Saturday, June 27, 2009

Surprised by the beat

This time of year makes me think about the years I worked at summer camp (and I’m grateful I’m not working there any more!) One summer my sister and I went to California to work at Camp Mt. Crags/Camp Gilmore.

A lot of the staff had grown up spending summers as campers there, and now were back as camp staff, so they all knew each other really well. So my sister and I mostly hung out with the foreign staff. As orientation week went on, our group sort of loosely formed into a pack of six – Jon, Marcus, and Ed, Melissa, Helen (my sister) and me.

It was a Christian camp, and our evening sessions often involved some singing. One night the camp cook ( who was the drummer in the worship band) cut his finger preparing dinner so he couldn’t play.

Marcus offers (in that understated British way) ‘I can play the drums a bit if you’re stuck’ and sits down at the drum set.

Well. Now.

1. Good looking
2. Funny
3. English accent
4. Plays drums

I hadn’t realized until that point in my life that the ability to play drums was a desirable quality. I think it was the icing on a particularly fanciable cake.

That was 15 years ago this week! He doesn’t get to play the drums that much any more, but he did make me a delicious cappuccino this morning AND change a ferocious nappy.

This story is part of my friend at Mylestones' Stories in My Pocket series. I'm not sure how to do the pretty link thing, but go to her site and read her great stories!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A cow, a car, and a fairy

These are the three respective images on three respective nursery walls I have stared at as I fed my babies. Mostly I would let my mind wander, sometimes close my eyes, but I would again and again notice the quizzical look in the cow’s eyes, the way the car sticker wasn’t on straight, the fairy who was bigger than her castle.

I’m soppily reminiscing (about wall stickers! That are still on the walls!) because I have given my last breastfeed.

I have found breastfeeding a mixed experience. With my first baby it was sooooo hard and painful and worrying (she didn’t gain weight well) and if somebody KIND had suggested I switch to bottles, I would have. But our public health nurse was bossy and dismissive which just made me stubborn. And the lady from La Leche came to my house, told me I was a good mom, offered loads of advice and kept calling for the next few weeks to see how I was getting on. So I did what she suggested, because she was nice.

The second time around, I knew what I was doing, I had a bigger, hungrier baby (he fed more, gained weight quicker, everyone was happy) and all was great. Until he cut 4 teeth at 5 months, and practiced them on me every chance he got. He would chomp, I would yelp, he would cry and refuse to feed for a day, until I was begging him, for both our sakes.

Then this third baby, who is good as gold in every way (so far) and feeding was no exception. This time round, I’m working more – specifically, leading a toddler group and a Baby Song group. The baby came with me, I would have to sit down to feed her, and often someone would sit down beside me to have a little chat. Maybe it’s because we were sitting side by side instead of face to face (or maybe it’s because I was vulnerable, with my shirt hoiked up) but those would always be the most meaningful, pastoral and spiritual chats, as I sat feeding the baby.

The only thing is I would get very dizzy the first couple minutes of each feed. So dizzy I had to shut my eyes and couldn’t talk. At home, I would just do it, even if I was in mid-sentence. Marcus said it was like a robot shutting down. But I couldn’t do that if someone was wanting to talk to me, so I had to fight to keep my eyes open.

I never covered my baby up with a blanket. I never fed a baby in the bathroom. I wouldn’t ask people if they minded or drew attention to it. I just discretely fed.

And now...sniff…it’s time to move on. I handed her little pajama-ed self to Daddy who was waiting with a cup of warmed milk. I’m a ticking time bomb of hormones now, the next couple weeks or so they will be building up (I plan to go see My Sister’s Keeper this weekend, just to have a good cry) then we’ll all be okay.


Sunday, June 21, 2009


A recent rather nasty flu virus has just been chased off our property, with a few lingering shouts of 'I'll get you next time!' We sigh and put down our weapons -- calpol and nurofen, damp cloths and sick bowls -- and turn to survey the destruction left behind. While the details may change, this enemy has a plan of attack we're familiar with:

1. The virus hops aboard a double agent -- a child from toddler group/baby song/pre school. That child sneezes or dribbles or coughs in the face of one of our own. Thumb in the mouth, virus comes to our home.

