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No one tells you how chaotic the life of a mother is. How your life revolves around the needs of the little people around you. This is manifested most intensely with a little baby, where its every need is your responsibility and becomes your life. When they’re older it becomes about their school schedules, their therapies, their extra murals. Of course that’s just the practical, logistical side of mothering. Emotionally, socially we’re also involved. Who are their friends? What do they enjoy? What do they feel about themselves? How do I relate to them? Of course we can overthink all of this and/or put too much pressure on ourselves, as I do. Throw in any personal desire to work, write or go to yoga, or even have a quiet cup of tea (should we mention a social life, a really good fun relationship with ones partner?) and BOOM! A mothers life is served up on a very messy fast food tray.

So that’s what I’ve been trying to get a handle on. Balancing the aspects of my life that make my life meaningful and keeping up with the needs of four little Princes. Ironically as soon as I think I’ve got it right, and have found a peaceful balance everything changes. Ear infections which needs grommets, soccer season with it’s three soccer matches a week to go to (and that’s excluding Sunday matches), and behavioural and academic challenges pop up like shooting, over exuberant pop corn seeds.

Your time is not your own as a mother, unless you go to an office, and now with our smart phones, we parent via email, whattsapp and phone all day. It’s a 24 hour unappreciated job. No wonder so many women are on anti depressants. (I do think anti-depressants are the way to go if you’re not coping.) The pressures are too great, the demands are insane, and nothings going to change except ourselves. So this week whilst reassessing the fact that I’m not completely coping, and as I face a fifty page assessment to fill out, I am trying to draw on my sanity resources. I’ve realised that there are very practical ways of dealing with the internal and external chaos that we all carry.

So here’s what I’ve been doing:

1. Remember the Law of Thermodynamics 

This is the law of entropy. All things tend to disorder and chaos. We have to continuously expend energy to keep some sort of sane order. Knowing this reassures me, because it’s not just me, it’s everybody (even those who pretend otherwise), we are all dealing with the reality that life (especially with children) is unpredictable.

2. Balance JOY with WORK

I don’t like (read – loathe, despise, avoid at all costs) admin. So I procrastinate until it’s sitting on my head like soggy toilet paper. Then I can’t ignore it anymore and frantically I buckle down and get it done. My cortisol levels by this stage are sky high.This is not ideal, especially as mothering involves ALOT of admin. I was advised by my acupuncturist as I came to my session in overwhelmed tears to calm down. To assess all that I don’t like doing and then balance it with what I do like doing. So barter my way through the stodgy jobs with cups of cappucino, yoga classes and writing exercises. This may seem babyish. But it’s my inner child who’s rebelling against having to be the GROWN UP all the time. Through speaking to her and feeding her needs, to also be important, to also have fun, to also have her needs met then I can better cope with my four Princes and husband, rather than giving, giving, giving and crashing at the end of the day. So that’s what I’ve done today. Written my list of jobs out. Sipped a Cappucino whilst filling out the assessment – voila it’s done. I feel better and am now moving to the other jobs of my day. Ticking my list as I go.

3. Quality Time is better than Quantity Time

One of my biggest stresses is that I feel that I’m trying to be there for everybody and end up being there for no body. One of the best pieces of parenting advice I’ve ever received is that it’s better to be really present with our children rather than spending lots of time resentfully. A game of backgammon in the middle of a busy day is worth a lot more than begrudgingly schlepping children to the shops. Children just want to be seen, and to feel important to us. Just remembering this, makes me stop take a deep breath in and prioritise my time with care.

Of course there are a lot more coping mechanisms. We all are bumbling along coping with being women, mothers, wives, friends, hopefully most of the time with joy. Through it all I think one of the main things to remember is that we’re not alone. That always makes me feel better. 

Hi All. This is a story with a twist. I conceived of the idea, years and years ago when my first Prince was a toddler. Finally I’ve written it now that Prince No. 4 has turned two. I hope you enjoy it as much as I had fun writing it. 

Domestic Abuse

It had been a long day. The Fling case still eluded him. He rubbed his furrowed temple. A beer would help. It always does. Gloria called him an alcoholic, for a couple of beers at the cafe. It wasn’t even a pub. She had no idea what he had to deal with everyday. This was a murder case with seemingly no motive on the husband’s part. A wife found dead in a bath tub. Seemingly drowned during an epileptic fit. She did have epilepsy but he felt a nagging tug at his detective sleeve. It was more than that. It’s not for nothing that a high percentage of murders take place within families. It always was the partner in his experience. He took another swig of his Castle. His eyes moved over the usual six o’clock cafe crowd. The businessmen loosening their designer ties after a tightly strung day. The women in their heels, transforming from tough women of the future to giggling girls over flirty, bubbly cocktails. Seeing people alive and laughing was a welcome change from the morgue.

His ears perked up as he heard the inane conversation next to him. There were two women, one who had come from the office in her neat red suit and tottering heels. ‘Killer Lady in RED,’ he thought to himself, almost humming to the tune that now assailed his mind. With her was a woman in jeans and a white buttoned blouse, a string of pearls hugged her neck in an attempt to dress up.

‘I had to get away. I would have murdered him if I stayed a minute longer.’

‘SHhhh, don’t say that.’

‘Well it’s true. You have no idea what it’s like. You sit in your neat office and have a secretary to boss around. I’m stuck with him all day. He just bosses me around. I’m completely pathetic. I just do everything he says.’

‘He’s not that bad.’ ‘Oh he’s all sweet when you’re around. He likes pretty women.’

‘Don’t make me blush.’

