Archive for the ‘memories’ Category

“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”~ Maya Angelou

This famous saying is one of those truisms that seems well said when we hear them as young people, yet sinks in deeper and deeper the older we get, the more we realize the profound truth.

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Today marked a certain milestone.

My youngest son turned thirteen. He boldly crossed the threshold to teenager. To commemorate, I gifted him his grandfather’s razor. Though he isn’t shaving yet, he soon will be. The razor is good quality and with continued care will last him for years. I know the gift hit the spot because he examined the razor minutely, popped open the lid and looked inside. He had to plug it in and turn it on. As he navigates these wild waters of his teenage years, I want him to feel supported and to feel loved.

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I’m glad he liked his gift, and I’ll freely admit I’m relieved he’s not using the razor, yet. He might be jumping with giddy glee from milestone to milestone, but, poor mama back here needs to sit down a minute and get her breath. We’re at the stage now where his childhood is hurtling by so fast it’s giving me whiplash.

Today also happened to mark another important milestone.

It was the day my beloved “adopted grandfather” Bruce left Toastmasters. He retired after having been in the speakers’ association for twenty-six years, much to the chagrin of all present, especially me.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t know either of my grandfathers. Both sets of my grandparents lived in England. As a consequence, my entire life, I’ve idolised grandfathers and that patriarchal figure in the family.

In my writing, the grandfather figure always plays a key role. In the series I’m working on at present, the Chronicles of Aden Weaver, the first book starts off with Aden’s conflicted relationship with his ‘Papa Joe.’ It ends in the third book, which I’m writing at present, The Last Tree, with Aden now the grandparent telling his grandchildren a bedtime story.

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My maternal grandparents, Evelyn and Alfred Leonard

To me, that is the penultimate circle of life, when you have the child and the elder present in a story. I may have never met my own grandfathers, however, I can indulge in the experiences I missed out on by vicariously living through my characters, and I must say it is very soothing and healing to do so. I thoroughly recommend it.

Spending time around my “adopted grandfather,” Bruce, has been a real tonic these last few years, also. I’ve enjoyed our friendship. Meeting him at Toastmasters each week has been a hoot.

On that day, nearly four years ago, when I dared try Toastmasters, I went along sceptical and highly self-conscious and absolutely terrified at the idea of tackling my all-time biggest fear, public speaking. I made myself go by assuring myself I didn’t have to join; I was just ‘going to have a look.’

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When I arrived, I saw two silver haired gentleman standing talking outside talking. Bruce shook my hand and welcomed me warmly.

I felt an instant gravitational pull towards this venerable elder. I sat next to him for the rest of the meeting, and Bruce brightly asked questions about me at every opportunity. He said he was 96-years-old, a war veteran. He had recovered to sprightly good health after having both knees replaced at the tender age of 90. I had made a friend.

Needless to say, I joined the club.

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After the nerve-wracked, heart-thumping, knee-knocking experience of delivering my first speech, I walked to the back of the room and Bruce stood there, clapping.

He said, “Congratulations, my dear! You’ve been blooded.”

It was something only a patriarch would say, and I loved him for it.

For the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to be guided by him through many of my speech projects. At Bruce’s farewell party today, held not four days out from his 100th birthday, our club said heartfelt goodbyes.

I gave a one minute speech and said, “Everyone asks Bruce, ‘what’s the secret of your longevity?’ It’s not vegetarianism. He makes every single person he meets feel special. For that reason, everyone he meets loves him. Bruce is surrounded by love everywhere he goes. That’s the real secret to his youth.”

Which brings us neatly back to where we started. How will you be remembered? By the way you made people feel.

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”~ Malala Yousafzai

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A tragedy befell our garden this week of Edwardian proportions.

On Tuesday night, around nine o’clock, a storm sprang out of nowhere. It only lasted a few hours and yet, it did untold damage across our region. Trees fell down on people’s houses, on cars and across roads. Winds gusted 100 -160 kilometres an hour and in some places got up to 210 kilometres. A four story building under construction caved in, and there were power outs in many areas, leaving people without heating on the coldest night of the year.

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I went to bed around 9.30 on Tuesday night, afraid of the big gusts of wind roaring around the house. About half an hour later, I was woken by a loud, insistent banging on the door. My neighbour, Pete, stood on the doorstep in an oil slicker, holding a powerful torch, with the wind and rain howling behind him.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yes, why?”

