Poor Joyless Man

Many years ago my ex husband and I saw the film American Beauty. In the movie we meet the protagonist Lester, a married man with a teenage daughter. We watch as his marriage (and life) derail in bizarre circumstances. I can still remember the scene where Lester laments to his wife Carolyn : “How did you become so…. joyless?”. If there was one word to describe my marriage or my ex husband, that will be it… joyless.

Two weeks ago my ex and I came into another awful confrontation. He had expected me to pay him over the occupational rent (money paid by the buyer to the seller for occupying a property while it is still registered in the seller’s name) for the house that was sold in the Eastern Cape. He thought that it was his right, in lieu of the maintenance he paid us (?).  Stupidity prevented me from disputing such ludicrous proposal when it was made, but I figured out how unfair it was a few hours later. The money from the sale of the house was supposed to be my divorce settlement and my ex has washed his hands clean from every expense that related to finalizing the sale of the house. Out of my pocket I paid for the auction which turned out to be an absolute flop, and from the proceeds of the sale I paid the real estate agent commission the rates and taxes, the costs for cleaning the pool and a final municipal bill that amounted to over R 8000.  Whenever anyone asked him something about the house in Gonubie he referred them to me, saying that the house now belongs to me. So I do not understand under which pretext does he want to claim the amount of occupational rent ( R 9000 for two months). When I stated my case in these words my ex went ballistic and called me names, and threatened -as usual- to withdraw Robert’s support.

Obviously he was still resentful even days later because he indicated that he wanted to be out of my medical aid. He still asked me though for prices of discounted flights to Canada, which I get as a benefit of my job.  I have to say here that I have come to a point in my life where I am no longer resentful of my ex. I can write horror stories of his maltreatment of me, his emotional abuse, his selfishness and stinginess.  When he flies at me with unfounded accusations, throwing at me what ” I did to him” I want him at the other end of the world. Perhaps this is one reason why I want to facilitate for him getting a ticket to Canada. It is the perverse wish that something will happen to keep him there, and out of my hair for good.  But all this notwithstanding, sometimes I still feel sorry for the man, and his damaged personality. He is a person incapable of feeling love, not the way I feel it anyway.

My ambiguous feelings towards the man came full circle yesterday. I phoned him to ask him again whether he was sure he wanted me to take him off his medical aid. I found a confused and agonized person. His plans of spending Christmas with his family were derailed by his mother’s frosty reception. His “relationship” isn’t what he expected. He paid me a backhanded compliment by saying that I was intelligent in comparison and although I seemed to do everything wrong I was a hundred times better than other woman (this type of compliment is typical to him so I cannot take offense). He even said that he is starting to realize that he was probably better off married to me, and all he wanted now was to see Robert grow.

Now I am not going to make too much of what he said.  He will soon revert to his old self again, and once he is strong he will believe again all the lies he tells himself. Still I found myself once more in my familiar role as psychoanalyst and adviser. I offered some tepid advice, and tried to avoid to many ” I told you so”s.  I am certain though that the man will never change. Sometimes his conscience catches up with him, it is usually when someone else offers him the type of coldness and cruelty he dispenses to others. But then he runs away from the truth again, mixing up with people who would tell him how great he is and convince him he is not a horrible person person after all. His mother by her very existence uncomfortably gives him a mirror of the very characteristics he hates about himself; he is too weak to change, and too proud to accept them. Instead he escapes into self delusion, with whoever wants to live the lie with him.  I feel sorry for his wasted joyless life, at the same time I am grateful that I was given the chance to escape it. I only hope those misery genes will not get passed on to our son.

Guilt Trip

My mother wrote to me today. She has had a bad dream about Robert. He was walking the street, barefoot and crying, and she thought he badly needed a bath and some attention. Her email took me again on a trip I very often travel, the road of feeling guilty. This particular penchant of mine, finding fault in whatever I do and examining my very life made me stick around for nine years with Robert’s father. Now I am torturing myself with the guilt over my son’s state of health when it is completely outside my control.

Yesterday I took another trip to the GP. Robert is still suffering from a runny nose, and his eyes keep getting infected whenever I stop the antibiotic drops. Dr. J. thought that my concerns were valid and wanted to see him again. This time he sat quietly through the test, perhaps he became accustomed to the proddings from doctors, or maybe he is just comfortable with Dr. J.  Even the people at the pharmacy know me now. The woman who burst into tears at the checkout just because her son had a bout of vomiting. The cashier asked me how long I have been in South Africa, I must have looked terribly lost and out of place that day. The adventure at the doctor and the medicines cost me over R500, which is of course a small price to pay for my son’s wellbeing, but still, I am feeling the pinch now that our Medical Savings Account has been depleted.

