What do you write about when the world is grinding to a halt? Do you write about other things to bring distraction or do you focus on what is happening now? There is an outpour of tips on how to handle life in lockdown. How to keep the kids busy, how to stay healthy and fit, how to cope with the mental strain. And we are feeling the strain.
Yesterday I had my last almost normal outing before we go into lockdown tomorrow at midnight. My daughter and I went to the mall to get moisturiser and conditioner. It was more quiet than usual and at the checkout, markers taped to the floor, showed us where we should stand. Not too close.
We were buying normal items at our usual store, but it felt so surreal. Everything was almost the same. The hand sanitiser before you enter the store and one or two people wearing masks were the only obvious signs that normal was about to change. All around us people were talking more hushed than I’ve ever heard in our vibrant South African culture. When you walked by someone, you made sure that you gave them a wide berth and didn’t touch by accident. It felt toned down.
We need time to adjust and that is what we don’t have. This change was thrust upon us, not by government or war or recession, but by something invisible. We cannot come together and protest our dissatisfaction. Waving banners and demanding change has no power. We have to be apart to try and get a handle on this situation.
Isolation is going to be difficult. Three weeks isn’t a long time, but when you don’t have choice and freedom, it will feel longer. As social beings we will miss interaction with some and miss not interacting with others. We are very fortunate that we can encourage each other via Whatsapp, Instagram and all the other online forums.
Social media seems to be the salvation, but I find that nothing captures my attention. Self-isolation isn’t always physical. To get myself out of my own mind, I am going to practice to be present. No hiding from reality, wishing that this was over already. Living through it as bravely as I can.
When we become mothers for the first time, our priority is to be the caregiver and the nurturer. We are primarily focused on keeping our children from harm, creating safe environments for them to flourish in and being their safe place – literally. Our time is spent on feeding, changing nappies, burping and shushing them to sleep in those first few months. Thereafter, we move on to keeping them out of harm’s way as they become more mobile.
As they grow, we become more concerned with their emotional health and being a support to them during trying times, abating sibling rivalry and mending broken hearts, which is inevitable. During all these seasons, there’s no way of knowing if we will one day become friends. Very often, that’s not even the focus at the time. They consume our lives, that we don’t give so much thought to what the future might hold.
It is with much joy that I can now say, that with each one of my five children of which three, I gave birth to, I have a great relationship. It is completely different with each one. Each of my children, who are all now young adults, are so uniquely diverse. They each bring a particular flavour to my life. No two relationships are even remotely similar.
If you had asked me eleven years ago if I thought I’d ever have a good relationship, one that remotely resembled friendship with either of my stepdaughters, I would have answered with a swift “No”, but we have come such a long way. The two of them, have added such depth to my life. Being a stepmom is nothing like being a mother. There’s a completely different set of rules. If you have an argument with one of your own children, you might over-think the situation, but you never doubt they love you. With step-children, the dynamic is quite disparate. The nights I laid awake, going over and over the words I’d used, how I could have expressed myself differently, how I could have rather perhaps kept quiet or spoken up… The list goes on and on. We have the added complication in our household of having different first languages. My step-children are Afrikaans speaking, so at times, there have been misunderstandings around meanings of words, that just would not have been there if we all spoke the same first language. But we have learned to make allowances for each other. Often, I’ll say I need to express myself in English, and then I give them the opportunity to check with me that they understand what it is I’ve said. This helped us tremendously, after many setbacks, to navigate our complicated communications, with understanding and grace.
Where my own birth children are concerned, I have made many mistakes. I grew up being seen and not heard. In the beginning of my parenting years, I duplicated some of those negative patterns, but my children did not react as I did as a child. They have always been more open about discussing how they feel, and they have, for the most part, been far more communicative than I was at their varying ages. Because I wasn’t allowed an opinion, especially as a teen, I would rebel. My eldest did this more than the others, but then, she was my first, and unfortunately, I made more mistakes with her. Thank goodness, she’s a gracious forgiver and we have come to a deeper understanding and have managed to build a beautiful, strong and genuinely meaningful relationship. I feel my son had it the easiest. He got me as his Mom, after I had sorted out so many of my own inner demons, and being eleven years younger than my daughter, he benefited from me having learned so much from parenting all the other four first!
