The Gambler

So I guess I’ve been a little absent recently. Truth is I’ve never wanted to be more absent. I’m tired. I’m fed up. I just don’t wanna. This corona business has tired us all out. It has sometimes felt like we’re on a train bound for nowhere. A one year anniversary seemed unimaginable a year ago. What seemed like a crazy detour from the normal way of life has become the easiest route to get about. Masks, social distancing and managing virtual friendships, schooling and working online are all the norm now: leaving the house it’s now, wallet? keys? phone? mask? You betcha!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When our governor declared everything could open up at 100% and masks were no longer mandated, I felt sick. I personally didn’t think with my extensive Facebook and Twitter knowledge of this pandemic, that we were quite there yet…we needed to hold tight a little while longer just to get us nearer the end line. Vaccinations were hard to track down. Pretty much as soon as they opened a waiting list, it would fill up. Some people may probably feel I was wearing my tin foil hat a little tight but the worry of catching the Rona and being hospitalized whilst our family lived 5000 miles away in a country with equally atrocious numbers….how would I keep the kids safe?

But luckily, it seemed the lovely little Arctic blast Texas experienced, only slowed down the vaccine distribution just as it was ramping up. As soon as we got ourselves dried out and someone put the plug back in, the vaccines started to make their way down here. I went from being unable to even get on a list before it closed to signing up in the morning and receiving word of an available appointment that evening. And judging by the Book of Faces, most of my friends have had similar success. Whilst we feel incredibly lucky to have kept our jobs and health, we know many around us who have not been that fortunate. I know most people fully recover but some don’t: 540,000 families in the US will vouch for that. Technically, we’ve always been able to return to the UK but with quarantine and the risks of exposing everyone, we felt it was a roulette game we didn’t want to bet on. I suffered a sore arm but the immediate relief was far more valuable. I just couldn’t believe by sitting there and exposing my my right arm that I could see all the financial worries, all the physical worries, the isolation, the uneasiness of not being a scientist and understanding the vaccine or disease, the disrupted education for millions of children around the globe including my own, begin to become something of a history lesson rather than a current affair. It seemed incredible this little vial potentially held the key to a freedom I had never previously appreciated until it was taken away. This little needle seemed far too insignificant for the gravity of what it would be giving me back. The peace of mind I’ll see loved ones again one day. It gave me real hope.

And, I can’t wait for this to end. Life goes on in the meantime and in some ways that’s what’s hard. The shared experience is missing. Christmas was strange for us because living overseas means we’ve become accustomed to missing family and using Facetimes to bring us together to celebrate the season. Seeing so many people feel so isolated doing this when it was the first time all year that felt like something was actually normal for us. Does that make sense? The difference is choice I guess. We chose to move abroad. Nobody chose covid isolation. Covid seemed to stop the world for a while but it didn’t stop life. Little things that wouldn’t have bothered me before seemed harder. The inability to reach out and hug a friend when they need a hug. My Dad’s ill and there isn’t a damn thing I can do to help and I can’t get a hug from those who would take my tears and sit silently with me as I learn unwillingly to accept it. I should say that Rich has been a star obviously and there’s a couple who I hope will instead, get rip roaringly drunk with me as we dance our sorrows away to a bit of Lukey. I know they would but times as they are, means I’m relying on cyber hugs instead and frankly, they just don’t cut the mustard.

So in all honesty it’s all felt a bit miserable: 2020 gave way to 2021 but the new year just continued to deal every one a bad hand. The fear of saying aloud you’re not happy because you know others are dealing with greater issues. The hesitation in telling family we’ll probably see them next year because we now know we were wrong when we said it last year. Watching people have their time of their lives on social media as if nothing is happening and wondering if you are just being kookoo. I wondered if people are as happy as they seem: In fairness, I only ever put out the good bits on Facebook. So who is bluffing who?

I don’t pretend to know if this is going to go away soon. I don’t pretend to understand the science behind the vaccine although I fully appreciate it will make a few people very rich. Yes, I did worry that I was going all in on the hopes that this vaccine would resolve an issue some believed to be fake news, a distraction, created far too quickly to be reliable but I so need this not to be a bluff. I’m not gonna fold. I am grateful we live in a world where we have science to fall back on. Modern grave yards are not filled with young children because science found ways of preventing unnecessary early deaths with its strive to hunt down vaccines and antibiotics.

I guess I’m just going to have to go with the flow and hope that this vaccination does what it says on the tin. We saw the boys neurologist this week and he gave me hope things were turning a corner. It was our first in person visit too since the pandemic began so that’s a good sign (although I admit I preferred the ease of logging in on the PC to uttering prayers and curse words as we navigate that white knuckle ride they call the i10 to get there-sometimes I wonder how we have survived Houston traffic, let alone a bloody pandemic). I do feel more positive about the future of the pandemic. I’m keen to get my second shot on Friday and breathe a sigh of relief that I don’t have to worry about people not wearing masks near me. In fairness, the Governor’s mandate has hardly changed things…most folks are wearing them everywhere. For so long, I’ve felt like the thin cotton mask some folks are happily burning, has been the only protection from the pandemic. It gave me a sense of security (and civic duty) when we went out and I’m not yet ready to give that up so we’ll keep masking up for the time being. And hopefully as the vaccination program continues on, we’ll begin to see real progress on the relegation of Covid-19 to the history books! So hopefully we will see England next year!

Writing was one of the good things to come out of the pandemic. I never realized how much I enjoyed it. But recently, I couldn’t find the words no matter how hard I tried. They all seemed like a lie. I have a series of unfinished drafts languishing in my wordpress account that never seemed to be right. But I was chatting to friends the other day and basically, they pulled me out of this funk. Maybe my words are silly, and self serving but I can say hand on heart that reaching out to people and taking a bet that they will not think you daft for your problems, only daft for not sharing them sooner is the main message of this self indulgent ramble! You know who you are and I’m laughing because you keep interrupting my creative flow with your funny texts!

PS: this Spring Break me and the kids learned how to play Texas Hold ‘Em this week so there’s your tenuous song link…Whilst I bet most of us feel like we could raise each other, I’m slowly learning when to hold my anxieties and when to fold ’em.

