That elusive emotional middle ground

I am struggling this week. And I am struggling to understand why I am struggling. But I have decided to stop thinking about that. I just haven’t got a cubic cm of struggle space left in my head.

This week I cannot cope. With the broken promises. With the endless list of things that have ordered but not arrived for Boo. With the things that have arrived broken or unusable. With the lies people tell you.

Come to think of the number of times I have had to confront every single one of these things this week alone, then maybe I can’t cope because it would be unreasonable to do.

Some weeks I get frustrated by everything but manage to shrug it off. This week I just can’t. I am more tired than I thought it was possible to feel. I feel in a stupour. I can’t remember the simplest things like whether I have eaten or been to the toilet in the past four hours. I know this isn’t normal. I feel semi-conscious. I am worried about myself. For my children if I get ill.

I feel like I’m breaking.

This week already, I have already had four meetings about Boo. Four. In three days. The first was with yet another of the nice, well-meaning people whom our local authority shuffles around (she has been in post for 8 weeks on maternity cover and is moving to another position again next week). Just as I was beginning to like her. She was appalled by some of things that have been said to me in the past week about Boo’s transfer to EHCP and possibilities for schooling. I kept my cool throughout the meeting, but was pointed and forceful. I worried I was being too forceful.

I felt the need to apologise (goodness knows why: I was polite, even toned, didn’t raise my voice). The words came out before I even realised what I was going to say: ‘You must dread meetings with me. I’m sorry. I have to stay angry in situations like this. If I didn’t, I would just break down and I made a decision a few months ago after a meeting in which it looked like I was going to lose Boo’s nursery place and my job and home that I wouldn’t allow myself to be that person in front of professionals any more’.

She looked so sad. She told me I was not alone. That she cared. That she could see we were being treated shabbily. I’m sure she does feel and think those things. But it won’t help us. She will be gone next week. Moved to another job within the service.

My words hit me hard and took me by surprise. I hadn’t realised how hard I had been trying to keep it together for the past few months. No wonder I am struggling so much at the moment.

I hadn’t realised either just how much I want to find an emotional middle ground I have long-since lost. The ground between frustration (not with Boo, not with cerebral palsy but with the systems and services that dictate his quality of life much more than CP does) and utter sadness. There has to be a place between anger and tears. I need to find it badly. I just don’t know where to look right now.

An update from Booland

Well, best laid plans and all that. Just as I felt the stars were aligning and I might get back to the blogphoto and the little piece of sanity it offers me, Boo got struck down by an awful bout of chicken pox. Thank goodness it’s now behind us.

And thank goodness he got it when he did. When his big sister had the pox a few years back she got off relatively lightly. I knew we had been unbelievably lucky; friends of ours have an otherwise totally healthy daughter who ended up hospitalised with it and was in a dreadful state. But honestly, I never knew how awful it could be until Boo was put on a massive dose of steroids to stop his infantile spasms. We were told that if he so much as came into contact with anyone who had the virus for the months he was taking the medication or for the three months afterwards it took to get it out of his system, he would need to be hospitalised as it would likely kill him.

Unsurprisingly, since then I have seen chicken pox differently. I remain mystified that the vaccine is not readily available in the UK. I know it is not 100 per cent effective, but the results in countries like the US where it is available show the benefits to all children, but especially for vulnerable children like Boo and adults with health complications. Thank God he waited until now to get it. That he waited until a time when he just (just! – how our lives have changed in three years) had to worry about cerebral palsy rather than epilepsy and steroid suppressed immunity. Another thing we can be grateful for.

There are lots of those, actually, and I’m mindful that there have been few updates on Boo’s progress in my semi self-imposed blogging hiatus, so I thought I’d post a few heavily edited highlights today so you know what’s going on in Booland.

Mobility

OK, I’m going to start here because this is the weakest link in Boo’s development. It always will be, although it breaks my heart a little less to write that now than it once did. I would like to tell you Boo can sit independently. That he could roll or crawl, stand and walk.

He can’t.

I don’t know if he ever will do any of these things. But we continue to work on every single one of them and he is making incremental progress in all areas. Small improvements emerge over time. Sometimes they are so small we can’t see them and it takes someone who hasn’t seen Boo for months to say, look how well he’s doing. We love these people! These people who can see what is right in front of our noses, but like the blooming flower, its process has become almost imperceptible to us who admire it every day.

The downside of the incremental progress is that there is no part of Boo’s physio programme we can drop, but the upside means we haven’t given up on anything (although sometimes my back does). Boo is sitting better, propping more reliably. He stands taller and will step enthusiastically (in fact it is ALL he wants to do) with support under his armpits. He sees no boundaries. Neither should we.

