In the trenches

For those who don’t know me, I am a total history nut. I excelled in the subject at school, obtaining a distinction at the end of matric even. I can always think of some historical event and its relevance in my life at any given moment.

Right now I have the images of the trench warfare of the first world war flashing through my mind. My life feels like I imagine it to have been. Sitting in a trench, wet from the rain, stagnant water gathered at your feet, cold, terrified and never knowing when the next strike will come.

It may sound a bit extreme but to say I am battling right now would be a massive under statement.

We have been married for just over a year now and honestly I do not feel that it has affected our relationship as much as some people would have had us believe it would going in. I suppose it helps that we were together seven years before saying the “I do’s”. That said, marriage is hard. Choosing to wake up each day and put in the effort to love someone and put their needs ahead of your own is tough. Making the compromises necessary to keep from killing  each other over trivial things like washing next to the washing basket instead of inside it can be a challenge. I, as a very self-sufficient, control-freak, typical type A personality find the need for vulnerability especially hard. Having welcomed our fifth child recently with the lack of sleep and added responsibility our relationship has been stretched a bit. Add that I was on anti depressants that made me find my husband repulsive and you can imagine the fun and happy times around our house.

Then there is the whole being a mom thing. I find myself feeling so guilty for never having had even the slightest urge to be a mother. I fell pregnant quite easily without any real effort or intention with each of my five babies. I feel like I take it for granted almost. I look at people who have battled with infertility and yearn from deep within themselves to be a parent and I feel like I am so lucky and find myself wondering if they don’t deserve it more. Being a mother is not a natural thing for me. I am too blunt and too honest and not nearly touchy feely enough. I am not the mom who will do endless hours of fiddly crafts with my children while we all sit together and listen to nursery rhymes. The truth is I genuinely feel like I get it wrong more than I get it right.

So much has happened with the kids over the last few months. I won’t go into details but my life has been torn apart by strangers who have acted on information that was not true. I have had to explain myself to professionals and authorities and cried so many tears over everything that happened. We have moved and distanced ourselves from pretty much everyone to keep them safe. To start the road to healing and forgiveness. This has been the single hardest thing I have ever had to face. The impact on my whole family is far reaching and I know the ripple effect will continue on for many years still.

I am also trying to balance my life with a husband and five children with a high-pressure full-time job. I have always felt a career was important, I need to work for the money obviously but more so for my sanity and sense of self-worth. That does not mean I do not spend every minute at work feeling like I should be with my family and a great deal of time feeling like I could give more to my job.

I have been so good at keeping to myself I am not sure I even have friends anymore.

For the first time in my life I can relate to people who suffer from anxiety. I actually feel like I need some help to cope where I was always convinced I was too logical to give into the pressure, I could always talk myself down from whatever was going on in my mind. This time its not working.

So for now I am here, clutching my helmet to my head, listening to the gun fire around me with my feet stewing in stagnant water running red from the blood of those lost to the battle, waiting. Waiting to either take a bullet and end the uncertainty or to find the will to get up and fight.

I’m trying…

…to give myself a bit of a break.

You see after having had my fifth (yes shock, horror) baby I am not in a happy place with my body right now. I tend to be reminded of bread dough left to proof too long when I look at my naked self before getting into the shower. All soft and doughy and misshapen. I don’t use the word hate lightly, but I hate what has happened to my body through five pregnancies and four breastfed babies.

Here’s the thing though, and it really is important to look at the other side of the coin. My body is freaking incredible. It has grown five healthy babies. My body has nourished my babies in their early days. It has cradled sick children, hugged them when they have done well. It has carried me through sleepless nights and hectic jobs.

My body has shown my husband affection and held him up when he was weak. These ‘ol jiggly thighs have worked to carry me through financial woes and bad hair days. This wobbly, stretched out tummy has served as a pillow to my children and while less than the ideal that is painted in the media, every scar (three c-sections) and every stretch mark and discoloration serves to remind me of gentle kicks and the feeling of my babies having hiccups while pregnant.

So while I hate my body, I do need to remind myself I had a baby only 11 weeks ago, hell in pregnancy terms I would not even be past my first trimester. It took me nine months to gain all this weight, I need to give myself that long to lose it again. Although I have made a good start.

