Category Archives: Christmas

Christmas Revisited

Christmas 001I’m not even apologizing for my tardiness this time. I just looked back and the last two blog posts begin with some kind of mumbled excuse for being late. I’m not doing that this time … at least, I wasn’t going to.

We got through Christmas. Or should I say, most of us got through Christmas. Some of us didn’t. There are those of us who believe they’ve been chiselled out of Christmas, that the Christmas they got was a non-event. They’re not letting us forget it. And so begins a tale of despair, misery, hope, and finally, a tale of triumph … or at least semi-triumph. You still with me? Comfortable? Good. Let’s go …

The week before Christmas, all through the house, nothing was stirring … my Girl included. She slept long and she slept hard. All I could see of her was a little face, nestled amongst the pillows. The doctor had set up a pump to deliver pain medication. All her other meds had been discarded. As they say in times of disaster, we were prepared for the “Big One.” So we waited. And waited.

For almost a week, she slept.

For the entire time, I hovered over her, brow furrowed, lip clamped between teeth. Watching, waiting.

Suspecting this really was the end, we had Christmas on the Saturday. We crushed as many as twelve people into her room, all sitting around the bed with hopeful looks on their faces. We sang Christmas carols, pulled Christmas crackers. Still she remained unconvinced.

So on the Sunday, the Chukker-boy dressed up as Santa, simultaneously delighting the Girl, and psychologically scarring the Grandson forever. No dice. She didn’t believe a word of it. She knew Christmas still hadn’t arrived. Not really. But with her energies exhausted by two Christmases spent, she slept once more.

Watching over your child as her life ebbs away is strange sensation. It goes against every instinct. Mothers by their very nature are duty-bound to keep their children from harm. We care for, we nurture, feed and support.

So to sit by, refraining from offering the necessities of life, watching on helplessly while your child fades away—despite the obvious problems, regardless of the situation—well, it feels foreign. No one said caring for the terminally ill is easy. There’s a reason for that.

So at a point when I thought I had everything under control, when I’d reached that moment of acceptance and my stress levels plateaued. With my inner calm radiating stoic resolve, and my focus shifting to the near future, my counsellor suggested a few days of respite with my Girl in the hospice.

I hesitated. By all accounts, I had a handle on things: Inner calm: Check. Grip on reality: Check. Sensible brain engaged: Check.

Then I thought, “Why not? The offer may be a one-time opportunity.” So, not wanting to look a gift horse, I bundled my Girl, her medication, a few hurriedly-collected clothes, and Booboo the bunny rabbit into the car, and happily took off to the hospice.

Did I dance the dance of the free? Did I race about catching up on my shopping, the latest movies, my last minute Christmas shopping?

The hell I did.

The instant I got home, I flopped on the couch. Inertia set in. I couldn’t move. Some swine must have slipped into my house while I wasn’t looking and sucked every ounce of energy out of me. My limbs weighed a couple of hundred kilos each. Every now and then I managed to raise enough oomph to open my eyes and let out a groan. Meals consisted of shortbread biscuits and chocolate from prematurely opened gifts (the wrapping from which now formed my only living room Christmas decoration, since all other decorations [tree included] had been transported to the Girl’s room). Occasionally when it got dark, I rolled off the couch and crawled to bed. For four days, my bed went unmade, the dishes undone.

Eventually, I found me again.

I began to think straight. I drank liquids without an alcohol content. I ate foods that boasted a level of nutritional value—albeit low. I showered. I applied makeup.

Then I visited the Girl.

While she slept, the wonderful, fabulous hospice medical team ran tests, watched over her, cared for her. They stabilized her meds, fed, watered, and washed her. And on the fifth day, she rallied.

Yep. Just in time for Christmas.

She was thrilled. But it wasn’t exactly what she’d envisaged. Our traditional Christmas with family didn’t eventuate. The seventy-five dishes of foods I would normally prepare (simply because I can) never got made. The Chukker-boy and family didn’t arrive. It was me and the Girl. We had a hospice prepared Christmas dinner. We ate to the sound of her CD player pounding out Snoopy’s Christmas for the 76,830,654th time.

And at the end of Christmas day 2013, exhausted and fed, she thanked the doctor for the presents I bought her, thanked the nurses for the TV I bought her, then settled down to sleep.

Now she’s home. It’s like we’ve been in a time bubble. She wants Christmas. She wants to paint Christmas, eat Christmas, live Christmas. She wants the whole Christmas experience from go to whoa, and she’s not taking “No” for an answer.

