Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Too many endings - viewing the cup as half empty

I wrote this post at the beginning of this year, but was really too depressed to share it. Since I now find myself in a much better emotional space, I decided to hit "Publish"

Do you know how we are often meant to be comforted by the message that every ending spells a new beginning? Well, on a cognitive level, I can see the sense in that. I can see how it should bring renewed optimism to a person dealing with difficult endings to life events, like divorce or being fired from a job etc.

On an emotional level, however, I am struggling to internalise that message.

I have always been a real cry-baby. I cried more than my children did when each of them started school. I cried the first time I sent my baby boy (now 18-year old young man, Shakeel) to my mother-in-law for a few hours so that I could study. I cried when we moved house. And when we sold our first real car (containing so many memories of my first 2 children).

Thus, needless to say, I have been dreading the day my first child leaves school. I dreaded all the ceremonious events leading up to the final day. "That's normal," you're probably thinking."Many parents get really emotional when thinking of this sad time." I, however, first started getting teary about it when I used to watch him sleep as a little boy. I'd picture him matriculating, graduating and then getting married - all prospects which made me bawl like a deranged baby.

And then that period arrived. As expected, the sadness weighed heavily on me. But, in accordance with my son's instructions/pleas, I did not cry. I cry too much, I realised. You are modelling weakness to your daughters, I scolded myself. So the valedictory assembly, the last day of school, the matric exams and the celebration surrounding matric results all came and went - and I did not cry. Other emotionally challenging events also presented themselves during the past few months, but my tears seem to have dried up. Instead, a heavy sadness weighs in my chest. The heaviness slows me down to the point of inertia. Everything feels like an effort.

A few days ago the new school year started. Shakeel was accepted to study B.Sc (Biodiversity and Conservation Management). I am relieved that he is about to start working toward his dream career. As a little boy, he was obsessed with animals. This did not change as he got older. We excitedly encouraged him. I fantasised alongside him about the life he could have working in this exciting field. Now, this dream is becoming tangible - and it leaves me with a sense of loss. For me it signals the impending end of our dreaming phase - and the beginning of him embarking on this actual journey alone.

Tharaa (16) is now in Grade 11. I must admit, that she is the only one of my children whose present phase in life does not cause me sadness. She has two years to go (including the present year) before the end of high school. Apart from being a bit grumpy at times, she is a level-headed child. She often acts as my voice of reason. She is intuitive - she sees that something is off about me. She lectures, counsels and comforts. I tell her that she should not concern herself with me - it's not her role to comfort me. But she does it anyway. And, I'm ashamed to admit, eventually I let her. Two days ago she got contact lenses. Seeing her without her thick glasses made my heart lurch with fear. She looked so grown up. What if she changes? What if she starts to become aware of her looks and becomes like the typical teenagers at whose drama she usually rolls her eyes? What if I lose my little girl?

Nuha (13) just started high school. She has always been quite independent of me and most of her primary school classmates are attending the same high school, so I wasn't expecting the same level of drama and fear that I'd experienced with the older two. Needless to say, when I saw her in her uniform I felt as if my heart was being crushed in my chest. Memories of her as a little girl pierced through me.

Last year I'd drop the high-schoolers (Shakeel and Tharaa) off first in the mornings after which I'd drop off the other two (Nuha and Aisha). Yesterday (the first morning of school), I felt the excruciating change. Shakeel remained sleeping (university only starts next month) while I took the girls to school. As usual, I headed to the high school first. As Tharaa and Nuha stepped out of the car and walked toward the school, my heart burst with mixture of pride and sadness - pride at my big smiling girls walking together, the older sister supporting the younger on her first day; and sadness at the fact that Nuha was no longer at primary school, as well as at Shakeel's absence. The pain in my chest almost gave way to tears as Aisha (8) sat alone on the back seat as we headed off to the primary school. No more Nuha to nag Aisha to finish brushing her hair, or to scold her for making them late as the primary school starts 5 minutes earlier than the high school. No more banter between the two girls, no more Nuha to remind Aisha of the day's school events, no more more ... no more ....

