I don't believe in miracles - I rely on them

I don't believe in miracles - I rely on them

Yogi Bhajan


You found my blog and as I am experimenting with the weird and wonderful world of cyber publishing, let me explain what
a gunna is: it's a word for all things desirable, something that makes us happy and warm and comforts us when we feel tired or sad or lonely. a gunna is the best gadget in the world! it was leah s first word for all things she wanted. Or you might also know it as: dummy, schnulli, pacifier binky, schnuller...... and so on. So this is for my beautiful


Thursday, December 29, 2011

The house at the end of the rainbow - my first Waldorf birthday (tears and all)

It was Leah's school birthday a while ago - and quite a build up to an event I did not even know existed until I joined Waldorf.  Leah was getting more wriggly and restless and excited as the big day approached. I assumed it was the prospect of a pink chocolate cake (yes, it's possible - ask me!)with loads of smarties and jellytots that got her all hyped - little did I know!

A school birthday, I was told, is when each child receives a little gift from her classmates - self made of course or "found" (during the last 3 terms with about a birthday a week, we diligently crafted away for the first two birthdays, and then came to heavily rely on the  "found" part, which stretched to found in cupboards, drawers and even found amongst our very own toys).

So now it was our turn to present the cake and carry home the golden basket of self made or found little treasures. I dutifully dropped child and cake off at the normal time and was told to come back at 11:45 for a little birthday celebration.  In my mind that was the collecting of gifts, cutting of the cake, some candles and a song or two and then home.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived at 11:48 slightly out of breath (not because I was expecting the Cake Cutter to drop at 11:45 sharp but  because I am German and it is genetically impossible for me to be late ) to a candle lit circle of little people all gathered around an altar with a fairy land display of angels and beautifully colored silk scarves next to a golden throne where my birthday princess was seated in a golden gown with a golden crown between her two birthday angels also in golden gowns but with  slightly smaller golden crowns - so as to not upset the birthday hierarchy!

No cake in sight I might add as this was devoured at snack time (I found out later). I felt sligthly deceived and a little apprehensive of a birthday celebration without the birthday cake, which I had hand baked (ok, I confess: woolies chocolate cake mixture) and decorated with much enthusiasm so it would be the shining center piece of the event with me receiving much praise from the teacher of course.
These phantasies of mine were shattered as I was ushered with only a hint of a reproach from the teachers kindly eyes (for being late !!!) to a little chair just outside the circle and left to watch in awe as the ceremony unfolded.

My golden vision of a daughter floated passed me, led by her birthday angels along her birthday land to rest on her throne - and myohmy what a queenly walk it was! Not even a glance in my direction of course and all cool, queenly, 6-year old composure. As the first tear started to creep into my left eye, there might have been the hint of a small knowing smile on her candle lit face but that could have just been a trick of the light.

 So there she was walking to little bells ringing and little voices singing (something or another about a little child being born)  and  I was amazed at the mere logistics of it all: 20 preschool kids beautifully coordinated and not a note or a tinkle out of place (they had clearly done this before!). Then the teacher started to jump into action and the floodgates truly opened. This, my dears  is the story (get the tissues)

There was once a little star, her name was Lah and she was living with her star friends in the house at the end of the rainbow. When it was time for her to be born, her guardian angel came to her and said: Leah, it is time for you to begin your journey down to earth and your journey is going to be different as it will be an extra long one. You are not only going to have one mummy, you are going to have three mummies waiting for you(insert gasps of envy from the audience here- and add to it my slight feeling of doom as Leah  had specifically asked me NOT to bring up her adoption - but I needn't have worried - her little face glowed with pride as her classmates listened in awe to her special story).

And the little star Leah said: but I am worried! What if I  miss all my star friends and my home at the end of the rainbow?
And the guardian angel said to her: Don't worry , when your journey on this earth is finished, you will come back to the house at the end of the rainbow where all your star friends will be waiting for you.(insert: suppressed sobbing noise from the little chair outside the circle)

Then the guardian angel went to Leah's tummy mummy ("whats her name" - voice from the audience. "Shhhht QUIET, doesn't matter" - hiss from the teacher)

AND THE GUARDIAN ANGEL went to Leah's tummy mummy and he said to her: A little child will be born to you. Leah's tummy mummy said:"  this is so beautiful, I will love and protect her while she is in my tummy but I am too young to look after a child and I will need help.
Then the guardian angel went to Leah's kangaroo mummy and said: a little child will be born and you shall look after her for a little while. And Leah's kangaroo mummy was so happy and excited and was looking forward to holding Leah in her arms.

Then the guardian angel went to Leah's real mummy and dad and told them that Leah would finally come home to them. Leah's mummy and dad were so happy and overjoyed at the good news: Oh we can't wait for Leah to come to us, they cried!

And then Leah started her journey onto this earth - 

At this point the teacher took the little angel from the altar and started walking her along the silk scarves. I am a little unclear on the correct order of what happened next as I was a mess of streaming tears and barely suppressed hiccup-sobs trying desperately to hold it all together and not to embarrass my princess in front of her whole class - so this is what I remember of the rest of the ceremony:

Leah (the little puppet angel in the teachers hands)  went passed the blue star (or red or orange or golden or yellow or green....) and the star gave her the gift of grace (or strength or beauty of kindness or music...). Each silk scarf represented another star in all the colors of the rainbow and each star gave Leah a gift.

Finally Leah arrived on earth and was born to Amelia, who held her in her arms for a short while and loved her. And then her Kangaroo mummy held Leah in her arms for a little while longer and loved her so much. And then it was time for Leah to come into her real mummie's arms and her mum and dad were so happy that she was finally home with them and that they could be a family!

The story still went on with the teacher recounting little details of each year of Leah's life - which I had written down for her (obviously not knowing what she needed them for - and why did I not ask???) and a candle was lit for each of her years. At the end all the children sang some more and Leah was walked by her birthday angels out of the circle.  Suddenly I became aware of Alan  sitting beside me and the noise of 20 odd chairs being moved and little people  running around ....

and Leah coming towards me with her basket of gifts, cool as a cucumber, asking in a matter of fact voice : so, did you see it, mama?

I somehow pushed passed her and grabbed the teacher in a big wet clinging hug - which she gracefully reciprocated for a couple of seconds after which she gently disentangled herself from my hot grasp and turned me towards my daughter (who was of course rolling her eyes at me and asking, can we go now mama?)

So that was it: I am hooked now. A waldorf disciple like you have never seen before. Ready to knit or sew or stitch whatever anybody throws at me for the next 11 years of my life and then some (if Kala decides to join that is).

And to imagie we'll get to do it all again next year ! Only this time I will be prepared (no mascara and a handbag full of tissues).

Happy Holidays everyone!!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Power of Anger

I found myself confronted with a lot of anger recently - mainly from Leah, who is in the process of negotiating the tricky transformation from mummy -centered sweet baby-girl to her new preteen 6 year old self - and of course her little sister copies her any chance she gets. In the last couple of days, I ve been shouted at more times I care to count,  have been told to go away, to leave her alone and die (go to heaven and become an angel). I ve been cut with imaginary knives, fired at by spiderman's fists and kicked out of my  house to go and live in the forest (with the other witches).

Bath time at the end of the day was like negotiating a mine field after a whole week of sleep deprivation:  from undressing, to brushing teeth, to washing, to getting out of the bath and putting cream on - there was always something I totally blew. And subsequently got shouted at for.  Sometimes I ignorede the outbursts and simply got on with bath time. At other times I resorted to terrible threats: mama is going to be REALLY angry (yeah, right!) no tv, no reading in bed for years to come (haha, who cares, she's never going to stick it out....) So of course, nothing worked.

At some point on day 7 or 10 or 500, I finally cracked and shouted back that I was sick and tired of being shouted at every single evening and anyway, I had enough of this and they could just get themselves to bed without my annoying presence. And stormed out of the bathroom.

Which obviously did not help.
At all.

Two seconds later, I found myself crouched on the flooded bathroom floor, hugging two sopping wet and sobbing bodies to my heart, assuring them in the most soothing of voices (hoarse and sore from shouting outburst) that I was sorry, and they were so right: no mama was NEVER allowed to shout at her children. Ever.  And could they please forgive me (Nohohohoho) and sorry and sorry and sorry.

When they eventually passed out, still muttering "naughty mama" with their last waking breaths - I felt  guilty and exhausted and was wondering what on earth was going on. With me? With Leah?

I realised that I had fallen into one of the many traps of motherhood, where we allow our  primal instincts to jump to our defence  (on about the level of a 5 year old) instead of applying our better judgement . 

I also realised that my bad parenting moment was a direct result of my residual problem with: A N G E R

Growing up, it was a total taboo to ever express anger towards my parents. It was regarded as disrespectful to even critisize them, leave alone shout or rant at them. There was no acceptable outlet for anger (not for girls anyway) - and what I learned was to bottle it all up and pretend it did not exist.

