It’s not perfect, but it’s ours

life is messy but it's beautiful

When I got home from work and came through the front door, I walked into a total warzone. The dogs are killing each other to get to me, scrambling on the wooden floors, each one climbing over the other in an attempt to get their ears scratched first; Fletcher – yelling at the top of his lungs – is racing his plastic motorbike up and down the passage, wearing his unclipped bicycle helmet backwards; Becs is standing in the kitchen surveying the chaos with a warm smile, our steaming halfway-made-tea on the counter in front of her. Having just travelled 40 minutes on a cramped bus, surrounded by strangers each bringing their own stories, stresses, strains and smells to the journey, there is nowhere else I’d rather be. “Hey family,” I say above the din of the madness that is our afternoon life. My greeting is returned by Becs, Fletcher roars at me and the dogs continue to clamour over each other, vying for my attentions. It’s not perfect – this chaotic, busy, loud life – but it’s ours.

***

It’s 10pm, Becs and I have put down our books, switched off our bedside lamps and are stretching towards the welcoming arms of sleep. We hear shuffling footsteps in the passage and moments later a little voice breaks the night-time silence, “I wanna sleep in mommies’ bed.” Without a word, Becs reaches out and lifts Fletcher, his stuffed Lightning McQueen, his new elephant backpack and his blanket into our bed as I pull the covers back and push the pillows together to make space for a tiny human who takes up more space in our bed than we could ever hope to. For the next hour or two, Fletcher tosses and turns, burrows his feet into our kidneys, talks to us about crocodiles, lions, dinosaurs and all manner of wild beasts and eventually drifts off to sleep. By the time Becs carries him back to his own room, we’re both exhausted (and a little bruised from Captain-flick-en-flack). It’s not perfect – this co-sleeping in a not-quite-big-enough-for-all-of-us bed – but it’s ours.

***

The house is quiet. Too quiet! I walk into our bedroom and find Fletcher next to my side of the bed with the Vicks Vaporub tub open in front of him, one hand pulling his shirt up and the other smearing the multitudes of Vaporub he’s extracted from the tub liberally all over his front. “I putting this on my tummy,” he says as I gasp and leap towards him. He immediate starts trying to evade my grasp, darting left and right, coming dangerously close to wiping the remaining Vaporub on our freshly-laundered duvet cover. I grab the offending arm, hold it high above his head so he doesn’t get any in his eyes, crouch down to his level and say (firmly, but kindly), “this can hurt you boy! If you get this in your eyes it will burn like fire. Quickly, let’s go wash your hands.” He quietly nods his head, almost as if he’s truly comprehended the severity of the prospect of Vaporub in the eye. I keep a hold on his arm as we walk towards his bathroom and climb the step to the basin. All the while, Fletcher recites my monologue (or “mom-o-logue”, as I like to call it, because it’s mostly you, talking to yourself in the hope that some cosmic force is listening and will grant your wishes), “going to wash my hands, this can burn my eyes, burns like fire, big ow, going to wash my hands…” It’s not perfect – this chasing-a-toddler-covered-in-Vaporub madness – but it’s ours. 

***

In the nearly six years Becs and I have been together we’ve seen the best and worst of each other. We’ve propped each other up when we felt our legs wouldn’t be able to carry us under the weight of our grief at the loss of loved ones. We’ve laughed until our bellies ached reminiscing about some silly, trivial early-twenties memory. We’ve cried tears of joy together as we looked down on the face of our fresh, pink new-born son. We’ve changed jobs. We’ve schlepped across the country, uprooting our lives and moving away from (almost) everyone we know and love. We’ve stared, open-mouthed at the sheer beauty and wonder of the world, looking down at the ocean from a perilous height. We’ve danced in the kitchen to music only we could hear. We’ve sung (bad) karaoke in the dodgiest pub in Blouberg. We’ve held our son as he screamed and writhed in our arms after cutting his foot on a broken plate. We’ve paced hospital waiting rooms and slept curled up in uncomfortable chairs in paediatric wards. We’ve seen and done a lot together and this is only the beginning of our journey. Our journey has been messy, it’s been beautiful, it’s been gut-wrenching, and it’s been mind-blowing. It’s been far from perfect, but it’s ours and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. 

