A Million Cupcakes

Just a quick one to share a cause I think needs some more publicity. Two amazing kids that I have taught in the past have created http://www.millioncupcakes.org/ in memory of their grandfather, to try and raise money and awareness for Motor Neurone Disease, (MND) which they can explain on the website far better than I could. (Well done to the parents for such obviously brilliant discussion on a complex illness by the way!)

While the disease is terrible, and the idea, (of selling a million virtual cupcakes) is adorable, something much bigger touched my heart, especially while dealing with my own grief.

I’m sure we all remember the first time we lost someone important to us. I was Oliver’s age (7) and really that first grief was really more a first glance at the idea that people do not live forever, that those we love can be lost, and that there’s nothing we can do about it.

The next time I lost someone I cared about, I was around Ella’s age, (11) and this time I remember missing them so acutely that it hurt all the time. I wrote letters, I kept busy, but again, there is a helplessness about death that makes it seem hopeless, especially for a child.

Even at age 19, when I experienced a real loss for the first time, that sense of confusion and despair was no less prevalent. And it’s still there.

And I think that’s why I feel so attached to this particular cause. Yes, I know the children personally, and if it helps-they are both really lovely kids. But more than that, they are taking their grief for their grandfather, and removing the hopelessness from it. They are creating something wonderful and meaningful out of their loss, and if more people can share this cause, as well as this idea, they could actually change the world before they hit their teens, at an age where when faced with loss, most of us are just battling with getting up for school in the morning.

I’m impressed, and I think if you take the time to visit the website and check out the video, you will be too.

So what are you waiting for? Click the link, learn something, and send a delicious (calorie-free!) cupcake today, for as little as £2. And share share share!

http://www.millioncupcakes.org/

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On Loneliness and Grieving.

Seven summers ago I sat shiva. It changes you. People say I have a strange relationship with death; they’re usually people who thankfully haven’t had any relationship with it at all. But I don’t think that comes from losing a parent. I think I was always aware of the idea that people might not be there the next day. That trust was a hard gift to give when you considered the likelihood of being left alone at any minute without warning.

So when, indeed without warning, a matter of hours after happily hanging up the phone on one of several daily calls to my father, I was summoned almost wordlessly to his already dead body, no chance to say goodbye, I can’t remember feeling shocked. The often quoted feeling of  ‘this cant be happening to me’  never even crossed my mind. It almost made sense, somehow.

Back then, for whatever reason, I chose to focus on the positive in the situation for the most part. I felt grief, I tore my clothes, I cried what must have been buckets of real tears, don’t get me wrong. It was probably the saddest and most difficult period in my life. But I’m not sure I ever complained. I’m not sure I ever shouted and raved about how unfair it was. Anger didn’t come into the equation for me.

Not then anyway.

I’m angry today. With a lot of people. I’m angry that you didn’t phone me, even though I told you in advance what day it is. I’m angry that I had to tell you what day it is in the first place, and that I have to explain (even though you’ll never understand) why it’s important to me. I’m angry that you are allowed the immense privilege of not understanding, and I have to go through this, distancing me from everyone un-scarred and whole in my life.

I’m angry with you too. I can’t understand how you can let this slip your mind. How you can marry someone and have a child together, and never think she might end up in this position. And I’m so frustrated that now I’m here dealing with it, you can’t remember something as important as today and phone me up and see how I am. How can you tell me that this is all harder for you than me, if this day hasn’t even crossed your mind, in a fraction of the way it’s taken camp in my own these last few weeks?

I’m even annoyed at my family. For reaching milestones that he never will, for taking for granted relationships he will never experience, simply for not being his sons, his wife, his nephews, nieces, parents, siblings. Mostly for leaving me the only one who feels this, and giving me no outlet to satisfactorily share it, and in most cases for hardly trying. I can’t pick up the phone and ask for a memory that’s slipped just out of reach, because no one else shares it, or worse still, because the risk of blank faces is just too frighteningly painful. I just have to wait while it fades further out of mind, losing the very puzzle pieces that made up a man’s life. I can’t pop round anywhere to reminisce, because no one shared our relationship.
Ironically, this was the very fact I so eagerly clung to while I sat shiva at 19.

