Order in The Disorder

Image result for Jane Seymour Hairspray

There is a can of Wonder Set Hairspray on my dining room table. Of course there is also an abandoned artwork with accoutrements (Sean having realised he’d better mark his 80 First Year tuttlings’ essays.); a Lego spaceship which Liam uses to imagine his fantasy game and Andrew’s music books and car keys (The latter will be sought frantically when he wants to leave.); not to mention assorted mail, uncollected laundry (I don’t deliver), shopping lists (directed at moi) and a derelict coffee cup. The mess explains why we have recently taken to eating at the kitchen counter and not at the designated expensive Coricraft dinner table anymore.

But it is this royal blue aerosol can which captures my attention. You’d understand the anomaly it represents if you knew my children: Three of them have been gifted with the Celtic splendour of rich, curly (to die-for in the eighties) red curls, which challenge all attempts at taming. The teenage boys sport foppish New Romantic locks which must flop into their eyes or be tied up in whimsical knots which explode like sweet stringy fountains on their crowns , napes (or foreheads), depending on the length of fringe allowed by Mom or girlfriends. And Lizzy couldn’t care about what her locks look like so long as her ‘do’ is healthy. Andrew hasn’t enough to spray and I have been banned from ‘big hair’ by the Carlton Hair Police. So what is it doing, lurking on the table?

This tin of hairspray is a random misfit even in the world of sprawling eccentricity which is our home. I wonder how many other houses have toiletries so prominently displayed in their living areas. Do other folk possibly sport toothbrushes in their lounges or rolls of toilet paper at their front doors; or are we alone in our mixed grocery household? It is of course used by Artist Number 2 to protect her charcoal sketches I think or possibly to protect the Pastels Prince’s creations. And truth be told it is at times kept company by a roll of toilet paper. In some ways it is symbolic of the acceptance of weirdness in our family.

But the Neat Nut in me rebels at the sight though and screams to return all items to their rightful places. Before I can work down there, I have to sweep and mop and tidy. That’s how I survived when my 14 year old marriage began to crumble. I cleaned. Everything. I had the cleanest house in Cape Town. Seriously. I did skirting boards, window sills and light switches every day; windows inside and outside once a week. I changed bedding for 6 people every week (every day for three weeks when I saw three nits on one child’s head). All before 12 0’clock so I could feed Liam and then fetch the others from school. I was like an anorexic bringing order to my world in the only way I could control: instead of mastering my appetite, I had a perfect home.

When I met Andrew, on his inaugural visit to our house with Lizzy and Mika, the first thing he asked with surprise was ‘Where’s the mess?’ Now he falls over it (largely because he made it of course) and I remind myself that it’s ok for a place to have a lived-in appeal. I’ve never told him about the mad clean up that happened that day because the Bentleys were coming for tea. And mess has become a reminder for me that I do not need to remain in such rigid control of things anymore.

However I think I may have passed this disorder about order onto my children: Caitlin, the accountant, is a natural organiser, but the day (yesterday) Michael entered my boudoir uninvited and told me to tidy up the mess (ok so a few of my clothes were chilling with the clean linen – all right the coats had brought out the beers and it was quite a party on the chairs in the room), I knew he was as damaged as me.

Perhaps he sprayed his hair with Jane Seymour’s Firm Control?

Thoughts on thoughts

Image result for picture of thinking woman cartoon

Sometimes I make the mistake of asking my family members what they think I should write about. More than anything else, it gives me a glimpse into their thoughts.

‘Write about me,’ one giddy teenager proclaims, while spilling toothpaste on herself, next to her pyjama clad twin, who at least suggested the more mature topic of the crisis in higher education. That tricky topic was echoed by an older sibling who maintained I should consider the debate around decolonisation of universities.

‘Explore why one moment they (our offspring) are watching Barney and Noddy and the next they have rejected their childhood,’ said Andrew, ever conscious of the aging process in others, ‘or sadistic teenagers’ (corrected by one to ‘edgy’ teen) without taking his eyes off FIFA ’16, handed down by Michael who is now on to FIFA ’17.

I won’t ask him, the footballer, I thought, because he will either suggest how they have not yet solved the FIFA cheating glitch with the new version, or something like the vagaries of the English Football transfer window. And the only thing I know about that particularly confusing aperture is that it is now closed.

Sean believes I should review a book and I just might dissect one of the Jeffrey Eugenides novels I have recently finished (if you haven’t discovered this writer and need a chuckle, while coming to grips with deep stuff, he’s your man – Jeffrey, not Sean). Sean’s first suggestion was a self-conscious exploration on the writing of a blog, but, as you can see, I’m way ahead of him.

