What’s in a Word: Native Americans, Tigers & Gauteng

Photo courtesy of Secret Sunrise Johannesburg's FB page
Photo courtesy of Secret Sunrise Johannesburg’s FB page

I love Secret Sunrise: you get to dance to an amazing selection of music, without: 

a) queueing until 11pm when night clubs open;
b) killing your feet in stilettos;
c) nursing a hangover the next day.

So, when I took my best friend to this Sunday’s first edition of Secret Sunday, I had to laugh when she pulled her earphones away from her ears, and shouted: “Let’s go on a trip”. Secret Sunrise is pretty trippy – just without the drugs. By suggesting that we go on a trip, she actually meant, let’s dance move around through the crowds and explore the space and the participants.

The theme for this Sunday’s Secret Sunrise was “Cowboys & Native Americans”. I didn’t think too much about it beforehand, other than realising that I had no appropriate dress-up garb. So we arrived in our yoga gear, rather than our cowboy boots and hats or our feather head-dresses. If you’ve never been to Secret Sunrise before, I need to explain that each song has an “instructor” who sort of narrates ideas, perspectives or vague instructions for the crowd to follow or to be inspired by (though mostly you can just let loose and dance freestyle, to the music). The first instructor introduced the choice of theme of Cowboys & Native Americans: with all the conflict breaking out globally right now, it seemed a good time to learn from history, to investigate the idea of conflict and to think about how to resolve conflict in one’s own life. When he said the words “Cowboys and Native Americans”, I briefly stopped dancing around the warehouse in New Doornfontein. They sounded strange and my instinct was to correct him. “It’s Cowboys and Indians”, I wanted to shout. It was only a fleeting moment before my intellect overtook my instinct. Cowboys and Indians had gone together like a horse and carriage in my childhood and while I perfectly understood the rationale behind the up-dated version, I simply wasn’t accustomed to it.

Ironically, a few hours later, I was in a theatre watching a rendition of Peter Pan aimed at young children. When Wendy and her brothers fly to Never Land with Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, they encounter a group of “Indians” replete with pigtails, tassled clothes and teepees. The show’s writers had not up-dated the script and the tribe was made to speak halting English, in the present tense, devoid of prepositions, uttering phrases such as “Brave Girl sad”.

It sounded a whole lot stranger than “cowboys and Native Americans”. It sounded like stereotyping and paternalism from another era. And that’s when I realised that the words we use – as jarring or as pedantic as the politically correct versions may seem sometimes – really do matter.

When I begin to recite “eeny, meeny, miny, mo” to my children, I instinctively open my mouth to recite a very offensive word. It has remained in my subconscious since childhood, when I had no knowledge of its meaning – quite literally. Now, I choose the word “tiger” for the alliteration:

Eeny, meeny, miny, mo,
Catch a tiger by his toe,
If he hollers let him go,
Eeny, meeny, miny, mo,

Soon enough, “tiger” will sound as natural as the name of my adopted province – Gauteng. And the “n” word will sound as out of place as the word “Transvaal”.

Being an Exchange Student in Belgium, Assimilation & Brexit

Leaving Belgium after one year on exchange
Leaving Belgium after one year on exchange

Nineteen years ago, I arrived in Belgium as a wide-eyed Rotary Exchange Student. My first host parents were at Zaventem Airport to meet me and I was determined to boldly belt out my well rehearsed phrase: “Je suis tres heureuse de vous recontrer.” Translation: “nice to meet you”, which, I’m sorry, is a whole lot easier than its French equivalent. In hindsight, “enchantée” would have sufficed, but for some reason the French interpreter who’d retired to Plett with her South African spouse, decided to teach me the more sophisticated version…

When I climbed into the back seat of my host parents’  Renault Espace, they had to tell me that it was the law in Belgium to buckle up – even in the back. Seems odd to think back to a time when that wouldn’t be blatantly obvious to anyone, but it wasn’t a reflex to me in 1997.

Up to that point in my life, it was repeatedly remarked that it really wouldn’t hurt me to smile once in a while. At the beginning of my year in Belgium, people commented on my ever-present smile (according to translations from my host sisters). I was in a bubble with nothing but my own thoughts and the white noise of an incomprehensible language, around me and my coping response was to smile. It was possibly more a grin of mild panic, but fortunately it was positively interpreted.

