Behind the squares

If you are reading this you probably know I share our life on Instagram and I also blog here. I am always open and honest, but there are many times that when I am enjoying “likes” and comments on an Instagram post about my beautiful children I am also watching them hit each other. Life is full of ups and downs, Instagram has it’s name for a reason; it’s tiny instances shared and you don’t always show the whole story in an instant.

I like to think that I share more reality than those monochrome “perfect” accounts filled with succulents and expensive candles.

However, right now, behind those squares of my smiling children, coffee shop visits and shiny new trainers: there is cancer. Again.

I myself cannot believe how often I have been “touched” (punched in the gut more like) by cancer. My father died of cancer in 2010. My father-in-law-to-be died from cancer in 2011. My sister died from cancer in 2012. My mother died from cancer in 2017. And now… my brother battles cancer in 2018.

Me and my big bro.

It always made me a bit uncomfortable, sharing too much of this sort of thing on social media, but this time I feel so utterly thrown by it, I want to acknowledge it. I want to make sure people are always aware what’s behind the squares.

Just before Christmas, my brother found out he had ‘operable’ cancer. So it was upsetting, but apparently easily sorted. I took him for the operation on 27th December. After that, you’d have hoped it was all onwards and upwards, but he had another niggling pain. So, (after the obligatory painkillers from the GP), there were more scans, mores tests and yes, the cancer had spread.

Today he is in hospital having his first round of chemo. Week on week it has been news that has uplifted us and punched us in that gut again. They can’t quite decide how bad this cancer is. I have continued my weeks on autopilot. Much like when my mum was diagnosed with cancer and when she died, I had to “go on” with an invisible dark cloud over my head.

And so I sit and sing “Wheels on the Bus”, I make small talk with other mums over tea and biscuits “How are you?”, “Fine, fine and you?” I placate squabbling children, make dental appointments, grill fish fingers and function as a normal human being whilst in the back of my mind I am thinking about my brother. Constantly. About how he is young (43), that he’s one of the best people I know and that he doesn’t deserve this. How the kids adore him, how he adores them and how I just can’t take anymore of this darkness. Pain, suffering, death, I’ve had enough.

Sometimes when the kids are resisting their coats or fighting over a plastic egg, I want to scream at them; “Uncle Graeme has cancer! That’s more important than this crap!” but of course I don’t.

It’s pretty crazy to think about all the people “functioning” right now. I mean, I was in TK Maxx at 6pm on Wednesday night buying pants, socks and a jumper for my brother (as he was unexpectedly kept in hospital after an appointment about his scans). As I queued up and subsequently paid, with all the standard niceties “Have a nice evening”, “You too”; I wanted to scream “My brother might be dying! I need to get these clothes to him in hospital!”. And as I walked in the rain from my car to his ward, crying because I just don’t want this to be happening, I actually wanted someone to ask me: “Why are you crying? Are you ok?”, which is odd considering my “Fine” stock response to friends.

I suddenly became very aware that each and every person you pass on the street might well be dealing with something. The harmless old “Cheer up love, it might never happen” feels like such an unbelievable over step of the mark, because stuff happens . We are all dealing with dark stuff, all of the time. Break ups, miscarriages, redundancies, illnesses, deaths, depression, you name it; someone is putting a brave face on over something.

I can only remain hopeful that all will turn out fine (how else can I go on?), but I guess I want to end on two cheesy words that are said a lot right now, but sum up how I think we can make the world a better place and as a reminder that you never know what someone is going through behind the squares/their smile/their ability to say “I’m fine” (when that is, in fact, bullocks);

BE KIND.

x

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Mental Health and Mumming

Once upon a time I was a happy-go-lucky human who couldn’t get their head around how people who felt depressed couldn’t just think about happy stuff and snap out of it. Yep I was that naive.

This was before kids. Before 3 members of my close family died of cancer. Before I realised that sometimes it can all just become too much.

After my mum died last year I would find myself sat in the mornings feeling unable to motivate myself to get dressed and do stuff with the kids. I would stare into space. I would feel despair. I would feel “what’s the point?” And I’d feel scared by those feelings.

