Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Life in England... goodbye ice creams and sunshine, hello school uniforms and snow!

We are back! England has welcomed us gloriously with snow and sun and frost and despite wearing hats in bed we are actually enjoying the cold. While there are many things I shall miss about Cambodia, right now I am loving the fact that I can run and skip down the road with the girls safely (apart from the patches of black ice), that they wake up at 830 each morning instead of 6, and that they have learnt how to walk further than from the front door to the gate or Tuk Tuk once more. We have walked up a hill every day since we arrived, been sledging, had hot chocolates by the fire and they have even stopped complaining about the ten layers of clothing they have to wear each time they leave the house. It is good to be home.

Yes, it feels like the right decision despite having left so many precious people behind. We still think and talk of Cambodia all the time and this feels like a holiday for the girls I am sure. For me it is frighteningly real. Jemima starts school on Monday. MONDAY! I have nightmares about her wearing the wrong uniform (we have not got it yet!) or arriving late or not being able to start the car but she is completely relaxed and excited. While I am in mourning at the thought of her not coming home for lunch all she can talk about is the school puddings she has read about on the menu on the school website!

I am sure this blog will be a bit of a T-E family settling back into life in the sticks for a while, so if you are good friends you will enjoy, especially if reading from our old beloved hot and sultry Cambodia. If you are new to Motherland you may find it more interesting to read some of my other less mundane scribblings :-)

Read this post

Sunday, December 6, 2009

What will I take home from Cambodia?

A dear friend asked me yesterday, what will you take home from Cambodia? Today these words come tumbling out, fast and furious. I could edit it but I don't want to. Better to give you the raw unfinished rough draft, a from the heart flow …


So many smiles mask so much pain.
So much gold, so much dirt.

Gold Towers, evictions, Lexuses, rape,
Swimming pools & sewers where children play.

White sand islands, plastic bags,
Coconuts palms, foreign owned.

Colourful weddings, music and lights!
Bride unrecognisable. Woman in chains.
Make-up that hides her soul.

Glinting green rice paddies, warm russet earth,
Yellow afternoons.

Sunsets that bathe a whole city in red.
Monks swathed in orange, photographed daily. Fed by the poor. Faith uncertain.

Mangoes and jasmine, cyclos and street kids.

So many smiles. So much pain.

What will I take home with me from you, Cambodia?

Scents and impressions of all of this. Branded into my soul.

And more.

Healing, love, art and peace
Destiny found and embraced

Humility, outrage and hopelessness

Hope, patience, empathy and light.

Flow, grace. Nightmares and dreams.

Tolerance for dogs and music and traffic
Yearning for space and tears and passion

A desire to see something here change
The fear that nothing will

Friends, forever, deep in my heart.

Soul touched. Soul love.

Bella! Conceived and nurtured from nought to two. Naked and free, loved everywhere.

Jemima, already five! Wise and beautiful, loving and strong.

James, closer every day. Forgiving, brave and true.

Loving, warm and trusting. Open hearts, open lives.

Cambodia embraced us all.

How can I leave?

How can I stay?

Trust. Trust and let go.

For more rough poems click here

Read this post

Who is out of control?

A thought for the day on tantrums - as a few people have asked me about this lately. Many people think that a child who does not have tantrums must somehow be happier or more secure. Parents absolutely dread their child having a tantrum in public. Children who have tantrums are often tutted at, what unacceptable behaviour! The mother who drags the tantruming child screaming out of the room (yes I have done it too) is, however, often sympathised with and considered absolutely right in her actions. The lack of empathy for a tantruming child in a public space often makes us parents respond wrongly simply because we know that all everyone wants is for that child to shut up, and we feel those judgments flying in our direction. We prioritise pleasing the crowd and getting the hell out of there fast, meanwhile increasing the already toxic levels of the stress hormone cortisone flooding our child's brain. If only we were able to accept and understand that tantrums happen, and for a reason, then maybe we would all be able breathe and smile and be supportive as the parent and child work together to find ways to calm down.
I absolutely believe that tantrums are normal and a sign that the child has a strong will that is alive and kicking. If we look at the five minutes before a tantrum starts we can often easily see how right and understandable the tantrum response was and how we can try to prevent it in the future. Imagine we could not express in words what we wanted to achieve and when we tried to no one understood or everything went wrong. Imagine we were whisked up from a game we were playing and undressed and plopped in the bath without prior warning. Imagine we desperately wanted to wear our green t shirt over our red dress but were not allowed out of the house until we had changed.

When we put ourselves in our children's shoes, trying to remember how small and 'about me' their world is, a tantrum almost always seems easier to understand and less likely to make us angry in our response. And maybe we will see that while some tantrums are beyond our control and will always occur at some point - one child snatching a toy from another - others are quite clearly of our own making.

I very recently witnessed a 4 year old boy playing with my daughters very sweetly. Something happened which I did not see - I think he did not come when his dad asked him to but perhaps he snatched something from someone, I am not sure. But what was a peaceful scene of kids playing one moment turned into a horrible scene of anger. Guess what happened? The dad had a tantrum!

The boy was smacked on the bottom and dragged off screaming and kicking and thrown in the car. So upsetting to watch. I wanted nothing more than to ask the dad to stop and think. (Actually I would quite liked to have sent him to the naughty step but I don't believe in them. At least not for children.) How he would have felt to have been humiliated and physically hurt in front of his friends and then banished without the chance to say goodbye. I could just imagine the feelings of injustice and lack of control flooding the little boy's brain as he sat crying in the car.

How can we expect our kids to have control over their behaviour when a parent has no control of his own? I was ready to tell him: "You have just violated your child". But he was gone too fast. He might have replied that I had no right to tell him how to treat his own child. Of course I think I do. His child is not a possession but a person with the right to be defended.

It is appropriate for a child to have a tantrum; just not a parent. And if children have a safe space to express their will, without suppression, but with support and love and help to process deep feelings, and gentle boundaries when appropriate, both parent and child can learn from each experience and both will be stronger and more emotionally aware as a result.

Here is what I wrote a good while back about tantrums to help us know how to deal with them and how to distinguish between those that need attention and holding and those that need to be ignored or gently but firmly handled. And here is another you might like.

If we act with an open heart and with humility our children will blossom in our light and love. Good luck

Read this post

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Leaving Cambodia.. for real this time..

Ok, I know this blog has been sleeping for a long time. (I haven’t.) I also know that I wrote about a year ago that we were leaving Cambodia and I never quite got round to writing that we were not leaving after all. But this time it is true. After four incredible years here we are flying home for Christmas and not coming back. At least, not any time soon. So of course I have to write. I can’t imagine anyone visits my blog now it has been such a long time since I last wrote, but I need to write anyway, for the girls and to relieve my heavy heart. Oh, and for my mother. I know she will be reading. :-)
Cycling home last night through Phnom Penh at dusk, having spent the afternoon playing yoga games and creative arts with a team of Cambodian counsellors and social workers who are in great need of some Time for Me (as the project is called) to release stress and trauma and to learn to support each other, I was ready to cancel our flight booking. However much I long for the green hills of Herefordshire and however much I am excited for our new life in the countryside, I still cannot really imagine saying goodbye to this extraordinary city and its wonderful people. Last night the streets were madly busy, the uncovered sewer, or black river, was especially pungent, the sun was huge and red in the sky, weddings blocked off whole streets on my bike route, and the air was its usual warm, damp, musky self, with that unmistakable Phnom Penh smell that hit me the first time I stepped off the plane and which I will never forget.

There was a time, three years back, when I would have been so ready to leave here. Now, although I know leaving is the right thing for us to do in many ways, it feels as though time is slipping through my fingers. I don’t feel ready to let go, no matter how much yoga I do for the 1st chakra!

What has been incredibly moving, and also quite surprising, over the last few weeks, is to see how Cambodians become very emotional and expressive when it comes to goodbyes. I am used to the smiles that mask the real feelings within, when it comes to most of my Cambodian friends. However I am beginning to understand how goodbyes trigger off subconscious memories of previous endings - endings which, for most Cambodians, have been deeply painful traumatic events. I can honestly say that not a day has passed in the last week or so when someone has not welled up on seeing me or the girls. I totally understand of course. I fight back the tears (or let them flow forth actually) several times a day at the moment, at the market, in nearly every yoga class I teach, and especially when hanging out or working with one of my dearest friends and yoga colleague in Cambodia, Mindy, and her son Ivan, Bella’s best friend. Seeing my girls with their friends, lovely children who have come to mean so much to me, many of whom are also my little yoga students, is probably the hardest thing of all. It is at times like that when the urge to stamp my feet and shout “No, I can’t leave them!” comes upon me. But I was not prepared for the sheer amounts of love and expressed sadness from the Cambodians in my life. Bella and Jemima’s teachers, our beloved nanny and house help Sophy, her daughter, her daughter in law, her daughter’s friend…. It is overwhelming, exhausting but it is so honest and real that I would not want it to be any different. A friend reminded me that the pain of leaving honours the deep relationships we have built here. If it were easy to leave what would that say about the last four years? I never thought I would feel at home here, but right now this is the most at home I can imagine feeling anywhere. The fact that it is not our home is one of the main reasons we are leaving I suppose. To go back to England and put down some roots. Once we have a home back in England maybe one day we will feel free to move overseas to live again, knowing where we came from and where we will go back to.

