When The Stage Entrance Matters Most

At times having an absentee father is more frustrating than having none at all. I am sure I am not the only single mother who has come to this conclusion. Sometimes, it feels like all I do is damage control from one or other of my ex husband’s well-meant (or not so well-meant) comments, letters, or gifts.

The latest came late last week in the mail. Robert was so excited to get a letter from his dad in a lightly padded envelope. It contained a card with a picture of a reindeer. Inside it his father drew a detailed picture of a Christmas tree complete with presents underneath and an electrical plug for the lights.

The main thrust of the letter, however, was the “present”. A magic shell that his father and stepmother found washed out on the beach. They put in a lot of effort to make it into a necklace that “will protect Robert from hurricanes and bad wizards”. For the magic to work, the father said in his card, Robert has to sleep with the necklace under his pillow before he puts it on. Now it all might have been good with me if the shell hasn’t arrived broken into a dozen little fragments. I immediately bemoaned the cheap father who was unable to put the thing in a proper protective envelope. Admittedly I wrote a very uncharitable email to that effect, saying that next time please a plain card would do very well, since he cannot afford the expense of good packaging required.

In a later conversation with my mom, bless her kind heart, she gave me a different perspective. She said that it was perhaps a good thing that the shell arrived broken to smithereens, and that the good power of the universe was obviously not happy with the hogwash in the card. She thought that it was not good to bring a child up with superstitions and belief in magic. A child should believe in God and guardian angels, rather than black magic and superstitious stuff. I was amazed at her insight and though that it would have been a burden for Robert to carry this meaningless talisman from his father, whether out of love or duty. My mom said that the way she understands my ex, his actions are ruled by his ego, and that he has to be put centre stage, and that was basically the function of the shell, so that Robert would keep it always, a permanent reminder of his father, like a doggie tag.

My mom also laughed off my fears and trepidations at reading the card to Robert. She advised me to play it off as a joke. His father is joking with this story about the shell. Another of her ideas was to tell Robert that the good angels destroyed the shell en-route because they knew it was fake. I was so relieved to hear this simple wisdom.

As for my ex he will always be ill-equipped as a father. In the old days he used to draw inspiration from me on what to send his children, and that was years before I became a mother myself. Now obviously he draws it from his 3rd wife, who has deep insecurities. I have seen my son’s father wearing a necklace that must have come from her, his own tag. I can see how she might have contributed to the necklace idea.

In any event, my son’s father was never good at choosing appropriate presents. Last year the holiday present he sent his son was sparklers, which may have been an illegal airmail item. Some people simply lack the parent mindset, Robert’s father is one of many.

Christmas Day

The holiday is one thing and getting enough sleep is quite another. The situation is not helped when Robert wakes me up every few hours, or when I am second guessing myself even in the subconscious of sleep, about inviting my ex over, and giving him access to my space. As things went though, I shouldn’t have worried.

Robert’s father arrived with his present, a little plastic bike that is so popular with toddlers, and which I suggested as a present for this year. He also brought the large coffee press, since I only have a single cup press.  We had the usual breakfast with some festive stollen. Later Robert got to open his presents, which I had bought from different sources and saved for this day in particular. The biggest hit was a book of nursery rhymes with music.

After breakfast we took Robert for a walk, which he followed by a very short nap.  During all this time and until we returned home, my ex and I talked about general things. No recriminations, minimal talk about troubles, and mostly focused about Robert, I do not mind this sort of interaction at all.  Robert was still asleep when we arrived home, but a  s soon as he woke up, I had to move again to a friend’s place where we were invited for Christmas lunch.  The lunch was a small affair, very much to my liking, and there was only another couple invited. We still managed to get in the party mood,  cracking party favours and wearing paper crowns. The hosts were very generous and included both Robert and me with Christmas presents, whereas I only had a present for their little boy Zach, who is only one month older than Robert. The other guests received funny presents, while Robert got another noisy toy to add to his collection. I will get to enjoy that in the next few months.

Once home we had another visit from Lucy’s daughter and her son Tando. It was the perfect occasion to call Lucy in the Eastern Cape and wish her Merry Christmas. Even Robert got to say something to his nanny for this day,  it didn’t matter if nobody understood what he wanted to say, we just assumed it was a fitting Christmas greeting.

