Category Archives: Family

Microblog Mondays: Cake-tastrophe

E turned six today.

He requested, just like last year, a train cake (although with a few modifications).

I am not what you would call a Pinterest-worthy mama. The train cake last year was a stretch, but it turned out surprisingly well. So I wasn’t too stressed when I woke up this morning and still had to bake and decorate said cake.

By 11:03 a.m. I was sitting on my kitchen floor sobbing because absolutely NOTHING was working with the cake. It stuck in the pan and broke when I tried to get it out; it crumbled whenever I tried to cut it; the icing glued to the crumbed edges and broke them off; the jelly roll sitting on top of a flat slice of cake looked nothing at all like the oil tanker of my imagination.

The cake was completely, utterly, fucked, and I no longer had any time in which I could fix it because I was out of cake mix and out of icing and P. was soon going to wake up from her nap.

And although I knew it was JUST a cake, when E. had woken up that morning he had been disappointed because he had thought that all of his presents would be out and wrapped just like at Christmas and when I’d taken him to school he’d said to me sorrowfully that “this hadn’t been how [he’d] imagined [his] birthday would start” and the thought that I would have to pick him up that afternoon and tell him I hadn’t been able to make him the train cake he wanted, the train cake that he’d picked the decorations for when he went with me to Bulk Barn, the train cake that he’d asked for months ago, just broke my heart.

So I sat on my floor and cried.

And then I called in the cavalry.

My youngest sister turned up with a slab cake and more icing (AND helium balloons including a giant silver E) and my mother turned up with one of those icing nozzle things and together we fixed the cake.

And E. loved it (except for the fact that I directed my mother to put the boiler too far away from the cab of the steam locomotive).

Some days it really does take a village.

What was your worst baking disaster? Were you able to fix it?

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 Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), E.- the sixth year, Family, Microblog Mondays

Microblog Mondays: Tale as Old as Time

When my sisters and I were little we had a tradition of going to see every Disney animated film in the theatre. Originally this was less a conscious tradition and more a “going to the movies with your parents and siblings” thing, but as we got older it became a deliberate choice. We would rearrange our schedules to make it work, even after we started university.

Our first film was The Little Mermaid in 1989. My youngest sister was five, so it probably wasn’t an appropriate choice (sorry, third child). As labmonkey pointed out, exposure to Ursula at that young age possibly explains our youngest sister’s long-term fear of the ocean and the creatures that live in it.

Our unbroken streak lasted until 2002, when we did see Lilo & Stitch but then didn’t watch Treasure Planet, partly because at that stage I’d moved across the pond to start my graduate work and partly because it looked like such a terrible film that we weren’t inspired enough to make it happen.

The Little Mermaid; The Rescuers Down Under; Beauty and the Beast; Aladdin; The Lion King; Pocahontas; The Hunchback of Notre Dame; Hercules; Mulan; Tarzan; Fantasia 2000; The Emperor’s New Groove; Atlantis: The Lost Empire; Lilo & Stitch.

14 films.

14 years.

We grew up together with the music from Disney soundtracks running through our heads. I can still sing, letter perfect, “Under the Sea”, “Circle of Life”, “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” and a host of others. We have an entire series of sibling in-jokes that require, for example, only that one of us says “Llama face!” to the others to make us all fall about in helpless laughter.

Those movie trips are some of my best memories. We were children, then teenagers, then young adults, but the cartoons were always there. We had our quarrels as siblings do, but our bond never weakened, because between our father’s military career and our parents’ divorce we figured out very quickly that we could only ever truly count on each other to be there.

And then real life intervened and we all grew up too much and the tradition died.

Until now.

Yesterday, my sisters and I went to the movie theatre to watch the new Beauty and the Beast.

We were without partners, without children.

We worked out that the last time the three of us were together, just the three of us, was in the fall of 2010, when I was barely pregnant with E., just before my youngest sister moved to California.

