Welcome to my Great Big Bad Hair Life

Cape Town – When I was at school, there was a girl who had shiny, straight, black hair.

I wanted her hair more than almost anything.

Mine was (and is) an unmanageable mess – a wavy, frizzy, bumpy, boring brown mass of hair. Short or long, it has kinks and cowslicks and crinkles, and a tendency to go to dreadlocks if I neglect to brush it with great fierceness at least twice a day.

Continue reading “Welcome to my Great Big Bad Hair Life”

I’ll pay a wealth tax when…

This is one of a series of columns I wrote for IOL. The original, from September 2011, is here.  This is perhaps even more relevant in 2014.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s call for a wealth tax got a lot of people
hot under the collar, in that great journalistic cliche (how many of
us wear collars anyway?).

What I’d really like is a chance to thrash this out with the bishop.

I am a formerly (and still) advantaged white South African and I pay a
lot of tax… and I mean a lot. I pay for my own health care and my
own security and for a large portion of my son’s education and I fully
expect that that will all keep going up. I don’t begrudge any of this
money – it is the price I pay for our history, and I am glad to pay
it. Other people have paid far higher than this.

Continue reading “I’ll pay a wealth tax when…”

How (and why) to give up swearing

The column below is one of a series I wrote some time ago for IOL Lifestyle. The incident it refers to is long forgotten, but the issue lives on in my life. I now swear considerably less than I did, and here’s how… I pay my son R2 for every swear word I utter. It works, and I feel a better person.

The column, which was first carried here:

There are going to be a lot of asterisks in this column, but bear with me.
Continue reading “How (and why) to give up swearing”

Archives: When is a child spoilt?

This is one of a series of columns I wrote for IOL Lifestyle in 2011. See the original here. When is a child spoilt? There’s much hand-wringing in the British press about a Unicef report
which reckons that UK parents buy their children branded toys rather
than spending time with them.

The report – according to the London Independent – says that British
families are unable to resist the “materialism” of modern childhood.
Many parents told researchers they felt “compelled” to buy things for
their children, even though they knew much of this spending was

The author of the report, Dr Agnes Nairn, is quoted as saying: “Fears
about ‘brand bullying’ are much stronger in the UK. Parents seemed to
feel much more helpless. There was an incredibly strong feeling that
children have to have these things to fit in – otherwise they’ll be
the only ones in their class not to have them.”

Researchers looked in depth at the pressures on parents and children,
and compared the experiences of 24 families in the UK with others in
Sweden and Spain.

Out here in the wilds of Africa, we are not immune. Who hasn’t bought
a Ben 10 T-shirt, or a Barbie nightie? I’ve been a staunch cheap
takkie mom – but finally my son does indeed have a pair of brand-name
running shoes (they were a reward for winning a race at school –
that’s what I’m telling myself, anyway).

Some of the triggers for buying expensive or pointless things for our
children are clear: guilt, pressure, fear of our children being
outsiders. But I’m interested in the whole question: where do we all
draw the lines in what we give to our children?

Beyond the clear duties (love, food, education, respect, safety,
routine, enough sleep), I’ve observed such different ideas about what
is okay.

One kid gets R10 a week pocket money, another of the same age gets R30.

Big ticket items (eg bicycles) are for birthdays – but other children
get them when they need them.

One kid has two skateboards and a J-board. Another has none of these,
even though they are affordable to that family.

My son desperately wants a pair of soccer boots – even though at his
school those kinds of team sports only start next year for him. Some
hard-assed part of me thinks he should wait till he’s actually in a
team; a wiser (and nicer) colleague says buy him a cheap pair now, he
just wants to fit in.

At what point does generosity turn to over-indulgence? What’s a parent
(or an uncle or an aunt or a grandparent) to do? Use our comment form
below to share your tips for sense and sanity in a materialist world.

Archives: The curse of the working parent

This is one of series of columns I wrote for IOL Lifestyle, back in September 2011. That Grade 2 son is now in Grade 5, but the issue remains the same. The original is here.

My Grade 2 son is sick today.

Nothing serious, just a streaming cold and a very,very, very, very,
very, very sore throat (his words) that mean he can’t go to school
today. He was home yesterday too.

For him, it means he gets to hang around the house, playing XBox games
and entering competitons on a kiddies television website (we are
shortly going to have both a Nintendo DS and an iPod delivered to the
door because he has entered 13 times – “13 times, Mommy!!!”).

For his parents, however, this has meant much tense negotation and
juggling of the spaces where the self-employed and the corporate
worlds do and no not have some give in them.

We’ve made a plan, but creeping dread is upon me: my work schedule
tomorrow has no give in it at all, and what if he is still too damp to
go to school? At this point, we have no idea what we will do about
that. Probably I will push down the guilt and worry and agree with my
husband that we should send him to school anyway. And try to silence
that voice in my head that demands to know what I would do if I was a
stay-at-home mom.

Which leads me to think about a column we carried on the Lifestyle
site this last weekend, by the Daily Mail’s Sandra Parsons, who is
amazed that women complain about the problems of having it all. She
reckons we should all just keep our mouths shut and get on with it.

“…Let’s not kid ourselves that women’s lives really are worse now
than they were in the Seventies. It’s simply not true,” she writes.

“We’re no longer dependent on men for a roof over our heads, our
income or our identity. We’re well-educated – and if we want a career
there’s nothing to stop us.

“Equally, if we don’t want a career but would rather be homemakers and
full-time mothers, there’s no reason not to do that, either.”

Of course, she doesn’t mention all the women in the developing world
for whom the choices she takes for granted are but a distant dream.

But for those of us who to have those choices, my question is what
price(s) are we paying? What prices are all the people who support us

I get particularly irritated with women’s magazines who interview
high-flying women with children who always pay tribute to their
support network – and the ins and outs of that support network and who
does what when are never interrogated. Is there a domestic worker
taking a taxi home at night because Mommy had to work late? Is there a
yawning granny in front of the television because of that date night
that is required to keep a marriage alive? Is there a child being sent
to school sick because the support network ran out?

We are never served well by lying to each other about our parenting
issues – so use the comment form below to tell us how childcare and
work really play out for you… and I mean this: tell the truth!