New Year Musings and Milestones Worth Celebrating

Let’s face it on a global scale 2017 wasn’t the greatest was it.

Unless you’re a fan of orange-hued ego-maniacs with a bigger love of irrational and grammatically incorrect social media usage (‘Covfefe’ anyone?) than the importance of international diplomacy and the uncomfortable truth that sexism and sexual harassment against women is still a horrific reality in far too many workplaces.

On a personal level many people I know have faced difficult hurdles this year, including bereavement, anxiety attacks, bureaucratic battles that weren’t so much uphill as vertical, serious health worries (both mental and physical) and struggles to cope with difficult news and change.

We’ve had our fair share to deal with as well in the Neat Freak household, and my OH and I have commented infrequently that 2017 has probably been the toughest year of our lives so far – but it’s also been the most rewarding in many ways.

After the initial shock of the A Word diagnosis, now some 18 months ago, we’ve all grown as a family and learned much about what this lifelong condition is, how it’s somehow curiously the same and ever-changing as well as being ever-present, and how it can bring as many joys as it does difficulties.

A lot of what we thought we knew about the future has altered and we’ve had to learn to accept (sometimes grudgingly) that when autism affects a member of your immediate family it’s easier to take things a day at a time and not look too far ahead, even if occasionally that really hurts.

As a mum I’ve always hoped that my children will be able to pursue their chosen path in life, with many doors and possibilities open to them, but with Blue-eyed boy I’ve had to accept that his autism may mean some things are more difficult for him.

As someone who was bullied at school I fiercely vowed a long time ago that no one would ever pick on my kids, but I’ve had to swallow the fact that Blue-eyed boy will probably be an ‘easy target’ for unkind people who prey on the little quirks and differences that others fortunately celebrate. I’ve had to learn to grow a thicker skin.

And hardest of all, we’ve had to come to terms with the fact that Blue-eyed boy may never be able to attend mainstream school and that, even though this was the right  option for us and Mini-me, the best one for him involves a place at the local special school – at least for the next couple of years.

But what we’ve also learned is how the A Word shakes up your view of the world around you in glorious kaleidoscope technicolour, and how things you once took for granted or viewed as ‘little’ can suddenly be the ones that light up your day.

Things such as your child using new words and stringing several of them together, doing a simple jigsaw puzzle by themselves and beaming with pride when you praise them, dividing numbers into odds and evens leading you to wonder if one day they’ll be a ‘maths genius’ and watching your two kids play brilliantly together because as well as being a fan of Barbie’s Dream House the eldest sibling is also a carer at the age of just six and kind and accepting beyond her years.

2017 was a year of many firsts – a new specialist pre-school, many new friends, new understandings and knowledge and a dawning realisation that we’ll never stop having to battle the local council and fight for our child.

2018 will no doubt bring many new challenges, highs and lows for us and others close to us. But with the support of our family and good friends hopefully we’ll all come out smiling the other end.

And if all else fails Trump may get impeached. Fingers crossed on that one.

 

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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.

Feeling thankful for the ties that bind

Well we’ve reached that ‘weird bit’ in the middle of Christmas and New Year again.

When you stop feeling festive, may be working and try to kid yourself that it really isn’t possible to put on half a stone of flab in a week.

(It is of course and the only way to deal with it is to demolish another box of chocolates and curse the person who gave them to you. It’s all their fault that your skinny jeans no longer fit – obviously!)

When you wake up thinking you must have a night off the booze and find yourself downing a G and T by 7.30pm.

Usually this time of year my thoughts turn to New Year’s resolutions. The ones I didn’t keep last year, the ones I hope I’ll stick to this year and the ones that will probably always be wishful thinking.

It’s also a time for family and good friends of course and how, despite occasionally driving each other bonkers, pondering just how crucial they are to keeping you sane.

Someone wise once said to me that really close friends are often a second family, the family that you choose.

Not that this means you wouldn’t choose your actual family you understand, just that the people you know you’ll always be able to rely on aren’t limited to the ones you’re related to.

Since becoming a mum I’ve realised just how true this is. When we started our little family with Mini-me friends that I’ve known for decades became even more important to me – even if having kids in tow means that literally years can go by between us meeting up.

