When we were penguins…

Thanks mom, for the headline. It’s probably a little confusing, I know. But spare a thought for me, who apparently has a penguin in her closet.

Let me explain. Today was Heritage Day dress up at school. Which means, for the uninitiated, that our children all dress up to show off their heritage to their teachers and classmates. All fine and dandy, if your surname is Pringle and you have kilts and long white socks (although, to be fair, any Scottish outfit should include a set of bagpipes, time to up your game Pringles!); or Khumalo and you have some gorgeous beaded skirts in your cupboard, or Naidoo, and your mom has a silk sari (that she genuinely doesn’t mind you wearing to school!).

(Yes, I know it’s a gross simplification. It’s called dress up.)

But when your name is none of these, and your heritage is a complete and utter mixed bag, complicated by the fact that your mother insisted on keeping her surname when she got married, with the result that no one really knows your actual surname, there is nothing simple about Heritage Day.

Which is possibly why, last year, my youngest went as a penguin.

Yup. You read that right.

I’m not embarrassed to admit that I was too frustrated by the fact that the outfit that she claimed to have planned the previous day (in the two seconds between getting out the bath and getting downstairs to watch TV) was deemed too small/scratchy/boring on the morning of the dress up day; to explain that although our family can lay claim to ancestry across many continents, Antartica was not one of them.

If memory serves, she decided to compromise and took the Woolworths reindeer antlers from the dress up box, which she said would work absolutely fine as Springbuck horns. I’m not sure what she told her class about her heritage that day. It might be why I continue to avoid her Grade 1 teacher.

The year prior to the year of the penguin she went as a policeman. Because my grandmother was one of the first female police officers (or some such similar) in Rhodesia. And also because we had a police hat in the dress up box.

You can understand my relief, this year, when she decided to go as “Franche”. Which in her mind, meant that she could wear stylish or ‘fashionista’ clothing ie. leggings with a hole in the knee, a t-shirt (which amazingly, actually had writing in real French on it!) and a leopard print jersey. She almost replaced the leggings with tracksuit pants, but I told her that I had never, ever, in the history of mankind, seen a ‘Franche’ woman wear tracksuit pants. So she stuck with the leggings.

“I like to keep my heritage moving, so that it’s more interesting,” she told me yesterday, by way of explanation. “That’s why I never go as the same thing.”

When her teacher gently explained that heritage, by its very nature is rather static (because it is dead!), she decided on a compromise with the reindeer antlers again. Sadly, we could not find them at 6:27am this morning.

They say that South Africa is the Rainbow Nation. But on the morning of Heritage Day dress up, I long for the days when that rainbow will become smudged beyond separate colour definition, so that we can all just strap the same flag to our backs and celebrate the stuff that brings us together, instead of the stuff that keeps us apart.

Maybe Amy was on the right track with the penguin thing.

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