TIRED DOCTORS MAKE MUSKRATS

When we were in Bristol not so long ago, after a late night, feeling a bit sleepy, we decided to go out for a lovely meal.

On the way to that lovely meal, I saw a placard up in someone’s garden.

It said, “TIRED DOCTORS MAKE MUSKRATS”.

That’s nice, I thought, in my tired state.

Of course that’s not really what it said. It said “TIRED DOCTORS MAKE MISTAKES”. 

I’d made a mistake because I was tired.

Luckily I wasn’t responsible for looking after the lives of real people whilst I was tired. Luckily the consequence of my minor mistake was a chuckle, not someone’s health.

I decided, as much as I’d really like tired doctors to make muskrats, I’d much prefer awake doctors keeping people alive and well.

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The Problem with Counting Your Blessings

The point of counting your blessings is to remind yourself of all the good things that it’s easy to take for granted.

But I think there’s a tendency to look at broad generalisations, and that takes away the poignancy, and misses the point.

I can be grateful for my loving family. I can see that I’m really lucky to have my loving husband and my brilliant children.

But that’s easily said and just as easily dismissed, so I don’t get to linger on the joys that those things bring.

Of course it’s difficult to be grateful when the baby is ill and grizzly, I’ve got a hideous cold, someone’s just left their Lego out, and I’ve trodden on it, or I’ve just had a call to say Andy needs to stay late for a meeting, when I’ve been holding on to my last shred of sanity by my fingertips.

But there are still plenty of moments. Not the big all-encompassing “I’m glad I have my husband”, but the smaller, more valuable, “I was just thinking I’d forgotten to get some milk, and would have to go out again, when Andy walked through the door with some”.

I’m glad I have my baby, Ru, but actually, that moment this morning, after a rough and grizzly night, when he smiled up at me and cuddled in, that was bloody lovely.

I can be grateful for my children.

Or I can notice that moment when Polly (6) told Oscar (10), that whilst she couldn’t give him a piggy-back now (because he is so much bigger than her) when they are both very old, she will give him a piggy back then, because she’d seen how people get smaller as they get older, so hoped they’d reach a time when it evened out.

If you ever see an 85 year old giving an 89 year old a piggy-back, you now know why.

Or when Esme (2) decided to line up all her animals so they were all facing her, then jumped up with a panicked look, ran to me and said, pointing at the menagerie, “They look me!”

As though she was being surprisingly stalked, and had no idea why any of them should be looking at her.

“They look me” indeed.

Or when my eldest, Sam, just throws me one of his smiles.

They’re good things to count. Moments in time that deserved to be noticed and picked out and remembered.

The week before Esme had her adventure with foxgloves, I’d put a post up on Facebook about happiness.

We’re all guilty of putting smug, trite crap out there sometimes. I put my hands up.

Here’s what I posted:-

So yesterday I was listening to the box set (is it a box set for radio shows?) of Cabin Pressure, with Ru on my knee and Es busily undoing my daily good work of putting it all away.

We got to a bit where Arthur is describing how happiness isn’t sitting on a moonlit beach with your loved one, because in those moments you’re always worrying it’ll soon be over. Happiness is jumping into a bath that’s exactly the right temperature, and going “ooh”, or throwing an apple back and forth between your hands until you reach a state of bliss.

Douglas starts humming “I’m busy doing nothing”, and they all start singing it, and so did I.

Ru looked up at me in surprise and burst out laughing.

Es stopped what she was doing to come and laugh at Ru, and we all just sat there for a good minute, laughing at each other.

And I thought, “right now I’m really happy”.

I’m writing this not in some smug sense of “my life is perfect”, but as a reminder not to murder either of them today for only letting me have two hours’ sleep last night.

Hopefully they’ll live out the day and we can have more of our simpleton moments.”

Little did I know that just a few short days later, I would be facing what we faced.

Little did I know how fragile and small that happiness would seem a week later. How I would mock myself for being happy when I didn’t know what was to come. How stupid I seemed. How arrogant.

But even in that week, when Esme ate foxglove leaves, and ended up in intensive care, there were moments.

The time when I showed her a picture of Polly and Oscar, and told her it was a picture of Esme and Ru, and she spoke for the first time, because she couldn’t resist correcting me.

The day before we were finally allowed to go home, when she stood up in her cot, stole the stethoscope, that had been left on the end all week, and grinned at me with mischief in her eyes.

The week before, that stethoscope moment would have disappeared in the mix, but that week it was a headliner.

Sometimes it seems like there’s nothing. There are no little moments to be grateful for. But there always there.

When things get really bad, they hide in the little things. A stranger noticing you’ve only got a few bits of shopping and insisting you go in front of them at the checkout. Stopping to look at an iridescent beetle and the way it shines as it scuttles. The rain stopping for the 2 minutes it takes you to get to the door (even if it poured on you when going out in the first place).

When we were still waiting for the all clear for Esme, I had a bad day one morning taking the older kids to school. It wasn’t terrible. It was just bad.

It was horrible weather. It was one of those mornings when everything seems to take forever. No one’s shoes were where they left them. No one’s bags had what they needed. It was all messy and disorganised before we’d even left the house.

It was a gray day. I was in a gray mood. Everyone was bickering.

I dropped the first two at their school, and then was carrying on to drop off the eldest at college.

