“I made you.”
I am bleary eyed and just waking up, with hot coffee and in a house full of love. Last night, over dinner, Luke and I were reminded, yet again, that we made this. We built this absolute swirl of a happy home with nothing but good intentions and while life threw us into thunderstorms. It’s the house where our friends step in and always know this is a safe, sweet place.
“We made this”, we say to each other.
My mum would’ve turned 77 today. In all of her learning of me and teaching of me, the lesson she taught me so fiercely was about the fortress. The inner strength and tower of unyielding power that you must create to survive and thrive in this world. I have that word in her handwriting tattooed on my shoulder, and I have the real life proof of the benefits of that fortress all around me.
While I mother my daughter, I remember that I am simply an extension of my mother to my daughter. I remember that I am an extension of my mother’s mothering.
When I pick up a lost dog, help someone who asks, or randomly decide to do something that others don’t understand until it’s done, I am an extension of my mother’s absolute force in the world.
When I make decisions and take actions, I do so without fear, for she taught me how to make them without being scared anymore. I am an extension of my mother’s absolute lack of fear. You could not scare her for a moment. When I think about how I used to talk to her about how to learn not to be scared (because I used to be a big old scaredy cat, of everything, all the time, every day, every moment), she would simply say:
“I made you.”
So, when I turn around and look at our home, and laugh about the Easter tree, and the massive pile of cook books, and the outside table where all the lives get lived, I know something else to be true too: Luke and I may have made this. But she did too.
Happy Birthday, UM. You made this too.
This morning, I said your voice was a memory. By this afternoon, it was loudly resonating across my house, it was like you were in the next room.
It’s been a day, Dadadad. But I did the things you said, dove in where I had to, jumped away when I could, and…I may be battle bruised and scarred for life, but at least I’ll have a story to tell.
Dadadadad, the last year…oh god you would’ve laughed. I have wished so many times for your quiet catch of me to appear out of nowhere, but I didn’t realise it was already there. The things you taught me, the things you created within me, those things created the net that caught me.
My life now is a reflection of you, in ways that would make you laugh and shiver, change the subject, stomp your foot, and then laugh again.
Everything has changed. Again. You would’ve predicted it, and probably did.
Actually, as memory serves me, mom said it. She said: “he’s always watching for a weakness.”
And while I should’ve known then, you know how us foolhardy, flippant, and ferocious we can be.
But, hindsight is 20/20 and boy did you have it in bundles.
And now, now I *know* you’d be proud. You’d know it was the right thing, laugh with me over all the wrong things, and…and you’d summarise the whole shitshow in a way nobody else could. You’d connect all the dots like I have been trying to, and then you’d make them into a neat parcel I could tie up and leave on someone else’s doorstep, because it was not mine to begin with.
Come over for tea, sometime. The kettle’s boiled.
Miss you forever.
This post was originally published in 2015, on DigiKids, a webzine created by Stacey Vee & I, that encouraged parents towards guiding their children through the digital world in a safe, secure, and educational way. This post was the most popular item, and has led to much debate in online circles since. Since then, more and more online personalities, bloggers, and parents like you, have added their voice to this important online safety tip. I have updated the post, and am republishing it here, for further discussion in 2019.
This issue has come to the fore over the past few weeks, as children returned to school across South Africa. At DigiKids, we worked to help parents and children have a healthy, balanced relationship with the digital world. We hope this article assists you in making decisions around whether or not to post pictures of your children in their school uniforms online, while providing you with some reasonable alternatives:
I get it, I really do. The excitement that surrounds the very first day your kid puts on their uniform with the shiny new shoes and heads off into their classroom is palpable. It’s only natural that you’d want to share that excitement with the world, but is it really sensible?
The short answer is no.
We spend hours, if not days, of our lives, trying to enforce the rules around stranger danger into our children’s brainwaves. In fact, if anything, parents will probably admit to living with a strange undercurrent of fear around stranger danger that we try so very hard not to pass on to our kids, while angling these important talks towards them in a kind but firm manner. Keeping our kids safe is our primary motive for talking about it with our babies yet, what we’re doing online isn’t necessarily translating that into action.
Why Freak Out About The Pictures On Facebook?
