Category Archives: Family

Sandwiched

On Sunday, I was eating lunch with Q. and the kids and getting ready to take E. out to a special concert (an early Christmas present). A flurry of messages from my sisters led to a phone call to my mother, which led to me putting P. in the car on Monday morning and driving for the rest of the day.

My Dad has been very unwell over the last couple of weeks with several major ups and downs. My youngest sister had been in to see him that weekend and it was clear that one of us needed to be there after she left.

The drive up reminded me of those train rides after he first had the accident, the landscape equally bleak, his status equally tenuous. It is easy, too easy really, for my sisters and I to shift back into crisis-management mode. We have done so much of it over the last (almost) two years.

The big change, of course, was that I was driving rather than on the train, because the unborn baby who rode that train with me was now a toddler giggling at me through the backseat mirror as she made her stuffed animals dance to the music. She was better company, certainly, than when she was still in utero, even if we did have to make a few unscheduled stops in the parking lots of roadside rest stops so I could put her boots back on after she pulled them off, tossed them away, and then regretted that choice.

Better company, but not easier to manage.

I was able to come only because my father’s health crisis occurred both after my semester had finished and before my mother had moved. Q. had enough flexibility in his work week to do the school run on the days when we didn’t have our nanny, and I was able to stay with my mother and leave P. with her during the day while I drove to the hospital. The drive is an hour and fifteen minutes (except for last night when it was inexplicably two and a half hours) and during the day, when it’s clear, it’s a nostalgic journey through the landscape that still feels like “home” to me. At night, or in a snowstorm (we had one of those this week too), it’s long and tedious.

By the time I was able to see my Dad on Tuesday morning, he was much better, and by Wednesday he was clearly on the mend, despite, as his doctors said, their total inability to find out what had been wrong with him in the first place. It must have been an infection of some sort- his nurse told me that it happens not infrequently where a patient gets sick and then recovers without them being able to identify where the infection is hiding. It would have been better if they had known what it was. The work required to allow my father to leave the hospital and live in his new house progresses at a glacial pace and this latest scare will no doubt contribute to even more heel dragging on the part of my stepmother.

I am taking P. with me to the hospital this morning for what will almost certainly be a very brief visit with my father (busy toddler and critical medical equipment not being an ideal combination). Dad is looking forward to seeing her. It’s been nice for me to have some time just with him, something which, again, hasn’t happened since the early months after his accident as usually when I’m in town I have both children with me. We’ve been able to talk about my work and play some online Sudoku. I’m confident that I’m leaving him in relatively good spirits and restored to (his version of) good health.

We are out of crisis and back to our (still new) normal.

By the time I am home again, I will have put close to 2,000 kilometres on the car and spent more than twenty hours driving.

I have blown an entire week of work.

I have been Christmas shopping online at 5 a.m. when I can’t get back to sleep after P. has woken up to nurse.

I am glad I came.

It was the right thing to do.

But I am tired.

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Filed under Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Family, P.- the second year

Too Busy

I missed my 30 posts in 30 days goal by three posts. I got pretty close, and I even had ideas for two posts that would be quick and easy but still have some substance, but the last two days of the month were so crazy blog posts were never going to happen.

Tuesday I got home from teaching around 9:45 p.m. and went straight to bed. P. slept through from 7 (or thereabouts) to some time after 6 for the second night in a row. I nursed her and she went down again. She woke up on Wednesday morning one minute before our nanny arrived at 8:20.

Amazing, no?

Well, no. It turns out P. was sleeping like mad to try to fight off the HFM she’d picked up from Spud, as when I got home on Wednesday there was a note from our nanny that she thought P. was getting a yeast infection because she had a few spots in her diaper area.

It wasn’t a yeast infection.

P. woke up covered in spots on Thursday morning (after being up five or six times that night). She was only up twice last night and is covered in more spots today. Some of them seem to be crusting and drying already so I’m hopeful she’ll fight it off quickly. She is eating well and is mostly cheerful for everyone else (and is a total mess when I’m around). E. is still healthy, thank goodness. Q. and I are both sick but I think we just have end of semester colds. Q. had a sore throat one day and I’ve had a super runny nose but no fevers and no spots to report for either of us.

