What I Am Dreaming Of For All Mothers

I dream of the day when becoming a mother does not come with impossible expectations and an inevitable guilt trip.

I dream of an evolving view of motherhood that retains the tenderness and wish to nurture together with an honest recognition of the pressures of being a parent.

I dream of the day when new mothers are not told to “enjoy the newborn days – they go so quickly” but instead are told that amongst the difficult times there will be moments of magic to keep them going. A day when new mothers do not feel guilty for not enjoying the first weeks, months or even the first year of being a mother.

I dream of the day when women are no longer told that “the best place for them is to be at home with their children” and are told instead that the best place for them to be is wherever it is that they feel they should be.

I dream of the day when being a parent is not about spending all your time with your child, giving in to all their demands, and shielding them from all frustration and disappointment, but is instead about raising a child to be a decent human being, including developing the abilities to contribute to society, cope with difficult emotions, manage anger and sadness, empathise with fellow humans, and control impulses and delay gratification.

I dream of the day when becoming a mother is not all about breastfeeding, when there is support for mothers who were unable to continue breastfeeding and recognition that this beautiful function of our bodies does not always work out for everyone despite the best efforts.

I dream of the day when society recognises that becoming a mother does not automatically gift a woman with the infinite patience that a mother is reputed to have, and of the day when mothers learn to look after themselves first in order to be more patient with their children.

I dream of the day when being a good mother is not about creating elaborate artworks for school lunches, but is about instilling (by example) the values of respect for others, honesty, gratitude, a positive attitude, hard work, self-sufficiency, and nurturing relationships with others.

I dream of the day when being a mother is just one of the roles a woman may have, and that she has adequate time and energy to keep cultivating her other roles as well.

I dream of the day when removing the burden of  societal pressures and “mother guilt” frees women to become even better mothers than they were before.

Reasons Why I Am No Longer A Stay-At-Home-Parent

We’re holidaying at the moment – staying with family and enjoying the benefits this brings, including the many extra pairs of (very willing) hands with our two small children. And even though travelling itself can be stressful with children, as many parents know, I’m feeling terribly relaxed. I’m reminded of the adage “it takes a village to raise a child” and it reminds me of why I am no longer a SAHP (Stay-At-Home-Parent).

It’s fairly obvious that I have chosen to be a working parent for many reasons, from my blog posts, and I have been criticised for making this choice seem like it is a natural one for all working mums. I do acknowledge that I did not include mums who have to work out of financial necessity in my post, but then again my post was not meant to be all-inclusive. I work because I feel I have a vocation. I find meaning, intellectual stimulation and satisfaction in what I do. But ask me to be a SAHP again, especially to young children? Here’s why I don’t enjoy it (There! I said it. Prepared for the barrage of criticism now. A mother not enjoying being at home with her kids? She must be an evil witch!). There are many, many mummy (and daddy!) blogs out there who tell it like it is for SAHPs – some of whom, like working parents, remain at home not out of choice but because of their family situation.

Children are an incredible paradox. They bring so much joy, so many tender moments, so many blissful times when you’re just enjoying them, and they’re enjoying you, and you’re laughing at something funny your toddler said, or something adorable your baby did. And then there’s the other 23 hours and 30 minutes of the day you have to get through. “Why is being at home alone with children all day like heaven and hell?” I asked my mummy friends on Facebook. Why is it that it can seem like a Huggies ad one moment, and a nightmare the next? You know the scene – the baby starts fussing over something, the toddler starts whinging, or maybe having a tantrum, you haven’t had a bite to eat yet, the laundry is still waiting to be hung up, you’re exhausted from being up all night with the baby, you have to clean the mess off the floor and get dinner ready, and you suddenly want to pack in the whole SAHP thing NOW. You think about putting the television on again but you’re starting to feel guilty about using it too much because you’ve read that it’s “bad for children”.

I used to think it was just me. If I could just change the way I saw things, reframed my thinking, it would all be fine. It dawned on me one day not too long ago that maybe it’s not that I don’t want to do the SAHP thing. I just don’t want to do the SAHP-alone-with-children-all-day thing.

Seriously. Ask many working parents why they go to work and the reply is commonly “For my sanity”. Alone, in the house, with no support, with small children all day? With no breaks? No adult contact? Nothing to hear but whining and Peppa Pig? Why do modern SAHPs think this is how things should be? How can one person be expected to run the household, do all the chores, get dinner ready, entertain the children, stimulate their intellects, and do this all with minimal use of the television? On their own? Oh, I know it’s possible. And I am sure there are many parents out there who are incredibly proud of being able to perform these feats day after day. I honestly think they must either have magical powers, an impossibly large store of patience, or lots of vodka in the pantry (kidding about the vodka but you know what I mean). And I know children are beautiful, precious fruits of your loin that you should enjoy cherising and nurturing. But why does it have to be such a feat?

I am not suggesting that it’s not a wonderful thing that SAHPs are doing for their children. I think I made my admiration for SAHPs very clear in my post. My question is, is it reasonable for SAHPs to do it alone?

