Transporting Toddlers – The Danish Way

I recently spent four fabulous days in Copenhagen – sans enfant. Needless to say, it was BLISS!           (but more on that in another post)

Despite having a much-needed break from the whole mummy thing, I couldn’t help but make several kid-related observations. Four days in the nation’s capital clearly don’t make me an expert in all things Danish, but here’s what stood out to me in the (mostly) ingenious way Copenhageners transport their offspring:

 

Rear-facing Car Seats

I already knew about these contraptions because I spent a lot of time and money tracking one down for Lilly. There is a lot of research to suggest that it is up to 5 times safer for children to be in rear-facing car seats until they are 4-5 years old. The fact that rear-facing seats are safer is still relatively little-known in the UK, whereas in Scandinavia most children continue traveling ‘backwards’ once they’ve outgrown their infant carriers.

One of the supposed reasons for the lack of popularity of these seats here is that they take up more space in your car than the forward facing alternative. I witnessed this first-hand when I was told that my chosen seat would not fit into my reasonable-sized car (it did when properly installed!), however, to my amazement Danes seemed to squeeze two or more of these seats into the back of compact cars without effort.

rear-facing car seats     rearfacingtoddlers

 

Bikes

Not unlike Amsterdam, bikes in Copenhagen are EVERYWHERE! Unlike Amsterdam, where I went mostly on business trips and was therefore taking my life into my own hands, my trusted friend Rachael spent the first 24 hours or so pulling me out of the way of unsuspecting two-wheelers. After that, the fact that when you step off the pavement, you are likely to step onto a bicycle lane slowly began to sink in.

I have a keen interest in transporting Lilly on a bicycle. I am, however, not in the least keen on having her on my bike in a proper kiddie seat. Too much pressure to keep my balance while keeping up with London traffic. Earlier this year, I went to great length to plot taking my friend’s tried and trusted bicycle trailer back home on a plane from Frankfurt. After carefully calculating dimensions, packaging and getting it back on Lilly’s luggage allowance, however, I had to admit defeat in the face of its undeniable bulk. I have been planning a replacement ever since, only temporarily delayed by Rob’s insistence that we wait until spring before adding a new acquisition to our already space-challenged flat.

But forget all that, because I have now discovered the true answer to transporting toddlers:

The Christiana Bike!

         christiania bike

Basically a cargo three-wheeler, with the kiddie-trailer not only built in, but in the front! Much more appealing not only for keeping an eye on your little one and being able to engage in conversation, but most importantly for adding a four-legged friend to the mix!

Of course this trike stands no chance of ever fitting into our tiny back yard, but that, to quote the aspiring little drummer boy from the movie Love Actually, is ‘a tiny, insignificant detail’.

 

Prams

Whilst rear-facing car seats and cargo bikes rank highly on my list of kid-friendly discoveries, I have to admit I did not at all get the Danish obsession with big prams.

And I mean BIG. Not a slim-line travel system in sight. Compared to what you see pushed around London, it was a case of David and Goliath, Mini vs. 4×4. We are talking big, bulky, and fitted with enormous wheels. We didn’t take any buses, but these Chelsea tractors apparently posed no problem on Metro or trains. I did notice that most stations seemed to have lifts from street level down to the platform. They better, ‘cause there’s NO chance of asking an unsuspecting stranger to help you down the stairs with one of these hulks!

Clearly Bugaboo and iCandy have no market share on Copenhagen’s streets.

And seemingly these plus-sized prams aren’t just for babes. No, even toddlers were happily pushed around, sitting up against a little backrest. No wonder they are so large then, considering the requirement for extra legroom. How they fit into the back of the average Copenhagen compact car though remains a mystery, especially with all that space already taken up by the car seats.

Copenhagen pram       Copenhagen prams

I definitely can’t see this trend catching on with the image-conscious London mummies.

 

Those bikes on the other hand – they have real potential!

 

A comment spotted about the Danish love affair with bicycles went as far as to suggest that there are

…girls who consciously match their outfit to the style and colour of their bike. When buying a pair of shoes they’ll briefly pop out of the store to check if they complement the look of the bike.

I can see that happening in Primrose Hill.

 

But never mind the shoes, I’m gonna check what it will take to enlarge the width of my back gate…

 

 


Images: www.carseat.se/swedish-car-seats, the-mom-blog.com
        danishlife.wordpress.com, realcycling.blogspot.com

12 Picture Books For The 12 Days Of Christmas

It’s no secret that the only reason I take Lilly to the library is to have an excuse to riffle through the picture book section – AGAIN!

I can’t seem to leave the bloody place without checking out at least a dozen new books.

I just love them and it never ceases to amaze me how much you can say when the right words are skillfully matched with the right illustrations.

My list of favourites contains anthropomorphic books for two reasons:

a) Despite the opposition to these types of books from certain educational philosophies (i.e. Steiner/Waldorf), I find them very cute and enjoyable.

b) They make up a large proportion of what is published. Embodying animals with human characteristics and emotions minimizes racial and gender stereotyping, and thus (at least in theory) gives these books a broader appeal. But mostly, I just find them cute and enjoyable.