Yes, you’ve got your privacy settings set to max and no, you’re not worried about how someone might screenshot something you share online. Heck, you’ll even happily check-in on Facebook when you pop in to school for that parent’s evening. Here’s the problem though, and I’m sorry, but this one is rough to read:
When you post a picture of your child in their school uniform on to a social network or platform, you are immediately informing the world that your child is at a particular place, at a particular time, and you’re not there to protect them. In fact, place those images into the wrong type of hands, and suddenly, someone you don’t know knows exactly where your kid is every day, what their name is (it’s easy to figure out) and, quite possibly, who their teacher is too. All this, while you’re happily off to work, and trusting that your kid is in safe hands at school. Notably too, images of children are often used to create rather dubious content, with image modification and similar tools brought into play.
I’m sorry, but your privacy settings mean nothing, the second a friend of yours likes that cute pic of your kid on Day One of Big School, shares it or comments on it. Why? Because it’s highly likely that it’s now appearing in their friends’ newsfeeds. Do you know every friend of every person you are friends with on Facebook? And of that friend, of that friend, do you know their full listing of friends too? Nah, I didn’t think so.
Other Social Networks
Yes, I’m freaking out about Facebook but it’s worse on other social networks. Pop a pic of your kid in their school uniform on your public Twitter timeline and hey presto, anyone on the planet can see it – no, not just your followers, but anyone. Don’t believe me? Cool. Log out of Twitter and go to your Twitter profile. There you go – all your tweets are live and public, for anyone to see, pictures included. It’s the same for Instagram and other networks too (unless you have your account set to private, which most users do not do). You can read here about other circumstances where its inadvisable to share pictures of your children online.
Nothing infuriates me more about this whole Back to School pictures debacle than companies asking you to share your kids’ Back to School photos with their online communities. Heck, now it’s all up in the public domain and – do you know everyone who likes that retailer’s Facebook page? Are you totally cool with that shop retweeting your tweet that lists your kid’s name, age and school in it, alongside that sweet image of your grinning first-dayer? You’re not? Oh. Right.
Dear marketing agencies, advertisers, companies, retailers and whoever does this – stop it. Right now. First off, be aware that by asking your fans to share their personal pictures, you are putting their kids in direct or indirect danger. Secondly, you’re being lazy. Get creative with those back-to-school competitions and ask your fans to post their first-day-back lunchbox or their kids’ first artwork of the year. You don’t need their face and personal information to pick a winner, I promise you. For some guidelines on using images of children, see here and here.
Bucking Up At School
It’s obvious too, that schools themselves want to share images of the happy kids in their classrooms on their website or Facebook page. Did you know that they should be asking you for express permission to do so? It’s true. To use a child’s image for advertising or marketing purposes, parents need to give express, written permission – just ask any advertising agency or casting group and they’ll tell you – there’s a waiver that has to be signed before they can use a child’s face in an advert. Sure, you could argue that the permission is implicit but, really, it’s not. And yes, social media platforms are to be considered as advertising mechanisms. Your school should have, by now, a social media policy and have given you the option, as a parent, to opt out of having your child’s image shared online through their social platforms.
But How Do We Share Safely?
Okay, okay, I’ve yelled enough. Here’s how you can share those cute memories safely and only with people you know:
- Set up a family Whatsapp or Telegram group for the big day back at school, and send those images directly to the small selection of people you really want to have seen them. Best part of doing this? You can snap that big day and share it with your loved ones as it happens;
- Set up a family and close friends email list so you can, as safely as possible, transmit those smile-filled pictures to the people you care about or,
- Make those memories into special gifts by turning your digital image into a print, plopping it into a frame and bingo, you’ve got the best gift for grandma, right there! You can also use services like PrintWild to turn those first-day-backs into mounted memories for your family picture wall.
- You can try a service like 23Snaps.
- If you do want to share your Back to School pride online, get creative with it. Share a pic of your first-dayers shiny new shoes, or cover their badges with an emoji. Even better, create a black and white image too, and don’t be shy with your artistic bends here – the more you can obscure your kid’s school, the better.
A Final Thought
When it comes to sharing your family’s daily routines, location and lives online, it’s better to be on the safe side.
I’ve always maintained that parenting hit me like a brick and a cushion. A brick, because the jarring, unyielding, transformations that you go through are neither kind nor easy. And, a cushion, because there is ethereal comfort to be found in creating and sustaining a whole life beyond your own body.
That has not changed, for me. In many ways, every day feels like the brick and the cushion, all at the same time, because the little life beyond your own changes faster than you can keep up with. Even more jarringly, you have to change too.
