Tag Archives: Parenting a Disabled Girl

Gonna Be a Bright, Bright, Sunshiney Day

My GirlI’m delighted to report that every day since her latest spell in the hospital, my Girl’s abscessed needle sites have improved and she’s gotten better and better. Of course, there are pros and cons to moving forward. Aren’t there always? However:

On the One Hand:She’s singing again. As I write this, she’s very appropriately bellowing out Tom Petty’s, I Won’t Back Down.

She can tell me when she’s in pain. That means I can do something meaningful about it. No guesswork … or at least, minimal guesswork.

She smiles. I cannot express how wonderful that is.

She can hold her sipper cup, and drink by herself. She has tremors, but she can get the spout to her mouth, and finish an entire drink without help. A far cry from having to administer liquids by dropper or straw.

With an acceptable level of spatter and particulate spread, she can eat a sandwich. It requires some damage control, and a change of bedding, but it’s forward momentum.

She’s meowing. Yes, when my girl is happy, she doesn’t purr, she meows. It’s gorgeous.

I can get her into her wheelchair and move her short distances.

As a result of the wheelchair reintroduction, she’s going to her program. She’s only attending for a couple of hours a day, but it’s another step forward.

I can toilet her. The wheelchair also means I can get her to the toilet, and that reduces …well, cleanup.

All the above brings us close to the return of normality. It does not always go according to plan.

The toileting routine, for example. It’s not perfect. But it goes like this:

I begin by swivelling the Girl in her bed, with her legs over the edge. Next, I sit her up, let her get her bearings. After being horizontal for so long, her brain isn’t used to be vertical. It takes a while to allow her to adjust.

When she’s ready, I crouch low, my arms around her (avoiding the wound sites), her arms around me, and I lift. We quickly swivel her on her feet, and sit her in her waiting wheelchair.

I wheel her to the bathroom. Experience has taught me to take great care not to whack her elbows on the doorframe. (The whacking, however gentle, produces screams that are often far out of proportion to the whack)

At the toilet, I take the footplates off the chair, place a pillow on back of the toilet, release the tabs on the diaper, and repeat the stand and swivel. To return, we repeat the process in reverse.

Sometimes it goes badly. Like this morning.

We do the swivel from the bed. She’s a little unsure, so there’s a squeal. I reassure her that I’m holding her, that I won’t let her go. She gets to her feet, swivels easily to the waiting wheelchair.

We do the bathroom run, sans elbow-whacking. I’ve even remembered to take off her socks so she doesn’t slip on the floor—also learnt from previous ear-shattering experience.

The return is not so great. Despite the socklessness, she swivels, loses her confidence. I have both arms around her, but she’s screaming, “Fall, fall.” I’m saying, “I’ve got you. You won’t fall.”

She doesn’t believe me. She screams at the top of her lungs. Her mouth just happens to be two centimetres from my left ear. She screams again. I yell, “I said I’ve got you. Now turn! TURN!”

She’s not turning. She’s screaming, and now she’s gone “boneless.” Still yowling at a glass-shattering pitch, she slithers out of my grasp, and slides to the floor. It’s like trying to hold a 36kg beach ball wrapped in cellophane. Go ahead, picture that.

I’m still yelling, “I’ve got you, I’ve got you!” Which patently isn’t true. We’re now wedged between the wheelchair and the toilet. It’s a gap of around one square meter. If that. She’s flopped against the wheelchair with her legs between my feet.

I can’t move the chair. It has to be positioned to take her. I can’t turn around. Getting her up off the floor and back into the chair necessitates a dead-lift of 36kg, straight up. She’s still screaming. I almost get her there, but she arches her back and goes down again. I drag her up, screaming reassuring words at her. This time, I poise her on the edge of the chair but she’s kicking out, deliberately sliding back off the edge of the chair so she can make her point that I’m not in control of this situation, and proving that she can slip back onto the floor anytime. I grip her upper arms, and round the chair, and just as she begins to slide, I wrench her back up onto the seat. I quickly wrap her naps, and a blanket around her, reaffix the footplates, wheel her back to her room. Just as I tuck her back into bed, she looks up at me, and says, “Go to the video store?”

I’m like, “Yeah, sure, that’s really gonna happen.”

Our house now resounds with the words, “Want hot chocolate. Want Smurfs. Go toilet.” It’s accompanied by a loving but hollered reply of, “Gimme a break! I’ve only got two hands!”

