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Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The Last Pancake - part 2

Things were so different on this visit. Mum lives for her television programmes but the television remained switched off all day. She was favouring water over her normal coffees by the dozen. She did not want to stroke the dog or play with the children. What should have been my daughter's birthday party at grandmas had turned into a lacklustre day with an oppressive atmosphere that I think all the adults felt. Fortunately, the children's Easter activities distracted them effectively I think but who knows?
But there were no balloons or party poppers and no cake.
Mum's house is called Pancake Land by my children as they say she makes the best pancakes in the world. Dad made my daughter one but it did not feel the same and the boys said no and had other things.
Mum did seem to cheer a little whilst talking to me and starting directing operations in her usual way a little bit. This led to a lovely scene where my daughter and Dad planted sweet pea seeds in the garden. "I'll be able to see those when they flower" said Mum. Gut-wrenching moment as I feel in my heart that she will not do so. She loves sweet peas and it is something we share. Or did!
Mum eventually went to lie down in her bedroom and this gave me an opportunity to talk to my brother and Dad. My brother said he was "struggling" and Dad after a leading question from me admitted that the situation is "hard". I am very much the baby of the family and it felt weird trying to offer support to these men in my life. I sent my Other Half out for a walk - not fair on him to keep going from room to room hiding from difficult and private conversations. He returned saying that town was "dead" after walking up to the house saying I must not say that word, I must not say that word. Hyper-awareness now to those terms even when the boys are playing with their toy swords and say the D word.
My other brother telephoned from France. He spoke to everyone except Mum who was sleeping. I think everyone told them in their own words that things are bad and we don't expect Mum to last long. She is covered in lumps over her body, one of which she made me feel I think to make it more real to me. She is not sleeping well but tells Dad she is - those reassuring lies that are part of every good marriage. I speak to my brother's partner too on the telephone who has gone through this journey with his parents. He catches me in the headlights, refusing to let me escape from confronting my emotion. I end the conversation and want to get away, to go home, to pretend all is well.
I see Mum on my own upstairs and find myself in one of those big life scenes. I will blog about this later, too much for me now.
As we leave the house, I put on my happy face and we all blow mad kisses and wave like we have had the best day ever.
When we arrive home, my Other Half tells me there were balloons on the side at Mum's house but without Mum, nobody thought to blow them up. But she had thought to get them despite everything. Heart-break

The Last Pancake has been served

We visited Mum and Dad at the weekend. After long traffic jams, we met Dad at the door who said "Your Mum's not too good. In fact, she hasn't been for days". I saw her in her chair in the lounge, flinching as the children and dog approached her. My brother dragged me off for a few minutes to say "We have cancelled the holiday". They were due to go to France today. Always a mad idea in my view. However, having told her on hearing her diagnosis, that she was to live her life as she saw fit I felt unable to instruct her not to go.
The visit started badly. We had clearly walked in not long after Mum had cried and said she was letting everybody down but felt unable to go on the holiday. The tension was tangible. Mum was irritable barking at the children about forgetting their pleases and thank yous. It is difficult to know that Mum is feeling vulnerable which she hates so she lashes out whilst balancing that with protecting your young children.
Lunch was served in the kitchen but Mum stayed in the lounge. To reduce the stress, I started talking about Dad's previous career to move his mind of what it must be on all the time now. It worked and a good conversation ensued whilst the children played with their Easter presents and ate their chocolate eggs.
I went into the lounge to see if Mum was OK. I must have been there at her side for about three or four hours. Clearly she wanted to talk to me. Someone brought me a bowl of crumble and custard. I tried to eat it whilst choking with emotion and also the effort of hiding that emotion to protect Mum. In the end, I put it down where it happily congealed at my side. Another symbol and even now, I know crumble will have a whole new feeling attached to it in the future.
Mum showed me her documents from her medical appointments and from the hospice. It felt surreal. What is Mum doing with hospice information. Hospices are about dying. This cannot be. She shocked me by saying she wants me to visit alone without the children and also that she does not want them at the funeral. "I want them to remember the fun times". How can I argue with that? However, I want to scream that they should pay their tribute to a brilliant grandma.
Mum talks of old memories, of her childhood, veering from one topic to the next. She says that my Other Half has proved himself a good husband and father. She asks me to understand her initial reservations about him which I did at the time anyway. Unemployed single father was not in her plans for me but then it wasn't in mine either. Yet, he is the one for me and the one I run to (and shout at) now as I face what feels like the worst thing ever.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Parenting - the joys

I often find myself challenged by the demands of parenting 3 young children. However, there are so many joys and I feel like recording them here.

