Monday Night, Madrid

IMG_9281We just had an awesomely busy day for our first day in Madrid. It started with a run around Retiro Park, with some burpees and a little meditation by a beautiful oak tree. Nothing like a tree to give me some grounding. Aaaah such a yogi…

Then it was work (we have two new retreat packages up on the J&O site!!) and off to the supermarket, both of which were fun because I’m in Madrid.

Our grocery shop for a couple of days cost 30 Euro. The tomatoes are so tasty and parma ham is 1 Euro. Nappies are 5. Shit is cheap. And delicious.

Then I had some alone time as L looked after J. I made fritatta in the hostel kitchen for the team (always a challenge cooking in a hostel kitchen if you’re not making pasta or toast) and then wandered down to national art museum. Admission is free from 7-9pm. I’m glad it was free. I had an epiphany that I don’t actually like art museums that much. The building was gorgeous, and don’t get me wrong, it’s kinda cool seeing something that Picasso painted but perhaps I’m just not cultured enough…

Madrid

I also had another epiphany about how lucky I am. Sitting in the square by the museum, drinking a 2.00 glass of rose. Amazing. I feel like I may have popped out of a really weird bubble. A pregnancy, motherhood/new mother, sleep deprived bubble. It’s really weird and surreal. I haven’t been counting my blessings, and appreciating how fortunate I am. And also how proud of myself I am for navigating what has been a crazy/beautiful/challenging year.

A Hard Day’s Night

Up at 5.30am after 7 night wake-ups. One of which lasted two hours. My body and what it is capable of considering a year of sleep deprivation astounds me. I keep thinking ‘this can’t last, it has to stop soon’ and yet it continues night after night. We were doing a bit better in NZ and now a cold, bad cough and jet lag have compounded the situation. Poor little Nugget. Poor Mummy. And now poor Emily as she has to share a room with us insomniacs. Fortunately it seems like she is a heavy sleeper, and also has a great pair of earplugs.

Acceptance. It only comes truly when faced with something completely unacceptable. Jack’s sleep feels like that to me, although I know I haven’t quite accepted the fact that this is what he is like, that this is just what life is like right now. I can’t accept it. I keep desperately clinging to visions of a future where there is a full night’s sleep waiting for me. To sink into blissfully and completely. I keep hoping and praying it will change, that I’ll get five hours in a row sometime soon. That’s all I ask. Five. Solid. Hours.

Talk about an obsession. Sleep. No wonder this is used as a form of torture. I get it. The adrenaline surge hits me the worst at about 4am and then I just can’t switch off any more, hence I’m sitting on the toilet floor writing this. The irony is that this is also the time that Jack usually goes into a deep sleep for a couple of hours.

All that nonsense aside, The Netherlands have been wonderful so far. Amsterdam is now one of my favorite places; the people, the buildings, the history…all of it. Even exhausted it’s an incredible city. And we got to hang out with my cousin Sahna and her little boy Ethan. Cuzzie-time. We’re in Rotterdam, a tidy, modern Dutch city where bikes rule the roads and the zoo is epic. Our hostel/hotel has an outstanding breakfast buffet, the thought of which kept me going through the night.

Today we shoot my first episode since re-joining Luke on the trip. It’s at a an abandoned water-park that’s now being sued as a sustainable mushroom farm. I’m looking forward to it. And then hopefully a nap afterwards.

Hello, Good-bye City of Angels

Bird's Eye Los AngelesAfter a f’n nightmare of a flight, perhaps even the worst we’ve had out of about 35 flights in the past 6 months we arrived in LA.

I have to say, Air New Zealand needs to sort out the design and placement of their bassinets. Crawling under that every time you need to get outI’d pick a seat with a spare one next to it any day of the week.

The best part was that the two touch TV screens are basically in the bassinet with the baby so if bubs realizes that touching this big black square thing turns it into a flashing big black square thing, all is lost. I spent two hours hunching forward over the bassinet doing my ‘lie-down, lie-down’ repertoire as Jack sat up, touched the screens, I turned them off again and he lay down. Two hours.The days of watching a couple of movies and reading my kindle…where did they go? And most importantly, why didn’t I appreciate them more?

