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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.’

The other day I had one of those mornings. A morning where nothing turns out as expected. Every day there’s a basic plan of lifts, appointments, stuff to do. Sunday was no different. Prince No. 2 had a party in the morning and I was going to take him and write notes at a coffee shop whilst he was enjoying his party. Perfect plan.

The notes I was going to write, weren’t any notes, they were life reflections based on a talk I’d been to earlier that morning. These days are such a serious time of atonement, of returning to ones best self. I was looking forward to spending time exploring these thoughts.  As it turns out woman plans and God laughs.

I spent half an hour finding the party venue, driving in frustrating circles as my GPS failed to find the specific shopping centre location. Hot, tired and having survived trying to do a U-turn on a one way highway (I had no idea it was one way, thank God there were no cars) we arrived at the party. I didn’t recognise a single face, we were at the wrong venue. I had gotten the information completely wrong. Yes, that sinking doom, gloom feeling set in.

As bad as I felt for myself as my writing morning flew swiftly out the window, I felt worse for my little Prince, who is such an undemanding mentsch. He was looking forward to the laser party, so now what?

I regrouped. I called my therapist husband (he’s not really a therapist but he’s always got rock solid advice for me) he suggested Adventure Golf which was at the centre we were at. So that’s what we did. We first regrouped with a Toys R Us shop for the Princes festival presents (Mushi Monsters are the latest craze for the younger kids). And with Lego happily tucked under his elbow we went for a Coke coffee, and then marched to Adventure Golf.

Let me admit here what I wouldn’t tell my Prince. The last thing in the world I felt like was playing putt putt, but I decided to put my feelings aside and enter his world. His disappointment of missing a friend’s birthday party. His excitement to do something completely different with his mother. So I played. And it was fun. I putt putted my ball to oblivion with a par of 25 at least. He enjoyed beating me tremendously, and hand in hand we came to the 10th hole a bit sad that it was over. He hit his ball and it disappeared. I hit my ball and the lights began blinking, and beeping and blinking some more. Unfathomably I had hit a hole in one.

Whilst I appreciated the free game I won, the lights and winning sounds meant more to me than that. For me it was a confirmation that that morning was a win. Somehow a morning that had gone completely pear shaped had grown into a pear tree. And I happily ate the fruit as we drove home and Prince No. 2 said to me, ‘Mom that was the best morning ever.’

I never wrote my atonement notes that morning, but somehow that morning was the biggest atonement of all.  I learnt first hand how to let go of anger and frustration when my days don’t go to plan. There’s a Higher Power’s plan at work and somehow there’s a gift in leaning into the Divine plan and seeing the surprises that He has in store.

Every day has it’s inevitable changes and challenges, and if we can continually make lemonade out of the perceived lemons we’ll be happier, and our families will definitely be better off.

Note: I wasn’t a martyr to my time either, that afternoon I had time in the quiet Spring sunshine on the Patio, with a cushion between my dogs and myself (so they wouldn’t jump on me) and my notebook and pen. There’s a time and place for everything under the sun, maybe just not in the way we imagine it.

One of the reasons I write this blog is to share my experiences and hopefully normalise the many new and challenging experiences that parents go through. When I had my children I thought they were the most perfect babies in the world. Absolute angelic, perfect beings. With everything ‘right’ about them. I had no idea that they’d grow up with challenges.

Silly me, idealistic me, naive me. If there’s anything I’ve learnt since it’s that life is challenge. To think otherwise is to cripple ones growth and development. To think otherwise is to be paralysed when life throws us its inevitable curveballs. Nothing has taught me more about ‘challenge’ then sending my child to a remedial school. 

 Let’s first debunk the myth behind remedial.

  1. Remedial DOES NOT mean dumb.

Just because a child needs remedial it doesn’t mean that they’re not clever. In fact they’re often super bright, but unable to access their brightness because they can’t manage in a normal school system due to a variety of reasons, such as – anxiety, lack of personal attention or having to be taught in a different way.

  1. Main stream school does NOT mean better.

We think that a ‘normal’ school education is superior to remedial. Remedial education is on par with normal main stream schools. The main difference is that a main stream school is a set school system which the child has to adapt to, whilst a remedial school caters for the individual needs of the child. Which sounds better?

A child who goes to Bellavista, which is the school my son goes to, has classes of 12 children. These children are given speech and occupational therapy on an individual and group basis where needed. These children are split into math groups and reading groups according to their ability. If a child excels they’re extended beyond their age group. The individual attention is phenomenal. A child cannot fall through the cracks in such a system. There is a vested interest from the principal, Mrs Alison Scott (who not only knows every child’s name but their academic results and personal interests) downwards, in your child growing and thriving academically, emotionally and personally. 

