A Right Royal Fuss

Royal baby pictures: Leaves St Mary's hospital

So there is a new royal baby in England and we can’t get enough of those millisecond long micro-video clips of a solemn British public school lad and his cheerfully waving two-year old sister arriving to visit a tiny baby who, at only a few hours old is the sixth most important celeb in the Uk.

And yet dammit I am a raving republican at heart (not the rabid gun-slinging American type, but ,the Liberté,Égalité et Fraternité type, or, more specifically, the African independence-from-colonial-slavery type).Royal baby boy news

Why am I so drawn to dear Cathy and Bill (can you see them as an alternative to the old Cathy and Mark readers – not as hip as ‘Biff and Chip’ though – but the royal nippers are kind of Cathy and Mark-ish – or ‘Janet and John’, in their dress. We could do a new version of readers called ‘Charlie and George and one could be ‘Charlie and George Visit the hospital’ or ‘George and Charlie have a new brother.’ ‘The Windsors and their Bro’? It could have cool sentences like: This is Charlie. See her wave. This is George. He is a boy. Now he is not the only boy. See George sulk. This is the baby. He is wrinkled.  (Perhaps ‘wrinkled is too difficult for new readers.)

But I digress.

What on earth attracts us to wealthy celebrities (because that’s all the royals are now)? Of course these are folk who are paid for by  the poms’ taxes and not by ‘royalties’ (ha ha interesting word that!) from their own success. There is something in us so perverse that in our ordinariness we so desire their status that we put them on a  pedestal. WE  create the celebrities; WE design the hype around these ‘stars. WE give them their power!

Grown men and women devote their whole adult lives to following other  people around in order to catch them with their telephoto lenses in unguarded moments.  Those brief shots of the princess’s wave will make some paparazzo very rich (Interesting how we never use this word which is the singular of ‘paparazzi’ which originated as a character in a Fellini film, and which the director felt reminded him of an annoying buzzing insect). But seriously?! She is a just a little girl! I have way cuter little poppets  bursting out of my classrooms at school and no one is aiming a  long lens at them (of course I wouldn’t let them, but still) The only reason this mite is famous is that the media (and the publicwho are all gagga over a random family descended from long-ago Germans) have made her so.Image result for paparazzi

Define ‘nobility’, ‘royalty:’ Let’s face it in the past monarchs and ‘the nobles’ were generally just more powerful, wealthier, with good spin doctors who convinced the proletariat Image result for kingsthat they were somehow of greater value. Some even considered themselves anointed by God! If you know your Old Testament you will know that even God did not want the Israelites to have a king (probably because He knew what would happen – and He was right – the very first one, straight out of the blocks, gave himself airs and graces).

For an egalitarian like me, this is anathema. My school’s motto is ‘egalite’ and we stress the fact that we all equal. So why oh why am I drawn to a Sloane family in a far-off rainy island?! He’s balding and toothy but I guess she’s a lovely clothes horse and I like the glamour. Is that it? We want to see that someone has what we want so we can believe it’s possible?

Psychologists have studied the celebrity phenomenon and even posited that  it’s a form of terror management in that we are so afraid of death that we will adore celebrities who seem bigger than life and sparkly and so we feel better about ourselves and the fact that we shall one day  meet that guy in the big hoodie with the kick-ass blade. And because, famous people seem to have transcended the mortal realm somehow, the idea that we shall shuffle off this mortal coil either recedes or seems less bothersome.

Psychologists! Gotta love ’em! Mind you, one study at the U of Arizona suggests that people become more positive about celebs after a brush with death so perhaps there is some truth in this.

What’s particularly amusing is the amount of money wasted at the bookies betting first on the gender of the royal baby and then its name/s. Not me!  Prince Biff or the Duke of Chip would be fine with me.  It’s just Cathy and Bill’s kid after all! I wonder if they also had elderly aunts pointing out that ‘Arthur is not a saint’s name, you know’ or ‘You can’t call him Louis: that’s too French?! ‘

Image result for royal sayings

Ah well! when all is said and done, perhaps I am merely jealous. And I’m glad I don’t have to bow to anyone ever.

Now whose house are we watching the Royal Wedding at next month?

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Pack up your troubles

Image result for labrador with head out of the window

Nellie our almost-Labrador is a bit of a bangbroek when we walk her on the beach. Starting with the short trip in the car,  she is overly hesitant and needs a backseat minder to prevent her from leaping out. She immediately goes into submissive mode if a dog is even remotely scary, as if anticipating future trouble. Yet on the ride home, tongue lolling out of her mouth she happily drools all over the seat.

Sunday morning walks do that for us too: we set out tired and stressed from the work week and return home soul-fueled for the days ahead; troubles, if not forgotten, are seemingly more manageable.

My 81 year-old aunt who still manages the office of a busy law firm, always tells us not to ‘borrow tomorrow’s troubles’ and she makes a good point about anxiety which I have taken to heart over the years.  I often took beach walks with all 5 children in the early days of being a single parent. Mainly because it was free, but sea air seems to soothe hurts and even betrayal. (And a cheap ice cream satisfies even the most restless of lads).

