Kodak Moments

As long as I can remember I have loved photos.   Leafing through photo albums, touching the pictures, lingering over the memories.  As soon as you could start playing that game “what would you save in a fire” I have thought; my photos.  There was nothing else as important to me (I am talking THINGS, of course my family and any pets, and maybe my stuffed panda came first) – my photos ARE my memories.  Growing up as a Third Culture Kid  I couldn’t rely on walking the streets of my childhood to prompt memories of friendships, parties, houses.  My childhood lay amongst those pages, a neat chronography of relationships and hairstyles.   Therein lay my roots, who I was, where I came from.

Better even than the albums, however, was The Photo Trunk.  This belonged to my mother and this is important because the fact that the trunk existed and that it was my mother’s are inextricably linked.   In this trunk were all the photos that hadn’t made the cut into the albums, duplicates, or photos that hadn’t yet been sorted.  Just loose photos, all mixed up in a jumble.  You could shove your hand in and bring out a handful and could find pictures spanning decades.  It was a treasure trove and never failed to prompt questions that prompted stories and memories.  As I got older and older and moved away and grew up the trunk became a bit of a joke at my mum’s expense, a constant reminder of an ongoing project she could never quite get around to tackling.  And who could blame her? It was a massive undertaking.

It took quite a few years for me to realise that I had my own photo trunk.  Only mine was virtual.  Not a solid hunk of metal sat in the corner for the kids to crawl around on and poke inside, mine was this hovering cloud of doom, threatening to grow and swell fat with faces from the past until one day it might burst raining memories around me like so many raindrops.   Maybe you are super organised and edit and sort your photos as you go but I bet most of you aren’t.  I definitely wasn’t.  I can go a week without taking too many photos and then take 100 in a day.   My photos went from phone and camera  onto a hard drive, never editing or sorting as I went and this quickly lead to folders of 2000 or more photos EVERY YEAR.  And don’t even start me on accidental duplicates on back up hard drives from old computers.    I had organised myself enough to have baby books from each boy’s first year (ok, one, one baby book, my older sister gifted me the first one) but I started to realise we had all these photos yet we never looked at them the way I used to love looking through my  childhood albums.  It became really important to me to get the rest sorted so we could enjoy all the photos of the memories we had, and those we didn’t.  So I started.  Year by year.  Rotating, deleting, renaming, ordering and finally weeding out the ones that would make the cut.  A very long, slow, process of whittling thousands of photos down to, ideally, 800 or less per year.  And still.  800 photos! In a year! So many memories!  And from these, the 100-200 that would finally make it into an album.  It took forever.

When I got sick last year I was still a few years behind.  And almost immediately I got those years caught up; the panic of dying and leaving a virtual trunk for my kids a horror that spurred me on to Get It Done.  How would they remember their childhood if I left all these loose photos lying around?!  I know their father would absolutely never even attempt to make head nor tails of them.  Was I going to leave a photo trunk legacy of my own?!

So now I have a neat row of slim albums of the professionally printed kind starting with the year of my oldest’s birth right up to date.  No, they don’t really compare to the thick heavy tomes my parents had, with the photos you could slip out and hold close, all faded and a million tones of 70s brown.  But it isn’t a bad alternative, and my kids now also have their childhood neatly printed and presented for them to leaf through and remember.  And they do, and they love it, just as I did, it is really one of the best things I could have taken time to do.  I have a few of those shadowy pre-kid years still needing to be tackled.  But the lesser resolution of the early digital cameras and lack of delectably photogenic munchkins makes it a much less enticing task.

Recently I visited my parents and dragged the old trunk out.  It is still there, little changed, though my mum would argue she has made a lot of progress.  She still plans to sort them all, scan them, print them out.  I said I would help and took a selection to work on.  One of my sisters did the same.   It was just as fun as it always was to go through them all, though now there are hardly any I have never seen before, it is still something of a thrill to see my parents so young, so happy and full of life, hear their stories behind the pictures.   A while ago I was talking to O, I think, and he asked something about my parents, from when they were young, before kids.  And I wrote to them asking them to tell me about how they met.  Although I had probably heard it a thousand times I realised that I didn’t really know details.  My Dad sent a vague reply, my Mum said nothing and as the weeks went past I thought that was that.  And then the other day an email landed, with a long document attached, with blurb and pictures talking all about that first year or so when they met, before they got married and started a family.  It meant the world to me.

