Thursday, 10 May 2012

Mother's Day

So it’s Mother’s Day in South Africa on Sunday, which is a good thing for my husband, as the English Mother’s Day, which naturally I felt I qualified for, passed unnoticed by him. All is not lost – this weekend he gets a second chance. I think he is now clear that he is expected to act on behalf of his sons. So having prepared the ground, my thoughts naturally turn to the potential gifts I might receive. I browse the shop windows in anticipation. But I am horrified to find that mothers apparently want old women’s slippers, thick, pink towelled dressing gowns (with spots on), hot water bottles and plants. South African shops have taken chauvinism to a new level. Hardly seems worth the ear-ribbing my husband got for failing to deliver on the first Mother’s Day. I think I would rather he forgot it than spent an afternoon selecting an assortment of tea towels (or as the ad I keep hearing on the radio jokes – a packet of washing powder cos mums love laundry…). Since when does being a mother equate with being dull, old and obsessed with housework? Honestly, all I want for Mother’s Day is something that says WE LOVE YOU MUM. Why is that so difficult? 

Friday, 30 March 2012

Sick Children

What is it with kids and throwing up? Admittedly, vomit is perhaps an unlikely subject of a blog post, but nevertheless, I have sent a surprising amount of time dealing with it in the past three years, so it warrants a mention. Children are sick a lot. This is a fact that had gone undetected by my former childless self. I’m afraid I was rather unprepared for it.  I don’t throw up much (at least not compared to my kids). Even a year in Damascus, I managed to remain vomit free (which was no small achievement, what with regular bouts of food poisoning and being pregnant). Infact I remember the last time I threw up, -it was during the birth of my first child. It was brought on largely as a result of misguided advice (that you take first time round because you don’t know any better), in my case that ‘you must eat to keep your strength up in labour…’. As I weighed in at an extra 4 and ½ stones, I expect I could have managed a day and a half without a meal. God knows there is certainly enough bodily fluid involved in birth without adding a lot of sick as well. But I digress.

My children throw up a lot. And it almost always starts in the car, which  presents its own set of challenges. Son number 1 has thrown up so much (it started with reflux as a baby) that he is now pretty stoical about it. We were on our way to school earlier this week, when his previously ignored claims of a tummy ache suddenly bore fruit in the form of cascades of sick. He struggled to breathe because of the volume of it. But after I screeched to a halt, wiped him down, gave him a new set of clothes and a drink of water, he was good to go. A second episode later in the day followed much the same pattern. He sitting on the sofa waiting for Toy Story 3 to start, I said ‘are you feeling ok now?’, Son number 1: ‘Yes mum, I’m absolutely fine’. Two minutes later the room is covered in sick again. He then reclined back on the sofa, still covered in sick to watch the rest of his movie. That is stoical. Either that or he has an unhealthy obsession with Toy Story 3.

The baby has also contracted the vomiting bug, although he does seem to have suffered rather worse than his older brother. Dealing with a baby choking on vomit in the back seat of your car as you drive on a motorway does give you some rather specialised skills, albeit ones that I would never have expected myself to develop. I do wonder whether they are all that transferable however. And to be honest, it will be quite a relief to have a job were I am not required to use them. On a serious note though, breastfeeding has been a saving grace in times of excessive baby vomiting –  during a week of continuous vomiting by son number 1 (at 7 months), we managed to keep him out of hospital only because of breastmilk. And in times like that, you are very grateful for anything you can do to help them.

Time to go clean the carseats, and then I think a call to the car hire company is in order. Time to exchange for a new model. 

Friday, 9 December 2011

South Africa

So here we are in South Africa, enjoying our fourth consecutive summer. No doubt I will pay the price with my skin, but I can’t resist a little bit of self-congratulation for having skipped the cold darkness of a London winter once again.

We’ve been here for 3 weeks, although it does feel rather longer. I am enjoying sitting on my veranda, looking at my garden and swimming pool and the giant trampoline that despite the odds, my husband and I managed to build. However, this place does take a bit of getting used to. At the corner of my lovely vista, is the electrified fence that separates my garden from the neighbours -not something that fosters especially warm relations. Nevertheless I might have thought to introduce myself if it wasn’t for the giant killer dogs that clearly reside there too. And whilst having a big house is lovely, there are also a few teething problems. Which one of the 6000 keys unlocks the patio door?  Is the workman at the door actually coming to fix the fence, or is he going to rob me and kidnap my children? Not to mention for the first week, the rising sound of panic in No.1 son’s voice as he desperately tried to locate me in the unfamiliar rooms (he now greets visitors with ‘hello, come in, this is the house where you can’t find your mummy’).