Jemima is very excited of course. She keeps looking at the school menu in the local primary school she will go to and talking about uniforms and white socks and black shoes. Bella is altogether much harder to imagine in England. She is deeply settled and happy here. She is naked about 99% of the day. She is loved and adored wherever she goes. She has a touchingly profound friendship with Ivan, who is absolutely her equal in everyway – from naked bottom wiggling to non-stop conversation to butterfly catching and everything else… you should see them feeding each other raisins and caressing each other’s faces. When Bella is upset and I cannot console her, she knows who can. With a look of anguish on her face she will plead me with “I NEED Ivan, Mummy. I need to go to his house and play with him now!”

How will Bella be received in her naked splendour in England? (If you are thinking what I think you are, yes, I know but Bella likes to be cold. I think she will go sledging in her bottom given half the chance.) What will people say when she sheds all her clothing in the middle of the supermarket and sighs loudly and sensually “Ahhh, I got my botty. I love my botty.”? How will she feel without the constant company of Tuk-Tuk drivers, friends and general bustle around her? Cambodia is so full of life and there are people everywhere. Herefordshire, how ever much I love it, is rather quiet, let’s face it! While I can imagine Jemima curled up in a corner of the house looking at a book or lost in a game of make believe, what will Bella make of those long hours when her sister is at school and she is stuck with me at home?

I guess I will find out soon enough. In the meantime I plan to live every moment of this Cambodian life until the minute we board the plane. And probably the next time I write will be from the freezing hills of Herefordshire. It is currently 7 degrees Celsius, which I know thanks to the setting James has added to my desktop. Every time I log on I have to be reminded of the fact that we are leaving the constant warmth and light of the sun behind. It has been three years since I experienced a dark winter morning in England. 7 degrees?? I wonder what Bella’s beloved botty will make of that.

I am off to teach my little 5 year old yoginis. Today we will explore how it feels to say goodbye.

Read this post

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ideas for Halloween fun!

If you are new to Phnom Penh don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll miss Halloween this year. My daughter is still haunted by the image of four giant eyeballs passing silently down St 57 in a Tuk Tuk at sunset.

This year, given the recent bloodthirst for Stephenie Meyer’s series of Twilight novels, I expect to see a lot of romantic, well-intentioned vampires lurking in the shadows of Phnom Penh. Should they come knocking at your door, don’t be alarmed. Meyer’s vampires are mostly vegetarian. You might want to hang a crucifix and a string of garlic round your neck to be sure, but they will probably be pacified with a spider web chocolate fudge muffin or a basket of bleeding eye balls. Read on for more haunting Halloween party ideas and ask at your local school for details of organised Trick or Treat Tuk Tuk tours. Happy Halloween!

Repulsive recipes

Spooky spider web chocolate fudge muffins
Preheat oven to 190°C/Gas 5.
Heat 50g dark chocolate, 85g butter, 1 tbsp milk until melted. Stir. Cool.
Mix 200g SR flour, ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda, 85g brown sugar, 50g castor sugar.
Add 1 beaten egg, 142ml sour cream. Mix well.
Stir into chocolate don’t over mix.
Bake in greased muffin tin or cases for 20 min.
Spread cooled muffins with melted dark chocolate. Pipe 4 circles of white chocolate on top. Drag a skewer from centre to the edge to create a cobweb effect. Alternate dark on white.

Sugared eye balls
Fill a basket of blood-shot, blood curdling starey eyeballs and offer them to hungry vamps at your door. Dip marzipan or cookie dough balls into melted white chocolate, add a smartie for the pupil and drip red colouring for veins. Black grapes in icing sugar or lychees are an easier option!

Who can make the creepiest cookie? Let your kids loose to decorate their favourite cookies – you could turn it into a party game.

Pumpkin pie
A traditional Halloween party would not be complete without pumpkin
Preheat oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Bake a pumpkin. Scoop out the flesh. Use 1 cup mashed for the pie, freeze the rest or mash with butter, salt and pepper for comfort food.

Grind a packet of Ginger Nuts / Digestives with a pinch of ground ginger / Cinnamon Grahams. Mix with ¼ cup of melted butter. Stir and cook for 2 mins. Press mix into bottom of greased tart dish. Bake 10 mins.

Turn the oven up to 220°C/Gas 7

Mix pumpkin with 100g sugar, ½ tsp salt, 1½ tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp ginger, ½ tsp nutmeg, ½ tsp allspice, ½ tsp cloves and 1 tin evaporated milk. Pour into cooled biscuit base. Bake at 220°C for 15 mins. Turn the oven down to 180°C. Bake for another 35 mins. Serve warm with double cream or vanilla ice cream. Enjoy cold, set leftovers the next day.

Freaky fashion
Olympic market (upstairs) and Orussey Market (outside) has great fabrics and sequins for costumes, including a range of printed fake fur for animal costumes. BKK market is worth searching for princess costumes and black and red velvet dresses for your little witches and devils. Pick up a pumpkin while you are there for your lantern carving.
Cheeky Monkey at Le Jardin, St 360 also sells good costumes. Why not support Friends’ face painting team at their shop on St 13? They have a good creative repertoire or take along your own ghoulish design.

Ghastly, ghostly games
Apple bobbing is the perfect Halloween game for the tropics. Hot and sticky Trick or Treaters can cool off whilst trying to pick up floating apples from a bowl of water… with their teeth! Warning – face paints may run.

Pin the tail on the devil, wart on the witch’s nose, fangs on the vampire... let your kids decide!

Wrap the Mummy – use loo roll or old sheets torn into long strips. Who can wrap up their friend the fastest?

Sleeping witches, vampires, ghosts… again let your kids decide! The kids lie very still on the floor and when you move you are out. Perfect for calming down sugar fuelled zombies.

Read this post

Think your child will never eat spinach? Think again...

Asia life article July! For many parents, feeding our children is the most stressful aspect of parenting. We tend to associate meal times with battles over control, bribes we later regret, left over food and a lot of mess. Georgie Treasure-Evans offers a few ideas and some child-friendly vegetarian recipes to bring the fun back into family meals, as well as a balanced healthy diet.

It is a common misperception in many countries that children like their food plain and easily distinguishable. Here it is rice porridge. Where I come from, fish fingers, alphabet chips and tiny frozen veg spring to mind. You may find it hard to imagine your kids eating the necessary pulses and leafy vegetables that replace the iron, protein and vitamins that we get from meat and fish.

Luckily the reality is that most young children love strong flavours and will happily eat whatever their parents do, allowing for personal preferences, of course. Resistance at meal times usually has more to do with how they are feeling than with the food itself. When a child is ill, tired, upset or over excited his appetite is often the first thing to go, followed shortly by his ability to behave as we might wish them to.

The best advice I received for dealing with meal times is to relax, let go and trust that your children will eat what they need when they need it. Offer everything in small helpings and allow them to create a little mess as well. Give them some of the much sought after control that they so rarely experience in their young lives. And make it fun.

The tried and tested recipes below are just a start, to get your own creative juices flowing. Enjoy the process as much as the result. Remember that small kids love to cook and are more likely to eat what they have helped to make! Let them help you or your cook chop soft vegetables, grate cheese, crush the garlic, and lick the bowl. If you are in a hurry give them some pots and their own ingredients and let them make messy mixtures on the floor.

Lentil Bolognaise (vegan)
This can be a sauce for pasta or baked potatoes, with cheese on top if not vegan, or topped with mashed potato (sweet and normal) and baked as shepherd’s pie. Make lots and freeze half, or blend into soup. Soak green lentils or mung beans over night, cook red and yellow split peas from dried. Tinned lentils are a quick alternative.

Fry 2 chopped onions and 1 garlic clove in a large pan with olive oil until soft.
Add chopped carrot/courgette/pepper/aubergine/mushrooms (any or all as desired) and two cups of lentils. Fry for another minute. Stir in vegetable stock and simmer for about 40 minutes, adding stock until the lentils are soft. Add two cans of chopped tomatoes, season to taste, fresh thyme and oregano go nicely with this.

Ten minute green spaghetti
Puree steamed fresh or frozen spinach – either on its own or with a bit of cream / cream cheese / splash of milk, and grated nutmeg. Pour over pasta and pile grated cheese on top.

Spinach quiche
Find a short crust pastry recipe and follow, or buy ready-made from Veggies, on St 240. Line a quiche dish and bake blind for 10 minutes (score the pastry with a knife first). Fill with steamed spinach and cubes of feta. Pour over mix of 3 beaten eggs, half a pint of milk, and a teaspoon of English mustard. Grate black pepper on one side for adults. Bake
for 30 mins approx. Spinach is a great source of iron but you can replace with any veg you like.

Courgette pasta
Get the kids to cut or grate courgettes. Steam and toss into favourite pasta shapes with a little sour cream, crushed garlic and grate cheese on top. Add pine nuts or cashews for protein.

