Category Archives: Universe Humour

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

1/2

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*

emma-stone-amanda-bynes-scream

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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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.

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.

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.

Life Tests – A Mini Timeline

“Life is a test of endurance, strengths, challenges and patience.” – Kim Hoth

Not the most profound quote, Kim, I hope you didn’t make money off it. But still, it did inspire me, for a bit of fun, and in anticipation of my 40th birthday, to put together a Timeline of Noticeable Tests I’ve been set by the Universe so far;

  • School:  1980-1991   – For someone with ADD (back when it was called laziness) and the social and sporting aptitude of a mole, school was a dark hell. To add to this, it was girls only, and coupled with the fact that I have two sisters and no brothers, a school social with a boys school was the Devil Ruler of that dark hell. Result: Pass with a certificate in the ability to remain invisible whilst wearing a yellow dress, a black cape and a tricorn hat. Yes, that was the uniform chosen by nuns, obviously.
  • Pregnant at 21: 1994-1995 – Due to not being overly excited at the prospect of any career path I was attempting to follow, and clearly having shed the ‘uniform of chastity’, I decided to travel a bit, find myself so to speak, and learn more about what it is I wanted from life. Well I found myself in London, knocked up and wanting an explanation from a particularly useless brand of birth control pills.                               Result: Pass with distinction in time travel abilities by going from age 21 to 40 in a single day.
  • Marriage: 2000-2008 – Yes, marriage is a test. A test of endurance, strengths, challenges and patience, quite right! Trust me, no matter what those teachers tell you , giving up can sometimes be an option. Put your pencil down; throw in the towel, or your hands in the air. It doesn’t matter. No-one puts a heavyweight together with a featherweight in a boxing ring, except when the referee is a Family Law Judge. Or someone will get badly hurt.                                                                                                  Result: Miserable fail, with written request from Principle of the Universe to make no further attempts at it. Ever again.
  • Divorce: 2008– present -Divorce is not really a test. It’s like a final contractually binding exam set by the Universe to ensure you live up to your promise to leave the subject of Marriage alone forever. Only, none of the things you’ve learnt are on the paper. In fact there is no paper. There is a train track and some rope, and an oncoming train filled with the relatives of your ex, and lawyers. The test is to survive being run over by the wheels of 18 carriages with your ex at the helm… Every day. For a year.  And not be hospitalised, but rather wake up every morning with a smiley face and make school lunches, and you may be rewarded with anti-anxiety medication. But that’s all. There is no accolade apart from surviving. If you do, then with no recuperation time whatsoever, you might find yourself in the midst of a test in…
  • Single-Parenting:  2008–present – This test is one of the easiest and the hardest. It’s like Life Orientation, one of those subjects they invented after I left school, obviously, or possibly it was invented after I left school for a reason, anyway. You can’t really study for it, and its multiple choice. So by the time you’ve guessed thousands of answers, eventually you just start colouring the answer squares in a particular pattern, like flowers or clouds shaped like happy faces, so at least it looks pretty, even if it’s wrong. The problem with this test is the fact that you don’t get your results for 20 years, which are presented after a final tally of children and grandchildren seated around your table for Christmas 2025, and like any multiple choice test, you have a 50/50 chance of doing brilliantly, or failing miserably. Result: Like in cricket, I won’t know until the end.
  • Retrenchment: 2012 – ? This test, being merely a month old, seems pretty easy, pleasant even, as it has eliminated a whole lot of the small daily tests. Like dreading a call from my boss who has already been at work in sunny Johannesburg for an hour, whilst I’m late and sitting in traffic that is moving 7cm every half an hour because it’s raining in Cape Town.  And how to explain to your child that it’s impossible to attend his grade’s Special Assembly at 8:30am on a Tuesday morning even though all the parents are welcome and encouraged to attend and everyone else’s parents are going to be there. No more of that, thanks to the Retrenchment Test. I’m quite sure it’s one of those tests that you think are really easy, but then you look around and see other people crying and chewing their pens, then you notice that feeling in the pit-of your stomach which you get when its starts to dawn on you that you’re probably missing something. I think my clue to the level of difficulty of this one, is the fact that its putting a real spanner in the ease of the single parenting test. I can’t help but think “eat toast and apples for a month” is not the right answer to “Money: What the hell are you going to do now” under the section In The Event Of You Getting What You Wished For.

