36 | 72

This coming Saturday, I will mark my mother’s 72nd birthday.

Except it’s not her 72nd birthday, because she’s not here to celebrate it.

But her children are.

I am.

I’m turning 36 this year.

That halfway point in our ages hit me as I walked up the stairs yesterday afternoon, puzzling over my priorities and choices, life tasks and duties. I had the same thoughts as my mother probably did at this age, and probably a whole bunch more.

I pick up on all the similarities between us now – where she made choices in her life, and now I see those same ones reflected back in my own. I untangle the ones I haven’t made her way, and glue even more stickily the ones I have. Hell, I see her in everything. Everything I do. From the way I talk to my dogs, to the way I parent, to the way I can sign people off from my life when it is required. That steeliness? That alleged flippancy you see from me when I am actually just implementing self-preservation?

I get it all from her. But the underside of hurt that I bury underneath it burns the same. Like the fire in her eyes that I knew could engulf a room or embrace a stranger.

That fire, the one that lived within her but she never extinguished, no matter how many times people and life tried to hose it down. That fire always had a purpose, and a place. I used to feel pity for people who met it, when they irked it awake. I used to feel great shame for them when they would hurt someone she loved and cared for. That fire, that begins with grace and ends in obliteration… I’m still learning how to manage it.

And as I realised all of this. I also remembered that I will be the age,this year, that my mother was when she gave birth to me.

I am ever aware that, at this age — the part where she gave me life — I need to use the flame more, the way she did and did not.

I need to carry on learning to choose my anger, and find my answers.

But in many ways, as I realise this halfway point, I see my own mortality too, and question the impact of my own life. Have I done enough? Have I done the things I loved? Do I do them every day? Am I helpful? Am I useful? Am I changing the things that need to be changed? Am I learning?

My mother was an eager learner. So much so that she changed careers and paths more times than I can count. She was always reading, always learning, and never scared to encourage someone else to flex their mental mettle.

As I look at that halfway point, the strange one that hit me as I walked up the stairs of my house that she never got to see, never got to know, never got to feel. She never will know the rhythm of the home I live in, that my little family created together. But underneath the rhythm of our family, there lives a beating drum that has never stopped in tempo. Just as she beat the drum for our family, she taught me how to continue it. Beneath the rhythm of this home, with crazy dogs, to do lists and funny magnets, askew on the fridge… if I listen very carefully, I can still hear that drum.

Today, as I walk up the stairs and contemplate that halfway point, I remember her too. And I hope like anything, that you’re proud.

Happy Birthday, UM.

Ten For Ten.

Sweet child, the idea that you are turning ten leaves me breathless. Every parent says it, but it’s so true for me – I blinked and suddenly you’d morphed from mewling infant into this tall, assured and graceful girl before me.

Here are ten things I want you to know, on your tenth birthday:

1. My admiration for you goes deeper than the roots of the world’s oldest tree.
I say admiration for a reason, because you actively inspire me, every single day. You are not scared to feel scared, and you are not afraid to conquer. You teach me about getting back up again, when you feel knocked down.

2. Your spirit is tenacious.
As a toddler, you danced in the leaves outside your gran’s house, and that dance has not stopped. You do not stop dancing, no matter what song the world is singing. You love music, so don’t stop sharing the music you love with me, and I will not stop showing you the music I love. We find a common ground there that I know is, and will always be, important for both of us.

3. You have an incredible way of handling people.
You’re perceptive, but not intrusive. You have an instinctual way of figuring someone out and going with it. Even the people I battle to read, you just know how to handle. Please remember this skill, all through your life. It will stand you in good stead, as you begin to pick and choose the people you spend time with.

4. You have faced so very much in ten years.
Far more than you and I even want to consider right now, because we’ll end up having a tearful laugh and going to make tea, rather than facing it all again. Let those things you put behind you, stay behind you. You are under no obligation to live with the ghosts of your past, at any time. You do not need to look back – you are not going that way.

5. You can and will laugh at your fears. 
Do you remember those nights when it would storm, and you’d wake up, we’d watch Noddy DVDs and laugh at the thunder? Those nights live in my heart like a flower reaching up for the sunshine. Your cheerful face at 2am, even when you were frightened by all the noise, helped me get past a big fear of mine – storms. You taught me how to brave through them, and you’ve never even known how much they scared me. Spoiler alert – I used to wail and weep like a kid who’d lost their ice-cream every time one hit. You just see storms as an opportunity to have fun and laugh at the sky. Thank you.

