Captain Cutlass, illustrated by Frank

[Words by Dot]


Captain Cutlass was a fierce pirate.

He was sailing along in his boat powered by a lampshade, when something tapped on the gunwale. It was a tentacle.


He found himself face to face with a hideous sea monster.


Well, this is awkward, thought Captain Cutlass.


In fact it was more than awkward.


The End


[I know the comment about the lampshade is slightly mean, but I am very proud of Frank. His pirate and monster are so full of character and although he has drawn the boat in a rapid, stylised way he has clearly also taken some notice of the different parts of boats – note the cabin at the back of the deck and the bowsprit at the front, as well as the railing. I am a proud mum.]


Frank starts school

Dot writes: Frank was so, so ready for school. He is already almost five, is physically tall and strong, draws and colours with confidence, can count pretty well, is sociable and confident, and was bored with the resources in his play school. But when, on Thursday, I finally dropped him off for the first time in Ms Hogan’s class, I couldn’t help but have a little snuffle as I left the building. It’s a cliché, but – where did my baby go?


Frank marched confidently into the classroom and said to the teacher “Hello. You remember me – I’m Frank.” Then he started playing. It was Hugh, now elevated to the ranks of first class, who wanted kisses and hugs and multiple goodbyes.

Here are another couple of nice photos of them from our trip to Wales with my parents a few weeks ago.

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Let him who is without sin…

Dot writes: Frank threw a stone. The context: the boys and I have just begun a camping holiday with my parents in Wales. The original idea was that my mum and dad would take them off our hands for the week, but the boys were both very upset at this idea, so I have come too. I have my laptop and the plan is I shall spend the week watching videos on YouTube via the campsite wifi working while their grandparents take the children to see the sights.

The boys quickly made friends with some other boys and started rushing around the campsite. The other boys had toy guns and the play was a little…dramatic, but it was all good-natured and no-one was being rough. Unfortunately, Frank picked up a stone from the path that runs down the middle of the campsite and threw it. This struck the bumper of the family opposite’s almost-new car, leaving a circular scuff mark.

So Frank is not very happy this evening. He has been told he cannot go out to play with the others until tomorrow. He said sorry to the father of the family who owned the car, who was very mild and resigned about it all (apparently it’s the mother’s car), and so he didn’t entirely understand why there had to be further consequences. But Frank finds it all too easy to do naughty things and think that a sorry makes it all magically go away ready for next time. There must be no next time. Next time it might be a tail light.

Some stuff, mostly boy-related

Dot writes: it’s really astonishing how much Frank can talk when he gets the chance. Today I took him for his follow-up appointment at Crumlin (no further surgery advised for the present, hooray) and then it occurred to me to drop in on my friend Sinead, who lives in that area and is expecting a baby in a few weeks’ time. We managed a brief discussion of birth and a viewing of the newly prepared nursery, but mostly Frank talked about the Octonauts, in great detail and with rather the air that Sinead was going to be tested on it afterwards. Normally Frank has to contend with Hugh, who has a lot to say for himself, so I think he relished the opportunity to capture ALL of our attention. Even though we did quite want to talk to each each other. Never mind.

We are counting down the days to when Ken will come back permanently from Edinburgh. The magic date is 2nd May and it can’t come soon enough. Frank is sure that Ken will be bringing some Octonaut toys with him. Hugh wants to play Monkey Quest. I want to sink back gratefully into the library, having had a rather good week’s work immediately after we came back from Norfolk, when Ken was still with us, and since then an unsatisfying period broken up with hospital appointments and other little engagements. I find it hard to get properly absorbed in what I’m doing when I have to keep stopping, and I really notice how much tireder I feel when I’m the sole parent in charge. Hugh had a rather changeable weekend – sunshine interspersed with strops and sulks – from which I emerged feeling battered. (I also have a cold.) I do wish Hugh and I could have a less tempestuous relationship; I love him so much, but he makes such outrageous fusses about such minor things, which is dreadfully draining. I spend a lot of energy worrying about him, even though deep down I am quite sure he will turn out fine, if I can just refrain from murdering him. This evening he was being very funny and charming. He was dancing to Buena Vista Social Club: dancing rather well and clowning around to entertain us. Also, yesterday he expressed warm appreciation for my home-made fish fingers (actually salmon steaks cut into strips, dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and fried), which pleased me.

