The Bus Stop And The Empty Nest

How to fill your home with children

“If your children spend most of their time in other people’s houses, you’re lucky; if they all congregate at your house, you’re blessed.”  ~ Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook, 1966

 “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe

She had so many children she didn’t know what to do…”

We live close to the schools. VERY close. If I were to drive my son to school, he would have a longer way to walk. Getting in and out of my driveway at 8 am or 2 pm is impossible, but hey, that’s a small price to pay for not having to do mum’s taxi all day long.

The house belongs to my parents, who cleverly bought it back in the good ol’ days when normal people could still afford houses in this area. Lucky us…

Because we are so very close to the schools (all 5 of them), there is never a shortage of children in the area. More specifically, in the house. The girls (sweet sixteens) start arriving shortly after 7 am. I always have to be sure I’m decently dressed by that time, because, having teenagers means I have reached the age of being embarrassing.

The friends all know the code for the gate. And the one for the security gate at the front door. The term “security” therefore, is used rather loosely here. The house fills with laughter and noise. Extra-mural baggage is deposited in rooms, hair is given a final straightening, shoes (from yesterday) are exchanged. Bags are packed and unpacked. And then they vacate the place in a flurry of hair and short skirts, leaving a cloud of perfume in their wake. “Smells like teen spirit,” the Moonman remarks drily.

The boys – matric now – are a little less like a gaggle of geese and more like secret agents discreetly infiltrating the area. One of them even leaves his scooter in front of our house – I assume to be used as a get-away vehicle to facilitate bunking. The boys go straight up to the cave to wake up my son, who (like his mother) likes to sleep till the very last minute. Again, NOT a good idea for me to come shuffling out of my bedroom with gown and pantoffels* and hair like Daisy de Melker’s (google images!).

[I’m not a morning person. Oh wait. I am. I’m not a late morning person. I’m writing this at 1h30 (AM – it is morning…) and feeling wildly awake, alive and exuberant. But, whether I go to bed at 8 pm or 2 am, come sunrise, I look and feel like death warmed up, but without the sense of humour and not as sexy. I walk my youngest to school, keeping my head down through the throngs of school kids and cars, hoping I don’t see anyone I know. (If you see me, best to pretend you didn’t.) A hot shower usually restores my will to live, but for the next hour or so, it’s touch and go. I manage to go to work and appear, to the untrained eye, quite normal. Then I have an afternoon slump during which I am worth as much as a wet tissue, and then things gradually improve as the day marches on. From 10 pm onwards, I’m the person I was born to be. Most of you have never even met this version of me!]

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, school’s out, and sports bags are picked up, school uniforms swapped for civvies or sport kit. More giggling and perfume. Sometimes it’s just drop and go, with five or six school bags piled in a corner. Sometimes they just hang out here waiting for lifts arriving later. My kids aren’t necessarily home at these drop-off and pick-up times. No matter, the place is like a bus stop with facilities, a halfway house. Don’t look at me – I just work here.

Sometimes a quick lunch is required, so visitors check out what’s available – mostly bread, bread, or even bread. Here the Moonman and I have slightly differing views on the situation. He thinks the “free range” policy for visitors needs some tweaking. However, he always urges me to “Foster independence!” – meaning kids should not be waited on hand and foot. I agree.

I’ve tried to encourage my kids to be independent in the kitchen. I don’t want to have to get up and make toast every single time someone gets peckish – and let’s face it, kids do get that way between meals. Therefore, they are told to go help themselves. If a visiting friend gets hungry, my children, fostering independence, say with a little wave of the hand, “No problem, go help yourself.”

Some of these people are pretty short, and can’t quite reach the peanut butter. I guess this explains the little muddy footprints on the kitchen counter some days (if not cat prints). Some of them have been around our house for 12 years, so they know their way around the kitchen pretty well by now. They know how to operate the microwave. They know how to reheat leftovers. They know where the peanut butter lives.

I welcome the fact that these kids like coming to our house, that they feel at home here, and I am pleased I don’t have to serve them all as they come and go. When I was still living at home, my friends knew that they could help themselves to tea or coffee or a slice of toast. And my parents were cool with that. I guess it’s not like that everywhere. (Funny how you think you’re totally normal, and then find out you’re not…)

I’ve known some of these kids since they were babies, and have seen them growing from gurgling to golden to gangly to grown-up. They used to be skinny little squirts with high little voices. Now, when members of “The Posse” (as Moonman calls them), come filing past towards my son’s cave, I hear these deep manly voices saying, “Hallo Tannie*…Hallo Tannie… Hallo Tannie.” Somehow this is really funny and really sad in equal measures. Being called “Tannie” by someone whose voice has broken, is a clear sign of approaching old age. Not quite time to book my spot at the retirement home, but a rather whimsical reminder.

Speaking of which, the Moonman has big plans for his retirement. Fast approaching the half century mark, he’s given this some thought: Why wait for decrepitude? Go to the retirement home NOW, and be the handsome young man all the tannies will want to flirt with! You know that women live longer than men, so the old toppies* who do make it into the retirement home, are generally quite … well, OLD. In contrast to this, a spritely 50 year old Moonman may be considered youthful, virile – possibly the only man with his own hair and teeth! The only one without a Zimmer frame! What a catch! Old tannies adore him anyway, and are always offering to make this “young man” a proper tamatiebredie or knit something for him. So there you go. Great plan. Except for the presence of his favourite (much younger) wench aka me (who is still grappling with the tamatiebredie). “Still,” says the Moonman, “it’s good to keep a line in the water.”

 Meanwhile, I have different dreams for my empty-nestdom. Some people dream of bigger houses, a bigger garden, more space to stretch out. Like the Joneses, my new neighbours (more about them some other time). Not me. I dream of a small house.  No, a flat, preferably high up, with no garden… I want one bedroom, a small kitchen, a bathroom, a small living room and somewhere to put my computer. That’s it. Minimalist. No clutter. No corners with piles of stuff anywhere. No corners, even. (A rondawel* – yeah!)

Rondawel: my dream home

Just smooth, small, manageable, non-sprawling space. A place where I can go to bed late and wake up late, preferably far away from any schools. I sometimes drive past these lovely old tiny slave houses and sigh longingly, “One day…”

 “I would need a garage, though,” says my young, virile partner. “So I can make stuff and fix things and do woodwork and put my tools. And a can’t live without a garden. I need greens. I need space. And somewhereto park the Geel Bliksem*. And Sally and the hobie. And I’d love to have a couple of chickens, maybe a goat. Or two. I like goats, goats are cool…. And I can guarantee, you’ll be bringing home orphaned animals.”

You can see where this is going. The empty nest is a mirage. It’s a fantasy. I seem to be doomed – or destined – for a life of overcrowded abundance. And maybe that is not such a bad thing after all.


* Pantoffels: very un-sexy slippers; tannie: oldish lady/auntie; toppie: elderly man; tamatiebredie: tomato stew. The Geel Bliksem is Moonman’s 1978 Landcruiser.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. meladjusted
    Dec 01, 2011 @ 13:36:47

    I love your home!


  2. ericanexpress
    Dec 01, 2011 @ 15:21:56

    You’ll love my rondavel even more! 🙂 x


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