Peruvian bean stew with feta
Cut 1lb potato and1lb pumpkin into cubes and cook until nearly soft. Fry 1 onion and garlic, 1 optional chilli, 1tsp cumin and add 1 tin of tomatoes. When the onion is soft stir in potato and pumpkin and a little water and cook until soft. Stir in 1 cup white beans (cannelini/lima/butter), 1 cup corn and 1 cup peas. Crumble feta cheese on top and lots of fresh thyme, parsley or coriander. Eat with brown bread, rice or quinoa for really high protein meal.

Hot “chocolate’ ice cream sauce
Soak prunes and dried apricots in boiling water until soft. Blend with bananas and pour while hot over vanilla ice cream or plain yoghurt. Tastes like chocolate caramel but full of iron. Enjoy

Read this post

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Back to school...

This is for any parents resisting sending their children to pre-school or kindergarten, and lacking faith in their decision. Bella started three mornings a week at her sister's little pre-school last week. Now she runs around the house singing, with attitude, "Jemima! You are naughty poo poo pee pee!" So that is what they mean by socialising. Long may it last.
Read this post

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Good enough mother or pathological feeder? Setting our children free to be themselves

Wow. I have just read something that really resonates with me and my experience of my own life and of being a mother. (I know it has been ages since my last post and that most of my readers have given up on me. I have been in the UK but now I am back and will try to keep it going weekly from now on :-))

In between nappies and feeds and everything else I have pretty much spent the last few years working really hard to discover a sense of inner peace and an end to the constant self-judgment I slowly realised was my every day state of existence, not to mention trying to discover who that self really is. I have finally let go, accepted that I am who I am, begun to rather like that person, warts and all, and – which is why I am blogging about this at Motherland – in doing so I find I have set my children free to be who they are, rather than who I wanted them to be. And James for that matter. Therapy seems better value when you look at it this way, four for the price of one. (I definitely agree with the yogic belief that the woman is the spiritual care taker in the family and if she is happy and healthy and whole the family will blossom in her light, but that is something for another day.)

A while back I blogged about Jemima driving me crazy with her negativity – which I thought totally inappropriate for her age, quality of life etc. The First Breath She also tended to whine a lot and I heard myself call her a ‘spoilt brat’ on more than one occasion and generally completely failed to accept whatever feelings she was experiencing, instead trying to make her experience a different sort of mood, one that I found more acceptable, and more lovable.

Basically I wanted Jemima to be perfect and lovely and well-behaved and always impressive, without being aware that all this pressure was actually what I had been heaping onto myself for years. It is almost as though now that I allow myself to be real, i.e. flawed, and having finally found a degree of self love and self esteem, my children are also allowed to be real. And I have noticed most of her negativity has since vanished anyway, perhaps simply for having been allowed to express it and have it recognised as a valuable emotion.

It wasn’t as though I was this horrid mother before or that now I am a saint. Of course I was always aware of what I needed to do to let my babies flourish emotionally, but it was hard, which is probably what brought me to embark upon my own journey of healing in the first place, so that I could be a truly happy mother of truly happy children. But however subtle it may be, since my own inner transformation, I see such a change in my response to my girls, and they definitely seem happier. I find myself indulging - or honouring is probably a better word - their feelings and needs with what I see they are looking for regardless of whether or not I think they should be feeling what they are feeling. Well, most of the time. I still flip occasionally and I heard myself telling Jemima yesterday to ‘just stop crying about this right now because it not something worth crying about!’ Not exactly the emotional response she was craving, which brings me to what I have just been reading about.

I am reading a great book called Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope. In it he looks at why so many western adults experience a crisis of self, either a sense of false self or a total lack of self – you know, the kind of craving for something deeper or more satisfying in our lives, a void that can lead to addictions, teenage breakdowns, extra-marital affairs, mid- life crises … or that lands us on the therapist’s couch looking for meaning of life.

It comes as no surprise that this sense of false self is most commonly attributed to the breakdown of extended family and to the unreasonable pressures of modern day society to which so many of us succumb. Parents are too busy and have too many unfulfilled needs of their own to really respond to their children’s needs. What was interesting to me was Winnicot’s theory about ‘pathological feeding’ process between mother and child. Winnicot is famous for his theory about the ‘good enough’ mother who meets and responds to the infant’s needs so that they feel authentically fulfilled. ‘Pathological feeding’ on the contrary is where the baby’s impulses and needs are not met by the mother. In this case the baby, who takes its cues from the outside, learns to want what the mother gives, and becomes the idea of who the baby is.

Of course when you consider the above taken to extremes it is easy and devastating to see how young children can so easily be abused and become abusers. But even on a subtle level in apparently happy families this psychological scenario must be so common. Sleep-training, cots, weaning, childcare... most of the main stream modern parenting advice encourages us to become pathological feeders!

I have just put Bella into pre-school three mornings a week. She thankfully totally loves it and has not yet shed a tear or carried out any kind of protest. But there are several tiny children there who would quite clearly rather be at home with their mothers. If we really were to respond to and satisfy our child’s needs we would take out young children back home on noticing that they are not ready for school. Instead we teach them to want to be there because we have jobs to go to, no grannies and aunts and uncle around to help out. (Ok, this argument happens to be flawed here in expatria where we have nannies and housekeepers etc but they are not often emotionally equipped to respond to our child either, in fact trained and committed school teachers are often a far favourable option).

I know that if Bella turns to me next week and screams in protest about going to school I will have to face the fact that she may not be ready after all (She is only just two!) This might mean sacrificing my beloved new career as a yoga teacher (I am fully certified at last woo hoo!) – where I teach that yoga is being present in the moment with your kids, living every moment meaningfully and mindfully, with compassion and an open heart. Hmmm, then the truth will out. Am I a pathological feeder or just about good enough? I really hope I don’t have to make that choice because, like all of us, in this instance my first choice would definitely be in my interests and not Bella’s. Although school is obviously good for her, she has been running around all morning calling Jemima a ‘naughty poo poo pee pee’

Talking of pathologically feeding… These days Bella is a baffling and intoxicating concoction of squishy, peachy-bottomed breastfeeding baby, almost always naked, with sweaty curls plastered to her head; and independent self-dressing (and undressing immediately afterwards), potty-trained toddler with attitude, who opens her mouth and talks like a three year old. I am confused – the nappies are ready to be given away (sob) yet I think she would happily breastfeed forever if she could. I am ok with it for now, but have not one clue as to how I would ever begin to pathologically teach her not to want it anymore.

Watch this space…

And yes, I accept that these disjointed ramblings are largely for the benefit of my own personal records and maybe for my children to read if they become mothers, but it is still sort of interesting to reflect on isn’t it?

Read this post

Monday, July 6, 2009

Yoga is being in the moment with your kids

Gosh it has been ages as usual. I am revising for my exam (will soon be a fully certified yoga teacher hooray) and if I had blogged as well I would definitely have been neglecting the girls. Last weekend I attended a course for teaching kid’s yoga and heard these very reassuring but also quite challenging words: Mothering is yoga. If you can be truly present in each moment you spend with your kids, that is your yoga.

At first this came as a huge relief given that many of my fellow yoga teachers are practising for two hours each morning before dawn while I am still catching up after five years of broken sleep! But when I thought about it more I realised that this is probably my biggest challenge as a mother and in life generally. I am always planning the next thing: tomorrow’s play date; the bath at dinner time; the stories at bath time, thinking about work when I am ‘playing’ with them… These words really helped me to change my approach to the time I spend with the girls and I feel so much better for it.

The first effort I made to strengthen my commitment towards being fully present with my kids was to buy batteries for the watch I forgot I had. At the moment I use my phone as a clock and I end up texting while I am with the girls far too much. Really, I would never do that with friends - well not that much  - because it is blatantly disrespectful, but here I am day after day using my phone when I am supposed to be playing with the girls. From now on I will leave my phone on silent or at home when I am on mother duties. I don’t hesitate to turn it off when teaching after all!

And my second triumph was this afternoon.

“Let’s arrange your dolls house Jemima!”

This is one of my favourite games. I would secretly like to be an interior designer, and/or live in Jemima’s dolls house. It has three floors and a roof you can take off in the sun! Wouldn’t you? You should also know, so that you can truly value the extent of my personal growth that took place this afternoon, that if you asked James ‘Who says what goes where in this house?’ you would know by his heavy sigh that I am a total control freak when it comes to creating the kind of home I want to live in. How else did we end up with a bright pink kitchen (in England)? It was very cool actually, I must dig up a picture before I lose your respect.

Anyway, there I was rubbing my hands together with glee at the thought of arranging the perfect kitchen, a very attachment-parenting style bedroom and a playroom with a dolls house – a mini-one in case you are confused. We will call it a dolls dolls house. (We argue about this one every time – the dolls dolls house is actually a TV according to Jemima and she likes to arrange all the dolls on the bed watching it. This says a great deal for my parenting skills I know!)

Anyway, just as I was getting started I hear: “No Mummy, put the cooker up here next to the double bed!”

Silence. Deep breath. I am serious. Last month I would have been unable to help myself.

