Life goes on

I stood in the kitchen in my dressing gown waiting for the kettle to boil. As the water bubbled and burst its way to a crescendo I noticed a light sensation on my cheek: an eyelash that had decided to make a break for it during the night. I picked it up idly with my index finger, held it to my lips and blew, setting it free.

‘I wish that Mum gets better’

A moment later – less than that – the horrible realisation, again, that Mum isn’t going to get better. Mum has gone. She’s never coming back.

These past few months have been beyond difficult. Trying to come to terms with such a strong, energetic, youthful and special person being ill was bad enough. No-one wants to see someone they love face major surgery; to visit them afterwards and see them bandaged and bruised but trying with all their might to be brave. No-one wants to experience the trauma of radiotherapy, either first hand or at the side of someone they adore. They warn you of the side-effects, of course, and how it may be, but nothing can really prepare you. But you face all this, go through all this, hoping beyond hope that it will all make a difference and that it will make them better. Back to normal. And life can go back to normal.

But sometimes it doesn’t work out like that. They’re gone – she’s gone – but life goes on. Children need feeding and entertaining, employers reach the end of their sympathy quota and contact from concerned friends and extended family starts to wane. They’re busy – I understand that – and there’s nothing to say that hasn’t already been said a thousand times.

It’s been three months now, and we’re adjusting to the new normal, if not graciously accepting it. Life without her in our lives is hard. It’s the small things that affect me most, like when Little Boy outgrows a top she bought for him and I know that she will never buy any other clothes for him (something she loved to do). I want to tell her that he’s learning to read and write, that he’s got some new jokes and that he was so kind to the new girl at nursery the other day. I want her to see Little Girl with her hair in a ponytail, to watch her dancing around the kitchen and chatting away to her brother like a child six months older. She’d be so proud.

There’s a jar of jam that she made for me that sits in my fridge, unfinished. It’s plum and walnut with a little orange peel. It’s absolutely delicious and there’s only enough left to brighten up a single slice of toast. I don’t think I will ever bring myself to eat it because I know that there is no more where that came from. It’s too sad to contemplate.

I haven’t visited her grave yet. Somehow I can’t bring myself to, even though I’m often less than a five-minute walk from it. I don’t need to be there to feel close to her because I feel close to her all the time and think about her constantly. She may not be here, but I can hear her sometimes, advising me and pointing me in the right direction. Every time I’m contemplating missing out a key ingredient in a recipe, thinking about whether to buy something new for the kids or wondering whether to do some more work or take a break, I know exactly what she would say. Don’t miss out the ingredient, do buy them something and give yourself a rest. She’d also tell me to learn to make the jam myself. And if I follow her guidance, and her recipes, I can’t go far wrong.

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For Mum, with love


Before I let you go I want to thank you
For every single thing you’ve ever done
For each and every thought and act of kindness.
For being just the most fantastic mum.

Thank you for the school runs and packed lunches,
For the doorstep sandwiches we could barely eat.
Thank you for the parents’ evenings and school plays,
For rewarding good reports with thoughtful treats.

Thank you for the bulging Christmas stockings,
That you dragged upstairs in the dead of night.
Even when we were grown-up with our own kids,
And Santa would long ago have taken flight.

Thank you for the cakes you baked with kindness,
For the wedding cake that you made for me.
And for all the birthday cakes and everyday cakes,
That meant our friends would always stay for tea.

Thank you for the egg hunts in the garden.
For taking time to hide them all around.
For laughing at our scramble to locate them,
And for the Mini Eggs that we never found.

Thank you for coming to my rescue,
With food and love and comfort when babes were small.
For filling up our fridge and endless cuddles,
And for making it look like no effort at all.

Thank you for the bedtime stories,
For the books you read at breakfast, lunch and tea.
For the stories and the poems that you wrote us,
And for reading to my children endlessly.

Thank you for the notes and cards and letters,
A hello – well done – I love you – I’m so proud.
For the endless texts and emails that you sent me,
The inbox now so quiet but once so loud.

I don’t know what I’ll do without you,
Without your wisdom, warmth and patience,
Spark and wit.
But all you’ve done and were lives on within me.
And I’ll try to carry it on a little bit.