So after nearly a year of ‘research’, here are my Top 12 for 2012 – just in time for the holidays if you are still stuck for gift ideas, or just plain last minute, like me. (These are my favourites from the vast selection of books I encountered this year rather than books that were new on the market in 2012)

 

Louisa Yates, Red Fox Publishing

I recently came across this budding series and I am in luuurrrvvv with Dog!!!

These beautiful books have absolutely charming illustrations, and the little white dog is quite possibly the most adorable thing ever. He might (!) even top Jack on the cuteness scale…

Dog Loves Books is about Dog opening a bookshop and getting lost in the magic of stories.

In Dog Loves Drawing, Dog receives a blank sketchbook that he escapes into with an adventurous posse of friends that he draws along the way.

TOP DOG – love them both!

 

Where The Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak, The Bodley Head Children’s Books (Random House)

This 1963 book is a children’s classic with amazingly detailed illustrations. Max causes mayhem in his wolf costume and is sent to his room without supper. From there, he escapes to an imaginary place where he becomes king of all wild things. Brilliant use of very few words to say a lot! This story also has a lovely ending with Max deciding to come home to find his supper waiting in his room… still hot.

 

The Three Billy Goats Fluff, Rachael Mortimer, Hodder Children’s Books

This is a brilliant take on the fairy tale The Three Billy Goats Gruff. In this version, Mother Goat knits booties for her billy goats so they don’t make any noise trip-trapping over the bridge and waking the grumpy troll living underneath. The story is written in prose with the troll speaking in verse as he threatens to make meals out of the goats if they continue to wake him… that is, until he is presented with handknitted earmuffs, of course.

 

The Very Small, Joyce Dunbar, Random House Children’s Books

This is a seriously cute story about a Marsipulami-like creature lost in the woods, and found by Giant Baby Bear. The Very Small wants his own mummy, daddy and home, and baby bear shares everything with him… until they fall asleep and The Very Small is catapulted back into the woods by baby bear’s sleepy sneeze. The illustrations, as with any good picture book, are just darling, and I got so drawn into the story that I did feel rather sorry for baby bear eventually having to wake up to find his new-found friend missing (the book mercifully skips this part, and ends with The Very Small being reunited with his own parents).

 

Love Is A Handful of Honey, Giles Andreae, Orchard Books

This is a heart-warming take on everything that defines ‘love’ in the day of a little bear spent with his friends and family.

It’s an early Giles Andreae publication, and in my mind far tops his more famous books like Rumble in the Jungle and Giraffes Can’t Dance.

 

 

I Love You, Blue Kangaroo, Emma Chichester Clark, HarperCollins Children’s Books


A touching story about a little girl’s favourite stuffed animal. Lily loves blue kangaroo, but he soon has to share her affection with all the other toys gifted to her. Feeling lonely and rejected, blue kangaroo snuggles up to Lily’s baby brother instead… but once she notices him missing, she quickly bequeaths her whole menagerie to her little brother in order to get blue kangaroo back.

There are eight further titles in this series to date.

 

My Big Brother, Boris, Liz Pichon, Scholastic Children’s Books

This book has more text and is aimed at a slightly older age group. It deals with the struggles of daily family life, and the conflict between different aged siblings, the oldest one being a grumpy teenager in this case.

A further title in this series is My Little Sister, Doris (which I have yet to read).

 

 

The Heart and the Bottle, Oliver Jeffers, HarperCollins Children’s Books

This is a very touching book about a girl who looses her father, and decides to protect herself from hurt and sadness by cutting off her emotions. I love the simple yet effective language, although I am not sure how a young child would react to this story? I guess mostly it would be a story, rather than the deeply meaningful metaphor I read as an adult.

 

 

Giddy Goat, Jamie Rix, Orchard Books

Absolutely LOVE this one!

It is a great story about overcoming your fears and finding friendship, told through the eyes of a mountain goat that inconveniently is afraid of heights.

The sequel is Giddy the Great.

 

My Many Coloured Days, Dr Seuss, Red Fox Publishing

Possibly the least well-known of the Dr Seuss oeuvre, this book was written in 1973, and posthumously illustrated and published.

Different feelings are described as related to colours, thereby playfully introducing a variety of emotions.

‘Maybe on some days you feel sort of brown, like a bear; you feel slow and low, low down. But then comes a yellow day and wheeeeeeeee! you feel like a busy, buzzy bee.

What I love most about this book is the way it highlights the changing nature of everyday feelings, and most importantly, that your feelings are not who you are.

 

Who Loves Baby?, Julia Hubery, Piccadilly Press Ltd

This is a new release, and one of my latest finds, addressing the feelings of a toddler in the presence of a ‘new’ baby.

A meerkat pup’s new sibling is swooned over by the ‘Gooey Gang’ – a group of females coming around to coo over baby. ‘Don’t they know Baby is icky and sicky and pongy and pooey?’ he wonders. In the end, his teddy helps him discover that maybe Baby does have its good sides after all.

