Monthly Archives: October 2004


We escaped today – a whole day of freedom for me and the kids.

My sister is here for the weekend to stay with Dad. It’s partly because this latest health issue scared her too and partly so that she can give me and the boys a break. I had realised that I hadn’t actually spent any real quality time with them all week, and all the plans they had been so looking forward to had gone awry. So although it would have been nice to get a bit of time with my big sister – and especially to talk through our ideas for the future – we decided that she would devote herself to Dad for the weekend and I would go off with the boys all day.

And what a brilliant day it was. The Go Wild series on British Nature on the BBC was mostly filmed on the Isle of Wight, apparantly (Why did nobody tell me that while it was actually ON?) and this weekend, as the culmination of that, there’s been a Wild on Wight (WOW!) weekend with events and displays as a celebration of our countryside and heritage. It was housed at Dinosaur Isle, the pterodactyl-shaped museum at Sandown that was opened last year (or was it the year before? I don’t know – time goes so fast!). We’d been meaning to go there for ages, and free entry was a real bonus. The verdict of ourselves and others as regards the museum was that it was a really interesting and well presented first room…. but really for the entry fee you’d expect more than just that one room!

So, what was there to do? Well, first off the boys got involved in some serious pond dipping. I have to inform you that they caught: lesser water boatman and greater water boatman (We now know how to spot the difference!); a damsel-fly nymph; several bloodworms; loads and loads of brackish water prawns; two sticklebacks and a lovely little beetly thing that zoomed at high speeds round the petri dish and refused to stay still long enough to be identified. The eco-van had a microscope attached to a TV screen so the kids could see what they’d caught – fascinating indeed!

Next Tiddles decided to make a bird box. These were free to make and take home, so we now have to find somewhere Charlie won’t be able to reach it! Tiddles has been longing to do some woodwork – but found that hammering nails isn’t as easy as it looks. It was looking fine until we picked it up to put it in the car….

Smudgelet was appointed weather-man and got to fill in the weather records on a huge chart, using the official sensors and gauges and bits and bobs… and got to wear a special hat with a solar panel which powered a little fan which blew fresh air on your face. He was enchanted. Anything that spins is beloved by Smudgelet who has a washing machine fixation. (No, seriously!)

We toured the museum, which was fascinating. The Isle of Wight is incredibly rich in fossils – unbelievably so. I mean, who would ever have expected to find elephant and hippo remains here, and an early crocodile as well as mammoth and bison and a whole host of dinosaurs. You wouldn’t think the Isle of Wight was big enough to contain all those fossils! And there’s still plenty more to find (as we learned as we watched a demonstration of sieving for fossils and saw some ray teeth and some thick-shelled cockles come to daylight for the first time in millions of years!

There were about twenty displays of different organisations from round the Island. Needless to say I am now inundated with countless pieces of paper that I intend one day to read. (Hmmm… wonder if one of the stalls was about recycling paper?) I think my favourite was the stand where we looked at original Island historical artifacts and had to try to identify what they were. We get the answers by post on Monday. Wonder how many we got right? My second favourite stand had to be the red squirrel information post, and of course I have to comment on the wonderful cave paintings on display from the Young Archaeologists Club. They clearly have some very talented artists in their group. Ah yes, it was my sons, wasn’t it?

Finally, after an abortive attempt to get a decent lunch (Yes, because it’s the end of season, they’d sold out of almost everything except cheese and ham sandwiches – goodness knows what they’ll do tomorrow!), we were lured into the talk being given by the bat hospital. They’re based just up the road from us, and they home 77+ sick and injured bats in their dining room and spare bedroom. They give a brilliant talk – and had brought two gorgeous little bats in for us to meet. You can’t touch them because we can transmit diseases to them which could be fatal. I think the most amazing fact we learnt was that one bat can eat over 1000 mosquitoes in a night. Hooray for bats, that’s all I can say! Oh, and you can tell the difference between bat droppings and mouse droppings by rubbing them between your fingers – the bat droppings will disintegrate to dust while the mouse droppings will stay firm. I don’t know that I particularly ever hope to put that knowledge to good use.

There was so much to do that we sadly missed half the activities. You can’t do it all…. but I wanted to! I was annoyed that we missed the fossil hunt on the beach as they would both have loved that, but apparently they start next year as early as February half term and if we ring mid January we should be able to book up. Hopefully by then Smudgelet will have matured a little as at present I am a bit concerned at how difficult it is to engage him in anything, despite him being quite bright. But Tiddles is keen to do anything and everything and absorb as much as he possibly can. Hmmm…. it seems that both of them have absorbed quite a bit of sediment from the pond dipping, to judge by their fingernails.

