About a boy

Today I’m going to introduce you to the other man in my life. The one who’s just over a metre tall. For one post only, I’ll call my four-year-old Darling Son by his name: Rupert. As in The Bear. As in The Red (he is blessed with gorgeous pale ginger hair that he calls ‘orange’). And not at all as in Rupert Penry-Jones. Honest guv.

Some (I’m looking at you, dear husband) have questioned the wisdom of calling a ginger boy Rupert. He’s either going to have to play rugby or be the funniest boy in school, right? Luckily, he is already showing potential for being sporty and extremely funny. His core strength is astonishing: he basically has a baby six pack. What I would call ‘extreme yoga’ he calls ‘hanging out upside down while watching Disney Junior’.

He’s a tall, skinny little thing – his trousers are either too short or the right length but falling down around his tiny hips and peachy bottom. He has an acute sense of the absurd, and (obviously) a penchant for toilet humour (saying ‘poo’ can literally make him cry with laughter until he can’t breathe). He has a real twinkle in his eye and a great imagination. He makes up imaginary characters with extraordinary names, two of the most popular currently being the superheroesque  ‘Acival’ and the more slapstick-sounding ‘Eldon Bun’. He describes really cool things like torches and doing a forward roll as ‘awesome’. He loves soft play, and theme parks, and playing with small Playmobil/Happyland figures he calls ‘persons’.

Rupert started school last month. He was only four at the end of August, so he is the youngest in the school. His big sister took five terms to stop crying and clinging to me every morning, bless her, so I was bracing myself for another tough start. Sure enough, on Day 1, there were a LOT of tears when me and DH dropped him off. His fantastic teacher phoned me at lunchtime to tell me he was absolutely fine and having a great time. And ever since, he’s trooped into his classroom, clutching his book bag and his packed luncheon, without a backward glance. Rupe seems to have settled in beautifully, and is genuinely loving learning. He loves his teachers, is full of excitement every day about the new letter he’s learned, and has made some little friends, boys and girls. I am astonished, and indescribably relieved, that he is so happy at school. Although totally foxed by the sheer volume of plastic boxes and drinks bottles he has managed to lose from his packed lunches in half a term.

My relationship with Rupert is easy, and natural, and very physical. He is VERY cuddly. He climbs into bed for a quick cuddle most mornings, and he smells delicious. If I’m yelling at Rupe it’s usually something utterly banal like having to ask him for the umpteenth time to put his shoes on. It’s like clouds passing the sun. He is sensitive, and kind, and loving. He has stunning blue eyes and a winning smile, and he LEAPS into my arms when he needs a hug, making my heart melt.

He does sometimes get himself in a pickle, especially when he can’t find the right words to tell a grown-up what he’s upset about. We have extended whimpering and whining and tears instead of him using his very good vocabulary, and he is quite capable, frankly, of being what DH calls ”a little shit’. But he makes us laugh, a lot, and we’re both aware that Rupe is not to be underestimated just cos he’s the youngest. Ever since he started talking has insisted on using full, Victorian-style formal sentences. Why say ‘no’ when you can say: ‘I don’t think so, mama, not at the moment, thank you.’

He was a nightmare baby: always full of wind, crying the whole time, permanent upset tummy, never slept through the night till he was 18 months old. It was a big shock after my angel of a daughter who slept through from nine weeks. Nevertheless, I had post-natal depression that was not diagnosed until she was seven months old, and I found new motherhood, even with a ‘good’ baby, a complete head-fuck. And then two years and three weeks later, I had this tricksy little bugger (conceived the month after I came off the antidepressants) and bonded with him just fine.

We finally worked out the wind and Appalling Poo thing: he’s dairy intolerant. (I know this is very Surrey, and I apologise, but there it is). So now we know that he has to avoid cheese and milk and yoghurt, and all is well. He can take a little bit of butter in a recipe, and a little bit of milk chocolate. We don’t have much dairy in the house since I got on my high horse about the potential link with hormonal cancers anyway, so it’s not at all difficult accommodating him. He eats a lot of fruit and sorbet for pudding; Alpro soya vanilla puddings are like the best custard ever, and we all have almond milk on our cereal.

Rupe’s favourite thing is watching a film. He adores our trips to the cinema, and has an astonishing attention span where telly and films are concerned. He’s been watching full-length movies all the way through since he was two. For which I have offered up a silent prayer of thanks many times when he’s been on a half day at nursery and I have had a work deadline. For his fourth birthday, he asked to see Brave at the cinema, ‘after lunch at Jamie’s’.

