Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Same situation, different reaction

I've been chatting to a Twitter friend about God. He used to believe, but now doesn't. I haven't probed as to the reason yet. (It's hard holding a deep and meaningful conversation when you're limited to 140 characters!!)

He's been reading Richard Dawkins, and has found what Dawkins said in 'The God Delusion' helpful. (VERY briefly, Dawkins argues that there is no God, that everything we THOUGHT was God is just biochemistry and genes at work.) His words were that he found it 'freeing' not to have to believe in God anymore, and commented that maybe he feels this way because of years of disappointment.

In response I told him how, when Zoe died, I wanted nothing more than to give up my faith, because it also felt like I would have been freeing myself. I really and truly wanted nothing more to do with God, the Church, faith and Christians. I wanted to believe that there was no-one up there listening to me, no-one up there at all, actually. It would have been so much simpler.

For the regular readers of this blog, you will know how much I have struggled with my faith since then. However, as I have struggled, I've found myself being drawn back into faith, rather than being repulsed from it. Ultimately, for me, I find myself echoing the words of the disciples: "To whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." These words were uttered after Jesus' teaching caused hundreds to reject him. At that point, Jesus offered the disciples a way out, asking them if they wanted to leave him too. He didn't apologise for or retract the tough teaching. Equally, he didn't explain it and make it easier. He simply asked them whether or not they wanted out.

Like the disciples, I find Jesus' teaching very hard to swallow at times. His standards are so high, and often so contrary to the prevailing culture. Yet, it's either His way, or the highway. With God, there are no middle grounds, not in this. Everyone, eventually, has to make a choice about which camp they choose to stand in. If you choose the God camp, you don't get to pick and choose which beliefs to accept. It's an all-or-nothing deal.

In the end, for me, God has the words of eternal life. Life does not make sense in any other context. So, I battle on, grappling with the stuff I find difficult. Actually, more accurately, God has battled on with me - my return to faith has been all God's doing. My part has been limited to submission/ acquiescence and small steps of redeveloping trust in Him.

Graeme, on the other hand, has had a completely different reaction to mine. We both faced the same crisis of faith over Zoe. I have found my way back (or more accurately, I have been drawn back). He has not.

Grieving is a different process for each person, and takes a different length of time for each. I'm hoping that he is still in the place I was, and that, with time, as his heart heals, he will return to faith, in the same way that God has drawn me back to himself. I hope that he doesn't get stuck. I hope that ... I hope that he's not too proud or rebellious to allow God to draw him back. I hope, most of all, that he finds peace - the shalom peace of God that passes all understanding.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Times opinion

You may or may not have read the Sunday Times article on the 18th Oct about the Top 100 schools in SA. I only bought the paper because someone commented to me about the article and I wanted to see which schools had 'made' it. When I read the criteria, though, for how the schools were decided upon, I became more and more incensed.

Time to 'fess up: I only became more and more incensed because I realised that the school at which I teach will NEVER make the list. I believe it should be on the list. It's a pretty phenomenal school. But this rather personal gripe got me thinking, and the more I thought, the more I realised how biased The Times' approach was.

Being me, I got all hot under the collar about it, so I decided to write to the Times and give them an earful. Well, they published it. Granted, they edited it somewhat, but the essence of what I wanted to say is there - I think they did a good job of retaining the essence, even if they lost the meat.

Thus far, I've only had good reviews. That doesn't mean to say it's a really good piece, but it's still nice! (I love having a fan club!!) It's also nice hearing from people who's opinions I respect, saying they agree with me.

So - I can now say I'm a published author. How's that for cool?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

One week left

The End Is Nigh.

No - not THAT end (although if you believe the movie "2012", we're all about to die anyway).

I mean the OTHER end. You know. The end of my "holiday" one.