As a result of this early conditioning,  I -like so many women of my genertion - never learned how to express anger in a healthy and appropriate way or - on the other side of the coin - how to stomach somebody elses anger in a calm and respecful manner. As women we tend to channel our anger into competitive dieting and being "bitchy" towards one another. Our anger hardly ever translates into power and healthy aggression  but tends to meander undgerground in sulking or "mood swings" explained away by the experts as pre/post or peri menstrual/menopausal symptoms. An angry woman is a symptom. And often pills are the commonly accepted remedy.

And where does it all start? With the little girl being told not to ever shout out her anger at her mother (and her father), to be quiet and respectful, to be "sensible" and sweet and never think an aggressive thought. As I was contemplating this sad truth, it dawned on me that I was setting my daughters up to repeat my history with anger. Which is the last thing I would want for them.

I also realised that my reactions to Leahs anger were to either punish (or threaten to) or ignore her outbursts, because in my adult world they did not make sense.

Where I always tried to acknowledge her feelings of sadness no matter how benign the reasons (to me anyway) because sadness does not "threaten" or "attack" me, I never gave the same safe space to her anger.

My mind invariably finds a way to shut down any reasons anybody in the world would be allowed to be angry with me  - leave alone a little girl who is shouting at me because I put cream on the wrong side of her leg first. Instead of acknowledging her anger and letting her be with it, I ignore it (because in my adult world it is ridiculous to shout at somebody because of the logistics of putting cream on a leg) or I argue with her and tell her she can't be angry because of something so silly.

 And this is why there had to be so many of these outbursts. I never allowed her to just be angry with me FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON,  at least none that was apparent to me -  I am sure she finds me intensely annoying lots of the time for her own good reasons. What I also did not take into account ever, was the fact that children can not always voice their anger in a way that makes sense to us. Feelings that overwhelm them during the day, when we are not with them, might just surface in the evening (hence: suicide hour - duuuh!) and to suffocate those feelings by trying to apply adult reasoning to them..... you horrible mama, just go live in the forest with the other witches and think about what you ve done to your sweet little children for the next 200 years....
So my resolution for the next couple of days was to allow her anger and see where this would take us.
This is what happened:

The next morning, we were about to get into an argument about what clothes to wear. Normally, in the spirit of just getting on with things simply to be able to leave the house before lunchtime, I avoid confrontations early in the morning and distract or bribe or threaten to get the result that I want, which is a dressed and fed child (two of them actually) in the car by 8am.  Not so this time. When she started complaining about having to wear long sleeves, I did nothing, but insisted long sleeves had to be worn, fully expecting her to rebel. Predictably, she started shouting, she hated long sleeves and I was horrible and she did not want to see me ever again. I did not disagree with her nor did I demand she stop shouting at me. Instead I stayed with her and when I finally got the chance I said: you are really angry with me, I can hear how very angry you are.

Which was followed by a re-energised outburst: Don't talk to me, don't even look at me.

So I averted my eyes a little trying not to smile ( because - believe it or not - in this moment I only felt huge love for her and the biggest admiration for the power of her anger) and let her shake her little fists in front of my face, telling her again that I found her anger very strong and even a little scary. She now actually started glowing and sizzling in a sort of  alien-movie-special-effects way. She then took me by the hand and sat me down on a chair (similar to what I do when my children have to sit on the mat - firm but absolutely careful not to hurt me). Now she was at eye level with me (clever move!!!) and could shout the rest of her anger right into my face.

I just sat there and processed it all, feeling a little shaky and emotional - because I never in my life had allowed anybody to be angry with me leave alone actually  love them throughout the whole process.  Maybe other parents do this all the time, but for me this was the biggest lesson ever (so far).  After not even a minute on the chair ( a long minute that is) her anger clearly peaked and after that her heart wasn't in it anymore. I could feel that she just carried on for the fun of it and told her that my ears were actually starting to hurt now and that I would just get on with getting dressed in the meantime. I invited her to come and join me in the bathroom when she was not feeling so angry anymore. I also told her that I loved her and that no matter how angry she was with me, I would always always always love her.

Surprisingly, she let me talk without starting to shout again, she just sort of looked into the corner of the room furthest away from me, with a big sulk on her face. But I could detect a hint of a smile around her mouth when I said that I was impressed with how strong she was when she was angry. I then left the room (without storming or being angry myself this time) and not even 1 minute later she joined me in the bathroom and started chatting about "baking day" at school - as if the last 15 minutes had never happened.

I was truly amazed. The rest of the morning was a breeze, and on our way to school we even talked a little about how we sometimes get angry and it just feels good to shout. I told her again how strong she was in her anger - as this really seemed to be her biggest sense of achievement in it all: to feel her own strength in her anger.

The evening outbursts stopped - (well not entirely of course, but ever so often I get a break )  and from now on, whenever my kids need to be angry with me, I try and make the time to face their anger and love them for it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes I am still so overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught of anger towards me that my defense mechanisms kick in and I deflect or avoid it - and that's  ok too, because in this process I am also allowing myself to be who I am (i.e. emotionally damaged and far from perfect)  but generally we are on a much healthier course now.

So I am declaring this month of November the official month to celebrate anger in my family. Anybody care to join?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

....you don't know what it's like not to be adopted.....

In  the movie "And then she found me"  the adopted sister (helen hunt) says to her brother, who is the biological son of their parents:
You don't know what it's like to be adopted.
The brother simply replies:
And you don't know what it's like not to be adopted....

At the time I saw the movie, I somehow liked the answer but did not understand it's implications. Now, years later, as I am reading through the posts on our FB group about "trans racial adoption/fostering" - I find a deeper truth in it.

Ever since I have started talking to adoptees, I have been feeling uneasy and sad about the fact that my  life choice to adopt rather than to procreate, which was made out of a whole hearted "yes" to life and it's many possible roads and pathways, seems to be at the root of so much heart ache, despair and pain - for adopted children.

I am wondering if this seemingly "negative" side to adoption might be one of the reasons that too many people regard adoption as a "last resort", when all else fails and after they have often spent mind boggling amounts of money on artificial ways of conceiving. Is it a fear to adopt rather than the imagined need to have a biological offspring,  that makes people shy away from the adoption option?

I was also wondering  at some point- had I heard all these stories before I chose to adopt - would I still have made this choice - or would I have opted for the seemingly easier road of giving birth to my children through my body?

Would this have saved me from challenges and problems around adoption and even more so  cross cultural adoption? Absolutely.

Would this have made my life and my children's lives easier or even better.
I don't believe this for a moment.

I don't know what it's like to be adopted.
But I know what it's like not to be adopted.
I grew up in my biological family. Some might regard this as a privilege. I do and I don't.
I don't see an inherent difference in adoptive and biological parents.
There are as many different parents as there are parents in the world:   bad parents, ignorant parents, indifferent parents and loving parents - but how a child comes to them does in no way define their ability to be a loving parent.

Or to put it bluntly - a "bad" parent to an adopted child will  be an equally "bad" parent to a biological child.
And by "bad" parent I am not talking about a possible lack of material support or a need for grand shows of affection - but a missing heart connection to their child.

It is true that love can not solve the problems that and adopted child might feel about being the one standing out in a crowd, or about blank spaces in their past that might never be filled in. But love - a true heart connection to a parent -  can create the environment in which these problems can be openly acknowledged and dealt with.

At the same time, love can not solve the problems a child growing up in their biological family might feel about standing out in a crowd  or about their parents divorce or the fact that they don't know their  father.... (think about the increasing number of sperm donor babies and how they will feel about  "blank spaces" in their history)
Every child comes with their own set of problems and challenges in life. We as parents can only love them the best way we know how to. What has shaped us shapes our ability to love.

Where a mother or a father have lost their connection to who they essentially are, they can not instill in their child a love for who she is and as an adult this child will battle with feelings of "not being enough" and "not belonging".

For adopted children, at some point in their lives, these feelings might make sense , because after all, they have not been born into this family.

For me they did not.

Growing up, I felt alienated, misunderstood, and basically not seen at all as my parents tried to "raise" me as the child they wanted to have rather than the child I was.
Through my teenage years I wished I was adopted so I could leave them and find my "real" family. Somewhere out there, I felt, had to be a mother and a father who really loved me for who I was.

Today  I have come to understand my parents limitations as a result of the trauma they experienced as "war-children" - with absent fathers and mothers barely surviving, stranded in camps or as refugees on the road.

Today I don't need my parents to survive and this (and years of therapy :-)) enables me to find compassion and forgiveness and reconnect with the love that every small child has in her heart for the people who care for her - without judgement.

Today I have found my family of choice in my children and my husband and my friends - my whole new adopted family.

So I am putting it out there - (and as I am writing this, I know I am treading on thin ice here as I in no way wish to challenge what people share about their heart felt emotions ) -  that growing up in the unique circumstances we all do, adopted or not, creates sadness, trauma and suffering throughout our life's journey - and being adopted can be one of many and the most obvious explanations for feelings of alienation, disconnection and confusion all children experience.
Only for adopted children these feelings have an additional meaning as in many cases they also tie in with feelings of loss experienced early in their lives and the fantasy that there might be someone out there, who could be the missing link, the perfect parent, who might just give them the sense of belonging and "completeness" they have been longing for all their lives.