Turning the clocks back.

So what do I do?

The main thing that has to be remembered in all of this is that whatever we do, it will never be enough. We can’t do what Dad really wants us to do, which is turn the clock back. We can’t make him feel fit and well, we can’t make it so that he feels confident again, and more to the point, no matter how much time I spend with him and how much I do for him, I’ll never fill the gap left by my mum.

Also whatever we do will be the wrong thing. He’s his own worst enemy really – incredibly lonely and yet shutting himself away and rejecting all offers of friendship / transport to places etc. I want to do so much more for him but how? I can’t neglect myself. I can’t neglect the children. And I can’t afford to neglect my work.

How about if we did have that extension built and he came to live with us. Could I cope if he paid the money he’d have paid a care home to me? Could I afford to give up work and focus on him while I’ve got him here? How would I get a break without going insane? How would I cater for the boys’ needs (e.g take them to Scouts, find time to do silly things together, go out and about)? Maybe I could do that – and without working at all it’d be a sight easier than it is now where I’m doing the balancing act. Would I go insane without the company at school? Or would that be counterbalanced by the reduction in the stress of teaching? It’s that old problem – whichever route we take, there’s no going back. I just know for sure that I don’t want him to go and live with my siblings – I so desperately want him here. But how? How on earth? A residential home might be the answer (I am going to look at one on Monday with a view to respite) but so much would depend on his mood – he might love it, revel in the company and attention. He might hate it and be quite implacatable in voicing that dislike.

He feels so lonely and wants someone to hold. Yet he has suddenly stopped showing any physical affection to me. I cuddle up to him on the sofa, longing for him to put his arm round me. But it’s like cuddling a brick, for all the response I get. He used to be so affectionate. The love’s still there in his eyes, though.

If he lived here, would I go mad with the daily analysis of his state of health? Probably – although would it be so much different from now? And could he stand living next door to the bungalow he loves, seeing someone else living there? A hard one, that. Could I, for that matter – the bungalow which mum and I visited together and fell in love with, then conned Dad into moving into, only to discover that mum was dying of cancer?

I can’t do anything tonight – can’t settle at all.

False Alarm

It wasn’t a heart attack. Thank goodness. After tests and Xrays and a night in hospital, he has come home safe and sound and healthily grouchy and is now safely installed in his own chair, snoozing in front of the television when I finally came away this evening.

I went with the boys to collect him. He was just having his catheter bag changed, ready to come home as the one he was attached to was a permanent hospital fixture. They didn’t have any suitable leg-bags on the ward (surprisingly) so one of the nurses popped over to the ward next door to borrow one and attached it to the catheter. It was only when I was helping him to get dressed that we realised that the tap on the bottom of the bag was totally different from any we had seen before and we hadn’t the foggiest idea how to tell whether it was turned on or off (apart from the obvious way, of course, which was to wait until it filled his socks!)

We called the nurse back. She was lovely, but she hadn’t the foggiest idea what to do with the bag. She experimented a bit, and suggested Dad fill the bag so that we could try the tap out, but needless to say this was the one time he didn’t want to go! She called in another nurse who joined us behind the curtains. After a good bit of fiddling and adjusting she declared herself equally perplexed and called her colleague to come and have a go. At this the curtains opened a fourth time and the final team member appeared, declaring she wasn’t going to be left out! And we all stood in a semi-circle around the rather interestingly designed catheter bag tap.

Finally the first nurse had a brainwave. She grabbed a wheelchair and popped my Dad into it, bag and all, and off we set down the corridor to the neighbouring ward for a demo by the experts. Not that they appeared particularly knowledgeable about the workings of the thing. “Oh, well… er.. I reckon it probably works like this. I don’t think I’ve seen a tap like that before!” Well, so far so good – he hasn’t phoned to say he’s under water yet!

Tiddles has gone to bed with a flea in his ear. I think he’s just overtired (again) after a late night on Monday (I let him stay up till eight o’clock – yes, eight o’clock – to watch the end of a video) and relieved that his grandad’s OK after all but he’s been an irritating little pest all day. How irritating can a child be? He’s behaved like a three-year-old all day, which is a bit wearing when he’s actually twelve AND got his first zit. He ended up being sent to bed at six to avoid me dangling him upside down from the lampshade and sticking carrots up his nose! Thank goodness M is taking them out for the day tomorrow!

