Experts Warn: Everything You Are Feeding Your Kids Is Bad For Them

I thought I was doing so well. I breastfed both my babies for as long as I could, and then when that went tits up (pardon the pun) I moved them onto infant formula. I weaned them onto vegetables and fruits as per the age-appropriate guidelines, and now that they are toddlers I try to offer them a varied diet of healthy foods I think they might actually eat, rather than throw unsampled onto the floor (not as easy as it sounds). So far so good? Nope. It turns out that pretty much everything I’m feeding my kids is bad for them. And it’s stuff you are feeding your kids too.

Don’t believe me? Let’s start from birth. We all know that breastmilk is the food of choice for babies, but did you know that infant formula is made from the souls of slaughtered unicorns, and that feeding it to your baby will turn them into a Satanic worshipper? Or that you’re not supposed to wean them onto solid foods by offering them puree any more? Instead, there’s a thing called baby-led weaning, which involves serving up a buffet of fifteen different raw fruits and gently steamed veggies, then placing bets with your significant other on which will be the last to be thrown onto the floor. And you are supposed to do that at every single meal. Because the housework, shopping, and using the toilet can wait, right?

And sugar. Sugar is the new fat, tobacco, alcohol, and a side order of crystal meth all rolled into one. Keen as any parent to limit my young children’s sugar intake, I jumped on the sugar-free bandwagon for a while. Now, just to clarify: I am a barely competent cook. In fact, I am the sort of person who will eat a block of cheese for lunch because even a sandwich seems like too much work. And yet, I began reading and recreating recipes for sugar-free snacks and treats for my youngsters to enjoy. Well, I’ll specify that these were not actually sugar-free, since cane sugar was merely being replaced by the sugars in fruit juice and dates and stuff like that. But it was a start. Can you guess what happened? After slaving away in the kitchen for half a day and coming out with about two hundred eggplant, quinoa and goji berry muffins, my kids – who, I’ll state right now, are far smarter than their mother – wouldn’t touch them. Disappointed, I tried one. It tasted like potting mix. Even the dog wouldn’t have a bar of it. The muffins ended up in the bin, and my kids had peanut butter sandwiches instead.

Which brings me neatly to the subject of bread. I thought I was doing the right thing by feeding my kids wholemeal, multigrain bread, as opposed to the white stuff that I grew up on, but which is now akin to unicorn on the list of “Oh, Hell No” foods. Multigrain bread has got seeds in it, so it must be good for you, right? Nope. Flour is out. Apparently (and I saw this on Facebook somewhere, so it must be true), eating flour (or any grains) is really, really bad for you. Instead, you can now bake bread that contains no grains at all. In case you are super-keen to give this a bash (maybe you have some toddlers coming round for a party), grain-free bread is made by mixing together coconut oil, flax seeds, and the dust collected from under your fridge, baking for thirty-five minutes, and then chucking in the bin. Because, guess what? Your Toddler Won’t Eat It. Nor will they sample the crab cakes-with-hidden-veggies you have made, or the wild rice risotto balls, or the ox tail terrine. You know what they will eat? Pasta. And bread. And the odd water cracker. Toddlers, it turns out, are really into grains.

Not victory. Child abuse.

Life was so much simpler in the old days. Twenty thousand years ago, humans fed their young a healthy, balanced diet of Whatever The F*ck They Could Find. It worked well. We had a life expectancy of twenty-four, which meant most cancers didn’t get a chance to develop (see? Healthy!), and as long as a sabre-toothed tiger didn’t maul you or a woolly mammoth sit on you, you would probably become a parent in your teens, so if you were a woman you didn’t have to worry about the ‘experts’ telling you off for postponing reproduction until you were financially solvent and mentally mature enough to handle the pressure. Because, evidently, it’s all up to the woman. I am convinced that, for every cruel, thoughtless, and ignorant woman out there defiantly waiting until her mid-thirties or later to have children, there is a thirty-something single man secretly dressing his dog in baby clothes and weeping into its fur because he wishes he could become a Daddy just like, right now, ok? But I digress.

Right. So, we have figured out that sugar and grains are bad. But now it turns out that fruit is kiddy poison too. Yup, according to the paleo diet, fruit contains high amounts of fructose, and should be consumed in tiny quantities only. Brilliant. The one healthy food group my daughter will devour happily and pretty much endlessly, and it turns out that all along I might as well have been feeding her ground up horses’ hooves. Oh, wait. McDonald’s are already doing that.

