Monday, November 17, 2008

Life begins at 40 for Mama & Callum

Anne sent me a book about things to do when you're 40 and included was a quote saying that you should get out on your birthday. Given I'd spent a good deal of time sleeping, we finally got out to watch the sun set on our local beach

Today I'm 40 years old. Today Callum is 40 weeks old gestationally, his official due date. What an amazing coincidence that is and think what the little rascal has already got up to since his early arrival 11 days ago. Sleep, poo, coo, swallow, sleep, poo, coo, swallow. I'm delighted too with what I've achieved in 40 years, just slipping our second child in before the big 4 0.

I'm one of 5 children, Peter, Joseph, Anne-Marie and Geraldine, the second youngest born to a Scotswoman and an Irishman, Mary and Joseph, both devout Catholics as if you'd never guess. I grew up in Essex, East of London, UK and was Convent educated.

As a child, I loved London, just a short ride away and there too I'd take myself up on the train and sit out in Covent Garden or in one of the Royal Parks just people watching. I was fortunate to win a modelling thing whilst at school and that opened up West Kondon to me and I became immersed in the beauty of its architecture. Given the choice, I'll take city over beach for any holiday. I love going back and seeing again with fresh eyes its hidden treasures. If you take time in London amongst the sea of people who are walking in the opposite direction to you to look up, you'll notice the astounding stonework in churches and streets, so high up as to be almost out of sight for passersby, yet having been carved by generations of families, never seeing the fruits of their labours in their lifetimes, but creating a legacy for generations and with work so often hidden, it is there for God's pleasure alone.

We enjoyed a very modest upbringing but despite our family's lack of money, my Dad always managed to save enough money for the 7 of us to go on holiday and that included two trips to the Spanish island of Majorca, every family's dream vacation in the UK in the 70s. Sea, sun, sangria and flamenco. You could look up and see the stuffed donkeys on children's laps as they'd fly back into London. I wonder now, thinking how the 4 of us fill a compact SUV how all 7 of us back then could fit into an estate car and still have room for our Scottish family. I remember too how we were stranded on the side of a motorway returning from a holiday and with 5 tired children in the back seat, a family of good samaritans picked us up and brought us back to their home to spend the night whilst our car was being towed. I also remember not accepting a lift from a stranger in a car when I was trailing behind my brothers and sisters whilst out Christmas caroling. He'd asked me if I'd like to get in so I could catch up with them.

I enjoyed pilgrimages with the disabled on a giant jumbulance to Lourdes in France, weekend religious retreats helping the deaf community. Our parish and the Convent was actively involved in the care of the communuty and with helping kids with special needs. But I also enjoyed discos as they were then called although I struggled with getting up for school the next morning. But thanks mum and dad for giving us all that freedom in our teenage years. I loved my weekly Irish dancing classes and the school choir.

I met Jason 20 years ago whilst studying Geography at the University of London and have now officially known him half of my life. At the same time, I also met my friends, Erica, Steph, Anne, Simon and Polly, all fellow geographers. With Jason, we've visited over 50 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, North and South America and Australasia. We've lived in LA for 2 spells, in Florida and in Richmond UK. We've been (sort of) held at gunpoint in Tanzania during our honeymoon, photographs of which will also amusingly recall to friends my fly covered face and a look of "This is my honeymoon? What am I supposed to do with the white bikinis and cocktail dresses?". Jason proceeded to arrange fabulously adventurous travels around the World each year down to every last detail from cruising the Chilean Antarctic to diving with sharks in the Galapagos,

I have a terrible fear of spiders and heights. I've loved taking photographs all my life and continued to bore friends for years on end with endless albums from our travels before the digital age gave them an excuse to ignore emails with Kodak or Flickr links. I also love to sing and have sung pretty much the same song, Summertime, at all my friend's weddings. I recently came across a book of poems I wrote when I was 9 with a prettily decorated cover although I noticed my dad had written a telephone number of a local plumber on the prettily decorated cover which wasn't part of my original design.

Jason and I have a shared passion for rock music. In the 80s I'd sing my sweet heart out to Free Nelson Mandela at Wembley stadium or to herald his release a few years later. Wembley was home to the big stadium experience back then, and it's where I'd dance to Madonna, Clapton, Bowie or Wham, every ticket I could get my hands on. Missing out on Live Aid, I vowed not to miss another again, so with Jason, we'd often knock in up to 3 gigs a week. My taste is a little different from most of my friends (I grew up in a household with 2 older brothers where we were all immersed in punk and rock at a very young age, punctuated by mum's Ella and Frank) and so in the abscence of a friend to go to a gig with, I was happy going by myself. There was always music on in the house and it pained, but later shaped me, whilst I was trying to study. Peter later went on to lead vocals in a rock band and has been doing the same for 25 years.
We love U2, our favourite band, but having seen them a few times in concert, the culmination being a few yeears ago in Florida where our arms overhung the stage, I vowed never to see them again. You don't get any better than that. Why try? Not even sneaking back stage at the Stereophonics and sitting down drinking Coca-cola with them til their manager gave us the heave ho. I've kept the stubs of the 1000 odd gigs as momentos.

