“What can you do?”

The other week I observed my oldest child slip away from her group of friends in town, going into a local food shop and bringing out food to a homeless person she had seen sat in a nearby doorway.  It was a moment that made me feel proud, that my child has performed an unselfish act, showing empathy, compassion and awareness towards someone else in need.  She needn’t have done this, but she did.

I recall doing something similar as a young teen, out with a group of people who were purplexed as to why I would stop to talk to, and offer a little something to someone whom I had no connection with.  I recall being asked why I bothered by one person, and replying that I cared, because that person needed someone to acknowledge them, to show that they weren’t insignificant and that they matter.  I still think about that homeless girl who didn’t look much older than myself, and wonder if she ever managed to make it back off the streets. 

There are a number of situations we close our eyes to, but if each of us stop for a minute and consider how we ourselves could make a difference to someone else, then life would be very different.  I’m not just talking about the homeless here, I’m including those living on their own with no family or friends, those struggling to keep a roof over their heads, or to feed their families and those fleeing from their homeland due to war and conflict.  What can we as individuals do, so that these people know that they matter?  What can you do?

It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, it could be something simple as buying a hot drink for someone in need. Or you could add a few extra items to your shopping basket to pass on to the local food bank.  Maybe you could invite someone round for a brew, or to join you for a meal?  Or you could pass on items that you no longer have use for such as clothing, toys and other household items to an indivual or a charity that can pass it on to those in need.

What can you do to make a difference, and to let those in need know that they matter?

“The Loss of my Hero.”

When I was eleven years old my world fell apart, as I witness my Dad dying of cancer, and then he succumbed to death.

For a child it was hard to watch the man who was my hero become frail and weak.

Initially my parents tried to protect us by playing things down, but you cannot hide everything from curious children. The throwing up randomly and frequently made us wonder what was going on. Then he got taken away to hospital in a private ambulance at the end of the summer, the day before I started secondary school.

Then at some point, I can’t recall whether it was a few days later or weeks my Mum told us the news that our Dad was dying. I recall that moment well, sat in a little side room at the hospital eating a packet of mini Chedder crisps, and not knowing what to say or do, other than to eat my crisps.

My Dad stayed in hospital for a few more weeks, then came home. At first he was able to take part in activities at home, even if he did tire easily, but then he became more weak and spent much of his time in bed.

I recall going into my parents’ bedroom after school to chat and tell him about my day. I don’t know if he knew that I struggled at school, and would sometimes have to leave lessons because I couldn’t cope with being there, knowing my Dad was dying.

Not long before my Dad died, I recall breaking down in class as someone said that another of my family had gone home, and I instantly thought the worst has happened. My teacher a lovely kind and gentle man took me aside, allowed me to cry and then asked me would I rather my Dad live in pain, or die. I recall saying that I didn’t want him to die, and I would rather he was alive and not in pain. But my teacher shook his head sadly and said that wasn’t going to happen, and that my Dad would either live in pain or die. He went on to share his own personal experience of losing a family member, and said that he understood exactly how I was feeling. 

That teacher was the first adult to be totally honest with me and not attempt to tell me that it was all going to work out fine. He helped me to acknowledge what was going to happen, and didn’t sugar coat it.

A few days later on Monday 7th December 1987 my Dad died at home. We were in the room when he died. I recall him taking his last deep breath, and all of a sudden it seemed really quiet. You could have heard a pin drop, it was that quiet, and so peaceful. One minute he was there, the next gone.

At first none of us were sure if he was really dead. It seems absurdly comical now when I look back, but we were trying to watch him to see if he was breathing, until one of the family hit on the idea of using a mirror to see if his breath would make it foggy. Tea got burnt and we ended up having a chip tea, not that any of us were very hungry.

