thoughtsfromthepanda

I do my best thinking while driving. I drive a Fiat Panda.

Archive for the tag “children”

The Working Mother’s SnapShot

On contact lenses and early encounters with the occult

(Ed’s note: this blog post was written in September/October 2015 but life got in the way of my posting it before. Here it is now.)

At the end of a rather strange work day recently, I couldn’t even say, “Well, this day was a total waste of make-up!”

I didn’t apply make-up because of my new-ish contact lenses. I haven’t applied make-up for a couple of weeks now, and this is because, while I wait to get my new spectacles, I haven’t yet found the mascara that is compatible with my lenses. I’m sure it’s out there, but I haven’t yet found it.

While I wait for my lovely new spectacles with their flattering tortoise-shell frames, I am, according to my optometrist’s assistant, apparently legally blind when it comes to driving without vision aids, and so I’ve had to resort to wearing the lenses in the interim.

contact lenses 1

I am not a natural contact lens wearer. Well, I ask you very sincerely: is anybody?

I mean, they really are foreign bodies in one’s eyes. If you don’t clean them correctly, they come with an abundance of health hazards in the small print, which I won’t go into right now, save to say that apparently if you swim or shower while wearing lenses, you open yourself up thereafter to microscopic life forms invading your eyeballs like a new planet to be conquered, and you might (seriously) ultimately require medical attention to permanently vanquish these tiny invaders.

 

contact lenses 2

Eye infections are soooo not a good look on anyone.

For me, however, the greatest health hazard right now is the fact that I’m regularly putting my lenses onto my eyeballs inside out, thereby still rendering me legally blind for driving, at least in the relevant eye. (Thus far I have, at least, only got it wrong at the same time in 50% of my eyes.)

If you’ve never had the required misfortune of sticking contact lenses onto your eyeballs in order to see better, you can stop sniggering right now and take the Contact Lens Challenge, meaning ‘Wear Them For A Day – I Dare You’.

contact lenses 3

Once you have – in a truly professional manner – stuck these fiendishly clever but fiendishly hard-to-live-with devices onto your eyeballs correctly, endured a working day with them in your eyes and then taken them safely out again at night time (without losing even one), you can then snigger once more at the fact that I keep putting them onto my eyeballs inside out.

Till then, trust me. In my opinion they remain foreign bodies in one’s eyes.

On the morning in question, I spent ten minutes inserting the foreign bodies so I could drive (legally) to work. I was only allowed this luxury of time after I’d first spent over an hour chasing both my children out of the house to school like a cowgirl driving cattle to a branding event – I can’t truthfully say it was fun for anyone.

 

cowgirl

 

Anyway, after ten minutes of struggling with the dratted lenses, it was therefore somewhat annoying when I realised halfway to work that the right eye was not ‘settling’. I chose to pull over just outside my favourite en route bakery, where I first removed the offending lens in the car, and thereafter limped into the bakery and bought myself some lovely treats for the day to improve my mood.

The bakery employees, who know me quite well, looked at me strangely when I conducted the entire business transaction with one hand over one eye, but hey, that was the least of my worries.

Soon after I got to the office, I mustered all my courage to the sticking place and marched purposefully into the Ladies to stick the damned thing into my eye the right way around for once and for all. I then promptly lost it somewhere over the sink. (The contact lens, not the eye.)

Temporarily flattened by this new and unexpected development, I sat on my haunches outside one of the loos for about five minutes, feeling somewhat defeated and debating whether or not to plead illness (‘Temporary 50% Blindness’ seemed like a good diagnosis) and go home for the day to a waiting bed and cosy duvet. Fortunately no one else came into the Ladies during my short yet animated negotiation with myself, because I imagine it would have looked rather strange.

Mordor contact lens

Finally I got up and wandered back into work, sighing inwardly and reminding myself of the old mantra, ‘This too shall pass.’ Not being one to keep my trials and tribulations entirely to myself (sharing, as they do say, is caring) I soon got a couple of offers from friendly, better-sighted colleagues to help me look for the lens. Unbelievably someone very quickly found it! On the tap…

Later that day, after the lens had been allowed to sterilise again for a while, I won the battle and got my vision back 100%. It was a sweet victory.

contact lenses 4

Finally I was able to carry on working without the ongoing threat of a migraine. However, this particular work day was never meant to be the world’s most productive.

