Tag Archives: Christmas

The Good and the Bad

16 Jan

It’s been a tough few months in the Justgoodenough household, and – frankly speaking – nothing seemed to be good enough.

Both the young ones suffered very badly from the combined effects of a new (thankfully permanent) class teacher and the organised chaos that is the term leading up to the Christmas holidays.

Even with the school routine checked out on the daily visual chart, and any changes discussed, with loads of reassurance from me and their dad, Small Boy and Small Girl were both anxious, cranky and sometimes downright out of control, both before and after school.

Small Boy in particular had several (and I don’t want to think back and count them up as the total would be really depressing!) occasions when I had to act tough and physically dress him and then half drag him into school. We work to always give them a choice in as much as we can, so they both of them feel they have an element of control in their lives, which to be fair, are mostly managed by adults, and rightly so as they are children. Examples are allowing them to choose between toast and bagels, hot and cold cereals, jeans or joggers. Not exciting stuff, but then when you are dealing with a child who point blank refuses to see anything good in the entire school week with the exception of the end of class bell on a Friday afternoon, there isn’t much to work with.

Still, I did as much as I could, and knowing Small Boy and his indefatigable logic, I knew I had to get him into school every day, as if I had wavered just once, and he’d not been actually unwell, he wouldn’t have gone back in again. The worst day was the Monday before Christmas, when I had to call the school and get the head teacher involved. Small Boy was barely dressed, had refused to eat or drink, and then just as I thought he might be calming down, he shot past me and tried to race out of the door.

It was freezing cold, he was only wearing thin trousers and a polo shirt, and his trainers were unlaced. How I moved quickly enough to catch him I shall never know, but I’m pleased I did as I dread to think of how long he might have been missing for.

The head drove down and I bundled him into her car so we could physically get him the very short distance from home into the school building. From there he shot into the classroom – after I blocked the exit – and hid under his desk, rolled into a ball. The TA that he shares with Small Girl and another child was there to keep an eye on him, and the head stayed with him while he calmed down. I know they offered him a banana and a drink when he was able to sit at the desk rather than under it (I came prepared for the lack of breakfast). He didn’t join the other children for the rest of the day, but did do some work at his separate desk.

I felt terrible about pushing him, but I knew I didn’t have a choice. What we hadn’t realised until this year is how badly any kind of change affects him, and it’s getting progressively worse. We don’t know if hormones are involved – he’s nearer 11 than 10 – or whether it’s “one of those things” but we do know that even with every support the school had put into place, it was nowhere near enough.

The Christmas break came a day early as their TA was sick on the last day and they weren’t able to find a replacement. There were too many variables in the day, including an end of term service in the neighbouring abbey, that meant it wouldn’t have been safe to send either of them, so with the head’s agreement I declared a pyjama day and kissed goodbye to my planned six hour’s wrapping marathon.

Behaviour improved a little, but then as soon as the last Christmas present had been unwrapped and the usual roast lunch was dished up, I noticed a profound difference. I won’t say that everything has been perfect since then, but I think knowing there are no more big surprises planned has been a huge relief.

I was dreading them going back to school but in fact it’s been remarkably calm. I did give Small Boy a small chat about maybe seeing if he could try hard to understand that nothing has been “normal” for his teacher since she started as she came right into the whole Christmas plans chaos, and he agreed to try. For school’s part, I insisted that Small Boy be given the choice to work at his separate desk for any lesson, as long as he proved their trust in him by actually working and not messing about or dreaming. Not that he has done either of those things, but it has to be a two-way street. He can hear the class from his desk, just not see them as he is separated by a row of bookshelves. The teacher or TA checks on him regularly, and he has been much happier.

On Wednesday he came home with a sticker on his jumper. Turns out it was for the best child in the class that day. Cue me trying to not cry with pride. Then Thursday he turned up with another sticker, for a repeat performance.