‘Ha, ha. You know it’s true. You won’t believe what he did yesterday he was so angry he took a swipe at me. Look.’

‘OOhh that’s no good.’

‘I’m putting scar repair. I pray it goes away. I can’t afford to look ugly. Not with all this weight to lose.’

‘You’re looking good.’

‘You’re flattering me. I haven’t had a good night sleep in months. He insists on getting into my bed and he just kicks, and kicks and kicks. I don’t know how much longer I can take it.’

‘That’s terrible.’

‘Yeah, so I just eat and eat and eat, because I’m just too tired to do anything else.’

 

Detective Brand looked up from his finished beer. He forgot to order his second.

 

‘Poor baby. Well forget about it all now. You’re out with me, and we’re going to celebrate your birthday in style.’

‘I don’t even feel like celebrating. I feel like such a wet, smelly dish cloth. I feel like a flower that’s been left in a vase for months and is rotting.’

‘It’s that bad hey.’

‘Completely. No one can imagine unless they’ve been through it. And there’s no way out. It’s not like I can abandon him. There’s nothing to do but hope he’ll grow out of it.’

‘I’m sure he will.’

‘I hope so. I don’t know what I’ll do if he doesn’t.’

Detective Brand couldn’t hold himself back anymore. It was his duty, he couldn’t help it, though he knew it was breaking an ethical code of privacy. ‘Madam, sorry to interrupt, but let me introduce myself. My name is Detective Fredrick Brand of the SAPS homicide unit,’ he said officially pulling out his badge. ‘I couldn’t help overhearing your troubles, and I can’t help but tell you that a voilent man never changes unless he undergoes serious intervention. I would advise you to leave him.’ He rummaged in his pocket for the card. ‘Here’s the number for battered women. They’ll protect you and advise you how to proceed. Often domestic violence results in death. Please don’t leave it.’

He stopped. The women were looking at him wide eyed, like he’d just told them they were grossly obese. Then they burst out laughing. Big, loud, belly laughs that had them doubled over. He looked at them quizzically.

‘Officer,’ the woman with the pearls said through her uncontrollable snorts. ‘I’m sorry, I think you’ve misunderstood. It’s not my husband who’s abusing me. It’s my two year old son.’

He didn’t bother correcting her. He was a detective. A serious detective cracking open the rotten murder eggs that plagued society. He left the Cafe. It’s time he began frequenting hard core bars with hard core liquor.

The Right to Cook So life’s busy, busy, busy. And I’m the kind of person who takes on more projects just in case I’m not busy enough. I’m learning to say no, but one initiative I could not say no to was doing a Pesach demo of Sephardi (Sephardi is actually the wrong word, because Iraqi Jewish food is Middle Eastern.) Baghdadi food for the Jewish festival of Pesach. The only thing was I knew how the food should taste, but not necessarily how to cook it. So guess where I’ve been for the last month? In the kitchen teaching myself how to make Mahasha – stuffed vegetables, Dolmades – stuffed vine leaves, Bamia – Okra Stew, and all kinds of other sweet, sour and delicious dishes that my grandmother used to conjure up in minutes.

Which is exactly why I agreed to do the cooking demo. When I cook my grandmother’s food I feel closer to her. I feel that I’m passing down a tradition that I enjoyed as a child to my children. The hours in the kitchen are worth it. Especially as I found them meditative and relaxing. My favourite time to cook is at night. It’s quiet, and it’s just me, a chopping board, fresh parsley and an onion that makes me cry. I never imagined it could be such a stress reliever. I could just be. Forget about the stream of never ending school issues, and life’s day to day challenges.

Somehow I never feel lonely when I cook. I find my mind wandering as I roast pine nuts and puree a tin of tomatoes. I think back to how my grandmother first taught me what it was to heat a pan with oil and saute garlic, ginger and onion. I remember how she used to talk to me about her life in Iraq, then Israel. I didn’t understand everything between the Arabic, Hebrew and English. But I got the gist. I felt her feeling. I knew that it was hard. I knew that she had her great sadnesses, and I knew that through it all she cooked and provided us with hearty, warm food from that time. This makes me stronger in my great sadnesses. A woman’s sadness doesn’t stand alone, it’s linked to the river of tears that all women weep into. My grandmother taught me that.

The meditative, regular movements of carefully stuffing and rolling vine leaves with its minty mixture of parsley, onion, rice and lemon is soothing. My hands are oiled with the olive oil, that my grandmother oiled her hands with as she stuffed her vine leaves. She had the most beautiful soft skin. Hands hardened enough to carry a piping hot tray of pinwheel cookies from the oven, but soft enough to be part of an Estee Lauder advert for hand lotion. As my leaves take shape into neat green parcels, I remember what she taught me about treating house help. With love and kindness, and food. All the knowledge passed down through kneading, cutting, filling, boiling, eating together at her small round table in Sydney comes back to me in little snippets. They make me laugh to myself and then the tears come as well.

Dolmades - Grape Vine Leaves

Dolmades – Grape Vine Leaves

I’m learning that cooking is so much more than a chore. It’s a journey to the past. It’s an adventure as I learn what works and doesn’t work. Facing a dish that tastes too sour, or worse too sweet. (Five tablespoons of sugar in Mahasha doesn’t work, despite what the recipe says.) Learning to face failure and chucking the disaster dish out with a heavy heart but lessons well learnt. Dancing around the kitchen in glee as the sauce for the stuffed vegetables comes right. I only know if it’s right by how it tastes. The recipes from the books fail me. They have too much tomato paste and sugar. I need to keep spooning and tasting to see if the dish is right. I’m surrounded by silver teaspoons and tablespoons cluttering the kitchen counter. Let’s not speak about the washing up. My grandmother was meticulous in the kitchen, she wouldn’t be impressed by the parsley that sprinkles the floor.