I also love this book for the introduction of words that require referencing from the Urban Dictionary, like ‘pongy’ (smelly) and ‘whuffle’ (in this context a snuffling noise).

 


There are other books I liked, such as Simon Puttock’s Big Bad Wolf is Good, although on reflection I would not read it to Lilly as it introduces labels such as good and bad. And then of course there are books that bear no further introduction, such as The Gruffalo, Green Eggs and Ham, or anything by Quentin Blake.

 

Happy Christmas reading everyone, and I look forward to more quality library time with Lilly in 2013!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Two Day) Ticket To Paradise

Ok, I’m gonna keep this short – in a girl sort of way.

The guy sort of way would look like this:

“I got a ticket. Wanna go?”

This girl’s version is more like this:

In October, I was buzzing with optimism and creative energy, and I excitedly booked myself in for the annual IGNITE! Conference, run by my gorgeous friend Lucie Bradbury. A weekend connecting with inspirational women seemed the perfect ‘first weekend away’ since Lilly’s arrival. Sure, Rob had to work one of the days but finding someone to look after the little munchkin was going to fall into place easily and effortlessly. Or so I thought.

By the end of October, I had arranged a ticket, a hotel and the train ride from London. Then funky November came along, and no babysitter of any kind seemed willing to materialize. Neither Lilly’s preferred (and only!) sitter, nor godparents or close friends were available, but I clung to my usual stubbornness of making things happen in spite of petty obstacles and spousal objections. Then Rob got another job offer that involved the second conference day, and things started looking pretty grim. Getting Lilly looked after for a day was one thing, but upping the game to two days plus an overnight stay wasn’t really going to be in the cards.

So I moped, and went into a general funk. Whenever there’s lots of silence on this blog (and it isn’t being revamped!), then I’m generally hanging out in low places. Funks are no good for your creativity, and in any case, who needs the whining? So I silently licked my wounds, and felt like a prize muppet for not having anyone to look after my 16 month old for one, let alone two days.

 

But hiding in funky silence isn’t helping anyone, so I decided me not being able to go must mean two things:

1.)         Something bigger and even more appropriate is coming my way. (It could, and most likely does, also mean I am crap at manifesting what I really want, but that’s hardly an empowering belief to hold on to – I’ve already tried. Holding on to disempowering beliefs inevitably leads to FUNK, as seen above)

2.)       Someone else needs to go more than me.

 

I figured if I can’t make it, the second best option would be to give my ticket away so I at least get to enjoy the conference vicariously.

SO… if  you, or someone you know, would like to enjoy a fabulous weekend with amazing speakers, lots of fun, networking, general good cheer and dreaming BIG, then get in touch! The dates are THIS weekend (Nov 24-25) in Birmingham.  Maybe you’re someone who wanted to go, and couldn’t afford to. Maybe you’ve never even heard of IGNITE!, but could really use some special time away, just for you.

I don’t really care why you want to go, as long as you can make the commitment to show up. And no, I’m not going to ask you to do anything in return, like ‘liking’ my page, or subscribing to my blog, or telling me your life story (although you can if you want to!). Just get in touch either in the comments section, or by emailing me NOW at nette@nettehargreaves.com. And if you go, please please please, just have a blast – I know I would have!

 

PS: Just in case you’re wondering, I did heavily consider taking the short one with me, but that would require tons of extra logistics (such as a hire car and an onsite sitter) and frankly, I was looking forward to enjoying some much needed ‘me’ time and connecting with people without a baby monitor strapped to my side – just this once.

PPS: If being in a funk leads to not feeling creative (as it inevitably does), then DON’T fill your time reading anything from your pile of parenting books, such as the utterly brilliant Robin Grille’s Parenting for a Peaceful World (book review to to follow). His very detailed assessment of critical childhood developmental stages will tell you exactly where your parents irreversibly f***ed you up, which takes you straight down to FUNK CENTRAL. Don’t do it – wait until you’re happy and cheerful again. I should have knitted instead.

 

Image: lenonhonor.com

GUEST POST: Geheime Farblust? 50 Shades Of… Orange?

It’s European Multilingual Blogging Day!!! Today is all about giving bloggers an excuse to write in a different language.

Now I could have slaved for weeks over a post in my mother tongue but why make life difficult for my anglicized brain when a perfectly qualified linguist is close at hand in my circle of talented friends?

So here you have it:

 

Geheime Farblust, or 50 Shades Of Orange

(do scroll down for English translation!)

 

Im öffentlichem Nahverkehr, in Cafés und Parks scheint es nur noch ein Thema zu geben: „50 Shades Of Grey“, zu Deutsch „Geheimes Verlangen“.

So trüb der Titel klingt, so banal scheint auch der Inhalt des Buches, wie mir Leserinnen versicherten: Eine Frau zieht es in den Bann eines Mannes, der ihr die Sorte Sexualität näher bringt, für die ein Schrank voll Requisiten und Terminologie aus dem Wien Sigmund Freuds unerlässlich sind. Drei ziegelsteindicke Bände von mittelprächtiger literarischer Qualität, in allen Variationen. Ein Massenphänomen, bis zur Erschöpfung kommentiert von Journalisten, Feministinnen und Facebook-Mitgliedern.

