Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Return of the Chest Puppies

My boobs are enormous right now. Like zeppelins, really.

So gargantuan have they become, that they’ve earned a blog post all to themselves. So let’s double-park them for a moment to discuss how pregnancy has re-introduced ‘the twins’ back into my life.

I’m a B-cup gal... not too big, not too small. What men describe as a handful. In reference to the size of my chest, that is, although often also referring to the difficulty level in managing my drama queen tendencies. In that way, I guess all women are a handful.

Back to my jugs, though.

By the time Travis was born, I was an eye-popping D cup. Gigantic, like on a planetary scale! It was like having two satellite moons caught in my gravitational field. They threatened to burst from my ridiculously comfortable cotton nursing bras like jostling piglets. I hated it.

Magazines and websites helpfully point out that having your breasts inflated by pregnancy hormones is a big plus for the man in your life. But let me tell you, the cons far outweigh (ahem) the pros. There’s nothing sexy about watching your wife-slash-girlfriend’s melons leak colostrum and breast milk in the shower, or hell, even when you’re out grocery shopping. It’s frightening stuff.

What’s even more frightening, now that I’m 22 weeks’ in with Bump, is that I’m probably going to make D-cups looks so... last... pregnancy. Now I’m faced with the prospect of *gasp* E cups. They exist, right?

This is new territory for me.

The practical thing to do would be to get my ballooned butt down to a maternity specialist store or boutique or whatever and get myself measured and fitted for a proper set of bras. Oh, and take out a second mortgage to pay for them. But I’m squeamish about other women touching my hooters.

I know, you’d think after being pinched, tweaked, squeezed and milked by lactation consultants after Travis was born, I’d be over it. When you’re pregnant, you have to accept that your boobs are re-classified as communal property.

And these boutique chicks with the measuring tapes, I mean, they do actually touch your naked chest, right? Because I don’t see how they can get an accurate measurement if they just loop the tape over the bra you walked in with, or even over your shirt? Surely that’s a waste of time?

In the meantime, I’m figuring out what I can do when I’m done with the super-practical Woolies D-cups I’ve had to invest in. Because I can see I’m not going to get much more wear out of them.

Perhaps the kids can use them as inners under their bicycle helmets. You could fashion them into slingshots big enough to fling bowling balls over enemy lines. If you sewed the two cups together, presto, you have an oven mitt. Knee guards? Serving bowls?

Even Travis the Lionheart is mesmerised by the two inflatables that take up half the tub when I join him for a bath. It’s a wonder that I don’t tip over forward when I walk! 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Re-thinking the iPad

iPads and autism: it’s been making the tech pages in international news for months. Now Steve Jobs’ newest gadget is working its magic in a South African school for students with autism. And this tech-loving gadget girl just happens to have a son who’s both autistic, and almost spends more time fiddling with her iPhone than she does.

I was at a talk hosted by Core at the iStore in Sandton yesterday. Core is the sole distributor of Apple in the country and has partnered with The Key School, who has 30 autistic students starting from the ages of three years old and up.

Honestly, I was a concerned that these special students would be trotted out in front of a room full of journalists to give a demo (flashes of Travis the Lionheart hurling an iPad at a clump of skittish print media people). No fear, though, we were shown clips from Apple showcasing how the device is changing the way children are learning in classrooms in the States. They’ve sold 25 million iPads globally in just 14 months – crazy numbers.

It comes down to this: almost all people with autism are visual learners. For instance, a flash card application on the iPad that shows an actual photo of say, a cow (and not a cartoon of a cow – autistic learners are very literal thinkers) and then says the word “Cow!” is effective. The iPad encourages these often solitary and “locked in” students to interact with it. Play musical notes with a tap of a fingertip. Read interactive fairytales like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, following the highlighted words.

And as many children with autism have low muscle tone, and struggle with even a simple pencil grip like the Lionheart – no problem. You can prop the lightweight iPad up on a table and it’s easily cradled in the crook of your arm or in your lap.

Dr Jenni Gous, the principal at The Key School, gave a very well-balanced presentation about autism in general, and how her students are responding to the iPad specifically. I say well-balanced because I particularly liked how she highlighted both the strengths and the weaknesses of the iPad as an educational and communications tool in the development of autistic children. “Remember, it’s not a magic bullet,” she said. I respect that.

For instance, overuse of the iPad (and frankly, any form of media-rich technology), can actually increase ADHD and lower concentration – the frontal cortex will eventually become inactive from lack of stimulation. Something to consider.

So here’s the skinny.