It was only me. I was so proud to alone walk my Dad out of this world with dignity, to do the customs and laws that a family member does according to Jewish law, all on my own. I felt I was really making a difference, really proving that our relationship had always been him and me, and that was no different in his death, no intrusions. It was almost sacred- just the two of us.

But now it’s the one of me.

So I’m angry with You most of all. Not for taking him away from me, that’s too easy, although as I grow up I realise just how cut short his years were, taken at 63. But it’s the way of the world after all, a child losing a parent. But mainly for the way You left me here.
My mother wasn’t his wife, my brothers weren’t his sons. My husband and my son never knew him, I have no uncles or aunts, no grandparents. To make things slightly crueller, there could have been a lifetime companion to share this grief with, miscarried at seven weeks. At one year old, I was destined to be entirely alone in this, and I didn’t even know it.

So I sit here, writing mainly to myself, the only person who has been feeling this day approach with a heavy heart, and the only one who woke up this morning remembering, and wondering what might have been.

Today would have been my Daddy’s 70th birthday. Not old, not really, but seven long years gone. My life is truly so changed since he knew it, that I wonder if he would recognise me at all. And yet the people in my life now, have moved on from even the memory of ‘him and me’ to the point where they can’t remember the importance of today even when I’ve told them directly, let alone out of care of me. It’s not their fault, why should they? It’s only me who is stuck in both times. Missing and living simultaneously. Both getting on with life, and coping with death.

Still, I cant help but wonder whether the burden would be lighter to bear if there were anyone else to share the load.

A Letter to the Experts.

Dear multitude of doctors / specialists / experts in your field that we have seen in the last 36 months,

Hello. I’m R’s mum. You might not remember who I am, although I generally see you biannually. That’s fine, you have plenty of patients, I’m sure only a handful stand out, and even less so by name. As a kid, I always took it for granted that my optometrists and the like knew my name and age, not supposing that the file on their laps acted as a subtle cheat sheet. It’s one of your many mythic properties, to remember and care for everyone individually.

But now I’m grown up, and my son is the patient. And while I don’t expect you to remember that he doesn’t like to speak in new places so there’s very little point you asking him if he likes cars, or that we don’t actually use that particular obvious nickname so he wont answer to it, I do expect a few things.

I expect you to remember what condition he has, and what you told us last time. It’s easy really, it’s all written on that very same cheat sheet. After all, we’ve been sitting in your waiting room for nearly two hours, another two minutes wouldn’t have hurt while you scanned your own spidery writing from six months ago. In contrast, I don’t need to be told as if for the first time that my son has Nystagmus, as that’s as obvious to me as you telling me his gender by now. I know his condition, I live it every day. That patronising explanation of what the condition means and what areas it may affect is a bit unnecessary, as after all, your notes would tell you that I have it too.

If I’m meeting you for the first time, there are a few ways to ensure we can be friends for life. Because I’m already your biggest fan, you’re helping my son. Anything you can give us in the way of advice, support and help is worthy of the boatloads of gratitude I continually give to the amazing people who work in our healthcare system. So it takes something out of the ordinary to shift my adoration in a first meeting. I’ll warn you from the outset so you can keep my boundless respect. Please don’t ask me “what’s wrong with” my son. Nothing is wrong with him. He has a condition. If he wasn’t too young to understand that comment, I would be outside drafting my letter of complaint right now.
Please don’t address my scepticism with I’ve been doing this for years… because all a mother hears is the silent …but not with my child, which is so easy to end the sentence with. Your years and your credentials mean nothing to me, if you cant try and get to know my kid as an individual.

Please don’t laugh and say “That’s the first time I’ve heard that one!” when I tentatively mention that another doctor has said something  that differs from your point of view. If I can’t trust them, then ipso facto I can’t trust you. And if I can’t trust any of you, and I don’t know who to believe, then you’re saddling me with decisions and choices that I have no way of making on my own, and taking away the pure relief of handing over at least the medical side to what should be wiser heads than my own.

