Her Hands

I’m preparing for a visit from my sister. She lives across the other side of the country and she and I are both finding that as we get older, we are softer to one another. More compassionate about the challenges we face, more cognisant of the similarities than all the differences. I find myself seeing my sister through our mother’s eyes. With a special kind of maternal love and tenderness; a kindness that evaded me in my younger years.  I think we recognise that without our mother, we are the only ones who can bring Mum’s loveliness back. By being her hands, her heart… for each other.

At the local grocer’s, I was looking at the fresh cut flowers, mentally relishing the names of all the flowers Mum loved. I saw the Alstromarias, the Roses (blush pink for the wedding dress she sewed my sister) and the Leukodendrons.  I could almost hear my mother’s voice, patiently showing me how to trim the stems, why we do; chatting as she arranged stems lovingly in a vase. She loved flowers.  I bought the pink roses, the pink and plum-toned Alstromarias she favoured in her garden (they last such a long time, she would say… a brilliant cut flower) and the green and deep burgundy Leukodendrons.  I bought them on behalf of my Mumma, a tribute of her love for my sister.

Earlier, at the hospital pharmacy, my eye was drawn to all the things that Trissy would love. I chose some sugar free jubes, smiling at the memory of how Mum used to squash jubes and marshmallows between thumb and forefinger before popping them into her mouth with a flourish. I chose some jelly beans, because Mum liked them too, she kept them in her handbag and would sneak a few in at an opportune moment. I chose some soap that smelled of Guava, a strong childhood memory portal, that scent.

I feel my Mumma close to me today, as I get ready to see her other girl. My sister and I will chat all weekend about her, about life and love and motherhood and all-the-things.  I look at my hands, looking more and more like I remember hers. The same lines. The same textures and contours. I like that. Her hands, my hands.

Just for a while this weekend; the strength of longing of two girls for their Mum will be satiated by some time spent with someone who understands. Like no other person could.

In the presence of what remains. Each other; sisters, daughters.

Mum’s hands, Mum’s heart.

Chasing Clouds

The colours of the Yarra Valley in winter are muted. Misted vistas of gums and mountains …and the vines, stacked in soft green rows against the ochre earth. Layers of clouds roll across the skyscape, as if in competition with the beauty below. Look up!  Look here! They roll and twist, jostling for the most beautiful arrangement. Australian skies are big skies, the cloud banks dwarf the landscape. I was mesmerised by them.

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I went to Australia in search of respite. Thirsty for a change of scenery, a change of mindset, just a change from the daily drudge. I came here hoping for a new perspective. Hoping, if I am brutally honest, that I would want to return home again at the end of my holiday.

On Friday, with my eyes downcast, I watched the toes of my converse lace-ups scuffing along the back streets of a country town. It was early. I’m an urban girl, so to me it seemed utterly reasonable to go in search of an espresso at 7am. I moseyed off along the sleepy streets, following the blue mountain ahead of me.  Tiny white curlicues of mist tickled at its edges. The night blanket of clouds was rolling back, ushered away and up by the sun. I felt transfixed by that small space of heaven, where the gold met the brooding gray. My breath misted in front of me and I felt that familiar heavy consciousness; I recognised that I had brought all of my urban angst here with me. Trailed it behind me as I jet-streamed over the Tasman.

I tried to slow my breathing, to slow my thoughts. I tried to name my anxieties and let them evaporate into the gilt of the new day.

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The rhythm of my feet brought me past historic cottages, iron fretwork fencing, elaborate brickwork, local artisan studios, darkened cafes and gift shops. The air was crisp with the aroma of fallen leaves, the mountain reassuringly squat above the little town. Golden leaves gathered into drifts at the edges of the main street, swirling in little eddies down the alleyways. It was an old town, sure of itself and its place in the midst of this popular valley. So many gifts of nature and such abundance of produce. The tourists flock here year round, drawn by the wineries, galleries and a slower, more genteel way of life.

An elderly gentleman waved me in through his cafe window. He was a friendly relic from the hippie era, long hair and a handwoven hat. His old eyes seemed to know too much about me, but I stepped into the warmth regardless. He asked if I was looking for a hot drink. Gratefully, I accepted his offer of a cup of organic brew. We talked about his pretty spot there, overlooking the avenue of oak. He rustled up my coffee and began chatting with his next early riser. I fell into silence with my only my thoughts for company; contemplative. The benign presence of kind strangers was a comfort. I blew the steam from the top of my cup and asked myself the question that had driven me here, the haunting of my peace. The crossroads of my heart.

