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Wednesday, 28 April 2010

"In Tributum Ut"

A man died today, he was not famous, influential or rich, he did not win any “Nobel” prizes or leave his mark in the history books, but he sure made an impact on the lives of those who knew him. He was a father, a grandfather, a husband, an ex husband, a son, a brother, a cousin and an old family friend. He laughed with enthusiasm, reminisced with a smile and told the nastiest jokes he could think of. He was the inspiration behind the old adages: “He drinks like a fish and smokes like a chimney!” I am sure he has nursed thousands of hangovers. He was unashamedly racist and didn’t care that what he said was offensive to some, me included. In fact, I believe he said some things precisely because they were offensive. He was most certainly not a religious man, though he was by no means “Godless,” he was a hooligan, not a heathen. He enjoyed the company of not just his generation but also that of a younger generation, a generation that enjoyed his company immensely.
I am sure there are many who would frown on how he lived his life, I am sure there are some who were offended by his behaviour. But, I liked him! I liked that he always seemed so genuinely pleased whenever I saw him. I liked that he always asked after my parents and each of my brothers and listened with interest to my replies. I liked that he always had something nice to say about my dad and spoke of my mum with respect. I liked that he always spoke of my grandparents with reverence. I liked that he never hid the pride he had for his daughters and his grandsons. I liked that he was never anything other than his true self no matter the circumstances.
A man died today, he was not what society would use as an example of the perfect man and he never pretended to be. What he was, was a man who lived a full life, filled with laughter, love and memories. What he was, was a man young in heart, mind and attitude. What he was, was a father who did his best and must have got something right. What he was, was a man who was loyal to his family and friends. What he was, was a man who never compromised his beliefs, or lack thereof, to fit into a mould. What he was, was unique in every sense of the word.
A man died today and I am truly saddened by his death. With his passing comes the end of an era that was all of his own making.

And so, a toast, a tribute to your uniqueness, to a life well lived and to the fond memories I and all who know you hold dear. Your passing has left a space in the hearts of many, an empty ashtray on the table and a half full bottle of whiskey on the bar. I will always remember you with fondness, the old family friend, father to my lifelong friends and a legend in your own right. God speed, Uncle Brian rest peacefully!

Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Worrywarts

My lifelong friend packed her bags and headed back to South Africa for a visit yesterday. My immediate reaction to the news that she was going was how lucky she was to be going home for a visit so soon after moving to the end of the world. The reality is she has dipped into their savings and gone without her family for the express purpose of visiting her ailing father. He had a rather bad reaction to a hip operation and as he has to undergo more major surgery she has headed home to spend time with him, just in case.

The Mauritian has just recovered from an anxious few month after hearing that my grumpy father-in-law was involved in a rather serious motor bike accident. It seems that there were a lot of complications brought on by the accident and he was in and out of hospital since January. The Mauritian is by nature a worrywart and in these past months he has almost driven both of us into insanity. We had to make an arrangement to pay off our large phone bill because the poor Mauritian couldn’t stand not knowing what was going on and was calling home almost every day.

I am so grateful for the fact that though aged, I have healthy parents.

The trouble with living so far away from ones family is that the information one receives about a sick loved one is just never enough information. Questions you want answers to just cannot be answered and the poor people at home just never get back to you quick enough. The trouble with living so far away from ones family is the feeling of complete helplessness, add to that a ten hour time difference and you really do have enough reason to worry yourself insane. The reality is that if you were at home the self same information that is not enough from a distance is more information than one would normally ask for, you can get the answers to all your questions but you don’t think to ask them and you are, in most cases, pretty helpless in a situation anyway the distance really doesn’t change that. The trouble with living at the end of the world is you know your family at home is not telling you everything because they “don’t want to worry you,” the truth of the matter is that were you still at home you wouldn’t want to know everything anyway. It’s all so contradictory, the family at home is thinking: “They are so far away and there is nothing they can do so let’s not worry them.” and those at the end of the world are thinking: “Nobody ever tells me anything, I have to nag or throw a tantrum just to get some information. They just don’t know what it’s like being so far away and not knowing!” Okay, so maybe not in so many words, but you get my drift, I’m sure. Reverse the situation and those of us who have chosen to live at the end of the world will do the same to those at home, the difference being that we will justify it by saying that because we chose to change our home we need to cope without worrying the family at home.

