Rocking the “blended-family-thing”

The cake that nearly caused disaster!

On Saturday it was my daughter’s birthday party. Once again, it was held at granny’s house – because she has the biggest pool! I feel I deserve a pat on the back, along with everyone else who banded together to make the day as much fun as possible for the girl-child.

Last year was dismal and depressing to say the least. The EX didn’t even invite his then new girlfriend (even though I fully expected her to be there) and nerves were still pretty frayed and raw. The other children’s parents didn’t know how to deal with the fact that we were now split up and it was a rather uncomfortable affair. (I trust the kids didn’t pick up on it!).

The year before that, although things had already been falling apart between us for a while, we were still living in the same house and very few people knew how precariously I was hanging on to my sanity! I remember the day vaguely, but most of it is packed away with the rest of the trauma from 2017.

I baked cakes in 2017 and 2018 and thought this year we should do something a little different – so I bought (at great expense!) an ice-cream cake. (I had always wanted one as a child, but it was never quite warm enough on my autumn birthday; I finally got one at age 21!) I thought it would be a nice treat and change. So after work, before picking up the children I had to pick up said cake and drop it back off at home, seeing as it would melt in the very seasonable heat wave. This just added more angst to an already rushed Friday afternoon – I had not taken into account that it would be friggin “Black Friday” when I ordered the damn cake, and I would have to walk into a shopping mall! As a general rule, I avoid places of mass consumption on this demonic day of trade!

But woe betide the mother who tries to do something nice…

Upon telling the girl-child that she was getting an ice cream cake she promptly burst into tears while getting into the car at aftercare. The deluge of tears didn’t stop until long after we stopped at home and I had been thoroughly rebuked. She didn’t want an ice cream cake. She wants a chocolate cake! I had better go shopping and buy a cake because she wasn’t going to eat the ice cream! It had been a really rough week and I just didn’t have the emotional capacity to respond. When she was cried out, she asked to see the cake. I showed it to her and she was placated because she “didn’t realise that an ice cream cake wasn’t just a blob of white ice cream”! Phew! That was one small crisis averted!

We bundled everyone into the car early morning – brother, sister and unsuspecting new boyfriend whom I never gave a choice in whether he was going or not. Luckily kids are easily motivated to get out of bed when there is a party involved at granny’s house!

There was a slight mad rush to get everything done before the guests would arrive, but for the most part, EX and his now-not-so-new-anymore-girlfriend (we shall call her “D”) had put up all decorations and set tables and things. She even made a whole lot of decorations with her daughter. Mostly, there were a few snacks that had to be completed. Even the cake arrived in one piece!

The children were in the water even before their friends arrived and I left the BF to his own devices, hoping he would find something to keep himself occupied, which he duly did by appointing himself life guard at the poolside.

Guests soon started arriving, and with it being much the same bunch as previous years, everyone knew where to go and what to do. Kids headed straight into the pool in any case. The atmosphere (to me at least) was much more relaxed and if people did still feel strange around our blended family, no-one let it show. A number of them had been allocated to the EX in the divorce in any case and have spent enough time with D to feel comfortable with them as a new couple.

So, we all partied together and chatted away like there was nothing unusual to the whole situation. I even found D and BF chatting away at some point, although I suspect he was trying to hide from the noise, never having had children of his own. He did go off mid-party, after having consumed rather vast amounts of mother-outlaw’s famous peppermint crisp tart, in search of some beer and managed to get lost – that’s his story, anyway. I suspect he didn’t mind not finding his way back too quickly!

Either way, he did well. He managed to keep it all together nicely for someone who was thrown in the deep end of having children by acquiring an instant family with two half-grown children. Apparently if I were to tell his former friends and family that he had attended a kiddie-party (SOBER, at that!) they wouldn’t believe it! I’m proud of the guy!

And I’m grateful to D and the EX and the OUtlaws who all banded together to make it a wonderful day for my baby girl. We all deserve a pat on the back for managing to let bygones be bygones and try to get along for the sake of the children! We have taken a terrible situation and made the best of it.

