A visit to the Chocolate Garden

The Chocolate Garden in De Chamoy Estate (north of Durban) is my new favorite hangout.IMG_0507

Set in a lush garden setting, the wooden pergolas and cobbled paths give the place a hint of a storybook atmosphere. Essentially a cafe/coffee shop, the Chocolate Garden serves delectable breakfasts and light lunches with a good selection of drinks and snacks.

But what draws me to the place time and again, is the fact that it is SO kid-friendly. There’s a colorful jungle gym and playhouse, all set on child-approved astroturf. There’s also a sandpit and a tepee which the Twincesses just love.

IMG_0525But perhaps the girls’ most favorite thing about the Chocolate Garden… the bunnies. They have named each of the fat, white bunnies that inhabit the place:  Thumper, Rascal, Betty, Daisy, Oreo, Lily, Milo and Bella…are but a few.

We linger over breakfast and pots of steaming tea while the friendly waitresses ensure we are well taken care of. Meals are value for money and there is a lovely kids menu that offers a twist on the regular choices. Deep fried mac and cheese balls, anyone?

It is one of the few places where parents look relaxed and peaceful instead of frazzled and hurried, which speaks to the calm that seems to emanate around the place. Of course we had a ton of tears when we had to leave (from girls, although I did not want to leave either), and they reluctantly climbed into the car as I had to make FOUR pinky-promises to bring them back the next week.

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5 more minutes, please mom!

I would highly recommend the Chocolate Garden for a lazy weekend breakfast spot. They can be found here: 1 Robert Armstrong Rd, Barrs Flats, Verulam, South Africa.

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My Kids are OBSESSED with Peppa Pig!

I have a love-hate relationship with Peppa Pig. On some days I love that she can keep my kids entertained for a few minutes while I get dinner sorted or run to the bathroom… but on most days… Most days I feel if I had to hear that sickly theme song ONE MORE TIME, I just might just lose it!

It doesn’t help that both my kids are positively obsessed with Peppa and her animal friends. The online community is full of ‘experts’ that are either pro or against the huggable hog, but I really don’t see any harm in the cartoon. Apart from losing my sanity, that is!

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Sure, Peppa may have some undesirable qualities: She’s bossy, she doesn’t like losing at games, she taught my kids to say “yuck”… but I honestly think her character is intended to be cute rather than snarky. Its often said she’s been modeled on the behavior of a ‘typical’ toddler… perhaps one in the throes of the terrible twos?

On the other hand, I find the show expands my kid’s vocabulary (even if does add a slight English accent to their voices! lol). I also think its important to highlight the show’s good points: It truly does promote family values: eating dinner together, holidays away and camping trips, outings to the aquarium and the fairground, picnics in the park etc.

It promotes friendship and laughter. It highlights strong female characters like hard working Mummy Pig who always tries to guide Peppa in the right path with love and patience.

I do have some questions though: Why does George say ‘dinosaur’ like that? Why do they all live on top of hills? How can Miss Rabbit do ALL those jobs???

The Twincesses have several Peppa Pig APPS on their tablets so even when they’re not watching the show, they’re still either painting with Peppa and George or helping Grandad Pig to plant his flowers.

Its no wonder then, that as soon as I heard that Peppa Pig’s show was heading to South Africa for the first time, I got tickets for the family to go see the action live! We’ll be seated in the front row when the show heads to Durban later this month, and I cannot begin to imagine how excited my girls are going to be. Oh the things we endure for our kids!peppa pig live in SAfrica

Peppa Pig Live shows have already commenced in SA, full list below. Tickets can be purchased at Computicket, but be warned, they are selling out ridculously fast:

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It seems then, that Peppa Pig will continue to rule my household for the weeks and months to come, meaning I will continue to hum that blasted theme song for days on end.

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Planning the Perfect Easter Egg Hunt for Toddler

I love the idea of Easter Egg Hunts! Kids and adults alike getting stuck in the fun of finding eggs carefully hidden around the house… what’s not to love?!

We planned our first Easter Egg Hunt for the Twincesses this year as we felt they were finally old enough to enjoy it (they recently turned three).

But there were some things we had to keep in mind when setting up the Hunt to ensure it wasn’t too difficult for them to find the eggs, and that it was exciting enough to keep them invested.

Here are 7 tips to ensure you play the perfect Easter Egg Hunt for your littles:

1. Keep the clues age appropriate

Use bright colored paper, avoid maps for very small kids and ensure worded clues are easy to decode. Visual clues work best for toddlers so use drawings, or in our case, actual photos of the locations around the house which I printed in advance.

2. Keep it fair

If you have an only child, this one doesn’t apply, but if your Hunt is catering for more than 1 child, keep it fair by placing color coded stickers on the eggs before hiding them. Assign a color to each child before the hung begins and they should only collect the eggs that corresponds to their color.

3. Use visual aids

We used bunny footprints to lead the way to the locations where the eggs were hidden. Bright arrows or hot/cold signs also make the game more fun.

4. Hide eggs inside AND outside (weather permitting)

We started our hunt indoors and progressed to our garden. The girls loved searching their room and the bedrooms before going outside to look for more eggs. The change of setting also adds some fun and mixes it up a bit.

