I’ve settled slowly into the realization that this season of my life is about mothering. Not in part, not on the side, but almost entirely. Love for my daughter broke me into pieces; love for my son has put me back together again.
About two years ago I was a regular reader of an unschooling mom who became a minimalist. She went from living in a three-bedroomed double-garaged suburban house with a yard to a two-bedroomed walk-up apartment. She, along with her husband and two kids, radically downsized the volume of their possessions (as in 2 sets of cutlery and crockery each, 2 towels, 4 shirts…), and in the process uncovered the life of their dreams. Originally inspired by Konmari, a decluttering method which suggests keeping only that which brings you joy, they went further, and asked, ‘What can we manage?’ I was intrigued and inspired. I immediately began a decluttering process, which quickly snowballed into our own drastic move. My husband gave up one of his jobs (which had included a four-bedroomed house and yard with staff), and we moved into a one-roomed hut perched on a hillside.
Last week Monday morning found me swinging in a hammock, the pale golden orb of the sun just peeking through the naked branches beyond my feet. My husband pulled up in the bakkie packed with tools, and I climbed in. We were heading to my mother-in-law’s to help with a day of building on her new house. My three-year-old had spent the night with her, and although I felt her absence keenly, it had filled me up with love and patience. I had inspected the spaces I often fill with worry and ‘urgent’ tasks, and swept them clean. With my one love in the seat beside me, I drove towards the other, through fields olive and tan, the evergreen trees shivering softly in the morning light. We picked up staff on the way, and all unloaded at the little house tucked beneath a swath of indigenous forest. I settled on a fallen log and felt the day unfolding crease by crease.
In the hours that followed, collecting treasures such as berries and leaves and flowers with my daughter, building impromptu playgrounds out of planks and bricks, laughing with my husband as we shopped for a group lunch, I sensed something new tingling beneath my skin. For several months I had been gently seeking a rhythm I had lost. I knew, up in my mind, that the life embracing me was beautiful, sacred, and joyful, but it had been some years since I felt that truth beating in my heart, flooding my limbs and leaking through my ribs. Three-year-olds experience bursts of enthusiasm and joy every few minutes. For many adults, these pure moments are spaced out by months. As we ripen into adulthood we often forget how to immerse ourselves in the flow of the universe; we cloud the truth that there is anything more important than taking delight in our passing moments. But in a tent of pine needles, with the water under the rowboat sparking and shimmering like a quickly moving fish, what had been silent in my veins had turned into a pulse. I once again not only knew joy, but felt it too, and as a dear and familiar companion.
I stood at the sink, my hands in hot soapy water while my three-year-old and my husband sat on the couch watching TV. Our daughter wanted something to eat, but didn’t like anything we had in the house. The sound of her whining climbed fingers up my spine. My shoulders moved up towards my ears as I moved around the house collecting dirty bowls, spoons and cups. My three-year-old wasn’t only disappointed that we had no sweets for her to eat, she was angry. She wouldn’t let either of us pick her up to comfort her. I struggled to feel sympathy or compassion while that terrible whining noise continued. I knew she was actually bumping up against the reality that she doesn’t make the decisions, that her life is in our control. She couldn’t choose to climb in the car, drive to the store, and change her options. She was finding her own edges, and processing a world full of limits. I pulled on my boots and grabbed the bowl of food scraps. The cold outside reached beneath my shirt as I walked to the compost box. The frost crackled on the veld grass of our little homestead. At the edge of the fence, our dog waited for tidbits, her scavenging instincts still strong from her days spent roaming wild in the township. I tipped out the bowl, and breathed deep of the winter air. The mountains were crisp below me, with only a light layering of snow. As I crunched back to our one-roomed house, I stopped to look at the icicles covering the edges of the leaves. They clung to the still-green surfaces like rows of tiny perfect diamonds.
The field spreads out green speckled with brown. A swath of flame-colored trees lies across it. Then the lines of olive hills and finally the pale blue mountains. The sky is washed out, grey dabs of watercolor bleeding into the white page. Below the water dimples with rain drops. In its depths, bass swim to winter hide-outs while trout move up and into the chill. This is the season of crisp air and leaves crackling underfoot. Women gather on the side of the road to cut and bundle thatch grass. The cosmos have already bloomed and faded.
This is the season of change, when each dawn uncovers a new palette. The trees and hills burn before my eyes and remind me of the invisible tide tugging at our world. This shift and turn is omnipresent, yet only occasionally does it sidle into our consciousness. Despite millennia of proof to the contrary, we like to believe that the state of affairs as we see them have some sort of stability or endurance. In our moments of strength we forget the weak, in our weakness we lose faith in strength. Sad wipes out happy and happy forgets sad. It can stretch our credibility to breaking point to believe ‘This too shall pass’.
