Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Look away children...... part two

I'm back..... I've actually been back a while just in case my longer-than-normal absence led some of you to think I'd decided to stay in New York. I'm afraid nothing so dramatic.
I arrived home at 6am Monday morning having had no sleep and straight into the beginning-of-week flurry of school readiness. After the glorious gusto of greetings, my husband ran out of the door with a look of sheer relief on his face mouthing "they're all yours!" I put my suitcases down, forced a smile on my face and made their breakfast..... They were all sick with colds and so it was Thursday before I actually got any sleep. During those fog-muddled days, I could almost taste the sweet boost of cocktail that I had left behind and could cry. As everyone pulled at me, screamed at me, coughed at me, needed me....... I closed my eyes and remembered.... the gloriousness of time off, time alone, time to be me.

Quick disclaimer!: I did miss the girls so so much, and we skyped every day and talked several times a day (not looking forward to my mobile billl). I missed hubby incredibly and wished I could have shared all the amazing restaurants and cocktail bars with him.... came home full of romantic intentions and have barely spoken to him since (he's been sick, the girls have been sick, I've been sick, I had to go up to visit my mum.... so Hi Lovely.... talk soon!).

But.........but...... I cannot lie. It was sheer bliss. Sheer, utter, perfect, glorious, freedom liberating bliss. For five days I lived my life. MY life. I remembered who I was. I laughed, I smiled, I thought good thoughts. I did not shout, get frustrated, feel trapped, feel resentful, feel like crying, feel rubbish, feel stressed.
We walked (not ran, walked) all over Manhatton, we browsed (browsing!!!!..not running into a shop, list hanging out of mouth, baby in one arm, two hands beng dragged by the other arm, shouting 'where's the bloody thing I'm looking for!', and throwing money at the teller as I stop Ruby climbing onto an escalator, and shoving everyone back in the car seats in approximately 3 breaths..... yes, browsing), we stopped for tea breaks (where I actually drank it and finished whole conversations), drank cocktails at peculiar hours of the day (just because I COULD!), we went out for glorious East Coast seafood and beer, (and didn't have to rush home), I didn't get indigesiton eating my breakfast because I only had to feed myself. Did I mention it was bliss?

Sorry girls...... I love you dearly, and chose this life at home with you. I would have it no other way..... but I needed this. I feel recharged, rebooted, re-engaged, reinvented, rejuvenated. My post-holiday blues have flown away leaving a rainbow of happiness. Our coughs are gone, and replaced by laughing. I've rediscovered how to laugh with you, because I finally had some time to remember how to laugh with me. I am playful, forgiving, energised, and I am loving being with you again. Oh, and just so you..... Amanda and I have started saving again!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Look away, children....

In future years, if my children ever fancy a glance at their childhood, or want an insight into the sometimes mad woman who brought them up, they might read back over these blogs. That's partly why I started writing them - as a little outlet for my not-so-little frustrations, a global platfrom to celebrate their wonderfullness, but most of all, as a record of our journey together, mother and daughters. Over the last 6 years there have been too-many-to-count glorious gushings about how amazing, how thrilling, how funny, how utterly lovely my beautiful girls are (see how I'm front-loading the praise?)...... so please girls, excuse this little eeny weeny post that's all about me.... look away now.

Yes... in approximately 20 hours time, I will be boarding an Aer Lingus jet (SANS ENFANTS), for a 5 hour (CHILD-FREE) flight to New York, for a five day break (FROM ROUTINE, CHORES, COOKING, CLEANING, WIPING BUMS, MAKING FOOD, WIPING FOOD UP FROM THE FLOOR, YADA YADA YADA....) with a great friend (NOT A CHILD, BUT A REAL ADULT FRIEND).

Phew! It feels amazing just to be writing it. I know I shouldn't be feeling this desperate to get away, BUT I AM!!!!!!! I CANNOT WAIT!!!!!!! (I told you to look away, but one day you'll understand!)

We've been saving for three years (yes count them..... three years). And it's not even the cocktails I'm looking forward to (although I'm sure going to be having one around the 4.30pm mark when my day is usually descending into mayhem and everyone's reaching levels of hysteria normally reserved for major natural disasters). That will be a sip of pure bliss. It's not the 5 nights of undisturbed sleep I'll be getting (although I'm sure going to love that first 6am roll over when I realise no-one needs me). It's the flight. Yes, a 5 hour flight where I can get to end of the page, drink something with bubbles that is not water, and even watch a film that doesn't involve a princess. I'm going to lounge about SoHo and drink cocktails during the day. I'm going to jog across Brooklyn Bridge in the early morning noise, I'm going to eat bagels and enjoy not bustling in a city of bustle.

We booked our flights in January so it's hard to believe it's here. I've just booked in on-line and printed off my tickets, I've stocked the freezer with food, cleaned the house and dusted off the clothes that don't get much of a viewing - the ones intended for the real world. I'll be in it. Sipping cocktails, and smiling. A lot.

Although I've no doubt at all girls, I'll be thinking about you every day...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Letters of Love

This weekend, when I went up to Belfast to look after my mum, my dad had left a big box in my room. I looked inside, and found my life story. The smell of age and nostalgia mingled with tissue thin paper and ink. Every single card, every single letter, every single postcard, every single note I have ever written to my mum was inside.... stories laid bare, love notes squeezed between exploits, happy holidays, dulls days...all bound together in memory. I have written to my mum all through my life - through all my adventures, through all my education, through all my relationships, through all my parenting. And she kept every word. I spent a few hours just putting them into piles - the piles I realise that represent the phases of my life - my childhood - sweet notes of innocence and a burgeoning imagination; my year out in Pakistan and India as a naive 18 year old - full of longing for home, and excitement at the world; University - an adult emerging amid learning and independence; working life in London - lots of money requests and false starts on the job front; my two year travels - the spendour, the adventure, the romance!; and finally, my life in Dublin - my first flat, planning our wedding, our first home, my beautiful girls.
Reading them I realise how honest I was, how at ease we were with each other, how accepting we were, how involved my parents have been in my life. Not only does that box give me a unique diary of my life - in my own words, it is like a gift to me in this time as I grieve for my mum, and learn to live my life without her involvement.
I still write to her every week - I take photos of my days with the girls, and I embed them in a letter with a commentary, and I email it to dad who prints it out and reads it to her. They are slowly filling a box beside her bed - and in time too they will be the diary of this phase, and a reminder that even though she cannot be the person she was, she is still, and always will be, involved in my life.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Some days...

Some days it all comes together... and some days it all falls apart. Today was the latter. My recent attempts at reading Buddhism (whatever gets us through the day, I say) is being tested as my new found calm took a sabatical, and the screaming heeby-jeeby's took over. The more Ruby screamed outwardly, the more I screamed inwardly. The more Poppy cried at every little thing, the more I wanted to cry at every single thing. The more Daisy tortured me for her confiscated Leappad, the more I wanted to confiscate myself. This was me at 4.52pm....

And then my knight in shining armour came home and rescued me from the wicked witches. Thank you hubby...... coming home early was the best wedding anniversary present you could give me.... (well, the best one that doesn't sparkle!!).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It's a hard life being six

I've often wondered over the last couple of years how life got so bloody complicated - three young children, a gorgeous but work-laden husband, a sick mum and a million other pebbles that make the road a bit harder to walk on. But as I watch my eldest daughter navigate the bright new path that lies ahead of her, I realise that no matter how hard my life can be - and it has pushed the acceptable boundaries of toughness of late - I realise it can never be as hard as a six year olds. Take Monday. All weekend we had looked forward to getting her dressed up for her school Halloween celebration, and I even got up ten minutes earlier so I had time to paint her face and make a winning witch out of her. Off we trotted to school, pink hair and green face to the wind. On approach I started to get an uneasy feeling but couldn't think why. Until her little voice strangled out the worst words a six year old can say...."Mummy, no one else is dressed up!" Yes, she'd got the wrong day and was the only spectre in the spectrum of the school building. At first I thought we could just laugh it off, but I soon realised the embarassment for her was too great. She was most definitely not laughing! So to prevent a full-blown fit, I had to borrow a uniform from the office and wash her make up off, but she still had to endure her pink tights and witch shoes all day, and various queries from her friends. When I laughingly suggested she dress as a ghost the next morning, I was met with a teary eye at the mere thought of it. Strange - from about 13 onwards all we want to do is stand out from the crowd, but until then, it is utterly excrutiating to be different. Poor thing.... she's only just able to make a meek smile at the mention of it.
And it gets harder and more confusing still.

While she is the child I've loved the longest, she will always be my guinea pig and that can be a bit of a swine. On same said Monday, I got annoyed with her for not keeping in her pink witch hair on the way - what did it matter that it was itchy! I had spent money and time getting it so she was being so ungrateful! (I know, bad parenting moment.... my inner child won over my mature mother). Two days later, when it was Poppy's turn to dress up (on the right day!), and Poppy took out her itchy hair, I merely smiled and said 'OK love, no worries.' What must poor Daisy think? She gets the trial run in the situation, while Poppy gets the practised, refined and more times than not, better responses.