I feel bad that I am unable to enjoy their new beginnings. I put on the best possible act that I can. I feel bad that I forgot to take pictures of Nuha's first morning in uniform, which we customarily do before heading out. Instead, I got them to do it after school - I hope she doesn't read too much into my omission.

I feel guilty for feeling this way. I have so much for which to be grateful, Algamdulillah. I feel unappreciative. I feel as if, in the past, crying had given me the release I'd needed so that I could face life with a lighter burden - and stronger. Not crying might be making me look stronger, but I have never felt this weak. The weight in my chest leaves me unable to function. But I'm afraid that if I start to cry, I will struggle to stop.

I cannot wait for the kids to come home from school and for some normalcy to return. Change is difficult for me.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Then and now

For most people, taking a trip down memory lane - by looking at photos or videos - is a happy experience. I think those people are probably what one would call 'emotionally healthy' - a category into which I definitely do not fall. Instead of the cute laughing pictures of my kids evoking feelings of joy, they cause me excruciating feelings of longing, sadness and nostalgia for times past and moments lost - never to be regained.

So I avoid looking at pictures and videos. I also avoided looking at my blog during my 4 year blogging break, as this blog holds so many dear dear memories of my children - at ages and in phases which have long past. 

How I long for my 12 year old Shakeel, who danced with his sisters in the most uninhibited way - not caring about how he appeared to anyone. Present-day Shakeel, at the age of 18 is so much more reserved and what saddens me so is the fact that his relationship with his sisters has been so distant for the past few years. He remains a really wonderful, level-headed boy who has so much integrity, so I should really be grateful and not nitpick by focusing on the small issues, especially since I am told that it is entirely normal for a young, bearded and gruff-voiced man to be less inclined to dance around outside in his underwear as Shakeel did when he was little. Oh, how I miss my little exhibitionist!

My carefree boy way back then:

My boy now...  

So reserved on his matric ball evening

Heading to the Valedictory Assembly

Tharaa (16) has retained so many of the same traits she had as a little girl. She has just become the
new and improved version of her younger self - imagine a Tharaa 2.0., if you will. Her artistic skills have improved in leaps and bounds which is really good news for me, since I no longer have to 'ooh' and 'aah' at blobs and scratches on a page as I had to do when she was little. Instead the beauty of her drawings now take my breath away. More importantly though, she has become a really sensible young lady. She is very often the one who gives me advice when she sees me looking flustered (which is so much of the time).

An energetic and dramatic Tharaa back then :

A dramatic and energetic Tharaa now...

Nuha (12) however, is the one who surprised me the most. In the last few years, she has started a new school where she has just flourished into an amazing child whom I hardly recognise. In the past, she was always in the background; always in the shadow of the others. As I flipped through my past blog posts I realise how far she's come - pursuing and developing her own interests. She has become the most independent and driven child, which leads me to believe that this child carries very few of my genes.

Nuha back then... 

Nuha now...

Aisha(8)'s dramatic change in personality is unsurprising, I suppose, given that she was a mere toddler when I blogged regularly way back when (from 2011-2013). Her regular tantrums have now given way to witty and humorous banter, which has us in stitches much of the time. But how I miss my little 3-years-old-but-still-breastfeeding, tantrum-throwing baby who terrified me with these tantrums at times, but then at other times, smothered me with cuddles and hugs as she nestled her tiny little body in my big flabby one.

A sometimes-lovable, sometimes-scary Aisha back then...

Aisha going through a phase in which she insisted upon her unicorn hairstyle

A more compassionate and much more sane Aisha now...

Aisha with a lovebird which she hand-reared 

Aisha smothering poor Savannah with the love she used to give me

I often walk in on my kids as they are flipping through family photos and videos and they have become used to the very audible agonised groan from their mother as she happens to glance upon memories of them as they once were. Fortunately though, my kids are finally at a stage in which they will not let my irrational despair go unchecked, as Shakeel will often remind me to remain in the moment and to appreciate them as they are now - because, in a few years time, I will be looking upon images of them as they are today with the same longing. The sad thing, however, will be that I did not appreciate them at this time, as I had been to busy longing for what was instead of appreciating what is. 

