Wednesday, February 01, 2017

so what have you learnt ?

An article caught my eye today, Huffington Post's "National Children's Day: Why is it important for parents to focus on their own wellbeing"

How do we care for ourselves ? Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by the demands of life, my children, my husband, all the responsibilities of running a home, everyone's social lives, feeding, clothing, co-ordinating, that my needs and my identity are deleted. I allow them to be crushed into a tiny corner by the needs of these three people. Ah the tyranny of the inner voice !
I remember feeling so strongly that the Parenting Course was a bridge too far...
Here we sat, listening to all the fine advice in the world on raising children the right way, but all I felt was EMPTY. I raged against the course's premise, the assumption that every mummy and daddy has all their shit sorted, that they're filled to the brim with good feelings, good intentions, oodles of energy - both emotional and physical, and lots of support. It's someone's dream. It certainly didn't reflect my reality when we did it. I felt locked out of that 'normal': families that had a few struggles, but overall were on top of things, had healthy emotional and psychological lives, where the adults were adults, and the children were children. What I realised - thanks in a large part to therapy - is that THAT idyllic 'normal' was absolute drivel. Nicky and Sila Lee have issues, all the people they interviewed have issues, the people sitting next to me on the course had issues, the leaders of the course had issues. The course didn't deal with those issues, instead it added the enormous burden of 'how you should do the job'. Ha! what a joke.
Teaching parenting is much like raising children - a combination of nature and nurture. Attending that course was a bit like trying to nurture ourselves, to feed the bits that felt wholely unprepared for this role. While what we do when we parent is live out our own experience of being children again, and we do it to our kids. It brings me back to that post I wrote in January 2015 - with the two poems.

We really have to learn how to recognise and affirm the (innate) parenting in ourselves that is entirely nature, and be empowered to nurture ourselves and grow. A parenting course is NOT going to do that.

We need kindness and love, from within and without, to take the next step to being the parents; not the buddies, not the nazis, but the adults in the relationship.

My most recent insight is the essentialness of joint parenting - but that's another blog post.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

in my own room

we have made it to 2017! and Zack is in a good space... it's his last day of holidays and he's back to school on Monday. We had my mum here for 3 weeks, and it went off pretty well. I think the biggest observation for us was that she slept in Zack's bed, in Zack's room. Which meant that he was displaced, and the initial novelty of sleeping in Calvin's room in the bunk bed soon turned to a chore. His little brother wouldn't stay up all night talking - he gets tired and goes to sleep. Zack struggled with that. Keith and I sat with him trying to understand why he was 'out of sorts' and he had the emotional intelligence to say, to identify for himself, that he was out of his room, and it was disrupting his equilibrium. It's funny to hear it from you son, and then to think, 'Well, wasn't that blatantly obvious!?', which of course it was, but only once Zack had pointed it out.
Suffice it to say, he got through Mum's visit and being out of his room, but he was delighted when he could move back in.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

year 6, and now we are 10 and a half

The new academic year begins and with it an chance to look back at what has been overcome, what has been achieved in the past 12 months. St Chris has been exactly the right thing for Zack, and their approach has been a gift to our family. In so many ways, we are experiencing the joy of 'normal' family interaction. Not normal for all, but a new normal for us: one where we aren't walking on egg-shells the entire time waiting for Zack to blow a fuse and ruin it all. I took the boys away for a week in the summer to Gloucestershire and it was a really good break - just the 3 of us. The boys coped well, and loved visiting friends with dogs and small babies. Having their attention directed elsewhere. We will be returning to Gloucestershire this weekend for a christening. I am expecting the same. Which only shows that the changes HAVE been internalised, for which I am grateful, grateful, grateful.
Zack has made enormous headway. New teacher, new academic year, all an improvement. He still has struggles, but he is hugely empathetic, thoughtful, kind, considerate, and pure gold in many ways. Every time I am faced with the latest revelation from the "old school", I'm encouraged that it was the right decision. Zack is not run-of-the-mill, he is not like the majority. He needs a different approach. Even now, when his routine is disrupted, it affects him greatly. Yes, less than it did before, but I see him 'disrupted' when things aren't as they aught.
He's growing up quickly, becoming more adolescent, aware of his body, his feelings. He's so keen to be tall, as big as me. He desperately wants to be grown up, have big feet to match his big body. He is beautiful, and in time will be a beautiful man: sensitive, intelligent, kind and wonderful. It is such a journey though, and so many hurdles and challenges to face, so much wisdom required to discern and grow.

