Tuesday, 27 March 2012

A self-sacrificing mommy and a disastrous night at Millers Point

This weekend past was spent marking Shakeel's entry into adolescence. Although his thirteenth birthday is still more than two weeks away, he insisted that he wanted to celebrate it during the school holidays.

So after months of him begging and pleading, I agreed to a boys' camp away from home. His dad was secretly ecstatic - he had wanted to go camping for ages, but this had never come to pass, since I was always reluctant to stay in a tent with two-year old Aisha - since not even the brick walls of a building are enough to silence the shrieks this child emits during her hour-long tantrums. I knew that we'd be evicted from any camp site after just one night.

So Mo, while pretending to resign himself to the awful duty of going camping with Shakeel and some of Shakeel's friends, booked a spot at Miller's Point near Simon's Town.
Accompanying them would be Mo's older brother and his son. They would be using a tent which sleeps 8 and two smaller 2- sleepers.

But I didn't care about their sleeping arrangements. Nor did I care about what activities they would be enjoying while away. Nor about their meals. Instead, as the weekend approached, I started to become increasingly apprehensive about them leaving.

I mentioned a while back how much I hate my family being split up when we have available family time (like weekends). I don't even like the kids to spend the night by their grandparents - I can't help feeling as if it is a waste of the time we could have spent together. (Is that selfish?)

When this happens I feel lost and incomplete - as if part of me is missing.

So, in anticipating this past weekend, in addition to me inevitably feeling lost, I also dreaded my time with the three girls who would be remaining behind. I did not look forward to the moans of ''Why does Shakeel have all the fun?'' and ''Now what fun activity can we do'' (since I owed them for allowing Shakeel to have more fun than what they would). Mostly, I dreaded Aisha's tantrums. Although I deal with her tantrums all day while Mo is at work, I am usually comforted by the fact that there is an end in sight, i.e. when Mo get's home at the end of the day. And what would I do if she threw tantrum in the middle of the night (as she so often does these days)? Oh, the horror!!

So on Saturday morning, I walked about the house with an air of sadness, wondering if anyone was appreciative of my laudable unselfishness - putting the desires of my son and his dad above my own needs.  When it was time to leave, I greeted Shakeel with a lump in my throat and a forced smile - secretly impressed with my own stoicism. What a mother I was!

I greeted Mo with a hug and a kiss and, as he turned to walk away, I heaved a sigh of relief at my own triumph - my victory over the urge to mutter in his ear, '' This is all your fault! I hate you for doing this to me!'' Instead, I smiled at him through my clenched jaw and quickly went back inside before I said anything which could dethrone me as the Queen of Self-Sacrifice.

My weekend with the girls was everything I'd expected. Thinking that I'd be alone with them, I'd promised them an afternoon of cupcake making and decorating. But when we unexpectedly received visitors (including their little cousins) I spent the afternoon in the kitchen preparing supper. Every few minutes either Tharaa (10) or Nuha (7) would whisper in my ear that I was breaking my promise to them. Although they were having a blast playing  with their cousins, they also wanted me to ignore the parents and spend the afternoon with them as promised.

I was on egg-shells with Aisha all the time. My attempts at hiding her dad and brother's departure were thwarted when an over-excited Shakeel ran back into the house to throw his arms around my neck and to give each of his sisters a very dramatic goodbye kiss-and-hug. Since she was unable to verbalise her confusion, she spent the day grumpily clinging to me and throwing the odd tantrum.

She ended up going to bed at 1:45 on Sunday morning.

My mum, niece and unmarried brother slept over. The following morning mum-in-law brought breakfast, enabling us to carry on our weekend tradition of breakfast with rolls, spiced beef and mustard.

While we were sitting at the table chatting, Mo and the boys walked in. Despite it being extremely hot in our neck of the woods, the weather at Millers Point had been icy. It had been so windy that they were unable to pitch the tent - in fact the wind had torn the tent and caused one of the poles of the BORROWED tent to bend. Mo spent yesterday trying to establish the cost of repairing the tent and replacing the pole (before returning the tent to its owner).

So the boys had slept in the cars, while Mo and his brother had attempted to sleep in the tiny two-sleeper. Needless to say nobody had gotten much sleep.

