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!

Of Lice and Pen(s)

Image result for child scratching red hair lice clipartMy  children  are sufficiently removed in age now for me to smile (tentatively) about those horrific (and I do not use this term lightly), emotionally desperate cataclysms in my household when they had lice (whispering) … Just writing this elicits a visceral shudder, automatic head scratching and implicit feelings of remembered shame.

And yet almost all children at some time have fallen prey to these nasty little parasites. As we speak, some mother is expressing dismay with angry, Anglo-Saxon words and screaming for the other parent to sort ‘this disaster’ out, while blaming ‘that’ school or ‘those’ urchins with whom Little Princess has had the misfortune to be playing.

I know I did.

I shall always remember with dread that moment in the middle of the July holidays, in my small kitchen in Batten Bend when my 8-year-old daughter came in for a snuggle and I looked down at the teeming plain of wriggling larvae that was her once-beautiful head of red hair.

I confess I leaped away in horror.

Then I realised in one of those ooh-vrek-I’m-the-mother moments that it was my job to fix this invasion. So while privately (actually not so privately) cursing the mother who according to my infested child, sent her daughter who sat alongside mine, to school on break up day even though she had goggas in her hair because the family was moving house and she didn’t want her daughter to be underfoot, I assessed the unspeakable misery of my crisis:

  • One 7 year-old with an army on the move in her hair
  • Her 5 year-old brother with several nits in his
  • a 9 year-old son with curls so tight anything could have been living in there undercover of a silent incursion
  • a 2 year-old who couldn’t sit still long enough for me to examine her Annie ringlets and
  • a brand new baby.

And then I washed. Everything.

Over and over for at least three weeks, I de-loused everyone’s hair, twice a day, combing through all those thick tresses meticulously, trying hard not to show my disgust in case the victims of this family disaster were scarred for life by my assumed maternal rejection. My own hair proved to be a bit of a challenge because my squeamishness convinced me that I too was infected (I wasn’t) and the night I attempted to apply the shampoo, just in case, I ended up with an allergic reaction which caused burning in my eyes and on my face so bad that I had to ring my sister to come and stand in for me in the middle of the night so I could go to the emergency room.

And I washed and ironed ALL the bedding every day and forbade the children from reusing towels. Thank heavens this was pre-Cape Town’s water crisis, or perhaps this frantic laundering is what caused the depletion of Theewaterskloof Dam.

And then my long-awaited, lounge suite arrived (sixth months after returning to the country without furniture). And no one was allowed to sit on it, such was my aversion to the risk of loathsome re-infection. My girls’ buns were the tightest after that.

Of course by the time, the youngest was in Grade 1, and he and his fellow gangsters took turns in being off school with lice, I was fairly prosaic about such things, only shuddering occasionally. I sent him along fairly regularly to visit his father, who had hair clippers, for a #1, although I suspect that it was the girlfriend in situ who ended up doing the trimming. We still chuckle at certain photographs and can tell by Liam’s haircuts what had been going on at the time.

Primary School and Nursery School teachers do not bat an eye at what for high school staff is worse that diving with sharks – the lice test! they nonchalantly pick up two pens and confidently check their charges’ hair on a regular basis. The biggest problem schools have is parents’ assumption that one shampoo and combing will cure you of the nasty critters. You have to remember to do it again every week or so after an infestation or else the ‘cooties’ return. Our standard letter takes care to address the embarrassment that comes with the unwelcome missive and gently advises how to remedy the detestable situation, without making parents feel bad.

It’s the social stigma associated with having lice that is bothersome though. The fact that lice love clean hair should have removed such thoughts, but I suppose we feel unkempt and dirty and somehow ashamed that this could have happened to us – we’re decent folk after all. However, I bet that even those hoity toity playschools for the rich and famous have a lice policy. Even someone called Beckham or Windsor might have to be sent home from a posh school to do not nit harvesting from time to time. Forget that knighthood, darling, if your offspring infects a royal head, mind you.Image result for shame meme

Funny how language evolves: take the word ‘lousy’ – it comes of course from the meaning ‘lice-infested’ – perhaps we should remember that when we say our meal or the service at a restaurant was ‘lousy’ – perish that thought!