Besides learning the French language, my instinct was to assimilate into my new surroundings in every way I could, although I did not put a word to it at the time. I set about purchasing a pair of hard, heavy, dark brown, Caterpillar lace-up boots – the type that may very well be worn by someone on a construction site. When I returned to South Africa a year later, those boots would stare at me from the back of my shoe cupboard as if to say: “who were you, last year?” I built up a collection of scarves. The French language even has two distinct words for “scarf”. (“Un foulard” is a scarf made of light, silky fabric and “une écharpe” is thicker, longer, woolier, warmer.) I wound my foulards and écharpes about my neck by creating a loop and folding the other side through that loop, as I saw my schoolmates do. I took up smoking, choosing to do so on an Aeroflot flight during a school trip to Russia, somewhere over the Balkans, at some ridiculous altitude. I felt at once high and severely nauseous, but the next day, I pressed on with the pastime. Many illegal Russian cigarettes later, I still failed to relate to the idea of “smoking pleasure” but I was happy to have something to do with my hands whilst trying to follow the foreign conversation going on at break-neck speed around me.

By the time my year-long exchange was drawing to a close, I had managed to fairly successfully absorb spoken French and would imitate the colloquialisms I overheard my family and peers using, so that I could more or less pass as an assimilated foreigner.

Two weeks ago, I flew to Brussels for the wedding of one of my host sisters, Julie. Zaventem Airport, having been rocked by terrorist bombs just months earlier, is now a maze of temporary marquees and heavily-armed, military personnel. Julie had recommended a guest house near the European Quarter, located in the Rue de Londres (London Rd), just off the Place de Londres (London Square). The bar downstairs which hummed with the excitement of the UEFA games until the early hours of the morning, went by the name of “London Calling”.

And then, two days after my arrival in Brussels, Britain voted to leave the European Union. It was in Geography class in Belgium in 1997 that I learned that Britain had joined the European community as early as 1973. And now they wanted to undo 43 years of assimilation with Europe. I thought of my own experience as an ex-pat in Belgium. Sure, when I returned to SA, I shed my Caterpillar boots, never to be worn again, but the moment I touched down in Brussels – as I had on at least five occasions in the past 19 years – there was a tiny part of me that assimilated into my host country once again. My brain switched to thinking in French after a couple of days, I instinctively greeted people with a kiss on the cheek, I felt a little bit at home. I ran laps around the Parc du Cinquantenaire, passing a bearded man in front of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Belgium. Perhaps multiculturalism cannot be detected in each and every English country village and not everyone has a sense of being a citizen of the world – or of Europe, at least. But what of the millions who do?

On the night of my arrival we watched Belgium defeat Sweden in a sports bar in the suburbs. It was the first time I had watched this year’s football and I noted the armbands the players were wearing, with the words “No To Racism”. It’s a word that we confront daily in South Africa, a word that has defined our past and continues to destabilise our present. And now, with the likes of Donald Trump and Brexit, it feels as though it is hauntingly shaping the future of the free world.

 

BPO: Not Just “Birthday Party Outsourcing”

When it comes to child-rearing, I’m in favour of outsourcing if you have the option and if you manage it in a way that works for you emotionally – i.e. it’s pointless to outsource if you’re going to be racked with guilt.

Over the years I’ve outsourced a huge range of activities. I’ve had the luxury of night nurses. I’ve outsourced the making of baby food and had it delivered to my doorstep. Despite numerous attempts at potty training – which are ongoing with my youngest –  my kids were/are more motivated to get out of nappies by their peers and teachers at play school. They are learning ball skills at tennis and playball. I’ve used party planners for their birthday parties a couple of times. On occasion, I may even outsource play-date supervision, cup-cake baking, bathing, hair washing and feeding. I make use of childminders at play areas, my children are members of the Kids Club at the gym and I’m in a lift club for school.

In contrast, I have a stay-at-home mom friend who has never employed the services of a night nurse. She successfully potty-trained her boys uncharacteristically early. She bakes their birthday cakes. And – I say this with love – she is not Martha Stewart. In the tequila-swigging days of our pre-children youth, her domestic repertoire consisted of one chicken dish. But she has learnt to bake for her boys. She plays football tirelessly with them, she cooks the family meals and she doesn’t lift club. Her kids have never been put to bed by a babysitter. Her husband made his firstborn’s mushy food from scratch when he started solids, slaving over the stove on weekends and freezing little ice cube portions. He baths the children every night if he’s not travelling for work and he does Saturday morning extra-murals.

In short, they are not prone to outsourcing. So I could not have been more surprised when they told me that their son was having biking lessons. I’m not sure what surprised me more: that such a service existed or that they had procured it.

I’d made some strides in the biking department: I’d researched to find the lightest possible bike available in SA for children and bought it. I’d vowed to run behind Chiara, holding her upright, every day, until she could ride. But just one lap around our postage stamp-sized pool was back-breaking. I’d enlisted David to do the same but even super fit, flexible, Ironman competitors have their limitations. He’d also finished a lap clutching his lower back. Consequently, this expensive piece of German engineering sat in our back garden and intimidated all three of us.