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Scrambled Heads

It was the usual family teatime: the baby sitting in her highchair and happily availing herself of anything edible within her not inconsiderable reach and the boy making the usual fuss about eating. For no reason I could fathom, he didn’t want the pasta I’d made. Okay, no problem; I’d do him a quick scrambled egg. There are days when I’m willing to battle, cajole and/or bribe at the dinner table and others when I can’t be bothered. This was the latter.

Having spent the whole of his short life looking horrified at the mere suggestion of a plate of scrambled egg heading his way, this summer the boy decided to actually taste it. And to my delight, it turns out that he really likes it.  It’s become my standard fallback dish in the event that anything else I’ve lovingly made (or heated up) is rejected by him in the harsh and unforgiving manner of the X Factor judging panel.

So that day like many others, I cracked open a couple of eggs and in the work of minutes, presented his lordship with a lovely dish made just as he likes them. He took a mouthful and spat it out, proclaiming loudly ‘I don’t like it’. What? Either he was just having another one of his Elton John moments or I’d done something wrong. I thought for a moment and then realised I’d left out the grated cheese. So I pulled the cheese out of the fridge and grated a little pile of cheddar that I thought would solve the problem. ‘There you go, some cheese’, I told him, stirring it into the eggs and hoping that the lovely saltiness would satisfy him. He took a mouthful and swallowed. I watched as his face slowly creased up and tears pricked at his eyes: ‘I liked it how it was before!’, he wailed. I knew how he felt.

This summer has been a tricky one. In fact I feel in many ways that I’ve missed summer entirely; I’m a summer down. We all are. Since we had mum’s diagnosis back in June, life has been very different. She came storming through an incredibly tricky operation and embarked on her subsequent treatment programme with the sort of courage and grace that I could only dream of having myself. She travelled back and forwards to the hospital – over an hour away – for treatment for weeks without complaining. At one point she even seemed to be enjoying it; there was a sense of camaraderie between the patients that I hadn’t predicted but in hindsight makes perfect sense. But mum didn’t linger to chat on the day that she ticked off the final treatment from her schedule. She gave a few well-chosen gifts to the staff she’d got on well with, gave love and luck to the patients she’d got to know and left the hospital with a sense of disbelief that it was over.

We’ve learnt a lot since all this started: that the NHS is wonderful, frustrating and incompetent in equal measure; that you have to fight your own corner even when you’re lying in a hospital bed with staples in your head; that illness changes how people look at you and how you look at yourself; that it’s really difficult to concentrate on anything when your thoughts are consumed by the fact that one of the people you love most is unwell, and that little children don’t become less demanding or more helpful just because mummy is worried about her mummy.

Mum finished her treatment a month or so ago, and now we’ve all had time to settle down to what passes as a normal routine nowadays. We moved house a couple of months ago and although we’ve had a go at making it homely when we’ve had the time, there are still boxes to unpack, shelves to put up and things to find that seem to have disappeared entirely. When we’re not doing that, the daily chores that life with two small children bring with it keeps me occupied. And then there’s the time I spend with mum, just hanging out at home or doing lovely things together like having breakfast together in our favourite tearoom. That’s why I haven’t blogged for a bit (for so long in fact that I’d totally forgotten my WordPress login details). As much as I stamp my feet and shout that I liked life as it was before, nothing will change the last few months. This is the new normal and we’ve got to get used to it.

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Normal Life is on Hold

Holidays have been cancelled, days taken off work at short notice and graduations missed.  Reserved train seats have coursed through the countryside towards London, cold and empty.

My mum isn’t well. Normal life is on hold.

The boy and the baby are at nursery more than usual. I’ve quickly realised that looking after them while my mind is on something else entirely isn’t fair on them. Or me. So while they’re busy making sticky pictures to adorn the kitchen cupboards or playing in the sun with their friends, I can be with mum. Some evenings I’ve been jumping in the car as soon as Mr B is home to go and see her. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

She’s doing incredibly well, especially considering that it’s just a month since she was giving me the full Florence Nightingale treatment after I’d had my wisdom tooth out. Making me scrambled egg, checking I’d taken my painkillers, insisting I had a mid-afternoon nap. In hindsight I think I might have made a bit of a fuss about it (it’s healing nicely, thanks for asking).

