Smoke and Mirrors

I had a weird dream the other night, in which I was staring into my bathroom mirror which was all steamed up (as it does, because I like a hot shower). What was particularly eerie was that no matter how long the window was open, or how much I wiped the glass, the mist wouldn’t clear and I just could not see my reflection.

Now, one doesn’t have to be Carl Jung or desirous of exploring the significance of mirrors in dreams, to see the symbolism of self in this. As a woman reaches middle age, she has been a daughter, mother, wife, sister and professional for many years, but when the home starts emptying, one is more and more alone with oneself. And that can be scary.

For so long I have been defined by my roles as wife and mother, that my own identity as a human has become shrouded by the mists of their identities. I need to redefine my purpose and find who I am again.

But we cannot actually ever de-link ourselves from our children, nor do I really want to. Did you know that cells from a child may migrate to a mother’s brain:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/scientists-discover-childrens-cells-living-in-mothers-brain/

So we become a sort of chimera of every child we’ve carried. (No wonder my brain seems so crowded sometimes!) And these cells can also be passed onto their siblings. All of this shows that the mother-child and sibling bonds are incredibly strong. We carry them with us wherever we (and they) go. There is actually something comforting in that – if you can get past how creepy it is!

The other symbolism that struck me about my dream was that a hidden reflection can suggest that the self feels unseen. Sadly, that is such a common thing in women that I feel like a bit of a cliché.

Perhaps that’s why Jenny Joseph in her poem ‘Warning’ suggests that when [she] is old [she] will wear purple.’ It’s to stand out and be seen – like Queen Elizabeth of England who always bright colours, so people can spot her in a crowd. Of course that’s not really what it means though to feel ‘unseen.’ It means to feel invisible, unnoticed, a will o the wisp at best.

I say this without a hint of self-pity because in many ways we women do this to ourselves, quietly cleaning up after everyone, washing and packing away clothes; making sure the electricity meter is fed and the bins are emptied, the pets are fed and the cupboards fully stocked; stacking and emptying the dishwasher like a fairy presence (Okay I’m literally too noisy for people not to know when I’m doing dishes, but still you know what I mean.) This martyrdom becomes pointless when it is only your own mess and your feet echo on the tiles in the silent house. And we wonder, ‘And now what?’

At core I do know who I am though and I like focusing on others, especially when I am sad or hurt. We walk this earth together. I am excited to see whom I still have to meet along the way.

Maya Angelou says this:

“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”

Perhaps it is enough to continue putting one foot in front of the other, facing down hardship and loneliness with laughter. The children always come home anyway, and bring with them more young souls to love.

And a splash of colour is not a bad idea either. I think I’ll go with orange! That’ll show them.

Raising Men

When I had newly become the single parent of my five precious children, someone unthinkingly gave me a book called Bringing up Boys, the whole premise of which was that in order to raise men from boys, you should have a male role model. I remember closing the book and thinking, ‘Well, that’s a bummer!’

And then, I am pleased to say, I managed to spend the next 15 years raising three young men of exceptional kindness and maturity. And they cook.

Here are 12 things we did:

  1. They took turns with the girls on the chores.
  2. I roughhoused with them – fortunately they switched to sports other than rugby before they could out-scrum me. I made sure we had a house with a garden so there was space to play.
  3. I watched a lot of hockey and football (Stinky boots lived in the garage though). I can easily spot offside now.
  4. Reading was a treat that was withheld at bedtime if they’d misbehaved. They all now write for their living.
  5. I never let them win at games. (Ok that is just because I am so competitive, but when they beat me, there was a huge sense of achievement.)
  6. I tried very hard (and mostly succeeded) to NEVER speak ill of their father to them, no matter how tempting that was.
  7. I kept my word to them.
  8. I remained in charge. There was one occasion though when one of them (who shall remain anonymous) mouthed off at me in front of his father who was visiting. The man announced that that was his cue to leave. Flabbergasted, I marched back inside and made sure that my son knew in no uncertain terms that while it may have appeared that he had been given carte blanche to speak to me as he chose, I was the rule maker and my standards would be maintained.
  9. We talked about fairness and failure, mine and theirs. And always forgave.
  10. They made their beds every day, despite one declaring that the mess in his room was a ‘still life’ – needless to say he had to clean it up before it started to scurry.
  11. We battled for money, so they worked as teenagers.
  12. We debated ideas – although there were times they tried to make (flawed) legal arguments about doing the dishes.

Of course I probably parented very poorly at times (They will tell you about all those occasions – but despite their protestations, they have not been scarred for life). I must also bear witness to the kindness of male colleagues, friends and family members who guided them over rough patches, and who also talked sport for hours and took them hiking (because, as you know, I didn’t do sweaty exercise.)

But moms out there when you are faced with the question, ‘Can a woman raise a son?’

The answer is hell yes!

Antique, vintage or Retro?

My husband said I should write about antiques. I’m not sure whether he was speaking about the sort you can buy and sell… or me. But fyi (in case he meant me) for something to be considered antique, it has to be 100 years old at least, thank you very much, and I am multiple decades short of that… so there.