And PPS: On Greys Anatomy they did this backward hug thing that seems like it may offer a little comfort to those in need so if you’re sad and you see me reversing you’ll know why…I can even beep if it makes you feel a little more comfortable!

Chasing Cars

Hey y’all! Well it’s been a while since I last got out the Chromebook and regaled you with our adventures but I’ve been busy. We’ve just spent every free moment of the last three or so months at the hospital. But please don’t worry. We’re all healthy. It was Seattle Grace or Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital as we now know it to be. Real life got a bit too serious and we really needed an escape.

Having watched most of Netflix, we found ourselves between shows. A crazy idea came to me as we were scrolling through trying to find something to make staying home seem more palatable. Enter Grey’s Anatomy: 16 seasons, 20 plus episodes a season. This would keep us busy. Rich had actually stopped watching Grey’s halfway through the last season when it became a little too preachy. I’d taken a break but kept recording the episodes and sure enough, after a few weeks found myself making a weekly appointment again. Now we were both showless. What if we went back to the beginning? Back to the original five. Back to a young Meredith, Yang, Alex, Izzy and George. We could see those beautiful people all fall in and out and in again of love. Watch them fight, cry, nearly die, and ultimately learn something deep and meaningful whilst coincidentally saving lives. We knew it was a commitment and knew not everybody would be getting out alive. I was hesitant but a chance to reunite with McDreamy and more importantly McSteamy? I’m in! It was a beautiful day to save lives so we hit the play button on Netflix and got lost in the drama.

Years ago, I remember being in HMV looking for a birthday present for myself and Rich remembered my sister telling him she thought I’d like this show about some ridiculously beautiful surgical interns in Seattle. So all out of other ideas, and worrying about the cost of the car parking in the Eagle Center he picked up the first 5 seasons box set. Eventually a few weeks later, I sat down one afternoon after having cleared a space on the sofa of all the toddler toys strewn about and put the first episode on. I then very impatiently waited for Rich to come home. I explained I thought he may like it so wanted him to watch it and he begrudgingly agreed to watch the first episode again with me. Luckily against his better judgment, even he was won over by the beautiful doctors and so began our first ever binge watch of those first five seasons. And every year since we’ve anxiously awaited the escapades of those handsome doctors and followed them from bumbling interns to being the award winning and respected surgeons they grew to be under Webber and Bailey’s fine mentoring.

And oh my word, it was wonderful. I can’t remember when we actually started rewatching it but with current events being the way they are, it offered the perfect escape. We laughed louder and cried harder (although I should say, Rich got stuff in his eyes more). We knew when we came home from a hard day’s work and had to face covid or election headlines or just the challenges life can throw at you, we knew we had an escape. We could bolt to Seattle and forget about our issues for 42 mins.

It made me sad on occasion that my foray into the hospital world had ended with my graduation. I’m not saying Grey’s Anatomy was the reason I decided to become a nurse but it did give me a push. But selfishly, I realize how lucky I’ve been to not have to face the reality of covid on a daily basis. I spent three years training and qualified to become a nurse and even got a job on the wards but life threw us an unexpected curveball and we moved to the States before I had chance to put on the blue uniform. And although I absolutely loved nursing, being 5000 miles from the best childcare meant I was hesitant to commit to it again. Had things happened differently, I know my family would have come face to face with the harsh realities of covid. Instead, I got to bake and complain about boredom whilst my class of 2014 cohort ran themselves ragged and risked their lives hoping people like me will stay home and stop the spread.

My hoodie confirming I graduated and could’ve been on Grey’s but you’ll have to zoom in to find my name!

Actually watching Grey’s again made me realize how the argument for masks preventing communication was ridiculous. Those long stares, those raised eyebrows, those smiling eyes were all too apparent above the surgical masks and dying patients. I never noticed how much their luminescent eyes conveyed whilst wearing masks and saving lives. Maybe it was “smell the fart” acting on occasion but their masks never stopped me understanding the dialogue, unspoken or aloud. The folks at Grey Sloan Memorial had unwittingly spent 15 years preparing me for masked communication without me realizing it. It only made me sad I couldn’t see their beautiful chiseled faces. As someone who struggles with hearing loss, they are a pain in the butt sometimes even though I can’t read lips, they do get in the way of communicating fully. I was going to buy one of those masks with windows so I could avoid this problem but then realized I didn’t ever need to see my own lips! I need everyone else to wear them! What a doofus! But I’d rather say pardon a few times than wear a ventilator ya know, so just call me Buttercup!

Anyway, I loved the drama. Being a bleeding heart liberal made the story lines all the more important to tell although it felt like they were preaching to the converted sometimes. Being English and having experienced the free healthcare of the NHS, I find it hard to believe children and adults have to forgo treatment here because of cost. People are made homeless because of medical bills for cancer treatment. We, ourselves have even turned down recommended healthcare because of the expense and we have good insurance! It seems so wrong having experienced the NHS. I know the NHS is not a perfect system but it should be protected because the alternative here seems to have much greater, immeasurable costs that make me wonder how those in charge sleep at night. But wait, I’ve gone all Meredith. This wasn’t meant to be a soapbox post.

It was an actual delight to meet up with those doctors and patients again. They felt like old friends. We smiled insanely throughout the marathon. I cried pretty much every night as our residents battled to save lives, careers and broken hearts but it almost felt like a pressure release on occasion. Plenty of times recently, I’ve needed to cry at the absurdity of 2020 and rewatching Grey’s gave me an outlet. And although not all of our favourite friends made it to the current series, I feel happier for knowing them even briefly. Even though I should stress I do actually know it’s really just a shiny over dramatic piece of fiction (although I’m keeping a biro handy ready in the eventuality of Rich choking and me needing to perform an emergency cricothyroidectomy stat!)

Hmmm… I’m not sure why I love this show?!!!

It was Grey’s Anatomy gave me the idea to name all my blogs from songs and their recurring song Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol was a fave before I’d ever seen my first “ten blade”. It was perfect for the show. I loved the lyrics then and now they feel even more appropriate. I saw that when I tentatively suggested rewatching it, my hubby agreed to do it all, waste time watching it, on our own, to lay there and just forget the world with me. That’s just such a Grey’s Anatomy ending right?!

But now we’re lost…we chased the car to the end! What do we watch now? All suggestions gratefully received.

