BIRTHDAY PARTIES – A FRENZIED AFFAIR

Is it just me, or does everyone find birthday parties a mad rush.   Tali’s eighth birthday celebration turned into a  roller coaster.

It was supposed to be fuss free,  we had it at a venue for that reason. And as per usual, the latest craze for kids was served up as the main course. This time round it was Emoji’s. My daughter is at the age where everything technology (from tablets, to phones to computers) is all the rage. She’s become adept at  sending and receiving whatsapps with Emojis.

Tali also loves – as do most little girls – painting her nails. And so its was with much excitement that she agreed to a nail salon as the venue for her party. Admittedly Emoji’s and a nail salon are an unlikely pair. Not so when the nail polish has little shiny emoji’s’ embedded in it.

And so my only job for the day would be to supply a few eats and a bit of decor for the space. The plan was helium balloons, a large Emoji cake, a few Emoji biscuit pops, party favours, stylized cups and paper plates and voila – Emoji party. I would relax with a cappacino served by the salons waiters and engage in chatter with family and friends. Wow could anything fall further from the plan.

Lets start with the night before. Expert fondant roller granny arrives to cover the cake. Its around 5 in the afternoon and a large yellow pancake of fondant lay beautifully on the counter ready to be flipped. I bring my freshly baked cake around for the flip. And “snap” – just like that the electricity cuts out.  AAAAAAH. We wait a few minutes. Nothing goes back on. We wait again, and again. Its late. We fold up the fondant. Granny heads home to bake a few more cake treats for the party. My heart begins to sink as I watch valuable time slip away. All the other eats will not be finished on time. Hummus, baba ganoush, zacusca, falafels, biscuit pops etc etc stand about incomplete. My sister Ros arrives for her customary cup of tea to console me. She stays until 10 when the lights go on. I roll the Emoji out again. Its winter and for fondant lovers, we know that winter is not kind to fondant. Its not kind tonight. The fondant gets flipped with my sisters help and cracks around the edges. It feel  just like that fondant – about to crack. Its very late. Ros heads home. The lights go out again.  On. Off. On again like some evil game of ping pong. Defeated, I put the unfinished cake away in the dining room and close the door to ward off any curious little people. Its past 11 and I begin melting chocolate for biscuit pops. I’ll fix and finish the cake in the morning, I think.

Morning hits. Sean is away on a Harvard programme in Rwanda. I am alone in the milieu of party day. I take Tali to school.  School ends at 1:30 and the party starts at 2:15. So Ellie (4) and Zara (2) stay home to avoid any pick up delays. On my way back  from drop off I call a caterer and organize 2 platters at astronomical prices.  I get home. The kitchen looks like a bomb exploded with a whole bunch of half made things. Sharon, my nanny, asks me to look in on the cake as somethings happened. TERRIBLE. JUST TERRIBLE. Ellie found the  cake and dug into the fondant, pulling out pieces to consume. I cry. I sigh and call my mother.

Expert roller granny arrives with a new batch of yellow fondant. The party is now costing a small fortune. We save the cake in the nick of time. My brother arrives to do the cheese platter and help load the car. We fly to the venue to set up and fly home to change. Tali’s home, family’s packed in and its 2:15. We’re still on the road and Tali screams “I’m late for my own party”. We pass guests along the way and meet others as we enter the salon. At least most of the eats are on the table.

I breathe and settle down.  The Beauty Box Northcliff salon is amazing. They’ve spelt out “happy birthday” in rose petals for Tali. She loves it. Twenty kids have mani’s and pedis and a blast. I drink cappucinos and wait for the treatments to end. Parents begin to arrive and the treatment hasn’t ended. It goes on and on and one dad begins to look very irate. We sing happy birthday, dowl out emoji ball party favours, pack up and leave.

“Thank God its over and thank God for family” is all I think as we leave. I’ve pulled off enough parties to know that they require planning. But I now  know, that pulling off even the simplest of parties requires a specific state of mind – the state of mind that plans but also holds the expectation to adjust expectations. Its a metaphor for life. I realize that curve balls  can pitch up at any time in life – the way to deal with it, is to go through it calmly and still enjoy yourself at the party.

 

FATHERS DAY ???

I sometimes wonder at the necessity of Fathers Day, or Mothers Day for that matter. Now now, please don’t shoot me you avid supporters. I just think that retailers, big business have sold a concept to us, and like suckers we give them our money.

 

Yes, fathers are important. In my family, dad is a very special person. Firstly, he’s the only boy in the house. He doesn’t love pink and purple with all his heart, he brings a special kind of security to his girls and he loves them to bits, plus he always shops for pretty princess things.

