Four…

My little girl who loves to laugh, how on earth did you actually just turn four? I blinked my eyes and the bump in my tummy has turned into a big girl, seemingly overnight!

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{the morning you were born}

You complete our family with your belly laughs and your deep-voice singing, with your conversations (with yourself) in Greek and your crazy giggles.

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You have gotten so tall, but you are still so little. You love to hug your bunny and teddy at bed time, and you shush your baby dollies to sleep in your arms. You love playing with teeny-tiny things, colouring in and painting. You adore shiny things, sparkles and anything pink! “Making a mess” is your middle name, and a meal well-enjoyed is usually all over yourself by the time you are finished eating.

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You have a thing for shoes and hand-bags, a girl after my own heart. Your lips are always shimmering in lip-gloss, and your tiny nails are often coated with lacquer (preferably pink). You are our little lunatic who loves to dress up and sing to yourself (usually made-up songs.) You love to swim (and impressed us hugely by going from not-even-putting-your-face-in-the-water to swimming-across-the-pool from one day to the next!)

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You are full of life, and full of mischief, and you sometimes challenge the limits of my patience and my parenting skills. I love you with all of my heart and I am so glad that you are my little girl.

Happy birthday my baby girl, don’t ever stop being you!

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Growing up…

There is a scene near the end of Mary Poppins that always causes a lump in my throat. I have seen the movie many, many times, both as a child, and recently with my own children. In the scene, Mary is having a conversation with the children while she readies them to go and fly kites in the park with their parents. The children plead with her not to leave, and question whether she loves them. She replies “And what would happen to me, may I ask, if I loved all the children I had to say goodbye to?” Gets me every time.

I always wonder if school teachers feel a bit like this, as they say goodbye to their class each year. I think about how sad all the children are to say goodbye. Change is so hard when you are only little, but they manage to move on so quickly. I know it must be sad for the teachers to say goodbye too, despite their hard Mary Poppins-like exteriors.

Alex was very teary towards the end of grade R. The thought of going to “big school” frightened the life out of him. He kept telling me that he wasn’t ready. Grade R had gotten off to a rough start but ended up being a really wonderful year. His teacher, Georgia, was phenomenal; she had the right balance of toughness and nurturing to help Alex grow and thrive. She was absolutely amazing when he broke his arm and handled him so gently and kindly. Alex loved Georgia. So naturally, saying goodbye was very hard for Alex. He could not contain his tears when he hugged Georgia goodbye on the last day of school. A few days before Grade one started he pleaded with me to take him back to Grade R so he could be in Georgia’s class again. But saying goodbye and moving on is all part of growing up. (He still pops in to visit Georgia after school whenever he can!)

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We had many teary upsets during the December holiday, and anxiety about school starting. The first day of school arrived, and dressed in his brand new uniform, we joined the scores of parents seated in the hall with their little ones. Excitement at seeing all their friends after the long break helped soften the anxiety that everyone was feeling in their hearts. Lumps were in every parent’s throat as we waited for the classes to be announced.

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Once the excitement of the selection was over, the kids all settled down in their class-rooms, and it was time for the parents to leave. Alex looked up at me with his big blue eyes glistening. We were both fighting back tears. His eyes pleaded for me not to go. My heart broke for my baby boy, he suddenly looked so small in his over-sized uniform. But I left, and he was fine. The second day was worse, and he was fighting back tears on the way to school. But that too passed, and each day got easier.

A few months have passed now since that first day, and Alex has really become a big boy. He is physically taller, his hair is shorter, and his face has lost the toddler chubbiness. I’m not going to say that grade one has been a breeze so far, because it hasn’t been, but he has slowly found his way to feeling comfortable in his skin again. The school day is longer and the break periods are shorter, but he comes home happy most days, despite having homework to do when we get home. He is learning to read and do maths, and received full marks for his recent maths and spelling tests, so he is definitely coping with the workload and the new school routine. He loves bringing interesting things to Show and Tell  on Wednesdays and enjoys the days they have sport after school immensely. He still has some trouble making new friends, and just fitting in, in general, but I can see the confident boy inside him lurking much closer to the surface than it has ever been before.

