The lever

I once traded a boerewors roll for a box of smarties at lunchtime. By way of explanation; I managed to convince my four year old to eat the roll in exchange for the promise of a chocolate reward.

Now, you may be shaking your head a little at this point with echoes of ‘bad parent’ beginning to bounce around inside your head, but let me tell you, for me it was a small victory in an ongoing battle of wills with my son. We continually find ourselves having to come up with, shall we say, more unorthodox methods to convince him to eat.

As it turned out, he was really only willing to eat the bread, rejecting the reality of the beef sausage entirely. So ultimately I was trading carbs for carbs, which is obviously not ideal given what we know these days about carbs from people like Tim.

Believe it or not we, the parents, are trying to foster good eating habits in our children, but with the little guy it is a challenge of sorts since he could just as easily not eat. He genuinely seems to not get the fascination the rest of the world has with food. If anything, he seems to view the entire ‘you must eat to live’ thing as somewhat of a burden that he could just as easily do without. When he finishes a meal he gives one the feeling that he has now eaten the meal you prepared but going forward he would very much not like to be bothered with the minutiae of nutrition, you know, ever again.

Fortunately, the universe has left us a little wriggle room. You see, he has somewhat of a sweet tooth and that presents us with opportunities for leverage. The sweet tooth gives us a place to stand and Nutella (or equivalent) is the lever that we use to displace his appreciable obstinacy.

I’m quite certain that Archimedes, who said something along the lines of  ‘Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world’ would approve.


The protection and the comfort

So a few weeks back I was still awake at around 11pm and I was idly flipping through the channels on the television as one does. My boys had been in bed for several hours by then and were, I assumed, causing all sorts of havoc in dreamland.

Then the little guy ran into my room, completely silent, on the brink of tears and literally scared stiff. I scooped him up in a bear hug and his little legs and arms stuck out on all sides around me like a scarecrow.

I couldn’t get anything out of him about what woke him up. Was it a bad dream? Was he cold from having kicked the duvet off? Had the dog squeezed into bed with him and taken over? Had he heard the Rand had fallen yet again amidst the feeble mutterings of a presidential buffoon?

He was a very frightened little boy whose heart was pounding in his little chest so heavily that I could almost hear it.

So I held him as tight as I could and told him he was completely safe. I told him he was safe in his bed, in his room and in our home because there’s nothing more fearsome than a Daddy. No terror, real or imagined, can overcome a Daddy in his home. 

I told him Daddies are the first and last word in protection. Daddies are the things that the things in bad dreams are afraid of. Daddies are the high walls and moats around little beds. Daddies are the blinding sunshine that scatters the darkness in a room, the sunshine that melts the ice-cold dread underneath a bed, the sunshine that reveals the benign emptiness inside of a cupboard or the quiet garden outside of a dark window. Daddies are the ones that find the source of the strange noise in the middle of the night and simply take care of it – whatever it may be. I told him we are superhuman. I told him we are afraid of nothing.

Except for spiders. Obviously.

This Daddy hates bloody spiders but still always says a little prayer for the spider when he finds one squatting on a wall in the house (like a demon). Then he screws up his courage and immediately swats said spider repeatedly with a rolled up something or another until it is properly dead. He then makes doubly sure he scoops up the entire carcass and disposes of it in a neighbors garden just in case there’s a distraught husband or wife spider out there somewhere that might someday stumble across the body and decide to seek revenge. In that dark future, the trail back to this Daddy must be cold cold cold cold cold. But I digress.

Eventually I managed to settle him down in his bed and he fell asleep again about thirty minutes later, still without saying a word. So, Daddies are in charge of protection but they are not the first port of call for comfort, it has never been thus.

It is a well-known fact that when my children are in pain or scared or tearful or hungry or bored or exhausted to the point of collapse, there really is only one acceptable remedy for them…and it’s a universal constant….Mommy.

There, in black and white.


The pool

Our journey to install a pool began some six years ago. At the time we were just moving into our newly renovated home and we had the option of getting the pool done at the same time. After much debate and seesaw decision making we eventually elected to wait a few years until our son, then about nine months old, was pool safe.

Eventually, we arrived at that magical point where our eldest was not only pool safe, but learning strokes and our youngest was proficient enough to plop in, make his way to the side of the pool and climb out on his own. So we found a pool company we liked the look of and submitted plans to the rubber stamp gods for approval. The first on the approval list being the home owners association that approves all building work done in the estate to make sure you don’t install a smurf windmill or build a replica of the Playboy Mansion grotto or indeed even commission a train station to be built on your property because you’re really into trains and have more money than sense. The approval process then moves to the local town council where someone presumably reviews the plan you’ve submitted in order to find a place on it where they may ‘ink’ it with the stamp they carry around with them for eight hours every working day. For this you wait two weeks – if the universe is aligned in your favour. Otherwise you wall till the day after hell has frozen over.

