Forgiveness

7 things to know about surviving hurt and trying to forgive.

‘Forgiveness’ by Mario Sanchez Nevado

I have faced my share of betrayal and spite, and sadly I have realized over the years that it seems to be a part of the human condition, this coming to terms with the damage others inflict in our lives.

I once asked for a formula to follow to try to forgive someone who had hurt me badly, and not even priests could give me a how-to guide. I think it is a path we often travel alone, but one can produce a joy more profound than the hurt.

These are the 7 things I have done and what I have learnt about surviving hurt and about forgiveness.

1. I kept an angry book

When I first realized I would need to raise five little tykes on my own with little or no consistent financial assistance, I was filled with soul-penetrating hurt and an impotent rage, that I thought would overwhelm me.

So, I wrote it all down. I filled a cheap little brown exercise book with my profound personal hurt and the rejection which threatened to destroy my fragile sense of self. And I scribbled vile words in several languages in an attempt to purge the acid that burned inside me.

Late at night I vented into that book every impassioned thing I wanted to say and needed to say, yet was unable to because I was unable to address them in person, in the knowledge that even if I could have reached his voice, I could not reach his spirit.

One day, I came to the end of the notebook. And I realized I didn’t need to buy another. I was done. The poison was out.

And then I found love

I put the book aside and some years later when I was packing to move into a new house with The Maestro, I threw it away.

2. Everyone is the hero in her own story

This is especially true of people who inflict pain on others. Some years ago I worked with a colleague who made my life so unbearable, I was forced to leave. I was filled with the penetrating pain at being falsely accused, as well as anger and anxiety at the loss of my livelihood, and concern for my children who were innocent victims yet again.

It was at this time, that I tried in vain to google ‘forgiveness for dummies’ because I knew that the hurt would crush me and demolish my serenity if I didn’t.

Then I realised something: she actually thought she was right. In her mind, she was the avenging angel, and I was a cruel woman who had to be vanquished.

In my newfound empathy for my tormentor, and her cabal, I was able to understand her a little, and in the end, I felt sorry for her. Because she was simply wrong.

Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.

Oscar Wilde

3. Forgiveness is not about the abuser

Letting go of anger, no matter how righteous the rage may be, is a healing process and brings true serenity. When you are angry with someone, that person neither knows nor cares how you feel. So, your feelings are an invisible toxin that kills only you.

Physical action helps to externalize the ache. That’s why often jogging or cycling till your drop helps some people. I am not that crazy. However, I did find that walking alongside the sea gave me a sense of perspective on my life, measured against the ebb and flow of the eternal tide.

Redhead Woman In White Dress Standing On Beach And Looking To ...

4. It’s much more difficult to forgive someone when the abuse is ongoing

If you are able to walk away from a situation or draw a line under toxic relationships, it is much easier to let go of the emotional damage they cause, but when you face the same day-in-and-day-out bullying or verbal abuse or permanent penury that often accompanies great betrayal, it is not so simple.

There is recourse in the law for some things naturally, but I found that the legal route is almost as brutal as the original crime, and I had to look inside of myself to find solutions for the problems. Being honest with myself about how and why I felt unhinged by my emotions allowed me to park the anger temporarily so that it has eventually become a side-blur as I journey through life.

5. Time heals

It is true that time takes some of the sting out the raw pain you endure when first you are wounded. And I have found that suffering has made me more compassionate towards others. You just have to wait it out. 

6. ‘The truth will out’

As Shakespeare tells us in The Merchant of Venice (and many other of his plays), ‘the truth will out.’ And it really does in the end. It is good to be vindicated, but the waiting to be ‘exalted above [your] foes’ as the psalmist promises, can be long and requires patience.

Far be it for me to suggest we should wish for such vengeful deliverance, but it is human nature to hope for it when we have been wronged.  I have found though that the truth has a wily way of popping up to haunt those who abuse it.

7. The greatest ‘revenge’ is to be happy and successful

Laugh long and often. Life is absurd, but there is much joy and friendship to be found, even in your darkest hours. You can experience profound joy in the midst of your suffering.

This is how I have found my peace.

‘Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.’

Mark Twain
Fly boots flower crush - YouTube

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

17 things to remember about apologising

President Cyril Ramaphosa was criticized by a caller on a talk-radio show this week, as ‘being weak’ for apologising for mistakes made in the process of addressing our country’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

I completely disagree. I think it is a sign of strength that a person can apologise (and a rarity from a politician). I think it shows an acknowledgement and empathy for other people ‘s feelings and opinions if you can say you are sorry to someone who has been hurt by your words or actions. And in a leader, that kind of humility is important.

I have a saying with my staff that ‘sometimes only grovel will do.’

Because we mess up – like all people – and much time is saved when the offended party is given that recognition of their hurt or inconvenience.

Here are some tips about apologizing (with a disclaimer that I don’t always get these right either):

1. Believe you have offended. Apologise even if the mistake or slight was unintended.

There is nothing worse than being gaslighted by the very person who has caused you hurt, or upset you. To have one’s offended feelings then denied, adds insult to injury.  The first rule of conflict management is to believe what the other person is saying. It is not for you to judge whether a person is over-reacting either.

2. Relationships matter more than your ego or being right.

A servant leader knows the simple truth that ‘it’s not about me.’ Expressing remorse shows your partner or client that the relationship you have with them is more important than your ego or being right.

When you’ve done something wrong, admit it. No one in history has choked to death from swallowing her pride.’

3. Mean it. Only two year olds are ‘sorry, not sorry.

Is Your Child Acting Out—or Just Acting His Age? | Parents

We all remember being made to ‘say sorry to your sister!’ and hearing that muttering ‘Sorreeeee!’ which was a clear sign that you were not! We’re grown-ups now though and admitting regret should be sincere and humble.

Recently after a spat between two of my my offspring, that had become particularly personal, had been calmed down, I asked each to say something nice about the other. My daughter told her brother he had nice eyes. His retort: ‘I like your glasses.’

Clearly ‘Not sorry.’

4. Don’t ruin the apology with a ‘but.’

Likewise, saying ‘but’ after an apology is just another version of saying ‘sorry, not sorry.’ See point 2 above.

5. Apologies do not absolve you of responsibility/blame/legal ramifications

Even when a criminal apologises to his victims in court, he is not excused his sentence because he is remorseful. There is still a consequence that he must accept. The same is true when we screw up.  We still need to fix what we broke.

In South Africa, not enough people apologised for Apartheid, despite the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s noble aims, let alone spent their old age making amends, (or licence plates in prison).

Of course, sometimes you can land up in court for apologising because you may have admitted legal liability, but I really hate it when companies or politicians use all of those euphemisms like ‘it was a regrettable incident (that 100 of their employees died down the mine that they did not ensure was safe, or contracted cancer following their factory’s effluent poisoning the drinking water’ …

Avoiding acceptance of responsibility is cowardly. If you stuffed up, admit it! That’s the honourable thing to do, however unfortunately, honour, like cigarettes during lockdown, is hard to come by when a company is facing financial losses through litigation. Sometimes they apologise but add those little disclaimers such as ‘while the company regrets…. this in no way is an acceptance of liability…’

Large underwear is needed: confess (It’s good for the soul – trust me I’m Catholic so I know), apologise and face the music.