Some people have moaned about losing the “village” – the support system that existed prior to our nuclear families. The thing is that we have traded in the traditional village for our privacy and our independence. We want to raise our children our way. We don’t want relatives living with us. And this can be a very good thing. Having extended family in your house can be a source of intense stress. Also, our village has evaporated on its own. We are increasingly mobile, choosing to live far away from family for various reasons. Our parents are also increasingly mobile compared to older generations – they’re off travelling to Europe and Alaska for weeks on end. And families are getting smaller, so there are fewer older siblings to rely on.

I don’t know what the answer is. I just know this. Being at home all day with my children had its glorious moments. I don’t regret that time at all, and often look back very fondly. But I also remember feeling stressed, and getting angry when I shouldn’t have felt angry. I should have been able to enjoy them more. But I know now that spending more time with them that is in the presence of another adult has vastly improved our relationship. Maybe it’s just me – that I’m an impatient, uncaring person deep down. But I think that it’s because we’re just not meant to raise children all on our own. And I hope that the next generation will find some innovative ways to bring back the “village”.

Confessions of a Recovering Runaholic

My name is Carolyn and it’s been one week since my last run.

It’s the first time in years that I haven’t been running at least every few days, bar being pregnant. And even so, I ran up til 28 weeks with my first. (Oh the arrogance! With my second pregnancy, I rekindled my relationship with the couch).

I am literally in rehab. Funny isn’t it? Rehab conjurs up images of Robert Downey Junior in some magical faraway place that looks like a fancy retirement home, where you sit and drink tea and play cards with fellow celebrity rehabbers. But no, my rehab is different. Life goes on but I must rest my hip and cease the running. For, oh, 8 weeks.

Other runners have been very sweet to sympathise with me. My research assistant was more blunt – “But that will kill you!!” she exclaimed when I told her the news. I love her for telling it like it is. Boy does she know me well. But it certainly wasn’t encouraging.

And here’s the thing – life is different without running. I have to find a new home, a new way to keep the endorphins and dopamine and serotonin pumping through me. I need new ways to move my body that don’t stress my sad hip. Because I have discovered, again, just how important it is to keep moving.

It now seems strange that I thought I was a really fit and healthy person. I thought I had it all worked out. But life has a funny way of making you wake up to yourself. My physio palpated about 100 spots on my body, from head to toe, that made me yelp like a kitten being strangled. I have trigger points where I didn’t even know muscles existed. That ain’t healthy, my friend.

It’s all good, I tell myself. I’ve wanted to fix my niggles for a long time. My neck aches. My shoulders are stiff. My TMJ is out. My glutes are crying. My calves are too tight. I’ve known, deep down, that i should have paid attention to my whole body instead of focussing solely on one activity, as blissful as that activity is. Now I’m learning the hard way that everything is connected. Health doesn’t just depend on one aspect of your lifestyle. You can’t cheat Nature. You must, humbly and respectfully, work with the whole system. Legs are connected to butt to lower back to mid back to neck and beyond. I couldn’t keep cheating forever – just running without any thought to the rest of my body.

It’s not easy not being able to run. I feel the familiar tension rising and I need to take off. But I can’t. So I hop on the bike or jump into the pool. The water brings me some relief. I feel like I’m washing myself of my sins. I also feel like a fish out of water – gasping in the middle of every lap. But I persist. And anyway, I’m grateful. For still being able to move, for still having my legs, no matter how sore they are.

I am respecting my body by fixing all the things in my everyday life that make my aches and pains worse. Starting with my neck. I’m finally creating an ergonomic work station. (I blame my extremely short stature for this! A super tall footstool will be needed!) and doing other things that I’ll be blogging about, because no doubt they will help others too in sedentary desk jobs.

I’ve also discovered that I can live without running. And this has brought me a new sense of freedom and confidence. The first few days was pretty strange, like living without an amputated limb. But they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And I’m committed to this rehab so I can get back out there one day – my trainers crunching on the gravel track, a podcast in my ears and a song in my heart.

How To Lower Your Cholesterol the Healthy Doctor Way

I’ve been a bit cheeky this week. My GP wanted me to repeat my cholesterol tests after 6 months but I had made some changes and wanted to know if I was on the right track. One of the advantages of being a GP is being able to order your own pathology tests, so voila… I tested myself for cholesterol! I’m celebrating because my cholesterol is now the best it’s ever been, and the changes I have made have been sustainable and enjoyable. I’m going to share with you what I did.

But firstly, the question is, will these changes make a difference? There is some controversy over this, as the evidence that low-fat diets reduce the risk of having heart attacks is mixed. There’s a lot of talk about how we’re allegedly eating less fat than ever and heart disease and obesity rates are rising – this is simply untrue, as American data shows that Americans are eating as much fat as they were in 1963 and this has remained consistent for decades. What we do know now that it’s not just a low saturated fat diet that makes a difference, but it’s a low saturated fat and high mono-unsaturated fat diet with high fruit and vegetable intake that probably makes the most difference. Low-fat diets have consistently failed to show appreciable benefits on heart attack risk, unless they were Mediterranean style diets that included olives and other sources of mono-unsaturated fats. In one randomised study, the participants consumed a diet of 10% saturated fat and 22% mono-unsaturated fat.

