Dear Fitting Room Designers:

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I made the mistake of trying on a pair of pants for size in Woolworths, yesterday in their brand new shiny change rooms. Too shiny. I didn’t buy the trousers. And it was the place’s fault.

If I were asked to survey fitting rooms in clothing stores, I could really give them some pointers.

Firstly: subdued lighting is a must. Harsh neon lighting just doesn’t do it for my skin. The last thing you want if you’re trying to flog clothes is for me to be so grossed out by my own face that I cannot look in the mirror. I do not know anyone who looks good under fluorescent lights. For me it is certainly not my best look – the freckles stand out, surrounded by pasty, creamish blahness, no matter how many layers of face paint and contouring have been applied. I have dark rings under my eyes too which make me resemble a nagapie at the best of times. I do not need stage lighting to assist. Also if I am tired, the little critters are Gucci-carry-on-luggage- sized bags, so they definitely detract from the garments I am fitting on.

And it’s not just our faces that we have to see in this light: it is our derrieres, which are normally…well…behind us, where we can pretend they are smooth discs of even, beach-ready roundness. Instead we are confronted by massively cratered moons which are nothing like Queen imagined in ‘Fat-bottomed Girls’ – multiplied by three – going all the way to infinity if the looking glasses are angled into Alice’s bizarre world. Personally I believe the dark-side of the moon is a better look.

Mirrors should also be artfully angled so as to make one be longer and slimmer. Even if we know this is a clever illusion, we still want to imagine ourselves looking a bit like the impossibly slim wax mannequin, adorned outside on the shop floor in the garment in question. (Have you noticed that they are always on tippy toe – probably so they can show off outrageously uncomfortable high-heeled shoes too – but that makes them seem even taller.) Every film study student will tell you that a low angle shot makes one look taller and more powerful. I’m happy to go with both those delusions.

Curtains versus doors? Definitely doors (which lock, please). So often, one ends up with a faulty door latch. One that bolts is preferable. While sumptuous curtains look good, draped dramatically across the opening in oh-so-elegant boutiques, I am always terrified that some over-eager stick insect assistant will just pop her head in and reveal me in my big panties so that the creepy chap lounging outside will have an eyeful of the rear end of the Bentley.

The door should fit all the way to the floor, I beg you.

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For those of us who have had divide clothes into ‘Not-in-this-lifetime,’ Maybe-if-I-lose-10kg’ or ‘Oh-Baby-You’re-So-Hot! hooks (there must be at least three hooks) while dodging a pair of boys playing with a car, and hopping on one foot as you attempt to free the inside-out trouser leg from the shoe you should have removed first, it is no fun then to have said vehicle be sent down the back strait and under the door, out of reach of the soon-to-be screeching boys (even men-children hate shopping).  Then you have to twist around quickly, with your boot still caught in the once neatly ironed pants, to prevent over-helpful big sister from lurching out to fetch it for them, at which point, once again the dodgy oom outside is treated to a gander of your moon broekies.  If it’s not your own children who reach under those awful saloon-style doors, it’s other matrons’ sticky fingered brats whose fingers appear like tentacles of slimy, Nik Naks goo tempting you to injure said digits with a healthy tap dance. So, dear retail outlets, given us full-figured doors I beg you.

While pondering whether objects in the rear view mirror are closer or really just as large as they appear, you realise it is the fault of those disturbingly deceptively sized numbers that are the right size, but too small:  You could swear they will fit you and then you get the bodice on and your arms half in and ‘gasp’, you can’t breathe, and – worse – it’s not on properly and no matter how much you attempt to make like Connie the Contortionist, you can’t get it off. Inevitably it is at that moment that Shannon will have put a Jelly Tot (the bribe to ‘behave’) in Liam’s ear or Caitlin will have swallowed yet another R2 coin. And you are, like ‘Chad’ in Charlie’s Angels – well and truly STUCK. ‘Ripping your clothes off’ takes on a whole new meaning, but the temptation is real.

And you can’t really leave the cubs outside the cubicle because then just as you are realising that  what appeared to be stylishly loose fitting on the rack merely hugs all the unmelted baby fat, you hear Michael’s infectious giggle becoming louder. And you just know something is up out there. Dreading that it is your children’s paws which have invaded another patron’s shopping nightmare and which are about to be pierced by a suburban stiletto heel, you burst out to check/glare/chide so you at least appear to be in control of the five worms lined up against the wall, catching the eye of the petite assistant who frowns at the sight of you balancing a dress on your hips and once again there are those knickers for the old man who is seeing more of your skin than a Russian dancer at Mavericks.

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She shakes her head knowingly as you hand her the unpurchased hangers of clothes as you leave shamefacedly, wondering why you can never find anything to buy. Or else you avoid the body-shaming experience entirely and just buy whatever looks attractive on the hanger, only to end up with a cupboard full of ill-fitting clothes.

Well that’s my excuse anyway.

Order in The Disorder

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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

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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.

On My Mother’s Birthday

My mother would have been 76 today. Instead she has been dead for 20 years.

She missed out on holding three of my five children and watching them all grow up; on seeing me succeed despite the odds; on cossetting my sister when she got sick and on playing the piano with Andrew.

I miss her still and yet I wonder whether Brigid and I would be as independent if she’d lived. It’s not much solace though to know that we are stronger because of her passing when one is enviously watching elegant moms and doting grandmothers shopping together or celebrating Mothers’ Day at smart restaurants. Someone told me at the time that losing one’s mother is stressful because the ceiling in your life disappears. So true. It’s been a trifle drafty being exposed to the rafters of this world over the years. I can hear her laughing about ‘Think pink,’ the slogan for ceiling insulation in the eighties. That’s what she was: our shield from the harshness of life.

I know I would have apologised many times over to her, having heard her exhortations and chidings being vented from my own mouth, including things like: ‘You’ll get your comeuppance one day, young lady.’ And: ‘I hope you have a daughter just like you,’ How proud she would have been of the beautiful young women they are, inside and out. I’d give anything to hear her scold me once more or bask in her serenity and be enveloped in her ‘Mommy smell.’

I wonder what she would have made of social media and cell phones. She may well have surprised us all. And she would have been a blogger for sure. Her brief forays into the writing sphere brought her some recognition at the time. Perhaps she would have finished her degree or written that novel.

She would not have approved of gangsta pants, leggings without long tops or hair straightening. She would have snuck treats from Woollies past Brigid and told me to speak more softly. She would have had no patience with the EFF and been appalled by Lady Gaga, but she might have loved the MyCiti bus and definitely would have glowed with pride over the children’s achievements. She would have been delighted by Andrew’s wit and music and been furious at the poor driving in Table View.

It’s up to us now I suppose. Not to be her, but to recognise the transience of our time here on Earth; to remember to love deeply as she did; and to laugh loudly (as only Cancerians can). I plan to live long enough to be a problem to my children and to hold all the bebés one day. I shall have an ear trumpet and a stick, never mind sedate and decorous.

And one day I’ll get to tell her just how much it sucked being a grown-up without her.

 

‘You may first come across [her] when [s]he’s laughing the “crazy lunar laugh.”

It’s inescapably contagious. It runs up and down the scales with a deep, throaty

undertone. It giggles and gurgles, then finally erupts in a loud cackle that sounds

exactly like two hundred hens laying two hundred perfect eggs.’

Sunsigns by Linda Goodman