I know that should I ever need them they’ll be there, no matter what different directions life has taken us in.

But also the new friends you make as a parent, especially when thrust into the scary world of becoming one for the first time, are some of the most important of your life.

There’s no pretence or glamour about discussing the perils of labour, breastfeeding and which bits of you have gone irreversibly saggy, but that’s why the bonds you forge are so quick and so strong.

It’s been less than five years that I’ve known many of my mum friends, but they’ve seen me through not only those sleep-deprived, blurry, wonderful early days, but also a heart-breaking miscarriage and the darkness that followed, a difficult pregnancy and then adapting to life with two and keeping both offspring alive without losing the plot completely.

I really don’t know what I would do without them now and I say a little prayer for them coming into our lives every single day.

So whether they’re living next door to me or hundreds of miles away I think this is probably the perfect time of year to say a massive thankyou.

Thanks for understanding when I want a glass of wine and not a cuppa at 4.30pm on a playdate.

Thanks for picking up Mini-me from school for me when I’m poorly.

Thanks for listening when I need a protracted, disjointed, barely comprehensible rant.

Thanks for pointing out all the good things on days when I can only see the grumbles.

Thanks for making me laugh until my bloody pelvic floor lets me down again.

Thanks in advance for sticking around for the next five years. And the forty after that!

And Happy New Year, of course, to you and yours.

Things I’ll never get used to as a parent

I’ve just had one of THOSE mum mornings.

You know the type, where nothing, and I mean nothing, goes right. Where you’re running stupidly late, again, and trying to speed up somehow only results in everyone moving even slower.

Where your semi-decent, moderately coordinated, mostly stain-free, outfit is soon drenched in sweat as you start to overheat wildly at the effort of shepherding offspring out of the house while trying very, very hard to not lose your temper.

(At least you hope it’s that because otherwise you must be suffering from the hot flushes of early onset menopause.)

When your need for caffeine is so strong that you wonder whether you will actually be able to cope physically with the toddler whinging currently ringing in your ears until you reach the rendezvous point where you can access some.

It paints a pretty picture doesn’t it?!

Today I also spent 20 minutes huffing and puffing over trying to install the new ‘easy fit for all models’ foot muff to our buggy whilst poor blue-eyed boy broke his heart sobbing because, funnily enough, Mummy couldn’t cuddle him at the same time.

Clearly I’m just crap though because while fiddling with the stupid stroller straps constituted some kind of Krypton Factor challenge for me, BFF calmly sorted the whole thing in about two minutes at soft play. Show off!

Anyway the point of all this rambling, and there is one I assure you, is that there are some things I think you never really get used to as a parent.

For me the biggest one is being able to get out of the house calmly and on time. No matter how much I plan and pre-pack, no matter how much time I allow it just never happens.

Friends have assured me it ‘gets easier’ but mini-me is almost three-and-a-half now and frankly I just don’t believe them.

The person who articulates best what a nightmare vacating home can be in the mornings is comedian Mike McIntyre.

Google his ‘people with children just don’t know’ sketch and I promise that you will soon be crying with laughter. It’s basically my life.

Here are a few of the other things I don’t think I’ll ever quite adapt to.

*Clearing up other people’s poo

There’s no nice way of saying it is there. I remember at 17 babysitting for some children round the corner and realising with horror that I’d have to wipe a three-year-old’s bottom. Things have never really improved from there.

My personal poo highlight is when it goes up your fingernails mid nappy change. You may try to deny it but you know what I’m talking about…

*Never having a lie in

I have dim memories of weekends long past when I didn’t have to get up before 8am. And no staying in bed with a toddler and large baby sitting on your head doesn’t count.

*Missing the cinema

Hubby and I used to love going to see a good film whenever we liked. Of course we can still go now but planning a night out at the flicks can constitute a military operation so it’s just often easier to wait for the DVD.

*Lack of personal space

Three year olds really don’t care if you need a little time to yourself do they – and I’m only talking about thirty seconds trying to restore your sanity while hiding behind the kitchen door here. Is it really that much to ask?

*The endless questions

‘Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, Mummmmmmaaaaayyyy….’ (Add your own screeching sound effects here. And the optional banging – yes, that’s your head against the wall.)