So when I heard that even the most hands-on parents I know had not taught their son to ride, I put in a call to the Bike Whisperer. He’s a tennis coach when he’s not teaching kids to ride and he arrived with patience, energy and tons of experience. Chiara LOVED the first lesson and couldn’t wait for the next. I felt hopeful. During the second lesson she moaned, she was listless and kept wanting to take breaks. I thought there was a strong chance we’d need to extend our five-lesson package. I chose not to watch the third lesson, but decided that we’d better put our backs into it again – quite literally – and planned a trip to Emmarentia that afternoon. Before we left, Chiara had a meltdown and demanded that we take her plastic scooter bike. We refused.

While David was getting Joe cycling-ready, Chiara and I went ahead to the entrance to Emmarentia. She climbed on her bike, asked me to hold her steady, proceeded to pedal three times and demanded that I let go. Off she went! I could not believe my eyes. She was riding!

BPO – Bicycle Proficiency Outsourcing – has proved way more efficient and effective than I could ever have imagined. And it’s got me thinking: if you can hire a sleep trainer who comes to you, why can’t you hire a travelling potty trainer in Sandton? I’m Googling that now…

Pink mohawk on the move!
Pink mohawk on the move!
Proud new rider!
Proud new rider!

 

 

 

 

 

That Itsy Bitsy Kayla Kid With, Like, 5 Million Followers

Men can often be quite dof but they can also be pretty sharp… When we were at university, my friend had a crush on a male model. (Literally). Her sister’s boyfriend was encouraging the crush, so my friend felt she should show him the competition: the male model’s girlfriend, who was also a model. She duly pulled up a picture of the Spanish schmodel online and said “See? Isn’t she stunning?” He took a good look and then responded by saying that whilst she might be considered attractive to most, he had to point out that she didn’t appear to have nostrils…

My husband’s response to my discovery of Kayla Itsines on Instagram was similar. “How is that BODY?” I wanted to know. “Mmm,” he mused, “great stomach but her legs are too skinny”.

Smart move, babe.

I had no idea who Kayla Itsines was, when I created an Instagram account in January. I was on a mission to shed a few kilos after the holidays and I started following a lot of fitness-type people. The hashtag “bbg” was all over Instagram. In fact, it was so widespread that it became very difficult to uncover the actual meaning behind the acronym – it had become part of the everyday lexicon of approximately 4 million people by then. After some digging, I discovered that it stood for “bikini body guide” – a workout and eating programme that one could purchase online if one wanted to look like Kayla. And one does – want to look like Kayla, that is. Skinny legs and all.

According to interviews, Kayla dropped out of university to become a certified personal trainer. Her rise to female fitness stardom began when she started posting pictures of her clients’ body transformations. When I started following her, I was inundated with “before and after” photos of women in bikinis, underwear or skimpy active wear. There were a fair number of Brazilian-style bikini butts: those bathing suit bottoms that aren’t quite dental floss but that don’t leave much to the imagination either.

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With her beautifully bronzed bod, a name like “Itsines” and a bevy of transformed online clients, posing in next-to-nothing, with the kind of sass that I imagined only South Americans can muster, I assumed that Kayla was Brazilian. Not so: she was raised in Adelaide, Australia, by Greek parents, hence the olive skin and year-round tan.

In my early Instagram days, when I was only following a handful of people, I saw a lot of transformed bikini butts but I also saw a lot of Kayla:

Kayla in itsy bitsy gym shorts with her head cocked to the right:

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Kayla in itsy bitsy gym shorts with her head cocked to the left:

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Kayla’s bicep looking impossibly large for her tiny frame

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Kayla’s bullet-stopping abs:

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Kayla’s bullet-stopping abs sore from “period pains”:

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After a while I didn’t think I could, er, stomach another Kayla selfie… Those legs… those abs… they were just too nauseatingly perfect. (And did I mention that she doesn’t drink alcohol at all, ever?) The interesting thing was, however, that many of her online clients around the world, looked about as good as Kayla in their “after” photos: ripped stomachs, defined arms, toned legs. Obviously, for every successful transformation posted, there must be hundreds or even thousands of drop-outs who bought the Bikini Body Guide and didn’t get anywhere near to achieving their dream bodies. But tons did. And I am pretty sure I know why – besides having an online Greek goddess for inspiration.

In 2006, I was attempting to lose weight for my wedding with Weigh Less. There was a free personal training session up for grabs for the person who lost the most weight in a particular week. I dutifully showed up at the next meeting, climbed on the scale and hadn’t lost a gram, but I was in the fortunate position of being the only person who actually attended the group meeting, so the personal training prize was bestowed upon me. I pitched up at the gym all eager for my freebie workout. Instead, I was subjected to a body assessment (hooray) and sales pitch. The monthly cost was way beyond my budget at the time, but I decided to go ahead. It was a turning point in my life, in the sense that the trainer got me from doing zero exercise to working out at least two or three times a week. Since then I’ve seen a personal trainer twice a week for the better part of ten years. I can recall eight different trainers offhand. (Almost all were good, I just like to mix things up). The thing is, not one of them handed me a nutrition plan and told me that if I didn’t largely stick to it, I would wouldn’t see results. The fact that transformations are at least 80% diet, is not new to anyone, but personal trainers don’t seem to recognise that if they don’t devise eating plans – even generic ones –  and spend five minutes of every session monitoring diet, most of their clients will never see results. In my opinion, personal training in the traditional sense needs to radically change.

