Two year old you

Dear Fred,

17156074_2103858033173957_1695764839204359995_nToday is your second birthday, and whilst you’re spending some time with Daddy, I wanted to write a Blog about 2 year old you.

It was wonderful watching you and your friends enjoy your birthday party yesterday; clambering around on the soft play, eating “choo choo cake”, singing songs and generally having lots of fun. The only thing missing was your Grandad, who helped Momma plan the party – and was looking forward to it very much. In the car on the way to the party as I told you all the people who would be there, you repeatedly asked for “Gandad,” and Momma had to explain once again that she too would love to see him, how it was very sad, but how I was sure if he could, he would be there in spirit. I’m writing this because whenever you’re reading this Blog, Freddie; you will probably have forgotten the wonderful memories and times you shared with your Grandad. But yesterday you asked for him, and I know he would’ve loved your party and been so proud of you. Yesterday was the first big event  without Grandad around, and Momma did need a couple of glasses of wine at the end of the day.

So, two year old Freddie….

LOVES…. Thomas the Tank Engine, Postman Pat DVDs [you’re already quite au fait with changing the DVDs yourself in the player], chocolate buttons, Weetabix for breakfast, collecting the eggs from the chickens, playing on momma’s phone, driving your mini car – especially reversing when you’re supposed to go forwards!; Percy cat – who you call Lala, singing “twinkle twinkle chocolate bar”, Tots Rock on fridays, morning and bedtime “boobie”, reading books on Momma’s lap, going down the big slide at the park, bathtime bubbles … Your favourite meal of the week is chicken curry; the hotter the better…

DISLIKES …cleaning your teeth, eating the eggs you like to collect, sitting in the buggy …

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You are such a fun, cheeky little chap – forever making me laugh.It is incredible that you’re 2 already. I look back on the day you were born with such wonder and amazement, and always will. You rocked my world, little boy. Momma was pretty naive going into a pregnancy on her own, unsure what everything entailed. These have been the best two years of my life, and even in the present sadness, you keep me going and remind me of what’s important.

So bring on more adventures, little boy. You are so loved.

Momma xx

 

The things I’ve learnt…

The main thing I’ve learnt over the past three and a half weeks, is that grief is messy and individual, sporadic and intense, all consuming and desperately illogical. This morning I found myself crying as I threw away an empty shampoo bottle. When I bought that, I thought to myself – everything was okay, Dad was here. The new shampoo represented a moving on, of sorts… and so it is with so many things. Today I took Fred to the park next door – where Dad walked most days. It was a bright sunny day, and I longed for him to share it with me. Oh Dad, I thought to myself … four weeks ago today we were walking in this very park,together.

I returned to the allotment a couple of days after Dad’s death. It was something I had to do. For one, I wanted to find his glasses, which the paramedics had placed in the shed. I also found some medical packaging for adrenaline injections and airway tubes. I brought them home with me because they seemed so connected to Dad’s last moments. They remain in a cupboard in the kitchen. It helped, in some ways, seeing  a quiet, peaceful allotment without the horrors of that Tuesday afternoon, which will be forever etched on my heart.

I have learnt that there is a lot to organise when you feel least like making decisions and organising anything. There is a lot of waiting, for coroners and death certificates, being placated with “it’s a busy time” [poplar time to die, evidently]. Then the funeral arrangements, the photos for the order of service,  the writing of the eulogy which I hope to be able to deliver on Monday … it seems never ending. People to tell, phonecalls to make, things to tick off another list. Gin to drink.

On Wednesday I went to the Chapel of Rest to see Dad for a final goodbye. I didn’t go to have a chat to him -because I could do that anywhere…. but it was important for me to have a different last image to the one I had. I was so nervous; perhaps because I worried I would be left with a worse image. Ultimately it was the right decision to go. I’d taken the photo Dad carried around in his wallet,of him and Freddie in the park;and a card the nuns had given him in Calcutta, with a Mother Teresa prayer on it. I placed those in his hands – it somehow felt fitting that he’d always carried them around, so they should go with him. He looked smaller, but he looked like Dad; and his nails still had soil underneath them. He’d have liked that. I gave him a kiss on his forehead and left with a sense that he was okay, wherever he now is.

