Thursday, February 19, 2009

Go on...Guess!

My surreal Catherine Tate moment today...

'Mama, look it's Jenga Fett'

'Yes, sweetie' (not really looking at the picture being shown as am slightly distracted from lugging two small backpacks, two lunchboxes, a bag of food and an overladen handbag while trying to wrestle a rumbunctious 3 year old from his car seat).

'Do you know who his son is, mama?'

'No darling, I have no idea' (drop a backback, swear under my breath, get poked in the eye with an errant 3 year old elbow).


'I don't know'

'Just guess!'

'Er, I don't have a clue'

'Here's a clue - his dad is Jenga Fett, I told you that. Just give me a guess...'

'Honestly sweetie, I really don't know'

'I know - but just guess. Go on....guess!'


'C'mon mum, guess. Guess who it is. Just guess!'

Oh for God's sake (not really thinking anything except please shut up while I juggle all this stuff and get your brother out of the car and into the house) - 'Ok - Luke Skywalker'

(Big pause)

'Luke Skywalker? LUKE? SKYWALKER? You're not even trying. Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's dad. Everyone knows that.'

(Even bigger pause)

'Boba Fett mama. Boba Fett is Jenga Fett's son. The clue is in the name.... you weren't even trying, were you?' (utter look of disdain followed by a big tut and accompanying sigh).

Surreal Catherine Tate moment over for today.

Could have been worse. At least he didn't exclaim 'What a Fucking Liberty!' when Max & Ruby was turned off one episode earlier than promised in an effort to get them to bed early so I could research Star Wars in a little more detail.

Separation Anxiety

So I think the emotional fall-out from the marital separation is finally hitting home. For me at least, anyway. I have no other reason to explain why I am struggling so much. Feeling hopeless and helpless and lonely.

Of course, I was cripplingly lonely in the last two years of the marriage. It was like living in an emotional abyss. We lived predominantly separate lives - held together by the fragilest of threads with our enormous love for the boys and memories of happier times. It was nigh on impossible to have anything resembling a normal social life because to expose others to our toxic situation was painful for everyone concerned. So we withdrew. From friends. Even further from each other. And tried to avoid the unavoidable. Until the unavoidable, for me, became the inevitable. The only solution to having the remotest chance of living a happy life.

So why am I so miserable now?

My ex and I have a very amicable relationship - there are no more dramatic emotional outbursts or painfully tense weekends skirting around each other on egg shells. The kids seem to be more or less OK. But I'm not.

I don't miss my ex. Well, how can I...we talk everyday so he can speak to the kids and I see him several days a week (assuming he is in the country) when he is here for bath and bedtime. We are getting on as well, if not better, than to be expected. But I don't feel any emotional pull or nostalgic longing for him to be in my life on any deeper level or with any greater intimacy.

So what is it then?

I don't think I realised just how much I would miss having another adult around. It's not really the company, because we didn't really talk much apart from snipe at one another or be excessively and awkwardly cordial. I think it was just having someone else's presence who reaches past my navel. Someone taking up more than 40lbs of space. Someone there to back me up if I am having a hard day and the kids are winning the ongoing battle for who is really in control. Someone who I can rely on to help protect the kids if we ever get attacked by the knife and gun-wielding members of my new neighbourhood.

Suddenly there is no backup whatsoever. And that feels very lonely.

And not content with keeping all this misery to myself, I seem to be intent on reflecting it back to the only people that I spend all my time with...the boys.

How is this for bad parenting? I have told them, on at least three occasions over the past two weeks, that I can't deal with them waking so early any more. That I am exhausted. That no other children I know wake at this time. That I just want to leave and have them live with someone else so that I no longer have to deal with it. And if they don't start sleeping till a reasonable hour sometime soon then I will go.

Even typing that feels pretty horrific. How can I say that to them? They are emotionally fragile as it is. Dad has already gone. Now mum is threatening to walk away too. I can't believe I even think it, far less spit it out at them with a hiss through pursed lips.

I made a promise yesterday to NEVER say this to them again. And I have of course assured them that I do not mean a word of it. That I will ALWAYS be here for them. But it doesn't make me feel any better, feel any less guilt, feel any more equipped to be something resembling a whole human being capable of attending to all their needs right now.

I know this will pass. That I will adapt and get acclimitised and all that good stuff. That I will become emotionally adapted to this new stage in my life and it will feel less like I am having to fight against a strong undercurrent just to get through the days. If only that knowledge made it easier today and tomorrow and the lonely weeks ahead.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The best of intentions

Intention no. 1:

I will prepare everything for the morning the night before. This means when I wake up at the crack of dawn instead of dashing about, bleary eyed, like a blue-arsed-fly version of Worzil Gummidge I can actively engage with my children so our day gets off to a good start. We will get dressed together, eat breakfast together, brush our teeth together - all while singing silly made-up songs and having a gay ol' time.