Liam is MIA tonight, but he told me to stop writing or I would be late for mass (such a good boy! I can say that because he is at the Marais’ house annoying them). Mika on the other hand hummed and hawed and suggested ‘cooking.’ Mwahahaha. But I could mention that Lizzy is now baking banana loaf which smells sublime.

I eventually broke down and asked Michael who merely said ‘I don’t know’ – I hope that is not what he is thinking, but I do have a fair idea now about what each of my other beloved relatives is contemplating. Which begs the question: What am I thinking about and why do I not have a topic of conversation at hand?

The answer is a trifle sad, I must confess: other than worrying about my school’s upcoming Umalusi desktop submission and my own inertia in beginning some of the policy writing I need to do, and wondering whether eight o’clock is too early to go to bed and read my book in the school holidays, I’m not really having any deep insights on life or personal epiphanies. Teasing out the semiotics of such thoughts, what I have realised is that my whole focus generally is on the needs and interests of my family (which is good but can be a bit Betty Crockerish) and my school (Yes, important during term-time); yet I have not cultivated any actual hobbies of my own which often has me getting caught in the middle of trying to please everyone and ignoring my own self.

So, to my horror, on a Sunday night I am having to admit that I am suffering from housewife’s angst. It’s disturbing to admit that even executive women can subjugate their ‘self’ to the vagaries of external views (even though in this case, to be fair, I actually asked the family what I should be sharing in my blog). But I think we women, all too often fall prey to a subversion of self which we mistake as Christian kindness, but often erases ourselves and our own interests or needs, as we try to please everyone.

No more of that. (Even though from time to time – I must remain a bit of a martyr in order to use that against the progeny) I shall employ  a new philosophy which I cannot politely name (it rhymes with ‘bucket’). I shall indulge my own thoughts and share my own ideas.

After that I shall ask my family what they think about my blog.

Personal Assistants

So I have graduated to being managed by a personal assistant. Her name is Gizelle and, like the ballet character after whom she is named, she glides through my life, effortlessly and gracefully fielding calls, managing staff appointments; gently correcting my mistakes (and they are many); protecting me from cute Grade 4 groupies whom I simply don’t have the heart to turn away, but who were becoming accustomed to spending every break with me, not to mention running the administrative nightmare that goes with managing a large school.  And she makes me tea, leaving it steaming on my desk like the lingering whisper of an elfin gift.

Ariel Dorfman refers to the life of a secretary as ‘responsibility without power, the fate of the secretary throughout the ages.’ Now far be it from me to question Dorfman’s experience of personal aides, but Gizelle’s petite, ballerina-like personage may look fragile, but she is a tower of strength and surprising talents, despite her youth. No one argues with her – especially not me.

Wikipedia has this cute explanation of what a personal assistant does: ‘The personal assistant is required to do any task that the manager requires whether personal or professional.’ Seriously? Truth be told I feel guilty every time Gizelle brings me tea, because that is personal and I believe that her duties should be professional only. I wonder how many managers cross the line by exploiting their assistants to do more ‘personal’ work than ‘professional’ work. The Marius Fransman situation is a case in point of how patriarchal managers view those who work for them, especially when they are young, naïve and vulnerable women.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2016-08-08-band-of-brothers-anc-integrity-commissions-fransman-report-contains-some-disturbing-nuggets/#.V6o-D_l97rc

The expression ‘my PA’ has a certain feudal ring to it and carries overtones of possession which are worrying. I certainly hope no James Bond wannabees on our staff have tried to flirt with the Meridian Miss Moneypenny. (I don’t think they’d dare.) But on a feminist aside, just google ‘secretary – images’ and see how many pictures of male secretaries with woman bosses come up…yeah…none. The job is almost exclusively considered ‘women’s work’ especially when the boss is a man. And I think as a result  is often considered to be a servile position.

Now I would be hypocritical to say that Gizelle does not field calls from Caitlin (‘Please buy electricity’ – now there is a scary assistant!) or remind me to respond to my sister’s message (an even scarier personage to ignore), but I wouldn’t dream of requiring her to fetch my dry-cleaning (if I had any) or buy my husband flowers/ whisky/ cigars. The school does not pay her to serve me, but to support me.

And thank goodness it does. Her prowess on the computer is lightning fast. She can take complex, scattered data and make graphed sense out of it and her attention to detail has saved me several times already this year from embarrassment and error. She works long hours and frequently takes work home. I am filled with mild panic at the very thought of her being absent. She has seen me at my weakest, but I live in fear of her seeing the mess in my stationery drawer.

