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Archive for the ‘Failure’ Category

Going into this week, it was not without a little trepidation, but I wasn’t fully aware of my own feelings.  I just knew there was an uneasiness hovering, lurking, in the back of my mind.  When I finally put my finger on it, I realised that I wasn’t wrong to be a little uneasy.

Blogging has not come easily to me lately.  I’ve chalked it up to everything that’s been going on, but I know that’s just an excuse.  After all, we’ve been through a lot of fraught and stressful times in the past few years, and I’ve been able to blog right through them — no sooner would I sit down at the computer than the words would spill forth, so fast that I could hardly type them all out.  But, just lately, the words have… stopped.  Just stopped.  I sit down at the computer and nothing comes.  My mind goes blank, even as only moments before I had been writing blog post after blog post in my mind.  When I come to type those thoughts out, I find they are no longer there –just gone — and trying to force the words out is as futile as trying to push a pile of sand up a hill.  And that has caused me to panic a little inside, because I don’t want to stop writing.  I don’t want there to be nothing there.

I have never been overly keen on those blog posts that recap and look back at other blog posts from the past.  I know they’re useful and relevant sometimes, but they remind me too much of when you turn on your favourite television show and find all the characters are sitting on the couch, drinking coffee and laughing, and saying, “Do you remember when…?” while the screen fades out to various clips from old episodes.  Arghhhh… I’ve seen all this before, and I switch over to something more interesting.

But, wading through the deep sand of this dry spell, I’ve considered doing one of those “looking back” blog posts, to sail through this drought on the coat-tails of what I’ve written before.  I know I’m not writing anything of worth these days, but look!… look!…  I’ve written good things in the past! So I sat down for a moment and looked back at my past posts, from this time a year ago, two years ago.  Of all the weeks in the year, and with that strange feeling of foreboding looming in the back of my mind, I choose this week to look back.

It was a year ago almost to the day that we rushed E2 to the Emergency Room for the first time, as her breathing grew slower and slower and more laboured and we finally realised that this was serious.  It was the night that they gave her breathing treatment after breathing treatment that had little effect, and the doctor finally explained to me — exhausted and hardly believing what I was hearing — that if she didn’t respond to this last treatment, they would have to cut a hole between her ribs and insert a tube into her lungs, because her muscles were going becoming fatigued and she was not going to be able to keep breathing on her own.  It was the first sighting of her (now diagnosed) asthma.  It was the night I realised that my daughter had nearly slipped away…  that had we been living only a couple of generations ago, she probably would have slipped away quietly as we slept.  And that was the night I realised that her own mother hadn’t spotted the seriousness of the situation and that, if I’d been left to make the call on my own, she might well have died.

It was two years ago exactly that I finally couldn’t take another moment of this mysterious, excruciating pain in my breasts and, with all the doctors’ offices closed on a Sunday, spent seven hours waiting to be seen in the Emergency Room, where the doctor examined me and thought she found an “irregular lump” and — eight days into our new life in the United States — I contemplated all the dark and frightening scenarios that come rushing in after those words.  It was the day that we tumbled head-first into the ridiculously complicated pit of confusion that is the American healthcare system, with only a high-deductible temporary policy to break that fall, and learned first-hand that it is not only the uninsured who face misery when disaster strikes, but America’s under-insured as well.  It was the start of the difficult journey to eliminate soy from my diet that led me to realise not only what a detrimental effect this seemingly innocuous food can have, but also to nearly turn my life upside-down in order to avoid the all-pervasive soy in the typical American diet.

So, two years and two trips to ER.  Two years and two stressful days that I’ll be glad never to repeat again.  And then I cast my mind back one more year, to three years ago…  You can’t read about that day — I wasn’t blogging back then — but we spent that one in hospital too.  We made another rushed and stress-filled journey along icy roads in the dark of night.  And there were hours of pain and an awful lot of blood, and that strange sensation of time slowing down and everything coming into sharper, excruciating focus.  And it went on for hours and then… it stopped.

