Girls can’t be astronauts


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“Girls Can”  T-shirts available here

Girls can’t be astronauts!” I hear Caleb emphatically telling Rachel. My heart drops and I silently I despair as I realise how far we have to go in gender equality.

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Step Parenting


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The Geek is Step Dad to Rachel and Caleb and biological dad to Titus. He has been the only father figure the kids have known since they were 5 and 2, they are now 10 and 7. They have occasional skype contact with their dad in the UK  and a short visit if they go over to the UK which will be once each in the 5 years.

I have heard differing opinions about how step parents should interact with step kids:

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Rachel’s Egg-cellent Market Day

Rachel and her friend Thomas had an egg stall at the kids market day. They each had 7 boxes and were very equitable and alternated sales.
Ollie also made some biscuits to sell. Caleb ran around and was the ‘support’ team. Although next time I think I will make some things with him to sell too.

They sold out on all their eggs and had a good time. They will definitely be doing the one near Valentines day in February

These are the little labels she designed and made for her egg boxes
Kids market day Eggs

I took some photos of her and Caleb with 2 of our chickens so she could show that the eggs were not just from the shop and that she is the chicken ‘farmer’
Kids Market day

At the market – when we arrived she was a little nervous
Kids Market Day

Egg Table

Other tables
Kids Craft Market

Photo from the Photographer that was there on the day Akaroo

Delayed Vaccinations, my reasons and thoughts

I was asked by a friend to give her some info about vaccinations and what I did. These are my own feelings and my decision for my family, while I am a nurse they are not medical recommendations by anyone but me and what made sense to me. I share them as it is hard to find anything middle ground out there.

First it is impossible to find unbiased information on the internet, both the for or against will scare the bejezus out of you and leave you not knowing what to do. I spoke to my dad a GP for many years but when I was little he worked in a community hospital in one of the old homelands. He is now a Professor of Family Medicine and I trust his experience. He did not try to scare me into anything he said there are risks whatever you choose, you as the parent have to weight up the likelyhood of each risk and decide which ones you are willing to live with and which not. Every medication, injection etc that anyone takes ever has potential side effects and these are worse in some and not others and who is going to react and who is not in next to impossible to know before hand.

With that in mind I started at the top and and looked through the shots and the diseases and decided which ones to do. I will list them and my decisions below.

I did delayed vaccination for a number of reasons:
– I was breast feeding exclusively and so they would have my immunity to all these diseases until 6 month A babies immune system is very very immature and interestingly enough is only ever fully mature to the same level as an adult after 6 years old ( this is the reason that some extended breast feeders use to continue until their children are older, and while I totally understand that and feel everyone needs to breast feed to an age that is comfortable to them 4, 5 and 6 were just too old for me, I got to 2 with all of mine – but I digress)
– My kids did not go to day care or creche when they were young and so were not exposed to large groups of other children all the time where they might pick up stuff earlier.
– It just felt right.
– I started at 6 months ( except the TB but I cover that and the timing below) and then kept the time spacing recommended with the repeat vaccines as they build on each other. The only other timing I changed drastically was the TB but I will explain more below

What I did and what I didn’t
Vit K at birth: No – this is a long explanation and again one you have to consider carefully, if you want more of my thoughts on this ask and I am happy yo tell you all my reasoning. Here is an article from a Midwifery journal http://www.aims.org.uk/Journal/Vol13No2/vitk.htm