Thanks everyone, the day left me feeling all warm&fuzzy and ready for the silly season! Next year we can all do Christmas dinner together…

Fun in the sun!

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Money, money money…

I apologise in advance if this post lacks its usual oomph. My audience (of one) – you know who you are – complained about a lack of posts on this blog. Therefore, I must oblige and write something. Have to keep the fan happy!

I have a little nightly ritual in my house; we go around the table and name three things for which we feel grateful. A while back, my daughter said she was grateful that we were not poor. It made my heart skip a beat. Because let me tell you, I feel fucking poor! Things have never been exactly smooth sailing, but there was a time in my life where I was at least self-sufficient. It was a short time. But it was there!

Since getting divorced, nothing has been easy. Although all has settled down now and we are swinging with the new rhythm of things, it feels as if financially, I have gone from bad to worse to dire! I am so tired of telling my children “No, you cannot have that” Or, “No. I can’t buy that right now”. It feels as if I am forever denying them anything they want! It is an awful feeling!

Last year, we went on holiday; for the first time just the three of us. It was the worst holiday of my entire life! Although my father kindly paid for the accommodation, SARS and divorce payouts managed to mess up the rest of my cash flow so badly, that I was sure every time I swiped that piece of plastic, it would be declined! Luckily we were in the quaint not-so-little-anymore coastal town of Hermanus and we could spend a lot of time walking on the beach or watching whales, or just enjoying the beach! I was as tense (if not more) after the so-called break as I was before. It felt to me as if the whole thing was a grande disaster. But if the kids noticed I was more tense and irritable than ever (although with all the drama of 2018 they probably didn’t) they generously didn’t say anything and proclaimed it the best place ever and they both wanted to move there with immediate effect!

The point is, things are more hopeless now than they were then. I used to make it to a week before payday before I started panicking about where the last bit of money would be scraped from for petrol and groceries. Now it seems I can’t even make it to the second week of the month without that same feeling of utter despair and defeat. And I am not alone. Everyone I speak to shares my sentiments (or they are over exaggerating liars!) and the money does simply not stretch along with the expenses. I have sold everything I can sell. I no longer have a horse. I no longer do anything that is not absolutely necessary for survival. It is a miserable state of existence and to quote Smeagle: “I hates it!”

Last week, there was a knock on my door. When I opened up, expecting to find a lost “trick-or-treater” there was a woman and a small child. The woman, presumably the mother, told me that the little girl had something to ask me. The child mumbled something about a ballet function that she wanted to attend and showed me some beaded bracelets and necklaces that she was selling to make money for said ballet function. Now, mere moments before this little pantomime at my door, I was freaking out about not having enough money for all my debit orders to go off without paying a penalty and here was this disheveled pair with their sad story. I promptly burst into tears. The boyfriend saved the moment and went to fetch some coins to buy a necklace. Despite telling me that I had just been conned, he still held me while I cried and cried and cried. I am not even sure why I cried. Was I feeling guilty for bitching about something that seemed so irrelevant and small compared to their problems, or was I scared that I was headed that same way! I don’t know.

Money (or rather the lack thereof) seems to be an overwhelming theme in my life as of late. While I’m awake, it seems to occupy my mind more than what is necessary. Where will the next few rands come from to buy groceries, or to put petrol in my car? How will I get to work if I don’t have petrol? I don’t earn mega bucks, but I make a hell of a lot more than a hell of a lot of people out there. Where does it all go? How do other people make it work? My daughter is grateful that we are not poor. And she is quite correct. We are not poor. Just like the fact that they enjoyed our little holiday, it gives me comfort to know that not all of my angst is transferred to them, despite me always saying “no” to them.

And then, in the wee hours of the morning, wrapped up in my lover’s arms, with promises of love being renewed and plans being made for the future, I can forget about those worries for a short while and focus on the things I do have. I am loved. I am supported and most of all, I am not alone…

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Is “unconditional love” an oxymoron?

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The other night, my daughter asked me whether I still loved her father (from whom I am now divorced). It was tough to answer and it made me think.

