Monday, December 1, 2014

The whole glory of the anal phase

It's not really the anal stages as described by Freud or Erikson - those are earlier - it's more that phase a newly six-year-old boy is in when he delights in puns, the more focused on elimination of body waste the better.

Favourite insults we hurl at each other these days include "Poopoobrain" and "Fartpants" and Richie particularly loves counting in grossness: "One, poo, wee, four, vomit, six, seven, fart, nine, burp! AHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!"

After this:
five stitches in

Felix started complaining of toothache. Now he's had a filling before, to my horror (MY first filling was when I was 37). And his regular dentist couldn't see him, so I made him an appointment with "my" regular dentist, the inimitable and infamous and importantly pain-free Dr Lew. Felix loves a bit of a fuss being made of him so he eagerly listened to the details of the doctor's appointment. And then his face became a picture of sheer amusement.
"Mom," he said conspiratorially. "That dentist has a very funny name, doesn't he?"
Dr Loo, I will never look at you the same way again.
(And there wasn't a cavity. Dr L(e)oo(w) suspects it was the trauma of jaw hitting ground that is causing the ache.)

Speaking of anal phases, Richie's enema regime continues and it is an entire albatross (ALBA-TROSS! John Cleese sells it, dressed as a movie cooldrink girl in his Monty Python days) off my back. Like so many "special needs" things, you first have the horrors of it and then when you have finally angsted and therapied your way through the physical and emotional trauma of inserting a silicone pipe into your son's glans pubis or indeed recently a plastic tube up his anus, it becomes...  okay. I was going to say "it can never really be okay" but it is an approximation of bowel control, or having predictable spells of faeces-free pants, which other four-year-olds mostly enjoy by now, and that control, coming via a tool and not your body as it may, is crucial, and a massive relief in itself. The fact that Richie can not leak stool when he goes to school next year is important. And much as he dislikes the enema process, during the few times you can reason with him he likes the fact that he doesn't poo in nappies anymore, but in a potty or toilet bowl like other children. He even asks for underpants some days (but he still leaks urine through even the padded ones so that's not really working yet.) (But we will get there, probably by getting the right combination of drugs from evil, nasty Big pHARMa) (That was sarcasm. I love life-saving Big pHARMa, me.)


Monday, November 24, 2014

Our first trip to Casualty

I am used to having similar instincts to Sean when we are analysing social situations (= bitching about other people), or discussing any of the Important Subjects, or even home decorating (there was that time he asked me to choose floor tiles by myself because we always choose the same anyway and he wasn't able to get off work).

So it is always odd to have such vastly differing reactions when our kids get injured.

When I heard the crying coming from the front garden and could hear it was serious crying not play-play, I rushed over, saw the little boy collapsed under his bike, and then saw too much blood. That moment is critical, isn't it,  he way you ice over for an instant and talk to yourself: okay, this is for real. He has properly hurt himself. What next? Walk past Sean who is on the phone, where he will see the blood and will instantly come help. Get to the bathroom. Soothe through the howling. Wipe and assess. Realise it's hospital time, that cut is deep and wide. And - laugh, giddy with relief that this is the worst of it, the powers that be (God or Fate) have limited this catastrophe to these very manageable parameters. For me, that realisation that "I can deal with this" is gold, and it helps me take the shrieking and the hysteria and the fear of the little boy into my arms, and soothe it.

For Sean, not so much. Instead, his reaction is visceral anger "because you just love them so much", as he will explain later. To him, the ripping apart of the flesh of his flesh on the paving stone is unbearable, and the violation of it translates into pure ire. It's skidded too close to the horror, every parent's horror, of their little bodies being overwhelmed by devastation. How dare the world be like this, do this to my precious son? - is how I interpret his response. He should have been there, he says, and no amount of me stating if he were there, the accident could still have happened, will make him agree with me. I think he is saying he wanted to have been there; he wished to have avoided the entire incident; he imagines he may have been able to, and feels he has failed by not doing so.

Off we head, self-blaming, steam-out-of-ears Sean, Richie, Felix and I, to the casualty department of our local hospital, where I, who consider myself a hospital veteran, walk into the reception and have to be corrected by Sean. I realise I don't even know where the Casualty section entry is - how odd is that, given our hospital history? How lucky is that?

For two hours, between six and eight at night, my two boys behaved like little miracles. Angels and saints. Richie walked off with me to go buy a fruit ice lolly for him and for Felix in what would be their only supper till 8.30pm. Counter to his behaviour over the rest of the weekend, he was a model of pleasant politeness, giggling with me in the waiting room, playing quietly on the iPad while his brother was being stitched. Considering he spent the weekend vomiting and eating toast and Bovril (when he managed to eat), this was unusual, and admirable.