Friday, January 22, 2016

January and new beginnings

Well, it’s been MONTHS since I wrote, and we’ve had a few speed bumps along the way, but overall Zack is transforming slowly into a much happier, centred boy. St Christopher’s is a curiosity to me - that a school could exist where children can be themselves, teacher’s are caring and so, very, interested in their pupil’s wellbeing and obtaining the best from them. That education seems fun, and studies feel like juicy grapes, ready to be bitten. I don’t get a sense of the penal attitude that is so very prevalent in his old school. For example, one of the girl’s in his class had a very difficult day on Wednesday and had a massive meltdown at school. Her mum felt it necessary to email all the class parents and explain, as well as apologise. I said there was no need, and that we all understand how hard it can be. How different from his old school! There was no, “X got a red card” or, “X got detention!” which is what Calvin brings home regularly.
When questioned by a good friend, if he’d made some friends, Zack responded with:
“Everyone in my class is my friend!”
I was open-mouthed with joy and relief. I know that he has made friends with children in years below and above him, as well as a few of the teenagers (see my previous post) on the coach/bus. He is now at ease with the coach journey - with where he sits and what he does. Those teething problems were a part of the adjustment process. He knows the names of other bus-trippers, and shares ear-phones with them. They play games and compare scores. It's so healthy.
We’ve also seen real signs that he is feeling better in himself - the past week has been pretty smooth going in the mornings. Having to get up every day at 6am, while it’s still dark, has been hard-going. In December we’d had a few really difficult mornings - Zack throwing enormous, shout-y tantrums and having to be carried (80kgs) to the car so he doesn’t miss the bus. But the past week or so, has seen a boy waking up by himself, without prompting, having set his own alarm. I’m still having to dress him, but not having to fight about waking up is a big thing.
Now that we’re into the second term of year 5, he has joined two after-school groups playing netball on Mondays and rugby on Tuesdays. It means he gets the late bus home, and I only pick him up at 6:50pm - a very late, long day for a 9 year old. But he often does a little dance as he walks from the coach to the car which speaks volumes about his inner state.
A few weeks ago, we went for a blood test at the local hospital, which didn’t happen because he’d worked himself into a state of high-agitation saying “I hate needles!”, “I can’t do this Mummy!”, “I’m scared!”… it’s a tough one, because I decided that it would be better to give him the heads-up that we were going. But the downside was that he had a few days to dwell on the terror of having a needle stuck in his arm. aaarrghhh!
Then, last week, he said to me, “Mum, my god-mother Heather only cuts her hair once a year. I think that’s a really good idea. If I cut my hair really short, I would also only have to cut it once a year.”
His hair is well below his shoulders now and the bird’s nest at the back of his head has grown. The challenge of brushing it and washing it, loomed large, as it we’d had a number of ‘discussions’ in December while in SA, to no avail.
I agreed, that cutting it a lot would mean not having to do it as frequently. As such he insisted that we make an appointment for the weekend, and he have his hair lopped off.
I took him to the hairdresser on Sunday, and we cut, cut, cut it. He cried a bit when she combed it - the part he hates the most. But it is now radically shorter, tho’ not a buzzcut. In the middle of it all, Zack said to me, “Mum, I am facing my fears.”
I just want to hug and kiss him. I squeezed his little hands and said, “I am so proud of you. This is a big, big thing. Lots of people never face their fears love, and you are nine and you’re doing it!”
When we got home the verdict was, “Mum, it’s not short enough! and the blow-dry makes it look poofy!”
By Monday the verdict had changed to, “its not really a boy’s haircut Mom. I look like a girl with short hair.” You have to laugh, because in SA he was addressed as ‘young lady’ and ‘madam’ a few times - a country where people CANNOT get their heads around a boy with long hair. ha ha.
So we now have another appointment for Sunday this week, with daddy’s barber, to have it cut much shorter and styled to look more like a boy. Watch this space!
And on top of all that, he said to me, “I think I’m ready to go back and have my blood test Mum”.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

