Life in the times of Covid-19

For the next few weeks, I am hoping to blog a bit about our daily life while in lockdown here in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

I am grateful for our home and the fact that we have food and safe circumstances.

If you need an update about COVID 19 in South Africa, you can find it here

Signing off with a prayer for love, humour and a good dose of patience.

A note on “Notes on a Nervous Planet”

I’ve been pretty quiet on here for a while – but wow, 2019 is intent on flying by before I have a moment to just breathe and take it in.

Mindfulness is a word that gets thrown around a lot. It means to be cognisant and aware of the moment you are in, rather than dwelling on the past or thinking about the future. In our hyperconnected world, this is something that can only be achieved through conscious effort. Wherever we look, there are a million distractions, a thousand reasons to divide our attention or to focus on things that are unimportant. It is so very difficult to shut out all the noise and distraction and simply appreciated he moment that you are in.

As I have mentioned in a previous blog, I have a lot of things happening at the same time. This means that it is almost impossible for me to simply focus on the thing in front of me. I have to be aware of all the other things that are going on. This also means that most days I rush between tasks and am really busy, but a the end of the day I do not have much to show for all my busyness.

I feel rushed. I feel unproductive. I feel dissatisfied. And sometimes I feel anxious about all the chaos. Not only is it my own hectic schedule that makes me feel this way – the world still take 24 hours a day to spin around its axis, but in that time, there are so many other things vying for our attention. Not only do we worry about what is happening in our neighbourhoods, but we are drawn into the dramas that play out worldwide. We are made to feel as if we are a part of every crisis.

As much as I am tempted to delete Twitter every day, it is through the fortuitous retweet by someone I follow that I heard about Matt Haig. He is a thoughtful and insightful wordsmith whose book “Reasons to Stay Alive” has been an inspiration (and lifesaver) for many people struggling with their mental wellbeing. I am currently reading his book “Notes on a Nervous Planet” which addresses exactly the kind of anxiety our over-connectedness provokes. In this book, Matt uses examples from his own life, research, and good old common sense to put modern living into perspective and provide helpful suggestions to keep healthy boundaries in place (for your own sanity).

If you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the world and the frenetic pace of society, both online and in “real life”, then I would sincerely recommend that you give “Notes on a Nervous Planet” a read. Not only will it keep you from checking in on your latest “insta-post” for a few minutes, but it will give you a whole new, healthier perspective on balance and living in a way that is better for your mental well-being in this digital age.

You can find more about this book and Matt Haig here

 

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The Mother’s sacrifice

Although this post is a little bit about Easter and Christianity, it is mostly about motherhood.

Easter is always a time for reflection about love and redemption and as a Christian, this is the part of the story I know well. This year though, I have spent quite a bit of time also thinking about sacrifice and about what this time must have been like for Mary, the mother of Jesus.

As mothers, we all want what is best for our children. We have hopes and dreams for them and want  life for them that is better than our own. We also harbour fear: that our child may be hurt or worse, and that we will be unable to protect them. I am sure that regardless of the circumstances surrounding his birth, Mary had the same hopes and dreams and fears for her child.

For a number of years following his birth, she sacrificed her familiar life for that of a refugee in Egypt. She had to raise her young child without the support of her extended family or friends. There is a good chance she would have felt isolated, afraid and alone. She must have wondered whether it would all be worthwhile and yet, she made the sacrifice required to keep her child safe.

I wonder whether Jesus was different as a child. Was he set apart from others due to his differentness and did he have to endure bullying as a result? Was he teased or rejected by his peers? Did he cry himself to sleep at night? How did his mother console him? Did she recognise his differentness as Godliness and if so, did she already begin to steeling herself against what was to come. Did she maybe sacrifice friendships to protect him (or herself) from the voices of critical people.

As a mother, I am sure that Mary had dreams of her son one day taking over the family business (carpentry), finding a wife and starting a family. She would have probably imagined watching her grandchildren playing at her feet. I wonder at what point she realised that she would have to sacrifice that ‘normal’ life for something different.

They lived in a world where speaking out against the religious and political leaders of the day was a crime that could result in severe punishment. Mary must have known that once Jesus started his ministry to the people, that he would become an even bigger target for ridicule, dismissal, prosecution and persecution. I wonder whether Mary ever begged Jesus to keep quiet or to be less outspoken, or whether she was able to sacrifice her own peace of mind to be an unfailing supporter of her child.