Aided Mobility

Because our therapy programmes were so long they were driving me demented, we have been forced to prioritise and on the physio side of things, this is an area that we are really focussing on in preparation for Boo starting school in 2016. He has had a walker for over a year. He can’t use it. He gets horribly frustrated in it and the way his body twists and turns in rage is frankly heartbreaking. I’ve gone through four pairs of jeans going up and down my kitchen with him on my knees trying to help him, but it was too much all round. We gave up using it for a while. Turns out we may just not have found the right walker. We recently tried another and, oh my goodness I just want to squeal … Fingers crossed, will be getting one soon. This will change all our lives and we cannot wait. More to come…

wizzybug-08-studio-pictures-001-806x1024Then there’s Wizzybug – of Boo’s Ug-Ug as he calls it. Up till now we have only been able to use the Wizzybug in the confines of our therapy suite dining room and kitchen as we have steps up to our front door and getting it outdoors was too difficult given my decrepit back. But now we have finally had our front adaptations done (a right saga) and one of the many terrific outcomes is being able to get Wizzybug to see the light of day. Boo is still fond of circling and the finer points of joystick control are a work in progress, although he can go in a straight line for much longer now. We are completely and utterly determined to get him to the point where he can use and electric chair safely and reliably one day. He’s enjoying it so much and we are so confident we will get there that we now have a bigger battery for the Ug-Ug  thanks to the lovely, lovely people at Designability so we can go further and further. Watch this space…

Speech

I think this is the area that Boo is coming on in most, although his speech is still very delayed, indistinct to other people (although rarely to us now) and he finds it hard to put more than 3 or 4 words together unless they are in the form of the Mr Tumble theme song, which he can sing right through. (Justin Fletcher, we LOVE you!) The move to preschool and being with big kids has helped dramatically, as has his good old-fashioned determination. He wants to be heard and we just keep listening until we get it. We are also pushing for trials of communication devices. Boo will never be able to write due to his poor hand function, but we live in hopes that an AAC touch-screen device will be within his literal and metaphorical grasp one day. We’re working on an iPad at the moment using Gridplayer as we await something through the speech and language service, but he tends to drag his fingers rather than point and let go and the symbols are a little small. We’ll get there though. We’re determined that he will be able to tell us all the things we know are going on in that crazy little head of his.

OT

Again, there have been some brilliant small gains here, too, thanks in large part to Pirate Pete. After 12 months – this is no joke, because I have completely lost my sense of humour about this – we finally have a potty chair Boo can use and we are starting potty training. Again, the pox has got in the way but we so want to help Boo achieve this for himself if at all possible. At the moment he uses the potty successfully most mornings. The rest of the day is more of a challenge – i.e. a complete flop – but if he can do it once we know he can do it twice, three times and more a day. This is how every piece of the Boo puzzle works. One step at a time. And then one day he’s striding ahead and we’re all breathless watching him.

So, that will do for now, I think. There’s more to tell, but if I don’t tell you now then I have to blog again. And I really need to blog again, so I’ll stop. Thanks for all your lovely comments and messages about me returning to blogging. I really appreciate it.

a4641-smallsteps

Targets and other Torments

I’ve written on the blog many times before about the sense of weight and guilt that comes with Boo’s enormous long list of therapy goals. We have targets for physio, SALT, and OT not to mention our own private goals for Boo.

The lists are huge. Not metaphorically. I mean very literally. They are huge! They live on our fridge. Don’t use these as a diet aid, by the way. Seeing them on the fridge door makes me want to eat my body weight in cheese and double cream whenever I look at them.

I’m a list kind of person. I am what the self-help industry would call goal-oriented in my personal life. I have a long-term plan. I break it down into steps. I do my best to stick to the plan. And will usually flog myself until I have achieved what I set out to do.

But I can only help and encourage Boo. I can’t make his body do things it struggles with. And I have no interest in making his life any more difficult than it already is.

One of the biggest mental adjustments I have had to make since having Boo is letting go of goal-oriented me. For ages I tormented myself with the ‘will he walk’ question. No one knew, of course, whether this would happen or not, but most thought it unlikely based on the extent and nature of his brain damage. But then someone gave me a glimmer of hope. ‘If a child sits unaided by two there is a very good chance they will walk (maybe with a walking frame) by the time they are five.’

I wish they had never told me. Hope can very quickly turn into a stick to beat yourself with in this here life of ours.

I crippled my back trying to get Boo to sit before his second birthday. I was fixated on this happening before he hit 24 months uncorrected. When that was clearly not going to happen, I counted every darn day of his eleven weeks of prematurity and went for 24 months corrected. That date passed too.