I know I am rambling but I think my point is that we need to learn to give ourselves a break. Yes my body presently leaves a lot to be desired. My husband doesn’t seem phased though it has affected me badly ( zero sexy times round these parts). The plain and simple truth is after having survived a very tough pregnancy with every complication you could imagine and a traumatic birth (must write about it) I am less slob and really more of a super hero. I may not wear spandex over a chiseled body but heroes can also be seen the world over, wearing spit-up stain t-shirts over soft, doughy tummies.

Cheers to the latter for raising the former on little sleep and without any real clue of what we’re doing.

 

No one said it would be easy

I have heard the old adage about how hard it is to be a parent at least a dozen times, from at least a dozen sources. At least. Its hard for different people for different reasons and I often  find myself equally annoyed by and in total awe of those who take to motherhood like a duck to water. I am never going to be that mother. Yesterday is case in point.

Just before one I needed to stop at Pick n Pay and get a few things for dinner, I opted to leave my phone hidden in the car for five minutes of peace. I know. Rookie mistake. Murphy runs around my life like a headless chicken, I really should know better. Anyhoo. Get back in car. One missed called from unfamiliar landline number and two from D. Annoyed with D so call landline and get a busy message. About to dial D when whatsapp message pops up “On my way to fetch Haedyn”. Blood runs cold. Heart pounding I call D. It seems Haedyn has taken a kick to the face during some or other game at school. Shit. Race to school. In an aside the school can be ever grateful D got there before me and calmly collected my child without demanding to interrogate the little shit who hurt him, they would not have gotten off so easily had I arrived first. When I see him he is swollen, has blood on his face and seems more or less in tact. I ask him to show me the cut and know right off that needs stitches. Again shit.

We downgraded from full medical aid to a hospital plan when I left the big corporate I was working for simply because R8k a month on medical aid was not a feesible option. Hospital plans do not cover minor wounds that need a few stitches. It is two days before pay day and I am pretty close to broke having paid for a wedding more or less on my own. Thank goodness for my sister in moments like this. We met her at the doctor and a few tense minutes, some local anaestethic and four stitches later we left with my kid in tact. The gash in his mouth was about 3mm from having gone straight through his cheek. Also, remaining cheerful to keep him calm while the voice in your mind is screaming at you to take care of this precious child you were given is hard, and very draining.

 

 

Haedyn stitches

So at home we settled him with something for pain and some mindless rubbish on TV to just chill for a minute. I escaped to my room for five minutes to process this whole chain of events. I can’t realistically expect him to give up sport because of this can I?

By now its time to run the nanny home and make dinner. Rush through while sending emails that were neglected while running around playing ambulance.

Dinner apparently does not suit Mycaela. She sits in front of her plate, arms folded across her chest in full sulk. Anyone who knows her knows full sulk means you will get nothing out of her. You could hop sideways on your head and I assure you all that will greet you in response is that dead pan stare. Let me assure you it is not fun when your ten year old has worse tantrums that her three year old sister. After about half an hour I asked her what was going on. Death stare. I told her to put her dinner in the fridge but that she would not be given anything else, not food, juice or even water until she had eaten her dinner. Then the usual there are children with nothing speech and sent her to bed. More than an hour later when we tried to put Kyra to bed ( they are sharing a room while my sister stays with us) she was banging things around and making a noise just to prevent her sister sleeping. When confronted she stormed off, out of the house, out the front gate and off down the street. At half past seven at night, in the dark. Yup. Off I went to get car keys and follow her. Her only explanation, after asking her if something is wrong, if someone had done something to her, if she had been touched (worst fear) or something was making her act out, was that it is so unfair that she is forced to eat something she doesn’t like. Yes really.

She has seen a psychologist, no issues there, we have had extra lessons and offered rewards and handed out punishment. I do not know what to do with her. She told me yesterday she did not properly prepare for the exams they are writing. So another bad report despite my policing that she studies every day. She does not need to be in a remedial environment, we checked. She just doesn’t care and I don’t know how to get through to her.

This is what makes me cry more than anything else. Makes me question my ability to be a mother. Keeps me from sleep and makes me consider vodka fro breakfast.

My sense of humour died at around quarter to eight last night sitting in the car in the driveway, begging my child for the hundredth time to care.

How was your Monday?

Live to fight another day?

