A short history of school

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school”

said the world’s most darling mathematician, Albert Einstein, clearly outlining that school and education aren’t same thing.

But can they be mutually exclusive?

“Semantics” you might say. But really, education is what you learn and school is where you go to learn it.

Einstein was clearly criticising the formal school system. And rightly so. It couldn’t have been easy for a child who learnt to speak late, and who had an inquisitive mind and an overconfident contempt for authority.  No one saw his genius mind craving the gift of a more creative environment where he could be inspired and encouraged to think beyond a textbook, instead he was expelled from one school and told he wouldn’t amount to much, back when the yardstick to “much” was money or fame or teaching.

Fortunately, he amounted to far more than that thanks to the gift of a compass he was given at age five by his father. Thus began his obsession with magnetic fields, and the rest is an entirely different history lesson.

The question is what would have happened if his genius was noticed and given room to grow whilst he was in a classroom. Would this have made any difference? He might have solved more of the world’s greatest mysteries, or maybe not. Maybe the only difference would have been a happier childhood.

But before we get into the pros and cons and overall efficacy of the formal education system, we need to look at its history, because there can’t have been a single child throughout history, sitting bored and restless through a class that hasn’t sullenly wondered whose bright idea it was to “invent” school.

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So who was it?

In short, it is blamed on credited to American politician, Horace Mann – also known as “Father of the Common School Movement”.  Also, “Most Unpopular Visionary, Like Ever!”

So if you hate school, this is the guy you should be penning your letters of outrage to, kids. Although before you do, it would be best to realise that, to quote Mark Twain, “there are no new ideas”. Mr Mann didn’t think of it from scratch or all by himself. Education has actually been around for thousands of years, and school houses for hundreds. But it was Mann who started this whole “professional teachers promulgating organised curriculum to pupils” thing and even went so far as to implement it and then make it a legal requirement.

By 1918, his system of schooling had every child in the state of America attending at least primary school, by law. Naturally, word spread by any means possible (no doubt by gossipy parents moaning about relatives who were suddenly deemed ‘uneducated’) and soon schools were popping up all over the place. Kids, mostly boys, were being forced into brushing their hair and carrying the first of billions of sandwiches and pencils across a threshold of The Room of No Talking, and Breathing Only When Necessary. Here they sat for most of the day listening to a teacher tell them what they needed to know which would guarantee them a spot in society or prison, depending on their test marks and general behavioural disposition.

But mostly depending on their marks.

Anyway, this is a vastly simplistic outline of how we came to our current school system and we haven’t even touched on why it was necessary to create it, which is popularly thought to be a result of a changing societal structure brought about by the Industrial Revolution – with conspiracy theorists going so far as to say it cleverly created a compliant populace.

However, the point is still that the idea of finding ways to impart knowledge to children was not new by that time. Before Mann and The Committee of Ten reshaped and formalised the education system into a school with pupils, teachers and a curriculum, there were competing models, although these didn’t include the building of schools. This responsibility fell mostly to families to ensure that Jane could read a book to pass the time until she is able to nab herself a suitable enough husband, and John could become a farmer or shipping magnate, both requiring him to be able to at least read, write and do basic arithmetic.

This is what nowadays we refer to as “home-schooling”. A concept that strikes fear in the mind of a very high percentage of modern parents, who would sooner stab at their own eyes with coloured pencils, or worse, attend a parent teacher meeting, than try to teach Maths to their recalcitrant child every day.

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Here we are 100 years later, lots has changed in our schools, we have a better understanding of how a child’s brain works, we recognise the importance of nurturing the individual, but also a vast amount hasn’t changed. The way our kids are taught, the emphasis placed on the results of standardised testing, the millions of square pegs being squashed into round holes.

Just like the telegram morphed into an iPhone 7, school today should operate entirely differently to the way it did 100 years ago.

So why isn’t it?

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(Hog)wash

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Anyone who believes this deserves to be trapped under a pile of two-week old bedding from the rooms of ten teenagers.

Two teenagers, even.

Once in a Blue Moon

Here are some rarities that can happen in one night – or “last night” if we really care about specifics:

  1. Total Lunar Eclipse
  2. Blood Moon
  3. Both my children and myself in the same house at the same time for a whole night (entirely unrelated to 1 & 2)
  4. Getting both teenagers up and in the garden at 03:46 to stare into the night sky in time to witness the full eclipse by 04:00.
  5. Standing alone in the garden at 03:47 questioning my existence as parent and educator, and being forced to face hard truths about my own interest in rare lunar phenomena and my ability to be easily riled by the media.

On topic – Sometime between 04:30 and 05:00 I re-awoke and managed to catch a glimpse of the Blood Moon as I was chasing a rat out of the house that the cat had brought me – not the “gift of new life” I was led to believe the night of rare lunacy was to bring, but nevertheless it was magnificent. The moon I mean. The rodent was not of the magnificent variety unless we are talking size, which I suppose we are given the moons visibility from the earth.

In any case, back on topic I even managed for a second time that night to get the one child I had woken during that brief period of close-to whispered hysteria, to glance up into the sky and actually grunt in approval.

I believe that piquing your children’s interest in science and astronomy whatever their age, circumstance or apparent reluctance, and regardless of your own level of interest, can only be what I, and I’m sure many others the world over would call Responsible Parenting. Despite the fact that neither of them have any recollection of ever leaving their beds, I have no doubt that with time and perhaps undisclosed hypnotherapy they will come to cherish the memory of that minute of stunned silence as much I do.

Unlike this man.

