thoughtsfromthepanda

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

Archive for the tag “parenting”

B is for Busy… also for ‘I’m Back!’

I’ve been away.

I’ve Been a Bad Blogger (Because I’ve Been very Busy)

A long time ago (or so it seems), I started this blog initially to record family events, so there would be a record of some of life’s significant moments, especially considering how fast children grow up. These next few photos show in a quick snapshot how quickly they’ve grown, from a few randomly selected Januaries.

 

Liam (grade 3) and Matthew (grade 1), first day of school, January 2014

 

Liam (grade 5) and Matthew (grade 3), first day of school, January 2016

 

January 2017

 

School begins, January 2018 – Liam now wearing the coveted grade 7 blazer, Matthew in grade 5

 

After starting out as a mommy blogger, my recording of life’s significant moments morphed a bit and extended itself into the inclusion of other things. Inspiration and energy struck quite randomly sometimes, including an early entry when I flexed my blogging muscles on my enduring fascination with sharks (still so much to say on that note! but I’ll contain my enthusiasm, at least for now).

The point was, though, that I enjoyed writing my blog and putting down my thoughts – which sometimes struck me quite out of the blue. It was so lovely to have a platform on which I wasn’t asked to present ‘the precis version’ – and for those of my friends who need to be hanging their heads in shame here, you know who you are… (she said, sternly)

And so the anguished cry goes up: “Where have you been?”

One, two, three… cue anguished cries.

Pause.

OH COME ON!

Thank you, that’s better.

I realised that I just got busy. But this is a shameful excuse for someone with a blog.

And I have new things to say now, which shouldn’t be surprising to those who know me…

But being the neat freak that I am (which again shouldn’t be surprising to those who know me), I can’t post new thoughts until I’ve taken care of some two years or so of silence – dead air, in radio terms.

So here is the longest blog entry I’ve ever written, broken into three or maybe four parts (I don’t know yet quite how long it will be!) and dedicated to my family, especially my beloved children, Liam and Matthew, who grow taller and smarter and nicer and cuter every time I turn around.

With love and hugs from your mom

…who loves you more than the sun, moon and stars…

 

…even when life is Busier than she would like it to be.

Xx

So let’s update the record a bit.

 

All about Being Busy

Here we go: back to mid-2015

I last wrote a blog entry in February 2017, but even before that I hadn’t been posting as much as I wanted to anyway. I’m now going to post lots of photos to remind me and mine of some interesting, significant and even just slightly obscure moments that took place in the past. Just because I can. It’s my blog, after all.

Speaking of obscure: that first time your child sneaks your mobile phone to quietly take a selfie can be really funny. Here are Liam and Matthew, then in grade 4 and 2 respectively, in some totally odd selfie moments in my car in July and August 2017. I wasn’t there at the time – possibly chatting to my mom after the early-evening pick-up from her house – and so was most surprised to find these later. (There were many more, but here are three of the good ones) As you can see, Liam is the ringleader and Matthew pops up from a safe position in the background. This is quite a good visual metaphor for how they operate in general, actually…

 

Stealing mom’s camera – Liam is trying to work out how to do this, and Matthew’s little face pops up in the background

 

Now Liam is trying to get clever, and Matthew is amused

 

I’ve chosen to post this one specifically to embarrass them when they each turn 21…

 

This next photo shows the time I won the till-slip competition at our local Pick n Pay. A R1,000 grocery voucher is never to be sneezed at! Here are the children and I up on the wall of the Northcliff corner PnP in August 2015. Wow, that seems a long time ago… Liam and Matthew were then aged ten and just turned eight. We’d been going through some tough times, so the unexpected financial gift was really welcome.

Fame at last

 

August 2015 was a projects month. Liam was involved in creating a grade 4 project on electricity, which his dad helped him with, while I helped with the artwork. In a separate grade 2 project, Matthew sold soda floats, and here again we had fun with the poster. I’d only recently discovered the joys of metallic acrylic paint, so we used it as much as we possibly could, as you might notice.

August projects – Matthew is still so small that he forgets sometimes about the need to show his face in a photo while showcasing his artwork

 

August projects – ah, there you are, Mattie!

 

This blog story would be incomplete if I didn’t mention our visits to our local Ocean Basket, where we love to enjoy sushi and chats. Liam and Matthew – my little sophisticates – have enjoyed sushi and been able to use chopsticks pretty well since they were quite small. The waitresses at our local Ocean Basket adore them.

It’s been one of my children’s favourite restaurants for a while now – sometimes it has even beaten the local Spur into second place! When we go there, we catch up with each other in a way that is easier sometimes than at home, and laugh a lot, especially if Liam is doing one of his famous Doc Martin impersonations. (As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog entry, in our house we are big fans of the British TV series starring the good but very grumpy doctor.)

 

Here is Matthew waiting for his sushi…

 

And Liam also. So happy! Yay! Sushi!

 

I’m just posting this second pic of Matthew waiting for sushi because I think he looks adorable in it. I am a mommy blogger after all!

 

Hmmmm. Is it Liam or is it Doc Martin?

 

Can you spot the real Doc Martin?

 

Here’s an amusing photo (well, I think so): It’s December 2015 and if you look very closely you can spot my car in the work car park, back when I was based in Sandton. This was my favourite parking spot – even though there was a vicious wind that blew through the area in winter – because it was a bit away from everyone else and close to the stairwell. Here you can see the famous Panda – after which my blog is named – flanked by slightly bigger cars.

She really is very small and dainty, my Panda. I do love her. The only thing that would easily replace her in my affections is a vintage convertible MG, in British racing green.

The famous Panda, just a tiny bit smaller than the other cars

This same December (2015) was the year the children’s TV arrived for Christmas, and Santa Claus, aided by his elves Jean and Anthony who were visiting from Australia, brought a ‘voucher’ so we could go away for a couple of days. The boys also received a blow-up shark and dolphin for pool time, and new masks and snorkels (clever Santa). The voucher was just for the three of us, as Frank unfortunately was needed elsewhere. I wanted to take the boys away for a short break, because it was also the first Christmas after my dad’s death on 28 October 2015, and we were all still a bit raw.

