Author Archives: theconnblog

About theconnblog

A wizard. Worked in Oz before the popular wizard took over.

The equals

In an age where children are put under the microscope and continually assessed against every yard stick imaginable, it’s a wonder that they don’t all morph into bundles of neuroses dressed in matching school uniforms lugging around overstuffed school bags on their backs.

I get it. The idea is to get them all to conform to a set of behaviors and be measured against well defined assessments and then, if any child happens to score low (or high as the case may be) in a given area, that becomes an area of interest that teachers and obviously parents then need to focus on. Early detection. Early treatment. Better outcomes. I get it.

But there’s a problem. When these weights and measures were first being applied to our children, they seemed to only highlight one or two children in a given year, now you can’t swing a book bag without hitting at least ten children in a class that are on some sort of ‘requires therapy’ spectrum. As a parent, you have to ask yourself; can this be right? Are we not now searching for problems a little too enthusiastically and with such a fine toothed comb that ultimately we find exactly what we were looking for?

While I do support the idea of screening for potential problems and then treating them early to avoid bigger problems down the line, I do think that we’re missing something pretty obvious in more instances than the system would like to admit and that is this; we are talking about children. They do not all mature at the same rate. They are not all the same age in the same grade. They do not all put their hands in the air before they speak. They do not all possess the ability to sit in a chair for an hour or more at a time without having to stand up to stretch their legs.

By way of example, some adults verbally process thoughts and ideas, yes I think there’s a term for that, it’s called ‘thinking out loud’. Why then do we expect every child to think internally? Why do we have to label any child that doesn’t conform in every area with an acronym? The favorite by a country mile at the moment being ‘ADHD‘.

Once that term gets bandied about, you find yourself having to take your child to some kind of therapy to address the ‘problem’. The therapy advocated, more often than not, is ‘occupational therapy‘, which I’m not a huge fan of (and that’s putting it as delicately as is humanly possible). The ‘problem’ is, more often than not, that your child is simply not like the other children. That’s it. That’s literally the ‘problem’ that you’re being asked to resolve.

Think about that for a moment.

I submit to you that for most parents, myself included, that particular ‘problem’ comes as no surprise at all. I have two children who are from the same genetic swimming pool. They are pretty close in age. They have been raised in the same way and have, incidentally, worn the same clothes and played with the very same toys (hand-me-downs being a superfine thing because they’re both boys) and I can tell you unequivocally, that they are as different from each other as candy floss and butternut.

Could we not perhaps be looking just that little bit too hard for problems? Should we not step back a little and say perhaps there is some other reason for a particular behavior presenting in a child. Perhaps we could consider weighting the age of a child a little more as a factor when doing assessments.

Here’s a simple example to illustrate the point. A child born in January and a child born in December of the same year are expected (in South Africa) to start school in the same year. You might be inclined to think that on the surface – that sounds quite reasonable. But let me put that another way for you, a child born in December is not actually even conceived at the time that a child born in January is, in fact, out of the womb and experiencing the world.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Can we then fairly compare the ability of both of those children to suckle on the day that the January baby is born? No, of course not. The December baby is still just a twinkle in the eyes of the parents or an ‘X’ on a calendar for date night on Valentine’s Day. Six months later can we compare the ability of the December baby to roll over onto their tummies on a play mat with that of the six month old January baby? Again, no, of course not. December babies are still in the womb, tugging on the umbilical cord for oranges and peanut butter. By the time a December baby is actually born, the January baby is crawling, in some cases even walking.

The list goes on.

I will concede that by the age of six or seven, the gap between our two hypothetical children narrows significantly, but there is still a gulf between them and I believe our school systems should make more allowances for that. At the moment they seem to lean towards ‘therapy’ to bridge the gap which then in some cases leads to medication. The whole diagnosis of these conditions is the subject of umpteen articles like this one.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly support and salute teachers, they are the architects of our future. They shape the minds of the children that will one day choose nursing homes for all of us. I just wish they would step back every now and again and wait for a birthday to roll around.

For now, let’s celebrate the non-conformity of our children lest we end up in a world out of George Orwell’s nightmares.


  

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The camping thing

At some point in our lives, many of us will find ourselves on a slowly deflating blow-up mattress, resting our sleepy heads on musty smelling pillows, swaddled in a questionably clean sleeping bag, wondering if a spider is going to crawl into our ear after we nod off.