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A stitch in time…

amateur mommies a stitch in time

With summer, in South Africa, comes braais – or as most of the rest of the world knows them, barbeques. I had just lit the fire when our good friends arrived with their 8-month old son for a Saturday afternoon braai. Becs had set out a picnic blanket with a variety of toys for young Myles and Fletcher to play with, while the moms and dad chatted and chilled. 

With the fire burning away, I went inside to make the marinade for the chicken, leaving Becs, Lloyd, Ani and the kids outside on the grass snacking happily from a fruit platter Becs had lovingly prepared. While still busy with step one of my marinade (measuring out the olive oil), I heard Becs saying from outside, “Fletcher, don’t stand on the fruit.” A split second later, the follow-up sentence came – and it was one that dropped my stomach – “Babe! Stitches!” My heart sank. I grabbed a dishtowel and ran outside to where Becs was rinsing Fletcher’s foot under the outside tap. It was immediately clear, it was bad. I grabbed his foot with the dishtowel and held onto that tiny foot with all my might. I took him in my arms and Becs went inside to grab the car keys. Lloyd was already reversing his car out the driveway when we climbed into ours and pulled out, leaving our guests to clean up and lock the house. (Thanks guys.)

The calm before the storm

Arriving at the closest casualty with our two-year-old son screaming and crying in my arms while I tightly held his little foot was a surreal moment. We were ushered in by a nurse, who paled somewhat on lifting the dishtowel and quickly fetched the casualty doctor, who took one look at the wound and began issuing instructions about pain meds and calling the orthopaedic surgeon on call. Once the meds had kicked in, Fletcher allowed the doctor a proper look, which confirmed her thoughts about calling in the ortho. 

We were sent down to radiology for a quick x-ray and, shortly returning to casualty, were led to the paed ward for the long wait for surgery (because, obviously, Fletcher had eaten 30 seconds before slicing his foot open, so we had to wait for that to clear his system before they could operate). 

When our little man came screaming and raging out of theatre a few hours later, I went into the recovery room to try and settle him, while Becs chatted to the surgeon. Our dear son has never done anyhing in small measures. When he gets sick, he gets pneumonia; when he gets fevers, he gets 40º fevers; and when he stands on a plate and cuts his foot, he cuts through his tendons! 

Being a parent is a traumatic, wonderful, terrifying and immensely gratifying experience. It will take you to places you never knew existed and show you parts of yourself you didn’t know you had. You will face your greatest fears, every day, and you will stand up to the biggest, scariest demons and smack them on the head with a plastic hammer that makes a squeaky noise. You will look at what you thought you knew about yourself and be amazed at just how far removed you are from it. And you will love every moment of it – even the ones you dread. Seeing Fletcher on the gurney in that casualty department, with tears cutting through the sunblock we’d applied just moments before everything fell apart, broke my heart. Seeing how he looked at me, pleading eyes begging me to help him, watching him look from me to Becs and back with an expression of why aren’t you doing anythingon his small, tear-stained and blotchy face was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. It’s gut-wrenching. But at the same time, it shows your mettle. 

Becs and I are both in the fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on how you think about it) position of having been in life or death situations before, so each of us knows that we are pure calm under pressure. Many others aren’t. A lot of people, when faced with life-threatening – or even just slightly hair-raising – situations dissolve into a puddle of hysteria. The trick is to harness the energy that comes from hysteria and channel it, it’s not an easy task but once you master it, cucumbers will have nothing on you in a crisis. 

We still don’t know how many stitches Fletch actually had, but I’d guess no less than 10 (plus whatever had to be done internally). We have a follow-up appointment next week with the ortho to check his progress and are hoping for the all-clear, because keeping a busy two-year-old off his feet for a week is no mean feat. Fletcher himself has been an absolute champ! He’s been brave and accommodating, he’s been adorable and endearing and he’s been such a big boy about the whole incident. He weaves a beautiful tale about how he stepped on a plate and it cut his foot, but then the doctor fixed it, complete with dramatic embellishments and wild gestures. 