So Wednesday I dropped E. at school and then got straight into the car to drive to meet my mother so we could house hunt. We were supposed to be on a fact finding mission- trying to narrow down what Mum really wants.

We did that admirably as Mum ended up putting in a successful offer on a townhouse!

It worked out so well- we were in the complex to look at another place (which had just come back on the market after a conditional sale had fallen through) and her agent said that this one had just come onto the market the day before and was significantly less expensive. She felt we should go and compare. The less expensive one was also MUCH MUCH nicer inside. The basement hadn’t been as finished but the main two floors were beautiful- Mum could just move in and not even have to paint.

The funny thing is that the day before, when the agent had sent through the listing for the one that wasn’t as nice, I’d looked at the pictures and thought, “Gee, I can really see Mum living there.”

Then we went to see three condos, the last of which was empty, so we stood in it for a while and discussed. Ultimately Mum really didn’t want to move to a condo. She hadn’t liked the downtown. She really wanted some outdoor space. She needed a townhouse. And she really liked the nice one.

Mum and I went for lunch (where we independently decided to order the exact same thing) and labmonkey looked up transit routes for us while the real estate agent went back to her office and emailed us other examples of townhouses in that complex that had sold in the last few months. It was clear the nice one was massively under priced and that the complex itself was in a great location.

It was also clear that the middle units had a different layout from the end units so we decided we needed to see the other layout (there was a third unit in the complex that was also back on the market after a conditional sale had collapsed due to financing).

Here is the part I am most proud of: while we were waiting for the agent to call us back to tell us whether we could go and see the third unit, we were also trying to figure out whether I should cut and run because I had to leave basically right then to have any chance of avoiding the traffic.

I was considering doing it so I wouldn’t miss three bedtimes in a row (even though Q. was totally fine with that happening). I was super tired. I hadn’t finished my seminar paper yet.

And then Mum started to crumple too. “You bail and I’ll bail and we can get back before dinner and we’ll just tell the agent we don’t want to see that other place,” she said.

I pushed right back and told her she had to see that other place because if she didn’t see it she wouldn’t be in a position to put an offer in on the nice place and it was going to sell that day because there were already offers on it. And then our agent called and we could get in to see the third unit in half an hour and I decided to stay because I knew if I didn’t stay Mum wouldn’t be able to make any decisions- she was getting overwhelmed and frazzled.

So we saw the third unit and it was a total non-starter. It was clear the layout in the other two was much better even if the kitchen was a bit tucked away. We conferred with labmonkey (who had realized the transit was even better than she had originally thought). We agreed on an offer price (above the price of the not as nice one, but not by much). And then I did finally get in the car and drive home (which took over two hours but I knew it would). On the drive home I talked to labmonkey and my other sister, and to Q., and to the mum of E’s best school friend who was trying to organize summer camps (HOW can it be time to think about this??!!).

I got home just in time to nurse P. and put her in the crib. Then I got E. in bed, and ate a late dinner with Q. I was just clearing up the dishes when I learned from our agent that the offer had been successful and Mum had a new house!

We went to bed a bit after 10 and I could not get to sleep. I was excited and stressed about the new house and worried about P. and my paper. I saw the clock at 11:37 p.m. and then I fell asleep. P. had woken herself up and resettled a couple of times while I’d been trying to fall asleep so I suspected I was in for a rough night (which was true).

Thursday I was up early because P. woke up and needed to nurse again around 5:30 and then I didn’t get back to sleep because I started thinking about house stuff. I really hadn’t slept well- lots of tossing and turning when not getting up to deal with P. My cold was getting worse.

I took E. to school, came home, spent 90 minutes making the handout for my paper and 50 minutes finishing it (I needed to write a conclusion, streamline the introduction and generally edit in a few places). Then I nursed P. before her nap, showered, dressed in my good clothes, printed my paper and handout, paid our nanny, and jumped in the car. While in the car I ate an apple and a Lara bar.