And this is where we are all essentially the same - adopted or not:  we are forever looking for a lost connection and often don't realise that it is the connection to our own soul that is missing and that no one - no parent or lover or friend (or country or culture or cause) - can replace this connection. We sometimes get a taste of what it feels like to be connected, when we are overwhelmed by love - as children, lovers or parents. But inevitably this passes and we are stranded yet again searching for the missing link to our own souls.

As parents we will always make mistakes. To be truthful about our limitations and have an open mind and heart always with our children is our biggest challenge.  Adoption is not more or less difficult or problematic or rewarding or beautiful than having biological children - every family has it's own miracles and challenges .

I have always felt that adopting a child in today's world makes more sense than creating a new life. Adopting does not create more problems than bringing a child into this world. Just different ones. And just the same amount of joy and love and sleeplessness.....

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Happiness runs in circular motion - life is like a little boat upon the sea

Happiness runs in a circular motion
Life is like a little boat upon the sea
Everything is part of everything anyway,
and you can have it all
if you let yourself be

This is a sweet little yoga meditation that I learned years ago on a Kundalini retreat. It has a childlike magic to it, that automatically lifts my spirit, whenever I sing it  to you or just think about it.

Since my last post was all about Leah and how I came to love her, this one is for you Kala, my strong and beautiful child, my little goddess of destruction, and about your special magic.

Kala -

I can't say I chose that name, because, what really happened:  it came along with you. You chose it like you chose me as your mother and us as your family at the precise moment you were ready to start your life with us.

The name I had in mind for you,  before I knew you, was Lili.

Somehow I must have expected a Lili, a delicate little fairy flower, angelic and almost insubstantial.

A picture that self destructed the moment you came from Joanie's arms into mine.
I can still see your sparkly eyes calmly focusing on me with a subtle confidence and self assurance that I have rarely seen in people other than yogis (or my therapist :-)).

It was  right there in our first eye contact, the undeniable presence of  your spirit and your personality. Holding you that first time was like sitting on a rock surrounded by a living ocean. Everything about you was alive and moving with a natural energy that was still deeply connected to an all-knowing wisdom.
With your eyes you were simply saying. I am. Here.
And look at me:  A Lili I am not!

And since I was not listening, you convinced your Papa first.

For the first couple of days - possibly to reinstate my old  illusion that life can be controlled -  I desperately tried to hold on to my belief that since I had actually called you into my life as "Lili" and that you had come because of and out of the power of my manifestation,  I "owed" it to you to hang on to that name.

Girl  was I wrong.

Eventually I gave in to Alan's pleadings and we chose a new name for you. It was the first name that spoke to us and once we saw it, there was no doubt in our minds. Without knowing what it meant, it was more a realisation (and Alan realised more than I did at the time) than a decision: you are Kala.
As I struggled to come to terms with  giving up control - yet again - and allowing the wiser part of me to connect with the wisdom in you -  my ego crumbled and shattered into a million pieces together with all my expectations and preconceptions. True to your name, you unleashed this destruction of all that was old and ego centered in my life.

Together with an entirely unexpected physical breakdown I was overcome by a not entirely unexpected emotional earthquake leaving me unable to move and consumed with Guilt and and her little sister: Regret.

What had I done? How could I have thought I was cut out to be your mother? And at the same time, what was I doing to your sister, who had been the center of my universe for the last 30 months and still needed me so much and was  too small to understand that this little stranger taking her place, was her new sister and part of our family.

And above all, I felt guilty for not loving you enough, without realising that I have been there before, and that love can't reveal itself if my heart is filled with fear and my mind blocked by expectations.

During all this time - I think it was almost a week of me being unable to move with dizziness and nausea - you were the one who stayed calm and centered and reminded me, whenever I stuck my nose out from under my duvet, that no matter how long it would take me to come out of my self induced drama and join you on the adventure that would be our life together, you'd be there, waiting for me to catch up.

You became my teacher then, a 3 months old baby, teaching  me about trust and - once again - love. Looking back at our first few days together, I still feel some regret that I  was not fully present, conscious and aware of the magic that brought  you to us  and the magic that is you.

Instead it seemed necessary that I took this journey into the deep dark corners of my subconscious, before I was able to join you  and your papa and your sister on the other side where you all just got on beautifully with being a family.

(I think it is clear by now: I just don't do change very well or at  the very least gracefully - I turn into a mixture of squealing drama queen and post traumatic stress victim, barely able to speak coherent words or look beyond these first moments of upheaval that are the inroads into my new life )

Whenever I think of this time now, I have one picture in my mind: You, sitting like a little Buddha in your Moses basket, outside on the veranda,  surrounded by friends and family, all the new people in your life, who are coming to look at you or touch you or talk to you. I stand a couple of meters away,  ready to jump in if it gets too much, but you just sit there, calmly observing. You don't smile or engage with anybody just because they are there. Instead you seem to think about it carefully first and then decide whether to  make the required effort to connect with this person in front of you, or rather stay in meditative rest. When you do decide to smile or otherwise acknowledge somebody, they feel really honored, because, more often than not, you choose to just quietly contemplate people instead of engaging with them.

Somehow you have never lost that connection to your wise and ageless soul, who simply knows who she is.
You are the one person in my life, who is entirely and uncompromisingly true to herself. I look at you with amazement and an immense sense of gratitude. You were my teacher at three months old, you still continue to teach me every day. With Leah I learned I could be a mother, you remind me everyday to be the best mother I can be.

Sometimes I find the miracle of us all  together hard to believe but as I have been living with it since you came to us, it becomes more real every day - without ever being normal and for that I am deeply grateful.

Today, three years later, whenever I look into your sparkly eyes and see the glimmer of determined mischief or abundant happiness or pure anger or whatever emotion  is consuming you at the time, my heart does one big leap with my love for you and the perfection that is you in my life.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The random moments when love happens

I often remember the moment , when I first held you in my arms:

my heart beating a thousand beats a minute, my mind spinning with the many new emotions of this one moment, which would change my life forever;

in that first second, when I tried to take you in all at once, searching your tiny, sleeping face for something familiar, that would spark off the firework of  love that I had anticipated so many times in the days and weeks waiting for your arrival,in that split second  I realised, everything was different from what I had thought it would be.

And as I was forced  to drop all my expectations, judgements and assumptions, I started to understand that my love for you - like any force of nature -  would make it's appearance on it's own terms. I could not build or model it on any previous experience and literally had to start from scratch together with you.

The wiser part of me  knew without a doubt that it was there and as much a part of me as my breath and my heartbeat - but sitting on that sofa with a whole new life in my arms, not feeling what I had expected to feel, I simply panicked.

The panic did not leave me over the next few days. It got company instead:  A strange sadness took hold of me,  something primal with no words and no pictures to describe or explain it, just waves and waves of feeling washing over me. Feelings of fear and separation coming from a place and a time, when I had no speech and no understanding.

I don't know who cried more during these first  days we had  together, you or I!  In the few moments between holding you, feeding you, bathing you and trying to put you to sleep, I walked around in previously familiar rooms like a survivor of my own personal tsunami, feeling disoriented, sifting through the debris trying to identify familiar pieces of myself.

Then, slowly and almost unnoticeable at first, like a sunrise on a misty winter day, everything changed again, and  the first beams of  love reached me, totally new and unexpected!  I knew then that I could do this, I could begin my journey as your mother, stepping into the unknown and simply trust what you in your wisdom had known all along: that we were both exactly where we were meant to be.

Of course, being my own life long prophet of doom, I managed to slip back a couple of times, and there were - and sometimes still are -  moments of deep insecurity when I feel, I am not the mother you deserve.

But mostly  I stopped expecting of myself to be and feel a certain way and - for the first time since I can remember - I allowed my feelings to reveal themselves to me, instead of trying to anticipate or control them.

Since then, there is a moment in every day, when I think of you or look at you and my whole being simply dissolves into love. It is the most basic and joyful experience of my life - and I don't have to do anything in order to earn or deserve it.

What you taught me is that simple: Love can't be planned or controlled or willed into existence or even anticipated. It just is. And it is in all those random moments that make our life  together. It is there,  in the perfect curve of your mouth smiling, in  the shadow your eyelashes trace on your cheeks, when you are asleep. It spills over in your giggles from the back of my car, when you sing silly songs with your sister and it lives in the corner of your room, where you set up a picnic for your dolls this morning. It is new everyday and it teaches me to be curious again.

So from the deepest, wisest part of me, where all that love patiently waited for me to catch up, I thank you for being my child today and teaching me every day how to simply be.
Your Mother

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Parenting 1 Ohhhh 1

Being an older mother has it's advantages. Firstly I don't feel I am missing out on life, while sitting at home on my couch with my two little ones  softly snoring in their beds. In fact, having the "I don't have a babysitter" excuse is one of the great incentives of parenthood.

Compared to young parents, like my own parents were, I also feel I have, through my many years of gathering life experiences, ideas and opinions, gained a slightly  more mature - dare I say wise - approach to most every day issues when it comes to raising my kids. I have thought about  most things before they even come up and have a smug - ask me anything!! - attitude to most parenting questions.