Next time you say that the weather has turned ‘lousy,’ thank your lucky stars it actually hasn’t. Eeeuh! The thought of that makes me need to go and scratch my head a little and thank the Lord for metaphors.

A Scary Story

My Family’s Fears and Phobias

Image result for picture of monsters in the dark

Fun Game to Play:

Write a scary story in just four words. Mine is: Children drive my car. But most people will confess to a fear of monsters, whether they are Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton with a finger on the nuclear button, Chocolate or Coffee thieves or your common or garden sort ghouls.

Shannon used to be terrified of the Garden Service, yelling, ‘Weediteaters; Weediteaters,’ whenever they arrived to trim our lawn in Batten Bend. Indoors, she would race to me and need to be picked up where she became a human koala bear,  until they left. Once she wrapped herself in a curtain to escape their savage threshing sounds.

Liam has developed a clown phobia (now this one makes sense) – coulrophobia – which the experts link to the distortion of familiar humanoid features. I’m convinced this can be related to his gaming habits which have him spending hours shooting zombies which frankly would frighten the life out of me. (Ha ha – funny – then I could frighten him!).

Lizzy used to hate having ‘Happy Birthday’ sung and thought Imagination was a monster because the Teenies used to say ‘ it’s your imagination’ when they were afraid of billowing curtains.

Andrew hated Father Christmas as a child, quite rightly. What right-minded parent encourages a beloved offspring to sit on the lap of a strange old man in red and says to him to tell him what he wants?! And then we wonder why they won’t smile for the photograph! What were we thinking?! Not to mention the fear inspired by this hulking geriatric invading our safe homes in his Wellington boots and fannying around in an ill-fitting red suit in the lounge – especially  one inebriated by the obligatory alcohol left out for him.

As a littlun, Sean hated the dark and slept with the bathroom light on for years.

On the other hand, Michael is afraid of washing up and has to leave home when it’s his turn and Mika can’t eat real food. True story; we have tested it. But that is another story.

How many of us remember racing back up the passage to the living room at night, fleeing from unimaginable darkness and ‘things.’ I have distinct memories of nightmares from watching a film called The Mummy, which we watched on a reel at the CBC Welkom Friday night ‘bioscope,’ about an Egyptian mummy which emerges from its sarcophagus and steals around the submarine transporting the stolen artefact to America. It has periodic psychotic moments when it stalks and kills the sailors. To this day, I am not a fan of Egyptology.

I am more scared the kids will never leave home now however.

The girls don’t like to fall asleep without their laptops playing series. Now personally I think that is worse and probably feeds ongoing other issues, but hey, I’m just the mother; what do I know. Tonight my adult munchkins were ensconced under blankets watching Game of Thrones’ White Walkers. I am wondering who will call out at 3 am, ‘Mommy, I had a bad dream!’ as they did when they were little. Mind you, Shannon confessed recently to fibbing about bad dreams when she was little just so I would let her sleep with me (an experience not unlike sharing a bed with a rotating bicycle).

I am convinced that many of these fears are caused and fuelled by film and television and raise the issue of the effects of the media on our mental health. And the studies bear this out, including the continuation of childhood ‘scary movie experiences’ into adulthood.

The bottom line is: heed the warning in the prologue to DVDs. Make sure your children are asleep before you watch horror films or gory movies. We worry so much about exposing our youngsters to sex, but violence is way worse. Better still get to grips with a witty romcom or intense drama) and re-consider allowing the teen sleepovers to revolve around the latest spooky spirit movie. None of my children report being willing watchers of this fair and yet they all ‘happily’ went along to the all-night-frighters.

But never mind, they’ll grow out of it. Having children of their own will soon make them realise that the other fears were NOTHING. There is nothing the screen can show you that equals parenting for the fear factor. I have birthed and raised five children and now ek skrik vir niks[1]!