I had to leave the office early after the concerned phone call from the school clarifying that the Grade Fours had all been hysterical around lunch time, and the teachers had sprung into damage-control mode. Apparently some child had discovered an online version of a Ouija board-inspired game using two pencils, paper and an over-ripe imagination. That was not a fun phone call for any parent to experience, although I do commend the school’s handling of the situation.

Fortunately, I was at least able to see with both eyes during my hurried drive out of Sandton to collect my little boy earlier than usual and make sure that my (sometimes overly-stoic but always very sensitive) 10-year-old was all right.

What’s that you say? ‘Online Ouija board-inspired game?’

Sigh.

Apparently some silly game has been doing the You Tube/social media rounds during 2015, and it naturally came to our shores in due course. The ‘#CharlieCharlieChallenge’ involves crossing two pencils over each other at right angles, writing down ‘Yes/No/Yes/No’ in four squares around the pencils, and then asking some questions to an alleged manifestation of the spirit world, who may or may not appear at the time of being summonsed.

yes no

Apparently the spirit is Mexican and named Charlie, although I wouldn’t have guessed Charlie as being a particularly Mexican name, would you? (Carlos springs more easily to mind. Or Juan.)

Anyway, when the pencil moves, brought inevitably into play by the forces of gravity, friction and no doubt fear, the children get hysterical. The big thing about it, for me, is that it’s out there on You Tube and has its own hash tag. No wonder it’s doing the rounds. My little boy did have a nightmare that night but not since (although he does want the passage light on outside his door again at night, which I thought we’d grown out of). I think it is all under control, at least until the next occult hashtag starts doing the rounds.

I was thinking later that evening how parents today have social media and the internet to contend with in combatting unpleasant events like bullying and the spread of childish nonsense. I wondered nostalgically if it would have been easier to be a parent during the sixties. Being a hippy and going to San Francisco and wearing flowers in my hair was once a major ambition of mine, you see.

Haight Ashbury

But then I remembered that the sixties went down in history as officially bringing the world sex, drugs and rock and roll, as well as The Beatles and the Rolling Stones as teenage icons. So perhaps my jury remains out on the issue of parenting in the 1960s versus the 21st century. On the other hand, at least back then John Lennon never had to stick contact lenses in his eyes…

Now there’s something to make me consider my verdict.

 

John Lennon

 

Going to the gypsy fair

My boys are slightly annoyed with me at the moment. I recently changed the CD in the Panda when they weren’t looking, which caused a certain amount of consternation.

For now, it’s au revoir American rock, in the form of Journey and Steve Perry’s famously-ranging tones…

steve perry journey

 

…and hello to Irish rock and soul band Hothouse Flowers and the heartfelt vocals of Liam Ó Maonlaí. Life is about change and variety after all, is it not?

Liam Hothouseflowers

 

I tried to tell this to my children, politely and diplomatically, but they weren’t impressed. My response was to be greeted by two very mulish little faces. Ah well, they’re only ten and eight, and to their great credit they really do like the music of Journey.

When diplomacy didn’t work I simply reminded them that it is, actually, Mom’s taxi. Therefore, Mom’s music rules, she has final veto powers and she will turn bear-ish if pushed too far.

polar bear

(I know – I’ll tell Liam that this new lead singer shares his name! Maybe that will impress him.)

Anyway, that was a short while ago. We’ve since had a few instances when the CD was sneakily changed back to Journey when I wasn’t looking, but we managed to keep these at ‘instance’ level and not ‘international incident’ level.

So now the boys are starting to thaw just a little, having finally permitted themselves to discover a couple of tracks that they actually like.

My own current favourite Hothouse Flowers track, during my drives in my Panda, beckons sweetly and enticingly of running away from current responsibilities:

bareback horse

Blazing eyes, bareback horses
And a redhead smile
I’m tempted strongly, strongly tempted
By the call of the wild

Going to the gypsy fair
I’m gonna find some freedom there
I wanna dance ’til I don’t care
At the gypsy fair.