Mahasha - Stuffed Vegetables

Mahasha – Stuffed Vegetables

So I recommend cooking. Just taking a recipe, buying the ingredients and making it. The more chopping involved the better, the saucier and tastier the better. The more different the better. I love being taken out of my comfort zone and taking others as well. Everyone asks ‘What’s this?’ And I explain, knowing this may be the first and last time they ever taste a taste of my grandmother’s Baghdad, where Arabs and Jews lived side by side in commerce, mutual respect and most of all in baking bread.

And just to end up with this note for those who don’t like cooking. It can be very simple. Sharing a cooking experience with ones family can extend to cutting up a mango and sharing it. I did this the other day with my Princes. They learnt how to make turtle shaped mangoes. We cut and ate and laughed and made a jolly mess. They loved it. I loved it. It was bonding at its best. Simple.

Almond Cookies for Pesach

This recipe is one of my favourite new recipes I learnt. It’s from a book called, ‘Flavours of Babylon’ by Linda Dangoor, which my dear cousin, Sharon bought me. It’s very easy and the cardamom gives it a real kick that guarantees that it’ll be a conversation piece. Just don’t forget to make it in advance so it can be refrigerated for a few hours or over night. (I forgot and it didn’t set nicely because of that.)

 

Almond Cookies

Almond Cookies

Ingredients

500g blanched almonds, finely ground (I don’t use blanched. Normal works fine.)

200g walnuts (I just use almonds instead) 500g castor sugar (I found this too sweet so I half the sugar)

1 teaspoon ground cardamom (I buy the cardamom from Woolworths and use a pestle and mortar to crush the seeds.)

The whites of 5 medium eggs

1 egg yolk

Rosewater (Not necessary if you don’t have.)

Method

1. In a bowl, mix the almonds, sugar and cardamom. Add the egg whites and knead into a malleable dough.

2. Cover and leave to rest in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight if you wish.

3. Preheat the oven to 160 C.

4. Line a baking tray with greaseproof or baking paper. Lightly wet your hands with the rosewater and take a little of the dough the size of a walnut and shape it into a tight ball, flattening the top a little with your finger. I add an almond for decoration.

5. Arrange on a tray, spacing the balls to avoid them sticking to each other as they expand when baked.

6. Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until golden. Leave to cool completely before handling. Serve or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer where they will keep well for a long time.

How do we relate to money? How do we raise our children to relate to money? Often we don’t think about these questions seriously. Or if we do, it’s a hard subject to figure out in a world, as Dr David Pelkowitz (Professor of Psychology and Education at Yeshiva University, NY) pointed out at the beginning of his talk on children and wealth, we don’t talk about money. It’s a taboo discussion in our society. It’s more acceptable to talk about sex (in some societies) than it is to discuss your bank balance. And, as he quoted, child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, ‘What can’t be talked about cannot be laid to rest.’

 So I thought I’d outline his talk that I went to last week. He raised some really interesting points that are helpful on our never ending journey of parenting. The outline below is scattered with many different points. I haven’t added my own commentary. I’ll leave that to you.

 Examine Your Attitudes Towards Money

Here are a list of questions he said all parents should ask themselves when it comes to money. This exercise helps to make your unconscious beliefs conscious.

  1. What was the attitude of each of your parents towards money and how did it affect you?
  2. What was your personal relationship with money when growing up?
  3. What did you learn about money from others around you?
  4. What is your attitude to money now?
  5. What attitude do you want for your children to have?
  • Money is a stand in for power, security, achievement and love. Ultimately you need to untangle these characteristics. 
  • Imagine that you’re a fly on the wall at your own funeral. What three things would you want to be said about you at your eulogy. 

Principle of Deprivation

  • The danger with money is the principle of deprivation. When a person has money in life they tend to be less satisfied with life because they tend to want more money. They’re less apt to share. They’re dissatisfied with their job and have low energy. Dr Pelkowitz tells the story of a depressed 28 year old investment banker who came to see him. He had just received his Christmas bonus of $500, 000. Why was he depressed? Because the guy next to him got $700, 000. 
  • It’s important to see money for what it is. It’s a tool.
  • Research shows that once your basic needs are met, there is no difference in happiness levels if you have more money.
  • He also told the story of a man who came from a wealthy background and volunteered after college for the Peace Corps. He was sent as a teacher to a village in Nepal. It was a very poor village. He was given a one room hut with no running water or electricity. He doesn’t know how he’ll cope, but he found he got used to it very quickly because it’s the way everyone in the village lived. When he received his first pay check of $40 for the month he felt like quitting. Then he found out that no one in the village earned more than $30 a month. He never felt wealthier in his life. 
  • Happiness comes from connecting to what matters, for example relationships. Not from stuff. 
  • Money eases the bumps in life but it doesn’t guarantee happiness.

Don’t Indulge Your Children

  • Why do we indulge our children? 

It has to do with our own level of comfort with saying NO to our children. 

Because…

* We want to be fair.

*We want to keep up with friends.

* We want to avoid tantrums.

There’s a myth that crying is bad for your child. Research shows that it’s a growth experience. It’s part of life. Children have to face frustrations, which is an instrument for growth. Growing up without anything else but their own self entitlement is a disaster. The most loving thing is to sometimes let them struggle with NO.

*We’re making up for our own childhood. 

*To replace yourself – because of guilt. 

The negative impact of all this is that: 

– Possessions lose value. 

