Six

My darling Alex,

Six is not a very big number.

It is the number of legs on an insect or the largest number of dots on standard dice.

Six is half a dozen; or the most harmonious of single digit numbers (if you are into numerology.)

According to Winnie the Pooh, it is when we get CLEVER! (And you are so very clever!)

Alex baby with poem

If you are in the mood for mathematical titbits, six is the only number that is both the sum and the product of three consecutive positive numbers. A Cube has six faces, and a six sided polygon is called a hexagon.

A guitar has six strings, and the Star of David has six points. (Although according to you, a Star of David is not a real star, because a real star only has five points)

In Astrology, Virgo is the Sixth sign of the zodiac. (And happens to be your star sign!)

Six is also the number of years that I have been a mom. I still cannot believe that six years have passed since you made your way into my life and into my heart. Six years that have changed my life in the most indescribable and incredible way. Six of the best years of my life.

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But despite six not being a very big number, it is so very, very big.

You have grown so much this year between 5 and 6, both physically and emotionally. You have blossomed from a shy and sometimes anxious little guy into a confident, rambunctious boy. A boy who seems to have transformed from a baby into a big-boy overnight. A boy who can fetch his own food, and swim by himself, and asks questions that are way beyond his years. A boy who has lost six baby teeth, and is getting so, so tall. A boy who loves running and swimming and being outside. A boy who looks after his sister, and makes sure he always holds her hand in a busy parking lot (or on the beach). A boy who loves to wrestle with his older brothers, and lick their faces while pretending to give them a kiss. A boy who loves animals and wants to be a vet when he grows up. A wild animal vet, to be specific! (And thinks that the solution to saving the rhinos is to kill all the hunters!)

A boy who will be going to Grade 1 next year. Big School.

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A boy who doesn’t really need me that much anymore with each passing day.

A boy who LOVES dragons.

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And yes, you asked for a Night Fury Dragon cake this year …

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This growing up thing is bitter-sweet. As much as I want you to be independent and do things for yourself, the thought of you not needing me anymore breaks my heart. Even Daddy said that at your party this year he felt like you never really needed us to be there. You played and ran and laughed with your friends, and it was the most beautiful thing to watch.

You are the most kind and caring boy, with an infectious laugh and the sweetest smile.

And to quote a lyric from a Styx song: “Don’t ever change, stay as sweet as you are…”

I love you my boy, forever and always.

DandA

 

 

 

 

 

Moira

I heard your voice in a supermarket the other day, Moira. I turned around, really expecting to see you standing there. The woman who the voice belonged to regarded me quizzically while I stared at her face expecting yours to materialize. For a moment I forgot that you are dead.

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There is no light way to say that. It is what it is.

Dead.

A young life snubbed by a disease no one ever wants to encounter.

Cancer.

I haven’t seen you in person in more than ten years, as you emigrated to Canada ages ago, but I remember your smile and infectious laugh so clearly. And how you used to put your fingers on either side of your tummy when you were pregnant with one of your boys to block their ears if someone swore nearby. You loved your two precious boys, Calvin and Julian, with all your might.

Facebook kept us in touch over the years, albeit superficially. Liking each other’s statuses and oohing and ah-ing at each others’ growing children’s photos. And then Gary was diagnosed with kidney cancer and you told me about your headaches and needing to go for a brain scan. It was nothing really, you said, and that you had tried everything to make the headaches stop. Drugs, physio, nothing helped. So the MRI was a last resort. They found a massive lump in your brain, which turned out to be cancerous. They operated, removed all of it, and you were in good spirits, and then some belated post-surgery complication a while later knocked you for six.

Dead.

It has taken me a few months to digest this, and write this post. Gary’s cancer was still very much an open wound when you died.

Dead.

Just like that.  I still have the last email you sent me; you were so positive: the headaches were gone, you were feeling stronger. Telling me how you had (almost) beaten cancer. You were commending me for being strong during Gary’s ordeal, encouraging me to be positive, even after the huge ordeal you had been through. You were going for radiation and joked about them frying your brain. You were struggling to sleep, but remained so upbeat, despite the doctors also having found lesions on your liver. So positive. Oblivious of the ticking time bomb in your own body.

And then a few days later I saw a mutual friend’s Facebook status: “RIP Moira.” And I was like “WHAT!” A few emails later confirmed the unthinkable. You were gone. Your boys were unmothered.

I think about your boys often, wonder how they are doing without their mom. (One of my biggest fears is dying while my children are still young.)  I think of your husband, I wonder if he feels lonely, or sad, or if he is angry at you for dying. I’m sure they all miss you more than anything. How does a child get over their mom dying prematurely?

