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Archive for February, 2009

Some nights the bedtime routine is harder than others.  Tonight, M had hit his wall before we’d even begun — he’d had a particularly difficult day and was sat on the couch looking as though his head was filled with concrete.  Tonight would be a solo gig.

First child: toilet, hands, catch her as she runs off, teeth, catch her again,  PJs, read story, into bed, kiss, shut the door firmly, open the door,  get drink, shut the door firmly, open the door, promise to send Daddy up, shut the door firmly…

Second child: nappy, PJs,  hands, teeth, take her in to kiss her sister, take her down to kiss Daddy, take her up to her room, go to find beloved Pink Lamb, return to find her hiding in the closet, deliver beloved Pink Lamb, Mother May I?, sleeping bag, Vicks under chin, Olbas oil on bedsheet, lie down to feed, convince her to keep feeding and not climb off bed, feed some more, switch sides, convince again, finally give up and lay her down with fingers crossed, distract with Ginger Rabbit, turn on humidifier, slip out… and wait… and wait… nothing, so go downstairs at last.

M was putting on his work clothes.  “But you’re not on call this weekend!”  Nonetheless, the guy who was wasn’t answering his phone — not for the first time — and M was taking his chance to make himself less likely to be laid off.

All quiet again, I sat on the couch and thought about making a cup of tea, and perhaps reading my book, untouched for a week…  Except that all was not quiet — there as a moaning emanating from the first bedroom, breaking the hard-earned silence.  A moan, not a cry, so I ignored it for a while.  And ignored my book, and surfed the web while I waited for it to stop.

It didn’t — just carried on at the same pitch, same volume, in the sure knowledge that annoying persistence wins the day.  Suitably irritated, I went back up, skipping nimbly over the creaky stair: priority number one, as ever, is to not wake the other child.

She wanted her blanket put back on.  And company, of course.  Fighting it would be too loud…  I laid down on the bed, to her utter delight, squishing her a little and pressing my nose against hers.  She smiled broadly and giggled too loudly. “Shhhhhhhh!”  She giggled again, whisper-quiet.

I dropped my head to the pillow and just laid with her for a minute.  What was I missing?  Some useless telly?  A book I haven’t touched in a week?  I looked into her grinning face, inches from mine.  She wanted this.  So did I.

“My legs!  Mummy, you’re squishing my legs!”  I was, a little because the bed is too small for both of us, and a little on purpose — my get-out.  “Mummy! Mummy, get up!  My legs are squished!”  I got up, but kept my nose to hers.

I love you.

“What are you going to do?  Are you going downstairs?”

“I’m going to have some tea, and read my book.”

“And then what?”

I kissed her on the forehead, and on both cheeks, and then walked to the door.  “And then I’ll come and check on you again.”

The promise warmed her, and she smiled broadly and snuggled down into her bed.  And I smiled back, warmed as well…  and shut the door firmly.

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Four days after E2 finally recovered from her ordeal of having two teaspoons of lentils move through her system (and I recovered from my ordeal of not sleeping for three nights on end), and just as I was beginning to feel human again, my mother handed me a small bag of wonderfulness.  She’d picked it up for herself from Trader Joe’s but decided I needed a treat…  It was a bag of mini stroopwafels — those decadent little discs of caramelly deliciousness which I love so much, imported straight from the Netherlands.  My mouth began watering even as I took them from her hand and I heard bells ringing from the sheer excitement of it.

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At least, I thought the bells were ringing out of sheer excitement.  If I’d stopped for a moment, I would have thought about why I hadn’t allowed myself any stroopwafels since I’d found them at Trader Joe’s months and months ago.  If I’d been thinking, I would have checked the ingredients.  If I’d stopped for just one moment, I would have asked myself why those bells were actually tolling, not ringing.

But I didn’t think.  I was tired and strung out and so I ripped into the bag and popped one of those beautiful, buttery, caramelly little circles of pure love into my mouth.  And I melted as it melted.  Oh, I do love them!

