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Posts Tagged ‘Family’

There are times when I say my prayers and thank God that I live in peacetimes.  That I am not worried that bombs will rain down on our heads in the night, that I will not have to gather my babies up from their beds and rush for the relative safety of a bombshelter, or the crowded Underground.  That I don’t have to make that unspeakable choice to either keep my children with me in a blitz-targeted city, or pack their bags and send them on a train, on their own, to some stranger I’ve never met — who may be good or bad, kind or cruel — in order to gain the safety of the countryside.

I thank God that I am not peeping out my window, terrified, wondering when the storm of war will appear over the hill, come rolling down my road to envelope me, my home, everything I love.  I am grateful that I don’t have to worry about wandering bands of men and boys who are feeling the thrill of power for the first time, the menace of their guns, the dominance of their sex.

And though the economy is tough right now, I am grateful that there is food aplenty, fuel for the house and the car, no blackouts, no shortages.  It’s been hard to get by lately, with M’s short hours, and maybe it was a silly time to start my little business, but it’s nothing like it would be in wartimes.  During wartimes, life is really hard.

Today the sun is shining in a blazing blue sky, and the birds have been singing happily — a little too loudly — outside my window.  Traffic is quiet because it’s a three-day weekend, the girls are playing together, and my parents will be coming round later for a barbeque.  The fridge is already full to bursting in preparation.  The news in my news-stream is the usual…  mundane… nothing interesting.

Thank God for peacetimes.  Thank God for peacetimes!

And then I remember — with a little surprise — that these are not peacetimes.  We are at war!  And all the fighting and the shooting and the chaos that I fear is going on right now.  There are soldiers fighting — scrambing, sweating, filled with adrenaline and fear — and enemies to be fought.   There are civilians caught in the crossfire, mothers reaching out in the dust and rubble for their terrified children.  There are shortages and hunger, homes destroyed, lives destroyed…  soldiers injured, dying…  and their families back home.

It’s so easy to forget — here amongst our everyday lives, our normal lives.  It’s on the news, but who is really watching the news?  And who can keep up?  Another bomb… another marketplace or military column…  We hardly look up from our dinners:  Where was it?  Didn’t catch it…  Another mouthful, mmmmm dinner is good tonight.

I had forgotten.  I am shamed to realise I had forgotten we are at war.  I was thanking God for the peace while others were fighting and dying, and ducking in the crossfire.  And I was lying in my quiet bed, in the quiet dark, safe and warm, saying my prayers and then drifting to sleep.

This Memorial Day, let me wake a little, and remember the soldiers who are deployed and their families who are desperate for them to come home.  Let me remember the soldiers who have died, and pray strength for those left grieving them.  Let me pause and think of the civilians caught in the indiscriminate cruelty of war, the mothers and fathers terrified for their children… or who have lost them.  Let me remember even our enemies, that there can be an end to this, and mercy for us all.

Most of all, let me remember how easy it is to forget, and so not to forget again.  There is little that I can do to change or end this war, but this Memorial Day, let me realise that what I can do is to not forget.

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Today my daughter presented me with this cup of carefully planted dandelions (the cup was packed with soil) and, holding her bent arms in close to her body with fists clenched tight, she told me that “the flowers are captivated by the dirt.”  Captivated?  Oh! She meant captured, held in place…

I put the cup on the table and swooped down to give her a great big hug and kiss.  “Thank you, sweetheart!  They’re beautiful!”

And, using a surprising new phrase for the third time today, she replied, “No problation, Mummy.”

Oh, would that time could stand still and my daughter stay lovely like this forever!

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Clearing out a drawer today, I came across a small, square box which contained a necklace that I had received for some Christmas or birthday and which I had completely forgotten about.  I’ve never really been one for necklaces — I don’t like the feeling of a weight of hanging off my neck, and this one looked particularly heavy.  I could see why it ended up in the bottom of that drawer.

