Neurotic? Me?

Neurotic? Me?

We’ve been clearing out the loft…in order to make space for lego (oh so much lego)…in order to clear space in the nursery for the cot…

It feels like one of those little handheld games you’d get in party bags with the squares you had to move around to make a picture; if one square was in the wrong place you had to mess up all the others to fix it… My head may explode!

Anyway, in addition to making me want to go an play the lottery in the hope of a bigger house, the room jenga led to me discovering my diary from the year Ethan was born. It’s an A5 page-a-day ring bound book, with ridiculously cheerful polka dots on the cover. And it has made me realise that I am totally and utterly neurotic and need to be stopped.

“Don’t be silly, Peta!” I hear you say (one would hope!) “You can’t be that bad?!”

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Exhibit A:

Here we see page upon page of post-it notes. These post-it notes contain quotes and helpful tips from the library of parenting books I read during my pregnancy. All my life I have been convinced that the answer to everything lies in books. If I read enough of them about any particular subject then I will have all the answers to anything that is thrown at me. This academic urge did not leave me during pregnancy… In hindsight, all the books did was convince me that I had to remember all these rules and facts and hints and tips in order to keep my baby safe and happy, and that if I forgot one or two then we were destined to create a terror of a child who would never thrive in the world.

Moving swiftly on to Exhibit B:

Here we have my birth plan, which, as we all know if you’ve read the rest of my blog, is so far from reality that it probably belongs more in a Terry Pratchett novel (although it is significantly less funny and insightful). Reading it now makes me wince at our naiveite. And also makes me want to go around telling all first time mum’s that a birth plan should not be called a birth plan, but a “What I would like to happen if everything goes according to plan, however I recognise that it probably won’t so this will just give the midwives something amusing to read” plan.

And finally, the pinnacle of the insanity, Exhibit C:

This is where it gets actually bonkers. This is a day in the life of Ethan aged 12 days! We have detailed information on which breast he was fed from, for how long, how much expressed milk he was fed, when he slept and for how long, and what other appointments we had that day.

To my shame, this continues every single day, through weaning (where we have scintillating entries concerning hummus, bananas, et al), and my workouts. The final entry is the day he turns 8 months old, when I can only assume that Mark stole the book from me and hid it in the deepest depths of the wardrobe so I would stop recording completely pointless information and stressing myself out.

I honestly am ashamed of the pressure I put on myself. I think I thought that if I wrote down everything that happened, then I could make sure it was all going well and notice for patterns in case it wasn’t. I was completely terrified that I would mess up this newborn someone had handed to me, and that routine and organisation was the way to make sure that we did everything right. I worried so much about everything to do with being a new mum. And I tried to take my list-making from the workplace to the nursery.

When I got pregnant again I would think back to the early days of Ethan and I saw a relaxed, easy time. But I assume that must be those rose-tinted glasses that make you forget how awful labour so that you’ll do it again and the human race won’t go extinct. The woman who charted every feed her son had for 8 months was not relaxed or easy-going. She was clearly trying to find some way to deal with this massive change in every aspect of her life.

I really don’t want to turn into that person again (partly because I would like to hang onto my friends until I come out of the other side of the newborn bubble!). I realise that there will be stress and anxiety arriving with the Hatchling. But there must be ways that I can reduce the effect they have on me, and our family. And one of these ways is for me not to obsess over every little detail. I have managed to keep a human alive, through quite challenging circumstances, for 7 and a half years. So I must be doing something right! There is nothing to suggest that I can’t be a good mum without all these lists.

I don’t want to be clearing the loft out again in 7 years (probably to turn it into some kind of teenage boy den where Ethan can go and smell like a hamster in peace) and find a 2020 page-a-day diary that makes me want to cry into my Rioja.

Memory failure

Memory failure

Facebook is both a wonderful and terrible thing. This morning I woke up to the pictures above – a reminder of a very excited little boy.

But we need to talk about the “Memories” capability…

When Mark died it was a way of having someone else to share all the things Ethan did with. It was adult feedback about events and decisions. It was sharing a wry smile over a glass of wine at the end of a very long and relentless day.

It was my lifeline.