Liam, then aged 10, was aware of the real identity of Santa Claus this year – he came and asked me a direct question that needed a direct answer – but Matthew (8) remained deep in the Santa Zone. And so that December, Liam enjoyed being a Big Kid and sent me knowing looks every time Santa’s name came up in conversation…

 

Christmas Eve December 2015 with Vincent the cat, and a Christmas Bear (Matthew is wondering when Santa will arrive)

The next day, the new TV for their bedroom had arrived – they’re still a little overwhelmed here

Happy children getting used to their new stuff – no longer quite so overwhelmed

Spot the Vincent cat… always where the action is!

And then soon after Christmas it was time to go away for a couple of days, and play and relax.

 

It was a nice pool, and just behind them is a jacuzzi, which was a real hit

 

Mom is just parking off and taking the required selfie to prove that she was there

Watching the children play pool was amusing. Liam takes it very seriously and Matthew slightly less so, which I suppose is also a reflection of their attitudes towards life in general. To be honest, they make up their own pool rules quite a lot (which also involves a bit of discussion at ad hoc moments).

Good shot! Or was it? It depends on the rules…

Discussing the new rules…

Matthew likes to dance while he plays pool

 

Liam does not dance during such times; not Good Form

This will be good for geometry studies later on

It was a lovely break and I was a little sad to go home. But 2016 was beckoning, so we loaded up the Panda and headed home.

Matthew hidden under the blow-up dolphin

 

Liam hidden under the blow-up shark

This time around, the dolphin and the shark were out of the Christmas packaging that they’d arrived in at the hotel, so packing the car was interesting. My Panda really is very small…

But she takes us to different places on minimal petrol and turns on a dime. I can also park her in places that don’t look like a parking space to drivers of bigger vehicles – I really do love her!

And I also do some of my best thinking in her when I’m on my own, while my children and I have had some amazing chats in her while we’ve been en route around town.

I guess this blog – sporadic as it is sometimes – would likely not exist without my Panda. So hurray for her! She gave me a vehicle to write from. See what I did there?

 

To be continued into 2016…/more in my next blog entry

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

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charting the moments

(Upfront: with grateful thanks to Heather Costaras for all the photos, as discussed. Check her out here.

When you are the parents of two little boys under eight, time to fraternise with your partner and have a really good, meaningful conversation – preferably involving a bottle of good wine and truly ‘chewing the fat’ – can be a rare and precious thing.

This is why Frank and I are eternally grateful to the clever people who opened what we call ‘the B place’. B stands for ‘Bambanani’ and it’s a place in Melville, close to where we live, where both children and adults can be happy. The children can play safely in a variety of innovative ways, with or without caregivers in the mix depending on their ages, while their parents can enjoy good food and decent beverages (at decent prices) while enjoying some precious moments of adult conversation and ‘time out’.

It’s licensed to please.

Bambanani coffee bar

We were spending some time at the B place recently (so-named for the days when we would discuss going there in code, and the children wouldn’t cotton on if we changed our minds) when I suddenly realised, with a little shock, that we could actually chart our children’s ages and progress by where we habitually sit in the restaurant.

There we were, Frank and I, with our children off elsewhere having fun (together, and without us). We were sharing our regular bottle of excellent dry rosé outside on the upstairs deck, which overlooks both the main play area and the downstairs deck, and is roughly bisected by a large apricot tree. It’s a nice touch – the wooden deck has been built around the tree, which is whimsically and atmospherically hung with translucent glass balls. Get up carelessly and you are liable to bang your head on its low-hanging branches, but somehow nobody ever seems to mind that much. Off to the left, another, much bigger tree offers shade to the clientele in the bottom area and from above, you can watch the busy sparrows flying and squabbling in the leaves.

At that moment, it was good to be back on the deck and watch the birds flying through the skies of dusk, because throughout the winter, and into the beginnings of a quite wet summer, we had mainly been weather-bound during our visits and forced to sit inside.

From my elevated view from the upstairs deck, I found myself looking out over the bottom-most level to where the more anxious parents of babies and toddlers tend to congregate for the baby- and toddler-friendly facilities and services. Although the child-minders habitually offer excellent care, the bottom level does tend to ring out sometimes to shrieks and howls of baby outrage and tiredness: those little bumps and bruises will happen, or perhaps other, bigger toddlers will try to steal a toy upon which a baby’s heart is determinedly set.

Bambanani bottom area and deck

It’s a mini-jungle, the bottom area, filled with little cubs and potentially growling parents ever-ready to spring up from their chairs. (Do not go there if you are not associated with a little cub at the time.)

And that’s precisely where we had Matthew’s second birthday party, when he was just a little cub and Liam not much bigger. Frank and I were then habitual guests of the bottom area. It was our spot. At that stage, we had been regular visitors to Bambanani (still quite newly opened) for perhaps six to eight months. Liam, then aged four-and-a-bit on Matthew’s birthday, was now a veteran of the bottom area’s play places and starting to venture into the hallowed spaces of the bigger kids’ wonderful climbing frame area. It was a wrench, watching those first shaky little steps towards independence, but it was okay because Frank and I were right there, down below, and alert to his every call – should it come.

Yes, indeed, we were at the time the archetypal parents of the bottom area. We belonged there. It was our Bambanani ‘hood’.

Bambanani climbing area and top deck

Then Matthew also started trying to enter the big kids’ territory on the climbing frame, not quite a year later. We tried, half-heartedly, to hold him back a bit, but he was following his older brother and that big climbing frame was full of enticing nooks and crannies exclusive to the children (no grown ups allowed, except of course in times when little people suddenly felt a bit overwhelmed and starting yelling for assistance).

It was extremely heady stuff to try and fight as over-anxious parents, so we gave them both their freedom in this small yet significant manner and we moved from our little ‘hood’, suddenly yet quietly one day, to the upstairs deck.

It was a moment that slipped past us with very little pomp and ceremony. All we noticed at the time was that we could now see our boys almost at eye level on the climbing frame as they whizzed past us on level three; that we looked up to them on level four, the top-most level; and that when they slid down the slippery slide from level two to the ground level, we had to peer over the banister to the bottom to find them cheerily waving up at us before they began the ascent once more.

