Giving Thanks in 2017

This year marks our 12th Thanksgiving in the USA, but it is our first as citizens in this Home of the Free because of the Brave.

You would think we would somehow feel different, but my annual Holiday Blues have descended upon me like a thick rain-soaked woolen coat; heavy and sodden and cold to the core. This time of year never gets easier for me, being so far away from family, and this melancholic mood lasts well after the New Year has been rung in.
Despite this, I am acutely aware of all that I am blessed with: my two boys, my husband, my far-away family, my fur-baby cats, a full belly, a roof over our heads, employment, new opportunities, a safe place to live, and the joy that is to be found in the everyday. I am learning that it is sometimes in the mundane that we find our true purpose.

This Thanksgiving, I am sending extra special thoughts to those people who are spending this long holiday weekend alone. The ones who have no family or friends to visit with; be it due to work commitments, estrangements, misunderstandings, poor choices, past mistakes, national or international moves, or other circumstances. I am sending extra special thanks to those serving in the military and who are away from their loved ones and traditions. Your sacrifice and service does not go unnoticed. I am also sending wishes for strength to those who are facing this Thanksgiving and holiday season as the first one without a mom, dad, brother, sister or other cherished family member or friend. The empty spot at the dining table or silent phone will be a stark reminder, and my hope is that the empty space within your heart will be filled with peace.

May blessings abound this year, and hearts overflow with gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours.

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Independence Day

This year, 2017, marks our eleventh 4th of July in the USA. It also marks our first Independence Day as American citizens.

We don’t usually go to the various fireworks celebrations planned each year, largely due to my aversion for crowds, but this year we (I) decided to make an effort. Difficulty finding a parking spot initially, along with a potentially long trek to the designated viewing spot, left us irritable and thinking we’d have been better off just staying at home.
But, sitting on that small beach in Marion Massachusetts, watching the truly beautiful fireworks display, with patriotic American tunes being loudly belted out by the local brass band, I couldn’t help but be overcome by a sense of patriotism, and even pride to be part of the celebration of the birth of this nation.
For anyone who knows me and my heart, this is a huge statement.
My heart will always belong to Africa, more specifically to Zimbabwe, where my story began, and to South Africa where my story continued to unfold. My heart will always be filled with the people of Africa, its landscape and its spirit.
As I sat on the beach in the enveloping darkness, I began to think that maybe, after 11 years, my heart has finally started to grow a little bigger. It has maybe made room for a new place to be called home.
Sitting on the cool beach sand, embraced by the cooling night air, I was watching my two true-blue American boys happily splashing in the calm ocean water as the descending darkness chased the dusk.
This is their home, and their carefree laughter is the secret code of their brotherly bond.
As the fireworks began, it was as if the rest of the crowd faded away. It was just me; watching the explosions of light and flashes of color illuminate the inky night sky. The reflections on the still ocean water like a mirror of the rite of passage of this nations struggle of all it overcame to gain Independence.
I was overcome too, by sincere gratitude for the current servicemen and women, and veterans, for making our freedom possible. I had a renewed sense of appreciation for the veterans who may not enjoy this time of year because of the flashbacks to times of combat that the firecrackers and fireworks brings…for you I am especially thankful.

I am grateful to live in a country that allows me to sit on a beach, after dark, amongst a crowd of strangers, and not be fearful of an attack or violation of myself or my family.
This, our first Fourth of July as American-South Africans will be one I remember fondly. It will also hopefully be one that my boys reminisce about as they get older; remembered as the warm summer night that they celebrated the nations birth, blanketed by the gently lapping ocean water and caressed by the beams of the moon, intermittently illuminated by the firework flashes of light, pride and celebration.
Happy Fourth of July, America ūüáļūüáł

Friend

There’s this girl I know. Or woman, rather, seeing as she’s about to knock on the door of 40, who still sometimes feels like a girl who hasn’t quite grown up yet.¬†
You could say she’s my best friend, although I haven’t always treated her the way a true friend should.¬†
 
She has responsibilities which weigh heavily on her shoulders, like an invisible heap of stone and rock excavated from the quarry of duty and honor. 