Some little pieces of progress can be noted. Hugh now almost always dresses himself. He’s been capable of this for a while, but though the flesh was strong the spirit wasn’t willing. Frank is reliably dry at night. We took no pushchair on our Norfolk trip and didn’t really miss it; the only regular use of the pushchair now is when Julie takes Frank to pick up Hugh from school, a journey that has to be done a bit more quickly than Frank can walk. Before Ken went back to Edinburgh we had our friends Niall and Meredith round for dinner, and not only did I do all the cooking (glow of pride) but Niall said he thought Hugh had calmed down, which was a nice indication of improvement. (Often hard to see this from close to.) Hugh is getting reading homework from school and can definitely read a little now. (I’m bemused by the idea of giving five-year-olds homework, but on the other hand it’s nice to get a sense of what he’s doing.) Hugh has also rather taken to maths and likes to do sums on the way to school. Sometimes I ask him the questions and sometimes he asks me. When he’d asked me three in a row and I’d dutifully answered them he remarked, “You know, you’re very good at this, Mummy.” Frank has made some friends at playschool and dreamt last night that one of them, a girl called Chloe, was in our house and wouldn’t go home. The boys are also getting better and better at playing with each other. And we are very pleased with the trampoline Grandma bought us. It has been bounced on right through the winter, whenever weather vaguely permitted, and now the air is finally warming up it is in daily use.

Ho-hum. Because this post has no single topic it’s rather hard to know how to stop it. I think I’ll hit publish and burble the rest to myself on my way to an early bedtime (with book – Baugh and Cable’s History of the English Language, which I’m reading for teaching purposes). Night night.

Another day, another general anaesthetic

Dot writes: I think I have written maybe one post this year that wasn’t about illness, operations or accidents. I’ll try to think up some different topics soon. Anyway, today was just another normal day chez Ken and Dot, which means that Frank and I got up at six, stayed fasting, and drove to Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children at Crumlin for him to have another little procedure. There were a couple of wobbles, first when we checked in and our appointment came up on the screen marked “cancelled” (but the nice lady decided to ignore this), and then when it was noticed that Frank had rather a fruity sounding cough; but a doctor and anaesthetist both listened to his chest and decided it would be safe to go ahead. He was in theatre at 9.15, back in recovery by 9.45 and returned to my bosom just after 10. I spent the period of the operation running all the way around the outside of the hospital to find some shops with a cash machine in so I’d be able to pay for the parking. This is also a traditional and reassuring part of the Crumlin experience; last time the ATM in the hospital was just behaving erratically, but this time it had been entirely removed.

I did worry that Frank would be upset and reluctant to go for another operation, given how sore he was after the last one, but mainly he was keen to have another chance to play with all the toys in the Surgical Day Unit. As soon as we got there he dug out the same dumper truck he had played with in January. And yet it was clear he remembered quite a lot about the previous trip, including the story about Barnie going to the sleepy room that he hadn’t seemed to be listening to; when I told him we’d be going to the sleepy room he said “Will I turn into Barnie?” Anyway, he was co-operative and sweet-tempered. And now, only a few hours later, he basically seems fine. Thank goodness.


Dot writes: I was thinking this post would need to link back to one from September 2011, which was the last time Frank went to the Surgical Day Ward, but I was surprised to find the description of his last operation, such as it was, buried in the middle of a more general post. I suppose it was less of a big deal that time round, or perhaps it simply was that I had a lot to report on (Frank turning two was the other big topic; and we were also in the middle of moving house). This time it was definitely a big deal. Bigger operation, bigger child, bigger fuss all round. I suppose ‘fuss’ is a bit pejorative; but I don’t want to reach for words like ‘trauma’, even though I’m pretty sure he’ll remember this one.

