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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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. 

 

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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In Praise Of Older Children

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I often find myself wishing I could turn back the clock and relive all those early stages with my children. How much easier it would be with the benefit of hindsight, above all with the knowledge that time passes so quickly and, almost in the blink of an eye, your children are no longer cute little bundles but handsome young adults who tower over you. I have loved all the different stages of my children’s lives; I was one of the really lucky ones for whom breastfeeding was a breeze (which is fortunate as I never could get the hang of sterilising bottles), I thrived on lack of sleep, was super organised and an ace at multi-tasking. I adored having lots of little people around me who all thought I was the most wonderful person in the universe. Life was hectic, I was always exhausted but I was happy. It was always so easy to solve my children’s problems and so easy to make them happy. I literally could “kiss them better.” How different it is as your children grow older. My mother always said to me. “the problems don’t go away as they grow older, they just get bigger”  and how right she was! it is so difficult to watch your older children struggle with obstacles and anxieties and to be able to do no more than offer reassurance that you will love them no matter what. And sometimes you have to stand well back and let your children do it their way even though you know from experience that it will all end in tears. Instead of keeping Humpty Dumpty away from the wall you have to figure out a way of putting all the pieces together again.Sometimes you need to adopt a policy of tough love (easy to say,not so easy to do) and leave your child to deals with the problems they have caused, all the time desperately wanting to demolish every obstacle in their path like a giant wrecking ball. Letting go is so very hard but necessary and definitely gets easier with practice (or so people tell me).

I remember when I was a teenager telling my parents to have faith in the way they had brought me up and I often remind myself of that when dealing with my own children. I always told my parents they had done a good job and had instilled good values in me so why were they so worried? Now, of course, I understand perfectly – the worry starts the moment they enter the world and it never abates, just the same as the total all encompassing love that you feel for them no matter what.

So I look at my own children and yes, of course I worry for them, but at the same time I can see that I’ve done a good job and that I’ve succeeded in raising five incredibly well rounded gorgeous boys. They can be infuriating. untidy, lazy and inconsiderate but if I’m honest a hundred times less so than I was at the same age and I wasn’t a difficult teenager. Most of the time they are a joy to be with. They make me laugh every single day, they support one another, they support me, they are interested in one another and always take time to ask me about my day with genuine interest. They behave well at school, are sociable, hospitable when we have guests. Yes, they often need to be reminded to put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher or throw their rubbish in the bin and even after five years still seem totally incapable of understanding the recycling system but they do respond to clear, direct instructions and will pull together if the house is a mess and “I absolutely must have it tidy right now or I will explode!”And sometimes they surprise me by emptying the dishwasher without being asked, bringing the laundry in off the line if it starts to rain, making me a cup of tea because I look as if I need one or by just giving me a hug when it’s all getting too much and I’m on the verge of teas.

The teenage years are tricky ones but also so much fun. I love the discussions about world issues we have over dinner, I love he fact that sometimes my children will tuck me in bed at night when I’m so tired I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. I love the way they put so much thought into birthday and Christmas gifts for me. I love how they introduce me to new music and also how they check my recent downloads to see if there’s something they can “steal”. I love how polite their friends are when they come round for meals and how kind they are to the eleven year old. I love how protective they are of me and how thoughtful they can be about keeping in touch by text when they are away from home or out late. I love how they have the courage to tell me very calmly when I’m in the wrong and also how they are generous enough to admit it  when they’ve been proved wrong.

I would hate to be a teenager in today’s world; there is so much pressure on them from such an early age to perform well, to look good, to be sporty, talented, cool. And all the time they seem to get such a bad press. Yet, for the most part, the teenagers I encounter on a daily basis are incredible:they are confident, caring, polite, enthusiastic young adults who do us all proud. I know that tomorrow I will have to nag my teenagers to make their beds and tidy their rooms but I also know that they will hug me when they leave for school, hug me when they return and when they go to bed, and they will make me smile and laugh many times in between.

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Teenage Tantrums

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Being a parent of teenagers, I often find myself remembering fondly the days of toddler tantrums although at the time they were inconvenient and trying to say the least. I was lucky and never had to cope with the mortification of a full blown toddler tantrum in a public place; my children kept such behaviour for the privacy of our own home (or sometimes car). So it was relatively easy to deal with, either by distraction techniques or by exhorting them to stop by the time I counted to three – I never did get to three and never worked out what I would do if I ever did, although there was the time my toddler beat me to it ‘2,3, you all go to bed!’ Instead we deposited him in his cot to scream it out while we beat a hasty retreat before dissolving into gales of laughter.

