Introducing The Kids to ‘Birding’

One of the first recognizable sounds to wing its way from my son’s chattery mouth of delightful sounds was the call of a hadeda ibis. Nappy-clad, he would grip the edge of his cot, tense his little body and let fly with a ‘Ha-ha-hahaaa’ (read as though about to sneeze, maintaining a nasal tone throughout).


He was at that age when I felt, as with many new parents, like recording every utterance. There’s a happy magic in not just the innocent sound itself, but in the little mind’s grappling intent to form the words made by adults and older siblings.

But age plays its games with our minds, and when I ask him today if he remembers that he did a pitch-perfect imitation of the famously irritating sunrise call, he shrugs it aside; almost seven, he’s a bit self-conscious in that age-appropriate fashion, and longer gives that call the ‘stick’ he did in his toddler years.


If you listen to the attached podcast recorded at an urban wetland (paragraph 7), you will notice this call, and that he doesn’t oblige when I ask him to repeat the sound for us. That’s ok, he was 1) shy and 2) busy, playing in the undergrowth while I conducted our interview. And a possible 3) could’ve been that I’d asked him to be quiet while we recorded. So he was actually being obliging in conducting a quiet battle amongst leaf and twig.

On the subject of battles, by this point you would’ve forgotten that I’m a single father. My beautiful, bubbly and mischievous three year-old was meanwhile making shapes in the dirt with a new friend, a little further down the path. That’s part of being a single parent; if the split is acrimonious, as in a parent possibly keeping a child from the other, you are especially conscious of sharing your limited time, sometimes only a morning, in an equitable fashion with them both. The professionals remind you at this point that it’s important to focus on quality time, not quantity, that they will remember such occasions, hopefully more than the weekly procession of new toys some parents prefer to dish out.

Most important was that both children were happy, involved, ‘in the moment’.

We were recording at a place here in Cape Town called Intaka island. About as un-tropical as it gets, it’s an environmental off-set for a development company in the middle of a new shopping and retail precinct called Century City.

Intaka is a treat from far left field. A large wetland, with heronries, bird hides and wooden walkways, tripod-bound photographers looking for kingfishers, quiet and water-birds enjoy this place as much as the school-groups.


It is as much an environmental education centre as a retreat for the urban weary and nature enthusiast. We took the learning angle one step further and joined a local environmental group, ringing birds as part of a bird count.

White-eyes and Cape weavers were the most common little creatures caught in the net on that particular morning. My little lad was an enthusiastic helper; untangling his feathered friends, putting them into little cloth bags and carrying them to be weighed and measured at the bird-hide that had been turned into a makeshift lab. He even got to release one, while his sister enjoyed the spring flowers.


Responsibility, interest, education outdoors, interest and most of all, fun. All the boxes ticked, a great morning. Maybe soon, when she sleeps over, I have a feeling my little girl will want to release a bird too.



What’s For Lunch Dad ?

“I just ate some half-chewed food my son spit onto his plate. Parenting has reduced me to some kind of disgusting bird-man…”. It’s a quote I came across on a parent user-group, and while I,  like millions of others, have often finished the children’s food, eating the chewed remains of another is a frightening thought, let alone dodgy role-modelling. But what I’m really getting, as you will see at the link pasted below, is food and our children.

The way in which we feed them is crucial to their development, their health and energy in particular, they’re all wrapped up in what WE feed them,

Since becoming a parent, and having children with an ex-partner who had claimed to have anorexia as a teenager, I watched household life a little more closely and began to ask questions.  Obsessions with a diet of bread, potatoes and pasta, in this age of unprecedented nutritional exposes and discoveries, concerned me. I have often asked a few tough ‘why’ questions of myself, like am I myself obsessed? If it’s about a parent’s determination to intentionally feed a child junk, in keeping with that parent’s own questionable nutritional psyche, then yes I am. Because it is my duty to protect my children, whether from a bus or future anxiety.

For instance; Why do we assume children automatically want processed sweet stuff as soon as they’re off mom’s breast?

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In today’s world of unparallelled access to information, why do we treat their little bodies as garbage dumps, for red vienna sausages, white bread and a variety of processed foods most of us wouldn’t eat ourselves?

Why do we assume they want bread and pasta all day? And what’s with coating strawberries, full of its own natural sugars, with refined white sugar?

Any of the above are ok, but not as part of a regular diet. Pasta is fun, but it’s an empty carbohydrate. To those who say, ‘oh the kids will burn it off’, well, the increasing number of children spending a corresponding amount of time in front of TV or on mobile devices says there’s a lot less ‘burn-off’ going on these days. So while pasta once a week is ok, I’d suggest mix it up a little with real energy food, complex carbohydrates (the good ones) like brown (jasmine is great) rice and sweet potatoes, and see what roles pumpkin and butternut play.

