An Emptying Nest

I am running out of children.

I used to have five children all in one house (sometimes seven when Andrew’s children were here at weekends and during the holidays).

We are down to three now with the lockdown, Michael having moved out (again) and Caitlin has already indicated that she will be moving out by mid-2021 (ever the accountant, she is so organised that she has given me over a year’s notice.) Shannon announced her intention of moving in with Caitlin while she is still at UCT (not so sure how Caitlin feels about that, but I think Shannon is planning on moving where the family cook goes.)

So poor Liam may be stuck with the old folk while he is still dependent on me. One mean older sib once said to him,’You know, Liam, one day that chore chart is just going to say ‘Liam’ for all chores… every day.’ (Said mean older brother’s main reason for moving out was to avoid chores at the time – he now boasts a beautifully clean apartment – go figure!)

But one day they will all be gone… and so will the most important part of my life’s work. It’s hard to believe how much we have survived over the last 19 years, the kids and me. From stepping off the plane (My sister said we looked like refugees – we were in a way) from the USA days after a plane had crashed in Queens in New York and the whole world seemed to have gone mad with fear of travel, post 9-11, to yet another world crisis, this time with COVID-19 lockdowns wordwide and again travel paranoia and bans.

I shall never forget that fateful day when the custom’s official at Cape Town International Airport stamped my passport after the better part of two days travelling alone across the Atlantic with four children and one onboard. ‘Welcome home,’ he said and wished my eldest happy birthday (He was just 10) and I knew I’d be okay, despite all that lay ahead, because we were home.

I set about ensuring that we always had a place where the children would feel safe and loved and would be exposed to the richness of literature and learning. Who knew the joy and love that I would find along the way! With Liam being in Grade 12 this year though, I face the beginning of the end of that long journey to educate and nurture them to be happy and generous humans. Soon Liam will be on his way to being a real estate mogul (with his dog charity on the side of course) and Andrew and I shall have to talk to one another.

Empty Nest Syndrome looms. It is true that as each of the others have left, I have suffered a sense of grief and loss quite profoundly. Once my whole life revolved around the routine of caring for them and now days can go by without speaking to my older boys, one of whom is in Gauteng, or my heart children (my stepson and step-daughter) one of whom is in Stellenbosch at university; the other donating his body to medical science as a live COVID-19 experiment in the UK, I kid you not. (There is something so noble and yet so insane about that! But so typical of our Mika). Now these young people are on their own flights, their own soaring destinies and it is time for Mama Bear to step back and wave goodbye. I suppose that metaphor is not so good now that planes have been grounded again, but soon they like my children will fly again, just as the world recovered from 9-11.

The thing about family though, is that if there is a bond, they never go for good (and I am not referring to the fact that both Sean and Michael left home and then returned, just when I’d given their rooms away to younger siblings, only to leave again on their next adventures.) In September I shall become a mother again for the eighth time (and no, I am not having a midlife-crisis baby, perish the thought – I have my car for that!). Sean will marry the gracious, smart, funny and long-suffering, Jordan, who will make me a mother to another daughter when they marry. Her mother and I refer to each other as the Northern Mother and the Southern Mother already, fortunately not in any Game of Thrones (hey remember that!) kind of way, but in kinship of impending new parenthood. We both agree that this marriage is a union of two humans who bring out the best in the other. (I’m a bit worried about their children one day though – their dogs are hopelessly indulged…)

So the empty nest will one day become a series of many nests that Andrew and I can visit (like cuckoos!). We have joked that between the seven of them they could keep us in meals for a week, but as we kid them, it’s not about what we can get from them as we grow older, it’s the realisation that a whole new adventure extends into the future, with sons-and daughters-in-law to inspire us and grandchildren to feed chocolate cake to and spoil their suppers like my mother did when Sean was little, who will make us ‘surprised by joy’ as the writer, CS Lewis describes finding God. If there is one thing I have learned over my life it is that love is there, waiting in the depths of despair, to surprise us with joy, as I was when I met Andrew.

And there is God. We are home.