In the days, weeks, months and years afterwards it took time for me to recover from the loss of my Dad. Even now I get the odd moment where I feel such a sense of loss and sadness. But what I do know is that my Dad loved us, and that he was strong in spirit right to the bitter end. He instill in each of us his passion for life and a stubborn spirit. He shared his wisdom with us, and created memories which cannot be taken away, but cherished forever.

My Dad died, but he lives on in spirit in each of his children, and we pass on what we learnt from him onwards to the next generation.

“Parenting through the mess”

As a parent you spend a lot of time sorting out your family, making sure that their every needs are met. It can be hard to switch off and relax.

So often you are busy thinking ahead to try and ensure things go smoothly. For example I could be sat relaxing, reading a book or watching tv in the evening after finally having wrestle the toddler into their pyjamas, sent the child back to bed several times and told the Tweenie to put away her mobile and go to sleep, when all of a sudden a random thought will pop into my head, and I think uh oh must sort before I forget! So I still don’t get time to myself even when the children are in bed because I find myself doing little tasks now, in case I forget to do it in the morning.

I am like the majority of my friends very self conscious about the state of my house, as it seems no matter how much you tidy up, there always seem to be a child untidying behind you! So I find myself apologising for the state of my house when friends called round. Which is daft really as the majority have houses in similar state to mine! There are the odd exceptions to this, and I look at their houses wondering where they find the time and energy to keep on top of it all.

I recall a few years ago feeling that I was failing as a mother, as I was struggling to juggle the demands of caring for a very young family alongside maintaining the house. Then a card arrived through the door from a friend. The timing of that card couldn’t have been any better and the message behind it was so apt in reminding me that no one was perfect, and that life with children is not mess free. What is important at the end of the day is that our children are loved and nurtured, not whether their clothes are wrinkled free and the floor clear of toys.

“To screen or not?”

So unless you been offgrid, I’m sure you’ll have heard about, and possibly seen the programme “A World Without Down’s Syndrome”. I watched it tonight, and it really does make you think, not just about how far we have come in being able to eradicate one group of people, but that of many through a simple test during pregnancy. Where do we stop at, epilepsy, autism, cystic fibostic, disformation, blindness, deafness and so on?

I recall many years ago whilst at school having a discussion about the ethics of terminating a pregnancy because of a disability. I vividally recall one girl saying she would get rid of any that weren’t perfect. I asked if she has been my mother, if she had known I was deaf would she terminate me and she replied yes. That stung, so imagine now you are a person with Downs being told that there is a test and that if born today there a high chance they would be terminated. No exaggeration here, it’s already happening like in Iceland where’s there’s been 100%  uptake on terminatation on a positive dignostic of Downs in pregnancy.

I’m not naive, not to understand the full picture of what it is like to be a person with a disability, or to be a carer. My job is one where I assess, and provide support for children with disabilities and their families. They often have it rough, struggle to fight to get choices and options that the rest of the world takes for granted. But one thing all these families have in common, is joy in their child. They love them with such passion, and seek out the positives, even when the world throws shit at them.

Sally Phillips got it spot on in the programme, when she talked about, “If we have a society that is unable to care for people, then the problem is not the person.” 

People should have choices, that I totally agree with. However when given results, their choices should be balanced in information and not one sided. People cannot make a full informed choice if only given the “doom and gloom” picture. My parents were told I would never talk, or achieve much in life. Funny that, I can talk the hindleg off a donkey, and I’m fairly certain that I’ve got a fair few academic credits to my name!

If you’ve not seen this programme, I would urge you to watch it.  If you don’t actually know much about a condition or disability, don’t jump to an opinion unless you’ve actually bothered to find out more, and have actually spent time with those with the condition/disability.

Mostly I would urge you to think about what the ramifications could be for future generations if we start screening to eradicate what isn’t seen as “healthy” or “normal”, because one day whatever imperfections you have, may be seen as something we need rid of from society. 

“Still Breastfeeding?!”

When you first have a baby and breastfeed, most people are very encouraging, saying things like “what a lovely natural thing you are doing feeding your baby.” 

