2013: the year in review

I’ve been meaning to write a 2013 “year in review” post for a while now. And suddenly it’s February, which is a little late, but never mind. Rebecca’s in Bangkok (I just checked online and her fight has landed) and the nanny is taking care of the kid, so there’s no time like the present.

But where to begin? It was such a strange year. One of the best and one of the worst in my life. Such extremes: I generally wish my life was on a more even keel and less prone to spikes and dips and peaks and troughs but there you go. Life, eh? Can’t live with it; can’t live without it.

About a year ago, we “lost” mum, which was a devastating blow still being felt today. I use quotation marks since she didn’t die, and is still alive today. But this time last year, she started to act very weirdly—severe memory issues and behavioral changes were the main symptoms. It was as if she had sudden and acute-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which generally doesn’t come on like acutely and suddenly. The most worrying thing was when she went AWOL in her car one time: to this day, we still don’t know where she went and never will. That was when we knew it was serious.

So we had a battery of tests performed culminating in a brain biopsy, which revealed she had/has PML, a viral infection that normally infects HIV-positive people. It infected mum because her immune system was suppressed due to years of immunosuppressant drugs for her arthritis. I say “we” meaning my sister and my dad since I am a quadrillion miles away in Jakarta, so am largely a spectator in all of this. This situation makes it all the harder to deal with, a theme I will return to later.

The prognosis was bleak. PML stands for Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy, and the key words in there are “progressive” and “multifocal.” The disease attacks the brain in many areas and doesn’t stop; it is always fatal, we were told, and so rare that nobody could tell us really what to expect.

The end result was that mum was hospitalized and eventually ended up in a care home where she lives to this day among other mental patients, for want of a better phrase. She has had periods of extreme physical distress, including one where we thought it was the end (to the point where Rebecca and I mapped out a plan for me to attend her funeral); she has had moments of lucidity, though they are few and far between; she is generally unaware of her situation and the comings and goings of daily life. She is child-like and maddeningly contrary at times. But she’s our mum and we love her.

That’s now, of course. Back to my year in review and April 2013 saw the birth of baby Rayven Matthew Leppard. As I type this, I have a photo of him only hours old in front of me stating his date and time of birth (April 4 at 8:30pm). A moment of pure joy, although also not without its problems: Rebecca’s labour was painful and problematic and complicated, though it all started so beautifully. Her contractions came according to plan and we checked in and shored up for the big push, since we desperately wanted a normal birth and not a Caesarean. I was prepped for Rebecca to swear like a trooper at me and she was psyched for a world of pain.

It wasn’t to be. After many false starts, the contractions just didn’t get stronger and many excruciating examinations later, it was decided that Ray had to come out of the front door. So Rebecca was wheeled down to the operating theater with me in tow, eventually decked out in scrubs and boots. Then we entered the theater. It was a surreal experience: I was shielded by a sort of canopy up by her head so I couldn’t see the goings on in Rebecca’s tummy. At one point, they put her out completely and that was weird: one moment she was talking and the next she was unconscious and I found this very unsettling. This was the moment of the big push, and out Ray popped, screaming. He hasn’t really stopped since—more of which later.

In May, my grandmother died, which in and of itself wasn’t a big surprise (she was in her mid-90s), but the timing was quite bad. We had already “lost” mum and now we lost granny. In the end, neither of them got to meet my son, which is a regret I have to live with, but again such is life. And of course, the person who felt all this the most deeply was and is my father.

So with all the goings on and with Ray still in the newborn phase of sleeping and staring at the ceiling in between crying, Rebecca and I decided that we should visit the UK in August, to coincide with the Muslim holiday here in Indonesia. It was a strange and bittersweet trip: the reduced family got to meet Ray and we got to see mum, which was less of a shock than I thought it would be, largely because she was still “there” physically and occasionally mentally though there is no doubt she couldn’t really put together who we were and who Ray was.

The trip also gave us the opportunity to reconnect with my sister and father, which was much needed given all the stresses and happenings. Ray was on top form: fat and full-on with his crying, he didn’t let up for the whole time it seemed. It was also nice to see our nephew Thomas and Saffron’s husband Rich, as well as one or two friends. Warm and fragrant, the summer was in full flow: the nights were long and humid and it was in stark contrast to our winter visit there the previous Christmas.

Mum’s absence in her and dad’s home was one of the hardest adjustments to take, speaking of contrasts. Where before she had driven the house and home, now there was no driving force. My dad simply isn’t equipped to deal with life alone and the house felt incomplete and unfinished, wanting for life and ringing with absence and loneliness.

Still, we did manage to take mum out a few times for walks and trips into town and these, along with trips with dad and Saffron to Winchester and Bournemouth, remain my abiding memories of the trip.

Back to Jakarta and shortly after our trip, Rebecca started work at a local luxury hotel. This was a big blow to me, of course: my job is demanding and tiring and she had been my home-based angel of mercy since she moved to Jakarta shortly after I started my own job. Now, with baby on board, she was going to be working. I felt at a loss for a long time and found the adjustment hard (I still do at times). Ray was starting to be more demanding and mobile and suddenly needed day care. Rebecca’s mum stepped in but this could never be a permanent solution.

