Saturday, December 25, 2010

Ho. Ho. Bloody Ho.

So that's another Christmas over and done with.  Well, nearly.  And thank God (or Jesus, perhaps?) for that.  There WILL come a time when it is a day I look forward to and truly celebrate again...and not just dread for weeks and then limp through wanly with a drag queen smile plastered on my face.

At least I got to spend most of the day with my boys, for which I guess I should be very grateful.

They went to their dads the night before Christmas Eve.  The arrangement Ex and I have had for the past 2 years (this is our 3rd Christmas since we separated) is that we would always spend Christmas and their birthdays together.  This was a principle that I insisted upon, because I had always hated the fact that as a child, ever since my parents divorced, we were never able to celebrate a single event together as a family.  And I have always wished that was different.  Christmas and birthdays were never the same again with one parent always absent.

How ironic then, that I seem to be the one struggling the most following through with our agreement.  This year I just wanted to run screaming for the hills rather than face a day with Ex, painfully aware of my every move, gesture and word in his presence.  Unable to relax for a single moment and conscious of every forced conversation - trying, oh so hard, to be polite and cheerful and natural.  There felt nothing natural about my performance today.  By the time I left, feeling guilty about leaving the boys before their bedtime, I was emotionally wrought and physically exhausted.

Of course, it didn't help that plans had, unbeknownst to me, changed from those we had agreed upon over the 'phone a week ago.  Ex confirmed he was going to be alone with the boys - and I was to join them.  I enquired about AG's plans, to a non-commital response, so I took a deep breath and suggested she should join us in the afternoon - and then late afternoon I would leave them to it.

I wake up in my friend's beautiful home and spend an hour with her family, the children tearing their way through the piles of presents while the adults sip coffee and take pains to avoid the dreaded video camera.  My friend has bought me luxurious gifts and written a card that almost has me in tears.  Part of me just wants to hole up in their house all day and another part of me is itching to see the boys.

Before 9am I drive to Ex's home and, of course, who is the first voice I hear before the door is open?  It's her.  She's there.  She's woken up with my children on Christmas morning and is seemingly going to be there all day.  As I stand on the threshold to the house (where I can hear my boys leaping over each other to be the first to the door, to let mummy in) I can feel my blood pressure sky rocket and there is practically steam coming out of my ears.  I am instantly livid to the point of turning puce and feel totally ambushed.  What a disrespectful fucker.  Why couldn't he have warned me?  My little two year old self wanted to have an almighty tantrum.  The teenager in me was in a monumental huff.  Luckily my adult self managed to seize control before the door opened and I was able to stuff my bitch face grimace into the waistband of my control top tights (really, there is nothing that can escape those buggers) and plaster a Happy Christmas smile on my face.

Watch out for the Oscar nomination, folks, in January.  I'm telling you, it's definitely on the cards this year.

There were hugs all round, but I couldn't look Ex in the eye.  Far be it from me to confront the issue and effectively 'spoil the day'.  Ex and AG cooked breakfast, while the boys showed me the gifts they had already unwrapped in their stockings.  AG was as pleasant as ever (I really can't find one single person to say a bad word about her - even those that have made it their life's ambition to nitpick the hell out of anybody and everybody - which is just so damned irritating, isn't it?).  I didn't have much of an appetite (actually not true - I pretended not to be hungry purely to be petulant and because this whole sitting around the table, 'breaking bread together' still makes me feel like a bit of a though I am somehow being made a fool of by being so compliant with AG in our lives).

After breakfasts, we opened gifts.  And I guess that is when I started to relax and accept the new version of Christmas v.2010.  Of course, the focus was completely on the boys and they were so overjoyed with everything that they opened, it was easy to be distracted.  AG and I sat near each other, but I still can't bring myself to initiate a conversation directly with her.  There is not a single molecule in my body that can feign any interest whatsoever in her life and adventures with my (soon to be ex) husband.  It's all just a little too close to home.  But her presence does make things a little easier between Ex and I.  A buffer.  I try hard not to scrutinise her too closely and formulate questions in my head, like "WHY does he prefer you, exactly?" and "are you a bit of an animal in bed, because I just can't picture that myself?"  I wonder if she thinks the same about me?  Probably not.  Hence the preference, possibly.

The boys bounce all over me, like over grown puppies, lavishing me with affection and insisting that I help out with their new lego projects.  AG has bought me a book that I wanted and written a thoughtful card, thanking me for letting her be a part of the boys birthdays and Christmas.  I have bought her a bag full of Lush goodies from the boys, which seems to go down well.  It's all very civil, verging on pleasant.

Then, unexpectedly, AG leaves to see her family.  I am relieved - yet it is far more awkward without her around.  The next few hours are strange.  As though we are playing happy families.  I keep laughing and joking with the boys, but inside I feel lost at sea and lonely - in their house, surrounded by pictures of their happy coupledom.  I spot a picture of AG and the boys in their bedroom and it instantly fans the flames of jealousy and resentment.  Am I wrong to feel it's a liberty?  How would he feel if the situation was reversed?  Even after 2 years of separation, it still feels way too soon to accept this other woman's place in the boys lives.  I can't stand seeing the physical evidence of all the things that they do together.  It smarts like a fresh wound all over again.  I just ache to leave - not the boys, but definitely this home where I do not belong.  Where I have no place at all.

Late afternoon, I decide to leave.  The boys are sad and ask me to stay.  They want me to sleep over.  How much do they understand of this situation, I wonder?  Do they see us making an effort to get along and think....maybe?  Maybe if we just nudge the situation a little, our family will be reinstated.  At Christmas.

I feel guilty as I kiss them goodbye.  Their hugs are reluctant and I know I am letting them down by not staying longer.  By not having the strength to see this day out to the bitter end.  I leave, berating myself internally, and struggling not to cry as I drive away in the snow.  It's just another day and I have done the best that I could.  But, yet again, I don't think it's been good enough.

It's just not how Christmas should be - but it will be the last one of its kind.  That's the intention.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Six Sleeps and Counting

Okay - probably ought to preface this post by saying I am a little teensy, weensy bit drunk (and intending to get slaughtered...but only after I have hit "publish post".  God this chardonnay is like drinking liquid butter).

So it was the boys' last day at school.  I am dealing with all these goodbyes on autopilot.  I know the tears are being stored up to be shed later (hopefully they are being stored in my increasingly ample thighs, which will shrink to microscopic proportions when the tears are finally set free...fingers crossed).

I have been dreading this day, but it ended up being very civilised, verging on anti-climatic.  There were no street banners, streamers let loose from the roof or marching bands.  It was just like any other end of term day, with the exception that both boys received beautiful hand made scrap books from their classes as a memento.  We have been pouring over them since we arrived home.  No doubt, I will be able to commit each page to memory within the next 24 hours.  But the boys have taken it all in their stride and don't seem to truly appreciate that this was their last ever day at this school.  Or maybe they do and I have just raised a couple of heartless little buggers?  Time will tell.

This school has been such a huge part of my life for the past four years.  A lifeline, much of the time.  I know their class mates so well and have meaningful relationships with many of the parents.  Strange to think this life will continue without us.  I am going to miss it.

The boys are so focused on Christmas right now, that nothing seems to be particularly phasing them.  Which is a good thing.  We went to a Christmas party at the weekend and, of course, Santa was there.  Even at the ages of 5 and 7, they are still a little intimidated by Santa.  Almost reverent.  Mind you, that's a darn sight better than a few years ago, when they regarded Santa as a combination of the Abominable Snow Man and Jack the Ripper, judging by the screams and tears whenever we attempted to sit them on his knee for the obligatory photo.  Now, they are quiet and serious and in total awe.  Is this the last Christmas that they will believe?  I hope not.  Even though this year's Santa was wearing a coat and hat trimmed with pink fur (me thinks someone unintentionally boil washed his suit, making the colours run...such a novice mistake, don't you think?) and fake 'pleather' booties, they were totally convinced he was The Real Deal.  At the end of their little sojourn with Santa they both received a little bell on red ribbon, which both delighted and convinced them even more than ever.  Just the previous night we had read The Polar Express for the first time, so the bell had particular poignancy.  I couldn't have planned it better myself.

