On #FlyingSolo – And having awesome kids!

I drove to the airport this morning to pick up my husband, who had been in Lagos, Nigeria, on a business trip for the past week.

Before he left, I think we’d both been worried that it was going to be a tough week – for him because, Lagos, Nigeria; for me, because managing a household with four kids is busy enough for the two of us at the best of times.

As it turns out, he had a much worse week than I did, having to wrangle corrupt customs officials, poor planning and general incompetence at every turn on his trip, and coming home with a massive sinus infection to show for it.

Meanwhile, on the home front, I could not have asked for things to run more smoothly than they did. The kids – all four of them – were surprisingly cooperative and helpful all week, and we settled into a routine that allowed me to get things done while still ensuring that they were all adequately fed and ferried about as required.

I had imagined rushed mornings and general pandemonium, and instead, I had an easy-paced week in which I managed to check a bunch of items off my to-do list. All except one fairly big one, really.  And what makes this even more remarkable is the fact that I was able to manage everyone’s day-to-day, with dinner and bathtime done and dusted by 18:00 each evening. This meant that there were no late bedtimes, and, since we recently reinstated the rule that there is no television or screen time allowed during the week, it also meant that the kids were properly worn out and ready to go to bed at the proper time. Because they’d spent the afternoons playing outside, reading books, climbing our mountain and being kids.

Of course, it’s a huge help that they don’t get homework, and Michael’s exams are over. He’ll also be joining his younger brothers at their new school from next year, so we won’t have to worry about homework anymore anyway, apart from the occasional project.

I’ve also noticed a significant change since becoming stricter on their sugar consumption. The younger boys’ school does not allow ANY sugar in their lunches – no jams or syrups on sandwiches, no sweet treats in lunch boxes; that includes artificially-flavoured juices of any kind, cookies or even “energy bars”.  And I’ve started rationing the number of sweet treats the kids are allowed to have at home, too, and it is paying off in a big way.

It started with their Halloween loot, which I took from them and kept locked in my cupboard. Each child was allowed to pick two items out of his Halloween bag after school every day, and that was IT.  Their sweets lasted right up until this week, and they weren’t all sugar-hyped by the end of every day.

So, yeah. We seem to have hit a sweet spot with our current schedules and routines, and I’m definitely going to try to keep it going this way. Long may it last!

 

We bought a house.

The building next door to the house we’ve lived in for just over 5 years now once belonged to the Mayor of Johannesburg. You could tell, looking at what remained of the original house when we first moved here, that this house had been a grande dame in her heyday.

But several decades, a nightclub and a fast-food joint (both of which failed) later, the house is no longer the grand old home it once was. And then, a little over a year ago, things started happening there. There was talk for a short while of the house being restored, which made me happy. But then we learned to our horror toward the end of last year that this beautiful old landmark is to become a KFC instead, complete with drive-through ramp and window overlooking our garden and living room.

And so, after 5 1/2 years (the longest stretch we’ve spent in any one house), the time had come to find a new home.

The decision to buy rather than rent was made quite quickly, although not lightly. And we told ourselves we’d take our time and not settle for something we could live with, but that we’d hold on for the perfect place; one that lies within a particular little pocket of the neighbourhood, has VERY little work to be done and came at the right price.

I felt oh, so very adulty, looking over the options, inspecting every tiny detail and debating the merits of each house we viewed with my husband. We came really, really close to putting in an offer on a particularly pretty place, until we went to see it for the third time and discovered some very nasty, VERY expensive issues. The seller (according to the agent, at least) refused to negotiate on the price, though, so that was a bust. There was just something off for us about that particular agent… And so I mentioned to D that there was a particular house I’d looked at a couple of years ago, that had recently come back on the market. We chatted with the agent, who put us in touch with a bond originator and we started looking at whether or not we’d be able to swing the bond on this place. But by the time we’d gotten a pre-approval figure back from the bond originator, the house had been sold.