My little kit bag of daily worries has felt quite heavy enough generally so as not to give me time to anguish over the future, however there have been those desperate moments when the present turmoil  stretches out seemingly interminably into the distance, and one wonders when it will never end ; like trying to soothe a colicky baby; like waiting for the final whistle of your son’s hockey match when you are so cold you can’t feel your toes anymore and the south-easter has penetrated every layer of bulky clothing you have on; like wondering how to make a few rands last until payday. Like waiting for child support payments that never come …

The thing about borrowing troubles is that they may never happen. I once applied for a head’s post which I wasn’t really sure I wanted, but which I felt I ought to apply for because my skill set was sorely needed and I agonised for a whole weekend about what I would do if I were offered it. Of course I didn’t get it, but what I did get was a clearer idea of what I did want and what I do love so it wasn’t an entirely wasted angst; yet the interest on my borrowed troubles wasn’t really necessary.

And there are all those times we google our symptoms (big mistake) and are convinced that we are in the grips of some rare, but always fatal condition. (I have imagined myself  about to die from brain tumours, various latent cancers, twisted intestines, imminent heart attacks, dangerous abdominal conditions and shattered bones, only to have a mundane ailment diagnosed upon visiting le docteur …

Take the current water crisis in the Cape, when Day Zero seemed imminent: normally sedate matrons were filmed trampling one another when water deliveries arrived. We all began stockpiling water and worried that we weren’t storing enough. Then, out of the blue, the crisis evaporated (pardon the pun) and we are left drowning (sorry can’t stop with the ironic puns) in plastic 5l bottles. Now we are fretting about plastic waste …

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting we do not take steps to avoid conserving water and living as eco-warriors; we should just beware of being eco-worriers.

Then there is crime. I refuse to live my life in fear of attack at every moment. Sure, I take precautions; I drive defensively (‘It’s not you it’s the other idiots on the road,’ my dad used to say); I am alert, but I refuse to allow criminals to win by constantly living in fear. I am fortunate though to live in a fairly safe street, so I suppose I am speaking from a position of privilege.

What do folk tend to worry about? In general, financial fears, concerns about health and relationships are common, although a quick poll of my own offspring added things like death and the pointlessness of life (always one nihilist among us), failure, going blind, double hand amputation (dramatic artist in the house) and never finding real love.

There is an interesting monthly online poll, which tracks national fears around the globe. In three years South Africans’ have remained fairly constant in their brooding.  This year these were the recorded concerns of South Africans (with access to the internet)

Top five South African issues

  1. Financial/Political Corruption (68%)
  2. Crime & Violence (63%)
  3. Unemployment (55%)
  4. Poverty/Social Inequality (29%)
  5. Education (27%)

These are not that different from the worries of 2015:

  1.        Crime (79%)
  2.        Lack of employment (79%)
  3.        Government corruption (78%)
  4.        Energy Shortages (72%)
  5.        Poor quality schools (61%)

(Statisticians don’t panic, I know the percentages don’t add up – these are percentages of people who mentioned these things. )

So we are grappling as a nation with pretty fundamental concerns. And these are constantly with us, creating huge burdens on our sub-conscious and implicitly affecting the country’s zeitgeist. And let’s face it, these are not worries a brisk walk and ball-throwing with the pooch can cure. They are the cause of things like road rage, family murders, suicides, domestic violence and gangsterism.

And there are those days when that last straw just tips us over into profound desperation. I remember in my own life, having dealt with all 5 children, including myself, being beset by a particular virulent gastro bug which resulted in my standing stuffing sheets into the washing machine at midnight, only to have the washing machine go on the blink. I have a distinct memory of standing there in untold despair and angrily raising my arms in the air, shouting at the Creator in my moment of doubt, ‘Where are you?!’ Do you really exist?!’

At that moment, my phone rang and a close friend of mine, Bernadette, was on the line, saying she had been thinking of me and wondering how I was doing. That care banished my sense of hopelessness and feeling of being alone in the world … and I haven’t ever raise my voice in anger to the Lord again. I wouldn’t dare.

Three years ago I was suffering enormously in a position which became more toxic every day, yet like the proverbial frog in boiling water I didn’t realise it until I was ‘retrenched’ quite out of the blue. Despite the enormous shock of it all and the incredible hurt, and anger, and a deep sense of betrayal, I didn’t cry much, even though, since I was three days post my fiftieth birthday, there was immense dread of the future looming with no job ‘at my age’, I think I was carried on the wings of angels and eventually was offered a hugely challenging and immensely rewarding position as leader of a massive school with a definite mission.

So how do we combat this weight of societal ills that permeates our lives? I don’t want to seem frivolous, but despite all the worry, 3 years down the line, the same issues are still there. So either we accept them as constants, try to change them in every way we can: with our vote; with our outreach; with our sweat at the coal face of life, OR when all is said and done, take the mutt out for a walk, put your faith in the God of your understanding and remember if you go in your daughter’s car you don’t have to wipe up the drool when you get home!

Image result for labrador running on the beach cartoon

High Heels

The doctor told me to wear flat shoes. Then she added that the orthotics recommended would only work in tackies or men’s shoes.

