Ten years later

I recently shared a post about my pooches, which I wrote for another blog a few years ago. Also written in 2013, the piece below is one that still means something to me, as it summarises a decade of my life. And a lot happens in ten years.


 

This week, it’s been a decade since my mother (and the rest of us, at the time) moved into her house. A ten-year anniversary. A big deal, I suppose. But why should this mean anything to me?

This house is not my childhood home. We moved in when I was 18 ­– two days after I started matric exams, actually (this nerd was pretty grumpy about it). My sister and I disliked our new abode intensely. At the time, we blamed the aesthetics. Our previous home had been big and beautiful. In comparison, this house was minute and mediocre. The truth, though, is that this house wasn’t our home and if it were up to us, we definitely wouldn’t have moved.

But a lot happens in ten years.

This house was where I received my matric exam results and experienced the conflicting feelings of pride and disillusionment – proud because I’d achieved five distinctions and a B for higher-grade maths; disillusioned because I’d realised by then that this achievement didn’t matter that much in the big, real world.

This was where I loved – truly loved – my first pooch. I’d always been a cat person but the arrival of the dachshund at the end of 2003 changed my mind about dogs forever.

This was where a friend picked me up for a night out. When he dropped me off in the early hours of the morning, he stopped his car in the middle of the street and kissed me. A few weeks later, we were in love. A few years later, I began leaving the house alone and tried to remember how to be single.

This was where, during a birthday party, I stealthily procured liquor for the tent at the bottom of the garden, where my sister and her teenage friends got drunk for the first time.

This was where I was awoken by strangers with guns. They drugged the German shepherd and beat up my father. They asked me how old I was and when I replied with a lie, they declared that I was too young to be raped. They drank all the wine in the bar. They hauled off their loot in my grandmother’s Ford. My sister came home and found us tied up and bloody in my parents’ room. She was hysterical, but I remember that moment as the most grateful moment of my life. We were going to be okay.

This was where a friend arrived to help me move out. I was excited and heartbroken to be leaving.

This was where I tried to explain to my confused father that he had a cancerous brain tumour. By that stage, he didn’t even know how to put on his seat belt or operate the microwave. During the following four months, I watched my father die in this house. For the last three nights, my sister and I camped out in my parents’ bedroom, waking up every few hours to screaming or to a soiled adult nappy. Shortly after 2 pm that Wednesday, I felt a sense of horror and relief as my dad’s death rattle diminished into silence.

This was where I met my uncle from Cape Town. My grandmother was dying of colon cancer and he’d come up to say goodbye. I was 26 and I’d never met my uncle before.

This was where I watched my mother reclaim her life. I saw her set up her own business. I cheered when she sold the couches that my father had loved but which everyone else had always despised. I helped her set up her online dating profile, and I shook my head and laughed with her when she called me with stories about sex maniacs and mad men. This house was where I met the man who is now her partner.

This was where I arrived with my then fiancé (now husband) one evening and announced our engagement to my family. My sister had already guessed why we were there and was beaming and bouncing in the passage when we arrived. A year later, she curled my hair in my grandmother’s old room and dressed me in a shirt that read ‘Marrying a rock star’ before we headed out for my hen night.

A lot happens in ten years.

Not all my memories of this house are good memories. Many memories are not even worth mentioning. But there are memories. This house is where my wedding dress hangs in a cupboard, where family photographs line the walls, where books I’ve read sit on shelves, where pets I love lie in the sun. I may not have lived there the whole time but at some point in the last decade, this house became a home.

 

This piece also appeared on Women24.

Illustration of house designed by Freepik

On parenting pooches

I wrote this piece back in 2013 for another blog. I’m re-publishing it here, as I think it’s an important part of my parenting journey and a good introduction to my happy hounds, Jack and Meg.


For someone who’s not a parent, I find myself reading mommy blogs quite often. Perhaps it’s some instinctual need to garner important information before I (one day) enter that world of Babygros, birth, maternity wear and mastitis. Perhaps it’s simply that there are a fair number of mommy blogs out there, and, y’know, they’re pretty well written. Whatever the reason, I recently found myself relating to those moms when I brought two hooligans home.

When my husband and I moved into our house – and when (most of) the boxes were unpacked – I went in pursuit of pets. We’d lived years without pets, impeded by our one-bedroom flat, and I did not want to wait any longer. My husband is highly allergic to cats, so we decided on dogs. After much research and trawling of animal websites, I came into contact with the Labrador Retriever Kennel Club, who work to rehome labs in need.

One day, I saw a message on their Facebook page: ‘We are awaiting information on 10 young Labradors rejected / dismissed from the police force. Who will be looking for homes – Gauteng area. Any preliminary interests can email us …’

Jack and Meg
Jack and Meg

Convinced that ex-police dogs would be perfect (they would have received basic training, right?), we headed off to the Vereeniging SPCA, picked out two pooches and brought them home the next week. I naively believed they would love our big garden, would go for swims in our pool, would play with all the toys I got them, would keep me company as I worked, would sleep soundly on their comfy bed … They would love their new lives.

They did. But I did not. We named them Meg and Jack – after The White Stripes, because they looked like white stripes as they dashed down the road whenever the gate opened. Having never lived in a domestic environment before, they were not housetrained. In fact, Jack had spent so long in the confines of a kennel that he sometimes peed while lying down! We were continually cleaning and we couldn’t leave them unattended lest they destroy something.

Everything was new to them, so they didn’t know what they were not allowed to chew. They chewed everything. They jumped up on my car and took off my back windscreen wiper. They ran off with the HTH bottle. They found a bag of coal near the braai and littered it all over the garden. They ripped a pipe off the outside of our house. One morning, they chewed through the wire for the freezer. They had pulled the plug out the wall first, and I joked that they were obviously taught to be safety conscious when they worked at the police.

But the situation did not feel funny at all. Whatever training they’d received at the police force was more harmful than helpful. An animal behaviouralist I spoke to explained that the police often train dogs using force, trying to ‘beat the aggression into them’. The fact is that Labradors are simply not aggressive dogs and we now had two troubled, troublesome pooches.

Of course, I knew that things would get better but at the time I felt overwhelmed, doubting whether I was cut out for this, wondering whether we’d made the right choice. I thought about what new mothers must feel like and I started to question whether I could ever handle children if I couldn’t even cope with canines.

Thankfully, things did improve. Meg and Jack are no longer tornadoes of destruction – partly because they’ve calmed down, partly because we’ve now learnt how to puppy-proof the house and garden. They’re also no longer skittish and scared. They’ve learnt not to run away when the gate opens and, after many treats, they’ve finally learnt to sit on command.

Most importantly, they’re now part of the family. They make us laugh every day and they display endless devotion to their new parents. We recently went away on a short holiday and we missed them terribly. I simply cannot imagine my home without these happy hounds.

As for human babies … Well, that’ll be a while. In the meantime, I’ll keep reading those mommy blogs.