But having 3 children aged twenty-five and more already, and with the others not too far behind, I do kind of feel old-ish.

There are times though that I really just feel twelve years old still, despite being on record saying that twelve is the worst age ever, and I suspect that that definitely held true for me too, but I wouldn’t want to go back to being a teenager or even a young adult, despite the many mistakes I made then, or perhaps because of them. However, I’d like to be relevant still.

So what keeps us young? It can’t be clothes – no one wants to be mutton dressed up as lamb after all, although I do believe that today’s young women dress far more sensibly than we ever did: I mean comfortable shoes, dresses with pockets at last, no more underwire digging into you like a fashionista’s stiletto, and stretch denim – God bless the person who invented that! (No more lying on the bed to zip up your jeans; then trying to stand up, stiff as a board, and walking around like an android until the denim relaxed a bit!)

In my case, it’s not exercise I am ashamed to say – I used to be super fit as a young person, between ballet, then gym and karate, but now I am so sedentary and laaaazy! Or perhaps it  is the absence of exercise that keeps one youthful – no weather-beaten face for me, nor the need for post- athletics fixes – and I don’t mean of the drug kind. I see so many (mainly men) now having knee surgery and hip surgery following a lifetime of mauling their bodies in sports when they were younger. And yup even footballers actually have genuinely serious injuries that affect them in later life. So exercise is not it necessarily.

I used to remain seemingly girlish and vibrant because I had so many children so the perky young moms in my younger children’s pre-school classes often assumed I was… well less vintage than I was. (Vintage being anything between 20 and 99 years old btw.). Using my offsprings’ age doesn’t work anymore – especially when they’re all graduated, balding or shaving.

‘They’ say age is a state of mind, meaning that staying young in spirit is a cerebral construct. But what is that state?

I think it’s hope.

As long as we are hopeful and positive about a future filled with joy, we shall be youthful in our mindset, even if the body is failing, drooping, sagging, greying or ailing. It’s when we see no future, and despair of either misspent or long-past youth that we miss out on a happy life. That’s when we lose the spark of fun and turn into grumpy old women, discontent with our lot in life.

And that sort of depression can paralyse.  I have felt it, but I have been gifted with an almost naive sense of optimism and have always vowed that no matter what heartbreak I face, I shall always be happy. My revenge on the stones that life throws is to seek joy and that allows for hope to sneak in and fill me. Laughter keeps you young, even if you get crinkle cuts around your eyes and mouth.

So long as the wrinkles turn upwards. 

I’m claiming to be more retro than vintage or antique, but I plan to be a style trendsetter always.

Or, as Ms Ball would suggest, I can lie.

9 Things I learned on a corporate getaway to De Hoop Nature Reserve

Epiphanies on a leadership retreat in the bush
  1. Try everything three times…with a friend

We went sandboarding.

They say one should try everything once (Google what Sir Thomas Beecham said about that!) I discovered that three times is the minimum: once because you should overcome your initial fear; once adding variety, and once pushing the fear factor.

Now in my middle age, I am no longer a daredevil physically, but I was itching to hurtle down the virgin slopes of the coastal dunes, and discovered that no more am I the first person to put up my hands for athletic feats. In fact, I was anxiety-ridden, not about making a fool of myself (That was inevitable) but of actually hurting myself. However a colleague and I plucked up the courage and went down (sitting) together in a ‘race.’ Well ‘down’ is an exaggeration. I slithered to a halt one metre after the guide stopped pushing me. But once we got going, what fun!

Then I tried standing up – for a while – and quickly realised that making like Kelly Slater on sand would be the quickest way to return with a broken ankle, but at least I can say that I rode the slope. (Two seconds is a while!)

Behind us was an almost sheer drop which three of us braved together – I participated in that madness only because I figured there were no bumps on the slope to stop me – I forgot about my behind – leaning back in fear of tumbling head over heels, I managed to embed my personal rear bump firmly in the hill and I had to paddle to the bottom, only to have to clamber on shaking legs back up the cliff.

But what exhilaration to conquer fear just a little. And sans Sally, I would not have done that.

2. Baboons share my sugar addiction

Baboons often damage protea plants seeking the sugary nectar beneath the flower head. Thankfully they stayed away from the chocolate stashes in the restaurant kitchen, but this chap was very interested in our cottage. Thankfully we had been warned to keep doors and windows closed.

Photo Credit: Sally Langerman

The delicious food at the Fig Tree Restaurant certainly kept us well fed and the chocolate splendour of the final dessert elicited enjoyment utterances akin to that scene in ‘When Harry met Sally.’

3. Sometimes you should just dive in fully clothed

Returning from an entertaining game drive, I joined fellow heads of schools, who were hot and exhausted after a walk through the fynbos, at the infinity pool on the cliff. Our costumes were far away in our cottages and after some splashing from the wildlife already in the pool, we threw dignity to the gentle breeze and dove in fully clothed, like children.