I have never been known as a patient person and if I’m tired I have a pretty short fuse. I am constantly amazed at my patience with my son. Of course at times I have to walk away and have more than a few deep breaths but the depth of my tolerance has surprised me, and my parents.

However, after two hours of this I was in tears and very, very fortunately for me the flight attendant let me camp out in the back row for a few hours with Jack sleeping across two seats. Everything was a bit easier just a few weeks ago when I could just feed him to sleep and if he woke up, boob-back-in-there worked a treat. He’s too old for that now. Bugger.

My day in LA was very grounding. With only one day here I had to prioritize. I got to practice yoga with one of my fave teacher’s at his new studio Yogaraj and then have lunch with him and another best yogi friend. Jack’s LA Babcia (Polish for Grandmother) baby sat. Then we took a little trip to Whole Foods and the day was complete.

It’s the littlest things that make such a huge difference now. A-four hour stretch of sleep feels like eight, going for a pedicure is like my birthday and Christmas rolled into one, quiet times reading my book are like I’ve died and gone to heaven, a yoga class feels like a week-long vacation from myself.

And then there’s the other little things, like when Jack gives me his soft little open mouth kisses or reaches his little hand up into mine or watching those wobbly little kegs get stronger and more stable and hearing him say ‘Mum-mum.’ Those little things are the very best.

Hit the Road Jack (and Claire)

IMG_7591I’m about to hit the road again with my little Muffin. He’s a little bit older, a little bit wiser and a lot more active. It will be interesting.

We’ve ticked South America off our list and while it was challenging, to say the least, there were many moments I will treasure and many, many places I am so thankful to have seen.

What did I learn from those first few months on the road?

I learned that a) traveling with a baby is hard, b) traveling with a baby is a great weight-loss tool, c) traveling is hard on relationships, and finally, d) no nanny at all is waaaaaay better than a half-assed, faux “Manny.”

I also saw some pretty gnarly dark things in myself and how I deal with work-based relationships, particularly when my son is involved. I also saw the importance of understanding and setting expectations – when there is ‘grey area’ there is trouble.

I also learned that I don’t like blogging/writing when I’m stressed and tired. So this time I’m going to really make an attempt to keep on top of at least a blog a week. The fact that we have Emily our new nanny with us is going to make all the difference. It will be incredible to be able to leave Jack with someone who is inspiring, active and fun and understands the concept of being a nanny. Most of all, she wants to be the nanny. I have so many thoughts on (some) men’s attitudes towards child-raising and childcare…but I’ll keep those to myself…

I’m setting sail armed with a lot more knowledge and tricks but one thing I have learned is that, I know nothing. Babies change, almost daily. Flexibility is the key, communication a must and most of all knowing that if everyone is honestly doing their best, then nothing more can be said.

I sleep, therefore I am.

Sleeping womanLast night my one-year-old son slept 5.5 hours hours in a row. A mundane fact to most, but for me, it is a ‘Hallelujah!! Explode with pride and momentous amounts of relief moment.

The best part is that I slept too. Five hours, a record since his birth a year ago.

At four-months-old Jack went from waking 1-2 times a night to waking almost every two hours. This has continued until now. Nine months of broken, interrupted sleep. Sleep that is not refreshing nor do I look forward to bed. I never remember my dreams like I used to and wake feeling like the day will be impossible. It has been incomprehensible, unacceptable and combined with four months of travel through South America, a recipe for self-destruction.

Being a Mum is the most physically demanding job I’ve ever had. I thought my natural, water birth had pushed me to my limits. I was wrong. Give me eight hours of agony over a year of haphazard sleep any day of the week.

Sleep depravation has broken me. Broken me to a point I had never experienced before. I knew something was seriously wrong, the grey haze never lifted and I kept wondering if I was ever going to feel excited or happy again. My vulnerability became needy, desperate. I was/am argumentative, moody and emotional. I have been exhausted. I have seen how easy it is to become a martyr, a nag, a whiner. Like anyone in the throes of extreme sleeplessness I became irrational and manic. Jack’s sleep and naps were an obsession, the boredom of this obsession hurt my brain.

