On reading and not writing

August 30, 2016

I’d sort of given up on blogging, since life was just too hectic and I wasn’t finding time to do anything much at all. But then I found that life without blogging was not necessarily more productive than life with blogging. So I’ve decided to start again. Even if it’s just a way of checking in and saying “this is what I’m reading and not writing”. So to make it sort of easier to write, I’m doing a Q&A.

Q: What are you reading at the moment?

winnicott A: I’m reading Winnicott by Adam Phillips. I’m enjoying it but it’s definitely harder to read this on Kindle. I lose the thread and it takes days to pick it up again. I’m interested in Winnicott because he’s more hopeful than Freud or Klein. He was also one of the first clinicians to stress the primary importance of the mother-infant relationship. He says there’s no such thing as a baby, only a baby in relationship with its primary caregiver.

He stresses the importance of playing, of creativity, of holding (physical and emotional), and of transitional objects. He’s interested in aggression, in real and false selves, and in many other things as well. I just wish that I had more time to read and think.

I’m also reading “Towards an Emancipatory Psychoanalysis: Brandchaft’s Intersubjective Vision”. brandchaftIt’s long, it’s good, it’s dense. I’m reading this for our self-psychology reading group, and so it’s one chapter a month. I’m also reading this electronically since the physical copy was very expensive. Even with the pound taking a slight dip with Brexit fears, books are still outrageously expensive.

I need to find a good novel to read. Maybe a re-read. The last novel I read was “The Little Paris Bookshop” which was good but not great. I always feel a little guilty saying that. Is it me? Is it the book? A combination of the two? Seeing a Goodreads rating of below four stars also tends to make me think that it’s not just me.


Q: What are you writing at the moment, if anything?

A: I tend to write a lot of concussion reports since it’s rugby season. To be honest, I really dislike them. I write the minutes of meetings. I write off and on in my journals (both electronic and book-form).

Q: What would you like to write?

A: I would like to write some sort of memoir, but I know that that’s not possible at the moment for a number of reasons. Firstly, I could never bring myself to write about my family knowing that they might read it. And secondly, I need to work on my writing fitness.

Just today I thought that I would like to write about my mother. It’s a difficult topic but it just feels right. For a long while I thought I should write about my dad. Since he is the more well-known of the two (famous even, one might say). Sons writing about their fathers seems more logical, right? But actually the more difficult story would be the more interesting one. But I can’t write about it here. Part of me thinks that I would have nothing to say. But I know that’s not true. I also have a whole drawer full of journals which I could trawl through. *sigh* It’s complicated.

And you? What are you reading at the moment? And writing?


Making every ingredient sing

February 24, 2016

Thai-ingredients-mainI love my job … some days. Counselling teenagers is tough, not least because they can be so unreliable. Getting a teenage boy to remember to come to his session or to let me know that he can’t make it or at least to realise that he’s forgotten to pitch and communicate that to me is sometimes too much to ask for.

But I also get to do research and this year I’ve chosen as my focus: Building Resilience. There’s a ton of good material out there and the challenge will be to sift through it, take the parts that appeal most to me and to put it together in a meaningful way. I have a presentation on “Building Resilience” to give in exactly two weeks and, in the words of Masterchef, I want to make every ingredient sing. I want to present some stories and some theory but also to get the teachers to reflect on their own lives and those of their students. It’s a tough ask.

On the parenting side, we are lurching along. Our 5-year old is a lot easier to manage these days, except when it comes to getting herself ready so that we can get to school on time. Our 22-month old is a holy terror. “Bleugh!” And “Go away!” being two of her default responses when she sees me. I’m clearly doing something wrong here but I also I know this is part of the terrible twos. Deep breath. Don’t get angry. Walk away.

“I’m going to kill this child!” I muttered through clenched teeth as I passed the T-bird to L at about 8.40pm last night. Tessie was just being naughty but at the end of a long day I just wanted her to go to sleep so that L and I could sit down together and watch Australian Masterchef.

I love this programme. This week I decided to take some of the advice to heart. One of the guest chefs was telling the contestants to “Be bold!” and to have “No fear!” Rose, the contestant with the flapping hands and the tears, who always seems to be up for elimination, decided to be brave and went for the biggest fish in the pantry. She staggered back to her counter with a massive snapper and a look on her face that said “I’m being brave. Please reward me for this.”