Of course, all this awe and reverence quickly faded once a carton of apple juice hit their stomachs and they ended the party by being accomplices in the smashing of a small, cracked window.  Nice.  A couple of hoodlums, I'm telling you.  I, quite frankly, didn't make much of a better impression by yelling "FUCK!" in a foyer full of joyful parents and children, when the heavy outer door handle swung with some force and hit me on the hip.  Really.  You can't take us anywhere.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

In a State of Denial

So the past few weeks have been manic.

The final two weeks of November I was simply packing like a woman possessed.  And, although I say so myself, really - I should turn professional.  I think I might have found my true calling.  There was no sentiment attached to the appraisal of every inanimate object before making a split second decision on pack/donate/bin.  I am the Queen of sorting out tat.  And boy, even after the cull I did in the summer, we still seemed to have accrued mountains of it.

Well, not any more.  With any luck I will be unpacking a shipment of 113 items (don't ask me how it is that many...but the last minute purchase of essential sleds and skateboards didn't help) safe in the knowledge that every item swathed in acres of paper is essential to my London existence.  I wonder how long it will take me to accumulate fresh hordes of unnecessary tat to fill every cupboard and drawer?  Despite my best intentions I am hedging my bets and guessing April, at the very latest.

Packing my clothes, for what could be up to 2 months, presented the biggest dilemma.  I resolved the issue of what single pair of boots to wedge in the case by the age old technique of "ippa-dippa-dation-my-operation-how-many-people-at-the-station?"  It's not the most scientific technique available.   Or the most effective, because there isn't a single day that has gone by that I don't rue the pair I should have selected instead.  How on earth did I think this pair of boots was The One?  Oh well.  I guess if this is the extent of my packing regrets, I haven't done too badly.

In fact, everything went accordingly to plan except for one thing.  The most important thing.  The cat.  Yes, after all the cat drama and trauma of the past few weeks you would think I had had my fill for the year and that, by rights, everything regarding my surviving cat, Bert, should have been tickety-boo.  This was not the case.

He was successfully collected by the specialist pet shipper, I handed over all the relevant paperwork and waved a tearful goodbye.  How am I going to get through the next 48 hours, I thought to myself, until I know he is safely at my dad's?  Oh famous last thoughts.  If only it had turned out to be just 48 hours of concern.  Turns out there is a minor discrepancy in his rabies certifications, which means he needs to endure 6 months of quarantine.  I still can't think about it without feeling sick and distraught way beyond the point of tears.  I have investigated every avenue and potential solution (of course) but there is no alternative aside from shipping him back to Chicago.  So as I type he is currently imprisoned in a farm in Essex, being looking after by a very caring woman called Kim and her team.  My dad visited last week and said he was purring up a storm and seemed in good health.  But still.  It is the last thing I wanted for him and I am mad as hell at the vet and the customs bureaucrats...but, most of all, myself.

It's sod's law that something had to go awry at the last minute.  But I really wish it had been something other than the cat being effectively punished by my desire to move.

I am now safely encamped at a close friend's beautiful house in one of the nicest neighbourhoods in Chicago.  This was not the wisest idea, on reflection, because I am enjoying myself so much that leaving is the last thing on my mind.  In fact, I am in a total state of denial about the fact that I will be boarding a plan in just 10 days time, possibly never to return.  I just can't think about it.  I don't have the emotional capacity to face the enormity of this move in any shape or form.  So for the most part I am simply ignoring it, pretending nothing remotely out of the ordinary is on the horizon and specifically avoiding friends incase we get caught up in a frenzy of sentimental goodbyes that crack my "I am handling this okay" veneer.

The boys are doing remarkably well.  Christmas is a big distraction - which is both a blessing and a curse.  So much more to pack.  So much more to coordinate, on top of everything else.  We have additional 'mini-xmas' celebrations planned with family and friends when we get home, so with any luck they will be distracted until at least mid-January.  They are a combination of excited and anxious about the move.  It breaks my heart a little to witness the extraordinary bonds they have with their close friends and know that those friendships - which mean everything to them on a daily basis - are going to be lost.  We will keep in touch with many of these boys and girls, and even see many of them as they visit the UK on a regular basis (oh, the beauty of attending an International school).  But it won't be the same.  And that makes me sad.

In fact there are many things I will miss about being in Chicago, now I think about it.  Juicy steak that is always cooked to perfection (who cares about the steriods, it just adds to the flavour).  Huge parallel parking spaces in every garage you encounter.  A clean glass of iced water presented immediately upon arrival at any cafe, restaurant or bar.  Click and Clack The Tappit Brothers radio show on NPR.  Closely followed by Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me.  The most incredible city skyline I have ever seen in the world.  Intense blue summer skies refecting into a cobalt blue lake, which is so immense it resembles an ocean.  The sale room in Anthropology.  The sale rail at Club Monaco.  Half and half for my morning coffee.  Dunkin Donuts vanilla coffee (you can get it in a styrefoam bucket, exactly how you like it - extra cream and one sugar for me - for under $2).  Drinking cocktails on the 95th floor of the John Hancock building.  The noise of the el clattering about my head, as the trains wind their way above the city streets.  The efficiency of the snow ploughs and gritting trucks when a blizzard hits.  The ability to buy a beautiful DKNY cozy sweater (retailing at $195 plus tax) on clearance for just $29 at Marshalls.  And don't get me started on the delights of my local supermarket Trader Joe's.  The fact that I couldn't ship home a huge box of edible goodies is one of my biggest disappointments.

Anyway, I don't have the luxury of thinking about all the things I am going to miss just yet.

I am far too preoccupied with the thought of how many layers of clothes I am going to have to wear on the plane, because my case simply won't accommodate the bags of must-have bargains I have been insane enough to purchase the past 2 weeks.  Goddam you Banana Republic and your ridiculous sale.  It is your fault and your fault alone that I am going to look like the bloody Michelin Man at check in.

So if you happen to be at Heathrow on the 28th December and you spot a rather hot and bothered person resembling a bag lady and wearing what appears to be her entire wardrobe...well, that will be me.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


It's a grey day today.  The sky is monochrome and the weather is decidedly dreary.  Which is a bit of a blessing.  It wouldn't have seemed fitting to put down my beloved cat on a bright, sunny day.

Feeling a little bit bleugh right now.  It's not just losing Ernie.  I can't quite shake the sense of loss I have about leaving Chicago.  It's not really leaving the city, or America.  I have been lucky to live here - and there have been many fun times and great experiences - but it's always been a bit of a hit or miss relationship and I have never truly felt like I have belonged.  However, the thought of leaving my dear friends does leave me feeling bereft.  Strange how I haven't gone anywhere yet, but I already miss them.

People seem to think I should be excited about moving home.  And after all this time of fighting for the right to move home with the boys, I should feel excited about moving back, of course I should, for so many reasons.  But I don't quite yet.  In fact, at times I feel quite the opposite.  It's not a sense of dread or regret, but it is a sense of deep sadness.  I don't think I will miss Chicago itself to a large degree, but the loss of my friends here is a different matter entirely.

But then again, the underlying tone of my 10 years in Chicago is tinged with loss.

First the loss of my independence.  Boy, I wasn't expecting that.  I had been so gung-ho about living in another country, so it was strange to arrive on the back of my husband's working visa and to immediately be persona-non-grata.  I couldn't get a job, couldn't co-sign the lease on our apartment, couldn't get a mobile phone, couldn't jointly be on any of the utilities.  It seemed to take me forever to get a social security card.  It was a shock to the system, after being independent from 18 years of age, to suddenly be totally co-dependent, verging on invisible.  I even had to start using my married name, which I had never done in the UK, because sticking to my maiden name was causing so much confusion and hassle.   I don't think my husband ever understood why this made me so angry and feel so belittled, but I have always resented the bureaucratic push I was given which seemed to change my whole identity to 'wife'.

Then there's the loss of my career.  Before arriving in Chicago I had worked for 15 years in Advertising and Marketing and was proud of my achievements.  I don't think I had really appreciated how significantly my job had defined my sense of self.  I did work for an advertising agency in Chicago, but unexpectedly felt like a square peg in a round hole.  The working culture was so undeniably different.  After 6 months I settled in, but options for continuing my career once I had children were extremely limited.  My choice was to go back to work full-time after 12 weeks of maternity leave (with only 2 weeks holiday) or to not work at all.  There was no happy medium.  And I guess when it came down to it, my career meant a lot to me...but being a hands-on, present mum meant more.