– You don’t teach them the effort and reward connection. 

– It’s important to teach persistence, which is needed to overcome obstacles. 

– It’s important children learn to delay gratification. 

The greatest prediction of success in life is GRIT. Being able to stick with your goals in the long term. The one way to teach grit is to teach NO. 

So parents have to figure out ways to say no, so that their children can build up the muscle of self-control, which is the single most powerful predicator of success in life. 

Core Recommendations

1. Its’ the invisible lessons about money that our children see. It’s what we emphasise. What we get emotional about. Make sure your conversations don’t revolve around goods and possessions. Don’t make material things the centre of your life. 

2. Distinguish between Wants and Needs

Encourage children to write wish lists so that they learn the value for waiting for what they want most. 

3. Focus on the Internal Issues

What’s it all about? What is the emptiness about? Why don’t children have a richer internal life, that they need things to fill it.

4. Learn to set BOUNDARIES

There was a study done where they found that kids who own their mistakes and immediately took responsibility and apologised were more successful socially and academically. 

When examining the difference between the top 1% of neurosurgeons and the bottom 1% they discovered that the predicator for being the top 1% is how they handle their mistakes, take responsibility for them and correct them. 

The biggest gift we give our children is to teach them to embrace their mistakes as learning experiences. 

Affluenza – What is the Antidote?

There was a study that compared wealthy kids to low socio-economic kids. She found that the affluent kids had triple the rate of anxiety, depression and alcohol abuse. She found three attributes that contributed to this:

  1. It was never enough to just be average in that community. Kids grew up feeling they have to grow up in this box. 

Solution – We need to nourish the flame of our children’s uniqueness.

    2. The children’s experience was that their parents were there but not there. The parenting was outsourced. 

Solution – Values need to be internalised. Children to need eye to eye contact. Soul to soul contact. It’s important to be there for your kids. (This doesn’t mean both parents can’t work by the way.)

   3. Required Helpfulness. The children took and never gave back. That’s no way to live life. It’s important to get away from materialism and focus on what’s really important in life. 

‘There are people who have the spirit of a slave and there are slaves who have a spirit filled with freedom. Someone who is faithful to their inner-self. That person is always free. Someone who’s entire life is about what other people want or other people think – they’re a slave.’ – Rabbi Kook

We want to raise our children to have a life of freedom. 

  • If we substitute with childcare then that quality must be excellent. 
  • Kids want more rules. They may not like it, but even they, in studies done asking if they’d have more rules for their children, acknowledge that they would. (Especially with regard to electronic devices.)
  • When you do have rules that make sense, children welcome them and listen to them. 
  • It’s important to find the balance between love and limits.

I know this is a lot of information all typed out in bullet form. The talk was great. The notes are a useful, if not guideline, then springboard to think a bit more about the way we’re relating to money, materialism and most of all our children. 

 

 

 

 

One of my ambitious projects (dreams) this year was to create a playgroup at my house for Prince No. 4, who is now 20 months. This idea was born from the best selling book, Raising Boys by psychologist, Steve Biddulph. He writes,

‘What we are about to tell you next might cause distress to some parents. There are past readers of this book who have stopped reading right here, angry and confused. But the job of a psychologist is to tell you the facts, so here goes.

If at all possible, a boy should be cared for by his parents or a close relative (apart from the occasional trusted babysitter) until age three.

Group care of the institutional kind does not suit boy’s nature below this age. This doesn’t mean that boys put into long day care at six months will all become psychopaths, but it does mean that they will be more at risk. And, thanks to a number of large scale studies around the world we know that this ‘risk’ can take three forms. Firstly, increased misbehaviour, especially in the form of aggression and disobedience. Secondly, anxiety – to a degree that  might even harm development (this is measured by using stress-hormone tests). And thirdly, their relationship with you may be weakened: studies have shown that boys are more prone than girls to separation anxiety and to becoming emotionally shut down as a result of feeling abandoned. They seem less able to hold in their minds that Mum (or Dad) loves them, and is coming back. Also, a boy of this age may deal with his anxiety by becoming chronically restless or aggressive. Experienced daycare staff talk about the ‘sad/angry boy syndrome’ – a little boy who feels abandoned and anxious, and converts that into hitting and hurting behaviour. He may carry this behaviour into school and later life.’

It didn’t feel good reading this paragraph. Especially as I’d send my other Princes to main stream play schools from the age of 2 1/2, and I think, looking back with that blessed clear 20/20 hindsight vision, I didn’t do the right thing by them.

Of course I feel consumed with guilt. How could I have forced separation on them from such a young age, before they could express themselves, when they were still in nappies???? Of course I hadn’t known better. I hadn’t read Raising Boys, and they needed to be stimulated and socialised and further I needed my own time as well. So I couldn’t’ have done it differently under the circumstances. Guilt is therefore useless, and I just need to suck up the play therapy bills.

Fourth time round, I’m an older mum (finally) and I’m more aware of a one year old’s needs. I’ve now read Raising Boys, and I am determined to do things differently. Prince No. 4 still needs to be socialised and stimulated and I still need my own time. The issues are the same but the solution is a novel one. Create my own play group with a teacher and six toddlers who come with their caregivers. It’s a simple solution that my sister in law came up with when her son was a toddler (after she’d read Raising Boys), and it really works.

Since the first of February Prince No. 4 has been going to school in his play room. Thanks to our very creative teacher he’s made a caterpillar out of a toilet paper roll (with a lot of help of course) after reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar (I love, love, love that book). He made a Valentines card for us using a potato stamp cut into a heart. He’s made a beautifully messy finger painting, whilst learning about his body parts. More than that he’s learning to interact with other children in a safe way. Learning not to hit or throw, and luckily the other children are with their nannies who protect them from the flying puzzle pieces.

