#We’reStillWithHer

Last night as Mini-me and Blue-eyed boy were getting ready for bed I started having a chat with my lovely girl about what would prove to be a momentous day – for all the wrong reasons.

It went a bit like this…

“Tomorrow when you wake up hopefully something amazing will have happened?”

“What? Will it be about chocolate Mummy?!”

“Um, no, better than chocolate. If things go the way we’d like and all our friends would like you’ll be going to school with a woman having gained the most powerful job in the world. That’s really great isn’t it.”

“Why Mummy?”

“Well it means that if you work very hard and treat people with kindness and respect you can grow up to be literally anything you want to. If you wanted you could be Prime Minister of this country.”

“Um, okay… Can I have the iPad for 10 minutes before I go to sleep?!”

Well, it would be a bit hard to expect a five year old to fully grasp the importance of what was, until a few hours ago, a seemingly very real possibility.

The terribly sad thing though is that now Mini-me may not grow up knowing Hillary Clinton’s name, or body of work, or 30 years of service to the American people.

She will of course be all too familiar with a certain orange-hued idiot who whipped up the entire globe into a frenzy over joking about sexually assaulting women, made highly questionable comments about women and people of different races in general, and appeared on a national debate stage without, to my mind anyway, saying much of substance at all.

Unless of course you think the best way to defeat Isis is to have a ‘really good, effective policy plan’ but not tell anyone any of those all-important finer details because then you’ll be, what was it, giving the game away.

Oh and immediately getting rid of affordable healthcare for everyone in your country.

And building a wall to keep out ‘rapists’, and banning an entire religious people from your shores etc etc

Today I, and many, many people we know, feel as despondent and despairing as we did months back on June 24. But it’s even worse than that.

Instead of telling my girl that Hillary Clinton has achieved the near impossible, I can only tell her that it was, in fact, impossible.

I could tell her about the ‘victory’ of the politics of hate, division and fear. I could tell her that America apparently isn’t ready for a woman to run its country. I could paint the picture of a man who got into office in all probability on the basis of promises he now can’t keep and a nation of people irrevocably and violently pitted against each other.

But I’m not going to.

Instead I’ll choose to tell her that sometimes we have to take a different path than the one we hoped for and thought would happen.

I’ll tell her about the woman who, whatever your view of her, tried her best to be a symbol of hope against a vision of hate and isolationism.

I’ll show her videos of Michelle Obama speaking eloquently and with passion and pride and hope with her that maybe she will stand in four years’ time.

I’m still hopeful that when Mini-me is nine she can watch, like I did back in 2008 when Barack Obama made that amazing speech, history being made for all the right reasons.

Because yes we can, we still can, if we keep on believing.

 

 

Hairdressing – With A Side Of Honesty

Since having kids one of my favourite things to do is going to get my hair done.

Yes of course covering the ever-thickening grey strands with a healthy dollop of artificial colour is a highlight (forgive the coiffeur humour!) but actually the best bit is sitting down for an extended period of time with people bringing me magazines and hot drinks.

A rarity these days, to state the bleeding obvious.

The thing I’ve never been that keen on about the hairdressers however is the chit chat, the small talk etiquette of it all.

For some reason I get really paranoid that I’m not giving the hairdresser good value in the chinwag department. Do they want to talk? Are they sick of talking? Why do the stylist and customer over there appear to be actual besties when I can’t think of anything interesting to say?

It’s bloody ridiculous, but sometimes I get so tense about the ‘awkward silence’ that I’ve sunk as low as asking my hairdresser about their holiday plans! I know that’s supposed to be their line but there’s only so much conversation you can have about the current state of salon straighteners…

What is even worst though, and I know I’m not alone here, is dragging the kids to have their tresses trimmed. There is literally nothing so stressful – except perhaps making them have their feet measured, or getting them to stop running around in cinema.

Thankfully these days now that she’s five Mini-me has quite taken to it all. Mainly because we’ve started going to a new place where they use ‘princess glitter spray’ and because I let her watch the iPad.

Blue-eyed boy however is another story.

Not only does he HATE the hairdressers, but ‘The A Word’ means that any outing to the barbers is now fraught with even more stress and, well, just basic hideousness.

We start gearing up to it several hours (or days) before actually leaving the house and only then attempt the trip armed to the gills with snacks little man is happy to consume this week, with at least a couple of episodes of Twirlywoos downloaded onto phone in case, horrors!, the Wifi signal doesn’t work.

Once I’ve actually got him in the chair, I then have to plonk Beebies entertainment directly in his line of vision, plead with hairdresser not to obstruct view with brushes etc., have snacks open and handy just in case of need, and all this while simultaneously holding Blue-eyed boy’s arms down so the snipping can actually take place.

And god, the bit where they try to cut around his ears, or use the clippers. Let’s not talk about it or I might start getting emotional!

