Tuesday, September 26, 2006

hand in hand

My daughter has had a rough few days. For three days, she did not eat. Her shoulder blades are like fragile wings, folded ready for flight. Her legs have changed from coltish to spidery. The vertebrae are spiky down her back. So today, although she has finally ceased ejecting her stomach contents, Laura remains wan and lethargic. She is indecisive - unable to choose what she might attempt to eat, what she'd like to do, where she might lie.

I asked whether she felt able to take a short drive to the local DVD rental store. Laura pondered this, pale-faced and serious.

"Yes, that would be OK. It's not very far to walk from the car."

I pressed her further : "But sweetie, we'd be walking around inside a bit, choosing the DVD. Are you sure you have the energy?"

Laura looked at me steadily. "I could do anything with you to hold my hand."

I realise Laura didn't mean this in a sweeping, generalised sense. She's only five, and I guess she was being quite literal - she could go get a DVD if I helped her along, she could come for a short walk with the dog, if I helped her along...

I prefer to believe that Laura feels nothing is beyond the realms of possibility, if only I will be there with my hand in hers.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

woeful weekend

One of the many good things about becoming a parent was the way it helped me understand other parents. More specifically, it made me realise how stressful it is when a child is ill. These days, when a parent brings their child to see me at work, I completely grasp how worried they are; I can comprehend that a seemingly minor ailment or injury can cause untold anxiety for a mother or father. Before having children, I was aware that parents got very concerned about their children, and I tried to be kind and reassuring, but often, the concern seemed vastly out-of-proportion to the problem, and I didn't quite get it. I'm sure that came through in my demeanour.

I have been humbled by having my own kids. The distress I feel when they are sick or hurt engulfs me. I am a complete baby when it comes to my 'babies'. And the less they complain, the worse I feel for them. My daughter Laura has always been such a stoic little thing with illness. She doesn't cry, she lies quietly and doesn't call out. I'll hear a small sound in the night, and find her standing over the toilet, being sick, with no fuss. She is a real trooper.

This weekend, Laura Lou has been unwell. She has vomited 17 or 18 times (I've kind of lost count). She has not shed a tear, despite this. Right now, she is finally asleep for awhile. And here I sit, knowing she will be OK, knowing she just has a particularly nasty gastro bug, but worrying about her and feeling anxious just like any other parent (actually I suspect more fretful than is normal!). I want to fix things so she feels back to normal, straight away. I don't want to go to work tomorrow (even though Fatty - her perfectly capable father - will be home with her) because I know Laura slightly prefers her mother when she is sick. I want a cackling anti-vomit witch to come and make us a magic potion. And while she's here the witch could hang out all the sheets and towels and pyjamas I've had to wash.

So I just want to make it perfectly clear that I do now 'get' parental anxiety. I get it already, I got it with Laura's first cold almost 6 years ago. I don't want to know how much worse it would be if I had a seriously ill child. I am tired of just the regular worries. But I'm a parent, so I'm not allowed to get tired of it. Parents must just endure.

Enduring is only relieved by whining. Thank you for listening.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

a happy postscript

My aunt phoned this morning. She'd read the post below, about Mama. Apparently I made my aunt cry, too. My Aunt 'Zany' (I'm sure she'll approve of that pseudonym and won't be offended..... I hope!) is the youngest daughter I mentioned, who visits Mama several times a week. Aunt Zany wanted me to add something to the post I'd written.

When Zany visited the day after I did, she saw in Mama's visitor book that I'd stopped by. She prompted Mama by saying, "So Jelly came to see you yesterday?". Mama looked unsure for a moment, then replied brightly, "and the little one!".

She remembered. Such a small thing means so much.

My Mama is not going down without one hell of a fight.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I've been avoiding visiting her. I tell myself it's because I'm so busy, but I know that's a half-truth. I defer spending time with Mama, my grandmother, because she is succumbing to dementia. She is no longer the woman I remember. Like a petulant child, I am avoiding unpleasantness - the sad discomfort of witnessing Mama's decline.

She once was an auburn-haired woman with sturdy arms and legs, capable of anything. My Mama raised seven children, and cared for her chronically-ill husband until his early death. Mama worked at a care facility for disabled children. She cooked a mean roast dinner and the best peanut biscuits ever. She chaired a women's writers group. Until the past year or two, she giggled like a schoolgirl at any mildly off-colour joke you could come up with. I went to see Mama today, in the nursing home where she now resides. My mother warned me beforehand that Mama's memory had deteriorated since I last saw visited. Mum wasn't sure if Mama knew who any of the family were any more.

As I walk in, I see her. Mama sits at table, snowy-haired and blue-eyed, looking so small. She is smiling in my direction. She looks pleased and surprised, though slightly perplexed. It must feel like when someone greets you at the shops, and for a moment you just can't place them. It must feel like that for Mama every day.

