Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Reptiles, Robin Hood, Pirate Treasure and C

We have been LOVING this summer.

Things are hotting up in preparation for my little (taller is irrelevant) brother's wedding. Pickle is going to be a Flower Girl. I thought I was unsentimental, but she did a little twirl when she tried the dress on and it brought a tear to my eye. The day may be very emotional. It will be the first wedding I've been to since my own and I hope I have what it takes to read the words Jake and Stacey have asked me to. Meanwhile, Pickle has been getting into the theme with her cousin, making good use of my mum's old chemo wig.

We have been to field parties. Here Pickle is wearing pirate trousers, a flamenco dress, a train engineer tabard and a hard hat.

We went to Chagstock, the festival with the most amazing views, and discovered that if you get right to the front and stand right in the centre, you miss a lot of the amplification which is too much for Pickle's ears, so there we stayed and had a brilliant dance to reggae and ska bands. Earlier, Pickle had been very enthusiastic to hold all the snakes and reptiles she could get her gentle hands on.

She was even unafraid of the T-Rex we met in The Eden Project. I was a bit scared, though, so she cuddled me tight. Turns out dinosars are hard to photograph.

We have gloried in the longtime sun,

 found shade when it got too hot

and water just when we needed it.

Although we have mostly been about dinosaurs lately, we did make time for some interactive theatre sword and bow training with Robin Hood himself at Powderham Castle.

We have had cooler days, but they have just been an opportunity to make fashion history. (Read that whichever way you like.)

Even at home there have been adventures. We have, over the course of many hours, tunnelled through the unexpected raspberries and totally expected brambles to reach Thomas's shed and found many wonders therein. And only last night, Kwazi (a pirate cat Octonaut) gave me a real pirate treasure map for Pickle.

She started hunting straight after breakfast and found real treasure! THEN she discovered it was made of chocolate. I think she was pleased.

Meanwhile, Thomas's work is accruing in my Etsy shop. I might do some mini-posts when I put up a new artwork, but here's his C picture for now. How many can you spot?

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A Time to Rest, plus Breasts, Beer, Boots - oh, and a Baby

So, my husband died and I've had a couple of years adjusting to the emotional and practical realities of single parenting while grieving him. I have stopped hoping that one day I will feel unmitigated joy again. Those times have gone. No matter how good, it would always be better if I could be there with him, or catch his eye at the funny moment, or tell him about it afterwards. Or see his pride in our marvellous daughter. Or hers in him.

But all is not lost. Being diagnosed as coeliac was a hassle I didn't want to confront so soon after Thomas's death, but I feel physically and emotionally so much better for being off the gluten which freaks out my body. I feel I am a new and improved person and I wish Thomas could have known me now.

The BRCA1 diagnosis a year in was a real blow and I wish I had known in advance it would take another whole year before the surgeon agreed to take off my breasts. But now I am healing beautifully  and my good girl is over the insecurity she felt when she saw the person who forms her bedrock so vulnerable. She has a new Big Girl bed and is relishing this rite of passage. It has confirmed to me how often unpleasant and difficult behaviour in children is a result of a need not being met - most likely not recognised, perhaps even by themselves. I doubt us grown-ups are much different. Who amongst us, with all needs met and held safe in a loving community against future needs, would rock the boat? No - then we call down the strong winds and sail on, leaving laughter in our wake.

So it's been a tough couple of years but I feel I'm over the highest hurdles. The grief marathon is always the most gruelling thing, but I have found a pace I can maintain and I have friends handing out water at regular intervals. I can do this. It would seem to be a time to rest and recuperate now. To focus on my creativity, on doing all those extra things I plan with Pickle. To really make my home the way I would love it to be and to read all those enticing books which line my walls. I feel I have earned a few years of just being, letting the sadness ebb and flow as it will and savouring all the good things I have summoned to myself as Pickle grows and learns and flourishes. I feel I deserve a bit of a life-holiday.

But that is just not my style. I am naturally more of a headlong-into-the-storm kind, so years of taking it easy just don't sound like fun. No. What I actually need in my over-stretched single-parent life, I have decided, is another child.
Yes! I hear you cry. What a sane and practical idea! We totally see how this will work out fine.
Great. I'm so glad you agree.

However, there is still the tricky matter of how. Although Thomas never acquired the organisational skills to keep a pair of socks within the same continent, he was all over the sperm-production side of things and so I rather left that to him and failed to learn how to do it myself. I can get very Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves about fixing stuff or re-pressurising my boiler or deciding a law is unjust and trying to get it changed (a story for another day), but this baby lark, which is what us women are supposed to be good at, has me stumped. I need help.