The sensory issues triggered by his ASD mean that Blue-eyed boy hates certain materials and the feeling of them on his skin, so trying to put on the bib protector thingy is a total non-starter and can cause him real distress.

He also hates having water sprayed onto his hair, the feel of the scissors, the hairdresser actually touching his hair, and any residual noise interfering with his enjoyment of Great Big Hoo and gang. So a fun time is guaranteed for all.

On our visit this week (put off I might add until my poor child was sporting an actual mullet) I decided to try a new tack – honesty. It’s all part of the adapting to ASD you see. I figure I’m going to have to explain Blue-eyed boy’s condition so many times in the coming months and years that I might as well start as I mean to go on.

So when the hairdresser expressed surprise that little man didn’t like the dinosaur cape that usually goes down a storm, and in fact screamed the house down when confronted with it, instead of mumbling something about him ‘having a bad day’ I told the truth.

I told her that my son has autism, that he’s been recently diagnosed so we’re all still getting used to it and that his symptoms on any given day can include: chewing his clothes, having a meltdown if a piece of fruit he ate yesterday is put on his plate, slapping away other children if he feels they get too close and using language sparingly and only when he feels like it.

I said that ASD is actually very common and could even affect up to one in 60 children. And then I apologised if all this would make her job a bit more difficult than usual on this occasion.

Not only did she not mind, she was actually interested. She took account of what I’d said and tried to make Blue-eyed boy as comfortable as possible. Working together we even managed to keep him in the chair long enough for a pretty respectable cut.

So the upshot is that I think I’ll be sticking with this new honest approach to hairdressing – and other outings.

It just probably won’t extend to not stressing out over small talk etiquette.

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.

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.

 

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…

Drinking, Parenting and rubber ducks

I’ve never been the kind of person to give something up, either in the post-Christmas ‘flabby phase’ or for Lent.

I’m more of the ‘eat what you like and pretend that running after a one and four-year-old equates to proper exercise’ camp. But this year I decided to put the plonk on hold, not as some smug convert to Dry January you understand but really to see how long I could last without it.

(Besides I had a glass or two on my birthday at the start of the month and a small serving at lunch out this past weekend so I wouldn’t fit the proper criteria anyway!)

The result so far is that I’ve managed to pretty much go without my usual nightly glass of wine for more than three weeks. Pretty astounding for me…

One of my early memories back at home from the hospital with Blue-eyed boy is the visit we were paid by our health visitor.

Amongst asking questions about jaundice and feeding she also quizzed us about our drinking habits and how many units of alcohol we consumed on a weekly basis.

We looked at her like she was a bit mad, after all we now had two children under the age of three. Shouldn’t it be obvious then, we thought, that having ‘the odd glass to take the edge off’ was probably going to become a therapeutic – if not medicinal – necessity?

And unlike with Mini-me, I had absolutely no shame second time around in working out exactly how long it takes for a small glass of white wine to work its way out of your system so I could factor this into the feeding schedule. I know, Mother of the Year!

I’ve never really thought much about how becoming a parent has affected my drinking habits. Apart from making the connection that it’s probably gone up as a result.

But when Mini-me started school in September I started to notice that the occasions on which I’d pour myself a glass ‘a little earlier than usual’ were becoming more frequent. Let’s face it sometimes you need a little pick-me up to get through a whingeing bath time episode.

And as one friend said this week, it’s not like we’re out at the pub every other night any more. Vino in the company of rubber ducks can actually constitute a ‘good night’ these days.

Something about juggling even more than I’d been used to in the past though – homework, PTA bits and pieces, reading all the school paperwork, trying to organise regular playdates for Mini-me – with work and, well, just life, meant I’d started to rely on wine perhaps a little more than I should to help me relax of an evening.

Don’t get me wrong. The most I ever drink is a couple of glasses, even on the rare occasions when I am out. And I can’t even remember the last time I had a hangover because, frankly, it’s just not worth it. (God I sound boring!)

I once edited a story at the women’s magazine where I used to work about a mum who hid neat vodka in the iron. If I’d reached this stage I would be worried!

But what’s been nice over the past few weeks is realising that if I can push through the 6pm slump, I’m usually fine with a cuppa come 8.30pm.

(The fact that I seem to have filled the alcohol void with more chocolate and cake-type treats is by the by!)

How long my uncharacteristic drinking behaviour continues for remains to be seen.

We’re moving house in a few weeks so all that lovely packing will probably drive me to drink.

But honestly if I can get through some evenings without reaching for the corkscrew (or more often these days the screw top!) then I’m not going to worry about those days when I text my friends asking whether it’s ‘wine o’clock’ yet.

Because I’m only human – and the fact remains that I have absolutely no desire to become Gwyneth Paltrow.