When bad things happen to sort-of okay moms

Big girl panties - 1

Once upon a time there was a mom.

Sometimes, she liked to think she was a goodish mom.

Sometimes, she just couldn’t even.

This time is one of those times.

Right now, at this precise moment, she would get a F, or a more PC ,Failure to meet Requirements grade by the maternal inquisitorial squad. This squad, however, is unable to provide any more punishment than she is current undergoing and they’re standing around holding their G&Ts and laughing.

This mom, we’ll just call her Mom with a capital letter, is currently having a crisis of faith, a breakdown or a fit of hysterics, depending on your point of view. She may also be tottering on the brink of calling time-out and spending the rest of the day (week, year or life) in the nearest adults-only bar with G&T on tap.

Mom knows that she extremely privileged to have three beautiful children, a husband and her mother close by. She knows that many parents struggle by on their own against impossible odds. She has enormous respect and awe for these persons. They are much better at adulting, clearly.

Currently, however, her gratitude is somewhat marred by:

  • One child with concussion due to having his head beaten repeatedly against a wall at school, who has to row at SA Champs on Friday. R4000 later of CT scans and neurologists and cortisone.
  • One boat that has somehow to be magically levitated to said regatta.
  • One rowing coach having several litters of kittens, none of which I can offer homes to.
  • One child with tonsillitis.
  • One husband in Zambia sending WhatsApps and then Facebook messages saying the same thing in staccato one word bursts – Not. Unlike. Captain. Kirk. Of. Star. Trek.
  • One mother in hospital.
  • One father in the UK sending beautiful photos of his serene front lawn covered in perfectly white snow.
  • One father-in-law nearing the final bridge between this world and the next.
  • One blocked drain.
  • One dead dishwasher.
  • One enormous wall cabinet taking up the entire width of the garage fallen over erupting tools and bits of car engine all over the floor and teetering on its last legs before succumbing to gravity.
  • One sleepover-birthday-party-with-7-small-girls hangover. NEVER NEVER NEVER EVER AGAIN EVER!
  • One English speech on idioms due for tomorrow.
  • And her job. Let’s not forget her actual 9 to 5, salary-paying JOB! Which, right now, is the least stressful part of her life. At least she knows what to do, how to do it and when to do it by.

Mom is reaching the very end of her tether.

Mom is losing her shit.

Actually, she’s not, because her shit can’t be lost down the blocked drain.

Mom is drowning in shit.

On the outside Mom looks pretty well put together, but inside – inside the elastic of her big girl panties is about to snap, leaving the bloomers around her ankles, tripping her up so that she lands on her face – smoosh.

Mom’s friend took her out for coffee and for a short, blissful hour, Mom pretended the shit did not exist. She sat in the eye of the storm watching cattle, rowing boats, shopping bags and other detritus whirling past, lit every few moments by another strike of lightning.

Then Mom, went back to the real world.

Her cellphone was having an epileptic fit.

Rowing Child with Concussion and Rowing Coach with Kittens were sending frantic WhatsApps to Mom who was on the other side of the city, while trying to find each other in a 20-meter radius.

Mom sent each one the other’s phone number and declined to be a call center agent in India trying to fix someone’s problem in Argentina while liaising with a technician in Japan.

Mom has called a plumber.

Mom has given out medication to children.

Mom is jittery from a diet of pure caffeine, because who has time for food anyway.

Mom is turning off her cellphone and logging out of Facebook.

Mom is seriously considering climbing under her desk, building a pillow fort and humming to herself until it all goes away.

And then Mom will get up, put on lipstick, pull on her big girl panties and fake-it-til-she-makes-it – again.

One day, Mom knows, someone in charge will realise that she is hopelessly under-qualified for this.

By then, she’ll either have it down or be pretending to ride a unicorn in a nice padded cell somewhere with pretty coloured pills for breakfast, lunch and supper.









What can possibly go wrong?

_Don't worry darling. I've got it all under control._

“I’m going to London for the week,” my beloved spouse informed me.

“What can go wrong?” I thought.

It turns out, quite a lot.

