I’ve decided to start a blog because my situation is pretty unique – I don’t think there are many mothers from South African living in London without their children. Apologies if I am being presumptuous but I have yet to meet one. But first, let me start at the beginning. This is a looooong story so get comfortable. It’s more like a novel than a blog so I will have to stop somewhere and make you wait in eager anticipation for the next blog instalment.
I was born in 1972 to a mother of English descent and a father of Swedish descent. The marriage did not last and before long I was the only child of a broken marriage and bitter divorce. My mother was desperately poor and we survived on bread and cheese and what my grandparents could spare for us. When I was 6 my mother met my step-dad (a 40 year old bachelor) and quickly ensured that he would stick around by fixing his broken jacket (as the story goes) and probably a whole lot more that was never spoken about. They married very soon after meeting as I am sure my mother did not want to let a good thing get away what with her disastrous state of monetary affairs and also her general life and health issues. My mother had epilepsy and was really not fit to work (even though she had to before she married my step-dad) and she did not manage it well. 80% of epileptics seizures are controlled by the medication one takes but unfortunately my mother was not one of them. This meant that she often had petit mal and grand mal seizures. As my dad worked and because he was in the Navy he had to spend time away from the home, this left me, essentially, to ‘look after’ my mother. To put it mildly my childhood was a nightmare. Not only did my mother have blackouts and fits without warning and constantly, she was a nightmare to live with. She was inconsistent – children need unconditional love and I did not get that. She would say she loved me and then say or do something that did not match up. She was constantly amazed when I did well at school. She would get into fits of rage when things did not go her way and would hurl abuse as well as household objects at me, whenever the feeling took hold of her. As an adult looking back I realise now that she had a very low opinion of herself and her life and that fed through to how she was as a mother. This, coupled with the fact that she was dealing (or not dealing) with a disease that was not managed by medication – all it did was make her dopey and drowsy and wanting to sleep all the time. My mom was ‘there’; home when I arrived home from school but she was not really there. More often than not she would be asleep when I got home and would be until my dad arrived home from work. She had a terrible temper and everything had to be about her. I understand that now but at the time, as an egocentric child and teenager, it destroyed any kind of relationship I could have had with her – and believe me I tried. I tried really hard to be the perfect little girl but no matter how hard I tried it wasn’t good enough. My mother physically and emotionally abused me and I didn’t recover for a very long time. My step-dad is an amazing man, more so for having stuck with her all those years, but all he wanted was to keep the peace so offered no protection from her to me.
I’m telling you all this as it does in fact lead in to why I am in London today. 🙂
My grandmother and grandfather came to South Africa with the Royal Navy when my mother was about 2 years old. As a child my grandmother urged me to get a British Passport (which I could get no questions asked before I turned 18). After that I would have to go the ancestral visa route which would have meant me having to live in the UK for five years before the UK government would even consider me being eligible for a British passport. Looking back now it feels crazy to have turned that offer down. But I did. I was NOT interested in travelling at all. All I wanted from the age of 9 years old was to get married and have a family. It literally was my passion from the age of 9! I knew that life should be better than what I was experiencing and that a mother’s relationship with her children should be nothing like what I was dealing with. While I was growing up I had 2 cousins who travelled for 3 ½ years who sent reams and reams of letters (no email in those days) about their travels – which admittedly were fantastic – and still, it stirred nothing in me.
At the age of 16 I met the man who I was later (well, not that much later) to marry. We married when I was 19 (he was 23), we bought a house and I had my first child 3 months before I turned 21. I had the white picket fence life I had always wanted! My first child was a girl, Rayne – I had desperately wanted a girl – I had dreamed about her since I was 9 years old and now she was real, I had the life I had always wanted. 4 years later, as per my plan, I had another child – another girl, Khaya – and life went on. By this time I was 24 and a working mom with 2 small kids. My husband was in the Navy and was away A LOT. I started wanting to go out again. All my friends were living it up, partying and generally having a good time and I wanted that again too. I had my kids and my life but I was still very young and I wanted to have some of that too. Anyway, the hubby did not much like the idea of me going out without him – huge trust issues – and to cut a long story short I became a self-fulfilling prophecy and ended up doing what he had feared. I met someone and had an affair. It was short-lived as the guy was from overseas and left to go back to New Zealand but it did two things – it made me realise that I was not happy in the marriage and wanted out and it suddenly made me realise that there was a whole world out there to explore. My husband and I tried to reconcile but unfortunately my heart wasn’t in it and we divorced. So it was around about this time that I started looking into what I could do in terms of getting a British passport etc. I remember that it was then that I got my very first passport (South African of course). It would be a few years before I even used it. I was 26.