Motherhood enabled me to centre myself, not my life. There’s a difference there, because my life as whole hasn’t always been a deeply-rooted tree. What motherhood changed within me was the ability to put down the roots and grow. Everything that came after that has been an extension of that central point. It is the thing I centre myself around, and is the ultimate motivation behind many of my choices, but it’s not the single-focus of my life. It is sewn into my character and actions, but it is not directly them. There is a difference there, and that is an item on my life list I did not expect. It is why I put the tree down, but it is not the tree.
As my child has grown up, our family has grown up. I make no apologies for making this triangle a focus point, and I have zero regrets on this. What has been interesting, however, is just how much freedom has come from doing that. As our marriage unwinds towards the future, I feel more free than I ever have before. I feel more capable and assured. I realise now, however, that I had felt those things already, but there is a deepening of it that I didn’t expect. The knowledge that our triangle is signed into law is a strange set of comforts, but also an easily visible-to-anyone-else, set of bricks that we’ve built our life upon. I don’t get wrapped up into explaining how it all fits together anymore, because it’s a little easier for everyone else. That’s cool. Less admin for me.
But with my child growing up, and all this additional sense of liberation that comes with growing older, getting wiser, and building a life…comes a whole bunch of change. Sure, she’s taller, but I’m left wondering if she’d be even taller if I had insisted on vegetables in every meal. Sure, she seems to be settling into a social life, but I’m wondering if my own anxieties as a human being are influencing her choices of friends. Sure, she seems to be a hilarious facsimile of my own person, but was that me, or was that the influence of my own mother? And, if it was my mother…am I now being more like her? Am I okay with that? (Yes, I really am. My mother was a warrior who overcame every fear to fight for what she believed in, even when her own body was falling apart, and she lost the love of her life. If I can live my life to be half as courageous as my mother, I will have done well).
Change means learning new things, and the language of letting go is one I still need a dictionary for. I may not have my own mother to call up and cry down the phone to, but I have a village of people I lean on. I have my amazing mother-in-law who absolutely goes to the dark places with me, fearlessly, and then she makes me laugh within them. I have my other mother-in-law who is a rock and an unyielding river of love. She is an unstoppable force and support that I have been lucky to have for my whole life. Nothing is ever too much for these women, and for that, I know my mother (and I) are grateful. If my mother is watching, I know she approves of the way they’ve stepped in where she could not now. The circle of friends who surround our family, and the wonder of genius minds who live within that circle, always provide light and perspective, as I try to learn the new language of letting go. While I’m stumbling around in the dark, they’ll find a candle. When I can’t see the journey, they’re building me a pathway.
And perhaps…perhaps…the hardest paragraph of knowledge to learn in this new language of letting go is this:
It is no longer about what you can teach them. It is no longer about what kind of approach you took in raising them when they were little. It is no longer about instilling manners, or mannerisms. It is no longer about the ways you showed them how to tie their laces, or say hello. All the little lessons you could teach them are done. Your chalkboard is blank, and your lesson plans are closed. What happens now, is what they do with what you taught them.
As she puts her spin on life, and delves in to learning who she is and how she is, she tries on characters, types, thoughts, beliefs, and inspirations. I see her looking for elements of herself in the world around her, and I see her searching to find things that feel true to her being. While I’ve tried so hard to offer her as many options as I can, some of them she has to find for herself. I can’t read her the whole menu of her life – some of those menu items are only for her to read.
While I’m learning the language of letting go, she is learning it too. Her spirit rallies against mine, as I untether the years of keeping her guarded, keeping her close, and averting her eyes from the world. She must look, and see, and do, and learn. But she knows that I am behind her, beside her, and… well, I’ll sum it up like this:
She runs into the world, and I am there waiting. I am supervising the sandpit as she plays into her own life, but I am no longer on the ground getting my feet muddy. The distance between my guardpost and the sandpit feels like a yawning abyss, but I know it’s just a foot in width.
She is the leaves and I am the trunk. I am the rooted tree, as she grows up towards the sun in the sky. She’ll use the tree to make paper, upon which she’ll write the story of her own life, and I, using the paper made from the tree of my own family, write out what I learn from the language of letting go. The trees of life bend to the wind, and wave to the sky, but they stay rooted, because…that’s why.
That is why trees exist, after all.
Traditionally, I’ve written a lot to myself (into the void), or passed notes from underneath the table to others. Those letters, written to everyone from my parents, to my child, to my husband, to my friends, are the things I often can’t say in person, but have to be said.
Many people do a year round-up of things, and I often did them for myself, in the past. I’ve not done one for many a year, but I’ve realised that – for a lot of reasons – I should. Even if I just read this one Friday evening, in the future.
