How I Met Your Father

Ok kids, I’m gonna tell you the story about how I met your father.

It was the Autumn of 2008, and I was living my best life. I had a beautiful little flat down the South Coast (Port Shepstone), where I lived for work. I’d just signed a rental lease for a full year.

I’d been promoted at my job: at 26 years old, I was the youngest senior manager in the company… responsible for an awesome team of 25 employees. Work was wonderfully challenging and fulfilling.

I had just bought a brand new car, drove it off the showroom floor with a big red bow on it. I was surrounded by loving family and loyal friends. I was young, confident and very happy.

10 March 2008- New corner office at work (thanks to my promotion) and a lovely company budget to decorate it.

I’d always wanted to travel… (I was the kind who hoarded Contiki travel brochures, painstakingly mapping my ideal itinerary)… so of course I was going to decorate my new fancy office in a very cosmopolitan way – with classy black and white images from iconic cities around the world.

I had already sourced beautiful prints of New York and Sydney, when I reached out via Facebook to a photographer in Paris asking about the price of his photographs and if he shipped to South Africa.

The answer to my innocent enquiry: “For someone as beautiful as you, I could deliver it personally ;)”

Wait? What!?

Ok, he was handsome… in that French kind of way (the BEST way)… but I just needed the photographs.

We ended up chatting … on MSN (remember that?!). Days turned into weeks, which turned into months.

By June 2008, we were chatting to each other for literally hours a day. We talked about everything under the sun. Hopes and dreams. Long philosophical conversations and shorter not so philosophical ones.

Paris, September 2008

Until we finally decided: We needed to meet. We needed to know if this chemistry was real or not.

So I said a little prayer, and bought a ticket to Paris!

My friends had been worried sick prior to my trip… fervently trying to talk me out of going, pretty sure I was going to end up murdered and turned into a skin suit for some psychotic serial killer who had obviously watched Silence of the Lambs one too many times.

10 September 2008: Exactly 7 months after our first online conversation, I met your father in a very busy terminal at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris. He said “hello” and I said “bonjour”. It was a blistering hot day and I wore 6-inch heels and a strapless tulle dress à la Carey Bradshaw.

I can’t tell you much about the next 20 days, except that it was pretty much a fairytale. Long, long days…. longer than you’ve ever experienced in South Africa. Croissants for breakfast in the tiny garden of your dad’s apartment. Strolling around Notre Dame and picnicking in the shadow of the Eiffel Tour. Lazy cafe dinners at tables that spilled onto cobbled streets… names of which I couldn’t even pronounce. It was surreal for a girl who had never set foot outside of SA before.

Paris September 2008

Two days before I was set to return to SA, your dad asked me to marry him. (A mere 18 days since we first physically met). There was no getting down on one knee, no ring, no fanfare. Just a matter of fact statement during a particularly lovely pizza dinner. “We should get married”

And my very straightforward answer: “I think we should”.

And just like that, we were ‘engaged’. We scrambled to get airline tickets for your dad to come to SA on the same flight as me (I was leaving in 2 days)… but we did it.

I’ll never forget my mother’s face when they picked me up at the airport on 2nd October 2008… introducing your dad to her… she looking so utterly confused. (My poor mother! I love her so!) I had hinted at a sort of, maybe, might be, romance prior to embarking on my trip… but I don’t think anyone – myself included – would have dreamed I’d come back with a fiancé!

We took a month (A MONTH!) to sort out wedding logistics and got married on 1st November 2008.

01 November 2008

I moved to Paris later that same year, saying goodbye to the new job, the new car and taking a significant knock on the cancelled rental lease agreement. Leaving behind the only life I ever knew.

We lived in Paris, in that same tiny apartment for 7 years, making memories, travelling to over 30 cities in various countries around the world (my dream of travelling finally coming true).

Amsterdam 2011
Rome 2012
Crete 2011
Athens 2011
Mexico 2013
Alberobello, Italy, 2012
Venice 2012
Barcelona 2010

We moved back to SA in 2015, just 6 weeks after you two were born… that tiny Parisian apartment definitely too tiny for four!

I wouldn’t call myself a spontaneous person. I’m a planner. I like to think I’ve got a good head on my shoulders. If one of you told me you were flying half-way across the world to meet a guy you met online… well let’s just say it would NEVER happen. The world you will grow up in is very different one…

I took a giant leap of faith that could have easily turned out very differently. What I did was so out of character, so risky…, but also mighty brave, I’d like to think.

It hasn’t been easy, but we’ll be married 10 years this week!

Christmas 2015
Family in 2018

Maybe sometime along the next 10 years my friends will stop mentioning how close I came to being turned into a skin suit.

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I’m off to Europe… so why aren’t I more excited?

I’m leaving for a 20 day Euro Trip in exactly a week’s time.

And while I’m somewhat excited, I’m mostly consumed with guilt. You see… I’m a terrible mom. I’m going without the kids. Whaaaat?! Yep, you heard correctly.