Nevertheless, we are slowly getting organised. You drive everywhere here, and whatever the reality, I am ashamedly too scared to try walking alone. And despite endlessly getting lost I haven’t yet ended up in any dodgy parts of town – something I put down to my determined use of U-turns.  I am slowly reducing the number of calls I make to our 24 hour armed security team, and have reached the stage where I can let in a workman without first calling a man with a gun to check their identity. I imagine I still have a way to go before I let anyone in the house sleep with the window open.

The contrast between South Africa and Syria (our last posting) couldn’t be more stark. In Syria, the only violent criminal activity you need worry about is orchestrated by the Government. Here, the level of violent crime is truly shocking and the mistrust it creates just further reinforces the separateness between people of different race.

So what have I learnt about moving around the world, this time with two children in tow? If you value your sleep, it is perhaps best not to attempt it. People say babies disturb your sleep, but the hidden truth is relocated toddlers pose a much more serious threat to a night’s rest. It is however surprising how little sleep you need to continue functioning, albeit at a lesser capacity. So far my sleep deprivation has caused me to:
·      Go into the wrong gym changing room, get changed, put my things away and leave again without realising it was the mens’;
·      Part with far more money than I intended;
·      Repeatedly drive to the exit of a car park having left my paid ticket in the machine.

I wonder what’s next.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


We're moving in one week to South Africa. Whereas once upon a time a move meant booking a ticket, packing a couple of bags, making sure you had somewhere to stay for the first few nights and possibly some transport from the airport, now it is a rather different enterprise. Moving with two small children it seems is not quite so simple. Moving now requires a whole month of boring admin – especially when most of your stuff is stuck in the middle of a revolution. Then there is the detailed planning for the actual flight. They say that if you breastfeed a baby, flying is simple. Not so in my case. My baby, who is very mild mannered in almost every way, has two hang-ups – he will not feed unless it is dark and there is no noise, and neither will he sleep unless those conditions are met. My experience tells me that darkness and quietness may be hard to come by. Particularly with a lively two year old by your side. So as I prepare for what will certainly involve long stretches sitting underneath a blanket with my baby screaming in my ear (meanwhile hoping my 2 year old has not gone awol), I remember those days where the most I had to contend with was a bad movie and a fat person taking up more seat than they paid for. I did not know I was born.

However, it is not all bad. There is no longer any boredom involved in flying. And perhaps because of the sweat, milk stains and tears, I reckon it makes you a better person in the end (although I don't promise to give any sign of this as I go through it). Looking after small kids has definitely made me more likely to: talk to people I don't know; carry heavy things for people who are struggling; and give up my seat on a train. I wish I could say the same for the deep tiredness it leaves you with...

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Can a woman have it all?

I went to a school where we were told to reach for the sky. There were no more barriers for women. You could get married, have children and still reach dizzying heights of professional success. If you tried hard enough, the world would be yours. I have believed this all my life. I now realise that, whilst combining these three things is still possible, it is pretty damn hard. Discovering that these things were not in fact my birthright was a bit of a shock.

I am still hoping against the odds to do all three. I am however discouraged by the realisation that I may have made a strategic error in my selection of a husband. Not that I don’t love my husband – far from it – but his alpha male ambition is a bit of a hindrance.   What you really need is a husband willing to take a secondary role, be able to pick the kids up from school every day, and take a day off when they are sick. The mistake ambitious women make is not having children, but marrying a similarly ambitious man. I ponder this issue as I contemplate my husband’s unexpected departure to Benghazi in a few days time (a career booster) and my month home alone with the boys. But the truth is that I don’t want to go to Benghazi right now (or possibly ever), I would be miserable if I did not look after my boys at this early stage of their life. And therein lies the rub – I want to raise my own children, and do it well. But I also don’t want to give up my career. So whilst I hate to admit it, perhaps the alpha husband isn’t the main issue.