While I do everything in my power to make her road as bright, as beautiful, as adventurous, as warm, as blanketed with love as I can, there will always be pebbles, and I suppose that is life - while we skip along happily, there is always the times we stub our toes. I just hope I can teach her that those are the times that should enable us skip on even higher.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Things I'd forgotten about toddlers

The human body really is an amazing thing. In the days after my three caesareans I thought I'd never feel whole again - now I can't even remember the pain. And our brains? They have an amazing capacity to remember the great stuff (the smell of a newborn head, the sound of that first gurgle) while blotting out all the hideous, death-defying stuff like torturous sleep deprivation, excrutiating nipples, baby smelly poos that push the boundaries of acceptability. And so it is, that as Ruby launches into her second year with a gusto that frankly I left behind in my thirties, I am shocked, stunned and a little put out by all the stuff I'd forgotten (or my brain happily sent to the slush pile.)

1. She is soooooooo rude! My lovely girls say please and thank you, they go to the toilet, and have some level of decorum at the dinner table. I've been lulled into a false sense of social grace. Ruby is just rude! She screeches her demands like a demented banshee without so much as a by your leave, she throws her food on the floor when it no longer holds her attention, she lets go of the smelly stuff at the most inopportune times, and frankly thinks she rules the roost.
2. She makes so much mess. I mean, seriously, inconceiveable mess. It's like her saliva contains a food-reproduction germ than means there is three times as much Weetabix on the walls and floor than was ever in her bowl. I can't believe she's thriving as none seems to go into her mouth - her ear, yes. Her hair, definitely. My clothes, absolutely.
3. She clings to my leg like a fully packed rubgy scrum. I literally have to cook with her climbing up my trousers, hoover with her under one arm, and apply mascara with her poking me in the eye. She even tries to get in the shower with me. I love her dearly, but PLEASE can I pee by myself!
4. She makes more noise than the other four members of her family put together. And then some. From the moment I am yanked from my sleepy slumber with her 6.30am screeching, to the moment I rock her with her night-time bottle she screams, yells, sings, cries, gives off, gives out, until I give in and pick her up, feed her, hold her, or whatever it is she wants. I am a hostage to a scream.
5. She doesn't listen to me. I was so over that phase and now it's quite a shock to realise that when I scream "NO!" as she waddles over to the moving escalator in the shopping centre, she isn't going to stop, turn round, and say, 'Oh, OK mum." No, she speeds up, laughs and keeps going. The word 'No' is a game to her. If I say no, it means she does what she was doing, only louder, faster and with an even minxier face than normal.

I'm dreading the Terrible Two's as I know I have abject amnesia from that time. Where's the gin?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Party politics

It has begun. Party politics..... at six. Daisy's forthcoming birthday party is turning into something akin to a CIA secret mission - we have subterfuge, secrecy, leaks, plots, diplomacy and coverups.... and that's just the invitations. Last year it seemed so simple. She invited her friends, I made princess magic mirror invites, everyone dressed in varying shades of pink, and the place was awash with Princess themed decor, food and games. This year, she wants a Fairy Party. I thought 6 year olds were over fairies. I was wrong. Children have been discussing their outfits with me for weeks! I have designed the cake, thought up the themed games and decor and we made 16 glittering winged fairy invites.
And then the trouble began. As we made out our list, I realised there were a few key friends missing. I asked why so-and-so and what's-her-name weren't invited. "They're too bossy," came the reply. "But they're you're friends and they invited you to their parties," I replied slightly preturbed how my own parent politics was going to deal with this as I met the mum's at the gates. A stubborn refusal was my answer. I left it, carried on sticking feather hair onto the fairy invites ("purple please, so they look like Katy Perry"). We talked about it a few more times, but she was resolute in her decision - she only wanted 'nice' people at her party. In the end I have decided to let her play it out.... I've warned her of the consequences, given her an aliby (I'm only allowing her 10 guests), and am secretly a little proud she is standing firm not to invite the 'popular, loud girls' but just the ones she really likes. But this is were the Mission Impossible begins. Try giving out invites to some parents and not others as we wait for the school doors to open (there is a school policy of not letting kids give out invites in class, for this very reason I suspect.) I've been so stressed this week, trying to whisper "pssst, it's an invite", while smiling at the mum across the yard who's daughter's not invited. It's taken 4 days to get them all delivered, and I'm worn out before I've even stuffed the goody bags. Three daughters, 18 years of parties ahead of me.... I'm off to buy some decent anti-wrinkle cream.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Talking around the issue

There are some things that have to be kept private - at least off the etheral, even for a blogger. And so I always find it hard to write my blog when a huge massive 'thing' is hanging over me that I won't or can't write about, because A) I might be arrested/committed/am ashamed; B)it affects someone else and their privacy is more important than my public therapy; and C) it's just too big and just too awful/difficult/hard to share. At the moment I am holding back on the keyboards with things that tick all those boxes. Some day I might share, perhaps I won't... but for now, I'll have to shift the hanging 'thing' and write around the issue in case people think I'm still hiding from my children under the stairs and can't get to my computer.

So I'm going to talk about the bi-polar effects of parenting - when your kids bruise and burst your heart in equal measure. Let's start with Daisy - so bright and beautiful and brilliant. I literally love everything about her, and am so proud of the every day little sparkles of goodness and guile. But she makes my heart tremor in fear as well as pride. She is sensitive and perhaps a little innocent (which is no bad thing in a nearly 6 year old methinks). But the other day, her friends were singing that extremely annoying Katy Perry song Fireworks which I have now had to download on their playlist. They were all dancing and singing to various pop songs when Daisy piped up (bless her, cringe, cringe) and suggested Puff the Magic Dragon. Oh how the faces of her mature, pop cultured friends fell. In fairness, Daisy ignored them and brazened on with her song, although petered out when she forgot the words of the third verse and everyone else had wandered off. I have never been cool, and I suspect Daisy will go through life like me liking what she likes (good) and having endless cringe-worthy moments of embarrassment (bad.) My heart bruises but as I defiantly listen to my Barry Manilow album I think, what's a little embarrassment in the grand scheme of things?
It's a bit different with Poppy, who for various reasons listed under B) above, I can't divulge the utter heart bashing I am having with her. She is the sweetest, most loving, funny child, and I have to steel myself for the battles ahead that she will have to fight, with her daddy and me by her side. But my heart bursts with ridiculous love when I see her overcome her littleness to be the best ballet dancer in class (honest, it's not just me who says that, but her teacher!), and scooting to school with her little legs going like the clappers, and her imaginary friend, 'Heart' who supports her everywhere and will always be her height.
And now we come to the last, but most certainly not least..... Ruby. Any thoughts I had that third children were meant to be quiet and easy going are rudely wrecked every morning with the screaching demanding squawks that announce Ruby's (and mine) start to the day. My heart bruises when I think of how she has had such a distracted mum over the last year, how she clings to my leg ferociously as if she knows I have only been half there. But it bursts when I see her enjoy life - even at one, when she goes to our little toddler group, and she stands defiantly in the middle of the room and dances and giggles with a confidence that shocks me. Who knows what bruising and bursting she will cause me in the years ahead, but like life I suppose, you take the good with the bad and wrap as much of it up as you can in love.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Manic Mannerisms

Ruby was one yesterday, but like a present being slowly unwrapped, she is the celebration. This has been the hardest time of my life, and there were many's a time over the last year when I honestly did not think I would survive. But I did....and more surprisingly, so did Ruby... a thriving fiesty determined amazing bundle of cuteness. A beautiful gift. If extremely noisy! Oh, how she is noisy!

And as she (rapidly) grows - already walking, coming up and down the stairs, and getting off beds and sofas feet first (something it toook me at least 18 months to teach the others) I realise she too has a different personality and we have three amazing unravelling mysteries in our midst. Whereas Poppy is slow and deliberate about everything, Ruby is already a speedy Gonzales, like her older sister Daisy.

Let me explain just how slow (I really should start saying methodical) she is - Poppy's latest behavioural nuance is to wear socks and a cardigan every night in bed. OK, this doesn't seeem to be too extreme... except every evening she spends (at least) 15 minutes deciding which pair of socks it will be - and often changes them at least three times before morning! She lives so far into her own world, it often takes me 15 times to say something before she looks up in surprise and realises I'm talking to her. She has developed an imaginary friend called Heart. It took me a while to realise just how important Heart is, and how involved she is in our lives. She currently joins us for most meals, and is over for playdates nearly every day. Poppy apparently watched an amazing TV show (all made up, but complex, thought out and detailed) at Heart's house one day and they chat on the phone all the time. Poppy hasn't mentioned her height in a while so it all made a bit of sense when I asked her what Heart looks like. "She's small like me and will always be the same size as me." Whatever gets you through the day I say.

