How children make traitors of us all

A few weeks ago the younger child brought home another piece of classroom Art, consisting of an unpainted Pringles tin, which was glued to a piece of paper, which was glued to a cornflakes box.

“It’s a robot,” she told me, dumping it on the dining room table, where it sat for a few days and was dutifully admired by her father and me. Several times, loudly, as her artist’s ego demanded.

Then, after a week, I thought it was time to move it on to the Big Art Gallery in the Sky. Also known as, the recycle bin. Final exhibition space of several other pieces, including Yellow Felt Pen Squiggle, Glue and Glitter Dump, and Messy Collage of Nothing Recognisable.

Anyway, the plan was to move the sculpture from the dining room table to the kitchen dresser for a few days, and then, when it was safely out of mind, chuck it. Once it’s in the recycling it’s perfectly safe because the day is yet to come when Roxanne throws anything in the bin instead of hiding it under the ottoman or behind the TV cabinet.

Or so I thought.

One otherwise peaceful afternoon in the kitchen, while I stood at the sink mainlining coffee, I turned around to find my little Duchamp pointing into the recycle bin.

“What,” she demanded, tiny bottom lip aquiver, “is that doing there?”

Her opus. Crammed headfirst, between a clutch of empty toilet rolls and an ice cream carton.

I thought quickly. My options were:

1. Admit that I threw it away on purpose, and explain gently that it was really just a fine motor control exercise at school and is of no artistic merit whatsoever.

2. Lie and say that I threw it away by mistake. Because it’s hard to tell the difference between it and the pile of cardboard rubbish from whence it sprang.

3. Blame her father.

“Oh no,” I said, hauling the crushed thing out and putting it the right way up (I think). “What on earth is that doing in there? Darling, Daddy must have made a terrible mistake. He didn’t know it was your robot! He would never have thrown it away on purpose.”

Her father suffered some verbal abuse in absentia but by the time he came home she’d forgotten about it. And before I even had a chance to feel guilty about heaping blame on an innocent head, it was my turn.

You forgot to give us towels,” the children informed me, after an afternoon at the local pool.

This surprised me, because I wasn’t even in the house when the swimming bag was packed.

“We all had to share one towel and Daddy said it was because you forgot ours.”

“Really?” I said, shooting my husband a look. “How unbelievably silly of me. I must try to do better next time.”

So we’re even.

For now.



Get your toes out of my soup

Sometime last month I read something by someone about how having a baby was not going to change her life. Do I sound a bit vague? Sorry. I read a lot of crap online and some of it is very interesting but I struggle to remember the details for longer than ten seconds. By the time I’m a third of the way through an article, I’ve forgotten the whole thing. Let me try again.

At some point in the last few weeks I read an opinion piece about how having children should not spell the end of parental ambition and achievement. The writer of the piece was (obviously) as yet unblessed in the infant department, and I found her naïveté touching. It took me right back to those sweet days of my own innocence, when I thought that having daughters would be more like Little Women and less like volunteering in a chimp sanctuary. I know all parents have been there. We all once believed that our children would fit into our lives with only a few small adjustments. Never mind all the evidence to the contrary, our children wouldn’t dictate our routines, would eat what we gave them, would never roll up and down the floor in the passport control queue at O.R. Tambo airport and scream, ‘Help help I’m being kidnapped,’ every time we tried to pick them up. For example.

Parenthood was a shock for me, and I went into it quite well prepared, I thought, having raised several kittens to happy, healthy adulthood. ‘How much harder can it be?’ I asked a friend, who just narrowed her eyes at me and bided her time. She didn’t have long to wait. My God. I won’t go into details, because all parents have been there too – that Other Place. The Place of New Babies. The place where you go out with your clothes inside out and often back to front, and are just very pleased that you managed to get out of the house at all. And doubly pleased that you’re also dressed. Yes, we’ve all been there and I, for one, was very happy to leave. The babies grow a bit, sleep a bit more, scream a bit less. And after a while it all starts to feel normal again. You feel normal. But you’re not, and you probably never will be again.