Boo is now over 3. He still can’t sit unaided for more than a few seconds and cannot be left alone in this position. But we have just tried a new walker which we are hoping to buy and he steps in it in a way that makes the Grand Old Duke of York look like a complete amateur. Like all the amazing kids I have met since Boo’s birth, he just does things in his own way, on his own schedule. This is goal orientation Boo style and it is beautiful to watch.

There was a time when I felt the fading prospect of independent sitting with great sadness. Now I’ve adjusted. My sense of time is much more elastic now. I worry less about where Boo is relative to others. Frankly, that way madness lies and we celebrate each and every inchstone Boo meets whenever is the right time for him.

But of course, sometimes, I have a wobble and forget all I’ve learned. Children’s parties are a particular trigger (if he gets invited to them at all). Lugging Boo round a soft play for an hour the other week so he could join in while all the other kids ran hysterically like puffed out beetroots who had had a week’s sugar intake in a minute while their parents drank coffee and talked about the inequities of catchment areas was a weak point for me, and meant I couldn’t walk with a straight back for 48 hours. Sissyboo’s sports day last week was another.

And then there’s the biggy on the horizon. The milestone we can’t dodge or avoid. It will just have to be met by hook or by crook and whether he or we are ready or not.

School.

Next September Boo will start school. That may be 15 months from now. That may seem like an age. In special needs elastic time, though, it really isn’t. It really, really isn’t when you consider all the things that we would like to have set Boo up to be able to do before he starts school. There’s joystick control so he can (please, please let this happen) learn one day to move himself around. There’s potty training, so important for his dignity and for others’ perceptions of him (which will in turn, of course, affect him). There’s his ability to use an AAC device because he will never be able to write. And then there’s the four pages of A4 targets on the fridge.

It feels totally overwhelming. Impossible. Even with 15 months.

But it also feels imperative. We have to set him up as best we can. We just have to try our best to achieve these things with him. But we also have to let him be a toddler who can’t toddle, a little boy whose life can’t just be about goals, but has to be about living. About play. About fun.

I don’t know how to square this circle. I know that school doesn’t mean the therapy train stops (more’s the pity). I know that Boo will continue to learn (that’s the point of school, right?). I know (I hope) we have time to help him. But I also feel totally suffocated by the prospect of the next 15 months.

Have we made the right choice of school? Will we get that choice without a battle? Will our LA get their act together enough even to transition him to an EHCP before he gets there? Will we have done all we can to ensure he has the smoothest transition to school possible? Will it be enough?

I just don’t know. And that’s hard to deal with. Really hard.

A Toe in the Water

Hello again. It’s me. Seems I can’t keep away.

For a long time now, I have barely posted on the blog. I’ve had my reasons and even tried to explain most of them. But it was one thing to take a break from blogging because everything felt a bit much. To say to myself that I probably wouldn’t blog again, like a did a little over a month ago, was quite another, it turns out.

In the past six or seven weeks, I’ve been itching to get back to the blog and have had a lot of time to think about why blogging matters so much to me. Several things have become pretty clear to me in that time.

For one, blogging helps me keep track of Boo’s progress. This may sound odd. After all, every inchstone achieved by Boo is so hard won. Isolating an index finger to point is like completing an ultra-marathon in our house. And I will never forget how hard it was for him to learn that. But I can only tell you when he learned to do that because I wrote about in on the blog many months ago.

You can’t see glaciers moving, but if you only keep track of them you can see they do with a grace and poise that is truly miraculous. My blog did that for Boo’s development. I miss keeping track of him and losing sight of the bigger picture. It (by which I mean he) is really quite astonishing.

Blogging is also one of my main points of contact with other people in similar (or sometimes quite different) situations. I have learned so much about equipment, dealing with services, getting what’s needed, or just by commiserating with others over the past couple of years. Without the blog and that connection, I don’t exactly feel lost at sea, but I feel like my life preserver has a slow puncture. I don’t need to be rescued (yet) but I want enough support so that I can swim to safety on my own.

Another thing I have come to realise in the past few months, is that I care just too much to just be quiet and not speak out about the terrible injustices I see as health and support services are cut for vulnerable people. In the past two months I have had two healthcare professionals break down in front of me about their fears for their patients. Boo is one of these patients, of course. For now he is fine. But I am not confident he always will be. This terrifies me and I can’t just keep quiet about the things I see. Once the scales fall from your eyes, as they did from mine a little over three years ago, you have a responsibility to act on what you see.