As for Kayla’s 28 minute home work-out session, I thought it was devised for people with time-consuming careers, long commutes, no childcare etc. But going for an early morning run in winter is ridiculously hard and even making it to the gym before the school run is a challenge in the cold and the dark. So last week I decided to do Day 1 of Week 1 of the Bikini Body Guide. I was literally stiff for five days..

When Middle-class Kids Need A Weekend in Warmbaths

The only sushi-related foodstuff my kids have ever eaten is wasabi. And that only transpired because Joe was sitting on my lap while we were enjoying a sushi-feast with my in-laws. He was too young to talk but he was not too young to scream and point. Somehow he got it in his head that he WANTED WASABI!!! After his initial glee at getting his own way, his facial expression turned to one of horror and then pain. Suffice it to say that my kids have not begged for sushi since.

I don’t offer them sushi, because, as my mother used to say, they’ll “have nothing to look forward to” later on in life.

I recall once reading a piece by a British journalist who recounted a family holiday to the Caribbean where she and her husband travelled business class while their kids sat in economy. She believed that children should only travel business class if they paid for their tickets themselves. This resonated with me. Unfortunately, my kids are a bit young for this particular lesson. On a recent trip back from Mauritius, we sat opposite (in business class) an older couple whom I later realised had this exact policy in place. They tucked into the champers as soon as their butts hit the seats. She’d packed her pink sleep mask and a stack of magazines and he had a copy of the paper. They reclined their seats as soon as the plane began cruising and looked set to enjoy their good fortune. Our kids, obviously, couldn’t have cared less: the bigger the seat, the better it was for bouncing on; the more buttons it had, the more it could be driven like a bumper car. Somehow the airline managed to run out of kiddie goodie bags and the hostess saw no reason not to give the last bag to only one of our two children. Of course, an almighty feud then broke out on the injustice of it all and who had more rights to the dinky-sized colouring pencils. Eventually, the stewardess came round and whispered that “people” were starting to complain and could our children please settle down? For the rest of the flight, I am happy to report, Joe had one of those poos that sink right to the bottom of the nappy and cannot be detected by a parental eye when you pull the nappy away from the child’s back to assess whether a change was needed. As a result, I only confirmed my suspicions once we’d landed. I am sure the smell would have wafted across the aisle…

When we got off the flight, Derby and Joan from next door were reunited with their teenage offspring, while our two kids continued to believe that oversized seats and extra legroom were entirely the norm when travelling.

The other night, I had dinner with a friend who has a five year old. Apparently, she recently started asking to “go for fine dining”. Date night is now dead and Friday nights are spent at the local steak house with the two kids, for their fill of “fine dining”. Mercifully, our two children still believe that any dining establishment that boasts a jungle gym or jumping castle is more than “fine”. And my husband is an honest-to-goodness fan of The Spur, so fine dining for them is still Sunday nights at The Spur in their pj’s.

Last week on the way home from school, Chiara announced that one of her friends has “never been to Mauritius!” I felt like amusing myself and feigned shock at this fellow five year old who had never had an island holiday. But then I gently explained to her that the first time I had set foot in Mauritius was when I was nearly 30 years old. She looked at me with pity. And that’s when I decided that a weekend in Warmbaths is in order…

Why Group Aerobics Classes Are Sort of Like High School

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I started participating in group aerobics classes about half-way through high school. “Body Concept” – aptly named for its era – was the local gym in George, at a time when it was wholly acceptable to work out in a g-string leotard over a pair of cycling shorts. (At least this was thought to be cool in George, in the mid-nineties.) My high school was hockey obsessed and seeing as I couldn’t really run in my teens – let alone run while connecting a hockey bat to a ball – going to aerobics classes across the road from my boarding school was a welcome escape into the anonymity of the adult world. Or so I first thought…

Because before long, I recognised that the Kingdom of Aerobics possessed all the hallmarks of a high school class – except without the boys. If you were an unpopular instructor, you were toast. No-one spoke to you, no-one wanted to hang out after class and worst of all, group exercise goers would simply boycott your class. If, God forbid, there was a last minute change to the regular roster and one or two unsuspecting souls hadn’t called to double check who was giving a particular class, they would arrive and, the moment they saw the uncool instructor walk up to the teaching podium, they would walk out. The poor instructor might be left with one newbie, or no-one at all, to teach.

