In the last 24 hours two women I know have lost their lives to cancer. Yesterday evening I received a message that my brother-in-law's mother had passed away surrounded by her sons. She had been a carer for her husband for 30 years and enjoyed only 6 years with her grandchildren and a partner who had also lost his wife to long term illness. Following a diagnosis last summer she received a very short and rapid course of chemotherapy, but it was unable to save her life. Christmas was spent checking with my sister how she was doing as we all knew it was only a matter of weeks before her mother-in-law would no longer be with us. At least her sons were with her at the end.
Then this morning I had the message I had been dreading since I heard last week that my darling friend had only days to live. I had just finished teaching yoga and was making a cup of tea. The phone beeped and I stared at the message for a few minutes. Then I broke down in tears. Big ugly, wracking sobs and felt my legs give way under me and I sat on the floor crying. I had only spoken to her a few weeks ago. We saw each other and laughed and joked that when she was done being unwell we'd go back to making radio shows together and making plans to rule the world. So what happens now ?
It's not supposed to be like this. She's supposed to be at the end of the phone to help me prepare for the job interview she kept telling me she knew I was going to get. Who am I going to talk to about the letter I got telling I have to go for a mammogram ? She was an old hand at them and would have talked sense into me about how it's nothing to worry about and honestly it's just annoying more than painful. Don't even get me started on menopause. We were supposed to go through that together. Comparing notes and sharing mini-dramas and hysteria. Now she's not here any more.
So, I have to go into this interview with all the confidence that she had in me. Knowing that she had belief in me and when I thought I couldn't do it she told me of course I could. As for the boob thing, well I'll be honest I'm not looking forward to that at all. Maybe I can ask a friend to go with me. Is that being pathetic ?
I'm also taking on cancer head on. Literally. I'm going to shave my hair off for Macmillan Cancer who supported some people I love when they were at the end of their journey with cancer. Macmillan nurses are incredible and I want to show my appreciation for them. I'm growing my hair between now and my birthday then I'm going to get it cut off and donate it to a charity that makes wigs for children. With my new aerodynamic style I'm going to run the Royal Parks half marathon - at lightening speed of course.
So that's my plan. Ok, it's not a cure for cancer, but it's my response to the senselessness of it all right now.
Yesterday was a tough day. I had intended to write a post while the boys were at football, but just before they left I got a text message. A friend I love dearly is seriously ill and has days to live. She is the same age as me and we have been through a lot together. I knew she was ill - of course I did - but I had no idea this would happen. So soon. I spent some time walking round a bit lost. Then I cried. A lot. When I thought I was done it started again and eventually I had to ask Hubbie to not rush home as I didn't want the boys to see Mummy so upset.
Things aren't so easy at the moment. I have a lot I want to say, but it is all too soon. When in doubt I turn to music so I'm doing that now. For my beautiful, wonderful, talented friend. The last time we saw each other we chatted, made jokes and played music. All the things we love.
So for now I can only think in terms of the music we shared and loved. Forgive me if the words don't make much sense.
Prince - Starfish and Coffee:
Once we were at a conference in Islington and we went for brunch afterwards. Soraya ordered pancakes with maple syrup, banana and bacon. She declared them, "not that bad," and I surmised that it was her pregnancy hormones talking.
Norah Jones - Thinking aboout you:
Soraya phoned me one day to tell me she had some news. She had breast cancer and had wanted to tell me in person, but she wanted me to know. I saw her soon after and throughout the treatment we spoke regularly. Even if we didn't meet up, she was in my thoughts. We joked about going shopping for wigs together. She always gave time to talking about my stuff, however mundane it was in comparison. Having said that she did not forgive me for going to see Norah at Ronnie Scotts without her last Autumn.
Shakespeare's Sister - Stay:
Whatever happened we were there for each other. When she was given the all clear 5 years after a breast cancer diagnosis we walked the Moonwalk together. At the beginning when they said 'think about who you are doing this for' we held each other and cried. She was my reason - she was there with me. We talked non-stop for around ten hours and still had plenty to say to each other. I don't know anyone else I could do that with.
