That Tricky Thing about Not Looking Too Far Ahead…

This Saturday was one of those days that have to be consigned to the parenting dustbin.

One of those really crappy days that seem to last for an eternity and that you can’t ‘shake yourself out of’ no matter how hard you try.

Hey, they happen right?! Not a lot you can do about it.

I won’t bore you too much with the details, except to see it involved a long-planned meet-up with a group of good old friends, a particularly lovely toddler virus, an epic tantrum and the depressing realisation that on some occasions you have to accept that you probably won’t be leaving the house for the next 12 hours.

Now I don’t know about you but since becoming a parent my social life has not so much reduced as dramatically nose-dived.

It’s one of the secrets that you don’t really grasp until reproducing. And then you realise that actually both you and the other half making it to the cinema down the road at the same time with no children sick, screaming or guilt-tripping you into cancelling is a major achievement. In fact a cause for whooping at bemused sales assistant while ordering the popcorn.

Anyway, the point is that when you have something in the diary or scrawled on the kitchen wall planner that you’ve been looking forward to for a while, it stings even more when you have to cancel.

So far not so earth-shattering, but since Blue-eyed boy was officially diagnosed with ‘The A Word’ it’s come to our attention that the acceptance of the odd dustbin day is going to become increasingly likely.

We’re learning new things every day about ASD, and one simple fact is that our little man could very well find social situations large, small and everywhere in between a real struggle for the rest of his life.

I imagine it’s a bit like the nerves you get walking into a job interview. One of the really scary variety with a panel of people sitting across a desk from you.

ASD affects how people communicate with others and how they deal with others socially, and little things that you and I simply take for granted – like being able to read someone’s body language, tone of voice or facial expressions – can become huge obstacles to people on the spectrum.

Blue-eyed boy is working very hard, and us with him, to help him understand, process and use language, never mind learning to interact with others and cope with new and potentially scary social situations. It’s all a rather tall order for a two-year-old but our little fighter is coping brilliantly and taking everything in his stride.

We never doubted that he would.

In return, as well as resolving not to fall into the parent trap of comparing ourselves to others, I’m learning that looking further ahead than a few days or weeks is really not going to be helpful.

The best piece of advice I’ve read from another parent of a child with autism, is that living in the moment is all you can really do without going crazy.

Of course putting it into practice is much harder. I’m a planner, an organiser, a self-confessed perfectionist and I like to know not just what’s immediately ahead of me, but way round the corner as well.

Well the simple fact is that I have no idea whether Blue-eyed boy will ever ‘talk normally’, whether he’ll find it really hard to make friends as he grows up, whether he’ll be accepted socially by his peers along with his little quirks (as I like to think of them) and how he’ll cope with people realising that yes, he is different, but that’s what makes him so unique and special.

And I have to learn to accept that.

Lesson three, of becoming a parent with a child with ASD, has fortunately been a lot easier to stomach.

Namely that if you have good friends who understand, or try to, about our lovely boy’s condition, who accept, embrace and also love him for who he is, it  makes this strange, new world a hell of a lot easier to navigate.

What we’re also learning is that we’re surrounded by an amazing group of people who not only ‘get it’, but love and cherish our charming little man along with us and are rooting for him all the way.

And we, and he, are SO lucky to have them.

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The New School Rules

So here we are three days into the first week of ‘back to school’ and it’s becoming abundantly clear that things aren’t what they used to be…

Forget the reception classroom home corner – the days of Mini-me playing Mummies and Daddies with some poor unsuspecting five-year-old boy could be over, or at least numbered.

You see we’ve entered the ‘grown-up’, slightly more structured world of Year One. Which could be good news for Mini-me’s male classmates, who she seems to rotate in order of who she fancies marrying on any given week.

I’m reliably informed that you instruct the ‘lucky’ recipient of your affections of your plans to get hitched – and then watch as they sprint across the playground. Which is good news for the other half bearing in mind that he says boys are not allowed until she’s 27.

Anyway, it looks like Year One is going to be a steep learning curve for us parents too.

