Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Cost of Kids

Any mother worth her umbilical cord will tell you that having a baby is one of life's most wonderful and fulfilling experiences. To bring another human being into this world and to love them unconditionally for the rest of your life is nature's way of saying "Eve, you did good!" Despite the many life-changing events that follow when exercising one's maternal right, the pros of motherhood always seem to outweigh the cons even though the cons-list is considerably longer. Nausea, stretchmarks, weight gain, a lifetime of worry and concern, not to mention the end of social existence as we know it. It's enough to scare one into sterilisation. Does it take a certain kind of woman to embrace the joys and perils that come with being a mother or are certain sacrifices and penalties to be expected when you're expecting?

My older sister Alli had recently marked the fortieth anniversary of her life and had three beautiful children to show for it. Like most Catholic girls at the tender age of twenty, her first child was an immaculate conception. As glowing as she was, this unexpected arrival had cost her the freedom to experience those reckless self-discovery years that are absolutely vital to one's own personal development. Not wanting to disappoint the patriarchal leaders of our family, she decided to get married and declare baby Mickey a honeymoon blessing that would later be two months premature.

Ten years later, a worn-out Alli welcomed two more additions to our family, a little boy and a little girl. As the years went by, I got to see less and less of my sister who had transformed overnight  into a ball of stress and frustration. Her weeknights were reserved for PTA meetings and extra-curricular school activities while her weekends were spent ironing, cleaning, shopping and tending to sickly children. A day with the girls inevitably turned into a play date at Jimmy's Jungle and everything else had to be planned months in advance. What had happened to my darling sister? Had she sacrificed her own identity for the sake of her children? While I am sure that twenty years of being a mother without a single day off had its rewards, I couldn't help but wonder whether my sister was genuinely happy or in desperate need of some serious "me time"? 

A few weeks ago, I met a fabulous 45 year-old from Zimbabwe. Her name was Carrie and she was a dress-maker, entrepreneur and proud mother of four. Her first pregnancy was an absolute breeze but by the time she had her fourth child, her body had been through some significant changes. She  decided that it was time to have a little nip and tuck, so got on a plane to Cape Town where she met the surgeon of her dreams. His work was flawless. He performed a tummy tuck, some liposuction, a breast reduction, a minor facelift, a couple of fillers and a little bo just to top it all off. R120 000 and eight kilograms later, Carrie was transformed into a brand new woman and she looked great. "As much as I worship the ground my children walk on, the last one really ruined my body for life so I figured it was time to do something about getting my confidence back."    

Kirstin and Rodney were always the life of the party. They were rock stars in every sense and true legends in their own right. Whether they were competing in the nasal Olympics of Colombia or just kicking it back with Johnny, Jose, Jim and Jack, Kirstin and Rodney would always be the last ones standing. I was shocked to hear that Kirstin had managed to fall pregnant and even more shocked to see her maternal side kick in at a recent house party. I watched in utter amazement as Kirstin and Rodney followed their little monkey around everywhere, taking turns to feed him and love him, keep him entertained and more importantly to keep him out of harm's way. And then the unthinkable happened. They left before 7pm.   

Sanity, time, money, identity, lack of social life, sleepless nights and sacrifice, spontaneity, physical and personality lobotomies. These are just a few things to consider when having a child of your own. Don't kid yourself, when that biological clock stops ticking it will change you in every way imaginable. The good news is that it's all apparently worth it. It brings you a different kind of happiness, one that you can only experience when you become a parent yourself. I hear that it happens the moment you hear those tiny little heartbeats beeping back at you from the ultrasound or perhaps it's the first time you get side-kicked by a little ninja-foetus. Whatever the case, the product is always unconditional love combined with an overwhelming sense to protect the mini-you at any cost.  

The cost of child birth: priceless.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Cheaters SA

Somewhere between my first heartbreak and the early noughties, I fell in love with a man named Joey Greco. He was everything you could ask for in a man...straight, sexy, smart but above all, on television. I remember how my eyes would light up every time Bongani Njoli rambunctiously announced the start of his weekly show. His sword was a hand-held camera and his shield, a bunch of burly film crew. I watched in amazement as he gallantly swept in on his moral high horse, publicly humiliating and busting the rat bastard men and women who cheat on their spouses and long-term partners. As scandalous as it may be, it had to be the most satisfying and entertaining reality TV show to anyone suffering from the effects of being in an unfaithful relationship.