I would like to clarify that I eat a relatively healthy diet, and I like to encourage my children to do the same. I am not advocating feeding children unhealthy, quick-fix, sugary and fattening foods (or, at least, not at every meal), but I do object to what I believe is a First World obsession with finding the unhealthy in nearly all foods, in particular when the solution touted by so-called nutritional ‘experts’ is to feed healthy kids highly restrictive diets which limit their exposure to not only valuable nutrition, but also the pleasure to be gained from eating something delicious. I am also not trying to dismiss or ridicule genuine food allergies and intolerances, or the dietary restrictions necessitated by them. My own son has a mild dairy intolerance which means that if he consumes more than a very small amount of dairy, his poo comes out looking like chocolate milkshake (but not smelling like it, unfortunately). I understand that for some people, milk alternatives, grain-free bread, and vegan cheese are a compromise between enjoying their favourite foods and not being crippled by pain and sickness. But, for the rest of us – the vast majority of us – I don’t believe there is a need to restrict or ‘improve’ our diets beyond eating lots of fruit and vegetables, healthy fats, and only the occasional Mars Bar. And the same goes for our children.

Once I actually became a parent, I realised that what your children eat will be dictated as much by, erm, your children, as it is by yourself. Don’t get me wrong. What you offer your children to eat is entirely a parent’s responsibility and should be a matter of thoughtful consideration (the salad in a Whopper does not constitute one of their Five-A-Day); however, what your kids actually eat… well, you can’t ram healthy food down their throats, can you? (I checked with the Department for Child Protection: you can’t).

Case in point: yesterday, my fourteen-month-old son’s lunch consisted exclusively of Nuttelex. For those of you unfamiliar with the brand, Nuttelex is a dairy-free vegetable oil-based butter alternative. It labels itself as “The healthy alternative”, although I don’t think the manufacturers intended it to be an alternative to actual food. What I offered my toddler for lunch was a rice cracker smeared in Nuttelex (since he can’t have cream cheese and he had polished off the last of the hummus at breakfast) topped with cooked salmon, and a side serving of grape tomatoes. A perfectly adequate middle-of-the-day meal for a small child. Not Michelin star-worthy, but acceptable, I think. What my toddler actually ate, however, was solely the Nuttelex, licking it off the cracker which then got thrown at the dog, along with everything else. At least the dog gets a varied diet.

Now, if I were living in poverty in a Third World country I would probably be glad that my boy got some fat into him at all that day. However, I live in a modestly affluent suburb in a very affluent country, where healthy food is plentifully and cheaply available, and where the social welfare system ensures that everybody should have the means to sustain themselves and their family with a healthy diet. The problem doesn’t lie with my own circumstances, but with the obsession our society has in current times with healthy living. Or, rather, with unhealthy living. Because, as ‘expert’ opinion keeps telling us, it doesn’t matter what or how you are feeding your children, you Are Doing It Wrong.

Have we all lost the plot entirely? Whatever happened to just feeding our kids good, healthy, delicious, normal food because we all enjoyed it, not because it was ‘super’ or would make us live forever? Who wants to live forever anyway? We’ll all just end up looking like David Hasselhoff.

Live to be 120 and you too could look like this.

I for one, am going to stop feeling guilty every time my kids turn their noses up at the healthy food I serve them, and end up with a Vegemite sandwich as back up. I will allow them to go a little bit hungry if they refuse to eat the nutritious snacks I have packed for our outing, but if we’re at the shops and running late, they will be getting hot chips to keep them quiet while I race around the supermarket trying to locate the chia seeds. We live in a society of abundance, with an excellent free health service and shops where you can buy peaches all year round and tomatoes for a dollar a kilo. I refuse to believe that the odd slice of bread or – gasp! biscuit – is going to result in my kids getting rickets. If I’m wrong, you can all sing ‘Told You So’ at me to the tune of “Let It Go”. Because besides the topic of what my kids are (or aren’t) eating, that’s the only other constant in my head at the moment.

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Decisions, Compromises, and Parenting Guilt

It’s been a while since my last blog post, because I recently embarked on an exciting new writing project and, while I may be a reasonably successful multitasker in many aspects of my life, it turns out that I am a pretty rubbish one when it comes to writing. I honestly don’t know how other writers – and there are many – find the time and the brain space to simultaneously write a novel, blog, teach writing classes, pen the odd sonnet, and regularly update their professional Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. I imagine they have a lot more writing time than the amount I allocate to writing in between parenting two kids under two-and-a-half, but saying this, they probably also spend less time watching Masterchef than I do. Every decision is a compromise.

Anyway, this blog post comes at the request of a friend, who shares much of the parenting angst I do when it comes to trying to make the best decisions for our offspring. The text she sent me details our endless struggle perfectly: “I would like to see a Natalia Clara blog commenting on the never ending decision making a mum does… the hours of research for every possible outcome and the mixed emotions that come when you reach a decision on said medical procedure/food type/toy/routine”. I couldn’t have put it better myself, and I’m sure a lot of other parents out there echo these sentiments on a regular basis.