6. We are a team.
Both feet in, no judgies, no backsies and no questions. When you were three, you suddenly went from being someone I had to care for, to being my teammate. It’s been like that since, even as our family has morphed into a far bigger team. You are an unquestioning ally, and I am yours. I want us to remain as thick as thieves like this, forever. Yes, that includes yelling “Girls Night” when we want to, and ignoring the world while we cuddle up for movies and popcorn. This is team building. This is what a team does.

7. You’re on the precipice of your teenage years.
Please be nothing like me, and everything like me. I know that might not make sense right now, but I want you to know that it is an incredible journey. The most intense adventures await you, but the biggest one will be the one you take within yourself. This is when that great adventure – the biggest one of your life – truly begins. During the next ten years of your life, you will probably fall in love, discover – at least – one thing that makes your heart sing, and you will begin to form your place in the world. Hold strong to the place you find here, for it will lay the pathway to the next ten, twenty and all the other years.

8. You are your own person, without question.  
When you were four, I asked you to pass me something, and, because you were “reading” you looked up at me and said “I’m busy. Please do it yourself. Stop wasting my reading time”. Cheeky, perhaps, but it showed me how you are not afraid to give people their marching orders when required. Never be afraid to cut people off when they are wasting your time. Do not lose this skill (and yes, I know, you learnt all those lines from me). It is something I wish I had learnt earlier.

9. Please be patient with my mom heart. 
I will never again hear the toddler words like “badum” or “ixbah” erupt from your mouth, for your vocabulary is now beautifully forming and your knowledge base expanding at a rate I battle to catch up with. You no longer have that childlike lisp, and you’re carving words into your tree of life. Please allow me to regale people and bore you with these stories of toddler words and the times you made me laugh – they are jewels embedded in my heart, but you can berate me about sharing them when you need to.

10. You are kind. Do not let the world change you.
And the tenth thing. This is the hard one. You are a kind, generous and sweet soul. Over the next ten years, someone or something, or a situation, or whatever, will hurt you, either intentionally or not. Please, whatever it is, come immediately to me. Heck, even if it is something I do. Yell, cry, scream and release it. Give it to me to handle, with you. I will carry the whole thing for you if you need me to. I will do everything I can to protect you from any harm, but life will have its way at some point. You will not face it alone. Ever. I am your mother, even on my absolute worst days, and nothing and nobody can stop me from that. The family tree we swing from is a mighty, mighty oak. We are born from a long line of very loud lioness women, you and I. We roar together and never alone.

Happy tenth birthday, child of my heart.
You are always the greatest surprise of my life, and the joy of my every day.
Thank you for choosing me to be your mama.

For UM. Because, birthday.

It’s your birthday. How funny-wonderful it would be for you, this year, because the wedding has been planned to fall just after your birthday. It was planned around your special day. I think you would’ve liked that. I wish you were here.


P said a funny thing the other night, how my kid is sounding more and more like me, every day. Yet, when she speaks, I don’t hear me. I hear you. Like an echo of a time gone by, you’re still audible, just that your voice ekes out from within a throat you don’t use.

I see you in her gawky elbows and the way she’ll do the ‘hand-thing’ when she sees something she likes. It’s impossible that she learnt that from you – you’d not done it in years after Dad died. So, really, mom, is that you in that there hand motion?

I see you in her long, craning neck as she peers into the kitchen and asks ‘what’s for dinner’.

I see you when she gets frustrated and that just makes her more determined to do something.

I see you in the funny little moments nobody else would see. Where they see me, I just see you.

I could go on and tell you how I wish you could see all of this. How I’d only-half-jokingly tell you to move in next door to us. The cats would’ve loved it. I would’ve loved it. You and I would’ve been irritated enough by our close proximity to absolutely love it.

But I can’t move you in next door, or festoon your birthday with cake and gifts. So, instead, I’ll stand outside in the twilight tonight, with a glass of red in my hand and toast you. I’ll keep your voice within mine as I help my brother’s wedding happen tomorrow. As I take my place at a table, ruffle the hair of my many, many nieces and squeeze the hand of my daughter, I take you with me.

And while my kid plays in the garden with the dog (oh you would’ve laughed at him) and her little big voice exclaims in glee, I’ll hear you, all of a sudden, not so far away from me.

Happy birthday Mum.



Dear Dadadadad,

It was your birthday yesterday, and I had to skip writing you a letter because my eyeballs were square from working most of the weekend and spending a tonne of time poring my strength into words for other people.

