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The words chilling out and holiday are synonymous, unless you have four princes. Going away on a sea side holiday with the Princes this week has been full of melting, double scoop, mint and vanilla ice creams, car fights (why can’t they sit and keep their hands and feet to themselves?), sitting on a hot, sandy beach watching anxiously so that a life saver doesn’t have to repeat his Iron Man run and swim to save Prince No. 3 from being swept away by a rip current (why doesn’t he listen when I tell him ‘Don’t go too deep’?).

On such holidays I used to get ratty and cross. I just wanted to read, write and in general be left alone so I wouldn’t get sand in my hair, and every crevice of my body that no amount of showering would remove. This attitude obviously worked for no one. So I changed. I (consciously) relaxed and found some solutions that helped me cope better with the fact that family holidays don’t necessarily mean relaxing.

Morning Me Time
I have an arrangement with my husband where each of us take turns to take time out early in the morning for ourselves and do what we want to do, whilst the other holds the fort. On my morning I wake up early and do yoga or go for a run, or (when I’m just plain lazy) go for a coffee. It’s enough to refresh me for the kiddie day ahead, so that I join in and have fun, without feeling that I don’t have my own time.

Be A Kid
A part of me has had to accept that holidays with the Princes, is a family holiday, a time to relax in a kid way, doing fun activities that take me back to my childhood. I know this seems obvious, but it took me a while to reach the stage of acknowledging my inner child and bringing her out to play with the Princes. This week I’ve done a lot of that. We’ve been rock climbing at the beach rock pools looking for fish with our nets. We’ve been for a million ice creams on our bikes. We went strawberry picking and horse riding for the first time (I was terrified). Challenging myself to do new things with them has expanded all our horizons. And in the evenings when I’m back to my grumpy, grownup self at least we all know that we’ve had a fabulous fun filled day.

Quiet Time
Sometimes I tell the Princes that it’s quiet time (a good friend once gave me this holiday idea). It’s a time for reading, building lego, anything quiet. It doesn’t always work, especially with the younger ones. But the concept is important on holiday. We don’t always have to be busy, busy, busy. It’s okay to be quiet and just relax. And the ultimate cheat is to put a DVD on. That’s at least one hour of guaranteed peace and quiet.

Get a Babysitter
Where ever I travel in the world I hire local babysitters. My nights are a sacred opportunity to hit the town with my husband, or even on my own. (Not that we do anything more exciting than go to a coffee shop or restaurant – sorry to disappoint.) This is so important for our marriage and it gives us our own adult time to connect. Leaving us rejuvenated to be happy loving parents.

Forgive and Move On
There will always be blow ups and bang ups on holiday. We spend an unusually long time together as a family on holiday and the cracks in relationships appear. I see my family dynamics clearer on holiday. Sometimes we get into tremendous fights over stupid things like what DVD to rent. Forgiving myself for the silly arguments and my mistakes helps me move on. These arguments highlight what I need to build in my relationships with the Princes. Our relationship deficits are often lost in ‘the next thing to do of our weekly, rigid school schedule. With our free holiday time I resolve to play more monopoly, spend time looking at their village empires on Clash of Clans, and summoning the energy for that one more bike ride to the shops for Salt and Vinegar chips.

Holidays are a family investment. They’re the golden years when our children are young and not at camp and still want to be with us. I’m trying to remember this. To hold on to the moments and enjoy the connecting time. I’ve finally learnt that that’s what family holidays are for. So I now embrace school holidays and just relax into it (most of the time).

The Best Wheat Free Almond & Orange Cake

This is the most moist, delicious, orangey cake recipe that I found in a magazine. I’ve made it to great acclaim, and the biggest secret is to serve it with fresh cream! (Without the cream it’s dairy free which is also great.)

Ingredients
2 Oranges
6 Eggs Seperated
250g Sugar
250g Ground Almonds
5ml Baking Powder
Orange Zest to garnish
Icing Sugar, to garnish
Whipped Cream or Mascarpone to garnish

Method
Cook the oranges in boiling water for about 1 hour and allow to cool.
Preheat the oven to 190 C and prepare a springform pan with baking paper.
Remove the pips from the oranges, place in a food processor and liquidise the oranges, skins and all. Set aside. (I forgot to take the pips out and it still worked. Although I wouldn’t do it again.)
Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and creamy. Add the almonds, baking powder and liquidised oranges and mix well.
Beat the egg whites to form soft peaks and then fold into the batter. Pour, then spread evenly into the prepared tin.
Bake for about 20 minutes on the top shelf then remove to a lower shelf if the cake starts to brown on top (I sometimes cover with foil if I feel the cake may burn). The baking time will be about 40 minutes to 1 hour in total.
Sprinkle the baked cake with orange zest and icing sugar and serve with chilled whipped cream or Mascarpone on the side.