So often as heads of schools, we are called on to be solemn and proper, and decorous; at school we are always on display, but it was good to be real and have unadulterated fun. I think that childlike activity added years to our lives and reduced several therapy sessions worth of stress.

There’s a life lesson in that.

4. Fynbos and women

Our guide jokingly told us, as he pointed at the cones on the (female) fynbos plants he was showing us, that here the women have the… er … cajones (The euphemism is mine – he was a trifle blunter). It struck me looking at the smattering of female faces in the group how necessary it is in life for women to have ‘cones’, and not just at work. Listening to the stories of the women around me, I marvel at the capacity of women to maintain stressful careers, raise their families and run their homes simultaneously. If I have learned anything working in my job and seeing the struggles of so many single (and married) mothers, it is that there is a core of strength within us that is indestructible. Tired, yes! Defeated? Never.

5. Fynbos and fire

And that brings me to the miracle of fynbos: as anyone local to the Western Cape will tell you, fynbos has to burn every 8 – 14 years in order for the seeds to germinate. We women are certainly forged in powerful fires if you pardon the mixed metaphor. It’s a bit sad though that we sometimes only come into our own when we have to face disaster. If I think how many women are defined by their single-parenthood, breast cancer survival; or rape survival, rather than being recognized first for their strength of character or talents. But perhaps it is only in a crisis that women allow themselves to show their steely core. Don’t mess with a woman who has been betrayed: she has learned she can live without you.

But the fynbos is not merely a metaphor for the might of women, it is a sign for all of us that sometimes it is trouble that makes us fruitful. We are most creative when we are under pressure. In every tragedy there is an opportunity – that is how we tap into the creative power of the Almighty.

6. Saying no is powerful

Our itinerary involved an exciting afternoon walking along the shore and snorkeling in crystal clear waters. I wanted to go, and suffered severe FOMO by not going, but I decided to listen to my body which was screaming ‘Kan nie meer nie.’ Strong people sometimes battle to say ‘no’ or to ringfence free time for ‘sharpening sword’ activities. I chose myself that afternoon and slept for 3 hours. As a woman, as a leader, and as a female leader particularly, I frequently feel I ought to, should do, have to do, must do it all so I do not appear to be under-performing or lazy and sometimes it is a potent decision to take back my own power and just say ‘no’… and I didn’t get sunburnt.

7. Conferences versus connection

I am so grateful that the organisers of our conference put the emphasis on ‘conferring’ and connection rather than on lecturing and instructing. What made this gathering unique was the absence of powerpoints and workshops, the focus being on relationships – and funnily enough, watching the finance guys rock the slopes on sandboards was infinitely more instructive and entertaining than spreadsheets; chatting late into the evening and hearing another head say, ‘Wow you are describing exactly the challenges my school has!’ was as beneficial as formal training on collaborating about how to solve similar problems; and shared laughter was a balm for tired souls at the end of a long term.

8. Don’t lean on stone walls in the veld

Mice and goggas live there…and therefore so do snakes. There is probably a metaphor for life in that, but there endeth the lesson!

9. Life comes full circle

Arriving home was like returning from a school camp, having bonded with colleagues rather than merely shared a conference venue. I think we came back more friends than peers, a powerful thing in a post-Covid world.

And as I climbed off our overland bus, there was my son, Michael, standing at his vehicle like a Viking with with his blood-red beard, ready to take mom home, just as I had done so many times after tours and camps for my children.

Life is good with friends and family.

Generations

Generations By Monica Zanet | Media & Culture Cartoon | TOONPOOL

In our home, we have had four generations under one roof: a Baby Boomer, a Gen Xer, Generation Ys (millennials) and three Generation Zs. One reckless Gen Z kamikaze-child (who shall remain anonymous, but is my 20 year-old daughter, named Shannon who lives at…) with uncharacteristically scant concern for her immediate environment, dared to say to me tonight how ‘awful’ it must be to be a boomer nowadays because ‘you have to scroll so far down when you are looking for your birth year on electronic forms.’

Sadly, she is not wrong. And that’s not all. Last night I played one of those stupid Facebook games in which you had to put in your birth year and see what was hot on the charts back then. So, I tested the fun on my own wall by putting in my birth year (1964). But damn, it made me feel old. There were all my FB friends with their disco songs appearing on their posts. Not me…

I got The Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night – in black and white. Not even a grainy, colour album! I have never even been a Beatles fan.

It made me feel old and I guess I’ve been feeling that unconsciously for a while lately. Just this week I went down a FB wormhole about what to wear, what make up to use and what hairstyles to choose to make a woman look younger. What a waste of 30 minutes of my ever-shortening life!

But today I went off to the lovely Aruna and had my hair trimmed… actually, I asked her to lob off about 15 centimetres of fading lockdown golden locks. And I love it!

I do actually look younger, but my new coiffure hasn’t magicked away the post-lockdown belly blubber or smoothed away the mid-fifties wrinkles, more’s the pity.

Truth is, my mom passed away at 56 and I have 3 short months to reach that ceiling before I have to enter unknown territory. It’s a scary thing; hence my over-focus on age.