But, today, as I sit here on the precipice of my tether, with minimal sleep, a furrowed forehead and well, really, what else can I do today, except write to you?

You’d have turned 81 yesterday, and I ponder at the gigantic nature of that number. It seems ginormous and almost unattainable to me. Yet, I do know people who have gone far beyond 81. 

This month has been difficult for me. It’s felt like an obstacle barrage, never mind a course. But, there is sunshine in the spots where I know I can go to. There is peace in the places that I have come to rely on. And, Dad, I know I can rely on, and not in that half-a-toe-in-maybe-I-might-have-to-escape-them-one-day way.

But, as is the way with this time of year and me, I know it’s coming. I thought I’d been able to skip past it at one point, but then it all really came at me like an arrow. So, I plod on. 

By the way, I’m done complaining now.

Do you remember how you used to hang on to this photo? I remember having to rush off and get a copy made at the office, so you could keep the original by you, all the time. 

cam baby scan for post



I wanted to say thank you for that. I don’t think I did at the time and, in the hurly burly chaos of everything that came afterwards, I don’t think I really got to the chance to. We were lucky, you and I, because we got to spend all that time together, and you even came with me for one of my final scans (having everything happen in the same hospital works, hey?). I loved that we got that time together, especially because we both knew (and aptly avoided talking about…) that we wouldn’t get the time after. 

What it did, Dad, was imbue a sense of you into the after. Yes, genetically, that happens anyway, but it has served to create a bond that can’t be seen. Your name will come up in conversation and your grandchild #1 will say “you know, he used to help people” or “yes, he had very tough hair” or (my personal favourite) “my mom says he used to eat her toes” (I’ve long since been able to convince her that you never actually chewed on them, although, for a while there, she did think that toes could be eaten and would grow back).

My point, Dad, is that you’re not here. I can miss you, write to you and wish for you, but none of that will change the fact that I cannot call you up and bore you with one of my stories, or make you eat 25 servings of macaroni cheese, just to be funny. 

But I can, and do, still find you. 

Dadadadad, happy birthday. I hope the whiskey was fab and the dancing girls (family joke) limber.

To William, on his 25th Birthday

Dear William,


It’s been the most change of a year yet. I know we say that often, but I truly feel that this past year was a change of good. And, frankly, nutsboltsandbutts, it was about time. I know we have not spent as much time together this year as we have in the past, but I also know that it’s not a reflection of us. It’s just a reflection of life’s current space, and pace.

this picture will mean nothing to anyone except you.

I’ve watched you, this year. You’ve grown in ways I did not expect (and, well, neither did you, let’s be honest). I’ve also watched you confront a lot more than I think you expected to. Was this past year, in fact, a surprise mirror?


But, again, as is the way with you, you’ve taken all these things (yes, yes, I know. haha) and mused over them. You’ve approached them with grace and a gait of transparency. Most of all, though, you’ve taken them, without fear, and avoided the filthy towers. Cough.


 I love how I can send you one line, and it’s the same.


I love that you will burst onto my screen with something supportive, on the worst day, and I haven’t even said anything.

I guess, what I really want to say in an elbowthroughthewindow way is…

Often people say that we should ‘never change’.

Yet, you – he who really has no reason to change, because – you are – in my eyes, perfect – are changing.

Is this growing up or middle age, and will we yell at the younguns on the lawn some frosty Tuesday morning?

Who knows.

All I know is that you’ll probably keep the lawn quite tidy and only really grumble when someone steps on the rosebushes. In all likelihood, it’ll be me who tramples through them, whilst not thinking or looking where she’s going, again.


Happy Birthday William. Here’s to a billion more starry nights.   All my love, Gracie.


Dear Mum,

You’d be seventy today. Seventy. That always seemed some weird, far off number when we’d laugh about it. You’d muse and say you’d be the cranky old woman in the corner with no teeth, gabbing on about something or other and demanding someone pour her a glass of wine.

Oh you have no idea how much I wish you were, right there, in the corner, annoying us all right now. We will mark the fourth year of you being gone this year and, mom, it’s gone so quickly. How did that go so quickly? Somehow the first day became the first month, became the first year, and it’s all just slipped into the ether.

I needed to tell you a few things. I think you’d be proud now. I did the things you told me to do, and – I know you’ll laugh at me – you were right. You told me to use my nose and follow through. I followed through. Every day, I follow through. There are a few challenges and strange obstacles that appear every now and again, and I do my usual freak-out-it-is-all-shit-i-am-terrible (“it’s shit, it’s all shit” hahahaha) dramatics, and then get on and get through it. I’m happy here, even when the work seems so much, and I feel frazzled and bitty. I’m happy. Really, I am. The one thing you hoped for me and I didn’t believe would be an actual, active reality.