What choice do I need to make?

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There is a song I have loved for a long time. A woman’s song. The lines of the impossibly beautiful melody danced through my mind. ‘Both Sides’ by Joni Mitchell. It’s about the juxtaposition of perspective. It’s innocence vs. experience.  It’s how I feel about life right now. About wellness and illness, about mothering, being a wife, being in my forties, about my career. There is a bitter/sweetness to the understanding that life is all of the things; the beautiful and the frustrating, the happy and the unspeakably sad.

I spent a lot of time on that week away, looking at clouds. Chasing the kind of girlish freedom I’d had, once upon a time, when I was unfettered by responsiblities. It took most of the week for me to come to the realisation, once more, that all of my life has been borne of choice. I’ve chosen my reactions when I didn’t have control of circumstance, and I have chosen my life’s direction. The biggest choices are already made. I wasn’t choosing ‘for now’ I was choosing ‘forever’. Now, I can choose how I live with those choices. With an open heart, seeking the gilt edges of dark clouds, or with my eyes shut tight against the beauty that might be there.  Love is hard. Life is hard.

As I blew the steam off the top of my cup, staring out through the glass panes of that little coffee shop, I chose to let the light in anyway.

I wish you the kind of clouds that remind you of angel hair. And also the kind that take your breath away with their severity and stormy brooding. I wish us all, the strength to look up, and forge ahead, honouring the choices of our hearts.

Are you like me? A tired mum, frazzled wife, maybe a bit lonely, hopeful, thoughtful …are you yearning for more ice-cream castles in the air? Here’s to you, and me, and the knowledge that what will be, will be.

 

Inheritance

“…comme-ci, comme-ca”  my son’s small hand wavers horizontally in the manner of telling me he’s feeling, well, middling.  Not this, not that. He’s into language, currently French.  Much easier to comprehend than some of the made up languages he used to speak in! I have to say, I concur with his sentiments, but for different reasons. Today is Christmas day and he’s been gorging on christmas stocking treats, so faced with the prospect of Christmas dinner, he’s non committal. But my middling feelings are not about food. No. I’m feeling middling about Christmas itself. A holiday I have always loved is so much more complex now.  I don’t think I can explain it to him, and anyway, he bounds off to do something busy. I’m left to myself to prepare the salad, left to my own middling thoughts, my own sweet and sour, light and shade. My own shadow dance.

This time of year is reminiscing time, and I try really hard every year not to fall into the murky depths of melancholy. I think a LOT about my mum. About my childhood. And about how I wish I could just tell her that I get it.  All the stuff I didn’t get when I was a clueless kid, an angst-ridden teen and a self-absorbed young woman. All the stuff about being a Mum, and the efforts that go unnoticed. All the stuff about the importance of having family traditions, how crucial manners and generosity are. How hard you have to work to help the family with that stuff. I want to look her deep in the eyes and make sure she knows that I finally get it, and I am so thankful to her. If she were here, she’d probably shrug me off, in her trademark bluster. But I’d put my hands back on her shoulders and say “MUM! I get it!” and she might laugh and tell me there is still waaay more for me to get. I’m a long way off knowing it all.

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Grief reaches across the years, never really releasing me. And it’s not just because of the aching chasm that exists where her love used to be. But because of the lost opportunity to love her back. She’s gone. No more chances to let her know that I appreciated all of that self sacrifice and hard graft. With every decoration I hung on my tree this year, my heart keened for her like it was her last day all over again. I can’t have Christmas without memories of her that ghost through every song, every ritual, all the ways we do things. For me, there is no joy to all men without sadness for one woman.

I just miss my Mumma… you know?

The tsunami of feeling inundated me mid-morning. The hubster was having a nap. The kids were playing amongst the drifts of wrapping paper on the living room carpet.  I decided it would be good to take my tears out into the wind and I strapped on my helmet and climbed on my bike. Even with my legs burning and the rush of air against my face, the sadness enveloped me. Chased me around the quiet streets. Followed me through the park. Settled in my chest where I knew it would weigh on me for the rest of Christmas Day.