Once everything was approved, the pool guy arrived on site bright and early and his team broke ground with shovels and in just a matter of hours, there was a problem. A very large pipe had presented itself like a fossilized dinosaur leg running across the width of the pool. The pool guys dutifully dug around the pipe which was eventually left suspended over the pool like a tightrope while we tried to figure out what it was. What followed was a series of tests of every tap, toilet and shower inside and outside the house, followed by a gutter and storm water pipe test using the garden hose. Not a single drop appeared in the pipe – which was now sporting a rather handy new ventilation/window feature curtesy of one errant pickax swing.

Eventually we just cut the pipe and dropped the shell of the pool into the hole. The pipe and whatever it was initially designed to carry away was buried again and unless the fountain of youth suddenly explodes out of my new lawn at some point in the future, I’m going to assume the pipe was a dud. Big assumption, I know. Still, ignorance being bliss, I’m strangely ok with that.

After the shell went in, the builders began to fill the pool using our garden hose. Some twenty four thousand liters of filling as it turns out. The utility bill for this arrived at our house via hand delivery by the mayor riding in a horse-drawn carriage. Receiving a utility bill that size probably would have been ok if I had had something soothing to go with it like a steel cup full of moonshine or jelly tequila in a teapot or indeed even a harem of belly-dancers distracting me while I read the big numbers – but I had none of those things – instead I had a Rastafarian paver show up at my door to install the paving slabs around the pool.

He looked sleepy, but willing.

The initial round of paving went in around the pool over the course of a week or so but this was a less than perfect experience to paint it in the best possible light. At that point we were about two weeks into the pool process. Four weeks later and the paving had been done several times over in exactly the same way. It was as if the paver was using a Stone Age axe and chisel in lieu of a grinder and measuring his cuts using a joint. Each time we agreed with the artisan that if the cutting didn’t go well after the very first cut, he would stop and we’d reassess our next move. But somehow that message didn’t get through and we’d come home at the end of a day of paving to find more paving stones lying around in various states of decomposition and the paving looking more or less exactly the same as it had the previous day. All carefully cemented in place, just waiting to be earmarked for replacement accompanied by my rising blood pressure and indignation.

It should be noted that when I arrived home on those days, the pool guys had by then always made good their escape so there was never any chance of me bludgeoning one of them repeatedly with a stone axe crafted from one of the several hundred shards of sandstone scattered about my garden. Silver linings…

Then there would be a period of cooling off where nothing would happen and then the cycle would repeat itself in a Groundhog Day fashion. All the while, the pool was a dark green, thick as pea soup, swamp-like looking mess, filled with building rubble, all manner of sand and stone, one stray hessian sack, several thousand small and very dead insects and possibly a few hardy amphibious creatures. In a world without consequences it would probably also have hidden a body by this stage. In short, it was not very inviting for swimming in.

In addition to that, every day our boys would gather around the pool with us and ask the most pertinent question of all, “Can we swim now?”

The answer was of course always no, because the pool was not clean. One day, the little guy spotted the automatic pool cleaner, the Kreepy-Krauly as it is affectionately known in South Africa, sitting in its box on the patio and asked me what it was. I said, that is a pool cleaner my boy. He immediately rushed over to it and set about trying to open the box asking us why we couldn’t just unpack the cleaner and throw the bloody thing into the pool already.

Ok, so he didn’t say ‘bloody’. But the tone he used definitely indicated he meant to say it. This then was the very question I asked the pool guy. Can we just get this pool cleaned already so that my children can swim in it? I think I might have even quoted a favorite television show of mine; How hard can it be?

And so finally, Friday the 27th of November 2015, our journey was almost at an end. It was D-Day. The pool guy promised on his nether regions to be finished on this day. My children were wound to the snapping point and I suspect that if the pool had not been cleaned, I would have had to drop the boys off at the pool guy’s house so that he could deal with their very justified indignation. In the end though, the pool was cleaned and that evening, the minions lept into the clear blue, solar heated, water with all the abandon of water sprites.

I too was very keen to have it all done by that day. It had been a long winter and summer had officially arrived in my city so I was more than long overdue for my first swim of the season in the privacy of my own home. With the winter fat still clinging tenaciously to my midriff, I was not what one would call ‘beach ready’ so a private swim was definitely in order.

Also, swimming at home has the added benefit of not being restricted to a speedo which, let’s face it, is not going to look as fetching on me as it once might have and also not having to resort to boardshorts  which, at my size, weigh more than a sack full of garden gnomes when wet.