And in this final week, rather than getting to spend oodles of time with my precious son (who, I might add, is growing daily in the cuteness scores), I will instead be spending time trying to:

a) get the back garden finished (weeding, planting, weeding, filling in holes the dogs have dug, weeding, oh - and more weeding!)
b) get the car fixed (it's got 2 leaks now...)
c) care for my sick husband (who now has my gastro bug - sorry Babes! I know how k** you feel and will do my best to keep the kids & dogs quiet and out of your hair)
d) write Christmas cards to post overseas (can you believe it's that time of the year again?!)
e) finish the planning for the matrics for 2010
f) get the electrical certificate for the house & finish the last few handyman jobs that are left over from our renovations
g) organise Janel's party (which is in about a month's time... eeek!)
h) do a handover with my colleague

And it's not as if I have hours and hours in which to do it. Nellie has swimming on Tues & Fri afternoons, play therapy on Wed (after which we rush back to nursery for Monkeynastix), and I have a coffee date with a new friend on Tues morning.

Right. So nothing too strenuous then.

Oh yes, and if there's time, I would like to plan my own birthday party (which is in 3.5 weeks time). I mean, it would be nice, for a change, to actually celebrate my life, as opposed to letting the moment slide by because I'm... oh, I don't know... TOO BUSY?!?!

Having a daughter who's birthday is so close to my own is rather a pain. I didn't organise that terribly well, did I? Especially as my primary love language is still presents. Yup. I reeeeally didn't plan that too well*.

Well then, I guess I'd better go and get my beauty sleep or I'll never survive this last week of "holiday", hadn't I?

*Note to self for next child**: make sure the birthday is in March - far enough away from siblings and parents and Christmas for you to get decent presents.

** Note to readers: There is only a 0.02% chance of there BEING a next child. At least, those are the stats if it's biologically mine. Which it might not be. Or might not be if I'm still alive after G has read this and not killed me for even suggesting the idea of another child...

Movie recommendation

Do yourself a favour. Go and see "Cloudy with a touch of meatballs". Not only is it a GREAT movie, it has a GREAT message. It's funny, sweet, serious and beautifully illustrated.

And then do yourself another favour. Sit through the credits. Watch out for the vignette of London. And then die laughing! When you've seen it, you can come back here and laugh with me. I would hate to spoil it for others, so won't say more.

As fantastic as the movie was, I think that single moment was the absolute bestest, BEST moment of the movie for me.

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! The creators are definitely people after my own heart.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Matric paintings 2009

A few images I took today of our graphic artists - just the ones I liked.
Mishkaa Armien

Kirsten Koch
Kirsten Koch
Jade Dowrie
Jade Dowrie

Jade, talented girl that she is, got 100% for her FINAL Art prac mark when it was moderated just recently.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Oh yes, THAT's why teachers need holidays

Today I went back to work for Valedictory. The day started with breakfast at 7.20am, and ended with tea and biscuits & a viewing of the matric art* at around 12h00. Needless to say, after chatting to some of the kids & staff, I only left at around 13h00.

Nate was incredible. Given that there were well over 700 people there at one point, that there was a marimba band playing only 1 table away from us, and that roughly 200 people talked to him, he was remarkably calm by the end. Of course, his nap and feeding routine went out the window, and we're reaping that particular whirlwind as I type (so this will be short!).

It was amazing hearing all the speeches and seeing the kids one final time. They are an incredible bunch of kids and I will miss several of them. They certainly are more self-aware and more aware of what they're bidding farewell to than I was at their age! I certainly shed a tear (which is more than I've done for any other year group) or two during the proceedings.

However, what strikes me now is how tired I am. It's not just the early start. Rather, I'm suffering from the same thing Nate is - massive over-stimulation. One forgets so quickly how stressful it is just being in the same place as 800 kids. It's very different to being in an office complex with 800 adults - even with all the noise of computers, photocopy machines, telephones, etc. Kids make a LOUD noise! Passing in the corridors, during break times, at sports, during group work... there is a constant noise that is not mitigated by carpets and other soft furnishings. Schools have a lot of hard surfaces, and sound reflects easily off hard surfaces.

Before you factor in how exhausting teaching itself is, one already has higher stress levels because of the constant noise one must acclimatise to. Having been away for nearly 5 months, I've obviously lost my ability to physically tolerate a certain amount of noise. By that I don't mean to imply that I found the noise unpleasant today. I didn't. I just found it incredibly tiring.