6. Don’t wait

Express remorse immediately when you discover you printed someone ‘s name incorrectly on the awards ceremony programme, or before someone sees the scratch on their car, or when there has been a delay in response time to an issue. Make contact even before the injured party becomes aware of the situation, if possible. That shows you’re sincere and not hiding it. It also tends to take the sting out of the error or insult and can calm down a furious client and gain their respect for being someone who owns her mistakes.

‘When you realise you’ve made a mistake, make amends immediately. It’s easier to eat crow when it’s still warm.’

Dan Heist

7. There is always something to be sorry about in a conflict situation

Even if the angry customer in front of you is dead wrong. There is always something to apologise for such as a miscommunication that has led to the misunderstanding. If you take ownership of even a part of the complaint, the complainant may be slightly mollified at least.

Always acknowledge their feelings as valid.

8. Apologies heal relationships and build trust

Humans are weird about ‘losing face’ and being the first to apologise. In fact, to me, that is the moral high ground and shows a stronger person, confident in herself because true strength requires humility. How many of us know families who no longer speak because siblings or children or parents refuse to be the first person to ‘give in’ as apologising is considered a surrender.

In the end, we all want to feel validated. Likewise, if someone apologises to you, apologise back for your part, enabling both parties to heal and feel forgiven.

9. Take the long view

Be prepared to lose the battle in order to win the war. If your goal is to win over a group of people to co-operate with you, it can be of strategic importance to suck it up and apologise unreservedly in the small things so that they will believe you and respect you in the long term.

10. Apologies take courage

It is not always easy to apologise because it often involves facing the wrath of the offended party, and that is another reason why I say that it is strong leaders who are able to do this. An apology makes one vulnerable in the relationship (or so many think) and so they avoid doing so which is sad because the courage to own up to being flawed is both liberating and empowering.

The first to apologise is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest.’

11. Don’t respond to anger or annoyance in another with reeling out a list of their own similar crimes

While it may be true that you may have experienced similar treatment at the plaintiff’s hands, now is not the time to say, ‘well you always/never do that either’

(btw ‘always’ and ‘never’ should never feature in arguments.)

‘I am so sorry! I know how annoying this is when it happens to me,’ is a far more conciliatory response and won’t escalate the conflict.

12. Don’t expect forgiveness

Don’t apologise because you want to be forgiven. Apologise because you want to heal the relationship.

13. Apologise to children.

That is how you teach them to be sorry too.

14. Sorry means I won’t do it again

My mother always told me that ‘Sorry means you won’t do it again,’ and while this assumes a path to perfection that is not always possible for horribly flawed humans, it should cause us to pause and determine a way to at the very least try to avoid the behaviour, or in business (and at home) build structures and procedures to prevent a recurrence of the error. Otherwise, you run the risk of being (or being seen to be) once again ‘sorry, not sorry.’

15. Make amends

As much as it is a powerful means of spiritually cleansing oneself, priests who prescribe prayerful penance sometimes let we sinners off the hook a bit. Saying a few ‘’our Fathers’ will not build the bridge again with one’s husband and is not as effective as going home from Confession and baking a cake for your beloved or washing his car. Showing and not just telling is a powerful way to prove repentance, and it takes more effort.

Chocolate and flowers help too:

16. A good leader apologises for the team without shifting the blame to the individual who may have caused the fault.

Not only will this gain you the thanks of your team for having their backs, it is important to remember that as a leader you may not be responsible for the mess, but you are always accountable for it.

17. Apologising is empowering

When you realise that in fact you lose nothing by apologising, there is profound sense of peace and inner strength, which leads to greater resilience.

“Apologies aren’t meant to change the past, they are meant to change the future.”

– Kevin Hancock

The Learning Pit – an aid for homeschooling parents who are being driven to drink

Remote Learning during Lockdown is the pits – but that’s okay if they’re Learning Pits.

I thought I’d take pity on all those parents resorting to TikTok and YouTube to post parodies of their children working at home and who rant about reaching for the Valium to get through the school day with their own beloved offspring who have turned into spawn of the Remote Learning Apocalypse. So I am letting you in on a teaching secret: the Learning Pit. Understanding this simple model may assist you and your child with school tasks at home and let you in on (some) of the magic educators learn when they study pedagogy.

The Learning Pit is model of learning developed by James Nottingham.  https://www.bookdepository.com/Learning-Challenge-James-Nottingham/9781506376424

It is a feature of 21st century learning and teaching that students are required to grapple with the unknown; face the fear of ignorance and learn to overcome.

The Learning Pit is an immensely empowering concept.

And it applies not only to a concept at school, but to all problems needing solving, so it is a guided way to coping with the problems of life (like avoiding opening the wine before lunch while your child is working on parts of speech.)

Now more than ever, during Lockdown, when children are learning remotely, this is a way to focus your youngsters and assist them to be self-sufficient. Besides reading, teaching a child strategies to learn is one of the most effective ways to equip a developing mind for a lifetime of successful learning.

Nottingham’s model suggests that real learning what we call ‘deep learning’ only happens when something new is learned and that can be a scary experience (almost as scary for parents who are facing similar pits during their ‘homeschooling experiments’ during COVID-19 lockdown at the moment.)

The concept is simple: if a youngster encounters a new section of work (the learning pit) and he ‘gets it’ easily, he can leap across the chasm like an avatar with that faux loping stride leaping across gorges (unrealistically) in Fortnite and can hurry on to his next challenge. He hasn’t learned anything new yet though. FYI Bright leaners do this often through school and often battle later on because they haven’t learnt HOW to navigate learning challenges so it’s important to stimulate them all the time (extend them until they face something hard) to ensure they learn the skills. All too often I have seen rosy-cheeked Dux scholars in prep school turn into average achievers later on in high school because they never learned about the struggle that is the learning pit. But they make great collaborators and cheerleaders in peer teaching -see ‘Collaborate’ below – if they understand both the work and the process.

So how does it work?

I love this child’s depiction of the pit:

When our intrepid warriors arrive at a pit that looks too dangerous and fear and confusion sets in, it’s game-on.  I urge teachers to encourage our learners to leap into that pit with both feet, as soon as they recognize that they don’t understand something, we want them to feel a sense of adventure and excitement, as if they are going on a quest.  A key factor in 21st century education is also the demystifying of the learning process so we point out each phase of the learning pit a child is in so they can chart their progress.

  • ‘Having a go’

This diagram above illustrates the dangers at the bottom of the pit and challenges to be overcome like on an epic journey.  (like those moments when your drooping Petal whines ‘I can’t! I don’t know what to do? And you’re thinking the same only with a few Anglo-Saxon words in between). But they are encouraged to jump on in and ‘have a go’ like the valiant gladiators of old.

  • A Leap of Faith

Tell them: The work may be tricky but the first important question to ask yourself is: ‘How can I do this’ – that is almost the key to crossing the bottom of the monster-filled abyss. I remember a scene in The Last Crusade, Indiana Jones (oh so young Harrison Ford) takes a leap of faith into the unknown and finds that there was a way across the impassible ravine. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-JIfjNnnMA

That first step shows the way, but the adventurer still has to climb up and out of the learning pit.

Notice that nothing new has yet been learned, but the student has already started to climb out of the pit, because attitude to learning is so important. This is why we believe in making learning fun. If a child is playing, he doesn’t realize that he’s already crossed the chasm and is climbing.