To do really well professionally means competing with people without children, or those with stay at home wives. So in the end it comes down to a question of time. Part-time work, flexitime all sound great, but there are only so many hours in the day, and if you can devote less of your time than your competitors then they will eventually pull ahead. Professional success and being a mother will only sit well together if unpaid leave, part-time work and flexitime in high profile professions become a non-damaging (in career terms) thing to do.  And that means they need to be a normal thing for successful men to do, not just something women do whilst trying to juggle work and a family.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Post Pregnancy Fallout

 Pregnancy is obviously a wonderful thing. How could creating another human life be anything but? It is also an excellent preparation for the many years you will need to put someone else’s needs before your own. It starts in subtle ways – your weakened immune system– and builds to the ultimate sacrificial climate of giving birth. It doesn’t stop there however. Quite aside from the challenge of staying awake, is the tedious process of trying to regain your pre-pregnancy figure. And it is definitely worse second time around.

I am one of those women that gains an extraordinary amount of weight when pregnant. There were no warning signs beforehand, I had always been a fairly slim individual. But literally minutes after getting pregnant, I start to swell.  I am therefore, jealous of those skinny pregnant women you see around – the ones that look like they have just swallowed a basketball. These are the women that wear their pre-pregnancy jeans home from the hospital. Sadly, my experience involves an expensive gym membership and a lot of running.

First time around the weight seemed to drop off without too much trouble. This time however, more work seems necessary. My mum, always direct, summed it up pretty well. ‘You’ve just got to stop eating and do more exercise’. But that is just so dull. However, there is nothing like a family holiday in the sun by a pool to harden your resolve. Wandering round for a few days in my fatty costume (the one I reserve for post –pregnancy swimming) with mirrors and svelte women everywhere is an ideal start to the weight loss programme.

So far, it’s off to a wobbly (in every sense) start. On the plus side, going on holiday with 14 people means that there is rarely any food left to eat, and with 5 teenagers, certainly no chance of a sugary fizzy drink. On the other hand, the divebombing teenagers do make swimming lengths even more tedious. And I need to swim a lot of lengths. Perhaps next time (if there is such a thing), someone could politely remind me not to eat so much?  

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


I had thought I had travelling with small children pretty well sown up, having travelled with my first son, often alone, on 10 flights before he reached the age of 2. So I approached our journey to Spain for a family holiday with an unjustified sense of calm. So what if my husband had decided he couldn’t possibly travel with us, but would follow on later- I had Granny and my 13 year old niece instead. Never mind if we couldn’t carry even our hand luggage, we would hire a handsome Peruvian man to take the bags. It was all going swimmingly well – all ready on time, no tantrums, Peruvian man loaded with luggage - until all trains to Gatwick were cancelled. So the Peruvian bag carrier had to be ditched and a taxi procured. No need to panic though, still got 3 ½ hours to catch our flight (a consequence of travelling with Granny). Boys still cheerful – son number 1 cooperatively falls asleep and son number 2 is happy enough so far. But then it starts to come apart at the seams. Taxi is largely stationery. We watch as people abandon cars and drag suitcases along the hard shoulder. Not a good sign. Shame the Peruvian couldn’t fit in the taxi. Granny starting to look very tense. Baby starting to cry. But I am still calm. Still time yet. We finally get to the airport, and there is an enormous queue to check-in. We wait. Baby wants to be fed, but no seats. Now breastfeeding standing up. Orange-skinned girls with peroxide hair sniggering. I am not amused. We make the check-in deadline, just. We are running now, through security, Granny shouting at the security men when they ask her to remove her shoes. They are unmoved by her tirade. The woman behind us says loudly that we should have left earlier. Brave move as Granny is looking a bit wild about the eyes. But there is no time to punch her as we are running to the gate, closing flight signs flashing. Thank God for 13 year old niece, who has replaced Peruvian as designated carthorse and children’s entertainer. Son number 1 seems to be enjoying the occasion and, for once, is running in the right direction.

Once aboard, we start to recover. Except baby starts to scream and will not stop. So I sit under a black blanket with baby and I wonder whether it is all going to be worth it in the end. I wonder the same thing when Granny has a meltdown at the car-hire station. As I feed the baby in the back of the car (turns out this one will only feed in dimly lit environments –who knew?), Granny is shouting we should move the car to the middle of the carpark ramp exit, despite the inconvenience for other users, because ‘it is cooler there’. The car hire men know better than to interfere. One final hair-raising car journey and the trauma is over. Or is it? Why didn’t anyone tell me holidays are more work than staying at home? At least though we don’t have to get on a plane for a couple of weeks.