Welcome to My Yammy

You’re a good mother – you give up your job to be a stay-at-home mum; you devote yourself to family life; you nurture them and help them grow; they give you sleepless nights and grey hair; and what’s the thanks you get? At the first chance, they bugger off! First your only daughter takes off for China and then, to add insult to injury, she marries an American and immigrates to the States. Then your only son, your baby, goes to the Cape to study. What does he do when he qualifies? He gets a job in Miami, that’s what. Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted for both of them. I suppose it’s what we always wanted for them, to spread their wings and experience the world. But I’m just not sure that it’s what I wanted for me!

At the end of 2016 Alex qualified as a chartered accountant. Instead of staying on in SA, he decided to apply for jobs in America to get some international experience under his belt. He accepted a job in Miami and is due to start in mid-January. It’s been hard, I will not lie and even as I write this I’m tearing up – not because I don’t want him to go but because, although he left home 7 years ago (4 year degree at Stellies and 3 year articles in Cape Town), I know that this is his real turning point, and it’s mine too.

I had a taste of things to come this Christmas when Alex was unable to make it home because he had to go for his visa interview in Cape Town on the 3rd January. This was the first Christmas since we became parents that we spent it without either one of our children and it was difficult. When I invited Judy to spend Christmas with us I did warn her that I was going to be pretty miserable and pretty miserable I was too. It didn’t help that I had a tummy bug and was unable to consume as much prosecco as I would’ve liked. I think what distressed me the most was that Alex told me he would be spending Christmas on his own. Fortunately he heeded my pleas not to be alone and accepted an invitation to spend the day with a friend and his family.

Christmas morning - I changed for lunch and then got back into my jammies

Christmas morning – I changed for lunch and then got back into my jammies

Although I wouldn’t for second wish that my children (or I) had not gone in the directions that we have, I can’t help but be envious of those families that have remained in close proximity, at least on the same continent (for fuck’s sake).

Okay, if I have to be honest, my children’s adventures have provided me with wonderful opportunities to fulfil my own travel dreams. I always wanted to visit China – and I got the chance to do that when Kiera was working there. I’ve had amazing experiences and fabulous trips to Thailand, America, the Bahamas and the Cape, thanks to Kiera and Alex, so I really can’t complain.

But I really hate that I only get glimpses into their lives now, that I see everything from a distance. I wasn’t there when Kiera and James got married, I missed her graduation, I haven’t spent Alex’s birthday with him since he left home and now Kiera and James have moved into their first house and I’m not there to help. To top it all, this was the first Christmas without either of the children.

I’m envious of people whose lives seem to have run the course of a continuum. More often than not, they have a hometown, old school friends with whom they keep in regular contact and children and / or family who live nearby. They may not be entirely comfortable with who they are and what they do but they’ve got there step by step and the human condition plays out within this continuity. What I covet is the lack of bewilderment at finding themselves where they are at any given time – they are where they are meant to be.

My life, on the other hand, feels so disjointed, like I’ve lived in parcels of time, as one person morphing into another, time and again. I look back and I can’t see the connections. I’ve reached my late 50’s and I still have no clear idea who I am or how I got here. The problem is that I’m always aspiring to be somebody else instead of coming to terms with the reality of who I am and what I do.

I remember telling my daughter, when we still lived in Durban, that when I moved to the farm I was going to start a business  propagating and potting plants in “junk” containers. She asked if I had already started collecting suitable containers or propagating any plants. When I replied that I was waiting until I moved to the country, she expressed doubt about my commitment to the idea. “If that is what you really want to do, you would’ve started on it already” she said. And she was right; I didn’t make any effort to get my potted junk idea off the ground.

I think it has finally sunk in that instead of trying to find myself, I should be trying to accept myself. I’m not lost, I’ve been here all along, but I haven’t given myself enough credit. It was not very fashionable to describe myself as a fulltime mom; I never regarded being a mother as something one could put on one’s resume. However, I now realise that most of my decisions are based first and foremost on the fact that I am a mother and that I need to value that. Spending time with my children is the most important thing I do – my life therefore has to allow for that.