I did try to return to work but was incredibly frustrated that there were seemingly no flexible alternatives.  I interviewed at a few places and spoke to several recruitment agencies, but repeatedly came up against a brick wall.  Eventually I re-trained as a personal trainer and did work part-time, but it was never a professionally satisfying alternative.  And the pay was crap. Yet again, my self-esteem took a good kicking and I felt all the more like a second class citizen.

Of course, prior to the disintegration of my career we lost our first son.  Along with the devastating grief and the introduction of a black hole in my heart, I experienced a loss of my own physical confidence.  Suddenly I was no longer a strapping, healthy lass, forever at the gym and taking on new fitness challenges.  My body had failed me.  I no longer trusted it.  It was no longer an ally I could rely on, but a reviled enemy who had let me down in the most unforgivable way.  Its failure at the most important time of my life contributed to the death of our son.  There was no-one else to hold accountable except for my own, previously undiscovered, physical flaws.

So in a way, it was no wonder that ultimately, after losing so much of what I recognised as being irrefutably me, I would lose my marriage too.  I was no longer the person that had stood at the alter on that sunny day in June.  I had changed beyond recognition.  Become the antithesis of the values and principles I had once lived my life by.  I hadn't yet had the time, or energy, to replace all these critical components of me that I felt I had lost since coming to America, when my husband decided he was Done.

At the time, it felt like I had truly lost everything.  For a while Chicago represented the toughest of times, where my life took a series of turns that I had never anticipated and prepared myself for.  It was hardly the carefree, exciting 2 year adventure that I naively set out on over 10 years ago.

Yet I know I would not have the strength and optimism I have today about my future, without the love and support of my friends in Chicago over the years.

God, I'm going to miss them.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Life is so great at throwing curve balls, isn't it?

Just when everything seems to be falling into place, there's yet another drama.   The last two weeks have been surprisingly calm.  The house in North London is OURS - I am still have trouble digesting the fact that, after all this time, it does appear that I will in fact be moving home to the UK by the end of the year.  I have a new home, I have applied to the local borough for school places, I am coordinating all the logistics for a transatlantic relocation for me and the boys.  It is so overwhelming that I can't quite get to grips with the fact that it is actually going to happen, but the fact that the house is ours makes it real.  There's no going back now and the sense of relief is enormous.

The only concern I had was what to do with my two cats.  I had planned to take them home, but started to think that maybe it would make more sense and be better all round if I found them a new home in Chicago.  Which of course is easier said than done.

I have had both cats since they were kittens, adopting them both when we first moved to Chicago and I was volunteering at a local no-kill shelter.  They are now 9 years old and part of me just wanted to spare them the trauma of a move.  So I emailed everyone in my contacts list, placed local ads and waited for the offers to come pouring in.  And waited.  And waited.  Lots of people expressed concern for the cats, and my predicament, but it appeared that all the cat lovers were already inundated with felines and there was nobody willing to take them.

I knew that taking them to a shelter would not be an option.  I couldn't desert my faithful, loving pets without knowing whether or not they had a family to go to, so just last week decided that I had to bite the bullet and start to coordinate plans for their move to the UK.  Once I made the decision, I again felt an overwhelming sense of relief.  It was going to be costly - nearly $3,000 - and I wasn't sure where that money was going to come from, but all the alternatives seemed too heartless to contemplate.  It's only money, I told myself, and started to get all the paperwork together to make it happen.

However, there was one nagging concern at the back of my mind.  My big, fat, fluffy hair ball of a ginger tom, Ernie, had lost a lot of weight.  I knew I had reduced the cats diet a couple of months ago and initially I assumed that it was a natural side-effect from eating less.  But as I watched him more closely, I began to notice that he no longer had a ferocious appetite.  And then in the last few days he seemed to have no appetite at all.

Oh no, I thought.  What's going on now?  I don't have time to deal with this.  I felt sure it was nothing but googled 'cat weight loss' nevertheless.  Of course the internet threw back a list of ailments as long as my arm, all of which looked alarming and expensive.  I decided to book an appointment at the vet the following week to get him checked out, reassuring myself that it was probably a simple ailment that could be cured simply with medication.

When I woke up on Saturday, with a busy and fun-filled day planned (the expat bloggers were in town and I was excited to spend the day with them) Ernie could barely drag himself up the stairs.  His fur was bedraggled and greasy looking.  From being a chunky, lump of a cat just a few months ago he was now skin and bones.  I could no longer ignore the obvious.  I had a sick cat on my hands and needed to take him to the vet immediately.

A couple of hours later I was sat in the vet waiting room, feeling fairly optimistic that I was panicking over nothing.  It's bound to be a simple parasite, I thought, which would explain the weight loss.  I couldn't allow myself to think that it was anything worse.  Having made the decision to take both cats back the UK, the thought that Ernie might now be suddenly and inexplicably ill and unable to travel, made no sense at all.

The vet came in and looked him over.  Ernie purred in his usual friendly fashion.  He has a big, traction engine type of purr that reverberates through his whole body and reflects his general contented personality.  The vet looked at his teeth, as I explained my concerns, then she started to feel the rest of his body.  I suddenly remember that I forgot to bring his faeces sample with me and internally berate myself for forgetting the evidence which would reveal the parasites.  The vet pauses in her examination and looks me in the eye.  "Ernie has a large tumour in his abdomen.  I can't be sure, but in my opinion I think it could be lymphoma.  I'm going to have to run more tests.  Can you come back in 45 minutes?"

I look at my cat, who is obviously a shadow of his former self, and burst into tears.

Oh holy crap.  Cancer.  How?  Why?  And why now, for Christ's sake?  What does this mean?  Is it curable?  And what will the treatment involve?  How can I possibly deal with this, when I am going to be homeless in 3 weeks and living in my friend's basement?

I stagger out to Starbucks and email Ex to tell him the news.  He responds immediately and is kind, considerate and thoughtful.  He reminds me that I have given Ernie nine very happy years and that he probably wouldn't have survived as a kitten if I hadn't nursed him around the clock for the first few months.  He tells me to keep him posted.  I call a friend and can't seem to stop the tears.  I can't help feeling that I gave a sign to the universe that this cat was disposable, that he wasn't wanted.  And it had responded with a fatal solution to not having to bare the expense and stress of shipping him home.

Eventually I go back to the vet, dreading the results and feeling sure this was going to be a worse case scenario prognosis.  Which it is.  There are options for surgery / chemo / long-term treatment, but none of them are guaranteed to cure the disease.  And he certainly can't travel back to the UK in a matter of weeks.  The vet kindly advises me that euthanasia is probably the kindest and most respectful option.

I cuddle Ernie close to me and he purrs rhythmically in my ear.  I don't feel ready to lose him.  I don't know what I was thinking about even considering re-homing him several weeks ago.  Out of the two cats, Ernie was always the one from a kitten that has been attached to me like velcro, taking every opportunity open to him to coat me in a layer of hair impervious to most lint rollers.  He has the sweetest, most loving nature.  The thought of putting him down is heartbreaking.

I call Ex and tell him what is happening.  I can't stop the tears as I am talking, although I am trying my hardest to keep my shit together.  I have decided to take Ernie home, with medication, to be able to say a proper goodbye.  The vet assures me he isn't in any discomfort right now, although he probably will be soon. The medication will increase his appetite a little and make him a little more alert.  When I am ready I can bring him back and be with him while he is put to sleep.

I drive home slowly and sit on the couch all afternoon with Ernie curled up on my chest.  This wasn't how this weekend was meant to be.  I feel sad and somehow responsible for my pet's imminent death.  I feel worried about how his brother, Bert, the little black mischief maker is going to cope in his absence.  I'm not sure how I am going to cope with his absence.  Yes, he is just a pet, just a cat.  The boys love both cats, but that affection has never, in all honesty, been returned (with both cats running a mile as soon as the boys are within sprinting distance).  But they will be sad.  And I am going to miss him very, very much.