“Your big tree’s fallen down.”

My heart sank. No. Not that tree.

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Not the tree my parents planted in 1962 when they first moved in. The tree my brother-in-law dubbed ‘The Jewel of the Garden’ for its radiant magnificence. The tree whose dramatic changing hues, shedding of leaves and regaining of resplendent green shoots has heralded the turning of the seasons throughout my life. The tree I went and hugged for a few days in a row after dad died, and sang to. No. Not that tree.

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I remember when dad came back to visit the old homestead, a few years ago. He walked out into the backyard to admire the liquid amber he’d planted fifty years before. His head tilted, and he marvelled, “It’s grown so big.”

No.

Not that tree.

I couldn’t bear to go and look at it that evening and, besides, it was too wild outside. I waited until the next morning. Then, I went out into the garden, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.

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Most of the main column was gone. My nephew, who lives in the sleep out, said he could hear branches cracking in the storm. He’d gone outside to get a look and could see the big gusts of wind whipping the branches around. He went back to bed and threw a mattress over himself when he heard another loud crack, then a resounding thud when the top half fell.

Miraculously, it had crashed into Pete’s backyard, missing everything except for his clothesline.

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I was relieved to see the remaining trunk was still firmly planted in the ground and that many of the branches still seemed strong.

The tree removal guy says he hopes to salvage what’s left. He can trim the branches and trunk. The tree will be half the size, but the prognosis is that it might survive to be hugged another day.

Boy, I hope so.

I don’t care to lose too many more family members at the moment.

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The theme of loss and the reality of it in our daily lives is difficult.

At the end of the middle grade novel I’m working on, The Last Tree, when the hero, Aden misses his elderly mentor, Geo, he asks himself, ‘Is this what it’s like to grow up, there’s more pain and losing people?’

I think that’s one of those storms we all have to go through, when we start to mature, in becoming aware of our mortality and that our parents aren’t going to live forever. There are moments of understanding that one day we’ll have to find our way through this world alone, and one day, we’ll take the place of our parents as the elders in our own families.

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The elderly or grandparent character in a story always represents our mortality, by the nature of their advanced age, they represent impermanence.

I love to write the grandparents and always include them in my fiction. The truth is, that half the Jewel of the Garden must be taken away, that grandparents will die some day, and that our beloved parents will one day do the same, and so will we. But, the student, the child, the garden will carry on. The new growth will replace the old tree. And the next generation will blossom and thrive and have their season in the sun. That is the flow of life, and there is comfort in that knowledge and wisdom in acceptance.

Have you ever weathered a major storm or lost a tree you loved? What did you do? What nugget of wisdom did you gain from the experience?

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(Dad’s grandson and great-granddaughter)

Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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If we know how to appreciate these beautiful things, we will not have to search for anything else. Peace is available in every moment, in every breath, in every step. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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I was talking with friends at Toastmasters this week. We find solace as women, in sharing stories with one another; it helps us to find our peace with the way things are. I and two other Toastmasters are in the same situation at present. We’re wondering what to do with all of our parents’ beloved possessions.

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If it was up to my nephews, they’d “back a truck up to grandpa’s section and just throw everything in.” But, it’s different for me and my women friends.

Our parents’ things, their worldly treasures have emotional resonance.

We value their collections, their chosen artworks, however, we can’t keep all of our parents’ possessions. It would be impossible. So we’re left to walk the tightrope of this critical decision making on what to throw and what to keep.

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One friend was saying her mother had collected the old fashioned bread plates and had a hundred and twenty of the pottery bread bases hanging on the walls in her house. Now, the family is stuck with what to do with them.

My other friend has an elderly mother who is currently downsizing, while she herself is retiring to a small town. Her mother had a treasured full dinner set with gold trim, which she’d bought when she first arrived in New Zealand, in the 60’s. My friend can’t take the big dinner set with her into retirement. She’s going to offer them to her daughter but her daughter is into minimal living. So the freighted question has to follow? Re-cycle, re-use or reduce?

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It’s such a hard call, because it feels like you’re parting with your parents in a very real way, dispersing their belongings, which they had gathered over a lifetime, while they raised you. I want to keep everything!

But, then I would be repeating the same cycle of having loads and loads of possessions I neither use nor look at.