We were slightly anxious, those first few times, but we were proud.

We didn’t hear time moving us inexorably and necessarily into a new phase of parenting. I now know that it’s not just about when the nappies are no longer required, or when bottles are replaced with sippy cups. Some moments are more subtle and, in retrospect, perhaps more significant.

The next big move began when the B place did a renovation early one year. Having endured their annual closure from late December to early January, we arrived back one new year to find a brand-new TV room, complete with updated video games.

Bambanani TV room

Hrmmm. We contemplated this for a few seconds, having to date been a bit anti video games for our children – although we knew it was coming. An avid reader throughout my life, I am quite useless at video games. This was true even when I was a child, but today especially I do know that Frank and I need to let our own children stay current with the popular culture of the times, or risk being isolated from their peers. So my beloved and I exchanged raised eyebrows as Liam took one look and gravitated, apparently in a trance-like state, almost instantly towards the TV room.

And so began the next phase at Bambanani: one of regular and ongoing negotiation.

“Please can I go to the TV room and play a video game? Pleeeeeeeeeeeease?”

“Only when you have run around the climbing frame from bottom to top three/four/six/seven* times. THEN you may go.”

(*The figure subject to various factors including the mood of the parent and whether we had already allowed any TV time at home before visiting the B place.)

So there we were. Alone outside on the deck with our children no longer whizzing along the climbing frame and waving at us cheerily from the various levels while we beamed proudly back. Oh yes, we – and the climbing frame – had been well and truly deserted for the video games.

Came winter, that year, and we moved inside. (In previous winters, we would sit outside and pretend not to be cold while we watched the boys.)

Bambanani inside

So there we were – inside.

Closer to the children for us to peer at them quizzically from time to time to make sure they were all right.

Warmer on a cold frosty day, especially near the roaring open fire.

Sometimes we even move out onto the outermost area now – the ‘stoep’ at the front door. It’s cool in summer and warm enough in winter if we feel like some fresh air (most of the time).

And now that we have our choice of places to sit – except the bottom level, it belongs by absolute right to the cubs and their vigilant pride – we feel free to move around according to the weather and our mood. When we sit on the upstairs deck and peer over to the bottom-most level, I am nostalgic at how far we have come in just four years. Some days I even wish I was back down at the bottom, where the smallest inhabitants are still wearing nappies and the sudden loss of a toy is indescribably sad.

It’s funny, and heartwarming, how the different areas of a child-friendly restaurant have allowed me to chart – metaphorically – some of the significant moments of my parenting journey so far.

Bambanani stoep

Postscript:

Perhaps the strangest thing of all, in terms of this little journey, is that my relatively recent Bambanani memories are being built on the ghostly presence of my previous, single self, when I used to hang out, many years ago, at a Melville bistro called The Question Mark. The Question Mark was great for a while and then less great. But for a long while it was my favourite haunt.

It’s funny how the wheel, invisibly turning, charts the moments. Sometimes, while I’m at the B-place, I look up quickly and seem to see the ghost of my former self drinking red wine over in the corner, laughing with my friends on a girls’ night out. With the joyful carelessness of youth, with that conviction of being utterly invincible, we are almost all of us smoking far too many cigarettes within a backdrop of interesting art and loud music. Inevitably we are complaining about the slow service, and yet inevitably we stay until the small hours of the morning. Sometimes we spot the occasional actor commanding attention from the lesser surrounding mortals with an imperious, theatrical gesture. It’s all full of intense, competing, shouting life.

Yes.

Bambanani is built on the former site of The Question Mark.  

Today my cigarette smoking is in the past, the art has been replaced by white walls and family-friendly images, and I don’t handle drinking into the small hours as well as I used to.

But a little part of my younger self is imprinted in the very air and walls of the Melville site that is Bambanani/Question Mark. I am grateful to have had the venue, in this strange way, morph and evolve with me over time. And it’s still full of intense, competing, shouting life. It’s just that these days, the guests of honour are mostly a lot smaller, and possibly better behaved. 

‘Dubbin men gud pee-pul’

There was a mad scramble in our house about ten thirty today, Tuesday 1 January 2013, when from up the road we suddenly heard the roaring of the refuse collectors’ truck. Our garbage collection day is Tuesday and of course last week’s Tuesday was Christmas Day. So no garbage collection on Christmas – the refuse and recycling collectors had the day off, like most of the rest of the country.

And why not? It’s a grim job, I always think, and their Christmas Day break is as well deserved as for anyone.

However, one week later, Frank and I (and much of the rest of the neighbourhood I’m very sure) were sitting with full dustbins and an almost equal amount of recycling that needed to be disposed of. And so it was with happy hearts that we began our mad scramble to make sure that our dustbins and recycling bags were placed outside for the tender care of our friends who work for both Pik-it-Up and the recycling company.

It reminded me of new year’s day five years ago, which must also have been a Tuesday because once again the good folks of Pik-it-Up were in action.

I remember it very clearly.

At that stage Liam was two and eight months old (yes, I am precise in these matters of age) and Matthew was just four months old. Having taken a maternity leave of three months with Matthew, I’d gone back to work for about three weeks and then had a nice gap again of ten days or so for the Christmas/New Year period. So it had all worked out very well, easing me gently back into work and then giving me another short break.

It was also good for Liam, who was still getting to grips with the fact that there was a new little usurper in the home who was taking up quite a lot of his mother’s time and attention. He had been very good – besides asking on the day that Matthew came home from hospital, “Baby go home now?” – but still you could see that it was hard for the little mite to have been dethroned from his position at the centre of his small universe by another little prince.

Baby Matthew smaller

So, as with parents the world over in this situation, I tried to give my firstborn some exclusive time every day that belonged to just Liam and myself. On new year’s day, five years ago, we had embarked on a gentle morning walk around the neighbourhood. The sun was shining from a turquoise-blue sky, the birds were singing, the trees were wearing my favourite shades of green and all was tranquil.

little Liam red shirt

Then the refuse collectors arrived.

