Why I Still Love Christmas (having lost both parents)…

Christmas was once the most excruciatingly exciting time of year. From age 3 to 13ish it was the highlight of  life, from the build up (decorations going up, rifling through the wardrobe for presents, the BIG shop that included fizzy pop and chocolate) to that fateful night where the anticipation is just too much and you cannot sleep to that morning (eek I am sure we were up at 4am sometimes!) where the presents were ripped open and the day was pure joy and chaos.

We had big family Christmases, I think at their peak there was around 12 for dinner. My dad’s parents were not around (aside from his stepmother but she wasn’t with us Christmas Day), but my mother’s parents were close (Granddad was hilarious and a must-have for family games), I had three siblings, two old enough to have partners/kids, sometimes my uncle would join us with his wife, I think we had a great nan around too. We had one of those extendable tables and garden chairs with cushions were added into the mix.

I always had a mince pie for breakfast. We always played charades and various games in the evening. We always ate too much. I would have a Christmas Day outfit planned (a velvet dress generally, ooh I remember a year with ski pants and a roll neck!). My mother would embarrass me with her interest in flashing Christmas themed earrings and knitwear. My dad made me ‘snowball’ cocktails (don’t worry, mostly lemonade).

Sometime in the early nineties I accompanied mum to the local garden centre to finally update our hideous Christmas decorations. For years we had dragged those sparkly pink, purple, blue, silver… (you name it) foil garlands and lanterns (that hung from the centre of the room to each corner) down from the loft. We had a toilet-roll-holder-type-angel for the top of the tree. We revamped things that year and switched to green and red traditional stuff and ditched the tinsel. It was a big change back then.

It was in my late teens/early twenties that it really hit me that Christmas would never be the same again. I was no longer filled with that crazy level of excitement, our numbers had diminished a little, but most of all we were all grown up. Only a single nephew remained “young enough” for true Christmas excitement… for me, mum’s novelty stocking fillers became eye-rollerable rather than excellent (and she was an absolute stocking-filler-pro! Pre-internet we had lots of personalised items with our name or initials on, as well as very bizarre stuff like chocolate shaped like sardines in a tin, I LOVED my stocking in its heyday).

By the time I had met Ted and we tried that Christmas juggling you do when you are first a couple and want to spend Christmas together, but also do not want to leave your traditional family Christmas behind… I was ready to accept that Christmas had changed for good.

I think that made it easier for me to live with the fact that now, Christmas is very far away from that of my childhood. I have no parents, I have lost one sibling (and the connection to her two grown up children is weaker), My eldest brother is… well that’s difficult to describe, let’s just say he’s ‘a problem’ and my other brother battled cancer this time last year. I have one grandparent left, but she doesn’t know who I am and she is in a nursing home.

Yet none of this has ruined my enjoyment of this time of year. It has definitely affected it, you can’t escape the sadness loss brings, but that’s life. Naturally every emotional Christmas advert sets me off. Every Christmas song. I am either smiling or crying or both. But I’m a grown up now, it comes with the territory.

My mother was also a fan of Christmas. She liked to complain (in more recent years) about the stress and the effort, but she still had two Christmas tress and a crazy amount of decorations. She would still stuff the cupboard with nuts, chocolates and crisps even if only a few people were visiting, hey even if no one was visiting! Now I am in charge of creating the magic (hiding the presents not rifling through the wardrobe to find them!). Now I want to wear stupid Christmas jumpers and hats, now I see the fun in the tat.

And of course Audrey and Rex bring a whole new level to Christmas. We have their innocence and joy to surround us and their happy faces at what will be (in the scheme of things) quite simple presents. I took Audrey to an eye test last week and in the car she was singing along to Wham’s “Last Christmas” (she catches on to familiar tunes quite quickly and she’s definitely enthusiastic, if not in key), it was lovely.