Every day I pass the water. Dotted with reeds, it is a piece of silk smoothed into the hollow between the hills. The sun floods it with such generosity I find myself gulping for breath. Most of the autumn days I see the crowned cranes. They are tall and elegant as they pick through the lilies or the rye tufts in the pastures. Golden rays pour out haloes from heads held delicate and proud. All summer I watched the pair, stretching enormous wings over the fields. They landed on our roof, and with my head resting just beneath the eaves, I heard the rush of their feathers pushing against the air. Their strange cries mourn the skies like a lost traveller from a country far away. Even the drops of rain falling gently between the thatch I heard. Summer ripened and then fell, tumbling towards my feet. Then one day their child walked between them, threading swirls through the brown mirror. Her halo was half-formed, like a bottle brush made of sunlight.
On the way home from dinner out in the village, my daughter looks up and asks me who painted the stars. She asks me what the sun is for and if the fish caught and killed by her father opens its mouth to let god come in and fetch its spirit. Her laughter falls like water into my heart, washing away pain. She runs lightly around the house, collecting cups and bowls and sponges for her play, showing me new ways to be and love.
‘I want to know if you can see beauty,
even when it’s not pretty,
and if you can source your own life
from its presence.’
- Oriah Mountain Dreamer
The little group set off hand in hand along the path. Dudu, a staff member, wore a bright red dress that shone out amidst the dappled shade of the trees. On either side of her ran two child members, Parvan (8) and Emma (3). Little Philasande (2) trailed behind. They were on the hunt for creatures. The morning had been spent combing the outdoor play space for snails, spiders, slugs and worms to add to their terrarium. A barking dog and the hot sun brought them back to the play space after only a few minutes. The foray had not been as fruitful as hoped for. But Emma sidled up to me, her small plastic bucket held behind her back. ‘Close your eyes Mom,’ she said with a shy smile. When I opened them again, a small grey feather rested on my knee. An ordinary feather. An exquisitely-formed, shimmering silver-grey feather. It was a beautiful moment. A perfect moment. The kind of moment that can lift me up out of pain and fear and confusion and make all the striving worthwhile - but if only I have the flash of insight to let it.
Earlier in the day the children had pottered around, working on this and that. I had made myself available, worked on holding the space, keeping it clear and inviting, and observed closely. There were some squabbles, mediation was needed. By 9am, I was already exhausted. I had been a teacher before, and it’s always a demanding job. But this time, in this place, it was confusion which kept my jaw tight and curled my fingers in towards my palms.
I have always been pretty good at listening to the still small voice within when it comes to big decisions. Moving countries, getting married, changing jobs, building houses, having babies: when crossroads appear, I slow down, seek out quiet spaces, and watch for the signs. I manage to shut my ears to expectations and follow spirit’s choice, even when it seems illogical or unlikely. This skill has given my life path color, and some unusual about-turns in direction. When I thought to stop and consider this aptitude, I glanced about with satisfaction and patted myself on the back. It has taken three decades and some earth-severing shifts for me to realize how bumbling, clumsy, and awkward I am when it comes to tiny choices.
I feel like a barnacle that has attached itself to a mighty seaboard vessel, and we're heading out of the harbor. I will likely never reach the destination. I have no control of the rudder and I understand nothing of the vast powerful ocean. But the spray of sea in my eyes and the surge of the ship beneath me are sensations worth knowing.
Christmas morning crept over the hillside misty and grey. On our mattress in the rafters of grass, our daughter unwrapped her first fishing rod, and upended her Christmas stocking for the first time. We ate chocolate and mango amid the ruffles of duvet, then descended to clean dishes and wrap a few more presents. We ran late preparing to leave the house for my mother-in-law’s. Eventually we loaded Emma and presents into the car, napless and without a proper breakfast. I was eager to get on the road, to cover our toddler’s needs of food and sleep as much as for the sake of punctuality. The clamminess of the day itched me with the damp heat of December. We bumped down the dirt track, opened and closed two farm gates, and were passing the dam when she spotted the bramble bushes. The berries were ripe with sun under the cloud-wreathed sky.
Hello and welcome:) I am a South African mama who believes in unschooling, mindfulness. and living on purpose. I love traveling, reading, yoga, leading our family business, and eating delicious food in beautiful places. And tea. I love tea. Pour yourself a cup and settle in for a read.