  • Try something else

As with all climbs, things can be quite steep and so a good pupil should know that there can be different ways of solving things: ‘What else can I try?’

Recent problem-solving by clothing manufacturers who were forced to shut their doors overnight and stop trading due to the lockdown, have re-designed and developed their sports masks into fashionable and effective alternatives for the COVID-exerciser. Instead of focusing on products they can’t sell they have focused their marketing and sales on these much-needed current products, and become essential services in the process. This kind of creative thinking is what keeps businesses afloat when times change, so when your child is struggling with a Mathematics problem, don’t show him the way you were taught – if you can even remember(!) and not at first anyway. Encourage him to try different ways because this is part of developing creativity, which stand him in good stead when his career faces a challenge.

A child must own the problem; WANT to solve it and struggle with it a bit. We all know what happened to Kodak, The Concorde, Blockbuster Video Stores and Blackberry. They would not/could not innovate. There is nothing wrong with using the fruit and veges to work out answers to basic arithmetic. Make problems relevant to real life so they have a connection. So if all you do is guide them to see a link to their own experience, you will have helped them focus on alternative ways of looking at things. Just don’t do it for them. (Walk away and mix teh margaritas for later.)

Innovation is a vital skill to learn and it’s the first step of that upward climb to problem solving so give your child lots spare paper or let her open lots of word docs and keep trying different things.

Vi Active Carbon Mask with filters for Cyclists and other sportswomen in the fight against COVID-19
  • Grit

Trying can be exhausting though and is not necessarily immediately rewarding. Learning warriors need courage and resilience and what we call grit to believe that they can. (like that little train we all remember from our youthful storybooks: ‘I think I can…’) There is a dawning hope, with each small success. Encourage her to push herself just a little bit harder, for just a little bit longer. Athletes understand this about training – the brain must also be trained to think. And sweat is involved.

Again I plead with parents not to give in and tell your child the answer. We see too many high school students these days whose parents have given them everything on a plate and they have never learnt the simple truth that success does not come without hours of (their own) hard work. They throw their hands up in despair, blame the teacher, the school, the government and everyone else because they simply don’t know how to keep at something. Things like re-writes, editing, touch ups, second drafts, conceptualization, planning are all part of keeping at it; they need to keep slogging away, and not accepting pedestrian prose or mediocrity. Cheer them on when they do.

10 000 hours at a task brings you professionalism in something. Sadly, too few students these days know how to keep at something for that long. It’s not their fault. Everything in their world is ‘insta’ – the ‘gram, their cappuccino, the news, and take-aways to their doors; binging on series has prevented us from yearning and imagining, and even gaming teaches devotees to use the cheats. Without sounding as old as my own children say I am, have to confess that I worry that we are growing a nation of quitters and lazy thinkers who want instant answers. There are loads of fun ways teachers encourage children to stick at something: competitions, promised rewards, clues and even a simple thing like timing them gives them an end in sight to strive for, so draw your child into the game of learning and keep them on track. (It will work for yourself too, especially if your choice of the fruit of the vine is the prize). Let them play music if that is their poison. (Earphones are a wonderful invention and protect us from said noise pollution).

Having said that, it is possible that you are experiencing a more genteel time at home with your family, (if you’re not exhausted from multi-tasking – running your home and empire AND Junior’s Work programme) and that can allow learners a chance to explore tangential interests and it’s consequently a great opportunity for them to go slightly off track and discover things they are really interested in. We all know this is when the real learning happens, so allow them a little intellectual bundu bashing. (They may develop an app in that time that will make them famous and you rich – more wine!)

  • Collaborate

Collaboration is one of the fundamentals of 21st century education and even during lockdown it can be achieved via Teams and WhatsApp calls. Our offspring are connected. They know how to crowd-source ideas. One of mine decided today a name change was in order for her next birthday so she threw a few ideas at her friends and bingo she had her new name. (and it wasn’t B-I-N-G-O … now there’s a blast-from-the-past kiddies tune!) So they know how to connect. It’s our job as educators and parents to guide them into using these skills to co-operate on learning tasks the same way they collaborate in their social lives. ‘Phone a friend’ is a good catch phrase to have in your classroom or on the fridge – and it’s not just a phone call – this applies to all those lifelines : teacher, google, friend, parent, asking for clues. Re-watch ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ and draw up your own set of lifelines to point them at when they get to this stage. ‘Read a book, search for other resources, make an appointment for a one-on-one with your teacher on Teams, You Tube videos’ – all of these are important. YouTube may well replace tecahers one day – you can learn anything on there. My eldest son watched something on ‘how to escape from a hijacking’ and it worked two weeks later when someone started shooting at a traffic light. You can learn a lot from the Tube, not least of which is how to research.)

By this time of the day, you may have your wine in hand and all you will have to do is wave your glass at the fridge to point out the ‘Phone a friend’ options.

I have always believed that a ‘lazy’ teacher is an effective educator if he is steering his students into self-discoveries and can be a profound influence on his charges. (I use the word ‘lazy’ hesitantly and for effect because I mean it in the sense that he doesn’t spoonfeed his pupils with dished up answers on the set platter of pretty notes and worksheets. In fact much time and forethought goes into planning a lesson that requires the children to do – to struggle, engage, chew on the pencil (not the stylus please though), scratch heads, stare into the vistas of space, doodle, cross out and keep trying. That is facilitating discovery. That is teaching). 

Collaboration through peer-learning is important to facillitate – it empowers both teacher and learner and encourages empathy and altruism, qualities that are in rather short supply. Suggest siblings help each other, while you finish your own work (or wine).

  • Self-confidence

You have almost summited the mountain if you reach the point that a child is thinking ‘I am getting there.’ This is that heady moment when a learner picks up the pace, and feels the adrenalin of final summitting the Everest of his subject. This is self-belief and is so vital for self-esteem. This is where the teacher/parent is the cheerleader, the folks back home waving the flag of support. So, don’t rob them of this high by giving them the answer because next time they will expect you to do it again. This is when you tell them they are fabulous and you knew they could do it; when you paste their artwork on the fridge/wall outside to motivate passers-by like my neighbor did with her daughter.

  • Success

Give them that buzz of accomplishment and let them own the ‘Eureka moment.’ Because next time they will jump into the pit more eagerly because they know they can do it and they will need you less and less and eventually, if you are very lucky, and lockdown ends, they’ll leave home, buy you a wine farm and support you in your old age… because you taught them to solve problems on their own. School is a place and time to prepare you for life and let’s face it life is hard!

You will have taught them to think.

And you gave them an even greater gift: confidence to do it all again.

So that is the secret from the oracle today:

When it all gets too much for you, tell them to go and jump into the pit…. and resist the urge to bury them in there. If you’ve done your job right, they’ll find a way to dig themselves out anyway!

8 Things I am missing during lockdown

women model redhead curly hair profile looking away looking out window blinds long hair face portrait side view jeans jacket denim bokeh indoors women indoors Aleks Five

How many times have I wished for time off where I could stay at home and sleep! Despite not sleeping too much during lockdown due to my permanent state of angst, not uncommon I believe, there are a few things that would have made it bearable:

  1. Books

I am a touch-it-turn-it kinda reading gal. The libraries closed for lockdown too quickly for me to stock up, even though the seven books they allow you would have been finished in the first week anyway. And of course I couldn’t have used Shannon and Michael’s cards as usual because there are fines on them (again). Yes, the shame! I don’t learn. And it’s not that I don’t read fast enough; I just don’t get around to returning them, despite ‘holiday’ stamps and amnesties.