My first swim in the pool then was therefore, inevitably, ‘free willy’. Literally. Any neighbors looking in through the recently thinned out trees and shrubbery around the border of our property, would have been subjected to my awesome flabbiness covered in hair, in all of its dimpled, rolled and anemic pale glory.

And to that I say, voyeurs beware.


The danger zone

So now we live in a house where there is a danger zone. A zone which, when breached, results in anything below your knee being subject to an aggressive assault complete with growls, grunts, barks and bites. It extends from the front door, throughout the entire house. The zone excludes the upstairs study, because there is a baby gate in place there and it excludes the couches, chairs and beds (for now) because there is the small matter of legs being comprised almost entirely of paw and not nearly enough leg.

The puppy that patrols this zone is now well over ten kilos in weight and growing by the day. She seems to operate in cycles. There’s about an hour of frantic activity where the zone is patrolled looking for chewable artifacts. So that’s basically anything left lying about, including feet. The brown fluffy bear in the blog image is taking a hit because he wasn’t able to get on the bed in time. This phase of activity is followed by a cool down phase where she’s still alert, but not actively patrolling the zone probing it for points of weakness. She can however be coaxed into action by one filling the cat’s bowl with kibble or indeed by the cat simply making an appearance from the other dimension she hides herself in during the puppy’s activity cycles. Finally there is a genuine rest period where sleep decends on the little creature and her ears cover her face while she snores and chases the cat around in her dreams.

As an aside, I’m not sure she’s going to make much of a guard dog. Her nose is acutely sensitive and can smell food from anywhere on the property and in any tense. But her long flappy ears, which if frozen over could function like wings on a glider, seem to be quite effective at blocking out sounds. Especially those sounds uttered in high pitched voices screaming words like ‘No’, ‘Stop it’, ‘Bloody hell’, ‘Ow’, ‘Ouch’, ‘Dammit’ and ‘Outside’.

She has several of these cycles in a day and interposed with them are three separate feeding times. Aside from the opportunistic pillaging she does in the cat’s bowl, she gets around 200 grams of puppy science diet a day spread over three installments. She supplements that with other foods from a range of food groups like fluff from pillows or plush toys, the odd piece of Lego, slippers and wellingtons, the bases of couches and beds and of course anything that you happen to drop on the floor in her presence be it animal, vegetable or mineral.

We’ve managed to teach her to ‘sit’. Though really, on its own, that’s not such a prodigious skill for her to have learnt to execute on command. Sure she sits, but then the moment you break eye contact with her, she launches herself at your shoes, pants, socks, feet, shins, calves whatever. I think we should probably have started with ‘stay’ as the first command for her to learn. Hindsight being 20/20, that would have been infinitely more useful. We could then have, for instance put her in her bed, said ‘stay’ and then operated normally while we got on with supper, breakfast, dressing, showering etc.

Instead we find ourselves constantly warding her off with foot shakes and shrieks of ‘no’. Actually, I’m beginning to think she’s probably confused about her name at this point, we say it so often, it might as well be ‘no’. The little guys have taken to operating like they’re lost boys in Neverland. They dart from the safety of the couch to the table or bed. It’s almost as if they’re using happy thoughts and fairy dust to fly around the house.

Fortunately, night time is sleepy time and after supper, she usually settles in for the night and can be transferred to our bed with one quick comfort break detour outside on the way. Did I forget to mention she sleeps on our bed? Yes. In the mornings, we now have a mom and dad, two imps and a Bassett Hound all crammed into a queen-size bed. On the plus side, it is an extra-length bed, that I was tall enough to have warranted, but only my feet sleep comfortably. The rest of us are left with unenviable choices like, do I move the dog from a perpendicular position in the bed to a parallel one and run the risk of her waking up thinking playtime has just started, or do I vasbyt and endure the knots in my back and cramps in my legs. It’s a tough call sometimes.

Lately we’ve been palming her off onto the bed of the little guy who seems so have developed a special bond with her that not even the Mom (who is the main feeder) has. One night last week I found him sitting up in bed, at midnight, staring at her – she was snoring with her  ears over her face. I couldn’t quite figure out if he’d woken up to find her there and decided to watch her sleep or if he’d woken up to find her there and was waiting for her to leave. The little guy is somewhat mercurial in that way.

She is, in a word, Armageddon for the garden. Recently landscaped, our garden was slowly growing into itself much like a child growing into an outfit bought two sizes too big. Now there are patches off once pristine roll-on lawn that have huge trenches carved into them that could easily support another trench war the likes of WWI. Every single plant she exhumes is shredded and the pieces put on display on top of the pool cover (which incidentally she uses like a trampoline). She has a bottomless appetite for destruction of property. She’s a force of nature on the scale of say a tornado or a flash flood.