Picture it from the perspective of a small boy not quite three: a huge truck suddenly arriving and breaking the silence with the petulant roaring of its engine. This was accompanied by the presence of noisy enthusiastic men in blue overalls jumping busily on and off the truck, whistling and shouting commands and injunctions. Then watch the small boy and his mother approach closer – the child clinging to his mother’s hand – and imagine the little boy’s eyes widen when he spots objects being flung from big black bins into the turning maw of the truck’s hungry belly.

A little scary, yes?

The child points with a shaking finger and a questioning upturn of his face.

“Those are the dustbin men, my little man,” answers his mother. “They are taking the rubbish away from the people’s houses so that our dustbins are clean. The rubbish goes away from here and gets sorted out and then there is no rubbish here where we live. Rubbish is not good for people. It brings germs that make us sick.”

And she prepares to carry on walking past the truck, but the little boy balks and digs in his heels. He is still afraid.

The mother stoops to lift him up and repeats her story about the refuse collectors, adding, “The dustbin men are good people, my little man. The dustbin men are our friends. Come, let’s go and look a bit closer and then we will walk past.”

The child says somewhat doubtfully, “Dubbin men gud pee-pul?” and she confirms, “Dustbin men are good people.”

And they walk past, and a small lesson has been learned (by his mother as well) even though the little man is patently glad when the noisy truck is gone.

And so five years later, this is my thank you to all those who work on weekends and public holidays when the rest of the world is resting or at play.

My thank you to those, especially, who fulfil vital functions that keep the engines of our society turning while others rest: refuse collectors and other cleaners; policemen; doctors, nurses and paramedics; pharmacists; firemen; petrol station attendants… the list goes on.

I think that the dubbin men are indeed good people, along with many more.

Wishing you all, everywhere, a good new year as you help to keep the engines turning!

Accident prone? It’s in the genes…

Dear Teacher Thea,

Just a little note to let you know that yesterday we went to a friend’s house for a braai and there was an accident involving Liam, a wooden bat and our friend’s child’s nose. The pleasant afternoon ended very abruptly in lots of blood and crying and a sudden visit to the hospital. Liam was very upset and I just wanted you to know in case he is out of sorts today.

…And so it begins. This mother of boy children braces herself and, with a mental shake, prepares for the inevitable physicality and impulsiveness that apparently comes with a boy child’s life.

As well as two boys, currently aged seven and five, our family also includes a Dobermann. A hound of the female persuasion, our darling Sasha is a big galumph. She is a klutz of the first water. There is nothing graceful about her in motion over short stretches. However, it’s a different story when she is running long-distance through the park, when the Dobermann’s heritage, which apparently includes greyhound bloodlines, then comes to the fore. At those moments, she is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, somewhere over there in the green yonder.

However, when Sasha is not running through the park, but instead through our house, she is a big galumph who skids around on our wooden floors and the occasional loose rug like a ping-pong ball forever unleashed inside a gravity-less scientific chamber. She is a soulmate to my firstborn. They were made to be mates.

Sasha doing ‘the happy dance’

Oh, but I see hard lessons ahead!

We had the hardest of hard lessons on Sunday already. My little man, as my dear friend and fellow boy-mom exclaimed upon hearing the story, is in no way a malicious child and anyone who knows him would know immediately that it was an accident (and for this kind endorsement I thank you most sincerely, dear Z). But he is an impulsive young soul and it will be a torment to him for some time to come that the ill-fated bat was launched from his hand.

He is also a very strong young man, and for his age a very big little boy. Combining my husband’s tall genes with his grandfather’s stocky tendencies, he was fitting comfortably into clothes for a nine-year-old when he had just turned seven. He has always been really big for his age – a baby giant even when he was a baby.

Little Liam – the biggest in his first ever pre-school class

Now add an impulsive, dreamy, accident-prone personality into this physical mix and you can see why I am fretting. After all, he lost his first tooth the day before his fifth birthday – root included – because he fell off a windowsill and cracked his jaw onto a chest of drawers below. (Oh, how we mourned that tooth and its premature departure for the next two and a half years…) And who does he get the impulsive dreaminess and accidental tendencies from?

Yes, indeed, that would be me.

His mother.

The same person who once briefly took up skydiving and flew into a large bluegum tree on her second jump.

I will maintain forever that the Potchefstroom fire brigade did very commendable work that weekend, although I do think that bringing along two fire engines and erecting two ladders was arguably not entirely necessary and that possibly they were just using my predicament for some unusual technical practice. I shall also not mention the ‘reserve ride’ that took place on my twelfth jump, other than to say that the reserve parachute was set to be released automatically anyway and I am quite proud that I actually pulled the cutaway myself. It was, of course, a pity about the hard landing but no bones were broken, after all, and spectacular bruises are inevitable when one’s eventual arrival back on terra firma includes three unintended forward somersaults.

Pause.

Thinks.

Note to self: we will need to steer Liam away from skydiving, rugby and possibly horses. And perhaps mountain bikes and hockey and cricket and…

Yes, I can see straight away that I have got a great strategy going here – not.

Oh dear.

I think perhaps I am not ready to be a boy-mom.

Yes, yes, I know I’ve had seven-plus years of it to date, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready yet. I think I need a little more practice.

Perhaps we can wrap Liam up in cotton wool for a couple of years and I can practise being a boy-mom on his younger brother, Matthew, who seems to have inherited his father’s more careful attitude towards life and a pre-disposition towards being soulmates with the cat – a far more precise and careful animal than the Dobermann.

My friend Vincent

Pause.

Thinks.

Note to self: that would be the same Matthew who’s had his right big toenail torn off twice already in two separate accidents – the second time on his fifth birthday. (What is it about fifth birthdays in our house?!!) And that would also be the same Matthew who hero-worships his big brother and is forever getting banged up running around after him trying to keep up, yes?

Yes.

So no, that doesn’t seem to be a strategy either.

What to do… what to d…

Pause.

To sweep up broken coffee mug shards and mop up coffee from aforementioned coffee mug, which broke when I placed it carefully in mid-air instead of on the table while mentally proofing the early paragraphs of this blog post without looking at where I was placing said coffee mug.

