Tuesday, 6 December 2016

On grief

Ten weeks ago, my father had a fall. It was the day before my youngest child's birthday, and we'd gathered at my parents' house as we do almost twice a week, every week.

I didn't know that that day might be the last normal conversation I have with him. This wasn't the first time he fell. He often has little slips which we dismiss because he's clumsy or doesn't look where he's going. This, combined with his refusal to see a doctor, made me feel irritated and annoyed, especially since my focus was on the baby of the family hitting such a major landmark.

That was a Thursday. By Monday, the pain was too much to bear.. My mother finally convinced him to go to an ER. She called me to moan about how long they'd been waiting. I offered to come up and she said not to worry, they'd be home soon. Then I thought of how bored she must be, so I drove up to the hospital anyway.

That was the beginning of our descent. When the doctor told us he'd cracked his vertebrae, I was still more irritated and angry with him for not taking the fall more seriously and seeing a doctor sooner. At the same time, I was relieved that he'd finally agreed to get some treatment - he'd have an op, and two weeks later he'd be home.

Except that he's not. And now he's no longer even himself. As my sister says, we handed a full person over to the hospital, and in his place we have half a person. A quarter. And we're supposed to be happy and excited when they point out his progress and pretend that it's completely amazing that he was able to take a step yesterday - when 10 weeks ago, he wasn't just taking steps, he was sitting with and laughing and giving his opinion about the upcoming US election and delighting in his grandchildren.

Not that it's the hospital's fault. It's no one's fault. Just that he didn't just have a cracked spine. He also had two brain bleeds, and perhaps it those that make him think that I am my mother or that I'm keeping him waiting for the boat he needs to catch or the military aircraft he has to jump out of. I hope it's not. I hope it's just ICU syndrome, because if I never have another talk about politics, the Holocaust, opera or the latest funny thing my daughter said with a man who can cite the name of every American president, who an encyclopedic knowledge of classical music and who can argue Israel's side like nobody's business, I feel like my own heart will stop. I feel like I will want it to.

My father has always said that he would never want to be tied to tubes and machines. So when I see him strapped to a bed because he constantly tries to pull the feeding tube out of his stomach, I feel sick. When I see the tube running from the tracheostomy he had when he fell into a coma, I feel sick. I know these things were necessary and we're lucky to have him and if it weren't for them, we wouldn't. But he'd hate it. He does hate it.

He's missed his birthday. My sister's fortieth. His summer garden - one of the things that make him happiest. Today as I drove my eldest daughter to her first school concert, she asked why her grandpa wasn't coming. I cried the whole way through. He's missed seeing anything except the glass walls of an isolation room in ICU while the summer beats on. These things have been dulled for us. We see people laughing and we resent them. As the three of us walk out of the hospital, we glare at the people who have received good news. Why should they have happiness? Why should they be allowed to walk in the world?

Every time we think he has turned a corner, he regresses. On Friday he was supposed to be admitted into a rehab, one step closer to coming home. Instead he contracted a superbug and now has no idea what's going on. My mom can't figure out Gd's plan for him. What ball and chain keeps snapping him back to that hospital bed?

I carry grief with me every minute. I feel like the Princess and the Pea - I do interviews, I write, I go for dinners, I chat to the moms at school, and all the time there's that little kernel of sadness trapped in the wall of my heart, like a stone in a shoe. Sometimes I choose not to go to the hospital for a day and I put him out of my mind, and I wonder if I am a Jeffrey Dahmler-grade psycho for not caring about him. I hear the latest bout of bad news and I switch off. I berate him in my head and tell him that if he's going to go, he shouldn't drag it out. I hate myself for thinking that and wonder what's wrong with me for having such thoughts. I think of seeing him and hearing him say nothing except "Gene, get thees tubes out of me, I need to go home" and how I will respond "Dad, I'm Lisa and you know you can't pull those tubes out or go home and I feel weary. 

Friday, 5 August 2016

For my darlings

This morning I was reading this beautiful post by Zodwa Kumalo-Valentine, and it got me thinking about what I would want to say to my own two sweethearts. With both of their birthdays drawing near, I feel even more nostalgic than ever - there is so much I wish I could impart to them. It's not just about telling them things, like be sure to give the foods you've sworn off a second chance - I spent 30 years thinking I hated olives, and I truly regret the waste. More than anything, I wish I could let them feel, for one instant, the ginormous love that consumes me every time I look at them (well, except when Jessie is crying because I have taken the dog food out her mouth or Leya is blaming me for the fact that she fell down the stairs at school). I'm convinced that if they just knew how adored they are, they would never feel an instant's self-doubt or loneliness, and that would protect them from most of life's troubles: the worry about friends who are giving you a rough time, the boy who isn't interested, the boss who thinks their ancient labrador could do a better job. But, since I can't, I'm going to tell them these things instead:

1. You have been given the most fantastical, curious, thrilling present ever. It's called the world. It is full of creatures that look as if they have escaped from some madman's imagination; people who will leave indelible marks upon your heart, sights that will make you doubt your eyes. Put the remote down and explore it - you will never regret expending a bit of energy to have an adventure. And believe me, every moment has the potential to present an adventure, because every person you encounter has a story to tell.