The boys arrived back exhausted. In addition, a few of them returned with diarrhoea. (I suspect that one of them had had the virus before embarking upon their adventure, and then kindly shared it with the rest of his buddies). While all the boys lazed about in the lounge (either playing Playstation or PSP), one of them vomited right there on the floor. Needless to say, Mo took him home immediately.

Despite their discomfort and the fact that nothing had gone according to plan, the boys had enjoyed themselves. In fact, owing to their reluctance to leave each other, two of them accompanied us to our Sunday night prayer gathering. At the end of the one and a half hour long prayer meeting, the boys looked as if they were about to collapse.
''My bum hurts!'' one of them complained (since we sit on the floor for the entire one and a half hours).
''My head hurts!'' another groaned.

''One would think you just came from playing a vicious rugby match - instead of having sat through a peaceful prayer meeting, '' I cruelly mocked.
''Try sitting through a long prayer meeting after having had less than four hours sleep the previous night,'' one of them retorted.

I laughed with glee - not at the three zombies walking toward the car with me, but at the fact that my life had returned to normal - or at least to the level of normalcy to which I was accustomed. My family had been restored. Once again, life was good.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

My sincere prayer for this morning- please give me a day of smiles and cuteness; and not tirades and hissy-fits

A few months ago, you might remember my struggle with two year old Aisha's tantrums. They terrified me. Then, as suddenly as they'd appeared, they stopped. Foolishly, I did not take a moment to appreciate the respite - I just took it for granted.

For another few months she was an absolute delight. On so many occasions I remembered wishing that I could freeze the moment - or at least remember how cute she was being, the hilarious comments she passed in her delightful innocence or the adorable expressions on her face. Priceless; never-to-be-repeated moments. Oh, it was a wonderful time - but sadly, I remember very few of its details.

I don't know why I did not think to record these important little details - the way I had recorded the details of her tantrums which had gone before. I guess that's the price I'm paying for not taking the time to smell the roses.

Yes, our tantrums are back - with a vengence. I'm on egg-shells all the time. I'm not sure if it has something to do with the fact that she may be teething - her last four molars seem to be ready to make their appearance. But it could take months.

But last night she delighted us with a glimpse into her delightful nature for a few minutes - dancing to the tunes of her sisters' High School Musical DVD. It reminded me of how, in those glorious months not too long ago, she used to shuffle to the ''Party Rock Anthem''. (I might upload a video I took of her and her sisters - once I replenish my rapidly diminishing data bundle at the end of  the month). It was so cute and hilarious.

I remember how she had certain 'phrases' or sentences which she had just enjoyed saying. I know she knew the meaning thereof, because I had heard her use them in context before, but it was as if she just awoke one morning and decided that she'd insert them into every conversation - whether applicable and relevant, or not. I later realised that she was imitating all her older siblings' lines and mannerisms.

So our conversations had become really bizarre.

Me: Aisha, would you like some toast or porridge?

Aisha: I know!! (rolling her eyes with mock exasperation)

Me: Huh?


Me: Aisha, what are you watching?

Aisha: I caaan't! I don't know hoooow! (throwing up her hands in fake frustration)

Ookay then.


Me: Oh, I'm so hungry.

Aisha: But whyyyyy?! Whyyyy?! (gesturing dramatically)

But although her conversations often left me confused, sometimes they warmed my heart - as what she said was very appropriate. She and my mum were lazing on a rock at our usual river spot one day, when she took my mum's face in her hands and said, ''So cuuuuute!!!''

Another time I was ranting and raving while looking for the TV remote.
''Why do you guys have to play with the remote? Can't you just leave it on one spot? Why do I have to look for it EVERY SINGLE TIME I want to change the channel. (Which incidentally I could have done ten times as I was walking past the TV to look for the remote). But annoyance replaced reason, as I moaned and groaned; ranted and raved.
''This is ridiculous! This happens every time!!''
Just then Aisha sighed a loud dramatic sigh, '' Mommy, but I yuv you!''
Thereby placing my stupid tantrum in context by showing me what really counts.

