Back at it

Operation Relocation is back in full-swing. After our house failed to sell earlier this year, we have been enjoying something of a house-selling hiatus. I use the term ‘enjoying’ very loosely here. You see, it’s been the depths of winter here in Wellington, and we have spent most of the past 2 months hosting a veritable smorgasbord of winter bugs. “Cough, hack, sneeze” will long be remembered as the soundtrack to our last ever winter in the Windy City.

Snow on the hills and bugs in the air. It must be winter.

Snow on the hills and bugs in the air. It must be winter.

I talked a while ago about Plan B. In this plan we were going to put the house on the market in the deep, dark, depths of winter. A time when the property market is so incredibly slow. Oh, AND we were going to do it without an estate agent (we’ve never even sold a house by ourselves before). Crazy!? Yeah, probably. I think we were feeling a bit desperate at the time. Thankfully, common sense prevailed (actually I think that the winter bugs came to visit around the same time, and so we just couldn’t be bothered with it all).

So, here we are in Wellington, still. Waiting, waiting….

I’ve been keeping a watch on the property market during our hiatus, and according to my highly untrained eye, I think soon could be a good time to get going again. So, yesterday I met with a new estate agent. He had a look at the house. We talked a bit about the market. I started to let myself think about Brisbane again, and how it might be to actually live there.

I have to be honest here. The enthusiasm and zeal that accompanied our initial plans to move back to Australia has waned somewhat. The disappointment of having our house not sell when we initially had it on the market, followed by an unplanned Wellington winter has sapped a whole lot of energy. I have even entertained thoughts of throwing in the towel, and just staying here in Wellington, for good. It would certainly be the easy option. Mr Maru is horrified by the idea. It’s also not what we want for our family. So, back at it we go.

This Girl

Photo by Amber-Jayne Bain

                                                                                                                  Photo by Amber-Jayne Bain

This is my girl. She’s my baby and she’s turning one. One whole year has passed since we bundled our precious little daughter up and brought her home. She was born in the middle of an earthquake storm. The fault lines that run through Wellington had been rubbing each other up the wrong way for weeks. Sometimes their tussles were violent enough to have us rushing under tables or looking for heavy structures to hide under. I must have looked quite the sight, hurriedly trying to wedge my heavily pregnant body under various structures in our house – the dining table, the kitchen bench.

While they were a nuisance, these earthquakes perfectly signified the crescendo of what had been an extremely stressful pregnancy. Although the wriggles and kicks of my unborn baby assured me of her vitality, I could never truly allow myself to believe that she would be born alive after the death of her big sister just one year earlier.

She was born alive though. This daughter of mine, she opened her eyes and she cried out. She was pink and she was perfect. The anxieties of the past 38 weeks were shed in an absolute instant. The indescribable bliss of holding my living, breathing daughter. This girl, was my girl.

That was one year ago.

Every day since, I have held her and luxuriated in the act of breathing her in. Her warmth and the way she curls into my body when we cuddle is a novelty that never tires. This girl who loves peekaboo and books; who says cuddle and cat; who laughs when her brother laughs. This girl is my girl.

Happy birthday precious.

Calling Doctor Google

Driving my baby girl to the ophthalmologist last week, I was bracing myself for the bad news. We had noticed a few weeks before that her right pupil was a lot bigger than her left. A quick consult with Doctor Google and the diagnosis was made. It wasn’t good news. Trusty old Dr G sat me down, held my hand and explained. He was certain it was an optic tumour. The prognosis wasn’t good. He went into great depths with his descriptions of the different types of tumours it could be. He explained that the treatment process would be lengthy. There would most certainly be surgery, which would then likely be followed by radiation and finally, months of chemotherapy. Even after all this, he couldn’t guarantee my daughters outcome.

ImageI was beside myself. I was losing sleep and struggling to keep my worries in check. The panic and anxiety was all consuming. After having worked very hard to kick my comfort eating afflictions this year, I was back with my hand in the cookie jar. I started buying large blocks of chocolate again, and not sharing. A trip to our family doctor for some reassurance was met with a distinct lack of commitment either way, and a hasty referral to the Ophthalmologist was made.

