Talk of the stork

I’ve haven’t yet been married a full month, but already we’ve been asked ‘the next logical question’ – several times: ‘So, when are you going to have kids?’

It didn’t help that we went to a baby shower on the weekend, where the having of children was a conversational mainstay around the snacks table. The first time it happened, I stuck a carrot stick in my mouth, mimed my inability to speak and turned to look at my husband. ‘Well, um, I’m not sure that it’s, uh, environmentally friendly… There are quite a lot of people on the planet already,’ he replied, squirming. I swallowed hard and widened my eyes at him, which is code for ‘WTF!’ It was, after all, a baby shower. Environmentally unfriendly? Was that the best he could do?!

There followed an uncomfortable silence before the poor guy (unmarried, religious) who’d asked the question admitted he really did want children and, not being married, was worried he’d miss out.

There followed a decidedly awkward silence, during which I made a mental note to prepare, and rehearse, a diplomatic answer to this question. Because how do you say no, you don’t want a child without sounding judgemental of those who do? ‘It’s just not for me’?

The truth is that we really don’t what we want. We have no immediate plans to mix our genes, but we haven’t completely ruled it out, either. And the kind ambivalence I feel at the thought of reproducing doesn’t translate well in small talk. Reply too quickly in the negative, or mumble an evasive and you’re met with a raised brow (which is code for ‘Oooh, there must be something wrong’).

My strategy for now is a swift U-turn: ‘Dunno. How’s the new job?’
It’s not foolproof, but it seemed to work well enough for the rest of the afternoon.

Now I just have to work out what to tell my mother…

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Me, just better

I live a double life. The other me is flawlessly beautiful, kind, never touches tobacco or alcohol, takes a bracing swim in the ocean at sunrise, is fit and in shape, lives in a loft apartment that she renovated from scratch, rides a scooter to curb her carbon emissions, separates her rubbish, does charitable work, is a Zen Buddhist, has a perpetual smile on her face…

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What’s love got to do with it?

I was indoctrinated into the general hysteria that surrounds Valentine’s Day at an early age – high school, in fact.

As a way to raise funds for the school, the Std 9 committee would set up a system whereby you could order plastic red carnations for the object of your hormone-addled affections (anonymity optional) for Valentine’s Day. On the 14th, committee members would come round to each classroom and, very loudly, very publicly, read out the names of, and hand out flowers to, those lucky enough to have admirers.

Usually, the prettier, more popular girls would spend the day walking around with back-straining bouquets of blooms in their arms, smiling self-deprecatingly, pretending to be a little embarrassed by all the attention (but of course they were lapping it up – wouldn’t you?). Others displayed their one or two carnations as badges indicating they were indeed worthy of someone’s adoration, if anyone had doubted it. Then, of course, there were the unfortunates who received nothing at all. I say ‘unfortunate’ because of the acute social stigma: ‘What, you didn’t get anything?’

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Feeling frazzled?

We have all been there – pulling our hair out as our ‘to do’ list builds up out of control, refusing to take a break because ‘we don’t have the time’. Taking the time to relax for just a few minutes every day helps us feel calmer and more in control, so we actually get through our daily tasks quicker.

As stress builds up, we can draw on that relaxed feeling to centre ourselves and deal with problems and difficult situations. There are so many easy ways to relax, from enjoying a nice cup of tea to letting out a big scream. The trick is to find one technique that works and stick with it. Try out top 10 list of ways to make it through the toughest day.

Just like anything, relaxing takes practice. Take a well earned break every day and your quality of relaxing will improve immensely. We are often under so much pressure that we feel there is no time to relax, but make time. Whether it’s on the bus to work, waiting for the kids after soccer practice, or before going to sleep, just 15 minutes’ relaxation every day will help to beat anxiety and exhaustion, and could stave off heart attacks in the long run.

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The trouble with Internet psychics

On Sunday, I took myself off to see Woody Allen’s You’ll meet a tall dark stranger. I was in a foul mood and thought it best to distance myself from unsuspecting targets (viz my fiancé and Scottish Terrier) by holing up in a dark cinema and switching off my phone. Crystal Ball Continue reading

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Why get married?

This is a question I am asked fairly frequently (mostly by myself) in the lead up to my and my partner-of-seven-years’ nuptials in April. Unless you are religious, in which case the wherefores of marriage are laid out in various instructive holy texts, it can be tricky to figure out why one feels compelled to get hitched.

The most common response is, ‘I love him/her and I want to spend the rest of my life with him/her.’

Well, that’s great – but why get married?

It is perfectly acceptable these days to cohabit into perpetuity – what is it about marriage that would add any appreciable value to the experience of sharing each other’s lives? Neither men nor women need to be married in order to have sex or professional success or companionship or respect – or even children. In fact, socially and economically, marriage is no longer obligatory or even particularly helpful.