I had another later that evening with my tea…  and then (oh!) another.  Just as good.  Even better, in fact, curled up on the couch with my feet tucked underneath me and a steaming cuppa tea in my other hand.  I had time to savour them…  Oh, I do love them!

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The pain came quickly — within an hour.  I had failed in my diligence and there was a price to be paid.  I went back through my day — what had I eaten?!? — and then realised who the culprit probably was and dashed up the stairs to check the packet.  There is was…  of course! Those bells!  There was a reason I’d always bypassed the stroopwafels before…  They contain soy and even though I’d only had three and they are tiny, that didn’t get me off the hook.  Stupid girl!

I turned to go downstairs and sit on the couch, to shiver until the pain left me, when my eye caught something else on the ingredient list that made one last bell suddenly clang loudly, but…  no…  no…  it’s way down on the list…  and I’ve only eaten three of them…  and they’re tiny, only an inch across…  and my body will surely filter it out before it gets to my milk… That’s what a mother’s body does, isn’t it?  Steps in and filters the world to protect the baby even when the mother fails to…

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When I got her up the next morning, she’d done a poo that was so strange it startled me.  It was as big as I’ve ever seen her little body do and was the colour and consistency of liquidised seaweed — so dark green it was almost black.  How odd!, I thought.  And that evening, when her father change her nappy and it was still that  same strange colour, I marveled at it alongside him, but still didn’t put two and two together.  And when the skin on her chin flared up with redness and when she had a miserably fitful night’s sleep and had me up five times to comfort her, I only cursed our bad luck and still never twigged what was really going on.

It wasn’t until the next day, when the dark green poos turned acidic and began coming in rapid-fire succession that I finally — finally — realised what was happening inside her.  My body had not managed to filter out the ingredient that had set that one lone bell to clanging.  And even though it was buried way down in the ingredient list, that wasn’t protection enough.  I’d only had three little stroopwafels, but it was enough…  Enough for at least one egg protein to pass through my stomach, through my gut, and up into my milk which I’d then lovingly fed to her.  And now her body was reacting with a wild vengeance that was putting her through hell, exhausting me, and turning the skin on her bum red-raw.

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That night was awful.  She couldn’t sleep, she couldn’t get comfortable.  She threw herself about in my arms in a exact replay of her lentil-ordeal less than a week before.  From midnight to 2am, she screamed and cried and flailed about, as I held her in helpless despair.  And from 2am to 4am, her body began a violent campaign to rid itself of this intruder, and she sat miserable and wide-eyed as poo after poo exploded out of a body she couldn’t control, leaving her bottom was so raw that it was bleeding, and had her screaming pitifully through every nappy change.

By 4.30am, it was all over and we both fell into an exhausted sleep.  The next morning, she and I were like zombies — it had been our second bout in a week with this allergy-imposed misery and it had knocked the stuffing out of both of us.  But she was on the mend, thank goodness — the poos returned to normal colour almost immediately, though the nappy rash took days to subside and left her screaming in heartbreaking pain every time she wee’d or pooed and whenever I changed her.

And I have, once again, learnt a lesson.  And perhaps for the final time…?  How many times do I have to get it wrong before I realise there is no leaway?  There is no room for manouevre.  There is no forgiveness, there are no second chances.  There is only this crazy, unnecessary, wild and violent reaction that she must endure — poor, innocent she.  And guilt and guilt and guilt and no sleep for me.