That was before my kids could talk in full sentences.

 I recently realised that the game has changed. Where as only a week ago, I could approach tantrums and sleep problems in a methodical yet loving and patient way (weeell - mostly...)  and come out of the experience shining brightly - there are now  more and more moments in my life where I am not only left speechless, but also humbled by the simple yet superior logic of my children.

As I am mostly unsure how to put things to a five year old in a way she understand but that does not patronise her, I  often find myself either rambling on too much for too long (only  to realise when I notice her far away look that the issue has run away with me) or I underestimate her intellectual ability and over-simplify matters (which worked beautifully just a couple of days ago, when she was not yet five and a half) .

A little worried by some of her friends behaviour when playing at our house I recently tried to introduce basic play date etiquette into Leah's world. I started off by explaining to her, that it is not nice or polite to keep nagging for things while on a play date in other people's houses.

So -  I brightly launched my first lesson on good behaviour   -  when you play with X at her house,  I don't want you to keep asking her mum for ice cream and sweets. It is not polite behaviour and I want you to wait until you are offered something. Then you are allowed to say, yes please.

(and I am pretty sure you are all nodding in agreement here....)

When she asked why, I basically told her about accepted social behaviour, especially if you want to be asked back, but realised after a while, that she had stopped listening (counting her fingers in different combinations whilst trying to whistle at the same time was a hint).

Did you understand, what I just said? I asked her.
Yeeesss - she said with that bored melodic elongated eeeeeeeeeeee.

OK, can you maybe tell me?

That  I can't have ice cream when I want it.

Aehhhhmmmm - essentially yes....that what it comes down to.

After I stopped laughing I started - not for the first time this week - thinking that maybe I should revise my  learned rules of behaviour. Go back in time  to a 5 year old perspective (or 3 or 15 depending on whom I am trying to communicate with) before I start with my well intended life lessons.

So instead of blabbing on about social conventions and how to be polite, I could also be to the point and more authentic by saying:

When out on a play date, you can't ask for things when you want them. You wait until they are offered to you and hope that the responsible adult can read your mind. 

The moment Leah summed it up for me:( I can't ask for what I want, when I want it )- this rule of accepted good behaviour immediately stopped making sense to me. Why should she not ask for ice cream when she wants it?

Surely the better lesson to teach my child would be to graciously accept a "no"  rather than  to hide from the world what she really wants? (this is how we come to despise our  partners later in life when they don't telepathically absorb what we really want from them but stubbornly refuse to tell them. Ever.)

Growing up it was drilled into me that it is impolite to ask for what I want. Mainly - it now occurs to me - to save others from having to say no - because if there is anything more frowned upon than asking for what you want,  it is saying "no" to people.

And in order to save us from the discomfort of saying "no", we teach our children not to ask.

So that  years later - as well adjusted grown ups -  they will have to  spend lots of hours and money in therapy  re-learning how to say no to people and ask for what they want instead of expecting others to mind read their needs and wishes?

Doesn't really make sense now does it?

The only question is  whether life might  be easier for my children if they conformed to socially accepted behaviour rather than being true to themselves at the expense of being regarded as different or badly behaved.

And as I am writing this, it occurs to me that more than anything I wish for them to have the courage and ability to be true to themselves. With that in mind another of my great theories is that being different is really a good thing as it adds variety and spice to life and makes people into interesting individuals.

What my daughter taught me this week is that I need to start applying those wonderful theories (my 1 oooh 1 of parenting) to life itself, as there is hardly any point in telling children to be themselves - when we make them blindly follow rules that clearly promote the exact opposite.

And as I was still reeling from that blow to my mother ego - I had a chat with a 15 year old, which again left me feeling catapulted out of my comfort zone. What she said was:

I don't get it how my parents tell me to respect myself and my  body when it comes to sexual experiences. What they're really saying  is to only respect my body if the message is "no to sex" for as long as possible. But if I want to have the experience in a safe, healthy and loving way would that not be respecting myself and my body?

................ that's me speechless once more.

The bottom line is that in parenting from age 2 to 15 and beyond it is much more important to listen to and really communicate with my children rather than to tell them things - and learn along the way how to  fill all those beautifully written yet empty words with real life content.

Am going to have ice cream now....


Thursday, July 7, 2011

I'd rather have my own....

This is a common statement made by people in order to shut down a subject they feel uncomfortable with: Adoption. I recently  heard it from a woman, who, at 45, desperate for a child and single, is now considering going through all sorts of financial, emotionall and physical strain in order to have the experience of giving birth. 

Did it bother me, like it used to only a couple of months ago? Strangely it did not. Believe it or not, I simply offered my phone number in case  things did not work out as she hoped and she'd like some insight into adoption...

As I was scrolling through my older posts I noticed that somewhere along the way my focus shifted from advocating and talking about all things adoption - and the many why's and how's  and all the weird things I have encountered being and adoptive mother -  to more general issues (and race and color of course).

This for some reason makes me strangely happy as I realise that a subtle shift happened: in my mind my children are no longer my "adopted" children: they are simply my children.

Even though I always knew that loving my children was in no way influenced by how they would come to me, often, when asked if I had children,  I had to stop and think whether to add "adopted" to the answer.

Sometimes I deliberately didn't and waited with mixed feelings for  looks of surprise and comments like: oh are they adopted? (duh!). Not mentioning the "adoption" word was almost like daring people to react and to say something out of line, which then, in turn, could make me roll my eyes in exasperation. Of course they mostly didn't and actually many made beautiful recoveries :-)

 I now realise that a lot of my strange encounters and negative feelings about people's reactions came from my own insecurity - which had nothing to do with the fact that I had adopted children -  but simply from being thrown into a whole new world of parenthood and - yes - feeling ever so slightly marginalised because I  did not fit the norm.

Even though adoption was always my first choice (as opposed to "last resort")  a part of me still  felt alienated from "normal mothers" for not having had what is still widely regarded as the "real" mother experience: Conception.Pregnancy. Birth.

As I am growing into and in this experience of being a mother, I realise that somewhere along the way this has changed.

I am now - almost 6 years later - totally at ease in my role as a mother and no longer feel the need to view my family  through other people's eyes, in order to establish our  current "not-fitting-in" factor.

And as I no longer feel the need to mirror the view from an outside world, where we are often reduced to being an unusual family with two adopted children, the outside world ceases to influence my mindset.

I no longer think about whether or not to give additional information, when asked if I have children. I have two of them. Girls,  in fact.

I don't wait for and often don't even notice other people's reactions to my children anymore. In a way these past years of learning how to become a mother was like a second chance at growing up.

Where fitting in is of utmost importance as teenagers, when we are battling with a lot of change, starting a new chapter in our lives as independent adults, it becomes less important as we are growing in maturity and confidence. And as I was battling coming to grips and redefining myself in my new role as a mother, fitting in seemed a lot more important than it is now that I am happily and confidently settled into this next chapter of my life.

And this is what growing up should be, when we  -  ideally one day  -  reach a level of self awareness where we are at peace with who we are and don't need to defend ourselves against anything and anybody who seems "other than us". (yeah well, maybe this part is to be a death-bed achievement for some of us - but hey, I am on my way...).

So coming back to my initial thought, it now does not offend me anymore when people say things like: I'd rather have my own, when I mention adoption as a natural way of having children. It still makes me sad but I don't feel the need  to bare my teeth and growl: they ARE my own.

Today I just wish I had the time and the words to convey to all potential parents how wrong they are, when they think,  their children can only be "their own" when their genes are involved.

If you have it in you to be a parent, genetics don't matter. If they do matter to you, maybe you should re-evaluate your motives when it comes to parenthood. Because ask yourself this:  is this about you and your self image or about the child you are going to be a parent to?

And to all the women who have been brought up thinking that giving birth is really what defines them as a woman, really think about this for a while before you let it take over your life! There are so many different and beautiful experiences that we as women can have in a lifetime - motherhood amongst them - but the couple of months leading up to a birth are by no means necessary in order to be all we can be. If it happens, fine, if it does not, don't even let it break your stride. Just take what life offers you instead. In my world this is the key to happiness. And love.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mummy, I don't want to grow up...

my friends daughter told her not so long ago. When she asked her why, the sad answer was:
Because I don't want to be a nanny....

For the first time it really sunk in, what our - dark skinned and adopted  - children are exposed to growing up in this country. If seen through their eyes, our privileged lifestyle becomes a scary reality:  White people drive cars and live in big houses, people who look like them beg on street corners,  have to walk everywhere and the lucky ones with  jobs are nannies or cleaners.

Of course I was never blind to these sad facts in the past. But cushioned by my sheltered upbringing and a heart felt but somewhat blue-eyed vision of a future for my children, where race would not matter , reality never hit me like this before.

For the first time in a long time, I am lost. Lost for words,  that can make sense where there is clearly no good reason behind a bad situation. It is only a matter of time, when Leah will start asking more pertinent questions. In her school, she is one of only a few non-white children. All her teachers are white. Almost all the parents are white. The cleaners and gardeners and security guards look like her.