The next few years were a whirlwind of trying to recapture my youth – to be honest, it was more like the next 15 years!!! I met my next husband-to- be not long after and we spent a lot of time and money on partying. We fell pregnant by accident in 2002 and my son, Nicholas was born later that year. We decided to get married more for convenience sake that anything. I still had my ex-husbands’ surname (so everyone automatically assumed my son’s surname was the same as mine which did not go down well with the new man) plus he got it in his head that we should move to the UK and if we were married he could go on a spouse’s visa. So because of this I had looked into my options and I was so lucky. There was an 8-month window period where people could automatically get a British passport if they could prove that their parent had been born in the UK (even if they had never lived there, like my mother). My mother was a lot of things and most of the time her neat freakiness and absolute need for order did my head in but on this occasion I think I did kiss her. She had kept her original birth certificate which proved she had been born in Dunfermline, Scotland. At the time we were pretty poor and it cost me about R2 000 and quite a lot of to’ing and fro’ing but I became a fully fledged British citizen in 2003. It was to be over 10 years before I actually used the passport – but I finally had it. My gran had lived to see me get it! Sadly she passed away before I actually travelled but I know she would be so proud. My mother, in her narrow mindedness, thought it was a waste of time and money.
Once I had the passport my husband and I looked into going to the UK. I was reluctant to leave my girls but on the same hand was now VERY eager to travel and have new life experiences. I was ready now!!! (Age 32). My girls had a very strong support base in their father and his parents so I thought that it would be OK. Although, not really OK and I felt desperate at the thought of separating them from their brother but I wanted to do what my husband wanted and everything else needed to come second. How much I have learnt since then! Thankfully at literally the eleventh hour he got cold feet (he was in IT and only had a couple of years experience and just felt that he may not manage to tackle the competitiveness that is London without failing). I have no idea how my life would have been had we gone, but somehow I doubt it would be as good as it is today and my kids would not have the strong, close relationship they have today. So we didn’t go and my red slab of gold was put in the safe for safe-keeping. I did infact travel to London with my husband and son in 2006 but because they were on South African passports, I used mine too – one didn’t need a Visa to get into the UK then.
So that was my very first London experience! We were actually going to Turkey to watch the solar eclipse at an outdoor festival but because my husband’s mother was living there at the time we decided to take our son so that he could spend some time with his Nana. We also managed to spend about 4 days there in total. I absolutely LOVED it! It was the first and only time (so far) that I have seen London through the eyes of a child. So much fun! Going to the Natural History Museum and seeing the ‘real’ dinosaurs. For all you moms out there can you please tell me why ALL kids between the ages of about 3 and 6 have an affinity towards dinosaurs? My son did not talk properly until he was almost 4 but he could say tyrannosaurus -rex and stegosaurus rex with no problems at all! Legoland, riding tricycle through the many parks in April with all the blossoms, Nicholas seeing the birds (real) and lions (obviously not real) in Trafalgar Square. Freezing cold boat rides on the Thames, but we needed to be at the top and see everything. It was an amazing experience. It was to be almost ten years before I visited the City again.
Before I continue the history of my life leading up to now, let me take a moment to explain my relationship with my kids in more detail. As they are to form a very important part of my blog, this is important.
