Back from the brink

“If left, the bacteria Molly has, can kill in a matter of hours.”

I remembered, through a haze, that when we first arrived at Sydney Children’s Hospital at 1am that night which was to change us forever, they’d bumped a head trauma in order to operate on the pneumococcal infection in our tiny six month old baby’s hip.  Although we didn’t know exactly what evil it was at that point in time. In the depths of that night, the medico’s voices had a practised ‘let’s not panic, but…’ pace to it. Yet still, these words did not shock me into a state of clarity, or panic, or any other emotion.  It was just another thing to swallow, then keep going, breath by breath, sleep by baby’s sleep, missed meal by missed meal, day by day by week by month. It was the only way I knew to get through.

 

Then later…

“Miss Molly is one lucky little girl that you got her in there so quickly,” said our lovely doctor.  The saviour of our lives so far.  “There is not much time for error with this type of bacteria. But I think we’ve done well, and hopefully there will be minimal damage.”  Then he came over all Doctor’s Rules, and I knew I would get no more on the situation.  Not that they knew much more on the situation:  We were currently, after a month in hospital and two operations, still holding onto the cliff with just a few weak fingers, too find out if that bacteria would yet still take her, or if she would never walk.  

We moved to bed number ten of our stay. The moving around was getting to me. Pushed on by bossy mothers who wanted our window bed, or by the Noro virus sweeping through the ward  and closing it down, sending us off to Isolation.

It was in Isolation I hit what I know was the lowest point I’ve been at in my life thus far. I was so emptied, tested, tired and worried that I had the completely ridiculous thought I wanted to leave the hospital, which meant leaving my baby. onthebrink I asked my husband to come in, but he couldn’t breastfeed, so it was all just me.  Me and this enormous confusing thing. Me and a whole little person whose life might just depend on me.  I cried for 24 hours. I never knew I had that much crying in me.

When I wiped my last tear from that particular flood, my phone beeped.  It was my oldest friend, texting to say she’d just heard about Molly.  I’d resisted all conversation outside of nurses, doctors, and my husband.  I couldn’t talk about this.  I didn’t really know what was going on myself.  I didn’t know how I’d react if I talked about it.  I didn’t know if I could comfort someone else who was upset for me. 

Perhaps I didn’t want to really face up to that fact that all this was happening.  As it turns out, it took years for me to achieve such a thing. Maybe I even haven’t yet.

We texted back and forth for hours.  Her sympathy and friendship flooded into me.  Her ability to see the possible positives started working on me. 

Then another friend started texting.  She asked how I was going.  I mused, how was I going?  It suddenly struck me that my back was pretty sore from sleeping on a lopsided plastic chair for a month.   As I stood back and looked at what I’d just written, I actually found it pretty funny – so absurd that it was humorous.  I started to talk about whether it was better to have slept on one of the hospital’s fold-out beds which sported only half a mattress leaving my bum hanging off the end, or the lopsided plastic chair. It reminded me of our toilet rating system when I travelled Africa; where in some parts they didn’t really know what to do with Western sit-down toilets in terms of cleaning or plumbing, so we’d decided the long drop toilets won highest ratings.  I deemed the lopsided plastic chair a winner. A game of relativity.

This reminded me of my other friend who’d sent in nibblies and books to pass the time for my stay.  Others had sent in toys and little books for Molly, and even one very ugly snugly blanket, like a back to front dressing gown, to go with my plastic chair bed. It made me laugh like a madwoman.  Who laughs in a children’s hospital?  Not many – only me that day.  It made me think of the outside world, of a life other than the one I was so completely ensconced in at the moment. God bless my girlfriends.

And I began to fill back up with the wholesomeness of friendship.

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School Camp

Ahhh, school camp. It’s a challenge for a parent, is it not?

Firstly the packing list.  ‘Old t–shirts and shorts’.  Read: Complete and Utter Fashion Dilemma, might as well have written ‘pressure mum and dad to buy you the latest Nike gold plated futsal sneakers and scuff appropriately so it looks like you always wear this kind of stuff camping’.  school camp copy‘Underclothes’ – will he remember to actually put them on?  And a ‘Sleep Sheet’ – seriously? A sheet inside a sleeping bag is just a recipe to wake up wrapped like an Egyptian mummy – best use for it is to give it to Tarzan.