2. Infected child does not show signs of illness, except being slightly over-sensitive and refusing to eat dinner. Not realizing the fugitive being harbored in that little body, I blame stubborness on bad behaviour and lack of appetite. Naughty steps are sat on. Dessert is witheld. Tears are shed. Guilt is imminent.

3. Sometime in the middle of the night (this enemy loves the cover of darkness) the child who was forced to eat dinner wakes up crying, usually with said dinner all over the bed. Late-night sheet changing, temperature taking, medicine administering. And planning for how to handle the next day -- the doctor's office will inevitably be closed, the day will inevitably be very busy, any potential child care will inevitably be unavailable. Schedules will need to be re-adjusted.

4. The first day of illness, I can be sympathetic soothing mom. As the injured foot soldier lies listlessly on the couch, I bring pillows and coax drinks and allow TV, saying 'Oh poor you'.

5. The ill child has a need to be close to me. As close as possible. On my lap, arms around my neck. Closer-- as if trying to get under my skin, to swim through my veins. The virus loves this -- it makes the next stage, infecting me, that much easier.

6. The details of step 6 are changeable -- how many children will be ill, the height of the fever, extra fun symptoms like a rash or gooey ear or eyes crusted together. What is definite is sleep will be interrupted (further to the plan of infecting mom).

7. Here we go. I start to feel achy or nauseous or sore throaty, and wonder how well I washed my hands the past few days and how many snotty noses have been wiped on me in their desperate hugs. The transfer has been made. The virus attacks the mother ship.

8. So, I am ill. But it is guaranteed that :a) For some reason, Marcus will be unavailable to help(out of town, or an important meeting, or something un-cancellable) and b) the children will be well enough to be bouncing off the walls, but still residuedly ill so they cry at the drop of a hat, scream at the changing of a channel, and demand the treatment they received back at step 4.

9. I fight through it. I drag my poor, poor sick self out of bed, and do the bare minimum of food and basic hygiene for the family. There usually is something that we really need from the store, but the thought of dragging my feverish bones (and three still slightly ill children) out is too much. We eat cracker sandwiches. I take children's fever medicine myself (the orange flavor is not bad, the starwberry, yuck). I am a grizzly bear, growling and swiping at the kids, shuffling grumpily through the house, until we finally make it to bedtime.

10. The pressure eases, a bit. The children are well enough to go back to nursery. Marcus is home and can help. I feel slightly better, but would still love that day in a sick bed that I missed when he was away. The laundry and housework had piled up when I was in grumpy bear mode, so I prepare to ask him to throw in a couple loads while I take a nap. And then what happens? THEN WHAT?!

11. He gets sick. I don't get my sick day. He gets it. And with half-strength, the last few skirmishes of the war still being fought behind my eyes and in my joints, I try to take care of him. I can't manage sympathetic and soothing, and feel like a cold-hearted wife to my feverish husband.

12. Why is that child asleep at 5 pm? Is that the tail end of this virus we've just fought off, or is it a new one...

Saturday, June 06, 2009


Last week we were in Belfast for a Salvation Army Congress -- a series of large gatherings for all those who are part of The Salvation army in Ireland (both the Republic and Northern Ireland). Since it was held over two days, and we live about 2 ½ hours away, we decided to stay overnight in a hotel in the city centre of Belfast.

Saturday evening we went to the celebration meeting – singing, bands, preaching, praying, testimonies, even flags and timbrels. Plenty to explain to the kids in the car to the hotel – very different from our small, local, un-churched way of worship. They were still pretty dazzled (and worn out) as we parked the car and walked in to the hotel lobby.

There was a wedding reception being held in the hotel, and Alannah especially was very taken with all the dressed-up people. Then I spotted the bride, so I led my girl by the hand to go look at her (from about 10 feet away). Look at her pretty dress. Oooh, she has a crown in her hair. And lovely jewels in her necklace. The bride was in conversation but she noticed us and smiled. I think she liked an unknown little girl oohing at ahhing at her beautiful dress on her special day.