I also think of how closely our lives were intertwined for those moments: Gary and you both dealing with cancer.

I still cannot process the fact that you are dead. It rips my soul apart every time I think about it.

Young people shouldn’t die.

Moms shouldn’t die dammit!

RIP Moira. (May God hold you safely in a special place.)

Three…

My Dear Caris
It seems like just the other day you were a thumpety-thump sound accompanying a grainy blob on a black and white screen. My surprise pregnancy. My “Oh my God, how am I going to tell your father” baby. I can still feel the tears stinging in the corners of my eyes when Professor Nicolaou said, “It’s definitely a girl”. A rose amongst the gang of boys we already had at home. Our very own girl-child, a little princess, a pink one!

If I cast my mind back to those first few weeks after you arrived, I sometimes struggle to find clarity in the memories, as it all seems like a life-time ago. There is definitely some truth in the saying “time flies when you are having fun” as the last three years are all but a blur! But I do remember the softness of your skin, your hair: soft like a puppy’s ears and your tiny fingers (with their teeny, tiny nails) grasping mine. And how much I already loved you when I saw your squashed little nose for the first time as the doctor put you on my chest, only seconds old. I remember how you loved to sleep, and how I used to wonder if we would ever know what colour your eyes were because they were always closed.

And now you are three!

caris 2 days

When I look at you now, it’s hard to imagine a helpless tiny baby, because what I see before me now is a proper little girl. A Big Girl who likes to do everthing “MYSELF!” A confident little lady who loves her dollies and the new Wendy-house. A sweetheart who loves to laugh (an infectious belly-laugh!) and occasionally irritate her big brother Alex (on purpose!)  A chatterbox who loves to talk on the phone, and who has hour long conversations with imaginary friends on the other end.  (Some who are called Salvador and Barcelona!) A little sister who loves her big brothers to the moon and back! A little miss bossy-boots who loves to dish out orders to everyone, including mommy and daddy. A little madam who loves to dress up like a princess (and iron?!?) A little social butterfly who loves to sing and dance and ask endless questions. A little koukla who loves the Greek word “ko-ki-no” and likes to announce it everytime you see anything red.  The sweetest little thing who makes us smile and laugh!

Wendy House

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It breaks my heart that you are growing up so fast, and that soon my little Big-Girl will be all grown up, talking on the phone for real and thinking about boys and make-up, instead of baby dolls and lego. So I am savouring the moments of your littleness; of your sweet smiles and requests to “Pick me up!” and ” I wanna sit with you”.

I love you to the moon and back my baby girl. Don’t grow up too fast!

Caris 3rd Birthday

hello kitty princess

Ten years

My love,

Ten years ago, when we both had fewer wrinkles and less responsibility, I read a poem to you on our wedding day. It speaks of love’s fragility and of allowing oneself to be vulnerable to another. It speaks of allowing oneself to trust another completely, of unconditional love.

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{Photos taken on our first weekend away together, almost 13 years ago}

Today, ten years later, nothing has changed in the way that I love you. Our love only gets stronger, and our bond only gets tighter. I thank you for the good times, and even the bad times as they help us strengthen the ties that bind us. Thank you for my children (my biological and acquired-by-marriage ones) who all bring me immense joy and love.

But most of all, thank you for just being you. For being my best friend and for loving me, unconditionally, no matter what.

Here’s to being together forever. I love you my darling, forever and always.

somewhere i have never travelled – e.e. cummings

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond

any experience, your eyes have their silence:

in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,

or which i cannot touch because they are too near

 

your slightest look easily will unclose me

though i have closed myself as fingers,

you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens

(touching skilfully, mysteriously)her first rose

 

or if your wish be to close me, i and

my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,

as when the heart of this flower imagines

the snow carefully everywhere descending;

 

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals

the power of your intense fragility: whose texture

compels me with the color of its countries,

rendering death and forever with each breathing 

(i do not know what it is about you that closes

and opens; only something in me understands

the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)

nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

The trouble with being little

Barring the last week, Alex has been having a bit of a rough time since school started again this year. Being quite a reserved child, he sometimes struggles to fit in with the crowd. I can relate, because I was never really a mainstream kid. He has always been quite an intense child, we even saw him frowning in-utero during his 4D ultrasound! Even from tiny, he would suss things out before engaging with a new group of kids, or trying out a new activity. He doesn’t particularly care for crowds and much prefers one-on-one attention. I always assumed that it was because he only started school at three, and was naturally shy, but the more I observe him, the more I realise that he is a little different to the other kids. And specifically to the other boys. But not in a bad way. Alex is a sensitive child, and is clearly a thinker (a trait he has gained from me, and from his dad, so he has a double dose!) He is always polite and waits his turn, sometimes to his own detriment, as the other kids barge in front of him. He is a worrier and seems to carry the weight of the world on his tiny shoulders some days.