So, does high cholesterol lead to heart attacks? The answer is a bit complicated. From my (somewhat limited) understanding, cholesterol is not the cause but perhaps the straw on the camel’s back. The underlying cause is damage to blood vessels (from trans-fats, high blood pressure, diabetes). The damaged blood vessel lining kind of looks like a graze. Cholesterol is the stuff that patches up this graze – kind of like using putty to close up a hole in a wall. Trouble is that it can be too good of a plug, and causes narrowing of the vessels, which then leads to complete blockage. High cholesterol levels are linked to heart disease, especially at very high levels, and lowering cholesterol with statin drugs does lead to a reduction in heart disease risk. Dr Dean Ornish also demonstrated that a very low fat diet plus stress management program and regular exercise can reverse the blood vessel damage seen in heart disease.

Despite the controversies surrounding cholesterol, I have chosen not to adopt a cavalier attitude and instead chose to change my diet. I didn’t have a terrible diet but I was having a lot of eggs, red meat, and the occasional ice-cream. I was training for a race so I was actually losing weight, but it certainly didn’t help my cholesterol levels. I have no doubt we’ll continue to discover more about cholesterol and heart disease risk.

There is also some evidence that a high-fat diet may also be linked to breast cancer, and that it may change the gut microbiome adversely.

My approach was to focus on restricting saturated fat (note: not all fat; I didn’t pay any attention to the other fats apart from eliminating all trans-fats) and increasing plant foods. I used a combination of a Mediterranean diet and an Ornish diet. I didn’t read any books, just some websites and guidelines, and used Myfitnesspal and/or read nutrition labels. I immediately got to know the foods high in saturated fat – these are full fat dairy and certain meats such as bacon, sausages, chicken thighs, and lamb. All fried foods like chips were also high in saturated fat. I learned that chips were 6g of sat fat a bucket, lasagne was 8g a serve, and Magnums were a whopping 18g a serve!!! (a Mini Magnum, however, was a more modest 6g a serve).

So my diet guidelines were something like this:

Saturated fat: Less than 10% of daily calories, which for me was about 13g per day. (To calculate your daily caloric requirement, go to the Eat for Health website). The good protein choices were low fat yoghurt, low fat cheese, chicken breast (a third of the fat of chicken thighs), lean red meat such as eye fillet steak (only 4g saturated fat per small fillet!), nuts and fish. I could eat normal amounts of these foods with a minimum of saturated fat, so I never felt hungry. I found that having other fats such as the mono-unsaturated fats from nuts helped with satiety. I got a bit peckish if I had a completely low fat diet.

Vegetables: Heaps and heaps of vegetables at every meal; if I didn’t fill my vege drawer up in the fridge I knew I wasn’t going to be having enough. Vegies have lots of fiber which helps you feel full and also soaks up cholesterol so you poop it out. I made at least half my plate veges. I ate vegie sticks as a snack. (Seriously! I love celery!)

Photo: Andy Wright, www.flickr.com

Photo: Andy Wright, www.flickr.com

Legumes: I introduced one or two meals with legumes every week. Sometimes I would mix this up with some animal protein as well. Some days I got away with a completely vegetarian meal!

Very few eggs: I sadly gave up my two egg a day habit, and only had two eggs a week. I quickly forgot about the eggs and now I don’t miss them. Could the 14 eggs a week have been the sole reason for my high cholesterol? Quite possibly, but there is no harm in changing other parts of my diet.

Oats: Every. Single. Morning. Sometimes I had Bircher muesli. Usually I had oats with honey or banana, and sometimes I added Nutella. (Only 1.4g sat fat per serve!) Sometimes I even had Bircher Muesli as a snack!

Portion control: Occasionally we would have a high-fat meal – like when my partner feels like having chorizo, or we eat out, or at a friend’s house. Portion control was my friend – I learned that you can have a small amount of said foods and load up on other foods like veges instead. And of course, once or twice a week I would forget about my sat fat allowance and have whatever I wanted. The first couple of weeks were difficult, but I soon adjusted to not having as much saturated fat in my life and I felt fantastic. I also found that by keeping things flexible this way (not making a big deal about food) I could eat normally, and the family was happy.

I was also careful not to replace the saturated fat with sugar, so I stuck to low glycemic index foods only and very little sugar. I wasn’t aiming to lose weight but I’m definitely leaner and have lost 1 kg.

Looking forward, I’m now going to focus on having more mono-unsaturated fat in my diet (avocadoes, nuts, fish and olives) and perhaps introduce more eggs into my diet, as they are an excellent source of protein and nutrients (I could have the whites only for example; the cholesterol is contained in the egg yolk). My family and I seem to be enjoying the new way of eating, and I now include more of what they enjoy in our meals eg sausages, but I’ll make this as a sausage and chickpea stew and they have more sausages, I have more chickpeas.

What I did wasn’t rocket science; it is basically removing the stuff we don’t need heaps of and replacing it with stuff that we should eat plentifully. I believe that it is this substitution that is the key – you can’t remove saturated fat and replace it with high GI carbs or trans fats and expect to live a long and healthy life. You can’t “cheat” on this stuff. More plant, less animal. And a little bit of Nutella every now and then ;)

Nutella...only 1.4g sat fat per serve (and lots of sugar...) Photo by Rainer Z taken from Wikimedia Commons

Nutella…only 1.4g sat fat per serve (and lots of sugar…)
Photo by Rainer Z taken from Wikimedia Commons

 

On Being Told To Stop Running (And Breathing)

Just bear with me for a moment or two. I need to be a little bit dramatic to express my grief. Let me be a dying swan for a minute. I promise you I am moving on. But yesterday I was told something I had been fearing, but which I thought wouldn’t happen til I was 75 years old and hobbling around a retirement home. I was told to stop running. For a while. For now. Until (insert question mark).