I realised this the night I heard my husband say to someone, in a perfectly reasonable voice, ‘Get your toes out of my soup, please.’

‘What the hell?’ I thought, and went to investigate.

He had the baby on his lap while he ate dinner – alone, because I was busy wandering around the house with my clothes on backwards – and the baby was making every effort to get her small feet into his bowl of corn chowder.

I really felt for my husband, then. I haven’t known him all of his life but I can pretty much guarantee that he has never had to say anything quite that insane before. But in this parallel universe we call Parenting, we’re always saying mad stuff like that. And it only gets worse as the children get older.

So here, for your entertainment and in descending order, are the top ten most bizarre things I’ve found myself saying, since becoming a mother.

10. ‘Actually, I don’t think these Hello Kitty panties do belong to Daddy. I think they belong to you, and you should pick them up off the floor.’

The smaller child is fond of shifting blame wherever she can, and the only thing keeping me from branding her an outright liar is that she convinces herself completely. I voiced some disbelief only the other day, when she tearfully claimed that another little girl, who looked just like her, tricked me into handing over all her sweets. She was devastated: at the perfidy of her doppelgänger; at the suspicious mind of her mother; at the sight of her own empty little hands. It was tragic.

9. ‘I’m not surprised she doesn’t want to be your friend. I wouldn’t want to be your friend either, if you stuck your finger in my eye. Twice.’

The small one again, showcasing her amazing people skills. Every time she enters a playground, I feel I should go up to the other parents and apologise in advance because there surely will be An Incident. Because someone looked at her funny, someone ignored her, someone had the audacity to try and get on the 6 metre long jungle gym while she was on it. She’s wonderful with animals though, so I suppose that’s something.

8. ‘Are you seriously telling me that you threw every single piece of clothing in your entire wardrobe out of the window into the tree?’

I don’t know why I was asking. I already knew the answer. The answer, my friend, was blowing in the wind.

7. ‘Baby Bloomers is not a real baby. She’s an apple pip. So I’m sorry she fell out of your basket but I am not crawling around looking for her on a pavement, in the rain.’

The girls had apples at a hotel breakfast somewhere, ate the apples and kept the pips … which morphed into pseudobabies faster than you can say, ‘Fuck you and your feminist principles, Mother, but we have an inbuilt need to nurture and if you’re not going to buy us baby dolls, then we’ll damn well nurture fruit.’

Just by the way, this girl stuff is so ingrained, I can’t believe it. Some fool gave my eldest daughter a pack of plastic toy soldiers one Christmas. She had them chatting away happily to one another in sweet little voices in seconds. And in a desperate attempt to play his games sometimes, my husband gave her one of those plastic parachutists, with the parachute and strings. She immediately put it on her head as a bonnet.

Yes. My child will happily toss all her clothes out the window and wear a parachutist on her head.

6. ‘I’m not being unfair. There’s no six year old on the planet who’s allowed to read A Clockwork Orange. So just put it back on my bookshelf, okay?’

Suddenly Jess can read independently, and she is drawn to my bookshelves as a moth to a flame. As happy as it makes me to see my child walk past with The Collected Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins tucked under her arm, some of the other books are a problem. The Exorcist, for one. My husband’s inexplicable Irvine Welsh collection, for another. I even have to be careful what I read when she’s around because she reads over my shoulder. And I have to very careful what I write. Especially on Skype, to her father. Especially in the early evening when my patience is stretched to its limit.

Jesus Christ, I Skyped him only last week. When are you coming home?????

Surely I’ve been punished enough???

Roxy has been screaming at me for at least 40 minutes. And I mean SCREAMING.

Drop everything. Rescue me.

Fuck, now she’s coming back to finish me off.

