Archives for the month of: June, 2013

Last week was an inspiring week. I was privileged to hear Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks speak on leadership and it made me think how we are all leaders, especially mothers. It’s not something we speak about in our society much. Mothers are either ‘spiritual mumbo jumbo’ martyrs or we’re irrelevant. It’s like the story that Gary Neumann told at Sinai Indaba about his wife. They were sitting at a high powered, women’s CEO conference where he was speaking. The table was doing the ‘so what do you do’ rounds, and each woman’s resume as you can imagine, was more impressive than the next. When the table came to his wife, she said, ‘I take care of orphaned children. I feed them, dress them, nurse them, school them.’ The table was duly impressed and amazed at such self less, Mother Teresa work. She then added, ‘Of course they’re my own children.’ And the spell was broken.

There is no doubt that mothers are under appreciated. I’ve come to realise that no one is waiting to applause us, thank us, give us that well deserved pat on the back, for clocking up thousands of kilometers on our mum mobile speedometers. We’ll be waiting forever if we’re waiting for that. Appreciation must come from ourselves. Self care, self nourishment from ourselves. And sometimes it seems like such a pain – ‘What I have to also mother myself? Not another person to mother, ppplease!’

And this is where leadership comes in. Seeing the value of ones role that we’re called upon in life to do. It just so happens that mothering is a common role. It’s not very difficult to become a mother. Being a mother, even that proverbial ‘good enough mother’ is a whole different story.

  1. A Leader is Bottom of the People Heap:

Rabbi Sacks (I will abbreviate his well deserved title for the sake of easy reading) spoke about leaders being at the bottom of the pile. They are there to serve the people, rather than the other way around. A metaphor for ‘old style, dictatorial’ leadership (or modern African leadership) could be the ancient buildings of power such as the Egyptain Pyramids. The peaky top symbolised the Pharaoh, who was akin to God, and the massive, heavy bottom were the people who served him.

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Revolutionary to this leadership model is the ancient Jewish symbol of the menorah – the Temple’s candelabra, which had seven branches at the top, symbolising the people and the bottom, central leg represent the leader.

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This reminded me of the role of ‘mother’. There is no doubt that we’re the bottom of the food chain, as we serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. We hold our children and husbands up, and without us, there is no toilet paper in the bathrooms. If we quit, thousands would lose their jobs. If we went on a shopping strike, economies would crumble. I could be wrong of course, perhaps we should try it and see what happens…

Rabbi Sacks quotes Martin Luther King who said, ‘We can all be great because we can all serve.’ So we need to, as mothers, begin seeing ourselves as great leaders, not maid servants, serving our children and families as we build them up.

2. We ALL Need to Be Leaders in Our Own Sphere of Influence

I don’t think much more than that needs to be said. Mother’s have the most profound influence on their children, for better or for worse. We imprint our children with their gifts and their issues. Whether we like it or not, we are who we are because of our own mothers. We’ve either copied them, or reacted to them. Either way you can’t escape the influence and power that ‘mother’ has in our lives. So I’m hoping to use my influence as a mother for the good.

Rabbi Sacks spoke about collective responsibility. Teamsmanship. Treating our family unit as a team, where everyone can lead and be responsible is an important idea. Teaching ourselves and our children to be empowered individuals.

3. No One Said it’s Easy

We all know a lot of the concepts that I’ve outlined above. I myself have worked on them, drawn up my star charts, given out chores. Heck I even got two Labradors who spent the weekend chewing up my newly fixed irrigation system (again). All in the hope of empowering my Princes, and bringing them up to be confident, contributing, positive members of society. And it’s an upward battle. Dealing with moods, tiredness, cheekiness, and general Princely anarchy. Even my loving Prince No. 4 has gotten the hang of vandalising every shelf. No book is safe, no breakable is unbroken in this house, as balls and little sticky fingers go flying. So I need to ask – am I failing as a leader in this small fiefdom of mine?

4. The Ability to Persist

Staying power marks a leader, says Rabbi Sacks. God doesn’t give up on His stiff necked nation. I think as a mother, I’m learning more and more, not to give up on my mothering because nothing stays the same. No behaviour is static. All of us are growing, including the Princes, as they navigate their way in this world.