His other favourite thing is Star Wars. He has two lightsabers and a black plastic mask that chants all Mr D. Vadar’s best lines, and a Stormtrooper outfit. He and Bridget play Star Wars a lot. They play beautifully together, most of the time, whether they are creating space ships out of cardboard boxes or doing Lego. They love each other very much and laugh together a lot. It’s a total joy watching them grow up as a little double act. I hope they stay close forever. He brings out her more physical, noisy side, and she encourages his creativity. They descend into hysterics very, very quickly. Yesterday they both had hiccups and tears streaming down their cheeks after indulging in a bit of cross-dressing: Rupe in B’s pink pirate outfit, and she in his t-shirt and swimming trunks. This screaming laughter is a delightful sound if you are hearing them having fun several rooms away, and not so great if you’re on a moderately long car journey. They both adore Olly Murs and know every song on the album off by heart: Bridgey singing along perfectly in tune and doing all the harmonies, and Rupey doing his sweet, shy, pretty much tone-deaf barking.

Rupey is well known for his penchant for ‘a drink and a snack’. His tipple of choice is ‘hot lemon’ – warm lemon high-juice squash in a big beaker. He gets through pints of the stuff; I’ve never known a child drink so much. If you don’t know where Rupe is, he’s probably watching Jake and the Neverland Pirates with a hot lemon, a biscuit, and his precious Flat Bear tucked under his arm. His ultimate treat is to spend an entire Saturday in his PJs, over which he will consent to slip one of his many dressing up outfits if I absolutely have to pop to Sainos. (We arrrrr going through a bit of a piratey phase).

He’s a real mummy’s boy at the moment, although daddy will come into his own when he falls in love with balls of all shapes and sizes, I’m sure. He’s already got a killer sense of what to do with a ball: he can drop-kick, and kick long and on target. DH taught him to ride his grown-up bike with no stabilisers this summer, and he looks delicious wobbling along with his massive helmet on his little boncey head. He has massive hands – something tells me he’s going to be a tall boy, and once we get round to Sunday morning rugby sessions, no-one will be messing with this ginger whinger.

So that’s my adorable, cheeky, funny Rupert Bear. I love him fiercely, and he brings me enormous joy, and totally winds me up. And I can’t wait to give him a cuddle after school today.

The lifting of a great weight

It’s pissing down outside. It’s a chilly, miserable, October day, and big plops of rain are dripping off the monkey puzzle tree outside my office window. I’m full of the chesty coldy virus that’s going round. But you know what? I’ve rarely felt happier, or healthier.

I’ve had four months of feeling like I’ve been holding my breath. Yesterday, I exhaled.

I finally went to my GP a couple of weeks ago about all the aches and pains in my back and torso that have been plaguing and worrying me since June. She prodded and poked and said she didn’t know what it was but was fairly certain it was nothing serious; the IBS and sciatica I had mooted were probably right. However, given my history she understood that wasn’t a good enough answer. She filled in a chest X-ray form for me to take to the radiology department at the Royal Surrey County Hospital, ‘Because,’ she said matter-of-factly, ‘it’ll immediately show up any bony secondaries’. She also said she would write to my oncology team and ask them to pull me in for an appointment earlier than my one-year-after-sign-off appointment in February 2013.

In the meantime, I was scheduled to see my amazing surgeon, Miss Tracey Irvine, for a check-up to see how the balancing boob job was settling down after the double-general-anaesthetic drama in March. (It looks bloody good, by the way. Practically the same as the downsized one that had all the tumours in, with a matching anchor-shaped scar. I feel very lucky that Tracey is such a brilliant surgeon and I managed to avoid a mastectomy. Having your own boobs that are small and pert enough to not really need a bra in the summer when you’ve breastfed two kiddies and it’s a downhill ride to your 40th birthday is something of a silver lining.)

The oncology appointment came through: the afternoon of the same day I was due to see Tracey. I didn’t sleep the night before. I knew I’d have to discuss my concerns, and was hoping desperately for some reassurance, and dreading what would happen if that couldn’t be provided on the spot. I hadn’t been for my X-ray (work deadlines/bit scared): I thought I might as well spend the day at the hospital and get it all done in one shot. DH didn’t sleep either. He’d offered to come with me, which was brilliant; I had to attend so many of my appointments alone when I was being treated, while he looked after the children.