But of course, the biggest thing I realised (if I had ever been in any doubt) is that I am, frankly, saner and happier when I inhabit this little corner of the blogosphere. Writing helps me think. Writing helps me make sense of how I feel. In the last few months I don’d mind telling you that I have had a bit of a wobble. Nothing major, but a wobble nonetheless. And the sway is getting a little bigger each day. I don’t know whether it’s the endless therapy goals set and not met. The struggles for several vital pieces of equipment we are struggling with. Maybe it’s my ever increasing back pain (which scares me not because I can’t put up with it, but because I am terrified that I will wake up one morning and not be able to pick him up that day).

Maybe it’s the significant birthday coming up next year. Or my worries about Boo’s sister, who is doing well in so many ways, but has also had a big wobble herself lately and I don’t know how to fix her. Maybe it’s that Sissyboo is changing schools this year and that Boo starts school next near. Facing up to the prospect of switching to EHCP, of battling to get him our choice of school, and of meeting the endless list of targets people think we should try to meet before he starts school is frankly completely overwhelming.

It’s all too much. Maybe this blog will help me make sense of things. It’s got to be worth a go, hasn’t it? So, I’m going to see if there’s still life in Premmeditations in the hopes that it can help me breathe again.

Holding post

You may have noticed that I have been pretty quiet of late. I’m not really a quiet sort of person. It doesn’t come naturally, I can tell you.

I never meant to have another blogging break and I don’t much like it. But there it is.

Various things have been conspiring against me blogging recently. Life has really gotten in the way, with all the dramas over Boos childcare – still not fully resolved but much better – and some really taxing battles with services, not to mention more work than it is feasible for any human being to do without all these additional pressures.

And then there’s the whole anonymous thing. I worry I must seem precious or even downright weird having a blogging alias. But it has always been really important to me. Frankly, I would hate my work colleagues knowing the ins and outs of my SEN-frazzled mind. I would hate them to see all of the many chinks in my armour. I try very hard to make it look all nice and shiny to them.

And I just couldn’t say what I really wanted to say – what I really feel, I mean – if I wrote under my own name. People I care about who find it hard enough dealing with their own responses to Boo’s challenges shouldn’t have to deal with my baggage as well. Worst of all, if people started to associate the blog with me then it might start to affect Boo. What if the services I moan about here found out who I was – he was? I suppose it might mean they actually did what they were supposed to do. But it might mean they do the exact opposite.

The reality is that as the parents of disabled children we live a life where we are only fully in charge of our own destinies. It pains me to say that, but it’s true. We rely on people doing their job, on going the extra mile, of being kindly disposed to us. Knowing how hard things are when people do and are these things, I have to tell you that I can’t bear the thought of what would happen if they didn’t and weren’t. I can’t do that to Boo. I just can’t.

The fact is that we were in such a dreadful situation a few months ago that I had to throw out every lifeline available. My job and our home were on the line. I wrote and tweeted like crazy as both blog me and the supposedly real me. I posted on forums, I phoned charities, I contacted people who offered to help. I started to lose my anonymity and privacy and while I can take it – it’s a problem of my creation after all – others might not want to, and Boo shouldn’t have to face the possible consequences of this.

So what with one thing and another, I feel I have to stop blogging for a while. My short hiatus has become a more permanent sabbatical. I can’t tell you how sad this makes me and what a strange sense of loss I feel writing this. I am always writing posts in my head. They are cluttering up my mind now and there is little space for anything else to go on in there. People have suggested that I write and don’t post, and I may do that, but blogging was only ever partly therapy for me. The sense of connection to others has really meant a good deal to me in the past three years. (The fact I haven’t even been able to write a post to tell you about Boo being 3 really makes me feel sad, too.)

But there we are. I tried to go cold turkey – no blog and no Twitter – when I realised I should probably stop blogging for a while and it felt pretty horrid. So I am going to continue to tweet to try and stay in touch with some of you lovely people who have helped me so much recently. That’s if you’ll have me, of course.

And I hope that I will be able to blog again some time soon. I feel I have lost a very important crutch in my life and I am rather unsteady without it. But as Boo has taught me time and time again, if you wobble, you just get right back up again until one day you wobble a bit less.

Let’s hope I take after my son.

Thank you and hope to be back again soon.

Mrboosmum

The Secret Life of a SEN Parent

At home, I am happy. Sure, sometimes I am frustrated. OK, often I am frustrated. Sometimes I am sad. But mostly, with my kids, I am happy. Happy with them. Happy for them. Happy because of them.

But when I am out and about … well, sometimes I am not happy. Often I am unhappy.