At least there’ll be better wifi.

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…and who knows who will move back in before that!

‘Sporture’ (rhymes with ‘torture’)

Exercise Clipart Cartoon

I used to be a ballet dancer. I used to be a karateka. I used to swim for my school (okay so I once swam breaststroke at Newlands Swimming Pool in an inter-schools competition. I needed help getting out of the pool because I was so tired, but still…) I captained the first netball team and once won a trophy for athletics (most promising junior athlete – not that much came of that promise mind you, despite my built-for-speed thighs!). I used to belong to a gym.

But that was all back in the eighties! I last did any proper exercise in 1992 in my antenatal classes when I was preparing to ‘blow the baby out’ (Thank God I never had to do that – mercifully I had five caesareans, but that is another story entirely, fraught with big-headed, lazy babies)

Aunty Acid Dead on a Jogging Trail Wrapped Canvas | Zulily

Until today.

Today I did a 30 minute workout with Caitlin led by a high pitched perky budgie I wanted to throw things at, but couldn’t because she was on Caitlin’s work computer.

And what did I discover from this madness? Well firstly my left knee is very old.

Secondly, you know those crunches-and-wiggle-wiggle-while-holding-your-abs-tight-and-your-legs-out sit-up type thingies? Well I can’t do those. I think my gynaecologist cut my abs out and forgot to replace them after Liam was born. Caitlin kept saying, ‘Not just your shoulders, Mom’ but damn, that’s all that was coming off the floor so I looked like a demented automatic lycra mop, or a dying, upside-down flabby cockroach, twisting away on my back. It used to be I could do crunches for hours on end; now the closest I can get is the oat crunchies I polished off yesterday.

I also can’t do the ‘the plank.’

‘You’re doing great!’ trilled Video Fitness Girl. Bitch.

So I thought, ‘Cool, I can easily touch my toes and yeah I can walk my hands out… whaaat? I have to hold it there?…More like walk the plank and die!…and now I must balance on one elbow and then on the other? You have GOT to be kidding!’ And then I fell over. There was a time when I could do 100 press ups, now sadly I could only log for a few seconds.

And every time she said, ‘If you’re not very fit, take this (easy) option, I took it.

I also discovered that I whine. A lot.

And then we were told to ‘shake it out.’ She should have know better than to say that to my 55 year old bod. The only reason the blubber didn’t go into perpetual motion was because it was encased in leggings. But shake I did, mainly from the trembling legs which were over-exerted.

High Intensity Interval Training it’s called: Yeah – ‘HIT’ only they can’t spell. Certainly wasn’t a hit with me. Caitlin says it’s a dance class tomorrow night. Caitlin is a bully.

And now my back hurts which tells me I did it all wrong anyway.

I think I should try chess rather. That’s a sport.

A Room with a View

Window dressing ideas for every style and budget | loveproperty.com

The dusk light is fading and I’ve put on my bedroom light in order to see to type. He comes in to hug me (well actually to nick my adaptor plug to charge his phone while he records a piano lesson) until he sees the street beyond in the gathering gloom below.

‘Close the curtains; everyone can see!’ yelps my husband, ‘We’re floodlit up here!’ This of course is rich coming from the exhibitionist who changes in clear view of passersby normally. (‘No one has complained yet,’ he declares every morning when I chide him for his flasher ways).

Of course the only passing traffic now consists of a rare police car or metro police, patrolling to ensure all citizens are home and adhering to lockdown, single roof light floating silently by like the whisper of a ghost . It is eerily quiet for a street that has at times been a racetrack for unsilenced motorbikes in the early hours, joggers, skateboarding youngsters and dog-walkers conducting the orchestra of protests from jailed canines at all hours, not to mention wandering Ubers, delivery vehicles and vibrating, wannabe-gangsta vehicles. Now the streets are empty. Quiet. Too still.

What I can see is the cute artwork of Mia, the littlun across the road who drew brightly coloured rainbows to festoon their wall – a sign of hope in these uncertain times. It rained today though so they droop melancholically damp on the wall and I hope… I hope she will draw again.

