Thursday, 14 July 2011

Demanding Times



Sunday, 10th July 2011
Today is the first day in many weeks where Time (always my enemy) has deigned to loosen her sturdy chains around me just a tiny bit. As I write, two small girls (one not mine) are downstairs watching Amercian rubbish on telly, blisfully happy in pyjamas and dressing gown with a small bowl of biscuits at their side, while a clearly exhausted husband still snores in his bed. The cup of tea I have just made and brought up stirred him briefly, but he has returned happily enough to the Land of Nod. He was up at 5.45am (having got to bed at 1am) to take E on her Year 7 trip to France, the highlight of the school year (more anticipated for the reunion with the boys, their former classmates, rather than for the cultural experience, it has to be said). Last night he made bravado talk of not returning to bed after the early morning drop off but cracking on to deal with the mountain of issues piled up on his desk. I for one was pleased that, when it came to it, he took the decision to catch up on some much needed rest instead, and went back to bed. Meanwhile, middle girl G, our living dynamo, is away on her Year 6 Leavers Acitivity Weekend, climbing ropes and abseiling, crawling over obstacle courses, canoeing and hiking. Oh for the energy of the youth: I have woken with an aching back and as much energy as a deflated balloon. Just enough, it seems, to move fingers over a keyboard, at last.

The garden through the window is dappled in gentle sunlight, reflecting on the Happy Birthday banner which hangs forlornly from the summer house, the sellotape losing it's battle with the wasp-chewed wood. Three balloons, equally deflated, hang in a now desultory fashion from the Public Footpath post opposite our house. I must remove them forthwith as there is nothing more depressing than deflated balloons or a vase of dead flowers. Beyond this, there is not too much evidence of the party which took place here for little L yesterday afternoon. Nine friends came to celebrate the imminent arrival of her 9th birthday (12th July), an event far less daunting than in recent years when G and E have also shared the party (G because her birthday is on 11th August when we and everyone else is away, and E because you can't have a garden party in January, which is when her birthday falls) and we have had upwards of 30 children screaming around the place. It was a strange feeling not to feel completely stressed as you attempt to meet and greet, organise party games, get food out on time, provide endless drinks, mop tears, find plasters, light the candles on the cake and sing happy birthday before parents come to take children away, and make sure everyone leaves with the right towel and swimsuit (the party relies heavily on good weather and the water slide) and party bag. No, this year was calm and controlled. We did all the usual races in two teams - running, sack, egg and spoon, skipping - as well as pass-the-parcel, painting plain china mugs to take away, apple bobbing and a treasure hunt. There was swing ball and netball and badminton and a good time was had by all. Certainly as far as L was concerned who, as we waved the last people away, two hours after the party officially ended, she burst into uncontrollable sobs at the idea that her party was over. She had been planning it and looking forward to it for weeks. It is part of the summer ritual. I picked up her skinny little frame, wiped the tears from her hazel eyes and hugged her tight, trying not to think that in a year she probably won't seem like this little girl anymore as Time marches her inexorably out of this blissful stage of childhood into a new era of self-consciousnes and dissolving innocence. Catch it while you can.

It has been a hard few weeks and the passage of Time has left its mark in many ways. The day after I last wrote here it was indeed my own birthday. The day was passed at college (we managed some Prosecco out of plastic cups under a tree at lunchtime) but come the evening we went out for a lovely meal with friends at a favourite hotel in the Peak District, The Cavendish at Baslow. A few years ago we went there for the first time on my birthday and now it has become a bit of a tradition. The drive over is 30 minutes through beautiful countryside and on a warm evening you can sit outside and contemplate a bucolic vista of trees and hills while sipping a glass of champagne. The food is excellent - more refined and skilled than the ubiquitous yet competent pub food so prevalent these days. We are often the only ones in the restaurant, arriving later than most other guests, but we make our own party with animated chat and raucous laughter with the great friends we have made since our move up here eight years ago. It is always a special and memorable night.

Shortly before we left for the restaurant, I had taken a call from my parents. We were in a rush to leave so the conversation was short and a little chaotic but somewhere in there I thought something was perhaps not quite right. I couldn't put my finger on it beyond the fact that my mother didn't seem to be hearing what I was saying however many times I repeated it. It was if she was in her own little world, kind of going through the motions. It was two days later, on the Saturday afternoon that my father phoned, just minutes before we had guests arriving for the weekend. It was the call I had long dreaded, the one where you are told that something is wrong with one of your parents. He was clearly choked and in shock as he told me that my mother had had a stroke. She had not been feeling 'right' for about a week (we had been with them on return from half term holidays, just a week before, and it seemed that all was well then; but she had deteriorated slowly through the week and her behaviour, as witnessed at an event she attended with my mother-in-law the day after my birthday, was a little bizarre. Time suddenly had no meaning to her, she was walking incredibly slowly, she seemed distracted and disconnected to the world going on around her. This is so not my mother, always sharp as a pin and fretting and worrying over the next job or commitment, firmly rooted in the minutiae of her daily environment. By Friday even my father had noticed that 'Mary was not herself' and, spurred on by the observations of my mother-in-law and their trusted cleaner, he took her to hospital. She had had a small stroke of the kind that depletes the brain of oxygen over a period of days rather than one that wipes you out in one fell swoop. Damage has clearly been done - she has lost much strength in her legs (I had to help her out of the bath) and she cannot write like she used to. She has lost interest in reading (she was an avid bedtime reader) and she feels exhausted much of the time. The drive and motivation are gone for the time being. It seems she has had another small stroke at a previous date on the other side of her brain - a fact which, looking back, makes sense of some small changes I had noted in her (oh, the frustration of living so far away). Her cholesterol is through the roof (stress induced) and is now being controlled. She, the woman who told everyone else how to look after themselves but would never apply (or heed) the same advice to herself, has had a wake-up call. It could have been far, far worse and I am at least glad that now she is being looked after too. I had always muttered that, despite being the youngest of the remaining parents, due to her inability to relax and sleep and her endless worrying about things, that she may well be the next one to go. Literally worrying herself to death. It has been a hard lesson for her to accept.

