Magic and Cynicism

‘Where is my Bean?’ I call into our living room, as I see the swaying movement of the curtains behind our sofa stop. The scurrying noises I heard just a second ago stop as well and I hear a stifled giggle as I make my way to the area where he is hiding and call out his name again. I peak behind the sofa and see my 13 month old on all fours ready to dart away should I come too close, with his head bopping up and down as he is trying to contain his loud laughter. I burst out laughing in child-like delight and pick him up in one swoop. ‘I’ve got you!’ I declare loudly as his laughter resonates through our house. He wriggles in my arm trying to free himself so that we can start the game again and as I place him on the ground, I realise how wonderfully adventurous it must be to him.

He is able to communicate, not with words, but with sounds and actions. He is walking and crawling with the purpose of exploration. He has his own sense of humour, allowing him to laugh out loud in arbitrary moments, sometimes making me wonder what it is he is laughing about. He stares at cars as they drive by, making a ‘brrrrrmmmmmmm’ noise and he waves at lights as they go on and off. When he sees an empty bowl, he lifts his hands as if to say, ‘where have the contents gone?’ and he squeals with delight, waving his arms excitedly, every time he eats somethings he likes.

Everything he does, he does with a vibrant energy, a sense of adventure, of learning something new; and I often wonder staring at the openly curious look in his eyes when he sees, feels or smells something new: at what point when we grow up do we lose this sense of magic and replace it with the cynicism and bitterness so prevalent in adults? When do we stop being delighted by the simple things in life in an attempt to be more, have more? When is it that we become so entrenched in the drama and politics of everyday adult life? When does our ego become so important that we forget to appreciate the beautiful –  the vibrant colours of a sunset, the soothing sound of a breeze blowing through trees, the gurgling sounds of a river, a child’s laughter?

We are going to the Vaal river for a weekend getaway soon and as I was telling one of my friends about the trip, I jokingly mentioned that before I had Bean, I used to travel the world (for work) and now I get excited about a weekend to the Vaal. To be honest, sometimes, when Bean is being difficult and the day to day routine of being a mom gets a bit much, this little sentence makes me a bit depressed – I really miss getting on a plane wondering what adventures the next couple of weeks will have in store. But then I remember the drama and the politics this life brought with it: my own ego often getting in the way of happiness, being so easily swept up in unnecessary drama. So, despite no longer travelling the world, I really am excited about our little trip! It is a place I have never been to and although it is close to Johannesburg and by no stretch of the imagination an exotic break away, it is something new: a new experience and a new adventure which I can share with my little family.

It is the simple things that really matter: to be surrounded by the people you love, to enjoy a good glass of wine and a delicious meal, to partake in a lively conversation with strangers, learning something new. We need to see the world through the eyes of our children to know that every day is magical, every day is an adventure.

When you see your children changing into cynical, bitter and ego-driven adults, remind them of their inner child-like wonder, joy and magic. Remind yourself and your children how easily they got back up after they had fallen, how quickly they forgave you when you were having a bad day, how pure and unconditional their love was.

Children are simply and wonderfully magical, and we as adults have the inherent ability to be like this too – we were once simple and magical, after all.

Help! I need to Discipline my Child!

Picture the scene: we are at my son’s first birthday party and I am holding Bean on my hip while talking to my cousin and his girlfriend, T. T reaches out for a slice of pizza and my son literally launches himself at her trying to grab the pizza out of her hand. In an attempt not to drop him and calm him down, I tell her that he wants the piece, take it from her and give it to Bean. The result: my son is now happily eating ‘his’ slice and T is staring at us with a very quizzical look on her face. Later on in the day,  once the chaos of the party has subsided and I have time to reflect on the day, I realise, that I, in an unguarded moment, indulged my son’s ill-mannered behaviour instead of using that moment to teach him something. I am absolutely mortified and I realise that Bean is no longer a baby who just needs to be fed and loved, he is growing up into a little boy and I now need to start teaching him discipline and manners.

Because, let’s face it, nobody likes an unruly and ill-mannered child.

This realisation has me perplexed – when do I discipline and when do I teach? In the scene pictured above, he was not being naughty, he simply wanted to experiment, learn something new. He wanted to see what T was eating as he had never seen a slice of pizza before. He did however need to learn that it is not ok to simply snatch. So that night, after talking to my mom and husband, we decided to teach him how to ask for things he wants instead of simply snatching.

