Thursday, 1 February 2018

Lessons from little warriors

A terrible thing happened. Our house burnt down. The house that my children have grown up in.  So did the garden with its trees and the jungle gym and sand pit – there are some bricks left to show its outline – and the trampoline, the car port, the washing line, the sheds, the horse’s paddocks and stables. And Beauty’s house. The grandparent’s houses burnt down too, with the swimming pool. And the cattle fields and the garage where we kept the tractor and lawn mowers. It all burnt down. It took about 40 minutes.

The wind blew so hard that we could not hear ourselves speak. Everyone was running  – helter skelter - trying to save what there was to save. Little Adam ran up and down the avenue of Yellowwood trees, back and forth, confused and frightened. “Go to the barn!” shouted Charles. “No, get in the car!” I shouted. 

At last I got them into the car. All three of them, plus Beauty and Danny the terrier. The children cried. I drove through the smoke, dodging phantom firemen and livestock, leaving our life behind to burn and Charles to save it. We also left two cats and Julie the dog. We could not get them. We didn’t know where they were. It was too late. 

That was Saturday. On Monday, in donated school uniforms, the children packed their donated red lunchboxes into their donated backpacks and went to school. They fought over who would sit in front and spoke about how everyone would be nice to them because their house had burnt down. There are others too that have lost their homes, I reminded them.

 They kissed me good bye, “Love you Mom,” and jumped out of the car. I sat and watched them go. “My babies,” I screamed internally, “they’ve lost everything and there they go brave and stoic through the school gates.” And I wept my first big heaving, gasping, shaking, sorry for myself cry, praying no one would notice or worse still, come and ask me: “How are you guys doing? Is there anything we can do for you?” 
“Yes,” I would have loved to reply to the well-wishers, “put my children’s home back together. Find Anna’s drawings and Adam’s Lego airplane and put them back on the shelf in their bedrooms please. Take away the mounds of burnt rubble that’s lying on top of everything so that they can go home this afternoon and lie on their beds and watch dust fairies in the shafts of golden light from the old wooden windows that frame the green, green garden where they learnt to climb trees. Put it all back please, because I can’t bear my children’s pain and loss.” Instead I would thank them robotically.

I told myself: I have to hold the fort for them – even though it’s burnt down. I have to be okay even though I’m not okay.  And the enormity of the task made me heave and shudder and snot all over again because I knew I wouldn’t be able to fake it.

Monday passed in mild internal hysteria driven by blind adrenalin. There is a lot to do when everything is taken away. One o’ clock arrived. I donned my Brave Mommy demeanor and went to fetch them, preparing myself for a deluge of melt downs and post-traumatic stress.

“Hi Mom.”
“Hi! How was your day?”
“Fine thanks and yours?” chimed Anna and then: “Here.” She handed me a folded piece of paper.
“What is it?”
“A letter to Julie and the cats,” she said. “I just wanted to tell them I was sorry that I couldn’t save them and I will always love them.”
Her eyes glazed and she looked at me with her big bruised heart. A lump the size of Ayers Rock wedged into my throat.
Then she said, “What’s for lunch?”
“Oh I don’t know,” I squeaked, “What do you feel like?”

My lump dissolved and I realised that this courageous nine-year-old had just reminded me of the only thing that would get me through this nightmare: to focus on the present, the here and now. 
And I knew then that if she can do this, so can I.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

screen thoughts

I know there are benefits to exposing children to the world of technology with the likes of iphones and ipads, but I am very weary to allow it to become a main feature in our home. And even though my city relatives look at me aghast when I admit to not having heard of the latest Apps, I find that living on a farm near a small town has automatically tempered the influence of technology in my children’s life and I plan to keep it that way for as long as possible. 
Every year over the Christmas season I watch in amazement as we are bombarded by city folk who stream in for holiday bringing with them the latest fashions, ipads and apps. And mostly it leaves me feeling slightly appalled at what technology has done to our society. Last festive season while eating out, I saw more than once, whole families - kids and parents - sitting around a table each engaged with their own screen, their faces bland, instead of enjoying their eating out experience with each other.For me it doesn’t take a lot of insight to observe the obvious detriment this can lead to in family relationships and society as a whole. Without the basic skills of sharing and communication what kind of people will these children grow up to be? For surely if a child’s world is more virtual than real, he will grow up not knowing what reality is and therefore lose a connection to earth that is vital for the survival of all. 