The popular instructor, on the other hand, wielded untold power. She commanded a following which would arrive up to thirty minutes before, marking their territory with their sweat towels, thereby staking a claim on their favourite spot on the sprung floor. By this stage, I had found a space off to the side, where I could safely head before every class, not yet claimed by any Smug Regulars who had come before me and who would therefore have held a position of greater seniority than I. Here, in this space on the side, I would be free to break out into a grapevine with confidence.

During my university years, I graduated to the Health & Racquet Club in Cape Town’s Mouille Point. This was the big leagues and competition for spaces in the popular group exercise classes was stiff. We’d arrive, well in advance, and request a numbered ticket at reception. If you got there too late, there would be no tickets left and access to the class would be denied. By this stage, Step Aerobics had gained massively in popularity and participants were expected to be able to move around, over and across, their steps, according to the instructor’s signals. Heaven help you if you moved in the opposite direction to what what was instructed and put yourself on a collision path with the participant to your left. The Smug Regular would then have every right to look at you with the utmost condescension as if to say, “How dare you come to the Advanced Class if you cannot perform at this level?” You would then gingerly pick up your Reebok step and shuffle off to the back of the class, to join the other rejects who were unable to keep up with the routine.

Unlike George, in Cape Town and Joburg, you might get the odd male participant. Amongst these, there were usually one or two who would engage in a “simply Step” routine. This literally means that they were simply present to step up and down. They made no bones about the fact that following a routine was completely beyond their capabilities and so they just stepped for 60 minutes, to great music and a good vibe. Amongst this grouping, one might have come across The Class Clown. The Class Clown liked to try to provide entertainment for his fellow participants. His idea of doing so would be to deliberately go right when everyone went left, thereby creating mock collisions and ceremoniously roaring with laughter at his own joke. He was tolerated by those around him, but not seen as a serious aerobics contender otherwise.

In recent years, after a hiatus of some time, I returned to Step aerobics. I was a little rusty, but felt inwardly that my years of dedication to the cause afforded me certain rights: the rights to a good spot (not right at the back with the rejects), for example, fairly close to the front with a view of the instructor plus a bit of mirror space. But nothing in my years as an aerobics practitioner, had prepared me for Patronising Peggy. Completely unsolicited, this stranger turned to me at the end of the class and told me to “keep on coming and trying my best” since I would “eventually get the hang of it”. I stared at her, in her fluorescent headband. I actually think she may have been wearing leg warmers. I wanted to say: “well maybe if I’d been alive as long as you have been doing aerobics, I would have reached your level of proficiency.”

Long live group exercise with its Smug Regulars, Class Clowns and too-cool-for-school instructors!

Chiara’s Fifth Birthday Party: Eloise from The Plaza, NY

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There is a scene in the Sopranos in which Mrs Soprano tries to coax her teenage daughter out of her moodiness by suggesting that they go into the city and have tea at The Plaza with Eloise. I must have had some prior notion of the legend of Eloise and The Plaza from American popular culture, because Mrs Soprano’s suggestion made sense to me at the time. This time last year, my mom visited my sister in New York and was taken to The Plaza and introduced to the tale of Eloise. She returned with one of the Eloise storybooks and read it to Chiara over and over. For Christmas, my sister’s in-laws gave Chiara a copy of the original Eloise story, published in 1955, with a personal inscription by the illustrator.

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This is a story which for me, is very connected to my mom, and also to my sister,  living far away in New York. It is also incredibly cleverly written and amusing to read and has become one of my favourite children’s books. So it was a natural choice as a theme for Chiara’s 5th birthday party. Here are some classically precocious quotes which encapsulate the book’s spirit:

Eloise is a little girl who lives at The Plaza Hotel in New York. She is not yet pretty, but she is already a Person. She is interested in people when they are not boring.

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Nanny is my nurse. She wears tissue paper in her dress and you can hear it. She is English and has 8 hairpins made out of bones. She says that’s all she needs in this life for Lord’s sake.

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Oooooooo I absolutely love Room Service. They always know it’s me and they say “Yes, Eloise?” And I always say “Hello, this is me, ELOISE and would you kindly send one roast-beef bone, one raisin and seven spoons to the top floor and charge it please. Thank you very much.”

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My day is rawther full. I have to call the Valet and tell him to get up here and pick up my sneakers to be cleaned and pressed and have them back for sure without fail. Then I have to play the piano and look in the mirror for a while. Then I have to open and close the door for a while and as soon as I hear talking and laughing I skidded out and run down the hall… Oh my Lord I am absolutely so busy I don’t know how I can possibly get everything done. Then I have to hop around for a while.

I started the party planning by choosing an Eloise invitation template on Etsy for $10. The designer, Nerdy Fox, is based in Georgia in the US. I placed the order with my custom text requests at night in SA and by the next morning, it was in my Inbox.