Growing older does have its benefits though because now that I am …. um of mature years… I have the confidence to be more myself even though I realize that I only have a few more years in the workplace before I get put out to pasture. (Mind you, if my children had it their way, they’d have taken my car away and relegated me to the cottage in the garden already). But  I have reached the age that I finally like myself, warts (or should I say liver spots) and all. And actually believe I have something to offer the universe.

I wish I had had this self-belief 20 years ago, but life had kind of beaten me down into self-doubt at one stage. I used to be terrified of public speaking for example, and having all the eyes in a room on me. There have been moments when I have entered a room of my peers and heard that song from Prince of Egypt thumping in my head, ‘You’re playing with the big boys now…’ But I like to think I’ve held my own. I even once forced myself to speak at an International Conference I was invited to present at (on educational technology nogal!).

Whatever I may have done in my own life though, I have realised is the truth of that old saying, that it is your children who are your life’s work. I can certainly say that my best achievements have been my children. It is exhilarating to see how they are changing the world in their own unique fashion: in film, in commerce, in football, in art and in full-on passion.

‘Sometimes, your greatest contribution to the universe may not be something you do, but someone you raise’

Anonymous

So, you know the longer your Memory Lane, the richer it is with moments of growth and triumph. I may have been born in the year the Beatles sang about working your guts out and coming home to the joy of loved ones (I was born on a Saturday and ‘Saturday’s child works hard for a living,’ the old rhyme said too, so what chance did I have in life?), but the joy IS in the coming home. It’s in the laughter at the dinner table; the sparkle in his eye; the feelings of pride that bubble up in my chest so often when I watch my children (and I include my schoolchildren in this); and the knowledge that there is still some life left in this old ‘dog’ of which the Fab Four spake.

I have been thinking a great deal about my mother lately. I suppose because I shall soon bypass her in age. I hope she would have been proud of me. She’d not be impressed by my liberal use of Anglo Saxon words, of course, nor my still too-loud voice, but I like to think she’d love the way her grandchildren have turned out – not too many obvious tics on display, and young people with compassion and commitment.

I used to feel horribly jealous when I saw women with their mothers out and about and still wish I could have had that for longer with my beloved mother. I wish we could still discuss literature and howl with laughter until our stomachs ache. She had an amazing laugh which belied her serene facade. She was a gifted writer, who put my sister and me before everything else. She showed her love by feeding people and had an inner goodness that I permanently aspire to.

I could live to twice her age and never be the woman she was.

She used to joke that only the good die young. And then she did.

She did say I’d get my comeuppance one day, so no doubt she fell off her cloud laughing when Shannon commented on my age tonight, especially because I am almost hers!

But if only the good die young, I have many years left to live – long enough to watch Shannon get her just deserts when her daughter laughs at her. (I’m not vindictive or anything…) My mother may have been a member of the Silent Generation, but her legacy of fun lives on. Just much louder.

… and my new haircut makes me look younger. So this is 56th-anniversary-restoration-album time…

And there is so much more to come.

A Hard Day’s Night

The Beatles

It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog
It’s been a hard day’s night, I should be sleeping like a log
But when I get home to you I’ll find the things that you do
Will make me feel alright

You know I work all day to get you money to buy you things
And it’s worth it just to hear you say you’re going to give me everything
So why on earth should I moan, ’cause when I get you alone
You know I feel ok

When I’m home everything seems to be right
When I’m home feeling you holding me tight, tight, yeah

It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog
It’s been a hard day’s night, I should be sleeping like a log
But when I get home to you I’ll find the things that you do
Will make me feel alright, oww

So why on earth should I…

Source: LyricFind
A Hard Day's Night Lyrics

8 Things that have changed since the dawn of The Age of Corona

How to Break Bad Habits, According to Science | Time

Aristotle believed that there are seven causes for the changes in human behaviour.

  • Chance
  • Nature
  • Compulsions
  • Habit
  • Reason
  • Passion
  • Desire

COVID-19 has certainly been a major disrupter. I saw a TED Talk once about how to form positive habits in just 30 days. So, I thought, ‘Ok I shall make some positive changes while we’re incarcerated at home.’ Some have been good changes; others… through no fault of mine, I declare… not so much.

This is what has changed since lockdown for me:

1. I’m writing

On the plus side, I am writing again every day, which is for me like going to gym…without the gym. I feel rejuvenated afterwards, and it’s fun.

2. Me-time

I have ring-fenced me-time slightly better, although I can see this resolution slipping since the return to school process has started. I have enjoyed getting more sleep than usual and hope that I can try to limit the number of nights I burn the midnight oil.

3. Traffic

Traffic is better -I am hoping that more companies have realized that they can in fact trust their administrators to work from home. Please. I’d like to be able to sail through as we are able to do now – gives me an extra 15 minutes sleep every morning.