At home we have only two or three friends who are not white (none of them "black") - but everybody who works for us is (not white).

All the better known children's stories have pale, blond, blue eyed princesses and princes. I haven't seen a children's movie - (other than the princess and the frog, which by now bores me to tears) with beautiful, strong, dark skinned and black haired heroes and heroines. At toy shops the choice of dark skinned dolls and toy figures is limited to one barbie-like doll at the back of the shelve amongst rows and rows of pale, golden or silky brown haired barbie clones. Looking for a doll house family for Kala was another eye-opener. Not a single brown skinned family around. Eventually I bought a set called the "modern family" (ha bloody ha) and ended up dying their hair and skin tones to give them some flavour and variety.

The two beautiful brown baby dolls that I got Leah and Kala from Germany are  not the babies  in our house,  but - officially labeled by Kala - the NANNIES. Whereas the impossibly long legged, small waisted blond barbie dolls have been made into babies and get carted around in prams - looked after by - you have guessed it by now - the brown baby doll nannies....

Where a couple of months ago this might have made me laugh, I am now more aware of the implications that this has. My children clearly not only realise the differences between us, they are also starting - unknowingly still,  but obviously - to identify with people who look  like them. Soon they will need to have strong role models in their lives, people who they can look up to and who will inspire them to live to their full potential.

This was never an issue in my all white world before.
And what is scaring me most is the fact that it is my job to find those role models for them.

Again, I feel lost. As I look around  -  Cape Town - I see separation, racial stereotypes and hidden and open racism everywhere.

I now get truly excited when I see people from different racial backgrounds having lunch together and must restrain myself from openly staring or eaves dropping, because, what I really want to know is: How and where did you manage to hook up and be friends?

My friend (whose kid doesn't want to grow up) has a similar experience at her school, where dark skinned children and parents are scarce: When I try to get a play date with the other little "black" girl in my daughters class (she told me), I immediately feel like the mother looks at me funny thinking: What??, you want your daughter to play with mine, because they are both black???

.... and that would be a ....BAD thing?

Sadly yes. Certainly in a country - where racism until quite recently was not only legal but compulsory. People are suspicious and tread carefully around color issues - and as a result might get stuck  a little too snug in their own small world of strictly one color.

My friends answer (and my answer ) would be: yes , that's one of the reasons I would like them to play together. I would love for my daughter to have amongst her friends girls who look like her, with whom she can  (too soon I am sure!) discuss hairstyles and cosmetics, somebody she can compare herself with.

And as for me, I too would love to have amongst my friends a mother or parents who are not white and who have jobs other than nannies or cleaners.

(...do I need to emphasize that this is not because I don't value our beautiful nannies and  treasured house keepers?  It's the stereotype that I hate and the many ways it might restrict and damage the self-image and self-confidence of my children)

So yes, if this would be a possibility I would love to be able to walk up to the young professional AND black family at the table next to us in our favourite restaurant and say: Excuse me, I am looking for "black" friends, here is my telephone number, won't you give me a call sometime.

And of course, this would be enough to be officially certified with a mental instability a couple of degrees short of crazy axe murderer. So I am not doing it (yet).

  I have been  trying now for a while to reach out to people around the world with this blog, or on face book, who are in similar situations. Mainly I have been trying to connect with strong women of color who have also been adopted. To learn from them, but also - I admit - in the hope that this will lead to connections that my children might be able to benefit from in the future.

And so far this is the only proactive thing I was able to come up with. Leaving this country is not an option, because this is not a South African problem but an issue that concerns our racist world, everywhere.
And leaving here for - what? - Europe would only alienate us further from their (and I cringe saying this - but this is how far I am taking this now)  origin, which I believe is so important for them.

My children were born here, this country could be their future. In fact, I believe, they are the future of this country. And in the meantime, watch me stalking "black" people trying to make new friends....

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Gnome building without fear.... the Waldorf experience and me

Leah recently changed schools. Not a big deal as such. Only she went from the more conventional relatively low parent-involvement-system  of the German Kindergarden (believe me it is v e r y low key  compared to what I know now!) to a brave new world of group weaving mornings,  craft making weekends and parent teacher evenings with compulsory sing-a-longs.

How on earth did this come about???

My pre-Waldorf self  lived blissfully unaware in the belief that parent involvement  really meant delivering my child to school more or less washed and dressed and if I really wanted to shine I included a healthy non sugary snack and a change of clothes into her school bag.  Heck, I even made time for the 15 minute parent teacher chat once a term and prepared a bowl of popcorn for the yearly Christmas party.

Little did I know what lay in store for me when I decided on a whim that princess Leah might benefit from a change of schools. As so often in life, from the moment a vague feeling expands into a niggling idea, happenings conspire to direct me in a certain direction. Suddenly Waldorf education popped up everywhere in conversations, magazines, TV programmes, (the world's most successful and creative people all seemed to have emerged from Waldorf schools) and at the same time it became more and more obvious that a conventional school system did not really benefit Leah at five years old.

Eventually I called the Waldorf school just to find out about - hmmm - maybe a visit or an open day sometime in the foreseeable future... two weeks later Leah started at Michael Oak (don't ask  what happened, probably something to do with subliminal messages while I was  put on hold,  or the water they served  during the interview).

 In a matter of days my universe shifted and the Waldorf spirit took over: In the mornings, instead of pushing mychild into a classroom and quickly close the door from the other side, I found myself perched on a little wooden chair fiddling with hand dyed wool and enormous sewing needles carefully watching and listening and generally getting my bearings in a Waldorf classroom.

 I soon came to understand that the german school etiquette of  grunting  at your fellow parents at the school gate and basically ignoring anybody  who has not been introduced by at least two trusted and reliable mother-sources is so not the Waldorf way. From the minute I squeezed my behind into one of the little wooden bucket chairs, hoping it would not stick to me on my way out, mothers AND check this: FATHERS came up (or rather down) to me, introduced themselves, asked questions, where the answers really seemed to interest them, and basically treated me like minor royalty just landed in their classroom. Everybody knew who we were. I was truly amazed and a little terrified.

What in the name of  Gaya Earth Mother would be expected of me???

The answer did not take long to manifest itself : Back at work - my heart still pleasantly tingling from the warm welcome we had - I switched on my computer and stared at a screen full of epic messages from my new Waldorf family.

Apart from a 3 page friendly welcome-message composed by someone called the classroom link (a term that was unfamiliar to me at the time) there was an invitation to a talk about kindergarden, a reminder to not forget the evening of practising lantern songs and an invitation to join the craft making morning - all in the course of our first week and all formulated in a way that made me feel non attendance would be to my own abysmal disadvantage.

Where previously I would have happily accepted  being frowned upon by my fellow parents  if it gained me my freedom in exchange - I suddenly was filled with  dread at the thought that all these lovely people with their warm smiles and open hearts might find fault with me.

And so I went. To everything. And everybody was there. Always. (weeell, as far as I could tell - there is of course the fact that I seemed to introduce myself to the same people every morning thinking I hadn't met them yet and greeting everybody within 200 meters of the schoolgrounds worried I might unknowingly ignore a Waldorf parent).

Alan of course had to come (I told him it was compulsory - and he always trusts me with school things).

 So we arrived at our first parent evening in a room with lovely pastel walls and drapes, called the small hall. Chairs were arranged in a wide circle and as soon as we all got seated, sheets were handed out. Aha, I thought - a bit of German efficiency after all: here comes the protocol of the evening. I barely glanced at my paper - partly because I had forgotten my reading glasses. The next moment we were divided into groups of 10 and somebody counted one two three and the first group started singing: I walk with my little lantern.

The second group joined in, I started panicking... in mere seconds it would be my turn - everybody in the whole room just waiting for me to sing, I couldn't even read the words....I walk with my little lantern and my ladidadidada... the whole song drifted into chaos with Alan's deep choir voice somehow carrying us through to the end.

 Glances and nervous giggles around the room.

Ok people, that was lovely! enthused our teacher: should we try it again then? ....
and again
and again
and again
and so the evening went. The last couple of hours were dedicated to our childrens development between the ages of six and seven (another true eye opener) and we came home in the early hours of the morning abuzz with all the new things and songs we had learned.

The next day was a normal working day and apart from rushing to and fro (town to Kenilworth) twice and doing a spot of  needle-work in the morning,  the day was pretty uneventful.

But Saturday arrived and with it craft-making morning. Naturally the whole family went.

As soon as we got there we were seperated (Alan and I that is - the kids stayed with me). The men were taken to an undisclosed location to do what they called "woodwork" and the women stayed in the classroom perched on above mentioned little chairs. Out came the beads and buttons and needles, the home baked cookies, oranges and tea and a whole lot of small unfamiliar looking creatures in different stages of creation.  As I had not brought anything to the table I looked around a little shame facedly, hoping somebody would take charge of me.

You might have guessed already that I did not have to wait long.

