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!

Wake Me Up When September Ends

I always knew when I met Rich, we’d have kids. We never really discussed it properly…it was just what we both knew would happen when the time was right.

We’d been together five years when the decision was sort of forced upon us. I’d gone to get my birth control and the doctor calmly informed me they had run out and instead of an injection offered me a pregnancy test for the following morning. How the hell does a doctor’s surgery casually run out of birth control? I went home on the bus in a state of panic. Kids were not on our radar at that time. What would Rich say? Were we mature enough? I couldn’t even keep a plant alive, how on earth could I be responsible enough to look after a tiny human? We were young and enjoying life as a couple. Babies were for grown ups and we weren’t quite ready (we still don’t feel like grown ups yet tho).

And then I remember Rich looking at me all concerned as I came back from my appointment as I tried to explain our predicament. He laughed. We’d been married a year so may be it was time to get on board the baby train. My fear turned to excitement and I knew somehow things would be ok. So excitedly the next morning, I got up and waited with eager anticipation for the double pink line to appear on the disgustingly wet little pen like thing. Except it didn’t.

Maybe next month then? Well, the following month. Surely by the next month right? Usually it takes three months right? No.

We spent 4 years trying for kids. I went from being nonchalant about getting pregnant to consumed by the need to be.

It was so hard. Month after month of desperately looking for symptoms. Imagining symptoms even. The feelings of dread and excitement every month as I bought another test, “just to check”. The anguish increasing each month as the little line didn’t appear. Holding the test up to the window trying desperately to see if maybe the elusive pink line was just hiding. Maybe I was off with my dates and had just tested too early. Trying to smile through gritted teeth as people with good intentions asked us when they were going to hear the patter of tiny feet. I watched mothers nurse their beautiful babies with a sad jealousy that made me hate myself. Every month my body betrayed me and an increased the sentiment that I was just dysfunctional carcass of a female. That I was letting Rich down.

And then after 4 years and treatment for precancerous cells…suddenly the coveted pink line just appeared.

I’d become so used to seeing them come up negative, I never expected a positive. That explains why I found out this most wonderful life changing news in the public toilets of the Eagle shopping Centre on my lunch break. Not how I’d ever imagined it would happen! The first person I told was the poor woman from the next cubicle who I demanded interpret my little pee soaked white stick because it seemed to be saying the impossible. Bless her, she concurred with my conclusion, then laughed at my sudden “deer in the headlights” expression as she hugged and congratulated me and told me to ring my husband. So incapable of thinking straight but having been told what to do, I did.

The joy and excitement of the impending stork delivery immediately made those four long years seem insignificant.

I told everyone. Shouted it from the roof tops lapping up the reflected enthusiasm of those around us delighted as they were. I walked proudly around Mothercare, stroking my belly whilst costing up nappies and cots. Looking to the future, I imagined Rich teaching our boy to play football or maybe if it were a girl, he’d be overprotectively running off potential boyfriends. Obviously, the kid’d go to college and marry and give me grandkids I could learn to knit for. I imagined every scenario about parenting with a new glee I’d never experienced before. I never however, imagined the miscarriage.

I remember lying on the sonographer’s table knowing the longer she ran her wand over my belly, pressing harder and harder without the flicker of the tiny heart beat we had just seen four weeks earlier appearing, the less likely this was going to have a good outcome. I knew she wanted to find it for us too and hearing her apologise as she reached for the tissue box I just felt numb.

My miscarriage was considered a “missed miscarriage”. I was nearly eleven weeks pregnant but they think the baby had passed away at 8 weeks and I just never showed symptoms. I foolishly thought the morning sickness had just relented. I was scheduled for the D and C operation the next day. The NHS were wonderful. The care and compassion I received from the staff was excellent.

I took two weeks off work. I was a mess. The feelings of betrayal I’d felt at not getting pregnant were infinitesimal compared to this ultimate failure of motherhood. I was still a mess when I returned to work but luckily I was surrounded by wonderful family and colleagues who supported me. A simple nod from one work mate as I returned to my desk for the first time stays with me to this day.

I had never experienced grief before and was always one of those people who didn’t know what to say to others’ grief so would avoid mentioning anything thinking that would spare them some pain. This was my time to realise that silence did not help or offer comfort. It confirmed my pain should also be silent. I remember a lady from the other end of the office stopped me on my second day back to offer condolences and explained she’d “been there” and she cried as she hugged me. I cried too but it was with gratitude for her sharing and making me feel a little less alone.

I know it’s something we are told not to dwell on: that time will heal and it’ll all come right in the end. “It wasn’t meant to be” Those well meaning suggestions never gave me any comfort at all. They inspired anger. It “was meant to be”. From the moment I saw that pink line appear, I was starting on my journey to motherhood and my baby would be amazing. It just didn’t happen but my plans for that baby were as real as that tiny heartbeat that we once saw beat inside me. As with all grief, I don’t think many words truly offer a release from the pain but I learned a hug and acknowledgement of the loss of my baby were a temporary respite until I learned to swim with the grief of the missed milestones passing by.