And yesterday? He came out of school with this:

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Small Girl, not to be outdone, came out adorned with a fantastic sticker for being the best in class that day.

Not ashamed to admit I teared up a bit. OK, a lot.

Sadly, the effort of having been so amazing all week was too much for Small Boy who had a (mercifully brief) violent meltdown about an hour after getting home, triggered by something very small. I kept him safe while he raged and then held him until he was calm enough to know where he was. He was quiet after that, and a little subdued, but still able to eat his tea and go to Scouts, more proof that he is handling the new routine pretty well.

So, the good and the bad. It’s a constant balancing act trying to ensure I push for my children to have the adaptations to the school day that allows them to attend, but at the same time not letting them think they can just refuse to go in.

However, I think one thing is clear. Neither of my children can cope with the Christmas term. I have review meetings for both of them next week and top of my agenda will be a concrete plan for November and December of this year. I cannot allow either of them to go through the hell that it plainly is. I dread having to remove them from school, but if that is what it takes to ensure their well-being then I will, but I will be pushing for tutoring too.

It could be a busy year!

 

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Keeping Sane (Just)

22 Dec

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M has not enjoyed December. In fact, she has been on high alert since the schools went back after the half term break in October. Too many changes to the daily routine, and even when they have all been planned in advance, her autistic brain is on overload. Most afternoons and evenings there has been shouting and crying, to the point I seriously wondered about taking her out of school for the remainder of the term.

But, then, would I be helping her if I did? Everybody has some form of stress to deal with, and M’s school is superb in how they adapt and handle her anxieties, which I fear will be part of her life for a long time, if not for ever.

In the end, I left her in school and worked hard at reducing demands even further in the home. To date we still don’t have one single Christmas decoration up, and she has been allowed to trail her fleecy blankets, soft toys and soothers all over the house, even at the dinner table if it helps to keep her calm. And she has had a lot of baths.

Our bath is huge and takes a lot of water to fill it even half way. M adores water, it’s her primary sensory calming tool, and I am permanently grateful we don’t have a meter fitted. Her brother tends to have a shower first then we fill the bath and allow as many toys as M would like. She is always much happier after a good soak, although sadly there can be issues in getting her out of the tub.

Our Christmas will be low-key; a leisurely breakfast after the wild excitement of opening their stockings, then a few presents  over coffee. We always stop part way through, and stick on a DVD to keep the excitement from becoming overwhelming, then it’s back to presents and then a late lunch (keeping strictly to our usual weekly roast for M but extras for anyone who wants them.)

The evening will be Dr Who (of course!) and then in all probability a long bubble bath to help M wind down after a busy day.

I guess what I’m saying is don’t feel you have to conform to what other people might expect of you for the festive season – if it works for you or your child, then go ahead and celebrate the way that you feel most comfortable, even if it does mean you spend 72 hours in your favourite pyjamas.

Happy Christmas everyone.

The Round Robin Rant

14 Dec

I’ve been waiting patiently for the Christmas cards that pop through the letter box with the additional extras, and no, I don’t mean cheques for hundreds of pounds – although that would be very nice thank you if any millionaires are reading this – I mean the Round Robin letter.

Several of our friends and relatives like to write (or usually type these days) a long missive chatting about what they’ve been up to in the past twelve months. Some of the letters are amusing, some a bit sad at times (people and especially pets do have an irritating habit of dying) and some are full-on oh-my-gosh-my-precious-darlings-are-amazing-and-I-am-going-to-boast-about-them-for-two-A4-sheets-of-paper. With photos.

But you know, that’s OK. It’s their letter, so if they want to write a gushing isn’t-Chloe-fabulous post, that’s their prerogative, and frankly if I don’t feel like wading through it, again, it’s up to me. Generally, though, for people who haven’t been great at keeping in touch via phone calls and emails, I enjoy catching up.