Robert tries to figure out the funny shaped present his father brought him
Robert tries to figure out the funny shaped present his father brought him

Silly Season Stories and Christmas Eve

The glorious South African weather apparently always turns to the worse (cold, wind, rain) for Christmas. Perhaps because heat and humidity are hardly fitting companions for the celebration, or maybe in sympathy with the housewives and kitchen employees who do a tremendous amount of cooking for the occasion, I mean who would even want to think of a roast when it is roasting hot outside.  This held true this year, as Cape Town witnessed gale force winds, unseasonal rain and almost wintry temperatures in the past few days.  The rough seas brought some unexpected consequences for a coastal resort, as people were treated to a white Christmas landscape on the beach, with the ocean foam that settled on the beach. The cool weather which was with us since late Sunday afternoon was an excuse for me to take a break from my daily jaunt to the shops.

Sea Point is becoming crazy in these days. There are tourists, holiday makers, and shoppers and the Main Road is covered with bumper to bumper traffic. These are the days when it is good to be on foot.  Like everyone else I had a busy day today. Robert and I made to the library for story time then off to the bank for some unfinished business. I was grateful that this boring stuff was dispenses with while Robert napped in his buggy. Later I nipped into the post office for some late mail – this is quite a habit with me as you will notice, everything to the last minute.  Actually all the work that I have done today (except for the holiday mail) could have easily waited until after the holidays, but there is nothing like a long weekend to put you in panic. Some of the shops are even open during Christmas day for some time, but still there is a sense of panic to get everything done and bought because some of the businesses close and the shops are not open for twelve hours. Humans are really strange.

As I write this I do not need to buy anything anymore. This year I went overboard, maybe it is to compensate for the long months of hardship, or to prove to myself that there is life after divorce. Perhaps to spite my ex I went out and bought all the things that he did was loathe to waste money on, it is kind of retail therapy I guess.  The last few days were no different, and I was running around for last minute shopping trips even as far as the Waterfront.

I did my last shopping trip to the Waterfront on Friday as Robert was with his father. And on that day I witnessed an unfortunate exchange between a bus driver and an irate would-be passenger, who tried to hail the bus to stop at a traffic circle near the Waterfront shopping complex. The driver did not stop and the irate South African continued running after the bus through the traffic and knocked so hard on the door that he shattered the glass.   Like a horror movie scene the same guy waited with his bloody hand and the next bus stop and screamed at the driver to wait on the side of the road because he had just called the police.  The driver, he claimed had risked injuring him gravely when he drove on as he was holding on to the bus, and his hand got stuck.  I was in the seat next just by the door of the bus, and I remarked that I could not see any of that. The man had irritated me so much with his crazy outburst, but he was adamant that from my vantage point I could not see everything.  The bus driver drove on and did not heed this man, but I can tell that he was shaken by the incident and he took my cell number for reference in case he got further questioning from his boss.  This crazy incident and the total lawlessness of the shopping frenzy at the V&A Waterfront made me vow to avoid it until the end of the holidays. It is a pity because Robert and I could spend a lot of time at the Aquarium, but we will get much more out of it if we wait until the out of town crowd leaves.

My shopping was later restricted to the supermarket in my direct area, and I started planning elaborate but easy menus for a quiet Christmas at home. I bought Stollen, Christmas Pudding, sparkling wine and some cold ham (no roasting for me thanks, I do struggle with simple cooking). But my plans where altered when I received two different invitations for lunch on Christmas Day and on Boxing Day.  Two different moms from my playgroup with Robert, which would be quite nice.

Last Sunday I noticed that the Church on my street ( literally two houses away) is holding a Christmas Carol evening, so I thought I could go there with Robert. We went directly after he went for a walk with his father on the beachfront.  I expected music and a lot of hymns but what I got was somewhat disappointing. The church must have been one of the less famous ones, since the congregation consisted of barely a dozen coloured people.  When I arrived the band was “rehearsing” Silent Night, and there were many miscues and mishaps, and even when they managed to get through a segment without someone dropping out, it just did not sound right.  In the end Robert and I managed to stay for roughly half the prayer evening.  I started out in the last pew but the Pastor asked me to move forward, as it was a relaxed prayer session today. The children, he said, can walk freely and look around, because this is a house. All fine and good but when Robert started chattering in front of the pulpit, I thought it was perhaps getting too much. Although I swear the little one provided some entertainment value for those who could not concentrate on the religious message.  I did not get to hear Silent Night, but managed about half of Joy to the World and one hymn at the beginning.

Personally I like the prayers that offer a universal message of peace, kindness and love, but the intricate issues of Christian faith are rather beyond me. Perhaps I cannot comprehend these ideas because  I was raised in a Monotheist faith.  This is neither the time nor the place to throw my religious convictions (or the lack of them) around so I will desist right here. Next year I will go to a proper Carols by Candlelight, either in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens or in one of the more glamorous Churches in town.

