Monday, November 16, 2015

Back to Life Back to Reality

September was the longest month of my year. Yes I know it's only 30 days but it felt like 3 months. The bottom of my world fell out on the 2nd of September when my mom passed away. Nothing can explain how that feels. But what also caught me off guard, was the tidal wave of love and support that engulfed me. I was overwhelmed by all the love that I felt from near and far as the phone calls, messages and visits began. My Facebook wall lit up and although I hardly grasped what was said at the time, I have gone back and re-read those messages and feel so grateful for every one of them. There were many lovely messages, but these two really stood out for me: 

"I haven't written anything in a while, but after reading my friend Lisa's blog post If Tomorrow Never Comes, I had to write what I felt. This is in memory of a lovely lady and dedicated to all who have lost loved ones to soon...
Tonight I cried
I cried for things lost
For things taken
For memories gone
For futures broken
I cried for the person left behind
For the person moving on
For the soul left damaged
And the heart less strong
For the lessons not learned
For the pain now to carry
For the child now grown
For those left to tarry
It was more than a tear
But less than a keen
It was for sorrow unspoken
For a life yet to be"

My 16 year old niece wrote this:"Gramma, you have been at every birthday party, every Christmas and every celebration. It is now our time to celebrate your life. You gave me your sarcasm and the love for chocolate that every Bayne member has. Your ever present tootie fruities will be missed. I will miss you, even if you draw funny ducks. You told me that you love me, that you will always be watching over me. I love you Gramma." 

Never underestimate the impact of a quickly-typed message or a kind word to someone grieving, even on one-dimensional Facebook. 

After my mom died I went home and told my children. Lettuce and Bacon didn't really grasp the gravity of the situation but Tomato understood. She wailed and sobbed and was inconsolable. She said she'd never see Mema again and she would never go to her house and she named everything she could think of that she would never be able to do again and the two of us just cried. I remembered that I had seen in my mom's handbag, a small, open packet of speckled chocolate eggs which she always had on hand to give to the kids each time she saw them. I thought that might cheer them up, so I told Tomato that Mema had left her something. When I got the packet out, she broke down and hugged the packet, it was heartbreaking. After I shared out the remaining sweets, Tomato neatly folded the packet into a little square and put it in her "treasure" box as the last thing to remind her of Mema. I was finished.

That night we quietly gathered as a family to have dinner and grieve. I talked and cried on the phone to my brother and sister overseas, who obviously weren't able to attend the dinner in South Africa. Being far away, they didn't get to see what we saw, and had to experience my mom's decline on the phone for the two weeks leading up to her death. But they were feeling the same hurt. The hurt from the loss of the most pivotal person in their lives, the person they both called every day, my sister on her way to work and my brother on his way home. That night for the first time in months, I slept without waking. I was emotionally drained and physically exhausted.

With death comes a plethora of new items added to an already cumbersome "to-do" list. As my mom's children in South Africa, it fell to my brother and I to organise the undertaker, funeral, church, minister, eats etc, all while still in shock. One thing I can say about my family is that we are fantastic in any crisis. We make things happen. We are all "do-ers". My mom taught us to be independent and boy she certainly over-achieved in that department! I'm not convinced that this strategy is beneficial to us emotionally as we do first and feel later, but boy stuff gets done! 

My friends arrived with their children that night to to prepare dinner for all of us. One friend had lost her mom a few years before and the other her son only 11 months earlier (see her story RIP Kyle Du Preez Lowry here). It should have been a sad evening, but they managed to take my mind off the sadness. The next day more friends arrived. The support was incredible. 

With all the sudden activity, after 2 weeks of 3x daily hospital visits, I needed to be alone. I left early to fetch the children from school and went to my mom's house on the way. The sadness engulfed me. I was with her stuff but she wasn't there and I couldn't feel her. I went into her bedroom and lay on her bed. Although she hadn't slept there for weeks, I felt her there, I smelled her smell and I hugged her pillow while I cried and cried and cried. Everyone was arriving the following day, the pace of my life was about to accelerate. My mom's unit was rented so we would have to pack her things and vacate quickly. There was no time. I needed time, but it was a luxury not afforded to me. This was the last chance I'd get "to be alone with her," in this place where we often were alone, having tea and solving the world's problems or laughing or arguing or planning or eating sweet treats that she had made. Everything reminded me of her. I cried for my children who had lost one of the few people who loved them unconditionally, I cried for my family who were feeling like me and I cried for me, for everything that I had lost when she took her last breath in my arms. Logically I know that she had lived a long life, but it wasn't long enough for me. I wasn't ready, but I had to get up and face the world again, children needed fetching, lunches needed making, work needed to be completed. There was nobody waving me goodbye as I left this time. I whispered "totsiens Ouma" as my kids jokingly used to shout in unison every time we left, pretending to practise their Afrikaans. There was silence. Nobody shouted back "totsiens Ouma se kinders." I had to wipe my glasses when I got to the school.

The mayhem that followed made my children think that a death in the family = a full blown party! My cousin flew in from Cape Town, my sister, her husband and two children from California and my brother came from Perth. As soon as the cousins arrived, the playing began. Tomato, Bacon and Lettuce were spoiled by all the visitors and the never-ending food and sweet treats (that are usually limited in our house), kept flowing in. Friends and family were in and out, bringing flowers and food and drinks and snacks. My BLT really had a ball, there was no time for sadness. In the quieter moments there were tears, but there was a lot of laughing too. It was so amazing to have everyone together again, but as the words of one of my mom's favourite songs go "There's one less place at our table, there's one more tear in my eye. Joseph Mummy we'll never forget you, it's tough but we're going to get by." There was always an empty seat as a reminder. At one time my sister and I were arranging to meet my mom's friend for tea and I suddenly said "Ooooh we mustn't forget to invite Mummy, she'd love to see.....!" and then I burst into tears as I realised my mistake. Everything became past tense. "my mom used to say...., my mom was....., my mom couldn't
Where the "skirt incident" took place
There was lots to arrange, so many people to see, but no time to think, no time to process. The funeral service was held on Tuesday 8 September at the church which my mom and dad joined when they first got married and moved into the area. The church that holds many childhood memories - it was the best of times, it was the worst of times: weddings (mine included), funerals (including my dad's), christenings, confirmations, nativity scenes, carols by candlelight and midnight mass Christmas services that we always attended with my mom. The late night Christmas services were always a fun event because, as long as I can remember, our family tradition was to have our Christmas meal on the evening of the 24th, with plenty of champagne, turkey, gammon, trifle and... mom's homemade pickled onions. 

