Letter to a hipster blogger

Dear hipster girl

I just want to say that you’re full of it, and not for one second do I fall for the portrait of style and perfection you try to pass off as your life. No, sirree bob, I don’t. While I’m prepared to concede that you might be one of those genetically blessed human beings who can produce a hoard of children and still have a washboard stomach, I do not believe the lie that your days on this earth comprise nothing but baking pies with your children, picking home-grown vegetables and strolling through fields of lillies in funky, designer gumboots.

Those adorable little hand-made smocks and miniature moccasins your three-year-old wears on trips to the market to buy organic apricots? Pants on fire, friend – I had a three-year-old not long ago, and I can say with certainty that little girls of that age won’t be seen dead in anything that’s not plastic, pink and heavily adorned in fake diamonds. So, the fact that you can get your young child to look so thoroughly, extraordinarily stylish and amazing tells me that there’s some serious bribery and threatening going on behind the scenes and away from the lens of the professional photographer who obviously follows you around all day, because no amount of freaking instagram filters can make pictures look as good as yours.

You home school all of your children, yet nobody has been murdered and buried in the garden at night? Not only that, but you still find the time to make relish and lounge about of an afternoon on a crocheted, vintage rug? Nobody in your house appears to work, but you keep flitting off on lovely holidays where you’re photographed drinking mint julips out of hand-made frosted glasses while your children amuse themselves with the wooden toys your cool, tattooed child-husband constructed from ice lolly sticks on the way there?

I’d like to point out that one of your children is a teenager. Don’t tell me for one freaking second that she doesn’t sleep in a Justin Bieber t-shirt and thinks the lot of you suck. As for your friends who all look like they stepped off a Fleetwood Mac album and live in airy loft apartments decorated with daisy chains? I go to friends for Sunday lunch, too. We don’t drink granadilla margaritas through fancy, multi-coloured straws (product placement, anyone?), we drink cheap sauvignon blanc, sometimes right out of the bottle before we’ve even gotten out of the car because hair of the dog works and frankly, it’s been a long weekend.

Our children are either naked, in their pjs, or wearing yesterday’s clothes which still bear the relics of a foodstuff one threw at the other, and it’s with great joy and encouragement that we usher them into the TV room with ipads and games so that we can get down to the business of microwaving our lunch and talking about how frazzled we feel. And, of course, drink more wine. My Monday mornings are not spent conducting miniature tea parties and baking sage and butternut tartlets because I have a job which means I work. And my children go to school so that for a few hours of my life I’m not wiping poo off somebody’s bum or explaining why they can’t have sherbet for breakfast.

So, girl in the leather sandals and flowing maxi skirt, I’m not even going to feel bad about this stuff. I know that your children don’t really make you eggs benedict for breakfast and that you’re actually part of some clever marketing campaign designed to make the rest of us want to be like you and buy stuff we don’t need. It’s niche-market consumerism, and I see right through you and your muumuu. You’re a stepford wife in shuttershades, and I have your number.

Your sincerely,
Susan

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Oh, by the way, I’m black. Just thought I’d let everyone know.

So, a few weeks ago I spent a weekend away with someone who told a really interesting – but not that surprising – story. For a reason I can’t remember she was curious to find out more about her genetic heritage, so off she went to Home Affairs (who knew they did this?) and for a nominal fee they took a swab of the inside of her mouth and fed her DNA to a computer. And when the test results came back they confirmed that this pale woman with a slight Afrikaans accent is a relatively direct descendant of the Khoi San.

Now, while biologists proved a long time ago that in South Africa, particularly amongst Afrikaners, there is no such thing as a pure white race (oh, the irony), this finding nonetheless filled me with a quiet joy. If she, in all her natural blondeness, is actually black, there can be no doubt that I’m black too. I’m half Afrikaans, I have little tufts of hair in front of my ears that in certain weather go kroes, and if you look at a picture of my maternal grandfather (and a male cousin) the resemblance to one of the Ndebele chiefs is nothing short of startling.

The reason why this finding made me so terribly happy is because I am desperately tired of having to justify living in Africa and claiming South Africa as my own. Yes, there was breeding with white people along the way and we don’t look dark anymore, but my roots are as African as anybody else’s. My people have been living here for hundreds of years, and a few members of my extended family have never even been overseas. We don’t have another home to flit to if things get rough. This is it, and will remain it, no matter what happens politically.

Of course the paleness of my kind afforded us privileges, and it’s our lot to live with the shame of apartheid and having always to be apologists and carry that guilt. And I wish that stuff had never happened because it really messed a lot of things up, but I won’t apologise for living here or calling myself an African. I have never felt so lost and bereft as when I lived away from this country, and the blue of its sky belongs as much to me as it does to anybody else, whatever their hue happens to be.

