Thursday, January 22, 2009

the saddest sound in the world

A phone conversation from a few days ago:

Me: "Hi sweetheart, its mummy. I miss you darling"
Geekygirl, in teeny tiny voice: "Mummy?"
Me: "I miss you. I love you. I wish I could give you a big hug right now."
Geekygirl, with a tiny sob, "Mamma?"
Me. " I'll be back on Sunday. Today is Wednesday, so there is Thursday, Friday, saturday and then I'll be back"
Geekygirl "Mummy."

Yes, work and motherhood clash again. I'm away at a conference for the week, and Geekygirl is really missing me. I've travelled before, of course, but not for so long, and when she was too young to be able to express her sadness. Geekybaby seems to be doing much better, his routine is the same, he is getting fed, which is his highest priory in life, though no doubt he is a little confused as to where that lovely mummy person has got to. I am torn in two, enjoying the beautiful location and the skiing (I’m in Banff, Canada, a truly spectacular place), and learning about exciting developments in my field (diabetes), but feeling guilty about leaving my little ones, and leaving my husband to cope alone.

But, as I keep telling myself, it is important both for my company and my personal career growth that I am able to be here. I am so grateful that I have the complete support of Geekdaddy. Books I’ve been reading lately, such as Flux, by Peggy Orentstein and Get To Work, By Linda Hirschman, point out that one of the things holding back women when it comes to equality in the workplace is inequality at home. Workplaces are generally pretty egalatarian places now, mine certainly is, but apparently it is the rare household where two parents work, and also fairly share the burdens of managing the family. I am so very fortunate that I was able to say to my bosses "yes, I can go to this conference and present my team's work". Imagine the opposite, I decided not to go, either fearing the household couldn't cope without me, or I was discouraged from going by my husband, and simply by this omission, this inactivity, I would have missed out this great opportunity to learn about the latest breakthroughs in my field, and on crucial networking opportunities. If I hadn’t gone, when new projects are seeking leaders in the future, I would probably be overlooked, because my ability to travel and to represent that project would be in question.

I go home tomorrow, I’m getting up at 4.30am to catch the first flight I can, and I can’t wait to be back with everyone. But it has been a wonderful trip, and after some science, skiing and spa treatments, I’m rejuvenated, and ready to be mummy extraodinaire

Thursday, January 15, 2009

swimming, swimming in the swimming pool

The Geekyinlaws' lovely home in South Africa had a pool. It took several days of cautiously splashing on the steps, but eventually Geekygirl embraced the water, and went "into the deep", as she described it when supported by Daddy or Mummy. Her love of the pool was enhanced by the impulse purchase by her grandmother of a fancy new swimsuit. I had finally managed to find cute sun protective swimsuits online before we left (for some reason, even here in Sunny California it is not possible to find swimsuits in stores in December), but on an outing with her grandparents to the estate shop, Geekygirl convinced her grandmother to buy her another suit, a much fancier bright orange and purple frilly shorts and top suit with a dolphin on it. The girl is going to be quite a shopper, I can tell. When confronted with a rack of clothes, she will leaf through excitedly, pulling items forward and exclaiming "look at this, this is sooo beautiful, Mummy, this would look so pretty on me".

Now that we are back home, Geekygirl has her fancy swimsuit to wear, and nowhere to where it. Of course we have nice public pools here, but the sad fact of 'dual working parent with two kid' life is that finding the time and energy to take the kids swimming has not happened yet. We used to take Geekygirl when she was a baby, but with the both of them it just hasn't happened. There always seem to be other things to do on the weekend.

Since swimming classes are a good intention that may take some time to be acted upon, in the mean time I'm thankful for a child with a vivid imagination. The jet lag induced bed hopping that was going on last week caused us to succumb to something we have never actually done in the last 3 years of child rearing, kicking Daddy onto the couch. Nights are chilly now, so we had pulled out a sleeping bag. A bright blue one.