Now I find myself feeling, well, sort of numb but that’s not quite the right description. I’d go to bed if it were earlier – I sort of wish it was tomorrow already but I am not quite sure why. I don’t feel worried about Dad, no more than I did a week ago, and I don’t feel stressed or even disappointed about the weekend. I just feel as though I am in suspended animation. Maybe it’s just this strange sensation in my ear combined with a sense of helplessness and sort of anticlimax (I don’t mean that in a bad way, but…well… it’s just hard to describe).

Decision made

Well, we won’t be going anywhere. Dad was taken into hospital this morning by ambulance and we’re waiting for test results to tell us whether it was a bad angina attack, a mild heart attack or something else, possibly exacerbated by the fall he had last night.

Typical – I was sleeping on my good ear and my infected ear is deaf at the moment, so I missed his phone call at 6.30 when he was first taken ill. But he called at 8 while I was having my breakfast and by ten he was in the hospital. I’m off up there in an hour to visit him and find out whether they’re keeping him in overnight.

The boys were all of a dither, not knowing whether to worry about grandad or be extremely excited by the arrival of the ambulance. Luckily they were going out for the day and the respite carer was able to come and collect them and take them off out of the way. Now I just have to think about how I am going to fit in fetching them back.

My sister’s planning to come for the weekend to see him, seeing as she’d cleared the weekend so’s to be able to go up to the Midlands. It means that I really have to get the place looking a bit more respectable before Friday!!! If only I could settle to things. I’m torn between worry about Dad and frustration that these things almost seemed timed to hit the times when I am planning to go away. Obviously this has made it clear that I can’t leave him alone overnight again and that he has to have a personal alarm whether he wants one or not. Time to get bolshy 😉

I’m free!

It’s brilliant – I have the house to myself and can get on with all those household projects I have been saving up for just such a day as this. You know, sorting the mountain of bits and pieces accumulated in the end part of the lounge since I rearranged the place; defeating the ironing pile; defrosting the freezer (already halfway achieved since the boys left the door open overnight!); stripping and remaking all the beds; sorting my bedroom out from the accumulated “hidden from the Smudgelets” stuff in there… the list is endless. So I am far far too busy to be sitting here at the computer.

Tiddles is at large in the local woods, armed and dangerous. Well, he’s dangerous in that, knowing him, he’ll trip over a tree root and bang his nose on an unarmed tree. I can’t say I particularly like this laser warfare business as I hate seeing kids with rather realistic guns shooting at people’s heads, but I can understand the attraction of a sophisticated game of hide-and-seek in a muddy outdoor environment and trying to outwit your opponents. I must remember to put a large binbag in the car to put him in when I collect him.

Smudgelet is at the respite carer’s for the day. Hooray! We haven’t done this arrangement for ages so it was good to send him off and get a bit of time to treat Tiddles a little more grown-up. He has his first zit. Hmm.. my boy’s growing up.

We’re deep in the fascinating realm of sex education at the moment, with different level talks about the birds and the bees with each of my two. Interesting. Smudgelet is fascinated, and far more mature than I expected given his preoccupation with mammary glands at the moment. He asks question after question after question and has taken the whole subject far far further than I ever expected for a seven-year-old. He’s too intelligent for his own good, that boy! Tiddles asked some interesting questions too and was without embarrassment, which was good. Mind you, I’m not sure how his friend T will feel at the rather personal detail that Tiddles blurted out to me – but I am sure he will be reassured when Tiddles tells him that it isn’t the size that matters, it’s what you do with it that counts. How will I ever look that boy in the face again? Or his mother!

I am typing under a severe handicap here – I have cut the top off my finger, or near enough. So much for my high hopes of Tiddles making it as a first-aider. He stood staring as I fumbled with the plasters while trying to stem the little fountain of blood, and had no idea what to do when I suggested he could be a bit helpful! He then put the plaster on, but sealed the two ends together like the tag round the top of the bread-bag, which is a bit inconvenient when it’s on your fingertip!

Ah look, what a shame. The time has nearly gone. I will have to be picking him up from the laser combat arena. And here was me desperate to get some housework done 😉

A solution of sorts…

After several phone calls, I have arranged to drive to my sister’s on Friday night. We will drive together to the Midlands on Saturday morning (thus visiting the family but not making it to the funeral) and back at the crack of dawn next day. Then I will drive home from her house the same evening, in time to get the boys off to bed before school next morning. This will mean that Dad only has to manage two days and two nights alone. As long as he’s well enough to be left, of course.