Eloise Etsy invite

Next up was inspiration from Pinterest. I basically got the idea that you can quite easily get the theme across just by using the right colours: cerise, black and white plus a bit of baby pink thrown in.

Eloise party pinterest screenshot

Next stop was The Party Spot in Woodmead to purchase all manner of things black, white and pink: from paper straws to napkins to pink and white sweets. I even found a set of suspenders for the birthday girl’s Eloise outfit. This picture was taken when we tried on the outfit a few days before. On the day, Chiara put the outfit on under great duress, before taking herself off to her room after about 10 minutes and changing into a bright orange dress. Not part of the theme, but it was her party, after all…

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Pinterest was also the source of novelty cake options. I narrowed it down to three and Chiara chose her favourite from these:

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Her favourite was this three-tiered cake which I ordered from Helen’s Cakes in Craighall Park.

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I did not, however, specify, dimensions when I placed the order – I only sent the Pinterest photo. When the cake arrived, the driver had difficulty carrying it as it was so enormously large and heavy. It would have dwarfed most wedding cakes, so it did come across as a tad OTT. Beautiful, nonetheless but will be sure to give measurements next time!

I couldn’t resist ordering some Eloise printables from Etsy. I hesitated before buying the water bottle labels because I wondered if I would actually sit there and glue them to the bottles the night before, but Pritt worked well and it went a little quicker than expected. “The Plaza” icon next to the “restroom” sign is part of a set of printables I ordered on Etsy.

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A few days before the party, I popped in to In Good Company in Parkhurst. I’ve learnt to head to The Party Spot first to try to get pretty much everything I need and then just to spend an indulgent hour at In Good Company to check if there’s anything I really can’t live without. I found some gorgeous pom poms in just the right colours. The cerise and baby pink table overlays were purchased on sale for an absolute song, during a previous excursion to the store and they were perfect additions to the Eloise decor.

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I ordered the adult snacks from caterer, Lindi Perrin*, based in Athol, and they were delicious, light and came on beautiful platters, replete with a note for Domestic Goddesses like myself, detailing how best to heat her fare.

Below are pictures of the main party table. The children climbed onto benches next to the table and helped themselves to sweets. My sister suggested throwing in some NY icons to add to the decor. We borrowed Joe’s NY cab (a gift from his New Yorker uncle, Justin), for example, plus some sidewalk souvenirs like a mini Statue of Liberty.

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In terms of party favours, I know kids love them. However, I’m not a fan. If you don’t want to cram your party packs full of more junk food (just what you want in your kids’ laps in the car when you’re leaving a party at 5pm), then you have two options: 1) trinkets from the Chinese markets which break instantly or 2) spend a small fortune on age appropriate gifts. I opted for balloons. The night before though, I discovered an Instax camera which I’d bought for David for Christmas (for “the man who has it all”). A polaroid photograph thus became our party favour. The kids were quite entranced by the idea of an actual hard copy photo coming out of a machine, so it was cute, but it was only a viable option because it was lying in our drawer, with two films already. (And yes, I did have many a puzzled child ask me where the party packs were…)

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If you’re intrigued by the character of Eloise, you can buy a set of four hardcover Eloise books on Takealot (delivery time is 10 to 15 working days). I highly recommend the stories. Oooooooo, I absolutely love Eloise!

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*Lindi Perrin can be reached on 082 572 4060

On Turning 37 & Riding Through Paris In A Sports Car

Me in my gown on my 37th birthday. (rare Mom photo - iPhone was unattended & 4yr old pounced. Doesn't get more real than this!)
Me in my gown on my 37th birthday. (rare Mom photo – iPhone was unattended & 4yr old pounced. Doesn’t get more real than this!)

One of the perks of being married to an older man (7.5 years) and having a fair number of close girlfriends who have already turned 40, is that I feel relatively young when my birthday comes around each year. They’ve already turned 35 or 36 or 38, have complained about getting old and have commented on my relative youth.

In addition, I grew up in an era where having an “older” mom was unusual. My mom might easily be ten years older than her “peers” – my friends’ moms. This gave her the benefit of a decade of hindsight from which to reflect upon how silly it was that she thought herself “old” at 40, or 50 or whichever milestone someone ten years her junior might be celebrating. A lot of her mantras (which I have written about already) such as “youth is beauty” or “you can’t put an old head on young shoulders”, as well as her wise “old” outlook on age, contributed to my view on the birthdays and “ageing”, for want of a better word. I have no issue telling anyone my age – hence the title of this post!

(Sidebar: In SA, in any case, I would probably prefer to leave my age off my CV if possible, because I think that one of the unintended consequences of BEE and/or of being part of an economy undergoing huge transformation, is ageism. It certainly shocked me in the workplace, when I was last part of it – before the Rinderpest admittedly – age and thus experience, unless there was an incredibly intimidating title to match, were mocked rather than revered. But that’s merely IMHO – in my humble opinion).