Can’t Take My Eyes Off You

Oh bloody hell! It’s back! We figured with the Covid epidemic raging this last year, we’d be offered a reprieve from its annual addictive pull but apparently not! Somehow they managed to find a socially distanced workaround so now we’re faced with another ten weeks of anguish and despair as we try to convince ourselves we miss family more than Bakewell tarts, sausage rolls and cornish pasties. Every year, the biggest pangs of homesickness always come from watching that damn Great British Baking Show.

We moved here nearly six years ago and have fully embraced the foodie culture here. Living in Houston, we’re blessed with such a diverse range of cultural offerings. Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, French, Brazilian, South African, Japanese, Mexican, Tex-Mex, Turkish, Indian, Korean, Chinese, American and (apparently) English and Irish cuisines are all readily available. I have never seen such an amazing array of restaurants from your cheap as chips street vendors and takeaways, cafes, family restaurants, pub grub and then establishments that are a bit posher and I don’t consider myself grown up enough to visit. I remember one wonderful night with a friend when we decided to treat ourselves to trying this popular and “cool” restaurant as it had pretty lights, rave reviews and looked quite fun. But when we opened up the menu, I was a bit put out at the prices so we had a starter each and made it last as we spent the rest of the night in giggles.

Whenever we travel, I usually have grand plans for the meals we’ll eat. I wanted Chinese in San Francisco, enchiladas in New Mexico, fancy seafood in Monterey, cheesecake in New York…I instead got Burger King, Subway and “English style” fish ‘n chips in that order but I did get the cheesecake naturally! It’s sometimes easier to enjoy the dream than the plate. I’m sure I’d enjoy the plate but travelling to new and exciting places is not the same for all of us in our family. If an old faithful order of the Golden Arches’ finest chicken nuggets is going to give one of us a sense of familiarity and ease our anxiety, you know for sure, I’m gonna know exactly where the nearest establishment of fine boxed offres de poulet avec deux sachets de sauce barbecue can be found. In fairness, the San Francisco Chinese turned Burger King was more my fault. I found a hotel with an amazing rate for its location. It was beautiful inside with high ceilings and ornate coving. It looked very decadent and I was most chuffed with my bargain hunting prowess. I was somewhat curious about its excellent security though. As we set off on our adventure to realize my long awaited dream of Chinese food in the City by the Bay, it became apparent that it was a cheap hotel for a reason. Sadly I didn’t read the reviews properly and having walked two blocks, it was obvious that the area was a draw for daytime drinking out of brown paper bags. When the delightfully inebriated old fella whipped out his tackle to p*$s into the bin next to us, we decided the BK we saw across the road would be a more than suitable alternative dinner arrangement rather than head further into the unknown delights and smells that particular area of San Francisco had to offer. Always read the reviews peeps!

Anyway, back to the point! There’s something about living away from England that whilst most of the time I have adapted my pantry to the local options, there are some things that just don’t meet the gustatory mark. Heinz beans are available here and expensive but the hubster insists on them. The home grown variety are apparently too sweet. The bread here is sweeter too. I think that’s part of the reason I love that Joshie enjoys baking bread as the recipe is just how we remember bread back in England. Oh how we miss Warburton’s! And everything sweet seems to have cinnamon added. They love that stuff over here! Took me a while to get used to it but I almost don’t notice it now. They do have kolaches tho! Why on earth, we don’t have them in England is beyond me. Little bread rolls stuffed with all manner of delectables, sweet or savory. If we move back to England, I guess we’ll just switch Joshie to making kolaches instead.

But back to The Great British Baking Show. Every year we sit down to watch it and it’s like a warm comforting blanket for an hour. We coo and we “awwww” at the offerings the contestants put forward. We celebrate their awesome showstoppers and offer our unheard condolences to their soggy bottoms and burnt buns. Then, we start to reminisce about the greatest bakery ever, Birds. Why has that not achieved global domination?! They should be over here! Oh what we wouldn’t give for a sausage roll, Rich would have an elephant’s foot, Josh a caramel doughnut, Alex a white chocolate mouse and I’d love a simple egg custard! Heaven on a plate, well… in a paper bag more likely.

You know you can’t get sausage rolls over here?! It’s a tragedy. Luckily, Houston has a large number of Brits living here and soon enough someone shared a recipe so Christmas wasn’t ruined anymore. In fact, I made some last Christmas in Colorado for the road trip home. The youngest has always made us question his DNA when it comes to sausage rolls as he isn’t a fan. He’d begrudingly eat the sausage meat but brutally discard the delightful pastry. As the wonderful mother that I am, I made him a sandwich so he didn’t starve on the long trek home. As the more typical mother that I am, I forgot it on the side of the Air BnB’s kitchen counter and only realized when we opened the lunch bags. I explained he could either starve as he felt he was destined to do, till we reached some sort of civilization again or try a sausage roll. I think it was mainly hunger that made him take that first bite but boy, he devoured it. I also think that may be I abuse that he fell in love with Colorado so much, because if we ever fancy sausage rolls, I call them Coloradan sausage rolls now and he is excited because for him, a sausage roll brings back memories of that trip. Whatever works eh?

But The Great British Bake Off: Every episode we watch of the show has at least one recipe that will make Rich look at me with pleading eyes. I try to act like I am above salivating over a TV show but inside I’m arguing with myself about running to the store to buy lashings and lashings of butter and cream and strawberries and chocolate and whatever else is necessary to recreate the contestants offerings. I dread pastry and cake week. Sometimes, I hold firm to the fact I can’t. Sometimes, the call of the kitchen whispering delightful promises of sweet long forgotten English flavors of indulgence becomes too loud and I find myself at the store with a list. We even bought Mary’s and Prue’s books so we can indulge all year round (in between diets of course). I’ve had varying degrees of success but it’s always fun to try. I made pasties yesterday that went down a treat.

Some of our home comforts

We love living here, politics and covid aside. It’s our home. I’m so excited for Thanksgiving coming up and all the taste delights that’s going to bring with Yorkshire puddings high on that list. We may not have access to all our childhood favourites but it’s a fun way to reminisce and be reminded of our loved ones across the miles. I know I’m sad we didn’t manage to make it over the pond this year for a hug and to be honest, we’re not entirely sure when we’ll be able to visit and that hurts so we have to make do with facetimes and much appreciated care packages full of some of favorite goodies. So, whilst unfortunately, the Great British Bake Off seems to magically make my jeans’ waistline feel closer, it also somehow makes me feel closer to family even if they’re unaware of our Netflix viewing antics and with current events being the way they are, that’s much very much appreciated.