Try not to judge me instantly. I’m a mother, worried and proud, but that doesn’t make me hysterical and biased. I work, and enjoy it, but that doesn’t mean I neglect my son or don’t want to put the effort in. I’m a person, impatient for progress, but that doesn’t mean I’m looking for a cheat or a quick fix. And if I am guilty of any of the above? That’s okay too, because you don’t know my whole story.

You don’t look at my son with my eyes. You can’t see him, tiny and blind, with parents hopefully cooing at his sightless face, hoping for a response that he even knew we were there. You didn’t sit at home with me, too scared to go on play-dates with other excited new mums in case they asked me why my five month old didn’t smile. You didn’t share my joy when the smiles came, the movement came, the speech and understanding came at long last.

So if I want more information than you feel like explaining to my layman’s ears? I want more time than the ten minutes you’re allowed to give me, or more estimations than you’re really supposed to divulge at this stage? Humour me. Answer me. Don’t try and distract me away from answers to legitimate questions which you’ll forget as soon you close his file. Because I’ll take them home with me to fill my evenings with, for six more months until I come back resolved to ask them all again. I’ll worry and stew over your poorly chosen words and ambiguous predictions for the year ahead, until my friends and family are bored of hearing the same confused summaries.

He’s just a file to you. I can’t make him be anything else, and I’m glad. I need you to make the cool headed decisions and uninvolved assessments that I can’t ever make, and wouldn’t want to. But I’m not a file. I’m a mother. And I’m still here when that file closes. 

If I met my teenage self, I’d cringe and pretend I didn’t know her.

Sitting in Starbucks this morning, I found myself in a situation I haven’t been in for almost a decade; sitting next to two teenage girls on study leave, complete with massive ringbinders and several too many different coloured highlighters. As with all girls who have committed the day to serious revision, they spent most of the morning chatting to each other and putting on unnecessary amounts of eye-liner. I normally feel pretty young, but when confronted with the real deal, I left the coffee shop at the ripe old age of 25 feeling almost painfully old in comparison.

Sharing the same seating area as the couplet, and as a result of teenage girls having absolutely no concept of privacy, I naturally now know these two better than most of my own friends. (I shudder to think the amount of people who know my entire life story from multiple loud coffee shop and bus ride conversations that I ignorantly broadcasted before I left school.)

I wouldn’t want to spill confidences, but here are my fave tidbits from the few hours we spent together. Wise words from the youth of today, all verbatim, all said with entirely serious faces.

On friendship.

“We’re not exactly best friends.”
“Well, would SHE consider you to be her best friend?”
“Yeah, probably. But I wouldn’t say she’s MY best friend if you know what I mean.” -pause- “Obviously don’t tell her I said that.”

___

“I used to make friends so easily, like remember when we were in year nine, you could pick and choose you know? Now it’s just so much more complicated.” -worldly sigh-

On relationships.

“Did he call you?”
“Well he didn’t call me, but he did text me before he went to sleep. And then I replied, but he didn’t reply.” -pause- “..but he was probably asleep.” -longer pause- “…although he’s probably awake now.” -checks phone-.

___

“Did you see them together?”
“Yeah, I was really surprised. But look, its up to him who he gets with isn’t it?”
“And she IS so skinny now.”
“Yeah that’s true. Maybe I’m not that surprised. -pause- I wonder if she’s like, anorexic.”
“If she is, someone should definitely tell him.”
“Yeah, maybe I should tell him.”

On family

“Wow, I really love that skirt.”
“I know. And my mum said it didn’t match my top!”
“My mum said the same thing!”
-high five-

___

“I personally think you’re prettier than your sister.”
“Right but she IS really smart.”
“She’s fake blonde though right?”
“That’s true.”