It’s that manic time of year, at least in the Southern hemisphere. School is over for the year (finally). There are new books to be ordered, teachers presents, staff gifts, cookies to be bought for gift hampers, scheduling parties for the Princes to go to (I’ve already dropped one Prince at the wrong party venue). All the mindless jobs that remind me why I’m not a PA or secretary (I would be fired on the first day). The unpacking of school bags, wiping down the grimy cheese and tomato sandwiches that have made friends with fluffy green mold. At this time of year my organisational skills are stretched to their finest, hysterical ends. Before I collapse into a heap of overwhelmed, dramatic tears, I have to stop, get away from my never ending to do list that grows longer every time I look at my cell phone, and have a cappuccino.

Mulling dreamily about my year over a flat white (it’s not as frothy as a cappuccino, and I’ve found my perfect one at Naked Coffee in Melrose Arch) is much more my vibe. What have I done this year? It’s flown by faster than the loom band craze. I’ve run from grocery shops to the kitchen, to bits of writing, to lots of coffee shops all year. Despite all this ‘busyness’ it’s hard for me to pin point what I’ve actually done. I haven’t had a nine to five job where I’ve achieved anything. Hence the mind talk whirrs into being like a top class Nespresso machine. The truth is out – I’ve done nothing, besides a lot of school lifts and a lot of nappy changes (bless my little Prince’s fast metabolism).

Then I think to myself, even with a nine to five job, there’s no guarantee that I’d have something tangible to show for it. Maybe a few deals, a good monthly pay check, but what more? These thoughts remind me that life is about process. Whilst our society often values product and achievement, the real joy and beauty in life is in the process. When I forget this I’m undermining my very life as a mother, a human being, a soul as a spiritual being having a physical experience. Of course producing tangible results is brilliant, but just like raising a child is in the every day loving acts and detailed care, so is our own lives. At the end of the day when we die it’s the small every day joys, those that build our relationships and inner peace that we are proud of. They are our legacy.

So now that I’ve thought that through I’m feeling much better. And I can go through my simple, favourite things this year, which have brought me much joy and have made me so grateful for my year.

Cappuccinos – As superficial as this sounds, there’s a deeper meaning to sitting for a cappuccino. A lovely hot cup means I STOP and relax for five minutes. With a friend the cappuccino experience is perfected. There is no greater joy than having a delightful cappuccino and connecting to a good friend. Tea of course works just as well. Coffee shops are also the best place to work. You don’t have to worry about never ending house jobs that surround you at home (like no electricity – thank you Eskom), and someone serves you for a change.

Yoga – There’s nothing like a powerful yoga class to shift my mind and get me into my body and feeling vibrantly alive. My favourite yoga studio is Nadine Hurwitz’s Yoga Lova in Illovo. Her classes are intense and nurturing at the same time. (Just what every woman needs.) There’s nothing as joyful as being able to lift up into a handstand. It should be on every one’s bucket list.

Writing – Everyone needs a vocation, a hobby, something that makes their heart sing and time stand still. For me it’s writing. I feel so grateful for every article I’ve written and blog post I’ve published.

Cooking – This year has been a big gastronomic year of dinner parties, casual weekend get togethers with friends. The best meals being when I’ve been bored of my normal repertoire and have taken out a new recipe and made it, despite my mother in law saying, ‘Never make new dishes when you have guests.’ We all bore with the zany sometimes gross, politely interesting results and we gutzed on the couple of sensational recipes that I conjured up. (Ottolenghi’s garlic tart is one such dish. You can google the recipe. It’s well worth making.) Meanwhile for all my cuisine talk I’m toying with the theory that it’s not the food you have but the friends you have gathered around you that matter. I’m still working up the courage to try my theory with tuna on crackers as the main course. Next year’s resolution! Can you imagine how much more often we’d all get together if it all it required was olives and cheese. (Unless of course you’re my cousin who has people for gourmet meals all the time producing them as effortlessly as a glass of lemon water.)

Last but not leastFamily
Families come in all shapes and sizes. Ending the year in loving relationship is the biggest achievement of all. A year with your loved ones has its ups and downs. The investment of reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to my Princes, sitting and playing Battleship or cards with them (when I really don’t feel like it), making pancakes for a Sunday morning treat, asking them the highs and lows of their day, or just fetching them from school with a loving smile, is all very special. I take it for granted, but it’s what makes up my year. I’m not going to speak about the heart wrenching squabbles, the tearful breakdowns, or the Princes running amok in a mud battle. When I look back at my year I somehow see the good things only – just like on Facebook.

I guess focusing on joy builds joy. Scheduling in the good times in our crazy busy schedules; like date nights, family pizza games nights (which I need to do more often), family picnics, all build relationship and makes up our year. Looking back I want to do more of that in the coming year. These glorious summer days are a good place to start.

The older I get the more I realise that the simple things are what matter and bring us happiness. They’re easy and don’t cost much. Life in a coffee cup is beautiful, and shared with others it’s very worth while.

Recently I’ve been reminded that bullying is a pervasive issue in our society and not only our schools. It reminded me of a talk I went to a while back by Pamela Ziman a Johannesburg psychologist who specialises in dealing with bullying in schools. She spoke about the extremely detrimental effects of bullying on its victims. So I’ve gone back to my notes and am going to comprehensively outline what I learnt from Ziman. It’s important to be aware that bullying exists. It’s important to start addressing and standing up to bullies everywhere.