After all these adventures this week, Christmas Eve is finally upon us. Robert’s father took him again today for a walk on the beach front, and this time I spent most of my break from baby at home. I did tidied up and wrapped up all of our presents, I only had one present to go by the time Robert came back.  As Robert drifted off to sleep I decided that perhaps it would be a good idea to invite his father over for breakfast on Christmas Day, he struck a dejected and sad figure as he dropped off Robert. Maybe I am naive but I am hopeful that he we will maintain a cordial relationship that will benefit our son.

Robert’s First Christmas – A Day of Mixed Fortunes

I feel really bad that Robert did not get any presents for his first Christmas, I guess we were too caught up in buying his day to day stuff, and did not have time to buy something specific for him to open on this day. At one point I had elaborate plans to knit him a Christmas hat, or make up a handmade present for him, but somehow these never materialized. I promise that I will work to remedy this situation during the coming year, and make sure he has a full stocking and lots of presents next time. My excuse this year, is that he is too young to know any better.
Mom and Dad got nice presents; mom received something that she always enjoys… chocolate and sweets, while dad got an interesting book. Robert got to play with the wrapping paper, which caused him tremendous excitement and total over-stimulation.

I planned a visit to my work today with Robert. I figured it was a holiday and there won’t be many people about, in there won’t be a lot of work load on the floor, so Robert will not distract people too much, and won’t be overwhelmed with the noise and activity either. I was mistaken.

I carried him up in a quiet elevator to a very quiet building. Only a handful of people were working on the floor, but somehow he did not feel comfortable. He started crying soon after we arrived, with ear-piercing, panicky sobs. I tried to calm him down in the common area, without success. Women from the Israeli sales team came to see what is happening, one of them carried Robert and sang to him in Hebrew, and amazingly he calmed down for a minute or so before starting his tearful cries again.

I tried taking him out to the atrium, big mistake, his cries magnified and echoed and caused even more people to come and investigate. I never thought so many people would be working on Christmas day! Some people looked at me accusingly; others came with helpfully meant but useless advice: Give him his bottle; give him water; he is hot. Finally I retreated to the ladies bathroom. I thought it was a small space he could relate too, rather than the impersonal huge expanse of offices. It did not help much, and the only way was to get the heck out of there. Ron came to the rescue as soon as I phoned, and we deposited a panic-stricken Robert into his car seat. Ron spoke to him softly, but he still had wild eyes. He only calmed down to the rumble of the engine as we drove away from this dreadful place.

I still do not know what set him off, but I imagine it was too much of a change in his routine. When we usually take him out he is in the baby carrier, this time I carried him up, so he was outside the space he is accustomed to. Besides the environment was quiet and a little gloomy, different from the bright and noisy environment of our place or the shopping malls we are used to.

We drove to Sea Point promenade and walked around the Sea Point swimming pool. The day was cloudy with some fresh wind, but the pool was very busy. At this point it looked like our plans for a barbeque will go to naught, it was threatening to rain. Robert was quiet on our walk; it was an environment he is used to. There was even a group of Chinese tourists who fussed over him, the girls said he was cute, and a man took a photo of him in the carrier, and through all that Robert was his regal self, quiet and aloof, and watching the world go by with restrained interest. I had dressed him in his green and red ‘monster’ outfit, to honour the colours of Christmas, but during our walk the weather turned ominous again, and he was underdressed for the cold, so we had to head back.

At home Ron was faced with the problem of lighting the braai. Because of the unclear weather, Ron started the barbeque in a non-ideal location, on our covered balcony.

I might have swayed him into making this decision, which turned out into a near disaster. Poor Ron spent the afternoon battling the smoke which kept blowing into his face and eyes. To make matters worse, the pork ribs we bough were very fatty and turned black on the coals, poor Ron had to scrape them once they were done.

All through that I was entertaining Robert, I held him next to the window for some time to watch his dad preparing a feast that was not going very well. Miraculously, however, things turned out well in the end. Minutes before the meat was cooked, Robert settled for an afternoon nap, and Ron and I had one of our very rare leisurely meals. We enjoyed nibbling on pork ribs, beef short ribs, sausages with sweet potatoes and mashed pumpkin. The meal was accompanied by a wonderful red wine.

It was perhaps the only quiet afternoon we had on our balcony this year. Everyone was enjoying grits somewhere, and no cars on the road. It added so much to our enjoyment of the day. Mom and dad did get a special Christmas after all.