And they’ll blame me for all their issues!



[1] I am afraid of nothing.

Dear Fitting Room Designers:

Image result for fitting rooms in stores cartoon

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.

Image result for fitting room mirrors multiple images

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.

Image result for cartoons of fitting rooms

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.

Crocodiles, Librarians and Unicorns

Image result for pictures of librarians and crocodiles cartoons

Driving with Shannon is always a treat. When she is not fiddling with the radio or air conditioner, she asks truly random questions. Today, for instance, as we were sailing past Milnerton, out of the blue she asked what kind of animal I would be if I were a beastie. She was not satisfied with my instinctive ‘a dragon’ response, but I managed to appease her with ‘okay so a big cat – one of the big five so when I get to the waterhole all the other wildlife gets out of my way, unlike in my very own kitchen, where ungrateful buffalo stampede past, steal my kettle water and I am forced to wait for my tea…’

Methinks she might have zoned out during the kitchen rant because her eyes glassed over behind her dirty (as usual) lenses. However she must have been listening when I went on to say that as a predator I couldn’t just lie in wait quietly with only my eyes on display like a lurking croc, because she came back at me with gusto by suggesting that librarians are like crocodiles: they pounce on you from nowhere and snap, ‘Quiet!’

Now I am not surprised that one of my children should be admonished for noisy behaviour. I have done a fair job of raising socially acceptable humans, but my own school reports were littered with far too many  ‘Colleen talks too much in class’ type comments for me to moan at the saplings for volatile volume. So I was more amused by her accurate description of what for me are the scariest of professionals: the keepers of books.

Perhaps this description resonated with me also because of my guilt about unpaid library fines and the tongue lashing I received recently for a book so long outstanding that I needed to pay R220 for it. And Library week with its attendant fine-amnesty is long gone. The librarian who confronted me though was a six foot Idris Elba lookalike so I was sad to have disappointed him (very sad) rather than afraid, but still. Ironically the book in question was hiding in plain sight on the bookshelf of my travelling companion’s bedroom; even more ironically it was named Indulgence in Death, something which should stand as a warning to all children who do not put their books back on the library shelf at the front door.

But I digress. I was contemplating the concept of kids saying the ‘darndest things’ like those clangers the two year old drops, used succinctly and correctly in front of either your maiden aunt, the local priest or in the middle of Woolworths.

The funniest birthday card I received this year, notwithstanding my (older) sister’s (paltry) attempts to age-shame me, was one snuck into a pack of cards from the Grade 6’s at school without the teacher’s knowledge, I hope. It read:

Sugar is tart

Lemons are sweet

I love you more than a unicorn’s FART.

So odd; so inappropriate; yet so funny it made me laugh till I couldn’t breathe. The poor educator would be mortified that this slipped through the censors and was delivered to the head’s office.

There is something so remarkably life-giving in the creativity of children and I love spending time with young people to hear a fresh take on the jaded, clichéd world. Some might call this sass. I like to think of it as originality in a society that takes itself too seriously.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still believe there are two kinds of parents in this world: those who think the little boy on Youtube debating with ‘Linda’ (his mother) is cute and those, like me, who believe she is making a rod for her own back by encouraging him. Generally I am not amused by cheeky children, but this one at least attempted the rhyme.

Back to Shannon: she thinks of herself as a fox (cute and furry – probably because she hasn’t shaved her legs again) and suggested I am like a bunny (sweet and hopping). Hopping mad after that! I mean really, bunnies just sit there and wiggle their noses. I am way scarier. At least as much as spinster librarians, surely.

Maybe children should be seen and not heard after all.

Order in The Disorder

Hairspray cliparts

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?

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.


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.

Mocking Mother

There is a weird thing that happens as one’s children age (We don’t of course): Our role in their lives seems to change from guardian, nurturer, vanquisher of nightmares, stern disciplinarian and provider of wisdom and education, to figure of fun and apparently the source of much entertainment.