I hope her child’s eye foretells a joy I don’t feel when I see the statistics rising and fear for my staff who live so close to one another in overcrowded shanty towns around Cape Town.

It rained today (probably because I washed the windows last week because the achiever in me must!). I step out onto the balcony and breathe in the damp cool night air. I can hear the sea roar far away. A while back we argued about that sound, Andrew saying it was traffic. Now I know it’s the sea – so near and yet too far…

A siren breaks the stillness, screeching rudely, endlessly in the silence. Ambulance? Lockdown violator?

I hope Mia will paint the sea tomorrow.

5 Ways not to be Short-changed by Shortlisting.

5 Strategies for hiring the right employees

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People make an institution. No matter what your institution is, in the modern world, it’s a no-brainer that you need to hire the right people. In my experience the key to all of this is the shortlist.

Here are 5 tips to help you obtain the right staff members for your organisation:

  • Find people smarter than you
  • Search for service-orientated staff
  • Beat your bias
  • Look within your organisation
  • Take a chance on someone

1. FIND people smarter than you

Well qualified people lend gravitas to an institution and those who question and challenge the status quo are an asset to growth if properly managed. (I’m not talking about toxic nay-sayers and negative obstructionists. They are poison and should leave.) But innovators will often see what can work better and these creatives should have a place in your team. (Note I equated ‘smart’ with creative.

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I have witnessed bosses systematically clear their staff of people who are better educated, and those who challenge them. This is a sign of an insecure leader. Don’t be one.

More than anything, look for what your team lacks and in senior staff be sure to know your own gaps and bring on board experts to drive those areas.

And when they have been employed, they will make YOU look good too.

2. SEarch for service-orientated staff

Look for extra-milers. How do you tell this from a CV though?

Look at their after-hours involvement and then build into every interview what call the ‘heart question.’

For example, look for the ones who link their sport to charity works. Search for applicants who are busy and seem to lead full lives – they will make the time. Shortlist those who identify people skills or the poorly named ‘soft’ skills as their strengths.

But don’t take their word for this self-sacrificing way of life. In the interview ask searching questions about their understanding of generosity of spirit or how they manage relationships at work and how these apply in the workplace (plus how they have implemented such a philosophy). Ask them how they have fun at work. And then check these when you do a reference check!

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Then when you have employed them, (and this is key) look after these gems because they may well burn out if not protected from themselves. However they will build the character of your school or company. Richard Branson was right when he spoke about staff wellness and customer satisfaction.

3. Beat your bias/es

Now before you deny that you have such skewed judgement, take any online test and you will see that we all have blind spots. Accept this imperfection in yourself as fact and then make sure that your innate prejudices do not make you overlook quality staff.

I knew a head of a school once who asked his PA to tippex out any reference to gender on applications because he knew that as a product of a boys-only environment, he tended to favour male applicants. (Mind you, good luck to any school principal who can find good men who apply for a teaching post these days – in South Africa, male educators are a rare bird indeed – pardon the sexist pun). But I digress: Whatever you need to do to avoid bias, try very hard to deliberately shortlist someone in that category – they may surprise you. Inevitably when I have done that, that person has proved to be the best candidate.

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4. LOOK WITHIN YOUR ORGANISATION

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Always interview someone from your institution who applies for a job. (Yes, even if they are not suitable.) If they are entirely unqualified for the position, call them in and explain what they need to do to be considered for an interview.

Every interview provides growth opportunities for your employees and a chance for you to give meaningful guidance and direction. Also, it forces you to re-look at people’s CV’s and to see them with fresh eyes. It is absolutely vital however to give them good feedback afterwards so they know how to improve if they did not get the job.

Transformation starts from within. It is incredibly gratifying to promote or develop staff from the ranks and then watch those people flourish. Remember to support them and train them as they move up, and back them against doubts from colleagues.

The other benefit from this approach is that you end up with loyal staff who know that you have their best interests at heart.. And you are making a difference.

