Out of the mouths of babes….

Hello again, how was your week? After my lovely retreat I started off with great intentions to ‘digitally detox’ (i.e. not being glued to my phone) and to eat mindfully.

The latter is more practical than spiritual – The Bolter is getting married and has made it clear that ‘ a hefter for a bridesmaid is not desirable’ (she actually meant this kindly – so don’t judge – I’ve been whinging about my weight for the 20 years we have know each other. And, to be fair, i’m wearing a fur cape and at my current girth, I would look like a bewildered Yeti who had wandered into a really classy event.

I started off well but in a week where two children were doing public exams and a third was white water rafting in Croatia, it was not an ideal time to be incommunicado. Also being off line would have meant I would have missed Andrea (knitters) photograph of the mammary shaped cheese she spotted in a local shop!

The Mindful eating also took a bit of a hit. I did try to slow down, but felt really daft setting my fork down to ‘think’ after every bite. Also, after a particularly stressful Wednesday I treated myself to the culinary magic which is cooked ham cut up into a bag of smooshed up Tayto cheese and onion. Ooops.

Tomorrow in work (the bank holiday) we are being treated to a ‘Middle Management Seminar’ – I am beyond excited. I am currently wondering if it is possible to take out a ‘gagging order’ or a ‘super injunction’ on myself in order to prevent me from some career ending ‘contributing’.

As I said last last week, as a family we are very very bad at ‘not commenting’. This affliction is hardwired into our DNA – and I am very proud to have passed it on to my children.

YC has said that it is ok for me to share these pictures.

YC has a complex medical condition, part of which means she has a ‘visible difference’. So when it came time for her to go to nursery school (age 3) there had been quite a few hoops to jump through.

One of the questions I was obsessed with was, ‘what will she do if the other children are mean?’ I have no idea why I thought like this – the only negative or unkind reactions YC has ever had have been from adults. But, there was no way I was letting my child go to school unprepared. After talking to her doctors and the Changing Faces charity the recurring message was, ‘giver her the language’.

So, before she went to school YC practiced with her siblings and I answering the following questions.

What is that? – It’s my birthmark isn’t it interesting? Is it sore? – Sometimes Can I touch it? – No, that would be sore Can I catch it? – no, it’s just mine

A few days in and everything seemed to be going smoothly……. then out of nowhere, YC said, ‘a boy asked me about my face today’. We all did a terrible impression of indifference, ‘Oh, what did he say?’ ( I was already writing the letter of complaint in my head).

He said, ‘what’s that?’ I said ‘ it’s a birthmark, you wanker!!!’ (this was accompanied by a duhhhhh noise and a shoulder shrug.

Shit! – ‘What happened then?’ ‘ He cried and I got tooken away from the sand tray.’

When YC was born the ‘big’ children were 4 & 2 and from the day she was born they have advocated for her.

It is a natural reaction for people to look into a pram to see the baby. On seeing YC people were not always able to formulate an appropriate reaction in the eyes of her siblings. MC perfected a strategy, if she was unimpressed, she tapped the ‘viewer’ on the arm, meeting them with her steely gaze and saying clearly and politely, ‘you can trot along now’. It was very effective.

Trot along now!

MC’s view on most things is very clear and this extends to religion. Her thoughts on. Modern Catholicism came to the fore on the evening she received the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When I was the same age, ‘First Confession’ ( before the reconciliation rebrand) was very different. We were all marched over to the church and after a bewildering few minutes in a dark box with the priest on the other side of a grille we were sin free. There were 39 girls in my class, 38 of us were given one Hail Mary for our penance and the 39th got a decade of the rosary (that is hard core). It has been 40 years since that day and I am STILL wondering what the hell a seven year old did to get that penance – it must have been great.

By the time my children were at the same age things had really changed. gone were the dark boxes and the fear of eternal damnation. But, it might be fair to say that things have possibly moved too far in the ‘saggy titted tree hugger’ direction, I don’t even think sin was mentioned. The children are asked to draw a picture of a time ‘they did not please God’, then they sit out in the open beside the priest and have a chat, after absolution has been granted the picture is torn up to represent a fresh start. MC, as you can imagine found the whole thing rather patronising. She elected not do discuss an actual sin (time she did not please God) and made one up instead. Everything in MC’s life is on a strictly need to know basis.

We all trouped down to the church and at the appointed time I accompanied to the altar and stood back watching her transformation to a ‘state of grace’ taking place. We went back to our seat and I looked at my watch (deliberately) – exactly 29 seconds later, MC looked around, and there was another ‘glint’ – ‘Well, isn’t this fu****g boring’?’ (to be honest it was a bit dull)

When it comes to EC, he has a different nature from his sisters but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been moments when my head has been in my hands.

Nearly twenty years ago I took a colony of Beavers (very small Scouts, not buck toothed, water loving mammals) to the local fire station. EC was among them. The lovely fireman was giving them a talk about safety and making sure to close the house up tight at night to stop smoke spreading.

