My mum had cancer last year.
And I’m so insanely glad to be able to say had, because I know so many people aren’t so lucky.
Cancer is an asshole.
Thankfully, my mum had very early stage breast cancer that was picked up as part of regular screening.
(Speculums up your fachina, pancaked boobs, fingers up bums … regular cancer checks aren’t exactly a good time, but they could literally save your life, so get it done, son!)
But back to my dazzlingly intriguing headline.
I wrote a book.
Actually, I wrote three. And to be fair, calling them books is a bit of a stretch.
They’re short kids’ stories.
And I wrote them for my mum.
The Pirate Queen
My mum’s birthday is coming up on 7 February, and this time last year, when she was feeling weak and nauseous and generally terrible, I wanted to do something to help.
I have pretty limited skills, and none of them include oncology, so I used what I had, and I wrote her a story where she was the hero.
Specially, a golden armour-wearing, flying pirate ship captaining, queen who’s greatest weapon is her powerful butt trumpet (farts guys, we’re talking about farts).
It was full of in-jokes and people from her life (including her partner Ian, who is a literal Silver Fox in the book, and my son Ezekiel, who’s the other protagonist), and is all about her defeating the Can-Can Dancing Crabs that have taken her prisoner.
Super subtle allegory.
I wrote her another one for Mother’s Day called The White Dog, which was an origin story about Bucky (my real life West Highland White terrier), who’s a enormous flying dog from the City in the Sky (the high-lands, get it, get it) in the book.
And then this week, I wrote the third installment (which I’ve included at the end of this post) in time for her birthday celebrations at the Botanic Gardens on Saturday.
Sick loved one?
It’s easy to feel a bit useless when you have a loved one who’s ill, because you want to be able to do something to help fix it. But often, there really is nothing you can do … which is a difficult place to find yourself.
Obviously, I am by no means an expert, but here are some things that helped me last year when my mum was sick:
- Know that you can’t actually make them feel better. It was literally impossible for me to make my mum feel like she hadn’t just been hit by the chemo-truck. But, I could make her feel loved, and noticed, and appreciated, and special.
- I’m pretty good at writing. So I wrote a book. What are you good at? Gardening? Cooking? Photography? Tax …? Do something thoughtful using the talents you have. Sometimes it can be hard for people to verbally express how they’re feeling – but actions carry love well. Doing your sick mum’s taxes will be one less thing she has to worry about!
- Just be there. You don’t need to feel like you have to say the perfect thing that will somehow magically make them feel better (see: #1), because most people in pain don’t actually want advice. They just want to be heard, and not to be alone.
Also, I want to give you a big hug through this screen if you are going through something like this at the moment. It’s so hard and crap.
But you are stronger than you think, and you’re loved more than you know, and you will get through this.
Lots of love,
(Love you extra much, Mum)
Important background info:
- Mum and Ian recently got a shiny new fridge, which unfortunately (but funnily) fell on Ian. He’s fine.
- Mum is obsessed with sparkling water. I am obsessed with carrot cake.
- My son’s nickname is Zeke.
- Mum’s grandma name is Nona.
- Like kids on Fortnite, Mum and Ian play Settlers of Catan nearly every night. Addicts.
WHOOOOOHH! Zeke blew out the big gold candle. It was a huge, waxy number 1.
Bucky’s big black eyes appeared on the other side of the cake. And then all 42 of his big white teeth.
“NOO! Back off Bucky! This is the human cake. You have your special doggo cake over there. Nona even used your favourite stinky fish,” Zeke said pointing to the other table.
Bucky’s tail dropped and his eyebrows drooped down sadly. “Bu’ I love all cake.”
Nona that Pirate Queen stepped in, a vision in glinting gold armour. She scratched Bucky behind his floppy white ears. “I know Buck. But, I made that Red Herring Velvet Cake just for you, and you’re allowed to eat the WHOLE thing!”
Bucky stood still.
Weighing his options.
Then, smiling like a sly dog, he bounded over to the other table and wolfed the whole thing down in three bites. Table legs, included.
