Saturday, April 19, 2014


Richie has been wanting nobody but me to do anything with or for him. He’s developed it into a bit of an obsession: push the toy car, brush teeth, change nappy, do catheter, feed dinner – it must be Mommy. Last night during the same pre-bed performance Sean and I looked at each other conspiratorially and apologetically and Sean said “It’s gotta be Mommy, huh?” and I said “He’s going through a major Mommy phase” and I turned to Richie and said, “You love your Mommy, hey boy?”
And Richie took me totally seriously and looked me in the eye and said, “Yes. I love you... LOTS much.” I was just thinking that I wouldn’t forget this moment ever (Richie is sparing in his affections) and giving him a huge cuddle and staring deep into his eyes when I hear another little voice from the bed. “Uh... Mommy?”
“Ree....member what we talked about earlier?”

*What we talked about earlier*
Felix had been tearful and morose for a day or two, taking to long spells of “alone time” in his room or escaping into electronic media. I was on the point of getting worried. But also, school had just closed, and it turns out maybe Felix didn’t really know what that meant. Was school over forever? Would he ever go back? Was Grade R finished? Also, I had been sick and proper bedridden and so unavailable for the kids for three days  and while Richie would articulate his stress (“Please play with me Mommy”) Felix would be all grown up and understanding and leave me to lie in bed. So I thought it was maybe all those things but it turns out it was a good solid bout of sibling jealousy. Finally Felix told me, through streams of tears, that “You play more with Richie than with me, even Daddy does!”
My heart was very sore for my brave fist born who often takes the back seat during one of Richie’s many demanding spells (and we are just going through one of those). We spoke about how the loudest sometimes get the biggest reaction, and about how I also felt jealous of my brother when I was little, and about how much we loved Felix and spending time with him. (“One day, when Matteo sat on my Mommy’s lap, I also felt jealous. I said, ‘Hey, that’s my Mommy,’” chipped in Richie, astonishing us that he knew the concept of jealousy and also his memory as this incident occurred possibly six months to a year ago.) I suggested we make sure we did five of Felix’s favourite things, just him and me, this Easter weekend. He wasn’t passionate about the idea but agreed. I also encouraged him to speak up when he felt sad or slighted.

Hence his admonition to me now.
“Oh, is my cuddling Richie making you feel a bit jealous?” I asked.
“Yes!” agreed Felix.
And so I cuddled my other son, and my husband and I talked about the was love is not a finite product, but there’s tailor-made love for every member of the family, and how neither of us could cope without either of our two boys. How we loved Felix for Felix and Richie for Richie, “even though you are quite different”.  “Oh!” said Felix to some of the information as if it was quite new.

I am so sorry for Felix feeling that way. I can see how it happens. Weirdly enough if anything I am having to try harder to feel all the feelz for Richie at the moment as he is being a bit of an asshole again. Favourite children? I suspect every child worries about it but while I love my two differently, I mean it when I tell Felix I need them both and would be devastated without either of them (and could never choose to have only the one over the other child). So I am not worried that I really am preferring Richie over Felix. I am just sorry he had to think he wasn’t the favourite. “You love Richie more,” he actually said, last night. For the record, I really don’t, Felix. I love you both more than I can measure.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Whining whitey blues

Darrel Bristow-Bovey articulated South Africa's most embarrassing phenomenon, the Whining Whitey, so well in his recent column I couldn't try to compete. Trevor Noah made me laugh out loud in his show That's Racist! when he quipped that black people don't complain and white people don't stop. That's about right.

I have one sophisticated response to the terror of being guilty by association when in the company of an embittered white person. Averting my eyes, ignoring what is going on and cringing inwardly. I'm courageous like that.

But today my teenage-style response actually saved me some cash, if not face. I decided to have my early 40th birthday present, a mammogram. Yay me! A mammogram takes place in two parts. Part 1: mash your boob into a machine and take pictures. Part 2: actual doctor does ultrasound after having looked at the pictures.