All recovered and watching diggers

The biggest thing we’ve taken from this incident is really how quickly accidents happen. Fletcher was less than a metre from two adults when it happened. He wasn’t doing anything naughty or intentional – he was just walking to get a toy for “baby Myles” and he mis-stepped – put his foot down in the wrong place, as clumsy toddlers are wont to do. The thing to remember, when accidents do happen, is not to berate yourself. Every child ends up in the emergency room at some point in their lives, whether they’ve fallen off a jungle gym at school (like I did) or stepped on a rusty nail (like I did) or run into their cousin’s bicycle handlebars and sliced a chunk out of their faces (like I did) – accidents happen. Life happens. Go with it. Be in that moment for as long as that moment lasts. Be present. Be intentional. Be an active participant and not a passenger. Try to remain calm and if you can’t, channel your hysteria, use it to help you focus – you’ll be amazed how well those panic hormones focus your mind. 

Mama, what you doin’?

Yesterday evening, when I got home from work, Becs and Fletcher were in the kitchen. Fletch was perched up on the counter and Becs was standing next to him, giving him his vitamins. I came over to say hi, and gave Becs a kiss hello, at which point we heard a determined little voice saying, “Mama! What you doin’? Why you kiss?” Both of us packed up laughing at the statement, and the vehement nature of its delivery. He looked at us, happily enough, but had certainly decided that those moments should be kept until after he had gone to bed. I gave him a kiss on his chin (because his face was nice and sticky from his vitamin), plonked him down on the floor and the two of us proceeded to race and down the passage for the next 30 minutes, occasionally pausing to “jump” at the kitchen step. 


Standing in our bedroom one morning, trying to quickly respond to a WhatsApp message from a colleague, I was loudly chastised from the bedroom door by our not-quite-two-year-old. “Mama! What you doin’?”
“Replying to a message,” I responded. At which point I received a terse, “no!” Fletcher ran into the room, grabbed my free hand and said, “walk!” And that was that, my response would have to wait, and rightly so. There was no time-sensitivity to the response, no reason that I should prioritise responding to a meme over spending time with my child – who would most likely only be awake for another hour or so. Sometimes, it takes a small, albeit firm, voice to remind us of what’s really important. I can’t remember exactly how we occupied the time that followed, but we were together and he was laughing, and that is the most important thing. 


As Fletcher has grown and his grasp of language has developed, we’ve been amazed at some of the things that have come out of his mouth. He’s not even two yet, but every day, he finds a way to remind me that the important things in life are not always the things I think are important. Watching the news is not important. Replying to texts is not important. Reading magazines is not important. Even cooking supper is not so important that it can’t wait until I’ve done a lap or two of the passage race track, or kicked the ball over the balcony a few times. 

What’s important are the memories we’re making, they experiences we’re giving our son that are shaping the person he will grow up to be. The way we respond to situations, to people, will inform the way he responds one day. Today in the car, on the way to school, we were driving along behind another car, and – to my surprise – I heard Fletcher from behind me saying, “move!” pointing to the car in front of us. It made me stop for a second and wonder how many times I’d unconsciously moaned about the cars on the road around me (or more specifically their drivers). It made me wonder what else I’d done unconsciously that he was picking up on, learning from. 

All I can hope is that the majority of his experiences of the world with us, through us and, sometimes, in spite of us are positive and that the human being those experiences forge is a good one. So far, all signs point to a great little guy growing into a wonderful, kind, caring and empathetic human one day. Fingers crossed it stays that way. 

An emotional melting pot

Emotions run wild when your child is in hospital. Here's an amateur mommies account.

Sitting tucked away at a quiet table, in the corner of the hospital coffee shop, trying to catch up on some urgent work items, I’m struck by breadth of emotions around me. To my left, excited extended family celebrates a new addition, surrounded by “It’s a boy!” balloons and blue teddy bears. To my right, an elderly couple stare quietly at each other, the husband wears a pained expression as he looks worriedly at his wife, who sits motionless in her nightgown, an ominous drip-stand at her side. In the reception area, an anxious-looking teenager, asks her mom a thousand-and-one questions about the surgery she is being admitted for. Behind me, a huddled family, silently mourn the loss of their matriarch.