Mama knows her memory and language are failing. Over and over she starts to speak, then shakes her head in exasperation when she cannot finish. Tears fill her eyes, and she puts a hand to her forehead, "I'm going silly in the head". Her lips quiver as she tries to get a handle on her emotions. She repeats, " I'm so silly", and apologises. I touch her arm and tell her she's not; it's OK. I tell her I know she must feel so frustrated. I feel useless in the face of Mama's obvious pain.

Mama is touchingly concerned that my little son needs entertaining. She suggests a walk to a small sunroom.
"See the birds, they...."
"One of the other ladies put a ...."
Mama's sentences go unfinished as she struggles to grasp the words, or is it the thought itself that slips away? Eventually, another resident in a wheelchair comes and speaks to us. She describes how she has bought a seed stick and wired it to the fence, to attract the crested pigeons. I can see a bird now, feasting on the sticky treat. Mama's face lights up, as her meaning is finally conveyed; as we stand together watching the bird peck and fluff up its' feathers.

We walk to Mama's room, and she excuses herself to use the shared ensuite bathroom. A few minutes later, Mama opens the door to leave the bathroom, then hesitates, and slowly manoeuvres back into the bathroom to wash her hands. She washes thoroughly. She places a piece of paper towel carefully under the soap dispenser, where there is a small amount of liquid soap pooled. She takes the paper towel she has dried her hands with, and meticulously wipes down the taps and basin top. I am fascinated by her deliberation and thoughtfulness. I feel guilty to be surprised that Mama's nature remains essentially unchanged by her dementia. I know some people are changed. That must intensify the distress for their loved ones. But my Mama is just as lovely now as she ever was - gentle but prepared to have her quiet say, always thinking of others, loving, quick to smile. Her sparkling intellect has been dulled, but I remember it clearly - so clearly that I sometimes believe it is still there.

A cleaner bustles in to the bathroom, chatting breezily about how fast the toilet paper gets used in the bathrooms. Mama quips, "They must eat it, hmm?". The bustling blond cleaner laughs out loud. "I reckon they must!". Mama pipes up again, " This is my grand-daughter. She's a.... she's a doh....". Mama's eyes well up again, and she shakes her head.

The cleaner is well-meaning, but she has that high-pitched and over-exaggerated manner of speaking, as if talking to a child. " Don't worry love, you're doing fine, you speak really well", she gushes to Mama. I feel a prickle of annoyance. I don't want her speaking to my grandmother in such a condescending tone, however kind the intention. Mama is still insightful, she still knows she is losing her mind to dementia. To deny her the right to express the hurt and confusion she feels seems wrong.

Mama lifts her head up, wipes her eyes, and tries again. "She's a doctor!", Mama blurts triumphantly. The cleaner looks suspiciously at me - I am wearing ponytail, running shoes and cargo pants. I nod, and confirm that I really am a GP. I grin at Mama and she grins back, all proud grandmother. I'm so proud of her.

When it's time to leave, Mama insists on walking us to the front door. As she begins on her wobbly walker way, I realise I will have to escort her safely back to the dining hall before I can depart. We will become locked into a repeating cycle of accompanying each other to the car park and back to the common area. I find a volunteer who offers to walk with us.

On the front path, I kiss Mama's papery cheek. Ever-polite, she thanks me for coming by. Morbidly, I wonder if this will be our last conversation. I tell Mama that I love her as I hug her goodbye.

My mother tells me that Mama doesn't remember when people come to see her. The very next day she has no memory of ever seeing a visitor. Sometimes she is forlorn, believing that no-one ever visits, yet her youngest daughter comes by almost daily.

I will remember the visit in her stead. I will remember her as she was, and as she is now. She is a woman of infinite grace. She is my beautiful Mama.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Sunday morning mooching

It's a sleepy Sunday morning, and even the early-waking son obliged by sleeping in til 6:30 am. Ah, the sheer bliss! Mind you, I had initially been woken at 5:36 am by the rustling and shuffling of my beloved Birdman, as he gathered his equipment and dressed to go 'birding'. You know what they say - the early worm gets the bird. Or something like that.

So now the non-bird-obsessed members of the family remain at home, munching peanut butter toast, resisting the pleading looks from the beagle. I can't seem to relinquish my Thumper pyjamas in favour of daytime attire. Flannelette is just so darn comfortable (not awfully attractive, I grant you, but just sooooo cosy!)

I'm contemplating some housework, but contemplation is all I've managed so far.

Maybe after another piece of toast......

