It’s been a year!

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I honestly can’t believe it’s been a whole year since I last sat down to write a blog post and, even worse, my last post was all about how I was going to revamp my life and start writing again. To be fair, I have been writing, just not on here. Having relinquished anonymity on this blog, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing what was going on in my life here. Suffice to say it has been a tough year for all my family and life continues to hold more than its fair share of challenges but we have emerged stronger and, for the most part, closer. I have no idea what the future holds but I do know we all have to move forward with our lives and remember that there is only so much that we can do to affect negative influences.

When my children were small my mantra was always ‘tomorrow is another day.’ The wonderful thing about young children is that they never hold grudges; they may go to bed screaming blue murder but at some point in the night their mutinous faces will be transformed into angelic ones and they always wake with masses of energy, ready to launch themselves into a new day. As they become older this changes and they like to remind their parents of the various crimes and misdemeanours perpetrated against them the previous day, week, month, year. They go to bed in a bad mood and they wake up in that same mood. But what I have realised is that no matter what someone else is feeling, the way I feel is entirely down to me. If I want to be happy then it up to me to be happy, my happiness shouldn’t depend on anyone else. Naturally I may feel saddened by things going on around me, I’m certainly not suggesting that I should lose all empathy for others, but no matter what is happening externally I can still feel happiness. I can still take pleasure in a starry night, a beautiful sunrise, a sunny day, a cup of tea, a delicious meal, a chat with a friend, a cosy night by the fire. And it is all these little things which will make me feel happy. I can’t control what goes on in the world, I can’t control how my adult children live their lives, I can’t control how my ex-husband talks to me but I can control my response, I can shrug it off and concentrate on myself. I can acknowledge the fact that I can do nothing to change things and instead sit down and knit a scarf, instead of worrying about a problem I can’t solve I can take five minutes to enjoy watching the birds in the garden.

My priority at the moment is taking time to enjoy the moment, I’m trying to simplify my life and trying to spend more time doing the things that make me happy. I’m looking at various business ventures which will capitalise on my enjoyment of crafts and I’m generally being kinder to myself. As the saying goes: “happiness is a journey, not a destination.” How true that is. I, for one, am determined to open my eyes, uncover my ears and enjoy every bit of it. I hope you do too.

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Too busy!

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It seems ages since I even had a chance to look at this blog, let alone write anything. It’s been a chaotic few weeks, starting with my youngest contracting chickenpox so being off school, adjusting to having all five boys at home rather than three with the consequent rise in food preparation, food shopping and laundry, a constant stream of end of term events to prepare for and attend, my youngest fracturing his ankle in the last week of his term, not to mention all the general busy-ness that I face on a standard day. It all has been a bit much recently and I have felt like everything has been out of control but I think I am beginning to get on top of things once more.

So apologies for my total neglect of my blog and for my silence elsewhere but something had to slip.

Please don’t give up on me!

Kate x

Chickenpox

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imgresMy poor 11 year old has come down with chickenpox. It’s such unfortunate timing for him as he only has another two and a half weeks left at his current school before saying goodbye to many of his classmates and starting at secondary school in September. It’s also a very unfortunate illness for him in particular as he already suffers from acutely itchy skin from eczema and hay fever. But on a more positive note I don’t have the school run and I get to spend some lovely snuggly time with him; it’s a great excuse to forget about work too!

We haven’t had chickenpox in the family for 15 years. That time my second child had a mild case the week before the February half term and then very kindly passed it on to the rest of us including me who somehow, despite my mum’s concerted efforts, had refused to succumb to the virus as a child. So we had a housebound half term week: my 3 year old who was completely better and full of energy, my 5 year old who had been looking forward to a fun packed holiday from school, my 18 month old and me, six months pregnant with my fourth child. My husband was between jobs at the time but, true to form, seemed to remember various meetings he needed to set up which would involve him staying away from home. To be honest it was just as well as he was never terribly helpful at times of illness and was always a trifle (??) on the impatient side when it came to children crying or making the slightest fuss about anything. From starting off feeling as if we were going to have a miserable week we actually ended up having a lovely time together and it is a week that we often look back on fondly. Our chickenpox week also became known as the week we became part of Pontypandy, home of Fireman Sam. In between making cookies, playing with play dough, painting pictures, reading stories and having long baths to alleviate the itchiness, we watched episode after episode of Fireman Sam. We must have watched each episode several times over as I’m sure we only had one Fireman video but it didn’t matter as we needed to absorb every last detail so that we could then re-enact each episode ourselves. That week I became Bella Lasagne, the rather scatty Italian owner of Pontypandy’s cafe and the owner of Rosa the cat. I played the role to the full and ended up speaking in a broken Italian accent for the majority of the week. Even now 15 years later I still find myself becoming Bella if I need to cheer everyone up or distract people from meal time squabbles. I doubt if any of us will ever be able to watch an episode of Fireman Sam without thinking of that week, incredibly itchy, housebound and isolated but full of fun, laughter and jollity.