Let's face it, long gone are the days where cheating meant skimming the answers off of some unsuspecting brainiac in order to pass a test that we were too lazy to study for. It has a far more sinister meaning when it comes to relationships, one that involves pain, dishonesty, manipulation and exploitation of trust. The game may have changed but the objective is still the same; to achieve a desired goal by some immoral means. And it seems to be a growing trend, one that has become as socially acceptable as Crocs or Justin Bieber with up to 60% of married individuals secretly engaged in extra-martial activities. That doesn't even account for the infidelity that goes on in long-term relationships and same-sex civil partnerships. Is fidelity on the verge of extinction?

It's a question as old as who killed Kennedy, a tragedy that no-one will ever fully comprehend. Why do people cheat when it causes such pain? Are we all sadists or is there some kind of thrill that comes with living a double, sometimes triple life? It's far easier to understand why men do it. They are after all genetically programmed to stick their dicks into anything that gives them the time of day anyway, right? But what about women who cheat? What's their motivation? Can women cheat like men do, for pure physical satisfaction or does there have to be some kind of emotional reason? I couldn't help but wonder...

Miranda and I were catching up over a much needed glass of wine recently when the topic of cheating came up. According to Miranda, the world is made up of two kinds of people: serial cheaters and right wing anti-cheaters. She proceeded to tell me about Nina, a family friend that had recently filed for divorce. Nina had been exposed to infidelity from an early age having witnessed her own mother's affair with a married man that happened to be her father's best friend. The affair eventually led to the subsequent failure of her parents marriage, an event that had left Nina emotionally and psychological shaken for a very long time. To make matters worse, she relived a similar situation a few years later when she came home to find her partner of five years in bed with another woman.

It took ages before Nina could trust anyone again but eventually she did and was now married to the father of her two beautiful children. Her marriage, like any other marriage, was far from perfect but for once she seemed to be in a happy, healthy relationship. It's hard to believe that Nina would one day follow in her mother's footsteps especially after all the psychological damage infidelity had caused her.

There were only a few people that knew the severity of Nina's cheating ways. Rumour has it that she had been cheating on her husband right from the get-go and had recently struck up affair number four with a married co-worker. There were even questions surrounding the paternity of her second child, another surprise her soon-to-be-ex is yet to unravel. She was eventually caught out and had decided it best to end her ten year marriage before matters got worse. Was Nina just another serial cheater destined to cheat over and over again or were there deeper issues from her childhood that had never been dealt with that had fucked up her chances of ever being faithful?

We all have our reasons for cheating on a loved one. Sometimes it's a once-off mistake and sometimes it's an actual habit. Being a one time cheater and multiple cheatee myself, I can personally say that there is no act more cowardly and damaging than cheating on someone that loves you with their entire being. It's a no win situation especially when there are children involved. The guilt, the clap, the karma. It will eventually catch up with you, so unless you are willing to live with that for the rest of your life, it simply isn't worth it.

When it comes to fidelity, has our moral compass gone South?


Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Service Plan

There are a handful of firsts in every girl's life that she will never forget. The first time she gets kissed, the first time she falls in love, the first time she has great sex and the first time she gets behind the wheel. There's no greater sense of freedom than the one that comes with hitting the open road in a brand new car especially if the car in question is officially yours. It's the ultimate accessory, a beacon of  independence and liberation, a gateway to never-ending adventures where speed, loud music and the wind in your hair are all just a key-turn away.

Sadly, the novelty of owning a car can wear off just as quickly as the vehicle's value. Forget what the hunky salesman tells you, no car was built for a lifetime. The cost and energy spent on routine maintenance can be altogether exhausting especially when you don't have a solid warranty plan in place. And even then you're screwed, what with all those limitations that go hand in hand with the manufacturer's manifesto. There's always some kind of catch. I'm sure the late, great Isabel Jones would agree with me when I say that half the warranties these days aren't even worth the paper they're printed on. 

My own frustrations with Carrie the Tata-mobile got me thinking about service plans and warranties and its relation to long-term relationships. The thrill of being in a brand new relationship can be just as exhilarating especially if you've been searching the market for a while. There's no greater feeling than that spark and  chemistry that comes with falling in love, not to mention the new smell and va-va-vroom that goes with the ride. But what happens when a relationship reaches a certain mileage point? What happens when the most crucial parts of a relationship start falling to pieces? Trust, passion, communication. Do long-term relationships need some kind of service plan in order to survive, and if so, where does one begin to find a mechanic skilled enough to take on such an incredible feat?

Nikaela and Giles were just days away from celebrating their three year anniversary. Instead of splashing out on some fabulous weekend away, they had decided to go for couples therapy after a severe break down in their fragile relationship. Right from the very beginning, "Gikaela" had been everybody's favorite couple. They got on well with everyone, had sex for days and their affection for one another was seriously painful to the single eye. One day, Giles had done the unthinkable and cheated on Nikaela. It would have been one thing if it were some unknown slag in a bar but like the story often goes, it was a case of the ex. What's worse is that he had kept this from her for the first ten months of their relationship, a betrayal that Nikaela stupidly chose to live with for the next two years of her life.