I hate to think what the neighbours think.

Baby steps, I keep telling myself. We are getting there. I know it won’t last. I know it’ll only take one minor setback to go back to where we’ve been.

But believe it or now, I’m savouring what we’ve got, while we’ve got it.

And getting help for toileting.

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The Learning Curve

Chookie Lou's PlaceI can’t believe it’s almost two months since I posted here. For a while there, I thought my life was about to be funneled into caring for the girl with little time for anything else. In January, we were given six months. Here it is August already. There are moments I can’t believe we’ve made it this far.

We had her birthday in June. We went to Valentines family restaurant. On our way out, she asked about Christmas. Some things don’t change.

Some do.

The Girl’s blood tests tell us that her liver is in ‘terrible shape.’ So what’s new? Her liver has been in terrible shape for I don’t know how long. Over the past six months, I’ve been hoping for the best, and expecting the worst. We’ve had periods of wellness followed by bouts of disaster which have been resolved back into periods of wellness. I’ve had some amazing support along the way. One thing I’ve learnt is that this is a journey that requires a lot of support. And good decisions.

So here are a few of the things I’ve learnt that help me deal with each day as it comes:

If mealtimes become difficult, don’t sweat it. Appetite is often the first thing to go. This time last year, the Girl would eat anything and everything—and often things she shouldn’t have. Nowadays, it’s hard to find anything she wants to eat at all. She’ll request roast chicken, then push it away untouched. She’ll demand toasted cheese and onion sandwiches, only to find she can’t swallow them. I made pork dumplings after she bleated bout them for an entire day, only to have her eat two, choke, and leave the rest.

For a caregiver, self-preservation is the key to surviving this journey. I’ve learnt to prepare whatever meals are easiest. If she doesn’t eat it, I’ll make something else that’s easy. Canned corn has become my trusty backstop. If that fails, it’s a meal replacement milkshake. Last week she had a Goody Gumdrops ice cream and a meal replacement drink for dinner. It played havoc with her blood sugars, but I’ve learnt that sometimes it’s about quality of life.

Pain medication has been another learning curve. Offering her stronger pain relief sounds like a no-brainer. What isn’t obvious is that pain treatment comes at a cost. The downside of her pain relief is constipation. With her liver functioning as poorly as it does, it can take as little as a day for toxins to build up in her system. If I give her Paracetamol with Codeine, I’ve learnt to follow it up with a laxative. I now administer Paracetamol and Codeine along with a laxative as a matter of course. It’s not always easy to work out her pain levels. She has a high pain tolerance. But despite the Girl’s lack of communication, I’m getting better at figuring out when she needs it.

I’ve learnt that because the Girl’s liver isn’t functioning properly, it doesn’t distribute glucose as it should. That means if her evening meal isn’t reasonably substantial, her blood sugars will drop overnight. If they drop in her sleep, she could easily slip into a coma. Now, I check her blood sugars at bedtime, during the night, and first thing in the morning. I also keep a jar of jellybeans on hand for times when it drops too far. I can’t tell you how many breakfasts a delighted Girl has kicked off with a handful of jellybeans.

I’ve learnt to accept help. This has been the the biggest concession for me. Up until recently, I thought it was my duty to soldier on; that because my Girl spent time in care, that she deserves it, that this is her time. She loves her home and her room. She loves her routine, her music and her Playstation. There have been times when I was under so much pressure, my stress levels rose and I felt like I was failing her. I’ve come to realize that if I’m to last the distance; if I’m to be there for my Girl, I can’t do it on my own. I have a lady who comes in three nights a week to sit over while I sleep. That’s funded by the state. I can’t say how grateful I am.

And finally, I’ve learnt that taking breaks is vital. Because the Girl is more at ease in her own environment, it’s easier for me to go away than to send her anywhere. This weekend, the Girl’s wonderful art teacher has offered to care for her while I spend three days with my sister, Chookie Lou. The picture above is from the front windows of Chookie Lou’s home. It’s not too shabby. I’ve stayed with Chookie Lou a total of three times this year. It’s not easy to leave my Girl behind. I’m reluctant to take time away from her while she’s well. I don’t want to miss any of the time I have left with her. On the other hand, if I’m going to stay the distance, I need to keep my sanity. Last Wednesday night, she wasn’t well. She dozed for an hour during the night and finally drifted off to sleep at 6:15 am. It’s not the first time. I wind up a zombie the following day. I know I’m a better mother and a better caregiver when I’m rested. It’s a wise decision to take the time away. But I miss her more than I can say.