The thing is, I like to think that everyone is in a better mood in December. So what’s not to like about that? A couple of weeks ago, a friend posted on Instagram about Kindly and the project they were running for people to write a letter for someone who is isolated at Christmas time. So I signed up immediately and within hours I had an email confirming I would be writing to a woman called Sheila (which was my mother’s name). I mean, obviously I was in tears but I was also so wonderfully uplifted by this tiny coincidence. That same day, I had stopped to donate to an old man collecting for the Youth Cancer Trust in our local Tesco and we had a very long chat. He was perplexed by the amount of people who completely ignored him saying “Good morning” and I told him about Audrey and how she loves to say hello to people but often they are just in their own world (or on their phone/listening to something on headphones). It’s part of life now to be zoned out and not in the moment with the other humans around you.

Which is why it is important to remember that Christmas is a time to connect with people. I had little wobble the other day when our ridiculous bumper pack of Audrey’s school pictures arrived and I thought; wow, we really don’t have that many people to give these to. But then I remembered that we do. We still have lots of family left and we have many friends who are “aunties” and “uncles” to our children. We have a wonderfully wide network and I am so grateful for that.

Every Christmas will be different, it may have felt like pure light as a kid and now it has darkness too, but I can handle that, because now my children are building their Christmas memories and they only see the light.

Merry Christmas one and all x

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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

Nursery times 2

Today I went back to work after 18 months of maternity leave (well, the cold, hard fact is, I was made redundant whilst on maternity leave, but let’s ignore that). 

As I walked home (that’s right, no dodgy commute, just a meander through leafy Hove), I felt so incredibly emotional. I’m a cry baby anyway (I’m sure I’ve mentioned my tearful John Lewis advert moments/sniffles at people dying on Neighbours/sobbing to La La Land?), but this felt like such a mix of feelings. Rex spent an entire day cared for by nursery staff! – You see he’s only spent time with friends and family before, this was a big deal. 

Audrey is a nursery pro – she started at 10 months and save a few tears at pick up (when she realised we left her!), she’s always been an easy-going sort; she took to it like a rubber ducky to kids’ bath time and we never looked back.

Rex has been a bit more clingy in general and at 16 months he’s at a trickier age than she was, but, nursery settling sessions went well. So I wasn’t crazy-nervous about him starting and to be honest second time around you’re much more willing for your kids to fly or fall. But when lunchtime arrived I realised I was keen to check in and hear from nursery that he was having a good time (which he was).

Once the day came to an end I was excited to get home to see my family. It was a good feeling because it is so rare that I get to miss Rex. Audrey has been going to nursery twice a week and on those days I get very excited for her to come home… clearly every day I cannot wait for my husband to get home, but for Rex… well we just don’t get very long breaks from one another to miss each other. What a novelty. I missed him. Amazing.

In many ways I’m one of those mums that complains about how I’m always with my kids and that I have no time for me, but then doesn’t let others look after them. I fear leaving them, it’s a control thing and I’m working on it. Walking down the street alone on a mild summer evening was pretty awesome. I started daydreaming about dates with Ted, maybe going for a run; just time without kids that I haven’t “allowed” myself before.

Getting home (5 minutes before my crew), I really got the “sight for sore eyes” phrase. Wow. My beautiful children arrived home with their Daddy, full of smiles and lots of shouting “Mummy!!”, it was wonderful. Rex was very clingy, but in such a lovely way and I got lots of cuddles and kisses.

For anyone wondering if working (and this is only part time to be clear) after having children is a good idea… thinking; will you feel guilty? Will it be difficult to do something other than wipe bums and faces? Will my children suffer? Well, in my experience, working or just having a regular activity away from your children is a great idea (insert thumbs up emoji here). I just feel like I’ve had a boost and that both my children seemed lovelier because I didn’t spend the day with them! Ha. 

Check them out in pics below – Rexy got for a balloon on his first day and he loves balloons!

A belated hello to 2017!

2016; quite a year.

It started well, with a lovely bit of maternity leave when Audrey napped and on nursery days I could go to the cinema or sit and drink hot chocolate alone. Or nap. Or stare into space. Basically just “be” without a child around.