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The other week, my mother came round to babysit E1 while I took E2 to a doctor’s appointment.  It was a strangely warm day and so what did my mum do the whole three hours that we were gone?  She played in the garden with her granddaughter.  They gathered pine cones and seedpods for the bird feeder.  They played on the swings.  They marched around the garden and discussed the flowers and the trees and the sky and — from what I can gather — the whole of Life as it appears to a three-year-old…

I would never have done that.  I am not that kind of mother.  I am all about thinking ahead, keeping things safe, preparing for the worst while I go about teaching my daughters their independence and letting them show me what they want to learn.  My mother’s take is, in so many ways, completely different from mine.  She is all about being in the moment, experiencing every joy of parenthood (and grandparenthood), taking away pain, and leaping in to provide everything her charges might possibly need.  She is always there, always available, and always doing everything she can think of to make life better for the people she loves.

And according to Janet Penley’s excellent book MotherStyles, that is a perfectly in line with both of our Myers-Briggs Personality types.  As an INTP mother, my natural priorities are to foster independence and autonomy in my daughters, and it comes naturally to me to stay hands-off so my girls can learn through their own experiences.  My mother is an ESFP — expressive, attentive, and focused on practical help and especially on fun.  Even if all this Myers-Briggs mumbo-jumbo means nothing to you, it takes only a glance at our letters to see that my mum and I have very few of them in common.  Except for that ‘P‘, we are polar opposites.

Growing up, I found that very difficult — oppressive, even — though I didn’t realise it at the time.  Being a strong T (thinker), I don’t tend to be much ruled by my feelings — in fact, I don’t tend to delve into them much at all (with the anomalous exception of this blog) — and as an I (introvert), I’m not very comfortable sharing them even when I do.  But as an E (extrovert) and a strong F (feeler), my mother pushed me all my life to share my feelings freely with her  (and everything else too) — she has never understood why I feel so uncomfortable doing what comes so naturally to her.  For many years — and especially after I began to develop more of my true self as an independent adult — she told me that I was wrong…  that I was prickly…  cold-hearted… even that I was a bad daughter for not being the way she had expected me to be.  I was an enigma to her — and she to me — and the rest is our sorry history.

And as a grandmother, she has certainly done her fair share of things crazy-making.  As sad as it is to say — and I hate that it’s the case — being so near to her has been one of the things I have struggled with the most about moving back to the US.  And I have no doubt that she is slowly coming to the conclusion that she doesn’t actually like me much as a person — though I know that will never change the fact that she loves me completely as a daughter.

But when I got home that day from the doctor’s office and asked what they’d been up to while we’d been out, I was floored.  I would never have had the patience — or, let’s be honest, the interest — to have spent that much time exploring the garden with my daughter.  I would have done one quick turn before retiring to the porch-swing with a copy of the Economist, content for her to explore on her own and then to bring her millions of questions back to me as I rocked comfortably back and forth. But my mother never left her to herself, never tired — in a full three hours — of walking by her side and seeing the world through a three-year-old’s eyes.  She was, as per her ESFP-type, the “totally there” mother — the stereotype in the best of all possible ways.

And though I don’t understand my mother and she doesn’t understand me, and though we struggle so awkwardly — so miserably — to get along, and though as mother and daughter we often simply don’t work at all, the real truth is that we complete each other in my daughters’ eyes.  Together, we give them almost everything they need — both independence and total availability, calm rationality and expressive emotion, the foresight that keeps them safe and the ability to share in their joy of the moment.  Without my mother to fill in my gaps, my own mothering would be incomplete.  She does things that I simply can’t.  She walks around the garden with them for hours.  She helps them to feel every moment.  She swoops in when they need attention.  She is always, always there for my daughters.

She is everything that I will never be.  That’s the kind of mother my mother is.

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How about these, eh?

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Or these?  Are they gorgeous?

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Aren’t these making you wish they came in Big Girl sizes?  Who doesn’t want purple suede MaryJanes with little pink flowers?

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Oh!  I love them so much I could chew on them…

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You know, sometimes I am just so glad I had little girls!