You better come and sit here, I show you what to do and you can use my needle and thread. (friendly face looming above long flowing garment)
I mumbled something along the lines that I had not known we were supposed to bring anything (who reads the 10 paged emails from beginning to end?????  Clearly everybody but me!!!) and was quickly assured that it was ok, because we could all share. As soon as I had repositioned myself, I was handed  two pieces of felt in the shape of a miniature tent and proceeded to sew my first gnome

 Ahem SEW . Right. Exactly how do you mean???

 I hadn t sewn anything by hand (and never in my life by machine I might add) since I attended "good housekeeping" in elementary school, where I finished a sorry looking pair of pot holders and never really felt the need to take the aquired skills to the next level.

Just do a simple blanket stitch. (flowing garment)
Right. Blanket stitch. (trying to conjure a mental image of a blanket and it's stitches)
And so I sat contemplating the simplicity of said blanket stitch, needle suspended in midair, eventually admitting I had no idea what she was talking about.

The next half hour or so, the lovely lady patiently guided my clumsy fingers through the moves, from top to bottom, line them up nicely, then through the loop, and again, watch your spacing, pull tight, .... that's it.

And off I went like lassie on a rescue mission. As I got into the rhythm (stitch, loop, thread, pull, stitch , loop thread, pull. stitch...) the room around me became hazy, voices  faded...

What years of of yoga and meditation couldn't do ( my particular brand of brain never fully responded to a simple command of  shutting up and blissing out)  repetitive labour got me there within minutes: All thoughts stopped and I entered a state of consciousness I can only describe as blissfully meditative.
Children drifted in and out of my awareness, conversations only marginally affected me, everybody around me was part of my perfectly coordinated universe (stitch, loop, thread, pull).

For a short while,  I believe , I even left my body and looked down at our community of women diligently bowing our heads over needlework, only looking up to check on children, admire each other's work or offer friendly advise.

At some point somebody suggested to bring tea to the woodworking men (ay, my joseph must have worked up a sweat, we should serve some tea to the menfolk ) - or maybe this was a scene from the Harrison Ford movie, where he ends up hiding in an Amish community, falls in love with the lovely rebecca who is only allowed to shower with her clothes on, but Harrison manages to actually sneak a peek....

...anyway, you get the picture.
1 o clock came and went.
Ever so often in the periphery of my mind and vision I registered Alan's face popping up at the window, grimacing and mouthing incomprehensible words, to which I felt no need to respond.

Eventually he stormed into the room and shouted: Martina we have to go now, I need to be at the airport in 20 minutes.
I looked up truly astonished:
Airport,what on earth for???
when I noticed his desperate winking  - (together with everybody else in the room).
Ah, ok, to pick your parents up (wink wink)
Yes (great heaving sigh of relief) we must go NOW.

On our way home  I realised that it was way passed lunchtime and for the first time in years I had not fed the children or worried about Kalas naptime.

It was then that I realised that the transformation had begun ....

watch this space :-)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

To all the single ladies .... and mothers...

Not for the first time I find myself in awe of single-motherdom and its daily mind boggling challenges. Ladies I don't know how you do it.

Two days into my week of  single motherhood  - (yes Alan is away for a couple of days) I realise once again I am not cut out for this monumental achievement in multitasking, managing, organising and developing superhuman qualities all in one days work (and I have great and capable help!!!)

It all started out well enough with me smugly packing lunchboxes and school bags and laying out multi layered little outfits inspired by "iafrica- 7-day- weather-forecast" the evening BEFORE ( having temporarily lost the morning privilege of shouting last minute instructions to Alan from the sanctuary of my bathroom).

 I then calmly set my alarm for six oh ten and go to bed at a civil time expecting a good night's rest and a smooth and efficient start to the day.

At around midnight Leah comes crawling into my bed, demanding a drink of water and around nine tenths of my duvet and mattress space. Can't go back to sleep for what feels like hours. But must have dozed off before 2 am because that is precisely when I am yet again rudely woken by what seems like drunken party noises from next door. Turns out it's Kala -  who has clearly recovered from nasty ear infection that kept us up the previous two nights - letting the world know with a smashing song that she is finally well and sufficiently rested.

In one swift move I find myself standing by her bed negotiating terms

Me: Kala, sleep time
Kala: Mama you sing for me
Me: Need to sleep can't sing
Kala: Twinkle twinkle LITTLE STAR (top of her voice)
Me (scared now Leah might wake): sshhhhh,  ok, one song, but then you have to sleep.
Kala: you sing by my bed  NOT from the door ! (cunning little cow)
Me: you have to close your eyes then.
Kala: closes one eye - remaining eye glinting triumphantly in the eery glow of the nightlight -whilst mama recites groggily: der Mond ist aufgegaahangen, die gooholdnen sternlein prahangen...

Suddenly shouting from next door:
Maaamaaa where are you???

I excuse myself for a minute from Kala's bed site and rush over to Leah who has flung herself diagonally across my bed crying hysterically:

 I thought you were gohohone and my eahear is so sooooore.

Horror visions of the next two nights spent soothing another raging ear infection alternate with suspicions that she's faking it, which instantly makes me feel guilty, but can't dwell on lovely guilt trip either as Kala is by now noisily demanding I finish her song.

The next two hours are spent with me hopping from room to room, alternately singing German lullabies, dispensing medicine (by now I don't care if she's faking it - out comes the bottle of Stoepain), holding warm water bottles to Leah's ear, changing Kalas nappie (as she demands fresh one to be able to close second eye) - before eventually finding myself with ice cold feet and hypochondriac symptoms pushed to the edge of my bed waiting for the alarm to go off and entertaining fantasies of contracting terminal ear infection whilst  having to look after two sick children for at least 6 nights in a row.

When  alarm eventually saves me from full blown panic attack,  I spend the first half of my carefully planned morning  trying to wake the girls from deepest sleep ever with tea, songs and promises of wonderful adventures later in the day whilst simultaneously trying to get dressed, showered and teeth brushed (maybe not in that order) myself.

Eventually I stand in yesterday's clothes and unwashed hair with  two  outfits in hand and nobody to put them on. Girls decided to play hide and seek and giggle hysterically at my increasingly threatening voice.  Eventually I manage to unwrap Kala from the bedroom curtain where upon she informs me she is going to keep her pyjamas on for the rest of the day. This time I am not negotiating.  I maneuver her kicking and protesting into school appropriate clothing while her sister - with clearly no recollection of terrible night pains - complains that the labels in her new t-shirt scratch and the socks don't go with the leggings and anyway she hates me and when is her papa coming back cause he's much nicer than me. Why? do I really want to know? because he is not shouting at us...
Fair enough. I am with them on that one: When is he coming back???????????

Cutting all scratchy labels out of Leah's clothes and choosing new socks - which she insists on doing herself -  only takes about the other half of allocated morning time.

I still haven't brushed Kalas teeth and that only gets accomplished when I allow Barbie to be bathed in the sink at the same time (it must be obvious by now that Kala is the star negotiator in our family), after which yet another change of clothes becomes necessary. Leah has in the meantime beautified her whole face with lipstick and is now happily drawing squirly whirlies on her arms with my Chanel lip liner.

The shame of presenting my child with imported cosmetics all over her face and body in her new earth friendly, hemp lined Waldorf environment, has to be faced as there is really no time for a lengthy clean up. I hand her a kitchen roll, bark out instructions to wipe offending body parts, grab one kid  under each arm and drag them off to breakfast (yes: lovingly prepared the evening BEFORE).

I am going to skip the details of  our family breakfast  and the many reasons why it was IMPOSSIBLE to ingest even one spoonful of my horrendously healthy breakfast (papa makes a much nicer one - of course he does, it's effing cardboard  pronutro with buckets of honey) - and now we are in the car and off to school - surprisingly only 5 minutes behind schedule.

I do a drive by at the German Kindergarten and throw Kala over the gates into the capable hands of Rebecca or Beatrix - suddenly can't remember a single name - speeding off towards Kenilworth and the peaceful, veggie-dyied wool knitting morning activities at Waldorf paradise.

While  sitting in the dolls corner being served wooden apples and tea in tiny ceramic cups I suddenly remember that I should have left the gate open for our cleaner. So I rush back - a meter a minute in morning traffic - to get to the house at half past nine and beyond late for morning meeting at my place of business - which seems by now a remote and fancyful phantasy of my sleep deprived mind.

As I race from home to work a pling pling informs me there is a text - from absent husband asking how it's all going. "All fine" super mom replies, "kids at school, on my way to work - MISS YOU"

How true
.... to be continued

Friday, May 6, 2011

Baby Jesus and The Easter Bunny

With the recent Easter celebrations I found myself once again confronted with the moral dilemma of where to draw the line between creating a little fairy tale bubble for my kids and  - really - lying to them. It is one thing to tell them about the Easter Bunny hopping about in our garden at night hiding chocolate eggs - creating a little fun and excitement and get away with it. But it's a whole different ball game to stand up to an interrogation practise the FBI would be proud of.

How tall exactly is the Easter bunny?
Where does he live?
Where does he get the eggs from?
Does he know Santa?
(that's just the top 4)

... and things become even more dicey when the little mind goes into worry overdrive

Will he get into my window?
Where is he now?
Why is he only coming out when it's dark (the dark is a big worry at the moment...)?

