Wednesday, 25 February 2015

21 weeks 22 weeks 23 weeks...

So! We made it to 21 weeks for the scan (although I'm 23 weeks this week, but hey, I'm a procrastinator).

So, I thought I'd share with you the scan photo:

And also, the wonderful news that I don't have to think of some kind of crazy name change for the blog.

 Yep - it's another boy!

I am going to be a gang mistress for real now, complete with (very probably) nervous twitch, bad hair and lifelong ambition to get the house clean.

In all honesty though, I am extremely pleased to have another wee body to cuddle, regardless of gender, and am really looking forward to June.

The scan did show a wee problem with our boy's heart - a teeny wee hole in the upper Ventricular Septum of about 2mm.

In typical dramatic fashion, the scan took just under 2 hours to complete due to one very wiggly wriggly baby, who wouldn't sit still long enough (just like his dad!) to let everyone see what they thought they had seen.

Sadly, it wasn't just a grainy image - there really was something there.  It took a midwife, a sonographer and a consultant to check it out, but yep, one wee hole.

The initial conclusion is that it's nothing really to worry about and more of something just to keep an eye on.  In the grand scheme of things, it's early days and the hole should close over before birth. But as we all know, doctors must give us the worst case scenario, so we had to discuss things like the possibility of it being a sign that baby could have Down's Syndrome and also that he may need surgery as a newborn.


We were offered the test for chromosomal abnormalities, but declined with gusto - it would only tell us if he did or didn't have anything wrong and it comes with a tenable risk, so we vetoed it instantly.

The way we see it is, everything else on that scan was beautifully perfect.  And he was rolling around like a trooper with huge kicks, punches and headbutts.  Our baby will always be perfect to us.  And we would face any challenge that came our way.  And besides - the strongest possibility of all is that it will all be fine.

It's still not the kind of shock you need at a 20 week scan, but there are definitely worse shocks to get. We were very lucky to be offered a raft of appointments to keep an eye on things; our care now involves cardiologists, paediatricians and lots of extra scans.

One of which we had today in fact.

We had an appointment (or two actually) with the top foetal and paediatric cardiologist in Scotland, no less, who visits our hospital once a month.

We are now on his caseload, which kind of initially makes you go ' whhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!?' because, well, you know, big important doctor, but for the same reason makes you go 'phew! Big, important doctor on the case!' And he had to travel from Glagow to see us today, so there was LOTS of hanging around for his arrival, but it was completely worth it!

He didn't seem too concerned - the feeling being that it's still kind of too early to properly assess actual amount of damage, and if there is the damage that they think there is, then it should be easy to treat.  Be that through surgery (eek! newborn surgery!?! Why was he so relaxed about this?!?) or a wait-and-see-what's-going-on, I don't know.

What I do know is that they are very reluctant to book me in for a csection date until they know more, which is kind of worrying me a bit.  There's a real chance we might end up delivering in Glasgow at Yorkhill rather than in our home town, so that's a bit of a head-mess too; right at a time where we are supposed to be moving house *groan* and trying to transition Ethan to primary school.

We never do anything by halves, that's for sure.

I'm ending today feeling a bit like this is all happening to someone else.  It's kind of hard to get my thoughts around all of the mad changes which are happening in my life, but I'm trying so hard to focus on the positives and keep the stress levels to a minimum.  It's tough though. So many alien concepts, especially after two (relatively) very healthy kids with no real complications.

It would be so easy to crumple under all of the pressure, but that's really not an option. I have to continue being a mother.  I have to go to work.  I have to keep house searching  so we have somewhere to live before this all kicks off.  I have to keep to my commitments and do my best; after all, it's all fun and good and awesome, and that's all happening too.

Dave and I like to have a bit of humour as we go, and we jolly each other along. Our humour might seem a bit black to others at times, but when you are faced with crazy crazy situations like these, it really helps to just generally laugh and make it a bit smaller than it is.  I'm so grateful to have a supportive husband like him.

Life's been a bit all-consuming lately.  I'm still very much grieving the loss of my old boy, Sparky, and we are stuck in a constant cycle of work, shifts, appointments, forms, school stuff, financial stuff etc etc.  I'm starting to look forward to the slower pace of summer, where we'll hopefully be settled with a healthy newborn, maybe a new puppy (maybe!) and the kids are playing in our back garden.

I'm holding on to that image in my head, because in six months time, once again, we'll be in an entirely different part of our lives, and all of this will just be yet another blip in the past.