Felix asked lots of questions about the stitches and Sean, recalling I think a seminal moment in his childhood where he was told a trip to the dentist wouldn't be painful and it was, leading him to realise "They (Adults) Lie", was uncharacteristically bold and said, "Yes. But only a little bit," and this strangely comforted young Felix, who said, "I AM a little bit scared, but I won't cry."

There he lay, waiting for the eternity on the table waiting for the doctor to come, after having first arrived and going to describe symptoms in office 1, back to waiting room, up to counter to open file, back to waiting room, finally into the actual casualty exam room, seen first doc, confirmed stitches needed (but he is not the stitch doctor), and been moved to procedure room. Poor child's nerves were shot by this point.

"Is it a bit like a bee string?" asked Felix who remembers last week's bee sting on his big toe keenly. Not even nearly as sore as that, we confirm. Many times. But not as many as one would have thought. Nope, both boys were stoic to a fault in this crisis.

Me, I am unable to wait for the damn washing machine to open its opening mechanism after it summons me with it's I'm-done song without composing mental rants about engineers being able to land a rocket on a comet with my home computer but not being able to build a washing machine that only sings its damn song when it's good and ready to open its damn door, yet Felix and Richie waited and waited out that aeon of time.

At home, all stressed, I made Richie his hundredth Bovril and toast and Felix his long-promised cheese sandwich for supper and Richie upended his toast Bovril-side-down on my newly laundered carpets and the second time it happened I'm afraid I snapped at him. Very unlike him (one so often forgets he is barely four, the way he shouts at us and slams doors and sends us out of his room and avoids hugs and kisses), his little face crumpled into a cry and I knew he, too, had taken strain.

"I'm sorry, Richie," I said. "I think we were all just worried about Felix. But he's okay now."
"Is he broken?" asks Richie.
"He's all fixed up now. Were you worried about him?"
"Yes. I thought he was going to die."
True as Bob. He must have been very worried and confused. I wonder how much his subconscious remembers about HIS hospital stay, so much more serious.
In bed I apologised again, but he actually initiated it. This is how the conversation went:

Richie: "I am sorry about the fight."
Me: "I am sorry I snapped at you, Richie. The fight was my fault."
"Yes," he agreed, but without malice. "It was your fault."
"I shouldn't get angry just because of an accident."
"I love you very much Richie."
"And who else loves me?"
(This is a favourite game which Richie allows during his rare tender moments.) We listed Richie's sphere of love in ever-expanding circles, including eventually the dogs and cat. "Gnasher?" asked Richie. "And puppy?"

Richie seems to have fallen in love with a stuffed toy puppy he's had for ages. He cuddles and sleeps with it now. Maybe that bloody stuffed toy can achieve something for my child which his parents are liberally failing in at the moment - providing a source of affection his angriness actually allows.

I think the boy needs a small lapdog. A very very cute, licky, but very small not-knock-Richie-overy dog like a Yorkie or very small Dachshund. If you know of one, let me know?

The end of a rather traumatic weekend.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Felix turned 6

My dearest Felix, what a big boy you suddenly are. It's hard to believe you were once so terribly shy you hated having people in your house and threw a tantrum if we had to go in the car to a children's party.

This weekend past you allowed an actual birthday party(ette) to be held in your honour, and your home (although nobody was allowed into your bedroom-sanctuary). Four friends, you stipulated, not one more. Despite the fact that we missed out on asking all our (adult) buddies along, it was a lovely, cosy, intimate party. And you have all gotten so big! You and your buddies raced up and down a jumping castle/water slide, you raced into the pool, you enjoyed making pizzas and jumping on the trampoline and lying in the sun. At the end of the day, when by 7.15pm you (and I) could barely keep your eyes open, you told me you were very happy and you had had a wonderful day, and I was so happy for you. I could see you really did love your birthday-time.

At school you were the star attraction as you dished out party snacks and had songs sung in your honour and wore a birthday crown, and received a handmade book of drawings made by all the children in your class. What a sweet tradition!

In your way, you obsessed and perserverated over your coming birthday for the days leading up to it - wow you have staying power and you Will! Not! Let! Something! Go! ("Yes, but..." you retort, no matter how angry I have become, no matter what the threat or pleas from me that you DROP IT. You won't. You won't. You just really really won't.)