Because, you know, sometimes a girl just likes to dream of a brief hiatus with no responsibilities for a while. However, that’s not on the cards just yet, and so I will look for other inspiration from my desk area at the office, where I have an image stuck up that reminds me to ‘Look up, get up and never give up’.

But I think I could be allowed to permit myself one heartfelt sigh before I get back to work. And then I’ll put my nose once more to the grindstone, with just one proviso: every now and then, I plan to look out of the window and dream of the time when I will be free to go to the gypsy fair.

And I will dance till I don’t care.

dancing gypsy

 

Precedent setting

“Mommy,” said Matthew, gracing me with his most winning smile and then flinging his arms affectionately around me, “Can I please have a three-day birthday this year also? Like Liam did? Pleeeeeeeaaase?”

He was, of course, harking back to what had turned out to be our three-day birthday celebrations for his big brother a few months before. I noted with some interest that Matthew was also admirably demonstrating his solid grasp of the concept of ‘setting a precedent’.

Considering that he was turning only seven, I thought this was quite sussed. Not entirely unique – I think all children who are over three and have siblings pretty much get the concept. It lurks under the umbrella of general fairness, usually prefaced with remarks like, “Well, he/she has already got an XYZ and so I think you should buy me one also otherwise it’s not faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrr.”

My real reason for being amused at Matthew’s understanding of precedent-setting lay mainly in how he’d presented his request.

Frank and I have long been aware of Matthew’s uncanny ability to turn on the cuteness factor when he wants to get his own way. We believe he went to a charm school for babies when we weren’t looking.

 

Matthew sunglasses

We have no idea where he gets it from but when he wants to be, he is a winning flirt. This includes flirting, as may be required, with his parents.

Under the circumstances, we had no option but to acquiesce. It did seem only fair. We were slightly disadvantaged in accommodating Matthew in that Liam’s birthday had fallen this year on a public holiday, and I’d then been obliged to take two days leave from work straight after that because it was school holidays. And thus had occurred the ‘three-day birthday’.

So, in the absence of a convenient public holiday for our second-born, we started a few days early with Matthew. The weekend before his birthday we went to Bambanani to spend his birthday voucher. Once again the children ate spare ribs (not an everyday treat).

So all good.

Then came his actual birthday on a normal weekday, and cupcakes went to the school to be shared out among classmates and teachers. Presents, of course, were also given out in the morning before school, the big one being the PSP. We didn’t really have an option here: Liam had been given a PSP four months previously and there was no way that this particular gift could NOT be repeated for Matthew.

Happiness is… both your children engrossed in their portable electronic games while their parents get to read books/chat/catch up with chores/watch favourite TV programmes without being interrupted by the sound of piping voices from the small beings in the house.

And then, on the Friday afternoon after his birthday, Matthew, big brother and some of his friends went to play battle games. After putting on a cool jacket over the child’s normal clothes, the aim is to shoot laser guns at each other in a dark maze-like place that I personally find to be claustrophobic and frightening, but then I’m a girl so I suppose I have an excuse. (Apparently this game has been around for years and years but I missed it because I was perennially reading.)

WorldDominator and DeathStar

Code names like ‘Armageddon’, ‘World Dominator’ and ‘Death Star’ (well, something along those lines) are given out and you can watch the children climb up the rankings of the games on screens outside the Battle Zone. The birthday package includes three games in total, each lasting 15 minutes. Besides a brief scare during which Matthew skidded and fell onto his laser gun while running gleefully out of the second session because he was so pleased with his performance, all was, thankfully, incident-free.

incident free

After the Battle Zone, eight happy small boys plus assorted parents and family members then moved on to a nearby restaurant for the pizza and birthday cake part of the birthday celebration.

This included handing out a small gift for each child in the form of a brilliantly simply flying object resembling early helicopter dynamics, apparently based on a long-ago Da Vinci invention.

Well, actually, this particular theory is absolute surmise on my part, but the 21st century’s ability to borrow from the past in the name of reinventing the wheel never ceases to amaze me. Just look at how legwarmers and clogs occasionally pop up again, albeit briefly, and don’t get me started on the bubble skirt (and really – who would EVER have predicted that?).