  1. The new school term starts, no-one knows when they finish school, where their school shoes are or if their uniforms still fit (they don’t).
  2. The Wi-Fi password isn’t working and we can’t watch any movies.
  3. The dog managed to damage her leg and is limping around on three feet looking embarrassed and miserable.
  4. The cat died.

This is how my last 24 hours (almost) broke down…

16:00 Husband leaves to go to the airport.

17:00 Children discovered miraculously that school starts tomorrow and despite all assurances discovered that pencil cases, shoes and uniforms have somehow evaporated. I engage in a search and rescue mission to find enough to go around.

18:00 Dog 1 finally reaches the end of his patience with Dog 2 and injures her hind leg. Dog 2 begins limping miserably. Knowing it was her fault, but trying to pretend it wasn’t. I resolve to take the dog to the vet on the way to work in the morning.

19:00 I relax. Children are clean, used actual soap (I checked). This is importance because arriving home on Saturday from 3 weeks away I saw a note on the fridge reading, “Luke and James showered yesterday” – which referred to the day before yesterday.

20:00 Children getting ready for bed, I’m in a pair of Star Wars pyjamas. Screams alert me to an emergency. I find the cat in the throes of a seizure and then going limp. Panic ensues. Owner of the cat gets hysterical. I give him an overdose of rescue remedy, grab the cat, wrap it in a towel and hustle the oldest son into the car to hold the cat. We race madly across town to the last remaining emergency vet only to arrive with a very ex-cat. I pay the exorbitant cost of a vet to tell me the cat has expired. We negotiate burial and cremation, and I turn down the memorial urn and plaque. We settle on cremation. I realise I am still wearing the Star Wars pyjamas.

21:00 The bloody gate won’t open. Oldest son has to scale 6 feet of vertical steel and find a fork to jimmy the lock. Armed neighbourhood guard arrives and crazy woman in Star Wars pyjama pants tries to convince him that this is actually her house. Oldest son’s bed has to be forensically cleaned to remove evidence of the cat’s demise. (Oddly enough, Google kept serving me a GDN ad for a forensic cleaning service only last week. What clever little boys and girls anticipating my needs. Do I need to fear a conspiracy?)

22:00 Finally calmed down grieving children and collapse into a chair for a cup of tea.

23:30 Remaining cats remind me that I missed the evening milk run. Milk in a china saucer (no cat bowls), poured in front of them in case I taint it by pouring it out of their view.

00:00 Bed. And prayers. Lots of prayers. Lots of heartfelt pleas to the divine, who is probably laughing his celestial socks off.

05:00 Alarm goes off. Mad rush to leave for school. Forget to take dog to vet and decide she can wait until tonight when I will pay triple the amount for a vet to see the outcome of her hubris.

08:00 Arrive at work. Phone husband to let him know about the cat. Get the distinct feeling that he thinks I should have done feline CPR, driven faster or somehow wrought a medical miracle. Also get the feeling of extreme relief that he didn’t have to deal with it.

08:30 Colleagues welcome me back and ask me if I feel rested. I look at them bemused. Rested? HA!

11:00 Remember that children will at some point need to be collected from school, but have no idea when. WhatsApp parent group in the vague hope someone else will know. They don’t.

12:00 Remind me why being a grown-up was something I wanted to be?


2015-10-03 16.44.07

Our beloved Siamese, Sinatra, passed away from a heart attack last night. It was quick and apparently painless (although I think the vet told me this in an attempt to make things better – after all, who is going to tell a bereaved pet owner that their cat was in excruciating pain?). He was only 6 years old and apparently his death was the result of years of in-breeding by humans in the attempt to create the perfect cat. All cats are perfect, but there you go. I shall miss him immensely, his loud voice, his bright blue eyes, his contempt of all living creatures and his warm little purring body next to mine. I can only believe he has gone to pet heaven.

Goofy Freya, on the other hand, deserves neither sympathy for her three-legged state nor the massive amount of tender care she’s got as a result. Bonnie Prince Charlie showed remarkable restraint despite the numerous trials she has put him through, but having his bottle top stolen from under his nose was going too far. I have a sneaky suspicion she is putting on a show in order to garner the special treatment she is now receiving.

My life is dictated by children and animals. I have no dominion over them at all.


Boys. What every mother needs to know.


