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.

Margot,
(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.)

...so 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
"But..."
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.

OUCH.

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!"

WTF?

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. http://www.yourparenting.co.za/subscribe-to-your-baby 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!
 
 


Friday, July 18, 2014

Fuck everything

I should probably say if you are feeling depressed look away now.

Does anyone else get older and feel - hell, what the fuck is all of this FOR? Why do we work so very hard? Should we really pour our energies into some kind of humanity project; is there any point to it or are we farting against thunder? We humans are a deeply disappointing lot. With massive amounts of potential, we still live in a world where we destroy and plunder and basically turn to shit every thing we touch/were given (depending on your perspective). We have enough food to feed everyone yet there is hunger. We know how to fix most things and we don't. We kill, main, exploit, abuse, hurt and harm each other in astonishing numbers. We know things are wrong yet we remain complicit. We align ourselves into tribes and kill and oppress those from other groups and we justify it. We draw up national boundaries and keep poor people out of rich places. We pretend we have property rights and we kick others off our patches of earth - which who entitled us to, exactly?

We know battery farms exist where we pay labourers to strap animals down in order to extract liquids and organs from their bodies which we call "delicacies" and speaking for me because there's that lovely convenient disconnection between the beautiful package in Woolies and the suffering out there I close my eyes and consume the evil. We fail utterly to be consistent in our moral judgements - I read about "A Day In  The Life of a Maid in SA" and I think, yes, please don't treat a person in a dehumanised way. But similarly, we send workers into mines and farms and government hospitals where we also make them shovel shit for long hours and they earn a disgustingly low wage and that is "acceptable" because of "economic forces". Let's be honest: it's no more or less "okay" to let someone change bedpans for peanuts in a hospital than in a suburuban Jozi home. It's definitely not okay to have let the hospitals become cesspools of filth, degradation and inhumanity, which is something that feels like it is filtering up and down into every sphere of South African society.

So I see on Jezebel this morning some writer needs to tell us why she can't bear the thought of having children. And I'm like, shut UP about it already. Reproducing like lemmings is what we do, there is no rhyme or fucking reason to it, it makes no freaking sense, and your choice not to add to the gaint scrabbling mess of humanity is fine and probably wise - we should all arrest it all right here, shouldn't we, if we were rational about it? - but it doesn't change a fucking thing so shut your self-indulgent face about it already.

I am so deflated that South Africa's twenty-year dream has turned into the cliched nightmare. It turned out to be pointless to vote for the party I helped vote into power - turns out whoever you vote for The Government always wins.

I feel like I pissed away the idealism and faith in humanity of my twenties and now here I am, chin deep in my midlife crisis. Everything is terrible. You pour everything into your children and you still can't guarantee that they'll just be good and content, nevermind happy. And I am happy. I actually am a happy person. Not right now obviously, but mostly. Do you have to suffer in order to be happy? Probably. Do I have to watch my children get there though? It's killing me.

Felix is discovering that humanity is disappointing, that the fairy tale is a lie. Other children are not always nice. His disillusionment is hitting me hard. Felix gathers himself up with his fairly fucking limited social skills every morning and faces school - a place he loved with a passion a few short weeks ago, and yes I realise I am being overdramatic and he will probably like it again soon, but in the meantime he, naive, is being teased for a friendship with a girl who is on his wavelength, and some kids in class are hassling him about his drawings and his work, and he is confused and angry.

No more the Felix of old who would watch Richie rip shreds of skin off his face and not retaliate. Felix has tapped into his inner anger and he is letting it out. He is giving me stick too, which I am a little bit encouraged by as I do worry about learned helplessness with Felix. He is quick to whine "I can't..." and "Ouch!!!" and not getting dressed/wiping his own bum/etc by himself. (Having said that he still selfregulates pretty damn well. The other day he planned his homework and had it done, out of his own volition, before his buddy Vinny arrived so that they could play.)