So in between munching on pizza, pasta and birthday cake, a happy time was held by all children while they played with their unidentified Da Vinci-esque objects in a safe place outside.

birthday cake Matthew

And so the birthday party officially ended shortly afterwards, and I was very grateful that the next day was Saturday and I could have a bit of a lie-in and relax, in the sure knowledge that all parental birthday duties were now over – and, moreover, fairly executed.

“Mommy,” said Matthew early the next morning, when I was still waking up, “you know how I’m having a three-day birthday this year like Liam did? I still have one more day to go…”

He said this while flashing me his most winning smile, and while I was still a bit vulnerable and not quite compos mentos.

“Okay, my love,” I said absentmindedly.

“…Wait a minute!” shouted my brain synapses as they finally started firing on all cylinders again. “Oy! We have actually fulfilled the mandate here!”

So nice try, little man. I am NOT setting a precedent for a four-day birthday celebration next year.

Unless it begins with mine.

 

 

 

First day of school

From: Panda’s work name 

Sent: 20 January 2014 10:14 AM
To: Panda’s boss
Cc: Panda’s neighbours at the next-door desks
Subject: First day of school

 

Hello Boss  (And copying my office ‘neighbours’, and Other Office Mom, for whom this all awaits)

Thanks very much for letting me take a half day this afternoon and work from home this morning. The photos show why. As you can see Matthew is beaming from ear to ear at having now officially started Grade 1!

Liam and Matthew 20Jan14

You will all be very pleased to know that I got my children the last two pairs of brown school shoes in Woolworths Cresta that could fit them.

When I went to Edgars initially, all confident-like of a quick in and out, tick-that-box and move on to the next school requirement I had to sort out, I went dizzy and faint for a second (okay slight exaggeration) when the Edgars assistant told me very sadly that due to some horrible error, Edgars Cresta had not received a single pair of brown boys’ school shoes.  Only black.

I squeaked in horror, “Do you have any idea how much business Edgars is losing right now?” and he shook his head in sad acknowledgement. I trust that somewhere in the Edgars supply chain there is a headless body sitting at its computer frantically trying to prevent a final written warning from being issued…

Anyway it was a very close thing.  But we now have school shoes and all the other bits of required uniform, as well as stationery, lunch boxes, school bags, stationery boxes duly art-worked (okay I’m an over-achiever)…. It is all Done with a capital d.

Matthew 20Jan14

So all good. Proud Mom now signing off and getting back to work. Less stressful, come to think of it…

See you all tomorrow!

Legacy

Linda and Ralph in St Peter's Square

As I look back

Through a lifetime of memories

I see how you gave me

The strength and abilities

To grow into myself

Like an earthbound creature

Growing its wings

Pegasus beautfiful

And as my return gift to you

I shall make sure

With every fibre of my being

That I, too,

Will teach my children

– your grandchildren –

How to grow their wings

And also learn to fly.

Liam and Matthew Heinke

Asimbonanga for Madiba

Here is my tribute to Nelson Mandela – first published July 2012.

The world will remember the date you left us: 5 December 2013.

Rest in peace: great man, great humanitarian, humble human being. 

 

All the colours of the rainbow (and the healing power of music)

My children are colour-blind.

It’s awesome.

In this still-fledgeling democracy that is South Africa today, 18 years after the country queued, and queued, and queued some more to cast its vote in the first democratic elections, my children are colour-blind.

It is a great joy to me.

They do not see black, white, pink, purple or green – only their circles of friends. And in this world of theirs, all ‘colours’ of the rainbow are equal, with the possible exception of real-life pink for Liam, who wrinkles up his nose and tells me in his little gruff voice that ‘pink is for girls mom!’.

And my boys can dance, also.

liam-school-play-smaller

Who says white boys can’t dance?

I watched the children covertly the other night while I was in and out of the kitchen preparing dinner. Liam and Matthew were in the lounge where I’d introduced them to a Johnny Clegg CD – he who is known as ‘the white Zulu’ – and they’d loved the music instantly. They swayed, they stomped, they moved to the beat and they felt the rhythm.