The word “love” has numerous definitions including, but not limited to: If you love someone, you feel romantically or sexually attracted to them, and they are very important to you. OR: Love is a strong liking for something, or a belief that it is important. AND: Love is the feeling that a person’s happiness is very important to you, and the way you show this feeling in your behaviour towards them.

Collins describes the word “unconditional” as follows: If you describe something as unconditional, you mean that the person doing or giving it does not require anything to be done by other people in exchange.

As far as romantic love goes, the only type that doesn’t require anything in return is unrequited love, which we all know is no fun at all. Love, as we take it to mean, is always expected to be reciprocal in some way or another.

People are awfully quick to label their exes as narcissists and themselves as the poor victims. They are very quick to label others as “toxic” and “negative” and use it as an excuse to cut them off and walk away. We are constantly bombarded with messages that we don’t have to stand for any negativity and we don’t have to “settle” because we deserve better! This is another problem with modern society and it’s pop psychology wisdom. Although it might all be true, it is too often taken out of context!

Please note: I am not minimising very real psychological disorders. I am  definitely NOT advocating being someone else’s punch bag – physical or emotional!

Am I the only one who listens to a friend’s woeful tale of her (please interchange pronouns as suitable! This is just an example!) husband / boyfriend/ partner’s awful behaviour and wonders what she did to cause it? Is / was he really a narcissist, or did you just read something that makes you feel better about yourself and truly, he was just being a bit of an asshole? Or were you the one being a bit of an asshole and he simply reacted?

Listen, I am no angel. I am certainly not the most emotionally stable creature on the planet. There have been times (some of them rather recently) where my emotions ran sky-high and I lost my shit. LOST. MY. SHIT.  I am not proud of it and I work very, very hard to prevent getting into situations where I react that way. It’s not always possible. I am human. The people around me are human also. It doesn’t mean (contrary to what my ex-husband will have you believe) that I am a bad person. It doesn’t mean that “they” are bad people. We were all just having a bad day. Or a bad week, even.

I was told once that we do not “deserve” to be loved. We simply are loved. This would imply no conditions; that we are simply loved for who we are. Yet, when I look at people whose relationships have lasted, it has taken compromise, compassion and vast amounts of “settling”. That “settling” involves setting “terms & conditions”. These conditions can be violated leading to a breakdown in the relationship…not quite “unconditional”…

I don’t think it is possible to love someone unconditionally, or not without losing yourself . When a relationship ends, for whatever reason, you always have to take time to “find yourself” again. In fact, I don’t believe it’s possible to love without losing at least some of yourself. If you aren’t capable of giving of yourself, then surely you are incapable of love?

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How old do you have to be before you know what’s going on?

I am in a very good space right now. I would love to share this warm, fuzzy, happy feeling with the world. I am in love, things have settled into a new rhythm and it’s just generally “good”. Normally, I find it fairly easy to write about things going wrong. I can usually very accurately articulate sadness, anger, frustration and hurt. And yet, here I am, really struggling to find words better than “warm and fuzzy” to describe my current state of being…believe me, I have tried. I just end up sounding nauseatingly corny!

What is even more frightening is the fact that while I am so very happily in love right now, the fear and anxiety are gnawing away at me! This is a very fresh relationship. And for me at least, also a rather unorthodox way of going about things. It happened fast. We were talking on social media. Just talking, chatting. Sometimes. And then one day, things were just different. I can’t even say exactly when things went from merely friendly to being in love. The next thing I knew, the man had moved in! (Maybe I am an imperceptive idiot like that, because my marriage fucked out along the same lines…I didn’t even realise things were terrible until they were too far gone!)

Now, the first time round, as with most other things in my life, I did everything “correctly”. We met, dated the appropriate amount of time and really got to know each other (or so I thought, but believe you me, you never really know anyone until they are trying to divorce you!). Then we proceeded to get married, followed by children, the socially-prescribed amount of time later. And then, as my three regular readers will know, things stopped working. I never set out to be a divorced mother of two. I suppose no-one ever really does?