2. Try to make an occasion out of every moment. If you want a cup of coffee, ditch the instant and brew a pot. Splurge on the thousand count cotton sheets. Only eat Lindt. Yes, it will make your life very expensive, but it will mean that, no matter how crappy your day, you always have something to look forward to - even if it;s just the feeling of luxurious linen when you get into bed. More than that, it's also about cherishing yourself. Sadly, when you're an adult, the gifts become restricted to birthdays and Christmas (no Kinder eggs just because, Leya - sorry) so you need to do the spoiling yourself.

3. Life is what it is. But you can make it different through your attitude. Not sure what I mean? Let me explain. When I first moved in with your dad, I was taken aback at how unromantic our life together was. One day I looked at him brushing his teeth next to me and I though, "This is it. This is what life is - just brushing your teeth, with someone standing next to you." It wasn't the all-night chats and sympathetic cups of coffee I'd expected. And it can't be - there's always too much going on. So yes, our relationship is about brushing teeth - but we laugh while we're doing it.

4. If you're not sure that you like the jacket/dress/shoes, walk away. If you can't stop thinking about it, go back and get it.

5. You should always say yes to cake. If you're trying to choose between deliciousness and cellulite, remember that life is short and you will get cellulite anyway.

6. There will always be some part of your body that you don't like. Trust me - what you look like today is as good as you are ever going to look. I had a six-pack in my twenties, but I hated my thighs so I would try cover up on the beach. Then I had you two and suddenly my stomach looked like a bag full of fighting chihauhaus. I don't even know what has happened there (please don't feel too bad about ruining my body. I mean, feel a little bit bad, but no doubt things wouldn't have turned out quite so badly if I'd kept exercising. Plus, I've forgiven you). My point is that one day you will look at a picture of yourself and think "flip, I was beautiful" (trust me, you will - I look at you both daily and think that). So you may as well stop wasting time and start thinking it right now. Don't be arrogant though - nothing worse than someone who is so self-conscious about her looks that she carries her head as if there is an Old Masters oil painting on top of her neck.

7. You will always be better at some things than some people, and worse at some things than others. My guess is that you won't be able to count past 20, and that you will wait 15 minutes for a car to pass you at a Stop street rather than take the chance that you will bump into it. Also, don't expect to excel at sports. But you will both have a great sense of humour and an enormous vocabulary and giant hearts - which you can thank your dad for. Don't waste time on the things you can't do because you'll probably never become an expert at them. Rather find your passion and pour everything into it.

8. No matter how difficult life seems, it all gets better after you turn 30. Really, it does. Some of the things that worried me most when I was growing up was that I wasn't good enough, hadn't achieved enough - the list goes on. Then I turned 30 and suddenly I just knew that it would all be ok. And if it isn't, therapy is never a waste of money.

9. I hate to say this, but it's pretty crap sometimes to be a woman. I'm just warning you that you may be in for a tough time. Who knows what the world will be like when you grow up, but I still grapple with the fact that men make more money for doing the same job, and that women still have to do housework after a hard day at the office. Not to mention the ridiculous efforts to boost us, like 'Women's Month'. Or the questions like 'What do women really want?' I hope that you will be pissed off enough about it to buck the system and speak your mind.

10. There's great comfort to be taken from the knowledge that, when you're faced with a fork in the road, whichever choice you make is the right one (unless one of those choices was to be a drug mule in Thailand, of course). You'll never know how good or bad the alternative you didn't opt for would have turned out to be - all you know is your current reality, which you can choose to make as pleasant or as difficult as you wish. Of course, if you're really unhappy, it's not always easy to change your circumstances - but sometimes, it's empowering to remember that you do have choice.

11. You really are the most loved, precious girls in the world. I am so glad that you picked me to be your guardian and guide through this life. I have treasured every nanosecond with you - you make me laugh endlessly. The chance to see the world through your eyes has been a blessing. Leya, may your spark endure and Jessie, may your sweet heart prevail.