I love the comfort of holding a book, and being able to page back to check on facts or reread lyrical passages. And since I could never afford to buy all the books I read, the library is my place. Mind you, some of them do reek of old ladies’ cigarettes and there a few unidentifiable (thank goodness) food stains on them from time to time. But then to be honest, I have probably been guilty of dropping a teeny bit of avo from my pizza onto an Elizabeth George novel on occasion.

Once I had finished Shakespeare by Bill Bryson (enjoyable, even though he pooh- poohed the idea that it was actually Marlowe who wrote all the great works, or the sonnets at least) and Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (gripping with a powerful anti-colonial, anti-war message, and part of my ongoing love affair with modern African literature), I had nothing. Unless I wanted to lose myself in The Maestro’s tomes on Liszt (I didn’t), I had to do as my girls had insisted and try online.

Well. That’s been a disaster. First of all, our wifi is about as inconsistent as an adolescent love affair and the adverts… really they could make a maiden blush! I have started two books both by Harlan Coben, another favourite of mine, but I keep losing internet, which freezes the narrative at a critical moment; then the page refreshes to forty pages before where I actually am, and I have to wade back through it all so much that I need to splint my wrist from all the swiping. And I do not need to be looking at penile extensions more than once a day thank you (who does that to themselves anyway?!).

The girls say I am using the wrong sites. Andrew says he’ll pay for me to download better versions, but honestly, I baulk at paying for books.

2. Sunday Lunch

Sunday lunch is a tradition in our home even more important than Friday pizzas. Now don’t be mistaken we’re not being starved of our sabbath prandials (far from it – the fair Caitlin, our resident Masterchef, has stuffed us like willing Christmas turkeys with so many delectable vittles that the family scale has signed a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ form.) But Sunday lunch at our house usually involves all the special people in our family who don’t live in the Mad House with us, arriving in a cacophony of hellos and hugs and we all catch up.

It’s when the children’s other mother, my sister Brigid, debates with The Maestro about which news channel in the US is more biased, whether capitalism is better than communism (every Sunday); she admonishes the young people about the dangers of jumping stop streets, walking alone, locking doors, and taking Sandown Road late at night. She warns Liam that Nellie is not getting enough exercise and that I work too hard. I miss her nagging love. And she always brings those scrumptious tiny Doughnuts from Woolworths.

It’s when Michael and Gabby, and Lizzy and Dylan sail in when they can and the love gets louder. Sometimes we Facetime Sean and Jordan and before he left fot the UK, Mika’s dry humour also graced our table occasionally, especially if there was lamb.

I miss my other family. My people. I miss the noise. (Ok not the noise – there’s still plenty of that.)

3. Cappuccino, Hot Chocolate and Haircuts

Okay so I might as well get my middle-class entitlement out of the way, but I really do miss popping into The Mugg for a cup of chatting and only News Café can make Hot Chocolate that special way – they use cream of course. And Aruna the Lion Mane-Tamer is much missed.

4. Zara

While smokers and drinkers are venting about draconian shopping rules, spare a thought for the other addicts – the shopaholics among us. I know we can shop for clothes now, but you can’t try on in most places and what’s a girl to do if she’s not sure?!

Also, I bought two darling little suits before lockdown and now I feel like a jilted bride with nowhere to wear them. Never mind the fact that I probably can’t fit into them anymore (thanks to the fair Caitlin’s culinary excellence) and will stumble around like a nerd on a first date in my high heels.

I miss dressing up.

I know I’m shallow.

But not entirely:

5. Live Mass

I miss going to mass and being physically present to worship with my community. The online thing just doesn’t do it for me. It’s like watching a film and playing church-church when we were little. I hope I don’t sound blasphemous, by saying that, but I want to be in God’s house with my family of believers.

It’s tough being on time for church now because Fr Carlo can’t see you race to your laptop to join in (or not) and the guilt of being late for mass is greatly reduced. As any good Catholic can testify to, we are a guilt-driven bunch. It also doesn’t seem quite right to be in your pyjamas in front of the Lord. (I know I know, God doesn’t mind, but still it feels unseemly). And the temptation to boil the kettle for a cuppa during the sermon quickly is quite strong…

6. Choice

I’m not crazy about exercising, as my pristine gym outfits, shiny white cross trainers and the exercise bike, formerly-known-as-the-clothes-horse can attest to, but I do like to go for a stroll on the weekends. Mostly if I walk at all though (when it is an azure, wind-free day that Cape Town is renowned for)  I amble along the beachfront path anyway: I avoid walking on the beach itself. But being told I am not allowed to put my tootsies in the icy water of Table Bay, makes the thought of being on the beach all the more alluring.

It’s the forbidden fruit syndrome I suppose.

I like being able to just pop into the shop quickly on my way home. Now I have to be home by a certain time, and the shops are closed after a particular hour. I miss the whole concept of flexi.

Normally I’d love to be told I have to work from home. Now I am bristling at not being able to go into school. I want the choice.

Mind you I am such a goodie-two-shoes I would never dream of disobeying the law. I’m blaming it on my convent upbringing combined with my rebellious Celtish forebears for making me so conflicted. I hope their inherited genes are just as warlike in antibody production when it counts.

7. Guilt-free Rest

We’ve essentially been working every day since lockdown and have missed out on the April school holidays in the race to ready schools to morph into online institutions overnight. Don’t get me wrong, there has been some down time (especially because I haven’t had frequent interruptions – you know those – ‘Have you just got a sec?’ inserts that tend to catch you mid-email or profound thought, and result in multiple open Windows in your brain crashing into early onset dementia, never mind the software ones which make your laptop slower than morning traffic on the N1 (pre-lockdown of course).) But I cannot seem to shake this permanent state of anxiety. I think it’s guilt (blame the Catholic in me again) that I should be in my office, or with my children, or working harder, or watching a ministerial update, or doing something I’ve forgotten… like going to work.

8. Hugs

Much has been written about how hard it is for affectionate people to social-distance. How we are going to avoid dishing out such love to our school children is going to be a real challenge. But it is really hard, even for us. I touched a colleague’s arm in thanks today and felt as if I’d committed attempted murder. (I had just sanitized my hands, but the guilt was huge.) And to avoid natural gestures for a tactile person is tough.  

I suppose we’ll get used to social distancing. I mean we do that don’t-come-in-my-space dance in the shop with strangers, but it is more difficult with those we love and haven’t seen for a while.

I also noticed a weird (in a good way) phenomenon on the road driving home today: cars are keeping better following distances – it’s as if we have grown accustomed to keeping an eye on the spaces between us in queues and we have extrapolated that into traffic. Long may that last!

But I miss a good hug though.

All this missing things shows that I’d have made a terrible citizen in wartime, and I have to remind myself that eventually we shall have all these things again. This is a war though and we simply MUST. So others CAN. Altruism may be in short supply, but now is the time that those of us who are leaders should be modelling it.

There is something unique to humans, even those of us who may be champing at the bit: we can and do adapt to change. And remarkably quickly too. (The Maestro did the washing today so evolution is real). Darwin would be proud of us.

