Dealing with death

It’s not been a good fortnight. Within the space of 14 days, both of our beautiful cats were hit by cars. Jessie, first to go, was the more adventurous of the two and was killed instantly. Woody, a huge gentle boy that would let Little bury her face in his fur and pull his tail, looked like he might survive. Lovely Husband and I were on our third night away in five years. We were having a lovely time and had been looking forward to it for months, until a call from a vet half an hour away from our home called to say a lady had found our big boy in distress and taken him in.

She thought he’d been hit by a car and maybe damaged his pelvis, but he was stable. She planned to x-ray in the morning. He never made it to the morning. His lungs were punctured and filled with blood. I am forever thankful to the lady that took him to the vets. At least he wasn’t in pain or alone.

It’s a minuscule comfort though. I am an animal person. Horses, cats, dogs, goats, chickens – I love them all. And I really, really love(d) those cats. Not least because they were so incredible with the children. Big would wander around with Woody slung over her arm and Medium would sit pulling Jessie’s ears – something Jessie loved. She’d seek Medium out and reverberate her loud purr as she pulled away at her ears. Jessie was affectionately known as Nurse Jess. Whenever one of the smalls was poorly, she’d come crashing in, find them, frantically wash and then settle alongside them until they felt better. I don’t know how she knew. Woody, a huge hairy boy, just loved everyone. When most cats would hide from noise and excitable children, he’d be there in the thick of it. They really were the most perfect cats.

Our biggest challenge has been helping the smalls to understand that their beloved pets are not coming back. I was careful to use the word ‘died’ and not to say they’d gone to sleep and won’t wake up. We’ve had enough sleep issues without adding in a fear of falling asleep! Big, on the whole, gets it. She knows the cats aren’t coming back, but she keeps repeating that the cats are dead which of course sends me into floods of tears! Medium just found their burials novel and quite exciting, but then looks confused if I look sad. Little hasn’t got a clue. Death is such a huge concept. Far too big for smalls to really grasp. In a way, I envy them that. Life just goes on. In the meantime, I wait for the sadness to pass.

RIP Boods and Jess. You were loved.

 

 

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Dealing with death

God bless the fairies and all who believe in them

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And desperate measures call for rapid use of imagination.

When I was a child, my mum had me completely convinced that fairies existed. I used to find scrunched up tiny notes in a shaky hand from a fairy called Whilemina. My grandad even made me a wand in his workshop. Delighted with my find, I tried to use it. My quick-thinking mum told me it wouldn’t work until I was 16, by which time I’d moved on to boys.

With three girls of my own, I’ve returned to fairies and I’m finding them incredibly useful. The Doey (Dummy) Fairy was the first to arrive. She happily stole Medium’s doeys and left her a Baby Annabel. Medium was delighted.

Our most recent arrival is the Sleep Fairy. She has, in the space of a week, convinced Medium to settle herself to sleep without me sitting in the room and that, if she wakes in the night, she’s not allowed to shout at me. If Medium complies, she finds a little gift under her pillow.

Big, who currently accepts my word as fact at all times, is delighted. She’s gone from singing herself to sleep to looking at her books in complete silence and then dozing off easily and calmly.

Both are thrilled when they wake up to find their treasure. I feel slightly bad that often their treasure is a manky bit of gift wrapping ribbon that I’ve found in a drawer, but hey – so far, it’s worked so I’m not going to knock it.

Of course, Medium still bed hops during the night and she does kick Lovely Husband out of our bed so that she can assume her rightful position beside me. But she’s calm and falls asleep straight away. Compared to the eight or nine screaming fits per night, this is bliss.

I’m wondering if my mum was right all along. There are fairies at the end of the garden and they only come when you really need them. I’ve since invented the Birthday Fairy, who is closely related to the Elf on the Shelf but appears for a month before birthdays. Of course, my favourite fairy is the Wine Fairy. She and I go way back and at times I really do believe she’s my very best friend. Unlike the Diet Fairy. She’s a necessary evil, but nowhere near as much fun as the Wine and Crisps Fairy. Sigh.

*This blog has been typed with one hand touching wood. I don’t want to jinx the Sleep Fairy’s track record and return the the nights of the screaming banshee. 