His new teacher is nice, and Alex seems to like her, but gone are the days of the nurturing, loving pre-school teachers, who chat to you every day and end up being your friend by the end of the year. It’s different now, they are on the Big-School hamster wheel, that is spinning way too fast for my liking. Communication with the teacher is limited to a quick hello in the mornings, as Alex usually rushes out of the class by himself in the afternoons as soon as he sees me outside. It’s sad really, that the days of our children being little are so very short. It seems like just the other day that we were walking into the pre-school for the first time, and its already over three years ago!

Before I know it, Grade One will be over, and we will be dealing with the changes of the next phase of Alex’s school career. Play-dates and toys will make way for school sport matches and homework and assignments, and soon the short pants of primary school will become the long grey ones with blazers, preparing our baby boy for wearing suits to his jobs one day. I want to scream “Stop, this is all going too fast!”, knowing that nothing can stop time from marching along relentlessly.

I am enjoying watching Alex grow up and change as each new phase passes. I would be lying though if I said it wasn’t breaking my heart in the process.

 

 

On her first year of school… and moving on…

The first Year

I haven’t said much here about Caris’ first year of playschool, for no other reason than not particularly having much time (or inspiration) to blog at all. But now that the year is done and dusted, I feel the need to reflect on what was an incredible year.

On the one hand, I was more relaxed about sending her to school for the first time than I was when Alex was little, as I had been-there-done-that before. But on the other, I was nervous as hell, because Caris doesn’t really take to new people that easily, in fact she used to even be reluctant to stay with her own grandparents!

So at two and a half, we packed her little butterfly bag and sent her to school.

butterfly bag

So let’s start at the beginning.

Her first day was an absolute disaster. I didn’t like her teacher. (It is customary at her playschool to spend the first day with them.) I do not say this lightly, as clearly one day is not enough to get to know someone. But I am pretty good at reading people, and I did not get a warm and fuzzy feeling. She was aloof and disinterested in my child, and considering that Caris started two weeks after the rest of the class as she was new, the teacher should have theoretically been able to give her a bit more one-on-one attention, which she did not do. I did not like the way the teacher handled disciplining a boy in the class that was having a meltdown and in general she just made me feel uncomfortable. Nobody even bothered to show my kid where the loo was, I had to take her. (She was newly potty trained and I was mortified at the thought of her having an accident.) And then about ten minutes after play-time, one of the kids in her class was brought in by the gardener bawling her eyes out, as she had been left outside; the teacher hadn’t even checked that everyone was back. I was not exactly filled with confidence that she would be the nurturing, caring teacher I had hoped for.

Needless to say, Caris spent the entire morning sitting on my lap, despite all my efforts to get her to mingle. I was devastated as Alex had been at the same playschool and his first day (and year) was amazing. (Albeit with a different teacher.) Another little girl had started on the same day, and I could see that her mom was feeling uncomfortable too, and I even assured her that it was a lovely school and that the class was clearly just experiencing teething problems that day.

I left the school with a heavy heart, and by the next morning I had decided she was not going back to school. I then requested a meeting with the principal and explained why my daughter had not returned, and what my issues with the teacher were. After pretty much refusing to take my child back to her allocated teacher, despite their “give it another chance, she really is an excellent teacher” pep-talk (and threatening to take both my kids out of the school), they agreed to move her to another class. And no, I am not normally a high-maintenance mom. (Incidentally, I met the other new mom in the parking lot the next morning and she was sitting in her car crying because she had left her daughter there that morning. As we got chatting, she had all the same issues as me, and wanted to take her daughter out of the school. Later I learned that she had taken her child to another school. I felt like I had dodged a bullet!)

So on the Thursday, we had a redo of the first day of school. Day one with her new teacher was amazing. I had intended to spend the day with her again, but within ten minutes, Teacher Tina had taken her outside to see the bunnies and I could go. I felt comfortable the minute I had walked into her class, and immediately knew that this was the teacher for my Caris! Little did I know that she would end up being the most amazing teacher I have ever met. (And also confirmed my belief that a child’s schooling experience is 100% related to the teachers they encounter along the way.) My little girlie blossomed and grew so much in Tina’s class over the course of the year.(Daphne, the assistant teacher, and Irini, the Greek teacher were absolutely fantastic too.)