Can you tell I’ve been thinking this over for a while?

I know that whatever goes on at home, when there is a need for me to know something someone in my family will let me know and give me as much information as they can. I also know that if they think I should try to go home, whatever the reason, I will not have to ask. When it comes to being kept informed about the important goings on in my family I am very secure in the knowledge that I will be kept up to date and well informed. No need for me to worry, right? Wrong!
I worry sometimes about silly things that just might happen, the kinds of things that, were I still living at home, I would dismiss as the mindless wonderings of a worrywart. There are a thousand questions about mundane everyday things I want to ask my mum, but I don’t because, well they are silly and mundane and don’t need to be asked. The Mauritian clearly disagrees with me on this point and will ask his family anything, no matter how daft the question may seem to me. His logic is he needs to know if he should worry, while I think its nuts to look for a reason to worry. I would rather use that energy on a rambling blog about life at the end of the world then waste it on worrying.
That’s what I say, but the moment I notice that the little “SKYPE” icon, that tells me my dad has switched on his computer, is not green when it should be, I begin to wonder if there is something wrong. I do believe I am turning into a worrywart and that scares me.

So to sort this conflict out in my head I have resolved that at any given time if there is any cause for concern about someone back home or at the end of the world, I will only ask for the information I would ask for if I was at home and I will tell those back home as much as I would tell them if I was there and not here. Thus insuring, in my rather long winded way, that I will receive and give more information then is actually required and I won’t feel like a worrywart anymore.

Friday, 23 April 2010

"Terror" at the Grocery Store

I was talking to my very talented mum this morning via that marvellous invention called “SKYPE” and telling her about the antics of my rather entertaining Butterfly and it occurred to me how much more time I spend laughing at her antics then I do scowling.

Every fortnight we all bundle into our trusty $200 Nissan and head off to do a grocery shop. Every fortnight I arrive home with not only groceries but also a Butterfly story or two. The Butterfly refuses point blank to sit in the chair part of the shopping cart and as shops here do not allow you to put a child in the main part of the cart, Butterfly gets to stroll around on foot. Come to think of it though, I doubt I would ever have put the Butterfly in the cart anyway as I am sure she would have tried to eat just about everything we put in the cart, packaging and all. The Mauritian stresses uncontrollably when our Butterfly behave instinctively like a child and runs off down the shopping aisle and I find it extremely irritating trying to keep her under control and shop wisely at the same time. So I braved the sideways looks of my fellow shoppers and attached the Butterfly to me by means of my “Toddler Strap.” This strap goes around one of the Butterfly’s wrist and the other end around mine, thus freeing up both my hands and giving the Butterfly the illusion of freedom. Apart from some rather disapproving looks from some people, using the “strap” was very successful. Successful that is if I discount the times the Butterfly managed to wrap the strap around my knees or her throat, went charging off in the opposite direction pulling me with her or bringing herself to a shoulder jerking stop or when she decided she needed a rest and plopped herself down in the middle of the aisle pulling on the “strap” saying “Thit mummy I very tired!” By the end of the shopping spree however both the Mauritian and I did not feel overly stressed just a tad worn out.
Last night however the Butterfly, for the first five minutes, was an absolute “gem.” She strolled obediently next to me keeping in step and not tying us up into a knot or trying to take me somewhere other than where I needed to be. I was pleasantly surprised and thus lulled into a very false sense of security! I reached up to get a bottle of juice and turned to place it into the cart when I realised that there was no tension on my wrist, I looked down to find that the Butterfly had worked out how to take her end of the “strap” off her wrist and she had charged off down towards the end of the aisle. I called to her to stop, which to her credit she did immediately, turned to face me, smiled, waved and yelled “Look Mummy I tooked it off!”
It was at that point that the Mauritian sauntered back towards me carrying a tray of eggs, his smug expression of having found a bargain turning to horror when he noticed the absence of our Butterfly. “Oh hell!” was all I heard as I took off down the aisle after my surprisingly quick almost 3year old. Butterfly of course found this all very amusing and fun and when she saw me coming giggled delightfully and took off again yelling “I catched you mummy!” much to the delight and amusement of everyone in that aisle. Needless to say the Mauritian and I arrived home highly stressed and exhausted after what should have been a one hour shopping trip took all of two and a half hours. Oh well at least both shoppers and staff had an entertaining evening.