Lessons have a habit of coming along when we need them. Some lessons are tougher than others.

If you’re caring for a terminally ill loved one, take the path of least resistance, grab any help you can, and take breaks when opportunity arises. Those opportunities may not come back. Looking after yourself doesn’t mean you’re weak. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It means you’re thinking rationally. It means you’re in this for the long haul.

And I applaud you for it.

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Beautiful Girl, What Would I Do Without You?

My Beautiful GirlThree short days ago, my beautiful Girl was rushed into the Emergency Room. The short story goes that her blood pressure was down, her blood sugars crashed, and her pulse was squiching along at half its normal pace. It turns out she had pneumonia. Today she’s sitting up in a hospital bed watching Pokemon and demanding Christmas be brought forward. She’s stunned the medical staff and her estimated date of discharge has been set at either Monday or Tuesday.

With the benefit of hindsight, none of this shocks me. Yes, I’m amazed we still have her. Especially after the events of the last few days. But this girl has more lives than a bagful of cats. And that’s given me pause to think about some of the things I love about her.

Her Appreciation for the Arts: Some years ago, I took her to the Disney on Ice production of Beauty and the Beast. The skater in that Mickey Mouse costume may well have been slated for his lacklustre performance on the night, but for at least one small member of the audience, his stumble and subsequent face-plant on the ice was the highlight of the evening and will be forever remembered with much amusement.

Loud Running: For a Girl with no appreciation for time constraints, there are so many attention-grabbers that can hold you up. Like Walking-While-Cuddling-Dead-Cat, Heading-For-the-Bathroom-While-Inspecting-CD’s, or the equally freeze-you-in-your-tracks Going-Out-to-the-Car-While-Checking-Contents-of-Lunchbox. When she was more mobile, I countered this lack of urgency with Loud Running. It was achieved by shouting, “Loud Running” and The Girl instantly increased her pace while yelling at the top of her voice. It was a one-time offer that remained in effect for a maximum of five seconds, but the results were instantaneous. I swear, magic could not have achieved the same results. I wish I had household cleaners that worked that well.

Her Cultural Awareness: I’m proud and amazed that my Girl can recite an entire Maori Haka, or war chant. Despite the fact that I find the phrase, “Yowdie Yowdies” in the second stanza highly questionable, I know that she’s picked up enough of the language that native speakers actually recognize it. Like the lovely Maori taxi driver who wheeled her up to the door and told me in astonishment, “She can speak Maori.”
“Yes, I know,” I told him. “I bloody wish she could speak English.”

Her Perennial Optimism: The world must be a wonderful place when you’re constantly looking forward to something. Birthdays and Christmas rotate on an annual basis. You just get one out of the way, and the other automatically slots into place.

Her Ability to Prioritize the Important Things In Life: Presents, mashed potato, art class, cheese and onion sandwiches, Playstation, lemonade, going to the video store. What more could a person possibly need?

I love that her view of life is so simplistic. She knows what she likes, and her expectations are few. She’s brave, she’s funny and she has no preconceived ideas about people. Until they go up against her in a battle of wills, and she loses.

If you take her as you find her, you’ll find a true friend. You bump heads with her, she’ll remember it for life and howl every time she sees you. And she’s taught me more in our thirty-two years than I could have found in any number of books.

But that brings me to an issue that many don’t think about – or maybe don’t need/want to think about. In this age of technological advances, as society strives evermore toward beauty, intelligence, and perfection in our future generations; and parents not only have the option to choose their baby’s sex, but now have the option to eliminate offspring with inherited illness and genetic defects, what happens to those children of the future born with disabilities? As we move forward, congratulating ourselves on our ability to weed out the ‘damaged,’ what happens when a section of our society is diminishing?

Will society become less tolerant; less accepting? Believe me, it’s only a scratch below the surface. I spoke to a woman only yesterday whose daughter has five children. For some reason I can’t even begin to comprehend, the general public feel it’s their right to pass judgement on her – to make comment on her choices. She said people will actually approach and ask her if she knows what contraception is; or whether she knows that population levels are already too high. I know what she means. If you’ve read my blog, “Moments I’m Not Proud Of,” you’ll see that I’ve had my own fair share.