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I was rushing things as I tried to get E2 to cooperate with being put down for her nap.  My mother had come round for a couple of hours to keep the girls busy so I could make a start on the taxes, and I’d lost track of time and now they were late going down for their naps.  My mother was the other room, wrestling E1 into her bed, and I was sitting on the big bed next to E2’s cot trying to contort her wriggling legs — still clad in her sister’s far-too-big trousers that she had insisted on wearing for the last half an hour — into her sleeping bag.

When she was all zipped in, she lept up and began jumping on the bed, her hyperactivity clearly indicating overtiredness — or so I hoped.  I laid back on the bed and adjusted my top, waiting for her to realise that milk was on offer and so to flop herself down beside me (and probably, as she so often does, crack me in the jaw with her skull).  But she took no notice and carried on jumping manically, her little eyes wild with the excitement of it.

“Come on!  Milk!”

Bounce, bounce, bounce. No!

“Come on… Come and have your milk.”  I was trying to sound as enticing as I could.  It used to be that lying on a bed and sounding enticing meant something else altogether, but those days are long gone — now it’s always about milk and naps.  But today there was  no interest.  “Come on… Don’t you want some of Mummy’s milk?”

“No!  Roger!” she yelled, and carried on bouncing.

Roger?  Who the heck was Roger?  I was torn between laughter and exasperation.  “Come and lie down and have you milk!” I commanded.

Bounce bounce bounce.  “No!  No milk!  Roger!”

I looked up at her, both laughing and dumbfounded.  I’ve heard a lot of nonsense in the past few years, but this was new to me.  She saw that I wasn’t getting it, stopped bouncing at last, and put her face down close to mine.

“No milk.  Water!”  Ah…!  Water, not Roger.  Ok.  I thought for a moment about walking all the way downstairs and drawing her a glass of water…  That’d be another 10 minutes…  I decided against it.

“Well,” I said, undoing the bra-clasp, “maybe Mummy’s got water.”  She looked at me, dubious but intrigued.  “Do you think Mummy has made water for you?”  It did the trick — she was lying down now, wiggling herself into position.  I waited for her to discover my deception, delatch, and complain…  but she didn’t.  Milk is sweet and warm, and good enough.  She snuggled in and began feeding in earnest — and I relaxed, curled round her and breathed in her wonderful scent.  My daughter smells wonderful, especially when she is content and tucked in close.

She was asleep in seven minutes.

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It feels like I haven’t seen my husband in weeks — it’s not true, but I haven’t seen much of him in a long time.  His work has been… crazy.  He had all of three days off in January, and February has followed course, which is exhausting for him — and, by extension, for me.  And you’d think the upside of that would be that we’d be banking some big paycheques but…  no.

The thing is, at the moment (at the moment? for months!), there’s just no predictability from day to day what his hours are going to be and, thus, no predictability what his weekly paycheque will be.  One day can be a bumpercrop 12 hours and the next day can be a barren two.  It’s literally that up and down, and we have no idea from day to the next how it will go.  Whenever I hear the truck pull into the driveway, I instinctively shoot an anxious glance at the clock — is it late enough?  Did he get enough hours today?  Everything is depending on what time that truck comes home.

And you might think there is some plus-side to those days when he only has to work a couple of hours — I mean, he gets downtime, right?  A day off,  doesn’t he? — but… no.  He stays at the shop waiting to see if a call comes in: there, but not paid.  And the whole time, I think he’s out there working and all is well, until he comes home (what time? Oh it’s 5 — thank goodness! All is well!) and tells me, no, it was only three hours today…  And my heart sinks.

But when he does get the hours — when the weather cooperates and sends frigid temperatures and ice and misery that has people running to the phones — he’s gone all hours, working to the point of utter collapse.  And then getting another call at 11pm, just as we are settling down to our end-of-the-day cuppa  — could he?, they ask — and he looks at me and shrugs.  It’s money…  it’s all money, and we have to take what blessings come however they come, so he sighs and drags himself off the couch and changes into his work clothes and heads out again.  And I go up to bed alone.