The point of the digression is: If things didn’t work out when I did it right, how do I know they will work when everything started out all weird and wacky! I have been through a number of life-jolting changes over the past two and a half years. Then, just as I thought everything was settling down, along came this man (wonderful as he may be) and upset the balance all over. I’m not going to lie. It hasn’t been all moonshine and roses. In fact, there has been no roses and very little moonshine. There have been other things. I have been so used to just knuckling down and getting things done on my own. I couldn’t actually believe the stink it caused when I tried to mow the lawn by myself! I have someone who can carry heavy things and reach high places! There is someone who worries when I don’t come home straight after work. There is someone who gets upset when I leave the door unlocked. There are all these little things that you take for granted when you are in a long-term relationship and then don’t even realise you missed when you were on your own…little things that just shows you are cared for…

It has been fun. And it has been awful. Having someone in my space again. Having to get to know a whole new person and learning their likes and dislikes and at the same time having to deal with my own open wounds and traumas. Yes, things have sometimes been very tough, because let’s face it, by the time you reach middle age, none of us have been left unscarred and unscathed by life and it’s never-ending onslaught! We all have our baggage and our triggers and we are all more or less totally messed up. You couldn’t in all honesty, call yourself human otherwise. And that ‘s just it. This whole life-thing: you keep going up and down all the time and nothing ever stays the same for very long. How long can we ride the crest of this happy-wave before we are thrown off, swept under and washed out on the beach again, spluttering, wet and bedraggled?

I have a habit of taking myself and life slightly too seriously and this one, well, he makes me laugh. And then he makes me cry. But then he does something that makes me feel all warm inside. And then sometimes I want to slap him upside the head! And then he takes my face in his hands, he looks at me with love in his eyes, kisses me softly and I want to melt into his arms and know how to make this last forever

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Determination and perseverance are not the answers either

“You are such a determined little rider” I was told once. At the time I wasn’t sure whether the comment was a compliment or not. To be honest, I am still not entirely sure it was. Thinking back and taking the circumstances into consideration, I am more convinced than ever that it was a veiled attempt at saying: “Give it up already, you can’t do it.”

Perhaps I should have listened. Following on from my two previous blog posts I feel the need to get this off my chest. This blog post has been a long time in the making, and I think I am finally ready to write it. Since before I can really remember, the only thing I can recall is wanting a horse. I was single-mindedly obsessed with it. So much so, that a psychologist even suggested to my parents (when I was 7) that perhaps they should get me that horse. My mother wanted me to be a ballerina. The ballet teacher had to call her in and tell her to please remove me from the class, because I would come in and sit in the corner and cry. Exasperated, she asked: “But what do you want to do?” “I WANT TO RIDE!” I almost-screamed through the tears.

I was allowed to stop ballet and go for riding lessons. Once a week, on the designated day of my lesson, it would rain. The the lesson would be cancelled. I would cry. I didn’t give up. I kept hoping that the next week I would get my lesson. I did manage to get some riding done, but it never seemed to be enough. Eventually my parents relented. They proceeded to get me my very own horse. They sat around dusty arenas and they took me to hospital when I fell off.

I made horsey friends and had an idyllic childhood of riding and fun in the sun. Even in high school, boys and friends always took second place to horses. I dreamed and dreamed and dreamed. I spent more hours in the saddle than most of the kids that I was jealous of, who were getting to compete in the big shows. Soon enough, I even acquired a second horse.

I was getting better. I worked hard. I wasn’t like those other prissy riders. I got down and dirty. I took care of my horse myself. I groomed her, I tacked her up and we spent hours together. And things started going well. We were getting to go to the big shows too. We were really starting to suss each other out and become a real team. Then she died. Suddenly and unexpectedly. I was devastated. But I wouldn’t be kept down long. I simply started working harder with my other horse.

Then she got African Horse Sickness and because this disease affects their hearts, I couldn’t ride for six months. Secretly, I think my parents were somewhat relieved, because it meant I could focus on my final year of high school without distractions.