You wanted a bike. Ever since your school's bike rally, where you proudly brought along your JD Bug and all the boys in your class wanted to know why you were still riding a "baby bike". Do you know something, Felix? Your dad and I bought you the two-wheeler TWO YEARS AGO for Christmas. It's been sitting, wrapped in Father Christmas paper, in a high cupboard for 23 months! Because, until the power of peer pressure, there was no way you were interested in this dangerous activity called bike-riding. But after the bike rally day, you stealthily, gingerly (I imagine) attempted one of the school's two-wheelers, and after a few tries, you told me one day: "Mom. I can ride a two-wheeler now." I didn't even know whether to believe you because you've never done something this independent and risky by yourself before. But you did it. When you received your bike on your birthday, you got on it and rode, immediately. You love your bike so much you are on it every spare moment. And I am so half-sad, half-proud, and I suspect this feeling is going to become more and more familiar to me over the years.

The instant you took possession of your bike, you also said this: "Richie, I'm giving you my JD Bug now." You have a generous and kind nature, my beautiful boy child. Thank you.

The other happy news is that Richie jumped on that JD Bug with enthusiasm and he certainly can ride it. He improved visibly, immediately, and is now fairly comfortable on it (he was using a push bike before, but he is managing the balancing of the JD Bug, and he is also quite proud of himself for being able to use it.)

The year is rushing to its close with a vengeance and it always feels out-of-control-ish round about here. Next year brings new changes and one of the things we had been worrying about is Richie: right decision to move him to "big school", what about continence issues? And without going into undignified detail, we have made progress there re using enemas as a bowel management regime, and initial findings are that he really is less full of shit when he is less full of shit. So that's good.

Richie is actually currently being extremely cute (when he wants to be) and coming out with the best verbal retorts in a new verbal swoop forward. When I was trying to make him do something the other day, he tells me, "Well, that's just not good enough!" He is also beginning to think of himself as, among other things, a person-with-spina-bifida, and the other day made me play "Spina Bifida April", a new addition to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cast of characters. She walks with a walking stick.

Both children and their parents still miss Nana a lot and I have been surprised by how deeply and keenly the children feel the loss. Felix tells me how he feels like crying during prayers at school because he thinks of Nana. And Richie, I am beginning to see, has lost his "co-cripple" - Nana had great trouble walking and generally being flexible due to a lifelong painful disease called pseudo-gout (CPPD) - she had had most joints replaced and I see now that Richie felt an affinity with her that was also partly due to limited mobility. I am so sad that we are all missing out on Maureen's Maureen-ness. I could have happily had some more years of my interfering mother-in-law.

Pics of the party, also of Ouma's party with the kids the next day (as she couldn't come) at Huddle Park, surely eastern Joburg's coolest new kid spot. Has bike track plus trout fishing in a little dam. When you catch a trout, they gut it for you and you take it home and cook it. It was our second visit but the first to include a success on the fishing front. I like the idea of the kids cooking food they've caught (okay, killed), my heart-of-hearts conscience telling me this is probably the only time you should eat meat. And I think it's good for city kids to occasionally connect the dots between death and meat, circle of life tralalala. Plus I got home and grilled Felix's fish, and made fish fingers out of Richie's - and they ate it all, even Richie "I'm too fussy for my food".

Felix caught a fish!

Richie also caught a fish!

Boys on bikes

The two-wheeler

Richie's JD Bug
Cutest ice cream cake

Massive waterslide.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

This and that

For a kid with fucked up feet Richie's shoe collection does seem disproportionately extensive - and expensive.

The shoe saga in its entirely is boring but the executive summary is that he keeps busting his brand new orthopaedic shoes because he is so rough with them. He also splays his feet outwards in order to increase base stability, and the strain on every join and lace of his shoes is a physical testament to the battering his knee and hip joints must also get from his peculiar posture.

Our running shoe total over the past two months is in the thousands of rands (thank you Discovery! - they have so far paid for every pair), but we live in two different countries here, don't we, the haves and the have nots, because eventually, after every attempt at repair, Queenie took the skoene to the local Zimbabwean or Somali on the street corner who patched the footwear back onto a condition that Richie has been so far unable to break again, all for - R35. Thirty five rands. Shake my actual head. How do people survive?

I shake my head for this country. I don't know how we are going to manage our way out of this mess we have made this time. The poverty, the despair, the lack of care, the corruption...

I was helped by another spina bifida mom who recommended a pair of Hatchbacks (which you can buy online from America Fuck Yeah for 100 dollars). (They are a different type of specialised orthopaedic shoe.) You really can get everyhting from the States, amazing place.

(came the email from the company)
Thanks for buying your first pair of Hatchbacks! Your order has been dispatched etc

I laughed. Not a "Dear" or a "Ms" in sight. In contrast, our correspondence with German officialdom (yes, we have applied at the German School for Richie, he won't go, among other reasons there is no space for him) and also German passports (oh yes we have, make of that what you will) has been strictly
Sehr geehrte Frau B
which translates to "To The Very Much Esteemed Mrs B"

Cultural differences FTW. 

I know we have been grieving and going through the various stages, but anger and despair are at the forefront for us at the moment.