Not too long ago it was Mo's turn. The kids had been bickering more than usual and it was clearly working on his last nerve. So as an argument ensued at the table (probably about whether Tharaa had secretly dropped her broccoli into Shakeel's plate), Mo just snapped.
''This is ridiculous! If you keep this up, I shall !"£$% each one of you. I'm getting sick of this ^&*(''

His eyes bulged as he yelled and screamed. Everyone looked down at their half-eaten food - afraid to make eye contact with him. He continued for a few minutes; threatening and venting.
When Aisha shook her head and giggled, ''Daddy, you cwazy'' - thereby echoing the thoughts of everyone at the table. Everyone (including crazy daddy) burst into fits of laughter.
What would we do without our disarming little darling?

So, as I wait for her to awaken this morning, I say a silent prayer that her mood will be pleasant. I have already put in my contact lenses, since the first thing that sets her off in the mornings is seeing me with my (rather ugly) spectacles.
''  'Pecs off!'' she'll yell angrily.
I have also brushed my hair and let it hang down over my shoulders. Many a tantrum has started because of my annoying tendency to twist my hair into a bun or tuck it down the back of my pyjama top (to keep it out of my way).

So I eliminate all potential annoyances ('pecs off - check; hair hanging down - check) and start my silent prayer that she'll wake up happy, and hopefully  return to being the little angel she was a few months ago - I promise to savour each second this time around.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Wannabe Bangladeshi's - and Sea Point park gymnasts

Yesterday Mo received a call from his brother, who is a professional photographer who also works in the production of movies, advertisements etc. They were looking to cast Bangladeshi-looking children and he thought Shakeel (12) and Nuha (7) would be perfect.

Shakeel who, like his mother, is afraid of new experiences among strangers, was nervous. He complained about a head- and tummy ache from the moment we informed him of the casting. He was an absolute wreck, seeking constant reassurance. Who was going to be there? Would there be other children? What would he be expected to do? He drove me nuts.

Then, like his mother often did, he asked to quit before he even began. I completely understood his nerves - and I sympathised. But I also knew that the anticipation was scarier than the actual event would be. This has happened to him so often - he'd be terrified of attending an event, just to find that it is not as bad once he's there.

Another reason that I usually insist that he should do things of which he is afraid, is that I am living with so much regret for not having done things I would have enjoyed - simply because I was afraid. I love swimming and table tennis and, as a child, always longed to participate at club level, but I was too shy. Now my poor mother is bearing the brunt of my regret, with me constantly nagging and moaning, ''Why didn't you force me?''

Nuha was shy, but excited - not really sure what was expected of her. I think part of her just enjoyed being selected for something for which Tharaa (10) was not.

The casting took place in Sea Point (opposite the parks). So while Mo took Shakeel and Nuha in, I let Tharaa and Aisha (2) play on the beautiful lawns.

I made point of taking pictures of them, so that they would not feel as if they were missing out while their siblings were being photographed. But, I needn't have worried. Once they were let loose onto the open space, they became absolutely feral - wildly running and shrieking.

A dog-owner with his two large dogs noticed that they were afraid of his pets, so he approached them with the ball with which he was entertaining his dogs. He tried to get Aisha to throw the ball, to encourage her to interact with the dog. But to no avail. The child shrieked while her older sister practically climbed up my leg, as the dogs came nearer. I apologised profusely to the disappointed man and felt really bad as he took the delightful canines to play in another part of the park.

As soon as the coast was clear once again, Tharaa - our agile gymnast- started to perform cartwheels, Arab-springs and hand-stands, the way she always does when let loose into wide open spaces.

Her little sister, as usual, imitated everything she did.

Aisha also enjoyed the attention she got from passers-by when she started to perform a High School Musical song, holding her pretend microphone in her hand and shaking her little body shamelessly.

Just as we approached the car (as it was starting to become chilly), our two budding actors returned with their dad. As I'd suspected he would, Shakeel had enjoyed the experience.

We just received a call today to say that Shakeel had been chosen for the advertisement. To prevent Nuha from being disappointed and feeling rejected, we told her that they had only selected boys for the ad. Oh, the life of showbiz parents! (It's perfectly acceptable to tell a lie to prevent your child from getting hurt, isn't it?)

The older kids have indicated that they want to join a casting agency. This does not surprise me at all, since they all have a flair for the dramatic (evident when my instructions to switch off the TV and study are met with theatrical meltdowns into tears of utter devastation).