Generally speaking its a treasure trove of funny things I’ve sent to my mates (who obviously agree I’m hilarious!), cute pictures of Ethan, tweets and political statements that felt so current and important but I can’t remember anything about now, momentous occasions such as the first swimming lesson, THE BEGINNING OF POTTY TRAINING, the wine at the end of the first day of potty training, The moment when I break and just put pull-ups on him again….you know the sort of thing.

But then every now and again there is a sucker punch to my stomach. It will be a birthday message from Mark, a caption to a photo of my two boys snuggled up together asleep on the sofa, a wedding anniversary, or (a particularly impressive one) the message in which I told all of our far flung family and friends that Mark was being moved to a hospice with no further treatment, or the one 2 days afterwards when I told them all he had died.

So, that was a fun thing to pop up after Facebook says ” we thought you’d like to see this…”

Because I didn’t, not at all, and I won’t like it next year either.

So why stay subscribed, you ask, If it means you end up with PTSD flashbacks while scrolling your newsfeed?

It’s this collective memory thing. I really am so bad at remembering things, and this is a way of accessing this shared memory store of Ethan. Especially during the 2 bad years, when I honestly think trauma has wiped a lot of my memory.

I worry about being the single repository for all the memories of Ethan’s first few years.

I’m hopeless at remembering things like the first word, first step, first bit of food.

The fact that there is video evidence of at least some of these is one of the saving graces of living in the 21st Century. But it’s not sufficient on its own.

And, because I am naturally anxious, I worry that I’ll miss out on telling him something so incredibly important that it will shape either his understanding of his father, or his very personality. Mark was the one with the details. He was the one with the photo on his desk on the back of which was written Ethan’s first word along with the words he was currently using at a certain date.

I think maybe I was so in the thick of the daily whirlwind that is bringing up a child that these things passed me by. Obviously I was excited at the time, but then the details got pushed out to make room for remembering jabs and to order more washing powder.

When you build a partnership, or a marriage, or a family with someone else, you both take on different roles relative to your strengths (and necessity). You don’t both need to be the one who remembers birthdays, or the one who is better at recalling when the first tooth arrived. But when you lose your partner you lose that half of the skill set you’ve developed. You lose that half of the memories. You lose that half of what your family means. And it bothers me. It makes me feel guilty and as if I didn’t care enough to hold these things in my head.

And, to be honest, I’ve only just realised that it may have been because I was the one doing the work. And he was the one being updated with the important news, or coming home and getting the highlights. Generally speaking. When you are so in the thick of it every next thing that happens is your priority. Maybe remembering that will make me feel less guilty… Who knows.

With this baby I periodically feel the pressure to over-compensate and ensure there is detailed record of everything that ever happens. But in reality I have a 7 year old, a house that never stays clean, a washing pile that never gets any smaller, about 3 different jobs, and more than a vague interest in what is actually happening in the world (completely bat-shit crazy though it is). I get the chance to make a quick note of whether or not I’ve taken my prenatal vitamins today, and I can’t imagine that adding an actual moving baby is going to help my time management.

So, Facebook it is…

Birthdays

Birthdays

Sunday was Mark’s birthday. He would have been 37.

This year it took me by surprise. I knew it was coming up but when I woke that morning it took me a while to look at the date on my phone and realise. I told Ethan when he snuggled into bed for a morning cuddle and he asked if we could go to the cemetery. He wanted to take flowers and write Daddy a letter. When it came to sitting with the piece of paper in front of him he got as far as  “Happy Birthday” and then was stuck. He didn’t know what else to say. But then I can’t blame him. A 7 year old isn’t meant to know what to say in a birthday card to his dead father, is he? In the end he drew some flowers and signed his name and we drove up there in the afternoon.

It’s a beautiful place really. The grass is spongy with moss, the trees lush and green in all this rain, far enough away from town to be peaceful. There is a huge old fir (I think) in the middle of the graves, with the thickest trunk I’ve ever seen, deep brown and dark green, sheltering the metres around it. It always fills me with awe as I think how far it’s roots are spreading through the cemetery, connecting everything. We put down our flowers and our letter and had a little chat to Mark about what was going on. Ethan said “Happy Birthday” and told Daddy that he had a cold! I had been fine all day, but listening to his little voice tell his Daddy about school and the Hatchling broke me. He never wants to stay very long – I get that, it’s not a very engaging place for a 7 year old and everything he has to think about there is very abstract. As we drove home I found myself back in my most frequent line of thought: my son is a very impressive little boy, but he shouldn’t have to be. I am torn between being oh, so proud of him that he can articulate his feelings and furious with the universe that he has had to learn this skill so young.

