Wednesday, 7 January 2015

An Ambiguous Journey

At the end of 2013, I embarked on an ambiguous journey of self-study: I was set to study my honours degree in General Teaching and Learning and in the process, I discovered more about myself and life in general.

Initially, I was engulfed with despondency because my personal view of studying at my “particular age” meant suffering. I could already see how Time and I would constantly be at each other’s throats. And I hate conflict.

I took the assignments in my stride. I gave each one my best and had very little concern about the results. I kept telling myself that at my “particular age” and with my efforts of putting my best teaching foot forward each day, there would be no pressure to achieve the ultimate. And so I was satisfied with each outcome. Except one. I remember getting 66% for one assignment and was totally gobsmacked. What was up with the double 6? But I built a bridge and got over it!

My first exam paper in decades was an epiphany. I realised studying had nothing to do with a “particular age”! The identity was clear: I was a student. I walked into the hall, late! I sat down trying to be as discreet in my movement as possible. But the table groaned and the chair creaked, and the supervisor who was reading out the rules suddenly kept quiet. I was the centre of attention. When I received my answer sheet, I had to fill in more details than I thought – at that point – were necessary. I didn’t know the name of the exam centre; I forgot my student number and couldn’t remember the date. My stunned brain cells and fixed eyes focused on the answer sheet, but nothing came to mind other than my name. The supervisor asked us to put down our pens. I hadn’t filled in a thing. Not even my name. The exam papers were handed out and we were told to read through them for ten minutes prior to starting. My only concern was that I hadn’t filled in my details.

I was a nervous wreck throughout that paper. I wrote slowly, neatly and deliberately. I stressed about the time. I couldn’t even see the clock in the front and had to stretch to the length of an ostrich-neck to see whether or not I was managing my time effectively. I feared someone would think I was craning to crib. The invigilators that passed me kept stopping to read what I had written. So it seemed. At the end of the session, when I handed in my paper, two of the invigilators complimented me on having such beautiful handwriting. I smiled feebly and walked out of the hall on jelly legs. Needless to say, the second exam session for the year was much better.

My first year has finally come to an end and I have passed all my subjects. During the school holiday, I managed to complete 4 of the 6 assignments that are due in March 2015. I’m on a roll, here. And the initial fear and nervousness has panned out into something more exhilarating. Soon, I’ll be done and then what? I turn 50 in October. What do I do when this roller-coaster ride stops?

What I’ve learned on this incredible journey is that we’re never too old to do something, especially learn. At first, it may seem to be an enormous sacrifice. After all, who wants to suffer the discomfort of stretching their mind to the point of no return? And that is exactly what it is. Once stretched, the mind cannot return to its original dimensions. Once you know something, you can never “not know it” again.

An educable mind keeps us growing. I think an idle mind may be the most dangerous one of all. If it doesn’t get us into trouble, it certainly gets us into trouble. Redundant? But effective! Is there a difference? Perhaps not – because there are no degrees of comparison: trouble is trouble. It just emphasizes the concern we should have for an idle mind. It certainly has more time to think. 

And what exactly does an idle mind think about if its horizons aren’t broadened?

Saturday, 3 January 2015

My son

My son was born in Lichtenburg (North West) on the 27th of June, 1997. His name is Colin Steyn. He is my youngest child and I am so proud of him. 2015 is the year he completes his school career – Grade 12. And then he’ll be off to university …

Whilst pregnant, I used to talk, and read and sing to Colin – just as I had done with my daughter, Jana. When he was born, Jana wanted to hold him all the time. Colin was a peaceful and quiet baby. He was always smiling when awake. He slept a lot, even during his bath time. When I played music, he would fall asleep with a smile on his face. He had eyes for Jana only. He watched her intensely. Every move and sound she made fascinated him. With her help, we broadened his horizons and encouraged a diversity of interests.

He was about 18 months when he was stolen from my shopping trolley in Cape Town. My husband and I were comparing prices and were a few steps away from the trolley in which Colin was sitting. What made it easy for the man to take him was the fact that the trolley was at the start of the shopping aisle. Fortunately, Jana saw the whole incident and told us immediately. My husband ran to the nearest door. Whilst talking to one of the security men, the kidnapper approached the door with my son. Because Colin wasn’t crying, the security man decided not to do anything about it. He kept saying that my son knew the man because he wasn't crying. Since that day, I made Colin raise the roof with his screaming if a stranger just dared to come near him. To this day, I am grateful for Jana’s keen eye in preventing her brother from being kidnapped. It was one of the most traumatic experiences we have had.

Colin is amazing. He is a sensitive person who can read body language and facial expressions, picking up things that go unsaid. He is sensitive to tone of voice, attitudes and emotions. While this may sound like soft traits, Colin has an exceptional inner strength. He is a strong-willed person, motivated to endure many things to achieve his personal goals. 

Colin is a sociable boy with a keen interest in people. He is also very popular. He's not only clever with his thoughts and words, but also has a great sense of humour. He’s warm-hearted, humble and sincere.