Mo and I will fully support them on this path . It's by time they start earning their keep.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Eastern Food Bazaar visit; savouring the last of the summer flowers and Aisha brings home her first art activity

On Friday night we took Mum-in-law out for supper at the Eastern Food Bazaar. This is one of my and Mo's favourite places to eat. We absolutely love their curries. The kiddies however usually prefer their pizza over curry. Mum-in-law ordered the grilled chicken.

Although there are an abundance of restaurants and eating establishments in and around Cape Town, there are not many sit-down places which are certified as Halaal. EFB is one of the very few Halaal certified establishments based right in the centre of town, which makes it perfect for us.

The food orders are placed downstairs at a very long counter. Service was relatively quick, which I really appreciated, since the kids had been moaning about being hungry in the car already. The atmosphere downstairs is usually busy, loud and vibey, which means that we usually opt for the more quiet and serene upstairs eating area - where it is not quite as easy to lose one of your kids. I'm always stunned at the exquisite decor upstairs; especially the intricately carved wooden furniture.

The annoying part of the evening was that Shakeel (12) spent the most of the night playing games on his cell phone instead of chatting to us. Since Mum-in-law was accompanying us, I was unable to growl at him the way I normally would - a fact of which he clearly took full advantage. I made a mental note to give him hell when we got back home.

Dinner was lovely, as usual. Mum-in-law, who possesses culinary skills of note, noted that there was an excess of cumin in the lamb rogan josh. Luckily I'm clueless about such matters, so I was able to enjoy the dish without reservation.

On Saturday morning the kids spent time playing outside. They sadly noted that some of the plants bearing summer flowers were withering, which prompted them to make the best of the few which remained. They filled a large transparent dish with water, removed a variety of flower heads and arranged it to form a pretty little floating garden. Shakeel's role was to keep the bees away from the girls as they selected the perfect flowers for their bowl. But after failing to convince the girls to place one of the goldfish into the bowl, he lost interest in the project and wandered off to play his Playstation instead.

Yesterday afternoon we headed for the gym. As usual we dropped Nuha (7) and Aisha (2) at the children's play area at the gym, while Mo, Shakeel and Tharaa (10) swam laps in the smaller pool. I had a really intense workout - I could hardly walk at the end of it. In fact I am still aching from it (in a good way).

The best part of our time at the gym was that two-year old Aisha, who is not yet at daycare/creche, brought home her first piece of art. The older kids were so excited - they insisted that I start a file for all Aisha's 'work'.

My brother and his family popped around when we returned from gym. As usual the kids were ecstatic to see their cousins. They screeched, played and slurped chocolate ice-cream. So much fun.

As usual we rounded the weekend off by attending our calming, yet spiritually rejuvenating, Sunday evening prayer meeting. And, as usual Nuha slept right through it.

It was a lovely busy weekend.

Friday, 16 March 2012

School, homework, gym/karate, madrassah- is this overscheduling?

I always compare my childhood - during which I remember playing outside with friends, climbing the tree in our backyard, riding bicycles, rollerskating, playing hopscotch, playing in the park etc - with the type of lives children lead today.

Children today seem to be so busy; always involved in some or other structured after-school activity. According to an article I read, some of the negative effects of overscheduling in our kids' lives include kids:
- feeling tired, anxious, or depressed
- complaining of headaches and stomach aches, which may be due to stress, missed meals, or lack of  sleep
- falling behind in their schoolwork, causing their grades to drop

I promised myself that I would never burden my kids that way.

However this week, I feel as if I have been doing just that.

We recently joined the gym (as a family). We did not merely embark upon this (rather expensive) activity for pleasure alone - I believe that Mo and I really need it (with his terrifyingly high blood pressure and my frustratingly out-of-control stress and anxiety levels).

We'd been talking about going running for ages, but this has just never materialised since we did not have anyone to look after the two youngest kids. Gym has provided the perfect solution, since there is a well-supervised play centre for the two youngest, while the two older kids are allowed to use most of the cardio equipment.

However, the kids also have karate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday mornings. I'm not too strict about them attending karate in the week, but this week I insisted since they will be grading on Saturday.

