Friday, September 19, 2014

A postcard from the top of a jungle gym

It’s a hard-knock life, dear readers.

I’ve been trying for weeks now to write about a frightening event. Something so God-awful that it rattled the Scrabble tiles right out of me. I need to write about it; I must write about it. But I’ve got nothing.

Instead I am writing around it.

Guess where I was late yesterday afternoon? Sitting at the top of our jungle gym with Ryan and Oliver, watching the sun set and the aeroplanes from Lanseria slice across the orange skies over our house.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how free I was, physically, as a child. Alive. Present. Anchored to Mother Earth in my being. Every cell in my body quivering with vitality.

How I used to climb the jungle gym in the backyard of my grandmother’s house, skeletal toes hooked on the green-painted bars like a fierce little bird. I could feel the tendons in calves and thighs flex and pull taunt as I balanced on a single metal beam, right at the very top, and walked back and forth across like it was a tightrope and I was a circus performer. Arms stretched out to the side for balance, my six-year-old body a fine-tuned instrument of strength, agility and control.

Think about it. How long has it been since you felt that way? Like you could race underwater from one end of the swimming pool to the other in a single breath; young, strong legs propelling you fast as the wind to chase down the ice-cream truck at the end of your street?

Years. Decades. Too long.

“Yook! Yoook at me, mommy!”

(Soon-to-be) three-year-old Ryan never expected me to climb up there, to perch on the jungle gym bars above the tyre-swing with him.

And how sad, that my children know in their bones that I am not as physically – what is the word – ‘exuberant’ maybe, as they are. That mommy is not going to chase 30 times around the makeshift dirt track in the backyard, pushing the plastic bike behind them in a fierce and joyful race to the imaginary finish line. 

That’s what I was thinking – “Fuck this, I’m climbing up” – as I grappled with the nylon netting, pulling my 76kgs up to the top bars of the jungle gym where Ryan waited for me. Oliver, who is only 15 months and no good at climbing jungle gyms just yet, asked to climb up so, so I fetch him and moved the party to the top of the slide where there was space for the three of us to sit together in the last warmth of the afternoon sun, their skinny arms looped in mine – one storey above the ground.

There we sat, the three of us, with Travis the Lionheart giggling up at this ridiculous scene from behind netted curtains, lying on his bed in the sun, where he likes to spend his afternoons these days.

Ryan, Oliver and I watched the Jozi sunset from the top of the jungle gym, saw all the cars pulling into driveways in our neighbourhood, listened to the chirping of birds mingling with the rush of traffic, and the rustle of leaves high in the big trees as the cold front blowing in from Cape Town arrived in the West Rand.   

After the boys left for school this morning, I climbed back up and sat on the very top bars like I used to when I was a child, and drank a mug of tea.

Because life is short. And jungle gyms are fun.

Blogger Tricks

Thursday, August 7, 2014

WIN an Asus T100 notebook worth R6000 for your child!



Just have a look at this clever notebook-meets-tablet. It’s called the ASUS Transformer Book T100, and as you can see, the keyboard can be removed so that you’re left with a 10.1-inch portable tablet.

It runs on Windows 8.1, and it comes pre-installed with MS Office Home & Student 2013. Doesn’t the Asus T100 like just the thing for homework?

Intel is sponsoring this incredible prize, and all you have to do to stand a chance of winning it is register on the awesome Intel Explore and Learn Marketplace.

About Intel Explore & Learn
  • It’s just about the best resource you’ll ever come across for free and low-cost digital text books, videos lessons, and exam prep material.
  • It’s available for learners from GR0 all the way to students completing their MBAs.
  • It’s a practical way for your child to enrich his or her studies, and makes learning more interactive and fun.
  • The content is all locally relevant for South African students.

How to win
  1. Go to the registration page of the Intel Explore and Learn Marketplace here and sign-up
  2. Come back here and leave a comment below telling me you did.
  3. One extra entry if you Like the DigiKids page (my new project!) on Facebook, so I can tell you when I am doing another fantastic Intel giveaway. 
The competition closes at midnight on Wednesday 20 August. The winner will be announced on 21 August. Good luck!

Terms and conditions
This competition is open to residents of South Africa only. You can only enter once, as you can only register on the Intel Explore and Learn Marketplace once. Please note this competition is being hosted on our sister site, but only ONE Asus T100 is being given away as a prize. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Learning how to say ‘no’, even when it stings

I woke up this morning with the lurgies. My bones felt like concrete, the bruised-looking bags threatened to swallow my eyeballs; my drive was nowhere to be found. I had the attention span of a kitten on methamphetamines. Worse still, some kind of body-ache, drip-nose, change-of-season virus was trying to stage a hostile takeover while my defenses were down.

You know what’s weird though, even though I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, last night we laid down a fresh set of rules in the Lionheart household: healthy, hearty, happiness-inducing rules. 

The Search for the Sacred Tabletop

First we ate supper together at the dining room table. Of course, even though I no longer work from home, and have a cotton-candy-cosy office where I’m supposed to be working from exclusively, clearing the dining room table was like an Indiana Jones mission – moving piles of dusty bank statements, and waybills, and containers full of iPads, and all the bit and bobs that orbit “Stacey Vee”.

You need to know that when I’m at home, “Stacey Vee” doesn’t exist. I’m just “Mommy” and “sweetie” and “Ba”, which is what Oliver calls me because he can only say one word so far. “Ba!”

Turns out there is a dining room table under all that paraphernalia. We haven’t eaten at the dining room table as a family for YEARS. Oliver, who is all of 13 months, watched this brand spanking new (in his eyes) family tradition play out in fascination from his high-chair. Soon to be three-year-old Ryan surprised us all by singing something about “set the table, set the table” and putting down placemats and knives and forks for everyone – I knew I was paying that nursery school for a reason!

All of us gathered around a table for meal, then the kids were bathed, dressed and bottled – and I read to them before bedtime from a battered copy of Roahl Dahl’s The BFG that I paid R5 for at a bake sale at St Michael’s Anglican church down the road. The TV, which is the heart of our home – always on, always washing the furniture in reflected light… was switched off.

It was balm for my soul.

And I thought to myself: “Why don’t we do this every night?” It was hardly any effort at all! Not the drudgery that usually comes with those “It’s time we changed things around here” resolutions that last less than a week because it’s Too Much Effort.

And a very good evening was had by all

But why did I wake up feeling like a Tupperware of lumpy mashed potatoes?

I have a theory, about when you are constantly dealing with high levels of stress. Your body goes into survival mode and shuts down your adrenaline so that you can function optimally and not get eaten by tigers (it’s a jungle out there!). Then the moment you send a signal to your body that you’ve left the frontlines of the battlefield – in my case its more deadlines and bottom lines that I’m dealing with – then your body opens the sluice gates on the dam wall that’s been holding back all the anxiety and sickies and tummy aches.

That is a lot of metaphors in one paragraph. I am getting rusty.

So I worked from bed today. And recovered. And cranked closed those sluice gates, but not all the way.

And I resolved to say ‘no’ more often, even though it stings. Not because I don’t want to help you and you and you – because I want to help everyone all the time, sincerely – but because I don’t want to be the distracted mom who piles the dining room table with work she brings home, and my darling boys don’t even know the simple pleasure of sharing a meal with real people and not Pixar characters.

You dig?

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.

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).