I became a mother at around twenty to eleven on a cold Wednesday morning in May. It was almost thirteen years ago now, roughly six weeks before my seventeenth birthday. A tiny, beautiful, perfect little boy was handed to me and as his big blue eyes stared up to meet mine I was all at once certain he was the single best thing I had ever done and utterly terrified that I was responsible for him. Funnily enough, those same two thoughts seem to have narrated my internal dialogue over the last thirteen years.

I remember very clearly always having to defend my decision to keep my baby. Being asked why I hadn’t allowed my sister to adopt him. She had a house and a job and a boyfriend who would have helped her raise him. I could never make anyone understand that I would rather die than give him away. I knew I would never sleep again if I did not know where he was sleeping and if he was loved and happy. I remember always trying so much harder with everything when it came to him, my kid would not be an arsehole just because I was a teenager. People were watching, waiting for me to screw him up. Waiting for me to give up and leave him with my mom and run off and be the irresponsible teenager who got pregnant in the first place.

I have never come close.

Just over two years later and we added a baby girl to the mix and then the judgement got worse. I mean it’s bad enough to have one baby as a teenager now I had two. Just how stupid can one girl be? Yet still I fought to ensure my children were happy, and well- adjusted and had good manners. Most days I won that fight. Some days the fight beat me. I was existing, not living for those early years. I had an abusive alcoholic/drug addict boyfriend who abused me physically, emotionally and financially. Keeping food to feed your children is hard when you realise even though you left rent money with your boyfriend, rent hasn’t been paid and you are being threatened with eviction. I was nineteen. I can remember one Saturday afternoon where I had just fed the kids two minute noodles for lunch, not having eaten myself for a good three days, sitting on the edge of my bed in our tiny one bedroomed flat, crying my eyes out and wondering what the hell I was doing. No one is supposed to know how to figure that out at nineteen.

I was always told that my children would prevent me ever having the chance at a proper marriage as no decent man would marry me with my baggage. Add to that what having two babies before twenty does to your body and I was hardly catch of the year. I still today struggle with feeling good enough.

Now today, ten years later, I wish I could tell me then that things would be ok. I look back and shake my head at some of the terrible decisions I made. I want to weep for the way I allowed so many people to treat me. I was too generous with my time, kinder emotions and sadly often my body as well. I have spent the better part of almost thirty years chasing the need to feel loved and accepted. The honest truth is; I am exhausted.

As I approach my thirtieth birthday, it is not with a sense of trepidation but rather a feeling of determination to for the first time claim my place in the world. I will no longer kill myself trying to fit in or be a great friend with people who make so little time for me. A particular ‘friend’ is a good example. I make a supreme effort to attend each function she invites me to, always take a gift, no matter how tight money is. Yet she, when she deems it important enough to attend something I have planned (twice in seven years) she can’t even get a card. I am not about material things but there is some truth to the sentiment that it is the thought that counts.

I have come to realise that one of the most important things you can do as a parent is led by example. I feel I am failing them by allowing people to walk all over me. Yes be kind. Yes be generous. Do not however place this above your own happiness or well-being.

I guess the whole point of this is that I was talking to D a few nights back and expressed my exhaustion over having spent every day of the last thirteen years fighting. Fighting to be loved, fighting to be accepted, fighting to keep my children from being damaged by my lack of maturity and bad choices, fighting to prove ‘them’ wrong, fighting to make a living, fighting to be a friend, fighting to be worthy of a relationship, fighting my own inner voices, fighting my family, fighting loss, fighting the system and fighting myself when it felt too much.

Right now I have two full-time jobs, a broad base of free-lance work, a husband, four children, five dogs, a cat, a house, two cars, a nanny, a gardener, a sick mother and live-in sibling and somewhere myself who need something from me every day. If I had to go by textbook definition, I have maybe three friends who are genuinely there for me through this. This makes me sad. Truly. I do my very best to be there for people when they need me and my wedding made clear to me more than ever (another post for another day) just how few friends I have. This is the fight I am giving up. I would rather give my time and energy to people who will reciprocate from this point on.

I have accepted that my life will never be as charmed as some, things do not come easily to me. That is ok. That said I read a quote that said to go where you are celebrated and not where you are tolerated so as I head toward my thirties this is my aim. To recognise the relationships that are celebratory and nurture them and to walk away from those built on tolerance.

Bring on thirty, I am ready for it!