Part 1 was the easy bit, as it turns out.

Several women crowded into waiting room 2, an interregnum-room devoid of air where you while away the minutes and soon hours wondering what on earth is taking so long. Every so often, two more menopausal women join the group and the room's oxygen levels drop another 10%.

I'm not a scared person but being in a small, stuffy room naked but for a hospital gown with twelve menopausal women is as close to skirting the circles of hell as I can imagine. The room was one giant hot flush. The anger in the room alone could have fuelled the next space odyssey.

I think menopausal women have borne, as a group, a lifetime of raising ungrateful children with unhelpful partners and just as they were about to pat themselves on the back for a job well done and looking forward to finishing that book they started in 1984 their hormones do a funny dance over their uteri and they are hotter than the surface of the Sun and there is suddenly, with grown children and a measure of financial security, vastly reduced risk, in strictly evolutionary terms, in snapping the head of your partner clean off.

I was starting to stress, myself, a little bit when my 10.30 appointment turned into 12.30 and I had to go fetch Felix from school, but was yet to be released from the little waiting room of horrors. Eventually, my name was called and as I verily leapt out of my seat, so the room's angriest Alpha Female, Mrs X, did too and demanded of me: "What time was your appointment?"

She then unleashed the predictable torrent of whining whitey abuse, throwing about terms such as unacceptable and inconsiderate while I made haste to slink into the procedure room quick-sticks. Come on, I have kids to fetch, she's late for Rotary Lunch, at a push. She wasn't getting my spot.

Is there any situation more awkward than being in the company of a person who owns you for their side in their strident conviction that they carry a terribly hard lot in life?

The doc came in to the procedure room and started a comprehensive apology for running so late. He had no less than four cancer diagnoses that morning, he said. This was highly unusual. Each one he then wanted to/had to do an unscheduled biopsy on. Then he has to tell four women they have breast cancer. Fun. He wants to take his time with that but he knows his waiting room is full. So he is in a hurry but he doesn't want to miss anyone's diagnosis. He can't rush it. (If it were you, would you want him to clear the waiting room, or spot your growth?) Yes, I guess he could have dispatched somebody to come Please Explain to the waiting room what was going on. But he didn't. But let's get some perspective. On the sliding scale from Breast Cancer to Late for Lunch, how's your morning going, Mrs X?

There is no doubt I was deeply understanding because I see the other side of the waiting room rage every single evening when Sean comes home, drained, talked-out, cared-out, worried, always worried, about another stranger whose health concerns he brings home with him. And there's always someone who gets on their high horse about how long they had to wait. It's honestly like complaining about the quality of the deckchair formations on the Titanic. Sean talks to me about the collapsing healthcare system, both private and government. Too few doctors, too little time, no proper system to take care of everyone properly. Charlatans here, underqualified doctors there, overchargers to the left, arrogance to the right, and here he is, stuck in the middle with me...

By the time we had finished commiserating with each other, we were besties, this doc and I. I was ushered out of that receptionist's office so fast with blanket refusals of my offers to pay the above-medical aid payment co-charge, I arrived at Felix's school early and with still-dazed eyes.

So I saved several hundreds of rands today by being the Better Woman. Na-na-na-naaaaaaah-na. Put that in your bra and stuff it, Mrs X.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Richie gives a lesson in manners

The Anecdote:

Richie's in the bath, Felix is lurking around outside giving me the pre-adolescent death glare.
"I don't want to shower," he gnarls.
"Felix. You don't have to be rude. Try to just say, 'No thank you Mommy,'" chips in precocious little brother in a honeyed voice.

The Life Lesson:

Ha, ha, how funny? To have the oft-repeated parental injunctions repeated back to us is thrilling (not everything we do and say is in vain). It's gratifying. I try to do the "feelings-based" parenting style that I don't have a label for, but you guys know what I mean, right? The right-on, morally superior, thought-through, DEFINITELY and above all non-violent "Mommy asked Mommy's feelings about when you spilled your juice on purpose on Mommy's new silk blouse and Mommy's feelings are giving her a 'No' message about that behaviour" thing.

