Tuesday, 19 February 2013

A disillusioned patriot

I love our country - the diversity of its people, its unrivalled beauty, the fact that we are able to practice our respective religions unhindered. I cannot watch a documentary about our apartheid past without becoming really emotional - with sadness for all the lives lost or destroyed, but also with the most immense pride at everything we've overcome. I am so proud of the spirit of reconciliation (as opposed to revenge and violence) which characterised our revolution.

I don't understand the first thing about cricket, soccer or rugby, but, after asking everyone around me, "Who won that point?", I will leap about with demented happiness each time our respective teams play at major international events. I still choke back tears of pride, watching our teams sing our national anthem at World Cup events.

So, it is with reluctance that I am writing this post.

For the past two weeks, news headlines in our country have revealed shocking and devastating events. We are still reeling with shock at the brutality and lack of respect for life characterising the crimes perpetrated by our own people against one another.

And these are just the stories that made mainstream news headlines - one because of the horrifying savagery of the crime and the other because of the high profile nature of the accused.

The other day I picked up "The Voice", a community newspaper which reports on events in the Cape Flats (mainly on stories which do not reach the mainstream media). After reading stories about a father being killed for R1 (or some ridiculous amount like that), I hid the paper out of my kids' reach.

Most people I know have experienced crime to some extent - whether it's just a garden tap being ripped out of the ground and sold as scrap metal or more serious terrifying incidents.

We've been victims to theft (having our car broken into, goods stolen from our home etc ) so often that I cannot even keep count of the incidents - and that is no exaggeration. I've had a relative killed by shooting, one who was shot (and survived) and one who survived an attempted hijacking at the hands of two knife-wielding thugs.

We've had people trying to force their way into our home. Once, when I was pregnant with Aisha (3), Givemore - Mo's employee who works in our backyard - rushed inside saying that three men had been trying to force their way into our property. When he'd seen them, one had been trying to disable the security gate, the other was attempting to cut through a padlock of the door leading straight into our front room, and the third was busy breaking the garage door. When Givemore, who was arriving at work at the time, saw them, he yelled out loud, causing them to flee. I dread to think what would have happened had he come just a few minutes later, since the third guy had already managed to get a hole through the garage door, which would have allowed him entry into the yard and the house. I am filled with gratitude to the Almighty for placing such a brave and unselfish person at the right place at the right time.

Then there was the time, during the middle of the night, that some guys tried to force their way into the house, once again via the room with the padlocked door. Since the room has an inside door leading to the rest of the house, we were in immediate danger if they managed to get in. This inside door was closed, but unlocked. At one point, when the banging stopped, we had no idea whether they had managed to make their way into the room. We called the police (who are based about four blocks away), who promised they'd be there in a few minutes. It was about 12:15 am. We waited. And waited. We called again at 12:25 am. Again, we waited. That was about two years ago. We're still waiting.

Then, of course, there was this incident (which I'd prefer to forget).

Our latest incident happened at Canal Walk shopping mall on Saturday afternoon. Mo had just carried our food to our table (one of the long tables in McDonalds eating area), when his phone rang. After ending the call, he placed the phone in front of him. A few minutes later he realised that his phone was gone.

He headed straight for the security office, asking to see the security footage. They said that this was not possible since the camera footage at that spot belonged to McDonalds. So he and the security personnel rushed to McDonalds (aware that with every second wasted, the chances of catching the scumbags, were being diminished).

But they were not allowed to view the footage. Only McDonalds staff could do so. So the very cooperative McDonalds manager went inside to view the footage. The best she could do was to come and report to the mall security what and whom she had seen. Based on her description, the security officer then would have to radio his colleagues and describe to them what had been described to him. It was so preposterous - only my fury kept me from laughing out loud.

So McDonalds' manager described the following: Mo had placed his phone in front of him. We then proceeded to eat and chat, the way we do. At that point, three women got up from the neighbouring round tables and came to stand behind us. They appeared to be talking to the people at the long table behind us. While Mo chatted to us, one of them made her first attempt at taking the phone, but failed because the phone was too close to him. It was while he was listening to me chattering away that her friend positioned herself so as to block her actions from my view. At that point she succeeded in taking the phone. They were very very smooth.

We were informed that this happens often. These people would sit around watching people who were distracted - people like us who have many kids keeping them busy. They then move in as a group, snatching phones and handbags.

Mo was told to report it to Milnerton police. He'll probably never get his phone back, but these people need to be stopped. And the only description we have of these vile people are that they are "three plump black women - one with an orange top, one with a black top, and one dressed in white". Very helpful.

