Worse than Useless

My son is starting to receive picture postcards from faraway places. He has two already, not the usual bright happy postcards, these seem to have a melancholic feel to them. The first is a picture of elephants bathing in a river in Thailand, while the other shows the backs of a mother and child kneeling to offer some food to a pair of orange-clad monks, it is from Laos. His father sent them, in his strange all-capitals printing style. They are signed LOVE PAPA & CLAIRE and always have the same silly remark “I hope school is not boring!”.

I first found out that my ex husband was a world-traveler on the one occasion when I needed him to do something for our son. Robert’s passport expired in March and I started applying for his new one in February. It turns out that South Africa requires me to have the father’s signature, even though I have full custody of the boy. I sent him the forms and asked him to sign them at the embassy but I am sure he never did.

I thought I would tackle it differently by applying for a Canadian passport for Robert. Last week I was reassured by one of the young officials at the embassy, so I went ahead and started the paperwork. Today as I showed them the forms for review, another older woman told me, to my dismay, he has to sign at the nearest embassy. So I go and email the father again. He said that the nearest Canadian embassy would be in Phnom Penh, and they won’t get there for some weeks.

I find it ironic that my son and I might ultimately be stuck here in the USA unable to go home, or anywhere else,  just because his worse than useless father is traveling the world. No wonder the cards injure my sensibilities. Not for the first time I cannot help the thought that we would have been better off without having the father in the picture.

Random Musings / Taking the Fun out of Blogging

The past few days have been a mixed bag of happy, scary and thought provoking events. On Friday my friend Britt took us to the Aquarium, and she gave me a year’s membership card as a present, which I thought was pretty generous and thoughtful. It is sad to observe that I got to see precious little in my previous life as a married woman. My social life, which was dismal during my marriage years might be even improving. My ex is probably doing better as he hangs out with the DINK crowd ( Double Income No Kids) but I have my own circle of mom friends, and we can all swoon over the latest antics of our little ones.

Aquarium was great, and I hope to spend more time there in the future with Robert. He was very taken with the colourful displays and the movement of fish and other creatures. Our first visit was somewhat rushed because we had to chase the little firebrand Demi around. We then met up with Trish and her two little girls, the younger one is a fresh rosebud, only a couple of weeks young. As much as I would loved to have another baby, I do find mothering two or more children a very challenging job. It is the ultimate multi-tasking feat, and I am not sure I could survive it. So maybe it is just as well that I am not likely to have another child. As mother of one, I had some time to look around and take in my surrounding, something that both my friends weren’t able to do very well. There is also the added advantage of my single status; I do not need to be home to for my husband at a specific time. Even divorce has some perks, I can say.
Robert and I had a quiet evening at home, we had supper and then a warm bath. I must have looked away for a split second after I finished putting on his pijamas and getting him ready for bed, and in that split second he tumbled from the changing table right in front of me. I caught him just before he hit the floor, but I was still petrified that I hurt him. I must have checked on him a dozen times during the night.

Saturday went uneventfully at work, and I came home to a very happy baby, I am so lucky to have Lucy. My phone camera has decided to quit on me so I cannot put any recent pictures of Rob’s latest antics. He loves to do what I call the “bench press”; he stands holding on to the bench by the door and squats up and down, especially to the beat of the music. I have noticed also that his repertoire of sounds and syllables has increased dramatically. He doesn’t stop now at the bland: ma-ma, ba-ba, da-da, but adds on complex and guttural tones, such as ag and ach. His latest vocalizations are: whooping on his indrawn breath, and smacking his lips. Jackie and I aren’t yet sure whether the latter is a kissing noise or just a random noise he newly discovered. I think he will soon master a form of a Xhosa click as well, yes perhaps I am exaggerating on that one.