But something possessed me to try it on, and I was surprised to find it was light and really quite comfortable.  And surprised even more by how nice it looked.  I was wearing a pair of old jeans and a plain v-neck t-shirt I’ve worn a million times, but this necklace seemed to suddenly liven things up.  I looked… well… dressy!   I left the necklace on all day.

Lying on the bed to feed E2 down to sleep tonight, she spotted the necklace for  (what was apparently) the first time with a look of surprise, which quickly changed to intrigue.

“Mummy, what is that?!?”

“It’s my necklace.”

“Can I touch it?  Can I touch the middle bit…  there?”  Her face was all scrunched up.

“Yes, go ahead.”

She lifted her hand toward the necklace, finger outstretched, hesitated a moment, and then pressed it gently against the middle of the pendant.

“OH!” her eyes wide, her face a picture of completely shock.

“What is it, sweetheart?” I asked, suppressing a chuckle.  What about a necklace could possibly be so surprising?

“I thought…” she looked up at me, still startled and a little confused, “I thought it was cheese!”

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Something I Miss:

The chemist’s shop (pharmacy) in the little town where I lived in the UK was a step back in time, and delightful and frustrating for it in equal measure.  If it had disabled access, I was unaware — all I know is that it had a narrow doorway and an awkward step that was incredibly difficult to manoeuvre with a heavy pushchair.  The hours were posted on the door: Monday – Saturday, 9-5; closed for lunch from 1-2; half-day closing on Wednesdays.

Once inside, there was an old glass-and-wood counter on the right from which you could buy magazines, cigarettes, wine and whiskey, or sweets.  To the left was a rabbit’s warren of shelving units — packed so close that the pushchair only just fit through — offering a dizzying array of almost anything a person living in a small town might want.  The carpet was trodden to a manky brown-grey by a thousand muddy boots, and jarred with the sleek and brightly lit cosmetics displays.  The place smelled musty, always, as if what it really needed was for someone to throw open the windows and let the wind blow through.

At the far end of the shop stood the chemist’s counter, with the traditional set-up of the cashier’s till at the ground level where the customers were, but the chemist (pharmacist) work up high on a raised dais.  The chemist popped down regularly to answer questions and give advice any sort of ailment that was presented — in the traditional role of a sort-of doctor’s stand-in — but then went back up to the solitude and privacy of the mezzanine to work in peace.

The cashiers knew our names — it was a small town, after all.  They saved my favourite magazines for me.  And the prescriptions — every one and every time — cost £7.20.

Something I Love:

Here in the US, the girl’s doctor asks me which pharmacy we use, as she peers squinty-eyed at her computer screen.  I tell her and she taps in the prescription.  “Are you going straight there?  They’ll have it ready in about 20 minutes.”

When we pull up, the girls are asleep, exhausted from the adrenaline kick that a visit to the doctor’s always brings, so I go round the back to the drive-thru.  The cashier doesn’t know us, but she checks our insurance card and, as promised, the prescription is ready, all packaged up in its paper bag and waiting for us to collect it.  There are two more refills, and the pharmacy will hold those on file until I ring next month to say I am ready to drive-thru and pick those up as well.

And the girls sleep on — undisturbed and unaware — and I marvel at how easy this is.

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The snow, which has held us captive for over a month now, is slowly beginning to loosen its grip at last, revealing random patches of bare ground where the grass appears so yellowed and flattened in submission that one wonders that it will ever come back to life.

“Weather’s turning,” M observed as we pulled into the driveway.  “We’d best get some of that trimmed back now before Spring hits in and it all goes crazy again.”  This garden had taken us by surprise last year: the shrubs grew alarmingly fast, the ornamental trees at the back had seemed to double in size in one summer, and the grape vine had threatened to push its way right through one window.  This year, we had decided, we’d be on top of it.