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It was a very long two weeks waiting to see the specialist. My ever efficient mind went to work, busying itself with the planning of logistics. We would surely have to go to Auckland for her treatment. Auckland is an 8 hour drive from Wellington. How would we juggle this? The best plan would be for me to go with my daughter and my husband to stay at home with our son. We’d have to arrange childcare for the days when Mr4 is not in Kindy. Should we just pack up and move back to Australia before the treatment? Would she get better care in Sydney? In all, it was a very productive 2 weeks. By the time our appointment came around, I had all the logistics very clearly mapped out.

Sitting in the clinic room while the Ophthalmologist examined my baby girls’ eye, I had to keep reminding myself to breathe. The palpitations of my heart were thumping at my eardrums, making it hard to hear. I had to work hard to concentrate on what the specialist was saying. He talked about all the different things he looks for when someone presents with an enlarged pupil (which of course I already knew about, thanks to Dr Google). He then said that our baby girl didn’t have any of the other symptoms that would give him cause for concern.

I had to ask him to say that bit again.

She was going to be fine. She simply had one pupil that was about 1mm larger than the other. It was called Physiological Anisocoria, and it was nothing to worry about. Casting my mind back, I recalled Dr Google mentioning something about it possibly being entirely benign. Interesting how we quickly brushed past that fact in our long discussions.

So, thankfully our baby girl is completely healthy. There will be no trips to Auckland for treatment, and family life can continue as normal. Reflecting on all the anxiety of those few weeks, I wonder why, oh, why I consulted with Dr Google over this? He never, ever brings good news; and it’s no secret to me, that he is so very often wrong with his diagnoses. It makes me wonder if he actually has a medical degree!?

Do you consult with Dr Google?

Has he ever given you palpitations?

Plan B

After a few months of floating in space wondering how the hell we were ever going to get back to Australia, we now have a plan. Another plan. I guess you could call this Plan B. It is not my usual style to have a plan go awry, but that is certainly what has happened so far this year. When we sat down at the end of 2013, we agreed a plan of action that would have us selling our Wellington house and moving back to the Lucky Country by May this year. At the latest. It’s now June. That plan obviously fell through.

Last week, I started making another plan. A different plan. In this plan, I was going to renew my New Zealand Occupational Therapy Practicing Certificate. I have been on maternity leave for a while now, and I am itching to get my business up and running again. I work with children who have developmental problems, and I absolutely love it. I have been treating a friends’ child over the past few weeks, just as a favour. What a revelation this has been for me. It has reminded me just how much I adore being an Occupational Therapist. The difference we can make to a child’s life is nothing short of profound, especially when you have a child and a set of parents who are totally engaged. This taste of my old professional life as made me hungrier to get back into it. I have so many ideas for developing my business, and I’m impatient!

So, I figured since we were still in New Zealand with no real plans of getting out of here that I should just get on and get started with my business ideas here in Wellington. I got out my note pad, and started making a list. I was getting very excited and the ideas were flowing. I have heaps of contacts here in Wellington, and I knew that I would have clients knocking at my door in no time. Hoorah! A plan! This was going to be great!

This past weekend I had a dream. In this dream I was living in Brisbane with my family. It was stinking hot and we were renovating a house. It was a chaotic dream and certainly devoid of any glamour or romance. But we were there, on the other side of the Tasman, getting on with the life we want to be living. When I woke up from this dream I was so totally pissed off. How damn annoying to still be here in Wellington, when the plan was to be in Brisbane by now. It put me in such a bad mood and I just couldn’t shake it off.

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So then I hatched a different plan. Plan B. The plan I referred to at the beginning of this blog. Starting my business up again here in Wellington is a bad idea. Sure, it would be great to sink my teeth into my therapy work here in Wellington, but it would be a distraction. I would be taking my eye off the ball. I need to focus on the Grand Plan, which means selling the house and getting to Australia.

So in the newly revised Plan B, we will spend June getting the house back up to show home status, and by the beginning of July we will have it back on the market. We have decided not to use an agent this time around which means with the money we save we can be more flexible with price. This will mean doing all the sales work ourselves, but it can’t be that hard, right!?

Come hell or high water we will be in Brisbane by the Spring!

Have you ever sold your house without an agent? Any tips welcomed!

The waiting place…

It’s May. Almost June. Winter is looming large. Those dreaded Wellington winds are blowing and the damn southerly is biting hard. The summer-time love affair I was enjoying with this city has soured. The house is off the market for the time being, and our move to Australia is feeling ever distant. The property market is still pretty dismal for sellers, so we are treading water, waiting for a change.

