Things Kids Say Thursday: The English Language

#thingskidssaythursdays #what #tweenI thought I was going to have to dig through my archives and Facebook posts to find something good for Things Kids Say Thursdays, but my darling DD came up trumps today.

I picked her up from school and on the walk home, we talked about her homework.

Me: So what’s your homework like this weekend?

DD: Mostly good, the maths might be tricky. We’re researching homophobes for English.

Me: WHAT? Seriously, that’s progressive. How on earth are you going to find a list of homophobes?

DD: Well, I’ve got a few in my head already.

Me: Really? (At this point, I don’t know whether to be impressed, disturbed, panicked…) Well, could you give me some examples?

DD: Sure. Bridle, bridal. Serial, cereal. Alter, altar.

Me: Homo-PHONES, kiddo, homo-PHONES.

Yep, never a dull moment.

If you’ve got corkers to share, do join in via the linky on E’s post.

Feels like Friday

And whaddya know? It IS Friday! I dropped my favourite child off at the Breton Bestie’s house this morning. (Fine, she’s my only child, but let’s not digress). BB has been bribing her with breakfast all week – today it was pancakes. My fluffy American pancakes are just not as good as the bestie’s crepes, probably more so because the supply is going to dry up in ten days’ time when they expat their way back to France.

The expat life giveth some good stuff, and taketh some good stuff. 

The hammer has taken a while to fall – my husband jokes that I “think slowly and it’s true. Usually because I’m denial. But today I couldn’t deny that it would be the last time for a little while that I’d be hugging the BB’s seven-year-old son, since he’s off to France later today, in advance of the others. But I’m still in denial that next weekend I’ll be saying good-bye to one of the bestest friends I’ve ever had. We had dinner and cocktails last weekend and had a good giggle, which was bittersweet, because it was just a reminder of what’s being taken away.

IMG_20140417_135412_editA part of me realises this is completely ridiculous; she’s moving back to Paris, which is a 2.5 hour train ride away. Not the end of the earth by any stretch of the imagination. But for two years, she’s been at the other end of my road. Our daughters have more often than not had their heads bent together, gossiping and giggling. Yes, the grief is compounded because my daughter is losing HER Breton Bestie. I have a feeling DD and I are going to be clutching each other and howling over pints of ice-cream in ten days.

I’m going to focus on the amazing reports the girls have brought home, and the fact that they’re getting awards (which they know nothing about) on Tuesday. I’ll save the tears for then. Now pass me that ice-cream!!

My daughter’s father

Image032I wrote this post about fathers during the A-Z challenge in April. I’ve been lucky to have a great dad, someone who set the bar very high, so anyone that chose to be with me forever was going to have to be pretty amazing, too. When I met my handsome fella, I knew two things in my bones: I was never going to break up with him, and he was going to be a fantastic father.

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“I’ve only got eyes for you!”

He spent the entire afternoon today, helping our daughter craft her comic book characters, then load them into Inkscape, and then help her load them onto her blog. All because this was important to her. She is important to him, and she knows it.

IMG_20140531_175644_editI once asked him if he was sad not to have a son to do things with, and he looked at me, totally perplexed: “What on earth could I do with a son that I can’t do with a daughter?” 

They have mini-adventures, often gone for hours at a time, usually returning covered in dust & dirt. They hang out in museums, sketching. They rough & tumble at the park. They love each other endlessly, with all the happiness & conflict that entails. 

They drive each other crazy, with heated cries of “He started it” and “She started it”….

but honestly, I wonder if my two loves realise how similar they really are?!

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Adjusting Focus

If you’ve been following the blog recently, you’ll be aware that I got the job! Most regular humans take to celebration when they get a job that they would LOVE to have and really, honestly, are not qualified to do. I, however, go completely, madly, utterly panic-stricken. I may be smiling and nodding at you, but inside, I’m performing my OMG-hand-flapping-90-miles-an-hour-how-the-hell-are-we-going-to-manage-what-was-I-thinking dance. Even moreso because my husband, a recognised ninja at weeding out all dodgy / skanky / untrustworthy folk, is on the OTHER SIDE of the Atlantic, and I have to interview people to care for our child after school, alone!

Thankfully, our daughter also has the ability to keep me grounded and focused on the things that truly matter. She is delighted I got the job. “Mum, it’s one of your favourite magazines, and you get to work there!” I am truly glad that she thinks this is cool, and something to aspire to, rather than the insane directorship and corner office which kept me prisoner 18 hours a day.

