Monthly Archives: January 2007

A work of fiction

I was delighted last Friday when Smudgelet arrived home from school with a merit “for reading” and due celebratory and congratulatory sentiments were exchanged. Then I sat down with his reading record and perused it, to see the source of his teacher’s pleasure.

At his school they are expected to read for ten minutes every day and twenty at weekends. Not too onerous for a good reader, but Smudgelet has never been keen on doing precisely what he’s been asked to do, even if he actually wants to. While Dad was so very ill in the hospice I had naturally stopped nagging about reading – this being a minor detail in the grand scheme of things, and with Smudgelet staying with my friend M anyway… and wonder of wonders this had resulted in him actually reading every day. He had recorded, as expected, the book title and page numbers, the date of reading, and a comment in which he summarised what had happened in the story so far. Good boy, Smudgelet! The book in question was not one I had read personally and it was interesting to get the gist of the story from his comments.

Then I noticed something interesting. During the three weeks’ worth of reading, there were three separate days on which no reading had taken place, and Smudgelet had written the explanation for why he could not read that day. First of all we had “No reading today cos of grandad’s funeral”. Then, a few days later, we had “No reading today cos of grandad’s funeral”. And a little later still, “No reading today cos of grandad’s funeral”. To lose one grandad at Christmas time is bad enough, but to lose three…….

My suspicions aroused, I realised that he had probably read a short book over a couple of days and decided to pad it out to fill the outstanding spaces in his record book. I asked him to bring me the book so I could see how long it was and how much time I reckoned he’d take to read it.

hmmmm…….

hmmmmmmmmm………

hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm………

Now, if I tell you that the book he read was a work of fiction, you probably wouldn’t think anything of it… unless you’d read the prequel which I’ve just written here!

Just while the bath runs…

The best moment this morning – returning the carpet cleaner to the hire company this morning, I picked up their price list and finally realised why my brother had thought it would be far cheaper than it actually was – indeed, far cheaper than anybody had thought it would be. He’d been reading the price for the nozzle you stick on the end of the pipe to do upholstry!

Great fun was also had this morning, taking the bags of rubbish accumulated thus far to the tip. This is part of the process of me sorting out my garage. It’s a funny thing, but I haven’t been able to do anything like this for years while I’ve been caring for Dad and it was quite therapeutic going through all the stuff I’d sort of thrown out of the way in there and sorting the wheat from the chaff. And I found quite a lot of wheat, as well as a whole big carload of chaff… including the light which I thought I’d only thought about buying for the fish tank and obviously had actually bought after all… and put in the garage for some totally inexplicable reason. I also found some rather interesting, but at the time not very endearing, minibeasts of various shapes, forms and numbers of legs. I am therefore glad we took the trip to the tip in my brother’s car rather than mine!

The funeral

Perfect.

Mourning for self, but celebrating for Dad – it was a perfect day. I was so moved by how many people were there (and overwhelmed by the number of sympathy cards we’ve had – thank you to those who sent them!) or who wanted to be there and were unable. And it was lovely to have friends and relations from the mainland with us… a rare occasion for a large part of the family to get together and again a chance to deepen relationships with people I’ve only known superficially in the form of my cousins (who intend to come and stay and bring their grandson later in the year).

I felt comfortable and confident in my new clothes and had indulged in a haircut at the very expensive hairdresser I used to go to… the one where they give you a head and shoulder massage while you’re there! (Hmmm… wonder why I like it there so much!) The boys looked great in their new shirts and ties (£3 from BHS – can’t do much better than that) and made a real effort to look good for Grandad, particularly proud to wear his tie pins when we decided to offer them one each as a reminder of him. I think Dad would have been so proud of them, especially the way they behaved.

A friend at church had done all but the casket flowers and the church looked absolutely beautiful – bright and welcoming, yet tasteful for a funeral. The hardest moment was seeing the coffin stand at the front of the church, just waiting for them to bring the coffin in – harder in fact than seeing it there. Strange that.