Image

Image

The most amazing thing for me is that I heard my nanny chatting to him about the caterpillar as she prepared him for his bath. She was loving going to school in the morning with him. For her it was a whole new world of fun, educational possibilities. A complete win win.

Of course living in South Africa, nannies are a blessing, and such help and support is not readily available throughout the world. The village lifestyle, where it took a village to raise a child, as the African proverb goes, doesn’t exist anymore. The reality is most mothers have to work, some have to send their babies very early on to creche. I think it’s a very hard reality in our world today, and I do wonder at the effects that it has on our children. On the other hand I also believe in the resilience of both children and parents. We all cope with what we’re given. Our challenges are our growth. So babies sent early to school do turn out fine. I don’t think there should be guilt as we as parents do the best we can with the resources that are available to us.

Opening a playgroup for Prince No. 4 is doing the best I can. It’s a blessing to be proactive with newly found knowledge. It’s wonderful to be innovative and brave enough to try new projects. (My dear hubbie has had to chew his words as he wasn’t very keen on my playgroup idea.) There will always be parenting challenges along the way, but please God the main thing is to keep learning, growing and most of all doing. So anyone who wants to begin their own play group, even if it’s for an afternoon a week – I say go for it. (My group only runs three mornings a week and is super flexible according to the children’s needs.)

It’s already the end of January. I keep writing 2013 unconsciously when I write out a date. But 2013 is gone like a wave on a beach, with it’s highs and lows. I’m now living the highs and lows of 2014. And that’s life – high and low, a steady heart beat of disappointments and successes, of tears of joy and sadness, of a healthy lentil burger and a full on chocolate binge. 

I’m an idealist, and I’m realising more and more how I expect perfection in life. In my day, in myself and in my family. It’s a strange strand of perfectionism I carry for I’m certainly not A type. I’m more like a Sloppy Joe B,C,D type. Yet I carry a persistent illusion that bad things can’t and shouldn’t happen, not to me and not to anybody. 

Slowly, slowly, slower than cooking a Sunny Side Up in the sun, I’m learning that things happen. **** happens. Not only to me, but to everybody. You go on holiday, you come back to speeding car fines. (The Garden Route cameras are brutal.) You’ve made a cake a thousand times, and it flops the thousand and first time. Schedules are continuously disrupted and I have to be as flexible as a yogic Swami to keep up. Fingers get caught in doors, cut chins need six stitches, and blogs that are meant to be written aren’t written. Hair becomes frizzy, date nights are sacrificed for community meetings. Princes rage, tantrum, argue, hit, fight, scream. And a young girl is sick and dies, and mothers everywhere weep with her mother.

That was this January 2014. And this girl’s mother manages to smile. How, how, how??? I howl and wail in this imperfect, completely unfair world do you do that? And in my heart I know it’s because of faith. Because of an unfathomable, inner knowledge that she possesses deeper than my own. That life is unfair, but when we’re Biblically presented with life and death, we’re told to choose life.

Wise people, happy people know this. No person who smiles on the street has a simple life. I don’t buy that anymore. Even a person with the most magnificent blessings who could want for nothing, can be unhappy. I’ve seen it. And the person who has nothing, no family, no money, can smile the most beatific smile and have the most sparkly, generous eyes. 

I’m thinking of an old man’s azure eyes who was like a second grandfather to me growing up. His name was Ziggy. He came from Czechoslovakia, and immigrated to Sydney after the war. Ziggy lost his whole family in the Holocaust. He witnessed his wife and five children being executed by the Nazis in a lush green forest. Yet as a child I only knew him as a man who had nothing and yet smiled, and sometimes fetched me in his old, white bakkie (utility pick up truck) after school. He chose to be happy despite everything. (At least on the outside.) 

Anyone who smiles is choosing to smile. Anyone who cries and is angry is choosing that as well. I’ve been on the highs and lows this month. Panic attacking over school schedules that need spread sheets. Feeling the anger and pain that certain incidents make me feel. Getting cross at Princes, feeling fear as they have stitches and x-rays. Thanking God when it’s all over. Marveling how truly inconsistent my emotions are. 

Upon crying at the funeral of this fifteen year old girl, who I had seen only a week before smiling and looking like an angelic young woman (much older than her age in a beautiful way) even though she knew she was going to die (which I only found at later), something shifted in me. An acceptance of tears perhaps, a knowledge that emotion is a choice. To choose to smile is harder and yet happier, more noble, more fruitful in this lifetime for ourselves and those around us. 

Words can’t quite capture the ethereal message she conveyed. Her spirit and energy was one of a truly courageous heroine. And I choose those words carefully. I really don’t know many heroines out there. What defines them as heroines is their ability to cope with their difficult reality, and whilst crying, still keep going, addressing their hardship and helping others with similar challenges at the same time. (I’m thinking of a dear friend of mine who’s son is autistic, so she opened a lovely, cutting edge educational school for autistic children. Offering support, advice and a shoulder to cry on for many, many parents throughout South Africa.) Ziggy was a hero.

Rising up to challenge is heroic. Smiling through challenge is completely angelic. Um but I’m not really that to be honest. I complain with the best of life’s kvetchers, I feel overwhelmed, have mini temper tantrums (I’m not joking), get very cross at those mythical towels on the floor, having to be a police woman with the Princes, and am very very human. My heroine friend is also human, as was Ziggy, as was the lovely teenage girl who had the most rebellious, independent spirit I’ve ever felt in a young person. 