I am not good at making things up, it's probably my German upbringing - never tell a lie (at least not one that can be dismantled within seconds...) and always be on time.
So I go from reluctantly describing the by now intensely annoying creature as really tiny (but how can he carry the eggs if he's so tiny) and friendly (but why is he only coming at night if he's so friendly - well, I don't know, maybe he's shy???) and on quite good terms with Santa as they probably source chocolate from same supplier to eventually breaking down under the continuous stream of unrelenting questions - faced with the pure terror in my 5 year olds voice:

Mama pleeeeeese close the window NOW. I don't want the Easter Bunny to get me!!!!

So I admit it's all one big fat lie!

Immediately I feel terrible for not only having lied to my child (something I vowed to NEVER EVER do), but also for destroying one of the last safe candy floss colored, marshmallow cuddly harbours of childhood by wiping out the Easter Bunny, Santa and the Tooth Fairy in one fell swoop.

Leah goes from utter terror to disbelieving astonishment, shrieking:

You mean adults just PRETEND there is an Easter Bunny and it's really them???

hmmm yes (almost inaudible),  hoping she is not going to share this particular newsflash with her fellow egg hunters the next day)

Maybe some kids out there are only too happy to buy into the fairy tale world of sled riding bearded men with gift bags the size of a small country and chocolate bearing rabbits - not so my child.

She was born worrying about things. Her over anxious mind caused us to explain to her at the age of 3 (and following the strong advise of her nursery school teachers) that the scary man with the fake beard and strange voice who was going to visit her school the next day would really be her papa pretending to be Santa.

 So when all the other kids were shrieking with delight (and some with horror) at the sight of a sweaty, puffing giant in a bright red jump suit ( arms and legs miles too long for the medium sized Santa Costume) Leah happily  shouted: Papa Papa - which immediately caused uproar amongst the 3 year olds:

That's Santa sillybilly, it's not your Papa.
Yes it is.
No it is not.....

Soon sides were formed, with the parents either supporting the unbelievers (look at this, it IS Leah's papa) or the conservatives (of course it IS Santa, Leah just thinks it's her dad) the latter sending "how could you " looks in my direction and the former giggling hysterically with our team. There are  clearly two irreconcilable sides when it comes to keeping or killing childhood myths - with no middle ground.

We subsequently had to have a postmortem at home, with Alan being more of the old school persuasion to keep all childhood myths alive until they finally leave home (the kids and the myths) and me still too vividly remembering my own terror, when Father Christmas visited our home with a scary helper called  "Knecht Ruprecht", who - I think - was created somewhere in  German Mythology to keep children scared and obedient.  My little brother was weeping with terror, the neighbour's kids just stunned and wide eyed,  all of us listening with mounting anxiety to all our sins ceremoniously read off a seemingly endless list by Knecht Ruprecht.

It sort of ended well, as none of us actually got abducted and I (already 6 at the time) realised that Santa was not all knowing as he only read out the sins that my parents knew about - he clearly did not know about the plate that I broke and secretly got rid off or that I had lied about my homework. Also Knecht Ruprecht looked a lot like our neighbour's 20 year old son ....

But I can't say that this is one of my happier childhood memories.

What came out all this for me was to really trust my instincts and be honest with my children, when  faced with their questions and worries. As long as they did not ask and just accepted Santa (... ok, when they were babies really) it was fine to create a bit of a story around the occasion.

But as soon as Leah got the vocabulary to ask, it became clear to me that she was not going to simply accept the fact that strange men can enter our homes through chimney's and furry creatures invade our garden at night.

Part of me actually felt relief that I did not have to lie to her - and part of me is still a bit sad that she does not grow up with happy thoughts about a nice old man flying through the air in a sled distributing gifts to all the kids in the world.

The tooth fairy is still alive though - as a recent gift under her pillow really convinced Leah of a higher being and surprisingly she had no line up or sketch artist set up for me the next day to identify the trespassing elf.

Oh and Baby Jesus recently joined the team of accepted yet unexplained super powers: Leah and Kala were watching a dramatic cloud built up in the autumn sky the other day when Leah suddenly piped up: That's Baby Jesus in the clouds and when the cloud bursts we are going to see him.

Kala vigorously nodded her head, none of them aware of me on the stairs overhearing them.
And when it rains - Leah continued her lecture -  God is sad, and He is the boss of the world.

I was mystified as to where this particular piece of knowledge had come from and at the same time torn between honest shock and helpless giggles. And just as I was about to embark on a lengthy explanation about cloud formation and rain, a voice from the kitchen chirped:  Baby Jesus is  not coming yet, but very soon!

Mystery solved: Early religious studies as taught by Nanny Sam.

I bit back my instinct to clarify, which was not easy for me as I am not a church follower (my belief in a higher being is somewhat more universal) and again: Where to draw the line between fact and fiction, faith and myth, spirituality and superstition?

At this particular instant I decided to silently retrace my steps back up the stairs and not interfere as none of this was actually directed at me. But I am more aware now of my children being subjected on a daily basis, be it at school or in the park playing with their friends and nannies, to many tales and myths and religious ideas that I can not control and might not even be aware of.

True to my belief in practising tolerance and acceptance when it comes to people's values and belief systems all I can do is be aware of these different influences and be present and ready to answer questions if and when they come: truthfully.

 Based on my own beliefs and values without belittling or ridiculing what other people believe in. And of course I got tested the next day, when Leah on our way home from school told me in the car: Look Mama, the big cloud over there, that's baby Jesus and he'll come out soon.

When I answered that I did not think Baby Jesus was actually hiding in a cloud but that is was just rain waiting to come out, she simply told me that I was wrong and anyway Sam had told her and Baby Jesus was in the cloud, I just did not know.

Yes, I thought to myself,  this much is true: I actually do not know.
(will start looking out for fairies again)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Something to think about while we are on the subject:

Why is it important for a so called healthy racial identity to identify with your "black" heritage rather than with the other parts of your genetic cocktail, i.e. asian, chilean, german, whatever?
Isn't it strange that most people would consider a german/african child with light brown skin calling herself white a case for a therapist,whereas we would consider it healthy if she would call herself black?

Hope to get answers from you, Precious, Cynde, anyone?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Black Man in The White House - Something the world can be proud of?

I am amazed at all the different reactions I got  here on my blog, in personal emails or speaking to people about my feelings towards race labellling.

Thank you all for participating and offering opinions! At the same time I am a little frustrated with how my - adimittedly slightly long winded - point of view gets reduced to a reluctance  to call my children black because I have an issue with their race or skin color (???). I accept that most people still think in traditional categories of black and white and I do not automatically see it as an insult to my girls if someone refers to them as black - depending of course on the context.

But why is it so difficult to accept for some of you that I simply want to move forward and away from labels that have historically been used to suppress and humiliate people (or set "white" people apart as superior) and into a future where we see race and color as something as individual and natural as eye color or hair color. Something you can refer to when describing a person but not their foremost outstanding characteristic. 

I understand that centuries of dividing most of the human race into black or white  make it somewhat difficult to move away from those stereotypes - but why the reluctance to do so? Why not describe people as caramel color or dark brown or light brown or whatever applies to the individual? And my question again: Why automatically call a person with mixed heritage black? Only because this is the traditional definition of a not "purely white" person with "black" genes? And do we really want to carry on in this tradition? Or can we give our children the opportunity to be  freed from those stereotypes and simply see themselves as unique and a part of many different cultures and races? As one of you suggested: how about we simply say  "human race" when describing ourselves? (ok, maybe a bit too Rudolf Steiner ... but an alternative)

I want to ask you this again (everybody who feels it is important to be calling each other black and white): why this reluctance to let go of these labels and firstly describe somebody as a human being, man or woman instead of a black man or white woman?

Hey, and sometimes let's even see the funny side of us struggling along to be politically correct when it comes to race and color:  How about, when you need to point out the little boy with brown skin who is standing in line with 15 little pale swimmers in costumes and swim hats (as happened to my friend the other day), and the swimming teacher clearly struggling to come up with a suitable description...
After many a stuttering attempts (hair was out because of swim hats, no clothing items to describe by except for uniform swimming trunks) my friend finally rescued him by saying: Oh, you mean the little boy with brown skin.

Relief and Yes!

So here it is again: The reluctance to say the little black boy. Some of you might consider this a bad thing. I think it is a big step in the right direction. People start thinking before they label. So what if we come across as awkward and sometimes even make idiots of ourselves in the process? At least we are trying. Change is always more or less awkward and hardly ever easy.

The swimming teacher did not say the little black boy, thereby avoided labelling him or making assumptions about his racial identity. And it did not come naturally to him. So? In my  book this is a good sign. The whole awkwardness of the situation is simply our residual baggage from a long history of racism - which we need to overcome one way or another.

And I see it happening everywhere amongst children (of all colors) already: My friend's 14 year old daughter (who goes to a school in Germany with many children from different countries) told me what happened in her class the day after Obama was elected president:

Her teacher came into the classroom all happy and excited and made a little speech about how the world has changed for the better now that a Black Man was in The White House.  One of her classmates stood up and said: The world will really be changed for the better if nobody notices anymore that there is  a "black" man in the White House. (everybody cheered and clapped).

