a slow and difficult start to the year

I guess this is a bit of a rant, or maybe just a vent. Everyone talks about how hard 2016 and 2017 were but on balance, 2018 has been super difficult for me so far. Let me contextualise:

  1. Daycare closed on 15 December, and that’s when full time parenting kicked in for me. My husband was working pretty much straight through, with breaks on public holidays and 6 days off in the middle of January.
  2. Because of that mid-Jan break, we decided not to send the toddler back to daycare, because it would mean paying for a full month and he’d only be there for about 7 actual days (between their holiday and ours).
  3. His new school only started on 22 January, and because of their ‘staggered start’ system, he only went back on 30 January. January was a long, long month, but we got through it. We even had fun!
  4. During this whole six week period while I was also supposed to be on holiday, I was trying to squeeze work into many of his naps, and every spare hour I could find. Such is the life of a freelancer.
  5. And then school started, and we expected the pressure to ease off. MAN, WERE WE WRONG.

That’s when the shit hit the fan.

A New School

So, my boy is two and a half (he’ll be three in May), and we felt that he wasn’t getting as much stimulation from his old daycare towards the end of last year. We looked around, and found a lovely school much closer to home (his old daycare was closer to my old office, but a 45 minute round trip from home. And I work from home.) After putting his name down, we were offered a place for him last October which we had to turn down due to the volume of my work commitments (they ask parents to be available for early pick ups for at least the first week, and I just didn’t have that kind of time. We’d also already planned a holiday, which would throw another spanner into October.)

Fast forward a few months, and he got a place for January. Hooray!! We thought the transition period would be a bit tough, but man, it has been harder than we expected.

Brand New Everything

For us, it was just exchanging one thing for another – daycare switched with school – it’s basically the same thing with different people. I spent a lot of time talking about it in the holidays, preparing him for the new people, new things, new kids, he was excited to start and we thought he was ready.

The first week was difficult. Drop offs in the morning were clinging and teary, to the point where I asked my husband to take over, in case that improved things. It did, somewhat. But then they asked me to fetch him after just an hour on the second day. AN HOUR. I hadn’t had more than an hour at a stretch the whole holidays to work, and now school had finally started and I had to fetch him after ONE HOUR?! I was beyond frustrated. I didn’t understand what the problem was. Surely if we just started the way we meant to go on, he’d adjust more quickly? The third day, it was 2 hours, and by the end of the week the full school day – 12.15. Woohoo.

By the second week, I thought he’d be settled in. I fetched him early (to my mind) at 3pm, to give him a little extra time to adjust. But because I had to work, there were a few days that week that I fetched him later, closer to 5pm. At the welcome picnic that Friday, the teacher suggested that he was super unhappy with staying for aftercare (anything after 12.15). I was gobsmacked. He’s been at daycare since he was literally 4 months old! How is this any different?

Some Context From the Teacher

Well, then he came down with a bad cold and had to stay home for a few days (fevers and the like). So it was only this week (the fourth week of term for him) that I had a chance to speak to his teacher again. And I think I understand a bit better.

All along, it had been a simple switch in my mind. He had been happily hugging the teachers and teachers assistants goodbye in the afternoons, but mornings had been getting increasingly difficult. Lots of tears before leaving the house, more at school even with dad doing the drop offs, and an almost pitiful happiness to see me when I fetched him in the afternoon. Things weren’t going the way I expected them to, and I was frustrated.

After talking to his teacher yesterday, I realised something: whereas for me it was a simple switch, for him his whole world had changed.

He had been at daycare his whole life, he didn’t remember a time when he wasn’t at daycare. Now, we had taken that reassuring presence from his life and replaced it with new teachers, new activities, a new environment, new children, even new extra-murals, which he’d never done before. His days were never predictable, so he never knew what was coming, and he’s a boy who relies heavily on routine.

Also, he’s older than most of the kids in his class. There are two other boys his age, but he is new and they’ve been friends for a while, so he’s a bit of an outsider. The rest of the kids are little, not-quite-two or only-just-two, and are a bit boring for him. Without a single friend for reassurance, he felt all alone in this sea of newness.

He stopped eating, he stopped napping, he started chewing on his nails, his sleep deteriorated (and it was always pretty bad). His immune system even gave in, and he got sick in the third week of school. He was basically shutting down in the face of overwhelming newness.