But – and let’s be honest you knew one was coming didn’t you? – there is always that ONE person who rubs you up the wrong way. I shall refer to my bete noire as D (cos I’m not mean enough to use her real name)

I have known her since our eldest children were babies, and we’ve always got along just fine. She is, by choice, a stay at home mum. Again, I have no issue with this, so am I. But here is the problem. Every year for as long as I’ve been receiving one of these missives, the following line has cropped up

“……..D has once again made many sacrifices this year…..” And it goes on to detail how she has managed to meet up for the occasional coffee etc.

Now I’m not a complete cow. Or at least I don’t think I am. One of her children had a long-running health issue, which coincided with the family having a run of bad financial luck, so for a considerable time pennies were stretched and she was at the beck and call of a sick kid. Please note I said sick, not dying, not terribly disabled, nothing terminal. Upsetting and not pleasant, definitely. The end of the world, most certainly not.

The year when everything was at its worst I read the above line and I did feel that yes, D had had a tough year of it, and her wishes and needs had been at the bottom of the crap heap that can sometimes be our modern lives. So I felt a pang of sadness for her.

But this same “oh woe is me” line has cropped up every sodding year since! She lives in a big,spacious and beautiful house, her husband is in full time work, both her children are living productive and full lives, both in education and socially. They have holidays, and they have social lives.

So tell me, what part of her life is she “sacrificing?” She is a Stay At Home Mum. The job title kind of gives the main elements of the job away. It’s not particularly glamorous; there is a lot of boring housework (well rather less of that if you’re a slob like me) there are endless taxi runs to places you have no interest in but your kids adore, there are endless meals to cook, uniforms to clean, homework to check, and so the list goes on.

But that is what I signed up for. I wanted to be there before my kids went to school, and the minute they came home, and I feel insanely privileged that Hubby earns enough for me to be able to do this. I want to be able to go to every school concert and sports match, and nativity play, and to maybe get invited along on the occasional school trip as a parent helper.

I get coffees with other mums at times, and more often than not I’ll bump into one of them in the supermarket and we will chat for a while. When the kids were smaller there were toddler groups; now I am a scout leader and I am involved that way.

D’s line annoys me as I think, supposing she was a mum with a child who was non-verbal, ten years old and still in nappies, unable to feed them-self or be left alone for a second? Suppose her child had a life-limiting condition? Suppose she was watching one of her precious children lose both their sight and their hearing? Suppose her primary-age child had just been diagnosed with cancer? These are all examples of situations that have or are happening to people I know, and do you know what? I don’t think any of their mums would consider that they are making sacrifices. I think they would say they are “being there” for their kids, hoping that tomorrow is better than today, and soberingly in a lot of cases, just hoping that there will be a tomorrow.

So, thank you for reading. I don’t know quite why she bugs me so much, but I shall spend Christmas hoping fervently that she doesn’t let her kids know she considers looking after them a sacrifice.

Gratitude

23 Dec

We have so much to be grateful for. It struck me tonight as we were all sitting down to a takeaway meal of our choice that for many people, even those with so-called decent jobs, takeaways really aren’t an option. Then it started me thinking about all the other things I take for granted and just how lucky I am.

Food – by most peoples standards I guess our family has unlimited food. As dd1 has noted since she’s gone to university, “I won’t ever say there’s nothing to eat again. Just because I might not fancy what’s in the cupboards doesn’t mean I should moan about being hungry when there are so many options.” And she’s right. Since following the frankly rather wonderful Jack Monroe, both on Twitter and her blog (A Girl Called Jack) I have forced myself to think more creatively about ingredients and not to waste anything. I can’t slash our budget as much as I’d like due to small boy’s serious food intolerances, but that just leads me onto another point:

Health. Or more specifically the health services we enjoy. There’s always a story of a disaster and a hospital making a mistake, but then again news is push-button instant these days. I’m sure there were just as many errors fifty years ago but we never got to hear of them. Two of my children have been diagnosed with autism, and although there have been some serious hiccups in the process at times, my family do have that assurance of some support with the challenges my kids face. And let’s not forget the routine GP appointments for the everyday ailments like migraines, tonsillitis, excema etc; a few minutes waiting in a heated room to see a professional who then gives you a piece of paper that entitles you to the correct medication to make you well again. That is pretty amazing when you look at it like that. And being a mother of five children there have been weeks when I’ve seen more of our local GP than I have of my husband!