Now here is the thing: she does all of this uncomplainingly (well she did once moan at me for signing a document in the wrong place), while running a family of two young children plus three older step-children and a husband who works shifts. Why am I mentioning this? Well because she may be employed as a ‘personal’ assistant, but it is important for me to remember that she has a personal life. She has hopes and dreams and ambitions.

Once a year, we celebrate our secretarial and administrative staff with a hallmark moment, but truth be told, it is impossible to truly give pen to the contribution of such an éminence grise. All I can say is that I am immensely grateful for the person that is Mrs Gizelle Marais, a woman of courage and one to be respected.

Pokémon gets kids Go-ing

Picture by Pawel Kuczynski

I had a surreal (get it?) conversation with my son on our drive home last week. It went like this:

Me: How was school? (I’m not very original)

Youngest Offspring: Fine. (Teenagers are not original either)

Except me and my friends [sic] had to keep re-taking the tuckshop. Did you know there is a gym at Cobblewalk?

Me: Yes, but I can’t afford it.

L-Shaped Child: I’m a Mystic.

Me: I am glad you are growing spiritually, my boy.

Techno Spawn: Mom, please will you drive less than 20km/h or else they’ll think I’m cheating.

Me: No.

Needless to say Mom’s own little pocket monster was not too impressed with his parent. Sigh. Goes with the territory, I suppose, along with having to remind school children that there are no squirtles on the grass at Meridian Pinehurst.

This craze (and I use that word deliberately) has certainly had a galvanising effect on global anti-social sedentary adolescents. It is entertaining to sit at my desk in my bedroom which overlooks our street, and see youngsters tearing down the pavements in search of close encounters of the virtual kind. However, I have warned my younger boys of the dangers of the ‘lures’ being for humans – and that they may be the prey so they should be alert, but that they should also be aware of the danger of roaming around, heads down with smart phones in their hands – again, they are targets for thieves. I am also concerned that in their desperation to capture that elusive Pokémon that they blindly traverse busy roads and get hurt or cause an accident.

As an English teacher, I am aware that the lines between real and imaginary have become even more blurred and have resigned myself to the fact that my son may NEVER use the word ‘literally’ correctly.

Just off to ensure Blanche is washing the dishes…

Raising Civilised Children: “Because I said so”

 

My children nixed my idea of writing about how each displays their bad moods, pleading their privacy, telling me to write my own story. My reply was that firstly they ARE my story (such great material for humour) and secondly I thought many overburdened parents could relate to tales of the vloermoere, sulking, swearing, passive aggression, door-banging and yelling that accompany the varying weather conditions in our house. But sadly that chef d’oeuvre has been decimated on the cutting floor.

Now of course I would love to use my standard response to the proletariat’s desire for its voice to be heard, by my usual response of ‘Your argument is invalid because I am the mother,’ but I suppose I should refrain from exposing the ugly underbelly of the household and write about myself.

My Mom Is A Scary Lady, I Cant Wear Sweats Whenever I Want Noooo

This is for the most part a totalitarian home, but I consider myself to be a benign dictator so I shall take the sensitivities of my offspring to heart and not reveal who once threw a knife at which offending older sibling (fortunately it was someone with poor aim) or who breaks out into giggles when the rioting rabble is called in front of Judge Judy to account for mischief. I shall have to leave that until another time when I can skilfully slip into conversation which artist punched a wall in frustration when a piece wasn’t going right; or which one at five declared (with hands on hips mind you) that I was not the boss of said defiant spawn. Needless to say, that didn’t go down too well, and the rebellion was quashed before it began, to the amusement of the other four.

But I digress.

The nature of running a household of five children (permanent residents) has brought me into conflict many times with my beloved fledgling revolutionaries. And that is normal. One of the hardest things to do when you get home after a stressful day though is to say ‘No’ or have to make tough decisions which you know will not please all the people. Solomon had it easy: he only had to settle disputes between two women over a baby. I wonder how he would have managed choosing a sandwich spread which met with everyone’s culinary preferences. I did have to use holiday time to … er …redefine parameters from time to time, but in general I have been blessed with good kids. Of course they will tell you that they were beaten into submission and have had the spirit crushed out of them. Don’t believe a word of it. I still sleep with one eye open.

Unlike Bob across the border though, I have mellowed with age and, truth be told, I would handle the tribe more gently if I had my time over again – perhaps. But one cannot second-guess one’s younger self and raising children does become easier as they grow old enough to reason with (unless they think that the rules are negotiable, because that’s when Attila the Mum resurfaces.)