It occurs to me that the only way I can love my Mum without her here, is to pour the love I have for her into my kids. Her grandbabies. She would probably have liked that.  I look at my girl, lying next to the cat in a sunny patch of the floor, so young-old it hurts. I hear my little guy, shadow fighting an imaginary opponent with his light sabre, he’s bound to be victorious any moment now.  I will love these kids with all the love that belongs to you Mumma.

An extra serve straight from my mother heart, the one I inherited from you. x

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PS.  We watched Inkheart tonight. Tom Baxter’s song ‘My Declaration’ is the theme song. I loved it and thought I’d share it here. It’s a good anthem for carrying on, for doing your best.

Julia: ‘P’s Get Degrees

 

It’s Meet My Peeps time again!
When I was at University, back in the Nineties, we used to say “Cs get degrees”.  It was our way of reassuring ourselves that we didn’t have to ace everything to get the piece of paper we were working towards.  It is a useful sentiment for socially distracted students, but quite a necessary mindset if you are ill.   Julia lives in Melbourne.  Her tenacious efforts mean that she is getting really close to finishing her degree; not long now!  This is such a huge achievement because she has done it all juggling study with the daily challenges of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome.
These days, in Australia, the old fashioned C grade has been replaced with a more politically palatable ‘P’ for ‘pass’.  Hence, ‘P’s Get Degrees.  🙂 Today she is sharing with us her story and her top tips for chronically ill High School and University students.  Take it away Julia:

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With chronic illness come many sacrifices. Many people have to give up the world of study, just like others would have to give up full time work. I am one of the lucky few who, although my methods may not be conventional, has been able to continue studying while sick.

I began doing 2 or 3 subjects at a time,(3)

It all began back in year nine with the onset of chronic and complex migraines. They started as a horrible one-sided headache once every few weeks and eventually became more and more frequent and complex. By the time I entered year 11 I was experiencing episodes of dizziness and paralysis with these weekly migraines. With my final year of school approaching I remembered thinking, ‘well, it can’t get any worse than this.’ Boy, was I wrong!

It was year 12 retreat, a 3 day trip to Toolangi with half the year level. I had been feeling a bit rubbish over the holidays leading up to the school year, but had put it down to jet lag after coming back from an overseas trip. It was the afternoon session and 36 degrees Celsius. There were no fans, no air con. All of a sudden, my head was in my friend’s lap. I have no memory of how it got there, only the clamminess, mild nausea, head feeling like my brain had been replaced with helium and that familiar feeling of a migraine creeping in.

Of course, being in the middle of nowhere, calling home and getting picked up because of a migraine was not an option, so instead I was directed to have a lie down in the teacher’s cabin. I remember taking my medication and being knocked out pretty soon after. I woke to a student teacher staring at me. This was not the end of my ‘adventures’ on retreat. The next day was just as hot and I passed out again. I was given permission to go and sit in another room with a few of my friends while they waited for my mum to drive up and pick me up. After passing out again while sitting on the ground and struggling to get back up, an ambulance was called.

This was the clearest beginning on my POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), despite hints of it following through my life.

As you can imagine, fainting multiple times a day and feeling so unbelievably fatigued and dizzy doesn’t go to well with your final year of high school. My official attendance for that year ended up being about 50%, not to mention the classes I ended up leaving early.

My determination to finish high school was enough to keep me going. I was not going to spend another year there! I learnt early on, that teachers were always willing to help as long as you showed them you were willing to learn. Every class I missed or left early was followed up by a simple ‘copy and paste’ email asking for the stuff that I missed. Luckily mild insomnia came in handy allowing me the hours to remain mostly up to date. Most of my studying was done in bed with my laptop on my belly.

As term 3 crept up, I realised POTS was here to stay, and the difficult decision was made to drop one of my favourite (but worst) subjects, French. The head of VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education = High School Diploma equivalent) subjects was keen for me to keep the subject because of the mark up in score that came with it. The reality though was my concentration was completely shot so, concentrating in another language was never going to happen that would mean I wouldn’t even get a mark that would warrant any sort of a mark up.

It was a difficult decision, but I don’t regret it at all. My French teacher was amazing though, she understood my love for the subject and the limitations that came with being so unwell and went on to invite me back for the fun lessons like watching the Lion King in French. I never properly thanked her for everything she did for me.