5. TAKE A CHANCE ON SOMEONE

Shortlist an outlier.

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I will always be grateful for the heads who interviewed me despite my erratic early professional work record. I look horrible on paper because my ex-husband worked for a large company that transferred us all over the country at short notice. However I have learnt to turn that into a strength in the sense that I have worked in so many different types of schools and systems so that I have a strong sense of what works and what doesn’t work. And I am more flexible as a consequence too. Furthermore the reason for my multiple moves is no more because I am no longer married to that person.

We interviewed someone once who was given a terrible reference from her ex-boss, but we had inside knowledge about him, as well as a gut feel for her. So we sought out another reference. The teacher turned out to be an excellent choice.

In another case, the choice was between two candidates: one with years of experience in the company and expert knowledge and one man with less experience but loads of energy. He has proved to be a major asset to the school.

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In the end, all hiring is a risk, so consider these wise words:

“Hire character. Train skill.”

Peter Schutz, former President and CEO of Porsche

One Word which Kills Transformative Dialogue

The moment you use the word ‘surely’ in conversation or debate, you have closed yourself off from hearing the other person’s view and lost an opportunity to be changed by diverse viewpoints. It is the conversational version of crossed arms.

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I love being around young people because I learn so much from them. The negative view of the word ‘surely’ comes from my daughter who has been lecturing at the University of Cape Town for the past year. Challenging the use of the word comes out of conversations specifically around transformation and diversity, but has much wider implications for all relationships.

Think about it: Every sentence that begins or ends with ‘surely’ immediately suggests that whatever the other speaker is about to say cannot contradict your opinion, because your ten cents worth is assuredly correct.. ‘Surely’ is a verbal roadblock to being open to another theory and it kills collaborative activity.

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And then we combine it with the ubiquitous ‘but’ which automatically translates as ‘No, you are wrong’ and so doing, we show ourselves to be arrogant and patronising. This is how we communicate our prejudices, patriarchy, misogyny and colonial attitudes, in fact our bias. ‘Surely’ almost inevitably introduces gaslighting of some kind.

But surely, you can see… (your ideas are rubbish)
But surely the government/taxis/women/other races should… (I know what is best for everyone)
But surely you must… (I am going to make you do it my way)

Translation: You/they are wrong. I want you to think, speak and do what I want you to.
I am in charge.

And out the window go empathy and compassion. Harper Lee in the famous To Kill a Mocking Bird speaks about walking in another man’s shoes and even goes so far as to say we should climb into someone else’s skin:

“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”


Chapter 3, To Kill a Mocking Bird

We don’t have to physically climb into someone’s shoes or skin (that’s a bit creepy anyway) but listening without judging requires us to suspend our ‘but surely’ retorts so that we open ourselves to innovative ideas and truths and see the world through another’s eyes.

If we are going to have any meaningful transformational dialogues we have to find ways in which we can ensure individuals are heard.

So drop this one word from your vocabulary. Try saying ‘I think’ when stating your vision. Better still, ask what someone else thinks.

And then shut up and listen.

Five simple things I want to tell girls about speaking in public

It is a truth universally accepted that women have to contend with prejudice both overt and subtle when standing up to speak. When the audience ((no matter its size or gender make-up) has completed its superficial scrutiny of what fashion statements our clothing and body shape are making (inexpensive elegance from Les Chinese and sponsored by Cadbury in my case,) the group will eventually engage with our message.

The challenge is to ensure that our messages are not lost in poor presentation skills. Here are a few pointers I have found useful in my own delivery as well as in coaching young people in the classroom.

  • Own your space.
  • Don’t giggle.
  • Lower your pitch.
  • Slow down.
  • Stay away from insipid expressions and apologies.

Own your space:

Any good communication depends on what I call ‘crossing the gap’ from speaker to listener. If you are called to share an opinion or give a talk, your primary task is to carry your message from your own genius to the hearers.’ Don’t shrink from traversing that space with your body language. An audience will applaud anything if it’s said with enough panache. A bombastic oration which is flimsy on content is always better received than timid eloquence (which may explain the popularity of certain politicians and churches – despite the patent lack of spiritual or bodily gain from Doom, snakes or loud praying – ask Brighton and Pastor Lukau of the the coffin fame.)

