Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Status update: some things are getting better, others just stay the same...

I don’t write about our Travis the Lionheart all that much these days. So you’d be forgiven for thinking that since he’s started walking he’s been on some kind of Willie-Wonka-style-golden-ticket-developmental-fast-track and things are going to be FINE.

They sort of are.

Travis even runs a bit; a wide-legged gallop that looks like he’s about to careen into a brick wall! The joy painted all over his face when the wind is in his hair – man, I wish you could see it. He’s even started dancing, a sort of swaying side-to-side, lift the left foot, lift the right foot, like he’s on a pirate ship rolling in the waves. And then there is the scribbling – frantic back and forth - pencils, chalk, crayons, even rocks worn down to nubs in his hands. On paper, walls, the fridge, the shed outside, and every surface in his classroom. “Picasso strikes again!” read his school report.

And then again, they sort of aren’t.

Travis still can’t hold a spoon or fork. So it’s finger food for every meal, or mom and dad have to patiently spoon in mouthful by mouthful by mouthful (this is why the Lionheart’s little brothers both learned to feed themselves before they turned one).

Travis is still in nappies that need to be changed several times a day.

Travis needs to be lifted into the bath, washed, lifted out, dried, dressed. And dressed warmly, too. He has no thought to pull on his fluffy gown in the winter freeze. He’d catch pneumonia if we didn’t make sure his toes were toasty.

Then there is still the shrieking, whining, pinching. Contained violence. When he is frustrated Travis has taken to raking his fingernails up and down his arms until they bleed. There are always spots of blood on his T-shirts.

And perhaps the hardest for me: Travis still can’t speak or communicate in any meaningful way.

Today I got home from work and he was lying curled up on the couch. Knees pulled up to his chest. Grunting. Huffing. Eyes screwed up in pain. I’m guessing this means he has a stomach ache, but he can’t tell me.

There have been so many times in the last six years that I have wondered if Travis has a sore tummy – good grief, I remember having stomach cramps as a child. I thought I was DYING. The pain was so bad I’d crawl on my hands and knees to lie on the grass in the backyard – there was always something therapeutic about lying in the sunshine. The warmth rubbed the pain from your body like a big, glowing eraser.

But despite that there have been times Trav has burned with fever, and coughed his lungs out – I’ve never seen the telltale signs of a sore tummy. So this must be bad. And I feel just so goddamn helpless. I wish he could tell me where it hurts, just once.

Scribbling in the condensation on the windows

So here is the update: things are getting better. Other things haven’t changed at all. But we’re still Living Lionheart, because there is no getting off the special needs bus.
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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Three lies we need to stop telling our children right now

I was born in the tail-end of 1980, sort of on the border of Gen X and Gen Y. Values-wise, it was an awkward time. An odd mix of ‘old school’ and ‘new school’. What tipped the balance was that I was raised by my grandparents, and so old school won out in the end.

But I still feel the tug – that sense of entitlement, that Channel E! thirst to ‘be someone’, that me-me-me centric thinking that children raised with the internet in their pockets seem to have. And why shouldn’t they? By the time they hit their teens they’re living off a diet of The Kardashians, have perfected 1001 Styles of the Selfie Sutra (why isn’t this a book?), and literally have their popularity ranked for all the world to see, measured in Twitter followers.

I worry for these kids, believing that they are celebrities just waiting to be discovered, that a ‘million dollar bills yo’ will tip into their laps ANY SECOND NOW. Turn down for what?

It is going to sting like hell when they hit their mid-30s and their boobs start sagging and they still live in their ‘starter house’ and have three kids and hunt for R5 coins under the couch to buy bread and milk on the day before payday. (In case it isn’t obvious, I’m painting you a picture of my own life as it stands now.)

This does not have to be our children’s fate too. They could be happier, more content with what they have, and who they are, if we just stop feeding them these trite, bullshit mantras when they are growing up.