It had been exactly one year since Zeke and Bucky stumbled across Nona’s golden breastplate in the rock pools of Lighthouse Island, a chance encounter that had catapulted them into a life of adventure and skulduggery aboard The Flying Italian, Nona’s airborne pirate ship.
To celebrate, Nona had baked the most spectacular carrot cake Zeke had ever seen. It was four layers high, dripping in cream-cheese icing, and covered with the same golden swallows that adorned her magical head scarf.
Except the cake birds were made of Caramilk, not silk and magic.
Zeke was doing some mental math on who he had to share his cake with. There was Nona, her crew of Golden Girls, and Chief Advisor Ian, the silver fox … he was going to have to get in there fast.
Nona suddenly interrupted his food battle plans.
“Zeke, we need sparkling water! We can’t have carrot cake without sparkling water. We’re not savages. Would you mind grabbing a bottle from the fridge please?” asked/instructed Nona.
His face fell.
“But the cake …” Zeke whispered.
“Well, the quicker you go, the quicker you’ll be able to have some. Off you pop.”
Shuffling his feet like a moody teen, Zeke made his way into Nona’s expansive scullery and headed towards the big silver fridge.
Wrapping his hand around the thick cool handle, Zeke open the door.
Bucky was so close to the enormous carrot cake he was basically slow-dancing with it.
The horse-sized terrier wondered what was taking his friend so long. Not because he was thirsty. Heck no. That weird water gave him the burps.
He just rrreeeeaaallly wanted to try the carrot cake.
A few more minutes ticked by.
Bucky saw Nona looking nervous. He frowned. Nona never looked nervous.
“Where’s Zeke …? Something isn’t right …” she said, mostly to herself.
Setting off at a jog towards the scullery, Nona’s arm hairs started standing on end.
It was cold.
Bursting through the doors, her youngest crew member was nowhere to be seen. But an icy crust covered all the contents of the room.
Ian was next inside the door, and let out a small gasp as he saw the icy scullery.
“It can’t be,” he breathed. “Can it?”
“What is it? Do you know what happened to him?” asked Nona.
“The ice,” he said gesturing to the frostbitten room. “There’s only one kingdom I know of that has ice like this, and I haven’t been there for a very long time.”
“Not the White Wilderness?” she said, eyes wide.
Ian silver fur bristled. He didn’t like to think about his snowy homeland. The White Wilderness was a dangerous place to be a fox.
“There. The fridge,” he said pointing. “That must be the portal. I’d heard rumours that the workshop elves hid portals in whiteware so they could escape into the free kingdoms.”
Nona put a hand on her sword. “Well, then. I hope everyone’s got their thermal underwear on, because we’re about to get very cold.”
She turned to face her Golden Girls. “Dorothy and Rose, you two stay on as skeleton crew and look after the ship. The rest of you – Bucky, you too – are coming through the fridge with me and Ian. We’re going to need all the help we can get in the Wilderness.”
Ian stood next to Nona, facing the room of fierce golden women and a stinky white monster of a dog.
“Has anyone been to the White Wilderness before?” he asked.
No-one’s hand went up. Not even Nona’s.
“Has anyone heard scary stories about the Wilderness?”
Everyone’s hand went up. Including Nona’s.
“Thought so. Well, at least you’re informed. They’re all true. It’s a nasty, desolate place where mostly everything is trying to kill you. It’s kind of like the cold version of Australia. There’s the sabre tooth tigers in the East, and the frozen waste lands in the West – that’s where we snow foxes hide out. The South is mainly glaciers and abominable snowmen, and then the North Pole is the dominion of Santa the Dictator. It’s all factories full of slave labour elves making everything from sneakers to fridges. He’s a real asshole.”
The Golden Girls gulped audibly, and one at the front asked: “So where do you think this fridge will take us …? North, South, East or West?”
“Not sure, I’m afraid. It’s a bit of a lucky dip. But to be honest, none of the options are good options, so we can’t really lose. Or maybe we can’t really win. Either way, we’re going in, I guess.”
Ian opened the door, his eyes on Nona. “After you, Captain.”