It’s hard for a non-runner to understand, but imagine you were told to stop breathing. Running is my reset button. It’s a place, not an activity, for me. It’s where I get my calm, my resolve, my sense of purpose, my joie de vivre. I run to keep going in life. I run because at one time I couldn’t run for five minutes without feeling like I am dying, and now I run distances that I never dreamed were even possible. (They’re not long distances for a marathoner, but hey. It’s all relative). So running makes me feel strong, and reminds of what is possible out of the seemingly impossible. I ran in my first pregnancy until 28 weeks. Even my mum, who is not an active person, will ask me if I want to go for a run when she comes over to look after the kids. I’m one of those annoying people who does get an undeniable “runner’s high”. I tear up when I remember those cold crisp mornings when I set off on my long runs, listening to an inspiring podcast, the autumn leaves under my feet, the sky blue, my heart soaring and filled with bliss. As soon as I hear the crunching of my feet on gravel, left, right, left, right, I know I’ve come home.

(Enough of the rhapsodies now, woman!)

But it seems my left hip doesn’t like the left, right, left, right and the impact of those feet on gravel. It’s been niggling since my first baby was born. I was told it was a hip flexor tightness and glute weakness. The physio then didn’t know what we know now – that it’s likely I have something called Femoroacetabular Impingement. There’s probably some developmental problem with my hip where the ball bit of the hip joint doesn’t fit well with the cup bit. So there’s a bit that rubs, over and over again, when the hip moves. Hence the hip/groin pain. It’s interesting that I ran a 15km race without too many problems. I’m hopeful.

So for now, I am to stop running. There. I said it. Last night I read a chapter from my “Train Like A Mother” book which is written by two “badass mother runners”, Dimity and Sarah. Dimity describes sobbing as she pulled on her boot when she was diagnosed with a stress fracture and had to stop running for 7 weeks. I sobbed too. Then she talked about a cycling program to train for marathons. Yes it’s possible. And deep water running. And I stopped sobbing.

As I said, I’m moving on. Not being able to run (for now) isn’t something I can change. What I can change is the state of my deep hip rotators, apparently. So I’m doing these funny exercises every day that isolate these little suckers that haven’t been externally rotating my hip enough, causing some instability. I’m rolling around on my little spiky ball which my four-year-old has nicknamed “Thorny”. Thorny gets into the sorest tightest spots around my hip and back to loosen up those naughty muscles. I’m sore today but I’m taking that as a good thing! I’m doing pilates. I’m finding the stationary bike extremely boring, but I’m going to download audiobooks, movies, box sets… whatever gets me through a session! If I’m to stop running for a longer period, I’ll take up deep water running. I can also do spin cycling or zumba or yoga at our Uni fitness centre or local gym.

I’m going to do whatever I can to maximise my chance of getting back to running, and in the meantime, I want to discover that place again, outside of running. I may be giving up running for now, but I’m not giving up on that feeling – the fist-pumping “AWESOME!!” feeling when I’ve moved my body and exceeded my own expectations. No way. And yes, I do know that in the big scheme of things, having a minor hip problem and not being able to run, but still being able to walk, work, pick up my children, and do other physical things is not a huge problem. (Unless I’m talking to a fellow runner!) I need to get some perspective. And get my Zumba on! Who knows what will come from this new phase. Hopefully a brand new hip (please send me some hip love!!), maybe a new-found love of another activity that can sustain me in the times when running takes a back seat. Another place that I call home.

Best Workout Times for Working Mums (or anyone, for that matter)

Photo credit: "Mike" Michael L. Baird [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: “Mike” Michael L. Baird [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Straight off the bat, I’d like to confess something. I’ve been feeling somewhat of a fraud by calling myself a working mum. Sure, I’m doing a PhD (fulltime) and work as a GP one day a week. I pretty much have a nine-day fortnight. But my Uni work is very flexible – I can work from home, and I am almost completely autonomous. My supervisor has known me for years, and understands that I am very self-directed and I can deliver the goods even when working under pressure (for example, my crazy experiment of working from home with a small baby and then toddler for almost a year). And I don’t work long hours. First and foremost, I don’t find I am productive for more than six or seven hours a day anyway. So I get to Uni around 9, and head home around 4ish. I work similar hours at the clinic.

Don’t get me wrong, it took me a long time to get to this point. I wasn’t handed this awesome work week on a silver platter. Plus I choose to live on a scholarship. And I am a honest mum. I don’t have any family support here in Melbourne. I cook, I clean, and my husband and I divvy every domestic task between the two of us. There’s nobody to mind my kids when I want to go for a run except for him – no grandma around the corner. (I do have a cleaner! For my sanity!)

So now that I’ve got that off my chest, here’s something I wanted to share with you all. I’ve been falling into a routine of workouts during the week that seem to lift me up at exactly the right times, banish the grumpy mummy blues, send my spirits soaring, and see me coming home feeling completely pumped and full of “Yeah!!! I can do it! I’m AWESOME!! Life is AWESOME!!” Call it endorphins, call it stress management, call it whatever you will, but this feeling rocks, and I don’t want to give it up. And the pattern I’ve fallen into seems to tweak the working week in just the right way so that I’m feeling energetic and happy at all the right times (which is, most of the time!)