I think I’m with my friend’s daughter. I prefer the idea of minimalism.

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If there’s one thing that dad’s death has brought home for me, it’s that we have far too much “stuff” generally. My parents, god bless them, liked collecting cool things too, shells, rocks, driftwood, amber (kauri gum). Yet, the boxes upon boxes of these treasures were accompanied by hordes of acquisitions over the years, which they had stored in the garage and forgotten about.

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I think it was after emptying the tenth or twelfth trailer full of rubbish from my parent’s property and seeing all the old crockery, and broken appliances, and junk going into that landfill, that I felt, this is wrong. Over consumption is killing our environment.

It made me want to do better, to yearn for simplicity in my own life at home.

After coming home from the first working bee with my siblings at my parent’s house, I started spring-cleaning my house. I gave away boxes of unnecessary bits and bobs to charity. Because I had seen firsthand that we’re weighted down with belongings we never look at and never use.

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At the same time, I feel a great need to simplify primarily by consuming less.

I need to be far more discerning in my shopping choices, from now on. I want to buy quality brand products when I do need to buy things, and buy as little things we don’t need, as possible. That’s the goal, anyway.

Wish me luck!

How about you, have you felt the need to simplify?

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. E.e. Cummings

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I remember how sad it was when mum died in 2015, but, now, with dad’s passing, it’s a whole other thing. I feel as if my world has turned upside down, and nothing will ever be the same again.

While I still had one parent alive, there was still that level of compassionate protection against the barbs of the world. There was still that parental feeling of someone being there who truly cares about you more than any other person. There was still that wise older person to turn to for advice.

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But, with both of my parents gone, the feeling of support has been severed completely. It’s like going into free fall. I don’t know where earth is.

The only remedy for me in the last two weeks has been working in the garden. I’ve spent the weeks, weeding and digging, and planting trees and flowers. I have needed to walk on the grass barefoot and get my feet back on the ground and plant new things, to remind myself of life on-going and eternal.

Yesterday, I asked my friend about this strange feeling I have of being at sea, disconnected and discombobulated, and she said she still feels the same way about the loss of her parents seven years later. I get the sense this might be something you learn to live with. “But with the years, it hurts less,” said my friend.

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I’m glad to hear that.

Losing the second parent is a broad type of grief that is multi-fold. There is a real loss, an empty feeling. There is a feeling of absence in the upper tier of our family. There is a sense of connections lost with the past. There is no longer a shoulder to cry on.

There is no one to sit and tell the family stories. That’s a hard one. I console myself I’ll have to start telling the family stories for my own children and grandchildren.

Now, I’m the parent. I have to answer my own and my children’s questions.

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So, there is this feeling of roles having changed, and the season of all our lives has irrevocably moved on. One world has sloughed away and a new world has taken its place.

And, it’s a strange and sober world without my mother and father.

I hadn’t realized that they buffered me while alive; they stood between me and heaven. With dad gone now, too, heaven draws a little closer. It’s my turn to stand on the top rung. It’s my turn to walk the walk of the kamatua, the “elder” level of this family. It’s my turn to start the walk of the grandmother, the crone.

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My parents got to live long healthy lives into their eighties. With both of them gone, I’m reminded of my own mortality. As the priest Father Tony Delsink, said in his sermon at dad’s Committal Service, “When someone close to us dies, it’s a wakeup call.”

I keep trying to explain it to friends, but nothing ever quite nails the way I’m feeling: I miss dad, I have new responsibilities, and I’m suddenly old. At the same time, I’m truly deeply appreciating every moment, loving my kids and nature and life, because I have this fresh new awareness of how short life is. How precious.

As a writer, I seek to write and see the feelings transform into words that bloom. That is part of the process of grieving for me. This is my third blog post in as many weeks on the subject of the death of my parents. I think about them and our history together, the times we shared, and the implications of this new loss to our family.

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The changes that are taking place in our family are really profound. There’s a seriousness that has entered my life with my second parent passing away.

My siblings and I get to make big decisions about what to do with my father’s estate, his belongings, the bills, and so on. There are heart rending jobs to do, like washing my dad’s clothes, selling his car, and dismantling some of his beloved, well-overstuffed, cobwebby garage workshop, the inevitable cleaning out of his drawers and cupboards. I’m sure there’ll be other poignant moments too, as we gather to work on dad’s property in the months ahead. The gradual, loving dismantling of a well-lived life.