I was so proud.

They’d discovered ‘Asimbonanga’ as their track of choice, and they played it over and over again. They know it practically off by heart now, including most of the isiZulu.

The song stirs up such memories for me. It was one of the anthems of my youth, when as a sheltered young adult I first learned – properly – about the legacy of Nelson Mandela, the great Madiba, who was incarcerated as a political prisoner for 27 years. At the time I first got to know the song, Madiba was still some years away from his release from his island prison, Robben Island off Cape Town.

My friends and I went to quite a few concerts where Johnny Clegg played, first with Juluka and later with Savuka. He and his early-rainbow nation brothers and sisters sang and danced their hearts out, and whenever they performed ‘Asimbonanga’, the emotion in the room was always tangible and always running high – but in a good way.

There we were, crowds of young, mainly white youth in an apartheid South Africa that was not of our making, and there as Johnny sang we fell silent, swaying with one movement, arms uplifted, cigarette lighters lit in that universal music concert’s peace sign.

There we linked arms, minds and souls as we listened, united, to the haunting melody and the even more haunting words. There we remembered, through the song, fallen heroes of the struggle, black and white, male and female. There we were united in understanding and a yearning for peace, even if we couldn’t speak isiZulu. Somehow, we knew what the words meant in their very essence, deep down in our core.

There at those Johnny Clegg concerts, we were part of the fore-runner of the dream of a rainbow nation that has almost come to pass.

Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)
Asimbonang’ uMandela thina (We have not seen Mandela)
Laph’ekhona (In the place where he is)
Laph’ehleli khona (In the place where he is kept)

Oh the sea is cold and the sky is grey
Look across the Island into the Bay
We are all islands till comes the day
We cross the burning water

Chorus….

A seagull wings across the sea
Broken silence is what I dream
Who has the words to close the distance
Between you and me?

Chorus….

Steven Biko, Victoria Mxenge
Neil Aggett
Asimbonanga
Asimbonang ‘umfowethu thina (we have not seen our brother)
Laph’ekhona (In the place where he is)
Laph’wafela khona (In the place where he died)
Hey wena (Hey you!)
Hey wena nawe (Hey you and you as well)
Siyofika nini la’ siyakhona (When will we arrive at our destination) 

And as I listen again to these inspirational and haunting words, I ask myself when, indeed, will we arrive at the destination we were all looking for in those days of dreaming? The days when we voted with our hearts and our souls for a united rainbow country?

I ask myself:

When will the children be educated as they were promised?

When will the women and children be free from the scourge of rape and murder?

When will government corruption and ineptitude be punished?

When will politicians who lie, cheat and steal acknowledge their guilt and tell the nation, “Yes, I made a mistake. Yes, I was wrong. Yes, I will make amends. Yes, I will step down”?

When will nurses and policemen and teachers be properly paid, properly trained, properly mindful of their hugely important role in this fledgeling democracy of ours? 

When will the taxi and bus industries, which transport millions of people every day, be better regulated so that we are not outraged on a daily and weekly basis by stories of horror motor crashes that kill and maim innocent people?

When will motorists stop shooting their cars recklessly through bright scarlet traffic lights, endangering the lives of law-abiding citizens?

When will motorists start buckling up their children in car seats?

When will we adopt a culture of kindness to animals?

When will….

I must stop before I descend into mere ranting.

I must look on the bright side. I was not made to ignore the silver linings.

I must remember that the voice of the people is growing – yes, I do believe so. Think about the outrage around the e-tolling saga; think about the outrage around Nkandla (God BLESS Thuli Madonsela!); think about the journalists and satirists and yes, even businessmen who speak out – and out – and out some more despite legislative attempts to gag them.

Think about the good initiatives that take place in South Africa, led by business, led by the media, led by the medical industry, led by private individuals.

Think about the Madiba legacy – the magic that was his; the magic that pulled a country back from the brink of civil war; the magic that can still be if we only look for it and better yet, create it.

Think about it.

Think about the children of South Africa as they play together on playgrounds that are all the colours of the rainbow nation.