So I went down and spent a weekend with them, my brother having been down the weekend before, and helped and supported as much as I could. Leaving again to head back north was one of the hardest things I have had to do. My father, at 83, has been doing a marvellous job of looking after her but I could see the strain and worry was getting to him. How I wish I could be closer to spend precious time with them and help relieve some of the burden.

The next two days were filled with a desperate cramming for an exam I had on the Wednesday, my concentration and energy fuelled solely by adrenaline. The day following the exam I was fit for nothing. I tried to do some desultory jobs around the house, a domestic wasteland abandoned in the heat of other pressing matters. I have been living with builders since the beginning of April, a situation I am deeply weary of. The whole place is a filthy mess, almost no room untouched by plaster dust, filth and unfinished jobs. Our possessions are piled up in every bit of free space so the whole place looks like a dump. I live with bad language and Radio 1 at volumes that make my head spin. I have to plan my movements around the movements of the builders, unreliable at the best of times. Their van continually blocks my drive and I am forced to leave my car in the lane while my study (a teetering pile of unlooked-at paper) remains a hideous monument to my lack of time to get on top of things. I tried to treat myelf to a bit of Wimbledon - the highlight of my summer - but again, circumstances conspired continually against me. But you know what, dear Reader? I will stop there for now, before this post becomes wearisomely long, and I will pick up the threads another day.

8 comments:

pippa said...

ohhh so feel where you coming from - your mum tho - hope all is well.. xx

Pondside said...

The call we all dread - yes, I know. Life is over-full sometimes with job and children, the happy bits, the frantic bits and all of it somehow exhilarating and exhausting. Good luck with the juggling - though you seem to be managing very well.

Milla said...

oh this does all sound low, Carah, you poor chicken. My ma is succumbing to bad asthma (doctor told her 40 years ago that she couldn't be insured - "because my father died of a stroke at 58?" she asked, the doctor laughed (they did in those days) "your lungs will kill you long before you get the chance to have a stroke," he said. So to hear her wheezing and choking for breath down the phone is frightening. And she's only 69. Parents are so upsetting and the time is running as fast for them, faster, than for us witnessing our children spinning out of childhood. Oh dear, you've set me off now!!
Claws around for positivity ... summer, champagne, parties ... sounds good!! And, what's the exam? Tell! XCX

elizabethm said...

My parents (77 and 78) are both suddenly older and frailer and I have spent my life having younger and more energetic parents than any of my friends. It comes and it makes us shiver. I wish your mother well and your father too. It sounds as if it might be the kind of stroke from which a good recovery is made. I do hope so. And I am glad your daughter's birthday was good enough to cry over as it ended - we call that memorable and no mistake!

Mark said...

So much going on here. Joy and sadness, friendships and intoversion, fear and relief... So much of life in such short time. Best read of the day as usual.

Jane sends her wishes too.

family affairs said...

So pleased L had a lovely birthday. Sorry we didn't make it up but thought you'd probably had enough of us for a while!! Hope you got my email card to L and hope you're not feeling too far away from family.

At least your "constant swearing & radio 1" is rationed to when they are working - I have to put up with that all the time!! The downside of having a builder for a boyfriend xx

HER ON THE HILL said...

Hello everyone - so good to hear from you all.

Pippa - hope your preparations for Bali are going well. I'm struggling with preparations for 6 weeks away and another whole new load of shit that's hit the fan!

Pondie - thank you :-) and thank you so much for reading, as always.

Milla - so good to hear from you. so sorry to hear about your Ma too - sounds very distressing. Everything you say here is everything I feel too. Exam was the penultimate of 5 gardening exams - had another at the beginning of July and three before that. Has been horrific trying to fit the revision in between everything else that seems to be happening to me at the moment. xxx

Elizabeth - thank you for such kind and gentle thoughts. You say exactly what I feel too about my parents. It's so hard to come to terms with, however inevitable.

Mark and Jane - thank you so much, as ever, for your support and kindness. Our best wishes to you both too.

FA - thank you my lovely friend. Yes, have just discovered card! Have shown L and she's thrilled :-). Thank you so much. Love the last para!!

Procrastinator extraodinaire said...

I know I am late commenting on this and greater sadness has hit you more recently but I couldn't read on without saying something. It is the sad fact of life that as our own children begin gaining independence our own parents start to need us more. If, like you and I, we have had our children later in life the window of freedom closes between each period.

We have bought a holiday home in the village I grew up in partly to by the sea but also to share the burden of caring for my mother with my dad and brother. My dad's health is poor but interestingly my sister who lives very close to them spends the little time she visits arguing with them. Distance is not always a bad thing and being close by not always good.

Sorry to remind you of sadtimes xx

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