I’m flying off on a fun-filled holiday, and I’m leaving my kids at home. I can’t even use the guise of “business trip”, because honestly, there isn’t going to be any work.

We fly into London via Dubai and spend 5 days exploring the city. My sister is heading there for a Taylor Swift concert, but the days will be filled with touristy activities and pub lunches. I’ve been to London many times but I never tire of the city’s energy.

We then board a Eurostar train for Paris and spend the next 2 weeks in my old home town. I haven’t been back since we moved to SA when the Twincesses were 2 months old! So it will be wonderful to catch up with my friends and family and meet old colleagues again.

We plan to hit the museums and shop the biannual Paris “soldes” (Paris’ world famous sale), that just happens to coincide with our trip… imagine that!

We’ll walk along the Seine and eat baguettes unapologetically each day.

On our last weekend there we will steal away for a whirlwind trip to Amsterdam. I’ve only been to the Dutch capital once before, so it will awesome to see the city again. But I solemnly swear… I’m NOT riding a bicycle in traffic again. I choose life.

So as you can see… a whole lot to look forward to… but the nagging guilt just won’t go away. I’ve tried to ignore it, but today I find myself questioning, analyzing it. Why? Why do I feel guilty?

My kids are probably too little still to appreciate the trip, never mind the cost of traveling to Europe on the ZAR. They’re not on a regular school term schedule, so they’d miss a chunk of school stuff.

But more than the various practical reasons… why shouldn’t I have this? My girls are three years old and it’s the first time I’ll be away from them for an extended period of time. I’ll miss them like crazy… but I need this! I want this! I deserve this!

So here’s to new adventures in the great beyond… and coming back home to where my heart will always reside.

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What it’s like to have a baby overseas – My pregnancy and birth experience in France

I moved to Paris, France in 2009 after my marriage to a French citizen. I had already been residing there for 6 years when we found out we were expecting twins, yet my first thought was to get on a plane (while I was still allowed to fly) and go home to SA.

I wanted to have my pregnancy experience in South Africa. Amidst family and friends and familiarity. With doctors who spoke fluent English. I didn’t know it then, but eventually deciding to have the babies in France was the best decision I ever made.

A twin pregnancy is automatically deemed “high risk”. There was a high possibility of the babies arriving prematurely and my team of doctors were outstanding.

My “social security” benefits covered every doctor visit, including ultrasounds (I had monthly visits and scans due to being high risk). It also covered the numerous blood tests and screening tests that are performed in the first trimester. Other benefits included antenatal classes and physiotherapy for lower back and sciatic pain.

I developed gestational diabetes about halfway through my pregnancy and was immediately referred to a diabetologist. I had weekly meetings with this specialist that included meal planning, testing and going over my daily finger-prick glucose records.

Pregnant women can collect a “badge” from their local municipality which ensures they receive a seat on any of the public transport modalities. I traveled to and from work on the metro, but found I never needed the badge, as I was automatically ushered to a seat each time I stepped onto the train.

My birth experience itself was a little traumatic, due to hemorrhage after my C-section, and I was particularly thankful to be in a world class hospital. The hospital was amazing! The private room was of hotel standard… really! Equipped with a large cupboard, flat screen TV, modern baby bassinet and bath, sofa and a large reclining chair that converted into a bed.

My pre-delivery room had a large hot tub where I could “work through the contractions” although I never used it.

The standard of care was amazing! The hospital provided literally everything we needed in the first few days for both myself and the babies. My glucose levels were monitored closely as well the swelling in my legs (with daily anticoagulant injections).

I had a lactation specialist visit me in my room to walk me through the initial breastfeeding experience.

The girls had their assessments done by my bedside and this included hearing testing.

The staff were so invested in us and our well-being… it was unbelievable to think we were just another patient.

Hospital meals were not only edible, but actually delicious, and came with a cheese course. It was after all, France.

A municipal officer visited our room to register the girls in private. We received their birth certificates two days later which she hand-delivered.

We left the hospital exactly 7 days after the girls were born. Correctly installed car seats were mandatory.

Post natal care for the babies included vaccines/ growth and development assessments and a mandatory ultrasound on the girl’s hips as they were both breech In utero.

For me, apart from (more) glucose testing, I was also covered for 20 sessions of “pelvic re-education” which is a type of psychical therapy to retrain and tighten the muscles of the pelvic floor. I’m NOT kidding. The French take this very seriously.

I had a midwife visit us at home a few days after we settled, and this was also fully covered by the social security benefits. She spent a good few hours with us, helping me with breastfeeding challenges and discussing the routine we had going. She checked the babies weight, and vitals and specifically looked for lip-tie issues.

After all this, I got to enjoy 34 weeks (yes, you read correctly) of fully paid maternity leave. Parents are then welcome to take time off from work (until the child reaches 3 years of age), to raise their children, while their job and salary is guaranteed to them when they return. They receive a social grant during this time if they opt for this benefit.