LIE NUMBER ONE: “You can be anything you want to be.”

Really? Anything? Is your child so talented on every front that he can be a Springbok rugby-playing nuclear physicist with his own cooking show?

This is why we have so many people in their 30s and 40s saying ‘I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up’.

Expose your child to as many different experiences as you can early on, let them discover what they enjoy, and more importantly, what they have an aptitude for – then point them in that direction and give them a gentle push. 

Be their personal Simon Cowell, help your child find his X factor.

LIE NUMBER TWO: “You’re special.”

I’m going to divert here to my experiences raising Travis the Lionheart a.k.a. my ‘special needs’ child. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s his needs that are special; Travis isn’t special at all, and neither are my other two boys.

They are part of a whole, part of a community, a cog in the machine of the economy. Already I can feel my ego balking at this thought: “Me? Just a goddamn cog? But like the biggest, and most important cog, right?” Here’s the thing about cogs (take a watch apart if you don’t believe me), if one doesn’t work the rest grind to a halt.

Look back at the World Wars, where the message of the day was “Do your part”. I think about my grandmother, who even in her old age used to knit tiny woollen beanies by the dozen for premature babies in the hospital in her town. 

She didn’t feel the need to Instagram her efforts; it was just her doing her bit for the community.

LIE NUMBER THREE: “Hard work pays off.”

How sick I am of this high-performance culture that corporates big and small perpetuate. It is their way of getting you to work yourself to death, in the name of insane profit margins, and we’re only helping them by singing this lullaby to our kids.

Hard work rarely pays off – at least not in the way we’re leading them to imagine… expensive cars, a holiday home at the coast, a Rolex. Mineworkers work hard, so do street sweepers. 

And here is another one from corporates: “work hard, play hard” – like murder by laptop is some sexy Peter Stuyvesant advert where you go skiing in the Alps in your lunchbreak; then do business with Tokyo at night.

A better message is: Take pride in your work. How long has it been since you’ve heard that one? A job well done is reward in itself.

We know these things instinctively, but I think for parents in my age group (late 20s, to early 30s, with children aged 7 or younger) we’re living in tricky times. Technology is advancing at an ever-increasing pace; social media is shrinking the planet, but at the same time elbowing us apart. We’re soaked to the eyeballs in information, but becoming social illiterates. Don’t get me started on reality TV. And participation trophies.

I don’t really mean for this to be a “Do this, don’t do that” post – these are problems I’m facing raising my own boys. This is more my way of trying to give a shape to my concerns, and formulate a game plan to fix the problem.

We’re living at light-speed, but raising a child is a slow-brewed, hand-made, artisan-type project. 

I am drawing this metaphor deliberately, because there is a definite push-back in society; we’re longing to return to more authentic times. I’m just not seeing it extending to the values we’re consciously passing onto the next generation (yet).

Monday, June 30, 2014

Why Australia’s mommy bloggers could teach us a thing or two…

There has never been a more exciting time to turn your blog into a brand. To swop your “Yeah, so we had meatballs for dinner” posts for “27 ways to make your meatballs more-ish, brought to you by my sweet-ass sponsor Le Creuset”. You just need to change your thinking; see your blog, and its potential, with fresh eyes. If you need inspiration, look no further than South Africa’s second home, Australia, and its gaggle of excellent mommy bloggers. This is why they’re making us look like we’re still in kindergarten.

Their blogs look shoo-wow (read: they have invested in their brand)
They have their own domains, and when you click through to their sites, it’s immediately obvious that they’ve dropped cash on web design and brand identity. Australian mommy bloggers understand that they are brands: they have a logo, they have a look and feel, and most importantly, they know exactly what their niche is (funny, honest reviews OR pretty, Pinterest-style photos stories etc.), and never stray from it.

Gaze at these lovely looking blogs.

