Left-Brain Overload & Right-Brain Reignition: A Personal Up-date

I should have been a man. I am a terrible multi-tasker. I HATE juggling lots of balls at once. I like to focus on one thing at a time, finish it and then change focus. And I am a terrible, terrible procrastinator. Only my mother, my father, my sister and my husband understand how bad my procrastination truly is. I am sure I should hire a coach or a hypnotist or a psychologist or a fortune-teller or someone to help me confront this problem but quite frankly, I don’t feel like it. Right now, I just feel like there are too many puzzles to build, places to see, play-dates to be had, books to be read, interesting courses to study, friends to have dinner with, runs to go on, for me to want to dedicate time to learning about the implementation of anti- procrastination techniques. Perhaps one day I’ll feel differently but so far, in my life, I have never been a fan of following methodologies. I don’t say they are not good or they don’t work – they are just not for me.

And so for the last two months my focus has been on passing a first year Microeconomics test, passing my very first university level Maths test and passing the Ecos exam. During that time I also expended an enormous amount of energy 1) stressing about the latter 2) waking up in the middle of the night with anxiety in my chest stressing about not having really begun preparing for the latter 3) finding hugely important domestic and administrative tasks to attend to (some of which I had procrastinated doing for two to three years) to avoid studying for the latter.

In short, it took me back to my boarding school days where I would leave studying for tests and exams to the 11th hour and would then go and cram for them by lying in an empty bath after lights out until the early hours of the morning. (Lights out was a strict policy but the bathroom lights remained on all night so this was a cramming method employed by myself and other, fellow crammers. (Remember that, Busi Roberts? I can still visualise us cramming together in the middle of the night in Std. 9).

I had exactly four weeks between my Maths test in late May and my Ecos exam in late June and I VOWED beforehand that now that I was 35 years old, I would no longer procrastinate and I would calmly study daily for 4 weeks.


Just before my exam, my amazing husband agreed to help with the kids (together with our amazing weekend nanny, Thembi) while I holed myself up in The View Hotel in Auckland Park for two nights prior to my exam. All I can say is, thank God for David who has been supportive of my desire to randomly study commerce subjects “for fun” – both in principle and in practice. Despite everything I have said about the type A stress that I bring upon myself when I study or work, it has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in recent years. Yes, I’ve hated it at times, but overall I’ve absolutely loved it and I am so grateful for the privilege.

So that is why I have felt “unable” to blog over the past two months or so. I’ve loved the challenge of engaging my under-used left brain but I’ve also very much missed the right-brain stuff like writing my blog and reading books. It feels really good to be back in this space. To kickstart things I took part in a blogathon at The Common Room in Parkhurst organised by Elance on Thursday evening. I almost pulled out when I saw the topics which were very much geared towards freelance writers and on which I had very little insight and zero experience. But it felt good to sit down and write, to meet professional writers or part-time writers, to log-in to my blog again and to start thinking about blogging and writing again. It also prompted me to finally do something about the writing course gift voucher that my sister gave me for my birthday (in late January – oops). I am booked and will be attending next Monday. I am told to bring – wait for it – a notebook and pen. How cute is that? My handwriting is so atrocious I can barely read my own shopping lists but it’s at Croft & Co in Parkview and I do love a good excuse to visit Parkview (and Croft & Co, quite honestly). My mom went to Parkview Junior and Parktown Girls, my grandparents and my mom and uncles were members of the Anglican Church in Parkview for decades and the suburb has retained a pretty and interesting main drag – the likes of which have largely been decimated by shopping malls, high walls and complex living.

And, of course, David pranged his car in Parkview on an evening in April 2006, a couple of hours before proposing to me in Scusi Restaurant…

It’s now 5:30 and I can hear Joe chatting to himself over the monitor. Time to go and warm up his bottle on this lazy, family Sunday morning. Adieu, gentle reader. I will be back in a few days to blog about losing 11kg since mid-March and all that good dieting/ food stuff I am so obsessed with.