it never rains, but it pours.... good things

I haven't posted in ages - summer holidays were very busy and back to school in the first week of September. So much has happened it's difficult to remember the sequence. I'll dive in here...
Zack had a good Summer Camp - a week in Dorset. Calvin and I went camping which was a mixed experience because the weather was quite extreme, tho' we did have one beautiful day.
Our time away on holiday as a family was also mixed, but I'd say overall a positive one. We travelled to Slovenia with friends and their four children were a good influence on ours - showing the boys how you can 'do chores' and have responsibility without kicking up a fuss or having a tantrum because you've been told to do something. I think the peer pressure was also good because everyone had a job to do.
The plus of that is that we came home and Zack made a 'chores chart' which is stuck on the side of the fridge and everyone has jobs to do. That doesn't mean that they don't argue about doing it, or that anyone actually DOES anything, but it's a start.

We came back anticipating that Zack would 'phase out' of his current school and start attending the remedial school in East Finchley on a full-time basis. This only lasted for a week because we got a call from St Chris in his second week at school to say they'd like to see him for a full day - time in his 'future class' and time for an assessment. This went ahead the following day, which was all very sudden, but could not have gone better. Keith was very impressed, and we were able to spend more than 40 minutes talking to the SENCO and her 2IC.

We were offered a place, starting on 2 November, so Zack had the remainder of the half-term to 'take his leave' of St James. His departure was measured and kind - he had a chance to make individually designed biscuits for each classmate, which he loved - he was able to craft his "goodbye', his way. That was a gift, and entirely because we were given the time. I've learned a huge lesson about not rushing into things, taking action because life is unbearable, patience such an untenable request.

Zack started at St Chris on Monday. It's been "fine". But today he had a run-in with the bus driver. He wanted Zack to stay seated, with a seat-belt for the entire journey. Zack wants to be friends, he wants to interact. He wants to hang with the teens, like he does with teens who babysit, but the highschool kids on the bus don't want him to be in their faces. They moved, so he moved. Bus driver wants him to stay seated. Predicament....

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

why? OT why ?

So the Psych says, he's got sensory processing issues. My niece on my side, and my nephew on my husband's side, have both got sensory issues, so I'm thinking "Yeah. I can see there might be a link". I put everything I have into finding an OT - it's insanely scarce in London. I ask everyone I know who might be able to help, even a friend whose son has Downs Syndrome that I haven't seen in 6 years. Slowly word trickles back, but there's not much. And then when I'm feeling desperate one evening, I get an email from a friend of a friend and BAM! I have a name. It's an OT in Mill Hill - not far from me. Only 18 minutes drive. Whoohoo!
I make an appointment, she sounds great.
I meet her. We talk. She is very sincere and keen to help.
And yesterday evening I take Zack. He goes in for his assessment. He is chatty and keen.
I sit outside for 30 minutes. Then I go in, and she says, she's baffled. She says he's absolutely fine and has NO motor-skill issues. She says he is completely well-developed and was quick at all the tasks. We talk for a while and she says she thinks all his issues may be behavioural and emotional, linked with the academic environment.
WHAT !?!?!?!
I don't know what to say. I want to scream and cry. I suppose I should feel relieved that it's ruled out one factor, but part of me is really sad, as OT is fun and creative. And it would have been a great foil to the muddy, messy, painful world of therapy. Zack doesn't want to talk to a therapist like the one he had. But if the OT is right, that's what he needs most - more behavioural therapy, more psych.
And to top it all off, he was listening at the door while the OT and I were talking (not great), and wanted to know if he could go to Boarding School (!). He was insistent that that's what we'd said, and that's what he heard. I denied it, but he was convinced. Bit of a yucky outcome really. I explored it a bit on the drive home, "Have you been thinking about boarding school before ? Where did you hear about boarding school? Do you have a friend who is at boarding school? What do you think boarding school is like?"
He doesn't have a friend at boarding school. Not that I know of.
We discussed the ins and outs of boarding school and I also said that he was a bit young to go.

I feel so weary about all this.