On the 30th October will be 5 years since Mark’s death. It both feels like yesterday and a whole lifetime ago. To be perfectly honest, standing there at his grave with the Hatchling moving around in my belly felt odd. My whole life and the circumstances I have found myself in are so very strange. Any possibility that there might be any sort of over-arching plan seems laughable. There have been lessons learnt, sure, but not through design. I was brought up with the concept that there was a plan for my life – an end goal that I was heading towards – that you just had to find the right path and you’d get to that point. I can’t pass that assurance onto my son – because it’s crap. You have no idea what life will throw at you when you wake up on a Tuesday morning. The best you can do is make sure you have people around you who love you, enough self-awareness to know why you act and respond how you do in every situation, and a sense of humour to carry you through when all else fails! If I can model those things for him, and for the Hatchling, then I think I’ll be doing ok. (Maths skills would also be a bonus!)

Milestones are weird things. In reality, each day is much like the other. It doesn’t get any sadder on the 29th of September, or the 30th of October, or the 12th July, or the 17th March. Mark is not missed any more or less. But our brains like these checkpoints. They help us make sense of time, and I think they help us weave the action of grieving into our lives as we walk forward. Humans crave rituals, birthdays, anniversaries, festivals, Strictly Come Dancing finals. And a grief milestone helps you create those rituals around the loss of your loved one. I have never told Ethan that on Daddy’s birthday we visit his grave, but we have done it every year and now it is a normal part of the year for him. This (I hope) helps him frame his grief, and gives him an opportunity away from school and minecraft and friends to take it out, examine it, and experience it. He knows that being happy is perfectly fine, and so is being sad. Should he need it, he has an outlet.

So, Happy Birthday Mark – our son is pretty damn awesome, and we love you very much.

20 weeks – and cleaning!

20 weeks – and cleaning!

The Hatchling posing at 20 weeks!

All clear at the 20 week anomaly scan! Yay! It was a really special experience for Nick and I. It was amazing watching the technician point out the kidneys, the tiny 4 chambered heart beating away like crazy, the individual vertebrae  of the spine snaking down the Hatchling’s back, and the legs waving around. At one point it headbutted me in the bladder and I could see and feel the movement at the same time – that was mind blowing; and when the tiny mouth yawned I thought I was going to cry.

And everything was fine. Again, I think I was waiting for something awful to be wrong – to hear that I had done something I shouldn’t, or that my body had not been cooperative. I was expecting bad news. But everything was perfect – bang in the middle of the weight it should be at this point, all organs in working order, feet pointing the right way, long legs and defined lips and nose. We are all good. And on track for a healthy, happy new team member.

I don’t think that I’ll stop worrying. This is me, after all. But it does calm me down for a bit at least.

So now the house is slowly preparing to welcome a new baby. We have to move the playroom into our spare room in the loft and then create a nursery in the playroom. I’ve decided I want the furniture all sorted by October half term – I think this may be a completely arbitrary deadline, but it feels better to have some date in my head. And to have begun to make some progress.

It appears the nesting has started. Yesterday I cleaned our living room window – inside and out – because it was annoying me. I haven’t cleaned the windows in years (yes, I know I am a terrible slob of a person!). Then I moved onto cleaning all the doors, and had to stop myself from doing the skirting boards as I was getting weary. I’m getting urges to rush up to the loft and just throw everything out…I’m not sure how many belongings are going to survive this pregnancy! The house is annoying me. It isn’t too small – for crying out loud I grew up with 6 people in a 2 bed! But we have A LOT of stuff. And we’re not very good at culling (apart form, it seems, when I am pregnant. So maybe I should take advantage of this newfound urge to purge and have a massive clearout…)

Life constantly changes, and we change with it. I think that when you do something momentous (such as adding a new person to your life) there comes along with that an opportunity to reflect and look anew at what your life currently contains. A bit like when you move in with a new partner, adding a baby makes you consider how your belongings and your environment facilitate the way your family works, and the person you are. It’s a break in the day to day – an opportunity to ditch things that you’ve been holding onto, but don’t serve a purpose anymore.