The judges quickly gathered round to see what she would do with it. She cut two steaks and whipped together a Thai salad and some other concoction. I was impressed. I was thinking along the lines of “Feel the fear and do it anyway” except this time the version was: What if you can be anxious and bold at the same time? Because when it comes to my own feelings and behaviour I can never ignore my daily anxiety. But it doesn’t need to define my life. What if I was bold and adventurous as well as anxious and tired? What actions would I take instead? Would I be more decisive?

That’s become my thought experiment for the week. Not to be completely fearless and gung-ho but to take a few risks. To be a bit bolder AND also more reflective.

On the cooking front, however, I immediately fell on my face. I was trying to whip up a Thai Red Curry (from the box) while at the same time keeping an eye on the SA vs England cricket match. Unfortunately I took my eye off the pan and managed to melt one of our plastic spoons. L’s response was along the lines of: What the hell were you doing using a plastic spoon on a hot frying pan? I shot back with: “You’re not being supportive!”I managed to rescue the dish but I realised that I will definitely have to re-visit the multi-tasking idea.

And now I’m off to cook up some more psychological interventions. Wish me luck!

Having a life

January 25, 2016
Tessie with Tuscany book

T with one of her favourite books (a travel book on Tuscany).

What does it mean to ‘have a life’? And how does one have a life when balancing competing demands? The demands of parenting are well-documented: the sleep deprivation, the loss of self, the loss of sanity even. Putting ourselves on hold so that we can calm the baby, reassure the anxious toddler, make the school lunch, just do the flipping washing and organise the baby-sitting.

I bumped into another dad outside the school gates. I was feeling a little dodgy and so was still trying to make it work vaguely on time and get started on the mountain of emails that I don’t look at on the weekend. This dad has four kids, the youngest of whom is six months old. He said something about parenting four young kids as being like “throwing live hand-grenades”. I was in a hurry so I muttered something about taking “one step at a time” and then tried to re-focus on my Monday morning. My mind already races ahead to the week’s activities. Testing, meetings, counselling, welcoming service, trying to organise admission for a boy to the clinic. And then hoping that I have the energy to cope with the demands of the week. At least I am blogging this week, even if it is just to say “Wish I was here”. Oh, and I’m loving reading “All the light we cannot see” by Anthony Doerr. Other than that, life is carrying on.

TB or not TB (Part I)

August 24, 2015

Bouncy toddler

Just before the school holidays our nanny was not well. She had lost weight, was complaining of tiredness and she had a terrible pain in her back. She was cold during the day and wore a thick jacket indoors. We thought it might be TB so we took her for a chest x-ray, which came back negative. Our doctor eventually diagnosed her with arthritis in her thoracic spine and she went off on her annual three-week holiday with some strong painkillers.

On the last weekend of the school holidays we were on holiday in Betty’s Bay and L got a text message from Grace* (our child’s nanny) to say that she couldn’t come to work anymore because she was sick with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDRTB) and she had to go to the clinic every day for treatment. It was a fairly short message and it ended with Grace sending love to the girls and saying that she missed them.

That was five weeks ago and to say we have been shell-shocked ever since is an understatement. We suspected that Grace could possibly have been HIV-positive and we had tried to reassure her that this would not affect her employment but that she needed to stay well. Both for the sake of her own children and for ours. But Grace denied being HIV-positive and we didn’t feel that we could press the issue. The one thing we were keen to prevent was that Grace would get sick with TB and then pass it on to the girls.

Cue worst case scenario. Apart from the trauma of trying to find a new nanny (just at the time when L’s mom, who is our main backup child-carer) will be overseas for six weeks, we have also had the drama of trying to assess whether the girls have been infected with TB. And then working out how to prevent them from getting sick.

After a considerable amount of tests and palaver, L assessed that they had been infected and bought a whole armload of preventive medicine which we tried to get the girls to take. Both of them vomited – the first one in the first five minutes. The second one in her sleep (all over the bed). Those drugs are revolting.

What to do? L is already sick of me repeating the old psychology cliché of “one step at a time”. At least I didn’t add in “Let Go and Let God”.

Since then we have stalled for time. L had a presentation, I had other work demands. Tessie was sick with bronchialitis. Both of the girls had winter colds. We couldn’t face doing endless cleaning without a domestic worker. So we decided to wait. I tried to convince L that Grace only got sick because her immune system was compromised and that the girls were both ostensibly healthy. Most people infected with TB never get sick. Yes, T is already showing signs of early asthma and children under the age of three have compromised immunity anyway. But to all intents and purposes she is a bouncy toddler. A clingy little one who falls down a lot and cries broken-heartedly when momma leaves for work. But a healthy little girl nevertheless.