I gasped in horror.Related image

I mean sure, the ball of my left foot is agonisingly painful: a combination of having two digits longer than my ‘big’ toe and (and here’s the crunch – quite literally) wearing heels. Now the former condition proved quite successful in my ballet days – I always joked that being able to stand on three toes meant I was better ‘earthed’ than other dancers. (Having thighs better suited to sprinting, than leaping into the arms of fragile male dancers also contributed to my low centre of gravity, but that’s a whole other story); and I subscribe to the Coco Chanel school of beauty which requires one to keep one’s heels, head and standards high.  So how was I going to cope?

Now, unlike Victoria Beckham (or was it Theresa May?) who laments the ability to concentrate without heels, I can of course think in flats, but being a person of somewhat abridged height, I find heels give me that little bit of flair and ensure that  I feel invincible: as Shakepeare put it, ‘Though she be but little she is fierce’ and a little extra height makes me Dragon Woman.  And yeah yeah Daenerys goes kaalvoet, but we mere mortals need more of a boost.  Let’s face it, people walk differently in heels: I’m not speaking about teenagers teetering pigeon-toed in 10 cm heels like drunken storks. (One must practise, darlings!) I’m talking about that kick-ass class that only a woman in strappy sandals radiates. Manolo Blahnik says a woman in high heels ‘sways to a different tempo’ – well of course he would – he wants us to haul out our bloated credit cards and indulge in more extravagance … and we do so happily.

Mind you, I confess an elderly, fellow English teacher once called me into his class and, pointing at my shoes, declared witheringly, ‘Those are stilettos.’ Then he showed me the door – so his students grasped both what he meant and his opinion of the wearer … so I suppose you would be correct in assuming I probably deserve to have sore feet in my fifties. But like Ginger Rogers I do everything in high heels.

Image result for ginger rogers did everything fred astaire did backwards and in high heels

My husband and I visited Europe two years ago and if you’ve walked the streets of Paris and traversed the subways, you will know that such tourism is a bit of a route march. I strode those ways in heeled boots in the wake of my 6-ft-1 husband’s long strides. Sadly, my footwear purchased from Chez Chinese back in RSA, couldn’t keep up and I shed a heel during one of our ambles so I spent an amusing hour in a random bland Slovenian mall, trying on shoes. And bought a gorgeous pair of heeled boots again. I know – clearly I don’t learn. But I looked fabulous in the photographs.

On reflection, however, that extravagant flouting of sensible tourist garb may have led to my present orthopedic  problems. And I suppose striding across the acres of airport terminals on business trips in my tres elegant corporate attire, not to mention years of teaching in heels have given me Shrek-feet …

So I determined to wear flats and pumps to school because, damnit the power of my personality could handle it! I submitted my flouncing fashion to practicality and went for (heaven-forbid) the ‘sensible’ shoe. I’m embarrassed to say that Green Cross was mentioned more than Aldo. And within a week I was depressed as well as sore.

Now I have returned to my ‘suffer for beauty’ ways, not because I want to be beautiful so much as I need the lift – literally. I had shloomfed around in my pretty flat sandals like an old vrou in house slippers. I know that my authority and drive do not come from what is encompassing my odd shaped tootsies, but hell I hated being lowly. So today I wore my high heels (they’re only 2″) and the world was … well … at my feet.

When I am old and really crippled I’ll buy an elegant cane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Believe or Belieb? That is the Question

Image result for justin bieber and christianity

Image from faithit.com

This may well have been the most unpopular assembly address I made a few years ago when the Biebs was here before, but I have never shied away from speaking my mind on important matters and as a teacher, a principal in charge (now) of  153 staff members, a mother of 5 blood children, 2 step-children and nearly 1700 learners I am responsible for, I am used to being unpopular:

“Contrary to some of your assumptions based on the title of this speech, I bear Justin Bieber no ill will and despite cringing at some of his inane utterances like ‘I want my world to be fun. No parents. No rules.  No nothing. Like no one can stop me. No one can stop me.’

And: ‘Ann Frank was a great girl. I hope she would have been a Belieber.’ Besides the fact that he’s not quite my cup of tea, I think he’s cute. Not sexy cute; sweet cute. Although I must say I dare anyone to say we had big hair in the eighties…

But your parents have entrusted you all to this school and we have promised them that we shall provide you all with a values-based education. The values we teach are based on Jesus’ life and teachings. This week’s Bieber Concert has raised some issues that I cannot remain quiet about and still claim to be the leader of a faith-based school.

So what did I have a problem with? Here are 10 things that worried me:

  1. Why did people feel the need to leave school early? Or bunk a whole day? Fans who queued all night told reporters it was to be the first to see him; to be the closest to the stage; to have what no one else had. Yet Jesus teaches us ’the first shall be last; the last shall be first.’ Our faith teaches us to stand back generously for others; not to be the first through an intersection or at the front of a queue, not to demand the gratification of our own desires.

Contrary to what many of you were grumbling about, we had no desire to deprive you of the joy of the concert – it was only due to start at 8 o’clock however. It worries me that scrambling for places suggests a need to trample on others or need to get there first to get what you want – that is contrary to Christ’s teachings. It was fitting therefore that Ashley gave a Golden Circle ticket to someone who made the effort to be at school. She ended up with a better ticket than many. Good things really do come to those who wait. Patience really is a virtue.