Then once the work is done, we’ll each get down to the real work, of going on with our lives without him.

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Talk to you later,

Yvette K. Carol

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600 BC, Lao Tzu ~ “The muddiest water is cleared as it is stilled.”

 

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After we first got over the shock of my father’s death last week, we four siblings began to think about writing our eulogies.

I remember the first night, I couldn’t come up with a single word. I had about five scrunched up notes in my bag and nothing but crossed out lines on a pad. By the fourth and last night before the service, I really still only had the bare bones. My elder sister, who speaks for a living in her job gave me a few tips and suddenly, at the eleventh hour, I was able to write my eulogy.

Here’s the speech I gave at the Committal Service for my father last week…

 

Dad, My Hero

 

I’m Yvette, “daughter number three,” and I’m here to fill you in on some of the details of my father’s life, who he was, and how he came to be here.

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Dad was born 5 July, 1932, in Hastings, England, the only and treasured child of Nan and Jim. Nan was a magistrate and County Borough Organiser for the Women’s Voluntary Service, Jim was the manager of the Hastings Power Station.

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At the age of eight, when WWII broke out, Jim was needed in Hastings to run the power station, and dad spent years separated from his parents as he was evacuated to St. Albans.

As a young man, fresh out of school, he went to the University College School of Navigation in Southampton.

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Dad joined the merchant navy in 1949 and worked for them for ten years, working his way up to the rank of 1st Mate, navigator.

During that time, dad met mum. After their first meeting, his mother, Nan, said, “Why don’t you go out with a nice young girl like that?” and dad said, “She’s not my type.” Luckily, Shirley was his type, and they were wed in 1955. They had two daughters, Gina and Jag.

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Dad joined the Union Company in 1961. When he and mum decided to emigrate, he brought a new ship called the Nakuta out to New Zealand, in 1962. Mum followed with my sisters a year later.

My brother, Alan and I were born here in New Zealand.

Dad couldn’t leave mum alone in a strange country with young children so he left the sea in 1964. In 1966, he joined the NZ Post, working his way up to the position of senior supervisor.

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After nearly 30 years, dad finally retired to his beloved Tairua, living full time in the house he had built with the help of his family, which was his pride and joy. Dad lived here for twenty plus years and would say, “This is all the view I get to look at each day!”

Looking back, I realize how fortunate we were to have such a wonderful father. He was attentive, caring, disciplined, loyal, hard-working, kind, generous and good. He created a spirit in us, a fellowship of strength.

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Growing up, I felt secure and stable, because dad gave us that foundation, and I’ll always be grateful for that. He never had a bad word to say about anyone, and I learnt a lot from his example.

Dad was neither racist nor sexist. He believed all people are equal.

Perhaps because he’d been raised by such an extraordinary woman, he had a reverence for women. The only woman my father looked at was my mother. He didn’t look at women as objects of desire; he treated them as people worthy of respect and admiration.

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I never had the sense that dad expected any less of his daughters than he did of his son. He always said to me, Girls can do anything! And he wasn’t just paying lip service to the ideal. He believed it, therefore so did I.

At the age of seven, I had a formative experience with my father, which I’ve never told anyone until today. It was something special between him and me.

One day, dad took me for a drive. He said there’s something very important we need to do. We drove up to a car yard and dad said, “I need your help. We need to buy the family a new car and I want you to help me decide which car we should buy.”

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I took this very seriously because my father was a man of his word.

I walked around the cars. One by one, I looked inside and out, studied the angles. I was seven, I knew nothing about cars. Yet, dad never gave a word of advice or questioned me, he let me continue to prattle about how this car was too small, and this wouldn’t work as it had only two doors and listened carefully to my reasoning.

Eventually, I chose a ghastly green coloured Milford Marina. Dad said, “Good choice.” And he came back five minutes later with the deeds and the keys. It turned out, he’d been to the car yard the week before and bought it, but I didn’t find that out till later.

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All I knew was, I’d been empowered to believe in my own decision making, in my self-belief, my ability to think.

Thank you, dad, for your stellar example, for your open-minded leadership of this family, for your loyal love, your unwavering support. You were steadfast, ever present and dependable. You were our rock, and in my heart you ever will be.

