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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Skin deep

So it turns out I’m living more dangerously than I thought.  Ohh good grief the lengths we go to in order to try and look half decent.  Work has been pouring in lately, which is brilliant and very enjoyable.  However it’s going to take a long, LONG time for the bank balance to recover and as happens to the best of us, when the finances take a hit, the first thing to go are life’s little luxuries such as manicures, posh hair-do’s and the like.

Still, if you can’t afford it at least you can try and fake it and I’ve been doing this for a while now with not too bad results.  I do my own facials, paint my own nails and even cut my own hair.  I thought I might have come a bit of a cropper recently when I read that olive oil made a wonderful conditioning treatment for your hair.  I slapped bucketfuls of the stuff on and rubbed it in with gusto before wrapping my head in Glad wrap.  What a truly wonderful sight that must have been to behold; particularly coupled with the chocolate mud facemask I was wearing.  I felt like a true professional! 

Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling quite so professional three days later when I still looked as though I’d had a fight in a fish and chip shop and lost and was madly Googling how the heck I was supposed to get the oil out of my lank, greasy locks.  The answer, dear reader is time.  Time and lots of shampoo.  And it turned out Google was right because once I actually managed to get the last of the oil out my hair was wonderfully soft and shiny for ages.  I would definitely do it again – but only when I’m not planning to leave the house for a few days!

There are some things which I'm not game enough to attempt however.  Like the first time I ever tried to wax my bikini line.  I enlisted the help of my husband and can still picture the kids bursting in to come to my aid after hearing the blood curdling screams coming from my room.  Needless to say I didn’t try to repeat the experience again and to add insult to injury I didn’t realise the pot of microwave wax I had hastily picked up and taken to the pharmacy counter was a ‘naughty’ version and came with its own set of stencil templates such as hearts, stars and lightning bolts.  Far too Marilyn Monroe for my liking – and look what happened to her!

I should have known after that to leave the stuff alone but I always did learn the hard way and this morning was my piece de resistance.  I’ve always gone to the salon to get my eyebrows done but once funds no longer allowed I began plucking them instead.  However I soon decided this lengthy form of self-torture wasn’t really for me so I was excited when a friend recommended waxing my own with a specially manufactured facial wand.  I got the local chemist to get it in for me especially and looked forward to my transformation from Brooke Shields to – well, someone less bushy.

I duly prepped the area with the special fruity-fragranced wipes, then carefully applied the wax.  Well, as carefully as I could – the stuff was about as easy to work with as toffee, and the same consistency too.  I was beginning to have second thoughts as I tried to get the sticky, gooey wax to stick to the right places and was more than a little perturbed at the stringy bits going all over the place – what if they took off some of the hair I didn’t want removed?  Still, I followed the instructions to the letter and expertly ‘zipped’ off the strips on my first brow.  Success! 

Buoyed by the fabulous results of my first brow I did a repeat performance on the other and stared at my reflection in horror at the realization that my second ‘zip’ had gone very, very wrong.  You know those stringy little bits I had been a tad concerned about?  I was right to be.  One of the little blighters had gone and attached itself to the middle of my brow.  The result?  I now look like Jonah Lomu back in the days when he had number 11 (his rugby position) shaved into his eyebrows.  The difference is, he did it on purpose and carried it with manliness and aplomb.  I on the other hand look as though I've had an unfortunate accident with a lighter.

So much for my efforts to save money.  I now have to go and fork out for an eyebrow pencil so I can draw some in until they grow back!
TODAY I LEARNED: Some things really ARE best left to the professionals. 

Living dangerously

Some memories stay with you forever.  Such as the time I got my bum pinched by Witchy Poo in the May Day parade.  Every child in the village was terrified of her - this tiny but scary looking woman, always dressed head to toe in black and pushing an empty pram everywhere.  We always used to run past her house as fast as we possibly could and me, with my typical luck had to do it more than anyone else. 