We ate popcorn and Swedish berries.

We laughed and we jumped in our seats.

We bit our tongues so we wouldn’t sing along to the songs that we STILL know, after all these years.

We had so much fun.

I hope we get to do it again.

Do you love Disney animated films too? What’s your favourite?

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

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When you can’t go home again

My mother is planning to sell her house. It is the right decision: she is newly widowed; the house is much too big for her and too hard to maintain; the property is rural and isolated and requires too much work; she is a long drive away from her siblings, children, and grandchildren; and she does not have a strong support network of friends in the area where she currently lives.

It is a big house that got away from my mother and stepfather over the last few years as he became increasingly unwell. It is in an economically depressed area. Up until a couple of weeks ago, when I’ve thought about the reality of Mum selling the house, my thought process has largely revolved around the fear that my mother will want to sell the house and not be able to, or that she will sell it for such a pittance that she will not be able to move closer to me and my sisters, even if we help financially.

I’ve been afraid that the house will be an albatross, a millstone wrapped around my mother’s neck, dragging her down and chaining her to the past when she is willing to move forward and explore a new future.

When I saw my mother last week, she commented that the real estate agents who have been in to see the house have called it a “breath of fresh air”. There are, apparently, not many houses of its size on the market, and there are buyers who want a larger house.

They don’t think it will be hard to sell.

Whether this is true or not remains to be seen, but in that moment, when the sale of the house became a real possibility, the door that I have been keeping resolutely shut cracked open and the emotions that I have been holding at bay flooded in.

Because it’s not just a house, of course.

It’s our childhood home.

It’s the place my city-born son loves to visit most of all.

It’s where I can see all the stars.

Selling the house is absolutely, without a doubt, the right decision. And yet, last week, when I was sitting in the bedroom that used to be mine, looking out the window at the snow and the trees and the landscape that my body recognizes as “home”, it seemed impossible to comprehend that it might be one of the last times I was there, that at some point very soon visiting my mother will not mean returning to the place where I grew up.

It’s another loss.

How do I make the space to grieve it?

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Microblog Mondays: Guilty Pleasures

I love real estate.

Before we bought our house, I loved going to open houses, especially when we really were just “looking” and weren’t ready to buy yet.

I’m on the email list for one of the agents who is most active in our neighbourhood, so I feel like I have a good sense of how things are selling (extremely quickly and for stupidly over asking because the market in our city is out of control).

When we bought our house, we bought what we could afford and we bought a house that would not prove to be too big for us if we weren’t able to have children. We’re going to be in this house for a long time now, as we can’t afford to move up to anything bigger in our neighbourhood (see comment above about the ridiculous state of the market). So until recently I didn’t really have any reason to look at listings or go to open houses.

My mother is going to be moving, hopefully sometime this spring or summer.

She’s set me loose on MLS to look at listings in likely areas. When she comes to visit we’re going to go and see some places in person.

I have already spent a couple of hours cruising the website, looking at walk scores and watching virtual tours.

I am SO HAPPY.

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

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

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Microblog Mondays: (Un?)Welcome Memories

Microblog_MondaysI started a five year journal (this one) in May 2014 (on E’s third birthday). I knew I wouldn’t be able to manage the pressure of a “full” diary (I’ve tried multiple times and, except for travel diaries, always get bogged down after a few weeks), but I also knew I wanted something a bit more quotidian than this blog or the notebook where I write down E’s milestones and witty sayings.

This particular journal was perfect- even if I miss a day or two (or a week, as has happened), I am always able to go back and reconstruct what happened in enough detail for an entry.

I don’t have a single blank day. And, for close to two years, the journal entries are a mix of notes about E., my PhD, places we went, things we did, dinners we ate, books I read, etc. Just ordinary days in an ordinary life.

I didn’t know, of course, that 2016 was going to happen.