The Trouble with Teenage Study Buddies

During orientation week at UCT back when I started my first year, there were loads of fun activities arranged for non-res. dwellers: parties every night, trips to the beach, walks up the mountain, etc. There was also a series of important sessions designed to enhance academic success at university, such as tours of the library, for example. When one of the very cool third years in charge of O-week, reminded us Freshers about a beach activity taking place the next day, I – nerd that I am – pointed out that it clashed with computer skills training.

“Wahahahahaha!” he laughed. “Who needs computer training? Come to the beach, man!”

My campus street cred. (if it ever existed) evaporated as he shouted this across the large group of first years. He then hastened to add:

“But I do suggest that you go to registration.”

And that was when I gathered that if Mr Cool was urging us to be present at registration, it must be an important event.

Fast forward 16 years later to a couple of weeks ago on campus at Wits. Because most students at Wits Plus lectures are working full time, it was hard not to notice a guy who looked alot younger than the rest of us, who frequently arrived at 5pm lectures dressed in shorts. His attire led me to gather that it was unlikely that he was gainfully employed so I surmised that he would be flexible during the day. All of this led me to earmark him as a potential study buddy.

So one day I went up to him and introduced myself. He was indeed under the age of 20 and unemployed. Why then, wasn’t he a full-time student?

“You see, what happened was, when I arrived at Wits at the beginning of the year, they’d given my place away.”

That didn’t seem fair, I empathised.

“I know!” he replied. “I mean, I missed registration but I was in Cape Town. I was on holiday. I wasn’t, like, going to come up early for registration. You know what I mean?”

Totally, dude. Like, fully. Who’d cut their Cape Town holiday short for registration?

Perhaps I should’ve taken this as a warning sign, but he was available during the day, he lived in the Parks… these were key factors in his favour, I rationalised.

I decided to find out more about my potential study buddy. It wasn’t hard:

“I had a contract to play provincial rugby after school but that was before my accident…I know, you’re thinking I don’t look like a professional rugby player but I used to gym every day. But now I don’t play rugby so I don’t do gym anymore, ’cause what’s the point, right? But at least it was really easy for me to get into varsity – I didn’t need too many points because I’m previously disadvantaged. Because of my accident. Basically, I’m black.”

At this point I don’t know whether I am speaking to a teenager with a mild form of brain damage following an accident or a kid who looks pastier than Prince Phillip himself but who reckons he’s black and might have actually ticked that race group on his university application form.

Then he wants to know how old I am. I tell him I am 35 and he informs me that I am 5 years younger than his mom. Awesome. (And, as I tweeted at the time, my husband and his dad are exactly the same age.)

Nonetheless, we exchange telephone numbers.

The next day, I’m at my desk, busy with an Economics tutorial and I’m unclear on a few things. I’m conscious it’s 8:30am and I’m doubtful whether a 19 year old who only has lectures that evening, would be awake at this hour. So I text him. And then I wait. And wait. And wait.

At about 10am I get a missed call.

“Sorry,” says my study buddy, “I was watching rugby.”

We discuss as much as we can over the phone but it’s not ideal so we agree to meet that afternoon at 4pm after lectures. It’s his idea. He says he’ll be in the library from 3pm.

I fly into the Commerce Library just after 4pm, having dragged myself away from a screaming Chiara begging me not to go to “letchers”. I scan the desks for my study buddy but there is no sign of him. I figure he’s running late and I start working while I wait for him.

An hour and a half later it’s time for our lecture to start and I head to class. Still no sign of my study buddy.

The lecture starts and the penny drops. He’s not coming. It’s a non-compulsory revision lecture on a Friday night before our test the following Tuesday.

The next morning I arrive for our Saturday morning Maths lecture and run into my “study buddy” having a cigarette outside the building, looking a bit rough.

“I’m SO sorry about yesterday!” he exclaims. “I started drinking in the afternoon and …” His voice trails off and he smiles sheepishly.

I have subsequently found myself a nerdy, female, Actuarial Science drop-out, studying third-year Economics, whom I employ on an hourly basis to tutor me.

I guess it’s as the Economists say, “there is no such thing as a free lunch”.

Who Needs Maths Anyway?