Unhappy because people stare. (Why are you feeding that child a drink on a spoon?) Unhappy because people judge. (You child is still in nappies?) Unhappy because they jump to conclusions and feel like sharing these sometimes. (Look at that selfish mother parking in a blue badge space. I bet she borrowed that off her nan because she can’t be bothered to walk 100 yards to get to the supermarket entrance. Seriously. That has been said to me.)

But mostly, as I realised this morning as I waited in line to go to an assembly in which Sissyboo was reciting poetry (proud parent alert!), I am unhappy because I just don’t belong. Other parents at the school know about Boo. I know they know. I know they talk about him. I know many feel sorry for us. (Please don’t, by the way…). But they won’t talk to us about him. He is the nearly-three-year-old cute, bespectacled elephant in the room of every playground chat I have. That’s assuming they ever do talk to me, of course. Usually they don’t.

Parent of disabled child + working mother = social pariah.

But you know, I am big and ugly and all that and can take it. I may feel guilty about almost every aspect of my life but I am settled upon any choices that I am still able to make about it. I am doing my best. For all of us. What more can people ask of me?

No: what I find hardest about all this is just not fitting in. Anywhere.

I’m sorry but I just can’t listen to the terrible tragedies people talk about in their day-to-day lives and force myself to care that much. That their bins haven’t been emptied this week. That their child prodigy has not yet been recognised by their child’s teacher to be the free reader they know they should have been acknowledged to be months ago. That Jeremy Clarkson has been sacked from Top Gear.

Some people wouldn’t know a tragedy if it walked down the street and poked them right in the eye.

I feel mean saying this. I don’t like myself much for thinking it and worry you won’t like me much too. But it’s true. And I realise that what I resent is not so much that my life isn’t such that I can have the luxury to worry about these things, but that I just don’t belong anywhere.

Look, I am lucky. I have a huge number of fabulous friends. A select few and anyone who reads this blog (I am grateful to you all!) know many of the ins and outs of our life. Our triumphs and struggles. The joy and the gut-wrenching pain. But most don’t.

Being the parent of any child is tiring. Being the parent of a disabled child sees you ride a tsunami of exhaustion on an almost daily basis. But what I realised today, stood there doing work emails on my phone because I knew no one wanted to talk to me, was that one of the most exhausting things in my life is rarely being able to be myself. To say the things I want to. Or not say them if I don’t want to. It is exhausting always having to protect other people’s feelings so as not to intrude on their lives.

I’m quite good at acting. It was a career path I nearly followed once upon a time. But when you don’t get paid for it, it’s a lot of effort for not much reward.

But at home I am happy. Happy with my kids. Happy for my kids. Happy because of my kids.

Back and forth

I am so pleased to have come back to the blog, although it feels weird. I don’t know why. It just does. And it may just get a bit weirder still as I won’t be blogging for at least another week as I have to travel with work for a few days. And that makes me feel weirder still.

Sissyboo is none too happy. I work long hours, but as flexibly as possible, which usually means I put the kids to bed every night as well as make tea, read stories and all the fun stuff at the end of the day and go back to work while they sleep. She doesn’t like it if don’t do these regular Mummy things. Neither do I.

But I am also desperate to get away. I feel awful saying it. But it’s true. For the last two weeks I have been fantasising about a few days where the distance between me and home and the time difference means that I can’t chase things, get mad with failing services or engage in the daily therapies. My back has been really bad lately and it wants a break, too. So does my overly cluttered brain. I will have to work hard when I go away, but seriously: it feels like a holiday. And boy, do I need a holiday!

Not today, though. Today, the reality has sunk in. I will miss the kids. Terribly. I know I will be OK when I get there because I know that they will be totally fine without me, but I will miss them.

Still, missing them doesn’t quite explain the tight knot in my stomach I am feeling right now.

I thought it was just the control freak in me messing up my gut. But I don’t think so. I have written notes so detailed they amount to a novella for The Grumposaur after all. It can’t be that.

No: I know what it is. It is a totally irrational fear that something might happen to me while I am away. One of my biggest fears for my kids is me not living long and strong enough to look after them. Especially Boo. I know it sounds morbid, but it doesn’t feel like that to me. It just feels like a very practical response to a problem so unimaginable that I can barely bring myself to think about it.

What if something happens to me? What will happen to them.

I know these fears will go. I know I will go and come back and be refreshed and life will go on as it is now with the briefest of interruptions.

But that is what this special needs life is like in a nutshell, I think. The parenting game is the same all mums and dads play. I am the same Mum I was when I just had Sissyboo. But the stakes are much, much higher now we have Boo. I was never a gambler, and the playing makes me very nervous. Still, we take the wins where we get them and the highs are like nothing I could have imagined before.

And if I were a betting person, then I’d bet it will all turn out fine. Wish us luck!