It poured rain the whole time I drove (to another nearby city- I cannot believe some people do these kinds of commutes every day). While I drove I talked to Mum and labmonkey about financial stuff to do with the house. I’d left later than I wanted to but I got there exactly on time. I met with a grad student (I had a caffeinated tea because I was seriously flagging) for an hour, then had twenty minutes to look over my paper (during which time I also called my other sister to talk financials and read a worrying email about my father). Then I went to the departmental wine and cheese where I ate some cheese and drank 1/4 of a glass of wine. Then I gave my paper and spoke for 50 minutes and answered questions (not very many in the end, but I thought the paper went well).

By the end of the paper I was a wreck. I was light headed and shaky and I thought I was running a fever. But I think I was probably just hungry and tired because we then went out for dinner and I felt a lot better. I drove the other two people to the restaurant and they had to stand around while I pulled out a car seat (because I had cut things too fine in the morning to get it out before I left) and then cleaned up the sea of plantain chips and Cheerios I found lurking beneath it. We had a nice dinner out and then I got back in the car to drive home again.

I got home around 9:45. Q. was already in bed. The kids were asleep. I pottered around a little bit getting unpacked and organized until the adrenaline had worn off and then I crashed.

Today was supposed to be quiet as I’m home with P. and E. has no school but is out for most of the day on a special adventure with the nanny, but P. has been a wreck all day (still spotty, obviously not feeling well, and suffering from major Mummyitis) and I’ve been trying to organize the lawyers for the house purchase. So it’s been one of those days where I’ve felt like I’ve been rushing around like a maniac but not accomplishing very much.

Still. End of semester. It’s December. The crazy week is over.

I made it!

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Filed under Family, Life after the PhD, Money Matters, The Sick

Novus Domus

Today I am off to help my mother househunt. I’m not expecting we’re going to find THE ONE on this trip, but we’re scheduled to see seven properties and I’m hoping by the end of the day we’ll both have a better idea of what she likes (or doesn’t like) and what she is looking for in her new life (and it really is a new life and not just a new residence as she will be moving from the eastern end of the province to the south, leaving a rural area for a heavily urbanized one, and changing from a sprawling four bedroom house in the woods to a condo or a townhouse).

The process of selling her house and preparing to move has been very stressful for my mother. She’s going to leave behind the house in which she’s lived for the past twenty-six years, the house where she raised her children and the house where she was left behind when they went out into the world, the house where she celebrated her marriage to my stepfather and the house where she sat with him until he drew his last breath.

That house has a lot of memories tied up in it.

When I left it (at the point where I thought it might have been for the last time) earlier this month, I took pictures of the yard while Q. was loading the kids into the car. The sun was out. There was fresh snow. It was beautiful, but both Mum and I knew how desolate it would become later in the winter.

Mum had tears in her eyes as I snapped the last few photos.

“This house needs a family,” I told her.

“I know,” she said. “It’s just hard for me to realize that my family has left.”

As hard as it is to go, Mum wants a different life now. She doesn’t want to rattle around in that house, alone as she ages, and hundreds of kilometres away from her children and grandchildren.

And so, over the past year, she has taken the steps to make this move possible.

I’m really proud of my mother.

She has been extraordinarily brave.

It takes great courage to be willing to pack up the life you have known longer than any other.

The process of choosing the new house has been hard for her. She isn’t quite sure what she wants her new life to look like. It’s hard for her to imagine the possibilities. It’s easy for her to get overwhelmed.

That’s where I come in.

Over the past year I’ve been my mother’s unofficial financial advisor and real estate consultant.

I helped her to make a budget and a spreadsheet that would let her track her savings.

I’ve gently helped her come to accept the reality that she will need help from her daughters to be able to buy a property in the new market that is not either a hovel or so small as to make her feel claustrophobic (neither of which we want for her).

I’ve asked her the hard questions, sometimes more than once over several months, to try to help her identify her priorities (two bedrooms, at least some outdoor space, lots of light, a good kitchen, a decent walk score and access to transit).

I’ve offered advice on online property listings.

And tomorrow, I’ll be with her when she first looks at properties after she’s sold her house.

It’s going to be real tomorrow (I think) in a way it hasn’t been before when Mum’s looked at places.