Yesterday morning, I dropped DD and DS at school as usual, with their book bags and lunch boxes and snot and smiles. Back home, I did Distraction Tidying before it was time to go.

Sitting in the radiology corridor in my back-to-front robe was a deja-vu experience, reminding me strongly of when I spent every day in July 2011 having radiotherapy. DH did the sudoku in the newspaper. I just sat, trying not to think what-iffy thoughts. I was called in and had the chest X-ray. The young radiologist said she would just check it. Two minutes later she came back and asked how long I’d had my cough and where I had been feeling pain. I noted a low-level adrenaline response in my body as I tried to answer without shouting ‘WHY??? WHAT CAN YOU SEE ON THERE??’ because I knew she would just say the results would be with my GP within 10 days. As she did.

Another corridor: the outpatients breast clinic. I tried to distract myself with Tina Fey’s very funny autobiography on my Kindle, but was fretting. I’ve waited for hours in that clinic before, but luckily it was only 20 minutes before we were called in to see Tracey. She asked how I was, and listened attentively as I told her about my concerns and my ongoing struggle to deal with the hormonal rollercoaster of being on Tamoxifen (one year down, four to go!). She said that there was no need for me to go to oncology later as well – she ‘could do more than boobs’ and would do a thorough physical exam. I stripped to the waist (I wonder how many times I’ve done this in the past two years?) and the prodding and poking began.

She dug her fingers deep into both armpits, palpated both breasts, felt my neck glands and all over my chest, and pressed hard all over my abdomen, feeling my liver, spleen, stomach and kidneys. She firmly pressed on each of my vertebrae and ribs. Some bits were a little tender (no-one needs their tumkins being poked that hard, frankly), but I didn’t need to yelp. She left me lying behind the curtain while she checked the X-rays that were already on the system. There was silence for too many seconds before she finally said it all looked fine to her.

I got dressed again. She looked me in the eye, and said, very clearly and kindly, that I was absolutely fine and there was nothing to worry about. She said this sort of concern post-caaancer was normal, but I shouldn’t worry again – I could call anytime and come in to see her. She said she’d like me to have some bloods taken, and would wait until they were back and my two-year-after-diagnosis mammogram at the end of this month to sign me off, but otherwise she would see me in six months. I thanked her. DH thanked her. We left.

We sat in yet another corridor waiting for phlebotomy, and it was then that I exhaled. And cried. The relief, my God, I cannot tell you. Letting go of all that worry, I felt about a stone lighter and six inches taller. And like a happy idiot: why did I leave it so long before seeing the GP, and mentioning my concerns to my team? They are there for me, they are the experts, I totally trust them and I know if anything was wrong they would be on it like a bonnet, why didn’t I let them check me over and reassure me at the start of the summer, rather than suffering and assuming the worst?

We went for a celebratory pub lunch: a doorstep beef and horseradish sandwich with our best man. My mummy and Pops and sister and in-laws and best friends sent texts, all of which started ‘FANTASTIC!’. After school, me and my sis made the most of the sunshine and took the smalls to run around Wisley gardens, on a whim, since I didn’t have to be in the oncology department after all. Last night we treated ourself to a delicious M&S meatloaf and a nice Barolo. We had a very good night’s sleep. I woke this morning feeling like a happy, shiny snake that had sloughed off its old skin. DH called me this morning from work to tell me how much better he was feeling too.

I still don’t know what all the discomfort under my left ribs and in my back has been about all summer. It has calmed down a bit recently; it probably is just a touch of IBS and a flare-up of sciatica after all. Or maybe, as at least one dear friend has put it, simply a question of being nearly 40 and leading a rather full-on existence.

On 13 October 2010, I was diagnosed with stage 3, grade 3 breast cancer. Two years on (two years!! Where did that go?), I am still learning huge lessons. I must learn to trust my body again. I can accept, acknowledge and appreciate my health and be open to wellness, rather than focusing on disease. I am safe, and free of f*cking caaancer, and all is well. Now the burden of fear has been lifted, and I can stop lasering in on every twinge, I can concentrate on my babies, and DH, and being a good school mum, and having fun with my family and friends, and developing my business, and writing my novel, and decorating the house. Living. Loving. Breathing.