Family – there’s another one. I might moan about them, in fact I’m sure I do, but I treasure my family, they’re what makes me “me”. Being a mum was always the one thing I wanted above all else when I hit my teens so finding the Right Man (and keeping him -so far!) and having his children has been what I felt I was made for. We don’t have a very close extended family outside of grandparents and siblings but you know something? That’s OK. Other people who aren’t related have come into our family and they mean so much to us that I struggle to think of them as “just” friends. Maybe the saying that Friends are the family you would chose for yourself is never truer with us.

Where I live. I reside in what I generally consider to be the most beautiful part of the universe – the Highlands of Scotland. Nuff said!

Twitter. Not exclusively twitter as I have met some lovely people on-line through other sites, but on Twitter I have found so many parents like myself, just getting from A to B on a daily basis and trying not to lose the plot on the way. I’m not going to start naming names as it would take me far too long for one post, but I think you probably know who you are as you’ll either be reading this, or commenting, or maybe even RT’ing it. I can share their joys, and also their sorrows, and they share mine, and each time we connect I feel a wee bit closer to them and a lot less on my own, as sometimes I can be. I can truthfully say I love my tweeps! 

Anyway, I could go on all night, I’ve barely started. So I’ll just say I am personally very grateful for Christmas, this year especially, as with one child at boarding school and another now at university, this is a precious family time.

I hope you can all find something to be grateful for too. 

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Silent Sunday

22 Dec

Silent Sunday

Rant!

19 Dec

What is the point of my going into school expressly to discuss an upcoming event that M is going to really struggle with, think it’s all been sorted and then find out that my views and wishes were ignored and they were planning to take her anyway? Yes, really, this is what happened.

I’ll explain. The usually very good primary school have f***ed up. Bad enough that M is hanging onto coping with all the end of term changes and “excitement” by the skin of her teeth, but the proposal was that today all the school would be transported into the local town to do some carol singing at a supermarket. M had told me, in a quiet moment, that she really was not going to go, and when I questioned her further, she couldn’t give me any reasons, but repeated again and again that she wasn’t going. So, I went into school and spoke about my concerns. They know that she is only just dealing with the ludicrous amount of changes to her daily routine AND that she doesn’t do well in crowds, but for some reason the teacher was keen that she came along. She suggested that she could “go for a walk” if she didn’t want to join in. I stated quite clearly that as I was one of the drivers (all legal up here, we have a volunteer force of parents for the local trips and guess who gets asked first due to car size?) it would be a futile exercise to take her, as she would run away from her 1 to 1 and insist on being with me the whole time, making a mockery of her learning to rely on the staff during school hours. 

I left thinking this was all resolved and she would not be going. Until I saw her timetable for today which clearly stated “carol singing”. Of course, this prompted massive upset and in a slightly rash moment I actually promised her that she would not be going regardless of what the timetable said. Into school I went. 

It turns out that no-one thought to mention to me the very important fact that the 1 to 1 is not allowed by law to stay with M without a teacher around. Now, whether I agree with this or not is moot as it is law, and I respect that, but they had “thought around” the problem by deciding she’d be going anyway. I got a bit shirty then. I was very polite but I stated that I was not prepared to put M through the trauma of the crowds and then being kept away from me, and neither was I prepared for her or the rest of us to be caught up in any post-school meltdowns. There was a short stand-off. Fair play to the teacher, she came up with a workable solution. Due to class contact hours (some other rules) she wasn’t going with the children this morning and would in fact be through in the nursery. M could stay with her there. So, in the end, the 1 to 1 went through to help with transport and numbers and M stayed back in the (relative) quiet of the nursery.

