Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Granny spends a few days- and her unlikely return

My mother spent a few days with me to help with the kids, as I hadn't been feeling too well. Previously she had always been full of well-meaning advice when I told her about Aisha's tantrums.

"Just distract her with a toy," she'd say, or "Take her outside and show her the birds" or "just put her in the bath or read her a book" or "Read her a book while she plays in the bath".

Er, I think not.

On Monday afternoon Aisha awoke from her nap more grumpy than usual. I carried her to the living room to read her a book, when little missy decided that she would not allow me to sit down. I did not even consider giving her way because I was still feeling a bit weak from the tummy bug from which I was recovering. So she started screaming, stiffening her body and throwing herself around. I tried to steady her to prevent her from hurting herself, but other than that, I knew that there was pretty much little else I could do to stop her tirade.

My mother tried to sing to her, gave her sweets, joked with her; but to no avail. I just sat
there and tried to focus on the book I had in my lap. When she becomes this way, all one can
do is to wait for her to exhaust herself, which on one occasion took two hours!

"Give her chocolate," my mum suggested in desperation. Aisha was tensing her body and shaking as if she was getting an epileptic fit, while turning redder and redder. I did as mum suggested, more to appease her than the baby, since I knew that Aisha's tantrum was beyond the point at which she could be appeased by sweet treats.

Aisha grabbed the chocolate, holding one piece in each hand- and then squeezing. To her, the pieces of chocolate served more like stress balls to ease her frustration, as she squashed the rapidly-melting treat. I love chocolate (I mean, I really really love chocolate), so as my mum looked on in horror (no doubt wondering if the child was suffering from some kind of mental disorder); I looked on longingly, as the lovely creamy liquid dripped enticingly from her pudgy fingers onto my new duvet cover.

My mum panicked. "Her hands are dirty! She needs a bath!"

What! I thought to myself. And wash all that lovely chocolate down the drain?

This situation couldn't go on. " Come to Mommy. What can I do to help you, my darling?" I
asked her, while leaning in to hug her; very smoothly and subtly managing to dip my fingers into and lick the chocolate without my mother seeing. Pure ecstasy.

After about an hour, when she had been sufficiently worn down, I drew her attention to the squawking of our quaker parrot, which provided sufficient distraction to put an end to that tantrum.

The following one took place at 2:45 am yesterday morning. I don't remember how long it lasted (could have been about 30 minutes), but I was really lucky when I noticed that she had a runny nose and was thus able to offer her Rhinex medication, which she loves and which therefore instantly put her in a better mood.(Don't worry, I don't offer her medication just to shut her up- she really had a runny nose- I swear).

So my mum left for home last night, with new insight into her little granddaughter's scary personality and most likely feeling immense pity for her helpless daughter's plight. Sadly, I don't think she'll be back any time soon.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Feeling crappy- with no one but myself to blame

Not too long ago I did a blog post on how I was starting to exercise by walking. I also did a post on my recent discovery that I had been diagnosed as having suffered from a anorexia all these years.

I'm not sure at which point in the last few weeks I started going too far again.

Walks for three blocks at the beginning soon became brisk walks for about twelve blocks, followed by Pilates and a further rigorous exercise session upon arriving back home.

That in itself was not the problem. The problem was that old habits die hard. Once I started exercising again, I soon lost my appetite. This was aggravated by the stress of the kids formal assessments over the past few weeks.

A few days ago I noticed that I was starting to get dizzy when I stood up too fast. I thought I'd remedy this by taking some ferrous sulphate tablets. Despite this, I started to feel worse.

It was no surprise to me when I easily picked up Aisha's cold, but instead of it just ending there, I spent Friday lying down with the most terrible body cramps and headache as well. I felt weak- it was as if I was trying to move around with weights attached to my hands and feet. Aisha cried to be picked up- and I cried because I was in too much pain to do so. This was an all too familiar feeling, as I had gotten ill quickly in those bad old days, and I very often struggled to recover from a simple cold. Yesterday I was nauseous all day, although I did manage to eat a bit last night.

I think I shall be taking a break from exercising for a bit- until I feel a bit stronger. I shall also have to consciously take the time to eat- irrespective of whether I feel like it or not.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

For Tharaa- on your tenth birthday

I clearly remember the first time we saw you. Looking all distorted and alien on the 3D scan. It was when we first learned that you were a girl. 
I was ecstatic. I had wanted a girl desperately.  

"Are you sure it's a girl?" I asked, not wanting to have my hopes dashed at a later stage.

"Definitely," said the friendly lady doing the scan. "Just take a look at the burger. See, it's very clear- you're definitely having a girl".