The following morning, I stepped out of my shower to hear "Don't fall in the deep, Mummy". My foot had landed upon the sleeping bag, now spread out across the dining room floor. Geekygirl and several of her dolls, all attired in swimwear, were "swimming" on the sleeping bag! All week, Geekygirl has been exchanging her pajamas for her swimsuit every morning, and jumping into her "pool". It is only with a lot of persuasion I can get her into regular clothes in order to get out of the house for daycare!

I suppose we really should take them swimming. Or maybe our next door neighbours will let her have a dunk in their hot tub?!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I need guilt free convenience

Our usual weekend grocery shopping strategy failed us this weekend. We aim to take advantage of early rising children and get to Trader joe's before the mob, but this weekend we had to call out a plumber to fix the U bend under the kitchen sink, which decided to crack open and leak everywhere. The repair took quite some time, so it was afternoon before we headed out to get groceries. Parking at Trader Joes was impossible, backed up cars in all the aisles, parking directors blowing whistles and waving ineffectually as we joined the sea of frustrated Prius drivers. (I love our Prius, but it is not exactly an original choice of car in San Francisco, several times I have accidentally tried to get into somebody else's parked car). So we surrendered, and went instead to "Whole paycheck" (I mean Whole foods Market) to do the weekly grocery shop.

Now, when I was in the UK and in South Africa over the holidays I noticed that the prepared babyfood one can buy at the grocery store is far superior to what I can get here in the US. The typical jar food is available too, but high street grocery stores also sell fresh and frozen organic prepared baby food, just like homemade, in all sorts of delicious varieties (yes I tasted it!). They also sell organic, healthy premade frozen kids meals too, something I have been hard pressed to find in our stores.

I'm afraid I have succumbed to the convenience of this type of meal on busy evenings. But every time I buy them, I feel the judging eyes of the other mothers. I find myself at the check out with geekygirl excitedly clutching her carefully chosen box of "elmo's mac n cheese with gummy worms" (instructions: "remove gummy worms from package before microwaving on high for 3 minutes"), when I would see at the next aisle a fellow mother, also shopping on the way home from the office with an adorable toddler and a baby, buying organic cauliflower, 5 pounds of potatoes and a line caught salmon and I would feel like hiding behind my Us Weekly magazine in shame.

I do plenty of cooking for the kids, but with lives like ours, having something yummy stowed in the freezer is a necessity that I have no shame about. So inspired by the choices I'd seen in the UK, I scoured Whole Foods, and sure enough they do offer a limited line of frozen organic baby food, and also healthy gummy worm free toddler meals, so I stocked up. I do wish that more afordable stores like Trader Joes, or Safeway would jump on this market though, I think there would be a desire for it, just as there is in the UK.

Merchants of the USA, you are falling behind in the convenience food arena, I challenge you to shape up; there are lazy parents out here who want to feel good about throwing something in the microwave to feed our children!

Friday, January 9, 2009

An evil petting zoo?!

While in South Africa, we had a family outing to a kid's farm. I know, Africa conjures up images of lions, elephants, giraffes and other fabulous beasts, not livestock, but the safari experience was not to be for the Geekyfamily. The game parks in South Africa, all at least a day's drive from where we were staying, are in parts of the country where malaria is endemic. Small children and breast feeding mothers can't safely take antimalarials, and besides, the kids would probably be eyed by any savvy lion as tasty little morsels, so we missed out on the lions, and chalked this one up to "things that we couldn't do because we have kids and to be held against them when, as teenagers, they make unreasonable parental requests".

Instead, I joined my South African cousins and their children on a trip to "Flag Animal Farm". As family attractions go, this was actually a very lovely one. Post and rail fences surrounded green pastures filled with impossibly glossy and plump donkeys, goats and cows, the scene was Disney style bucolic. The smaller animals (anything small enough to get under the lower rung of pasture fences, which were about 2 feet from the ground) wandered freely, mingling with the guests. Tiny piglets, baby goats, ducks - proper white story book ones, and colorful roosters and chickens all roamed around between the bounce house, the lunch tables and the pony rides.