Then as they get older, people start giving their opinion on why baby should not be breastfed. Such as “He’ll never learn to sleep through if you don’t wean him off the breast at night.” or the classic “You’ll be having to feed her through the school gates if you’re not careful!” Actually this is a load of rot! No two child is alike in their nocturnal sleep habits, as all of my children have proven, regardless of whether I ceased feeding at night or allowed them to do it naturally. I’ve not yet had to feed one through the school gates, nor have I heard of anyone else doing this! 

Natural term weaning is viewed as being “a bit out there” by a number of people. Usually emitting “bitty!” jokes, or looks of horror when it becomes clear that you are still feeding past 6 months. 

It is the recommendation of health organisations such as the World Health Organisation that breastfeeding should continue up to two years of age or beyond. So it isn’t helpful when faced with a health professional who takes a dim view on feeding past what is seen as the social norm of 6 months.  In fact this can leave the breastfeeding mother feeling uncomfortable, or upset about not being supported in their choice.  

So what is the natural weaning age? From the information I have read, it appears to be around 6 to 7 years of age, when children start losing their milk teeth, as once the adult teeth comes in, children loses the natural ability to breastfeed.

So why am I still breastfeeding my youngest child, I hear you ask.  Well it’s not to provide his main source of nutrition, more a way to supplement it, and to provide him with a source of comfort. Breast milk also provide him with vitamins, and strengthens his immunity system. If he does get ill, nursing is one of the few things he takes comfort in.

When he is hurt, or upset offering him the breast instantly soothes and calms him right down. Trust me I would rather deal with a wriggly toddler twiddling my hair, poking at my moles, attempting strange nursing positions than a screaming full on melt down toddler tantrum!

Breastfeeding also has health benefits for me, it reduces the risk of various types of cancer such as breast cancer, reduces risk of rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease, protects against osteoporosis and impacts on other health factors too. Pretty impressive really when you think about it, what breastfeeding does for both baby and mother.

I’ve been told that breastfeeding will make my child clingy. Obviously they’ve not spent time with any of my children as they are all fiercely independent, and have been from a young age!

“But the teeth?! Surely that must hurt?!” is another question asked with a look of horror. Actually no it doesn’t, because the breastfed child learns how to feed without chomping down. Initially it can be uncomfortable as each new tooth comes in, but they soon learn to adjust their latch. 

My breastfeeding days will come to an end at some point, but I can’t answer when yet as I simply don’t know. All I know is that both my child and I are still benefitting from it right now, and that’s what matters.

“Growing Up…”

My firstborn is off to secondary school. It doesn’t seem that long ago since I was gazing at her in awe in the delivery room. When did that little baby become a big girl?!

She’s growing up fast, and I’m not sure I’m ready for it yet.

Gone are the days when I was the centre of her world. Where she would cry for me, and only I would do when she wanted comfort.

The days are slowly slipping by, whereby she will skip happily beside me on the way to school, chattering incessantly about her favourite animals, friends, the world as she sees it through her eyes. These days I’m lucky if she engage in a conversation that doesn’t centre around her wants, or engage in physical contact via a hug or hand holding.

Yet despite all this, I’m proud of how she is growing up to be a fiercely independent young person who knows her own mind, and won’t be sway by others if she doesn’t think it would be the right course of action to take.

I love it when she does want to spend time with me, just the two of us. Those times are definetly more preferable to the “stompy stroppy” days, where she rolls her eyes at me, huffs and disagrees with everything, or tells me that I am “embarrassing” because of something I did, wore or said.

My daughter is no longer dependent solely on me, and is increasely becoming more and more independent. But would I have it any other way? Honestly, no because it shows that I’m succeeding at this parenting lark. Like a baby bird, she has to learn to fly independently. She would resent me so much more if I clipped her wings. So as much as I find it hard to let her go, I know that for her to succeed in life I have to let her do this.