4. Reading

Unfortunately, I have given up reading books temporarily. Well of course that’s because the library is closed and I just cannot do online books. Not with our wifi. Just when you get to the end of a page or an exciting part of the narrative, damned if it freezes and then when it finally reloads it’s back at the point you were when you picked it up. And it’s hard to get quality books for free on the internet, and I just can’t get myself to spend money on a book which I am only going to read once. I’m tightfisted like that. Having said that, If I can solve my data issues, this could be a revolutionary change in my life.

5. My car is dirty

This is a sad story. Car washes are not yet open so picture my excitement when the oil change light came on. ‘Oh good,’ I thought, ’I can get my car cleaned at last.’ Not so lucky: the service centre was operating on skeleton staff and so no non-essential stuff (like car valeting apparently) was happening. 

I got even though.  Unintentionally I swear…

After dropping off my car and having to rope in my husband to transport me further, I received a call informing me I’d been in contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 (Fortunately all is now well with said-person, so I can tell this story). As a good citizen, I now needed to inform the garage that there was a chance that I had contracted the virus and that I’d send in my husband to collect my car later. Well they weren’t having any of that – they delivered the car, hooted and left the keys on the roof… It was a little disconcerting I must say, although I can totally understand their temerity to come anywhere near me, but it did make me think I should buy a bell while I was out having a COVID test so I could yell ‘unclean’ as I walked. Of course, I didn’t need to …I was driving for one, and secondly my car was also still ‘unclean.’

Not even all this rain has sorted it out.

I guess I could wash the car myself; but, well…perish the thought.

6. Heaters

Spending so much time at home has made me realise how inhospitably cold it is in our house, so I have allowed the heaters to go on. We’re spending a fortune on electricity, but it is so cosy – at least we shall be warm and poor.

7. Grocery Shopping

… because we are going to be poor. Has anyone else found they are spending so much more on food? My grocery bill has skyrocketed with all of us at home constantly. I used to be able to buy clothes every month. No more. I’m barely breaking even. Now it’s biscuits and chocolate and other exotic snacks I don’t usually buy, along with fancy juices and lots of everything in case we need to hunker down again… And that darling little suit I nipped into Zara to purchase just before lockdown, is never going to fit me now!

8. Education

Education will never be the same again. There will be a clear BC (before Corona) and AV (After Vaccine) in the timelines of every organization. At this stage, at my school, we are adjusting to a hybrid form of teaching and learning with some learners and others logging onto our livestreams from home. With no gatherings in the immediate future, events like valedictory and matric dances present real challenges, which we shall have to meet with some creativity. The coronavirus has single celled dragged us into the 21st century technology-wise and that’s a good thing, but I am sad to see us reverting to industrial-age rows in an effort to social-distance and losing the collaborate hubs we were using. We have to be creative about that too going forward.

I just hope that all the positive changes that have taken place in our society, like appreciating medical staff more than celebrities, lower data costs, families revelling in their home activities and banks being kinder on debt repayments, will remain, but I fear that once things return to some semblance of normalcy I fear that selfishness and sloth will return… just as the urge to exercise has diminished now that it is no longer forbidden fruit to jog.   

I’ll leave you to decide which of the above changes fall under each of Aristotle’s headings. But, no matter the cause behind the positive changes at least, it is definitely time to turn some into excellence:

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.”

―Aristotle

Should they stay[at home] or should they go [to school]

At long last we’ll be welcoming back our matrics and Grade 7s to school on Monday, after 73 days in Lockdown!

And for our Grade 12s, matric will suddenly get real!

Be prepared for increased levels of schoolwork stress in your children. That is to be expected. As each grade phases in, it is likely that certain other fears will be experienced, especially concern about contracting the virus or anxiety over little things, like: ‘Will I “pass” the screening?’ ‘How will the new systems operate?’ and ‘Could I infect someone?’ ‘Will my friends still play with me, or want to speak to me?’

‘Am I behind in my work or not grasping key concepts enough to cope with my final examinations?’ as well as thoughts such as ‘’Will I be accepted into my chosen field of study next year?’ which are usual worries at this time of year, may be uppermost in the minds of our seniors.

We are ready to deal with all sorts of trepidation in both our staff and learners as we navigate the new way of doing things. Our counsellors and School Based Support Teams are on alert, because, as a school with an ethos of looking after the body, mind and spirit of our children, we are so aware we need to nurture them emotionally through this period also. (We are also aware that you, their parents, are also anxious about sending your children back into the world. We understand because we are parents too.)

Our school is fortunate in that we can offer a hybrid form of learning whereby students who cannot return yet or whose parents want to keep them at home for a while longer, can live stream the day at home.

Even learners tuning in from home may not be immune (if you pardon the pun) to some anxiety, however. They may suffer from FOMO and parents of such children should also watch out for what psychologists are referring to as the ‘Lonely Children Effect’ which according to Maria Loades, a clinical psychologist from the University of Bath, UK, interviewed on Cape Talk today, says ‘can manifest itself for years’.  