The constant hit of adrenaline and cortisol as you’re jolted from sleep every few hours plays havoc with your nervous system. I gave up coffee as after a cup I felt like I was going to have heart attack.

The strain on a relationship is heavy. I’d heard the first year after after having a baby tests even the strongest of partnerships. But if there are already cracks, then they widen until there is so much distance it’s a crevasse. Throughout this there are always choices, but tiredness makes the best choice hard. Tiredness and stress gives the subconscious power, autopilot is easy. You can choose to go deeper together, or belay the ‘f’ out.

Like depression, you can’t see any way out of it. For a few weeks I seriously considered anti-depressants, something I never thought would ever ‘need’. But the thought of some kind of reprieve from the greyness, the anxiety, the cortisol was like a soothing balm. I needed I short break, a rest from my mind.

I read this statistic. “Over 50% of post-natal depression can be resolved in a few days when the baby learns to sleep through the night, i.e the link between maternal sleep depravation and depression is very strong.”

It made me feel better. Like I wasn’t going nuts. Like I would make it.

Meanwhile you continue to love your child deeply and unconditionally. You give and give and give. The well of love is endless. Mother Nature made this bond possibly the strongest of all. The survival of the human race depends on it. The will to look after your baby usurps the will to look after yourself. Each morning their smile makes it all worthwhile.

And the crazy thing is that I wouldn’t change it. I wouldn’t change him. If I could afford a full-time nanny to take over I wouldn’t want that. What I have learned and seen about my Self cannot be unlearned and Jack knows that no matter what I will always be there for him, even at night.

When I arrived back to New Zealand those closest to me saw it before I did, my brother remarked I had become very ‘serious’ and my Mother, well she was just worried. It wasn’t that I didn’t recognize myself, I felt extinguished.

A sleep deprived new Mum needs as much help as she can get. She needs compassion, understanding and support. She needs home and family and friends. She needs her Mother while she is being a Mother. She needs people who will allow her to prioritize herself again. She needs sleep. She also needs exercise, vitamin C and Magnesium.

This lowest point for me exposed so much of myself I didn’t even know was there. Sleep deprivation didn’t cause the anger, the sadness, the emptiness, it exposed what was and is there. It’s not the situation that’s to blame, the situation just triggers what’s deep inside. And with no will to muster the energy to call on a ‘personality’ to cover this the darkness up, it’s right there exposed and it’s ok.

Motherhood keeps me learning and relearning all that I thought I knew about myself.

He is still sleeping like poop. He just can’t switch off for long. I’m hoping it means he’s a genius. Anyway, that one night of 5.5 hours was a cruel tease as the next day he got a cold and conjunctivitis. Murphy and his f*cking law.

I do know that it won’t last forever. And finding grace and dignity in this situation is something I’m working on. What doesn’t kill you, will either make you stronger, or bat-shit crazy.

Jack’s Top Five Healthy Travel Snacks

healthy snacks for babiesI soon realized that snacks aren’t just a nutritional necessity for Jack but if you do it right, they can become a distraction and fun ‘activity’ on long flights, boat-rides, taxis, buses, in transit to the airport…I could go on but you get the idea.

So here are five healthy snacks for babies that Jack really enjoys.

1. Dried Mango
dried mango snacksJack can happily suck and chew on a piece of dried mango for at least 30 minutes, which in baby time is a long-ass time. On one very turbulent 2.5 hour boat ride between islands in the Galapagos, other passengers on the boat couldn’t believe how long it distracted him for.

2. Happy Puffs
happy puffs

These little tiny little rice flour puffs are not only a great distraction but were awesome at developing the ‘pincher grip’ for Jack. He spent aaaaages attempting to pick the little puffs out of a cup.

I like the greens flavor as whenever I can I try and limit the sugar in jack’s snacks on the road – flipping hard to do. The best part is they don’t have any gluten. I have also broken up rice puff crackers when I ran out of puffs.

 

3. Fruit
avocadoKind of obvious but fruit has been our lifesaver. I need things that are soft and portable so fruit has been a go to in these tropical countries.