Heaven knows why she pinched MY bum that day out of a whole village full of people.  It scared me half to death!  But then I've always been a magnet for mad people and still am.  In fact it's got worse as I've got older.  If there's a glue sniffer on a train you can make darn sure he'll sniff me out too, just to make my journey that little bit more eventful.  I remember years ago sitting in McDonalds and happily tucking into my quarter pounder when a man at the next table started talking to me in a low voice.  I smiled benignly and said 'pardon' before leaping up and bidding a hasty exit when I realised that what he was saying was extremely rude.  Looking back I should have asked him to repeat it so I could have written it down and gone on to make my fortune with a nineties-style 'Fifty Shades of Grey' - but we weren't like that back then, were we?  And besides, this chap was definitely no Christian Grey; more like a toothless Danny de Vito.

Then there was the time when Liam was about two years old and we had to get a security guard to get us safely to our car when a rather odd chap decided to stick to us like glue in Pak n Save.  That really shook me up but I think the nastiest experience I can recall was last year when I was training for the Auckland Marathon.  It was just a regular week-day afternoon and I was running along the beach as usual when a large man dressed all in black appeared out of the sand dunes and started running after me.  I wasn't too worried to begin with.  I could tell from the way he was staggering that he had to be drunk and besides, he was obviously overweight and I was a long distance runner!  There was no way he was going to be able to keep up with me.  But he did; he just kept going and going.  After 2km it became apparent that he was being fuelled by something a lot stronger than alcohol and that was when I got really scared.  There was nobody home for me to ring and there wasn't another soul on the beach.  Eventually I managed to get sufficiently ahead of him to duck into a sand dune and by some miracle somebody was standing in the window of one of the beach front holiday homes.  He quickly smuggled me through his house, out through the other side and onto the safety of the road before my pursuer could see where I had gone.  Too close for comfort if you ask me!

Would you walk a swing bridge from here to here?!

However last week's encounter wasn't too bad; in fact it was quite thought provoking.  Once again I was at the beach, this time walking, when a very big man came walking out of the sea towards me.  'Tell me', he said, gesturing towards the two landmark islands off Whangamata beach.  'If there was a swing bridge from one island to the other - would you walk across it?'  'Umm... no', I replied.  'I would have to say no because I'm no good with heights'.  'Well you'd be much better about them once you had walked across that though, wouldn't you?' came the reply.  'I guess I would!' I had to agree.  'You want to take more risks in life y'know.  Live more dangerously!' came the lofty reply.  'Maybe I do!' I agreed once again.  From there we went into an earnest discussion about the Seven Sisters (I didn't know what on earth they were and had to rush home and Google them), trouble brewing in the Middle East and goodness only knows what else before he turned his attentions towards a little old lady and I was left to go on my merry way.

But it did get me thinking.  Do I need to take more risks?  Should I indeed make the effort to live more dangerously?  And I started thinking about a common topic in today's society - bucket lists - a list of things you want to see or do before you die; some goals for me to aspire to.  And you know what?  I couldn't think of a darn thing!  Sure, there are some things I would LIKE to do.  I would LIKE to learn how to surf.  I would LIKE to learn how to play Enter Sandman by Metallica on the drums.  I would LIKE to visit Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia.  But none of them are burning desires.  If I were to kick the bucket tomorrow I wouldn't feel any worse for not doing any of them.  Which leads me to think that in that case, I must have had a pretty good life so far!

TODAY I LEARNED: Bucket lists might be all the rage but it doesn't mean you haven't lived if you don't have one!

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Apologies that my posts have been a bit few and far between.  I don't always have a plethora of blogs in my head, full of the latest exciting news and I originally thought this was a problem.  Then I realised yesterday that it actually isn't.  I mean, a blog is a blog.  You can write about whatever the heck you like, that's the beauty of it!  So today I'm going to write some things I have never shared with another living soul.  I'm going to write about Luke.