Pregnant Woman on a train…

Today as I travelled on a train I observed a lady rubbing her pregnant bump gently, smiling to herself as she watched, and felt her unborn child wriggling away inside.  

I wondered to myself how that relationship between mother and child would develop. Would she take to motherhood easily, or would she struggle and muddle her way through? Would she breastfeed, or would she go down the formula route? Would she be into wearing wraps/carriers with her baby nestled close to her, or would she proudly stroll along with a pram? Would she co-sleep or not? Would she believe in letting the baby cry it out, or would she be into attachment parenting? 

So many questions, answers I’ll never know. But one thing I do know is that regardless of her parenting choices, that woman on the train has a bond with her baby, one that can never be broken, because it is all consuming and overwhelming. 

What is that bond? It’s love, and I felt honoured to have witness it in action today amongst all the chaos of today’s world. Love conquers all.

Solo Parenting…

Recently I was a solo parent whilst the husband was away on a course for work.

It was quite daunting thinking that I would have to juggle the needs of 3 children on my own, whilst trying to keep to as normal as a routine as possible.

I decided to invest in lots of chocolate prior to the solo parenting week, as figured if all went astray I could find comfort in that. Of course any parent worth their salt knows where to hide their “treats” out of sight and reach of eager to eat anything in sight sprogs. (Well anything that’s not seen as offensive such as vegetables or certain meats!)

Off the husband went merrily that first morning, free as a bird. Except I had a cunning plan, he wasn’t going to get out of it totally. I figured that thanks to modern technology he could FaceTime the sprogs to read bedtime stories to them whilst I got their stuff ready (read that as code for scoff chocolate whilst sprogs preoccupied). Did this plan work I hear you ask? I’ll just point to the chocolate wrappers in the bin, that’ll give you your answer.

One of the daunting stuff for me was that I would have to do the morning routine on my own. Usually the husband motivates and helps the big two sprogs to get dressed and have breakfast, whilst I breastfeed the youngest, change his nappy, wrestle suitable clothes onto him and sort his breakfast, whilst at same time sort myself out for the day. I’m not a morning person, but decided the only way the mornings were going to work was by getting up earlier than usual. As a person who loves my sleep this was a big undertaking to lose an extra half hour, but I knew that this was the only way feasibly to survive the morning routine. So I did it, and it worked well.

The oldest sprog goes to a couple of clubs during the week, and I didn’t want to disrupt the routine, so had to figure out the best way to get her there and back, whilst factoring in bath and bedtime for the other sprogs. Managed to get friends to help with the first club. The second one had to factor in a swimming lesson for the middle sprog, so devise a cunning plan to take kids to the Evil M Empire for tea, drop oldest sprog off at club, go home and bathe/change the youngest. It was pretty exhausting trying to do all this single handed but I did it.

During the course of the week I had to deal with an anxious sprog undertaking the Year 6 SATS, sort out any disputes between the kids, entertain and meet all their needs, whilst carrying on with my work too. It was pretty full on, and I was glad to see the end of the week, as life went back to normal with the return of the husband.

As the week progressed, I was touched by the support of friends who made a meal, helped with bedtime and checked that I was alright. But it got me thinking about those who do this on a regular basis, day in and out without a partner. How often do we stop to check if those parents are ok, offer them practical and emotional support? How often do we turn to them and tell them what a great job they are doing bringing up their family whilst juggling it along with the rest of their life stuff? I suspect for most of us (and I include myself in that) we don’t because either we’re so caught up in our own lives, or we simply don’t register how hard it is to actually to do this all on your own.  We need to be supporting these parents and their families more, as it really doesn’t take a lot to make a call, catch up over a brew or to offer practical support. They might not be shouting it from the rooftops, but they do need someone every now and again to boost them up, to let them know that someone cares.

So for those I know who solo parent, I want to let you know I think you are amazing to do this and not lose the plot! You are what my sprogs would call a super star. 