Rich was my rock. He had had those same dreams shattered for our baby but he became the strong one. He’d hold me as I cried. Make me dinner that would go uneaten. Tell people that asked that I was doing ok when I don’t think anyone ever asked him how he was faring. It’s a cliche but true in our case, that this hard time made us stronger as a couple. I would never wish it on anyone and truly wish we’d never experienced the pain of it but at least I can see that now. We held on to each other and steeled ourselves for another four years of turmoil at the whim of a pink line.

However, less than 4 months later, that pesky pink line I’d previously desperately wanted to see all those months previously, unexpectedly appeared again. Now it seemed more of a terrifying tease. Obviously, this time round, I was much more cautious with the news. Barely believed it or trusted it. We kept it quiet, only telling those closest to us. But week by week, the caution and anxiety turned slowly to anticipation and excitement. And finally nearly nine months later, we got to bring our baby home. And the next chapter began….

I really didn’t know if I should share this. I certainly never planned to make a blog post about it. I was typing Alex’s story when this one began creeping out. I didn’t want it to mar Alex’s story but I couldn’t delete it either. It’s not a story I have shared with many people who didn’t know me at the time. Writing this has helped me although I’m not entirely sure what you poor readers will get from this indulgence. I hope you don’t mind. Fifteen years later and it still makes me cry. The computer screen seems to be blurring as I type now. I still can’t listen to a couple of songs that played at the time without them triggering the memories of despair. I do still play them tho every so often, usually in April and September to remind me of who I never got to hold but loved more than I thought was ever possible. The scan photo which remains the only physical evidence of this event is still in our photo box.

I know miscarriage is more common than we imagine. I know many women have more than one and I cannot imagine the agony of going through it more than once. I don’t know what else to write except I’m truly sorry to anyone who experiences it and here are some links for support for anyone who may need them.

I promise next week will be a more upbeat post….

The Times They are A Changing

Wishing all the kids, the teachers, the parents, the teacher parents and everyone involved all the very best for this new school year! Good luck y’all!

Working in a school, I’m so excited to be back (of a fashion) and to see the kids and get them back in a routine.

As a mom, I’m absolutely terrified. Nauseous and sad at the way things have to be done. I know online’s the only way at the minute but it still makes me anxious. I have one kid who will probably do just grand and one kid who will probably struggle.

My printer gave out last night which felt like an indication of the way forward. Doomed! That was my initial reaction. But then I just wrote out his timetable. It may not look perfectly professional like I’d intended but it does the job. It’s just temporary. Eventually, we’ll get a printer ink that works and normal service will resume. The new handwritten timetable isn’t ideal but it does the job. It was written with care in the hope it’ll cover the need. And now I keep telling myself, it’s just like the online school. A temporary adaption. Kids are great at adapting. I’m a bit slower…

The advantage to being a mom working in a school is I’ve seen how much the teachers care about how they’re going to adapt to this. How worried they are about reaching all the kids. I’ve seen how hard they’re working to make this temporary situation work for everyone. I know it’s not going to be perfect. There’s going to be issues. There’s going to be tears (I’m on my 3rd lot already today-junior high and high school was not meant to start like this!) But I keep telling myself it’s just temporary. Things may never quite be like how we used to do things but soon we’ll find a rhythm that we can dance to or at least side step shuffle.

Take care everyone! Everyone’s in the same boat but remember that analogy that’s been doing the rounds on my source of all things philosophical: Facebook…some boats are bigger, some are leaking so put your own life jacket on and then look to help others!

Now excuse me. I’ve got to go vomit and then get two boys ready for school before I leave for work and leave Dad to captain this vessel today, bless him…but wow! I’ve got a junior high and a high school kid! Yikes!

Can’t Fight This Feeling

A really weird thing happened this week. Conforming to my typical trend of committing to new healthy lifestyle changes, after a few weeks the yoga went the same way as all the other fads I’ve tried over the years to “make positive changes” in my life. Come off it! Yoga? Really Emma? Who was I kidding?! Bye bye yoga! I hate that I’m so predictable.

Just like I had struggled to cope with the changes with the Stay At Home orders, it seemed now I was preoccupied with the idea of going to work. Don’t get me wrong, part of me was so excited to get back into the classroom and meet new people. But you’ve all seen the arguments for schools doing in person versus virtual teaching. As a parent and a school employee my mind was conflicted on the best way forward.

However, covid hibernation has given me plenty of time for “soul searching” and “inward reflection” about how I approach life and its adventures. One of the revelations was that, although I would love to be considered spontaneous and adaptable, (who wouldn’t be?) I really struggle with accepting change. I apparently crave predictability in life. This surprised me as I am very unorganized and often running back to my house to fetch my lunch or keys or kids! Life always seemed to be one big rush.

However, after a bit of that reflection malarky I saw it: I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to embrace the need for routine. In my experience from being around my autistic friends, the need for structure and consistency that autism often requires, also helped me function effectively too. I realized although I’m not autistic, I enjoyed having a set framework to my day. Unexpected changes made those around me uncomfortable and therefore, I unconsciously began to enjoy the reliability and reassurance that predictability brings. This explained why I had been so anxious as the pandemic suddenly imposed sweeping changes to everyone’s lives. Work life, school life, vacations and social activities, grocery shopping. Everything was changed. Geez, I didn’t even know if there would ever be toilet paper again! And it also helped me recognize that part of my anxiety at returning to work (aside from the increased exposure to a deadly virus and potential for hospital bills) was that the ending of my quarantine also signaled another re-shaping of my daily routine. Feck!