I should perhaps try to heed his wise words.


And now...

Monday, 11 December 2017

Fishing with the family

Like many children, Shakeel (18) has always loved dinosaurs. He became fascinated with them when I'd read dinosaur books to him before he'd even started creche. He'd wanted to become a paleontologist since before preschool and his ambition remained unchanged until about two years ago when, sadly, he decided that he should be more practical in his choice. I'd always loved the fact that he'd still held the same boyhood dreams as when he was 4 years old - it made me feel that my little boy was still in there underneath this newly-emerging manly exterior. My heart broke when he decided that there might not be as much scope for paleontologists as there would be if he studied marine biology or zoology (you know, animals that were not yet extinct). 

As a whole though, Shakeel still clings passionately to many of his boyhood interests. His love of the series River Monsters, led to an obsession with fishing. Sadly, he did not have anyone around who was capable of or knowledgeable about fishing, so that had to take a backseat. Until now. 

Recently, I too have been yearning for my childhood pastime. I don't know how much I actually know about fishing - back then we used handlines which we simply cast into the water after baiting our hooks. I don't know anything about rod fishing, where the best fishing spots are or what types of fish can be found in which waters. As a child, I just went where my uncle took us and did everything my more experienced cousin did.

So although I have done a bit of fishing, I don't know if I have enough knowledge or skill to take Shakeel fishing by myself. It would be easy enough to find fishing spots using the internet, but I don't know if there is more to fishing than what I remember.

Thus, imagine my excitement last week when my brothers (let's call them Ish and Shado) and cousin, (we'll call him Daly), announced that they would be taking their kids fishing in Kalk Bay. I promptly invited myself along, as that would serve as the perfect maiden fishing trip, since we would have the guidance of Daly and Ish, both of whom have quite a bit of experience.

Daly, Shakeel and his friend Caleb used rods. The rest of us (including my mother,  Shado, the kids and I) used hand lines. Poor Ish, who is the more experienced of my two brothers, spent the afternoon patiently attaching lines to rods, baiting hooks and disentangling lines for everyone. 

Snacking - apparently a very important part of my girls' fishing experience

Tharaa (16) contemplating life (maybe)

Shakeel and his childhood friend 

Windswept Aisha (8) with granny in the background

Mommy, Nuha (12) and I taking a break next to the lighthouse

My mother sat peacefully with her line cast, just pulling it up to rebait every 15 minutes or so. Shado, the jokester, teased her saying that she was just sitting there to feed the fish.

Mommy fishing with a hand line / feeding the fish

I didn't tell him that I was doing the same thing. I felt the fish tug at my line, but did not care to pull up - I was just enjoying the experience of having my line in the water while childhood memories washed pleasantly over me.

Only my nephew Jami managed to catch something, but it had to be released since it was so small. Irrespective, the day was pleasant and what's more, it completely reawakened my love of fishing and made me even more determined to nurture Shakeel's love of the 'sport'.

Friday, 8 December 2017

I command you to have fun the way I did

My happiest childhood memories involve blissful hours at the beach or in my uncle’s enormous pool/the family pool.

My cherished memories include my late father and me swimming alongside each other in the calm and leisurely way in which he did everything. I’d be playing about in the pool, but when he entered the water, we’d usually just end up swimming laps alongside each other. I don’t remember if he asked me to join him or if it was just a tacit understanding between us- that when we were both in the water, we swam together. At both Fish Hoek and Gordon’s Bay beaches, we swam our special companionable distance from the shore to some rocks he’d identified off toward the side. At Sea Forth we made our way to the wooden raft and back. He seemed to look for any opportunity to swim together. I took it for granted back then. Today these make up some of the most treasured childhood memories , which bring me a mixture of joy and sad longing.

However, it was not my father who taught us to swim. This task was left to my Aunt’s husband, a strict no-nonsense P.E teacher, who emphasised the proper execution of strokes and did not tolerate shoddy form. We did not play around in the pool when he was around; we swam laps – and we enjoyed it. Not once did I feel that I’d rather be playing shark-shark like I’d seen other children do at public pools. I loved and appreciate every moment and every lesson he shared with us.