Daisy on the other hand is chalk to Poppy's cheese. Fast, impatient and always thinking out loud, asking questions. Just a few of the recent ones include - how does my arm work? is our eyeball a TV screen? You're the best baker in the world mummy. (OK that wasn't a question, but I had to slip it in!). I've already detailed her slight OCD tendency to keep treasures in various boxes, each neatly purused every evening. Now as she approaches her 6th birthday, every night we have to go through all her 5th birthday cards. Every night. Whereas Poppy never knows what day it is, or what we're doing (the other day, dressed up in her ballet gear she asked me where we were going?), Daisy has the sharpest memory I've ever seen. She recalls everything, and calls me out regularly. She's learning Irish at school and loving it, practising her new words every day (Ruby even got sung Happy Birthday in Irish, while her Northern Irish mum and English dad struggled along!)). I told her her memory is great and that she'll be brilliant at languages. She nodded sagely, and said, "Yes, I keep the words on my Remember Shelf in my head. It's like a computer, and when I can't sleep at night, I just play with my computer."

And now there is Ruby Rose. A law unto her own. I'd forgotten how rude toddlers are! Whereas Daisy and Poppy ask for everything with a please and a thank you, Ruby just points and screeches, then grunts! But she is fast emerging into a loud boisterous personality, full of smiles and nuances. Happy birthday my precious girl.... I love being in the front row of your amazing show.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My little trove of treasures

I am constantly amazed by how different our three girls are. Same genes, same upbringing, completely varying personalities. As Ruby's character bursts through her blossoming body, a brand new element nudges its way into our family dynamic, all treasures to keep safe, and to enjoy.
Poppy gives and demands affection all day - curling up on my lap whenever she can, whispering sweet nothings into my ear while I sit on the loo, holding my hand to walk across the kitchen. Daisy reserves her love for some quality one-on one time at the end of the day - keeping everything in until I get into bed beside her for 'talkie talkie' before she goes to sleep. Last night, talkie talkie lasted for some considereable time, but I banished the lure of my cool glass of Pinot Grigio Blush calling me from downstairs and gave in to the moment. She had something important to share with me. She keeps a little treasure box beside her bed and inside are all her trophies and collections she goes through every night. I listened as she took out every sparkly sticker, every glass bead, every token of discovery (she goes treasure searching in the school yard apparently!) as she gave me its history and meaning, little gifts from friends, fantastic finds and discoveries. Then we moved on to the more special treasure kept in her music box. This includes a little bell from her mobile above her bed, a special clip, an old earring of mine and a piece of paper. Each one tenderly held and adored. Finally I was allowed to see the creme de la creme. Inside her dressing table drawer (neat as a pin, every item in its place lined up side by side) is a little ceramic box for keeping teeth in before the tooth fairy comes. Inside, two pink sparkly jewels. She spoke in awed whispers. Then everything was neatly put back, lying in wait until tonight's viewing. The treasures of childhood, nuggets of comfort, lessons of love, links to friendships.
(Poppy keeps hers under her pillow - a different one every night, her dressing room drawer a chaotic mess of mass, my discoveries when I hoover their room and find stuff she has hidden under her bed - this can include a wooden spoon, my egg timer, a pair of my pants, and the TV remote control we've been looking for for a week).
And I realise I have my little treasure box of nuggets too - I have a box with scaps of paper and whenever the girls say something funny or important, I write it down and throw it into the box so I don't forget. Every so often I take them out to read - my little treasures, nuggets, memories, comfort. Daisy has offered some classics lately. "Mummy? I wish I was a boy so I could go out to work." This left me feeling just a tad concerned about my status as a role model! She compensated recently by proudly telling her new teacher that her mummy writes for the Irish Times and when asked who she'd rather be - me or her daddy, she replied - not daddy because he's too hairy, but not mummy because she works too hard!"
Last week I was sorting some stuff out in my mum's bedroom, and I came across a bag in the top of her wardrobe. It contained all the letters I have written her over the years, each one lovingly kept, re-read, loved.
We all need our treasures it seems.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The pain of love

It's done. Another dreaded milestone in the loss of my mum. Ruby's naming ceremony was held at the weekend.....without my mum. I still find it hard at times to comprehend how life can change so drastically on the tick of a clock... one second my life was intact, bursting with new promise as I held my newborn, complete, and the next second of time it is irrevocably, drastically calamatously shattered. One second to change a lifetime of experience - that of sharing my life with my mum, to a new lifetime of events, celebrations, days and life without her.

It was a wonderful day. My dad and brother came down, keeping me warmed by the family blanket of love and support my mum worked so hard to create. My friends sharing my joy, loyal and loving as always. My hubby, holding my hand as he always does. And of course, Daisy, Poppy and Ruby - our much fought for, much loved child, so utterly beautiful, so beguiling, so wondrous.

But it wasn't the same. It can never be the same without her. Worse, alive and in a carehome while dad was with me while her family celebrate being a family. Horrific. The worst torture I could ever have conjured up for my mum.

But it is done. She won't be in the photos, glowing from the love of Ruby; she won't be in the video, beaming in delight. But she was here. In our thoughts, in our unity, in our heart and in our conversation. Because she is the rock I stand on. And the photos of me glowing are because she loved me. And the video of me beaming is because her love keeps me going still.

Friday, September 2, 2011

What a difference a year makes...

Yesterday the girls went back to school and playschool. Uniforms dusted down from the wardrobe; new white socks in squeaky new shoes; hairs cut and washed; schoolbags eventually found, emptied, cleaned and repacked; breakfast table set. As we left, I took a photo by the front door as I always do to mark the beginning of a fresh start. Last night I sent it to my mum, along with last year's picture. What a difference a year makes.

Yesterday, Daisy a little older and a lot wiser. No tears, no fear, only excitement and anticipation. A new haircut, shorter, more manageable, a little older. She has grown into her uniform, no longer looking quite like Orphan Annie with a skirt to her ankles and sleeves past her fingertips. And Poppy.... how she has changed, and grown and blossomed. A little taller, a lot happier. A new haircut, shorter, more manageable, a little older. She has grown into her skin, no longer suffering from malnutrion, her gluten free diet nourishing her body and mind. And of course, the new addition. Ruby. Bursting from my belly last year, now a glorious bouncing, busy, boisterous baby.

When I look at last year's picture... I remember the promise in my life. Three weeks later my baby would be born. I was full of plans and projects. My mum would help me through the first few weeks, and we would sit wrapped in newborn love, proud and pompous with the delight of our lives. We had holidays planned, excitement brimming with the thoughts of the year ahead.

Instead the promise was destroyed, as the blood seeped into her brain and destroyed her memory, her voice, her life.

But.... as I look at this year's picture, I must remember I have new promise. The girls growing and glowing all the time. Ruby, a mystery minx, revealing her character and cuteness every day. A new year to learn, and grow and love. My mum is still part of my life. The love she gave me every one of my 41 years, will keep me going for the next 41, seeing the promise in life every day.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The bearable darkness of being

It's nearly a year since my baby was born. And nearly a year since my mum had her catastrophic stroke. Undeniably the worst, saddest, most challenging, gut wrenching, heart tearing, mind wrecking year of my life. The sheer awfullness of having a 4 day old baby and loosing my mum into the depths of her mind; the sheer struggle of coping with Ruby, two other small children and trying to manage my mum; the sheer terror of this new life and the sheer loss of my old one; the sheer struggle to survive each day and get Ruby through with me was at times, just too much to bear. I have fallen apart and picked myself up so many times I'm dizzy. My two girls keep me motivated, my husband keeps me alive. When it happened, and doctors and neighbours told me my mum could live for years like this, I wanted to actually fall into the dark pit that was constantly calling me. I could not literally bear it.

But, a year is nearly here. It is still awful. It is still a daily struggle. I still have moments where the days are almost unbearable.

But, a year is nearly here. And as much as I hate to admit a cliche, time might not heal, for nothing will heal my loss, but time does make it better. Time calms the terror and finds the hope. Time teaches you to find ways to cope. Time enables you to adapt, accept, acclimatise.

Two things have happened I think. The first is me. My month in Donegal, often alone with my thoughts at night, allowed me to think, and remember, and come to terms for the first time. I had never allowed myself to accept it, because I never had a moment spare to go the dark place where acceptance is. I had my mum and Ruby, and the rest of my family to maintain. But Donegal gave me the space and time to go there, and to come back out into the light that acceptance can shine. I have let go of what was - remembering our relationship, our good times, our love like a precious treasure that will always glow and keep me warm. And I have embraced what is, my mum's condition, albeit nothing like I would want, but still my mum. Ruby is nearly a year and getting strong. I no longer fear for her survival - she is not so dependent on me to stay sane to survive. I can let go occassionally.

The second thing that happened, is that I think my mum has relaxed into her situation and perhaps even improved a little too. This weekend, I can honestly say I loved every minute of being with her. I never thought I would say that again. We hugged, we laughed, we connected. She asked me her first question since her stroke - 'how did you sleep?' And I could honestly tell her I was beginning to sleep well again.

I have written before about her amazing friends - and this weekend, we all hung out, laughed, drank wine and lifted our faces to sun. My mum was upset afterwards for she knew she couldn't talk to them properly, couldn't make herself understood, was muddled and mixed, and couldn't do anything to help, but I told her no-one minds. We all love her regardless of how she is. She has certainly loved us for long enough. I still hate that my mum will never come to my house again. I still hate she will never even go upstairs in her own house again, and potter in her bedroom. I still hate that she can't snuggle into bed with the girls and read them stories. I hate she can't tell me how she is, and ask about my life, and my family. I hate we can't share long days drinking earl grey tea and nibbling chocolates, having lunch in Avoca, or walking the splendour of Mount Usher as we always did. I hate that she can't go out and about with her friends.