Most of us aren’t heroes or heroines. Thank God most of us aren’t called on to be. But little acts of gratitude, kindness, being better human beings. Simply smiling despite the bills, the teacher’s calls, the homework duties, the schedules, relationship stress, work stress and everyday life’s up and downs is heroic in its own way. 

I sit here wondering, am I Australian or South African? Born Australian, now living in South Africa for more than a third of my life. An Australian who cried on Friday morning and felt a tremendous sense of loss along with the rest of South Africa when I woke up to the news that Nelson Mandela had passed away in the night. With him passed away a certain security, safety in the knowledge that he existed, with his iconic goodness, integrity and humanity.

There is something about greatness going. Passing. Something deeper than I really understand. Something that presses into me like a rude shoulder on the Tube and asks of me – what now? South Africa can be the violent and scary place that it’s portrayed to be in the media and by ex-South Africans (why do they call themselves ex? I don’t call myself ex-Australian. I consider myself very Australian, although my accent is, this is hard to admit, gone.) However what is often not portrayed is that South Africa is a place of the most generous spirit, the most glorious singing souls dancing barefoot whilst eating roasted mielies (corn). When Mandela died last week, the icon of ‘empowerment’ of ‘love, ‘the father of South Africa’ was gone, and he left behind a devastating crater in everyone’s hearts.

I never personally knew Mandela. I read his book Long Walk to Freedom. (It’s the first present my husband ever gave me when we were going out.) I even saw him at his grandson Mandla Mandela’s inauguration as chief. I didn’t think I would be affected by his death, after all I’m not South African, I never lived through Apartheid. I have zero history, zero cultural ties with the land I live in. Yet on Friday morning I wept, trying to hide my tears from my Princes on the morning school run.

Why was I was so devastated? What came to mind was a book by Jungian psychologist Robert A. Johnson (I highly recommend his books) called ‘Inner Gold’. In it Johnson explains how each one of us project our greater selves on to other people and our job is to reclaim it. He writes:

Loving is a human faculty. We love someone for who that person is. We appreciate and feel a kinship and a closeness. Romantic love, on the other hand is a kind of divine love. We deify the other person, without knowing it, to be the incarnation of God for us. Being in love is a deep religious experience, for many people the only religious experience they’ll have, the last chance God has to catch them.

One reason we hesitate to carry our own gold is that it is dangerously close to God. Our gold has Godlike characteristics, and it is difficult to bear the weight of it.’

I think that Mandela’s greatness was his humanness. He never wanted to be deified, which only made us love him more. He is the man who wanted everyone to be leaders, to be their best selves, just as he wasn’t scared of being his best self.

Which of course brings up one of my favourite quotes of all time that Mandela quoted during his inauguration as President and which I continually repeat to myself and on this blog,

‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ 

Mandela saw the gold. The gold in himself, in Apartheid, on Robben Island, in F.W. de Klerk, in us, in humanity. As I mourn Mandela I feel that I’m mourning my best self. The self that he wanted everyone to be. Now he’s gone there is no choice but to step up, take responsibility as he did, whether it’s comfortable or not and be that light. Overcome our death adder venom of fear and tap into Madiba’s gold, so that South Africa, one person at a time, fulfills Mandela’s legacy. A legacy of humility, a generosity of heart and a kindness of spirit that made the small feel great and the great humbled by his presence.

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So I’ve been traveling with my one and a half year old and my five year old. Twenty one hour plane ride kind of traveling, with a stop over in Heathrow in the middle. I went to Los Angeles to visit my grandfather and family. I came back half a week ago and am still recovering. 

Would I advise traveling with a highly energetic toddler by oneself? No, absolutely not. Would I do it again? Absolutely. It was worth all the smiles this little Prince brought to my grandfather’s face. Here’s what I learnt on my travels with a toddler (and a five year old, who was an angel and easy as long as there was an IPad around.)

 

  1. Not Everyone Likes Children

I’m going to sound naive when I say that I truly had no idea how rude and mean people can be. Some people really don’t understand how difficult it is for mothers traveling alone with babies. I had a horrible incident on Virgin Airways on the Johannesburg – London leg of my journey. During turbulence we were all instructed to put seat belts on, which I did and was in the middle of doing with my wriggling, squirming, squealing toddler, when a stewardess came and insisted I put his seat belt on. 

I said, ‘I’m trying.’ As I grabbed him once again and tried to get him to sit still. 

She replied, ‘You need to put his seat belt on immediately.’

I said, ‘I’m doing my best.’

She replied something along the lines of, ‘That’s not good enough, I’m going to have to report you to the captain for not following the law.’

It was late at night, almost midnight. She was speaking to me like I was some stupid, irresponsible nitwit. The turbulence was mild. There was no national emergency. Completely overwhelmed I burst into tears, at which she promptly told me off. ‘Oh no, not drama.’ And the Nazi stewardess commanded me to stop. Which of course didn’t work.

I reported the incident. It was the beginning of the end of my naiveté about the human race. There are some seriously unhappy people out there who’s mission is to point out every mistake anyone else makes and to make sure they spread their misery as thickly as peanut butter, everywhere. 

(Is this the time to mention my Pick n’ Pay incident where I realised I’d forgotten Prince No. 1 at school (again) whilst taking my other Princes for a haircut. I reversed and a car beeped at me. Okay it wasn’t the greatest reverse, but it wasn’t even illegal to reverse. So I thought nothing of it. When I entered the centre a woman came to me and began abusing me about my driving. Swearing and everything. So I (and I’m not proud to admit it) got very cross and swore back. So she said she’s going to hit me and she really was an ugly, butch kind of woman, who had her fists up in foul mouthed readiness. I was carrying my one and a half year old baby, with this woman telling me that I was ‘the scum of the earth’. So I turned to her and said, ‘You are what you call others’ and left. But I was severely shaken. She was the paradigm of an ‘unhappy’ person who spreads misery like Swine Flu.)