This is the trouble with having animals as part of your family, isn't it?  Their life span is shorter to start with, so the relationship is duty bound to end in heartbreak.  I can't tell you how many times I have moaned about having the cats over the past two years, particularly when tripping over them carrying armfuls of laundry or shooing them out of my kitchen when trying to get everyone fed.  There have been times I have really resented the responsibility of having to find people to look after them whenever we have gone on holiday.  And I've felt guilty if I haven't had the time to give them much attention, when they seem permanently desperate for a lap to curl up on.  Some times I have just wanted to sit down and write a blog post for heaven's sake (okay, not that often admittedly) which is hindered somewhat when there is a cat determined to sprawl across the keyboard.  And it's probably best not to mention at this point my constant whinging about Cat Hair and it's ability to impregnate every surface with super glue tendencies.

Because despite the minor irritations and my petty little grumbles, I really love having pets and I have been really lucky to have had such a gentle and affectionate cat.

Goodbye my darling Ernie. Turns out you were always meant to be an American cat - and not an English moggy - after all.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Quick Update from Crazy (or should that be lazy?) Town

A whole day has gone by and I am still sitting here in my pajamas gazing into space.  I feel incapable of movement.  Any physical action seems to require such a momentous exertion of energy that I feel immediately light-headed and nauseous.  I can't quite seem to stop the muscles in my legs and arms from trembling.  I can't quite seem to stop my brain whirring, with hypochondriac tendencies, convincing myself that I am definitely on the verge of a major ailment.  Probably a stroke.  Surely not something as simple as a panic attack.

However, if I look on the bright side...if I tell myself that the main objective of the 'wasted' day was to conserve energy and to do as little as humanly possible...then I guess I could say the day has been a roaring success.   And maybe it is little wonder that I feel so physically and emotionally depleted.  It has been another insanely busy week here in Crazy Town.  Hurray for a sofa free of Gormiti's and Lego and back-to-back episodes of America's Next Top Model.  Perfect fodder for the temporarily brain dead.

Finally - FINALLY - all the references, applications, bank details have been submitted for the house we are trying to rent in the UK.  I also wired the money, using my new Smart Currency Account, which saved $$$'s on the exchange.  With any luck the money will be with the estate agent early next week and the contract will be finalised.  Maybe then I will be able to take a breath.  Maybe then I will be able to stop the sensation of falling through space, even with my feet planted firmly on the ground.  Maybe then I will be able to control what appears to be the early onset of Lockjaw and grinding my molars into stubs.

You see, it all sounds like this process was quite simple and straightforward.   The Estate Agent and currency company asked for information - I provided information...and, hey presto!  Of course the actual process was fraught with hourly setbacks and issues, compounded by the time difference which meant that if I couldn't get everything achieved by 11am Chicago time, I was pretty much snookered until the next morning.  Even the straightforward process of getting documents printed and scanned turned into a scene reminiscent of an Abbott and Costello sketch.  I don't have a printer.  I don't have a scanner.  I emailed information frantically to friends - only to find that their printer had, without explanation, died a death, or the scanner would only work at a freakishly high resolution, resulting in file sizes too big to email.  I tried to resort to faxing information, standing forlornly with my credit card in hand at Kinko's, but none of the fax machines would pick up.

Nothing went smoothly.  Anything that could go tits up, soared like a bird.  And in the back of my head, while I raced around like a blue-arsed fly swatting at issues in a vain attempt to resolve them, a little voice kept reminding me of all the other things I needed to achieve in order to move home: apply for UK schools, apply for a UK bank account, ship a house full of stuff in 4 weeks time, move into a friend's for a month, plan for Xmas, find a new home for my cats, sell my car, sort out utilities (UK and US), buy and organise delivery and assembly of boy's bedroom furniture for the UK (before we arrive), organise rental furniture until the shipment arrives...oh, and get bloody divorced!

No wonder then that I felt a little overwhelmed.  It felt at times that if I didn't physically wrap my hands around my neck that my head would start to spin.  I am pretty certain that if I hadn't developed this incredibly attractive habit of gulping like a baby bird desperately trying to swallow a fat earthworm, then I most certainly would be projectile vomiting lurid, green goo while my head repeatedly turned a full 360.

As I said to my sister, I can't cope with all this.  I truly can't cope, but what choice do I have?  The option of running off, celebrity-like, to a clinic to drink chamomile tea in a perfectly white towelling robe while having my head massaged by a lackey well-paid therapist for a month is not one that I have to take.  There is no other choice but to minimise the gulping reflex in public settings to avoid looking like I am losing my tenuous grip on sanity and just get on with it.

Seems so easy when I write it down.

Wednesday morning was time for mediation.  I get up at 5am to sort out the previous day's cock-ups with the UK and then start the drive to our appointment.  There is nothing civil or pleasant about mediation, I have learned.  Medieval torture would be a more accurate description.  The thought of sitting across from  my husband of 12 years, as adversaries, while we dual the divorce agreement to death, practically brings me out in hives.  My stomach is knotted to such a degree that my fail safe gulping mechanism is now a physical impossibility.  Just as I am nearing the mediator's office I receive a text from Ex: he can't make mediation, he is sick.  I am instantly furious, yet overwhelmingly relieved.  The hangman's noose loosens.  The gulping technique reinstates itself.  Maybe this meeting can be productive after all.  At least there is less chance of a bun fight, followed by my hysterical tears.

It ended up being a productive meeting (well, as productive as it could be with only one person there to agree to anything).  After a bit of a verbal tussle, I concede on several financial areas, because after arguing the toss for an hour I finally saw the mediator's point of view that It Just Wasn't Worth It.  And ultimately I felt quite calm when I headed home.

A couple of hours later the mediator emailed both Ex and I, summerising the discussion and highlighting points of agreement - which Ex immediately responded to with an email stating categorically that he has NOT in fact agreed to the maintenance amount.  Which immediately sent me into a tailspin.  WHA???  My throat constricted and my head began to spin again.  I felt totally sick, couldn't breath, couldn't swallow - just felt stressed to the eyeballs at the thought that he was now going to start fighting me over the maintenance sum - because without it I really can't afford to live in the house we have just rented in the UK.

My knee jerk reaction was to call the mediator and my lawyer and lose the plot, along with the shreds of my remaining dignity.  That's It!  I fumed.  The Final Straw!  The @#$&%*@#$.  But then I remembered advice that my lawyer had told me several weeks ago: just because Ex says doesn't mean it is so.  I fretted all afternoon, sniping exhaustedly at the boys, hanging on by a thread until they were in bed.  No wonder they enjoy being with their dad more right now.  Their mum is on the verge of being a professional loony-tune - if I can't keep up with my swings in temperament, then how can they be expected to?

I called a friend and let loose, fear gripping my bowels, sobs caught in my throat.  I feel like a puppet with no control over my life and know that the time might be approaching where I take a different tack, a more aggressive, offensive approach with Ex.  I know I need to calm down and not do anything rash - the world is not coming to an end after all.  It all feels monumental, but I know my reactions are hyper-sensitive right now and this constant feeling of being in fight or flight is not going to be the best basis for decision making.

I wake up the next morning (well, when I say 'woke up' that implies I actually had some sleep...maybe it is more accurate to say 'stumbled out of bed in a sleep deprived fog') to a text from Ex.  A long text.  An unexpected message.  The gist of it being - he was sorry.  Sorry for not going to mediation.  He is going to be fair and not fall out over money.  Too many years of happiness.  Too much love.  Too many years ahead of us.  That he is really struggling to deal with the situation, but he will try harder - and we will be fair to each other and the boys.

The world tilted on its axis and swung back around 180 degrees again.  I breathed and got on with getting packed lunches ready.

I texted Ex a little later, thanking him for his honesty.  And also sharing with him that I too am really struggling.  That even after the death of Mack, this feels like the toughest situation we have ever faced.  Made even tougher by the fact that, in all the crap over the years, he was always by my side, always my rock.  It will be over soon.  And then just the memories of the love and happiness will be left.  That's what we have to hold on to.

I press 'send', wondering if I have been a little too open.  Whether this honesty and expression of vulnerability will ultimately come back to bite me in the arse.  I do still love this man, in many, many ways, but it feels a little dangerous to give him a glimpse of that, to expose how I am struggling.  I feel a sense of calm that I have put down my weapons and spoken from the heart, but wonder if it will be used in  retaliation.