Andy William’s baring his soul to his beloved has never felt more like an appropriate blog title than this: It sums up entirely our emotional attachment to this show: You’re just tooo good to be true, can’t take my eyes off you. You’d be like Heaven to touch, I wanna hold you so much…pardon the way that I stare, there’s nothing else to compare. The sight of you leaves me weak, there are no words left to speak….I love you baby, and if it’s quite alright I need you baby….let me love you baby. Jeez, look at me: I’m singing to an egg custard!

Mr Brightside

Well it’s Wednesday and I’m already saying what a week!

We’ve been back in school for six weeks or so now and I’m tired. I had six months off. I have no right to be tired. How can I dare even suggest it?! People worked all the way through this pandemic and I still don’t see them complaining like whiny old me. Maybe it’s because they don’t have time to blog!

We had a little storm roll thru this week. It was funny because I was going so well with my facebook abstinence when I missed a call…or eight calls rather from my step mom. Her birthday card she’d sent me had been inexplicably returned to sender so she panicked and as you do, concluded we’d either been caught up in a hurricane or were trapped in the wild fires. Neither were true but it reminded me to check the weather app. And goshdarnit…we were right in the center of a bright red cone. We’ve lived here long enough to know the storms are often hyped up by the media…the Weather Channel which is our go to is probably the worst for this. But there’s a couple of fellas I follow on Facebook who are pretty reliable and don’t do the hype so my Facebook hiatus was immediately ended as I sought out what the trouble brewing off shore meant…

Truth is, it was so long ago I can’t remember which storm it was. It’s actually a Sunday now, maybe five weeks later but I think it was Beta. Being in the line of two cones for Laura and Marco was unnerving but poor Louisiana has taken the brunt this year. Ever since Hurricane Harvey, I have healthy respect for storms. Being in the cone brings back that anxiety and although experience has taught me, it will likely come to nothing, I make sure we’re stocked up on the essentials (although it was Covid taught me to always have one extra packet of bog roll). As it turned out, we didn’t feel any affects from the storms at all. Most of the school districts closed around us but ours remained open and as much as a day at home would’ve been nice, I guess it was the right call as I don’t think we had more than a brief shower in our area. But the anxiety is always just a red cone away.

The thing is I started writing this post at the end of September and it was going in a whole different direction. I’d been driving to work and Mr Brightside came on my playlist. I had one of those moments where the sun was shining, the road was clear and a favourite tune made taking the right turn into the school’s road seem like an option. Did I have to make the turn? Maybe I should just keep driving? May be I could keep driving and see where I ended up? I live in America now. Road trips here are epic. The scenery is amazing. The feeling of freedom is joyous.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve only done three but that’s three more than I ever imagined I’d do. One was six long hours down the i10 and a little underwhelming but our whistlestop tour of California a couple of years ago and then our trip to Colorado last year were everything I hoped a road trip would be. Empty roads stretching for miles. Landscapes that look like alien planets, barren and desolate. Then hairpin turns with mountain cliff faces obscured by trees promising menacingly to catch the plummeting car in their voluminous branches should the hubster not pay proper attention to the road. Thankfully, he did!

If, on this sunny Friday morning I drove for a couple or so more miles, I’d reach the i10 and a left turn would take me to California and a right turn to Florida. The possibilities seemed endless. But the thing about road trips for me is it’s more special when you get to share them with someone. Now I’m fondly remembering my brief tour of New Zealand with my sister: drinking cheap wine on the beach lamenting we couldn’t see the sunset we’d planned because the damn sun set behind us on the land; getting lost and fearing we’d never be found alive after agreeing to rent a house for $20 each from a heavily tattooed fella but then watching The Secret of My Success in a lovely 3 bedroomed house whilst sipping more cheap wine and sleeping in a nice cosy bed when we should have been holed up in a falling to pieces camper van and her then ruing the decision to let me drive when I turned the wrong way up a street and made the fastest U-turn in the history of time and rickety camper vans. Bless her, she drove me miles to see Mount Doom but on the day it was miserable weather and obscured by cloud so all those miles for me to guess that the base of maybe that mountain or that one was the one! Who knows? But I still tell myself I saw it. Maybe I did! And then we spent a wonderful day at a volcanic spa rejuvenating in its steamy mineral waters and talking about the kids we were missing back home 12000 miles away (but not enough to get out and go back to them obviously)…it was bliss. I was a bit put out on the way back to the campsite after passing a particularly stinky puddle of bubbling volcanic mud when she admitted she thought the eggy smell had been me all day but it’s weird, I can’t smell sulphur now without smiling and being reminded of that so I’ve forgiven her…after I got her assurances that she believed me! But look at me with my tangents…I’ve gone off road again!

So what did I do? Did I make the right turn into school or carry on to adventure? Of course, I made the right turn. I went to work and went home to my peeps afterwards. Road trips are better with someone to share them. And if I don’t get my paycheck there’ll be little chance of affording a proper one!

What I didn’t know when I made that turn was there was a storm brewing just beyond the horizon that would make me want to take us all on a road trip to escape. This post was going to be about something entirely different. The boys returned to school in person the following week after six or so months off. We weren’t ready for the deluge of emotions that would bring. We had struggled with home school and figured in person learning would be the opportunity to draw a line under the experience and move on. We were wrong.

Anyway, that’s kind of why I’ve been absent. There was a huge storm or a road block in our path…you can see I can’t decide which metaphor to go with…I guess I should stick to the road trip metaphor as it’s the Mr Brightside tune that always makes me want to turn the radio up, and sing my heart out and forget everything, wishing I could drive for longer.

Things have settled somewhat and I’m beginning to see a bright side again, we’ve got the umbrella on standby (damn, there’s that weather metaphor creeping in again) and it looks like we’re nearly back to our original route (back to road trip metaphors!) Anyhow, I’m still trying to work out whether it’s my story to tell so I’ll not go into it today. I guess it was just a reminder for me that things often don’t pan out how we expect them to. We can’t always see a reason but we can learn from the experience, even if it’s just that sulphur smell is most definitely not your sister farting.

