Archive for November, 2007

There’s lots to catch up on, so I think I’ll just do a nice straightforward update…

E2’s Blood Tests

I got a call from the pediatrician yesterday and her blood tests were negative: she doesn’t have coeliac disease. Part of me is relieved but… I said to the doctor, “I know this is going to sound crazy, but I’m kind of disappointed…” He said he understood what I meant — that it would have been a bit of a relief to have a diagnosis, and especially for something so manageable as coeliac. But then he said, “We’re seeing E2 again in a few weeks. So don’t worry — we’ll get this sorted.” And that spoke to exactly what was most worrying me. I was so afraid that, if the tests came back negative, nothing more would be done and we would just be left hanging. Those simple words, “we’ll get this sorted,” made me feel so much better and I was so grateful to him for saying that.

M’s Job Offer

He accepted it yesterday. They’d asked him to start too soon (the first week after New Year’s — how could we possibly do an international move with the whole of the UK shut down for Christmas week?), so he renegotiated and got them to agree to the end of January.

So that’s that. Done. Confirmed. We should be in the US by mid-January and he starts his job right after. I feel… numb.

E2’s sleeping

I’ve tried various things, most especially waking her for a dreamfeed just before I go to bed. The first night, it worked really well. The next two nights, not so good. Bad, actually — spectacularly bad. Two nights where I never clocked up more than 2½ hours sleep in a row, and often only got an hour here and there. But… last night was completely different: I got her down at the unheard-of time of 9.30pm and — though she grumble-cried several times every few hours — she didn’t cry for me properly until 3.30am!!! I fed her until 4.30, then laid in bed fretting about the move for 30 minutes before sleep finally came to me. When I woke, it was 10.15. What a glorious night!!!

In truth, I have no idea why some nights are so very bad and some are good. There seems no rhyme or reason to it. Except for one thing that did occur to me last night: she had no toys in her cot. We had had complete nappy-failure that morning when I went in to get her up and everything was soaked, so I stripped the bed and bunged the lot — sheets, sleeping bag, and toys — in the wash. So there weren’t any of her usual crib-toys in bed with her last night and I wonder if that’s why her crying never really went above grumbling. If she half-wakes and moves about in an empty bed, it’s probably easier for her to succumb again to sleep than if she’s moving about in a bed full of things that start jingling when she bumps into them.

No toys in the bed again tonight. We’ll see how we go.

Dad’s Visit

He got here and it was wonderful! E2 took to him like I’ve never seen her take to anyone in her life. She just sat happily on his lap and smiled and cooed at him for the best part of an hour. He cried — and it’s not often I see him do that — and said he was so glad, so glad, we are coming home. E1 was so excited that he was here she could hardly contain herself, and proceeded to run through her entire repertoire: jumping, falling, running, dancing, crunches, lunges, split squats (what can I say? She imitates what she sees), singing her ABCs, counting to 30, singing every nursery rhyme known to man… Dad was suitably impressed and delighted. And then, all too soon, it was over and he was back on the train and we were watching it pull away, me crying on the platform. These short visits are so joyful and so painful at the same time.

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My dad is stopping by for a visit tomorrow. My dad, who lives in the US, is stopping by our house in the UK to visit for a few hours. It sounds so glamourous and jet-set, but it’s not. In fact, if it weren’t for these occasional flying visits (literally), I wouldn’t have been able to see him at all in the last four years.

He’s a corporate pilot and sometimes — not often — he gets a trip to the UK. Strictly speaking, he’s not allowed to be physically more than 30 minutes away from the plane at any time, in case his passengers change their agenda and want to move quickly — it’s the flight crew’s job to be nearby and available whenever they want to go. But occasionally, the passengers confirm that they are definitely staying put for a certain amount of time and, if it’s enough, he hops on a train and comes and sees us for a few hours. I got word a few days ago that he had just such a trip, crossed my fingers that it didn’t get canceled and, so far so good, it looks like we will get to see him tomorrow! I am so excited!