But we coped. We eventually found a good nanny and settled into a sort of routine. We both leave early in the morning together and then I get back from work a little earlier than Rebecca: with just about enough time to hit the gym and then prep Ray for sleep. Both of our jobs are demanding and Rebecca’s involves being on call in the hotel late into the night once a month. Again, a tough adjustment for me, but we coped. We always do.

A few months ago, Ray started pre-school in a gym in a local shopping mall. He bounces and crawls and gurgles and rattles all the toys (he started crawling at about the same time as he started school) and goes three times a week. Once with Rebecca and me and twice with grandma. He seems to enjoy it and it’s a good way of helping him get rid of all his excess energy, of which he seems to have a boundless supply. Ten months in and he’s more of a joy than he was at first, chattering endlessly and with a definite personality. He just recovered from his first serious illness: hand, foot and mouth disease, which saw him house-bound for two weeks.

So that’s about all for 2013. Rebecca and I ended the year in the Brewhouse at her hotel. It was a low-key affair but I managed to put away enough beers to overcome my social awkwardness and have a reasonably good time. Rebecca was in her element and we were happy. And in the end, that’s all that matters. The year won’t go down in memory as one of the best of my life, despite the birth of Ray: there is simply no way of offsetting the mum situation. But it had its fair share of moments, and those I will cherish.

Ten weeks? Ten years? How long?

They grow up right before your eyes, don’t they? Indeed. Another old statement of the very obvious is proven right again: our son is definitely growing… well, not up, but more outwards. What Brits and Scots (and some Americans, probably) would call “bonny,” Ray weighs in at a hefty six-kilos-plus now.

But at least he’s a happy, if somewhat chubby, chap. Or happier. Yes, he still does the reverse of turning a frown upside down (i.e. frowns) and cries his little socks off (literally: his socks do fall off) and wails and wails as if it’s the end of his cossetted little world. But he’s also started to gurgle and coo and to smile and to hold our eyes as we gaze at him. He even “talks” back as we chat about our days and (in my case) how tortuous they’ve been.

This is truly a magical time and an experience to be treasured and it makes all the crying and the ridiculously unpleasant farts* all worth it, although that opinion can take a severe knocking at 10pm when he won’t sleep.

It’s also a time when we know we can really shape his development, so we’re playing music, reading and talking, and encouraging him to crawl, look at things and all the other stuff that could help boost his little brainpower.

It also brings us closer as a couple, although I still wander off absentmindedly sometimes on some little mission (forgot the remote, forgot to take my socks off, forgot what I was doing, etc.) and have to be called back loudly. But we can really share in the joys of togetherness where before, it was crying Ray with me and contented Ray at Rebecca’s breast. I can also confidently send Rebecca to bed as I take the 8pm-12am shift, feeding Ray at 11:30 as he dozes in a pillow with me softly whispering to him.

Fatherhood’s great, mostly. But that said, would we go through the first 10 months again in a hurry? Probably not. That’s why humans are built so we can’t. And so we forget over time, too. So I’m told by those older and wiser than me, and who am I to contradict them?

Ray at play in what is laughably called a "gym." He barely breaks a sweat!

Ray at play in what is laughably called a “gym.” He barely even breaks into a sweat!

*Yes, among the things they don’t tell you in the “things they don’t tell you about parenting” lists is the horrendous guffs that babies can emit. Or maybe it’s just Ray’s special gift.

Cry baby cry*

Ahh, you poor, poor, dear, dear soul, baby Ray. Tortured and tormented by hidden demons of discomfort and distention. Confounded by climate settings of cool, medium and hot. Stressed by overbearing relatives half the time and left all alone—the loneliest person in the world—the other half. Serenity, wherefore art thou?

Why do newborn babies cry so much? It’s an oft-asked question, the Internet tells me. It’s because crying is the only form of communication they have, I read, and because life outside the womb is so jarringly shocking. I know and agree because I too was a testy tot once upon a time 43 years ago. Apparently I cried for three years non-stop, which is an awful load of old colics.

But really. No, really. Is it really necessary for newborns to shriek so violently for no apparent reason? Surely it would be better if humans were born able to speak and point and nod and indicate rather than just crap and cry? I can’t see the logic in them being born so unusually useless. It’s a tricky question both for evolutionists (are humans as evolved as they should and could be) and also for creationists (why were baby humans built so bad).

As to me and to Rebecca? We just muddle on. The most heartbreaking thing is that while I hate to wish my life away, I am looking towards the 2- to 3-month mark when Ray becomes an infant and not a newborn. But, as they say, I’ll never get those three months back. Perhaps best just to put up and shut up. Which is what I’d like Ray to do, if only he understood logic and sense… Bless his little heart, of course.

One of these has reasons to be happy. The other is a muppet.

One of these has reasons to be happy. The other is a muppet.

*Sang along to the Beatles song of the same name