Monday, 11 November 2013

heavenly haven

Leaving home for a 3500 km road trip with three small children is no minor feat - especially when one is only seven months old. Bearing this in mind I began organising and writing The List ten days prior to departure - call me over-organised but I am prone to anxiety and like to minimise last minute panics. And, thanks to this foresight, by the time we were ready to leave I was relatively calm. I also realised that this was our 5th long road trip since the twins were born and  given that I only had to pack one camping cot and a single stroller, it was actually all very easy.

The challenge ended up being keeping baby in his baby chair! Luckily we live in Africa and one can get away with holding a baby on your lap in the back seat. It was either that or dealing with frayed nerves from his yelling - which we decided was far more dangerous for the driver than an unbuckled baby. Given the long, long roads we traveled, first to the Kruger Park bushveld in the North and then back down the coast to the Transkei, the girls, who were stashed right in the back of the VW, were very well behaved indeed. When the wheels did start to come off and tears seemed imminent I hurled packets of sweets, chips or lollipops at them. This, plus books and kiddie computers kept them going for a total of nine long days on the African road.
By the time we were on the second leg of our trip heading down to the Haven hotel in the Transkei, which was another three full days of driving, we were, to say the least, beginning to wear thin - like our tyres. As Anna put it perfectly: we were "becoming allergic to driving!"
We arrived at the Cweba/Dwesa Nature Reserve gate where the Haven is located, with only 5 minutes to closing time, and I don't want to entertain thoughts of what it would have meant if we had missed the gate - driving back another two hours on corrugated gravel roads to Mthahta!!
Pulling into the hotel parking lot really was like arriving at a haven as we were greeted by smiling faces that remembered us from previous visits, a comfortable clean room with white fluffy duvets and a delicious supper waiting for us in the dining room. At last we could chill out without packing or unpacking bags, cooler boxes and cars.

We first discovered the Haven hotel when the twins were 2 years old and have been back twice since, drawn to its laid back, comfortable ambiance in the unspoilt surroundings of a nature reserve. Its not fancy, its just a good old style hotel that provides three excellent meals a day, plenty of space and entertainment for kids, stretches of wild beach in walking distance, indigenous forests, waterfalls and some good waves to surf - if you are mad enough to brave the wild waters as my husband always is. As a parent this set up provides me with the ultimate holiday - just being able to not think about cooking and cleaning is enough of a holiday for me, thank you.
Having planned on three nights we stayed five and were still reluctant to leave as when you stay at the Haven its easy to become part of the family and forget about the stresses and obligations that lie waiting at home!

For more about The Haven check out:

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

play time

You know how children have a knack of saying something that is so steeped in truth it stops you in your tracks and forces you to take a good hard look at yourself?  If you are in the habit of hanging around small people this can happen fairly frequently.
I was brushing my girls' teeth recently when Charlotte explained that she needed to get another little mermaid dolly to play with her existing one. "But she has the big mommy mermaid dolly to play with," I said. "No," said Charlotte, "her mom is too busy to play with her."
"Oh," said I thoughtfully, feeling that familiar niggle of guilt growing in my gut. "But, even though mommy's are busy taking care of their families, they still play sometimes, just not all the time," I said.
"Oh yes," pipes up Anna, "remember that time when you once ran and jumped onto the trampoline with us! Remember?"
" Yes, I think so, " I replied, quietly.
Well, did I have some thinking and guilt management to deal with after that conversation! Do I really play with my girls so infrequently that when I do it is a highlighted moment to go down in the book of memories?
"No that's nonsense," I try placate myself, "before the baby was born, we swam together in the sea all the time!"
But the truth is, after taking a good look at myself and my mothering, I know that since my pregnancy and the birth of Adam I haven't exactly been a ball of fun for the twins. And I'm in the habit of taking whatever dregs of time I can get, for myself. Is this selfish? What about women who have six kids, which was quite common 50 years ago - and they didn't even have washing machines back then.
Truthfully I can lean a bit too much to the serious side of life and am not really a very playful person. Come to think of it, I've never been the first to jump onto the dance floor to get the party going. And I think selflessly leaping about like a hyperactive child, when your children already have siblings to play with, is going beyond the call of duty and can only end in burn-out and prescribed bed rest.
But playful or not, I think the issue here is spending time with one's children and, like many mothers, I have very little of that: one's time seems to be directly proportional to the amount of offspring one has.
I read once that children spell love T_I_M_E. Just what those guilt ridden, over-worked, sleep deprived mothers out there want to hear! But, and here's a little appeasement to run with, I also learned at a workshop on sensory integration, given by a highly qualified clinical psychologist, that a child only needs 10 to 20 minutes of undiluted, focused attention from their parents to thrive and feel secure. This is good to know, but its also incredible how even that small amount of time, multiplied by three can be a tall order on some days.
So having taken the time to question my mothering ways, I have decided to cut myself some slack, be rid of the guilt and just do my best to give them as much of me as I can muster. Oh, and to jump on the trampoline with them here and there - even if it is only once a year!