It was my right of way, so I drove, but a skip-lorry driver decided that I should have let him out, and gestured unpleasantly at me.

I was surprised, and whilst my son was asking what the man’s problem was, I then spotted the speed camera. I didn’t think I was speeding, but I’d been trying to get out of the way of the lorry as quickly as I could, so it was possible. So I worried about that, and I worried about my son seeing horribleness, and I worried about everything.

It wasn’t a terrible day. Compared to a couple of weeks earlier it was a walk in the park, but for some reason I couldn’t shake off this feeling of uselessness, hopelessness, grayness.

I dropped Sam at college and turned around to go back home with the two littlies.

Everything was bad.

Then I thought about how it wasn’t bad. It was barely an irritation. What was bad was in me. I was filtering the world.

On my way back something had changed. It was like all the lights had been changed from red to green. People kept smiling. Or rather, I noticed that people were smiling.

Not everyone, far from everyone, it was 9am on a weekday. That doesn’t make everyone smile.

I put the Radio on, and they played Bat out of Hell, by Meatloaf. I sang along. Loudly. And as I passed a white van coming the other way I saw he was singing too.

And I smiled.

Because that was one of those little moments.

So I have lots of things to be thankful for. One of which is “strangers who rock out to Meatloaf at just the right moment”.

We can’t all be positive all the time. We shouldn’t be. That should be the reserve of American Chat Show Hosts and not us mere mortals.

But don’t miss those good bits. Notice them. Notice more. If you realise you haven’t seen any lately, get a top up. Look at something closely. Notice a cloud looks like a turtle with a hat on. Overhear a ridiculous conversation.

It’s why people like cat pictures on the Internet. They’re looking for those moments that make them smile. They’re hoping someone else can manufacture them.

But it’s much better when it’s your cat that falls off the back of the sofa.

We’re all made up of our own moments. Enjoy them.

If ignorance were more socially acceptable perhaps we’d all be a lot more knowledgeable

I can’t always talk about foxgloves. In fact I didn’t really mean to start a blog. I wrote an article. An article that was important to me. That I needed to share. That I wanted the world to know about.

Or at least the parts of the world with Foxgloves in them.

And then I found I’d started a blog, sort of accidentally. It was a quick way to share information.

Before I knew it another article appeared. It was linked to the first. It was about the trauma. It fitted.

Now for me it’s only the first that needs saying. The extra bits, the continuations, they’re just the conversation behind the big neon sign of what happened.

I won’t always talk about foxgloves.

But I’m going to today. I’ve had so many responses from the tens of thousands of people who viewed my blog in the 4 days since I started typing.

They’ve slipped neatly into three categories
There are the, “Everyone knows this. Why say it?” People. There aren’t many of these. They know about poisonous plants. They can list many common or garden hazards. They are knowledgeable on the subject.

But they’re wrong.

Not in a horrible way. In a lovely way. They believe that because they know something, that everyone else does.

It makes me think that maybe we should sometimes check on our general knowledge base. Because there’re lots of things I don’t know (like how to set up an aesthetically pleasing blog – I suspect the answer is “don’t be lazy and do it all on your iPhone, turn on the damn computer”), but it’s not fun admitting that.

If ignorance were more socially acceptable perhaps we’d all be a lot more knowledgeable.

Sounds wise doesn’t it?

Back to my categories. The second group, larger than the first, maybe a third of people who messaged me, didn’t have a clue. They had no idea that foxgloves were poisonous.

The lack of knowledge frightened them. Not the foxgloves themselves, just the fact that they maybe had them in the garden, in close proximity to a small child, and had no inkling that there was any kind of hazard present.

The third, and largest group, knew that foxgloves were poisonous, but had no idea how dangerous they were. They thought that they would maybe cause some nausea.

And then of course there were those who don’t get a category of their own, who felt that I should have explained about all poisonous plants. Since foxgloves alone isn’t dealing with the issue. Of course they are absolutely right that foxgloves are not the only dangerous plant in the garden.

I assure this lot that the second I have first-hand experience of this, I shall blog about it. The way Esme’s going, she’d be happy to oblige, but I hope it’s ok that I do my utmost to stop her.

Because I’m not just talking about poisonous plants. I’m talking about my daughter. I’m talking about the days when I didn’t know if she would ever wake up again.

But use this opportunity to embrace your ignorance! There’s a great website called The Poison Garden.

Www.thepoisongarden.co.uk

Study it. It’s brilliant. And then don’t panic. Just file it away for if you ever need it.

Or visit them in Alnwick and hear their stories whilst they show you the plants. I think my children need to go.

I also think that Foxgloves have a very specific draw to children. They’re tactile. They’re fuzzy. The flowers are little hats, or fit perfectly on fingers. They grow at child-height. They’re abundant in the summer, when you’re out in the garden. They’re beautiful.

All in all they’re a bit of a perfect storm.

So why don’t poisonings happen more often?

Because most children, no matter how young, are clever enough to stop eating nasty things.

I keep hearing the, “why bother?” Question though.

Because it’s the question I struggled with for three months before posting.

And the answer always comes back to, if this is very rare, that doesn’t mean it will never happen again.

If it happened again, and the parent didn’t know, because we thought they knew, so we didn’t tell them, then that would be the wrong decision.

I try not to think about the hypotheticals of what not knowing may have meant to Esme.

That way bad thoughts lie.