Anyway, being a South African is not about the colour of your skin, it’s about roots and belonging and commitment and pride. My blood is in this soil, and my heart beats in its sunsets and rejoices in the empty, open plains of its bushveld. Maybe one day I’ll go and get that genetic test done, just so I can show people like Oprah who claim to be more African than I am. But I don’t need it to prove to myself who I am or where I belong.

Why you cannot shag a guy you’ve just met. Even when you’re forty.

Remember that stuff your gender politics lecturer taught you about men and women? That the only reason we are different is because girls were given dolls to play with and boys were given guns? Well, I’m sure she was coming from a good place and bless her Birkenstocks for it, but fuck me, what a load of bollocks. For 20 years it’s been my job to navigate the tricky terrain of modern relationships and to try and establish what kinds of creatures men and women are and what we want from each other, and I can say with a fair amount of confidence that I’ve learned a thing or two. And the reality aint got nothin’ to do with feminism, dolls or guns.

Here’s a story by way of illustration (and this is just one of many I’ve encountered over the years). I have a guy friend; we’ll call him Michael because he will definitely read this and kill me if I use his real name. Michael is forty, has been divorced for a year and has one child. He is good-looking and owns a successful business. He’s moved on from the angst of divorce and is now ready to meet Somebody. Cue Chantal (not her real name). Chantal is also divorced, also has children and (hallelujah) is also keen on getting involved again. She is gorgeous (as in she’d look great hanging upside down from a stripper pole), has a good income and is ‘tough and kind and intriguing’ (in Michael’s words. I never did meet her to find out for myself. Read on).

Both understand the crapness of divorce; neither wants more children, and when he tells me about her he is more excited than I’ve heard him be about anyone. They have a strategy in place: in order not to affect their kids, friends or family, they will keep their relationship a secret – only seeing each other in private until they know one another better and are confident this will work. Great strategy, you might say – round of applause for these two adults, folks. Except, except – it’s very, very early days and strategies for how to involve children are just an element of what is required here. And in this, people, is where Chantal makes her fatal mistake.

I guess the girl wasn’t reading her Cosmo, or she was taking gender politics lecturer’s advice at face value. But, relationships with men (especially the skittish young ones and the battle-weary divorced) require some planning if they are going to work. You’ve got to see it like going into war. Because (ask Pat Benatar), you are. Relationships are a warzone where you have a 50% chances of getting out unscathed. Be smart, you’ll conquer the enemy. Be stoopid, you’ll get annihilated. So, back to Chantal. In the erroneous belief that they were both adults who had been around the block and the rules didn’t apply anymore, she shagged him immediately. Not once, but repeatedly. She showed up at his house during her lunch break and shagged him some more.

Then they go out on a date on Saturday night and he is (surprise!) distant. Of course he’s distant – this is Male Behaviour 101. Which is not offered as a first year course, but should be. He’s distant because this amount of availability messes with his brain. As much as we would like to believe otherwise, men (even at 40 and 50 and 60) cannot handle when you like them as much as they like you, and the fact that you’ve destroyed the mystery so early on in the game. They need to chase women. It’s hardwired into their genes, and it’s what makes sense to them on a level even they don’t understand. It’s about the fact that he needs to believe you’re a little bit better than him; a little bit hard to get, and a lot worth the effort. Even if you’re so smitten you’d marry him forever tomorrow, for god’s sake, don’t let him know. Come Monday morning Michael ended the relationship. And it could have been a really nice thing if only she’d played her cards right.

So, the moral of the story is this: If you like him and he likes you – as stupid and sexist and retrogressive as this may be – you have to play games. Men. Need. The. Chase. If you want this guy in a long-term kind of way, don’t shag him, don’t whatsapp him ten times a day and (even if it kills you) do not be available every time he dials your number. Because when you instantly offer yourself on a platter his brain short-circuits and he runs away, whimpering. It’s the oldest story in the world – even your gran knew this stuff. If he likes you enough, he’ll come get you. It’s just the way it works.

On stumbling through motherhood and getting stuff wrong – a lot.

The fabulous little people I get to hang out with every day. Sophie, 8 and Elisabeth, 6.
The fabulous little people I get to hang out with every day. Sophie, 8 and Elisabeth, 6.

