Our Children’s Innocence Is Stolen

Sexual assault and violence are so commonplace in South Africa that one is often grateful to be ‘spared’ from such abhorrence. Who can forget the horror of Baby Tshepang, one of the first high profile reports of child rape in 2001? Many of us could not, still cannot, fathom how a helpless baby [she was just 9 months old] is confronted with such evil intent and action. Countless heart-wrenching attacks on children and women continue daily, most recently the 6-year-old who was raped in a public toilet at a Dros restaurant, keeping this terror alive.

 

This atrocity was brought home last night by an incident with my 4-year-old. He was recently on a course of antibiotics which resulted in acute constipation.  I put my hand up as a bad mother as I had forgotten his probiotics. Nevertheless, I was trying to placate a hysterical boy who was in obvious pain; kept on sitting on the toilet with no relief. When I mentioned the use of a suppository, it escalated into absolute pandemonium.  He was crying uncontrollably, “it’s going to hurt, it’s too painful, I don’t want it!” and on he went for what felt like an hour, even though it was only a few minutes. Mothers never want to hear that agony in a child’s scream; we know the difference between the cry for attention or the one of frustration, not knowing how to express themselves.

 

My heart was in pieces. I was eventually able to convince him that the pain of the build-up was nothing compared to the small torpedo-shaped intervention and that I would be slow and gentle. Thankfully, all ended well. But throughout this episode, I could not help but think of our children who are maimed inexplicably, often by those they know. I felt that pain! If my son was in absolute panic and hysteria, over a somewhat mundane home remedy, in the safety of his bedroom with his mother around for protection, what is the nightmare that children go through when they are being viciously assaulted?  Sometimes repeatedly. God, I cannot comprehend.

 

This has troubled me for a few reasons. The one is that parenting is not only about loving, nurturing and guiding souls as they journey through life on earth. That’s the good, wholesome stuff; what we fantasize about as we’re pregnant, preparing for their entry into the world. And it’s not just about preparing them for failure, that thing that even as adults, we struggle with. Life is far more insidious than that. There are trials and deceptions that we cannot even imagine as we’re lulled into complacency by the humdrum of routine. The mother in the Dros incident had no clue, as she and her daughter readied themselves in the morning, that their lives would irrevocably change by that evening.  Tragically so.

 

I’m aware that age levels for sex education and body awareness have lowered significantly in recent years. In my day – oh, that sounds old – you were considered lucky if you were given some explanation of ‘the birds and the bees’ at the onset of menstruation. Yet, here I am, exposed and educated, but very uncomfortable with the thought of having these discussions with my boys. I know I have to, but I’m delaying the inevitable. It feels like I’m betraying their innocence. They’re not even at formal school!

 

I stopped telling the ‘mommy and daddy who met and fell in love’ story at bedtime to my then 3-year-old as I was always probed about how the ‘miracle baby found its way into mommy’s tummy’. It was not enough to say that ‘mommy and daddy loved each other’ or that ‘daddy planted a seed into mommy’s tummy’, as I was informed was supposedly appropriate for that age. He was asking the questions of a 6-year-old and I, bad mother again, was just not ready…

 

My struggle now is to start the discussions around inappropriate touching; I’ve bought a book on rights for children. We’ve started reading it, but I still cringe at the images of the little boy standing over the toilet with his penis out and the little girl who is hugged inappropriately by an older uncle, hoping I don’t get questioned. Fat chance. This is about my development as much as theirs and I have to do whatever it takes to equip our sons with everything they need to master through this minefield called life.

 

My prayer today is for our children throughout the world.

What Motherhood Has Taught Me Thus Far…

Since I’ve been struggling to get into work today, I think I need to lighten it up. Motherhood is that immense blessing that comes with intense emotion and challenge. It’s one of my toughest assignments. Ever. One that will always leave me in doubt; have I done my best? Here’s what I’ve learned to date, in random order:

1. I can’t do everything

No, we can’t have it all. Telling women that they can have successful marriages, families, careers, personal growth and development, all at the same time, on their own, is a lie. A lie I believe is purported by men who secretly know that it’s not possible (since they can’t do it), but want us to continually try to attain this elusive perfection which always leaves us feeling deflated. It’s true, there are women who are successful in many aspects of their lives, but they have amazing support structures – stay-at-home husbands, the nanny, au pair, the driver, helpful in-laws and so on. Since I don’t have much of that support, I will do what I can.

 

2. To bend my knees

I’ve always had a sensitive lower back. I remember one doctor saying it’s long, so the base is inclined to take some strain. It was one of the reasons I started pilates back in 2006; to keep my back and other joints supple. And pregnancy was quite brutal to my back. So, I have learned to ‘be a lady’ and always use my knees to bend.

 

3. To step over stuff on the floor

Children are God’s creation to unshackle one from the chains of order; replacing it with absolute and utter chaos. To fight it is a losing battle. I’ve learned to move through this like an obstacle course. Avoid, jump over and importantly, keep your gaze up. What you can’t see, won’t annoy you.

 

4. It’s ok to get dirty

Small children spend a lot of time on the floor, it’s how they discover and play. I’ve discovered that it’s a fantastic way to ‘come down to their level’ and also takes strain off my back. Getting messy and dirty is par for the course. It’s not uncommon to have milk, food, spit, tears, vomit stains somewhere on one’s clothing. And I’ve strangely come to enjoy walking around barefoot. Who would have thought?