Then, when one does factor in the teaching, the admin, the stress from silly government employees who are power hungry and therefore determined to make you realise that the sun shines out of their backsides, and low pay which leaves one in a constant state of moderate financial crisis, it's no wonder that teachers NEED a holiday every 3 months. It's either that or they'd lose their minds (or leave teaching, which many do choose to do).

I loved being back - I really have missed everyone - but oh boy! It's going to take some getting used to again, and while I do that, I'm going to be really, really tired. I just know it. Thank God it's only 6 weeks till holidays!
*Another post to follow with some images of some of our top graphic artists.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Kids of this age...

... drive their parents insane.

I was reading Cecily's blog about her 3.5yr old daughter, and nearly hosed myself. She could have been describing Janel!

1) The endless talking... And it's not just the 'Why?' stuff.

Mommy, look at my story (this while we're driving to nursery) - LOOK Mommy.
I can't, Sweetie. I'm driving.
Look when we stop then.

Mommy, you stopped and didn't look. LOOK Mommy.
OK. At the next stop. (duly examine book for all of one millisecond)
What's happening here, Mommy?
[make up something that seems vaguely correct]

Or the constant repeating of some question. About 10 times. In a row. I've learnt that in order to stop her after the first or second repeat, I have to practice reflective listening: Yes my love, the [use exact words here...] bus was very big and that man had a funny hat on.

Of course, this WILL be followed by a 'Why?', and then another, and another, and another. And although I hate myself for it, eventually I will get to the point where I will simply say: NO MORE QUESTIONS. (Why? Because I said so/ because you're giving me a headache/ just because.) I don't want to stifle her natural inquisitiveness. I want her to remain curious about the world for the rest of her life. I want her to continue asking questions. BUT... OMW! Enough already!

What are you watching, Mommy?
7de Laan (my favourite soapie, in Afrikaans, which she doesn't understand)
What's that man doing?
[brief age-appropriate explanation]
[brief age-appropriate explanation]
What did he say?
[brief age-appropriate explanation]
[brief age-appropriate explanation]

[mother rudely interrupts] BE QUIET. I'm trying to watch my programme.
Sorry Mommy.

[3 secs pass]
Mommy, what's that girl doing?.....

2) Tantrums. We didn't really have the terrible twos. We had some small issues during the terrible (is there a word that starts with 'th' meaning aful??) threes, but we definitely seem headed for the f***ing fours. Ever since our holiday away where it was just Mommy, Nellie and Nathan - no Daddy - she has been acting out/ up. Wanting to be a baby - lying on her back, kicking her legs and crying; or wanting to be rocked while she pretends to cry. Wanting to be carried. All. the. time. Performing when it's time to have supper/ go to bath/ go to bed.

Not just performing, but putting on the performance of her life. Sometimes she screams so much she vomits. And we've started with the hitting, kicking and spitting. The only thing that seems to work with her is threatening to leave her (not as in LEAVE her, but as in leave the room). Take away her audience and suddenly she starts to conform. In the process she tries to play us off one against the other. 'I want Mommy to bath me.' Mommy duly arrives to wash her. 'Go away. I want Daddy.' Whether Daddy arrives, or whether Mommy says no, the crying will begin. If I leave the room, she screams. She really has a fear of abandonment, so I hate having to use that tactic to get her to behave, but it's the only thing she seems to understand. Smacking doesn't work. Taking away treats doesn't work. (I hate to think what she's going to be like as a teenager if she's already this strong-willed. She definitely gets that from me.)

3) The dogs. She gives them conflicting messages, then complains and cries when they get confused.

Baggins! Baggins! Come, boy. NO Alyssa. NOT YOU. NOOOO 'Lyssa. 'Lyssa.. NOOO.
No Baggins! [when he lies down or starts to play with Alyssa]. NOOO.
Mommy, Baggins won't play with me.
[Baggins, getting no joy from Alyssa, who is only interested in the Nellie given that she is only interested in Baggins, turns to play with Nellie, and starts to gently bite her arm/foot/leg]
OW, Baggins! NOOO Baggins.
Mommy, Baggins bit me. Naughty Baggins {hit the dog}.
'Lyssa. 'Lyssa. Come here girl. [Alyssa comes and dutifully lies down]
NO, Baggins, NO. [as Baggins attempts, once more, unsuccessfully, to draw Alyssa into a game]
Mommy, 'Lyssa is playing with Baggins [not really, she isn't. She just can't escape Baggins as she was lying down for you to pat her and now he's jumped on her.]

