Ordinary things, extraordinary to witness…

The other day, we had friends visit with their dogs (3) so we could all go for a walk together. You might wonder what they are thinking having three dogs, so here is the back story:

We need to rewind 3 years, to when this all kind of got kicked off.

We live in a Catholic country. Our kids attend a school that is considered Catholic. Thus, they do Catholic-y type things like Communion (amongst other celebrations like Easter, Christmas, and so on). Because the kids are still of grade-school age, there are some kids who take their First Communion. There are also some kids who are not Catholic, and while there is no pressure from the school to participate, there is peer pressure. And to be quite cynical about the whole thing, that peer pressure isn’t about celebrating the Eucharist or about completing the third of seven sacraments. No, communion has becoming about the presents, the party, the pretty new clothes… so we parents who do not participate in this particular ritual often end up being required to offer a “spring ceremony” (lentefeest). Many families choose to offer a non-religious alternative to almost the same process as the whole First Communion celebration, while others do an activity as a family. In our particular case, we did an outing plus made the offer to TheMinecraftMaster that we would match his savings 1:1 so that he could afford to buy something he desired. We laid out an array of interesting options for an 8-year-old: an iPad, Nintendo, or similar or… and I kick myself to this day for suggesting this type of thing… a cat, rabbit, or even a dog. Bear in mind, we had 3 dogs of our own at the time, but we mentally categorised them in to two small indoor dachshunds (which really only make up one normal sized dog if you stacked them, doesn’t it?) and our elderly outdoor “guard” dog, who really lived indoors but mainly just remained in our media room napping.

Fully expecting our electronics-mad young man to select something of that ilk, imagine our surprise when he selected to have a dog. Not just any dog, but a Border Collie. We tried to dissuade him of his choice, but he was quite determined that it was a dog that he wanted, a dog of his own, and he was focussed on getting just that. Turns out, he did not have sufficient funds to afford a purebred, registered Border Collie, but we also learned his irresistible plea for a 50€ discount from our neighbouring backyard breeder was completely resistible. So, not thwarted by that, I turned to Google and found a rescue dog, 7 months old, that certainly resembled a Border Collie to us all. And fit within budget. We made an appointment to visit said dog. TheMinecraftMaster petted her and nodded that he wanted to take her home with us. He pulled out his saved up cash and duly paid for his dog. The fees are to cover costs like inoculations and sterilisation – in this case, chemical sterilisation which will need renewing in 2 years time. He even received 10€ back to “help him on his next endeavour” and headed for home with his Alopekis (this unfamiliar breed, and her story about getting from Greece to Belgium is another story for another time). He called her “Flower” and was so pleased with his new furry friend. It was spring, it was the Easter holidays, and the two bonded.

Fast forward to the summer. We cared for a friend’s cockerpoo, Darcy. He is a lively, bouncy, thrilled-with-life type dog, and loved being outside, so he hung out mainly with our elderly guard dog and Flower. Flower is a quiet, peaceful type, and Darcy literally ran circles around her. Luckily, the dogs got along, so while there were quite a few now (5!), it wasn’t that horrific. They spent most of their summer days frolicking outside. Darcy’s people collected him, and all was well…

Until 2 months later when one of us noticed Flower was seeming to get fat. She’s a slight dog anyway, and this wasn’t a big concern, but it was a little noticeable that she was slightly more rotund than usual. Excellent, she must be eating well, we all thought. A few days later, as I sat watching some tv with the dogs on the couch beside me, absent-mindedly stroking Flower, and her stomach moved. I immediately thought, “this poor dog as really bad gas.” And our elderly dog must have been letting a few choice farts go, but I blamed them on little Flower. It wasn’t until the next day, we started to piece together the fact that maybe, just maybe, Flower was expecting. But she was sterilised! We have the papers to prove it!!

The following day, during a lovely Sunday lunch with my gynaecologist and her family, we got on to the topic of TheMinecraftMaster’s dog and how we were worried she just might be pregnant. At this point, we weren’t positive. With an offer to be scanned that very day (I think Flower may be the only dog in Belgium with ultrasound baby photos), we learned dear little Flower was indeed “in the family way”.

What to do?! Surely there has been some mistake?! This can’t be happening… yet it was. And four days later, Flower gave birth to three healthy puppies. One puppy remained with us, one went to the father’s family, and the third went to our visiting friends. Our friends are extremely caring animal owners, and had recently suffered the tragic death of one of their dogs. The timing fit with adopting Flower’s puppy. Needless to say, since then, they also ended up with an extra dog than they expected when after adopting our puppy, they rescued another. Thus the three.

But, that’s not all, our elderly guard dog eventually crossed over the Rainbow Bridge, and we were persuaded into taking in a refugee Bouvier des Flandres. We now were up to five dogs living permanently at our place.

