Auction Blues

The highly anticipated auction date for the house in Gonubie was yesterday. My conversations with the auctioning house have been sobering lately because I can sense that there isn’t much interest there and they are definitely struggling to show a presence in Gonubie, when they do not even have an office in East London. Compared to the hype they stared with I was preparing myself for disillusionment, but I did not anticipate its monumental proportions. They called me yesterday afternoon to tell me that they had a single bidder for R 400,000. This is even less than what was actually paid for the house. I was sorely disappointed and lamented the money I threw away at this auction ( R 10,000 for the auctioneers + R 1000 for cleaning the pool) in addition to refilling the pool with water, and god knows what this will mean to my final municipal bill.

My dreams of breaking free from this existence at Jackie’s have been shattered, and I was caught at an extremely low point when I spoke with Ron today. I could sense that he wasn’t doing well either, perhaps because the expenses are much more than he bargained for. He said that perhaps he should have understood the triangle of conflict in our life together and how we interchanged the roles of villain, victim and benefactor. He even said that perhaps we should have tried counseling. My personal situation is so bleak that I cannot sympathize with him a bit. By and large he was the one who led us to this particular turn of events. I can hardly remember myself being the villain in this relationship, and he rarely -if ever- played the benefactor. The imbalance was starkly revealed with the birth of our son and his almost hostile attitude towards him, which really frightened me.

When my ex firmly stated that he wanted OUT, he could not understand that my first impulse as a nursing mother would be to protect and defend my young one. The response is not unique to us humans, and is widely observed in the animal kingdom. Females display uncharacteristically hostile and aggressive behaviour when there is a threat to their young, it doesn’t matter whether the threat is real or perceived. His threatening behavior provoked my anger, hostility and aggression and I retaliated very strongly and decisively, by filing for divorce and going through with it this time. I saw with my instinct that a man who can shut out his wife and his newborn son simply doesn’t love her anymore, and perhaps doesn’t even love his son enough.  Yes, I did hurt at the time, and I still do. But I know one thing for sure, I have no regrets. Even though I still care for the man, my trust for him is completely gone, and that is why there is no future for us together anymore.  All I want now is a place of my own, I have had it with living under the dictate of other people.

The Learning Update

On sunny days it is nice to go outside these days. Robert and I spend time in Jackie’s front garden soaking up the sun and playing some. These past days the main point of interest is the front door. Robert can comfortably reach the door handle and spends endless time opening it and closing it. I have to watch this routine for as long as it takes, making sure that he doesn’t close the door over his little fingers in his excitement.

During the past week I put him down on my bed for a nap and was surprised a couple of hours later when a sleepy eyed Robert crawled into the living room. He now can safely get off the bed, while he learned climbing it a few weeks back already.

11 Months

Robert’s eleventh month has passed by in a state of chaos. Our life at Jackie’s is not perfect and we are struggling within the rules and the limited space.  As Robert grows more mobile, I find that he needs more and more observation and Jackie’s place is perhaps the most child unfriendly space I have encountered so far. At the end of the day I am exhausted by the constantly repeated NO, NO, NO. Financially we can barely afford even Jackie’s place, and my hopes are now on selling the house in Gonubie. The auction is on the 31st and I am hoping for the best.

To mark his eleven months birthday, Robert got a ride today in a supermarket trolley at the Fruit and Veg city in town. As it is clear on the picture, he is not impressed, but soon enough his intimidation of the new surrounds vanished and he started pulling himself up in the trolley. I was glad that we were getting ready to leave by then.  On our way back Jackie took us to a little farm which is located very close to town.  There were chickens, goats and a few pigs running around. I thought it would be nice to show Robert one of the pigs, so we approached a black one and started to examine its coarse hairs. I must have picked one in a bad mood, because the beast grunted and attacked my ankle. I hobbled in pain towards the car to find Jackie hooting with laughter at my predicament. She said that she thought I would drop Robert. In fact I was actually relieved that the animal bit me and not Robert. The casualties : My tan pants were filthy but not permanently damaged and I had a scrape where the animal’s teeth bit on my ankle. I was shocked but otherwise fine. However the episode left me with a little bit of insecurity regarding the state of my luck at this point in time.