Get woken up before the crack of dawn. Children have no intention of actively engaging with mummy in a game of 'let's all snuggle in bed together for another two hours'. Or even 'let's help mummy get dressed for a change'. They cannot be swayed from their usual routine of 'let's beat the crap out of each other with light sabers until one of us gets hurt and both of us are in tears'.

The prepared milk and cereal snacks, usually so rudely demanded before I have even thought about setting a foot out of bed, get ignored and then thrown all over the bedroom and trodden into the carpet for good measure. The lovingly prepared packed lunch for Captain Underpants gets kidnapped by Johnny Drama and strewn all over the living room. A dismantled ham sandwich decorates the sofa. The banana gets used as a telephone to call Darth Vader before being shoved into a shoe. A half chewed apple is discarded by the front door. Pirates Booty rains down over the cat tree and is instantly inhaled by both boys, so by the time they are presented with their nutritionally balanced breakfast they couldn't be less interested and ignore it completely.

Mum resorts to daily habit of hiding behind a large cup of extra-caffeinated coffee and the computer, before seeking refuge for approximately three and a half minutes in the peace and solitude of the shower.

Intention no. 2

Engage the boys in a fun game of 'short straws' to determine, without prolonged argument or whinging, who gets to sit behind mummy in the car and what we get to listen to first on the iPod.


Each boy starts to wrestle each other to the death to gain ownership of the long straw. Mum's eye is practically taken out when she foolishly attempts to intervene. Mum makes an executive decision on both the sitting and listening options and is instantly overruled by both boys, who suddenly materialise into the firmest of allies in their show of defiance. Mum caves. Arguments abound the instant the key is turned in the ignition and continue for the rest of the journey. Mum attempts to placate her mutinous crew by throwing stale sweets, found in the deepest crevice of the passenger seat from the weekend's party bag, over her shoulder at 2 minute intervals.

Intention no. 3

I will arrive at work with a positive can-do attitude and enthusiastically teach with great passion and high energy. I will eagerly volunteer to do the leg-work on a book I am potentially co-authoring with my boss.


By the time I get to work I am exhausted and feel like I have been hit with a nap hammer. I begrudgingly smudge on a little lip gloss and then plaster on a smile before going through the motions while teaching an uninspired class. I sit and natter nonsense with clients to prolong the inevitable meeting with my boss. I have great ideas about the book but realise, somewhat belatedly, that I am an ideas gal...a person with grand visions but actually no real work ethic to speak of anymore. Unless I have a role which plays to my strengths (delegation) and not my weaknesses (doing the actual work) then the whole thing is likely to go tits up.

Intention no. 4

Create a magical evening with the kids, play with them, eat a lovingly prepared Shepard's pie together, snuggle while we're watching TV, enjoy bath time, put my heart and soul into funny voices during stories and kiss them all over before saying goodnight.


The boys banish me from their games ('it's not for girls mum') so mum gladly loses herself for an hour in blogland and pretends to be busy bashing things about in the kitchen. The Shepard's pie is greeted with loud cries of 'we're not eating looks like poo...yucky!' so mum wolfs down her plate without a morsel touching the sides and then spends half an hour force feeding both boys with the promise of chocolate for desert. Whilst the boys snuggle watching Tom and Jerry for the 3000th time, mum is on her hands and knees attempting to detach minute specks of playdoh that have been ground into the living room rug.

Captain Underpants refuses to get into the bath. Johnny Drama refuses to get out. Mum refuses to play the game of 'chase me around the bedroom to get me into my pajamas' and goes for a lie down. Mum can hear the boys jumping off the beds with wild abandon, with their underpants on their heads shouting 'Let's get this party started...let's get this party started'.

Naked boys with underpants on their heads finally find mum curled up in the sanctuary of her bedroom with her head in her hands. The pajamas have been thrown onto the ceiling fan out of physical reach of anyone bar the Jolly Green Giant. Mum is risking life and limb to rescue nightwear when the doorbell rings. Mum returns after answering the door to tell the boys that a man has come to take them both to big boy jail and IF THEY DON'T GET INTO THEIR PAJAMAS AND STRAIGHT INTO BED THIS SECOND then he is coming upstairs to take them away. Mum then spends another 10 minutes reassuring two inconsolable boys that they really aren't going to get taken away and everyone has to go downstairs to check that the jail man has left the building.

Intention no. 5

I will reflect an image of sophistication and intrigue - and not answer phone the instant it rings from anticipated Date Man. I will maintain the illusion of being in constant high social demand and keep firm with my book club plans for the only evening that I have a babysitter. Whilst also possibly insinuating that I am being taken out to dinner, to the swankiest of venues no less, by another person of male origin.


The phone is checked every hour, on the hour, but no call. The phone is recharged. The phone is turned off and back on again. The phone is called from the home phone just to check there isn't a fault on the line. Still no call. Finally, at 8pm there is a text. How romantic. 'hi. how ru? how is tomorrow looking?'