Why is she doing this? Does she hate me? Is this because I didn’t breastfeed her long enough?

‘B … r … e … a … s …’ came a little voice behind me, carefully sounding out each letter.

5. ‘I know you’re a puppy but the other people in the shop don’t. So you need to get up off the floor. And stop calling me ‘owner’.

Ah yes. The dog days. When the little one truly wanted nothing else in the world but to be canine. A follower of the Lee Strasberg school of acting, she gets so deeply in character that when I tramped on her fingers (because she was on all fours, right under my feet), she yelped and then howled instead of crying.

This immersion in the role has occasionally worked in my favour. Like when I was trying to get both children up a hill in some small Tuscan village, on my own. Halfway up the little one balked. No more, she declared, and she would not budge. So I grabbed a stick, invoked her puppy alter ego and played Fetch all the way up the hill. True story. She, of course, got a tummy bug from being in such close contact with a well-trodden floor and Italian Child Protection Services are probably still trying to track us down. But I’ll take that one as a victory.

4. ‘Daddy can’t see where he’s going if you stick your fingers in his eyes.’

To the child riding on her father’s shoulders, slowly gouging his eyeballs out. Are we the only parents so damaged by our children? And I don’t mean psychologically, although that will come. I mean everyday bumps, bashes and kneecappings. I am constantly being crashed into, whacked by flailing limbs, elbowed, trodden on. I think one of them may have cracked my cheekbone with her head, a few years ago. They don’t mean to hurt. I think. But could it be the unconscious working-out of their anger that Mommy wouldn’t let them jump on the couch, or Daddy wouldn’t read a fourth bedtime story?

Last night the little one climbed into my bed in the early hours, apparently specifically to pee all over me, before going back to her own bed again. Tell me there’s not something in that.

3. ‘What do you mean, you cleaned the bathroom floor with my toothbrush? When?’

The minute I leave the room, everything I own is up for grabs. I’ve found my bras in the downstairs toy box, my jewellery on the teddy bears and my shoes in the garden. The older one wafted past a few weeks ago, reeking of Chanel. When I called her back to explain herself, I found myself face to face with a midget Zsa Zsa Gabor: black-rimmed eyes, blue lids, pink lips.

‘That’s weird,’ I thought, because I don’t own make up.

2. ‘There is no such thing as a man-eating butterfly! Stop screaming, right now!’

The children are ninnies. They shriek whenever they see a moth and a daddy longlegs gets them absolutely hysterical. But of course, given half a chance, they’ll march up to the first slavering rottweiler they see in the park and coo all over it.

Anyway, another problem with Jess reading independently is that I don’t have a chance to put things in context for them. So a while ago they were flipping through an entymology book (to scare themselves silly), saw a photo of a monarch butterfly and Jess read that it’s poisonous. So the next time some poor gentle Swiss butterfly with a tiny spot of orange on it came fluttering by, both children ran upstairs shrieking at the top of their lungs. In the short journey upstairs, poisonous became deadly, and deadly became man-eating. They were not at all interested in my explanation that it was a) only mildly toxic b) if you ate it and c) you were the size of a frog. Unfortunate to mention frogs. That reminded them of the one that we once saw for twenty seconds in the garden, two summers ago. And they were off screaming again.

I’m so looking forward to our upcoming holiday in the wilds of Limpopo, with golden orb spiders out back, stick insects all over the dinner table and geckos in the bath. It’ll be full of challenges for us all.

And … at number one …

1. ‘Well, I hope now you understand why you can’t dance Gangnam Style while you’re on the toilet.’

Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?