15.05.27 Clue

Because, let’s face it, being the Primary Parent (usually, but certainly not always the Mum) is a lot harder than it looks. The Secondary Parent (it might be the Dad, or it could be a Mum who works full time) may think that raising babies and young children is a simple process of feed, clean, put down for a nap, repeat. Which it is, once you know and feel confident in what you are doing (and only until your kid does something totally out of left field, and you have to throw everything you have learned to date out of the window). Babies don’t come with a manual, and it is usually up to the Primary Parent (PP) to create that manual to a degree. The Secondary Parent (SP) can then follow this lead – or not, if they are feeling particularly reckless – and then criticise it when things go a bit pear-shaped.

A typical scenario when SP comes home from work might run as follows:

SP: “Why is Geronimo crying?”

PP (scans mind over entire day’s activities): “He’s tired and hungry. He missed his afternoon nap, then was too exhausted to eat his dinner. Oh, and he’s teething. And suffering from growing pains. And colicky. And there’s a weird rash on his bottom. Did I mention he threw up in my ear? I spent four hours Googling his list of symptoms, and I’ve narrowed it down to he’s either suffering from the bubonic plague, or he’s just a normal baby. Too close to call.

SP: “Um, okay. I’ll give him a bottle and put him to bed, then.” Reaches for carton of cow’s milk in fridge.

PP: “Hang on, we’re trialling a new low-allergen formula mixed with almond and coconut milk. Oh and a dash of probiotic. And some homeopathic teething drops. Maybe I should do it.”

SP: “Okaaay. And where’s Twinkle Toes?”

PP: “She’s in the laundry having Thinking Time.”

SP: “She’s in Time Out?”

PP: “It’s not Time Out. It’s Thinking Time. There was a link on Facebook to some random parenting blog. Apparently, we’ve been doing the whole discipline thing wrong all this time and our toddler is in danger of becoming an ice addict within the next three years.

SP: “Uh, right. So, why is she in Thinking Time? Hey, what’s that under the couch? Eek, that’s a big cockroach.”

PP: (sighs) “It’s a protein ball.”

SP: “A what now? Argh, there’s another one stuck to the curtain.”

PP: “It’s a sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free alternative to unhealthy commercial sweets and lollies. I made them this afternoon.”

SP: “Sh**, they’re everywhere. Why are there protein balls all over our house?”

PP: “Does that explain the Thinking Time?”

Secondary Parent returns from putting Geronimo to bed and to find Twinkle Toes emerging from the laundry with bits of protein ball in her hair, clothes and eyelashes, but strangely none anywhere near her mouth.

SP: “Oh dear, I think I’d better give Twinkle Toes a bath.

PP: “Okay, but don’t use the regular shampoo. I bought some organic, soap-free, pH-balanced baby shampoo today, as I noticed she has a dry scalp. I’m just praying it’s not Hashimoto’s Disease. Oh, and we’re not doing nappies any more, she’s in training pants. I read online that if kids aren’t toilet trained by two-and-a-half, they’ll be peeing themselves until they’re forty.”

The above example is not designed to illustrate that all Primary Parents are insane (though that is an occupational hazard), but to highlight how confusing and frustrating the process of decision-making is when it comes to our children. Every decision made is laced with guilt and self-doubt. I felt guilty when I began topping up my babies with formula once it became patently clear that my boob milk alone was not going to sustain them. I felt incredibly guilty having my little boy’s (alleged) tongue tie snipped by our paediatrician on the advice of pretty much every parenting “expert” we met, under the pretext that this would help him feed better (it did not). I feel guilty now when I feed the kids fish fingers for dinner, but you know what? They actually eat them, which is more than can be said for my homemade wild salmon fishcakes.

Parenting was so much simpler before the Internet told us how not to do it.

As parents, we are bombarded daily with “expert” advice on how to raise our kids (see pretty much every blog post I’ve written recently), and yet, when we try to apply this advice to our own parenting, we often find that it doesn’t work. And then we feel that we are failing as parents. We reluctantly go back to our old ways – you know, that centuries-old parenting technique of Winging It While Hoping For The Best – and find that, hey, things are actually going okay. The kids are still alive, our sanity is restored to “moderately bonkers”, and everyone is happy – until the next time we click through a link to a parenting blog. Every decision is a compromise. We can only do what we can do, and trust that we are making the right decision for our children.

Happy parenting!

6 Things They REALLY Never Told You About Having Kids

If you are pregnant or have recently had a baby (congratulations, by the way), you will more than likely have done a stupendous amount of reading about what to expect in the first days, months, and years of becoming a parent. As such, you will be familiar with the hundreds of articles and blog posts listing the things you never knew you would do or feel until you have a sproglet of your own. Most of these are fairly common: “You’ll never have a decent night’s sleep again” and “You’ll experience a love you’ve never felt before”, and, to be honest, hardly revelatory. So, for the benefit of mums-to-be and new mums everywhere, I have compiled the definitive list of things you really, really didn’t know about having kids. You’re welcome.