Nobody wanted to sit next to my brother in church after he had consumed those onions! 3-4 hours post consumption seemed to be "the perfect storm" in his digestive tract, if you get my drift. And the pews are made of solid wood, no cushions like the catholic church, so the put-putting could become audible, especially during the singing (not as noise-cancelling as one would expect), and the pungent aroma could engulf an unsuspecting parishioner sitting too close. Then there was the time that one of the older church ladies who was sitting up front ready to assist with communion, had her skirt wedged securely in her belt. With her sitting on a raised stage, we could see things that should really be left to the imagination. Mom was not impressed with our snorting as this lovely old lady (who had taught me Sunday School many moons before) moved around the church, with her dress hitched up around her waist, passing around the mock wine and bread. But I glimpsed a faint naughty smile on my mom's lips, even though she of course denied it, it really was funny! Then the shock of me insisting on wearing my Santa hat during the entire service ("it's a darn nice hat!" vs "Lisa! that is not for church!") and I wore it at every Christmas service for years. All these memories in this one place, but now we were there to say goodbye to the person who brought us there for the first time..... She was always there for the firsts of many things. 

The Flowers were beautiful
How do I say goodbye in 20 minutes to the woman who brought me into this world, who held me and loved me, nurtured and taught me pretty much everything I know. She was there for my first word, my first step, my first suitcase, my first lunch box, my first uniform, my first teacher, my first book, my first play, my first everything. She roller skated with us, she played tennis with us, she swam with us ("don't get my hair wet!"). My mom made every one of my birthday cakes, sewed all my play costumes and shlepped me all over the place. How do I say goodbye? 

To break the ice, just as the service began, my nephew, while attempting to switch off his cell phone, hit the Siri button, and Siri loudly announced "Siri is not available, connect to the Internet." He was mortified! I chuckled. My sister had told her daughter, my little niece that if she ever saw me crying, she should give me a hug, so during the whole service, she kept checking on me and when she saw a tear, I had a tiny body squeezing me hard and patting my arm! That just made me cry more. Soon the service was over and as we followed the coffin out of the church, it felt surreal. This was the end of the road. My own pre-recorded voice came over the speakers as I sang Josh Groban's "To Where You Are." I was holding Bacon's hand and she whispered "who's that singing?" to which I replied "it's me" and she whispered back "but why aren't your lips moving!" 
These are a few of Mom's Favourite Things

My sister-in-law had set up a table of my mom's favourite things. It was really lovely. Including her favourite cherry liqueurs, tootie-fruities and chocolate crunchies as well as a "tree" with all her sayings on it. So many people took the time out to come and pay their respects. I cannot begin to express my gratitude. Mom hated an empty church at a funeral, she always said she wanted a full church, and she got her wish. Friends and family supported us, gave us their condolences, mingled, had some food and then it was over. The ceremony was over and now we were expected to carry on without her. And although we didn't want to, we had to. Life is for the living. Life goes on. Dammit.

Ice cream cake
Construction site cake
It has now been 2½ months since mom died. I still can't believe it. I still want to phone her, I still miss her every single day. Some days I miss her by myself and other days I tell my family how much I'm missing her (spread the grief and make them sad too, why should I suffer alone?) and then some days I go to visit her friend to get my "mom" fix. But no matter what I do and no matter how sad I make everyone else, she's still gone and she's not coming back. Her special tea cup in my cupboard taunts me. I don't want it but I can't throw it away. Lettuce's 4th birthday party just wasn't the same, she'd have loved his cakes..... or would she? Maybe she would have said it was a mess haha maybe she wouldn't have liked it at all! Maybe she would have said ice cream cake is not real cake or she would have told me that he didn't need two cakes, that I was spoiling him. But he would have been so proud to show her, with his beaming little face, that she would have told him that she loved it. He loved Mema and she loved him. They had a special bond. All three of my BLT came to me during that day and said that we couldn't have a party without Mema, it isn't the same without Mema here, she's always here for our birthdays and little Lettuce, so excited for his day whispering "I wish Mema was here." The whole thing is just so sad.

To all those friends and family out there who haven't stopped calling, texting and visiting, to the moms at school who give me hugs and ask how I'm doing - thank you. The pain doesn't end after the funeral, in fact, the low constant pain that remains in the pit of your stomach, only really begins when the house becomes quiet and things go back to "normal." We are now dipping our toes into this life that is our "new normal." Mema is not here, but she is. We can't just pop in for a visit like we used to, we have to look for clues, like feathers. There are signs of her everywhere. My friend and her mom told me that a feather had floated into the church and landed on their hymn sheet right in front of them during the service. This same friend decided then and there to move to another province, she said she just felt something while she was there.

Whenever my children see feathers they say "hi Mema." In fact my kids see her all the time. One morning I was standing making breakfast when Lettuce said "Mema is standing right next to you!" I was a bit stunned so asked what she was doing and he said "she's come to wash the dishes!" which is exactly what she liked to do, she couldn't stand anything not washed immediately after use. Tomato and Bacon both chimed in "hi Mema" and then they told me that she was putting her bag down and when I asked where, they all pointed to the same place and it wasn't where she usually put her bag. I got all teary. Another night, while cuddling with Lettuce, he told me that Mema was with him and I told him I was happy about that. He then said sleepily "Silly mommy, Mema's not in heaven like you said, she's right here with us!" On another day while making puzzles with Tomato, I said "Mema was BAD at puzzles, she used to squash pieces in that didn't fit." Tomato was horrified! "Mommy!!!! She's right here, she can hear you!" 

While watching the world cup rugby I didn't want an opposition kick to go into the goals so I kept saying "miss, miss" as I watched the screen. The player missed the kick, so Tomato leaned over and whispered to me "I asked Mema to make him miss hee hee." The kids take it in their stride, although sometimes one of them will come to me and say things like "I miss Mema's hugs." One day Lettuce was over-tired and he was crying and eventually he just blurted out "I WANT MEMA, I MISS MEMA, MEEEMA, MEEEMA!!!" Well that got us all going as he cried himself to sleep shouting MEEMA MEEMA!