Of course as Rabbi Sacks said, it’s important to consult when making decisions. Check ourselves, know ourselves, know our limits as mothers. God consulted with the angels when creating the world. How much more so do we need to learn and consult with others when creating our angels on earth. (Okay that just sounded good. They so aren’t angels, but they’re pretty wonderful little human beans.) The biggest consultation being with our husbands. (That is a blog post just waiting to be written.)

5. Believe in the People You Lead

I do believe the best gift we give our children, is our belief in them. Belief that they will grow up wonderfully despite us (and the school system). That they have inner resources, inner wisdom, and inner strength, which we can’t imagine. Faith that they are exactly who they’re meant to be, and on their own individual journey. It puts less strain on our already taut and tired heart strings, and it gives them the wings to fly free to be themselves. (Not what we think they should be.)

And here I think I need to go back to point number three. All these points are easier said than done. But however challenging mothering is it helps to redefine mother as more than taxi driver, tutor and food buyer. A mother is a generational leader as William Ross wrote, ‘The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.’ No wonder it’s so hard….

I’ve missed writing. I haven’t written in weeks and for very good reason. I’ve been traveling (lucky, lucky me, I know). I feel like I’ve traipsed through Europe (with a creepy crawly eleven month old) – London, Paris, Milan. A dream of a trip. A journey full of beautiful memories now that I’m back in Johannesburg, on the kiddie schedule treadmill again.

To be honest I love, love, love traveling (who doesn’t?) and feel a real need to leave Johannesburg at least once a year to feel alive, connected to the world that walks its streets, popping into gorgeous coffee shops at will. With that love comes a deep, heavy seated, toilet deep anxiety. Fear that I’m too spoilt (okay I am spoilt, but can one ever be too spoilt with life and world experiences?). Fear that it won’t work out. Fear that the Princes will be hanging from light fittings. Fear that my righteous mother-in-law won’t cope. To sum it up I feared the fear of the unknown that is a common human experience and paralyses us into not doing what we love and dream of.

Luckily I was going with my husband who had to go anyway, so he booked everything.

(There has to be a perk to having a husband who travels for work.) Last year I had agreed to meet my cousin Sharon in Milan to visit her niece who’s studying at a Chabad seminary there. A crazy plan to make with an almost one year old who can’t keep still. But forcing myself to just do it worked. The trip turned out better than I dreamed and the lessons I learnt are a reminder of how amazing life can be if you make a basic plan, action it and let it unfold all on its own.

So I’ll write a brief summary of my trip with a couple of tips on how to travel with a baby so those jet setters amongst you can enjoy it too.

Book a Bassinet

The flight to London was a nightmare, I hadn’t booked a bassinet, not realising that the bassinets on airplanes have changed. It used to be that a baby could only get a bassinet if they didn’t sit up. Nowadays you strap the baby into the bassinet and they need to be under a certain weight and size to fit. I’d say a baby these days can get a bassinet under the age of one, and if you have a small one year old they would also fit. I had a bassinet on the way back and that made a world of difference to my trip, especially as I travelled back on my own.

Walking London

The best part of being in Europe is walking the streets and seeing the post card sights in real life. We stayed at a lovely friend of mine in Hampstead Garden Suburb (with a baby staying in a home is much, much easier). Hampstead Garden Suburb is the most beautiful, cottagey, English area, looking right onto the heath.

West End – Matilda

Matilda

One of the best things we did in London was go to the West End show Matilda. It far exceeded my expectations. It was such a creative, vibrant, clever production. Anyone who has a chance to go see it has my blessing. It is fantastic Roahl Dahl fun. Although Mrs Trunchbull was completely frightening, so I wouldn’t take small kids, unless they don’t get scared of big masculine, raging women (Mrs Trunchbull is played by a man). Thank God I was able to organise a babysitter for Prince No. 4. After a West End show having a drink in Soho is a must (a cappuccino in my case). It’s one of my favourite things to do – walk around an area that’s brimming with night life.

Tower of London

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A lovely, lovely day was when we went to the Tower of London. I don’t think I would have appreciated it as much if I hadn’t been reading Philippa Gregory’s historical English novels. I had just read the series about the war of Roses, between the Lancaster and York houses. She writes so beautifully and well, that I’m absolutely addicted to them. Walking through the towers and recognising the names of the historical figures that were mentioned on the Beef Eater tour (The yeomen who take care of the tower are known as Beefeaters and they give a fabulous free tour. In our case we had a yeowoman.) Of course we saw the Crown Jewels which was quite fun. I’ve never seen diamonds that size. It’s all beautifully organised for tourists. (Although not for prams. We had to carry the baby through the towers, so we didn’t see it all. In fact all of London is ill designed for four wheels, especially the Tube. Luckily when I was on my own, people were more than happy to help.)

