Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Felix goes for an 'assessment'

At a gathering of a number of mothers of children with "special needs" (four years in and I still have to suck down the gag reflex when I hear that term), I told the women how Felix has been referred for an "assessment" for a variety of weighty issues, such as how well he can understand instructions and how correctly he grips his pencil.

We cackled that witches' cackle that comes from some measure of therapy fatigue. At the fact that our "normal" kids should now join this rather unfortunate treadmill of interventions. Obviously I am taking him - how could I justify not intervening when told to? But it felt damn strange dropping FELIX (not Richie) off at the educational psychologist for a battery of tests this morning.

Felix was compliant though nervous.

And so here's an anecdote. We dropped Richie at school and continued on to the psychologist. Felix had some questions.
"She's really nice, you know," I said. "I've met her, and I promise you, she's one of those people where you will feel relaxed the minute you meet her."
"Is she light or dark?" asks Felix.
Now I want to stress that racial classification is not big in our house. No pencil tests here, no sir. As you can see, Felix doesn't even know the South African parlance. "Coloured" people he and Richie usually classify as "light". Very dark-skinned black people are "dark". Not sure what they do with Asian people. But classify they do. It is as binary a distinction to them as boy and girl, maybe a little less important.
"Er. She's light," I answered.
"Oh. Phew!" says Felix.
"Are you happy about that?" I try to be careful in my enquiry.
"I just... sometimes dark ladies' voices scare me," he says. "Sometimes they are very strict."

So I think what we have here is the beginning of an in-group identification, and the start of an awareness of cultural difference. I don't think that's de facto racist, so I do hope I or future Felix won't get lambasted for sharing this. I do think it's interesting and important to talk about. I also think it's quite human, for a nervous little 6-year-old, to hope the potentially frightening experience will be made easier by the person resembling himself. And on top of that, this makes me think how constant and long-lasting a disservice it is to black children if they don't see black role models consistently around them. For as long as the educational psychologist is far more likely to be white than black, when in a representative society she should be 8 times out of ten black, black children miss out on the in-group identification and the aspirational-ness of meeting a shrink who looks and speaks like them. And that's not right. We can't live like that forever.

Edited to add
I feel like black children likely feel inside, when taken for assessments with white ladies, "Oh, no, I hope she's not light. I don't know how to react when they smile fake smiles at me and speak too softly."

And I think that multicultural societies are difficult to live in, for these reasons - there is always some measure of discomfort, of outside-our-comfort-zone-ness. And it is very rewarding, as many somewhat uncomfortable or unfamiliar experiences are, once you have made the effort and done/had them. Most societies are multicultural now, but we in SA have been at it for longer, and sometimes we are better at it than France or Australia, but our multicilturalness needs to start giving black and white children similar exposures to different cultures - it shouldn't always just be black children who attain middle class and must then live in a white world. That's not the way this was supposed to work, this New South Africa project.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A summary

They say adversity makes for good fiction, and that may be true, but it makes for hella boring non-fiction, and that’s just for me, the writer.

It is only now that the clouds have broken that I can look back on 2014 with any kind of objectivity. It was Richie’s most terrible year yet. I remember back to April, when we went on holiday in Cape Town with the boys. It was a terrible holiday! We had a terrible time! Last year Richie was so unhappy he missed 6 straight weeks of school. He went into play therapy. Then his grandmother died. His highlight of the year was when he connected with one other “misfit” (for want of a better word, a child who is also a little bit unusual) at school and became very good friends with him. I am grateful to that boy for the only ray of sunshine, really.

I remember driving Richie to and from school every day. We had two children in two separate schools by this stage so there was a lot of driving. And Richie would sit in the car – dead stone silent. He refused to say a word. Day after day and week after week he punished me with his silence, while I joked, and exhorted, and pleaded, and prodded.

By the end of last year I was finished. I was jealous of Queeny, because my little shit’s face would light up when he saw her and they would squeal and chase and laugh the afternoon away, while I felt like a failure. I must be the only “madam” in all of Jozi’s northern shore who couldn’t wait for Christmastime. I chased Queeny out that door and proceeded to have a wonderful holiday with my children. Why? Because Richie understood he wasn’t ever, ever, ever going back to that school of his. By January, I was so worried that we were going to relapse that I gave Queeny an extra week off so that the kids could just start new school without her, and I could try to gauge what it was that might turn New Richie back into Bad Richie.