On politics

“Do you want to study at mine tomorrow?”
“I actually said I would study at X’s. I would totally invite you but I’m not sure if people are invited or if its like a thing.”
“Oh ok.”
“You know if it were my choice them of COURSE you would be invited, but I just don’t really know what’s happening. -pause- why don’t you phone and ask? You should definitely phone and ask.”

On work ethic and self image

“Can you test me on this vocab?”
“Sure. But first look at this pic from X’s Instagram.”
-laughs far too loudly- “That’s amazing!!! Here, lets take our picture.”
-they move to sit next to each other and spend five mins taking the same selfie over and over and deleting it-
“Ah, that ones good. You’re so pretty.”
“What do you mean? You’re stunning! I look awful today!”
“You’re crazy!”
-returns to studying, vocab clearly forgotten-

Five mins later:
“We’ve been revising for ages. Want to go get food?”

 

Definitely the world leaders of tomorrow. Now to spend some time on Google checking no one’s written a blog about the creepy lady who was frantically transcribing their conversations all morning in a less than subtle way.

No Two Ways About It, That’s Strange. (Part 4)

The following facts about me are important pre-requisite knowledge for reading this particular blog. Most of you will know at least two out of three, so don’t get excited.

I was a vegetarian from birth until I was 18 years old.
I have always been strictly Kosher.
I am an infuriatingly and nonsensically bad eater.

So you can probably see where I am going with this. My attitudes to food are not exactly adventurous. I generally don’t order things in restaurants unless I know every ingredient inside it, and can see as few of them as possible. Even then, I bother waiters all around north west london on a regular basis with orders such as, “I’ll have the pesto and olive pasta, without the pesto, and with lots of cheese. And y’know what? No olives.”

Generally, my tastes haven’t changed since I was a kid, with a few notable exceptions. I now force myself to try new things once in a while, I now eat salad as long as it hasn’t seen a cut up tomato, (how hard is it to leave the cherry tomatoes whole?!) and I’m an unashamed carnivore, much to my mothers dismay.

But (and here comes my point) in absolutely no world, no matter how adventurous an eater I was, or however irreligious I became, or however little I thought of the animal kingdom, could I ever fathom people who trek to a specialist candy store to purchase the below.

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Sour cream and onion Crickets. For those intrigued rather than repulsed, they also offer Chilli, and Sea Salt flavours.

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These are basically the dare-devils answer to a bag of Revels. My advice is the same for both. I would recommend not munching through a box at the cinema. Nothing worse than chomping down on an orange treat and discovering its a sneaky coffee flavoured horror. I would imagine its similar when you think you’re getting a delicious beetle and accidentally begin chewing a centipede. Imagine how terrible that would be.

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This one is by far the oddest. After all, I obviously don’t know what insects taste like, and for all I know they’re delicious. (But if you’re gonna tell me they’re ‘just like chicken’ my advice would be, eat chicken, it’s not nearly £4 a bite.)
But this isn’t even really eating an insect! It’s just a worm, inside an ordinary lollipop. So you basically are eating an extortionately expensive chupa chup, with a bug in the middle. Do you crunch down on the worm when u get near the end? Is the idea to try and keep it whole?

I don’t get it. I don’t even mean from a disgusting point of view, because I’m in the ‘animals are animals’ camp. There really is no difference in my mind between eating a cow or eating a ‘cute little rabbit’ if kosher wasn’t a factor for me. I was more shocked by the deceit than the ingredients of Tesco’s horse burgers for example.

I just don’t understand why anyone would spend a fortune to eat a bug. They can’t be filling, I don’t really believe that you can taste anything under all the chocolate or seasoning they apparently need to be palatable, and they cost about ten times the price of a regular, delicious, non creepy crawling twix bar.

So I suppose it must be a status thing. Much in the same way that men swig beer, or teenagers down tequila shots, if you have enough wasps maybe they go from horrible to bearable to quite nice really, with the added benefit that you can pat yourself on the back for being part of an elite few, part of the latest fad, part of the new sensation.

Must make you feel bad when you’re watching Pinocchio though. “Always let your conscience be your snack” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, after all.