Felix the law abider is probably being a bit of a goodie two shoes at school and I am sure it can be annoying. He has yet to learn a very important life lesson: My stuff is my stuff, your stuff is yours, AKA don't get involved. He apparently threw away another child's crumpled-up piece of paper which was being used in a ball game as a ball because "we are not allOWed". After a bit of genius impromptu role play I got Felix to see that having his ball taken away must have sucked for the other kid. This is the kid who has his knife out for Felix now. So we see said Kid at school and I say, "Hey, kid, I heard Felix threw your ball away. Felix?"
(Mumble Mumble) "Sorry for throwing your ball away Kid."
"Hey, I don't think Felix will do that again. Do you think we could make friends again?"
Kid: "No."
Ah well Fuck You Very Much Kid.
I do realise Kid is only six years old and there are worse things he could have done. Why my disproportionate rage?

For a week now Felix has alternately cried, shouted, slammed doors or shouted at me. We have had no interaction that has gone smoothly. Ask him to change out of his school uniform: drama. "WHY do I always have to..." Limit iPad and TV use: massive drama. Ask for a chore to be done - OMG don't even go there.

Richie meanwhile, while not the ball of rage of yore anymore - he is actually being very cute - has basically fallen way, WAY behind in speech. I know he has the words, he just chooses not to use them. It has become painfully obvious to me, seeing other children his age, that there is a verbal gulf.
Richie astonished me - truly - with a Lego project the other day where we looked and looked for and failed to find a winch/level thing that would allow the helicopter's cockpit to open and close. Richie very quietly and unobtrusively went to dismantle a digger he owns, found the teeny tiny piece (he plays real Lego, not the under-fours Lego; the pieces are tiny) and asked me, "Do you think this one will work?" (It did.) There is nothing wrong with Richie's cognition, I still maintain he is the brightest out of all of us. So why won't he speak? (He has a relatively nonverbal friend at school, it could be an influence.) His silence makes me feel helpless. His shrink would say that this must mean he is feeling helpless. I am sure he is! We are all helpless! We can't help you!

Toilet training will need to happen this year if Richie is to move to Felix's school next year. (We are debating it.) We have looked at a bowel management program. We have bought the enema set. We are playing with it at home and talking about spina bifida and making poos and this poo machine which can help you make a poo whenever you want to. It's a first step of grasping the next nettle.

It is SO tempting to revert to postwar parenting. I want to stop all the crazy acting out in my house. I need it to stop. How tempting just to bitchslap the offending behaviour out of them. You unhappy? I'll GIVE you something to be unhappy about.

From more than one source I have heard now the assessment that Felix's school is not as academically rigorous (in the preprimary section) as other private schools in Jozi. It is true that even in my day SHC was considered the poor relation of the private schools. What Jozi (the materialistic hussy) doesn't get it, is it's intentionally so. Try explain that to Dainfern and Fourways and even and especially Jozi's selfproclaimed Ivy League imitators and you'll get le blank stare. What, you don't want your child to be bombarded with manic "iPad in every class!" "Outperform every government school milestone!" Leistungszwang-for-the-sake-of-it? You don't want them to become a Captain of Industry ruthlessly stomping on others in their own self-advancement? No comprende.

If there's one glimmer of hope for me in this Debbie downer of a post, it's that this school exists that worries more about compassion and nurturing good human beings who will become functional adults and certainly stand a better chance of digging us out of our selfcreated steaming pile of shit. Whether they are plumbers or doctors (although my children will not be allowed to become doctors) or politicians or yes, "businesspeople" of some description. It's my happy place and I am very, very invested in Felix continuing to manage there. I hope to God it gets better for the little guy. It's a bloody steep learning curve for my sweet, gentle son. And I want the real him back.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A consequence

My kids woke up whiny and unpleasant on Sunday morning. Who knows why. We can try to blame the extended bug of this particular winter - hasn't it been disgusting? I still have the "100 day cough" as a friend of a friend described it.

Felix was playing iPad and was informed that his grandpa would be coming to visit. Grandpa Hammie is a soccer fan and a favourite activity is for them to play soccer together. Felix was all excited about putting on his soccer boots and looking forward to the visit. But when they duly arrived, he was apparently right in the middle of slaying a new baddie in a game and, while he handed the iPad over without audible protest, he then curled up into a foetal ball on the couch and became uncommunicative and unresponsive.