Fox in Flats

The Organised Housewife

The legendary Fat Mum Slim
The craftsy Retro Mummy

The Holy Grail: they have monetised their blogs
But who has the money to pay someone for a fancy blog theme, and domain names? It’s easy to part with the cash when you know that by doing so, you’ll increase your potential to earn. It could be as simple as selling banners on your blog, or taking on sponsored posts (sign up with influence marketing platform Webfluential). Or it could be something on a grander scale. The Imperfect Mum is selling tickets to the Empowering Women Conference, with panel speakers and goodie bags, and you can bet there will be some branded merchandise on sale. The Organised Housewife has an online shop.

And lastly, they’re next-level new media savvy
Tweeting the link to your latest post, and sharing it on Facebook? That’s the basics. I’m talking about how Aussie mommy bloggers are using Instagram, Pinterest and video blogging to take their content to the next level. Look at Fat Mum Slim. She’s famous for her Photo a Day challenge every month, and her Instagram feed is something special. It’s for this very reason that she now just launched a photo-editing app called Little Moments for R24.99.

I think part of the reason I’ve been feeling a bit ‘blah’ about my blogging lately is because I just don’t know where I want to take the Living Lionheart brand.

I’m sharing my research with you. Now let’s see some digital kung-fu, locals.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Oh, how I long for a house...

A house, house.

Not a semi-detached unit. Or a cluster. Or a townhouse. Or a duplex.

A big, sprawling English cottage in our suburb with a tangled garden filled with purple hydrangeas and creepers wrapped around the gutters.

I don’t care if the inside of the house isn’t worth Instagraming every time I buy new scatter cushions (for our second-hand couches). I don’t care if the paint is flaking off the walls and the whole kitchen needs to be ripped out.

No really, if you’ve seen our townhouse, you’d know I really don’t care.

I yearn for the day when we don’t share a wall with a neighbour, and we can’t hear her TV set blaring at night. I don’t even mind her TV being so loud, because it means that she probably can’t hear the racket my three boys make. But I do mind knowing that the only thing that separates us is two layers of brick and a lick of paint.

How I DETEST complex living, with its busy-body corporates and its yapping poodles and its “I’m just letting myself into your back yard to take a meter reading” and ducking behind the chest of drawers when I’m getting dressed upstairs in case unit No. 7 across the driveway sees my boobs.

I want each of my kids to have their own bedroom where they can read picture books in the sunshine streaming in from big windows with no security bars. I’ll even fork out to install that fake wooden flooring, with a fluffy rug and dinosaur cushions that go ‘Roar’ when you sit on them.

Enough space to build Scalextric tracks and Lego cities and houses of cards. Rugs and blankies and old cushions that smell a bit like mothballs cause they come from the 70s. Put your feet up, put your nose in a book, go skinny dipping in your imagination while the sun traces a path across the blue skies unnoticed. Sophie the Labrador: a blonde streak in the back yard as she chases birds and bunnies.

A home. A home that’s ours alone. A home where the walls keep out the 40-hour work week. Where emails and tweets and likes bounce off a force field surrounding the property.

I’m 15 years into my career, and well into my 30s. I feel like I’ve been chasing this dream forever, like it’s a golden carrot dangling just in front of my nose. If I’ll just work a little harder, if I just come up with something a bit smarter, I can bust us out of this pokey townhouse.

Sometimes when I am driving through a neighbourhood and spot a home I like the look of that is for sale, I go online and stalk them on property websites and imagine our furniture in it. I don’t phone the agent or anything, because I know no matter what it costs, we can’t afford it right now.

I’m not there yet.

So until then I snatch another 15 mins for myself and dream of…

Books piled to the ceiling. Books, books, books in every room, as many as I can hoard in a lifetime. Like a fat-bottomed Womble with literary inclinations. 

Thick, pastel-coloured pottery mugs with steaming hot chocolate and plates of Ouma’s soetkoekies baked by the dozen and stored in enormous Tupperwares in my walk-in pantry. 