It’s been counter-intuitive to what I thought (I initially thought that getting my workouts done during the weekend would be the most sustainable. Wrong!) Hear me out and maybe give it a try. You have nothing to lose! If you can tweak your week a bit, it’s worth it.

Monday morning

I know, I know. Monday mornings generally produce groans all round, and a “blah” feeling. Which makes them a perfect time to bust the Monday blues. What a better way to start the week than a heart-pumping workout (your choice – mine is a long run: 10km/one hour) first thing in the morning? You know you’ve got your week set with this under your belt. You’ll start the week (a little bit more) enthused, relaxed and energetic. Even if it’s a short, sharp 20 minutes, try to get this one in first thing on Monday morning. I choose to work at home on Mondays so the time I save on commuting is my running time. I drop the kids off at 8am, and am at my desk, showered and coffee in hand, by 9:30am, feeling fantastic.

Mid week

I usually have a rest day on Tuesdays, as this is the day after my long run, and also my clinic day – which can be unpredictable and are usually exhausting. By Wednesday I am itching for some exercise, as the effects of the endorphins are starting to wear off and I’m getting edgy. Plus it’s Hump Day and all. So on Wednesday afternoons I squeeze in a 20-30 minute run or HIIT session. Hubby gets the kids from daycare (this saves me half an hour). When they get home, mummy’s had a shower and is getting dinner ready with a smile instead of a growl!

Friday evenings

Yep, Fridays ain’t about Friday night drinks any more in our household. Oh, Friday night drinks!! Much like the weekend sleep-ins, I’ve kissed these goodbye. Now, as many of you know, Friday night HIIT is my poison. 20 minutes and I’m ready for the weekend!! Woot!!

The only things flaming for me on Friday evenings  now are my glutes and quads... Photo credit: By Nik Frey (niksan) [CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

The only things flaming for me on Friday evenings now are my glutes and quads…
Photo credit: By Nik Frey (niksan) [CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Weekends

I used to plan runs on the weekends. If I get them done first thing, that’s great. Sometimes, if we don’t have much on, hubby will take the kids to the playground while I run around the park, or I’ll take the older kidlet out in the pram while the toddler has an afternoon nap. But sometimes the weekend just gets away from us, and I just let it. My weeks are so regimented, so scheduled, down to the minute. I’m kind of happy just to go with the flow on weekends. I try to keep it flexible and not intrude on my family’s time too much. After all, we love spending time with the kids on the weekend, and it’s nice to catch up with family and friends too, plus there are birthday parties to go to, groceries to get… If someone calls and asks us to come over for lunch, I’ll say yes please, and fit in a workout sometime else. I can always pop down to the treadmill after dinner, or do some HIIT in my room if we have a spare 20 minutes. If I get one workout done on the weekends, I’m pretty happy.

Early mornings

Oh I wish my early mornings were for working out! I’m reading a book at the moment for mother runners, and there’s a lot of talk about the 5:30am run. Yeah, well that works if your kids wake at 7am. It’s not uncommon for me to be wide awake at 5am with a toddler racing around the loungeroom with energy to burn. I could take him out for a run, but it’s winter – which means pitch black, freezing weather. I’ve tried doing HIIT but I hit him accidentally while doing a burpee! I let my husband sleep in a little bit as he works late into the night. But as soon as my littlest one decides to not wake at this ungodly hour any more, I’ll be doing the 5:30 run (on the treadmill) or HIIT session for sure.

I’d be really interested to hear how you go if you take on some of the above unsolicited advice from moi. (I’m always very chuffed when someone emails to say they did what I suggested! Wow!!) I feel that planning your workouts in this fashion will self-perpetuate the exercise routine, as it becomes something to sustain wellbeing and happiness instead of a chore. But really, any time that works for you is a great time to get fit and active, so don’t just take my word for it – you choose what works best for you, your work and home situation and your family! Happy Hump Day!!

Why I Love Toddlers

Photo credit: By Loadmaster (David R. Tribble)    This image was made by Loadmaster (David R. Tribble) Email the author:  David R. Tribble Also see my personal gallery at Google Picasa (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: By Loadmaster (David R. Tribble) This image was made by Loadmaster (David R. Tribble) Email the author: David R. Tribble Also see my personal gallery at Google Picasa (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

We’re in a fairly challenging state of parenthood right now. We have a toddler and a preschooler. This may arguably be better than having an older toddler and a baby (actually, thinking about it, it’s definitely better) but we’re still stuck right in the middle of the bum-wiping, tantrumming, wanting to be carried, needing to sleep by 6:30pm, can’t sit still stage. It feels like we are incessantly caring for their needs in a very physical way. Sleeping, eating, toileting and dressing are still very much reliant on our help. And for the last few months we have declared this stage the “hibernation” stage – when it is beyond the laws of the Universe to take them out into public for a meal. Doing this is kind of like defying gravity – a futile exercise. At least they’re sleeping through – dear God, thank you!