David Bowie - Lazarus:
I remember how devastated I felt when a man I didn't know and had never met died two years ago. His music has been with me my whole life and the idea that he was gone just filled me with sadness. When I spoke to Soraya she expressed exactly the same emotions. As 2016 progressed we shared our angst at how terrible a year it was turning into. 2017 had to be better surely ? It wasn't. When we last spoke she told me she just wanted to get the year over so that we could start a new one and look to the future. I had no idea she would not be part of it.
Corinne Bailey Rae - Put Your Records On:
This is how I want to think of Soraya - in the studio playing tunes she loved. That and being the DJ for Cheeky in the Chapel, the fundraiser she hosted for Radio Lewes and the Oyster Project. The excitement as she introduced songs by artists she had just discovered and I shared music with her that I had fallen in love with.
In the end I will remember her through music. That and her sign off when we spoke on the phone - lots of love.
When we first adopted Blue Bear he was very young and didn't talk much. He did, however have a love of books and enjoyed listening to stories. We had always read to Brown Bear and he loved books, so I was keen to share a love of reading with Blue Bear too. I found that there are a lot of special books about adoption, but didn't necessarily want to focus on just one experience.
I am keen that books are inclusive of all kinds of people so when I received this book to review I was delighted. We are Family tells the story of 24 hours in the life of eight different families. Each of them has their own routines, but the overarching theme is that families love and care for each other. It's great to see characters of different ethnicities depicted in a picture book and to get a sneaky glimpse of how other people live. It's like peeking behind the curtains of your neighbours, only for children.
This is a beautifully illustrated book with the story told in gentle rhymes that encourage restful sleep and happy dreams. Ryan Wheatcroft is the illustrator and Patricail Hagarty is the writer. There is so much detail in the pictures that I think you would see new things on each re-reading. It would make a lovely gift and I can see this becoming a firm favourite in our house.
We are Family is published by Little Tiger on January 11th.
We had a family day today. A late lie in then Hubbie and Brown Bear went out for a bike ride while Blue Bear and I moved furniture and listened to the Archers omnibus. Ok that was mostly me, but he was keeping me company. We sat down for lunch together and then watched a family movie together. I thought we could watch Babe as it has animals in it and it's been years since I last watched it. Brown Bear lost interest pretty quickly, but Blue Bear loves animals so he was enraptured. At one point Fly the sheepdog watches as all her pups are sold on. We see how sad she looks even though she knew her pups would leave her one day. Later that night Babe asks if he can call her Mum. I swear Blue Bear snuggled a bit closer to that point and it brought a tear to my eye.
Brown Bear has been talking about how he grew in Mummy's tummy and Blue Bear was born in another mummy's tummy. He says it in front of his brother and at times I wonder if it makes sense to Blue Bear. He is now 4 years old, but I don't know it he truly understands what it means to be adopted. Why would he ? We weren't in his life for the first year. So much happened in that time. He lived with birth mum, then with foster family then finally he came to live with us. We keep in touch wtih his foster family and it's really important that they are in his life as they hold the memories of that time before we knew him. They met birth mum and they took care of him when she couldn't any more.
We had a birthday party for Blue Bear - his first one - and invited his foster family and the children they currently care for. It was a chance for them to see him in a social setting and they saw how he has made friends and is confident and fun to be around. It was also really touching when I saw my Mum talking to his foster 'mum' and getting on so well with her. It wasn't easy for them to let him go and trust us. So many times they took Blue Bear for contact visits with birth mum and she just didn't turn up. He would get distressed and they would have to take him home until the next time. When we were matched as his family the foster carers were very protective of him and wanted to be assured that this little boy in their care was going to the best home. I like to think that when they see of how happy he is they believe that.
Brown Bear knows what a foster family is, but Blue Bear isn't entirely sure. As time goes on we will be more explicit about how important they have been in his life. He already knows they love him very much. Explaining the journey that brought Blue Bear into our family is not a one time thing. It's ongoing and sometimes unexpected things will bring it into focus. Watching a movie about how a pig was adopted by a sheepdog gave me pause for thought today. Did Blue Bear really understand ? It doesn't matter.
