I’ve been caught in between all you wish for and all you need

I read an interesting article the other day about how, when it comes to children, mothers are supposedly nurturers and carers while fathers are playmates. This is true for a number of my friends, particularly the households where both parents work long hours. The exhausted couples return home in the evenings and, while the moms set about making supper (and washing the dishes, and doing the laundry, and tidying the house), the dads play with and entertain the kids (for a while, at least). I know this sounds a bit like a 1950s stereotype, but I’ve seen it firsthand at the homes of my nearest and dearest – and I’m sure they can’t be the only ones. There’s a similar pattern emerging at Chez Janine, where my hubby and my daughter are spending quality time together in the evenings while yours truly is cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Continue reading

Sometimes you’ve got to make it on your own

I finally got my hands on God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise by Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs. I’ve been listening to it all afternoon – and although I’ve never heard the full album before, it feels oddly like coming home.

There’s a sense of nostalgia, a sense of déjà vu, which I can’t really explain. Ray LaMontagne has a way of writing songs that feel familiar. I don’t know if it’s the themes he explores or his raspy voice that rings so true, but he is right on the money about so many things. And his truths are presented with such grace and sincerity that you sit up and take notice.

I have his three previous studio albums – Trouble (2004), Till The Sun Turns Black (2006) and Gossip In The Grain (2008). They’re well-worn and overplayed. They occupy the top shelf of my CD collection. I adore him, so I guess I’m biased beyond repair, but the music resonates on so many levels that I’m convinced Ray will attract many new fans with this offering.

From the first track to the last, he explores love, desire, disappointment, self-preservation and belonging with finesse and a raw emotional intensity that never falters. The songs transport you to dusty roads and green pastures; to candlelit rooms and quiet conversations between lovers; to tearful goodbyes at train stations; and evening reveries from rocking chairs on the front verandah.

I recommend Like Rock & Roll And Radio – a beautiful, haunting ballad that examines an ageing relationship. Ray’s hypnotic voice and a heartbroken harmonica are juxtaposed against understated instrumentals to showcase a bittersweet analysis of love through the years. And his lyrics, always so naked in their honesty, linger long after the song is over. Here’s a sample:

Are you still in love with me, like the way you used to be, or is it changing?
Is it deeper over time, like the river that is winding through the canyon?
Are you still in love with her? Do you remember how you were before the sorrow?
Are you closer for the tears? Or has the weight of all the years left you hollow?
Are we strangers now, like the Ziegfeld Gal and the Vaudeville Show?
Are we strangers now, like rock and roll and the radio?

I also like For The Summer… It sounds like something he wrote while on tour and reveals a man conflicted by his need for travelling artistry and his desire to be at home with the woman he loves. And once again, his simple truth is searing:

It’s been a while since I’ve seen my lady smile
Have I been… Have I been away so long?
I am tired… I am tired
Can I come home for the summer?
I could slow down for a little while
Get back to lovin’ each other
Leave all those long and lonesome miles behind

Ray has worked hard to get where he is now. His modest childhood and early struggles have provided fodder for his first three albums and he makes no secret of the fact that his musical journey involved a few bumps along the road. I’m glad he persevered. I’m glad he’s making music that enriches this life and so many others. Thank you, sir.

The title of this post is borrowed from the lyrics of This Love Is Over by Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs. Find the song on amazon.com

NOTE: The lyrics reproduced here, from the album God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise by Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs, are the property of the artist(s) in question, and are used for illustrative purposes only. No copyright infringement intended.

You paint a lovely picture, but reality intrudes

There’s a mom in my social circle who comes across as a successful woman who’s managed to make everything work despite a stressful career and a demanding home life. And she looks fabulous doing it – with make-up and stylish hair and fashionable clothes and everything. She’s the mom who makes the other moms feel frumpy. Don’t we all know one of those?

She promised to join us at the park last week, and arrived in a flurry of colour and bouncy greetings. Kisses all around and handouts of cookies that she “just picked up at this great little bakery I know”. Her girls looked as cute as ever, in co-ordinated outfits that probably had price tags with triple digits. And she radiated cool confidence as she sat down on the bench with us.

For a moment, the green-eyed monster emerged from his cage and roared. I envied her. She looked so pleased with herself, and radiated the kind of effusive joy that photographers capture for postcards. The children had a wonderful time in the sunshine while we chatted about our jobs, our families and our plans for the weekend. She smiled her way through the conversation while keeping a close eye on her little ones, making sure they weren’t getting dirty. She needn’t have worried – they emerged from the playground without so much as a speck of dust and took their places next to her while she packed up and prepared to go home.