As an only girl child becoming the mother of two small boys felt something like Alice falling down the wrong rabbit hole and not landing in Wonderland.

Everyday I learn something new about the male species. They are a source of endless wonder, humour and bemusement.


Farts are hilarious! The louder, longer and smellier they are, the higher they score.

Farts under the covers are particularly funny. Ideally a fart should have actual mass and colour. It should move across a room like a noxious mushroom cloud.

In the bath boys will have competitions to see who can produce the most bubbles form a single expulsion. This can keep them occupied for hours.

Eventually they will try to bottle a fart in an empty soda bottle or attempt to light the escaping methane to produce a rocket ship effect.

My eldest son has currently decided to devote his life to producing a stink bomb soldiers can use to clear a room based on the scientific principle of the Fart Effect.

It is best not waste energy on fighting this. It is a biological imperative, like leaving dirty clothes on the floor and eating you out of house and home.


This is very important. Boys are not good multitaskers. They can do one thing at a time as long as nothing else distracts them.

Instructions need to be clear and simple. Every instruction must contain – a personal affirmation, please and thank you, and most importantly a time frame.

For example, if you were to say, “Would you take out the trash?”, a boy might reply “Yes.” By this he means that he could, maybe, some time in the distant future yet to be specified. You can’t get angry when two days later the trash is still in the same place.

The instruction should be worded as, “My darling, you are so strong and manly, please would you take out the trash now? Thank you.”

Do not confuse the issue by trying to add on anything else. It confuses them. If you asked them to take out the trash and bring in the groceries, you are likely to find your groceries in the trash.


Boys need constant positive affirmation; even for things they do everyday.

They need to be told how clever, how handsome, how brilliant, how manly they are. All the time. This goes on their entire lives.

If a boy does the washing up, which you do every day without the slightest gratitude, you need to go into paroxysms of delight.

Squash a spider? Oh my great and courageous warrior.

Put the toilet seat down? Oh you considerate and fabulous gentleman.

And so on. Unpack the metaphors and hyperboles of genius. Make a list, you will need it.


My amazing son now has testosterone. This means he has turned into a monstrous hormonal Jekyll and Hyde. I will suffer through it, because one day I will wake up and he’ll be a human being again.

In the meantime, he will smell. Bad.

Apparently this is totally normal, some sort of evolutionary pheromone. It is not attractive. It has a distinct aroma of dirty gym sock. I think of it as a sort of teenage prophylactic.


Boys may be very independent, not hug you in public and answer back with smart aleck commentary. Thing is, they may be big and smelly and farty, but every now again, they will fall asleep on the couch with the head on your shoulder, or grab you in bear hug.

It is important to stop everything you are doing in these moments and just savour them.

When their hearts get broken, you’re the one they’ll come to, to make it all better.

When you need something heavy lifted or a bug removed, they’re the ones who’ll do it.

To them, you will always be the most beautiful, clever, amazing woman in the world and no one will ever love you as unconditionally as your sons.

They’ve seen you in the nick. They’ve seen you first thing in the morning. They’ve seen you cry, scream and lose your cool.

They’ve seen it all and they love you anyway.

AtoZ: L is for La La Land


I think I have taken up permanent residence in La La Land.

We’ve just had the rounds of parent-teacher interviews again.

The enormity of my hatred for these meetings cannot be adequately expressed in words.

This year my husband is going alone.

This is better for everyone for so many reasons.

If I go, I either have a panic attack due to school flashbacks or have to be physically restrained from strangling some condescending bitch.

I know that I am a far from perfect parent, but you know what? I don’t do a half bad job.

I’m not an alcoholic.

I don’t physically abuse my children.

They have a roof over their heads, food in their tummies and clothes on their backs.

That’s a lot more than most kids.

I have come to realise, if not accept, that no parent in the eyes of a teacher will ever be acceptable.

Either they have too many siblings or not enough.

You are too strict or not strict enough.

You give them too much space or not enough.

And that’s without interrogating their birth position within the family, which opens up a whole new can of worms.

When I meet my child’s teacher, I’m not asking for a critique of my parenting.

I am requesting feedback from a service provider on my child’s education and what they are doing to fix any problem areas.

That is what I pay them for.