So I am going to view the next few days as a chance to do some fun things with my youngest child ahead of the school holidays. We can play in the garden, read our current book, do some crafts, bake and watch some films together. Hopefully he too will be able to look back on his chickenpox week with fond memories that will stay with him forever. Which character should I be this time?

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Family Holidays (Part One)

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I have so many lovely memories of childhood family holidays. My father loved planning holidays and always had a stack of holiday brochures in his bedside cabinet. Growing up we never had lots of spare money but he considered a holiday to be a priority and so every year carefully worked out the household budget to ensure that this was possible. It didn’t matter if we could only go away for a few days and didn’t matter if we stayed in the most modest of places, what was important was that we went away together and spent some time away from the usual interruptions of normal life. It was his way of giving our mum a break, of thanking her for all she did for the family, and it was an opportunity to show us more of the country in which we lived and then later, when there was a bit more money and we could travel abroad, to show us different cultures. I didn’t realise until later that it was also his chance to mark our parents’ wedding anniversary.

Many of my best holiday memories actually derive from things that went wrong: breaking down in France miles away from anywhere and before the days of mobile phones, my parents sticking their head in a gas cooker in a holiday cottage trying to light it and losing their eyebrows, being woken by concerned parents sure I was having an asthma attack only to discover it was a donkey roaming around outside. Holidays are just like normal life in that they are unpredictable, you have to be prepared for all the best laid plans going wrong. We had two nights in Paris at the end of a French camping holiday and my father had devised a busy sightseeing schedule which would culminate in an evening walk along the Champs d’Elysee and a special meal  to mark another year of being happily married. Unfortunately I started to feel unwell during the day and by evening had a raging temperature so much to his frustration my father was forced to go with just my brothers while my mother remained in the hotel to tend to me. My abiding memory is waking hours later to find that my fever had abated, my father and brothers had returned after having a very pleasant evening together and I was ‘forgiven’. We celebrated with  some extortionately priced ice cold bottles of coke from a vending machine in the hotel lobby and some food that my mother seemed to rustle up from nowhere;  what had been a miserable day for me was transformed into one of warmth, love and laughter which will always remain in my memory.

Many of our holidays involved driving long distances, a burden  which fell solely on my father’s shoulders as my mum never passed her test. My mum was sacked from navigating when she told him to turn right as we approached a roundabout with about seven exits. I will never forget his exasperation with her, caused entirely by the heat, fatigue and hunger. As a result my oldest brother took on the role of navigator although it soon became clear that this was a mixed blessing. Although his map reading skills were exceptional and he gave clear instructions, he would never ever take the shortest route between two points but instead would opt for ‘the scenic route’. This would invariably involve a multitude of winding roads miles from anywhere (probably a major contributor to our breakdown) but my father stoically drove and we all enjoyed the varied sights along the way although we could have done without  the frequent fear that we would run out of petrol far from civilisation!

There was the year I ate only wholefoods and so refused to eat any white bread. My dad would uncomplainingly drive for miles to find a boulangerie that sold ‘pain complet’ just for me. There was the time my mum tried on some wellies at the market (I’m not sure why as we were in Provence and the weather was consistently hot, sunny and very dry) and then found that she couldn’t get them off. I was of absolutely no help whatsoever as I was convulsed with hysterical laughter.

My father had a range of shirts which he kept specially for holidays as they were short sleeved, natural fabrics and very comfortable. For some reason his holiday shirts were all in orange and red tones and my mum always used to joke that at least we would be able to spot him anywhere. Until that is we lost him in an enormous  French hypermarket on a day when it seemed that every single man over thirty  was dressed in red or orange. 