The operation was on Wednesday. We were called for 7.15am and most of my own pre-op nerves focused purely on getting there on time. I don’t think Frank had pre-op nerves, as I’m not sure he had much concept or memory of what an operation involves (last time there was no visible wound site and he was just slightly sore for a day or two). What was chiefly bothering him was not being allowed his morning milk; he had a big cry about that before being persuaded to have a little water just before the absolute cut-off time of 6.15am. Anyway, I slung him in the car right after that and ended up arriving half an hour early. The journey took far less time than normal on the traffic-free streets.

Once at the hospital the next challenge was coping with the waiting, but this was much easier than it might have been. There was an initial wait in the lobby for the Day Units to open (registration was in the Medical Day Unit before transfer over to the Surgical Day Unit). This we survived with the help of a story book (Creaky Castle – a cheery favourite about ghosts, skeletons and vampires) and the beach-themed mural on the wall. Then there was a wait for registration, but there were some toy trucks in the waiting room that took care of that. Then a longer wait in the Surgical Day Unit, but the waiting area there is very well provided with toys and amusements, at least for the younger child. In fact from Frank’s point of view he kept on being annoyingly interrupted in his playing. First there was a lady who wanted to tell him a story about Barny coming to the hospital and having a trip to the sleepy-room. She was followed by a nurse who wanted to take his blood pressure, weight and temperature, and who provided Frank with an apron-like hospital gown; a member of the surgical team called Peter who got me to sign the consent forms and very politely asked Frank’s permission to examine him (he was wilting by this point and asking in a small voice if we could go home now, please); an anaesthetist coming to check most of the same things we’d been asked by Peter; and finally the call to go through to theatre. Frank had hardly had time to retrace the truck he wanted to play with. I was given a blue gown and cap and we were led round several corners, bringing the toy truck with us. I rather suspect we ended up within a few yards of the waiting area, but the conceptual separation was important. The theatre was empty when we entered it except for us and one nurse; I don’t know whether they do it that way so as to be less intimidating or because the hierarchy of such places is that the most important people enter last, but I think it would certainly have been harder for Frank to have come into a room of gowned strangers. We were joined shortly by the junior anaesthetist who had seen us earlier and a more senior anaesthetist. Frank was placed on my lap and given a little mask to blow into. It seemed to take quite a long time to get him under, but eventually he succumbed and was lifted out of my arms onto a high bed. The nurse took me and the truck back to the lobby. This was at about 9am.

I confess that the very next thing I did was to go down to the cafe and buy a big cup of tea and a sausage-and-bacon roll. I’d been fasting with Frank – it seemed only tactful. The sausage-and-bacon roll was pretty awful really but I gobbled it up. At around 9.30 the surgeon called my mobile phone to report that the operation had been a success and to give me some helpful details that I couldn’t entirely hear thanks to the noise in the cafe. Then I went off to the chapel and had a bit of a cry.

I’d been told it would be one-and-a-half to two hours from the start of the operation before Frank woke up. However, I went back up to the Surgical Day Ward at 10am, and I’m glad I did as I was called through to the recovery area almost immediately. Frank was awake and crying bitterly on a trolley: “Mummy, where were you?” He was put into a bed and I got in and gave him a cuddle. He was extremely keen to get rid of the small cannula (referred to as ‘Freddy’ by the nurses) from his arm; also to have some milk. When he’d become a bit less tearful he was also very keen to eat biscuits and toast. So I set up the table over his bed and got in behind him so he had something to lean against (the table wouldn’t wheel back far enough for him to prop himself against the pillow), and once he’d done an efficient demolition job on the food he fell asleep, leaving me to listen to the sounds of the ward filling up with variously unhappy children.