God knows family relationships can be tough.  There is just SO MUCH of everything.  Memories, emotions, love, anger, resentment, joy, what you did and what they said and why did you, why DIDN’T you? But you look through photos, in a trunk, on a pc, in a book and all of it comes rushing in.  The years and years, the houses, the friends, the pets, the toys, the holidays, the meals out, the days out, all of it gone gone gone.  But not us.  Never us.  Like a stop motion movie with the 5 central characters holding still as the world flashes and changes around them.  The million versions of you that came before the you you are now. The one that held your parents on a pedestal so high it was impossible for them not to fall, the one that looked up sulkily through your fringe, fighting to pull away from them and become your own person.  But in the middle, at the core, it is always them and always you. Always.  That is what the photos mean to me and it is what I hope my kids see when in years to come they look at our photos, even if they don’t realise it until they themselves have kids and get to see through that strange new lens it gives you on life and your parents.  They are seeing us and them.  The 4 of us. Together.  Through places and times and humdrum and adventures.  Concrete proof of this time when we were all together, that we were.









Wherein I swear A LOT

Back in June last year, after months of visits to the doctor, the emergency room, lost weight,  increasing fatigue and lethargy and the prospect of an undefined number of months on a waiting list for a state funded test, we took control of the issue and paid for a private colonoscopy.  It wasn’t so expensive as these things go, 1000€, but it isn’t an amount of money we just have lying around either, so once my cancer was found I put in a claim to the state to refund the cost.  I never actually thought they would refund the money, I am sure they have lawyers making sure they don’t do anything that could in the slightest way be construed as accepting liability but the way I  see it, I am not suing them for distress or pain or whatever but that is a test they should have paid for and even though they totally let me down they could at least foot the bill.  I actually saved them money and it makes me fucking crazy. 

Fast forward 8 months and I finally get a reply. The gist being ‘it was your choice to go private, you were not in urgent ie life-threatening need so you should have waited’.  

Lets recap. 

Feb 2015 complain of blood in stool and various other IBS (or colon cancer) symptoms. ‘Don’t forget my aunt died of colon cancer in her 50s’

Blah blah repeat visits to doc and ER etc etc fatigue, weight loss until we get to

June 2015 diagnosis stage III colorectal cancer (result of private colonoscopy/biopsy) 

Blah blah chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery, ileostomy and Then THEN

February 2016 ONE YEAR after my doctor filed a request for a colonoscopy ‘priority: NORMAL’ because there is allegedly NO ‘URGENT’ category for colonoscopies (!) while I was receiving my first post surgery dose of chemo, I was called to be offered, not an appointment for a colonoscopy but an appointment with a digestive specialist. 

Is it me? IS IT ME? what part of 7 CM stage III COLORECTAL CANCER (with nodes affected) is not urgent?  What would it have been if I had left it another 8,9,10 months?  What if I couldn’t have paid for the test? What about all the other people that can’t?  How fucking dare they? Tell me it was okay that I had to pay for it myself and not even have the grace to refund me my money but on top of it all tell me my situation wasn’t urgent?!

I am so mad. 

I am SO MAD. 

I don’t care about the fucking money. If they had said we are legally bound to only meet x percent of costs or pay 50€ or whatever it would have been better than telling me what happened to me wasn’t important. Because that is what it feels like. 

I can appeal.  My initial reaction is to keep annoying them,  be a little thorn in their side, so I will ask my doctors to write letters detailing my case. But I know it doesn’t matter. I know they can’t say it was more urgent. I wasn’t dying at that moment. Yet. I was. I was dying.  If it hadn’t been found I might have died. But that doesn’t count. 

On the one I want to highlight the issue, fight for myself and others who can’t fight for themselves or need help even before they know they need it. Like so many of the warrior campaigners on here and in the wider blogosphere. Shout on facebook, contact newspapers. Tell  them people are dying because doctors can’t request urgent testing. 

And the other part just wants it to all go away. I don’t want to fight. I want to live my life. My real life. My nothing to do with cancer life. I don’t want to be consumes with sadness and anger and bitterness which is what I feel when I read letters that tell me what happened wasn’t life threatening. Cos my life felt pretty fucking threatened when I barely had the energy to move from sofa to bed to sofa to bed. When I couldn’t pick up my 5 year old. When I couldn’t handle being around the energetic afterschool chatter of my kids. When I could only drink water lukewarm or my face twitched and spasmed in the cold because of the side effects of the chemo.  

I feel like I should shout and scream and point at them and tell everyone I can but I also don’t. It makes me feel impotent, weak, unimportant. Like what I went through didn’t matter. But it mattered to me, to those I love and who love me. It mattered a LOT. 

 Summer holidays are go!

Finally! The summer holidays are underway. The endless ‘fin de curso’ (end of term) meals and parties and presents and celebrations finally done. They seem to last all of June and makes it one of the most expensive months of the year.  I could have just started the month by standing outside the school with my wallet open, full of notes, and told everyone to help themselves amd the effect would have been the same.  Every day there was something to pay for: a present for this teacher and that coach, last minute birthday parties being squeezed in before everyone scatters, meals with this group and that, tickets to a ‘concert’ where my youngest and his friends showed off the tumbles they had learnt. Okay that was quite cute but I am still sceptical that a formal show in the village theatre was really necessary and suspect our payments for a 15 minute demo of manic dancing and tumbling to insane techno music mainly served to reduce the cost for the overwhelming majority of older kids who had a 1.5 hour show after us. Call me cynical.  I prefer bitter. 