Just then I receive a new text, an instant response from Ex.  "Ok - you just made me cry at [global business meeting]...thanks ;-)"

I'm relieved that I let down my guard and feel an overwhelming desire to sleep.  My mode of panic, which I have perfected to a degree of professionalism, abates.  I'm exhausted but my inner feeling of strength reinstates itself.  The next few weeks are going to be hard but I feel a sense of confidence that we can get through it.  That we will continue to find a way to draw on the love we once shared to endure all this stress.

Physically I am totally depleted.  My body is heavy, yet weightless.  I drag myself through the motions of daily life.  Yet know with certainty, that This Too Will Pass.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My Friends Think I'm Gorgeous...But 'Computer Says No...'

So while I was alternatively hibernating or bleating away about my pitiful existence this summer, to anyone who had the patience of a saint to listen, two of my girlfriends came up with a plan.
It wasn’t a particularly brilliant, inspired  or original plan, but they succeeded in getting my attention regardless.
“What you need,” they declared knowingly, “is to be wined and dined a little.  You need to get out more.  Let your hair down.  Have fun!”
More specifically, I needed to be wined / dined and to expend a little flirtatious energy with men who had the looks of Pierce Brosnan, the assets of Richard Branson and a Phd in cunnilingus/multiple female orgasm.  “Any sane, single man would give his right arm for the chance to go out with you!” my loyal friends assured me.  “You’re going to have men queueing up for the chance to take you out to some fancy, schmancy restaurant!  C’mon, your confidence could do with a little boost and it’s not like you have anything better to do, is it?  What have you got to lose?”
Sounded like a good plan to me.  Sign me up!  I said.  Now, where’s the catch?
There’s the catch.  Need I say more?
I wasn’t particularly convinced that a man with the combined attributes of Pierce / Richard / Sting (?!) was going to be advertising himself willingly on  I’d had the impression that was purely a euphamism for“well, what’s the problem with that?”  said one friend, “after all, it’s about time you had your pipes serviced.”)  
When I expressed these concerns to my two girlfriends they duly ran roughshod over my scepticism....”No, No, No - there’s plenty of fantastic, eligible men on Match...look, here’s a photo of one on a boat!” they assured me fervently....and started to write my profile.  
And that, my dear friends, is how my first foray into t’internet dating began.
Oh well, I thought a little dubiously, at least it will provide some entertaining blogging fodder if nothing else.
In a matter of days I had created a dating pseudonym, written a half-hearted profile and posted a few pics, including this photograph.

This is, I have to be honest, the most flattering photograph I have probably ever had taken in my whole life (wedding pictures included).  It is a miracle of modern digital technology.  It caught me in a split micro-second before my facial features morphed back to their typical frown or gormless gaze.  Even my most closest friends will attest that unintentional gurning is one of my foremost specialities.  
This is going to have all the hot, rich men responding in droves, I thought.  No matter that I won’t possibly be able to recreate that look in person - this is the land of false advertising.  And anyway, I am going to divert their attention with my effervescent, vivacious personality and pernacious wit!  It’s going to be great!
Now if there was ever one activity designed to well and truly knock my confidence to rock bottom levels this summer - it was my experience with
Oh to be sure - I did get a fair number of winks.  And even a number of emails.  All of whom from  men with the combined attributes of Homer Simpson (couch potatoes), Jabba the Hutt (“Weebles wobble...but they don’t fall down”), John Merrick (aesthetically challenged), the Hunchback of Notre Dame (a few handbells short of a full set), the Yorkshire Ripper (serial killer style facial hair) and Sarah Palin (gun toting global ingoramus).  
It appeared that the likes of Pierce / Richard / Sting hadn’t yet tracked down my profile, so I decided to give them a helping hand and shoot out a few winks and sardonic, amusing emails of my own.  
Which were all IGNORED.  
Not one response.  Nada.  Zip.  Zilch.  And I know they went on to read my profile and take a look The Most Ridiculously Flattering Photo Of Me Ever Taken, because I checked.  
Now to say my self-esteem was in tatters prior to this experience is to put it mildly.  And after?  Well, it was well and truly incinerated.  
Well here is proof positive, I mused.  My destiny is a relationship with an overweight, hairy, ugly man who sits on his couch all day cleaning his guns, picking at his beard while agreeing with the latest Glen Beck rants.  Either that or I am going to be alone FOREVER.  Way to go in cheering me up, girls.
Of course, beggars can’t be choosers, as the saying goes, so I did venture out on four first dates.  

The less said about those the better.  

Surprise, surprise, there were no fancy dinners in exclusive restaurants.  I made an effort to make myself look presentable, only to find each man turn up in baggy, ill-fitting cargo shorts, T shirts, that looked as though they had slept in them, and flip flops.  I’m not sure what impression they were aiming to make with that ensemble, but it definitely wasn’t one of, ‘I made a little effort before coming out to meet you tonight’.  Of course, looks aren’t everything.  I may be shallow, but not that shallow.  However, I have to confess I have spent more entertaining hours in the company of my friend’s British Bulldog Louie...and at least with him I am guaranteed of less slobber during the goodnight kiss.
What a spectacular waste of time.  And more to the point, what a spectacular waste of $75.  Do you realise how many cheap bottles of plonk I could have purchased with that money, to keep me company during my long summer of sitting on the couch feeling sorry for myself?  Quite a few, I can tell you that for nothing.  Particularly if I had limited my spending to the 3-buck-chuck shelf at Trader Joe’s.
Let’s hope this is not a sign of things to come when I am back on British shores.  Surely the dating world can’t be as cruel back at home?  I guess on that front, I will just have to wait and see.
In the meantime I will continue to reassure myself that I have, in fact, meet a very interesting guy and no, he does not have the looks of Pierce, the assets of Richard (although potentially he could have a Phd in ‘satisfying women on the sexual front’...).  

He is a good friend of Subversive Mum and I met him the first time last Xmas, then again at Easter while on holiday in the UK and most recently while visiting SM at her new home in Brooklyn.  
He’s a Brit.  Older than me.  Shorter than me.  Possibly not the least bit interested in me.  But I like him.  I can’t quite put my finger on where the attraction lies - all I know is that the instant I met him, I liked him.  I wanted to spend time with him.  We are so very different yet have umpteen things in common.
Maybe he’s going to be a very good friend once I move home.  But maybe, it could be something more.  Only time will tell.
It might take a while....but I’ll keep you posted.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Long Hard Summer Of Acceptance (aka if only I had shares in Kleenex)

The main reason for the lack of blogging activity over the summer was due to sheer exhaustion.  Not physical, but mental and emotional.  I had lists of posts to write, but when it came to having the time to write after the boys were in bed, more often than not you could have mistaken me for a mannequin lying prone on my sofa - that's the state of stillness I have been perfecting night after night, watching trash TV.

Ex and New Girlfriend are still going strong (I guess 'New' is fairly inaccurate at this point in time, as they have now been together for 10+ months...let's just call her American Girlfriend instead...I am tempted to call her Girlfriend With A Mouthful of Big, Shiny Teeth, but that seems a little facetious verging on bitchy, so I won't).  Due to the fact that our long-term babysitter still works for us both, it was impossible to avoid being aware that AG is a constant fixture at Ex's house and was developing a close relationship with our sons.

And this I have really struggled with.

By all accounts she is lovely with the boys and, in the grander scheme of things, I knew I should be really grateful.  But understanding you should be grateful and actually being grateful are two very different states of being - the latter being a state of mind I was finding very difficult to achieve.

I want my boys to be happy.  I want them to be loved by a myriad of people in their lives.  Just not by her.  The thought of them sharing 'family' time with their new mum substitute - with her beginning to love them and them beginning to love her - absolutely crushed me.  Knowing that it shouldn't...  knowing I should just be grateful that the boys were happy and loved...knowing that it didn't take anything away from their love for me as their mother, didn't help a great deal, I have to be honest.

I was wracked with jealousy.  I never had any fault with her personally - it was just the situation that felt totally agonising.  I felt an overwhelming anger at no longer being the sole mother figure in my sons lives.  It was not something that I had ever anticipated when conceiving, carrying and giving birth to them...and in all the sleepless nights that subsequently followed.  All that hard, turn-my-life-upside work...all that selfless devotion and self-sacrifice...for my role to be ultimately shared?  It didn't seem fair.  It wasn't fair.  It was hard to look at it from the boys' point of view and acknowledge the benefits it was bringing to their lives, and so much easier to look at it from my point of view and feel so incensed that I just wanted to kill someone.  Not her necessarily.  Probably him, in all honesty.