I love you both, more than anything in the whole wide world.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

What kind of mom are you?

Not too sure? Then read my handy guide to find out.

1. The sanctimom. These are the people who are going bring down Monsanto, so they deserve a giant 'thank you'. But as the Universe (which, being vegan, they refer to gratefully with the regularity of a metronome) is all about balance, they are inadvertently wreaking havoc in the process. For example, they are also destroying the wheat- and sugar farming industries with their sugar and gluten-free baking practices. Also, they are destroying the self-esteem of those of us who thought that it was enough just to avoid viennas, and balk at the idea of grinding organic flaxseed for our tiny darlings' breakfast (I assure you, there really are people who do this.) For example, last week I ran into a mom arranging the cupcakes she had made for her son's birthday ring. "Wow, did you get those from the home industry?" I asked, admiring the intricate web of blue chocolate that had been spun around the Spiderman motif. "No," she tinkled happily, "made them myself!" (I could actually see the exclamation mark shimming in the air between us.) I thought back to my own offering for Leya's last birthday ring: cupcakes purchase from Checkers (not even Woolies) with a distinct bum-shaped impression, because she insisted on sitting on them and I couldn't be arsed (haha) to go out and buy more. "It really was no trouble," The Good Mom trilled. "Well...maybe it was just the gluten-free batch that added on some extra time." Dashed, I made a conscious effort to remind myself of my good points. However, since I had not even brushed my teeth yet that morning, I was hard-pressed to think of  myself as a success as either a parent or a person.

2. Moms gone wild. The other night, I went for a girls' dinner. One glass of wine turned into two and - wait, you thought there was more? No, that's it. No tequila, no vodka, not even a third glass of wine. Still, what I had was enough to have me telling the Uber driver all about what was lurking underneath my bra. I might even have shed a small, dronk verdriet tear as I confessed to him that things weren't quite what they used to be. Fortunately, I stopped just before I showed him the evidence. I know I'm not alone in this. Just yesterday I asked one of the moms at my nursery school how her girls' weekend was. "Crazy!" she said. "There were girls dancing, girls skinny-dipping - it was all happening." Another incident brought home the commonness of this phenomenon. I was having breakfast with my friend, June, and asked her about her weekend at AfrikaBurn. "It was weird," she answered. "There were a lot of people there who looked like they just didn't belong, all doing coke and talking about how many drugs they had taken - kind of like people in high school bragging about how much they've drank." Don't judge, I pleaded with her. Those people are probably parents with small babies who managed to find a babysitter and, like a convent girl released for the weekend, or a Jewish person facing a seafood buffet, they just can't help themselves.

3. The judgey mom. Hands up - who hasn't judged other moms before? Uh uh uh you over there - don't deny it. I know occupied a front row seat in this category from the minute my first baby was handed to me. Brandishing my homemade lentil puree, I tutted to myself about the mothers who Actually Bought Their Children Purity. I frowned upon the users of walking rings, compromising their children's hip flexors and ability to form healthy adult relationships or do maths. I shook my head when friends reprimanded their children in harsh voices. Don't they know they are crippling the tiny angels' self-esteem for life, I wondered? Then I had my second child. Just the other day I found myself in the shoes of those I had judged, when I made my seven-month-old baby cry and every mother in Dis-Chem turned to me, anger and hate in their eyes, ready to pelt me with their prescriptions. Also, by now I have read enough 'helpful' mommy blogs to roll my eyes when I am reminded to be mindful, and to lose the tech. Please. If you have never counted the minutes to bedtime while sneaking a peak at your cell, you're probably flying your unicorn while you read this. 

Monday, 9 May 2016

Monitor, monitor, in the hall...

Who is the most given to fussing of us all? Because, let's be honest ladies - when it comes to kids, we all get a little OTT sometimes. The question is, who's worse - the new mom, the seasoned mom, or the no mom? Let's take a look (but just a warning first: some of this sounds a little nasty. Please don't take too much offense - the reason I feel I can write this post is because I was the worst of the worst at every stage, forbidding my father to use his iPad if he was in the same room as my baby in case he gave her brain cancer):

1. Women without kids: If you're looking for advice about raising a happy, balanced child, you shouldn't look to your mother for advice. Nor should you turn to an expert. Rather, find the nearest woman who has recently celebrated her 25th birthday, and ask her. I find that such women are full of opinions and counsel, based on how they imagine motherhood will be. And what magazines tell them it will be like - to which I say: "mwhahahahahah". Listen up, women without kids: the only time you will cradle your stomach is when you are grasping at the saggy skin on your post-pregnancy body, wondering whether you will be able to stuff it into the waistband of your jeans. And the loving look you give your baby? It often comes only after the child has been asleep for an hour, after which sufficient time has elapsed for you to forget that you spent the entire saying nothing besides "Please don't do that. Please don't do that. Please don't do that." - the only variation being an occasional change in emphasis, as in "Please don't do THAT" or, when you have reached the point of desperation, "PLEASE don't do that." The ignorance of these women would be endearing, were it not for their habit of saying things like "I know exactly what you mean when you say you're exhausted because you were up every third hour last night, because I just got a puppy."