Don’t get me wrong I am not advocating vacuous braggadocio performances, but a confident pose is a sure way to have your audience sit up and take notice (and I don’t mean like Mr Moyo’s fake rising from the coffin!) I am assuming you have profound wisdom to share – so stand and deliver it with aplomb. Much has been said about the Wonder Woman stance being an effective warm up before an important speech and I must attest to its efficacy. Also, studies have proved it, so you don’t have to just take my word for it: Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on body language is brilliant:

https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en

Something else women are not taught is the authority which is communicated through a firm handshake. We don’t need to get into the relative power plays engaged in by persons of Mr Trump and Mr Macron’s ilk. Men may well use the strength of a person’s handshake as a measure of their personal value, and no matter how much we dislike that, if you’re going to allow your hand to flounder limply in someone’s grip like a pap snoek, you may not be taken seriously. I also find that men will hug a female colleague, before they shake her hand, and although one may well hug them because they are close friends, it isn’t professional. Be the first to stick out your hand and initiate the gesture.

Don’t giggle:

Nothing says “I am inadequate and insecure’ like a giggling Gertie. Every description of giggling fits includes two interesting words: ‘silly’ and ‘girls.’ While this may have your inner feminist fuming, we cannot argue with the fact that self-conscious tittering (no matter your gender) makes your audience see how uncomfortable you are in a situation and definitely has no business gurgling out on a podium.

The problem of course is that oftentimes our unconscious Piglet or Nervous Nellie bubbles forth uncontrollably at inopportune moments, especially when we are anxious. We know instinctively we shouldn’t be letting that flutter of foolishness loose, which is why if you google images of giggling most pictures depict a person with a hand covering the twittering. It must be so because even the giggling emoji says so.

So explore techniques to calm yourself before your big moment. Avoid big sighs or obvious palm pinching though. Try placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth and breathing deeply. Plan and practise your opening.

Lower your pitch:

Back in the Dark Ages when I was a student teacher, I eagerly asked for feedback from my charges. ‘You have a squeaky voice’ was not quite what I was expecting, but in hindsight marked a singularly significant shift in the gravitas with which I was perceived.

Anxiety can alter our pitch so cultivating relaxation habits before a presentation and consciously lowering your voice will help you come across as more authoritative. Lions are taken more seriously than hyenas. It is horribly unfair that men automatically command attention simply by having deeper voices, but women can consciously lower the pitch – you don’t need to be Batman gravelly or Louis Armstrong deep – just avoid the trill and shrill.

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“Monica:
[complaining about her Thanksgiving] Did anyone ever give a hoot about what I wanted? NO, NO, NO, NO! And I’m just… [her voice gets very squeaky and high-pitched]
Chandler:
Okay, Monica, only dogs can hear you now. “

Friends, Season 1

Slow down:

If you ignore the horrible grammar (sorry my American friends) in the graphic below, you will see just why you should reduce your pace. Coupled with a high pitch you can end up sounding like Minnie Mouse, according to Speech Coach Patricia Fripp, if you speak too fast for your audience and they definitely will not get the gist of your message.

https://www.fripp.com/are-you-speaking-too-quickly/

Remember the first point in this article: own your space – that means YOU regulate the pace. Your audience is not going anywhere. They are yours to entertain.