The rest is just weather. It too shall pass.

A Mother’s Day reflection, dedicated to the one who first made me a mother:

Not for sensitive readers. (I’m serious – this one is a bit icky.)

This COVID-19 lockdown has stirred up memories of another period of self-isolation I experienced, back in 1991, also not of my own choice.

When Sean was born, almost 28 (Yikes!) years ago, someone commented that he was a miracle baby.

He wasn’t really (any more so than other newborns who survive at the hands of bewildered maternal academics who don’t realize that babies cannot and have not read Marina Petropulis, The Baby and Child Care Handbook, cover to cover like them). He survived birth despite a massive head (It has since proved to hold a magnificent brain at least) that required a caesarean section to prevent us both from becoming maternal and infant death statistics (12 in every 100 live births in 1992 in South Africa – not including HIV/AIDS stats).

His Great-Aunt Jean’s remark was not referring to these facts however. She was in fact reflecting on how a year previously I had been recovering from some rather unpleasant chemotherapy after a hydatidiform mole in my uterus.

At a time when I have been googling coronaviruses and other such nasties, I finally took the time to have a look at the suckers that took over my innards like grotesque, water-filled red bunches of grapes. Hideous:

I’ll spare you the real-life photographs because there ain’t nothing pretty about the condition, which arises from an aberration just after conception and results in the chorionic tissue around the developing embryo, going into hyperdrive and blowing up like balloons, resulting in the natural abortion of the embryonic life and causes extensive haemorrhaging, which in my case necessitated chemotherapy.  (pardon my lay(wo)man’s biology, my dear medical friends)

We’ll never know how long the early life within me survived, but what should have been a happy visit to the doctor to see and hear the heartbeat of the baby that would make us parents, ended in tears (even though I’d been unprepared to be pregnant in the first place). All I remember from that occasion was the awkward silence that greeted the radiographer’s first enthusiastic movements of the sensor around my already swollen belly (a symptom of this condition btw, in that a woman presents with larger-than-normal uterine growth at an early stage because of the explosion of beta-HCG hormones). Then she stammered that she would call the doctor, and he confirmed our fears: no heartbeat, the miscarriage already showing as a Milky Way of snowflakes.

So, we went home to grieve and get used to the idea that the previous weeks of trying to come to terms with an unexpected pregnancy were over, and the realization that there is something worse than unplanned parenthood– not being pregnant anymore. And a sense of defeat. And guilt. No amount of soothing from the gynaecologist who tried to console me that 25% of first pregnancies abort spontaneously, could prevent that combination of loss and failure.  

There was a sense of relief when I actually began to bleed, but that soon turned to fear as the bleeding continued over days and I had to abandon my final examination invigilation of the 1990 Grade 10 English examination my students were writing, mid-exam, and race home, where clot after clot soaked into our new grey carpet.

The resultant procedure was quick, if unpleasant, after a nightmare drive through to the hospital in mid-morning traffic atop a pile of towels which fortunately I never saw again. I remember awakening from the anaesthesia in a foetal position on a gurney, in an awful mockery of what should have been growing inside me. I was crying for my mother from the pain, and, noticing the fingerprints on my stomach the next day, it’s not surprising – they must have pressed really hard to scour out the remnants of the miscarried pregnancy.

It didn’t end there though, because, as it turned out  thanks to the instinct and foresight of my doctor who dispatched samples for biopsy, a diagnosis of hydatidiform mole was possible… and treated effectively over the next four months. It was no consolation to hear that this was a very rare condition (One in 2 500 women in those days were the proud sufferers of the special privilege of being this unusual!)

But that’s how I happened to have a front row seat on the First Gulf War because I was booked off during the treatment, which was progressively more debilitating as the weeks wore on with the last couple of sessions necessitating my husband who was not very tall, having to stagger to the car with me (no light-weight, despite my small stature) in his arms, in a comical parody of a romantic hero carrying off his princess, following a drip containing Actinomyacin (I still remember how it looked, a substance kindly Professor Bloch jokingly referred to as pricier than VAT 69, obviously his Scottish malt of choice! I didn’t care then…(or now).

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On good days, I sat in our small lounge (the marks of my miscarriage now hidden under a strategically-placed coffee table) sorting out teaching resources and glued to live reports on the first war to be televised live, like a sick action movie.

This was the age of war correspondents like Christiane Amanpour, Peter Arnett, and Bernard Shaw. (In a feminist aside, it is interesting to note that it is Christiane Amanpour I remember the most, although you won’t find her in the Wikipedia pages on reporters during that time!) I, like so many other watchers, stared in fascinated horror at the destruction of Baghdad and the human suffering that resulted. In a macabre way, it distracted me from my own unfortunate situation.

Eventually though, the effects of the chemotherapy became too great even to sit, and the last couple of weeks I spent in bed, unable to get up and go down to the lounge at all.

Sadly, chemotherapy does not involve a romantic, Little Women-ish state of fatigue. It is accompanied by horrible side-effects which made the knowledge that this was supposedly good for me, seem like a ghastly, dishonest joke and further punishment for being such a rubbish incubator of life. I suffered from mouth ulcers that made eating impossible so I lived on a diet of Ultramel custard and yoghurt. When my veins collapsed they sourced places all the way up my arms, but to this day when someone flicks the top of my hand, I devolve into paroxysms of panic.

The worst was the acne. It seems foolish now with the distance of wisdom and age to remember that disfigurement with so much agony, but for an insecure young woman it was devastating. Painful, angry red blotches in a rash of leaking cysts covered my entire face and chest and spread all over onto my back. (it is not called acne vulgaris for nothing). I have never felt so ugly and consequently have always felt exquisitely protective of my school pupils over the years who have suffered from this condition.  I suppose this suffering was worth it to deepen my compassion for teenagers.

My sanity-saviours during this time were my friends, Traci and Jean (who would later become godmother to Caitlin) and my mother’s daily ‘just-popping-in-for-tea’ visits. I am forever grateful for their ‘not seeing’ the vileness, and loving me through it all. The memory of their care is the one positive memory I carry from that time of struggling through the pain and exhaustion and the unspoken fear that I would never have children of my own.

Months of regular testing (ironically the same as a pregnancy test) followed the chemotherapy and so the transfer of my husband to Port Elizabeth, away from my support system, was especially hard, along with the realization that career trumps wives for many couples in the cold world of businessmen.

…And then there was Sean, who came along after we were given the all-clear. Many think that having a (now) large family was an unconscious desire to prove that I could have babies. They may be partly right, (Perhaps I’m just greedy) but all I know is that Sean was the first of the five best things I have ever done… and a special kind of miracle.

I wish my mother were still with us to see the wonders that are her grandchildren (She saw only two, who were infants when she passed away).

Happy Mother’s Day, especially to those mothers who have triumphed over miscarriage and disease to find that indefinable joy of motherhood, and cried along the way.