5. Avoid hard to reach/ dangerous locations

Keep it safe and relatively simple by hiding eggs in spots that are easy to reach and accessible to your toddler. Never hide eggs on top of shelves or cupboards. Avoid the kitchen and bathroom if possible.

6. Go along for the ride

Do it together! Get some air, and enjoy the family time. Not only are you supervising your toddler but you’re making memories that will last a lifetime.

7. Don’t forget the baskets!

You can plan the perfect hunt, but your photos won’t be Insta worthy if they’re collecting their eggs in grocery bags! Buy or make a lovely Easter bag before the hunt to ensure the kids have something to collect their stash!

The Slow Burn of Motherhood

The craziness and heaviness that comes in the newborn months are well documented. The sheer exhaustion and frequent “WTF am I doing?” moments are discussed at doctor’s appointments and whispered about at playgroups.

But the slow burn of Motherhood is often overlooked. The chronic fatigue, the overlooking of one’s self and the deprioritization of our own needs are factors that lead to Motherhood’s slow burn.

What makes this phenomenon dangerous, is that its often not seen as “severe” enough to warrant immediate action for change. We accept the weariness as a ‘way of life’ or a passing phase that never really passes.

All well and good in the short term, but constantly putting off one’s well-being benefits no-one in the long-term. As the well known saying about Motherhood goes: “You cant pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.”

As a mom of 3 year olds, I know how difficult it can be to find time in the day for myself. My eyebrows have last been waxed in 2016 (I’m growing them out – my excuse), and I haven’t bought myself new clothes since before my girls were born. Seriously.

So I get it. There are a thousand ‘more’ important things to get done than my eyebrows. And honestly, I’d rather spend money on my kids than myself… but, but BUT! I need to revisit my unintentional  martyrdom. Am I really doing my kids any favors by overlooking myself so frequently?

How can I be teaching them to value themselves when I constantly reinforce the notion that I place little value on myself?

I’m not sure how just yet, but I’m going to try to change this. Maybe with little, tiny baby steps. I’m going to value myself a little more, focus on my well-being a little more. It could be a coffee with a friend here, a manicure there.

Here’s looking at me kid!

Save the Drama for your Mama

Ever heard a teacher rave about how well-behaved your child is and thought in disbelief “You can’t possibly mean my kid”. Let’s explore why kids save their worst behavior for their Moms.

Having a child behave like an angel for others can be frustrating and confusing for us moms when we seem to always be at the receiving end of bad behaviour. It’s hard not to take it personally when it seems like the tantrums are saved especially for us, and it’s easy to fall into a way of thinking where we blame yourself and question our every parenting decision.

This is really something I have been struggling with for the past few months, and set about doing some research into the “Save the Drama for your Mama” phenomenon.

Almost all behavioral psychologists agree: it isn’t intentional. Your child isn’t spending her days at school counting the minutes until they can get home to scream at you. At the core it boils down to the fact that home is a ‘safe zone’. The child is able act their ugliest, be their most vulnerable, because they feel safe. And a vast majority of the time, being vulnerable looks and smells very much like a tantrum.

The number one thing to remember is to avoid getting angry yourself at your child’s outbursts. Your attention is the fuel to the fire and the minute you participate in the outburst, you reinforce the negative behaviour. Pretty soon your child knows exactly how to get Mom’s attention, regardless of whether it’s negative attention or not.

Be consistent in your method of discipline and carry out consequences as promised. There is no easier way to lose credibility with your child than to not carry out the promised consequence for bad behaviour. The punishment should be age/time-length appropriate (rule of thumb = a minute for each year), and parents need to follow through with threats of discipline.

It’s important to remember that kids cannot be well-behaved 100% of the time. They too need a way to vent and to let off frustrations about their day or feelings, which very often, is what a tantrum boils down to – a way to cope with emotions that are too overwhelming.

Help your child develop problem-solving techniques that are relevant to his/her age. Validate their feelings of anger or frustration (dismissing them makes matters worse), then offer them an alternative way to cope: “I see you’re feeling angry, and that’s ok. But would you like to play on the swings outside until you feel better?”

Dealing with the split personality ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ kid might seem challenging and deeply daunting, but I try to remember, even on the worst days, that while I may get the brunt of my child’s poorest behaviour, I also get the best of it too. I get to see her at her most real, so I get to experience her highs and lows at close range. And I wouldn’t change that for anything!

Sleep Training 101: Finding a qualified sleep consultant

Lets take it back to September 2015…

I was a new mom, with 6 month old twin girls. Having twins in itself will normally present some newborn sleep challenges … one waking the other being the most common. But I found myself exhausted and frustrated with TWO newborns that just. wouldn’t. sleep.

We had seen a specialist pediatrician to rule out the common causes: silent re-flux, prolonged colic (yes, that’s a thing), throat and ear infections, or any other medical condition that could be hampering their sleep.

We had established a solid bed time routine, we ensured they were not overstimulated, overtired, overfed or hungry at the time of going to bed.

We ensured the room  temperature was optimal and we made sure the crib was comfortable and safe. So why were our girls not sleeping?!