Mo asked for a printout of the images so that we could pass it on to the security offices of various malls (including that of Canal Walk itself, since they don't have access to the footage). These women had obviously done this before and would definitely do it again if not stopped. The response was that once the matter was reported, they could give it to us - AT OUR EXPENSE. Are they not interested in stopping people such as these from doing this to anyone else?

I know this was a minor incident compared to others happening around the country - or even compared to other incidents which we, ourselves, have experienced. But the feeling of frustration, helplessness and fury still cannot be avoided. And yes, I'm ashamed to admit - I've been battling intense feelings of hatred for these individuals. I hide this from the kids, but Nuha (8) kept on asking if Allah/God would punish these bad guys. I don't know how to respond. Despite the fact that stealing is a sin, how can I make such promises? So, I tell her that what those people did was bad and that their fate be left in God/Allah's hands. We should instead focus on how lucky we are that nobody got hurt in the commission of this crime. I'm not directing this gratitude at these awful people, but at God, who has thus far kept us protected.

The phone itself was VERY expensive, but, as is the case with all of the gadgets which were stolen from us over the years, the most significant loss is that of the family pictures and memorable moments captured. Mo, however, has also lost important notes which he'd recorded in meetings at work - I could not resist saying, " I told you so" , since I don't think that people are lining up to steal good old-fashioned notebooks, which, in my humble opinion, are therefore the best places in which to jot down one's valuable notes. But that is just my own old-fashioned opinion - and beside the point.

So, as I watch the developments in this morning's high profile matter, I say a prayer for the victims of crime and their families everywhere.

I pray that hearts filled with hatred and rage, are softened with love, tolerance and empathy. That respect for the lives, property and the dignity of others are as important to us as our own.

And I pray for the Almighty to keep us and our families safe from harm. إن شاء الله


Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Freedom - not all it's cracked up to be

I feel embarrassed writing this post. It's not something to which others relate. When I mention it to other moms they laugh, as if I'm joking. I then laugh with them to mask my embarrassment.

I've really been struggling since the beginning of this year. All 4 of my kids are in school - two of them happily so. The problem is that I feel empty without them. I feel desperate to have them near me at all times.

At first I thought that Aisha (3) going off to creche was making me feel redundant. I thought that this 'depression' was borne from a sense of purposelessness. But, I realise that it's more than that. During last year (while Aisha was home with me), I became so excited about registering for a course in magazine journalism. I was enthusiastic about starting the course and about the prospects such a qualification might afford me.

However, now that the time has arrived, I feel like I cannot focus on anything but the kids. I'm teary all the time they're at school. Two mornings ago I went to gym alone - and hated it. As a working mum, I'd always envied SAHMs, who could do fun things like go to gym, go for lunch with friends etc.

Now that I am at home with no kids to hold me back, instead of the exhiliration and  the feeling of freedom I'd been expecting, I feel nothing but sadness and longing. Someone suggested that I'm suffering from depression, but I feel so guilty about accepting that. I mean, really, what do I have to be depressed about? There are people with real problems out there - and I keep reminding myself of that. But, it doesn't take away this feeling.

The fact that Shakeel (13) and Aisha are struggling to adjust to their new schools is perhaps the underlying reason for much of what I'm feeling. I feel so guilty each morning I say goodbye to them. I hate that I can't help them. Then there's another issue affecting one of my other kids, which looms over me threateningly and constantly. How can I be happy and embrace my "freedom" when my kids are not happy.

Then, of course, there is perhaps the fact that this is the first time in years that I've had the time and opportunity (in the absence of nappies, breastfeeding and toddler hissy fits) to deal with some of the issues from which I've been able to hide while Aisha was the primary focus of my day. Now I have no distractions and no one behind whom I can hide.

I have no idea why I'm crying.

Monday, 4 February 2013

My secret fantasy

Yesterday afternoon, for the first time, I decided to share the secret fantasy I'd been having for a while.

I had just come out of the bathroom after enjoying a long shower (which is when I do my thinking), when I approached my husband.

"I've been having this fantasy. But I don't know how you'll react if I tell you about it''. A quick look of panic crossed his face, as he asked,

"Oh? What is it?" The forced casualness of his voice was clearly aimed at masking his alarm.

"I've been fantasising about homeschooling the kids, " I confessed, waiting cautiously for his mocking response.

Instead, he laughed! A laugh of relief, it seemed - no doubt because he'd been expecting my awkward confession to reveal a fantasy of a very different kind.