And if this is the reaction to a large family, what will the reaction be to the parent who chooses to bring a child less perfect into the world? That they’re stupid? Selfish perhaps?

This is not a rant extolling the virtues of abortion over pro-life, or vice versa. And, I understand that with the advances in medical screening it’s now possible to detect illnesses that no parent would wish upon their child. And that given the choice, many would opt to terminate rather than inflict a future of pain and physical torment on their child.

But what if I’d made the choice not to have my girl; if I’d taken that other road in which she wasn’t a part of my life? Sure, there have been times I wouldn’t wish my lot on my own worst enemy. Of late, I look around and I wouldn’t exchange it for the world. If I didn’t have my Girl, would I be the person I am now? Would I have learnt the lessons I have? Strived to be as accepting as I am now?

And how much would I have missed?

I’m just saying…

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Filed under Learning to Love a Disabled Child, The Joy of Living With a Disabled Child

The Problem With Terminal Illness

Beach 007It seems obvious. But here’s the biggest problem with a long, slow terminal illness – it’s just that. It’s long, it’s slow, and it’s very terminal.

For me, it’s like being behind the wheel of a slow-moving car. For much of the trip, the car has been relatively comfortable. We’ve hit a few bumps along the way, but we’ve recovered, got a grip on the wheel and carried on.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, however, I’m painfully aware that this is very much a one-way trip. The car joggles along at a leisurely pace, but I’m not fooled into thinking this is some Sunday drive. I know we’re moving ever closer to a terrible collision, and there’s no way I can avoid it.

There’s no option for simply veering off this road and onto some tributary that’ll take us to a place of safety. It’s like a narrow pass etched into the side of a mountain. We’re stuck on this course and there’s nowhere else to go. Believe me, I’ve looked. I’ve searched the terrain for offshoots I can steer us up; rest stops I can pull into. And despite the fact that our journey takes place at seemingly snail-pace, I look out the side window and I’m watching the landscape of time passing us by. In January, the doctors gave the Girl six months. I have no idea if it will indeed be a six-month journey. I watched summer go by and now here it is autumn. It could be a twelve month journey. It could be longer.

And here’s one of the big problems with journeys like this – those around us, friends and family, see our days melding one into the next. They think that today is exactly like yesterday and the day before that. Believe me, I’ve fallen into that trap. I’ve woken in the night panicking because I haven’t taken enough photos of my Girl, haven’t spent enough time or sung enough songs with her. Suddenly, I find items on that Bucket and Spade list that probably won’t get ticked off, regardless of how mundane they are.

The Girl wanted to go to Valentines. I doubt we’ll get there. Even if she could sit through a couple of hours at the table, I know she wouldn’t eat because all she wants these days are the meal supplement milkshakes I make her. She wanted to go back to the beach again. I was lax. Life got busy. Then one day, summer was gone. It’s too cold to take her to the beach to play in the sand, and even if it was warmer, it’s getting too hard to take her on my own. This is time we won’t get back again. We’re in a steady descent on this journey and those opportunities are now in the rear-view mirror.

And that’s the other problem with a long, slow illness. Just like me, others forget. They know The Girl is ill. They’ve know for six months, some longer. But they have their lives to get on with. They have sick mothers to tend to, and grandchildren approaching their first birthdays. They have trips away and work commitments and all the usual stuff filling in their days. I don’t blame them. My days are full. People don’t see it. They think I sit home enjoying myself.

Believe me, nothing could be further from the truth.

Take yesterday, for example. The Girl didn’t wake early. She didn’t sleep the night before because she had ear ache. She told me she had sore feet, sore tummy, sore eyes. I got up and gave her Panadol and Codeine and went to bed. When she didn’t settle, I got up and took her to the toilet. When she began to cry that her ears were still sore, I sat up and rubbed them. Then I got a hot water bottle and put on her pillow. She finally settled at some time after one o’clock and I went back to bed.

The next morning, she slept late and I let her. Saturdays are art class. She adores her art class. So at nine, I woke her. She didn’t want breakfast, just the milkshake. I got her ready, which takes more time now because I have to assist her everywhere in case she falls. Showers take longer, dressing takes longer. I finally got her to art at close to ten thirty. She said she wanted roast chicken for dinner so I went to the supermarket and got a chicken for her. I got home at twelve, and the phone call to come and get her came at two.