Now she’s actually in a position to buy one.

I expect that will feel a bit overwhelming too.

It will be good for her to have company.

I spoke to Mum on the phone yesterday, when I was eating a (late) lunch while writing my seminar paper for Thursday, and she was in the middle of the long drive from her old home to what will become her new.

We chatted about our plan for Wednesday.

Mum told me that she’s continued her practice of gratitude: every day she writes three things in her journal that made her happy or for which she is grateful.

My Mum has given me so much.

I’m so glad I can do something for her.

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Outbreak?

Last Saturday we spent a delightful day with labmonkey, Pea, Spud, and three-fifths of another family (whose parents I’ve been friends with for longer than I’ve known Q.)

The reason only three-fifths of the family were in attendance was on Friday the Dad emailed to say that everyone was feeling unwell and they weren’t sure whether or not they should come, given the littlies.

I wrote back saying that, while I couldn’t speak for labmonkey, I took the view that since E. was in school, he and P. were exposed to pretty much every germ out there. Colds and other minor illnesses really didn’t bother me.

The Mum and the middle child opted not to come, but the others did. There was pulled pork for lunch and pizza for dinner. The adults tested out a boardgame Q. has invented (needs some tweaking but shows great promise) while the bigger kids built marble runs and LEGO creations. The littlies napped (but not at the same time). All the kids trashed the living room, which by the end of the day looked like a tornado had visited. After dinner the adults and big kids played Codenames Pictures while P. and Spud pushed buttons and pulled levers on the exersaucer while also staring at each other suspiciously.

We had a great day.

Monday morning labmonkey messaged me to say she was afraid Spud had Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. On Saturday he’d had only one suspect spot, not enough to set off any alarm bells. By Monday it was a different story. A doctor confirmed the diagnosis Monday evening.

It’s possible E. had a very very mild case of HFMD in kindergarten as I can remember him having a few odd spots around his mouth and then learning later from another mother that HFMD was going through the class.

I’m not at all certain that’s what it was.

And I’m absolutely certain P.’s never had it.

The incubation period is 3-6 days. If we can get to this weekend without either of them being sick, we should be in the clear.

Q. is convinced our kids have super immune systems since they almost never get sick, even with E. (no doubt) bringing home all kinds of surprises from school.

Fingers crossed he’s right.

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Filed under Family, Friends, The Sick

Do What You Can

My Dad is still not in his new house.

Partly this is a result of the administrative red tape that is snarling his ability to hire the personal support workers he needs to be able to live at home. There are many hoops which need to be jumped and everything seems to be moving at a glacial pace.

The modifications that need to be made to the house to allow Dad to live there have not been done. I do not know if the delay here is also tied up with the funding issue or if it is because my stepmother is insisting on unpacking boxes (also at a glacial pace) instead of making phone calls and getting quotes.

I am trying to be charitable, but it is difficult. My stepmother has made it very clear over the last year and a half that she feels my sisters and I (and the rest of my father’s family) have no place in the decision-making process around their new life. Offers of assistance are deemed to be interference (especially if the information provided was discovered on our own initiative). Fundamentally I do not trust her to be able to manage this very difficult situation.

My friend who is an RT has her doubts about the direct funding system- she feels it is too new and the kinks have not yet been ironed out. She also feels that requiring the patient’s family to manage the staff required for the patient’s care is an unfair burden. She told me, point blank, that my stepmother will burn out very quickly if she continues to refuse to allow anyone else to help.

I am expecting, dreading really, that when my father eventually does move into the new house, it will be an unmitigated disaster (or, in Q’s words, an “effin’ gong show”). I am trying to prepare myself for this, to reconcile myself to the likelihood that the final phase of my father’s life (however long it may prove to be) will not be what we have wanted for him, what we would have fought for, what we could have arranged, if only we had been allowed.

It is affecting my relationship with my father, as much as I wish it didn’t. I have had to place some emotional distance between myself and the situation or I would not be able to function. If I wake up too much after nursing P. in the wee hours, I am likely to spend an hour or more lying awake in bed worrying about what is yet to come. I am so deeply angry at my stepmother, and I am disappointed that all through the aftermath of his accident my father has not been willing to fight her on this, to insist that other people be part of the process, that the tasks be delegated.

