Dahab: Diving and Falling…..

So, I’m sat in this fantastic quirky cafe on the shore line of the Red Sea in Dahab, Egypt, with this gorgeous man lying in my lap. He reads whilst I type this blog. I was meant to be alone but just a few weeks ago I impulsively asked him to come with me and he impulsively agreed.

The original idea was for me to get my adventurous pre-motherhood self back as a treat after having pneumonia over Christmas. My beautiful daughter is on her first holiday with her Dad and so I knew I had a week to play with. After some exploring I settled on guaranteed heat in Egypt and decided to revisit a travelling destination from 15 years ago- Dahab. All that time ago I went with 3 dear friends from school and Uni. I bottled the scuba diving back then whilst only one of my buddies was brave enough. When she regaled us with her stories I instantly regretted not doing it, hence it being number 10 on my list I wrote of goals to do when I became a single mum. Also, my ex would never have done it. Now, I can live my life and not his and even better revisit a place I love which has no memories associated with him either. I also knew it was a well worn backpacker paradise and I would meet people on the scuba diving course as well as have an opportunity to relax and snorkel safely on my own.

But then he came. We’re on day five. I’ve only known him 2 months. It’s like I’ve never not known him and sharing everything, including the 3 day adventure of scuba diving, feels so good; so natural.image

image It’s been an intense few days but at no point have I got bored of him or the things we’re doing. We’ve been on the same page throughout and it feels amazing. And apart from the obvious connection and friendship we’re building I bloody fancy the arse of him! Everything is refreshing: his creativity, his kindness, his honesty and his big sparkly blue eyes.

The Open Water Diving course was done in 3 days. Both of us feel a sense of pride and satisfaction, especially as we’ve both admitted its been one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. It was worth it to witness the majestic coral and fish and the zen-like meditative qualities of breathing under water. He was my diving buddy and I know it sounds cheesy but it has bonded us to share something so different, challenging and unforgettable. Even better is that I know he’s pretty smitten about me too. I feel myself falling in love and the emotion feels all brand new.

Is this just the holiday talking? The inevitable relaxation, break from the norm, sea, sun and shisha pipe affecting me? So what if it is? I’m going to enjoy it and what it drives me to do. One thing it has me itching to do is rewrite that ‘list’ which featured scuba diving. I’m a different person now- healed, heart mended and stronger for the love of my beautiful daughter and that strength makes me want to write anew to reflect that. Scuba diving? Done.

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Mini-Break

This weekend, baby girl and I set off on an airplane to sunny Devon to visit my sister. I couldn’t face the 5 hour journey so a flight from Manchester seemed ideal. It also seemed like a good idea to do a trial run before a longer flight to Spain in a few weeks- who’d have thought I’d travelled to Hong Kong when she was 7 months old?! God it’s easier when they don’t walk and talk! It was- we were there in no time, baby girl didn’t kick off about being in the car seat and we arrived without me feeling stressed or knackered. What a glorious weekend to choose! The sun was out and my folks were there too as it was my Mum’s birthday and baby girl was the little adorable firecracker she can be rather than the temper tantrum beast she has occasionally become in recent weeks. I have been having another bout of sleep issues recently and spoke to the Health Visitor at length about a new age appropriate sleep training routine as seemingly letting her cry no longer works just causes more anxiety. Yet, weirdly, I have had the best sleep this weekend. Baby girl has been staying up late but we have also been tiring her out with sea air. Perhaps also because we slept in the same room baby girl was comforted and slept through like a dream. It was a mini break because I slept and because we did wonderful holiday things like a boat ride and the beach. It was also a mini break from the old routine and the calm before the storm before hardcore sleep training begins. I now feel warmed by the sun, refreshed and ready for some bumpy nights.

Maternity Matters: East Vs. West

I decided that life doesn’t stop when you have a baby and certainly not because you are a single parent. To me motherhood is a new adventure and so I decided to go on holiday to stay with a dear friend who lives in Hong Kong. I have always traveled to far-flung and exotic places and, within reason, I did not want being a mum stopping that.

As I was taking baby girl with me, my friend had arranged for some of her girl friends, some with and some without babies to come over for lunch. It was a lovely afternoon with champagne and delicious finger foods, which I munched on relentlessly.