 

Ich halte jedoch schon beim Titel inne: GRAU? Und das in fünfzig Schattierungen?

Wie viele meiner Generation verbrachte ich meine Studien- und frühen Berufsjahre schwarzgewandet: Rebellisch, sexy,  figurfreundlich und passend für alle Gelegenheiten – so sahen wir diese Nicht-Farbe und verweigerten sowohl das brave Dunkelblau unserer Großmütter als auch die schludrige Buntheit unserer Hippie-Eltern. Wird schwarze Kleidung gewaschen, entstehen Grauschattierungen – eine trüber und jämmerlicher als die andere, und im Gegensatz zu unserem Irrglauben keineswegs zusammenpassend. Schwärme von Nebelkrähen bevölkern die Büros unserer Städte. Viele von ihnen tragen nun dieses Buch in ihrer Handtasche herum, um sich nach Feierabend  zu entspannen – mit schlecht geschriebener und altmodischer Pornografie, bei der ebenfalls schwarze Utensilien zum Einsatz kommen. Muss das sein?

Meine Befreiung vom schwarz-grauen Einerlei begann mit einer „Farbberatung“, die mir liebe Freunde schenkten, um mich nach einem Schicksalsschlag aufzumuntern. Bei einer Farbberatung wird festgestellt, welche Farben und Kombinationen am besten zu einer Persönlichkeit passen. Vorurteile und Stereotype werden in Frage gestellt, ein individueller Farbpass weist den Weg in eine neue, bunte Welt. Ich entdeckte eine neue Liebe: Orange! Hielt ich es bis dato als unmöglich für Blondinen, rückt es in Wahrheit nicht nur meine grünen Augen ins rechte Licht, sondern ist mit seiner fröhlichen Aufdringlichkeit auch ein Ausdruck dafür, dass die Jahre des Versteckens in der Masse vorbei sind. Nie wieder „dafür bist du zu dick“, nie wieder „auf dem Kongress tragen alle dunkle Anzüge“, nie wieder „du musst auf die Sonnenbank/du musst dir die Haare bleichen“!

Das Erstaunlichste: Meine neuen Kleider in Orange (und anderen fröhlichen Farben aus meinem Farbpass) wirken sich nicht einmal nachteilig auf meine Karriere aus, im Gegenteil: Kollegen und Vorgesetzte freuen sich über frohe Farben mehr als über den verzweifelten Versuch anderer, ihre antrazithfarbene Misere durch Dekolletées, Stilettos und Peroxid aufzupeppen. Angela Merkels beeindruckende Sammlung bunter Blazer ist kein Zufall: Ob man ihre Politik mag oder nicht – sie geht in der dunklen Männerwelt nicht unter.

Inzwischen habe ich berufsbegleitend selbst eine Ausbildung zur Farbberaterin abgeschlossen und anderen zu einem neuen Blick auf sich selbst und die Welt verholfen. Wie das von mir „Graubuch“ genannte Werk arbeite auch ich dabei mit küchenpsychologischen Termini – doch nicht mit denjenigen der dunklen Seite unserer Seele, sondern mit allem, was Licht und Freude ins Leben bringt.

Sollte ich also jemals bei den falschen Leuten hohe Schulden machen und deshalb in Rekordzeit einen Softporno für Frauen schreiben müssen, so würde er heißen: „50 Shades Of Orange “.

 

In addition to colour-consulting, the colourwitch (colourwitch@skynet.be) works happily as a translator for an international organisation. She is connected to Nette not only through friendship, but through the love of wool and needles, which give her more opportunity to play with colours. Her other hobbies – or obsessions – don’t need props to be sourced in shady parts of town, but require only sheet music, other singers or Star Wars books. Well, grand opera houses and theatres are less modest places, but everybody needs a little glamour, don’t you think?

 

50 Shades Of Orange

 

These days there seems to be only one subject on the tube, in the office and in cafés: „50 Shades Of Grey“.

Well, the title sounds depressing and, as the people who read the book claim, so are the contents: A woman falls for a man who introduces her to the kind of sexuality that requires a closetful of sinister props and terminology from the era of Sigmund Freud’s Vienna. Enough to fill three bricks with mediocre writing and inspire countless journalists, feminists and Facebook-bloggers.

I for my part skip reading the doorstoppers and stay with the title: GREY? In 50 shades?

Like many of my generation I spent my university and early breadwinning years predominantly clothed in black: Black is rebellious, sexy, kind to the imperfections of the female body and appropriate for every occasion. So we thought, shunning the boring navy of our grandmothers and the motley of our hippie-mothers. Repeatedly washing black items nevertheless renders them grey, and combining different shades of black and grey does not – contrary to common belief – lead to a sophisticated outfit. Even today flocks of charcoal coloured crows populate the offices of European towns, as if emulating the mangy pigeons outside. Many of these ladies read the „Grey“-book on the bus back home – to relax with unnecessary detailed, old-fashioned pornography involving black utensils and a guy called… Grey? Really?