Shine Your Way

When I had Alex I thought I knew what I was doing with this mother stuff. When I had Alex I thought I knew what was best for my child. When I had Alex I thought good behavior and academic aptitude were paramount in children and would demonstrate to the world I was a good mum. When I had Alex I thought I knew what love looked like.

And then I had Joshie and I realized just like Jon Snow, I knew nothing!

For the first few years of his life, I called him Blondie. First off and quite obviously because he had beautiful blonde hair. But it also struck me he reminded me of Clint Eastwood’s Blondie: always slowly surveying his environment, mysterious, a man of few words. And he wore a hat…and Joshie always seemed to love hats of any kind. Anytime we went to the store, ate dinner or nipped to the park, it always seemed that a viking, astronaut, dinosaur would join us. Often it was just a hoodie but every time I pulled that hood down as we got back inside and with my mother’s sage advice ringing loudly in my mind that I wouldn’t feel the benefit otherwise when I stepped outside again, that kid would just immediately turn around, looking into my soul with a cold hard stare and pull it back up. I’m a slow learner but eventually I got the message that somehow, even if I didn’t understand why, the hats were of benefit inside too!

Anyway, time passes and little toddlers grow up exceedingly fast despite a Momma’s protests. My baby is now a “tween”. Oh what a joy! No seriously. It is. After I’ve had a glass of wine to calm my fraying nerves anyway. I would be lying if I said it was easy. And I would also be lying if I said I wasn’t enjoying watching him learn to navigate the burgeoning responsibilities of junior high he has to face. The independence he has to accept. The maturity he’s developing which demonstrates he knows when the very independence he craves needs a helping hand from Mom or Dad. Dad taught him how to brew coffee today much to his delight-the boy loves a coffee. But I guess that’s the same for all parents watching their offspring head out into the big wide world.

I am a self confessed wannabee helicopter Mom. I struggle to stand back and let him learn for himself. His neurodiversity means he doesn’t always follow the typical path. He has a long list of diagnoses that describe his learning differences and it’s often presented him with challenges. (You can read about our journey to diagnosis here).

Funnily enough, autism was the one we were scared of the most but for him, the challenges of being autistic seem to be caused by us neurotypicals being offended by his honesty. To people who don’t know him, his total, unabashed and forthright honesty is mistaken for rudeness and being argumentative. Seriously, just don’t ask him if you can’t handle the truth. And the hardest thing for him to understand is why people are offended by the truth. It’s heartbreaking when I see the tears welling in his eyes on occasions when I’ve had to sit him down and explain his bluntness has upset someone. It’s never, ever, never his intention to be rude and hurt feelings. He’s just learning how to pander to unspoken, undefined, inate social rules his wiring sees no need for.

An example of this happened as we journey through these unchartered covid homeschool waters. He had an issue that was preventing him from being able to fully participate in his class. He approached his teacher and explained the music on the podcast was distracting him from the actual words he was supposed to be listening to. He struggles with loud noises (despite being one of the loudest people I know) and he couldn’t concentrate to work. So began an epic tennis volley of emails. Josh and me on one team, his teacher and case manager on the other side of the net. Everyone was trying to score but covid had blurred the lines of the court. His IEP, which defined the rules of the game, and which had been very effective in school was no longer able to be followed. Nobody’s fault. Virtual school just doesn’t have the capacity to support it effectively. I’m working so I can’t support him fully even. The crazy thing is I know we were all actually on the same team. His teachers really wanted to see him win, but the virtual environment divided us.

He stood his ground concerned he was upsetting people but seemingly unable to concede, whatever the consequences. It reminded me of the time I was reprimanding him for hitting his brother in the face: “I didn’t hit him! I missed.” He always stands by the truth, bless him.

The issue I struggled with the most was trying to balance his needs against the teacher’s capabilities in a virtual environment. There were occasions I have to be honest, when even I doubted his stance. Why couldn’t he just ignore the music? But he continued to hold firm becoming more and more upset as we encouraged him just to try turning it down so the emails continued back and forth. Trying to decide if the ball was in or not! It got to the point where I dreaded opening my emails as I feared there would be a new screenshot of a perfectly blunt conversation he’d had with his poor teacher who was trying really hard to understand and support him.

The problem was, whenever I read the emails, and tried to find a way to support his teacher’s concerns…his own concern was still valid and the buggar had a bloody good point. We’ve often joked he should be a lawyer as his logical thinking and arguing skills are brilliant. (But not a defense lawyer because ya know…sometimes, your client isn’t innocent and Joshie’d drive them to jail himself!) It was like chastising the Devil’s advocate. You can’t win. You can only concede with grace. Or actually, I had to tell him to give me a minute and ignore my nervous giggles as I tried in vain to find the right words to support his teacher’s complaints. We had hard conversations about his approach. But telling an autistic kiddo who is very literal that you catch more flies with honey was not my greatest parenting moment. It didn’t go as badly as the time I swam up behind him in the pool, declaring myself a shark so he made a split second decision and punched me squarely in the face. When I asked him why, he told me that’s what you do in a shark attack! Nonetheless, he did take some of it on board and tried hard to adapt his manner. But like I implied: the truth hurts and as much as he could try to change the words to be more sensitive, he couldn’t change his message. So the volley of emails continued until his teachers were able to find a compromise.

And a crazy thing happened…after finally finding a fix (subtitles), he started working. Whaddayaknow! The kid was right! He wasn’t at any point trying to be difficult. He wanted to participate but recognized the barriers. In advocating for himself, he’s earned himself a reputation of being argumentative and rude. He can be but as his Mom I see it as frustration instead. His social skills weren’t great pre-covid and let’s be fair, he hasn’t peopled for 7 months. I think we’re all a little rusty there. But he has taken on board our comments. Today, he commented on how my hair looked nice (I straightened it yesterday) and I asked him if he preferred it straight or how I usually have it…”I’m not answering that-I don’t know which answer you want to hear!” I would still describe his advocating skills as a work in progress but he is genuinely trying hard to make that progress.