Monday, 5 August 2013

sorry, the cows ate your surfboard

The fact is I'm not very good with small children and I just manage with my own. I can get very anxious and overwhelmed when too many kids are around me.
Looking back I see that I have always been prone to shying away from noisy bunches of children, even as a child I preferred to be on my own. As an adult I'm not much different and prefer one on one interactions. Secretly I find "girl's night" very scary. Events like kiddies birthday parties, play dates and mass social gatherings - that include all of our friend's off-spring - are also among my very least favorite pass times. And judging by my children's behavior at play dates, I fear my girls' may have inherited my awkward social tendencies.
Play dates seem to be the in thing these days, but I think that unless you need to farm your child out because you have a work deadline or, more importantly, are in desperate need of "me" time, there's no point - given that they have spent four hours of the morning with their friends in the well organised environment of play school.

Having said this I do still organise play dates for my girls because they ask for them and one does need to reciprocate to others. But my fear of lots of children, coupled with the twin factor, puts a whole new spin on these dates and careful thought needs to be given to the execution of them.
At first, thinking there was no way I could cope with four children at once, I used to invite one friend for the two of them to share. But this quickly proved to be a highly ineffective way to meet their social needs. The entire afternoon would be fraught with one and then the other wailing in despair that the friend "doesn't want to play with me!" The poor friend would be end up at her wits end and not sure if she wanted to be friends with either of them. To say the least it is not an afternoon off for me where I can catch up on my novel, while casting the occasional eye at three happily playing little girls. No, its more like a couple of hours of an intense child psychology practical exam!
So then I came up with one stays at home with a friend while the other goes away to a friend. This does work the best but not without its challenges. Having always had each other to fall back on they appeared slightly socially inept - but this probably goes for most five year olds.
Recently, however, I decided to brave a double date after an earlier attempt had gone well. This time I did the usual lecture and threats that should there be any fighting over friends they would not be having play dates again until they were 18! Maybe the pressure was a little too much for them, its hard to say, but by the time we arrived home from school each twin had given it her best shot at a tantrum and I was having a hard time at faking "sweet mommy" in front of their poor friends. To say the least I was pretty wound up that afternoon and did a good job of keeping my cool, I believe.
When finally it seemed we were at breaking point and I'd run out of successful distractions, I decided the time to cool off in the farm dam had come and donning hats and shoes four ways I sent them off down the hill while baby and I followed in the 4x4.
"Great," I thought, "a bit of physical fun to keep them preoccupied." The plan was to grab the old foam surfboard we'd left there and for them to paddle around the dam on it. But the trouble was that when we got there, the cows had eaten the surfboard! Cows do stupid things like that.
"Great," I thought again, "thanks cows!" as my two, sorely disappointed, began to rev up for a round of punishment aimed in my direction. My plan had been thwarted. So I took a deep breath and with Adam on my hip and my best "sweet mommy" demeanor, I pushed the twins into the middle of the dam in a leaking kayak with a pole as a paddle, and told them to make their way back to shore. Which they did. And in the process forgot about their friends and their inter-twin competition and instead displayed a sisterly teamwork unique only to those who have shared a womb.

Monday, 29 July 2013

life with lice

I was always under the impression that only people with lax cleanliness habits attracted lice, but I was wrong. I have been fighting a colony of lice in both my girl's hair since December 2012 and we do follow a good daily cleanliness routine. In fact the louse prefers clean hair to dirty hair as its eggs won't stick to grease.
To say the least, the fight has been a long and tedious journey.