But, in a year, I've accepted we must do new things. I can tell her all about my life and my girls and she will still smile. I can bring the girls to see her and watch her face light up. They can snuggle into her bed and perhaps soon, even Daisy can read to her. I can sit beside her and sip earl grey tea and show her pictures of the spendour of Mount Usher. Her friends can come round and share time, wine, memories, laughs and love.

The unbearable darkness has become slightly more bearable. I'll take life as it comes, and as my mum always taught me, make the best of what we have.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Payback begins...

It would not be an understatement to say it hasn't been a struggle. Six pregnancies, three children under six, and several life-changing events, untold dramas, adventures and crises. Then let's not forget the mundane - the endless, endless, endless, endless, endless, endless meals to be planned, bought for, prepared, force-fed (ahem, gently coerced), washed up, wiped up; the countless, countless, countless, countless nights of vomiting, crying, nightmares, wet beds, 'I want a hug and I don't care that it's 3am'; the various hideous child-related tasks that NO-ONE warns you about - lice, worms, leaking nappies, leaking nappies that defy belief as it creeps up their back and down their arms, children who walk slower than a snail; the relentless, relentless, relentless picking up of other people's clothes, especially when with three girls and multiple changes per day, this can amount to a full time job. Ok, so I'm omitting the wonderful too - their beauty, their exhuberance for life, their wonder, their belief in you, their expressions, their cuddles.
But.. last night, the payback really began. All those nappies? Forgotten. All those wretched meals left uneaten? Almost forgotten. All those early mornings? Forgotten. Why? Because last night, after I'd put Ruby to bed, I was indulged in the most perfect 15 minutes of my life..... Daisy gave me a foot rub with baby lotion, while Poppy brushed my hair. It just doesn't much better than that.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Donegal Daydreams 3

They are indeed daydreams now. The bubble has burst and reality is seeping back in. Home and happy and determined to keep my Donegal Spirit alive -more living, less letting the minuite cast a shadow over the big picture. But I miss it already... the expanse of sky, the length of laughter, the long days, the fire-warmed nights. I felt like I was in some weird parenting programme, living those experience you think are what parenting is all about before you actually become one and realise that parenting is really about crap, vomit and crying at 3am.
No, we actually made sandcastles, clambered over rocks, went on nature hunts, ate chocolate early in the morning, and read books about ballerinas in front of a turf fire. Poppy even provided the classic parenting bad hair day... as hubby and I sat toasting our toes with fire and our bellies with wine, Poppy came into the room with a large smile and a larger handful of hair in her hand. She'd taken the scissors to her glorious long locks. Looking like something from a bad 1980's orphanage, we eventually had to take her to a hairdresser to make some sort of sense of her cutting style. Just another notch on the parenting headboard - no doubt to be eclipsed in time by tattoos, pink hair and piercings (all by Poppy I have no doubt either.)
For four weeks I lived the parenting daydream..... and now reality has woken me up and I can only try and hold onto the feeling as long as possible.... and count the weeks until I am back.... 47 to go.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Donegal Daydreams 2

Donegal is like one of those boys your mother always warned you about.. moody and unreliable, glorious one moment, dumping on you the next, but always, irrisistable.

It's the same as it always was. I came here every year as a child, so many memories merged into one mish mash of feeling and nostaligia. I can close my eyes and see the rugged mountains and coastline, taste the chicken maryland we had as a treat every holiday in the Nesbit Arms Hotel, smell the turf, hear the silly names my brother and I gave all the funny sounding Irish places. But mostly I remember my mum's white tupperware box, always full of her fudge squares and caramel squares she had made the night before we left. The glorious days on the beaches, the long walks as my dad dragged us over 'just one more hill', the interminable days inside the smokey cottage as the rain lashed outside.

Donegal has a personality complex. When the weather is clear, the horizon is further than anywhere I've ever been in the world. The sky seems endless, life is limitless. But when the dark clouds brood and close in, spewing torrents of 'wet rain' like sheets of water, the sea mist creeps around until there is nothing in your vision at all - just you, your house and if you're lucky, the end of your path. No sky. No mountains. No road. Donegal can make you feel tall and small in one day.

The smell of turf burning takes me back 30 years in an instant to my family sitting round the fire, life at it's most basic, the rain thrashing the windows as the clump of the tupperware lid opened and our family hands tangled in desperation as we grasped mum's chocolate treats.

And so here I am again. I am the mum now. The schizophrenic weather has us changing clothes three times a day. Last week I burned in the sun, the beach so vast, skies so wide it felt unwordly. And today, rain is so dense, the weather so close, we can't see past the wall. My mum and dad were meant to be with us this week, and I know without a doubt, that if she had been able to come, the tupperware box would have been on her knee as the car drove up. So, with a heavy heart, and a happy memory, I opened up her recipes, and I made her fudge squares. My girls now love them as I once did, and so it continues. My mum will never share a holiday with us again, but we sit in the turf-smoked room, the rain dancing furiously outside, and the clip of my new tin opens, and our family hands tangle as we reach for my mum's chocolate treats. Like Donegal weather, life is unpredictable. You never know what's around the corner. But like Donegal, it is the things that stay the same that keep life going. I miss you mum. But I'm creating new memories in your shadow. Memories I hope my girls will take through their lives as mine still take me.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Donegal Daydreams

Aghh. That first deep breath. The suck in of freedom. The exhale of space and landscape and horizon. Booked a year in advance. Months of planning. Weeks of lists. Days of shopping, packing, sorting. Hours of driving - screaming baby, disgruntled daughters. Late arrival, sleepless night. But then. The first early morning walk on a vast deserted beach as the sun says hello to the sky and the water laps the shore like a child licking ice-cream off her lips. The horizon so wide, so distant, it feels unworldly. A different world certainly from the cement claustraphobia of the city. I feel like I'm in the Great Escape - albeit without the motorbike. And Steve McQueen.... more's the pity.

I have travelled the world, and nothing, and nowhere compares to the wonderful wild, ravishingly rugged, energetic expanse of Donegal on the west coast of Ireland.

We've been here 4 days and explored 5 beaches, catching crabs, fish, shrimpy like creatures, and some rather unidentifyable jelly monstrousity. The girls have run, jumped, rolled along beaches, down sand dunes, clamberd over rocks, swum naked in the sea (yes! In Donegal. At 8.30 in the morning!). I've always maintained the sign of a good day is a bruised knee and dirty clothes. The girls are obviously having a ball. They have fallen so many times they look blue, drawn blood and we've even had a resident tick lodge itself in Daisy's hip. She refused to have it removed, called it Tessa Tick and talked to it for a day and a half until it eventually fell off satiated with blood. Fortunately the next pet - a curly caterpillar lasted a bit longer and slept on Daisy's pillow for a night.

I'm here for a month with the girls, and hubby is up at weekends. Despite the fact it feels like I brought the entire contents of the house - the change mat, the apple slicer (don't ask, Daisy eats about 5 apples a day so this is essential equipment for my sanity), the food mixer, and 25 packets of gluten-free pasta (only to discover the local shop stocks more gluten-free food than our supermarket in Dublin!). But my 13 lists and near mental breakdown did not compute 'wellies'. In Donegal. That's like a fish & chip shop not having salt. That's like somebody not liking chocolate. It's just not right. I'm surprised they let us over the border, wellies being part of the national dress up here. Still, in line with my new attitute to life - the wronger it is - the better it is - who cares? Wet feet can dry.

Ruby has experienced her first taste of sand - literally. She's at that irritating, sorry - delightful, 9 month old stage of crawling everywhere, eating everything and listening to no-one. She's eating sand like no tomorrow, but hey. Isn't that every child's rite of passage? So I'm going to be all wrong again and not worry about it. I'm going to suck in that freedom and exhale that space and landscape and horisons. I'm going to feel the sun and the rain on my face in equal measure - it is Donegal after all. That's the plan. Once hubby goes and I'm on my own with 2 girls and a baby on a wet and windy beach for a month I may be back to tell a different story. We'll have to wait and see.....

Monday, June 27, 2011

The right way down a wrong way street

Things are going wrong. Drastically wrong. A sure sign I suspect, that things are beginning to go right. There aren't many people who know me well who wouldn't use the words 'anally retentive' at least once in a three word choice to describe me. Colour coded charts are my passion. Checklists and to-do lists are my best friends. Perfect retail therapy? A rampage in a stationary shop - the more colour segmented notepads and highlighter pens the better.

So you can imagine I embraced motherhood with as much energy, exhuberance and practical planning as an A4 folder with colour dividers would allow. I religiously followed Gina Ford's rules to a letter, I enforced Annabel Karmel's healthy menu's to a tea, I restricted TV, drowned in Arts & Crafts and read each book enthusiastically 164,493 times (sometimes in one night it seemed). I put pressure on myself like a cherry on top of an icing cupcake of pressure. But recently things have been changing. I'm not sweating the small stuff any more - perhaps because I've so much big stuff to sweat these days.