After one particularly harrowing night of being up literally every 30 minutes between the two of them, I got on the phone to a sleep consultant who had been recommended by a friend.

I have no idea what I was expecting from that call…but I’m SO GLAD I called!

Our sleep consultant made an Skype appointment with myself and my husband (we were both in this together!). Be wary of those that work with one parent individually, as sleep training really needs a collaborative effort from all those involved with the child’s sleeping schedule to ensure consistency.

Before that appointment, I needed to fill out a detailed questionnaire with information regarding each of the girls. A separate one for each twin as the approach would be tailored for them specifically.  The questionnaire covered everything from day and night routines, eating habits, family dynamics,  medical background, growth and development milestones,  environmental factors, and sensory environment. The questionnaire also covered the child’s specific personality traits and temperament. There was some miscellaneous information I had to provide regarding favorite toys and foods, and our methods of play etc…

I also had to include some information on what sleep training methods (if any) I had tried before, and what I expected from our forthcoming consultation. (“To sleep, duh” – was apparently not an appropriate answer)

The questionnaire was very, very detailed to the point of exhaustive! But I truly do believe that a great sleep consultant will ensure she gathers the utmost information she can about your particular child to ensure that the approach she uses is tailored to your child. Sleep training is definitely not a one-size-fits-all technique.

One particularly important piece of information I also had to provide prior to our actual consultation was the level of Cry It Out (CIO) I would be comfortable with. On a sliding scale, I chose ‘minimum crying without intervention” (the lowest level of CIO acceptance).

I think what scares many moms away from sleep training is the fear of CIO. And rightly so. It is gut-wrenching to imagine leaving your child to scream in distress for extended periods of time without intervening. I truly believe that a qualified sleep consultant will recognize a parent’s aversion to extended CIO and will be willing and able to work within your comfort levels to achieve a successful result in your quest to get your child to sleep better.

With all the information we provided in the questionnaires, our sleep consultant came up with a detailed and specific plan for each twin which we then discussed in our Skype call consultation. We used a holistic approach, taking into account all factors contributing to poor sleep and looking to alleviate them without too much disruption of her current routine.

She established a sensory profile for each of our children as well as an in-depth sleep prognosis. She gave us a plan which we were to implement that same night, and the take home message of the entire meetings was: CONSISTENCY.

She stressed how important consistency was in getting a child to sleep well, and how any lack of consistently on our part would cause setbacks for our goal of getting the twins to sleep well.

One of the very best advantages to having a sleep consultant working with us directly, was the benefit of having someone available on the phone when things got tough. She may not have been available 24/7, but there wasn’t a single text or Whatsapp message that went more than a few hours without being answered. And perhaps most crucially, on those first few nights, when I felt like giving up…she was on the phone with me, talking me through the plan and helping me brave it out.

I’m happy to say that we learnt SO much about healthy infant and toddler sleep from our consultant. We know now just how important a sound night’s sleep is for their development and growth, and I know the basic concepts of ensuring a good night’s sleep. I understand the do’s and dont’s of getting a feisty toddler to bed each night and that consistency is key.

I know that many families are struggling with sleepless nights, but are totally against the idea of sleep training due to the misconception that sleep training automatically means extended CIO.

However, a good sleep consultant will and should be able to work within the framework of what you find comfortable in regards to CIO. After all, there isn’t anyone who knows your child better than you, so you’d be in the best position to determine this.

A good sleep consultant will ensure she has all the relevant background information prior to formulating a sleep plan for your child.

A good sleep consultant will develop a sleep plan that is tailor made specifically to your little one, taking into account the child’s routine, personality and family dynamics, among other things.

A good sleep consultant will ensure that anyone and everyone who is involved with the child’s sleep routine, participates in the sleep training consult…to ensure consistency for the child.

A good sleep consultant will provide step by step support through the implementation of the sleep training plan.

Going the sleep training route was the best decision we made for our family. Giving our children the gift of sleep, has done wonders for the entire family’s well being.

The basic principles we learnt during the training process will stay with us for life and help us through all the little sleep regressions we encounter along the way.

Diana’s Greatest Role

I remember exactly where I was on 31 August 1997. Much like the day the Twin Towers fell, this date is forever etched in history, as the world woke up to the awful news that Princess Diana had died in a car crash in Paris.

I remember the outpouring of grief, the shock, the TV channels gripped by reruns upon reruns of her smiling face next to the mangled car.

In the 20 years since her death, the world remembers her many roles: reluctant princess, humanitarian, fashion icon, celebrity, activist. A Jane of all trades, she mastered them all, but wore one hat more proudly than any other: that of ‘Mother’.

She truly never looked happier or more at peace than when she was with her boys – and the world knows that happiness and peace were two attributes that she deserved more of in her short, often fraught life.

I feel an immense sadness for her children having been robbed of her love and her influence. But I surely believe that it is precisely due to her early influence and unconditional love that they turned out to be such fine young men.

So on this day, 20 years since her tragic death, let us remember her above all, as the loving, protective mother she was.

“I will fight for my children on any level, so that they can reach their potential as human beings and in their public duties” – Diana Princess of Wales.

* Ghetty Images