Think about it.

And then do a little spot of rainbow magic Madiba singing and dancing, by order of the great man himself.

Oh, oh, oh to have been there….

Hey wena!

Yes, you.

And me.

And you, and you, and you…

Let’s work together to arrive at our intended destination after all.

Let’s blind South Africa with all the colours and all the hope of the rainbow.

Think about it.

Then do.

New beginnings and the passage of time

Since I wrote my last entry, I have cried. Quite a lot. And I have not been in enough of a positive, creative space to write much.

For a few reasons, this has not been a good year thus far.

It has been a year of obstacles and trying to find solutions to really big issues. And, where there were no solutions, trying to find the courage simply to deal with the issues.

It has been a year in which my natural optimism has been sorely tested.

And yet I have continued to walk this earth; continued to learn, survive and – I trust – grow.

fairy ring

I was helping Liam and Matthew to find something a few days ago, and during the search process, I came across a 2013 calendar. It was a little late to rediscover it, because we have already officially clocked up more than two-thirds of this year.

It got me thinking about the passage of time.

calendar

I remembered when the old lady in the pharmacy gave it to me, some time in very early January. She handed it over with a warm smile, as though she was bestowing a quite precious gift. In a way she was, because what she gave me was not only a piece of rolled-up cardboard with dates marked on it and decorated with some pretty pictures.

She was also giving me the hopeful gift of time still lying ahead and with it, dreams to forge and memories to build: new beginnings every month.

And as we cross over into a new month every four weeks or so, I find myself still determinedly and stubbornly trying to cultivate hope for brighter days ahead.

flowersinrain

I’ve always been a fan of opportunities for new beginnings. Besides, there is no other option if I am to stay sane and true to my inner values.

I am blessed that right now, I’m still lucky enough to have the gift of time on my life’s personal credit card. This makes it important to me to try and seek joy wherever I can find it.

We took an opportunity that arose recently to get a new puppy. To be very honest, I pushed for him, very hard. I persuaded and cajoled. (There is the issue of more doggy-doo in the garden to pick up, after all…)

But you see, I wanted to bring a little more joy back into my life.

And there he was. Just waiting for us. Perfect timing.

From the moment we picked up ‘Nickelback’ and took him home, he slotted seamlessly into our lives and our hearts. He is just gorgeous! He brings happiness and puppy love to everyone he meets. I call him our ‘joy boy’.

joyboy smaller

For me, our puppy and the unconditional love he brings into our family symbolises new beginnings in the purest of ways.

Even when picking up the you-know-what and trying hard to avert your senses.

 

 

Post script – song now playing (again):

Kyrie eleison’

 Mr Mister

 

Kyrie eleison

Kyrie eleison
Kyrie

The wind blows hard against this mountain side
Across the sea into my soul
It reaches into where I cannot hide
Setting my feet upon the road

My heart is old, it holds my memories
My body burns a gemlike flame
Somewhere between the soul and soft machine
Is where I find myself again

Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel
Kyrie eleison, through the darkness of the night
Kyrie eleison, where I’m going, will you follow?
Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light

When I was young I thought of growing old
Of what my life would mean to me
Would I have followed down my chosen road
Or only wished what I could be?

Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel
Kyrie eleison, through the darkness of the night
Kyrie eleison, where I’m going, will you follow?
Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light

 

My daughter, my dad

In the midst of a life that has blessed me with our two amazing boy children…

LIam and Matthew philosophers

…I have still, at moments that always take me off guard with their painful intensity, yearned and yearned for a girl, as well.

A girl child.

I breathe out sometimes when I think it, with a tiny stab of hurt.

A soft, small, mini-me who would grow up understanding what it is to want to wear dresses (or not), apply make up (or not) and understand the trauma of a bad hair cut that needs to be grown out.

 

A girl child.

A soft, green-eyed (maybe blue?), fair-haired being like I was when I was younger, who would understand me in a way that my little boys just don’t always get.

 

A girl child.

A delicate baby to dress in pink or white or pastel green; a little girl whose face and body would stay soft and eventually grow curves and never stubble; a young woman who would read the kind of books I read and react to emotional issues as I do, and who would eventually speak the language of women with me.