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Avoid insipid expressions and don’t apologize:

  • ‘Hi’ and/or ‘guys’ (too casual seems sloppy)
  • ‘I just want to say’ (Just say it!’)
  • I’m sorry I’m a bit nervous’ (We immediately do not trust you or your message and can’t wait for you to leave the stage, because your nervousness makes us anxious)
  • ‘Um,”ok’, ‘like’ repeated use of ‘so’ (Filler words show us you are nervous and they are downright annoying, which means we listen for them instead of your message.)
  • ‘Oops I’m not very good with these electronic devices’ (See above)
  • Adverbs like ‘literally,’ ‘actually,’and ‘really.’ (They (in fact) add (very) little to your argument and (actually) become like filler words – irritating)
  • ‘Stuff,’ ‘things’ (Name them)

Be powerful:

“I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.” – Malala Yousafzai

‘Sleep knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care’

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I was once booked off work due to exhaustion – my whole body was so depleted that I was forced to rest in bed for a week. And so I got to contemplating this thing called ‘sleep.’ Don’t google it – you will be inundated with more articles than there are sheep to count!

Ironically I am usually one of those permanently somnolent sisters who can ‘nap’ for two hours every afternoon quite happily, but blow me down, when told to do so (my greatest wish) by someone with an MChB , I just can’t seem to do it.

It’s guilt. Good old Catholic guilt that is stopping me and as soon as I snuggle in deliciously, self-satisfyingly telling myself that Dr Kindheart said I should, my eyes pop open as I panic about the road repairs at school, the looming Umalusi visit, my business plan, payroll, the school’s birthday celebrations, my trip up north… and … there goes my ‘nap.’ Despite the meds she has given me, I am as wide awake as a  raver on E.

And of course it has to be this week that the usually cannot-be-reached or do-things-next-year repair division of our landlord arrives to fix the extractor fan and ‘Oh we’ve like to quote for the house painting you requested two years ago!’

I had no idea how much the toddler next door cries, nor how many barking dogs or bloody pigeons there are in our neighbourhood; nor how many cars drive past our house. And don’t get me started on the motorbikes which snarl by, sans silencers, or the loud teenagers passing by on their way home from school, disturbing my beauty sleep.

And then I begin to worry about my emails: should I put an ‘out of office’ notice on or will that make the school look bad; or me look weak. But hell I feel weak. But I don’t want anyone to know that. Decisions decisions. I keep telling myself to relax and enjoy the legal break and remember why I need to rest.

What is scary is how serious it is if we do not have enough sleep. My husband sent me an article detailing what happens when you stay up late each night as I do. All those nights staying up to finish a report, work on the budget, fight with the payroll program or finish a Powerpoint presentation could be killing me. That ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ thing  I say all the time, is all wonky. First of all I didn’t say it first, Bon Jovi did (figures)! But more importantly secondly the shorter your sleep, apparently the shorter your life.

And I like my life, so sleep I must. The article also shocked me about how not sleeping enough can make you obese because it messes with your insulin absorption. That must be it! There I was thinking it was all those choccies I sneak in when I’m the last one awake into the early hours of the night. No – it’s lack of sleep. Never mind killing me; all this work is making me fat – oh my Aldo shoes! We can’t have that!

Image result for cartoon pic of a tired woman trying to sleepSo I dutifully take the meds the doc gave me to force me to catch up sleep, but blow me down it’s had the opposite effect – a bit like a Duracell bunny on Red Bull. I find myself in a constant state of panic, mainly about what I now haven’t done at work.

And the FOMO: It was my school’s birthday week this week (yeah we go big – no birthday for us – plus the release of our super cool music vid which we shot last week- I had great fun boogying on my desk) and I so badly wanted to be there, but I made myself stay at home – mind you a mother never ‘stays’ at home even on sick leave – someone had to go to the shops and juggle the credit cards to buy provisions for the hoards when they return and feed the mutt and moggy.

Not sure why I’m feeding the pets mind you; they seem intent on killing each other and have been banished outside in the rain (it’s drizzle really) – that’ll teach them! Oh hell the washing is still on the line … up I get again … before it gets wet.

Finally, I nod off. then my beloved husband tiptoes in after school, in lead boots, snuggles in with a lovely cup of tea, slurping sweetly as he taps on his cellphone … and … PING …. I’m awake – to the mellow sounds of his soft snores. So much for ‘knitting up the ‘ravell’d sleave of care’ – I never was very good with a pair of needles. Methinks sick leave ‘hath murdered sleep’!

I think I’ll just go to work.