You can never take it for granted that it’s going to come off though. I remember one time when he was going to be on the ground for an hour and asked me to come and see him. I took a half-day off work and drove 2 hours to the airport. I stood in the FBO‘s lobby and watched the plane touch down, taxi round, and come to a stop on the tarmac outside. The door opened and the passengers descended the stairs, while I kept a low profile so as not to detract from my dad’s professionality. However, the passengers did not walk directly to a waiting car, as I expected. They congregated in the lobby and made themselves coffees or walked about looking for the loo, as if they had no place special to go. My dad emerged and stood by the stairs, so I slipped out of the door and went over to him. He explained that there’d been a change in plans whilst they were landing, and they were turning around immediately and returning to Rome, so we had about 10 minutes before they left. He wasn’t even coming in the building. Even though I’ve been doing stuff like this with him all my life and I know the drill, it still came as a bit of a shock — in my mind, I was thinking I’d have a nice relaxed hour with him — and I couldn’t get it to settle. Suddenly, standing on the tarmac in the wind and bright sun, and knowing he was leaving in just a few minutes, overwhelmed me with melancholy and I suddenly missed him like mad, even as he stood before me. I burst into tears, and spent most of our few minutes together alternately making small talk and crying. And before I knew it, the passengers were walking back to the plane, and I had to pull back my tears and put on a straight face as my father introduced me to each of them in turn, with a poise and confidence that implied that a crying daughter appearing out of the blue at a random airport was perfectly normal. And then, with a quick hug and kiss, he was gone — bounding up the stairs and closing the door behind him. I returned to the FBO and watched the plane taxi to the end of the runway, turn, and start its take-off, zooming past the windows at speed and lifting into the air. I stayed rooted to the spot and kept my eyes on it until it shrank to a small white dot in the sky. My dad… 20 minutes ago he wasn’t there, then he was, and now he was gone again, just like that. The FBO staff must have been boggled as to who I was, and why I was standing in their lobby sobbing — sobbing — over… what? Just another corporate flight.

I spoke to him tonight — he is here in the country. So far, so good. We went over bus schedules and train times. It will take him several hours to get here, but it looks like we will have at least 3 hours together. It will be the first time he has ever seen E2 and I can’t wait for him to meet her. He has seen E1 three times — the first time, by sheer luck, just four days after she was born — but it’s been two years since he last saw her and she had changed so much. I am so excited about his visit! And… a bit nervous as well.

I’d been telling E1 all day that Granddad was coming to visit her. I asked her over and over, “Who is coming to see you?” and she’d gleefully reply, “GRANDDAD!” As it got nearer nap-time, I asked her again, “Who is coming to see you?” and she smiled broadly and, without hesitation, exclaimed, “Baby Jeee-sus!”

Hmmmm… that’s a pretty high expectation and I do fear she may be sorely disappointed. But I hope, this time, my dad and I aren’t.

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I am one stumped mama. I am also a very tired mama, rarely having had more then 3 hours of sleep strung together in nearly 10 months. And therein lies the mystery: I don’t get what this child is up to at night, or know how to fix it. Let me explain…

First off, we have recently achieved two great breakthroughs: E2 is now taking a daily nap, which just wasn’t happening at all only a few weeks ago, and she is going to bed before midnight with almost-consistency. In both cases, I finally realised that I was missing her sleep-clues because they are incredibly subtle — more so than with any child I have ever known — and almost counter-intuitive, by which I mean she would behave so unsleepy that she would actually fall asleep in my arms and then wake moments later to cry with rage. She really wanted to be put down in her cot and left to sleep alone, but who ever heard of a baby who didn’t want to sleep snuggled up in her mother’s arms? But I’ve cracked that sleep-clue code, and can now get her down for a nap almost every day and to bed before midnight. Bingo!

But there’s more mystery with this child to unravel. When I do get her down, she sleeps for a few hours (between 2 and 3) and then wakes crying for me to feed her. I admit that I have gotten her into the bad habit of expecting a breastfeed whenever she wakes, but I am not beating myself up over that — she had so much intestinal trouble when she was younger and would scream in pain through the night, and breastfeeding was the only thing that soothed her, so we had to go with that, bad habits or not.

But of course, it’s left me with a legacy of a child who now expects that feed whenever she wakes in the night. So she wakes me up crying insistantly after perhaps 2½ hours, and then again after another 2½ — by now it’s getting on for 5am or so. Then — and here is the thingthen she becomes the polar opposite of the baby she has been so far during the night.  Once we finish that 5am-ish feed, she will usually go to sleep for 5 or 6 hours straight through. She will happily sleep until 11am or even noon, like clockwork. And, she will then wake up and not cry. When she wakes after that long morning-sleep, she simply starts talking to herself, cooing, playing with her fingers. Incredible!

That’s exactly what I need her to be doing — it’s just that I need her to do it during the night, not the morning. I mean, it’s useful during the morning (without being able to catch up on my sleep during that time, I think I would have hit rock-bottom by now), but I need to figure how to get her to do that long sleep during the dark hours of the night, and then… maybe, maybe… to wake up happy and content instead of crying.

But I am clueless as to why she’s in this bizarre pattern, and equally clueless as to how to alter it. Please, does anyone have any bright ideas?

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I spend my days covered in baby in some way or another. I am either nursing one, or carrying one, or carting one upstairs to change a nappy. Sometimes I am playing with one — or two — and they are all over me. It’s very rare that I am just me anymore, a single being, a body on my own.