4) The falling over... It would seem that the gravity Nellie experiences is about 3 times as great as that which the rest of humanity struggles against. I say that because Nellie seems incapable of standing up on two feet. She is forever leaning against me, or against something else, then losing her balance and falling over, hurting some part of her anatomy in the process, which requires it to be kissed better and a bit of a fuss being made.

It's worst when she's in a funk and sulky. Maybe her mood is like that when the earth is pulling on her most. I could see how that might make one irritable and otherwise. Or maybe the earth is pulling on her most at the times when she is moody and sulky. I certainly feel the earth's pull more strongly when I'm in a funk - I want nothing more than to lie on my bed at those times. Yes, must definitely be the latter I think.

Either way though, it annoys the hell out of me because her extra weight on my legs usually unbalances me. (You would think that, by now, I'd learnt to expect the unexpected lurching from across the room to lean on me. Sadly, not so.) Since I'm often carrying Nathan, or some other equally heavy object, it's a battle to remain upright. When I don't, then some part of my anatomy also suffers, but there's no-one who kisses my owwies better. No sirree. I'm on my own in this one. (Sometimes I hate being an adult.)

But then, there are the things that I absolutely adore about her (in no particular order).

1) How often she tells me that she loves me. (OK, sometimes it's just because she knows she's in trouble and wants to avoid it by distracting me.)

2) The fact that she so desperately wants to spend quality time just with me (no Nathan or Daddy). While I know it's a reaction to Nathan, it still makes me feel special.

3) How incredibly helpful she can be - fetching and carrying things for Nathan, putting his dummy in when he cries, taking her plate to the kitchen after her meal, getting herself some water to drink when she's thirsty... she's definitely growing up.

4) How nicely she plays with the dogs. It's taken the better part of a year for her & them to get comfortable with games, but there are times when we don't have the scene above and they actually play very nicely together. It's wonderful to see.

5) How much she loves Nathan. She is desperate for him to grow up so he can play with her, but even though he can't, she still talks to him and wants to include him in stuff. 'Mommy, tell Nathan what I'm doing. Tell him.' [I tell him.] 'What does he say, Mommy?' [make up something appropriately linked to her activity]. 'And what else, Mommy?' 'Nothing else, my love.' 'NO Mommy, AND WHAT ELSE?' [make up something else] 'Now what's he saying, Mommy?'...

The problem, of course, as I see it, is that she does the things I love while AT THE SAME TIME doing the things I find annoying. Which makes it incredibly hard to focus only on the behaviour one wants to encourage.

But reading Cecily's blog was helpful. It seems that I am not alone in this. It would seem that ALL little kids (you can't call them toddlers anymore, can you?) go through this. It would seem that this is a developmental phase which requires that all kids annoy the hell out of their parents.

That's all fine and well, but I'd quite like to know when this phase will end. I'd quite like to know that she's not going to be miserable from now till teenagerhood, and then turn into the monster from hell when she turns 13, or so. Or worse, turn into Kevin. God forbid!

However, the story of Zagazoo bears no such comfort for me. Nope. It would seem that somewhere in the fine print I missed the bit about annoying behaviours that start during toddlerhood and last until some unspecified time in the future when they have annoying children of their own. Damn! Maybe I should get glasses...

Everything in 3's

G made a comment to me, a while back, about the way Nellie talks, and now I've started noticing it EVERYWHERE.

Why is it that Saffas repeat everything 3x? Sorry, sorry, sorry! Morning, morning, morning! No, no, no! Ok, Ok, Ok. Ja, ja, ja.

If you don't believe me, just start listening to those around you. I'm rather bemused by it. It's a rather redundant thing to do, but it would seem that it's a common Saffa trait.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Flooding again

When I went to take Nellie to nursery on Monday, this is what greeted us.