Secondly, interpreting the safety and medical forms. ‘Signs of asthma’ – well, can’t breathe is a good start but if you want anything pre-emptive his mother is just going to have to come because I’m the only one who can tell, ok?  Then we have the list, ticking yes or no, of all possible ailments – heart problems, night terrors, broken bones, concussion, operations – no, no, no, he doesn’t want any of these, thank you very much, you just bring him back the way I packed him off. Then there’s the good old ‘other’ at the end of the list – I take this to mean they want to know he sneezes 3 and a half times when he gets up and that if he wears soccer shin pads too much he will get eczema underneath them so you need to line them with a Libra Thin and Breathable. Well, you asked.

And thirdly, and most importantly, THE WORRY!  Will he have enough to eat?  Will they burn the toast, just exactly the way his mum does? Will he make it to the toilet during the night? And if he does, will he remember it goes in the toilet, not all around it?  Will he have a friend in his room?  Will he spew on the teacher on the bus – did they read my note? (actually, bad luck if they didn’t). 

And, will I survive missing my baby so much it hurts in my chest and my stomach till he returns?  

Yes, I will.  Because I remember how he stood taller when he returned from the last one, like he’d had a concentrated infusion of confidence for the past three days.  I remember that smile which tells me he’s feeling on top of the world.  I remember how he still talks about the log wrestling from his first camp all those years ago, and though I have many and varied skills as a mother, giving him a chance to log wrestle is not one of them.  And I absolutely remember his answer when I asked him if he’d been ok while he was away:  “Yes mum, I had a really great time.” He showered me with the biggest hug I have ever had. “But it’s good to be home now.”

school camp 2

Two Funerals and a Brain Scan 

Last year was one of those years – I couldn’t go to Coles without catching pneumonia. At one point I just took my sick-after-sick-after-sick kids out of school and we ran away up the coast to a big wide open space with no snot in it.  Add to this a brain scan for me, two family funerals and an evil piece of a skin cancer chopped out of me, and I was about to give up and go and live with the hippies. Then I remembered those filthy dreadlocks….

Before you feel as sorry for me as I was, all remains well.  The funerals were the finale to two well-lived lives, they found a brain in my noggin, the kids got their Gloria Gaynor on and “I will survived” and 2016 is a brand spanker of a new year.

However, in the thick of it all, one asks oneself: What is the dent I want to leave in this life?

What was very clear to me at the time was that my greatest work will be – sorry Book World – my kids. 

Part of this, of course, is Book World, or becoming la Fabulous Authoress. It’s leading by that good brave, ‘go-get-‘em’ example, showing them that they too can do absolutely anything they want.  Getting up when you face plant in the publisher’s office, faceokantshowing them what having a passion means and that hard work pays dividends.  I hope and try my hardest to show them a balance – to do both mum and work in the proportions that matter to our family, and hopefully not too frenetically (although I know this last part is my biggest failing).

A funeral brings up how you might be remembered.  You think of the person you’re saying goodbye to in the best and fondest of terms – will people think such things about you? At my 99 and a half year-old Nan’s funeral, these words were in my head: She was consistently kind and strong. 

This was the answer to my question.   

When it comes down to it, when my children have to stand on their own two feet, which thankfully God-willing is not right now, what I want them to be is kind and strong. 

Rather shockingly, a Harvard study a couple of years ago gained a lot of attention when it found 80 per cent of teenage participants chose success as their top priority, over caring for others, which was chosen by a measly 20 per cent. Apparently the kids said that these priorities mirrored their parent’s priorities. Parents – what would you think of this if your child was the one who needed the care shown to them?  I want my kids to be kind.

And strong – to know right from wrong, to be able to stand up for themselves – to everyone, not just to the usual issues parents nag about like drugs and bad behaviour.  I want my fairly timid kids to be certain about their beliefs and what feels right or wrong.  I want them to have strong instincts. And good perspective and balance in life.  But not a bland life – no way! Find your passion, my darlings. 

Feels like a huge job when you write it all down. Best I get to it.   

What next?

“The thing that bothers me most about this new world of instant overloads of mass communication and accelerated daily life, is that people are losing their sense of personal dreaming.  That sense of being intimately yourself is disappearing.”

                                                                                                              John Olsen, artist, SMH

I’ve been wondering lately why there appear to be so many initiatives to get creative – “Do something creative every day for a week and diarise it”, adult colouring books, out-of-the-box creative projects in schools – even the black and white world of business is “design thinking” its way to better working processes.John Olsen

The swing of the social trend pendulum has always interested me.  I’m not just talking fashion, although fashion is the best reflection social shifts in history.  I mean the underground swelling of rebellion against the current status quo.  It moves from the innovators to the adopters then the mass market. Then we’re all sick of the status quo and looking for the opposite to the way we’ve found ourselves suddenly living. For example….