I am so happy with my ultimate decision to have continued with my pregnancy and birth in France. From the experiences some of my friends describe, I think South Africa still has a way to go to ensure the birthing experience is pleasant and enjoyable for families.

How was your birth experience? Anything stand out for you? Let me know in the comments.
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Flying with Kids – Lessons from a Survivor!

Flying with kids – it’s the stuff nightmares are made of for most parents, amiright?

1Well, it was for me anyway. The Twincesses were a mere 6 weeks old when we took an 11 hour flight from Paris, France to Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport.

We then had a 4 hour layover in Johannesburg before boarding a domestic flight to Durban. The weeks preceding the big trip literally gave me sleepless nights. Being a seasoned traveller, I was well aware of the exasperated “looks” and nasty comments parents sometimes deal with when flying with a fussy toddler.

I’ve collaborated with Travelstart to bring you some great tips for traveling with kids, so if you’re about to board a plane soon, little one in tow, read on for some helpful advice.

ZA_21Dec_FlyKids_Design_Infographic_800px_201217We followed Travelstart’s tips to the letter. We did our research and booked bulkhead seats in advance that came equipped with baby bassinets. We knew we could take our infant car seats on board, which alleviated the anxiety of them getting damaged in the hold.

Doing your research also helps to ensure you have all your travel documents ready as laws have changed dramatically in recent years regarding travelling with children. We had to apply for passports for the babies prior to travelling with them and the passport renewal process can sometimes be a bit confusing.

We packed clothes for all weathers in our carry-on luggage and a few extra sets for those inevitable ‘oopsies’. We were allowed to carry on board baby formula which the cabin crew were happy to heat up for us.

I ensured we had OTC pain medication in our carry on, as well as their favorite plush toys. We avoided toys that made any kind of noise (like rattles).

I was grateful to be able to book a flight that left Paris at 11:30pm, and to my amazement and utter joy, BOTH girls slept soundly throughout the flight, waking only to feed at intervals. I had been a nervous wreck for nothing!

Hearing the first-hand experiences of other parents also gave me some much-needed confidence prior to the trip.

 

Flying with kids can sometimes be stressful for the parent, but it is often a necessity and being prepared makes the trip enjoyable for everyone on board.

Our plan is to take the kids back to Paris this year to visit the family, and I will definitely be revisiting all Travelstart’s top tips prior to the journey!

Disclaimer: This post is in collaboration with Travelstart. All opinions remain my own.
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Why I chose to raise my kids in South Africa

Why on earth would you leave France to come back to SA?

Its a question I get asked so often – and my response always varies.I lived in Paris, France for 7 years, but as soon as we found out we were expecting the Twincesses, we started planning to relocate to South Africa.

Part of that decision was due to the fact that I wanted my children to have a childhood similar to mine. A childhood of sunny days at the beach, surrounded by family. Days of playing with their friends outside and riding their bikes up and down the neighborhood streets.

I know that SO MUCH has changed in South Africa since I was a child though. Crime has escalated exponentially, and the days of playing in the streets are well and truly over for most kids in South Africa. Yet, I don’t see our decision to relocate to SA as a gamble… I see it as a leap of faith.IMG_1822

My kids will only have one childhood. And my intention is to fill that childhood with wonderful memories for them to cherish when they are older. Part of those memories will be having their extended family around them. The biggest motivating factor for me to make the move back was my family. They are all in South Africa, and I did not want my kids growing up to feel like strangers around them. Watching them with their grandma … my heart melts. I wouldn’t trade it for a million euros!

Space was another deciding factor for us. We lived in the heart of Paris, a stone’s throw from the famous Notre Dame Cathedral. But our apartment was a mere 45m2. That’s pretty average by city-dwelling standards…but i could NOT imagine raising TWO children in that cramped space. Yes, there was the option to move – buy a bigger place, but that would have meant a mortgage or rental, and most definitely a place OUTSIDE of the city, as real estate prices in Paris are through the roof!

While in SA, we reside in a four bedroom house with a large backyard, large, open spaces to have the extended family over for braais and sleepovers, and our very own pool which the kids just adore. We could never have had this in France. And don’t get me started on the weather!

IMG_1763

We did not make the decision to relocate to South Africa lightly. We had 2 stable, well-paying jobs and left it all for a step into the unknown. We considered various factors such as the cost of living, healthcare, quality of life and safety. We thought about it long and hard, and changed our minds at least twice before finally deciding to take the leap of faith.

There are some days when I question my decision (opening a newspaper normally does that)…but do I regret my choice to raise my children in South Africa? A resounding NO.

THIS is where we are meant to be right now. The option to go back to France will always be there as dual nationality makes it relatively simple to reconsider….and it may very well be something we do in the future when the girls are older (as the thought of them being teenagers in SA sometimes scares me)… but for now, right here is where we belong.

And I intend to live our lives to the fullest, and enjoy every moment in our sunny, vibrant country that has SO MUCH going for it, in spite of all the negativity.

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