When The Sister was trying to get a job in consulting in London along with thousands of other bright, motivated grads from all over the world, she was subjected to some first round numeracy tests which are designed to separate the numerically gifted from the rest of us. She had higher grade Matric Maths and a major in Economics behind her but despite this, these little tests were nasty. So when she beat two Oxbridge candidates in a final round group interview and landed her dream job in consulting, she was relieved that her future was not, after all, going to be determined by a mini Maths test. The subject of her e-mail to announce to her nearest and dearest that she’d got the job, was: Who Needs Maths Anyway?

Apparently, I do.

My very first lecture as a mature student in Economics last night began with this little hand-out:

How good is your understanding of Matric Maths? You may think you are a Maths whizz (and good for you if you are) but if you struggle to answer any of the following questions with your current understanding of Maths, you are going to struggle with the Economics 1 course material. These are examples of the type of Maths problems that you need to be able to solve in order to pass this course…These examples are considered easy for the purposes of passing this course.

He then “whizzed” through an hour of “easy” examples. Not only, did I not find the examples easy, I understood close to nothing. Nada. Niente. Rien du tout. It was absolutely traumatising. I wanted to jump out of my seat and run out of the lecture theatre, get into my mommy car with it’s BABY ON BOARD sticker, race home and be faced with problems that I understand, like why The Princess has a tantrum when I tell her she can’t have another biscuit. Things that my brain can rationalise and process and relate to. Suddenly the frustrations of being a stay-at-home mom seemed so much safer than getting my head around the derivative of a function. The worst part was that I sensed that this was not difficult stuff. It was just impossibly, unfathomably difficult to me.

The good news is that I am married to a Maths nerd. And by Maths nerd, I don’t mean someone who was pretty good at Maths at school. I mean someone who did all the Maths problems in his Matric text book the summer before Matric began. For fun. As you do…That kind of Maths nerd. And one who has a University major in Maths.

The bad news was that if I asked him for help, it would be blatantly obvious to him how little I knew.

But it was also blatantly obvious to me that if I didn’t get help, I would fail the course.

And so, this morning, while The Princess watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, The Husband started explaining last night’s Maths problems to me. And very slowly, I realised that the material was not entirely impossible to comprehend. It might not be my forte, but with the right help, I hope to get my head around it.

The moral of the story? Marry a Maths nerd. Must get The Princess to understand this from an early age. (Unless she has inherited her Daddy’s Maths brain which, of course, is first prize.)

On Re-entering the Hallowed Halls of Academia

Ever since I quit my job in April 2009, I have been toying with the notion of studying Economics. Before my kids came along, however, I was extremely tied up doing all the things I didn’t have the luxury of doing when I was working full time, like travelling without counting leave days, taking afternoon naps, checking Facebook, going to gym, getting my nails done and shopping at 11am on a Wednesday morning. In short, there was simply no time study. No time at all. There was no way I was going to choose a tutorial on marginal costing over a cruise on the Peruvian Amazon.

And then my beautiful kids came along and now a romantic cruise in search of pink dolphins in the Amazon seems about as likely a trip to the moon. Being able to take a sabbatical before having children was possibly the greatest gift my husband could ever have given me. And having the opportunity to enjoy the first few years of motherhood free from the stresses of the workplace is something I am immensely grateful for.

But tonight I will attend my first university lecture – the first step in a journey towards re-entering the working world in some shape or form.

In November last year, when The Prince was four months old, I took myself off to Wits Plus (centre for part-time studies) to hand in my application for 2014. When I started at UCT in 1998 I was more worried about what to wear to class and whether the drunken words of “fresh meat!” being bandied about in a Rondebosch bar were being directed at me or not. The administrative details of actually registering were a very minor priority in my life at the time. Now I was returning to university as a…ahem… mature student, concerned only with being accepted for my choice of subjects. I had diligently prepared my application pack exactly according to the university’s specifications. I had noted that I needed sign-off from a certain member of the Economics department, but an e-mail sent to the lecturer in question, requesting such sign-off, had gone unanswered for weeks. On the day of application, I was sent by the Wits Plus staff to track down this lecturer in the Commerce building. As I set off, I wondered whether I looked like those mature students I used to see sticking out like sore thumbs on the UCT campus. And then I was addressed as “Ma’am” by a student I approached for directions and I had my answer.