But it was my other wonderful eccentric uncle who saw to it that my brother and I spent our summer afternoons at the water. He’d either take us to the family pool after school or he’d take us with him and his children to Muizenberg beach where we swam and fished. We also went with him to Namibia (then South West Africa) a few times where we spent our days swimming and fishing with my cousin for hours every day. We’d only manage to catch something occasionally, but it didn’t matter – it was the whole experience of fishing (and really just being around water) that we enjoyed.

I’ve always regretted that my own children do not share my love of the ocean. I feel like they are missing out on so much exhilaration which just the sight or smell of the sea is still able to give me today.

So this morning I felt that I should try to remedy this. In the most no-nonsense tone I could muster, I ordered them to pack their swimming costumes as we’d be going to the beach. Now granted, the icy ocean temperatures in the Atlantic are a far cry from the heavenly waters of the beaches upon which I grew up. But, since we live at least 40 minutes away from Muizenberg and only 10 minutes away from Milnerton beach, Milnerton it was.

They grumbled and groaned but my threatening tone ensured that the process of getting to the beach was unexpectedly effortless. The promised 30-something degree weather sadly failed to materialise which, in my day, had done very little to keep us from bursting forth from the car and tearing across the shore and into the water, where we’d spend many many blissful hours before we were reluctantly forced to depart for home. But this was not the case with my lot. I coaxed and nudged, threatened and commanded. Eventually they agreed to put their feet in the water – fully dressed.

Firstly they insisted on remaining fully dressed the entire time. I was forced to set the example by rushing into the water myself in order get them going.  

Admittedly Nuha (12), warmed up to the icy temperatures and seemed to be enjoying bouncing about in the waves as they hit the shore. Initially, Aisha (8) was far less entertained, as she shivered from the freezing temperatures, but after what seemed like an eternity, she too seemed to find some iota of pleasure in Nuha’s leap-over-the-waves game – that is, until she was swept off her feet and into the freezing water. I held my breath, waiting for an outburst of some sort, but surprisingly, she continued to play about in soaking wet clothes until it was time to leave.

Tharaa (16) spent the entire time taking photos of her surroundings and although I would so much rather have had her swimming or even frolicking about the way she had done when she was little, I was just happy that she’d accompanied us without too much coercion on my part.

Our entire emotionally exhausting time at the beach lasted a full 45 minutes. I hope I would have summoned sufficient energy to repeat this excursion by the time the next scorcher arrives and, who knows, maybe we’ll extend our stay to a whopping 50 minutes.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Do you know how bloggers often start off their blog posts by apologising for neglecting their blogs for days/weeks and then offering an excuse which usually includes work, ill health or family obligations. So here goes ...
It's been 4 years since my last blog post, but I've been so busy watching and re-watching Downton Abbey that I just couldn't find a moment.

Truthfully though, I haven't really felt the inclination to write - at first, because I had been going through a tough time when I last posted and I really didn't feel like recording that period of my life.

Blogging had always served a purpose - it helped me process my feelings and thoughts. Often, I'd start a post in a state of emotional turmoil and then gradually, as I wrote, I'd start to make sense of what I was feeling and even find some sort of resolution - a process which, more often than not, filled me with a feeling of calmness and serenity.

Which is what prompted my return to blogging after a ridiculous 4 year hiatus. This morning I found myself emotionally overwhelmed. I had returned from dropping the kids at school and found myself alone at home with only my sadness for companionship. I paced up and down the house, not knowing how to stem the wave of grief threatening to engulf me. Then, quite by chance, I happened upon my old blogging laptop where I sat down to write my sadness away.

"Today is my boy, Shakeel’s last day in school uniform and I’m sad. Really, really sad. Ridiculously so. My kids know how sentimental I am, so we’ve all been anticipating this day for months already – Shakeel viewing it with nervous dread, as today we also attend the valedictory assembly, which promises to be a rather emotional experience for even the most emotionally healthy parent (a category in which I obviously don’t find myself).