Oh the stories I could tell of what Sean sees and experiences daily at his job in a proudly South African government hospital, which certainly hasn't served any government official lately. But I can't. I can say that living it vicariously through Sean's second hand stories is depressing enough. South Africans deserve better than we are getting.

I am surprised at the depth of my grief for Maureen. My sons too miss her very much and Felix especially is prone to having a little cry and explaining to me that he feels sad "because of Nana". Because I "lost" - stupid word - because my brother was ripped from us when he was ten, I think I had an unconscious pact with myself and the imagined creator that if everyone I loved survived into adulthood - late adulthood - then I would not have anything to complain about and I would accept their passing graciously.

I have changed my mind. Maureen was in her Seventies (no I will NOT tell you her real age, it was a state secret) and it was too young. I am ready to go and bargain for another six months.

Life is like this for us at the moment. Anecdotes in between seriousness, seriousness, sadness, overwork, and more seriousness. Plus some major life decisions. The forties are shaping up to be a pretty serious decade, so far.

A small story of the future: Felix had to bring his "favourite book" to school. He brought a Spiderman sticker and activity book which was the talking point among his buddies and made his book-snob mother cringe a little. I would have preferred he bring one of the How To Train Your Dragon series - overwritten and traditional-gender-rolesy as it is (said as an adverb abuser myself) - but - we only have it on Kindle! HAH. It gave me a moment of Future Shock.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

In memoriam

Some people get a monster-in-law for a mother-in-law. I got lucky. I got Maureen. I got a marvel-in law.

Maureen passed away a week ago, and it is incredibly difficult to write properly about her - it's always more difficult to write when the stakes are high.

Maureen was diagnosed with motor neuron disease last Wednesday, just as everybody famous was getting ice poured over them, and I remember thinking how weird it felt that here was a diagnosis that felt like having ice poured over us.

Two nights of poor sleep is what followed her diagnosis, and Friday morning she simply didn't wake up. She had been battling to breathe, and speak, and, in fact, eat, and it seems as if in retrospect, if everything I know about Maureen is true, with trademark good humour and dignity, she refused to entertain the notion of this particular party, and opted instead to check out early.

In retrospect, she was probably diagnosed very late in the disease, (lots of symptoms now make sense retrospectively), and after a week of shock absorption, I can say I definitely prefer for her that she did not get to a point that she couldn't apply her own lipstick. She would have hated that.

It was still a massive shock and it is surreal to think we will be going to her funeral tomorrow.

For the record, for my children, I will write about how it was.

Sean had been to see her and discuss her diagnosis with her on Wednesday afternoon. They were able to share some tears and some laughs, and for that I am grateful.

My father-in-law, John, was able to spend Wednesday night with Maureen, and although he was distraught at the news of her disease, I hope it made her feel better to see how deeply loved she was.

The kids and I were able to see her the day before she died. We went to see her on Thursday afternoon. She told me how, when Sean was there describing the condition, John asked "So what does this all mean?" and Maureen, typical Maureen, answered, "It means: You're gonna die! You're gonna die!" (Giggling away.) Cue husband and son collapsing into tears. She told me how surprised she was that her husband and son were so devastated. I actually laughed at her and I told her we all loved her very much, what on earth did she expect? I am so glad I was able to say that.

Maureen was one helluva class act. She was funny and eccentric (Felix gets his scruples from her, I think - she hated touching other people's cutlery or clothing and completely, completely understood that Felix doesn't want to eat anything I've had a bite out of.) She was a little bit claustrophobic, which meant that rain or mid-Jozi midwinter, her doors and windows had to be open. She lived in possibly THE coldest house I have ever experienced. After some years of marriage, I asked Sean, "As a child, were you often cold?" (they lived in the same house in The Hill, South of Joburg, for four generations.) It was as if a film of understanding passed before him. "YES!" he exclaimed and it all suddenly made sense: what you take for granted in childhood is legion.

Maureen's ready sharp wit is a real loss. It is a trait shared by her son and husband, so being in their home was a fun, happy experience. Humour was sacrosanct.

Maureen loved her Boy Child Sean quite literally more than life. She may have been the world's most devout Catholic, but Sean would joke that if he committed a murder, she'd cover it up and lie to the Pope himself about it.

Maureen taught me a lot about my husband, and about marriage. One of the first things was simply how she and John modelled marriage to us. After almost exactly 49 years of marriage, they got on each other's tits as much as any married couple does, of course. But they were indisputably a team. They had each other's back. They were respectful to and about each other, and would never, but NEVER, unnecessarily complain about each other in a nasty way. Belittling each other was unheard of. To others, they were united, no matter what personal differences they may or may not have had that day.