A Flop

I was scheduled to have an interview at my workplace today for the job of a “Communication Specialist”. A colleague and I decided to apply for the job when it was advertised almost a month ago and we wondered since whatever happened to our applications since we did not receive anything, not even an acknowledgement.

The complication was getting someone to babysit Robbie for the morning while I was at work. Lucy works in the morning for Jackie’s mom and of course my only choice was to ask Mrs. L. if she can look after Robert (with Lucy of course) for the morning. I am not on very familiar terms with Mrs. L. but she does like Robert, and she often sends him baby food and toys with Lucy. Although I was prepared to get out on time, I had to rush back into the house when I realized the Robert needed a nappy change. In consequence I had to run all the way to Mrs L’s place pushing the pram (I have thanked heavens many times for the new lighter version). When I finally arrived at Mrs L’s block I noted with dismay that the lifts on her side of the building were not working, and I had to make a long turn to another foyer where I caught the lift to her floor and then run back to the side of the building where her apartment was located. I had no idea how to get there in the maze of hallways so it was really lucky that she came to get me from the lift. She knew I was there because I had to notify security at the entrance.  The adventure with the lifts cost me a few precious minutes, and despite all my efforts I arrived a few minutes late.

The person in charge of recruiting for the position was a former duty manager I worked with on the floor. As a DM he struck me as subservient to high management and not overly enthused or supportive to co-workers. But he wasn’t the worst we dealt with, I mean he was just traditional top down manager and not a worker’s manager, no big deal.  I was told that the interview consisted of a written assignment followed by a face to face question and answer session. The written assignment required about an hour and a half of work, after which D. will come and do the face to face session.  After my ordeal of the day I was in an extremely cynical mood and I found myself completely incapable of writing corporate spin and memoranda. One assignment asked me to write a notification to staff about the death of a colleague, another wanted me to write a speech for a station manager promoting our services, but when I arrived at writing a piece to inform workers that there will not be a pay increase this year due to the situation in the air travel industry I was completely demotiviated. I thought to myself, heck, they should have called this position “corporate spin doctor” I am not sure I am cut for this type of thing.  I like to think that I am honest by nature, and I only write things I belive in.  As a translator I come accross Arabic rubbish which I am required to translate from time to time. Writing it in English doesn’t cause me any discomfort or guilt because I am insulated by my role as a messenger, and my honesty is channelled into faithful transmission of the text, regardless of my mental attitude towards it, but I cannot bring myself to write from scratch about things I do not believe in.  This Friday morning I couldn’t anyway, so instead of sticking with the script I used poetic license and invented reasons and justifications that weren’t even part of the briefing in the assignment. I was still pondering the wisdom of what I wrote when D. arrived signaling the end of my allotted time, and once the face to face meeting got underway I came to the conclusion that what I wrote in the sheet didn’t matter anyway. My superior was obviously in a hurry to leave and I was given the impression that the interview was just a farce. I think by then they had made up their mind that they needed someone from outside.  I hurried home thinking what a terrible waste of time.

Mrs. L. said that she enjoyed Robert’s company and took him out for a walk on the promenade. She even showed him off to some of her friends who thought that he was a grandson. I was relieved that he did not give problems although Lucy told me that his diaper rash is still bad. Later this evening he cried bitterly when warm water touched his bottom and it was a very stressful time getting him to quieten down then to sleep. I experienced an episode of intense misery, cried, screamed and blamed the universe and my ex husband for everything that was going wrong in my life.  My situation hasn’t improved in over three months since I moved out and my life is in chaos, I just wanted order back in my life any way possible.

Once Robert got to sleep I had time to reflect a little bit normally on what is happening. For Robert’s problem in the nappy area I blamed the chocolates I copiously consumed in the past few days, so I promised him that I will stay away from chocolate. As for my problems though, they are more complicated and they need a lot of patience to fix.

Post Scriptum : The job of communication specialist was later assigned to a lady with a higher degree in journalism, who used to work as a crime reporter for one of the national newspapers.  Makes you think about people’s choices and career moves.