The first time I ever had these kind of depressing thoughts were actually after having Rex. The sleep deprivation and his general unhappiness as a baby made me feel like we had ruined our happy family by introducing this child. But I was functioning, showering, seeing friends… and I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want Rex to die. I just wanted it all to be fixed.

And so according to the test “they” (doctors, health visitors) get you to take; I didn’t have post natal depression. Clearly I was depressed, but not badly enough for any intervention.

This actually leads me to another example of why I get so frustrated by those who talk about the “suffering” of a sibling if you choose to continue with a pregnancy after a Down’s Syndrome diagnosis – that you are willingly choosing to bring a child into the world that will require more attention and cause your other “typical” children to be neglected in some way. We had a lovely child with Down’s Syndrome, she had all the love and attention she could want. We gave her a typical sibling and yikes, he was needy! Audrey’s needs were on the back-burner. She watched CBeebies a lot. And even though we’ve come through dealing with a very needy baby, Rex is still very much the one who causes upset. He’s the one that needs more attention in general.

At bedtimes there have been many times when magical cuddles with Audrey have happened to a soundtrack of Rex having a tantrum over socks or some other nonsense. He has much more of a temper than his sister, he likes to push boundaries and in fact, he has started pushing and hitting and Audrey does so back. She has learnt a lot of bad habits from him – she never would have climbed on the coffee table pre-Rex and she never would have hit me. She had never attacked the toilet tissue before Rex showed her how it’s done! Having a child with special needs can be tough, but having kids is just tough anyway.

They are now both perfect siblings – holding hands and plotting together one minute, crying and fighting over a piece of cardboard the next. Lovely, exhausting little… angels.

And so, with the level of adulthood I have now reached (bills to pay, important people to mourn, feral children to discipline), I find myself in therapy. I am attending counselling sessions, which is actually great. I find it particularly strange that it started about grief and soon became “good god my kids are driving me insane” and is now “please help me figure out how to be confident and do something with my life”. Well, at least we are progressing!

What you learn in therapy (or rather what I’m learning), is that “me time” is crucial to mental health. Doing what you love or doing something that makes you happy, regularly, will keep you sane.

I am fully aware that if I am lacking in “me time” it’s usually my fault. I still find it difficult to not think of the kids as entirely my responsibility. So whenever I leave them with someone (even my husband!) I feel guilty or like a clock is ticking and I need to get back to my job as mum. Crazy but true!

To briefly summarise the journey of a mother: pregnancy gives you a passenger/parasite to deal with, dramatic body changes and hormones. The baby then remains a parasite of sorts and your body is still different and very much not yours. Once they finally become a walking, talking more separate human, they create a lot of stress and mess and you perhaps still don’t feel like you can be yourself. I put on a new dress last week and by the afternoon Audrey had jumped on me and knocked my (thankfully not hot) tea all over me. I regularly find play doh on my jeans. This morning I was applying eyeliner in the bathroom whilst two children attacked my legs. I very often wee whilst being harassed by them both; “Mummy! Mummy? Do you need tissue? Are you finished? Wash your hands! Dry your hands! Mummy!”. It can feel all-encompassing and unescapable at times. How can I find the time to be me and not “Mummy”?

Thankfully, we have good settlers and our evenings are our own. I need to prioritise more time for things that keep me sane and also remember that although my day is peppered with stress and lunacy, it’s also full to the brim with beauty and love. I mean; look at them:

Merry Christmas 2017

Merry Christmas everyone.

The kids have had a fabulous December so far. They love Christmas lights and treats and music… and today they loved opening mountains of presents.

We celebrated at home with my mother in law, brother in law and brother. Our first Christmas without my mother, who died in April. So much making it a tricky time, but we kept the festive spirit alive and had a really lovely time.

At a Christmas carol concert yesterday Audrey was not only the star of the show “Hello everyone!” but also got to be Mary. She adores Mariah Carey’s ‘All I want for Christmas is You’ and she loves mince pies.