What if he continues to snatch? Then we would need to enforce discipline right? But it is here where it gets really complicated. There is so much literature available on this and so many different opinions on which are the best ways to discipline and enforce boundaries that it has all become like a white noise in my head. There are those people who believe in physical punishment, those who believe in ‘time-outs’ and then there are those who believe in gentle parenting. A granny I met in one of the classes I take Bean to, mentioned to me that I should simply ignore naughty behaviour.

After reading all these articles and speaking to various moms and grannies about this topic I realised that there are certain core ideas on how to create a stable and peaceful home environment in which the need to enforce discipline is minimised:

Every child needs love, attention and devotion

A lack of attention often leads to negative behaviour in a misguided attempt to get the parents’ attention.

Children are like sponges

They are continuously learning and taking in what is shown and taught to them. You can therefore talk to your child and show them what it is you are trying to teach.

Be an example

To our children, we are the world. We show them in our daily behaviour and interactions how one should act. In the scene described above, I inadvertently showed Bean that it was ok to snatch without first asking. I have also found myself simply taking something I do not want him to play with, out of his hand without asking him for it first. I cannot expect him to ask me for something if I (as his mentor) simply grab things from him.

Children need boundaries

This is something that I come across in parenting blogs and articles as well as books, a lot. Without boundaries children feel lost.

Be consistent

Parents need to set boundaries together and consistently enforce these, together.

Even in a stable home environment filled with love, children will still push their boundaries and they will be naughty, because, well, they are children.Some form of discipline is then needed because there isn’t a point to a boundary if it is not enforced.

I take Bean to Clamber Club classes and in his graduation class last week, the teacher said something which really hit home. Children under five cannot form their own opinions of themselves and they therefore internalise the parents’ opinions during these formative years. Once they turn five, they form their own opinions using what you, as the parent, have taught them as a reference framework. This reminded me of a story my sister once told me: they had gone to a flea market one Saturday morning and there was a family of four walking ahead of them. One of the children, a little boy, was pushing a trolley suitcase in front of him (instead of pulling it) and the suitcase kept getting stuck on the uneven bricks. The mother ignored this for a while and then suddenly smacked the child on the back of his head and shouted, “you need to pull it, stupid!” This, to me, is such a powerful example of what the teacher said, as by the time this child will be able to form an opinion of himself, he will automatically include the description ‘stupid’.

As parents we need to realise that we form these little beings, whether by example, through what we teach, or how we discipline – we give them a reference framework which they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. They will use this framework, which we have instilled within them, to decide on important life choices (whether to go to university or not for example), or when they decide on how to act, which body language to use, how to express themselves when they are faced with a moral dilemma or when they meet new friends, a girlfriend, a boyfriend or even a prospective employer.

This to me is the crux when deciding on how to teach a lesson and on how to enforce discipline. How do I want my children to see themselves?

 

Photo credit:  www.canva.com

Life Lessons from War

My grandparents were both born in Germany before the second world war, in a time where everybody was taught to live a life of duty and sacrifice. By the time the war was over, my grandmother was 12 and my grandfather was 10. At such a tender age they had both seen and experienced atrocities and loss which a grown adult would struggle to comprehend and process, let alone a child. After the war, their country ravaged, everybody hungry, they had to help build again what once was, help source food for hungry siblings – there was no time for self pity or for psychologists. All they could do was survive and be strong enough to live another day.

Because of this childhood, duty, sacrifice and the pursuit of perfection was something so ingrained in their very beings that they often struggled to comprehend our current world of entitlement and feelings. Although this lead to a number of arguments, one generation not understanding the next, they did teach us the following life lessons – lessons which are the life-blood of our family, lessons which I will pass on to my children and which will hopefully be passed on for generations to come:

You are much prettier when you smile, than when you frown
(Viel schoener bist du wenn du lachst, als wenn du eine Schnute machst)

There is so much power in a simple smile, it helps to not only make yourself feel better, it also helps all those around you. Whether it is meant as a simple greeting, or as something deeper like ‘I love you’, a smile brings warmth and brightness into the world. Imagine how much happier this world would be if we all just smiled a little more and complained a little less. Instead of focusing on the negative, being grateful for the positive.