The piglets and goats liked to be petted, and also fed from the bag of bran we were given as part of our entry fee. Geekygirl is cautious of new things, and there had been a lot of new things on this trip, new people, new bed, new food, but after a wander around the farm she became bold enough to approach some of the animals. One attraction was a brood of fluffy little chicks and their mother hen. They roamed around between the lunch tables, peeping and pecking. When the chicken family stopped beneath our table Geekygirl asked "can I feed them?". Delighted by her burgeoning enthusiasm, I relied "Sure" and gave her a handful of the animal fodder. As I reached for my camera and she went to sprinkle the food, disaster struck. Momma hen, maybe feeling that her babies were threatened, charged and pecked at Geekygirl, and in the blink of an eye we went from adorable photo moment to chicken attack meltdown. (maybe I should have been focused less on photography and more on parenting).

The chicken inflicted minimal actual damage (though it did draw a speck of blood, nasty creature), but emotionally, the afternoon was over. Geekgirl was afraid to go anywhere else on the farm, for fear that the chicken was after her. We decided that at this point a pony ride probably wasn't a good idea, so headed back to the house.

Considering all of the things that she could have been bitten by in Africa (just on the estate we had the option of green or black mambas, giant spiders and scorpions), I guess we were lucky that all we encountered was a disgruntled chicken at what will be known forever more as "The evil petting zoo".

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

defining a grown up

What does it take to be a grown up? Here is geekygirl's take on it:

Geekygirl: "Mummy, Its Lydia's birthday tomorrow (Lydia is a doll). Lydia is 5 years old on her birthday. Her can have five cakes"

Me: "I think you mean she can have five candles on her cake"

Geekygirl: "No, five cakes and five candles. Her is a grown up"

Me: "Really?"

Geekygirl: "Yes, her is a gwown up, so her can drink coffee and wine and her can have vita-wims (vitamins)"

Me: "Wow, five cakes, wine, coffee and vita-wims. She is really grown up".

Geekgirl: "and her has huge feet".

So that's it, being grown up means that you can have, wine, coffee, cake, vitamins and huge feet. I guess the first three make the latter worth it.

I can't resist repeating back her vita-wim pronunciation, though I know I should correct it. I love Vita-wims. They sound lively and whimsical. Perhaps they are a family of healthy yet unpredictable creatures that live in your medicine cabinet? Maybe a lucrative children's book franchise?!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

jet lag

I don't appreciate the biological mystery of the internal body clock, until it gets completely out of whack. Adult humans were not really designed to travel between time zones, and babies and toddlers even less so. South Africa is 10 hours ahead of US Pacific time, which is basically completely topsy turvey. Night is day. Babies and toddlers don't understand. It is clear in our house that our two kids have very different internal clock biology, and science is starting to show us that the control of our circadian rhythms has a strong genetic component. I think our two got a very different set of sleep genes.

I'm probably stark raving bonkers from the lack of decent sleep, as instead of tearing my hair out, I'm using this recovery period as an opportunity to ponder on the biology of sleep. Actually, being the parent of two small kids is like having jet lag all the time, so though my mental processes feel like wading through treacle today, I am have become quite accustomed to functioning in this state. I'm so used to coping without sleep, that when I finally get geekybaby sleeping through the night (his new years resolution, though he does not know it yet), and have all my mental capacities back (well assuming there is no permanent damage, which is optimistic) I will probably be able to cure diabetes, HIV and cancer with my brilliance.

Helping the geekykids through the jetlag is an interesting challenge. Geekygirl is a sleeper. She likes to sleep and will even put herself to bed if she feels tired. I will sometimes wonder where she is only to find she has decided to get in bed and take her nap. This normally fantastic quality makes dealing with Jet lag very hard. Being forced to stay awake during the new "day", is torture for her. She goes down for her nap and getting her up again is like waking the dead. At the best of times she is grumpy after nap time, right now she takes ages to wake up, and complains of being cold, her core body temperature having cooled since her body clock is saying "nightime". In the mornings she is normally a great waker, springing out of bed full of chatter. This is now happening in the middle of the night. I have lost count of the number of times last night I heard "Is it wake up time mummy? (over and over at 9.30pm, 11.00pm, 2.00am, 4.00am....). She is also starving when she wakes, a huge consumer of breakfast, so is now ravenous in the middle of the night. Last night I resorted to giving her dry cheerios in bed and letting her play in her room at 2.00am.