I think I’m going to attach this to my CV. I reckon it blows any University degree right out of the water.

If I’m going to quote quotes about life’s difficulties, I prefer that one that goes something like. “Wine empties today of its troubles and tomorrow of its strength”…no wait, I just looked it up …its “Worrying doesn’t empty today of its troubles, but tomorrow of its strength”.  

Well, the first one makes way more sense to me anyway, but then again I’m not quite 40 yet, perhaps you need to be older, experience life a little to really get it.

The Things We Do For Love

My son is in a panic. He is also in love. Actually he is in a panic because he is in love. And Valentine’s Day is this week. Funnily enough, in the two weeks leading up to this awful day, he has gone from elation at having had his request to be someone’s Valentine accepted, to despair, at having ‘broken up with her’ four days later, to elation at discovering the very next day that a girl acceptable enough to be considered girlfriend material, has a crush on him, which instantaneously means they are in a relationship. I know all this because I have endured the constant stream of questions, begging for advice on what say to her at school the next day, and what to give her for Valentine’s Day. This last area of anguish shifting with barely a pause for reflection from one girl to the next, and no notice taken of my mutterings of my area of expertise not extending quite that far. In fact I have been less than not at all helpful, with my reply to all of it being “Fer crying out loud child…you’re only ten!” At which he rolls his eyes and clutches his heart dramatically quoting something to do with young love from Cartoon Network.  What advice can I give a ten year old about the intricacies of falling in and out of love? I went to a girls only school and have only sister siblings. I didn’t even talk to a boy until I was sixteen, and with a string of unsuccessful relationships since then (although ‘string’ is too long of a word, I can’t think of a single word that means tiny infrequent bits if string), and the last one resulting in marriage and then divorce three years ago, I honestly have nothing to say about the matter let alone to a ten year old. “Ask your brother” I say. His brother doesn’t want to talk about it. He is sixteen and hasn’t had a girlfriend in like, 6 months, which in teenage years means  ‘forEVER alone’. He just throws his hands in the air and exclaims about the unfairness of being the better looking one and having no-one to give a Valentines hoot about this week. I mock play the tiniest violin playing the saddest song in the world. Which is basically saying “go and cry in your room and come out when you’ve got real problems”.  Not allowing me to deal the death blow to the heart, he rolls his eyes and says “Just my luck that I have to inherit my mother’s luck with dating”. Gasp! I open my mouth to loudly protest, but after an awkward lengthy pause can only meekly mutter a vague apology. “It’s not my fault” I try and explain. “Where am I supposed to meet eligible bachelors not afraid of a single mother and her two sons? And besides, if pigs sprout wings and the cat starts barking and I do happen to meet a guy in the fast food section of Pick’n Pay on a Monday afternoon, and through some shifting of the world’s tectonics plates resulting in a positive energy shroud that urges him to ask me on a date whilst we bump hands pointing at the same already roasted chicken.. What will I say?! Oh yes, that would be great. My kids leave at the end of March to visit their father. How does the first Saturday after that suit you? And don’t get me started on internet dating! That is just not an option, have you seen the weird stuff people write about themselves?” He looks at me with a raised eyebrow, and as a reasonable explanation as to how I knew this wasn’t immediately forthcoming in my mind, I just keep going. “And what would I say on my profile? Single Mom with limited cooking skills, hobbies include berating rom-coms and finding an open bottle store in a dry town on Saturday afternoon. Meagre cash flow. Seeks good-looking man, great with kids, preferably with own X-Box. Knowledge of European football leagues and bass guitar a plus?”. I quickly shift focus as I see him roll his eyes and raise his hands to do the tiny violin which annoys me no end.  “Just make a card!” I snap at the youngest who is now scratching in the cupboards for an old forgotten Easter Egg from last year that he can transform into something love-like. The eldest is now making snide remarks about the type of girl who would accept anything from his younger brother, and I see the evening ending in tears and an abandoning of the week’s theme of love. “Did I ever tell you the story about that one time I got a Valentines card when I was sixteen, and had to stand on stage and have it read out in front of the entire school?” I ask taking a deep breath, ready to sacrifice another tiny shred of dignity for the sake of restored order. “No?!” they utter in disbelieving unison as they whip around in full attentive mode. “What did it say?” smirks the eldest. I sigh and remind myself it’s for the greater good. ”It said;”

 ‘As One Caveman Said To Another: C’mon Baby Light My Fire

I say it completely expressionless, hoping for at the very most, a sympathetic smile. Nope, after a brief stunned silence, brotherly love is restored through exaggerated clutching of each other and amidst howls of laughter they try and outdo each other on best ways to relentlessly repeat the last bit in various voices for maximum parental humiliation.