(I can see, in how Sean treats me, that he is emulating what he learnt at home. The best example I can come up with is about how we structure our home life. When I quit full time work I was very worried about the effect this would have on the dynamics and power balance in our relationship. I was after all taking on the role of the financially dependent one and relinquishing my financial independence, while Sean was taking on the responsibility of financial, if not sole, at least main, provider. Six years into the arrangement, there has never been a minute where I have felt like the less important partner, or any sort of minority or inferiority - because I have refused to treat myself that way, and because Sean has refused to treat me that way.)

The next thing Maureen taught me was about generosity of affection. We grow up in a culture where "mother in law" is often accompanied by "eye roll", and when I first got to know Sean I wondered if a very present, available, involved mom would translate into "interfering" or "overbearing" or would have the effect of robbing Sean of strength. Stereotypes of men who never leave home rose in my imagination. In fact, Maureen expanded her heart to allow me (and later the children) in. Instead of being small with her affection, she was generous. I only appreciate this now that I already prophylactically despise my sons' future partners.

Maureen was Sean's biggest fan. When our sons were born, she became theirs also. They developed the sweetest ritual where Felix would phone her almost every day just to chat about his day. She was so enthusiastic about every little occurrence in his life.

Maureen somehow had the knack of being an excellent conversation partner to her son, and in so doing she allowed Sean to develop the most extensive emotional vocabulary I have yet to encounter in a man who is also so totally macho - a combination I find irresistible. I had hoped she would have guided me to do this with my boys in their teens. (I say "macho" jokingly as it sounds so "Stand By Your Man" but in fact I want a "Man wat sy man kan staan" because I myself am strong and I want a similar partner.)

There must have been things about me with which Maureen just could not identify - my Afrikaans heritage, the work I do, my interests in exercise and cooking and healthy eating, for a start. And I think she would have had to be tortured with quite a lot of TV deprivation before she would EVER have admitted to any of that!

On top of all of this, she was just fun to be around and a good conversation partner. She enjoyed the unlikeliest of people. She could often surprise you. She knew better than most how not to sweat the small stuff - a grandchild-made mess of her entire house springs to mind.

A more committed prayer-petitioner there never was. She nine-hour and twelve-day novenas she said for Sean and Richie in her lifetime are uncountable. Her biggest sadness was the death in infancy of her firstborn boy, Ian (whom she knew she'd be meeting again in death). She was as unrattled by her diagnosis of impending death as anyone Sean says he's ever seen. "I've got very strong faith so I know I'll be fine," she told me on the day before she died.

But as she always reminisced about Ian: "For you the world has ended, but that old sun just comes up again the next day as if nothing ever happened."

The sun keeps coming up, but we will surely miss you, Mom.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Holiday achievement levels unlocked

Are holidays a magical time where Things you have been waiting for to happen suddenly happen? I think so. Felix has just wiped his own ass, of his own volition. I've been hakking at him for a while now to do it, all his friends seem to do it, and what I always forget is that Felix is 6 months younger than his friends and therefore, I just need to wait a little bit and he will get there.

Richie submitted to a hairdresser's haircut. This is enormous because his resistance to hair care is legendary. I blame the vanity inherited from Grandpa Hammie (when my parents still cohabited, in the 70s, my mother had to blow dry my father's mullet for him in the mornings, true story, and Grandpa H retains his crowning glory to this day, and is as vain as ever.)

Two lessons from this: one, that Richie likes to protest wildly as if terrified or in agony but in fact once he was in that barber's chair he was relaxed, if a little miffed. He also told the barber "don't cut it all off!" so I know he knew exactly what was potting.

If not exactly pleased then not exactly traumatised either

Lesson two was that Richie, who is weeks away from turning four, is quite capable of being bribed. The whole haircut scenario came about via a bribe: in the shopping mall (where Felix had a dentist's visit, PLUS A FILLING OMG! - okay side note: Felix has been saying he has toothache and I thought perhaps it was just the loose teeth: he lost his most recent tooth last week on holiday in Hazyview, that's three teeth gone now in as many weeks. So we made an appointment with the same dentist he remembers from her visit to his nursery school two years ago. And he promptly got a filling, poor thing. He wasn't even remotely scared, which is unusual for him, I thought.) we were in the mall, and Richie wanted into the toy shop, and I saw the barber a few shops away and did a quick mental calculation and decided that Richie could have a reward toy if he agreed to go to the barber and Felix could have a reward toy for having survived the dentist. Once Richie had figured out that I was quite serious and quite happy to walk out of the mall and not visit the toy store regardless of the volume of his protests - literally right at the parking ticket machine - he said, "Take me to the barber!!!" and I did, and he had his haircut, and he got his Lego, and all was well in the world again.