Thank goodness …

November 21, 2014
  • it’s Friday
  • for children (the pics are of Tessie with her maracas and Leah as a dalmatian puppy)
  • for audiobooks (currently listening to Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe)
  • for tax rebates
  • for tuna toasties (recipe here)
  • for gardens and irrigation (this is our front bed).

I know I complain a lot but today I’m slowing down, taking a pause and being grateful. I’ll worry again tomorrow 🙂

maracas nov 2014 dalmatians

front garden nov 2014 small


Tales from childhood

October 25, 2014

“Tell me a story when you were little,” demands Leah, looking expectantly at L or me.

This has become one of her stock forms of entertainment when she has some time to kill. She is often sitting on the loo when she asks and this generally works well since she has a captive audience (or in this case storyteller).

So either L or I sit down on the bathroom step and tell her some story from our childhoods.

  • The time I rode my bike around the pool when it was still being built and I fell in (just enough water to break my fall and not enough to drown me).
  • The time L was climbing up the ladder separating their garden from that of her best friend and found a large German shepherd coming up the other side. She got a big fright, ran inside and locked the door – leaving her mother and scared younger sister locked outside with the big dog. (Her mom was not pleased that she refused to open the door!)
  • The time that I saw a “foxy eating Pronutro”. My parents were on an outing to a game park with the four of us children and my older brother and sisters could all identify interesting wildlife while I could identify nothing. So I invented the “foxy eating Pronutro”.
  • The time that I broke a cup and saucer and expected my mother to be really angry and she surprised me with “Oh well, accidents happen. At least you were honest about it.”
  • The time my sister and I went on a holiday with my Granny to the seaside by train. We stayed right next to the beach, played bat and ball, swam, went for walks etc. I also lost one of the tennisette racquets and my gran bought the exact replicas so that my mom needn’t find out.
  • The time that L and her sister went to stay with Nanna and Pops and the twins were born. L and her sister both got a beautiful baby brother to “look after”.
  • Lying in bed listening to my father read me bedtime stories (with my brother listening through the door from the next room). My father read probably the whole of Roald Dahl and most of Arthur Ransome.

Perhaps inevitably I remember stories from my childhood which wouldn’t make for such good storytelling. The time that I was accidentally burned with scalding water in the bath when I was 7 or 8 years old. Sitting on the stairs listening to parents arguing. The time I wanted to kill my brother with a putt-putt stick (I had enough of his teasing).

Leah is a delightfully curious little girl and I can see she appreciates these tales from childhood. If I don’t tell them right she will often suggest some detail that she wants to hear more about. The polite but demanding “When you were little … what?” is mostly too good to resist.

She is also quite impossibly talkative at times (I still wonder if it’s normal for someone to talk non-stop for hours on end).

But I can see that I will need to work on my repertoire of stories from when I was little. Perhaps I can start to invent some interesting stories courtesy of my favourite childhood authors. 🙂

Empathy Tuesday

September 23, 2014

A shout-out for Empathy today. Great short clip by RSA shorts and Brené Brown.

I’m also interested in looking at the roots of empathy in childhood. Two clips which I sometimes show my students are the “Still Face Experiment” and the “Emotional Baby”. In the “Still Face Experiment”, a mother initially reacts to her baby’s distress with a non-responsive face. She then comes alive again in the interaction and it’s a moving example of disruption and repair. The “Emotional Baby” video shows a baby crying in response to the emotion of the mother’s voice singing a moving song.

Our own ‘baby experiment’ is ongoing. Tessie is almost five months old now and is doing well. Both L and I are doing less well and are suffering from sleep-deprivation. Those night-time feeds are a killer (for L – I get to change a nappy and go back to bed). Tonight will be the first time I get to feed Tessie in the middle of the night (if she wakes up, which has become her norm now). I’m really not looking forward to that, but if it means that L gets some sleep then it will be worth it.

I suppose it does help that Tessie is a cute baby (aren’t all babies?) When she gives me one of those smiles then I can get over my need for sleep (at least for a while).


Which brings me round to this. If you don’t see me around the blog – commenting, reading, posting – then this is why. We’re hanging on.