Yes, it would indeed seem to be in the genes.

Case closed, and karate lessons here we come. Apparently karate helps to instill discipline, self control and an awareness of one’s body in space – what more could a boy-mom ask for!

Pause.

Thinks.

I wonder if they take Dobermanns?

Turning corners

My little boy turned seven a few days ago and with it, I turned a new corner in my life. It was a day of celebration, a day of happiness and a day in which I was quietly noting the beginning of a new stage in my life. At least that’s how it seems.

Seven years old!

I imagine I’m speaking for millions of parents when I say I can hardly believe the passage of time.

On our bedroom wall, Frank and I have two separate framed photos of Liam and Matthew, both taken on the days they were born.

There they are: two little boy babies, lying sleeping in their cots, the photos taken just hours after their official arrivals on the planet.

I look at these photos and it seems, maybe not quite like yesterday, but more like three or so years that we’ve had the pleasure of knowing Liam – not more than double that.

Where, where has the time gone?

Well, the short answer is that it has gone on many happy hours and days, with a few times of illness, fear, tiredness and trouble and a few moments of worry and doubt – but mostly on many more moments of happiness.

I have been so blessed.

Placed into my temporary custody I have received two marvellous little children, full of optimism, laughter, joy and courage. I have revelled in their babyhood; I have cherished the moments watching those literal and metaphorical first baby steps. I trust and hope and pray I will have many more first steps to come.


And recently I realised, fully, that my first-born son at least is no longer a baby.

He is a confident, laughing, sensitive, kind, sociable little boy – supremely happy to have had his friends at his party to celebrate his birthday with him. He is becoming a leader in his own right: a child others listen to and follow (and this endorsed by his teachers, not just mom’s biased fond opinion alone).

And I repeat: I have realised that my first-born son at least is no longer a baby.

And I am getting too old to have more babies (at least easily and relatively safely).

And I must not try, in foolish compensation, to turn my younger son into the baby either, because he too is champing at the bit to be a ‘big boy’ (at the ripe old age of four, bless him…).

So I’ve been turning some corners in my mind.

And as I write this I am just a little bit sad, in the midst of all the happiness his birthday brought. It seems like the end of an era, somehow.

I am so used to thinking of myself as being the mother of young children and, with it, thinking of myself as being young. These past few days I’ve been feeling a little older. Suddenly. It has been strange and unsettling.

But even as doors close, they say, others open.

I have some new prospects on the horizon: some long-cherished ambitions may be coming to fruition. In more and more ways I am starting to feel not entirely ‘just mom’ and more like the old me: the me who used to write regularly; used to ride her bicycle and revel in working those muscles and feeling the wind on the downhills; used to dream of her own private ambitions.

It has been an emotional period lately, re-evaluating who I am, but I have finally come to accept that I am turning some corners.

I am leaving behind and also walking towards.

And even as I turn the next corner, I take a moment now to pay tribute to my two wonderful children and share a poem that I wrote for them before they were born, before I knew them, and whose words they embody every day even without knowing it.

May you never be Shadow, human child.

May you be born under

the sign of the dreamer.

May you know the mark

of saint and sinner.

May you reflect in your eyes

the changing face of man and woman.

May you celebrate Life, choose ever to

Possess, share

Love, desire

The more questing soul.*

(*copyright Vivienne Fouche 1990)

 

To those who are turning corners in any way, whether related to parenting matters or not, I say to you what I am saying right now to myself:

Courage.

Be still.

Accept.

Embrace.

Give thanks.

 

Then gladly move on.

 

Weekday mornings are not the same as they used to be

I’ve recently re-discovered the music of Barbra Streisand and have been playing it loudly in my car on the way to work. And singing along too, also very loudly. Which as any ‘Babs’ friend (and yes, I am sure she and I would be friends, if we had ever met) knows is the best part: the loud singing along to this awesome amazing voice, which so effectively drowns out your own feeble cheeping noises that you can pretend that Barbra’s voice is actually yours. It’s a great fantasy.

So anyway, Barbra and I sing very loudly all the way to work these days, once I have dropped off my two boys at pre-school (Matthew) and ‘big school’ (Liam). Where matters are currently quite interesting.

Matthew, aged four, has a girlfriend. Little ‘T’ is a tiny-boned, fragile-bodied child with flaxen hair (truly, it’s not often you get to write ‘flaxen’ and be accurate) down to her waist. Her eyes are a pale ethereal blue and her skin is porcelain fair (again, I use ‘porcelain’ and am entirely accurate). With her exquisite face, she looks like she has just stepped out of fairyland. And my Matthew, who is quite a pretty creature himself, even for a boy, is absolutely smitten.

Cicely Mary Barker's 'The rose fairy'

Lately, he likes to bring her flowers in the morning. Posies of rose buds that my mother makes up for him to hand over with as much love as if T belonged to her too.

And Liam, six-almost-seven, thinks it is just too icky for words. This ‘love stuff’. He cringes at the mere mention of it and tries to block his ears. Certainly this was his reaction when we were taking a drive one day recently, when all the schools were still on holiday. In the interests of revving up some back-to-school enthusiasm, I said brightly to my smallest son: “So, Matthew, who do you think will be back at school tomorrow for you to play with?”

“T…,” chirped Matthew confidently (as if there were any shadow of a doubt). “Because she loves me and I love she.”

I was so surprised and touched, I nearly drove into the pavement while trying to stifle a sudden burst of what would surely have been very inappropriate and hurtful giggles.

“Aaaaauuuuuggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh! Accccccckkkkkkkkkkkkkk!” roared Liam from his spot in the back seat beside Matthew, trying to block his ears and simultaneously making vomiting noises.

Upon which Matthew got very offended and started punching him forthwith, so that was the end of the icky love stuff. For a few short days, that is, until everyone was fully in the swing of the back-to-school energy that always seems to flow at the beginning of a new term.

We were visiting my parents on the second Sunday after school had begun when Matthew requested one of my mother’s famous roses from her garden. For T…. To take to school the next morning. Ignoring the loud vomiting and roaring noises from his older brother, he took possession of a rosebud with a very satisfied look on his face as we drove off home.