TB: Rachel and Titus have had TB but not Caleb, he was born in the UK where they don’t do it and when we got back I spoke to my dad and he said that she shot really only protects them from TB meningitis and the risk for this is more in those under 18 months and Caleb was over 18 months when I got back. I had a home birth and so it was not done at birth but I went to do it at the clinic later. I was worried that I had left Titus’s one a bit long as I only got there when he was 4 weeks old as The Geek’s sister had died just after Titus was born and we got wrapped up in funeral plans and stuff at the time. Later when I told my dad I was a bit stress for leaving it so long as it was always one of those that one was warned to do ASAP and is done in hospital. He explained that the reason is TB is so very very common in SA and that babies returning to townships with relatives that may be contagious need to be protected from birth. The efficacy of the TB vax is notoriously bad it protects about 80% against TB meningitus and about 60% against Pulmonary TB ( lung) most of us actually get herd immunity for living in a place with a high TB prevalence. Healthy immune systems just develop natural immunity. If I was to have another baby I would wait until 10 – 12 weeks for the TB shot ( NOT THAT I AM EVER HAVING MORE BABIES) you might have a bit of a fight in hospital as it is a standard jab but as a parent you have the final say as long as you make it clearly known you do not want it. But be very clear as there is stuff they just do by routine. The research http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19616494

chickenpox: no, it is not dangeous, I took the risk of some scars. The CP vax only lasts 10 years and so you have to repeat it every 10 years for the rest of your life or risk getting very very sick as an adult. Adult chicken pox can be very serious. For most children it is a mild irritation and maybe a slight higher irritation for the mom who has cranky kids but getting it offer a better immunity which is usually life long. The very very rare person get chicken pox twice in their life.

Polio: yes this is a debilitating disease which is still prevalent in SA and can be picked up from water that might have been contaminated further upstream ( fecal contamination), so unless your kid never ever swims in a river, pond, lake or any other outdoor natural water source they in my opinion need the polio vax.

Pertusis (whooping cough): not deadly and is a maybe one but it can damage lungs in sever cases and my sister is a serve asthmatic after getting it as a kid, she would always have been an asthmatic and she was vaccinated but she was just unlikey but it did damage her chest. The worst thing about this disease is that it is highly contagious and for a LONG time.I had a friend with kids who got it and she was housebound for 3 months. You have to wait a month after each child first shows signs before you can see other people. The whoop and vomiting in kids especially at night is very draning on the mom and in small babies they can stop breathing. Under 1 it is dangerous.

Diptheria – not common it is a skin and upper respiratory track illness which in and of itself is not too bad and can be mild BUT there is a 20% chance of myocarditis ( heart damage) and 10% of nerve damage which is 2 in 10 and 1 in 10 which are too high risk for me. Things that are 1 in 100 000 are a different story.

Tetanus: causes lock jaw to which there is no cure and most will die, you can get it from common things like a rusty nail so I did this one. You can wait for an exposure to a risk and then vaccinate but I did it from the beginning. It was included because people used to put cow manure on the umbilical cord before it fell off and so babies were exposed. It is also one that needs to be repeated every 5 years I think but most adults wait for an exposure ( the injection hurts like hell as an adult)

Hepatitis B: is actually quite difficult to get. What we used to know as Yellow jaundice it is still common in SA and can cause liver damage

haemophilus influenza: not actually a infulenza at all and not that dangerous in adults but can cause meningitis in babies

Rotavirus: I did not do this one, it is mostly for babies in day care and crèche where they are exposed, it causes a nasty diarrhoea which kids can dehydrate from easily but I felt with breast feeding and limited exposer I did not do this one. Those with babies going to day care and creche from young it is advised.

hepatitis A: did not, very rare in SA it is common in other places in Africa and if you travel consider doing it for the whole family before you go.

MMR: No, but not for the autism reasons. I will explain each disease separately. The autism link has been disproven but everyone needs to do their own research and make up their own mind on that one. This was not my reason at all

Measles: This might sound like a mild childhood disease, a rash and not feeling great and in many this is all that it is. BUT like diptheria while mild in many it has common complications as many as 20% of all case will get some of the more severe complications like pneumonia and menengitis. The wiki says Between the years 1987 and 2000, the case fatality rate across the United States was three measles-attributable deaths per 1000 cases this might not sound high but these are the death not just those than got very very sick. My dad said when he first started working out in the rural hospital their wards were full of children dying on measles, he said if he has seen any medical miracles in his 40 years as a Dr it was how in the space of the years they introduced the vaccine this number dropped away to next to none. He said it was the hugest case and effect of any health care preventative measure that he witnessed in his years as a Dr. Yes there is high mortality (death) in poorer lower economic groups with poorer nutrition but he said even as a GP in a affluent area later in his career he still saw measles causing nasty complications in healthy well nourished kids.