So I did what I do best in these situations: throw all self care methods out of the window, seek consolation in chocolate and not sleep for worrying.

And yoga? Who was I trying to kid?! I’d filled my Instagram full of beautiful yoga types whose incredibly complicated poses had me turning my phone upside down trying to work out where on earth their lithe limb attached to their beautifully toned body. Here I was full of embarrassment, awkwardly trying to contort myself even in the comfort and privacy of my own living room before anyone was up. Yes, these yogis inspired me. Yes, I wanted to emulate their success but frankly I still needed to put my hands on the floor to get up from sitting criss cross apple sauce for 30 seconds.

My cute little Buddha Rich bought me for my birthday. When I say bought I mean I chose it, added it to the cart and he pressed “buy it now”

Before the anxiety got the better of me, I was usually doing up to an hour, five days a week. I messed around with the music I’d listen to whilst doing it to find the perfect vibe for my transcendental quest. Pan pipes were a bit too new agey for me and Luke Bryan got me involuntarily shaking it for him too much which seemed counter productive for my static holds. I found I liked classical but discovered my favorite by far, was piano music. A bit of Einaudi was wonderful. It became the perfect start to my day. Yes, it gave me a sense of peace and purpose, and who doesn’t enjoy a humble brag even if it’s to yourself as there’s no one around but I genuinely liked knowing I was doing something healthy.

I’d even gone as far as buying the t-shirt…well, yoga leggings or pants as they call them here. But let’s be honest, if I were to brave sunlight in my shiny new active wear, I would be more likely be featured in “People of Walmart” posts than any aspirational yoga type article. Who was I trying to kid indeed!

Obviously, the diet went straight out the window too under the guise of allowing for all the birthday cake. Finally liberated from the constraints of the Weight Watchers app, I started feeling sluggish from all the excess deliciousness I was devouring now. I’m the queen of self sabotage and this is how in late July, the yoga practice landed unceremoniously on top of that discarded diet!

So I went back to work. Despite my apprehension, it was great. Everyone was friendly (and socially distancing compliant). Talking to people about things other than Minecraft, and SCP’s was wonderful. Holey Moley, I was tired by the end of each day-I’d forgotten how much brain power meeting people and working involved but it was exciting to be back at it. With my new insight, I hastily planned my new routine: get up, coffee, shower, wake kids, abandon kids, work, come home to loving family who’ve missed me (turns out the dog is the only one who rushes to greet me), find abandoned plates and drinking vessels, complete spelling tutorials, cook dinner, put washing on, tidy up, and Netflix. Oh sweet routine! Thank you for hugging me tight when I need it. But wait….I told you something weird happened this week….

My routine didn’t feel quite right….something was missing….

Bloody hell!! The yoga! It seems although I thought I’d banished yoga to the list of failed lifestyle changes and had made peace with that, yoga had not done with me. It kept creeping into my mind, distracting me from Facebook. Wanting an explanation for our break up. We were good together it kept whispering…I tried explaining it was just a fling and meant nothing: a mere distraction from covid. That I never stay in relationships with exercise as they’re always too needy. But it wouldn’t take no for an answer. Yoga kept reminding me of all the good times we’d shared in our brief encounter. How it made me feel so relaxed by clearing my mind. I countered I’d always faked the clearing the mind bit. I never once achieved that…I was always counting instead. But I couldn’t deny the relaxation it boasted of. So we’re giving it another go….I’ve said one day at a time and we may not spend as much time together as before. We’re not ready for any kind of Facebook Official status shennanigans but may be we do have something special. We started again slowly midweek and the spark has been well and truly reignited. My routine feels right.

So this post was for a bit of accountability. I still keep laughing and asking myself “Yoga tho? Really Emma?” Yes, it seems however unlikely, yoga has unexpectedly given me peace or a brain break-whatever you want to call it. I think it’s really important with the way everything feels so stressful at the minute to find these activities that basically soothe the soul. I need my calm place. I need something to quieten my mind from all the anxieties life seems to be throwing at us. The kids are due to return to class on Wednesday. Virtually at least for the next six weeks. I still haven’t quite made peace with that decision. So I’m going to try keep up with the yoga because like Reo Speedwagon says I can’t fight this feeling anymore that it’s helping me. I’m going to need something to distract me even if it’s just for half an hour. Apparently I’m not quite ready to hang up my yoga pants.

But do not fear, my procrastination sensibilities have not been abandoned quite yet…I’ve still got to re-open that damn Weight Watchers app. I did make a salad the other day but then school only went and gave us an ice cream! Who could say no to that…I’m sure a lot of people but not me- it was bloody lovely!

Anyway, what’s your calm place? Can I steal it? If it’s not chocolate, I may need it for helping me with the diet one day….