Busy actually, dickhead. You really have the arrogance to believe you can just send a 7 word text - after 6 days of silence - and expect me to go on a date with you with less than 24 hours notice? Am so pissed I down half a bottle of Pino in under 15 minutes and then I am truly pissed and have the munchies. Eat 10 cubes of Cadburys, when the maximum daily allowance for a grown woman under the influence of fermented grape juice in this house is strictly 8. Ponder morosely on the meaning of life and how a guy that is an inch shorter than me, looks 10 years older than me and has a face perfect for radio has the confidence to assume that he is God's gift to women and be so laissez-faire?

Intention no. 6

Wake up tomorrow. Get through the day without killing myself or providing the children with additional material for their future therapists. Go back to bed. Repeat.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Who let the cats out? (who? who? who? who?)

So in the spirit of getting out of my comfort zone once a month I recklessly accepted an invitation to a Karaoke evening yesterday.

I have successfully avoided participating in Karaoke for over 20 years. Even in its hey day, where every bar and party featured the dreaded sound system, TV screens, microphones and books of song lists, I have never once found myself drunkenly or otherwise stepping to the fore and serenading the crowd with my dulcet tones. Yesterday that was all going to change.

I felt prepared. I have been inducted into the 'singing in public' club over the past 5 years, although my repertoire is strictly limited to Wheels on the Bus and maybe an encore of Old Macdonald. At a stretch Happy Birthday to Yoooouuuu. But still, that must count for something I reassured myself. Although my passionate rendition of these evocative and timeless tunes is usually performed with the eyes-shut-arms-outstretched stance (a la Celine Dion) I had never witnessed small children or their caregivers being forced to cover their ears and leave the room. I was confident that my talent had been honed. How could I possibly fail to wow the crowd?

The first challenge was staying awake late enough for the event to start. It is not typical for my evenings to start at 9pm...given my early starts I am more likely to be heading up the wooden hill to beddy-bye's land. Ever the professional, I had a coffee at 3pm and then topped up the caffeine levels with a diet coke around 7pm. Okay, feeling a bit perkier now.

The second challenge was choosing an outfit. Actually, that's not true. The challenge was getting into my outfit, which was going to require at the very least a stick of butter, a shoe horn and a lot of breathing in. I have these new jeans you see. They're a little bit more 'fitted' than I am used to. The phrases 'leaving nothing to the imagination' and 'camel toe' spring to mind. No wonder my wardrobe is a mess now I'm single. I am so easily seduced by a 'half-off' sale sticker and the over-enthusiastic sales pitch of a 50 year old male sales assistant exclaiming 'they're rockin'!' than how the item actually looks in the mirror or whether I can physically walk, sit, breath when wearing it. It took me a good 10 minutes to persuade the jeans over my thighs in the changing room and the only reason I persevered is that I had reached a point where I knew it would take just as long, if not longer, to peel them off. When, after laying on the floor in an effort to inch the button just a tad closer to the button hole, I finally succeeded I approached the sales guy to ask for a larger size. It took me quite some time to make this approach. It's difficult to walk when your legs are poured into an unrelenting organic denim casing as unforgiving as sheet steel.

There was no larger size. And so the sales spiel began in earnest. 'Oh my, they fit you perfectly - that's exactly how they are supposed to look. You certainly don't want them to be any bigger on you'. Well, yes, I do actually. I can't perform the most basic of physical functions and my legs look like a couple of over stuffed sausages. The waistband is so tight it is already forming a welt and I am about to be garroted at the hip. If I were to risk sitting down I would cut off all circulation from the pelvis downwards and have no feeling in my legs. But there was no smaller size - and these were half price for goodness sake (never being one to resist a bargain). I consoled myself that the phrase 'mutton dressed as lamb' still hasn't really taken off in Chicago and, if I ever dared to wear the jeans in public, I might generate many a raised eyebrow but at least I wouldn't hear echoes of BAAAAAAA in my wake.

I finally had them on and surveyed myself critically in the mirror. They looked ridiculous. Whatever. They were on now and I didn't have the fight left in me to remove them. I chucked a short dress over the top, confident that at some point in the evening the undoing of the button would be required - to enable me to breath and to prevent said button ricocheting off during my performance and taking out an innocent bystanders eye. I dollied myself up - covering up all signs of sleep deprivation with a tube of heavy duty foundation and quietly thanking the heavens and stars that the venue would be dimly lit. I was ready. Fame, fortune and vocal adoration were surely just a matter of hours away...

The evening didn't quite progress as I had envisioned in my (over active) mind. I had planned to consume a fair amount of liquid confidence before being persuaded to the stage, but within 10 minutes of arriving I had been dragged to the mic for a duet of the Pet Shop Boys 'West End Girls'. This would not have been my first choice of song. Or my second. Or even my 100th. But a part of me thought 'oh for God's sake, get up there and give it what for woman. How bad can it be?'

