A love letter to my daughter, on her 1st birthday.

My Khaya,

For many years I swore against becoming a gushing parent. I always hoped and anticipated the day I would be able to love my children fiercely, but promised to keep it in check. I was a non-parent long enough to know that newborns aren’t even cute, no poop is interesting enough to talk about and the world continues spinning whether I get a good sleep or not.  No matter how sweet your burps were, I would keep them to myself.

I was wrong.

Exactly one year ago today I got inducted into the real Illuminati: Motherhood. More powerful and far tougher than any Mafioso, we are a borderless brethren that initiates by squeezing watermelons out of lemon-sized holes. We swear by an unwritten code and stick to one another. We sell the most books, push the most product and hold the majority of the world’s men squarely by the balls. If necessary, not only will we rip them off without hesitation, we will fresh bake them cookies from scratch while doing it.

beach mom1There is nothing I can say to you that hasn’t already been said about what it means to be your Mom. In our language, when we need to articulate the strongest expression of love, we simply speak of a mother’s.  Then it is widely understood we mean the unconditional, all-consuming, head to toe, without judgement, completely intoxicating, makes up songs about poop kind.

But even if I do not have anything particularly original to say, I am saying it anyways. Because I need you to know that it is true.

On this day one year ago, I entered Motherhood as we all do – by giving birth. Like all new Moms, I was terrified.  Birth is said to be one of the most painful experiences in the world. For what it is worth, I reject that. Not only is the pain factor over-rated, but we don’t speak nearly enough about how spiritually awakening it is. So many days go by without being fully alert. We get stuck in routine and normalize a predictable set of emotions.  We yearn for days that call on fresh feelings and make time stand still. No day will ever matter more than the one we became your parents.  Your birth was challenging by all standards and we encountered several risks, but we experienced each moment fully and with pure, unadulterated emotion.  It was magical. Every ethereal moment is permanently etched into my memory. Remind me to tell you about the time I barfed all over your Dad 1 minute before you took your first breath. I’m sure you can’t wait.

lionYou have filled every one of the 365 days since with love and awe.  I have always been blessed to know what it means to love and be loved. Your G-Ma and G-Pa set a remarkable bar that has since been upheld by the rest of our family on both sides, a truly amazing global community of friends and your Dad, whose love humbles me each and every day.  Still, a new kind was born in me through you that is utterly disarming. As Jerry Maguire once said (and successfully made many women cry), you complete me.

kenton4 - CopyAs a general rule, the greatest rewards are the hardest earned. Having babies is one of the exceptions – they are born every day and people have been doing it since the beginning of time. I fight to keep perspective and remember the world continues spinning outside the walls of our little cocoon.  I do my best to stay informed and remain an individual. I try to stay connected and lend an ear to friends who date, but often feel like an alien looking in. I miss more workouts than I hit and my pants fit different than they used to. I certainly miss boozy nights and road trips with my girlfriends and long for international travel with a business suit and one rolling suitcase. But now and forever more, evenings watching you smash spaghetti into your hair while shrieking with delight are the best ones and waking up to your cuddles, no matter what time, brings the most joy.

You are surrounded with love and friendship. You were born into a remarkable community of loving and inspiring people stretched around the world. You have grannies on 3 continents, aunts and uncles on 5 and cousins all over the place. You have traveled to 12 cities in 4 countries already and slept in over 25 homes.  Friends in 2 different countries battled on your behalf to deal with pesky visa issues. We haven’t bought you any clothes or toys, yet you have boxes full.  In case you ever think that is average, it is not. You are remarkably blessed and we will remind you to be grateful regularly.

PE 17 DaddyIf you ever need to know what real love looks like, you can see it every day in your Dad’s eyes. Your father has an extraordinary capacity to love fearlessly; watching it, and him, grow with you is perhaps the greatest privilege in my life. I hope that neither of us ever take for granted how lucky we are to have such a committed Dad who loves you fiercely, is fully present and happy to play in the dirt with you.

You are a remarkable person already and we love you exactly the way you are.  We have encountered difficult times this year and have seen some truly ugly people.  You have made an otherwise dark time a most joyous one and allowed us to keep perspective.  Your laugh is the greatest sound and a gift you give so freely. I hope it always comes so easily, but am already steeling myself for the day that it doesn’t. We want you to dream the biggest dreams and let nothing stand in your way. We promise to give our very best and do everything possible to help you become your very best, whether you want to be a violinist, figure skater or spelling bee champion. I would love to protect you from any and all hurt, but know that isn’t my job. It is my job, however, to provide you with everything you need to be a brave person of integrity, that works hard and stands up for what is right.

cupboard bebeSo Khaya, on your 1st birthday, thank you for choosing me to be your Mom, setting my heart on fire and filling my days with the ridiculous, blubbering, lose your mind kind of love. Cheers to another magical year. I hope I get at least another full one before you decide I am a creep for how I stare at you or sit near you just to smell you. You are so loved.

sick baby

 crib peek

  Cha Cha 2

silly face

my hat

The Shangaanator

rito head

“And if you like fish and grits and all that pimp shit, everybody let me hear you say oh yea yer” – Outkast

Name: Rito Hlungwani
Age: 30
Hometown: Cape Town by way of Giyani
Occupation: Meat Smoker, Quantity Surveyor and Rugby Coach
Hobbies: mpuluto, makwaya and walking his pet dog

The Shanganaator. Something tells me that this blog will be lorded over my head for years to come. You see, a household can only handle one alpha; Rito and I have been battling for position since we met. By writing this, I admit I revere the guy.  He will inevitably take it to mean submission and try to stake new territory. Ah well, I was bound to lose eventually.

rito and mpho

This is normal, right?