In SA they start the measles vax at 9 months and again at 18months, but all the research I could see was that they baby was well protected by the mother antibodies until 18 months and if you do it at 9 months the immunity is not very good and it has to be topped up at 18 months. I waited until between 18 month and 2 years and did one shot then for all my kids.

Mumps: Is a mild childhood disease with few life threatening risks. You just look like a chipmunk and have a face that hurts like hell. My reasons for vaccinating was against disease I felt there was a life threatening risk of. I did not feel that with mumps. I will never give it to Rachel as she is a girl and has no risk. I would ideally like the boys to get it and then their immunity is better but if neither of them has had it when they get to about 9 or 10 I will get them vaccinated. It can damage sperm if a teenage or adult man gets it and I want to be a Granny 😉

Rubella: Again a mild disease but very dangerous to unborn babies if the mom gets it. Therefore women of childbearing age should have this in my mind. As a woman wanting to get pregnant or have more babies gets tested if you have antibodies great if not get the shot. I will tell Rachel the risks to her babies when she is older and advice that she gets it in her teenage years while I am around to remind her, but if she wants to wait and do it when she is older and has moved out then that is fine too.

I think that wraps up all of them, have I forgotten any? If you got this far well done. As I said in the beginning there are risks to everything and some kids react very badly to vaccinations and even have anaphylactic reaction but these are very rare. I thought the risk was worth taking for some of these diseases.

A note about Thimerosal, you might have heard that it is a mercury based preservative and that you can pay and get much more expensive vav without it and in the US it is being phased out.

Thimerosal is an antiseptic and antifungal agent that is used to help preserve the vaccinations. In the past there were cases where children died from infections from vaccinations that lacked preservatives. Unlike some other preservatives it does not reduce the potency of the vaccines that it preserves.

The concern is that, Thimerosal is a mercury compound. The risk were however based on a substance called methymercury and cause Thiomersal to be removed from childhood vaccination in the US starting in 1999. Since then this been found to be eliminated from the body and the brain significantly faster than methylmercury . The late-1990s risk assessments turned out to be overly conservative.

Preservatives like thiomersal are not needed in the more expensive single dose injectable which are available at a private clinic. Yet the World Health Organization has concluded that there is no evidence of toxicity from thiomersal in vaccines and no reason on safety grounds to change to more-expensive single-dose vax. Government vaccinations in South Africa do contain small doses of Thiomersal but after extensive research there is no proof that the more expensive vaccines are needed. But due to world wide pressure and the bad name it has in the general population it will probably be phased out in time. Which one you decide to use is again up to you.

It is never going to be what you planned


www.AndreinAfrica.com

If there was one thing I hope to teach my kids about life, it is that life will never go to plan or be what you had imagined. Remember the days when as kids we dressed up as doctors, nurses, teachers, firemen, gymnasts, ballarinas etc and we played and pretended what life would be like?

My sister and I would spend hours turing our bedrooms into school rooms to teaching our dolls and teddies. I remember the photos of me in my Dr Snuggles T-shirt, pretending to be the dentist, and digging in the mouth of the, poor well natured and ever obliging, little girl next door. The grocery shop we set up, or the tea parties we held, pretending to be fancy ladies. We dreamed of a happy life and great careers. We imagined the nice houses and the loving partners. We had the perfect wedding in mind with all romance and the joy. Even boys, who might not dream about the wedding, often think of being married one day and maybe having kids. We imagine growing old, and all in all, life going well. While we might, like Caleb, have high hopes of being a Lego Scientist or another less realistic dream, actually most of our thoughts are just about a normal life, a happy existence in which things go to plan. With enough fun moments to have made it great.

One of the hardest lessons, as a adult, is that it never goes to plan. In reality we know bad stuff happens but somehow we feel immune to it. I never in a million years dreamed that I would have a failed marriage at 31 or that I would have kids by different dads, it is neither good nor bad, it just did not enter into my thinking. I never imagined I would lose my faith and feel freer than all the years before. I did not know it was possible to feel heart ache so deep that it leaves you unable to stand or even breath. I did not realize that at times I would be the one causing the pain or that some relationship are so different from what you both planned but yet they are so important that you could not imagine not having them. The notion of having a gun in my face and wondering what bullets felt like, was not something I had bargained on. I knew I want to be a parent but I was so ill prepared for the unbelievable highs, the moments of joy that feel like your heart might actually burst, and in contract, the times when parenting is so hard and so frustrating you wonder why anyone does it at all.

And it is not only me, I never imagined I would cry with my friend who’s 2 month old baby died, that my friend with the near perfect marriage would be faced with a brain injured husband. That I would laugh until my face and sides ached over a butter dish, and that having pink hair would help me connect with a stranger about leaving a bad marriage and finding yourself.

That said I never thought I would have pink hair!

This is a strange world and life is a crazy, wonderful, hard and beautiful. Never to be take for granted but not possible to be planned. Just live each moment the best you can.

Did your life go to plan?

The danger of ‘Perfect Parenting’

Do you ever have that moment when you realize that some people’s perception on you is so different from reality or the way you see yourself? Two incidences recently made me see how dangerous perceptions can be.

I have been called an Earth Mother, and I guess it is understandable, we are doing the sustainability drive, I use cloth nappies and home school. It is not a title that I would give myself. I am very normal in most aspects, and to me an Earth Mother is so different, she wears tie dye, and only organic flowing clothes, she feeds her kids vegan organic food and colourants are evil, they don’t drink coffee and are even more conscious of their footprint on the earth than I am. They wear crystals, meditate and have no TV. That is just the stereotype picture in my mind of an Earth Mother. I think I am just a regular person trying to find easy ways to be greener.

And while I don’t mind being called an Earth Mom, what I learnt is that people have this idea that because I am more natural, that somehow I am a perfect mom. That being earth conscious makes you calm and never loose your cool. That you have a peaceful home and that somehow parenting is easy for you.

When I admitted to some friends awhile ago that I was having a tough time and just felt like getting in my car and driving far away, the response was not what I expected. There was no empathy or nodding agreement of how tough parenting can be. No, there was joy. Delight, that I am normal and have moments of not coping. They had this picture in their minds that somehow me being natural meant being perfect or always calm. I understand their reaction, because when we perceive others as perfect it highlights to us how much we are failing. We know we are not achieving these same levels of perfection. The problem is that we set them and ourselves up for heartache with these perceptions.

I know my friends did not mean to be unkind and they were just relieved that I was normal too, but in this laughing and joking about their perception of me they forgot that I was sharing something painful, my own feelings of failure as a mother. My own frustrations. The moment past and no one ask how I was. It was just enough I was normal, no one needed or wanted to know any more than that. It was a lesson to me that people’s perception of you can sometimes stand in their way of being able to empathize with you.

The second incident was when I met someone at a home school meet up and she made a passing comment about never having had a moment of not loving being a parent, it was such a blessing to her. My reaction was to politely smile and nod and inside I thought ‘gosh how does she love parenting so much all the time with 3 kids’ It made me feel hugely inadequate as I knew there were time I did not love it.

A few days later however I was angry. I am sure she did not mean to sound perfect and just wanted to convey that she loved motherhood. But to say you love every moment is a lie. I thought either she has some great drugs and I want some of those, or she drugs her kids, or she was trying to compensate for not always being perfect. She was more religious than me ( well more is a silly word to put in there as you can’t get any less religious than me, but you know what I mean) maybe she thought that admitting there are tough times is somehow detraction from the gift and ‘blessing’ that kids are supposed to be. But whatever her reason it was unkind to make yourself sound so perfect.

As mothers we need to think a little before we say these things, trying to convince ourselves that we are perfect means you miss that chance to get support when times are hard. Telling others you love parenting all the times makes them feel bad and you stop them sharing with you if they are finding it hard. And times will be hard, there is no one who can tell me that parenting is wonderful all the time. I don’t believe you. And if you think someone is getting it right and a perfect parent, chances are your perception is wrong and they have moments they mess up just like you do.

I think we can learn a great deal from other parents and the way others do things if we are open to admitting our failures and sharing our sucesses honestly and openly.

So here is my introduction. Hi I am Sally-Jane and I am not a perfect parent.

  •  I loose my temper, more frequently than I would like.
  • My kids eat sweets.
  •  There are days when I hate being a mom, I don’t stop loving my kids but I hate how hard and frustrating and difficult some days can be.
  • I don’t really like the baby stage at all.
  • My kids are not always polite
  • Somedays they go to be dirty and I forget to brush their teeth
  • I swore I would never smack them and I try very very hard not to but I have. And then I have said sorry
  • I apologies to my kids and tell them when I mess up, they need to know I am no more perfect than they are
  • I swear more than I should
  • There are days when I just want to send them all to school

 

There are list of other things that I do wrong but to balance these are times of fun, laughter and love than you will never find any other way than having kids. The bad moments pass, but the times that you are living through them are difficult and we need to support each other, not isolate ourselves with ideals of perfection.

 

 

Are there times that you have felt inadequate looking at someone else parent?

Or moments you have had where parenting was hard?

 

Could you breast feed someone else’s baby?

I have had this discussion with a few friends. Could you feed someone else’s baby or let someone feed your baby?

In theory I am okay with it, after all  Selma Hayek fed an African baby on a visit to Sierra Leone to promote breast feeding.

In dire straits with no other options I think I would. I would also feed a newphew or niece if needed but otherwise I  think it crosses a boundary for me. Probably a silly
society influenced boundary, but still.

Could you?

And just for AJ – how would you feel about your wife or partner breast feeding another baby or your baby feeding from someone else?

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Bad secrets

Birthday presents are closely guarded secrets in this house. The goal is to be the best at getting something the other person would never guess, and making sure that the kids do not inadvertently let the secret out. Rachel is very good, but up until now Caleb has been too young to keep the present surprise secret, and so was usually not given any advanced knowledge. But this year I told him about Yme’s presents, some of which he helped me buy and wrap. He was so good and so proud to be a big boy that kept the present secret.

The kids were talking about it in the car, how good they are at keeping secrets and of course the inevitable ‘who is better than who’ discussion started. I felt that I had to talk to them about secrets that you should not keep. I hate that we live in a world where I even have to mention to my kids that there are adults they can’t trust and secrets they must never keep.

I even said that they need to tell me regardless of what someone threatens. If the person says they will hurt me or them if they tell, don’t worry tell mommy anyway. I can fix everything. Yes I realize that this is a bit of an exageration. I can’t fix everything and I can’t protect them from every bad thing but at this stage I need them to know that they can come to me with anything.

Trying to explain a bad secret to kids is not easy. I said anything that was not a nice birthday surprise. Anything that made you feel bad inside. If it made your heart sore or your tummy feel funny inside then rather tell me. And of course I mentioned no one being allowed to touch their private parts.

Caleb being a typical boy said that he would just beat the badies up, and tell them he was going to tell his mom. I did try to impress upon him that the idea was not to tell the person that you were going to tell me but rather to get away and tell me as soon as possible. But I guess this is a lesson that we speak about more than one time. I just need to open the dialogue with them that they can come to me with anything and that not all adult secrets are good.