Early in the morning on the day that my mom died, I visited my oldest friend. We first sat next to each other in grade one. She is very talented and I always get a private viewing, to see what art piece she is working on, when I visit. She showed me a piece that I loved but she explained that she lacked the motivation to complete it, she said nothing inspired her, it just didn't feel right. A few weeks later we met at a coffee shop, as we do from time to time, and she said she had something in her car for me and that I knew what it was. Well, I had no idea! I walked with her to her car and she opened her boot and took out the art piece that she had shown me before, but it was finished and handed it to me! I was confused. She said that as soon as I left her house, she was inspired to work on the picture. She worked the whole morning and finished it just before she got the message that my mom had gone. She told me that she believes my mom inspired her and helped her finish it. She said the colours and style are completely different to what she usually does. I was speechless. There in the underground parking I hugged her and went into "the ugly cry." Onlookers must have thought I was bonkers. I went home and immediately put it up in my dining room so that I can "see" my mom all day. I am blessed to have amazing, talented, intuitive and supportive friends.
Mom's Picture
So life, with all it's happy and sad and fun and scary and lovely and horrible and thrilling moments, goes on whether we like it or not. People are getting married and having children and living their lives and the cycle of life continues. But my mom isn't here any more. Having lost my dad 23 years ago, I know the pain will become less raw than it is now. I know that slowly I will forget the horrific scenes that are emblazoned in my mind of her final days and hours. I want time to pass quickly to blur the bad memories, but I also want it to slow down. Because with the loss of the searing, raw pain, also comes the loss of the vivid, chrystal clear memories that I have of spending so much time with my mom. Sometimes I struggle to remember my dad's voice, his mannerisms and I think my memory has glossed over many unpleasant things and narrowed down my recollection to some great stories and blurred the rest. Right now my mom is vivid in my mind. I can remember every little thing about her, I can almost conjure her presence. With time, I know that will fade. There is nothing nice about death. As my mom would often say: "The problem with death is that it is so final."

Treasure your loved ones each and every day. Make good memories or bad memories, but make memories that last because none of us know how much time we have here. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Nine months later with Dr Richard Aron

No doctor identified and treated the staph
As I sit here, 9 months later, I am still amazed and so very grateful at how my life has changed since stumbling upon an Eczema Facebook page run by parents of children with eczema. The desperation of what we went through for five and a half years has almost become a distant memory....... almost. While the memory is distant, all it takes is one of these pictures to take me right back to those days and particularly those endless nights.

People would think that she'd been in an accident
She would scratch herself raw
While I no longer panic when Tomato walks barefoot on grass or rides her bike or does other normal childhood activities that make her hot and itchy, I remember when these simple things used to send her into a scratching, bleeding, crying frenzy and made all our lives unbearable. I remember feeling like Fiona in Shrek, dreading sunset. 5pm became our cut off time. This is when we would leave wherever we were, because at night the itching became even more intense (apparently this is due to histamine levels increasing at night) and this is when Tomato did the most damage to her skin. Once we stayed too long and a good friend, who we saw often, was shocked at her sudden change in demeanour and asked what was wrong with her. The thing that was wrong, was that she had a silly little thing called eczema. We hid the nightly trauma from everyone, even our closest family never really knew how bad it had become. We went home and dealt with the endless screaming and clawing and bleeding on our own, away from prying eyes and good-intentioned people who tried to get us to try yet another treatment, another doctor, another cream. We refer to those times as "dark days" and only eczema sufferers and parents watching their children suffer from this cruel disease, truly understand. 

Tomato put on a lot of weight from all the oral steroids
As you may have read from my previous posts, we were dealing with a little girl who hated her life and was suicidal. She wasn't dramatic about ending her life, she was quiet and thoughtful when she told me her decision and those words still haunt me. All those magazines and baby books and raising children magazines didn't prepare me for that discussion. So when I say we were desperate, I mean we were desperate. I can't think of any other way to describe how I felt while I watched my beautiful, confident little girl regress into the shell of who she had used to be. Being teased and called "Blood Girl" and adults and children alike constantly asking what was wrong with her, took its toll. How was she supposed to deal with all that negative attention when as an adult, I wasn't dealing with it very well. The judgement was everywhere.

She always looked ill
Even when she was joking around, she was sore
Now, instead of obsessing about trying different doctors and creams and lotions and therapies, our whole family is enjoying the calm after the all-consuming eczema storm. I live in South Africa where state medical care is far from adequate and therefore paying for doctors and specialists is the norm. We have private health care insurance called "medical aid" which usually covers less than a third of all doctor visits and medication. Due to Tomato's skin, by February of any given year, we had depleted our "savings" which is the top up. This means that from March to December we would pay out of pocket for all medication and doctor visits. This year for the first time, Tomato's brother and sister got to use some of the medical aid, which has never happened before. We haven't seen a specialist this ENTIRE YEAR! We used to live at the allergist and my kitchen looked like a pharmacy with all the meds that I used to administer daily to a less than willing recipient!

So where are we now on the Aron Regime? We are down to 3-4 applications per week and Tomato recently started SWIMMING!!! She swam, rinsed off immediately and applied cream and we haven't had any issues. The delight on her face when I said "get your cozzie, you're swimming too" was priceless!! 

If you missed my earlier posts on how I found Dr Aron and our journey so far, I have created links at the bottom of this post, together with some additional information about Dr Aron, where you can catch up.

The last 9 months have opened my eyes to a plethora of new things, here are just a few:

People think I'm crazy (ok full disclosure, they may have thought this before!) 
The only doctor who could help us, I found online. What?? I can see people thinking I'm cuckoo, especially when I tell them I've still never met the man who gave us our child back. People usually start asking if he's a REAL doctor and probably think I'm using an "eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog" type of potion to get the results we have had. I've learned that the Internet is not all bad and not everyone is trying to rip me off (this was a huge one for me to wrap my mind around because I am very suspicious by nature). Living in Africa, I am bombarded by con artists on a regular basis, so I am pretty savvy when it comes to weeding out the rif raf. I often need to explain that Dr Aron is a qualified Dermatologist who has practised for over 40 years AND the ingredients in the cream are readily available creams but are not the same for everyone, it is a doctor's prescription based only on my child's skin specifically and it's not brewed in a witch's pot, it is mixed specially for me at a pharmacy.

Cooling with Avene water 
Caring doctors do still exist
I really cannot count the number of doctors and specialists that we have seen over the years for Tomato's skin and only 3 stand out as being willing to go above and beyond. Only 3 doctors saw me and my child broken and desperate and not just as another transaction in their full diary, to see, get their consulting fee and forget about once we'd left. Caring doctors, who treat patients as people and not sausage machines, are very few and far between. Dr Aron is number 1 on my top 3. For the cost of one consultation so far, I have contacted him many times and he has always responded promptly with sage advice, helping me to taper down on the cream or assisting with a flare or cautioning me against being over confident, with me wanting to reduce applications too quickly. I have never had such continuous access to a specialist as I have now with this amazing man. This has reduced the entire family's stress levels, astronomically. We no longer live in fear. If there is a flare up, we will handle it, we don't have to go back to where we were.