So, encouraged by the absence of the mocking sneer for which I'd been bracing myself, I told him everything - about the blogs I've been stalking and articles I'd been reading. And how, for a while now, while I'd been pretending to listen to him talk about his work, I'd actually been plotting my fantasy day as a homeschooling mum in my head.

He listened and pondered. "Um, but ..." he started, but I knew that I could not convince him about the brilliance of my proposal, so I marched him to my laptop and sat him down in front of an array of open Internet Explorer tabs - all focusing on homeschooling.

I'd started becoming fascinated with the idea of homeschooling when I started to follow
this blog. It is authored by the amazing (and that truly is an understatement) mother of 8 kids who homeschools. I am fascinated by their lifestyle and their focus on education in the broadest possible sense. I am in awe of her organisational skills and the way she manages her home, their school and their family of 10 (while I can barely keep track of what the 6 of us are up to). I am impressed with how their core values and beliefs permeate and form an integral part of their education. And how her kids still are better socialised than my own (who are in conventional schools).

Recently she wrote this post
http://www.se7en.org.za/2013/02/02/a-homeschool-day-in-the-life-of-se7en-1 about a day in the life of this homeschooling family. It struck a chord with me as my heart truly yearned to be able to give my kids the all-encompassing relatively stress-free lifestyle which she described. The hard work and discipline clearly required for their type of lifestyle is daunting to me, but this becomes totally worth it when I consider the prospect of a schooling system wherein which my kids can focus on learning (in every sense of the word) instead of the issues like peer pressure (which is the cause of many a tummy ache in the mornings in our home).

When I was little a family friend approached my father about the possibility of forming a little 'homeschooling community'. She was a teacher; so were my parents, aunts and uncles. Between themselves, they would be able to cover every subject without us ever having to attend conventional school.

My wonderful brilliant late father, was concerned about the socialisation aspect of homeschooling kids. He was concerned that removing his already-painfully-shy children from school and placing them in a fairly 'isolated' situation, would just exacerbate their existing shyness and social awkwardness. And that made sense.

So we remained in school. Every day was stressful for me. I would say fervent prayers each morning on my way to school - that I would not be embarrassed or insulted by a teacher, that my one and only friend would not be absent, leaving me to stand outside our classroom back pressed firmly up against the wall - all alone. And that nobody would be rude to me.

That continued from Sub A until matric. I envied people who were cool, calm and happy; who didn't care what others thought of them. Every negative social interaction or each time I stood alone and friendless - left me feeling more and more emotionally scarred and bruised. Which, instead of toughening me up (as one would reasonably expect and as my father had hoped), left me feeling more sensitive and vulnerable.

And this situation persisted when I started working.

(I should perhaps clarify something - my classmates were NOT awful. They were normal happy kids - I was the one with the problem. I was so afraid of rejection and of being hurt, that I would never approach anyone to initiate a conversation - which is why I clung to my one and only friend (for most of high school) for dear life.

Sadly, and I confess that I am fully to blame, my kids are exactly the same. Shakeel (13) spends so much time worrying about not having friends at school. Whether or not he's had a good day at school depends on who spoke to him that day. He stresses so much that, 2 weeks ago he actually stayed out of school for 4 days - with tummy problems. Although I don't coddle him (as it seems to worsen his anxiety - as opposed to giving him motivational encouraging talks about being positive, which for some reason, seem to calm him down), his focus seems to be mainly on the stress of the socialising aspects of school as opposed to the work and extramurals. I can totally relate to this.

I asked myself whether my desire to homeschool is borne from overprotectiveness. After all, I cannot protect my kids from the harsh realities of real life. And really, that is not my intention. I just want them to be able to focus on what matters, namely, learning and enjoying their childhood (whether through extramurals or just playing). Watching my toddler shake with nerves before creche this morning broke my heart. I feel awful seeing my kids suffer with tummy aches due to stress - it just seems unnatural. Couldn't all this negative energy be more positively focused?

The issue of socialisation is dealt with here

" Children often do not respond well to large groups. They become nervous and overexcited by noise and too many people. Learning becomes difficult. Behavioral problems develop. After analyzing over 8,000 early childhood studies, Dr. Moore concluded that, contrary to popular belief, children are best socialized by parents -- not other children.
What kind of socialization occurs when 20 or 30 kids of the same age are placed in a classroom together day after day? Peer pressure is enormous. Kids feel like they need to look and sound and be like everyone else, at the risk of forgetting or never discovering who they really are. This results in rivalry, ridicule, and competition - hardly the environment for healthy socialization. A homeschooler who interacts with parents and siblings more than with peers displays self-confidence, self-respect, and self-worth. She knows she's a part of a family unit that needs, wants, and depends on her. The result is an independent thinker who isn't influenced by peers and is self-directed in her actions and thoughts". 