2. Aunts without kids: Aunts are as bad as women without kids, in that they haven't yet realised that a baby isn't a sweet, pinkly gurgling bundle of hugs, but a vomit-scented tsunami of uncoordinated limbs that somehow needs to be inserted into a minute babygro. However, they have had a bit of exposure to babies through their sisters, and as they say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Watching their nieces being fed and bathed has led them to believe that they have a handle on the creatures, which also makes them prone to dispensing advice. In fact, no one has stronger ideas on child raising than the freshly minted aunt: I remember saying sternly to my sister, "I really don't think it's appropriate that you let Jaime jump on her bed, especially since her duvet is white." Oh how my sister must have wanted to laugh - when she knew that later, she would be wrestling Jaime to the floor and prising her jaws open, pinning her shoulders down with her knees, just to brush her teeth, whilst simultaneously explaining that no, she cannot have snail bait for pudding. Considering this would come hot on the heels of a shopping expedition, where she would spend the bulk of her time saying "No, I am not going to buy you tampons. No, I am not going to buy you a rake. No, you don't need cat litter. No, you may not drink beer," a little bed-jumping is a trivial matter.

3. The new mom: These moms really *do* know it all, because they have been spending what little time they have between feeds swotting up on Baby Sense, The No Cry Sleep Solution and The Contented Baby Book. If you wanted to know anything at all about anything at all, you could ask them - usually, though, you don't have to, because they're happy to drop their learnings into any conversation. As in: You: "I;m so excited that the new season of Game of Thrones has finally started." New Mom: "That must be fascinating. I find that if I breastfeed in the rugby ball position, there is no need to wait three full hours, also because I am feeding on demand now. But I've also stacked up on those sacks you can put the bits of fruit in so that they can get the taste of the food without choking. Do you really think it's not too early to introduce baby-fed weaning? I mean, the gross motor at this stage is coming on well. And the wonder weeks are about nightmares so I completely know how Khalisi feels (laughs)..." Also, new moms have a worrying tendency to get very confused about things. There's a mom in my baby class who frequently says things like "It's so hot we've taken to wearing nothing but our nappies." Needless to say, the image of her thirty-year-old body ensconced in nothing but a nappy is off-putting, to say the least.

4. Second time moms: Poor first time moms. They cannot voice a simple concern without having it laughed away by these know-it-alls, having forgotten that they were once as absorbed in the merits of Pampers Premium over Huggies Gold. These women have become fully immersed in mom-dom referring constantly to the class Whatsapp groups they're members of, and saying things like "I'm just hopping off to my pilates class".

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Lasts, longings and love letters to my babies

The saddest thing happened last night. You see, Leya used to do this thing; I would say to her, "What sound do crickets make", and with an earnest expression on her face, pursing her cherub lips, she would rub her chubby fingertips together. Last night I asked the same question - "what sound do crickets make?" - and she answered "chirrrp chirrp chirrrp".

It may sound like a small thing, but it was just one more road sign along the path of her vanishing babyhood.

This is something I have always hated. Both my children were born on a Wednesday, so while other people start celebrating the mid-week hump and looking forward to their weekend plans, I spend a quiet hour counting down how many weeks left until their next birthdays and the inevitable moment they start calling me 'mom' instead of 'mommy'; the split second when I cross over from being the central point in their world to a peripheral feature they have to remember to phone and who irritates them with reminders about cardigans and questions about supper. This mourning for their passing time literally happens every single week; it means that my love for them is like a pressure band around my heart and that every milestone has at its centre a tiny gremlin of sadness.

What makes me most sad is that, one day, I will pick them up for the last time and put them down again - and that will be it. And I probably won't even realise that this was the last time. It's kind of like when you keep hearing your favourite song on the radio - you sing along and sing along, not even noticing that the intervals between the times its played are getting longer, and then all of a sudden it's no longer on air, and you don't even realise until a few years later, someone plays it on a golden oldies segment, releasing a burst of nostalgia. Or, I look at Jessie - who at seven months is now closer to being a toddler than a newborn - and I wonder how that happened. And I think that, pretty soon, her tiny starfish hand will stop closing reflexively around mine. And then one day she'll think she's too old to hold my hand at all.