After high school I took a gap year where I went to work on a horse farm. There, I realised that what I had been doing all my life was complete mickey-mouse stuff and the horsey world was so much bigger. I returned, more determined than ever to make it work. Although I went to university (there was no point in letting my god-given brains rot, after all) I still managed to ride horses for other people. I made some good pocket money, and even got a bigger, better horse. For reasons I understand only with hindsight, we didn’t make it. I thought it was time to “grow up” and get real. I figured, if I couldn’t “make it” with the well-bred, fancy horse, I simply couldn’t make it. I sold her.

I moved town and started a new degree. But soon, the cravings were back. I bought another horse. This time around, things were different though. Although I used my bursary to buy said horse, I was managing to do “real life” at the same time. I really thought I had it made this time around! I had a steady boyfriend, who despite being utterly unhorsey, did his best to understand. He surprised me at the stables (because he missed me). He held horses at shows. He never complained about the many hours I spent away at the stables. He really got me, I thought. This man was a keeper!

Fast-forward five years. Married to above-mentioned boyfriend and two children later, I lost my job. And then my horse. Things were tough. But I was determined. I wasn’t going to give up! I found ways and means. I still rode and I still dreamed. I tried various permutations of working-mother-rider. The man still tried, but he was less understanding. He helped with the cooking and bathing kids. He built jumps and saddle stands. He didn’t mind when I took the kids to see the horses.

Another five years down the line and everything just fell apart. I was put before an impossible choice: “It’s me or the horse.” I chose the horse. I was determined. I would persevere. If I tried hard enough, it had to work, right?

I forged ahead. I scraped together what little money I had. I bought the horse. I bought the saddle. I made the sacrifices. I cried many, many tears into the mane of that horse. In the end, it was all for nothing. The math simply wouldn’t work. I had to let the horse go. And in the months following, I sold my soul – brush by brush, blanket by blanket. Everything I had built up for nearly 30 years. Today, I sold the saddle.

Today, I am sad. I am angry. I am bitter. I was betrayed and let down by one person who swore everlasting love – through rich and poor, in sickness and in health – and all that.

I was passionate. I was determined. I persevered for longer than I should have. And I am left right back in the corner of that ballet class…

Determination

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Hard work is not the answer

After my last post, my number one fan made a comment that made me think about this matter even further. She noted that my father and his brother are two of the most hard-working men she knew, and this has not lead to any kind of financial stability in the years in which they are meant to slow down and reap the rewards of their many years of hard work.

It is true. My father did everything in life just “right”. He finished school, went on to study at university, worked the basic same job for a good few decades, in which time he married and had children. We never wanted for anything. I have never gone to bed hungry or cold. My father put his four children through school and all of us went on to get tertial educations. Although we managed to get bursaries for a lot of our post-graduate studies, none of us went into the job market with student loans to pay off. My father worked very hard so that we could have it “better” than they did. Somewhere, something went horribly wrong…

I have now been working for the best part of 15 years. In this time I have been retrenched once and for about 2.5 of those years I attempted to start my own business, following my “passion”. Granted, the divorce wasn’t part of the long-term plan, but I am forty years old, I have zero savings and when I retire with the pension I am currently accruing I could realistically survive for three months. (I am not even exaggerating here!) Every month, towards the end of the month, there are nights where I cannot sleep because I don’t know if I will have enough money for petrol to get to work and to buy food. I am forty years old, and some months I still need to ask my father, who has just retired, by the way, to help me with money for groceries…

It’s not as if I am a big spender. I don’t go out and I don’t smoke. I don’t enjoy shopping and I have no real need for fancy clothes as I wear jeans and a work-issued t-shirt during the week. I don’t really wear jewelry and my make-up is very basic. Yet, I have to say “no” to my children asking for things more than I care to think about. I have given up the one thing that has always kept me sane – my horse. There is no more fat to cut. I am not thriving in life. I am merely surviving from one day to the next. And I am quite frankly fed up with the whole business.