At this point EC puts up his hand and informs the group, ‘Actually, my house was built in 1913 and none of the doors are a standard size so its impossible to get a good seal’ (my pompous arse apple didn’t fall far from the tree). The fireman looked at me and I shrugged my shoulders in a I know! sort of a way, without claiming any kinship) Yep, I actually denied knowing my own child.

I’m sure there is a book somewhere with a title like ’47 habits of being an uncontroversial middle class child’. None of my children will have read it, and do you know what? I’m delighted, because I think they are legends.

One for all and all for one

I’ve been swimming in open water!

Hello again,

I hope you had a good week. I was on half term so it was all good here, just lurking about with friends, knitting and populating my all weather bookcase (mini greenhouse). There was a slightly shifty moment whenever I found myself in floods of tears looking at the children’s utensils in the garden centre – but I put this down to ‘my age’ and ploughed on.

Anyway …..as promised, the story of the stroke…. In June of last year YC and I were on the Scout Parent and Child weekend (it used to be the father and son weekend, but we’re all PC now). This is a great tradition which was reintroduced a few years ago. Being a ‘lone parent’ ( I prefer this to ‘single parent’ – it puts me in mind of a lone wolf – a bit badass, the irony!) I have always gone along to these camps and done EVERYTHING – just in case my children felt left out. In reality they have always been more scundered than impressed, but on this particular weekend, I had walked, climbed, swam (in open water – more later) and eaten more processed meat and white bread than is good for a person. It was great craic. The Sunday afternoon tradition is to climb Slemish mountain, but I told a very disgruntled YC that I didn’t feel up to it.

I hadn’t slept well the night before, and in the time I did sleep I snored so loudly that one of the other ‘Mummies’ actually slept outside on the bowling green to avoid the noise. On Sunday morning I felt ‘odd’, I can’t describe it any other way – but I just knew something was different / off.

Having arrived home (and put the dirty washing in the machine) I sat down for a rest and a knit. I knit all the time and was anticipating a relaxing afternoon. However….. as I sat in my chair with needles and yarn in my hands – I couldn’t do it. Not in a Sartre, existential crisis sort of a way, I simply couldn’t get the message from my brain to my hands. It was like having a jigsaw puzzle where all the edges are straight. I was still putting this oddness down to tiredness so I went upstairs to lie down.

My current project – the Hitchhiker scarf

I realised very quickly that something was very wrong – this was a very odd kind of oddness. I called downstairs to MC for help. Unfortunately, MC had taken advantage of my absence and thrown quite a party the night before. This had involved the (previous agreed) burning of the old rabbit hutch (sans bunny) in the garden and a number of concerned phone calls from neighbours. As a result she was feeling a shade delicate and a touch reluctant to mount the stairs. However, she did come, took one look at me and reached for the phone.

Paragraph six, in which the story pauses a little (OMG, last week Charlotte Bronte, this week George Eliot – have I no shame?) In our house, we are essentially not very nice people, almost nothing is sacred when it comes to making in-house jokes. One of these activities was a family parody on the TV Stroke advert….. you know the one, FACE, ARMS, SPEECH, TIME! At all sorts of inopportune moments, in church, family gatherings, supermarkets etc, when one person shouted ‘face’ someone else had to follow with ‘arms’ etc. It was this habit in appalling taste that probably saved my life.

When MC came up to the room – despite the fact that ‘inside my head’ everything was fine, she was able to see that my left hand side was not the same as the right. She called the ambulance and immediately the operator started taking her through the checklist. There was an awkward moment when MC started pissing herself laughing in the middle of the 999 call. I’m hoping that the ambulance operator put it down to nerves, but it was actually a moment of macabre humour in the middle of a very scary situation. While this call was in progress, the fast car having already been dispatched, I experienced a pain in my head which was utterly indescribable – it gets the name ‘thunderclap headache’ and they are not joking.

The ambulance car arrived followed quickly by the ambulance, there was a flurry of activity, during which I believed I was making complete sense. I was quickly transported to the local emergency department accompanied by MC. She was still feeling rather fragile and was a distinct shade of green. One of my more vocal ramblings on this journey was ‘I was swimming in open water’ – I repeated this over and over. Eventually a very bemused ambulance man looked at MC with a ‘what the hell?’ expression. The eyeroll that followed nearly dislocated her retinas, she replied, ‘ she’s a fu***ng Geography teacher, she thinks she’s got Weil’s disease.’ To his eternal credit he managed not to laugh!

A swift trip to the hospital, a worryingly short wait in the corridor and a great deal of excellent care from the staff of the Royal Victoria Hospital Belfast got me back on my feet. This was by way of some fascinating things in a drip, a scan a lumbar puncture (not a lot of laughs there) and some stern conversations about lifestyle, stress etc brought me to discharge. A bit fragile, very fuzzy, totally shaken, but mercifully still me.

Cushendun – one of our favourite walking venues

I would love to say that in the coming weeks I transformed into a sylph like kale lover with a wardrobe full of lycra. Weeeeeeeeeelllll, not quite, but I did do a lot more walking and camping last summer, which brings me to, the horse………