 

Granted, this should be celebrated. He should be made to feel special. But in truth, my girls do this all the time. On many days they run screaming “DADA” into his arms, when he arrives home from work. He always has precious artworks made especially for him. He always gets invitations to dance – which man doesn’t want that kind of attention from a sweet smiling girl.

 

My girls give Sean love and attention daily.  And shouldn’t they? After all, he didn’t become a father the night before Fathers Day.

 

And yet, we keep Fathers Day in our house. I think we’ve done it because its the staple Sean and I have been raised on. Maybe we’ll stop when the kids are old enough to understand and agree that their home made gifts are more special than shop bought ones. And their shows of affection are more appreciated if given throughout the year.

FAMILY HISTORY – THE STORY OF YOUR CHILDREN

Today, my 76 year old mother in law told me the poignant story of the passing of her beloved father. I listened in awe – not so much because it was a harrowing tale, but more because I was engaged in a process that people have been engaged in for millennia. I was listening the history, the oral history of our family. This was the story of where our family comes from and more specifically where my children come from. It is  – in a sense – their story and they are one of the characters. They continue to write it as it unfolds through their lives.

 

I have always loved history and consider myself the family historian. I have an old worn out green box, that belonged to my grandfather (I think), where I keep photographs, birth, marriage or school certificates, funeral leaflets and letters, precious letters, of people that belong to me. I love the feel and smell of them. It is as if I am reaching back in time and touching a long gone era. My oldest photograph is dated 1914,  some 103 years ago. I’m not sure of the identity of the people, and work on tracing them.

 

My great grandmother, Rowena Blanche Adams, came from St Helena island in her late teens to find work in South Africa. So many letters and postcards to her, from her family on the island, are now treasured in my tired box. It is their story – their joys and tragedies. Her own is one of bravery. I dont know if I would have the fortitude to leave home alone and carve out a new destiny in a new land, with the knowledge that I might never return or never have contact with my loved ones again. This was an age where whatsapp, email, instagram and facebook were not thought of. She went on to have more than 10 children without the comfort of her own family around her.We are told that some very sad things had befallen some of her children. In her later years she fell and hurt herself and chose not to walk again. This from a woman who had braved so much. I wish I could ask her questions.

 

One day I will share my box with my children so that they can learn their own story – what had happened before their part was written.

BLUE WHALE APP MADNESS

 

Sean and I recently attended a talk by Brad Huddleston, writer of the book Digital Cocaine. He spoke of the many side effects of digital addiction prevalent in everyone with access to technology, from 3 year old kids to adults. He said that one of the  common side effects of this addiction in kids and teens was self mutilation – cutting. I took this information in with a sense of disbelief and shock!!!

 

But this mornings news report on the Blue Whale App just made all of it a reality. The Blue Whale App was designed for kids (particularly vulnerable kids) to lure them into following the instructions in the game. They are given 50 days to complete perverse acts. These include watching horror movies, cutting and posting pics to prove it. The last act is suicide – the idea that a whale has beached itself and dies.

 

Perhaps most disturbing, are the stats. To date 130 teen suicides in Europe are linked to the App. My first thought is how could these kids be so gullible. But the designer is reported to have said that he is cleansing society, as teens who do this, would not be any use to society.

 

Predators are purposefully using social media to hurt our kids. Its sick.

 

I  think educating ourselves and our kids is part of the solution. But it will take a combined effort – from government intervention, to schools driving awareness and tech companies commitment to end the scourge.

 

Still I’m not sure whats more shocking, that a game like this exists or that kids are falling into its trap. That kids follow instructions on a screen to the point of death – that ones on us. We bear the responsibility to stay connected to our kids, to stay vigilant, to stay prayerful and to acknowledge digital addiction as a reality and a threat!!!!

 

Read more here

ONE PLATE AT A TIME

I am nowhere near the super mums of our time – the ones that have galvanized their whole homes into perfectly working ecosystems in oneness with the planet. I’m trying, and it takes a lot of time – time to label read, to unlearn, learn again and to make different choices.

 

In the homes of some of these mums, they eat organic whole foods (many of them pick from their own gardens). They use glass – only glass, they drink purified water, they only drink water!!!!. They bant or graze or???? They live in sugar free homes and their kids embrace it. They consume hormone free milk and free range poultry. Their breakfasts and most other meals are gmo free. They wear pure cotton or pure wool. They only use organic soap, shampoo and bubble bath. They use bicarbonate of  soda or aluminium free deodorant on their arm pits. They use clothe nappies and they gym as a family. They use natural medicine. They switch the wifi off at night and they recycle. Phew !!!! I’m exhausted just reading it all aloud.

