Things I did on my day off work

Three days of bonus leave are nothing to be sniffed at. They expire at the end of June, so it’s now or never. When I saw that June 13 had no – no! – meetings scheduled, I knew this was a very special opportunity.

What do you do with a day (almost) all to yourself? You do something you haven’t done in a long time. You do something that used to matter to you, a lot. So, today, the plan was to watch a movie in a cinema for the first time since December 2015 when I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Once upon a time, I was something of a movie buff, watching at least two movies a week. I studied film at university and wrote movie reviews for SA City Life in the 1990s, when I got to see everything long before everything else, and with great catering. That was how I met Barry Ronge and why, during one conversation about an ex-boyfriend, he called me “Hitler with tits”.

Once I had a RaRa, movies became most definitely a thing of the past. Until today. Today, I was going to watch Wonder Woman and write later about the experience of being in a dark theatre with nothing to think about or focus on but what was on the screen in front of me.

It was never going to happen, of course. This morning, I needed to write a resumé and send it to a potential client, and give a quick overview on the job at hand. By the time I dropped RaRa off at my mother’s, I knew there was no way I would ever get to Rosebank on time.

So this is what I did instead.

First, I dropped off two paintings at the framers I use to mount my work in lipstick. (They’re next to Herbert Evans, and very good. I can recommend them.) One painting is for Gaynor Young, and the other is for a fellow fan of the Frankel, the unbeaten superstar British racehorse.

On the way to The Zone, I’d noticed several outside broadcast vans next to Oxford Road. Twitter informed me that it was the DA press conference, so I snooped around the Rosebank Holiday Inn and scored a coffee while eavesdropping on the comments of the journalists gathered there. It’s possible that I photobombed a TV reporter. If I’d run into either Mmusi or Helen – neither of whom I’ve met, but both of whom know my husband – I’m not sure what I’d have said.

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Then I ducked into the Clicks in search of a photo frame for Father’s Day. There I encountered assistant store manager Lesego Phihlela, who gave me a discount on two photo frames and happily chatted to me when I asked her about some of my clients. (Yes, I know it was a day off, but I’m never not working.)

I tweeted a pic of Thula Sindi’s Rosebank store and titled it the headquarters of Avo Haters South Africa. (The avo wars are a perennial feature of Black Twitter in South Africa.)

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After that, I went hunting for Africology. My husband had received a spa voucher as part of a corporate gift, and six months later, there was finally an opportunity to use it. I walked in, chose my treatment and enjoyed 45 minutes of bliss thanks to Aletta Khwinana. The treatment got to all the knots and I feel so much better now, which is more than I can say for many massages. Highly recommended.

After the massage, I rushed back to my mom’s place to feed RaRa and go through my mails. I typed up a quick biography for the executive creative director who needed them for a pitch, then headed to the office to chat to the MD about some proactive social media ideas. (Life hack: showing up at the office when you are officially on leave is a way to win friends and influence people.)

Then I did a spot of shopping at the centre across the road before picking up RaRa, heading home and writing about my day.

There’s something quite wonderful about being officially on leave when everyone else is at work. There’s none of the guilt, no worrying about time sheets, and always the possibility that something interesting might happen.

Oh yes – I did mention that there were three bonus leave days. I still have two more bonus days to take. I’m thinking about using those to travel to the Garden Route, which needs the business after the horrific fires of the past week. If I don’t travel, I’ll try to watch a movie in a cinema again. Perhaps I’ll use my two Sorbet vouchers, one of which dates from August 2015. I haven’t bothered to get my nails done in all that time, but bonus leave means there’s no excuse.

 

 

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Passport to home

This afternoon, my husband called me from Hong Kong. Yesterday and the day before, it was Beijing, where he attended a conference. I’m looking forward to having him back home, but I’m glad he’s had another opportunity to travel, because he loves it and it matters so much to him. He might be off again to India soon for his 40th high school reunion, and he has a good friend in Vienna he visits regularly, so I am sure there will be more WhatsApp video calls in the months ahead.

I have travelled with him to Hong Kong and Vienna and India before, but next time he goes, it will be on his own. This is how it will be from now on.

Which reminds of where I keep my passport, in my cupboard wedged between my socks and my underwear. It’s next to RaRa’s vaccination records, which is apt. One document has become far more important than the other, and I don’t imagine I will use the other again except to explain to British Airways why my name on the ticket is Sarah Britten-Steyn and not Sarah Britten. (It’s a long story, which I won’t go into here.)

Travel – the kind that requires a passport – was once one of the most important things in my life. It was impossibly extravagant when I was growing up, and I vowed to change that once I had a job and money of my own. I felt ashamed that I had seen so little of the world, and envious of those who had.

