I have been writing this blog post for over a month. The thought entered my head about what I wanted to write about and I started writing but I haven’t been able to finish it. I keep adding bits and I have also thought about deleting it but then I recalled a previous post I wrote, about it being ok for half your blog posts to be rubbish because it’s the writing that really matters. The practice of writing and the ability to share all posts that aren’t necessarily my best piece of work but they are part of the process to find my writer’s voice. So if you decide to wade in and read this anyway please be mindful it is written as if the thought came today when in fact it was over a month ago. The second thing that I have noticed from rereading this post is that I have changed, a lot, since writing this before Christmas. I am beginning to see what is important, what I should and shouldn’t do and I am feeling a lot less tired. I am eating healthily and drinking lots of water, changing my habit of swearing and also practising Chastity in my marriage (Google it) I’m not saying it’s all happening all of the time I called Keith a dick head one day so that’s not honouring him or quitting swearing but change takes time and effort. I apologised and I am trying to just cut out the swear words all together. But I think in reality, balance is better, swearing appropriately now and again, right place right time, rather than permanently every other word being an eff . ‘ What am I willing to struggle for?’ That thought has stuck in my head.
This morning the alarm woke me at 5:30am I pressed snooze and 9 mins later I got up, got dressed and went outside to work. I feel the same overwhelming tiredness every morning at the moment. I usually mutter something like ‘God, give me bloody strength’ or ‘what a frigging life’ before making my way downstairs. I go straight out, no drink or breakfast, I just leave the house and get to work.
The air was cold this morning when I took my first breath outdoors and the moon was shining clearly surrounded by stars. My camera would not pick up the sight above and before me but I wish I could capture one of those moments, the depth of the sky and the magnitude of it. I didn’t stare for long, but it was long enough and I needed to get on so I crossed the crisp grass, white with frost and ice and walked across the yard to the shippon.
By the time I have collected my yellow bucket and the tap is running hot water I’m then in work mode and beginning to wake up.
The concrete gets slape with thick ice in the winter months so I walk on it very carefully to the shippon to make the calf milk. I couldn’t find my blue hat today, to be honest I never looked for it, that would have taken time so I wore my lambing hat instead because it was to hand. The lambing hat has flaps, the cow hat doesn’t.
Lambing hat with cookie
Lambing hat with cows
The reason I am writing about something insignificant to most is that it made me think of all the hats we have to wear as women and also as men if you are doing two jobs and helping run the home. It also made me think of the people that are part-time or hobby farmers how difficult that must be. To have to ‘do up’ in a morning then go to work leaving the stock and returning home to do it again at night.
So many hats we all wear without even thinking about it sometimes. If you work, are a mother or are involved in a self employed business you could generally call yourself a mad hatter because sometimes the roles are many and need to be performed simultaneously.
I remember 4 years ago on our 15th wedding anniversary saying to Keith I wonder what the next 15 years will bring. I suggested most probably we’d be still raising and caring for our children but by then most likely that might include our parents too. I had no idea that the role of carer to Keith’s dad would arrive so quickly last year and under such difficult circumstances.
In August 2016, without question, I began to look after Michael, my father in law. We didn’t know it then, but he had Motor Neurone Disease. Those three letters MND are a death sentence. There is currently no cure and no easy way to die from it.
In the beginning there was a lot of administration and meetings, hospital appointments and support. He was mobile then but it was only a matter of months until he was in a hospital bed downstairs unable to climb the stairs and needed support to walk. By Christmas last year Michael was reliant on myself, my mother in law and a neighbour for all of his intimate care. Washing, feeding, dressing, going to the toilet and all the tiny things like nose blowing, scratching, hair combing, shaving, he couldn’t do anything for himself. As his disease progressed so rapidly I became a full time carer to him, as well as intimate care he required a lot of emotional support too as well as doing a lot of paperwork. He was seen by occupational therapists, Motor Neurone Disease nurses, the hospice at home and respite coordinators, district nurses, carers, physiology, Drs, speech and language team, environmental control and there was a lot of meetings and discussion. It was so very challenging and it stretched me to my limit at times. But nothing could compare to what Michael went through as a human being to lose control of all the muscles in his limbs; eventually he lost his speech and at the end he couldn’t eat. He had a feeding tube fitted in February this year because he was told it would prolong his life and he went through a really tough time having it done. Along with the loss of function he also had hypersensitivity in many areas of his body making it difficult for him to be handled and the care planning was incredibly detailed whenever other services were involved such as hospital transport or respite at the hospice. What we did at home with two, took four people to do anywhere else. It was physically demanding because he was a tall, strong, muscular man and the manual handling required a lot from us.
But if I found myself in that situation of being a carer to someone with a terminal illness again I would do it in a heartbeat because it was life changing and it is the ultimate gift you can give someone; to ease somebody’s journey towards death and make their time left the most comfortable and enjoyable it can be is a gift to yourself as well as them.
Enjoyable you might think not, but it was. In the deepest, saddest time of our lives we laughed, joked and cried. Michael and I bonded on a level I could never have imagined and I miss him so very very much everyday he became my friend and he supported me and gave my life some meaning and purpose too.
From the day my father in law took ill I also began to wear the ‘milking hat’ and I began to go out with Keith on mornings and evenings to help with the milking and to feed the calves.
This job alone is difficult, it is tiring, dirty and you remain on your feet permanently whilst doing it. 2-3 hours in total including setting up, twice a day. I feed the calves, wash the buckets, tie the cows up in to manageable places, fill the cake barrow and four buckets more, cart them into the shippon, fill the dipper and the spray, bring the units in, dip the first 10 cows, cake and change 12 cows (14 now two have calved) from the middle, let the milked middle cows out, scrape the muck up with the scraper and let the urine out with a brush and empty the four buckets of cake into the wheelbarrow then, I go inside to get my daughter up for school. I often don’t take the physical farm hat off but a new hat is on called ‘mother’.