Last week alone, I did so many 'wrong' things, I might as well have been following the Bad Book of Parenting. Here's a few tasters:

  • I let the girls watch TV still in their pyjamas. At 3pm.

  • I took them to Eddie Rockets for burger and chips because I couldn't be bothered to make tea and fancied somewhere that threw away the plates
  • That was how my precious baby who only eats home-cooked organic foods celebrated her 3/4 year - with a chip in each hand and 4 in her gob.
  • I didn't wait for the girls to be in bed before I opened a bottle of wine - it was 6.15 and the sun was shining, and I thought I should raise a toast to the glowing sky

  • I didn't retch, scream, or pull out my hair when circumstances of a day out meant Ruby didn't go down for her 12 o'clock sleep until 3pm.

  • One day I rejected every pore in my body and sat on the sofa while Ruby slept and the girls played and ....... read my book. I did not hoover. I did not bake. I did not clean behind the pot plants. I read. A Book.

I'm wallowing in my wrongness. I'm rather hoping this week is an utter disaster.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tap Tap

I don't know about you, but 6 years and three children in, I still look over my shoulder occassionally to see who might be coming close enough to tap me on the shoulder and tell me I'm not a real mother, please move along. If only there was a manual - one that doesn't tell me to listen to my inner gut which frankly only tells me I ate too much chocolate and drank too much wine last night, or one that tells me exactly what time I can eat a slice of toast (honestly, one does) and lays out my parenting tasks like a military opertion - with as much loving as that would entail. No, we just have to muddle through, hoping against hope that we aren't on the social services list for mad mothers, and gaining strength in numbers by hanging out (or blogging alongside) other mad mothers, in every form the word mad entails.

And just when I think I'm really not very good at this (last week my 6pm phone call to a friend went like this: 'is it ok to open a bottle of wine before the kids go to bed?' My friend replied, 'well, what are they doing?' to which I confessed they were eating chocolate and watching TV. 'Oh you're way past wondering if drinking before their bedtime is ok!" she replied) my cohorts in co-parenting (for that is what friends are), boosted my confidence by confessing their own wayward ways. There is nothing like someone else's badness you make you feel good.

On Friday night, during a much needed girlie night drinking wine (it was after the kid's bedtime!) my friend and I decided to watch our favourite girlie night DVD. Oh come on! We are grown women but admit it - we all love a teenage vampire! After fiddling with the controls for a few moments, she announced she was off to get her daughter up. "But she's been asleep for two hours!" I gasped. "Yes," she said, as she carried her sleepy 8 year old into the room, "but she's the only one who can work the DVD player."

Did that make me feel good or what! Then, at a lovely afternoon tea with some other girlfriends the next day (it's been an amazing rare, but gorgeous friend-filled weekend) my child pyschologist friend - who for years has been guiding parents on how to bring up their children, confessed she's too confused and traumatised with her own two children to follow her own advice. "I used to be a parenting expert until I became a mum," she wailed as we all smiled and consoled her with the reminder that we had never been parenting experts. And maybe that's the point. We do the best we can..... with a little help from our friends. Thank you mad mothers everywhere for living in my world.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Family Friends

When you become a parent you don't think that your children will start having an influence on who you become friends with. But they do! One of my best friends is the mum of Daisy's best friend. How weird is that? Because Daisy made friends with a little girl in playschool, Ruby has Liza as her godmother. And now as Daisy ends her first year of school, I realise that some of the mums and dads I say hello to every morning - and who I will share time with for the next eight years - have slowly become friends. One a really good one. I never expected to make close friends at this stage of my life. Thought that was all done years ago.
I have always admired and envied my mum's circle of friends. As long as I have been alive, they have been around. I called them 'Auntie' and they shared every momentous and mundane moment of my mum's life, and by association, mine. They know me as well as anyone. Apart from the fact that 'The Girls' (as they still call themselves 40 years later) met every other Tuesday night for over four decades, they also chinked drinks and wrapped arms around each other at every significant event in their lives - children's births, divorces, parties, celebrations, bad days, good days and all the dramas and dilemmas that mark everyday life. There were days when they kept each other afloat and I always wished I had something similar.
But I didn't. Or so I thought. Sure I don't have the close knit circle, but I have something else. At my 40th I was pregnant so I decided to have a birthday lunch with my best girlfriends - a disparate group who I realised had also shared every moment of my life with me - just not all at once.
I realised I had a friend from every part of my life, and together they had chinked drinks and wrapped their arms around me for every significant event in my life. But, life has a funny way of keeping the circles intact, like a swirl, making circles within circles. One of the first phonecalls I made after my mum's stroke was to her best friends. Their devastation was profound and gave depth to mine. Over the last nine months they have kept me afloat. I text them, I ring and ask for advice, they call in to see me when I'm up with mum, and our lives now entwine once again, the love of my mum our common language. My mum's friends have become mine, friendship stretching generations. And as my new layer of friendships develop around the lives of my children, I hope the circles continue to spiral and my girls too will know that my friends are there for my life and theirs.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Simply complicated

There is one phrase I've been saying a lot of over the last couple of years..... "how did life get so complicated?"

Never mind the added extras - hubby's job insecurities and working away, miscarriages, chromosome disorders, mum's stroke, Poppy's coeliac - but even the bare basics of life as a mother - money moans, lack of childcare and support, planning and catering for umpteen meals a day for umpteen ages, timings and diets, school runs, 28 hours of jobs in 24 hour timeframe - life is simply, complicated.

I often wonder how my carefree days where the decisions all centred on, well, me... (what should I wear, red or white wine, which party??) ended up so crammed with conundrums and challenges created by the responsibilities of the lives of other people. I look at my girls and wistfully wonder at their frivilous freedom. Pulled back and restained by the few obligations in their little lives - teatime, bedtime and school /playschool - they shout "can we play?" at every opportunity of freedom, their battlecry of life as a child.

But recently I've realised the grass isn't greener, it's just a different shade. My little 5 year old daughter Daisy was forced into the position of older sister by two giddy siblings and the responsibilities and expectations that hang on that mantle are... simply complicated.

Since last September when she was just about to turn five, she got a new sister, her nanna was struck down with a devastating stroke, her mum dived into a dark remote place, she started school, her other sister went through tests and got lots of attention to diagnose ceoliac and now has 'special' food, her other sister sucks the air from her parents, ill, young and needy. Quite a lot for little shoulders. On top of that, recently, she's had trouble at school - a little bit of bullying that has made her retreat into herself, battering that wall I've built up to protect her, dashing that confidence I have tried so hard to instill, clouding over that sunshine that eminates from her. Schoolyard socialising can be a dynamite place. How do I teach her to stand up for herself while being the good person? How do I not put too much responsibility on her when I need so much help? How do I protect her and guide her and teach her to cope? How do I help her make her complicated life simple?

But, like so many things in life that I have been taught by my children, she is teaching me again. She is teaching me to smile through it all, to take the complications on the chin and to seek the one thing that gets us through it all - family. At times like this, we turn to the ones that know us inside out. We stop trying to think outside the box for once, and get right back inside that box where it's safe and secure. Simply? We uncomplicate things whenever we can.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Four and Fabulous

So Poppy is four. For so long she has been my little baby, and now - with a shock almost - I realise she is a little big girl (as she calls herself). Little because, yes, she is petit and pretty, and big because, yes, she is bold and beautiful. She spent her birthday in hospital having a biopsy taken of her stomach to confirm ceoliac disease. After the surgical team sang her Happy Birthday, they put a mask over her little face and as she stared wide-eyed at me, she went limp in my arms, her eyes slowly closing. As they lifted her onto the table, I wanted to hold on a moment longer, so small and delicate, so strong and determined, my heart sometimes can't contain the love I feel for her.
We pretended her birthday was on Saturday, and our little princess partied with her pink princess friends (some battles aren't worth the fight). She laughed and danced and ripped open presents. We got her a bike, the smallest we could find and she struggled and practised and persevered until she willed those feet to turn the pedals forward. She has always had to work harder, and try longer to do the normal things - get on the toilet, scoot and run, climb on the bed, keep up with us walking, riding a bicycle. But she is the most determined little big person I've ever known. Her first sentence was "I do it!" and she has never stopped saying it (despite being ill for the last two years).
Surgery confirmed ceoliac disease and so a new way of life begins for her. I will have to control everything she puts in her mouth. Every birthday party she goes to, she will have to pass on the cake and the buns and sausages and biscuits and crisps. It's going to be hard. I'm daunted by the massive change in our lives now (we can't even toast her bread in our toaster). But, I'll take a leaf out of her book. I will try and I will succeed.

She'll have to try harder than anyone else just to thrive. But she will. Because she is petit and powerful. She is dainty and determined. The doctors tell us we will start to see a huge change in her personality over the next few weeks once we cut all gluten from her diet - more energetic, sleeping better, improved moods, happier. And maybe, maybe, she'll even grow a little.

I find it weird to think the child we know and love so much is going to change - but it will be a bigger, brighter, bolder version of the same lovely girl.