Apart from losing the visual component of my posts, a few things happened on the weekend which sort of took the fun out of blogging for me. Firstly while reading my blog roll I was referred to this article (Writing about your daughter’s toilet-training misadventures could net you $40,000 a month and a legion of fans) in the globeandmail.com . The article discusses -and questions- the latest trend of parent blogging, throwing it into a very unfavourable light. The article portrays parent blogging as an exploitation of children and a violation of their privacy. The article quoted some famous parenting blogs, and among them Don Mills Diva, which I read regularly. It was claimed that some of these bloggers are cashing in on their writing and thus exploiting their children for profit, while violating their privacy. The reaction to the article was even more shocking. Some readers commented that parents who blog must get a life, and concentrate on parenting rather than writing about it, others accused parent bloggers of being sick to write about mundane stuff such as toilet training, reflux, and colic. Readers even questioned the sanity of people who such stuff. I know I am not in the league of any of these famous parent bloggers, but I found myself getting indignant on their behalf. I do consider myself normal, and I love reading bloggers’ musings. I also think that some of these dissenters must get themselves a small dose of compassion and humor.
We write about our small children because we are painfully aware of the vulnerability of our memory against the swift passage of time. My baby is growing and changing every day. As his face and personality develop, there are little bits of him that get lost forever. I want to hold all these little bits and preserve them in little snapshots. When I hold my son today, I hold a robust 9 month-old baby, and my helpless newborn is nowhere in sight. Tomorrow, my little baby will make way for a toddler, who will then turn into a young child. My love for my child will grow and change as he grows, and I want to capture its evolution as well. this is – or was- the purpose of this blog. I don’t understand how anyone will find such an activity reprehensible. That said, I am still disturbed by what I read, and I need to question who this blog is written for. Nine months ago it was for Robert, for me, and for the family. Today it is still for Robert, and for me, and I have to keep that in mind. I am free to write what I want about myself, I can relate incidents that make me look like a fool or like a bad mother. Recently I have been writing things that speak of my anger, resentment and hurt. I have to be careful how my child will interpret this writing one day, because I do not want it to colour his judgment. This is the argument for keeping it bland, sticking to safe subject and understatements, but to me this spells dishonesty and censorship, precisely what a blog shouldn’t be.
People like me read blogs and subscribe to them because they help us relate to our mundane and difficult lives. Honest mothers writing about their post partum depressions, their struggle with toilet training and the urge to scream or shake a small baby after a long colic fit help us put our own struggles and failures into perspective. It makes us feel that we are not alone, we are still normal even when we are almost driven off the bend… This could be the little reassurance we need to keep our sanity. When I read a blog I do not want read a sugar-coated version of reality, I want to see what real people think and feel. Real people have real problems, their living rooms aren’t always tidy, they have gray hair and wrinkles, they deal with shy or autistic children; but the bottom line is that they survive, they love their children and find some sort of happiness. Life on parent blogs is not a Disney movie, but it still works, and this is what I want to know.

I had more days of ambivalent feelings towards my ex. He was looking after Robert on Sunday, and around two in the afternoon I got a call from him, where he said there was a problem. I cannot explain the fear and the dread I got when I heard this phrase, so when I found out that someone broke into the car and stole Robbie’s baby bag I felt some relief. Even though the bag contained things that I won’t be able to replace: The jacket I hand knit while I was pregnant, a vest from Mountain Equipment Coop, and a book from Rob’s auntie. There was also an extra change of winter clothes, a sweat-top, a sippy cup, a sun hat and a few toys. Dad did what he could and replaced the essentials (the milk bottle and the sippy cup). Now I have to try and replace the rest. I don’t know how this is possible since I am restricted to walking distances.

My ex apparently also wrote to my family, explaining everything and nothing. Now I am in the unenviable position of being judged and reproved by my own family, as they analyze the mistakes that I must have made in the relationship. I might have made some mistakes, but I wasn’t given the chance to correct them in a professional manner. My ex was never interested in counseling. I am damaged goods now, I believe that marriage is completely overrated and I doubt that I will ever be in another relationship. The only hope I have is to protect my son from this conflict, to let him grow unbridled by my feelings of inadequacy and resentment. I still think that moving away from my ex is the best solution. Maybe then I can have some charitable thoughts about him.

