Monday, 30 April 2012

11 ways to say Thank You, Mama

Continuing on my thankful theme for the day, I wanted to share this video that gave me the sniffles. It was released by P&G (the home of Pampers, Always, Olay, Pantene, Gillette, Vicks and Head & Shoulders), as part of the Thank You Mama movement to mark the run-up to this year’s Olympic Games.

I’ll admit it, I wouldn’t mind Travis signing ‘thanks, mom’ from the podium at the Special Olympics, or Ryan giving me a wink before he accepts the Nobel Prize for Physics. But I’ll happily settle for an egg on toast with a homemade Mothers’ Day card later this month.

Never a dull nation, one of the great things about being South African is you can say: “Thank you, Mom!” in 11 different ways...

Ngiyabonga, Mama! Ndiyabulela, Mama! Dankie, Mamma! Ke a leboga Mme! Ke a leboga, Mama! Keya leboha, Mama! Inkomu, Mama! Siyabonga, Mama! Ndo livhuwa, Mama or Ro livhuwa, Mama! And finally, Ngiyathokoza, Mama!

Notice how the word ‘mom’ is so similar in all our official languages...

Another great thing about being South African is the spirit of community; even though I lost my own mother when I was very young, I was raised by a tribe of colourful moms. I like to think that a little piece of each of them shines through me as I raise my own two boys.

You can share your gratitude for the women who raised you, too:

Facebook: ThankYouMamaSA
Twitter: @ThankYouMamaSA

This is not a love post

This should be a post about how brilliant it is that our new domain is live… but this is a post about how brilliant it is to be married to the guy who was up way past midnight making it happen.

Every interview I’ve done asks: “What do you never blog about?” The answer is: “My marriage.” This was a special request, and I’ve done my best to honour it over the years. But just this once I’m giving you a peek behind the shower curtain at the other half of ‘living lionheart’: the (devastatingly handsome and intelligent) Husband.

True to the universal Laws of Love, in this case Section 12.B, paragraph three… it reads “opposites attract”.

While the Lionheart and Squishy Gorilla’s parents are one of those couples that look more and more like each other as the years trundle by (it’s creepy, actually), I’m the write-your-heart-out journalist while the Husband remains an intensely private person. While I scribble in the confessional booth that is this here ‘blag’, the Husband remains behind the scenes, tinkering with IP addresses, setting up email accounts and looking appropriately Mysterious.

I am married to the quintessential Camel man.

The Husband has a motorcross bike, and whizzes down the sides of Jozi’s bone-white mine dumps on it. He refuses to let the Honda dealership replace the brake pads in my race car ya-ya – he does it himself. The week before last, with the help of his brother (you rock, Phil-pants), the Husband installed our new dark wood cupboards in our bedroom. He will kick your ass at Call of Duty and won us a giant flatscreen, beating South African driver Gugu Zulu in the semifinals of an Xbox race-off last year. He makes the best Durban curry (the Husband, not Gugu Zulu).

He sneaks a toasted sandwich onto my desk when I’m on a deadline. He loves animals; in fact I’m jealous of all the belly rubs that Soapy the Labrador and Doctor Steven Watkins (our cat) get. The Husband is a Mensa-certified genius, and gets annoyed when I drop this fun fact into conversations. But he’ll probably be more annoyed by this: the Husband has buns so tight you can bounce a coin off them!

Carwash manager by day, Linux problem-solver by night, all the Husband wants you blog readers to know is that you can get your ride waxed and polished to shining perfection at the 082 Carwash just off Klipriver Drive, next to the Panorama fleamarket in the South of Johannesburg.

But I want you to know that the Husband is made of awesome. And I won’t be offended at all if you sneak a peek at aforementioned buns while you’re getting your car washed.

Thank you, my love, for getting the Living Lionheart domain up and running last night.

Thank you for never leaving my side on this bumpy road – even though raising a disabled child is the scariest, hardest thing I’ve ever done, and sometimes it makes me behave like a bad-tempered orc. A lesser man would have walked out on us years ago, but you’re still here.

Thank you for giving me Ryan the Squishy Gorilla, which was the second scariest thing I’ve ever done – we took a risk, and have been blessed immeasurably.