Banana, pineapple, watermelon, mango, you name it, Jack loves it. Fruit that has to be peeled is great because you know it will be safe and on top of this list is Avocado as you get some fat and protein too, not just carbs.

4. Coconut water and flesh
Coconut-WaterThis snack has been available on the side of the road pretty regularly and serves the double purpose of hydration and nutrition. I fill his bottle with the liquid and scoop out the flesh for him. This is a potassium and antioxidant rich food is one of his faves. Luke got pretty good at cracking these babies open.

5. Scrambled egg in butter
scrambled eggsProtein and healthy fats are really, really important for little bubbas and the choline in eggs really boosts brain development – not that Jack needs that as he’s already Mensa material we reckon. We usually stay in hostels so I can quickly whip up some eggs as a high protein snack, cooked in a little grass-fed butter to add some more healthy fats. This is a great finger food if you scrambled the eggs until firm.

 

Places We Stay – Santa Maria Volcano Lodge, Colonia Blanca, Costa Rica

We drove up to Colonia Blanca with hopes of seeing and hiking some of the volcanoes up there. Unfortunately the weather was pretty crappy and we didn’t even catch a glimpse of a volcano let alone clamber up one. The lodge we stayed at was kind of the same too and a bit damp and chilly. We had a room with four bunk beds and a teeny bathroom. Cold showers made the experience feel even chillier and damper.IMG_5903However, the food at this little lodge was outstanding, perhaps the best we had in Costa Rica. Each day there is a set menu of traditional Costa Rican dishes, their Gallo Pinto – beans, rice and eggs was delish but the whole fried fish we had on our last night was the winner. Milk comes fresh from the cow each morning and I was having at least 3 cups of coffee each day because of that milk. I think this little spot would be a hell of a lot more charming if the weather had been better but it was worth the trip for the food alone!

Jack's Tent

Galapagos Islands – Every Little Butt Counts

This was the most exciting episode to shoot so far because it took me back to my days as an actual reporter. When our original ‘talent’ fell through on our last day in the Galapagos, Luke and I rode around on bikes trying to find another story.

It was awesome.

I flourish under pressure and just like in the newsroom, failure just wasn’t an option. Serendipity and a bit of luck were on our side when we literally bumped into the star of our Galapagos episode – we’d heard about him in Costa Rica. This man has an incredible story and it was an honor to spend the day with him.

 

The Society of Friends

The Monteverde Cloud forest is home to a community of Quakers that has flourished since they settled there almost 30-odd years ago. Before meeting this amazing group of people I had no idea what being a ‘Quaker’ meant. I just thought it was another division of Christianity. However, Quakers are far less about God and religion and far more about love, acceptance and community.

This episode is all about Benito, the son of the one of the community’s founders. This dairy-farming, basket weaving, stilt-walking dude has an incredible story, particularly about his community and their support when he ‘came out’ later in life.

 

Places We Stay – Posada Lapas, Oratina, Costa Rica

Posada LapasThe first stop on our Million Ways to Live adventure was Costa Rica; and our first home away from home was Posada Lapas just outside of Oratina – about two hours from San Jose.

It was basic, simple accommodation Costa Rican-style – a wooden house with big open glassless windows and once we were there we really felt like we’d arrived in CR.  This little guest-house had three bedrooms and was fully equipped with all the necessities like a kitchen, comfy beds and a shower. We were woken up at 6am by the morning chorus of the local flock of ‘Lapas’ or ‘Scarlet Macaws’.

Luke and Bensen get their yoga on in the kitchen.
Luke and Bensen get their yoga on in the kitchen.

Posada Lapas is owned by a charming couple from San Jose who have a weekend home on the property. Jack and I spent the day with them sitting by the little freshwater pool on the property, attempting to communicate in a mix of broken English and Spanish. In walking distance there are little streams to take a dip in, a cool local bar that does a killer ceviche and hikes in the mountains.

We made friends with the neighbor’s dog and went for lots of walks and J had his first fresh-water swim. Jack in the StreamFor us it was the perfect place to stop for a night after our flight from the US, before starting our adventure up to Colonia Blanca.

The River near Posada Lapas