Almost immediately we got in the house, the girls wanted to go out again.  They also know the snow is disappearing and are desperate to spend every day it’s still here enjoying it.  But getting them out there is a chaotic process that I don’t enjoy: changing into jeans, jumpers, coats, scarves, finding hats and wayward gloves, digging out socks, fighting reluctant boots…  There is tripping, falling, stuck zippers, shoes on wrong feet…   I slunk down to the family room and left M with the madness, with the good excuse that my ankle was hurting — which it was — but also with the enormous relief that I did not have to be on duty today.  The noise and chaos was just more than my head could bear today.

Eventually the din died down , and then I heard the door shut and the house fell quiet.  I sat for a moment and soaked it in.  Quiet.  Nothing.  Silence.  Even better than the silence of a nap, because that might be rudely broken at any moment.  This was the sure silence of emptiness, something I hardly know any more, and I was going to enjoy it.

Tea first.  A silent house called for a cup of tea.  And then, perhaps I would write an email to an old friend.  I smiled to myself — this was going to be really nice.

I had been sitting at the computer for only a few minutes — my thoughts only just beginning to gather — when the house rumbled for a moment.   Startled and not quite knowing what to think, I just stopped still, fingers suspended over the keyboard.  It came again, the whole right side of the house rumbling and shaking and sounding like it was about to come down.  I grabbed my coat and hobbled out the back door.

The girls stood with the neighbour-kids in a semi-circle around M, who was crouched by the side wall at the base of the grape arbour and cutting through the main vine with the electric reciprocating saw from his truck.  The arbour was shaking violently, the vine was resisting as much as it could.  I cleared my throat.

M looked up and grinned, proud of himself.  “I’m nearly done!” he announced, and pointed to the vine on the other side of the arbour.  “I’ve got through that one already, and I’ve done all the smaller ones on this side.  Just this last one to go.”  And then he spotted the shock on my face, and his grin slid away.

“Ohhhh…” he began, and the shape of the word lingered on his lips for a moment.  “Oh, I thought we’d agreed on this.  We… we had discussed this, hadn’t we?”  He pressed his finger to the trigger of the saw, and it whirled a little, hesitantly.

We had, but my recollection was that we’d settled on perhaps digging up the vines and moving the arbour, and then we’d left the matter unsettled…  His recollection, my recollection…  Husband-wife miscommunications are the stuff that marriage is made of.

“I’ll… um…  I’ll leave this for now, shall I?” he said, a bit sheepishly.  And then pointed to the sagging limbs on the snow-battered lilac tree.  “Should I…  well, how about those?  Should they come down?”  I nodded, and he turned away from the vine — a stay of execution at the last moment — and headed for the lilac.

The children had wandered back to the snow, all but the neighbour boy who, at the age of nine, had spotted the undercurrents in our conversation and was now watching me intently to see where this would go.  I looked at him and smiled.  “Jay, when you get older and get married… and you think you know what your wife wants you to do…  just be sure to go back and double-check with her, ok?  And then… double-check again.”  I winked at him, and he laughed.

And I turned and went back into the house, where everything would be quiet.

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Mid-morning yesterday, my mother brought me a cup of tea, and my daughters brought their beaming smiles.  “Mummy! Mummy! We’ve made you a card!”

Ah, now, this is what you want when you’re not well — a nice cuppa, delivered to your bedside.  And this is what you envision when you become a mother — the glowing faces of your children as they bring you their home-made Get Well cards.

I looked down at my card, my mother-heart warmed with love.  I looked again.  Was… was this card threatening me?  This is what my children were giving me?!?

My mother chuckled a little under her breath and shrugged her shoulders.  “They told me what to write and I just wrote it…”

E2 had disappeared, but now I heard her footsteps on the stairs. Clomp clomp clomp. Her face was again that wide grin — so pleased to see her mummy after a whole morning without her — and she held in her little hands a plate of carefully laid-out, half-smooshed grapefruit pieces.  My breakfast, from my lovely daughter!

“Oh, thank you, sweetheart!  Is that for me?”