Are you lost? Here’s a summary, which ironically is also size based:

2 dachshunds
1 Alopekis
1 Alopekis/Cockerpoo cross, and now
1 Bouvier des Flandres

Visiting friends:

1 cocker spaniel
1 Alopekis/cockerpoo cross
1 Spanish rescue dog

And we all decided to take a walk together. Thus the visit.

We didn’t really think it out of the ordinary that we would set off with literally a pack of dogs. We also didn’t think it to be too odd when it was decided that maybe it would be a good idea to bring along Teddy, our spotted pony, for him to get the experience of being out and about with dogs and people.

We poured out of the front door with 7 dogs (the Bouvier was to join us later), startling some people cycling past. SweetViolet and I joined the group with Teddy and set off, we considered it perfectly normal that we would get together for a walk. The day was glorious, the company great, the walk pleasant, and it was lovely to get out after a prolonged period of dark, gloomy weather. A lot of people were out enjoying the day too, and we turned a few heads. With such a gaggle of 7 people, 7 dogs, and a pony, we took up the whole country lane.

Or at least we thought we did, until a piece of farm equipment – one of the big harvesters – lumbered our way.

Teddy was quite sure it was a pony-consuming machine, and he was fairly relieved when he survived the ordeal. The dogs strutted past other dogs confined to their yards. And we caught a few Pokémon along the way. We ended up walking in various formations, but always with the pony being the rear vanguard.

My mother, aka Shorty, intercepted us with the Bouvier, and now we numbered 8 humans, 8 dogs, and a spotted pony.

But looking back on that day, we must have be quite the sight! I can just imagine someone saying “the other day, there were eight dogs and a pony…” and their listener waiting for the joke’s punchline. Which will never come…

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Something old, or something new?

9F61E7C9-F7DD-4E08-94D9-248E8815C3EDHere we are again. At the beginning. The beginning of a new year, the beginning of new experiences, just The Beginning.

I learned recently what it means to accomplish something, not because I did, but because those around me did. I think I take for granted that I could – if I wanted to – build a raft, or computer, or what-have-you. I believe that if you can read, you can do ANYTHING. There are self-help books, on-line tutorials, experts to contact and consult. I have the sure belief that I can learn to do whatever I set my mind to… so queue the kids and their recent experiences:

Over the summer, TheMinecraftMaster decided he wanted friends to come to play, so we arranged a DIY “camp” and roped in a couple of adults to help. My other half, PoorGuy, decided to begin with a raft building exercise. Pffft, a raft, we all know how to do that! I’ve watched Gilligan’s Island, and even more recently, some survival-with-nothing-but-a-wet-noodle shows. I watched with interest as these kids hunted the property for branches and wooden palettes, hay baling twine and blue storage barrels, and set to sawing and lashing and laying out – in the pouring rain – the most butt-ugly, sure-to-sink-like-a-stone contraption. My heart sank to my stomach at the thought of the sheer disappointment these kids were going to experience when launching the raft on to our pond and find it just keeps going down into the muddy bottom…

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Fueled with food and enthusiasm, the rain eased and undaunted, and with no fear or doubt, the IntrepidExplorers bravely pushed their result to the concrete block edge of likely failure, and shoved their raft until it teetered over the edge and began its descent toward the water. All the adults held their breath. All the kids cheered as the front dipped and then sprang up and floated!!! The waterrats lept on like they pre-planned the whole thing, their choreography an impressive site to behold as they fanned out evenly to balance their monstrosity! They even thought of a life ring for the one who wasn’t a particularly good swimmer, should their fate be to sink halfway to their destination. And like bold explorers, they set off for the farthest shore, confident they were going to succeed with their quest.

We watched, and cheered, from the safety of the shore as they navigated their cumbersome behemoth of a raft toward their destination. With great determination, they arrived at the other side. They were triumphant! The glee was contagious, their engineered feat a success, and the thing that struck us hardened adults the most, was their sense of accomplishment was palpable. That pile of – to a non-understanding eye – floating flotsam and jetsam, of garbage, was to these boys at this time a complete work of art, something they created together, something that succeeded, that worked, something to make their hearts soar and minds sing. Those kids buzzed about this raft for the whole week, using it every chance they got, and so the tone for the week was set. By some old branches, a few wooden palettes, baling twine, and a goal.

As adults, we forget what simple accomplishments can do for our feeling of self-worth and confidence. It was, and still is, marvellous to think we had a helping hand in making these kids glow.

So, fast forward six months, and we are trying to decide what to give SweetViolet for Christmas. We finally settled on a Piper Computer, one that you piece together yourself. Wanting to engage SweetViolet more in technology, especially given the influence of TheMinecraftMaster, we hoped she would be happy with our choice. We are a pro-technology family, and know how to build our own computers anyway, but the Piper was a comprehensive package bundled in such a way that we felt would help facilitate learning.