Still, we met up with the agent, gave her our list of requirements, price range, etc. and she set up a few appointments for us. And then, after four or five houses, she suggested we take a look at a particular house that had been up for sale for a while. She said she knew it wasn’t what we’d said we wanted but I guess she must have just had a feeling about us and about this house.

Let me begin by saying that the house is pink. Not a subtle, pale kind of pink that could almost pass for a warm, creamy colour. No. It’s a deep (albeit sun-faded), bright, just-this-side-of-salmon kind of pink.

Of course, my first comment was that it would have to be painted immediately.

It is also enormous, filling the bulk of a steeply sloped, 1300m2 stand with its 4 levels (5, if you count the triple garage at the very bottom).

The garden is a ghost of its once glorious, terraced self, overgrown with weeds and home to all kinds of rubbish left behind by tenants who did a real number on the place.

We put in an OTP within an hour of having seen it once.

By 5pm, the seller had accepted.

That was on 15 April.

We are now approximately 2 weeks away from moving into our very own home for the first time. There is a huge amount of work to be done to make it the home we want, but it’s ours, which makes all the scrubbing, painting, fixing, weeding, sealing and other stuff worth doing.

I plan to document the transformation of the house as we go, so watch this space!

 

 

 

In 2016…

Normally, in January, I reflect on the previous year – Did it go the way I’d imagined it would? Do I feel like I made progress, i.e. did my life improve in general? Normally, this is (I suppose, quite naturally) the time for taking stock and… I won’t say setting goals, per se, but setting goals, y’know? Only, it’s more like defining what my gut tells me the new year is going to deliver.  The last two years, I was dead wrong. Nothing went as planned and life slapped me silly.

This year, I have no idea what to expect. I’m not even trying to figure it out. It doesn’t feel like a new year.

Of course, that might be because I did all the typical “new year” stuff at the end of last year. New job, new routine, new operating basis. We also did a massive de-kluge and got rid of loads of junk. And I feel  so much lighter for it. If I’m honest, though, it’s still a work in progress. We keep coming across things that have been taking up space in our shelves and lives without adding anything. Things we haven’t looked at or used in months – years, even. So we’ve been chucking them out as we happen upon them, or donating them to people for whom they might have value.

I’ve decided not to do a “look back on 2015” post this year. Or to write about my goals for 2016. Instead, I’m giving myself only this one goal: To live every day with as little upset as possible. And that, I reckon, is a goal worth pursuing into and beyond this year.

 

Sometimes I Doubt Your Commitment to Sparkle Motion

For the past while (I’m not sure exactly how long because there wasn’t a one-time, conscious decision to make an effort in this one particular aspect of my life) I’ve been trying not to be a screaming banshee in general but with my kids overall. Because, as some of you may recall from back when I used to blog more liberally and say the things I actually wanted to, I’m kind of a (mouth-foaming, wild-eyeing, shit-losing) shouty, sweary mom.  And recently, I’ve been trying not to be.

Let me tell you that it hasn’t been easy! You see, being a mouth-foaming, wild-eyeing, shit-losing, shouty, sweary mom makes it possible for me to NOT be a complete psycho. No, I’m not joking.

Mouth-foaming, wild-eyeing, shit-losing, shouting and swearing might LOOK scary, but it doesn’t hurt anyone, set anything on fire, get anyone put in jail, break anything or cause any permanent damage. It really just lets me get rid of lots of pent-up frustration and communicate how unheard and generally disrespected I feel. But it also makes me look like an irrational lunatic. And, slowly but surely, it’s becoming less and less effective at either getting my message across or making me feel better.

Which puts me at a bit of a loss. Because sometimes I feel so completely unheard and generally disrespected within this family.