The dog has also, through no fault of her own, introduced a new problem we have to resolve – and soon. She’s been using the cat flap to get in and out of the house. This has been a boon to us but now she’s gotten so big the flap has been knocked off the door and what remains is a gaping hole through which the winter weather freely makes its way into our kitchen. This is not a superfine thing. To make matters worse, she hasn’t stopped growing yet and I’m quite sure that we’re going to come home one day to find her wedged in the door, indignantly barking at the world and then we’ll have to revert to a manual entry and egress system that will be far less convenient. One option is to make the hole bigger and get a new flap for it but that brings with it its own problems. The cat, for whom the flap was originally installed was never exactly brimming with the initiative required to actually open the flap on her own and I suspect will be much less inclined to do so going forward, if we install a larger flap. Leaving the flap open permanently doesn’t sound like such a great way to keep the house warm in winter either.

That said, to backpedal at this stage and try convince the dog she’s not in fact a human and belongs outside during the day (in a dog house if the weather is lousy) seems like a bridge too far given the whole ‘sleeps in the bed’ thing.

In a word….conundrum.


The play station

So as a bit of preamble to my story today, let me tell you about the time I acquired a PlayStation console.

My company rewards performance using a number of channels; one of which is a point-based system where points are awarded that can be accumulated and later redeemed against an online catalog. The catalog hosts everything from toasters to helicopter flips.

One year, I decided to redeem my points against a PlayStation 3 console (PS3). Now this seemed like a perfectly logical choice to me at the time but, hindsight being what it is, I will admit that it probably wasn’t the smartest move.

You see my wife and I were the proud parents of both a newborn baby boy and a very spirited two year old toddler. Our toddler had just been moved from his cot into a big bed and putting him to sleep at night was a like patting a ball of cotton wool to sleep using a Velcro glove. Every time we stepped away from the bed he lept out of it. Our newborn was also having trouble at night with reflux and was understandably quite grumpy about that. We spent night after night, patting his back, doing laps around his room with him over a shoulder getting dizzy staring behind us.

In short, life was busy. There was, as I recall, not a great deal of sleeping going on in our house in any bed. We all felt a little like we were living out an extended episode of the Twilight Zone.

Still, while browsing the company online catalog one day I saw that a PS3 was on offer and suddenly visions of lazy Saturday afternoons lying on the couch playing some kind of shoot-em-up against aliens or driving a Ferrari around a virtual Nürburgring flooded my mind. So I redeemed my points against the promise of escapism into PlayStation land.

Yes, true story. This to the raised eyebrows of my wife who couldn’t see how I was going to find the time to play with it enough to justify even spending the virtual currency of my points on such a frivolous thing.

A week or so later, my brand new box of wishful thinking was delivered to our door and that first weekend, I went out and bought a couple of games, games that cost a small fortune I might add. I rationalized my purchase of the games by telling myself that I got the console for ‘free’. This of course is the very same sort of thinking that people do when they see something they don’t need on sale and then buy it and tell everyone how much money they ‘saved’.

That day, my wife took our two precious boys out for the afternoon to visit her parents (who live about five houses away from us) and I got a comfortable seat on the couch basking in the glory of the big screen television as I hit ‘play’.

Then three hours vanished into the ether without so much as a blink of an eye getting squeezed in. It was like time travel into the future where you arrive at your temporal destination with nothing more than what you left with but you’ve lost a decade. I lost a afternoon and was only pulled out of the void by the arrival home of my wife with baby and toddler and pram and bags in tow.

And immediately, there was a problem.

My wife looked, shall we say, a little piqued. I could only imagine the afternoon she must have had looking after the boys given her fatigue and persistent lack of sleep and I of course didn’t improve the situation by continuing to recline on my couch in a very Roman sort of fashion with the PS3 wireless controller in my hands.

Now I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t just switch everything off and leap into action to take over from her. I can only assume that the few hours of PS3 that I had imbibed, had somehow blunted my capacity to recognize a potentially hazardous situation and take corrective action to avoid it.

Inevitably over the course of the next thirty minutes or so my wife, quite justifiably, boiled over and the net result was that the PS3 was closed into the cabinet under the television and was not touched (literally) for four years.

Time passed and our situation changed where we now have two little guys aged six and four who are always looking for new and interesting forms of entertainment. Their grandparents, having recently returned from an overseas trip to visit my brother in-law and his wife and two children arrived home with literally a suitcase full of Lego and PS3 accessories and games in tow.

Yes. True story. PS3 games.

It seems though that I still haven’t learnt anything. Immediately I went out and bought more accessories for the PS3. My boys and I played the infernal thing for four hours straight this past Sunday and this time when we time-travelled, because it’s winter, we arrived at our destination in the dark.