Yesterday was another seminal moment on my path to adjusting my sails: instead of continuing the panicked dance, because hey, I’m GREAT at it, I stepped outside my ‘comfort’ zone and zoned out. We had a picnic in our patio garden. We made a tent, and read our books in the shade when the sun got too hot. We chatted. We watched the clouds drift by. We made root beer floats. We watched TV. We read our books and went to sleep in my big white bed. I threw my concerns to the bright blue sky, and let them get burned away.

I woke up refreshed today. Genuinely refreshed, and ready to face the week. I’m still mildly stressed about the nanny interviews this afternoon, but I’m going to take a leaf out of my daughter’s book and blithely expect the best. 

Stay tuned for more adventures…

Performance Anxiety

The dancer stretched her neck, shook out her hands, and breathed deeply. She went up on her toes and down again. One finger tapped the beat, counting down her cue. She tucked her hips, drew in her stomach and led with her hands, leaping on to the stage.

The spotlights, usually so harsh and unforgiving, seemed to soften and wrap her gently, following her every movement. The chiffon ribbons on her costume shimmered cobalt, teal and aquamarine.

The dancer sped and slowed, undulating with the music. Her movements were precise, but weightless, as though invisible marionette strings pulled and released her. She whirled effortlessly, her arms caging her body, switching feet until the music ended, and she flung her hands exultantly to the sky. Her smile lingered until the lights dimmed, and the audience roared.

She flew off stage into my waiting arms. “Didja see me, mama, didja? Didja?”

Yes, my angel, I did.

Thinking Thursday

Daughter Dear (DD) is dancing in a ballet in ten days’ time, which means rehearsals and hours spent in dance studio waiting rooms which are overheated, smelly, noisy and panic-inducing. In between rehearsals & school, throw in castings for other odds & sods, and you have the recipe for exhaustion and/or febrile fits (read my old post here to see why I worry about these). When DD finally surfaced this morning, she decided we were doing ‘home school’ today. Happy days, she is recognising her physical limitations on her own and I don’t have to be the bad guy any more. Well, at least for today.

Her topic at school this term is the Stone Age, so I had to stretch my imagination this morning to come up with Mesolithically-appropriate challenges: if Croog hunts down a bison, and it weighs so much, and he devours so much per day, will he make it through the winter? Will he need to supplement his diet? I could feel my synapses short-circuiting and dreaded the next segment.

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Image from Pixabay

Thankfully, by the time we got to the English part of our entertainment learning, she just wanted to continue reading Anne Frank’s Diary. Great, let’s discuss fascism & genocide for a change. The last time I read Anne’s diary was more than 20 years ago, and I forgot how wonderful Anne is at describing the people in the Annexe and observing life within and without. It’s truly magical to rediscover one of my childhood favourites through my daughter’s eyes. DD has innocence & curiosity in spades, and is a budding writer with a strong voice of her own. She loves dissecting characters, understanding their motivations and challenges. We swept through several diary entries fairly quickly, until Anne starts describing the forced marches through the streets of Jews being deported to Westerbork. “Why, mummy, why?”

Damn you, books! How do I explain to my 9-year-old that this genocide was based on abstract, non-pragmatic ideology—which was then executed by very rational, pragmatic means? How do I explain how decent human beings had to subvert their goodness, their humanity, to keep their own loved ones safe from the Nazi machine? How do I explain the desperation, the pack mentality? While I’m mulling this over, trying to find the right words, she says, “You think I could watch Annie till you figure out an age-appropriate answer?”

YES! Let’s watch Annie. And give husband a heads up that he might be in for an interesting discussion over dinner.

Daughter Dear

FOR MY DAUGHTER
By Sarah McMane

Never play the princess when you can
be the queen:
rule the kingdom, swing a scepter,
wear a crown of gold.
Don’t dance in glass slippers,
crystal carving up your toes –
be a barefoot Amazon instead,
for those shoes will surely shatter on your feet.
Never wear only pink
when you can strut in crimson red,
sweat in heather grey, and
shimmer in sky blue,
claim the golden sun upon your hair.
Colors are for everyone,
boys and girls, men and women –
be a verdant garden, the landscape of Versailles,
not a pale primrose blindly pushed aside.