Tina not only looked after and taught our little people, but she loved them and nurtured them as if they were her own. And as parents, she became our friend. Each Friday, she shared photos of our little ones in the class whatsapp group, allowing us glimpses into the daily activities of our little ones.We all became very attached to Teacher Tina.

One of my favourite images from the Teddy-bear picnic day:

CarisTeddyI could not have asked for a better start to my baby’s school career. At the end of year group ring, Tina’s palpable emotions let us all know how special our little ones had been to her too. And I know that all the other moms in the class felt the way I did too, we were all very emotionally charged as we said our goodbyes on the last day of school.

As a parting thank-you, I wrote Tina the following note that conveyed how much she had meant to us during the year. I can only hope the remainder of Caris’ school career is filled with other such amazing teachers.

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Moving on…

The end of playschool has left a heavy burden in my heart. Change is never easy, and the transition has been very hard on Caris. And me. The pre-school is so much bigger, and more hectic, and being separated from her original class and Tina has been very stressful. (Luckily she is in the same class as her friend Ciana, who is walking with her in the photo above!) She has pretty much broken my heart every day at drop-off, by clinging to me and crying inconsolably, and refusing to go to her new teacher. (Something she has never done before.) I know in my head that it will get better (and already she is less reluctant) but that doesn’t stop my heart from aching. I miss the days of dropping her with Tina, easily. I have some solace in the fact that the other little ones are also struggling to adjust, and it is completely normal for her to be experiencing some anxiety.

So hence we start the next chapter of Caris’s school career.

I can only hope that it will be even half as happy and wonderful as her first…

caris first day of grade 000

 

 

 

Breaking bones

Around 11 o’clock last Tuesday, I was in a meeting with limited cell phone reception. A message suddenly came through announcing that I had 9 new voicemail messages. Excusing myself, I listened to the messages, 5 were from Alex’s preschool. All the messages went something along the lines of “Hi, it’s Gina again, Alex has fallen and hurt his arm quite badly, we need you to come and get him!”, the urgency rising in her voice with each subsequent message.

I got to the school as quickly as I could, but driving from Bryanston to Senderwood late morning holds a ton of traffic along the way. I got to the school 45 minutes later. The poor boy was sitting in Pre-school reception with his teacher, clutching his damaged arm. The accident report said that Alex had fallen off the monkey bars on the green jungle gym at 10.45 AM. The teacher had wrapped his arm in a splint and an ice pack. His eyes were swollen from crying, and as soon as he saw me he started to wail. And I started to cry too. The teacher that had seen him fall appeared out of nowhere with a glass of water and some rescue remedy. “Drink this, you’re going to need it!”

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(As luck would have it, Gary was away in Knysna playing golf. He also discovered a few voicemails on his phone from the school when he came off the course at around one.)

I got him to casualty as quickly as I could, trying to navigate pot-holes and speed-bumps along the way as gently as I could. There was no parking at the hospital and I ended up parking at the ass-end of nowhere. Luckily a golf cart was on hand to take us to the building, and the driver kindly organised me a wheelchair to take him down to casualty. They rushed us through as soon as we got in, as it was evident that Alex was in a huge amount of pain. By this point he was screaming like someone had chopped his arm off. They gave him some pain killers (2 x 25mg Panamor and 2 x 250g empaped) but they didn’t even take the edge off. He must have cried for 3 hours solid before he literally passed out from the pain. (Side note: I saw his paed the day after, and after looking at his x-rays on the hospital system, he was completely surprised and annoyed that they hadn’t given him morphine in casualty! On a positive note, there was no damage to his growth plates.)

The x-ray revealed that he had broken both the radius and ulna clean through about a centimeter from the wrist. The bones were close to having pierced his skin. He needed to have surgery to fix it. His arm was buckled into an unnatural position.

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We then got taken to the ward and waited for the surgeon. The surgery was scheduled for 4PM. He was very scared at the prospect of surgery, and kept begging me to take him home. It was absolutely heart breaking, I felt so sorry for him, and sorry that I couldn’t take his pain away. The doctor manipulated the bones back into place under anesthetic and had to secure the bones with wires, which they put in through the skin. (Which are incidentally removed in 4 weeks time under anesthetic, by literally pulling them back out through the skin. Ouch.)