Rex is approaching 2, so is in equal measures adorable and horrific. Tantrums have reached a peak.

I have to admit that I was scared about how I might “get through” the holidays without my mum or my dad, but the kids really do make it.

Audrey turns 4!

I can hardly believe it, but I now have a 4 year old daughter!

I'm also wondering why mothers aren't always a blubbering mess on their kids' birthdays. I started reminiscing days before her birthday and it's started to blow my mind that Audrey and Rex both grew inside my body. Woah.

We had a rocky start with Audrey popping out all "extra-chromosomey" so the love we have and the way she is now is extra sweet.

Our next big hurdle is potty training, which she's been potentially ready for for someone (a year maybe!) but I've been putting off and putting off… but once we've nailed that, wow, onwards and upwards for our grown-up girl.

It's a funny time because Audrey's typical peers will be starting school in September (we have deferred her to be the oldest in her year next year), so it's strange that we aren't moving forward in that way. But Audrey needs the extra time and when I look at how far we have come since her 3rd birthday I know it's the right thing to do.

Yesterday we had a great party (a BBQ at home), it rained half the time but we were ok inside. I made a chocolate peanut butter Hey Duggee cake and Daddy cooked lots of meat and made burger buns. Audrey got lots of lovely presents and was out like a light at bedtime, exhausted by a very fun day… the same couldn't be said for Rex unfortunately, he seems to get wired, but he fell asleep eventually.

Happy birthday beautiful clever girl.

General update

So much to write, so little time.

I just wanted to check in and say; we are surviving. Still get hit with the “my mum’s gone” slap in the face every now and then, mostly pretending she’s still here.

Job on the horizon. Weather too hot. Short break away with friends coming up. Trying to put my positive pants on and not be a wreck.

Audrey and Rex both thriving. So much talking! And climbing! And singing! And whining! I’m exhausted and struggling, but they are the best and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Good grieving ?

Me and my mum, end of 79/early 1980

Around 2 weeks after finding out my mother had 2 months to live, she died. The decline was fast, you could say “at least she didn’t suffer any longer” or you could say “how cruel that she was taken from you so quickly”, either way, we lost our much loved mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, daughter and friend on 3rd April 2017.
The funeral was on Friday, which was 25 days later. People say “That’s a long time to wait” and “Oh I’m sorry it’s not sooner” but I liked the time. I don’t understand the rush. Between death and funeral there is a sense that you have not yet let that person go. Once the funeral is over, it’s all over. And yet it’s not.

I’ve been functioning normally. We had to move house and I’m currently job hunting. We have two children under four, so functioning was the only option. Yet friends were concerned, was I really ok? Was I bottling it all up? 

It felt like there was a movie moment expectation that I should be a bawling mess on the floor. But I was having coffee and singing nursery rhymes with the kids. I was clearly not ok because I was seemingly ok.

So what is the answer? Should I be in tears half of the day and should I ensure that’s when someone is around to see it? I actually started to wonder if I was grieving properly… But look, I’ve done this before, I’ve lost important people, but I didn’t have children then. You can certainly afford yourself more wallowing time when you don’t have two children under four. And anyway, grief is different for everyone.

You can pause it a bit. I guess you could say that amongst the singing nursery rhymes and answering job interview questions I’ve had my “moments”. Random tears, random staring into space as stuff runs through my head. She really has gone. 

When we first found out Mum was dying I had decided that at 3 and a half, Audrey would forget her and that would make life easier. No explanations, no upset. However, I’ve realised that actually, Nanny can “stay alive” a little longer in order for Audrey to lock her in. She recognises her picture, she knows her voice (I still have some voicemails on my phone) and she knows her house. We arrived for the funeral and the kids were hanging out at Mum’s old house with Bibi (paternal Grandma) and some friends whilst the ceremony took place. Audrey looked around the living room; “Mummy? Where’s Nanny?” a poignant moment and of course it brought forth a tear, but honestly I was pleased. My clever little girl knew where we were (Nanny’s house) and she asked a reasonable question. I don’t need to keep telling her Nanny is gone. Because Audrey will keep her alive for me. As will Rex. The next generation. Their Nanny-inherented-eyelashes fluttering at me everyday.