I am of course talking about camping which, if I’m honest, is not my most favourite thing. There are several downsides, which I’ll illustrate here to help those of you that are toying with the idea of taking up this recreational activity, to understand what you’re in for.

Ablutions. The communal ablution is the first item on the list. This is a place where everyone gathers to wash off the grit from the day in camp. It’s usually one of two things; a block of bricks or a timber framed hut. If you’re smart, you’ve chosen a camp site far enough away from this structure so as not to get a whiff of the goings in inside, but close enough so that you can make the journey there on foot without having to stop along the way to answer the call of nature in a more natural setting – say next to someone else’s tent.

The showers in these ablution facilities, however clean they may be, are excellent locations for picking up a case of athletes foot if you’re ignorant enough to venture into them without the universally accepted and required apparel – the flip-flop. They also always seem to have been plumbed together by a self-taught handy-man who, upon completion of the job, found that at least two buckets needed to be placed somewhere along the mysterious and usually superfluous piping that seems to have come straight out of a Mario Brothers game.

There also always seems to be some confusion about which tap (or side of the mixer in the more posh camp sites) will produce hot water. It seems that adopting standards and following commonly held conventions are always the first things to go when doing your own plumbing. Hot side, cold side, meh.

Shade. The very thing that we as a species have pursued on hot days since before we evolved opposable thumbs, is another camping issue. There simply is never enough of it. There will almost always be trees on your site, but they will usually be too small to camp under which means that you will either be slow roasted to the point that you abandon your tent in the mornings before breakfast, or you will risk suffocation in the afternoon sun as all the air is sucked from the surface of the planet. You won’t be able to avoid both. At midday you will be sitting in your car with the air conditioner running, watching dead grass and insects melt outside your window.

Smoke. Camping by definition is open fires. These are the touchstone of camping and if we’re honest, the main reason we partake in this strange activity is the oppertunity it affords us to sit around a campfire and watch things burn. Whether it be wood, food or stray flying insects that burst into flame as if by magic having mistakenly flown a little too close to the flames. But the problem is that it’s not just you. There are all those other pyromaniacs camping out there with you, each of whom is intent on keeping their fires going throughout the night, like the stokers of the fires of hades. What this means is the campsite is awash with the smoke of a hundred fires. Not. So. Awesome.

Abhorrent things. The rule of thumb here is that if it has more that four legs, it’s probably a crawling nightmare of some kind that you will more than likely find glued to the inside of the roof or your tent the moment you switch off the light. If it has less than two legs it’s probably a snake or a worm and let’s be clear, neither of these things is something we would willing spend a night in a sleeping bag with if we had a vote of influence in the matter.

It is also fair to say that all of these things are far more at home in the boondocks than people are and are drawn to our warm bodies like rats to the pied piper. Our bodies play the song of warmth, of civilization, of soap, of fear, of come slither into my shoe – that is completely irresistible to these creatures of the underworld.

Sleep. Yes, we go camping to sleep under the stars but we don’t really sleep under the stars do we? We sleep under flame retardant, waterproof, breathable tent fabric that smells like old fires and feet. We sleep surrounded by people that snore and fart like bears hibernating with full stomachs. The silence of the great outdoors is not so silent really. It’s punctuated by the sounds of inflatable mattresses being re-inflated at thirty minute intervals throughout the night. That, alternating with the sound of mosquitoes feasting on your extremities and your children and flapping around your head incessantly for hours on end after they’ve had their fill, out of pure spite alone.

Those are just the highlights though, there’s also hours of packing and unpacking and then more packing and unpacking and you will inevitably leave something important at home, like the long spear that you would have used to kill the ghoul in your shoe with more eyes and legs than any creature should be allowed to have.

On the plus side though, children seem to love it. It seems to make them feel like extras in a Huckleberry Finn adventure and the goal of any parent worth their salt is to make their children happy, so there is that.

And, there’s the marshmallow factor. That passtime of roasting puffs of sugar on sticks over an open flame. That makes up for quite a bit, I must confess. Quite a bit.


The wizard

At some point or another, every parent will convict one or more of their children for an offense that they are completely innocent of. It’s a given since we are, after all, only human. But there are multiple lessons to learn here, not the least of which is admitting to your children, that you are wrong when you are, in fact, wrong.