In addition to gym and karate, the kids also usually have a mountain of homework. Although, come to think of it, I'm not sure if the volume is really the reason it takes hours to complete, or if they just drag it out since they have nothing else to do in the afternoons.

Another activity still to be added to the list, is madrassah (Islamic school). Now I remember coming home from school every afternoon and skipping off to madrassah every afternoon from Monday to Thursday - yet I recall still having loads of play-time afterward.

So we are looking at sending them to madrassah on a Sunday morning for three hours.

Their free time for the week will therefore include: an hour before bedtime, Fridays after school, Saturday after karate and Sunday after madrassah.

I can't help but worry that we might be depriving them of unstructured time for free play.

So their schedules will be as follows:

Monday - Thursday
7:55 - 14:30    --          School

15:10               --         Arrive home

15:10 - 15:30   --         Break

15:30 - 17:30   --         Homework

17:30 - 18:30 ish--      Gym / Karate

18:45               --          Arrive home

18:45 - 19:20   --         Supper and Bathtime (for all)

19:20 - 20:30   --         Play / Relax until bedtime

I think we can be more flexible with gym on Fridays, so as to give them the entire afternoon after school (and evening) to themselves.

Saturday karate is from 10:30 - 12:30.
Sunday madrassah is also in the morning some time.

I know that the detail provided by this post is incredibly mundane, but I'm really just using this to formulate my thoughts. (In fact seeing their time-table laid out like this is really helpful to me - until now their weekly schedule has just appeared to me as a busy blur).

About the free time I'm so intent on preserving for them - let's face it, with our lifestyle and surroundings, my kids would not be cycling outside (due to lack of safety), climbing trees, playing hopscotch or enjoying the fresh outdoor air. They'd most likely be glued to the TV, or sneakily playing games on my phone (since playing Playstation during the week is prohibited).

But still, isn't the point that they be given enough free time within which to do as they wish (within set limits, of course)?

The question is - is the free time they have available for themselves, sufficient? Are we over-burdening them with activities?

It is very challenging to establish a schedule which meets everyone's varied needs (including Mo's and my health needs). The best I can do for now is to stick to this schedule provisionally and monitor each of the kids carefully.

Perhaps I'm over-thinking (the way I always tend to do). But, like all parents, I really just want the best for my kids.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

I feel good!

I really enjoyed today. No, I didn't do anything spectacular; I didn't win anything, nor did I go anywhere exotic.

Today was one of the very few days during which I did not have to make an effort to feel good. Today it was easy.

Everything lined up to make this day really lovely. My wonderful friend, who is visiting from abroad, popped in with her cute, adorable and friendly baby. I didn't realise how much I missed her until she was here. And then I didn't want her to leave.

I had long since resigned myself to the fact that I don't really have close female friends any longer. My close friendships have waned over the years. It happened gradually and, since life had become so busy, I hadn't really noticed. Until today, that is.

Talking to a friend, laughing, grumbling and supporting - oh how I missed that! Not to have to carry the weight of my concerns and worries inside - bottled up. To be able to share, unburden - the relief of having a sympathetic ear. Someone who understands.

How I missed the relief and lifted spirits caused by laughter (even at our own self-deprecating humour).

I was really sad when she left. I cannot wait for her next visit to SA.

As the day progressed, I started to feel lethargic and physically tired. Fortunately I resisted the temptation to bunk gym. Our routine is still quite unsettled, since we have had so many other commitments during this week. More importantly, on the two other occasions we went to gym (since joining two weeks ago), our main concern has been that two year old Aisha and Nuha (7) would refuse to go to the childcare centre at the gym. To my surprise Aisha happily waddled off toward the toys once we dropped her there, which was a HUGE relief.

Since we are still incredibly unfit, we have limited our workouts to an intense 30 minutes. I spent 10 minutes on the stepping machine, bicycle and treadmill respectively. I really pushed myself on the treadmill- starting off by running (trying to keep up with the super-fit hot babe next to me) for five minutes, after which I adjusted the setting to a steep incline, which I tackled for another five minutes.

Shakeel (12) and Tharaa (10) cycled, stepped and rowed. As with everything else he does, Shakeel really pushed himself, as he is always trying to outdo himself. Tharaa, on the other hand, just kept going because she just loves to be active.