 

They read labels – oh yes!!! And they KNOW stuff. They know how the processed foods and all the chemicals make the brain tick, the body grow and the hormones do what they’re not supposed to. Shoo they know … and they put me to “agha shame”.

 

Ha !!!!! I mean we still do junk food. Writing this makes me feel like I’m telling a nasty secret. And while I’m confessing, I might as well tell you that my kids love sugar. We try to keep our home “sweet free” on ordinary days (which are weekdays and weekends) but it only lasts until granny comes to visit. They even call granny the “sweetie shop”.  I give my kids hot dogs for lunch. Broken down into content language, it is nothing more than processed chicken on a carb with little or no nutritional value. Some super mums I know, give their kids hummus, cucumber and biltong for lunch or smoked salmon with slices of tomatoes and cream cheese. Like wowsers!!!!!

 

We’re not there yet!!! We do set out healthy snacks in help yourself jars of biltong, nuts and whatever is trending. We use a water purifier and drink plenty of water. We recycle. We also try to use natural products on our bodies.

 

We do plenty of fresh fruit and veggies. I buy them old school from a green grocer – where there aren’t any labels. So admittedly, i don’t how they’re farmed.

 

We avoid processed foods. We do make a point of buying hormone free milk, free range eggs and try to go organic as far as possible. We steam our veg and oven bake our proteins on most nights. When oil is needed we use olive or coconut oil as our first choice. Why – because I agree – food content is not what it used to be and the human body is not made to consume processed food and chemicals. I believe all the rubbish we consume will show up adversely down the line, in our health.

 

But hey the conflict is that a wrap can’t substitute a home made roti and rye bread cant substitute a fat cake. Baked sweet potatoe strips with a grilled piece of meat can’t replace a Russian special seasoned with masala and a dash of vinegar from your local Akhalwayas. Yum!!!  Yes I know it’s bad for your health. There goes that ‘nasty secret’ feeling again.

 

So what do I do to give my family optimal nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. I take it in stages, one  purchase and one plate at a time – while I label read, unlearn, learn again and make different choices.

 

OUR FAMILY RITUALS

Our family has so many rituals. Some are – when you come to think of it – unusual. Like pickle fish at Easter time or home made ginger beer at Christmas or spicy syrup and coconut koeksusters on Sundays. I know this is tradition among different cultural groups in South Africa or common to them all. And there is always competition, albeit whispered discreetly behind cups of tea as to whose is better or whose is down right awful.

 

Our family (on my mother side) has wine sauce with Christmas pudding. It’s yum and I’m yet to find another family who does the same. Okay, okay, don’t lambaste me if you have its famous recipe treasured in your family’s December memories. My aunts used to set aside a day to bake a wide variety of biscuits every December before Christmas (pinched date cookies – never seen them anywhere else). And the same cookies would only make their appearance once a year.

 

My husband and his five siblings recall fried rice, roast potatoes and chicken as the dinner time meal for every birthday.

 

My mum in law turned seventy six in the week. The family came together for pot luck. And as usual, the family favorites arrived hot and delicious. Aunty Ursula’s Lesagna and Oumies cheese, spinach and chicken pie. And of course fried rice, roast potatoes and chicken.

 

And then there’s that photo that everyone forgets was taken and surfaces years later to show kids smiling around the birthday cake. It’s so nostalgic to look at them years later and think of something special from your past.

 

I love family rituals so much. We’ve started our own. Sean takes a walk with the kids late on Saturday afternoons to hire a movie for the evening.

 

We go out for dinner with the extended family on the kids birthdays and have a party for their friends on the following weekend. They get to choose the theme, gran gets to roll out the fondant and I get to spend hours icing the cake to their exact specifications.

 

My kids take it in turns to lay the table every night in the style that they want. Sometimes the plates and glasses are piled high in the Centre of the table. Other times it’s orderly and the layer of the table gets to tell everyone where to sit because it’s their turn and their idea.

 

We never started all of this intentionally. It just flowed naturally from the mixed masala of personalities that make us us. Rituals are unusual things – they have the power to create a strong sense of unity, togetherness and identity. And all of these will turn into memories that we cherish and give us a sense of where we come from and who we belong to.

PREPARING OUR KIDS FOR THE FUTURE WORLD OF WORK

Today I’m thinking about what we can do to adequately prepare our children for the future.

 

My husband and I certainly feel that we’re not doing enough. The world is changing at an unprecedented pace that has never been seen before.

 

Technology is the driver and our kids are in the back seat of the car, instructing the driver to go left, right or straight ahead. And where are we parents in this high speed journey? We’re running behind screaming: “hold on, wait for me… “We should be on the back seat helping to navigate.