So when the hours are light, I am just terrified, but when they are long, we don’t see each other for days on end, and he is exhausted, and I am lonely and taking care of the kids on my own all the day and night.  And even when the hours are bang-smack on normal — when he comes home and answers my perpetual question with a smile and “eight!” — I worry that eight hours today will not be enough if the rest of the week doesn’t match.  Every day, we start each day as a complete unknown and it’s been this way for months.  And it’s incredibly stressful — incredibly stressful.

Just lately, everything’s been swirling about inside me — too much, too much — and I have felt so overwhelmed.  It seems we’ve had one health crisis after another since the new year, and each one knocks us out for nearly a week or more, and pushes the stress levels up higher.  And  E1 has just gone into a new phase of  “No!” that is stretching my patience past its limits.  And though I appreciate my mum’s help enormously  and she appreciates spending time with the girls, we have — just by necessity — ended up seeing each other nearly every day, and that is really too much for either of us.  And then there is the trying to stay in the red.  And those crazy hours.  And it’s time for me to tackle our bloody taxes again, and there’s almost nothing on earth that gets me more panicky and overwrought than trying to work out taxes.  And all this stress rouses my old friend Failure from his slumber — he’s really never far away — and he comes out cackling with fingers pointed and condemnations flying, to taunt me and poke at me and slap me and…  and…  what can I say to deflect it?  It’s all true.

I feel  so strung out, so tired, and this week it’s all just gotten on top of me.  I can’t stop crying.  I miss having friends nearby that I’ve known for years — the people you need round you when you’re feeling overwhelmed.  And though it sounds odd to say, I miss my privacy — just the simple pleasure of going where I go and doing things the way I do them without observation.   And, oh I miss my husband, I really just miss my husband — it feels like I haven’t seen him in weeks.

In the post yesterday, there was a tax bill from the county that I wasn’t expecting — it was startlingly huge and I didn’t know what was, didn’t even know what it was for. Fortunately, it turned out to be an error, but too late — I was over the edge, blindsided by a such a surprise from some entity I didn’t even know existed.  It ripped the last bit of bravado from me, and left me slumped on the floor and crying, hardly able to get control over myself for the rest of the day.

But this week was turning out to be different from the rest.  The hours started rolling in, like we’d never seen before.  M was on call over the weekend and the calls just kept coming — he racked up three days’ worth of normal hours before the week had really even begun.  And every day after followed suit — by Tuesday, he was already well over forty hours, and I was astonished to realise we were on track for a bumper paycheque that would start to make up for the difficulty of late.  And boy, do we need it!  The car insurance is due next month, and there’ll be another one of those panic-inducing gas bills…   Oh, yes, I’ve been watching those hours clock up with a growing feeling of excitement.  And poor M has been looking forward to nothing more than dragging his weary body into bed at the end of each day.

When I spoke to M last night before he headed off to night school — did I mention he fits night school in twice a week as well? — he could hear in my voice all the raw aftermath of that tax bill panic.  “Sounds like it would be a good idea for me to stay home with you tomorrow.” he said gently, “What do you think?”

NO!!!!”  I panicked — had he done something?  Had he taken a day off?!?!?  We need him to keep going  and rack up as much overtime as possible before the end of the week.  We were on a roll and we need that money!

“Oh…”  He had been hoping for a different answer, I could tell, and so I panicked afresh.

“What??? WHAT?!?”

“Well, work’s slowed down, so they had a look at who had the most hours this week,”  Oh, I see. “…and that was me, so they told me they didn’t have anything for me tomorrow, so that the other guys can get their full hours.”  Yes…  yes…  that made sense.  And it was only right — if the situation were reversed, I know I’d be grateful.

And so we had a day together today — and it was really wonderful, it really was.  A quiet day together as a family — nothing particularly to do and no where to go — like we haven’t had in…  well, months really.  It was exactly what I needed, a balm for my anxiety that did no end of good.  A quiet family day, a day with my husband, on a… Thursday.