Here’s what I’ve swotted up on so far – perhaps you’ve found the same…

 

  1. Your offspring will no longer cry as they line up at the start of the day. You in fact will be the one shedding a few stray tears, because ‘Don’t they look grown up…’ (cough, sniffle.)

 

  1. Your child will start mentioning actual proper lessons like ‘literacy’, which will weirdly remind you of the time you asked your gran to help you with your algebra homework and she just looked vaguely panicked. Is it possible your kid will soon be asking you complicated questions about verbs?!

 

  1. On the same note you will answer the question: ‘Mummy, what’s dividing’, with something that would not have satisfied Johnny Ball. (Remember him?!)

 

  1. You will be amazed that your child can not only tell you what they had for lunch but is also happy to chat for a couple of minutes about their day. You put this down to it being the first week of school and presume that by Monday it will revert to: ‘Can’t remember. Can I have another snack?’

 

  1. You are proud of the fact that you have been on time for three days in a row. Hopes that this will continue into week two are of course fruitless and soon you will be back to sprinting down the road and trying to vault the playground fence in a time of 36 seconds while towing your poor offspring behind you.

 

  1. You’ve started wondering about things like ‘mixed ability sets’ and what exactly your child will be doing in their ICT lesson while hoping that they don’t reveal to the teacher their iPad addiction to Horrid Henry.

 

  1. Talking of Horrid Henry, you’ve tried to justify the fact that you ate dinner in the same kitchen as your child last night while both plugged into your own tablets with thoughts that they ‘really need some chill out time’. (Otherwise known as parent rediscovers the Cold Feet box set.)

 

  1. Although you’re not enjoying the unseasonably humid weather you kind of hope it stays that way so you can get some wear out of Mini-me’s two new summer dresses (which don’t need ironing.)

 

  1. You feel guilty about the fact that your friend told you their house was eerily quiet and they were missing their child, while you secretly revelled in the silence…

 

  1. You enjoy looking at all the obligatory ‘kids in uniform on front step’ piccies on Facebook and remember with amusement the many years when it REALLY bored you senseless.

 

  1. You have a long and most enjoyable coffee outing with your close mum friends and thank god that ‘therapy at the school gates’ is now a daily fixture once more.

Juggling with Melted Balls

We’ve reached the ‘Holiday Hump’ in the Neat Freak Household.

As in everyone is in one and not only are some of us counting down the days until school starts, it’s now officially okay to mention this fact in hushed tones to parenting friends on the same wavelength.

After all nothing makes you feel more guilty as a mum than to hear someone say they are embracing the sheer joy of every single precious family moment, while you’re ‘cooking’ (hiding) in the kitchen furtively watching Gilmore Girls on the Kindle.

(The iPad is of course being monopolised by pint-sized family members.)

And nothing makes you feel better – or perhaps it’s just me – when another mum tells you: ‘I cannot bloody wait until September 5th!’

Anyway the mood has soured a little more this week with the arrival of soaring temperatures.

Now don’t get me wrong I like sunshine as much as the next person, but personally I prefer warm to sizzling, and slowly melting while fighting with Mini-me over the need to slather her in sunscreen at 8am isn’t my idea of a good time. Or hers.

Bless hubby though, he bought me a lovely family calendar for the kitchen – you know so I can keep on top of four peoples’ schedules like an (unpaid) PA and (most importantly) his beloved West Ham fixtures.

I may have slightly overreacted when I noticed that it was made by a company called ‘Organised Mum’, with a fetching logo of a smiling mother juggling a large number of balls.

‘FFS!’ I texted BFF. ‘Are men incapable of writing on family planners?!’

To my mind it’s the same flawed pigeon-hole thinking as those ridiculous toy manufacturers who assume that all girls like pink dolls and would never want to play with racing cars.

Now clearly men are not incapable, and the other half would probably happily take charge of the family schedule.

It’s just that I have nicer handwriting and actually know important dates that don’t involve a team of overpaid footballers doing battle with Scunthorpe United, or whoever it is they are playing this week.

No it’s the Holiday Hump coming into play.