Resist the Hype? Acclaimed scientist or not, he may understand quantum physics better than I ever could (not for lack of trying), but he clearly has no children and is therefore not familiar with the rare phenomenon of successfully pulling off early morning, outdoor, fun parental spontaneity and togetherness with your own teenage boys – albeit in the face of yet another possible apocalypse, this time brought on by the earth casually stepping in front of the moon and blocking his sun.

Still, what only parenting can teach you about rare moments such as these, is that the moon could be blue, blood, totally eclipsed and having a sleepover on Mars at the same time and it’d be common in comparison.

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School then

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I never saw the point of school. And I still don’t.

I know right? How trendy and anti-establishment I sound. And how ironically uneducated too, mind you.

But still. I came away from the dreadful experience of attending school every day for twelve years with a basic knowledge of the “three R’s”, just as I ought to;

Reading, ‘riting and resentment.

But other than that, I self-taught pretty much everything else I have needed to survive the rest of my life so far. Which explains so very much.

Dammit, I should have used that at the reunion.

Doctors and similar: “What are you doing now? (this should be interesting, tall, lost and not particularly academic or sporty person I once knew)

Me: I’m a Life Autodidact.

D&s: “A what? That sounds AMAZING!

Me: Right?! It’s sort of a little bit like a Life Coach…anyway, just topping up, must do the rounds…back in a sec etc. *vanish*

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Many years prior to my starting at the school as a gawky Grade 1 pupil, the school was run by nuns.  Whatever nuns were still shuffling around by the time I arrived however, were quietly stashed in convent in Durban somewhere. I know this because apart from the name “Sister Mary Margaret” being bandied about on Speech Day – as matrics about to embark on the important decision of choosing our life paths, we were taken off to meet them on A Special Outing. I imagine it was in an effort to instil some sort of reverence in us and a sense that the simple life of a nun was all we need aspire to in order to be listed as “Most Successful Old Girl” for time immemorial in the school magazine. This didn’t happen to a single one of us, but I speak only for myself when I say there have been occasional tinges of regret that I did not at least consider it.

Like now. As I sit across the table from lawyer #4 in as many years, trying to understand why my ex-husband can refuse to pay fees for the high school I have chosen for my youngest son to attend next year, when surely…..just surely you can tell him he just….MUST. (More on this later because although you can’t tell, it’s relevant).

School was a battlefield for me. I had ADD, was painfully shy and extremely self-aware. This meant that being called out in a classroom meant snapping back from wherever my mind had raced off to and absolutely cringing at the eyes on me, and the silence as I frantically tried to remember which lesson I was in, what we were discussing and what question had just been asked. These moments were my nightmare and so typical of old-school teaching. I couldn’t actually hear what the teacher was saying in that moment because on the outside I was in shock and on the inside I was shrinking myself into a teeny, tiny matchbox.

If any one of those teachers had an inkling of how getting my attention without the rest of the class knowing would have changed my high school experience for the better, I like to think maybe they would have tried it. Instead I spent my entire high school “career” trying to blend in to the closest inanimate object. Anyway, I think “non-compliant” was sternly hand written next to my name somewhere and therefore in defiance of my defiance, I was constantly being called on with questions I couldn’t focus on answering.

I was also very, very terrible at sport. This did not bode well with the academic and/or sport ethos of this prestigious establishment. Not a bit. But I still am (unsporty) and refuse to apologise for it. The only sport I did was swimming. That was because one sport was compulsory and that one didn’t require co-ordinated bobbing and weaving around in close proximity to sweaty others, and then not only having to manage that successfully but also to achieve something on top of it, like connect that minute sized ball onto the end of a narrow stick and then correctly aim it into a box. No. I had bent down and tied my shoelaces without falling over and that feat – again, if they knew me at all – in itself should have been commended at prize-giving.

So basically in the eyes of the school and its wardens I was surly and disinterested. I did not participate and was easily influenced because I followed my cool, popular best friend around like a shadow, and yet they said I was a bad influence and promptly separated us. I was so furious at the separation and being so horribly misunderstood, it certainly did become the end of any compliance of any kind from me. I became exactly what they expected me to – of little significance.

Infuriatingly this was the late 80’s/90’s when the cool kids were bubbly and fun and were allowed to wear eye-shadow and off the shoulder baggy t-shirts on the weekends. Just a decade later I would have ruled that school with my make-up-forbidden attitude of surly indifference and non-participatory passive-aggressive resistance. BAH! Timing. You can cross reference the Breakfast Club to this story. Honestly, Molly Ringwald’s character would have been the darling of Diocesan schooling in South Africa at that time.

Anyway, on my last day with not a vestige of self-esteem left in my entire being, my testimonial was kind of shoved at me. It was mostly facts. I had attended the school from then to now and was a member of the swimming team and debating club. Debating! Ha! If I only knew the torrent of shit-storms that were headed my way that I would have to argue and appeal my way out of, I may have paid less attention to the rare glimpse of boys on the other team and much, much more on the art of being ingeniously articulate under pressure.

Still. I looked at the sheet of formal looking yellow paper in my hand that seemed to have absolutely no relation to me at all.

Me: For me? Did I do something to deserve this?

High School: No, but we have to give it to you so you’ll leave. Off you go and let us never speak of this again.

“The problem with that school was that they never helped you discover your ‘pockets of excellence’, you had to arrive with it if you wanted be recognised” a former classmate once very wisely put it. I rolled about laughing at the term “pockets of excellence” – for some reason I thought it was hysterical and imagined that awful headmistress striding up to me –

AH: “WHAT IS THAT IN YOUR POCKET?!”

Me: They’re my excellences.

AH: But you don’t have any! Give those to me!

AH: What are these?!

Me: This one here is Mockery aaand this one…careful, it’s quite heavy…is Sarcasm.

