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


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 :-)