Luke is my firstborn son.  Were he still here, he and I would have been celebrating two big birthdays on December 16th.  My 40th, his 18th.  On the same day.  But while I grow older every day, Luke will never get old.  He will never drive a car, graduate school, go on a date, get drunk or do any of the other things other kids his age get to do.  But who knows, maybe where he is he's doing much more important stuff.  Like watching over his two younger brothers. That's what I like to think anyway.

I'm a great believer that things happen for a reason.  What doesn't kill you makes you stronger and all that.  But some things I will never understand and losing Luke is one of them.  The thing was, I had an inkling all along that something was going to go wrong but I told myself I was being silly and put it down to first time nerves.  It was only in my later pregnancies that I realised that there were symptoms with Luke which were very different that perhaps would have given a more experienced mum an indication that something was wrong.  But I was 21, just married and my family was on the other side of the world.  None of my friends were having babies yet so I had nobody to compare baby stories with.  The doctor told me everything was progressing well and I thought they were too so I just got on with things and kitted the nursery out in blue as there was no doubt from the 18 week scan that we were having a boy!

Luke was due to be born on February 1st 1995.  The funny thing was, we always knew he was going to be born early - in fact we even joked about it.  'Knowing you, he'll be born on your birthday!' laughed Noel - and I laughed too.  Of course there was no way that was ever going to happen.  My birthday was in December; that was much too early!  Seven weeks early in fact.  But on December 14th 1994 I woke up to find a spider running down my leg.  It turned out to be a very persistent spider because try as I might, it wouldn't go away, no matter how often I brushed it off.  And suddenly I realised that my waters had broken.

I was scared, but excited.  OK, so he was going to be early but let's face it, seven weeks is nothing in this day and age.  The main thing was that we got to hospital in time, which we did.  Once we arrived there, the nurses told me that I was going to have to stay in hospital for the rest of my pregnancy and they were going to do their utmost to keep the baby safely in my tummy until his due date, giving us both medication to strengthen his lungs and prepare him for life on the outside.  I was pretty persisted off at the thought of spending seven weeks in hospital but resigned to my fate.

Luke however was having none of it and as the clock hit midnight on December 16th, I went into labour.  No warning, no gradual build up, just straight into it.  The nurses flatly refused to believe me and by the time they finally got me into the delivery room I was screaming I had to push and they hadn't even called Noel to come into the hospital yet, even though we lived over an hour away.  The doctors were dragged out of bed and rushed in with their hair all standing on end.  It soon became apparent that Luke was breech but there was no time for pain relief.  I still vividly remember thinking I was going to die from the pain but assuring myself the worst that could happen was that I would faint.  I couldn't see the things that Noel could see, like the panic on the doctors' faces that they couldn't get Luke out.  Just as emergency back up was called, my baby made his entrance into the world after a three-hour labour.  The doctor bundled him up and quickly showed him to me.  And Master Luke William Gower immediately stopped crying and stared at me with a pair of intense brown eyes.  I remember thinking at the time how unusual that was - weren't babies' eyes supposed to be blue?  Either way, they were unmistakeablely brown and I thought it was pretty cool that his were different.  That was the first and only time I saw those eyes open.  Then the doctor whisked him off to intensive care, as they had told me would happen.  I didn't mind, I was just happy he was alive and as the pethidine finally kicked in, I settled happily, hearing my baby's tiny plaintive wails further down the corridor.  He was going to be alright.

'Happy birthday!'  giggled all the nurses as they set about making me comfortable.  Oh that's right.  It was my 22nd birthday.  My baby and I had the same birthday, how awesome was that!  They brought me photos of him up to the ward as I wasn't strong enough to go and see him.  It was kind of hard to see him under all the tubes and enormous nappy but he was doing well and besides I honestly wasn't worried.  At four pounds in weight he was by far the heaviest baby in the newborn unit - he was plump for goodness' sake!  Lukey and I would have all the time in the world together.  Until then I looked forward to the frequent reports from his dad and grandparents, who spent hours with him when I couldn't.