  1. I know some of you planned long in advance for this concert and many took on odd jobs to save up for it. That is good. And I am glad that you have had the opportunity to enjoy the spectacle of someone you admire. It worries me however that often we only work so hard for ourselves. Jesus said: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Will you work so hard to benefit someone else? Do you love other people enough to work for months on end in order that someone else may benefit? Matric students are encouraged to donate evening wear to the poor after their dance so that their fun benefits someone else too – that is this school’s way. Ashley’s devotion on Wednesday also points to this principle – could you have given up your ticket to give joy to someone else? Jesus gave up His life for you. # just saying
  2. Reporters commented on how diehard Bieber fans braved the rain in the morning and John Maythem on Cape Talk commented in Afrikaans that a good caption for his photo would be: Beliebers bibber in die koue. Jesus speaks of giving our life for others. Would we stand in the rain to feed the homeless or protest abortion or speak out against human trafficking or child soldiers. Would we stand in the rain to worship if our churches had no buildings? No one wants to pray at lines when it rains.

# justsaying.

  1. Idolatry is a sin according to the Ten Commandments. Folk are quick to point out to Catholics their distaste for the statues that abound in our schools and churches, suggesting that we worship Mary and idols. We do not of course – statues and pictures of the Sacred Heart or Divine Mercy are mere reminders of Our Lady’s good example and the glory of Christ’s life, much like photos are reminders of those we love. But think about shows such as ‘Idols’ whose very name points to how we treat celebrities like The Biebs who become more than just heroes, but figures of obsession. When our behavior becomes extreme, we should be worried. When we disengage our brains and blindly follow our heroes, we should be worried. ‘Derek Watts’, a satirical journalist interviewed Beliebers outside the stadium: when asked if they thought whether Justin Bieber was a tool for change in society, they squealed, ‘Yes, yes.’ When asked whether they thought he was an ‘absolute tool,’ they again bleated ‘Yes, yes.’

#just saying.

 

Do we hang on every word of the Bible and sing worship hymns with as much gusto as we sing ‘Baby, Baby, Baby,’ or ‘As long as you love me’? Not in this hall we don’t. That worries me.

  1. I worry about the sexism inherent in teenyboppers and groupies. It is a fact that most Bieber fans are girls as have been fans of most popstars over the years. In your grandparents era female fans were throwing their knickers at the stage when Elvis Presley and later on the Beatles took to the stage; in fact they reckon that Frank Sinatra was the first such idol – all these men seem to have the same packaged popularity: safe sexuality; easy songs to sing along to and a dream-like allure. Why do boys not throw themselves at the stage of female stars in the same way too? Perhaps because men do not see themselves as needing to be completed only by a fantasy person? They are happy to be themselves. We women should consider that? All people should crave the love of God alone to complete them.
  2. I was annoyed and it took me a whole Tempo bar to unannoy myself that despite the ruling that no one would be given permission to be off school on Wednesday, given verbally to you in lines and in writing in my newsletter to your parents and you, if you read it on the noticeboard, many of you bunked, ignored my instruction or had your parents send me notes/calls instructing me to release you for the day. Let me make it clear that neither your parents nor even I have the right to give you permission to be off school. Only the Minister of Education may do so by law. And just because you may get away with the law, does not mean it is ok morally to break the law. Laws are there to benefit society. If you miss school for reasons other than illness or a death in the family, you are breaking the law. Schooling is compulsory. The minister’s representatives in the Department of Education made it clear that Wednesday was a school day.  Added to that even though you are students at an independent school, you are required to adhere to the College Code of Conduct. That includes obeying instructions of the principal. Why would you think that you were exempt? We live in a society though that seems to think that the laws apply to everyone else, but not to me. We are angered by taxis which ride on the pavement, but gleefully break the speed limit ourselves when we are late. Dagga is illegal, but if you think it’s not dangerous it should be ok; night clubs and movies have age limits, but ‘really, the bouncers should stop all those other young people.’

There is an inherent self-centredness in this. I wasted over an hour of my professional time dealing with those who believed they were exempt from the rules. I was then faced with trying to deal justly with those who quite correctly felt aggrieved that some simply bunked or came at the last minute with notes from their parents, when they had obeyed the rule. Strictly speaking, all who disobeyed the ruling should spend those hours in detention Will I do that? Not this time, but most definitely in the future. But of course since this ‘once in a lifetime experience’ has happened – there will be no need to do it again. No absentee note will however have resulted in a demerit. That’s the rule. It’s how we keep note of attendance. And if you have missed a test, oral or task deadline, no opportunities will be given to make these up. There are always consequences to one’s choices. Do not even think of asking my teachers to give up their free time to teach you work you missed. When Jesus was asked whether the Jews should pay taxes to an occupying power, he told his disciples to ‘render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar.’ This teaches us that civil laws must be obeyed.  None of us is exempt.