We have had a lovely holiday in Hazyview last week. It was a beautiful golden period of time, properly relaxing and mind-clearing. The boys shared a room and though Richie woke Felix up early every morning, they also fell in love a little all over again. Felix now adores "the bushveld" as he calls it.

I can't rave enough about Hazyview (and surrounds) as a holiday destination for us Gautengers. We stayed in a timeshare resort and it was just perfect; while there was a programme of group-participation events such as poolside karaoke *raises eyes to heavens snobbishly*, in the week we were there, at least, nobody took advantage of it and everybody just seemed like the kinda ous who were just trying to get some peace and quiet and a bit of Big 5ing in. There was however an outlook rock for eagle-watching, a glorious pool, a trampoline, putt-putt course, table tennis, jungle gyms, sandpit, Fussball table, etc etc etc. There were three walking trails, the shortest of which just over a kilometre long, and getting my soft-soled rooinek family to go on it was hilarious and frustrating. We eventually managed, one child complaining about his Crocs slipping, one child having to be carried, and City Slick himself wanting to pack the first aid kit, GPS and Nasa space blanket before we set off. They all returned intact and Felix told me at the end of our stay that his "bushveld walk" was his favourite part of the holiday.

We even went to the Kruger. Now I dunno about your childhood but in mine we spent hours and lifetimes being exhorted to "ky'daar" while our thighs burned and sweated on whatever toxin-leaching synthetic material they made car back seats from in those days, before cars had aircon. Sean and I both don't have super rosy memories of that stuff. If there's anything that makes one feel more like one is the parent now than being the ones bundling the kids in the car for a drive through Kruger I have yet to encounter it.

We aimed low - a quick trip to Phabeni gate, no malaria meds necessary - and no particular end point aimed towards. We were just gonna turn round whenever the kids turned into nightmares. We made it to Skukuza though, had a drink and turned back - and we were in Sabie River Coffee, a delightful coffee farm/shop on the Sabie Road by 1pm to meet some spina bifida parent connections who live in Nelspruit and surrounds. (Which was wonderful and fascinating.) Felix won the traditional "whoever sees the first animal gets a prize" contest - elephants, no less. He is still telling any adult who is willing to listen all his holiday stories. Some days I barely remember the terribly, disablingly introverted child he once was.

Oh, we had a lovely time.

And now to end I must mention a particularly sanctimonious thing. There was a TV in the lodge but it was a flat screen and so the kids thought it was a computer (true story) - and so we simply never switched it on. (Never fear, they got a couple hours screen time via the parents' iPads every day.) Felix also mostly accepts the "no violent games" rule and makes a great show of "not being aggressive, Mom" after having finished a borderline game. But I so loved the break from Disney Fucking Junior and the inanity of the shit they get fed that, when we got home, we kept the TV cabinet closed, and it's been two weeks and counting now of no TV in the house I KNOW even while the kids are on holiday and everything I'll take my medal now thank you.

The weird thing is, nobody has even asked for it. I mentioned in passing that our (DS)TV was "broken" and I lie we did watch Planes the Movie on the media player yesterday as a special occasion for popcorn-and-Movie Night. I am ready to switch off that time and brain thief in my house, and stop paying R700 a month for the privilege into the bargain. I am the last person I ever thought would do this but I no longer want that 24/7, choose from one of five kids' channels thing around me. TV just became background music to too much we were doing. I don't know how long this will last but I am happier this way. So I hope long.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Can I just say...

… that I have been a loyal gym-goer for about twelve years now, on and off, and I bloody love it. But in all this time I have either been intimidated by the thought of being the fattest one there or the uncoolest one or the most inappropriately dressed one, and my subsequent knee-jerk rebelliousness had meant that I refused to buy "gym gear". No, a T-shirt and shorts did me fine all these years.

It's a bit awkward doing the school run in my T-shirt and shorts combo in midwinter though. (Except for the fact that nobody ever asks me if I am going to the gym. They say: are you going running?  Running is a real sport. It's macho. Yes, I say. Yes, yes I am.)

For my birthday this year I told Sean I wanted gym gear. I finally folded. I am not sure after all that I can sustain being a northern suburbs Jozi wife and mother with a flexible work life if I don't have the gear to reinforce my place in society. My car won't do it, it has no cred at all. But what really did it was those genius towels. The ones that have the zip in the corner for your locker key and earphones and phone. Those I really craved.

After being sick for what felt like weeks and weeks and weeks (but what apparently was only two weeks of skipped sessions) I strolled into gym bedecked in brands and labels top to toe. It was hashtag selfie time.