And I looked down and asked the midwife in surprise, “Is it a girl?!?”, because I’d been sure we were having a boy.  And the midwife nodded, and my baby took in a great lungful of air and let it out with a loud cry, and we all smiled with relief.  And then without any delay — without even cleaning her off or even cutting the cord — the midwife lifted her onto my belly, so the baby and I were skin-to-skin, and she latched on and began to feed hungrily, drawing comfort from the warmth of my milk and the warmth of my skin, and slowly letting go of all the fear and stress that the last few hours had been — for her as much as for us.

E2 is three this week — and she is beautiful… wonderful… everything I could have hoped her to be as I gazed down on her in my arms that night she was born.  Over the next few days, we will sing “Happy Birthday” to her and open gifts and celebrate these amazing three years and the miracle she is to us.  And I will thank God that she is with us — because there are so many ways that she might not have been.  And I am aware of them every day.

And if we don’t end up in hospital this year (touch wood), that will be fine too.  Because things come in threes, and we’ve done our three, thank you very much.  This year then, perhaps just a nice quiet birthday, eh?  And maybe another slice of that (surprisingly good) egg-free, dairy-free, nut-free, soy-free birthday cake.

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Just lately, several people have written to me or left comments on the blog, wondering where I am, whether I’m ok.  The happy-spin answer is that I’ve been taking some time off, basking in the glow of the love of my family.  The truth is, it’s felt a lot more like hanging on by the skin of my teeth, and so I’ve found myself  cutting out anything that’s not about what needs to be done now.  With the emphasis firmly on needs and now.

Things began ramping up round about the time we ended up in the Emergency Room three times in five weeks.  That’s going to be a rough time by any standard but, more than that, it was the fear and unsettling of it that exhausted me.   Would it always be like this?  Is this a spate of bad luck, or is this the beginning?  And I wanted to go to bed and curl up for a while.

But there was no going to bed, and no curling up.  There was work, work, and extra work to be done: holding and loving and comforting and night-feeds and breath-watching and breathing treatments and lots of cleaning up.   All mess and the putting away and tidying up seemed to multiply exponentially, and I don’t know why.  But it did and it called my name and I had to answer, because I am the only one who hears it.

And then there was the book-balancing.  For every trip to ER, there was a follow up appointment with the paediatrician (or sometimes two) and then maybe one with the allergist as well (or two),  and a prescription (or… many), and maybe even a vaccine just for good measure.  And so for every one of those, there is also a co-pay.  In a matter of weeks, we racked up hundreds — hundreds — in co-pays.  And this at the same time that M’s hours were going through (yet another) stage of fluctuating wildly.  One week he’d barely get 40 hours, the next he’s scramble to clock up 30… and then would come a week of 60-plus hours, which provided the blessed relief that almost brought us into the black but also tore the stuffing out of M in the process.  And then start over: short week, short week, work-to-death week; short week, short week, work-to-death week.  M was shattered, I was trying to ride this financial roller coaster, and the copays cut right through whatever cushion we might have had.

And the pressure on M to workandworkandwork was immense.  Every day that he came home early felt like storm clouds gathering.  Every day that he worked late was… oh so good as I looked at the clock and watched the hours mount up, but his work is back-breaking and those extra hours exhausted him, and then the girls went to bed before he got home again.  And then the on-call rota changed: instead of being on call every four weeks, it would now be every three — which sounds more benign than it is.  Because they line up the jobs for the on-call days, what this effectively means is that he works a normal week, then twelve days in a row, and then a normal week, and then twelve days in a row…  Combined with the fluctuating paycheques and the feeling that work had become everything and everything was work, the pressure on M cranked up another notch.

M has never been one to handle stress in a particularly healthy way.  He internalises everything, expresses nothing, pushes everyone else away, and allows his mind to run away with worries.  And then the worry increases his stress, and he falls into a vicious spiral, and he can’t break free.  And as I watch him go down and down and down like this, I feel that I must do something — I must do something — to lift the pressure from him.   And then I am heaping the pressure on myself:  I must get a job,  I must start a business,  I must clean the house more… or maybe better.  I must keep the children quiet, I must give him more room, I must try to talk more, I must draw him out, I must leave him alone.  et répéter: I must make some money, I must get a job…  or work from home… start a business.  And he asks me when I’m going to start a business, when I’m going to pull in some money.  And my mother asks me why I don’t just start a business, or find a job working from home…  And a quiet voice in my head tries to point out that if starting a business were easy or work-from-home jobs weren’t like hens’ teeth… but I feel the criticism so keenly that it never gets much further than that.