There are Three Types of Bullying

1. Verbal Bullying

We all know the saying, ‘Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me.’ And we also know that it’s not true. Words hurt, ALOT. Ziman told the story of one boy about whom false rumours circulated that he was Gay. One can imagine the tremendous pain and challenge of an experience like that.

2. Physical Bullying

It’s quite clear what physical bullying is. However with school initiation rites, which clearly are abusive, but are often not reported because of the nature of ‘initiation’, physical bullying can go unreported and even be ‘accepted’ by children. These include bog washing, wedgies, locking a child in a cubicle. Any kind of locking up is abuse!

3. Relational Bullying 

This is possibly the most common and certainly the most unrecognized form of bullying. And I’m sure everyone has experienced it in one form or another. Examples of relational bullying are giving the ‘silent treatment’, sabotaging the person’s other relationships, alienating a person, leaving a person out, ignoring or ganging up on another person. Unsurprisingly this type of insidious bullying is more common amongst girls.

Relational bullying is invisible to everyone else except the person experiencing it, which makes it even more devastating. In fact Ziman explained that rejection by silence and passive aggression is experienced by the person as physical pain. It makes kids and adults feel like they’re invisible, and they don’t exist. She gave the real life example of a boy who invited his class for a birthday lunch, and no one pitched. Heartbreaking and soul destroying.

Notably relational bullying includes cyber bullying, which can be extremely damaging.

This type of passive aggressive bullying is the one that pervades into adulthood. It happens in the work place, in families, communities and of course schools. It’s one of the worst types as it’s cowardly and as quick and easy as silent treatment. This makes it highly effective. The victim can’t play a pro-active role in the relationship and it’s a no win situation for them. The consequences of this are devastating on the victim’s psyche.

The Consequences of Bullying  

The impact of bullying is the internalised distress of the victim where they are filled with anger and hatred as well as self loathing. In extreme cases bullying leads to suicide. At least 100 pupils a year commit suicide because of bullying. It can lead to pathology; the high school gunmen at Columbine said their murderous onslaught was retribution for the bullying they experienced. In fact all young killers are socially outcast and isolated. They want their victims to feel the way they felt.   Depression, anxiety and loneliness are overpowering negative emotions that result from bullying.

The importance of peer relations can’t be overemphasised. When a child is 8-10 years old their peer group begins to compete with their family. There is a strong need to belong and have strong interpersonal relationships. Every child needs connection and acceptance. Conformity peaks in 11-13 year olds and then declines. This also happens to be the the peak time of bullying. The crucial task in childhood and adolescence is developing social relationships. The saying, ‘Childhood is training for life’ is a myth, it’s life itself. Children and their experiences and feelings need to be taken seriously.

The Bully  

The shocking fact is that, according to Ziman, bullies don’t necessarily suffer from a low self esteem or lack a positive self image, as is often thought. ‘Children can be victimised for very trivial and random reasons that has nothing to do with their own personalities. It follows that any normal and well adjusted child can be bullied.’ In fact it’s often the high flyers who are bullied. Girls who are perceived to be a threat are more likely to be bullied.

The characteristics of bullies are that they’re aggressive, impulsive, low in cooperation, low in empathy. They think highly of themselves and have a need for dominance and power. Girl bullies are often socially skilled and charismatic, even seductive when they want to be. They often have to be the Queen Bee.

The Bystander Effect

Often kids stand by and witness bullying, rather than help support the victim. This reenforces the behaviour. The reason they don’t get involved is because they’re scared that they’ll fall prey to being bullied too.

How Do You Prevent Bullying?

  • By inculcating a good self esteem in your child. Low self esteem reveals itself in the ways we behave, our body language etc. It effects the way other people relate to us. Low self esteem attracts negative attention. High self esteem attracts positive attention.
  • Actively listen to your child. Don’t ignore their complaints as mere whining. Speak to the child’s siblings and see if they can help out with the issue.
  • Turn your home into a sanctuary, where your child can feel safe.
  • Move classes, or move schools if necessary.
  • Get your child involved in activities out of school. This allows them to meet kids outside of school.
  • Speak about other options; for example other friends they can make that can protect them from being bullied.
  • Make sure your child has at least a couple of good friends. Often I think it’s quality of friendships rather than quantity of friends. Friends a child can rely on to back them up against a bully. Who they can feel safe with and be themselves with.
  • Stand up to bullies. Take action if your child is being bullied.
  • Speak to the school, social worker and make sure your child knows you’ve got their back.
  • Don’t call a bully’s parents. They can often be aggressive and defensive. Leave that to the school and social worker.

Ziman ended on a hopeful note by saying that any case of bullying will end as friendships and dynamics change. Meanwhile you as a parent need to be strong when your child is faced with being bullied.  It’s important to be aware of your own feelings and reactions. Get support as necessary. You can’t fall apart when this is a time your child needs you to be at your strongest.

