When I was pregnant with Bear, it was impossible to imagine how life would become. I was hanging up the little bodysuits to dry for the first time when it began to dawn on me that I was going to have an actual baby. I know it sounds daft, but there’s a world of difference between a theoretical baby and a real one.
I had a similar experience this evening. Dad is at Auntie’s this week and we have been talking about him, how we manage and how we might manage as his condition deteriorates. I went into his room to check for washing earlier and came down clutching a jumper. As I held it close to me, it dawned on me that the opportunities to do these things for him are diminishing. Every day, people ask me how he is. I am able to reel off what is happening. How he really is and what we expect to happen next. I am so caught up in the practicalities, spending time with Dad and making sure that he is happy. I forget the temporary nature of the situation. The temporary nature of life itself.
While I can, I forget that one day I will be left holding the jumper.
Bear lost his first tooth today. He hits all of his milestones before I’m ready. Whether it’s toilet training, leaving him to play at a friend’s house or starting school, he’s always up for whatever it is long before I’m ready to let go. Not that he knows that of course. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling his fun, or getting in the way. Whatever it is, my approach is the same: provide moral support and do a bit of clearing up.
This tooth business is something special. At the school gates this afternoon, I was trying to establish the going rates for the tooth fairy. It seems to be a pound, or even two per tooth. How does she carry those heavy coins! Times have certainly changed. It was a sixpence when I started losing teeth. He’s written a note for her and put it under his pillow. ‘I have lost a tooth. I don’t have it.’
Bear said he wants to save all the money he gets from the tooth fairy to buy a present for me, which Mr. Invisible can help him choose. Lessons in humility from a five year old. I’m humbled. I feel ready for this one, just unprepared. There’s a difference.
Grandad decided to give Bear some money to spend. Given a free rein, Bear would probably take it to the Lego shop. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that something a bit more special was in order. I’m not sure Bear can remember Dad at his best, even though it was under a year ago! Children live in the present. Sometimes it’s a good thing, but I want to protect his memories of Grandad. He enjoys Lego, but I needed to think of something that he could treasure.
About a year ago, a Build-a-Bear shop opened in a nearby shopping centre. Bear has been very interested ever since. He loves looking at the little outfits and shoes and hats, but most of all he dreams of having his very own bear to bring home and love.
Build-a-Bear. That’s the thing to do. He chose him! He stuffed him! He dressed him! And right now he’s snuggled up with him. I’ve never seen such a happy pair of bears!
Sometimes I wonder whether we’re doing the right thing for Dad. Would he get better care somewhere with properly trained people available 24×7? Our home doesn’t automatically accommodate his changing needs. It takes time. If he’s in pain it can take us a while to get the right help. We can’t be with him every second of every minute of every day. Even when we’re at home, we might be helping Bear with homework, making food, halfway upstairs with a pile of washing, or in the shower.
This afternoon I was sitting with Dad. He knows he’s dependent on us. He thought it must be difficult. It’s hard to explain but it’s a bit like bringing Bear home for the first time. I wasn’t trained or qualified, but I knew instinctively how I wanted to care for him. Mr. Invisible and I made up the details as we went along but basically we didn’t want him to cry or be distressed. It’s the same with Dad. I’d rather he was in our home with people who not only love him but know him. He wants to be here too. So I guess we are doing the right thing for Dad. At least for now. But it doesn’t do any harm to keep asking. Just to make sure.
The Large Family are firm favourites in our house. The cheeky young elephants appeal to Bear, while Mr. Invisible and I can relate to Mr. and Mrs. Large as alcohol-free versions of ourselves. Five Minutes Peace particularly resonates. Mrs. Large takes steps to secure this evasive pleasure, as desirable as chocolate and as rare as Kryptonite. It may take days in the planning and still something could come up at the last second to destroy it. Mrs. Large manages three minutes and forty five seconds for herself, but she still has to clear up the mess. There’s always a price to pay!
My morning has been a struggle. Bear was ready in his school uniform promptly, waiting by the front door. Homework, tick. School bag, tick. PE kit, tick. Lunch, tick. But we had to run more or less all the way for him to just about get in last before the door closed, before I got around the corner and wept down the phone to Mr. Invisible. The reason. Grandad. It’s not his fault. It’s not mine either. I just don’t want anymore mornings like this.
So when I unexpectedly found myself between places with five minutes to spare, I jumped at it. Toasted cheesy crumpet and proper coffee with hot milk. On my own. Completely. Priceless.
Bear got his homework book from school this week. He felt very grown-up about it. I can’t believe my baby is old enough to get homework. Actually I’d rather he didn’t. I don’t believe homework in primary school helps final learning outcomes. I think it has the potential to put children off forever, as well as destroy their relationship with parents and carers. (Watch this space!) I’d really like him to be a child for longer than this. But hey, what do I know! I’m not a teacher or a child psychologist. I could be described as an anthropologist, as I do observe one from close quarters. But I’m not exactly impartial and one child doesn’t make a scientific sample. Anyway, whatever my uneducated opinion (but not humble – I make no apology, I just don’t do humble opinions), he gets homework now.