He starts back to school next week and I am hoping once he settles in and gets to know his teachers, they’ll see how dedicated he is. To his work. To his ideals. He does need a little more support than others to see nuances and for those good old social skills. But if ever you needed someone to support you, you couldn’t pick a better doubles partner. His tenacity and integrity continue to amaze me (and keep me a loyal customer at Specs)!

I guess what I’m trying to say is when we first heard “autism” on our radar, we were scared of what it meant for his future. My biggest fear about Joshie’s flavor of autism now, is that people see his anxiety and frustration and mistake it for insolence and disrespect when that couldn’t be further from the truth. I think in Joshie’s case, autism gives him a safety net that us neurotypicals don’t typically have. We’re often too scared to speak up for fear of what others will think. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He is confident in his needs but doesn’t yet have the life experiences to know the fixes. There are many challenges he faces daily and I worry so much about middle school but if we truly listen to him first, he’ll tell us what he needs and we can work out the chalk dust together.

And if you do take the time to get to know him, you’ll have a wonderfully loyal, and funny friend and if you’re really lucky, you’ll probably get to enjoy the best tasting bread you’ve ever had. Keep shining your way Joshie!

Sweet Dreams are Made of This

I need a little break. I think 2020 has finally caught up with me. I spent so much of the overly abundant free time covid had given me scrolling on the internet, trying to make sense of it all…and the truth is, I can’t. Who could?

2020 is going to be the answer in future history tests for sure: a global pandemic, racism, conspiracy theories, toilet paper shortages, compulsory home school, record unemployment, Tiger King….

The year when teachers became heroes for working from home and then villains when faced with a return to work with even higher cases. The year when nurses demonstrated their bravery and essentialness only to be told they were not eligible for a pay rise-clapping was apparently a sufficient reward. The year the rights of statues were held in higher esteem than the rights of actual people. The year masks became a political statement. The year when having an opinion on any of these arguments immediately put you at odds with “friends” and often family.

It kind of feels like I was a spectator to the year: I was lucky. My job was safe. I was able to stay home with my kiddos and living in the burbs meant I was able to isolate with relative ease. Plentiful internet access allowed me to stay in touch with my loved ones despite the heartache of not being able to visit them this year. I was able to spend time discovering what my soul needed to fill the void created by social isolation. I was able to re-assess my white privilege and discuss theirs with my boys then have a go at yoga to quell my unease (which kind of, unintentionally, epitomizes my white privilege don’t ya think?!)

As 2020 unleashed each wave of new anxiety inducing topics destined for the history books, I was able to watch it all in the safety and comfort of my living room.

I count my blessings that I have been able to empathize these fears rather than experience them as so many have this year. My family have remained safe. Even now, it feels a tad indulgent and insensitive to be writing this as an outlet for my anxiety. I definitely feel guilty for feeling anxious. I see the kids who’ve returned to school all masked up, using hand sanitizer and socially distancing and worry about my boys who will be joining them in a couple of weeks. I know the numbers have gone down. Did we do the right thing keeping them home or was this all an exaggeration designed to win or lose an election after all? Am I the idiot for not believing the conspiracy theories? I snope all the time these days as I distrust the media. Should I even trust Snopes for chrissakes?

It seems I’ve fallen into a chasm of fear at the minute.

Facebook and Twitter are no longer the chosen way to decompress and enjoy an idle few minutes catching up with what my friends have been upto. For every funny post I see about cats, I see three more discussing the current events from different perspectives. I have always prided myself on researching a sensational story but I’m out of spoons. I am taking the easy way out. I remember my gran telling me before she died, she didn’t want to know the truth. She wanted to be an ostrich and bury her head in the sand. I understand that now more than ever.

So here I am. An atheist reciting the Serenity Prayer. Deactivating Facebook like that’s going to make a difference to how 2o20 plays out. I don’t know how long this will last. I miss all your stories of family life and mishaps. Your misspelled late night drunk ramblings and pictures of delicious dinners or soon to be consumed pints of beer. Your long awaited friend and family reunions or holidays and even the rants about that stupid woman in Asda.

I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to resist the pull of knowing these little “what’s on your mind…” moments. How I’ll miss my “on this day” morning coffee ritual I look forward to each day or even telling you guys I literally tripped over a shadow yesterday…how can you survive without knowing that!

I got a little drunk last night and nearly popped back on but I resisted…more due to drunken fat finger coordination issues tho. I’ll miss your stories. I love seeing them. I think that’s why I’ve enjoyed blogging so much as it’s introduced me to others’ stories. Funny though, everyone seems to read my blog thru Facebook so if I cut it off…am I just writing this to myself?!

But with all the events and uncertainty of recent times, I’m a little overwhelmed and have decided to “ostrichcize” myself until I have more spoons. So I’m going to maintain my self imposed exile a while longer because I do feel more at peace in my ignorance.

My Gran was called Annie and another Annie says that sweet dreams are made of this. I’m not sure she was referring to “this” as a social media flounce but hey ho, it seems to fit!!

But I will truly miss you and hope you’re OK. I will be back at some point hopefully, more confident in how things are going. I’ve managed a week thus far…wonder how long this inherently nosey person will go.

Photo by Arie van Ravenswaay on Pexels.com

Kokomo

It’s week threeish of home school and I figured you guys might like an update. Well, maybe more to the point, I need an outlet…

Have there been technical difficulties? Yes. Have there been emails and calls from teachers chasing work that wasn’t submitted. Yes. Have there been moments when we wanted to throw laptops on the fire. Yes. Have I walked in from work to a child with red, puffy eyes whose not getting the support he needs from either school or home. Yes. Have I hugged my boys and told them this is just a learning curve and everyone is struggling and they’re doing amazingly in the circumstances? Yes. Have I retreated more than once to the bedroom and cried feeling helpless….you can guess right?

It’s been hard.

The first couple of days went well as we planned to feel like we didn’t know what we were doing. And we didn’t. But the planning for it, helped. We gave ourselves the grace to feel overwhelmed. We knew there would be technical and logistical and even personal road blocks along the way which may threaten to disrupt this unexpected journey to junior high and high school success. We knew the upcoming virtual learning would be very different from what had been offered in the spring. And after three months of summer aimlessly passing by, I felt my boys (and me) were ready to have structure and a routine back in our lives. So we accepted the confusion of the “learning management system” on which the school was delivering the classes with aforementioned grace and allowed ourselves not to get too upset by it all.

