Archives for the month of: February, 2014

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.

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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.