My own liberation from the black and grey drudgery begann with a „colour consultation“ lovely friends gave me to cheer me up after a hard time. Colour consulting analyses which colours and combinations best suit a given person. This process challenges prejucices and stereotypes, and the personal colour passport guides the way into a brighter world. I discovered a new favourite: Orange! I always thought it was a “no no” for blondes, but not only does the green of my eyes really sparkle when I wear orange, but the colour itself signalizes without a shadow (ha!) of doubt that there will be no more hiding myself in future. Never again „you are too short/chubby for that“, never again „everyone at the congress wears charcoal suits”, never again “you should get a fake tan/bleach your hair”!

And most astonishing: Though I am neither working as a yoga teacher nor as a cheerleader for the Dutch football team, my new quirk did not ruin my career. On the contrary – colleagues and bosses love a little unusual colour around them, when otherwise the dresscode is respected. Dolling up drab garb with hooker-heels, plunging necklines or an overdose of peroxide might please some Mr. Grey but long working days are more pleasant in a group whose members feel good about themselves in their own, cheerful colours.

In the meantime I myself have qualified as a  „colour- and style-consultant” in order to spread the cheer. Just like in the „Greybook“ there is some psychology involved – but not from the dark side. My field is the light – the unlimited, joyful variety of colours and personalities.

So if ever bad luck strikes and I have to borrow money from „men in black“, acquire cash in record time and see myself forced to sell my soul writing pornography, the title of my book would be: “50 Shades Of Orange”.

Images: wired.com, styleathome.com

Some Like It Hot

I hate lukewarm coffee. If beverages are meant to be hot, I like them searing hot. I love that comforting first sip of a properly heated drink, one that I can put down and return to savour at still acceptable temperatures as I work.

Coffee shops are my satellite office, the places I turn to for productive daytime writing. Home can be too distracting, with undone chores accusingly staring me in the face. The library sounds ideal but the seating sucks, and the senior citizen computer classes aren’t exactly conducted with the hushed silence I expect of such a bookish place. So coffee shops it is. I’ve spent too many years in open plan offices to be bothered by the noise, it’s easily tuned out.

What is less easily forgiven is a shoddy atmosphere, and worse, aforementioned lukewarm drinks. I don’t even indulge in the dark stuff very often, but I adore the fresh strong smell of good coffee. And when I do succumb to the occasional caffeine treat, it has to be worth it.

So what makes a good coffee? I think my coffee-loving writer friend describes it best in her recollection of the delights of a Tuscan café:

‘It [the cappucchino] was perfection, one which is yet to be surpassed.  Hot but drinkable, two thirds milk to one third foam and a great taste, not too sweet and not too bitter’

 

And never mind the much-mourned demise of the local coffee shop, for which apparently even caffeine-craving yummy mummies with buggies the size of compact cars can now be blamed. Fuggedaboutit, even the chain stores are on their way down, although whether they ever were ‘up’ can surely be debated.

My much-loved local S, tried and tested with many a corporate memo, university essay or blog post, recently declined on two counts: the removal of most of the comfy seats, and the utter unreliability of internet access. So much for ‘home away from home’. I was forgiving of such shortcomings, until one day a gang of local teenagers swarmed the place and, consuming their takeaways, made it smell like the fried chicken shack next door. Now I may have been guilty of clandestinely eating the occasional panini from the Italian deli inside these sacred halls, so my inane sense of fairness kept me from complaining. Begrudgingly, I defected to the newly opened C, switching from Chai Tea Latte to Hot Chocolate, and trying to make friends with the surly Eastern European mafia staff. But hot drinks aren’t part of their corporate credo either, as evidenced by the lukewarm, insipidly sweet ‘extra hot’ hot chocolate I found myself gagging on recently.

 

So what would my ideal writer’s café look like?

Small and intimate. Not like an episode of Friends, but personable. Plush carpet and comfy armchairs, the kind that you can lose yourself in. Clever but unobtrusive spaces for that little bit of privacy. Soft soothing background music. A good choice of coffees, expertly made. A small selection of fresh organic cakes, cupcakes and sandwiches. A bit of eye-candy, such as a handsome waiter to take my order. Internet access and wall sockets. Best of all, NO SCHOOLKIDS and NO YUMMY MUMMIES. As luck would have it, there’s a vacant retail space on the High Street just waiting to be turned into my personal writer’s haven. Investors, anyone?

 

In the absence of all that, I think Virginia Woolf just about had it right about a room of one’s own. And a thousand a year, plus inflation of course.

 

Image: ifood.tv, virtualtourist.com

Addicted to Love

I’m not a newsgirl. But something on the radio today caught my attention during my drive home from a weekend adventure with the girl:

LANCE ARMSTRONG STRIPPED OF HIS SEVEN TOUR DE FRANCE TITLES.