When I was a child during the 80s, overseas travel was something that only amazingly rich people did. Bear in mind that these were the apartheid years, and it was less common for (white) South Africans – the perennial polecats of the world – to venture abroad.   My father traveled regularly, but that was on Eskom-related business, usually heading off to Paris to talk about high voltage power lines. My mother stayed home with us. I knew that there were photos of her visiting Europe when she was much younger, but I never saw them and as far as I was concerned, the rest of the world existed only on TV and, therefore, only in theory.

Now, history is set to repeat itself. RaRa and I will stay home. As long as there are school fees to be saved for and debts to clear, travel is the least of my priorities. Having blown so much money on a quixotic trip to exhibit my art in Japan before I fell pregnant in 2015, I’m loathe to make the same mistake again – and quite frankly, the thought of traveling overseas with RaRa does not appeal to me at all. We have no reason to go, and maybe we never will.

This is what it means to have a child, for me: to stamp out the desire for things that are no longer practical. Travel is the first to be struck off the list. Clothing is up there too, as are other things that aren’t strictly necessary: shoes, hair, dinners, entertainment. I cant justify any of it. Not now, not ever.

 

Breastfeeding ruined my skin

The maternity shoot. The newborn shoot. Both of these are very fashionable. I see them posted on Facebook all the time, and a small part of me feels envious, even resentful. Every time.

I didn’t do either of these. I have hundreds of photos of RaRa, but I feature in almost none of them. I don’t have a single nice photo of myself with my baby.

I had a very good reason for not wanting to do a maternity or a newborn shoot. My skin is a disaster, and I don’t want anyone to see.

This is nothing new. I got my first pimples at the freakishly young age of seven, and it went downhill from there. I was 12 when I was put onto my first course of Roaccutane, and I’ve been on countless courses since. Before I came off the Pill, I was on a chronic low dose of a Roaccutane generic. Nothing else worked.

The first zits soon appeared after I stopped taking contraception, and it only got worse when I fell pregnant. Now my epidermis is faced with a double whammy: not only can I not take Roaccutane (its safety while breastfeeding has not been established), but contraception I’m taking – the mini-pill, which prevents pregnancy while not impacting negatively on breastmilk production – is an acne bomb.

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I hate the way I look most days. I feel ugly, and because I’m now in a category where it’s permissible to look like shit, I’ve let myself go. Before I go to the office, I put on the barest minimum of makeup. I live in leggings.  I keep cover sticks in my car to plaster over the zits, though I know it probably makes them even more obvious. I am pretty sure that people talk behind my back. It’s not normal for a woman in her 40s to have skin like a 16 year old – for all the wrong reasons. (“You should pamper yourself,” my mother-in-law told me when I last visited. I know what this is code for.)

RaRa has almost certainly inherited this particularly shitty problem. I hope that by the time she gets her first pimple, there will be a treatment other than a drug that causes long-term liver damage.

In the mean time, I can have decent skin, or I can breastfeed my baby. But I can’t have both.

It’s back.

It’s back. Of course it is. It probably never really went away. I’ve staved it off quite successfully this year, all things considered. Health problems, the emergency c-section, NICU, all of that. I was always a very good candidate for postpartum depression and the fact that I didn’t succumb to it probably has a lot to do with the effects of the Eglonyl and getting enough sleep.

I’ve tried to pretend that it isn’t back. Being depressed when I’m so happily married seems horribly ungrateful. It doesn’t fit in with the narrative, which is that I’m supposed to have dragged myself through the swamp and climbed out, triumphant, on the other side.

But there it is. I sense it in my procrastination. In my inability to write. In that sense of failure that creeps up on me whenever I read of the success of others. I think back to last year’s quixotic ventures to overseas art fairs and marvel at how stupid I was to waste all that money. Those dreams have turned to dust and now I have other, more concrete realities to deal with. School fees will forever haunt me now.
Little things get to me. My inner voice is starting up again, the one that says you’re a useless piece of shit and you know it. Your mother is a piece of shit, RaRa, I told my daughter the other day. (I need to not do that. I don’t want to poison her with my self-loathing.)

Most of the things I used to love hold little pleasure for me now. Painting is a chore. The piano I bought is out of tune and gathering dust. I can’t concentrate on words on a page for long enough to read a book.

I don’t want to travel, don’t want to spend money, don’t want to do anything except be with the baby. I’m not excited about anything. There’s nothing I want to do. I drink too much, sometimes to slow my scattering thoughts, sometimes to stop feeling at all.

I don’t know if this will pass. Maybe it won’t. Maybe this is the way things are now, and I just need to get used to it.

Anxiety

I have a problem with anxiety.  The familiar acid tang at the back of the throat, the clenched heart, fluttering in the stomach, caught mid swoon. The tunnel vision too, which is a bugger when you’re driving.

This is nothing new; I spent most of 2010 and some of 2011 so tanked on tranquilizers that I wrecked my short term memory. Eventually I got myself more or less back on track, and the daily bouts of clammy palms and lurching stomach became a memory.