I can't sustain it. I try, and I do see results, and Richie really DOES stomp off to his room to go kick stuff instead of hitting Felix, sometimes. But I feel like a fool doing it, and The Shrink says that you can and are only going to do what you are going to do authentically, because you have to be prepared to sustain it. And I'm not. This train of thought did, however, lead me to love the group Sanctimommy on Facebook. I you've been reading this and nodding, then go off there and enjoy some excellent laughs for those days when you don't quite match up to the New Age Parenting standards.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Food fights

I have been fighting food battles with Richie for two years.

"When did it start?" asked The Shrink. And I remembered so clearly a hungry boy Richie at the ma-hoo-sive first birthday party we threw for him, as a thank-you-deity that he was still alive, hoovering up scrambled eggs and sausages off Ouma's plate like a normal-eating child.

I also remember so clearly the Woolies chicken and broccoli bake children's meal that three-year-old Felix and 18-month-old Richie were sharing when Richie suddenly said, "No."

That was the last time he ate rice, or chicken, or cheese, or broccoli. He then turfed pasta and potatoes and meat and all other veg and any new food and a million other things off his menu. Occasionally wee would win a small victory - a friend ate a carrot stick, and so did Richie. We sold butternut fritters as "bread" and plastered them in Bovril and he accepted them.

Nothing out of the ordinary was going on at 18 months, in fact, au contraire, we were emerging from the Year Of Hell when Richie contracted superbugs and weird diseases and was very sick for much of the time. Things were looking up and Richie hit us with the next curve ball.

Only when I was in tears at the shrink did I realise to what extent FOOD has become a monster in our lives. My feeling: Richie has enough to deal with, can he just not be a fussy eater on top of it all? His social life will be smoother if he would just eat normal damn food. He has constipation (actually, larger bowel) issues, can he try to eat a healthy diet? And what did I do wrong, lazy, Woolies-food-buying person who learned about baby-led-weaning too late. Didn't I give him enough cucumber sticks to teethe on?

Shrink suggests Richie could be using food as a substitute for bowel control - "there are only two things a person can't force another person to do," she says, "swallow and shit." If he can't control the shit, he can control the swallow. So maybe let him. (She says, "What if you let him...?" of course, she doesn't say, "Let him", and we pretend the revelation came to Sean and me with a minimum of interference, because that's what the good shrinks do.)

I took to Facebook with some hesitation and asked about now-grown fussy eaters' experiences as children and was overwhelmed by the gentle honesty from everybody. It was a revelation because, while people have been telling me to chill on the food front for some time, I was still scared to contemplate the adult life of an extremely fussy eater. And my friends graciously showed me that adults I respect, who are well rounded and liked and who have decent social lives, could have been, and still be, terribly funny about food. And so what, basically?

That, and that people have serious tomato issues.

Richie has met The Shrink, finally, considering I have been going there for ages to talk about him, his anger, the tantrums and the five-week-long school refusal (yes, I haven't blogged in a long, long time). He loves her, and he tells her stuff he doesn't verbalise otherwise. Sure, she's leading the horse to water, but still, you know? It's working for us.

I decided to try to give up shouting at my children for Lent (what with Felix attending Catholic school and all). I liked the sense of it as a strengthening rather than deprivation exercise. (That, by the way, is also really, really working for us.) I told of my resolve at a social gathering. "Bloody hell you have rules for everything," commented one Commenter.

Indeed. I am annoying, first-childy, jobsworthy, extremely desperate to please, and be good, and sensitive to criticism. I irritate myself. But I still want to write. The stint at Ackermans (80 blog posts, one a week - that's a year and a half of blogging there) was good - but it was censored, and themed, and what I didn't say exceeded what I did.