It was not only lovely to meet some of my friend’s friends but it was also fascinating to discover and discuss with them how the other half live with babies. I was shocked to learn that mums in Hong Kong can only take a maximum of 10 weeks maternity leave. Say what?! 10 months, surely, I hear you cry. No. Ten flipping weeks. The thought of going back to work when my baby was only 10 weeks old horrifies me. In the UK you can take up to 1 year. I go back to work in July when my baby will be nearly 9 months old. That feels about right for me and of course every woman is different.

It was not only the length of maternity leave that is so different. If you are Chinese, extended family is very important and they will help to look after the baby if you are a  mum who wants to go back to work. If you are an ex-pat or rich you get the Phillipino maid/help to do it for you. Now, the benefits here are obvious – cheap and onsite 24/7 child care. In the UK, placing your child in a nursery is like taking out a second mortgage. Ouch. The other benefit is that if you are going back to work after 10 weeks the live in help can help with the night shift. You also have built in babysitters on tap.

However, I know I would feel massively territorial knowing that the helper was experiencing all those amazing firsts with my child: first roll, sitting up, weaning etc. I would loathe the help and resent not being integral to my child’s development at such a young age. Not to mention the fabulous baby and mother play and sensory activities that I am a part of in the UK. They are a great way to meet other mums as well as bond with your child and see them develop. They don’t seem to exist for Mums as they are back to work so quickly in HK.

Mums in Hong Kong also have similar pressures with breastfeeding as we do in the UK. One mum, who I had met, had been expressing furiously (moo!) every 3 hours for her 5 week old knowing that her return to work was immanent and she wanted to continue breastfeeding as long as possible as guidelines tell you to. Her freezer was stacked with the stuff. Admirable but even though I breastfeed I have never gotten on well with expressing and would have struggled if roles were reversed.

I go back to work in a few weeks and despite my myriad of pressures and dilemmas of becoming a single parent, moving home and an impending divorce, I am looking forward to different kin dof challenge again. But I will miss my maternity leave. Once the baby blues fog (and shock of my separation) had lifted, I have cherished every part of my time with my baby girl on maternity leave. I have loved experimenting with activities, weaning, baby meal recipes, swimming as well as going long haul on holiday and taking her and me out of our comfort zone. I have not enjoyed the sleep challenges and therefore grateful I didn’t have to go to work on top of being sleep deprived. I feel very lucky in my situation that I am from the UK and although statutory pay is nominal if your work does not have a good maternity pay package, it is better than nothing and adequate if there are 2 of you or you have saved for your little one. http://www.dwp.gov.uk/publications/specialist-guides/technical-guidance/ni17a-a-guide-to-maternity/statutory-maternity-pay-smp/smp-amount/

People in the UK often moan about it because of the crap weather, tax or welfare system or European immigration and other such things. However, I am a real anglophile and love England and being English. Maternity leave is yet another area where I am proud and feel grateful that I am from and live in the UK.

On that note, I’m off to have a cup of tea, in a pub, whilst watching a spot of cricket and I shall then grab some fish and chips for my dinner!

Long Haul to Hong Kong

Baby girl and I just got back from our first holiday together and I only flipping went and took her to China. Hong Kong to be precise. It was certainly an adventure for both of us. I don’t think anything will phase me as a Mum from now on – in the space of 6 months I’ve given birth, separated from my husband, adapted to single motherhood, sold and moved from my house, spent a night in A & E with baby girl and then went long haul to a very different climate and culture with a baby. Some stressful, and others, a breath of fresh air.

Hong Kong was the latter. Just what the doctor ordered and it confirmed to me that life doesn’t have to stop when you have a baby. It just changes. I’m now the queen of adapting and seemingly, like mother like daughter. Baby girl took to the culture change with ease. You could tell she knew she was somewhere new and exciting and that the people around her were different and she absorbed all the new sights and sounds with a smile and a curious glint in her eye. She was even a well mannered dinner guest, who simply wanted to join the table and the conversation by sitting on someone’s lap. She is a sociable little thing. I had visited Hong Kong 10 years earlier to visit the same friends I stayed with this time, so I had already done the city slicking, hussle bussle, nightlife and tourist attraction holiday. This was very different and perfect for me and baby girl. So, what did we do and see?