2016 has changed all of that. First I was anxious because my health went pear-shaped. Then I was anxious because I had to have my baby ten weeks early and I was worried she would die. After that, I was anxious about producing enough breast milk and whether she was gaining enough weight.

Then she came home and I was anxious because I had a new business pitch and combining that with a new baby and no sleep was a nightmare. Then I was anxious because I was at home with the baby while everyone else was working late on more new business pitches and I wasn’t a team player.

After I went back to work, I was anxious about going to my mother’s house to feed the baby, and anxious about abandoning the baby to be in meetings. I was anxious about breast milk and, when I could no longer cope with expressing, anxious about letting my baby down by supplementing her feeds with formula.

I became anxious about losing relevance because I’d been away for three months, and the office might find that they could manage without me. I’m anxious because things are not the same, and I feel guilty about not working the hours I used to, and guilty about not being there when my baby needs me, which in turn leads to more anxiety.

I’m anxious because I don’t feel as smart as I used to, and there are days when I feel completely incompetent or utterly extraneous and sometimes both at the same time. I’m anxious because I can’t focus the thoughts rattling around in my head. I’m anxious because I know I have to save for school fees, and I gave away a lot of money a few years ago and now I’m regretting it. I’m anxious because sometimes I’m not billable enough and someone’s going to look at my time sheets and wonder if I’m expendable. I’m anxious about increases in medical aid for next year, and how much will come off the salary I’m worried I don’t deserve to get anyway.

I’m anxious because the stakes are so much higher now. I’m anxious because if I slip up, it’s not just me I have to worry about any more. I’m anxious about being anxious, about whether I should change my medication, whether it’s the pill I’m taking because I read that anxiety is one of the side effects.

I am anxious because I am anxious because I am anxious and it won’t stop and there is no end in sight.

FaceTime from Vienna

It’s Sunday evening, and I’ve just had another FaceTime call from my Best Beloved. He’s in Vienna visiting an old friend. Today, he went on a hike in the hills near the city before taking in a recital by a Bulgarian pianist (Mozart, Bach, Liszt, Chopin). Now he’s about to have schnitzel for dinner.

I wave at everyone else in the background and tilt the phone so that it shows Ra-Ra. She smiles broadly the moment she sees her dad’s face on the screen.

There was a time, once, when I might have been a tiny bit jealous of the day my husband had. Mine, in comparison,  was desperately dull. Apart from some painting, writing and dog wrangling, I’ve spent the day either feeding RaRa or snoozing. Yesterday my husband was in Bratislava for the day; tomorrow he’ll be back in London before flying back home. In contrast, the highlight of my weekend was schlepping to Northriding to finally pick up the curtains I ordered back in January.

Once upon a time, international travel was my major ambition in life, but it’s so impractical now. Besides the challenges of getting leave and traveling with a baby, there’s the small matter of school fees. I’ve already started saving, and every rand I spend on airfare and foreign currency is a rand I can’t spend on RaRa’s education. Last year’s trip to Japan was an experience of a lifetime as well as a financial disaster, and I will need to be much more prudent in future.

Perhaps my feelings about will change  as RaRa grows older. Perhaps the wanderlust will set in again and I’ll feel a gnawing sense of loss and regret at all the places I’ve wanted to experience, and haven’t.

In the mean time, that old, pre-baby version of myself has vanished. I wonder if she will ever return.

Travel is for the birds

It’s the Loeries this week, which means that thousands of delegates will descend on Durban for three days of collecting wristbands for awards ceremonies, exhibitions and seminars as well as excellent parties, and going home with vintage hangovers after it’s all over.

It’s the biggest thing in my industry, advertising, and an event I’ve attended almost religiously for the past six years – which is, naturally, why I am writing about it in bed in my faded purple Mr Price Moody Cow pajamas with a baby snoring gently next to me.

There is no Loeries for me this year. No red carpet, no VIP access, no canapés and no schmoozing. This is a bigger deal than you might think, because it had long since become an annual fixture on my calendar, either because they were one of my clients when I was freelancing, or my husband was attending. The radio station he runs is an official Loeries partner, and he’s already down in Durban.

I suppose I could have gone to the Loeries if I really wanted to. But I didn’t. The thought of travelling with a baby and navigating social commitments that were easy once and aren’t now (do I try an organise a baby sitter? Do I sit everything out and spend days in the hotel? If I don’t, what do I wear now that fashion is the last, last thing I care about?) was too much to contemplate, and I was relieved that the logistics of getting down there and back made it a non-starter.

We’ve done a bit of travelling with Ra-Ra – to Howick, Durban, Dullstroom and Clarens – and none of it has been easy. She’s fine when she’s sleeping, but when she wants Boob, it’s a different story. I don’t know how long this aversion will last; maybe I’ll be inclined to get out more once she gets older. In the mean time, I’m very happy in my pajamas, in the bed, with a sleeping baby and a mug of Milo.