The highs and the lows

I’ve had some lovely highs and some awful lows recently. Elodie is walking. I love watching her as she lets go of my hand and takes a first, slow step, then another, her face full of concentration. Last weekend, we went out with friends; the dads and three-year-old boys to the cinema to watch episodes of Paw Patrol, the mums and babies waiting in the lobby, where Elodie could roam and try to steal left-behind popcorn. Then we all had a nice lunch. Our friend’s little boy told me that another boy had ‘leaned on him’ during a playdate and Joseph got very serious. ‘Was it an accident?’ he asked. ‘And did the police come?’

That afternoon, our friends Steve and Andy came to visit. I went to school with Steve, and he performed the ceremony at our wedding. I’ve known him for over twenty years, his partner Andy for about ten. Sometimes, faces that are very familiar are a real tonic. The sun came out and we sat in the garden eating cake, while Joseph fed their dog, Elsie, biscuits from his hand, squealing every time she licked him, and Elodie tottered around, trying to climb up her new slide.

Another afternoon, we got the paddling pool out and I filled it with balls and water and Joseph played happily while Elodie napped. When she woke up, I lifted her into the pool so she could feel the cool water on her skin, but that wasn’t enough for her, so she ended up naked and splashing. Always a fan of nudity, Joseph took his swimming shorts off and the two of them crawled around, delighted, while I worried about their delicate, perfect skin in the hot July sun.

Paul’s brother got married. We went down to London and spent the afternoon in a lovely pub garden in sunny Ealing to celebrate. Because of my cancer, we haven’t made as many trips to see Paul’s family as we would normally have done, so Elodie is still a bit of a novelty to the extended family. She was passed around and she behaved impeccably, delighted by every new face. She wasn’t quite walking at that point, so as long as someone would hold her hand and walk her around in circles, she was happy.

So, lots of nice days. And yet, there have been times when I’ve felt horribly down about Rachel’s situation. She makes progress in fits and starts, and there are long periods where it feels like nothing’s happening, and there are visits where she hardly speaks. I’m having some counselling, and it’s bringing a lot of things to the surface, making me face them and deal with them. I don’t think I could do it before, because it was all I could do to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I think it’s a good thing, to bring these feelings into the light and subject them to some scrutiny, but it’s hard, too.

Last week, it was Rachel and Scott’s third wedding anniversary. Rachel has been in hospital for two of them. I was due to look after Louie and Jay while Scott visited Rachel in the evening. It’s always a rush, because I’m trying to help put our two to bed and then make it to their house for 7pm. I was about to leave when I realised I couldn’t find my glasses. I can’t drive without them. I spent a frantic ten minutes looking in the same places over and over again, then the next ten minutes trying to put a pair of contact lenses in (a new skill, and one I’m much worse at when I’m feeling stressed). I arrived half an hour late, with that stone sitting in my stomach that comes when you know you’ve ruined something important. I never used to be the kind of person who loses things. It’s started since chemo, and I hate it.

Earlier this week, Elodie had a very disturbed night. We weren’t sure whether it was teeth, or some kind of regression, or what, but she slept very little. The following night, Paul was in London, and I hoped she’d be tired enough from the previous night to go down easily. And she did, initially. Joseph howled throughout bathtime because I’d told him off for something, and he didn’t stop until half an hour after I’d put him to bed, which was wearing. And as soon as he’d finished, she woke up, and she screamed for two and a half hours. It was like nothing I’d ever known. She made herself sick three times, so I was constantly turning the light on and off, changing sheets and clothes and sleeping bags. I couldn’t comfort her by holding her in my arms, and that’s the worst feeling, so I cried too, hoping she would eventually wear herself out. Shortly before 10pm, she fell asleep for half an hour, and it was like that throughout the night, up and down, restful and restless.

Last night, she went back to her usual eleven hours, and I woke feeling reborn. Before I had children, I would never have believed the impact tiredness can have on your life. I hate the feeling of dragging myself through the day, watching the clock and missing every second of joy. This morning, I brought Elodie into my bed at 6am, and Joseph trotted in half an hour later. He kissed her. He’s bitten her a couple of times recently, so I’m a bit on edge when he swoops down to her, but this morning, he was all sweetness and gentle care. ‘Do you know how much I love Elodie?’ he asked. I shook my head. ‘A million billion thirty two,’ he said. He held him arms as far apart as they would go. ‘That’s this big.’ And just like that, I was high again.

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