That and the fact that hubby sent me a ‘helpful’ email itinerary for departing on our much-needed cottage holiday earlier, along with a delightful text reminder to pack everyone light layers…

All too soon I, and all the mums I know, will be back to having to stay on top off a multitude of dull daily details, such as whether there are enough clean socks to last the week, what inanimate object Mini-me has chosen to talk about in show and tell (‘No! Not another Shopkins!’) and when I need to start stapling silver foil to something for the probably quite likely occurrence of ‘Space Mufti Day’.

And that’s a good thing – after all it means we’ll all have survived the summer holidays in one piece.

It would just be nice if someone could turn down the heat a little and remember to chuck a super-sized bottle of Gin for me in the car tomorrow along with the rest of the packing.

Compare, Contrast, Combust

You might have noticed (or more likely you probably haven’t) that it’s been a fair few weeks since my last blog ramblings.

It’s been a hectic time, juggling a busy, varied and ‘just the right side of stressful’ workload, the school holidays, other mini life niggles such as a delightful infected wisdom tooth and accompanying balloon face (attractive) and what I have been referring to as ‘family health issues’.

A few posts back I hinted that Blue-eyed boy is currently battling several health and development challenges, and recently the worry surrounding these has started to ramp up. Mainly because I find myself brooding on things more.

Blue-eyed boy has always been a fighter right since his conception.

There was the miscarriage, the awful scan where we were ushered into a private room and told that he might have a chromosomal condition, possibly one that could be life threatening, the invasive tests to find out whether this was the case or whether his heart was weak, the scans at the specialist hospital department and then the ‘all clear’.

Although this was followed by the caveat that in such cases as ours there is always a slightly higher chance of the baby being born with a health issue than what they refer to as ‘the general population’.

Even after this there was the nagging worry that followed us up right the day of his birth and the sheer joy at his arrival that followed.

Now considering I know people whose children have bravely battled cancer, others who have taken rounds of IVF in their stride and others who may not be able to have kids at all, I don’t for one minute think that hubby and I had to cope with that much – but I have always privately felt that Blue-eyed boy is my miracle boy.

And this means that, I suppose, we’ve wrapped him in more virtual cotton wool than we did with Mini-me.

When he was late to sit and walk and never really crawled we worried lots.

When we realised he couldn’t hear and had suffered with bad glue ear for most of his first two years we stressed out loads.

And when he used to cling to us and sob furiously in unfamiliar social situations we were concerned he might never find his feet.

But when he finally took his first tentative, wobbly steps at 19 months we whooped furiously.

When he had grommets fitted and we were told his hearing was now, probably for the first time, back within the ‘normal range’ we celebrated.

And when he started to babble, grow in confidence and even say the odd word, we were almost beside ourselves.

I guess because he has been through a fair amount, it makes every little milestone hurdled that little bit more special.

So now he, and we, are facing the next set of challenges.

The fact that Blue-eyed boy is a fair few months behind in terms of development. The fact that there is a long road ahead when it comes to him learning listening and conversational skills and, hopefully, catching up with his speech.

And the fact that there may be something else to contend with – possibly an autism diagnosis, possible a motor or sensory deficiency…

The good news is that he is doing amazingly well, continuing to battle like he always has. In fact I couldn’t be more proud of my little boy with the big eyes and the beautiful smile.

The thing I’m struggling most with at the moment is all down to my own issues and actually a trap that many parents fall into – the curse of comparison.

I hate myself for doing it, even though it’s only human, but sometimes I can’t help brooding on the fact that other children the same age as Blue-eyed boy are toilet trained, sleeping in proper beds, no longer using high chairs and chatting away with the best of them.

I worry, even though it’s far too early, that he may never get the chance to go to mainstream school or enjoy all the opportunities that Mini-me undoubtedly will.

I wish for a clear diagnosis of his condition so we know exactly what we are dealing with, but other days I dread the thought of it.

Personally I think that no good ever comes of comparing your child or yourself as a parent to others. In my experience it only leads to negative brooding and madness.

Do my children have too much ‘screen time?’

