Saturday, December 31, 2011

Good riddance 2011, come on in 2012!

2011 didn't start off too well. I was lying on a camp bed on the floor of a children's hospital ward as the fireworks screamed all around. I got a 'bonne année' from the mummy of the baby in the next cot, and the nurses popped champagne corks in the corridors, but I wasn't too thrilled about this new year. Baby Elsie was red and sweating in her cot, overcome with a fatigue I wasn't used to seeing, and I was sick with worry about this little creature who had only been alive a few precious months.

Those sleepless nights in the hospital gave me plenty of time to worry about another central figure in my life. I thought about Mum; in between chemo, the prospect of a transplant and difficult months of recovery ahead. We spoke on the hospital phone; words of encouragement about Elsie doing little to calm my distracted mind.

Elsie recovered, the hospital non the wiser for what had brought her in. We continued to get used to our new roles as parents and marveled at each new magic trick Elsie pulled out of her hat. Despite our short nights and changed lives though, Marek was starting to get restless. He was stagnating at work, having learned all they had to teach, and fatalistic about his chances of finding another job elsewhere. Polish, non Dutch-speaking... financial crisis. The odds seemed piled against him and he was at a loss of what to do next.

Then there was me, not keen to hand my baby over to someone else to bring up, not really missing many aspects of my work, but compelled to keep my word, return part time, see how it went. The change was difficult for everyone. Elsie cried for weeks when she was left at the crèche in the morning, and continued bursting into tears when I picked her up even longer. My guilt of leaving her was only slightly relieved by comforting words about the importance of teaching children to become independent social creatures. The shocking enjoyment I allowed myself to feel when away on a work trip and out for dinnner with colleagues was immediately tempered by a report from Marek about Elsie bursting into tears when she saw a photo of me. I thought of work when at home and of Elsie when at work. It didn't help when the people who were supposed to be caring for her fell short. Not giving her enough to drink, keeping her in shoes all day, showing her cartoons, keeping her inside all day, not changing her nappy frequently enough... it all built up, and when the management fired all the staff we had our excuse to withdraw her. Just in time for the Christmas holidays.

No, 2011 wasn't my favourite year. There were magical moments, usually focused around the new little being in our lives. A wonderful family holiday in Cornwall, when Elsie could watch her young cousins running around (although tinged with a missing Grannie, who was dealing with that slow transplant recovery). Several fantastic trips to visit the Polish family, watching Elsie more and more at home with new faces and enjoying being surrounded by her other language. Then of course the visitors we received, the family and friends who came to stay, popped by for a cuppa or invited us over for lunch. It goes without saying that 2011 had its good days as well as all the challenges we faced.

2012 is going to be better though, that's for sure. Elsie's a little madam but we love her to bits. She is strong and knows what she wants - she'll get what she needs from this year. Marek's got a new job, starting in the middle of January, in the same company but with more interesting work, more money and the vitally important opportunity to progress. He will have a new challenge to deal with, and the kind of enjoyment that comes with getting stuck in to something new. I have increased my working hours, but will endeavour to travel less. Having more time to complete my work will, in theory, allow me to switch off when at home and spend all that quality time with the little one. She, in turn, will be happier because we have found her a crèche that comes with recommendations from people we know and trust, where they do not believe in showing kids tv and have a garden where she can run around with her new friends. Elsie has learned so much in the past year - walking crawling and communicating - she's going to pass by some major milestones this year too, and we can't wait to be there when she does. Then there's Mum. After an incredibly low low a couple of months ago, she is making her way right back up again. The drugs are coming down, allowing her to shine through, and although she hasn't got the all clear yet, there is even a chance she will make my little brother's wedding in Canada this spring. 

Come on 2012, I'm ready for ya.

Friday, December 2, 2011


She knocks the tower over, triumphant squeals despite the fact that this is not the first, not even the tenth time this has happened in the past few minutes. She toddles over to the scattered blocks and I scan the shelves for something else. Elsie may not be bored of the build-tower-topple-tower-build-tower game, but Mummy needs something new.

Spotting the perfect thing to draw my little girl away from her beloved blocks, I bring the bird to my lips and give a short sharp blow. The bird lets out a squawk and Elsie turns her head quickly, letting the blocks fall to the ground and allowing herself to be drawn to this new game. She comes over quickly, head tilted slightly, the edge of her mouth drawn upwards giving away the anticipation she feels. I bring the bird back to my mouth and blow into the wooden whistle again, seeing her face lift as the magic repeats.

Soon her hand is out, reaching for the toy and I hand it over explaining what to do. ‘Just like bubbles’ I explain, as she puts the whistle to her lips. ‘blow through the hole’. Before she can draw breath her face breaks into a wide grin and she puts the whistle in her mouth. She exhales, but not into the whistle or displaying any sign of having grasped how to make the bird sing. She squeals around the object in her mouth, imitating the bird’s squawk almost perfectly, but creating it all on her own.


She looks over to the box, filled with its furry bodies, legs and ears poking out of the top, a muddle of genderless animals waiting to be cuddled. She toddles over and, not seeing what she wants, starts pulling at the limbs, flinging the teddies to the left and right as she searches for Teddy, her special bear. Once he has been located with a triumphant ‘Eddy!’ she clutches him to her body with an arm, left hand holding on to a fluffy ear, right thumb locked firmly in her mouth. She wanders into the hall and catching sight of herself in the mirrored cupboard door, pauses a moment, watching herself cuddling the bear. She seems to like what she sees and gives herself a grin, even takes out the thumb in order to see her whole face. A sideways glance as she moves away and she’s on to the next thing, trailing Teddy behind her.