Now I am an expert at treating the ailment of children. I know that a babies hate eye drops, but the can occasionally be taught to accept their fleeting discomfort; nose spray, in contrast, is a waste of time and no amount of cajoling can make a toddler accept it even near his nose. My futile attempts landed the spray on his cheek and eyelids but never near his nose. I know that every anti biotic requires a pro-biotic, because the medicine kills all types of bacteria indiscriminately, another medicine has to keep the good bacteria alive. Each medicine of course has special techniques of administering : The pro-biotic drops are surreptitiously added to a spoonful of food, while the antibiotic dose has to be given quickly and decisively with the right amount of encouragement before, and overabundant fanfare and hand-clapping after.  All of this of course is exhausting to this poor mother’s nerves.

Still I question whether I am giving my son enough time, perhaps my worries and stress are robbing him of precious bonding time. Maybe I shout too much at him when he plays with washing machine door, destroys his board books, or breaks unbreakable plates. My mother’s email did not help this self doubting side of my personality. I badly need someone to tell me that I am doing my best under the circumstances.

Enough Already

Every so often there comes a time when it feels that things are falling apart and I run out of resources to deal with my problems, yesterday was one of those days.

A few weeks ago I found out that Robert’s daycare will be closed for a full month over the holidays; namely from December 16th to January 16th. During the same time Lucy will be away in the Eastern Cape, and Robert’s dad may not be available either because he wants to travel to Canada. This throws a spanner in the works for me, because apart from paying a month’s fees for the daycare and getting only half a month, I will have to resort to the holiday after-care and pay additional fees for that. I thought I pre-empted the situation by reporting to my planning department early and working out a suggested schedule. I described my predicament in detail and got the usual bland response : “we will let you know”. I wasn’t surprised when I did not hear any feedback from the planners but I was in total shock when I showed up on Thrusday and saw that according to the December roster I was allocated a completely random schedule with a mixture of early and late shifts and with working days on Christmas and Boxing Days. I cannot describe my feeling of anger when I saw that, but the actual slap on the face came when I read the agent briefing online stating that they delayed the schedule in order to give 20 agents vacation over the holidays. I read in disbelief that they actually gave 20 agents vacation over the holiday, and why not me too ? and why the heck did they give me afternoon shifts again when I specifically requested morning shifts? Somebody obviously cares a lot about me and my situation in the ivory management tower. The management team member I spoke with about my problem showed up on the floor and when I asked him what happened there, he just shrugged his shoulders and informed me that he referred my problem to his superior S. and they were still going to speak to me.. This is supposed to make me feel real important, happy and relieved.

Thursday was the day when I made my first really stupid mistake at work, it has been a long way coming. This comes closely after a written warning I received for a safety relevant mistake with the loading of radioactive dangerous goods, so things do not look good for this load control agent. I left the office quickly because I could not stand the place for another minute.

The Global productivity manager or whatever his name is in this company called me on my way home and set up a meeting for Friday after the end of my shift to discuss my situation.

Yesterday was the greatest day of my life. I am awarding management the best accolades for caring and for helping me. I think they just wanted to make a point. Not only did I have the pleasure of Global productivity but also Global team leading on my case. They both started what can be best described as a sermon. Lambasting me because I was not showing flexibility and of asking for stuff that is not practicable. When I tried to point out to them that I have problems and I have no idea how I could make them fit in the scheme of their rules and policies they said everyone had choices. When I said that they did not even come back to me with feedback and just hit me with a computer generated roster, they said they were sorry but they had to get the roster out. When I said that they awarded 20 agents vacation over the holidays why didn’t they consider me? They said my initial request was not for a vacation. Yes, they do understand my problem but company policies and contractual obligations etc. Mr. Global Productivity chirped in by saying that they always helped me before but I did not show any appreciation (was I perhaps being punished in December for my lack of appreciation since April?) I have no idea. What followed was complete breakdown from my side, because I felt I was talking to a wall, while they continued to dance round and around rules and regulations : I can swap shifts with other agents, I can swap three shifts within my roster, I can try perhaps and ask for vacation ( a pathetic two days) and perhaps a few comp days -compensation days for public holidays worked (of which I have a few but I cannot waste since I still owe the company so many working days). Mr productivity did not want even to promise me the possibility of working consistent morning shifts, because they have no ideas what the scheduling will be like. How can they expect 100% flexibility from someone who has so limited options, I have no idea. In all the bosses wanted me to know that I am only one of 170 people, and every one of them has personal problems.
The bosses did not agree with me when I pointed out that the privilege of sitting in their managerial positions entails dealing with lesser employees problems and addressing them; they figured that all they need to do is address the needs of the corporation. I am sorry they have got it wrong. Productivity is not a one way issue from the side of the corporation, it is the people who have to be productive. Productivity requires putting the correct person in the correct place at the correct time. Making the employee happy is also key to productivity, yet this is something that these people in their ivory towers haven’t figured out yet. We have an extremely high staff turnover, and of course it is always the brightest, the most intelligent and those with the highest self esteem are the first to leave. Those who stay are normally the less bright, those with low self esteem, and those who like me cannot afford to leave.