When the end came and Jesus was condemned to die, did Mary beg for him to be spared or did she know that his sacrifice was to be part of the plan all along? How did she bear the sorrow of walking beside him as he carried the tool of his death to Golgotha? Did she close her eyes and turn away as he was nailed to that cross, or did she watch every moment in the hope that he would seek her out in the crowd? How did she contain her anger when her son was taunted? What did she sacrifice to in order to be the woman her son needed her to be?

And even after his death and resurrection, how did she manage to say goodbye a second time? How many mothers could step back and let their children go so soon after having lost them for the first time?

You do not have to belong to the Christian faith to feel for the sacrifices Mary made as a mother.

I know the feeling of overwhelming responsibility for another human being. I have been alone, afraid and isolated at times in my parenting journey. I have had to teach my children to embrace the things that make them unique and to ignore those who do not understand them. I have had to watch my children begin to make independent decisions about their own lives. I have had to teach my children to speak their truth, even if it is not popular. I have had to watch my children deal with their own struggles and even confront their own mortality. I have had to be strong, even when every single fibre of my being has wanted to just curl up and disappear because my child has needed me.

Every day, as a parent, we have to have faith that our children will be safe as they navigate this world. We have to learn to embrace our kids exactly as they are, to allow them to make their own choices, and to support them even when they make decisions we may not agree with. We sometimes have to step back, even knowing that our children may be about to walk a difficult road. It is the hardest thing – to take that step back – it is a sacrifice that every mother will know.

image : Pieta (Michaelangelo) in St Peter’s Basilica – Stanislav Traykov

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To my children

Daughter:

May your grace be your beauty

May your kindness be your strength

May your voice be your truth

May you hold yourself to a standard only you have set

May your eyes be filled with hope

May your heart be filled with compassion

May your smile console another

May your dreams be your own

May your spirit and soul know peace

 

Son:

May your heart know love

May your voice speak the truth

May integrity be your strength

May joy fill your days

May your mind quiet in the dead of night

May you see the good in others

May you hear the music of your heart

May your dreams fill you with hope

May peace fill your soul

 

Photo credit: Lesley Scott

Remember the small moments. (10 years passes by in a flash – photo taken in 2009)

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Autism is not a tragedy… ignorance is.

Today in Word Autism Awareness Day and I want to take a moment to acknowledge all of the parents and caregivers who spend huge amounts of time an effort to advocate for their children who are uniquely different.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), are being more and more frequently diagnosed – and as scary as this may be, it is also wonderful because with a diagnosis, a person is able to arm themselves with information. Diagnosis can also go a long way to helping a child who is acutely feeling their differentness get access to interventions, support and a feeling of belonging to a community of people who are experiencing the same struggles in our neurotypical world.

For those of you who may be unaware of what ASD is, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder, and most often affects communication and behaviour. It develops during early childhood. The disorder has varying degrees of severity and therefore is known as a spectrum disorder. Asperger’s Syndrome is considered to fall on the autism spectrum.

If you look at the adults around you, you are likely to find a few adults who have never been diagnosed with Autism or Asperger’s but who are likely to fall somewhere on the spectrum. This is due partly because when those of us who are now adults were part of the schooling system (way back when), we were just expected to get on with it. Unless we exhibited a severe degree of learning difficulty, chances are that our idiosyncrasies were overlooked or ignored.  Similar things can be said of ADD and ADHD children – who would just have been labelled naughty, disruptive, lazy or disinterested.

While I am not the parent of an autistic child, I have a number of friends and acquaintances whose children fall somewhere on the spectrum. I think that all of these parents are absolute heroes. Every single one of them have done and continue to do the absolute best they can for their kids – all while taking care of other children, working, running homes and trying to find a life balance.

It is difficult enough to be a parent when everything is “normal” – but when your normal is different from everyone else’s it can be isolating and frustrating. The wonderful thing though, is that parents of differently abled children learn the wonderful gift of celebrating small achievements and of not taking a single thing for granted (something many people forget to do).

So next time you see a mom (or dad) with a child having a meltdown give them a hand (or just tell them they are doing a good job). When a child won’t look you in the eye or can’t understand why you are angry about something, be understanding. When your child’s friend (or your own) seems completely preoccupied with their current interest, leave them to it. Don’t judge the mom who feeds her kids the same 3 foods every meal because that’s all they eat, or who sends her child to school in his favourite superhero outfit 5 days a week because that is all he will wear. Don’t ever tell that dad that he needs to sort his kid out or that granny that her grandchild needs to learn some manners.

We can only look from the outside and draw our conclusions, but we never know what battles are being fought right beneath our noses.

Well done parents of kids with ASD – you are amazing and you are doing a great job!