Chase green dragons and one-eyed zombies,
fierce and fiery toothy monsters,
not merely lazy butterflies,
sweet and slow on summer days.
For you can tame the most brutish beasts
with your wily wits and charm,
and lizard scales feel just as smooth
as gossamer insect wings.
Tramp muddy through the house in
a purple tutu and cowboy boots.
Have a tea party in your overalls.
Build a fort of birch branches,
a zoo of Legos, a rocketship of
Queen Anne chairs and coverlets,
first stop on the moon.

Dream of dinosaurs and baby dolls,
bold brontosaurus and bookish Belle,
not Barbie on the runway or
Disney damsels in distress –
you are much too strong to play
the simpering waif.
Don a baseball cap, dance with Daddy,
paint your toenails, climb a cottonwood.
Learn to speak with both your mind and heart.
For the ground beneath will hold you, dear –
know that you are free.
And never grow a wishbone, daughter,
where your backbone ought to be.

Motherhood with PTSD

This post is long overdue. Possibly because it will dredge up so many emotions & feelings that I have battled hard to contain & compartmentalise. But the emergence of many articles and posts on the same topic in the last few weeks have made me realise that there are other mothers out there who may benefit from reading this.

The Beginning

I had the most perfect pregnancy for the nine months that I got to carry the most precious cargo. My labour went smoothly, but when my waters finally broke, we discovered there was meconium present. This should have meant an emergency C-section straight away, but thanks to one of the most arrogant registrars on the planet who decided he was going to work through his repertoire before finally giving up HOURS later to go to a C-section, my beautiful baby was born severely oxygen deprived (before you ask, no, I never sued the hospital, even though I had a darn solid case. I wish I had, as more babies have died there since, due to similar negligent behaviour. Just add that to my guilt pile). Anyway, I digress.

We were only given a quick look at our baby before she was whisked away to ‘Special Care’. No one followed up with us or told us how dire things were. My first inkling came via a trainee doctor and a Polaroid. The poor baby in the picture was hooked to machines, with pipes and tubes out of every orifice. “Here’s a photo of your baby, thought you might want it in case she didn’t make it.” I did what any sleep-deprived person who had just had major abdominal surgery would do: I screamed, shouted, and demanded a real doctor!

In my new private room, I was given an audience with a team of consultants, not one of whom could give me a sensible answer. My husband arrived later and it finally started sinking in: we had one sick baby. She was not conscious and barely breathing on her own. From 9 months of ‘So-Right’ suddenly everything was ‘So-NOT-Right’. We just didn’t know what to think, feel or even do. I didn’t know what my daughter really looked like!

The next morning, I was woken at 5am. When I reminded the midwife I had refused the morphine injections because they made me vomit, she said my daughter was failing fast and they had called a team from London to come and get her. Get her and take her where??? To London? Without me? My husband arrived at the hospital shortly after and I was wheeled in to say goodbye to my baby. All I remember thinking was that her elbow was really soft: it was the only part I could touch. She had a tension pneumothorax shortly after, and they had to cut her chest and insert a tube to rectify this. It took the team 4 hours to stabilise her before the 60-minute blue-light express to London. My husband was not allowed to travel with her, so he followed on the train. He came home later that evening, curled into a ball on the spare bed in my room, and just said, “She’s really not well.” I couldn’t physically reach out to him because of my surgery, so I stroked his ankle in a pathetic attempt to comfort him.

Moving Along

The next few weeks of our life took on a surreal quality, as any other NICU (neonatal intensive care) parent will verify. We could quote numbers, stats, technical terms…it was all that we had to hold on to. The NICU was like a war zone, with the constant alarms, death and sickness. We didn’t know which baby would die and which one would go home healthy. Experts say parents of NICU infants experience multiple traumas, usually beginning with the delivery, which is often unexpected (I felt completely violated after my caesarean experience). The second trauma is seeing their own infant having traumatic medical procedures and life-threatening events, and also witnessing other infants going through similar experiences.

We couldn’t touch her. She wasn’t awake. When she finally woke up, I held her for an hour solid, just in case it was the only time I would hold her. She had major nerve damage and didn’t like being touched much, so I had to wait till she was falling asleep in later weeks. My husband did the majority of the caring, feeding & bathing at the hospital. I expressed milk and took photos. We did laundry, cooked meals and went shopping, with a carseat in the back seat, but no baby. I hated everyone that got to walk around with their nice, normal babies. Just getting out and about was a triumph of mind over matter; we lived in a small town and everyone knew I was pregnant, so where was the baby? My life shrank to our house and the hospital. And then without much ado, she was sent home.