  1. You will get really big biceps.

If you want arms like Michelle Obama, have a baby. Better yet, have two. With an infant on one arm and a jealous toddler who insists on being carried on the other, you’ll have big guns in no time. My own arms are better toned now than when I was in my early twenties and exercised regularly, a condition I credit entirely to my two boomba babies. From the waist down, I may look like a slightly doughy, thirty-something mother of two, but from there up I bear a striking resemblance to Sam Stosur. If you live in a house with stairs, your bum and legs will get a workout too. Who needs a membership to a swanky gym? (Me. Please.)

Mum of 3, Jo Strong.

Mum of 3, Jo Strong.

  1. You will despise every modern appliance in your home.

Because they beep. Loudly. Several times. While your baby is asleep. Do manufacturers of these appliances really believe we consumers are so stupid that we need reminding of the fact that we put a container of curry in the microwave to reheat, oh, two minutes ago? The winner in our house at the moment is our new washing machine. It not only beeps once the cycle is finished, it plays a tune. For thirty seconds. Dum-di-di-dum-dum-daa! Your washing is done! Diddly-diddly-doo! I made your clothes clean! Dum-diddly-ding-ding-ding! Aren‘t I clever! It sounds so damned chipper you would be forgiven for thinking that our Fisher and Paykel is heralding the birth of the new messiah.

  1. You will stoop to a level of hygiene you never thought possible.

We all know that it can be hard to fit in that weekly shower when you have a newborn, and let’s face it, going to the toilet with a toddler banging on the door is never going to be, ahem, as thorough a process as it is when you can do it In Your Own Freaking Time. However, nobody tells you prior to having kids of your own quite how quickly you will become accustomed to being covered in a variety of bodily fluids (none of them yours or your partner‘s, unfortunately), picking bogeys out of baby’s nose with your fingernail (so much more efficient than those useless little plastic snot suckers), and really not caring about that little patch of baby wee on your jeans. And when your little cherub offers you a morsel of chewed food from its slobbery fist? You will eat that. And the bit that fell on the floor too, because you can’t be bothered walking all the way to the bin.

  1. Your house will become filled with plastic crap.

You may well say in pregnancy that your child will only play with ethically traded, handmade toys made from wood sourced from sustainable forests. But they won’t. Their first Christmas will roll around, and they will be inundated by a deluge of garish, plastic, licensed toys, most of which will require twenty-two AA batteries and will sing “If You’re Happy and You Know It” in a posh English accent. You will have bought at least half of these toys yourself. Relax, it won’t turn your child into an idiot. I’m pretty sure my kids have some Melissa & Doug toys lurking at the bottom of the toy box, but they still both prefer the Peppa Pig car that plays the theme tune every time you so much as look at it.

  1. You will become useless at everything.

You will shower in two and a half minutes because you swear you can hear your baby crying in the next room (it isn’t), and so will forget to shave one knee. You will notice this when out in public, probably surrounded by glamorous, childfree women with legs straight out of a Gillette Venus razor commercial. Everything you cook will be burnt, because you had to step away from the pan to release your baby from the headlock his toddler sister had him in. And baby brain? That’s a misnomer, somehow implying that constant forgetfulness, absent-mindedness, and the inability to concentrate are afflictions you will grow out of at some point after having children. You won’t.

  1. You will laugh like you’ve never laughed before.

Children are funny. Honestly, deliciously funny. Newborns pull funny faces, babies are adorably clumsy, and toddlers waffle on making absolutely no sense and sing at the tops of their voices to songs they only know ten per cent of the words to. Having children is, in this respect, a bit like house-sharing with Uni students. Oh, and they’re messy and smelly too. So, quite a lot like Uni students. Children are also maddeningly indecisive, stubborn, and moody, so on occasion your laugh will take on a high-pitched, slightly manic tone. This, I assure you, is normal.

The Only Expert Parenting Tip You Need To Know: Do Whatever The Hell You Want

WITHIN REASON, PEOPLE. Please don’t accuse me of condoning parenting while addicted to crystal meth, or being involved in human trafficking, or posting a video to YouTube of you howling into the camera because Zayn Malik has left One Direction. But, seriously, it’s taken me two very different babies to realise that all this “expert” advice we parents keep getting thrown in our faces (yes, all that conflicting parenting advice that makes you feel like you are setting your kids up for a lifetime of abject misery no matter what you do), all of it really does not matter when it comes to raising your children to be decent, level-headed, confident adults. Truly.