Notably being the parent of a bully is just as bad. No child is an angel, every child has bullied or been bullied, usually both, at some stage of their life. Minor or major. It’s still bullying and it has to be dealt with. If your child is bullying, communicate with them. Find out how they feel when they are bullying. What their need is and how they can fill it in a different way. Whatever the case is there needs to be strict consequences for bullying.

Bullying is difficult and challenging. If you’ve been bullied you know about the sick dread in your stomach – the real physical pain of being rejected and put down by another person. No one should have to feel that and that’s why it’s imperative to recognise bullying and address it. Relational bullying is especially pervasive and hard to deal with and is often heartbreaking. Many adults suffer from depression, anxiety and general low self esteem because of being bullied in their families, work place and communities. How much more so our children in our schools.

We all have a duty not to be social, passive aggressive bullies in our own lives and to ensure that our children aren’t either. To teach them that to embarrass another human being is likened, in the Talmud, to murdering them. To pain them is to be avoided at all costs. We’ve all been there, we’ve all behaved in ways we’re not proud of. We’re all human beings, but we’re also all created in the image of God and should strive to emulate the oneness of God, where we treat the other as we’d want to be treated ourselves. This can’t be repeated enough to ourselves and our children. We need zero-tolerance to bullying. It’s just not acceptable.

For those of you who are cynical and read my last post and said to yourselves – yeah right she’s going to rest forty five minutes in the middle of the day – you can pat yourselves on your cynical backs. I have not rested in the middle of the day. One afternoon I tried, but a Princely cricket match popped up. So it’s been full steam ahead, which I don’t find easy (read it’s exhausting, even without having to do the washing, which my mother in law kindly reminds me when I complain).

Procrastination is my middle name. Especially when my To Do list is inexhaustible. I find myself staring at my Notes app on my phone with the letters beginning to blur into each other. At this point I put away the phone, the list and have a cappuccino. Of course this only increases my stress an hour later. Things to do NEVER go away. So I’ve been trying to balance it out with a simple trick that gets me going. I call it The Five Minute Rule.

The Five Minute Rule is telling myself that I’m going to do a job for five minutes and that’s all. We all have five minutes. And in that five minutes I do the job. Simple. Of course some things, like writing a blog post, takes more than five minutes. Which is fine, because once I’ve begun my five minutes I’m on a roll and can finish the job.

I use this for everything. If my optimistic mind is gullible enough to believe that sorting through the pantry will take five minutes, so be it. An hour later at least the cupboard is sorted.

I often think I can’t do things because they’ll take too long. Once I’ve begun something it’s always easier, quicker and more satisfying than living with the TO DO hovering above my head.

Setting time limits also helps to complete jobs. For example I’ll set aside an hour for menial jobs. This contains the things I really don’t like to do and therefor avoid like SA taxis on the road. I use this trick with the children to. I’ll set a time limit for them to clean up their Lego. It works even better if I put the timer on. Without a time limit they faff around and I become the nagging mother that I don’t want to be (but probably still am). I think setting time limits begins to teach them time management skills which are so integral to living a balanced, productive life. It’s hard to teach what you don’t have though, hence my self work in this area.

The daunting problem with To Do lists is that there’s always something to do. It’s like the dishes in the sink, there’s always a dish to wash. So a very important thing I’m trying to do is put a cap on my jobs for the day. I’ll do a certain amount and then I’ll put away my phone and refuse to think about the rest. Tomorrow is another day. I’m not going to be A-type, anal and miserable. I’d rather be B-type, fun loving and spontaneous and friendly.

The ‘being’ with which we clean, tidy, organise and do all the millions of things us working mothers and stay at home mothers do matters the most. I was once told that you should make friends with your admin. I’m yet to do that, but I’m trying to breathe, have a better attitude and stress less, whilst still getting what needs to be done, done. And if I don’t get to the shoe store to replace the sneakers that my lovely, sweet Prince lost today, so be it. As long as there’s toilet paper in the house. We’re okay.

Sometimes we as mothers push ourselves. Heck, we as human beings push ourselves. We often forget what it means to rest. Even with a day of rest once a week we don’t know how to rest. At least I don’t. I don’t even realise that I need to rest my body until I crash, either with flu, or by breaking my foot. Yes, I broke my foot. Only now that I’m off crutches (at least for a bit of the day until my foot has had enough) and hobbling around on my Aircast (like a moon boot but shorter) I feel I can face it and write about it.

So I broke my foot one Saturday afternoon when I decided I’d join the weekly family soccer game. I played my absolute best, and didn’t get near the ball. Tackling my six year old, my foot gave way (not having even touched the said ball) and buckled. Not wanting to ruin their game, I got up and told the boys to keep playing as I hobbled off into the next six weeks of a fractured fifth metatarsal.

My soccer career was over. I was humbled in more ways that I can explain. I wasn’t super woman, not super mom, not super anything. I couldn’t drive, couldn’t walk without crutches, which meant I couldn’t pick up my two year old, and couldn’t make a cup of coffee unless I drank it by the kettle. I had to stop.