I’ve learnt who my friends are these weeks; the friends who’ve cooked Freddie meals, done my laundry, sent virtual hugs, adminstered real ones; held my hand as we walked into the Chapel of Rest, made arrangements to be here for me tomorrow and monday; phoned me, listened… these are the little acts of kindness you don’t forget. Just as you don’t forget the people who haven’t done any of those things and have interfered and involved themselves in disagreements then take offence when I tell them to fuck off. Grief is raw and raging; grief provokes arguments. Essentially, different people are coming to terms in different ways, with the fact that however much we don’t want it to be true – Dad isn’t coming back.

Last year when Dad was in hospital awaiting a heart transplant, one evening a heart was found. Ultimately the surgery didn’t go ahead because the donor heart wasn’t healthy enough; but I spoke to Dad that evening on the phone – and there was an unspoken understanding that this could’ve been a last conversation.  He told me at least three times to “look after that little boy”. I told him that I loved him.

And so it is that my little Freddie is the ray of sunshine to get me through. My little Freddie who has a new photo memory book of his dear Grandad, and still looks confused when standing at the lounge window asking for “Gandad Momma, Gandad?”

Monday is nearly here… and the last thing I can do for my dear, kind, courageous Dad, is to stand there and read my eulogy …because he deserves that….

 

2016 – mixed, but survived …

For this first Blog of 2017 I’m sitting in bed with a mug of hot Ribena, whilst my teething snotty little boy naps in his cot – his faithful kitten curled up beside him. It’s quite nice, being snug in bed listening to the rain pitter patter against the windows. I was meant to go to Cheltenham racing today, but it hasn’t happened, and I’m not overly disappointed. My bets are placed though, and I may catch some ITV racing action later. I saw in 2017 around a log burner with good conversation and company whilst Fredders successfully slept in a travel cot upstairs [the kid is getting good].

We survived Christmas relatively unscathed but the lounge is now even more like a Smyths Toys outlet.

2016 seemed to rattle past at an alarming speed. This time last year I still had a baby, and now I have a bustling soon to be two year old – who never fails to make me smile. My heart could burst at the fun, the cheekiness, the giggle, of this little boy. This little boy whose feet grew a whole size in a month and is now sporting a very grown up size 7.

2016 saw the acquisition of an allotment, 3 [now 2] chickens, Percy Pickle the cat, a new car, a week in Woolacombe, a week in Pembrokeshire, days at Badminton Horse Trials, In the Night Garden Live, ThomasLand, the Safari Park. It saw Freddie starting a new wonderful nursery [Mayfield House, I love you], Freddie’s first Cambridge Formal Hall, his first proper pony rides [and a donkey on the beach at Weston!], winning “best dressed bear” for Bear Grylls at the NCT teddy bears picnic, and finally learning to SLEEP for more than 2 hours in a row. On the downside, we had a long, difficult summer with my father incarcerated in the QE awaiting a new heart. The long car journeys and the anxieties watching someone you love so poorly, was quite stressful – and I’m very glad to have Dad home again. Mum was diagnosed with Parkinsons which has also taken its toll.

It’s not always easy, this single parenthood malarkey; but it’s definitely worth it. I can hardly remember what it was like not to have Freddie in my world …

Hello 2017 … lets do this.

A drunken kitten

If I told you that last night my toddler threw a pear across the dining table which hit [yes, hit, good shot] my 5 o’clock glass of Sauvignon Blanc and then laughed and said “yes Momma” when I told him this was naughty …. only for the cat to lick up the remaining wine whilst my back was turned, throw up in the night [the cat, not me], utterly hungover this morning, you would probably gather it has been an eventful week [and it’s only Tuesday!]. An alcoholic kitten at 5months old? My mothering skills are epic. Luckily there was another glass left in the bottle.

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From left to right; Violet, Virginia, Vita …

I need to introduce this Blog to Virginia, Vita and Violet – my three recently acquired rescue chickens. They are lovely girls, producing some eye wateringly whopping coloured eggs. Slightly concerned that Virginia and Violet gang up on Vita … but I guess that’s where the pecking order comes from. Fredders is really enjoying feeding the “tichens” as he calls them, every morning before work; and the Good Life begins. Naughty Mr Fox had better leave my girls alone! Roll on those summer evenings ….