Here’s the thing: my journal preserves memories that I wouldn’t otherwise have. I usually reread the entries for that particular day from previous years and there have been many occasions where the entry has triggered a flood of memories about a day or an event that up until that moment I would have said I’d forgotten about completely.

So I don’t know that I would remember that particular sliding outing at E’s school with my Dad, or that lunch with my stepfather on the patio with the waitress who messed up all of our orders without the prompt of the journal entry.

The entries are nothing special. I didn’t know, of course, that those visits would turn out to be the last visits. I thought we had years left.

There is a stark contrast in the journal between the entries I made before my father’s accident and those that come afterwards. Rereading is physically painful. I don’t recognize the woman who made the entries in 2014 and 2015 or the life that she was living.

I’m hoping that one day I’ll be glad to have those ordinary visits preserved in more than just my memory.

Right now I feel like I never want to touch this journal again once it’s full.

Would you want the memories of those last ordinary days, or would it hurt too much to be reminded of what you had lost?

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, Grief, Loss, Microblog Mondays, Writing

Microblog Mondays: The (Not-So) New Normal

Microblog_MondaysOn Saturday, it was a year since my father’s accident. As I said to my sisters that morning over our WhatsApp group chat, he has survived, and we have too.

My Dad sent round an email that broke our hearts. He has fought so hard and accomplished so much. He has defied the doctors’ expectations time and time again. He has, despite our initial fears, decided that he can still have a meaningful life, even though it is not the life that he wanted, not the life that he had planned.

And yet his email made it clear just how much he still struggles to reconcile himself to this life.

I am still struggling too.

When I finished my PhD in December 2014, I got a card from my Dad and my stepmother. In it my Dad had written quite a lengthy message poking fun at himself by commenting that whenever he has told anyone about his daughters’ accomplishments the response has always been stunned silence followed by “Well they didn’t get that from you!”

I don’t have the cards my Dad gave me for any of my birthdays or for Christmas. I don’t tend to keep cards unless they were given to me by Q. (or made for me by E.).

I kept this one.

I didn’t know, of course, what was coming.

But keeping it has meant that I can turn to the card and still see my father’s familiar signature, his instantly recognizable script.

He’ll never write like that again.

Layer upon layer of loss.

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

 

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New year, old grief

I’m not sure what I thought was going to happen.

For months now, my family has been marching to the drum of “just get through 2016”. And even though it threw up one more unexpected complication (in that my poor Mum developed shingles right after Christmas, which meant that we couldn’t go and see her since P. isn’t yet vaccinated), in the end we all sent each other relieved/celebratory messages when the clock finally clicked over (or the next morning in my case since the idea that I will stay up until midnight, even to see a festering, wretched year out, is laughable).

And then 2017 got started in a big way with the birth of labmonkey’s son (on New Year’s Day, no less). I’m excited to meet the little guy, and excited that P & E will have a close cousin (geographically speaking), and relieved that everything went relatively well (actual message to a good friend of mine: “My sister had her baby and no one died!”).

And yet.

*********

My mother is still widowed.

I am still wrestling with what I discovered when I went to stay with my mother for a week in October. As her executor I helped her sort out a number of administrative issues still outstanding from my stepfather’s estate. Along the way I learned, to my abject shock and horror, that my stepfather had been steadily digging himself and my mother deeper and deeper into a financial hole, one that within a few years, if he had lived, they might not have been able to get themselves out of.

It has changed my memories of him.

It has forever altered our last few conversations, when he lay in his hospital bed and spent so much time telling me (telling all five of their children) that he could die at peace because he knew that my mother would be looked after financially.

It wasn’t true. My mother is not facing a lifelong sentence of poverty in her retirement solely because my stepfather died the day before his 65th birthday and not on the day itself (which would have invalidated the life insurance policy that has meant my mother could square their debts and start with no financial burdens, although no financial cushion either).

My mother should be able to be comfortable. She should be able to do some travelling. She should be able to spoil her grandchildren a little bit (because she will always spoil others and never herself), but she needs some luck in the next year or two for that to be true.