Ironically the week before I had felt overwhelmed by the million different things I had to do. There wasn’t enough time, and I was exhausted, and I couldn’t admit it to myself. I ignored the triggers and warning signs of overwrought tears and frantic jumping from job to job in the middle of jobs. So I believe God (or if you like a higher power) intervened and stopped me literally in my tracks. I believe it was a kind, loving act, where I had to see that it was okay for me to be taken care of for a change. The Princes could bring me glasses of water, breakfast in bed is allowed, and the world goes on without me behind the wheel (we hired a driver).

The children came home from school to a mother who was home and relaxed. I spent more quality time with them than I had previously. I wasn’t ratty from being in the car all day. I was rested and quiet. The home was rested and quiet. (Well as much as it could be with four rambunctious Princes.)

The downside was down of course. No yoga classes. (Although I organised some amazing private yoga classes with Nadine Hurwitz, where I could work without standing, highly recommended for anyone with an injury.) I couldn’t clean up easily, so the house became slightly messier than usual. The Princes for all their help, also ran a bit amuck with no mother able to run after them. Crutches are officially exhausting, and I’m thrilled to be getting out of them. You look different, and are different from everyone else around you. In a room full of people it’s not so simple to move around. I imagine for people who are permanently disabled it’s isolating and only with a continuous good attitude do you get through it.

So I’ve learnt to have more compassion for those who are physically disabled or injured. I’ve learnt to be so grateful for the health I do have. I’ve learnt that anything can happen in a split second so it’s a blessing to be able to live in the present. I’ve most of all learnt that I need to rest and am committing to doing so in the middle of the day for 45 minutes, either sleeping, reading, or meditating. Where I renew my energy for the day. For myself, and myself alone. That is the right of a mother, a woman, a person anywhere.

I was very perturbed recently when I found out that my little sweet two year old toddler was hitting, smacking and pulling hair in class. No mother wants their child to be the bully on the block, especially not their adorable angel child. So I did two things I read ‘Toddler Taming’ by Dr Christopher Green and I went for parental guidance to a therapist called Mano Naidoo.

The first thing I learnt is that hitting, smacking, pulling hair and even biting (thank God mine doesn’t bite) with toddlers is normal. I repeat – NORMAL. As my friend just told me, her baby has hit the stage of pulling hair just as she turned one. It’s normal because toddlers don’t know social boundaries. As the therapist explained. They want contact with other children but they don’t know how to establish contact appropriately.

Toddlers need to be taught social skills. One of the best ways to do this is through role play. With dolls and with other children. So I’ve been teaching my little Prince to say ‘Good Morning’ and ‘Hello’, to shake hands (he still won’t do that one) give high five, and most of all to be ‘GENTLE’ with other children. I’ve also asked his play school teacher to incorporate social skills in class. Emphasising the skills of sharing and learning what a friend is and how we treat our friends.

I also learnt from Mano what to do when a toddler does hit or smack or pull hair. You don’t hit or smack the toddler back. You don’t give into pressure from surrounding mothers and shout at your child. Toddlers won’t understand. Their frontal lobes aren’t developed sufficiently, they literally can’t reason.

So this is what you do:
You first tell the child CALMLY (which I find a challenge), ‘Children aren’t for smacking’ and you show the child to be gentle. I say to mine, ‘Be Gentle!’ all the time, and teach him to stroke. You can also try to teach them to say sorry, but don’t force it because they don’t understand.
If your child repeats the undesired behaviour (an understated euphemism I know) then you simply repeat, ‘Children aren’t for smacking (pulling hair, etc.) and physically remove them from the situation.

I learnt that toddlers need firm boundaries. They need to know that there are rules, like no food throwing, standing on tables, and there is a limit to IPad time (Don’t ask, my two year old is already addicted, that’s what happens with a fourth child.) I’ve learnt not to be scared of his tears. I (try) stand firm in what I say so that he learns that there are rules and he has to follow them. All children need boundaries and the sooner you establish this and they understand it the less problems you have later on. I still struggle with my other Princes around boundaries and that’s because I didn’t manage to do it when they were toddlers. You have been warned.

Toddlers also need lots of social time, where they play with other children and can learn social rules. So I’ve been making lots of play dates, or even just taking him to the park where he meets other children to play with.

My Prince has the special challenge of being the fourth boy in a rambunctious home, where rough play is the norm. I’ve had to teach the other Princes to be more gentle with Prince No. 4 so that he learns to play more appropriately. Because other toddlers don’t understand a ‘punch’ hello, or that ‘play wrestling’ is a lot of fun.

I think the good news is that the terrible two behaviour passes into a cute, distant memory. A toddler reaches the more rational age of three, where he or she finally understands instructions, and appropriate behaviour. The thing not to forget is as Dr Christopher Green says, no matter what toddler challenges you face, don’t forget to enjoy your toddler and say ‘I LOVE YOU’ more often than ‘NO’.

I have an odd habit. When I’m sick with flu, that low grade flu that you can’t really pin point and if you’re a mother go into denial about. I continue with my every day running around life. I’m grumpier and not quite myself and always look a bit pale and peaky. My flu solution is that I find myself (quite unconsciously) at the MAC makeup counter asking for a lipstick. Something different, something that will give me a lift. Inevitably I end up with a bright pink, that certainly gives me a shot of pizazz.

