Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Why I still have hope

Today I drove into a neighbourhood very close to where I grew up. The best description for it would probably be “the hood”, but in reality that term would probably be a romantic notion for what this is.
As we drive in, the dust is thick in the air. There are no trees or any other vegetation to stop the soil from overpowering the stale air. Young men sit at the side of the road doing whatever it is that the unemployed do. A young girl runs up the street with a tattered skirt and no top. A toddler not much older than my son swears vehemently at his mother. Life has a certain kind of lifelessness here.
And despite my sadness, despair and hopelessness at what surrounds me in that moment, I am overwhelmed by a deep sense of deep gratitude for not being a part of this tragic scene. I look over at my son, reassured that this level of poverty will not mark his young life, that he will know something better.
All of these realisations are a real watershed moment in my life right now. For so long, I have been sunk in something close to depression. I look at the magnitude of the poverty, crime and inequality in this country and I despair – is there any real hope?
But as we make our way to my aunt’s house to see my grandmother who has just arrived from Cape Town, I see four generations of hope sitting around the table with me. My Ma, who grew up poverty-stricken, worked in a factory for most of her adult life, and who now presides over a brood of 8 children, 30 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren – all healthy, happy, educated and competent.
My dad, who spent his youth fighting seven siblings for a slice of bread, growing up in Q-town, the yester-year version of the Cape Flats. A man who couldn’t complete his schooling and was chucked out of a couple of “respectable Christian establishments” for voicing his opinion on their lack of response to the Apartheid regime. A man who has literally set foot on every continent in the globe, who has met dignitaries and world-influencers, who has made his mark on the world.

Then there’s me. Although I am still shaping my path, I have gone further along the road of education than anyone else in my family. I too have travelled and seen way beyond the world of my humble beginnings in a non-white neighbourhood. I have had the privilege to influence and shape many lives along the way.
And on my lap (protesting vehemently at not being allowed to run riot through the house) is my two-year old son, Cole. At this age, he speaks English almost fluently and is starting to learn Zulu. He is learning to swim and starting to read numbers. He navigates my iPhone with absolute ease and knows how to get the cereal HE wants out of the pantry. Above all, he has all the opportunity in the world lying wide open before him – NO LIMITS!
All of this life, energy and beauty sprang forth from a situation not that far off from the one I saw today. If anything, the start was much worse because of the restrictions of Apartheid. And yet here we stand, testament to the power of a mother’s love, a story of hope in the midst of hardship, the reason why I can still hope.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I am who I am

I’ve had a strange few months of trying to get to grips with who I am (yet again!) Isn’t this supposed to be a done deal by the time you’ve spent all your teenage years grappling with it??? Apparently not. It seems with each new stage of our lives, we have to discover our equilibrium once more – it isn’t a natural progression, but rather something we really have to grapple with.
So with the advent of a new baby, I find myself in the midst of round 3,041 in the boxing ring of life. The fight is with my deadliest opponent – myself. And to be honest, I’m not sure I have a clue about how to deal with this opponent, despite years of practice. She is a chameleon, a shape shifter, a mystery. Just when I think I know her, some new aspect bursts forth and makes me question her all over again.
But I digress… Here’s the point: I’m an A-type personality, always have been and as any true A-type will tell you, that’s just the way it is. I LIKE doing the impossible. I get a kick out of studying two degrees at once. I like juggling a career, a husband and a kid whilst running a project in Soweto. This is just who I am.
But since I’ve become a mom, my desire to do all things has not been greeted with the same enthusiasm it once was. To put it in plain English, I have felt serious pressure to stop being Miss Do-it-all and just focus on being the best mom I can be. The current theme of this pressure goes something like, “Just enjoy your pregnancy.” (That particular statement makes me want to induce food-poisoning in the speaker. Perhaps after a day of constant nausea, they’ll think twice about glibly chucking THAT one out!)
For some reason, I stupidly decided to take on this new challenge and go with the whole “yummy-mummy who does tea in Sandton” routine. I’m still trying. It’s not working.
In the process, I have sustained major collateral damage. In trying to fit into a mould that simply is not accommodating my current pear-shaped figure, I’ve simply lost huge chunks of what makes me me.
So after months of swimming around in this self-imposed limbo state, I’ve finally realised that it’s ok to want to study and work and write and be a mom, and whatever else takes my fancy. It’s ok because it’s what works for me. By shrinking all these aspects of myself down to the one major role of mom, I stopped being the mother that I was made to be and started playing out some shadow version of someone else’s life.
We are not meant to shadow the lives of others. Yes, we can learn from others, take their advice, and even ask for guidance and mentorship. But in all this, we are never meant to become carbon copies, even of our most adored heroes. The reality is that we will never live up to them - for the simple reason that we weren’t meant to be them. And so we will always feel like we’re lost when what’s really happening is that we’ve just got the wrong directions.
I have felt small, insignificant and lost for the past few months. In acknowledging who I am and what I’m meant to do with my life, I’ve felt the blood rushing through my veins and reinvigorating my senses once more. I feel as if I am waking up after a long, drug-induced sleep and it’s beautiful!
Sure, people are questioning my sanity as I start taking on big projects just weeks before my second son is due. But this time, I choose me.