I managed my reading with only one mistake and only one difficult moment. I read Psalm 139 – a Psalm that was particularly meaningful to Dad and Mum and me and which I’d read for Mum at her funeral ten years previously. Read it- it’s amazing. The hard moment? – the line where it describes God as placing his hand upon my head. That was hard to read because that was Dad’s touch – his hand upon my head in love and blessing, right up until he became too weak to do it… a source of strength and comfort, almost a channelling of his love and God’s too. When I was sitting by his bed in the hospice, it was the hardest thing imaginable because I so wanted to lift his hand and place my head beneath it, just to gain that strength from his touch, but had to content myself with holding his hand instead. I understand those people whose relationships with their fathers make it hard to relate to the image of God as a father, but for me that was one aspect of my own father that has brought me into a closer relationship with God and is perhaps the thing I miss most. His touch upon my head.

Move on quickly, Smudge… get those tears under control.

The biggest gift to my Dad was the singing. He’d so have loved it. We made it clear to all and sundry that we wanted no mournful dirges – we were going to sing my Dad into heaven! And sing we did. Great is Thy Faithfulness; The King of Love my Shepherd is; And Can It Be; and my Dad’s personal favourite and his “request” for his funeral – a strong and true rendition of Will Your Anchor Hold In The Storms of Life. Fantastic. And one thing was really apt for Dad. The minister had questioned whether singing And Can It Be in the crematorium after the church service would be the best choice as it needed to be sung with gusto and was quite long, and he suggested at least that we cut a couple of verses out. I reluctantly agreed to the latter suggestion, though I insisted we sing it because it was right for Dad and because I knew there’d be enough real singers there to give it some oooomph. But I did an order of service with the shortened version and informed the crematorium of our intentions. But a breakdown of communication meant that the organist hadn’t been told, and the crem had put out sheets with the whole hymn on. The first verse went fine. The second verse was a little odd – everyone but the family was singing from the crem version and the family, who knew what we should be doing of course, was singing the version on the sheet. So, knowing we were outnumbered, the family decided we’d be best simply singing from the same hymn sheet as the rest! The minister commented at the end of the hymn “Jack loved that hymn – I bet he wouldn’t have been happy if we’d left half of it out, after all”!

We went back to the church for refreshments, which was really nice, then the family and the friends from the mainland went back to Dad’s bungalow for the evening. My lovely neighbour babysat the children so that I could spend the time with my family before they left the following morning. And despite the sad occasion, it was a wonderful time. We had, during the day, set out all Dad’s paintings so that his special friends could choose one to keep – and suddenly everyone wanted one. We found paintings we’d never seen before. Naturally there were some duds, but we were astounded at his versatility and his amazing talent, a talent never realised before he retired at 62 and went to college to do Art O’level (He got grade A!). During his lifetime the biggest compliment you could pay my dad was to ask for one of his paintings – he’d have been overwhelmed hearing the delight that everyone took in them that night – “look at this” “Have you seen this?” “Did you know about this one?” “How on earth did he do that?”

I have begun the task of scanning some of them onto the computer. We are going to follow the hospice example and print them as notelets and birthday cards which we can sell to raise money for the hospice. Enough of his paintings have gone to his friends and relations (including one each for the Smudgelets) for the number of remaining paintings to be manageable, so instead of having to face the ordeal of parting with them (none of us have sufficient wall space to hang them as our walls are already covered with his masterpieces!), we are able to put them in a portfolio and keep them as family treasures.

It was a good farewell, in so far as farewells can be good. Dad would have / will have loved it and it was incredibly moving – sad but warm – just right. My Dad is at rest and for that I am grateful.

The estate

This bit is quite fun, in a strange sort of way. I like doing paperwork – perverse, I know – and paper trails tracking down mysteries are rather fun too.

My brother and I are sorting out the bungalow. It was horrible at first – Dad’s home without Dad. But now that the furniture is all higgledy-piggledy while we sort out decorating, somehow it’s become a different place for a while. Doubtless once all the “doing” is over the emptiness will return. But for now I’m quite enjoying working alongside my brother to tidy up the bits which need sorting.

One fun thing was hiring a carpet cleaner to tackle the carpets. We have to do them one at a time as we sort each room out – the expensive way as there’s a high charge on the first day of hire and then lower costs for subsequent days. So instead of returning the cleaner to the hire place in between, I have been going round the elderly neighbours and cleaning their carpets for them. I bet the machine has never worked so hard in its life (and certainly I would question whether my shoulder muscles have!) but it is worth a million pounds to see the smile on my neighbours’ faces when they see their carpets transformed.