Good question. Answer? Bad. Very bad. Finger nails on a chalkboard bad. Similar to Lorraine Chase singing wildly-out-of-tune-on-crack bad. But worse. Much, much worse.

Turns out I am not much of a singer and there is a reason why I have avoided Karaoke like the plague for all of my adult life. I. Am. Rubbish. Make no bones about it, I cannot carry a tune at all. It has been verified beyond a shadow of a doubt, and with the added testimony of many witnesses, that my 'dulcet' tones should at no point in time be amplified over a sound system and exposed to a public audience. On reflection, whilst I hate to be negative and describe any new venture as a disaster, I don't think it was a sound move (boom! boom!) towards my current goal of making new friends and potentially snaring a man. Unless they were deaf.

Still - nothing ventured nothing gained (and it really was a case of nothing gained). I wonder what I will do to make a fool out of myself next month?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Show me the way to go home

My ex is due to be away on business for 3 weeks from tomorrow - and I think Captain Underpants is concerned that he is never coming back. He has been exceptionally clingy this week and wants his dad around all the time. He also wants his dad to move back home, which is heartbreaking to hear, tho I guess it is better that he is voicing his feelings so we get to reassure him how much we love him and are still there for him. But it is not enough. I'm not sure his desire to have us all together as a family will ever change. Jesus - I would still love to have my parents together and they got divorced nearly 30 years ago. But it hurts that he is sad and I feel guilty that I can't magically make his wish come true.

And I'm not sure whether it is just the time of year or the time of the month but I am seriously homesick and just want to move back to the UK.

This is not a new yearning. I have been homesick and have wanted to move home for - oh - about six years now. Only now it is a bit more complicated. You see, I can't move home. At least not with the kids anyway. Which in effect means I can't move home.

According to Illinois State law I have no right to remove my children from the state without written permission and a legal residency agreement from their father. And because he does not want to go anywhere (unless you count the 3 week work trip to Hong Kong, China and the UK of course) and does not want his children to go anywhere, I am trapped. If I do up sticks and move home with the boys I am breaching the Hague Convention and would be charged with kidnapping. This is not something that I was made aware of before living with the children in the US and, as you can imagine, it came as quite a shocker.

And by the way, this doesn't just apply to children born in the US. It applies to all children who have lived, in Illinois at least, for six months and a day. After this they automatically become wards of State, irrespective of their birth place and nationality, which comes into effect if the parents separate or divorce and one parent wants to move out of state against the wishes of the other. I understand that this is done to protect the children. And potentially to try to prevent instances of children being taken by one parent, moved to another country and never to be seen again.

But still. It is a little galling when it applies to me.

This information was confirmed by both a US Attorney and a UK Solicitor - it appears there are no loopholes and only lengthy and costly legal procedures that MIGHT grant me this right, which takes at the very least two years to process with no guarantee of the outcome. The only guarantee I can foresee is that we would be bankrupt and our current amicability would be lost amongst the legal jargon and predictable 'he said / she said' versions of events. This route is never going to create loving bonds and generate a sense of long-term family care and affection, is it?

Oh what a mess.

When we separated last year I agreed to stay in Chicago until December 2009. And my ex verbally agreed that he would not prevent me from moving back to the UK, with the boys, if I decided I still wanted to leave after that. But if he changes his mind I am snookered. Up the Swanney without a paddle. Or maybe just in Lake Michigan with no life raft. However you look at it, it's a pretty vulnerable position and involves a huge element of trust on my part. All he has to do in the next year is to fall in love with some American bird, change his mind and I am done for. Or make no effort to transfer his job to the UK and plead work commitments, promotion opportunities and potential bonus losses - which is much more likely.

Although it has occurred to me that this might happen to me too...tho much less likely, on both fronts.

And because moving back to England isn't really an option right now, I guess I want it all the more. Which is strange because I was the one that wanted to move here in the first place - and I was the one that acclimatised quickly and made friends. Odd to think that the ambition that I really strived for - to live abroad for a while - has now come back to bite me firmly on the bum.

I think the reason for my acute sense of homesickness at this point in time is that I am lonely. It seems to be one long struggle to make friends and an even harder struggle to keep them. I have made some fantastic friends but in all honesty most of the women that I have connected to have been Brits and most of them have sodded back to the UK without a backward glance. Which is not much help to me right now. My one amazing American friend is relocating to California in June. I'm not sure what I am going to do when she is gone. I try not to think about it. It's not as though there are women lined up ready and willing to take her place and true friendships take time and effort to cultivate. Most of the women that I am friendly with (distinct difference) all seem to have other friends and social commitments that take precedence over hanging out with me. Plus most of them are happily married and my new gooseberry status doesn't fit easily into these happy couple social circles.

The phrase 'she's just not that into me' has sprung to mind more and more of late.