C. You know mom, I don’t tell people this much, but she firmly maintains a strong bond to you. You come up in her conversations with me often, and she is adamant that you remain a strong part of her life. I like that. I endorse it. Completely. Did you know she has a picture of you on her bedroom wall? Sometimes, she talks as though you are just around the corner, and I am stunned by how well she knows you. Sometimes I will hear you in the lilt of her voice. Sometimes I’ll find you in her approach to something. She also does the funny hand-grabby thing you used to do when she gets excited about something. Sometimes when I look at her, I see Dad. A lot of the time though, I see you.

And, in there, sometimes I want to cry. But mostly it makes me smile. There in the strange genealogy of ours, your power is still coming through. Over years and through time, you’re still there.

I want to yell at the sky so you’ll see. You’d explode from pride if you just looked at her. Do you see? I really hope you see.

And in me. I look in the mirror sometimes and there you are, staring back at me. I find you in my anger at things. Although, I find myself not so easily angered nowadays by petty stuff – is this maturity? I find myself punching my fists into the air over injustice, and yelling at bigotry. I find myself calling people out on their bullshit, mom. And when it happens, it swirls up from within me and erupts from my mouth like a tornado that nobody got a warning for.

Undeniable Genealogy.
Me. You. I got a fright the first time I saw the photo on the right.
Thank you to Diane Cassells (oh mom, you’d have loved her!) for finding my mother in my face.

As those words tumble out of me, I hear your voice in them. Every time I say no, or yell at a stupid move by an unthinking twit, I see your power laid bare again. I understand now, how you’d say people would see you and assume you were meek. And you’ll laugh at their surprise after you opened your mouth to speak. You were assumed to be meek, until you began to speak.

It strengthens me, especially when I feel utterly obliterated by something that’s happened. That peculiar “Let’s get something to eat and then deal with this crisis” coping mechanism that you made into a life ritual. C even knows, when something happens, our first stop for everything is “get something to eat”. Haha.

But I see you in that ferocity of my love too. That focused, white light of love that a mother has for her children and family, and that guides everything. I have leant on that love, to teach me a way forward when I felt lost. That is the love you taught me, and now I am enacting it every day.

I wish for you in the corner mom. I wish for you in the corner of my lounge. I wish for you in the corner of my life. I wish for you in the corner of every single one of my days.

Happy Birthday, UM. I hope Dadadadad’s handing you a wine and a ciggie, and you’re laughing in a corner together somewhere.  I miss you so much.




I’ll keep this brief, because I don’t think I need to be verbose today.

.the butterflies were not coincidental. i see you.

I’ll say this – on turning 33.

If I must reflect upon the year gone by, more has changed than I ever expected. I have been given more than I could’ve wished for and I have found myself in spaces that I have been a complete surprise.

I have been humbled by hard work, and buoyed by the results.

I have been quietened by the simplicity inherent in love, and spurned into shouting by exuberance.

I used to think that exuberance was an immature notion, but it’s not. It just depends on how you place it. Don’t be placing it somewhere inconsequential.

I understand which rules I want to live by. And I will stand up for them, any time.

As for my family. It’s not the form I’d have expected at 23. It’s beyond anything I could’ve dreamed possible. 23 year old me could barely understand this life, but I know she would be hugging herself a little tighter, knowing it lay ahead.

Thank you, life.

SOTD – Thirty Three – Smashing Pumpkins. 


sixty eight.

Dear UM,

Today, you would have been sixty eight.

You know, you always used to say that you and Dadadad wanted to create a dynasty.

By dynasty, you meant that you wanted a family that was loud, boisterous, opinionated, crowded and loving. You adored the fact that our friends always thought of our house as their second home, and never once did you turn anyone away at the door.

I saw some of my high school girlfriends a few weeks ago. It jarred me a little – were you still alive, you’d have loved this swarming of friends, laughter and community that has been with us for so many years. Just this weekend, we had a lovely dinner and then a concert. At every point, my brain kept thinking “mum would’ve fit here” or “dad and mum would’ve loved this”.