Now it’s our turn to try to look after her, and it transpires that we’re not a family of natural nurses. If we were quizzed on what meds she needs to take and when, for example, I’m not sure any of us would get full marks. Thankfully she is – as always – on top of things, so we’re off the hook for the time being.

In our defence, I think we’re playing to our strengths. One of my brothers – an amazing cook – makes sure she’s eating the right stuff. My other brother’s a doctor and has been brilliant at sorting out all the medical admin. They must think I’ve got it easy: I get to lie in bed with her and watch Corrie, eating silly snacks and gossiping while someone else looks after my children.

But none of this is easy.

I might have known things were going too well: it’s been a lucky couple of years for our family, with new arrivals and happy coincidences that have brought us all to live closer together at last. We were all enjoying having more time with each other, being able to drop in on each other unannounced for a cup of tea or bump into each other in the street.

But now this.

We’ll get through it, I’m sure of that. We’ve got meetings to go to and plans to make, but together we’ll work out a way to get out the other side. There’s a holiday by the sea to look forward to, an autumn schedule of Scandi-dramas to devour and a big family Christmas to plan. In the meantime, normal life is on hold.

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Happy first birthday, beautiful girl!

Dear beautiful girl,

A very happy first birthday to you!

I’ll try to spare you all the usual stuff that grown-ups always say, like how fast these past twelve months have gone. But they really have flown. In many ways it seems like just yesterday that I was sitting at home in our Hampstead flat, heavily pregnant and tucking into a spicy curry, willing you to come and join us. I’ll never forget the midnight dash to the hospital, the look on the midwives’ faces when they realized how quickly you were coming or the feeling of relief and joy as you came out calmly into the water. From the moment you arrived, you slotted right in.

For the first few months of your life, you viewed the world from my left hip, where you perched, comfortable and safe from your overenthusiastic brother and his selection of flying toys. From your vantage point you watched as I cooked, chatted to your brother and pottered around the house. If the radio started playing a good song, we’d break off from the boring domestic stuff and dance around the kitchen together. You still love to dance now, particularly at teatime. You love nothing more than grooving in your highchair, arms aloft, waving a stick of avocado about like crowds of concert-goers used to hold lighters before the health and safety mafia put a stop to that.

You’re funny, bright and far more tolerant than I’ve ever been. Much as he adores you – and I know he does because he tells me, and you, and anyone else who’ll listen – your brother tests your patience sometimes. He likes to put things on your head – plastic teacups, flannels, pillows, oatcakes; anything that comes to hand really – and to throw things for you to catch (you can’t catch; you’re only a year old). He takes things from you that you’re enjoying holding and likes to try out rugby tackles on you. Rather than complaining, you enjoy all the attention and bear it all with good grace. Encourage it, even. Don’t worry though; I’m always there to keep you safe and intervene before he does something really silly.

I’m amazed at how much you’ve changed: our sweet 8lb newborn is now a beautiful 12-month old toddler. I’m not sure of the official point at which a baby becomes a toddler, but now that you’re walking it sounds strange to keep referring to you as my baby. But you’ll always be my baby, of course, just like I will always be my mum’s baby, however old I am. Some things never change. You took your first steps a couple of weeks ago and now you can walk half way across a room. You look so pleased with yourself when you do it, and quite right too.

I think you’re going to be a chatterbox, and I’m really pleased about that. You were quite quiet to begin with, but in the last couple of months you’ve been babbling away and trying to make yourself heard above the racket (your noisy brother). It’s lovely now that we can talk to you and you talk back. You’ve been able to say your own name for a while, and now you can say all our names too. You can tell me if you want milk and that you want to go and find your brother, and you make it very clear if you want another yoghurt (you always do) or some more cheese (ditto). You’ve learnt the names of some animals and your current party trick is making monkey noises. You were making them when I dropped you off at nursery the other day and were still doing them when I picked you up several hours later!

You’ve started going to nursery in the last month, partly because I’d never get anything done otherwise and also because I think it’s important for you to have some time with other babies and children. You’re not too sure about it yet. There are things you love, like going outside, singing and painting, but I think you miss me. I miss you too, but it’s a good thing really and I know you’ll come to love it like your brother does. It’s only for a day a week, so the rest of the time we go to the park, play games, see family, meet friends and do all sorts of other things.