Yesterday was my 37th birthday. When anyone turns 37 I think about the birthday gift one of our friends planned for his then girlfriend, in celebration of her 37th birthday. Some months before his girlfriend’s birthday, he told us that he was secretly planning to take her to Paris so that she could “ride through Paris in a sports car, with the warm wind in her hair”. Because, of course, he explained, these were the lyrics to The Ballad of Lucy Jordan. (The song became a hit in the year I was born – although it was originally written much earlier – so naturally I’d never heard of it at the time). Lucy Jordan is a frustrated housewife in a “white suburban bedroom” in a “white suburban town” and, alone at home, with the kids at school and her husband at work, it dawns on her that:

At the age of 37
She realised she’d never ride
Through Paris in a sports car
With the warm wind in her hair

At the time, I must have been around 26 years old and this original and imaginative birthday gift left an impression on me. For this reason, I can’t separate my 37th birthday with this song. In some ways, I relate to Lucy Jordan. (I don’t think that there are many stay-at-home moms who don’t miss the stimulation of the workplace). But in other ways, I am so grateful that her wistful thoughts do not at all reflect how I feel as I enter my 38th year. Thanks to David and my very… ahem… extensive “sabbatical”, I feel like I have seen a fair bit of the world. Although travel is wonderful, I quite like suburbia too. At the same time, I recognise that it’s very easy for me to love what most people understandably experience as the shackles of opting for the white picket fence life. I am married to a man who thrives on the idea of adventure and the idea that anything is possible so I suppose I feel that I could leave suburbia if I so chose. (On a practical note, I can’t even get my kids to get into the car by asking once, so the idea of acting as their teacher whilst sailing around the world holds absolutely zero appeal. ZERO.) What I am trying to say is that, as I hit my mid-thirties, I am indescribably grateful to at least feel as though I am part of a very big, very wide world (even if Fourways mentally feels like another country, when I am not travelling) and that if I wanted to drive a sports car through Paris with the warm wind in my hair, I possibly could, thanks to David.

If I really, really wanted to.

But I don’t, really. As 2016 begins, I am grateful to be in my homely home, in a leafy suburb of Sandton. I’ve lived for varying periods in Keurbooms/ Plett, George, Brussels, Cape Town, Rome and London but within a year of moving to Joburg in 2003, I have felt most at home in the City of Gold.

One day I hope that the words “a white suburban bedroom” refer only to the colour of my bedroom linen and are not a reflection of the effects of the 1950 Group Areas Act. 2016 ripped open the wounds of Apartheid like never before. As mortified as I was to be part of the same ethnic group as the likes of Penny Sparrow, at least we can stop pretending that we’re not racist or neoliberal or whatever.

A post for another day, gentle readers. One day, when I am older and wiser. (And possibly a little bit braver).

 

I Carry Her Heart, I Carry It in My Heart

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My mom, reading to me, on Keurbooms beach, circa 1980

A few days after my mom’s funeral in early October, I published an unfinished post about her death, prematurely. When I realised what I’d done, I deleted it and have not attempted to complete it until now. Over the years I have been writing blogs, I don’t think I mentioned my mom extensively. She was an extremely private person and perhaps that is part of the reason. But now that she is gone, I feel it would be impossible to write about anything else, without first writing about her and how much she meant to me.

As I mentioned in my unfinished post, she died of a “dissecting aortic aneurism”. She was nearly 74, and, as far as we knew, healthy and fit for her age. (She looked after Chiara and Joe for a week in June while I joined David in France, for example). So it was a huge shock to lose her so unexpectedly. I have spoken with the GP her performed her autopsy, plus the pathologist who inspected her heart, as well as her own GP, my GP and a cardiologist. She died of something rare and unlucky. We were told that had she been in hospital when it happened, it’s unlikely she would have been saved – once the wall of the aorta bursts, death comes quickly.

The thing about death is that there is nothing more final. It is completely non-negotiable. And so there is little point wondering about what might have been: Did she experience pain and tell no-one and therefore could we have had her diagnosed and saved her life? Had she not been a smoker for so many years (like so many of her generation) would this not have happened? What should I have done differently in the last few months of her life?

There is little point torturing myself with such questions. Instead, I want to pay tribute to her memory.

My mom married her first husband when she was 26. Very tragically, he was killed working as an electrician six weeks later. I imagine that in her life plan, she would have had children in her late twenties. But it was not until she was in her mid-thirties, that she met my father. During those ten years, she nurtured her maternal instincts by spending time with her nieces and her cousin’s young daughters. My mother used to say that she could not understand a woman who did not want to have children. I realise this might be highly offensive to many women and I happen not to share her view, but I write this to illustrate the central role that motherhood played in her own life. I don’t suggest that my mother’s way of parenting is the only way or the best way, but I am grateful to have been the recipient of a woman who absolutely loved being a mother, possibly above all.