In truth, I realise it’s my own feeling of alleged “orphanhood” that brings those thoughts to the surface. Those thoughts can lead my brain down a mental abyss, and I end up berating myself for the million things I wish I had done with you, if we’d had more time. And then something ticks over in my head. I know it’s something that you gave to me – a sense of self-preservation and kicking my own butt. Note – I do get this specifically from you. That “I will kick my butt myself” sense, tells me that you felt the same way at one point. You would sometimes say that, when we were kids, you’d feel guilty because you had to work, or were busy saving the world or something. But that you regretted nothing because you knew that your love for us, and the world at large, was reflected in everything you  did.

In exactly the same way – I no longer regret my “orphanhood”. I’ve come to realise that it’s part of who I am and I am okay with it. If I had the opportunity to turn back time and still have you and Dad, I would, but I have come to terms with the notion that life knows what it’s doing. Even when I do not understand it at all, or feel bereft because of it.

You were right, you know. I see so very much of you in myself now. The woman who talks to herself while she does the dishes. The person who prefers to keep their words coming, rather than zipping her lip. I feel lighter when I’ve spoken my truth, and it was you and dad who taught us all, that speaking your truth is the ONLY option.

You’ve got your dynasty now. There are many, many beautiful, clever little girls with ballet dancer dreams and princess fantasies. They’re clever and funny and not afraid. There is noise, craziness, worry and an abundance of love.

I say worry with a glint in my eye. It’s a pretty much our-family-phenomenon – to worry, together. I laugh, you know, still, whenever an emergency strikes, the very first thing I think of is – What should we eat? That’s so you it’s alarming…:)

I go through these weird phases, where I’m totally fine. And others where I just pine for you and Dad. The other day, I was walking through the house taking the laundry down, and ALL I wanted, desperately, was to show you and Dad my life now. The home I have that I share with the two loves of my life. How I am loved. How I love.

Your love is one to which I will always aspire. Enduring, infinite and sans boundary. Dad used to say that when you love someone, when they’re family  – you can fight with them and in the morning, they’d still smell like honey to you. It’s true, you know. I have a little triangle of love that smells like honey every morning. My only wish is that you could come over for dinner and I could show it to you, up close, and let you soak it in too.

Mama, I wish you a happy birthday. Throw a party. Do the grasshopper with Dad. Cook a million pots of breyani. Clink glasses. Throw your hand over your head and wave your ciggie around in the air (I confess – I catch myself doing it too!). Solve the world’s problems. Love every part of your family. Have fun. Celebrate.

I will squeeze my darling little family a little bit tighter tonight, just for you. X

Looking back on 30

Seriously, I never, ever, ever thought I’d be sitting here, writing to you at 30. I thought by then I’d have been an entirely different person. How weirdly, then, that I am intensely thankful that I am not.

Usually, I’d pick apart a year of my life now. I’d mull it over, glance at the hurts, grin at the joys and grimace at the moments I did not enjoy. This year, though, I’m giving myself a break. I think I deserve that.

Women24 Shirt.

Yes, I have felt like an orphan at times. Yes, I have often wondered, in these exact words: “what on earth am I doing? why? how? is this a plan or a defense strategy?”. Yes, I have totally loved and danced through some wonderful days of sunshine. And yes, I have known great love. I have known amazing, steadfast friends who are more family than acquaintance.

So I look back on 30, and I think…you lucky chick, you. You very lucky chick.

I am thankful for a year where I felt both solid and adrift, all at the same time. I am thankful for some marvellous anchors with which I am held down during the great winds of life. I am thankful for love of all kinds. I am thankful for my little person, who’s more like me every day, and I hope that turns out to be a good thing. I wish her strength and perserverance. I wish her hope and happiness, through all of it. I have felt more of a mother than I ever have before. I think that has a lot to do with no longer having my own and another lot to do with being more confident in my own parenting.

I think I see things more clearly now than I ever have before. I’m not saying I’m some bastion of clarity. Heh. That’s just not possible if you’re me. But I will admit to being able to think more clearly than I ever have, at times. And that it’s a relief to me, in many ways.

Perhaps the greatest thing that I feel is a sense of consistency, both external and internal. I doubt myself less, and I am able to trust more.

Lucky, lucky me. Intensely thankful, me.

Happy Birthday Me.


Dear Sue,

Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday to a woman I hold so high, and so close, in my life. Thank you for being the woman I look to, when I despair. You make me believe that anything is possible. You remind me that it’s about determination. You remind me that it’s braver to be honest, than it is to pretend that you are okay. You are my honesty in life beacon. You are the little voice in my head that spurs me on to try again.

I am, every day, thankful for you.

Happy Birthday my Suetjie. A bazillion blessings and good things for you, today, and every day.