I hate feeling like I might scare the kids into thinking that the world is a bad place and they have to be suspicious of everyone, but I suppose a balance is what is needed. Mostly they need to be care free and play and have fun as kids but they also need the knowledge that if something happens they have a refuge and they know mommy said no matter what the other person says they must always tell me.

Have you had these discussions with your kids?
How did you handle it and how did they respond?

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Baby Sign Language

Titus signing milk just after waking up in the morning, he still looks all sleepy

I have done baby sign language with all 3 of my children and so I thought I would share some of my experiences with you in the form of answering some questions that people often ask

1) What age to start?
I would say that it is better not to be too enthusiastic and risk to starting too early. Babies are not dexterous enough to start signing back to you much before 9months and some only really get going after a year. Titus is 16 months now and from about 13-14months he really started to use the signs. There is no problem in starting early it is all about you, and if you think that can sign for months before they first sign back then that is fine but if you might get demotivated if you have been signing from 3 months and have months to wait until they sign back, rather start later.
The only time that this is not the case is when you are in a family where a memember of the family uses sign language to communicate. Then it is good to use sign language with the baby from young and let baby see it being used by all the family as a communication that extends past the baby years.

 

2) Which type/language/version to use?
This is a personal choice, when I had Rachel I was keen to use South African Sign Language as I hoped that she would be able to learn the language and then use it one day if needed. I struggled to find stuff on line in South African sign language except expensive courses and books. So I just went with what I could find in books and on line. This happened to be mostly American Sign language. Although a lot of the signs are quite similar.

What I realized with Rachel was that babies drop the sign and start using the words as soon as they know the word. When Caleb came along Rachel who signed a lot as a baby could not remember any of her signs ( except I love you, which we still use) For a family that does not use sign language as part of the normal communication most children will not remember their signs and so it is not really a useful language for later it is just a tool for communication while they are small. This is obviously not true for a family using sign language for other reasons. Then it is important to use the same signs as the rest of the family are using.

 

3) Will sign language slow down or interrupt their speech development?
No, not at all, it actually stimulates the centers in the brain used for speech and communication and babies often start to speak early or totally on par with babies not using sign language.

4) Can babies make all the sign properly?
Well no not always, it is a bit like they might mispronounce words when they first start talking but you as a parent who are tuned into what they are saying can understand them. Titus’s signs are often not perfect but I know what he wants and this is the most important thing

 

5) Bilingual families
Titus is the first of my 3 that is being raised bilingual and so I did not know how sign language would fit into this but it has been great. The biggest reason that I think Titus signs so much is that both The Geek and I sign to him but when we say the word I use English and he used Afrikaans. It has been great in helping Titus see that the different words in the 2 languages have the same sign. I am expecting him to talk later as bilingual babies often do, so for him sign language really helps him communicate and be less frustrated.

 

6) Why use sign language?
I guess I should have started with this one but I need to take the kids to swimming and I don’t feel like remumbering the whole post ( how is that for honesty)
Why sign – becasue babies are dexterous and able to use their hands to communicate before they are able to speak and so it help give them a way to communicate during the toddler stage when they are finding their independence and are often frustrated that we don’t understand their gurgles. Being able to know when Titus is hungry and when he wants to go to the potty or has finished eating is great.

There are course available which I am sure you can find in your area if you want to go for a course.
I just used google and looked for signs. I also used a small book I found at Exclusive books which had some basic baby signs.
There are lots and lots of baby sign language websites, some that want you to buy the course but there is a lot for free too.
You can also make up your own signs as long as you all use the same signs.
Makaton is specific sign language for those who battle to communicate and is often used with children with learning or developmental difficulties. If you have one child using this or feel it might benefit a family member then this is a good version to use. It also uses more simple and easy to do signs that are perfect for babies.

Most of all enjoy communicating with your baby.