There is no such thing as ‘Impossible’

Through persistence, everything is possible. It might not be possible right this instance, but do not give up. If you really want something badly enough, persist and the seemingly impossible soon becomes possible.

My gran recently had a car accident and because of her age (82), the doctor insisted that her broken leg will take months, if not years, to heal properly. Yet, 2 months after the accident, she is at home, in a moon boot, carrying on with her life. She could have succumbed to feelings of self-pity and frustration and given up on ever getting better, but she wanted to go home and that meant being mobile. So, she became mobile.

Do not procrastinate – do what can be done today, today
(Was du heute kannst besorgen, das schiebe nicht auf morgen)

Every day brings with it its own set of priorities, tasks and duties, so make the time to do them. It does not help pushing things onto another day as that day will be filled with new things and if you keep on procrastinating, you will never get everything done.

Do not be lazy – a little work never hurt anyone

We are a family of busy bodies – not one of us is able to sit still for very long without finding something that needs to get done, because, there is always something that needs doing. Whether it is doing a load of washing or packing the dishes from the sink into the dishwasher or walking through the garden picking up dead leaves, if you do not do it, it will not get done.

We were taught that we cannot walk through life expecting ‘someone’ to do things for us. If we wanted something, we needed to work for it. This taught us independence and self-reliance – values I believe to be very important.

Be proud of yourself and your surroundings

Whatever you do, do it in such a way that you can be proud of it (and of yourself). Whether it is the way you look or your house and your surroundings, be proud of it. Own your life, own the way you live and own the work you do – be proud.

A love of art and all things beautiful

My grandmother has a love for beautiful things and a keen eye for art and her own creativity and passion has (in various forms) filtered through to her children and grandchildren.
What this has taught me is that we should go through life with an appreciation for the beautiful. Take the time to soak in the sunrise or sunset, turn up the radio and dance to that song you love, listen to your children – be sure to appreciate every beautiful moment this life has to offer. There is beauty in all things – all you need to do is look for it.

Love is shown through actions

I don’t think that I have ever heard the words ‘I love you’ being spoken by either one of my grandparents, but I have never not felt loved. We need to realise that love can be shown in numerous ways – not everybody thinks the same and not everybody shows affection in the same way. We need to accept and appreciate all the various ways in which love can be shown.

We have a family business and when we were children, the company driver would pick all the grandchildren up from school on a Friday and take us to work.Once at work,we would first greet our grandfather and every time, he would open his lunch box and give us his delicious sandwiches. When I eventually joined the company as an employee, my grandfather made me a sandwich every day. They were his token of love.

Now, that my grandfather has passed away, we still talk about those sandwiches when we as a family get together. They were the epitome of wholesome goodness and warmed all of our hearts.

Reflecting on my grandparents lives and their life circumstances, it makes me wonder whether we as a society have not become too soft. Although personal feelings are important, life can be so hard and so cruel. I do not want to raise my child in a way that he expects to always win because it might hurt his feelings when he loses –  one day, he will have to face life’s difficulties on his own. The simple truth is that I will not always be there to catch him when he falls – he must learn to get up and dust himself off, by himself. My task as a mother is to teach him to find his own inner strength so that he can stand tall and walk through life proud and strong, regardless of what life throws at him.

What values and life lessons are integral to your family?

My Wish for You {A Letter to my Child}

I have wanted to write a letter to my son for a while now because although we as parents often tell our children how much we love them, we do not really elaborate on this statement. I also feel that we are so pre-occupied by teaching our children how to behave and how to physically do things that we never get to the heart of what it means to live. We get so caught up in our daily tasks and routines that we forget to teach them about what is really important in life.

This therefore, is a letter to my child, reminding him of how much he is loved, reminding and teaching him (as well as myself) how beautiful life really can be, how important it is to seize every moment and to be grateful.

My Wish for You

My wish for you, my child, is that you wake up every morning realising that every day unfolding is a new beginning, a promise of a new adventure, a chance to learn something new.

My wish for you is that you realise that you carry your fate in your hands, that you have the power within you to make a heaven out of hell or a hell out of heaven.

My wish for you is that you never lose the sense of wonder, intrigue and pure joy that now accompanies you everywhere you go.