So, What Now?

Well, after our chat yesterday, we’ve decided to cancel his extra murals for this term, to let him get used to school before we throw something extra at him.

I’ve agreed that I will fetch him early 3 days a week, and arrange my work so that he only stays late for a maximum of 2 days per week.

We’re going to try to bring more Montessori activities home, to give him the control he seems to crave, so that he can start eating again. We tried that yesterday afternoon, and it seemed to work.

Now that I understand it better from his perspective, I can plan. I can work around what he needs. After all, that is why I quite my full time office job, so that I was able to be there when he needed me.

(I’m also going to offer to rewrite their new parent guidebook, so that future new parents are less confused and frustrated when this happens to them. The lack of communication was a huge contributor to my frustration and the lack of understanding on my part was difficult for him.)

I feel bad for not seeing it sooner. Of course I do, there’s nothing like a bit of mom guilt to drag you over the coals. But I also feel like a lot of confusion could have been avoided if the school had been a bit more communicative. This is my first experience with a more formal school environment, with Montessori, with changing schools – I had no idea he’d find it this difficult. They knew. They knew, and they hinted at it, but it was only yesterday that I finally got a straight answer and explanation of it. So I’m going to pack my mom-guilt away and work with what I’ve got.

It feels to me like no sooner do you understand something, as a parent, that it changes again. There’s nothing familiar but change itself.

So that’s how we’ve been this year. I’m hoping things will turn around soon, and either return to normal or we’ll get used to this new normal. We’re all exhausted with the sheer volume of decisions we need to make each day. And I’m reminded that change is huge. It’s huge whether you’re a little boy or a grown-ass woman. Change is huge and hard, and we all need a little extra grace to adjust to it.

So, my little boy, I’ll see you at 12.15 then. As long as you need me to be there, I’ll be there.

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let’s be kinder to ourselves, ok?

It’s so funny, sometimes it feels as though the whole world (or at least MY whole world) leans towards a kind of “group-think” and everything you see, say, hear and read leads you towards the same conclusions.

I work for myself now, and it can get pretty quiet at home on my own, so podcasts have become my officemates. Last week, I was listening to some TED talks while I ate my lunch and this one from Jennifer Senior came up. It crystallised something I’d been thinking for quite a while, and gave shape to my thoughts in a way that I struggled to articulate for myself.

Jennifer speaks about the difficulty of ensuring happiness for our kids, and how it’s a very lofty goal that really only came about in the last 20-30 years. How, in previous generations, the emphasis was different – on children as working members of the family, on the importance of productivity and kindness as markers of healthy children. She says we should think about teaching our children how to be kind, thoughtful of others, productive members of society, and hope that happiness comes as a by-product of being a good person, rather than from some level of self-excellence.

Then this morning, I read Belinda’s blog post on Imperfect Parenting, and that was when the “group-think” feeling hit. Belinda mentions her friend who dropped the ball on pajama day at school, how her kids were the only ones there in their usual clothes. She goes on to mention that she drops the ball on a weekly basis. Except I don’t think that’s fair.

Honestly, I’m 32 now, and I still have a fairly clear recollection of my childhood. I remember packed lunches and bathtime with my younger sister (we were kids, and it was fun.) But I don’t remember the times that the ball was dropped. There was less of an emphasis on this almost unattainable level of “perfect parenting” that we seem to want to reach now.

What I do, clearly, remember from growing up is when my parents – no, my dad, especially after he started single parenting – lost his shit when the ball was dropped. How he blamed everyone except himself (a personality trait that still exists today). And it is that that I will do my hardest to avoid.

I think what I’m trying to say is, we’ll all be happier – kids and parents, hell, people in general – if we relax the reigns a bit. If we try to be kinder to each other and kinder to ourselves. If we value kindness over other things, and try to teach acceptance, kindness and tolerance to out kids through the example we set with ourselves.

So although I am only 2 years into this parenting thing, I’m trying my hardest to be gentler on myself. Kinder to myself, and if the toddler lives on Flings one weekend, well, we’ll try to fit some veggies in next week. If I forget to pack something into his bag, it’s not the end of the world. There’s a lot of stuff to remember these days, and expecting yourself to keep track of everything is unrealistic. But getting mad with yourself or your child because you forgot something? Well, that’s just silly.