This is the year we got married. It still feels somewhat surreal, but I’ve realised that’s part of the magic. Our life together wasn’t ever planned for, or theorised. It happened, as it wanted to. That’s not to say we weaved no control over it…it’s just that we let our life happen as it wound towards us. Looking at it now, the stories were writing themselves, long before we picked up our pens. I’m very grateful for that. There is a comfort that comes from knowing someone is on your team, no matter what the format may be.
Things I’ve learnt (and sometimes, had to relearn) this year – 10 things for 2017:
- Insatiable curiosity pays off, unless you’re insatiably curious about something illegal. To be sure, I was not insatiably curious about anything illegal, but I had to make that distinction. Wanting to learn, and working doggedly towards learning…It’s worth it.
- Being wrong does not mean the conversation has come to an end. You just have something else to learn. Shut up and listen.
- Not knowing the answer to something – saying “I don’t know” – isn’t a reflection of your intelligence. It is an opportunity to learn. Shut up and listen.
- Even your worst decisions were still decisions. Stick by them, because decisions always either advance you, or teach you. I have not made all of the best decisions this year, but I have certainly learnt from each one I’ve made.
- Sometimes, telling people how you feel is the most difficult thing in the world to do. It’s worth it.
- Sometimes, cutting people out of your life feels like you are murdering your own memories. You’ll know when you have to do it. It’s worth it. It hurts, but it’s worth it.
- Sometimes, standing up for yourself feels impossible. Defining your sense of self-worth is not the job of someone else. Do the work and then be prepared to defend it. It’s worth it.
- If you can speak, half as much as you listen, you’re doing well. This year, I learnt to shut up and listen.
- Loyalty isn’t some transient, intangible thing. It lives, and thrives, through action. Pick the team you’re on, make sure it’s worthy, and then commit. The moment you feel that a loyalty needs to be questioned, question it. Any element of doubt here…arrived for a reason. You’re not just paranoid. Your instinct is speaking. Shut up and listen.
- Realise, and acknowledge, that you are good at some things, and not good at other things. That’s absolutely okay. Nobody is expecting genius, but you are expected to try your best, and then be able to prove you did. It’s worth it.
The gulf of time between us is now pre-teen. An expanse of ocean, wisdom and moments all wrapped up in the grandchild you only held once sits before me. She speaks, she reads, she thinks, she grows. And just as she levels up in height, years and age, so too does the space of time since I last squeezed your hand. As her life measures and moves, so too does this space between us. She is a glorious reminder of how far above us you watch, and how much more life continues.
I told myself last year that I wouldn’t write to you this year. That ten years was enough – I needed to let go now. But someone close to me reminded me that I have let you go – I let you go before you went, in fact. The thing is, I don’t have to stop writing to you. There is no statute of limitations on this, and I can write to you and the UM a million-billion times more if I want to. Sometimes I want to, sometimes I don’t want to.
You are still a force to be reckoned with. Yesterday, as she and I were playing a game of Scrabble Dash (you would love it!), I had to play a proper noun and your name formed out of my available letters. She stopped, looked at it and smiled. I stopped, smiled and played my turn. I won that game, but she went on to defeat me in three more. There, right there, you were a force to be reckoned with. You’d find this hilarious.
As a family, we play another game – Rummikub. It’s not one I played as a child, but it’s become one of our Sunday evening family favourites here. I win, a lot, but not enough to lose my humility on it. I’m being kept on my toes here. No idea where these people get it from (spoiler alert: I know it’s you).
We play a lot of table, board and card games here – I think you’d like that about my little triangular family. I think you’d love our dogs too – Jake mostly. He’s your type of hound, while Zoey is the cute yet feisty sort that barks more than she should. I think you’d love them. I hope you would. You’d laugh at how they rule the roost round here. Sometimes, in my woowoohead mind, I think Jake learnt to look at me from you – the way he looks at me like I’m the most ridiculous person he’s ever clapped eyes on – it’s that same expression you’d give me over your glasses. I laugh when it happens.
Dadadad, I’ve not written to you to tell you that I’m getting married. I did, to Mom, but not to you. So, if you wouldn’t mind pitching up round then, it’d be great. I need a dance and someone to march me down the aisle. I’ve got the spot filled already, but if you’d like me to ask them to step aside, just yell and I’ll sort it out. I know he’d agree with me entirely if you suddenly just pitched up. He reminds me more and more of you each day, as I watch him parent a family too. Can I just borrow you and mom for one day, though? Just one. You guys can carry on and have the rest, promise. Heck, I’ll take an afternoon, sunny or not.