Just yesterday my fairy child who used to become paralytic with giggling fear when she knew she’d crossed a line (which was often – she has no filter) declared that I am ‘Hello Kitty cute.’ Cute? Seriously?! What happened to scary Dragon-Mother? I must be losing my touch; gone as soft as my non-existent stomach muscles.

It’s my own fault I suppose. I do make the odd error occasionally, like telling them that Engelbert Humperdinck (Yes we went to his show and it was fabulous) covered Eddie Sheeran’s ‘Thinking out loud’ … well I am sure his mother calls him ‘Eddie.’  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gW3cw2jodg

But ‘cute’? No, surely not. Worrying that my parting words to Michael before he left for the UK were ‘Stop playing with the door lock; you’ll break it!’ and not ‘I love you’  is normal mother-guilt. It’s not sweet or quaint! Why should they be amused by that? Young folk have a strange sense of humour.

I am a serious woman: I do not fist bump or high five. I use full sentences when I text (even if my fat fingers stray to the wrong keys and I type non-standard words from time to time). I should be taken more seriously. I can still sweep Liam off his feet, using my karate know-how, if I can catch him. I can still do a mean double pirouette and even a fouetté with my right leg. I am NOT cute.

I have perfected the do-not-smile-before-Easter teacher’s glare. Grown men I have taught cannot call me by my first name in deference to their school days. Yet my own children call me ‘cute.’ And not just eccentric-cute or unusual-cute, they say it is mushy ‘Hello Kitty’ cute. What happened to vicious tigers, unlucky black cats or witches’-familiar cats at least? No, the hoyden in question chose the image of a sappy, pink-clad feline with no mouth for me! No one who knows me could agree with THAT! And really, I would NEVER wear a bow like in my hair.

The sparkly outfit is fitting I suppose.

Everyone is a critic. Liam is a world expert on everything, including stuff he doesn’t know anything about and according to now third year Accounting student Caitlin, it is a miracle I have managed to stay afloat all these years (actually it is, but not because I did not have her expertise at my fingertips), let alone have managed to do my taxes without her help. Shannon informed me (as if her cat caricature of me was not enough) that it is entirely inappropriate for me to have Instagram (but when she wants hearts I am called to colour that one in) and I really should not even think about getting Snapchat.

Today in Clicks I heard them panicking that they had lost ‘her’ as if I were some old fart who needs supervision. They smiled pseudo-benevolently when I gestured to them that I was quite fortunately not lost in the cosmetics aisle, but in fact hiding away from them. And now I am ‘cute.’ It’s a slipperly slope to Shady Pines I tell you.

But let them have a bad dream, a large gogga on their bedroom wall or a nasty illness involving projectile vomiting, then I believe I am still copacetic. Then I am still the Amazonian hero of their childhood.

In the meantime I may have to resort to gym to rediscover my abs and my intimidating mojo. If they are going to compare me to a kitten, I need to sharpen my claws. I’m NOT wearing pink (well perhaps shocking pink is ok) or going anywhere in butterfly-shaped bows!




Raising Civilised Children – Part One: Discipline (#Beingthebadguy#NannyMcPhee#Don’tgettothepointofneedingSupernanny)

Raising a family is a rocky road (and I am not speaking about ice cream. In fact if I were to describe my kin as a flavour of ice cream I’d say we are a Celtic sort of Spumoni – various colours and tastes, with lots of fruit and nuts). Discipline is tough, but essential.

Few self-help texts mention discipline when prattling on about raising happy kids and yet it is the basis of order in a home and in nurturing an internal order in youngsters so vital for maturity. Children need discipline to feel safe. If there are rules they know there is a structure to catch them when they fall. And I don’t mean ‘catch them out.’

The trick is in knowing when to expand the elastic boundaries, keeping your nestlings safe and being astute enough to see when to firm up. I used to refer to holidays as ‘parameter redefining’ opportunities because I have been privileged as a teacher to have this time to re-evaluate who needs more independence and who needs…um… let’s call it ‘guidance’ shall we? (They probably called it ‘Back to the Gulag.’)