In all honesty the past couple of weeks haven’t been altogether easy. I’ve had a growing feeling of unrest, and have had to decipher what I need to do to change things. There are plans afoot – so watch this space. I feel like I’ve fallen into various ruts recently, but 2017 is going to bring some exciting things with it … I feel much clearer and more positive about what I want for me and Fred. It’s hard work, keeping yourself in check and moving forward despite surviving on 3 hours sleep …

Did I mention sleep? I’ve finally decided it’s time for Fred to sleep in his cot …. not an easy task at 21 months when he’s been used to snuggling up to Momma. Consistency is the key. And you wonder why I’m drinking wine at 5pm on a monday? Again, I shall report back …

Now, dear readers, I must hang the washing, vacuum the lounge, prepare a curry for this evening, and contemplate the dreaded Christmas letter.

20 months on; the gentle way

4This photo, taken during a recent autumnal photoshoot, captures the spirit, cheekiness, and character of my little Fred. I can almost hear his excitement! I was so pleased with these photos, taken in the park next to where we live; the park I played in when I was little, the park I walked around when pregnant, fell on my bottom in the ice a few days before Fred’s arrival, and the park Freddie and I have visited most days of his life.

Today this little chap is 20 months old. I remember this time last year being amazed that he was 8 months already …. it is both wonderful and poignant how fast these milestones occur. Daily Freddie is coming out with a new word or expression [he was wagging his finger at Grandad earlier and saying “noooooo”!] – he is already in size 2-3 clothes, and likes to hold my hand rather than be carried up/down the stairs. I concede that he is no longer a baby; he’s a little boy … walking, talking, full of personality and his own opinions [especially about the necessities of teeth cleaning]

Every monthiversary makes me think back to that night in March 2015 when Freddie made his appearance … a night I could happily reminisce about on a regular basis. I still feel so fortunate to have had such a positive, empowering experience of childbirth. It was without a doubt the most defining moment of my life. Everything changed at 4.39am on 5th March 2015. The world gained a Freddie, and I acquired a purpose; a little bundle of squishy newborn to love and introduce to the world. These 20 months have been the best of my life … the most exhausting, the most demanding … and yet this little person who grew in my tummy, has taught me so much, about unconditional love, and about what’s really important. I’ve let him guide me, and as such he is still breasfed and we still co sleep. Some people raise eyebrows and think this is an issue, but it works for us … one day he won’t want boobie anymore, and one day he will sleep in that beautiful room momma painted for him .. until then, I’m quite happy to settle down beside him at night .. even if I will be woken by a hungry, hair pulling milk monster in the middle of the night. These days go so quickly … and from the outset I’ve wanted to treasure it all ….

I wanted to blog tonight, yet realise I’m too tired to write anything of any substance. I couldn’t let 20 months pass by unnoticed though … so now I’ll cuddle up next to my boy, listening to the fireworks booming in the distance … looking forward to the adventures tomorrow will hold.

 

 

 

 

The tight rope of sanity

This week I have seen many posts by friends [and strangers] sharing lived experience of mental health for world mental health day. Social media has its down points [for instance, I was tagged in something the other day to “find the name of your vagina” – erm, really?] – but this was an example of how brilliant it can be – breaking the myths and stigmas surrounding mental health. I had no idea of the struggles behind so many of the smiling faces – the happy statuses and family photos I see on my newsfeed. It really does come down to Plato’s wisdom “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”.

I haven’t spoken about mental health for a long time [life suddenly got rather busy; not to mention sane] – but timehop reminded me last week that three years ago I was giving the Brett Hill Memorial Lecture at the International Conference of Mental Health Pharmacy. Back then I was working as a recovery trainer for the local “recovery college” – and one of the prerequisites for the position was lived experience. For those of you who know me beyond wordpress, you may remember the “duvet days” when I was struggling … when life seemed very heavy and without meaning. Of course, I’m one of those happy go lucky smiley people who no one expected to plunge to the depths of depression. I think I put a lot of energy into being “okay”and this didn’t really help. Cambridge was quite a pressurised environment; I expected a lot – in fact, reading back through an old journal the other day I was amazed just how much pressure I put on myself – running, swimming, calorie counting [a meagre prawn on a piece of brown bread for lunch; really?] – staying up until God knows when to finish three essays on palaeolithic hand axes; and trying to work out what I really wanted from life. Burnout? I ended up eventually as an inpatient, walking around Fulbourne Hospital in my pyjamas drawing pretty flowers on the desk. The psych ward was an eye opener, and not wholly a negative experience. Ultimately I wanted desperately to know that someone cared; that I wasn’t alone in this vast and scary world. I soon realised that very little of the supposed professionals did care [some did, later on, and they were hugely important in my recovery]- it was the solidarity of the “inmates” which mattered. Unfortunately you said what the doctors wanted to hear, and eventually – 3 weeks later in my case; they let you out.