I was so happy when Nuha later informed us that she and Aisha had really enjoyed their stay at the childcare centre. Hopefully this means that we can visit the gym more regularly - without having to worry about whether the younger two are okay.

I left the gym feeling energised and happy.

Normally, at the end of a day, I cannot help the negative thoughts which may creep into my mind - like unpleasant events of the day or anything about which I may be feeling anxious.

But not tonight. I'm not sure about the cause of the positive energy pervading my mind and body. 

I'm just really grateful for the contentment I'm feeling tonight.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

♥♥♥Dino - love♥♥♥

Until recently, two year old Aisha refused to watch any programme other than Barney. She'd hold her darling stuffed Barney in her arms, while watching on-screen Barney sing the same annoyingly catchy tunes - over and over and over and over again.

At one point she started to watch Smurfs too, but then - as if realising her disloyalty to her dino-darling- she suddenly stopped and insisted on watching only Barney once again.

But thankfully, she has recently started to vary her taste in movies. She is experimenting with Ice-Age, Mickey's Adventures in Wonderland and other Disney Classics.

But, as if to assure Barney of her undying love, she watches these programmes with Barney clutched firmly in her loving arms.






Her loyalty is admirable.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

A bird + a painter + four fish + the six of us = 1 family

I can't believe that I've never formally introduced the other members of our family (other than the six of us).
About two years ago we brought home our quaker parakeet for the first time. Shakeel (12), who was a huge fan of the Percy Jackson book series at the time, named him Titan.

Titan has assimilated into the family beautifully. He has firmly claimed his place as the ruler of the backyard. Unfortunately for me, despite all my attempts at gaining his affection, the darn bird seems to hate me. He tries to bite me at every opportunity. Since his cage is open all day, he is free to roam about the yard as he pleases - which I'd forgotten one day as I was hanging up the washing. All I remember about that moment is an excruciating pain on my foot - the little monster had left his cage and walked all the way across the yard to pierce my delicate flesh with his razor-sharp beak. Tears of pain sprang to my eyes immediately, as I shrieked - which just made him lunge toward me for a second bite.

I have no idea how to gain his affection. When the kids were at school and Mo at work, I was often the one to take his cage out into the sunshine, open it (daringly) to give him his freedom, fill his water and food bowls, and even fill one of the doll's toy baths for him in which to splash, should he so wish - and all the while, he'd be doing his utmost to bite me. 

As much as he hates me, he loves Mo. He becomes so excited when he hears Mo's voice after work. Mo is the only one to whom he will go without biting. He even kisses Mo on the mouth! He follows Mo's instructions to dance and will imitate certain words which Mo taught him.

Last year John was hired to give our home a long-overdue paint. We had never met him, but he had come highly recommended. While working here, Mo learned that he was homeless, so he allowed him to move into our separate entrance. John has been living here ever since. In exchange, he helps around the house doing some gardening and has started to become involved in Mo's sideline business - panelbeating and spraypainting motorcycles and vespas.

John is extremely creative and a real jack-of-all trades (which he and Mo have in common). He also shares Mo's creativity and skill, and coupled with Mo's innovativeness, I believe the two of them make a formidable design team.

While walking through Stodels or the nursery at Builders Warehouse, Mo would often say how sure he was that he could build one of those beautiful rock ponds from scratch. So Mo formulated the design and carefully decided on the appropriate materials to use for this exercise. Using John's skill in the building industry and Mo's skill at colour-matching (due to his spray-painting sideline), they managed to build two very realistic looking garden features.

This rock-like flower box (seen in the background)

And this fake rock feature with pond

In the pretty rock pond, there are now four little goldfish, named Gotenks (named by Tharaa after Dragonball Z character), Aquamarine (named by Nuha after the mermaid in the movie of that name), Kakarot (another DBZ character named by Shakeel) and Barney (need I say more).


In addition, the new domestic worker just started about a week ago. While she is a very welcome addition to the household, I wouldn't go as far as referring to her as part of the family just yet. But I'm sure that this sunny cheerful woman too will acclimatise in no time and become part of our crazy lovely family.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Saving myself from the edge of despair - my new life philosophy is tested

A few days ago I wrote a post on how I combat sadness, anxiety and mild depression by focusing on all my blessings and everything for which I can be grateful.

