Friday, May 29, 2015

Happy days

What a busy game-changing year it has been so far. For me, the changes have all been for the better. Richie is re-finding his shiny happy side, which was buried last year. Richie participates in soccer and boxing and music and his only concern at school is that there might be an extramural that he HASN'T signed up for. I am so happy I can't really overstate that.

Felix is suddenly a whole new animal, one who, despite a wobble in the early weeks of this year, reads street signs and shop windows as we drive past ("Mom, it says Adult World!") Felix is unrecognisable. I sometimes tease him about how shy he used to be and how he never wanted to leave the house, when he pesters me to go sleep over at Tomas' house. He laughs in his honest, shy way. He has a blue stripe on his karate belt and has been picked for soccer matches and will even get to GO ON THE SCHOOL BUS (be still my beating heart) to play an away game soon - the culmination of all his hopes and wishes. He is really a super little guy, prone to sudden outbursts of love ("I love my family most of all!" - "Oh, were you talking about families in school?" - "No, I just felt like telling you.") Felix has joined up to play netball one day a week (soccer is his first love, and he has quite cooled off over art and music), but he is the only boy who plays netball, apparently, and is being teased by some Grade 2s about it. He's unperturbed about it, just shrugs and says they are silly, there's no such thing as a boy game and a girl game. Long may that last. And even though everyone was all worried about his reading (and he is currently quarterway through a 12-week visual therapy course, whatever that is, at his local optometrist, and he underwent extensive battery of tests with an ed psych AND has started twice-weekly OT) he is reading everything he sees. He loves OT. Loves it. Loves his therapist "as much as I love you, Mom", apparently. Felix isn't going to play for Pirates anytime soon but I hope he can continue to enjoy the game. If I remember my school days I was under such a misconception about sport - that if you weren't "good" you shouldn't play. It never occurred to me that there were three "good" kids on the team and four "average" and then me and the rest - the "not so terrible as to be barred from the sport". Also I never demonstrated to myself that practice can and does actually lead to improvement, I simply never stuck to a sport long enough.
Felix has already told me that he is not good at soccer and that nobody wants to pass to him and against my coddling instinct I just said a mild "really?" and suggested me practice a bit more, and agreed that Child X was excellent at soccer - just as we all have our own talents. He doesn't need to believe he is potentially excellent - just that he can make a contribution, from the back of the field, to the team. (Felix was made a defender in his first ever match; Child X was nominally a striker and in actuality played midfield, attack, defence, scorer, goalie... it was very funny, and very cute)

Richie these days replies to my I Love Yous with an occasional "And I also love you", or when I go sleep with him when he's sick he asks me to do it again the next night, and he wakes up in the middle of the night and strokes my cheek - even once planted a kiss - and I am finished. These caresses were unheard of last year and when I remind him of our silent car journeys daily to and from school Richie concedes that they were as I dscribe them but won't be drawn on why he was so unhappy, barring telling me "There are bullies at school" and when I point out that the child he means left the school and that his great friend Eli was there he says nothing.

We spent a week in Hazyview again at the end of the first term. Both boys had such positive memories of our time there that it was almost guaranteed to be an excellent time. We managed two trips into the Kruger this time (we didn't see any rhinos... which felt ominous) and loads of hanging out, and as these times do, it was a watershed in that Felix and Richie slept together in a room and woke up together in the mornings and dutifully "kept quiet" for hours on end because we told them "other people are still sleeping" (not a favour, I must add, that was returned by our neighbours at 3AM) and so we found that we had regained the lost arc and golden fleece of the LIE IN. It was divine. Since then it has happened once that I woke at home in a shock at 8AM and found my two boys playing peacefully together.

Richie's bowel washout programme also got refined - because he was getting an enema I was putting him on a potty afterwards for upwards of half an hour, but on holiday I didn't bring the potty. Richie sat on the grownup toilet instead, and the first two times he was "scared!" but by the third time he was totally happy to go there, and as a result his poo time has reduced to like 10 minutes (probably has to do with better poo-ing posture on a real toilet).

Happy for small successes, and large ones.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Maureen's remains were placed into the wall of remembrance at her church, St Patrick's La Rochelle, six months almost to the day after she died.

We still miss her very much. The children speak about her often, and seem to find comfort in the idea that she is safe with Jesus,

Prize if you can spot the humour in this plaque.


Million dollar babies

When people talk about Big Pharma I like to eye roll and


because really.

Clearly medicine has been corporatised, I am not na├»ve. There is a reason I have to play this song when I'm on hold to Discovery (it makes me feel much better). There is a reason your vasectomy costs you R30 000 and my husband makes R1 200 off it, while he's the one wielding the scalpel (and you're not even staying overnight in hospital). Someone is getting rich off sickness, and where there is greed there is corruption and evil and distortion of healthcare. OBVS.

Big pharma huh. Big pharma has ensured our med aid is "MSA DEPLETED" (I don't feel like getting a degree just to figure out what that means but I know it means it's only March and we have spent many monies on healthcare providers so far this year.)

They call spina bifida babies million dollar babies because you can't really tell by looking at them just how expensive their condition is. We've just ordered new orthootics for Richie for close on R20k. He got to choose his own design - purple camo is the one he selected - and because we are still enjoying New Richie, he was happy and cooperative the whole time his legs were set into plaster of Paris.

We don't even have a child with hydrocephalus, so if we had to add shunt operations and epilepsy meds to our bills they would be even higher. Even so, SB babies generally need continence interventions - catheters and enemas and bladder and bowel medications - and that's a daily expenditure. Sometimes your medical aid decides that probiotics are prescribed, sometimes it decides they are not. Sometimes they decide that you can have the bladder meds on "chronic" - other days, they tell you they won't pay for them at all, as they are contra-indicated for use in children (and why are you giving your four-year-old and old-man drug to relax his bladder?)

And then there's Felix, whose Gr1 teacher said she thought he needed a full educational psychologist's evaluation, so he went, was referred to an optometrist for a visual tracking evaluation, so he went - everyone agreed he has very-like-extremely low tone (and I know everyone has low tone these days) but so now Felix is going for occupational therapy.

He's quite happy to go. My little acquiescent, eager-to-please little superstar.

Detail to follow when we have seen all the reports. But how odd - another child receiving therapies. Ha.


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.