Sunday 26 July 2009

The day the world changed

It was 3am. My friend Lynell's mum was standing over me, shaking me gently saying: Wake up. For a 14 year old girl, having a sleepover at a friend's house didn't normally involve a parental wake up call in the middle of the night. Confused I asked what was going on.
"There's been an accident and you need to go to the hospital."
"What accident?" I asked.
"There's been a fire at your dad's house. We don't have the details, but you need to go to the hospital."
"Oh, it was probably just my sisters having a midnight feast and setting fire to the food or something," I laughed, not thinking through that perhaps I wouldn't be woken at 3am for burnt toast.

It was the July school holidays, and just like every holiday, my sisters (16 and 11), brother (6)and I were staying with my dad in the house we used to live in before my parents got divorced and we moved closer to Johannesburg, approximately 1000 kilometers away. On this particular night, my sisters had a second cousin of ours stay for a sleep over and I was staying in town with a friend. My gran was babysitting as my dad was out.

Arriving at the hospital, I was walked along a corridor, still utterly confused as to what all the fuss was about. Glancing into one of the rooms off the corridor, I saw a room full of people. But I only noticed two. My sisters, both sitting silently, faces pale with haunting grey circles beneath their eyes. I still couldn't register what was going on, but I knew it must be more serious than a little stove fire to have so many people there.

I was taken into a room and my uncle Dennis took hold of me and said: "There's been a fire. Your dad's house has burnt down."
"What? What do you mean? Was anyone hurt?" I stammered.
"No," he said.

But the way it said it, or perhaps the way he looked at me, gave me the crushing realisation that it was worse than someone being hurt. Someone had died. It was the only explanation. My mind whirled. I'd just seen my sisters. Who was it? Then I remembered.

"Granny?" I asked.
He nodded. Then said: "And Charles."

And just like that, with two small words, my whole world changed. The thought that it could be Charles hadn't even entered my mind. It couldn't be true.

I recall hitting Dennis' chest repeatedly with tight fists while he fought to hold me still so that I could get a tranquilising shot in the backside before being moved to the room of zombies, all of whom were fighting the unreality of the situation.

I don't recall reaching out to my sisters or anyone else. I remember nothing except at some point drinking very sweet tea which I couldn't hold still as my hands were shaking so hard. And the constant rattling of cup on saucer triggered an hysterical giggling fit.

Then nothing.

The next day I finally saw my father, wearing soaking clothes from walking in the sea with a face awash with tears. I briefly saw my mother who'd had to drive for 12 hours to get to us knowing that her son, her youngest child had died. As a mother now with a son approaching his sixth year, I can't begin to understand her state of mind. My imagination won't let me go to a place that dark.

It's been 22 years. Yet on the 26th of July every year, we stop and remember the small, lovely boy who will never be forgotten.

In remembrance of Charlie
1 October 1980 -26 July 1987

Friday 24 July 2009

Surviving the summer holidays: playdates for mums

Day 1 of Holidaywatch. And I'm already stumped as to what to do. Yesterday afternoon for about 15 minutes we had a blaze of glorious sunshine and for that brief time I had a snapshot of what summer holidays could be like if it actually felt like summer. Ball games in the garden, picnics, BBQs, long walks, swimming - the potential was awesome.

But then a vast black cloud moved in and dumped a deluge of water on the garden and we retreated indoors. Just like that, the wisp of potential drained away.

Now I know that there'll be a bunch of lovely mums out there who are tutting as they read this. The minute the rain moves in, they're probably whooping it up with arts & crafts, baking, puzzles & games, or even putting on raincoats and wellies and heading out for a splash. All good stuff. And I agree that all of these things can be fun. But for how long? And perhaps they have children who actually do the arts & crafts rather, than say, paint the walls. Or who can play a game for more than 3 minutes before the arguments start about whether to go up the snakes and down the ladders or vice versa.

So I start to look outwards, towards the countless number of places that keep children entertained at vast expense. Once you remove all those that aren't suitable for rainy days, you're left with a handful of options, none of which fill me with a huge amount of joy. I find myself doing a website roundabout tossing up between a museum or movie and eventually being debilitated by indecision, all the while the kids get bored and destroy the house.

Part of the problem is that any activity - whether it's a museum or finger painting, football or picnics - is so much better when you do them with a friend. And adult friend. Because then, in between breaking up fights, you can have a chat/commiserate and it feels less like hard work.

Don't get me wrong, I am perfectly capable of enjoying my children's company and I know the key is to not attempt to do anything else other than throw yourself into an activity with gusto. But just like the kids enjoy having a friend to play with, so do I.

But I've found it hard to find friends to do things with. We do have a good number of people that we'll be seeing during the holidays that we've pre-arranged things with, but what I'm missing is someone like a Who Wants to Be A Millionaire phone-a-friend type friend. The kind of friend who you know is sitting in the exact same position as you are, just as confused as to how to spend the day and just as open to last minute spur of the moment get togethers.

But everyone else seems to be so organised. They all seem to have every last minute of their holidays accounted for. They're all armed with playdough and museum season tickets. And friends. Lots and lots of friends.

Do they really all have every minute of the next six weeks accounted for? And how, without sounding like Desperate Dan or Norman No Mates, do you let other mums know that you're at home with two bored children and are more than happy to meet up for a spur of the moment play? There should be some kind of international sign - like a skull and crossbones flag (only the bones would be rolling pins and the skull would have bags under its eyes) - that you can fly outside your house. Any other mum who sees it can pop in and say: right, let's all go splash in the puddles together shall we? It turns an ok afternoon into a great afternoon for everybody.

I really hate being the person to call and say: are you free? Do you want to meet up? Only to be told that they have a free day at some point next Easter. I love last minute get togethers. They're the best kind. In fact Martha Lane Fox could set up a new kind of to help mums get together, not only with kids but for the odd night out at a pub.