Sure, go ahead and pick your preferred parenting clique, should you wish to do so. You could opt to be a Stay At Home Mum or a Stay At The Coffee Shop Until Closing Time Mum; a Working Mum or a Working Towards Getting A Gym Membership Mum; a Natural, Organic, Cloth-Nappy-Using, Homemade-Baby-Wipe-Making Mum, or a Mum whose outside bin is full of used nappies, wipes, and all manner of other plastic horrors two hours after the garbage truck has come and gone. Whatever. In the grand scheme of raising our children, It Does Not Matter. So, you may as well do what works for you, and your baby, and your significant other, and the dog. Because as long as you guys are happy, the rest of the world can go stuff itself.

Don’t believe me? How many blog posts or online articles have you read, how many indignant parenting “experts” have you witnessed on morning television, berating women in non-Western (I would say, specifically, non-English-speaking) cultures for the way in which they bring up their children? Hey, you Spanish/Portuguese/South American Mums, start putting your kids to bed at a reasonable hour, rather than letting them play in barefooted bliss in cobbled laneways while you and your extended family and all your friends and neighbours sit, sipping beer and enjoying dinner al fresco at 11pm. You Are A Bad Mum. And you French/Belgian/Mexican Mums who allow your young teens to sip alcohol in moderate quantities, and yet have some of the lowest teen alcohol abuse levels in the world. You Are A Bad Mum. And how about you Chinese Mums? What’s the go with potty training your babies from as young as six months old? You’re all Crap Mums.

I’m only joking, of course. If anything, we find these bizarre foreign parenting techniques whimsical and somewhat mystical. But if we turn inwards, here we are publicly shaming, whipping, and deriding mothers in our own society for, say, going back to work, or, um, not going back to work, or allowing our child to use a dummy after their first birthday. Get Over It.

A case in point (my own). With my first baby, I read up anxiously on everything I should be doing as a new Mum in order to get Bubba to sleep on cue. To be fair to myself, Bubba was a bit of a demon non-sleeper in the first weeks of our acquaintance. In fact, all I remember from those hazy first few months is the vision of her little face contorted into a purple scrunch of fury as she screamed her way through each day (and most of the night). Desperate to crack the code of the Sleeping Baby, I listened, ears pricked, as my mothers’ group dissected each other’s sleep routines, trying to find the perfect solution for my and my little girl’s woes. I read every parenting book ever written, and scoured every parenting website, for the cure to our sleeptime ills. I somehow bought into the myth that all babies must learn to self-settle, whatever the reason they have awoken or cannot get to sleep, and it does not matter how long they cry or how desperately unhappy they sound, you must leave them to scream it out. It was a horrible time. I was lucky in the end, in that Bubba turned out to be an excellent sleeper once the small issue of my not producing enough breastmilk to keep her alive got fixed. As soon as we began topping her up with formula, she slept like a baby. A very different baby to the one my husband and I had started out with.

With my second baby, I no longer really care what I should be doing to get him to sleep. As long as Squeaky is rested, I’m not madly chronicling each nap, or obsessively calculating how many hours he sleeps during any given night. In my favour, Squeaky was an excellent self-settler from day dot. In fact, from the day he was born right up until he was about nine months old, you could set your watch by his nap routine. Then everything changed. Overnight, he learned how to roll over while zipped in his sleeping bag, and that was it. I’d lay him down semi-comatose, and twelve seconds later he’d be on hands and knees, sniffing around the cot rails like a puppy trying to find a weak spot in the fence. So I took to rocking him to sleep in my arms.

And so, for the past two months, every naptime and bedtime, either my husband or I have held our baby son in our arms and rocked and shushed him into sweet sleep. And you know what? Both Hubby and I love it. We really do. It’s our special quiet time with our boy, our bonding moment in a day where, to be fair, his big sister tends to steal any adult attention going.

I don’t care what the experts say about co-sleeping. You Do Not Wake The Baby.

I love the feel and smell of my baby son in my arms; I enjoy peeking down at his slowly drooping eyelids and watching his little arm – at first held high in the air, fist clenched in defiance – progressively lower and loosen, until he is a warm lump of slumbering baby in my arms. And I don’t give two hoots what the sleep “experts” say. My son is happy; I am happy. And I’m pretty sure I won’t be rocking him to sleep when he’s in his mid-thirties, so where’s the harm? It takes five minutes, occasionally fifteen, and that’s time I don’t have to sit chewing the skin around my fingernails while listening to my baby screaming his little heart out in his cot.

New Mums, please. Don’t buy into the myth of the Perfect Parent. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are doing a crap job. Because you’re not. Please, trust your own instincts and do what you feel is right for you and your new family. Because, ultimately, theirs is the only opinion you need on your parenting.