Our little big girl is four, and no matter what else, always fabulous.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Birthday love

Today is my mum's birthday. As she lies locked in her body and mind in Belfast, for the first time in probably 15 years I won't be spending the day with her. Since I had children, she would come down to Dublin and I would take her to Avoca for lunch... we would while away a couple of hours nattering about nothing and everything, sharing each other's lunch, and always, finishing up with a 'goodie' with our cuppa. Then we would come back to mine and I'd throw a birthday teaparty for her with the girls. They would make buns and they'd sing happy Birthday till they were hoarse.

Then she would help me with Poppy's birthday party two days later, blowing up balloons, making marshmallow Top Hats, clearing up exhuberant princess spills and smiling at the mess a bunch of toddlers can make. Poppy will be four, and tomorrow's Princess Party (very important distinction!) will be her first without Nanna. Every 'first' cuts like the first cut - her stroke. A body blow, painful and bruising. The memory of last year so sharp, it cuts into the wound afresh.

But. Among all the firsts, there is also a comforting constant. The next day after Poppy, it's my Hubby's birthday. (May is the triple wammy!). He may be the one celebrating, blowing out candles and getting birthday cuddles, but I am the one that is lucky. I am the one with the best present of all....him. He looks after me, quietly, dilligently, without fuss. I've noticed him staying an extra 5 minutes in the morning even though I know he is so pressured at work, just to help me out because I'm struggling. He holds my hand in the dark of the night. He tells me dinner is gorgeous even if it looks like a bowl of cat food (lentil roast is not my forte). He doesn't take lunch so he can come home early on Monday to let me out to pilates, and never complains. He loves me. Simply and beautifully.

So I'd like to add a bit to my previous post - the sandwich filling. I am the filling. My girls and my mum are the bread. But he is the relish. He is the flavour. He is the part that makes it all worth while. Happy birthday hubby.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sandwich filling

This morning I sat at my mum's house eating breakfast. This no longer is a solitary, selfless affair. I turned to my right and spooned a mouthful of porridge into my baby, turned to my left and spooned a mouthful of Special K into my mum, and finally took up my own spoon and fed myself. One for Ruby, one for mum, one for me. These are indeed my 'sandwhich years' - so called because we are stuck in the middle of caring for elderly parents and young children, in my case looking after a recent baby and two small girls and my mum who was struck down by a devastating stroke. And when I'm pulled this way and that, I often amuse myself with the thoughts of what kind of sandwich I am today.

Most days I feel like a limp ham and butter - drab, boring and left on the shelf in a 24 hour garage, a little saggy and wilted and nearly out of date. Occassionally I spruce myself up, get inspired and turn out a rather saucy (but still not very exoctic) chicken and mayo. If I manage to really get myself together and prune bits of myself, I may even be a chicken and avocado. On days when I feel some sense of achievement, when more To-Do's are ticked than added to on my never-ending list, I am a double decker club perhaps. With a bit of sweet chilli dressing on the side.

One of the first blogs I ever wrote was about my mum making a tuna sandwich and my astonishment at the length of time it took her. She was always telling me to slow down, and often when I'm running around like a headless chicken I think of that blog and what it led to. It was spotted by a magazine who printed it, and so began a good working relationship, which continues now. The vast majority of my blogs and my published articles have not been about the filling, but about the bread that supports me - my mum and my children. I may be the taste inside (boring or exotic) but they have been the strength on the outside, keeping me together.

I may be in my sandwich years, caring for my loved ones at either end of the age spectrum, but they have been and are my bookends, my bread, my boundaries, my inspiration, my proudest parts, my best parts, the parts I write about, the parts I need. What kind of sandwich am I today? I hope a very well made, slowly made tuna sandwich to make my mum proud.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

It's the small things

Poppy was born tiny and drew gasps of gorgeousness with her small, compact, perfect form. She was snug, sweet, and sassy. Clothes draped her little figure with concern, always a year at least in size below her actual age.... as I was shocked the other day to realise, Ruby at 6 months was comfortably wearing an outfit Poppy wore for a photo on the wall when she was 13 months old. But cutesy became concern when we realised small and sweet was one thing, but too tiny to get on a toilet aged 3, too small to get a bike for her birthday, too small to get up on the bed aged nearly four was actually a very big thing instead. Other things made us worry too - her popensity to go to the loo a lot, and constant complaints of a sore tummy.
We took her to an Endocrinologist who confirmed our fears - she barely makes it onto the centile chart, and is way below the range she should fit into as our daughter. Big needles went into her wee arms and blood was taken for nurmerous tests. An X ray was taken of her left wrist which told us that despite the fact she will be 4 next week, she has the bone age of a two and a half year old. Apparently this is good. She may be four and look two and a half, but she has the potential to grow. The not so good news is that something is delaying or stopping her development. She is 'failing to thrive'.
That 'something' appears to be Gluten. Ghastly gluton apparently is poisoning her - although she has to have a biopsy to confirm but it ticks all the boxes. So, for starters that's bread, pasta, cereals, chocolate, biscuits, cakes, processed foods, sweets, and pretty much most things except fresh fruit and veg (which thankfully she relishes). Once she's confirmed to have Coeliac disease she begins a life-long avoidance of all mainstream foods. Frankly I'll do whatever it takes to give her the best diet I can, but all I can think about it eating out, going abroad and worst for her - having to avoid buns, cake, crisps and pasta at parties and forever question what she eats. But, if it gets her healthy and well again, we'll do what we have to. Unfortunately we've been told it'll take upto 12 months to get the biopsy done. Twelve months during which we have to continue to poison her, continue to watch her pain, continue to flush away her nutrition down the toilet with her poo as her body can't process it properly with gluten in her system. Twelve months? Are they mad? Needless to say, we'll be taking her abroad if we have to. She's small and sweet, and snug and sassy and smiley and sensational. She has character ten times her height, and no matter what happens now with her size, she'll always, always, always be our perfect package.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Scooter Girls

Growing up happens in stages. Little steps lead to giant discoveries, incremental instalments ignite monumental growth. Take the walk to school. Last year when Daisy started playschool, this involved two toddlers and one double buggy ride a mile and a half down the road. As the year progressed, Daisy walked to the lights before getting in the pram, while Poppy reigned supreme in her heightened position in the buggy like Lady Muck, her sloth a convenient decoy for my annoyance at her slowness. By the summer term though, I had Poppy (kicking and screaming most of the way it has to be said) walking to the lights, and Daisy to the main junction, about a mile. And I pushed them the last half mile, baby rocking in my tummy, already in the swing of the school routine before she was even born.

The new school year started last September and fresh and frisky targets were set. Poppy now walked to the main junction, Daisy three quarters of the way, my new baby swinging in the carrycot under the pram, born but still being rocked to sleep by routine. Poppy still talked the talk and got to play Lady Muck, but only if she walked the walk first.

After Christmas, the new goals stretched before them - Daisy the whole mile and a half, and Poppy to one street past the main junction. I invented games to keep them from noticing, we watched the seasons play out in the cherry trees and gardens we passed, saying hello to the trees like old friends we've come to know so well.

And now, Easter holidays over, the summer term begins, and it all changes again. Daisy and Poppy now scoot the whole way, while I (jog) to keep up, Ruby no longer asleep for the commute, but reigning supreme as Lady Muck, awake and alert, eager to get out and creep those first crawling moves. In no time at all I suspect, she'll be scooting too, and the trees will wave their branches hello in the wind as she takes her place on the walk of life.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pain and pleasure

We've just returned from our family week in Ballyvaughan in the Burren on the West Coast of Ireland. The family week we have every year with my mum and dad, my brother and his family, and me and mine. The family week mum and dad organised last summer before my mum's stroke. The family week that no longer involves my family. Not as it was anyway.

This time last year I was there with my mum. We pottered on wild west beaches, collecting shells with the girls, enjoying choccy buns with our tea, sitting side by side with our faces to the sun. This year, her absence was present everywhere. I never knew it was possible to feel so much pain without bleeding. The pain continues, as the realisation dawns that the trauma will not end. The trauma is constant. As my three girls delighted in the company of their cousins, the house was filled with their laughter, the laugher that made my mum's life happy. But she wasn't there to hear it. And amidst the noise of childish chatter I would be suddenly struck down, paralysed on the spot, cup in hand, children scampering around me, lost in my loss. While the world went on around me, I was still. And in my stillness I could see her. Her blue fleece walking along the beach, her white T-shirt soothing Ruby's screaming teeth, her sun hat tilted back as the sun scorched our skin as the view scorched our eyes with its beauty. A bloodless coup has taken place, not a mark on my body but my head and my heart beaten and bruised.

It was possibly the hardest week of my life after the two following her stroke, made more intense by the beauty of the landscape and the glorious weather, both of which my mum appreciated more than anything. People often use the phrase 'breathtaking' to describe a stunning view, but the beauty of the Burren is breath-giving. The expanse inflates your lungs, the beauty makes you breath deeper, sucking it in, absorbing the glory of the landscape into your bones, as if your eyes are not enough to capture it all. It gave me the strength to carry on, to enjoy the moments of pleasure as we all pottered on wild west beaches, collected shells with my girls, ate choccy buns with our tea, and sat with our faces to the sun. And feeling her with me still.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Opposites attract

I think as a parent we spend huge amounts of time trying to see other people in our children - ourselves, our partners, our mothers. It's like we have to find recognition in the stranger, finding a connection with this part of ourselves, yet an unknown unfurling before our eyes. Like unwrapping the christmas present under the tree before Christmas morning, or at least giving it a quick shake to guess what's inside. The surprise is too great, the wait too long. We identify the nose, this trait, that look - "ah, she has has my mum's eyes". I was told "you are just like your father!" (and not in a good way!). I even do it to myself, identifying bits of me and my personality that come from someone else - a sense of security that I'm connected amidst my yearning to be unique.