(But yes, really. I retract the one-sided argument I tried to have with you about this in 2001. Also, you were right on that whole honey thing. Also the freshly mown grass and the way people smell like home, even when they’ve irritated you to the point of grimace. That waking up in the morning and it’s okay again. It’s funny how I knew. Thank you for telling me how to spot it. I’d probably have missed it entirely, were it not for the roadmap you laid out for me. It has led me home. You have led me home, even when you’re not here).
Dadadadadadad, you’d love this part. The craziness, the noise, the quiet and the soft comfort of a house that’s funny in so many ways. I want to be able to write you into these days – the easy ones and the hard ones, and insert your voice into these conversations. I like to think I don’t have to, because the voice of you still booms across the sky of my life. You’re in the clack of my keys as I type too fast and mutter as I have to backspace the entire word to correct it…because that’s how we do it round here. You’d know.
I miss you forever, plus one. Just one afternoon? See what you can do. Surely you can grab an afternoon after eleven years of good behaviour (oh wait, good behaviour? Hahahahaha). If you can’t make it, just send the feathers. I’ll know.
Keyboard clacks, whisky and eleven full years of this,
Bear with me as I tell you a little story. I have a point.
Last year, about halfway through the year, I popped out to our local grocery store to pick up some fruit, with which I wanted to make smoothies. As is the usual way of my life, I was not dressed to the nines nor particularly made up. I’m a writer. I write. My butt is in my chair most days and – some days, if I’m lucky – I don’t have to be beautifully turned out because I don’t need to attend meetings. This was one of those days. I was committing a allegedly heinous “fashion crime”. I was wearing leggings as pants.
As I picked through the bananas, grapes and melons, a most charming fellow (that was sarcasm) leant across to me, quite conspiratorially and smiled as he said:
“Leggings aren’t pants”
Because I’d had my coffee that morning, my head was in the right space to respond. If you know me personally, you’ll know that – sometimes – the words tumble out of my mouth before I can configure them for public consumption. I’m not proud of what I said in response, but in some ways it had to be said:
“Well, asshole isn’t a personality”
It had the intended effect: he turned and left me alone to peruse the fresh produce, after giving me a sneer.
Here’s the thing though – so what? What right does he have to police what I’m wearing? In fact, what right does anyone have? In hindsight, I giggled to myself, and immediately texted my friend Jane to tell her of my witty retort. We laughed over it and moved along in our conversation.
That incident though, has played over in my head a thousand times since. I have a million questions over what gives people the right to tell me (or anyone!) that. I really don’t care what your feelings on fashion are, but seriously, channel your energy towards something useful instead, thanks.
I’m still not at my point. It’s coming.
I have found that, over the past few years, I’ve policed myself. I’ve held back on responding to something that affected me, or tried to find less direct ways of responding. The experience left me uninspired, and almost fearful to say something. I was frustrating myself to such a point, that I ended up feeling disconnected from people. I’d policed myself into a corner and I didn’t like it very much.
For this year, I’ve decided to try and “unpolice” myself. To say what I mean with purpose, and to stop apologising for having an opinion on something that has affected me. So far, it’s been interesting. I’ve been told I “used to be a nice person” and had many a barbed insult catapulted at me. One person called me hysterical for typing a tweet in capital letters, and another asked me if I was “perhaps hormonal”. It’s been an interesting experiment in speaking my mind and just letting the words tumble out.
There’s another reason why I’m doing this.
My daughter is going through an interesting time in her life – where she begins negotiating and mediating her relationships and friendships with other people, without mummy making all the decisions for her. Call it part-letting-go, part-personal development, but we regularly end up reflecting on her friendships together, and I use examples from my own life to help her out when she hits a sticky spot. The biggest piece of advice I can give her? It’s this: Always speak your mind, so long as you are not hurting anyone.
I am, by nature, a shy person. Put me in a room of people I know, and I’m fine. Put me in a room of people I do not know, and you’ll get more conversation out of the water jug. I clam up, big time. She’s like this too, but it’s an area of self-confidence that I want her to feel better managing than I ever have. The one tool I’ve found to help me feel more settled in a room of people I don’t know is speaking my mind and asking questions. Being investigative and interested is half the job of feeling okay in a room of unknown territory. Nobody gets across the desert without looking at the Sun for some sense of direction.
So this year, I’m looking at the Sun. In a world that’s determined to tell me what pants to wear when I pop out to buy some bananas, I need to keep looking at my Sun for direction. And that’s why, this year, I’m not policing my speak.