As I sip my coffee, I begin to consider my own fatigue, concern and stress, all underwritten by cautious optimism. My not-yet-two-year-old son is lying in the paediatric ward with his “another mama”. He’s got some sort of demon bug that only responds to IV antibiotics and comes with relentless, unbreakable fevers. He’s been here less than 24-hours and is already showing significant improvements. He’s doing better than so many of the other kids in the ward and for that I am so grateful. There’s a little girl a few beds down who has the same thing Fletcher has, but she’s been here for three days already and is likely to be here for another three. I’m filled with gratitude at the robustness of our boy, suddenly glad for his insatiable appetite and the way he burns through clothes, for his skimmed knees and all-around toughness. He’s like the Hilux of toddlers.

It’s inevitable, in a hospital, that you start chatting with the people around you – finding out their stories. There are surgical cases – bones that need setting, burns that need dressing – pneumonia cases and mystery viruses – all manner of things bring people together in hospitals. People who you would never otherwise speak to are suddenly your closest confidants. You confide in them. You share with them. You open up to them as you would your nearest and dearest friends. You are bound to them by an invisible thread – your sick or injured kids. You’ll probably never see these people again, and if you do, the chances that you’ll recognise them are slim because they’re out of context. The invisible thread that bound you will be gone – your sick or injured kids will no longer be sick or injured, and suddenly any potential future interactions seem awkward and forced. 

Our two night stint in the paediatric ward was blessedly brief and our thug is recovering well at home. But many of our new confidants were left behind as we hastily bid farewell to the nurses and hospital staff, as we rushed for the door. The overriding emotion for both of us as we made our way to the car was relief. Relief that Fletcher was on the mend. Relief that it was over. Relief that we were all going home, together. Relief that we were all going home. I looked around the coffee shop as we walked out, silently considering the emotions of the people around us. There was laughter – some of it born of stress, some genuine – there was anxiety, there was joy, sadness, grief, elation, relief, resignation and acceptance…

Hospitals are a melting pot of emotion and it is our emotion, in each situation, that shapes our experience of the place. Three and a bit years ago, I was in this same hospital, crying into my coffee as we bid farewell to my beloved grandmother. That day, I hated the place. Last year, around this time, we were there with Fletcher. He had pneumonia and was in a bad way for the first two nights of our stay, but by the end of our stint, I had grown to love the hospital and the people who worked there. This time, I felt like an old hand, experienced, calm, ready to face it all. I hope never to have to be back there, but if I do have to go back, I hope not to experience the darker emotions, the ones that leave you cold.

For now, I’ll take my relief (and my son) and we’ll head home, together.

How easy it is to lose your temper with someone so small and innocent…

This tiny human that we have been blessed to parent is one of the most trying and difficult things in the world. We cannot control it, we cannot keep it in the same place (good luck once your little ones are mobile, parents), and we cannot make it listen no matter how loud we shout. Since our little man started walking we have been on a constant marathon of madness around the house. He is SO busy! The cat food, the toilet, the glass cabinet, the T.V remotes, the underwear drawer, the detergents cupboard and all the plugs, and light switches are constantly under attack. And boy, is he on a mission to be a one-man demolition team. The speed at which he manages his destruction mission is also unbelievable! One of us is hovering around him at all times, picking up bits and pieces, stopping him from bumping his head and generally damage controlling as much as we can while the other one of us is doing all the other “mom things” that need to get done – cooking, cleaning, washing bottles, etc. When he finally goes to sleep we are absolutely knackered!

The newfound freedom his walking has bestowed on him, and his curiosity for absolutely everything is awesome! It means we have a little man who is growing and learning and becoming independent and we couldn’t be more proud! But, it also means the frustrations he has in being confined (like when we have to change a nappy or put him in his high chair) are world-shattering for him. For such a little thing, his temper tantrums are huge! The tears turn on, the lip drops, and the pitch of his cry reaches an ear-splitting crescendo. It takes just a moment for him to get to the point of no return when he doesn’t get his way (like when we won’t let him eat the toilet block straight out of the toilet) and it takes me just a moment to absolutely lose it with him. Although we’re not big on hidings, we quickly realised that smacking has absolutely no effect on him. He is already crying and now he doesn’t understand why the person he loves more than anything in the world is hurting him. To say nothing of the fact that he doesn’t understand why he can’t eat the toilet block in the first place, because he’s only 15 months old and logic and reason are far from his mind.