We were eventually discharged just after 7PM, with his arm in a half cast and sling. What a day!

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On the bright side he wasn’t in a lot of pain anymore, and managed to have a fairly good night’s sleep. He even insisted on going to school the next morning, and was quite the hero amongst his peers. (Caris, however, was completely horrified that her brother was broken and couldn’t stop crying when she saw him. Sweet girl.)

Yesterday we went to have the half cast removed and a hard one applied. (The poor boy has been like a caged animal for the past week, and all he has been wanting to do is run and be physical!) He was so excited to go to school today so that his friends could write and draw on it. I am amazed at how quickly he seems to be recovering from what was a very nasty break. Even the orthopedic surgeon remarked that children have an incredible ability to heal and just get on with things.

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Case in point: playing soccer in the garden with his sister, cast and all!

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When a child dies

On Sunday the 31st of August this year, the weather was really crap. We had arrived in Ballito the Friday before for a one week break, and as luck would have it, or not it seems, the weather was revolting: overcast, windy and freezing. We decided to take the kids to the beach for a walk, despite the cold gusts lashing at our faces.beach

There were hundreds of dead cuttlefish laying on the beach, along with a weird brown scum on the waves. A very strange occurrence indeed. Alex spent ages picking up discarded cuttlebones to add to his shell collection.

On the way back to the car, Alex and Gary were far ahead of us, Caris and I were dawdling, chatting about the beach and looking at the succulents growing on the sand dunes. A woman walking with her teenaged daughter smiled at us, and for a moment I stared at her face, trying to place where I knew her from. She just kept on smiling, almost as if she too was trying to place me. I didn’t know her, but she looked so much like a friend that I had known in high school, someone I haven’t seen in person in over 20 years. Someone whose gorgeous children regularly appear on my Facebook feed. It was a very weird serendipitous moment.

The next morning, while browsing Facebook, my timeline showed that this old friend was being tagged in a lot of posts, most preceded with “sorry for your loss” and “RIP”. After visiting her profile and reading the many, many posts, I learned that her young son, Joshua, had been killed in a motor cross accident. He was only 10 years old.

For a moment, my heart stood still and I shed tears for a child I did not know in person, for a fellow mom whose heart had been irreparably broken. For a dad who has lost his son.

My timeline is still littered with images of this beautiful boy and posts offering condolences to his grieving parents. My heart jumps into my mouth every time I see one. My heart breaks all over again. I wonder how they are coping. If they will ever be FINE. Through the facade of social media they seem so strong: Thanking everyone for their support, and posthumously praising their beautiful boy’s worldly achievements. I do not think that I would have even one single ounce of the courage and strength that they seem to have. I can not even imagine how painful this process must be for them. How painful it will always be. I have tremendous admiration for these two incredible parents.

Losing a child is the most unbearable thought, something my brain refuses to compute. I feel paralyzed at the thought of losing one of my children. It is something that is just not normal. I don’t think that the age of the child matters, losing a child is something that no parent should ever have to experience. It is the single biggest fear that I have.

I wonder if the posts that people write help console their broken hearts, and if the kind words of others are helping to heal a wound that will surely never heal. And if by knowing how many people loved and admired their son makes them proud of the boy they raised. I hope so, as I have written some of these posts too.

Rest in peace beautiful Joshua.

 

 

Six

My darling Alex,

Six is not a very big number.

It is the number of legs on an insect or the largest number of dots on standard dice.

Six is half a dozen; or the most harmonious of single digit numbers (if you are into numerology.)

According to Winnie the Pooh, it is when we get CLEVER! (And you are so very clever!)

Alex baby with poem

If you are in the mood for mathematical titbits, six is the only number that is both the sum and the product of three consecutive positive numbers. A Cube has six faces, and a six sided polygon is called a hexagon.

A guitar has six strings, and the Star of David has six points. (Although according to you, a Star of David is not a real star, because a real star only has five points)

In Astrology, Virgo is the Sixth sign of the zodiac. (And happens to be your star sign!)