  1. I worry also about the damage we do to young people who give themselves over to the Big Business that is the music industry. One only has to look at damaged child stars like Michael Jackson, Brittney Spears, Drew Barrymore and Macauley Caulkin, and megastars like Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse, River Phoenix and Whitney Houston to see that the media industries do not care about the person of the star. What damage is done to young people who are treated like gods? It is our adoration that does this to them. Even too much love and attention can be bad. How can a nineteen year old survive intact? Already Justin Bieber is showing signs of the arrogance (look at the time he started – an hour late is rude) and possible substance abuse that comes from the adulation of millions – how would you react if 35 million people wanted to follow you on Twitter, yet it’s not the real you they know? If Justin Bieber caves to a celebrity syndrome of self-destruction, his fans will be partly responsible. Jesus said: ‘I am my brother’s keeper.’ We are required by our faith to look after each other. His mother has tried really hard to keep him real with chores etc, but she is no match for the showbiz machine. Agents, like Scooter Braun who discovered Justin Bieber on Youtube when he was 14, care far more about how much the star is worth to them than about their emotional stability or eternal souls.
  2. It worries me that the wholesale avoidance of school, to be over 12 hours early for a pop concert shows a casual disregard of the value of your education and the teachers and authorities who administer it. It may annoy you to be reminded of the relative suffering of others, but I wonder if you would be so careless about school if you understood how truly privileged you are to attend a school like this. No under-qualified teachers who take off when they feel like it, no over-crowded classrooms or violence in the playground. Just last week in Heideveld a Grade 9 student was stabbed by a group of other girls with a pair of scissors.

Your parents would definitely have objected if the staff members attending Bon Jovi on Tuesday night had left early to catch a glimpse of Jon Bon Jovi. I would have been inundated with complaints that their children were losing out on their education. Why is it different if you choose to be absent? Saying that you pay school fees, so you can choose to go without a day of school shows an arrogance and foolishness that no student of this school should have. Wisdom is so respected in the Bible that there is an entire book dedicated to it. Why would you waste the time of those dedicated to impart wisdom to you; why would you disrespect that? In the seventies and eighties students ‘bunked’ school to protest injustice and bring about change in society, not to be early for a concert.

  1. The Bieber Fever reminded me of how superficial some of our heroes really are. Last week there were complaints about celebrating the life of a man like Edmund Rice in a mass; yet we glorify Lady Gagga and Madonna, who dedicate themselves to anti-social and sometimes immoral ways. In the same year that Diana, Princess of Wales died so tragically, Mother Teresa also passed away. Yet the passing of the woman who alleviated so much suffering and made the world a better place paled in comparison to the death of the media idol of a princess. Please do not get me wrong – I am not condemning celebrities, but am saying that we treat them so differently from those whose lives have so much more gravitas. Shouldn’t all people be equally important and shouldn’t we recognize those who make the world a better place. How many of you would have queued for hours to meet Madiba or be in the Dalai Lama’s presence? Do we only want to be around those who entertain us? Our faith should teach us that a meaningful life is more important than the frivolity of fun alone.
  2. Some of you were outraged that you were not given permission to have the day off before the concert; yet fail to be outraged at moral injustices in our country. This was brought home to me when I heard someone complaining that the MyCiti buses were not running and that this would affect transport to the concert. The bus strike meant nothing until we were affected. Did you know that hundreds of domestic workers in this area alone travel from Khayalitsha daily to clean our houses. They now have to spend nearly half of their income or more paying for taxis (R20 each way) Did you know that the bus drivers on strike are complaining that their take-home pay is less than R2000 per month? What did you spend on your ticket to the concert? A girl I heard being interviewed on the news spent R4500 on a room at the ‘One and Only’ Hotel to be close to ‘The Biebs’ and then R6000 to meet him. Whew! How many bus drivers’ families could have eaten off that? What about protesting conditions in Cape Flats schools for a day? Or is that not important enough to risk the consequences of bunking?

# justsaying.

 

No one is saying that we should not enjoy ourselves, but we should be aware of the relative value we place on things in life. And that there are really important issues that face society. For example did you know that the amount of money needed to feed everyone on Earth for a year is spent every 8 days on the world’s military. Would you buy food for the poor with the cost of your ticket, or donate it to the class charity?

# justsaying.

We criticize the Guptas and deplore the R40 million spent on a recent wedding in Sun City, but are we thinking carefully about the morality of how we spend our money?

Remember the story of the widow’s mite in the gospels? That woman gave all she had to the temple collection.  Do we give even some of what we have?

So I must disagree with Justin in this: Life should not be about fun alone; parents and those in authority like your parents here at school are important; rules do exist – for a reason, even if you do not agree with them, you are obliged to obey them. ‘No nothing’ actually suggests that there should be matters of substance upon which we place importance. Wanting to have no boundaries is not true freedom. In fact true love requires that we prevent those we care about from losing themselves in limitless abandon.

If you are sitting here rolling your eyes and thinking how lame your principal is, you have missed the point of this address.

If you think I hate Justin Bieber and want to criticize him, you have missed the point.

If you think I am trying to guilt-trip you, (ok I’m a Catholic mother so perhaps there is a slight element of truth in that), but if you think that’s all it’s about, you have missed the point.

If you think I am still angry with you or condemning you, you have missed the point.

If you think I don’t understand what it is like to be young and crazy about someone, you have missed the point (To be honest I confess I gave John Travolta’s poster a kiss every night when I was 14. Another teacher who ‘cannot be named’ admits to going gagga over Cliff Richard).

If you think I am just an old killjoy trying to put a dampener on what was for many of you a fabulous evening, you have missed the point.

If you are sitting there complacently thinking this does not apply to you because you’re not a Bieber fan or didn’t attend the concert, you have really missed the point.