 

A girl child.

And I did not have her, and I have mourned.

Even as I loved my boys with all my being, there was still a little hole in my heart that felt not quite filled, which sometimes I forgot about and which sometimes came back to haunt me unexpectedly.

 

It returned to haunt me about ten nights ago. I was sitting in our back garden enjoying the moonlight and the wind on my face, looking up at the night sky and the stars. I was feeling peaceful. I love a big open sky, night or day, and I don’t sit under it often enough.

And as I absorbed the peaceful night air and the sky with my body and my soul, the haunting was back, and with it the sudden tears in my eyes. But I wasn’t ready to go inside and ignore the hole in my heart this time; I was really enjoying being under the stars, and so I stayed and I felt the pain return all the way through my body. And as I enclosed it inside me, I remembered a long-buried fact – two long buried facts.

I remembered that, before Liam and again before Matthew, I was also pregnant for a very brief time: two pregnancies where the babies did not quite come all the way down to earth, or else they did come down but did not stay.

I remembered Frank and I together in the doctor’s office that first time, and the look on the doctor’s face when the expected heartbeat did not sound through the monitor and he braced himself to tell us the bad news. I remembered hearing the term ‘blighted ovum’ for the first time, where there was no heartbeat, only a tiny empty shell.

 

blighted ovum

That first time, there were apparently hormones in my body but no life, and an operation to follow – when enough time had passed for us to be certain – to clean out my womb. And I woke up in the hospital bed with Frank standing beside me, and a shadow hanging over us because we did not yet know that Liam was still to come.

And then we had Liam, and joy returned.

And then we had a second miscarriage when we were trying for Liam’s sibling – before Matthew’s safe arrival, and more joy.

 

But the second time, Frank is convinced, was slightly different, because he swears he saw a heartbeat flicker, and even the doctor was not quite sure but said, “Let’s give it ten more days.”

And I hoped.

And we hoped, together.

But instead my body bled.

 

And again there was the operation, only this time we had felt – we thought – a stronger life pull. And this time round, Frank had to be away on a work trip and so my dad, instead, was beside me at the hospital bed when I woke up – my dad, younger and stronger than he is now, with a sorrowful face and unsure of what words to offer.

And this memory returned as I sat under the big night sky, and as the stars shone their light on me, I sobbed as I have not sobbed for those lost babies for many years. And I sobbed also for my father, who is battling so bravely with the disease that is unceasingly ravaging his body and taking away his strength and his clear speech. And for my mother, who has loved him for so many years and who loves and cares for him still.

And as I sat there, I felt a presence somewhere deep in my body, and words that were not words spoke in my being and told me that there was, indeed, a girl child once.

But she had to go back.

And all these years later, when my dad crosses over into the spirit world, she will welcome him to his final home.

blonde shadow fairy

Somehow this is what I learned as I sat under the stars, through the voiceless words.

And the hole in my heart was almost filled.

 

I believe I had a daughter once.

I shall call her Skye.

 

painting baby

 

Postscript:

I found comfort, after this emotional experience, in these words from Journey (click on the link for the song):

 

“Remember me”

 

 Remember me, remember me
Find myself all alone

In darkness without you

Now I can’t turn away

From what I must do

You know I’d give my life for you

More than words can say

I’ve shown you how to love someone

I know you’ll find a way

 

Say goodbye, close your eyes

Remember me

Walk away, the sun remains

Remember me

I’ll live on somewhere in your heart

You must believe, remember me

 

No way I can change my mind

I don’t have the answers

If you could see through my eyes

You’d let go of your fears

And though I have to leave you now

With the thought of each other

I’ll miss your touch, you call my name

I am with you forever

 

Say goodbye, close your eyes

Remember me

Walk away, the sun remains

Remember me

Be there to watch over you

Remember me

Feel I’m gone, my heart lives on

Remember me

 

Don’t you think of this as the end.

I’ll come into your dreams, remember me

 

Close your eyes, say goodbye

Remember me

Say you will, say you will, say you will

Close your eyes, remember me

Say you will, say you will, say you will

Say goodbye, remember me

Comfort from the Narnia Chronicles

Well, 2013 has been – in places – a bit rough so far. But nonetheless, those rays of sunshine do, and must, peek through.