“Children with autism are colorful- they are often beautiful, and like the rainbow, they stand out” -Adele Devine

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To stay or to go

I have friends and acquaintances who sadly have been victims of violent crime and on occasion have expressed their negative views of life in South Africa as well as hinted at the possibility of emigration.

It is not my friends’ posts themselves that intrigue me, but the comments that his posts inspire. I do understand that everyone is entitled to an opinion and I can sympathise with victims of any type of crime or violence. The negative comments and vitriol that such posts inspire do get a bit overwhelming.

Now, the emigration debate is not so much of a debate as it is a national pastime. I do not know of any other country in which the ‘should I stay or should I go’ conundrum sparks such fierce emotion on both sides.

I have friends and family who have made the choice to leave and have been happy doing so.

I have friends and family who have chosen to leave and regretted that choice.

I have friends and family who have made the choice to stay and I have friends and family who perhaps stay because they have no choice.

As a mom who wants only the best for my children, I have spent many hours tossing the options back and forth and this is what I think….

We are each entitled to believe that going or staying is the right thing to do.

If we do what we believe is the right thing, for the right reasons (I do not believe fear is the right reason) then we have made the best decision for ourselves.

If we make a choice due to fear, uncertainty or peer pressure (from those who have made a different choice to ours) then we are simply allowing ourselves to be bullied, and this decision is bound to be filled with regrets.

Personally, I believe that I was born South African for a reason. I am the first to admit honestly that our country at the best of times behaves like a rebellious young adult. Whether we are loving or hating, we are a passionate people. Just like a rebellious young adult, after years of living in a restrictive and controlling environment, we are trying to establish our own identity.

I have been witness to the very best and the very worst of what humanity has to offer and for the moment, I choose to stay.

I liked my children attending traditional schools, where respect, manners, integrity and sportsmanship were just as important as academic achievement. I like that they were schooled alongside children who came from all walks of life – some living in informal settlements while others resided in golf estate mansions. This is the reality of our South Africa and prepared them for this real world contrast.

I appreciate that I am able to teach my children life lessons like tolerance and compassion by using the examples that present themselves to us every day. The lives of those less fortunate, make us grateful for what we have.

I love that my children have friends who are black, coloured and white and that are Christian, Jewish and Muslim. I hope that this means that this next generation will understand one another better.

I am grateful that, at this point, my country is not a priority target for religious extremists. Some things, you can not protect yourself against.

Every morning, I look at the beautiful mountains that surround us, and know that I live in one of the worlds most scenic places. There have been times that this beauty has been my saving grace.

While bugs, snakes and other creepy crawlies are not my favourite things, I know that there are a myriad of amazing creatures living just a short distance away. I love that my children get to experience African nature and wildlife at its best on a regular basis. This means they will love it too and want their own children to see it one day.

Finally, the people I love and care about most live in South Africa. I believe in the power of people, and my ‘people’, my family and friends, are here. I want my children to know their grandparents, aunt, uncles and cousins. I want them to feel connected. This means they will one day value family as much as I do.

I am trying my best to encourage tolerance and compassion in my kids. I think it is something that is in short supply everywhere.

We, as a community cannot rely on our governments to fix our town, city, community or country. That is not their job. It is ours…. And if those of us who can, don’t, then who will?

Image: “Only in Africa” – a single cow crosses the N2 highway near Cape Town Airport Credit: Lesley Scott

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Let me tell you the truth…

At every stage of the parenthood journey, I have experienced both the wondrous and the horrendous. One minute life is going along like a Disney movie and the next it is barreling along at the rate of a 100 WTF’s a minute. This is normal. I think that as parents, we all have some expectation of what our experience is going to be. At least some of this expectation is entirely unrealistic (thanks Disney and TLC).

I often joke that those who know more than we do keep quiet until we have reached the point of no return and there is no going back. Then, and only then do we hear the stories that make us question our life choices.

So, in the interest of transparency – and in the hope of breaking the mom code for silence about all things that fall somewhere on the WTF parenting scale, here are some lessons I’ve learned as a parent so far:

Being pregnant can suck – big time.

TRUTH: Not all mother’s to be carry their baby like a small melon for 9 months, carrying on with their exercise routines and working until their water’s break. Growing a human being is a big deal and you may end up feeling like a beached whale. You may have morning sickness all the way through your pregnancy and heartburn may have you feeling like a fire breathing dragon. When you are feeling at your worst, strangers are going to approach you in public places and want to touch you or offer advice, or tell you their horror birth stories. You may love being pregnant, but a time will come when you have had enough – this time does not usually occur when your baby is ready to come. This is one job that you cannot rush. There is no instant gratification. It is fine to love being pregnant and it is equally fine to really dislike it. You are a good mom.