And there was the holiday in France where we rented a gite for the first time. The first week of our stay was unseasonably cold and wet and the gite was draughty, dirty and cold. Although it had been advertised as having inclusive heating this did not work so we decided we would have to contact the owners to see what could be done. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing we managed to get the owners out to discuss the issues we had with the gite. I was studying French at ‘A’ level so wrote down everything that had to be said but refused to do the actual talking (too shy) so instead made my mum do it, grimacing all the time at her bad pronunciation (what a brat I was). Eventually it was agreed that the gite would be thoroughly cleaned and the furnace would be repaired so that the heating and hot water systems would work properly. By the next day the system had cranked up, the heaters were all fired up and…. the weather changed. For the next four days we absolutely sweltered as even with heaters turned off the furnace was generating masses of heat on its own. 

There are so many tales most of which probably seem so humdrum and ordinary  but which made our family holidays so special. We explored new places, we tried new foods, we experienced new cultures but fundamentally our holidays were about being together, no telephones, no letters, no other demands on our time. We would all return home feeling happier, more relaxed and closer to one another. 

So what’s the key to a successful family holiday? Planning, enthusiasm and a willingness to adapt, to accept that holidays with children are different. For my part I love travelling with children and have had so many adventures with them (more of that in part 2). We’ve had our fair share of holiday ‘disasters’ ourselves but overall I think we’ve done pretty well. I can’t wait until our next one! 

 

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Waiting

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imagesIt’s Friday night, the start of half term and a welcome break from revision and exams. Two of my sons are out with friends and I’m on standby waiting for the text to say they’d like to be picked up. We’ve agreed a latest time for collection but they know that they can contact me anytime and I’ll set off to get them. 

I’m filled with apprehension, so many things could go amiss. My sons are lovely, they’ve given me very little trouble over the years, they’re polite, caring and considerate. Best of all they’re good at choosing loyal friends. They’re all pretty sensible and they look out for each other but once they reach an age where alcohol is involved anything can happen. It only takes one person in the group to have one too many drinks for things to go wrong and that puts everyone in danger. One drink too many may cause someone to become outspoken and lead to a fight. One drink too many may result in someone being stupid and getting everybody into trouble. One drink too many may stop someone from being careful when walking through town. One drink too many may lead them to take risks and get in a car with a driver who’s been drinking. One drink too many may lead to an encounter with the police. One drink too many may result in a night at the hospital.

I try to relax, I try not to worry, I remind myself that my boys are sensible but at night the demons in my head don’t go away and I can’t settle. It’s on nights like this that I really miss having a partner, someone who can allay my fears, someone to lean on if things do go wrong. Instead it’s the turn of my 15 year old to keep me company until I get the text to set off and collect his brothers. He understands that I worry and he lifts my spirits with his cheerful conversation. I know he will stay up until we return, just in case he’s needed. It makes me sad that he has to give me this support but it makes me so proud that he wants to do this, not just for me but for his siblings.

So I sit and I wait. I perpetually look at my watch, willing the time to go more quickly. Why is it that during the day I never have enough hours to get all my work done and yet now, when I want it to go fast, time seems to stand still. Soon I’ll be able to set off and collect them. We’ll drop off various friends on the way and finally we’ll be home, safe and sound. They’ll be happy and chatty and probably keep me up for another hour or so playing me songs, telling me about their escapades and even though I’ll be desperate for bed, I’ll stay up with them, enjoying the moment and rejoicing that once again all is well. 

 

Say No To Bullying

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imgres-1The other day my son told me that he’d been bullied throughout the course of two school years by a couple of boys in his form. It was the first time he had mentioned it and I was totally shocked as I had never had any inkling that anything had been amiss. It seems that the bullying was carried out by two particular boys who have a reputation for bring thoroughly unpleasant. Luckily for my son form time was a short affair and he did not have to endure these boys during lessons or at break times but it was clear that he had been through a terrible ordeal. When I asked him why he’d never said anything he replied that he was afraid things would be made worse, that he would gain a reputation for telling tales,  that he would suffer retaliation. I am glad that finally he was able to speak out but I am mortified that it has taken so long to do.

I have failed him, totally and unequivocally. We talk about things in our family, we talk about world events, death, sex, drugs, alcohol, money, morals, ethics. I have tried never to shy away from any topic that has been brought up even if at times I have had to talk separately to older and younger children. So in a home where there is free and open discussion, why oh why was my son unable to talk about being bullied? 

But I know that I mustn’t be too hard on myself. There were no signs that anything was wrong: he didn’t stay off school, he wasn’t quiet and withdrawn, his schoolwork didn’t seem to suffer, he didn’t come home with cuts and bruises or with torn clothes, he didn’t bully his siblings. We can only deal with problems if we know about them and sometimes people don’t want to share, perhaps because by saying it out loud it becomes real or they feel the problem is their fault or they want to protect other people from anxiety. 