When I see the boys in his class playing fighting games and running around pretending to shoot each other, I can understand why Alex prefers the company of girls; he is just not into that stuff. So as a result, all of Alex’s school friends are girls. But by the same token, he loves typical boy things such as cars, planes, ball games etc, and his latest obsession: vikings and dragons. He has told me on many occasions that he does not like the fighting games that the boys play, because they are too rough. (But he is perfectly happy to rough-house with Gary or his older brothers, go figure!) He loves anything to do with animals, and I could fully see him being a vet, or an animal rights activist, in the future. While the other boys are watching Ben 10 and Spiderman, Alex prefers “A dolphin tale” and “How to train your dragon” (and mainly because the dragon is a pet!)

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So the trouble began when we started school again this year, and his friend Bianca was not there. (She has some medical issues requiring surgery this year and her parents decided to home-school her.) The classes are always mixed up at the beginning of the year, and as a result there are new kids in his class, and only a few from last year. And more importantly, the girls are starting to only play with girls. Which leaves poor Alex in a bit of a quandary. We have many conversations on the way home that go something like this:

“Did you have a nice day boy”

“No. I had a terrible day”

“Why?”

“Somebody hurt my feelings”

“Who, boy?”

“Carmen…” (or Vicky or Jessica etc…)

“What did they do my love?”

“Nobody wants to play with me … ” (tears at this point)

“Why don’t you play with the boys then, sweetheart?”

“I don’t like fighting games.” (now full-on sobbing)

And my heart breaks for him.

Alex has been teary quite a lot at school too. His teacher has mentioned this to me on a few occasions and asked me if there are any major issues in Alex’s life right now. She told me that she has asked him if anything is bothering him, and he sometimes gets very teary and (after a lot of coaxing) says things like his tummy is sore or he is missing his brother (Stuart has been away in New Orleans since November last year.) And whilst on some days he is perfectly happy and full of the joys of spring, the kid is clearly on an emotional roller coaster. Being in grade 0 this year also means that the pressure has increased big time, so it is important that he feels settled. By the same token, if I see that he is feeling down at home and ask him what is wrong, he gives me lines such as “I don’t like that movie we saw… ” or “I don’t want to swim because the water goes in my eyes…” or some other random statement, but I never get to the bottom of what is really going on. And the more I ask him what is really troubling him, the more upset he gets.

As parents we just want our kids to be happy, but no matter what I do to try to understand what’s eating him up inside, I just can’t seem to get through to him!

Which brings me to another issue: the sore tummy. I have also been at the receiving end of many complaints of “my tummy is sore”, usually preceded by something he does not want to do, which at the moment is just about everything. Not wanting to go swimming, not wanting to go to bed, not wanting to go to soccer, not wanting to eat dinner, not wanting to tidy up, being refused a new toy at the shops etc. So to be honest, I have doubted that there is anything physically wrong with his tummy, and that he has just been using it as an excuse to get attention. However, I am also not insensitive to the impact that Gary’s kidney issue last year has had on Alex, as he has asked me many times: “What will happen if I get a lump on my kidney? Will I die?” And “What happens if daddy gets a lump on his other kidney? Will he die?” etc. I always try to reassure him that he is fine, and daddy is fine, and no-one is going to die right now. So for good measure, I decided to take him to the paed just to be sure, and the doc confirmed that there is nothing to be concerned about. I also got the good doctor to check his kidneys too, which are obviously fine, but I felt terrible when the poor boy whispered to me as we got into the car: “I was very nervous when Dr Slowatek checked my kidneys mommy!”

Breaks my heart some more.

So as much as he seems a little happier at the moment, I still think that he is carrying around some issues, which I don’t know how to help him resolve. I would guess that the problem lies somewhere between Bianca being gone, Stuart being away, and Gary’s health-scare, but when I ask him about any of these things he just gets upset, and cannot verbalise his true feelings. Maybe its none of these things and I am jumping to conclusions.

I have considered taking him to a play therapist, but I have heard so many mixed reviews about these types of therapies. Some kids blossom during the process, and for some it’s a total waste of time (and money.) And my cynical mind thinks that we never had the luxury of therapists to sort out all our problems when we were kids, and we ultimately turned out just fine. But I also appreciate that kids these days are under a LOT more pressure than we ever were. I also don’t want Alex to become completely withdrawn as he clearly already struggles to express his feelings.