Fingers crossed.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Fifty Shades of Commercialised Hype, and you're all falling for it

I work in a library, and yes I did notice the popularity of the Fifty Shades series.

As part of the fabulous service that you can expect to receive at our library, you can put your name down to reserve a book when it becomes available, and in some cases even order it in to be reserved.

Needless to say, many folk put their names against this title, the books being hastily passed from one reader to the next, usually not even hitting the shelf before ending up back on the reserved pile.  It was crazy. People were phoning and asking about it, wondering when it would be their turn.

The audience? Well, mainly older ladies who use the service anyway and were curious to see what all the fuss was about.  Many, and I mean many, handed the first book back with a groan, pushing it over the desk and mumbling something about 'what a load of rubbish', or 'too far-fetched'.

'I'll stick to the Mills & Boon,' one lady giggled, 'it's a much better read!  That one was terrible, the grammar was awful!'

Some carried on to read the trilogy, remembering to pick up the second or third book, but very noticeably, there are now a lot of half-thumbed through second and third books of the series on the shelves compared to the few battered and well-read first books that were actually returned and didn't actually just end up under someone's bed, never to come back tot he library again.

I suppose, for those who read, Fifty Shades just didn't really hit the mark. They were much more inclined to pick up a dark classic or some of the other romance fiction (of which there are many, in various shapes and forms) to tickle their tastebuds.  The verdict seemed to be that Fifty Shades was just another well-publicised, over-hyped fad. The various comments about it ranged from "poorly-written", to "fifty shades of crap!

Curiosity did get the better of me, and I had a look at one of the reserved books one day, thumbing through one on my lunch break. I wasn't shocked, or even remotely perturbed - I'd spent time working in a high street sex shop which had worse things on the shelf than this.  Just picking out random bits of text turned me right off anyway. I mean, seriously - I didn't have to look far for some hilarious text to back up my view that no person who truly enjoyed words in their art form could subscribe to this as a serious storyline with serious outcomes.

I wrote it off as yet another book that would have it's time and then leave as suddenly as it came. No pun intended.

It floated away for a while and then the rumours came of a movie. It was no real surprise - after all, it was clearly a commercialised hit already.  People who never usually bother to pick up a book had picked up three. Which is quite profitable for your 'supermarket sellers', the ones you pick up along with your shopping or with your lunchtime sandwich. Cheap and cheerful pick-me-ups, right?

The search was on for a man to play Christian Grey, a character whom every critic was holding up on a pedestal as one who would be difficult to perfectly portray.  Who, if the casting was wrongly done, would ruin the very image of man.  The supposition was that these would be very difficult shoes to fill.

He should be at once sexy, but commanding. 

Lusty and serious.

Hot and unforgiving.

Women were going crazy for this guy, so I decided to do a bit of investigating.  After all, I'm not adverse to a bit of perving over fictional characters in movie format.  I've seen Magic Mike (to my eternal shame. What? Channing Tatum is unbelievably smooth in that film. Those dance moves are UNbelieveable!)

After skulking around various film boards, newspaper articles and feminist boards, I was kind of a bit worried as to the kind of character this Grey man was.  After all, if any of my friends or family started going out with or dating a guy who treated them like that, I'd be staging an intervention, complete with identity papers and a house move to another country.

I'm perplexed - how are normal, seemingly functioning and sensible, modern, women even subscribing to this notion of a man so poisonous and degrading to the very core of femininity?

Talk about one step forward ten steps back.

I get the BDSM thing.  I get the allure of bondage and handcuffs and I can even imagine how sexual contracts like the one Grey gives Ana can be a bit of a turn on to the usual lady lounging at home with her day to day life. It's thrilling. It takes away from the normal wishy-washy will-she-won't-she mundane storylines that crop up time and time again in other 'romance' novels.

It pushes a boundary, a social contract even, and it makes it seem legitimate, because ultimately, by the end of the third book, Ana gets her child and her man and her life with them. So, it's like saying, 'oh yeah, well, sure, they have a weird relationship to start off with, but they work it out, yeah?'

I've had several conversations with my fellow women about Fifty Shades, and I have to say, it's not the books, it's not the characters, nor is it the plotline which shocks me the most; it's the reaction of normal, seemingly forward-thinking women to some of the darker undertones of it.  The really, terrible, awful, abusive stuff that, seriously, there can be no excuse for.