The entrance to nursery is just off the photo, on the right, where you can see the pavement disappear. I had to park on the pavement around the corner and walk between the pavement and the wall in order to get in without getting wet. According to the principal, this is not the worst flooding they've seen, but this was a lot worse than the winter floods we've had this year. Maybe winter is just reminding us that it isn't actually summer yet.
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Orange Monster 2

Nellie was the first orange monster in our family. However, it seems that another one has appeared...
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Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Ok, yes, I know I'm VERY behind the times. I mean, I haven't seen Up yet either... but bear with me. Eventually I'll catch up (like in a gazillion years). In the meantime, here's my penny's worth on this movie.

As you all know, it's the story about a German commandant's son who befriends a Jewish child in a concentration camp. They don't have a normal friendship because of the presence of the electric barbed-wire fence between them. However, it is still a fascinating look into Nazi-ism (should that be one 'i'?) from a very fresh perspective.

And as you've all seen the movie already, I know, you all know how it ends. I won't spoil it for the potentially one reader who hasn't, though. But, OMW, what a seriously harrowing ending. Couldn't someone have warned me? I mean - HELLOOOOO??? I should not be watching movies like that. As the ending became obvious, I could feel myself clamming up inside. I just kept thinking - this is Hollywood... they'd never let it happen. It won't happen. His dad will save him. It'll all turn out okay...

And then it happened.

And my heart turned to ice.

And all because of one decision, made from a desire to make it up to his friend for the lie he told.

One split second decision - back in that dining room - to save his own skin or to tell the truth - framed the rest of their friendship, concluding in that horrific way.

As I switched off the DVD player, I was left with several questions: 1) How did that event change his father's paradigm about the 'great' nation? 2) How did it change the relationship between his mother and his father? 3) While I know that he didn't know what the outcome would be of his decision to make it up to his friend for lying, his sacrifice meant the world to his friend. (Can you imagine going through that horror on your own? Wouldn't it have been slightly less horrific if you had a friend like that to hold your hand?)

Ignoring Q3 for the moment, I REALLY wanted to know how the story progressed from there. That wasn't, for me, the end of the story. It was really only the beginning. An event like that changes the world forever, and I want to know about the rest of the story. While I know that the rest of the story probably wouldn't make for a good movie, if it were to be made, I'd go to see it. If the rest of the story were written in a novel, I'd read it.

The mother's portrayal of the moment she learns of the event was... awesome. I have recently begun to appreciate how difficult it is to play that sort of role with any honesty or integrity. Yet, she managed it with such integrity my heart wondered how she learnt about grief, because only someone who knows grief intimately can protray pain like that.

I was surprised, I guess, that I didn't react more to the movie in general. I was surprised at how easy it was to put up a wall between the atrocities I was seeing and my emotions. Maybe, growing up & living in SA, where poverty and inhumanity are something we see all too often, have taught me how to do that. Maybe losing Zoe has taught me how to partition my heart and mind. Maybe the inhumane treatment of the Jews is just so awful to contemplate that I don't.

The problem is, though, that if you don't react to inhumanity, if you wall yourself off, you become immune to it, and ultimately you become able to partake in it. All that evil requires to flourish is that good men do nothing, the saying goes. For that reason, I applaud the mother's reaction to the whole 'work camp' thing. She refused to just accept it and go along with it, despite being married to a soldier. She kept her conscience.

Sometimes, when I look at the way I treat those around me who are less fortunate than I am, I wonder whether I have lost mine, or whether I'm in the process of losing mine, or whether I'm in the process of just discovering mine.

All in all, it's a fabulous movie and definitely worth seeing, despite its ending, or maybe because of it.


I still haven't blogged about our holiday. Nellie, Nate & I went away with my family to our holiday house, Blombos. (Graeme went to the Umfolozi Game Reserve with a school trip,) We had a lovely few days there. There were several whales & calves in the bay, just beyond the breakers (in the photo below they were just beyond the swells, but off to the right). It was fantastic being able to watch them at meal times and tea times, from the comfort of the house. They were very active, breaching for quite a while on one day. If I'd had a decent camera that would have captured them at that distance, I would have taken some photos.

As usual, the sunsets were amazing. It feels like you can see from horizon to horizon. The blue of the sky was incredible... you could lose yourself in it when you look straight up - nothing to impede your view of it. That sky has always embodied freedom for me. It was good to breathe in that freedom again; it was like meeting up with a good friend after a long period of separation.