She has a career, although for her it’s more like an exercise in drudgery. She is responsible for the well being, comfort and safety of strangers on a daily basis.¬†

She has a family, although most days the responsibility of motherhood feels like a load too heavy to carry. She doubts herself and her circumstances. She questions whether her children will make it through their childhood with happy memories or some scars, despite the very best intentions of two devoted parents stumbling along the path of parenthood. 

She has lived on three continents, and carries the experiences of each one deep within her spirit. There are people that she has loved and left in every place she has lived. And in every place that she has lived, a piece of her heart has remained.

She considers herself spiritual, rather than religious. No man-made rituals and rules to confine her spirit. She wants the real¬†thing. The relationship with God through his son, Jesus. ¬†The “legend” that defies all logic, yet is as true as the ground she walks on and the air she breathes. Her broken spirit, low on hope and esteem, holds onto faith. ¬†¬†

¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† “Faith is seeing light with your heart
when all your eyes see¬†is darkness.”

My friend hasn’t set foot in a church for years, but she knows that her God has her in His hands. He has made promises to her that she knows He will not break.¬†
She knows she is not ready for the hypocrisy and loneliness, the rejection and judgement that is stirred up along the path of finding a ‘church home’.¬†

She has conquered fear in her life, doing things she never thought she could. And there are things she has not yet done because of those two ugly looming beasts of Fear and Doubt that track her every move. Their combined grip like shackles on her ankles and heart. They cycle their affirmations in her mind until she believes them in her heart. They weigh each footstep down until she believes she is stuck in a quagmire of hopelessness. 

She has lived her whole life feeling like an outsider. 

A girl, looking in on a circle of friends, waiting for one kind soul to smile, hold out their hand and say ‘join us just as you are’.¬†
A girl, in the midst of a bustling crowd, feeling like it’s the loneliest place on the earth.¬†
A girl, in the midst of that same thrumming crowd, feeling invisible. 

She has lived her whole life trying to please others. Making decisions based on what she thinks will make everyone else happy. 

¬† “Happiness is an inside job.
Don’t assign anyone else that much¬†power
over your life.”
                     
Her mind knows it is impossible to please everyone else and that the ultimate price paid is her heart and her self. 
It is a battle she fights constantly. 
Every single day.
The spirit of a brave warrior pierced daily by the venomed arrows of guilt, shame, fear, despair, doubt and longing. Her flimsy sheer shield is no match for those chiseled razor-sharp darts. They slice through her defenses before she has even been aware of their approach. 

If I could get inside her head, I’d catch hold of every single negative arrow that is hurled from the taut bow of the Dark Archer.¬†
I’d rip each one from its vaulted trajectory through the stifling air of worthlessness.
I would destroy each arrowed shaft with affirmations of her goodness.
I would tell her that she’s gentle, yet strong. That she is kind and compassionate, with a heart for justice and a heart for the underdog. That she is valuable and worthy, loved and beloved.¬†

She has been claimed by the one true King and she is His.
And that, is enough. 

Immigrant Blues

This year marks the eighth year of our big move across an entire continent and the seemingly endless stretch of the inky blue Atlantic Ocean.
This land of Stars and Stripes and patriotic hands over hearts, of soldiers fighting for freedom and veterans fighting for survival, of lost family values and an attitude of the-world-owes-me entitlement has become our new “home”.
It’s been a rough road to travel, this foreign highway pitted with potholes of frustration and uncertainty, of longing and missing and homesickness.
For all intents and purposes though, all looks well from the outside.
We have our own house on an acre of land: a rural balm for the scrapes and scratches left by too much moving and city living.