Most of the time, I get really upset with David about this because he doesn’t seem to think that it’s a problem when the kids talk back to me or treat me like their personal maid or simply ignore me when I speak to them. It’s fine for him because he’s the fun one. He’s the one they are always happy to see at the end of the day, after I’ve asked then reminded then yelled at them to get changed/pick up their toys/do their homework/put their dirty laundry in the basket…

When David disciplines the kids – especially the littler ones – it’s with a light touch and of short duration. He’s quick to call them back a few moments after shouting at them to give them cuddles and have a gentle talk about things. I’m more of a “bitch” about it. I don’t agree with apologising to them for punishing poor behaviour. I don’t feel it’s okay to let them have their way to get them to stop nagging – that’s rewarding and reinforcing the idea that if they nag hard enough, they get to have whatever they want. I believe in getting the message across effectively. So, if they nag, they don’t get whatever thing it is they want. And if they speak disrespectfully to me (or another grown-up) I don’t respond. Or give them a stern talking to. And when they ignore me, I make a point of making myself heard and getting an acknowledgement.  And if they don’t finish their supper, they don’t get dessert. I don’t believe that these are unfair expectations or reactions on my part. But I lose this battle EVERY time David is around because he feels I’m too hard on the kids and lets them have their way. And they adore him and ignore me because, clearly, I’m just unreasonble.

I often find myself questioning myself on this stuff. Am I going about it all wrong? Should I be more like David in my approach to parenting and discipline? I mean, if someone kept telling me what I could and could not do, how to speak or what I could or couldn’t have, I’d tell them (in no uncertain terms) to FOAD. So maybe there is something to David’s approach?

I saw this video posted to Facebook earlier today and while it’s hilarious, it did make me think a bit about the way I handle my kids…

I look at this and think, you know, this video makes a good point. No adult would allow another person to speak to them like this.

And yet, do I really have to point out that children are not adults? They need to be reminded to do or not do things all the time. They still need to learn all the social filters that adults take for granted and they learn them  through their interactions with others and the example of the adults in their lives. But also by the consequences of NOT using such filters in their dealings with others – adults in particular.

So, once again, it’s all down to balance, isn’t it? That magical, elusive fucking middle ground. And all the patience.

Right?

Goodbye, Gaby

Gaby was not my dog. She was the offspring of a little rescue that had found her way to my mother some 15 years or so ago, heavily pregnant. So she literally spent her life, from birth, as companion to my mom and sister. They moved first from Polokwane to Centurion, then twice again within Centurion before coming to stay with us last year.

Gaby was there when my children were babies. She patiently let them tug and push and learn how to handle small dogs, as we had none of our own.

Gaby was there when we returned from our three years overseas, always happy to see us, yelping with excitement and stumpy little tail wagging furiously.

Gaby stood sentry to her mistresses, only ever barking at unknown visitors to the yard and faithfully obeying The Mom’s every command.

Gaby kept our yard free of the rats that plague Johannesburg, making short work of sniffing them out and killing those that dared stray into our garden.

When my mom moved at the beginning of September, Gaby stayed. She would stay with us until my mom had found an animal-friendly place of her own again.

She missed The Mom, you could tell. Still she woke up every morning happy and excited to see us, eager to please and obedient as always.

But perhaps that little tail wagged just a tiny bit less effusively? Those first few days, she’d come into the house and look for The Mom in the room where she used to stay.

Still, she ate her food with gusto and yelped in greeting when  we’d been out and come back or friends came to visit. She barked at the rats that would scurry along the top of the high garden wall. She sniffed around the places she thought they might hide, ever vigilant and ready to dispatch them with speed and efficiency.

And then, on Friday evening, after a hot and uncomfortable day, she didn’t want her dinner. On Saturday, she hung lethargically around in her kennel, getting up only to drink water or to come inside in search of respite from the heat. She seemed to perk up that evening, when we got back from watching the rugby but not by much. And her water bowl was empty. On Sunday morning, she could barely stagger between her bed and her water bowl and I took her to the vet the moment their doors opened.  By then, she’d begun to foam about the mouth slightly, and had had a very loose stool.