So later today I have a meeting with the school psychologist… wish me luck! (And here’s hoping we get to the bottom of this!)

Hello 2014

I’m definitely not superstitious, but I’m starting to think that there is something to this “unlucky number thirteen” thing.

In a lot of respects 2013 was indeed a pretty unlucky year. There were many health challenges in my close family / friends. My dad was hospitalized in ICU for over a week with pneumonia and had to have a potentially dangerous hernia repaired and my mother in law broke both her arms at the same time.  Two of my close friends were diagnosed with breast cancer and had to have double mastectomies. Another friend had a cancerous tumour in her brain removed. Two friends lost their fathers, and another their brother. And not to forget the mother of all health scares: Gary’s cancerous kidney that now lives in a lab somewhere. Not only were there medical issues, but relationships ended too: two close friends went through unpleasant divorces / breakups, and Craig broke up with his girlfriend of five years.

A nasty year all round.

I realise that this is starting to sound like the blog post of doom and gloom… Let’s just say that by the time December rolled around, we all NEEDED a holiday, to put it mildly!

So enough of that already!

2013 wasn’t all misery and sadness, and despite the hiccups along the way, it was also a pretty good year:

Caris turned two!

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We went to Mauritius for a very brilliant ten days at Club med!

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Mauritius

Alex turned five!

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Alex lost his first tooth! (and his second!)

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I turned 40… but I’m not sure that is a good thing!

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We built a house! (which is pretty damn amazing, and the whole process went surprisingly smoothly)

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Stuart got his Civil Engineering degree! (Had to steal this photo from his FB page, as he is currently in New Orleans partying it up – been there since November and didn’t go to his actual graduation)

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Craig finished his articles, and is now officially a qualified attorney!

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So here’s to an amazing 2014. May it be prosperous, happy, and above all HEALTHY for everyone. (And here’s hoping I will find more time to blog this year!)

Is this a dream?

I started writing this post almost two weeks ago, amidst the craziest, most emotionally draining week of my life. I could not bring myself to hit publish, as if saying the words out loud made them real, and the real-ness of all this was something I was not quite ready for. The temptation to predict an outcome would have been too great. I just didn’t want to go there.

So now, with the clarity that only hindsight can bring, I have the courage to say this out loud. (Well, write it down anyway!)

Three weeks ago, my husband had cancer.

I say had, because right now the cancer is sitting in a jar in a lab somewhere. Along with his right kidney.

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(Post originally written in the early hours of the morning on 17 November)

Is this a dream?

I have possibly just had the most bizarre ten days of my life. As I write this, Gary is lying in a hospital bed recovering from major surgery.

… On Wednesday the 6th of November I received a call from my husband who was on his way to an early morning  meeting. He told me that he was in so much pain that he could hardly drive. As if someone had stabbed him in the back.

I was in the middle of the school run, so I told him to go to casualty at the hospital. (There had also been some blood in his urine that morning, so we suspected that he perhaps had kidney stones.)

When I got to the hospital, he was busy having an MRI scan, and then we waited (sort of) patiently for them to tell us he had kidney stones. The ER doctor came in and told us that he didn’t have kidney stones, but that the scan showed some sort of mass on his right kidney. (Which was bleeding…) It was one of those moments where time seemed to slow down and I could hear my heart beating in my ears. Apparently the severe pain was caused by the blood passing through the ureter, which also explained why his urine was the colour of Merlot.

He was admitted to the hospital, and before we knew it, he was in ICU hooked up to machines and monitors, and being pumped with pethidine to manage the pain and various other drugs to stop the bleeding, under the care of a (very brilliant) urologist. (Side note: the ICU is absolutely crazy. It’s filled with people who are incredibly ill, high on serious prescription medication, and who demonstrate some hectic, totally insane behaviour, like screaming, demanding attention, shouting for their spouses, undressing themselves and threatening the (very jaded) nurses. One guy apparently had to be restrained in his bed that night.)

A few more MRIs and a needle biopsy later, it was established that the tumour was about 8cm in diameter and cancerous. (Kidneys are about 12 x 6 cm.) My heart nearly stopped. I could feel the blood draining out of my face, making me feel light-headed. Every test that was done after that just seemed to give us more and more bad news.