I finally found the office of the lecturer I was looking for. There were many names on the door and each name was accompanied by a weekly sliver of office consultation time: for example: Tuesdays from 12:30 to 2pm. I was in between breastfeeds, eager to get my application in on that day and just praying that I would be able to sweet talk this man into signing my form outside of his usual office hours.

If only I could find him.

A polite knock on the door yielded one lone voice seated at a desk in a sea of empty desks. Of course, it would have been too coincidental if he had been my man, but at least I could ask him where to find said lecturer. Alas, the colleague did not know his whereabouts but suggested I e-mail him. I told him that I had done so many weeks ago but had received no response. Only then did was I told that, in fact, he hadn’t been seen on campus “for weeks”. In short, I wasn’t going to track him down between breastfeeds. I was directed to the office of the Economics co-ordinator instead.

After getting somewhat lost again, I found myself outside the co-ordinator’s door. I could hear him on the phone which meant that he was in – phew! While I waited patiently outside his door, I had plenty of time to study the very detailed process flow diagram he had designed for the channeling of Economics queries:

The Hallowed Halls of Academia
The Hallowed Halls of Academia

I decided to feign ignorance and did not attempt to plug my query into his process flow chart, fearing it would direct me elsewhere. When I could hear that he had finished his phone call, I knocked on the door. He barely looked old enough to drive but he knew alot more than I did when it came to applying to study Economics. He pointed out that if I intended to take Economics to third year level, I would need to study Computational Maths and Business Statistics. This was news to me, but I was glad that he had brought it to my attention. Since my brief interaction with him thus far had been positive, I decided to ask him a question that was fairly central to my long term study plan: would I effectively hold a major in Economics if I completed the course to third year level, since I already held an undergraduate degree?

Before opening his mouth to respond, he looked at me pointedly for what felt like hours in the way that people do when they want you to know that you’ve asked a really, really stupid question.

“Here’s the thing,” he said: “Wits Plus doesn’t award degrees. Faculty… “(he said the word ‘faculty’ extremely slowly and with emphasis in case it was new to my vocabulary) “awards degrees. Do…you…understand?”

“Uh, yes, well, sort of… er… I have a vague recollection of the term “faculty” from the hazy days of my undergraduate degree,” I stammered, tempted to add “which I obtained while you were in pre-primary school.” But I smiled meekly because I had no idea what he was talking about and I need him to sign my application. Thankfully, he signed but not before sending me off to the Office of the Dean (or something like that) to find out whether there were other subjects I needed to take if I intended to study Economics to third year level.

I found the offices without getting lost but there was a small hitch. The offices were all housed behind one master door with a list of names and extension numbers next to an internal phone. I was literally locked out and didn’t have an actual name of someone to phone so I would have to irritate someone with my whole story and hope that they would be able to help me. Fortunately, someone decided to exit at this point and I politely accosted her with my problem. She was unable to help and in fact, in her opinion, this bank of offices was not where my answer would lie. Instead, she sent me off to another branch of academic administration in the building. Before long, I was lost again but I saw a Professor-y looking type to ask for directions. He was very nice and started explaining where I needed to go but then looked down at his watch and looked back at me with empathy: “You’d better hurry because it’s ten to one and admin staff take their lunch breaks very seriously.”

I literally RAN (one benefit of being a stay-at-home mom is that I’m always in flats) to said admin office. There was still someone behind the reception kiosk. Relief. She directed me to another person within a corridor of locked offices which she granted me access to. The office of the person I was supposed to consult with was empty. I scanned through the offices to find a human. I happened upon someone and explained that the Economics co-ordinator suggested I confirm what other subjects I needed to do in order to be allowed to take the subject to third year level. She told me to have a seat and started leafing through a rather thick official-looking handbook.

“Hmm,” she said, “It doesn’t look like there are any pre-reks for Economics.”