Me? I’m over it. She can have her Christmas CDs, her decorations. After that, I’m putting my foot down. Christmas is gone. There’s another one at the end of this year.

In the meantime there’s a birthday in six months. For once, I’m looking forward to it.

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Happy Birthday, Baby

My GirlDuring the past two months while I was slacking off my blogging duties so I could promote my book, The Candidate’s Daughter, wrestle the yard into submission, make a thousand pots of marmalade, and attempt to clean the house, life went on. Events came and went, we got older one day at a time, and, yes, the Girl had her birthday.

Now, if you’ve read posts like, “A Wonderfully Warm Welcome to Pauline the Elephant,” or “It’s All About the Presents,” you’ll be aware that there are two events in the Girl’s calendar of equal importance. Her birthday is one of them and she’s acutely aware of how close it is.

This never fails to astound me. My Girl has limited communication. She has little comprehension of days of the week. Time has virtually no meaning to her. She cannot read. Numerical values have no place in her world. Her version of Cookie Monster’s signature song begins, “P is for Cookie…” I have no idea what her IQ is. If a person’s IQ were based solely on the ability to identify the proximity, time-wise, of one’s birthday or Christmas, she’d be quids in for a Mensa rating.

Take the week of her birthday. This year, it fell on a Sunday. We invited the Girl’s brother, the Chukker Boy, and the Girl’s uncle, appropriately named Uncle Plunkle, along with his lady, Joey-nana and her daughter. As per every birthday since the Girl was sixteen, we celebrated it at Valentines Family Restaurant.

The good news for me was that because we numbered four or more, and because we were dining on her actual birthday, the Girl was eligible to eat for free. In sixteen years of celebrating the Girl’s birthday at Valentines, it’s the first time we’ve scored a free meal because there were always only three of us. That’s right, Valentines got us back for all those years I got the Girl in as a seven-year-old.

Preparations for the day began weeks in advance. Determined I wasn’t going to be brow-beaten over presents and Valentines for weeks in advance, I avoided any mention of it. Regardless, the Tuesday preceding her birthday we drove past Valentines and I noted the way she peered out the window gazing wistfully at the front entrance, then swivelled to watch it disappear behind us. Nothing was said.

On the Wednesday as we passed, she uttered the word, “Birthday,” and fidgeted pensively.

By Thursday she showed signs of growing agitation—she craned to view the restaurant as we passed, and made small throat noises. That should have clued me in to what Friday would bring.

Howling—that’s what Friday brought. Head back, gob wide howling. I can only assume her internal Birthday clock was running hot. We zoomed past Valentines with her pointing back and yowling, “Valentiiiiiiiiinnnnnnes,” at the top of her lungs, and me yelling, “Not today! It’s on Sundaaaay!”

Ditto with the return trip.

Saturday was no better. All we heard about was Valentines. The day lasted around a month and a half. By the time Sunday rolled around, I would have happily allowed myself to be carted off wearing elongated sleeves tied at the back and a bag over my head.

Sunday opens with the Girl wanting to wear her pretty summer dress with her Pooh Bear sandals. Every year it’s the same. I tell her it’s mid winter and she’ll wear something warm. She acquiesces but only because she knows she has presents in store.

We arrive at Valentines fifteen minutes early. The waitress seats us and asks if I’d like a drink. I check my watch. “It’s a little early,” I tell her.

“We’ve got a lovely Villa Maria chardonnay,” she tells me.

I’m tempted. Nobody else has arrived and the Girl is demanding presents. I tell the waitress to make it a big one, then give the Girl her first present, the jersey I bought her with the doggie print on the front. It’s not a CD or a game. She gives it a disgusted once over and flings it aside just as the waitress returns with my drink.

“Presents,” the Girl is telling me.

I slug the wine back so fast, my taste buds are going, “What the hell was that?” when the Chukker Boy arrives.

“Happy birthday,” he tells the Girl.

“Presents,” she replies.

He slips a rectangular package across the table and she opens it, saying, “Games.”

While she’s inspecting the games, Uncle Plunkle and Joey-nana arrive. They also wish her a happy birthday. They’re also met with demands for presents. They pass a rectangular gift across the table. The Girl tears open the packaging. It contains coloring books and crayons. She’s delighted.

So far, the day is meeting all expectations—games, coloring books and crayons, followed by a slap-up feed. This is a girl who does not appreciate surprises. She is, however, prepared to overlook the disappointment of the doggie jersey, because she’s thrilled with her other gifts.