Yet, there is something about the toddler years that make this my favourite stage of childhood and babyhood. Actually, many things. Babies are lovely but once my first baby turned into a toddler, I found other babies, well, boring. The occasional goo-goo-ga-ga paled in comparison to my toddler’s antics. Preschoolers are also lovely but they talk a lot and they have begun to take on the inhibitions of childhood and adulthood. But toddlers – oh they are a species in themselves. And when my toddler turns three, I’ll  be looking back with some relief but lots of fondness and sadness too. So here’s why I love toddlers.

1. They are cute.
Poddy bellies, chubby legs and round cheeks make for an adorable bundle. And there is nothing cuter than a very short little person waddling furiously around the house like there is no tomorrow. Especially if they are dressed in a onesie. Once children start to lose the roundness of the cheek and start to sprout gangly limbs, I feel an inexplicable wistfulness.

2. They (can be) super cheerful.

Except when they’re super grumpy, of course. But a lot of the time, toddlers bounce around like sunbeams (or like pogo sticks?) Ever cross eyes with a toddler that you don’t know only to be greeted with the biggest grin? Doesn’t that make your day?

3. They love cuddles.

Not only do they love cuddles, they NEED them, and demand them. And launch themselves at your legs in a warm heap just revelling in being right next to you. Leg hugs are the best!! (Extricating clingy toddlers from your leg is another matter, of course).

4. They don’t talk. Much. Yet.

This can be frustrating when they are having a tantrum because they can’t communicate their needs verbally. Honestly, one time my toddler was furiously pointing at the dinner table, but refusing everything we offered him that was in his line of sight. He was absolutely distraught with anger. To this day I still don’t know what he wanted. But, on the whole, having a toddler who only says “Mam!” or “Cheese!” or “More!” is a relief. They babble in their own language, and all you have to do is listen to the tunefulness, nod, and babble back. There is no brain action involved, unlike the “Why? Why? Why?” of preschoolers.

5. They have long afternoon naps.

There is a book called Naptime is the New Happy Hour. That says it all.

6. They find everything fascinating.

This can certainly slow you down, and is somewhat of a damper when you’re in a hurry, but a toddler notices everything – and never ceases to wonder at the little things. The stones on the sidewalk. The dustballs in the corner. Random twigs. The rubbish bin. They are always investigating. What’s in here? What does it do? Once I was in a meeting with a visiting researcher from Korea. I had to bring my toddler along. I was deep in conversation then looked down and realised she had emptied the contents of my handbag onto the floor, and was particularly interested in my feminine hygiene products. I tried to discreetly put everything back without my (male) colleague noticing, or laughing too much. That was the last time she accompanied me to an important meeting.

7. They love to dance.

Nothing is more endearing than a toddler spontaneously breaking out the dance moves. Mine once dropped everything to shake her booty to “Last Christmas” by Wham in a shopping mall. I filmed it but the video was incredibly shaky because I was laughing hysterically. Toddlers also love being at weddings and monopolising the dance floor, when they should be fast asleep.

8. They love to imitate.

How adorable is pretend play? Star was once obsessed with takeaway coffee cups. (It says a lot about my lifestyle!!) She had a collection of them at one stage and was never seen without one in her hand. She even pretended to be a barista one afternoon! Pretend play also gives us valuable insights into our behaviour with our children as mirrors, as you can see!

9. Their sense of joy is enormous.

As is their sense of rage and frustration, but the joy is just beautiful. When a toddler is happy, they are REALLY happy. Like, exploding out of their skin happy and excited. It’s almost frenetic. Your toddler’s face when he sees you after a separation, or when he is given ice-cream, is an example. When Star was two and I went to the kitchen to get her some ice-cream, she was jumping up and down, clapping her hands and squealing “Good girl mummy!!! Good girl!!” If only we could all be this enthusiastic about the enjoyable things in life. All too often we barely even notice the happy times, whereas toddlers simply throw themselves into life, good and bad. And the ice-cream.

10. They teach us to be Zen masters.

Yep, that’s right. Nothing like a toddler having an epic meltdown and you learning how to keep your cool to build your patience and self-soothing behaviours. Everything else after that is a piece of cake in comparison. If you can remain calm and retain your sense of humour during those inevitable, daily and repeated tests, you can do anything, in my opinion!

There is just something about toddlers that is incredibly special. Their no-holds-barred approach to life is admirable. Their innate duality (contentment followed by rage and tantrums all in one minute) teaches us that we have to embrace the totality of life – it may not be perfect, it has its challenging moments, but there is something beautiful and amazing about it at the same time. And the rate at which toddlers are learning is mind-blowing. There is something very humbling about watching a small child, transitioning in between babyhood and childhood, learning the basics of walking, running, eating, communicating, and controlling impulses. It’s a privilege I’m glad to be enjoying – despite tantrums, meltdowns, loud screaming and all (which I assure you are happening in large quantities in our household!!) :)

 

Five Health Haloes to avoid

It’s really great that health is a big topic these days. Industry is coming to the table, and we can now buy organic meats and vegetables in supermarket chains, allergy-friendly foods are widely available, and salad bars jostle next to each other in food courts. Yet there is a risk of developing a “health halo” when it comes to certain food trends – believing that what you’re eating is actually healthier than it is. Here are five common food trends that may trip you up. Always be aware of your choices – a varied plant-based diet is a solid foundation.