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When you died, a blanket of cloud covered the mountain behind your house. It seemed fitting. The head of our family was gone and the landscape reflected the sad passing.

Thank you for everything.

I love you.

I’ll miss you, dad my hero.

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Sometimes it’s better to light a flame thrower than curse the darkness. ~ Terry Pratchett

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On Monday morning, I got the phone call most people dread, and heard the words no one wants to hear, “Dad’s died.” The bottom fell out of my day and my world.

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After my father’s miraculous recovery from double pneumonia last year, we had gotten another precious seven months with him. I wonder if it took a toll on his heart. Last weekend, dad suffered a massive heart attack, and he died three days later in hospital, surrounded by family loving him to the end.

At first, I went into a state of shock. Nothing seemed real, and everything seemed to happen around me without touching my bubble.

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I threw the boys and bags into the car and we headed for dad’s seaside town, as I wanted to ready the house and prepare for my sisters and brother to return (they’d been the amazing support team for dad through his final hours in hospital).

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Driving along, I searched the landscape for some sort of message or reflection of dad passing into the realm of spirit. Then, as we arrived in his town, we saw an unusual sight; the peak of the mountain where my father lived was obscured by a cloud. The headless mountain seemed to echo my feelings at the idea of our family continuing without dad at the helm. When my siblings arrived, we agreed, it was as if the mountain were “flying at half mast.”

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At dad’s house, we could hardly see the surroundings for the white-out. The entire place remained cocooned in this soft white cloudy mist for two days, as the rest of the family arrived in dribs and drabs, and the crying began anew.

We spent a lot of time sitting talking, sharing Grandpa stories and making the necessary arrangements, trying to get our heads around our new reality. Dad ‘had had 85 years of excellent health’ and ‘a life well lived,’ he’d left ‘a good family’ and an even better reputation as people told us, kindly. Yet, nothing could ease the pain of the loss.

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The service was held at dad’s beloved church, which he’d raised funds to build for the community over many years and had helped to run and maintain. People turned out for his Committal Service saying, their town would ‘never be the same again,’ and that everyone was scrambling to find volunteers willing to take over his many roles in the community, and how much they’d miss him. Boy, so will we.

All in all, we were happy we gave dad a fitting send off. The whole family contributed at the service. At the cemetery, extended family sang ‘Let not your heart be troubled’ (John Ch 14:1-6).

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After baking in the sun at the church and the interment, and attending the reception at lunchtime, we headed back to dad’s place to change out of our hot mourning attire. We went to the beach for the afternoon, and I can’t even tell you how refreshing and good it was to bathe in the sea and let the salt water wash the remaining residue of the emotional preceding days away.

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Those of us who could, elected to stay and hang out together another day and night at Grandpa’s house. There were more conversations to be had, there were more tears to shed, and we needed extra time to continue to come to terms with the enormous loss. The patriarch is gone. It’s inconceivable and yet it is real. The whole notion of dad’s absence still messes with my head.

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This morning, before we left, we trekked to the top of the mountain.

Every scene takes on more poignancy when you’re in the throes of grieving. Every situation, every conversation seems heightened to new degrees of sensitivity. Even the light streaming through the trees as we descended seemed to be imbued with special cast and resonance, as if the environment was trying to speak to us.

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We made the drive back to the city around noon. I’m home, and yet, everything feels different, my foundations have changed.

Looking back on the last week, I think the family worked together and we did well with a difficult situation.

Despite terrible initial writer’s block, in which it took me the whole four days after my father’s death to come up with the words for his eulogy, I gave it my best.

The speech I gave at the service will appear as Part Two, next week.

Joy will return one day, but for now, life as I knew it has disintegrated, and pieces of my heart have dispersed with my father.

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Talk to you later,

Yvette K. Carol

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‘The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things.’ ~ E.B.White

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Our fifteen-year-old Sam-the-man has the face of a flower and the temperament to match. People love him. ‘He has something special,’ said a friend, ‘he’s open.’ At the same time, the fact he has Down’s syndrome means he is five years younger mentally than his actual age. So, while his physical self might be fifteen, his mental self is 9-10-years-old. And just as when you have a small child, when he leaves to spend the weekend with his father, the first thing that needs to be done to restore the house to sanity is to clean up.

Having a child with special needs is like raising a perpetual child. There are joys and there is continuous work to be done.