You give birth – no matter how baby makes their appearance.

TRUTH: No matter what idea you have in your head of how your birth is going to go, there is always a good chance that things will be different. In my case it was 2 emergency Caesarians (one for pre-eclampsia and one for baby in distress). The fact is though, that regardless of how baby makes their appearance, you have given birth. Do not let anyone shame you for your choices – no matter why you made them. You are a good mom.

A fed baby is a fed baby.

TRUTH: Breastfeeding is always a contentious topic. Having gone both routes for my own reasons, I can happily tell you that the best baby is a fed baby. Whether you are producing your own milk or whether the lovely folks at Nestlé are manufacturing it for you, it will keep your baby nourished and healthy and allow them to do all the growing that they need to do. You are a good mom.

No one really knows what they are doing.

TRUTH: No one really knows what they are doing all of the time. What works for one person is not going to work for another. Advice is great, and you should thank people who offer it… but then do what works for you. When you have been awake for three days and have forgotten when you last showered and your tea is cold again and baby is still crying, do what works for you. Co-sleep or don’t. Carry your baby in a carrier or push them in their stroller. Wrap them up tight or don’t. Play Beethoven or The Beatles or Bon Jovi or Justin Bieber if that’s what works . Let them have a pacifier or their dudu blankie or their chewed up teddy bear. Put them in a safe place and walk away for a minute you need to. Phone a friend and ask for help. You and your child are a unique pairing, never done before. What works for you may not be what works for others, but if everyone is alive at the end of the day, mission accomplished. You are a good mom.

People are messy.

TRUTH: As babies it is puke and poop and tears. Then your child gets older and it’s tears and blood from falls and scrapes and nosebleeds. And maybe they play a sport (so possibly more blood). Then your daughters and son become teenagers (you know where I’m going with this one). They get a boyfriend or a girlfriend and there are bound to be some tears at some point. In between all of this, you will deal with gastro and as they get older, maybe the after effects of a night out with their friends. Learn how to cope with body fluids – or negotiate with someone else to do it for you. You are a good mom.

You will also leak.

TRUTH: No one warns you about how much you will cry. You cry with joy in all the beautiful moments. You will cry with pain for all of those times when you can not fix the pain your kids feel. You will cry in frustration on days when parenting is tough. You will cry in solidarity with your children when life is hard for them. You will cry with pride when your kids do something wonderful. You will cry quietly for them when they experience loss and heartbreak. You will cry into your pillow at night on days when life is unfair. You will cry with other mothers as they experience sadness and loss. Your heart grows a millionfold when you have children and your tears are the price you pay. You are a good mom.

Things always change.

TRUTH: You have had a tough time in a parenting stage and you can’t wait for your child to get just a bit older because you think things will get better. Things do not get better. Things get different. No matter where you are on your parenting journey, there are wonderful things about that time and there are awful things about that time. This is normal. Newborns are sooooo cute, but they are exhausting. Babies are sooooo loveable, but they may not sleep well. Toddlers are sooooo entertaining, but they throw tantrums and are still learning listening skills. Preschoolers are so curious, but they have no respect for personal boundaries. Young kids are learning so much, but you run around after them all day long. Preteens have such a good sense of humour, but they are so moody. Teenagers are a mixed bag of wonderful and awful. Young adults great to talk to and are keen for their independence but are still figuring out who they are. It is absolutely normal to love your kids beyond words, but still not always like them. You are a good mom.

Not everything will go according to plan.

TRUTH: Everyone imagines living that perfect life we see in the movies. Life is however not perfect. Your baby may be born with challenges. You may separate from your partner. Your financial situation may change. Your child (or you) may develop a chronic illness. Your friends (or you or your child) may be diagnosed with a dread disease. Your child may have a learning disorder. You may deal with mental health issues. You may be a victim of crime or abuse. You may lose a child or a spouse. You may have to cope with unimaginable loss.

The truth of life is that it is going to be both beautiful and terrible. Moments of pure joy will be interspersed by moments of hurt and pain. This is all part of being human. Parenthood is the same. It is a rollercoaster journey that must be lived in the moment. Do not beat yourself up about the bad days and the perceived failures. We are all just on a learning journey together.

If you just do your best in each moment, then you are a great mom.