Tomato, full of fun and loving that she can swim again!

Support for The Aron Regime
Whilst Dr Aron offers online consultations on his website he does not run the closed Dr Aron Eczema Treatment Discussion Group or the open Dr Aron Eczema Treatment Information Page on Facebook. These were set up by parents and are administrated by parents, whose sole aim is to share this amazing treatment with others and to put an end to the suffering. Patients and parents helping each other. Young patients have also set up and now manage Dr Aron Instagram and Twitter accounts.

People can't believe that we take time out of our busy lives to offer advice and support to others who are going through what we have all been through before. We sometimes get lambasted from new members who think we're all part of the group to make money by coercing unsuspecting people onto this regime, but in reality, there is no money to be made. Dr Aron writes the prescription (with 5 refills) but the patient's doctor needs to re-write it, so there's no money changing hands apart from the initial consultation fee and perhaps another one further down the line when a new prescription is needed. For the amount of time Dr Aron has given me, for the one fee that I have paid so far, that is the best deal I've had from any medical professional EVER, never mind a specialist!! We are still using the first prescription 9 months later and have tossed all the other medications and creams which cost a small fortune.
Dr Aron is her hero
So why do we do it? Why do we spend hours helping others on the group and page? Well, like me, we have all suffered or stood by helplessly watching our children itch, scratch and bleed, day after day, night after night, some of us for years. We know all too well those dark days and nights that cannot be explained to an Eczema "outsider." And that is why we reach out. Nobody deserves to be in that dark place. Our children should all be able to live normal lives without being ostracised and ridiculed because of this horribly visible, debilitating disease. 

Most of us were misled by doctors who were either unaware of The Aron Regime or chose to disregard it and we therefore believed that clear skin was impossible. Every doctor and specialist gave us the same advice. In our case we were told Tomato's life would never be normal. I couldn't and wouldn't accept that, but it almost broke me. We would have to manage the eczema with daily wet wrapping, chronic oral steroids, antihistamines and we were about to start photo therapy just to get some temporary relief. There was no way that Tomato's skin could ever be normal? Her disease was too severe? WRONG!!! All of them were WRONG. Dr Aron proved them all wrong. Tomato's skin is as clear as her siblings' and became that way very quickly on this regime. So it's time to give back, to raise awareness and help others discover this treatment, so children can have their childhoods and adults can start to live the lives they were destined to lead, without the itch.

"Eczema is not only a disease of the skin, 

it's a disease of the soul"

I've been lacking motivation to finish this blog post that I started over a month ago. Revelling in the luxury of an Eczema-free existence, I woke to a message on the Dr Aron page which reignited my desire to finish this post. I was reminded that blogs help others. It's messages like this that make all the time and effort worthwhile. I had recently posted a particularly gruesome Eczema photo of a child's hand, together with photos taken after a few days on the Aron Regime, where the hand was healing nicely (of course!) The mom was thrilled with the treatment. Another mom browsing Facebook found the post and left this comment that hit me hard: 
"OH MY GOD!!! We have tried everything and this is exactly how my son looks. This is crazy!!!! I thought I was all alone and such a bad mom. Please please tell me how?!"
I get it. I know EXACTLY how this mom feels. Why hadn't she found this treatment earlier? Can it be true? Why have all the doctors given us something that doesn't work? She feels like a bad mom but she is far from it. So if anyone wants to know why we do it, this is why we do it. This mom now has options and I have managed to make her life brighter by giving her the hope that I experienced 9 months ago when other parents offered me hope. Hope is the only light out of "that dark place."

One man, with a passion for treating patients with Atopic Eczema has successfully treated over 6 000 patients world-wide through offering online consultations. Without Dr Aron stepping out of his comfort zone to offer this service, many people would still be suffering. His passion has ignited a passion in many others who are creating a groundswell to get the Aron Regime recognised. Even a small effort can reap great rewards. You don't need to spend hours like we do, just share this post. You never know who you may be helping out of their own dark place that you know nothing about.

Monday, August 31, 2015

If Tomorrow Never Comes

The lights are low, it always seems like night in here even though the sun is shining outside. The only sound is an artificial pump which makes a whooshing sound as it performs it's monotonous task of forcing oxygen and then removing it, from my mother's lungs. She is surrounded by machines. State of the art machines that can help people back to health and provide hope to patients and loved ones. These machines have the amazing ability to give compromised patients a second chance, to get back on their feet and continue living their lives. The machines are mostly quiet with the odd beep. 13 days ago I would stare at them endlessly, treasuring their little signals of positivity. They provided me with comfort and hope that my mom would get better and allow this little snafu to be a blip on her radar of irritating hospital stays. Her lungs haven't been good and she contracted a chest infection that progressed quickly. I was so grateful for those machines which allowed her to recover from the infection and soon she was breathing on her own again and the machines were wheeled away. She was almost back to normal when......

I got to the ICU and her bed was empty. She's in isolation. Speak to the head nurse. She has contracted a super bug from the hospital, MRSA. I know what MRSA is, it can be life-threatening, but isn't to most. It is for her. She deteriorated very quickly after the cocktail of antibiotics, necessary to fight this bug, were delivered intravenously into her frail body. The machines were quickly re-attached.

Two days ago my mom started behaving strangely and "hallucinating" and it took me a while to fully comprehend what was happening. She wasn't hallucinating, she was glimpsing the other side! She was "getting her affairs in order." She wasn't afraid but she didn't want to leave me. She wanted to watch my children grow. Lettuce was still so small she said. She told her older grandchildren that she would watch over them and wait for them on the other side. When we said we'd be back the following morning, she told us she didn't think she'd make it through the night. The next morning the machines alerted medical staff that her condition was unstable and there was a need to re-interbate (which she hated the first time) and so began a plethora of new routines to keep her alive and the machines happy.

Now, as I sit and watch the life slowly drain from the woman who is my everything, I find myself "wishing them further" as my mom would say. The lines on the graphs all do their job and show how her body is doing and spew out the statistics of her organs and blood pressure. She is maintaining. But I can see her, they can't. I can feel her, they can't. They don't see what I see. What my eyes see, but what my heart won't allow me to fully comprehend. Just like the drip in my mom's arm, the emotions are only dripping through me. Slowly. Drip. Drip. Drip. My brain knows it's all too much, I can't take it in all at once, so slowly the reality drips into my conscious and starts to move through my body until I begin to slowly piece it all together - all the drips add up. I don't want to even think it, but the thoughts and emotions keep dripping through me like somebody knocking louder and louder on the door, penetrating my consciousness. I want to be unconscious, like her and not have to feel what I'm feeling, but the dripping doesn't stop.

