Family Dynamics

No matter how one likes to believe that every child within a family is treated in exactly the same way by its parents, this is often not the case. The actual position of the child within the group of siblings as well as parental influence can be a determining factor in the way in which that child is going to develop. Much research has been done by those who claim to be professionals in their field regarding the only child, the first-born child, the middle child, the youngest child etc. etc. There are those who maintain that the first-born child is going to achieve more and be more independent than his siblings. The fact that the first born has to make his way out there in the big bad world without the help of an older sibling, is quite possibly a factor which could account for these findings.

The first born is the child who often has the undivided attention of doting parents who take loads of photographs, keep copious notes regarding his milestones, and lavish an enormous amount of attention on him. (I am using him as opposed to him/her, purely to prevent the reading of this article becoming tedious and not as a gender-based preference).  He might also be the child who is often the first grandchild in the family, and therefore may also receive a great deal of spoiling from grandparents as well as aunts and uncles.

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By the time baby number two makes his appearance, the parents have already made sure that his arrival is not going to interfere with the well being of child number one. Therefore, the second baby is expected to slot into the family with as little disruption as a new baby is capable of. Ha ha ha, this is where the fairy tale may have a slightly different ending! Sometimes the only reason that families have a second child is due to the first child having been an easy one to raise, with no major hiccups along the way. This may be the universe doing its best to ensure the survival of the human race! Very often parents have been quoted as saying that if baby number two had been baby number one, then the reproduction factory would have closed down immediately.

From the above observations, we already have an inkling of what the future might hold. The second child may be treated differently from the first due to either the parents’ frustration at having to cope with a more challenging individual, who differs entirely from their first born, or even from a feeling of failure or despair by not knowing how to handle the challenges presented by this newcomer to the family circle. Whatever the reason, life will never be the same again.

The amount of photographs taken of baby number two and the notes on his developmental stages might be far fewer than his older sibling, and this in itself could potentially pose a problem regarding feelings of inferiority in later life. I have recently been told by two separate families, who each have two girls, that the second daughter in both cases has never forgiven the parents for the fact that they were not the first born! This resentment towards their older sister has continued into their thirties.

To complicate matters even further, there is also that scenario where a third child arrives on the scene, sometimes because the first two are the same sex and the parents hoped that they might be able to change the recipe. If they succeed, then very often this third child becomes something of a celebrity, and one or other of the parents makes it obvious to all and sundry just how delightful it is to have pink baby clothes instead of blue, and dolls instead of motor cars in the house or vice versa. (I am not touching on the current trend of some children being treated as sexless by their parents until perceived to be old enough to make their own decision on whether to be a boy or a girl!)

Now, we see the middle child syndrome raising its ugly head. I actually knew of a Swiss woman whose brother and his family lived in South Africa, who was the middle child in their family. When she came here to visit them, she refused to sit in the middle seat on the aeroplane as she complained that she had always been the “sandwich child” and wasn’t prepared to allow this to happen anymore. Makes one wonder just when the reality kicks in of being sandwiched between an older and a younger sibling. What happens when a pregnancy results in triplets? Now that could be an interesting subject to pursue.

At a later stage I would like to go into more detail regarding the dynamics within families and recount some scenarios which I have personally come across over the years, as well as mentioning some well documented cases which might be of interest to you, my reader. Meantime, you might enjoy starting to look around you at families that you know and find the position of the children within them to be quite enlightening if not altogether entertaining.

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Behind Closed Doors

It is quite common for potential buyers to ask an estate agent the reason for the property being on the market. If an agent knows certain information which could cause a potential buyer to change their mind about putting in an offer, then it would be a case of ethics as to whether or not anything negative was disclosed.

On this particular day, the agent, Matthew, was delighted to find a young couple who raved about all the unusual features of the property, which had been on the market for several months and needed quite a lot of fixing up. It had belonged to an old man who had failed to maintain it due to his age as well as failing health. The agent had heard some very disturbing rumours from colleagues as well as from some of the neighbours, who had nosily come over to see the inside of the house when it was on show one Sunday afternoon.

The young couple were having a second viewing of the home after having visited the previous Sunday’s Show house. They had gone home after the first visit to do some sums to find out whether they could afford the transfer costs, even though they knew that they qualified for a mortgage for almost the full asking price of the property. The agent felt very confident that he would have a signed offer very soon due to the enthusiastic comments which both the husband and wife had been making whilst taking their time to wander from room to room. They could see the potential for doing some minor alterations and were able to visualise the house once it had been given a fresh coat of paint and the tiles in the kitchen and both bathrooms replaced. They were not worried about the olde worlde look of some of the features as they were keen on collecting antiques and this house would suit them and their taste in décor very well.