The meeting took almost an hour and I know in my heart that they only wanted to make a point. Lest I forget that they are helping me out and “bending” the rules to do so. The chose the wrong person to exercise their sense of authority, and in the process they made me lose some of my dignity, and I resent them for that. Just before I left I asked them about the new shifts they were planning for part time employees, I was just grasping at straws and looking for any solution. They presented me with a leaflet that had just been made public today. I stuffed it in my bag and rushed to catch a taxi to the daycare to pick up my son.
My resentment towards management grew when I glanced at the leaflet on the way home, to discover that it contained no less than 20 different part-time working options. Couldn’t these people realize that at least one of them would work for me? If they cared enough perhaps, but my guess is that they just did not think about my situation, it is my problem after all. Well, at least productivity is going a step in the right direction by offering people options and modules according to their preference. I am surprised it hadn’t dawned on them before that 170 people would certainly have different requirements and by giving each person a schedule that suits their requirements they end up with efficient planning and real productivity. Not a randomly spat out computer roster. I just wish they produced this wonder somewhere at the beginning of the meeting, it would have helped me keep my composure.

Yesterday’s trials have taken their tolls on me and I succumbed to the flu. Robert is still suffering with it; I had to give him two suppositories for fever last night. He still has no appetite and routinely spits out my food offerings. I am starting to get really fed up with this whole thing, the worry, the mess and the constant nightly vigil. If my boy doesn’t get better over the weekend we will have another trip to the doctor on Monday.

More Childhood Illnesses

After our visit to the pediatrician last week I thought we had the worst behind us. Robert’s appetite was returning ever so slowly and his nasty molar has finally cut through, but things took a turn again to the worse.

Robert went to day care on Thursday and Friday and his father took him on Saturday. The routine now, and because my ex husband doesn’t want to be bothered too early is as follows: When I work on Saturdays Lucy comes at five thirty in the morning to sit with Robert until his father shows up. On the Sundays she also shows up at the crack of dawn, but stays with Robert the whole day while I am at work. It is another temporary solution until I figure out a better way to deal with the 8-hour shifts I work on some weekends. I am starting to think that I should tell management that I just cannot and do not want to work weekends, end of story. I wish I had the courage to that sooner rather than later, my style however is too try anything, no matter how inconvenient it is.

On Saturday my ex complained that Robert’s nose was running “like all the kids in the playschool”, and on Sunday I noticed that his eye was gummy with puss. Before she left Lucy advised me to put some of his wee on the eye(the remedy of course is familiar). The weather on Sunday was beautiful and Britt had invited us over for a braai, but I felt guilty taking a sick child to other children. Britt solved the issue by telling me that both her children have runny noses,  the rest was easy since I was keen on the visit.

There was a small group for supper: Trish, whom I met before at the Aquarium; her daughter Gabriella is now six months, and later two other male friends. Robert and I enjoyed our time as best as we could under the circumstances of runny nose and itchy eyes. Robert in fact surprised me by eating some vegetables and meat. He is still on a fasting routine and only likes fruit yoghurt.

When Robert woke up on Monday morning his left eye was swollen and glued shut. I took him to yet another GP whom Britt recommended. This doctor was good and obviously familiar with younger children, she mentioned that she had two small ones. So another bill for the doctor and another trip to the pharmacy, this time for eye drops and nasal spray. The doctor advised me to keep Robert away from daycare until his symptoms calm down, especially the eye infection.