But then I realised that actually my friend was absolutely right. Is it not the duty of a school to find something in a child that they can nurture into a positive identity instead of just highlighting everything that child is not?

Now I understand the line from my old school song

“Still seeking noblest truth and gazing upwards” 

It was really a divine nod to girls like me who spent all their time there rolling their eyes and muttering “Dear God, do I really have to do this again tomorrow?”

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Sorry, what was it you were actually trying to say Mr Cumberbatch? It seemed important.

* This an opinion piece I felt compelled to write. It is not a post about single parenting, but I suppose it could be.

Recently, a talented British actor named Benedict Cumberbatch referred to a group of people as ‘coloured’. Ironically (I’ll explain in a minute), he was defending this particular group of people against some kind of oppression in the acting industry.

A day later the PC media police from the world over were flick-flacking around in swoon-inducing vexation. To be honest, I’m not sure what the actual message was that the poor man was trying to convey, because (here’s the irony) it got lost in the fire and brimstone stoking sea of chanting voices across the internet, vilifying him for a single, apparently outdated choice of word.

Coloured.

Anyway, a day later there he was in all his pale Britishness, mortified, red-faced and calling himself an idiot. You can’t help but love that truly self-deprecating nation, can you?

But frankly, I don’t see the balance in being called ‘coloured’ or an ‘idiot’. Had he used the word idiot instead of coloured, then sure, tar and feather the man in the town square I say, internet metaphorically of course which is damn near close enough to the real thing. But honestly, aren’t there enough real intentionally racist, sexist, misogynistic quotes being said by people who actually mean them to have fits of rage about?

I know the dreadful, shameful history associated with the word, but he very clearly wasn’t using it in that context and there is just no pretending that he could have been.

So can everyone with a keyboard just take a seat, calm down and stop throwing bottles at the guy sweeping the stage?

Now I understand that no one has time, especially when confronted by the press to whip out a smartphone and google the latest PC wording for “a person with darker skin colour than a white persons” mainly because almost every PC term in the world is updated more often than AccuWeather. Also I can see that that in itself could be seen as rather un-PC because I suppose it could be read in a way that means “everyone else except white people”, which is not at all what I meant, but hopefully that leads you neatly to my point.

Should I be terribly offended the next time I am called white? Because the bottom half of me is so pale you won’t find it against the current snow in the north. The top half get a fair amount of African sun from driving around in short sleeves a lot and standing outside glass doors waiting for the employees of the traffic department to finish their lunch. Therefore, over time it has ‘coloured’ more than the rest of me. Also though, my skin is tainted with freckles. If you had to join them all up I would have a patch the size of the Karoo and just as brown on me. One more thing, I have terrible circulation, and I love hot showers. So my feet and hands are blue most of the time except when I get out of the shower. Then they are as red as that ball in the centre of the flag ‘o Japan.

Honestly, if he were describing the likes of me, in context, coloured is a much closer fit. Unless he is only describing one half of me. Then I guess he would be justified in saying ‘white’.

At the risk of reiterating a very important but tired cliché that no one takes any notice of – now that you have an overview of the outside of me, what does it tell you about the inside? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Where on the scale of Ted Bundy and Mother Teresa am I? It gives you no idea does it? But an attack on a person’s character is a whole other matter compared to unintentionally using a less than choice word to describe a person’s aesthetics.

Moreover, if a genuine, known-to-be-a-good person of any colour at all stands up on a public platform to defend me, or anyone else with a history of societal oppression against any form of inequity, and happens to call me ‘barely toasted on the one side’ as opposed to say, a redneck, how would I respond? I’d like to think I would just thank him profusely for speaking out on injustice on my behalf, not his mind you, and for having my pale, freckled back on that one.

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Mother’s Day – a tutorial

 

Mother’s Day

Two simple words. Deep complex meaning.

Very deep and darkly complex if you’re a single mother and have to do the dishes twice as often, but the effects of which can be lessened by well thought out appreciation gifts that come with a bonus moral.

So I said to my young son matter-of-factly and as a subtle jokey reminder:

“It’s Mother’s Day soon, whatcha getting me huh nudge wink?”

“A Big Giant Hug” he casually says without looking up from destroying something on a game bound to be deemed bad parenting on his PSP.

“……………..”

“Awww. No really though.”

I’m hoping I’m successfully conveying gratitude but still letting him know that it’s also a downgrade from the chewed macaroni necklaces I have received in the past.

“It’ll be such an amazing hug it’ll be just like chocolate” he assures me without hesitation, but glances up briefly to see if such eloquence would cement my appreciation and put paid to further discussion after I had dried my eyes.

Now I know you’re all scrunching up your faces and going whaaat? That is just the cutest…” but I have parented a child for nearly 19 years and am finely tuned to the emotional manipulation tools they use. Not least of which is offering one act of affection in return for at least two decades of their daily life sustaining resources.

Also the fact that he successfully linked the day with chocolate, means he smarter than sits comfortably with me.

However, dismissing the generosity of my child, regardless of its authenticity is a sensitive issue that if handled badly could be held against me and verbally returned to me every single day for the rest of my natural life.

Don’t misunderstand me – his hugs are excellent, really good get-in-there bear hugs and I love them.

But Mothers Day comes once a year and chocolate is chocolate.

And I happen to know he has R200 in his wallet.

As back-up justification, I must point out that almost all of that R200 was originally mine. Passed on for (half) doing chores that he is never going get paid to do in the future (one can ardently hope).

Regardless, let me explain why this is not a matter of ungrateful self-indulgence on my part. It is all part of a whole range of fly-by-the-seat-of-my pants single parenting life lessons I have come up with that are designed to help my son’s avoid becoming every alternate weekend fathers. (Or *shudder* half of not every school holiday).