Well, I mainly stayed around Sai Kung, where my friends live. It is like the equivalent of Brighton if you live in London: cool, one hour commute to the city, by the sea, great if you want to raise a family (I’m not sure about it’s gay credentials, unlike Brighton!). We took strolls along the promenade and explored the restuarants, temple and shops of the town. On one of the clear and sunny days we too a junk boat ferry over to an island and to Hap Mun Bay. It was baby girls’ first boat trip, first experience of sand and sea. However, the facilities at the beach were not fantastic and the showers did not work so sand got everywhere. Trying to change a nappy and a baby out of her swimming costume whilst trying to wet wipe off sand was mission impossible. After a couple of minutes of squirming and crying she didn’t seemed to mind to much. She needed a good bath once we were home though!

We also went to Mong Konk and explored the shops and the Ladies Market for a spot of haggling and souvenir buying. I got a rather nice fake Mulberry handbag and a sweet pair of Chinese pyjamas for baby girl. Cute! Baby girl was not too phased by the crowds but using a stroller around the busy city was a bit like an obstacle course.

I was also privileged enough to hang out with my friend’s friends, some of which also have babies. It was great to see how the other half live and it was very relaxing to just hang out and chat to people who call Hong Kong their home. I think if it was not for baby girl and the stifling climate it would be somewhere I could live – you could do the work hard play hard life on Hong Kong Island and be carefree. With a baby? Not so much. And the climate is a killer – when we arrived it was 31 degrees, with 97% humidity. I didn’t know you could get sweaty babies but it turns out in that heat you can. I also experienced a ‘black weather’ warning. In the UK it would be the same as a ‘snow day’. Schools are cancelled and people are advised not to go to work. It meant I couldn’t do my sightseeing trip to the Star Ferry on my last day but at least I could say I saw the coolest thunder and lightening storm and by heck did it rain.

I have to also say you can’t get a bad meal in Hong Kong and the variety was fantastic. Amongst other things, we ate Thai food, awesome Indian curry and great sushi where baby girl was mesmerized by the conveyer belt delivering dishes. A revelation was fermented tofu. My friends ordered it as a sauce over water spinach. It tastes like blue cheese but without the clacky finish in your mouth. That was served as a side to Wanton Mein noodles. All washed down with a refreshing Tsing Dao beer. Mmmmm, nom nom nom.

Having done long haul for the first time there are some things I would do the same and some a little differently. So I thought from my experienced I would compile a list of top tips for traveling somewhere hot with a baby.

  1. Book night flights – especially if flying long haul.
  2. Buy a UV black out sun-screen for the stroller/pram. They can be protected from the sun and you can Jedi mind trick them into thinking it is nighttime so they can sleep whilst you are out and about.  You can also get UV umbrellas.
  3. Never go out with your baby in the midday sun. Always put factor 50 sun block on even if they are shaded and remember a hat.
  4. Take a light-weight baby sling with you. Some times strollers get in the way. I found this especially in a busy city atmosphere like Hong Kong.
  5. Don’t be a slave to routine. Follow the baby’s cues for naps etc, especially if you have traveled long haul. Go with the flow and see it as a holiday for both of you.
  6. Buy a natural bug repellent like Citronella, which comes in sticker form that you can stick onto the baby’s clothes or on the stroller to ward of bugs. This was especially useful as you weren’t rubbing horrid stringent stuff onto their delicate skin.
  7. If your baby is weaned make sure they drink plenty of cool boiled water.
  8. Investigate the travel infrastructure – this is where a sling comes into it’s own if there are no lifts to help you from a subway system or places to stand with a stroller on a bus. In Hong Kong I was also prepared to ride in taxis with baby girl even though there was no car seat available and she had to sit on my knee. Sometimes it’s just easier but others may feel it is too risky.
  9. Don’t forget your jabs and travel insurance! (Obvs!)

Sleepless in Sai Kung

I couldn’t sleep last night due to thinking about my ex, my baby’s Dad. I was thinking about what an idiot he is. Since our break up (discover why in Bombshell), I have had to give myself a firm talking to on several occasions about my feelings towards him. I have to communicate with him with regards to our beautiful daughter and am keeping a lid on a myriad of emotions in order to be civil. But one emotion I vowed I would never feel is sorry for him, no matter how often he tries to make out his life is shit.

However, since coming on a long haul adventure to Hong Kong to visit a dear friend, I do feel pity for him. And that’s what I was thinking about last night whilst the aircon whirred in the background and my daughter snuffled in her sleep next to me.