Sadly, though, when we got home we discovered that the little rosebud had got a bit battered during the short car journey, probably due to the proud manner in which he was clutching it safely to his chest. I decided to ask my mom to let us have another one the next morning. After all, when giving flowers, it should be done right, right? With flair and panache and above all pristine floral specimens.

The next morning we were all ready to collect a new rosebud for the unsuspecting fairy friend. First, though, we had to drop Liam off at ‘big school’, where he is newly in grade one and suddenly looking very small and forlorn – in comparison to the big children – as he wanders onto the playground in the mornings.

And this is an odd repositioning of my perspective, because Liam is actually very big for his age. One of the biggest, according to the paediatrician, because whenever the good doctor has checked him out over the past few years, Liam has consistently hovered at around the 97th percentile for his height and weight. (In other words, out of every 100 children exactly his age, he would be about the 3rd or 4th tallest and biggest in the group. Or something like that, but anyway it’s quite impressive.)

So there was Liam. My tall blonde curly-haired confident handsome son: suddenly looking small again in his new school uniform, wandering around a much bigger playground than he’s been playing on for the past four years, surrounded by loads of children much bigger than him. Heck, quite a few of them are bigger than me, and that’s just the girls. (Children are getting bigger these days, have you noticed?)

Matthew and I stood together and surreptitiously stared after him while he walked away. This was after I’d kissed Liam goodbye on the lips and he’d jogged off, wiping off the kiss, and I had called him back to insist that we try this small gesture of affection all over again, with no wiping off, or there will be a scene in front of everyone, see? (He really doesn’t like this ‘love stuff’.)

“I see Liam!” said Matthew excitedly, while continuing to grip my hand very firmly. As I said, the playground is much bigger than they are both used to.

“Me too,” I said, thinking to myself, Go on my son! Find someone to play with! Find a place to belong for the next ten minutes before the teachers call you to the classroom. Don’t remain all alone looking so small and lost – find a friend…

And he did. My little trooper. A male friend of course, but then again, if it had been a girl I would have been looking for the aliens and their cloning machine hidden in the bushes.

Happy again, I next zoomed off with Matthew to my mother’s house, where we collected a posy for T…. Picture some artistically positioned tin foil and wet tissue paper encasing a perfect cream rosebud, some rose leaves and a bit of fern for luck and there you have it: the little flower of yesterday had been magnificently upgraded. Bless my mother, who is also intent on raising sorted young men.

Consequently, there was much ooh-ing and ahh-ing when Matthew and I walked through the gates of his pre-school as he clutched his posy (we don’t have to go into detail on how the rose fell out of the posy as we were crossing the road and I had to run back for it). We were quite early and T… wasn’t at school yet, so Matthew put her posy into her locker. The teacher beamed. I beamed. Matthew beamed and then ran off to play in the classroom. I went back to the school gate so I could leave for work – and there was T and her mom.

“Matthew has brought T… a flower,” I whispered.

Her mother dissolved instantly into a puddle. We all walked towards the classroom together, where I stood outside and looked through the window so as not to embarrass my small son on his brave new journey.

“Look T…!” said her mom. “Look what Matthew has brought you!”

The little fairy child bent down, picked up the posy and dropped her perfect rosebud mouth into a classically feminine ‘Oooooh!” of surprise and pleasure.

Matthew got up from the circle of children seated on the floor around the teacher and walked shyly towards his sweetheart. He suddenly looked taller and was wearing an air of pride. Slightly embarrassed pride, but pride nonetheless. There was a new dawning in his eyes as he staked his first ever claim to a lovely young female’s affections.

I brought that for you. Nobody else. And sure it’s a little awkward – I get that now – but know that it was me.

“Thank you Matthew!”

“You’re welcome!”

With T… clutching her posy they sat down together in the circle of children around the teacher. Looking really happy and proud, Matthew put his arm around her in a brief hug and then dropped it again to concentrate on what the teacher was saying.

I drove off with a song in my heart and slightly moist eyes. When I finally turned on Barbra’s music, it was to one of the songs that Frank and I played on our wedding day. Which Barbra had composed especially to sing on hers.

Listen here...

Lots to think about… second time around

It seemed that my second pregnancy brought with it a few more issues and concerns than the first time around…

 

25 December 2006: Merry Christmas!

So there they were: two blue lines on the pregnancy test. I had pretty much been expecting it as my period was five days late. I smiled evilly. I knew just how to play this one.

“Come,” I said to my husband, taking his hand, “I’ve got a little present for you before we go through to my parents for lunch. Right, close your eyes and hold out your hand… okay you can open now. Merry Christmas!”

Frank opened his eyes, smiled at me, stared into the small object in his hands, blinked, turned pale, muttered “What have we done!”, gave me back the test and stalked outside in a few fluid motions to stare thoughtfully into the distance for a while.

And so the news was broken. I laughed – he’s so easy to wind up! Later that day, when the shock had worn off, he took great delight in winking surreptitiously at me every time – to my father’s great astonishment – I politely refused more of the festive wine. Over the next few days he hit that endearing mode of becoming very protective and refusing to let me lift a finger around the house. I had no complaints!

November 2006: one baby or two?

Life has a funny way of working out sometimes. Just a month or so before, we had taken a much-needed week-long family holiday to theCapewith our then 18-month-old firstborn. Sitting in our hotel room every night overlooking the twinkling lights of Simonstown harbour, we had enjoyed our nightly treat ofCapewine, sea air and relaxed conversation while the little man slept peacefully in his cot inside. During this period of unwinding, I ventured one night to bring up the on-again-off-again topic of a second pregnancy – or not?

At this stage, the tally was three pregnancies, two early miscarriages, one baby. We had been trying for Baby #2  (who was always intended to be a little girl) since Liam was 4 months old and thought we had been successful, until I landed up having miscarriage number 2 just before Valentine’s Day 2006.

That one was even harder to recover from mentally than the first time round, but we moved on and were still trying, simply by dint of not stressing too much and not using any contraception. Now it was seven months later. We were on holiday and we had time to think.