My distractions.

Mother


As the UK celebrates ‘Mothering Sunday’, a plethora of cards are being opened (my mum likes the ones with long cheesy poems in, the more words the better) and flowers are being plonked into vases.

Maybe you’re having a roast dinner. Or some afternoon tea. Mostly likely you aren’t talking much about motherhood. You may even have found yourself saying it’s “commercial rubbish”; a day dreamt up by card companies to make more money.

As a mother of two under the age of four, in motherhood terms I feel I’m right in the thick of it. At least I think I am, oh god, tell me there isn’t a more difficult stage?!? And you see, becoming a mother makes me think about my own mother. It makes me look at her differently.

My mum has always seemed nutty to me. Sometimes in a nice way, sometimes in a frustrating oh-you-are-paranoid-because-you-read-the-daily-mail type way. When we were kids she used to sing a song about being carried off to the funny farm, oh what a silly mummy we had! But of course now I see. Now I know. The funny farm song has loomed for me on more than one occasion and my kids are both still under 4! I was the youngest of four. At some point she had two teenagers, a 4 year old and a tiny newborn. Now that is mental health worry territory! But wait, that’s not even the whole story…

When I was born, my mother had breast cancer. I was induced a little early so she could have a mastectomy and some radiotherapy. I was cared for by my (turning 98 years old this year!) Nan, my mother couldn’t breastfeed me, she couldn’t even hold me when she’d had her radiotherapy. I find it baffling that this rocky start never affected our relationship. That is to say, as a child, teenager and grown up, I always felt bonded to my mum, even if I did like to mock or scold her for being crazy/paranoid/irrational! But what she must have been through physically and emotionally in the first year of my life is difficult to imagine, as well as the rest of the family. I was unaffected by this traumatic time because I was just alive, sleeping, eating and pooing, unaware that Mum nearly died. She must have gone through hell.

Beyond this incredibly difficult time in her life, which we all got through, my mum then had to raise two small kids and two in their late teens as a part-time single parent; we moved to the coast and my father worked in London, staying there Monday-Friday, coming home on weekends. I used to think Mum was being dramatic saying she was practically a single parent, but of course now I know how much I appreciate adult company and assistance every evening- the countdown to 6pm each day. I can now see why she was a little bit nuts.

Since I’ve become a mother I’ve probably spent less time with my own. She’s gotten older, stopped doing things and I’ve been massively distracted by two little people to keep alive. The days of meeting for a shopping trip and a bowl of cappuccino in Costa have long gone, now it’s more a monthly meeting where I try to talk to her whilst every so often stopping to say “No Rex, be gentle!” Or “Don’t eat that!”.

My mum is ill. Well, it started as ill. It soon became scans and hospital appointments. Then it was potentially treatable cancer. Now it’s terminal cancer. So after being my original benchmark for what happens when you have cancer (you survive), she’s now become like the others, a cancer sufferer, not a survivor.

So we are celebrating Mother’s Day knowing it’s likely to be her last (I’m not sure celebrating is the word).

People say I’m strong, I don’t feel it. Truth is, I have to park this. Put it in a box on a very high shelf. Zip it up. Stash it away. I cannot let the feelings flood in because I have to function. I have my own little family now. We’re moving in a few weeks and I’m filling in job applications, but aside from these ‘big’ things; I simply have to drink tea, wipe bums and microwave sweet potatoes, because life goes on. 

I’d actually quite like to smash some things. Punch some walls. I’d like to run until it hurts and fall down on the ground breathless and sobbing. However I recognise that won’t help my mum. Sheila doesn’t need me to break, she needs me to be that strong person people think I am.

Happy Mother’s Day to you and yours. Maybe hug a little longer, maybe talk about what those early days were like for your mum. Because they are tough for me, they were tough for my mum, but I know it’s all worth it.

Mum and Dad in their dinner dance days.
On my wedding day.