Getting out was interesting. I think they were rather keen to have the bed back, so I was gently encouraged to wake and dress Frank. However, it turned out his legs were a bit wobbly. Apparently he’d been given a local anaesthetic as well as the general and it had gone down his leg a bit. We ended up going down to the carpark with Frank in a wheelchair pushed by a nurse. The help was most welcome as it took multiple trips in and out of the hospital to get the right form of payment for the wretched machine in the carpark. (Two stony-eyed attendants in a booth were entirely unhelpful.) The wobbly legs were evidently something of a psychological blow for the afflicted boy, who lost faith in his ability to stay upright and insisted on being carried everywhere for much of the rest of the day. I began to wonder if he was destined for a life of genteel indisposition and minor verse on the sofa.

He isn’t allowed a bath until Monday. This is to allow the wound to stay dry but it’s not great for his scalp. No matter. We have to apply cream to the wound site twice a day (this is not popular; it’s cold); also, vaseline has to be spread inside his clothes to stop them sticking, and he gets regular doses of calpol and neurofen. The wound does seem to be healing but he has had a couple of temperature spikes which is slightly worrying. I was given a leaflet about aftercare but it is rather vague about what is normal and what isn’t. Julie has been a star; I stayed at home on Thursday morning and Friday afternoon but I’ve needed a lot of extra help in the mornings and evenings to deal with the cream application and so forth, and she is great at being gentle-but-firm over such uncomfortable moments. Hugh has been very good too, amusing his brother by falling down in hilarious slapstick fashion and mostly not fighting with him. Ken is back for the weekend now and Hugh is lapsing slightly, but he does tend to have a virtue slump at the weekend. Today Frank had his first little outing: Ken needed to run a beer-related errand to Leixlip so we took a brief trip to the Liffey Valley Shopping Centre, which is not the most thrilling of destinations but quite a good choice (being indoors and with food and loos) for a slightly fragile small boy. For Frank has been far from his normal bouncy self, even though from time to time he has had some quite noisy games with his brother. He has been sleeping more than normal, wanting a lot of cuddles and moving slowly. Happily he does seem to be on the mend.

Verdict: no more operations, please.

Meanwhile in Boy World

Dot writes: some jottings on what our boys are up to. Mostly they’re engaged in elaborate games involving knights, baddies, extensive sound effects and anything vaguely sword-shaped they can get hold of, including their wooden swords (thanks, family and friends who thought it was a good idea to give small children weapons) but also umbrellas, cardboard tubes from wrapping paper, rolled posters etc. They are playing together quite well all things considered and seem (I hope I don’t speak too soon) to have learnt not to whack each other with the swords. But here are some other ideas from the fertile Mind of Boy:

Hugh – This evening he rebuilt the chairs and sofa in the living room into a machine for swapping brains, which he was keen to demonstrate to me when I was in the middle of dinner. First he swapped himself and Frank. “I like diggers!” said Hugh, pretending to have Frank’s brain. Then he swapped me and Frank, and I told him that I suddenly felt much cleverer. Then he insisted that he had swapped Frank and Julie, but the machine had a bendy wire and was no longer working so he wouldn’t be able to swap them back for a week. Frank and Julie pretended to swap back without using the machine, but Hugh was rather displeased.
– Also Hugh has been telling me stories about a character called Magic Mummy, who has a magic pot and other magic things. I asked if I could tell Grandma about Magic Mummy; if Grandma would like to make up a story about her, would Hugh mind? Hugh had a little think and said he wouldn’t. (Any interest, Grandma?)

Frank – Every morning Frank pretends to be a baby dinosaur. “I’m a baby triceratops; raar!” he says in a little, high voice. “A T-rex ate my mum. Will you be my mummy triceratops?” I tell him that yes, I’ll be his mummy triceratops. I try not to think too hard about the fact that the real mummy is always dead.


Dot writes: Frank has a passion for jigsaws and is, at least to a mother’s fond eyes, remarkably good at them for a three-year-old. Here he is tackling Hugh’s 100-piece dinosaur jigsaw.