Zeke was covered in goosebumps. Even his goosebumps had goosebumps.
The last thing he remembered was a fridge falling on him.
And then nothing, except white.
“HELLO!” he yelled. “Is anyone out there? Can anyone hear me?”
Wrapping his arms around his chest, he started walking, looking for shelter.
Snow crunched beneath Nona’s golden buckled boots.
She felt like she’d been hit by a fridge.
Ian appeared next to her, his silver fur and armour perfectly camouflaging against the snowy scene.
“Welcome to the White Wilderness.” He sniffed the air, and then frowned.
“What is it?” asked Nona. “Where on the map are we?”
“Smells like burnt plastic and oppression. I’m sorry Nona, we’re in the North Pole.”
Zeke’s feet were numb. Head down, he marched on stoically through the snow.
He couldn’t help but think that in this weather, if he didn’t keep moving, he might never move again.
BOOOF! Zeke fell down onto the white ground. What had he hit?
Looking up, he found his answer. A huge concrete wall loomed over him. It looked like a prison. Or maybe a factory?
“Sir, sir you can’t be here!” said a squeaky voice.
Zeke looked around, trying to find the owner of that strangely high-pitched voice.
“Hello? Who’s there? Where are you …”
Suddenly two round, tennis ball eyes appeared in front of his face.
“Sir, I am Maxwell the elf, and you are in much danger.”
Nona’s golden gang was making good progress through the Wilderness.
Ian had been able to find Zeke’s scent and was tracking him through the abyss of white, and Bucky had offered Nona a ride on his furry back. For once she didn’t mind the doggy smell, and nuzzled in close to keep warm.
Ever the professionals, the Golden Girls had fallen into a V-formation behind Ian, Nona and Bucky.
Ian grumbled. “He’s headed towards Santa.”
“Surely we can take him. I am Nona the bloody Pirate Queen, after all. What are you so worried about?”
“Santa’s a terrible man, Nona. He’s big, mean, and worst of all, he’s the keeper of Catan.”
Nona’s jaw clenched. “I thought that was as myth. A magic boardgame that allows its owner to control the very land they stand on? Sounds like fairy tale nonsense.”
“I wish it was. But he has the boardgame, and he has the Robber. He’s the reason the Wilderness is White. He placed the Robber on his own doorstep, and has stopped any natural resource from being able to grow – or any kind of flower to flourish. He’s cursed us all, and he doesn’t care. He just wants to be in control, and to make cheap shoes in his nasty factories.”
Nona sat up straight. “Stop!”
Bucky, Ian and the Girls halted. Their eyes squinting against the icy breeze.
“I’ve never met this Santa character, but I’ve had enough of him already. This is a rescue mission, and well, we’re going to be rescuing more than Zeke. We’re going to rescue the whole of the White Wilderness as well. Ian, I want you to lock onto Santa’s scent. We have a new target.”
“Bu’ what abou’, Zeke?” ruffed Bucky, in his thick Highland accent.
“Zeke is a tough kid. I think he can probably get by on his own until we take down Santa. But-” she said, noting Bucky’s bristling fur. “If you want, I’m happy for you to carry on searching for him while Ian, myself and the Golden Girls take down Santa. What do you say?”
“I say, aye, Captain.”
Zeke followed Maxwell the elf through a side-door into the factory. It was smoky and grey inside, and it took a second for his eyes to adjust.
“Sir, we must hide you. Master Santa does not like uninvited guests. Master gets very cross, and makes us work overtime. And we are not even allowed our evening gruel. It is most upsetting.”
Zeke could only half make out the small figure in front of him through the factory haze. Maxwell was small, but had quite impressively strong arms – but tiny legs. He looked a little like some of the protein shake guzzling gym-goers back on Lighthouse Island …
“Here. You hide in here.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Zeke.
“So let me get this straight, your plan is to sneak into Santa’s Lair. Find the boardgame. Steal the boardgame. Move the Robber to an uninhabited island in the south. Set the White Wilderness free from the never-ending winter. And banish Santa to said uninhabited, and now snowed under, island. Is that about right?”