As I write, I am recharging in the quiet aftermath of the whirlwind created by 2 energetic, boisterous boys that are finally, safely in the arms of slumber.
A welcome cool breeze is ushered in by an open window and I am lulled by the symphony of crickets singing their praises to the velvet night sky. I hear the deep rumbling croak of a frog as he intermittently adds his baritone blessing to the chorus.
We have food to eat. A car to drive. Clothes on our back and in our closets. A collection of gadgets and electronics. ¬†We have stuff. Stuff that ultimately doesn’t mean a thing, except that our move must have been “successful”.

What we don’t have is our support system of family and friends.

Sure, we have started to accumulate and cultivate a small collection of friends. I’m not one for superficial small talk or being the center of attention, so this side of things has taken its time. But I’m ok with that. I’d rather only have a handful of friends as long as they are genuine relationships.

Eight years later and I still feel the loss of our move like a piece of my soul and heart was left on the tarmac of Cape Town International Airport. A piece of me that refuses to surrender to the upheaval of my roots. Roots that remain raw and exposed despite continually changing seasons.
A Spring of hope and expectancy of new beginnings, friendships and experiences.
A Summer of good memories being made and deeper connections.
An Autumn of uncertainty and doubt and circumstances going awry.
A Winter of dashed hopes and crushed dreams and trying to crawl myself back to the self I didn’t know was lost.
These seasons cadence to the rhythm of the earth’s ancient drumbeat, unstoppable by mere wishes and hopes.
A piece of me still waits on that runway between the watchful gaze of Table Mountain and the Helderberg, and watches for my return.

Only there is no going back.

Everything and everyone has changed. New memories have been made and new losses endured. Lives have moved on.
Life has continued its tumultuous flow along the riverbed of dreams and hopes and desires, of struggles and obstacles and fear, determination and perseverance.

An immigrant understands the longing for what was, for the familiar, for the sights and sounds and smells and tastes of the place you once knew as yours.
The place that held your heart as it welcomed your footsteps in the softly sighing earth.
The place that still holds the people that are dearest to you.
An immigrant understands how it feels to miss out on the shared celebrations of life: weddings, births, birthdays and anniversaries because it’s too expensive to fly home and/or too hard to get leave from work.
An immigrant understands the ache of their children not growing up with Nanna’s and Grandpa’s, aunts, uncles and cousins. And before you ask if I miss my family, the answer is YES!!
A resounding, echoing, bellowing YES, that resonates in the hole left in my heart from traumatic goodbyes and not enough “I love you’s” accompanied by hugs so tight that the breath is squeezed from your lungs in an affirming confirmation of acceptance for you being you, just as you are.
An immigrant understands what it feels like to be so far away from home when the tragedies and darkness of life engulf. Sickness and surgeries, injuries, job losses, accidents and deaths.
The serpents of loneliness and helplessness, fear and uncertainty slither through the savannah of peace-of-mind.
The question of if you did the right thing by leaving bears it’s fangs, waiting to strike and the venom of self-doubt disseminates through the saplings of the new life you are trying to create.

Stories of armed robberies, rapes, murders, unrest, brutality, cruelty, corruption and hijackings filter through the gaping sieves of social media and internet news and they stir up the feelings of relief that you no longer have to live that way.
They also stir up feelings of guilt and selfishness.
Guilt that you are out of that environment, but haven’t been able to do anything about removing your loved ones out of it.
Selfishness that you get to live in an environment where you don’t fear for the safety of yourself or your children daily.
The realization that the people you love most are still living under those circumstances mocks you daily and you also realize that they are largely unaware of the enormity of the stress and strain they live under each day because when you are exposed to those types of conditions continually, it becomes the norm. It is only once you are removed from it that you realize how wrong it is that people should have to live that way.
I know, because I lived it. And the scars follow me still.
It’s harder though, to know which scars have cut deeper.
The ones caused by growing up and living in a cauldron of fear and uncertainty, that simmer under the surface of everyday living, but are soothed by the salve of love and acceptance by your family and close friends.
Or is it the most recent scars that have sliced the deepest? The ones that still ache from the missing and loss and longing.