And I know that his school bears responsibility for failing to act. It seems that on one occasion the bullies were seen doing something to my son and all the boys were sent to see their Head of Year. My son went along with their version of events that it was a game for fear of reprisals but really his teacher should have realised that these boys were unlikely to be part of his social group and should have investigated the matter further or at least alerted me to the possibility that there may be something untoward going on.

We need to be aware that just because a school has a policy of zero tolerance where bullying is concerned this does not by itself eliminate bullying. Our children need to be told time and time again that they must not allow themselves to become victims and that they must report bullying whether it is against themselves or someone else. Children need to really understand what constitutes bullying; it is not simply physical violence but includes ‘teasing’, name calling, excluding children from games, spreading rumours, taking belongings. And we need to be on the lookout in case our own children are the ones who are being the bullies.

I wish I could turn back the clock and put things right but of course I can’t. All I can do is be even more vigilant with his brothers to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again and offer as much support to my son as possible as he deals with the aftermath of what happened to him: anxiety, feelings of low self esteem, fear. I wish I could take the hurt away and make him whole again but that is a slow process, he is a different person now than he would have been, less trusting, more wary but probably also with more compassion and more understanding of how easy it is to become a victim and how hard it is to forget.

 

A bump in the road

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It always happens; family life is going smoothly, everyone seems happy and then, without warning, you hit a bump in the road. We had one last year when my then seventeen year old turned my feelings of complacency upside down. There had been signs that all was not right but nothing really that couldn’t be explained by normal teenage angst. Unwittingly we all started to walk on eggshells around him. He got to choose what we did, no-one contradicted him, we made life as easy as we could for him because after all he was doing exams, it was a stressful time for him. But then one summer’s night, the first day that everyone started their long holiday, all the anxiety that must have been bubbling under the surface suddenly came to a head. He was abusive, both verbally and physically, harmed himself, punched others, told his youngest brother he was leaving home, told people he had to get away or he’d kill himself. I don’t think we’ll ever really know what sparked all this off. Alcohol certainly added fuel to the fire but I think it was inevitable that the dam would burst at some stage. The repercussions were horrendous and shook the whole family to the core. He said some pretty hateful things to people and whether they were meant or not they certainly had a damaging effect. His youngest brothers were scared by both his venom and his physical strength, his other brothers felt angry with him for behaving in such a way but also protective of him and sad that the closeness that had always existed between them seemed to have disappeared. And me? I was utterly devastated. None of my children had ever used the ‘hate’ word to me before and I took it at face value. My confidence as a mother was shaken to the core and I felt that I had obviously failed completely as a parent. I totally blamed myself for making my child unhappy and believed that our family unit would never recover. I found it impossible to remind myself of all the other happy times we had had and could only think about this particular night, replaying the events over and over in my mind trying to make sense of what had happened. 

It was a tense summer to say the least. After a couple of weeks staying with his dad my son returned home and we all tried to move forward but it was difficult. We all felt wary of him, unsure what might trigger another outburst. And we all felt that he looked down on us, that ‘hate’ word was hard to shake off. Primarily though we were concerned for him; he was obviously suffering and was obviously scared himself. Anyone who has ever felt depressed will know that sometimes people can just feel awful all of the time without knowing why. As friends and family we tend to want to find solutions for them when really there are none; all we can really do is be there for them and follow their cues.

September came and with it a new school, a fresh start and very slowly we started to see him return to his former self. At the start it was a tentative journey to recovery but then one day we all realised that he had returned to us. Once more he is  becoming that lovely, thoughtful, generous young man who cares deeply about his family. Once more he is showing his love for his family in affectionate gestures and in his words. I think he still has anxiety issues but he is learning to acknowledge these to himself thereby learning to deal with them. 

I have always been proud of him but never more so than now when I see him working so hard to move forward in a positive fashion. It is so easy for people to hit a bump in the road and to allow the rest of their life to be defined by that event; it is so much harder to pick oneself up, shake oneself down and start again.And I have been so proud of his brothers who have stood by him, who have understood that we are there for each other no matter what, who never turned their backs on him but instead went out of their way to reconnect with him. The experience has changed us all; it has made us more aware of our own human frailty, more understanding of others’ frailty and more conscious of the fact that we must never take our family for granted. 

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