“Um, by pre-rek, do you mean a pre-requisite?”

She looks at me as though I’ve just asked whether Maths is short for Mathematics.

Okay, I could change my vocabulary but I was a bit concerned that she wasn’t 100% certain of her answer and that the answer may or may not have resided in a very thick book where it could very easily be over-looked.

I asked her if she was sure about four times and I found none of her answers to be re-assuring.

In the end I left and convinced myself that Computational Maths and Business Stats sounded like good subjects to do and if they turned out not to be the correct “pre-reks” for obtaining a major in Economics that may or may not be granted by “faculty”, then so be it.

On Khloe Kardashian, Self Esteem, Liz Hurley & White Jeans

Having a new baby means being awake at all sorts of ungodly hours. Thanks to The Husband’s generosity and pragmatism, we have a night nurse. I say “pragmatism” because he knows how grumpy I get when I am sleep deprived and he knows there is a practical – albeit costly – solution. Her name is Precious. She taps me gently while I am sound asleep and says with urgency:

“He’s awake!”

I fly out of bed in response to the urgency in Precious’ voice, dash to the nursery and then flop into the feeding chair and sometimes even fall asleep while Precious changes The Prince’s nappy and readies him for his feed. And then I generally sleep through the feed until she prods me and tells me it’s time to change sides. I can safely say that I would trade in my car if I had to, for the luxury of a night nurse. I feel human the day after Precious’ shift and like a dead woman walking the day after her night off.

Most nights I crawl back into bed and pass out after the feed, but some nights (and, fortunately, so far, not many) I simply can’t get back to sleep. This was the case a few nights ago. I was so wide awake that I eventually crawled out of bed at 4am and crept to the TV room.

I happened to turn on M-Net just as a show called The Talk started. It featured a bunch of women sitting around a table. Amongst the women, I recognised Sharon Osborne. As the introductory music ended and the audience applauded, one of the women introduced the first topic of the talk show with the solemnity one would expect were she reporting on a grave political crisis: Khloe Kardashian’s poor self esteem.


The camera then cut to this round-table of female presenters looking traumatised by the news and brimming with empathy for the reality TV star. In order to give viewers a real taste of the emotional hardship endured daily by Khloe, the presenter quoted Khloe who had said that “being compared to somebody else every day does sort of beat up your spirit and soul.” Apparently Khloe reported that she had been called the “heavier” and “less attractive” of the sisters. Luckily for Khloe, Sharon Osborne was the first to comment with a statement that is bound to reverse all her psychological trauma:

“I just think she has the BEST personality out of everyone!” Sharon gushed, to rapturous applause from the in-studio audience.

Thanks, Sharon. You do know that you basically just called her ugly? When my dad was at university in the sixties, the prevailing catch phrase for an unattractive woman was: “She sure can cook!” With the emancipation of women and Woolworths microwave meals, the modern version of this maxim has morphed into: “She sure has a great personality”.

I konfess that I just kan’t watch Kris, Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, Kendall and Kylie Kardashian/ Jenner and their show at the best of times, although I can’t think of a better cure for insomnia than Khloe Kardashian’s complexes. If only I’d been able to keep the TV on for an extra minute or two, I would have been able to pass out from absolute apathy.

Aside from bad TV at 5am, the weeks following the birth of a child can be tough. Especially when they happen to be the very weeks when Hyde Park and Sandton City go on sale. About a week after The Prince was born, The Husband’s favourite Hyde Park store was offering 50% off all their merchandise and he was looking to spoil me. What could I do under the circumstances other than engage in aspirational acquisitions? I was immediately drawn to a gorgeous pair of white, skinny jeans with gold zips. Tres, tres St Tropez or tres, tres Sandton. But as I picked them up, I was reminded of something a friend told me last year. She told me that it had been said (by some famous and fabulous male stylist, I think) that if you’re a woman and your name is not Liz Hurley, you simply should not wear white jeans. Sorry, honey. Although I agree that I am not Liz Hurley and that I should not wear white jeans, I have always loved white pants and am delighted that white jeans have made a comeback. So I now have this pair – that cost 50% less than usual – hanging in my cupboard, staring at me and taunting me. I should somehow sticky-tape them to the fridge…