An iPad 2 will set you back around R4 400 to R7 600, depending on which model you purchase, but if you intend using it primarily as an educational device for your autistic learner, I don’t see why you can’t get the most basic first generation model, for R3 300. I’m no expert on the SARS Disabilities Grant, but I think the chances are excellent you can write it off as a refundable expense if it’s motivated correctly to the Receiver.

Dr Gous says that the iPad apps they’re using have all been downloaded for free, and there is a huge variety of them out there.

Is Travis the Lionheart getting an iPad from Santa this year? He just might.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Seeking the Zen mommy

To let you truly understand my dilemma, I need to paint you a picture first. This is not going to be a pretty picture. In fact, this is going to show my ugly side in all its long-of-fang-and-sharp-of-claw glory. But frankly, never sharing the ugly moments of being a special needs’ mom is to do the Lionheart chronicles, and all special needs’ parents, a great injustice.

So this is what happened this morning...

Travis the Lionheart is hunger-striking. He’s been a little flu-ish, and almost sloth-like in his lethargy. His many-rolled Buddha belly is shrinking and he has ulcers in his mouth from poor diet and a run-down system. Yesterday he ate a grand total of three mini yoghurt tubs.

Yup, we’re smack-damn in the liquid food only zone (again) reserved for small babies, and not almost-four-year-old toddlers. My stress levels have peeked to the point where I may short-circuit.

I am determined that Travis will eat his (usual) Weetbix before he goes to school today.

Denial
“Travis,” I smile brightly. “Let’s watch some Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and have a Weetbix. Yum, it’s your favourite!” I’m pretending that nothing is out of the ordinary. Do not let the lion cub smell your fear. “Come on, come on,” I coax, smiling despite that he’s dodging the spoon and starting to scowl.

Bargaining
By now I’ve gotten two spoons of Weetbix smoosh into the kid in 15 minutes. His Weetbix’s gone cold and gloopy so I’ve warmed it in the microwave. Nevertheless, Travis has clamped his mouth closed like Fort Knox. “Look,” I say in as reasonable a tone as possible. “Just have 10 spoons. You’ve already had two spoons, so that leaves eight.” There’s no way that Travis understands the simple mathematics here, it’s more like I’m striking up a deal with myself.

Hysteria
It’s a game now. He’s bobbing and weaving like a boxer in his feeding chair, and I’m matching Travis with the spoon... A hysterical laugh bursts from between my lips. This is funny, and terribly sad. This is when I should have given up and walked away. But no: I was going to win the Battle of the Weetbix.

Blind fury
The red mist rolls into the room. So furious am I that I’m yelling nonsensical threats. “I. Am. The. Parent. Here. And. You. Don’t. Get. To. Starve. Yourself. On. My. Watch.” The primal side of my brain stomps down hard on the logical side of my brain. Forget about how I’m imprinting this kid with meal times = angry mommy associations. Forget that I’m five months’ pregnant and stress hormones are zipping up and down the umbilical cord. In fact, I’m forgetting the point of this entire exercise.

Thank the Big Guy Upstairs that my husband swooped in at that point.

Five minutes later I’ve crawled under my duvet, and the sound of Jake And The Neverland Pirates and Travis giggling float up the staircase, mocking me. I’m horrified at my outburst. I’m sobbing and wallowing in self pity. But my logical side is in recovery mode.

And I know that it’s me. I am the problem here. Travis is feeding off my anxiety. And his resulting behaviour just pushes me further over the edge. We are two storming galaxies caught up in each other’s fields of gravity.

Over the years I’ve had many perceptive family members and friends (and witnesses) point this out to me. That my being stressed out stresses Travis out, and vice versa. I’ve read the articles that suggest the best way to deal with a cognitively impaired child is to keep your expression neutral, just a soft smile, a calm tone of voice, and be consistent about it. Facial expressions and emotional outbursts confuse and frighten children like Travis.

Reading my last few blog posts, I’m seeing a trend here. The Angry, Out Of Control Mommy.

So I clutch my bright red buoy moment from Saturday morning and resolve to be calmer. And to find my inner Zen mommy, where all the stress and fears of raising a Lionheart (and now introducing a newborn to the mix) are more like a breeze and less like a hurricane... Deep breath...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bright red buoys

Before I became a mom, I had some pie in the sky unrealistic ideas of what it would be like.

Didn’t we all?

In hindsight, while I gushed about what an angelic mother I would be and patted my first bump affectionately, there was a cluster of already-moms in the corner eyeing me with a knowing look and a smirk. Oh yes, they knew.