When Mark died I left his clothes in his side of the wardrobe. I didn’t open the doors, or sit amongst the shirts and cry, I just couldn’t move them. I think it was when I started back at work that I decided that they couldn’t stay there any longer, but that I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of them. Predictably, out came the vacuum pack bags, and everything was put away in the loft until I could contemplate going back to them. It took a long time, the hand holding of Mark’s brother Daniel and his husband, and a LOT of gin to get through that day when it finally arrived.

When Nick moved in with us it was into a space that Ethan and I had worked hard to make our own. But there were still changes to be made, someone else’s belongings to fit in, and decisions to consider about which keepsakes and photos still belonged on display. We didn’t move the house on from Mark, we didn’t make it less ours, we simply made room for another person’s significance and presence.  And, again, this gave me an opportunity to think about what was still me and what wasn’t. Did I really still need to resist having a sofa in the dining room now that I could workout in the living room? Was the best place for the washing basket still in the corner of the bedroom, or had I just kept it that way because Mark had put it there? Was a study still necessary, when a playroom would consolidate the ridiculous number of toys strewn around the house? Stupid little things that just gave life a bit more flow.

Now that the Hatchling’s arrival is zooming closer I find myself regarding everything in my house with a more critical eye. I’m not thinking about baby-proofing yet (although that will be a shock to all of us, relaxed as we’ve become with sensible Ethan!), but there will need to be space for the day bed downstairs, and a playmat. We’ll need to rearrange our bedroom to fit in a crib for the first 6 months (although to be honest it’ll be more like the first 3 if Ethan was anything to go by!). The buggy will need to go somewhere as we’ve filled the space where it used to live with a large shelving unit where we keep our shoes and keys…(this is my current unsolvable problem; it can’t go in the dining room as I refuse to stare at muddy wheels whilst eating my tea, and it can’t really go in the hallway as Ethan (and Nick) will knock it over every time they walk past. Answers on a postcard please as I’m this close to building a lean-to on the patio for it to live in) The playroom and the guest bedroom (which seems to be full pretty much every other week and will probably be busier with a new baby) have to be consolidated into one space – a space which also includes my ridiculous collection of books, all the toys the Hatchling has yet to grow into, and the usual Christmas decorations, camping gear, winter/summer clothes (depending on the time of year) and everything else the normal family has in their loft. I am going slightly bonkers thinking about it.

If you don’t hear from me in a while, it’s because I’ve been buried under a pile of baby clothes and youth work text books…send help!

20 weeks and feeling reflective.

20 weeks and feeling reflective.

Blackberry picking at sunset!

Today the Hatchling is 20 weeks old…we’re officially half way there!

I have been feeling very tired recently, so I am sitting and resting, looking at the living room that I have created.

Well that’s not quite true. The bones were laid whilst Mark was still alive. He picked the egg blue on the feature wall, the cream on the rest – I wasn’t sure about both. So little confidence in my own taste and how it might work out in practice. Putting pictures from my head into real life has never been something I am brave with.

The carpet was here when we arrived. I immediately hated it, but we were to live with it until Ethan was potty trained…and then I never got around to it. I still hate it. So much. The deep blue sofa that arrived in our first married home as a present – an extravagance that I had never imagined. Buying a sofa made to order…new…in a colour I liked, not one that was cheap, or borrowed, or donated. I love that sofa. It contains so many memories. Breastfeeding Ethan , him falling asleep – satiated – on my shoulder as I sit in the corner, in front of the bookshelves. Watching Damages as he suckled contentedly but determined. Sitting on it 7 months pregnant feeling so uncomfortable (I’m not looking forward to that this time around!) – reading Mumsnet threads that made me laugh so hysterically that I cried. And Mark finding that so funny that he insisted on filming me. That bloody camera, a present ready for the baby being born, that he determined he would be behind at any opportunity. But that meant he was rarely in front of the lens, and photos or video of him with Ethan are few and far between.