Summer Reflection

Summer is finally here. And, if you live in Massachusetts, you will understand that this is a pretty big deal. Especially this year. Because it has taken it’s sweet time to get here and because it is such a short season.

This year, summer brings us our first experience with the American school vacation system. Ten weeks of time to occupy and entertain two energetic, curious, fun-seeking and rambunctious boys. Two boys who love swimming and who have discovered the beach that is 10 minutes away from our house.

I was blessed to grow up near Cape Town, South Africa, and if you have ever been there, you will understand just how much the smell and sound of the gentle surf gets to the core of your soul. The rush of the rolling waves breaking on the velvety soft sandy shore, the fresh scent of the salted water, the warmth of the golden sun beating on bare skin and the cooling breeze of ocean air blended to make a heady cocktail of stirred-not-shaken serenity.

The kind of cocktail that leaves a hangover of peace and contentment, having cleansed all the frenzied stresses and worries from an overactive what-if mind.

Living near the beach and fulfilling the summer swimming pool fun-in-the-sun requirement brings us to the inevitable swimsuit season.

Aaahh, yes. The swimsuit. Bather. Swimming costume. Bikini. Tankini. Speedo.
Cover-all, cover-up, cover-nothing.
The occasion of flaunting a body that hasn’t seen a ray of sunshine in near on 9 months. And a body that is bearing the abuse of a few too many…okay, a lot…of slabs of Lindt and a few too many bags of potato chips and a criminal lack of exercise.

I am ashamed to admit that the first thought that popped into my head wasn’t about how the weather has finally cheered up, or about how it’s going to be a time to reconnect with family and friends or how we will make new memories and possibly start new traditions.
It was about my body. And about how self conscious I am and embarrassed to be seen in swimming attire.

But how about, instead of allowing that superficial commentary to run on replay in my mind, I stop the negative whisper from becoming an affirmation and from taking any enjoyment out of this season?
How about I take note of the fact that even at my 20 and 25 year old thinnest and slimmest, I still felt self conscious and exposed, vulnerable, because I didn’t think I was thin enough or pretty enough, tanned enough or….a whole host of other enoughs.

How about I remember that this body is the same body that birthed two unique, beautiful, gorgeous baby boys.

The stretch marks (thanks to the final two weeks of carrying baby boy number 2) are still there. Their silvery slivery scars are a testament to life, relentlessly latched on to a less than toned and flat belly.
The beginnings of saddlebags bear witness to a few too many finishings of half eaten boys meals (I can’t bear waste).
The collar bones that are a little less enunciated under the padding of soul soothing ice cream scoops (straight from the tub with your favorite spoon).
And the dreaded prod-inducing love handles that seem to grow bigger each week, as my jeans grow smaller (muffin tops are surely meant to be edible?).

I could focus on all of that.

But this year, maybe I shouldn’t.

It won’t be easy, but maybe it’s time I make a conscious decision to just breathe in and out.
Inhale. Exhale.
And relax.

Enjoy the activity around me and focus on the fun and enjoyment of my boys.
They don’t care about the saggy bits, or the flabby bits or the skin so pale it’s reflective like the moonlight on an arum lily along the riverbanks of misguided perception and comparison.
They don’t care about the stretch marks or the number on the scale or size on the clothing label.

They care about me.

The inside me.

The me that can relax and enjoy their company. The me that makes them feel like my world revolves around them. The me that lights up when they enter the room. The me that knows that there are far more important things in this life than the shape of your body or the style of your hair or the way that you speak. The me that shouts a little less and listens a little more.

The me that knows that there will always be someone who is more. More beautiful, more funny, more successful, more clever, more thin, more curvaceous, more happy, more free, more uninhibited, more….

Maybe it’s time for me to accept that I don’t need to be more.

I need to be me.

Because even though there always is and always will be room for improvement, being me is enough.