Once I finally got through year 12 there was always the fear I wouldn’t get a mark that would get me into what I wanted. Luckily though, when university offers came out I got my second preference, which was a Bachelor of Science (my first preference being a Bachelor of Biomedicine). At the time I did not realise that this was a blessing in disguise. The biomedicine course was structured so much that it would actually have been quite difficult to do part time, as I have been able to do.

My first semester was a full 4-subject load and was indented by many trips to the hospital and constant rescheduling of assessments. It was from that that I learnt a full load was not for me. I began doing 2 or 3 subjects at a time, and in my worst semesters even just doing one subject.

I’m a perfectionist and wanted to get the best marks and subsequently, best average. I worked as hard as I could and quickly learnt that this was not going to happen with attendance just as bad as high school. I adapted my study skills and would only going to non-recorded classes and the ones that were recorded would be done in the comfort of my college room.

Living on campus was an absolute blessing! This allowed me to have some sort of a social life as well as maintain my study life. Friends that I met at my college have always been super understanding and I can never thank them enough for that. In fact, I would not be still studying if it wasn’t for all their support and help.

Of course, studying part time isn’t always ideal. There have been so many times where I’ve wanted to give up and just become a professional sleeper! The frustration of my situation really started to settle in when my friends started graduating. I felt like I was falling behind in life. The reality of a never seemingly ending degree would result in many tears, but eventually I’d get over it and just suck it up. Every semester I had to drop a subject would tear my heart apart, knowing that it was then going to be an extra semester, or even an extra year. 
I’m now in my final semester, and even though I am going through another rough period, that drive to finally get that piece of paper is keeping me going.

This is my advice to those of you who are studying with a chronic illness:

Don’t feel you need to finish with the people you started with, through my epically long degree I have met so many amazing people that I wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t taken so long.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The number of teachers, lecturers and tutors that have gone out of their way to help me has been ridiculous. I can never thank these people enough.

If you’re at university, don’t allow your own stereotypes and judgements stop you from seeking help from student services. Register, because the people are there to help you get through and do everything possible to make your time through uni as seamless as possible,

Pace yourself. This is probably my most hypocritical advice, because I fail at this one on a daily basis. Take your time, don’t be afraid to say no to things and don’t listen to people who call you ‘lazy’ or ‘not a morning person’ when you reveal how long you’ve slept in. Those sleep-ins may be the difference between quitting or getting through!

Just remember, you don’t need to get 100% on every test, P’s get degrees!

And to those who have been there for me and helped me at any point through school or university, thank you! Thank you for absolutely everything you have done for me, whether it be sharing notes, driving me places to save my ‘spoons’ from public transport, dropping work off at home, keeping me included in social activities and understanding the weird things I’ve had to do to get myself through.

-Julia

Meet My Peeps

What would you do?

I’ve been doing that thing patients do.

Waiting.

I’ve been doing it impatiently, because I’m like that. I goes like this. I’ll be going through my day and the thought occurs, as it regularly does:

How can I keep going like this?

Which always leads to the next thought…

Am I doing enough about it?

What would you do_(1)Well, I’ve been fighting for years to find someone who will investigate the cause of my Dysautonomia and consider treatment.  Last year, I found two great immunologists. Which brings me to the waiting part.  It’s like a circle of impotent wishing.  Drives me a bit bonkers, but that is the price you pay for not paying a price when it comes to medical care. We have this free medical system here and I am so grateful for it (because by the time I got around to organising Private Health Insurance, I was already deemed ‘uninsurable’).  If I’d been living somewhere else (like the US), my situation would be dire.

So I’ve been waiting (albeit impatiently!) for the immunologists to get back to me about the possibility of IVIG.  At the end of last year I had the tests they were hoping would offer a compelling base line. But the tests didn’t provide the strong results we hoped for.  It is one of the most incredibly frustrating features of Dysautonomia, that our tests don’t always catch our bodies behaving the way they do.