I am so grateful for the blessing now of having a friendship with each of my children. They have become incredible young adults who contribute positively toward the environment in which they live. They are well-adjusted despite going through their parents’ respective divorces and remarriages. The five of them, have great friendships even with each other. Some bonds are stronger than others, but that is the nature of siblings. This mother’s heart is happy with her brood and ever grateful for second chances.
The twenty-fifth anniversary of a significant event, that is the definition of a silver jubilee. On the 25th of March 2020 we will be celebrating such an event. My husband and I would then be married for twenty five years and be together for twenty eight.
I loved our wedding. My dress was made specially for me (I still have it) and I purposefully wanted it plain. The earrings were the something old, borrowed and blue-ish traditional items. My husband’s aunt loaned them to me for the wedding. I chose white gladioli for my bouquet, and that is the only thing I would now change. My husband always gave me and still gives me orange or red gladioli when he brings me flowers. I should have picked a vibrant colour, but I wanted everything to be understated. For the life of me I can’t remember why – we both love colour. We had a great time with all our friends and family. Everything was as near to perfect as I could have wished for and I even ate quite a lot, even though I’ve heard that some brides are too nervous or too excited to eat. I was also absolutely sure that I was marrying the right man.
Then married life with all its intricacies hit full force. Some aspects were great and others not so great and some just horrendous. The best three things of our marriage are not things, but three amazing humans – our children. Kids bring fresh joy, but also substantial stress to a marriage. This of course is also the time when you tend to lose each other, because there is just so much time and energy to go around. With enough determination and just sticking it out long enough, you find the other person again. It may be a different version of that person, but the one you love nonetheless.
To be married to the same person for so long is really hard. It takes self examination, honesty and lots of forgiveness from both partners, to stay. I’ve wanted to leave the marriage and so has he. Through honest communication and taking responsibility for our actions we have managed to build a better partnership. We are still growing, still getting to know all the different aspects of the other person and trying to have as much fun as possible while doing it. We had to learn that we cannot heal each other when we are still broken. You have to heal yourself first to be of any use to others.
So, what do I want for my 25th wedding anniversary? I want a fantastic, marvelous, over the top, joyous next 25 years. Platinum jewellery would also be welcome and of course bright red gladioli.
My husband and I are not the most adventurous couple we know, but we do enjoy having experiences together. Our eldest daughter, paid for us to go on a balloon ride for one of our anniversaries. It ended up being a busy year, but fortunately for us, the tickets were valid for a year. It was a cool Sunday morning that we eventually got to experience this ride. The peace and tranquility of being so high above the earth, was incredible indeed. This little adventure, was a highlight that year. It ended up being the year I lost my mother, so I was so grateful to have this beautiful highlight to look back on.
And so, we continue to add beautiful excursions to our lives. Last year, around this time, we visited a lodge and spa close to Pretoria called Tranquility. This was a very different experience for us. It was quite the rustic jaunt. Neither my husband nor I, enjoy the bush life of Africa very much, but here we were, on a weekend away to a little gem of a place very close to home. I didn’t take photographs of the Spa and we actually didn’t even end up going for any treatments, but we did enjoy being away from the hustle and bustle of city life. On this particular weekend, we spent time sitting by the pool, watching cricket in the bar and restaurant area, and reading. It was the perfect break!
As I was preparing to write this post, I remembered this U2 concert we went to. The following year, we also managed to see Bon Jovi. Both were so memorable as this was the 80’s music we loved way back when. We really have had some fun ventures together and I’m sure we will continue to have many more in the years to come. Photos are a great way to document life, and they conjure up such nostalgia when you take a walk down memory lane. This year, we will celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary. I can’t believe it’s been almost 10 years! And in this period, we have shared many ‘heart experiences’ that continue to bring us closer and closer together.