For me a Bellavista assembly (to which parents are invited when their child receives an award or certificate) exemplifies the stark difference between remedial and normative education. Mrs Scott will conduct the assembly beginning with a story or a cartoon, from which she’d derive a theme such as bullying. The last one I went to she read a story book called, ‘How to Heal a Broken Wing’ by award winning Australian children’s author, Bob Graham. It’s a story about a bird who has broken its wing and is picked up and taken care of by a little boy called Will and his parents until it could fly and be free. Using this story Mrs Scott spoke about how important it is to overcome challenges through persistence and hard work. She spoke on the children’s level (without being condescending), asking them questions and recognising them for their bright answers. It’s always a giggle, a fun experience that leaves me enriched as a parent, and somehow wishing that Mrs Alison Scott had been my principal at school. 

Mrs Scott understands that children don’t learn with pressure and fear but rather through love. Not that she’s not strict. She is. She demands effort, for example praising the school’s soccer teams’ tenacity and determination rather than results. She demands good behaviour, politeness, organisation, self regulation as well as respect and kindness to others. And when you’re there, out of love and admiration you want to be that, you want to excel academically as well as be a decent human being. 

That is the legacy of Bellavista for my child, and although other normative schools say that that is their legacy, I’m afraid that they don’t always manage to manifest it. Their system doesn’t allow it. (Although my other Princes are at wonderful mainstream schools with absolutely amazing teachers, I know they’re not receiving that basic foundation which creates a joyous passion for learning and a grounded self esteem that Bellavista offers.)

Normative schools work on the system of ‘survival of the fittest’. If you’re not fit you can’t perform, you won’t get marks and matric results will suffer and this reflects badly on the school. So you will learn your math, you will learn your spelling, you will excel so that you’ll succeed in life. Sadly life doesn’t work like that. Results don’t always guarantee success. A good foundation of self respect, self belief and self knowledge do.  

So for me Remedial school has been first prize, it’s a step down to main stream, which we will probably be doing next year. Children need individual attention so that they don’t fall through any cracks. They need to be taught to dream so that they can become who they were meant to be. They need to be held so that they know the world is a safe and loving place, rather than a world where they’re just a number.

I would recommend that all main stream schools model themselves on remedial schools like Bellavista. Smaller class rooms, with all therapies held at school in collaboration with the class teacher, parent interviews where all therapists, math teacher, class teacher and any involved adult is present so a whole picture of the child is formed, instituting strict, strict value systems which are not negotiable, such as an anti bullying policy that is a contract signed by both child and parents. A system of accountability and responsibility rather than just marks. Not that academic achievement is not important, it is, but it’s not everything, even for a child who’s academically brilliant, they still need to be coping socially, psychologically and emotionally. 

We’re complex human beings, why should our children be different? So if anyone has a child who may need remedial don’t hesitate, get them assessed. It’s the best for your child and for you. It’s growth for the whole family. We were also at Crossroads for a year (long story) and it was also a fantastic remedial school. 

We all need to learn to deal with different. Accept difference, embrace difference. This is a fundamentally a Judeo/monotheistic idea. Where no one gets left behind. In ancient Roman and Greek societies, difference was shunned. The vulnerable and poor were not taken care of. Malformed children were abandoned. Monotheism (a central Christian teaching as well) teaches kindness to the widow and orphan. From here we learn about social justice, that the hierarchy of ‘more able’ doesn’t exist everyone is worthy of respect and acceptance because we’re all created in the ‘image of God’. 

We’re all ‘malformed’ in some way, it may not be physically, but emotionally, psychologically or spiritually. We all have ‘broken wings’ on some level. (On a deeper level it can be argued that our ‘issues’ our perfect for us, they’re our life work, as we learn to deal with them and overcome them.) For a child at an early age to learn what it is to accept their difference and that of others, to accept that we are all challenged in some way, is a beautiful gift. ‘Normal’ is not perfect. It’s ‘normal’ to have challenges. Giving children the skills and the confidence to overcome their challenges is to grow them so that they can one day truly fly and be free.

That’s real, that’s life and what better way to be ready for life than that?

And now for something lighter, my special, healthy, homemade muesli recipe, that I’ve designed with a lot of trial and error (but persevered because it was on my bucket list). It’s crunchy, fresh and fun to make.