We also share a love of film although don't have a TV, prefering to rent videos. In the first year of that plan, we rented about 150 movies, all of the Oscar winners right back to the start including the foreign language contenders, some of my favourite movies of all time, The Bicycle Thief and Il Postino. My favourite movies are To Kill a Mockingbird, Wuthering Heights and It's a Wonderful Life. My favourite books, Pride & Prejudice and To Kill a Mockingbird, the hero of which, Boo, gave Reuben his nickname in utero. My favourite author, Jane Austen, my favourite songs, Dancing Queen which brought both my boys into this World, Boys of Summer and Wuthering Heights. I would enjoy singing the latter song at holiday camps as a child despite having very little confidence. My favourite meal, real Italian margarita pizza, my favourite drink, champagne. My taste in design, Modernism and Regency.

Our weekends in London were spent cycling around Richmond Park where Henry VIII would have hunted the deer whose ancestors still roam freely, hosting Jamie Oliver inspired dinner parties, having family over for the weekend, taking trips to the countryside or to see family. Working in London takes its toll though and spending weekends doing nothing was also desirable.
We would also travel to California every year on holiday, often tying in with a work trip of Jason or I'd fly over when we were living apart for 2 years to enjoy the great national parks together, getting back on the plane and going straight from Heathrow to my office to maximise on vacation time. My first trip to the USA was when I was 19 and I was hooked back then. After 6 weeks in a stiffling New Jersey, I flew over to stay with my Auntie Angie and Uncle Stanley. The East was good but for me, the West was Best. So when Jason was offered a chance to work there in '93, I urged him to leave me behind in London where I began my marketing postgrad and for him to move to California. I'd done a similar thing in Barcelona, Spain, myself with Erica, teaching English as a Foreign Language and I left after just a few months to try to earn better money in London. Erica and I had enjoyed some great previous travel experiences including backpacking in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia which I financed c/o the British Army's compensation after breaking my ankle in a training weekend when I forgot to bend my knees after jumping off a wall. Friends will remember me later attending a ball and wondering if anyone would notice the plaster up to my knee if I covered my leg with stockings or tights. My year in the Territorial Army therefore mostly consisted of sitting in the Officer's Mess drinking gin and tonics and being paid for the privilege. South East Asia with Erica was a cultural feast and we could hire a beach bungalow including fresh fresh and pancakes for breakfast for a $1 a night. The spread of our dollar excited Erica so much and lulled her into a false sense of security that she ended up splashing out on lobster as a result of putting a zero in the wrong place when converting currency. There went her month's food budget.

We have been plagued by national disasters, or rather have courted the path of national disasters in the choices we have made for places to live. That's the geographer coming out in us. In 1994, we witnessed the Northridge Earthquake in LA and I recall writing about lighting candles in the dark, not thinking through the consequences of an explosion and watching the ripple effect as the earthquake swam through the marina, throwing mini tidal waves in the harbour. You do get that Superman feeling, wondering if the earth is going to open up along the fault line. In our 3 years in Florida, we witnessed a host of devastating hurricanes, Katrina, Rita, Wilma and her cronies, the latter hurricane causing its own tidal wave in the housing market which sparked a recession from which the market there has never recovered. Living without air conditioning for a month was no fun. I recall seeing an upturned cadillac at the end of our street and the lifeguard stations built to withstand 150mph winds being tossed aside as if they'd been made from paper.

I stopped working 6 years ago when we moved back to the USA after my postgrad and subsequent career in marketing mostly in investment banking which was wonderful for the perks, soccer World Cup Final in France, weekends at the Forbes chateaux, ski trips, fancy lunches and the like, but always created a ''what are you doing with your life?'' scenario in terms of self actualisation for me, and so I haven't longed for it since. And for 6 years I tried to conceive Reuben, getting rid of fibroid tumours which sat like a basketful of fruit, a grapefruit and a few plums thrown in, impeding conception (I thought everyone was in that nuch pain each month), then undertook artificial insemination (what they do with cattle and horses) and 3 IVFs with all the trimmings. I basically did everything medicaly possible to remove the barriers to conception, yet if I hadn't been so infertile, I wouldn't have had Reuben. When I had Reuben I was so very desperate to have another child with whom he could grow and develop. I had a miscarriage at 8 weeks after a frozen embryo transfer from Reuben's IVF batch whilst Reuben was still in intensive care and which had been silently waiting as frosties in the freezer and after we got through the impossibly difficult first few months when Reuben first came home and almost no nursing, we decided to try again.