I should not have been surprised. When my father first got engaged to my stepmother, I wrote my father a long letter outlining all the reasons why I thought he shouldn’t marry her (and I believe to this day that they were valid). I asked him not to show her the letter.

He gave her the letter, which meant I then had to endure a letter from her expressing her disappointment and hurt. And this has been the pattern- there is nothing we say to our father that is “in confidence”, nothing that he won’t then go and tell her. He throws us under the bus where she’s concerned, as labmonkey likes to say.

We would move the moon, if he would let us.

But all we can do is watch from a distance and hope that we will be proven wrong.

*******

My mother is quite possibly about to sell her house (she has an acceptable offer that is conditional on a house inspection which is taking place tomorrow).

I don’t think she believed this was going to happen. She’d resigned herself to another long, dark, cold winter there. That this might not happen, that she might need a new place to live early in the new year, has thrown her into a bit of a tizzy.

Finalizing the sale of her house has eaten up all of her emotional energy, which meant she’s become overwhelmed by the prospect of having to simultaneously start seriously looking for a new place to live. Understandable- it’s a huge change (from a big house on multiple acres in a rural, economically depressed region to a condo in a mid-size city in the most densely populated region in the province).

She doesn’t know what questions she needs to be asking herself.

She doesn’t yet know what her new life could look like (or what she wants it to look like).

It was all getting to be too much.

So she delegated the real estate search to me (making me very happy in the process, because looking at real estate is a guilty pleasure).

Yesterday I had a very productive thirty-minute phone conversation with Mum’s agent in the new city, which answered some of my questions and clarified some of the factors at play. Then, this morning, I had a forty-minute phone conversation with Mum where I asked her some hard questions about what she wanted (or thought she wanted).

Some of the questions she had firm answers for (a balcony is non-negotiable).

Some of the questions she was able to use to think about her new life more carefully (no, she doesn’t need two full bathrooms because most people who will be visiting her will now live close enough that they won’t need to stay with her overnight).

And some of them she genuinely couldn’t answer yet (will she feel comfortable walking alone on nature trails when she doesn’t feel she can walk alone on the isolated roads of her current area), so we will keep all options open as we move forward.

It is still very much going to be Mum’s decision about where she lives, and I’m sure she’ll take a larger role in the process once the sale is finalized and she can clear some mental space for thinking about the future.

But for now she needs me, and, let’s be honest, her need has come at a good time.

It’s good to feel useful.

If I can’t fix my father’s future life, maybe I’ll at least be able to help my mother build a good one.

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Filed under Family, Grief, Loss

Hallowe’en

Mel’s most recent Microblog Monday post (which I yet again missed participating in as Mondays are devoted to prepping Tuesday’s class) was about sucking at Hallowe’en.

The title grabbed me, as I was, for once, extremely confident that I was rocking at Hallowe’en this year.

Then I read the post and discovered that for Mel, sucking at Hallowe’en meant not being super creative with her choice of costume and opting for comfort over clever. Since it hasn’t occurred to me to dress up at Hallowe’en for more than a decade, my definition of sucking has to be different from hers.

We are largely minimalists in our Hallowe’en preparations at our house, a combination of lack of time (both), lack of creative skills (me) and a lack of interest (Q., who comes from a country where Hallowe’en was a non-event in his childhood and is only now starting to get a bit of a foothold thanks to the inundation of American culture). Q. is happy for me to do whatever I want to do, but finds the entire holiday deeply strange.

I buy the candy (and secretly eat too many tiny chocolate bars) and buy the pumpkins and carve the pumpkins with E. and roast the pumpkin seeds and organize E.’s costume and take him trick-or-treating. Q. stays home and hands out candy (and secretly hides the tiny Snickers to eat later).