More on the Bad Mommy

Something that I fed Robert during the past two has caused an awful rash in his nappy area. He is red and sore and can’t even stand the touch of warm water. I tried to think back about the food I gave him in the last 48 hours. First I suspected the olive oil, which he has ingested for the very first time. The other foods he has taken before without any problems. After his dismal weigh-in on Wednesday, I have been running after him, trying to convince him into eating different types of high calorie foods. I lined up a variety of foods so when he refused one I moved on to the next. At any given lunchtime we had toast, yogurt, eggs, avocado and cheese, in addition of course to the ever present formula bottle.

The situation did not improve with the application of soothing cream. Today, Lucy mentioned that he was very uncomfortable from the rash, she only fed him yogurt and baby porridge, avoiding adult foods to give him a break. Later I figured out it was possibly my milk that caused this reaction because the day before I had a huge craving for chocolate and went on a chocolate binge. My milk probably caused him diarrhea and rash, so here I am to blame again. To add to his troubles, poor Robert also has an absent minded or sleepy mom most of the time these days. I have landed a big project, requiring me to translate 20,000 Words from Arabic into English before the 10th of August. This means that I need to churn out just over one thousand words daily. I am trying hard to meet the quota, but most of my working time happens in the evening after Robert goes to bed and extends into the small hours of the morning. It follows that I am not at my best in the early hours of the day, and I have less energy to play and take the little one out.

Apart from these few complaints Robert is thriving. Between myself, Lucy and Jackie we manage to keep him entertained. Lucy turned out to be quite a gem; last Tuesday I came home early to find her sitting in our room watching over Robert as he slept in my bed. Lucy made me forget my disappointment at missing his good night hour, when she said to me:”touch my hand… he is walking !!”. Apparently she encouraged him to walk two steps independently after she practiced with him, holding his hand and then holding onto his sweater. Lucy has a terrific way with babies, and Robert loves her, I am truly blessed to have her help.

What Am I Doing Wrong?

I finally got around taking Robert for his Chicken Pox immunization. The logistics got complicated by Jackie working. I had asked my friend Jenny to give me a lift there on Wednesday, but on the day I first had to wait until Jackie’s mom came with the municipality evaluator. Residential properties were re-evaluated by the Municipal Council last year, and the property taxes were calculated accordingly. Most people found that they have to pay a lot more to the Municipality as a result, and therefore opted to try and re-evaluate. Jackie’s mom is one of these people, and I can’t blame her. Jenny came right after that business was finished and we headed to Cape Town Mediclinic. Nurse B has now seen me twice without Robert’s father, and if she wondered what the story was she never said anything. Robert had his injection and was good as usual. The shocking realization for me however, was his weight.
He did not put on any weight in the last month and is now clearly below average. This trend started already last month, but the difference now is almost one whole kilogram, I was very worried for a second there.
The conclusion that the nurse drew from questioning me was that he was not drinking enough milk. A baby his age is supposed to drink 750ml of formula day and in Robert’s case I would be lucky if he finished 250ml; this excludes the one or two feeds he gets daily from the breast, which are impossible to measure. Nurse B followed with a number of suggestions like sprinkling his veggies with olive oil to add more calories, and feeding him cheese. The main thing however was to increase his intake of formula. She tried to calm my panic by pointing out that his height continues to be above average, my feelings of guilt however remain strong, and throughout the day I kept asking myself what I had been doing wrong in the past months. It is not good enough to make excuses and cite the strange living conditions and circumstances; I am the child’s mother and I am supposed to put him first. Up until now he has been a good child, but feeding him is a bit of a struggle because he is always interested in what’s going on around him, and does not sit down willingly for a longer period of time. I try tying him down on the feeding chair, but my success there is also limited. I will have to dry harder before my next visit to the nurse.

Robert’s measurements for the day : Weight 9400 g; Height 76cm; Head Circumference 45.8 cm.