“Wouldn’t it be very dangerous and smelly to sleep next to the cooker?”, I would ask, while already restoring order in the bedroom and internally berating myself for my total void of child’s perspective. It’s sad I know. Yes, Monica from Friends does spring to mind.

Not this time. This time I was right there with her. In the moment.

“Brilliant idea! I would love to roll out of bed and make my tea and scrambled eggs without having to move rooms!”

I meant it too. She was delighted and by the time we finished we had put the beds in the sitting room (there was no room in the bedroom after we moved in the kitchen sink) and the tv/dolls dolls house in the bathroom to watch/play with in the bath. And the barbeque next to the baby’s cot. O the balcony. Overlooking the farm. (I guess it is an Estate really.) This was liberating stuff I tell you!

As a result I am awarding myself the prize for “Best mother at living in the moment with my kids” today. And I shall try to win it again tomorrow.

Not that I am planning tomorrow of course.

Read this post

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Travelling with kids (Asia Life, June)

As Georgie Treasure-Evans prepares for three weeks backpacking around northern Laos with her husband and two girls under five, she shares a few tips to help you plan for your own family adventures. Her top tip? Keep it simple!

The long school break is a strange time for both parents and children alike in Expatria. There is the inevitable sadness brought about by yet more goodbyes to beloved friends, often distracted by wonderful, albeit exhausting, trips home to reconnect with friends and family. For some there are agonizingly long days hanging about in Phnom Penh waiting for everyone to come back and schools to start!

But these long ‘summers’ also provide the perfect opportunity to explore the beautiful and exotic places so easily within our reach. Here are a few tips to make travelling with children enjoyable and stress free.

What better region to brave with children than southeast Asia, cheek pinching aside? You are welcomed everywhere by willing babysitters and play mates – from local kids to fully grown backpackers. You can relax on long bus journeys as the children get passed around your fellow passengers for a good dose of ogling and boiled sweet-pushing. Nobody cares when you ask the bus to make five loo stops in half an hour. Even a tantrum provides intriguing relief from the tedium of the journey.

Here are a few essentials to add to your usual list. Keep it simple and only pack what you and your kids can carry!

1. Take your favourite baby carrier, and a cotton sling that folds up small. The Ergo carries new-borns up to four year olds, perfect for long walks or late night transits.

2. A wet cloth in a plastic bag is great for washing faces and hands. Waste-free, it is eco-friendly and lighter than a pack of wipes. Though accepting that your off-spring will look and smell rather like street children for most of the trip can be quite liberating, and helps you pack half as many clothes.

3. A bendy, plastic ‘catchy’ bib that you can fold up and shove in a pocket is great to stop children picking food up off the floor. It doubles up as a nose bag if you fill it with raisins for children snacking on the loose.

4. Bags of nuts, dried apricots and prunes are filled with protein and iron for when the children’s diet becomes less balanced. Otherwise Royal D and local snacks will probably suffice.

5. An inflatable highchair that folds up small. Really. It makes having to eat out three times a day with babies or toddlers bearable.

6. Stories and songs downloaded onto an MP3 player with headphones and/or speakers.

7. A book of children’s songs or the words to your favourite songs. Be prepared to sing. For hours....

8. A small kit of natural remedies. E.g. Echinacea for fighting colds, Lavender oil for mossie bites and restful sleep, Citronella for mosquitoes, Chamomile for calming and skin irritations, Aloe Vera for sun burn, Rescue Remedy for shocks, Tea Tree for antiseptic, Eucalyptus for blocked nose, Pro-biotics for keeping Thrush at bay for sugar-fuelled kids... herbal tea bags are good too.

9. A full first-aid kit, sun screen, sun suits and hats and mossie guard.

10. Toys come last on my list from experience. Travelling kids mostly play with their environment. You know: rubbish, old tin cans, cigarette butts, plug sockets, hotel loo brushes, filthy shoes. My nine-month-old daughter played with a half full plastic water bottle for three weeks in Vietnam. If we didn’t have it on long journeys we were in trouble.

But, if you have room, pack a bag with small toys that you can empty onto the floor wherever it becomes necessary. E.g. finger and sock puppets, face paints, fuzzy felt, small dolls with removable clothes and long hair, hair brush, beads for making jewellery, bouncy ball, balloons, washable bath crayons. Twister is great for older kids and making friends.

Your kids can help you pack. Explain why you need to travel light and tell them how exciting it will be to come home again knowing all their toys are waiting for them.

Other than that relax and try not to worry about the mosquitoes, dirt, heat and jetlag. Your kids are probably far more tolerant to these than you are... as we get older and set in our ways, children are the perfect antidote!

Join in their excitement as they experience new cultures, foods, transport and lifestyles. Watch them become thoughtful, compassionate and open-minded as they begin to see their own life in the bigger picture. And encourage them to be thankful for this opportunity of a life time.

Read this post

Monday, May 25, 2009

I have just been told by my homeopath that she has never, ever met another woman in her life who breastfeeds as much as me! Hmmmmm.... is this a good thing? Is it possible to over breastfeed?

I have been pregnant or breastfeeding or pregnant for both for over five years now, and I suppose I am vaguely curious to find out what I look and feel like when I eventually stop. And it is true that in Laos was on the boob nearly every hour when possible, or sometimes simply on it for hours... but what else is she going to do on a five hour bus journey right?

I have always found it easier to stick 'em on than to face the screams and complaints if I don't. No idea how I will be received back home in the summer! I have long stopped caring about what anyone else thinks when I breastfeed but am aware that here in Cambodia anything goes, whereas in the UK I am in danger of causing an accident when some unsuspecting passer by catches a glimpse of 22-month-old Bella clambering onto my lap, demanding 'mam mam!' (Actually she is quite polite. She now says very softly: "Please, Mummy. Bit of mam mam now?"), from time to time pulling off to chat, baring me to all, or humming loudly while feeding, and generally being far too big and active to pass off as a baby. Her hands are always occupied in some Khmer dance or scrunching up my tummy fat. Still at least no one understands 'mam mam'. Jemima used to come back for holidays when she was two and I was pregnant and shout "I want mummy milk" in front of my in-laws. Cringe.

Not that my homeopath recommended I stop or feed less, mind you. She was just merely recognising that it is possibly related to my constant recurring colds and coughs.
It is possible that all this breastfeeding is wearing me out. Ah well, I would love to hear from those of you who also think back over their day and realise that they just may possibly have fed their nearly-two-year-old rambunctious toddler, urm, say, eight times in a 12 hour period. (and I work most mornings!) I know you are out there! And half of you probably feeding at night-time too which thank goodness I have finally stopped doing. I am off to put Bella to bed.. on the boob of course. Hoping to have a little snooze myself. Look forward to hearing about wearier boobs than mine ;-).

P.S. Still wonder if I should rename my book "Places I have breastfed". I topped the list this year in Laos by feeding B on a log, half-way up a very steep hill in mountainous jungle, over looked by two young park rangers (or very possibly poachers actually) with AK47s slung over their shoulders. I have felt more relaxed before. James was half an hour behind us with a very ill Jemima on his back, so we were all alone. This was a few hours before we got arrested but this is another story. Coming soon I promise.

Read this post

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Colour purple?

Hello! Yes, back safe and sound from adventures in Laos which I will tell you about soon. Just thought I would post while waiting for an internet search to tell me how to make the colour purple.

I know, I know red and blue, of course. Of course! But have you actually tried to make purple from red and blue paint? I am in the middle of painting a mural on Jemima's and Bella's bedroom wall and I am telling you, red and blue simply do not make purple. Certainly not a nice, calm, pretty purple at any rate. Red and blue make brown. Yes they do. Every time. Or worse, they make a wild, angry, dirty purple. Please help.

I am desperate to paint my mermaid's hair before Jemima comes home. She is sitting on a rock at the bottom of the sea brushing her hair. My mermaid, that is, not Jemima. At least I hope not. She has a lot of hair and Jemima wants it purple. My mermaid, not Jemima! Although Jemima also has a lot of hair, but thankfully doesn't want it purple. Yet. As I said, please help. I eagerly await your encouragement and purple tips.

I suppose I could just go out and buy a pot of purple paint ...

Read this post

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ten ways to cool down your kids in Phnom Penh - (Asia Life April column)

As we brave the hottest months of the year in Cambodia, Georgie Treasure-Evans offers ten ways to help both you and your children keep cool in the city.

We all know it is coming, yet every year we still cannot quite believe just how much it is possible to sweat in this city in April and May. No matter how breezy our Tuk-Tuk, or how cold our car, by the time we have made it inside the school gates any pride we ever had in our personal appearance has long since melted away, never mind our ability to be calm and forgiving with our kids. Red faces, wet hair clamped to foreheads, tempers rising... Parenting with kids in Phnom Penh loses its appeal somewhat at this time of year. Here a few ideas for how to get ourselves and our children through the hot season.