I can’t extoll the amazingness of the Piper Kitset enough. They have carefully considered how to get a child started, how to engage them in continuing, and how to build the skills step-by-step. SweetViolet was quite keen to start assembling the computer, and her enthusiasm didn’t dwindle as she got further along, if anything, she was so stoked from the earlier successes, she was determined to keep going. The day she powered on her self-built computer was one of indescribable joy – so much so, she had to run outside to give out a huge shriek of pleasure at her accomplishment.

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Now, I know the sense of satisfaction I get from completing something, the feeling of pride of a job well done, but I have forgotten that surge of glee, of unashamed pride, of sheer delight at something you did. But I forgot just how wonderful it was to have that feeling. I am so pleased my kids got to have these experiences, and now I need to help guide them to having many more in future. And in the meantime, maybe, just maybe, I too will regain that amazing feeling myself.

To 2018 – a year of living gleefully.

Machiavellian


If you have a cunning, scheming, and conniving bent, you might be forgiven for thinking that maybe, just maybe, the Red Devils are playing cleverly. By throwing the game with Italy, they have paved their path to the European Cup finals along the easier route. It is a very Machiavellian notion that this was all thoroughly thought out in advance, but bear with me: they played Italy in a slow and deliberate way, with professional players who are paid millions to play in UK’s Premier League (the creme de la creme of football/soccer) “accidentally” missing their intended target by a couple of metres. Unusual. And if they throw that game, they still have a good chance of getting out of their pool – after all they are rated as the top team – but following a much easier line. Plus, the loss paints them as the underdog, and we all love supporting the underdogs, don’t we? Of course, when they win their next 2 games, people will just say they finally got it together as a team. No suspicion there, right? But those dark recesses of my mind can’t help but wonder if it was all planned…

Regardless, we are behind the all the way to win the European Cup 2016! GoBegiumGo!!!

A final goodbye: Mothers should never have to bid their child the final goodbye.

Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Today I looked into the face of the worst kind of loss. A mother’s loss of her son. It was heart-rending. And got me thinking. Here is a woman whose life has been changed forever. Not only because of her loss, but because of all her losses and the reality of the pain her entire family is about to experience, for she is also a stage 4 cancer patient.I attended the funeral of her adult son. I was never given the pleasure of meeting him, but I went because I always believed that you attend a funeral for those who remain. I had shared a brief period in her life, and wanted her to know that she had support, even if I barely knew her. She has been touched with such tragedy, it is hard to comprehend, and without the support of those whose lives have crossed paths, how can she be expected to survive the pain and loss?

The pain

My daughter and I stood in an over-flowing church, when I began to wonder about the process. Despite being an atheist, there is something comforting about the ritual. You get a chance to grieve. But, are you grieving for her loss, or many of your own? For the fear you have of your own losses, or for a life brought to an untimely end – with no one and nothing to blame? The funeral took an hour and a half, consisted of readings, prayers, agonisingly painful music and all I could think was no matter when it ended, it was going to have been all too brief for the family. As sad as it was, when it ended, that would be the last goodbye. It would be over. He’d be gone for good. If it were me, I’d be willing to stay in that church forever. I wouldn’t want the ceremony to end. As the priest was winding down, he closed his sheaf of papers, and it felt like he slammed closed one’s heart. A gesture that felt like his life was summarily done.

On a regular basis through the whole experience, for reasons I cannot fathom, I burst into tears. I cried for the potential that was so abruptly taken. I cried for a mother’s pain and loss. I cried for her family and their imminent loss of their mother and wife. I cried because it was the saddest situation. I cried for no real reason. I cried for my own beautiful, loving, healthy, talented daughter and son.

I held my little girl’s hand, and her smile as she looked up at me made me wonder how any mother can survive such a loss. I think my heart would turn to stone and stop pumping. I can’t imagine not feeling her soft hand, caressing her childish cheek, kissing the top of her head. I can still feel my babies’ weight on my chest moments after they were born – they have left permanent impressions.

She must still have the imprint of his newborn weight on her heart.

It got me thinking, watching this ceremonial ritual of the final goodbye, about my own final goodbye. I live in a country that is predominantly Catholic. This got me wondering what options do those who aren’t religious have when it comes to your own funeral. Are we able to have our own party? Do we just get shovelled into the furnace unceremoniously? Are we allowed to “use” the local church but without all the god and Jesus talk? We need the ceremony. We need the ritual. We need the tradition. We need the chance to grieve for another and ourselves in an approved place and at an approved time, without fear of mockery or questioning our grief. What are your plans? Do you hope your funeral will have standing place only? Do you want something small and quick or big with fanfare? For those you leave behind, have you thought about how you’d like them to say their final goodbye to you? Do you care? And if you don’t, I suggest you attend the funeral of a 23 year-old young man, full of promise, love, and hope.