The truth is, I don’t know how I’d do it.  The balance between us is off-balance: he works (so hard!), and does the grocery run, he takes the trash out, and cooks about half the time; and I do everything else.  By that I mean everything else that keeps our lives running: not just all the housework and the childcare 24/7, but the taxes, the banking, the bill-paying, the letter opening, the form-filling, all the problem solving, the bureaucracy navigation, the appointment making, the car maintaining…  Every decision that impacts our lives rests squarely on my shoulders.   And the more stressed he is, the more I try to take on to lighten his load.  His pressure spills over to become my pressure too.  I want to take as much of his burden as I can, but thought of adding a job to that — or starting a business – just stops me frozen in my tracks.   And so there I stood, frozen, right next to him, frozen.

So it makes sense that, one day a few months ago, something inside him finally snapped — quite literally.  He came home from work and showed me a protrusion in his lower abdomen, an area about the size of his palm where the muscle wall had torn and his intestine was pushing through under his skin.  It’s not the first time he’d had a hernia — he’d had an umbilical hernia all his life that he’d finally had corrected about eight years ago — but that was nothing like this.  This was big and, with his kind of work, it was only going to get worse.  So a specialist was consulted (co-pay!) and a surgery date was scheduled.  And I asked… how long is the recovery?  How long? Because he gets no paid sickdays.

And here was a bright spark of good news!  The hernia was caused by work, so the surgery and recovery would be paid by Workers’ Compensation.  Oh, thank goodness for that.  And though Workers’ Comp pays reduced wages in order to encourage you back to work as soon as possible, it would be enough.  It would be enough.

Ten days before his surgery, I felt a tickle in the back of my throat.  M could not get sick — a delay would put the surgery to the other side of Christmas and mess everything up.   I got worse, he stayed away.  I felt rotten — rotten — and then E1 fell ill too, and he couldn’t take care of either of us.   So I did everything — all the childcare, all the comforting, all the while just wanting to crawl into bed — and waited for E2 to come down and the inevitable trip to ER.  It would surely end in the trip to ER…

And here was another bright spark, shining through the dark: E2 not only didn’t end up in ER, she actually never even got sick.  This child who has not been able to come within ten feet of a single germ without coming to the brink of not breathing, without scaring us all half to death…  this child kissed us, she cuddled us, she shared a drink with her sister (aughhhh!!!) and yet she never even so much as coughed.  Saints be praised!  Steroids, how wrong I was to distrust you!

And then, one last bright, shining spark.  The surgery is  done, the patient recovering and, by coincidental timing, he is enjoying what is truly  Christmas for him: days on end away from work.  Days and days and days to just rest and relax, in a way that I haven’t seen him do since we arrived in the States.  And as the days have passed, the worry has fallen away, the vicious spiral has stopped swirling around him and…  he has changed.  Today, I caught him looking at E2 in wonder — the kind of wonder that parents should have when they contemplate the miracle of their own children…  but which I haven’t seen on his face in months…  or even years?  I had forgotten what that looks like.   And yesterday, as I as dashing out to the shop, he floored me by suddenly looking up and suggesting to the girls that they make the gingerbread house that had been overlooked in the run up to Christmas.  He offered to make the gingerbread house! I left the house in shock.  Dear reader, I say this in all honesty: I had forgotten what it was to have a partner who wanted to be a part of the family.  I had spent so long watching him want to escape us — really wanting to escape us and the bother and the chaos — and suddenly here he was,  sitting the girls at the table and breaking out the icing sugar…  Volunteering to do something with them.  I left the house hardly recognising my own husband.

And as I drove to the shops, I felt like I was floating on air. Floating on air! The way I felt inside, in that space right behind my ribs — so light, so warm — I can hardly describe.  Like… like maybe we weren’t falling apart.  And suddenly I realised that, with a little more of that behind me — just a little more — I could do anything.  I could do everything!  I could keep this house running, I could make some money, I can put our world on track.  I can get us home.  I just need the love in the house, I just need the strength it gives.