Here's what I've learnt so far: 
  •  Dealing with your child’s lice can become an emotional journey as you face the inevitable disappointment that your time and hard work will be in vain as no sooner have you allowed yourself to feel victory, you will spy one tiny egg glinting in the sun.
  •  In the early stages of your experience you may practice denial, but further along in your journey you will realise that this only has devastating effects and facing the music is the best option.
  • Your eyes become trained to pick up the slightest sign of life on your child’s head and you are likely to become obsessive with scratching, picking and squishing the parasites whenever given the chance.
  • You will discover characteristics in your child’s personality that you never knew existed. One of mine is unbelievably patient as I scratch around her scalp whereas the other has a 30 second threshold which leads me to almost physically pinning her down and hurling all sorts of threats if she does not cooperate such as “If you don’t let me do this I will have to shave your hair all off!”
  • You will lie in bed puzzling over how to fit your lice eradication programme into the next day’s schedule of work, grocery shopping and school runs, and in my case breast feeding.
  •  You will opt out of fun activities such as beach visits in order to make time for lice eradication because if you let one day too many go by the fat ones will lay their eggs and you are doomed for another 4 week cycle.
  • You will no longer have the opinion that only dirty people get lice and will be humbled by the power this tiny creature has on your life.
  • You will seriously think about creating a “parents of lice infected children” support group.
  • You will give yourself a year’s deadline that if you still have not reached the end of this nightmare you will shave your children’s hair off.
  • And finally you will hope to never know the name of the person who infected your child to start with.

 And this is what I have learned about lice:                               
  •  Once your child gets lice there is little chance of getting rid of it completely in under 6 months. If you think you are clear you are more than likely experiencing a dormant phase in the cycle where the eggs are getting ready to hatch.
  • The best way to find lice is to comb through with some sort of oil – but this will only get rid of the larger ones while the tiny ones and the eggs remain - creating an illusion that you are clear.  The females are the largest.
  • Live eggs are close to the skull and dark in colour. Hatched eggs are further along the hair shaft and are light in colour (they don’t pop when you squeeze them.) Time spent popping eggs is well worth it.
  • Using chemicals is probably the best solution. The best is to comb out with oil every second morning and wash with a chemical based lice shampoo that evening
  • In order to conquer this ordeal you need vigilance, patience and a will to win at all costs.
To learn and understand more about the life cycle of lice go to:

<a href="">Pingates</a>

Thursday, 13 June 2013

oh, but to long...

Its funny how out of the blue we have those existentialist moments where we see ourselves from another perspective. I had one the other day when I was driving home from dropping the girls at school via the co-op to pick up horse food. The back of my 4x4 was full of lucern and I was rushing to get back to feed the baby. "Wow," I thought, "Here I am: mother of three, owner of horses and driver of a 4x4." How did I get here? Just the other day, with no hospital plan or grocery list to think of, all I needed to worry about was landing the next movie job so I could afford to fly to whichever destination intrigued me.
Life has happened to me. And its been so busy that I haven't really noticed. But its a different busy when you're raising kids. It's the non-stop emotional output that sucks away the minutes, hours and days. Before kids I remember always longing for stuff to happen: longing for the next trip, the next day of great waves, the guy to call, life to happen. But now I no longer long for life, because it keeps coming at me and I barely have a moment to get my head around it and Anna loses a tooth!
My challenges as a parent keep shifting and I have a sneaky feeling they will continue, so I may as well just role with the blows. I thought double nappies, feeds and crying was stressful - boy, was I mistaken. Its clear the challenge of twins is not getting easier but instead a lot more complex! Give me double poos any day over double five year old psychology!
Sibling rivalry and competition is the name of the game now. And a lot of the time I am simply at a loss on how to deal with it. With two kids of the same sex and the same age it's a continuation of win on this side and lose on the other. When one is elated over a lost tooth, the other is thrashing about on the lawn in sheer unadulterated jealousy and disappointment that her teeth are still firmly fixed into her gums. When one is afraid of the dark and needs a night light, the other basks in her bravery by insisting it must be pitch dark in their shared bedroom - that is not a sliver of light may come in from under the door! When one has outgrown her boots and the other now has two pairs to choose from, I may not purchase a new pair for the bootless child as it is "unfair!"
I think the term is "a rock and a hard place," and that's where I am at the moment. Although I'm sure as time passes I'm developing skills to deal with this challenge, I am seriously considering seeking professional help to guide me through this one, so that we can all come through with our egos, self confidence and sanity relatively intact.
And these are the things that now keep me from longing for life. Who has time to long when every minute of the day is spoken for by the physical and emotional needs of small people. Although I do admit to occasionally longing for a tropical island kid-less getaway. And an uninterrupted conversation with my husband.