It’s fairly simple.

No matter what she says, a ‘Big Giant Hug’ is not a present that is going to fly with any future lady friends he may one day want to marry, or is dating over a gift giving day.  Unless of course, she lives off the grid, off subsistence farming, and makes her clothes out of the dried pelt of last night’s supper. In the likely scenario that she is not (given his penchant for hoarding cash and his intense desire to own an expensive well-fitted suit), then it will definitely not be handled well and it is just going to get him a big giant splash of cold Chardonnay to the face – that he will undoubtedly have to pay for anyway.

So a few hours later whilst queuing for a till, I casually pointed out some Turkish Delight that costs R41 and comes in shiny pink foil wrappers in a pretty soft off-white packet.  A really small price to pay for the greater good of a future marriage. (Trust me, I mean that quite literally.)

He stood there staring at it for ages before sighing and begrudgingly muttering that his brother better go halves. (Although I think his brother deserves an individual lesson, I’m just waiting for a good time to use the same line without raising suspicion.)

“You’ll thank me later” I muttered – ignoring the less than appreciative tone in which this life-defining skill was being received.

No matter what transpires on the morning of Mother’s Day though, I think I may have to find opportunities to go over this one a few more times before it properly sinks in.

Because all that is likely to happen is that they will scour the internet that morning for these to post  on my Facebook wall –

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Reasonable doubt

Today is an anniversary. It’s past exactly one year and two weeks since I last posted something here.

None of my tiny gang of followers (I felt the fleeting power of a cult leader as I typed that) has asked why or where I have been. I suspect its because they’re all living off the ‘no news is good news’ maxim, and if they ask they’ll have to think of sympathetic words to say to the horror/good fortune that has befallen/been bestowed upon me.

For example:

I fell into a pit of delusion thinking I could finish something I started.

“Where have you been? What happened with that other thing?”

I am typing up my thesis on Romantic Realism And The Long-Term Neurological Effects of Consistent Cynical Eye-Rolling and the Darcy Syndrome of Disillusionment.

“Congratulations on the adoption of your seventh cat”

I went to Spain and stayed in an internet-free village.

“I’ve been to Spain and there is no such thing…”

I have seen so many lawyers I am now graduating with a Law Degree (watching re-runs of Suits)

“……….still?”

I finally met this amazing gu

Okay, this is what really happened.

I went in search of my real parents, Procrastination and Bad Time Management, and we have been catching up ever since.

“What?…you’re looking a little tired…are you okay?”

None of those other things happened except the last one, I have no paperwork and the only hard evidence I have is the fact that I live and breathe.  But its true. Also almost all of the one above that. No. The one above the one with a line through it.

Obviously.

Strangely enough, what did happen in my absence was that I got a couple of new followers – (to this blog, not to my commune of belief that all men are islands). Why you would want to hold out hope for someone who clearly had given up is anybody’s guess, but there they were.

The occasional e-mail guilt-reminding me that a commitment to the internet is forever.

A couple from the Americas, someone from Finland and another from Trinidad and Tobago – who one can only assume found themselves here accidentally, much like I sometimes do, and were reaching for the exit cross in the top right hand corner when their hand slipped.

Well, person from a country I can’t locate on a map without squinting and searching for ages because I don’t watch cricket, you’ve brought it back to life.

 

the lost correspondent. jason decaires-taylor sculpture

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12 Useful Things My Son’s Have Learnt from Being in a Single Parent Household


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I love researching stuff on the internet. You can find an answer to the most obscure question, or like the picture above you can learn something you didn’t even know needed a lesson. It’s fantastic. Also fantastic is that in keeping with societal pressure of good parenting by requiring no screen time, the best lessons are the ones you can only learn from growing up. Of course every kid will learn something different, mine have learnt (not limited to) the following;

  1. Never assume someone else has switched on the geyser before getting into the shower.
  2. Your milkshakes won’t bring the boys to the yard, but simply boiling a kettle means making tea/coffee/Milo/Cup-Soup for the whole family.
  3. Sharing is hardly ever optional. What’s yours is ours unless you hide it well.
  4. Don’t believe anyone who asks you to help them ‘quickly’ hang a few pictures, it may mean spending the rest of the day trying to get the drill bit out of the wall.
  5. If you don’t want ham and cheese on your sandwich everyday of your entire school career, then make it yourself.
  6. If you show signs of being anything less than deliriously happy, then prepare to be badgered into talking about it, at length in serious detail.
  7. Walking home in the rain because the car wont start does not cause instant death.
  8. Stress less and learn to read the fine print, by signing your own permission slip and getting it back to school on time. If you accidentally sign up for boys synchronised swimming it’s your fault, if in the unlikely event you are agreeing to be plied with hallucinogenic, it’s not.
  9. Some things in life just can’t be explained, like if the cat chooses your bed to sleep on, you are instantly envied, move up the family hierarchy (for the duration of her stay only) and are excused for using it as an excuse not to do your homework.
  10. In the absence of material possessions you will be showered with lectures on life lessons.
  11. Rock Paper Scissors is a universally accepted binding agreement that cannot under any circumstances be overruled by a third party.
  12. There are absolutely never any guarantees from one day to the next, always be prepared for:
  • The car not starting, changing an entire days plans
  • Your sports kit being ‘freshened up’ in the tumble dryer instead of being washed
  • An offer of DIY toast as an only option for any meal
  • Apocalypse bathroom habits when the light bulb doesn’t get around to being changed for months at a time.

No one is thanking me for these lessons yet, but I know at the very least their wives will one day.