Oh, for the days of being able to scoop up my cross child, place him in a safe place, and give myself time to take a deep breath before having to deal with things. And oh, how quickly did my purple faced child transform into his usual happy smiling self. There were never any recriminations, every bedtime ended in kisses, cuddles and ‘I love you’s, every morning was a fresh start. Sulking would never last more than a few minutes with the child becoming bored, forgetting they were cross or being distracted by a sibling, a game or a silly song.

How different it is now! My teenagers are physically bigger and much stronger than me; I can’t help but feel at a disadvantage when having to look upwards when telling them off. They seem to have amazing memories when it comes to  my misdemeanours and my promises, even though they forget to put their laundry in the linen basket. They will bring up the one occasion when I wrongly blamed them for something another family member did and ignore the millions of times I have supported them. If I’m lucky they will actually tell me what they’re cross about but most likely they’ll just mooch around being uncommunicative and surly and generally making everybody else’s life a misery. It I try to talk calmly that will be held against me and portrayed as a lack of concern. If I disagree with their argument that means I’m not listening to them. If I raise my voice even slightly to be heard above the general hubbub of family life then I’m shouting. Basically, no matter what I do I’m in the wrong.With teenagers the sulking can go on for a long time and can often be accompanied by snide comments either directed at siblings or parents. the worst thing is that they know exactly which buttons to press to exact a feeling of guilt in their parents. This can be hard to shake off and tends to linger at the back of our minds with the result that we become convinced that we have made a total mess of parenting and that our child is beyond hope. It is only when we look at things in the cold light of day or have talked things through with friends that we can accept that it’s not that bad and that our teenager’s behaviour is perfectly normal.

Teenage tantrums are challenging in the extreme although the basic premise is still the same; tantrums are a way of testing the boundaries and teenagers are just the same as toddlers in that deep down they are happier if you can stand firm and stick to your guns. Just as toddlers are negotiating their path into becoming more independent prior to starting school, teenagers too are preparing themselves for the adult world. It’s a good thing that they are ready to question and challenge rather than blindly accepting what they are told. And it’s imperative that they learn to deal with conflict and stress and to develop an appreciation of how their actions impact on other people.

I’m not sure that a teenage tantrum will ever make me laugh in the way that a toddler one could but I can accept that this is a necessary and important phase. It’s exhausting and emotional but really worthwhile when one day they turn round and thank you for being firm but fair. That really has happened with some of my boys, with others it’s still a work in progress. Unfortunately though, I failed to get it in writing so they will probably deny ever having expressed such sentiments.

Guilty Pleasure

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OK, it’s time to own up to my guilty pleasure, a very embarrassing one for a caring, gentle, nurturing mother. I love watching films and television series about organised crimes, things like The Godfather, The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, all of which I have watched many times over. Part of my interest in The Godfather stems from the historical aspect. I love the scenes portraying the family’s arrival at Ellis Island and their early years in the US, but I am also fascinated by the way in which the characters switch so quickly from warm family men to sadistic killers. This is particularly in evidence in The Sopranos where the main character does everything he can to shield his children from his ‘job’ and to steer them towards academic achievement and lawful futures. I am amazed at the almost Jekyll and Hyde personalities of these people, one minute acting as the devoted husband and loving,dutiful son but the next beating a waiter to death for serving the wrong food.

I abhor violence, I really am a gentle person who is patient and loving and kind. I have five sons who have been brought up not to resort to their fists in settling arguments and I can honestly say that I can count on one hand the number of times they fought each other (they did have horrendous verbal arguments but that’s another story). I don’t like blood, rescue spiders from the bath and feel complete and utter remorse if I find a dead mouse in the house (we live in an old house in the country so there’s always at least  one mouse around at harvest time) but when it comes to entertainment I will quite happily watch any amounts of blood and gore. When my children were little I could only indulge my guilty pleasure once they were all safely tucked up in bed and fast asleep. I would watch with the volume turned down low not wanting even the faintest sounds of violence to penetrate the innocent ears of my children. My boys gravitated towards gentle toys like cleaning sets, play kitchens, play shops, arts and crafts, and spent hours immersed in an imaginative world where violence played no part. As they grew older they started to show an interest in the history of the World Wars and learned about the weaponry and battles but still were gentle and non combative. We had many discussions about the futility of war and how violence did not solve problems. Little did any of them know my guilty pleasure.