And so it is with the girls. From day one, my indignation as I lay exhausted and battered, the magic moment waning as all and sundry proclaimed Daisy to be the spitting image of her dad. (Hah! She's growing up to be the image of me! Oh the satisfaction!). Then Poppy came along and we analysed eyelashes (my mum's), earlobes (my brother's), her finger length (who knows?) and her belly button (her dad's) and while bits of her belong to Daisy, me, her dad and everyone we know, Poppy would grow to be all her own and always will be. And as each developed into amazing, weird and wonderful originals, we now try and piece Ruby into the mix. Who does she look like? Who will she be like? And, like the others, it is impossible to imagine, prepostrous to ponder the depth and detail she will be. Like the others, no matter how much we unwrap or compare or sneak-a-peak or guess, she will merge unique, and complex and mesmerising.

But, I do wonder how she will fit into the mix, and how she shake up the dynamic. Daisy and Poppy have had 4 years to bond and they are as close as sisters could be. People often ask if they are twins which I find odd. Despite the 18 month age difference, Daisy is blonde, Poppy is brown haired and they couldn't be more different. In fact they are polar opposites, which is probably why they attract each other so much. Everything about them is a contradiction.

Daisy will wrap herself in her duvet, only an eye and a nostril peaking out, covered and protected, her personality cautious and fearful. Poppy won't be covered, her legs akimbo above the duvet, exposed, her personality fearless and spontanious. Daisy loves chocolate, Poppy loves brocolli. Daisy is like summer, bright sunshine, full of song and sass. Poppy is like Spring, moody and unpredictable, full of light and dark. Daisy sleeps and picks at her food. Poppy is restless and eats with gusto. Daisy eats the jelly and savours the ice-cream, Poppy wolfs the ice-cream and slowly sucks the jelly. Daisy is skittish and needs people constantly - a little social butterfly. Poppy is methodical, happy in her own company, a social part-timer Poles apart and peas in a pod. Where will Ruby fit in the spectrum... the surprise slowly unfolds.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Child's Play

I've talked about my inner child before - about the desperate diva throwing toddler-esque tantrums, spitting out my dummy when I'm faced with endless, thankless, relentless demands when all I want to do is hide under my duvet, quiet and alone. Recently my inner gargoyle has raised her ugly head (and voice) more than I care to remember (will my kids? is the question that keeps me awake some nights). The overwhelming overwhelmingness of my life right now is giving my spoilt brat inside a sustained sugar hit. All that new baby neediness, and the responsibilities of my mum's illness has me screeching up the walls some days. And then last week on Mother's Day I read an article by Eleanor Mills in the Sunday Times. It was about this modern generation of spoilt brats, pissed off with parenting, done in by the demands, and resentful of relentless crappy work. It got me thinking. This is what I signed up for. I wanted a busy family, a noisy household. The last six months as I've struggled with three under the age of 6, my mum's voice plays over in my head, "well, you wanted three!". It was my choice. And I wouldn't change it. And I don't know whether it was the article, or some level of acceptance with my mum's situation, or the fact that at six months I'm finally getting to grips with this baby lark, but I've tentatively realised my inner gargoyle isn't so petulant these days. In fact, my inner child has been having a bit of a field day of late - in a good way. I've been bouncing on the trampoline with gay abandon, freewheeling on my bike down the road, singing our Everything Has To Be a Song Days with gusto and generally remembering how to be a fun mum again. Oh the gargoyle is only resting no doubt, but I hope she has taken a permanent back seat. I hope I am slowly stumbling out of the haze of the last 6 months, and beginning to see life again through the eyes of a child, and the heart and maturity of a mother.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Flower Power

I' ve always believed in flower power. I've always seen the beauty of life in the colour purple, and pink, and yellow and blue. Flowers uplift me almost as much as chocolate (and are better for me!) Even when we are budgeting and tightening our purse strings, I manage to slip a little bunch of bright beauty into the shopping bag. Maybe it's because my mum always had flowers in the house: Gladioli, Alstroemeria, daffofils to hail spring, orange lillies in summer. And now as my mum lies captive in her body, my dad brings her her flowers, a little bit of life in her room every day. And when we can, we sit her up in the kitchen to watch the peep show unfold in the garden as blossoms burst out their rioting colours in the garden.

Today was one of those days that never seemed to end. Ruby has another tummy bug, so puking and pooing took up most of my time, and the girls endless energy sapped mine. So imagine how delighted I was when the doorbell rang and I was greeted with a pink fest of loveliness - this beautiful bunch of flowers from Interflora (http://www.interflora.co.uk/) courtesy of the equally lovely Rosie Scribble (http://www.rosiescribble.typepad.com/) who nominated me to receive them. Thank you, thank you, thank you. They have brightened up my kitchen, my day and my heart.

Monday, March 28, 2011

No-one told the kids!

Holidays obviously mean different things to different people. To me, they mean a large glug of relaxation tinged with a little adventure, with a dollop of good food, great books and a sun glowing like a cherry on top. The emphasis there is relaxation in the form of lying indulgently in the sun after a lazy breakfast and a poolside bar. Clearly this model was established long before little people accompanied me.

My children have a very different idea of holidays. Ruby believes in getting the most of the day by starting it at 5.30 am. Ok for some, if you are allowed the blissful opportunity for several daytime naps. These are not opportunities afforded to parents. Poppy believes that holidays are about as much mummy-incorporated activity as possible - swimming, walking beside her on a pony, circus training, nature trails... you get my drift. And Daisy obviously believes holidays are an opportunity to talk and sing continuously - at volume - for 14 hours non-stop.

But hey, let's not get picky. Whatever the expectations of the holiday, we were together as a family for 10 glorious (slightly exhausting!) days... and there was a large glowing sun like a cherry on top. As often happens, when the crappy domestic drudgery is removed and we just get to hang out together, it's like falling in love all over again. The girls continue to amaze and impress me, and Ruby's little personality makes itself more and more known.

The last six months have virtually undone me. But a bit of sun, a change of scene and lots of (did I mention exhausting?) kid's laughter has given me the first bit of recovery. It didn't make the pain go away - the middle of the holiday marked six months since Mum's stroke, and there was a painful first morning home when the phone stared at me waiting for me to ring her and tell her all our adventures knowing that no-one will ever want to hear those stories as much as she would have.

But. But. The blanket that a life of being loved by her has wrapped round me continues to keep me warm. And this holiday knitted togther more threads in the life experiences of my girls, weaving wonders and adventures into the fabric of our love. The story continues as I open my arms and bring them under my blanket too.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

ungodly ways

It's at times like these, I wished I believed in a god. Then I could shout and rant at him / her / it for the horribleness of my life right now. I do believe in the power of prayer (postive thought anyway), the spirituality of goodness and the shock and awe of nature. She / he / it should be admired, praised, recognised everywhere, and of course as we've seen in the last couple of days, respected.

But I can hardly blame the wind and the rain for my current troubles. Forgetting the fact my mum had a massive stroke that devastated her life - and mine, and the fact I am struggling with a new baby, let me list just a little of the crap that the universe has thrown my way the last 5 months that have left me feeling shattered:
  • mastitus - twice
  • gum infections - twice
  • snowed in - twice
  • chest infections - you got it, twice times 3 girls
  • a week in hospital with my baby on oxygen and a feeding tube
  • car breakdown in pouring rain and two kids and baby in car
  • a leaking roof
  • 10 nights out of 165 with 6 hours sleep (the rest were far less)
  • weeks with the girls, weekends with my mum

and now.... to cap it all... the baby has a vomitting and diarrhea bug. I had to abandon my visit to mum as I was so busy wiping up Ruby's vomit I had no time to sit with her. So at this point in the game, I'd be shouting up at it / her / him to GIVE ME A BREAK!

I have always been rather optimistic. Definitely a half-glass full girl. I am struggling at this stage to find anything in the glass at all. I even find it hard to believe that something won't happen to stop us going on holiday tomorrow - to Morocco (yes I know, but we booked pre- facebook revolutions!). So instead I will say instead, I'm off on holiday tomorrow for ten days togetherness with my family - volcanic ash / uprising and rebellion / sick children notwithstanding.

But just when I think my life cannot get any worse - and I have felt this so many times recently and then it did - I turn on the news and know I am lucky. I may feel at times that my ground is shaking beneath my feet, but for those poor people in Japan yesterday for whom it really did they had no escape. I may feel swept away by the magnitude of the challenges facing me at the moment, but for those poor people who were swept away by the sheer force of nature they had no chance of ever overcoming it. My life is hard at the moment - harder than I ever thought possible - but there is no-one to blame. It is just life, in all it's wonderful and cruel forms. And while there are days I struggle to get through, I am reminded by these terrible events in Japan that at least there will be another day for me. And I wish I believed in a god so I could thank her / it / him.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Dying to live

I'm going to die.