Roxy Rules

A while ago a teacher told me that board games are excellent for children’s maths skills.  Players learn all sorts of things like pattern recognition from looking at the dice, addition and subtraction, strategising … all while having fun and beating their parents. This is not a problem for the six year old, who absolutely loves board games. But the little one … I don’t know. The little one just cannot follow rules, even when she wants to. I’ve tried to play a few games with her and they’ve all ended in tears (mine). She’s just completely lawless. She sees no reason to move around the board in one direction, preferring to skid sideways, jump over hedges, climb up snakes and down ladders … whatever it takes to get to the square she wants to be on. And she doesn’t even try to win. Sometimes she just wants to be on a blue square. Sometimes she wants to go over and make friends with someone else’s piece. Often she just wants to knock all the other pieces off the board.
Anyway, she’d recently been given a Ludo board as a gift and she’d been begging me to teach her to play so I thought I’d give it another try, in the name of Maths and all that.
“Listen,” I said, after ten minutes of playing and about seventeen rule violations. “You throw the die and count the number on it and then move this way round, that number of spaces.”
“But I want to be there,” she said, pointing to some random square.
“You don’t decide where you want to be. You move however many spaces the die says you can move. Otherwise it’s not a game, is it? Otherwise we’d all just go straight to where we want to be.”
“Let’s do that.”
“No! That is not Ludo!”
In reply, she told me that Ludo was stupid and knocked all my pieces off the board. Again.
So we landed up playing something called ‘Ludo Marriagement’. All the red pieces married all the yellow pieces and they danced around the board together in whatever direction they liked.
Still no maths involved, though. So onto Plan B. Luring her away from Ludo Marriagement with a handful of cash, I sat her down at the table. She loves coins and she loves singing, so I thought I’d hit on an absolute winner of an idea.
Together, we counted out ten coins.
Me: (singing) “There were ten in the bed and the little one said roll over. Roll over. So they all rolled over and the one fell out (flick one coin away) … how many are left?”
We counted. One, two, three, four … up to nine.
Me: “There were nine in the bed and the little one said roll over …”
We counted again, one to eight. It was all going swimmingly.
Me: “There were eight in the bed … so they all rolled over … and the one fell out … how many coins are left?”
She: “Eight.”
Me: “No. One, two, three … seven, eight … eight? Where did that extra one come from?”
She: “I put it back.”
Me: “No no no, we’re taking away. We have to take it away and not put it back.”
She: “It was lonely.”
Me: “It’s fine. It’s happy over there. Okay … bye bye number eight. How many are left? Seven? There were seven in the bed … they all rolled over … and how many is seven take away one?”
She: “Two.”
Me: “No. Count them. One, two … where are the rest?”
She: “Up my bum.”
A plausible statement, I’m sorry to say, but I wasn’t going to be distracted.
Me: “Okay. Here are five more. Now we’ve got seven. Take one away and … how many do we have?”
She: “Six.”
Me: “Yes! Well done! There were six in the bed and the little one said … so they all rolled over and the one fell out …”
I flicked one away.
She: (with a screech!) “No, not that one! Put it back!”
Me: “Why?”
She: “This one and that one are friends. You can’t take that one away. Her friend will be sad.”
I put the friend coin back and took another one away.
She: “Not that one either!”
It turned out that that one was the baby of those ones. It took me a while to work out the very complicated relationships between the coins but eventually we were ready to carry on.
Me: “Okay, six take away one. Let’s count. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight … where did all those extra ones come from?”
She: “From up my bum.”
She might not be able to count but her sleight of hand would make a pavement hustler proud.
Me: “Here are six coins, take away one coin, what do we have left?”
She: “Mary and Dilla.”
Me: “What?”
She: “That one is Mary and that is one is Dilla.”
Me: “Five. We have five coins. One, two, three, four and? What comes after four?”
She: “Six.”
Me: “No …”
She: “Dilla’s a horse. She counts for two.”
Whatever her teachers are getting paid, it’s not enough.
Anyway, the story ends on a happy note because she’s actually perfectly numerate. I found this out the other day when her sister was sharing out grapes and shortchanged her by a few. Not only did she do that calculation faster than c but she remembered every time in the last month that the same thing happened. So it seems that not only have we taught our child to count … we’ve created an an accountant.