My first ever outing with a newborn baby was to my husband’s family’s holiday house in Karrebaeksminde, Denmark. Apparently I had an ‘easy’ baby, though nothing about caring for a newborn felt easy to me. She barely slept, was constantly hungry and kept filling little nappies with large, mustard-coloured poo bombs. Yes, she was sweet, but the reality of the job horrified me and filled me with a kind of panic and dread nobody seemed to understand. It could be that I’m missing a gene, or maybe other women lie a lot, but really – what is even a little bit enjoyable about a cycle of endless fatigue, breastfeeding and nappy-changing? As far as I’m concerned, nada. I must definitely be missing a gene.

So, when the family started passing her around and oohing and aahing I was thrilled to have some respite. Yes! I thought. Take her, people of the village! Because this lady is fucking exhausted. But then, through some weird baby instinct, she seemed to figure out that the person rocking her was not the person whose uterus she had rented. She went red in the face and started yelling, and to my horror my sister-in-law (who had three children and was a professional) gave her back to me to make her stop. As if I should know how. And I wanted to say, don’t be mad, why are you giving her to me? Find a real mother! But I didn’t because one can’t. And that is how I feel still on bad days when the job of parenting feels overwhelming beyond the singing of it.

When you are constantly improvising (as one is as a parent because god knows they don’t come with a manual) you’re bound to get stuck sometimes. But what I do wonder about is whether other people find it as challenging as I do. And if they do, why don’t they say so? Who are we trying to fool, and is there a large Louboutin voucher at the end of it all? I don’t think so. Mostly I find it hard (if not impossible) to act one way when I feel another, so if good mothering is about martyrdom and fakery, I lose hands-down. I don’t know how to put on a big, game smile when I’m on the verge of a panic attack in Pick n Pay because the girls won’t stop bickering and I didn’t get enough sleep and my husband is overseas and they still don’t have Hellmann’s mayo.

So, I go down on my haunches and grab each one by the arm and tell them in a Rosemary’s Baby voice that if they don’t stop right now I’m delivering them to the nearest orphanage on the way home. And then as I stand at the till clutching my little blue Smart Shopper card and they’re all subdued, I’m consumed with guilt at my badmotherness and we get in the car and I start apologising and explaining how much I love them but that it’s not always easy, this job, and I’m feeling like I can’t cope so if they could please just go a little easy on me today that would be really great. And they do, and they’re amazing like that. And maybe it’s wrong to be this ‘real’ with your kids; maybe you’re supposed to pretend to always be in control and on top of everything. But then maybe it’s also cool that they know you’re human and that you have limits and that sometimes you also feel sad and scared. I don’t know the answer to this.

I guess the best you can do to gage how well or how crap you’re doing is by how your kids seem to feel about life (because for now you are their life, after all). If, for the most part, they’re happy and self-confident, I guess you can’t be failing completely. Sometimes I watch in astonishment as my girls talk to adults with complete self-assuredness (I would never have dared as a child), and I realize that this is probably because I speak to them that way and value their opinions and try hard never to dictate what they should think or feel. I’m crap at some stuff, but what I am good at is letting them be who they are, even if this means wearing bizarre outfits sometimes and saying things I don’t agree with. And maybe, after all, this is wherein the lesson lies – if we were all allowed to be who we really are – including less-than-perfect mothers who feel safe enough to tell it like it is – we’d be a lot better off.

How married people start sounding like Rainman

rainman pic

This is a conversation recorded verbatim a few hours after it happened. It’s sad. It’s really, really sad.

Me: Where is the pie?
Him: The pie?
Me: The pie. The pie.
Him: In the fridge.
Me: In the fridge? Why is it in the fridge? You don’t put pies in the fridge.
Him: It’s chicken.
Me: You don’t put pies in the fridge. It was warm. It was still warm. It didn’t need the fridge.
Him: It’s chicken.
Me: Now it’s cold.
Him: So, heat it.
Me: You can’t put pies in the microwave, they go soggy. Why did you put it in the fridge?
Him: Just heat it.
Me: THEY GO SOGGY.
Him: Silence.
Me: Pastry goes soggy. Why don’t you know that?
Him: I always put pies in the microwave.
Me: You also put bread in the microwave. Who does that? Bread.
Him: Silence, during which the pie goes into the microwave.
(2 minutes later)
Me: It’s not that soggy. It’s actually not soggy. Do you want some?
Him: Silence.
Me: Do you want some?
Him: Silence.
Me: Tell me now or it’s going back in the fridge.
Him: There’s nothing wrong with putting bread in the microwave.
Me: Right now, I’m serious.
Him: Yes, I want pie.

THE END.

‘I must learn to speak Xhosa’ and other white girl problems

Art, South African-style - bit of an 'eish' moment.
Art, South African-style – bit of an ‘eish’ moment.