Then February came; Rex arrived! He turned our lives completely upside down and took me from tired mummy to completely-shattered-and-almost-broken-mummy.

Both my children took their first independent steps! Audrey in October, aged 3 and 3 months, Rex in December aged 10 months and 4 days. 

I’ve was so very low at times last year and sometimes too focussed on that. I am looking forward to feeling more positive, as Rex sleeps more and they both become more independent. 

I have been wishing away the baby days, but please be assured I have also taken time to appreciate Rex’s delicious baby head, his tiny toes, they way he looks at me whilst having his milk, they way he needs a cuddle after a fall… all of his good baby stuff I will remember, I know I’ll miss it, but I am so excited about this summer. Two walking children!

Rex has started saying “Dada” more often and even aimed it at Ted, so we are taking that as his first word. I’m probably more excited that he has signed “milk” and “more”. We love Makaton.

In the meantime, Audrey’s talking is coming along fantastically and she surprises every day with new words and clever phrases. “Audrey’s so happy”, “Rex, what’s wrong? D’you need a duddle?” … as I type this she is playing with a doll saying “You done a wee wee? Do a wee wee in the potty? Say goodbye to everyone”. She’s a star.

Scarily 2017 would be the year Audrey goes to school, but we have made the decision to defer her until next year, giving her extra time to be potty trained, be a strong walker and generally close the gap between her and her peers. We have picked a local mainstream school and fee very strongly that Audrey will thrive there. She loves learning through play, she is a goody-two-shoes and I think she will be popular at primary school.

Anyway, let’s get 2017 out of the way first. I need to find a job so that could lead me down a new path. And once Rex turns a corner and learns a bit about being gentle and sharing, he and Audrey will be great playmates.

Cheers!
My two crazies.

World Down Syndrome Day 2016

  
Here we are again, our third World Down Syndrome Day. I feel like I’m always banging the DS awareness drum, I really hope it’s not a bore to people.

This time around we’ve got tiny Rex with us, depriving me of sleep and making me a little bit insane (well the hormones post-pregnancy are). So it’s a crazy time. But one thing Rex has done by crashing into our world and turning things upside down; is shine a light on just how wonderful his sister is. I’m not saying him being difficult makes us realise how good Audrey is… Well… I guess I am a bit… But I know he doesn’t mean to, he’s just being a demanding newborn, wanting to feed and to sleep in our arms, crying too much and pooping and weeing at the wrong time… But in amongst the stress and tiring times, we have a beautiful little girl who is unaffected by the chaos – but has the sensitivity to ask if we (mostly Rex and I, the criers!) are ok. She’s offering cuddles and (heartbreakingly), saying and signing “Mummy sad”. She is playing happily by herself, casually saying “Hi Rex” when we bring him into the room, offering him cuddles when he cries. Her emotional intelligence is incredible.

And so, on this day, I celebrate Audrey for being our daughter, someone we love now more than we ever thought possible, who happens to have Down’s Syndrome. And if you let that define her or you make a judgement about what she might be like based on this syndrome, you will be way off the mark. Because I know there are many who are having scans and taking the screening test to find out their chances of a baby with Down’s Syndrome… And some are doing this to “prepare” (they have no intention of aborting), but want to know what’s coming. But many are geared up for aborting if the chances are high – they are thinking they couldn’t handle a disabled child. They may even be worrying about all the difficulties  they’ll face. They will probably be wondering what kind of life can someone have with a learning disability? Some may even say that livng with a disability; “well that’s no life at all”. Of course I can’t guarantee things won’t be hard, that their won’t be health issues and struggles, but I can tell you about our daughter with Down’s Syndrome. I can tell you that our experience has been so amazing and that her life – wow, she loves it to the max. She’s having a great time and we love Audrey more and more each day. Now that Rex is here, we look at her as a big sister and we are so proud and excited by the prospect of them being friends forever. We are also thinking about how much she will teach him. 

Happy World Down Syndrome Day everyone!