I get Lola up and whilst she gets dressed I make her breakfast and lunch. I provide her with clean underwear because all my children can’t see anything I send them to get and as she eats her breakfast we chat. She gets collected to go to school by the school bus about quarter past 8, I put her on the bus and go back out to work.
I bottle feed the remaining calves that are on cows milk not powder, cake all the calves and water them. Many don’t have access to water so they have it provided in a bucket, carried there from a tap in the dairy or a barrel in the old dairy.
I bed them all, fill the hay racks with straw and then cake the younger larger calves that have been weaned and are in larger loose pens.
Then I go back in for breakfast.
If I am going somewhere the hat comes off and I get changed, if there’s time I shower, I prefer to shower but it’s not always possible.
On Thursdays I drive to Penrith to take my son to college and bring him home another invisible hat ‘chauffeur ‘.
Mam’s cabs, most countryside dwelling mum’s are a permanent taxi until their children get to driving age, also driving instructor as Keith isn’t too good at boosting the children’s confidence he is more into having a laugh with them, that’s his humour and that’s their bond, sharing a joke, wrestling and trying to get one up on each other. They love that, particularly the youngest two.
I have always loved wearing hats my first hat I remember was a red fluffy hat that had two long string ties that knotted under my chin with Pom poms on the ends. The red hat was the hat I wore when I first started school. I was 5 and my brother was 6 although he was 2 school years older (his birthday was August, mine October)
I remember once when the school day was coming to an end the teacher told us to go and get our coats and hats. I could find my coat but not my hat, it wasn’t on my peg and it wasn’t on the floor. I went to the classroom to tell the teacher. The next thing I remember was a child coming in and telling Miss Baylam that she had found a hat but it had been put in the girl’s toilet. It was my red hat, with the Pom poms but now it resembled a drowned cat, limp and water logged as it was lifted from the toilet bowl. The teacher put it in a bag and I had to carry the heavy parcel home and wait for my mum to wash and dry it in the twin tub.
Another morning I was walking to school with my brother when a boy snatched my red hat from my head and ran away with it. I set off to chase him, for some reason that hat meant something to me, perhaps it was comforting but I ran as fast as I could to try and catch him and I ran and ran and got speed up. As I descended the hill towards the bottom I felt I was catching him when suddenly I tripped and at the same speed as I had been running I literally hit a brick wall smack! Silence … then blood, then screaming. I had cut my forehead straight across and blood was pouring from it. Fortunately the wall belonged to a nurse who worked at the clinic and she promptly called an ambulance. She asked where my mother was and my brother said at home. The walk was half a mile away from the school and we were approximately half way so my brother had to run home to inform my mum she needed to come to help me, he told her you could see my skull and my brains were hanging out! I think the bone was visible but my brains were still intact.
I was taken to hospital by ambulance where I was stitched up. I will never forget the nurse was a very large black lady, I wasn’t racist at 4 but I was scared. I had never been in contact with a black lady before and I didn’t know what to say. My mum refused to come with me to have my stitches put in and I didn’t have an anaesthetic just needle and thread, five stitches across the front of my hairline. I screamed the place down! I remember shouting ‘No more, no more.’
On returning to the corridor outside my mother was angry and unsympathetic. She told me off for screaming and asked me why I had made such a fuss about a few stitches. She said I don’t want to be anywhere near you when you have a baby. Her words stuck with me and from then on I saw myself as weak.
My next accident was a lost thumb nail in a huge wooden outside door at school. A boy told me to put my thumb in the door so he could see it from the the other side, I put in my thumb and he went inside and slammed the door shut on it. My mum refused to take me hospital this this because I was being too dramatic so my Nanna came through to take me and we went there in a taxi. They removed my nail and it grew back but it has always made me a little bit cautious with my own children and others around doors, incase their fingers get trapped too.
It wasn’t until I had my own children 25 years later that I saw I wasn’t weak at all and my mother’s behaviour during both incidents wasn’t acceptable or normal.
After having two of my children I found that daily I was still haunted by incidents of the past.
One day my son fell over in the garden and I ran to his aid, washed his knee, kissed and cuddled him better and told him he was brave, it was then that the flashbacks started, back to my childhood and I realised things weren’t right. I had had what I thought was a good relationship with my mum growing up, more like a friend but now I was faced with negative memories that were incredibly sad.
I met up with my real father at 32 because I had so many questions and I was inquisitive about him. I had a sort of functioning mental breakdown and I did a year’s psychotherapy to explore the whole of my childhood and the strange treatment I received as a child because it was affecting me still in the present day even though I hadn’t been conscious of it before.
My mum and I parted company for six months, she felt threatened and attacked by my questions and she didn’t like her skills as a mother being questioned, she was never sorry and felt justified in her behaviour. But why would she be sorry? In her eyes she did her best and did nothing wrong, she did what she did. This was the 70’s not quite a time of positive thinking and self esteem raising just a working class family getting by.
I came through the therapy a much healthier person and my mum and I started our relationship from scratch. I tried with my father, at odd times we met and had a pleasant time but when I finally decided to trust and give it a go properly he had made other plans and called me one night to say he was moving to the Peak District to be with a woman he had met online. He came back, had a few more women but then moved to Spain. We didn’t get very far with it.
From then on I practised good self care and because I was working I had reiki every month which I firmly believed helped me enormously to stay balanced and energetic. I felt like I could finally take the victim hat off and no longer have to relive the past.