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Precious Gifts

I have a lot to deal with at the moment. The personal difficulties of being a single mother and the emotional difficulties of trying to negotiate some assistance from a reluctant father. The need to ask for help for almost everything, when I always preferred to be the one lending a hand wears me down. At times like this it is important to remember and appreciate the precious gifts I enjoy every day:

* Robert’s first two pearly teeth in a broad grin.

* A taxi assistant giving me back change when I mistakenly overpay.

* My house mate walking down to the shops in the cold to buy Robert new winter track suits.

* A friend reaching out across oceans and time zones with help and concern.

* A kindly word received when needed most from someone I did not expect.

* My parents’ gentle support. The years might have weighed their shoulders, but not their hearts. They still open their arms willingly, ready to embrace us if we need them.

* A woman I do not know smiling and cooing to Robert, then telling me that he is a gift from god, as if she has seen into my heart.

* Knowing that I am blessed, believing that I tried my best, and having no regrets.

* Hope… for a future.

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What Next?

Things progressed rather quickly. My lawyer phoned today to say that he already has the final decree of divorce at his office. This is rather impressive, because usually the paperwork takes at least a week to catch up. The decree with all its finality comes with a whole batch of new bills. The lawyers need to paid and there will be more expenses for the transfer of the joint properties.
Ron has been difficult lately. While we were married he always complained about the quality of our communication. Now we simply don’t talk anymore. Maybe it is better this way, because on the few occasions I raised a pertinent issue with him, we ended up fighting.

It will take time for me to get over the divorce, because if it was up to me I would have stayed. I conditioned myself to live with the many rough and sharp edges of Ron’s character. Women (and few men as well) sometimes learn to live with and love even their abusive partners. I was truly committed to Ron especially after Robert was born. Things however did not work for him and it was his choice that we should leave. I did not see a point in keeping a marriage in name only.  The honest one told me yesterday that perhaps Ron has done me -and Robert- a favor by refusing to stay with us.
Yes, I have lived and loved the man with all his faults. Now I have to move on. In the meantime I need to process the experience and learn from it. I need to know where I went wrong, and whether there was anything I could have done that would have made it a happy marriage. Whether the failure was mine, Ron’s or ours in equal shares; time and the path each of us will take from here will eventually tell.

At this juncture in my life I find that I am not want for choices. There are many options that I can make, but I have to be extremely careful how they will affect Robert. His future is my priority and I have to be absolutely sure that I am making the correct decision on his behalf. I am no longer sure whether South Africa is the correct place to raise him, and I am considering emigration  AGAIN ! I love South Africa, and especially Cape Town. I feel it is truly my home, but I have to think that I am approaching 40, and if I was to emigrate then the time is NOW. Living in Africa taught me to love wilderness and wide spaces, therefore I am not keen on moving to Europe. On the other hand I am not crazy about the long Canadian winters, or the dry heat of Australian summers. So where to next? New Zealand? Namibia? or some of the warmer places in Canada? I am still trying to figure this one out.

I am also pondering the direction this blog will take after my divorce. I do not want to turn it into a mud-slinging contest against my ex. Yes, I do have feelings of resentment against him, and most of the time I do not think much of him at all. However, I will try to avoid getting into too much detail. People who are in the know do not need to be reminded again and again about the gory details, and those who aren’t are better off not knowing. If I ever need to dump my misery and resentment I will write elsewhere, in a private anonymous space. I will try to keep this place clean.

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Major Setback

A month after I moved in with Jackie, I finally got the chance to set up my computer on a corner of her desk in the spare room. After time consuming gymnastics, where we moved the desk around and tried to get the wiring in some semblance of order I was faced with the reality that my computer had turned into an electronic brick. My hard drive has completely crashed and I fear that I lost my whole history of work and life in the past two years. Unfortunately this came at a very critical point of my existence. I am just battling to keep my head over water personally and financially. I am trying hard not to get the resentment against my boy’s father get the better of me, but today I lost the battle and I experienced a complete meltdown. I am ashamed to say that I called Ron to dump my misery on him.