It seems it is just as hard to find a good girlfriend as it is to find a boyfriend - and whilst I have a bigger pool to fish in now (i.e. other mums) it doesn't mean that I am magically going to 'connect' with them. Or, as has been my experience of late, that they are going to magically 'connect' with me.

*pause: sorry, just taking time for a little pity party right now. I try not to exceed 15 minutes a day and this seems an opportune moment to get my daily quota in.

I think the true heart of the problem is that my friends at home are so amazing, so smart, so multi-talented and insightful in every way that it is nigh on impossible for other women to compete. These are women that I have known for over 20 years. We have grown up together: moved in with boyfriends, got married, got divorced, got remarried, had kids, had good money times and bad money times, good health and bad, been through all the highs and lows and supported each other without question throughout. They are my soul sisters. They 'get' me and...although I don't quite understand how sometimes...still like me. Love me even. And I love and admire them immensely and am so very grateful for their friendship. They're the best.

And as I can't be there, I just wish they were here. Preferably with a few chilled bottles of white and a huge tub of Haagen Daz at the ready. Oh - and maybe a popcorn shrimp or two.

But as this just isn't going to happen maybe I am going to have to bite the bullet and set up my own 15 minute speed dating version of 'meet a mate'. There has to be a market for it surely? And even if I don't meet any new friends, at least I will be too busy and occupied to continue to feel this trapped and be this lonely for very much longer.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The mothers of angels

On a beautiful sunny day, 6 years ago this summer, I gave birth to my first son. I never thought I would have a summer baby - especially since my due date was early January. Rather ironically I gave birth on 'labor day' in Chicago - a spectacularly busy day in delivery wards. Nothing to do with celestial alignment or the position of the moon or even mere fluke. Mainly because it is fairly common for American moms-to-be to arrange to be induced before the end of August. This ensures the baby gets into school a year ahead of his/her would-be peers who are unfortunate enough to be born after 1st September. I kid you not.

So the hospital was jam-packed when I was wheeled, screaming and crying hysterically, through the corridors after my water had broken at nearly 22 weeks. I had actually been in labour for the past 24 hours. Not that anyone seriously believed me because the contractions weren't registering very clearly on the monitor. My cervix was slowly effacing - I had no idea what that meant at the time. Obviously hadn't spent quite enough time watching A Baby Story. My condition had the specialists stumped - it wasn't incompetent cervix - and it became apparent early on that there was nothing they could do except monitor me and see what happened. I may only have read the first half of the font of all pregnancy knowledge - What To Expect When You're Expecting - but even so it was pretty clear after my waters broke that this pregnancy was rapidly coming to an end. And so, as a result, was my baby.

To say I was in a state of denial and shock doesn't really do justice to the overwhelming feeling of powerlessness and disbelief. There was no way on this earth this could be happening to me. To my baby. Surely I was having an out-of-body experience and had somehow fallen into a parallel universe, where all your worst nightmares and fears come true. This simply could NOT BE HAPPENING TO ME.

The fact that everyone around me seemed so calm and in control served to make my hysteria even more pronounced. I had one arm wrapped around my tummy and the other hand beseechingly grabbing at any Doctor or nurse near me. 'Please don't make me kill my baby....please, please don't make me kill my baby' I begged over and over again. I'd had enough chats with the specialists over the past 24 hours to know that, if the worst came to the worst, no medical efforts were going to be made to keep my baby alive. It wasn't hospital policy. The baby was too young. Given another week and maybe...but at just under 22 weeks, no chance.

Within a matter of minutes and two half-hearted pushes (that I tried so very hard to resist), my baby was born. I felt it slowly slide out of my body and thought my world had come to an end. I was totally empty. 'Don't look at it' I begged my husband - frightened for both of us at what we might see. Only hours before we had watched the baby on the ultrasound, sucking its thumb, wiggling about abit, clearly comfortable and settled and with no intention of going anywhere. But that two-dimensional black and white grainy television show didn't equate at all to our real baby - who had been safe one minute and was doomed the next.

'You have a boy. Would you like to hold your son?' the gentle Doctor holding my hand asked kindly. I nodded numbly. I'd read somewhere, in an article that I never thought would be relevant to me, that this was a good thing to do - was a healthy part of the process that would assist with the inevitable grieving that would follow. It was the last thing that I wanted but I didn't want to change my mind a few days later and for that opportunity to be lost forever. He was placed in my arms - and my whole world changed again.

He was perfect. Totally tiny of course, but absolute perfect. My husband and I gazed at him in awe. Our son. Oh my God. He was amazing. Beautiful. 'Hi' I whispered and felt filled with love and complete peace and joy. Here was my son. I was a mum. It felt indescribable. Wonderful. I cradled him close - watching him stick out his tongue. His eyes were still fused shut but I knew that he saw me. He grasped my husband's finger and the rest of the room blurred as we sat in harmony with the child we had created together. Time stopped and we simply absorbed the moment. I knew in that instant I would be forever grateful for having him in my life. We lived a lifetime with him in the two precious hours we had together. The nurses presented us with a keepsake card created for all newborns - complete with tiny ink footprints. He was real. He was here. He was ours. He was loved beyond measure. There was no sense of sadness and no sense of loss. Just a feeling of wholeness and light that is hard to describe.