The difference now though is that my wife understands it all. She understands the promise of PlayStation, where our boys can play together (literally side by side watching the same split screen) without uttering a single clamorous shout for Mom or Dad to do anything for them. She understands the giggles and yelps of excitement as lightsabers and Wookiee’s and Droids do battle. She understands the quirky little shuffle the little guy does while standing up with the camote trol (remote controlin his hands and running on the spot to speed up the superhero avatar he’s playing on screen. She understands that this is what I got a glimpse of four years ago.

And she looked upon the PlayStation and saw that it was good.


The forty three

And just like that, I’m forty three. Forty bloody three years old. I was twenty one the last time I looked and then there was work and marriage and children and I’m pretty sure I blinked a few times and attended a few parties and then all of a terrible sudden there was forty three.

Immediately, there are a number of questions that spring to mind. What happened to the hair on my head? Why do I suddenly see less of my feet and more of my belly?

Actually, on that subject, what the hell is going on with all the hair on my belly? It’s as if I’ve donned an organic chest armor that I’ve woven by hand over many moons in my man-cave. All the fibers cut to a uniform length. It’s almost plush. If you shaved it, and managed to keep it all together, you could wrap it around a hairless cat (Sphynx) and make it look quite normal. There’s even a grey patch.

Actually, the hair on my body in general is behaving oddly. I now have hair growing out of my ears. Yes, hair that I now need to clip daily so that it does not get mistaken for an organic new age hearing aid or a winter warmer version of Beats by Dr. Dre.

There is also a chilling amount of hair sprouting from my knuckles, so much so in fact that I’m beginning to have Robin Williams and Steve Carell related nightmares. If you know either of these characters, you’ll understand that the fear is real. And, you know, psychopaths have hairy hands. The future looks grim.

My eyebrows are doing something quite strange too where it seems that the once universal length limit imposed on individual eyebrows has somehow now been repealed. In the past, I never noticed any individual eyebrow exceeding more than a centimeter in length. Now not a week goes by that I don’t find a freakishly long specimen, five or six times the standard length, hidden amongst the other human hair like a bloody mutant on my forehead. I can check the entire crop today and won’t find a single one, but tomorrow morning there will be a six centimeter monster getting ready to colonize my face. 

My nose hair is also stepping slightly outside of the bounds of normal these days. When I look in there, it’s all dark and mysterious. Just as a nostril should be. Then every few days a stray nose hair will step out of line and extended beyond its prescribed boundary, refusing to get back behind the line. Naturally, I immediately pluck these strays but when they’re out, they’re always completely grey. Or it’s it clear like polar bear fur? Hard to say really. Somehow, between the plucking and the plucked, they change colour. It’s a mystery inside an enigma. It also makes my eyes water.

I think that there’s a point you reach as a man, in terms of hair growth and hair loss that once crossed, leaves you in the strange realm where people move to the other side of the street to avoid you. Where beach critters will try to embed themselves in your warm fur, if you happen to remove your shirt on a sunny day in the sand. Or indeed where birds try to pick at you for raw materials for a new nest and then possibly try to build it on your head.

Let me quickly qualify this post and say that I’m not having a mid-life crisis. I haven’t just gone out and bought a topless sports car, nor have I grown anything approximating a ponytail or any other kind of designer facial hair. I’m still married to my lovely wife and have not installed a girlfriend, a mistress, an earring or even a new tattoo. So, I’m completely normal in every way, I think, I’m just flummoxed at how quickly twenty two years has gone. That said, I’ll admit, I am getting a little panicky about all the hair.

Yes, these last two decades have flown by. There were days where time seemed to pass by so slowly that it felt like I was in charge of tracking how fast a glacier moved. As an aside, the fastest moving one is the Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland that’s moving at about 1.4 meters an hour. If you’re a glacier, that’s pretty fast. If you’re a human, you’re probably beginning to grow moss and people in white coats are fitting you for your own white coat or sticking post-its on you. But I digress.

Then there were days where I blinked and a few years had disappeared before my eyes like Bruce Jenner’s masculinity. Insert your favorite simile here. Insert rants about the jab at Caitlyn here too.

As I collect my thoughts at the end of the day and stare at the ceiling awaiting the blanket of sleep to fall on my face, I’ll probably not be concerned with the twenty two year hop skip and jump in time that landed me at 43 years old.

No, I’ll probably be thinking about buying a universal hair trimming device with all the necessary attachments for all the crazy hair I’ve sprouted.