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As the parent to a special needs child, there is only the unknown instead of a finish line in sight. I use the metaphor of ‘the child who can never grow up’ to try and share my understanding thus far.

Sam’s our Peter Pan. God love him, he does a chore when I ask but, as the eternal child, he simply also creates a mess wherever he goes.

There’s always a sea of crumbs extending out from where he’s been sitting and sometimes funny smells, I find old bits of food, sticky patches on tabletops, writing on the wall, or the furniture, and globs of unmentionable things. The bathroom always needs a good clean.

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Sam has no concept of keeping track of things or the consequences of his behaviours. Sometimes, I find a random object has been broken, or – as I did yesterday, I literally walk into a sea of orange juice and discover that Sam had spilt his drink. He’d put the cup away carefully in the kitchen and then moved to a room where there was no sticky juice spilt all over the floor and started playing happily there. He would have been completely oblivious to the possibilities that could follow leaving a sea of liquid on the floor. Luckily, I was barefoot and ran away for a mop and bucket.

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I looked into Sam’s guilt-free, innocent eyes afterwards, and I marvelled at him anew. His motivations are never vindictive, his motivations are always pure. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He’d never hurt someone on purpose. His mind doesn’t work that way. It’s not preoccupied.

Sam doesn’t worry about things, he doesn’t anticipate harm. He’s always right here now in the present moment.

A year ago, it took me six weeks; from the moment the first bruise appeared on his legs, to realise someone was harming him. I discovered the boy called James next to him in the taxi, was a serial abuser, who had a reputation for hurting other kids. Sam had suffered this boy’s advances, an hour each way, to school and back every day, and never said a word, never showed any change in the way he felt about going to school or coming home.

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And he’s intelligent, Sam is smart. He can read, write, use a computer, he can use any device after watching someone use it once. He’s not dumb. Although he can’t speak clearly, he can get his message across. No. It wasn’t about being unable to communicate the fact he was being bullied every day. Rather, it was his ability to take anything in stride and to be in the moment. The bullying didn’t exist the instant he left the van or prior to getting back into it, simply because it wasn’t happening before of after.

Yes, Sam teaches me every day.

Anything that happens in his life, he’s able to take it in stride. It’s like living with a mini guru.

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I remember when Sam was born and we found out all the facts like one baby in 600 is born with Downs’ syndrome, they still don’t know why. We found out the official name is Trisomy 21 which stands for the extra chromosome.

Being classed as a “severe disability,” the embryos can be aborted right up till birth.

His father and I had no idea then, the amazingly transformative journey which lay ahead of us, raising Sam: through all the trials and the tribulations, through the years of watching him struggle, taking one step forward three steps back, to achieve every little milestone other children take for granted.

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It took Sam a year to be able to sit by himself, four years to learn to walk; it took him till the age of ten to be able to walk down a flight of stairs, and thirteen years to become fully toilet trained. Everything he’s learned has been hard-won. Yet, that has made every goal achieved much more satisfying. To watch Sam today wash himself in the bath, dress himself, shave his own stubble, and walk confidently to the taxi in the morning, I brim with pride, because I know how far we’ve come. And I also know how far we have yet to go.

It’s not easy but it’s a real privilege to raise a child with Downs’ syndrome.

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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What’s so dreadful about Downs’ syndrome? ~ Sally Phillips

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The fourth day of the year and 2018 is already off to a promising start. The boys and I have just returned from a family Christmas and New Year holiday visit to Grandpa.

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We opened the boys’ presents at home on the 25th before driving down to the Coromandel Peninsula. We arrived before lunchtime, joining a large number of the family, who had travelled from far and wide to spend Christmas day at the seaside. The feast was divine: a first course of turkey, roast lamb, baked ham, roast potatoes and vegetables, green salad, fresh peas, and vegan nut dishes. Dessert was pavlova, fruit salad, chocolate éclairs, and I had iced the traditional fruit cake which the boys and I made with a rich brandy butter icing.

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Being summer, as soon as the dishes were done and the kitchen cleaned, the family headed for the beach. We were so hot and full and tired by that point; the only alternative would have been sleeping! Instead we were refreshed and swam about like fish for the afternoon before going back to the house for a glorious dinner of Christmas leftovers. It was lovely.