Just the way I am.

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Home

Every so often an overwhelming feeling washes over her. It comes out of nowhere, this feeling, surprising her with its intensity. It crashes over her like a wave on a windswept wintry beach, strewn with the debris and driftwood of emotions suppressed amongst the sand and broken shells. Just when she thinks everything is finally on track, she is blindsided by the longing.

She just wants to go home.

Only she doesn’t know where that is anymore.

It was once nestled in a valley with Cross Kopje standing sentinel over its beloved citizens. Like a guardian it watched over them until the thin veil of stability, security and content was rent in two. Torn apart like a tree severed by a lightening bolt in a storm of political upheaval. Lives torn asunder by hidden agendas, fear, civil war and betrayal. Families scattered across the world, the longing for what was following them like a shadow for the rest of their days.

It was once at the foot of the majestic Hottentots Holland mountains flanked by the ever changing blue-grey of the Atlantic Ocean.
An enclave of natural splendor that leaves her breathless at the memory.
The smell and sound of the ocean invading her senses like a tonic of glory and grace, pulsing through her veins with each beat of a silent African drum.
The mountains creating a glorious backdrop as the sun set and the moon rose in its yellowy-white fullness. The ebb and flow of light marking the passage of time.
The reds, browns and oranges of endless vineyards creating a vivid tapestry of Autumn colors.

She has lived in other places, but a permanent address doesn’t make a place home.

A hill overlooking the Thames in the shadow of the grit and grime of London bustle.
The sparse, dull, depressing, brown, flat land of a Fort Worth suburb.
The lush green forests of a Southern college town hidden in the hills of the Blue Ridge mountain range.
And most recently, it is the rural forested, cranberry-bogged small New England community that, at last, at last, has started to feel like the closest thing she has had to a true home for years.

She needs this. This house of her own. This garden of her own. To plan and plant and nurture. This place to really make her own. This place to let her creativity flow after so many years of lying dormant.
The moving is done, for the time being at least. And finally there is a chance to put down some metaphorical roots.

She has her own family now. Two beautifully handsome, intelligent, funny, passionate, rambunctious boys, like blank canvases, they are ready for the artist of life to continue the mural that she has begun.
She, along with their dad, is their home now.

Yet as much as she strives to make a home for her family, her heart is always filled with longing for the people she has left behind. And every so often, the little-girl-lost feeling surfaces.

She is thirty-something now, with forty making it’s slithering crawl through the Forest of Time, inevitably about to catch up with her. But some days all she wants is her¬†mom and dad.
She is grown up, independent, and yet she still sometimes feels like an imposter in this world of adulthood and responsibility.
She is worn down by the weight of duty and sacrifice.
Yet that is what motherhood and being a wife is about for her. A series of choices and circumstances intertwining and interlocking to make an impenetrable path of loyalty, love, honor and integrity.

Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr

A Day In The Life

D: this one is in honor of you, and all you do as a stay-at-home dad.
It’s also for all the other mom’s, dad’s and caregivers trying to juggle home and family, work, school and life.

I know you have had more than your fair share of days where you have been running around after your toddler(s) and kindergartener(s). Literally and figuratively. [Tweens and teens are definitely not excluded, but in our case that will be a topic in a few years time…]

Who would ever have thought that a stretch of 4 hours of uninterrupted, solid sleep would become a luxury that you are willing to bribe your spouse for? A week of laundry duty for some uninterrupted sleep….where do I sign?? Or if you are utterly desperate, a week of cleaning the bathrooms…ugh…okay, where is the pen??

The short, restless night turns into day and the list of to-do’s commences. It will be a flurry of activity. Getting ready for school, making breakfast, brushing teeth, combing hair, packing lunch and backpacks.
Tidying, neatening, cleaning, washing, vacuuming. With the “help” of a 2 year old.
For those of you who have been through that phase of life…you all know how that goes. It’s a staccato of leave-it-alones, don’t-touch-that, put-that-back, get-down-from-there, close-the-drawer / door, step-away-from-the-stove / electrical outlet / cat food etc.