The wheels

So there are countless milestones one mentally records when you’re raising children. Some arrive with a brouhaha and others sneak up on you like ninjas in socks. All are equally important. All bring with them warm fuzzy feelings of pride and joy. You know, those feelings that start in your chest and end up tumbling out of your eyes and onto your cheeks in salty applause.

Here is a short list…

The day they sat up for the first time and stayed there without a scattering of pillows to support them. The day the first tooth broke through the surface of very painful and red gums after enough drool was drooled to fill a basin. The day their very first word was uttered that actually sounded like a human word and not something chewbacca might have said. The day they attempted their very first crawl as their attention was fixed on something out of reach and the desire to possess it overcame their natural inclination to sit and, you know, drool. The day they took their first few unaccompanied steps with their arms raised above their heads like an orangutan traipsing through a jungle. The day they made their very first poop in a potty or toilet accompanied by thunderous applause from immediate and extended family all crowded into the bathroom in moral support. This, followed a year or so later by the first successful (read thorough) solo wipe. Yes, the solo wipe. This is a pivotal moment since it is the point at which your dealings with number one’s and two’s are limited once again to you and yours alone.

Then there’s the day your child rides a bicycle without training wheels for the very first time. For the big guy this was June 4th 2016. He’d been riding with training wheels on for quite some time and on this day, my wife commented that she could no longer hear the loud clatter of the plastic wheels as he zipped up and down our avenue. Ergo, he was already balancing. What followed next was a flurry of activity to secure a matching spanner and remove the castanets wheels from the bike. In short order we were ready.

Then there were a couple of simple instructions handed over to the grey helmet about sticking a foot out when the bike stopped moving and watching where he was going. The helmet bobbed up and down vigorously in acknowledgement and then suddenly he was off. The back of his seat was being held ever so gently while he found his balance and then just like that, he was surging ahead under his own steam, weaving all over the road in a slalom but staying upright. After one or two more assisted starts he was starting on his own and balancing as if he’d been born to it.

Stopping was a bit of a problem though. It was as if absolutely all of his wits were being used to pedal and steer and he could no longer spare anything for using the brakes. My son, ever the innovator, solved this problem by simply leaping off the bike mid pedal. By the end of the session he was stopping conventionally again though and the day ended on such a high note for him that he literally beamed until bedtime. The joy of the freedom of that first ride was with him as he drifted off to sleep that night (a brand new maroon Karate belt also hanging in his cupboard).

I imagine his dreams that night were filled with the inspirational music from chariots of fire. Very proud of you my boy.


The tear gauge

My wife and I have been parents for going on seven years now. During that time we’ve been using a rather unsophisticated tool to gauge the level of emotion that our children have invested in a given situation. Specifically, the tear gauge.

In short it goes like this; the more tears there are, the more emotional investment there has been in that situation. It’s been a rule of thumb for us until quite recently that is, when the little guy changed things up for us. But more on that later…

Our eldest boy is completely emotionally transparent. Whatever emotion he’s feeling you are immediately able to see a corresponding physical manifestation of that emotion etched on his angelic little face.

When he’s angry, there’s a frown and copious amounts of tears of frustration complete with expansive Italian hand gestures (we’re not Italian so I’m not sure where he gets that from). Also, I get the feeling they’re saltier tears.

When he’s sad, there’s a waterfall of tears of sorrow and a pitiful, usually quivering, bottom lip. The defining characteristic for sad tears is the length of time the tears go on for and the size of the drops, they’re really quite extraordinary. Dollops of tears is a better description actually.

When he’s sorry, there’s a single digit set of tears that seem to hang suspend in his eye sockets for an eternity. I’ve watched them, they’re like chandeliers. If we could bottle them we’d probably have hoverboards by now because they definitely have anti-gravity properties.

When he’s laughing there are usually no tears but sometimes a single ninja tear of joy will escape out of an eye towards the end of an honest to goodness belly laugh. The best kind of tears.

Actually I think if we were to collect them and measure them using a garden rain gauge or the like, we’d be able to draw a direct comparison between the amount of tears and the level of emotion. For now though it’s all just based on parental intuition.

So then it came as no surprise recently, when we were all saying goodbye to my in-laws at the airport as they set off on an extended holiday, that the big guy had plenty of sad tears on tap as he begged to be allowed to go with them. We managed to cheer him up over the course of the day though and by bedtime he was in balance again. He is, in the best possible way, ‘what you see is what you get’.

The little guy is a conundrum. He has all of the same behaviors with tears that his brother has with one notable exception in the amount of lip that is projected when he’s sad. It’s truly quite a masterpiece of muscular control that mimics beautifully any number of cartoons you’ve ever seen where a character is ‘sad’ and wishes to show it using tears and a backup lip method, you know, just in case you didn’t see the tears.