My firstborn son was my first blood relative so extra special to me. My OH already had 3 daughters so I was over the moon to deliver his first son. I was overwhelmed by this little person who was so much himself from the start. I had thought he would be a combination of his parents. Although he shares some our traits and looks, he is unique. When my Mum visited us in hospital, she said she had never seen a new baby look around so much obviously fascinated by the world. I admit that I did not have a clue about looking after a baby and am so grateful that Mum was there to help and to support me in those early years. I went back to work and in her seventies, Mum learned how to put a disposable nappy on and celebrated her first grandchild with a huge passion that continues to the present day. My son is sensitive and states that friendship is the most important thing in the world. I know I am biased but people are mesmerised by him - teachers, fellow pupils, everyone. He hates writing but loves reading, mathematics, science and geography. Like my OH, he adores all things ICT and has to be dragged away from his Wii games. I don't have the faintest idea what he will become in later life apart from the fact that he will love and be loved.

My daughter, currently sporting a zillon spots due to chickenpox, was born after a really difficult labour. I now knew what women complain about having sailed through my first one with pleasure. Her saving grace was that she was a girl so as soon as that was announced, all was forgiven. She had really red cheeks and liked to sleep lots in the early days. I knew her Daddy was smitten when he brought her a lovely pink outfit to take her home in. He is not usually that sort of bloke. He started a trend there as she remains obsessed with fashion and all things pink.
She is very slight in build and tall with a lovely skin and my mad hair that shoots off at all angles. She is blonde which was a surprise to me. Although I started blonde, this did not last long so I expected her to have brown curls not blonde ones. There was lovely moment when she was little when our black labrador walked past her in her little bouncing chair. Then our golden labrador walked past her in the opposite direction. It was hilarious to watch her face as it was clear in her world, the dog had just changed colour. My daughter sends much of her time on another planet in her head and has a vivid imagination. When she was tiny, we worked out that she loved making her mark with pencils and crayons. Her interest in arts and crafts is huge and she also has an eye for design. Her other great love is music and dancing. Like me, she enjoys the power or words and her teachers report that she has beautiful handwriting. She wants cuddles all the time and why not?

Son number two was a real challenge for me. Like my daughter, he was not planned and he came very quickly after her. I reckon having your second child doubles the tasks you need to do but your third quadruples them and son on. I had the strange pain-free birth this time with an emergency Caesarean in the end. Twenty minutes and a pirate-like person was rubbed against my cheek by the midwife. Apparently this was to help me bond with him but it just irritated me after a long night. I was exhausted and in and out of sleep. I heard him crying, wailing and remember thinking that there was clearly nothing wrong with his lungs. I sensed excitement as I went into a recovery ward. It turned out he was a bumper baby so everyone was scurrying around to see just how heavy he was. Suffice to say, he was twice the size of the baby in the next bed when I was moved to the Maternity Ward. I went back to work two weeks later after all the awfulness of pain and immobility that followed the Caesarean. My OH became a house husband for that period. I wish I had made a different decision. I was being bullied at work although I did not realise that at the time. I was struggling with postnatal issues and I was not bonding with my baby at all. Then on a day out, I suddenly noticed he looked deathly and we rushed him to hospital. It was only tonisilitis but I was convinced that he was dying. Something clicked and I have loved him deeply since that day. I think he knows on a level how I originally felt because he clings to me more than the others and we have a very close bond. My OH says I let him get away with more but I reckon after the false start, he deserves that from me. He remains big although not chubby. He is full on and boisterous. He seems very sure of himself for a youngest child, quite clear that he fits in totally ith our family. He has the wickedest sense of humour - very slapstick and with a great ability to pull funny faces. At nursery, he acts like a cherub and is loved for his gorgeous smile and sense of cooperation.

Aren't I the lucky one?

Which is not to say that I don't struggle with parenting ever day but know in my heart, that it is totally worth it.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Twitter Lessons

I joined Twitter, the social networking site, in January 2009. Here is a list of some of the benefits to me so far
1. Reduced my feelings of isolation
2. Built my self-confidence
3. Made me even more interested in the world beyond my four walls
4. Let to leads for jobs and freelance work
5. Given an insight into the lives of celebrities and the wonderful world of the "ordinary"
6. Encouraged me to write my first book
7. Taught me how to make the most of myself style wise and to sometimes wear my knickers over my tights lol
8. Given me an outlet for sober and drunken ramblings
9. Helped me find people who are on or have experienced similar journeys - coping with cancer diagnosis, post-natal depression, adoption, step-parenting and parenting
10. Challenged my thinking

Some people try to set rules for Twitter. I have had criticisms for ..