Who would have thought I'd be putting my new life philosophy to the test within the following few days of writing that?

Over the weekend I had a really negative experience involving another person. Since I am a people-pleaser who cares way to much about what other people think of me, this encounter left me devastated. Shock became sadness, which then started to turn into depression - when, fortunately, the iota of rationality I had functioning within me at the time, acted as my lifeline.

I thought about the abovementioned post and how, theoretically, I should be placing this negative encounter in perspective by just looking around me and appreciating my blessings. Filled with overpoweringly negative emotions, I found this exercise to be quite challenging.

On a congnitive level I knew that I had a plethora of blessings surrounding me at that very moment. But the depth of my sadness was such that I really battled to appreciate them on an emotional level.

Fortunately I persisted - looking around at my kids, hubby, our home. Why was I letting someone who was completely insignificant in my life blind me to what I have?

My kids have been giving me so much of which to be proud - it is formal assessment time once again and I have had very few problems with getting them to study. The feedback which I received on the papers they have written, has been really positive. Mo has had to work less, since his project has been completed, so is around more to help with the kids. We joined the local gym, which I have wanted to do for ages. More importantly, everyone is healthy and getting along relatively well. We have a roof over our heads - this may seem like I am grasping at straws to find things for which to be grateful, but it is always present in my mind, since we live very near to a tiny squatter camp, which we drive past almost every day.

On Sunday night after our usual prayer meeting (which helped somewhat), we drove past this squatter camp. There were people (including kids) sitting around a fire - which is their only source of heat at night. I'd witnessed this sight so many times before, but in the state in which I found myself that night, this sight brought tears to my eyes. I was fortunate. I was really really fortunate. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

I got home and we sat down to the last of our daily prayers, during which - I am ashamed to say - my mind often wanders. But after witnessing those people trying to glean every bit of warmth from that little fire, my heightened emotions caused me to be more present and focused in my prayer than I had been in a while. All my efforts (throughout the day) at repeating and trying to truly appreciate my blessings were rewarded. My skin tingled and I had to fight back tears - so overcome I was with gratitude at what I had right before me - surrounding me.

The person, who had caused me such sadness, faded into insignificance. Everything that mattered in my life, was right there.

Although I awoke on Monday morning with a pit in my stomach, just from the memory of the interaction with that person, that feeling didn't remain. I felt lighter and less burdened by sadness. The overwhelming appreciation of everything, with which God has blessed me, was strong enough to wash away all remnants of the awful feelings, which had pervaded my soul.

Admittedly, within the last day, there have been moments when I'd experience momentary lapses into sadness, but these were not strong enough to make me lose perspective.

For now, I am just enjoying my much-too-fragile state of peace and contentment.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Choosing to live a life of gratitude

It was one day, while suffering from a acute gastroenteritis, that I lay on my bed moaning and groaning. I had been experiencing the pain and discomfort for almost two days and had had enough. I just wanted it to end. I wanted to feel normal again.

I vowed that I would never take feeling healthy and normal for granted again. I thought about how one only becomes aware of the functioning of one’s body when something goes wrong – or when in pain. I had never woken up before and just taken the time to appreciate the fact that I was experiencing no pain. I hadn’t ever awoken thinking, ‘’Hmm, today I’m so grateful that my leg isn’t paining’’ or ‘’wow, my stomach is feeling really normal today’’.

After feeling so awful that day, I undertook never to take feeling normal for granted again.

It is however so easy to take our blessings for granted. There are times when life becomes so overwhelming, that I tend to focus only on my challenges and obstacles. I am, by nature, a glass-half-empty type of person, so it is very easy for me to get sucked into a state of sadness and depression. I’ve come to realise that this happens when I lose sight of the little things with which I have been blessed.

Admittedly, at times life seems to throw one curve ball after another. I sometimes find myself so overwhelmed by duties, challenges and obstacles. Unfortunately, I even absorb other people’s problems and stress about these as if they are my own. I am also easily affected by other people’s negativity.