Maintenance Really this Time and Spain

Okay, so maybe my previous post wasn’t entirely true, there are a couple of things on my resolution list. Less resolutions though, more ‘things that are likely and less likely to happen this year but still might’…

  1. Go to court
  2. Go to Spain
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This pic is for dramatic effect, I won’t have to put my coat over my head. No one will be taking photo’s until the victory party.

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This is a map of Spain. The whole of Spain. Every inch of it.

Yes, I have travel plans for 2013.  The difference between these two locations though is that one is two kilometres from my house, and the other is about 20 000 kilometres from my house. One is a holiday destination the other is more like hell in a holiday destination.  In my opinion anyway – this is not about that time you inadvertently got mixed up with the Spanish Mafia.

So, a little explanation about my choices:

Court.

Actually this is not a choice. If you scroll back through my blogging archives or just click here you will find that sometime in 2010 and before he left, my ex-husband and I had a delightful mediation session or what I sometimes refer to as ‘A Three Hour Marriage Summary In Four Parts’:

A short period of civility

Heated words exchanged

Promises made

Promises broken

Three years later.

I have managed to get through 1 more mediation session, 3 lawyers visits, 4 lawyers letters, (since the lawyer and mediation fees almost bankrupted me I decided I could do it without them, well my bank balance decided it) so  4 visits to Simonstown Magistrates Court,  28 phone-calls to the Maintenance Officer,  3 unconfirmed court dates, and 1 lost subpoena somewhere in Pretoria.  I am still not an inch closer to

a) A confirmed court date

b) A fair maintenance agreement

c) Affording a decent haircut

My inability to follow through on things to the end (except 5 seasons of True Blood and Ken Follett’s World Without End) dictates that I should’ve given up already sometime last year, but maintenance is a big deal and kids aren’t cheap.  He hasn’t increased his maintenance in four years. Four years. An entire presidential term.  Neither has he paid for the extra ten days I now have the kids since my ‘every second weekend’ of bar hopp ..erm fixing stuff around the house was ripped from me, which amounts to 240 days or a full 8 months. I know he can pay (surely his vet bill is paid off by now) but he just won’t, and now time is running out because there is baby on its way – his, not mine – gawd! And this changes the game entirely because it means that he will be responsible for three dependents and not two. Cue wretched soundtrack to an eye-rolling cliché. So I need to be in court by May. This means hopefully if all goes well, then by about July I’ll be in

Spain

Because I’m turning 40 and well, it’s Spain. Also though, I need a reason to get through all five ‘Teach Yourself Spanish’ CD’s that have been in my car for two years. So far I have learnt to count from uno to dias. But then my car radio was stolen.

And

Javier Bardem in ‘Vicki Cristina Barcelona’.  If you haven’t seen it then don’t, Spain is overcrowded.

Look, I’m not entirely delusional; I know I’m definitely going to court because I am on first name terms with the Maintenance Officer. She even avoids my calls sometimes, which is cool because breaking personal bests is fun and it ups my call counter which has almost surpassed that time I had to phone Telkom to move an ADSL line, but she can’t avoid me forever.  I’m probably not going to Spain because of food and school fees.

Still – this year, as Calvin said to Hobbes, “I’m just going to pray for the strength to change what I can, the inability to accept what I can’t, and the incapacity to tell the difference.”

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Not a Good Year for Triskaidekaphobia

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Mainly because my list of resolutions looks like this:

blank page

Which frees me up to list my accomplishments for 2013 as winning a Booker Prize or not making toast for supper two nights in a row.

However, my optimism does not extend to the expectation that either will make the list.

No!-vember

I realised today that it’s November already. I know it’s also five days in, but no job means no desk calendar. Okay it’s also on my phone, but it’s the days that I have to remember not the dates. Payday arrives when it arrives these days, I don’t need to count down from the first to the 25th anymore.  Cricket is on Mondays. School closes early on Tuesdays… Anyway the point is it’s the worst month of my year.  In no particular order, here’s why:

Christmas. Technically its next month yes I know, but the minute I see those decorations and hear the music I know I’ve missed the cheap present boat. Every year I tell myself I will have all the presents I need safely home before Woolies have even found their box of decorations, i.e. by mid-September. In my mind, anything bought after mid-September screams pagan rip-off even if it’s priced the same as it was in August, it just feels that way on principle. For a day or so I will dream of sticking it to wallet rape and pillage by the retails and make stuff. Then I am struck with the memory of recently trying to put together a school project, and how using my imagination and glueing stuff should not be wrapped and given as gifts unless I am actually trying to offend.

New Year. Yes I know its next month etc, but by November it’s too late to take charge of my life, and ‘become the me I’m supposed to be’. This is the year! My Fair Lady Horoscope said so! (Or whichever publication offers the most hope for a Virgo in their January edition) is no longer valid. By November I’m wondering what on earth I did between April and October because it feels like I might have actually blacked out or been abducted or got Sleeping Beautyed and no one noticed. Somehow, time moved forward and my life stayed the same. I’m not sure how that’s possible.  Hopeful that one of those three things could actually be a real affliction, I gauged friend’s reactions to my theory, but rather disappointingly they hardly blinked and said they felt the same. On the upside, every year I waste no ink or paper updating my resolution list, just a bit of Tippex changing the year.

It’s my mothers birthday month. She died 7 years ago after years of fighting off breast cancer. The weird thing is I know she would have aged if she was still alive, which means the picture I have of her in my mind is not entirely accurate, and it bothers me. On her birthday I will try and imagine her at whatever age she would have been, and it’s getting more and more difficult. Also, in the weeks leading up to her birthday, when I’m out shopping I still make a mental list of things she might have liked and it makes me miss her more, which I always think is impossible until it’s not.