Her brow furrowed and she looked suddenly surprised.  “No! It’s for me!”  And she leaned onto the foot of the bed, setting the plate down heavily and spilling grapefruit juice onto the comforter.

I sighed.  She dug into her fruit.  And then looked up and beamed that grin — that grin that melts her mother’s heart — as juice ran down her chin.

And I remembered what all mothers learn quickly and must never forget:  children bring an abundance of love… but there is very, very little sympathy.

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When I heard the snap, I wondered if that was the sound of my bone breaking…  though I quickly realised it might have been the sound of the chair that I fell onto, or the door it slid into, or the stair-gate that took part of my fall.  The pain in my ankle was so intense that I just couldn’t tell, and sat there on the floor instead, unable to speak and taking in great gulps of air and letting them out in silent, open-mouthed, chest-wracking sobs until M finally realised that I’d really, really hurt myself and came rushing over.

He thought it was only a sprain, but he wasn’t sure either.  He pressed gently there… and then there… and I squealed, squirmed.  Eventually, I worked up the courage to try to move my toes: pain shot fresh up the leg, but the toes moved.

“It’s probably a sprain,” he announced, and then paused… and wavered.  “But perhaps we ought to go have it scanned, just in case…”

We’ve not really used our health insurance much, he and I.  We’ve used the girls’ insurance plenty of times in the past two years so I know how it works, but we’ve hardly touched ours and I’m not totally confident about what’s covered or how.  “I… don’t know what our copay would be for a hospital visit,” I said.  I looked at my ankle, considered wiggling the toes again…  “Grab your insurance card, would you?”   It listed the copay amounts for a doctor’s or specialist’s visit but, maddeningly, not for a trip to ER.  What it did point out, right at the top of the card, that we were covered for ER trips for “life-threatening and emergency” situations but would have to pay extra costs for anything else.  And I wondered, did a broken ankle count?  If it turned out to be a sprain, would the insurance company accept that there was a chance it might not have been?   Simply put, would they pay?  I wasn’t sure.

I handed the card back to him.  “Let’s wait awhile and… well, let’s just  see how it goes.”

Time seemed to confirm our decision.  A massive goose egg appeared and, eventually, I could put a bit of weight on it…  gingerly… gingerly… and make it as far as the loo — a good sign, though it left me exhausted and shaking.    We agreed that couldn’t have been done on a break or a fracture, and both felt a bit better about the decision to stay home.

M rang my mum and arranged for her to come round tomorrow and take care of the girls.  Thank goodness for my mum.  9am?  No, 8am, please — the girls do sleep late, but one or the other  always wakes early and asks for the loo and I can’t move at all.  How about 8.30?  No, 8… please.

When he got off the phone, he came and sat next to me, took my hands in his, looked a bit sheepish.  “I’m sorry I can’t take the day off tomorrow.  You know I would…”  I know, I told him.  But we can’t afford a day without pay.  Between the economy, all this bad weather, and his operation, we are on our ninth week of below-subsistence pay — we most definitely cannot afford a day without pay, and we both know it.  And then I thanked God it was my ankle swelling up and not his.

“If we were in Britain, I’d take the day off.  You know that, right?  I’d take a couple of days off!”   He felt really bad about this, I could see.

“I know.”  My injury, his injury, pain, illness, family emergency…  there is no room for error — no matter what, his job must go on.

He pulled a tight smile, rueful, and looked away over my shoulder.  “If we were home,” he continued, “we’d have gone to hospital, had you checked out…”

“I know.”   A medical decision based on cost, a chance for early treatment lost to financial constraint — it’s how it goes.

And the moral of the story?  The lesson to take away?  It could be about the system, but that’s all been said before. Today, the lesson is a personal one: do not climb up on your daughter’s rocking-balance toy to demonstrate how she can pretend to snowboard along with the Olympians on the telly.  Because you’re staring down the barrel of 40, my dear, and when you take a mis-step getting back down… well, your body just doesn’t bounce back the way it used to!

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