  1. Discipline begins with routine.

Nebulous bedtimes, vague threats and blurry promises are the surest way to have insecure children. They may grumble about limits, but youngsters feel safe in the fact there are boundaries and that you are in charge.

When my bairns were little, bedtimes were formal (Well they were until they were old enough to set their own routines.) and followed a pattern of eat, bath, calm down time (!), family prayers and reading in bed. And let’s face it, if they are used to following a certain sequence of activities in the evening and you really need them in bed, you simply start with the first task and things follow along nicely. Devious, hey?

Traditions are also part of a family routine. No matter how poor we were, Fridays were (and still are) pizza nights in our home.  So is Christmas tree decorating (although I am finding the elves increasingly slothful of late). Family meal times are a must around the dinner table (more on that in another blog post) and for us, mass on a Sunday is an ongoing part of the ritual of our lives.

  1. Say ‘No’ and mean it.

The hardest thing to do when you have to return home at supper time, especially if it’s to housework, dinner preparations (and load shedding) is to say ‘No’ to a nipper who knows (and they do! They are psychic like that) when you are at your weakest. It is then he will whine for the chips while you are waiting in the supermarket checkout queue. (Damn all canny marketers who know that too and purposely display all those yummy snacks which are both bad for the cherubs and beyond our pockets!)

             Picture by tommyellis.wordpress.com

And yet stoic adherence to our decisions is what Junior needs from us: a mature adult who has weighed up the issue and made a call. Never mind that your nerves are shot because of having to prostrate yourself obsequiously in front of neurotic, misguided and deranged clients (and/or bosses) and you feel as if you have fallen in front of the taxi proclaiming ‘Game Over’ (There is one driving around in Parklands, I kid you not).

If you say ‘No,’ you must stick to it. ‘No’ must never mean ‘maybe’ either. Because they will pounce on that like the media on a fallen celeb at a press conference. If you oscillate, you are toast.

I used to count to three before ‘encouraging’ my beloved offspring to respond until I realised that the little squirts waited until just after  ‘two’ before skedaddling to make their beds or begin doggy patrol or whatever other heinously cruel chore their mother had ascribed to them. Even the smallest of mitess knows how to work the system.

While I am not a huge fan of James Dobson, he does call his theory ‘dare’ to discipline. So many of us single parents want to be seen as the nice one and, because we see so little of our kids because we are working, or are weekend parents, the temptation is to avoid conflict. But sometimes you have to go there. I remember one infamous encounter with a prepubescent imp who mouthed off at me over dishes, in the presence of his visiting father. His dad, obviously not comfortable with the conflict, put on his coat and took his leave. Not of course without feeling my fury at being left to be the bad guy! Hard though it was, I marched straight back into the scullery and informed he-who-shall-not-be-named that I would not stand for rudeness and that there would be consequences. And there were.

  1. Don’t Threaten what you can’t/won’t do

You are not allowed to kill them so don’t say you will. Tempting though the thought may be to pull out a tongue from an impertinent mouth and tie it around the neglected ears, that feat is probably not humanly possible. And the corollary of being realistic about creative forms of ‘punishment’ is that you must follow through on ensuring consequences happen. If I learnt anything about discipline in the classroom it was that.

Naturally they don’t really know that you are unlikely to twerk in front of their friends, but if you pick those things they have an abhorrent fear of, you might get away with it. But be prepared for that one (there is always one) who will call you on your vow to embarrass them. I practised at home the other day. The Labrador hid her face in horror. Mind you she still didn’t move off my Persian carpet! But I can say no one has put that threat to the test.