Let’s be kinder, ok?

winter-warmer chicken keema (ready in 30 minutes)

I’ve already mentioned that sometimes it’s hard for me to find time (and energy) to cook, and I know that’s a common problem, because I see it on Twitter all the time. It’s hard enough when you’re a full time working woman, who is primarily responsible for coming up with food in the evening (whether you’re single or in a relationship). Throw a baby or a toddler into the mix? And it’s 100 times harder.

So I’m starting a record of quick, easy to execute dishes that are comforting for a cold winter night, but don’t take hours and hours of cooking. Even one of my go-to dishes during summer, the grain bowl, takes too long to put together when I want to eat before 8.30pm (and the toddler just WON’T LET ME GO). And I’m lucky, I work from home, so I can (sometimes) get it together to put dinner on before my boy comes home from daycare, but we aren’t all that lucky.

This was dinner last night, and it was quick, easy and tasty. Yes, I’m big into Indian flavours at the moment – spices like turmeric, cinnamon and masala make sense in winter because they are warming and tasty, but they’re also good for boosting your immune system and keeping you healthy, so it’s a win-win.

Chicken-Keema-5

Chicken Keema (or a way of using chicken mince that isn’t meatballs) – link to original recipe here, which is where I took the pic from too.

INGREDIENTS
500g chicken mince (or pork)
2 tsp oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2-3 green chilies, chopped fine (I used jalapeños)
1 inch piece of fresh turmeric, finely minced (optional, my addition)
1 inch piece of ginger, finely minced(optional, my addition)
1 large garlic clove, finely minced(optional, my addition)
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp red chili powder or chilli flakes
1 tsp garam masala
4 tomatoes, diced (I used a tin of chopped Italian tomatoes, as I had no fresh)
Salt to taste
½ tsp black pepper
2-4 tbsp Greek yoghurt (optional, my addition)
1 cup frozen peas (optional, my addition)
1 cup broccoli and cauliflower florets (optional, my addition)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a large, deep frying pan, heat oil. Once warm, add onions and chilies and sauté until onion is softened. Then add in the ginger, fresh turmeric and garlic, if using, and fry until fragrant.
  2. Add chicken mince and mix. Cook on medium low heat until chicken is cooked through (chicken will turn white)
  3. Now add all the spices and stir, until the spices are integrated and slightly toasted. Then add the tomatoes, fresh or canned
  4. Cook for good 20-25 minutes or until the liquid is completely cooked off. Keep stirring it in between. Traditionally, this is a fair dry curry, more about the mince and spices than the sauce, but I wanted it to be more saucy, so once most of the tomato had cooked off, I added in a few spoonfuls of Greek yoghurt for some saucy creaminess.
  5. The original dish also entirely lacked vegetables, and I wanted some, so I tossed in some frozen peas, and sautéed some broccoli and cauliflower in a pan, then threw them in at the end. If I’d been using my brain, I’d have added frozen broccoli and cauliflower straight into the curry, which would have saved on dishes and time, so do that rather.
  6. Serve over rice or with naan.

ready-in-30 minutes red lentil dhal

{Image from Jamie’s recipe – you don’t want to see mine photographed}

So, I’ve been in a bit of a funk around cooking lately. My darling toddler has been extra clingy with me, specifically, and wants me to finish his bedtime routine off every evening. That takes 20 minutes out of my dinner making time (if we are going to eat before 9pm, and maybe, just maybe, squeeze in an hour of Masterchef!) All the normal things I make are ±45 minutes, and I’ve just not had time or been much in the mood for them.

A few weeks (or maybe months?) ago, I came across this recipe for red lentil dhal on Jamie Oliver’s site. After watching Save with Jamie last year (I also have the book), I have new respect for this guy, and my current funk persuaded me to follow the recipe (something I usually don’t do). It was amazing! Simple, quick and easy, and I’ve made it roughly once a week since that first time. It’s spiced without being spicy, though you could easily build the heat, and everyone from my lovely and fussy sister to my picky toddler loves it. It’s warm, comforting and the perfect thing to tuck into after a long day.