This lifeless lady who has been the only constant in my life since my very first breath, is about to take her last. I go cold each time this thought enters my mind and I force it back out. I want her to stay. There's so much still to do and say and experience. I don't want to do any of it without her. I don't want my children to have a birthday without her. I don't want to have a birthday or Christmas or Easter or ANY day without her. How do you say goodbye to the person who taught you everything you know - to walk and talk and read and sing and swim and dance and sew and roller skate and ice skate and knit and bake and play tennis and squash and badminton and Monopoly, to name just a few. This woman, who has single-handedly had the most profound impact on my life, is lying in front of me attached to machines that can't see her but they judge her constantly on a set of criteria programmed into their artificial brains. Those criteria are no longer important to me. 13 days ago they were the holy grail but today they are meaningless.

Those life-giving machines have become death-defeating machines. With every fibre of my being I want her to stay but I have to let her go. I have given her my permission and my blessing, if that is what she needs, but the machines keep going, methodically making her chest rise and fall as if she was breathing, circulating the oxygen around her listless body. Slowly her kidneys are shutting down and her body tissue is filling with the rogue liquid that cannot be expelled, but the machines keep taunting us, showing false signs of hope. Hope that has gone for me and my family.

I smile to myself as the reverend pulls out his smart phone with his bible on it to read some scripture to her and imagine what my mom would say if she could see it. The bible on a cell phone! That is ridiculous, the bible is a book, not a new fangled device! That is what it will be like from now on, imagining what she would have said.

I am sadly reminded of my mom saying that when it was her time to go, she wanted a quick "pop off" and hospitals are "for the birds," so watching her slowly fade away is nothing short of torture to us (and probably her too.) I want her to be shot of this hospital, of the disinterested nurses, of the pipes down her throat and up her nose, of the sewn-in/ stapled-in pipes in her jugular and her arm taking real-time blood pressure readings, of the oxygen measure on her finger, of the emotionless machines. I want her to be free. In my head I understand this but in my heart I don't want to know. This is the price of love and it's a huge price, but it was a huge love. That empty feeling in my soul is reminding me that in order for her to be free, I will be in my own tiny hell as my walls will close in, my world will become smaller and greyer and my soul will have a deep deep gash. Because, as selfless as I am giving her permission to fly to my dad, to her siblings, to her friends and family, I selfishly know that she'll be gone from me. What am I going to do when I fall apart and the only person who I need to help me through it can't be there? I'm going to need my mom!

The day after I wrote this post, my brother and sister from overseas called and I put the phone next to mom on the pillow as they each said their final goodbyes. She made some small movements so I was able to determine that she had heard some, if not all of what they were saying. Both conversations were like the 3 of us having tea and a chat in her lounge. Some of it was chatty (between me and my brother or sister), most of it extremely emotional as my mom lay semi-conscious on the bed. On the call to my brother I asked how his wife's thesis was going because mom was always very keen for details and he told us that they were still waiting for the results - it's taken ages. At the end of that call, mom made some big movements which looked like she was trying to get up and move her arms. Once again I told her that she was restrained (so as not to pull the pipe out of her mouth - hospital protocol). I said "I know you don't like being like this" and she made huge shaking movements with her head and I could hear her shouting through the silence "No no no!! I told you I didn't want to be like this!" I held her swollen hand and gently said that I didn't want her to be like this either, but it was up to her. It was her choice. The machines would keep her alive even against her will. She had to decide to go.

That afternoon I visited again and she made no movement and I battled not to see the similarity of her lying in a hospital bed unconscious vs a coffin. She looked like she had already gone. I told her it was spring day and the flowers were beautiful and as soon as she was free she would be able to see them all. The sweet peas, my dad's favourite dahlias and all the new buds sprouting. I couldn't think of anything else to say. I had said it all. So I began to sing. I sang every song that I remembered she liked and only stopped briefly when the emotions got the better of me. I had to be strong for her. I kissed her goodbye and there was nothing. That night I couldn't bear to go back. I felt like she had already left.

The following morning my sister-in-law was informed that she had received her PhD! I was so thrilled for her and I knew my mom would be too. I phoned to congratulate her. I knew I needed to shower and wash my hair before I went to the hospital but I'd been chatting a bit long. Something told me to just go to my mom. When I got there and asked the usual question "So how is she sister?" I was not expecting the answer I got. "If there is anyone you need to call, you need to do it now. Her blood pressure is very low and her heart rate is falling. Although I had expected this at some point, when it happened, I started to shake uncontrollably. I couldn't dial my brother's number. The nurse offered to do it. I said no. I phoned and said "she's going, you need to come." I didn't recognise my own voice. I then phoned my brother in Australia and told him the same thing. He phoned my sister.

I played my mom a video of her granddaughters watching a cow eating. Her heart rate increased. I lay over her with my head on her shoulder, cradling her head. I whispered into her ear. I told her that we all loved her and that she had been a fantastic mom and we couldn't have wished for better, even when we fought, we knew she had our best interests at heart. I told her that my brother was on his way. He texted, he was stuck in traffic on the highway. I begged him to hurry, but then on second thought said rather be safe, I was there with her. Suddenly I remembered!! I sat bolt upright "Mom!! there's a doctor in the family!! LL got her PhD!" I shrieked, probably too loudly, and my mom moved her head and her mouth crept slightly upwards at the corners as if to smile and her heart rate increased. "I just wanted you to know before you go that she got it!" The sister who was watching through the glass, came in and gently warned me that this excitement would prolong her leaving. I lay over her and hugged her again with my ear on her chest and listened to her heart beat slower and slower and slower. I watched the numbers on the machine get less and less until finally it went to 0 and the blue line flattened. I whispered "goodbye mom" and then a noise came out of me that I didn't recognise and have never heard before. It was an animal sound which probably traumatised my mom because her heart began beating again! I hurriedly whispered in her ear "No. Don't come back, I'll be OK. Go, it's your turn to do what's right for you, it's your turn to be free." Then her heart stopped again and I cried and cried and cried as if my own had broken in two.

Mom it was an honour and a priviledge to be your daughter. You were there to hold and guide me when I took my first breath, allowing me to feel secure as I embarked on a journey that was scary and unfamiliar. And I was there to hold and guide you when you took your last breath, hopefully allowing you to feel secure as you embark on a new journey that is scary and unfamiliar.