Home Time

We still had no clear idea how the next few months or years were going to play out, given the dire predictions: “She won’t hit milestones, she probably won’t walk, she probably won’t talk”. She had physiotherapy every day, either with me or a PT. She still hated being touched much. So we sort of co-existed in an uneasy truce. She had horrendous colic, and every new formula milk exacerbated her pain. We spent hours walking, driving, rocking…anything to stop the crying. My husband and I didn’t talk about our thoughts or feelings, because we just couldn’t face that can of worms. We just forged onwards relentlessly, united in our mission to give our child as normal a life as possible, for as long as we had her.

I fell apart fairly quickly with no network & no support. Think post-partum depression on steroids (I know now this was PTSD). So I duly swallowed the pills prescribed and continued to function. Everything was timetabled, down to her crashes, which usually meant a Friday or Saturday night spent in the emergency room. We knew our favourite nurses and doctors by name and they knew our baby. Terror and joy walked hand in hand for us; hit a milestone, get some new illness. Caring for myself came second to everything else. Guilt dogged every step. I could never shake the feeling that I had ‘broken’ my baby. That I had failed her. My body was supposed to nurture and protect her, and I failed. My husband would do his best to get this idea out of my head, but logic is no match for guilt. I had some close friends from my ante-natal group who tried to keep an eye on us and keep us close as much as possible, but these were all new mothers with trials of their own. And honestly, when you feel the spectre of death looms over you, you try and keep your gloom contained.

Fast forward almost 9 years

Given the trauma she suffered, five years was a good estimate. She beat the 5-year marker. We had a blow-out party to celebrate. We had our hairy moments along the way, but she made it through every one. We’ve made it 14 months now (knock on wood) without any real concerns. But every time she forgets something, or falls over, I wonder, “Is this a new symptom, a new sign?”. It’s called vulnerable child syndrome and I’m trying to shake it out of myself; she never felt the effects of it because we made a conscious decision to let her live a full life, including the normal falls, cuts & scrapes.

But there are things she can’t handle, like heat. She passes out or has a fit if she’s too warm. The older she gets, the more I worry. Coddling away and explaining, “You had a fit, passed out and wet yourself” is far different with a 4-year-old than a pre-teen. She has a pedal-to-the-metal, hair-on-fire personality, which means secretly, I am always in knots praying to the forces of the Universe to keep her safe. Fit-free. Tumour-free. The normal parent prayers, but with a grim, graphic, first-hand knowledge of what worst-case scenario looks like. Ask any parent who has signed a Do Not Resuscitate form.

Life as I know it

My post-traumatic stress takes the form of flashbacks. I panic every time a beeper goes off anywhere. I jump at loud noises. I couldn’t pass an ambulance for about two years after she was born without bursting into tears (I’m an ugly crier!). I emotionally distanced myself from her because I didn’t trust that the final good-bye wasn’t hovering around the corner. Over time, this has mutated into depression & anxiety, and occasional insomnia. Bouts of therapy have helped. Talking to friends, reading blogs, researching has helped. The fact that she is socialised, reads, can count, and tie her laces, helps. But I still sleep almost fully clothed, or with a full kit close by, never confident enough that I won’t need to dress in 30 seconds and fly to the hospital.

Some nights, I find myself sitting in the dark by my daughter’s bed, inhaling her special sunshine & honey smell, muffling my tears into one of her shirts she’s carelessly discarded on the floor. Some nights, she wakes up and makes me climb into bed with her. She’ll cuddle me and pat my hair and say, “There, there, it’s OK. I’m here.”

It’s like a tiny light in the night… I dare to dream of a future for her. With her. For now, that’s enough.

If this is your story or someone you know

There are so many more resources out there. In the USA, there is the March of Dimes NICU program. And Hand to Hold. There are books to read (try This Lovely Life: A Memoir of Premature Motherhood). In the UK, we’ve got Bliss, and the Parent Support Group at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.

Survival tips

Eat healthy, sleep as much as you can, ask for help, forgive yourself, forgive others (because you are going to get some dumb questions & suggestions), accept that it’s not your fault, accept help, get hugs, go easy on the coffee, meditate/pray, and make sure your partner is doing the same.

Attitude of Gratitude

I watched this amazing TED talk the other day. (I’m grateful for the time I have these days to actually catch up and watch all the TED talks I save.)