Your daddy panicked. How would he keep potential boyfriends and suitors at bay. He wanted to protect you, his little girl, before you were even born.

His protective instinct intensified the moment he saw you. You were barely a minute old, when he ran off after the doctor and nurses who had taken you away to clean you up and do the routine checks. He wanted to make sure that they would not drop you or hurt you accidentally (never mind his wife who had just been through an excruciating 14 hour labour- you were clearly the new lady in his life). 

My early memories of you were of a sweet little girl, who slept for long stretches at a time and didn't give much trouble at all. You were always your daddy's girl, clinging to him, never wanting him to leave your sight.

My fondest recollections are of you dancing. You were so graceful for a toddler. I was amazed at how you'd invent little ballet steps, which would look so authentic- as if you had been taught. You floated about the room, so light on your feet- I could watch you for hours. And your lovely little voice. I remember you singing Josh Groban songs- inventing your own words along the way.

Just before your fifth birthday, your daddy asked what you'd like for a present, and you answered, "Anything daddy, even a shoelace will do".

As you grew older, people started to notice your agility. "Why isn't she enrolled at gymnastics or ballet class?" we were asked by more than one person. You still love dancing. Like your brother, you love imitating Michael Jackson and have become a huge fan ( which shows that you clearly have developed good taste too).

You have developed a kind and loving nature, which is why you are one of Aisha (2)'s favourite people in the world. Your mischievous smile and quick wit are of your most endearing qualities. Though you managed to get through the September formal assessment without employing any of the study methods I taught you, you still managed to walk away with Special Certificates for Maths, Natural Science and English- all without losing your cool the way your mother does.

You practice your karate both passionately and playfully and are now learning the second kata, while still having fun. And your beautiful voice now constantly fills the house with your sweet rendition of Adele's 'Someone like you'.

Although you're just a little girl, I am in awe of so many of the admirable qualities with which you have been blessed. 

My prayer for you is that you grow into a pious God-conscious young lady; who lives her life with integrity and by the moral code according to which she was raised. May you always be a wonderful obedient daughter; a loving, loyal and supportive sister, cousin, granddaughter and niece and a strong pillar in the community. 

I pray for your life to be a blessed one. May God give you the strength to overcome any obstacles in your path and may He hold onto your hand tightly so you may never waver from His path. May He fill your life with love, light and His blessings in abundance.

I know that your birthday was not everything you hoped it would be. And you may not have received the fanciest birthday party or most extravagant gifts but you, my dear girl, are so blessed to have so many people who love you so deeply. 

We all love you so much, our amazing little TEN year old!!!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The return of happiness

It was the much-awaited end of a dark and dreary period. The light at the end of the tunnel. The moment the clouds parted to reveal the glorious sunshine. The relief after hardship.

It was the end of the kids' formal assessments/exams.

The three weeks of formal assessments had been every bit as challenging as I had anticipated, and then some. It had been the very first time I'd had to face final formal assessments with 3 school going kids. And I was not doing well at it.

There was enormous pressure for Shakeel (12) to succeed, since he is facing high school in 2013 and it is important that he tries to get a bursary. Our frustration was that he had, until recently, achieved top marks for most subjects. Recently however, after a girl in his class beat him in one or two subjects, he has just conceded defeat. He will not even try to reclaim his position, and just accepts that he cannot achieve the same level of performance ever again.

His dad and I, out of sheer frustration, decided to provide some motivation for him.  He loves (and I mean really loves) his Playstation. He has wanted a 320 gig Playstation 3 with move for a very long time, so hubby bought it and showed it to him. He would however only get to keep it if he achieves the same level of results as before; otherwise it would be sold. So Shakeel put in immense effort (annoyingly not at all motivated by the prospect of being awarded a much-needed bursary), but in the hope that the Playstation will soon be his to keep. 

The formal assessment period had some weird effect on Tharaa (9). She became more playful than ever and just didn't take my threats, begging or even my punishment seriously. I'd give her questions to answer and find her drawing. Most of my energy went into getting her to focus or just to take the formal assessments seriously. 

Yesterday was particularly stressful, since she wrote her Natural Science paper this morning. I hadn't been in a particularly happy mood to start with, so her jokiness was even more annoying than usual. 

"Focus on your work. You are making me insane. You are going to be sorry!" she sang to the tune of Adele's "Someone like you", enjoying her irritating game of singing all my threats back at me. My head buzzed with four-letter words (while some managed to slip out, much to her amusement). 

Over the past few months (even before these assessments), Shakeel and Tharaa had taken most of my attention and time; the former because the stakes are so high this time and the latter because, well, I think she regards school work as a way to entertain herself at my expense.