Two days later and Robert’s nose is still running like a tap. Yesterday I took him out to the shops in the howling wind, which was almost strong enough to carry a grown person off his feet. Today the miserable weather continued with streaming rain and gale-force wind. The mere thought of carrying my child to the taxi under the rain and then to daycare gave me a shudder; I simply wasn’t that desperate to show up at work today. My valid excuse is my son’s sickness, but I am hoping that by tomorrow he will be well enough to spend half a day at creche.

The Pediatrician Speaks

We met Robert’s dad in town, and he gave us a lift to Cape Town Medi-Clinic where my son was born. I was determined to make the effort of seeing a proper pediatrician this time, because it seems like too many GPs and medical interns have tried their hands at treating my boy recently.

Robert did not throw up again yesterday, but he still had no appetite and gagged on almost everything I tried to feed him, he even snubbed his favorite foods such as yogurt and baked beans. He did not even accept his milk bottle and reverted to nursing three times a day. Of course my attempts at weaning him were abandoned two weeks ago already, when he had the ear infection.

I forgot how pleasant the practice of Dr. I was. The waiting room looks like a comfortable living room with many oversize teddy bears and toys thrown around. There are also toddler size chairs and a REAL telephone for the kids to play with. During the examination Dr. I produced a toy stethoscope which kept little one busy as his doctor listened to his chest.

The doctor pronounced Robert well, and free from ear infection. The anti biotic was unnecessary, he said, and he expected his appetite to return gradually to normal. Unfortunately, Robert’s prolonged fasting made him loose at least 200g of his weight. He is now under average in weight, while he remains above average in height.

The measurements for today:

Weight : 10 kg (less than 75% of children his age)

Length: 80 cm (more than 75% of children his age)

Circumference of Head: 46 cm.

Dr. I also made notes about Robert’s general development. Stranger anxiety was the norm for toddlers his age, but it made examining him difficult. A toddler only becomes more tolerant of doctors’ poking after two-and-a-half years of age. Robert’s ability to point, indicated his attempts at communicating and along with his vocabulary (half a dozen words or so) meant that he is an intelligent child, of course I knew this one already.

Good news all around it seems.  The biggest event in the world today is the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. This gave many people something to smile about. I am in the happy crowd today.

Lawyers, Telkom, Ex-husbands and Hospitals.

I feel drained and very upset today. My eyes are red and itchy from crying and my head feels like I am suffering from a hangover, but it is just the pent up frustration and depression.

My depression started yesterday afternoon, as I was desperately trying to finish a translation assignment before the deadline. Robbie was hanging around me, crying, cranky, clingy and unhappy. I should have known that something was wrong with him when his teacher at the day care said that he slept during his five hours there. Later he became warmer and I gave him a suppository; but it didn’t do much. His appetite hasn’t been good since he had the ear infection last week, but today he didn’t want to eat anything, and when I managed to get something into his stomach he threw it all up after a few minutes. This is the second time this happens in the last 24 hours. The first time he threw up on Sunday afternoon while we were out for a walk; the mess was phenomenal but he didn’t seem worse for wear, and was quite chirpy while we had a bath so I discounted it as an isolated event and took him to the daycare Monday morning.

As if work and a sick baby was not enough to keep me busy I also had a Telkom technician install my phone line yesterday. The phone proved useless when I wanted to phone Robert’s pediatrician and I had to use my cell phone. The pediatrician advised me to give Robert only liquids tonight and see how he is tomorrow. He told me to bring him into hospital if I was still worried. I was trying to control my feeling of worry, but once my job was safely sent I started to feel guilty and decided that perhaps Robert needed more medical attention. His temperature was still high, he was unhappy, and had a dazed look in his eyes. I had to call my ex-husband to take me of course, and although he agreed readily enough it was again one of those days when I wished I had an alternative.

Robert’s dad moved out of our area, and now lives closer to Cape Town center, so traveling must be an issue for him. By the time he arrived I was getting exasperated and felt my nerves fraying. Robert’s condition probably did not justify my intense reaction but my feeling of helplessness towards his sickness did. When we arrived at the hospital I fumbled with filling forms, and was unable even to remember my own cell number. I felt completely inadequate and emotionally out of control; I did not cry but I dithered and blabbered endlessly. I must have felt sorry for myself and my situation as a single mom. My ex-husband brought up the name of a woman a couple of times; how she helped him move and stored some of his furniture at her place. In contrast I felt alone and helpless, having to rely on him again if I wanted to provide my child with proper medical attention.
I watched the rapport between him and Robert and how my little one preferred him to me as a playmate, even in his sick condition. It brought a lump in my throat to see them together and I wished my ex-husband really had in his heart the love he was outwardly projecting onto his son. I also wished I was in a position to provide my boy with a substitute father.