Do my children eat enough fruit and vegetables?

Do my children behave as well as their friends?

Do they spend enough time outside?

Do I shout too much – or too little?

Am I patient enough with them?

Will I ever get the work/parenting balance right?

Blah, blah, blah, blah, bleurgghh…

What I’m going to try to do instead is focus on all the good bits, with none of the lining up against stuff. And not look too far ahead.

And also take the good advice a friend of mine gave me today…

‘Look, if they’re still alive at the end of the day and you haven’t gone insane I consider it a good sign!’

Sounds a pretty good parenting motto to me.

 

Not black or white – or grey either

It might be nearly 20 years ago but I remember it as if it was yesterday.

Getting off a tiny plane in the middle of the night and being hit with strange smells, sounds and searing humidity. Oh how I remember the humidity.

It was August 1997 and I’d just landed in America’s ‘Deep South’ where I was due to spend a year studying at the University of North Carolina.

I’d expected it to be a bit different, but nothing could have prepared me for the huge culture shock I was about to experience. Or the crippling homesickness that held me captive for the first few months, as I juggled loving my new life with desperately wanting to go home.

The reason all this has sprung to mind in the last 24 hours is thinking about the horrific mass shooting of 50 innocent people in Orlando by Omar Mateen, a man who has since been described as a terrorist, homophobic, mentally ill… I don’t know what I’d call him, apart from a madman.

The shock of his senseless bloodshed, his hatred, his lack of compassion are all too hard to even try and compute, but what I have found bizarrely compelling over the last 24 hours has been some of the reaction on my social media feeds.

I felt the need to vent on Facebook about what I consider to be the sheer ignorance and pathetic bravado of Donald Trump in response to this terrible tragedy. This is after all a man who chose to accept congratulations on being ‘right’ about terrorism as a result of this nightmare. Nice sentiment.

Some will no doubt have called for his immediate election though due to the need for a ‘tougher stance’ on fanaticism across the pond.

Others, who hail not too far from where I once lived in America, seem to be outraged that British people could now question the need for greater gun control in the US.

To us it seems a total no brainer that you would massively tighten firearms regulation in the face of one mass shooting after another. To them this horrific incident was inspiration to talk about how America is still the greatest country in the world, and how they are sick of people criticising it, and them.

I think what these Monday ramblings of mine boil down to is that perhaps what we should never forget, the vast majority of us who want to live in a free world, is that while we might have different views on certain things we’re still all pulling in the same direction.

I despise the death penalty, completely and absolutely. I think it is never, ever justifiable – but many Americans support it.

I think it is worrying that under 50 per cent of Americans (46 per cent at the last count) have passports. Many Americans would probably tell me that in a country as vast and varied as theirs who needs to leave it?

The point is that these issues aren’t easy and they’re not black or white either, or even grey.

What is black and white is that most people are still good and still aspire to a global society where we can speak our minds, marry who we want and go where we like in safety.

So while I vividly recall the time I tried to order a simple sandwich on the UNC campus a few days after arriving and ended up in tears over the whole thing because it felt like I needed a translator.

(You can’t just ask for cheese, you need to specify whether it’s ‘swiss,’ ‘jack’, ‘cheddar’ or ‘white cheese’ – whatever that is!)

I also remember how unbelievably kind everyone was. How I got invited to umpteen peoples’ houses for Thanksgiving, and how they were all totally genuine about it.

And that, in my very humble and not very important opinion, is what we should try to hold on to in the face of such hatred and violence. That whether or not we’d choose to own a handgun for self-protection we’re all still pulling in the same direction.

Although I may have to revise that if you tell me you’re voting for Trump…

You can have it all. It just might kill you…

Have you ever played that game where you imagine what your dream dinner party line up would be?

You know the one, where you can invite anyone you like to sit around ‘the table’. (A bit like a normal Saturday night must be for Amal Clooney.)

Well along with Lauren Graham, Bill Bryson, Tom Hanks, Nora Ephron (yes I know she’s dead) and Kirstie Allsopp, I’ve always thought mine would include Emma Thompson.