 

5. Go with your gut

There’s the time my eldest, who had been fairly healthy from birth, developed a fever, for the first time at the age of 23 months. Yes. We had been extremely lucky without children in and out of doctor’s rooms and hospitals until then. So, when my usually active, vivacious boy was uncharacteristically timid and just lay around, I initially put it down to the extreme heat. It was only a little while later that I realised he had a fever which was promptly treated with over-the-counter meds. Over the next few days, the fever would subside and he would seem normal, only to return. However, we had it under control, at no point did we feel like he had to see a doctor. But by the Friday, about five days after this, he developed red spots over his body. I had to involve the doctor and caught the receptionist who, after asking some questions, gave her diagnosis of roseola, also known as baby measles. “See it all the time”. When the spots appear, the worst is over. We made it through one of his first ‘big’ incidents without too much panic and drama.

 

6. Patience is really a virtue

I could never describe myself as patient. It’s actually one of my life lessons. Call me a perpetual student, as I keep failing. I was blessed with children who cannot sleep on command. Another thing I failed at. I could never get them into that sleeping routine where, once the lights are out, tucked in, with a song perhaps, they would gently ease into lala-land. No. It’s been a process of holding them over the shoulder, patting, walking around [on the plus-side, I don’t have “Oprah’s bye-bye arms”]. And as they get older, laying in bed until they can no longer fight it off. The patience of Job comes to mind.

 

7. A tantrum-throwing 2-year-old can get a reaction from the Pope

If, unlike me, you have a calm and patient disposition, you’re in good stead here. Again, my eldest, has been known to make his father, one of the coolest, calmest people I know, lose his temper. Secretly, it makes me feel so much better about myself (disclaimer: not condoning losing it with anyone). Just means that we need to count to 20, instead of 10, before reacting. And it also limits the inclination to point fingers at each other.

 

8. Make time for me

I initially said that my list of lessons is in no particular order, but this is a big one. If I cannot find quiet moments, I’m useless to anyone around me. This usually includes the simple things I previously took for granted like meditating, going to church, reading, writing and even decent sleep. It also extends to exercising, doing my hair now and again, and if I’m really being indulgent, facials and massages are in order.

 

I’m neither a robot, nor SuperWoman. Love the body, outfit and cap, but I just don’t cut it. So, ladies, it must be high on our agenda: get ‘Me’ back on the priority list.

 

Happy Monday!

 

A Mother’s Prayer

I once watched a red carpet interview (yes, I’m a voyeur of pop culture) where Kim Kardashian West was asked about her hopes for her children. She said a few things, but one stood out for me. “I want them to know that they can be anything they want to be”. What? Is this a real concern for children who are born to families with money and access beyond the realities of so many? Who, by association, have real-life mentors to give on-going live tutorials to demonstrate that they can be anything that they want to be?

 

I thought about it for a minute. Perhaps that’s the equaliser for all parents.  Then I thought about my hopes for my children. There are so many. I’ve never prayed more fervently than when I was pregnant. I’m sure mothers all over the world can relate. You’re praying for the protection, health and strength of a soul that you have not yet held in your arms. I had a niggling concern with my first born, since the pregnancy was textbook perfect; what if he can’t cry and doesn’t have a voice, it’s one of the things a doctor or midwife can’t tell. He came out screaming with strong, loud vocals. And to this day, he makes sure that he’s heard.

There are certain things that are purely gifts from God; good health, safety and protection, intellect and so on.

The point is, you pray several times a day, throughout the day. When the baby is born, a blessing beyond all else, there’s an outpouring of gratitude, relief and joy. Then your prayers change. You’re now the earthly custodian of a child of God and you start with a wish list. They’re personal and unique to each one of us, but there are many parallels. There are certain things that are purely gifts from Him; good health, safety and protection, intellect and so on. Sure, we play a role in these, but on a basic level, He is our ultimate Source. On a day-to-day parenting level, for example, one cannot just pray for a child to grow into a well-adjusted, loving adult and yet live in a dysfunctional, abusive relationship that is loveless. Children are sponges and absorb what they see more frequently than what they hear.

How do I teach them to be calm and at peace, when I’m struggling with this myself?

I’m often overcome by the enormity of parenting. Even entering this maze at an older age, when one could assume that maturity would trump youth and naivety, I am often left frazzled by my ‘two under five’. How do I teach them to be calm and at peace, when I’m struggling with this myself? That suitcase that one never fully unpacks has a strange knack of spewing its contents at inopportune moments.

 

Regardless of our personal circumstances, the obligation of parenting remains one of our highest callings. I am truly humbled that these two souls chose me as their human guardian and so I continue to pray, every day, that I will be their best mother. That, with their father, we will create an environment in which they will thrive in love and peace. That they will know true joy and be inspired by life. That they will honour each and every human being with respect and kindness. May they rise above any societal constructs aimed at limiting their potential based on race, culture, background, sexual preference or religion. And ultimately, know God and be lights to the world.

 

There are no manuals, courses, certificates or degrees in parenting; it is one lifelong lesson which continually provides opportunities for growth and development, and love and forgiveness.

 

As Mother’s Day approaches, I’m acutely aware that it is not a time of celebration for everyone. Especially for those who have lost their mothers or those who desperately want a child(ren). I’m reminded of Oprah Winfrey, who does not have any children from her womb but has nurtured and developed more souls than many in this lifetime.

 

Happy Mother’s Day! To every woman who nurtures and parents.

 

“Biology is the least of what makes someone a Mother”. Oprah