And thank you… for all those sandwiches.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The travelling gold dress?

I’m a Bloggess groupie; it’s not just because she’s a scream a minute, it’s because Jenny Lawson is such a plain Jane on the outside. You’d never guess that lurking inside her housewifey frame is a comical genius with a penchant for vicious-looking taxidermied roadkill.

That aside, the Bloggess is also the lady behind the ‘Traveling Red Dress’ (yes, spellcheckers – that single ‘L’ is Americanised). It is a gorgeous dress that hops, skips and jumps around the world, bringing a splash of pouting wanton and a corseted waist to many a frumpy lady.

The Bloggess wrote: “I want, just once, to wear a bright red, strapless ball gown with no apologies. I want to be shocking and vivid and wear a dress as intensely amazing as the person I so want to be. And the more I thought about it the more I realised how often we deny ourselves that red dress and all the other capricious, ridiculous, overindulgent and silly things that we desperately want but never let ourselves have because they are simply ‘not sensible’.”

Last week I came across the #23Dresses initiative on Twitter. It was started by Brittany Preece who is celebrating her 23rd birthday at the end of May. “Instead of my friends buying me presents, I’ve asked them to give me something that I hope will give girls less fortunate than me the opportunity to make their own matric dance memories. From now until my birthday, I’m making it my goal to collect at least 23 evening dresses for charity.”

This idea gets a big fat slurp of approval from the Lionhearts!

The dresses go to the It’s Your Turn charity that collects evening dresses and ball gowns and sells them to girls in the townships for R100. Matric dances in townships are just as over-the-top as in the larney suburbs. Expensive dresses, limos, getting your hair and nails did…

The peer pressure to keep up is huge, which means families who are already stretched thin, need to go without essentials to give their little girl her dream night. The funds raised from selling the donated dresses are used to buy school shoes and uniforms for those who don’t have any.

I donated a golden, satin Marilyn Monroe-style dress that I’ve never worn to #23Dresses. It was supposed to be my ‘going away’ outfit at my wedding in 2008, but the party got so carried away that I deposited my newly wedded (or should I say ‘sentenced’) husband into the passenger side of my Honda Jazz, and then stuffed my giant meringue dress into the driver’s side – and off we went to our hotel down the road! There were layers of crushed frock up to the roof of my car! I could barely see out the rear-view mirror.

Alas, I no longer fit into my golden dress (see my exploding bosoms below). But it’s nice to know that another girl will enjoy her Big Night wearing it! Rustle around in the back of your wardrobe and message @BrittPreece on Twitter, who’ll come and collect your dress.

Monday, 23 April 2012

RIP dear washing machine, you were loved

If you’re a regular here, you’ll know all about the Lionheart’s bubble-love romance with the washing machine. “You spin me right round, baby, right round!” It’s one of the Trav’s quirky autistic traits – an obsession with spinning. He loves the repetition. Round and around and around…

Aah, washing machine, last week you spun your last spin cycle. Your steady whump-whump-whump no longer thrums through our kitchen. Not even Soapy the Labrador was as faithful a playmate to our Travis as your nine-minute spin dry cycle.

Remember the year I watched too many episodes of Cake Boss, and plastered together a hastily-made sponge cake with plastic icing and food colouring? I wanted to celebrate my eccentric kiddo’s third birthday with a washing machine-shaped cake, with floaty soap suds and buttons made out of Smarties. What I ended up with was a lopsided rectangle with crusty cream cheese icing (because take #1 of this masterpiece was supposed to be a carrot cake). One friend innocently enquired: “Uh, is that shaped like a toilet?”

Over the years, readers have asked: “Gee! How much washing DO you do in your home?” The truth is: just the usual. The whole time Travis had the washing machine spinning, he was pressing the spin dry button again and again and again. The drum was empty most of the time. Those ball bearings were bound to give in sooner or later.

Bit of a parenting fail in the over-indulgent department there.

It was a heavy heart and a lighter wallet that I purchased a Samsung 13kg top-loader today for the family. My hubby and I spent my first afternoon off cruising through Makro, Metro, the Samsung experience store, Game, Hi-Fi Corporation and finally back to Makro – where we finally picked out a washing machine we think offers the best value for money for our tribe of dirty laundry-makers.

