Tag Archives: travel

No More Teachers, No More Books!

25 Mar

George doesn’t want to go to school.

Big deal, I hear you say. He is, after all, an eight-year-old kid, and if I got a dollar for every eight-year-old kid who didn’t want to go to school, I’d be signing up to be the next space tourist.

His reluctance to go to school has escalated, though. It started mildly enough about five weeks ago. I was getting him ready for bed one evening when he said, “School is closed.”

“No,” I said. “School is open.”

He went to school without resistance the following day, but this became a nightly ritual. Each evening, the frequency of “School is closed” statements would increase, but as far as I could tell, there was no anxiety associated with it.

Then March break happened and everything changed. Over the course of the week-long break from school, both of the kids were sick. James recovered fairly quickly, but George had a bad cough that lingered, so I got him some natural-remedy cough syrup.

And what has cough syrup got to do with this story? Well, George hates taking cough syrup. In order to give it to him, I have to wrap him up in a blanket and give it to him with a syringe, a tiny bit at a time so he doesn’t spit the whole lot out at me. So when he reached for the cough syrup on Monday morning, indicating that he wanted that rather than school, we knew that this school aversion was serious business.

The following morning it got worse. George woke up very early and for over two hours, he constantly said, “School is closed. No school. School uh-uh.” All the time, his anxiety level was steadily rising. The pinnacle of all of this was George going into the bathroom and trying to force himself to throw up.

Despite all of this, when the school bus arrived, he got onto it without resistance, albeit looking absolutely miserable.

I sent an email to the school describing George’s behaviour and asking if anything was going on at school that I needed to know about. I didn’t think so: this is George’s third year with the same teacher, and she’s been absolutely fantastic for him. But there is, in all likelihood, something behind this and I needed to either rule out or confirm problems at the school.

Because she is so awesome, George’s teacher called me back within an hour of me sending the email. She reassured me that everything was fine, and that she would not have known that George was having a problem if I had not gotten in touch with the school.

Then she said something that was so obvious that I felt stupid for not having thought of it immediately. She said, “Did this start after you returned from your trip?”

Of course! I had been to South Africa for two weeks by myself, leaving husband and kids to hold the fort at home. The last time I had been to South Africa, when my dad died, George was 15 months old and James wasn’t even a gleam in my eye. My absence was a highly unusual state of being for both of the kids, and George, with his autism, must have had a very difficult time processing it.

And within a few days of my return, he started his nightly “School is closed” routine.  The idea that he is working through some separation anxiety makes perfect sense. The break in routine resulting from March break would have exacerbated the problem.

On the one hand, I am relieved to know that everything at school is fine. But on the other hand, I feel guilty about having been away, even though my presence in South Africa was so badly needed at that time.

I can only hope that with a bit more time and many more hugs, George will feel reassured. And if I ever have to go away unexpectedly again, I hope he will know that I am coming back.

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Journey–Part 2

24 Feb

On Wednesday I started chronicling my recent trip to South Africa. I intended to put everything in one post, but as it turned out, a lot of activity was packed into my ten days there. This is an account of my last few days.

2012-02-15 14.27.52Wednesday: I have been looking forward to this day ever since I arrived. My friend Jenny picks me up and we spend the day together. Why am I so excited about this? Because Jenny and I have been friends since we were ten. We live far away from each other now, but something as paltry as distance isn’t going to change the fact that she is my best friend and always will be. We go out for coffee, then take a walk around the bird park. We watch a live bird show – part of it, anyway, before the rest of it is cancelled due to rain. After that we head indoors and have lunch together. It is a great day, one that concludes with us resolving to have a joint 50th birthday celebration in some exotic location. We have a few years to nail down the details.

Thursday: Mom and I head out early to do the shopping we were going to do on Tuesday. We buy presents for my boys and food for the memorial that is planned for tomorrow. Then Mom drops me off at a shopping mall, where I have arranged to meet up with my friends Faye and Njabulo. I used to work with Faye and I was in Toastmasters with both of them. We spend hours drinking coffee and talking. Eventually we go our own reluctant ways. I do a bit of shopping before meeting up with my cousin Philippa, who is visiting for a few days from the coastal town of Knysna that is now home to her. We have coffee, do more shopping, and then head home to have dinner with Mom.