My wish for you, my child, is that you will always have the inner strength to deal with life’s difficult situations with maturity, love and gratitude. Life can be hard, but there is nothing that you cannot handle and there is nothing you are not capable of. You will (and must) fall, but true strength of character lies in getting back up and trying over and over again.

My wish for you is that you never lose sight of the importance of family, friends and love. May you find the joy and comfort that comes with having good, lifelong friends. May you find happiness, confidence, strength and mutual respect in love and may you experience the absolute adventure of having your own loving, supportive and loud family one day.

My wish for you is that you stay blessed and that you realise how blessed you are. Every day brings with it something to be grateful for. Never forget to be thankful.

My wish for you is that you stay honest, that you are never afraid to tell the truth, no matter what the outcome. Stay true to yourself and trust your instincts.

My wish for you is that you never lose hope. May you always be a bright light, shining through the darkness and negativity of this world.

My wish you for is that you never stop smiling. So much power lies in a simple smile and you, my son, have the most beautiful smile. A smile that lights up and warms people’s hearts (and souls).

My wish for you, my heart, is that you never forget how much you are loved. Never feel that you cannot influence the world or that you are too insignificant to make a change – you have already changed my world. And it is so much better with you in it.

You, my perfect child, have proven to me that it is possible to live while a portion of my heart beats outside of my body. You filled and completed an empty space in my soul I never knew existed before you were born.

You are my bright light, my heart.

I love you,

Mama

 

Photo Credit: http://www.canva.com

Mommy Wars

I recently wrote a post about the ‘New Me’, the gist of the post being that becoming a mom has made me into (what I believe to be) a better person. On the day of the post I was looking at my Facebook feed and one of the mom’s on the mommy group I belong to had posted an article called ‘What happens to a Woman’s Brain When She Becomes a Mother’ written by Adrienne Lafrance on ‘The Atlantic’. Seeing as I myself had just written about the changes I have gone through as a mom, I immediately started reading.

The article explains that the emotional changes every mother goes through, ‘the overwhelming love, the fierce protectiveness, and the constant worry begin with reactions in the brain’ (Lafranc, 2015). Our mothering instinct is therefore neurological in nature. Although Lafranc goes into much more detail explaining her findings, this sentence struck a chord: if all mothers go through these changes, these strong maternal feelings, which could in turn, lead them to want a better world for their child, why are moms always fighting? Why is it that they are so judgmental of each other, if at the end of the day we all want the same thing?

On a separate occasion I was reading through some posts on the same Facebook mommy group. A mom was asking for some advice, specifically whether she could give her child coffee as this is something her mother gave her when she was little. This of course sparked a debate and instead of simply giving their opinions (as we all have a right to do), some moms were starting to attack each other on this very public forum. Now, I of course understand, that every mom is passionate about their children, their emotional and physical well-being and that every mom has probably done her research and based her particular parenting style on this research as well as on the way she was raised.

Yet, at the same time, I can also assume that every mom second guesses herself all the time and every mom is scared of messing it all up somehow (I know that I do). It is therefore only logical to turn to other moms, people in the same boat, for advice.

I am very much a believer in the saying ‘live and let live’ and although I do not always agree with others, especially on parenting techniques, I believe that we as moms are only doing our best. So, even if we do not agree with others, it does not mean they need to be punished for the fact that they are following a different path to yours. Maybe she chose a c-section because she was really scared of the labour pains, or maybe she chose the c-section because an induction could have very well put her baby’s life at risk. Either way, it does not matter. Either way, she is now a mom, a mom, just like you and I, who is overcome with love for her little angel, who wants to protect her little bundle with every ounce of her being and who lives with a constant fear of making a mistake.

Imagine the type of world we as moms could create, if instead of fighting and judging each other, we just stood together and tried to affect a positive change. Instead of individually trying to create a better environment for our own children, fighting so hard for our own little bit of sunshine, we could all stand in the sun if we simply stood by each other (regardless of our parenting styles).

I want to live in a world like this.