My tilt table test was ‘unremarkable’. Instead of my trademark drop in blood pressure and a heart rate that drops through the floor, my blood pressure was high.  The entire duration of the test was a painful torture for me, due to the pain in my pelvis and hip when I am weight bearing. I suspect the pain brought my blood pressure up, buoying my system into a false negative TTT.  But you don’t get a ‘do-over’, and even if I could, the pain issues I am having are still being explored, we know it isn’t structural; it is possibly neuropathic.  Another needle in the haystack.  Either way, it’s not going away overnight. By contrast, the gastric emptying study showed “an abnormal pattern of gastric emptying and small bowel transit compatible with (her) known Dysautonomia”.

And I am only guessing… but I think it is clear that more significant results would have made for a different outcome.  Fortunately, and sometimes unfortunately, the medical system functions on objective data. That’s just the nature of the science.

I had a phone call last night from one of the Immunology outpatient doctors at Auckland Hospital. He was a lovely person who was very thorough with all the details.  He outlined the plan for me. I will start a six month course of methylprednisolone pulse infusions in February.  If I respond well to the steroids, this will give us a better indication of whether or not I have an autoimmune aetiology.  That just means that we will try a ‘suck it and see’ approach.  If this treatment works for me, it points towards my problems having an autoimmune cause.  It has been tricky to establish this point because the tests I have had done have not shown auto-antibodies for the usual culprits.  The main one, the Acetylcholine Receptor antibody, is negative.  According to Dr Vernino, 50% of his patients with presentations similar to mine, are sero-negative.  That’s like one in two. The flip of a coin. That’s why I haven’t been able to just sit with a doctor response of ‘it’s not auto-immune’.  I guess I need proof that it is not, just as much as proof that it is, before I can put that theory to bed.

I am also desperately attached to the idea that my problems might be immune mediated.  I prefer this possibility to many, despite the fact that treatment is not without risks.  I prefer it because it actually has a treatment pathway.  That’s a hope-inducing fact. Apart from my pacemaker, I’ve been languishing in the progressive no-mans-land of Dysautonomia, without treatment, for five years.  My symptoms are ‘managed’ (ha!) with a range of medications.  But none of that is addressing the elusive cause.

If something was wrong with you, if it changed your life and had an impact on your family… would you be able to sit back and accept the line; ‘We don’t know the cause/it is too hard to find the cause/ just accept that you have this thing we don’t understand’?  Well, I can’t. I’d rather go through the frustrations and exhaustion of searching for answers than just accept the ‘We don’t know’ line.

And maybe that is a defect in my personality. Or maybe it is a strength.  Either way, it doesn’t feel like a choice to me. I welcome the opportunity to try methylprednisolone.  It is the first proactive thing that has happened for my condition in five years. And if it doesn’t work?  I really don’t know what is next. If anything.

Maybe that is when I have to look at accepting some things. And that makes me want to drop to the floor in a full tanty. So I’m not going to think about that unless I have to.  Is it wrong to search and search for a cause in the hope of arresting the nerve damage?  I’ve already seen the ways this has affected my body.  I don’t need an imagination, or the facts, to see where it is headed.  If I can find something that will halt the slide, I feel like I should throw everything into that search.  Isn’t it what most women would do?  It’s not just about fixing this for me, it is about finding the best way through the maze for me and for all the people in my world.  It’s not self-indulgent to think they need me.  They do.

What would you do?

forgotten something

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It’s my birthday morning and my Mum has gone all out.  I jump up on the big bed and there are parcels from everyone.  Shiny paper, cards.   Such treasures to be discovered!  I reach for a parcel and start to rip off the paper.
Her warm hand rests over mine.

“Have you forgotten something?”

Have I?  It’s a present! There’s paper between me and it!
It’s my birthday! What have I forgotten?
She points to the card and gives me
that look.
I sigh and reach for the card.
It’s been hand made for me by my brother,
he’s really good at doing pictures of googly eyed funny people
and this one makes me laugh.
He’s written something nice inside for my birthday.
That makes me feel like he really likes me, after all.
I look up at his expectant face.
“Thanks buddy,” I breathe… and get stuck into that paper again.

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Funny, I don’t remember the contents of that parcel, but I do remember the card, the moment of thanks.  Learning that when someone has given you something, you are supposed to pause, look them in the eye and say thank you.  I guess he picked up on the very same lessons. One of his nicknames for me is ‘The Affreciated One’.  I’m not sure quite how appreciated morphed into affreciated, but it’s hilarious coupled with his sappy face of mock gratitude.  He is one of those funny brothers.  Sometimes he doesn’t even need to speak to crack me up. A nostril flare will do it. So many memories, those moments.