Editted to add: I wrote this almost 2 years ago. Since then, this brave woman, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend has joined her son. I wish the family the strength and courage to carry on. I will always remember her bravery in the face of a terrible disease, where sometimes the “cure” is worse than the illness. 

Behind the smile…

“Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.”

I read this recently, and it dredged up many mixed feelings for me. I hate when people say “it happened for a reason.” No, a lot of crappy thing happen for no reason other than that’s the way life works. Deaths, accidents, and disease are all built into our lives. There is no avoiding one of these instances, and live long enough, all three will visit you. Inevitably.

When these grim reminders of life visit you, it is necessary to grieve. You will find those around you – close or acquaintances – will struggle with how to reach you. Many will stress that just saying “sorry” is hollow and insufficient. But that’s just not true. The best thing is to reach out to someone who is suffering through a death, accident, or disease.

I heard a story, which I will attempt to re-tell here. There was a little girl whose friend in her class died. She was distraught, and wanted to visit her friend’s parents. Her mother wasn’t keen to intrude on the family’s grief, and wasn’t sure that her 7-year-old would help. But she gave her daughter permission to visit. The daughter walked to her friend’s house with her mother, and they were invited in and offered a drink. The mothers sat together and drank coffee, saying little. The daughter found her friend’s father sitting in the living room, doing nothing. She climbed into his lap and said nothing. She just cried. She just sat in his lap and cried with him. It was all she could think to do. It was all she could do.

I know when my father died, had someone come over to cry with me, it would have be amazing, uncomfortable, touching, odd, and perfect. Others can’t take your pain, can’t say something to ease the grief, can’t do anything to make you feel better. You have to figure out for yourself how to carry on your life, taking this burden with you. But having someone sit with you does help. Just knowing someone is there is all. Your life will never be as it was, but you will find away to fit the shattered pieces back together again – just not in the same way, and now with a lot of cracks that may give way again and more easily in future, if stressed.

The pain cannot be fixed. But your smile may someday light up your face again, and your life will continue, but look a whole lot different than you ever imagined. I just hope you will have someone who cares enough to come and cry with you.

No Fear

En route to the Eurostar on Sunday, catching it in St Pancras to come home, and we stopped in King’s Cross for the obligatory Platform 9 ¾ photos, then for lunch. While ordering our meal, we were ordered quite calmly to evacuate. Got me a little nervous thinking I may have brought my kids into harm’s way… And then, standing at the exit waiting to get out, thinking it was the perfect location to set off one’s suicide vest.
Naturally, forgot my purse in the restaurant, so found a bench a long way from any blast zone, and made the kids wait for me there with Granny as I ran back into the building. As I ran, all I could think was all our documents were in there, and was I running into danger. Would it have been worth it? I also ran through some scenarios in my head – worst case, we miss our train and have to figure out how to get our identity papers back. But actually, worst case is I could have left my kids motherless, yet I never had that thought go through my head.

Got to the station entry. It was like nothing ever happened. People milling around inside again. People sitting down to their meals. Shop-front barricades back up, coffee shop still steaming milk. Did it really happen? Was I imagining it? Rumour has it, someone with a backpack on went running into the station faster than was ‘normal’ and the cameras picked it up, triggering the alert.
Found my purse. Ran back to hug the kids.

Float like a butterfly!
Come on, we’re boarding!

The kids were a little nervous, quite confused, but took it all in their stride. They even puzzled over the fact that the person making the announcement was so calm, and thought that strange. In the meantime, no way I wanted to re-enter King’s Cross. Nevertheless, funny how one settles back down into the status quo.

Didn’t we just celebrate the holidays…?

How can it be that time of year already? Didn’t we just ring in 2015 recently? How can time speed by so quickly?

I once read the phrase “the clock ran away with the time,” and it has stuck with me all these years (actually, decades) because that is what is happening. And why am I obsessing over time? I guess I am looking back on all my adventures and no longer recognise my life. Maybe I should be entitling my blog as “Career, Kids, and Cancer” for that is how my life seems to have unfolded since leaving the hallowed halls of academia as a fresh faced youth with my newly conferred BA.

I was a philosophy major. I emerged from a very prestigious university expecting to finally know what I was going to be when I grew up. I was grown up after all, wasn’t I? I was the holder of my very own credit card, allowed to drive, drink, and do all that adult stuff I so longed to do in my childhood. So, when perusing the job ads, I guess it was not unexpected that there were no requirements in any business for a Philosopher.

What happens to Philosophy majors? Other than the obvious mocking we must all endure from those with “real” majors and meal-ticket degrees? Where do we go, what do we do, how do our lives unfold? Well, stick around, and I will recount the route I took to get to where I am today!

I’ll be talking to myself again soon. Until later!