Photo Credit: http://www.canva.com

The New Me

It’s 4am and I can hear my 8 month old stirring in his cot, talking (or rather babbling and gurgling) to himself. I ignore him and the talking becomes louder, more incessant, as if to say, ‘Mom, I am awake….Mom, can you hear me?….MOM!’ I realise that I can forget about my hope of him going back to sleep, he is awake and he wants to start his day, regardless of how tired his parents are. I throw the blanket back, groggily climb out of bed and walk over to the nursery. As I lean over the cot to look at my little monster, he beams at me. His little arms start flailing around excitedly, his legs are kicking furiously and his face has turned into one big smile. Suddenly, I am not tired anymore, I am overcome with love and I am happy that I am awake to spend another special moment with my son.

As I pick him up and he throws his arms around me, holding on so tight, I laugh and realise that I have changed. For example, I love my sleep and if anybody had dared to wake me up at 4am pre baby, I would have been very rude and grumpy to say the least – my husband in warning, would probably have told you that you are about to unleash the Beast. Now, I of course have to distinguish a random person waking me up from my baby doing the same. Yet, I now no longer wake up angry if my sleep gets interrupted (regardless of who wakes me up). I seem to have accepted that not sleeping is simply a part of life.

This made me think about all the other, more significant changes I have gone through since becoming a Mom. Not the typical changes like household routines or the lack of a social life, but the really important ones – changes which affect my view of life and the world.

I now strongly and convincingly believe in a Higher Power. I have to mention here that I have always believed to a certain degree, but faith or spirituality has never really been a cornerstone of my existence. Yet, nothing quite makes you believe in the miracle of life like a little human growing inside your belly. The mere thought of having created life with life is mind boggling and although it can so easily be explained by science, my heart simply will not let go of the idea that a divine power has to somehow have a hand in creating something as profound as a living human bean, with his own personality, heart and soul.

It is as if having a baby has made my sense of empathy grow. I now really feel for others (even people I do not know) and the difficulty they might be facing instead of merely feigning sympathy because it is the right thing to do. I care, really care, about the well-being of others, about the future of our society and about the fate of our world.

You will remember the picture of the drowned Syrian boy which was circulating in the press and social media in an attempt to show the world the plight of the Syrian refugees, their country ravaged by war, seeking greener pastures. Although a photo like this would have previously pulled at my heart strings, sparking a brief thought or conversation about how terrible this world has become, it would not have affected my daily life in any real way. Now, however, I could not even look at this photo without crying, without sending a prayer to this poor family and for the little boy. The photo and the corresponding thought that a situation so horrific and unthinkable is even possible, still haunts me. It really makes me worry about the countless horrible events which could affect my little family.

Because of this increased sense of empathy, I now am also much more susceptible to negativity, be it negative people, negative emotions or a negative environment. Where I could previously merely shrug off this negativity as something that did not affect me personally, it now disturbs me and it affects my sense of inner happiness and peace. I am therefore now much more conscientious of surrounding myself, and by default my son, with positive energy and people only.

It is important to note however that although I am a lot more sympathetic, I have also become a lot harder in certain aspects. I remember once when I was a teenager arguing with my mother about the existence of a grey area. I was trying to convince her that in life, most things fall within a grey area as most things (people’s actions specifically) are dependent on the framework within which they occur. More specifically people’s actions are clouded by their circumstances, i.e. a thief for example steals food not because he wants to be a criminal, but merely because he is hungry. When therefore judging a person or a situation, one should look at the whole picture and judge accordingly. In a grey world (instead of the black and white world we currently live in), the thief in my example would thus not be sent to prison, but rather be rehabilitated through education, helping him with a job etc.

My mother did not agree with me and she was of course right (as mothers usually are). The world is black and white and there is only right or wrong, there is no in-between. So even though I have more empathy for others, having Bean (who I am so fiercely trying to protect) has made me realise this: a society in which we can function freely and safely (the type of society I want my son to grow up in) cannot be established based on a grey area. Invading a person’s privacy, or stealing food from someone, food which was going to feed their family, is wrong, regardless of how hungry the thief is. I of course still feel for the plight of the hungry thief and would try and help through various charities, but my son’s individual freedom and safety is of utmost importance.

Becoming a mom has caused the shortfalls of our world and our society to come into stark perspective for me. I am now responsible for a life, a life outside of my own – a life which I, in fact, love more than my own. I want my son to grow up in a better world, in a world filled with goodness, a world where people help each other, a world devoid of negativity.

As Ghandi said, ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’. By living this, we not only affect our direct environment with a positive change, we set the example for our children.

Picture Credit: http://www.canva.com