I would be firm but fair.
I would be a fountain of warmth and kindness.
I would never, ever smack my kids or lose my temper in front of them.

My children would believe I walk on water and dedicate all their future achievements to me, and there would be many of those, because I won’t raise no dumb-asses. In fact, we’ll need a special display room in the mansion house for all the trophies, medals and certificates.

Yup, I was smoking my socks.

Where did it all go wrong? I like to think it started to disintegrate when Travis was diagnosed with a brain malformation at eight months of age, but if I’m excruciatingly honest – from the moment our first child was born, I was floundering.

Motherhood, especially this particular brand of motherhood, the kind where your kid is radically different from other kids, has taught me that if you tread water long enough, you’ll find a bright red buoy to cling to here and there.

It’s Saturday morning, and – fun fact – the rooster next door has been cocka-doodle-dooing since before the sun came up. Our townhouse complex is next to a smallholding. Through our kitchen window, you can catch glimpses of a cow, a humungous mommy pig and her piglets, some goats that climb trees to munch leaves off the low-hanging branches, a gorgeous peacock, geese that really do bark like watchdogs and plenty of cheekens.

My other half spent the night at the Cabanas in Sun City because he is timing at a race event there all weekend.

I creep down the wooden staircase, careful to miss the stairs that creak, and push open the door to the Lionheart’s bedroom. His nose has been stuffy for days and I can hear him snoring softly under his blankies.

Even though he’s still lost in the mysterious depths of a very unique brain’s dreams (how I wish I understood the workings of my son’s mind), Travis scoots over to make space for me. He’s used to his mom stealing cuddles at all hours. 

I press my cheek into the rumpled folds of his pyjamas. He smells like the rooibos body butter I rubbed all over him last night when he got out the bath. Watkins the kitten stalks in and makes himself comfortable on top of the two of us. The Lionheart’s bed hair is... spectacular. Like that character in Dragonball-Z.

(Bump is awake too, because I’m being tenderly kicked in the bladder.)

For a few minutes, I let myself believe that I really am that mom I always wanted to be, and Travis is whole and happy and... well... perfect.

This is a bright red buoy moment.

Life buoys are great, because they give you a few minutes to stop kicking against the currents of life, and rest up and reflect. It's important that we learn to recognise them. And then it's back into the ocean with you, where you "just keep swimming"...

Friday, June 17, 2011

WTF Friday 16: Go the f**k to sleep

What the Fuck Friday is the most blissfully belligerent day of the week. It’s the one day the author of this blog does not delicately arch an eyebrow in distaste at some perceived stupidity. Instead she delights in saying the F-word as many times as possible, until her blog becomes X-rated by the all-powerful search engine gods.

Plenty of mommy bloggers have shared their delight in the “children’s book for adults” called Go The Fuck To Sleep by Adam Mansbach.

It’s become a little bit of an interwebs sensation!

So let me share this little linki-poo with you. It’s the potty-mouthed book, as narrated by Samuel L Jackson. I know I should be ranting today about some injustice... Perhaps just imagine me looking on with an appropriately stern look of condemnation while you listen to this clip.

But it’s deliciously naughty...


Monday, June 13, 2011

Just... enjoy... the moment

This morning a text popped in from a doctor's office, telling me to phone and confirm my appointment or they would cancel it. It was from the specialist we're seeing on Wednesday; the one who'll do an extra-special scan to check that Bump is indeed a ruggle (regular baby) and not a Lionheart (a special needs baby).

I really thought it was cheeky. I yelled at the receptionist. Then I tweeted in fury. And posted an angry Facebook status. And wrote a long blog post about how cheesed I am at this doctor. Then I took a deep breath and removed the post.

Balls. I have a short fuse at the moment. The Big Guy Upstairs. He's noticed too.

I can tell I'm on His radar now, because all day little things have happened that have made me do a 360 on the Rampaging Pregnant Mom deal. In fact, I feel a bit like I've swallowed a ball of sunshine and now my belly is glowing like a Teletubbie's does when he gets an incoming message.

First, a couple of moms whose opinions I value like, hugely, both assured me that the doctor I'm seeing on Wednesday is not at all as cheapskate and callous as I'm assuming, but that he's intelligent, funny, and actually a little good-looking to boot. Now I'm downright looking forward to having him rub ultrasound belly gel all over me!

Then I spent the morning putting the finishing touches on research about the wonders of the umbilical cord, and uncovered some touching traditions that some cultures have - like burying it in the garden and planting a special tree on top of it as a celebration of baby's birth. It's called a birth tree.