Unfortunately, being a top-loader, Travis no longer has a porthole to watch his ‘soapies’. Which is not the end of the world, I suppose. But sometimes you have to be practical.

So this is the end, my spinning friend.

In the Lionheart household, our washing machine was more than an appliance. For Travis it was a novelty, a babysitter, a familiar face, a comforting hug…

Now its final resting place will most likely be in the courtyard outside our kitchen door – where I intend to let my sons vandalise it with Koki pens and stick-ons. And it wouldn’t hurt their future marriages if our now-defunct washing machine inspired the occasional game of make-believe ‘let’s do the laundry’!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Introducing the extraordinary Emma, and her new iPad

There’s someone I’d like you all to meet.

[Drumroll, please]

She’s charming; she’s inquisitive, she’s by far the most fascinating person you’ll read about today – and watch out world, because 12-year-old Emma has just got her hands on an iPad!

Emma, who lives in KZN with her mom, dad and big brother, is no ordinary girl… she has Asperger syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum.

Affectionately called ‘aspies’ in the special needs community, people like Emma are sometimes described as having high-functioning autism. This is because while Aspergers has all the challenges of autism such as trouble with social interaction and repetitive behaviours, those with the condition have well-developed speech and normal (and often way above average) intellectual development.

Emma is such a delight; I was thrilled when I drew her name as the first child with autism to benefit from the #iPadsforLionhearts drive. Thank you so much to Sarah and Phil for finding it in your hearts to part with your iPad – it could not have found a better new home.

Now, make yourself a cup of coffee and read this hilarious and insightful peep into Emma’s world. This is an article she wrote a while ago that appeared in AuTalk. I told you she is charming!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

We gave Name Tapes a whirl

The reason I’ve never been given a label-maker is because my family and friends know helpful stick-ons will sprout and multiply around my household like a kindergarten cough. It’ll start with something innocent like whimsical glass jars that say ‘Mixed Herbs’ and ‘Ginger’, and quickly spiral into ‘Put DOWN the toilet seat, dumbass!’ on the cistern.

I’ve reigned in my neat-freak tendencies… until yesterday, when I tried out Name Tapes.

I’m so chuffed with this service that I was just going to paste this screenshot and write: “That is all”. But seriously, how cute is this label for the Trav’s clothes? It was the lion face that sold me.

Name Tapes do all manner of customised name tags and ribbons, even satin ones. But what was awe-to-the-some for me was that I ordered the Lionheart’s online in 6mins 42secs (yes, I timed it – we mentioned my err, tendencies, earlier). And that included tinkering with different colour labels, font styles, font colours and cutesy pictures.

How much? I ordered 50 iron-on labels (because my stitching wouldn’t pass muster in an army field hospital) and it cost around R230, with a R29.50 delivery fee. Obviously the more you order, the more the unit price comes down. It takes 15 business days for delivery. You can see how this service appeals to me now that I’m chained with my company laptop’s power cable to a cubicle from 8am to 5pm.

VERDICT: The Name Tapes service gets 4 out of 5 ‘roars’ from the Lionhearts.

As soon as the Lionheart’s fancy labels arrive, I’ll do a follow-up post to let you know what quality they were, how easy they are to iron on, and how many washes they last for.

Monday, 16 April 2012

The trouble with transporting Lionhearts...

Remember last year when I flung the word ‘gargantuan’ around like confetti in a tornado? Get ready to see my new favourite word ‘lackadaisical’ a lot.

I’m finding that my comfort level in raising a disabled child is approaching lackadaisical. Take today: with my husband and I (both former work-at-homers) both starting new jobs this month, I need to organise transport to and from school for Travis the Lionheart.

This is exactly the kind of social ‘amber alert’ situation that would make my stress levels do the lambada…

Travis + inexperienced ruggle person = catastrophe.

The saintly Sue over at the Lionheart’s school sent me a list of the service providers transporting a few of his schoolmates. So I fire off an email to one of the people on the list.