But it is fabulous being forty. Who knew? But things really are changing. Along with a sense of despair about humanity, and an encroaching belief that what we do here is largely futile and probably meaningless (no grand legacy for me!), a dim hope that the next generation will do better (and a willingness to hand over to them, but history has not really shown a massive improvement in one generation's efforts over others', although maybe I am being unfair, we do all live better in general than in the Middle Ages), there is the wonderfully liberating lack of giving a fuck anymore.

this one made me laugh and laugh and laugh. I can't wait to use the line in real life.

I had to wait until I was 40 and flabby before I started feeling comfortable enough in my own skin to pitch up in kugel gear over Sean's shorts. Any ideas how we can give our children the gift of in-my-own-skinness much, much earlier? Or is that just impossible to achieve in adolescence or early adulthood?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Diamonds on the soles of his shoes

I got a phone call from Richie's school Friday morning. It goes like this:
"Hi Margot, it's the school, it's not an emergency..."
Blood pressure, which had spiked, returns to normal
Blood pressure returns to abnormal level
"Richie seems to have hurt his foot and there's a fair bit of blood, can I take his splints off?"

Yikes. Apparently the kids were playing outside, then it was return-inside time and the other kids and the teaching assistants kept noticing splatters of blood in the classroom - but where was it from? Nobody could tell. Eventually they traced the leak to Richie's big toe.

I got home from work and checked it out, but the would had been expertly plastered so I couldn't see just how big it really was.

So a word on Richie's shoe dramas of the present. Richie got new splints, along with fancy new blue shoes, which he loved by sight, but wearing them turned out to be another matter entirely. Because of Richie's hip rotation issues, his heels sometimes smack together when he walks. The smacking loosened the clip-in mechanism that keeps the blue shoes

Exhibit A

strapped up. The shoes would slip off and he wouldn't be able to put them back together, and experience has taught us just how much Richie's sense of his abilities is tied up with his use of his legs-splints-shoes.

We were due at the orthotist on Saturday anyway as Richie had stopped using his last pair of sandals and

Exhibit B

yes that is a hole. Clearly the child needed new shoes, but in the meantime he was boycotting his blue-new shoes, and Richie on a mission is not a person you argue with, and and and - so he went to school in the faktap shoes.

The orthotist squeezed us in (we were only there to pick up the new sandals), examined the splints, which had also been damaged, the shoes and Richie's feet and when I told him I couldn't imagine what had happened he said to me in his characteristic Armenian accent and style that he had 100% clarity what had happened. Richie was riding a push bike, he said, and as he was wearing the shoes-with-holes, he scraped off all the skin off his big toe (but kept right on riding his push bike and braking with his feet because he can't feel the sensation of the skin being ripped off - aaaaarh it's painful to me even to write it). That is in retrospect so exactly what happened, and explains why it looked as if Richie was having a totally normal time and nobody noticed anything.


There really was quite a lot of blood.

And now we have not one but two pairs of hideously expensive orthotic shoes (there's your diamonds on the soles reference) to share with anyone interested (size 25 and 26). Let me know if you need.

Meanwhile, we are busy having a delightful weekend. An old friend at work Friday said, "Really?" disbelievingly when I told her I truly believed that kids became easier, and yet it is proving that way for me. We are still enforcing the TV time rule and are actually having happier rather than worse times. Honestly (and I know these are blips in the universe) the kids have been playing and playing and playing together all weekend long, painting and baking and camping in a tent, and I am WRITING THIS WHILE THEY PLAY I know right WFT? How? It becomes possible.

Sean has been at work all weekend again and that is hard and lonely and of course we all miss him but for the first time in since I can remember I have been having an actual, independently judged nice time with my kids, just hanging out by the house, not needing to rush off to places to make the time pass on my own with the smallies.

It helps that Felix tells me - in addition to how much he hates me/is leaving home/ is never speaking to me again - that he loves me so, so, so much! and plants kisses on my cheek and so on. I melt.

He is also missing his dad - and able to articulate it, more or less. Yesterday he planned a "surprise party" for Sean's return from work, including glasses of water and balloons, which I thought was a lovely bit of wish fulfilment fantasy play.

Yes Sean's work life has gone a bit stupid. Like many middle classians we constantly debate whether we want to live like this, without really seeing a way out, or while trying to maintain some sort of objectivity around how we live, our work-life balance (haha), how much we earn, opposed to some other place in the country or world, and should we stay or should we go now? Or as Sean says, we must decide do we want to live somewhere too dangerous or too boring? For now we're choosing 'too dangerous' but it's doing our heads in, making us depressed and rendering Sean unable to turn down work.

But I don't feel too much other than a passing regret for Felix's yearning for his dad. We know we are very lucky to have him, even in small instalments. It's more than 66% of children in this country have. Shudder.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tooth fairy

First we just had a bit of fun, dicking around with a length of floss and a knot. We both chickened out at the first sign of blood. Sean, the brave surgeon,  refused even to participate in this part.