And it was so very nearly a disaster.

I don’t remember my dreams very much any more- too many nights of broken sleep thanks to P. But when I do dream about my stepfather, I’m usually fighting with him about his funeral.

I’m sorry that he’s dead.

I’m relieved that he died.

I’m carrying so much anger and there’s nowhere for it to go.

*******

And then there’s my Dad.

Because of the shingles, we ended up staying with my stepmother for the entire visit. We saw as much of my Dad as we could, but juggling two kids in an ICU room is not exactly easy. It will be easier when they have bought a new house (or renovated their current house), but this visit really drove home that it will never be easy again.

I don’t dream very much about my Dad either, but there was one dream, the first dream, that I will never forget. I had it in September, when E. had started school and P. was still sleeping well and I finally had a bit of quiet space to myself. In the dream, we drove up to their house and Dad answered the door. He was old Dad, the Dad from before the accident, right down to what he was wearing (black jeans and a green pullover sweater that my youngest sister had bought for him). He invited us in, and then the dream jumped to the dinner table and Dad was pouring wine for everyone. In the dream, I said to him, “Wow, Dad, so the operation with the pacer gave you back the use of your arms!” And then, in the dream, everything went blurry and grey and Dad’s face became so sad and there was a long pause before I finally said, “But how are you walking?”

Even in my dreams, I knew what I was seeing was impossible.

It still hurts so much.

It is worse when I see him.

When I’m at home and getting his emails or Skyping, it’s easy to take the most positive view of the situation possible, to focus on the future and the next steps that need to happen, to plan and organize. It becomes possible for my mind to skirt around the realities of my father’s new life.

You can’t skirt around it when your son is helping your father eat his dinner and casually wanders off after putting a piece of naan bread in your father’s mouth and all your father can do, your great, tall, powerful father, this pillar of strength in your childhood, is open his eyes really wide and make some noises around the bread that is clogging up his mouth so that you notice and come over and take it out.

My father is a real-life superhero. He has chosen to embrace the life that he has been handed, a life unimaginable from the one he was living a year ago. He has defied the statistics and the likely outcomes and the risk factors time and time again. In the last eleven months he has relearned to eat and to talk, twice. He has mastered using an eye tracker to control a laptop and has moved on to voice-controlled software. He can drive a power wheelchair with his head. He is on the diaphragm pacer (and off the ventilator) fifteen hours a day, every day.

He wants to live at home.

He wants to travel.

I honestly believe they will be writing about him in medical journals.

I could not be prouder.

But every time I see him my heart breaks again.

**********

I don’t cry very much these days.

This surprises me, as I used to weep at everything even before I had children.

When I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens, back in December of 2015, when I was pregnant with P., I cried for pretty much the entire last third of the movie, plus the entire way back home (real ugly crying too).

I cried a lot in February, and March, and April.

But I don’t cry anymore.

I know I haven’t processed my grief, my anger, my loss.

I know it’s all sitting there under the surface.

I don’t know if I’m not crying because I’m just worn too thin to feel or if I’m afraid if I start crying and feeling I might never stop.

*******

I’m so angry.

There are lots of healthy, happily retired couples in my neighbourhood. They like to go and have breakfast together and read the paper, or they have morning tea with scones, or they have lunch with wine and salad and paninis. I see them when I’m out walking (always with one or two children in tow).

I hate them.

It is an instinctive, visceral reaction when I see them.

My parents should be doing that too.

*************

2017 happened.

2016 ended.

My mother used to like to say that “The calendar fixes everything.”

Time heals all wounds, and all that.

But the calendar didn’t make it better.

It didn’t make it go away.

There was no magic, no miracle.

No unexpected happy ending.

We’re still moving forward, one day at a time, in a reality that we could never have imagined a year ago.

Time heals all wounds.

I don’t know how much more time I’m going to need.

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