What I didn't realise was that while my baby looked perfect on the outside, things were far from perfect on the inside.  Luke's traumatic forceps delivery had resulted in severe brain damage. Had he lived, life would have been an immense struggle for all of us.  But we didn't know any of this until two years later, when the doctor caring for me when I was pregnant with Liam showed me my notes from Luke's birth and informed me I had every right to sue the hospital and he would back me every step of the way.  I didn't.  What would be the point?  Nothing would have brought Luke back. 

My hospital room was buzzing throughout with people that day, all excitedly celebrating mine and Luke's birthday.  In fact there were so many visitors that I began to feel bad.  I wanted to be with my son but I couldn't get away.  Eventually I was able to go to the newborn unit to see him but every time I went I couldn't stand it for long.  I wanted to be with Lukey but it was so unbearably hot and I was still in so much pain from all the stitches I had needed that I just couldn't sit on the stools they had provided next to the incubators.  The first night of Luke's life was endless.  The doctors feared that he had contracted a virus called Strep B, in the 24 hours that he was unprotected between my waters breaking and going into labour.  Apparently up to 25% of adults can have this at any one time but we don't know we even have it.  Unfortunately this is not so for babies; in the majority of cases it is fatal.  As we anxiously waited for the test results nobody knew whether he would make it through the night but we were all overjoyed when he did.

Day Two was the same, another constant stream of visitors and by the time I got down to see Luke, it was almost the end of the day.  The nurse was lovely and so pleased to see me.  'He's been so doing so well all day!' she said excitedly.  I was over the moon and took my seat next to him, stroking his tiny hand  And almost immediately things started to go very, very wrong.  I can't help thinking that he was waiting for me before he felt he could go; the timing was just too uncanny.  Noel and I watched in a daze as alarms rang and a flurry of doctors and nurses rushed to our corner.  It was all over in a matter of minutes.  Before we knew it, we were ushered into another room and our beautiful wee boy had been disconnected from all his tubes, gently wrapped and brought to us to take his final breaths.  The test results were through and Strep B was confirmed but it was too late, not a single soul could do anything about it.  I felt wooden, like a zombie as I held him for a few minutes, then silently passed him over to his dad.  I didn't know what else to do.

The nurses came and took him and asked if I would like to help bathe and dress Luke.  I said no.  To this day I have never forgiven myself.  I robbed myself of the only precious time I would ever get with my baby but I didn't know how to be a mum.  If I had truly thought for one second that he would die, I would have spent every moment with him - but I never honestly believed he would.  If I ever had the chance to say anything to him now, it would be that I hope he knew how much I loved him and wanted him to stay.  That I'm so, so sorry that I handed him over, that I didn't cuddle him for hours when I could have; when I should have.  Poor little guy.  All I can put it down to is that I felt completely numb, everything happened so fast and felt so unreal.  As it turns out, I did learn how to be a mum a couple of years later - a pretty good one I think.

Luke was buried two days later, in the December sunshine, in a tiny cemetery on a hill.  Half the town turned out to support us, from the man who owned the corner shop to the girl who worked in the petrol station.  It was overwhelming and very humbling.  So many people helped us through that time; I know some of them will read this blog and they will always have our love and gratitude for everything that they did.  Shortly after his funeral, we went and placed a bright blue windmill next to his grave.  We kind of liked the thought that there was always something there when we couldn't be.  Gradually, other people started doing the same with their loved ones and before long that little cemetery was covered in brightly coloured windmills.

My birthday has never been the same, it's always tinged with sadness but also happiness because it's the one day I feel close to Luke and nobody can ever take that away.  The hardest part after the funeral was I was terrified that I was going to forget what he looked like.  But it will be 18 years this December and I never have :-)

TODAY I LEARNED: That everything does indeed happen for a reason.  We just don't always know what the hell that reason is.