But. It has been a month at his new school so I finally feel safe enough to say it. Richie is a new person. Richie spent the December holidays telling me that he didn’t like any school and he wasn’t going to go to school, etc. Finally towards the end of the holiday he one day admitted from the back of his carseat, when I was engaged in pro-school propaganda, that “But I am very scared of school.”
Well, this was progress. We had been glut-watching Planes: Fire and Rescue and Planes over the holidays and Felix – Felix! – had astonished us all by telling us he wanted to “face his fears” (like Dusty in the movie, who is afraid of heights but ends up flying high anyway) and do the things he was afraid of (such as have a sleepover at his friend Tomas’ house). We had been pumping the line about how the real brave ones are the ones who are brave enough to admit that they are afraid (aaaand, wait for it, then Do It Anyway, such is the motivational-poster nature of attempting to instil moral fibre in children).

We hammered how OF COURSE he was scared of school – who wouldn’t be? How scared was Felix when he started at his new school? Very. So brave to admit it. And so on.

And then we had the rest of our holiday.

But I can only relax now, in February, because my baby is in his new school and it has gone... spectacularly well. Better than any of us could even have hoped for or expected or dreamed. Richie is a completely new person. He actually sings me songs he learnt at school, in the car on the way home.  He tells me about the butterflies they are learning about, and how they made some. “On the sides is written Happy Velentimes Day Happy Velentimes Day Happy Velentimes Day. It’s a surprise, for you.” “I am in blue group, I like blue group.” Richie will leave me side and walk to his classroom all by himself if I am spending too long talking to another parent at a doorway. Richie loves his uniform, he loves his music lessons, he has asked to be signed up for extramural music (another surprise, I wasn’t planning on extramurals for my four-year-old, but he is excited and curious and stimulated and he is ASKING FOR IT so, I guess... yes.). He has made friends. He is reading Felix’s readers and is probably as good a reader as Felix is. He is going to extramural soccer. (Felix did it last year, and Richie feels it is now his turn.) Soccer. Yeah. Richie is finally exceeding what my expectations for him were. (I mailed the soccer coach, I said, you’ve seen this child, can he come do some sort of adapted soccer training with you guys? They said yeah.) Everything has been no problem. Everything has been reasonable. My old school has once again given me reason to remember: this may be my first disabled child, but he is not their first. They’ve got this. They know what to do.

So we have had this incredibly busy and interesting and full-of-changes January. The signs were there – we went to the school to buy Felix’s Grade 1 uniform and Richie, who had had a nap in the car, woke up and said, “Oh, we are already at Sacred Heart!” And there was just something in his tone of voice that made me realise, this was going to be ok.

Richie does swimming at school. The class gets dressed, then marches out of the confines of the safe, small and secured Pre-Primary school into the pool area, where they have a swimming lesson. How to describe on how many levels this freaked me out. How was Richie going to get dressed, and put his splints on and off by himself, or who was going to help him? Would they be prepared to put his “swimming shoes” on for him? Would he manage the walk to the swimming pool keeping up with his class without destroying his feet? And then, once at the pool, would the staff understand that this child is wobbly on his legs, and needs to be looked after extra-much so he doesn’t drown should he lose his footing? (Post-event summary: He is fine and copes fine and his teacher can now even help him with his splints.)

And once again thank goodness for Queeny. Between her and me, we spent the first few weeks returning to school at 10am to catheterise Richie. Is works, he is generally not wet when we get there (he wears padded undies now). By now Queeny drives herself in my old Toyota. Yes we did a couple trips stalling and in second gear, but the only way to become a confident driver is to drive, so now she is off on her own every morning at 10. Richie accepts her as part of his routine, goes to the loo with her, but can’t wait to get back to playing again immediately afterwards. He loves his school and he has totally identified. (And you know what, this is more precious even than having had him learn German at the German School.)

I have also got a new car! A beautiful, sleek, silver Suzuki SX4 crossover vehicle mommy wagon-that-isn’t. We bought it second hand and cash, which is terribly responsible and stuff, but it still feels like a new car and is certainly the smartest car I have ever driven. Because now I can go to work and Queeny has a car to use to take to school. It's bliss. 

The only thing that keeps me sleepless at night now is the terrible guilt for having watched my son suffer so last year, and now having hit upon the right solution. (I can’t say I didn’t try, only that I didn’t know the right thing.) And yes, I do worry about what on earth could have been going on at school?