1. Being too deep thinking
2. Asking questions

but I have also had positive comments for doing these things.

Make of Twitter what you will would be my guideline

What do you think, dear readers

40 Life Lessons

On turning 40, I reflected on my life and came up with the following key lessons and realisations.

1. That my adoptive parents are human, did a great job and I love them lots
2. That my brothers love me in their unique ways
3. That my key childhood memories are about experiences and not things
4. That my shyness often stopped people reaching out to me as friends
5. That I was far more attractive and slim than I thought I was
6. That feelings are usually mutual - whatever they are
7. That I sometimes did the impossible and maybe I still can
8. That my birth mother rejecting me was to do with her and her limitations and not me (have only just worked this one out)
9. That first impressions are rarely 100% right
10. That there is a Jack for every Jill just like Mum said there would be

There are 30 more which I will post over the next week or maybe even today depending on how things go

Would love to hear your life lessons

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Reflections on post-natal depression

This post is inspired by a Twitter contributor who commented on my previous blogging. She was generous enough to say I give life and meaning to words. As other Twitter friends will know, I am always keen to hear positives about my writing with that huge ego of mine. However, this Twitter lady also said she was emerging from the fog of post-natal depression. As I am out the other side of PND, I feel comfortable talking of my experiences.
When my first child was born, I sailed through the whole process. The birth was enjoyable and he just slotted in making our contented two into a happy three. As I am very much the baby of the family, caring for a child was totally new to me. Mum and Dad relocated to help me with childcare so I could combine parenting with a new job.
Three years later, I had my little girl. It was a difficult labour but resulted in my adorable and angelic daughter. She was and remains an easy child smiling, sleeping and eating lots. My boss at the time suggested I should take 4 months off work. I did so reluctantly as work is my passion. Having moved to a country idyll, I felt totally cut off and isolated. My partner had a long commute and I knew nobody.
I am not clear when the black clouds descended but I can share how I felt for months and possibly years.
I would wake up and not feel any motivation to get out of bed. Logically, I could see that things were going well for us but I was unable to engage with any of it. As soon as my partner left for work, I would pull the curtains to live in a state of semi-darkness to match my mood. If somebody knocked on the door, I would hide in a special spot where I had worked out nobody would be able to see me even if unusually the curtains were open. Personal hygiene took a nosedive. My thinking was that as I did not have a life, why bother to take a bath or put on nice clothes. I feel embarrassed admitting this but if someone else is going through it and reads this, maybe they can sense that there is hope and PND does pass.
I had heard of post-natal depression but was loathe to admit that such a thing could have taken control of me. To be honest and I don't think this reflects badly on him, I think my partner was so busy that he was fooled that I was just tired or being difficult for much of the time.
One day having had another baby and on the school run, the sun was shining. I looked up and felt joy of the pure, unadulterated variety. I realised I had not had the feeling for such a long time. I think in all I was in severe depression for two years.
I wrote to Fern Britton from ITV's This Morning programme and she replied the same day! Clearly, she knows what I had gone through. I am now reading her autobiography and realise that she had some very similar experiences of the condition.
So, what mistakes did I make?
1. Believing that I would walk into parenthood with no troubles or need for support
2. Not seeking the help of my health visitor or GP
3. Not disclosing my feelings to my partner or other family members
On the other hand, I do feel that my partner and family members might have asked questions when there must have been signs of me totally letting myself go and a change of personality. Particularly in the case of one of my brothers who has had depression, I think he could have been there more for me. However, perhaps it was all too close to his own experiences and he wanted to turn away.
The key message is that PND or any form of depression can and does pass. I am more than happy to hear from, listen to or support anyone as they make their journey out of this debilitating condition. Talk about it, seek help - escape it.

