Watching Mbombela’s Paul and Michelle Coetzee together is a delight. This beautiful couple look at each other as if they met yesterday, and their playful banter shows just how strong their bond truly is.
Michelle was studying speech therapy and audiology, and Paul was a medical student at Tygerberg Hospital in when they first met. Paul, a musical maestro who plays guitar, piano, trumpet and ukelele, was performing at a newcomer’s concert. “That was the first time I saw him. He played ‘N1-roete’ by Lucas Maree. And he gave me butterflies!” says Michelle, herself an adept clarinet and piano player.
The couple started dating a few months later and have never looked back. “Just after that I did my community service in Port Elizabeth in 2003, and then went to work in the UK in 2004. We got engaged in Paul’s final year, and then tied the knot at the end of 2005.” The Coetzees recently celebrated their 14th anniversary in Mauritius, and after a whirlwind holiday are ready to settle back into daily life.
Paul, an anaesthetist, is quite the romantic, according to Michelle. “It is not unusual for him to arrive home with a bunch of flowers, a bottle of wine and distinctive ingredients and prepare a gourmet dinner. He makes an event of every occasion and makes me feel very special. He is a brilliant cook, and does the majority of cooking at home. He loves experimenting with new flavours, and I love tasting the dishes and learning from him.” The couple’s sons, Paul and Louis, also love these foodie experiments, and Paul, the elder of the two, has inherited his dad’s taste for adventurous food while Louis has a somewhat more conservative taste. “A lot of our time together is spent in the kitchen, and the boys also get involved with the cooking process,” says Paul. “I end up playing the guitar and singing on most evenings and we often eat by candlelight. We always eat as a family around the dinner table; it is a precious time together for us. And when we do go out for dinner, the kids always go with us.”
In fact, the family are inclined to do most things together, and a typical weekend means spending quality time relaxing at home. Paul and Louis are the best of friends and get along famously, obviously joined by Jens, the family’s gorgeous black Labrador. Paul’s work between hospitals means he tends to have a busy schedule, so they plan weekends around it. Michelle handles most of the household and everyday issues that arise, and there is a strict no-work policy (including no homework for the boys) in the evenings. If Paul comes home early he’ll often take the kids cycling in the area, which is something all of the Coetzees have a bit of a passion for. Saturday mornings start bright and early, with Paul cycling and either parkrun for Michelle and the boys, or a mountain biking event for the family. It is her dream to complete her first MTB race with her husband, the K2C in July.
These go-getters are also firm believers that weekends are for resting, so the afternoons are downtime for everyone. If the weather allows it, Paul and the kids love to fish at the dams on The Edge Estate, where the Coetzees reside, or take a long walk together before the evening’s cooking commences. The family love the Lowveld. The weather is perfect for their active, outdoorsy lifestyle, and Michelle especially loves to spend time in her beautiful garden. “The fact that the weather allows for the boys to play outside almost every day, not having to raise them in a city or spend a lot of time in the mall is a blessing,” the couple agree.
On Sundays the family attend church in the morning and often spend the afternoon at Mankele Bike Park, their favourite place in the Lowveld. “It’s our special place, my happy place,” she says. “Camping is our favourite activity as a family and we try to camp at least once a month at various camp sites in the Lowveld, especially when there are trails to explore by foot or MTB. We do it old school with a tent and a gazebo and everyone has a specific job to do. During the winter holidays we usually plan a longer trip, and recently had a fantastic two-week camping holiday in the Richtersveld.”
This marriage works because both parties understand the importance of giving each other space, and the freedom to pursue their individual dreams. Paul’s idea of the perfect getaway would be to cycle, hike and eat at a great restaurant, while Michelle would love to spend the day at a quiet, secluded beach. They both love to travel and explore nature. This stay-at-home mom is also passionate about parent-and-child interaction from a young age and how it can influence most aspects of their lives. “All your kid needs is you,” she says, and dreams of one day creating a platform to expand on the importance of a solid foundation and upbringing.
While being together is an important part of the picture, the couple also believe in the importance of individuality. “It is crucial to not lose sight of your own identity, but to always remain true to who you are,” they agree. “We believe the more we release each other to do what we love, the stronger we are when we are together. And to always see the humour in a situation and never stop laughing together.” Michelle adds that Paul is her rock. “He maintains perspective when my emotional side wreaks havoc. Oh yes, and I am definitely the biggest fan of his dry sense of humour,” she adds with a smile.
Today’s lifestyle has become so fast-paced that we often lose sight of ourselves and our significant others, and making time for each other is something that has to specifically concentrated on. “Sometimes life just gets too busy and days pass without you having a decent conversation,” says Michelle. “You start to lose touch with each other and that is not a safe place to be.” The Coetzees firmly believe that good communication over a cup of tea, and with lots of chocolate, is an important part of a happy marriage. Looking at their relaxed warmth and easy intimacy, you can certainly see that whatever they are doing, it works.