Photo: Sleeping Seals (they have no idea what they are doing either, but they seem perfectly fine with that)

(Credit: Lesley Scott)

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I am here

As a child I was a tomboy. I liked rough and tumble play. I rode my bike as if hoping it would take flight. I climbed trees and played with sticks and would choose a game of soccer or “cops and robbers” over a tea party any day. My imagination was my constant companion and I felt invincible – able to do anything.

Then I got a little bit older and the subtle messages began. That as a women (or even young girl), I should make myself smaller and less than. I was told directly (by adults) and indirectly (by the media) that it was unladylike to be loud or busy or curious. Instead, I should suppress my natural busyness and curiosity, and learn to be still and be quiet and not ask too many questions.

Heaven forbid that a woman should be strong and confident and opinionated. Unlike men in which these traits are considered desirable, in women they are a no-no. Instead, I should rather hide my intelligence (so as not to make a man feel uncomfortable), become more sedate (because no man wants a “wild” woman) and keep my opinions to myself (because well women are only second from the bottom to children on the ‘seen and not heard’ hierarchy). I should rather worry about my fingernails and hair style than politics or current events. I should be informed enough to have dinner table conversation, but not so well informed that I can start a debate. I should be able to smile and nod pleasantly and pretend that I am interested in anything other than things that are really important.

I tried, really I did, but in truth I am loud. I have opinions. I am intelligent. I care about important things. I am wild in my own way – although I no longer ride a bike with careless abandon (instead I learned to fly a helicopter).

When we are stilled, we become powerless. When we have no voice, we are just shadows.

I taught my daughter that having a voice was important. It is a privilege still very much denied to women in many parts of the world. We need to learn to use our voices. To speak up for ourselves and for those who can’t. We need to not be afraid of having difficult conversations or discussing issues that are contentious. We need to call out those who try to oppress or silence the voiceless.

We need to say “I am here”.

Image: Learning to fly (2005) with my friend and instructor, the late Leon Degenaar .                                                            

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Photo Credit: unknown 

Juggler extraordinaire

As an adult, life is really just one big juggling act. We may have variations in the number of balls up in the air at any one time, but sometimes, even if we’re only juggling one or two balls we can slip up and drop one.

Many moms (and I’m sure women in general) will agree with me that if you want something done, you should give it to a busy woman to do. Somehow they will always manage to add that extra task to their already crazy juggling act and get it sorted. “Sure I can have one extra kid along for a play date.”, “No worries, I can collect your new *insert item here* in between my meeting and running to pick up kids from school”, “Yes, I can take on that additional project / send your emails for you / help you with your admin in between everything else I am doing”, “Of course we can have your boss around for dinner while we are renovating and the kids are sick”. Eventually though, our act becomes precarious and we become overwhelmed.

The problem is, that we get so used to having so many things on the go at once in our busy lives as women, as mothers, as significant others, and as friends that we begin to feel guilty when we are at capacity and cannot help. Somehow, many women believe that their value is dependent on their usefulness which is just NOT true.

We all have priceless worth. Not because of what we do, but because of who we are. The people who value us for who we are when we can not add another ball to the mix, or when we drop all the balls, are the best kind of people to have around. They are the people who will be there for us, no matter what.

PS. Here is a picture of a moon rise. Incredibly large, but also rather calming to look at.

Photo credit: Lesley Scott.

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Talking to myself

It was the first time I ever spoke to one of my children when they were not with me. I was driving in my car close to the airport runway when a huge aeroplane flew overhead. Without a second thought, I said “Wow, look at that plane!” to my son. A moment later, I remembered that my son was not actually in the car with me. He was visiting with his grandparents. I recall that brief moment of feeling really stupid for forgetting that my child was not even with me, but shortly thereafter I was hit with the realisation that this is what parenthood is – that feeling of being forever bonded to another human being. Feeling as if they are always with you.

This incident happened more than 15 years ago, but I still remember it with a smile. I remember it every time I see something beautiful or different and want to show it to my kids. I remember it every time I hear a good story I want to share. I remember it every time I take a breath in to call my child to dinner. I remember it because more and more often my children are not with me in the car, or the house. They are forging their own paths. They are seeing their own beautiful and interesting things. They are telling their own stories. They are creating the beginnings of their lives in which I am not always there.

It is hard. My protective mother gene is in overdrive. I have to overcome the temptation to check in a hundred times a day. I have to figure out how to make family dinners for fewer people (and sometimes for more people). I have to learn how to offer advice only when asked for and how to trust the job I have done as a parent. Also, I have to learn how to watch aeroplanes fly overhead and just appreciate the marvel of technology for myself.

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