We found ourselves in a space where we were thrilled with our little boy, busily trying to get our finances under control for the long term and wondering what was better for our small son overall: more money in the bank, or a sibling to share his life with and teach him all those lessons money can’t always buy?

The upshot of the conversation that holiday night was that we would give it one more month and then, if there was to be no baby by the end of the year, we would resume contraception. We would plan a life in which Liam would be an only child and – we trusted – we could afford to give him all the financial benefits we wanted to, from private school education to owning a pony to family trips overseas.

One month later it was Christmas Day and it looked like the universe had made the decision for us. You have to laugh – sometimes it seems like your real prayers get answered when you aren’t focusing on them with every fibre of your being.

January 2007: it’s real!

However, having been down the road of two early miscarriages, nobody was more aware than I that this pregnancy might not come to ultimate fruition. Having been denied a heartbeat at the first scans not just once, but twice, I would not – could not – believe it in my heart until I saw a flickering heartbeat on the screen at the 8-week scan.

Our kind gynaecologist smiled when he saw us in mid-January. I think he wanted this baby quite badly as well, being himself in the unfortunate position of having performed two D&Cs on me, but not being there when Liam was born due to an unexpected illness that had caused him to refer me to a locum gynaecologist when I was 36 weeks pregnant. So there were three quite tense people when the light was dimmed and the monitor became the focal point of the room. I told myself quietly that if there was no heartbeat then this was really it: I was not going to subject myself to this mental and emotional strain any more.

And there it was straight away: a good-sized little blob with a strong heartbeat. I think I breathed a collective sigh of relief for all three of us.

February, March… is it possible to be so tired?

It was quite surreal at first. As with my pregnancy with Liam, I took a while to show and was instead subjected to the indignity of looking chubbier than usual without actually looking pregnant. Oh well.

The early weeks and months were characterised by a little more nausea than the first time round (but thankfully, again, no actual throwing up), a lot more metallic taste in my mouth and a great deal more fatigue. As far as my exhaustion was concerned, I supposed that the joint pressures of working as well as having a busy toddler to look after in the early mornings and evenings didn’t help, but it really seemed as though I was far more tired this time round. Maybe it was also advancing age… All told, however, it felt quite different from before, so I assumed happily that there was a little girl inside.

I used to fall asleep some nights about six thirty when I was putting little man to bed. Liam still slept in our room in his cot, so it was easy to collapse on our bed and crawl under the covers while he was drifting off on his night-time bottle. I used to try so hard to resist but oh, the flesh was weak and the bed was so soft and tempting…

My kind-hearted Frank was reluctant to wake me and would generally leave me to sleep, but inevitably I awoke about eleven and then had to stumble around the house en route to the great expedition that was the brushing of teeth and the bleary-eyed pulling on of pjamas. (I simply can’t sleep through the night if my teeth haven’t been brushed, and I don’t like sleeping in my clothes either.) At least missing supper on a regular basis was temporarily good for my weight.

 

April… weighty matters

Ah yes: weight gain. I was horrified at the next couple of weigh-ins after the 8 week scan. It looked like I was starting to pick up a lot of weight really fast. The doctor warned me that second time around was even harder to control the weight gain than first time round, but even so I was not happy. If I compared myself to where I was during my pregnancy with Liam (week by week), matters became even worse!

I had picked up a total of 13kg with Liam, which I knew was really not at all bad, but I was already feeling burdened with extra weight even as I started on this new journey. I’d managed to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight for some months, but I had never quite succeeded in getting back to my pre-wedding weight (a common story, I think!). And that was a big problem for me.

Even as this new pregnancy was progressing, I felt that I was already (again) burdened with a starting weight that was 5kg more than it should have been. So I took action and found a friendly dietician who gave me some really good tips and advice. Thanks to her input, I discovered how making just a few simple changes helped me to control my weight gain going forward and also helped me with my fatigue levels.

In the end, the pressures of being a working mother saw my pregnancy visits to the dietician falling away, but I planned to resume them once the baby was born so she could help me lose the pregnancy weight – and maybe even get back to my pre-wedding weight! – as soon as possible. (All told I was eventually to pick up 14kg, which I was happy with.)

Early May: girl or boy?

We found out definitively at 22 weeks that we were having another little boy. Having set my heart on a girl, I was bitterly disappointed. I didn’t show it in the doctor’s rooms, but back at work the urge to cry was something I felt all day like a hot spring waiting to explode through the earth.

It came out in the evening when Liam was safely asleep. That night and the next, I sobbed uncontrollably for hours. Frank had never seen me like this, ever. I was almost hysterical and simply couldn’t stop until something gentle that he said on the second night managed to break through the barrier of self pity. In between being supportive, Frank’s take on things was more stoic: “Oh well, I’m a bit disappointed myself but life moves on and there’s a little being in there who’ll be joining us soon, so isn’t it great! We’re having a little boy and all that I care about is that he’s healthy.”

Not able myself to adopt this generous attitude quite yet, I asked Frank a few days later to phone the gynae’s rooms to be absolutely sure there wasn’t some room left over for doubt. There was no room, said his receptionist… So I cried some more.

I told myself that I wasn’t a bad person, and I didn’t blame myself for how I felt, but I did feel guilty towards the small blameless person inside. It wasn’t him I was furious with; it was the universe. I reminded myself about all those people who so badly wanted children and couldn’t have them, and how lucky I was to be expecting my second baby, but deep down I remained angry and resentful.

I can’t say I felt as though somebody had died, but certainly a small, happy dream of a little girl to dress in pink and frills was no more. My image of my future self had been forcibly steered in a direction I had never seen myself taking. And I really hate feeling like I’m not in control.

Late May: the quiet baby – a taste of hospital

And where was the new baby in the tale thus far? A valid question. By now I obviously looked pregnant to the world, I felt pregnant, the baby was moving nicely inside… but where was my intense heart-connection to this new soul? I mean sure, it was there, but it wasn’t like it had been before… and it was painful to feel.

Often I came to the end of the day and, having flopped exhausted onto the couch once little man was asleep, would then feel a polite little kick inside, to which I immediately responded with a huge surge of guilt. I was now almost six months pregnant and it seemed like I wasn’t connecting enough with this new life.