That little lip tugs at my heartstrings so gently and deftly that it becomes something akin to my Kryptonite. I’m the proverbial putty in his hands.

At the airport that day, he was completely cool, emotionally aloof, smiling and a little playful. He gave hugs and kisses goodbye at the appropriate time and waved with a big happy smile as his grandparents disappeared into the belly of the departure lounge. The balance of the day saw him in a good mood and bedtime was a sinch. We were left with the feeling that we’d pulled off a coup. How easy was that goodbye today? So easy. Let’s pat ourselves on the back.

Later that night he woke up crying about a bad dream he’d had where some piggy’s were breaking his house. When asked what happened to them he said they all flew away on an airplane. Here’s where i whipped out the Sherlock Holmes signature hat and did a little detective jig around what actually happened.

There’s been a surge in Angry Birds paraphernalia recently given that a movie has just been released. You can’t pass a shop window without seeing one of these critters lolling about on a shelf. They’re round…they loll. The little guys are fully immersed in the Angry Bird universe and as I understand it, piggy’s are the antagonists.

So, the little guy had obviously had a dream about piggy’s and it shook the box of Cheerios in his head. Somehow his grandparents had been woven into the story in the plane that took off and he’d then woken up in tears because the birds were flying away.

Or perhaps it was because he’d fallen out of bed.

Yes. Forgot to mention that the parents with six full years of experience and some change (we’re practically journeymen) had decided to take down the bed rail that very same day and all the restlessness in bed, no doubt trying to escape piggy’s, had caused the little guy to tumble out of bed and land unceremoniously on the floor.

Cue the Daddy. Cue the tears, the sad ones.

So what we have here in our halflings is an open book and a Chinese puzzle box. It’s going to be a wild ride. 


The grands

Grandparents. The word alone should conjure up memories in anyone’s minds eye of silver haired smiles, of being spoilt or comforted, of wrinkles and spots and grey hair, of quiet afternoons and the tic toc steadiness of time spent with them.

I have a number of clear memories of my maternal grandfather. He was an avid lawn bowler. Quite a good one at that. I remember some afternoons spent leaping through hedges at the Sturrock Park Bowling Club where both he and my grandmother (Grannypie) played. His picture was on the wall at the club, above the big doors if memory serves. I remember the parking lot for the club being on the opposite side of a railway and I, for whatever reason, decided one day I wasn’t going to cross the bridge over the tracks. I’d been to the bowling club before and since but on that day I remember him having to try convince me that the trains really weren’t going to run over me. I remember he was a quiet man, a gentleman and he loved to wear hats. He passed away when I was quite young after a long illness.

My paternal grandfather was a real family man that loved a big party. He worked well into his retirement years and I remember his love of animals (dogs in particular) and his parrot (Popeye). He had four boys with my father being the second youngest and then thirteen grandchildren. Yes, thirteen and I was the youngest. He drove a red beetle and when that little car made its way into our neighborhood, every dog for four blocks around would make a beeline for our house so that they could claim their little treat which he always seemed to have handy. As I cast my mind back, many of the memories I have of Grandpa were at family gatherings which he’d orchestrated. Actually, my memories of him seem to jump from one family party to the next at one of my uncle’s homes or ours. I remember a few holidays he took with my grandmother (Nanna) where my father was tasked with caring for Popeye the parrot. Popeye, by the way, grew up in a home of four boys that loved Elvis and as such was a big fan of 50’s music and of ‘the king’ in particular. He absolutely adored my Grandpa. He’d pine when he was away and literally do loops on his perch when he came home. Grandpa also passed away when I was quite young after a brief illness.

My Nanna was a free spirit, not in the new age sense but rather in the fact that she seemed to rediscover her youthful exuberance long after most grandparents would be zimmer-framing from the kitchen to the lounge. She actually stayed in her own apartment in Braamfontein and would zip around the country on a whim to visit a casino without even having to ask anyone to so much as give her a lift. Her disappearances always caused great concern among my father and uncles. She was loving and fun and I get the sense that had she been alive when Facebook started, she’d definitely have had a page with great stories on it. She’d probably have had a Twitter handle too and I expect she’d have had a huge following of people admiring a granny with such a young heart. I was on holiday when she passed away.

My Grannypie, so named by my sister, was a Dame. She really was. She was one of those people who would pat the seat next to her to indicate you should sit down to speak to her. Very proper. Very steady. She loved to listen to the radio. She had a great sense of humor and she almost closed her eyes when she smiled. She lived with us for the last years of her life and she had one drink a day which was a tot of Gilby’s gin, a tot of lime, two blocks of ice and water in a short tumbler glass. I made one for her almost every day before I left home and eventually spread my wings. At my 21st birthday party, her and her two sisters all managed to make several trips to the gents restrooms, completely in error of course. None of them questioned the row of urinals or the stick man on the door. Much mirth followed when it was finally explained to them what they’d been doing that day. My Grannypie lived a full life and passed away quietly at my family home. I arrived a day late.