Then my princess came bounding over… And what a sight she was! Grass in her hair, dirt on her knees, sand in her shoes and a sweaty little brow – plus a big, toothy grin. She was the picture of happiness and she made my heart soar. She didn’t care that I was in comfy jeans and an old T-shirt. She was just excited to tell me all about her adventures on the jungle gym and the new friends she’d made.

We walked home quietly and I reminded myself that I am the best mom I can be for her – warts and all, so to speak. And while others may place value on the exterior packaging, my munchkin appreciates what’s on the inside.

The title of this post is borrowed from the lyrics of Real Bad News by Aimee Mann. Find the song on amazon.com

I don’t mind stealing bread from the mouths of decadence

At work last week, we covered a story about a designer who teamed up with scientists to develop clothes that you can spray on with an aerosol can. Interesting stuff. I’m sure they think they’re doing the world a great service. I’m sure they’re being hailed as revolutionaries in some or other social circle. I’m sure they’ll win awards somewhere down the line. I’m sure there are many great minds devoting their time and energy to similar pursuits – but why?

In the face of global problems like famine, disease and pollution, surely such talented people would serve the public better by researching ways to expand crop yields, improve health and reduce carbon emissions? No offence to designer Manel Torres and the scientists at Imperial College London, but I don’t think there’s a pressing need for clingy couture in a bottle… Not when 925-million people around the globe do not have enough to eat every year.

The title of this post is borrowed from the lyrics of Hunger Strike by Temple Of The Dog. Find the song on amazon.com

It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm

I passed a group of teenage girls on my way to the corner supermarket today. I don’t normally eavesdrop on conversations, but they weren’t exactly whispering and it was difficult to ignore. And I figured that if they wanted privacy, they would have chosen another venue. The curb is not exactly the place for secrets. The topic that caught my attention? A possible pregnancy and their ideas about how to deal with it.

There were four girls. Two brunettes and two blondes. They couldn’t have been more than 16 years old. Brunette #1, tearful and anxious, was obviously the one facing the dilemma. Brunette #2 was sitting next to her, holding her hand, and offering expletive-laden insults about the “bastard” responsible for her current predicament. “Once you know for sure, will you tell him?” she asked. “I dunno, it wasn’t anything special… It was just fucking, you know,” Brunette #1 replied.

This was the snippet of their conversation that I caught in the 20m leading to the corner, and in the 20m from there to the entrance of the store. I was trying to appear nonchalant as I walked by, but my mouth fell open at Brunette #1’s refrain.

I will not pretend to understand today’s young people. I was a teenager 12 years ago, and a lot has changed since then. But this girl’s comments about the potential result of an evidently meaningless sexual encounter made me wonder about so many things… What the hell is going on in the minds of our adolescents? Where is their respect for themselves? Where is their respect for their bodies? And why, with South Africa’s pervasive educational campaigns about HIV and Aids, are they still engaging in risky sex?

As I walked around the store, grabbing groceries and mulling over Brunette #1’s situation, I found myself wanting to scream… For her ignorance or naivete or whatever had led her to believe that sex without protection has no consequences. According to the 2009/2010 statistics from UNAIDS, about 33 million people are living with HIV around the world. I don’t think that, more than two decades down the line, we can afford to have the “it won’t happen to me” mentality about this disease – or any STD, for that matter.

Pushing my trolley up and down the aisles, I became angrier and angrier at the world. Angry at the parents who do not educate their children about sex. Angry at the teachers who shy away from informative debate in the classroom. Angry at the men and women who do not take responsibility for themselves and their actions. And finally, angry at myself.

I’d heard a secret that had probably been eating away at this young woman for days, perhaps even weeks. And what did I do? I walked away. I pretended I didn’t hear her confession to her friends. I had an internal debate about something that wasn’t even happening to me. The shame came in waves. Who was I to judge? Maybe she’d chosen a public spot because she was hoping someone would hear her… Maybe she was counting on it – and counting on a helping hand or a voice of reason.

By the time I reached the till, I’d made up my mind. The milk could go sour and the warm bread could sweat, because I was going to stop and talk to Brunette #1. With an open mind and an open heart, I hoped. Maybe that’s what she needed. I marched out of the store with purpose. I marched around the corner with determination. And then I retreated to my house – because she and her friends were nowhere to be found.

The title of this post is borrowed from the lyrics of Keep Yourself Warm by Frightened Rabbit. Find the song on amazon.com