Somehow, it just hadn’t been the same as it had been first time round. There didn’t seem to be the same amount of time to think, to dream, to bond… My feelings were only mildly assuaged by a conversation I remembered many times from early in my pregnancy. A friend who was already a mother of two warned me well in advance – at just 12 weeks – that the second pregnancy would fly past and that it would be different from before. Why?

Well, add up being a working mother plus looking after a busy toddler plus all the increasing demands of my job and the merry-go-round of life in general – plus of course all the resultant fatigue – and you start to come close to an answer of sorts. Perhaps the biggest factor in feeling that I wasn’t bonding enough with my unborn child was the presence of my first-born. Let’s face it, toddlers are demanding! You can be dropping with fatigue and if your toddler needs attention, somebody has to respond. At times I did wish that the gap between them (it will be 2 years and 4 months) could have been greater. However, due to biological clicks ticking furiously (hers AND his) we had needed to try for a small gap or not at all – we felt we didn’t really have much choice.

And then I contracted pneumonia quite suddenly at the end of May and went to the casualty department of our nearby hospital late one night, where I remained – much to my surprise – for five days, and where things changed a little bit.

My physician was concerned about the complication of my being 26 weeks pregnant on top of the pneumonia. It was decided that I should be cared for jointly by himself and one of his gynaecologist colleagues, and I was placed in the maternity ward. Over five days and nights, I shared a room with three other pregnant women and the treatment included regular monitoring of my baby’s heartbeat, daily visits from both doctors and two scans.

Liam was brought in to see me on my third day in hospital, but he became so upset that we decided not to bring him in again.

Suddenly I had not much else to do (when I wasn’t being given food, tea, medicine or physiotherapy) except lie in bed, read or sleep, and think and dream. Suddenly I had time to connect with my new baby – the “quiet baby” as I had been calling him for so long. It was then I realised how much being the mother of a little person who was barely more than a baby himself had impacted on my second pregnancy – just as my friend had warned.

And one day while I was still in hospital I didn’t mind any more about not having a little girl. Finally I felt like I had a connection with this new little soul in his own right – a real person; a boy person. It was a proper connection at last.

June, July… VBAC or Caesar?

With Liam’s birth, I had finally chosen an elective Caesar at the end of my pregnancy for the main reason that a friend’s baby had died during natural childbirth. I had vicariously relished every moment of her pregnancy with her, wishing at the time that it was me too, and was distraught at her baby’s death. When it did become my turn, I thought long and hard about my options and finally, when I was about 37 weeks pregnant and now seeing the locum gynaecologist, decided to opt for a Caesarian.

However, second time around and back with my own doctor, I felt calmer and thought that it would be good to experience a natural birth – or at least try.

I discussed it with him when I was about 30 weeks and he said “Let’s wait and see” – which I understood. He explained his position: he wanted us to try only if the baby looked like he was presenting as a “super-favourable, super-fast labour – and at the first sign of complications, off to theatre and no chances taken.” I had no problem with the latter; the baby’s safety was of course paramount.

            I was later to read a well-balanced article in Your Pregnancy on VBACs and it was reassuring to discover that my doctor’s attitude and thoughts tallied quite closely with the information presented in the article. One of the issues to think about was the baby’s size when thinking about a natural birth after a Caesar: a birth-weight approaching 4kg was deemed to be potentially too much of a strain on the existing Caesar scar.

So as luck would have it, my baby started to grow.

Liam was born weighing 3.5kg and his little brother, reckoned my cautious doctor at about 35 weeks, was very likely to match or beat this weight. If so, he said, he would prefer no natural birth as he felt the strain on the existing scar would be too risky. He said, however, that he was happy to consider a natural birth if labour started spontaneously some time before term but after 37 weeks (when the baby’s lungs should be fully developed) and if everything looked favourable – including size. So we would be playing a waiting game – or was that “weighting” game!

I was simultaneously a little disappointed and a little relieved at the probable thought of another Caesar, but happy to accept this position in the best interests of the baby.

August – almost D-Day

I had my very last check-up on a Thursday, when I had reached 39 weeks and 2 days. It was then a given on all sides – mine too – that it would be a Caesar. By now I was tired and sore – much more on both counts than I had been with Liam – and quite frankly at that check-up I was ready to have the baby the next day! However, I’d only stopped working the previous day (my choice) and felt I still had a few things to do to prepare myself for the baby’s birth – including a spot of relaxing. So we scheduled the baby’s birth date for the day before my due date – a Monday.

Over the next few days I continued feeling tired and sore, in the main, but the excitement was building and it was so good to know that I was finally going to see my Little Man No 2 face to face. Frank and I both agreed that the road had seemed longer this time around. I suppose that’s what happens when you seem to have more to think about.

D-Day!

Matthew Ian Daniel Fouché was born on 27 August at 13:47 weighing 3.66kg and measuring 53cm in length. There is a part of me that still wishes I had experienced a natural birth, but my choice brought him to me safely and after what my friend went through, that, for me, is paramount.

Matthew was shown to me almost immediately after his birth, and then given to me just a few minutes into his life, where he stayed for the next few hours, breastfeeding almost from the word go. My Caesar was handled with dignity and respect for both me and my baby, and my main worries about the procedure (becoming woozy during the operation and feeling “not quite there”) were rendered null and void by the marvellous anaesthetist, who visited me before the operation and took note of my fears.

Matthew’s second names are for three beloved and great men in our lives: the late Ian Gillies (he owned Giles restaurant in Johannesburg), a wonderful humanitarian and friend to Frank who remains sorely missed; the late Ion Williams, wise conservationist and surrogate father figure to Frank, and my Great-Uncle Danny, an inspirational go-getter from Newcastle in the UK, who’s now in his 90s and still going strong. Wonderful role models, all three.

And Matthew itself? Well, it was a name we both liked which was in my head for a long time. It means “Gift of God”. When I found that out – after all my ragings against the universe once upon a time – I had to smile. It is, of course, absolutely true.

(Written 2007)

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