It’s in this moment that you have to take a step back, take a big breath and remember that you are the adult, here to teach your little human the ways of the world and, in order to do that, you will need all the patience in the world (and some wine chilling in the fridge for later). We have found distraction to be the most
effective method of dealing with his tantrums – changing his mind set and getting him engaged in a more suitable activity, away from the “danger zone”. But it takes a lot of self-control not to lose your temper, raise your voice and turn into a dragon. We explain to him why he can’t do it and we know he understands a
lot. They are like little sponges absorbing everything around them at a rapid speed so it’s critical that he absorb the right things – and hitting people is not on the list of things that are “right”. The list of words in his vocabulary increases all the time and soon we will have a little being we can effectively communicate with. But, until then, it’s one baby step at a time, one big breath at a time and one big glass of wine at a time.

When it all becomes too much

I’m crying as I write this. Not ugly crying (yet), just soft, silent tears rolling down my cheeks. Fletcher’s amazing nanny, whom we love dearly & is absolutely part of the family, had her 3rd set of seizures in under a year yesterday. Fortunately, she had already left for the day and was at home with her family – a safe place. It could just as easily have happened while she was walking home from work or somewhere where she was surrounded by strangers with no idea how to help her.

Last year, the day before I was due to go back to work, we called her to ask if she could come in a little earlier than normal and her 16-year old son answered the phone and delivered the devastating news – she’s had a severe seizure in her sleep, one that had necessitated CPR. She was off work for two weeks that time, while the doctors at various government hospitals shunted her from pillar to post before assuring us the seizure had been caused by an asthma attack in her sleep, which had deprived her brain of oxygen, forcing it to take drastic measures to alert someone to its plight. We bought it. It sounded plausible.

A few months later, she had another seizure, also in her sleep, but fortunately not as severe as the first one. This time, we went with her to the hospital to try and get to the bottom of things because this clearly wasn’t a one-off thing. After a variety of queues and who knows how long at the Germiston Hospital, Becs finally accompanied Fletcher’s “Gogo” in to see the doctor. He was shocked that the other doctors hadn’t put her onto meds after the first seizure because that’s what you do! He prescribed Epilem and she was to come back monthly for a check-up. After 3 months of monthly check-ups, he was happy with her progress and cleared her to only come back every 3 months. Now this.

We’re caught in such a terrible situation. We love her, she is fantastic with Fletcher, she’s a wonderful human being, she’s honest and reliable (if a little lacking in the punctuality department, but let’s be real, if that’s her only flaw, we’ll take it!). We definitely don’t want to lose her, but we’re caught between the devil and the deep blue sea at the moment. If she were to have another seizure while she was alone at home – even if we could put Fletcher into school now, to take that responsibility off her plate and ease her load a bit – she could die. She’s needed CPR after a seizure before and if no-one is there to know she’s had a seizure… we’d only find her when we get home, possibly hours later. Anything could happen. If Fletcher is still at home and something like that happens, anything could happen to him. He’s fully mobile now, he climbs stairs like nobody’s business, he walks, he runs, he stands up without holding onto things. If she were to have a seizure and lose consciousness, literally anything could happen to him. (I’m too terrified to even articulate any of the gut-wrenching potential outcomes of that scenario.)

So what do we do? We can’t just let her go, she’s part of the family. Could we try and find her another post where she’s not responsible for children – absolutely. But that job would need to be one where someone is around all day because otherwise, the potential risks to her health are still there. Could we try and work out a situation where she’d have “supervision” during the day – sure, we could try that, I don’t know what that would look like, but at this stage, I’m willing to try anything. Could we send Fletch to school and keep her on… Not really, I’m afraid. At this stage, I don’t think we could afford to keep her on and pay school fees for full-day and that still doesn’t negate the potential risks to her health if something were to happen to her when no-one is home.

This is possibly the worst situation we’ve faced in our almost 5 years together. We have no idea what to do and no idea where to turn. So, my question to you is, what do you do when it all becomes too much?