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Towards evening on Boxing Day, my father pointed out that various tips on the outlying island were tipped with bright orange light, an effect he’d not seen before in more than fifty years. I noted that near the island rising from the ocean was a “grandma rainbow,” or small rainbow. I said hi and a few words quietly to my mother and wished her a Merry Christmas.

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We spent the week in between Christmas and the 31st relaxing. Each day, we’d meet down at grandpa’s favourite café for lunch, before going to the beach for a swim and play in the waves. In the afternoons, we shared the job of creating big meals for more than a dozen people. In between meals were ice creams, hot chips, cold beers, and trips to see the Xmas lights, cards, sandcastles, playgrounds, kayaking, body surfing, and walking.

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There were many special moments throughout the week, like burying the youngest son in the sand. The boys had electric fly zappers and spent hours hunting down and killing wasps and mosquitoes, which was hilarious. One of my nephews and his wife brought their gorgeous six month old baby to visit. The boys and I walked to the top of the mountain behind my father’s house. From the peak, we could see pohutakawa in bloom, “New Zealand’s Christmas Tree,” which makes any landscape look more beautiful.

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On New Year’s Eve, there was a big fireworks display. The kids stayed up late and they were so excited. Most of the adults were tired and having difficulty staying awake, while the kids were bouncing off the walls.

The whole evening went smoothly despite losing my son Sam-the-man, a fifteen-year-old with Down’s syndrome at about 10.30 p.m. We discovered Sam was missing, and we spilled out of the house in all directions with torches to look for him. Luckily he hadn’t gone far. I found Sam about five minutes later, sitting with a group of neighbours watching some domestic fireworks being let off in the reserve below Grandpa’s house.

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A few minutes before the countdown at midnight, the kids and I walked together with our family to the lookout point. From there, we had a grand view of the harbour. At midnight a firework display was set off from a barge on the water, exploding in the air above the amphitheatre of the harbour and mountains and in the sky above us.

As we walked back to the house, my nephew said, ‘Isn’t it amazing to think that all of us are here tonight because of Grandpa.’ Yes, it is wonderful.

A friend’s daughter coined the term, “Thankmas,” as a way of making Christmas also a celebration of gratitude. Our Thankmas was the gratitude our family felt to be celebrating another festive season with Grandpa. We came so close to losing dad to double pneumonia in 2017, that to be together again for another precious holiday was a gift to be thankful for. Happy Thankmas!

What are you grateful for as you start the New Year?

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Talk to you later.

Happy New Year!

Yvette K. Carol

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Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go. ~ Hesse

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My family have just celebrated Hallowe’en. The kids and I are still eating the candy, and sometimes I sneak out special pieces to eat in my room later! Our bowl in the pantry has a collection of heart jellies, skull marshmallows and individually wrapped fingers and toes.

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Here, in New Zealand, the tradition of dressing in costume to go out trick or treating is only a recent import. When I was growing up, we didn’t celebrate Hallowe’en. And, even now, the celebration is still in its nascent stages. We haven’t quite stretched to carving pumpkins and lighting candles, although I’m sure they’re on the way.

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Even twenty years ago, when my eldest son was little, Hallowe’en was still barely a ripple in the pond. Yet, for my two younger boys, it has been a different story. They’ve grown up with the idea of going out in costume on October 31.

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On the old Celtic calendar, October 31 was the last day of the year.

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It was called Hallowe’en, or NUTCRACK NIGHT and HOLY EVE in ancient times. On that one night, all the witches and warlocks would be abroad.

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After the introduction of Christianity, it was taken over as ALL HALLOWS or ALL SAINTS. All Saints Eve is associated with the ancient customs of bobbing for apples and cracking nuts.

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Hallowe’en was also believed to be the best night of the year to find one’s future spouse by special rites.

Scottish tradition says that those born on Hallowe’en have the gift of second sight. Robert Burns details the customs in his poem Hallowe’en (1785).

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‘Like it or not, Hallowe’en as a fully fledged event, as a big night.’

Sunday Times (6 November 1994)

This year, in our neighbourhood, there was more spooky merchandise in the shops and it was more heavily advertised than ever before.

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The boys were excited to see more than double the number of revellers. We had a great night out. It had the feel of a street party.

We wandered around, chatted with the neighbours on the sidewalk, stopped to admire people’s gardens and look in awe at the garb of other revellers. It was joyful. The kids were frolicking, as if the masks and outrageous gear gave them the licence to run wild.