Whenever we venture out with Butterfly we always seem to have a time when she causes her parents to cringe in horror, which amuses all the onlookers no end. One of the places we frequent our Butterfly is so well known by the staff that I now no longer bother to keep her with us, the staff quite happily keep an eye on her and when we are done I just go to the shoe section put away all the shoes she’s been trying on and pick her up to leave while she waves cheerfully and says goodbye to everyone. I have a feeling we would not go there as often as we do if she was not so popular! There is a restaurant we enjoy going to where the Butterfly is equally well know, so much so that the last time we went she strolled happily into the kitchen looking for the waitress who often serves us. She is on a first name basis with the owner of the local “Cafe” or “Dairy” as they are called here at world’s end, she even greets the postman/woman/person with great enthusiasm and she loves going to the petrol station with her Papa to put petrol in the tank.

Yes an outing with the Butterfly is both entertaining and exhausting but she does not reserve her antics just for entertaining perfect strangers she leaves some of her best tricks for keeping her mum on her toes. She has made neat little piles of sugar on the kitchen floor, methodically snapped spaghetti into little bits piece by piece and scattered them throughout the lounge, experimented with her new crayons and discovered they draw beautifully on the television screen and even cleaned the bath with a nail brush and my hair conditioner. All this before lunch of course! I am now in the habit of checking outside every evening while the Butterfly is in the bath and collecting my Tupperware which is used for tasks such as digging up and collecting sand or a makeshift vase or someplace to put her leaf and grass collection. She has even opened her piggy bank and had a blast taking handfuls of coins and seeing how high in the air she can throw them, once she buried almost all the pegs and recently found her sitting inside my Kist having taken all the linen out first. She has emptied all the draws in my chest of drawers, taken all the CDs and DVDs out of their stands, played bowls with the potatoes and onions and drawn pictures on the carpet with the dish washing liquid. I now have to remember to check the settings on my washing machine as she has discovered how to override the child safety and change the temperature or the cycle, I once almost boiled my sheets clean and the next day washed the Mauritian’s grease covered work overalls on a cold gentle wool cycle. I reset the television channels at least once a month and just the other day caught her undoing the wires from her Papa’s $1600 loud speaker. Her latest trick is resetting the tension on my “Orbitrek” and I either end up going so fast I nearly fly off or it’s so tight the wheel won’t budge.

The final straw, however, came the day she decided to play with every single one of her toys, and I mean that literally. She has a bag into which I put all the little fiddly toys and also her puzzles and smaller building blocks and fridge magnets, she took everything out. She emptied her toy box, her pencil case and her book shelves, entertained her stuffed toys on the veranda with her bike riding and ball kicking and built numerous “Lego” towers at the front entrance then had a rest on her donut which was in her tent covered with both the sheet and duvet off her bed. I, of course thought, at first, that this was all very cute and grown up, as she went about her day playing happily and entertaining herself, freeing me up to write a blog or a poem or was I reading at the time. When I did eventually survey the mess I was suddenly very tired. In a sudden spark of genius I told the Butterfly that before she could watch any television that afternoon she had to clean up and put away all her toys. To my complete amazement she did! Of course she is only almost 3 and making the mess is so much easier then cleaning it up but with a little guidance and reminding from “Mum” and the odd bit of assistance clean it up she did, and all rather joyfully too.
So now every evening after supper and just before bed it’s the Butterfly’s job to put away and tidy up everything she’s played with for that day. Amazingly it works really well because I don’t wear myself out picking up and putting away only to have the Butterfly take it out again and the Butterfly knows that when its clean up time it’s also calm down time making bedtime a calm and pleasant experience for both Queen Butterfly and her slaves.