Strangers in the blight

I miss News Café. I miss Mugg & Bean. These are local hangouts for the Maestro and me, although he is also crazy about La Forneria, which he refers to as La Fornicatoria(!) I think about the staff of our neighbourhood bistros quite a bit, not only because I am dying for a cappuccino, but because I miss the ambiance and the ‘outing.’ And I wonder how they are surviving during this shutdown period.
Mugg &Bean, Table Bay Mall
Mugg and Bean is our go-to breakfast, tea or lunch venue. If we’re meeting there, I try to arrive first so I can grab a people-watching possie, and if Andrew beats me to it, he can be found in a dark corner somewhere as far away from sight (and other people) as possible – and therein lies the difference between us. Jean-Paul Sartre and Andrew believe that ‘Hell is other people’ and I am fascinated by humans and energized by being among the throngs. Of course, this fact about me drives my children to despair because no trip to the shops is ever quick. We are bound to bump (in a socially distant way, post-COVID) into acquaintances, fellow parishioners, past pupils, or their parents, or former colleagues. Liam believes this is no excuse for stopping to speak to them all, which is a cheek coming from a chap who makes a point of striking up a conversation with every cashier as if he has been starved for human contact. But my children’s reluctance to join their loquacious maman allows me to sneak off and date my husband. And if he is not chatty, I can always watch the crowds. Not in a creepy way of course. I am fascinated by observing and imagining what their back-stories might be. You can’t people-watch nowadays of course, because the genteel art of coffee-sipping, while stalking-shoppers-with-your-eyes, is denied us thanks to the virus. Which is such a pity. I mean I have developed my sartorial style over the years from watching my fellow humans wear things well and well, … not well. How will I know what is in if I can’t watch? And how can I be in, if I can’t be watched. Mind you, I am looking forward to our first visit when they reopen because I can ‘window shop’ for funky masks while I drink my latte. Then there is our evening haunt: News Café. You cannot beat the view from this establishment and the waiters greet us like old friends, so it feels a bit like a Cheers set and you don’t have to start googling Trip Advisor to get good service. The waiters are charming and good fun. Andrew always goes for the happy hour cocktails – ‘James Bond lifestyle,’ he says. We have good laughs over the various football matches we watch there and debate politics and philosophy, sometimes even with each other. Because we occasionally meet up there after work, I wonder whether the staff think we are having an affair. It’s fun to pretend we are.
News Cafe, Table View
Before I met Andrew, I could never have walked into a bar on my own (oh what an admission for a feminist!) but at News Café, it is so welcoming it’s easy. Although we never venture upstairs when the techno beat vibrates at night – that’s where the view, especially at sunset, is magnificent. And the people-watching there is spectacular. All the beautiful people going upstairs to see and be seen have to walk past where we sit (yes, we have ‘our table’) so it is like watching a fashion show. Scratch the thought that the waitstaff think we’re dating. We have ‘our table,’ for goodness sake! We must have ‘old fogey’ written across our faces. But still, a girl can pretend. We have watched many a sunset from this restaurant and I hope they survive the lockdown period to open their doors again to us. I’m getting bored with my husband. It’s time to meet my lover again. At least we’ll change out of our pyjamas then.
News Cafe, Table Bay

A picture paints a thousand words

Picasso’s Madonna, 1909

I like Picasso. His paintings anyway – he himself was rather a womanizing SOB.

Despite having two particularly arty children, I can’t say I know much about cubism. But I like the angular, sharp edges of the style. I like the seemingly jumbled aspects of the same object because I think that is often how ambivalent we feel about life.

My life is a cubist painting. Especially at the moment with lockdown and its attendant multi-facetted emotional experience.  The jagged, glass-like slivers of reality fit together, not always neatly juxtaposed or aligned, but often in a higgledy piggledy fashion in a collage that sometimes piles elements on top of each other.

How do we make sense of it all?

I find my competing responsibilities working overtime in a stressful, shifting montage, even more demanding than usual and I am sure others must be feeling this way too.

As a head of a school, I am returning to my school tomorrow to receive our supplies of PPE for staff and to assess our readiness for re-opening and oversee the disinfecting and deep cleaning of all the buildings. It’s a daunting responsibility and I feel it keenly – the health and safety of so many beloved souls that I am accountable for. Me.

I must juggle this with responding to our parents’ real fears and concerns and financial predicaments, as well as a staff of gallant educators who are in danger of burning out as they live remote teaching and learning well into the evenings, having not really had a holiday in April. What heroes they have been in this time, some bewildered at first, but changing tack mid-curriculum to reinvent themselves as online interlocuters, while juggling their own unique family circumstances.

My Picasso painting has overlapping shards for each of children and my worries and guilt over whether I have done (am doing) enough for each to support them. Or have I hovered awfully?

How will poor Liam negotiate this matric year: is he getting enough sleep; doing enough schoolwork; being careful when he walks Nellie each morning now that we can exercise a bit? I have random thoughts like how many razors will he need to de-fuzz for school and should I buy extra hair elastics, because those lovely locks of his will need to be tied back in (gasp) a man bun, until barbers re-open. What is he thinking?

Just how soul-destroying is Mika’s telesales job in the UK?! He left on his gap-year adventure so full of hope and enthusiasm for his opportunity to remake himself and now stuck in digs outside London, I hope his satirical YouTube channel is taking off. Will we see him soon? When? I hope he’s eating and is not living an emaciated, Withnail and I sort of existence.

Is Shannon reading too many romantic gothic-fantasy novels and how will she accomplish Year 2 of a Fine Arts degree from her bed, where she reclines like a Greek goddess? She’s definitely not getting enough exercise but considering she received more than her fair share of the clumsy genes, perhaps that’s a good thing. She appears to be able to roll out essays easily enough (although rather vocally).

Lizzy’s moved homes from boyfriend’s family to her mom. I hope she’ll be able to study there. At least she’ll be in familiar surroundings. I miss her too. I wish she’d come here.

Michael is the earthling most suitable to lockdown since his business is online, but without football matches happening it must be hard to weave new stories and articles, even with the transfer window looming. I hope his advertising contracts don’t disappear.  He has cleverly taken this time to get his other sites up and running though and is hiring new writers so he should be fine. And since I can’t see whether he and his flatmate are washing dishes, and using clean towels, I don’t have to worry about him. (Even though his emotional state is low because Uber Eats is not delivering to his complex!)

How can I keep up with Caitlin’s cooking sprees and reduce the size of my waistline in time for Sean’s wedding in the spring? I mean, malva pudding and custard is a scrumptious dessert and if I don’t have anything else for supper, it should be okay…shouldn’t it?

And, of course, I’m wondering whether the airlines will be operating and whether we’ll be able to travel by September for Sean and the lovely Jordan’s nuptials. No way can I miss that! How we’ll get there and where we’ll stay are still unknowns.

To be truthful there’s a little cube in my artwork that is rather sad to be ending this forced stay at home. It’s been pleasant to work around the maestro again and hear his genius at work, and I am not a little apprehensive to be venturing forth into the new way of doing things, given that as an aging matron, I suffer from hypertension and so am at risk from this virus.

But I shall be donning my mask both literally and metaphorically and pretending I am a surgeon sailing into an operating theatre, like the best of Greys’ Anatomy prima donnas. I do have a wrinkly face more suited to radio (especially since Woolworths is not selling foundation make-up yet – surely face putty is an essential item?!) so a mask is not a bad idea. I’ll have to take my tea intravenously or via a straw (Don’t tell Caitlin about the straw).

Picasso’s Madonna looks a little like my quizzical self and it looks as though she too is having trouble keeping her mask on. But that sideways sliver of her face reminds me that every now and again, I intend to move my mask away and breathe in great gulps of fresh air.  