I once saw the backside of Lance Armstrong during the 2003 Paris time trials. Of course the riders whizzed by so fast that I really caught nothing more than a flash of yellow in amongst the red, white and blue of his team but still.

I’m not even particularly interested in sports, or public figures. What interests me is what drives people, their ‘human’ rather than their celebrity side.

I read a condemning blog post about Whitney Houston’s death, and the scathing tone touched me enough to comment that maybe addiction isn’t as logical and manageable as we want to think it is. That’s why it’s called addiction in the first place, and apparently being a celebrity does not make you rise above that. So just like Whitney was clearly addicted to substances, I am wondering whether Armstrong became addicted to the success he created.

Can you be so addicted to success that you would do anything to attain, and maintain, it? Including taking performance-enhancing drugs? Including pressuring your teammates to do the same by threatening their careers?

Can you get addicted to success in the same way that you can become addicted to alcohol, gambling and drugs? Is winning the next race, getting that next medal the same as craving that next fix, wanting to turn the roulette wheel just one more time?

How do you rationalize and reconcile this with being publicly celebrated for what no cyclist before had achieved? How do you live with that amount of deception? And why?

I believe underneath it all what every addict wants is a feeling of feeling good. Not so different from the rest of us, except for an addict, that feeling of feeling good is to be attained at all cost, no matter the consequences.

And maybe in Armstrong’s case, that feeling of feeling good came from winning. Not only the races, but the admiration of millions. To be admired and respected is just another way of feeling loved, and who doesn’t want that? Everyone, of course, except thankfully not everyone resorts to large-scale lying and cheating in order to get it.

Part of me is saddened that such a sporting legend has been stripped of his achievements. That’s not to say I condone the alleged doping. That’s not even to say that those achievements were real. But my heart goes out to the pain Armstrong must feel at having lost his iconic status, at having been deprived of his ‘fix’, at being stripped naked in front of his adoring fans.

I can’t begin to conceive how you reconcile yourself with all that. How do you deal with watching the world that you have so carefully constructed crumble in front of you, to lose the identity that you have created?

I am sure over the coming days and weeks there’ll be many more condemning news reports and commentaries. But my take on it is this: have a little compassion. Don’t condone the actions, but see the person underneath. The hurt, the addiction. Today’s news must be like going cold turkey on steroids.

Who knows whether he’ll continue to deny what seems overwhelming evidence, or whether he’ll decide to come forward with a ‘confession’.

All I know is this: Addiction isn’t logical, it’s emotional. If indeed there is such a thing as being addicted to love, then it’s just that – addictive.

And we might as well face it: Judgement never heals. Not us, not the individual we are judging.

Love heals, but loving an addict is hard.

I know. I’ve spent a lot of time judging.

 

Image: healthland.time.com

Jumping Jack Flash

 

 

 

 

 

 

IT’S JACK’S BIRTHDAY!

Well, not exactly… since he was a rescue dog, we have no idea when he was born, so we celebrate his arrival in our family instead. And it was really yesterday, but laptop time was limited and I didn’t get this post up in time. So for the few minutes it will take to read this, let’s just all pretend it’s still October 15, okay?

Last year for Jack’s first ‘birthday’, I bought him a rawhide bone and a rubber chicken. The bone was swiftly dragged behind the bed… where it remains untouched to this day. The chicken provided entertainment for about 15 minutes, which was about three minutes longer than it took me to clean the rubber chicken pieces off the living room floor.

This year, he got a bonus walk with lots of ball throwing, and a can of (wet) dog food. Canned food may not sound special but it went down well. Literally. The whole thing was gone in two minutes flat. It must have seemed like a feast to a dog living on dry kibbles day in, day out.

 

It’s actually quite curious that I should have a dog. Because for the longest, I was quite afraid of them. Big dogs, mostly. I think my paternal Gran’s mean king poodle snapped at me a few too many times as a young child. This mild dog phobia was swiftly cured during my NLP Practitioner Training. We did an exercise where we imagined the ‘movie’ that runs inside our head when we think of something we are afraid of, and then change it. So my visual of a hugely terrifying bulldog bounding towards me in the park lost its grip when I imagined him baring his teeth to reveal a diamante-studded smile. BLING! Big dogs were never the same after that.

When I broke it to Rob that I wanted a dog, he pulled out all the usual arguments: ‘What will we do when we go away?’ ‘We don’t need a dog in a one bedroom flat.’ ‘Who’s gonna walk him every day?’

But I’m not one for letting a few valid notions get in the way of my desires.

He then tried the ‘next year’ strategy. As in ‘Honey, you can have a dog next year.’ That one worked until Jan 1 of next year, but not a day longer. 2010 was the year I wanted that dog.

Some ten months later, Jack entered our lives. We were trying for a baby at the time and I finally announced to Rob that this dog would have to appear soon as I figured me falling pregnant would add new fuel to his ‘We don’t need a dog’ case. (As it later turned out, I was already pregnant by the time we brought our four-legged family addition home.)

I love that dog.