So for me, drawing myself out of this state of despair only becomes possible when I take the time to appreciate the good things in my life. Granted, there are days that it feels as if I am really grasping at straws to find the good things in my life. On days like these (when it seems as if blessings are few), my ‘ list of things for which to be grateful’ will include things like ‘today, there was no tsunami/hurricane/other natural disaster’.

I’ve had days where the kids are difficult – when they are constantly bickering, arguing and screaming at one another. Their voices start to grate on my nerves. And that is when I take the time to contemplate or imagine the loss of one of those voices from that rowdy chorus – if one of them should not be there for any reason – that possibility is just too awful to contemplate for too long. But it is enough to adjust my mindset. It forces me to move from regarding their bickering voices as the most awful annoyance - to regarding each and every voice with the utmost gratitude.

We so easily tell our complaining kids to be grateful for their food since there are so many starving children in the world. But do we ever really sit down and truly attempt to appreciate what it is to walk in the shoes of those with overwhelming challenges?

One evening during Ramadaan last year, Shakeel (12) and I had a little discussion just before it was time to break our fast. We thought about how hungry we were after not having eaten for about 14 hours. We tried to imagine having to go another 14 hours without anything to eat - the way so many children around the world are forced to do. It was only when taking the time to truly appreciate the extent of those children’s hunger and suffering that we could truly appreciate every morsel of food we consumed that night.

How easy it is to overlook everything with which we have been blessed! On a difficult day I sit in my tiny garden and take time out to appreciate each of my senses.
* That I can watch my toddler squish her chubby toes into the wet grass*
*That amidst the chirping of the birds I am able to hear her squeals of glee*
*That I can enjoy the fragrance of the flowers and herbs*
*The ability to enjoy the delicious warmth of the sun on my skin*

‘’After hardship comes relief’’ I was taught. It is through having to face the hardship and challenges that my appreciation of the ‘times of relief’ are enhanced. Like experiencing the ease from the pain and discomfort of a long pregnancy after the baby is born – when I was pregnant with 2 year old Aisha, I always joked that I would make a point of noting and appreciating the moment my nausea subsided and the awful metallic taste in my mouth disappeared (which happened immediately after baby's birth). And I did – what a wonderful feeling to be able to appreciate that relief! It even distracted me from the after-birth pangs and sore nipples.

I think about the times my hubby decides to abide by Eskom’s request for everyone to switch off their geysers – and how, when he forgets to switch it back on, I have ended up taking torturous cold showers (swearing at him under my breath all the while). How wonderful is it then to experience the next warm shower. It is only then that I really take the time to appreciate little conveniences like the fact that we have warm water, while so many people do not even have access to running water.

Sometimes when I look at pictures of myself taken twenty years ago, I am struck by how I’ve changed. I now am developing age spots and laugh lines, which – I am ashamed to say - scares me. But after much contemplation, I have come to view each mark, scar and line as my badges of honour- a testament to a life well-lived. Dr Phil, in his typical to-the-point and no-nonsense Dr Phil style, pointed out to a woman who was afraid of the ageing process that although the process of ageing is scary, it is better than the alternative (i.e. not having the privilege of growing older). So true! As a result I now wear my stretch marks and laugh lines with pride – and gratitude.

As South Africans we always tend to focus on the negatives about living in our country. Yes, we are still faced with major challenges as a country, but how can we possibly ignore how far we’ve come since the dark days of apartheid? How can we ignore the progress we’ve made? In addition, we also have been endowed with undeniable natural blessings, which are so easy to take for granted. It is only when we read about natural disasters in other parts of the world that we take the time to appreciate that South Africa does not really experience any major natural disasters. We enjoy sweltering summers (which are perfect during which to laze about on our beautiful beaches) and temperate winters.

[Now I’m not suggesting that we should, in our gratitude, turn a blind eye to the faults of our Government. Yes, there is work to be done and changes need to be effected. But we cannot deny how fortunate we are that our strong democracy, which promotes civil society participation in the legislative process, allows for us to participate in initiating, promoting and fostering the necessary changes].

In fact I'm not suggesting that we become complacent about any situation in which we may be unhappy. But when I find myself in a situation which I am unable to change or improve at that moment, I pause - and take the time to count my blessings - to prevent myself from becoming overwhelmed by despair, sadness or hopelessness.

And I remember that there is always someone worse off than what I am.