Liz Hurley Leaving Her Home London June 17, 2008

But since that’s not terribly practical, I decided to re-join Weight Watchers instead. I polished off a cupcake in the car on the way there and arrived ready to take a deep breath and step on the scale. The last time I attended Weight Watchers was before I found out that I was pregnant with The Prince – a time when I weighed a lot less than I do now. For this reason, I made a point of mentioning to the Group Leader that I had stopped Weight Watchers because I’d fallen pregnant (they don’t allow pregnant people to follow the programme) and that I was returning because I’d just had a baby. Clearly, however, I did not place enough emphasis on the word “just” because a few minutes later I climbed on the scale to hear the Group Leader say (raised eyebrow and all):

“I see… yes… well…your weight has gone up quite a bit.”

“I literally just had a baby eleven days ago!” I snapped.

To this, my fellow members responded as one would hope the Sisterhood would respond with remarks like:

“Oh my gosh, I’d still be in bed!” and

“You look amazing for someone who just had a baby!” (From my observations and my own behaviour, women say this to one another post babies, no matter what, but somehow it’s still nice to hear even if you know it’s a big, fat lie.)

I automatically felt better.

But sisterhood or no sisterhood, I still have to find a way into those designer white jeans before they go out of style again.

The Dangers of Housewives Alone in Coffee Shops

I confess that I am not used to strange men approaching me in coffee shops. This happened a few weeks ago when I was replying to some e-mails in a coffee shop in Benmore while The Princess was at school. I’d walked in and seen only one table with three casually dressed guys who appeared to be in the midst of a business meeting. I’d deliberately chosen the table furthest from these guys so as not to fall prey to accidental eavesdropping.

Whilst fully immersed in all-important, housewife admin on my I-pad, I sensed that a figure had approached my table and I heard a deep voice say:

“Howzit, doll,”

I could not believe the audacity of this man and began lifting my head with the full intention of blurting out:


But as I looked up, something stopped me and I realised that I would have deeply offended (or amused) our good friend Erik, who relocated to Windhoek six months ago.

I had to remind myself that not too many men want to pick up a chick who’s eight months pregnant – at all – and certainly not at ten in the morning in a coffee shop.

This past week, however, “it” happened again. I was sitting at a table outside at Europa, Melrose Arch, guiltily devouring actual sushi with raw salmon and everything. (I was busy convincing myself that French women eat unpasteurised cheese – and probably don’t give up coffee, cigarettes or wine either – throughout pregnancy, so what was a bit of sushi between me and the 3.2kg buffeltjie still apparently growing in my tummy? He’d survived 30 Stopayne tablets the week before so I was sure he’d survive a bit of raw fish…)

I was looking down at my food when I caught a glimpse of a strange man approaching my table. From my experience with Erik, I’d learnt that it was unlikely he was trying to pick me up, so I was a little more pragmatic this time. Was he a husband coming to chastise me for eating sushi at 38 weeks pregnant? I felt slightly unnerved…

“You look like someone who’d know this,” he began. “Is there a spa in Melrose Arch?”

I guess you can take the girl out Keurbooms and put her in Sandton, but you can’t take Keurbooms out of the girl: when someone in a shopping centre asks me if there’s a spa around, I think of the Spar.

I was about to respond,

“No, sorry, there’s only a Woolies.”

But then I caught sight of my newly pedicured feet, clad in open-toed, bedroom slippers on loan from the Melrose Arch Spa. I also noticed that my “suitor” looked like the quintessential metro-sexual. He’d noticed my red nails and toes as opposed to my face – a face which still lives in fear of Botox, can’t be bothered with facials and which boasts bushy, dark eyebrows which I’m too afraid of waxing for fear the therapist will virtually denude me of any eyebrows to speak of.

I may feel more at home in a Spar than in a spa but at least I had fabulous red nails and toes which The Princess took note of immediately when I fetched her from school:

“Mommy’s nails are RED!” she announced.

That’s my little Sandtonite girl! 🙂