Social interaction is critical for the intellectual and social development of young people, so do factor in some additional data costs, for your youngsters at home to spend a bit more time talking to their friends. Yes, I am actually telling you to let them spend a bit more time online; you have not misread. It’s how they socialise. For example, gamers shooting things with their friends is not necessarily the worst activity for them, because if they are playing online, they are also bonding, which at this time is really important. Unless that’s all they are doing, or you need them to take out the garbage, in which case turn off the router (or just threaten to, if you are in need of some entertainment at their expense, as one does when one is an evil parent like me.)

You may think your children can’t be lonely because they have you or their siblings to spend time with, but Loades says that peer play is what is important, not only DMCing with the ‘parentals.’

The other thing that will add to their stress is the fact that once more there will be change in their lives. Remember that resistance to change is a form of grief. Our staff and children will go through all of these processes as they come to terms with the next new normal. It will be both your job and ours to help them to reach acceptance and acclimatize themselves to the new protocols. Mourners can go through 5 stages of grief, not necessarily experiencing all of these or even moving in this order:

  1. shock and denial
  2. anger
  3. bargaining
  4. depression
  5. acceptance

And when there is organisational change, people can go through similar phases:

[For the record psychologists don’t all agree with this model, and dispute the progression of ‘stages’ concept, because folk don’t necessarily experience all these emotions or have them all in this order, but it certainly has some relevance anecdotally, and you may well recognize these in your children.]

Identify them either to yourself or with your child and help them through the hard stages. Because, eventually, we can get used to anything. Humans are clever that way. Knowing what you are dealing with, should empower you to make the tough calls, (especially if you encounter some ‘school’refusal’ but it should help you also to love them through the shock and denial stages. Good luck with the bargaining stage if you have a wannabe lawyer or lobbyist in the house though!

We cannot wait to meet our masked warriors of the New Age of Hybrid Education and welcome them home, as well as meeting some in your homes on our live streams. If you are lucky enough to be able to work from home still, think of us in this brave new world while you lounge in your pjs. I just hope I can fit into that darling little suit I bought before lockdown…

“I was a little excited but mostly blorft. “Blorft” is an adjective I just made up that means ‘Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.’ I have been blorft every day for the past seven years.”

― Tina Fey, Bossypants

‘It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.’

– William Shakespeare

Remember Y2K and all the fears that the world’s telecommunications and banking systems would come crashing down at the stroke of midnight? I can measure the passage of time and world events around which of my babies I was pregnant with or feeding at the time.

I watched the start of 2000 from Baby Shannon’s rocking chair in her beautiful nursery, in our home on a hill in Johannesburg, with a spectacular view across to the fireworks in Sandton City. Besides all the conspiracy theories and apocalypse predictions, it was an exciting time to be alive, with much anticipation about the dawn of a new era, even if there was much disagreement about whether 2000 was the end of the millennium or the beginning of the 21st century (it’s the former fyi).

I was nursing my newborn daughter when the night sky was illuminated by the magnificent display of pyrotechnics. It was as if the heavens were celebrating her birth, this tiny princess who was already a celebrity in the house with her delicate features and easy nature (well then, anyway.)

We had measured record rainfall that summer (the highest in over 20 year), so much so that Shannon was nicknamed ‘Mapula’ which means ‘rain’ in Setswana, but on that night the sky’s curtains opened on a perfect evening and the vison of those fireworks remains imprinted in my memory, like a happy portent that the 21st century would be better than the previous one. I was overwhelmed with the pleasure of my life.

Of course, I was relieved to have shed the swollen ankles that went with carrying a baby through a hot, muggy summer on the Reef. My misery was topped only by a mother at the older children’s school who was carrying twins. When we bumped (literally!) into each other at the year-end school concert, I was chastened at the sight of her, for feeling grumpy over my own discomfort: by then she had abandoned any attempt at haute couture and waddled into the auditorium in a tent dress and her husband’s bulky size 10 running shoes.

“I was full of self-pity in this heat, until I saw you,’ I whispered, ‘but now I just feel so sorry for you.’

She didn’t even bother to be poised about it and, beyond dignified denials, merely hissed, ‘Yes! You should be!’

My mother used to say that you can always find someone better off and someone worse off than yourself in this world, and on that evening, I realized the truth of it. And a few weeks later on New Year’s Eve 1999, I felt my life could not get any better.

I had no idea of course what the future would hold, and how my world would come crashing down around me just over a year later. Who could have foretold that I would lose it all: house on the hill, imported 4×4, husband, and even my birthplace.  

Perhaps it’s better we can never see into the future – we wouldn’t be able to face the harrowing days if we could see them coming and I think we wouldn’t appreciate the good times either, if we were living in dread of what was to come.

I didn’t lose what was most precious to me though. Even though, I was heading into a time of dark despair and incredible loss. I just didn’t know it. I also didn’t know that I would one day experience the unbounded joy of both another child and new love.

But in that moment, on the edge of the era, as the lights from outside flickered over my sleeping baby, I was content.

Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on.

Hal Borland

Sometimes God doesn’t give you what you want; He gives you your deepest desire.