In addition Aisha (2) is extremely clingy and does not want to share my attention with the others, which makes it very difficult to work with them. One particularly frustrating afternoon last week, as she  clung to me, I wished she had a little friend to play with. But then I thought, many kids who don't have friends, create them. So I pointed to a corner and said, "See Aisha, see the little girl. She wants to play with you." The poor child shrieked with fear and tried to climb up my leg- it turns out that she has inherited my fear of the unseen. For all I knew, the little girl she had been picturing was the little weirdo from "The Ring".

So, poor Nuha (6)'s homework has been neglected by me for a while now; with her dad doing it at the last minute outside the school gates before signing her homework diary. I had no idea what the poor thing was learning at any given time, as there was just too little time after they came from school in the afternoons. 

Last week she came home saying that I should help her with her spelling words, which she would be tested on in her formal assessments. They were doing the 'sh' and 'th' sounds.

"Spell 'wish'," I said, "as in 'I wish this formal assessment was over".
"W-i-s-h", she spelled out.

"Spell 'gosh' " I instructed.
"OMG," she responded earnestly, surprising me with her knowledge of internet slang (for which I blame Selena Gomez).

So this afternoon, I was ecstatic when they returned from school, signalling the end of the formal assessments. Finally I could breathe again, smile again-after three weeks of blood, sweat and tears.  And just in time to celebrate Tharaa's birthday tomorrow.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Their happiest time- ever!!!

I had never seen the kids so happy . They claim that it had been more fun than quadbiking, pony rides or even their favourite activity- spending hours on the waterslides.

The karate club Gusuku (training camp) took place on Friday night. The children were expected to be at the Dojo at 6:30 pm, as training would commence at 7:00 pm. They would train until 9:00 pm and then spend the night. Training would once again resume at 6:00 am the following morning (Saturday), when they would train for most of the day, after which grading would take place.

I was a bit uneasy, as I was not sure if my kids had the stamina to endure such a rigorous schedule. They are usually grumpy when they get up at 6:45 each morning and that's after getting to bed at 8:00 the previous night.

We decided that Nuha (6) would not sleep over, as she often wakes up at night crying hysterically. She even walks about the house crying and then has no recollection of it upon waking the following morning. So she was definitely not a candidate for a sleepover. We were to fetch her after 9:00 pm and get her back to the dojo for training by 5:45 the following morning. I had no idea how we would accomplish that.

But those plans flew out the window the moment she stepped into the little room in which the girls would be sleeping on Friday evening. All the girls greeted each other with so much excitement and enthusiasm. She had been there for about 5 minutes, when she came to me and said that she was having the best time of her life and then demanded to be allowed to sleep over. Despite my warnings and reminders of her unusual nighttime tendencies, she eventually got her way.

As we greeted them Friday night, I felt a bit teary. I was about to give each one an emotional speech, telling them just how much I would be missing them and thinking about them, when I was interrupted by a loud piercing shriek. Hubby had greeted the girls and had just taken Aisha's (2 yrs) hand to leave, when she realised for the first time that she would not continue to be part of all this excitement for much longer.

She kicked and screamed and shrieked, as I felt my face getting hotter and hotter, while trying to pretend that I was not one bit phased by her embarrassing outburst. It was only when I pretended to have spotted a cat running down the stairs, that she calmed down and decided to join me in tracking down this imaginary cat. Fortunately, a second outburst was averted by the appearance of a little dog.

"There, we found the cat!" I said, making a mental note to show her some pictures of cats when we got home in order to undo this terrible miseducation.

The following morning (Saturday), hubby popped in at the dojo at about 7:00. He found the kids already busy training hard, looking exhausted but happy. He was amused to see a fatigued Shakeel lifting his leg using his hands in order to do a kick. Upon hearing this, I panicked (what's new?) at the thought of my babies being tortured for the rest of day.

We met up with them later at Milnerton beach where they continued their training, looking rather impressive, I might add. Onlookers came closer, taking pictures and occasionally chatting to the children. A very kind gentleman approached cute little five-year old Jacob.

"How old are you?" he asked the little boy.
"Five years old," replied Jacob.
"And how long have you been doing karate?" asked the man.
"Fifteen years," the boy answered proudly.

Another Afrikaans girl of about three years old stared at the spectacle, open-mouthed. Upon spotting her mother approaching, she excitedly squealed, "Kyk Mammie. Kyk die ninja's!" (Look Mommy. See the ninjas!).

To which her mother replied, "Nee, dis nie ninja's nie. Dis moslems wat besig is om karate te doen". (No, it's not ninjas. They're moslems doing karate"). So hilarious. And so inaccurate.

Hubby and I then left for home, and returned to fetch them back at the dojo just as they were awarded their certificates and stripes.