Guy Fawkes. For the reason that the Britain is thousands of kilometres away, and therefore on the 5th of November instead of stocking up on pretty explosives and coq au vin for the neighbourhood party, I am briefly shell shocked into thinking my neighbours are being shot at and my chicken a la king burns while I am lying on the floor wondering whether to phone the police. Slowly it will dawn on me that November is the month that Mr Fawkes crept farthest south into our tiny country and somehow influenced our communities (interestingly, not necessarily the Catholic ones) into badly injuring themselves and terrifying our pets.

Exams. I’m not going to lie, this is worse than the others put together. Trying to get my sons to study is like trying to get Julius Malema down for his nap. The excuses, the weaselling out of it, the sudden scramble to look studious and exemplary when I walk in to the room is the reason why I  a good excuse to self medicate. I admit, school was difficult for me and I hated it, so I understand why it’s such an inconvenience to have to teach yourself the stuff you missed when you were sleeping in class, when you would rather be texting your girlfriend or like watching football, but for crying out loud it’s the beginning of your forever. No pressure.  It is obvious that there is a technical flaw in the design of kid’s brains. The fact that they have no concept of the future and a god-like sense of immortality and yet are forced to have the foundations of their entire lives built and cement dry by the age of 18, is an anomaly that gives me a giant headache. Still, regardless of the fact that I actually am the boss of them, getting information from the book into their brains is the one thing I can’t bribe them into doing. The proof of them having done it only comes with the report, and by then I am in too high a state of hysteria to remember what I promised them, and the fact that its school holidays means that they’re too high on elation to care whether the results mean that there is a possibility that they will eventually move out and become the boss of themselves. Well that’s my prayer when opening those envelopes anyway.

Movember. I have come to realise that it’s not just for November. Because you can and will drag it on until March. So unless you grow your moustache into the shape of a prostate, or time travelled from the 17th century, please can we find an unused colour for a ribbon rather?  Please.

Olympic Parenting

Ever since I accidentally watched Golden Boy Chad Le Clos win the Gold for the something-something Butterfly the other night, I’ve been bit by Olympic fever. Actually not the whole Olympics, just the swimming bit really. I tried to watch Archery, and kept getting distracted by the fact that that stretchy elastic bit they pull back right into the actual skin of their faces, doesn’t leave a mark. Then I watched a bit of shooting. Which may or may not be called something more professional and less cops ’n robbers sounding, I’m not sure, but those bits of paper that they stick to the sides of their glasses probably to help them concentrate and not get distracted (hellooo Ritalin..) looks weird, and I couldn’t help but think that if I was standing around a bunch of guys with guns all fighting over a gold medallion the size of a side plate worth slightly more than sixpence, I would want to know who’s behind me.  Back to the swimming though. After Chad’s awesome win, cameras zoom to his parents in the stands. His mother is crying, his father has the country’s flag pulled over his head in disbelief, they’re hugging each other, and I’m just sitting on my couch wondering what it must be like to be that parent. How on earth did they get it so right? And it only took 20 years! Chad is twenty! It’s amazing. How the hell did he manage to wake up on time, pack the right stuff, and know where to be without his mom telling him every ten minutes? I always swore I should get a gold medal for parenting, or at the very least a gold star, but now I realise that if parenting was an Olympic sport, it would be the gold winners parents that would take the gold. Which is just one more thing I can blame my kids for, denying me a chance at fantasy gold even.  Just as I’m imagining the scenario involving one of my two, another race is about to start. But whats this? An empty space in lane 6? I find myself nodding knowingly. I can totally relate. Poor mother of that girl. Bet she left her wet cozzie on the floor of the changing room after her last race, and of course it didn’t occur to her to pack a spare one even though her Mom told her to at least 400 times, so now she is running around trying to borrow one. Or more likely trying to phone her Mom to bring her one, all wide-eyed saying it must’ve just fallen out of her bag! And while she is about it, can she also bring her another towel, because hers is wet, and yes she did hang it up but it fell back onto the floor somehow and she didn’t notice it as she stepped over it a hundred times last night and she was going to just take one from the ‘hotel’, but then she forgot. Also, can she bring her a sandwich and a packet of chips because she woke up late and didn’t have time to have breakfast and anyway the food there is gross and now she is starving! And she is telling her Mom to come like right now, coz her race is about to start and she is like freaking out! Her Mom is going “I told you to be responsible with your stuff, good thing I wrote your name in it because you’re just going to have to go back there and find that wet costume and wear it young lady, its about time you understand the consequences of not looking after your things, I have told you this a thousand times.”! The commentators said something like “Neck Injury”….which a billion parents around the world acknowledged as a code for ‘Her Cellphone Alarm Just Like Didn’t Go Off And She Doesn’t Know Why Coz She Like Totally Def Set It Before She Went To Sleep.

Im just saying that parenting Non-Olympian athletes is not for sissies and actually if you think about it, parenting actual gold-winning athletes gives you an unfair advantage, so the rules for winning parenting gold would have to state only one per family. So having an Olympian child is like the equivalent of taking a banned substance…. I really need to be on that committee…Anyway, I’m thinking aloud and getting way ahead of myself. My son will be seventeen this year, we have an equal chance of me winning Parent of the Year and Endurance Sleeping being introduced as an Olympic sport. And as the saying goes “the person who says nothing is impossible never tried to staple water to a tree” or wake a teenager up in time to have a family breakfast before school.