Stepping out of the comfort zone.

Like many people I use Facebook, and occasionally look back at previous posts.  I shared one recently, as it struck a chord with me.  A reminder to never accept things as they are, and to aim higher, even if it means stepping out of the comfort zone.  A friend felt that it should be shared with a wider audience, so here it is…

Sounding muffled…

Recently I noticed that I was starting to hear sound more muffled.  It was quite strange, almost like being back in the past pre-implant where I would be hearing fine, and then suddenly the sound would drop and anything heard came out all muffled.  Back in the days pre-implant, this was happening more and more, until gradually it became normal to hear sound muffled.  So when my implant was switched on, and the sound was no longer muffled it was like a real revelation to hear sounds so crisp and sharp again, after having spent so long in a muffled world.

I had forgotten about all this until Friday when I went to Manchester to get the muffled sound checked out.  It’s funny isn’t it, how you can forget things after a while, once you get used to things being as they are?

I went to my appointment on Friday taking in sounds around me, noticing that they were dull and muffled, and wondering just how many other sounds I was not hearing.  I was a tad anxious that maybe my implant was failing, and what implications that this would have for me if this were the case.

I arrived at my appointment, and the audiologist did various tests on my implant using specialistic computer equipment which could check the implant in my ear, and the processor on the outside.  It was quite fascinating watching a replica of the cochlear light up green, as each section of the coil was tested.   It wasn’t until the audiologist completed all the testing that I could relax secure in the knowledge that my implant was fine.

The sound problem turned out to be the processor.  All it needed was the audiologist to replace the faulty processor (which to be fair has been hard at work for a number of years and just worn out) for a new one.

It wasn’t until I went back out onto the streets of Manchester that I realise just how muffled sound had got again with the faulty processor, and I walked slowly along taking in the sounds of a busy city with awe and delight, just as I did that first day when my implant was switched on.  I bet there weren’t very many out there walking along that same stretch of road enjoying the sensation of hearing a busy city in action, most likely they were wishing it were quieter, or not even noticing, having got used to it as being normal for them.

It reminded me that we shouldn’t take for granted what we have, or even to accept things as they are, and that we should always strive for better.  If we stay within our comfort zone, we’ll never get to experience that joy and awe of something so much better, much more than we could ever imagine.  C Implant

“Losing belief in one’s abilities to succeed.”

As a parent it’s been very disheartening to watch my eldest child, along with her friends become more and more stressed, tearful, anxious and self doubting their worth. They look pale, with dark circles under their eyes and prone to crying lots. 

What is the cause of this? In one word – SATS. Like thousands of other children up and down this country, they are all being forced by Educational policy to undertake intense tests to determine if the teaching is up to scratch. People may say,”Oh don’t worry about it. It’s not you they are assessing, it’s your teachers.” but those words are meanless. Why? Because our children are being told they have to pass or they fail. If they don’t pass then they will be forced to retake the tests again in the future. 

In the run up to SATS the children aren’t learning, they are cramming. They come home every day drained of colour and red eyed from crying, clutching yet more practice papers to do in the vain hope that this will help them crack the SATS to get a pass.

The problem is that they are screwed. Education big wigs changed the goal posts, they are expected to know far more stuff, beyond that of their age and abilities. Their teachers don’t know whether they are coming or going, as they are told to “raise standards” further. How far is too far? We’re developing a nation of children, stressed out with low self esteem, because they are told they are “failures”, because they cannot meet the impossible education goals set by those in government responsible for the nation’s education.

We’re losing fantastic teachers by the day, who cannot cope with the sheer pressure that they are being placed under. They are no longer teachers, just drones imparting words and facts to children, who in turn lose the zest to seek knowledge and to learn from it, because they doubt that they can.

Government policy may be to increase the standard of education in our nation, but at the moment it seems to come at a price, the loss of a generation’s belief in its abilities to succeed, when all they hear is “Failure! Failure!”