I worry that when he goes back to work, the spell will be broken.  I worry that life will overcome us both again and we will slide down again.  But at least we have seen it, seen how it might be if we can make things change.  …If we can make things change, and keep ourselves up here, up here with our heads above the surface.

Here’s to a fresh start and God’s blessings in 2010.  Happy New Year, everyone.

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We had both known this trip would be difficult.  We knew it the whole time, and we thought we’d prepared for it.  But, really, there is no preparation — like so many things in life, there is only the getting through it.  And now that he is home, we are going through it.

The night before he flew back to the US — and the first night of the trip that his son didn’t stay in the same house — he couldn’t sleep for panic.  His panics come to him when something in his life is terribly wrong, his mind’s inadequate way of coping with the overwhelming.  And leaving his kids again — all over again — is overwhelming.

The night after he arrived back, he didn’t sleep either.  I woke to find him staring up at the ceiling in the dark, and saw glistening lines running from the corners of his eyes down to his ears.

“Are you alright?”

“No.”  His voice wavered.

“I know.”

“It’s just…” He stopped to steady his breath and then let it all out in a rush.  “It’s so hard to leave them.”  I shut my eyes hard, instinctively trying to block out his words, because I knew… I knew, but I just didn’t want it to be so hard for him.  And  I had nothing useful to offer, so I gave him the only words that came to me…

“I know.”

We carried on talking in the dark, awkwardly and to no purpose, and eventually I faded back to sleep.  When I woke again at 5am, he was still staring at the ceiling.  I tried again to say something useful, but I suspect I managed nothing more than to mumble half-slurred, half-slumbered nonsense before succumbing to unconsciousness and leaving him alone, again, with the overwhelming.

The next day, I sat down with a cup of tea to peruse leisurely the local newspapers he’d brought back for me.  I wanted to read news of the recent agricultural show, check out the pictures of kids going back to school, and sympathise with the locals’ frustration at incoming Londoners.  But instead, I found myself skipping past all that and going straight to the back of the paper, to scan the estate agents’ ads and then the jobs pages with a sense urgency that made my stomach suddenly flip-flop.  I was hoping to find something miraculous, some wild change from the situation we’d left 18 months ago, but I found exactly what I’d known would be there: houses that were half the size at twice the price, and jobs with salaries so low that my heart just sank at the sight of them.  No miracles.  And no idea how to make those conflicting numbers add up.

Suddenly, the panic rose up inside me too — up from my guts and into my chest —  and I had to push the paper away hastily.  How am I going to make this work?  How am I going to fix this? I stared at the table, at the spot where the paper had been.  My heart raced and I ran one hand up through my hair.  He needs me and I have no idea what to do.  What am I going to do?  How am I going to fix this?!? How am I going to fix this?!? How? How…? HowamIhowamIhowamIgoingtofixthis?

We thought we had prepared for M’s trip home.  We’d talked about it, talked through it.   We’d remembered the battles he’d fought when he got back last year, and tried to learn from them.  But the truth is that all the preparation in the world is inadequate to the reality.   And… time had passed and those battlefields had fallen quiet… the casualties buried in their shallow graves, and the ground above them going to seed and turning into peaceful meadows.

We had been fooled by the wildflowers.

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Two

“This house!” M muttered under his breath as he kicked a tangled pile of laundry out of his way. “This bloody house!”  And then he turned and stormed back upstairs without even looking at me.

I sighed.  But I understand why he’s frustrated — this house, indeed.  It’s always on the edge of mess, always verging into chaos.  I feel as though I fight all day just to maintain it, just to ensure that the mess is no worse at the end of the day than it was at the beginning.  But it never gets any better than it was.

