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.”

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Tales from a Soccer Sideline #1

I DIDN’T GET THE AWARD FOR SPORTSMANSHIP!” he spits at his mother, devil-red in the face, smoke pistonning from his nostrils. The 9 year old striker’s fists begin to crack closed forcefully, his tiny brain struggling to makes sense of it all, teeth grinding in fury.

“Yes, I was watching the award ceremony,” responds his mother, also seething with disgust.

He starts up again: “Little -”

“Now Brutus, darling, remember we don’t use the F word in public places like this, it doesn’t look good,” says Mother, ever responsible.  “I’ll talk to Ben Botson about it. Someone must have been in his ear.”  She walks out of the Man Untied clubhouse, confident in her promise. ‘Cheats’, she thinks – ‘the kid and the club director.

“I wanna smash that dumbass,” rages on the tall, wiry boy, possibly lacking in a wide vocabulary.  “How many goals did he get, huh? huh? He can’t tackle to save his life.  A back, a defender, who wants to be a stupid defender,” he wobbles his head in mockery, striding  after his mother, the usual two metre distance between them she keeps.  

“‘Pass, pass,’ he screams like a girl – no way I’m passing the ball to him, I’m the only one who can kick goals in that whole team. Sportsmanship – can’t play sport to save himself…” He kicks at a rock, his superb goal-kicking foot hitting the gutter instead, making him near explode. “Few teeth on the shoulder in a close tackle oughtta let him know who the winner really is,” he mutters.   

Mother smiles to herself, lowering her Lycra top neckline in readiness to see Ben. So competitive was her little Brutus.  Such a great quality to have – she couldn’t have written it into him if she’d tried.  But she’ll just be right up there and making sure that Director knows exactly who their family is:  Soccer royalty is who, an A grade player since he was 5, training with a personal coach four times a week even back then. He is lucky to have Brutus in his club.  No one forgets her children. No one. Brutus will be making international soccer headlines one day, just like his hero, Luis Suárez.

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Suárez showing the true extent of his skill in the 2014 World Cup

This is a practice piece in writing character’s, and is the first in a series using the soccer season I’m about to be kicking around in.  I have never met Brutus, nor Shazza his Mother, they purely a figment of my nightmares. Luis Suárez, however, is a real life adult experiencing teething.   

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.   

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? 

In hot pursuit of passion

So ladies, we’ve now “got it all”.  Someone burned a bra and we can be CEO’s, mothers, revolutionary’s, and expert children’s party crafters.

But so many women are not happy with this.

They are trying to cut back on hobbies, friends or even family in an effort to calm a chaotic life.  They meditate on the bus to work, squeezing in the quest for inner peace between Circular Quay and Broadway whilst sitting on the roar of a 6 cylinder diesel engine. They work from home to be both mother and career woman, only to find the whole situation is actually a complete farce.

What to do?

It’s a doozie of a question.

Let me tap tap tap my ruby shoes for a little magical inspiration:

Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire”

Passion. And the putting of it in your life.

My kids were analysing the words to Eye of the Tiger – Rocky Balboa, not Katy Perry – as it played during dinner the other night (oh yes, we can do fine dining!).

So many times it happens too fast

You trade your passion for glory

Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past

You must fight just to keep them alive

“Don’t forget your dreams…” said my academic cherub.  “ROAAAAR like a TIGER” said the wild one. And, “You’ve got to fight for your passion, keep doing what you love,” said my master sensible.

He knows, because he has experienced it this year. The other week he played in a soccer gala day all day long, then couldn’t wait to get to more training that night.  He walked in, at the end of twelve hours of sweaty soccer heaven, laughing at himself and his happiest of sore feet. “Crazy awesome passion”, my friend called it. His smile, his beaming confidence, still remain at the memory, three weeks later.  

Here is how it is working for me.

I want to be creative – and I don’t mean churning out 50 toilet roll tealight holders from Pinterest for a child’s birthday party.  I want to write creatively, and to see my novel on a bookshelf in Berkelouw Books – now that would make me beam, and scream and live in ecstatic disbelief!   

So I sit down and write every day when my toddler is sleeping in the middle of the day. Sometimes I get a frustrating two words out before he wakes.  Sometimes I get two chapters.  Sometimes it’s rubbish. But most of the time it’s genius – so say I, anyway.

But, each day I am a little closer to that bookshelf.

Each day, I feel self-worth.  When I’ve whipped out the genius, it’s HUGE, huge I tell you.  When I’ve only managed crap, it’s still there hovering within, because if nothing else, I have spent a little time doing something that I love.

I don’t understand it when people ask me how I fit it in. passionisenergyoprha

It’s an hour of exciting!  I am not a mother, or housecleaner, or school bus, or washerwoman for an hour; I am lost in a world of something I really love doing. When I hear my little man waking up I have to shake myself back from the nirvana I was in. What do you mean how do I fit it in – I am LUCKY to be able to do this!

And it adds to my life, my husband’s life, my children’s lives, and all those around me because I walk around happy. Simple.

I am also keenly aware that none of this is going to wait. It’s important to make this a priority, otherwise I’ll have a whole bunch of toilet roll tea lights, but no bookshelf glory.  It will still seem in the distance, and when I do eventually get there my grey, set hairdo and years of inactivity to the cause will mean it just won’t happen.

And anyway, I want to walk around happy now.  Not later.

The racing, the chaos, the infinite pile of washing, the constant cutting of 80 finger and toenails, the not-a-moment-to-breath, is placed into the Everyday and Mundane Status drawer it should be in.  It’s not important, because you have more majestic pursuits going on. 

You know; “Oh, sorry, dirty socks, I was busy becoming a famous and fabulous authoress”.

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Well?  Go get ’em tiger!