It's also the fact that they are willing to normalise this behaviour to such an extent as to jump behind the commercialism, to invest in 'girly nights out' to see the film all together, to fantasise as to which guy is going to play Mr. Grey so perfectly in the film, to shout down the women who point out that sexual fun and antics is entirely right and good, but that a man who takes advantage of a woman in such a way is a bit of a git.

I've heard all the arguments as to how to legitimise Grey's acts - "it's sexual slavery and that's how that works", "Ana saves Christian from himself, so she's the stronger one", "don't be so vanilla", "it's just a bit of fun".

Come on, who are we kidding here? 

At the same time, I'm torn; I remember such over-reactions to similar things like how evil Freddy Kreuger was, how corrupting video games were to young children, the reaction to awful porn like Deep Throat - all of which make us laugh now and say, 'really? That's nothing!'

But isn't that where the real problems lie?

The problem with things like Fifty Shades of Grey is that it does normalise and legitimise.  It raises a bar that the next person has to hit in order to shock, and trust me, this will come too. There will be a time where we look at Fifty Shades and laugh at how ridiculously sweet it was.

And what about the real people in real abusive relationships?  What do they do with this information? Does a woman caught in an abusive relationship now have a chance to romanticise what is happening to her instead of breaking free, in the hope that she too will find her Mr. Grey?  After all the work that has been done by various groups all over the world to say that such behaviour is not right, is dangerous, is wrong, doesn't Fifty Shades somewhat court responsibility for hat happens here too?

Apparently not as long as the people behind it are making their fifty shades of moolah.

Of course, the commercialization which goes along with such a box office hit is phenomenal.  There's Fifty Shades promos on everything.  Hitting the Valentines day market, you can even but Fifty Shades sex toys. Albeit, very poorly made sex toys. Seriously, don't waste your money. That stuff will snap in two if you even attempt to use it harder than a wee bit.

Christian Grey is like a metaphor for commercialism alone - even if you move to Antarctica, it'll find you, right?  Maybe that's the joke here? 

I'm no prude, I have a wicked imagination and I could tell most folk a thing or two about, you know, 'stuff'.

But there's a reason why it's hitting a lot of people's moral compasses and raising red flags.  Reasons I sincerely believe I don't really need to outline here.

Everyone is entitled to explore their sexuality in whichever way they see fit - that's fun and healthy and good.

I think the definition of healthy is what's at stake here.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Goodbye Sparky

Last week we said goodbye to one of our family members. Our gorgeous dog-boy, Sparky, was 18 years and 10 months old.

I've had this awesome guy since I was about 12 years old.

Dave and I had been on a fun trip to a craft shop in Letham.  It was the first time we had had time together in ages - and even then I was due to be at work in the afternoon. We'd taken the new car for a spin, stretching her legs on the country roads.  It was a really sunny day - the first properly sunny one we've had for ages and our moods were light.

We got what we needed and then headed back for lunch, me eager to sort my hair and so on before having to face the general public.

We pulled into the cul-de-sac and parked the car, Dave going in first while I pulled in one of the wheelie bins from outside.

As I put it in its place, I noted the rubbish that had gotten out of the bag, and went to go inside to moan to Dave about making sure he tied the bags properly, to be met at the top of the stairs with a very panicked husband, with a  very worried look on his face.

'He's hurt himself. It's his legs! Oh no...oh no!'

I ran up the stairs and into the kitchen, to see my boy wobbling about on very wobble pins.  He flopped over, panting as he landed in a patch of sunlight, which on any normal day would be great - he loved nothing more than sitting in the sun.

I lay down on the floor beside him and just gave him the hugest hug - I knew what this meant and it wasn't good.

I don't know if any of you have ever had a dog live as long as 19 years old, but lets just say from about the age of 12 onwards, you are trying to prepare yourself for the worst.

I'd been through it so many times before in my head; I'd left on many a holiday holding him extra close in case he wasn't there when I came back.  I'd poked him so many times when he was sleeping extra-peacefully, convinced that this time this was 'it'.  I'd completely prepared for the fact that my old doggy couldn't last forever - I'd been preparing for years.

I just wasn't prepared for it to happen so suddenly.

The truth is, I'd been regretfully researching things like when is the right time to call an end to an older dog's life.  Although Sparky had been very physically fit and well, his mental state wasn't as good as it had been, and even though he still had mainly decent days, I was so aware of his recent decline mentally.  It was going to be a very tough call to make. And I was preparing to make it.  Just not yet.

As I cradled my boy on the floor, he just lay down.  He cuddled in, while I wept on his soft, white fur and ran my fingers across his big silky ears for which we both knew would be one of the last times.