How could he?  How could he do this to me? I would fume and fester over the injustice of it day after day, night after night. It seemed like such a betrayal.  I felt like such a fool.  And their togetherness (and happiness) highlighted and exacerbated my own loneliness to a degree that felt intolerable.  I was wretched and I was miserable and I was beyond any form of consolation - all because others were happy and moving on with their lives.

It didn't help matters that Ex and AG took the boys on holiday together to visit some of our old friends in Seattle.  Yet again the green-eyed monster reared its ugly head.  I tried to maintain a note of cheeriness and excitement in my voice when I spoke to the boys on the phone - but my envy towards their 'family' getaway, with our friends, was palpable.  And of course, there were the accompanying insecurities.  Do our friends like her more than they liked me?  Do they see Ex and AG together and think, 'Oh yes, they are so good together...much more suited than Ex and Nicola ever were.  And AG is so nice.  And pretty.  And young.  Not old or jaded or cynical at all.  It's so obvious why Ex is with her, rather than his unstable, drama-driven, aging wife...'

Friends would sympathise - but would also acknowledge that yes, AG is nice.  And she is great with the boys.  And the boys seem to have a great relationship with her.  And that's a good thing, it really is.  But all I could think was, well, that's easy for you to say - and I emphatically agree with you on a theoretical level - yet, I think you might have a completely different point of view if this was happening with YOUR children.

My thoughts and feelings on the matter ultimately reached a tipping point when the boys returned home. We were having a fairy innocuous conversation about girlfriends while I was driving them home after an afternoon at the park.  Johnny Drama was having a hard time deciding which girl in his class he should choose to be his girlfriend.  In the midst of discussing their various merits, Captain Underpants piped up, "I think I'd like AG to be my girlfriend.  She's kind, she's pretty, she plays with me, she's fun.  Yeah, I think AG will be my girlfriend, mum.  I love her."

How I managed to keep the car on the road while the knife was being driven so swiftly and cleanly through my heart is a true reflection of my superior driving abilities.

On the tip of my tongue was the instant rebuttal:  oh yeah?  well, I think your father would have something to say about that!

Instead I kept quiet for a minute, listening to JD enthusiastically concur with his brother, before saying, "that's nice sweetheart, I'm sure AG would be very happy to hear you say that".  The conversation continued with CU saying, "you know, AG is always there at Daddy's now Mum.  It's kinda like I have two mummies now, isn't it?  She's like my new mummy now, isn't she?  So I have two mums.  That's lucky, isn't it?  So, you're my mum - and she's also my mum.  Right Mum?"

How I managed to keep the tears from flowing at this point, due to the knife being twisted cruelly in my heart, is a testament to the rapid blinking technique I have perfected over the past 2 years.  It was on the tip of my tongue to shout, "NO, SHE IS NOT YOUR MUM!  I'M YOUR MUM!  I'M YOUR MUM!! YOU ONLY HAVE ONE MUM AND SHE IS CURRENTLY USING EVERY OUNCE OF CONCENTRATION NECESSARY NOT TO DRIVE OFF THE FUCKING ROAD...AND DON'T YOU EVER FORGET THAT!"  Of course I didn't say that, although my brain was screaming it relentlessly, and I couldn't bring myself to agree with him at that point either.  But what I did manage to say was, "well, of course it's great that you have all these people in your life who love you so much, CU - you are very lucky boys."

And once they were in bed, tucked up sound asleep, I sobbed and sobbed, feeling a mix of rage and self-pity.  They already think they have 2 mummies?  I felt robbed and achingly sad, as if I was on the rocky road to losing them forever to their new, happier, family.

I can see how easy it is for mothers in my position to wish to reek havoc and vengeance on their Ex's and their new partners.  Having to share the emotional devotion of your children in these circumstances goes against every primal, lioness instinct.  I had always aimed to be magnanimous, gracious and generous as our family shifted shape, but it felt beyond my capabilities to be this way.  Holding my dying first born son had been hard.  Having a second premature baby had been hard.  Going through the breakdown of a marriage away from my family and friends had been hard.  And hearing my son profess his love of AG and his acknowledgement of her playing a mothering role in his life was also hard.  Just as hard.  I felt sideswiped by emotion and struggled not to fall into a pit of depression and self-loathing over my inability to handle the situation with grace and acceptance.

As I said.  Not a fun summer.  Not a lot that I had the strength to blog about at the time.  My energy was directed towards a) not crying constantly and b) not following through with the urge to kill somebody (many days myself).

So it would have been easy, and incredibly satisfying, to hit back.  And believe me, I really wanted to.  It seemed the quickest and most efficient means of reducing my pain was to pass it on to my Ex and AG.  I just wanted the satisfaction of them appreciating what I was going through - and to impact their world to the degree that I felt my world was being impacted by theirs.

But I didn't.

Instead I invited AG to the boy's upcoming birthday parties and decided to face this situation head on - and to muster every ounce of artistic ability I possessed to maintain a veneer of grace, acceptance and generosity.  And to put my sons - who I love unconditionally with every single fiber of my being - 100% first.

I also decided to stop participating in the competition I had created between myself and AG.  Realising that I was not in competition with her - in age, looks, personality, even over the boys' feelings towards us - fundamentally shifted my perception on our situation.  I came to realise that the only person stopping me from being lonely and sad and stuck was me.  And until I moved on and faced my biggest fear head on - that AG is potentially the second mother in this family - that I would remain forever stuck and bitter and lonely.

Not that the parties were easy, mind.  I faced them both with the requisite smile, talked to AG briefly, introduced her to all the other parents...laughed and smiled in all the right places while I quietly died inside.  Then I got into my car - as the boys departed with Ex and AG - and cried my bloody eyes out.  For hours.  But I did it and I lived.  And it really did make the boys happy.  And - dare I say it - I quite like AG.  She's nothing like me at all.  She's really very nice.  She appears to be very respectful of me and for that I am truly grateful.  It could be worse.  She could be worse.  I need to count my blessings and make a continued effort to knock my competitive, jealous tendencies into touch where she is concerned - and try to focus my attention on being the best mum that I can be right now.

Luckily for me, the boys and I are the closest we have ever been.  While I do still struggle with being a single mum, on many levels, being able to single-handedly parent the boys on a daily basis is becoming easier.  I take comfort in the fact that I must be doing something right, because otherwise I am sure Captain Underpants would not have stated so emphatically the other day, "But I don't want to have to leave home to go to college Mum!  Do I have to go?  I just want to be able to live with you FOREVER!"

Oh my sweet, sweet boys.  Oh how I love you.  (But you're still leaving home at 18, if I have anything to do with will be for your own good, honest.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I Almost Don't Want To Chance Fate By Writing This...

....but it looks as though I am finally coming home.

After a long and arduous summer and a very tumultuous few months, it looks as though the wheels are in motion to move back to the UK.

Can it really be true?  I don't dare fully believe it myself.  But the fact is that I have found a compact and bijou house to rent in North London (well...more compact than bijou if truth be told) and Ex has agreed to move things forward by co-signing the lease with me and has ponied up the dosh for the deposit and first month's rent.  (Forgive all the slang but I am just trying to get back into the swing of things...need to refresh the lingo so I don't stick out like a sore thumb.  Innit.)

Now we just have to keep our fingers crossed that the references come through to reflect our status as shining examples as prospective pillars of the community...or else the whole thing could easily go tits up.

But.  Assuming they don't.  Assuming the tits remain firmly in place, then the house will be rented from 1st November and I can start applying for schools, booking shipping and generally running around like a headless chicken coordinating all the logistical paraphernalia  necessary to move home at the end of December.

Fingers crossed for the tits then.

I had to heave a sigh of relief tonight, while eating a culinary masterpiece of fish fingers and mash with the boys.  To me, fish of any kind (but especially the grey, tasteless cast-offs that generally comprise your average fish finger) cannot truly be savoured without a liberal dousing of salad cream.  I know, I know...not everyone's choice of seafood dressing, but most definitely mine.  The same goes for jacket spuds (I almost said baked potato but managed to find the 'right words' just in time...see I'm getting the hang of this).  Anyway, I am down to my last thimble of salad cream - so really, the timing couldn't be more perfect.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Follow Up With Dr Mirth

It turns out my dermatologist isn't missing his sense of humour gene.  Though to be frank, I think his timing is a little off.