I always think September is a better time for resolutions than New Year and a better time for new beginnings than Spring. Maybe it’s because September is inextricably linked with the beginning of the school year and empty notebooks with no mistakes in them yet.
Anyway, my resolution is to encourage Bear to finish his homework each Friday evening so we don’t have to think about it at the weekend. It worked this week. But I’m not holding my breath! And I’m not going to let it rule or ruin us. So there!
Hurrah for September! May, June and July, you let us down miserably. August held out for the Games, but September is where it’s happening.
We didn’t manage a camping holiday this year. Not even a weekend. Bear was sorely disappointed and if Dogford could talk, he would be giving us a hard time too. So how about setting up a campsite in the back garden? Of course they’re not allowed actually to sleep out there (too dangerous!) and they’re not allowed to set fire to the campfire (although it wouldn’t be a proper campsite without one), but for one day only Bear and his toys and Dogford have camped. Thank you September. We couldn’t have done it without you!
My Dad was 40 when I was born. I was almost 40 when Bear was born. I sometimes wonder if I am seeing them both through a weird mirror. Is Bear anything like my Dad was at age five? Old photographs give the nod, but they are unreliable witnesses. Even if Grandma were alive to tell me, the passage of eighty years might distort her vision. Will Bear be anything like my Dad when he is 85? They have some personality traits in common. I probably have them too. This is where it gets complicated. I am the mirror, but I am also a link in the chain. This is my story too. But our stories are not the same. I don’t look at Bear and see myself at his age. We share some of the same passions: teddy bears, books, building things, but he is not me. He has his own thoughts, his own dreams and desires, his own fears, his own soul. His life will be a mixture of the things he chooses and the things he chooses to do about the things he can’t choose. (I’ve just got back from the Donald Rumsfeld school of plain English!)
Dad has incurable cancer. It was diagnosed four years ago. Three and a half of those four years were ‘healthy’. The last half has been a challenge. But in the scheme of things it’s not that bad. He isn’t in constant pain. We can still talk about stuff and have a bit of a laugh (as long as it’s timed correctly around medication and exertion!) So what does ‘dying’ mean and is he doing it? Scientists can explain ‘dead’ and ‘alive’ pretty well, but ‘living’ and ‘dying’ is the stuff of philosophers, poets and those on first name terms with Mortality.
Maybe it’s about now. Maybe ‘living’ is about being in the moment. Not just being there, but inhabiting that moment and making it our own. Forever. Once we’ve been in a moment, it’s too late for anyone to take us out of it. Once it’s passed us by, there’s no way of getting back into it.
So as long as his medication has kicked in and he isn’t between places, Dad chooses ‘living.’ Long may it continue.
After Olympic-fever comes Olympic-fatigue and then more Olympic-fever. I don’t know whether it was Team GB starting to win things, Bear being so excited by the whole thing or actually going to the Olympic Park and Stadium, but as the Olympics wore on I became totally involved. It stopped being about ticketing fiascos, cynical sponsors and ‘security’ and started being about the people it should have been about all the way through. The people who have given their lives for at least the past few years to achieving Olympic success. Then strange things were happening in our household. I was listening to 5-Live instead my usual Radio 4. I was the one switching on the telly to catch up with the day’s events and I was totally up-to-date with the medal table. (I didn’t manage to find out anything about Handball, but Rome wasn’t built in a day!)
So the Olympics was basically a load of athletes doing things that I can do, just fitter stronger and faster. I can run, ride a bike, swim and throw things! They just did it a whole lot better than I could. But the Paralympics is a totally different ball game. I need my own legs to run. I would drown with a missing limb. The idea of playing football without being able to see the ball is frankly terrifying. I will be watching athletes performing feats that are above and beyond my everyday ideas for what is possible. I can’t wait to have my mind stretched. Mr. Invisible, Bear and I have tickets for 5-a-side football and swimming. The Olympics was just to get the party started. This is the real event. We are going to be total Paralympic tarts!
After Olympic-Fever comes Olympic-Fatigue. Yep! I’ve officially had enough of the Olympics. I thought we might watch a highlights programme at the end of each day and perhaps listen to a few events on the radio. But no, that’s not enough for my lot. All day every day, our telly has been tuned in to one or other of the BBC’s twenty four (yes twenty four!) Olympic channels. I’m a ‘telly for half an hour before bed and definitely not during the day’ sort of person so my stress levels are on the ceiling.
Time for some recovery. Dad wanted a bit of a lie in this morning so I made myself a gorgeous fresh coffee and whipped up some hot milk. I even made a cheerful heart pattern on top. Of course it went cold before I had the chance to drink it. Dad insisted on coming straight downstairs after his shower and then gave us a really hard time because it was too much effort for him. Then there was pandemonium while Bear and Mr. Invisible got themselves ready to go out. They are trekking across to Surrey to watch the Cycling Time Trials. Right now the house is peaceful. Dad is snoozing on the sofa. Dogford is at my feet and Catford is mincing about, but in an undemanding manner. I might even make myself another coffee and actually drink it this time.
Maybe by the time Bear and Mr. Invisible get back, I’ll be sufficiently recovered to do it all over again.
Oops! Actually that was yesterday and I was so exhausted when they got in, I forgot to post!!