My point is we must think carefully about what our choices say about us. There is a saying which states that we should choose wisely because our choices become our actions; our actions become our habits and our habits become our character.

I would be a very poor mother of this school if I did not speak out about character. Because it is people of character and principles who make a difference in this world. I want you to be people of such character. And true happiness comes from God. I want you to have that real, deep, soul happiness.

I shall risk unpopularity to guide you to God.”

Writer’s Block

Rowling wrote the opening of the Harry Potter Books on a serviette in a coffee shop. So. I’m in a coffee shop. But there are no serviettes; my coffee is finished and there are no book ideas. People keep saying I should write a book, but I am ashamed to say that I keep being distracted by people-watching.

I should be beginning a saga about the triumph of endeavour and the resilience of the human spirit. Instead, I am amusing myself by gleefully reminding myself that that toddler clunking his toy cars on the table like Roger Taylor and screaming fit to bust is not mine.  Aaaand… oops… he is so desperate to get Mom’s attention (while she discreetly breastfeeds the next in the line of future teachers’ nightmares) that he is threatening to paddle in the water feature.  I catch the eye of a new mom, gracefully sipping her latte while engaged in dignified conversation with the older, elegant version of herself and we share an amused look. What she doesn’t realise is that I am also thinking, ‘ hee hee – that will be you in two years, chick.’

It’s a motley crew that surrounds me at the neighbouring tables: the man next to me has an eye patch and his female companion, nice and comfy in her ugly scuffed Uggs is patiently listening to his bluster. A pregnant mom battles up the adjacent stairs with a somnolent pre-schooler in her arms, who wakes up halfway and wails (more schadenfreude for the old cow at my table). How I remember those days of schlepping ‘sleeping kids (and/or large bags of dogfood in shops) around!

Outside the picture window a gardener diligently weeds the island circle and my thoughts digress to his life off the job. Did he walk all this way to work from Dunoon? What struggles has he overcome and how is this menial labour covering all his needs? An old man shuffles past, supported on both sides by two young women, presumably his grand-daughters. Both are laughing uproariously at something he has said, heads thrown back, delighted in his company, despite his slow progress.

I chuckle at the awkwardness of a succession of men carrying wives’ handbags which dangle unnaturally from their arms, as they attempt to come to terms with this perceived ‘unmanly’ contraption. (One looks quite heavy too). A man hops out the entrance to stand waiting for a lift at the entrance rotunda, clearly unused to the crutches perched painfully beneath his arms.

Then it strikes me that I am witnessing precisely what I was guiltily trying to contemplate: Here, from my booth in the hospital cafetaria, I am watching people survive adversity and conquer their personal demons  simply  by living.

Whether it is family, like the old man, dogged stoicism, like the gardener, companionship or Prozac (what Dennis the Menace’s mom is dreaming of), or even the faith supported by benign and innocuous ministers of religion like the one I saw clutching his bible as he strode off to visit the sick, something drives each of us to overcome life’s difficulties.

It’s certainly not the crappy abstract art that some painter has prostituted his talent to produce  for the clinic’s walls!

 

 

 

Grocery Shopping in the RSA

Did you know that the inflation rate on food in South Africa stands at 12.5% for the third quarter of 2016 and that is not factoring in the inflation of an additional 5% per growing (and therefore gobbling more) child permanently resident in our household. (I dare not say which one is not growing further for fear of reprisals.)

So grocery shopping is not fun anymore, if it ever was. I suffer from terrible trolley envy when I stand in queues, wandering how that man in the mesh vest behind me can afford the box of prawns and all that tinned coconut milk, or the aging prune in front can even begin to pay for 2 ply toilet paper and lamb, not to mention my veritable outrage that someone else won the free shopping spree at Spar, when I deserve it more!

When the munchkins were small, shopping was even more of a mission and they each had their ‘positions’ in, on or around the trolley. I’d bribe them to behave by buying the cheapest biscuits I could find and I’d do our weekly shop of R500 for all 6 of us (and that was including nappies). Now of course that’s what it costs every second day in the supermarket, but in those days I could feed us all on a tin of baked beans, a chunk of cheese and half a loaf of bread (well everyone except Michael who used to flick his beans on top of the kitchen cupboards when no one was looking. It’s no wonder the kid had hypoglycaemic issues.)

My beloved gannets eat well when we are poorest though and they all know that when it’s Woolworths food then Mom is down to her last few shekels. The problem with buying where the beautiful people shop though is that it is just iniquitous to spend so much on ordinary items like mince and cheese.  Mind you, the price of dairy products has reached stratospheric heights. I am seriously considering hooking Maggie’s tail up to a churner so we can make our own butter (after all Dr Tim says butter is all good now) and I’m sure there are enough germs around the old homestead to ferment our own cheese and let’s face it, the foul language that flies around here at times is certainly enough to turn the milk.

Eggs also seem to be costing the earth these days, but I draw the line at keeping chickens in the yard. Besides, Maggie’s Labrador innocence deserts her in the face of feathered wings and she has been known to brutalise a pigeon or two over the years with frighteningly savage precision.