Just lately, I have managed to get them both down for their naps at the same time. This is a miracle of no small proportions. E1’s nap lasts about 2 hours, maybe a bit more. The baby likes to nurse before her nap, so by the time I’ve changed her and fed her, it’s usually an hour or more into E1’s nap by the time I can put the baby down, stand to my full height, pull my shoulders back, and move around under my own weight again at last. It feels good — I always forget how good it feels until that moment. And I always know that I don’t have much time to enjoy it before the chaos begins again.

And then the cat spies her opportunity. Within moments of my emancipation, she realises I am free of clumsy, grabby, squealing babies, and she jumps up and claims a spot on my lap or my shoulder. She doesn’t get nearly as much attention as she used to and she craves a bit of love. She’s purring already. I can’t deny her this, so I let her snuggle in and I settle down, a prisoner again under another warm body.

Ah well…  I can think of worse things than to be this loved!

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It’s been a funny old Thanksgiving — as it so often is when you’re in a foreign country on the day — and it would have been easy to forget that it was Thanksgiving at all. There is nothing here to remind a person at all, save one mention and wish of good will on Radio2 this afternoon to their American expatriate listeners (much appreciated, Jeremy Vine!). And, given the way I’ve been feeling lately, sitting down to count my blessings just doesn’t… well, it just doesn’t come easy.

But it should. I am so blessed, so very very blessed. When I do stop to take note of all the good things in my life, all the ways I am lucky, it is quite startling. I could list them here — and I’m sure lots of people are listing their blessings today — but I won’t. You know them as well as I do. What matters is that I stopped today and counted them, from the most basic and important — that my family and I are safe, fed, housed, and healthy — to the trivial. I don’t do it often enough.

A friend of a friend of mine was supposed to join us for lunch yesterday, but she didn’t make it. The day before she had been told her 11 month old daughter — her only child — has cerebral palsy. The birth had been traumatic and the baby was starved of oxygen for a time, and my friend’s friend blames herself. I ask you all to pray for her.

As I was driving home today, I was listening to the radio reports of the cyclone in Bangladesh. They were talking to one man who had lost all four of his children. He said he felt he’d lost his mental stability — he doesn’t know where he is most of the time and can’t focus. If someone gives him food, he eats, but otherwise he forgets. I cannot contemplate what he must be going through. I ask you all to pray for him too.

I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving, regardless of where you are or whether today is a holiday or not. Take a moment today to pause and remember some way in which you are blessed, some thing — large or small — that you have to be thankful for. It’s such a good thing to do and so easy to forget. And then, go happily back into your day, a little bit more aware of how happy it really is.

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I broke down tonight — the stress suddenly took hold of me and I couldn’t climb over it. My husband didn’t know what to do with me, and I just sat and sobbed. It’s not like me — I handle stress by doing things — but tonight I didn’t have the strength and so the panic took hold of me and rendered me powerless.

M received a formal offer yesterday from a company he liked and would be very happy to work for. It’s a good offer — we should take it. So why am I feeling like I want to go upstairs and crawl under the duvet, never to leave Britain — never to leave my bed — again?

Health insurance is scaring the hell out of me, for one thing. This offer includes family health cover — paid 100% by the company and with a very good provider — which is excellent, but the are so many grey areas which I find that I either don’t understand or which infuriate me, or both. Take the exclusion period for instance: there’s a 60-day exclusion period before the health cover kicks in, during which we are uninsured. What is the purpose of this exclusion period, and how people in the US normally go about getting coverage during this time? I asked two people in States — a dear friend of mine who is an insurance agent in another state and my mother’s boss, who handles the health provision for her employees — and the answers have made me see red. The reason there is an exclusion period is because it’s standard practice for employers to not extend benefits to new employees until they are sure their new hires are going to work out. Well, I can understand that when it comes to nice-but-unnecessary benefits such as retirement plans, bonuses, gym memberships, even vacation allowances, but not something as day-to-day essential as health coverage. You can live without the others for a few months with no real adversity, but being without health cover for even a day has the potential to bankrupt people and wreck lives. To withhold something that basic is like withholding an employee’s pay. Who would find it acceptable if employers said, “We think you’re great and we want you to come and work for us, but we want you to work for us for several months with no pay until we’ve seen if you’re going to work out.” Unthinkable! So why is it acceptable to do that with something so essential as health cover?