I urged Dave to phone the vet, and we arranged to go down there and then.  We couldn't wait - we didn't know how much, if any, pain he was in and we couldn't bear making him wait longer than he had to.  Bundling him up, we took him into the car and drove to the surgery, where a kind lady led us to the table.

We placed him down, where he wobbled about, slumping to the side and wobbling back up again.  We put him on the floor and he fell over, wobbled up and tottered a bit before falling over again.

'We can do treatment, or we can do surgery if you like...'

But how could we?  How could we put our lovely elderly and confused dog through arduous treatment for old age?  He was so old. Worst of all - there was no real way of comforting him through any treatment.  We could just in no way put him through that.

That's when we made the decision properly.  The vet shaved his paw (Sparky hated vets and would NEVER in a million years have even sat on the table, let alone let her do that to him!  That's how I knew it was the right thing to do) and gave him a sedative.  She left the room so as not to stress him out and Dave and I sat with him, cuddling him in until he fell asleep.  That's the last he knew before the vet came back to administer the final injection.

It's the oddest sensation, being in control of whether a person stops something's life or not.  Knowing I could have shouted 'stop' at any time and my boy would still have been here.   Knowing that the pink fluid in the syringe was the difference between heart beating and heart stopping.  And that in less than a minute, my boy was gone.  Just like that.

God, I miss him.

I miss him, I hurt for him, I ache in my heart for him.

'Stay as long as you like,' she said.

We stayed about 5 minutes.

There's nothing more to be done with a body whose soul has departed.

I touched his ears one more time, so aware that I would never feel anything like that again.  The ridge of his skull.  I inhaled his fur, touched his smells-like-popcorn feet and ruffled the scruff of his neck.

There was nothing more I could do.  I wished I could feel, smell and touch all of this forever, but I couldn't. And we walked out of the room, collar in hand, paying by card, shocked looks on our faces.

We got outside and held each other in the afternoon sunlight, getting into the car and driving back home, back to our empty house with it's dog bowls and lead and white hair all over the sofa.


I passed the bins outside.  They can wait.

I didn't look in the mirror - no need.

We just got in and started to tidy away the things.  Preparing to tell the kids that the dog who stole their pancakes that morning died today.

Pancakes - when he was a pup we used to go to a coffee shop where the owner, a friend, made him his own special pancake.

The bowl which we'd filled for the longest of times now sits in the dish rack waiting to go, well, away.  I don't know where away is, but I'm going to have to find it.

We threw out his dogfood, well, because Sparky was so old and had seen through so many other dogs whose owners used to give us their old dog food after their dog had passed and it had always felt so wrong feeding him it.  It felt like giving it to someone else was like admitting he'd died, so, in the bin it went.

We told the kids when they got home.  Tom was gutted.  He's fine today, but he's working through it.  Ethan hasn't quite grasped it, or he has and is deflecting really well.  Either way, he'll get through it too.  I'm just so glad they got to know him, even if it was in his docile latter years as opposed to the crazy, fun, manic years, which they would have totally loved. But hey.

I went back to work this morning. Had a wee weep in the car before I got there, processing the scenes from the day before, grateful that I hadn't had any nightmares in the night about it (pregnancy dreams are so vivid). I parked my car in the street where I lived as a student and remembered all the walks we used to take around there, his feud with Dave the cat, the way he used to jump up on the little walls and generally be a pain in the ass on the lead.

Then I got to work and folk kept saying how sorry they were, how they knew how it felt, how great he was, how lucky I'd been to share such a massive part of my life with him.

All true.

19 years is like two lifetimes away for me.

I was a teenager, taking him to the park with my friends for an afternoon of throwing the toy, trying my best to tire him out.  Using the tug rope to twirl him around, trying to exhaust him, which was always impossible.  He'd get fed up and sit on the hill, while you called for him over and over.  He'd sit in the sun, grinning, fluttering his feathery tail at you, cheekily.

He played Toto on the stage in our local amateur theatre company's production of The  Wizard of Oz, making friends with all the kids at rehearsals.

We rode on the bus together - him on my knee, nosily watching out of the window, ears right up, watching absolutely everything.

He'd watch television, barking at dogs and cats he saw on programmes and listened intently to the world outside the windows of our house, jumping up onto the backs of furniture so he could get a glimpse.