As we went to the lift, we spotted some other young women. Now, the way they had dressed wasn’t entirely to my taste. The skirts were just on the short side of modest, the tan on the orange side of fake, the make-up on the caked side of thickness. But my girl said, loud enough for them to hear ‘Oooh, SHE looks pretty!’ and the hearer giggled and beamed, less demure than the bride but just as happy that someone liked the way she looked.

In the lift, I told Alannah and Charlie (and Marcus too, because men need reminding, don’t they) that if you think someone looks nice, you should say so, because everyone likes to hear that they look nice.

Up we went to our room and began to get changed for bed. I took off my Salvation Army skirt, which is unforgiving to say the least, and I had been wearing it all afternoon and evening. Alannah looked at me and the mark the slightly too-tight waistband had left on my skin.
‘Mommy! Your tummy looks like bacon!’

Some things, my darling girl, do NOT need to be said.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


I can vividly recall some scorching sunburns of my youth.

The kind where you are so hot it hurts to wear clothes. You try to lie down but your skin heats up your sheets and pillow. Your head pounds, your skin tightens and you just emit heat like a blinking neon sign. Then, a few days later, you can peel great sheets of skin, like a molting snake, off your back and arms and nose. And years later, you are still paying the price of that sun damage...

My mother tried. We would put sunscreen on when we were on vacation to the beach . But a woefully inadequate amount, and probably just once, and it was probably only SPF 15, and was probably left over from two summers before.

I did get a very very bad sunburn that was entirely my own fault, as an adult, when I fell asleep on a beach in Australia. Marcus and I frantically searched through all our toiletires to see if any contained aloe. The only one that did was his travel-size can of shaving foam, so I smeared that all over my legs. I was 10 weeks pregnant at the time and the smell of the shaving cream made me throw up, but jumping up to go to the bathroom made me scream because of my sore legs. They swelled up the next day and I could hardly walk for a week.

So, I determined that as long as my children's skin was my responsibility, I would make sure they didn't get sunburnt. When I just had the one PFB (Precious First Born) I was vigilant. This child is particularly fair, to the point you can see the veins in her face. Suncream, hats, buggy shade everytime we walked into town, much less played in the garden, went to the park, or went to the beach -- all factor 50, which is so thick it doesn't rub in, so we called her the ghost baby.

Along came child 2. His first summer we obviously kept him out of the sun, and the second was pretty miserable with hardly any sun the whole summer. So the suncream wasn't an issue.

Then last summer, a sunny weekend comes along, we put some sunscreen on them both and the next day, child 2 comes out with a rash. Now, that day happened to be 1) a bank holiday -- no doctor's office open and 2) the day before I was to be induced with child 3, so i didn't really fancy lugging the boy to an out-of-hours clinic. (he didn't have any other sympotms, just a rash, so it's not like I was being that negligent).

The summer was again grey and rainy, but I didn't notice because I had a 3 year old, a 2 year old, and a newborn. We mainly watched TV and breastfed our respective baby/dolly/bin lorry.

Another sunny day came in September (you may think I'm exaggerating the greyness of a Dublin summer, but I'm not) so as an 'experiment' I put sunscreen on the boy again. otherwise known as I forgot that the last time he had it on he got a rash. So he got another rash.
Hypothesis: My 2 year old is allergic to sunscreen.
Method: 1. Put sunscreen on 2 year-old.
2. See if he gets a rash
Result: Allergic to sunscreen.

With all this in mind, I had meant to go to the chemist (pharmacy) and ask them what sunscreen I should get for him. But I didn't get around to it before this weekend, since it's been grey and rainy here. But then we went away to a Belfast this weekend and....

The sun shone! (I honestly never would have predicted that)
A lovely day with the lovely Ali and her lovely family included lots of playing in the lovely sunshine.

But that afternoon, on my child 1 (the PFB) cheeks. Pink arms. And the mommy guilt. (The sunscreen-allergic boy, by the way, didn't get burnt at all). Would she have an awful, burning, tossing and turning night, with a headache and peeling and agony?

Well, no, becuase it was Belfast, after all, not Hilton Head or Australia. She was fine the next day.




(and they are so absolutely adorable, I'm tempted to let her run around without sunscreen more often so she gets even more!)

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