The most obvious way to cool down is, of course, to go for a swim. Phnom Penh has many child-friendly pools. But if you are in need of a change of scenery and a little adventure I recommend you brace the Water Park. Although the health and safety standards may not be as high as many of the hotel pools in the city, your kids will have a lot more fun! There are baby pools with fountains and mini-climbing structures, a wave pool, a lazy river and tubes, curly wurly water slides for the more daring and, what might possibly be the longest pool in Phnom Penh so parents can sneak off for a few laps of their own. There is also a fun fair with a range of rides suitable for all ages. The pools are mostly un-shaded though so beware of the sun!

And when the effort of applying sun cream and enforcing the rule of sunhats and UV suits all seems too much, a trip to an air-conditioned salon for some nail art or massage is a great alternative. Let your children try a hair wash, head or foot massage. The chance to escape the heat and relax will really improve everyone’s mood. If they are not into it this, you could always let the staff take them off your hands for a bit while you receive a bit of pampering of your own.

Another place to go where your parental input is minimal is the wonderful, shady Le Jardin. Of all the child-friendly cafés in town I find this the most comfortable, beautiful and relaxing. There are trees to climb, a great play area and sand pit, the kids are allowed to run free and burn off some energy, and, crème de la crème, there is a gate on the door to keep in wandering toddlers. Of course there is also ice cream, which becomes obligatory eating unless you are prepared to see your child suffer the misery of being the only child in the place not allowed one. But you could balance it out with their delicious and cooling cold cucumber and feta soup, which many kids love.

One of my favourite ways to spend an afternoon in the heat is to cancel all social plans and just hang out at home with the children. Just organising my daughters’ social life requires more energy than I can muster, let alone carrying out the plans. Staying home is often much more relaxing for everyone, but it does require a few essentials to make it work, especially if you were once into cooking and crafts but the idea of heating up the house with the oven or battling with paper and glue under high powered fans is now out of the question. In the hot season it requires ice cream or lollies, body painting outside under a tree, a hose pipe and a paddling pool big enough for at least two adults.

The way it works is: you kill an hour or so making ice cream together. My most child-friendly ice cream recipe could not be simpler: Just mix equal amounts of condensed milk and either yoghurt and cream (or any combination of the two) in a bowl and then add either lemon juice and rind to taste, or raspberries is good too. Children love watching the cream thicken when you add the lemon, it’s like magic. And then you can break up the afternoon with regular trips to the freezer to inspect and stir.

Healthier options which are also fun include making ice-lollies out of watered down juice or even better, use orange flavoured Royal D electrolyte. Our bodies are 77% water and when we dehydrate we easily become irritable and snappy.

If all goes according to plan you get to spend the rest of the afternoon sitting back and watching the kids cover themselves with paint, wash off under the hose and splash about in the paddling pool, safe in the knowledge that when things get out of hand there is always the lure of ice cream to make them listen!

If all this feels like too much hard work the heat is always a great excuse to lie low and read books, especially when your child stops napping but you still need that quiet time in the day. If you want to resist the TV option, try cooling down one room, and lying down in bed and reading all your favourite stories for a while. When you run out of good books the Reading Room on St 240 has some lovely books and games and is a peaceful refuge to curl up and spend time with your kids.

When you need to get on with real life I recommend making an activity out of your weekly supermarket shop. During the day they are cool and quiet and the child-friendly nature of Cambodia means that unlike in the West, the combination of supermarkets + kids does not = tantrums. Try giving them a shopping list and letting them loose in the aisles as they try to find all the things you need. If they still have energy to burn you could take them up to one of the many air-conditioned soft play areas in the main supermarkets in Phnom Penh.

A really perfect way to end off a sweaty day with the kids is to take a sun-set ride in a cyclo down some quiet Phnom Penh streets. There is something about a cyclo ride that instantly calms the mind, body and soul. The shaded seat at the front is just big enough to sit back comfortably and wrap your arms around your child. The breeze, as you move silently through the streets, makes this much-needed physical closeness bearable sometimes for the first time all day. All irritation and petty squabbles are soothed away by the gentle, healing rhythm of the cyclo. A nice route is to do the length of St 21, and take a walk in the peaceful gardens of Wat Svay Propei.

If none of this works for you I have one more tip that every parent should know about –it is called the Sitali breath, or the Really Cool Breath as it is better known. Perfect this with your kids and you can lower soaring temperatures and even fevers. Stick out your tongue and curl it as much as you can. Then ‘suck’ up the air as though your tongue were a straw, and breathe out through your nose. Do this for a few minutes and your tongue will feel cool. It is very detoxifying so at first your tongue will taste bitter. When it tastes sweet you know it is working. Good luck!

Read this post

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The first rains

The first rains are here, bang on schedule after Khmer New Year. The temperature has dropped, a breeze is making doors bang and everything has gone dark. I love the rains in Phnom Penh. We've been curled up on the sofa under the outside canopy watching frogs take over the garden, the girls jumping into my arms at every thunder bolt. We can't hear ourselves think let alone have a conversation.

The rains in PP make me stop being busy and live in the moment. They are conducive to all things domestic. Bean stew, baking cakes, blasting classical music to compete with the drumming on the roof, doing jigsaws and sorting out photos. I imagine that everyone in an office this afternoon is finding a reason to rush home, put their PJs on and do the same. We are going to make scones and then draw around our bodies and make height charts. How much more domestic can you get than that?

I just hope the roof doesn't flood...

Read this post

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My children are ignoring me... surely every parent's dream

I am in heaven. My dreams of the perfect at-home parenting experience have finally come true. I have spent the last half hour sitting reading my book and drinking tea while the girls have been playing in the paddling pool. Now I have snuck off to write as they are absorbed in a game of restaurants. Bliss. I get to be with my two favourite people, watch them, love them and soak them up, without actually having to do anything that I do not want to. It is not that I do not like to play Princesses and Mermaids... but as fascinating as it is, I am quite happy to have a day off now and then.

How did this happen? How can it be that my tiny baby Bella woke up this morning and brought all of her clothes to me including a pair of Jemima's pants which she had half put on herself. "No nappy Mummy. Pants please".

OK, she will be two in July and is not so tiny. She poos on the loo and expresses all basic needs in English (well we understand her), but she is still my baby. She breastfeeds like a new born and still has short baby curls (I say still.. I mean finally). Now she is ignoring me and wants to play with her big sister undisturbed. I was actually banned from the paddling pool because I would "stop them from splashing and having fun". Bella confirmed this vehemently: "No Mummy. No swim! Mummy go INSIDE!"

I know it is only so long before this display of independent, peaceful sisterliness turns into a chaos of snatching and squabbling and the usual demands for my attention, but still, what a relief! Not just the me time, but because after a morning spent discussing the pros and cons of different approaches to parenting and schooling at an impromptu play date, I came home feeling somewhat stressed. I lost perspective. I forgot what I thought, and why I thought it anyway.

I woke up this morning my usual self: a mother who believes that while a few hours each day of learning through play in a happy school environment are wonderfully beneficial for both child and parent, essentially the most important thing for children under the age of six is lots of time at home (assuming the home is a happy, healthy place to be), both for one-to-one parent and child activities and also for unstructured, unsupervised play that allows imaginations to roam wild. Having almost definitely decided to stay in Cambodia for one more year in order to delay Jemima from starting school at the tiny age of 5 years 0 months, I came home at lunchtime asking James if we should put Jemima in full-time 8a-4 school next term, and whether we should start her on music lessons.

A few hours of making necklaces, dressing up and watching them play, ignored by me, and ignoring me, has put my world to rights again. They have the rest of their life for institutions and long hours away from home. Now is their time for precious, unpressurised, total absorption in worlds of fantasy and adventure.

I think...

Share your thoughts and experiences please, preferably in comforting agreement as we can't afford the international school fees in Cambodia anyway, but all opinions welcome :-).

As I thought, things are melting down out there.. time to go.

Read this post

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The first breath

Hmmm, writers block. I am tired, breastfeeding my nearly two-year-old Bella like a new born and wishing for 48 hours in each day so I can do all the mothering, teaching, writing and everything else that I want to achieve in a week. All I can think of is to share a list of all the things I would like to write about in depth if I had the time, energy and inspiration. Perhaps this will be the first step.

1) Why was it that on Sunday morning by the beach in a lovely little hotel café, during breakfast, not one of the twenty or so westerners was able to do anything other than scowl and grimace at me as Bella screamed the house down in one of her favourite meal-time tantrums? (Only when she is ill, which she has been for two weeks now, with a stinking cold and cough. Mostly she laughs her way through it but meal times are her favourite time to yell. She refuses to let me sit down... however slowly and sneakily I lower myself to my chair, in a desperate attempt at a quick slurp of tea or bite of toast before my time is up, she will not stand for it.. so I have to instead.) Ok, their peaceful breakfast was disturbed, but the looks of judgment and disapproval were quite frankly uncalled for. It reminded me of going back to Britain, where kids should be mostly seen and not heard, and preferably neither after 7 o’clock at night. If it had been my first time round, with Jemima, I would have gone away feeling like a terrible mother, for their looks insinuated that I was just that. But, it being second time round, I just went away thinking they were terrible fellow humans instead.