Despite their sheer exhaustion, they continued to burst with unbridled joy. We heard about how exciting their night had been, how Nuha had not woken up at all during the night (thank goodness!), how they had run single-file down our road and performed their workout right there in public, and their kata's in full view of all motorists on the Koeberg Interchange.

I was so pleased for the kids, but I was also really happy that the event had succeeded as a fundraising opportunity for the struggling club. The amazing sensei, whom I'm told doesn't even get paid for his efforts due to lack of funds, relies on events such as these to cover club expenses. The problems are exacerbated over the holiday period when students stay away (and hence do not pay fees), making it very difficult for the club to cover rental for this period.

I am so grateful to the sensei and the seniors who made this event so special and joyful for the kids.

The girls enjoying a well-deserved break (with a majestic Table Mountain in the background)

Shakeel training with one of the sempai's. He often seemed to be ignoring techniques taught in class, preferring to use those seen on Dragonball Z

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Anorexia- my ignorance and denial

About three years ago, I decided to deal with some personal issues I was facing by going for counselling. After two sessions of me talking, the counsellor asked, "So did you ever receive treatment for your anorexia?"

I was confused. This woman had clearly not been listening. I was not anorexic. Anorexics, I believed at the time, were sneaky people who hid in bathrooms sticking their fingers down their throats to induce vomiting. They were selfish people who put their own vanity ahead of those people who worried about and loved them. I was both indignant and defensive. I left the session a while later, confused at the information and new insight I had just received.

Over the next two sessions we spoke about key people in my early life who had influenced my thoughts, belief systems, values and opinions. They included family members, teachers and generally just people I admired or regarded as role models and also others whose comments/actions may have profoundly impacted me. For the purposes of this post,  I'll refer to them simply as the key people.

Being thin was one of the most admired qualities in the world from which I come. Growing up I'd hear certain key people expressing admiration for a person who was skinny, and pity for anyone who was not.

In my early teens I started gaining weight slightly. Outsiders would pass comments like, " You're filling out beautifully- you're no longer skin and bone." I did not give comments such as these a second thought until one night when I overheard a conversation by two of the key people. They were expressing concern at how I was 'letting myself go', and how my increasing weight was making me increasingly unattractive. They were determined to help me since, according to them, I lacked self-control. I was fifteen at the time, but the pain of that night remained vivid in my mind for years to come, no doubt influencing decisions I ended up making.

Positive comments and compliments were drowned out by those made by these concerned well-intentioned key people.
"Just start by losing a bit around the bum area. You can take it from there". Or the occasional joke intended to act as motivation, " You weigh almost as much as your mother does, and she's already had 3 kids, while you're only 16!" or
"Look at how lovely and thin So-and-So looks. Wouldn't it be wonderful if you
could look like that?"

Needless to say, these comments did not help at all. They just drove me further in the direction of the fridge.

Funnily enough, I don't think anyone from high school would remember me as 'the fat girl' or even 'the plump one'. However when I looked in the mirror, I saw a whale.

This was further exacerbated when I ran into a boisterous outspoken relative whom I had not seen for years. He was known for his mean jokes and seeing me weighing more than usual gave him all the ammunition he needed. "Oh my word, you look like an 'ou vet tannie' (old fat lady). It's amazing how some girls grow up to be gross old women with big tits, fat arses and elephant thighs". Although the 'big tits' comment definitely did  not apply to me, I was deeply affected. Although this person was not someone whose opinion I necessarily valued, he had managed to hit an exposed nerve. I felt humiliated, and disgusted and ashamed that my 'feminine form' (hips, butt and thighs) were becoming increasingly prominent and disgusting.

Then came the life-changing event- the opening of a new community gym two blocks from my home. I became obsessed, going to work out or attend fitness classes at least thrice a day despite the matric exams looming. I started to lose weight rapidly over the next few months and started to stress about maintaining my weight loss.

Then I started to eat less, and less and less. I lost my appetite and eventually
could not bring myself to eat much at all.

I enjoyed my hunger pangs. I enjoyed the fact that I didn't need to eat. It made me feel as if I was in control- I was not letting hunger/cravings control me. I loved the feeling of being empty, clean. It made me feel light. It made me happy.

I didn't give my constant tiredness and lethargy a second thought. It didn't bother me despite the fact that I had fallen asleep during every matric final exam paper and as a result had not managed to finish a single paper. My father (a history teacher) had been preparing me for the matric history finals all year long, so imagine his disappointment when I came home after the exam and told him that I had only finished just over a third of the paper, since I had fallen asleep.