And those are the moments that I strived to recreate in the months and years it took to mourn him. The knowledge that, even when thinking of him provoked such physical pain and frustration, he was - and is - without doubt one of the greatest gifts of my life.

Today I wouldn't change a single thing about that day and about the outcome. If I was given a choice not to experience the birth and death of my first baby I would fight tooth and nail to do it all over again. To never have met him at all? That would have been a far greater loss. On the scale of human emotions I experienced them all through him - from blinding, total joy to absolute heartbreak and sorrow. He was worth it all and more.

The reason for this reflective post is that in the past 6 years I have been stunned by the number of friends, or friends of friends, who are now 'mothers of angels' (sounds a bit softer than 'dead babies'). These include a best friend whose first son was stillborn just three months after mine and another friend whose second son died shortly after birth due to a heart defect. There have been more. Only last week a friend in my book club gave birth to twins at just under 22 weeks. A boy and a girl. My heart goes out to her and her husband. There is, without doubt, a long journey ahead for them.

There were two things that I found inexplicably hard during my journey. The first was not being recognised as a mother. I didn't bring a baby home and I didn't have a baby to care for, therefore I wasn't really part of the club. In MY heart and mind I was totally part of the club - but being the mother of a dead baby isn't something that most people are able to recognise and identify with, much less celebrate.

Nowadays I am a paid up, totally legit, bonefida member complete with two healthy living children. But I continue to struggle sometimes with the fact that my first son is an invisible part of my family. Many people have no idea of his existence - although he was as real as Captain Underpants and Johnny Drama. I am the mother of three sons - not just the two that have been sent to this earth to wake me at the crack of dawn every day and fray my nerves to within an inch of being committed. My immediate 'family' will always have a minimum of 5 people in it - not just the 4 that are still living.

To all of the people I know who have also experienced this tragic 'gift' in their lives, you can be assured that I, for one, will continue to remember and see your babies as a part of your family. Always.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Captain (Ch)underpants

There always seems to be a predictive correlation between the times I throw caution to the wind and have a (relatively) late night mid-week and the amount of disturbed sleep that then results. Take last night as an example.

I was supposed to be out. Ended up staying in. And just stayed up late, reading blogs and watching movies, for the sheer decadence of it. By the time I got to bed I was totally relaxed and ready for sleep. Within 5 minutes of my head hitting the pillow, and just as I am heading off to happy-la-la-land, I hear it. The sound of coughing. Fairly violent coughing. Coughing that indicates that something else is on its way. Oh no. Really? REALLY??

I spring out of bed towards the kids bedroom and see Captain Underpants already in the bathroom, just beginning to violently wretch and throw up. Now I have a fair amount of experience with this situation. Even when ex and I were living together I was always on sick duty. Well not initially. But it soon became apparent that he was far more of a hindrance than a help. Seems he has an extremely sensitive gag reflex - resulting in muggins here having double the vomit to deal with whenever he did voluntarily join the emergency-throw-up-care-team.

I admit my first thought when assessing this nocturnal activity wasn't particularly motherly. Along the lines of, 'Oh no, there goes my chance of a good night's sleep' (but with a few more unrepeatable expletives mixed in).

Poor ol' Captain (Ch)underpants. He seemed to be bringing up at least a week's worth of food, with a few internal organs thrown in for good measure. But here's the thing. He did not make a blind bit of fuss. Up it all came. Again. And again. And again. And when he had finished depositing his own body weight down the loo we simply wiped his mouth, he had a sip of water, went back to bed and straight to sleep.

I placed a big bowl by his bed, along with some more water, and retreated warily back to bed, certain I would be up and down like a yo-yo all night long. I made a little checklist in my mind, convinced there would ultimately be the need for towels, linen changes, clean up equipment (a scoop and a hose sprang to mind) and fresh pj's at some point in the early hours. I finally drifted back off to sleep, programming my brain and limbs to respond to the slightest sound so I could minimise the requirement of the checklist (I was thinking specifically the scoop and the hose).

However, I have either become a very deep sleeper (unlikely - my neighbours can drop a pin 3 doors down and I wake and remain on high alert for the next noisy interruption of my slumber) or I have given birth to the stealth vomiter. I checked on Captain (Ch)underpants twice in the night - to find both the loo and the bowl full of...well, you know what it was full of. And he was sleeping soundly. There was no mess. There had been no noise. It was both gratifying and heart breaking at the same time. Bless his heart. At 5 years old he was handling being ill with far more grace and considerably less fuss than I am able to.