This weekend, my son and I were reading “Oh, the places you’ll go” by Dr. Seuss. In the story, he describes a most useless place, the waiting place, where people are just hanging about waiting for planes or trains or for their hair to grow. It was the most perfect description of our current state of idleness. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Waiting for the market to change; waiting for the winds to stop; waiting for the sun to shine; waiting for the house to sell… Oh, what a dismal old place this waiting place is!

20140527_110951I guess we all pass through the waiting place at different times in our lives. I have certainly been here before. It’s a very frustrating place to be, but I have also found that it’s a terrific incubator for ideas and determination. By the time our house sells, I will be so hungry to get to Australia. We’ll land in Brisbane and I will hit the ground running. After all this waiting around, I will be brimming with such drive and ambition that nothing will stop me!

For now though, I just need to tolerate these dormant moments, and keep reminding myself that this is just a temporary state. There’s nothing like a bit of Dr. Seuss philosophy to provide a little clarity.

Grief, recovery and a baby shower

I went to a baby shower at the weekend. For the first time in a very long time, I actually sat and joined in with stories of waters breaking and labour pains. I laughed. I felt normal. Stella was on my mind, but not in the gut wrenching, “how the hell can I get out of here” kind of way she normally is during these types of discussions. I talked about my eldest child’s birth. I laughed at how his waters broke while we were having dinner at a friends’ house. I nodded knowingly at the discomfort of late pregnancy. I laughed at how bizarrely primal and animalistic labour is. I bit my tongue when one mum told the heavily pregnant guest of honour that she was “in the safe stage” of her pregnancy. I kept it to myself that in pregnancy there is in fact, no safe stage. I stayed quiet about the birth of my second child, and didn’t talk about my third.

My second child, Stella, was stillborn. Just out of the blue, she died. It was an ordinary Wednesday back in 2012. It was August, and we had the in-laws staying with us. It had been my husbands’ 40th birthday and I had thrown a surprise party for him. All his family from Australia had come to New Zealand for the celebrations. It had been the most joyous time, and I was revelling in the success of all those months of covert party planning. And then I woke up. It was a Thursday morning. There was an ominous stillness in my belly. My baby was dead and nothing would ever be the same.

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In the 20 months that have passed since Stella died, life has gone on. I have woken up every single morning and gotten myself out of bed. I have cared for, and nurtured my son in the best way I know how. I have continued to be a good wife to my husband. I have carried my precious third born to term, and delivered her, alive and kicking, into the world. That I survived the anxiety and fear of my third child’s pregnancy still astounds me. Nothing can prepare you for pregnancy after such profound loss. In doing all these things, I have continued to exist every, single, day, since the day that my daughter died.

Moving through these months, I have felt like a mere approximation of myself. I lost the easiness that I have always had with people. I became tense and anxious. I dreaded meeting new people. People who didn’t know about Stella scared the hell out of me. I was fearful of what they might inadvertently say, and more so, about how I might react. Simple discussions with strangers in supermarkets about how many children I have could send me off to a very dark place. With my friends, when I wasn’t aloof I was intense. I felt tainted. I was awkward and uneasy. On certain days, it was almost debilitating.

Recently, there’s been a welcomed shift within me. I’ve been feeling a bit less like a cheap imitation of myself, a bit more like the real deal. I’ve found myself meeting strangers’ eyes on the street and smiling back at them. Conversations with the other mums at my sons Kindy have been coming more easily. I even had coffee with a new mum yesterday. These are the types of things the old me would have done, without even a second thought. The me before grief took hold.

I’m certainly not saying that my grief is done. It is liberating to feel some sense of forward motion, but I’m still not as accepting of my daughters’ death as I would like to be. I suppose grief is something that I will never shake off, and maybe I don’t really want to? It is after all, the vehicle that enables me to continue to parent Stella. By taking care of my grief, I am in some small way taking care of her too. I am not yet whole, but for now though, this is good enough.

Fijian escape and a baby on a bender

The holiday started at a crowded and chaotic Wellington airport. We were off on a much anticipated family trip to Fiji. There was fog; a lot of it; and yes, it was lingering. Air traffic around the city had ground to a halt. Our plans of being poolside, cocktail in hand by 3pm were diminishing fast. The weeks leading up to this trip had been fraught to say the least. The hubby was doing some crazy hours at work (often 12-14 hour days), which left me lone-wrangler to Mr4 years and Ms9 months. Mr4 had also been experiencing some health problems which resulted in some minor surgery just before our trip (thankfully with a positive outcome – phew!). Add to this, the stress of trying to sell a house and voilà, you have one pretty stressed out mama. Yes, I was in desperate need of a nice, relaxing tropical holiday!