I guess it's an irony - in between the times that you're wishing bedtime would just hurry up and come, you're wishing equally hard that those perfect seconds - their giant toothless baby grins, the little hand sliding into yours, your pride when they attempt a big word and it gets hopelessly tangled on their tongues - would hang, suspended, forever.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Brave new world

I truly appreciate that the world my girls are growing up in vastly superior to my own. Who wouldn't want to be able to grow a new nose? Who wouldn't choose a waterless red planet in December over cocktails in Camp's Bay? Having private thoughts? Pah - totally overrated (says the blogger - yes, I see the irony).

But, technophonic anachronism that I am, there are some things that I feel they missed out on.

1. The original cast of The Magic Faraway Tree. In case you didn't know, Joe, Bessie and Fanny have been replaced by Jo, Beth and Frannie. I'm proud to say, though, that Leya is not fooled. The other day, when I was reading her this classic, she burst out laughing. "Frannie!" she exclaimed. "That sounds like fanny!" (Of course, this might just be related to her natural propensity to relate absolutely everything in the world to genitals or fecal matter.)

2. Advertising that sticks in your head. Remember Timmy, with his fever? His mommy called the doctor, because he was a children. Or the little guy who called everything he loved Wedwo? Or the mom who let her kids use new towels around the pool - just kidding, she didn't; she just washed them with Surf. Or the guy who was so out of tune with groceries he thought powdered milk would be kept inside the fridge. Ahh - those guys were doing it right. Thirty years on and I can remember the jingles like it was yesterday. All together now: "Mr. Min is my name, a sparkling shine is my game..."

3. Being able to eat without taking a photo of your food first. Again, I am aware of the irony - I photograph everything in case I want to blog about it on MyTwoCents (see how I subtly wove in that bit of self-promotion there). But seriously - can you imagine going out for dinner, and not having that solemn moment of silence where everyone gets out their phones (what am I saying - the phones are already on the table) and art directs their pasta.

4. Dating blind. No, not blind dating. I mean dating someone where you know absolutely nothing about them. Not what cossie they were wearing in Durban in September 20004, not  what they think about the latest BuzzFeed quiz, not what their ex looked like...Dating where the stalking has to be done in the pure, old-fashioned sense of actually walking past their res window to see if their light is on, or phoning their landline 10 times to see if they pick up (and if they are, by extension, at home and therefore perfectly able to phone you should they so wish). Which leads me to...

5. Always holding out hope. Ah, the good old days when you had to go out clubbing with a pen in your handbag in case a guy asked for your number, and hope like hell someone was able to produce a serviette for you to write it on...and then, hope even harder that he didn't lose it. Of course, chances are that if he did, you'd never know, because if he dialed your landline at the one time you left the house, that was it. Something that could have blossomed into a love to rival that of Will and Kate would perish, stillborn. The advantage? You could always convince yourself that he had met with ill luck, and was currently lying in traction, wishing like anything he could phone you.

6. The Britpop invasion. Damon Albarn or Liam Gallagher. Noel Gallagher or Jarvis Cocker. Not since the Beatles and the Stones was there such hot musical debate. And while no one in the world would decry today's musical geniuses (who doesn't feel a tear of pure unadulterated emotion when they hear 'Drop That Kitty Down Low'), I still think that nothing will dim the anthemic light of Wonderwall (I was an Oasis girl, myself).

7. Ross kissing Rachel for the first time. Admit that, on those occasions when The Rembrandts are hauled out of Jacaranda's Golden Oldies box (what is it doing in there? Surely we're not old enough for our music to be considered for Throwback Thursdays.), you find yourself clapping in between the verses...and wishing there was a fountain you and your friends could dance in while swishing around your heavily layered, mascara'ed hair.

8, Looking up something in a library. There's something about the smell of books, isn't there? When I was at university, I used to feel awed every time I walked into the library, thinking about the sheer volume of knowledge it contained, and imagining the feet of students as much as a century older than me who would have walked the same path. It was inspiring. I also loved the way you would get sidetracked when looking up something, especially in the dictionary. Inevitably you'd find a word so much better than the original one. That's how I came across the word 'vibrissa', which is the technical name for nostril hair - see, imagine how intelligent I look when I toss that out at dinner parties. But, hey, the Internet is so much faster.