Between myself, Robert’s dad and a kindly nurse we gave Robert a sponge bath and his temperature was brought down. A terrifyingly young-looking doctor examined him and diagnosed an ear infection. He did not give any medication for the stomach ailment and only prescribed an antibiotic. Obviously Robert’s earlier ear infection was not cured. My conscience bothered me about this one; perhaps I should have given him the whole bottle of anti-biotic, but for god’s sake it was a huge amount that would have lasted 14 days. The GP initially prescribed five days and when I feared that he was developing a cough I continued with it for three more days, what is wrong with that?

On the way home my ex and I spoke and again the name of the woman was dropped and I felt really miserable. I always suspected the existence of a woman, but now she has a name, and I am sure she cares about him (or whom she thinks he is) a great deal. Life is so unfair ! A single man like him gets the help and devotion of some willing woman, while I struggle with my child without any help. Even my supposed friend has decided to shut me out of her life because of a dispute over money.

Yesterday was also supposed to be a good day because I finally received the revenue from the sale of the house in the Eastern Cape. My lawyer’s behavior, however, left a bad taste in my mouth.  He charged me a fee for supervising the sale of the house in Gonubie, and took a dent out of what I figured would be my net sale revenue.  When the house was sold some lawyer in East London (who was contacted presumably by the real estate agent) started the process of transfer. When my lawyer found out he wanted to be in on the process because the order of divorce stated that he was the one who was supposed to do the transfer (and collect the fee from the buyer). From my perspective, I did not give a bent farthing which lawyer did the transfer as long as I did not get to pay anything, and that was what I told my lawyer. His response was : He had to be involved to look after my interest and make sure that I get paid my money, and no I needn’t pay for the transfer.  I did not pay for the transfer, but the dear lawyers decided to share the cake : The purchaser pays the lawyer in East London ( as it is normally the case) the lawyer in Cape Town crooks his client for a fee and everyone is happy : both lawyers get a cut (when normally only one would), and the ex husband gets his money in full (because the lawyer did not act on his behalf duh), and the poor client gets to pay for the pleasure of everyone. Crooks or what? The bill for my lawyer’s “supervision of the transfer” read like a bloody essay and there is not a single thing on there that I couldn’t have done myself for free. The only thing that I might have missed is the commission that they charged me for the occupational rent, but that was about R 1200. So in effect the lawyer charged me four thousand Rands to save me twelve hundred. I was quite unhappy with this and wrote to the lawyer who gave me a discount (returned to me 15% of the fee he unfairly charged me). I accepted the discount because I learned that when one is in a losing position, anything is better than nothing. The business relationship however between me and this lawyer is over. I am going to make some other crook’s day for estate planning (a fancy legal word for writing a will, maybe to justify the horrific fee).

Today things started crumbling further for me when I discovered that what Telkom technicians installed for me was an analog line, and I had to wait another 30 days to upgrade it to DSL. Again, I spent hours on the phone trying to get some sense out of anyone. Mostly perhaps WHY did they install me a normal line when I specifically order a DSL line? I tried to explain to the machine-like people on the other side that I would now be waiting for 2 months to get my internet connection, which was the main reason why I wanted the phone in the first place. Their bland voices just said that they do understand, but in the end Telkom does what Telkom wants and never mind the wishes of the customer. I have had every possible unpleasantness from Tekom, yet they are somehow regarded as above reproach. None of their consultants is ever willing to give you information on how to submit a complaint.

I was still reeling in shock with all these developments, but my baby looked fine and I decided to go to the bank and collect my replacement credit card. I am slowly starting to replace the contents of the wallet I lost over two weeks ago. So I am here standing at the queue, and I it was almost my turn when Robert decided that it is time for another episode of projectile vomiting. This time I was mentally and physically unprepared and I just abandoned the queue and ran out of the bank. At the next block there is the pharmacy where I usually buy our prescriptions, I stopped there to get some tissue and wipe my son up and bought a pack of re-hydration fluid. At the checkout I just broke down and started crying in front of the cashier, who was trying to tell me that things will be alright, but at that point all I could think of was : Enough Already !!! I am done.

At home I was in for another episode of dealing with a sickly child. Cleaning him up, trying to make him eat, trying to get him to drink and wiping up the resulting mess, from his face, from the floor and the carpet. Tomorrow I am taking him to his regular pediatrician which means another call to a reluctant father and another unpleasant day, but let us just get over this one first.