Five shocking pink lipsticks later I feel better. It always works. It’s taught me to never underestimate the power of a dash of lipstick to lift my spirits. Never underestimate the small things in life that make a big difference. So up there with my daily Cappuccino (s) is pink lipstick.

On a more serious note. This mummy denial that I have when I’m not feeling well is not healthy. Especially for the Princes. Because I don’t take time out, and keep functioning on high Magimix speed, I feel like sodden mulch, and I snap. Read SNAP, as in SHOUT, LOSE IT, generally NOT COPE. For me the worst feeling is shouting. That feeling after shouting is like doing yoga on a moldy, smelly yoga mat. I am filled with Macbethian guilt.

All perfect mothers, who don’t ever lose it with their darling angels, stop reading now. For the rest of us earthlings, the best advice I ever received, with regard to making a mistake, like becoming completely overwhelmed and shouting is, “It’s not about the mistake, it’s about what you do after you make the mistake.”

No mother wants to shout. No mother wants to hurt her children ever. I do when I’m completely overwhelmed and my senses, due to flu or sleeplessness, are overloaded like Eskom’s power stations. Watching for our triggers is important. Flu denial is a problem. Time out is the solution. Taking twenty minutes to rest (yes in the middle of the day if possible) is necessary. And if you can’t do it for yourself do it for your children. Mother’s who don’t feel well aren’t useful to anyone.

I’ll try remember, next time I find myself at a makeup counter asking for a shocking pink lipstick, that maybe I should be going to bed instead.

No one tells you how chaotic the life of a mother is. How your life revolves around the needs of the little people around you. This is manifested most intensely with a little baby, where its every need is your responsibility and becomes your life. When they’re older it becomes about their school schedules, their therapies, their extra murals. Of course that’s just the practical, logistical side of mothering. Emotionally, socially we’re also involved. Who are their friends? What do they enjoy? What do they feel about themselves? How do I relate to them? Of course we can overthink all of this and/or put too much pressure on ourselves, as I do. Throw in any personal desire to work, write or go to yoga, or even have a quiet cup of tea (should we mention a social life, a really good fun relationship with ones partner?) and BOOM! A mothers life is served up on a very messy fast food tray.

So that’s what I’ve been trying to get a handle on. Balancing the aspects of my life that make my life meaningful and keeping up with the needs of four little Princes. Ironically as soon as I think I’ve got it right, and have found a peaceful balance everything changes. Ear infections which needs grommets, soccer season with it’s three soccer matches a week to go to (and that’s excluding Sunday matches), and behavioural and academic challenges pop up like shooting, over exuberant pop corn seeds.

Your time is not your own as a mother, unless you go to an office, and now with our smart phones, we parent via email, whattsapp and phone all day. It’s a 24 hour unappreciated job. No wonder so many women are on anti depressants. (I do think anti-depressants are the way to go if you’re not coping.) The pressures are too great, the demands are insane, and nothings going to change except ourselves. So this week whilst reassessing the fact that I’m not completely coping, and as I face a fifty page assessment to fill out, I am trying to draw on my sanity resources. I’ve realised that there are very practical ways of dealing with the internal and external chaos that we all carry.

So here’s what I’ve been doing:

1. Remember the Law of Thermodynamics 

This is the law of entropy. All things tend to disorder and chaos. We have to continuously expend energy to keep some sort of sane order. Knowing this reassures me, because it’s not just me, it’s everybody (even those who pretend otherwise), we are all dealing with the reality that life (especially with children) is unpredictable.

2. Balance JOY with WORK

I don’t like (read – loathe, despise, avoid at all costs) admin. So I procrastinate until it’s sitting on my head like soggy toilet paper. Then I can’t ignore it anymore and frantically I buckle down and get it done. My cortisol levels by this stage are sky high.This is not ideal, especially as mothering involves ALOT of admin. I was advised by my acupuncturist as I came to my session in overwhelmed tears to calm down. To assess all that I don’t like doing and then balance it with what I do like doing. So barter my way through the stodgy jobs with cups of cappucino, yoga classes and writing exercises. This may seem babyish. But it’s my inner child who’s rebelling against having to be the GROWN UP all the time. Through speaking to her and feeding her needs, to also be important, to also have fun, to also have her needs met then I can better cope with my four Princes and husband, rather than giving, giving, giving and crashing at the end of the day. So that’s what I’ve done today. Written my list of jobs out. Sipped a Cappucino whilst filling out the assessment – voila it’s done. I feel better and am now moving to the other jobs of my day. Ticking my list as I go.

3. Quality Time is better than Quantity Time

One of my biggest stresses is that I feel that I’m trying to be there for everybody and end up being there for no body. One of the best pieces of parenting advice I’ve ever received is that it’s better to be really present with our children rather than spending lots of time resentfully. A game of backgammon in the middle of a busy day is worth a lot more than begrudgingly schlepping children to the shops. Children just want to be seen, and to feel important to us. Just remembering this, makes me stop take a deep breath in and prioritise my time with care.