1920s and 30’s – hedonistic, glamorous, and working through the effects of the first ever World War.

…swings to

1940s and 50s – tighten the bindings of society’s emotional and literal corset. The nuclear family and apron strings are born.

…swings to

1960s and 1970s – untie ye olde apron strings and let me at FREEDOM!…of speech, clothes, open-mindedness, lurve…

…swings to

1980s and 1990s – too much of this free love, we need to make some MONEY. Power on, power suits.

….swings to

2000-2016 – The Millenium Bug – the world goes into panic about the possibility of suddenly living without a computer at the strike of midnight year 2000…. Marketing and technology get married.

I wonder if the next swing is….

2020 + – the years of getting back to oneself. Creative expression for all, families remembering what a family is, put down the tech, ignore the marketing, and Sit. In. This. Life.

 takemoretimecoverlessground

What do you think??

Month of Mini-Motivation

 

I sit here, looking at our sudden deep water frontage and a river knocking at my back door after rain so voluminous who knew the world could produce such a thing. I have four kids on school holidays jailed inside the house and never enough food.  Opposing this, I also have that New Year thing swirling about in my body – you know where you want to change something, refresh life with a deep cleansing breath, or complete a much-desired-to-be-completed task. I’m trying to get motivated to get into writing again, after a holiday from it. My task to complete is a big structural edit of 100,000 words – it’s that part of my fabulous authoress’ job which is something new to learn, but also, from this angle of having yet to begin, appears like it could be tear-jerkingly boring.  

I look up motivation on TED and surprisingly, there is nothing on there to fix my problem. How dare they!

However, I do come across something which germinates an idea.

30 days of something new (http://www.ted.com/playlists/321/talks_to_form_better_habits).

Ah pfft, I’ve tried that, thought me, as I get a 5th round of breakfast for the children who are behaving in a manner which is not at all conducive to grand or refreshing ideas.

 I’ve tried 10 minutes of mediation a day.  I’ve got my writing every day thing sorted. I’ve spring cleaned the springs right clean out of the house. Etc Etc. Where do I find a refresh on the motivation front within these good, but old habits?

As I lock myself in the bathroom, yelling out the the word “cleaning” to the children (a word which usually makes them suddenly busy or pretending not to be there) in an attempt at some peace and quiet, it comes to me:  How about 30 days of spending some dedicated time outside?

Sounds simple, and like something I should have been doing all my life.  But we all know that it’s easier said than done. General life and busyness just seems to get in the way all the time.  

A good time to start is the school holidays, when routine is banished and the best thing to do is get kids outside.  These holidays I will follow them out, rather than relish in a stolen moments peace in a quiet house.  (Really Felicity? Yes: Really).

We were just blessed with a wonderful bit of family travel where, although we had the comfort of a nice hotel, we made the most of our time in a beautiful place and got outside. Even if it was just sitting and watching the outside, instead of the TV.

Well, Australia is a beautiful place too. Perhaps I can recreate some of that holiday freshness. Be grateful for what I have. If nothing else, the wide open sky and rawness of mother nature gives you moments of that big perspective on life. And hopefully some motivation and inspiration! (now I’m remembering this blog post – Finding Inspiration)

I think I’ll try and do some, if not all, of this outside time in my own backyard.  So that when school goes back and life ramps up again, I have the best chance of continuing the routine. I’ll need to think of things to do in my outside time – ‘cause just looking at the weeds ‘aint gonna cut it.

Here are some ideas:

  • Gardening. I love it but never afford myself the time
  • Sitting in our new outdoor chairs – bought, surprisingly on New Year’s Eve, for the purposes of relaxing in our own outdoor space – this ‘outside’ idea has been germinating a while now, I realise. In our chairs I can read, write, watch my kids, look at the sky, feel the sun’s warmth in my bones, perhaps even snooze (oh, hang on, I’m a parent – closing your eyes indicates to children they are hungry even though they just ate 72 kilos of meat).
  • Play soccer with my kids
  • Play basketball with my kids
  • Swing on the swings with my kids
  • Lay on my new beach towel my mum bought me for Christmas 

    feet
    Just missing a cocktail
  • Picnics and dinner outside
  • Board games outside
  • Morning coffee outside

And…

  • Who knows what else!

Are you coming? 

Hope v Fear

Hope is the only thing stronger than fear.

These words bring so forceful a feeling, an image, a time from the past, into my mind that I am reliving it as if it were now.

It’s a time when our family was holding on to hope as if it were the stairway to heaven. When we were waiting in that brace of not knowing about illness, within our baby girl.   