At my first visit his approach was professional verging on dour.  Despite my ongoing attempts at infantile flippancy he stoically refused to take the bait and crack even the slightest smile.  Hey!  I wanted to say, as I fixed him with a pointed stare and stabbed him repeatedly in the chest with an index finger...stop being so bloody miserable and at least have the decency to acknowledge my pitiful attempts at wit.  I can't claim to be even a distant relative to Noel Coward, but you can't deny my attempts at trying.

By the time my follow up visit rolled around I was a little more preoccupied and a whole lot less cocky.  If I had been wearing boots I would have been quaking in them.  As it was, I simply sat nervously shivering in my vivid blue paper gown, wholly convinced that my detailed check up was going to reveal a body peppered with melanoma.  From the moment I had been diagnosed with melanoma - and particularly since the removal of a significant chunk of skin from my back - I had found umpteen suspicious looking legions which surely signified the beginning of the end.  There were multiple moles simply begging to be labelled with the dreaded cancer diagnosis.  Okay, so I was totally paranoid and, armed with a little bit of information, had within a matter of weeks morphed into the Internet expert on terminal skin diseases.  I knew it was only a matter of time before Dr Dour proved my suspicions to be correct - and that time was now.

So I was a little taken aback when Dr Dour breezed jauntily into the room, took one look at my dejected and forlorn little self sitting hunched in readiness for the worst prognosis, and quipped, "My!  Don't you look glamorous all decked out in blue today!  Going anywhere special?"


Er.  Not sure exactly Dr.  You tell me.  The morgue, potentially?

Taking advantage of the fact that his Dr Dour/Mr Mirth transformation had rendered me temporarily speechless he continued with his flirtatious banter.

"Yep, a strappy pair of heels and you'd have all heads turning today in that outfit.  Love the tan, by the way.  Out of a bottle I hope...phnar, phnar.  So.  How have you been?  Everything healing nicely?  Let's have a little looksy, shall we?  Check out Dr Slash'n'Sew's* handiwork."

At this point I went from flummoxed to severely irked faster than a Mclaren F1.  Hey!  I wanted to say this time...take this seriously you buffoon.  I'm dying here.  DYING I tell you.  And the last thing I need is your pathetic attempt at cheeriness to soften the blow.

Of course, I did no such thing because, despite not being a rocket scientist, I'm still intelligent enough to recognise Karma staring me full on in the face when I see it.  Go on Doc.  Knock yourself out with your little jokes.  Turn the tables on the British smart alec when you get the chance, why don't you?  Just do me the favour of cracking on with the little comedy act so we can get straight to the bad news.  There's really no amount of bonhomie today that's going to prompt any wisecracks from me when you lay the cards on the table.  I'm all out of funny, if you haven't noticed, and have been for a while.

The scar looked fine, apparently.  Healing nicely, possibly helped by the fact that the nurse had taken pains not to remove all the stitches a few days before.  Dr Mirth grabbed a pair of tweezers and, with a few sharp tugs, deftly detached them from the pieces of skin they were seemingly intent on melding to.  "Would you look at that...they almost match your eyes exactly", he commented, as he handed me a few strands of blue twine complete with blood stains and small pieces of skin still attached.  "Not sure they would compliment every outfit though, so you're probably best off without them."

Oh for God's sake...let's just get on with it, shall we?  Enough with the jolliness.  Get your bloody magnifying glass out so we can get on with the process of checking all my other mutated 'beauty spots'.  And then just tell me there a chance I am going to have any skin left?

Turns out there is.  Despite some of the moles qualifying as 'vaguely suspicious', none of them warranted the quick 1-2 with a scapel for further inspection.  I need to attend 6-monthly skin checks but at present Dr Mirth is convinced I am cancer free and - by taking proper precautions moving forward - can hopefully avoid any further instances of melanoma in the future.

I am so relieved I finally smile and go to great pains to resist the urge of planting a huge thank you smackeroo on his lips.  In a final act of gratitude I decide to leave the thwarted attempts at humour to him on this occasion.  The unexpected 'all-clear' may warrant a smile - but my ability to laugh about my first brush with the dreaded C word is still a little way off.

* not the most flattering pseudonym for my incredibly kind and experienced surgeon

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Happy Birthday To....Ex

So I am sitting in the midst of birthday preparation chaos - the boys going berserk decorating a card that is bigger than they are - all in honour of their dad's birthday on Friday.

I have orchestrated most of this.  Bought fantastic cards.  Ordered an original piece of artwork (one of our shared weaknesses).  Bought a book on mountain climbing.  Have a supermarket's worth of cake decorating paraphernalia on the counter.  And I want to feel great about all this.  Generous.  Thoughtful.  Want to encourage the boys to celebrate their dad's birthday and think carefully about how they can make it an extra special day.

So why does this all just serve to make me feel just a little bit...shit?

Part of me just wants to trash it all and just stuff a few dollars into a couple of crap Hallmark cards and be done with it.  Repeat the effort that was made for my birthday.  But I am above all that, aren't I?

There's no room for silly games and tit for tat in this situation.  I love birthdays.  I love celebrating birthdays.  Always have.  Always will.  And the habit of trying to make Ex's birthday special is a tough one to break.  But more than that I want to show the boys the importance of celebrating other people's birthdays and not just their own - that a little bit of thought and effort on someone elses behalf can really make that person's day.

The irony of the situation is the Ex really doesn't like to celebrate his birthday, being a sort of bah humbug birthday scrooge.  He much preferred to celebrate mine.  And boy, over the years did he set the bar high.

The first birthday we were together he surprised me with a trip to London to see the musical Rent.  Sounds normal enough, doesn't it?  Well, Ex was never a man to do things by half.  He also invited my sister and closest friends from various parts of the country, hiring a limo to take us all there and back - all as a complete surprise to me of course.  It was my first ride in a limo.  I think we made quite the impression driving through the busy streets of the west end, swigging champagne like a bunch of chavs.  Particularly when we decided to have a competition of who would be the first to do a moonie out of an open window.  (Needless to say, the birthday girl didn't win that competition - first prize as always going to my close friend K who had a penchant for getting inebriated and then airing her derriere in public places.)

Subsequent birthdays were no less spectacular.  I remember waking up one birthday to find our flat a multi-coloured ribbon present trail.  Each different coloured ribbon led to a hidden present.  Each ribbon went from room to room, all at different heights, making it impossible to navigate the space without contorting myself over and under the neon bright wrapping tape.  I would like to say it was reminiscent of the scene where Catherine Zeta Jones leaps effortlessly over lasers (in the movie that I can't be bothered to google to remember the name of)...but of course, in reality I tripped and stumbled all over the place in a combination of giggles and awe.  He went to all that effort for me.

On yet another birthday, the effort to discover my presents was less physical and more intellectually challenging.  I was given a heap of small boxes.  Well.  You can imagine my glee, as I pictured unwrapping a mountain of sparkly things to adorn myself with.  Ooh no.  His originality took a new turn that year.  Each box contained a mixture of scrabble letters.  Once I had successfully deciphered the 'code' I was 'rewarded' with the actual present.  Some of them silly, some more monumental but all of them chosen with a great deal of thought and love.

There are other examples, but already in writing this and remembering the effort this man made to make my birthdays so very special, this modicum of effort on my part (and the boys) is well deserved.   And these feelings of resentment and slight envy are so irrational anyway - it's not as if he is expecting any level of effort (or will possibly even appreciate it).

So happy birthday Ex.  Hope it's a good one.  Even if you would rather we ignored it altogether.

And I guess looking on the bright's not going to matter if I'm not in the mood for sausage on Friday because the birthday blowjob is no longer in my remit.  You see!  I am capable of seeing the silver lining. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Down...but not out

I was waiting for a day to come when I felt perky enough to write a post.   You know, relatively upbeat.  Cautiously optimistic.  But that day is yet to arrive and I can't avoid splurging any longer. 

This whole 'heavy veil of sadness' thing seems to be depleting me of everything that I once liked about myself.  My energy.  The view that my life is always glass half full.  Generally being daft.  The past four years have been so emotionally trying - and so fucking lonely - that they are causing me to doubt that I will ever be happy and carefree again.  Maybe this is just me now forever...morose, needy, exhausted, unable to see and appreciate the blessings even in challenging circumstances.  What I would do to turn back time and make different choices, to be able to take a different path than this.