1. Fat-free.
I find this one particularly irritating. Whenever I see it, I know it means “packed with sugar”. Processed foods sell because they are palatable to consumers, and it is usually fat or sugar that results in this. I saw a packet of marshmallows marked as “99% fat free”. Hot chocolate mixes and snack bars are often touted as being fat-free as well. Soft drinks are technically fat-free too. To avoid this health halo, don’t buy anything in a packet, and get your fat-free foods from the fruit and vegie aisle instead.

Mmm, so much pink and white fat-free goodness!! https://www.flickr.com/photos/melanie_hughes/4320632960/

Mmm, so much pink and white fat-free goodness!!
https://www.flickr.com/photos/melanie_hughes/4320632960/

2. Gluten-free.
Obviously, a gluten-free diet is essential if you have coeliac disease, or true gluten allergy. Many people feel better on a gluten-free diet (I often think this is because they are actually fructose intolerant, and are reacting to fructose, not gluten, in wheat). But many gluten-free foods are high glycemic index foods, which lead to a multitude of problems including diabetes and overweight. So if you’re indulging in gluten-free bread and pasta because you’re feeling virtuous, consider increasing the fiber in your diet and add protein to your meal to lower the glycemic load, and reduce the portions of your refined carbohydrates.

Mmmm, gluten-free french fries! By Miansari66 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Mmmm, gluten-free french fries!
By Miansari66 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

3. Vegetarianism.
Many vegetarians are actually incredibly healthy eaters – this would seem self-evident as their diets have to be mainly plant-based. A good proportion of vegetarians also choose not to eat animal products for health reasons as well, and are well-versed in eating well. However, lacto-ovo-vegetarians can fall into unhealthy habits just as easily as non-vegetarians. Diets high in white unrefined carbohydrates, with little variety of vegetables, or a dependence on starchy vegetables, and too much high-fat dairy can lead to poor health outcomes. So if you’re a vegetarian who thinks having a McFlurry as a snack and eating lots of white bread with butter is fine because you’re vegetarian and therefore immune to poor health, think again. Include plenty of vegetarian protein in your diet (legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu), vary your vegies, and cut out refined carbohydrates and sugar.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ilove9and23/9419278907/

Yep, this Kit Kat McFlurry is vegetarian.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/ilove9and23/9419278907/

4. “Health” foods.
Many of these irk me as they may not be a lot healthier than other snack foods. They often cater to allergies, not to health per se. And those nut bars that you can buy, masquerading as a healthy snack? It’s great to have nuts in your diet, but slathered in high-fructose corn syrup? No thanks. Buy a packet of nuts instead, and avoid any packaged “health foods”. They’re still just as processed as any other snack food.

I don't think so.

I don’t think so.

5. Asian food.
Ok, this is a bit cheeky, but I put this in because there is a common assumption that Asian food is healthy. Truth is that Asian foods are often high glycemic index foods (hello, rice noodles??) and sauces are high in sugar and salt. E.g. eating teriyaki chicken or sushi ain’t as healthy as we think because of the loads of white rice consumed in each meal, and sugar in the teriyaki chicken sauce and sushi rice seasoning. For healthier options, ask for sauce on the side (e.g. on your Vietnamese vermicelli), cut out the rice, and have sashimi instead of sushi. Some places are starting to make brown rice sushi rolls as well – a change I fully embrace!!

Don't get ahead of yourself. That's just a plate of white rice.  By Priscila Guimarães (originally posted to Flickr as Sushi) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Don’t get ahead of yourself. That’s just a plate of white rice.
By Priscila Guimarães (originally posted to Flickr as Sushi) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I hope this helps you hang your health halo up and look critically at the food you’re eating. It’s certainly opened my eyes to what I put in my mouth! Most of all, enjoy a wide variety of healthy foods, and avoid food in packets! x

The Best Little Girl in the World

Photo: http://pixabay.com/en/child-girl-playing-sand-beach-257233/

Photo: http://pixabay.com/en/child-girl-playing-sand-beach-257233/


My dearest little girl

Sometimes I forget that you’re only four years old. Actually, a month ago you were just three. Maybe I expect too much from you at times because you’re a big sister now. Maybe it’s because I’m tired, grumpy, or haven’t been for a run for three days. Maybe it’s because I just haven’t taken the time and effort to see things from your bright little eyes. But my darling, I am slowly learning to do exactly this, and I’m sorry I sometimes forget.

You’ve started to remind me of this, not intentionally, but in your own lovely innocent way. The other day I must have sighed and signalled to you I was very annoyed when we were out shopping and you said you had to go to the toilet. I was feeling stressed as I tried to look for what I needed to buy and you were getting tired and very very bored. I had already snapped at you for playing inside the clothes racks, lying on the floor, and running away. I was starting to feel resentful, those thoughts of “I never get any time to myself now, I can’t even get a simple task done with kids around, what a terrible life I have now, no time, no time, no time”. Then you said “Mummy I have to wee” and I huffed away and hurried you to the toilet. After using the bathroom you said “I’m sorry I had to wee, Mama”.

That was the moment. Something fell inside me. It was my heart. It broke for all the times I had made you feel like you were a burden, a nuisance to me. The times our agendas conflict – you want to play, I have to get someone a birthday present. The times when I am in a hurry and you dawdle. The times when I need you to get dressed in the morning and you find a puzzle to play with instead.