It's that whole fear of rejection which stops us putting a call into another mum and suggesting a meet up. But maybe, they are just like me, sitting there wishing the phone would ring.

I should start a campaign called Dial-a-mum in which mothers are encouraged to call people - even people they're not 'friends' with but acquaintances who they've met at the park or school gate who they could potentially be friends with. I'm sure I could get a phone company to sponsor it....

Anyway, I think we've decided to go to a museum. I think. And the kids are now killing each other, so I must go. But please tell me I'm not alone in this thinking.

Monday 20 July 2009

Online auction for bloggers - help me sail to Brazil

So as many of you know, I also have another blog - which tracks my progress as I attempt to sail from the UK to Brazil later this year. Taking on the Atlantic ocean, as it turns out, is a pretty expensive affair so I'm trying to raise some money. I have been given some lovely things from lovely people to auction off. They include:

- a family holiday from - seriously amazing holidays.
- £100 in vouchers from, and - get yourself kitted out for autumn, get fitness gear to tone up for that post baby body (ha ha ha) alright, just get some yoga gear to zen out in, and fab kids clothes so that at least your kids look cool, even if you feel you need to be Gok Wanned.
- a cuddledry baby bath towel from, making bathtime much easier
- a Wrapture from (which you will lurve come this winter)
- a kid's electric guitar from . Yes seriously, a real electric guiter. My son fondles the box daily
- a lovely baby cardigan from
- a month's supply of Kiddylicious healthy kids snacks from so that you've got next term's lunchboxes sorted
- a Melobaby all in one nappy wallet and change mat - very stylish, lovely removable fleecy change mat and it fits all you need in your normal handbag!
- a beautiful suede photo album for all those keepsakes thanks to
- a pamper box of lovely treats from

And if you don't want to bid on any of these things, you can always just buy a box of the Fink Family Edition conversation cards. I used these this weekend during a family roast lunch. The kids were being a pain and splashing in their gravy, rather than eating. So I got the cards out and asked them some of the questions like: What makes you laugh? and If you had £1000 who would you give it to and why? Immediately they began eating and talking and not messing around. They're only £3.50 on my site so please support me and buy a pack.

It's all because of you crazy mummy bloggers that I'm doing this sailing madness . Thanks to all of you telling me to live in the now, I'm living in the now but am going broke in the process. So if you can support me by spreading the word about my auction, please do.

The auction closes this Sunday coming. You can find it here.

Thank you!

Thursday 16 July 2009


Life, as usual, has been busy. I've had reams to blog about but no time to do it. Particularly as I am reattempting the unconditional parenting techniques (as espoused by Alfie Kohn) to try and tame the beasties and this requires far less blog time and far more playing of hide and seek. Which is how it should be. However, it means I am falling very far behind on my blogging and blog reading.

But there have been three major milestones that are worth noting for posterity.

Milestone 1:
I got a genuine apology from son1 the other day. Not only that, it was a direct result of putting my newfound parenting techniques into practice. You could have blown me down with a feather. The boys had both upended their drink bottles in the car and deliberately squirted their drinks all over the seats causing quite a bit of damage to the upholstery. Husband opted for the military approached of putting them in their room for sometime to think about their behaviour including a fierce daddy lecture (why is it that mummy lectures never carry the same weight?)

I gave them time to calm down and then went in and instead of reprimanding or demanding an apology, I said I needed them to answer one question, which was: Why did you squeeze the drinks inside the car?

They were initially perplexed but ultimately we got the reason. It was long and convoluted but it did make sense from a small child's point of view. So I explained calmly why we had been cross about it. Son1 listened and then very genuinely and sincerely apologised for not thinking and messing the drink. Of course son2 just yelled his normal SORRY! But I couldn't believe how calm, rational discussion made such a difference. Much of it was just being willing to open up my mind to the reason why they did something rather than assume that they did it just because they're possessed by devils or are hell bent on annoying me. So I shall continue (as best I can) with this approach and see if it results in a calmer house.

Milestone 2:
Son 1 got his first ever report card. I can honestly say that I was nervous about opening it. Why for goodness sake? It wasn't my report card. But actually, it was. As a parent, your child's behaviour and performance at school is hugely influenced by how you parent them at home - certainly while they're young. Have I spent enough time doing arts and crafts with him? (apparently not) Do I encourage a love of reading by getting out books? (yes, gold star for me) Does he show care and concern for others and operate well in a group? (yes - amazing. He beats the daylights out of his brother). Is he punctual? (yes, and that is entirely down to me. If that was his own doing we'd still be looking for shoes at 3pm)

Isn't it strange how as a child you were concerned about the contents of your report card because you didn't want to get a bollocking from your parents. Yet your parents were probably just as concerned all along to see if what they've taught you at home is reflected in your school scores. It's only when your child gets a report card that this truth comes to light.

Milestone 3:
Son2 (aged 3 - will be 4 in a couple of months) has taught himself how to swim. Well, he can swim as long as he doesn't need to come up for a breath. Unlike most children who battle to put their face in the water, this child can't swim unless he swims underwater like a little fish. It's remarkable to watch. He just decided one day to take off his armbands and jump in. He went under the water and swam holding his breath to the side. And he's not looked back. How you teach a child to swim with their head above the water is another thing, but I'm thrilled (and a little astonished) that he's decided to skip learning to swim and go straight to free diving.

So you see - we've had some big stuff going on, hence the blog silence. And today we have pre-school sports day in which I sincerely hope son 2 will take part in. Last week I got to go to son 1's sports day and once again, got to watch other people's children running as he refused to join in until the very last race. At which point he cried that he hadn't had enough turns. Sigh

Bloggy kisses to all