This morning after telling my very talented mum all about our shopping experience she said about the Butterfly: “Where does she come from, do you think she was swapped at birth?” I laughed and replied that she most likely was because there was no way I was ever as cheeky as my Butterfly is. But, even if there was the remotest possibility that she was swapped at birth I would never swap her back. The Butterfly is a lot of work and I need to be one step ahead of her all the time, but always seem to be ten steps behind. The Butterfly is cheeky and stubborn and not scared of me at all. The Butterfly is very independent, strong willed and will do almost anything to get her own way, including telling me she doesn’t like me anymore and run crying to her Papa. The Butterfly is noisy and loud and never stops talking or singing. The Butterfly has character, is intelligent and has a wicked sense of humour and even though at the end of the day I am completely worn out and feeling old I wouldn’t have her any other way because a day with my Butterfly is a day filled with laughter, love and inspiration.

No, I love her exactly the way she is.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The Angel from Auckland

Recently we packed up our $200 Nissan and headed through the pouring rain to Auckland for some rest, relaxation and good company. We were graciously given some floor space to rest our heads at friends who are so busy with three daughters ranging in age from eight years to one and running their own business. Where they find the time to entertain and help people like they do is far beyond a mystery to me. They have been a huge support for the Mauritian and I from the moment we expressed our decision to change the location of our home. They have freely given their advise, support and time and spent many hours on the phone with us listening to our fears or concerns over and over without complaint. In fact they were even responsible for the acquisition of our trusty form of transport before our arrival at the end of the world.

Before our little vacation in the north I was thrown into a panic by a doctor's rather off handed comments that our Butterfly had a heart murmur and we should have it checked out at a paediatric cardiologist. This was further added to when I was told by a rather useless receptionist that there are no paediatrians in our little town and I would need to go to a neighbouring town like Hamilton, oh and without a referral we will need to pay approximately $750.00 in all. By this point I was neither able to breathe or think so I did the only thing I could do and that was to pick up the phone and call my Auckland “Angel.” After half an hour of swearing, cursing and commiserating I put the phone down feeling much calmer and clear headed. The fact that my Angel offered to take the burden of calling around and trying to find a doctor an appointment and a price for me was a double bonus that brought not only relief but also gave me back my ability to think rationally. In the end I was able to find a paediatrician in our own home town, we did not have to pay for the consultation and” Google” explained that “heart murmurs” in children are really nothing to worry about. I am not someone who panics easily and I cope well in stress situation, normally but on this occasion I went to pieces. In the year we have lived at the end of the world there have been other moments like these though not as intense and in those times I have had someone to turn to who is always willing to help in whatever way she can. Often times the home phone rings and my Angel is on the other side, just calling to say hello. Those calls have been my life line because I know that the time taken to call me is precious to this stress riddled mum of three.
I have never met anyone quite as busy as my Angel! Anyone that tells me a stay at home mum does nothing needs to spend a week in this busy home of five. Her day begins with the task of readying one child for primary school and keeping track of which extramural activity she has that day, another for her morning at preschool and the youngest for day care. Preparing three different morning drinks and breakfasts and getting oneself ready is tough enough, but my Angel does it with her youngest attached to her hip. The school trip takes about an hour then home she comes to do housework and make dinner and that’s her morning done. Her afternoons consist of fetching and carrying kids from school to other activities and watching other children for friends and her evenings consist of feeding, bathing and preparing for the next day. No wonder she is exhausted and ready to crawl into bed by the time her children are in their own beds.
Among all this activity my angel still found the time to take the Mauritian and me to the airport to collect our long awaited box of goodies from South Africa. It’s a good thing she did too, we would have gotten hopelessly lost on our way there and just fining the correct place to go was a task all on its own. With her help we got to the airport unstressed and not having to watch the Butterfly we were able to go about the tedious task of filling in forms and collecting in relative calm.
We also had a babysitter for the first time in a year and this allowed us to go out without our Butterfly and spend some well deserved and longed for alone time. We ended up taking a drive to the area we stayed in when we first arrived at the end of the world and had supper at “MacDonald’s.” Completely lacking in romance but not calories we enjoyed our outing immensely, once again it was with thanks to my Angel.