Ski Day is Upon Us

Wow, we’ve had a lot of snow in the last two weeks. Enough that we’ve had to dig the driveway clear every morning, and sometimes again in the afternoon. And, of course, enough for some of the nearby ski slopes to open.
There was much excitement from Husband and the children about this. Since the very first snowflake wafted past our window, I’ve heard nothing but ‘ski, ski, ski’. I’ve been somewhat less excited. My ears are still ringing from last year, when the children complained nonstop about extreme hunger, parching thirst, boredom, boiling to death (in the car), freezing to death (outside of the car) and snow in their boots. In fact, I remember last ski season primarily as one protracted whine, punctuated by increasingly desperate swigs of vin chaud.
But it seemed I was the only one who remembered. Everyone else just kept saying ‘ski, ski, ski’. So, fine. Sunday morning dawned bright and clear. Lots of fresh, fluffy snow, blue skies, no wind. Perfect.
After our pancake breakfast (and a word of wisdom here, to young parents – if you don’t want to be forced at gunpoint to make pancakes every Sunday of your life, don’t even start) we got ready. Husband and I were showered and dressed in twenty minutes.
We met at the top of the stairs.
‘Ready?’ he asked.
I sighed. I cracked my knuckles. I focused my mind. ‘Ready,’ I said.
And so began The Dressing of the Children for a Ski Day – a task that can only be achieved by two adults perfectly aligned in their desperation to get out of the house before the spring thaw.
He: washed their pancakey faces and brushed their teeth.
I: packed a snack bag because God forbid we should be more than ten minutes from home without a selection of yoghurts, fruit bars, juices and assorted nuts.
He: put all our skis, poles, helmets and sleds in the car.
I: dressed the children. Which means I caught and crammed the wriggling three year old into ski pants, ski socks, a warm top and a jersey, while having a heated discussion with the five year old about whether a tutu and princess shoes are appropriate ski wear or not.
He: de-iced the car.
I: packed extra clothes for the three year old because she’s selectively incontinent and I didn’t know where the toilets were at the ski station.
He: snow-shovelled the driveway and salted it.
I: took the three year old for a last wee. This involved our usual ritual of putting her on the toilet and singing, ‘Tinkle tinkle little bum, can you make the weewee come?’ Don’t even mock me. It’s the only thing that works.
He: collected up and counted four jackets, four hats, eight gloves, four jerseys and four scarves, and transported them to the car. Without dropping any on the way.
I: caught and redressed the three year old.
We: escorted the children to the car and buckled them in.
And with that, we were away. A mere hour after we started. The thought of doing this every morning for a week on our December ski holiday makes me want to cry. But we’ve managed to shave more than an hour off last year’s time, which is something, I suppose.
Anyway, off we went, and half an hour later we pulled into the ski station. (I know! How lucky are we?)
He: got the skis from the roof rack and laid out skis, poles, boots, helmets and brand new, tiny little ski goggles.
I: got the children out of car; redressed the three year old.
We: took off the children’s snow boots and maneuvered their impatient little feet into their ski boots; put on their ski jackets, hats, scarves, gloves and brand new ski goggles; put on our own ski boots, jackets, hats, scarves and gloves; gathered up four pairs of skis, two pairs of poles and the rucksack with the all-important snack pack.
And off we went.
We were five steps from the car – I am not kidding, five steps – when the three year old stopped walking.
‘What’s wrong?’
‘I made a wee.’
‘You have got to be fucking joking.’ (This under my breath, but only just). More loudly, ‘Darling, are you sure?’
‘I’m sure.’
After a brief recce inside her ski pants, so was I.
Husband, fifty paces ahead with the five year old, turned around. ‘What now?’
‘She’s made a wee.’
‘You have got to be-‘
‘No. No, I’m not.’
Now what? I asked myself. We had no extra ski pants. Of all the eventualities we foresaw – and planned for! Planned for! – we did not expect her to wee in her only pair of ski pants the second she got out the car.
We explored several possibilities, very quickly and mostly without discussion:
Put her in tracksuit pants to play in the snow? No. She’d have been soaked and freezing in seconds;
Change her and find a warm and dry restaurant to wait in while Husband and older, more continent child go skiing? No. Because it was so early in the season that nothing was open;
Repack all skis, poles, children, boots etcetera back into car and go home? No. Because … ummm … just no.
So we did the only thing we could think of, which was to be grateful the pants were waterproof so at least she’d be warm, and then head off into the snow. And it really turned out well. Junior forgot about her dampness and both children had a great time going up and down the baby slopes with their dad, while I applauded from the bottom. The sky was blue, the sun was shining and all around us were other families, having fun. Like us.
Of course after an hour it all devolved and both children landed up taking their gloves off and then screaming at me about how cold their hands were. And of course the next day someone chewed most of the insulation foam off their brand new ski goggles and spread it all over the lounge floor. But that’s a story for another blog entry …