7 Weird Things About Writers We Need You To Know

I’ve decided to give the topic of motherhood a (brief) rest and blog about writing this week. But since my life at the moment is 10% writing, 90% wiping bottoms, I thought I’d start off gently by writing something simple and bullet-pointy (real word, back off) to get myself back into the mindset of being a writer. It’s a strange mindset, I’ll grant you that. We writers are an odd bunch, and people who don’t write – or spend their free hours occupied in some other solitary, deeply personal, wholly engrossing pastime – often don’t understand why we are the way we are.

If you are fortunate enough to share your life with a writer, and find yourself time and again asking yourself, ‘Why is this person so weird?’, then hopefully this post will help to shed some light on the mysterious goings-on in the mind of a writer. And if you are a writer yourself, you may relate to some of these items. Or not. I’d love to hear feedback from other writers, including anything you would add to this list.

  1. We are always writing in our heads.

Wondering why the blank stare? The confused look on our face? It’s because we weren’t really listening to you, we were listening to two of the characters in our latest work arguing with each other. We might even have been arguing with one of our characters. “‘For the love of God, Maurice! You have to enter the abandoned warehouse at midnight! It’s where the serial killer has his latest victim bound to a chair and he’s already sharpening his knives!’ ‘Bugger off, you useless writer! You will not make me cliché!'” Or, in a less heated moment, we might be going over in our mind the opening lines to the chapter we’ve been working on. Or simply playing with words in our heads, finding interesting rhyming pairs we’d never thought of before, seeing how many synonyms we can think up on the spot for “quickly”. Our brains never stop processing words – ours and other people’s – and we tend to overload on language.

  1. We may not be very good with words.

This probably doesn’t make sense, coming straight after point 1. Maybe I should specify that we may not be very good with words verbally. Give us a laptop or a paper and pencil and two hours of solitude, and we could probably come up with prose to match Shakespeare or Tom Wolfe (yeah right, in our dreams. But we won’t stop trying!) Engage us in conversation, however, and we may quickly become tongue-tied. I’m not sure if my tendency to mispronounce words, forget what I was saying halfway through a sentence, stammer, and go all shy and clam up, comes from my brain working too fast or too slowly to process what I want to say. It’s awkward, I’m awkward, but it’s the way I am, and I’ve learned to accept it.

  1. We are not social butterflies.

This may be something of an understatement. Clearly, anyone who enjoys spending hours on end locked in a room talking to their imaginary friends is generally not going to be the life and soul of the party when surrounded by, er, real people. Writers tend to be introverts. We find large doses of social interaction, particularly in big groups, overwhelming and exhausting. We much prefer one-on-one conversation, particularly on an interesting and controversial topic which we can debate to our heart’s content. We also require time by ourselves in which to recharge our mental batteries. This doesn’t mean we hate the company of others, just that we prefer to balance this with time spent alone (possibly having words with Maurice, our reluctant amateur detective).

  1. We believe our characters are real.

Of course, we know intellectually that they are not. But to us, well, they still are. We created them, after all, but then magic happened, and they took on a life of their own. When we are writing, it’s our characters who lead the action, behaving in exactly the way they need to behave. Usually the task of the writer is to run, gasping for air, behind their character, trying to jot down at lightning speed everything they are doing and saying. It’s why we feel guilty when unpleasant things happen to our characters. It’s because we know them, we care for them, we have a vested interest in their well-being, even love them. Do I sound crazy yet?

  1. We don’t know where we get our ideas from, or why our characters behave in a certain way.

See above. It’s our characters running the show, not us. We’re just voyeurs in their lives. And our ideas? Who knows. It’s probably got something to do with our brains being constantly played at 78 rpm, that we’re always taking chunks of the world around us and slicing and dicing them up and then remoulding them into different worlds, different stories. So please don’t make us feel awkward by asking us where we got our idea for the Sci-fi trilogy about the cross-dressing unicorn who discovers a portal to another galaxy where intelligent life is a race of cannibalistic beetles. Because we just don’t know, okay. All we know is hallucinogenic drugs may or may not have played a part.

Time to lay off the peyote, folks.

  1. We don’t know when we are going to get published.

If ever. Please don’t give us a hard time about the marketability of our writing. We are not doing this writing thing for financial gain, or fame. Well, most of us aren’t. It’s just what we do. The story (or poem, or essay) is the end result, and if nobody reads it, we are fine with that. We don’t write because we necessarily want to make a career out of it (although, deep down, each of us would love to see our name on the New York Times bestseller list). We write because it’s just who we are.