I was going to follow this on with a story about how my luck couldn’t be that bad if I had just received notification that I had won a competition (another first), for me and a ‘partner’ (non-existent) to go to an open air screening of ‘The Notebook’, on a wine farm (60kms away) on Valentine’s Day (a school night). But thought somehow I would fail to see the funny side… THEY, I mean they..would fail to see the funny side.

Obviously.

Sons as Daughters

I love this quote. I found this on imgfave whilst trawling researching for nothing  stuff on the internet, and I love it. I must admit that I do have the courage, which is clearly evident on school dress up days and I have to do their hair and make-up with tiny pin-prick tears in my eyes. Which Im sure counts as a small part of what she meant.

Money or Nothing (and the kids aren’t free)

I’m sitting in the mediators office listening to my sons’ father smugly tell me that he can’t increase his maintenance payments by the amount I have painstakingly worked out I need from him to cover the costs of two growing sons, since his escape to Pretoria almost a year ago, because his cat got sick and had to be hospitalised. Apparently he is paying off his vet’s bills. I look at the mediator who seems to be taking his job of not taking sides very very seriously. I’m expecting him to leap up in outrage and declare this reasoning ridiculous to say the least, and demand he pay all of what I am asking for after what was surely the world’s worst excuse not to. Instead he just blinks a few times then looks at me. I’m having difficulty trying to find the right response, as I tell myself that I’ll probably lose points by swearing, laughing out loud or using sarcasm, all of which in my mind are highly appropriate responses. I am beginning to regret laughing at the friend who suggested I replace my nerves of steel with knives of steel, “Far more useful, unless you’re on a roller coaster, then you should probably swap them” she had said deadly seriously. This is certainly not a McCartney/ Mills settlement we’re talking here,  for the record, what I’m asking for is just enough to cover inflation, increased school fees and the extra ten days I have the kids every month now that he has absconded almost as far north as he can without actually leaving the country. I’m not asking for Spa treatments or holidays, although God knows he owes me at least that. But we’re discussing his cat, and his monthly expenses which as far as his kids go, is currently half their school fees and a packet of Nik-Naks each. As it turns out, a mediator is not the equivalent of a shared lawyer; he is just a very expensive boxing referee. His job is to say nothing unless one of you gets the other into a verbal (or physical) headlock, then at the end of it, metaphorically raise the hand of the bloodied and bruised winner who contrary to what Swedish song writing has led us to believe, most certainly does not ‘take all’, but rather the dregs of what’s left after vague expenses not excluding a sick cat, which admittedly rhymes a little more awkwardly with ‘loser standing small’. Anyway, I’ve got all the facts and figures with me, which took months to gather, as I am no good whatsoever at budgeting. Although in my defence that’s like drawing the plans for a house when all you have to build it is a single wheelbarrow full of bricks. The money goes in, and in less than the time it takes for me to get the text message from the bank announcing its arrival, half of it has gone, leaving just a one liner on my bank statement to prove it was ever there.  The rest takes only slightly longer than a Cal-C-Vita to dissolve.