Ah yes. There has been something of a learning curve in this area and I haven’t reached the top yet. In South Africa, domestic labour is plentiful, affordable and excellent. In Switzerland, it’s none of those things. So I’ve had to do it myself and I am not not good at it. Even back in South Africa, where I had a full-time, live-in domestic worker (oh those joyous days!), I wasn’t much of a housekeeper and the house always looked half-trashed.
Here, it’s killing me. Every morning I pick up my Ikea broom and mop set and I attack the house.
“Back,” I shout as I throw hot, soapy water in its eyes. I hurl things into the rubbish bin, I wrestle heaps of dirty laundry down the stairs and other heaps of clean laundry up again, where I fling it into piles on the spare bed. “Stay there, Goddamn you,” I tell it.
I load and unload the dishwasher about fifty times a day. I pick up toys every ten minutes. I sort piles of papers.
But it’s a thankless fucking task, I can tell you. Because it takes about an hour for it all to go to hell again. Cups and bowls tip themselves over onto the floor I’ve just mopped; the piles of laundry fall over and mingle with one another; the socks run off in different directions. And paper! Paper is a Hydra. Paper is a clutch of kittens that loves me and wants to be with me. Paper is a clutch of Hydra kittens.
We reached a housekeeping low a while back. For various reasons (I was writing a novel), I let my housekeeping slide, culminating one morning in my long suffering husband having to sit at the kitchen table wrapped only in a damp towel, while his underwear, socks and shirt were in the tumble dryer. We’d run out of muesli and milk, and I’d given the children the last of the yoghurt, so I think he was eating tinned ravioli for breakfast. And trying to read a magazine which the children had floated in the sink overnight.
Laundry is probably my greatest challenge. The day the children go to school with matching socks will be a happy one for us all.
“You have a choice,” I told the five year old the other day. “You can either wear a pair of your sister’s socks, which will be too small but they match. Or you can wear socks that fit you but are in two different patterns.”
Unfortunately we’ve raised her to expect more from life. “Why can’t I wear socks that match and that fit me?”
“Well”, I answered, “that’s very selfish of you. Look around at your family. Are any of us wearing clothes that match? No. We’re all wearing whatever is clean and reasonably dry, and we’re okay. Except your poor father who’s in a hell of a state. We all need to do our bit, child. So put on the damn socks and stop behaving like Paris Hilton.”
Back in South Africa I would’ve found all this exasperating but quite amusing. But here, it means failure. Because suddenly the playing fields have changed. Now that I’m a Trailing Spouse, I don’t contribute to the family financially in any way (Yet! Yet! I always say). My husband earns all the money, I do all the cleaning (sort of, see previous), all the shopping, all the cooking.
He’s doing his job well. I’m not.
And gallingly, we couldn’t swap places. There is almost nothing I could do that would support us here, in this expensive place. (I say ‘almost’ because, despite my performance to date, I still believe I might actually be able to finish the novel and sell it for a reasonable amount of money one day).
How this all sits with my feminism, I still don’t know. I like being home for my daughters; it worries me that they think the norm is for the daddy to earn money and the mommy to stay at home cleaning the house.
So maybe it’s okay that they also think it’s quite normal for the daddy to occasionally have to sit around in a towel waiting for his underwear to dry because the mommy was too busy writing her novel to remember to do the laundry.

