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Colleen Higgs

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Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

8 reasons why I recommend Maya Fowler’s “Elephant in the Room”

The Elephant in the Room
1. As a parent of a girl, this novel makes me think I need to learn more about eating disorders and how they come about. Children can so easily become casualties of their parents’ inability to be present and aware.
2. Fowler takes us into the main character’s, Lily’s mind and body, her inner obsessions about food, eating and her body.
“My body screams for the icing, my mind says no, but its starting to quaver. My mouth waters as I beat the icing. It’s thick and glossy, made with real butter. The sweetness caresses my nostrils, and so does the rich bitterness of the cocoa; and then there’s the salty creaminess of the butter. Mind and body are fighting like mad. My body has transformed itself into a champion wrestler for the occasion. My mind is taking a beating.”
Fowler writes with vivid clarity about Lily’s inner torment, and she shows us the repetitive, circular patterns of Lily’s self destructive cocoon.
3. The style and language in this novel impressed me. So did the sense of place and the details that make Kalk Bay, Plumstead and the Karoo Farm come alive for me as a reader. The sound of the sea and wind, the stone walls of the Kalk Bay house and of the farm house in the Karoo. “Its windy and sand gets stuck in my teeth. I thought it would be a good idea to come out here to my lonely hill, but even the sheep are tucking their heads into their woollen armpits.”
4. We have a new, interesting voice in this young novelist. “The Elephant in the Room” is a strong debut novel and I look forward to reading more of her works.
5. The child’s perspective on family secrets, such as the death of Andre, Lily’s uncle and her grandfather and how their deaths came about.
6. The character of Gesiena, reminds me of characters in many South African farm novels, I loved her and was saddened by her life and her fate.
7. In spite of the tragedy/ies at the heart of the novel, Maya has a light touch, she writes with humour at times, deftly and seamlessly weaving in facts about anorexia, bulimia, butterflies and South African politics, so they are part of Lily’s life and engagement with her world and not the writer imposing her research or views on the reader.
8. As a parent, teacher or someone who knows young people you may be able to identify the early stages of anorexia or bulimia. Lily’s Gran and mother both ignore the signs, which seem to be quite obvious to this reader, in spite of how Lily goes to great lengths to hide her tracks and keep her awful secret.

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I Choose You (Father’s Day, June 2009)

My dad died in 2000. I didn’t realise how much I relied on him, how much I loved him until he was gone. David Higgs was actually my stepfather, and he adopted me when I was six. My birth father, Philip, gave up rights of access and custody so that he didn’t have to pay maintenance and because of advice he was given by a psychologist; the prevailing wisdom in the late 60’s was that it would be healthier for my younger brother and I to be part of our new family and not to have our loyalties divided. The last time I saw Philip was when I was six. I missed him and longed for him all through my childhood and into young adulthood. I met him again when I was 21 and I travelled to Europe during the university vac. Philip had remarried and was father to four other children. My real father though was David, the one who switched off the light when I wanted to go to sleep at night, who would bring me a glass of water if I asked, who drove me around, who argued with me about politics, who would always fetch me if I needed a lift – no matter what the hour or how far.

Weirdly when I was in my early thirties, my mother threw another father into the mix, she told me that a boyfriend of hers might have been my Dad, it was hard to tell from looks she said, as Philip and No 3 looked very alike. For a couple of years I was keen to meet No 3 and even wrote to him. He didn’t reply. He lives in Cape Town, now and then I see his company’s logo on a bakkie or a sign as I am driving around doing my day, it’s always a little jolt. He must be retired by now.

Needless to say Father’s Day is not a simple celebration for me, but perhaps my situation is more common than I first thought when my mother shocked me with this news. After several years of being troubled by not being sure of who my father is, I decided to settle on David as my father, the one who chose to be a father to me and my siblings, Sean (also not his birth son), Michael and Geraldine. He was a softie and when we were children would give in to our pleas for treats. His death left me feeling unsheltered, alone on the heath. I am sorry that he never got to meet my daughter, she was born two years after he died. They would have liked each other. He was very good with little children.

I learnt patience, even-temperedness, generosity, kindness from my Dad. I learnt about horses and polo, about sport, I sharpened my skills of argument. He took pleasure in the ordinary everyday things, a braai, a rugby match, gossiping with farmers, playing tennis, a glass of wine, day dreaming. He knew rural South Africa very well, for over twenty years he worked in sales for a multinational veterinary/agricultural pharmaceutical company. He was deeply concerned about solving the problems of internal parasites in animals.

The more that time has passed since his death, the more I miss him. Now that I am a parent, I wish I could speak to him — I would thank him.

Published in Femina, June 2009 edition.

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