Friday, 3 April 2009

A pox on both our houses

I always help my little girl get ready for school in the mornings. Pulling off her Dora the Explorer pyjama top, naturally pink, I spy with my little eye several reddish spots. Tis the chickenpox methinks. My immediate thought is how this might impact on our planned visit to my mum at the weekend. A telephone call later confirms that we cannot go as this is one of the rules of the steroids prescribed by Macmillan.
Speaking to Mum, she sounded like she was back to her old self and some! Strongly suspect she is overdosing on steroids and apparently is working through mountains of ironing and feeling very chirpy indeed.
Reality check when she says "I will still be here when you do manage to get her".
There is, I assume, no actual guarantee of that.
I have a red heart-shaped helium balloon that my daughter bought for her Daddy for Valentines Day. It has been sitting on my television set for days and it makes me think of Mum. Slowly going down but for now, still full of love. The children start playing with it whilst I am on the telephone punching it. Am ridiculously upset at this but manage to focus on loving them. After all, it is just a silly balloon. I have just thought that when Mum had being nasty to me in some way she always used to come in to my bedroom and say, "You'll have to forgive your Mummy. She is just a silly sausage"

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Having a go

I do believe I may be getting my motivation back to the way it used to be many moons ago. I want to write. I cannot remember a time when I didn't. I love playing with words and the power that they have to inform, to inspire, to amuse and to move. At Christmas, I had a lovely conversation with Mum and Dad about my ambitions regarding writing. Mum said, "Well you always said you would. Get on with it, even if you just start keeping a diary". Dad commented that the title for his unwritten book was always "My Father Wears Clogs". Then whilst watching This Morning on the telly, I became aware of the world of Twitter. One of my new followers contacted me saying I had real talent. Now, after bullying in the workplace and post-natal depression and just not being the most natural stay at home mother, this was news to me. Ignore her - she is a mad woman. She would not leave me alone, encouraging me to blog and this blog happened absolutely because of this angel masquerading as a Tweeter.
This blog was not intended to make people cry. I wanted to make readers laugh at my chaos and my musings on the insanity of the world today. Life took over and a phone call from my Mum changed the blog along with many other things.
However, it also acted as a catalyst for my writing. If I don't do it now, when? However long Mum's final journey is, my writing will be my tribute to her. Dad will never write his book but I can.
Yesterday, I received positive comments from the well-known and fabulous novelist Katie Fforde. She is encouraging me to join a writers' association and why not? I think the sensible thing to do is to say I am a writer and let life catch up with that. I look at my bio on Twitter where not knowing what would happen, I call myself a writer. I will see it when I believe it. I am starting to have faith.
So, dear reader, please go for your dreams too. It is a cliche but life really is too short not to go for gold

Wednesday, 1 April 2009


Mum telephoned me last night to update me on her situation. The Macmillan nurse had seen her for the first time and this seemed to have made Mum feel much better. Inner rage - why do we have to rely on charities to give the necessary support to vulnerable people instead of the statutory sector? In a truly vocational way, the nurse had talked to Mum for hours. Mum admitted for the first time that she was in pain and the nurse ensured painkillers were with her immediately. The nurse was also of the view that Mum should live as she wants to in the time she has left. So it appears an Easter holiday to France along with suitcases filled with super-strength painkillers will now take place. I am not sure this is the wisest choice but I think Mum should set the compass for this particular journey so will not interfere. Mum said they had talked of many things - of Mum's deep Catholic faith, of Mum's ability to face death but fear of what lies between today and that unknown date. An unknown date that will become etched on my mind in due course. Mum also said one of the worst bits about terminal illness is knowing the ripple effect it is having on your family. I admitted that sleepless nights are now a big feature of my life, according to the MacMillan website a totally normal response. I told Mum I knew I was not losing her as like Freddie Mercury, she will live on for ever. I think she enjoyed the comparison - Mum has always stayed very into popular music and loved Freddie as she loves all great showmen. We spoke for a long time and the suddenly, the shutters came down as she moved on to practical arrangements for my visit to her at the weekend. I am now mature enough to know that she could take no more of the emotional stuff so found it helpful to focus on times of arrivals and meal plans. I ended the conversation by telling her that my eldest son is going for his first belt in martial arts at the weekend. "I knew he would do well at it" she said with absolute conviction.
I had a brief chat with Dad who wanted to know chapter and verse about my job offer. Very business-like my Dad still but I could hear his pride and loved him for it. My youngest son kept grabbing the telephone - he and Dad are best buddies.
Mum told me last night that she is heartily sick of being prodded and poked. Pitifully, she told me about her ultrasound and being covered in sticky jelly and hating it. She also is distressed at the fear in other patients' eyes as she knows she cannot help them. Mum is the eternal helper so this is one of the worst factors for her - becoming the helped instead of the helper.
I have been listening to Bette Midler's "Wind beneath my wings" - that is what Mum is to me and she will be ALWAYS