In my first job in Johannesburg, I had a colleague in her fifties who must have overhead a telephone conversation I had with my mother at work. She expressed some surprise and longing with respect to how she, herself had been parented. Her conclusion was not that her parents had been bad parents or bad people, but that they had simply not been very interested in their children. I feel incredibly blessed by how very interested my mother was in my sister and I. I think this is connected to what I do miss, and will continue to miss, the most, about her presence.

If I was suffering from the slightest ailment – either physical or emotional – my mother was there to pour over me bucketloads of empathy and support. If I had exciting news to share, she would be the proudest, the most excited, of anyone. On the day she died, I had relayed to our family that Joe had been diagnosed with tonsillitis. Her last message to me was to wish Joe and I a peaceful night’s sleep. With all my spoilings of nannies, not needing to get up and contribute to our family’s income, she still felt my potential pain of sleep deprivation as though it were her own.

I bitterly miss recounting to her every little adorable or amazing thing that Chiara and Joe say or do. Children fascinated her – not least her own grandchildren, of course – and she never grew tired of hearing the tiniest details about their little lives. I think it will be years before the involuntary urge to tell her about something they do or say, disappears.

Shortly after she died, I was reminded of a line from a poem by ee cummings which I think I have not had sight of since high school. There is something a little bit comforting about the notion that one can carry a loved one’s heart, in one’s own heart. The poem is meant for lovers, but it somehow manages to remind me that my mother will always be with me.

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
                                 
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

* My sister, Sylvia, transcribed an “interview” she did with my mom last year, about my mom’s experience as a florist, and her relationship with plants and flowers. She posted it on her blog, Growing On Up, shortly after my mom died.

South Africa Through the Eyes of a Joburg Cab Driver

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Amidst the horror of the most recent spate of xenophobic violence that has gripped South Africa, I wanted to write a positive piece about people, preconceptions and othering.

It is 2003 and I have just moved to Joburg after a year in London and Rome and before that, four years in Cape Town.

Growing up, we made the long trip from Keurbooms to Joburg a few times to visit family and to experience some city buzz. The last time I visited Joburg with my parents I was ten years old. It was 1989 and there was a bomb scare while we shopping in one of the northern suburbs malls. In high school we were made to read some horrific Nadine Gordimer short story involving high walls and electric fences. I forget the details but either the dog or the owner of the dog is frazzled by their own electric fence. The story was set in Joburg. To me, it may as well have been Bogota or Baghdad. A society of such violence felt foreign and far away from the safety of my surroundings in Keurbooms, Plett, George and even, later, Cape Town. Joburg was the wild west. A menacing metropolis that someone from the Western Cape (or certainly, almost anyone I knew) would never imagine living in.

But love is a powerful thing. And that is what leads me to move to the Big Smoke in 2003. I recall a brief conversation with a stranger on a subway platform in Rome. He must have asked me where I was from/ moving to and I must have answered “Johannesburg”. He responded by telling me that it was the second most dangerous city in the world.

Nonetheless, I arrive in Joburg in June 2003 with the contents of a backpack and a boyfriend with a townhouse in Illovo. No job and – more critically – no wheels. I don’t know Hillbrow from Hobart Road and I am going for interviews anywhere and everywhere around the city.

About a week into my arrival, I am to meet a recruitment agent at a coffee shop in Bedfordview. I don’t remember how I get there but I do recall that my only way of getting back is to order a cab. So, after the meeting I phone a taxi company and a driver duly arrives to collect me. In an effort to be very nouveau South Africa or something, I climb into the front seat of his car.

“Look,” my 24 year-old self is trying to say, “we are equal. I’m not sitting at the back like some Apartheid-era Madam!” If he thinks anything of this gesture, he does not let on.

I don’t really recall what we speak about during the drive but what happens next will remain with me forever. We are stopped at a red light and, somehow, he gets started talking to a the driver of the vehicle next to me. They are speaking loudly and animatedly in Zulu.

“Did you understand what we just said?” he asks me as we pull away.

I reply that I am embarrassed to say that I did not. Not a word.

And then he turns to me and says, “And we could have been planning to murder you and you wouldn’t even have known?”

I smile.

And he smiles back.

I feel exhilarated. In that one moment in my first week in Joburg, this taxi driver has laid bare our country’s issues of violence, equality, language, race, class, education and has challenged me to confront them.

I dream that one day, we will all live in that South Africa. A South Africa in which we speak to one another as equals, regardless of the colour of our skins or whether we are expats or refugees seeking a better life here. A South Africa in which everyone feels truly free.

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