Instead of returning this faulty man back to her dealership, Nikaela had decided to forgive him and take matters into her own hands. The anger and resentment had already reached boiling point so Nikaela devised a service plan for their relationship, one that incorporated lots of raw communication under the objective guidance of a couples counsellor. The process was designed to repair the damage that had not been seen to back in 2010. Even though the most rational answer was staring them in the face, neither of them wanted to trade in just yet. Instead, they decided to spend every Friday afternoon in hourly workshops taking apart the pieces of their broken relationship in order to salvage the vehicle of their love.    

You cannot avoid the unexpected breakdowns and electrical malfunctions that come with being in a relationship. As frustrating as it may be, we need to accept that there are certain things in life that don't come with a warranty. Trust is not something you can fix on your own so seeking the help of a professional love mechanic may just be all it takes to get that spark back on track. And then there are times when the damage done is way beyond repair. Either way, you need to be prepared for the worst possible outcome, that a relationship may just be a complete write off.    

When it comes to long-term relationships, do we need to disconnect in order to reconnect?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Bye bipolar

Why is it that whenever we go through a particularly difficult time in our lives someone automatically thinks we're bi-polar and in need of happy pills? In this Prozac nation full of Pfizer babies, it's much easier to cry depression than it is to man up and deal with the problem at hand. Instead we choose to pump ourselves full of mood stabilizers in hopes of curing some kind of chemical imbalance, a hypothesis that was coincidentally discovered during the same time as the pharmaceutical boom of the 1950's. Has our generation really become that quick to buckle or are some of us just better-equipped to deal with the highs and lows of this rollercoaster called life than others?

As I sat in the doctor's room waiting for my diagnosis to come through, I started thinking about commitment and the mental strength it takes to love someone on a permanent basis. A long-term relationship, and a marriage in particular, is the ultimate indication of love, one that was designed to test our emotional fortitude. It comes with a number of extreme contradictions that become even more intense the longer we stay in a particular relationship. Pain, joy, happiness, resentment. Everything is amplified. We love them the one day and we hate them the next. Was love also bi-polar and if so how do we overcome the negative side effects without any form of medication? Do we simply give up and declare the relationship emotionally unstable or do we fight the symptoms before they become critical?

My dearest English friend Anabelle had lived a very full and independent life before she eventually settled down and got married at the age of 40. It was quite an adjustment going from single international tour operator to working super-wife and mother of two. In eight short years Anabelle had learned how to juggle the various roles in her life, a feat that was not easy to accomplish considering the premature cracks in her marriage. She'd conquered rumors of infidelity, insolvency as well as a number of physical complications that could have ended her husbands life sooner than she had hoped for.

Despite all the drama, Anabelle always seemed to remain calm. At first I thought it was because she was British but I had soon discovered that the key to Anabelle's success was not self-medication but a little relationship tool called diplomacy. She had successfully managed to perfect the art of negotiation between any two opposing thoughts, ideas and feelings to the point where all parties involved were able to reach an amicable and mutual decision. "There were many times that I thought of divorcing Reggie and sometimes I find myself resenting him for things that have happened in the past but at the end of the day, if you still love someone and choose to be with them, you'll  find a way of making things work."

Had Anabelle come up with some kind of "relationship prognosis"? Were conciliation and communication the natural endorphins needed to overcome the emotional imbalance in one's relationship?

My own relationship had recently gone through a state of clinical depression and I was just about ready to raise the white flag on love for good. Instead of confronting the problems in our relationship, Aiden and I decided to avoid each completely. This unhealthy approach went on for days until the suppression finally turned into a full-blown shit storm. Things were thrown and harsh words were spoken. I was furious, he was hurt. It all became a little schizophrenic but by the end of the day, we had reached a mutual understanding and respect for one another, and peace had finally been restored to our three year relationship. They don't call it crazy stupid love for nothing.

There seems to be a quick-fix pill for everything these days, guaranteed to bring eternal sunshine to any spotless mind. I wouldn't be surprised if some lab had already found a way of curing the downsides of being in a relationship. Imagine how well that would go down. Until then, we have to make mental adjustments and put a little effort into making something worthwhile work. Despite all of love's trials and tribulations, you know you've struck gold when you find a relationship able to withstand the most manic of situations. Hold onto the man that will love you for better or worse, for richer and poorer and in mental illness and in health.

When it comes to commitment, I couldn't help but wonder, are we all a little mad?