  1. We love it when you read our work.

Argh, stop contradicting yourself! Okay. Sorry. We writers may not write for any other reason than we simply adore the act of putting words together in sentences and weaving something we hope will be pretty special out of them. But, still, come on. We’ve put all that effort in, could you not at least take a glance at what we’ve written? Of course we want you to enjoy our writing. Our goal is to entertain, to make you laugh, or cry, or feel icy tentacles of terror creeping up your spine. That’s what fiction is for, after all. Just don’t tell us it was the best thing you’ve ever read, like, ever, because we’ll know you’re lying to make us feel better, and it won’t. We are delicate wee petals, we writers. And ever so slightly bonkers.

All The Awesome Mothers: I Salute You

I was planning on returning to the subject of writing with this post, since I haven’t written anything about writing since I started blogging again a few weeks ago. Writing is what this blog is supposed to be about, in part at least. But two things changed my mind. Firstly, not a great deal of writing has taken place in this house recently (kids not napping at the same time, blah, blah). Secondly, I received a lot of lovely, positive feedback to my previous blog post, “Great Expectations and Familial Frustrations”.

Firstly, I am thankful to everyone who takes the time to read my blog. And I am humbled and honoured that many of you take further time to offer me your feedback and encouragement. Okay, so most of the feedback I received was from other Mums that I know personally, so part of me feels that you are just saying nice things to me because you are such lovely people. But I also received feedback from a few people I don’t know, and that makes me hope that something in what I wrote struck a chord. And, because it can be a lonely, isolating transition from working, socially active woman to stay-at-home milk machine, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you wonderful Mums out there who have been there for me since I first got into this parenting gig.

Over the past two years, I have met younger Mums and older Mums, working Mums and stay-at-home Mums, breastfeeding Mums and bottlefeeding Mums, Mums who co-sleep and Mums who don’t, Mums who feed their kids activated almonds and Mums who feed their kids pork scratchings. And I have learned something from every single one of you awesome mothers. Some of you are new friends, others I have known for years, and some of you I have never met, but you have all influenced me, and hopefully made me a better parent for it.

Look, it’s not easy being a Mum, we all know that. (Dads, this blog post isn’t about you, but you are awesome too, okay? We love you, we appreciate you, and we couldn’t do it without you.) Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. Motherhood. Here we are, thrown into a job we’ve never done before, with no training and no manual, expected to work a 24-hour shift seven days a week, and with a boss (or bosses) who make Pol Pot look like a laidback, easygoing kinda guy. But while the physical side of being a new Mum is hard in itself (let’s not discuss chronic sleep deprivation, cracked nipples, or what it feels like to rock a 10kg baby to sleep in your arms for forty-five minutes at 3am, shall we?), much harder than that is the mental strain it puts us under. Those without kids can disagree all you like, but raising children is not like caring for a pet dog. Trust me, if I was allowed to make my kids sleep outside all night with a blanket and a shin bone for company, I would, but I’ve done the research and it’s not okay, apparently. Children are our creation, they are literally a part of us, and the emotional investment which goes into not only caring for them, but raising them to be (we pray) content, emotionally secure, well-adjusted, kind adults, can be exhausting.

To make matters worse, we are bombarded on a daily basis by ‘expert’ opinion telling us over and over again that we are Doing It Wrong. Swaddle your baby? Their legs will drop off. Allow them to take a bottle to bed? Their teeth will fall out. It doesn’t help that these parenting ‘experts’ change their mind about what we should be doing more often than the rest of us are changing pooey nappies. And there’s no escaping the labels. Watch your pre-schooler doesn’t hurt themselves at the playground? You’re a Helicopter Mum. Allow your kids to go to the park by themselves? You’re a Free-Range Mum. Help your kid with their homework? You’re a Snowplough Mum. Enrol your kid in piano lessons? You’re a Tiger Mum. Teach your two-year-old to sing “nana nana nana nana BATMAN”? You’re a Dad.

On top of all this ‘expert’ waffle, many of us are receiving well-intentioned but totally useless parenting advice from older relatives, many of whom last did this parenting-of-littlies gig several decades ago. Teething baby? Drop of arsenic will fix that. Toddler tantrum? Clout around the ear will fix that. YOU ARE NOT HELPING.

Parenting. You’re doing it wrong.

So, with all this insecurity and self-doubt swirling around our sleep-deprived brains, it is comforting to think that we can all, you know, be cool with each other and not give each other a hard time.The media would have us believe that we Mums are a nasty bunch, always judging and criticising each other for doing things a different way. I haven’t found this to be the case. I have heard differently from other women, but I for one have not (yet) met a single Mum who has made me feel like I’m completely stuffing things up. What I have found – personally and online – is a supportive and inclusive community of women who are just trying to do a decent job of bringing up their kids. And I wouldn’t be the mother I am today without the friendships, the kindnesses, and the words of wisdom you have all offered me over the past two years.

So, in a roundabout way, what I want to say is:

To all the mothers I know personally, who have listened, comforted, commiserated, and laughed with me: I salute you.

To all the mothers out there writing brilliant blog posts on motherhood, and causing me to have many wonderful laugh-out-loud moments of recognition: I salute you.

To all the mothers campaigning at grassroots level for the right of all mothers to breastfeed in public without fear of discrimination: I salute you.

To all the mothers who believe a mother should be able to bottlefeed in public without being judged: I salute you.

To all the mothers who allow your daughters to play with toy trucks, and your sons to play with dolls, or the other way around, on any given day, whatever: I salute you.

To all the mothers out there: here you stand, raising the next generation of humans who will take over this world we have created. And I feel honoured to stand amongst you. You are doing a wonderful job.

Great Expectations and Familial Frustrations

Dear Aunt Gertrude,

Thank you for your recent email. I’m glad the rash is slowly improving, and yes, isn’t the price of stamps outrageous these days.

We are all very well, since you ask. Bob and I heeded your well-intentioned warning that having two children is ‘dreadfully bourgeois’, so two weeks ago we welcomed our third child, Kafka, into the family. He is thriving well and already a great sleeper. I took the kids out shopping the other day, only to come home and find little Kafka still asleep in his cot! Which just shows that you were spot on in saying that babies need to learn to self-settle from an early age. Thanks for the tip about converting the roof space into a nursery. You were right, the sound of Kafka self-settling is much less of a distraction now that he is up there.

As I know you don’t approve of stay-at-home mothers, you’ll be please to hear that I have already gone back to work full time. I have landed an excellent position as the Head of Human Resources with the Israel Space Agency. This does mean that I have to spend my working week in Tel Aviv, but on the plus side the kids get to spend quality time with their father every day before and after his 10-hour shift at work. The other day, I thought I overheard Bob muttering to one of his friends something about not having the time to scratch his arse, so between you and me, Aunty, I don’t think he fully appreciates what modern fatherhood is all about. Anyway, Greer, now 4, and Proust, 2, have become well trained in making their own breakfast and getting themselves and their baby brother onto the bus to daycare on those mornings when Bob has to work an early shift. I’m so glad I took your advice to instill an independent and self-reliant ethic into the children from an early age.

I know you are one for intellectual activities, so you’ll be reassured to hear that I manage to fly home from Israel every weekend, which gives me plenty of time to engage in educational outings with the children. Only last Saturday, the children and I enjoyed a delightful trip to the Museum of War. We all found the displays incredibly enriching and informative, not least Proust, who ran up and down the exhibit room screaming and waving a toy rifle, which I think all the museum visitors agreed was a powerful and moving rendition of the storming of the beaches at Gallipoli. Out of the mouths of babes, as you would say.

Aunty, I do remember you once telling me that motherhood would drive me insane unless I exercised my brain regularly, so to this end I have begun studying towards a PhD in Ethno-ornithology. It’s just for fun, really, and the 250,000 word thesis I am writing, provisionally entitled Me, My Bird, And I, is hardly literature, but it keeps me entertained and flexes those little grey cells you are always on about.

Greer seems to have caught the writing bug from me recently and has been busy penning haikus which she plans to self-publish towards the end of the year. I’ve reprinted one of her most recent ones here:

Thunder fills my soul;
An impromptu gust of wind:
Beans for lunch again.

Thank you, Aunt Gertrude, for all your words of wisdom over the years on the subject of how Bob and I should bring up our children. We feel eternally indebted to you for your guidance. For someone who never had children of her own, you are certainly an expert on how other people should raise theirs.

Love,
Natalia

P.S. Dear Aunt, none of the above is true. Bob and I still only have two kids, and have no intention of going through the newborn stage ever again, thank you very much. Even with two, I have not returned to work, and some days don’t even get out of my pyjamas.

It's Only Motherhood (But I Like It)

It’s Only Motherhood (But I Like It)

I am not studying towards a PhD, and certainly not contemplating going back to work until I can look in the mirror without bursting into tears.

Greer is not writing haikus, although she may one day become a celebrated graffitti artist, if the state of our lounge room wall is anything to go by (note to self: keep all Sharpies in the bath tub. It is the only place Greer has an almost pathological aversion to).

The most educational outing I have engaged the children in recently was a trip to the local library, which ended rather unhappily when Proust stole the librarian’s glasses from her desk and ran around the building screaming, before removing his nappy and pooing on the carpet. Needless to say, I posted our outstanding library books back to them rather than step foot in there again.

Love always,
Natalia


“Perhaps, if you weren’t so busy regarding my shortcomings, you’d find that I do possess redeeming qualities, discreet as they may be. I notice when the sky is blue. I smile down at children. I laugh at any innocent attempt at humor. I quietly carry the burdens of others as though they were my own. And I say ‘I’m sorry’ when you don’t. I am not without fault, but I am not without goodness either.” — Richelle E. Goodrich, Author