I was all set to adopt, but reading the blogs and message boards online gave me a more realistic picture than the one presented by the agencies and I felt it was too big a risk for Pickle, having already lost her Dada, to bring someone into our family who was damaged in some way and would need so much from me that I might have too little left for my beloved girl. I was sad to let that idea go and remain sad about all the children in such devastating need of love and security, but I no longer think I can help them. Fostering, some long way into the future, is still an option.

Of course then I thought of all the many ways I could find myself pregnant. Some felt immediately repulsive, others I took a couple of tentative steps into exploring before turning back. After years of essential oils and herb healing, living very close to the land and spending long times silent, of buying organic and loving nature with increasing devotion, I found myself left with one option: a clinic.

In so many ways this is not where I ever expected to be. Of course I thought I would have breasts my whole life. I thought my husband would live into his fifties and, if he survived his first heart transplant, into his seventies. I thought I would make children the easy and fun way. I thought a lot of things. What I think now is that the universe is clearly following some plan other than my own but I daren't ask for change because right now that plan includes my daughter being happy and healthy and bright and by my side. There is nothing I would swap for that.

But I am aware of Pickle's other side. Her lonely side. It would of course be best if Thomas were holding her other hand, or even if there were a little string of paper-doll children joining one of our big hands to the other. Many people, including me, think it would be best for Pickle if I had another relationship. I just can't. I'm not ready and I don't want to and No. Sorry but No. So what if she had a little sibling? Even a smaller person would bring complexity to our intense fire girl-fire woman dynamic and I think that would be a very good thing. I am aware of how desperately needy I am of Pickle. I try to hold myself tall and never lean, but I fear doing it and I would never want her to feel she had to supprt the weight of my need and my sorrow alone. What she needs is a friend and all siblings are great friends, right? Right. So, to the clinic.

I had visions of a no-drugs way, but have discounted that. I don't want to waste time on a process with such a low success rate (I will not really feel safe until my ovaries are out) and I don't want to spend thousands of pounds I don't really have. (Do please pop along to my Etsy shop!) But most of all I really do not want to go through the rollercoaster of trying and failing any more times than I have to because I cannot do that without dragging poor Pickle round with me. No matter how Fine thank you! I pretend to be, I look round to find Pickle face down on a shop floor screaming her heart out and I think, Yes, I feel like doing that too.

So, I have settled on the cosy-sounding Gentle IVF. Essentially, a much lower dose of drugs to force my blessed body to ovulate within office hours (a true fact!) and only one fertilised egg implanted at a time because a multiple birth seems laughably ridiculous. So ridiculous, in fact, that it could still happen, but I hope not. One sibling for my girl. One more child for me. Then an oopherectomy (isn't that a lovely word?) and then all I have to do is raise two children single-handedly. Phew! And I said I didn't want a rest.

Meanwhile, Thomas is busy supporting this whole crazy enterprise with his artwork. Here is the latest addition to my Etsy shop, a combination of all his favourite things, it seems:

If I am able to bring a new person into this world, I know I will sadly miss having a strong partner by my side and keenly mourn the loss of my breasts too, but in my madness I somehow feel this new child will never be quite fatherless, even if they cannot or do not find their Donor Dad. There will always be a tune on the breeze from one of the finest fathers I have had the honour of knowing.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Scarvage, Ash Man and a Bagpiping Angel

So, into Week Three of life with no breasts and all remains well. Much of the bruising and swelling has gone, so Pickle is no longer saying, 'At least you've got little breasts Mama' and the dressings are off. That was more of a Thing than I had anticipated. Although I knew what to expect, actually seeing my scars made me feel much more vulnerable and I didn't dare do my physio exercises for two days until a midwife friend explained the obvious - that the stitching of the muscle is much more robust than the tiny, pretty stitches they do on the skin. So, Pickle and I are doing my silly exercises and, although I have more mobility every day, she still delights in being the best.

I can feel (enough to make me gasp) the moment when a nerve ending pings back into supersensitive life. They seem to come in clusters and may be encouraged by acupuncture. It's a good thing, of course, but if I get a lot at once it's hard to hold a conversation. My body continues to astound my mind. The other day Pickle was industriously cutting things out and sticking them to other things so I could dance and dance and dance for hours. I could feel my limitations, but I had enough scope to express the music and that made for a very happy day afterwards.