I love being out in the park and seeing him bound towards me at full speed. I love seeing him chase a ball, especially at the beach where he fearlessly careens into the surf in hot pursuit of his little treasure. I love him curled up in his basket with his nose tucked under his tail, watching him twitch and whinge in his sleep. I love dressing him up for special occasions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can see more of my favourite Jack moments here and here.

 

I also love watching Lilly and Jack interact. The other day, I caught her picking up his dry food and hand feeding him his entire dinner. When he protested at being chained to the playground fence, she kept walking out of the gate to check on him. They’re like little pals following each other around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So when Rob suggested that celebratory bonus walk, I was torn between taking Jack to the park and skiving off to the café to write.

But in the end, who can resist those puppy dog eyes?

Sunday Morning Ramble

Quite uncharacteristically, the girl, the dog and I were on our way to the park by 9am this morning.

There’s an undeniable sense of accomplishment that accompanies breaking away from your daily routine and getting out early. Sundays are especially good for morning walks as our usual afternoons in the park are unfailingly problematic for the canine. Too many teams practising ball sports, too many fathers doing the same with their children. All lovely, for sure, but not when your four-legged ball-obsession needs to be contained on a lead for the certainty that he will otherwise barge in head first to join (and take over!), not always to the delight of parents or offspring.

But on a Sunday morning, the park is empty save for a handful of fellow dog walkers and a team of eager tennis players on the courts. There’s a sense of serenity as you push your buggy along quiet paths and marvel at the sunshine breaking through drying leaves, hitting the fresh, unbroken dew spread over the grass. I love the unhurriedness of this time when the whole day is still freshly unfolding before you.

There is without doubt beauty in every season. The first signs of spring, when everything teems with new energy, unfailingly seduce me. I love the feeling of shedding dreary winter layers and letting bare limbs soak up the warmth. I love the lazy energy of hot summer days and the cosiness of long winter nights.

But there’s something special about autumn (or fall, if you live in the US). It’s my favourite season.

There’s the much-romanticised melancholy of fog and falling leaves, the irresistible comfort of lighting candles and ending your day snuggled under your favourite blankets. But what I love most is that transition from summer to autumn. The first crispness in the morning air, the gradual adding of layers happily discarded months earlier. Pulling on your favourite chunky knits, grabbing a scarf as you head out the door, dusting off your cashmeres and, most importantly, your collection of boots. As a lover of clothes and accessories, I always celebrate the feeling of having a ‘new’ wardrobe as the seasons change and old favourites make their reappearance.

This year especially, autumn is bringing a new surge of energy for me, a sense of new beginnings. I’ve been feeling it for weeks now. The freshness in the air seems to be bringing a breath of fresh air to creative projects that have been lingering all summer. I feel new excitement, and new ideas are popping up all over my brain like those dewdrops on the grass. I am actually finding this a great time to refocus in ways that are often lost to me as talk of goals and New Year’s resolution fills the air at the beginning of the year when I mostly feel a grey limbo (often mirrored outside) after the hype of the holidays.

But the chilly brightness of autumn sunshine is just the thing to get me going, both physically and creatively, and I am relishing a much-needed fresh start.

By the time we leave the park, the cricketers are just warming up and the previously dormant posh neighbourhoods (on the other side of the tracks!) are beginning to show signs of awakening. I feel accomplished and ready to write. Conveniently enough Lilly feels tired and ready to nap. Jack contentedly curls up having had his daily dose of exercise.

Win-win for everyone.

Image: blog.mikeriversdale.co.nz

Swinging Naked

Yesterday’s casual breakfast conversation went something like this:

 

Me: You know that day spa voucher I got for my birthday?

Rob: Yeeeeeeees???

Me: I’d like to use it.

Rob: When?

Me: Today.

Rob: Will you be back in time for lunch? (Note: the man dislikes doing solo meals with the girl… something about the time it takes and the mess it makes.)

Me: No.

Rob: Will you be back in time for dinner?

Me: Yes.

Rob: OK.

 

Now that’s just the answer any girl wants to hear and positions my husband one step closer to sainthood. I love spontaneity; not least of all because it doesn’t leave you time to overthink matters, but rather propels you to just get on with it. Thankfully it also doesn’t leave Rob time to ponder the implications of looking after little monkey all day while mummy goes splashing in the hot tub. So before anyone can change their mind, I grab a few essentials, mainly a swimming costume and a travel magazine, and head for the train.

 

Turns out I need not have bothered with the swimwear as the brochure proclaims the Covent Garden spa’s apparent tradition of swimming naked. Nobody does, of course, except ‘a few of our older members’ as the lovely pedicurist reveals while painting my toenails the same shade of bright pink as my flip flops. In the absence of those trend-setting seniors on a quiet Wednesday, I frolic in the water and coyly flirt with the famous Atrium pool swing before deciding to get up close and personal for a bit of that playground feeling. I jacuzzi and steam room and lounge and lunch and daydream. On my own. For a whole day. It’s heaven.

