Tuesday 27 September 2011

Life Lessons Learned

Recently, life has been teaching me some difficult but important lessons. Here are some of them.

Lesson 1: One of the biggest temptations that we, as wealthy westerners, face is the temptation to think 'just one more thing and then I'll be happy'. But we never are happy, are we? New car, new clothes, new house... they always disappoint. But do you know what NEVER disappoints?
New storage. New storage never disappoints. My living room is so tidy now; I just want to rub my face against this thing and nuzzle with it.

Lesson 2: Never buy shampoo at the dollar store.

Lesson 3: You should rarely (if EVER) write blog posts in the second person. You probably want to communicate something important but don't want to be direct about it. You may be taking out your frustration against a person who will never actually read what you are writing. You probably have the best of intentions. However, you might be interested to know that some people find it irritating. You run a big risk of becoming passive-aggressive. You don't want to be that person, do you? No, you don't. (Are you annoyed yet? See what I did there?)

Lesson 4: Life goes in cycles, and that's okay. About eight months ago, I was so ground down by this mothering thing that I wrote this post. I found it again about two months ago and thought 'whew! I'm so glad I'm not THERE any more! I'm glad I'll never have to be back in that place!'  And then suddenly, this month, I am again. I feel like a broken record, always saying "No hitting mama and no biiiiting mama. No hitting the cat. No biting your sister. No weapons, you two, NO WEAPONS!" I am worn out. A month ago, things felt really good. I wish that had been forever but it wasn't. This probably won't be forever either. It's a cycle. In the meantime I'm hiding the knives.

Lesson 5:  On a related note: when infant teething seems like a distant, long-ago memory, along come the two-year-old molars. Beware.

Lesson 6: Don't leave it four months in between uploading photos. It makes the task of posting them seem increasingly impossible with each passing week.

Lesson 7: When in doubt, probably a few randomly chosen photos are better than no photos at all. Even if they are absolutely out of order, span four months and two continents. Which leads me to:

me and my boy. 

Me and my boy. And my girl. And my other boy. 
The boy and the girl and the other boy and the other girl. Okay, this is getting old already. 

Sometimes life really IS about running through a field of daisies

This picture is from when,  APRIL??? Pink and Blue with Holli K's gorgeous kids, S&S. 

cousins = best thing ever
This picture has everything required to make Pink and Blue happy. 1) Miffy the Rabbit (who they call Baby, for reasons that are not clear to me) 2) Miffy ON TELEVISION - first time I played that DVD they went absolutely spiral - they couldn't believe that baby had come to life 3) a tutu 4) another tutu - Blue's love for tulle will not be denied 5) actually, that's it.  Mostly they act like their existence is nothing but a vale of tears, but in this photo, their life was perfect.

This is what I see ALL THE TIME. Just imagine he's saying 'Wattss bee-bee? Wattss bee-bee?' and you are LIVING MY LIFE.  (Wattss bee-bee = Watch baby, ie Miffy)
she LOVES to hide

Have I mentioned these two love Shades of People? They really, really REALLY love Shades of People. 

Wonky parts and all; I was ridiculously proud of this hairstyle. (If you look closely, there's a little crown of joined twists). It lasted approximately seventeen minutes. 

yeah, this was clearly going to end in tears. This was just after the cornrows came out. 
after a bath

the ballet love continues

How grown up! He's riding a scooter! (Except he's not, he's just standing on a scooter and
leaning a bit.  But wow, he looks grown up in this picture). 

And she's on a bike! This is what J thought fatherhood was going to be like EVERY day.
Boy was he wrong. 


This pony is not fast enough. I want another. 

Hey, cat... how's that diet coming?

Family photo session in Australia... My sister and her crew

Technically, the best of our family shots 

My bro and his little boy. Of course, 'bro' is what I call him in real life. All the time. 
making a break for freedom. I was feeling a bit the same by this point, little guy. 
upside down is still where it's at for my two
Be still my beating heart. 
Recreation of a family portrait taken in 1987. Outfits? Not planned.  What can I say?
My whole family just really, REALLY likes blue. EXACTLY THE SAME SHADE OF BLUE.
cousins! Still the best thing ever. Even when they are different cousins. The cuteness does not discriminate by continent. 
This magic mirror turned me into a girl.
It's never too early to think about your long-term mobility needs

I loved this shot. Until I noticed my nose. 

I'm never touching that blue thing again

But you said you LOVED me

Not posed. 

Lesson 9: When it's really late at night, the pictures are only halfway done and the blogger picture uploader has creaked and groaned stopped working, there is only one obvious path:  save to draft, shut down computer, try again, fail, finally get around to installing windows live writer, realise I don't know how to use windows live writer, consider whether it is worth upgrading the computer's operating system, do some research on amazon about prices, dither, eventually fall asleep in this chair. The wiser path, which I plan to take (for once in my life) is: click publish on the pictures that are there already and and then GO TO BED.  I'll post the others another day. Probably. But for now: goodnight to all, and to all a good night.