Of course there are a lot more coping mechanisms. We all are bumbling along coping with being women, mothers, wives, friends, hopefully most of the time with joy. Through it all I think one of the main things to remember is that we’re not alone. That always makes me feel better. 

Hi All. This is a story with a twist. I conceived of the idea, years and years ago when my first Prince was a toddler. Finally I’ve written it now that Prince No. 4 has turned two. I hope you enjoy it as much as I had fun writing it. 

Domestic Abuse

It had been a long day. The Fling case still eluded him. He rubbed his furrowed temple. A beer would help. It always does. Gloria called him an alcoholic, for a couple of beers at the cafe. It wasn’t even a pub. She had no idea what he had to deal with everyday. This was a murder case with seemingly no motive on the husband’s part. A wife found dead in a bath tub. Seemingly drowned during an epileptic fit. She did have epilepsy but he felt a nagging tug at his detective sleeve. It was more than that. It’s not for nothing that a high percentage of murders take place within families. It always was the partner in his experience. He took another swig of his Castle. His eyes moved over the usual six o’clock cafe crowd. The businessmen loosening their designer ties after a tightly strung day. The women in their heels, transforming from tough women of the future to giggling girls over flirty, bubbly cocktails. Seeing people alive and laughing was a welcome change from the morgue.

His ears perked up as he heard the inane conversation next to him. There were two women, one who had come from the office in her neat red suit and tottering heels. ‘Killer Lady in RED,’ he thought to himself, almost humming to the tune that now assailed his mind. With her was a woman in jeans and a white buttoned blouse, a string of pearls hugged her neck in an attempt to dress up.

‘I had to get away. I would have murdered him if I stayed a minute longer.’

‘SHhhh, don’t say that.’

‘Well it’s true. You have no idea what it’s like. You sit in your neat office and have a secretary to boss around. I’m stuck with him all day. He just bosses me around. I’m completely pathetic. I just do everything he says.’

‘He’s not that bad.’ ‘Oh he’s all sweet when you’re around. He likes pretty women.’

‘Don’t make me blush.’

‘Ha, ha. You know it’s true. You won’t believe what he did yesterday he was so angry he took a swipe at me. Look.’

‘OOhh that’s no good.’

‘I’m putting scar repair. I pray it goes away. I can’t afford to look ugly. Not with all this weight to lose.’

‘You’re looking good.’

‘You’re flattering me. I haven’t had a good night sleep in months. He insists on getting into my bed and he just kicks, and kicks and kicks. I don’t know how much longer I can take it.’

‘That’s terrible.’

‘Yeah, so I just eat and eat and eat, because I’m just too tired to do anything else.’

 

Detective Brand looked up from his finished beer. He forgot to order his second.

 

‘Poor baby. Well forget about it all now. You’re out with me, and we’re going to celebrate your birthday in style.’

‘I don’t even feel like celebrating. I feel like such a wet, smelly dish cloth. I feel like a flower that’s been left in a vase for months and is rotting.’

‘It’s that bad hey.’

‘Completely. No one can imagine unless they’ve been through it. And there’s no way out. It’s not like I can abandon him. There’s nothing to do but hope he’ll grow out of it.’

‘I’m sure he will.’

‘I hope so. I don’t know what I’ll do if he doesn’t.’

Detective Brand couldn’t hold himself back anymore. It was his duty, he couldn’t help it, though he knew it was breaking an ethical code of privacy. ‘Madam, sorry to interrupt, but let me introduce myself. My name is Detective Fredrick Brand of the SAPS homicide unit,’ he said officially pulling out his badge. ‘I couldn’t help overhearing your troubles, and I can’t help but tell you that a voilent man never changes unless he undergoes serious intervention. I would advise you to leave him.’ He rummaged in his pocket for the card. ‘Here’s the number for battered women. They’ll protect you and advise you how to proceed. Often domestic violence results in death. Please don’t leave it.’

He stopped. The women were looking at him wide eyed, like he’d just told them they were grossly obese. Then they burst out laughing. Big, loud, belly laughs that had them doubled over. He looked at them quizzically.

‘Officer,’ the woman with the pearls said through her uncontrollable snorts. ‘I’m sorry, I think you’ve misunderstood. It’s not my husband who’s abusing me. It’s my two year old son.’

He didn’t bother correcting her. He was a detective. A serious detective cracking open the rotten murder eggs that plagued society. He left the Cafe. It’s time he began frequenting hard core bars with hard core liquor.

The Right to Cook So life’s busy, busy, busy. And I’m the kind of person who takes on more projects just in case I’m not busy enough. I’m learning to say no, but one initiative I could not say no to was doing a Pesach demo of Sephardi (Sephardi is actually the wrong word, because Iraqi Jewish food is Middle Eastern.) Baghdadi food for the Jewish festival of Pesach. The only thing was I knew how the food should taste, but not necessarily how to cook it. So guess where I’ve been for the last month? In the kitchen teaching myself how to make Mahasha – stuffed vegetables, Dolmades – stuffed vine leaves, Bamia – Okra Stew, and all kinds of other sweet, sour and delicious dishes that my grandmother used to conjure up in minutes.