So why get married?

‘It’s better for the children.’

Ah, this is a good one. There isn’t a lot of evidence to the contrary (though, I suspect, marriage isn’t really a big indicator of whether or not your kids will grow up to be balanced and well-adapted adults, since so many marriages end in divorce, leaving children in broken homes). In any event, it’s a moot point since neither Patrick (the groom) or I want to have children. So…

… why get married?

A recent Time magazine special report, ‘Marriage: What’s It Good For?’, posited that, increasingly, ‘the state of families is seen as a symbol of the state of society, and marriage is treated as a special project, something to work at and try to perfect.’ Sociologist Andrew Cherlin, author of The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage in America Today, is quoted: ‘Getting married is a way to show family and friends that you have a successful personal life. It’s like the ultimate merit badge.’

A merit badge? So marriage is more about social status these days? Even though this observation applies to Americans, I can see the truth in it. Consider the hysterical (and lucrative) profusion of commercial enterprises that have sprouted up to help you show everyone what a success you can make of your Big Day. Wedding planners, travel agents, bridal magazines, jewellers, dress boutiques, lingerie, caterers, venue agents, registries, photographers, florists….

Although our wedding is going to be a small, self-organised party at our home, I’ve never been one to turn my nose up at a boost in social status. This, though (however nice a side effect), is not the main reason we are saying ‘I do’.

So why are we getting married?

It’s the ultimate leap of faith for the non-religious. Which is one way of saying, I’m not entirely sure. The best reason Patrick and I can come up with is … it just feels right. We’ve been living together for years, but never really saw it as a ‘warm-up to the main event’, as some couples do. We don’t want kids. I guess we’re just about as sure as we’ll ever be that neither one of us is going anywhere. And don’t forget it’s a great excuse for a party.

Plus, I love him and I want to spend the rest of my life with him.


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The comfort of strangers

This Christmas was spent with my mum, my nonagenarian grandmother, a motley collection of friends-like-family, and strangers, at a wonderful country house outside White River in Mpumalanga. There was not a red-breasted robin, holly bush or turkey in sight. Christmas lunch under fat palm trees saw us scampering inside to escape large, warm tropical raindrops. Every evening, we would gather on the long verandah and enjoy cool relief from the wilting humidity. We would sip chilled glasses of wine, admire the lush, verdant garden, and talk, and talk, and talk – about life, work, travel, families. We’d break for a light finger supper, and then talk some more, enjoying the night air, the amplified sounds of owls, frogs, crickets and the sweet absence of city noises.
We came from all over the place: Cape Town, Jo’burg, Pretoria, Soweto, London.

It was like an art movie. ‘Just like Bagdad Café,’ said my mum.

We had been dreading Christmas. You see, my father passed in February (he had cancer) and this was The First Christmas Without Him. My mother did not want to be anywhere close to home, so we set off on a road trip.

We couldn’t help but cast our minds back to 2009: a large family gathering of assorted aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces, relatives from abroad, all seated on the overflowing verandah at my parents’ home … well-worn rituals re-enacted.

After months of chemo, my dad had been given the all-clear and we were feeling buoyant. But it came back with a vengeance, and two months later, to the day, he was dead.

On Christmas eve, we went to the small local church for midnight mass and, rather incongruously, sang carols with a full congregation of mostly French and German tourists en route to the Kruger Park.

Oddly enough, it turned out to be one of the most memorable Christmases ever. It made me realise that family is not necessarily about shared DNA. It can come in unexpected shapes and sizes. And strangers can feel as close as family – minus the sometimes tiresome dysfunction – after an intense common experience.

It was bittersweet, but I felt so blessed to share this symbolic moment in time with the two women I admire most, and a blended family of warm, interesting people. The magic of Christmas came this year in a thoroughly different guise.


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A moveable feast

I went Christmas shopping with a friend last night.

She’s South African, her husband is Norwegian, and for some years now we’ve celebrated Scandinavian Christmas at their house on December 24th.

He’s not in the least bit sentimental, but he does get nostalgic for akvavit and snow. And so, with admirable devotion, she does her best to recreate his mother’s gravlax (salt-and-sugar cured salmon), ribbe (pork ribs) and surkaal (sauerkraut) in mid-South African summer. Gravlax Continue reading

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Winning friends and alienating people

I saw The Social Network this week. Facebooker or not, everyone should see it. It’s a slice of social history that will fascinate. Or, indeed, be a source of mirth for another generation when Facebook no longer exists (c’mon, at some point there will another Next Big Thing, and another, and…). Continue reading

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The clutter monster

Moving house is supposed to be one of the most stressful life events anyone can go through. A quick Internet search revealed it’s right up there with divorce, retrenchment and spousal death (though I think this last is a tad on the melodramatic side).

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