I resent being told that they are doing me a favour by educating my child.

They are not.

I buy a brand new Mercedes C Class in cash every year with what I pay for one child, let alone three of them.

When I call a plumber to my home, I do not expect to be told to do the plumbing myself.

When I choose a school, I do not expect to have handle the lion’s share of teaching myself.

One teacher had the affront to tell us that we needed to buy a bigger house where each child can have their own room.

Fabulous. Is the school going to buy one for me?

Because currently the amount we pay in school fees precludes us from buying a new house in Millionaire’s Row.

If they had their own rooms I am prepared to bet a month’s of school fees that we would be told we were spoiling them, leaving them to their own devices and God knows what else.

I have the greatest respect for people who choose teaching as a career.

I reserve the most enormous contempt for those who choose teaching as a vehicle for their own power trip.

AtoZ: I is for I was born before…


Son: “Mummy, were there T-Rexes when you were little?”

Mummy: “No.”

Son: “Mummy, when you were little did they have those flip top phones?”

rotaryphoneMummy: “No. When I was little our phone was connected to the wall with a wire and we didn’t have buttons we had a sort of a wheel you had to turn. In those days we had to call the operator and she would connect our line with someone’s elses.”

Pause while son ruminated on this ancient technology.

Son: “Mummy?”

Mummy: “Yes?”

Son: “Mummy. When you were little was there TV?”

Mummy: “Yes, but not when Daddy was born.”

This isn’t as bad it sounds. We only got television in South Africa on 5 January 1976. The government feared television would rot our brains and corrupt our morals.

Son: “Mummy, were you alive before TV had colours?”

Mummy: “Yes.”

When I was small we had a tiny black and white TV set with a bunny ears aerial. TV only came on during set hours and English and Afrikaans were on alternate days.

My grandparents had one of the first colour TV sets. It was an immense behemoth of a Sony with a tiny screen. It came with a cloth cover and my Grandfather would gravely unplug it every evening after the news.

I used it myself until a few years ago when the tube blew and no-one I took it to could repair it. I feel its loss keenly.

Son: “Mummy, are you so old that you were born before the Internet?”

Mummy: “Yes.”

Son: “That’s really old.”

Ttehnethe first computer we had at home set me apart from my classmates.

My father was a journalist and so we were among the first to be outfitted with an enormous beige PC.

My father regarded it with deep distrust.

I was regarded as very privileged because we had computer classes at school. We had to use a little turtle to draw palm trees.

Logos? Something like that. Positively pre-Google.

Son: “Mummy, what’s that square thing she’s putting in the computer?”

We were watching Sandra Bullock in The Net.

Mummy: “That’s a floppy disk. You know the icon you press to save files on the laptop.”

Son: “Could you put a movie on there?”

Mummy: “You couldn’t save a photograph on there.”

These days if I get given a USB with less than 3GB I chuck it in the bin. How is that for complacency?

Son: “Mummy, how did you email people before the Internet?”

Mummy, “We wrote on special writing paper and put it in an envelope and posted in a big red post box.”

3271576-a-vintage-post-box-receiving-pillarWe got Internet access at home when my boyfriend at the time was off across the seas and being a young love-riddled teenager I was certain I would never cope with the separation unless I had email. So email it was. Pegasus Mail.

I used gophers to search and had to put the telephone handset over the modem so it could sing its whiny little tune for a connection.

I also failed an assignment when I used online forums to research the topic. Now days you’d fail if you didn’t research online.

So much has changed in my lifetime, that the world is quite different now from when I was a child and I’m only in my thirties.

My mother had no electricity and went to bed by candlelight.
My father didn’t have a refrigerator, but an icebox built under the house.
I remember my Grandmother always being entranced by refrigerators and being able to have ice cream at home whenever you wanted it.

I wonder what my grandchildren will say one day.

“Granny, were born before we lived on Mars?”

“Granny, were you alive before the rhinos died?”

To my Son on his 11th Birthday


For every birthday my mother takes her grandchild shopping.

Usually she can’t wait to tell me what they’ve chosen. This year I got a phone call.

Mother: “Um, well we had an interesting shopping trip.”

Me: “So, what did he get?”

Mother: “Um… <long pause> it might not be quite what you were expecting.”