Why pity? Well, I think I pity him because of his pathetic and short sighted choices. No one said being a parent and adapting to how life would change was going to be easy. But in the early days of baby girl’s life, when I was an anxious, sleep deprived mess and she was a screaming baby, I know he thought, ‘is this it?’, ‘life’s over!’. He never tried to persevere or play the long game that I knew parenthood was. But I knew that life wasn’t over but just different and a new adventure with our daughter was ahead of us. It was meant to be a new beginning not the end. I knew that then and I know it even more now, hence my traveling to Hong Kong. I used to go on such adventures with her Dad. Well, he didn’t want to come along for this new adventure in parenthood, so we will do it together the two of us in a different but no less exhilarating way.

It is a totally different holiday to one I have ever taken. I have to be careful about the heat because if I am overheating sure enough, baby girl is. I’m not out getting drunk and am in early doors, but that’s fine as I’m staying with friends and we can make our own fun by catching up. My friends live in an area called Sai Kung. It’s a lovely town by the sea and out of the hussle and bussle of Kowloon or Hong Kong Island. It’s lovely for families and therefore perfect, for me and baby girl to explore.

Jet lag has not seemed to be an issue as I have just gone with the flow with her naps and sleeping. She has been curious and absorbed all the new sights and sounds around her. The locals are treating her as a celebrity with her blond hair and big blue eyes and she is charming the pants off them in return. She is smiling and giggling at them and has even learnt to wave on this trip as she has been waved at so often! ‘Hello!’ I say and wave and she waves with both arms too. So adorable! She has been no trouble at restaurants and will happily join us on my lap with little fuss. She has even learnt to drink more water from her cup because of all the heat – she must be thirsty! We also took her for her first boat trip to the beach, which was her first experience of sea and sand. Her first swim in the sea was in the South China Sea, no less and of course because she loves the water, she smiled the whole while, even though the sea was a bit chilly. Baby girl has excelled herself on this trip and I couldn’t be more in love with her.

So yes, I feel pity for my ex. Sure, she’s cute with him but he has her for such a limted time that he may never see the wonders and joy she brings to others and her alert, gregarious and sociable nature. All the wonderful things she does and her cute expressions he may never know because I have the time and unique relationship to bring out the best in her. It should have been shared. What an idiot. Pathetic. In the wise words of Mr. T: I pity the fool.

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Our Long Haul Adventure

The bassinette in front of me looks far more uncomfortable than the seat I am sat in, which feels like it barely reclines.  It’s not far off a box. Baby girl is squeezed into as she is a little too long for it. The itchy blanket the airline provides, lies underneath.  I am writing this because I cannot sleep as the air is hot and stuffy. Nothing seems to bother her at all, though and she is sound asleep.

The beauty of being a baby, hey? There I was, all concerned about her ears popping on take off and over-tiredness. There was no need to worry at all.  Once we were seated I zipped her up in her sleeping bag, plonked her on my boob for take off, which was at 21.55 and she was so stimulated and overtired with the excitement of the airport that she promptly fell asleep and has been that way ever since with sporadic moans that boobs help to soothe. I think the darkness and the constant white noise drone of the aircraft help too.

My experience so far of traveling alone with a 6 month old baby has been excellent. I flew from Heathrow and staff there could not have been more helpful. The security man, who I discovered in the space of 2 minutes was a Man Utd fan, helped me with sorting out my handluggage and bottles and collapsing the buggy. I was surprised that they would let me take the buggy all the way to the airplane. I was expecting to have to put it in with my luggage and was prepared with a sling for baby girl to be carried on. It was a pleasant surprise when I could wheel her everywhere with my handluggage in the basket of the buggy.  Once at the gate I was given fast-track treatment to get onto the airplane and they changed my seat so that I would have an empty seat next to me. That is proving a Godsend as all my crap and baby paraphernalia is on that seat and baby girl can sit up on it when she is awake.  I’m flying with BA. The last flight I took was with Easy Jet. The contrast is like day and night. The staff have been very helpful and the food has actually been yummy: Pad Thai for dinner with a chocolate pud for desert. Nom nom nom…..

Now the only issue left to concern me is jet lag. Baby girl and I are on a longhaul adventure to Hong Kong.  12 hours (gulp) on a plane and 8 hours time difference (double gulp). Next time she wakes I will keep her awake, I think…. But all my worries have come to nothing so far. Lets hope jet lag is also put to bed as easily as my daughter in that boxy bassinette.