My paternal Grandparents were often backups when I was not well enough to go to school as a pup. I have memories of doing ’rounds’ with my Grandfather in his building in Johannesburg where he was the caretaker. They lived on the top floor and going there was always a treat. I’m pretty sure I slowed him down on those days but he never once made me feel like I was a burden. I do remember him having to take a nap on the odd occasion that I was visiting in order to recharge though.

For a few years after I learnt how to drive I would fetch my grandmothers on a Sunday morning and bring them home for lunch. They were never back seat drivers but my mother always cautioned me to drive sedately with them, though I’m not sure I always did. All of my Grandparents played a role in my life and all of them have special nooks in my mind where I can easily reach them.

I wasn’t there when any of them passed away so I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. Each of them just disappeared one day and life sort of moved on without them. Everything pretty much the same, just a little emptier. So I encourage those among you who have grandparents to take time out to sit next to them, to listen to their stories. Today. Now.

I guess what I’m trying to say, in a very roundabout sort of way, is that I’m almost 43 years old and I still miss my grandparents.


The good boy

In recent months, the behavior of the little guy has been, shall we say, less than impeccable. He’s a spirited, willful, beautiful, stubborn little imp and naturally, from time to time we have cause to be at odds with him. When this happens, he reacts by digging in his heals, rejecting our reality and substituting it with his own.

In other words, he misbehaves.

But that’s ok, I get it. He’s the smallest human in the house and he must feel a little passed over occasionally. We make many more decisions for him than for his big brother and sometimes his big brother bosses him around a bit as well. It is a difficult thing being the smallest in a group. Just ask the broken wax crayon in the box or the Escape key on a keyboard (UNIX guys will understand).

So, we find ourselves having to make deals with him in order to get him to conform. We set goals for him to achieve so that we can reward him when they are met and then indirectly boost his self esteem and help him carve out his place in the ‘world’ (his school and our house).

Some time back he went through a vampire stage where he seemed to want to resolve all of his conflicts with a bite. This was obviously not ideal given that the recipients of the bite ranged from school friends, to his sibling and AuPair and sometimes even to us if he was feeling particularly set upon. I had visions of disgruntled parents knocking on my door with their bitten children in tow – complete with pitchforks and garlic and revenge aplenty. I eventually resorted to drastic action and took a most prized possession away from him, his Lego Naboo Starfighter.

At the time I said this was a permanent move and that I was going to give it to a children’s home and really, I’d had every intention of following through with that plan for the toy. If I’m honest though, I’ll admit that the punishment was a little severe for our little guy. So I hung onto the toy instead, hiding it away in a cupboard. I didn’t tell him that though.

He was, in a word, heartbroken by this sanction and counter intuitively, it actually initially caused more poor behavior choices on his part. But then some time passed and things seemed to get better. Until one day he drew me aside to have a serious talk with me about his toy.

Where was it? Had I really given it away? Was there any possibility at all of getting it back from the abyss? Daddy?

He’d obviously been thinking about it and was now wondering if there was some way in which he could redeem himself. It was such a sweet little moment with him. He wasn’t demanding it from me. He wasn’t acting entitled or spoilt. He was just asking me if the toy was still within my power to return to him.

I simply couldn’t refuse his heartfelt little petition and so I said that I could actually get it back for him, but it meant that he’d need to commit to achieving a few goals. I think it’s fair to say that at that point, he would probably have agreed to just about anything. I toyed with the idea of a contract like this for a while…

Dad. 

I will never, under any circumstance, ride a motorcycle. I’ll willingly eat broccoli with every meal from now until the end of all things. I promise I won’t ever injest in any way anything made by a chemist in a garage or in a plantation in South America and I will never have cause to call you from a police station. 

Your loving little Imp.

In the end I settled for two consecutive weeks of stellar behavior involving the three pillars of conformity. No hurting of anyone. No breaking of things belonging to anyone and listening to people in authority. This then was a formal, verbal contract between a parent and a child. We even shook on it.

It’s been a little over a month now since our agreement came into effect and the target date has shifted out a few times. This is primarily due to a few lapses in concentration and judgement on his part but also due in part to some environmental factors outside of his control.

But now I’m on the bubble. You see, all I want to do is get the bloody toy back to him before he decides he no longer wants it. He may just decide that the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze. If that happens, the entire plan is doomed. I’ll have about as much leverage with him as a builder trying to shift a boulder with a piece of cooked spaghetti.

So be a good boy…boy.