By the second week, we assumed we’d be getting the hang of navigating the system. Mwahahahaha!! Wrong!! It’s the end of week 3 and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve sworn at the damn computer. I swear (frequently and with the enthusiasm of a drunken sailor) that this system has actually been developed as one of the first of the Terminator’s Skynet programs hell bent on annihilating whatever vague remnant of hope remains that I had left of getting out of 2020 with a shred of sanity. On one page, the task states it’s not submitted on another it has been. So I go back to double check and apparently, I don’t have permission to access the page I just bloody accessed less than 60 seconds before! The thing is sentient and hates me. I don’t know how long I’ve spent on it trying to fathom whether my kids are staying on top of their workload. Probably enough time to do half their missing work…bloody tempting but they’ve probably done it already and Skynet Canvas is just giving me the runaround.

And then there’s the work. I couldn’t decide before if starting a new school for both of them was a bonus as it meant the unknown expectations of virtual school would marry with the unknown expectations of junior high and high school. I think I decided it would be a blessing. Now, I just want to go back in time: for them to have their old teachers who knew their capabilities and quirks. Back to those who with just their familiar friendly face offered support and comfort in navigating this new unknown.

Now, it’s a sea of equally friendly looking faces but whose habits and quirks are unknown also…were they joking there? Does she recognize he’s joking? Does she know that within the class of 30 students she’s got this period (and excluding those kiddos from the six other periods she’s trying to remember and manage)…does she know that my boy has an IEP? That he needs an extra 20 seconds to process a question and his silence doesn’t mean he doesn’t know and if she prompts him again to break the silence currently echoing loudly through the zoom class, it will require an extra 25 seconds for him to get back to his answer? Does she immediately know he cannot take notes and listen at the same time? Does she know his frustrations is not at her, but borne out of being unable to learn in this virtual environment rather than being unwilling to learn? Does he know she’s trying her hardest too? In this virtual environment, how can they? It’s hard enough in class to develop relationships immediately in a classroom environment.

Does the teacher realize when I reply to her email or even send her another email at 9pm about a different issue that’s cropped up, I’m not expecting an immediate response: I don’t email between office hours because they’re my office hours too. It feels like when I want to talk to the folks back in England: it’s like we’re in different times zones. I don’t want to encroach on her personal time (because I’m not convinced these poor teachers are getting any at the minute) but I have to reach out and hope that she doesn’t see it till her work hours. And when the phone rings at gone 8.30pm on a Friday night, I don’t expect it to be a teacher whose checking in with us but it is and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.

We told ourselves at the beginning of this that we’d be ok but my confidence is waning. May be I’m not giving it enough time to settle in but whereas a watched pot never boils, this one seems to be simmering rapidly with bubbles of anxiety and stress, dangerously close to the brim and ready to explode all over the sides of our pans. My worry is it’s happening while my back’s turned at work. Is it ruining our appetites for education? Do I turn off the pot completely? Do I turn it down? Do I just let it keep simmering and hope we can clear up the mess and start again soon?

Wow! I’m being a real Negative Nelly aren’t I? So the upsides:

My boys are learning patience. With all the technical wifi and Skynet Canvas issues, they have to.

My boys are learning how to deal with problems by self advocating. One of them is definitely good at self advocating but his approach needs a little work: and the teacher sent me the screenshots to prove it!!

I’ve been blown away by their attitudes to being in class. My ADHDers are rocking their time management with the help of their phone alarms. Despite my fears of You Tube being a bigger pull with no one to stop them, they’re doing the majority of the work independently and turning up to participate in all the zoom calls. Good works boys!

I’ve learned my helicopter can be allowed to park. I have the engine fuelled and ready to fly at any moment but I’m discovering the boys are far more capable of being independent than I was ready to believe.

We’re improving our self care habits. With all the stress of the last week, we’re actively trying to find outlets to delineate work and school space from home space. Talking about the frustrations of our day and making plans to deal with them and then heading off to You Tube or Doom or Seattle Grace to cry and laugh with the beautiful doctors (we’ve just finished season 2 and I think we’ll have completed Netflix when we finally finish whatever season they’re upto). Later today we’re heading out for some much needed and long awaited pinball wizardry.

I don’t know how this is going to turn out. I know I’m not the only one struggling. I know virtual learning works for some. Even for my boys, it works some of the time. But when it doesn’t, despite our best efforts, it’s so upsetting. I am only ever as happy as my least happiest child and at the minute, one of them is not happy. We’ll keep plodding on and hope things settle as we go into week four….it’s got to, right? May be Arnie’ll turn up to save us all from Skynet!

I was going to call this post “Bad Day”- the Daniel Powter song because I’d had a doozy of one when I started thinking of this post but the next song that played was The Beach Boys’ Kokomo and I figured if we could attend virtual school, then I could escape to a virtual holiday and started day dreaming about lazing on a white sandy beach, watching the distant clouds of virtual learning billowing high in the distance: a worry for another day, whilst the surf gently laps at the shore with a cool margarita in one hand and a good book in the other. So on this long Labor Day weekend, that’s my plan: to daydream a while longer…well, after I’ve fuelled up the helicopter again and written one more email to his teacher….

How’s your experience of going back to school covid style? Are you happy with the virtual learning or enjoying the face to face option?

Wild Boys

I was having a bit of trouble coming up with a post this week as a hurricane and homeschooling had me a little pre-occupied. Then a friend suggested I should share my parenting tips on raising boys….

So I write this next blog post with fourteen years experience of raising children (and I also babysat as a kid). I feel I have developed a wealth of knowledge in my time and have found many ways in which to excel at this parenting malarkey. I admit my experience may be founded on the basis of what not to do but I think it’s about time I shared some tips just like all the good bloggers do.