When I stop and thank someone, there’s that moment of connection that lasts much longer than the gift itself.
Shining eyes meeting yours; you did that for me?!

There’s been a lot of noise lately about gratitude.  People on facebook, nominating other people to list three things each day that they are grateful for.  Gratitude journals and memes and rhetoric.  It’s a good thing! I was inspired to write a piece about gratitude myself, after watching this amazing TED talk.  There are so many things in our world to be grateful for, so many circumstances, relationships, freedoms and gifts of nature.  But I’ve been thinking about that moment of connection my Mum taught me to have.  The pause, the acknowledgment.  The actual words bit where I tell you how much I appreciate you thinking of me, helping me, giving to me.

I struggle some days with that vague, general gratitude.  Times like that, I resent being pointed toward the things in my life that are good (and there are many things to be grateful for).  Some days, when I am feeling tired of the health struggles, when the only way doesn’t seem to be up, but down.  My thinking heads into a downward spiral too.  I feel sorry for myself.  Right royally pissed off about things.  I begin to mentally list all the ways it is UNFAIR. I know for sure that when I am choosing to have that pity party, I am not comparing my life to people who struggle every day to survive.  I’m not comparing myself to a 39 year woman with ebola virus, or a 39 year old woman who has lost all her family, home and posessions to a catastrophic weather event.  I’m comparing myself and my life to who I felt like I should have been.  That 39 year old middle class woman who has an awesome, fulfilling teaching career.  She writes on the side, raises two intelligent, sporty kids, runs with her husband and enjoys itty bitty quinoa salads.  She is never ever sick.  She helps her friends and always has time for everyone.  She’s elegant and effortless and …absolutely fictional.  Why do I compare myself to her?  The truth of who I might have been is irrelevant.  This is my path.  Comparison, even with fictional superwomen, is the thief of joy.

Gratitude makes you happy, according to David Stendl-Rast.  It’s the answer to the pursuit of happiness.  In the opening moments of his TED talk, he asks, “Want to be happy?  Be grateful”.  I think there is deep wisdom there.  But I also think that being grateful feeds connection.  Grateful to other people.  It’s quite easy to be vaguely grateful to the universe, God or mother nature. I’m so grateful for my children.  But to seek out the people who you should be grateful to, look them in the eye and say it.  That is something different.  I am grateful that I have children, oh yes.  Grateful my body could carry them, grateful my doctor so expertly assisted the delivery of them.  But I am specifically grateful to the man who shared his body with me so that we could create them in the first place.  I am grateful that he agreed to do that, to change his whole life to make a family with me.

I’d like to make more effort to specifically thank people in my world.  Without making it weird. I may not have paused when I was unwrapping the many material or immaterial gifts they offered, to really communicate to them what their generosity means to me.  But the list is long.  So today, I am resolving to make sure that I think about the right way to thank all the people in my physical existence who help me, talk with me, enrich my world.   And for those of you who enrich my online world.  This is for you.  Your comments keep me going.  Thank you for reading, for pausing, for connecting with me.  You matter to me and I am glad you are here.

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My Girl

The first moment she looked in my eyes my breath caught. I knew it in that moment of stark gravity. She was extraordinary.  Her newborn soul seemed so much bigger than mine and I admit, I was intimidated.  I looked back into her gaze and felt overwhelmed.  How could I do a good enough job for her?  How could I presume to be her mother?  I’d been talking to a growing baby girl in my tummy for nine months, but this baby wasn’t her.  She had been like a little animated doll in my mind, a sweet, quiet thing who jiggled to the music during school assemblies.  My class would look across and watch my tummy jumping, I would pat it and smile.  Settle, little one.  I felt like I knew her as she grew inside me.  And then she was born.  I don’t really know how to explain how enormous the reality of her unique self was to me.  She wasn’t the baby I’d been talking to, the longed for baby of my imagination.  She was entirely herself. Complete and shockingly present. She seemed to be prematurely wise, appraising her new mum.  Staring me down.  It wasn’t exactly as I imagined it would be.  I was terribly afraid.  I whispered her name, she opened her mouth
and wailed.