And today I discovered that the freezer door has been open since yesterday. Disaster. Everything is ruined. I might have saved a bit of the meat, but was too tired and fraught to do anything with it today so have just stuck it in the fridge in the hope it might be OK to cook tomorrow. The Smudgelets were, of course, distraught as they came in and found me in tears over a pile of thawing food in the sink – and especially because they are fairly sure it was them that left it open. So between us we would have made a fortune if we’d had shares in Kleenex.

I know there must be some good news to record here. Now, just let me think what it is!

AH, I know. I decided I didn’t care about my diet today and raided the jelly babies 😀

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

I had it all sorted. Everything was arranged. Decisions made. Plans checked with people involved. All sorted.

This morning Dad’s decided not to go to the Midlands with us on Thursday. He rang up the friend he was staying with and outlined to her in great detail all the ailments he suffered from until she said “J, I’m not a nurse”, which was sufficient for him to cancel the trip.

So I either have to cancel our trip too, or else I have to leave him here alone while we go. And I don’t want him to be here alone without any of the family within calling distance. It also means that he’s not going to go to my sister’s afterwards, which means I don’t get a week when I can focus on my own home (cleaning and sorting things which I can’t do when he’s about next door because he keeps interrupting me).

I want a brick wall to bang my head against, please.

The Birds, The Bees and The Bible

Well, that was one journey home!

“Mummy, I’ve been wondering……… how did I come to be born?”

Well, do you mean how did you begin inside your birthmum’s womb (echoes of our conversation about the stork and the gooseberry bush) or why did your birthmum decide to have a baby? Both? Oh, er… right. Hold on while I just negotiate this roundabout…..

Thus my seven-year-old began to explore with me the wonders of human reproduction – how the egg waits in the body until it meets with a sperm (goodness knows how the sperm gets there!) and how the mummy’s body prepares in case a tiny baby, no bigger than a full stop, is going to be made – how the baby grows inside the womb and becomes ready to be born. How the mummy and daddy choose a name for the baby and watch the baby develop until it is a little boy and is taken away and put up for adoption! “Hold on, love, while I just overtake this milkfloat.”

From this point on to the concept of adoption and why some children can’t stay in their own families. How it was interesting that the names of both boys’ birth mothers are the names that I always wanted to be called when I was a child. How love sometimes means being strict and cross with people and caring that they do the right thing.

Next, just as we negotiate the traffic lights, comes “Well, mummy, if only God knows how babies are made from no bigger than a full stop, how did God make the earth? If he made it from nothing, where did it come from? And if he made it from something, where did that come from?” Ooh look, the lights have changed. Now, where did I put first gear?

“Isn’t it just mind-blowing, Mummy, to think that we might not be related by blood now but our great great great great great great and several more greats grandfather and grandmother were actually Adam and Eve?” Hmmm… when I’ve just slalomed these parked cars we’ll have a chat about fundamentalism and a more interpretive view of the Bible while valiently trying to let you come to your own conclusions about what you believe…….

“Mummy, can you be a Christian without actually believing in the Bible?” Right, now that’s an interesting question…. and it’s lovely to be able to discuss things openly….. and I am not going to try to influence you one way or the other but I know that whatever I say actually will and….. what precisely are you driving at and… ah, precisely what I’m driving at is the car in front which seems to have stopped unexpectedly…

“Oh, and mummy…. is tinned salmon actually made out of tin?”

Always look on the bright side of life (do-doo, de-do-de-do-de-doo)

Have you ever noticed that the things we say to others very often end up being messages to ourselves? You haven’t? Well, maybe it’s just me, then.

Tackling Smudgelet’s tendency to see his cup as half empty instead of half full, I’ve been trying to help him look at things the other way once in a while. His moany session because his brother was having a friend to play for an hour in the afternoon was threatening to spoil our whole weekend last weekend so I (somewhat miraculously) got him to focus on the things that he likes to do but wishes Tiddles weren’t around for. He realised that Tiddles stops him reading or colouring quietly, and that junk modelling is far more fun when you don’t have to share (sharing isn’t one of Smudgelet’s overwhelming virtues) and we had a fantastic afternoon which only ended in a moan when Tiddles’ friend went home.

People at school sometimes tease him about his big ears. Well, they do stick out somewhat. But we decided that they were wonderful ears – I love them to bits and he knows that the bigger his ears, the more there is of them for me to love. Also theyare definitely a sign of how big his brain is, that it is pushing his ears out sideways. But best of all, when people tease him, he can smile happily to himself and think how nice it is not to be someone who feels the need to tease other people and how lucky he is to have lots of good friends.