At the moment your favourite things are: your brother’s toothbrush, his remote control car, books, pictures of animals, actual animals, the iPad and the iPhone (which we try but fail to keep out of your reach), sleeping through the night (at last! Hooray!), yoghurt, swings, hanging out with your grandparents, having cuddles with your uncles, playing peekaboo and having cheeky early morning lie-ins with Daddy at the weekend (lucky Daddy). You’re not so keen on having a bath, having your nappy changed, going in the buggy or missing out on the action. You’ve got a wicked sense of humour for such a little one, and roar with laughter when your brother does one of his silly faces for you. You’re a joy and we’re lucky to have you.

Happy birthday, gorgeous girl. Thank you for such a lovely first year and here’s to the next one.

Lots of love

Mummy x

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On Being Brave


Roller coasters



TV hospital dramas

Zombie films

The news

Driving abroad

Driving through big cities

Seeing the dentist

Seeing the doctor

Something bad happening to my children

Something bad happening to the rest of my family or friends

These are just a few of the things that scare me.

Since becoming a mother, the list has got longer and longer. My ability to imagine the worst-case scenario (which was pretty good before I had children) has tripled. Even the most ordinary situation – a stroll along our street, a short drive across town – becomes potentially perilous when there are two small human beings to look out for.

I foresee danger and issue instructions: hold my hand. Slow down. Wait. And invariably we make it back home, safe and sound.

Sometimes there are close shaves. I turn my back for a second to put on my shoes and the baby has crawled up a flight of stairs on her own. She grins at me, pleased with herself, but I know that one wrong move and she’ll tumble. I’m up there in a shot, and she’s in my arms. Must order that stair gate. The next day the boy shouts me through from the kitchen. He has a belt around his neck and is pretending it’s daddy’s tie. He thinks it’s funny but all I can see is a makeshift noose. I’m not amused and tell him firmly that he must never do it again.

And that’s the hard bit: I worry because I know what could happen. I want the children to understand that I’m not trying to spoil their fun but that I’m just trying to keep them safe. I don’t want to scare them or bring too much grim reality into their lives, nor do I want them to know how much I worry about them or anything else.

The boy asked me to remove a spider from the kitchen the other day. He watched me calmly trap it in a cup and put it outside, unable to hear my heart beating double-fast. ‘Do you like spiders, Mummy?’ he asked. ‘Yes’ I lied. I don’t want to pass my fear onto him.

When I went in for an operation to have my wisdom tooth removed last week, I told him what was happening and was careful not to voice my own doubts and worries about it. I don’t want my children to grow up with the same waiting room anxieties as me. Having to do breathing exercises while waiting for our name to be called is not cool. I hope they can be the people who take it as an opportunity to read a trashy magazine or just relax and enjoy ten minutes of peace.

It’s hard to be brave when it’s not in your nature, but I seem to be getting the hang of it. When they took me down to theatre for the operation, the anaesthetists said they couldn’t believe how relaxed I was. My blood pressure may have told a different story, but on the outside I was calm. The cliche of the swan that glides serenely across the water, its legs flapping away under the surface? That’s me.

I’ve learnt from the best. My mum has always gone out of her way to make sure that none of her children is worried unnecessarily. Whatever’s going on with her, she puts us first. And I think that’s amazing. And the least I can do is try to do the same for my children, however hard that may be sometimes. It’s been a difficult few days in our family and we don’t know quite how tricky the next few will be, but I’m going to be brave. I’m going to try.

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Daddy Day Care

‘Of course you’ll need a week off work after the operation’. And with that, the consultant slotted the X-ray of my disobedient wisdom tooth back into his file and sent me on my way. I was to come back to the hospital in a month’s time to get rid of the pesky thing once and for all, and with it all the recurring infections and the will-it-or-won’t-it-ever-come-through speculation that had been taking up unnecessary space on my worry list.

I’d been umming and ahhing about it for a while, unable quite to volunteer myself for surgery unless I was sure it was absolutely necessary. It was the doctor’s gentle reminder that ‘with all due respect, you’ve probably stopped growing’ that hit home; the chances were that it was never going to budge and would always bother me, to a greater or lesser extent. Time to be a grown up and get the bloody thing out.