Which is exactly why I agreed to do the cooking demo. When I cook my grandmother’s food I feel closer to her. I feel that I’m passing down a tradition that I enjoyed as a child to my children. The hours in the kitchen are worth it. Especially as I found them meditative and relaxing. My favourite time to cook is at night. It’s quiet, and it’s just me, a chopping board, fresh parsley and an onion that makes me cry. I never imagined it could be such a stress reliever. I could just be. Forget about the stream of never ending school issues, and life’s day to day challenges.

Somehow I never feel lonely when I cook. I find my mind wandering as I roast pine nuts and puree a tin of tomatoes. I think back to how my grandmother first taught me what it was to heat a pan with oil and saute garlic, ginger and onion. I remember how she used to talk to me about her life in Iraq, then Israel. I didn’t understand everything between the Arabic, Hebrew and English. But I got the gist. I felt her feeling. I knew that it was hard. I knew that she had her great sadnesses, and I knew that through it all she cooked and provided us with hearty, warm food from that time. This makes me stronger in my great sadnesses. A woman’s sadness doesn’t stand alone, it’s linked to the river of tears that all women weep into. My grandmother taught me that.

The meditative, regular movements of carefully stuffing and rolling vine leaves with its minty mixture of parsley, onion, rice and lemon is soothing. My hands are oiled with the olive oil, that my grandmother oiled her hands with as she stuffed her vine leaves. She had the most beautiful soft skin. Hands hardened enough to carry a piping hot tray of pinwheel cookies from the oven, but soft enough to be part of an Estee Lauder advert for hand lotion. As my leaves take shape into neat green parcels, I remember what she taught me about treating house help. With love and kindness, and food. All the knowledge passed down through kneading, cutting, filling, boiling, eating together at her small round table in Sydney comes back to me in little snippets. They make me laugh to myself and then the tears come as well.

Dolmades - Grape Vine Leaves

Dolmades – Grape Vine Leaves

I’m learning that cooking is so much more than a chore. It’s a journey to the past. It’s an adventure as I learn what works and doesn’t work. Facing a dish that tastes too sour, or worse too sweet. (Five tablespoons of sugar in Mahasha doesn’t work, despite what the recipe says.) Learning to face failure and chucking the disaster dish out with a heavy heart but lessons well learnt. Dancing around the kitchen in glee as the sauce for the stuffed vegetables comes right. I only know if it’s right by how it tastes. The recipes from the books fail me. They have too much tomato paste and sugar. I need to keep spooning and tasting to see if the dish is right. I’m surrounded by silver teaspoons and tablespoons cluttering the kitchen counter. Let’s not speak about the washing up. My grandmother was meticulous in the kitchen, she wouldn’t be impressed by the parsley that sprinkles the floor.

Mahasha - Stuffed Vegetables

Mahasha – Stuffed Vegetables

So I recommend cooking. Just taking a recipe, buying the ingredients and making it. The more chopping involved the better, the saucier and tastier the better. The more different the better. I love being taken out of my comfort zone and taking others as well. Everyone asks ‘What’s this?’ And I explain, knowing this may be the first and last time they ever taste a taste of my grandmother’s Baghdad, where Arabs and Jews lived side by side in commerce, mutual respect and most of all in baking bread.

And just to end up with this note for those who don’t like cooking. It can be very simple. Sharing a cooking experience with ones family can extend to cutting up a mango and sharing it. I did this the other day with my Princes. They learnt how to make turtle shaped mangoes. We cut and ate and laughed and made a jolly mess. They loved it. I loved it. It was bonding at its best. Simple.

Almond Cookies for Pesach

This recipe is one of my favourite new recipes I learnt. It’s from a book called, ‘Flavours of Babylon’ by Linda Dangoor, which my dear cousin, Sharon bought me. It’s very easy and the cardamom gives it a real kick that guarantees that it’ll be a conversation piece. Just don’t forget to make it in advance so it can be refrigerated for a few hours or over night. (I forgot and it didn’t set nicely because of that.)

 

Almond Cookies

Almond Cookies

Ingredients

500g blanched almonds, finely ground (I don’t use blanched. Normal works fine.)

200g walnuts (I just use almonds instead) 500g castor sugar (I found this too sweet so I half the sugar)

1 teaspoon ground cardamom (I buy the cardamom from Woolworths and use a pestle and mortar to crush the seeds.)

The whites of 5 medium eggs

1 egg yolk

Rosewater (Not necessary if you don’t have.)

Method

1. In a bowl, mix the almonds, sugar and cardamom. Add the egg whites and knead into a malleable dough.

2. Cover and leave to rest in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight if you wish.

3. Preheat the oven to 160 C.

4. Line a baking tray with greaseproof or baking paper. Lightly wet your hands with the rosewater and take a little of the dough the size of a walnut and shape it into a tight ball, flattening the top a little with your finger. I add an almond for decoration.

5. Arrange on a tray, spacing the balls to avoid them sticking to each other as they expand when baked.

6. Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until golden. Leave to cool completely before handling. Serve or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer where they will keep well for a long time.

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