Then there are avocados: now have you EVER been able to find three ripe ones out of a pile of the green rocks they usually offer without having to donate a kidney for the ones in the fridge which are specially ripened? And those ones are always black. I wonder if they cook ‘em a little to soften them – it would explain their crispy skins too? We have discovered to our great joy that we have an avocado tree in our garden which from time to time drops mango-sized scrumptious avos onto the lawn like …well…avo from heaven. So this earth mother thing may well work.

Now shopping for my husband’s favourite delicacies is an exercise in Russian-English translation because he insists on scrawling unintelligible items on the shopping list. What, pray tell, may ‘spinyhjatyi’ and ‘tuhmatyi souz’ be? And ‘buzzy’ water? Trust me at 6pm on a week night I have no sense of humour and even less desire to be a UN translator.  What are ‘tjops’ or ‘Barbie Q Spices’? I do not care to purchase ‘limmon wyatr’ or ‘lzzaneya shits,’ never mind that this has all played havoc with ability of the children in the house to spell correctly, not to mention contributing to the vulgar language use.

And when I get to the till and the burly chap who is built like a side of beef himself has selected enough racks of pork ribs to fill an entire sty also wants to pay for his telephone bill and his City of Cape Town Services accounts for the last three months when he was vegging in front of the rugby instead of paying his dues., my temper graduates to DEFCON 2 readiness. Then the sweet cashier politely asks whether I am collecting ‘the stickers/ other random Stikeez (more Slavic giveaways) supermarkets throw at unsuspecting shoppers with kids. Did you know that as we speak, Checkers is generously throwing in doll-size plastic groceries for every R150 you spend? Seriously?! (I wonder if they have Barbie Q spice)

‘Hell no,’ I say, even though the delightful Gabriella, Michael’s girlfriend, is collecting the said stickers (why, I didn’t ask!). I want the points on my loyalty card – for when the Woolworths card is full.

And when you pay they ask you if your card is for a cheque or savings account. More like ‘check out or spendings.’ Who can save anymore?!

Andrew says we should shop online to save money, but where’s the fun in that?

Who is the Favourite Child? All is revealed:

Sibling rivalry is alive and well in all households, mine included and I am often pressed to say which child is the favourite – no mean feat when there are seven to choose from. I am constantly bombarded by bragging and begging: all insisting on being the chosen one.

That’s why over the years I have resorted to saying that the angel who brings me tea/ chocolate/ the washing off the line and other requirements of the good life is the favourite. The current favourite is actually not even family – a young man, a first-time visitor to our home and one of Shannon’s friends, who arrived bearing chocolate biscuits for her maman. (That is a clever ploy of mine to avoid crowning any of my own offspring as The One – other people’s children have the additional benefit of also going home to other homes.)

Needless to say my chicks will read this article and declare some hidden message in it as proof that I am cryptically pointing to their being the selected heir to my heart. Of course they have also complained over the years that I have loved my students more than my flesh and blood so they are not always coherent in their utterings.

They love to goad each other about who is the beloved: when I announced during last night’s family hour in the lounge after supper, while we all snuggled under blankets to watch a movie that I was writing about this topic, and Liam declared that as the baby of the family he was definitely ‘It’ – even though he looked more like Gangsta ET in his beanie and hoodie – quick as a flash, Michael retorted that that was impossible, because Liam was the only one without a blanket. Poor thing – he didn’t, but borrowed his brother’s jacket in revenge (which only enhanced the ET look and did nothing to prove or disprove the assertion of being the favourite child.) Then again Michael’s view is that there is no favourite child because I dislike them all equally.

What they have all failed to realise is the truth that my mother taught me when I was pregnant with my second baby and was terrified that I wouldn’t love her as much as my first: you do not divide love – it multiplies.

You certainly divide time and I did find it a bit hectic trying to divide five munchkins into two hands when shopping or crossing a road. But love spreads and curls its tendrils around all of us, growing new and precious relationships among the siblings, bonds we as parents are not a part of and yet are proud of.

I have unique connections with each profoundly different child in the house:

First there is Sean, my ‘eldest and dearest’ as the saying goes? He has the edge he believes because he has been around the longest and because he received more new-baby-in-the-house Lego toys over the years. He is a remarkable young man, truly gifted creatively. He has taught me how wonderful it is to be surpassed by your children’s talents and I step back in awe of his paintings and his writing. His singing voice is pure and brings tears to my eyes when I hear his tenor (and falsetto) covers (mostly when he is in the shower because he is intensely humble). I missed his presence during the years he was at Rhodes and am aware that, having just got him back, we have only six more months before he leaves permanently to make his own way in the world. When we have the time, it is great to unpack ideas and form in books we have both read. Of course he irritates the hell out of me when he tries to debate my household rules and his patronising ‘Mother!’ is annoying at best of times. He has redeemed himself of late by falling in love with a strong young woman whose serenity and gentleness draw him out of his shell and who has returned him to us from his wanderlust of recent years.