Boat on the Thames

From the Tower, which is right on the Thames River, we took a tourist boat to Westminster Abbey. We discovered something new, Prince No. 4 loves boats, so it was a lot of fun, as he made a complete racket in his excitement. At Westminster, we went into Parliament and listened to some of the passionate debate that was taking place about Ireland. Of course Westminster is very beautiful and grand although the actual House of Commons is much smaller than I imagined. (And yes we couldn’t take the baby into the debate room. We had to take turns going up.) It was fun to see legislature in action. It reminded me of my law days, and I felt that familiar excitement rise up in my veins, at laws being discussed, debated and made. The heart of a country lies in that room.

Wartski

One of my highlights in London was to go to Wartski, a jewelry store with a royal warrant that David’s grandmother’s grandfather had founded in Llandudno, Wales. It’s in this store that she grew up playing with Faberge eggs. Another store was opened in London, and it’s to there that the business relocated. In fact it’s from Wartski that Kate Middleton got her Welsh gold wedding ring. I had to go see it for David’s grandmother and for myself, as I’d heard so many stories about it. Of course it was in Mayfair and I bullishly planned our tube route there. It was a moment down memory lane, touching fingers with the past, however briefly. And they did have Faberge, but don’t ask the price.

Paris

Paris was beautiful, magical and in Spring with poppies in bloom everywhere. I should add that London also was blooming with pink and white skies of cherry blossoms and the heads of happy, yellow daffodils everywhere. When we debated going to Paris, I said it was a must, we needed to recreate our Paris moments, as our last trip there was a semi nightmare with a hissing French fight when my husband spoke English at the Picasso museum. This time was different. We stayed in a hotel in St Germain, a vibey students area of books, boutiques and music shops. It was right by the River Seine, and we spent our first afternoon walking around taking in the atmosphere, making our way to the Musee d’Orsay and basking in the Impressionists. My favourite soul feeding art, where joy is not the right word to describe what I feel in front of them. Awe, a well of creative spirit.

Locks of Love on the Bridge in Paris

Locks of Love on the Bridge in Paris

 

I Love Paris in the Spring Time

I Love Paris in the Spring Time

 

Milan

Italy is the most beautiful country, and I’ll take any excuse to go there, and here’s why:

Creamy Hot Chocolate

And More Creamy Hot Chocolate!

And More Creamy Hot Chocolate!

Plus the:

– Shopping

– Art

– History and Culture

– Friendly Italians

– Friendly Italians who love babies

– General happy feeling in the air of everyone enjoying life with their cappuccinos

 

Verona

My clever cousin hired a car, and drove like a true Italian all the way to Verona. It was a surprisingly lovely, medieval stop over, and of course the home of Romeo and Juliet.

Juliet's Balcony

Juliet’s Balcony

Lugano

We also drove to Lugano, Switzerland. It was fabulous crossing borders into another country. And Lugano is the prettiest city.

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Back to Reality

I am now back in Johannesburg back to the reality of everydayness. Cooking, juggling the Prince’s schedules, shopping and mothering, my trip feels like a life time ago even though it was only last week that I was traipsing around Milan with my cousin and her niece. I’m happy to be back with the Princes and I’m very happy I went away. It was more than the delicious cappuccinos, food, and wonderful museums. More than being able to walk endlessly on the street breathing in the busy, beautiful European city life. Thinking back to it what I really loved and valued most about it was the relationships I developed. With my friend in London who generously shared her home and way of life with me, to my husband, with whom time together is always so precious. Having quality time with Prince No. 4 and teaching him to give a high 5. Licking gelato slowly (I tend to guzzle ice cream too fast) with my cousin Sharon from LA and her niece. Deepening our connection, learning from each other, sharing and enjoying life together. This was the biggest blessing for me. Being in relationship.

Being in relationship is a human gift, for me it’s the reason why we’re alive. So I’m happy to be back home, to enjoy my relationships here with my wall climbing Princes.