I am just so very, very tired. 

I am also so very, very tearful.  Constantly.  Sometimes in front of the boys even, which I have always managed to avoid in the past.  The look of concern on their faces and the touch of their plump hands on my shoulders, around my neck or patting my back do nothing to stem the flow of emotion of course.  Bad mummy.  Bad, bad mummy.  My boys need me to be strong and resourceful and resilient.  But I am all out of those traits at the moment.  I scrabble about the bottom of my handbag, hoping to find remnants of courage and hope and laughter, but of course all I get for my troubles is a few screwed up chewing gum wrappers and the obligatory raisin. 

If only I could just stop feeling so tired. 

Mediation finally started nearly 6 weeks ago.  And in that time we have managed to attend 2 meetings, both of which were charged with tension, latent hurt and unaddressed anger, on both parts.  The 2nd meeting was particularly eventful - featuring a bun fight of such proportions that ex and I were ultimately separated.  The main bone of contention being, of course, the date of a move back to the UK.  Which, despite our agreement in February, is now not going to take place this summer.

Of course it isn't.  How silly of me to ever think he would honour his word?

I can see the sense in the decision.  We do need to take time to sort out this divorce.  I have nothing to gain in the long run from rushing decisions that will impact my future financial security and parenting responsibilities.   And I am trying to let go of the frustration that ex has deliberately stalled on attending mediation to achieve this outcome.  The man has a part-time live in girlfriend yet it is still not within his interests to divorce me.  I know why he is dragging his heels - and I know I fall pretty low down on his list of priorities.  I also know that mediation is unlikely to work simply because he has demonstrated quite clearly that he does not want to find time in his schedule to attend. 

Again - I know that none of this is through malicious intent.  But it is self-serving. And maybe I need to follow his lead and be a little more self-serving too.  Despite all the recent upheavals ex and I are still on speaking terms.  We are not friends, but we are friendly.  Things are currently amicable.  Let's hope they remain that way once I file for divorce.  I just don't see another way of finalising this chapter in my life than taking it into my own hands - and making something happen that will hopefully stop this cycle of control and manipulation.

Maybe then the panic attacks will cease.  The ability to sleep will return.  My loss of appetite will reinstate itself and, with it, the ability to do more than just splod through the motions each day with all the enthusiasm of a eunuch on a quest for a condom.  Maybe then I will get to move home. 

In the meantime, I did manage to complete one task to cheer myself up.  I have sponsored a little girl from Haiti called Lovemy.  Isn't that the most incredible name?  She is 6 years old.  So I finally have a daughter in the family.  Hopefully the first of many children from around the world.  The boys and I are currently working on our first pack of letters, drawings, photos and postcards to send her.  I already feel so much love for this smiling little girl, standing in the dust and the dirt in her clean yet worn sundress and hair braided with the big plastic bobbles that I remember from my own childhood.  Her situation certainly puts mine into perspective.  I wonder if she will ever understand what a gift she is to my life right now? 

A reminder that my life is more than just struggling to officiate the end of a relationship and move home to my family and friends.  It is also about new beginnings.  And family.  And love.  Always love.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Happiness Is...

Happiness is...watching my boys play.

My God, they have the capacity right now to entertain themselves for hours.  Now if only they had the ability to playfully entertain themselves in absolute silence, my life would be truly perfect.

But no.  The play is generally noisy and exuberant and physical and, did I mention, noisy?

Of course, when we are outside the decibel level is less of an issue.  Last Saturday I went with a friend and her 6 year old daughter to Foster Beach in Chicago.  Within 23 seconds of hitting the sand the kids were off and playing and that is pretty much the last we saw of them for 3 hours.  They built forts and trenches, buried toys, ran through the shallow water, turned cartwheels, chased seagulls, collected feathers, watched kites and made new friends.  Captain Underpants played solo for a lot of the time - incredibly content in his own little world while his younger brother scampered around the beach my friend's daughter.  There was no sand throwing, toy snatching, whinging or crying.

As I sat on our beach mat, feeding grapes or tortilla chips to cherubic open mouths at approximately 37 second intervals as the kids went swooping past (similar to feeding a nest of tiny birds) I marvelled at their imagination and incessant energy.  At their complete and utter joy and satisfaction in running around in minimal clothing, without restriction or guidance or limitation (apart from the obvious: Try Not To Drown Yourselves Please).

I felt really privileged to witness this simple example of truly living in the moment, without a care in the world.

Not that I joined them, mind.  Ooh, no.  I have waited many a long year to be able to go to the beach and merely be a spectator to the action, rather than elbow deep in grainy, dirty sand (Chicago's beaches are great but they are man-made and the sand isn't the finest) building 20 million sandcastles scheduled for instant destruction.  Surely now I have earned the right to simply be a sidelines voyeur?  To watch as the games I have painstakingly played with them over the years are now replicated without me?

In the afternoon we drove to a friend's house for a barbecue and as the number of children present multiplied, so did the resulting chaos.  You could have landed a jumbo jet on the roof and I don't think we would have noticed, they were making so much noise.  Initially I felt a little irritated that the boys were being so boisterous, a reaction that I soon recognised as being caused by embarrassment more than anything else.  Why was I getting so tetchy exactly?  They weren't being unnecessarily unruly or naughty - they were just being very, very, very LOUD.  The shrieks and laughter, chasing dinosaur roars and fleeing screams set my teeth on edge.  It was hard to curb the urge to tell them to Calm (the fuck) Down.

Instead of pulling them to one side and hissing at them through clenched teeth to 'play more nicely' (whatever the hell that means) I just let them be.  For several hours they barely paused for a breath.  They ran and jumped, hollered and laughed while I sat chatting, glugging my lemon drop and gorging on perfectly succulent ribs.  It was brilliant.  There was no finer example displayed of the sheer joy of the simple act of PLAY.  It was a reminder that, despite my current stresses and concerns, my boys are predominantly happy.  Irrepressibly happy.  Uncontainably happy.  And that reminds me to be happy too.  Even with all the self-doubt I have over my single parenting skills, it seems to me a reflection that I must be doing something right.

And the bonus?  Boy, did they sleep well that night.

Happiness unexpected compliment.

On the Bank Holiday Monday I took the boys to McDonald's for breakfast, as they had been badgering me to go for days.  They're not really interested in the food, let's be honest, it's simply an excuse to nab a new toy - even if it is a piece of plastic Happy Meal tat that will be forgotten about by the time they get home.  As I am a lightweight in the badgering department I acquiesce and drive them to their favourite McDonald's with a play place.

There is the usual stampede and clamber all over the toy display while I order food, before we all settle down on a row of tall bar stools to eat.  I sit in the middle of them and, instead of being their usual ants-in-their-pants fidget bums, they are relatively calm and relaxed.  We sit for 5 or 10 minutes, not long really, and I take full advantage of giving them opportune snuggles, kisses and hair ruffles.  At one point Captain Underpants smooches into my lap and I squeeze him tight and nuzzle his face and neck.  Sod the Egg boys are far more edible than that McDonald's crap.

Pretty soon they scamper off to the play place and, as I am tidying up the debri from their meal, a man approaches me.

"Excuse me - are they your children?" he asks.

Bit of an odd question, I think, and tell him they are.

"Are they adopted?" he asks me.

Even stranger question, I think.  They're not exactly mini-me's but I like to think there's a passing resemblence.

"No - they're my boys", I tell him.

"What a wonderful, loving mom you are."  He tells me.  "You are so loving to your children.  It's not often you see that nowadays.  They are very lucky boys to have such a loving mom.  Watching you with them has really made my day."

Now you tell me...can you really get a finer compliment than that?

Just as well he hadn't been present 45 minutes earlier when I was screaming, "there will be no trip to McDonald's unless you both quit messing around and get your shoes on Right. This. Second.  I'm NOT in the mood to ask you again, I'm telling you right now..."

Not sure he would have been quite so impressed with that familiar episode in our day.


Happiness is not...dwelling on the fact that the boys are currently in Disney with their dad and her - and not me.  That's just a bit of a pisser, despite the fact that I am in 5* luxury in Barbados with my friend and her children.