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8 Responses to Welcome to My Yammy

  1. Chris Ammann says:

    Cathy, even though I’m not a Mum and not even a parent I can still relate to the sense of discontinuity, the lack of roots. I will never be totally British, completely Zambian or fully South African – the sense of identity is ellusive. However those who seem to have their shit together seldom actually have and I have sometimes become worried that I may in fact get what I wish for. Part of getting older is begrudgingly accepting yourself for what you are – warts, insecurities and all. Embrace what you’ve achieved and take pride in the balanced successful children you have given the confidence to find an exciting path though the world. (P.S. if you do achieve that acceptance, do let me know how you did it)

    • Cathy says:

      Chris, I will certainly let you know if I ever achieve self acceptance – though it is sorely lacking right now. The sense of identity you refer to in your comment is interesting, particularly for white South Africans of our generation who are the offspring of immigrants. I think I may have to write a post about that one of these days!

  2. Mike says:

    Hi Cathy, I feel for you. We have had many a Xmas minus offspring with them working and living all around the world. This Xmas we were indeed fortunate to have all 3 with us in NZ with 22 family members around the Xmas table. A wonderful day. It seems as if they are going to settle in Brisbane although my daughter wants to teach overseas at an international school and my second son has sorted out an ancesty visa to work in the UK. We have doubts about this! Mark, the eldest has just finished several years in Darwin and is sitting next to me scrolling through photos of Xmas. We kayaked together in the Broadwater today (warm-this is Oz!) and I valued every minute.

    I think we go through life never really knowing what we want who even who we are. The parenting stuff though with kids who seem to want to be with Rosanne and I is really something I feel has been great and perhaps unexpected. I saw too many broken families when I taught.

    I am not sure we ever accept ourselves. Don’t feel alone!

    • Cathy says:

      Hi Mike, it sounds like you had a special Christmas with so many family members making the effort to get together. It’s also great that you get to do fun stuff with your kids, like kayaking. We are very fortunate to have grown up children who enjoy spending time with us and whose company we also enjoy. We must’ve done something right!

      One of the unexpected delights of writing a blog has been to discover, through reading comments made by readers, that I am indeed not alone. So, thanks for all your comments: A problem shared really is a problem halved.

  3. Jane Maasdorp says:

    Love reading your blog, Cathy. Thank you for expressing your feelings and thoughts, even (actually, especially) when you’ve been a bit low. Very inspiring 🙂 On another topic, I have 50 one-litre yoghurt tubs waiting for recycling; could you use them?! Jane xo

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Jane, lovely to hear from you. I use quite a bit of recycled stuff at the school so your yoghurt tubs I’m sure would come in handy, perhaps as containers for planting veg seeds. Please let me know when you are next in the area – a get together is long overdue.

  4. Bill Leazer says:

    Mothers do have it rough. My parents saw to it that I cut the apron strings early on, but certainly not without the same anxieties you have experienced and are experiencing. Back in the 40’s and 50’s there was college, then the Marine Corps, then my Master’s degree and to make things really tough, I went to Europe supposedly for 3 summer months but stayed for 3 years. In those days there wasn’t the communication you have today… Skype for immediacy, e-mail, etc., and travel was not on their agenda to hop over to Vienna. While you are having a difficult time, think back to what it would have been like back in the 40’s and 50’s. If they wanted to call me, it had to be arranged in advance so I would be at the phone, and the call was far from free, let alone the poor connection you had to deal with. Snail mail was exactly that. By comparison, you have it made. You should relax and enjoy life with the connections you are able to maintain, feeling the sense of love that still radiates in your life. Know that your children love you and will love you even more as they experience aging. And I know that you don’t neglect your own mother. You have my empathy.

    • Cathy says:

      You are so right Bill – I was reminiscing with Peter recently about how we went to live in the Zululand bush when I was 21. At the same time my parents moved back to the UK. We were completely incommunicado for months on end and apart from a couple of postcards, I didn’t keep in touch with my parents. It never worried me and they didn’t seem to be too concerned either.

      And I take your point – we have a good relationship with both our children and fantastic communications at our fingertips, for which I am eternally grateful.

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