I have met with the school’s social worker and she has a speech about “difference” which she gave to the pre-primary kids, apparently. (For when a visibly different kis arrives at the school.) This too was enough to send me into a neurosis because what if Richie flipped? (Clearly all the staff think I am insane but that is because they didn’t know the Richie of last year.) Once again – this was not the social worker’s first rodeo. Calm your tits, Margot. We’ve got this. And they did, and do. Lastly, there is another child with splint at the preprimary, and this is surely a good thing for both boys?

It’s been an extremely busy time and we haven’t even started talking about Felix and Grade 1. In some ways this was less of a deal, as he is after all at the same school with familiar faces. But it is on a different campus with a new we-mean-business uniform and homework and extra-murals four day a week, and the poor boy, after his glory year of 2014, is taking a bit of strain. There have been a few tears around the homework table, some stress with social situations, but the biggest thing is that Felix’s teacher has noticed that he struggles to follow multi-part instructions and tends to freeze up, also she is concerned about his writing and his fine-motor skills. Upshot: he is going for a thorough, hours and hours long assessment with an educational somebody-or-other and we will see. I foresee speech therapy and OT in his future. (Luckily both are offered at the school.) Felix is a product of our family as well after all, both in his deficient fine motor and social skills (Sean and I are pleasant and well liked because we had to work hard to overcome terrible shyness as children, plus speaking for myself I certainly can still get social stuff quite wrong), but also because he is the brother of the over-therapised Richie. It’s no wonder he hasn’t been in some kind of intervention yet unlike every other middle class white city child in SA. And even as I write this it’s not true: he went to speech therapy year before last, didn’t he?

The endless three-month summary? There’s it. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

A stickler for facts

I took Felix and Richie to the Pantomime this December. Felix used to be terrified of this sort of stuff, but Teacher Heidrun fixed that little problem this year, with minimal fuss, and halfway through his Grade R year Felix accompanied the rest of his class to the theatre quite happily, and in fact told us all about how much fun it was afterwards. Richie wasn't so sure about the Panto show but he went along (he doesn't show fear, more anger or disdain). Anyhow, at some point in the show Tinkerbell drinks a poison meant for Peter Pan, and is ailing and fearing death. Peter Pan exhorts all the children to bring Tinkerbell back to life by shouting out "I believe in fairies!" - Louder! and Louder!

"Why aren't you shouting to help Tinkerbell?" I ask Felix.

"I don't believe in fairies," he reckons.

Lord help us, a penchant for honesty and a stickler for detail, and we are sending him to Catholic school. The poor child.

Felix has been watching some "mature content" TV and because he is so very self-regulating and so afraid of everything we have been following his lead and letting him. He was very impressed that his friend was not allowed to watch a certain Star Wars episode as his parents had said it was too scary. Felix himself has just decided he is "very much into Star Wars" (his words) and got the box set from his grandparents. The minute he heard episode three was "scary" he insisted he was going to watch it. I let him. I was even going to watch it with him for "help" but I watched the opening ten minutes of episode one for an eternity one monring with him and my belief that Fantasy is not my genre was comprehensively reconfirmed. I try but who on earth can keep track between Anakin and Han and Luke and Yoda and never mind all the strangely named robots and furry things. And what the hell was Natalie Portman doing in a movie where I was expecting Harrison Ford from the 70s??? Sorry. Lost me.

So Star Wars went off fine but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Series two on DVD less so, and some squirrel-monster type things have been the stuff of fear for Felix recently. When he's been wanting to go to bed, his eyes have grown huge and he's told me he "knows they're not real, but he still gets so scared" of the funny squirrel monsters fromTNMT.

A memory of a parenting advice column from years past surfaced and I remembered you are supposed to offer your kid "magic monster spray" at night to help ward off the evil.

"Felix. Do you know what Daddy has next to his bedside? That purple bottle?" (= lavender sleepy room scent spray)


"Would you like to use it tonight? If you wake up and get scared, you spray it. If you hear a very loud scream, you know you killed a monster. If not, you know that there wasn't really a monster there after all."

"But Mom. There's just one problem. I thought you said monsters aren't real."

"No, they're not."

"So the monster spray can't make a noise."


"Did you mean the scientists formu...."


"Yes, a pink and a green and a yellow tube, and mixed it together in that bottle, and when you spray it, your thinks of monsters go away?"

"Yes. That is what I meant. Exactly that."

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.)

...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.