Now of course we all want to believe that one day out is enough to leave you feeling recharged for, say, the next six months. I know Rob does. Turns out though that the girl is a bit miserable today. Bad night’s sleep, streaming nose and just a wee bit sorry for herself. I empathise and cuddle but there’s only so much constant clinging to I can take over the course of the day so inevitably I lose my cool once or twice. Ok, twice. Never my proudest moments.

But even so, I’m sufficiently refreshed not to beat myself up about it for hours afterwards. Instead more hugs, cuddles and letting her know that I wish I hadn’t scared her by taking my frustrations out on the potatoes and chopping board while she was balanced on my hip.

A friend on Facebook posted about a similar challenge, and I duly commiserated, only to be delighted by someone else’s comment:

‘I haven’t seen any wings around lately, perhaps that means none of us are angels’

Exactly. Not a carte blanche to be impatient all the time but a timely reminder that even mothers are only human. So I again thank my daughter’s self-proclaimed fairy godmothers for an amazing day out, and look forward to the next time.

At which point I might just follow that tradition of dispensing with the swimwear. And get on that swing in the buff, C-section scar and all. I mean really – why wait until you’re over 60 to drop those inhibitions and have some fun?

I may be German, after all.

Image: blog.spafinder.co.uk


Stigma of the Stay-At-Home Mom

Right. I’ve been avoiding writing about this but it keeps cropping up in various guises.

Before I start, a few disclaimers:

  1. This topic has been already written about a gazillion million times. Not by me, obviously, but still.
  2. All I have to offer are my thoughts. They may clash with your thoughts. That’s ok. Just because we have different thoughts doesn’t make me right, and you wrong. Nor the other way round.

 

So, what on Earth am I talking about, then? (pretend the title hasn’t given it away already!)

It’s this whole working vs. staying-at-home-as-a-parent business. Or, more precisely, staying-at-home-as-a-mum (or mom, whichever you prefer!).  I come across this a lot now that Lilly, at 14 months, is considered to be past that ‘baby-stage’, and old enough to be taken care off by someone else so that I can return to work and be a so-called responsible and contributing citizen. Hmmm…

Now, for starters, I’m not of the opinion that employment is the key to any of these qualities, nor to maternal fulfillment and happiness. I know mothers who work and are unsatisfied. I know mums who take care of their children at home and are blissfully happy. I know mums in between those two extremes trying to find a healthy balance (i.e. me!).

I struggle defining myself as a stay-at-home mum, because

a) that’s by far not ALL I do and

b) the stigma attached to the term really irks me.

I generally get the impression it’s seen as ‘the easy way out’, especially by those without kids; although my trusted mummy friends who have returned to work ensure me that it’s anything but a lazy cop out.

 

So if it’s supposed to be all about choice, then why do so many mums feel the pressure of having to return to ‘work’?

Well, there are the obvious rewards of a job – recognition in monetary terms, and otherwise. Don’t get so much of that at home.

And then of course not everyone feels like they have a choice.

I’m especially thinking about countries with scarily short maternity leave, such as the United States or South Africa, where you are expected to be back at your desk after a mere four months. That’s a very short span of financial compensation before you have to decide whether to put your brand new tiny person into someone else’s care, or relinquish your right to your previous employment. You may feel like you don’t have the ‘luxury’ of not working without impacting your current lifestyle (although lifestyle, by the way, is also a choice). You may be a single parent needing to provide a stable income.

In all of this, I do have to own that many of my assumptions are coloured by my ‘middle class’ background. I recently came across a study suggesting that the stay-at-home moms who are most unsatisfied are those with previous low-income jobs where their paycheck doesn’t cover the cost of the childcare needed in order for them to work. Not much talked about, that.

Equally, I need to recognize that I am currently only writing from one perspective so I can’t comment on things like mommy guilt due to being away from your child, although I do know about the needs of said child happily interfering with what you might want to get on with, like capturing that important thought about your writing, or putting up that post you are just dying to share. Or being too tired at the end of the day to do any of that.

Some people of course love their jobs, and need some sort of fulfilment beyond fulltime parenting. I do too, and in my world feeling fulfilled is not a luxury problem (as it has recently been put to me) but an absolute necessity. My definition of responsibility and contribution doesn’t necessarily look like going to the office from nine to five. I believe the choices we make don’t have to be an either/or scenario – there are many options in between if we look for them.

There’s ever so much more to write about choice, so look for that in a future post. I could also say a lot more about the responsibility and contribution of bringing up content and socially adept children, although I am not saying that staying at home is the only avenue to make that happen. I’m quite certain that Lilly will be taking care of by someone outside her immediate environment at some point, at least part-time. But I will be carefully choosing whom to trust to provide a setting that mirrors the values we hold for her.

The scary thing is, though, that in work as in motherhood you tend to get promoted just as you get good at something. I just got good at providing three daily meals, doing laundry, maintenance cleaning , girl/dog walking and having regular writing time. As I graduate into more active toddlerhood, I foresee steep learning curves. God help me when she starts to talk all day. And worse, drops the daily nap. Except more maternal meltdowns here…

 

Image: www.momlogic.com