I have (OF COURSE) freestyled with it a bit, and I have to say, I think mine are improvements, not just tinkering for the sake of it. Make the recipe as stated in the link, but add in these things to take it to another level:

Extra ingredients:

  • 1 can coconut cream
  • 1/2 -1 tsp fenugreek
  • 1 tsp ground cumin

Optional ingredients:

  • 1 can chickpeas or 200-300g protein, like chicken breast or mini fillets
  • 1-2 diced carrots
  • 1/5 – 1 cup frozen peas

Method:

  1. When you’re cooking the lentils, I add in 2-2.5 cups of water to start*, then bring to the boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the top.
    • *My lentil cooking ratio is 1:2, so 1.5 cups lentils to 3 cups liquid, which I divide here between water and coconut cream, for a richer, tastier result.
  2. Then, when the initial liquid as cooked off and they are looking a bit dry, but not quite cooked yet, I add ± half a can of coconut cream, and cook until soft and porridgey.
  3. I never remember to buy cumin seeds, so I skip that step, and just add ground cumin to the onion/chillies mixture, along with some fenugreek, and a few lumps of asafoetida (which I picked up at Faithful to Nature ages ago, but which they don’t stock anymore). The asafoetida adds another onion-garlic flavour, and the other spices just add to the depth of flavour, instead of letting the turmeric run rampant.
  4. I cook the onion mixture at a fairly high heat for colour and caramelisation, but when it gets too dry, I splash in some more of the coconut cream.
  5. When the lentils are cooked, add them into the onion mixture, and cook until it is the desired temperature.
  6. If you are adding chicken or something that needs to be cooked, cut it into small, bite size pieces, and add it into the onion mixture, then finish cooking when you’ve integrated the lentils. If you’re adding chickpeas, just toss them in sometime towards the end, as they are cooked and will only need to be warmed through.
  7. You can also dice up some carrot, or toss some peas in, if you want to up the veggie ante, which I’ve done a few times.

Serve over basmati rice in a bowl, and eat with a spoon.

I have a problem with attaching guilt to food

So, this might be a bit of a rant, but I feel there’s a valid point to be made here, and Twitter just doesn’t have the space for me to air it.

I’m the first to admit that my relationship with food is not the healthiest. I have a long history of eating my feelings (for reference, the year we were planning our wedding and the daily cupcakes I ate as a way of ineffectively managing my stress levels). However, I’m seeing increasing references to “guilt-free” and “guilty” food from the media, bloggers, people, shops, everyone, and it concerns me. It concerns me deeply.

You see, there are two ways of approaching guilt:

  1. You imagine that eating “guilt-free” food gives you some sort of halo or immunity
  2. You imagine that eating “guilty” foods makes you some sort of demon

And neither of these approaches are healthy, to my mind at least. There’s been a huge movement towards “cutting out” food and “demonising” some food choices.

So here’s an idea:

How about we let people make their own choices about what to eat, how to eat and how to feed their families?

How about we look inwards, look at our own bodies, our own experiences with food and we let that be our guide as to what, how and how much to eat.

How about we stop looking at what other people are eating as a way of informing our choices?

What’s right for that girl on Instagram may not be right for you, and tying the negative emotion of guilt up in your food does nothing to improve your relationship with the very thing that nourishes you.

Because at the end of the day, that’s what food is. It’s been fetishised and over-analysed for so long that we’ve forgotten that the primary role of food is nourishment. Nourishment is a positive attribute. It prolongs and fosters life. It has the ability to prolong and foster relationships and friendships. And the more positive associations and relationships we have with food, the better off we’ll all find ourselves.

What I find healthy and what you find healthy may not be the same thing. I think we can all agree that we should eat more veggies, and if that manifests as veganism for you, well, that’s great. But assuming that eating “healthy whole grains and veggies” is healthy for everyone is just shortsighted. For people suffering certain dietary diseases and intolerances, the very thing you are touting as “guilt-free” and “healthy” may be just the opposite.

I can’t say it enough: what works for your body may not work for all bodies.

Your way is not the only way.

So, to end off, how about we stop attaching these negative emotions to food? How about we remember that it’s all about nourishment, and not about guilt? That would make the world a better place far quicker, at least to my mind.