Another fun thing has been sorting through the attic. It’s amazing the things we’ve found. Best of all was finding a massive box marked “fragile” and opening it to find some of my childhood treasures. My big dolls (one, when it was bought for me by my brother from a trip to Spain, was bigger than I was); the glove puppets (rather fine, if I say so myself) that my friend and I made from felt and papier mache when I was about nine; my genuine Russian doll from Murmansk that goes down to a tiny tiny baby right inside; and the exquisite china doll’s teaset that I was given by my honorary aunt and which is almost certainly antique. It was such a trip down memory lane to find them there. And the wonderful thing was the response of my children who tenderly held each treasure with delight – despite their cavelier attitude to their own possessions – and sat for ages, my fourteen year old and nine year old boys, playing gently and “entranced” with the dolls and nursing them in their arms in the evening while they watched TV – clearly fulfilling a need that I’d never have expected.

The boy

God’s been doing a good job of holding me up when the strain gets too much today. A course on parenting adopted teenagers has helped me to find people who actually know what it’s like to live with children with RAD, who know that love is not enough to undo the damage done to these kids’ ability to cope with life, who know that it’s not just teenage stuff, not just boy stuff, not that “all children are like that” stuff… but is all of the above and more so. And I’ve found a teacher who actually understands and is willing to put her reputation on the line to support my young man as far as she possibly can. To say nothing of the real effort he’s making at the moment, under the influence of a daily nagging session from my brother and a gentle reminder from me. It will last until next time – that is the nature of the beast – but it’s a good thing while it lasts and is starting to undo some of the damage to our relationship too.

The bad news – he’s excluded from school at the moment, and on the verge of being excluded from the music centre too. In fact, being excluded from school has been a treat – he’s learned more from home tuition than he’d have learned in school, been involved in practical work helping us with the decorating, and away from the peer pressures of school he’s been delightful. I dread Monday when he returns.

Support for us from Social Services has, for the first time, been unimpressive. I don’t often get angry, but I’m pretty angry at the moment. But I am amazed to find the support they should be offering actually been given by people who really shouldn’t be expected to give it. In particular the hospice have been amazing. Music centre too. And this course I’ve been on today has been brilliant – good job I found out about it by chance. When I asked the social worker about it I was told “Ah, I had thought how good that course would be for you”, though obviously the thought hadn’t taken them quite so far as to mention the course to me. But now I have a group of people in the same situation and no longer feel so alone. And a phone call out of the blue from a friend who’s also an adopter and with whom I’d sort of lost touch a bit because we were both so busy has reestablished a mutually supportive relationship (and she’s planning to phone me next week to find out whether I have been adequately bolshy with social services).

Those who read this blog who I know are thinking of adoption, please read “parenting the Child who hurts” and the follow on book “Next steps” by Caroline Archer because they’re brilliant! Forewarned is forearmed, and it helps to be prepared.

Oh where oh where has that Smudgekin gone?

Here she is!

I’m sorry I’ve not been around for a while. Those of you who know me in real life may realise that I’ve been having rather an overdose of real life at the moment, those of you who know it from here have probably gathered as much, and those of you who don’t know me from Adam probably couldn’t care less (and won’t be reading this anyway!)

Life, the universe and everything recently has been mainly centred around three things: my father’s funeral, sorting out his estate, and… minor detail here……. coping with my eldest son. Oh, and dancing, of course. Slow, slow, quick quick, slow… hmmm, somehow seems to fit with all four topics!

Me, meanwhile? Where am I in the middle of it all? Well, sometimes it’s been difficult to find me – frustrated, angry, sad, overwhelmed, numb – but on the whole I seem to be proving more resiliant than I realised. You can’t keep a good smudge down! Even the toughest days have been filled with love and laughter. And it’s been particularly brilliant having my brother around … and especially finding a supportiveness in him which is more, well, for want of a better word “feminine” and intuitive than I’ve ever experienced before. He’s always been there for me, and I’ve always known he loves me, but it’s never been as tangible as it is at the moment. He’s fantastic – shame I can’t marry him really! I’ve found friends and support in unknown places (one just phoned and was talking for an hour, even though I hardly knew her, and made me feel so supported it’s incredible) and I simply love dancing. How’s that!

Now then, for a few blogs about my four predominant foci of the last couple of weeks.