Research is a little time-consuming, but as it’s our children we’re talking about, it’s important; otherwise it’s a bit like putting pirate parts in your new car instead of the real deal, cheaper and easier. Would you?

I tried brooching the subject with the mother of my children, but given that she had told me when we met that she’d had anorexic issues as a teenager, I suppose I should’ve known that I was on a hiding to nothing, and that our children’s nutritional future was looking a little bleak.

Looking at the above foods, there will always be the inevitable chorus of ‘look at me, I’m alive, it didn’t do me any harm’, as many of my friends will say. And many will be proved right, because our bodies are different, and respond as the individual entities they are. But I’d suggest we think a bit before answering.

Children today eat worse than ‘we’ did, generally speaking, purely because of the amount of sweets shoved in their face on a dialy basis, whether on TV or in the  grid-locked check-out queue lined with crap (food retailers need them hooked on sugar so that the children keep buying their stuff when adults). And given that it takes weeks or months to get an appointment with the average family doctor – and even longer for a specialist – and the rampant increase in prevalence of ‘modern’ diseases such as cancer, diabetes and alzheimers, which pretty much burst into doctors’ rooms in tandem with modern-day food-production and the associated preservatives and chemicals , I wonder how healthy we really are.

If your child is happy eating nutritious food like this, why would a parent force him or her to change?

If your child is happy eating nutritious food like this, why would a parent force him or her to change?

So I’d suggest the ‘I’m alive’ retort could probably do with a rethink. And for children today, with sugar followng them around like a halo and parents fretting about some modern ‘syndrome’ called Attention Deficit Disorder – perhaps it’s a creation of our doing.

What we do know is that the pharmaceutical industry has boomed as a result of the diseases, conditions and illnesses spawned by what we consume (the pharmacare industry is worth more money than many countries’ gross domestic product).

Why? Our bodies were never designed to absorb the colourants, preservatives and even traces of pesticides found in the food we have become used to consuming in our everyday food and drink. Daily packets of crackers and biscuits in a child’s lunch next to the white bread and cake could be described as nutritional abuse by an educated parent. The key word in that sentence is ‘everyday’; read the labels of the stuff you feed your children (and yourself), and if any of the terms don’t sound like food I’d suggest further investigation if you have the time. Whatever you do, don’t assume that because a major retailer has a certain product on its shelf that it is fit for regular consumption – a few in South Africa (and obviously elsewhere) have been known to embrace the grey area between light and dark in the name of profit.

So in this spirit of truth and enthusiasm, blended with my personal ideal of eating anything in moderation, I have been on a part-time journey of responsible culinary consumption, most importantly for my children. Returing to my vehicular metaphor, if we take srious care of our cars, why can’t we do the same for our children?

Having fun with feeding little ones is a given, because before they develop senses like taste and independent thought, the associated entertainment around a meal – like flying the food into the mouth (aicraft carrier) and having spear-fights with lightly-steamed, crunchy broccoli stalks (mush isn’t appreciated) – is often as time-consuming as the meal itself. So making it silly and entrtaining is a no-brainer. My friend got his girls (and my son) hooked on sugar-snap peas by referring them as elephant droppings or suchlike.

While thinking about what we consume, which includes the manner in which our fish is caught and the treatment of the pig or cow before it was slaughtered, if you eat such – we should still enjoy our food.

I haven’t changed the structure of the last sentence because it serves as a reminder, however uncomfortable, that we need to think, to be conscious about our actions – as we should be about our treatment of other people. And just for the record, I love peanut-butter sandwiches

For this reason I hope South African (and global citizens) think before echoing what their best friend heard in a supermarket or at soccer practise about UCT Professor Emeritus Tim Noakes, author of banting recipe books, The Real Meal Revolution and Raising Superheroes. I don’t follow the diet, but eating strategically, according to our needs more than our wants, with a good deal of latitude, makes sense to me. I’ve interviewd Prof Noakes about other related subjects, and think I have a little insight as to what makes him tick (beyond book sales). Crucially, he  is supported in his thinking by medical and nutritional professionals around the world.

the-book-book-raising-superheroesNatural growth spurts aside, why would any reasonably educated person want to raise their child to be overweight, with all the possible attendant health and likely societal issues ? Noakes tackles the subject head-on.

My son a few months ago decided we could have fun producing this clip. It’s s typical lunch we make for school. At the top of the page are images of typical lunches supplied by his other parent (who just btw happens to be a teacher with a PhD).

These are challenges for parents, and should pose only one question; is it about you or the kids?