But boys grow up and become fully aware of the cruelty that exists in the world. At some point my eldest son wanted to watch The Godfather films, partly as background to learning about 1920s America but also because he’d heard what amazing films they were. I was happy to oblige and dutifully sat to ‘supervise’ his viewing. I think at some point during the films it must have become obvious that I had watched them many times before. The proverbial cat was well and truly out of the bag.The bonus was that the two of us could dust off the boxed set of The Sopranos (hidden away during those years when the boys went to bed too late to allow me to watch alone) and we could start watching together from the beginning. Interestingly he too was fascinated by the psychology of the gangsters rather than watching purely from the point of view of the violence. He too is the gentlest of people, proof that watching violence doesn’t make us condone it or become violent ourselves. One thing these films has taught us though is that you can’t always tell what a person is like from the outside; many seemingly innocuous people are in reality monsters just as some people who appear gruff on the outside are really pussy cats.

My eldest son is now away at university and my youngest still far too young to watch such things so my guilty pleasure is once more on the back burner, although I have been watching Game of Thrones, which has no shortage of bloody scenes, with two of the teenagers,;so for the most part now I indulge my totally innocent pleasure of romcoms (interspersed with Grey’s Anatomy). But I am sure in time I will return to the gangster movies; perhaps I will become like my Grandmother who loved all the Charles Bronson films where he played a vigilante on a killing spree. Actually, I seem to remember having to stay up to watch with her to make sure she got to bed safely afterwards. Perhaps that was the beginning of my guilty pleasure…….

It Wasn’t Me!

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I think we must have sprites living in our house. Every time I go to the loo, there’s either no paper left or just one solitary piece clinging onto the cardboard tube for dear life. Whenever I ask who used the last piece I’m always met with the words, “It wasn’t me.” It’s the same with so many things: who drank the last of the milk, who wee’d all over the floor, who forgot to flush the loo, who failed to feed the cat, who ate all the chocolate (probably me but let’s skirt over that), who left the tap running and flooded the house? And whenever I ask for help tidying away all the day’s clutter, it seems that no-one got anything out. Evidently things just magically made their way out of bedrooms and downstairs. I’m so glad I have angelic children who never do anything wrong but for the life of me I don’t know what to do about these sprites. Sometimes I think it would be a good idea to instal CCTV cameras in all the rooms and then I can catch them in the act but knowing my luck the camera would probably stop working just at the very moment that the misdemeanour happened.

My biggest hope is that some day I can actually go a whole 24 hours without having to nag my children to carry out the simplest of tasks. How difficult is it really to hang up one coat, put away one pair of shoes, remember where you’ve left your PE kit, homework, money, brain? I think I probably have greater problems as I only have sons and they definitely develop a certain tunnel vision at around age 8 or 9 when they seem totally incapable of finding anything (the whole hunter gatherer vision thing) and also can only do one thing at a time except for homework which magically they seem able to do while watching TV, playing on a laptop, eating and texting at the same time.How does that work? Gone are the days when I could make a game out of tidying up and when dusting and vacuuming were exciting things to do-my boys’ favourite toy was a cleaning trolley for heaven’s sake! Now it’s very much my job; they don’t seem to see the mess and seem convinced that they would be depriving me of one of the greatest pleasures in life should they empty the dishwasher or take out the bins. Perhaps they too are convinced that we have sprites in the house who magically appear to do all these jobs; I knew it was a mistake to read them “The Elves and the Shoemaker” so much when they were little.

Oh well, unless someone can come up with a brilliant way of bringing about a radical change in their attitude I guess I will just have to resign myself to the role of chief cook and bottle washer for the foreseeable future. I’ll have to wait patiently until they have their own homes and then take great pleasure in being one of those visitors who allow themselves to be waited on hand and foot. And how about, if I have grandchildren, buying them lots of arts and crafts sets with glitter galore. They do say revenge is a dish best served cold, can’t wait!