We spent our days playing & sleeping. We went down to the beach one day, went for a walk on the beach another evening, one day it rained so we played indoors. Nellie found a fantastic playmate in her cousin Julia. Nate found several playmates amongst the various adults and children present.

If I say so myself, I coped really well with getting bottles ready with no electricity in the middle of the night (ie no lights, & no microwave) and with having both kids on my own for 4 days. I don't think I would have coped as well though if it hadn't been for Oupa and Ouma who were just amazing in their help and support. We only had one blow-up and that was because Nellie hadn't had her nap so was shattered by the evening. The drive up and down was a lot better than I anticipated, but longer than I hoped given that I had the dogs & kids to feed while en route.

There were several hitches; it wasn't all bliss - one night the dogs decided that 2am would be a good time to start throwing up in the house; Nellie decided that while on holiday would be a good time to suddenly start displaying her sibling jealousy; we had no running water for most of our time there because the well pump was broken; once that was fixed we still had no showers as the gas geysers were broken. However, it was still wonderful to get away for a bit, and wonderful to finally make my first trip back to Blombos since returning to SA. I was trying to remember my last trip, and couldn't. That means it could easily have been before we moved to the UK - 10 years!

I enjoyed spending time with some of my nieces & my nephew. It was really lovely seeing them interact and getting to know them a bit better out of their normal setting. As with my dad, it reminded me that part of the reason we came home was to spend more time with them, and I've been remiss in following that through.

I was shocked at how run-down the place has become, or maybe I just never saw it before because I was having too much fun. The dune is badly eroded, making it awkward to get down onto the beach. There has recently been a storm too, so the high water mark is cluttered with large tree branches (trunks) and other flotsam and jetsam. It meant we had no shortage of fuel for the fires, but it did make it more difficult to actually get to the beach itself, especially when you're carrying a child, two bags, having to hold the hand of another child and have two dogs underfoot!

What was particularly wonderful was spending time with my dad. Although he only lives up the road, I wish I could see more of him. Living with him and my step-mom was awkward (it always is when you live in someone else's space) but it was also incredibly special spending all that time with him. Being with him on holiday reminded me of what I'm missing out on. Ultimately, I guess that's what family holidays are about - reconnecting with your family.
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Nate had his first swing today. At least I got a photo of that, even if there's no video.

He seemed to enjoy it for a little while, but as he's not accustomed to wind, he wasn't too sure about the breeze from swinging.
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4 months

Today Nathan turns 4 months. I honestly don't know how many weeks that is, and couldn't be bothered to work it out either). He continues to grow, fast and furious. Over the past few weeks he has:
  • started to find his mouth with other objects (i.e. he's started trying to put things in his mouth - his burp cloth, his dummy, toys)
  • started solids (he seems to like yoghurt & butternut ... and HATES baby cereal. Sigh. Well, I'll put that in his milk then.)
  • started sleeping less during the day
  • become a happy, smiley baby
The only time he cries now is when there is really something wrong (tired, wet nappy, clothes too tight, sore tummy), so his colic finally seems to be all gone. He still has a little trouble with reflux we discovered when we took him off his meds. Thus, he's back on meds, but at a reduced amount so that we can wean him off it. He's reverted to his little squack cry to alert us to the fact that he's hungry, which isn't a cry at all - more a particular type of gurgle. He loves people, being the centre of attention and is very social.

Of course, now that he's approaching his developmental milestones, I'm feeling sad about going back to work and missing them. No doubt, he will turn over/ crawl/ walk/ talk/ etc first for Priscilla and not for us. I don't begrudge her that, I just wish I could be there to share in the moment.

The other thing that I've realised afresh is that with Nellie, we had the video camera out a lot when she was this age, and thus far, I've taken no footage of Nathan. I guess that's the burden of not being the first child.... In my defense though, Grandma had our video camera for the LONGEST time... certainly from long before Nathan was born. The other night he was in the bath and having SUCH a wonderful time (doing the most gorgeous sighs of pleasure) and I wished that I could have recorded it. Anyway, now the camera is back, so hopefully we will get some footage of him before he grows up too much!