Her art teacher said she’d been complaining about sore ears, so I took her to the emergency medical centre. Two-hours and $70 later, we got the same diagnosis on the ears as we did on Wednesday when I took her to the doctor – a little wax, but no infection. I took her home. She never ate lunch, didn’t want dinner. I put her to bed early and gave her a milkshake.

I have no idea where we are in this journey. I have no road map to indicate how far along we are.

All I know is that this car has no brakes so I can pull over; it has no horn so I can signal others when I’m scared. There are no lights I can flick on and off to alert people to the fact that I’m in this car alone and I need help.

Please, if you know someone in their own car. If there’s someone near you who’s caring for a loved one in the final stages of their lives, please, just pick up the phone. You don’t have to do anything. It doesn’t even take much time. Just ask them if they’re okay. Ask them how their loved one is. Let them know someone out there cares. And do it often.

You have no idea how much it will mean to them.

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Moments I’m Not Proud Of

That’s right, there have been times in my past I’m less than proud of; moments when I’ve given in to my baser instincts; when I’ve allowed that bad seed in my heart to germinate and grow into snaking tendrils of the devil’s garden (okay, maybe not quite that bad, but pretty rotten all the same).

Don’t be shocked! I told you right from the start I was no saint. You don’t believe me, go back to my post First Steps and check the fine print. And once you’ve run your eyes through my confessions listed below, I’m in no doubt you’ll agree.

So, every parent has frustrations and irritations. I’m sure you get that. But being the parent of an obviously disabled child brings a whole new set of challenges. And the one irritation that brings out the worst in me is: “What’s wrong with your little girl?”

Seems harmless, doesn’t it? Seems innocent; sweet almost. Can’t you just picture that angelic child standing there, twisting shyly on one foot, finger pressed to her mouth, head slightly tilted to allow the golden ringlets to tumble across her shoulder?

Yeah, that’s what I used to think. And then that all changed.
When The Girl was born, I’d take her out in her pram. For the American audience, that’s a baby carriage. It makes not one iota of difference to the story, but now you know.

So, imagine the scene, if you will: here we are, strolling down the aisles of the Starbucks-sized department store of the small town we lived in, and lo and behold, the afore-mentioned sweet little tot sidles up alongside me to utter those very words, “What’s wrong with your little girl?”

Naturally, I smile sweetly, going as far as dropping to one knee, saying, “Sweetheart, my little girl was born this way. She’s a very special little person and she was born with something special that made her that way.”

Suddenly, the mother, watching on from the sidelines, plucks up courage and steps forward, saying, “What’s her diagnosis?” or “Can you get anything done about it?”

My reply in these situations was usually something saintly, like, “She has a ring chromosome,” and after a brief biology lesson, followed by assurances that I’m happy to answer their questions, I bid them a fond farewell, and move on. Sounds great doesn’t it? Sounds like I’m fully accepting and in control, right?

Don’t be fooled.

Let’s move on to a point in time when this scene has played out no less than 127,765 times, repeated over and over like some kind of Groundhog Day and I’m wondering if I’ve got, Go on, ask me! Printed across my forehead. I’m cruising up and down the supermarket aisles and next thing, the angelic child moves across my path, foot twisting, ringlets falling. My eyes immediately flash up from the pram and narrow on the child. “Excuse me, you’re in my way.”

The mother’s eyes meet mine. There’s a hint of pain in them; a slight furrowing of her brow.

I look back at the kid, who fails to sense the tension and says, “What’s wrong with your little girl?”

The kid’s mother is still watching. There’s a nervous tic in the corner of my eye as I reply, “She was born like that. Now would you mind getting out of the way so I can do my shopping?”

The mother scoops the child up, stroking back her hair like I physically attacked her and glares venom after me as I flounce off down the baking goods aisle.

Okay, from Explanation number 1 to Explanation 127,766, you’ve probably noted a certain downward progression in my response; a deterioration of my outer cool, a hardening of my tone.

Can you blame me? By Explanation number 654 I was walking off muttering, “So when did it become my responsibility to teach the world’s kids about disability.” After that, it was all downhill.

You think this is bad? It got worse. I went from, “Excuse me, I’m in a hurry,” and plummeted into the pure sarcasm.

Here’s a selection of responses I have actually used, and am not proud of:

Small Child: “What’s wrong with your little girl?”

Me: “She didn’t eat her greens.”

Me: “She told me a lie.”

Me: “She ate too much ice cream.”

Me: “She asked too many questions.”

Me: “She gave me backchat.”