He recently watched in horror as I bawled my eyes out to the episode of Modern Family where Luke graduates from high school. He descended into near-despair as he watched me snot-sobbing to the episode of The Middle where Axel graduates and heads off to college. (Yes, I may have a comedy-series addiction, but that’s a problem for another day.)

But I assured him that I’d keep it together today. I would not embarrass him, I promised. But then my recent behavior hasn’t exactly inspired confidence.  On more than one occasion this week, he has caught me sneakily snapping pictures of him from the car outside his school when I dropped him off or picked him up. Let me tell you, I have new respect for the paparazzi. It’s not easy sneaking pictures of a young boy outside a school without looking like a pervert. And his anger was real – reminding me of Justin Bieber’s violent altercations with the paparazzi back in the day. (What? I may be a middle-aged aunty, but I still know stuff.)
Looking back in angrily when I ordered him to stop for a picture after getting out of the car this morning

Being photographed by a stalker in a car as he walked off to school yesterday morning

All 4 of my babies together in uniform for the last time 😢😢😢

So when he told me this morning that he’d forgotten something at home that I’d have to drop off at the school's front office this morning, I did not yell at him for being irresponsible (as I had done on the 40 previous occasions I’d had to do this for him.) He looked confused as I smiled gratefully, as if he’d given me a gift. I was pleased that I’d get to do this for him for the last time. I’d better not forget to take my camera along to capture the moment."

Monday, 28 October 2013

A quick catch-up .... and we awaken from our winter lethargy and GET ACTIVE

It's been a while, I know, but life has been really busy for the past few weeks - 'busy' in a good way (mostly), but we've also been dealing with our usual routine of fielding children's project deadlines, tests, homework and daily drama.

In between my responsibilities, I have - for the past few months - been immersing myself in some or other obsession. A few months ago I rejoined the public library and ended up devouring the books I borrowed at such a rate that I'd return to the library every few days to find others to appease my addiction. I read late into the night after the kids were asleep and just after dropping off Aisha (3) at creche in the morning, I'd grab another few minutes of reading time for myself. I'd even leave home early to fetch the kids to give myself 30 minutes of delicious self-indulgent reading time in the car outside their school.

But when my lower back started aching about the month ago, I started going to the gym more regularly as advised by my doctor. That 1 hour and 30 minutes of gym per day effectively put paid to my obsessive reading streak as I now have to squeeze in my commitments. But, on the upside, after a few yoga classes and other strengthening exercise sessions, my aches and pains have subsided and I once again feel like a spring chicken. Okay, maybe not a spring chicken - but at least like the fairly fitter, ever-so-slightly leaner, 1.5 kgs lighter version of my old self.

But, as I've become more active, I've started to feel guilty about the fact that my kids get so little exercise - especially since they broke my heart by quitting karate about 2 months ago (after 2 and a half years of classes). As a result I've been trying to get them outdoors to open spaces during the week whenever possible, since we do not have much space at home. Fortunately my girls attend school in the City Bowl area, which means we are able to take time out by going to Green Point Urban Park after school.

Here the younger two are enjoying some after-school  fun while we waited for Tharaa (11).

Since Shakeel (14)'s school is not in the city, but closer to our home, he does not get the opportunity to join us. One Friday I felt really bad seeing him come home from school looking so drained and lethargic, so I convinced Mo to take us to Green Point before sunset. Even though it was icy, I loved seeing how a few minutes outdoors, jumping on the park equipment, transformed my son from a lethargic drained-looking grumpy teen to the little active boy I've so been missing.

[Please excuse the awful picture quality - these were taken with my phone in fading daylight without a flash (since a flash apparently will not work if the phone battery is on its last legs. Who knew) ]

Not to sound like an old granny or anything, but isn't it sad how, in much of South Africa today, parents no longer feel comfortable letting their kids run about freely (the way we did way back when) for fear of something awful happening to them? And since most people here don't have massive backyards, it leaves children with limited options for free outdoor play.

I hope to take the girls to spend some time on one of the little beaches in Mouille Point after school one day this week. Perhaps they can finish their homework there if need be. Suddenly I'm really looking forward to the week ahead.