And it will still be a better-than-normal paycheque, and for that I am very grateful.  But it won’t be that bumpercrop now. 

Damn.

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Ah…  yes!  I understand now.  Of course the steroids she had to take to stave off secondary reactions needed to last several days!  Because what was going to happen over the next few days?  The lentils were going to work their way slowly through her system…  and her system would continue to react to them in its own unpredictable way.

And what else would happen while her body reacts to the lentils working through her system?  No one would get any sleep for several nights running.

And so it has been.  The first two nights, she was clearly in pain, throwing herself about in her bed, in my arms, in a desperate search for a position that made her feel better, but never finding it.  She called to me, wanted to be held, didn’t want to be held, needed a kiss, didn’t want to be touched, would sleep for an hour, and then wake again and cry so bitterly that it broke my still half-asleep heart.

Silly me!  I was always so careful to only introduce new foods to her diet on a Friday, so that I had M as back-up over the weekend if the result was that I got no sleep.  Why did I think it would be any different if the new food was presented in a doctor’s office?  Epinephrine stops anaphalaxsis, but it doesn’t tell the gut to stand down and let the intruder pass by in peace.  And her gut was fighting this intruder for all it was worth.

On the third night, she called to me and, as I picked her up, she let out a belch so loud and violent that I instinctively pulled her away, expecting a cascade.  Instead, I was swathed in a noxious cloud  — rotton eggs, spoilt wine, and vomit — so foul that it left the two of us staring at each other wide-eyed.  And then she let out another, and another, and another — each exploding from her chest with such a roar that I knew instinctively how much it must hurt her.

And so I sat up and held her, breathing that stench as she exploded from both ends — the belches continuing to roar unmercifully from her chest and her other end rat-a-tat-tatting like a tommy gun — as her body tried desperately to push this enemy food out, out, out!  She flailed in my arms, equally desperate to find some position — any magic contortion — that would make all this just stop.

When she began poo-ing, it was with the same ferocious violence.  I heard it come — so loud! — and she and I both froze in momentary shock.  Then breaking the silence, with wide eyes and a desperate quiver in her voice, she cried, “Done a poooooo!”  I stripped her soiled clothes, cleaned the mess, found her fresh clothes, and settled her in my arms again.  Thirty minutes later, exactly the same.   And then a hour later, again.  And again.  And again.  Toward the end, it was less poo than just…  well, in the same way that the body will carry on throwing up until there’s just liquid coming out, so her body was doing in the other direction — just so desperate to expel everything that was in her that it couldn’t stop until she was empty.

When, at last, she fell asleep from sheer exhaustion, M was dressed and leaving for work.  I was on my third night of no sleep, and E1 would be waking in a couple of hours.  I rang my mother…  could she…?  She could, she would, of course, and so, with a wave of relief, my watch came to an end.   But collapsing into my own bed at last, I found that after all the upheaval, sleep eluded me, and came fitfully at best.

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Ok, as I sit here, dazed and hung-over, I feel the need for some Comic Relief.  Don’t you?  And here it is:

When I first wrote my previous post, I accidentally typed ‘taped’ where I should have said ‘tapped’, which of course changed the meaning of this section entirely…

The last time we’d seen the allergist, I’d asked him what I should do about lentils and peas, given that they are closely related to peanuts.  He lent back in his chair and taped his pen to his lips as he looked at E2’s notes.

If your sense of humour is at all similar to mine, and you see the same very literal visuals that I do, you’ll be snorting your tea through your nose right about now.  If not, that will have fallen completely flat.  But, if that’s the case, I can assure you that you’re wrong — it’s very very funny indeed.

This last bit was brought to you in honour of Red Nose Day, which serves to remind me that the stuff we are going through is trivial compared to what so many others are dealing with.  If you have the opportunity, it is such a worthy cause to give to.

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