The vet diagnosed heamorrhagic gastro, most likely caused by the spread of a cancerous growth she found in in Gaby’s belly.  She plied her with shots to ease her pain and combat the bug, sending us home with two antibiotics, more pain meds, a rehydration solution and a paste for binding her stool.

Gaby bit me twice as David and  I administered her medicine – something I don’t think she’d done to anyone before in her life – her jaw clenched tight in pain.  And as the afternoon wore on, her discomfort became increasingly plain. She lay still on her bed, just inside the door that leads out into the garden, getting up only for water when she could muster the strength to stand.

After a few more hours, she could no longer drink any water, either.

I stayed with her into the night and hoped that my being there was a comfort to her.  She made two sharpish yelps in pain right near the end and I stroked her and whispered to her that we all love her and it’s okay to let go. And she did. At 01:05 this morning, I watched the light leave her eyes and she was gone.

Rest in peace, sweet little friend.

Gaby 2000 - 5 October 2015
Gaby: b. 2000 – d. 5 October 2015

(I’m) A Little Bit of Everything

I’m a bitch

Jack recently needed to have a couple of teeth extracted because they had decayed to the point of causing infection in his mouth. (Yes, I know that’s bad and you can keep your judgements to yourself, thanks.)

I was of the opinion that the situation provided an opportunity to teach Jack the importance of good oral hygiene by showing that the Tooth Fairy does not collect and pay for rotten teeth. D felt otherwise (and had his way in the end). While we argued about it, though, he made a comment that really stung. He might as well have punched me in the gut: “How would you like it if you were your mother?” This implies, of course, that I’m an unreasonable bitch and my children shouldn’t have to suffer me.

Well. Okay, then. I’ll just file that away under “Things to throw in the husband’s face during a future disagreement.”

I’m a lover

One who doesn’t discuss in public what belongs in the bedroom… 😉

I’m a child

If you’ve been reading MamaMeeA for a while, you’ll know that my mom and sister moved in with us in April last year.  It was going to be a three or four month thing, while they sorted out some stuff, found new jobs, etc.

I moved my daughter out of her large bedroom with ensuite bathroom and put my mom in there. I moved my office out of my office and into my bedroom, and my daughter into what had been my office, which she would share with my sister.

I rented a storage unit in which to store those of my mom’s things that could not be squeezed into our house and moved out of our house and into storage those of our things we could live without, to make room for the rest of my mom’s stuff.

We adjusted and adapted and made do.  My mom found a job near our house and contributed from her small salary toward the household. That big project we had going from last year ran well into this year and the regular income from that masked the fact for quite a long time that we were going to run into trouble. And then my mom left her job for another one that didn’t work out. And then that project of ours was over and we ran into trouble.

So, in the middle of last month, I called a family meeting during which I asked my mom and sister to move out at the end of the month.

I’m a mother

Yeah – no surprises there! Between the weirdness of watching my two eldest enter puberty and all that goes along with that, wrangling my strong-willed Grade One child to some semblance of  pretending to cooperate with his teacher in class and having the youngest at home during the day (a new and hopefully temporary development), that fact is hard to miss.

I’m having so much fun with the younger kids at the moment! My littlest J happened upon a PEZ dispensing Perry the Platypus among his toys a few days ago and when I saw a packet of PEZ sweeties in the checkout queue at Dis-Chem later, I bought it.

Then I filled up Perry while James watched a movie and waited a few minutes before I called James and asked him whether he’d heard something that sounded like magic. James being James, he played along and agreed that he’d heard “magic noises”. I suggested that perhaps the noise had come from Perry the Platypus, prompting James to set off in search of the toy.

Watching him discover his “magically” refilled PEZ dispenser at random intervals over the past few days has been so much fun!

The older kids are doing pretty well, too and I find myself enjoying many proud mom moments lately.

Michael started playing chess this year and it turns out he’s really good at it! He’s currently one of the top players in the school and I’m so pleased he’s found something he enjoys, is good at and is likely to stick to.