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Homemade Muesli

Ingredients 

500 grams Raw Oats

120 grams Sunflower Seeds

120 grams Pumpking Seeds

120 grams Miracle Seed Mix (This is a mix of sesame seeds, linseeds and other healthy seeds. You can buy it from Dischem.)

120 grams Agave Nectar 

1 Cup of Almonds (You can add other nuts that you like, and you can play with the amount of nuts and seeds to suit your taste.)

8 Tablespoons of Coconut Oil 

Method

  1. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. If the coconut oil is congealed, melt in a pot first and add.
  2. Place on a tray and put in the oven at 140C. Bake for 40 – 60 minutes, stirring every 20  minutes, until golden brown. Careful not to burn (as I’ve done too often). 
  3. Leave to cool.

Enjoy this with yoghurt, grated apple, fruit or as you wish….

Note. I don’t add dried fruit in this mix. After the muesli is cooked I sometimes add goji berries. It’s personal taste, so you can add whatever you love to this basic recipe.

Who can forget the movie The Bucket List with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. (If you haven’t watched it – watch it. What struck me as sad was the fact that the main characters in that movie waited to have cancer before they took the time to fulfill their dreams. It’s humbling when we are reminded of our mortality, and that the only moment that we can be sure of, is this one right now. 

Recently I read a book by Robert A Johnson, called ‘Living Your Unlived Life: Coping with Unrealized Dreams and Fulfilling Your Purpose in the Second Half of Life’. (My psychology/self help reading addiction is back.) It’s the kind of book that speaks about having a midlife crisis without throwing your life away on some self destructive, crazy, wild fling. It’s all about giving life to unlived aspects of yourself. He writes what his friend, who’s a chaplain at a hospital, told him about a recurring theme that she heard repeatedly from the dying men and women. ‘They thought that if they met the responsibilities of life, fulfilling the culturally prescribed things that we all feel compelled to follow, that somehow life would not run out before they had a chance to live it. Yet in those precious moments  before death they realized there was no more time. It was too late, and they had missed some essential experiences.’  Isn’t that chillingly sad. 

And that’s where a bucket list comes in. I don’t think you can ever be too young or too old to have one. It’s about writing out the life you’d love to have, the things you’d love to do and achieve. The small and big goals that you would have loved to do if today was the last day of your life.

A few years ago on New Years Eve, my husband and I made our bucket lists. I wrote mine on paper and now don’t know where it is. He put his on his phone and still has it. The other night we were out on ‘Date Night’ (See previous blog post. Bucket listing is a great date night activity) and we read through his list. We were surprised to see that he’d done quite a few things on it. It was exhilirating to see that we’d gone to Italy and that he’d fulfilled some of his personal goals. These were things we may not have ended up doing if he hadn’t written them down.

Of course there was a lot left to do on the list. But it didn’t matter. It’s not about fulfilling each goal, dream and wish fastidiously. The list is more of a guideline as to the general direction you’d like your life to go. That night we individually rewrote our lists. 

My list was fun and simple. It helped me refocus on what I want in my life. There were easy, doable things on the list: Draw and paint. Walk to coffee shops with baby (something I find hard to do in Johannesburg). Read poetry. Get my children involved in a social, reading cause with other South African children. And daunting goals: Bake a six layer cake, bake bread. And my bigger, hairier, audacious goals like travel to India and do a yoga course there. 

From simple goals to high dreams, my life is enriched for the better by writing out my bucket list. Since I’ve written it I’ve found a six layer cake recipe. (In this months House and Garden Gourmet magazine.) I’ve broadened my reading. I’ve walked a bit more. I’ve lived a little bit more of my unlived life. It’s so simple and it can’t fail to bring a smile to even the most cynical, despairing face. There’s so much to do and be, and I believe just sending the intention out there, creates in our unconscious the space to do more than we ever imagined we could.

The Right to Date Night could also read – The Right NOT to be Bored. I think marriage especially once you have children becomes a relay race of ‘hellos’ rather than real connection. Unless you go on a date night. Unless you make an effort. I’ve always believed in date night, and we’ve always gone out at least once a week. (This is more due to the fact that I NEED to get out, more than any relationship development.) For the last month or so I hit  a wobbly patch of ‘boredom’, even on date night. Boredom in the same old places we go to in small town Johannesburg. Boredom in the same conversations (mostly about the kids). Boredom in myself at nothing new, exciting or challenging to engage with. It’s a boredom that stifles the best of relationships.