And he here is with the finished item:


Now, if you asked Frank he would tell you proudly “I did it by my own”, but I did help him: not by putting the pieces in, but by making suggestions for where things might go and feeding him pieces that he would be able to fit in to the part of the jigsaw that was already taking shape. Frank’s approach is to pick up a piece and then work out where to put it. Hugh, however, has learnt that you need to find what’s missing from the picture you have. Hugh can do this jigsaw completely by himself, but he likes to set me tasks: “Mummy, find me some more pieces of the T-rex.”

The baby on the lawn

Dot writes: I have a rich and varied repertoire of anxiety dreams. There’s the one about missing the train, and the one in which I’m at my parents’ house for Christmas and on Christmas Eve I still haven’t bought any presents, and the one where there’s a fire in the corner of the room but I have to pack a suitcase of clothes before I can leave, and the one (which is quite recent in date but surprisingly recurrent) in which I’m out walking, or sometimes in a boat, and a vast rocket or aeroplane crashes right ahead of me and I know that I’m about to die. (It’s a non-stop party in my subconscious, I can tell you.) And then there’s the one in which I’ve accidentally abandoned the children. For example: Ken and I are both at a party, we’ve been there for a while, and I thought the kids were with my mum – well I’ve been assuming they’re with my mum – but she’s at the party too, so maybe they’re with my sister, but in fact I don’t know who’s looking after them or exactly where they are and it dawns on me that this is a dreadful, dreadful situation. When Frank was a baby I had this dream in another form in which I realised that we had left him behind on the lawn outside a stately home and it was now raining.

Yesterday at about 6pm I was looking into our rather denuded fridge as I prepared dinner, and I asked Julie whether there was enough food for her to cook dinner for the boys today or whether I should put in a grocery order.
“But I’m flying to London first thing tomorrow,” was her reply.
“But I have the examiners’ meeting for the MPhil tomorrow and I thought you were looking after the children,” was mine. And we were both horrified.

Somehow Julie had talked all week about her trip to London and I had talked all week about my examiners’ meeting without either of us realising that we had a problem. For my part I was convinced she was flying out on Saturday. For her part – well, maybe she thought the annual examining process would all be done and dusted in time for me to be home by pick-up time. (Which is 1pm, in Frank’s case.)

So I starting phoning people who might possibly take the boys. First I phoned Joan, but her young daughter was at that very minute being sick. Then I phoned Niall (who has done us many favours of this type and probably deserves some sort of pension from us by now), but the call was rejected. Then I phoned the mother of Hugh’s classmate Simon, but Simon was going to be out on a playdate on Friday afternoon and his parents at work. Then I phoned Frank’s playschool, and happily the call was answered even though it was after closing time, so I arranged for Frank to stay until 3pm and Hugh to come for two hours after school if I could find someone to bring him over from Raheny. Then I phoned the mother of another of Hugh’s classmates and asked if she might be able to transport Hugh. She couldn’t – her son was being picked up on foot by a childminder and walked home in a completely different direction – but the childminder could take Hugh too and then Hugh could play at their house. So we had an arrangement and all I had to do was explain to Hugh as carefully and firmly as possible that he should go home with Finn and with a lady with long black hair he possibly knew by sight but had never previously spoken to.

Julie said I should take the extra money I would be paying Frank’s playschool out of her money for December. I said no. I was able to have the pleasure of being magnanimous, now my stomach had returned to roughly the right place.

Thank goodness for Hugh’s party, because without it I wouldn’t have had most of the numbers that I called yesterday evening. Thank goodness also that I didn’t, as I at one point planned, work late on Thursday evening. If Julie and I hadn’t had that conversation at a moderately reasonable hour – even worse, if we had not spoken at all, and if she had left for the airport at 5am, and I had assumed that she was simply sleeping late (as she often does) when I didn’t see her in the morning…shudder.

I had a couple of anxiety dreams last night. I had the plane one: the tail of the plane crashed in front of me and I started to run in the other direction but realised the rest of the plane was directly above me, still very high up but falling rapidly. And I had a dream in which I’d gone for a walk with Hugh leaving Frank asleep in the house. I was trying to get back but we were very far away, and I was frightened to think of Frank waking and finding himself completely alone.