I dread being sick. I will physically hold it off for as long as humanly possible, until my body gives me no remaining alternative. Then I am like a woman deranged. There is, it goes without saying, the puking. But this is compounded by the addition of snot and tears. Usually many tears. And whimpering. And pathetic baby-like calls for my mum. It appears I cannot play a truly active role in this scenario without reverting back to childhood, crying like a baby and needing my mum.

Which is why the situation with Captain (Ch)underpants is so perplexing to me. He experiences the similar torture of needing his mum on a grand scale sometimes on a daily basis. But for the most trivial of things. For example, his world falls apart upon discovering that his bag of gummi bears does not contain a single green bear. To him that is a situation that provokes 'Oh My God the world is at an end' hysterics compounded by snot and tears and pathetic baby-like calls for his mum.

But when he has a cold, a fever, is literally sick to his stomach he weathers it all without any complaint.

Is this a form of sixth sense? Maybe he intuitively knows that his mother has no natural Florence Nightingale qualities to speak of (as her mother before her)? I really don't have the patience for sickness in anyone, irrespective of the severity. Even for myself. Being ill was never tolerated for more than, at most, 6 hours in our household when I was younger and I guess I carry a lot of that inherent, but unintentional, baggage with me to this day (as my sister will readily verify - thanks Debs).

Or is it that his first two years of life were spent coping with an inordinate amount of needles and tubes, coupled with numerous surgeries, chest ports, abdominal catheters followed by weeks of recuperation and blood tests... that throwing his guts up or having a fever of 104 is really just a walk in the park?

My first indication of his natural stoic behaviour came when he was nearly two. All was fine in our world. It was a beautiful sunny day and we were enjoying a lovely afternoon in our communal condo garden with the neighbours. The kids were all running through sprinklers in underwear or nappies and the adults were all half cut, drinking watery beer (American...need I say more?) in very hot weather. One thoughtful 'mom' (oh yeah, that was me) had provided the biggest bowl of succulent water melon slices for everyone to snack on. Captain (Ch)underpants was particularly fond of watermelon and consumed a fair quantity for a little scrap of a thing. Nothing unusual in that. He has always preferred fruit to most other foods, including chocolate or sweets. He does not take after his mother in this respect either, who is currently scarffing down a huge bar of Cadbury's - true - despite there being a fridge and bowl full of fruit nearby. To admit she hasn't had her 5-a-day for a week would be generous because if truth be told it's probably closer to 5 years.

Now, where was I? Oh yes. Back to the summer-in-the-garden scenario.

In my slightly inebriated haze it took me a little while to realise, from the wide eyed stares of the neighbours, that something a little out of the ordinary was occurring during our little sojourn. Suddenly the haze cleared and I realised that Captain (Ch)underpants was gaily running amok with his little buddies having the time of his life, whilst simultaneously projectile vomiting half-digested pink watermelon chunks all over the lawn. Honest to God, the boy did not break his stride once.

I wasn't sure whether to be horrified (like all the neighbours) or seriously impressed. But admit I verged towards the impressed. Wish I could say that ex and I were joined in our admiration of our son's ability to not let being ill get in his way of having a good time - but he was too busy retching into the nearby bushes while I retrieved both the scoop and the hose.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

From One Mother to Another

I was meant to be out tonight. Nothing majorly exciting. Which became even less exciting when ex got caught in a late meeting and wasn't able to come over to 'babysit'. I wasn't devastated. It was seriously cold outside and all the internal emotional drama of the past 24 hours had left me feeling a little wiped.

I'd had the most lovely evening with Captain Underpants and Johnny Drama - which I feel I owe in part to More Than Just a Mother, because after reading her lovely post today I felt so connected and peaceful with my boys. Bath and bedtime was almost dreamlike. It wouldn't have been outside the realms of reality for a sappy Hallmark Movie director to have leapt out from behind the humidifier at any moment yelling 'that's it - keep it going, lovely, lovely, more smiley eye contact, okay boys just a few more giggles please, snuggle just a little bit more butterfly kiss - perfect! And....CUT!'

(As an aside, how lovely is this....Captain Underpants told me in all seriousness that 'I love you so much mama that my heart could float right out of my body. I love everyone in the whole wide world. Even in Engerland'. Johnny Drama, not to be left out of the love fest added 'And I love you. And all my family. And even all of my friends - big pause - And dragons.')

We just had one of those evenings together that make EVERYTHING worth it.

So I curled up on the sofa feeling all gooey and smiley, looking forward to an evening of sap on the tv. I got a little more than I bargained for. Have you seen the movie The Waitress? Fantastic movie, which I have actually seen several times. If you haven't seen it then you really must. (If nothing else you will get great ideas for pie recipes but you're likely to get so, so much more.) The movie stars Keri Russell and was written, directed by and co-starred actress Adrienne Shelly, who plays ditzy waitress Dawn. The movie is funny, insightful and delightfully unique - a reflection of this woman's talent, perception and humour...and her deep understanding of a mother's love. Unfortunately, Adrienne (the mother of a 3 yr old daughter) was murdered, before the movie was released, by an intruder and never got to experience the films success.