But it was the answer to my second question that really made my blood boil. No, to be more accurate, it was the apathy in the response: you could hear the shrug of her shoulders as my mother’s boss said, “Well, I guess it might be possible to get temporary cover… I don’t really know. I think most people just gamble for those couple of months. You know, a lot of young people just don’t worry about it because they’re young and healthy.” She said this as if it were perfectly reasonable and — I thought — she might have been implying that it was an option for us, as if we were a couple of happy-go-lucky kids deluded in a belief of our own invincibility rather than the fully-grown, adult parents of two small children that we are. “I mean, it’s not like any of you are going to get sick.” She was talking about us, and almost saying out loud that I was being silly and paranoid to worry that we might need health care in those first couple of months. I came over all hot with indignity and was suddenly having trouble keeping my voice calm and pleasant as I blurted out, “No, but there’s a real possibility that we will all four be in a head-on collision as we learn to drive on the other side of the road!” Her response? She laughed and started chatting about some film she’d seen recently with a similar scene. As if I cared.

I also asked about E2’s recent troubles and the blood tests they are running: if they turn out to be positive and they diagnose her with coeliac disease (or something else) in the next few weeks, will that affect her coverage for it when we get there? My friend said probably not, as it’s group cover; my mother’s boss said it may. Either way, we don’t know for sure. And somehow, that’s what really shook me. The other stuff made me angry — really angry — but this frightened me to my mother-core. The idea that my child might be diagnosed with something and then hung out to dry just made me feel sick. It made me feel sick then and it makes me feel sick again now as I’m typing this. Everyone in the States that I talk to about this says it’s just how the system works, but it’s just not something that I can be that laid back about. Maybe I’m over the top and paranoid — or maybe I’m just a mother.

And that was what did me in. There are just too many unknowns with this move and my brain can’t handle it anymore. Everything feels right on the edge: the base pay is nearly enough to live on, but not quite; there’s commission on top that might make up the difference, but we can’t know how much money that will actually be until we take the plunge — will it be enough or not quite?; there’s the very meagre vacation provision (this job gives 5 days — which is better than others — but that still seems so mean when it’s M’s only chance for the entire year to travel around the world to see his kids); there’s the evening classes he’ll have to take, which means I’ll be alone with the kids several evenings a week as well as all day every day; there’s the whole health cover issue… So many things right on the edge — not one of them positioned well within the comfort-zone. If there were only one or two that were on the edge but lots of others that were sure-things, I think I could live with it. I’m ok with taking chances… just not with chancing everything.

And so it all overwhelmed me tonight, and I broke down in uncontrolled sobbing. I told M I don’t want to go. I want to stay here, I wailed. He was taken aback and said, “But how can we? We’ve gone over it time and again and there’s no way to make it work.” And that bit of truth sent me into new despair and I couldn’t control my crying.

We have to give this company an answer by Monday. But I feel like we’re back to square one — still completely unsure whether or not we should even go at all. I have no idea if it will work if we go, but equally no idea how to make it work so we can stay. I feel drained, exhausted, angry, frustrated, and frightened frightened frightened. I just don’t know what to do.

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An acquaintance of mine and fellow American expat, Karen Billing, has organised a fundraising evening with the well-known actor Jeremy Irons to raise money for the charity SHIVA, which brings education to children in Nepal, India & Sri Lanka, and the Nepal Orphans Home, an orphange & school In Kathmandu, Nepal. Karen has worked tirelessly for this charity for several years and is a real inspiration.

If you’re a fan of Jeremy Irons, this is a rare opportunity to get close to him and hear him speak in an intimate setting. If you’re not able to attend, I would be very grateful if you could kindly pass this information on to as many people as possible, as one of them may be very excited at this opportunity (please feel free to cut-and-paste directly into an email!). If you’ve heard the concept of six degrees of separation, we could — in theory — send this by email to everyone in the world just by it being forwarded on six times. We all know that won’t actually happen, but we could try to get as close as possible!

Here are the details of the evening (if you’re a fan Mr Irons, the ticket price is a bargain!)

Charity Night for SHIVA Charity & Nepal Orphans Home

  • Friday, Dec 14th
  • Location: Watford (United Kingdom)
  • Special Guest Speaker – Actor JEREMY IRONS
  • Evening will include canapes, alcohol/soft drinks, dessert & coffee (layed out by a professional catering company), entertainment, our guest of honour – Jeremy Irons. The menu is to DIE FOR!!!
  • Advance ticket purchase is required. A limited number are being sold at £35 each, with the remaining at £50 each. Get in there QUICK!
  • Funds are being raised for SHIVA Charity (Schools Helping India Voluntary Assoc) and Nepal Orphans Home in Kathmandu, Nepal
  • For Details of venue and ticket purchase contact Karen by phone (01923) 231779 or email homespunamericana@hotmail.com Tickets can be bought using cheque or credit card.

If you’d like more information about SHIVA Charity, please click here.

If you’d like more information about Karen Billing, please click here to go to the homepage of her company, Buttermilk Barn.

And please remember to pass this on!

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