The Holiday

School holidays, and they’re gone again. On a plane to see their Dad. We’re at the airport and I’m trying to tell them who to talk to and who not to, and what to do if the stranger sitting next to them wants personal details, but they know exactly what they’re doing. They’ve become seasoned travellers since their father moved away. Now since the eldest is old enough to be the in-flight “guardian”, they can fly unaccompanied. Which is scarier to me than an actual plane crash. In fact if there was a plane crash, it may briefly cross my mind that it might be caused by the two of them arguing about, and in turn wrestling each other for the window seat, the last sweet in the packet that was meant for sharing,  etc and distract the pilot. “Destination?” enquires the woman at the check-In counter. “Um..J…” I open my mouth to answer and at the same time scratch around for their birth certificates in my bag. “JOBURG!” they say in ecstatic unison. As if the place is a giant theme park. Its not. Momentary blind panic gets me every single time I can’t find the documents in the first 2 seconds of looking. Even though I’ve already checked that I have them twelve or thirteen times since I parked the car. They already have their bags off the trolley and are peering at the scale to see whose is heavier. For no apparent reason this can elevate ones status quite decidedly. They are delirious with excitement, and I’ve finally hauled out the white envelope that I’ve been moving out of the way to peer past in my bag. I’m trying to be excited too. I’ve already mentally listed the things I’m going to do while they’re gone apart from work. Watch a 5 ‘o clock movie. Control the remote. Be spontaneous. Be free! Damn I cant think of anything that will get me as excited as they are now. So I settle on nothing. Doing nothing. I’m going to do nothing!  Somehow this doesn’t thrill me either.  I’m sure I’ll think of something. It crosses my mind that I’ve possibly become one of those parents who claim to be nothing without their kids. The ones who live for driving them around and making sure they have clean school uniforms and organising play dates. The ones I am vocally scornful of.

“Stop being ridiculous. Wine! Woo-hoo. Right now..Straight from the airport! Phone a friend”  I try some over the top self encouragement  in an attempt not to cry a little bit. Oh wait..its Monday, its 9am. I hand the envelope to the eldest after they’ve been given their boarding passes, and begin the same speech he has heard 20 times about putting them directly into his fathers hands upon landing or there will be no return plane trip. He nods and stuffs it into his jacket pocket while he is helping himself to a handful of green sweets that the airline has cleverly left on the counter for its passengers.  Obviously these are especially for unaccompanied  children passengers, who by the time the sugar hits their blood stream will be airborne in a tightly confined space without parental supervision. I ignore them shoving them into their mouths and pockets, and make a mental note to re-iterate the no sweets from strangers lecture when they get back. I dawdle, they run, to the passengers only gates. I hug them very tightly before they go through and try to think of something meaningful to say. I suddenly need them to forget all the times I’ve been a monster parent, like make them change the channel on the TV to something other than football or Disney, or made them tidy their rooms, or gave them cereal for supper, or had an evening of wild dramatics and banning all things electronic over homework not being done…Because I know that Dads house is the fun house. He takes a week or two off work and crams it full of mini-getaways, football watching marathons, rugby matches, pizza dinners out. I know its guilt. I also know the cost of it is coming off my maintenance. They don’t. Please  please don’t let it be so fun that you don’t want to come back, I silently, selfishly plead. “Be Good. Have Fun!”, is all I can think of as they dash off to join the queue to the boarding gates “Stick TOGETHER!” I shout. A few people look at me alarmed, not sure who I’m yelling at or whether they heard the word “bomb”. I try and look apologetic and unthreatening. The boys haven’t even heard me. I stare through the glass partitioning and wait for my youngest at least to turn around all teary eyed needing my reassurance that everything will be fine, they’ll be fine without me, for almost two weeks! I watch them put their bags through the scanner. .pick them up..walk past the area where Im standing . Any minute now they’ll turn around. I resist the urge to call and wave frantically. Okay, they’ll pop their heads back around that wall and wave. Oh. Okay, Ill just phone them later. They looked a bit like they were laughing,…I sit and wait for the plane to take off. I watch it until what I thought I was staring at suddenly comes to land on the roof of the baggage trolley on the runway in front of me, as a pigeon.  I text their father to let him know they are in his airspace, which means therefore, now his responsibility. I try not to think about how much I already miss them. How its all their stupid fathers fault that Ill never get these eleven days without my kids back, how selfish his decision was, why should I have to go through this because he chose to be the part time parent?! On the drive home I sing at the top of my voice, something I am expressly forbidden to do if one or both of them are in the car, or near the car in fact just generally. It’s only eleven days I tell myself. Then I remember why this trip is harder to deal with than the others. One of those eleven days is my sons eleventh birthday. And I want to wake him up with tea and presents and see that look of pure birthday joy as he opens his eyes just like I have every other birthday. I deserve that at the very least. More than his father does. Just as I realise I’m singing along to a song called ‘Fiery Crash’ and I have a panic that its fate telling me something,  I get a text message. “We’ve landed. Dad is taking us out for pizza and is getting tickets for the rugby for Nic’s birthday! He will love it. Miss you”. Then I get another one from a friend saying “Come away with us this weekend”. And I realise that I’ve had momentary lunacy. The kids are going to be more than fine. It’s okay for me to admit that they have way too much Mom by the time they leave. They need a break. And it’s also okay for me to admit that they need as much Dad as they can get, including the odd birthday now and again no matter how much I think he doesn’t deserve it. I see now it doesn’t matter what I do or what they do in those eleven days. What matters is that I’ll be right in the front waiting when those doors open at the arrival gates, and not say a word when they both speak at once or argue about the details of the trip. What matters utmost to me though, is that when they are leaving, they’re going to their Dad, but when they come back, they’re coming home.

To celebrate my independence and control of the remote, I am watching Gone With The Wind. No, really, that’s not an intended pun. I actually am. All three and a half hours of it from 1939. By a stroke of luck and possible fated intervention, its on TCM tonight, the boys most hated channel. Also, I’m having wine and popcorn for supper.