I am feeling less inclined to even have back-up foobs. In a few weeks I'll be photographed because it is such a very rare choice not to reconstruct that the photos used by the breast care nurses are of old surgical styles (much straighter lines; I'm glad I got the new flowing kind). At the same appointment I'm supposed to be fitted for falsies in a pocket bra but I can't imagine wearing that now. I imagine I'd be so embarrassed to suddenly have breasts for the day and I can't think of an occassion when I would want to disguise my true shape. Sometimes I feel angry that there is such a strong supposition that I would want to at least pretend to have breasts. Pretend for whom? It feels like part of the narrative of shame around women's bodies. Reconstruction - in all the various wonderful ways it can be achieved - is fine. Wearing foobs is fine. And doing neither is fine. These choices are, in fact, no-one else's business (she blogged). So, I have experimented with exposing a bit of scarvage (scar cleavage). It was kind of an accident because I hadn't realised my v-neck dress would pull down further when I tied my jumper round my waist, but when I noticed I decided to carry on as I was. I wouldn't hide that piece of skin if it had breasts either side and I wouldn't hide the ends of those scars if they were elsewhere. And guess what? No-one swooned, vomited or even particularly noticed. Another Thing relegated to a mere thing. I do, however, have a tattoo planned, but that's a while off and I'm not telling until it's done.

Meanwhile, back at the screenface, two more of Thomas's drawings are up for sale in my Etsy shop.
Ash Man:

I am enjoying my new metallic artist pens and it won't be long before I can show you the results of my play. I mean work. And I was shortlisted in a poetry competition, which was pleasing and reassuring. I can feel my need to write in a more serious way gathering momentum. Watch this space...

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Against All Expectations

Against all expectations, life without breasts is almost indistinguishable from life with breasts. I'm sore and doing physio to regain mobility as my skin tightens around the scars. The drains were a pain and so disabling (although Pickle did appreciate me having tentacles like an Octonaut character) but they were out on Day 4. I'm still waiting for big emotions. Maybe they'll come. I know for some women it's months before they grieve their breasts. Of course I'm hoping I got sufficiently angry and sad and self-pitying and frightened when I first knew I would lose them, so that work is done. I've hoped that before and generally found I've just completed Stage One. Watch this space.

I've been to a couple of parties in a low-key way. At one, my first time with a group of my friends, I got hot in the sun and felt self-conscious taking my cardigan off to reveal a figure-hugging top underneath, swollen only by bruising and a little fluid under the skin. The moment turned out to not really be A Moment at all. I sat in the sun. I talked to my friends. I got tired and walked home, Pickle stoically carrying everything in her backpack. I made a simple tea and we went to bed. The next morning I was pleased to note that my yellow and purple stripy socks were perfectly matched to the colours on my chest. It's always good to accessorise.

Even the actual surgery was okay. I lay on the most wonderful mattress of heated gel (appparently it's really cold in theatre) and wished I could hang on to the sensation of being so warm and comfortable while the cold white anaesthetic burrowed into my arm. Bliss...

I was in a child space when I woke and spent a minute crying for my husband. A lovely nurse assured me we could phone him when I was back on the ward and I think welled up herself when I said (sobbed) that we couldn't because he died. Then that passed and I was more concerned with what the HELL was happening to my legs! In my drugged-up state it felt as though they were being alternately squeezed in inflating tubes. Turns out that was actually happpening (sometimes life is so weird) to prevent blood clots. Then I decided it felt quite nice and drifted off again.

I could have come home the same day but was still needing a steadying arm to get to the loo, so stayed in hospital reading and eating crisps. (Honestly, I'm not sure I warrant any sympathy at all.) I didn't need any painkillers for the first 24 hours because I still had anaesthetic in my system. I've been on regular paracetomol since but am wondering if I really need it. Might wait and see how it is with my dressing off. The hospital are too busy to take it off this week as planned, but my lovely nurse friend will do it with me. There's only so long it can be a good thing to wrap a wound in plastic in the summer.

So now I am pretty functional. I can't carry much or hoover or iron (I don't actually own an iron) and I can't open or close my windows. This morning I feared a stiff jar lid might get the better of me, but it gave up before I did. Pickle is wonderful. The day I came home she placed, with exquisite care, a row of kisses across my jumper. How could I not heal after that? Plus, I am surrounded by helpful friends and family (my sister stayed for a couple of days and even folded my pants!), the sun is shining and roses are blasting out of the green in my garden.