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So, back at the airport. With the hubby on his way back home in a taxi to collect his forgotten passport, I found myself in command of a wayward luggage trolley, several large suitcases and two small children, one of which was harnessed to my front, the other manically speeding around the over-crowded Air New Zealand check-in area pretending to be a jet. It occurred to me at this point that things hadn’t started well. In an attempt to quell the rising anxiety, I felt it was time for a little mindfulness. I really needed to put aside the stress of the past weeks and the frustration and uncertainty of how and when we were going to get to Fiji, and just concentrate on what was happening in that very minute. I knew we’d eventually get that poolside cocktail, and I just needed to go with the flow until we got there.

With a passport holding husband back in the fold, we hunkered down, waiting for the fog to lift. Long hours were spent playing any and every child’s game that involved a pen and paper. Every shop in the airport was explored. Twice. We watched the Duke and Duchess of Cambridges’ plane land (interesting how their plane seemed to have no troubles navigating the Wellington fog!?). We ran into some old friends we hadn’t seen for ages. We chatted to other stranded passengers. My husband and I chatted with each other. It was actually a very pleasant family day out. In the end our flight didn’t leave until late afternoon, which meant staying in Auckland overnight and then an early morning flight the next day to Fiji.

By 11am the next day we were there. Hoorah!! The resort was gorgeous. White sandy beaches lined with coconut trees and recliners. Enormous pools that snaked their way around the resort. We had arrived and it was going to be bliss! There was even an adults-only pool, the Holy Grail. Two years ago, we’d had a Fijian family holiday. There were only three of us then, back when Mr4 was Mr2, and Ms9 months was not yet here. Back then, the hubby and I devised the most perfect holiday formula. We would take it in turns (day-on, day-off) to be on child-duty. On your day-off you could chose to do what-ever you liked. I would often spend the morning with the family, but then take my leave in the afternoon, heading straight for the much coveted adults-only pool. Book in one hand; cocktail in the other; the rapturous sound of silence in my ears. What could be better!? We left Fiji feeling renewed and refreshed. Family holidays are awesome!

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Or are they!?

So, the hubby and I figured we’d just apply our winning formula to this holiday. Eeeeeasy! However, there was one particular variable that we failed to factor in; the small matter of Little Ms9 months refusing to sleep in the hotel cot. In order to get our cherub to sleep I ended up having to share a bed with her. Given that Ms9 months is still breast feeding, sharing a bed with the milk truck was just a little too exciting for her. She managed to work her way through the entire week on a constant milk bender. It was almost like she was a teenager away on an end of year schoolies trip, but instead of binging on Midori and lemonade, it was mums milk all the way. The milk truck was exhausted! There was little hope of me catching up on sleep during the day, since our bundle of milk would only sleep in the daylight hours whilst being chauffeured around the resort in either the front pack or pram. The minx! I hasten to add that she sleeps perfectly well in her own cot at home, so this was a complete surprise to us. I spent the entire holiday in a sleep deprived state and feeling utterly wrung out.

Dad, forget sleep, where's the milk truck?

Dad, forget sleep, where’s the milk truck?

Sadly, our winning holiday formula didn’t make it out of the bag this trip. There was no time hanging out by the adults-only pool and neither of the two books I’d packed for the trip made it out of my suitcase (two – what was I thinking!?). We did have lots of family fun though. Mr4 spent hours swimming and digging in the sand. We took a boat trip out to a gorgeous tropical island. We ate out for every meal. The sun shone every single day and the sunsets were just simply stunning. We spent time all together, the four of us as a family.

IMG_6050Since we got back, I’ve been reflecting on the trip and the mismatch between how I thought the holiday would be, and how it actually was. I have come to the conclusion that I have probably been a little selfish in my expectations of what a family holiday should be. Holidays have always brought out the hedonist in me, and I guess this one was no different. Looking back, I now realise that I was so focused on the things I wasn’t doing (i.e.: sleeping, relaxing by the pool, reading my book etc), that I struggled to focus on what I actually was doing. It’s a shame that the mindfulness I had been practicing so well back at Wellington airport didn’t join me for the Fijian leg of the holiday. Family life is busy and family holidays are no exception.

Is there such a thing as a relaxing family holiday? Any tips welcomed!