Oupa Tjoppies

Emma is not usually a great fan of meat, but when she was preggy, her hunger overcame her pickiness, and she consumed large quantities of whatever was plonked on her plate.

But the one thing that she refused to eat was lamb chops.

In fact, lamb of any kind is on the won’t eat list.

Particularly farm chops. Chris’s folks have a farm in Barkly East, and when we go and visit, we often come home with a cooler bag of meat. Em reckons it has a certain herby flavour that she simply can’t stomach. This delights Chris greatly because it means there’s more for him. He adores chops.

We were sitting around the table one night, having dinner, discussing this very thing. Em’s chair was half a meter away from the table to accommodate Rollo in situ.

Somebody asked if her baby was also going to be denied chops once he graced us with his physical presence. Well, not immediately, of course, but when he got a few teeth and could gnaw on one.

Chris piped up, “Don’t worry, Rollo. Oupa will make sure you get some nice skaap tjoppies.”

Emma instinctively grabbed the sides of her stomach as though she was closing her baby’s ears and gasped, “Oh no! Don’t listen to Oupa, Rollo. We don’t eat sheepies.”

We all fell around laughing, and so the name OupaTjoppies was born.

As Chris, our resident genealogist, will tell you, my side of the family tree is more of a wild and woolly bush.

At the time, Rollo had a choice of two grandfathers on Em’s side. It’s always a thing to differentiate between family members when it comes to generic names. But in this case, we had Oupa Tjoppies and just plain Oupa. Sadly this choice has now dwindled down to one with the passing of Em’s Dad earlier this year. At least he did get to see Rollo soon after he was born and then again when he was just over two years old.

Chris is great with kids. He’s tall and strong, yet also very gentle and incredibly patient.  I think that little people automatically feel safe with him. Whenever Isabella, our now ten-year-old granddaughter, comes to visit, the two of them have a fine time playing for hours in our postage stamp of a pool,  smacking balls at each other, and raucous shouts of ‘you cheating little weasel’ can be heard during long bouts of Uno or Monopoly. They might not see each other for—during the COVID times—years, and yet the bond between Bella and Oupa Chris stays strong.

Isabella and Gingy

I should perhaps add that Bella was even more spoilt for choice – she had three granddads!

So it wasn’t in the slightest bit surprising that Rollo and Oupa Tjoppies got along like a house on fire right from the very beginning.

When Rollo was cranky and fed up with his own parents or GG (aka Granny Gin – the name I go by with both my grandchildren), Chris would gather him up, snuggle him on his shoulder and show him stuff. Books, the colourful oil paintings we have in the lounge, or the cat pictures in the passageway.

Or sometimes, they’d just lie on the floor and check out the ceiling.

Often you could find Oupa Tjoppies reading to Rollo, with Rollo avidly listening and helping to turn the pages.

Chris was also rather intent that Rollo should learn to speak Afrikaans while he was little, and he would sing ditties in his mother tongue, pretending his knees were a horse. I believe it’s the same song that his own father sang to him when he was little.

Of course, now that we know that Rollo is on the spectrum, we stick to one language, and a very simple version of that, as much as possible. Bit hard for me because I’m a chatty old cow and tend to use a lot of words when few could suffice.

Apparently, some kiddos with autism aren’t fond of small talk, either.

Chris was the one who got Rollo to sit still when he was so sick. He managed to waft the nebulizer around in the direction of his little nose when the rest of us had failed abysmally.

Then again, when life gets tough, they just sit and seriously contemplate things around the fire.

The other huge thing that Chris and Rollo have in common is swimming.

In the beginning, we thought Rollo’s love for water came from when Em lounged around the pool like a hippo in her last few months of pregnancy. She was overheating, and being a small skinny little lady all her life, sharing her body with a squirming baby tended to make the problem worse.

Chris had experimented with running some black PVC piping onto the roof and had heated the pool water up to an acceptable level for October. Our pool was in the shade of some large Japanese Stinkwoods and never got nice and warm. They’ve since come toppling down, and it is now in the sun.

Rollo must have been less than three months old when he had his first swim. I use that term lightly, he still doesn’t swim yet, but it’s our mission to teach him this year.

This, too, is a thing with kids on the spectrum. They like water. Rollo is no exception, and he doesn’t seem to mind when it is icy cold, and his little limbs turn blue.

He yowls like a stuck pig when you try to take him out of the water.

Em would hover on the sidelines, anxiously gnashing her teeth. Rollo had a habit of plunging his face into the water without closing his mouth. She’d read horrendous stories of water getting into kids’ lungs. No matter how careful we were, he always managed to dunk himself a couple of times per swim.

After Rollo’s first birthday, Chris diligently tried to teach him to close his mouth when he submerged his face, to no avail. He’d still come up spluttering and coughing and then do it all again a few minutes later.

Rollo and Oupa Tjoppies after a nice swim.

The two of them had a swim just last week, and Chris said that Rollo (now nearly three) is much better in the water and seems to try to float instinctively.

It’s super disconcerting that Rollo seems to think he can walk on water.

He simply steps off the edge into the pool. If you’re lucky, you can get him to pause long enough to remove his nappy and whatever clothing he’s wearing. If not, well, everything gets wet. Including you, usually.

The floatation devices we’ve found are either too big or too small, so Chris modified a pool noodle into a little ring that keeps him afloat, but you still have to hold onto it for dear life because he can slip right through. While our pool is tiny, it’s not tiny enough for Rollo to stand in so that his mouth sticks out of the water.

I always say goodbye to Chris in the morning, and sometimes, Rollo accompanies me. He likes to sit on Chris’s lap and ‘drive’ the car out of the driveway. He takes this job very seriously and keeps a wary eye out for the wall behind. He’s mighty impressed with himself and most reluctant to give up the wheel when it’s time for Chris to leave.

Yet a fat smile splits his precious little face in half as we wave goodbye to his lovely Oupa Tjoppies.

3 responses to “Oupa Tjoppies”

  1. A lovely read which cheered me up immensely on a cold day in the UK. A beautiful blended family.

  2. Just love how Oupa Tjoppies and Rollo have such a beautiful relationship. And with his Bella too. One amazing Oupa. And his beautiful GG too. Hugs and loves 💕🤗

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