That’s a hard pill to swallow and it’s not just because I’m not fond of admitting I’m wrong – a growth point of mine. No, it’s mainly because it goes against a carefully constructed narrative I’ve been weaving for them since they were born. The crux being that parents are all seeing, all knowing, infallible wizards. I realize that this seems like a rather unrealistic outfit to attempt to cloak oneself in, but it serves a purpose. For me, it set firmly in the minds of my children that we, their parents, know better. Our logic is sound, our judgement is fair and we are always right.

My children needed that security. Just as they needed to know monsters aren’t real and even if by some chance they are real, they’re simply no match for a Mom or a Dad. Just as they needed to know that spinach can do for little humans what it does for Popeye and that the tooth mouse will only pay for sparkling, white teeth that are brushed twice daily and not tarnished by too many sweets.

Now obviously I am aware that this story can’t go on indefinitely. At some point, the little guys will figure out that I’m not the all knowing, all powerful Oz with the good witch Glinda at my side. But my hope is that by the time they get there, they’ll be well adjusted little humans, happy to conform to the rules of society. Much less inclined to want to drop kick each other into an abyss while having milkshakes in a restaurant or set fire to each other’s toys when they’re feeling piqued.

Back to the point of this blog though.

Last night I painted myself into a yellow brick road corner. I gave the minions an ultimatum; one of them had to own up to trying to feed the Basset Hound semiprecious stones, or I would take away their iPads for the balance of the week. Neither of them confessed though and so I followed through and impounded the tablets, which are at the moment the source of all happiness and it seems they are quite unable to function normally without them. They immediately descended into a pit of gloom and indignation.

As it turns out though, it is plausible that the Basset somehow helped herself to the stones from the dining room table since she is almost human height when she stands up on her hind legs. So it is possible that I may actually have been mistaken in this instance…something quite unheard of until now.

And this is what my seven year old son pointed out to me in a heartfelt, well articulated appeal several hours later. He delivered it flawlessly, complete with a few lonely tears rolling down his cheeks. It seems he’d had a discussion with his brother and between themselves they’d agreed that neither of them were responsible for the unfortunate incident and as such they needed me to rescind my ruling on the iPads and apologize unreservedly to both of them for the false accusation. It was all said very respectfully mind you.

I must say that I was very proud of both of my sons in that moment. So, I said I’d think about it overnight and let him know this morning what I had decided. But underneath my pointy hat, I knew I had to concede. I had to open the curtains slightly and let him see some of the smoke and mirrors I’d been using all this time and admit I was wrong.

I hope though that my boys are still able to suspend disbelief for a little while longer when the wizard speaks.


The Father’s Day

This Sunday, the 18th of May 2017, will mark my first Father’s Day without being able to speak to my father. I’m still my father’s son, but he’s no longer here. The next twelve months will see a collection of experiences for me that will no longer include him. This is the first one.

In recent years I spoke with him less and less. I think I let the minutiae of everyday life get in the way of the important things. It didn’t happen all at once though, it was very gradual. I see now that one can let almost any eventuality occur if it happens slowly enough. I regret that now.

If you’re lucky, you are born into a family that planned for you, loved you, nurtured you and guided you to adulthood and beyond. Again, if you’re lucky, you will have your parents with you on your journey for most of the way. That’s me. I was that lucky. Looking back now I realize I always assumed that when the day finally arrived for me to say goodbye to one of my parents, I would be mature enough or grownup enough and as such, it would be less painful. 

The truth is though, I’m just mature enough and grownup enough not to show how painful it is. Nothing more.

My father was an introverted, playful and generous man. In these last few years, he dealt with illness compounding on illness in an uncomplaining, brave and steady way. He loved his family and always had a special place in his heart for his dogs who, as far back as I can remember, were treated as full siblings to my sister and I.

It wasn’t all perfect though, no family is. There were times that I clashed with my father. There were times when he had to be tough on me, to try teach me a life lesson, to break patterns of destructive or antisocial behavior that I was displaying. But it was done to try make me a person that could prosper in this world. There were times as a teenager that I would be brooding in my room, angry at everyone and everything, where I blamed and berated, said harsh things and felt misunderstood.