RIP Mary Bayne. I will love you forever.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The grass is NOT always greener on the other side

South Africa VS the World
I consider myself fortunate to live in the beautiful country of South Africa. Many people residing outside of the African continent are unaware of South Africa's schizophrenic / bipolar tendencies. Meaning we are blessed / cursed with a combination of first world and third world populations residing side by side.  Does South Africa have problems? Oh yes! Do we have awesome weather? Not last week, it was freezing Yes! Are loads of people packing their bags and heading for greener pastures? For sure! Here in sunny SA we tend to think of first world countries as better, more advanced, with better educated citizens. However, recently this has been called into question (in my humble opinion) after getting an email from my sister who resides in the United States.

Humour History
At this point I think it only fair to warn you that my sister and I have been known to share the enjoyment of a bit of "toilet humour" from time to time [please note we did not, I repeat NOT inherit this trait from my mother who always has and will, try to encourage me to follow in her footsteps and be a lady. I needed to mention this due to the constant threat during my childhood of being sent to a finishing school. Apparently I'm still not finished - I'm a work in progress!] Yes I am that mother who snickers along with her children as they discover the joy of air expulsion from various parts of their bodies and I find some delicate situations so funny that I am rendered useless to assist a person in need. This has strained some friendships along the way. Let me give you a couple of examples of which I am not proud, but I still find extremely funny:

Bad Friend Alert 
In Standard 8 (grade 10) my friend and I were walking home after school and we came upon an open manhole. Without missing a word, I sidestepped the manhole, as I expected her to, but instead she disappeared down said manhole and I almost collapsed laughing. One second she was there and the next she was gone! I did eventually manage to get her out but she ended up having to go to the Emergency Room to have her entire leg bandaged - oops! This cartoon always reminds me of that incident. >>>>>>

Bad Mother Alert
Remember my post a few years back about hubby, trying to be spontaneous and throwing an Easter egg at 3 year old Bacon and it smacking her in the face? She burst into tears. Where was I? Was I comforting my crying child? No. I ran outside so that she wouldn't see me crying with laughter! Read Bacon and Eggs if you missed it.

So when I opened the email that my sister sent me, which was a photo of a sign, spotted on the gate of a public pool in first world California, I almost got my herbal tea to spray right out my nose!

The Sign

Now many many questions spring to mind when reading this sign (and none of them are pretty).

My first concern is that surely the sign would not have been printed if this wasn't a recurring problem in local pools - eeeewwww who knew??  Secondly, the word "active" has a strong link (in my mind) to a volcano, so I am pondering whether the author was deliberating over the use of the wording "active diarrhea" or "exploding diarrhea." Perhaps "exploding" would be seen as too inflammatory. It has not yet been verified whether "confirmation of non-activity" forms are required to be signed, as it would be easy to identify the culprit, unless there was more than one...... let's not go there! As the need for signs increase, the marketer in me begins to wonder whether perhaps there is a sponsorship opportunity for KOO or All Gold (or similar US baked bean brands) to "get in on the action."

Scene Re-enactment
I'm fascinated as to who, after spending most of the night perched on the throne, releasing half their body weight, would think "phew, thank goodness that's over, now let me hit the public pool."  Picture it - you're happily enjoying the cool waters of your local pool, when you lazily notice John* [not his real name] from down the road, enter the water. You don't take much notice but have a vague idea of him also swimming carefree, enjoying the pool, but suddenly he stops. What's wrong? A pained expression crosses John's face. Without warning there is a powerful surge and he is quickly engulfed by a brown cloud that is steadily increasing in size! Quick as a flash, John begins swimming, quite rapidly, in the opposite direction in an attempt to distance himself from the incriminating brown cloud which seems to be rushing towards your chrystal-clear section of paradise. It takes you a while to fully comprehend the gravity of the situation, but your mind harks back to the sign on the pool gate! Oh no, this is what they were warning you about!! You put Chad le Clos to shame as you race to the side of the pool and leap out of the water just as you hear the panic-stricken instruction over the PA system "CODE BROWN CODE BROWN!!" Mass hysteria follows. Everyone starts screaming as they scan the pool for the proximity of the brown cloud, mothers frantically search for their children and the pool is cleared faster than if there had been a shark in the water. While the swimmers try to squeeze 5 people under one shower head, the pool attendants have hastily cordoned off the pool area and their fecal cleaning operation has commenced. Damn that John not waiting the full 14 days!!

This brings me to........

Awkward Conversations
I can just imagine how this could start some really awkward conversations e.g.
"Hey John! Didn't you see the sign?"

Or better yet:
"Hi Stacey, I'm in your 10th grade maths class. Wanna meet me at the pool later for a swim?"
"Sorry Steve, it's only been 13 days......"
"What do you mean 13 days?  Oooh... um .... ok never mind." *delete number and wash hands*

A quick Google search provided another sign, which I found even more disturbing (if that is possible). Swallowing the water is also a problem! OMG!! this just gets worse and worse! Is this controllable? I'm assuming it must be, if you're warned not to do it. Often I'm in the pool and think "gee I'm thirsty, where could I get a nice cool drink? Oh wait...... I'm surrounded by masses of cool water, let me take a long cool drink of the water right next to me!" *NOT!!!*

I found this sign to be particularly polite. You can swim, but not right now. 14 days is not an issue for this pool. But this sends mixed messages. Do I want to swim here instead? Or do I prefer the safety of the 14-days-policy pool?

This got me thinking, do you remember this scene from the movie Caddy Shack? They drained the country club pool and then the problem was eaten? Hahaha loved that!

But seriously now, thank goodness someone had the presence of mind to introduce this sign, imagine what the pools were like before! Now I don't mean to muddy the waters (pun intended), but everyone knows the saying "the grass is always greener on the other side" and perhaps you also know the amended version that it is only greener because there is more turd on that side?  Unlike some first world countries, in SA we like to keep our anal expulsions out of our pools. But don't get me wrong, we love our signs and when swimming is a problem we're the first to admit it. I've added a few examples.

You see. SA is not for sissies. We help you where we can (by advising you not to breathe under the water) and then leave it up to you, like in Port Alfred, if you get into trouble we tell you where you can get lifesaving equipment (you just need to go get it).

Last Word
In conclusion it is clear, that in South Africa we don't need poop signs for our pools because obviously we don't have this problem. Don't argue with me!! If there is no sign, there is NO PROBLEM!!