It makes me all the more grateful for days like today and for simply being alive to hear how my son's heart floats out of his body with love for me. I can't describe what it does to my heart - there are no words.

Thanks More Than Just A Mother. And thank you Adrienne. From one mother to another.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Mountains out of Molehills

So the boys were with their dad this weekend and for 48 hours I was responsible for only my activities, my emotions, my food and my preferred sleep patterns. There were no cartoons on the tv and no inane songs or stories playing on the iPod. It was pretty blissful. I feel a little guilty about how much I enjoy my weekends without them but I know they enjoy the time with their dad and so I try to make the most of it rather than angst over what a bad parent I must be to not even miss them a smidgeon.

Soon it was Sunday afternoon and time to pick them up. I felt a little knot begin to tighten in my stomach. Sometimes the weight of responsibility of being back in sole charge is a little scary. There is an inexplicable mix of dread and excitement at returning to single mum mode. I tried to shake the feeling off - the last thing I wanted to do is to turn up with a face like a wet weekend, as though I hadn't been waiting with baited breath for this moment from the minute they departed on Friday night. I'm sure it's not going to do wonders for their self-esteem to get an insight into how much I skip around the house when they're not there.

And of course as soon as I see them my breath is taken away by their beauty and exhuberence and sheer perfection. My boys. God I love them.

As soon as I arrive they go into full blown hyper mode - leaping about like mini druggies on speed. All wild eyed and talking a mile a minute gibberish. Their dad is not so chipper. In fact he is distinctly churlish and within a couple of minutes of my arrival has dragged both boys off to the naughty corner for leaning over the arm of his sofa and saying the word poop. I feel the knot in my stomach return with a vengeance. There's lots of shouting. Both boys are crying and of course I do the adult thing and support their dad, all the while thinking Oh for God's sake please chill out. Everything about the situation is tense and ackward and filled with unspoken anger and resentment. I keep my mouth shut while ex stomps about and do my best to keep my voice light and cheery while helping the boys clear the table, pack their favourite toys, get their coats and shoes on. I remembered weekends when we were all living together being like this with absolute clarity. I couldn't help but be grateful that I was no longer in that situation. I wondered if this is how it had been all weekend and felt guilty that I had handed them over without a backward glance.

Why are we like this as a family, as parents, I wondered on the way home? What is the catalyst? Why has there always been so much tension? Have I instigated this behaviour or has he? I am certainly no stranger to shouting or over-reacting to the boys behaviour. I probably exhibit the exact same tendencies as ex that I find so abhorent to witness. It all felt very sad.

This morning when ex called to speak to the boys I asked him if everything was okay - that he seemed a little tense yesterday. Was he alright? Yes, he replied, he was fine. He's just pissed because the boys spend the first night and day with him completely acting up and having to be constantly disciplined. After 24 hours they begin to behave and listen and co-operate...and of course when I turn up it all goes pear shaped again. I listened and then said that I thought we ought to cut the boys a little slack - that this back and forth arrangement is still pretty new to them and is a big adjustment. Even though they both seem to be adapting well they're too young to be able to articulate their emotions. These outbursts of slightly rebellious behaviour are possibly a reflection of that.

But I know it's more than that - I know it is a difference in parenting style and boundaries that is becoming more and more polar. I am slightly more relaxed about the boys (bad) behaviour than ex is. Do I want them to jump all over the sofa, using 'potty' words with gay abandon? No. Of course not. But is it high on my list of discipline priorities? I have to admit it is not. They do get told to SIT ON THE SOFA IT'S NOT A CLIMBING FRAME YOU KNOW! The poo-poo, bum, butt, wee-wee head references just tend to get ignored (isn't this natural tendency to toilet humour just an inherent male gene that they never grow out of anyway?). I don't encourage it and I do remind them it's not acceptable but unless they are shouting it at me as an insult then the naughty step/thinking corner/get to your room options all seem a little extreme. They will grow out of it. They're only 3 and 5 right now and I am happy to pick my battles and try to use my energy either distracting or giving them the attention that they are seeking in that moment.

This is such a small thing - a molehill really. So why does it feel like a mountain? Why do I feel so on edge and jittery over such a small thing? It should be pretty easy to discuss this as parents and agree common ground rules for both houses, so the boys see we are on the same page and their transition between us both is easier. But the point is it's not. Nothing about this situation is easy. It is ackward and chock-full of layer upon layer of emotions that lay simmering under the surface.

Still. If everything in life were easy then where would be the sense of accomplishment? I still have a utopian vision of a loving and integrated family for our future and I will do everything that I can to make it happen. Starting tomorrow. Tonight I am going to sit and stew a little more and pray for divine guidance in resolving our molehills. Wish me luck.