The first step to wherewithal budgeting is to exercise restraint, and note every cent you spend, apparently. If this is achieved, you can go on to trade successfully on the stock markets. The restraint part is laugh out loud not hard, when almost every cent is spent on a necessity, and no, I don’t mean absolutely ‘gotta have those shoes’ necessity.  I mean the real kind, like petrol and food and my once a week domestic worker. The closely observing spending part was a little more difficult, but I can do that I think as I stuff another receipt into a ‘special pocket reserved for receipts and other’ in my bag/wallet/jeans. What I wasn’t admitting to was the fact that I avoid at all costs (pardon the pun) looking at the receipt the ATM spits out, let alone where that cash goes. The best thing the bank ever did was give me the option of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to receiving one at the end of a withdrawal.  I can just choose option ’no thanks’, and mentally subtract the current withdrawal to what I think might be left which makes it a less stressful exercise altogether and a much less panic inducing sum if mental maths doesn’t go so far as to include debits of any kind, namely five grocery shopping trips since the last ATM visit.  I did go so far as to buy myself a pretty notebook and a really nice pen though, and felt proud of finally feeling ready and prepared to tackle the Monster of Cash Flow, that was drying up the cash before it had a chance to flow.  Almost immediately after writing down the cost of the pen and the notebook as my very first entry however, the pen disappeared.  I remember hurriedly signing a homework diary and a ‘pink slip’ (which was basically me promising, but not meaning it, to find the time and money to get my son a haircut within the next two days) and that was the last I saw of it. Two weeks later, the notebook is full of shopping lists and To Do lists but apart from the stationery, not a single other expense entry.  With that budgeting option clearly off the table, I thought I could just once a month sit somewhere quiet, and maturely go through the latest statement sent to me by the bank. Finding the time and somewhere quiet was the first problem, but when I eventually found myself outside the school gates 45 minutes early on my day off work, and absolutely nothing to procrastinate with, I fished out the statement amongst the post shoved into my cubby-hole (basically my filing system where everything files itself, in its original sealed envelope exactly as it arrived from the bank/traffic department), then I found an old pen and my notebook to press on. Unfortunately my heightened sense of maturity at finally taking control was instantly curtailed when I saw that on paper, one withdrawal looks just like another and that I would have to rely on memory to be able to balance income with expenditure.  That conversation with me went something like this:

“Rent – check, School Fees – check…Right, so two hundred rand withdrawal on the 4thth. When was that?” Check the calendar on my cellphone. “ A Tuesday?! What the ..oh wait I do remember making a withdrawal to pay for a school outing. Ok that makes sense..so 45 bucks went to school….that leaves one hundred and fifty-five rand. Erm…where’d that go?” Visions of emergency trips to the garage at 7am to buy milk for cereal and bread for school snack, handing over twenty rand for civvies day and the cake sale, or money for a sandwich from Tuck-Shop because the garage was out of bread flashed before me, and right there the exercise was over. There was no order in any other area of my life what hope did I have of bringing any into my finances. Good effort though, I thought as my attention shifted to possible ways of increasing earnings part time as an obvious problem-solver. I re-filed the bank statement and opened up my notebook, pleased with myself for at least having followed advice to carry one everywhere for when good ideas strike. By the time the school bell had rung and bags were being thrown on the back seat and howls of near death starvation complaints meant my time was up, the list looked like this:

Waitress no time or childcare or friendly disposition

Tupperware not bubbly enough for sales pos. (or serious about this one)

Barperson no time or night childcare (free drinks though! = downside serious alcoholism threat)

Strippe

Coffee

Mince

Cat Food

Cereal

Spaghetti

So little progress there then, apart from having the right food to cover the next 12 hours.

But in the interests of what is good and fair, I really tried to get the best idea I could about how much it actually costs to keep two sons alive, and by the time the meeting date arrived, I had managed to put together a fairly impressive looking spread-sheet including back up documentation, thanks to my habit of hoarding old school notices amongst other things in a kitchen drawer. He arrived with a bank statement he had printed out the night before in order to prove his poverty status (after mystery expenses).  Contrary to what one would believe, it was still an extremely tough battle which left me only briefly mildly victorious. And by victorious I mean after three hours of intense negotiations I was not particularly kind-heartedly handed approximately six more bricks, and by briefly I mean that two weeks later he declared via text message any agreement null and void due to some other increased expense not relating to his kids. So again, I am left with not even enough for a complete brick shi  house. Yes, look how easy restraint is… But all that budgeting research, advice and effort only to stay at square one?

What I really needed was the advice to go in there with nothing but a sheet of paper completely blank under a heading  Amount left per month if our children or God forbid our cat gets sick’ and the strength to hold a verbal or (probably ten times more useful) physical headlock for long enough. Simpler. Better. Way More Satisfying.

How Are You?

I’m seriously considering printing this onto 7 t-shirts and wearing one every single day of the week.

Exactly!

Test One: The Sick Child

There is no doubt in my mind that the Universe’s sense of humour is pretty dark. Dark as in The Dead of a Winter Night really. . .here’s why.