When I started university the problem worsened- only I didnt see it as a problem. I had lost over 12 kg and was more outwardly confident than I had been in a while. I had more friends and a better social life than I had had before. I attributed this positive change to my weight loss. Now I realise it was because I exuded confidence, which I hadn't done before.

I ignored the extremely tight uncomfortable feeling at the base of my neck. I didn't think it a problem that I was constantly dizzy and became lightheaded each time I stood up too fast.

The key people in my life were full of praise. I looked so good in my little jeans, with my tiny little waist, they said. I was extremely pleased that I looked so boyish- gone were the grotesque womanly hips, butt and thighs.

I fainted behind the cash register of my uncle's pharmacy where I worked for the holidays. I managed to call my mother just in time to catch me, as I fainted again in the shower. My father, who had helped her to carry me down the passage to my room, then realised for the first time what I had been doing to myself. The sight of my ribs almost jutting through my skin was what scared him the most. He sent me to various doctors and specialists. None of them used the word anorexia. My family doctor tried to reason with me. "You're too intelligent to be so self-destructive". The problem was that I did not see myself as being self-destructive, since I was happier than I had been in ages.

It was only after I got married that I tried to purge for the first time by taking a laxative. The only effect it had was to give me the most gut-wrenching cramps I had ever experienced, which probably saved me from pursuing that route again.

It was at a routine doctor's appointment, when I had nonchalantly mentioned that I had not had a period for about a year, that I was sent to a gynaecologist. He informed me that I was no longer ovulating. I would not be able to have children unless I gained weight- and even then, only if the medication which I was to take to stimulate ovulation, was successful. Although it had never been my plan to have children before my 30s, I felt a sense of panic and urgency. The possibility of never being able to have children terrified me. I was willing to do whatever it took to ensure that I started ovulating again.

I was extremely lucky. Once my priorities and my mindset changed, I did not struggle to eat. I managed to get my weight up to 53kg which is when I fell pregnant.

I realise that I am one of the lucky ones. Some people cannot get past their revulsion for food and their fear of losing control.

Since then (but before the counsellor provided me with the label 'anorexic'), I had continued to have an unhealthy relationship with food. I over-ate when stressed and was capable of going without food for extended periods when happy (or perhaps I was happiest when I was capable of going without food for extended periods, I don't know which). But I've never starved myself to that extent again, and my weight has stayed above 53 kg ever since.

Learning that I had in fact been living the life of an anorexic, scared me into making further changes. I now try to focus on healthy living in a holistic sense. I weigh more than I ever had two years after giving birth (normally I'm back at my pre-pregnancy weight by the time the baby is 6 months old).

My big fear is that my children (especially my daughters) will walk the same path I did. I pray that they will be surrounded by positive people in their lives, but more importantly, that they are able to drown out other noises and listen only to the voices that will reaffirm their value as human beings- just by virtue of who they are and not based on external factors such as appearance. My hope is that my daughters embrace their femininity, and though they might carry themselves with modesty, they do so free from shame.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Aisha's birthday- preliminary celebration

Two-year old's party halted by the fun police

Yesterday was Aisha's second birthday.

Two hours after she woke up yesterday morning, I was praying desperately that the year ahead would not be anything like her first few waking hours as a two-year old.

She has had a head-start on her terrible two's, since she's been throwing temper tantrums for months already, but I had optimistically (and unrealistically) really hoped that they would have fizzled out by now. Instead, it seemed like her biological clock was set with extreme precision. Upon awaking she had entered into this new phase with ease, by throwing the worst tantrum she had done to date.

Nothing I did or said helped. Everything made it worse. Eventually I managed to calm her down slightly by taking her outside, where I held her on my lap while I sat on the icy cement step overlooking our little garden. I distracted her by showing her the bees pollinating the flowers, the birds in the lemon tree and various insects crawling next to us. She looked at them unimpressed, and then looked up at me, as if challenging me to come up with something better- or else.

Something (maybe maternal instinct?) made me start to stroke her back while humming to her. She lay her head on my shoulder- satisfied, calm. I didn't dare move a muscle. I tried to ignore the icy cold of the step on which I was sitting. "It's all in the mind", I told myself, as I felt a cramp starting in my coccyx region.

Eventually it became too painful and uncomfortable. I slowly reached back for the doormat, slid it toward me, lifted myself and in one smooth movement, managed to plant it under me and sit back down.


But, little missy who had obviously been silently observing my audaciousness, sat up abruptly and ordered in a low voice, "Sit on bum!" What the heck did she think I was sitting on?

I panicked.

She repeated, more firmly this time, "Sit on bum Mommy!" I realised she was trying to tell me sit back on the cement, but I wasn't ready to suffer that again.