For five awesome days I didn’t have to wash a single dish, cook a meal, vacuum a carpet or do a load of washing. I had my hair straightened twice, drank far too much wine, and hardly had to do anything for or with the Butterfly. After five awesome days in Auckland I was relaxed and refreshed and ready to tackle life and reality again, all thanks to the graciousness, kindness and generosity of an angel from Auckland.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Nothing Goes to Plan

It’s Sunday and dutifully we headed off to church and were pleasantly surprised that it was a children’s mass. The liturgy, prayers and hymns were all arranged by the students at the local catholic school. It was a wonderfully uplifting service filled with colour, smiles and joy right in the middle of lent, what a pleasure it all was. I was taken back to the many masses celebrated at the catholic school where I attended high school. They were always so joyful, busy and often inspired. Of course these masses also signified both the beginning and end of a school term, the first mass of the year always fresh and full of positive energy and promise, the last mass always nostalgic and excited. The choir belted out the folk songs accompanied by guitars, recorders and percussion, we all enjoyed it but nobody admitted it. There was the unacknowledged competition between classes to have the most memorable theme, yet I am sure not many are remembered any more. I can only remember one with any certainty: it was an “Ash Wednesday” mass that my class arranged, funny though I cannot for the life of me remember what year it was. The theme was “Take a look at yourself” and we used the Michael Jackson song “Man in the Mirror” as our “inspiration”. I even remember whose idea it was, admittedly not mine!
I can count on one hand the times I have truly felt God’s presence and that Ash Wednesday mass was one of them. Mass was compulsory attendance for all pupils, I do not recall if the non catholic teachers were always at the masses but they were all there that day. That mass had an effect on all who attended it; there was a real sense of peace and prayerfulness throughout. The most extraordinary thing to happen that day was that every pupil and teacher, catholic and non catholic went up to receive the ashes on their foreheads. I am sure there are many who will have very different recollections of that mass, but I will always remember that sense of quiet contemplation and joy that seemed to settle over the school that day. All it took was twenty or so hormonally charged high school girls with a flair for the dramatic, a love of music, a little inspiration and the Holy Spirit to unite an entire school in true peace and harmony.

So it’s the third Sunday of lent and there we were singing hymns that took me back to Catholic school days. How certain I was of the path my life would take, I knew exactly where I was going and what I wanted to do. How wrong I was, very little has gone according to that self assured, confident teenaged plan. I am horrified at just how naive and idyllic I was. I was living in a perfect world. I remember one of the things my school prided itself on was that the education the students received prepared them for the “real” world. I do not believe that any school can truly prepare a young adult for the “real” world. School life is so structured; students are given time tables, told when things start and when things finish. A student’s life is worked out for them, when they will study, when they will eat, when they have holidays even what clothes to wear at different times of the year. All the student has to do is pitch up, follow the rules and achieve at least a minimum pass mark. No pressure at all! Then we become university or technikon students and suddenly everything is up to the student. That sudden sense of freedom, when it didn’t matter if they don’t go to lectures or hand in assignments is narcotic and though I know many who finished their studies with honours and now have successful careers I also know many intelligent people who spent their tertiary student days in a constant “party” mode and now with no qualification are working just to get by and not using their full potential. Though I chose not to study and began working immediately, I was not immune. Oh the parties and drunken fun we had! I began my independence living in a commune and what fun it was, five young adults, a pizza delivery, a bottle of “Klipdrift” brandy, a 2l coca-cola and a pool table does an all night party make. How I managed to get through the next severely hung over working day I have no idea. But manage I did. How I managed to live on a salary of R950.00 a month is also a mystery I am now unable to solve. Working was just a means to a drunken end; there was no thought of diligence, study or promotion. Being a grown up, earning money and the freedom to make my own decisions and mistakes was far too much fun to bother with the future and that teenaged plan.

Here I am twenty years on from those idyllic and memorable Catholic school days older and a little wiser perhaps, reminded by a children’s mass of my youth and I realised that even though I have achieved little that I had planned to I am exactly where I want to be, sitting on a Sunday evening at my lap top listening to my Butterfly playing her xylophone while my soul mate listens to jazz on his $1600 sound system. I am, a wife, a mother and a “wanna” be poet. I am content, happy and feeling just a little bit sentimental.