37 Famous Feminists - Inspiring Women of the Feminist Movement

Since I’ve already written reflections around the birth of each of my sons, I should reference the girls’ births, lest I be accused of favouritism, or horror of horrors, gender prejudice.

The story of Caitlin’s imminent arrival does involve prejudice against women though, but it’s also a story of triumph over that, in one of life’s delightful ironies.

It was Christmas 1993. We had been transferred to Johannesburg “for one year, I promise” (We were there for seven.) and I had just been offered an English teaching post at a private boys’ school, in what would become Gauteng in a few months with the dawn of New South African Republic.

My sister arrived to spend Christmas with us and while we were sunning ourselves on Christmas Eve, the phone rang. (Remember when phones used to ring somewhere in the distance and you had to go inside to answer them?!) I came out stunned. I was pregnant. Not part of the immediate plans, but a blessing nonetheless.

After the celebrations and announcements were over, I realized the tricky situation I was in. I was due to start at the college in the January, with a matric class, and the baby was due in August – mid-prelims. With some trepidation, I called the head of the school to inform him, and stupidly admitted I wouldn’t blame him if he fired me. He promptly did. Of course, he couched it in terms which probably sounded kind to him:  ‘We…eell, we would prefer then that yah didn’t start at all,’ he said in his lilting Irish voice. And that was that. There was no contract to dispute. The legal advice given to me was that I’d opened the door by saying I wouldn’t blame him. So, I was out.

This was a time in education when schools were not only racially segregated, but women also had an unequal deal as employees. When I started teaching I earned R900. My male counterparts with the same qualifications and experience were gifted R1 100 per month. I lost my permanent post in a state school when I got married and no longer qualified for a housing subsidy. And here I was being screwed over by an independent school too.

At the time, I shrugged my shoulders, sold my little blue Suzuki Jeep (Okay I cried about that) and realized that I didn’t want to be a part of a system raising boys to think like that anyway and a few months later found the perfect post at Holy Family College in Parktown, an institution which housed the best head I ever worked under, Alastair Smurthwaite, who later promoted me to my first HOD position. He was a person of compassion and believed in giving his leadership team the room to grow.

I am a firm believer that when we don’t get what we want out of life, we often find our hideen, deepest desire. This is a lesson that I have learned over and over in my life.

HFC was a significant place of learning for me. I had a fabulous subterranean classroom, which must have been part of the old convent building. It was massive and airy and even though it was situated beneath the front stairs, it had a lot of light that came in from windows at the top which looked onto a carpark and enabled us to listen unseen to all the parents gossiping outside. It had huge hooks that we made up ghost stories about, and I rummaged around in unused rooms of the rambling building, braving the odd lurking aged nun, and discovered an old carpet and footstools which we put cushions on and used as a comfy corner for reading setworks and chatting.

The school was also a place where I was witness to great suffering among young people who travelled for miles on public transport, some being victims of unspeakable violence.

I will never forget a young man named Nokwanto whose growth was stunted because of his kidney disease, that forced him to undergo two transplants. His body rejected the second transplant; yet with every day that drew him closer to death, he lived life with a joi de vivre that would shame the most truculent adolescent. My last image of him before I left the school eventually was of him standing arms akimbo, laughing delightedly as soft snow fell on one of those rare Johannesburg days when the sleet is in fact snow.

Then there was the young woman who was gang-raped on her way home because she ‘had airs and graces because she attended a fancy school,’ who gave up her plans to become a lawyer and chose social work instead. And the tall, thin, tortured Nkululeko who postured aggressively in class and drew tormenting demons in his diary, and who slipped one of the most beautiful thank you notes I have ever received under my office door, in which he reflected that I had loved him just as he was. The social worker at the school voiced prophetic words when I left: “This is the letter which will bring you back to teaching.’ And years later when I did return to the classroom, I remembered. I still wonder what became of him.

The school was a fascinating combination of new and old, and the energy of the young people was contagious. The staff was largely female; strong women who were clearly leaders, at least one of whom went on to become a principal in her own right. The Science teacher, a heavy smoker and nearing retirement, was the first female engineer to graduate from Wits University, so there was no shortage of great female role models.

It was a place of healing for me when I lost my mother, and I am still in touch with a student who was delighted to hear that Caitlin was born on her birthday. Caitlin herself has grown up to be a woman of deep compassion and generosity of spirit, and is embarking on her career as a chartered accountant. She rescued me from becoming mired in a school whose male leadership would have crushed me, and enabled me to find one where I was liberated. It is fitting that the child who was born during my time there is forging ahead in what is still a rather male-dominated field, despite have been seen as an inconvenience by a school when she was still in the womb.

Thank you, Caitlin for being God’s instrument in leading me to profound happiness and setting me on my own path towards leadership.

“When they go low, we go high.”

Michelle Obama

Angels who walk the halls in hospitals

angels in the rafters

I had to have a COVID-19 test on Friday. It really made me contemplate my own mortality and the angels who care for the ill.