The sound of swallows building their nests in the trees outside; and not an electric fence in sight.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

I stuck a needle in my arm for a good cause


Guess what I did on my Friday afternoon? Clue: there is a big needle sticking out of my arm if you scroll down. I donated blood. I’d love to say I did it because I’m a responsible citizen, but the truth is that I was challenged to do it by 3M/Nexcare, that has partnered with the South African National Blood Service for the month of June, because it’s Blood Donor Month.

And I am so very glad they did; what a worthwhile experience.

3M asked me to hop on board for their #GiveBloodSelfie campaign. They make all sorts of brainy, sciency products, including these rad little 3M plasters, of which they gave 70 000 to SANBS donation points all over the country to use during the month of June. Cool, aren’t they?

I thought it would be helpful to share exactly what happened when I went to donate blood. Sticking a needle in your arm and bleeding into a seemingly giant bag is an intimate, and yeah, scary thing. Let’s not gloss over that. And what... what if you find out there is something wrong with your blood? Like you have an STD or HIV or you get turned away for some reason? I’m trying to cut right to the heart of reasons why people don’t donate blood, because I have been there myself.

I visited the Westgate branch, which is pretty darn plush. At the reception desk, I was asked for my ID number. Even though I know for sure I have donated once or twice in my early 20s, I didn’t come up on the system. They finally found me though – under my maiden surname. Turns out it was 10 years ago since I last I donated blood! (Bad Stacey.) I was given a form where I could update my details and add that crucial ID number so I could be called up again in future.

Now, onto the forms. And this is the part where all the questions come in; I’ve included photos for you to see what the form looks like, but best you go in and fill it in yourself, and do it honestly. There are two solid pages of checkboxes. For me, being married and having a single sexual partner, not being nearly interesting enough to have any tattoos or piercings, and in good health… Let’s just say that filling in that form was way easier than it was in my 20s when, um, yeah, I checked ‘yes’ for a lot more boxes.

Now listen to me: the SANBS guys are 1) friendly, 2) knowledgeable, and 3) discreet. You have a five-minute consult, during which you go over your answers together while having your blood pressure checked (also, eat a decent meal at least four hours before donating blood). Then, if you make it through that round, you get a tiny prick on one finger to check if your iron levels are okay. A drop of your blood is put in a vial of blue liquid. If it floats, your iron is too low. If it sinks, you get to plonk into one of these bad boy leather chairs and donate.

I’ve had three babies, people, so I’ve been stuck with a needle more times than I can remember. This doesn’t mean I’m not scared of needles; of course I still get that hard ball of terror in my tummy just before the prick.

This was one of the most painless experiences, though. And it’s such a big freaking needle! I couldn’t believe how easily it went in. On average when you donate blood, it’s around 480ml or two cups. Two cups! And those two cups can help up to three or four people. Also, let me just say that I am kind of chuffed to be O-positive, the universal donor. Anyone can use my blood.

While the blood was filling up the baggie, I was brought my own personal tray of cookies with a juice box. And the juice box was opened for me because it’s kind of hard to do with only one hand. PLUS, because June is Blood Donor Month I got a free drawstring bag, and a cool key ring with my blood group on it. 

The guys saw me taking photos and even offered to take one of me (they had no idea that I was writing about my experience; they’re just helpful like that). PS: my face isn’t in any of these because, well, I hadn’t brushed my hair on Friday. Ahem, true story. But I made time to donate, and so can you.

At the end, I was given a card with the date of my next donation (in two months from now), and I couldn’t help but notice the card also had a ‘have you changed your mind’ section, with a hotline you could call if you’d rather have your blood discarded. A small touch, but oh so important.

So that was my experience donating blood. It was a good one; I still can’t get over how fancy the Westgate donor point is; it’s like a five-star hotel experience.

Please consider donating blood if you are able, and get one of those limited edition 3M/Nexcare bandages too. I’m definitely keeping that next appointment. If you are looking for your nearest donation point, go here.