I was a young lady, coming home from a late shift, sometimes int he middle of the night after working all day.  He'd greet me, wagging, as I shushed him, slipping on his lead for a midnight donder.  We'd come home and cosy up together in bed, him laying his head in the crook of my knees.

He'd sit beside me in my bedroom, as I sang along to my cds, picking up his toy and nosing it into my lap, so I'd throw it again, and again, and again, abesnt-mindedly, before playfully chucking him on the bed, covering him with the duvet and playing the game where he'd bite through the covers at my hands, furiously wagging his tail.

I was a girlfriend, bringing my boyfriend home for the first time that night overnight.  Sparky initially couldn't get over the fact that Dave slept beside me, but later on would sleep only between his legs at night. Sparky adopted Dave and Dave adopted him.

Sparky dressed up as Superdog for our house halloween party, joining in with balloon popping and pogo-ing antics.

He lived in our student flat, cuddled up with us under our communal living room duvets in the winter, and snuggled up to snooze beside our flatmates.

We moved house together a further once, twice, thrice, four times, five times.

He made friends with local dogs - the small white westie who lived out back, the long-haired retriever at the park, the staffie who marched around the beach.  He made enemies with the other Jack Russell who lived across the hall.  He went to dog training classes 10 years after he had graduated from dog training classes.

He patiently adapted to life with babies - no mean feat for a dog advancing in age, who has been nothing but the centre of everyone's attention. He simply saw it as a way of getting more food at mealtimes! Always the optimist!  Thomas would follow Sparky in his baby walker and Sparky would try it on with Tom, carefully placing his toy on the tray of the walker, hoping Tom would throw it for him.  At night, when I was relaxing in the bath after another long day, he would make sure we never forgot him - jumping up with his two paws on the side of the bath, waiting for me to give him a scratch on his head.  And when I reciprocated (because how could you not with that cheeky wee face?), he'd take it as a sign that it was time to play, and bring his toy to the edge of the bath, rolling it in and dropping it right in the water!

He knew how to make us pay attention.

Every guest had their bag rifled through, as we joked about our 'security dog', as he cheekily pushed his ball into visitors bags in the hope that they would throw it for him.  Sometimes he was just sniffing for snacks.  Once we had to pull him out of a lady's bag in the street, apologising profusely.  He was so damn cute that she opened her bag right up and let him have it.  His award-winning waggy tail won him lots of admirers.

Often people crossed the street just to talk to him.  He had a way of spying someone in the distance, a wee old lady, a child, a tall man, and would actually fold himself in half wagging his tail so hard, trying to get them to speak to him.

He loved the beach.

Man, he loved the beach!

In the summer we'd take him down for whole days, not getting any peace, as when he wasn't running back and forward with his toy, he was furiously digging a hole to bury it, covering everything with sand, including his own huge, pink tongue. toys toys.

The Kong was a massive favourite - the eternal favourite.  He ruined so many squeaky toys, balls and footballs that the Kong was certainly right up there for holding it's own.  Then his red bone that squeaked at the end (but not for long), his Indestructaball (the only ball he couldn't burst and thus dug at ferociously.  So much so, we had to regulate his time with it!) and any soft toy he was allowed to cosy into and lick to death.

He loved the colour yellow.  He would pick up yellow balls he found at the park, steal yellow socks and make a beeline for yellow footballs at the park, which often led to us having to grab him before he ruined yet another game of football!  He favoured his large yellow rubber ball and once brought home the most disgusting old yellow children's toy which he licked lovingly while constantly guarding it.  The time I tried to throw it out, he went back into the bin to retrieve it.

He had the best sniffer I have ever seen on a dog.  We used to play games where we'd shut him out of the room, and hide his toy somewhere crazy, counting how long it took for him to find it.  And he always did!  He always knew when there were doggy treats in the house too - he could never leave them if he knew they were there.  Often, we'd get up in the middle of the night to find him lying in front of the kitchen cupboard, grumbling and moaning and wagging because he couldn't resist whatever he knew we had for him.

Oh, my boy.  My lovely, lovely boy.

We get his ashes back sometime this week.  We'll be taking them to the beach to scatter - there is no better place that I can think of.

He was always his happiest causing chaos at the beach.

Will there be another dog?  This is a question many people have asked me, albeit a bit too soon.  I suppose I'd be lying if I said I hadn't already considered it.

Of course there will be another dog.  There might even be another couple of dogs.

There will never, ever, ever in my whole life be another Sparky.

How lucky was I?

"If there are no dogs in Heaven when I die, then I want to go where they went"

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