Of skirts, shweshwe and Swiss style

Crikey, how time flies when you have to do your own laundry. We’ve been here over a year already and among the many things (the tumble drier, my nerves, the bottle opener) that have started showing signs of wear and tear, are my clothes. They weren’t new when we moved here and life with two small children has done them no favours.
So, you say, bag them, donate them and go shopping.
Except … except … these are my South African clothes. Along with tomato sauce and red wine, these clothes are impregnated with meaning.
There’s my black V-necked jersey, worn like a uniform, washed every night and put back on every day while I was so busy raising two small children that I didn’t look in a mirror for months at a time.
And my running shoes, which have been with me for so many kilometres. They’ve been falling apart for a while but now that I’m running on actual forest roads instead of the treadmill, I find the holes in the toes let in too much mud.
And my pale pink tweed coat, which a stranger at a party said made me look like Nicole Kidman. I was carrying about ten kilos of new-baby fat at the time, and I hadn’t slept for two months. Not only can I not toss this wonderful coat out … I actually feel I owe it something.
But the things I’m struggling the most to get rid of are three A-line, floor length skirts. The heavy blue one I bought twelve years ago when I turned 30 and my then-boyfriend-now-husband pointed out that I was a grown up and had to stop wearing jeans to weddings. The light khaki green one has an abstract fabric outline of an impala’s head on the front, and it makes me think of the Kruger Park in winter. The third skirt is made of a satiny magenta patchwork-style fabric, which I thought was very classy until I saw a huge pile of cushions covered in exactly the same fabric at the China Mall in Main Reef Road. No matter. I can’t imagine many people around here would have been at the China Mall recently.
Anyway, the point is, I can’t get rid of these skirts because throwing them away is like throwing away a bit of my South African self. And I haven’t found anything Swiss yet to replace that.
I certainly haven’t seen any clothes as joyful here. The style in this part of Swissland is very understated: well made pieces in neutral colours; nothing either very short or very long; nothing with animal heads painted on the front*. If I want anything unusual I’m going to have to mobilise my import distribution channel (i.e. ask my mother) to send me some shweshwe fabric from the Plaza and then pay someone here to make it up for me. That solution has a nice fusion feel to it. It’s still my South African style but at Swiss prices. Winner!
And my old skirts? Maybe the solution is to turn them into museum pieces. A few years ago my mother gave me two of her evening dresses from the 70s. One is hot purple, skin tight, slit to the thigh and heavy with fake gold embellishments. The other is even tighter with black and white stripes.
I’m never going to wear either of these dresses but I keep them because they remind me that my mother had a life apart from me once, a self I had no idea about. Who on earth was this mother-creature who went out at night and showed off her legs in tight purple dresses? The mother I know thinks wearing open-toed sandals is daring.
And where did she go to, once she was all dressed up? Did she dance? Did she have a drink or two, laugh too loudly, embarrass my father? I’d like to think so.
So maybe I’ll hold onto my skirts and give them to my daughters one day. They can hang them in their wardrobes and wonder what my life was like all those years ago, back before I was ‘Mom’. Back when I was still young and living dangerously** in beautiful, insanely complicated South Africa. Back when I really thought I knew who I was, and who I was going to become.


* Of course I’m talking about chain stores. You can get anything you want at the boutiques in Geneva but I’d feel bad blowing our annual food budget on a skirt.


** I lived in the suburbs of Joburg. Ergo