In the first 24 hours in which I self-isolated even from my family, I realised a couple of things:

  1. I’m quite boring company, but that won’t come as much of a surprise to most people.
  2. I would hate to be in hospital alone and away from my family.

My thoughts of being potentially abandoned in a hospital ICU (Yes, I am bit of a drama queen) reminded me of a time I was forced to do that to one of my children.

Michael, now 23, was four days old when he was re-admitted to hospital and stayed in the neonatal intensive care for another three weeks.

He was born on the Monday before the Easter weekend in 1997, a sweet little brown-haired baby boy who surprised us all after two redheads.  I think all the gynaecologists in the province were planning to enjoy the long weekend and so were inducing their mothers on the Thursday which is when My wee bairn was waiting in the nursery to be taken through for a little procedure (yes… that one!). As a result, I hardly saw him on that day, and until early the next day, when we were discharged.

I couldn’t believe how good this little boy was being as we introduced him to his big sister and brother: he slept through it all. He just kept on sleeping…all day and I was having to wake him to feed. In fact, when I look back, I realize he was pretty much comatose.

Fortunately, he was not my first child, or he might have died (just remember that when you’re choosing my old age home, Michael!) but I knew something was wrong, so in the middle of the night, we called in our babysitter and did some low-level flying back to the hospital to meet the paediatrician.

He was clearly trying to soothe my postpartum hysteria, as he patiently explained he was going to do a lumbar puncture (spinal tap, for my US readers), but gestured to me that I should wait outside. So, my poor baby had a massive needle inserted 0.5 cm into his back in order to withdraw spinal fluid, and I wasn’t there.

The diagnosis: bacterial meningitis! The funny thing about the types of meningitis is this, the viral kind can’t be cured by drugs (bloody viruses!), but the bacterial kind, while it can be treated with strong antibiotics, it can be fatal, especially for a neonate. Dr Greef’s grave tone informed us that he was ‘pretty sure’ he’d survive, and ‘cautiously optimistic’ there’d be no brain damage. I’d have said, ‘well that’s just swell!’ but the horror was that my tiny baby was suffering from a gargantuan headache caused by inflammation of the meninges, the membranes which protect the brain and spinal cord, so ‘swell’ it was most certainly was, but the irony was too awful to joke about!

Michael was admitted into the neonatal intensive care unit at the clinic and spent the next three weeks there. I spent that time commuting between my children at home, who cried when I left and my newborn in ICU who, when I left did not, because he was so desperately ill. I cried both ways in the car, aware that wherever I was, I was abandoning someone. In fact, if you look at photographs of me at that time, you can barely see my puffy eyes from all the weeping.

One outrageous moment of our time there was the soap opera eGoli‘s casting director asking us to allow him to be used as a prop for an episode. you can guess what my answer was, cheeky thespians! (So sorry, Mikey, you could have been famous.)

When I am think of that little mite, abandoned to an incubator, in an isolation ward each night, I reflect now of how dreadfully lonely and frightening it must be for serious COVID-19 patients, to be attached to machines and surrounded by the starkness of a hospital, and how impossibly sad it is that so many people are dying alone, without their families beside them.

To be fair, the intensive care nursing staff was phenomenal with Baby Michael. I still remember one named Andre, who took it upon himself to call me regularly when he was on duty with running commentaries of how Michael had decorated his incubator, necessitating regular changes, much to Andre’s amusement. I often think of that young man and wish I could thank him again.

We speak a great deal about the courage and dedication of health care workers during this pandemic, and it’s worth pausing to comment on the fact that besides their medical duties, these heroes are deathbed comforters too, as well as motivators and cheerleaders of recovery.

Back in 1997, it was an annus horribilis for us as a family (mind you there was worse to come, if only I had known). We’d been private patients and had not anticipated the need for such expensive, specialist post-natal care. I can remember how upset I felt upon receiving the credit control calls, before we managed to pay off the account. It was made known to us much later, that a similar case had preceded ours, in which the child of an attorney also contracted this hospital bug. His legal team apparently closed down the operating theatre and found the bacterial cause. The clinic settled out of court. We were not so fortunate. (Just as an aside, let me tell you, it is intriguing how the medical profession closes ranks against patients when one asks questions of liability…)

But it didn’t matter. I am eternally grateful that Michael survived, healthy with no lasting damage. When I think of how bland life would be without his droll humour, casting hilarious shade at everyone at the dinner table or his writing talent which entertains millions every day; and let’s not forget he was a fair footballer in his day (having recently retired to semi-sloth at age 23). When we have our midnight chats as the only two night owls in the family, I sometimes reflect on those late nights and how I longed to bring him home, as I pictured his tiny form alone in the hospital.

Of course, when I did finally carry him home triumphantly like Simba in The Lion King, I fed him so much in the next few months that he could have won a baby sumo competition, sporting jowls that would have impressed even Winston Churchill.

Tonight, I pray for COVID-19 patients in their solitary suffering and wish that they will also have an Angel Andre to bring healing to their bodies and spirits, and who will find the time to console their mothers.

Oh, my test was negative btw – I’m too wicked to die just yet.