2012-02-17 15.11.45Friday: My brother arrives at a prearranged time, and the three of us drive out to my aunt’s house. We have a small private memorial planned – just a few us of us, all family. With my brother protectively carrying the ashes, we go up the hill behind her house. My brother says a few words that bring smiles and tears to the rest of us, and then we scatter the ashes under a tree – the same tree where both of my grandparents were scattered many years ago. My aunt’s final resting place is absolutely gorgeous, and the rain has held off for this occasion. We go back to the house and share memories. This is just the kind of final farewell that my aunt would have wanted.

Saturday: My friend Caroline picks me up and we go out for brunch. I haven’t seen Caroline for about twelve years and she looks just the same. We have a great time catching up, and then she comes back to the house to have tea with me and Mom. After she leaves, Mom and I go out for lunch with my brother. It will be a long time before I see him again, so I am glad of this opportunity. When Mom and I get back to the house, my aunt and cousins come for tea. I finish my packing, and then Mom and I tearfully say goodbye to each other before my cousins drop me off at the train that will take me to the airport.

I returned to Toronto on Sunday afternoon, feeling jetlagged, exhausted, and filled with the sadness that comes from leaving behind a grieving mother. I wish I could split myself in half. I am so happy to be back here, with my husband and children. But I wish I could have spent more time with Mom. I feel like she still needs me, and I hope she knows that even though I am far away, I am always at her side.

Journey–Part 1

22 Feb

This time two weeks ago I was sitting at Heathrow Airport waiting for my connecting flight to Johannesburg. I was bored out of my skull, having spent seven hours drifting aimlessly around the Internet and walking around the duty free shops looking at stuff I didn’t want and couldn’t afford to buy.

Eventually my flight left, and I arrived in South Africa early the following morning. The next ten days or so were a whirlwind of activity. I spent time with my mom and my brother, went out with people I haven’t seen for an inordinately long time, and said goodbye to my aunt as we laid her ashes to rest.

It is worth recording what I did during this trip, because I am not getting any younger and I do not want these memories to get lost in the busy-ness and noise of my regular day-to-day life.

2012-02-08 22.57.18

Thursday: I arrive in South Africa. My brother picks me up and feeds me non-airline food. It feels odd to drink a cup of coffee without air turbulence making it splash all over my face. I absently wonder whether pilots plan to hit turbulence right around the time coffee is being served. My mom picks me up from my brother’s place and takes me to the house that was home to me for many years. I meet the current instalment of dogs and cats, and have a glass of wine with my mom before going to bed and failing to sleep.

Friday: Today is a sad day. My mom and I go to the funeral home where we meet up with my aunt Mary and my cousins Alison and Ivan. We go in to pay respects to my aunt. Little do I know that the image of her bruised and damaged face will come to haunt me after a few days. She was so beautiful in life, and that is how I want to remember her. In the evening, my brother comes for dinner. He is working too hard, and he looks too stressed. We all relax together for the evening, the three of us. I feel the absence of my dad. I feel like he should be there with us. Maybe he is.

Saturday: My brother takes Mom and I out for the best cappuccino in town, and then Mom and I head back home because we’re expecting a visitor, Pieter. I have known him since I was about ten, when his late wife Tanya became friends with Mom. In the afternoon, my brother picks me up and we go out for a movie. After the movie we go to a rooftop bar to have a drink and chat. We have a great time. It has been far too long since we went out, just the two of us.

2012-02-12 07.16.16Sunday: I go for a trail run by the river. The altitude makes it tough, but I love the sunshine and the beauty, and I deem the run to be a success. When I get back, I go out for breakfast with Mom and my cousin Alison. Later in the day, my friend Wayne picks me up and we go for lunch. It is great to see him. I met him when I went to Israel twenty years ago and we have been firm friends ever since.

Monday: My birth father Ron takes me out for brunch. I saw him seven years ago at my dad’s funeral, but I have not had much contact with him since. We have a good time and a lovely chat. In the afternoon, two of Mom’s friends come over for tea. One of them I have known all my life; the other I am meeting for the first time. A good time is had by all.

Tuesday: I have a day with Mom today. The plan is to go to her hairdresser salon – run by her long-time friends Willie and Martinus – and then to go shopping. I am delighted to see them. They have been true friends to my mom for many years, and Willie cut my hair last time I was here seven years ago. Willie takes one look at me, and telling me that I’m far too young to be walking around with grey hair (God bless him), he makes an executive decision to colour my hair for me. Mom and I end up spending most of the afternoon there, talking, laughing, and getting our hair done. There is no time for shopping at the end of it, but we do stop on the way home to make sure we have wine. It’s all about priorities.