We also got pressed into paying for a ‘meal’  in the park afterward.  Allegedly hamburgers. In reality pathetic looking little patties on a plain bun. What? No lettuce or tomato? Ha! Not.  even. cheese.  Parents are  walking targets.  Anything related to our children and we just shell it out.  God I am so bitter. Am I tight? I really don’t think so. You sell me a service ie a kids gym group. I pay for said service.  I pay. I use. It is a business transaction. Why do I have to buy you a present for selling me the service I used? I DON’T UNDERSTAND.   I pay. Don’t worry, I pay and for form teachers happily and willing. But for the rest I have yet to be convinced. I  want to resist, stand up for my principals, but I find especially here it is very hard to go against the grain. People don’t as a rule complain about this kind of thing. If it is done you do it.  When the burger plan was underway I suggested to our friends that we bail and book the nearby pizza place instead. You would have thought I was suggesting an actual military coup rather than suggesting an alternative friday night plan.  My husband actually told them to ignore me in this really apologetic tone.  Yes, he is still alive. I am used to it. It only grates the tiniest bit. In the darkest most bitter part of my heart haha. Well they were all eating their words as they stared at the sad excuse for a meal they had been conned into (I ate beforehand,rebellious interloper that I am, in full anticipation of the shit show it turned out to be) and HELL YEAH I was absolutely smug about it. 

Rant over. I feel better. Moving on. 

We celebrated the first day of the holidays with a quick trip to  a beautiful rocky beach about an hour away.  I love rocky beaches. Sand is my mortal enemy and with rocks everything just feels cleaner.  Yes, less comfortable, but as I am not much of a sun worshiper I can take the tradeoff.  We haven’t been to many since having the boys, I would rather deal with sand than wobbly toddlers climbing rocks but this year feels like the year we can finally explore more far flung beaches where they can clamber and explore rock pools and find crabs and overcome nerves to jump off rocks into the sea. So that is what we did.   And it was perfectly perfect.  

I have been easing myself into work slowly. In all honesty I could work full time, full on, if I had to. But I don’t have to. Work is unseasonably quiet and by about 2pm I find myself at a bit of a loss. As I work a 5 minute bike ride from home I have been going home for lunch and, more often than not, staying the rest of the afternoon, working from there as and when needed. And its been really nice.  To just enjoy these early summer days before august comes and brings with it too much heat and general apathy that sees the kids lying in sweaty piles on the living room floor moaning no more swimming.  The other day it rained and we were all relieved for the excuse to just hang out at home and do very little.  

I am finding it hard to find the time to post regularly. In amongst the moaning and glorious summer fun. Which is annoying because the main point of this exercise is to share bits of me and our life for our future selves. Or for my kids if my future self is, in the future, a past self. Ifyouknowhwatimean and i think you do. Wink.  Yet the main reason I don’t have time is because I am with my kids.  The irony of sacrificing actual time with my actual children in order to lose myself trying to convey some fake-idyllic version of my life with my perfect family is not lost on me. Hence I do not blog when with my kids. And when I am not working I am always with my kids. Except yoga! (More on that later) and friends! And LIFE!  But really. With the lighter nights and fun packed days the kids are in bed around 2130/2200 which leaves me about an hour lying motionless on the sofa unable to engage in anything that isn’t me. On a sofa. Watching the telly.  This post has been sat in drafts for days and days. I have had to change ‘this week’ to ‘last week’ to ‘recently…’ Until I can’t take it anymore. I am sat in the dark with you both asleep beside me and dammit if I won’t get this finished tonight!

So. Kids. Lights of my life, dearest souls, givers and receivers of the greatest love there is. I hope to record here snippets of our life. Parts of me. But know that they can only ever be the tiniest glimpses. We are having so much fun. I can’t record it all. I am not a natural diarist but it is happening and we are living it every day. You will just have to believe me. Our days are full of the good the bad and the ugly; kisses and hugs, shouts and tantrums, I love yous and tongues sticking out and you don’t love me and I SO SO DO. Mummy you are the best.  Mum you suck (I am. I do).  Swimming pool and football and frisbee on the beach. Hold my shoulders I will swim out a bit further. Stand on my shoulders and I will be your springboard.  Late nights with friends, late nights with cousins. 

Its not all here, not even the half of it, but I can tell you real life is full on and I love it all, every second. And so do you. You are loved, adored, happy. We all are.