We attended a talk on Raising Young Talent for the New World of Work. It was hosted by parenting expert – Nikki Bush, Generation Y speaker – Raymond de Villiers and Sameer Rawjee of Googles’ O School, at Henley University, earlier this month. We left overwhelmed but with a better sense of what to consider for the future of our kids.

 

I took away these learnings:

 

  • The world will continue to change at a rapid pace. This change is brought on by technological development – our kids should be adaptable, resilient and resourceful to meet its demands. They should embrace the constant change of the digital world.

 

  • Schooling as we know it, is not adequately preparing our kids for this future. Grades at university and schooling will not be  chief indicators of our children’s capabilities. Their talents together with an ability to innovate will be.

 

  • Parents can and should gear their kids up to navigate this fast approaching world, by encouraging creative thinking –  out of the box thinking. Creativity in young children is stimulated through free play and approaching the world with curiosity.

 

  • Parents should teach children not to fear failure, but accept it as a necessary part of their success.

 

  •  Professions in law, medicine, finance and many others will change fundamentally. Parents too must change thoughts of traditional work to ones that fit with the coming world of work.

 

  • When your children speak to you about what they want to do in the future or in current extra murals and subject choices at school – LISTEN! Their desires are chief indicators of what they enjoy (what they may be talented in) and what they may thrive in later on.

 

It’s a tall order, but Sean and I will work at it purposefully in our parenting. How we parent will negatively or positively affect our children in the future. After all we’re raising adults.

 

NOTE: Diagram in featured image is from the book: The Future of Work by Jacob Morgan

PLAGUES OF PASSOVER – REAL OR IMAGINED

 

I haven’t been on line for a while because of that ever present challenge – coordinating the lives of so many people as they go on vacation and return to their play, school and work careers. So hullo everyone, i’m back – or rather we’re back. I am merely the story teller of the happenings of this South African family in Gauteng.

We spent our holidays in Hazyview. There’s nothing that can replace it in the city – the milieu of bird song that breaks the still morning. The azure skies that beat themselves against the rise of green mountains. Mpumalanga is amongst South Africa’s finest destinations.

Yes, there’s nothing that can replace it until you bring 4 kids under the age of 8 on holiday with you.  Our first holiday as a family of six. I still get mildly alarmed at that large number.  You feel it when you pack and repack your car. And then you realize that you’re not quite organized, because if you were you would’ve been on the road two hours earlier as planned.  We celebrated Passover on our first evening at the Hazyview Cabanas (watch out for my Review on the Cabanas, coming soon). As usual, at this time of year, our kids are all talk, song and dance about Moses and the exodus. So when Ellie was hunting for the middle matza and screamed “FROGGGG!!!!!!”, everyone thought it was a trick. We really did. It’s not beyond my kids to joke like that. So you can just imagine how that chalet was in an uproar when we all clapped eyes on the real Kermit. The kids met his presence with a combination of shocked fascination and disgust. In the middle of it all, Tali quipped: “Ellie, you better stop singing those plague songs. God is sending the frogs”. It was hilarious. We jumped and screeched every time Kermit lunged into mid air.

It should’ve all ended after he was shooed out the door. But alas no. Kermit and two of his cronies paid me a visit late that night on my way to the kitchen.  I flicked the light and there they were, just hanging out on the floor.

I think I would’ve lost my mind if I found them on the counter tops or worse still in my glass. Can you just imagine, looking down into your water to take a sip and seeing Kermit’s eyes looking right back – as he ready’s’ himself to leap into …. Yuck! Egypt’s plagues just took on a literal experience. Once again Sean shooed them out while I tap danced in horror!

To bed we both went and just as we were about to sink into sleep, Tali came to our bed…. ai life with kids. Sean took her back in the darkness. He flicked the torch on his phone to light the way and there was Kermit.Tali freaked out. She calmed down after we assured her that he couldn’t harm her and we’d get him out. Truth be told my inner child was freaked out too.

Turned out this frog was just jumping up against a closed door – who knows the reason. I can only think it’s because he believed he could push it open. At 1am anything is possible – intelligent frogs breaking in to chalets to hang out in the kitchen and visit sleeping occupants. Aaaaaaaahhhhh!!!!!!!!

Later that afternoon I was sitting outside. Tali asked “mum aren’t you afraid?”, to which I replied: “Tali, you can’t live in fear”. Her response: “yes you can, what if He sends blood”. I was speechless, who can speak when you’re so busy giggling.

We took our magnificent tour of the Kruger Park. We saw the Big 5 minus Simba which was disappointing, given the fact that my kids were looking out for Pride Rock.