Anyone want to buy two enormous books on kids with sensory issues ? ahem.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Weary but still moving forward

So the past few weeks have been decidedly up and down. Going back to school on the 1st of June, and kicking that off with the Clinical Psych's assessement seemed to usher in a phase of miserable in the school environs. It's funny how you don't realise how good things have been until things are really, really shit again, and you feel like, "what the hell is going on? are we back at square one?".

There's always something, and at the moment it's one little boy in Zack's class. It's hard to unravel what happens but I'd say that Zack winds him up, but also more importantly, that there is stuff going on in this little chap's life and he doesn't have anywhere to "put" it. His mum and dad split up a few years ago, and daddy has a new girlfriend. His younger brother is a stellar little football player and has recently had trials at one of the big London clubs. You can understand that just one of these things would unsettle a boy of 8 or 9, but together they're pretty insurmountable. And you know what that means - find a target and put the negative crap in your life, there. So Zack has been the receptacle week-after-week of this boy's shit. He goads him, he blames him, he uses him as an emotional dump.
Have I spoken to the parents ? No. Why ? I am so, so, so dog-tired of explaining this to people who really don't care.
Everyone just wants good little kiddies who are no trouble at all.


On a more positive note, Zack has had a significant amount of "reading support" of school, and it has made a massive difference. We have a son who is keen to read on his own - and I am amazed! Initially it was just reading the children's Storybook Bible - lots of pictures and not much text. But this past week he's delved into the Beast Quest series. They're books that he's had lying around for years but just couldn't read. All of a sudden he's demolishing them. This weekend he read all 8 chapters of one book, and I've been instructed to got the children's bookshop and get the next one. Yessir !!
Interestingly I see he reads the words aloud to himself - not silently in his head. But I thought he was reading the storybook Bible silently... I'll keep a look out and see how it rolls. I'm just so impressed at the progress. Of course, we're making a big fuss of this new skill.

Calvin is reading happily too, however it's competitive and not so much for pleasure. He's ploughing through Roald Dahl's George's Marvellous Medicine. And is terribly keen to harvest the points he know he'll get for each page he reads.

Points you ask ? yes, we have a point system for the boys. It's directly correlated with pocket money. We give points as a motivator for alot of things eg. good behaviour, considerate behaviour, kindness, bringing plates to the kitchen after a meal, reading, correcting behaviour (eg. teaching Calvin that skid-marks in your underpants aren't necessary), listening well, etc. Initially we'd started out with a add and subtract system, but the therapist felt that Zack needed to have ONLY successes on that board, so we don't subtract points any more. Children know that "consequences" are really just another word for punishment because they aren't empowered. So we continue on the points system.

On the schooling front, we had a surprising breakthrough last week Wednesday - I had a call from St Christopher's to say that they'd like to meet Zack and set up an assessment date in the new term. I was blown away and soooo relieved. That's persistence for you - I've written to them faithfully whenever we've had information to add, and tried to keep them up to date with what we know, and when they can hope to see more.

Zack and I paid Limespring a visit last week too - for a walk around, and a chance to see the facilities himself. Denise (the head teacher) was excellent - she addressed him directly and made him feel important and at ease. We've put them down as our Plan A for the start of Year 5 - that Zack will either attend Limespring in addition to St James, or go to Limespring full time. A big concern is socialization, but that's a hoop we'll jump through once we've got all the pieces in place. We're also anxious about transitioning. How will Zack cope with changing from one school to another, and potentially a third, if he is offered a place at St Chris? How do we make it as smooth as possible, while supporting his learning needs ? It's complex.

Today he came home from school with a piece of paper with everyone's names on it, and someone (apparently the other Zach in his class) had written 'goodbye Zack' at the top of the page. It's a tough one because we HAVEN'T said he's leaving the school.

It's been a very rough hard bedtime. He has been MASSIVELY O.D.D. (Oppositional Defiance disorder), shouting at Keith, "Dad is an idiot!"
And, "Shut up" at me. He's just upped the ante more and more. Screaming at us, "you don't care!" "you are such meanies!" "Don't you ignore me!", and 'saintly us', we come back time and again saying, "your behaviour is not okay."
And "we don't have to give you attention if you treat us like this."
hell, it's just another episode.
Now he's screaming, "I know what your'e feeling Mom. And you should feel like that!"
Uh huh.
It's so tiring. I hate it. There are days when I could just wring his neck !