Do these incidents only happen to me? They’re really unpleasant.

I just wish people had that much more empathy for mothers with babies and children. It’s really hard, and it’s only worse when you’re made to feel like a pariah for having a child around. A mother doesn’t choose for her child to cry, or for the pram to block a supermarket aisle, or for her toddler to run around a shopping centre wildly. She’d much rather not be in those situations. It’s hard to be out and about with a toddler and when there’s no understanding it’s a nightmare. It’s no wonder that under population is becoming an issue in Western Society. There’s not enough support for mothers, and traveling with a toddler and a five year old proves it. 

I should note that  a lot of people were really, really lovely on my trip. The same flight with the horrible flight attendant had the most unusually kind and caring flight attendants. (I reported them as well for being amazingly kind.) There were LA trendy coffee shops which put up with my toddler’s screeching (from exuberance) and crying (from ear infection) with out so much as a frown. Everyone is different, but somehow those who are horrible are hard to forget.

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                                                Prince No. 4 splashing away at a fabulous LA park.

2. Forget Your Ideals Take Lollipops

By the end of my trip, I was stuffing Lollipops and anything that would keep Prince No. 3 and 4 happy. IPad, Lollipops and lots of songs and rhymes. Traveling is not a time to worry about fried brains or too much sugar. It’s survival.

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Universal Studios – Beautiful Californian Sky (Not a great place for toddlers though – Rides too scary, even the Studio Tour. Brilliant for kids though.)

 

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The Getty Centre – Brilliant for Everyone – Love the Kids Room

3. Keep a Good Attitude

Perhaps I’ve moaned and complained a bit in this blog post, but the key to a good trip is to maintain a good attitude. I didn’t manage it all the time, but I did prepare myself for a physically intensive kiddie trip. It wasn’t a holiday, it was a family trip. It was meant to be a lovely, connecting family time, and with no other expectation that’s exactly what it was. Of course it helped that I was with my extraordinarily, kind and amazing cousin, Sharon, who of course has the best attitude ever, and schlepped me everywhere. I had no choice but to be happy, for her there is no choice, and that spreads. 

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Life is real so let’s be real about it.

How do you explain mixed emotions? The fact that at the end of the day I crawl into bed exhausted not sure what kind of day I’ve had. Good and bad are words that are too general to use when it comes to my days. If I write down what I’ve done, what’s happened and what I’ve felt it’s always a mix of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Challenges of ‘bad spirits’ in our courtyard (I’m not joking), staff who are having nervous breakdowns (due to said bad spirits), cajoling the Princes to do their homework, get in the bath, get out of the bath, sick Princes, Princes pretending to be sick (very hard to tell the difference), Baby Princes who love to eat poisonous Syringa Berries… And amazing, happy things like sitting with a Cuppocino and writing, seeing the Spring flowers bloom into happy rainbow colours, happy Princes building a volcano experiment together, playing soccer, going to yoga, Baby Prince learning to blow kisses (though if you ask for a kiss on your cheek, you’re more likely to get a bite), actually doing my work, finishing jobs, reading a really good book (I just read the latest Bridget Jones book, which was a bit of fun.) 

Experiencing the whole gambit of emotions in a day is exhausting. Juggling as a mother is exhausting. Especially when I think things shouldn’t be all mixed up, days are either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But there’s no such thing. They’re more than often mixed, confused and chaotic. For anyone and everyone, but especially as a mother. 

This brings to mind the amazing YouTube clip with Dr Brene Brown ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o . A must watch for everyone. (I literally sat my husband down and forced him to watch it, and he loved it.) Dr Brene Brown is a researcher who researched the topic of the difference between ‘whole hearted’ people and the rest of us. ‘Whole hearted’ people have a strong sense of belonging and self worth and can be vulnerable. They can experience pain and joy. She claims that when you shut yourself down from experiencing uncomfortable emotions such as pain, sadness and fear, you also block yourself from experiencing the opposite emotions of joy, happiness, courage. Our society with our magazine picture perfect veneer is not very good at living in the real life every day chaos of reality. And reality is not picture perfect. It’s mixed, confused and chaotic. We’re not very good at feeling like we unconditionally belong and are all worthy even if our teeth aren’t perfectly white, and we’re not a size 8, and don’t have long, shiny, swishy hair, or are a high powered, heel clacking somebody. She points to the very real chasm in ourselves and our society, and it’s a relief to hear her.

We need to be ‘whole hearted’ and teach our children to be ‘whole hearted’ which means to live with acceptance of our selves and each other. Acceptance of our days which aren’t linear and neat, but rather chaotic. We need to teach our children that they are beloved, they belong and are essentially important, but they will have challenges, they will feel things they don’t want to feel. They will laugh and they will cry as we do. 

The more I learn about the anomaly of life. That tears are the same whether you are crying with joy or sadness, the more I can let life flow without fighting it. When I burn out now as I did last week after a month of birthday partying. (All the sugar and late nights definitely takes its toll.) That my struggle of figuring out my identity as a mother and a person who wants a life beyond mothering is a tension that may always be there. The fact that I’m imperfect and my husband is imperfect and we will fight and argue and sometimes even hate each other is okay. The fact I fight, argue and sometimes even ‘SHOUT’ at the Princes is also okay. And the more okay I am with it, the more okay they are too. And the easier it is to bounce back into the love and joy and simple tickley giggles. The discomfort will pass, and the joy comes. Or they may come together. A good example for women is child birth. Birth is painful, the after birth pains are even more painful, and yet I remember being ecstatically happy because I had a baby, although I was crying with pain. It doesn’t make sense. It’s a relief to stop trying to make sense of everything and just let things be.

