As stars shine down on the platteland, a cowboy is born

2011-12-21 00:00

IT was not quite holiday time when we got the message from the teachers that if we kept our children at home for the next week as well, they would be more than pleased with us. Oh yay. So holidays arrived a week earlier. Oh yay. No more driving 60 kilometres a day to town and back anymore. Oh no.

I’ve still got writing deadlines to try to meet in-between domesticity. Housework is easy to do while caring for children. Computer work, as any mother who has tried to work from home will agree, is impossible.

Herman and I tolerated the tent pitched in the playroom, but only because the children enjoyed it so much. We moved irritably beyond the bruises on our shins which we got as we tripped on the poles on our way to the bathroom.

“Can we please watch TV, Mom?” “No you cannot. I mean, no, not now ... you live on a farm, go outside, find something to do, enjoy the space.”

“But Mom …”

As the deadlines floated away out of my reach because domestic missiles flew at me incessantly, things become all very emotionally imperfect. I shouted, they shouted, we all shouted. The mood of the day comes from the top and the top was stressed.

I tripped on the tent poles for the 14th time. “Someone move that tent outside now. I mean, come, let’s all move the tent outside now,” and before I could stop myself, I found myself saying, “... and we can all sleep in it tonight.”

Group yay.

So we did.

And despite it being my suggestion, I started crying inside at the thought of the sleepless night ahead of me. I knew I would spend it tossing and turning on blankets that didn’t really keep the hard ground away from my hip bones and my back. So the following day I would be sleep deprived, chasing deadlines and juggling children’s needs. And then a few days after that I would have an outbreak of cold sores from lack of sleep. I suddenly felt immensely sorry for myself, and regretted choosing to live where we have no family nearby to help us.

And then, within seconds, the edges around my anxiety started fraying as we piled the tent full of blankets, and the clouds blew away and the moon shone down on us. And Nicolaas quietly­ and calmly with deep self- knowledge lay down on his side of the tent with his hat over his face. Because he had watched, and knew, that was how Clint did it. I lay next to him listening to the frogs outside and watched him search for sleep. And then: “Mom, my nose is sore.” Pause. “Mom, it’s this hat that is hurting it.” Longer pause. “Mom, if I sleep like this a lot and my nose gets sore a lot, will it change the shape of my nose forever?”

“No, boy, your nose will be fine. You can go to sleep.”

“But Mom, this blanket is too short.”

Let me tuck you up properly, Clint. And I pulled the blanket straight so it covered his feet, and pictured Clint travelling across the prairies with his mother at his side.

Herman and I barely slept that night. But not because the ground was too hard. We barely slept because once again, as it did for humanity 2012 years ago, and as it did for us six years ago, and as it does every Christmas in some small way, the space between heaven and Earth opened up momentarily, and we could feel eternity seeping down around us, dissolving our every earthly care.

We spent the night lying in adoration, drinking in the image of the six- year-old cowboy who had been born unto us.

“When I climb up to my saddle, I’m going take him to my heart, there’ll be a new world beginning from tonight.”

Happy Christmas everyone.

• Catherine Smetherham is rediscovering herself and South Africa from a platteland perspective. She lives in Strydpoort, North West Province. Contact her at


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