Continued on Friday…

10 Random Observations About South Africa

14 Feb

2012-02-08 23.47.42It is seven years since I’ve been in South Africa. The seven-year gap is, very sadly, bookended with deaths in the family. Amid the sadness on both occasions, there has been some happiness. I have seen old friends and family members, hung out with my mom’s dogs and cats, and gone running in the warm sunshine.

Change is inevitable, especially in a fledgling democracy with a developing economy, after a seven-year period. Some of my observations today are based on change, but some are simply things that I had forgotten or perhaps, not really appreciated in days gone by.

  1. Security guards are everywhere. In Canada, you see security guards in obvious places, like banks and government buildings. In South Africa, they were in evidence almost as soon as I had stepped off the plane. When I caught the Gautrain from the airport to one of the major centres, there were about six security guards, complete with Kevlar vests and firearms, standing along the platform.
  2. Prices have gone up. A lot. When I do the whole currency conversion thing, prices of, say, movies and restaurant meals are more or less in line with what you’d pay in Canada. Last time I was here, prices were very low by international standards.
  3. Johannesburg weather is the best. Warm sunshine, little humidity, awesome thunderstorms to provide afternoon entertainment on some days.
  4. In many ways, South Africa is a very capable performer on the international stage. I got my first taste of this during my flight from Heathrow to Johannesburg, which was run by South African Airways. SAA is as good – and in some ways better – than most other airlines I’ve flown with. When I got off the plane, I went through a very efficiently run passport control, collected my bag within a reasonable space of time, and took a very impressive and well-run rail link (the Gautrain) from the airport. Compare this to Toronto, where a rapid link between the airport and the city centre exists only in the hopeful imaginations of the public.
  5. Some South African services are struggling to catch up with acceptable standards. This is partly due to inefficiency, partly due to technology that lags a bit behind the rest of the world, and partly due to social problems like theft of copper cables that transmit electricity and telephone signals. Communities here are plagued by interruptions in telephone and hydro services, traffic lights that are out of order, and bus services that are suspended due to illegal strikes.
  6. South African people are, in general, very friendly. There’s a community-like atmosphere here, where people know each other and look out for each other. As I’ve gone with my mom to her grocery store, her pharmacy, and her hairdresser, I have seen her chat with the people who work at these places, people who have hugged her, offered her their condolences, and been genuinely concerned about her.
  7. The South African accent is very, very cool.
  8. South Africa is absolutely, heart-wrenchingly beautiful. I went running on Sunday along the river that runs in front of my mom’s house, and my breath was taken away by how lovely it all was.
  9. South African roads are, in general, in very good condition. There is no salt or snowploughs to gouge up the roads every winter.
  10. In many ways, South Africans have the same concerns as people who live in other parts of the world. The economy is taking a certain amount of punishment, people worry about their jobs and their mortgage payments, and the gas prices are too high. There are, of course, some concerns that are uniquely South African. But in general, it is clear that South Africans are a part of the melting pot of the international society.

Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon: Training Week 2

12 Feb

2012-02-12 07.16.16This week of training has been dismal. That’s putting it mildly. News of my aunt’s very unexpected death threw me into a tailspin, and I was focused first on making arrangements for a very long journey, and then on actually making the journey itself. With all that has been going on, I have barely been able to run this week.

Monday

Today was a designated rest day. I felt good after yesterday’s 12K run. I thought about going for a short run this evening, but since I had to pack for my trip, I did not have the time.

 

Tuesday

I was supposed to do a tempo run today, and I had every intention of doing so. But since (a) all of my running stuff was securely packed in my luggage, and (b) I had to get to work super-early so I could leave early, I was not able to run. I guess it was always wishful thinking. I am consoled by the fact that high anxiety has been burning up plenty of energy for the last week.

 

Wednesday

I spent the better part of today at Heathrow Airport. It’s not a situation conducive to exercise, although I did spend a lot of time walking around. It took almost 25 minutes just to walk from the main part of the terminal to the gate. Just as well, because I spent the next 12 hours stuck on a plane.

 

Thursday

I arrived in Johannesburg today. It was an exhausting trip, and although I didn’t go to sleep until bedtime, I did spend the day kind of slouched on a chair without the ability to move or form a coherent thought.

 

Friday

Today was my aunt’s visitation. An intensely emotional experience. After we paid our respects we assembled at my aunt’s house talking and sharing memories. Running was the very furthest thing from my mind today.