I watched Blue Bear lying against Hubbie on the floor this afternoon. People often comment on how alike they look and it is uncanny. Then later the boys were playing a bowling game on the wii and they were laughing and wrestling on the floor between rounds. For all the fighting and the noise this is what we hoped for.
For the first blog post of 2018 I had intended to do one of those looking back on the year just gone and reflecting posts. You know where I would figuratively tip my head to one side and go misty eyed while remembering how Blue Bear started at 'big school' and Brown Bear was chosen for the swim squad. My decision to step down from some community commitments to give myself some more time in my life. Then my return to radio which has been good for my soul and my mental health. How I got back into running and trashed two pairs of trainers in 6 months through hardcore training (well, not quite). The triumph of my completing the full moonwalk almost 8 years since I last did it. Achieving a long held ambition to go skiing at Christmas and finding out that Brown Bear is a natural and I haven't forgotten nearly as much as I had expected.
Then the inevitable forward planning for this year. How I'm going to make a triumphant return to the workplace now my boys are settled and happy at school. My continuing pursuit of fitness and health through running, swimming and making better food choices. The aim to be a calmer and kinder parent than I have been. Some other stuff about world peace, yada, yada, yada.
That was what I had intended to write. Then this evening it was all subsumed by a comment by my father-in-law that got under my skin so much that I did something I haven't done in years. I've developed that capacity to smile and tolerate most of his idiocyncracies. I have even been known to laugh or tease him about his assertions that illegal immigrants swim across to Lymington in their droves. So what did he say this time that led me to bite and then to walk away in silence ?
It was the word 'normal.' I use it myself. I will plead with my sons to 'act normal' when I've had enough of their constant bickering or demands from me. It's shorthand for 'be nicer' as if that is what is normal for everyone. He wasn't using it in that context though. He was saying that my boys have something wrong with them and by association that I am incapable as a mother. He pointed out that how they behave is 'not normal.' Well I don't really know what that means. I think children aged 7 and 4 can be pretty boisterous and having seen lots of other children on holiday I know mine are full of energy, but they are far from unusual. I know my kids are tiring. Of course I do. I know that better than anyone else, because I'm the one who spends most time with them. I also know that when they are tired or hungry they are unreasonable and demanding and if I'm tired too that's not the best combination.
My mum looked after the boys overnight a while back. She's had Brown Bear overnight a lot, but never both of them. The next day when I sent a message asking how they were my sister replied, "they're not listening." I looked at Hubbie and sighed. Well, what did we expect ? A miracle ? Since that overnight visit I have had inspirational messages from my mother and whenever I visit she makes me food and tea and insists I rest. I think she has some handle on how hard it is with these boys. Mother in law has two sons, so she has more of an understanding about it. Her husband, however, does not. When he insisted that his children weren't like that I snapped. "How would you know, you weren't around." He carried on telling me how he knew they weren't like that so I ended with, "Well they are children, and they're not the same and you never had an adopted son." I walked out of the kitchen and went upstairs where I'm typing this now.
I don't like to use adoption as a punctuation mark. I really don't want to draw attention to it as a 'special circumstance,' but our boys are not like his boys in any way. I've seen how far we've come and how much they love each other. The bickering and play fighting (which often ends up not so playful) is testament to how much they have grown together. On holiday when we went to check on them one night Hubbie pointed out that they were holding hands across the twin beds. It was precious.
It's ok if we're not normal. We don't have to be like anyone else. It's not about how we compare with anyone. I'm not always proud of myself. I shout too loud and I tell them off too much. I give in to them and spoil them. I laugh and play with them. I am blown away by how much they have grown up and how funny they are. When they laugh and smile my heart feels like it is going to burst. They are my gorgeous, loving, hilarious, energetic, unpredictable, infuriating, exhausting, challenging, brilliant boys.