Read more on FamilyEducation: http://school.familyeducation.com/home-schooling/human-relations/56224.html#ixzz2JxDqnQVZ

the issue is further dealt with here:  http://www.se7en.org.za/2009/08/06/se7en-socialization-questions-homeschoolers-ask-and-get-asked

and also here http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/dec/13/home-schooling-socialization-not-problem/

From my own experience, I know that sending a child into the school situation does not necessarily mean that the child will develop excellent social skills or become skilled at dealing with life's knocks.

But all this might just be a moot discussion, since - as Mo pointed out - I care way too much about other people's opinions and cannot handle the idea of anyone disapproving of me. Initially, I felt quite sure that I would be able to withstand the onslaught of criticism I will no doubt receive from people who are convinced that homeschooling is not the best option for my kids. But then, about an hour ago, I ran the idea past my mum and her response was, "No, children have to socialise - especially your kids who are so extremely shy. They need to come among people more often.''

I didn't even bother to point out that I am a product of conventional schooling and it did absolutely nothing for my self-esteem, chronic shyness and ability to socialise. That taste of disapproval (despite it having been given with our best intentions at heart), was enough for me - as much as I'd love to provide my kids with this lifestyle, I just don't think I'd be able to brush off and ignore the naysayers. I'd constantly feel as if I had to prove our success to everyone else, which - knowing me - would mean that I'd place enormous pressure on the kids to perform, which would, in turn, defeat the purpose of homeschooling them.

So, for now, I shall shelve the idea. There is very little about me about which I am proud and confident, but I am certain that I'd do well as my kids' teacher - and that they'd love it too.

But, it seems that for now, that idea will remain within the realm of fantasy.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

The kids leave the Western Cape ....finally

Despite the fact that this post (which has been lying in my Drafts folder for weeks) has completely lost its relevance as we are already well into the new year, looking through it made me smile. Good times.

"My kids always complained that they had never been out of the Western Cape. Of course, they were the ONLY ones who had never been out of our province (according to them) - poor things. Such deprived souls.

So, on the 4th day of our Garden route holiday, after our visit to the Knysna Elephant Park, we decided to grant them their wish. After all, we were a mere 100km (approximately) from the Eastern Cape. But the day was another scorcher, so we decided that we'd find the nearest beach / pool / water source as soon as we reached that province.

So off we headed. We drove .....and drove .....and drove. Aisha (3) and Nuha (8) moaned and grumbled and groaned. I don't know if it was because we had no idea where our final destination would be, but the road seemed to go on forever. The kids were restless and it was hot. And I was starting to regret that I had suggested this 'mission to leave the Western Cape' to Mo.

We arrived at the Tsitsikamma toll booth and then road became really pretty.

And then


We were stopped at a routine roadblock, where we asked the kind police officers where the nearest place was for swimming. They directed us to the Tsitsikamma National Park.

We had no idea what to expect there. Mo went on a reconnaissance mission to find a place to swim, while we waited in the parking area.

When he returned he showed us to the prettiest little beach.

But it was becoming overcast and the temperature was dropping fast. So, after playing in the waves for a while the kids decided to build a sandcastle instead.

And then it was time to explore.

We then decided to take a walk to the Storms River Suspension bridge. I had no idea how long the walk was - had we known we would most likely not have done it with Aisha, whom, we thought, would want to be carried the whole distance. But I'm so glad we didn't know what we were in for, as Aisha insisted on walking the entire way all by herself - HAPPILY.

What a beautiful scenic walk. Sadly, my camera battery was flat from all the pics we'd taken at the Elephant park, so we just snapped what we could with our phones.

And then the walk became scary

...and even scarier.

Until we reached this point (about 2 minutes before reaching the bridge) where frighteningly steep stairs awaited. My legs had turned to jelly just at the sight of the drop below, so I used a terrified Nuha as my excuse to sit up on the landing while Mo descended the steps with the older two and took them across the bridge.

I was filled with a mixture of relief and regret. I was terrified, but I did not want to forgo the experience. So, to my immense relief, when Mo returned with the kids, he insisted that I descend the stairs and venture across the bridge. It really wasn't so bad, he assured me.

And I did. My legs wobbled; my heart raced. But oh, what an amazing experience. I definitely want to do it again.

Taken from the bridge

Back on the beach

In our quest to leave the Western Cape, we got so much more than we bargained for. I felt truly blessed. "