We will never be that couple that does a marathon together, or climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro, or plans to walk the Camino but we will always find pleasure in simple, everyday exploits. Sometimes, the adventure is as simple as a cup of coffee at a new place we’ve discovered.
I look forward to many more ‘adventures’ with this love of mine. I realise that these little experiences, however minor, are the building blocks to our relationship. Each beautiful new trip, each seemingly insignificant meal outing, each holiday or breakaway, is a little stone that we can place on the path of our happiness journey. We made a decision this year, after two very difficult years, to find joy in the little pleasures.
So today, I’m sharing our adventurous escapades with you, to encourage you to find those joyful moments in everyday life. If you’re able to, document each occasion with a photograph or two. It’s so easy to do with our smart phones these days. I am so grateful for this photo diary of sorts, that we have chosen to keep, which contains our momentous and ostensibly insignificant moments together. Each photograph evokes a million little sparks of emotion, and those sparks help to keep our relationship on track.
Recently I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by my personal Instagram feed. I chose to follow a lot (too many) environmental activists. Don’t get me wrong. We need to talk about the climate crisis and create awareness about how bad single use plastics are, but is that really all that I need and want to see?
I love the accounts that are not just showing the awful stuff, but the beauty and wonder too. I love their attitude of contributing to the good, while not being in denial of the bad.
Being confronted by ugliness all of the time, made me feel as if I was suffocating. I think that humans need to see, hear, smell, taste and feel things and experiences that are aesthetically pleasing. So all this got me thinking. What would I like to experience that will lift my soul and what would I like to contribute to sustainably making the world a better and more beautiful place.
Veld and Sea is based in Cape Point, South Africa. They offer sustainable foraging classes and workshops. They also prepare the most gorgeous looking vegan food. The idea of being in nature, looking for food and then preparing something fabulous and tasty to eat, will fulfill all of my aesthetic requirements for a sustainable experience. A visit to Veld and Sea is most certainly on my bucket list.
The other thing that made me so happy this week, was a video my husband sent me. It is about a glass artist, Josh Simpson, who makes the most beautiful marbles and then leaves them all over the world to be discovered. He once came upon old marbles and was so excited to find these antique beauties, almost untouched by time, that he felt inspired to leave stunning creations for others to chance on. What a generous thing to do. Follow this link to the YouTube video: https://cutt.ly/joshglass
I also want to create something of beauty without expecting it to have an immediate reward. Something that doesn’t have to be liked and commented on. Something I can share with others that will brighten their day and give them hope. Even if I don’t get to see the reaction. I don’t know what that is yet, but when I find it I won’t tell you. I want you to be surprised and charmed by whatever wonder that might be.
We are a blended family and between us, we have five children, of which the oldest four are all daughters. I have two and my hubby has twin girls. My last born, is an amazing son. Actually, all our brood are amazing in their own way. They are each so unique and beautiful and each one brings a different quality into our family mix, to make this family work.
Having said that, the first wedding was not one of my daughter’s weddings, so I was the step-mom. There was a ton of mixed emotions welling within me to the run-up of this wedding. I was not involved at all, with any planning, any discussions or any ‘insider information.’ This was easy and difficult, both at the same time. Without trying to cause hurt to anyone, let me try and explain myself.
I have been in my step-daughter’s lives for over 10 years now. They are now 23, so I’ve been there since they were teenagers. It wasn’t always easy, in fact, the first four years, was pretty much hell on earth. But, as a family, we persevered and I think we have an incredibly balanced, beautiful and precious, although extremely different, family now. They say no two families are alike, and we are no exception. Being left out of the loop as far as the preparations were concerned, was understandably difficult.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved the wedding day celebrations, and had, by that time, done so much inner work, that I was able to be in the moment and just enjoy the day. It was the preceding months that was difficult.
My step-daughter had explained she was unsure of how her mother would respond to me being at the bridal shower, so I decided to give her an ‘out’ and said I’d plan something for us girls (all four daughters and myself), separate to the shower. She looked so relieved, I almost cried. But that didn’t stop my own daughters from feeling the pain of exclusion. They were subsequently not initially invited to the shower. However, after my one daughter, who is a chef, arranged all the food for the shower, the birth mother did invite her, but she felt then it was going to feel like she was intruding.