I was a “single” parent for 3 years before now.  Manageable single is what I mean by adding the inverted commas, with every second weekend to do sweet nothing (to do with children) and their father a mere four kilometres away, always on emergency standby providing it was convenient, he was available, and had been given sufficient notice. I’ve been an entirely solo parent now, since he moved 800kms (as his the crow flies) for just under two months. Two. Months. That’s hardly enough time to remember that I need a calendar, let alone print one out and write very important things to remember on it.

Ha” the Universe smirks. “You want to do this alone”? ”Well, no actually, I was pretty much forc…” “Pfft.. details! Let’s test the strength of your sanity anyway”….

Test One.

A sick child. A single working mothers worst nightmare. Not beginning on a Friday, when I can be home for two full days plying him with medicines to ensure a full recovery by 8am on Monday. Nope, that’s too easy. The Universe decides to smack my youngest with a 39.7degree Celsius temperature at 4pm on a Monday after noon. Noooo! No .No. Seriously? I’m hoping he’s just really hot from excessive running around and playing. “Do you want to go for a quick swim”? I nudge him as he lies half comatose on the couch, too weak to reach his bed.  “Huhh”…he mutters. “A swim?” I try again slightly less enthusiastically. No response. I manage to rouse him enough to ply him with Ponstel and then leave him to sleep. I almost convince myself that he’ll be fine when he wakes up. 12 hours later he’s vomiting onto my bedroom floor, narrowly missing the clean washing pile waiting to be ironed by no-one. 10 minutes spent panicking that’s its meningitis. The rest of the night spent wondering if he’ll be ok to send to school by 8am. Of course he’s not. At 7am his forehead is hotter than Satan’s. I’ll take this opportunity to quickly mention that my boss is not kind nor understanding, think Meryl Streep in TDWP, only less approachable. In spite of the fact that she has two children of her own, she is possibly less than sympathetic, due to the fact that she also owns her own company, has two full time domestic workers, an au pair and a husband. I lecture myself about my childrens health being my very top most priority and my right to use my three ‘family responsibility’ leave days I get a year, and decide to stay at home. I text my boss. Sweat a bit. Then text the temp.  No reply from either…I get back into bed. I fly out of bed, remembering I have another child that needs to get to school. Crap, another dilemma so soon after resolving the first. I try and nudge the sick child awake to tell him he needs to crawl to the car. I watch him attempt to lift an eyelid and immediately feel stabbings of guilt to the upper chest area. Defeated, I phone my father to ask for help. Thankfully he lives close by and immediately comes over to pick up the healthy child, I slap some jam onto a slice of bread and throw it into a lunchbox with a stale biscuit and off he goes to school. Then I get back into bed. He’s still not better the next day, although he briefly showed signs of being perfectly well, just long enough for me to rejoice that it was just a ‘24hour bug’. By midnight that night  though, he was curled up in ball with excruciating stomach cramps, and I was in a complete panic about the fact that there was just no way I could take another day off work, particularly after finding out that the temp was a no-show the day before.  The upside of being the only employee of the ‘Cape Town branch’ is just that, I’m the only one in the office. There was nothing I could do but take him with me to work, wracked with further stabbings of guilt at this less than ideal environment for a sick child, I still had give him strict instructions to lay low and not make a single sound if I was on the phone, so as to ensure zero risk of raising any suspicion, even though he was still barely able to move his eyes from side to side. On the third day, I did the same, still terrified that I would be caught secretly harbouring a sick child in the workplace. On the fourth day, I phoned my father in desperation. My son was still fighting raging temperatures, and I had a client meeting that obviously I couldn’t take him to, as the risk of losing my job was too great. Not that I hadn’t considered it and run through all awkward yet unavoidable scenarios. Mercifully, my father came through for me, and spent the day with him.

Just in time for the weekend, he had made a full recovery, and was swimming again. Whilst I, instead of sighing with relief at having somehow juggled it all and miraculously kept us both alive, spent it plying myself and my oldest son with Probiotics, terrified that the next test set by the Universe would be that by Monday afternoon, he or I would have caught the 96 hour bug. We didn’t.