Wednesday 21 September 2011


I'm not really back, but this stuff is eating me up from the inside so I had to get it out. Nothing to do with adoption. This one doesn't get a tea alert, it gets a serious TMI alert instead. Oh, and if you want to be my friend for-evah? Help me figure out the chords to this thematically-appropriate song. It's been stuck in my head for days. 

A few years ago, we went to the big hospital in Oxford for a series of genetic tests. Well, I say we went but J was just there to hold my hand- it was my arm that they took all the blood from.  We got the results we knew we would, but that didn't make receiving them any easier. Seeing it all in black and white was what pushed us, eventually, after a lot of grieving,  towards adoption. What I feel like I should  say here is that I am grateful for what we went through, then, because it led us to our wonderful children.  And our children are wonderful, of course, but I still can't feel grateful for those months, for that entire year. I don't know what to say about that time of my life except that I can't remember a single good thing about it. It was a season of grey despair. 

And now I have to go back to the same hospital for a new round of tests. I don't want to go. 

It's nothing to do with babies, this time. On this occasion I'm trying to avoid dying young of a gene-linked cancer. I don't even know if I've got the gene yet - hence the tests. My grandmother had it. She got it from her mother and passed it to my mother. I don't yet know if she passed it to me. This is the kind of gene where 'breast cancer runs in the family' becomes a hilariously colossal understatement.  This is the kind of gene where if you've got the gene, you'll almost certainly get the cancer - breast or ovarian, or maybe melanoma. "Don't forget to check your freckles!" one of my aunts told me on our recent trip back to Australia. "People always check their moles but freckles can kill you, too. Don't forget to check your freckles". So I've started checking my freckles, but it's not really possible to keep an eye on my ovaries, seeing as how I don't have X-ray vision. Mammograms, for women who carry this mutation, are scheduled regularly and frequently but lots of doctors recommend managing the risk by just getting everything removed. Hysterectomy including ovaries. Total mastectomy, with optional replacement breasts in the cup size of your choice. 

I've known about this family risk for years and years, since it was my mother and her sister and brothers getting the tests (because yes, men can get breast cancer too and how annoying would that be?) But I've always thought it was something to think about later, in the future. I thought the risk really kicked in after menopause. Occasionally when family would ask me whether I was going to get tested I would say that I was limiting my gene mutation diagnoses to one per decade and this next one wasn't due until 2017. 

But then I was talking to my cousin Beth a few weeks ago and she has just had tests done. She came back positive - unfortunately -  and told me that her doctor was horrified that she had never had a mammogram. She was pretty much marched straight from the diagnosis chair into the medical imaging suite, where they gave her an MRI rather than a standard mammogram because of her age and risk.  She's not yet thirty five. 

Forgive me if my medical information is not as good as it should be, but I'm getting it all second hand through Beth, seeing as how I'm too chicken to get the tests myself. I couldn't believe all this when she told me, and we had the conversation about how we thought the risk started at menopause but no, apparently, if you're going get your bits removed it's sensible to do it when you are five years younger than the youngest age you have had a relative die. "Weren't all Grandma's sisters in their fifties when they died?" I said to Beth.  And she said no - Grandma's mother died aged forty three. Breast cancer. Her oldest sister: ovarian cancer. Forty three. The next: breast cancer. Also forty three. And another. You can probably guess what age she died, too. 

My grandmother and her baby sister Isobel were the only two girls who lived. Grandma got breast cancer too - at forty three- but survived, maybe because she was the youngest of the ones who got it, because treatments were more advanced than they were for her mother and sisters. I wanted to mention her other sisters by name, but I can't remember all of them.   I don't know their names, because I didn't know them. Because I never met them. Because they all died at forty thiree. This is the kind of suckage that words really don't begin to touch. 

I talked to my other cousin, Anna, about it. She is in the middle of the tests, and she is hugely upbeat about the whole thing. She's upbeat about most things; I thought this might finally push her over the line into pessimism but apparently not. She doesn't see it as a big deal, and she admitted that there. is a tiny part of her that will be disappointed if her tests come back negative. "I am totally looking forward to my new boobs!" she told me. "I'm going to go up a few cup sizes and then watch out, boys, because I am going to be flashing them all the time". And I had to laugh because I have no doubt that she will.  

Talking to her helped, but I keep lapsing into flat despair about the whole thing. Why can't I have her attitude? Partly it's just personality, I guess. Never mind genetic mutations; I tip over into pessimism when I run out of breakfast cereal.  Partly - if I'm honest - it might be because I don't actually want new boobs. I don't mean to seem boastful, but I am perfectly happy with the ones I have currently. Seriously - of all my body parts, why remove these? They give me zero psychological trauma. (If we were talking about cancer of the buttocks, I might be singing a different tune). I'm not Anna Nicole Smith, but I'm not an ironing board either. I have no problems in that department. If I do so say myself. I don't want new boobs.