I chatted to one of my very good friends, and to my surprise she admitted that as much as she loved her husband, they too faced the same challenge of boredom. It made me think that it’s not such an uncommon thing. It’s not that the relationship is bad, it just needs spicing up, a point of interest, something FUN. And when do we ever do anything fun with our spouses? (Notably if you don’t have a spouse, it’s still important to do something fun with yourself, or partner, or good friend.) Fun lets us be kids again, children of light and life who dance in the dewy grass. It brings back the reason you fell in love and married your partner in the first place.

A part of me wanted my husband to plan the ‘fun’, ‘romantic’ rendezvous for us. The part of me that wants to be taken care of, to be wooed again. Naturally I had to get over myself. My husband is not the kind of guy who plans ‘fun’, ‘interesting’ things easily. (I’m working on him though.) So it’s up to me to plan the unpredictable, the spontaneous and out of our comfort zone fun. And so I did.

FUN Things to Do

Theatre - Last week I booked ‘Solomon and Marion’ with Janet Suzman. It was a resounding success. It was a wonderful production, incredibly written and beautifully acted. We both left inspired, our spiritual bellies full of creative food.

Movies, Documentaries – I’m on Hazel Cohen’s Cyril Harris Auditorium’s email list, and get a host of emails about the documentaries they show. I just saw ‘The Flat’ by Arnon Goldfinger, which was thought provoking and beautifully done. Another simple, stretch my horizons experience.

Go Somewhere New – Eg. Arts on Main – Joburgers sometimes don’t make the most of their own city. I know I don’t. There are a lot of events, nightly and on Sundays at the Maboneng Precinct in town. It’s safe enough, has a buzzing artistic energy and it’s definitely outside our comfort zone which is absolutely exhilarating. It’s on my list of to dos.

Go Away – This isn’t an easy one, but I believe it’s essential for couples to go away, even for a night. Even if it’s to a B & B down the road. Being away from the hum drum practicality of life is pure heaven, and you get a proper nights sleep! (You could go to Cape Town and see Solomon and Marion there.)

Physical Activities – Bowling, ice skating, walking, running, roller blading. Find something you both enjoy and do it together. Even better learn a new skill together. Truth be told we don’t do this in Johannesburg, but on holidays by the beach we have a whole exercise ritual which includes running, walking, yoga and  dipping into the sea.

Attend a Class – Art class, knitting (just kidding, although you never know), cooking, chocolate making, French or Spanish lessons, Jewish history classes, Biblical Tanach classes. There are endless adult evening classes in Johannesburg. Learn anything that gets you both thinking, talking, and discussing, even laughing as you expand your skills and knowledge. This is a great way of being together.

Play Music – Lately we’ve begun playing soft, romantic music. Enya is our favourite at the moment. We play it whilst we have tea and chat. (Another idea would be to put groovy dance music on and just dance in the comfort of your home. Or if you can, go out dancing. My husband flat out refuses to dance, but I think dancing is ALOT of fun.)

Chat Daily – Not everything has to be brilliantly exciting. We’re tired at the end of a hard working day and a nice chat with tea and music fills us up, and reconnects us in that domestic, happy way.

It’s holidays now our children are out having fun, we need to reconnect with ourselves, our partners and have a bit of fun too. There’s nothing like a giggle to make us forget our every day problems. Cynics out there will say, it’s easy to say, ‘have fun’, but practically life’s too difficult, hard and busy for such frivolity. Such people must have the deepest, furrowing, war trench wrinkles ever, and I doubt they have fulfilling, happy marriages. I say don’t listen to such people, even if it’s your own inner critic, or your spouse, do it anyway, and see what happens…. We may not have the perfect marriage, but at least we’re having fun.

NB. The above are my own ideas. I’m sure you have a heap of your own. You can comment and share some of the more fabulous things that are possible in Johannesburg.

Last week was an inspiring week. I was privileged to hear Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks speak on leadership and it made me think how we are all leaders, especially mothers. It’s not something we speak about in our society much. Mothers are either ‘spiritual mumbo jumbo’ martyrs or we’re irrelevant. It’s like the story that Gary Neumann told at Sinai Indaba about his wife. They were sitting at a high powered, women’s CEO conference where he was speaking. The table was doing the ‘so what do you do’ rounds, and each woman’s resume as you can imagine, was more impressive than the next. When the table came to his wife, she said, ‘I take care of orphaned children. I feed them, dress them, nurse them, school them.’ The table was duly impressed and amazed at such self less, Mother Teresa work. She then added, ‘Of course they’re my own children.’ And the spell was broken.