So I'm back.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Let’s talk about Oscar

The rest of the world is doing it, so we may as well talk about Oscar, too, then.

Rebecca Davis’ 4 March analysis on argues that many South Africans’ notions of masculinity are threatened by the implication that a man might scream “like a woman” – as Oscar Pistorius’ lawyer Barry Roux intimated he did, during his trial.

“... there’s a particular sense of incongruity here because many of us have become quite wedded to a narrative of Pistorius which places him firmly within a South African culture of hyper-masculinity: a testosterone-fuelled scene of fast cars and guns, where physical strength is valued above pretty much any other virtue,” she writes.

And then: “But the truth is that there’s no reason why Pistorius can’t be both a testosterone-loaded boytjie and a sensitive soul who cries and screams in anguish – or neither, really. It’s time we acknowledged that our mainstream gender narratives are reductive and confining, and sometimes we’re only aware of them when they become a tool with which to taunt someone.”

So far, so good: I appreciate that our definitions of masculinity are fragile and narrow, and that gender violence and discrimination stand more of a chance of being fought against if we managed to broaden our understanding of masculinity, to allow our boys to be as confident and comfortable in their own skins as they can be. A man who likes himself and his maleness is, after all, less likely to subjugate a woman.

Defining everything that’s “like a woman” as risible and undesirable is offensive to women – but it also short-sells all boys and men because it narrows the range of human emotion they are allowed.

The investigation of Oscar as a man who discharges firearms in anger, and the suggestion therefore that his definition of masculinity is bound up with power, aggression, uncontrolled rages, is fair enough.

But Oscar is male and disabled. Where was the mention – any mention – in an article largely about identity formation, of his disability, as well as, crucially, how that feeds into his notion of himself as a man? If the South African context is as obsessed with hyper-masculinity as the article suggests, then Oscar’s disability has affected his own, or others’ sense of his masculinity over the course of his entire life.

Why are we so surprised that our role model textbook “disabled guy” stands accused of a desperate, angry crime? Why can’t we acknowledge that disability and dark characteristics such as rage and even antisocial behaviour can stand side by side?

As much as the tropes of masculinity constrict the choices available to men, so do the tropes of disability constrict the acceptable choices of disabled people. You can list them yourself: disabled folk should be: brave, inspirational, grateful, undemanding, proud, not too bitter... Where is the space for a sense of impotence? And how to integrate our expectations of masculinity, which encourages expressions of anger, and our society’s expectations of disability, which doesn’t?

Growing up as Oscar, it must have been very difficult to try to integrate those conflicting demands. And Oscar became, not just Average Disabled Guy, but Supercrip! Like all superheros, he had a fatal flaw: he had to pump himself up to being above the law to maintain the facade – and it’s caught up with him now.

Growing up as Oscar did, he must have experienced difficulties around the fact that his young body could not do, unassisted, what his friends’ bodies could. An old picture did the dreary rounds on social media recently: Oscar at the age of about ten, returning with a group of friends from a swimming pool – Oscar not wearing his blades, instead piggy-backed by a buddy. At the time, pre-Reeva, the ag-shame brigade went wild:  wasn’t this an inspirational example of the beauty, innocence and lack prejudice or artifice of childhood?

Growing up as Oscar was never going to be uncomplicated. There was never going to be, for him, a simple trip back from the swimming pool with his buddies. The adult gaze would always project onto the boy Oscar its adult emotional baggage. That baggage would most likely load Oscar with one of a set number of tropes: as passive, as a victim, or a hero-despite-odds, at best – all things very much not traditionally associated with South Africa’s supposed notions of what makes a man.

The adult gaze is one of which my youngest son, who has spina bifida, is already acutely aware at three years old. He spends much of his time randomly lashing out at strangers who stare at him. He is just learning the vocabulary for what bothers him, and we are all hopefully learning how to express his anger safely (so that Future Himself does not discharge guns in restaurants or through sunroofs).