Wiping it with muslins, removing sick and crumbs and yoghurt and chocolate….oh the germs that must be on it! The red fluffy throw that used to be on the end… The cotton throw with elephants, purple and red, to help me make the rented house fell more put together. The low, massive coffee table in front of it where Ethan first started pulling himself up onto his own two feet – making me so proud.

Moving it to the new house – our first that we owned – Mark’s massive accomplishment. A new house, new community. Everyone who came to see us had trouble getting off of it – so deep and enveloping. Made for snuggling with the one you love. The cushions at the back never being plumped enough. It’s lasted 10 years and it looks – almost- as good as new! I will be sad to buy another. The loveseat that I bought all by myself to fill a gap I saw in the space. Terrified as it arrived and I didn’t think it would fit through the door. Terrified as I unpacked it that it was too big for the space and that I’d made a stupid mistake. Proud as I set it up, matched cushions and posted it online because there was no-one in real life to be proud of me and praise me. The curtains that I hate, but have to keep as we have no others. The piano which stands as a reminder that I never have time to fit in all of the things I want to do into my life. I don’t know whether that’s because I want too many things or I waste too much time – this is my eternal question.

The TV bought with Marks first bonus at KPMG. Remembering the hours he spent researching and comparing, hunting for prices and discounts. Me thinking that no-one ever needs a TV this big, that it was too massive for the room – taking up the corner like a big black blank space. Greedy. But, you get used to it…spoilt now.

The painting hanging over the piano. Mark’s birthday present a month before he died. He was meant to come home and see it framed – the colours matching perfectly with our sofa, the paint he’d chosen. All together and peaceful for him to die in. Because the loveseat was bought to shut out the memory of another chair which had sat in that corner of the room – the motorised, old people’s chair with the padded cushion so he could get up and down and be comfortable. So he could take the pressure off his tired joints, his bed sores, so he could rest and not have to walk up the stairs to the bedroom too often. The kindness of our friends who found and bought the chair. The defeat it represented to me as it sat there. And the fact that he never got home to see the painting, to see the walls, to see the creation, to use the chair, to lay in the hospital bed that was to be delivered and placed in our living room.

And so, now, this is my space. I have created it. With the chaise longue from my wedding to Nick in the corner instead, Blitzen the reindeer skin draped over it. Liam the wooden giraffe next to it. The piano with Nick’s mother’s dinner gong sitting on top of it, underneath the birthday painting (which was the perfect blend of my love for Jack Vetriano and his love for motorsport). The space where I can do my workouts, even though Mark hated me doing them in the living room.

It feels warm and cosy. It feels like an amalgamation of all of the men in my life and all the things I love about them. I have battled to keep it clutter-free for years, for this to be the front window of my life – see, I can keep something clean and tidy! – I need peace and calm and tranquillity and order somewhere, otherwise I feel like everything is spiralling out of control, like I’m not good enough at this being an adult thing, like everyone else manages and I’m hopeless and lazy and self-centred.

But this is my space. I get to choose.

my boys…..on my sofa….
Heartbeat

Heartbeat

18 weeks and bump is now bigger than boobs!!

Since we got back from Carfest, it’s been a manic rush to get all the back-to-school stuff sorted. So I’m a bit behind in keeping you all caught up with Hatchling developments! I’ve just dropped Ethan off for his 2nd day of school and the house is a lot quieter than I’ve been used to these past 8 weeks.

We had our first consultant appointment last week. Doctor’s appointments in the summer holidays are a pain in the backside! The plan had been to get someone to look after Ethan so that he wouldn’t have to hear me talk about nearly dying when I gave birth to him….desperately trying not to give the poor boy a complex! But no-one was available, so we settled on Nintendo Switch and penguin headphones…. ah, the wonders of 21st century parenting!

But it turns out that it was pretty awesome that he was with us. He got to hear the Hatchling’s heartbeat and the lovely midwife explained all the noises and numbers to him. He had the biggest grin on his face – very special!