“Yes,” answered Nona. “Nailed it.”
Ian rolled his eyes. “Well, if anyone can pull it off, it’s you.”
He pointed. “There it is. That’s Santa’s Lair. You ready?”
Nona winked. “Nearly.” She reached under her coat and brought out a bottle of sparkling water, and downed the whole thing. “Gives me terrible gas …”
Nona and her crew were crouched on the roof of Santa’s Lair, ducked down next to the chimney.
“Alright girls – and foxy man – we’re going in. Keep close.”
She put two hands on the edge of the brick chimney, leapt up, and disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Bucky could see a building. It was large and grey and a bit grim looking.
Buck’s black nose twitched as he sniffed around the snow.
Catching his friend’s scent (and another smell that reminded him of porridge and socks), Bucky started walking, nose to the ground, towards the imposing concrete fortress.
Nona was surrounded by Santas. They were jolly looking, bearded, and suited and red – and they were everywhere.
Huge ceiling to floor tapestries, figures the size of suits of armours … every spare bit of space was taken up with toys and cards with that friendly, old face.
“Quite a humble guy, that Santa?” muttered Nona to Ian.
“Oh, I’m not so bad,” boomed a voice out of nowhere.
Nona did her best not to jump out of her skin.
She whipped her head around, trying to spot Santa among the Santas. It was like a Where’s Wally.
“Show yourself. Coward!”
(Nona wasn’t known for her subtlety.)
Then she saw him. A tiny Danny DeVito figure of a man holding a giant megaphone.
He was balding, with a small scrappy beard, and was wearing a shiny red silk dressing gown and bright white Nike Air Force 1 shoes.
He looked ridiculous.
“YOU’RE Santa?! How absurd. You look absurd,” laughed Nona.
Santa’s eyes darkened.
“I am an icon. YOU are the absurd one, with your gaudy gold get-up.” He snapped his fingers, and three sabre tooth tigers emerged from the doors behind them. “Now, what the hell are you doing in my house?”
Nona smiled. “I’ve come to challenge you to a game of Catan. Winner takes all.”
HA HA HA HA HA HAAA! Santa laughed into his microphone.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. Why would I ever do that?! I’m just going to feed you to my tigers.”
As he turned to leave the room, Nona called out: “Chicken!”
“How dare you! I’m not a chicken,” said Santa, storming towards her.
“Yes you are. It’s just a game. You too scared to play a game? You scared, little man?”
Ian was worried. Nona and Santa had been playing Catan for THREE HOURS, and it wasn’t looking good for the Pirate Queen.
Santa was just one point away from winning, and it was his turn next.
Although she hated to admit it, Nona was sensing she was about to lose too.
‘Well, nothing else for it,’ she thought to herself. She suddenly jumped to her feet, bottom to Santa’s face, and released the most earth shattering fart her butt trumpet had ever blown off.
Santa was knocked clean off his chair and smashed into a shrine of dancing Christmas dolls.
Nona grabbed the Robber from the board, and moved it on the magic map to an island far, far away from anyone and anything. Then she picked up Santa’s red playing piece and put it on the island with the Robber.
“What have you doooooonneeee?!” he cried, before vanishing before their eyes.
And he wasn’t the only thing that was vanishing. The crew, blinded by sunlight, looked out the window to see the dead white landscape had been replaced by a beautiful green wilderness.
The Golden Girls clapped and cheered! Nona had saved the day again
“Surely dear, you could have done that three hours ago?” Ian said quietly, smiling at Nona.
“Yes, but then I wouldn’t have gotten to play,” she laughed. “I really am a terrible loser though. I must work on that. But for now – let’s find Zeke and Bucky!”
The crew of The Flying Italian opened the big grey door of the big grey factory.
And that’s when they saw them. Terribly hidden in a large scale nativity scene – Zeke in the manger as Baby Jesus, and Bucky as an on-looking sheep.
“NONA!” he cried. Jumping out of the manger he ran over to the shiny pirate and gave her his biggest, best hug.
“Can we please go home and have cake now?”