And smile. Even if they can only see my eyes.

We only ever see a fragment of other people anyway.

As soap is to the body, so laughter is to the soul. — A Jewish Proverb

Soap and laughter – that’s how we beat this virus!

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I want to laugh. I want to be amused. I want to be entertained, amused, delighted, distracted and diverted… so I can escape the oppressive weight of lockdown problems.

I have a good book to read – Bill Bryson’s eminently readable Shakespeare, but yesterday I really wanted live actors. Last night  I made a quick circuit of the house to see whether there were any talented comics willing to be my fool, but they’re all just boring in the evenings. Liam’s light was out already; Andrew was running an airport; Caitlin was re-watching Grey’s Anatomy, and Shannon just played possum when I entered her room – I think she tought I was calling her to do dishes! Even the Mad Lab had lost the will to play, listlessly stirring her tail as I passed. I dared not go near the Cat. All just boring, boring.

So I fell asleep to Joan Rivers’ stand up. I mean I was that desperate for comedy that was not about lockdown. The sad thing is that all my usual comedy shows are not really running now. I mean QI has just stopped and Graham Norton without his couch is like Elton John without glitter. Trevor Noah is funny, but all about the US so…lockdown.

What is a girl to do?

“I’ve tidied my cupboards already, given myself a foot spa, re-done my nails, called my sister for all the minutes left on my airtime, and I have even hefted my weight atop my exercise bike, formally known as The Clothes Rack, for some daily cardio. But not even the foot spa evoked the slightest giggle or sigh of contentment.

Why am I so desperate for comedy? Well laughing at humour whether it’s dark and twisted, witty or gutter makes us feel better about the problems of life which it is poking fun at. In a perfect world there’d be no jokes, because we’d have no difficulties to make light of.

But I’m sick of lockdown – nothing’s funny anymore about being stuck in a nice enough house with a bunch of clever people who aren’t bored in the evenings and have no desire to cheer me up.

And then I watched the Education Minister’s address. And as her dulcet voice slipped seamlessly into her mother tongues from English, the auto-subtitles, clearly not South African programmed, ran amok, throwing in any and all most recent words in the global English lexicon in a hilarious potpourri of vocabulary, trying to transcribe her Setswana and isiZulu as English words. This linguistic muddle, while it may have been annoying for those who couldn’t understand the audio, proved a salutary lesson to all those who pooh- pooh folk who are not fluent in English. Now they know how it feels for learners who are second or third language speakers of English. Serious technology  fail though! It may not have been amusing, but irony is comedy too.

A girl’s got to get her laughs where she can.

Tomorrow I am sitting at my window to watch everyone waddle past on their lightened-up-Level-4 exercising excursions between 6 am and rushing to get indoors again by 9 am. That should be worth a gander. (Slapstick is not my comedy of choice, but I’m hoping to identify with the COVID-comfy bodies on display). Personally, I’ll stick to the Clothes Rack Tour – I can earn a yellow jersey in that, even if sunny is not my colour.

Liam is having the last laugh though – he put a mirror in front of my bike. It has given home entertainment a macabre turn.

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The Psychology of Uncertainty: Why I’m glad Ntate Cyril[1] gets it

We sail within a vast sphere, ever drifting in uncertainty, driven from end to end.

Blaise Pascal

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The brain is a weird organ.

According to Dr Bryan E Roberson writing for Psychology Today and Forbes, the brain prefers to know an outcome one way or another, even if the outcome is unpleasant. According to him, scientists have discovered that job uncertainty, for example, is worse for your health than actually losing your job. British researchers discovered that study participants who were told they would definitely receive a painful electric shock felt ‘calmer and less agitated’ than those who were told they only had a 50% chance of getting the electric shock. So uncertainty is problematic.

This puts us at a slight disadvantage during the coronavirus lockdown, when even if we’d prefer a negative outcome that is certain, we cannot get absolute answers, because so much is intangible and uncertain.

For example, knowing schools will only re-open in September, horrible though that thought may be for parents struggling to teach their offspring the intricacies of long division and educators being jettisoned into the morass of remote teaching who hope parents don’t teach them old-fashioned long division methods), is preferable to this are-we-aren’t-we opening-in-May twilight zone we’re occupying at the moment.

My friend, Frank said the other day he almost wishes he could just get the virus and be done with worrying about getting it whenever he goes out. His view, though a rather desperate response to uncertainty, is not an isolated one.

Many people are recording increased insomnia, brought upon by fears of what might happen. I am battling to fall asleep of late, and upon my enquiring about her ‘wellness’ in this time, one of my colleagues told me she is waking up at 4 am worrying about a multitude of things, running a myriad of awful scenarios in her mind. Many others are similarly lying awake imagining the worst-case situations which may or may not in fact ever come to pass (what my aunt calls ‘borrowing tomorrow’s troubles’). My insomniac friend can attest to not being alone in this midnight mental morbidity, because when she goes online in the witching hour, she sees how many others in her network are also online at the same time.

And that raises another contributor to our uncertainty angst: watching too much news. I remember being in the USA after 9-11 and psychologists telling viewers to stop watching 24-hour news channels because not only do they stream permanent panic, the dramatic music and tone of newscasters and talking heads amplify stress levels. And they seldom agree with one another so the channels tend to exacerbate uncertainty.

I want to put in a word here about children and stress: be careful of projecting your anxiety onto your little ones. The generation of young children living through this year (and what follows) will almost certainly be somewhat scarred or unlikely to escape unaffected. Infants (and their older siblings) cleave to our emotions instinctively and know we are stressed even if we don’t know we are. They know when our toddler-tolerance has reached its capacity and they sense we are uncertain, even when we pretend we are not.

And children are still learning to process emotions so are less adept at prosaic acceptance of things. Someone on my neighbourhood Facebook group posted the other day about her 10-year-old who burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably about how afraid she was. So, talk to your children about fears. It’s okay to own up to being a bit worried, but be sure to say how you are going to overcome your disquieting thoughts, so they know it is possible to cope.

Owning your uncertainty with them also empowers them by allowing them to see you overcome being less than perfect and dealing with the nebulous nature of uncertainty. I’ll never forget when my eldest son failed his driver’s licence in matric, and shared his emotions in an inspirational speech at school. He was one of the ‘cool crowd’ and by owning up to being less than perfect, he gave so many others permission to not be perfect also. But he gave them a way out of the pit he was in (his mother bought him lessons!) and that is how we can assist our beloveds – own it and make a plan to overcome it. Just don’t brush off their fears. They are real.

‘You can be both a masterpiece and a work in progress simultaneously.’

– Sophie Bush

The effects of COVID-19 lockdown will not vanish when the nurseries re-open. Who knows how our children’s early development will be impaired by being surrounded by adults in masks, not seeing their smiles to respond to, or their lips to mimic sounds. Baby class educators will be torn between doubling down on face protection or only perspex covering to allow their charges to imitate them, as they need to. There are no easy answers to these predicaments, but the schools that know about these potential problems though, are the ones which will make provisions to counter such obstacles. We cannot become bogged down in these fears of what could go wrong.

There is a definite link between emotions and negative thoughts, but likewise there is a link between imagining positive outcomes and being less anxious. That makes sense of course – and my mother always said psychology was just common sense. In other words, in order to reduce our anxiety in uncertain times, we need to think of positive potential outcomes more deliberatively to improve our mental health and assist in coping with uncertainty.