 

Saturday

Jet lag hit me like a ton of bricks today. My body clock kept telling me it was the middle of the night while the bright sunshine outside said the opposite. I lazed around in a semi-conscious state for most of the day before going to see a movie with my brother.

 

Sunday

Finally! I woke up this morning, put on my running clothes, and off I went. I didn’t really know what to expect, how far I was going, or even what route I was taking. About a kilometre down the road, I looked to my left and saw a nice little trail down by the river. It was fantastic. It was warm but not to hot, and the trail was challenging but manageable. I ended up doing 8km. This was far short of the distance I was supposed to do, but considering that I’m not used to trail running, and considering that I was running in an altitude almost 6000 feet above what I’m used to, I’m glad I managed to go that far.

 

Conclusion

This was a tough week, made so by circumstances. Although I did the best I could considering everything that was going on, I would not deem this to be a successful training week. I will definitely have to make up some ground when I return home. This week may be difficult as well, and any run that I can get in will be considered a bonus.

Airline Security For The Uninitiated

8 Feb

When I first flew to Canada almost twelve years ago, travel was relatively easy. You checked your bag and got your boarding pass from a pretty woman with a big smile and insanely white teeth, and then you headed over to the gate, where your carry-on bag went through an X-ray machine. As long as you didn’t have something in there that could bring down Fort Knox, you were good to go.

Even in the wake of 9/11, there wasn’t really anything to travelling. The same procedures were followed, albeit more thoroughly. Lineups were longer, more questions were asked, and from time to time, your stuff was checked for anthrax.

Now that I am in the midst of my first long-haul journey in seven years, I find that air travel is a whole different ballgame to what it used to be. All the rules have changed, and when I went through the security screening at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, I had no idea what to expect.

I had already quizzed one of my co-workers, a recent traveller, on the legalities of bringing a small tube of toothpaste onto the plane with me. For some reason I thought that if I knew the answer to that, I’d be home free.

But then I saw the guy in front of me sifting through his carry-on baggage, removing items and confidently putting them in plastic trays. He whipped off his jacket and put it into another tray. He and his belongings went through the various machines and off he went. And I was left standing there, wondering what I was supposed to be putting into the plastic trays.

I took out my sad tube of toothpaste in its Ziploc bag and put it into a tray, along with my phone and my laptop. And because I had seen the guy in front of me remove his jacket, I did the same.  I tentatively shoved all of my stuff onto the conveyer belt and wondered about my shoes.

Some people were removing their shoes and others weren’t. Everyone appeared to know as if by magic whether their footwear could stay on their feet. I had to expose myself as the no-longer-experienced traveller that I am and call out to a security guy, who assured me that my shoes looked fine and could stay on.

Although it took no longer than three minutes for me to pass through the security checkpoint, I found the whole process to be a little daunting. Then again, this entire trip is daunting when you consider the circumstances behind it.

At least when I passed through the checkpoint at Heathrow Airport, I kind of knew what I had to do. I even knew the exact pose to strike when the machine beeped at me as I walked through and I had to be searched.

I really hope they don’t change the rules again during my stay in South Africa. It would be a shame, now that I’m just starting to get the hang of it again.

Why I’m Not Wearing Mascara

7 Feb

“You look tired,” said my mother-in-law gently. “Why don’t you put a bit of makeup on you?”

She meant well – of course she did – but what she had way of knowing is that I never wear mascara to airports. Because no matter how I try to talk myself up as this brave, strong person, at airports I turn into a blubbery crybaby.

The plan this evening was that I would check in for my flight, and then spend time hanging out with my family. But we all knew, with George’s autism being what it is, that this might not happen. Even at relatively quiet times like this, airports are loud, busy places with lots of people and bright fluorescent lights. Airports are a recipe for sensory overload for a child with autism who’s already bewildered by the idea that his Mommy is going away.

And so I checked in, and then George tolerated a few minutes of looking at the planes before they had to go. I hugged my mother-in-law, and then clutched onto my children without wanting to ever let them go. A hug and kiss for my husband, and then they were off.

I stood in the middle of the wide terminal and watched them go. I didn’t move until long after they were out of sight. I savoured every glimpse of them that I could get, trying to get enough to last me for the next twelve days.

And then, just as my eyes were starting to overflow, I bolted into the Ladies Room and hid myself in a stall. When the flow of tears had subsided, I washed my face, surveyed my worn-out looking self in the mirror, and remembered just why it is that I never wear mascara to airports.