A few months ago, I took enormous pleasure reading ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ to the boys every night, skimming over the difficult parts very fast (like the events on the Stone Table with Aslan and the White Witch and her dreadful menagerie), and then we watched the movie all as a family one weekend (skimming even faster over the events at the Stone Table).

So this past weekend, after a satisfying little outing of sushi…

sushi with Liam and Matthew smaller

…the boys and I went to the book store up the road, where I found another Narnia book to read to them (I really do want a complete box set one day).

However, back at home, once we’d begun our bedtime story that night, we all realised that ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ wasn’t the next one in the sequence of Edmund and Lucy’s Narnia adventures after ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. So Liam and Matthew decided that they would rather put reading it on hold until we found the next one that featured Edmund and Lucy (it seems to be ‘Prince Caspian’), and they said we should stay in the sequence. I thought it was very mature of them to exhibit this delayed gratification.

What they don’t yet know is that I have been far less mature myself, because I started reading ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ surreptitiously on my own. (I can’t let them know – there would be howls of outrage!)

Dawn Treader book

And in this lovely book of adventure and philosophy intertwined, I have found some marvellous words of solace springing out at me at unexpected moments. They remind me that through the dark clouds there is always hope of a brighter dawn once more, and that hard work is never in vain.

Thank you, CS Lewis, for these and all your other inspirational words. Now, can anyone lend me ‘Prince Caspian’ until I finally get my box set?

(Some of my favourite words of inspiration from ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ now follow.)

1.

“Adventures are never fun while you’re having them.”

2.

“One of the most cowardly things ordinary people do is to shut their eyes to facts.”

3.

“But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, “Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.”

4.

 [When Eustace was turned from a boy into a dragon, and how he was turned back into a boy again:]

“The water was as clear as anything and I thought that if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first.

“…I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snakey sort of things and can cast their skins. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully…

“…in a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for a bathe. But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before.

“…So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe…

“…Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, however many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

Eustace dragon

“Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – “You will have to let me undress you.” I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.

“…Well, he peeled the beastly stuff off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been.

“…Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that very much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.”

5.

“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”
“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.
“Are – are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.
“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

Aslan

So fragile are we all

When Reeva Steenkamp died, almost one month ago now, I was playing a Sting album in the Panda as my ‘album of the week’ – my usual driving strategy is to switch over to music when the news just gets unbearable. I nearly crashed the car when I heard the news that morning. Later, when I was still digesting the first snippets of the terrible story, along with the rest of South Africa, I changed over as usual to my music, to think for a while.

Unexpectedly, I found Sting’s inadvertent commentary in the song that played next.

How appropriate his words are here. Startlingly so, I think.

A heartbreaking footnote to a tragedy that has ruined so many lives.

A mourning song for all of us crying for another lost hero who was unable to bear the burden of being ‘super’ all the time; another woman in South Africa whose light has been put out prematurely; who has been lost forever to the shameful violence of our times.

Simply tragic.

As Sting says: “How fragile we are.”

Even those with the guns. Especially those with the guns?

Lest we forget.

 

Here are the words to ‘Fragile’ by Sting (with a link to a performance below)

StingFragile 

If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay

Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime’s argument
That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could

For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star
Like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are
How fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star
Like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are
How fragile we are
How fragile we are
How fragile we are

Here is Sting in Berlin.

 

Sad footnote:

If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one”

How do I tell this story to my children who revered Oscar during the Olympics; who looked for him and cheered and clapped for him – because he was South African; because he was ‘The Blade Runner’; because in their minds he was differently-abled and not disabled? How do I tell them why he is in the media now when they don’t even know the meaning of the word ‘murder’?

I have decided that for now they are too young to know.

I wish I was too.

 

Final (trying to be less sad) footnote:

This is why we have our artists and musicians: sometimes they bring wisdom, sometimes comfort, sometimes both. I would hope most people think this includes our writers too…

 

Final final final footnote:

This was a very hard one to publish. It has taken me a long time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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