I acted as if I didn't know what she meant. "I am sitting on my bum, darling. See?" I said, pointing to my slowly-defrosting posterior.

She decided to make herself clearer.

"Put bum down. Bum off mat," she ordered, tugging at me. I decided to ignore her. After all, I wasn't about to let this little two year old dicate to me- an experienced mother of four. No way- I was about to reclaim my authority.

"No Aisha, Mommy wants to sit on the mat". I said bravely.

Then in a voice, which gave me flashbacks to scenes from "The Exorcist", she growled, "Bum off mat NOOWWW!!"

I leaped off the mat. She hadn't really won, I reassured myself. I wasn't a wimp. I was just giving in because it was her birthday. Next time she wouldn't be so lucky.

Hubby phoned home a few times, feeling nothing but affection for his sweet little princess. He missed her, wished he was spending her birthday with her instead of at work. My complaints about her tantrum-on-steroids fell on deaf ears.

Although we had decided to celebrate Aisha's birthday together with Tharaa's right after the formal assessments/ exams, hubby felt that his darling's birthday could not go uncelebrated on the day as well. He would bring home a cake or two and we'd celebrate as a family during the children's study break.

Study break? Celebration? With Shakeel writing Maths, English, History and Geography and Technology within the
following two days;  and Tharaa writing English, Afrikaans, History and Economic and Management Sciences within
the same period! What is this dude smoking? I asked myself incredulously.

But eventually I resigned myself to the fact that I was outnumbered. The children had been so excited about having a little party for Aisha when they came home from school and I did not want to come across as being the monster-parent.

The kids came home and I transformed from wimpy-mom-of-tantrum-throwing-Aisha, to a threatening, wooden-spoon-
wielding drill seargent. Books out, subjects prioritised and we were ready to get going with our study session before the little party.

The children were in no mood to study. They were too excited about it being Aisha's birthday. I couldn't get them to focus despite my use of threats, ultimatums and even the wooden spoon.

They were constantly singing "Happy Birthday to you" while studying. I just couldn't shut them up.

When relatives call to wish the kids, they always do so by singing the "Happy Birthday" song. She obviously did not have a clue that it was a birthday, so I think she just thought that everyone was calling to have a sing-along, which is what she did. Also, I think that she's under the impression that her name forms part of the song. She is not likely to be impressed in two weeks time when everybody substitutes her name for Tharaa's.

The little party was held- the older kids were in raptures, while two-year old Aisha watched them confused, no
doubt wondering how they could be so relaxed during the exam (or was that just me?).

Hubby bought Aisha a Baby Born Birthday doll set, which she tossed aside to play with the plastic cupcake which came as part of the set.

The birthday cake was cut amidst shrieks of laughter and delight (in the exam!), with me making sure that hubby saw me intermittently checking my watch.

By the time the little party ended, the kids were too exhausted to study. I gave up. They had won. They had enjoyed themselves, laughed and sung despite it being exams (unheard of!).

This morning Aisha woke up, smiled at me sweetly and asked, "How are you Mommy?" She then sat up and hugged me.

Immediately, I melted and all was forgiven.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The mission to save a tooth (Kromboom Dental Centre)

As I lay/sat in the dentist's chair a few weeks ago, I learned that the huge abscess in my gum would necessitate the re-doing of an old root canal and an extensive cleaning-out process of the affected tooth.

The infection was very severe and was apparently affecting the underlying bone and neighbouring tooth already. It was also causing my tooth to loosen.

The cleaning-out process had just commenced, when both the dentist and his assistant commented with some interest on the amount of crap that they were suctioning out of my tooth. I was feeling mildly embarrassed. Even though this muck had been lurking in my tooth cavity and not in my mouth, it was a bit awkward to have this exposed for all to see.

Just then, I forgot my embarrassment, as the most vile indescribable odour entered the room. My stomach turned. Clearly there was a problem with the sewage system of this place, which was really strange, since the whole set-up was really impressive. In fact I had just been so taken in with their flat-screen tv's in the reception area, their state of the art equipment and modern furnishings. I could not believe that a place of its stature and elegance would not have attended to such an embarrassing problem with extreme urgency.

"Mmm, that's pungent,"commented the dentist calmly.

Yes it's pungent, I thought to myself, while trying not to gag. In fact, it's more than pungent- it's plain freakin' gross!

He continued, "Yes, it's clearly indicative of the extent of the infection." 

What!!! No, it couldn't be! That vile odour was not emanating from me, was it?

I felt my face burn with embarrassment. The following few minutes felt like an eternity. As the odour permeated through the room, I lay there trying not to exhale- maybe that would prevent the smell from getting to them. Needless to say, it did not work, since the smell was emanating from the cesspool in my tooth and not from me having bad breath  (I swear).