My household is not a democracy. I admit it. It cannot be. Now that does not prevent discussion (and much heated dialogue has been had – some still ongoing about perceived poor parenting in the past) however at some point a parent must be a parent and take a stance or make a ruling. Funnily enough children feel safe within boundaries. I think the trick is allowing them to be heard, and apologising and sometimes backing down if you are wrong. Unqualified mercy is also important. And one day – watch – they will do the same for their own children.

My mom used to say I’d get my come-uppance one day – boy was she right – and I plan to live long enough to see the Big Five get theirs. Because according to the one who thinks I am ‘Hello Kitty’ cute (see previous post), my ‘days of tyranny have ended’. But first I am going to stamp up the stairs and bang my door.

Pizza

Favourite meal: pizza (must have avo – none of this ‘in season’ nonsense.)

Now Andrew’s favourite restaurant, Mitico, offers winter specials at R65 for any pizza plus a carafe of wine. He has taken me there once or twice because then he gets two carafes of wine.  He loves the place so much that he manufactures reasons to go there for his midday prandials and is not fussy who his date is or how far away he must park. He is so undiscriminating in whom he takes with him to dine there that this holiday the owner’s eyes bulged out when he sheepishly admitted I was his wife.

The restaurant is a unique experience. Andrew is welcomed by the jovial Italian host who is always present with ‘Welcome to your dining-room.’ (Kind of true because he eats there more often) and the waitrons are friendly and also know him. Move over Cheers, everyone here knows his name. The street view is also entertaining: Hardy tourists with white ankles in shorts on ‘safari’ to see the wildlife of Africa mingle with business folk on route to luncheon meetings and students on their trendy way to general sloth. We watched an emaciated, string-haired dame wander up Kloof Street, carrying a sign which read, ‘My husband was abducted by aliens…’  Clearly the aliens sent her back. (but probably many a hausfrau around can relate, because several stop to chat): Tamboerskloof’s own Kruger Park.

Oh and the pizza is good.

At our home trattoria we make our own pizzas from scratch – well Shannon takes out her issues of the week on the dough, although in desperation (She can be fickle) Michael and Liam have taught themselves to mix them too. Fortunately no one has thought to ‘toss’ a pizza because with Shannon’s lack of ball skills we would have to clean the floor afterwards too.

It doesn’t end once the bases have been cooked (a process which requires several hours and the latest in my arty child’s music files, mixed with raucous singing – especially when Lizzy is here at her coastal residence – and young people in various stages of either  sleepwear or going-out evening attire). Preparation involves much flour, bacon and various combinations of cheese, spinach, mushrooms and feta. If I am lucky no one has nicked the last pepperdews. And of course there must be avocados. Then the bun fight starts, if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor. You see if we’re all at home that means 9 pizzas need oven space (more if there are visitors) and heaven help the upstart who nips in to put the starving waif’s personal masterpiece in when another famished adolescent is waiting. Michael needs to be watched because he hides bacon under his cheese as well – and let me tell you there is no respect for age or beauty – it’s push in or be last – jungle rules.

It is no wonder poor Andrew escapes to the Bo Kaap to get away. My husband needs to escape the aliens.

These are a few of my [least] fav’rite things:

Just in case I am ever interviewed as a celeb on a TV show and asked that lovely banal question of ‘What are you pet hates?’ here they are, with apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein:

Jik spills on pant suits and dog hairs on black coats

Bright lights when sleeping and smug winners who gloat

Gym folk who nick the disabled parking

These are a few of my least fav’rite things.

 

Underwired bras which break loose and poke in you

Muzak and payback and too-tight cute shoes

Teens who ignore the damn phone when it rings

These are a few of my least fav’rite things.

 

Girls who’re exploited and folk who spread hatred

Drone strikes and jeeps which are vanity plated.

Smart cars and mutton all dressed up with bling

These are a few of my least fav’rite things.

 

When the zip splits; when the nail breaks

These both make me sad

I simply remind myself Bieber can’t sing

And then I don’t feel so bad.

 

Taxes and lying and naked ambition

Maintenance arrears and bad punctuation

Gangsta low trousers and fat pinky rings

These are a few of my least fav’rite things.

 

Petrol price increases; school terms that drag

Too many wrinkles and buttocks which sag

Drug dealers peddling their filth at the swings

These are a few of my least fav’rite things.

 

Internet hanging and cold feet in my bed.

Nobody listening to what I just said

Seeing my children’s first break-ups begin

These are a few of my least fav’rite things.

 

When the car quits, when the bug jumps

When my darlin’s mood’s bad,

I simply remember the US has Trump

And then I don’t feel so mad!