 

2014, the year of the fail

Its impossible for me to feel like I have everything all together at any moment. I may do well on one front in my life but I always feel like I am failing somewhere else. This year has been a big one for me in terms of pushing limits, testing boundaries and really trying to figure out where I belong in the world. Is this what happens when you realise you are turning 30 soon and have no actually clue what you are doing with your life?

This year I feel as though I have failed more than I have succeeded. Work has been a challenge to say the least, I am presently in my third job of the year, after having worked at the same place for nearly four, and I can see this is not going to work out either. I cannot work for a boss who speaks in contradictions and I need some level of normality to function. I cannot work with a bunch of middle aged women who behave like teenagers, I just can’t. Thankfully I have a few options and prospects on the horizon so I am not about to be unemployed and destitute. I do however feel like I have failed at work this year. I feel like I should have a career by now. Like I should have more of my shit together. Meh.

The whole girlfriend/fiancé/partner thing has, to my mind, been a dismal fail as well. Me, being me, I have stood up for myself against his family and now he is caught somewhere in the middle of the drama. He won’t speak to his brother, he hardly speaks to his mother and all this because they hate me and don’t think I am good enough for him. I wonder if they realise how often I feel that way myself? I don’t even dislike his family. I dislike the way they felt they could treat me, I dislike the way they behave toward D but I find myself wishing often, that things could just be ok. I am not exactly sympathetic in nature, which is another fail because D needs those words of validation and the pick me up and encouragement. I am more the ‘walk it off’ type. He needs things from me that would take a supreme effort on my part and to be honest I just don’t see myself doing it. I am not going to suddenly revert to being sweet and sympathetic over every little bump in the road. My role has been to roll with the punches and remain calm in the face of chaos, there is no room to kiss boo-boos in my role in our relationship. That said, he still loves me and wants to marry me so maybe I haven’t failed completely.

I am not even going to get into how badly I have failed as a friend this year, suffice to say I have to do better and be better and I will. I have just not liked myself enough to impose myself on people I like on purpose.

As a mother I have felt my biggest failure this year. No amount of begging, pleading, threatening or offering incentives has gotten Mycaela into school. She will more than likely repeat grade four next year. She does not need to be in a remedial environment (I asked) she just needs to give a damn. It si so hard for me to admit this to myself even but something just isn’t right with her. She went to the psychologist for three months, according to her there are no deep seated, genuine issues that have not been dealt with deterring her. The crux of the issue is that she gets bored easily and just doesn’t care. She has a high IQ but lacks a little on the emotional maturity side. I have begged and yelled and tried to talk to her calmly. I have studied with her and made her study on her own. I have met with teachers and written countless notes. I have sent her to extra lessons and asked teachers for extra work. She is still most likely going to fail. I feel like I am failing and no longer know what to do. I spend so much time on her issues I fail to encourage and support Haedyn who is always doing so well and playing sport and getting chosen for Scholar Patrol. I have failed him because I have not been around enough to tell him just how awesome he is. Sucky mommy! The two little ones seem to know when things are hectic and then become very needy and demand attention. Blake often tells us how we are the worst parents ever and though he is a very dramatic five year old I can’t help but hear the ring of truth in his words. We don’t listen enough, we do tend to let Kyra get away with murder and yes sometimes in not taking the time to really hear him we do hurt his feelings.  Then there are just no words for when Kyra cries when I leave for work in the morning. She is so little and doesn’t understand and I wish I had more time to spend with her but we have to make money to pay for her love of tea and Teletubbies. Sigh.

I have read so many posts on having it all and getting it right but I honestly don’t want it all. I don’t want to be super mom, CEO and charity worker in my spare time. I just want enough of each to feel like I have done enough. I want my kids to feel loved and encouraged and supported. I want to do well enough at work to settle into a career. I want to be a good (soon to be) wife.

For now though I am treading water in an attempt to just keep my head above water.

My heart is heavy and my mind is racing

So last night I was sent off to GIBS (cos my boss didn’t feel like it) for a screening of a short film titled Testing Hope which was filmed in 2005 and takes you on the journey to pass Matric in a school in Nyanga in Cape Town.

It was a dismal fail in terms of networking for business, which I imagine was my primary aim for attending, but I thoroughly enjoyed the film, the debate that followed and truly being able to hold my own in a room full of MBA and doctorate holders.