Next up was a brainstorm with one of my clients to nail down what articles I'll be writing on parenting for the next few magazine issues until Bump arrives.

Then I got around to making plans to scoff expensive cupcakes with one of my favourite people, the hilariously and sexy Shelley Hutton (who is raising twin boys, no less - gasp!).

To wrap it up, I'm being sent a Huggies hamper by the delightful Sam Robinson of Sabio Communications who spotted my tweet whining about being left out of all the lovely freebies that my fellow mommy bloggers have been receiving. (For more whiny tweets from me, follow @misscopycandy.)

Looking back on my last few blog posts, all I'm reading is this gnawing internal monologue about having one child with special needs and a second child who is potentially normal. Chewing at it like a bone that's long since lost it's flavour.

Enough! I'm letting all those little excitements I felt during my first pregnancy flood back in. I'm mooning over teeny tiny socks. Picking a colour scheme for Bump's room. Starting to think about throwing a baby shower. 

Bring. It. On.

I'm 20 weeks pregnant today. At the halfway mark. And it looks like finally I'm not focused on what's going on inside my head, but what's going on inside my tummy.

Peekaboo, Bump! I see you!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

WTF Friday 15: Limping traffic light zombies

What the Fuck Friday is the most blissfully belligerent day of the week. It’s the one day the author of this blog does not delicately arch an eyebrow in distaste at some perceived stupidity. Instead, she goes all Scrooge and snarls when asked for small change. 

You’ve seen them at traffic lights... they hobble past your car, shoulders scrunched in their best Quasimodo humpback, sometimes with government hospital issue crutches for effect. Limping down the rows of cars held captive by a red light, shaking a tin for spare change.

I acknowledge that the rate of unemployment in South Africa is sky-high. Living conditions for those living under the bread line are inhumane. Begging or criminal activity are the logical ways out of this hellish cycle of poverty and hunger.

The zombie horde of beggars on our roadsides and at our intersections leaves the average middle-class soccer mom with a permanent deficiency of R2 and R5 coins in her car’s cup-holder.

But nothing makes me harden the fuck up like a street-side beggar faking a limp.

I think it’s obvious why I’m angry about it.

The problem is, unless it’s an amputated arm or leg – this mysterious, over-the-top limp produces that default human response: we want to believe the best of people. I mean, who would pretend to be disabled?

“Oh my gosh! Underneath that unusually thick bandage dressing there must be some freakish deformity that prevents you from finding employment! Dang it... I don’t have any coins on me. What the hell – here’s 20 bucks!”

Not. Me. Ever.

I want to pull my car to the side of the road, rugby tackle the offending traffic light shuffler to the ground, hike up his pants’ leg and see what kind of medical condition is causing this individual’s one leg to be so much shorter, other than dramatically leaning too far to the left as he walks.

This could go embarrassingly wrong, of course. “Ma’am! Could you please explain to the court why you assaulted Mr McGenuinelyLimpy?”

“Um...”

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bumps on ice

Where is Bump? You can see a tiny bit of Bump
sticking out to the right of my waist. What? It
was dark like a disco at the rink, lol!
I went ice-skating last night, with 19 weeks’ worth of bump sticking out loud and proud. You’re probably wondering: “Have you marinated your socks in LSD, psycho mommy?!”

It was a kooky, irresponsible thing to do. I’ve had everyone from doctors, to scowling hubby and concerned grannies telling me to Take It Easy. But those few moments gliding (wobbly) on the ice were like spending the day being massaged and scrubbed by those African mammas at Mangwanani Day Spa. Super-relaxing!

2am has become my suicide hour. I lie awake, with my hand on Bump, and my heart hammering in my chest in those pre-flutters of a full-blown panic attack. (Little known fact: I wrestled with an anxiety disorder in my mid-20s. Not the drama-queen-clutching-my-heaving-bosom variety, the hook-me-up-to-an-heart-monitor-I’m-losing-my-marbles-but-please-don’t-tell-anyone variety.)

The memories of those exhausting first weeks with a newborn are flooding back.

A part of me thinks that bringing Bump home from the hospital will be a snap. After all, Travis has all the needs that a very small baby has. I make 5 or 6 bottles a day. Spoon-feed him. Change nappies. Change clothes that have been vomited and drooled on. Bath him. Carry him from point A to B. Supervise all his movements and play-times.

So it’s almost like having twins, right? RIGHT?