2) I spent four days at a very intense yoga workshop in Bangkok two weeks ago, with Bella and a hired babysitter. I was up at 4am meditating on and off until 7 at night for three consecutive days and it was quite amazing. Bella loved the whole adventure and despite my being mostly absent, I loved having time with her alone, taking the plane, walking in the garden, feeding the fish... it reminded me of all the time I had alone with Jemima, sacred space just to get to know one child in their element without anyone interrupting them or influencing them in any way.

3) On this workshop we did a rebirthing meditation that enabled us to relive our first breath. The leader talked about the significance of the quality of the first breath and how it influences the way we view life. E.g. What do you see written here?


Whether you see opportunities nowhere or opportunities now here reflects your outlook on life, and this is partially determined by our first breath according to yogic and other philosophies.

It got me thinking, well crying really. While Bella came into this world without drugs, her eyes wide open and smiling, latching on and breastfeeding within seconds of her birth, Jemima was born stoned on Pethidine and unable to breathe. She was whisked away to a brightly lit table and a suction tube was shoved down her throat. And here I am teaching prenatal yoga and encouraging conscious pregnancy. And it is true that Bella is always happy, easy-going, and generally sees the bright side of everything most days, while Jemima’s glass is half empty much of the time.

Maybe this is just a phase? Jemima was very like Bella at her age after all. But I am struggling at the moment with the fact that while Bella, at 20 months, already says ‘thank you’ spontaneously and uses the sweetest intonations and facial expressions when she asks for things (they make her sound so polite!), Jemima at four and a half still says “I want! Get me this!” and even when the table is laid with all of her favourite things, instead of saying “Yey, peanut butter!” she will ask for whatever she wants in a way which suggests no one was ever going to allow her it. Ok, not all the time, but lately this has been her dominant nature. Her teachers say she is lovely at school still, so perhaps I should give her a break.

Of course it is also possible that she gets it from me, for as a child I was always sulking about being the youngest, seeking attention etc. But I am not like this now (apart from family gatherings where I regress frighteningly quickly). Perhaps it is because she too is fighting some virus? Or adapting to the stifling humidity as we enter the hot season? Even so, it is driving me crazy!

I am being as yogic as I can about it though. I try to resist calling her a spoilt brat and am instead gently brainwashing her with nightly meditations where we sing mantras such as: “I am beautiful! I am bountiful! I am bliss!” and then I add “I am thankful! I am blessed! I am so lucky!” So far I have managed to stop myself from continuing, “I am so lucky not to be a street child, not to be foraging for food on the rubbish dump, not to be sold by my mother into the sex-trade, tra la la la”. It doesn’t fit with the tune anyway. And finally, feeling bad about my day’s resentment and judgment, when I know as her mother I should accept and affirm her, I get her to sing “I am! I am! I am! Just as I am!”, in the hope that it will make up for my maternal failings.

I’ll let you know if I see any progress!

Hey, this worked! Now I feel like getting my book out and editing it and self-publishing it right away!

Read this post

Monday, March 9, 2009

Asia Life article - Kids Love Yoga

I have taken over the Next Generation column of a local magasine called Asia Life. Here is March's edition.. sorry, yoga again!!! But with great photos!

Kids love yoga. Any parent who practices at home knows this. Just roll out your mat and they’ll gravitate towards it, along with all household pets, the occasional frog, a gecko or two... It is not only children’s innate, irresistible, primal urge to stretch, wiggle and contort their body into every conceivable shape and form that draws them to yoga. Often they simply want to curl up in your lap and absorb your peace. Either way, it can only be beneficial. Especially in hot, noisy, stress-inducing Phnom Penh, where the opportunities and spaces for letting our children run wild remain scarce. Yoga provides the perfect escape, as my four-year-old daughter Jemima taught me not long ago.

We were quietly picking our way through the rubbish and dead rats that adorn our walk to school, all efforts at conversation having been drowned out by the noise of cutting metal from the building sites along the way, when she unexpectedly transported us to a beautiful island.

“The pavement is the beach, Mummy, and when it ends, we’re not falling into the road. We are jumping and splashing about in the sea! The motor bikes are sharks... friendly sharks though.” A Hummer roared by. “And the cars are whales”.

The Tuk-Tuks were fishing boats, from which we ordered our dinner, fresh fish for that evening. Every so often one of us tripped on a friendly crab, or an empty coconut shell fallen from a palm that fringed the warm, white sands. All we could hear was the lapping of the gentle waves on the shore, the call of the birds in the trees, and a soft breeze rustling the leaves. I bet you feel calmer just reading about it.

This same island paradise got her through 30 minutes of teeth-extracting hell at the dentist a few days later. Grown men would have been howling, all coping mechanisms buried deeply beneath years of accumulated baggage. My daughter breathed.

Without having to think about it, (let alone lie down on the therapist’s couch), Jemima had found a way of creating the exact conditions she needed in order to maintain her relaxed, centred, happy state of being, rather than allowing herself to be at the mercy of her less desirable external environment. Which, let’s face it, is pretty much what yoga is all about. The word itself, coming from the Sanskrit word jugit, means to unite. The practice of yoga, which incorporates breath, movement and meditation, is essentially about achieving a happy union of mind, body and soul. About feeling whole, and at one with God, the Supreme Consciousness, the Infinite.

If yoga isn’t something you do at home but you would like your child to stay connected to his or her inner constancy, peace and joy, you will be happy to hear that if there is one thing Phnom Penh is full of, it is yoga classes for kids. Teachers take the children on magical adventures through forests, oceans and jungles. They fly like butterflies, growl like lions, dance like monkeys! They grow from tiny seeds to big beautiful trees. They do just about anything the imagination allows – every yoga posture can be turned into something that fits in the story!

The physical stretch and workout they get is wonderfully beneficial, and could not be more natural. All of us have, in our life time, regularly practiced each of the 84 postures that exist in yoga. Yes, you too. As a baby in the womb. But even more important is the sense of peace, grounding and self-love that each child gains through their yoga practice.

Some yoga classes start with the chanting of the mantra Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo, which in Sanskrit means “I honour the one creative consciousness, I honour the divine wisdom within.” Or, as six-year-old Shawna puts it: “I am saying hello to the teacher in my heart. Which means, I have the answers within”.

As Anya Weil, my own yoga teacher and constant source of inspiration, explains, yoga gives children tools for growing into self-confident individuals able to fulfill their unique potential in life, while always in harmony with their spiritual selves:

“When I do yoga with children, I am profoundly aware of their future. Children's yoga does not pull or demand, it guides and plays. It is a means of physical and spiritual expression, of development. As responsible parents, we focus on social and mental development in a healthy constructive environment but children's yoga offers a means for the union of the child's physical and spiritual elements as well. Yoga builds these core bases upon which they will make their individual ways through life. It is a privilege and a pleasure to be a part of their journey. It reminds me of my own path, my own journey.”

Uplifting songs and meditations fill the children with positive affirmation. “I am the light of my soul, I am bountiful. I am beautiful. I am bliss” is the one Jemima sings herself to sleep with every night.

“I am happy! I am good!” is another favourite mantra, though Archie, three and ever the realist, prefers “I am happy! I am sad!”

Expatriate children are not the only ones benefiting from yoga in Phnom Penh. Several NGOs now incorporate it into their programme. It can be especially healing for children who have suffered trauma. Roza, 14, was recently evicted from her home in the Dey Krahorm area of Phnom Penh. “Yoga makes me feel good. When I am sad I can do yoga and forget about things. It feels lovely”.

At the end of their adventures the children lie down and have the opportunity to drift into a deep relaxation. Guided visualisations help them to truly relax and be still, even for a few minutes at a time, though they often stay there for longer than you’d expect.

I have never seen children sit so still and look as serene as I have in kid’s yoga classes. Over time, those who come with behavioural issues, stress or unmanageable temper tantrums seem like different children, so much calmer, so much happier. Really, when you watch children practice yoga it is easy to imagine a world without war.

Yoga for kids in Phnom Penh
Anya Weil teaches yoga to two-to five-year-olds at the Giving Tree School both as part of the curriculum and in their after school programme. See http://www.thegivingtreeschool.com/Yoga.html for details.

ISPP has yoga classes for 5-8 year olds. See http://www.ispp.edu.kh for details.

Georgie teaches yoga for 3-6 year-olds at Gecko and Garden Pre-school on Tuesdays at 330. Please call 092575431 for details.

The Kundalini Yoga House teaches yoga for children and adolescents from the Aziza
School in the Tonle Bassac resettlement area. See www.kundaliniyogacambodia.org for details.

Read this post

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

To ignore or not to ignore... Argh! Getting it right when responding to tantrums...

Arrgh I have to get back to blogging more regularly. It has been a busy time with James travelling a lot and also I have had to complete my 40 day practice which means practicing the same yoga set and meditation every day for 40 days. If I miss a day I have to start again. I did it and it was fine but took lots of time and space management (like turning up at friend’s houses in desperate search for a few child-free metres and minutes in which to practice). It was amazing though, I felt calmer and happier than I can remember feeling ever, every single day for 40 days. I am still enjoying the effects and trying to practice every morning before breakfast, but as much as I love her, it is not quite the same with Bella on top of me. Honestly, however early I try to get up, she wakes when I start my yoga. It must be the positive lurve energy I am radiating.. although, that cartoon picture of a yogi and a speech bubble saying “Shut up kids, I am meditating” springs to mind as always. Anyway I must try not to go on about yoga here. In fact I am going to start up a new blog for my yoga adventures, which I will tell you about later, so that I can devote this just to motherhood. Trouble is in my life the two are more of less entwined at the moment. But I will try.