It was one of those warm winter days today, and Jenny and I spent the day around her neck of the wood in Vredehoek. The area nestles up high below the flat summit of Table Mountain, and is traditionally very windy, but on the calm days like today it affords a great view over the city bowl towards Table Bay and beyond. You can see Robben Island if the sky is clear of fog or haze. We walked around negotiating hiking trails with the stroller, and then Jen took us to an abandoned quarry. We walked through an abandoned tunnel, and once we emerged out into the sunshine, the whole noise and hubbub of the city had disappeared and there was only the peace of the mountain wall and the calm pool of the abandoned quarry pit. Robert found the stones and pebbles fascinating, but Jen and I just hung out in the sunshine, we talked about work, and life in general and it was a very pleasant time.
Later we had lunch at her place, wonderful German bread with Wurst from the German bakery in town. Her quaint flat and the lovely area made me again yearn for a place of my own, where I can start building a life for myself and Robert.

When I arrived home I started what will become a quest for stuffing more and more food into my son. I kept the bottle of formula ready at all time, and tried to give it to him whenever I had a chance. I cut chunks of cheese and gave them for him to nibble on. I even sprinkled olive oil on food as the nurse suggested.

Apart from my feelings of inadequacy and guilt, I had a good day. Jen was recently in Germany and brought Robert a nice present. A soft toy, that can be also used as a sponge for the bath, I am going to call her Patty, although she is a bear ( I don’t understand why all teddies have to be male). She also bought a cuddly blanket, which will sure become a hit with the little one, he snuggled to sleep with it tonight.

New Tricks

When Robert’s dad dropped him off yesterday, he said : “Do you know that Robert can now walk if you hold onto his hand?”. I don’t know how he thinks that I would miss something like that when I live with my son 24/7. Meanwhile he gets to see him perhaps once a week, and he misses out on many new things.

Robert loves music and dancing and I took videos of him dancing and bouncing to the music, he relates to rock and rap and to any fast tune with lots of rhythm. Since his visit at W’s he figured out how to play with his stacking rings. During the day he crawls around to every corner of the house discovers what is hidden around corners, inside cupboards, waste baskets, nappy bucket, cat’s food bowl, and garbage. His favourite places are the kitchen and the bathroom. In the kitchen he rummages around Jackie’s cupboard, pulls out pots and pans, and bottles, while in the bathroom he works on the changing table and rearranges the bottles, the jars and the linen. It is very amusing, even though I need to put things back again as soon as he is done.
He isn’t walking yet, but he can move very quickly from place to place if he has something to hold on to. Recently he has started to move alongside walls, he can also pull himself up onto Jackie’s bed, especially when he sees an “abandoned” cell phone or a remote control.

Sometimes I can almost believe that Robert is a very smart child. He imitates me very quickly when I make a smack kissing noise, or a click of a tongue. He also talks all these funny languages and pronounces Arabic, and Xhosa sounding syllables – yes I am delusional. Today after I finished bathing him I took the plug out of the bath and started to put his clothes together before taking him out of the warm water. He saw me doing this and picked up the plug and tried to put it back in the drain. I suppose he did not want to go out of the bath that quickly. Perhaps he is a genius after all.

Making the Most of Messy Life

I found out that I have become somewhat of a bitchy person. There is always something for me to moan and complain about, I hope this is just a symptom of my difficult circumstances at present, because I am sure I do not want to drag this persona along a long time, it is very draining.

Deep down, however, I am grateful for the little rays of sunshine that grace my life, be they real or metaphoric. I try enjoy and capture the developments of my son, and we both enjoy getting out and relating to nature, other babies, people or animals.

Here are some random pictures of our life this month:

Two little boys having a nap on my bed.

Robert climbing up the stroller and surveying the territory from above.

Robert meets a girlfriend on the beach front. “Nonzi” was born within a week of Robert’s birth date, she is the daughter of a German colleague and his South African girlfriend.

Robert the philosopher, watching a particularly striking sunset.

Robert the scientist, examining (and tasting) different types of shells and sand.