A year and a half ago, people who met my son would notice the similarities between him and Oscar Pistorius – handsome and with obvious leg issues – and perhaps think, “There goes another potential South African Paralympian.” Now, it’s “potential murderer”.

Oscar’s firing of that gun has stripped him of his inspirational-ness. If the shell of his masculinity is as empty as has been suggested, what is left?

To paraphrase Davis, it’s time we acknowledged that our mainstream disability – and not only gender - narratives are reductive and confining. And so I will try to raise my sons to have a sense of masculinity that can hold a fondness for traditional masculine pursuits alongside ones considered feminine. And I will try to raise my disabled son with a “disability identity” that similarly does not paint him into a too-small corner, that teaches him it is okay to be more than only ever either inspirational or pitiable.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Goodbye, and thanks for all the fish

Really, this is just a courtesy mail to let my remaining readers (both of you) know that the end of the road has been reached. I’m outie.

I started this blog in 2008 so I’ve been writing here for five and a half years. That’s by far the most sustained writing project I’ve ever managed to take on. I started writing Jou Ma Se Blog while pregnant, sitting in an office doing what we thought was, and probably actually was, cutting edge digital publishing stuff for magazine brands heat and FHM.

(As an aside, I will just say that the experience wasn’t all knuckle-dragging boets, as someone recently suggested on Twitter. I mean, I’m as boet as the next man and all, so let’s not question my masculinity here, but if you’re going to throw the sexual objectification book at FHM – as you certainly could – you should also throw it at Cosmo. Disclosure: I have written for both titles. Because they pay me. At least they usually do. Ahem!) That was right after a low point where my little baby, ZOO Weekly, the cutest and funniest and cleverest adolescent boys’ mag I ever knew, of which I was the editor, was shut down after just a year in print.

I have been involved with “lowbrow” media ever since my first media job. I lacked confidence in my abilities as a young person, so I did not believe that I could ever have written for a newspaper or become a “serious issues” journalist, same as I didn’t believe I could write proper, good fiction.

Felix and Richie, I have no idea why the wide world seemed so frightening at age 20. If I look back now (and having had the opportunity to subedit “real” journalists’ writing from time to time) I promise you I know I could have done it with ease. But it’s 20 years later and life and opportunities have carried me in another direction.

Now I write for a living. I do it every day and in the past six years where it’s been my bread-and-butter career, I’ve got better and faster at it. I guess I’m logging my 10000 hours. (Malcolm Gladwell's excellent book Outliers explores the idea that to obtain mastery over a subject you must log on average 10000 hours of practice.) 

And my career choices mean I get to stay home when I need to and more or less dictate my working hours. Plus: did I mention I get to write for a living? That’s still thrilling after all these years.

I love writing and I have loved writing out a lot of the emotional intensity of the early years of children and pregnancy. I have made friends and even some fans, but of course also some, if not exactly “enemies”, then at least conspicuous eye rollers. You can’t please everyone all the time and I’m not very good at accepting that. I’m quite surprised I’ve lasted this long while feeling so watched. I read my OWN back posts and shudder in embarrassment for myself.

The kids are getting older. As other bloggers before me have found, sharing poo stories about a ten month old is fine, about a ten year old you hesitate. So more and more I find I’m not writing the stuff that’s actually going on.

I’ll keep writing for the boys. Every time I ask myself why I still blog (in years gone by it was for connection, to meet like-minded people, to hear supportive things, to learn from others) the only answer I have is that I like to think of it as a present to my boys, something of mine for them to have one day. So if that’s the case, why are my letters public? It makes no sense. Maybe it’s been to force me/guilt me into writing regularly. I think I can do that myself now, after all, who lets a six-year writing project lapse?

I'll keep popping up here if I really have something to say, so you can keep me in your Bloglovin' feed if you want. I will be wanting to vent and rant about something soon enough, I imagine. 

It's been amazing. Goodbye.

