particularly as a teenager, was to lie on my bed, stare at the ceiling with my hands folded on my chest (as if I was in a coffin) and daydream. TV did nothing to diminish my overactive imagination.

I can’t survive without the TV, especially in miserable weather. Many of my friends keep it on permanently as background noise and extra company. I hate that but I am grateful I can use TV to anesthetize and distract my girls when I need to make a phonecall, clean up or cook a decent healthy meal from scratch.

I’ve just reread this post. Am I a moaner or what? Woe is me! I don’t work and I get to spend all day with two precious children. Entertaining them on rainy days is like fretting that you’ve won the lottery and don’t know what to do with the money – it is not a real problem.


December already?

December 7, 2015

On Sunday morning I bestowed on Al the gorgeous, luxurious gift of a lie in (30 minutes max). When I decided his time was up, I opened the baby security gate at the bottom of the stairs and let the girls loose. They burst through like two pent-up racehorses. They tore into the bedroom and dive bombed on top of him.

‘What are we doing today?’ I asked.

‘Julie,’ Al said as he yawned and stretched. ‘Why do we always have to DO something and GO somewhere? Why can’t we just stay at home and chill?’

Mwahahahahaha. What a laugh. Dream on, buddy. Megan and Jessica don’t know the meaning of the word ‘chill’. The irony is that the best way to handle general exhaustion when you have kids is to keep busy. Children are binary – they are either on or off, like a blender. They don’t relax, or my children don’t yet anyway.

winterLittle kids need daily fresh air and exercise. In this cold winter weather, I sometimes forget that children are only as warm and comfortable as their smallest exposed body part. Dealing with this rule is paramount for the enjoyment of any outdoor activity. They may be roasty toasty in their jackets but if they only have one glove or a cold nose, this makes the walkabout slow and tearful.

kid2So, on Sunday, we went to a coffee shop for breakfast. This was lovely, happy family time but still kind of tiring. Jessica is 15 months old and I find this an awkward, busy age. She thinks she’s independent and she demands to be independent but she is not at all capable of being independent. She can’t understand instructions properly.  She constantly slides out our arms and refuses to sit still. She rips serviettes into shreds. She shakes croissant flakes on the table and floor. She wants to climb on the table. She squirms in our arms and lunges for coffee cups and almost always tips over beverages. She bangs spoons on plates and glasses as if they are musical triangles. She then slides off the chair and wobbles around the restaurant, beelines for steep staircases and teeters at the top and makes as if to bungee jump down. We invariably leave the coffee shop walking backwards while bowing as we apologise for the mess we’ve left in our wake.

Wow, how is it already December? Where has this year gone? My thirties have been my favourite decade so far, mainly because I am no longer wrestling with my life like it is an out-of-control crocodile. Sometimes I feel I’m not savouring these calmer, happier years enough. I want to wallow in them, to marinate in them and truly enjoy and appreciate all the blessings I have and I don’t feel I do this as much as I should. Time is moving very fast. I feel constantly windblown, as if life has me by the hand and is pulling me along so quickly that my feet don’t touch the ground and I feel like I’m flying.

We’ve started our December advent calendar. Last year I ate our entire Lindt chocolate one by the 5 December. This time I vow to display more self-control. It may just be Switzerland, but I’ve noticed the advent calendars are more OTT this year. You can get advent calendars for every brand of sweets and chocolate. You can also get playdough ones, Brio train ones, LEGO ones, Playmobil ones, Barbie ones and Frozen-themed ones. When I was a kid, our advent calendars had a simple picture behind each window and we were happy with that.

photo 2Talking about Frozen, I’m over Elsa and Anna now. I’ve passively watched Frozen at least 200 times. I am not so much tired of the movie Frozen as I am with all the Frozen merchandizing and then arguing with Megan in shops when she says she needs, really needs Frozen pajamas, hairclips or wrapping paper. Retailers slap Anna and Elsa’s image on to the most random of things. I came across frozen yoghurts the other day. They weren’t frozen as in cold and icy but the packaging was Frozen, as in covered in Olaf. I couldn’t even tell what brand or flavour it was. Of course Megan wanted it, and she doesn’t even like yoghurt.

Part of the reason why I feel as if time is flying is because Megan seems, all of a sudden, less babyish and more mature. She’s playing better with her mates. It used to be a challenge having playdates with children the same age as there was no automatic hierarchy. This resulted in a power struggle and fight for dominance. It’s much better now although our playdate on Friday went pear-shaped when both children (same age) refused to share or compromise. They snarled and circled and then tore into each other like rabid Rottweilers. ‘Why are you behaving like such a primal savage?’ I seethed at Megan.  It’s embarrassing but, thank goodness, relational hiccups are rare these days.

Megan is doing so well imbibing French at preschool. Whenever she talks French she does so at a higher pitch than in English and it’s very cute listening to her squeak away. Her Christmas concert is next Friday. I can’t wait. All weekend she sang French Christmas songs with uninhibited joy and gusto. I’m not familiar with the words and can’t make sense out of what she’s saying. I remember seeing a Madam&Eve cartoon where little Thandi sang ‘We Three Kings’ but she had no clue what the words meant so belted out ‘…Bears and gifts, we travel so far. Feeling fountains, moving mountains. Following Jan the Star’. Megan sings her French songs in a similar random fashion.

Jessica’s erratic and light sleeping is still nightmarish although, after some formal sleep training, things are improving. I still can’t sink into a deep and restful sleep because I know I will be up within the next two hours and it’s likely to be rock n roll most of the night. To be fair, Jessica did get eight teeth, four of which were molars, all in one go.

Changing the topic … the other day one of my girl friends said that she and her child were discussing penguins. She explained to her daughter that penguins only come from the Antarctic, not the Arctic.

penguin‘That’s idiotic,’ I thought. ‘Everyone knows that penguins live in the poles, either north or south.’ I’ve always thought Eskimos, polar bears, igloos and penguins go together.

That evening I shared the story with Alastair and I remarked on how doff my friend was that she thought penguins were purely a southern hemisphere phenomenon. He suggested we google penguins to be 100% sure before we pass judgement. It turns out that penguins are only found in the southern hemisphere and there are indeed none to be found in the Arctic. Wow, fancy that! Did you know that? I didn’t. There’s some fascinating random trivia to end this off.