Six is also the number of years that I have been a mom. I still cannot believe that six years have passed since you made your way into my life and into my heart. Six years that have changed my life in the most indescribable and incredible way. Six of the best years of my life.

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But despite six not being a very big number, it is so very, very big.

You have grown so much this year between 5 and 6, both physically and emotionally. You have blossomed from a shy and sometimes anxious little guy into a confident, rambunctious boy. A boy who seems to have transformed from a baby into a big-boy overnight. A boy who can fetch his own food, and swim by himself, and asks questions that are way beyond his years. A boy who has lost six baby teeth, and is getting so, so tall. A boy who loves running and swimming and being outside. A boy who looks after his sister, and makes sure he always holds her hand in a busy parking lot (or on the beach). A boy who loves to wrestle with his older brothers, and lick their faces while pretending to give them a kiss. A boy who loves animals and wants to be a vet when he grows up. A wild animal vet, to be specific! (And thinks that the solution to saving the rhinos is to kill all the hunters!)

A boy who will be going to Grade 1 next year. Big School.

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A boy who doesn’t really need me that much anymore with each passing day.

A boy who LOVES dragons.

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And yes, you asked for a Night Fury Dragon cake this year …

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This growing up thing is bitter-sweet. As much as I want you to be independent and do things for yourself, the thought of you not needing me anymore breaks my heart. Even Daddy said that at your party this year he felt like you never really needed us to be there. You played and ran and laughed with your friends, and it was the most beautiful thing to watch.

You are the most kind and caring boy, with an infectious laugh and the sweetest smile.

And to quote a lyric from a Styx song: “Don’t ever change, stay as sweet as you are…”

I love you my boy, forever and always.

DandA

 

 

 

 

 

Moira

I heard your voice in a supermarket the other day, Moira. I turned around, really expecting to see you standing there. The woman who the voice belonged to regarded me quizzically while I stared at her face expecting yours to materialize. For a moment I forgot that you are dead.

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There is no light way to say that. It is what it is.

Dead.

A young life snubbed by a disease no one ever wants to encounter.

Cancer.

I haven’t seen you in person in more than ten years, as you emigrated to Canada ages ago, but I remember your smile and infectious laugh so clearly. And how you used to put your fingers on either side of your tummy when you were pregnant with one of your boys to block their ears if someone swore nearby. You loved your two precious boys, Calvin and Julian, with all your might.

Facebook kept us in touch over the years, albeit superficially. Liking each other’s statuses and oohing and ah-ing at each others’ growing children’s photos. And then Gary was diagnosed with kidney cancer and you told me about your headaches and needing to go for a brain scan. It was nothing really, you said, and that you had tried everything to make the headaches stop. Drugs, physio, nothing helped. So the MRI was a last resort. They found a massive lump in your brain, which turned out to be cancerous. They operated, removed all of it, and you were in good spirits, and then some belated post-surgery complication a while later knocked you for six.

Dead.

It has taken me a few months to digest this, and write this post. Gary’s cancer was still very much an open wound when you died.

Dead.

Just like that.  I still have the last email you sent me; you were so positive: the headaches were gone, you were feeling stronger. Telling me how you had (almost) beaten cancer. You were commending me for being strong during Gary’s ordeal, encouraging me to be positive, even after the huge ordeal you had been through. You were going for radiation and joked about them frying your brain. You were struggling to sleep, but remained so upbeat, despite the doctors also having found lesions on your liver. So positive. Oblivious of the ticking time bomb in your own body.

And then a few days later I saw a mutual friend’s Facebook status: “RIP Moira.” And I was like “WHAT!” A few emails later confirmed the unthinkable. You were gone. Your boys were unmothered.

I think about your boys often, wonder how they are doing without their mom. (One of my biggest fears is dying while my children are still young.)  I think of your husband, I wonder if he feels lonely, or sad, or if he is angry at you for dying. I’m sure they all miss you more than anything. How does a child get over their mom dying prematurely?

I also think of how closely our lives were intertwined for those moments: Gary and you both dealing with cancer.

I still cannot process the fact that you are dead. It rips my soul apart every time I think about it.

Young people shouldn’t die.

Moms shouldn’t die dammit!

RIP Moira. (May God hold you safely in a special place.)