After a while the dentist left the room for a minute, which is when I took the opportunity to apologise profusely to his assistant. "It's okay," she reassured me. "We are so accustomed to it. We experience much worse all the time". I doubted it. But I appreciated the lie.

Close to the end of the cleaning out process, the dentist reached some debris at the bottom of the tooth, which he was unable to dislodge no matter how hard he tried. Eventually, he inserted some medication and decided that he'd try to dislodge the debris at our next appointment.

He then informed me that the possibility of them saving the tooth was not great. It did not only depend on the elimination of this severe infection, but before the root canal treatment could be re-done, the debris would have to be removed.

Then he made an offer: He would not charge for the root canal cleaning or treatment until it was clear that I would end up keeping the tooth. In other words, if the tooth needed to be extracted in the end, then all his blood, sweat and tears (and inhalation of my toxic fumes) in his attempt to save the tooth, would go unrewarded. Since our medical aid scheme does not cover root canal treatments, I was deeply appreciative and humbled by this generous offer.

When I arrived back at the the centre for yesterday's appointment, I did not have very high hopes of keeping the tooth. Further X-rays indicated that the infection was not subsiding. He struggled to dislodge or penetrate the piece of debris a while longer and then he called in his colleague for a second opinion. She agreed that the prognosis was not good, but, like him, felt that everything needed to be done to save the tooth.

Most people would probably wonder what the big deal was about losing a single tooth, and about ten years ago, I would have felt the same way. Now many years (and numerous extractions) later, I do not have many teeth to spare. I was torn.

On the one hand I felt guilt at what this poor dentist and his assistant were suffering to remove this debris to save the tooth. I was tempted to cut my losses.

On the other hand, I could not help but picture myself having dinner in twenty years' time, relying on hubby to chew my food so that I can slurp it through my smoothie straw.

Oh what a dilemma.

My guilt prompted me to resign myself to the prospect of my toothless twilight years. I asked him to go ahead with the extraction. He responded that one should only extract a tooth as an absolute last resort- once all other options had been exhausted.

Despite the whole process being such a pain in the butt for him, he had not been ready to give up yet.

I was both relieved and impressed. I was not accustomed to dentists putting in all this effort to save my teeth, hence my soon-to-be toothless smile.

Eventually the piece of debris was removed, much to the relief of all involved. The root canal treatment was completed efficiently and effortlessly.

I was told to return in six months to see if the infection had cleared, in which case, I will keep the tooth. Hurray!

This team of dentist and assistant have earned my deep gratitude. Perhaps I should take them a plate of samoosas.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

How fear and tea led me to my happy place

Way back in my youth, the gym was one of the few places in which I did not feel socially awkward. My social phobia (self-diagnosed) has worsened since I stopped working and have become increasingly isolated from the outside world.

I would love to return to gym, but it just is not possible at the moment. I have been thinking about running or even brisk walking as a form of exercise. But since it entailed leaving the house by myself, I have invented every excuse in the book to delay it- until Monday morning, that is.

Anna, the domestic worker who comes in once a week, usually enjoys a cup of tea upon arrival. This morning cuppa, downgrades her general demeanour from extremely
grumpy to just plain grumpy. So imagine my horror when Monday rolled around and I realised that we had run out of tea.

Despite the fact that it was chilly and windy outside, I preferred to brave the elements rather than face the wrath of Anna. So I bundled a confused Aisha into her pram, and set off for the supermarket three blocks away. As the icy wind hit  our faces, Aisha shrieked with delight. Walking outside down the road with Mommy- this was a first.

I sped to and from the supermarket in no time, bringing the lifesaving tea in the nick of time. Operation 'Saving Sulky Anna' had been a success.

But the more enduring consequence of this outing had been an invigorating and blood-pumping workout, which had left me feeling uncharacteristically happy. I did, however, feel sleepy for the rest of the day. Exercise tends to do that to me. I am always amazed at my brother, who enjoys a vigorous workout every morning at 7 am before going to work feeling rejuvenated.

But the positive effects of my light exercise had been enough for me to do it again the following day. This time I walked around our block, then the next one and the next one, then after that around the perimeter of the three blocks. I increased the distance a bit each day.

If any observer in our area should happen to behold a lean, superfit mommy, with a ripped body in designer sportsgear, pushing a baby in a state-of-the-art three wheel jogging stroller, you can almost be certain that that mommy is..yep, my opposite neighbour Sarah.

But, not to brag, I am sure that I appear just as remarkable as Sarah does- definitely not a sight to be overlooked or easily forgotten. Huffing and puffing and panting, with my one hand on my rickety pram and the other holding up my oversized tracksuit pants, which is constantly threatening to drop to my knees, I can be seen looking rather politically incorrect with my orange, white and blue hijab flapping violently in the wind, looking much like the Old South African flag.