Friday, September 15, 2006

reclaiming girlhood (just for a few hours)

Picture this if you will - a big yellow room with two comfy couches, and lots of pillows. There is not a Lego brick in sight. "Bette Davis Eyes" is playing softly in the background. Someone with a bad sense of humour has put up posters of Wham and Kim Wilde. On the coffee table are two empty dessert bowls - remnants of ice cream cake still smeared around the edges. A platter of crackers, cheese, dips and fruit sits waiting to be devoured.

Two thirty-something mothers (with 4 kids between them) are lounging languidly on the couches, discussing topics ranging from travel to teething.They have watched a DVD of a recent 'chick flick'. When they can stop giggling about Fatty's latest birdwatching quote ("The channel-billed cuckoo is what I really want to see") and Ocker's desire for daily sex (ha-ha! double HA!), they will switch the TV on again to watch "Pretty in Pink". Or perhaps "Sixteen Candles". It doesn't really matter what it is, although having Molly Ringwald in the movie is guaranteed to make these mothers feel teenaged again. Grey hairs, wrinkles and all.

I've been looking forward to this night with Belly all week. The very thought of this evening has kept me smiling through tantrums, tears and ferocious messes. I've been unusually serene at work (even the lady who presented me with an 11-page handout listing her daily symptoms over a 4 week period did not disturb my equanimity). And providing our children's good health prevails, Belly and I will be there, on those couches, in less than 12 hours.

'Celebrate good times.....c'mon!'

Monday, September 11, 2006

the name game

I suppose many of you have pet names for lovers, spouses, friends, siblings? My friends and family do, too. I think Australians are particularly fond of nicknames and shortened monikers. Take my dearest friends - Belly, Chooky, KP, Tootie. Not a sensible name amongst them.

My father loved to call me anything but my Christian name. When I was small, he called me, depending on his mood, Chicken Pie, Toukie, Poobah (it's OK, I was a baby then so I didn't mind), and many other silly nicknames. If he called me my actual name, I knew things weren't looking good.

I hardly ever call my husband by his real name, either. I call him 'hon', 'lovie', 'darl' ..... and Fatty. Anyone who has read my blog a few times would have realised this: Fatty = Jelly's husband. I don't know why I began calling my beloved husband by this term of endearment. I suspect the word just popped out of my mouth. I could just as easily have called him Buckethead, or Tickle. But the other day, a blogger friend commented on the nickname. I realised I haven't made it clear that Fatty is not actually fat.

It's not that I worry you may all think I am married to a chubby man. Who cares what weight he is? However, I would hate you all to think that my husband struggles with his weight yet I choose to draw attention to it by calling him Fatty. The fact is, Fatty is not porky. Not even a little bit. He's pretty lean; always has been.

I remember going to a party, several years ago, where a drunken woman in a tie-dye dress plonked herself into Fatty's lap, and proceeded to berate me for daring to call him Fatty. She told me, with a serious face, that I was belittling Fatty, and sloshed her drink onto the grass as she gestured. I was astounded that she could take offence at a nickname that was so obviously NOT fitting. At the time, I was horrified at being so miscontrued. On reflection, I think the drunken hussy just wanted to get into Fatty's pants. And now I've completely lost track of what I wanted to say.

Oh, yes. That's right. I wanted to say this - Fatty is not fat. If he were, I would never call him Fatty. And one more thing - if you ever think of putting on a tie-dye dress, drinking way too much wine, and jumping onto Fatty's lap, well ..... just don't. Remiman and John Cowart - you've been warned.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

So, wha'd I miss?

Has it been a week already? My life is spinning by crazily. I want to slow down, but then I also want to do all these things that I do.

Just to make life more tricky, we went camping this weekend. And as much as there was a fair bit of work involved, it was just brilliant! There are very few thoughts that thrill me as much as the idea that Fatty and I are building a strong family unit, and giving our children happy childhood memories. So whether it was Laura running half-exhilirated, half-terrified into the waves, or Ben (the city slicker) enthralled by the stars ("Look at all the lights in the sky!") - I found each moment golden.

I hope you've all had plenty of happy times over the past week... I'll be stopping by to hear your news very soon!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

blogging blues

Lately, it seems there is never enough time. I feel like I rush from one place to another, and when I do have a spare moment, there are so many jobs I should be attending to. I feel that I'm letting some things slide that really should be done.

I love blogging, I really do, but sometimes, before I realise, I've been reading blogs for an hour. While that's OK now & then, I probably can't afford to do that every day. And the fact is - I often do.

I was really sad when I went to manababies site yesterday, and saw that she has shut down her blog. I will miss her sweetness and humour. Yet I could understand why, with her currently extra-busy life, the blogging had to go. As she said herself, 'it's time'.

I'm not planning to stop blogging altogether - I don't think I physically could! But I think I'll take a leaf out of John Cowart's book and take a short break. I think a week should do it.

I hope you all have a happy, healthy week. See you next Sunday :)