At first I thought my usual dentist would just whip it out for me, but no sooner had I broached it with him than he’d started reeling off the names of various surgeons he’d recommend. Apparently mine was ‘tricky’. These guys deal with wisdom teeth all the time, he assured me, and to them it’d be as simple as shelling peas.

With that I was dispatched to a surgeon, a lovely man who explained how he’d cut and peel back my gum and then prise out the tooth. If it put up a protest, he’d cut it into four segments like an orange and take each out individually. There would of course be a risk of permanent damage to my nerve, he explained, so I’d need to keep still. So what anaesthetic would I like? There followed a very brief discussion during which he seemed to assess my nervousness on a scale of one to ten and decide on my behalf that it would be better for all involved if I was out for the count. Fair enough. But it did mean a period of proper recovery afterwards, he said. And a week off work.

Oh how I laughed. And so did he, a father of three, when I told him my day job. Children don’t understand if mummy’s ill or tired or, far too rarely, hungover. They’re not even very sympathetic if mummy needs a wee or wants to be able to hear herself think in the car as she navigates a tricky roundabout. So the chances of them taking it a bit easy on me because I’d just had surgery were slim to none. Would they promise to cry less or demand fewer trips to the park, eat fewer meals or need fewer nappy changes? Perhaps they would resolve to sleep through the night and not leave their own beds at least until the radio breakfast shows had started. Nope, not likely.

And so it was that we decided that I’d go straight from the hospital to my mum’s for the weekend to recuperate and Mr B would look after the children. It was what I’d been dreaming of for ages: a weekend to myself, not being clambered or slobbered on or having to answer incessant questions. All I had to do was recuperate: read the papers, watch endless cooking programs and eat my mum’s special line in delicious-but-soft-homemade-food-for-the-recently-operated-on. The only thing I had to worry about was how Mr B and the kids were getting on.

I should explain that Mr B has never had to look after the children on his own before overnight. With one thing and another – blame breastfeeding or my own control-freakery – I haven’t had a night apart from them both since the baby was born just under a year ago. I could mention that I’ve looked after them both overnight several times while he’s been away – on stag dos or for business – but as I’m always telling myself, it’s not a competition. I digress.

So delighted was I at the prospect of living the dream at my parents’ house for two nights that I couldn’t really have cared less what Mr B, the baby and the boy got up to in my absence. As long no-one went hungry and no-one got hurt, I’d be happy. We’re at the stage where both children are easily pleased. The baby is happy just to have some attention; if someone holds her hand and walks around with her – at home, in the park, wherever – she’s delighted. Likewise, give the boy his scooter and let him scoot up and down the path at the park and he’s content. Neither of them needs much in the way of entertainment.

I was rather surprised, then, when Mr B gave me his itinerary for the weekend. Instead of keeping it local and low-key, as I would have done if I’d been solo parenting, he’d planned to fill every minute. His first stop after leaving the hospital once I was out of surgery was to pick up a rental bike complete with trailer and two kids’ helmets. This was to be their mode of transport for the next two days – something they’ve never tried before and something that one or other child was likely to object to, for no other reason than children like to object to stuff.

As well as the bike hire, the agenda included a birthday party, meeting friends in a nice restaurant in town for lunch, a bike ride several miles out of the city and back, a visit to soft play and checking out a new park. He named it ‘operation distraction’: fill the time and the kids won’t notice that I’m not there. As he told me his plans, I felt a mixture of admiration at his ambition, and pity as I predicted the various meltdowns that were likely to scupper them.

And so it was that last Friday my tooth was prised out in four segments and Mr B embarked on his weekend of distraction. On Sunday afternoon he collected me; I was rested and suitably relaxed, albeit with a bit of a golf ball look going on in one cheek.

How did he get on? I asked. ‘Good. But you couldn’t bring kids up like that all the time’, he admitted. They hadn’t had a bath, neither of them had eaten very much and they’d taken to going to bed late, getting up late and not eating breakfast until 10am. The long bike ride was shelved because they all had a long lie-in (what?! This never happens), a meltdown made lunch with friends tricky, and the birthday party was hard work because the boy took exception to an on-duty Viking and was inconsolable for half an hour. But as we drove back home, all limbs intact, one less tooth between us, it was clear they were happy. All very dirty, but happy.

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