Feeding Various Addictions

Time and again I find myself craving things. I go out to buy myself food, then I go to the wool shop and buy yarn, and of course my biggest addiction buying books. Our largest bookstore chain in South Africa has two annual sales, the winter sale and the summer sale, and I have been very dedicated in attending them from my days in Johannesburg to this day. I know I missed a few when I was overwhelmed with work at the garage, but I usually make it a point to be there as soon as my closest branch opens on sale day. This year I was there one full day too early, I showed up with Robert on Tuesday, and found an almost deserted mall. The staff at the bookstore were still setting up the tables of the sale books, which weren’t open to public viewing yet, so I had to try again the very next day.

Earlier this week Ron sent me a text message to say that he would like to “look after Robert” sometime, and I arranged for him to be with Robert on Wednesday, when I planned to go and hand in Robert’s registration forms for the daycare, and now I simply had to add checking out the sale books to my program. To make my life still more complicated a friend called on Tuesday inviting us to lunch with a few other moms, and of course I wanted to be there too. Plans were changed at short notice; Ron’s visit with Robert was rescheduled to an earlier time, I asked him to pick him up at 8 AM rather than ten, so that I can make the lunch date at my friend’s at eleven. On the day I rushed from home to the post office then quickly on board a bus to the Waterfront, and I spent a couple of hours browsing books. I did not spend as much as I used to in the old days, and even though I bought some books for Robert as well my purchases were relatively conservative this year. Perhaps the constraint of time also helped, I had to leave to make it in time for the lunch/playdate.

I picked up Robert just after eleven then I walked with him to where my friend’s place. I met W a few weeks ago at the park and we related to each other quickly because we are both single moms. Her story is slightly different, because she was not married to the father of her baby, but we still ended up in similar situations. In her case, the father sends money regularly but does not want to be involved in any other way. Sometimes I wish this was the case for us as well. Ron’s contribution to our finances is pathetic and in return for it I have to put up with his strange behaviour and venomous comments, and I do not consider it a fair bargain at all. Another thing that W and I have in common is that we both share accommodation with friends. W’s place is more chic and upmarket than this old home, but the problems are still the same. We both need to protect our babies from the dangers in the house – in her case there are open steps and banister- and at the same time we need to protect the house (or its contents) from the menace of little hands and feet. When the moms showed up we had a full complement of little boys, ranging in age from 4 months to just over a year. W’s son had just turned one on the 14th of July (Bastille Day – which incidentally is also my dad’s birth date). The older kids spent some time playing and generally making a mess while the little ones watched angelically from their cots or cushions, there was curry for lunch and then cake and muffins for tea, and we all enjoyed ourselves. Robert tried many new toys, and naturally they held his interest much longer than the toys at home. A rattle with a long handle was a hit with his as usual. I was very surprised though when he suddenly found interest in a ring stacker. He has a similar toy at home, and I have been trying to show him how to fit the rings correctly around the base, but he was had never shown real interest in the process until today. W’s son had loads of interesting toys, but Robert spent most of his time playing with the ring stacker. All good times come to an end though, and my queue to leave was Robert’s voice increasing in volume, announcing that he had enough and was really tired, so I had to leave in a hurry. The problem was fixed immediately once we started moving and Robert went to sleep in the stroller as soon as we cleared the block. I often wonder how I would deal with a similar situation on a long-haul flight, I get panicky just thinking about it.

Because Robert was peacefully sleeping I got to stop at the shops once again. I bought more books from the book sale, this time from the tiny branch near our place. Then I bought more goodies from the supermarket – savory muffins and a Thai Chicken. Robert and I arrived home shortly before sundown. Later in the evening I spread out my prizes for the day; there were books for me and Robert and a dozen baby pajamas from W’s son, and lo and behold there was a light sweater and two vests which Ron must have bought for Robert. Maybe I should think that it was nice of him to buy something, but since he is the father I find these items rather insufficient, something that a childless friend would buy because they did not want to spend too much money. When it comes to buying things for Robert, my ex is hopelessly outdone by my family and my friends. His own family made more effort for Robert’s sake than he did, and even Jackie’s mom made a bigger effort. Now I know what ex wife number one must have felt when her kids used to get silly birthday cards or cheap presents, and I know what my ex meant when he used to complain: “what’s the point of sending this?”. I really fail to see the point of two vests and a cheap sweater.