The worst of it is the laundry.  We are perpetually buried in the piles of clean laundry — washed and dried quickly enough, but rarely folded and almost never put away.  Folding laundry with the girls is an exercise in pure crazy-making.  I have not made sorting piles — I have made fall-breakers!  I have built obstacle courses!  I have amassed fascinating collections of dressing-up clothes!  When I do manage to fold a couple of baskets’ full, I am so exhausted at the end that I can’t be bothered to haul those baskets upstairs and put them away.  Not right now… maybe later… maybe tomorrow.   But instead, we raid those same baskets daily, still sitting in the corner of the family room, for knickers and socks and today’s outfit, until the whole thing is such a mess that it couldn’t possibly be put away without being dumped out and refolded.  And that does not happen.

And there are always dishes clogging the kitchen — from breakfast, or the snack, or lunch, or the snack, or dinner…  And a pile of papers that needs filing over there, and stacks of magazines half-read.  There are still boxes to be unpacked from the move.  And certainly, oh certainly, this place does not yet feel like a home — it still feels like we just moved in… or are just about to move out.

“What was that?!?” I prodded angrily at M, as he disappeared up the stairs.  I couldn’t help myself — I just can’t let a muttering go.

He paused and turned, casting an eye across the chaos, and said hotly, “Well, I just think this place should be… tidier.  It should be getting tidier!”

I was defensive now.  “You could help, you know.  I only have two hands!  You could pick things up when you see them instead of stepping over them!”  It’s true — he’s as likely to step over a mess the girls have made as clean it up.  He’ll clear dishes but leave the mess all over the table.  And he opens his mail, and then drops it back on the table for me discover,  and deal with, later.

“You’re home all day!” He countered.  “You should be dealing with this place!  It should be…”  he glanced around the room, his eyes lighting on any number sins, “It should be getting better.”  Ah, of course, I’m home all day.  I should be spending all that time getting the place sorted.

Plus two

As every weekend approaches, we have conflicting expectations that cause… well… regular conflicts.  I see the weekends as a chance for me to get a break from the intensity of full-time care for a four-year-old and a two-year-old.  I’d like to wake peacefully, rather than be yelled from my bed at whatever hour the girls awaken, to take a shower alone without interruption, and then to slow everything down a bit and spend time as a family.  M sees the weekends as his chance to catch up on the myriad projects that need doing about the house and to quietly recover from a tough week at work.  In both cases, the three of us just get in the way of his plans — hinder rather than help — and, understandably, he spends most of his weekends trying to escape us.

I was on my own in the kitchen, drinking a cup of tea and contemplating the pile of dishes in the sink, when I heard it all begin to fall apart in the other room.  The girls’ voices rose and quickly became shrill, both of them screeching over some great injustice.  M’s voice started quiet and weary, but soon followed their lead and, within moments, he was bellowing at them.  And then for me.  When I walked in the room, I found him standing by the front door, holding a cordless drill in one hand and with two little girls practically hanging off his other arm.  A mess of his tools and their toys were strewn in equal measure at his feet.

“I can’t get anything done with them here!” he roared. “You have to take them.”  And then with a little less volume, “If I’m supposed to make any progress with this,” — he waved the drill in the general direction of the door he’d been working on — “then you can’t expect me to be looking after them as well!”  I ushered the girls and their screeching away into the kitchen, and smiled to myself.

He’s quite right — it’s impossible for him to get his projects done with them underfoot.  I know that.  They are wonderful little girls, but it is the nature of their ages to create mischief and mayhem where-ever they go.  And keeping that under control brings everything else to a complete halt.

Unless, of course, that everything is folding laundry, and filing the paperwork, and unpacking boxes.  And you are home all day.

Equals three

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I’ve come to an uncomfortable conclusion.  It turns out that… well… I’m quite boring.  I always had some suspicions  of this but I’d had enough social success to be able to brush those concerns under a convenient nearby carpet.  But just lately, that’s not worked and I’ve got to admit what I’m quickly realising to be true: I’m just not that interesting to talk to.

The problem starts with the fact that I am naturally very introverted.  And while I’m perfectly fine with old friends and people I’ve gotten comfortable with, I become only more introverted when I am in social situations which are new or unfamiliar — and that’s pretty much what they all are after you’ve just up and moved to another country.  So, being outgoing and interesting under those circumstances was always going to be a challenge for me, but… well, I thought I could get past that.  After all, I’ve moved before.  Hell, I’ve moved countries before!