Ron told me that he has his own blog. I am sure he will have plenty of time and space to spin the story of his victimhood online, but I do not have this luxury. I don’t have the time to keep dwelling on his negative personality traits and the ways he ruined my life with his stingy and self-centered approach to life.

In the end I only got myself to blame. The realities of the person stared me in the face for seven years, until I could take it no more. Three years ago I left him and came to Cape Town with nothing but a suitcase and a few crates of books. But even then he still had the power over me. He spun a tale that my heart believed and I could not break free, not completely. My mind wanted to, but my heart couldn’t. To be honest I wanted to believe, I made excuses for him, to explain why he left his first wife and two children. I turned a blind eye when he complained about the few cents of child support he paid them. I pray for forgiveness every day, because I was indirectly party to this. I never told anyone that when I went ahead with marrying him, he was still technically married to his first wife. I briefly met the woman once, and it wasn’t pleasant. She gave him a piece of her mind, calling him a coward, because he was uncomfortable visiting his children. At the time I just brushed the outburst aside as the ramblings of a foul-mouthed, bitter and jealous female. Now I am thinking otherwise.

Financially perhaps, the first wife had a better deal than me. She had the support of her family, she made a home for her children in a first world country and I do not think she needed to work to make ends meet. For me, things are hard at the moment; I rent a room at a friend’s house and my salary from part-time work just pays for babysitting. Ron’s “generous” maintenance does not cover my other expenses. My computer was my livelihood, it earned me some very good money in the past two years. I invested most of it good naturedly in what I thought was my “reborn” marriage. I will get some of it back later. But whatever I invested in the first seven years is water under the bridge, of course. That includes the salaries I earned working at the garage, which went into my husband’s personal account. He says they paid for the house that I will end up getting, but I doubt that this is the way things work in a divorce. A wife who does not financially contribute ANYTHING is still entitled to half a share. But now I came at leaner times, when the stingy man’s wealth has diminished, and he doesn’t have the promise of a cushy expat retirement in his future anymore. I have to bear the consequences. In time things will improve, I will get money out of the divorce settlement and the sale of our assets. Financially, I will never be rich or even comfortable, but my life as a mom is so much richer and more rewarding.

Ron bargained with me long on the settlement of our divorce. Almost everyone I know tells me that I let him off easy, but I have no desire to waste my time, and sue him for every cent he owes me. I can walk away from the bitter feud, and spend my energies on my little one. Robert made me touch my deepest resources of love and commitment, while the demands of raising him exposed the critical flaws in his father’s soul. He simply isn’t father material. My own fortunate childhood has brought me here, I suppose. Because I was unable to understand that some parents have no qualms in putting their needs first. I did not think for one moment that Ron will turn his back on the chance to be a parent for a second time, because I believed that he regretted doing so in his first marriage.
My life has fallen apart completely, but I can still find strength and purpose in my son. Although at the moment I don’t know how this will be possible, I will turn my life around, for my son. I will give him the life and the childhood he deserves.
His dad can go on with his social life, live for the sole purpose of finding his solitary happiness. He was never happy, and I won’t be surprised if he never gets there. He may go on into a new relationship, but he will keep his egocentric priorities. I will teach myself to stop hurting, and stop caring for his fate. The only part of him that I care about resides in the same room with me.

One day I will re-read the early entries of this blog, where I never stopped singing the praises of a transformed and changed Ron, and I will forgive my gullible stupidity. As I write this I question the wisdom of keeping myself open to him and his family through this blog, when as early as January he started to close up on me, confide with close family and hang out with a constellation of “friends” I know nothing about. Then again I tell myself, I have nothing to hide.

I only ever had one face to show to the world, it is my true face, and my true colours. He is the one who keeps trying to play a part, convince himself that he is somebody brilliant, somebody misunderstood, and just a little bit down on his luck. Some other poor soul will take pity on him, as I did, and this person will be blinded into believing that he hasn’t diserved to reap what he had sown. He can go on doing this, indefinetely if he wants. As for me, I will keep my wounds open to the wind. Better for them to heal, and for the bleeding to stop. In fact, it already has.