A bigger part, though, is about the operations. I'm a total coward about physical pain, and I'm terrified of those procedures. Terrified.  I had my tonsils out when I was twenty five and it hurt so much; I know it sounds trivial but believe me, it wasn't. I would wake up in the night weeping with pain. I don't want to go through that kind of thing again.  I got my appendix out when I was eight, too - also horrible- and I really thought I was done with the elective removal of internal organs. If I ditch the uterus and the ovaries and the boobs? Soon I'll just be a brain in a jar, typing on my keyboard with electronic thought pulses. 

I've seen women in recovery from these operations. It's not pretty.  It takes weeks and weeks and weeks. My brain skitters to all sorts of horrible places when I think about it. Who would look after my kids?  What if i don't get a good endocrinologist and the HRT isn't managed well? I'll get terribly depressed and my hair will fall out. And I keep remembering a description I heard of a mastectomy and how they first have to peel all the skin off your chest. Are you dry heaving yet? I know I am.  The one thing that scares me more than these operations? Not having the operations and then dying, aged 43, leaving my children and husband alone with nobody to cook for them.

Of course, thinking about preventive surgery for reproductive cancers has a few extra layers for a woman who has never been pregnant. I can't decide whether it's terribly efficient - sure, take my uterus and ovaries, I wasn't using them anyway! or absolutely heartbreaking. My uterus and ovaries? But I never even got to use them. Okay, who am I kidding, yeah, it's the second one. Some days it makes me feel so sad that I just want to howl at the moon.  

That's why I haven't had the tests yet, I suppose.  Once I get them done, if I'm positive, I have to start making decisions. And I am not ready. I don't want to end up in a situation where I am pressed into making irrevocable decisions about our next child or children, yet. I feel less and less like I want to try the fancy IVF, but I still don't feel ready to close that door forever, either. I'd rather have the luxury of the time I thought I had. I'd rather let my uterus shrivel up on its own, when it's ready.  I'd rather not have to deal with any of that. And then I get a flash of a vision of my husband hunting through the cupboards for a tin of baked beans, of my children motherless - again - as they go to secondary school and I know I have to face up to my responsibilities. 

Some of Anna's words come back to me - "Of course I'd rather not deal with this, but we are so lucky. If we were two generations ago, we would only have ten years left and then we would die and have no warning. And one generation ago, HRT was not well developed and fake boobs looked really fake. Now we really have nothing to worry about!" I know she's right, even if I can't make myself feel that positive. And believe me, I see the irony of dealing with too much genetic knowledge when my children have so little. Some days I want to push their stroller into the genetics clinic, roll up their sleeves and ask the nurse to run every test in existence, just in case. Maybe they will decide to do that when they are older, but for now I am holding off. I don't want to make this decision on their behalf. I know from personal experience that these diagnoses are not like diagnosing a virus. It's deeply, psychically, unsettling to find out this kind of bad news, if there is bad news to be had. It's already happened to me once. There's a fifty-fifty chance it's about to happen again. I know I need to make the appointment, but I can't make my fingers dial the number on the telephone. 

And of course - of course - I might come back negative. This one may have passed me by. I can't imagine the relief if that turns out to be the case. If so, I promised my sister I would get tested for celiac disease. Because guess what? It turns out that runs in the family, too, and if ignored can result in bowel cancer. "You've probably got it" my sister told me, shortly after the freckle conversation with my aunt. "You'd probably feel much better if you went gluten-free. I did."    "But I feel fine" I said, frustrated, and then she mouthed 'bowel cancer' and I went into my room and cried. I know she wants to keep me around so that we can squabble into our old age together, and I love her for it, but seriously, a third thing? Shallow end of the gene pool, that's our family, for sure. 

I can't even think about testing for that one yet, although occasionally when I'm eating a particularly delicious slice of toast I feel a stab of fear that our wheaty, crunchy days together might be numbered. What would I miss more, I wonder - bread or my real boobs? Boobs or bread? If I'm honest, the answer is probably bread. Fake boobs look more real than fake bread tastes. I don't know why I have these thoughts - It's not like I get a choice. I might lose both. I might lose neither. 

In the meantime, I know I should make that appointment. But I can't. I can't. I'm not ready to get on the healthcare treadmill if we get bad news.  I'm not ready for that next phase of life to start. I don't want to deal with it. All these molecules don't make me who I am. 

Turns out that being a grownup is seriously, seriously overrated. 

Monday 5 September 2011

Not A Blog Post

No! Definitely not a post. Just eight seconds of a happy little boy. (I said there might be photos, and this is close enough, right? I'm only half-way through downloading the photos).

Oh, and in case you couldn't quite tell, the song he is singing is 'Dance of the sugar-plum fairy'. Of course.