Dear X, I need to make arrangements for my son Travis to be transported to and from his school every day - Wiggles & Squiggles in Boskruin (starts at 8am, finishes at 12:45pm). I believe that one of the pupils also rides with you. We stay in Weltevredenpark in Cornelius Street.

Wa-a-a-it a minute… There seems to be some critical info missing there. RECALL. Crap, too late. It’s already been read.

Dear X, One complication: obviously being a pupil at a special needs school, Travis has special needs. Would you still be able to accommodate him?

No wait. RECALL. (Smacks forehead into desk.)

Dear X. Sorry to be a pain. By ‘special needs’ I mean that Travis he cannot walk or talk. I’m sure between his class assistant and his nanny, they’ll assist to get him carried to the car every day and strapped in for you.

I should be chuffed that the fact that I am the mom to an out-of-the-ordinary child has become a very ordinary part of my life. Four years ago when The Big Guy Upstairs and I were having a bit of a Mexican stand-off about what I perceived as a very cruel twist of fate, I never would have imagined that I’d ever be ‘okay’ with my first-born son being mentally and physically disabled.

And yet today, it just slipped my (ahem) lackadaisical little mind.

Let’s hope my nutcase emails don’t put off the transport people. I didn’t even mention how the Lionheart insists on driving with his windows down, goes into a frenzy of toe-twirling and hand-flapping when driving alongside a truck, and persistently asks for the car keys (still in the ignition of the moving vehicle) so that he can play with them.

Let's rather let them think I’m the crazy one.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Kidnapped by Vogons

Next time I disappear off the face off the planet, I’d appreciate it if one of you would send out a Saint Bernard rescue dog with a barrel of whiskey around his fluffy neck, to drag me back to the land of the blogging. It wouldn’t be out of place – because it’s a fucking DOG SHOW out there, people. And by ‘out there’ I am referring to the birthplace of stomach ulcers and TPS reports: the workplace.

After all my “Yee haw – freelance forever” grandstanding, all it took to get me back into an office cubicle was a client dangling a regular payslip, Discovery healthcare for my kids, and the promise of unlimited toasted cheese and tomato zarms from a canteen. (Okay, I’m paying for the zarms out of my own pocket, but at least I don’t have to make ’em myself.)

April 2 marked the start of my journey back to full-time employment, which I’ve tentatively titled Fear and Loathing on the N1 Highway.

Look, I was probably the hardest-working freelancer in the city – so my new office hours of 8am to 4.30pm are hardly a culture shock. And I was pretty good about not freelancing in my PJs and bunny slippers – so the corporate wardrobe is not much of a schlep. And it was never my intention to freelance so that I could spend more time with my babies; in fact, the Lionheart’s signature shriek that echoed day and night through my home office was a major source of (ironically) screaming matches while I typed my way through deadline after deadline.

(Holy mojitos; does that entire paragraph read like a desperate justification from a former work-from-home mom who feels guilty for pulling on her pinstripes and Pringle vest again?)

In the last two weeks I have sat in traffic breathing in carbon monoxide and the crisp Jozi winter air for a total of 18 hours. I’ve developed a fondness for 702 Talk Radio. I’ve lost 3kg: which is weird, because I’ve been living off old restaurant peppermints and handbag lint; alas I’m too busy to eat aforementioned cheese and tomato toasties.

I’m pretty miserable, frankly. And resentful that my own business has to simmer quietly in the background while my soul is chewed up and spat out by the Make As Much Money As You Can Meatgrinder that is big city life. I try to remind myself why I’m doing this (we need to buy a house – we are busting out of our shoebox in a complex). Eye on the prize, girl.

Now excuse me while I rewrite this post in triplicate, and submit it stamped and dated to the Vogons. In the meantime, please send me a memo RE: your tips on dealing with Working Mommy Guilt.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Brothers, in black and white

Presenting Travis the Lionheart and his baby brother Ryan the Squishy Gorilla, in moody black-and-white glory. A huge thank you goes to photographer Noeleen (who probably juggles fire and performs other such dazzling feats in her spare time), for patiently snapping away while Travis played his grumposaurus card, and Ryan resolutely chewed on his bottom lip. I have an entire disc of beautiful shots, but thought I share these two quickly as it's been a while since I've posted recent photos of the stars of this blog.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Houston, we have an iPad!