Bachelorette Number Two is Caitlin. I knew the day she dressed for Nursery School in cerise tights, ‘cluck shoes’ and a red pinafore over her purple sweater that I was in trouble. To understand my second child you have to appreciate the military concept of 2IC/ Officer of the deck. You know, the one who repeats the instructions of the captain (me) for the other scurvy swabs. Even as a seven year old, she would take up the orders and pass them on to the laggards. Nowadays she doesn’t wait for me even and dishes out instructions on her own (and I notice they scurry around too.) Caitlin is my right hand (and my left), my conscience and my inspiration. She has a stupendous work ethic and is super smart, but what makes me most proud is the beauty of her spirit and the energy that she puts into relationships. She makes me want to be a better person. She also knows what I am thinking because we are so close, which can be fun when in company she lifts one elegant eyebrow at a remark from someone that I am deliberately biting my tongue from responding to, but sometimes I’d rather she didn’t because sometimes she disapproves and no one wants to have Caitlin not be impressed…It’s nice to know though that someone ‘gets you’ and she certainly does.

My King in the middle is Michael. Now Michael and I have spent a lot of alone time together having middle-of-the-night DMC’s, but much of our contact time has been on the way to his beloved football matches and a good deal of it on the way to hospital – not from soccer injuries but various serious and often life-threatening conditions. Michael started out life with bacterial meningitis (yes – nice bugs you can find in the Sandton Clinic) and nearly didn’t survive. Then he developed a childhood form of hypoglycaemia (unconnected to the meningitis), which required me to frog-march him semi-awake nightly to the lounge to feed him digestive biscuits and then return him (to the top bunk – and he was a solid little blighter) to bed so he wouldn’t go into a coma in his sleep. There is nothing that makes one resort to bargaining with God like seeing one’s son unconscious and unresponsive in the emergency unit. But there is something of the stubborn Irish in this one which has served him well and he has flourished into manhood, strong and swift; he plays football like a poet in studs (and me like the violin!) He avoids doing dishes and other chores like a shyster and at 19 is making money off his football blog. #Mom’sRetirementFund.

The elder of my heart children is Lizzy. Musically brilliant like her father, she has been a best friend to her crazy step-sister since they were about four and apparently when Andrew and I married it was really about Elizabeth and Shannon becoming sisters. She is outwardly a serene, ladylike young woman until she steps into the house and the homecoming screeches can be heard all the way to the beach. Her zany sense of humour and willingness to make me cups of tea endear her to her wicked step-mother. When she puts the oboe to her lips it turns our lounge into a gala event at the City Hall. The fact that her accompanist is rather sexy endears her to me even more. She gives great hugs and appreciates Mom-stuff with a cheeky grin, mocking my tissue-up-the-sleeve and elderly tendencies. Mercurial and melodramatic, yet scholarly and disciplined, there is hole when she is not here.

Then there is Shannon. She told us as a five year old, redheaded ragamuffin that she came from the Planet Nil and has steadfastly declined definition by anything but her own quirky rules since. She is a gifted artist and actress, having the dramatic ability to wring tears out of even my jaded eyes and have one laughing uproariously in the next moment. She brings out the child in me and is the offspring of choice to drive through puddles with; loudly (as if I can do anything quietly) enact the Naughty Noddy Song with and avoid all forms of exercise with. Just yesterday we escaped the attacking alien mass of foam scum at the beach, racing away laughing hysterically (in the car of course – we don’t run). Every Friday she selflessly spends hours making pizza from scratch, although her sibs say she is masterful in the manner in which she solicits help from them AND avoids doing dishes. She is the only one who can get my sister, Brigid, to do anything she (Shannon) wants and yet she is immovable on her own agenda. Despite her own strongly held (Amazonianly strong) views, she is a deep thinker and extraordinarily mature for 16. So long as she does not call me ‘cute,’ I love her very much.

My second heart child is my godson, Mika, whom I have cherished since he first snuggled into my lap as a two-year old. He prefers to keep folk (and me) at arm’s length, assuming a strong, but silent presence. His outwardly cynical view on life belies his inner sweetness. One only has to see his tolerance of his elderly and infirm grandmother to recognise a teenager with character. Mika is a whizz kid on the computer, which explains the drain on the internet when he is in residence, sequestered behind his screen and protected from us plebeians by his earphones. Mika is the living proof that Michael Moore got it wrong in Supersize Me because he is able to survive on a diet of Mickey D’s and chocolate, which he alternates with crisps and McFlurries. He is a master of note at avoiding making his bed and has perfected passive resistance when it comes to tidying up. Teenage girls are swooning over his tall, dark and deceptively distant persona.

Liam was born in my thirty-ninth year, to an adoring clan of older siblings. His nanny named him Syamthanda* and we did (do still mostly). He was an easy, affable baby who was an obliging doll for the girls and an easy patsy for the boys’ shenanigans. He was an annoying twelve year (for about three years) but generally he is turning into a decent human being. He is majoring in hockey in high school and as captain and goalkeeper he makes for a rather vocal, well-padded Stormtrooper. He has no fear, but I suppose being bottom of the heap will do that to you. Despite his annoying habit of proclaiming expertise in things he has never heard of, he has a compassionate heart and has managed to charm all he met at his new school, even if his relatives are at times bemused by his antics. He will make an excellent talk show host or politician (if he can learn to resist inserting ‘like into very second word in his sentences.) It is encouraging to hear him being polite to adults when he is not aware I am there.

So which one do you think it is?

Sorry to disappoint – the answer is obvious: there is no favourite – my mom was right- they are all my favourites – all for different reasons. The trick is in making them each believe it is them. Then they grow up confident and secure. And I get more tea.

 

*We love him (isiXhosa)