When I realized I was fighting a losing battle, I gave up engaging. I tried deliberately looking the other way. Still they came. So I resorted to, “Go ask your mother,” and walking off.

Harsh? Yes. Childish? Doubly so. Satisfying? You can’t even imagine.

Then, one day I realized something. It dawned on me that perhaps something about my demeanour – about the way I presented myself – was actually inviting these assaults. There must have been a twitch, a flinch, a look in my eye that gave these kids the idea that I wanted – no needed – to unload. So I began to simply ignore them. Incredibly, it worked.

Oh, not 100%. Every now and then, I get a kid who stares. There was a period in time when I’d stand there and give them my most evil eye until they wilted under the intensity. Eventually, I gave that up as well. It was embarrassing when they burst into tears and their parents gave me filthy looks.

These days I barely even notice them.

I think that comes with being more comfortable in my own skin. And there’s every chance those kids taught me far more than I ever taught them.

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Ignore the Screaming, She’s Phobic

I’ve come to the conclusion that if you’re going to have a phobia, it may as well be something completely ridiculous. Otherwise, what’s the point?

I, personally, have no phobias. I know, I’m lucky. I have a few insecurities, a couple of hang-ups, a number of eccentricities – who doesn’t?

But so far I’ve managed to avoid the terrors of phobic disorders. You could say I’m pretty-well fear-free.

The Girl – not so much. She has one dread that’s shadowed and terrorized her all her life:

African violets.

Yes, you read that correctly. And before you go Googling to see whether I’m referring to some deadly triffid-like species of cymbidium native only to New Zealand, I’m not. I’m referring to those cutesy little purple/pink/white flowering plants with the fuzzy gray/green leaves and the short, satisfyingly snappable stems; those tightly-packed rosettes of wooly foliage you find tucked away in the dusty recesses of old ladies’ living rooms.

These seemingly innocuous bundles of sweet, huggable greenery have been the bane of my life.

And for a girl with impaired eyesight, it’s incredible how she spots them skulking amongst the ferns at The Warehouse; hiding on the shelf at the garden center or towering over us from atop the toilet cistern during an unexpected bathroom break at a friend’s house.

All of which induce the kind of mind-altering screams from The Girl that Hitchcock would have been proud of.

I have no idea how such terrors came about.

I grilled Number One Son, the Chukka-boy on several occasions, thinking he’d spent many a babysitting hour tearing around the house terrorizing The Girl with an African violet in each hand. He swears it wasn’t him. He said if it was him, he’d own up to it because frankly how many people could lay claim to something so ludicrous?

Then I thought perhaps her grandmother, owner of several terrifyingly large plants, might have inadvertently traumatized The Girl with her living room greenery. But she was adamant it wasn’t her. On the contrary, she told me she had tried on several occasions to show The Girl there was nothing to be afraid of; that the plants were friendly and lovable. She’d spend hours gently coaxing The Girl’s little hand ever-closer to the pot; speaking in calm and soothing tones while gently bringing her fingers into contact with the leaves; only to have The Girl go practically catatonic and howl inconsolably until she was pacified with an onion sandwich.

Okay, so the fear of African Violets is not the worst irrational fear anyone could have. I’ve heard of people with ‘cow-phobia’, or Bovinophobia, to use the correct
term. And yes, that’s a real phobia. I mean, how many cows would the average Bovinophobic come across every day in the workplace? Unless you’re a farmer, of course. In which case Bovinophobia would be the least of your problems, if you ask me.

I did a quick Google on “Phobias” to find that there are people whose hearts are gripped with terror at such things as: nudity, cats, of liquids or being laughed at; of the night, of birds, of clowns. There are people who are paralyzed at the thought of all things French, if you can believe it.

But African Violets? I mean, seriously?

So when The Girl’s grandmother sadly passed away a couple of years back, and her beloved houseplants were divided amongst friends and family, guess what little keepsakes we got to inherit. That’s right, two – I repeat, TWO African violets. So now we have one African violet sitting in the dining room overseeing goings-on at the dinner table, and a second in the main bathroom ensuring no one abuses the facilities.

So that’s two portals of terror in our house.

But take heart, my trembling little bundle of nerves: when your worst nightmares threaten to overwhelm you; when you find yourself overcome with panic at the sight of the bathroom foliage, or the hideous specter of an African violet casting its shadow of dread across the dining table, just remember – it could have been worse.

They could have been French.

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