I stayed for the carol singing. The children from two schools were crammed into the draughty foyer of the supermarket and there was barely room for the customers to get in and out of the store. The children were all bunched up tightly together. I actually felt uncomfortable watching them and I know it was the right decision for me to push for M not to go. She could easily have bolted straight out of the store and into the car park. The weather was sleety and visibility wasn’t the best. I can only conclude that no risk assessment was done for this outing.

There is another “outing” tomorrow. The children from M’s school will be taken to the sister school for the end of term assembly. Again, there is no provision for M to stay behind (although I had originally been told she was going to be able to stay and help with last minute tidying etc – which she would have liked). Instead, they are going to take all her things with her, and “if she can’t cope she can go to the library”. Having spoken to M this afternoon she doesn’t want to try the assembly – too many people she doesn’t know – so I will be writing in her contact book that both M and both her parents request that she is taken straight to the library for the duration of the assembly. 

And I shall be having words at the next review meeting. Regarding Christmas preparations, “school must do better.”

TGIF

13 Dec

What a week.

Apart from my dubious mental health and pretty rubbish coping skills this week, poor M is feeling the strain of the approach of Christmas at school and it is spilling over into everything at home. As much as school are keeping her to a strict visual timetable there are just too many changes to the norm for her to be able to be anything but very unsettled.

I dropped the packed lunches off on the way to the shops this morning and saw M through the window of the gym hall – she was curled up on a bench at the side – and I noted that they were doing “social dancing” (Scottish country dancing). She had a wonderful time last week so I was surprised to see her so obviously miserable. I was let into school and was having a quick word with the head teacher when M hurtled out of the hall and into my arms like a missile on a mission. She was really upset and needed considerable cuddles before she would allow me to detach her (boy she does weigh a lot when clutching my neck in a stranglehold).

She was definitely still very uptight on the way home from school, and even the purchase of a Friday treat of Maltesers didn’t help much. She couldn’t settle at anything, and needed lots of encouragement to eat her pizza at teatime.

Finally I managed to get her into her pyjamas and then suddenly the dam burst and so many words came tumbling out of her, all so negative and heart-rending that i wanted to run away so I didn’t have to listen. I think when she is so confused and despairing it comes out as self-hatred and wanting to “not be here any more” as well as thinking everyone hates her. She kept repeating that she needed me to be in school with her all the time “otherwise I think you won’t come back for me mumma”. What the hell can I possibly say to that? I have never ever given her cause to think I won’t be there for her; if I have been out in town and concerned I might be even 2 minutes late for the school run I pull over and call the secretary so she can tell M I am on my way. I KNOW that my little girl’s life is ruled by her anxiety, and I do everything I can to prevent it worsening, and then she says this.

It breaks my heart. Am I doing the right thing in making her attend school? She does like social interaction, and can cope well most of the time now she has 1 to 1 support, but maybe I am barking up the wrong tree and I am actually really damaging her. Maybe every time I watch her go through those doors in the morning I am condemning her to almost 6 hours of unremitting emotional torment. I just don’t know. And she can’t tell me.

There are five more school days in this term. The last one has a Christmas service at the sister school in the next village, but M has told me that she can’t deal with being in a place with lots of people she doesn’t know, so I will be talking to school on Monday to arrange an alternative morning for her. I even asked what she would choose to do and she said “art” so I will see if there is a decoration she can bet set to making as there are bound to be lots of scraps of glittery paper around.

And then we will have two weeks off, no school, no dancing classes, no Sunday School, just us, all seven of us home for the holidays. With any luck I can persuade E, “uni sister” to drop her mainly nocturnal habits for a fortnight and give M some desperately needed sibling cuddles, and we shall tackle January when it arrives.

Thanks for reading.

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