Today I had chance to live “on the bright side” for myself. Firstly because of not being able to go to the wedding. I was really disappointed, especially as the day drew on, but my lovely friend M had a brainwave and she and I took the boys out for a special treat of a meal – complete with huge dessert! – to celebrate my friends’ marriage and, what do you know, there were even celebratory fireworks 😀 I was also faced with the challenge of it being Young Archaeologists today. Because Smudgelet is actually two years below the official membership age for YAC, he can only stay if I stay. Luckily the leaders are not toooooo stringent with this rule and are willing for me to go off and sit in the cafe for the day. Hmmm…. a whole day sitting on my own in the cafe surrounded by torrential rain? Is this precisely how I want to spend the day when I would otherwise have been at a wedding? Well, always look on the bright side of life. How often do I get to sit all day at a table, being plied with copious cups of coffee (and an indulgent teacake, dripping with dollups of extremely unhealthy butter) and write letters with absolutely no fear of being interrupted by small boys or elderly fathers, and with no distractions of housework or computers to draw me away? It was wonderful! And the boys had a whale of a time getting absolutely filthy doing massive cave paintings with sand and soil, charcoal and flowers and finger paints.

We’re all set for travelling up for the funeral later in the week. I think we have made some plans… even if they’re a bit higgledy piggledy at the moment. And it looks like Dad might go and stay with my sister for a week or so afterwards which will give me a bit of a break and some time in my own home alone. He’s going to stay with his friend and is willing to bite the bullet about staying there when he’s not 100% well…. the deciding factor was the chance to see his great-granddaughter for the first time! I’m going to stay with my friend. I feel a little funny about this – it’s ages since I’ve stayed there with the boys. She and I have always been incredibly close but, of recent years, that seems to have disintegrated and it feels as though I hardly know her, even though glimmers of our old friendship seem to break through from time to time. I don’t want to lose that, especially because her children are my Godchildren and incredibly precious to me, but I am on edge. And although her immediate response when I mentioned the funeral was “Will you come and stay here?”, it then seemed to be rather inconvenient for us to do so. I pray that this visit will be the success we need to rekindle the friendship rather than my “gran’s” funeral being the funeral of this special relationship too… though I suppose the time comes sometimes when you just have to let go and let things change. And I suppose, as the girls grow, I can establish that Godmotherly relationship directly with them through letters and by encouraging them to visit independently if they would like to. They’re such delightful girls and they and my sons get on so incredibly well.

Now, do I go for an early night, switch the telly on, or turn my attention to my massage jacket which has, alas, a generous splattering of massage oil across the front of it. Anyone any bright ideas on how to get oil out of cotton? Hmmm…. I think I’ll tactfully “forget” it tonight and take advantage of a quiet night for a long soak in the bath with the book I’ve … er…. “borrowed” from my sister (to get it read before she notices it’s missing!)

(Incidentally, the doctor says that the ear is sort of getting better and that I should go back in three weeks to see if it’s healed. The shooting pains have gone but the “On the verge of exploding” sensation is still there with a vengeance. Please God, let it last less than three weeks or I shall be completely insane. What do you mean, “shall be?” ? )

Drat – I have that stupid song stuck on a loop in my brain now!

Decision making stage 2

Dilemma: wedding is in the North on Saturday, funeral is in the Midlands on the following Friday.
I don’t feel well enough really to do the trip twice, but I don’t want to stay away from the Island for the whole of half term week.
My Dad would probably be as well not going to the funeral as it is a burial. AS my sister said, the important thing is how you felt about people when they were alive, not once they’re dead. And Edith knew how much my Dad loved her.
It makes sense not to go to the funeral because there will not be room for us to stay at my sister’s house, too, and it’s not the best time for seeing her.
My nephew and his fiancee are coming over from the Cayman Islands for the funeral, and a day either side of it, and another nephew and his partner and my great niece are coming down from the tip of Scotland for the funeral and a day either side of it. I haven’t seen either of them for years – have never met my great niece -and the likelihood is that I won’t see them again for years either. And these men are like brothers to me. Also they haven’t seen my Dad for years either and, having just lost one grandparent, it seems wrong for them to miss a chance to spend some time with their last remaining one.
My other sister wants to go in order to see them too. Dad wants to see them too, but not to be surrounded by everyone talking at once.
I don’t know what to do. My ear hurts – my sister pointed out that I didn’t argue very forceably when she suggested that I’m not really fit to drive all the way up to Stockton and my head tells me she’s right, my heart so wants to be there.

Why does the place I love living have to be so far away from the people I love?