This is the reason it makes me seethe when I hear people say that someone from an impoverished background should just “work their way out”. Really? It is just not that simple! I personally know one or two people who have managed to work themselves up in life. But there was inordinate amounts of coincidences and plain old simple “luck” involved. For every person who does move “up” in the world, there are 90 who work as hard and harder and only manage to tread water, or get washed away by the tide completely.

Hard work is simply not appreciated. These same people who from their high horses proclaim that others should simply work hard and all will be well, strengthen the system that refuse to truly acknowledge hard work by encouraging a market that ensures people who work hard are in fact not paid their dues. They buy cheap, bad quality items that are mass produced. In doing so, they do two things: they fuck up the market for people who put time and effort into producing high quality products. But more than that, they ensure that those people who are mass-producing these terrible products under conditions suspiciously resembling modern-day slavery also get paid nothing, because they support this market!

No-one is willing to pay for the higher quality, because everything has become disposable. Very few people truly value the time and effort that goes into doing something properly. For decades I have watched my own mother produce works of art, from paintings, to glass work to exquisite wedding cakes, and make no money from it.

I watch my boyfriend work. I love watching him work. He puts so much love into the work he produces. He has genuine pride and shows me every finished piece like an excited, beaming child. Very few people however, truly appreciate that. They only see that they can get something rather similar, albeit of inferior quality and mass-produced, down the road at the Chinese store, at a quarter of the price.

Hard work is quite clearly not all that is required to make a “success” of life…so what is?

road-success-quote-under-construction

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Tired of colouring in the lines

Aerosmith quoteI don’t think it’s necessarily our eyes that are faulty, but there is definitely something wrong with the world and with society in general.

We know something is not quite right, because if we didn’t there is no way the self-help “experts” and “spiritual gurus” would be able to make so much money off us poor suckers, striving to “live our best lives.”

The problem I have with everyone trying to sell you all this “happiness-in-a-bottle-bullshit”, is that it is simply not true. Not everyone can find a job that would make them both happy and rich. Sure, some people can, but not everyone.

This is not because some people work harder than others, because if we have to be truly honest with ourselves, there are people who work extremely hard, all of their lives and never become rich. Never. There is an inordinate amount of luck involved in anyone making more money than they actually need. One of my absolute pet-peeves is when I hear people saying that poor people should work themselves out of their circumstances. But this is fodder for another post altogether…back to my original gripe about people preying on unhappy people by selling them lies. I am tired of people taking advantage of other people’s misery; using the system to enrich themselves at the cost of others.

The reason I say that not everyone can live their dream, is because our society simply does not cater for that. Someone has to clean the public toilets and wash the floors in the mall. Someone has to peel potatoes and wash dishes in a restaurant. Someone has to drive around and be a delivery-guy. Someone still has to do the dirty work. And I’m willing to bet a substantial amount of money that no-one out there dreams of spending their lives sweeping streets or driving the rubbish truck!

So, here we all are on our little hamster wheels, running towards nothing. We tell ourselves that we are “building a better life” so our children can have what we never had. Or so that they can have every opportunity lying wide open before them. Or so that we can have more money and more stuff and finally be happy. We are killing ourselves to keep up with the Jones’ or the Kardashians or whoever. But the sad truth is, we will never be happy like this. We are simply stuck and most of us are not brave or innovative enough to get out of this terrible entanglement where we need money to be able to buy things (even simple things like food and water!) in order to ensure survival in modern society.

I don’t claim to have a way out of this. I don’t. But I am fed up with the constraints that are enforced on me by this life and the toll it is taking on my very soul. I am forty years old and if I had to die today, I don’t feel that people could say: “At least she lived a full life”. Most of the time, it feels like I am still waiting for “real life” to start! Despite the fact that I have a job, a family, friends and a life I really can’t complain about, I am worn out. I am tired. Not I-need-more-sleep-tired (although, that too sometimes!). My soul is tired. I seem to have lost all sense of purpose. I have lost faith in humanity as it currently exists and I don’t want to play by the rules of society anymore! I am tired of colouring in the lines….

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