Like much of life in South Africa, this artwork is funny and wrong in equal measures – rendered all the wrong-er by the small letter ‘x’, and by virtue of its hanging on the wall of a R50-odd million home in Llandudno where I had dinner a while back. At the same time, it sums up many of our good intentions which get swept by the wayside amidst the Kaapse Vonkel, Jacob Zuma and the maid who never comes back after Christmas.

When I moved back to South Africa, one of my priorities (after finding an affordable house in town with a sea and/or mountain view – ha!) was to learn to speak Xhosa. After living in Sweden for eight years and hating that I didn’t understand what was being said around me, I was determined not to repeat the experience in my own country. Plus, how would I re-integrate into this new South Africa if I didn’t speak the language? How would black and white people ever relate to one another on the same level?

Needless to say, this never happened. What happened instead was that I encountered a quote by god aka JM Coetzee, which said something along the lines of since millions of South Africans speak perfect Xhosa, why would anyone need me and my bad accent? Indeed. I realized I had an exaggerated sense of my own relevance, and that the wheels of poverty and corruption would keep turning whether or not I was able to ask the petrol attendant for R500 unleaded in his own language.

And, un-PC as this may be, I started to understand South African politics in a tribalistic sense. Once, me and my kind were the umkulukulu chiefs. We lorded over this country like arrogant, self-serving colonisers do for as long as we could get away with it. Now, we are the underlings, at the mercy of the people we quashed for centuries. We were defeated by our own greed, and now we need to shut the fuck up and be happy for small mercies.

My learning Xhosa will not change history, erase the past nor give deserving people homes with sea views. But as long as we have Kaapse vonkel and a sense of humour, we should remain sharp-sharp for a ncinci while longer.

(Not that I don’t think this guy is the coolest thing since samp and beans).

5 Reasons why women should be allowed to take a second husband

So, I’ve had this great idea. Admittedly, it’s a bit ‘out there’, but hear me out – by the end of it, you too will be convinced. I think it would cut the divorce rate dramatically if women were allowed to take a second husband. Now, I know a lot of you who already have husbands will think, ohmygod, are you kidding? I don’t even want the one I have. But wait. There are some very good reasons why two men could potentially be better than one, and here are some I can think of right now.

1. Women are exhausting
Oh, come on – we are. Alright, let me speak for myself. I never stop talking. I’m one of those people who feel the need to express every thought that comes into my head. I find my own theories on life fascinating, but would I like to live with me? Hell, no. But imagine if, at any given time, there were two men to listen. They could do it in relays – one in his man-cave recovering, one in the kitchen being attentive and engaged. I’m not even going to go into PMS and that whole changing our minds by the nanosecond thing. It’s just not fair to expect one man to take all of this on. But if they shared their husbandly duties they wouldn’t have to walk around looking so down-trodden and, well, exhausted all the time. Problem solved!

2. Women are poor
I know there are women who are CEOs of things and earn fortunes, but in my personal circle – for reasons in no way related to our brilliance – our earning potential is pretty crap. It’s just the way of the world. And yet (gotta love our optimism) the amount of money we earn in no way corresponds to the amount of money we spend. This is where it makes a lot of sense to introduce another income (a nice, manly one) into the household. More shopping = more joy. Then we wouldn’t have to knock a digit off the price of that completely unnecessary top we just bought or pretend we’ve had it for yeeeeears. It’s the perfect way to end that marital discussion once and for all.

3. Variety is the spice of life
I don’t need to elaborate on this one.

4. They could be friends
Instead of having to watch the news/hear about the share market/pretend to care about the clangy noise his car’s making, he’d have a built-in buddy to share these important aspects of his life with, leaving you free to enjoy endless episodes of The Kardashians/update your status/phone a friend about those cool shoes you saw at Zara. So, rather than tearing his hair out in frustration at your incessant demands, the two of them could go somewhere and drink beer and get it all off their chests.

5. We’d be doubly adored
My need for love and affirmation is like a bottomless pit, while my husband is quite satisfied with the odd shag and me not being excessively unreasonable. Now, this is a problematic discrepancy in our (and I think many) relationships. It’s beyond his comprehension that I require so much, well, input, and I understand that. So, just give me another one to fill in the gaps and everyone will be happy. My husband will have loads of spare time to do things other than adoring me, and I’ll be overjoyed with all that surplus love. If one ou isn’t in the mood for snuggling, you just get the other one. When it comes to Important Anniversaries, your chances of getting a small black box are instantly doubled. And if all one guy wants to do is aim a remote at the TV screen and pretend he doesn’t exist, the other one can take you for sushi and a small boogie on the town. Now, how could this scenario be anything but awesome?