My heart fell.

Was my son going to go swag on me?

Was I going to face the public while my son tripped over his trousers while his bottom flashed at passersby?

Oh, the horror.

Doc who 1Me: “What. Did. He. Buy?”

Mother: “A bow tie.”

Me: “Well, bow ties are cool.”

Mother: “I think he has been watching too much Doctor Who.”

To which I say there is no such thing.

He is now wearing a conglomerate of Matt Smith and David Tennant.

It looks pretty cool.

Eleven years ago my neighbours in our flat conversion in Blackheath, south of the Thames, were complaining of my using power tools at an ungodly hour of the morning.

the-fat-cowTo which my husband replied: “No she wasn’t. She was giving birth.”

Apparently I sounded like a constipated cow, which was exactly how I felt.


Now that tiny little baby boy is a tween.

In South Africa I am often complimented on my “Firstborn”.

He really has grown up into an amazing little man.

397616_10151145131256116_1141865247_nHe is funny, clever and the best brother his siblings could have wished for.

I am very proud and humbled to be his mother.

Each day he teaches me something new or asks a question that makes me think.

James Leo Alexander, you are the best James in the whole world.

Thank you for choosing me to be your Mum.

I promise I’ll do my very best not to embarrass you.


Chores versus Slave labour

child labor

Child slave labour or teaching responsibility? That is the question currently burning a fair to middling size hole in my noggin.

Is it abusive parenting to make my children wash my car as punishment?

Is it abusive parenting to expect them to clean up after themselves?

I thought I was teaching them to be responsible adults, understanding consequences and taking pride in their environment.

My daughter believes I am using her for cheap slave labour to do things I don’t want to do.

“You are treating me like a slave! You are training your kids to be slaves. I do not want to be a slave when I grow up. You make us clean and clean and clean while you do nothing. Slaves!”

My sons just clean up when I ask them to. Yes, they mutter under my hearing, but they do it nonetheless.

My daughter seems to regard it as her right to make an unholy mess of the living room as she redecorates it into Monster High. I don’t mind tripping the light fantastic around pink Lego pieces and zombie Barbies, as long as it all gets picked up afterwards. There our opinions seem to diverge.

My daughter’s teacher advised me to take the Diva’s mood swings in my stride. She said that my daughter feels comfortable enough to act like Lady Gaga in front of me because she knows my love for her is not in question.

Mothers can take it and more without our love wavering (although our patience may flat line).

Next time I am told, “I hate you. You are the worst Mummy ever. Why can’t you just let me have one happy day?” I will take it as the backhanded compliment her subconscious intends it to be.


Her father approached it a different way.

Father, “What you like for lunch?”

Daughter, “Pizza.”

A pause of 10 minutes

Daughter, “When are you getting my pizza?”

Father, “Never. I am not your slave.”

Daughter stumped, “Oh.”


Superman and the Morning Person

“Is it a bird?

Is it a plane?

No. It’s Superman telling you wake up and brush your teeth!


That was me channelling my Superman alarm clock from the early eighties. It totally rocked my world even if it didn’t help me grow into a happy morning person.

My mother is a happy morning person. She is like Julie Andrews from Sound of Music. She wakes up singing theme tunes from Hair and early Beatles.

I am not a happy morning person. I am like a zombie reject from Night of the Living Dead. I do not sing. I curse. In multiple languages.

My mom used to come in with a cup of hot sweet tea and place it by my bed knowing that I needed a caffeine IV to get me out.

I counted the days until I left school happy in the naive belief I’d never have to get up at such an ungodly hour again. I was wrong. So terribly, horribly wrong.

As mother to three, I now wake up before I go to bed.

And I sing loudly and out of tune to rouse my children from peaceful slumber. I tickle their tummies. I blow in their ears and I take an obscene pleasure in this. It also made me wonder just how much of a morning person is my mother really?

For some reason known only to small children they can sleep until ten on schooldays, but wake with the sparrows on weekends.

Ah. But one day soon they will be sleep deprived teenagers. And I will enjoy putting them through the hell I have endured every morning.

Karma comes to everyone sooner or later.


Live large. Laugh loudly. Play games.