I have just come back from a peaceful hour of swimming and playing at a local swimming pool (Villa Langka for readers in Cambodia) with Bella. How blissful. The sun was still low, no one was there and we just swam and played with the cat and breastfed for ages. It was incredibly peaceful just watching Bella – she also had a small audience of monks from the Wat across the road! I feel so grateful for our lovely lives in Cambodia on days like this. Now Bella is on her way to market with Sophy, our beloved granny/cleaner/Khmer teacher and I have a whole hour to write my blog. Yes, on days like this I do believe all parents with small children should come and live in Cambodia.

Ages ago I said I would write about Bella’s tantrums. Then I forgot because what I thought was a horrifying new phase in her life turned out to be just a very bad week. Every day she was the crossest, most highly strung toddler I could have imagined giving birth to. It was so bad that I treated it like an illness or some other domestic disaster that requires most other things be put on hold! Apart from my classes, I cancelled all plans which took me away from her, arranged lots of play-dates away for Jemima and got way behind with my studies, so that I could hang out with her for hours at a time. Mostly, for those few hours every day that I am working she is perfectly happy and easy being looked after by Sophy, who is loving and responsive and part of our family now. But when it comes to behavioural/emotional issues that need a specific approach I want to be the one who manages it. While anyone (anyone I respect, I should say) is welcome to love my children, I want to be the one to raise them, if that makes sense. And how lucky I am to have the choice.

So for a week I sat and observed as poor Bella got increasingly frustrated with whatever it was she was trying to manage – a doll that would not sit up straight in the buggy, the bike that would not go through the closed door, the dress that was so confusing to put on, the fridge that would not open and yield limitless butter like it used to. To explain the latter, I discovered our fridge had a key after a week of catching Bella every other minute with her face in the butter. We also have to keep all our medicine etc in the fridge due to the heat so this discovery was definitely a good thing, even by my relax-let-them-run-free-in-the-house self). When I tried to help her with her various predicaments she screamed at me and pushed me away. So I just had to watch and be there for when she finally did want me. I was reminded of what I wrote HERE many months ago, when talking about our tantruming neighbour Tom Tom.

I wrote about what I had learnt relating to tantrums from Margot Sunderland in ‘The Science of Parenting.’ Very briefly (me I mean, not Sunderland) she looks at the causes of ‘bad behaviour’, such as poor diet, tiredness, emotional immaturity and lack of attention. She also distinguishes between two different kinds of temper tantrums.

She calls one the ‘little Nero’ tantrum. This is usually controlled, articulated rage without tears, aimed at controlling or manipulating us. These should be ignored when possible, to prevent rage becoming an ingrained personality trait. The parent should then try to consider why the child is behaving this way and consider ways of breaking the habit (i.e. time in, teaching them acceptable ways of expressing anger – punching a pillow etc).

The other is a ‘distress tantrum’, triggered by strong feelings of loss, disappointment or frustration. These often involve uncontrollable tears and screaming - expressions of genuine pain. These must not be ignored. See the above link for more details about both.

It can be hard to get it right. Ignore one and do not by any means ignore the other… or your child will suffer the consequences of your stupidity for the rest of his life! (MS does not write like this of course, I am just being facetious.

Thinking about her wise and well-researched advice, I decided that all of the above issues I described with Bella were distress tantrums, caused by terrible frustration of things just not working out as she was hoping they would. She is 18 months old, incredibly independent, and yet not able to do all the things she knows she needs to for her games to work as planned.

Our answers in the end was just being there and cuddling her when she came for it, distracting her when possible with a new and easier task and, of course, the good old trusty boob. What were much harder to deal with were the ‘little nero’ tantrums she started having at the same time.

Typically she would refuse her high chair, but if I let her sit on my lap she would grab my fork while I was eating, scream at me to stop, demand I stand up and if I tried to sit down for a second, or even remain standing and hold her but try to drink my water at the same time, she would scream, kick and hit me. Hmmmm. I was unprepared and this was most unreasonable I thought. Thank goodness for the 40 day practice. When once I would have screamed back, I breathed and smugly tried all sorts of techniques along the lines of MS’s advice. The last was:

“NO Bella, this is not ok”, after which I put her firmly down on the floor, with great care as she was squirming and kicking and we have shiny hard tiles, and tried to ignore her – just as the book says. Sounds so good in theory. In practice she simply became upset until she was basically now having a distress tantrum, which of course meant an immediate change of tactic… I could almost here the alarm signals booming throughout the house:


Quickly, the good mother student that I am picked her up and cuddled her. Ah, as the sobs subsided all became calm. Success! Problem solved. Maybe, just maybe, I could eat my now cold dinner in peace?

“Let’s just sit down shall we?” I sweetly and nervously cooed…

“Waaaah! No! Stop!” she replied. Again, unnecessary I thought.

That was that, off we went again on the same cycle. I now had a very distressed little Nero on my hands and no idea what to do about it. Until… ah ha! Brain wave!

What does Bella love more than anything in the world? No, tried boobs, that didn’t work. Yes, dancing!

On went the music, Jemima rallied round and got into her ballet dress and danced her pants off and, as hoped, Bella simply could not resist. She kept her scowl determinedly imprinted on her face for a good minute of graceful Khmer style hand and arm movements, still not ready to be put down. But then it was all too much to bear and she was away, bum wiggling, head shaking, floor rolling, the works. We did it. Stress over, five minutes later I was drinking tea on the sofa with my feet up watching two ballet dress-clad beauties dancing their hearts away for the next half an hour.

Did it work the next time? I’ll tell you when it comes. Weeks have passed and she has been back to her normal chilled out self. I’ve no idea if she was just grumpy and teething that week or if the music-induced joy has lasted for a very long time. Either way I am enjoying the peace and feel ready for the next outburst knowing I have some positive resources at my finger tips.

Please share your positive approaches to tantrums too, in case she outsmarts me next time!

And enjoy these two blog posts with more ideas for when our toddlers are less than perfect.... Expecting too much from my toddler When our toddlers 'misbehave'

Read this post

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Phnom Penh government has just executed another violent large scale eviction in the heart of PP at the village of Dey Krahorm, streets away from our peaceful home. The below is cut and pasted from an emailed call for help by a friend of mine who works at the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights. Check out the footage linked at the bottom and help if you can, this is going on all over the country.

In the early hours of Saturday morning (24 Jan) 300 police in riot gear and 500 demolition workers surrounded the residents of Dey Krahorm together with heavy machinery ready to forcibly evict the 150 families living in the village. At 6am the police and workers moved in, using tear gas, batons, water cannons, fire extinguishers and rubber projectiles. The result was a war zone in the middle of PP which has now left hundreds of villages (men, women and children)homeless and with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The scary thing is that this happened at the door step to the National Assembly and just a stones throw away from Hun Sen Park.

The NGO LICADHO (the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights www.licadho-cambodia.org) is assisting many of these families to find temporary accommodation, food and shelter. For the past 2 days about 30 families have been living at our offices.

Given that the villagers lost all their belongings we are urgently seeking second hand clothing for children and adults. Other temporary housing materials are also needed - i.e. tents, tarpaulins etc. Financial donations for food and other materials are also gratefully accepted. If you need to do a spring clean in your cluttered house now is the time! Anything would be appreciated!

Donations can be dropped off at LICADHO reception (#16, Street 99,Bang Trabek) or your donations can be be collected from you if you need assistance.

Please do not hesitate to contact Justin on 012 21 36 76 if you have any questions.

For further details on this sad saga you can check out the following links:
Footage of the eviction:

Photos and more background info:

Report on Dey Krahorm disputed land case

Read this post


I feel so sad. We have just come back from a good bye lunch with Jemima’s beloved friends Marina and Amanda. The three of them are great friends and class mates at school, and Marina is going back to Iceland tomorrow. Even though I am sure we will meet again sometime, I still had to stop myself from squeezing and sniffing the life out of the poor girl as I kissed her goodbye. I just wanted to imprint a bit of her in my memory, she has become such a constant part of our transient lives out here in Cambodia.

Jemima first met Marina when they were two, nearly two and a half years ago, at the little kindergarten they went to a few mornings a week. I remember the day I first met Marina. Jemima was upset about something and Marina marched up to her, sat on the swing next to her and put her arm around her, a tiny fairy godmother with attitude.

Soon after that I took Jemima out of the kindergarten to stay at home with me and we did not see Marina again. Then on their first day at Garden and Gecko school, a year later, the two girls just reconnected like old friends. Neither remembered the other, at least not consciously. But I am sure that on a deeper level they both knew exactly who the other was. These two were always meant to be friends.