Final Days

Sadly, my days together with Ron are numbered. Throughout this I am still trying to keep an outward facade to my family overseas who know no better. I do not want to add on to their worry. In the midst of all this, Robert’s long awaited Christmas present from Auntie Celia arrives. Its belated arrival made a sad testament to the changed circumstances. I picked the parcel up at the post office, and the it lay unopened for days. So I finally decided to open it and divided the presents, which were supposed to be shared. Ron got the tea, and I kept the chocolates, while Robert got the whole lot of baby goodies and a book.

During the past week Ron and I steered away from each other. He kept his usual morning routine, and at night he went to sleep soundly while I stayed awake, reading news feeds and blogs and writing my own. Just messing around on the internet to shorten the hours of the night and to keep the fear and desperation at bay. Many of my problems do not have solutions yet. Who will look after Robert while I am away at work? How will I manage work in the long term? what will happen next? I try not to think of everything at once, and deal with one problem at a time.

I had to explain my situation at work, thus making myself a novelty and a freak. People who have been at my work long enough know that I have been close to divorce before, and I can imagine the gossip that is spreading on the floor. I endured the pitying looks and asked for some arrangement to my shifts. The first solution that came to my mind was to work 20 hours of night shift every week. I thought that Robert slept through the night, and Jackie is home almost every night so she can keep an ear if he wakes up at night for some reason. I am still waiting for a response for my request, but if it is not granted I really do not know what else to do. Jackie is careful and paranoid about people who enter her house. It will be difficult for me to employ domestic help if they do not meet with her approval.
All these problems I try to forget while Robert and I are together. We are spending many hours at the park, and enjoying our final days there. Once I move in with Jackie it will be a much longer walk here, and I am not sure whether I can come here every day.

Robert crawls now very easily on the grass, and he can sit in the swing for a very long time.

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Getting Ready for Battle

We are going to do battle soon, over trivial things. I feel the eminent confrontation over what is mine and what is his. I can almost walk away from everything except for my books and my craft tools. The only thing that stops me is knowing deep down that I am entitled to some things.

There is precious little in this flat that belongs to me alone anyway. These are few things that I bought for me, with my own money, when I first came to Cape Town two years ago. Husband is the type that buys the cheapest kettle, and toaster. While I give myself a little treat with a cordless kettle, and a sandwich maker. I am partial to the things I bought, because I chose them with care and paid the correct prices. Strangely enough it is not the appliances that I hang on to, it is more the little gadgets and tools.

Today the argument was as follows: If I do not pay the telkom bill then he will deduct it from my -yet to be seen- maintenance, or maybe from the child’s maintenance. Earlier, when I asked him if he can take us shopping for diapers and baby stuff he answered that he doesn’t need to do that, because he will pay for maintenance, and why should he pay twice. I can sense that we are going to descend to pennies and cents shortly, but what the heck, there is no point being nice anymore.

Bear in mind that I have offered to keep him on my medical aid in return for a contribution and even thought of leaving the modem for the telephone line. He even alluded to the fact that he wants one more ticket at staff prices from my airline employer. I did not say : Hell no, you do not deserve it. I just try to be reasonable, for the sake of momentary peace. In the end, he is helping me look after HIS son while I go to work. In his book he is being nice and doesn’t have to do it.

I look at my poor baby and feel sorry for him. I have chosen a complete jerk to be his father. I hope he will not be afflicted with the same emotional and psychological shortcomings of his sire. Yes, I know I am not perfect, but heavens I consider having my baby a privilege not a burden. Having the baby made me discover that I had love and dedication in me, while it exposed his self-centered tendencies. Of course these suffered with the advent of a new life. When I am confronted with this attitude it is difficult to curb my revulsion. If a person cannot melt with love towards their own child, then they are incapable of feeling this emotion towards anyone. It is rather sad.