I wish I could go back and clamp my grownup hands over my adolescent mouth and whisper into my deaf ears…’be quiet now, say no more.’

That’s the life lesson though, isn’t it? Most of us are given a full measure of life and how we use it is largely up to us. The trick I think is to try to limit those moments that you may later regret. To check yourself.

This Father’s Day, my boys will no doubt burst into my room with open arm hugs and hand-made cards and will plant kisses on my cheeks. They will be loud and playful and carefree little creatures and will delight in the novelty of the day.

That will make it a little easier for me to resist the urge to call my Dad. A little easier deal with the absolute finality of the fact that I can’t speak to him anymore.


The Memory Lane

How is it that some events make their way into our permanent memories, where we are able to immediately access them and play them back in full HD, while others just seem to vanish from our consciousness like mist in the midday sun? And it’s not an indictment of the memory either. It could actually be an important memory, of a special occasion or a life milestone. It could be an entire chapter or a page or even a single line from the book of our lives and without even knowing it, part of our story is gone.

It is true to say that some memories would be better off  left in the recycling bin; for instance I could easily ditch the memory of the smug face of the delinquent bully, several years older (and heads taller) than I who bashed my face against a pole, snapping one of my front teeth in half when I was in primary school. Or indeed the horrific afternoon spent dry-heaving against an empty stomach due to a poor decision, taken a couple of hours before, to try and consume a full bottle of whiskey in a Guinness record time with two equally misguided friends. We even crushed the bottle cap to show our commitment to the foolishness. Yes, I could easily forget those two wretched memories.

But forgetting something is not quite as permanent as say, dropping your iPad into a swimming pool without an iCloud backup. There is a way to bring those memories back to life, to rescue them from the abyss.

The secret is family.

Recently I’ve been reminded of parts of my childhood that I’d all but forgotten. It’s not that I was just sitting around self indulgently fretting about my lost memories, actually I was none the wiser. I had no idea there were pieces missing. But then circumstance brought my nuclear family, previously spread out across the globe, together again in a single room and then as if by magic, somewhat dusty boxes full of memories from my youth were opened and lovingly unpacked. Even things I thought I had a clear memory of were given a new spin just by having them narrated back to me from another perspective.

As I watch my two little minions learning, making memories and experiencing the wonder of the world they live in, I can’t help but think that in any given situation, they are both seeing the same thing, but are taking away from it different memories. Even this blog, which I originally started so that I could record the day to day antics of of the little guys, is merely a perspective from a single vantage point, my own.

I resolve, from now on make an effort to see their days through both sets of eyes. To ask them each to tell me about their day at the beach, or in the park or on their bikes or simply sitting in the living room surrounded by a mirriad of lego creations and pieces. They will, in each instance, come away with different memories of those days. I would like to try preserve as many of those days for them as I can.

I also resolve to encourage both my boys to keep a journal. That is what this blog amounts to really. It’s a journal of my sons from my perspective, until they’re ready to write their own stories.

Speaking of journals, they’ve come a long way since the black leather bound book with the year embossed on the front where a small padlock guarded the pages. Now you can use an iPad (and spellchecker) to upload your thoughts to the cloud. You can blog (or vlog) them into the ether for everyone to see or you can encrypt them in a 128-bit vault where only the most determined NSA cryptographers can get a peek at them.

I must say that, as I type this, I’m eager to see what my boys will say in their very first journal entries. I’ll ask if I can read them of course. What will I find out about them? Will one of them confess to eating all of the Nutella? Will they reveal the location of the spare AppleTV remote?

Perhaps. But it’s far more likely though that all I’ll find out is that they wipe freshly picked boogers under the kitchen counter when we’re not looking.


The unfixable ears

Like most people, I take the gift of my senses somewhat for granted. But let me qualify that by also saying that the one sense I have become much more appreciative of, is my hearing.

I have a recurring malady that blocks both ears for extended periods of time and I’m beginning to understand what it must be like to be a child, that is to say, to have no ears. It’s awful. The strain of continually having to look at someone who is talking to you, so that you can read their lips and pick up smatterings of their speech is exhausting. I think the little guys must start each day with the best of intentions, listening to everyone and everything and then slowly, throughout the course of the day they just let it all slide.