Also on the 2am merry-go-round: do we have enough finances, is our townhouse big enough for four, isn’t it about time I started preparing a room for Bump, should we have a third child, was starting my own business the smartest/most selfish thing I’ve ever done, who should I nominate as Trav’s guardian in my will, and finally, is this it – is THIS really my Life?

It’s at this point that ice-skating while five months’ pregnant seemed like a golden ticket out of the murky waters of my psyche. And out there on the ice last night, I skated away from it all...

(I also got knocked over, and fell on my well-padded bottom HARD! Gasp.)

Moms, tell me this fretting is completely normal... I can understand a first-time mom worrying like this, but I thought a ordering a second baby came with a large helping of level-headedness?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Of marathons and milestones

It took me seven hours and three stops to drive the 600km from Johannesburg to Durban when the Lionheart and I drove to the beach together. It took five hours and one stop for my husband to drive us back. Just saying...

We’re back! And I’m freezing my petunias off! Sweet mother of popsicles! It is frosty in the city. We’ve been back two nights and Travis has kindly slept between us on both nights – because toddlers make the best hot water bottles, don’t ya know. 

Last week Sunday, a friend of ours was running the Comrades and the Lionhearts were determined to support this nutcase in his mad endeavour. 

A quick briefing for all our international readers: the annual Comrades Marathon is called the ‘ultimate human race’. It is held between the coastal city of Durban and the inland town of Pietermaritzburg, and covers a lunatic 89km. The cut-off time to finish the race is 12 hours. If you make it before 11 hours, you get a bronze medal. The winner of the Comrades can do it in as little as 5 hours, 30 mins and is surely a genetic superhuman. Each year, the Comrades alternates between an ‘up race’ (Durbs to PMB) and a ‘down race’ (PMB to Durbs). This year was an up race. 

Our friend Jann Rinken, running his second consecutive race this year, finished in 10.59.03 and hobbled off with a bronze medal and the ‘double-up’ medal (it’s called something along those lines – don’t shoot me, Jann). 

Now, what I was thinking was: “Let’s be awesome friends and support our deranged buddy as he takes part in this great South African tradition.” What I should have done was this small calculation: 24 000 entrants, plus at least four supporters each equals 120000 people... all of which will be packed like sardines onto the woefully narrow highway that runs from Durban to what I now know is actually the teeny tiny town of Pietermaritzburg, where we’ll filter into the Cricket Oval stadium where the finish line is – that has a maximum capacity of about 15000 people. Yikes. 

And that’s not counting race officials, medical staff, groundsmen, announcers and the media. I’ve mentioned before that my maths is horrific, right? Now imagine inserting Travis the Lionheart into this equation... 

While our buddy left the starting line at 5am, the Lionhearts’ starting gun only went off at 11.30am when I first had to collect my husband from Durban’s airport. We hit the highway to Pietermaritzburg to support our roadrunner from the various checkpoints before the finish line. The back-up of traffic was so nightmarish it took us just over four hours to drive the 89km. We actually saw a Comrades runner puking his guts out next to the road from sheer over-exertion. Then we had to park so far from the stadium that we walked several kilometres, pushing a bewildered and freaked out Lionheart in his pram. 

While ‘following the leader’ to find a way to get into the stadium, we somehow found ourselves clambering over boulders, down perilous rock-strewn slopes, and once passing our 20kg son and his pram down a six-foot wall in what we now know is the Paton Rockery adjacent to the stadium. 

Then we got lost in the 120000-strong crowd of supporters, all dressed in neon wigs, banging on the metal sides of the race-track, screaming their support to loved ones as they crossed the finish line, the portable toilets overflowing, and the stench and noise overwhelming. 

For a starving, cognitively impaired, small boy with serious sensory integration issues... Travis stoically hung in there until the bitter end before finally losing it completely and going into ‘fight or flight’ mode. 

Travis my son, you were the real marathon winner of the 2011 Comrades. Well done, Lionheart. 

And a bit on milestones... 

I’m telling you, there must be something in the air at the coast. Not only does the humidity make you more inclined to afternoon naps, increase your appetite and frizzle your hair... it does something magical for Travis.

In October last year, Travis came back from Umhlanga drinking milkshakes out of take-away cups and eating burgers – both which were a huge breakthrough. This time he’s learned how to operate the light switch for a lamp. 

We patiently sat in the downstairs lounge at our holiday flat (that smelled like grannies - in a pleasant way), in a disco, while Travis practised the sliding movement. On-off, on-off, on-off the lights went.

I wonder what wonders our next beach holiday will bring?