Megan has started writing prolifically once again after seeming to have lost interest for a while. She’s also suddenly started surprising me with some impressive academic results and I’m so glad she’s finding her groove.

I’m a sinner

And these past few weeks, I’ve been paying for my sins.

Right now, I’m implementing a strategy to put my little company back on track after a few setbacks. I won’t lie – it’s slow, tough going and I’m not having loads of fun. But it does help to have a plan in place. Plans, actually. Plural.

Phase One entails handling the immediate internal issues, including the setting up of standard systems and protocols and drafting policy for future operations. This follows naturally on recent events and is the product of lessons learned from the experiences of the past couple of years.

Phase Two is where things get interesting and while I can’t say much until all of the various NDAs and other agreements are finalised and signed (single most valuable lesson learned so far – no verbal agreements!!), I am  excited for what all of this means in terms of long term potential.

I’m a saint

Okay, so that one’s never going to fly. I’m not exactly the choirgirl type. But I could be.

Could have been.

If I’d wanted to…

 

On Moving Things and Shifting Perspectives

I’m trying to be a bit less whiney, which means I stop myself from saying stuff a lot. In fact, it means I’m being pretty quiet lately – and I don’t mean just on my blog.

I got to meet Sheena’s beautiful baby boy this week and, driving home from there, I realised that even in the middle of getting to meet this gorgeous little man, taking a couple of hours out of the grind to just relax and be sociable for a bit, I’d been an insufferable moaner. Sheena, if you ever read this: Sorry!

My mind is on moving a lot at the moment. Mainly because where we live is beginning to feel kind of crowded but I’m also thinking about being moved in other ways – in the feely sense.
I posted a photo to Instagram a few weeks ago of a little note tied to a piece of string with the remnants of a yellow balloon, which David had found on top of a factory roof he’d been inspecting in Alrode that day.

And since seeing it, I’ve been somewhat more inclined to consider where people are coming from, what their stories could possibly be…

Milestone

At precisely this time in 2002 (14:30), my Megan was 1 hour and 33 minutes old.

Mom and Megan bonding

Brand new Megan

Yum, Bubbles!

I’ve kind of been letting this particular birthday sink in for a few days now, because it means that, today, I am officially the mother of a teenager.

Whew.

The journey with my girl child these past 13 years has been everything but boring and I have at times been terrified of how wrong I’m getting it all, only to be astounded at the very next turn at how smart and mature she can be.

Most of the time, it’s a difficult ride for us both, mainly because when I look at her, I see myself and that frightens me beyond all understanding. Because I know where I’ve been, what I’ve lived and how easily I could have been either, so much better or so much worse off than I am now and I worry that she’ll be just like me when she’s so clearly meant to be so much more.

But then, I never have to wait too long to be reminded that I worry more than I need to. So much more.

I see my daughter grapple with existential issues, questioning who she is, what she stands for, what things mean. I watch her heart break and feel my own shatter alongside it when her peers cannot see, when it’s as obvious as the sun, that the things that set her apart from them are what make her fucking awesome:

Her one-of-a-kind sense of humour and the way she stands up for those who feel targeted and bullied. The way she combines what limited wardrobe she hasn’t already outgrown at any given time to come up with a look all her own and wears it with attitude. Her love of books and writing and finding out how the world works and the way she questions everything, including the authority of people who aren’t used to having their authority questioned.  The fact that she doesn’t simply accept the status quo but pushes boundaries, develops her own thoughts on a subject. Her tendency to recognise and seek out the extraordinary and cherish it, when all her friends are talking lipstick and boys and hanging out at the mall…. All these things that indicate to me that she looks at and perceives things beyond the surface veneer. That when she reaches adulthood, she’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s important and what it takes to be a decent human being, rather than a popular one.

And really, in the end, that’s all I can ask for.

IMG_2636

Happy Birthday, my gorgeous girl.