I've only just really realised this. It never seemed like a real possibility before. But, I'm going to die and that knowledge has a massive impact on how I want to live.

The suddeness of my mum's - what shall I call it? - demise? life's end? shocked me to my core. One minute she is talking to me on the phone, laughing and telling me she loves me, and then goes to read to my daughters and put them to bed. An hour later, it's all over. Her life as we all knew it. One minute she was involved in every aspect of my life, and the next, she became someone who doesn't know my name.

Now that I know my death is not only a possibility but a definite, I want to make sure I'm really living. I want to be with my girls every day of their lives although I know (I hope) I won't. So I have to make the days I do have, count. I want to write the bloody novel that is haunting me at night. I want to stop being tired and start being energetic. I want to eat as much chocolate as I can and still be a size ten (OK, that's just fantasy I know, but part of living is dreaming surely?)

Admittedly at the moment I already feel half dead - sleep might be something we can do when we're dead, but lack of it makes living pretty hard. BUT, Ruby has slept through for the last three nights, so I'm holding my breath in the belief that we might finally be seeing the light...
I'm dying, but I'm also living. And maybe one of the things I will take from the last five months is that every day I'm living, I'm appreciating the fact that I'm dying - and that is inspiring me to live better.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lasting Firsts

Like everything in my life at the moment, two ends of the spectrum run in parallel - sometimes so close, the lines lie against each other, indeterminate, entwined, indistinguishable. My mum needs caring in the same way as my baby. My girls teach me as much as I mother them.

And so I constantly memorise every 'last' situation with my mum - her last kiss to me as she said goodbye after visiting me in hospital with Ruby; our last phonecall just three hous before her catastrophic stroke, how happy she'd been; our last hug; our last fight. Everyday moments in our relationship, forever now memorised as momentous.

And alongside that, all my new firsts with Ruby. Her first smile three months ago, like a rainbow after a storm. Her first giggle, a trickle that has gushed into a flood. And now, her first solid food - her surprise, my delight, her excitement, my satisfaction, from those first tentative tastes of rice, to my freezer bursting with bags of heart shaped frozen cubes of steamed sweet potato, brocolli, carrot, pear and apple. I spoon feed my mum - favourite flavours no longer lighting up her eyes, and I spoon feed my new baby, marvellous mouthfuls of taste, surprising and lighting up her face.

Different ends of the spectrum. Same love.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Grown up love

I'm so proud of them. No, I'm not talking about our girls - although they make me so proud there isn't a blog host or an internet range large enough to hold the stuff I could write about them. No, I'm talking about my other family - my mum and dad and brother. I know this is not normal. We spend most of our lives being embarrassed or pissed off, or more often than not irritated and frustrated with these strange people who are so familiar they're like our skin, yet so alien to us, they feel like a rash on that skin. And I've often felt all of those things.

Like most families, mine has had its fair share of dramas... but despite the sparks and the strifes, we've shared time, willingly and with pleasure. Despite branching out in our own lives, in the last ten years my brother and I have found ourselves coming together to holiday with mum and dad, and strangely our family strengthened instead of weakened as we married and grew. My mum was the central nervous system - the magnet which pulled us all together no matter how far apart we were. And in the awful days and nights after her catastrophic stroke, my dad, my brother and me - supported by my sister-in-law and husband - formed a vigil, a protective presence, a desperate determination that she would never be alone. As the weeks have slowly drifted into months and decisions were made, plans put in place we did so as a family - as she would have wanted. We are the family she taught us to be - strong in support, united in love.

My dad has been outstanding. He is 74 and caring full-time for my mum now. Most men his age couldn't cope on their own for a day. He cares for her - and himself and does it with extraordinary competence. I don't just mean he copes with the house and manages the washing. When I went up to visit last weekend, we had homemade soup for lunch - with homemade bread, and a stupendous homemade fish pie for tea. It was a sunny spring day so we got mum into her wheelchair and wrapped her up and took her round the park at the end of the road. The first crocuses of Spring were waving hello in the grass and we stopped to feel the sun on our faces for a moment. It was almost bearable. Because we were still together.

My mum is in a terrible place, but while she is there she is being wrapped in love. She taught us that and I hope we are making her proud. For I am proud of them - my mum, my dad, and my brother. So proud that my life has been shared with them, through the good times and the bad.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It's so sad, I'm laughing

Just when I thought life couldn't get any harder? It got harder. I feel like I'm on one of those fairground rides - and like most fairground rides, I just want to get off. The one where you walk along the shaking ground and try to keep your balance? That's what my life feels like right now. Everytime I think I can just step on to the solid ground again, the ride gives me one big shake up and I nearly loose my balance. Last week, after days of my baby being unwell I rushed her to Emergency where she was hospitalised. A week of sleeping on the floor beside her as oxygen breezed up her nose, fluids seeped into her arm, and finally milk was poured down a tube into her stomach left me feeling like I am in some awful parallel universe and I just want to get back to my old life now thank you.

And it was another reminder of how much I miss my mum.. As I nursed my little baby back to health, I needed her to nurse me back to sanity. On the ward was a little baby boy, not more than 4 months old. And in the week I was there, not once did his mother visit him. He broke my heart as he lay alone in his big cot, crying for the comfort that was never going to come his way. And while I feel so bereft that I've lost my security blanket, it made me realise how warm my mum has made my life. It made me hold Ruby a little closer, and renewed my determination to protect my girls through life, to be their security blanket too... because the world is a colder place without it..

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Who's the Mummy?

I've written before about that fuzzy old line that defines (or not) who is the child and who is the parent. In the last four months as my mum lies permanently entangled in her half-life post-stroke, I spoon feed her, change her, wash her and stroke her face, the line has disappeared as my actions mirror exactly those that I perform for my newborn baby. The child and parent in one.

But yesterday the line was broken again by my five year old in that 'slap in the face' sort of way. They say you should never work with animals and children, but I say everyone should have a child's perspective on life kept handy - there is no better way to see the world than through the innocent, uncynical eyes of a child. They have that ability to stand on that box and see inside and out of it. Recently I asked who or what she thought god was. "Is he the police? Because he likes to help people?"

So how do I take her recent golden nugget of observation? I asked her to stop jumping on the sofa and when that was met by a higher leap and a defiant eye I enquired as to who owns the sofa. She slapped that arguement away like a lion brushing a fly off his back with his tail. "Daddy does. He goes out to work. He earns the money. He owns the sofa!"

A very loud silence filled the space between her defiant eye and my horrified face. I decided she could never know the impact of those words. "I own the sofa too."
"No, you do nothing!"
That loud silence was now filled with the cries of sacrifice in my head - I gave up my career for you! I work so hard I can hardly stand some days.. all those organic pureed foods, all those hours of singing Wheels on the Bus, all those days of playing, all those nights of cuddles, ALL FOR NOTHING!!!!!!

Instead I put my sweetest smile on, reinforced with steel, and said in a tone that allowed no misinterpretation of who is the boss, "My sofa. My rules. OFF!"
She deferred to her better judgement and quietly left the room, while I lay stabbed and bleeding by her cutting remarks. That night at 2am, she whispered into my dreams "mummy, I need you" and I lay for a moment, tempted to say, "your dad earns the money, go wake him!" But that would have been childish wouldn't it? Instead, I pulled on my mummy face and cuddled her up and put her back to bed. After all, abject rejection and total confidence annihilation are just part of the (yes, unpaid) job description. But it made me realise that I have to step away from my post-traumatic lethargy of loosing my mum and having a baby at the same time, and reawaken the woman I am - a proud mum, an aspiring novelist and a freelance writer - and get back in the game. My five-year old daughter gave me the pep-talk I needed. The child and parent in one.

Monday, January 24, 2011

In search of me....

I went to a party this weekend. In London. Not only have I not said those words since about 1986, but the decadence involved of dumping one's children, getting on a plane and booking into a hotel - alone - with one's husband to do something as frivilous as....a party... seems beyond my realm of existence of late. But I just did. So go figure.

No children. No mum. Just hubby and me. Did I mention we booked into a hotel?? Not that I had the faintest idea what to do at such a social event, but I was there.. in a sparkly top no less.

It was a friend's 40th - and as I trawled through my university photos for some snaps to take with me, I stared in wonder at the girl in them and found myself asking - who was she? That 20 year old. Where is she now? For I don't see her staring back at me in the mirror. She is young. Carefree. Eyes alight with anticipation and expectation. The only thing I've been expecting the last six years is babies, and the only thing I've anticipated is exhaustion.

But I went... with not just a little glimmer of anticipation and expectation in my eye (did I mention there was a hotel?) and you know what? I danced. I laughed. I remembered old friends and they remembered me. It's Monday now, and I'm back on the treadmill but today I had a little tiny, itsy bitsy spring in my step. I think I found that girl... if only for a little while, if only for one night. But it's enough to know she's still in there somewhere...