I get it now, I do the same thing. At the start of the day my head is spinning like a top on my shoulders, reading everyone’s lips to figure out what they’re saying. By lunchtime, I’m only looking up every half hour or so and miss everything said by everyone in between. By nightfall I’m effectively like an octogenarian with his hearing aid turned all the way down. The only way to get my attention at this point is to throw something at me. Preferably a snack.

The amount of additional energy I expend each day just ‘listening’ is offset only by the extra calories I am forced to consume during the day. So ultimately, in order to listen to everything said in a given day, I need to have a doughnut or a flake or perhaps even a small box of KFC. For children, I think it goes even further. Not only do you have to feed them in order for them to listen, but it has to be the right foods at the right time. For instance, at the start of the day, you can top up their ears with a biscuit, but at the end of the day, it’s probably better to use something innocuous like a rice cake to avoid any sugar rush complications at bedtime.

Or, you know, you could just shout at them like a lunatic. Like a parent.

Shouting works for my hearing problem, but I force the shouting more often than not for its entertainment factor than its functional one. People talking loudly so that you might hear them speak, are really quite comical. When they speak in a normal register, they also speak at a normal speed. But if you cup your ear and ask them to repeat themselves, they not only increase the volume, but they also slow down the speed and annunciate much, much more. They can’t help themselves, they think that louder and slower are joined at the hip, when in fact they are not. Speaking louder to someone with a hearing problem, makes it easier for them to hear what you are saying. Speaking slower to them though, makes you look feeble in the head.

We do the same for  people whose mother tongue is not the same as ours. When we speak to them we tend to speak louder and slower. In this instance, speaking slower to someone whose mother tongue is not the same as yours is quite useful since it gives them time to translate what you’re saying in their heads. Speaking louder to them though, makes you look feeble in the head.

I do the same thing. It’s perfectly natural. Sky is blue, water is wet, if someone doesn’t hear or understand you, speak louder and slower. In truth though, there are very few instances where you’ll ever actually need to employ both.

With children we add another layer, we ask them to do something and when they ignore us, as they most often will do, we speak louder and slower, but also tend to ask the completely redundant question, “Did you hear what I just said?” Followed closely by, “Tell me what I just said.” 

I would be hard pressed to explain to you why a grown up human would ask a new human being asinine questions like this, but we do. Sky is blue, water is wet…


The potato fail

So the question for the day is this; is there anything more unreasonable than a child that refuses to accept that the humble potato wears many different cloaks and not just those of the ubiquitous crisp and French fry (or chip).

My boys seem to have an infinite capacity for denial. Mashed potatoes, by way of example, are shunned and seem to be seen as just another brick in the wall of mashed food that they do not eat. They afford it the same disdain they dish upon squash or pumpkin or any porridge besides pronutro for that matter and they are unwavering.

Another example is the potato wedge or roasted potato which were both, until very recently, rejected outright because they did not fit into the two previously accepted formats, vis-à-vis the crisp and the chip. No amount of explanation, empirical evidence or reasoning would convince them otherwise. At this point I must confess that I once even mashed a roasted potato into an unwilling child’s mouth. I could add the adverb ‘extremely’ to unwilling, but I think it goes without saying.

I had somehow managed to convince myself that the moment he tasted it, he would immediately be sold on the concept and from that day forward love the roasted potato.

I was wrong and needless to say, things went quickly downhill from that point onward. If memory serves I eventually had to clean up a regurgitated potato, that was appreciably covered in saliva and indignant tears. A parenting fail.

So what then for this versatile vegetable?

Are we as a family doomed to consume the perfect food in only two or three formats forever because the lowest common denominator palates in the house are deciding which meals we are allowed to prepare? Or is there a way to introduce our favourite dishes to the imps without the aforementioned regurgitation? I guess I’m hoping for an epiphany here.

At this point I must confess that I am particularly discriminating about the foods that I eat too. Really, on close examination of oneself, my rules for food selection make no sense at all. My wife would probably argue that discriminating is too soft a word. Fussy is probably more fitting.

If I’m honest, I have the palate of a five year old. So really, I’m hardly one to talk about my fussy children. Then again, I do eat all manner of potatoes….


The picking problem

In an ideal world, our children would eat three solid meals a day that are primarily comprised of colorful and fresh fruits and vegetables alongside a variety of proteins and carbs, all in moderation of course.