[Note to self: NEVER EVER EVER swim in a public pool ever again - with or without a sign!]

Saturday, July 25, 2015

School Holidays - BLT Style

As quickly as they came, the school holidays went. It is unbelievable how quickly time can race when you're having a blast, and how slowly it can drag when you're not!  We had loads of fun this holiday. But it didn't start out that way.....

The challenge for me this holiday was to include fun activities for my BLT while increasing body strength and also sticking to the "rules" of Dr Aron - no swimming (easy because it's freezing cold here) no playing on grass and sweating was to be kept to a minimum. Also the rationing of colourants, preservatives and junk food was not an easy task for a 9 year old, but we try. I started off by drawing up a "wish list" (as us A-types like to do) of potential holiday activities. When I asked B, L and T what they wanted to do the most, they all agreed that going to the rides and playing the arcade games at our local entertainment complex, was the definite winner. I wasn't too keen because that would include almost no activity, but I wrote it down, begrudgingly.

For the first week the girls attended a holiday club arranged by one of the local churches. This was a bit of an eye-opener because I have such fond memories of going to clubs like this when I was growing up, but boy have they changed and not for the better! Each day was making a craft (how lovely - wrong!) the craft was a weapon for battle of their soul against Satan. These crafts ranged from making armour to swords and my personal favourite the "death by cross-bow" craft! The girls were petrified the first day when they were put into a room, the lights were turned off and they were told that they were in a dungeon. The idea apparently was to "come out of the dark" and find "the light of God." Hmmm well this had the quite the opposite effect with my two and I spent a lot of time explaining that they were born from love not evil (as they had been told at the club.) I also had to explain that it was not true that if they didn't "give themselves to God" they were going "straight to hell!" Needless to say we won't be going back there! I'm not sure what the church was trying to achieve with this method, but I honestly think biscuits, Oros, a few fun parables, bible stories and signing Kumbaya, would have gleaned more positive results.

On one of the first afternoons of the holiday, our home was like a mad house. Plumbers were busy replacing our geyser thermostat and I was deflecting an excited 3 year old away from the ladder that led up to the unexplored darkness in the ceiling. I sent him outside to play while I started making lunch (without water as it had been turned off while the plumbers worked). I asked Tomato for the umpteenth time to clean Peanut (her cockatiel's) cage. Usually we just slip out the tray and replace the paper but it needed a more thorough cleaning and she was loathe to comply. She was grumpy and stomping around wailing that nobody was helping her, when Lettuce arrived inside covered in paint from head to toe. I quickly stripped him and sent him upstairs to change, and started boiling the kettle to get hot water to rinse the paint off as. This proved to a worthless effort as the paint wouldn't budge. I then went in search of the source - the paint! I found a litre tin that was left behind by some contractors that we had used a few weeks before. It never occurred to me that they would leave any paint behind. #epicfail. I picked up the can of paint and quickly stashed it into the deep outside basin, out of reach of inquisitive little hands and went back to the boiling kettle and the half-made lunch. Tomato was continuing her rant. She hadn't been able to get the tap on outside and was sobbing that she was so tired and that her life was so horrible. I shouted calmly encouraged her to take the base of the cage outside and soak it for a bit so that all the gunk would get soft and easy to remove and I would help her when I was done. Off she went in a huff while I went upstairs to retrieve Lettuce who was of course on top of the ladder, naked!

We then heard "thud" and a strange high-pitched scream from Tomato! We all rushed to see what was wrong. While taking the paint can out of the basin to make place for her bird-cage soak, she grumpily decided to just throw it down on the cobbles to get it out of her way instead of putting it down nicely. When she did this of course, it burst open sending paint flying in all directions. The scream was due more to the horror of her anticipated punishment than what had actually happened. I actually became so calm that it was scary (even to me). I instantly dished out her punishment of no TV for the entire holiday, as I started to hose down the paint. Tomatoe ran sobbing inside. No such luck for her! I called her to get a wire broom and start scrubbing. We continued for over an hour until most of the paint had been washed away, taking turns to scrub and brush the floor and walls where it had splashed. So a light activity birdcage change that shouldn't have taken more than 10 minutes became almost 2 hours of hard labour. I pictured the 3 weeks of holiday looming in front of me like a prison sentence and dreaded what was to come. On the bright side, the activity had been strength-building and Hubby also had a good workout scrubbing with us!

Then I got thinking about the list we had drawn up..... the most exciting thing is to play games and go on rides..... these games and rides take tokens..... so my idea was born. They were going to earn their treat. Good behaviour = 1 token. The better they behaved, the more games and rides they could go on. First I got them to decorate their own glass jar with as much bling as they could smear onto it. Once the jars were complete, they were given the task of making tokens in any shape or form. That night we had a family meeting around the dining room table (so cute!) Hubby and I explained that they could earn tokens and they loved the idea!
  • Get up, dressed, make bed, brush teeth and hair and have breakfast, leaving the kitchen tidy = 1 token 
  • Bathing when asked and tidying their room, packing away clothes etc = 1 token 
  • Eating dinner nicely, clearing up afterwards and going to bed without drama = 1 token
Then during the day they could earn extra tokens by:
  • Being kind
  • Helping when asked
  • Helping without being asked
  • Getting along with their siblings and not fighting
After explaining the token idea, we went on to discuss the shouting in the family and how we were tired of having to shout so much because they don't listen to us and how we are forced to shout to be heard. They agreed, they didn't like the shouting. We discussed how it makes us all feel sad. I introduced the "no shouting" idea which has been a game-changer! We will ask twice and then, instead of asking a third time and shouting, we would gently (actually very noisily, for effect) remove a token from their jar! They looked shocked, but they agreed, no more shouting. Well our lives became blissful overnight! If there was any trouble, I just mentioned the tokens and they stepped right back into line, helping and being kind to their siblings. Dinner dishes and pots and pans were whisked away and put in the scullery as we finished eating. We were continually asked if we needed help with anything and if there was any misbehaviour they would, amongst themselves, remind each other that they could lose a token. I wish I'd started this years ago! Star charts have nothing on tokens! Later I needed to tweak the rules a bit and add that they couldn't ask for tokens (that became annoying) and if they played with their tokens without permission, they were all taken away! I have only taken away 3 tokens, that's how well-behaved they were.