For the first six months of her life, Bee screamed.  My nappy bag was always packed full of anxious mummy remedies for every possible difficulty we might encounter.  But none of them stopped the crying.  She wanted to be upright, but she didn’t want to be held.  Her back would arch away from me and her mouth open in a pained, sustained scream. The only way we could comfort her was to perch her against one of us in a body sling and rock, rock, rock. Pat, pat, pat. Eventually, when we had exhausted all the possible parenting strategies and failed, we took her to a paediatrician and discovered she had something called silent reflux. I wish we had gone sooner.  Soothed by baby gaviscon, Bee began to sleep.  And so did we.  Our angry banshee became her true, sweet self.  And there she was, that baby I had imagined, a sweet, quiet wee girl. We set up a routine and everything started to calm down.  We exhaled. We began to get to know her. She began to smile.

Little Bee showed us very early that she loved animals.  She adopted snails and worms and repatriated them to new garden homes, resplendent with flower petal decorations and twiggy installations.  Ebony cat was her most loved baby. She loved the sandpit, hated loud noises.  She ate anything we ever offered, but particularly loved the methodical joy of eating blueberries or peas, one by one, tweezered from her high chair tray between thumb and finger, each one popped into her mouth with perfect precision.  Eyes wide as they burst between her teeny pearly teeth.  She was an observer.  A cautious participant.  Quiet and solemn and curious. She loved story time with her Granny and sat, warm in her lap, reaching for the next book in the basket, “More?”  The answer was always yes.  She craved the small fluffy bunnies of the petting zoos and crooned to the white rhinos and the wild cats of the big zoo.  She met her first pony at a farm festival when she was four.  From that moment, she was smitten.

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Little Bee’s best friend was a sweet little fella called Ced. They made block towers, took naps and played dough together.  Went to the same creche, baby gym and preschool.  They held hands and pushed each other around in the pedal car, shared raisins between hot little hands.  We had season passes for the Zoo and that is where we often went, walking around and stopping for neatly arranged finger foods snacks (the first-time-mother-factor!) and brightly coloured drink bottles.  Here they are, having a side by side nap when we were on holidays together in Fiji.  Aw.

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I look at my Bee now, lying on her tummy in front of the fire.  She was always off the scale on the baby height charts and she still towers over most of her friends at the age of nine. Her long frame stretches across the carpet.  These days she’s all growing pains and making gains.  She organises herself and takes pride in being responsible.  She comes out with surprising one liners and spontaneous sweetnesses.  Horse obsessed, she’s taken it upon herself to educate us about every breed and colouring of the equine spectrum. And she rides like she was born for the saddle, flying over jumps that make my heart lurch. Falling onto the neck of Beau with unbridled affection at any opportunity.  Her muscles are strong and supple and her ponytail dances beneath her helmet and down her long back. She takes my breath away, my girl.

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But more than all these wonders about who she is, are the things she does that most girls her age wouldn’t have the heart to do.  Bee is an expert assessor; she gauges my need for a cup of tea like she has a sixth sense.  She offers to bring snacks and feeds the cat.  She does her jobs without ever complaining.  And just yesterday morning, as I hung my head over the toilet bowl and retched, her hand reached in with a hair tie.  “Here, Mum” she murmured “You can keep your hair back with this”.  Her hand, warm against my back.  Her heart reaching in to mine.  Then, a glass of water; my eyes filled.  “Thank you, sweet heart” I whispered to her.  How can I ever show her how much gratitude fills my thoughts?  Not just for all the small ways that she brings me comfort and support, or for the compassion she shows so far beyond her years.  For her willingness to help. But for loving me so unconditionally. All those years ago, she appraised me with those wise eyes, she saw my fear and my insecurities and accepted me as hers, anyway.  She reminds me every day that the best of who I am is invested in a shining beautiful person. A girl who makes me proud to be related to her, proud by association, touched by the wonder of being her Mum.

Love you, my girl.  

If your teenage years should temporarily kidnap your true self, I’ll pay the ransom.
I’ll wrap you up in my arms and even while you protest, I’ll tell you that I love you.
I’ll look you right in your young ancient eyes and remind you: you accepted me.  We made an agreement, you and me, the day you were born.
I’m here, I’m your Mum. And no matter what may come;
no matter where you are, no matter where I am, my heart is with your heart.

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