The much-maligned little Pollyanna of literature, she of the count-you-blessings sunshine philosophy actually had it right when she said:

“And most generally there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it.” ― Eleanor H. Porter, Pollyanna

If you don’t believe her, Oprah said it too:

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” — Oprah Winfrey

(Of course, if your couple of ‘blessings’ happen to have two feet and two arms, runny noses and badger you with endless questions while you are trying to tele-conference, this might be a difficult strategy to reduce your stress about uncertainty – especially if Oprah’s suggestion is you’ll end up with more ‘blessings’ and you had given away the black motorbike!)

[Aside: If you don’t want surprise babies/blessings: never give away the black motorbike. I should know].

But I digress.

How can we combat uncertainty? It’s not just about being positive and hopeful, although I laughed out loud at Jennifer Saunders who declared that the good thing about the delay of the Olympics is that we now all have a chance to train in time to qualify! (Not even Pollyanna would agree with her on that!)

 According to Lorena Pasquini, Anna Steynor, and Katinka Waagsaether of the University of Cape Town, there are 3 strategies humans employ when dealing with uncertainty:

1. ‘Strategies of suppression refer to the denial of uncertainty, such as ignoring uncertainty, relying on intuition, or taking a gamble.’

People like my friend Frank who are wanting desperately to put an end to the tension of will-I won’t-I get it, are in danger of engaging in risky behaviour like purposefully not washing hands (just urgh) or refusing to wear a mask, in order to escape the stress of not knowing. This thinking also explains why some people are calmer about death when they know they are about to die than the anxiety they experience before a diagnosis; why parents of children who have gone missing in many cases suffer more than those whose deaths have been confirmed.

Gambling intuitively or risk-taking in business may be exceptional qualities in the normal business world, as exemplified by the likes of Richard Branson and his ilk, but at a time of crisis, these same mavericks are crying out for government bailouts.

Leaders who respond with intuition and gamble on outcomes of herd immunity, like the leaders of the USA and Sweden at the moment may live to regret not being more measured.

2. ‘Strategies of reduction involve trying to increase information or predictability.

Some examples of reduction tactics include collecting more information, asking for advice, or delaying action until more information is available.’

This is what the South African education departments are doing at the moment: consulting, researching, delaying decisions of when and how to return to school. Companies, shops and schools will be delaying re-opening strategies until they have a better idea of what lies ahead. This is obviously a practical way forward and a more scientific approach, but can cause a hugely emotional response from clients and employees desperate for certainty. However, as New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo (one of the only American politicians making sense at the moment) said today at a press briefing:

‘Emotions cannot drive re-opening strategies; facts must.’

– Governor Andrew Cuomo

3. ‘Strategies of acknowledgement take uncertainty into accountin selecting a course of action or preparing to avoid possible risks.’

When society does unfurl itself from the lockdown-hibernation, allowing for uncertainty is so important. The plain sense of South Africa’s planned return from lockdown takes this into account, with its multiple stages, allowing for upwards and downwards movement between levels depending on changing circumstances. It involves managing change.

I am so glad we have someone with emotional intelligence and psychological insight leading us through this crisis. Thank you, President Ramaphosa!

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In the end, we are alive. And that is the whole point of this exercise.

So, be calm; think of opportunities which can be had out of this difficult time and act on them, and be grateful to be alive. Stop worrying and try multiplication at 4 am – like how many sheep are needed to make a Zara jersey – that’ll be better than counting sheep:

“But I have my life, I’m living it. It’s twisted, exhausting, uncertain, and full of guilt, but nonetheless, there’s something there.”
― Banana Yoshimoto,The Lake


[1] Ntate Cyril – Father Cyril – a reference to President Cyril Ramaphosa

Good (sociable) distancing makes good neighbours…

We have such a benevolent gees[1] going in our street, and it has been most encouraging during this time of lockdown.

Every time the air force does a fly-by of our area with its impressive fleet of one black helicopter, we all race out to wave and cheer our essential services on. Well, we would have if it had flown over our neighbourhood. I see that chopper every day around the same time and then it returns around sunset. I’m convinced the crew pops across to Langebaan for a day in the sun and then flies home in the evening.

It must be a bit boring now though for our police and military in (mostly) law-abiding suburbs, where crime stats are almost negligent due to most of the criminals also stuck in lockdown. I mean, if you enter the armed forces for the adrenalin rush, you can’t be getting much of a fix at the moment in suburbia.

The emergency services did a parade of force through the suburb a few nights ago and I nearly choked on chocolate I’d nicked out of the snack cupboard. Police and armed response vehicles drove up and down our roads with lights flashing and sirens echoing off buildings in a frightening manner. I was convinced there had been a five-car pile-up down the road, but it was merely our public defenders, doing an honour lap of the neighbourhood.

And our community obliged by rushing out on our balconies and curbs to cheer and clap for them, remaining a while to wave and cheer with our friends across and alongside us. Anything for a view of people other than those we live with. Don’t get me wrong – I love my household, but am wearying of looking at them all a tad, so it’s exciting to see what other people look like.

I mean Andrew only has a couple of tracksuits that he wears like a gangster in the Sopranos (fortunately without the bling); I’ve seen all of Shannon’s pyjamas and Catlin can’t be seen because she wears a blanket over her clothes, because she seldom stirs form her laptop. Liam is similarly disguised by his Abraham-Lincoln-meets-hobbit hirsute look. The only one who is shedding clothing is the Mad Lab whose coat we sweep up all day. But there’s only so much variety to any of the above.

I am enjoying the casual wear though, and I think I have forgotten how to wear high heels. I draw the line at no make-up however – there are too many mirrors in the house to avoid seeing a putty-less visage without screaming, so I get dressed comfortably and mascara these lids. One must keep up one’s standards. Like ironing. They keep threatening to wear their clothes un-ironed, which works wonders in getting mom to haul out the ironing equipment with a sigh.

So, it’s good to have other folk to look at.

A few nights back, someone played some great rock music in the street, to pay tribute to health workers, and again, out we all popped like tracksuited glockenspiel figurines, chiming our enthusiasm gleefully.

Our road’s neighbourhood watch leader, Shaun, efficiently posts fact-checked government announcements and keeps us on track against that other pernicious virus, fake news. In fact, Shaun has been such a good leader in all the nearly 9 years I’ve been resident here, if he decided to move to greener (or quieter) pastures, the residents of the street would probably blockade the road to prevent the family from leaving.

Then there is Jess whose singing recordings sometimes filter across the street in pleasant sound bites and alternate with Bandile next door’s soul music, and Donnie the DJ’s radio station, in keeping us entertained. My family’s contribution to the music of the thoroughfare: The Maestro’s beautiful Chopin Etudes or snatches of whatever pieces he is teaching; Liam’s plinking beginner practising and the loud debates between siblings that rival any powerful operatic death. It’s no wonder our back neighbour has taken to smoking his homegrown weed supply.

It’s good to know that we are confined in a community of houses, not unconnected silos. This is not a time for stepping out of our comfort zone, but for finding comfort in the zone.

Some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won’t have a title until much later.”

— Bob Goff, author of Love Does


[1] Spirit, energy, enthusiasm