Yes and they would eat these meals with all of the gusto of a puppy devouring a bowl of kibble and then climbing into said bowl to curl up and fall asleep in it afterwards. Also, in this world, there would be a simple and abiding enthusiasm and love for water over any other type of liquid refreshment among a canon of refreshments including Apple Juice, Strawberry Milk and Oros.

But as the parent of two little humans, a position that basically makes me a zoo keeper, I am forced to accept that we do not live in an ideal world. No, the world in which we live is vastly different.

By way of example, the little guy can often be caught excavating a booger from his nostril and then proceeding to dispose of it by placing it in his mouth. Or to put it somewhat more bluntly, he eats snot. I will give him some credit here though; he only eats his own snot. I suppose we should be grateful for the little things.

But here’s the rub, this very same child will then, moments later, turn his freshly picked nose up at a home-made meatball because it somehow offends his discerning palate. This incenses me no end. I often find myself saying things like, ‘You have just picked and eaten snot. How can you possibly reject any other food?’ It profits me nothing though. The irony is lost completely on the child.

The big guy is no stranger to the pick and eat either, with one notable exception, he completely understands the irony and as such, is willing to try almost anything put in front of him. That is not to say that he will eat everything we give him, just that he will try it. For the most part though, this try before you buy policy has worked quite well and he’s quite easy to please gastronomically. He’s also a little more surreptitious in his picking which means he gets caught ‘snacking’ only occasionally. This does not make him any less culpable or gross though.

I’ve often wondered when or how we’re going to get past this phase in their development.

In my more exasperated moments I’ve wondered what would happen if our minions both accidentally broke their preferred nostril fingers and subsequently had their picking hampered with splints for a year or so until they’d outgrown the habit?

Yes, that might work.

But wait, I hear you shouting accusingly at this point, there are three glaringly obvious problems here. First, what are the chances that one or both of them will break their primary nose picking fingers? I’ll admit, the boys are both at a very clumsy age but let’s face it, the odds are pretty slim. And even if they do both have mishaps, they could just as easily switch fingers. Second, this broken finger scenario might easily draw the unwelcome attention of child services, which might then result in the relocation of the children to new homes and immediately make the entire thing moot, in that the nose picking would become someone else’s problem. Third, it’s a bit of a high price to pay for what is really just a personal grooming practice that’s gone a bit awry.

All very salient points.

What then about sabotage of the finger itself? What if somehow we made the fingers become agents for us, the parents? What if the fingers were laced with some sort of crushed chilie extract and then superficially washed just enough to mask the chilie odor but not enough to completely blunt the effects of the capsicum?

All that would be required then is to ‘forget’ to remind them to wash their hands. A task every parent normally has to do about fifty thousand times a day.

I imagine that very first pick of the day would be an eye wateringly expensive one. Undoubtedly there would be copious amounts of mucus and tears and potentially some emotional scarring. But it might just create an aversion for picking snot, it goes without saying this includes then eating said snot, that would last them a lifetime.

The problem here is, that’s in an ideal world.

In all probability, in the real world, we’d be left with coughing, spluttering, crying, hysterical and justifiably indignant children that will immediately begin to comfort themselves by picking and eating with their ring, in lieu of index, fingers.


The super schoolers

So the new school year has begun and my offspring have both progressed a year with the little guy going into reception year or Grade R and the big guy donning a school uniform and starting Grade one.

For the big guy it was all about the uniform. The uniform represented a mental shift for him from little boy at preschool to a ‘big’ school kid. He must have tried on the uniform a dozen times over the holidays, just itching to wear it. Dropping him off in the morning, with that improbably large school bag draped over his valiant little shoulders, I swell with pride and sometimes actual human emotions threaten to spill out of my eyes and onto my manly cheeks as I watch him stride confidently into the school. I try not to show it of course, but on the days he turns around and gives me one of those whole body waves goodbye, where his arm arcs from his knees to the sky and he stands on tiptoes with a smile as wide as the ocean, I find myself having to take deep steady breaths to maintain my composure. Basically, I’m a big softie.