Yesterday was World Autism Awareness Day, and the team of walkers for the Big Autism Thing left Durban at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning to begin their journey – on foot – down South Africa’s coastline all the way to Cape Town. They’re arriving at the Mother City on 9 June, and you can track their progress via satellite here.

You’ll remember that the Lionhearts wanted to do something to raise awareness around autism, too. So #iPadsforLionhearts was born. We tweeted and you re-tweeted. We posted on Facebook; you shared on Facebook. We sent out emails and gave our friends and family the big ol’ puppy dog eyes look.

Until, one wonderful person found it in their heart to part ways with their old iPad – which we’re passing onto a child with autism. Thank you so much to Sarah @SezLeigh and Phil @za5 for donating us your iPad; you’ve quite literally changed a child’s life through your generosity!

So who gets the iPad? I couldn’t bring myself to turn the gifting of this wonderful tool into a competition on the blog, so I’ve made some discreet enquiries and should be re-homing the iPad with a child in the Johannesburg area on Easter Weekend. I’ll keep you posted!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The one about stem cells

This is one of two posts to help you make up your mind whether to bank the stem cells found in your baby’s umbilical cord blood, or not. I’m not going to tell you yes or no, I’m simply sharing our story (in this, post #1) and then on Tuesday morning I’ll share the answers to some tricky questions I had the opportunity to ask the specialists at stem cell bank Cryo-Save (in post #2).

You’re probably wondering if we kept the Lionheart’s cord blood. We didn’t. Not for lack of information – we knew all about umbilical stem cells – but it was way out of our price range, and of course, we were still tucked snugly in our “it couldn’t happen to me” cocoons.

But it happened: Travis was born with a brain malformation. And his condition does stand to benefit from stem cell treatment. In China, there is a facility that is treating children with Septo Optic Dysplasia with infusions of umbilical stem cells. It costs around R650 000 for us to fly there, and live in China for a whole month while Travis has four to five treatments done.

That’s right – there is a chance we could improve the Lionheart’s quality of life... So why haven’t we done it? It’ll try to untangle our knot of reasons for you as succinctly as possible.

It’s not for lack of stem cells: Chinese moms donate their newborn’s umbilical cords to science. Despite the difference in ethnicity, you still have a fair chance of finding a genetic match simply because of the sheer size of the pool of banked stem cells at the disposal of the Chinese scientists. (It would be harder to find a match, say, if Travis was a mixed race child.)

It’s not for lack of money: While my husband and I are of humble means, we are fortunate in that our boys have grandparents who have worked hard and achieved the kind of success that would enable them to finance this medical procedure for Travis.

So what’s the problem?

Treating Septo Optic Dysplasia with stem cells is still in the experimental phase.

Although China is forging ahead with trials, the United States (home of the all-powerful rubber stamp of the FDA) is not even ready to test on humans yet. No one knows what the side-effects or complications will be in 10 or 20 years from now – the studies have not been active long enough.

I do know several moms, some from America and one from South Africa, who have flown to China to have the procedure done. They say it works, but none of them can show me, on paper, that their child’s cognitive ability and eyesight have improved. But they have stories aplenty of the great results they’re seeing. This is what we more conservative folk refer to as ‘anecdotal evidence’.

Show me the scientific evidence, and we’ll be on the next plane to Asia. Until then, China and it’s ‘miraculous’ stem cell treatments and its seemingly unlimited supply of genetically compatible umbilical stem cells is off the cards. (Also, Dr Mark Borchert, who is the leading expert in the field of Septo Optic Dysplasia, has advised parents against experimental stem cell treatments.)

For a neurological condition like Trav’s this type of treatment is best done while he is under the age of 10, to take advantage of the rapid cell division and regeneration that we all enjoy during childhood. Sadly, by the time the procedure is approved by the mighty FDA (who set the standard for our South African medical bodies), Travis will be an adult, and the treatment won’t be as effective.

It’s a hard decision to make, but we couldn’t live with the consequences if we willingly let Travis the Lionheart become a lab rat in an experiment that could go wrong. If his life were in danger, we might feel more inclined to take the risk, but his condition is stable.

So we wait. And we hope.