Ice skating
So the ground rules were laid and we were ready for some fun. Bacon, Tomato and myself were invited to an ice-skating party. PERFECT! No matter how fast you skate, you cannot sweat because the rink is freeeeeezing cold. I duct-taped my skates onto my RA-swollen ankles and hit the ice. No I'm not kidding about the duct tape! I did think that if my bag was checked and a roll of duct tape found, that I may be accused of being a potential kidnapper, but nobody noticed and the girls thought it was hilarious that my boots were taped on. We had a ball and the girls were skating quite nicely by the end of the party. They enjoyed it so much that we went twice during the holidays. It was great exercise for all of us. The second time I hobbled for a few days afterwards, but they were having so much fun and were so excited with their new-found skating skills, so as all parents do, we suck up the pain and enjoy their joy. Another fun activity was going to a beach volleyball party where Tomato was very nervous, but soon found that she enjoyed the game and left on a high, wanting to go back there too. She also had a date with daddy which is always a hit! Thereafter we went to a soccer party for Lettuce, so B, L and T were moving and shaking every day of the holiday, no lazing about for us.

Pandaleen sleeping on a cereal box
At home, they almost wore out the bottom of our trampoline, they jumped so much, and Bacon's newly acquired bear Fudgey was flung from one sibling to the next, along with the other fluffies in the different games. Needless to say that once school began, the injured fluffies were sent off to the Granny hospital for rest and repair. We also had numerous picnics and games in the garden. B, L and T even spring-cleaned their wendy house without me asking! I loved all the activities. We also picnicked at our park where we played soccer and made "dinner" from freshly scooped river ingredients. The long pieces of algae were the salad, sticks were located and packed together for the make-believe fire and I was handed a long stick. My "job" was to sit in the sun on a rock and fish. Dinner was algae salad and my imaginary catch-of-the-day! It was a lovely day apart from Bacon falling in at the end *snort* that was funny but I wasn't allowed to laugh. I purposefully left my phone at home to avoid distractions but that meant I also left my camera at home, so no pics. Keeping with the water theme we took the kids into the country to a farm stall that sells delicious pies, bobotie and homemade goodies. We bought lunch there and ate it at the pond, watching the ducks. B, L and T then made boats out of anything they could find, twigs, leaves, sticks and bark and had boat races across the dam. They made better and better boats as they learned what worked and what didn't. Tomato had a HUGE piece of bark with leaves as sails, so her last boat was very sturdy. Then on the way home we stopped at the local small airport and watched planes taking off and landing. This was hugely exciting!
Spring cleaning in winter
Making boats
Playing in the dam
When we got home from watching planes and playing in the dam, I decided to wash my car. I was about to offer tokens as a reward for washing both mine and hubby's cars, when I realised that they were DELIGHTED to wash our cars! We always have our cars washed at a car wash, so BLT had never experienced washing a car in their own driveway. It was a treat and one of their favourite activities of the day! Who knew? Lettuce was on wheel duty and did a really good job! Tomato was on window duty and Bacon the painted areas. Mommy was in charge of the hosepipe ha ha *evil laugh.*  We were all drenched by the end of the washing escapade and raced to bath when we were done to warm up.

We spent time with Mema, walking along the river she lives on and feeding the ducks, we baked, read bedtime stories and watched concerts with B, L and T as the star performers and had sing-a-longs. The girls went on play dates with their friends and we went to a restaurant with a play area to celebrate Bacon's birthday (again) because we couldn't go out on the night of her birthday due to the weather. We pretended to have load shedding (power blackout) as we don't have them as often as my BLT would like and they LOVE eating dinner by candle light. Yes I'm sure our neighbours think we are stark raving mad, but we don't care!

But always with fun, comes drama and if you've learned anything about my life, we are drama magnets! Each child had their own particular drama. We've discussed the paint incident with Tomato but Bacon (shame) had a mini-drama that made her so sad. I had taken B, L and T for their back-to-school haircuts a week before, to avoid the mayhem of the last minute weekend rush. Their hair all looked lovely and both girls had their hair clipped back with fancy clips. The next day Bacon was in tears because her hair was "funny" and true enough it WAS funny! The one side was much longer than the other and she was so upset. I took her back and a different hairdresser was on duty and said "even a blind man could see this is wrong" which made me laugh but Bacon was mortified! Once her hair had been evened out, she was even more upset because her hair was much shorter than she had wanted and couldn't fit into a ponytail anymore. Nothing that a lollipop, a balloon and a trip to the ice-rink couldn't fix!

Lettuce fast asleep under the bed!
The same night of the haircut, I was making dinner downstairs and B, L and T were upstairs all bathing together under the watchful eye of Dot-the-Domestic. I heard a loud thud and a cry. I listened to hear how bad the cry was. Allow me to interject at this point to explain that this is what I call "Third Child Syndrome." If we only had one child, I would have left the pots boiling over on the stove and raced upstairs before she could take a breath, but you realise, with experience, that the second scream is the true severity-of-injury identifier. The second scream alerted me to the fact that it was very sore but only when I heard Tomato shouting "blood!!" and her and Bacon getting out of the bath at a pace, did I hit the stairs running. I knew that Dot was there and really, I rationalised, how much damage can you do to yourself in the bath? I was not prepared for the scene that met me. Lettuce was standing up and Dot had her hand flat on the side of his head holding the wound and blood was pouring over her hand, down her arm and dripping into the water! The bath water looked like a scene from a horror movie, it was blood-red (excuse the pun.) Without giving it a second thought, I kicked off my shoes and got into the red water to hold my little boy. It took me quite a while to stop the bleeding enough to see if he needed stitches or not - thankfully not. There was about a 3cm gouge out of his head that fortunately wasn't very deep but man oh man did it bleed! Eventually I realised that the bloody water was freaking him out, so I let it out, put in some clean water with a huge dose of Dettol and between Dot and I we managed to wash the wound. He had tried to lie down in the bath (with the girls) and sat up suddenly hitting his head on the corner of the bath spout which is almost flush against the bath. Boys!!

Anyhoo, apart from the paint, hair and head issues, we had an amazing holiday. I see it as a "back to basics" holiday as the TV couldn't have been on for more than 4 hours the entire holiday and we had good, clean, old-school-type fun. Every night they crashed into bed and slept like babies because they were worn out! When we eventually got to spend the tokens, they enjoyed the outing so much more than before, knowing that they had earned their rewards and when we got home they begged to continue the token awards so that they could earn more while at school. I agreed.

This simple reward system has had a fabulously positive effect on our lives and family interactions. Please feel free to copy my idea and bring some peace to your home or a friend who could benefit. I was so sad when the holidays ended. Not only do I have to return to the 5.30am alarm clock, homework, extra murals etc, I really really miss my BLT!