When all presents have been opened and examined, she wipes out a plate of foods that should never be served in the same restaurant, let alone on the same plate. She eats amazingly well for someone in her condition, but the day has taken it’s toll. We’ve no sooner finished our desert, and she wants to go home. We wave our party guests off, and head to the car, knowing another successful birthday is out of the way.

It’s a birthday I didn’t think she’d see.

It’s just as I plunge the key into the ignition, and say, “Did you have a lovely time?” I realize that her internal clock ticks over.

“Christmas,” she tells me.

“Excellent,” I mumble as I start up the car. “I can hardly wait.”

It’s now August. I have no idea if the Girl will make it to Christmas, so next month we’ll put up the Christmas tree.

What’s the point in waiting?

And at least I’ll have three weeks to decide what to do about the presents …

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A Wonderfully Warm Welcome to Pauline the Elephant

Pauline the Elephant Celebrates

Pauline the Elephant Celebrates

Yes, we have a new family member and it’s my pleasure to introduce Pauline the Elephant, and extend to her a warm welcome into our home. So with no further ado, here it is:

Dear Pauline,

Yes, here it is two days after Christmas, and I have yet to formally welcome you into our small but select clan. I hope you have a wonderful, long, and happy life here. Statistically, that’s highly improbable. However, let’s keep to the agenda and move quickly along.

First of all, I apologize for the delay. This year I was responsible for the family festivities which included Christmas dinner. Not a good excuse, I agree, except to say that, as usual, it was a tough day. Pictorial proof would have been pasted below showing an uncensored snap of me taken on Christmas night after a hard day of cooking, cleaning, entertaining, then happily imbibing a total of one bottle of bubbles, two glasses of Pinot Gris and an unquantified measure of Chardonnay – except I couldn’t figure out how to put a second picture in. Sorry.

Secondly, no, it didn’t escape my attention that you weren’t the first present The Girl unwrapped. I, too, was painfully aware of the speed and skill with which she navigated the gift pile then zeroed in on that PlayStation game, plucking it from the pile, and saying, “PlayStation game. Whoa! Turn around Crash!” Neither was I altogether oblivious to the pain in your eye when she returned to the pile to select the CD, excitedly squeaking, “CD, Pat Benetar,” before the wrapping was even halfway off.

My heart went out to you. Take whatever solace you may from the fact that it wasn’t Pat Benetar.

That aside, you finally made your grand entrance in startling form when I shook you from the bag. I apologize for the head-plant, by the way. You’re a three foot elephant. That bag was clearly unsuitable for someone of your size and stature. The staff have been spoken to.

So, a warm welcome. Glasses raised. Cheers all round.

Now, before we go on, you’re possibly wondering at the name Pauline. I must confess The Girl didn’t come up with it entirely on her own. It took a little probing, a little prompting, a little soul-searching before we settled on Pauline. In fact, we’d been hearing about this unknown – perhaps imaginary – friend named Pauline for some time. So, it was with a measure of relief that you happened along when you did. Now the mysterious Pauline has finally been personified. Or elephantized, if you will. As for the name, don’t worry if you find it slightly bizarre for an elephant, you’ll get used to living with an utterly ridiculous name. The Chukker-boy did.

Now, painful as it is, it’s imperative I mention a few house rules for your stay here. There aren’t many, but they’re vital to a happy and well-run household. First up:

1. Do not taunt the dog. It can only end badly.

2. The Girl’s bed is out of bounds. I recently had to endure the heart-rending chore of thinning the ranks of bedsitting toys and casting them to the far reaches of the closet. Only a privileged few get to share this domain with The Girl. At the time of writing these are Lilly Lion, The Dead Cat, Boo Boo the Bunny Rabbit and Lamb Chop. You may make the transition to the A Team – the elite of Lea Family Toy-dom, however, the standard wait time is around fifteen years and survival rates are not typically encouraging. Again, sorry.

3. Toy washing day is Friday. Refusal to comply with instructions and submit to a linen bag may result in torn seams, matted fur, and, in your case, a twisty trunk.

4. Dusting is on Saturdays. This usually entails anything from a mild shake through to whacking against the dresser, depending on activity levels of the toy involved. It is advisable to keep a good supply of Panadol on hand for afterwards.

5. The booze shelf in the pantry is also out of bounds. (I’m prepared to overlook this one transgression captured above because of the delay in the welcome letter. However, don’t let it happen again)

So, with those few formalities out of the way now, I would like to take this opportunity to extend a warm and hearty, “Welcome,” to you, Pauline. We’re thrilled to have you in our home and in our hearts.

I hope you’ll find your stay with us long and prosperous.

The dog certainly has.

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