Richie - possibly picking up on this - also put his worst foot forward. He's been regressing a bit anyway these days - not speaking clearly but rather whining and squealing in a way that can shred your soul. Continuing his bloody fucking boob obsession. (I am so sick of having my breasts clutched at and palpated like some overeager but underqualified gynaecologist's examination.)

Both kids rude and unpleasant. Richie generally just buggers off to his room to go do his own thing in a mood like that. But Felix can linger in his suffering. LINGER. Oh how he LIIIIIIIIIIIIINGERS. Sean and I told him that if he didn't snap out of it and start behaving well we were taking the iPad away for the whole day, because he wasn't keeping up his end of the bargain (= losse the iPad during the visit, get it back afterwards).

He didn't improve, just cried and lay on the couch for the 90 minutes while we sipped coffee outside and had a rare adult visit.

So we had to enforce the rule though now, didn't we?

Great.

"Can I have the iPad back now?"

"No, Felix, you can't. We said if you kept being rude to your grandparents there would be a consequence. This is your consequence. So we can't give you the iPad back. I know you are sad. I know you really wanted it. Grandpa is also sad you didn't speak to him nicely, and he was also looking forward to playing soccer. I think his feelings were hurt too. There was a rule and you didn't follow the rule so now you have this consequence. What is a consequence? It's... Etc Etc Etc."

(I am not attachment-parenting enough to tolerate total rudeness like that. I have seen arguments about validly expressing feelings and so on, but that argument hasn't convinced me. However, we did manage to remain calm and matter of fact about enforcing the "punishment" rebranded as "consequence".)

What was interesting about a not-very-cheerful day was that while Felix did ask for the iPad eleventy million times, each time we calmly said we couldn't give it to him, he sorta-kinda accepted it as the inevitable consequence of a wrongdoing on his part. We did lots of other stuff. We gave Sean a haircut and pottered around the house and went for a trip to the hardware store and baked muffins and made magic milk (with milk, food colouring and dishwashing liquid - it's fun, look it up), and built Lego, and blew up balloons using vinegar and bicarb, and for almost every one of these activities was boycotted by my brattish children who only wanted to watch TV (Felix) or whine and manhandle boob (Richie).

Oh the glamour of parenting.

At about 5PM(S), I finally blew up after the children had gotten into their fivehundredth fisticuffs of the day and were now screaming-slash-mockcrying and I shouted at them. "That's IT! I've HAD ENOUGH! Your father gets one day off in three months and we are TRYING to spend it with you doing fun interesting stuff not sticking you in front of the fucking TV for ten hours! I CAN'T HANDLE ANOTHER SCREAM OR WHINGE TODAY! Stop it, just STOPITSTOPITSTOPIT!"

They did stop it until bedtime at 8 so there's a small mercy. Richie crawled up to me and hugged me and Felix said sorry and it was over quickly, but my point really here is that when I asked Felix my traditional bedtime question of what were the highlights and lowlights of his day I wasn't expecting much joy, yet he told me his "worst part" of the day was when he could't have his iPad and his "best part" was making magic milk. Really? I thought. You certainly didn't seem to appreciate it at the time... Is it possible our kids see our investment and interest and willingness and hard work etc, and even though they are being arseholes, some part of them appreciates the gesture?

And lastly. After his bath, Felix got his iPad back. "Thank you for giving me the iPad back, Mommy," he said. "I'm sorry I didn't play with Grandpa. I'll defintly (that's how he pronounces it) play with him next time I see him."

There's more to tell about young Felix-son. Next post.

But I do hope he learnt something, this weekend. I wonder what he will remember from this "lesson"?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Pictures








Aren't they cute? I do want to say I had a horrible experience with the photographers and my kids really do look as if they are wearing makeup and their eyes are actually blue not brown (easy on the photoshop, guys). There were other issues with the photographers too, not least that they refused to give a digital contact sheet so one had to make selections off tiny fuzzy thumbnail prints, and that's probably because the pics don't actually all even have eye contact etc etc. But even with these issues I still think my boykies are looking SO GROWN UP when the hell did this happen????