Yet I know we’re ok. I know it because we also have lots of times when we share the same sense of joy. When we laugh at something very silly. When we’re tucked up in bed together and reading a bedtime story. When we dance in the living room to your favourite song. When we have these amazing conversations in the car about life, and you listen to everything I say as though I’m the wisest person in the world. yet I think you are truly the wise one. The other day we talked about feeling grumpy, and what we could do if we felt grumpy. Your suggestions were to “make yourself feel happy” and “perhaps we need some alone time”. Then I asked if I seemed grumpy a lot of the time, or just a little bit of the time. “Just a little bit,” you said. I then said that I felt bad about feeling grumpy because I shouldn’t really get grumpy. And you said, in your best reassuring voice,

“It’s ok, Mummy. It’s just a little bit.”

So I’ve started really seeing things from your point of view. I want to connect with you as often as I can, so that the occasional times I lose it with you or make you feel bad about yourself can be healed quickly. I want you to have so much joy and security from me that you never doubt what a beautiful little girl you are. We’ve started talking quietly in your bedroom before you go to sleep. You lie in your bed and we whisper to each other about what sort of dreams you will have that night. Tonight you said “sometimes I wake up and I’m scared”. I said “Any time you need me, just call and I will come”.

“Will you scream at me, Mummy?” you asked in a small voice.

My heart broke again, and I fought back tears as I promised I wouldn’t scream at you if you woke crying in the middle of the night. I am finding it hard to write this as I can hardly see through the tears. But I promise you this. I may not have done it very well up til now but I will try my very best to remember you’re just a little girl. You need to play, to imagine, to discover. You need your Mum and Dad a lot still, even as you become more independent. If you could have your way you would be with me all the time – you tell me this often (but you have also cultivated strong relationships with other loving carers and friends, giving me the time I need). It’s hard always having a little brother around that Mummy has to see to all the time, and who is often noisy, pushy and can’t play well yet. It’s not easy going to bed on your own – but you’ve been so brave, even when you’re feeling afraid of the dark or missing Mummy at night. What you need is a constant source of the most tender love, the space to learn and make mistakes in a non-threatening way, firm boundaries about the right things. You need us to laugh with you when you’re being funny, wonder with you when you find something amazing, and hurt with you when you’re feeling sad. Then you need us to teach you what to do with your big emotions. Most of all you need to know that you’re the best little girl in the world, which is something I’ve started telling you every single day. And I mean it from the bottom of my heart. The best little girl in the whole world.

All my love
Mummy xoxo

Why My Children Get Sick

By U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Erika N. Jones [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Erika N. Jones [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Last week I was in the middle of a consultation when I had the dreaded phone call from daycare. Fortunately not much was wrong, but one of the kids did need to be picked up and taken home. My patient then said something interesting to me:

“I thought doctor’s kids aren’t supposed to get sick!”

Just one of those things that people say, of course, not thinking much of it at all. I smiled and answered “Yes they do. Actually, my kids have chronic illnesses”. Not serious ones, not ones that cause them many symptoms, but chronic illnesses nonetheless. And we have the usual colds and gastro cases, sometimes a seemingly endless series of them, as many parents whose young children attend daycare centres experience. As it turned out, we had a cracker of a week with one child sent home with a rash, another unable to attend because of food poisoning, and a routine checkup at the Kids Hospital. Having a sick kid at home isn’t easy, but these illnesses always remind me of the many reasons why I think my kids fall ill occasionally. I think there are reasons, and that these are “learning opportunities” for me (I’m not always this Pollyanna-like about it I can tell you – there are some weeks when I get frustrated about taking so much time off!) but here are the reasons why I think it happens.

My kids get sick because:

I need to know what it’s like to keep vigil by a child’s bed overnight, listening to every cough, breath and whimper, feeling brows and checking diapers.

I need to know the agony of watching a child in pain and in distress. And then the joy of seeing a child bounce back from illness as though they never missed a beat.

I need to experience the relief of hearing the steady breathing and feeling the cool brow of a recovering child.

I need to know what it’s like to make an emergency trip to the hospital, to wait in crowded outpatient departments, to hand the care of my precious charge over to an anaesthetist and surgeon and walk out fighting back tears.

I need to be reminded that schedules can be cleared, meetings rescheduled, deadlines extended, and that life goes on while I am doing my most important job.

I need to know that in times of pain and illness, there is only ever one thing that soothes my children – me. That there is never a time that I am more of a mother than when they are ill. I can outsource and delegate so many other parts of my role – but not this one. To me, it has become an integral part of how I see my role as a mother.

I need to be reminded that when I am in survival mode, with everything stripped down to the absolute necessities – food, water, love, sleep – I learn, once again, what is truly important.

I need to be compassionate, not smug – to know that kids can get sick despite the best efforts of their parents, so I can connect with the tired parents who fill my rooms during winter and give them a reassuring smile.

I need to realise how much I love my kids – a fierce, deep, visceral love, a love that can stay up all night for days on end and perform other feats of superhuman strength.

 

Being a mother has made me a better doctor in infinite ways – and probably a better person too. Sickness and other challenges on our journey can be moments to reflect on where we are heading, and re-align with priorities. Responding to vulnerability with tenderness and compassion is one of the privileges of having children – and embracing this helps the frustration of falling behind with work and life melt away.