But what we did see as we turned a corner was a startled elephant. The giant got a fright and started toward our Volvo at a fast pace. He was angry and he was flapping his ears. Sean reversed the car quickly while the rest of us held our breath in terror. My 2 year old kept pointing with loud shocked expressions interjected with “brrrrr”. My darling can’t say elephant, to her he’s just a brrr. The brrrr turned around and walked down the road. We kept a safe following distance and he walked. And he walked….walked and walked. We followed him for about 45 minutes. By the time he sauntered off into the bush it was getting dark and we knew we wouldn’t make it to the gate before it closed.

It got dark – very dark. We were surprised to see the Park come alive at night. From a mum and baby rhino crossing the road, to hyenas laying beside it. But it was when an impala almost ran into our car, that the girls believed that God had sent the plague of wild beasts.

That it was night time didn’t help – this time God had sent the plague of darkness. We eventually got to the gate at 8, two hours after closing time.  In spite of being weary and wary, we had a marvellous time being plagued. Whether my kids truly believed that God had sent the plagues or whether their imaginations were wreaking havoc – I remain in awe of their interpretations.

MUMMY, WHAT’S PROTEST ACTION?

We received a letter from the principal of my daughters’ primary school yesterday. He wrote of how the board considered closing the school on Friday in light of the expected widespread protests against the president’s cabinet reshuffle.

 

He told us that learning would go on as usual because the school did not associate with any political group. However, he went on to say, the school would respect the decision of parents who chose to protest with their children. He stated that the school would use this as an opportunity to engage learners on issues around protest action. In other words, they would use it as an opportunity to educate learners (at their level) about the demonstrations.

 

Should we be teaching our little people about politics? Are we not politicizing our kids at too young an age? Are we teaching them a culture of unruly behavior, of rebellion?

 

These are hard questions but we have chosen to discuss it with our 7 year old. We want her to learn that she has a voice and she can use it to express her opinions. Her opinions matter, both her assent and disagreement – even with her leaders. We want her to learn that her disagreement can be a tool to effect change but that it should never be accompanied by destructive behavior.

 

So in the conversation with my daughter yesterday, I explained that people march because they are unhappy with government. “Government, I thought it was because of the president that they are marching”, she said. I thought I was teaching her. But right there, was a lesson for me. The lesson that if I don’t teach my children, someone else will. The playground or some or other influential person will teach them how to perceive the world. Most parents would agree that not having control over what your kids take in, is placing them in harm’s way.

 

It also came to me that what we teach our kids about protest action will determine what kind of citizens they will become in future. And that’s all the more reason to engage them in the discussion now. We engage them to make sure that we raise involved concerned citizens. We do it to mould our children into conscientious leaders (different from our president) who understand that in the counsel of many there is wisdom. We do it teach them that their VOICES MATTER!

 

WHAT MY CHILDREN SHOULD KNOW ABOUT AHMED KATHRADA

My husband and I had the privilege if meeting Ahmed Kathrada 2 years ago at a book signing. I wish our brief exchange could have been my idea of a good afternoon – one drinking tea and gleaning wisdom from this man. It was with  sadness that we heard of his passing on our way to school in last week.

My 7 year old asked “whose that mummy?” My first response was simple, “he was a freedom fighter”. And then when asked again to explain “freedom fighter” I told her that he stood up against apartheid because it was wrong. And a flurry of questions and conversations followed on why he was called uncle Kathy and did he know Nelson Mandela and and and…

I can’t help but think that my description was somewhat paltry.  How do I break his contribution down sufficiently to bring an understanding to a little person, without it losing its essence, its importance, its enormity. How do I explain that his sacrifice more than 40 years ago has directly impacted her life.

There are many parts to the story of apartheid. But, after considering the life and death of Ahmed Kathrada, I think the most important part of the story for my daughter to know now, is that this was an ordinary man did great things.

He became great because he did extraordinary things. These extraordinary things were not related to scientific or technological invention, or inroads in commerce or research or any other human achievement that is lauded as great in the world. No, what he did was the greatest of them all – he stood against tyranny for the cause of others and did so at the peril of his own freedom.

In a child’s language – he found that he could not accept injustice against himself and others. He decided to do all that he could to stop it. He decided to fight for the freedom of everyone. He didn’t know if he would win the fight…. he fought anyway. His sacrifice was great, he even went to jail. He lost much and couldn’t enjoy life. But years and years and years later everyone else could.

And then I will teach her that she too can and must stand up for what is right, she too must serve others and not expect a reward. I will teach her that to live like that is to live a noble and great life.