Geekybaby however is a very light sleeper. I don't think he has ever in his 11 months of life slept more than about 8hrs at a stretch. Actually I think his sleep on the flight from San Francisco to London was one of his longest ever! He takes his naps happily, and goes to sleep easily, but is also easily roused. He is one of those babies that though he falls asleep in the car, he wakes as soon as it stops and can never be moved, sleeping, from car to stroller and stroller to bed, like geekygirl can. However he always wakes happy, and can function on less sleep. So at the moment he is waking every 2 hrs at night, which is more often than usual, but not much, and he is reasonably cheerful during the daytime, even though he is clearly tired. It is his bowels that are causing the most problems though, we had to change two poopy diapers between the hours of 10pm and 4.00am last night.

With the striking differences in sleep habits between my two, made more apparent here by this time zone experiment, I'm a strong believer that biology has as much impact on children's sleep habits as parenting, and I don't think most of the "sleep solution" books out there recognize this.

Here's hoping for a better night of sleep tonight

Monday, January 5, 2009

home sweet home

We are back in San Francisco, after our epic trip. San Francisco to Durban is a 22,000 mile round trip. The circumference of the earth is 24,901.55 miles, so we have traveled the equivalent of half way around the world and back. If there is any kind of medal for performing this feat with two children under the age of three we deserve it. And if there isn't, well there should be. Actually the ones who really deserve the medals are the intrepid tiny travellers themselves, who did incredibly well, remaining in good spirits and good temper though three flights, from tropical warmth to freezing London and finally back to temperate and sunny California.

Geekybaby must be the worlds best travelling baby. he decided that "smile at everyone, and see if they smile back" was the greatest game in the world, and thanks to the large bulkhead space on our London to San Francisco leg, he was able to sit on the floor and play with the contents of the seat pocket for hours (not sure why I bothered with packing a bag of toys really). I am glad I packed a change of clothes though, since he had a bit of a blow out, too much variation in baby cuisine (Maybe I'll post later about the fascinating differences in babyfood between continents!). And geekgirl managed to pee through a diaper, requiring an outfit change also (another future post will be about the difference in diaper quality between nations).

The only kink in our carefully planned traveling was that Jo burg airport does not give you your stroller at the gate. Our hand baggage distribution was absed upon having the stroller with us at all times. For security reasons the flight crew and gate staff are not allowed down on the tarmac in Joburg, so strollers are sent to the carousel. We had a lot of carry on bags, geekdaddy labouring under two car seats and a back pack, and me with geekybaby in the ergo carrier, the diaper bag on one shoulder, and a large, awkward to carry duffle (which earned the nickname "the bag of rocks") containing toys, books, coloring equipment, change of clothes, babyfood, snacks, personal DVD player etc, on the other. This left no one with a free hand to carry geekgirl, so she had to walk the miles of moving walkways between the domestic and international terminals of the joburg airport. She did great, and became an expert at negotiang these. Whenever she saw one she would exclaim "I am good at these, let me go first" (in fact I think we maybe gave her a little to much encouragement, because even when we had the stroller, and were trying to move quickly, she wanted to jump out at every moving walkway and walk it herself. Even if it was going in the wrong direction!).

But at 4.30 yesterday we landed in San Francisco. All the bags made it this time (one had missed the Joburg-London flight, but it arrived at Heathrow in time to get checked on to the San Francisco flight), the shuttle arrived speedily to take us to our car, and we were back in the city by 6.05. Five minute too late to pick up our animals, which I was a little sad about.

I'm always very relieved to find the house intact after being gone for so long. I always walk around all the rooms to reconnect with the house. It was very cold, and took a while to warm up, and I still felt a bit disconnected when we went to bed last night. Now we are dealing with jet lag (Geekdaddy and the kids got up at 12.30am to have 'breakfast" and play for 2 hours before going back to bed for intermittent sleep). I picked up the animals this morning, Geekydog was so delighted to see me. I'm sure the cats were too. With all the animals back where they belong the house felt like home again. As I busied myself with unpacking, I found a big grin breaking out on my face for the first time after getting back. We did it!