We had a laugh and some fun, and the boys came home with a bucketful of loot, which was carefully and scientifically divided between the pair of them on the couch.

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In the future, I’m certain we’ll be celebrating Hallowe’en night in an even bigger way. The decorations will be grander, and the makeovers more elaborate. Funny when you think, such a widely celebrated custom began as a simple ritual observing the last day of the year.

What do most of us like to do on the last day of the year? Party like it’s 1999, that’s what!

I love Halloween because it lets me be a kid again. How about you, did you go trick or treating this year?

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Even Mya, the eldest son’s new puppy, went trick or treating!

Talk to you later…

Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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“It is never too late to start enjoying a happy childhood.” ~ Joy Cowley

 

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As a parent, your children pass so many milestones which at the time seem incredible and wondrous: their first tooth, their first smile, first step, first day at school, first night away from home, passing the double digits, and so on. As a parent of a child with CHD, Congenital Heart Disorder, you have additional, special milestones. Surviving the surgery is the first one.

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And it’s not a given. You come face to face with this brutal reality the first day you arrive in the Children’s Heart Ward for your child’s procedure. The specialists sit you down to explain the risks of open heart surgery. The real danger lies in what they call the “bypass.” The surgeons must stop the heart beating, and divert the blood, passing it through a machine while they work on the heart. This creates the threat of blood clotting. They tell you, your child may be permanently brain damaged or die. You have to sign a waiver at this point which basically says you agree to take these risks.

Next, the psychologist shows you a book of the photos of the surgery and graphic detail of the children’s chests afterwards. This is tough love; they say the preparation is necessary because otherwise, the shock for the parents is too great.

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By this stage, you’re quaking in your boots, trying to look strong and brave for your child. You have to be the parent, even though you wish you could run home to your own.

Therefore, surviving the surgery is the first milestone.

My son was an unusual case, and patching the ASD (Atrial Septal defect) did not entirely fix the problem. When they took him off bypass the first time, and closed him, the surgeons saw the blood coming out was still blue instead of red. Something was still wrong. They had to open the heart again, stop the heart and put him on bypass for a second time.

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They discovered an “anomalous” vein going down to the liver. This defect was “unique to him.” They replaced the patch so it covered the hole and the unusual vein. This time his blood ran red. My five year old had survived a double bypass.

He made it through that terrible first day in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. “OW! Mama it hurts!” were his first crying words. The second day, he said, “I need to get well!” He made it through the first few days in the High Dependency Unit, and taking his first painful steps walking in the ward. Surviving week one in recovery is the second milestone.

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Then we went home and he managed the first six weeks at home when CHD children must not fall over or take a blow to the torso and getting comfortable enough to sleep every night is the tricky part. Third milestone, ticked!

It typically takes CHD children twelve months to regain normal energy levels. My son had only just started at school when he had to have his surgery. When he returned to school a month later, he could only do half days and I had to give him a piggyback home every day, because he was too tired to walk. A year later, he was at school doing full days and walking both ways. Fourth milestone!

In 2011, we returned to the Children’s Heart Clinic for a check up. Most patients get “discharged” at this point. 95% of cases survive into adulthood which is a good success rate. However my son had been added to the “unusual case book,” and as such, the surgeons asked us to return in five years, so they could check on him again.

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This week, we went back for our second check-up. Returning to the ward brought all the memories back. We peeped in down the hallways. My son remembered that when I’d placed him on the metal bed in the operating theatre, he’d worried that the blanket wasn’t thick enough to keep him warm!

The nurse gave son a check up. We filled out a questionnaire. Yes, he still gets tight-chested sometimes when he runs, yes, he gets blue lips when he does a lot of exercise, and yet, that doesn’t stop him. He plays golf and soccer, he’s learning to play the drums, and he runs around as much as the other kids. He’s fit and healthy.

The nurse gave him an E.C.G. and then an ultra-sound. The heart surgeons conferred and finally announced he was officially “discharged.”

Son and I “high-fived” on the way to the car. Yes. He made the fifth milestone. “Onwards and upwards from here,” as my father would say.

What milestone has made your heart sing lately?

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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“It doesn’t hurt to be optimistic. You can always cry later.”

— Lucimar Santos de Lima

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