An invitation to my nearly 17 year-younger baby brother's 40th birthday has time travelled me back to almost exactly 10 years ago. As I am thinking "Could ten years have really gone by so fast?", I am also thinking "How can so much have happened and changed in the last ten years?"
David (the brother) was about to turn 30. Always extravagant he sent air tickets for his mother and sisters to join him for his 30th birthday in London.
Where was I? Single, only Nic (middle son) home for the year, a wonderful man in my life and a steady job in a legal office. The trip was special for all three of us but extra special for me because Gareth (my oldest) and Matthew (youngest) were both in the UK at the time. I left Nic home alone with the dog and took advantage of my first overseas trip in years and was away for 5 weeks. A special fun time, a road trip to Wales and the south of England. Ten days later, Dalene left for home to return to her two young daughters who were left with Tom, Rob (my mother's "man-friend") arrived to join her and they continued on their travels and my friend Nicky arrived for a crazy three weeks in London, Bristol and a Paddywagon tour through Ireland.
David is turning 40 next week and is now married to the girl he first kissed around the time of his 30th birthday. I am now married to "the wonderful man", I still have only one of my three sons (Gareth) close by (Nic is in Johannesburg and Matthew in Hong Kong). Dalene and Tom live around the corner and, as I write, they are waving goodbye to Amy (their eldest) who is heading off to London for a month. My mom is great, she married the "man-friend" Rob, they moved into a retirement complex but he died late last year after a short illness. And Nicky? Well Nicky just died. She was here making ginger soup one week, waved goodbye to me in Wayside Road and went away on a special family holiday. She never came back. I know she is dead, I gave a eulogy at her funeral and carried the coffin (for goodness sake) but she did just go away on holiday and never came back. I still have a drawer of photographs, coasters, postcards and mementos from May/June 2005. (We never did get around to having that "scrap booking" evening and it is now May 2015).
So, in a nutshell that is where I was in May 2005 and am now in 2015. So much has happened in between and as I think of the happiness's and sadness's in my 56 year old life, I realise that the puzzle pieces are starting to slot in and make up that cliched "bigger picture".
Maybe because I did not have much I dreamt of that house on a hill with the wrap-around stoep, a trendy minimalistic interior, a heated swimming pool and a SMEG fridge. Although on a hectic budget, I still spoiled myself (put myself into debt) with a Clarins day and night cream and clothes from Hilton Weiner.
I love and am so content my simple square home and garden in the heart of suburbia (on the flat) with a vibracrete (horror) fence. It is filled to overflowing with photos, tins, candles and inherited furniture. A Defy fridge (it is metallic) serves me well. A R200 tube of Environ Alpha Hydroxy gel is a day and night cream and lasts for two months and the few clothes there are come from Woolworths.
A job in a legal office with a decent salary and an amazingly awesome boss (my husband to be), lovely co-workers but a comfort zone of note, sitting behind a stuffy desk, days spent surfing the net, streaming music, writing blogs and then cramming in some real work and drafting of documents when the pressure was on.
A new venture, marketing, selling and delivering wine with an enterprising and entertaining partner, not much salary (that will come) but a warehouse full of wine, my first brand new company van, loving the physical work, having time to walk every day, time on the road, stops at the beach, walking the grand-dog, meeting new people combined with lots of time on my own and generally having a great time.
Always fortunate to have special friends. We were infallible and maybe friendships were taken for granted as friends were always a phone call away (we had very long phone calls), they were there to laugh and cry with but mostly to party with.
I am still lucky to have special friends but value them more. I appreciate that we are not infallible. Friends die, friends get sick. Friends are fighting battles with cancer and are caring for sick partners. They are strong and resolute and I am in awe. But after cancer, there is always an unspoken uneasiness and nervousness that hovers around the friendship, the elephant in the room that scares you as you never know where it is hiding and when it will show up again. But. as horrible as cancer is for the sufferer, it does give you time, as a friend, to show you care. Unlike when a special infallible friend goes away on holiday and never comes back.
I felt bad and sad that as a mother I had let my boys down because we no longer had the "normal" Rondebosch family. They did not get cars when they turned 18 (or 19 or 21 - we shared), they had to take out student loans as fees could not be paid and that fancy house on the hill with a SMEG fridge was still a dream.
I wanted the best for them, the degree, the first team, the best and prettiest girlfriends, to be the most likeable, funny and popular boys in the group.
I know now that I did not let them down. I know that there is no "normal" family and that our little family is a very special and extremely close one. I made the best choice at the time.
I still want the best for them but forget the degree, the house, car and f-ing fridge, I want them to be happy. My worst parenting moment (they have many more they could share, I am sure) was telling Nic (then aged 25) who was wanting to go back to university to study law "What? Nic you will be 28 when you graduate and all your friends will have fancy jobs, wives and children and you will be an articled clerk until you are 31!" Well Nic is so happy being an articled clerk and not having a house, wife or children (not many of his friends do have any of the three anyway). Two of them do have the best and prettiest girlfriends and I think all three are the best, most likeable, funny and popular boys in the world (nevermind just the group).
Over the last ten years they have seldom all been home at the same time. It is hard having them far away, especially when the move becomes more permanent, but somehow it eventually becomes the norm. Thank goodness for Whatsapp, Skype and Facebook. You miss them lots, it is wonderful to have them home for visits, harder when they have to leave again but as a mother I can handle anything when I know they are happy.
Michael - my boss, best friend turned boyfriend - sane, stable, solid and steady. The easiest and most loving relationship I have ever had. He is trying to teach me to budget, to not owe money and he tries to show me how to get pleasure and appreciate the simple things in life (like finding a perfect screw in a gutter)
Still Michael - no longer my boss, still my best friend and now my husband - Still sane, stable, solid and steady. The easiest, best, most loving relationship I will ever have. He has taught me how to get pleasure out of the simple things in life (not only screws in gutters) but he still struggles with teaching me to budget.
Then and Now
Life is good, never perfect, I struggle these days to not be so verbal about the things that upset me. Before I could keep my mouth shut when things annoyed me. I now blurt things out and sometimes hurt people but it is my inner voice that maybe menopause has stoked.
Ten years ago life was very different and ten years later I don't feel like a much different person but writing this has made me realise that a decade is a long time. It is the sad things that have happened to me and my family which have shaped me most and made me take stock. I now realise what is important and what is not. Family and friends and walks and swims and wine and kindness and talking and sharing and even screws in gutters.
I also have to confess that I really would still love a big pastel coloured SMEG fridge.