Nothing is easy with step-families. There’s always someone who’s feelings are hurt, but I do think we’ve come a long way… Fast forward to my oldest daughter arriving from the Middle East, where she currently resides. Her and I went shopping for everything we needed for a cheese platter, some Prosecco, and some face masks. We surprised the bride with the help of her twin, two nights before the wedding (as my eldest had only arrived the day before), with an hour long Thai back, neck and shoulders massage, as well as coming back to the bride’s new little home, and set up the platter, pour Prosecco and all put on a face mask with Vitamin C, Hyaloronic acid and other such luxurious ingredients – and finally toast her farewell to single life. It was a really fun evening. (Check out my VLOG next week on our YouTube channel for some footage of that.)
It should have been so easy to just be a guest and to not be concerned with all the planning, but there’s something about one of your children getting married, that makes you want to help in any way you can. When I started to look at the situation in this light, things began to shift on the inside of me. What is it I could do, that could make things easier for my step-daughter? I realised that it was precisely to just be… Be on the outside but ask her how things were going with her plans. I decided to be as supportive as I could be, but keeping my distance. It could not have been easy for her either. She must also have dealt with anxiety, worrying about how her mother was feeling, being concerned for each of us, knowing she’d caused pain to my daughters, but feeling helpless to ‘fix’ everything. We are a family that talks about things, so the sisters had a chat about their emotions. I am grateful they did. It helped settle things for everyone.
Emotions run high no matter what the situation around a wedding, so when there’s step-families involved, this can be even more volatile. I am filled with gratitude, for all the effort our entire family put in to making this wedding day, a beautiful celebration. At the end of the day, this significant celebration, is the start of their committed lives together and I’m glad we could all share in the festivities with grace and love.
I always knew that being a step-mom was going to be the most difficult thing I would do, but I now see, it is a higher calling! It’s not everyone that is cut out for this position, and it took a family wedding for the heightened awareness and enormity of this responsibility, to become crystal clear to me. I don’t take this ‘calling’ lightly. I do however, look forward to the day where I can be more involved and to being the “Mother of the Bride.”
In South Africa we have 11 official languages and I am fluent in two of them. My mother tongue or first language is Afrikaans and when there is a big age gap between siblings we call the last born child a “laatlammetjie”. I love this word. If translated directly it means late lamb – or a lamb born late in the lambing season. I have a lamb that was born late in my birthing season.
Our youngest child was born three months before my 39th birthday. I had my other two children before I was thirty and our late lamb was not planned. And now three months before my 49th birthday, my precious boy had his 10th birthday.
Before I was pregnant with him, we were the stereotypical family with two children – a girl and a boy. I always thought that this was the perfect family to have. I have two hands that can be held. They have two parents who can each carry a child. In my mind I didn’t have the capacity for another child and also we didn’t have the extra space in our house.
What I didn’t take into account was that his sister and brother would adore him from the moment they saw him and that they would be my helpers. Of course sometimes, they were more in the way than anything else, but always willing. I am of the opinion that someone who receives so much love must be a happy human. And he is.
He is a delightful child. Always ready with a smile, fun loving and caring. When I found out I was pregnant with him, I cried for a week. It wasn’t what I’d planned. Everything I dreamt about for the future, had to be re-evaluated and redesigned around this new life. And everything did change, but in the best possible way. He may not have been planned, but after the initial surprise, he was and is most welcome in this life. A few days ago, we celebrated his 10th birthday.
He is no longer a little child (hasn’t been for a while, I suppose), but now I am confronted by just how much time has gone by. The big kids, my husband and I were all a bit emotional on his birthday. We were so aware that the little boy has been growing up while we were living life and is now a big boy, a pre-teen. He was oblivious and just enjoyed the cake, presents and time spent with loved ones.
I am a bit sad that he is growing up so fast, a bit glad that he is growing up to be a great human and a bit mad that I can’t freeze time to have more time. I hope he will always know how much we all love him and that he was the best surprise that we could have wished for.