Are you tired yet? I hope not because it’s not even 10 in the morning yet.

And so the day goes on. Grocery shopping is attempted, maybe a visit to the library or park, and finally it’s nap time. An hour, or if you’re really lucky, 2 hours (or if you have just won the nap time jackpot, make that 3 hours) of time to yourself.
Ok, scratch that. It’s time to get the rest of the laundry done; pick up toys, clothing and books; clean the mashed up crackers and spilled juice from the carpet; and do the school / office work that you are already behind on.

So that brings you to mid afternoon when older child gets home and the next whirlwind swirls through the house. It’s another flurry of activity with cooldrinks and snacks and homework and the burning up of pent-up energy from six hours in a classroom.
If you thought it was time for some winding down, you either haven’t ever done this before or you have blacked out the memory in post-traumatic-stress-disorder fashion.
It’s time to tap into the energy-reserve tank and drum up some enthusiasm for playing indoor tag and hide-and-seek, Hot Wheels and Thomas. Because it’s the dead of winter. No backyard diversions and explorations for at least a month because it is w-a-y too cold. We have to patiently [exasperatedly] wait until Spring weaves it’s welcome way into this part of the world.

By now it’s barely 5 o’clock. There are still at least 3 hours to go.

The hours pass. Filled with playing and entertaining; preparing and eating supper. That in itself has become an event of Olympic proportions. Need a top notch crisis negotiator? Just ask a parent who has ever had to convince a child to eat the evening’s fare.

On a good day, only a handful of meltdowns have to be mediated and another handful of sibling squabbles adjudicated. On a bad day…umm, let’s not go there, shall we?
By this time, I assure you, you are mentally and physically T I R E D.
But there is still the bathtime and bedtime routine to get through.

Alright, fast forward through that and finally the little ones are asleep. By now it’s probably nearing 9pm. And at last, there will be time for you to continue your work, watch your favorite TIVO’d TV program and take a moment to catch your breath. Maybe even read a book and sip a Stella Artois.

Except when you wake up, it’s after 11pm.

Dash it all! Dagnabbit!! WT…let’s keep this clean, ok?

You did it again!! You fell asleep while putting the little tykes down. Once again, you lost that noble battle with the sandman. Friend and foe, he’s a wily one, that wielder of dreams and slumber.

So, against your better judgement (or because of pressing work deadlines) you slink out of bed and attempt to do what you’ve been wanting to do all day.
If you are lucky, you will have at least 2 hours of uninterrupted “me” time. Time to work without distraction or unwind with a movie or treat-of-treats a book.
Sadly, the spell is not to last though, especially if your 2 year old does not yet sleep through the night….don’t ask….that’s a subject for another day!
So what is left of the night turns into an audition for a jack-in-the-box show.
Who said household stairs aren’t a form of exercise?

By this time, it’s easier just to give up the attempt at some personal time and go to bed. The list of your personal to-do’s postponed for another day.
And before you know it, it’s time to start all over again.
No need for an alarm clock. This household has two. They are both too cute for their own good and they both have dimples. And they both persist in getting up BEFORE 7am. Seven days a week, 365 days a year.

But you know what? Despite all the {usually} tongue-in-cheek grumblings and occasional frustrated outbursts, I know we probably wouldn’t have it any other way. Because deep down we know this is all temporary. Our boys are growing before our very eyes. Our lives are already different from 2 and 3 and 4 years ago.
The day is coming when an unsettling quietness will make its slow descent around us. We will enter a new season of life. Our daily routine will run a different course.
Our boys will be out of the house, on their own personal quests for a life worth living.
All of today’s moments will become “remember when’s”. We will smile with a nod of the head and shrug of the shoulder and marvel at how fast time has sped by, grateful for the love and affection, patience and acceptance that glues us together as a FAMILY.

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