What was it like, my depression? It manifested itself in chest tightening panic attacks, the kind which strike unannounced in supermarket queues, prompting you to leave your basket and flee; convinced that everyone will think you insane, as you fight for your breath, convinced you’re about to die an embarrassing death. It crept into not wanting to go out, in self harming and a desperate sadness. A hopelessness that one cannot sufficiently describe to one who hasn’t been there. If my life were catalogued in colours, this would be a grey period … a long dark winter …

It wasn’t an easy road, but whose is? I had therapy, I talked, I painted, and I wrote stories … I realised that actually it was okay not to have all the answers to the [unanswerable] philosophical questions … and that I needed to learn to be okay on my own. You get through it because the alternative isn’t an option. I think there came a point when I realised that I couldn’t kill myself, so therefore had to find a way to live.

It is ironic, perhaps, that all these life lessons, have come in so useful since the birth of my darling little boy. I didn’t declare any history of mental health issues on my pregnancy questionnaire, as I didn’t want the stigma attached to me. This is probably a sad reflection of our culture; yet I stand by my choice.I haven’t been on any medication or seen by any doctor concerning mental health, for 3 years …. I am out the other side … and I can now look back and be [wait for the PollyAnna haters to vomit] glad that I experienced it all. I hope knowing what it’s like to be riddled with despair, helps me empathise with others – and will help me mother my son in a compassionate and understanding way. My coping mechanisms, assisted by CBT, are still used today. They work. I have not had a panic attack in 5 years [and still appreciate getting through Sainsburys without leaving my basket!]

Maybe you’re reading this and you’re struggling; maybe something here resonates with you – then know that nothing in life stays the same … people change, situations change … if you’d told me 3 years ago that I would be mother to a 19month old, with a mortgage and a job, and a totally happy/”normal” life, I would never have believed you. I am content these days; exhausted but content – we may not live in a mansion or have lots of extra money at the end of the month – but I wouldn’t swap this for the world. This is my wealth; an appreciation of happiness, of life, of having survived.

There is help out there, and often found in the most unexpected of places. I wasn’t going to write about this, as I figured this is in my past, and doesn’t need digging up – but maybe someone needs to read this today, and I’m not ashamed …  just proud.

Digging the good life

14457347_2005403863019375_8905010701908896545_nAfter a long summer of driving back and forth to the hospital to visit my poor Dad, I am pleased to report that miracles can happen. He is home. Still on the “normal” heart transplant list, but suitably well enough not to be on the urgent one. This is such a relief for us all, and Dad is feeling ok and enjoying his freedom. La Vie Est Belle. I captured this photo at the weekend, of Freddie and Grandpa inspecting the apples in the orchard. Glorious normality resumed.

I had some VERY exciting news this week; the news that 14469669_2007128326180262_6923977006778968916_nFreddie and I reached the top of the local allotment list, and have our very own allotment! I feel so strongly that I want Fredders to understand where food comes from, and to spend as much time outside as possible. We are lucky to live next door to a big park, so although we don’t have a garden, we have access to a lot of space. Our allotment is a 5minute walk away, and I am already planning our blank canvas. There is an apple, pear and plum tree …. I intend to get some ex battery hens, and create a series of raised beds using wood from my parents old decking. This is going to be a real challenge for me, as it’s all new – but I have a good feeling about it, and I look forward to seeing how it develops. I’d like Freddie to have his own patch, and look forward to sitting in my shed, listening to the Archers, watching things grow – living the good life. Next stop the library for some allotment books ….

Meanwhile, Fredders is 19 months old today …. I’m convinced these months are going quicker …. this week I’ve made 35 Christmas cards with a Freddie footprint design; I’ve wrapped one of his stockings full of presents, and put up my Halloween decorations. I’m sure I wasn’t this organised pre-motherhood. I’m damned sure I wasn’t this tired …. hence blogging once again in bed with a mug of hot milk, beside a warm snoring boy … 20.04 and signing off …