Sunny Days.. Rainy Days

Last week we had the rains and the whole Western Cape turned into a disaster area, with many people displaced and some villages in the mountains rendered inaccessible by road. This was followed by a cold snap, and snow was seen on the mountains in the surrounding areas. The snow had some entertainment value for South Africans, who rarely see it, but the rain, you get sick of it after a while. For us, long spells of rain are a problem because there isn’t enough time for my washing to dry, and Robert only has so many changes of clothes. I did wash some of his clothes and hung them to dry in the bathroom but they did not smell fresh. In fact, last Sunday my ex had the audacity to complain that Robert stank so bad and he had to bath him early in the morning. The laundy did not see any sun last week, and perhaps that is why they picked up quickly the smell of the dirty nappy, but they were clean. When I pointed this out to my ex he said he did not want to hear complaining, and he wanted Robert to be well groomed when he visited with him. His acid comments grated on me badly. I am doing the best that I can under the circumstances. I wash our clothes by hand, while he has the luxury of the washing machine. I keep my sense of humor when baby and cat act up and find it hard to cope with their changed circumstances. I walk behind the little one, patiently straightening the things he messes up, time and time again, and try to play referee between my cat and Jackie’s. It is a hard life though, I am starting to get fed up.

For one Robert is getting more demanding and active, and Jackie’s place is full of clutter. I am the last person to judge, because I am not Miss Order myself, but the fact remains that it is a house that isn’t used to little people walking underfoot. It has too many knick knacks strewn around, and many dangerous bigger ones lurking at every corner. Right by the door there is an African sculpture; it is roughly the same size as Robert and three times as heavy, and it balances on a small base. I cringe to think of the consequences if it ever toppled over while he was close by. There is also the puzzle of the electrical wiring in this old old place. An annoying example is the burglar alarm connected to an adapter with loose and exposed wiring connectors. This faulty adapter is plugged into a power bar, which in turn plugs into the wall socket. The power bar itself resides on the floor unsecured and it is the only electrical point in my room where I can plug my cell phone and tooth brush charger. This strange arrangement makes the burglar alarm susceptible every time I charge my cell phone, or every time Robert or the cat moves in the surrounding area; the loose connections in the adapter disconnect and the burglar alarm starts beeping because it lost power. It happens at least once every other day, and Jackie barges into the room to fix the connection. I bite my tongue every time, but I had this same problem when I lived here three years ago, and that was minus cat and baby. I always thought that this bad connection should be addressed. In addition the general living arrangement are not great for me, Robert and I (and now Petey) are crammed into a small room, and we have very little cupboard space. We do not have many things, but whether I like it or not, baby paraphernalia takes up a lot of space, and makes a huge mess. I find myself constantly tripping over toys, books, and various pieces of accessories and clothing. Most of Robert’s toys have nowhere to put away, so they are constantly floating around, and I try in vain to keep them in order, or even to keep track of them when they try to disappear amongst all the clutter.

On the up side, I really cannot complain. Jackie has allowed us to overflow into other parts of the house. The toys are often lying around in the lounge. Baby strollers ( the old monster that my ex bought and the new lightweight buggy) and also the baby car seat reside in the second lounge, along with a number of my boxes. My computer sits in Jackie’s office area, and although my part of the desk is horribly cramped, it is still adequate. I have successfully delivered my first small project from this very corner, and consider myself blessed to have this little space with its connection to the internet. The connection was down for a few days while I was doing the project and it was a huge inconvenience to work offline without the benefit of references and then go out late at night to mail translations from a nearby internet cafe. One should be glad for the small blessings in life.

Another thing to smile about is that after a week of rain the sun is shining again, and I am feeling a strong current of hope. The project is finished and I feel elated, the same feeling I used to get after writing an exam, where I know that I have done well. My washing is hanging out in the sun to dry and a delicious pasta sauce is simmering on the stove. Life has its small challenges but overall things are starting to look up.