Graduation Day

The Great Hall at Wits is an eye-catching piece of architecture; the centre-piece in a world-class educational institute, and a reminder of an era when Johannesburg was once a young city. Within its walls students celebrate their coming of age and the achievement of their degrees. Hopes and dreams of careers as Doctors, Lawyers, Scientists, Engineers and the like, are imagined within these walls, as that significant piece of paper is handed over. The culmination of years of hard work is celebrated with families, friends and loved ones during the prestigious graduation ceremony.

A mother’s heart is filled with hope when gazing into the eyes of her new-born baby for the first time. Hope that they will be happy, hope that they will be loved, and hope that they will be successful in whatever they set out to achieve in life. When I first met Craig, he was fourteen years old: a typical teenage boy. He was outgoing and loud, occasionally self-centred and messy, and had a tendency to share way too much information. He was confident and funny, the type of guy that most people just liked. He was always surrounded by friends, and loved being the centre of attention. He was good at rugby and swimming, and he worked hard to remain at the top of his game. Academically, he did well, but it is fair to say that he probably could have worked a lot harder and achieved a lot more. (I think all parents say this of their children at some point!)

It has been a great privilege for me to watch this boy develop into a young adult, and to have been part of the journey to this high point in his life. And although I have not been there from the beginning of Craig’s life, my heart is still filled with the same hopes for him: love, happiness and success in all things, always.

On Tuesday morning, we arrived at the Wits Great Hall to share Craig’s graduation day with him, to mark the end of his studies and celebrate the beginning of his career as a Lawyer.

Our hearts swelled with pride, and our eyes welled with tears as his name was called (with distinction!) to come and receive his Bachelor of Law degree. To have graduated Cum Laude is a fantastic achievement.

This is not the first graduation of his that we have attended, as he attained his B-Com 18 months ago, but the Law degree was always the big-ticket item: the main degree he was setting out to achieve. So for all of us, getting the Law degree signified the end of his studies. When Craig expressed an interest in studying law, Gary suggested he do a B-Com Law Degree, so that he had general business knowledge as well. And although he hated every minute of it, he persevered and got his B-Com too. Craig worked harder than I have ever seen him work before on his Law subjects. He spent hundreds of hours locked away in the study during exam time, slogging away till the early hours of the morning, living on coffee and bio-plus. His chosen field of study has certainly been a natural fit for his gregarious personality, his love of history, and his penchant for watching the crime and investigation channel. His Cum Laude degree is well deserved, and testament to the incredible amount of effort that he put in to achieve this.

There is no doubt in my mind that Craig will achieve whatever he sets out to do in life from here onwards. I am so very, very proud of him, on Graduation Day and always!

Love you my boy! xx

My children from another mother

I don’t think any little girl daydreams about being a step mom. They do have a terribly bad reputation after all, especially considering how the Cinderella story ended up.  And it certainly was never on my bucket list. But here I am; step-mother to two grown up “children”, who came into my life courtesy of the man I love.  I often get asked by friends and other people what it has been like. (Sometimes people I don’t even know, when I mention that I have two step-sons). I always say that it has been okay. We have good days and bad days. Like parents of one’s own children, I guess.

I know a few people who are in a similar boat to me, second marriages, step-kids etc. But the main difference is that they are all every second weekend step-moms. No full-timers. Big difference it seems. Every second weekenders do only fun stuff, and never seem to deal with the day to day living together issues. They become the cool step-parent. Not the piss-us-off step-parent.

The boys were young when I met Gary, 12 and 14 to be exact, and definitely in the throes of being moody teenagers. I often joke that I am grateful that they were not girls, as boys are somehow easier during this torrid, hormonally volatile age. I was young too. All of 28, and certainly did not have a clue on how to be a parent, and having children was not exactly on my agenda yet. I am also not the easiest person when it comes to being affectionate with people, or letting people into the complex space that is my head and heart. So to say that I embraced my step-motherhood with open arms would be a blatant lie. After all, I didn’t grow up in a household where saying “I love you” every five minutes, or talking openly about one’s feelings was the norm. At best, I have stumbled along, and have learned to love these boys, albeit sometimes at a distance. I have tried as well as I know how, within the walls that I have built around me, to be an okay step-parent. I do consider them as my family, and would never change the fact that they are a part of my life. I do sometimes wonder if it would have been easier if they were both ten years younger when I met them. It certainly is easier to endear oneself to a toddler, than it is to a teenager. And vice-versa!

In the early days of our relationship, Gary’s ex caused a fair amount of shit trouble for us, as exes are often wont to do, especially when children are involved. Every second weekend, the boys would spend time with their mom, and we would have to deal with sulks and mood swings. I even met up with her once to have a chat, which ended up with her telling me things like I will never be their mom, and that I must never expect the kids to love me, because they won’t, and that they will never listen to me etc. It was an interesting meeting to say the least, and I will admit that I did feel somewhat jaded by the whole process.  I did even for a brief moment consider walking away from the relationship with Gary, as I was not sure that I was up for all the baggage I was about to have explode on my doorstep. (Lucky for me, she left the country about 2 years into our relationship, and these days, she even sends my kids Christmas presents. A total 360 from that first meeting. As they say “time heals all wounds”.) I was too young to be a mother of teenage boys, who were already some-what jaded and broken as a result of the divorce. But I believed in the relationship enough to stay, despite sometimes being completely out of my depth. And kids can be manipulative, nasty things. They can also be kind and sweet and loving. I can safely say I have experienced both ends of the spectrum.

It’s a funny thing being a step-parent. And the family dynamic that ensues is very different to that of a “normal” family. Sometimes I feel excluded, like a third wheel, like an intruder in Gary and his boy’s happy threesome. I have sometimes struggled with what my role should be in the boys lives. A friend? A mom? An authority figure? A role-model? To be honest, it is complicated. But maybe it’s just me. My inability to let people get close to me, to let people into my thought-processes. I am sure that if I had had children of my own, before becoming a step-mom, I may have approached things differently. It is not that I have been crappy to the boys, in fact it is quite the opposite, but I know that I am definitely guilty of not letting them get too close. Or maybe doing enough “mommy” things for them. I know that I can be hard, and uncompromising, and children need a little bit of slack sometimes. I only fully realize this now that I am a mother of my own children. I have never gotten involved in disciplining or deciding what was right or wrong for the boys to do. That is not my place, that is their father’s role. I often bite my tongue when I am angry with the boys for something, but maybe I should be letting it all out, as that is what a “normal” parent would certainly do. It is easier for me to cocoon myself away and avoid dealing with stuff. I hate conflict, and would rather bottle up my emotions than have to actually let people see my weaknesses. So there are times when our relationship is strained. And there are times when it is good too. But I guess that also applies to being a “real” parent. Right?

As the boys have both become adults, I am proud of what they have achieved. (Craig is a lawyer, who graduated at the top of his class, and Stuart is busy completing his engineering degree). I have watched them grow from boys into men, and I can honestly say I would never change my situation for all the gold in the world. They are intelligent, confident young men, who occupy a very special part of my heart. I love the fact that they love my babies, Alex and Caris, unconditionally, and they will always be there for them, and that they have embraced these two little people who also compete for their father’s time and affection. They are great boys, and I am fortunate to have them as my family.