It's like pulling teeth.
A few days later, Felix rushes up to me. "Mom! Why is my tooth sticking out like this?" he asks, referring to his top incisor. He prods at it to stick it back, et voila. "My tooth is out!"


Massive, massive celebrations. Mom and pop are devastated. how can we have a child this big already? Surely in our day children only lost their teeth in Grade 1? Wasn't Felix just born the other day?

First tooth gone
So, the tooth fairy made an appearance that night, and despite the gravity of the occasion we STILL nearly forgot to sneak in, giggling and shushing each other. Twenty rand is what the TF dropped, spurring remembrances of the shiny R1 Sean received back in the day, and just what a large, shiny and solid piece of silver that old Jan v Riebeeck Rand was. 

Felix woke at precisely 6.34am. We know, because we heard a jubilation - "The tooth fairy was here!" and she gave him money - "Ten RAND!" sez Felix. "TWO ten rands. Two Mandela monies."

But wait, there's more. Next evening, Felix stomps off to his room in a huff after having been reprimanded for kicking at Richie. "I'm NEVER playing with you again!" Slam! went the door. Sulk! went the boy. I drew a bath and coerced Richie into it, then tried Felix's door. there he was: sitting cross-legged on his bed, fiddling with his loose tooth. The jump he must have made as I entered was enough to sever the last piece of gum from tooth and so it was that he explained, for the second time in as many days, "My tooth is out!"

Another one BITES the dust

I couldn't even Facebook this one because I mean. Who loses two teeth in two days? I thought someone would phone Child Welfare. Especially if they saw this SMS from Sean to me... (note the timestamp, and yes I was still in Richie's room trying to get him to bed...)

Threat from Dad

Friday, July 25, 2014

Teenage Mutiny

I am writing an article on iPad and screen entertainment use for my favourite, most faithful and most regular employer/client: Your Baby and Your Pregnancy magazines. (It is by the way very very lovely indeed to have such a client; a dream client. I love my work there and I love what I get to write for them. At R30 or so every two months it's a good buy. Feel free to buy it regularly so that the circulation levels go up and up. It's obvs available electronically too. in case you are interested. Okay, enough marketing.

It's fair to say I used to feel relaxed about iPad use. It was the one thing I thought I didn't need to stress about - Richie can take or leave a screen and Felix is remarkably self-regulating, so it was all going to be fine. Besides, they both had plenty of other things in their rich, stimulating little lives and I made sure they only watched CBeebies and Disney Junior and all the iPad games were fun and educational and so on.

But then Felix started, inevitably, wanting to watch cartoons and things with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Spider-Man and Transformers.
Felix as Raphael
And I thought, what's the harm? Felix is WAY behind his peers in terms of the sophistication of the TV material he consumes, he is easily scared, I thought it would be ok to follow his lead when it came to choosing the electronic media he consumes.
I have changed my mind.
He is freaked out by what he sees, often. His mood is down, he is jangly and grumpy. Look, as per last post, he is also having an introduction to the fact that hell is other people, and that there is 12 years of schooling ahead of him. But to me at least, the link between the mood and the iPad games was clear.
We survived a week or so of Felix's demon-child doppelganger, and then Sean and I climbed on the PVR one night and pressed delete. Many times. We use a timer to control Felix's iPad use - he is allowed an hour after school now. Nickelodeon and Boomerang no longer exist for us. And like is so often the case when you stop being "afraid" of your child's reaction (thank you strict British nanny for giving us another way we fail at being parents), you are rewarded because the child actually secretly wanted you to take control. His job is to push boundaries, yours is to enforce them. Everyone feels safer again.
Richie as Raphael too
So the expected teenage mutiny never materialised. Much. Felix has been moved to another table at school and it very relieved and much happier. I am so glad I intervened even though I felt like the mom to avoid at PTA meetings.
Also: Felix is just developing and changing SO FAST. He has had such a busy year. The chubby little guy we sent to Grade R is a lean, tall, talkative person who has embraced school and rules and extramurals so much better than we had dared hope for. So I mustn't lose sight of that. The odd glitch is not unexpected after all.
Felix has finally become attuned to the idea of work and reward (must be a school thing) and therefore has responded to the idea of using a star chart to do chores. The stars will eventually translate into a "pocket money" - and he is already saving up for a Teenage Mutant Half Shell. He was all aflame and even made his own star chart. We are having fun collecting stickers. So while there have been a few wobbles, in general positive reinforcement has been working well and it's still possible, even though he is growing up so fast, to say thank you to Felix for behaving well and see his pride and resolve to aim for more praise, rather than get into a destructive fight.
Love that boy Felix!