In high school he will most likely be slouching into school with a small satchel slung over one shoulder and a ‘cheers dad’ cast over the other. He’ll almost certainly be petitioning for the abolishment of school uniforms, of that I have no doubt and he will in all probability be defacing his school trousers by tapering them and wearing his hair just that little bit longer than the regulations allow.

For now though he’s as proud as a peacock of his uniform and uniformity and is following the rules beautifully. Long may it last.

The little guy was all business as usual. He seemed genuinely excited to start in his new class this year but I think the excitement had less to do with the fact that he was now in Grade R than the fact that there were new and exciting toys to play with. The rest of his routine hardly changed at all, chief amongst his habits being the need to finish his juice as we drop him off at his class while he surveys the toy landscape. Another huge plus for him is of course being able to play on the jungle gym equipment every morning before school. Whereas last year was always a mad rush to get to class on time, this year we find that the pre-school starts a good quarter of an hour later than the primary school and that affords my little champ ample time to burn off excess energy before being roped into the classroom to paint pictures, practice letterland, sing songs and learn Xhosa amongst all the other busy things they do.

He seems so small though. When I watch him run to his class to line up, I see my smiling little toddler, with clumsy little feet, completely wild hair and grubby hands. I find myself wanting to press pause and let him grow just a little more before he has to spend a whole day at school away from us. As I said, a softie.

He’s always going to be too little I think. One day he’ll be getting ready to sit behind the wheel of a car with a valid license in his pocket and I’m quite certain I’ll be panicking about the fact that my little free spirit is going to be doing such a grown up thing. As an aside, here’s a public service announcement, that day is less than thirteen years away, you should all be making preparations for it.

For the big guy, along with this change in his schooling dynamic, comes an endless stream of questions. He requires an explanation for literally everything. If I say come here, he says why. If I say pick that up, he says why. If I say talk quietly he says why. It’s not cheek mind you, he genuinely wants the answers. Why do the stars move? Why are there no more dinosaurs? Why did the emperor trick Anakin into becoming Vader? I tell you, I need an extra hour of sleep at night dedicated to recovering from answering the why questions. Also, he seems to radiate energy, sometimes it’s as a long stream of speech that escapes from him like air leaving a steam whistle and sometimes it’s in the form of continuous movement, like a small boat hurtling down a whitewater rapid. Sometimes the energy just escapes as loud farts and sometimes they’re the quiet kind. He’s a boy after all.

The little guy is like a train, he’s on his own track and has planned his journey well in advance. Really, once he’s made his mind up about something, changing it requires a superhuman effort on our part. We have to get ahead of him, flip the switch and then make our way back to the caboose to convince him that the change we’ve made for him (ahead on the tracks) is in his best interests. He can also do deadpan looks like no one else I know. The look can disarm you and make you doubt who’s actually in charge. At times he seems capable of having an entire conversation with you without uttering a word at all, instead deftly handling questions you ask him with inscrutable looks. He also farts.

The little guys seem to be developing new and baffling idiosyncrasies almost faster than we can keep up. When they grow up, they  want to be anything from paleontologist or pilot to professional inventor or super hero. Batman was mentioned recently but Robin did not feature and I can understand that, his outfit was never going to be as cool as the Dark Knight’s

I’m going to make sure I watch the little guys very closely this year, I don’t want to miss the moment they turn into superheroes.


The cuddlies

In our home, there are two soft cuddly toys into which our boys literally squeeze all of their emotions. These fluffy toys have weathered the full spectrum of said emotions and they are very well loved. They are needless to say, essential equipment for bedtime.

They will often find themselves doubling as pillows, eye masks, tissues, wet wipes, face cloths or indeed when required, even weapons. Over the years, they have had clothes made for them, medication administered to them and food infused into them and as such have also had regular baths since ‘birth’. They now have their own beds in a special drawer next to the double bunk beds and this where they spend most of their downtime.

The big guy has a small cuddly about the size of a hand (of the genus Beanie Baby and species Huntley Bear) whose given name is ‘Bear’. The little guy has a fluffy dog with oversized ears that’s about the size of a scatter cushion and whose given name is of course ‘Doggey’. He has no pedigree being ostensibly of the genus ‘Pavement Special’.