There is no doubt that mothers are under appreciated. I’ve come to realise that no one is waiting to applause us, thank us, give us that well deserved pat on the back, for clocking up thousands of kilometers on our mum mobile speedometers. We’ll be waiting forever if we’re waiting for that. Appreciation must come from ourselves. Self care, self nourishment from ourselves. And sometimes it seems like such a pain – ‘What I have to also mother myself? Not another person to mother, ppplease!’

And this is where leadership comes in. Seeing the value of ones role that we’re called upon in life to do. It just so happens that mothering is a common role. It’s not very difficult to become a mother. Being a mother, even that proverbial ‘good enough mother’ is a whole different story.

  1. A Leader is Bottom of the People Heap:

Rabbi Sacks (I will abbreviate his well deserved title for the sake of easy reading) spoke about leaders being at the bottom of the pile. They are there to serve the people, rather than the other way around. A metaphor for ‘old style, dictatorial’ leadership (or modern African leadership) could be the ancient buildings of power such as the Egyptain Pyramids. The peaky top symbolised the Pharaoh, who was akin to God, and the massive, heavy bottom were the people who served him.

egyptian-pyramid-picture-3

Revolutionary to this leadership model is the ancient Jewish symbol of the menorah – the Temple’s candelabra, which had seven branches at the top, symbolising the people and the bottom, central leg represent the leader.

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This reminded me of the role of ‘mother’. There is no doubt that we’re the bottom of the food chain, as we serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. We hold our children and husbands up, and without us, there is no toilet paper in the bathrooms. If we quit, thousands would lose their jobs. If we went on a shopping strike, economies would crumble. I could be wrong of course, perhaps we should try it and see what happens…

Rabbi Sacks quotes Martin Luther King who said, ‘We can all be great because we can all serve.’ So we need to, as mothers, begin seeing ourselves as great leaders, not maid servants, serving our children and families as we build them up.

2. We ALL Need to Be Leaders in Our Own Sphere of Influence

I don’t think much more than that needs to be said. Mother’s have the most profound influence on their children, for better or for worse. We imprint our children with their gifts and their issues. Whether we like it or not, we are who we are because of our own mothers. We’ve either copied them, or reacted to them. Either way you can’t escape the influence and power that ‘mother’ has in our lives. So I’m hoping to use my influence as a mother for the good.

Rabbi Sacks spoke about collective responsibility. Teamsmanship. Treating our family unit as a team, where everyone can lead and be responsible is an important idea. Teaching ourselves and our children to be empowered individuals.

3. No One Said it’s Easy

We all know a lot of the concepts that I’ve outlined above. I myself have worked on them, drawn up my star charts, given out chores. Heck I even got two Labradors who spent the weekend chewing up my newly fixed irrigation system (again). All in the hope of empowering my Princes, and bringing them up to be confident, contributing, positive members of society. And it’s an upward battle. Dealing with moods, tiredness, cheekiness, and general Princely anarchy. Even my loving Prince No. 4 has gotten the hang of vandalising every shelf. No book is safe, no breakable is unbroken in this house, as balls and little sticky fingers go flying. So I need to ask – am I failing as a leader in this small fiefdom of mine?

4. The Ability to Persist

Staying power marks a leader, says Rabbi Sacks. God doesn’t give up on His stiff necked nation. I think as a mother, I’m learning more and more, not to give up on my mothering because nothing stays the same. No behaviour is static. All of us are growing, including the Princes, as they navigate their way in this world.

Of course as Rabbi Sacks said, it’s important to consult when making decisions. Check ourselves, know ourselves, know our limits as mothers. God consulted with the angels when creating the world. How much more so do we need to learn and consult with others when creating our angels on earth. (Okay that just sounded good. They so aren’t angels, but they’re pretty wonderful little human beans.) The biggest consultation being with our husbands. (That is a blog post just waiting to be written.)

5. Believe in the People You Lead

I do believe the best gift we give our children, is our belief in them. Belief that they will grow up wonderfully despite us (and the school system). That they have inner resources, inner wisdom, and inner strength, which we can’t imagine. Faith that they are exactly who they’re meant to be, and on their own individual journey. It puts less strain on our already taut and tired heart strings, and it gives them the wings to fly free to be themselves. (Not what we think they should be.)

And here I think I need to go back to point number three. All these points are easier said than done. But however challenging mothering is it helps to redefine mother as more than taxi driver, tutor and food buyer. A mother is a generational leader as William Ross wrote, ‘The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.’ No wonder it’s so hard….

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