 

Admitting Defeat

It dawned on me yesterday that I was fooling myself if I thought I was going to make it to marathon ready in less than 2 months. Less than a month and a half, even.

So, as much as it breaks my heart, I won’t be participating in the Knysna Forest Marathon this year.  Instead, I’ve made an appointment to see a physiotherapist this month and she’ll be helping me treat this niggling knee injury properly, so that I can get back to running and training the way I want to.

It’s been a shitty time these last couple of weeks. Health issues in the family have been a problem – my mom took a nasty turn last week with the diabetes and, after not paying too much attention to Jack’s moaning about a sore tummy for quite a while, I finally took him to a doctor and it turns out he’s gluten intolerant. His liver and intestines are taking strain because he’s been eating all the wrong things and I couldn’t feel more like a fucking horrible mother for not listening to him sooner.

On the upside, the tumble dryer has been repaired and our lives are that much easier once again. Also, my mom having to have emergency treatment for seriously high blood glucose levels (24.5!!!) and Jack’s visit to the doctor have driven home a little bit better what I’ve been trying to get the family to understand for months: We should be eating Paleo. Or at least as close to it as we possibly can.

The hardest part of that for me, of course, is giving up the sugar and the decadent desserts. And the dairy. Apparently, Hashimoto’s sufferers are supposed to cut out gluten AND dairy. And just like that, my whole life is once again about food and giving up the stuff I love eating most…

Except that my whole life can’t be about food because there’s simply too much to do. And my Meg is off to high school in a few short months’ time. She’ll be boarding in another province, coming home one or two weekends a month and holidays. So much planning, talking, preparing to do!

She can’t wait to go, which I’m glad about. At least she’s going into it with anticipation, rather than feeling like we’re deserting her or don’t want her around. I guess we wouldn’t have considered boarding as an option if she’d felt that way but still…

A part of me is almost jealous that she gets to go to an awesome school with some amazing teachers. And another part is terrified of sending my child off into the world. Yet another part looks forward to her absence so that I get to enjoy her that much more on her weekends and holidays at home for having missed her so much while she’s away. This Mom gig ain’t for pansies!

 

The Tragedy of the Tumble Dryer

I’ve mentioned a number of times, I think, that we are a large household. There are eight of us. That’s double the average middle class household in South Africa. As such, we do a LOT of the following:

1. We eat a lot. Four adults and four growing children equals a lot of hungry people. Food is important.

2. We wear a lot of clothing. This translates to having a washing machine and tumble dryer that work very, very hard.

This weekend, tragedy struck – our tumble dryer started making a horrible, grinding noise, indicating that its drum bearing is stuffed. We had a crap load of wet washing, though, so we still made use of it, albeit sparingly. But then, on Monday, it stopped heating at all and we have had to start hanging up 8 people’s laundry on the washing line outside. This in itself is a logistical feat of epic proportions. Throw into the mix a massive, shady tree that prevents the clothing on the line from seeing the sun and you have lots of wet washing that stays wet forever.  And don’t even get me started on the ironing. The dryer used to make it so that at least half of the washing didn’t need ironing. Now, everything has to be ironed and it’s a double hand tragedy.*

Now, all the eco-activists out there are probably going to have a go at me about using a tumble dryer in the first place, because electricity crisis and eco what-what… But the simple truth of it is that without the dryer, I’m screwed.

I’m planning a small memorial service for the trusty tumble dryer tonight, after which there will be pancakes for dinner (stuffed with savoury mince) and dessert (with strawberries, whipped cream & syrup). Because it’s Wednesday and Wednesday nights are pancake nights.

And until we either have this one fixed or are able to buy a new dryer, there will be morning mourning in this house every day. True story.

*Double hand tragedy: When the tragedy is of such magnitude as to warrant the clamping of two hands over the mouth in grief, as opposed to a single hand tragedy, whose lesser magnitude demands only one hand…