I’m revelling in the time I have off this year. Last-Year-Me would have been panicking that I didn’t have the next contract lined up, didn’t have a plan, a timeline … you get the idea. I pride myself on being able to multi-task, functioning on 5 hours of sleep & coffee, being super-mum/wife/consultant. But I have no idea where this need comes from! Sometime over Christmas, little things my daughter said made me realise I had missed out on so much with her, with my friends, with life in general. It actually took my breath away. So it was a conscious choice to stop.

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I’ve started this year with a clean slate, an open mind and a Pinterest board full of ideas. I’m reading, and learning, and connecting with new people and more importantly, reconnecting with the people that have sustained me so far. I am grateful they didn’t give up on me!

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I choose happiness. Even when it’s hard. Even when I feel I don’t deserve it. Because I do.

I’m so grateful for my husband, who took on being super-dad for the latter half of last year, for not once judging my choices, but letting me work through them, and more importantly, for being willing to walk out in the pouring rain & cold, because I want a Snickers bar at 10pm (it’s got nuts, it’s healthy).

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For my amazing daughter, whose little kindnesses & words build me up every day, for thinking I am the best mother ever, because I am actively present in her life again

I am going to put all these thoughts into a gratitude jar (IKEA’s finest, re-purposed). I’m forward-thinking; I anticipate I will have enough to be grateful about this year to fill the jar.

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My gratitude jar, just waiting for my notes…

That baby debate…

Babies, the great divider. Most people have an opinion on children. Love ’em, hate ’em, we’re-still-them… and now we live in a world where you can have a three-parent baby! Yes, take a moment, it blows the mind.

I’m all for science, I love science. I love inventions and discoveries and jiggy tech. I’m open-minded. But the whole three-parent thing has given me cause to pause.

Proponents say it’s a medical breakthrough that allows families to end maternally inherited health issues that have existed in their maternal lines forever; critics call it an effort to make “designer babies” free of any health issues. 

I think it’s great we found a way to eliminate maternal mitochondrial disease. This video from the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority of the UK Department of Health explains how it works. But it’s still genetic modification, and it makes me a little queasy. We’ve found a way to tinker a little more, but I don’t think we have answered the big questions around this discovery yet.

Diane Polnow will have to update her book, Baby Debate: Everything You Need to Consider Before Becoming a Parent to take this latest feat of modern science into account. She wrote the book

…to help people focus on everything they need to know BEFORE they become a parent and the first to focus on whether or not you should even have a child. This no-frills, tell-it-like-it-is book will guide you through every aspect of becoming a parent: financial, mental, emotional, relational, physical, and spiritual. A must read for anyone thinking about having children!

I wish I had read it, or some of these candid letters compiled by Lizzie Pook for Stylist Magazine from women detailing their views on motherhood (click here to read the letters) before I climbed aboard the motherhood train.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my child. She’s awesome. She’s perfect for me. She was born old. Actually, she was born very traumatically and severely oxygen-deprived, so we spent the first years of her life on intimate terms with doctors, consultants, physios, and A&E on Friday nights. Through all those hideous moments, she was calm, stoic, resilient…she survived, and then some. My husband & I poured our lives into keeping her life as normal as we could, and all discussions of a sibling were tabled.

We operated under the vague assumption that if we had one, we’d have more. Eventually. When we were sure she was better-than-OK, when we went 6 months without going to the hospital, when we went a year without going to hospital. We brought the idea back to the table when she was 5. She showed normal cognitive & physical function. She wasn’t struggling at school. But then WE needed recovery time, both emotionally & physically. I couldn’t countenance another C-section; the first one was a hack job and left me feeling violated and in pain for years after. I talked, I cried, I meditated. My friends had all gone on to have their second, and even third, children. Didn’t I want another one?

The simple answer is No. The long answer is I love my daughter & I love my life as it is. I love the person she’s made me. But I feel like the ‘parent’ element of my personality is just right, and another child would change the balance.  My baby girl asked me the other day if the discussion was off the table as ‘my eggs were probably ageing a bit’? I laughed and had to admit that it probably was. She’s disappointed because she’s the kind of child that LOVES people. She loves her cousins, her friends, their siblings. She’d make a great big sister. I feel sad that we haven’t been able to meet this want for her, but not enough to procreate. (I reserve the right to change my mind, obviously, because I’ve just got my hands on more baby pictures of my husband and darn it if I don’t want a little boy that looks just like he did as a baby!)

Whatever the answer for each of us, I am grateful for the freedom I have to make these choices, to debate the idea, and deeply feel for those who are forced into motherhood too young, against their will, or because their religion or society dictates.

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