Then the moment the agent always dreaded arrived and Liz, the wife asked, “We love it, but is there anything we should know about the house’s history?” The agent looked down at the notes on his clipboard and silently debated as to just how much of the gossip he had heard could safely be revealed without jeopardising a possible sale. He was not willing to say more than was absolutely  necessary. “The house has been in the same family since it was built just after the Second World War. The current owner is the son of the original owner and the only reason he is selling is so that he could move closer to his son and his wife. His health is poor and they were worried that something might happen to him if he carried on living here on his own. His own wife died about 20 years ago and he should perhaps have considered moving before he became ill. Unfortunately people often try to hang on as long as possible before they admit to the fact that they are slowing down as they get older.”

After the agent had finished talking to both Liz and her husband Greg, they wandered outside again to have another look at the garden which, in its heyday had been the pride and joy of the owner’s late wife. Sadly, it now looked rather overgrown and neglected, but the upside was the many and varied trees, bushes and flower beds which, once neatened up, would save a new buyer a fortune.

Just as Matthew had predicted, the couple were very keen to put in an offer on the house, and even though it was quite a lot lower than the asking price, he knew that with a bit of negotiation on his part, the seller would accept it. Being very experienced in his field, he had asked all the relevant questions and was satisfied that there was an excellent chance of this couple being able to afford the house, as well as having savings to cover all the legal costs. Once the paperwork was completed, he shook hands with both the husband and his wife, and promised to present the offer before the end of the day. He would phone them as soon as he had an answer for them and would try to encourage the seller to accept their offer, due to the length of time that the house had been on the market and currently standing empty.  He shook hands with them and promised to give them the best possible service until the house was transferred into their names.

As the couple drove away Matthew felt a slight discomfort when he thought about the rumours which he had overheard from the neighbours, regarding the present owner’s wife having been found hanging by her dressing gown cord from one of the cross beams in the lounge. Apparently no foul play had been suspected but, there were those who believed that she had been driven to taking her own life due to her husband having forced her to make extra money by having to entertain a variety of male visitors in the back bedroom every evening for many years whilst the children were away at boarding school, and later at university.  It was all rumours, but the neighbours had been rather quick to mention all the different cars which arrived at the house every evening on the hour every hour, Monday to Friday, from 7pm to midnight all those years ago.

No-one ever  proved that any of the above was in fact true after the poor woman committed suicide, but it was said that she was extremely quiet, never chatted to any of the neighbours, and always looked physically exhausted despite being made up to the nines whenever anyone caught a glimpse of her. Oh well, some rumours are exactly that – just rumours.

Matthew shrugged off any feelings of guilt that he might have harboured for not having disclosed the suicide to the couple. None of the neighbours had actually repeated any of the gossip to him personally.  He had just happened to overhear a few of them chatting amongst themselves when they had been nosey enough to pop in when the house had been on show. So, nothing having been discussed with him, he could say in all honesty that he had no knowledge about this at all. Now, off to the local pub to have that well-earned pint. Oh, hang on – not a clever idea at all! He took out his mobile phone and immediately made the call to tell the seller’s son that he would like to come over straight away as he finally had a very good offer on his father’s house. The celebratory pint in the pub would have to wait until the deal was signed and sealed!

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
– Theodore Roosevelt (American President)

Update and Comments: 29 October 2019

Could someone possibly tell me what has caused this year to be only half as long as previous years? It seems just the other day that I was decorating my Christmas tree in time for the 2018 festive season, and now it’s almost that time yet again. I am beginning to think that there is an invisible and very devious time thief lurking out there, conniving and scheming to steal that very precious commodity from those of us who really could use a few extra months each year just to catch up on ourselves!

When a year begins with huge amounts of heavy rain resulting in a lounge having its own version of Niagara Falls, then I suppose it stands to reason that the rest of the year could be somewhat challenging. Roof and ceiling repairs, replacing a door, then small appliances deciding to give up the ghost, all played their part this year. Then last week my faithful laptop just made up its mind to go AWOL. No indication that it was suffering from stress, was overworked and under paid, and generally feeling frustrated and needing a long holiday. It just bit the dust, so to speak. It might have been a sign of loyalty if I had been given some kind of warning – but, no! Just a blank, non- responding screen.

Unfortunately, when one is totally dependent upon one’s computer, a quick decision needs to be made, and time is of the essence. Therefore, I am now getting my head around a new laptop with a more up to date version of Windows, and I hope that I haven’t lost too much of my writing due to the changeover. From now on, I think that the Cloud needs to become my new best friend. Cannot bear the thought of hours of work disappearing into thin air ever again!

All the above chit chat is just a way of letting you know that I am still here, in body if not always in mind, and back to bashing away on my brand new keyboard.

Until next time, it’s my hope that none of you are spooked out this Halloween!

Bye for now and see you on the Magic Roundabout!

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Resignation

Dear Michael and Jane

It is with a great deal of regret and sadness that I am sending you this letter. We have been housemates now for roughly 4 years and I have got to the stage where, to coin a much used phrase, enough is enough. I am quitting as from today.

For all these years I have had your safety and needs at the forefront of my mind. I have never been able to do all the things that I really wanted to do, but only what you allowed. So many rules to obey and when I disobeyed them I was made to feel like an absolute loser, and you often threatened to get rid of me. Do you have any idea at all how that made me feel? You often made the comment that I looked upset, and maybe a bit guilty? Well, I actually did often feel hurt by your words and rough treatment of me, but all I was able to do was convey my feelings with my body language without saying a single word in my own defence.

You have been able to go out for expensive meals and have trips to the theatre whenever you felt like it, knowing that I was looking after your fancy house with all its precious antiques. I never ever broke a single item, and everything was always in perfect condition when you got home. You rarely even bothered thanking me for my loyalty, let alone having to stay awake until late at night until you both stumbled in, often reeking of alcohol. I must say that I was very glad when, several months ago, after your last run in with the traffic police, that you started using Uber to go out in the evenings. I used to worry as to what would happen to me should you be involved in a serious accident and not come home. I know it sounds very selfish, but we have been very much dependent on each other these past 4 years or so.

Anyway, as I said just now, enough is enough and I am leaving. At this stage I have not made up my mind exactly how I am going to move on with my life, but running away seems to be the best option. I am going to wait until I have had my breakfast tomorrow and, when you open the gate to bring in the rubbish bin, I am going to make a dash for it. I have made good friends with the woman who runs the local doggy grooming parlour, and she and her workers are very fond of me. I know that they will help me to find another job. They are sure to be prepared to give me a good recommendation, should it be required. They have always been suspicious of the way you two have treated me – almost like a poor, mentally deficient relative.

So, come what may, this letter is to tell you that you both need to look at your selfish behaviour and, before it is too late, make serious changes. Even at this stage things could be improved, but it’s all up to you. I have done my best to be hard working and honest, and I have never attacked you or made a mess in the house. I have been faithful, loving and courteous to your ghastly relatives with their ill-bred brats. I so often wanted to nip their overweight backsides, and really had to force myself to be well controlled when they visited you. You can be very grateful that I didn’t savage either of you two either, and believe me there have been many times when I would willingly have taken a big chunk out of you both. Especially when you sit on the couch, watching a rugby match, drinking beer and munching away on delicious biltong and offering me not a single solitary piece. Greedy devils that you are!

Well, you will find this letter once I have left, and hopefully you will come to your senses, see just what you have lost, and perhaps we can come to some or other amicable arrangement for the future. However, this is all up to you – the ball is totally in your court! Maybe you could consider buying me a couple of new ones if I do agree to any new terms and conditions which I feel may improve my life should I return to your home.

Anyway, you may find me at the parlour, unless I have already found a new home.

Regards

Mickey the Mutt

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Update and Comments: 22 September 2019

No excuse at all is acceptable for the fact that for the past few weeks there has been virtually nothing posted on my blog. I could blame it on the excitement of having celebrated a birthday with all the messages and phone-calls which accompanied that day in the calendar, but that would be a bit of a feeble excuse. After all, it should be second nature, after many years of multi- tasking, to be able to sit down and write something relatively intelligent in order to let people know that I still exist.

Living in Johannesburg, South Africa, unlike other parts of the world, we really only have two seasons – winter and summer. Although we talk about the first day of Spring being the first of September, it has often turned out to be one of the coldest winter days instead of heralding warm, balmy temperatures. This year was no exception, and it reminded me of being in my last year of high school when we were invited to visit an old age home in the town in which I lived at the time. We were asked to wear summer dresses and bring small bunches of flowers to give to the old people. It turned out to be a really bitterly cold day and we all felt as though we were going to die of exposure!

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We have a plant known as Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow which blooms in September each year. It has a beautiful strong fragrance which reaches your nostrils as soon as you come through the front gate. The sad thing is that it should have been named Here Today and Gone Tomorrow because, as soon as the temperature soars, like today, the flowers  as well as the fragrance fades and the plant is soon no longer a thing of beauty but a rather sad, dried out has-been.  That is what happens when you only have the two seasons. Living in Italy years ago it was so good for the soul to see how new buds and leaves grew slowly every day as Spring days followed those of Winter. In Jo’burg, if you blink you miss the transition from stark, bare winter branches to trees covered in an abundance of fully formed summer foliage!

One must not jump to the conclusion that everything here is faster than in other parts of the world –most certainly not! That is a bone of contention for many of us who have had to try to learn patience or expire! Africa is Africa and some things still take place according to African time!  As relaxed as it could be to do things in slow motion, it doesn’t bode well when one is reliant on modern technology in order to run a business.  Enough said! The sun is shining, the weather is hot, the birds are chirping and I am back in writing mode!

Bye for now and see you on the Magic Roundabout!

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A Numbers Game

Every time we open a magazine or a newspaper or hear an announcement regarding a celebrity or even a criminal, we always seem to search to discover their age. What is it about one’s age that creates such fascination?  Does it mean that one can be too old or too young to do whatever it is that makes the deed or occasion noteworthy? The first question we ask one another is, “how old was she/he”? This is even more relevant when the person involved has either had an illness, or worse still, died.

This fixation with age must be something which is linked to a first world mentality perhaps? No-one seems to worry about the age of, for example, The Dalai Lama. His face emanates kindness and caring but it is also creased with signs of age. I have never heard anyone say that he may be past his prime, or a bit too old for the job! With medical advancement it is now a fact of life that, where people have access to good nutrition and health care, they are living much longer than in the past. This is posing huge problems due to the drain on a country’s medical system as well as impacting negatively on job opportunities for younger people. If you have to carry on working due to a shortage of money then you most certainly would not choose to retire at 60 or 65. Not all companies make it mandatory to stop working once these milestones are reached.  Therefore, it stands to reason that the pattern of having one person leave the company and a younger one being employed in their place no longer applies.

I have just heard a discussion on local radio where people were talking about having changed their career direction in mid- life and qualified in a field which until then had been something of a pipe dream. One man had graduated as a medical doctor at the age of 51 after having previously spent years in the corporate world. In this case one would assume that age might be to his advantage. If you have the need to see a doctor and he is middle-aged you would hardly even consider the fact that he may have very little practical experience. His age should work in his favour as I can’t imagine that there would be a banner on the practice wall announcing, “Our newly qualified Dr. so and so (age 51) has joined our practice. Welcome!”

“You have to embrace getting older. Life is precious
and when you’ve lost a lot of people, you realise
each day is a gift.
” – Meryl Streep. (American Actress)

People tend to panic about getting older and perhaps losing their youthful looks, but when one has had friends who died in their mid-thirties or early forties of cancer, then it really is a case of every day of good health being a gift which needs to be savoured. This epidemic of trying to stay as young at 50 as one was in one’s early twenties is crazy. One only has to look at current pictures of 1970’s Hollywood stars to see that sometimes it might be best to let nature take its course instead of searching for eternal youth. With botox, lip and cheek fillers some of these have-beens now look like cartoon characters. There are actors such as Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith, to name just a few, although showing signs of age still manage to remain dignified and believable. Life moves on, and whilst it’s great to make the best of ourselves, there are limits me thinks?

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We need to be careful that, by focusing too much on our age, we limit our potential. There are martial arts clubs as well as dance studios which cater for beginners of all ages. However, I would imagine that, for example, taking up either of these exercise regimes would have their limitations. Bruce Lee, Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn began early in life to pursue their chosen field of expertise. Somehow, it would seem to be far-fetched to imagine that a forty-something person would be able to reach particularly great heights in either of the above disciplines. I could be wrong and I hope that I am.

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There are many instances where top surgeons, artists and business people for example are still achieving amazing results well into their latter years. As long as one has good health and is not showing signs of slowing down, then the many years of experience are obviously an incredible advantage. Mentoring younger people can be an extremely valuable way in which one’s abundance of knowledge and experience will be passed on to the next generation. After all, what is the use of knowledge if it is not shared? Many valuable discoveries have probably died along with their discoverers due to selfishness and an ego-centred attitude and an aversion to sharing their findings.

The Rolling Stones, Sir Cliff Richard, Sir Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney, and not forgetting the Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan are just a few of many musicians who have not allowed getting older to hamper them in any way. In fact, like a good wine, they just appear to keep on getting better as the years go by. One only has to take note of the age of the people packing the stadiums when they perform at their live concerts to realise that age, when it comes to music and entertainment is totally irrelevant. Many of the concert goers are at least 30 or even 40 years younger than their idols.

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Another angle where age seems to rear its ugly head is in a situation when a woman marries or becomes involved with a much younger man. Somehow it seems to be far more acceptable for a woman to be in a relationship with a man much older than herself as opposed to her finding a young stud! The latter is seen as a case of cradle snatching and often looked down upon by friends and relatives. However, I have read findings over the years that women tend to reach their sexual maturity around the age of 40 whereas men peak at 20, so wouldn’t it make sense to marry someone who’s sexual age tallies with one’s own? However, it has also become a fact over the years that 18 is no longer viewed as the start of adulthood, as it was in the past. Now, it seems that one has to reach the ripe old age of 25 to qualify for adult status in many cases. There are clubs and restaurants who limit the clientele to those of a more adult age – obviously due to potential hooliganistic behaviour from the younger generation. Therefore, one’s social life could be seriously curtailed if the new husband is still viewed by society at large as a juvenile, despite the fun and games in the bedroom!

It used to be frowned upon to ask a woman how old she was, but this certainly no longer seems to be the case in many Western societies, by all accounts. Anyway, having to reveal your ID number in South Africa, there is no running away from the fact. As long as the person to whom you give the required information has a working knowledge of arithmetic, they will very quickly work out how old you are. What bigger complement can there be than the recipient of the information turning to you and saying that they would never have thought you were that age!  What is the point of lying anyway, after all life is for living, and each day counts. So, while age is relevant and we are all obsessed with finding out how old everyone we come in contact with is, it really is a privilege to, hopefully, make old bones!

“Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease
to  stand like curious children before the Great 
Mystery into
which we were born.”
– Albert Einstein (German – born theoretical physicist)

So much wasted time

We often bear grudges and carry hurts and slights for years, and I don’t think there is anyone who, if they are totally honest with themselves, can say that they have never borne a grudge against either a family member who has upset them, or a friend or colleague who they feel has let them down in one way or another. It takes courage and a real desire to put matters straight, to actually make the first move and try to normalise the relationship. Not always easy, especially if the other party has decided that they are quite happy with the current status quo. Even if one makes the first move to make amends, it isn’t always a straight forward situation. Often the other party refuses to co-operate and to communicate at all.  After several attempts there is often no other option than to try to put the matter behind you and to move on, but not always as easy as that. Depending on the relationship that exists between the two parties, it can sometimes drag one down emotionally on a regular basis. All of us really do have an innate desire to be liked, if not loved, and failing this can be very upsetting, or even depressing.

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Looking at other peoples’ scenarios, it is often divorce situations which culminate in grudges and hurts. To have to fight with an ex-partner for maintenance for one’s children can often result in feelings of anger, hurt as well as deep resentment. These feelings are often very obvious to the children of the broken relationship, resulting in unhappy situations for everyone involved. It is never easy to hide hurt and anger and it is often grudgingly that one parent allows the children to spend time with the other. Children soon latch on to the vibes prevalent in a broken relationship and are very adept at using the situation to their own advantage and playing one parent off against the other.

Obviously the ideal scenario would be for both mother and father to remain on good terms with one another, but this seems to be the exception and certainly not the rule. In many cases infidelity has caused the divorce in the first instance, so it would be highly unlikely for there to be too much love lost between the ex partners. Jealousy regarding the comfortable financial status of the errant partner compared to that of the “injured” party,  or the fact that the new spouse is more attractive or more qualified than the ex, can be a constant cause of pain and hurt.  The situation often becomes even worse when the new partner becomes pregnant and there is suddenly a half brother or sister to further complicate matters.

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We most certainly do not live in an ideal world and humans are human because they are creatures with feelings which often are very difficult to disguise. We do not, unlike our canine friends, give unconditional love and ask only for food and shelter. However, having said that, one can look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and he identified man’s first need as being the satisfaction of hunger and thirst i.e. survival. Secondly, the need for shelter and money. So, in that regard, we actually are not unlike our canine friends. However, once our basic needs are satisfied we are driven by other motivating factors such as the need to be loved, accepted and respected by others etc., until, finally, we are able to strive for self- actualisation – not a need which many of us actually achieve.

Just reading what I have written, I would like to reiterate by saying once again that possibly the only real unconditional love we will ever experience in life is that which comes from our four legged friends. They don’t bear grudges, sulk (well not often, anyway), or keep on harping on about past grievances. They seem to have an incredible ability to forgive and forget! If only we could be as simplistic in our relationships then our lives might be so much less challenging.

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