Right from the get-go, I have not had a normal mother/child relationship with my children. Except maybe for Rayne and Khaya in their first few years, which they don’t remember anyway. Both of their first memories are of mom taking them to festivals and leaving them to do their own thing, hippy children. Except, they didn’t really want to be hippy children but I guess there are many kids out there with memories of their parents taking them out to parties and making them sleep wherever they could. It’s not THAT unheard of. Although these days many parents are seeing the child as all important and their needs are considered as important or in some cases, more important than the parents. With me, there can be NO doubt that I wanted my children and I loved them fiercely (still do but I’m talking about how things were when they were young – we will get to our current relationship later). But, I had them far too young. Even my son, who was born when I was 30 was born when I was ‘too young’ because I was still trying to do what I should have done at 20. So in effect, they were all growing up while I was trying to grow up too. This led to a few things. It led to selfish behaviour on my part. It led to me on occasion, putting my needs before theirs. It led to me making silly choices – in most part – doing things that my second husband wanted to do that I didn’t feel completely comfortable with. It led to me feeling like I was pulled between what he wanted to do and the best interests of my children. This in turn led to their childhood being a very stressful time for me. When I look back I find myself remembering that I never had enough sleep. Which was caused both by my son not sleeping well until he was about 4 but also trying to keep up with a husband who still wanted to party more often that not. I remember the awful dynamics between my second daughter and husband and having to deal with the trauma of trying to placate both of them. I can honestly say that it was traumatic. There were so many horrendous situations in the 13 years I spent with him. During this time we tried various things. Initially the girls spent one week with me and one week with their father. When Nicholas was born I wanted them to spend more time with us and in the beginning they did but it was exhausting for me because my husband was very possessive of his son (it was to be his only child – I made very sure quite soon after giving birth that he would be my last child). During this time ex-husband No. 1 got remarried and had a child when Nicholas was 4. After that, the girls started spending more time with their father again. Nicholas was 6 when I realised that I was desperately unhappy in my marriage and that nothing would change. My husband was a great father but such a terrible step-father, how is that even possible? He was very controlling and expected everyone to be so grateful for everything he gave us. Which didn’t include unconditional love. He drank a lot and as a consequence so did I and there were times when I believed my girls were better off not living with me. I made a lot of choices later because I felt I had let them down. In fact one of the main reasons I left husband no. 2 was because I could not have my daughters thinking that I had chosen him over them. We were being such bad role-models for two girls that were growing up to be awesome women, awesome human beings. I did not want to look back and think that I had let them down by staying in a miserable marriage, continuing to make bad choices for myself and essentially them.
So four years later with a lot of heartache in between I made the choice I should have made sooner (but thought I was doing the best thing for my boy) and parted ways with husband no. 2. At this stage Rayne was about to finish school and Khaya was in Grade 8 and Nicholas in Grade 4. Around the same time as the end of my marriage, ex-hubby No. 1 was also getting divorced (weird I know). Rayne had been living with her dad (as he lived closer to the school she attended) and Khaya lived with me. But then Rayne finished school and decided to to to Holland to au pair for a year so Khaya moved back to her dad as he was struggling as a full time dad to their little sister. So all of a sudden, after so much stress and hecticness and a feeling that life would never be anything other than that, it was just Nic and me and life became a whole lot calmer. But it was just Nic and me. And Nic is boy’s boy. He loves people and interaction and sport and all the things that boys love. Which got me to thinking that perhaps we should consider boarding school as an option for him for high school. Which also got me to thinking that if he was in boarding school and happy, there was finally nothing standing in the way of me going to seek my fortune in London.
So as you can see, the plan was hatched long before it was executed. I always thought I was never one for being patient but in this instance I clearly was.
Nic started boarding school at the beginning of this year. I decided to give him one term to find out if he was happy there or not. Not long I know. But I know my kids and I knew that he would take to boarding school like a duck to water. And he did. I remember the one day I fetched him and he was bursting with happiness at how amazing it was. Having said that he is struggling with his grades but that’s a story for another day. My girls have been my biggest fans throughout the process knowing full well how best to put technology to use in this situation and so far have not let me down – more about that to follow too.
After establishing that Nic was indeed happy and also happy that I would be going overseas to work I started putting my plan into action. The plan was simple really. Book my ticket and find a job. I had accommodation already lined up. More to follow on that too!
So that is the story leading to how I got to London. There are a few other things to tell leading up to London but I will leave that for my next post.
Just one more thing: For those who don’t know what the term AWOL means and for those that do, I just want to establish that i am not actually AWOL from my kids. In fact, we chose the name together and it’s more tongue in cheek. I wanted to call my blog MomInLondon43. Rayne said no as that title would not attract the mommy bloggers and Khaya said no because I won’t be 43 forever. Well, if I were to choose an age to stay at forever, it would not have been 43!!! AWOL is a military term for servicemen who would be given leave for the weekend and then not return – Absent WithOut Leave.