I am still learning much about his personality. Because Colin is a teen, it’s difficult for me to always understand him. But this is what I know and truly appreciate about him: 

  1. Colin isn’t easily deceived. As I’ve said, Colin interprets body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, attitudes, and emotions very quickly. He doesn’t like conflict or negativity. 
  2. He is a people’s person. He doesn’t like being alone and is dependent on honest company and loyal friends. He doesn’t like the limelight, noise or crowds. So, his groups are small and cozy. 
  3. Colin tends to be shy. He’s humble and kindhearted. He’s loving, always ready with a hug. Most importantly, he's loyal!
  4. Colin will be ruthless when he’s backed into a corner. He doesn’t like people judging him or making efforts to manipulate him into doing things he doesn’t like.  
  5. Being a peace-loving person, he becomes overwhelmed when there is a lot of conflict and tension around him. But, Colin will not do anything that he doesn’t want to do. He’s not a people pleaser. He will stay true to himself. He will be tormented by any conflict that arises from situations where people expect him to do something he refuses to do. He’ll walk away and spend time in isolation rather than do anything he’s against. 
  6. He sings in the school choir. 
  7. Colin is a sport for fun. So, if you wake up on a Saturday and tell him to quickly get dressed for a road trip, he’ll be ready before you are. 
  8. Colin has a great sense of humour and can really make you laugh.  
  9. Even though he likes company, Colin recharges when he’s on his own. He doesn’t recharge in the company of others. So, alone time is important for him. 
  10. Colin loves music. He sings and dances 90% of the time, always ready to share his latest hits with you.   
  11. Colin plays rugby. It’s his passion. He doesn’t care for other types of sport. 
  12. Colin is a homely boy. I know where he is most of the time because he is permanently camping out in the living room or bedroom with a "pack" of teenage boys, playing PS3 or Xbox 360.
Colin is my one and only precious son. I love him so much and I’m so grateful that he is a part of my life. My favourite time with him is when we drive to and from school. (He attends the school where I teach.) We can talk when we’re in the car. It’s the only time that I feel we can share our thoughts without being distracted. 2015 is going to be a difficult year because it is our last year together and I know I am going to miss him so much when he finishes school. My wish for him is the same as my wish for Jana: a life filled with rich blessings. 


My daughter

My daughter was born in Lichtenburg (North West) on the 28th of May, 1992. Her name is Jana Steyn. She is my eldest child and I am so proud of her. She is currently studying her LLB degree through UNISA and works as a candidate attorney at an attorney's office in town, which means she's still living at home. She is my friend, a confidante and anchor in my life.

I remember talking, and reading and singing to Jana whilst being pregnant. When she was born, I used to sing and dance her to sleep. Yes, dance. I would lay her down on a pillow and dance with her in my arms until she was fast asleep. I had very little choice because she was extremely curious and sleeping was the last thing on her mind. But she loved music and she loved it when we danced. Throughout her life, I did everything in my power to broaden her horizons and encourage a diversity of interests. Today I am proud to say, her versatile personality and intelligence has turned her into an extremely interesting person. She remains curious, has a wonderful sense of humour and has a wide range of diverse friends, from Evert Coetzee, a lecturer at the University of Pretoria (one of the most intelligent men I know), to Valerie Linford, a creative fashion designer.

Since the year that she finished her school career, I have discovered so many new facets of her personality. To be honest, it's a kaleidoscope of personalities in one. Sometimes her personalities contradict one another, but strangely enough they still work together.

A lot of people don’t understand Jana. So, I've decided to write down a few handy tips for those who have and will befriend her:

  1. Jana gets bored and irritated easily. Talk to her without hesitation and talk to her about a variety of stuff. She loves people who are positive. Don’t nag or moan or repeat.
  2. She’s independent and doesn’t like being confined in company or places. The saying: If you love something, set it free …”. That’s Jana. Don't become obsessive or clingy.
  3. Be honest. She can detect lies, schemes, false appearances – any form of deceit – very quickly. And then you’ve lost her. 
  4. She has a fine eye for detail and likes art and "weirdness" (movies, books, fashion, etc.) She doesn’t like monotony or routine. Expect impulsiveness from her!
  5. She’s quiet, but once she gets to know you and places her trust in you, she will talk your head off. She has many ideas and dreams and will often ask you for some advice. If it’s all blah-blah-blah to you, don’t bother to stick around. You really need to be interested in what she’s talking about otherwise you’ll just end up being frustrated. So stay and listen, or leave. 
  6. When you do stay to listen, be a good listener. She hates self-centered people who only talk about themselves (and NO she isn’t one of them). If you don’t make eye contact and she senses you’re not listening to her, she will lose interest in you. 
  7. Trust, as I’ve said, is important to her. She will not jump into a relationship if she doesn’t trust you (any relationship, e.g. friendship). 
  8. She loves to eat. Food is the key to her heart! 
  9. Don’t ever give her choices. She cannot make decisions because all options to her are opportunities. If you force her to decide, she will be very unhappy. For example: “Should we eat out at Spur or Ocean Basket?” That’s wrong! Just say, “We’re going to Ocean Basket!” Of course, because it’s food, her mind will go off on a tangent and she’ll start thinking of all the other options. Let her speak her mind. But stop in front of Ocean Basket and go with the “Oops! My bad!” approach. She’ll get over it once she sees the menu. 
  10. Take a photo. She loves visual aids. But don’t take one without her permission. She’s very private. If she sees you as a paparazzi stalker, she’ll ban you for life. 
  11. You must always impress her intelligence or sense of humour. You don’t have to be intelligent, just versatile and funny. 
  12. If you sense things are going wrong, give her food or make her laugh. That should terminate a lot of tension. If you can’t make her laugh, then it’s better to leave her alone. 
  13. She changes like the wind. Be prepared for her versatility. Then she likes it and then she doesn’t. Build a bridge and move on. 
  14. In relationships, she is very loyal. She’ll stick by your side through thick and thin. Until you judge her … Jana doesn’t judge people and is fair-minded. She believes everyone has rights (no wonder she’s studying LAW) and feelings, and deserves a place on earth. 
  15. She LOVES cats. So if you don’t, move along!
  16. She also loves Ellen DeGeneres. 
Jana is my one and only precious daughter. I love her so much and I’m so grateful that she is a part of my life. My wish for her is a life filled with rich blessings.