Y’know, I used to have interesting things to talk about.  I used to know what’s going on in the world, have opinions, have angles on stuff.  Now… I’m a stay-at-home mum to two kids, one with allergies that have severely shrunk our social options, and I spend most of my week cleaning messes, keeping the household running, and interacting with only two other adults — one of whom is so exhausted at the end of the day that he’s often asleep within 30 minutes of finishing dinner.

And so, when I finally break free and get the opportunity to out for a while in the company of Other People, I  suddenly find that I just don’t have that much of interest to talk about.  My daughters dominate my conversation in much the same way they dominate my life, and I find myself going on and on about them regardless of whether my listeners are likely to be interested.  And then, without realising it, I find I’ve turned the conversation to the allergies because… well, they overshadow my day-t0-day  life so much that it’s as if my mind can’t shake free from them even for a few minutes.  Is the other person interested in the difficulties of avoiding our laundry list of allergens?  Probably not at all, but still I can’t seem to stop myself, even as it begins to dawn on me that I’m boring my listeners.

And so I abruptly try to change subjects but, to my dismay, I realise the cupboard is bare.  As I stand there trying to think of something — anything — to talk about, I draw a complete blank.  I’ve nothing to offer.  Even turning the conversation toward the other person and asking questions instead — that time-honoured short cut to being a good conversationalist — can only go so far before it starts to feel a bit stalker-ish.

And then I’m done for.  I’m outta tricks.  And one of two things happens: either the conversation grinds to an uncomfortable halt and we both start looking around for someone else to slink away to or… or…  I suddenly try to save the situation by overcompensating and going back to my standard subjects (the girls, allergies) and just running wild with it, talking a mile a minute, trying to fill up the air with words and words and words.  It’s not good.

One more thing: I’ve realised I’m just out of step with the whole rhythm of social conversation over here.  The rules I follow are British (specifically rural working-class British) and they just don’t work here.  What is PC there is most certainly not PC here.  What comes quite naturally out my mouth doesn’t work at all — it’s all too risqué or too straight or too lewd or too dour.  So I fall back on humour — a last ditch, gut reaction attempt to save a dying situation — and being humour with that extra u, I find to my horror that what seems hilarious to me suddenly falls completely flat.  I go home berating myself.  Why did I say that?  Why did I open my mouth? And what happened to all the stuff I used to talk about?

And when did I become so boring?!?

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I panic.

I must sort the laundry.  I must pay the bills.  I must do the taxes.  I must look up how to renew my driver’s license.  I must figure out a way to get us home.  I must balance my chequebook.  I must empty the dishwasher.  I must get to the post office.  I must remember to use the loo before I wet myself.  I must remember to eat lunch.  I must sort out the old toys.  I must mop the mess off the floor.  I must clean the bathroom.  I must remember to swap over the laundry.  I must take a nap.  I must read those library books before they are due.   I must make ends meet.  I must lose some weight.  I must exercise.  I must get up earlier so I can exercise.  I must go to bed earlier so I can get up earlier so I can exercise.  I must email so many people.  I must find some time for myself.  I must start a business from home.  I must get better at sewing/felting/knitting/spinning/dyeing so I can turn it into a business.  I must look for a job.  I must update my CV.  I must develop a network.  I must make contacts.  I must make friends!  I must join groups.  I must be friendly and make a good impression.  I must rein in my sense of humour that no one seems to get.  I must save enough to go home this summer.  I must get dinner on.  I must blog.  I must send photos.  I must read this week’s Economist before next week’s issue arrives.  I must unpack boxes.  I must work out what we should do…

I must stop.  Because the whole time, I am losing this time with my daughters.  I need to take the time to be with them — now, in this moment — while I still have this moment.

And… I really must do my taxes.

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In truth, it probably has nothing to do with here or there, owning or renting, working or staying home, career or not…  It probably has nothing to do with any of those external things, and everything to do with something inside me.  The problem is in me, and the solution is in me.  But I honestly do not know what it is, where to find it, or how to fix it.  And so instead, I carry on, pointing accusingly at so many outside things, sure each time that this is it.

Or perhaps I just need more sleep.  And the ability to move through life with the swiftness that I took for granted when I was toddler-free.

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