The few days that followed that Wednesday morning are a complete blur. I cried myself to sleep every night, and spent my days in a haze of worry. I was so scared. I cannot even begin to imagine the thoughts that were going through Gary’s head while he was lying in that hospital bed. We did not dare have a conversation about what might happen. NOT knowing was absolute agony.  He was so strong. So positive. I tried so hard to be strong, for myself, for Gary, for my children, for everyone. I knew that he was angry that this had happened, as he lives so healthily, he eats well, exercises, hardly drinks alcohol and doesn’t smoke. This was a complete slap in the face of healthy living. By Wednesday evening, he was feeling terrible. He was in a lot of pain, and constantly retching and vomiting from all the drugs. At that point we still didn’t know what the mass was, so the what-if scenarios in our heads were playing havoc with our emotions. I left the hospital feeling petrified.  I did not dare allow myself to cry in front of the kids, the babies and the older boys included. The little ones knew daddy was away for a few days, and we left it at that. (Gary was actually supposed to be leaving for a golf trip the next day.)

On Thursday morning, I had an emotional breakdown outside the locked ICU door, begging them to let me see my husband. (There are no visitors allowed in the morning.) I did not mean to cry when they finally let me in, but I honestly could not stop the tears from falling out of my eyes. I felt so bad for letting Gary see me so upset, when he was the one stuck in a hospital bed, but I have honestly never been so scared in my life. My heart was completely broken. My mind was in over-drive, conjuring up all the worst-case scenarios, despite trying so hard to have only positive thoughts. I spent the rest of the week going backwards and forwards to the hospital, and trying to keep my sanity intact, and stop myself from crying every time I spoke to someone, or each time someone said that they were praying for us. My coping mechanism was to keep everything as normal as possible, despite offers from friends to help with the kids. So I just carried on as normal. Hard-core as someone pointed out. Little did they know that my emotional state was more fragile than a new-born baby bird.

But living in limbo is exhausting.

I feel guilty for feeling so broken when I am not even the one that this is happening to.

He was released from the hospital on the Saturday morning following the needle biopsy, and by Monday we knew that the mass was a cancerous tumour. The surgeon had literally spent hours analysing the various scans and test results to determine the best way to deal with the situation. It sounds crazy, but because of the bleeding, he could not see where or how the tumour was attached, and what had caused the bleed. The options were to remove the tumour and try to save some of the kidney function, which posed a risk of spreading the cancer, or remove the tumour and the kidney to be 100% sure that they removed all the cancerous tissue. And then we were thrown another curve-ball: the left kidney seemed to have impaired function, so he needed to be able to predict what was going to happen if the right kidney was removed.

The surgery was scheduled for Saturday the 16th of November. The surgery lasted almost six hours of (AKA the longest six hours of my life). The surgeon ended up removing the tumour, the right kidney, the adrenal gland and most of the ureter.

The kidney and it’s lump are gone from our lives forever.

And here I am, awake at 3AM, grateful that he is alive and that this awful experience is (mostly) behind us.

(Added today)

It is hard to describe the emotional roller coaster that we have all been through over the last three weeks since they found the tumour. I feel so jaded. My body has gone into survival mode following two weeks of little to no sleep, and I am now sleeping like I am in a coma. I feel exhausted all the time. I am still trying to digest the reality of all of this, and the impact that it has had (and will still have) on our lives. I am so grateful that we found out about the tumour, albeit in a very unpleasant way for Gary. The tumour was staged as T3A. Who knows what would have happened if it had continued to grow without us even knowing it was there. Oh. My. God.

Gary is doing well. He came home after only five days in hospital. The doctor was amazed at how quickly he has recovered, and he is getting stronger each day. He is in pain; a lot of pain, but each day he seems to move a little easier, and seems to feel a little better. He is a fighter of the highest degree. It’s a slow process, but in true Gary-fashion, he is embracing the healing process, being (sort-of) patient, and allowing himself time to heal. In fact he is already lecturing everyone on getting annual precautionary scans done of their organs. (A colleague was visiting Gary in hospital, and the doctor happened to be there and asked how he was. He replied “Clearly better than Gary!” to which the doctor replied “But how do you know?” A sombre thought, but a wake-up call for all of us to get ourselves checked.)

Incidents like this have a way of forcing you to take stock of your life, and question what is really important. They test your ability to survive, and how you react under pressure. They test the strength of your relationships. They test your belief in God. They make you consider your own mortality… I am grateful that our relationship is strong, and believe that we can get through anything together.

I found this quote posted by someone on Facebook a few days after this all happened, by Haruki Murakami, such perfect timing: “And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

I am definitely not the same person that walked into this, I am still feeling quite jaded and emotionally fragile. I am still afraid. But just like the physical scar on my husband’s body, with time this will heal, and our perfect lives will be normal again.