"So, thanks for your time, and I’ll thank you for mine.
(And after that’s said
forget it.)"

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Richie and me

I'm not sure I am going to sustain this blog very well. At the very least, it looks as if regular updates are not something I am going to do. It's been a month since I blogged.

It's been a busy time, although at work the really busy period is still coming. I have never been as busy as I will be in August. I suspect there may be some stress.

I turned 39. I lost 4kg on my diet (4 to go). I had a fantastic time spoiling myself silly with gifts. We even hosted a small birthday dinner. We went to Southbroom for a week and spent time with my nephews from Australia, who are gorgeous boys aged 11 and 9. That was fantastic (except that if was of course hard work managing with four children when you're used to 2).

I went to see a child psychologist to talk about Richie and me. I went back over old blog posts and saw it has been more than a full year since the Terrible 18-Monthses hit, and Richie has been up and down in mood for that entire time. He mostly seems to take it out on me, which is not unexpected, but it has finally left me sad and somewhat lacking in confidence parenting this little stranger...

*Note: My stepmom said on holiday that Richie and I clashed because we were so alike - both stubborn and determined. I can see those similarities but at the same time I was quite surprised because I usually think of myself as more like Felix: somewhat more given to shyness - possibly introversion - oversensitive, and so on. I had begun thinking of Felix as my familiar and Richie my "other". Wonder if that's damaging?

... so I took it to a shrink. My theory is that Richie is getting cross about his lack of mobility; she agreed this was possible at this age and that having a "learning disability" (i.e. one area of weakness in contrast to another are of strength) is very frustrating. Also, that kids park these feelings in their parents to deal with, so if I was feeling underconfident and sad and cross, probably Richie was too.

Sean told me on holiday to basically ease up on the little guy a little bit (he said it very nicely). I've been so used to getting shouted at for everything that I had stopped trying to resolve things differently. But Sean said, he suddenly thought of how we expected Richie to wake up every morning and fight, fight, fight. Keep up with us on his wobbly legs. Struggle on the beach because sand is extra hard to walk on. Learn how to crawl, walk, ride a bike, try to run and jump, all of which takes him longer and requires more effort than other kids his age.

And then, says my clever, intuitive, emotionally attuned husband, when it suits us, we expect Richie to take off all his armour and NOT fight us over when to bath, what to eat, what to wear, what to play and how to play it.

I've been thinking about that a lot during my silence. I've been trying again to get us all to a happier place. As a result, Richie, who is in the transitional months of dropping his daytime sleep but not yet quite managing to do so, has been going to bed at 9.30PM. We are determined to maintain happy faces. But I have temporarily mislaid my sense of humour. Ag, it happens every year around this time of year anyway. It'll come back.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Richie makes a small, hair-based concession

Richie is our strong-willed child. Some people raise their eyebrows at parents who label their children with these self-fulfilling prophecies, saying that you leave the child no room to be anything else if you’ve already boxed him.

If I told Richie he wasn’t strong-willed he’d box me, I promise you that.

Richie’s hair is a case in point. He has a rust-tinted mane which harks back to Sean’s Irish roots – and a flaming temper to match. And he seems to believe that like Samson, his power will be stripped if his hair were to be cut.

Richie screams the house down if mention is made within his earshot of a haircut. When Richie was about 18 months old, he was beginning to show signs of human rationality so I thought it might be nice to take him to one of those fancy-shmancy kids’ hair salons for a haircut. By which I obviously mean, I thought it might be nice to see if a professional could achieve what I couldn’t: get near his head with a pair of scissors without sparking World War Three.

Those places I speak of charge you, pro rata per actual single hair that is cut, more than the salon I frequent ever since I turned an age where I had to become slightly “grown up” with my own hair, to try to mask the ravages of time. Those places put your kid inside an aeroplane, prop a DVD in front of them, distract them with a toy and then charge you like they just sent your child on a real overseas trip. 