The thing is if you have a history of keeping your word, they will remember that. Michael took some convincing on this one and bears the emotional scars of having Mom march in not once, but twice to insist on a more acceptable haircut after visiting the hair salon on his own for a revoltingly trendy cut. He changed barbers after the second occasion, but when I say, Do not shave part of your head,’ he knows what will happen if he does. Caitlin remembers having a playdate cancelled for falsely accusing a sibling of stealing from her. So now I have a reputation of following through. They are not quite sure I wouldn’t twerk. But if I say their cell phone will sojourn in my possession, they are sure it shall.

One should be careful of what one says in frustration however. And let’s face it, we do emit some gems in the heat of the moment. A while back my dramatic daughter mimicked her childhood memory of me saying ‘I. Am. Going. To. Crack!’ (Something I know I threatened often.) Shannon recalls how she pictured me oozing yolk in Humpty Dumptyish self-destruction. What a thing for a small child to be imagining. Mind you, the cynic in me, was mildly surprised that she had been paying attention at all to my rantings.

Apologise if you over-react.

But saying ‘No’ is hard, because we want our children to like us. However sometimes, we have to settle for sullen respect and wait for them to grow up and recognise our wisdom and the strength it took not to choose to be the ‘cool, laissez-faire’ parent who curried favour with them instead of parenting them.

  1. Know when to keep a straight face and when to laugh

As a rule of thumb, it is always a good idea to develop an inscrutable, serious face. I have one child who always giggled nervously when I lined them up ‘tallest to shortest’ (which we don’t do anymore in deference to the older two who have been outstripped in the height stakes). It was so cute to see this tiny redhead, who was seldom the cause of the mayhem, trying hard not to laugh for fear of Mom’s further wrath, and I wanted to chuckle at her discomfort, but I had to glare at her too – because her more devious younger sister and brother would have walked all over me then.  And they tried the charm and cute smiles all the time.

Don’t film your child being cheeky. There is nothing cute about a child backchatting an adult. I hated that youtube clip that did the rounds a while back of a son attempting to reason with his mother, Linda.  Sorry I may be accused of being old fashioned here, but I do believe that she was making a rod for her own back.

Sometimes you have to laugh to show you are human though, but don’t forget Rule #5 then.

  1. Consequences

The problem with youngsters, even teenagers,   is that they don’t have the capacity to anticipate consequences. They can barely see beyond the next text or past the weekend’s party at Giddy Gertie’s house. So teaching them the scientific principle of action-reaction must become part of your teaching at home. I bet you Newton actually learnt this from having to sweep up the mess he made testing whether an egg or a packet of paper would fall faster. Well, he would have if Mother Newton was keen to teach him about consequences.

But chess is a good way to educate our young’uns about what can happen next. The again, it can of course teach them to outthink us so should probably be avoided at all costs.

  1. Be Fair 

One’s offspring are most sensitive to what is fair (nothing really, but don’t tell them that) and are most adept at spotting inconsistencies of treatment among siblings. Chores should be equally distributed and consequences demonstrably consistent.

Quite frankly, Solomon had it easy: he only had to decide who owned a baby. He did not have to draw up a roster for dishwashing or defend the claim that no one is the favourite child.

  1. Forgive and Move on

Always allow them to make amends/ be sorry. NEVER hold a grudge. If you really want to re-hash how angry you were when she borrowed your car sans permission, save it for her 21st – you’ll have an audience then, but more importantly you will have realised that it wasn’t as big a deal as you thought at the time.

Children must be shown that there is NOTHING they can do that will stop you loving them. You must say it. Often. Especially when they have crossed a line. And you must show it. That is arguably one of the most important rules of parenting.

Demonstrate your own penitence when you are wrong. You can do this with dignity and model how you want them to learn to express regret.

  1. Break the Rules Once in a while 

There is a place for unqualified mercy when you let them eat in front of the TV or jump on a bed with them. It becomes a treat and a special memory of fun with mum.


Now before I am bombarded by all the nouveau pc views on how negative it is to start a series of articles on parenting for happy families with ‘discipline,’ let me be very clear that discipline is the framework only for family life. Our progeny need and deserve much more than that.

But that, my dears, is a story for another day.