And no, I don't think her classmate meant for us to be color blind nor was he embarassed by or in denial about his own brown skin - he was simply fed up with people being labelled according to race stereotypes.

So yes, I will continue describing my beautiful girls of many different races (in fact they are: colored/xhosa/white) as the little girls with the  afro hairstyle or the dreadlocks or brown skin. But I will not put stereotypes in their heads about being black. If they want to identify one day with that part of their heritage and call themselves black - I will also happily accept that and support them. But I think it is important that I let them make that decision as they grow up and in the meantime tell them what I think about Black and White and Human.....................
....and the joy of simply being alive in our  bodies!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What's wrong with calling my children black?

Precious comments on my post about "the race issue"  that she does not understand the reluctance to "describe ourselves as black or white" as she sees it simply as a fact of life, pretty much like describing a person as a man or a woman. She also adds that many people who have written to her - adopted by families with a different ethnic background - feel that it is mainly the "white" community who shows a reluctance to call their "black" kids black and instead emphasises that color does not matter whereas they feel it does.  (If there were more cases of cross cultural adoption where the parents are "black" and the children "white" we might have a different perspective altogether but as it is we do not have the privilege of another side here).

I have been thinking about this over the past week and as much as I see her point and want to come around to it for the sake of my children ( if this is what it's going to come down to), I am still reluctant to call them black. . .

 And I admit: this reluctance is not only coming from an intellectual space, where I can make a good case against stereotyping and labelling. It is also an emotional issue. The one thing I know for sure is that it does not come from a place where I think it is "bad to be black" -

So why does it feel wrong to be calling my children black?

Partly it might have to do with my growing up in a country where we did not firstly distinguish people by their skin color - simply because there was no one but white people around - I naturally learned to refer to people by other characteristics and it does not come natural to me to say "white woman" or "black man". OK, I could rise to the challenge and relearn my cultural conditioning - if only it made sense to me...

 I don't see why we should continue with a terminology that has been invented and used in order to suppress and alienate people for centuries. Having said that, at least in the past there was no middle ground - you were either black (african) or white (caucasian). This has changed with cultural boundaries melting into each other and more and more children being born with multiple heritage. Isn't it strange that as soon as somebody has any obvious traits of African/black background they are automatically labelled black - even though their European or Asian or Other heritage might  be predominant. If those children were to identify with their "white" parent and call themselves white, people would look strangely at them as somebody who has a major cultural identity crisis (probably caused by a white parent in denial....).

Why is it more acceptable or some might even say "healthy" for a person of dual heritage (I read that this is the term used now in England) to be labelled black than it is for them to call themselves white?

Is it maybe because there is still a residual air of supremacy about the so called white race which we unwittingly support by continuing to define people - and mainly people who are not white - by their skin color? Is it because black really means any shade of non-white? And do only  people with two white parents and grandparents with no hint of "black" in their features qualify as white? My skin - white or not - crawls as I realise where this is going.

What I want for our  children, especially for those with dual or triple heritage, is to break free from being labelled at all and challenge this system of sometimes open sometimes subconscious judgement and stereotyping.

 I want to ask you this (Precious and whoever can answer me) : If you have a black and a white parent - as some of my children's friends do - why should you be forced to identify with one side over the other? What is so healthy about labelling a child black or white and thereby denying her to grow up into a future where this terminology might not make sense anymore thereby allowing them to simply be beautiful (my daughter recently referred to an African woman she had been talking to  as the "beautiful lady with the jewellery" - and yes, I was proud and happy that she can be part of a world where people are simply interesting and beauty comes before color....).

What I am trying to say is this: Being black is not as clear cut as being a woman  (or a man or being tall or short). Nobody can be tall or short at the same time or in their mid thirties and end thirties (except for you of course P :-))) - but many people - and there is going to be an ever growing number of them in our future - are not just black or white. To determine what their exact background is by just looking at a person will be more and more impossible. To call them black only because they are clearly not white is something that does not sit well with me - my cultural background and the connected fascist history might also play a part in my emotional stalling whenever I am forced to refer to somebody by the color of their skin.

And Precious, or anybody out there who is reading this with a fresh perspective: if you have a definition of black and white embracing all the shades in between (and NOT excluding my children) that we could go into the future with, I am open and willing to learn - but I desperately want to know why it is necessary for anybody to grow up with these labels. I see how they made sense 30 or 40 years ago where being black was still very much a disadvantage for your future and as you put it, you would have been better off if somebody had prepared you for this sad truth. But if there is only the slightest chance that this might not be the case for our children - I want to latch onto it and prepare them for a better world than the one we come from.

Maybe it is time we changed the world a little - even if it's only within the circle of our family and friends - and as I am writing this, somebody sends me a mailer, with the perfect end to this post ,thank you !

Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come (Victor Hugo)

What if the time has come and we continue to ignore it?
What will this make us in the eyes of our children 30 years from now? I would rather argue my point and possibly apologize for not having prepared them sufficiently for a world who mainly looks at them as black than to have to explain why I kept hanging on to an outdated notion of what defines us as human beings.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Two minute friends and The Party Of My Life

It's happened - I recently turned the corner into senior citizenship - having dreaded the event for the past 50 years or so.  And guess what? It was absolutely spectacular.  It felt like something suddenly popped open (apart from the wedding dress I tried to fit into - and  had to change for a newly acquired black stretchy number...) and I suddenly released my inner party queen.

But hang on a minute - this does not make any sense:   We are talking about a total birthday-phobic here. I don't do parties. Ever. In fact I hate them.  The term wallflower does not even begin to describe my overall approach to social gatherings. It's more wall-thistle with super-size thorns.

Whatever happened to my fight-or-flight-approach to birthdays, which over the past 15 years were either spent in blissful solitude (OK with hubby - but same difference :-))  somewhere on a beach without cell phone reception or I invited the mother hen of all crisis around for the occasion and spent it alone in my room sobbing hysterically over some minor dispute (also with afore mentioned hubby) torturing myself with mental images of old women in stretchy nylon dresses and with flaky pink lipstick smeared over thin bloodless lines previously known as lips whose only purpose remains in telling the story of a life full of disappointment and rejection. I could go on - but you get the picture.

As the dreaded day approached, I knew I could not do another year of this and I decided to go for broke: I invited people - dare I call them friends? - some of whom I have known for a long time and others for about 2 minutes (this is of course about you M). I rented houses on an idyllic beach, organised caterers, duvets, music, even the weather and generally kept myself busy panicking over party logistics which helped to bridge many moments of insanity leading up to the event. Naturally I was convinced, nobody would show up anyway and I would spend the day in mortified embarrassment sitting on mountains of food and drink and ending it with a screaming marital dispute possibly resulting in a nervous breakdown on my part.

Imagine my surprise when B-day kicked off on Thursday after my Nia class and I suddenly found myself in my living room surrounded by 15 sparkling women (plus 3 mildly bewildered but very helpful men serving us sushi and kir royale), most of them in sweaty floaty dance outfits, laughing, chatting, drinking, eating, generally having a   p a r t y .  Colorful cards with poetic, loving and funny messages were piling up on my birthday table and the most amazing gifts materialised out of nowhere.

As I looked around in wonder and disbelief I felt the strangest sensation running and bubbling through my body - sushi gone bad? champagne induced giddiness? it turned  out to be plain and simple happiness.

The party pretty much carried on for four days in the same spirit - everybody who had said they'd come arrived. And as the days slowly and quite dreamily melted into each other we all found ourselves caught inside a strange time bubble, where everything just seemed to happen outside the limitations of minutes and hours and days.

Time stretched and compressed itself according to everybody's natural time.

 Food appeared whenever we felt like eating, people seemed to literally float in and out of each others space (and without the aid of mind altering drugs I might add - well mostly) participating in all the fun things we had lined up and still finding moments to be relaxed, take in the scenery, spent time with our kids,  friends and even with new  people we hardly met before (rent a crowd does have its own merits :-)).

It all culminated in the most spectacular party being kicked off by a Nia/drumming event on the top deck of the party house, with the sea and setting sun as a back drop and a visit from 6 little fairies in pink frilly outfits. I had speeches (no, not me - still need another 50 years to work on that one!!), and hugs and kisses and cheers and in one sudden blinding and mind altering flash it all became clear to me:

This is the party Of My Life. A party that I could have started years ago, but which for reasons that might or might not become clear to me one day is only beginning now. At 50!  I look at the people around me and not only do I dare to call them friends - I love everyone of them. And they are all here because of ME, to celebrate ME and to be with ME (savouring an ego-manic moment here). As hard to believe as this is to a seasoned party-pooper - it became staggeringly obvious in the way we all dared to be ourselves and just let go of everything else for this one magic happy party night:  2 minute friends or life long companions - the looooove easily stretched - like my new party dress - and covered all the little flaws and kinks to make one big and cozy nest for us all.

(and the piece of art we all created for posterity is featured above...thanks as always my friend Brooke)