That said, and I am not sure anyone knows this about me, but I tend to battle with emotional boundaries. I want to adopt all the dogs on my Facebook newsfeed, I want to help all the children and all the elderly. I then tend to internalise and berate myself for not doing more and can go from thinking something is sad to somehow taking responsibility, in my sole capacity, for poverty and hunger and unemployment. So while I loved the film and the event, it has profoundly affected my ability to just carry on with my life as usual.

These kids don’t need money (well they do but that is another issue) they need to be recognised as committed and hard working and be given the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty. Their parents have put everything into getting their kids to pass Matric. Their parents pin their every, poor, sad and uneducated hope on these children. Yet even the top performers in these township schools do not have what it takes to earn a place at a prestigious university.

There are not enough teachers who actually give a damn who make it their priority to equip these children with the correct information to get out of the township and make something of themselves. Why? Because despite the fact that education gets the largest allocation of the national budget, that money is not making its way to where it is needed most, the salaries of the teachers. Passion does not, sad as it is, pay your bills.

How is it that as educated and empowered South Africans we can allow this injustice to continue without asking someone to be accountable. Yes education is a basic right, and we make education available but should we not have an equal platform for every learner. Should my child truly be at a disadvantage in terms of their basic education because I cannot, for whatever reason, afford private schooling?

I have this need to recruit people, industry experts, mothers, teachers and just educated people with access to information to take the time, genuinely just time, and mentor or guide or just talk to some of these kids. Answer their questions, tell them what they need to get to where they want to be. Print them some information, get them some brochures. Tell them about bursaries and student loans. Present options like skills programmes for those not likely to thrive in mainstream education. Share your knowledge, share your time, you could change a life.

These kids have dreams, and drive and motivation just like we do. There is a gap between what they know and what they need to know to get there. Can we in some way, some small way, start to bridge that gap?

Its mah birthday :)

So as of six o’clock this morning I am officially twenty nine years old. In some ways I feel so much older and in others I am excited to know that I have so much still ahead of me.

I always reflect on my birthday on the year gone past and what I have (not) achieved. This year feels different, this year I am honestly just so okay with the person I am and what my life is that I don’t feel compelled to dwell on failure or boast about achievements. I am happy for now to just be.

Don’t get me wrong now, my year as a twenty eight year old was a tough one. I was forced to face mortality and the truth of illness with my Mom’s condition. I chose to let go. I chose me and I chose my health over holding a grudge. D and I faced some of the toughest fights of our relationship. We planned and cancelled a wedding because the burden of drama got to us. We faced so many challenges, both with and against each other. We survived. We changed. We grew and we still love each other and still want to do this forever thing. That is love right there. There is no such thing as happily ever after. There is only waking up every day and choosing to make this person important and to go through the curve balls and moonlit moments all with the same dedication.

I learned a lot about myself as a mother, a daughter, a sister and a woman. I have taken a lot of blame for a lot of things that were not my fault. I bore the brunt of some fairly harsh (not entirely unjustified) judgement and find that after it all I am okay. Every person has walked a different path and has had different things affect their perception and I am learning to make peace with that. I cannot change what people say or do but I can certainly stop giving them screen time in my own life. I feel I no longer want or need to defend myself or my choices. I know that every decision I make is well considered and I have five people (at least) to think of each time.

There is a peace that comes with getting older that I wish I had known about sooner. I no longer get anxious at the thought of turning thirty. I look forward to it. My twenties have been so jam packed full of babies and jobs and boys and heartache and stupidity (oh the stupidity!). I am ready for the more settled decade (teenagers allowing) of nesting and nurturing our home and space.

I could bore everyone and write a long list of eleven million things to do before the zombie apocalypse but its been done and I have enough going on without the need to bungee jump hanging over my head. The only promise I am making myself for the year leading up to the big three-oh is I am reclaiming my health and my body (11kgs down in 7 weeks already! Yay me!). I am done popping out babies and need to do this for me. I do not want to drag my baby weight along into my thirties, no thanks!

What do I want for my birthday? I am getting everything I want today as I get to have my family and a lovely dinner but if I were to want gifts I would want vouchers that could help me along on my mission to make our house pretty. Makro or Builder’s Warehouse vouchers to buy DIY types stuff (I cannot explain how happy hardware stores make me), or seedlings or vouchers for Woolies or @Home or even Mr Price Home would make this old heart ever so happy!

So here’s to another year, then roll on dirty thirties 😉

 

My song for the year…