So as I sit here writing. I feel mixed. Happy and content to be writing. Unhappy and fidgety that Prince No. 4 is home alone (with the nanny) for my Cappuccino hour. When I dwell on my discomfort I feel like I’ll never get the balance right. When I dwell on the reality and truth that I spent all day with Prince No. 4 yesterday and now it’s my own Sarah identity time, I breathe easier. The tension is still there, and I suspect it’s a tension I will always have, as so many mothers do. But that is arguably life, and the sooner I accept it rather than fight it, box it, compartmentalise it and try and fix it, the better. 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a fun short story I wrote. It was for my writing group, and just bubbled up from heaven knows where. Does anyone relate to it? I wonder? At the very least I hope it’s something different and fun to read.

 

Two Strangers Met…

 She put on her red coat. It exuded confidence, she thought, bright, brash and brave. That’s what she would be. Though she was a couple of kilos overweight, at least it was hidden. This was her super model coat. The coat she splashed out on, spending all her grocery money for the month. It had been worth it, though she’d had a lot of explaining to do. Tom didn’t get it. ‘Why would you need more than one coat?’ he’d demanded waving about the credit card statement, which she’d tried to hide. Damn e-statements. No one has just one coat. No one, at least at the school. She sighed happily into her coat as she tied the belt firmly around her size twelve stomach. All the other mothers were size eight. Well she was working on it. Fifty sit ups a day, when she wasn’t too tired, although she was always tired…so that never really worked. She sighed again, this time heavily. Perhaps she should get a personal trainer. She shook her head. She didn’t want to be one of those women. It was bad enough that she’d gone for highlights, just like the rest of them. What had happened to her?

Lizette used to read books, discuss books, live amongst books. She’d looked down at the ditzy, dashing girls tottering in high heels. Even those sitting in her honors literature course  she just couldn’t take seriously. It was all about the nails, flashing white teeth and flat bellies. Of course she wanted to look good. She always looked good, she thought, and was popular and beautiful in her cool intelligentsia, beer drinking crowd. She’d never really paid attention to them, they lived on the periphery of her world, like that blank last page in a book, that was just there for some reason, although she’d never really figured out what for.

Well today, she’d have to bear with the company of one of those ‘mothers’ with the red talons, the pouty, completely ready for a kiss lips, and the perfect, shiny hair. It was for her daughter. Tom had insisted they send her to the school. The best private schooling for his angel. She’d have been happy with a public school, where she would have been exposed to real life. But here she was, obsessing about her clothes and feeling completely inadequate, like a can of sardines in a sushi bar.

‘Mama,’ her daughter ran up to her, jumping up and down. ‘Are you ready yet? Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.’

‘Yes love,’ Lizette replied absentmindedly applying her last layer of lip gloss so her lips were just as ready to kiss, although Tom hated kissing sticky lips. She smiled at the reflection of her daughter in the mirror. She was beautiful, an angelic blonde jumping from foot to foot with antsy impatience.

‘Okay we’re going,’ she grabbed her daughter in a tight hug. ‘We’re going to have fun, fun, fun at Amy’s house.’ Her voice sounded strained and anxious even to her ears. ‘Real fun,’ she smiled grimly. She’ll make it work. Anna deserved the best, and she was determined to fit in. They were of the right social bracket, just different that’s all. Different… but Anna doesn’t need to know it. And she’d prepared herself for this afternoon. She’d bought and read Heat magazine and Hello. She knew every detail of Kate Middleton’s birth and even the name of the child. She would do swimmingly.

Swimmingly indeed. More like sunk than swam. She forgot the baby’s name. She thought it was Harry, but of course that’s William’s brother. How stupid did she look. And Anna had gotten red icing all over her lovely white Jacadi dress, and she had had to grit her teeth not to shout at her. She wanted a martini, a double whiskey anything to numb the pain. A beer with her friends of the old days, who would laugh at her for trying to be a snob. Who was she fooling? And she was so painfully bored, she couldn’t conjure much more of a conversation beyond where the couches came from (handcrafted in Tuscany, Italy), who had designed her garden (French expert from Provence), and how lovely the teacups were. She had said, and now she cringed at the thought, ‘I’ve seen them at Woolworths, they’re lovely. I was going to buy the same.’

‘Well they’re actually imported from Tiffanys, Alexander McQueen designed them you know,’ she was blithely told by the Claudia Schiffer look alike mom. But the main thing was Anna was happy, and Tom would be happy with that, and she was happy. Very happy. Why shouldn’t she be? She’d just learnt that it’s more elegant to wear black. So perhaps she’d buy a black coat next.

***

‘How was your day darling?’

‘Ah love,’ she wrapped her long arms around him and gave him a long squeeze. ‘I’ve missed you. It’s been such a long day. Amy had a friend over. Such a sweet girl, but her mother. You’d think she’d never read a book. What an absolute boring afternoon. All she  could talk about was furniture, the Royals and fashion.’

‘Sounds completely boring.’

‘Completely,’ she sighed twisting a strand of blonde shiny hair through her fingers. ‘Although I must say, I think red is the new black. I must buy a ravishing red coat. She did look rather nice.’

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