This is what I wrote:

Lately I have been trying to explain some good news we’ve had in our family.  It goes something like this:
‘Our daughter has a shadow of bone growing in the empty cavity of her hip joint. She will be susceptible to arthritis and will be disabled.’  
I often get the raised eyebrow, silently asking, and this is good news?
The rest of it goes:
‘The other option was that the bone had disappeared all together. This would mean our daughter will be susceptible to arthritis and will be disabled.   But at least now there’s hope.’
That is the only difference at this stage, a word, a feeling – hope.
Hope that she may grow a 100 per cent normal hip ball joint.  Hope that she won’t even have a limp, let alone be the proud owner of a wheelchair.  And – please God – hope that she has no pain.
I sound rather dramatic to myself at times, when all these words come out of my mouth.  I am well aware on the scale of sick children we are on the 90th percentile of hope.  Every time we see our wonderful doctor at Sydney Children’s Hospital I am quickly pulled into line with my dramatics.
However, at times the issue has swamped me. 
But now we have hope.
And I’m telling you, it feels better than Christmas.

Can you remember a time you have held onto hope over fear?

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The smell of safety

It’s enough to singe the nose hair. Or at least relieve my nasal spray of it’s duties.

Is it alcohol?  My wine definitely doesn’t smell like that. Thank goodness, the old glass of patience.

Astringent might be how one would describe it.  The AK47 of germ terminator’s, might be another good description.

I’m talking about the pink, squirty liquid, in a bottle attached to the entrance wall of every hospital ward.  In the Children’s Hospital, it was attached to the end of every bed.

It never got my hand, always the floor, my shirt, my arm. And a little bit in my hand.  The nurses seemed to be able to do it correctly, heaven knows they had enough practice. hand sanitiserWash hands in the sink, dry hands with paper towel, squirt hands with pink stuff and rub rub rub for a very long time. For Every. Single. Patient. Sometimes twice for the one patient. Must have good hand muscles, those nurses.  I bet they’re good at opening jam jars.

I wasn’t worried that I’d squirted the rest of my environment with the thin pink liquid. Sometimes I even did it on purpose. Like the time someone let their sibling into our pod, coughing and sneezing all over the place. I would have liked to shower him in the stuff.

That pink liquid most reminds me of the day I can pinpoint as my rock-bottom.

On Day 1,300,400 (or so it seemed), a truly delightful thing called the Noro Virus came to visit our entire ward, pushing each patient down in a hurl of vomit and diarrhea like some sort of macabre Mexican wave.  Miss Molly and I were isolated in a room with another Noro family, simmering, behind closed doors.  In that room I became Oh Oh OCD, squirting pink stuff everywhere – all over Molly’s pram, all over the sheets before I lay her on them to change her nappy, all over my hands every single second I spent in that room, all over the tray of food the trolley dolly left at our door, the spoon, the edge of the bowl, the napkin before I wiped her face. Not a speck left un-pink stuffed. I was like a Ghostbuster with it.

I did her hands constantly too, every now and then wondering if it was ok to smother a baby’s pristine skin with something that could kill a virus so evil it shut the whole ward off from the rest of the hospital. nurse baby handsWho cares.  All my efforts to stick to the vaccination schedule with military precision, only breastfeed my baby, make all her pureed wholesome food from scratch, knowing every little thing that went into her body, hadn’t stopped her from contracting Pneumococcal disease and nearly dying. So bugger you, natural schmatural. It’s heavy duty drugs and cleaning products henceforth.

It was here, in this Isolation room, that I could not go on – and if I couldn’t go on, who was going to carry my precious little girl on in her battle for life?

I was mad, upon reflection. 

My true madness was yet to come though.

I thought I knew scared – having the thing you love most raced onto an operating table, and having to say “goodbye” to a body so tiny she could have lain across the operating table rather than along it.  Yet this paled in comparison to what was coming when I re-entered life. 

No, I didn’t know scared, til we left the safe confines of those hospital walls. I missed that constant stinging smell of the pink squirty at the back of my nasal passage and in my head cavity. It had come to mean safety to me. No, I didn’t know scared when we were enveloped by the layers of medical knowledge and the humane instinct of nurses.  There was no true scared, when surrounded by the life saving abilities of doctors who would come round two or three abreast, twice a day, to check if my little Molly was being invaded by deadly bacteria, yet again.

When we left, that just left me.

It was then I knew scared.

 

This creative writing excercise was on how delving into the memory of smell can invigorate into your writing.  What smell brings out deep emotions in you?  A childhood frangipani tree?  The smell of apple muffins wafting into the backyard?