Providing a healthy diet

Science and shopping bills have demonstrated kids need feeding. Costly. Time consuming and often a thankless task which creates even more work with the clear up. Often the action of cleaning a reluctant toddler’s face feels more like you’re performing the chloroforming manoeuvre that the bad guys in movies undertake. Children require a balanced diet apparently. Saying that, a balanced diet should be age appropriate. Let’s say for example, your husband assures you that he is more than capable of looking after your treasured 4 month old infant whilst you take a rare opportunity for overtime at work. You aren’t for certain he is responsible enough but having married him, you feel kind of duty bound to trust him with your most precious entity. Don’t! Unless of course, you know that your four month old is capable of chomping down a bowl of Kellogs All Bran with sliced almonds and whole raisins for breakfast…he was most surprised that our poor bubba was not yet advanced enough for this nourishing breakfast. So actually, this tip is less about the feeding them aspect and more about always being right to assume the husband is a buffoon.

Travelling with children

Try to avoid it wherever possible. No matter how much planning went into the mammoth task of packing a small suitcase for a trip to buy bread, you will surely forget something. Or not have enough. On our drive back from France, I had carefully prepped five costume changes in the event of an incident. That may seem like overkill but experience whispers to your optimistic self confidence that a trip with children must involve the Boy Scout’s motto, “Be prepared“. I just wish the scouts would elaborate on what you should be prepare for. It turns out for this trip, it would be bright blue puke. That was a new color variation at least. And with five changes of clothing, you can be damn sure he puked 7 times. I think the poor little fella was wearing a pillow case by the time we made it across the channel with a new resolution to never buy Smurfs Haribo again!

Potty Training

Bodily functions require a lot of attention. And I’ve learned that travelling can cause normal etiquette to be thrown out of the window. I’ve driven down the M1 at 70mph with a Costa coffee cup held behind me screaming ” I know it’s not a toilet but you said you didn’t want to go! Pee in the damn cup!” I’ve stared down a flight attendent who told us to return to our seats because the plane was beginning its descent. So were my son’s bowel movements. She must have sensed my panic and let us pass knowing we’d have time to get back as the descent takes at least 15 minutes. Fool!! The kid was still sat singing happily to himself and swinging his short little legs to and fro with carefree abandon as we taxi’d into the gate. However, precious moments like these remind you there’s no one else you would stand in that tiny little cubicle bracing yourself against the flimsy wall as the plane landed rather heavily for. Also, they remind you why you shouldn’t believe your little offspring when they say they don’t need to go. Never believe them! NEVER!!

But what about when they do want to go at a convenient time. It is essential when potty training to clarify the options available to them. Clear communication is paramount. If you tell a child to go to the loo if they need to, you should ensure they understand the loo you’re referring to is sized for humans and in another room. Especially when visiting a friend’s brand new house. How would I know he would think the toy Happy Land/ Fisher Price less than 2 inches tall toilet was the one he should use! But he did!! And obviously, the way we established this was by kneeling down to play with him and realizing my knee was becoming damper by the second!! Thank heavens for understanding friends.

When to visit the doctors office

My next valuable lesson is about considering the need to visit the doctor. Being English, I was lucky enough to have the NHS on hand to deal with health concerns. Being a student nurse at the time, I was well aware of the burden placed on this wonderful service by malingerers and time wasters. As a mum, I knew I trod a thin line of panic appointments. Every sniffle could be pneumonia, every rash; meningitis. It’s important to stay calm and rational when these situations arise. My go to medical advice is still NHS Direct (especially after the removal of a Lego arm from an ear cost us $85). Evidence based, impartial and importantly, free advice in the States is not easy to come by. As soon as the nagging worries begin, I reach for the computer and google away. Then based on their advice, I make necessary appointments.

When the kids were small I was the same. I’m proud that I didn’t rush them to the docs every time they sneezed or fell over. Our hospitals visits have been solely for drinking nail polish remover when I turned my back to fetch a towel and for putting a trampoline too close to the fence so when they made their huge jump close to the edge, the safety net caught them but so did the concrete post. Full on. Smack to the forehead! That had us heading to the ER and repositioning the trampoline! Safety net indeed!!

If the child is ill, it’s harder to assess. Watching your usually happy, carefree toddler become tearful and clingy is hard for any parent. I remember one incident where just this happened. It also involved a red, seemingly painful swelling. I rang the surgery and insisted on a morning appointment. I rang work and told them I wouldn’t be in as this was an emergency. I couldn’t bear to see him in pain. We rushed to the surgery.

Now, I feel it’s important to note, I often referred to our surgery as Lourdes as the child would always seem to make me a liar by miraculously fully recovering in the waiting room. This visit was no exception. The child who had been listless and pathetic an hour ago, was now delightfully rummaging around the germ soaked toy box singing to himself and occasionally staring down the other patients who were also waiting. Finally, we were called in. I explained to the doctor my son’s symptoms: redness, swelling, upset…

He inspected said child who was now full of the joys of spring and revelling in the attention of a very busy man with a stethoscope. And then the doctor started to talk to me: clarifying the details and nodding with sincere compassion at my earlier panic and fears. And then he explained the “illness”. Apparently, if my child ever requests his NHS notes, he will see that his mother did indeed take him to the doctors to have his first erection documented! Oh dear lord! I didn’t know they could do those things quite so early! The doc was so sweet as he tried tactfully to explain the workings of the male appendage in children. I was so embarrassed. Still am!! I think I lied to concerned work colleagues, telling them he needed antibiotics or something. In my defense, he seemed really upset about it and the hubster agreed in the earlier panicked phone call I made that an appointment was necessary.

So my advice on doctor’s visit’s is take them if you’re unsure! You really can’t do anything more embarrassing than that (and if you do, I’d like to hear the details in the comments please…)


So there you go. A what to do list, or maybe a not what to do list on parenting…how helpful am I?! I may do this again…what to do if you lose your child in an airport within 30 seconds of landing in another country; how to hold up airport security using a bag of 5ps that a grandparent secretly gave them; how to use your calves as brake pads when teaching a child how to ride a bike and why you should NEVER forget that you told your child last year, marbles were the eyes of children who didn’t go to sleep and saw Santa when making a shopping list of fun stocking filler ideas for this year…

Make sure to “like” and subscribe for more tips….

Disclaimer: No children were permanently harmed in the making of these parents. Heck, the only scar one kid has is from a marshmallow…beat that! The accomplishment, not the child obviously!

Also, my boys aren’t actually wild (the ride has been though..) They are a little feral occasionally maybe…but they do always shine!