Contractual obligations suggest you might like to read the rest of this post where it was originally published, over at my friends from A.C. Kermans:

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Food for the mind

Man, it's been a cultural few days. I had the privilege of seeing Eddie Izzard perform over the weekend. I saw him live, years ago, in London, in a West End production of A Day In The Life of Joe Egg. He was... well, this is the problem when we overuse superlatives the whole time these days. He was superlative. It's a serious show and it was my first exposure to Eddie Izzard and he excelled. I then saw a DVD, I think, of a stand-up show he did and I was amazed at how he would talk for two hours, and at the end of the show every single tread of the complex tapestry he weaved had been picked up and tucked in again. He is phenomenal and if you don't get why I am saying that then we probably can't be friends.

Watching Force Majeure on Saturday night was tiring because it's hard mental work to follow the brain of a genius. I actively enjoyed every minute. The man is brilliant.

And we even went to the Body Worlds expo on the weekend. Sean is less intrigued by it than I am - why bring work home, I guess? - but I have always, always harboured a jealousy or admiration for doctors (damn that non-mathematical brain!) and so Sean offered to go build walls with the fake bricks and cement at the Murray & Roberts mini-building site at Sci-Bono and let me nip out to see the morbid exhibition of cut up dead bodies.

Unfortunately it appears to be very popular and so there were no tickets for me. But I'll try to get out and see it sometime this week - the joys of freelancing, mos. Meantime, Felix and Richie, but Richie in particular, were buzzing in their little-boy bodies with the excitement of being "builders". It was quite something to watch Richie's intense focus, he was completely absorbed in his activities of fetching bricks, moving them along the conveyor belt, dropping them down and bringing them to me (= the actual builder).

So I was pleased and grateful, this week, to be surrounded by all this enriching, thought-provoking stuff.

Richie says when I tell him a story: "Don't say, 'Fluit fluit my storie is uit' like Ouma, say 'The End'."

Okay, Richie.

The End.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Life and death

Felix and Richie spent last week at home, as Felix had developed a nasty case of scarlet fever. It's quite a vicious bug, he hasn't been sick like that for a few years now. (There seem to be some real nasties out this winter: rotavirus, swine flu, impetigo, scarlet fever, lots of pneumonia...)

It was such a pleasure, mostly, to have my two little guys home on an enforced mini-holiday. Felix used the opportunity to ask some of the Big Questions like "Mom, where is Heaven?"

I try to answer more or less what I think might be true, although the truest answer would be, "I don't know." But I spoke about the fact that a body dies but that everything that's not the person's body is what people think goes to Heaven. And some people think Heaven is in the sky, but that Heaven could probably be God and souls all around us.

Touch talk for a four-year-old. But so we broached the concept of a soul, at least.

We found a dead bird in the garden which worried Felix. First it was:
"Mom, I have a brilliant idea. Let's put a scarecrow in the garden, then the dogs won't be able to catch birds."
And later...
"Mom, how do people become alive?"

I always struggle to limit the information. It's also hard to separate out exactly what the child means. So I said that a baby grows from a seed in his mom's tummy until he's ready to be alive outside. Then I thought that was really missing something essential about "being alive". I tried to convey something about the essence of a person, their soul being blown into their body at some stage. Try to put that into language appropriate for a four-year-old. I said, "Some people think God makes the soul and puts it into the body."
Then I quit. I turned the tables in the time-honoured way of a parent who's been painted into a corner.
"How do YOU think people come alive?"
Silence. Mulling.
Felix: "I don't know, but I think it's a job for God."

Felix was showing off his iPad skills to Grandpa John. Grandpa was telling him that when he was young, he didn't even have a TV, never mind an iPad. I also chimed in, we didn't have a TV when I was Felix age either. Felix looks at us.
"Oh. So nobody of you ever got a break?"

Nope. It was just play, play, play all day long back in the dinosaur days. Not even one teeny tiny break. I do love a four-year-old.