On reflection, how we had the energy or will to make it happen I guess astounds us a little, but try we did and immediately had success with a little medicinal help. The pregnancy was immediately difficult, about 5 months of throwing up, followed by the muscular issues, sciatica and pain. The delivery wasn't as smooth as with Reuben as the epidural stopped working approximately when they started to stitch up the 3 layers. This is not a good thing to happen but oxygen and Fentynl, one of Reuben's old meds after heart surgery did the trick. Then came the post anaesthesia itching, a few days of only moderate and well controlled pain and then bang smack into excruciating pain for about 3 days due to some internal damage I'd done exacerbated by the post labour contractions and an infection. They give you these little faces to point to in the hospital regarding your pain level and I only ever reached a 4, outside the epidural failure that is, but here I am in 10, near black out territory. Handy having a nurse (Kristina) at home to help with breathing exercises! It's getting easier every day now. No mother I've ever known has ever talked about the pain of childbirth, it's a given and it's almost taboo, so pardon me breaking the mold here.

Auntie Lisa has just left and is flying into a cloud of smoke that stretches for 100s of miles in either direction of Los Angeles due to the wildfires. The sun sets in a curious haze of red over the Ocean and our cars are covered in ash. It's sad to think this is the ash from people's destroyed homes. I've asked Jason if we can give up our playroom to help a family but he says we have our hands full right now. Lisa has been an absolute Godsend to us. There's no point saying How would we have coped without her. We wouldn't have. Everything was done for us behind the scenes. She's been incredible. I feel so sad when I say goodbye to children myself because you know how much they'll have changed by the next time you'll see them so I feel sad for her saying bye to our boys. Time moves on. Everyone ages. Kristina upped the ante with everything during my latter months of pregnancy when she joined us and has taken up my slack for months, speeding along his development in language and physically.

What would I like to do when I grow up? I used to say travel photojournalist, now it's baby photographer, so I've been putting in a bit of practice of late and have found my own style. I ache to take better pictures, to get in closer. No sooner did I finish Reuben 365 than Callum 365 started.

And that's pretty much today. I'm 40 and we have absolutely no plans. We're staying home and I'm changing diapers and breast/bottle feeding Callum every 2-3hrs. I always countdown birthdays the night before with "I'm 39... I'm 39... I'm 40" but tonight I'll probably just sleep it through. That's because I'm 40 and a mama to two wonderful, content boys. What more could I ask for?

Typed with one finger, the other holding Callum whilst breastfeeding, every drop counts.


ellen charge said...

HAPPY BDAY CATHERINE happy bday to a mummy who has been a best friend to many a wonderful mother a wonderful woman an inspiration keep it up love you heaps a year ago today reu was at home wastn he you didnt know u could have another one now look everyones come so far and im jsut so happy keep giving me the pics to love over in here and ill b more happy love ur little aussie charger ellen

Laura said...

Happy 40th Birthday to my big cousin Catherine, you are a stunning yummy mummy!

Love always, enjoy your day with your boys

Your wee cousin Laura x

mog-aj said...

Happy Bithday to you!!!! Enjoy the best of days with your boys.
Sarah, Stuart and Alfie xxx

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a wonderful life you have had. All your travels sound so fun. Have a Happy Happy Birthday and enjoy your day with your family.

Love, Tracy K.

Kristi said...

Happy 40th Birthday, Catherine!

Haven't yet had a chance to read through thoroughly as that will have to wait until the kids (or at least one!) are asleep tonight. It's clear you have fully lived your first 40 years... and with just a skim through I can tell I have completely underachieved mine! :-)

Happy, Happy day to you! Can't wait to read this later. Enjoy your day surrounded by the Dodd men! :-)

With love,

Amélie said...

congratulations to you both!! Callum is adorable and what a whopper!! The pictures capture the birth felt I was there in theatre Catherine!

Enjoy today and what a fabulous 40th gift... another adorable son xx

Sara said...

Have a very happy birthday. I'm relieved to hear you are all safe from the fires.
You have a fantastic way with words - I love reading your stuff.

BTW - another geographer friend - I have a degree from Birmingham in geography!

Much love and hugs to you all
Sara, Julianne & Rachel xxxxx

hannah m said...

Happy, Happy Birthday to you! I so enjoyed reading about your life's adventures. I can't wait to hear about them in person one day (hopefully in the not too distant future)!

What a beautiful way to start your new year...babe in arms, amazing Reu and loving husband. What a good, happy life - I love that you enjoy life so much. Now go eat a cupcake!


Mary said...

Have a Happy, Happy Birthday and enjoy your day with your family. Thank you for sharing highlights from your life with us.

Love, Mary

adolfo said...

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