I walk briskly so as to keep my heart rate up and when I am absolutely sure that no one is looking, I start running with the pram. Until I spot someone looking, in which case I reduce my speed to a casual stroll, faking an air of bored nonchalance, which continues until the coast is once again clear, when I break into another crazy dash. I'm sure poor Aisha wishes she had the vocabulary to tell me how embarrassed she is.

This light exercise has already had a positive impact on me physically, in that my energy levels have increased tremendously. My improved mood can apparently be attributed to the fact that one's brain releases endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine when one exercises.

So, in the end, I am very glad that I had been forced out of the house on Monday morning. Thank goodness my Anna-phobia was greater than my social phobia.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

I will no longer hijack my kids' projects- I promise

It's hard to believe that schools are already starting the final formal assessments for the year.

These assessments usually are constituted by projects and tests.

So often I've heard parents (particularly mothers) complain that involvement in children's projects is adding to their already heavy workloads, with parents often contributing more than the kids themselves. Given South Africa's uneven wealth distribution, it bothers me that children who have a stay-at-home parent with a decent level of education, will have an advantage over children whose parents work full days, especially in the case where parents are very often not educated or even literate (and therefore not in the position to help the children with projects and homework).

My kids have the added 'advantage' in that they have a mom whose sense of self-worth is directly tied in to her kids' achievements (or lack thereof), and who is therefore obsessive about providing the necessary support and
motivation to ensure their success (so that she can feel good about herself).

My kids usually do their own research for projects, after which I will check, give input- and try to restrain myself from re-doing the entire project MY WAY, while they are sleeping. Their projects are usually a result of their own research and understanding of the topics- well, most of the time......

Two years ago Shakeel had to do a project on an influential South African. He selected Dr Chris Barnard and I had insisted that he use the public library instead of the internet (as I thought that he would score extra marks for extra effort). We took out 'Christiaan Barnard- One Life' by Christiaan Barnard and Curtis Bill Pepper, a 366-page book with the tiniest print you've ever seen; which I started reading on the way home. By night time, I was completely hooked and was reluctant to give up the book.

I completed reading the book over the next few days, and then proceeded to answer the assignment questions, which Shakeel had hurriedly jotted down at my request. Oh, I was so pleased with myself; not only for the fact that I had been able to answer all the questions without re-reading any part of the book or conducting any additional research, but also for my depth of understanding of the complicated medical processes explained in the book.

I completed my draft of the assignment in no time. All that was left for Shakeel to do was a cover page, contents page, introductory summary, bibliography and a blurb at the end of his project booklet.

I was pleased with my part of the project, so I did not even care to check his.

On the day the result was released, Shakeel looked nervous as he approached me. I (er, I mean 'he') had obtained a lousy 64%. I felt a wave of nausea as I sank onto the sofa- shocked, humiliated. After recovering slightly later that night I looked at the final copy of the assignment for the first time. My son had not bothered to attach a proper cover page, he had not done a contents page, summary or a bibliography. He had not even provided me with all the questions which had to be answered!

I know I should have been furious, but I couldn't help feeling relieved- the low mark was his fault, and not mine. Or was it? I wished I could approach his teacher and ask her to have my contribution to the project graded independently of his. (Yes, I know, I should be committed).

Let me hurriedly state that none of this should be a reflection on Shakeel. He had known better than to challenge his crazed mother as she took it upon herself to hijack his project.

My kids perform better in tests than they do in projects. In the early days I would question Shakeel on his work, ensuring that he did not leave the house on test morning until he could answer each question effortlessly. But, since I now have three kids at school and a demanding baby, I am training him and Tharaa to draft their own question papers, which they should use to study and revise. This is not always successful, as they still need so much guidance when drafting the questions.

On test mornings we usually try to maintain a calm and positive atmosphere in the house before they leave for school. (All threats like "Don't bother to come home if you get less than 80%" would have been made the night before). Previously I would worry the entire test day, wondering how they were progressing, but thanks to poor hubby, who often is forced to act as my therapist and life coach, I now try not to stress about things over which I have no control. 

At the moment Shakeel is busy with a project on one of the major religions in South Africa; while Tharaa's is on the planet Mars. At this point I must give myself a pat on the back- my only contribution thus far has been to point them in the direction of relevant websites and provide some books- which they could choose to use or not.

I think I should focus less on controlling their projects and work on an important project of my own- developing my own goals so that my sense of self-worth is linked to my own achievements instead of theirs. My kids will be so relieved.