The wonderful consultant (who I would like to always be my consultant for everything for ever and ever!), read the letters about Ethan’s birth and asked me what I wanted this time around. I was fully prepared (with my usual worse case scenario head on) to have to stage some kind of sit-in to get the elective c-section I wanted. But when I told her she just said “Fine”. And that was that – all sorted! To say that I felt relieved would be a bit of an understatement. Now I don’t have to spend the next 21 weeks worrying that I’m going to die in childbirth…you know, it’s the little things…

So now we know how the final weeks of pregnancy will pan out (and we all know that I like a plan!). Blood tests in the run up to make sure I have all the iron I need, anaesthetists appointment in week 38 where we’ll get a day for the section, and then going in early on that day in week 39 and waiting for my spot! Very straightforward. Then all we have to worry about is keeping an actual baby alive for 18 years…

The Hatchling has been moving around a bit more. I have realised that I’m going to panic when I don’t feel it as much. I’ve got an anterior placenta, so it’s perfectly normal. With that information I can bring myself back from the panic…but realising that it will be where my head goes is quite useful really.

There’s lots to do now that Ethan is at school and I have my days back! The next massive task is to sort out the loft/guest room. All the baby things I’ve collated over the last few months has amalgamated into this huge pile of stuff that all needs a home! So if you need me I’ll be counting babygros and trying to get Ethan to cull his toy collection so we can change the playroom into a nursery. (He doesn’t actually play with any of it anyway, but the occasions when I’ve suggested charity donation have not gone down well.)

Wish me luck!! x

Bibs and Bouncers

Bibs and Bouncers

Last weekend the 3 of us travelled up to Lincoln to visit my mum. We went to collect all Ethan’s old baby stuff from her loft. For the life of me I couldn’t remember what was up there and I have mixed feelings about retrieving it.

As I’ve mentioned, Mark and I had decided to try for another baby when Ethan was about 2. When Mark was diagnosed and we were given the 18 months prognosis I decided that I couldn’t deal with having all the baby paraphernalia hanging around the house, constantly reminding me of all our future plans, laughing at my audacious assumptions.

So my mum turned up – white knight as she often has been – with plastic boxes and packing tape and vacuum bags and labels. We packed it all up in an afternoon, so put it in her car and drive it away. I didn’t need to think about it anymore.

I’m not quite sure wheat the boxes stood for. And I know that for a very long time afterwards I was certain that I was never going to have to use them again. I envisaged sharing out the contents to various friends popping out children as and when they needed things. But mostly I just didn’t think about them.

I didn’t really expect to be delving into them again; Ethan sitting with my new husband and being alternately bored and fascinated that he used to be that small!

Predictably, Ethan wanted to know why all these boxes belonging to us were in his Grandma’s loft. So often I find myself having to make these things up on the spot. He never asks the questions to which I have carefully prepared answers, with bullet points and visual aids….

I told him that when he was 2, Daddy and I had decided that we would like to have another baby. But then Daddy had gotten poorly and it made us sad to look at all the baby stuff when we knew we wouldn’t be able to have another baby. So Mutti (what he calls my mum) came with some boxes and we packed it all up so it wouldn’t make us sad anymore. We thought we would come and get it when Daddy got better and then we would have another baby, but Daddy didn’t get better so the boxes stayed here. Now Nick and I are having a baby, we’ve come to get all the baby things so that the Hatchling can use them.

To be honest he took it really well. He said that it was cool actually, because ” you and Daddy had me and now you and Nick are having the Hatchling. It’s like 1 each!” Obviously fairness and sharing are huge factors in our situation!!!!

Unpacking it all was beyond weird. There were so many happy memories attached to the door bouncer, and the striped vest he wore on his 1st day in the world. A smiling face, giggles, and wonder at the ridiculous speed of development of this remarkable boy. And I am so excited to do this all again – to see another cheeky face smiling up from the changing mat, or rolling around under the baby gym.

But also the disappointment that our family did not work out the way it was supposed to. The sadness that, although Mark got to see the first 2 years, he has missed so much of his little boy’s life, and so much of his developing personality. There is also a little guilt, as there always is hanging over me, that I am trying to get a “do-over” and leave the past behind me. This will never actually be true – you don’t get over and move on from things like this. But my brain sometimes tells me that I should be sitting in widows weeds, encamped permanently on the bench at the cemetery, not having a baby with my new husband.

I’ll be grappling with this mix of feelings forever. It is, I think, part and parcel of widowhood when you’re not over 70. There is so much of life left to live, and I would be doing a disservice to Mark not to try and live it as fully as I can. Including another love, another marriage, and another baby in a (definitely not golden) carriage!