And suddenly, I find myself thinking that eleven days doesn’t seem that long at all, not long enough even.

What Did You Get For English?

Exams are over! Honestly, I’m so happy my eyes are leaking a little bit. I dread them more than the meetings that come after exams where the teacher deals a deathblow in the form of a report. And that’s bad dread! There is no fighting between the teen son and I almost at all most of the time, until there is studying to be done. During exams its WW1. The one where battlefields were mainly shouting and throwing whatever object was at hand. Before exams, I am oblivious to what needs to be studied, what tests are being written, or what stuff needs to be handed in when. In order to keep the peace I have to take the ostrich approach, and tell myself the foundations are laid, the responsibility is his, Ill go in  and ask just as soon as the cork is out of this bottle blah blah. Anyway. I’ve tried to be one of those Moms, like the one who wrote that book. Slayer Mom of a Teenage Dragon Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother. Its impossible. Well obviously its not impossible. Its just hard, takes up a lot of time, and requires serious follow through of threatened disciplinary action. Of course I am excited as any mother would be who see’s great earning potential in their lawyer/politician trait-ed child, and just want him to see it too. But as I lack his obvious articulation skills, after hearing his explanations, I usually have to make excuses that I smell burning and throw in an over the shoulder “we are NOT done discussing this!” When I know as well as he does that we are. The problem is this… His explanations for why there is nothing written in his homework diary….every day of the year… What exactly he needs to study… When last he studied… Why he is watching endless seasons of Chuck on his laptop the night before an exam…and Why he has his laptop when it was confiscated along with the phone that he is using to simultaneously play games on….are as clear, and reassuring and sound a lot like…

Um…good, so you’re done studying then?

When Karma Gets the Kids

So Ive mentioned once before mine and my sons shared sense of humour. And that its only shared to a degree. Like I don’t find toilet humour or Chinese Bangles funny at all, and my youngest son has a thing about the word ‘eyeball’. If I say something like ‘my eyeball is itchy’ which is a perfectly normal thing to say, under normal itchy eyeball circumstances, when I’ve finished rubbing my eyeball, Ill look down and he’ll be on the floor clutching his stomach with one hand and banging his fist with the other. While my oldest and I with no sign of  even a smirk just keep saying it to keep him incapacitated, and also because that’s funny to us and we want to join in. But I really don’t get the joke at all. Although it could probably be filed under toilet humour, I now know enough about boys to suspect that when your mother innocently says ball and you’re ten….well, that’s all it‘ll take. Whats really weird though, is that one thing neither of them found particularly amusing but cracked me up to such a degree that I had to lie down because I got a headache from being doubled over, was when I accidentally locked them both in the garage after fetching them from school last week. How is that not funny? Where we live, our house is above the road, but the garage is on the road. Once the car is parked, I want get out and get up the stairs and into the house as quickly as possible. Its just a thing.  I don’t like being outside without a reason. Anyway, usually, I’m out of the car, and yelling for them to hurry so that I can push the button on the remote that closes the  garage door. For some reason though, on this day, I didn’t wait, I walked out of the garage, opened the gate, walked up the stairs, opened the front door, and put my stuff down. Only somewhere between  the garage and the kitchen counter, I switched to auto-pilot and pushed the remote. Ive been a little stressed lately, so my mind could’ve just briefly blanked over the fact that I even have children, which is  what I’ll tell the judge if my oldest passes all his exams and then gets his phone unbanned and then follows through with his threats, and it probably wont be word of a lie. Anyway, I was already standing on the balcony with a cigarette, staring down at the gate thinking where the hell are those two, and had just bet myself ten bucks they were arguing about whose turn it was to bring in the one bag of shopping that was on the back seat of the car, when my phone rang. When I saw it was my oldest, I didn’t even get a chance to tell him that if no-one brings it up they don’t get supper which incidentally was what was in the bag, when all I heard was  a deep threatening voice say “Open. The Garage Dooor. Now.” Oh man. Then when I pushed the remote, and saw their faces  eventually coming up the path, it was tickets for me…Why is it that when something is funny and someone else doesn’t find it funny, its even funnier? My youngest did a furious and yet hysterical re-enactment of how he had to fumble around in  the pitch dark to find his schoolbag, and then he told me that his older brother was nearly crying a little bit, which of course his brother hotly denied. He did say that he tried to wedge the door open with his foot at one point, (which I think was the part that gave me the headache), before he realised that this wasn’t one of those times where the joke lasts for just a few seconds and then order is restored, and decided to phone me.  Look, I know what you’re thinking, but the whole thing was over in a few minutes, maybe several, but unless people are lying about the fact that the most poisonous spider in the world, the Daddy Long Legs can’t bite, they weren’t in any danger.

4 hours later:

“Whats Mom laughing at?”

“Garage still”

“You know it wasn’t that funny”

“Gasp! Please stop! I think my intestines are unraveling!”

Listen, you cant tell me as a parent you haven’t imagined at certain times, all manner of ways to get a moments peace. We just imagine it though. A thought comes into your head and you marvel at its foolproof simplicity, then its gone and you carry on yelling  it as  a threat to deaf ears. When you accidentally follow through on one of these threats, I can promise you, no matter what you’re thinking now,  pursed lips and a guilty conscience will take a backseat to seeing the really funny side. Its karma baby. Besides, laughter is the best medicine (after wine), and God alone knows those kids keep me healthy.  They should be happy to know that if they keep it up I should be around for a while. Maybe after this they wont be as happy as before, but by Christmas 2020 they’ll be laughing about it too.

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