“Of course neither of them quite understands”, we parents have been saying to each other. “It will sink in later”. Today I think we were proved otherwise. The two of them argued throughout lunch, like passionate couples often do before a time of separation. Actually they reminded me of James and me when we were first together, each of us travelling for a few weeks at a time. Of course we could put it down to the fact that the girls are both tired, it has been a long week, and Marina must be feeling unsettled at all the goodbyes and packing and changes afoot. But I also believe they are both more aware than we realise that something is coming between them, and this is their way of expressing the uncomfortable not quite understood feelings this sensitivity arouses. You would agree with me if you could see these two together.

For the last 18 months Jemima and Marina have been class mates, and played together at least two afternoons a week – mostly arranged by them. We are only informed of their plans at going home time. I would often be greeted with a laughing Marina saying: “Why did you come to get Jemima? She is coming home for lunch with me today!”

As we drive home from school in opposite directions every day they call out each others’ names from the back of their respective Tuk Tuks, until each is out of sight, just like lovers. You think I am exaggerating? When I asked Jemima today what she loves most about Marina she replied without a pause, “The flowers that she brings me”! Anything else? I asked. “Her heart. The inside smells of flowers.” She once carried a pair of Marina’s pants (I mean knickers, not trousers) around the supermarket, “Because they are Marina’s (and I like looking at Snow White”). We could learn a thing or two about romance from these girls!

One of my favourite things to do is to sit on the sofa and just listen and watch as they play, often with Amanda as well. They get into role more of less the minute they are together and the next hours are spent lost in imaginary games of Mummy, Sister and Baby: “Sister! Sister! You forgot your shoes! We’ll be late for school”, travelling on planes, pulling buggies and suitcases behind them and wearing fleeces in 35 degrees, because “Marina, it is so cold in Iceland, yeah?” “Yeah, and it is so cold in England Jemima, right?”, making houses with all the cushions in the house, painting each others faces... and much more.

Whatever the game, it would inevitably involve changing clothes at least five times each. When they’ve all departed at the end of the day the house resembles my home when I was a teenager, one of four sisters... Knickers, scrunched up inside out t-shirts, odd shoes, pretty much the entire contents of Jemima’s drawers actually, strewn all over the place.

I knew clothes would be an issue with girls at some stage, but I was bargaining on a few more years yet. Jemima, Marina and Amanda come home each day from school with each others’ clothes and flip-flops on. Sometimes they share the shoes out between the three of them, so that they all have one of the other’s; or over the months one of them amasses three pairs of another’s. Our drawers are full of Marina’s knickers. However often we sorted it all out and returned them all, a week later they would be back. I love the fact that we have traces of Marina all over the house.

I feel sure that Jemima and Amanda will miss their darling friend but happy that they will continue to enjoy their own lovely and unique relationship. Until the summer, and then we have to put them through it all again. Hmmm, won’t dwell on that just yet.

If you liked this post have a read of this.

Read this post

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Long post! Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I hope you all had lovely Christmases. Ours was very quiet with visiting family, perfect really.

Ah it has been so long and I have missed my blog. I have been writing here and there and perhaps I should have just posted it all here as well to keep readers interested. I fear I have become such an infrequent blogger recently that no one is reading anymore. Comments are very rare, so then I think ah well, no one will miss me. But I miss it and you so shall continue blogging regardless! You will be pleased to hear that I am finally getting published again! Not my motherhood book, I have left that to brew for a while. But two short stories will appear in a new book called Expat Journals. I have also co- written an article on gang rape soon to be published in LOOK magazine, which has opened up another world to me, one of slavery and cruelty beyond most people’s wildest imaginings. The sex trade will become my campaign of 2009 I think.
Of course right this minute I should be studying. This always happens. I open my books and read a few pages of my yoga files, that cover everything you can possibly think of that has anything to do with life, as we do and do not know it... the anatomy of the human heart, the soul, dharma versus karma, destiny versus fate, recipes for health, how to love a woman... it is like a sacred manual for succeeding in life and death that I have in my hands. As I read I can’t believe how it is that I have lived for 35 years without thinking about all of this! For ten of them I have even practiced yoga and enjoyed the experience, but still not given it much thought. I always thought of us as human beings who have the chance of a spiritual experience but now I believe we are spiritual beings born with the chance of a human experience. I was always postponing the spiritual experience but now that I see it in reverse and am practicing daily yoga and meditation, I feel very different. I feel like a spiritual being who is constantly trying to improve, and live to the full, life as a human being. And the result is that, mostly, life feels so much easier lately. Things work out, knock backs don’t hurt so much, anger and despair are no longer daily or weekly emotions for me. The river just seems to flow more smoothly somehow.

Because of the changes I feel in my life since following this path, every time I sit down to study I last about five minutes before I get so inspired I want to tell everyone about it! Last time I attempted my homework I ended up writing a poem. Often I go and do yoga or meditate. The thing I really struggle with is staying put and doing my assignments! I will never get my certificate at this rate, though I could argue that I am experiencing it and spreading the word.

Well today I shall give myself only 20 more minutes to blog and then I shall get back to my studies I promise. My plans for 2009 are to get this certificate under my belt so that I am no longer bound by homework and reading course work and can focus more time on writing and reading about all the other things I want to, still all closely related to yoga and mothering of course. Then I will have more time to develop my teaching and begin to work therapeutically with women and children who have suffered trauma.

But, this will probably be in the UK now, rather than here. Yes! In six months or so my blog will have a distinctly colder, windier, wetter feel to it altogether. We are leaving Cambodia. The decision has been made and although I still have half a year to enjoy and so much I want to achieve while I am here, I can no longer think of anything else.

This is where you can help me, my British readers at any rate. I am staying awake worrying about car seats and the tantrums that go with them, twenty layers of clothing (and the tantrums that go with them), the sudden exposure of my very stylish (dresses over skirts over skirts are her latest thing) and confident four year old to peer pressure, fashion, labels, consumerism generally (and the tantrums that go with that!)...

How negative all this sounds. I am also kept awake with exciting plans for creating a lovely room for my children in my father’s house where we are moving for a while, to keep him company and to delay the decision about where on earth we should settle; dreaming about the vegetables we will grow in order to survive while my husband studies and I look after the children. I will teach and write too when I get the chance but still, we have pretty much decided to be broke for a while and enjoy being together as a family. So yes, that is a lot of vegetables we need to grow. I am excited about bringing Kundalini Yoga to the countryside, though town halls and school gyms feel less than ideal after having been so fortunate to teach on wind swept, sun dappled roof tops in Phnom Penh.

Probably what keeps me awake most, having complained about the heat for three years, is the cold! Suddenly I am terrified of moving back to cold, and so often grey England. Having longed for home all this time I am now realising that life in the tropics is so easy as a mother. The kids are always naked, potty training happens with us barely noticing, clothing and shoeing the girls costs practically nothing, and we always get to see the sun. I get sudden panics that the girls will suffer depression from seeing so little sun after having it everyday for most of their lives. How pathetic I sound. I’ll tell you why.

Over the last few weeks Cambodia has been officially cold. 24 degrees in the shade. The water in the pools feels so cold that I hardly take the girls swimming anymore. I am wearing jeans and a jumper as I write, and even Jemima wrapped herself up in my cardigan on the Tuk Tuk on her way to school this morning. 24 degrees! What has happened to me? My friends and family won’t recognise me. This is the same woman who has swam in the coldest Cornwall seas, who for thirty years could not physically pass a lake, river, sea or pool without having to get in, whatever the weather, whatever the season. I stopped short of those Boxing Day or New Years Day plunges, but only because we were never near water. Had it been a family tradition I would have been first in. I was your hearty English lass. James reminds me how utterly unsympathetic I was when he quite literally turned blue on the beach one summer on holiday in Cornwall with my family. I have been spoilt, my character has softened. And if I have, imagine how the girls will react to the cold English seas. Of course by the time we leave here we will have endured the hot season and I will be back to my old sweaty, miserable, moaning self (it will be interesting to see if the yoga and meditation will mean that the heat becomes easier to endure too, I will let you know), so hopefully the cold will seem more enticing by then.

James says the biggest shock for me will be no longer having Sophy around the house to take Bella whenever I want to write or do yoga. He is so right. I am quickly realising that all the things I want to do for myself will have to wait until after bedtime. At the same time I am looking forward to spending more time with Bella while Jemima is at school. Now I tend to work most mornings, so that will be a nice change for a bit. But ah Bella! She is one. I think I will post my chapter on this area of mothering from my book actually, to remind myself as much as to share with you all. Notice my emphasis on tantrums above... Actually Bella is so far stopping short of full tantrums, and still mostly delightful and gentle, but she is just at that stage where she wants to do everything for herself in her way, yet, of course, is not always able. She gets understandably cross with the bicycle that won’t drive through closed doors, or the t-shirt that won’t cooperate with her arms, or the cat for not letting her ride it. And she gets even crosser with me for trying to help. This is another post on its own so I will write it soon. My twenty minutes is up long ago. Bella will be back from her little play group in about half an hour. Oh dear, another studying period gone pear shaped, and all I have to show for it is a very, very, unblogly long ramble. Back soon, if you are up for it.

Read this post