Rito carries around a coffee mug that reads “Teamwork – a lot of people doing things my way”.  Recently, he over-estimated his athletic prowess (ie. under-estimated his oldman-ness), dusted off his rugby boots and played in a full tackle beer league game that left him crippled. In less than 80 minutes he both dislocated his shoulder and got a hematoma in his knee.  And his team lost. That evening, instead of going out, we played a sympathy board game in his living room. Neither sling nor crutch could stop him from commandeering the game. No, he shall overcome!  With knee raised and one functional arm, he held tightly to both the deck and his own card. Rather than give up control, he leaned awkwardly and painfully across himself and others every 30-odd seconds until the game was up.  Now that’s commitment.

Rito was my husband’s first love. They lived together for 4 years before I showed up and wrecked home. To ease shock for them both, we brought him along for the first 6 months before releasing him into the big bad world. He was the best man and MC at our wedding, is executor of our will, uncle to our daughter and, by all standards, a “brother from another mother”.

World Cup 2010. Without speaking a word of Spanish, became head Spain cheerleader

World Cup 2010. Without speaking a word of Spanish, became head Spain cheerleader

Rito is smart, determined and upwardly mobile. An engineer by training, he works full-time as a quantity surveyor. On the side, he is an aspiring coach with big ambitions and just custom-made an industrial sized meat smoker as his first entrepreneurial venture. He played professional ruby for a decade and a couple of years ago became the first ever black head coach at the oldest rugby club in South Africa. He is friendly, generous and loves to laugh. At a lanky 6 foot 5 and with a booming voice, he commands more presence than anyone I have ever met. Above all, he is the most principled person I know.

I once got stuck in a car with him on a road trip. He spent it telling me his family history.

Rito Shangaan

Xcibelani – the reason old Shangaan men end up in wheelchairs

A purebred through and through, both his parents and grandparents hail from the Limpopo Province, cradle of the Shangaan people.  Under the apartheid government, black people were forced to live in Bantustans – independent homelands within the borders of South Africa. Each of the 9 ‘official’ black ethnicities was designated a region. When needed by the ‘real’ South Africa, men were allowed to seek work in the mines or cities. The politics of the Bantustans were horrific – puppet leaders propped up by the apartheid government. Additionally, Bantu education, the system that trained blacks instead of educating them, helped ensure progress was slow or non-existent. Despite this, Gazankulu, the Shangaan homeland, prioritized education and managed to establish a sophisticated system.

With my Dad

With my Dad

For fifty years, Rito’s father George was an educator, one of the few professions available to black men. Teaching in a small village outside the thriving metropolis of Giyani, he met his wife-to-be Engy, the daughter of a World War II Prisoner of War. Conscripted to the Native Military Corps and shipped to Europe to provide labour for the white troops, his Infantry Brigade was captured by the Germans and handed over to an Italian POW camp. By the time he returned to Gazankulu years later, all of his children had passed away.  He and his wife started anew and had 4 more kids.

Rito dance(Yes I just told a jaw-dropping story in a casual matter-of-fact paragraph. As did Rito on that road trip, over Naija music and a greasy gas station pie.)

Soon after George and Engy were married, he lost both his parents.  Still in his twenties, he became the primary caretaker for his 5 younger siblings, one of whom was still a toddler. Over the the next 40 years, George fulfilled a promise to his own father to educate his entire family. He became a school Principal, sent Engy to teacher’s college, his 5 siblings and all 4 of his children to Universities.  It took decades and a lot of sacrifices, but from a 2-roomed house in a tiny Limpopo Village, one man had the patience and focus to raise two full generations of engineers, scientists, IT consultants, business executives and entrepreneurs.  Today, including their children’s children, over 30 people live empowered, self-determined, quality lives their grandparents could only dream of.  When his youngest daughter graduated as a phyiscal therapist, he retired and bought a Benz.

F*#k me. That’s a legacy if ever I have heard one.

I dream of having Rito’s vision, righteousness and composure under pressure. As a brand new employee he once told his angry CEO to please leave until he had calmed down. He refused to speak to someone using an angry tone of voice! When he told me his family’s history, the pieces started to come together.

Rito with KhayaI lose patience waiting in line at the grocery store and panic if I miss a flight connection. I get stuck in one moment after another and am uncertain that “the bigger picture” even exists. I get frustrated at both Rito and my husband when they promise “things will come right” and launch into a tirade of evidence to the contrary. Shitty frequently wins over righteous, and justice, if ever it may rule, it sure ain’t here.  But patience and integrity, by their very definitions, are uncompromising. They cannot promise rewards, but they always make us better people.

Next month, Rito becomes a Dad and Khaya gets a cousin. As much as I would like to download these lessons from him in one fell swoop, I do consider myself lucky to be able to absorb them as learned by our next generation.

Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil

Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil