Friends came over for coffee today. Great family friends of my parents, they have known me since I was a child. I grew up with their children. They come from Kenya and after some text messages to arrange things, they suddenly appear at my house. Appearing not only out of a taxi, but out of my past, out of my memories. They make me smile as soon as I see them.

Nostalgia runs deep with visits like this. Talking with them of family, Kenya, the way things are versus the way they used to be – it’s a little like watching a beloved film for the umpteenth time. I often feel that I know what we are going to say before we say it. I am comforted by the familiarity of everything – their accents, their faces, their memories.

Pride sweeps through me too. I show them my new house, I introduce my children. I give them coffee and pastries. I describe my life to them. I hope they see progress even in the face of Africa, the pandemic, gruelling life. Their compliments are kind. I am most proud of my family.

Fear hits me when they leave. I feel it – a jolt in my stomach and at the base of my skull – and I hope I can see them again soon. I am so far away from the people of my childhood. Age is catching us all.

Thank God for my chaotic family. After a beautiful visit is over, my children and my wife bring me right back to the present. I have so many things to do. Til we meet again.

Happy Thursday, chimps.

Trips to Kenya

I just returned from a trip to Kenya. It was beautiful. The weather was warm, my family there was happy and healthy, and I was by myself in the town of my childhood for a while. I visited friends, stayed up late and generally did what I wanted. However, I always come away from these trips a little conflicted. Let me try to explain.

Depending on who I am talking to, trips to Nairobi can be called “a trip home”, “a trip to see my parents”, or simply “a trip to Kenya”. Somehow I am unable to find a label that sticks. It seems to reflect poorly on me to call it “home” in front of my wife, for example. Whereas calling it the same thing in front of an old Kenyan friend seems right. This is strange. The place does not change. Simply my label for it.

Since I went to boarding school overseas (sunny England) aged 15 I have been returning to Kenya, to the exact same house I grew up in. I tend to revert to a sort of adolescence and a role in the Kenya house. This is the case even though I have a very happy home and family of my own in South Africa. I heard the experience described as a “dance” we have with our original family members. A choreographed sequence of interactions and emotions. Over the years I have simultaneously missed the old dance (homesickness) and realised the need to escape from it and create a new dance with my new family (growing up).

Back in boarding school the homesickness was paralysing. I would miss Kenya so much, ticking the days off my calendar. When I eventually got back for a holiday I would wallow and bathe in the place, saturating myself with familiarity like I was in a warm bath. In the worst case scenario, we never leave our childhood homes. Either physically or psychologically. We are never allowed to grow up and create our own “dance”. We fail to launch. Nowadays of course I miss my parents being overseas, but the “dance” and the power of our old home only hits me once I have arrived in Kenya.

I am grateful that the homesickness and the “family dance” of my childhood is getting further away all the time. It means I am happy with my life. At the same time I am so lucky to have such a place to go back to. Trips to Nairobi are now more like a quick holiday rather than an essential recovery or a fix for an ailment. I enjoy them more because of this.

Happy weekend, chimps.

I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again

Ah, Chumbawumba – what a prophetic and beautiful song you wrote!

I have just come out of my longest ever stay in hospital. What started as a stomach ache when I was seven years old, culminated in bowel surgery and 8 days away from my family at the age of 39. To make it a little worse, I hurried back home too soon after the initial surgery only to be readmitted for a few more nights. I have never felt so sick.

What struck me with this illness was how instantaneous it all was. Two tiny, crucial moments in time changed everything. When the illness struck I was perfectly fine in one moment, and very sick the next. At the end of my stay I was feeling awful and worried for the future. Then suddenly this most wonderful switch flipped in my body. I could feel that I was, for the first time in a week, getting better.

We’re all fine, until we’re just not. Then if we’re lucky, we suddenly start feeling better. Strange how clear those moments were for me.

I am fully aware that my problem pales in significance compared to many others. Spend a week in hospital and you are exposed to scores of emergencies racing in and out, grown men and women screaming out in agony in the night, youngsters reeling off lists of past problems to doctors, bearing scars and taking chronic treatments. So far I have been incredibly lucky with my health. I value it more after my short stay.

To feel normal and at ease with my stomach is a blessing. To not worry about what the next meal will do to me is a blessing. To see my children again is a blessing.

Blessings on blessings.

Happy Friday chimps.

What is school for?

My children have to go to school every day. As far as I can understand, the lessons they learn at school are academic and social.

The academic lessons are interesting because we can contribute and add to them at home. We read with them, do their homework with them, and explain how things work around them. 

The social lessons are harder to replicate or to know when you’re contributing as a parent to the learning. Even though we have a big family, I think that it simply cannot replace the socialising lessons learned in a school.

At home the kids sort themselves (more often than not) into order of physical strength. The oldest wallops the next in line and gains access to the toys.

At school we are exposing our children to a class full of similar aged humans. It’s not so clear cut who’s the boss in a classroom as it is at home. So the children have to cooperate and negotiate positions in the hierarchy.

In the class and the playground, similar strength children are differentiated by personality traits such as the below:

  • extraversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved)
  • agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. critical/rational)
  • openness to experience (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious)
  • conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. extravagant/careless)
  • neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. resilient and confident)

All the above traits play a factor in how much time someone else wants to spend with you, and in how well you are able to negotiate access to anything of value (a nice toy, for example).

Happy Wednesday, Chimps.

Child safety online

Google and Facebook have made big moves lately to improve child safety on their platforms. They will control what ads can be shown and have built mechanisms to block abusive behaviour. (link)

This sort of thing is looming like a gathering tornado in my consciousness. How can I control what my children are exposed to online when they have a will of their own? I can’t. I can guide them and explain stuff to them.

An interesting point (made by Ben Evans in his latest newsletter) is this: When people in crypto talk about building new social networks with decentralised, deterministic models, I wonder how such systems could make decisions like this. Put another way – is there an element of benign dictatorship in FB, Google and the like, which we as parents should embrace? I think there is.

On the internet and particularly with social media, there is a battle for attention. This means there will always be distasteful and abusive content because, among other reasons, it creates the biggest shock factor. It draws attention.

Children are vulnerable to shocking content, let alone anyone with criminal desires. Only the large platforms have the power to control content in some way, shape or form. Even FB and Google will be unable to stop all the bad stuff getting to your child.

My children have very limited access to the net still, but already they have figured out how to turn on Netflix. They don’t search for anything more than cartoons, but one day they will get curious. Any help from Google or FB in managing this will be most appreciated.

Who needs a stiff drink?

Unavoidable trouble

I came across this quote:

Even the most assiduous of modern parents will not be able to protect their children from internet porn, drugs, or alcohol, even if they lock them in the basement (in which case they only end up exposing them to the snakes they harbor within themselves). We might have learned such things by watching the great, degenerate totalitarian utopias of the 20th century. Leaders and citizens alike attempted, with ever-increasing desperation, to force everything that existed into a defined, comprehensible and too-perfect order. That merely ensured that chaos burst forth without reserve into their souls, and then into their societies. 

Jordan B. Peterson

So as parents what can we do with this world in which we plant our innocent children? Well, one of the first things to do is to pay attention. Attention to what you are doing, to what you are saying, and to what you are exposing your children. Then as they get older you need to watch what they are exposing themselves to unwittingly.

When I lived in Sydney I used to walk past a sign on the way to work outside a pub. It said “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom”. Obviously we can’t protect our children from all the snakes and temptations of the world, but we can notice them when they strike, and then we can try to act on them. This might not work, but what is the alternative?

On another note – I’m listening through the chimpwithcans playlist on apple music for the first time in a while. Give it a listen!

Happy Wednesday, chimps.

Children and injuries

I heard it before i saw it. The drama, noise and crying was all at a slightly different level to normal. I was feeding the littlest, and by the time I was able to come through to the rest of the family, the blood was everywhere.

I think three things can be major contributors to a child getting injured.

  1. Children have a will of their own. They want to hide and explore and discover without adults hovering over them. Controlling where they can do this is a good tactic.
  2. When there are a few of them around, children try to keep up with the oldest and the strongest. This puts the younger ones at risk.
  3. Before a certain age, young children are very unsteady on their feet and inaccurate with jumps, swerves, hops, runs. As such, they are highly susceptible to a larger mass (big kids and adults) throwing them this way or that out of control.
  4. Bathrooms are terrible places for children to play. Sharp edges, slippery surfaces and hard floors.

This is obviously a short list and there are many things that can cause an injury, and often times it is inevitable that kids will get bumped. However, keeping the 4 things above in your mind when looking after kids will lower the chances of a bloody mess and hospital visits.

Beach Sundays

We took the kids to the beach today. Being able to get to the beach in 15 minutes is one of the best things in my life. I walked the littlest all the way along the sand to the very far end of the beach and back. I built castles in the sand with the older girls. A beach and some good weather makes life calm and simple for children. Kids do best when they have a task. Especially if the task involves getting messy, creative, sandy, wet and active.

I didn’t manage to get any music in today. No playing. No listening. Thats what tomorrow is for.

Happy Sunday, chimps.

Evernote and Labradors

If everything is busy, it pays to get organised. Today I found myself in a lucky but stressful position – My work is busy, My family is busy and I am busy. I turned to an app called Evernote.

With its latest update, Evernote is incorporating To Do lists with all the notes, and I love it. Today was the first test of relying on it as an organisation app, and it worked very well. No more stress for me then. Evernote to the rescue?

Sort of. As great as Evernote and my organisation skills were today, there is always that curveball you weren’t expecting. Mine came in the form of Biscuit, my labrador. Our neighbourhood has 11 children from various families all of a similar age, all girls. A few of the families were watching the children play at sundown. Picture an idyllic street in an idyllic neighbourhood on an idyllic day. We are all chatting politely, being neighbourly.

Biscuit the lab shows up with a chicken in his mouth and chunks of feathers falling to the ground. My direct neighbour points out that this is his daughter’s chicken, and that is your (my) dog! I shout at Biscuit, who drops the chicken, who runs back through the open gate from whence it came, patchy and bruised missing a few feathers.

I believe the chicken is fine, and Biscuit was hauled back into my house before he chased some more birds. Bad neighbours….they need an app for that.

Lying for the greater good

When dealing with little children, often you have to pretend to be excited by something. Even when there’s nothing exciting.

Yesterday a 6 year old gave me a taste of their smoothie. It was made of lemons, oranges and milk. Curdled milk by the time I tried some. “Delicious!” I said. Why???!

To protect their feelings of course. To avoid destroying their confidence. To be friendly and build a relationship. To encourage any effort of creation. To not be a d**k!

That said, it was a complete lie. A well intentioned lie. But a lie.

It’s funny how often this happens with little children and adults.