In a world where we value diversity, where we respect those who dream impossible dreams, why does it only apply to adults? It’s time we celebrated our children for being exactly who they are.  Different. Brilliant. Beautiful.

Never allow your children’s dreams to die. Encourage them to find their own answers. If your little boy wants to be a fireman, take him over to a station and let him meet some real life superheroes. He can be whoever he wants as long as you believe he can.


When we cook, there is chocolate on the walls and hundreds and thousands on the floor. My home is no House and Garden showpiece. Cricket bats, basketballs, tennis rackets and guitars lie in casual piles in corners. Barbie doll fashion shows, Lego monuments and gigantic pillow forts are the artistic interpretations that decorate my home.


Bring a kid shouldn’t be complicated. It shouldn’t be about Facebook and Twitter. being a kid is about getting dirty, having fun and finding the magic in everyday things. Being a mom, isn’t that complicated either. Love you children no matter what. Respect their choices even if they weren’t the ones you wanted them to make. Be there when they need a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on. Teach them good manners. Be the best role model they could have.

Incoming… from the other side

From http://everythingneat.wordpress.com

Knock knock

Who is there?


Isabelle who?

Is a bell necessary on a bicycle?

You know that feeling you have that someone is watching you, only there is no-one there?

Well, that’s because someone is watching you.

It is also why you should never speak ill of the dead. They listen in.

They are the universe’s best eavesdroppers.


This little knock knock joke was casually traded between Young Master J and my stepmum at dinner.

A few days later she gave me a medium reading and my Great-Granny Bella used the knock knock joke to let me know she is watching over me.

I felt a bit as though I had taken her name in vain, but it seems she still has a tremendous sense of humour.

I never met her, but she was the matriarch of our little clan, Isabella Walker nee Connolly, was a woman to be reckoned with.

I have her recipe book and once I have deciphered her handwriting and obtuse instructions like – add flour until the right consistency – they have never failed me.

Granny Bella came through and as proof of her identity offered the knock knock joke and the tomato, chutney and sugar sandwiches on white bread with the crusts cut-off and cut into triangles she used to make my father as a boy.

I found myself a little in awe when she told me to “Be a good girl”.

When I asked if she had happened to pop in and see her new great-great grandchild born to my cousin, she replied, “Of course!”

I was then told in no uncertain terms how proud they all are of the new generation and what beautiful children they are inside and out.

Does a mother’s heart good to hear that.

The next visitor turned out to be my great-grandfather’s brother who might have been either Andrew (1848 – 1924) or Joseph (b 1849).


I have long been concerned about this gentlemen who was written out of family history for falling in love with a coloured woman during the Boer War.

Inter-cultural marriages have never been easy and certainly never more so than in South Africa.

He was not spoken of, nor referred to. I felt as though this entire branch of my family had disappeared as a result of racial prejudice and I often wondered how he lived, where and if he was lonely.

I was terribly grateful that he spoke to me and assured me that he was with his family again and that you can never choose who you will fall in love with, only that it is worth every challenge.

My grandparents

He showed my great-grandfather’s round spectacles, still in the family, and an engraved gold watch which he told me to keep.

The best messages to come out of my reading were that I should carry on writing, that trials are followed by triumphs and that I must hold our family’s stories from the next generation.

Now if only I could find my great-great-grandfather’s missing twin sister! They were 9 years old when separated in Glasgow after their parents left for the new world and were never heard of again. He was promptly sent off to be apprenticed to a tugboat-man and was never reunited with his sibling.

All of which is terribly sad. What cheered me up was the story my father told to my son later that evening. Aged about 10 his cousins came to stay at the chicken farm my great-grandparents ran just outside of East London.

Now which little girl was this?

In those days one had to traipse down the garden path to the 4-seater privy. Now, this privy had a trapdoor at the back to empty the barrels.

When these two little girls from the suburbs of Pretoria descended upon him, my father described them as terribly prissy.

So what did he do?

What would any small boy do?

He got a very long piece of grass and when they were both seated he opened the trapdoor and tickled their little white bottoms.

The shrieks as they ran into the trees could be heard for miles.

I could see the cogs clicking my son’s head as he tried to figure out how best to get the same result with indoor plumbing.