I suspect this is our last year where our house boasts only one (or two, if I’ve felt ambitious) inexpertly carved pumpkins, as E., at six, is now cognizant of all the decorations on the other houses. He believes firmly that we should “make our house more scary” next year. I quite like the giant webs stretched over people’s front porches, complete with equally giant spiders lurking in the corners. I’d be happy to string something like that up next year, provided I can buy a pre-made web (see above re: lack of creative skills). I think Q. would draw the line at some animatronic monstrosity.

This year was especially complicated since a) P. was now in the mix and b) I teach on Tuesday nights, so would be unable to participate in any of the evening festivities. Luckily my youngest sister was in town and was happy to come and help out.

As of Monday morning, our house had no candy and no pumpkins. Despite discovering on Monday morning that our two closest grocery stores were out of pumpkins (although there was still plenty of candy), by Monday night all was sorted, and we’d even managed to carve the pumpkin after dragging it home after school (E. picked the largest one in the flower market and we were just able to get it home by draping the bag over the handle of the stroller to take some of the weight). E., like last year, drew the design for the pumpkin and (new this year) did some of the carving himself, as well as most of the scooping.

I felt like I spent most of Monday rushing around in a blind panic, but I was still utterly confident that we were going to have an amazing Hallowe’en because E’s costume was THE BEST.

Months ago, E. decided he wanted to be the Titanic for Hallowe’en.

He never changed his mind.

I haven’t been one to make E’s costumes in the past. He was a hand-me-down monkey his first year (when he didn’t go trick-or-treating), a shark his second (I picked that costume and purchased it), a bunny his third (the first year he decided what he wanted to be- a friend made him bunny ears and a bunny tail and I dressed him in brown), a monkey (again) his fourth (because he was insisting he wasn’t going to go trick-or-treating at all and I had a (different, larger) hand-me-down costume that we stuck on him when he changed his mind (predictably) on the day itself), a red snake his fifth (I ordered a snake mask from Etsy and made a tail of sorts by stuffing paper into one leg of a pair of red tights), and a witch his sixth (I ordered a witch’s hat online, stuck him in my graduate gown from the UK and handed him the child’s broom we have in the kitchen). My approach to costumes can best be summed up as “buy it and keep it simple”.

This approach doesn’t work when your child wants to be the Titanic, especially when your child is obsessed with the Titanic and has firm ideas about how the costume has to look (“The fourth funnel was a decorative funnel, so all the funnels have to have smoke coming out of them except for the fourth and it needs to have working red and green lights to show the port and starboard sides and an iceberg dangling off the side, but just the tip of the iceberg because most of it would have been under the water”).

Between E’s vision, his auntie’s creative genius, labmonkey’s willingness to use her Amazon Prime membership to purchase a captain’s hat at short notice, Q.’s deft touch with an electric drill, our surprisingly appropriate collection of craft materials, and my determination not to disappoint my kid, over the course of a couple of weekend afternoons, we built a Titanic costume.

And I am not going to #humblebrag here: it was AMAZING.

E. brought the house down at his school’s costume parade.

On Hallowe’en night, trick-or-treating with his baby sister, the shark (reusing his old costume!), he was a sensation.

He came home with a frightening amount of candy. “People gave me extra as soon as they saw the costume!” he told me the next morning.

He was SO happy.

He’ll probably remember that night forever.

I don’t think we’ll be able to top it- we’ve peaked at age six (either that or we’ve just set a very worrying precedent when it comes to creating unusual costumes from scratch).

It was so worth it.

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), E.- the seventh year, Family

Microblog Mondays: Our House(s)

Both of my parents’ houses are up for sale.

They are for sale for good reasons: my mother wants to move closer to her children and grandchildren, and my wheelchair-bound father cannot get into his house and needs to sell it so he can move to the new house which will be accessible.

Still.

It is surreal to be able to look them up on MLS, to read how the real estate agents have described them, to watch the slideshows of the rooms I know so well.

My mother has lived in her house for twenty-six years.

My father has lived in his house for twenty.

Neither of those houses is “home” for me now, but I have a lot of memories tied up in both.

E. is also struggling. He’s asked both sets to take videos of the houses, “going through every single room so I can always remember what they looked like”.

Some change is good. Some change is necessary.

That doesn’t always make it easy.

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Family, Loss, Microblog Mondays