These two creatures have been the subject of many a search and rescue effort over the years. Every once in a while they get carried somewhere under an arm and then left behind or stuffed into a space ship or truck, or even a lunch box and then the game is on, to find the cuddly before bedtime. I must say though, I’m quite strict about where these creatures are allowed to go since I do not relish the thought of explaining to a tired child that their cuddley is now a part of the great wide open having been left at a picnic or a restaurant or mall for that matter. Most of the time though, they go awol for no more than half a day having simply been misplaced in the house and then they turn up somewhere and we cancel the call into the police for a ‘missing person’.

Bear is just a few months younger than my eldest boy, he’s been a part of the big guys life since the beginning. I remember downloading an app (the iPhone was in its infancy then) that showed one a picture of an animal and then it made the corresponding animal sound. Swipe, repeat about a million times. It had a built in collection of around 50 animals in it and was a firm favourite with the big guy. The app had the added feature where one was able to upload your own images and attach sounds to them. So of course we added a mom and a dad, I believe Cleo (our grumpy old cat) also had an entry and then of course Bear was given his own ‘page’ too. We were, I’ll admit, very much like those people who create Facebook profiles for their pets or indeed their porcelain doll collections. Anyway, one could swipe through the collection until you found your favourite animal and then listen to its sound until the battery ran out on the device, or until the parents got tired of listening to the cicadas screeching and confiscated the phone. My boy loved that app but would literally squeal with delight when Bear appeared on the screen and my voice belted out an abrupt sounding ‘Bear’.

Tellingly, we’ve had to send Bear in for some maintenance from time to time to plump him up given that he tends to, inexplicably, loose weight over time. He is now constituted out of equal parts original beans and supplemental rice courtesy of the boys grandmother.

Doggey is a no name brand soft toy with big floppy ears that are not unlike the ears of our real life dog, a spirited Basset Hound. Indeed, even the markings on Doggey are somewhat aligned to those of our real life pet. As I write this I wonder if our choice in pet was somehow subconsciously informed by Doggey. If you can cast your mind back to the cartoon strip days of Charlie Brown and remember one character in particular, Linus, who had an unfaltering love for his blankie, you’ll have a pretty good idea of the little guys attachment to Doggey. He is a major role player in sleep time and I must confess, I love watching the little guy cradle Doggey in the crook of his arm and drift off to sleep at night. It relaxes me, knowing that my boy is well looked after while he sleeps and that he’s probably managed to pull Doggey into his dreams too. Every now and again the little guy will sleep in our bed. If he’s woken up from a bad dream or if he’s unwell, he’ll just crawl onto our bed like a ninja and plop down between us. On those nights, Doggey makes his way into our beds too and really it’s anyone’s guess who’ll be hugging him when morning breaks because he’s quite simply the softest thing since fresh bread and if he’s recently had a bath, he’s quite fragrant too.

Since the arrival of the actual dog in our home nine months ago, Bear and Doggey have both been the unfortunate victims of smash and grabs by the Bassett Hound and both on more than one occasion at that. It was becoming a problem so we had to donate two less important soft toys, in the hierarchy of soft toys in our home, to the dog to take the focus off of Bear and Doggey. This was a strategic and essential move and I must say, it helped enormously as there have been far fewer incidents since then. I was a little dubious at first I’ll admit, I thought the dog would chew through them in a day but they’ve lasted several months now and aside from being a little grubby and of course covered in Basset slobber, they are in remarkably good nick. In point of fact, there has been considerably less chewing of things in the home in general since the dog was given her special friends.

The dog bed being the only notable exception.

The bed has been losing stuffing consistently for several weeks now and really, its like its hemorrhaging foam. There are bits of the stuff scattered everywhere. The dog seems to be ingesting some of the foam too as there are always little crumbs stuck accusingly to the side of her mouth, which is somewhat worrying since I’m not sure how much she can injest before it becomes a problem. I expect at some point I’ll be googling ‘dog swallowed foam’ to see what I’m in for. Each day I reprimand the Basset about this behavior and for the duration of the scolding, I get her full attention, staring up at me with floppy ears and droopy, drunkard eyes as if to say, “Yes, I chew the bed. I’m not even the slightest bit sorry.”

Of course that means we now need to keep track of four cuddlies in the house instead of just the original two lest we find our shoes, tables, chairs, ottomans, blinds, skirting boards and blankets chewed by a Basset throwing a tantrum because her cuddley is missing.