Score:

Single Parent – ten points for managing to nurse sick child back to health, keep healthy child functioning, hang on to job and (some) sanity

Universe –  minus twenty on a humour scale 0-10 (with zero being not the tiniest bit funny and ten being knee-slapping joyous mirth)

Play Dating

My experience with dating as a single parent is thus…
…………………………………………………
***crickets***
***tumbleweeds***

Almost biographical if not for the swapped sexes error, misty skyline and glaring lack of children.

Surviving School

Being a single parent at school meetings is mostly manageable. In the case of a class meeting, you walk into the classroom, find your child’s desk and if he/she is still in the Foundation Phase (Grade 1-3), you attempt to squeeze yourself into the miniature desk bench combination without cursing out loud or crying actual tears as you bang the really sensitive spot just above your kneecap on the side of the desk. This is common in non-contortionist parents. Or parents taller than a nine-year old. Once you have successfully resisted the need to yank the leg of your jeans up and thus exposing most of your unshaven leg to check for swelling and bruising, you listen intently to what the teacher is saying about school procedures and disciplinary actions, whilst skilfully avoiding the circulating roster of ‘Teacher’s Help’ commitments.  I don’t feel I should have to explain that I nearly killed myself in traffic from work just to get to the meeting on time, and that although my father was kind enough to pick the kids up from school and aftercare in order for me to attend, its unlikely his generosity extends to shopping for missing supper ingredients and then cooking and serving it and doing homework…. Therefore, it is less likely I will be able to find the time to help out with swimming lessons, watch a class when the teacher is away or sorting the recycling on a weekly basis. Generally these types of meetings are attended by only one parent anyway, so as a single parent, they’re easy enough to get through.

One on one parent teacher meetings is an absolute breeze. Mostly the teacher already knows the situation, and therefore these are a good opportunity to explain away unfinished homework, unfilled Ritalin prescriptions and less than acceptable classroom behaviour with an unravelling less than ideal home situation.  Then race home and ensure that you child has everything complete and packed for the next day, lest he/she gets kept in after school for a quiet little Q&A session with the school counsellor (this must be avoided at all costs to prevent further miscommunications..!)

Recently though, after having moved from one end of the province to another, and therefore changed my sons schools, I had to endure Parents of New Pupils Orientation Evening. X2. One high school. One primary school. Both as awful as each other.  Here’s the scenario. Parents of new pupils gather in a hall. Some are there, because they, like me, have recently moved to the area. Others have lived in the area their entire lives, and have children starting Grade 1 or Grade 8. Further to these groups, are the ones whose third or fourth child is starting Grade 1 or Grade 8, and like to be seen at school as often as possible, with the added bonus of free wine.  The first set of parents are unlikely to know many people if any, but as a couple, they have each other to pretend to talk to. The second set, may know a few people, from probably having gone to school with them themselves, this gathering then doubles as a mini-reunion, and instant play-date arranging opportunity. Bonus. The third set, are the most terrifying. They know exactly how everything runs, who’s who and who’s new, are on every school committee and on first name terms with every single staff member. They sit together at every function and even socialise together on weekends. Eventually their children will marry, and they will become one giant family. As a (painfully shy) single parent who falls into Category 1, this is a Hall of Horror. There are just not enough people to be inconspicuous and not look like a lone lonely loner, clutching a glass of wine and desperately willing someone, absolutely anyone to talk to you. In such instances I will even endure the listing of someone’s child’s previous years Grade 2 Maths test results without glazing over. But to stand there pretending to read the list of prefects  dating back from 1978 on a giant wooden board hanging above the stage for lack of anything else to do and want of doing something is just torture.  To top off this endless evening of social suicide, I got saved and then mortifyingly stranded again in an unfortunate case of mistaken identity. A loud rather crass woman came over thinking she had read my label (yes, gotta love standing alone with a big white sticker labelling your child’s Grade and teacher stuck to your right breast) as being the same as hers. She promptly invited me to a class party she was organising, then peering awkwardly closely at my breast, realised her mistake, laughed slightly hysterically, and then said ‘ Sorry you cant come’…and walked away.  After laughing a bit myself (purely on the outside) whilst surreptitiously glancing around to make sure not a soul had heard that particular (and only) exchange of the evening, I snuck home. Next time Ill bribe a friend to role play as an attentive other half. On occasion, fierce independence can backfire. Lesson learnt.

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