The most surprising thing for me is how instantly I felt normal in my new streamlined body. I had wondered beforehand how it would affect my dance to be a different shape. I imagined it would perhaps be awkward, that I would always feel a lack. I can't dance much yet, but it feels fine. This is just the shape of me and I like it. I like me.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

An Archer and a Date!

So, first, the Archer:

This is the latest in the Thomas Hine section of my Etsy shop and reminds me of how much Thomas loved archery. I remember one hot afternoon, while I did a workout inside, Thomas practising in the field with the sun on his back. He very rarely removed his top in public because of all the surgical scarring on his chest, so his skin was totally unprepared and he was too focussed to feel his skin sizzling. I have never seen such bad sunburn and it was even worse a couple of days later when the healing itching set in and we were visiting his grandparents. We had to keep sneaking off for me to slather his back in Pickle's nappy cream - I don't know what everyone else thought we were doing. Anyway, here he is, fully clothed and minus the Sudocrem, giving Rima a quick lesson while Pickle tries to help, wearing her Miss Havisham dress:

And now the incredible news that I have a date! I am playing with you here - I'm still a lightyear or two away from going on a romantic date, but I do have a date for my mastectomies after a hard year of waiting! I made my weekly phonecall, expecting the usual, 'We'll talk to him and get back to you' (which no-one ever did), but instead was told, 'Well, I've got you down for the 9th of June.' 'Oh,' I said, 'Will a letter be arriving sometime then?' 'I expect so.' she said. So, I am very glad I made that call and didn't miss my surgery because I didn't know about it. My house has been ready for months, in case I got a cancellation. Everything's down from my top shelves and I've bulk ordered everything from quinoa (dahlink) to baby wipes. (Yes, we still use them. I will use them forever for a hundred things.) I've put up lower towel and coat hooks and stockpiled vitamins and vegetable juice. By great good fortune Pickle's Gappy had already booked that week off for a dogsit which has been cancelled, so childcare for the first few days while I emerge from the general anaesthetic is covered and I already have multiple lift offers for getting me there for 7:30 am. Tom Hirons of Source Point Community Acupuncture will be sticking sharp things in me, setting light to stuff on my skin and peering at my tongue in a knowing manner, so all I have left to do is enjoy my lovely breasts while I still have them.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Air and Water

'A tail of Air and Water' is now available to the world and not just flying in our staircase.

Many of Thomas's drawings were illustrations for stories he had written or half-written or dreamed of writing. One day I will collate his written work too and see if somehing can be made of it.

Meanwhile Pickle and I have been adventuring in the sunshine. We visited our friends' home and were wowed by the massive stone which stands over their land and the rhodedendron flowers bigger than Pickle' head which smelled of a heady mix of bubblegum and sex. We climbed inside the branches but the scent was overpowering. We scrambled back out, only seconds away from being transported to another realm.

With Pickle's Gappy we explored (and much coveted) outbuildings

and in buildings

then ran and ran across green fields of tiny wildflowers and found rare plants and stoat poo and a lightning-struck tree and the upper limits of how much bog mud one dog can wear.

We've had more fun at Forest School

and talked with the ponies and their foals at the end of our road.

We've been out in the warm evenings, listening to our friends make music round fires and on Saturday I dared (just) take us to the art auction for Proper Job. I cannot tell you how scared I was that no-one would bid for my work. It seemed all I heard that week was people saying they couldn't come, or they could but they wouldn't be bidding as they didn't have any money and similar must have reached the organiser's ears because she was making contingency plans for anything which didn't sell. This is some of the work in the preview during the day:

So, we milled about and all hoped to win the original Alan Lee drawing in the raffle and then it was time for the actual auction and guess who was up first? With dignity and an air of confidence in myself and my work, I hid my burning face in Pickle's neck and rocked a little while three wonderful people bid. It was only a very modest ping-pong-ping, but for the first piece of the night it did fine and it has found a very loving home. The woman who made the winning bid kindly contacted me to send this:

and a picture of Tulip Field which she had bought before the auction:

Half-term is coming and I am glad. Pickle and I really need some time to just be together. No adventures planned; no late nights for a bit; just me and my girl bimbling around our garden like the happy, heavy bees.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Aa - The first print in my Thomas series

So, here is the first of a series of prints I have made from the many wondeful drawings left by Thomas. He had planned these as a book, but only got as far as 'I', so I am hoping they will find happy homes as name initials. There are lots of things to find beginning with 'A', but he didn't leave a list (or, in fact, ever in his life make a list) so I keep thinking I've found them all and then I find another. I'll give you a clue, though: a knowledge of botany (or a book thereon) will gain you extra finds. Enjoy :o).

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