Because along with being brilliant, funny, just the right amount of bonkers and a great British export, she always comes across as nice, normal and someone who wouldn’t be above feeding crispy chicken dippers to screaming offspring.

But then a couple of years back she gave an interview where she spoke about the perils of trying to have it all as a mum. She talked about how hard it is to juggle career and being a parent, and how having it all at once might not be good for you.

What’s she on about?! I thought to myself.

Surely you should be flying the flag for working parents who are trying to have it all Emma, I muttered to myself. After all I’ve always thought of you as someone who does that.

I said the same to hubby who quickly became bored by the conversation…

Anyway, a while further down the parenting track, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Emma’s words were actually very wise ones.

You see I’ve spent the last two months trying to have it all and the plain fact is I’m bloody knackered, the laundry pile in the house is now so large that it is soon to be named a local landmark and quite simply it hasn’t brought me happiness. It’s made me, and most people around me, stressed.

I haven’t had the time in my life for all the little things I used to love, such as blogging, and what I’ve realised is that, at least for me, having it all at once has not been a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong, going back into an office has definitely had its upsides. Tea rounds, office banter and child-free lunch hours being three of them.

But trying to manage full-time hours with other freelance writing jobs, the school run, seeing friends and family, trying to have quality time with Mini-me and Blue-eyed boy and all those little bits of ‘life admin’ that you have to do to keep things ticking over has been really hard.

Plus on top of everything else Blue-eyed boy is facing challenges of his own (more of which another time), and I need and want to be around to give him all the help and support he needs.

So the upshot is that I’m going back to freelancing – for the next couple of years at least.

When I realised that this was the only decision that made sense for us right now I couldn’t help feeling like a failure. After all so many parents juggle much more than I do on a daily basis, and they manage, so why couldn’t I?

Fortunately a very good friend was around to mop up a few tears and give me some more wise words.

‘You tried it, it didn’t work for you at the moment and so you’re making a change,’ she said. ‘At least you gave it a go, and that’s something to be proud of.’

A much better way of looking at it – and another thing this whole journey has reinforced for me.

Like most mums I really rely on my friends, and I’m lucky because they are a bloody brilliant group.

In fact Amal really should invite them over…

Life – with a side of fried brain

It’s been an age since I last blogged. One reason perhaps why I will never become one of these social media whizzes with tens of thousands of followers.

Another being that I’m a total technophobe who would probably be most at home using a typewriter…

It’s not because I haven’t had much to say either, after all there is a reason that hubby moans endlessly about the fact I don’t shut up. No, let’s just say that life has rather got in the way.

In the space of a couple of weeks I’ve stumbled across a job prospect while not actually looking, accepted a full time post back in the ‘real world’ of an office, packed up and moved house and realised that despite their protestations it will probably be weeks before our builders have, well, left the building.

Not that they’re not nice guys, I just don’t personally think foot long saws left lying around and clouds of choking dust mix too well with a two-year-old still rather unsteady on his feet.

And a four-year-old who is seemingly making a profession out of being a nosy parker and who will stop any actual building work getting done by chatting to the workmen all day long.

This all adds up to what I like to call fried brain syndrome. It’s something I’ve discovered since becoming a parent.

The best way to describe it is a gnawing sense of panic if you think further ahead than a few hours, or try to remember all the school activities you’ve got to pay for, fill out forms for, and find clothes for this week, or try to come up with a workable plan for this week’s copy deadlines.

I presume it’s something that people like Victoria Beckham and Kate Middleton don’t suffer from, probably because they pay a team of people to scramble their brains for them. And probably why their hair always looks good too.

Sadly fried brain syndrome doesn’t mix too well with being a bit of a control freak.

The good news is that, in between making tea rounds for people in my house and ensuring the ‘emergency biscuit supply’ is fully stocked, I have two weeks left to dig out some office appropriate outfits and generally get my act together.

Not having worked outside of my study and various coffee shops for five years I’m not really up on the etiquette of work wear any more. But from what I remember pyjama bottoms and furry socks don’t count as suitable attire?!

Better get on it then. If I remember…