God bless the fairies and all who believe in them

A plethora of challenges

How has your summer been, friends? It feels like yesterday that I was wiping away a tear at being handed Big’s registration card as she left Pre-school. I feel like I fell asleep and missed a chunk of the holidays. They’ve whizzed by.

Sleeping is not something I’ve been doing much of, though. Medium has always been a tricky sleeper. Ever since she was tiny, she’s bed hopped in the middle of the night. This has never bothered us. She would just snuggle up and go straight back to sleep. In the last month, this has changed drastically. She wakes several times a night and just screams. She’s awake – it’s not a night terror – but there is no reasoning with her and, as yet, we’ve not found a way to calmly settle her. She can be up for hours, intermittently screaming, crying and settling. A nasty ear infection and perforated ear drum hasn’t helped. That, coupled with her insistence that she can’t fall asleep unless I’m in the room, is both worrying and exhausting.

I had successfully employed the Gradual Retreat technique when she insisted on me being in the room some time ago. I will brush that one off and try it again, but discussions with the Health Visitor about the midnight screaming haven’t really helped. She believes it’s associated to Medium’s developing imagination and awareness of her dreams. I’ve bought books to read to her to help her understand this, but I don’t hold much hope. I don’t hold much hope of ever sleeping again. I’m averaging between three to four hours a night and I can feel my grasp on reality slipping a little. I made a cup of tea this morning, then swiftly threw it in the bin and put the teabag in the dishwasher. It’s amazing how your ability to function deteriorates along with your sleep.

Alongside employing sleep training techniques with a very stubborn Medium, I’ve started my journey back to health and fitness. I’ve joined Slimming World and the gym. Dieting with a side of sleep deprivation is hard. My body is crying out for chocolate, crisps and caffeine to get through the day but, as yet, I’m staying strong. It’s fine to fall asleep in yoga though, right?

A plethora of challenges

Family friendly breaks: review 3

Chris Rea famously sung that the road to Hell was the M25. I raise him the A303 in the summer holidays. It took us seven and a half hours to reach Devon. We left at midday, and I’d booked Tesco to bring holiday grub to our cottage at 7pm. By 5pm, I’d phoned the owners who promised to pop our order in our cottage. I hadn’t expected to arrive and find it completely unpacked and put away, but quickly realised this placed me closer to my much craved glass of wine quicker than expected. Phew.

This summer, we booked a fortnight at Long Furlong Holiday Cottages (http://www.longfurlongcottages.co.uk) in the Hartland Peninsular, Devon. We love Devon. It’s our spiritual home. I just wish it was easier to get to. Once there, we quickly got over our terrible journey, though.

We chose Long Furlong because they had amenities for the kids and for us. Big loved the playroom, which fortunately was directly opposite our cottage. We could sit on the terrace with a glass of wine while she and Medium played. They both loved the pool (a large indoor  thats 1m in depth throughout and a wave pool outside). We loved the spa and both had several lovely treatments – my facial was one of the best I’ve ever had.

Long Furlong is ideally located for several fabulous beaches. Our favourite was Sandymouth – miles of golden sand and fabulous rock pools that were deep enough to swim in!

Days out included several trips to the Milky Way – a theme park with just about everything. From rollercoasters to archery lessons, birds of prey demonstrations to a Star Wars memorabilia exhibition, this place is diverse and vast and our girls loved it.

We loved walking around quaint Covelly and gaining inspiration at RHS Rosemoor. Our gardener looked a bit worried when we talked about our plans for a vegetable garden.

And what of our cottage itself? It was comfortable and clean but plastic flowers and an electric rather than a real log burner did make it feel less than five star. We asked for a clean half way through our fortnight and it took persistence from the owner to persuade the cleaners to do so. All said though, we wanted for nothing and enjoyed our family bubble.

Family friendly breaks: review 3

Confirmation

This week, I helped a friend in need. I won’t go into details as far too much attention has been placed on them unfairly and unnecessarily.

In the midst of banging out statements and talking people down from cliffs, something became abundantly clear. I made the right decision.

In my life before the smalls, I was a grown up: An editor, a journalist specialising in online media. I set up my own media consultancy. I managed websites, created bespoke online presences, designed B2C campaigns, wrote articles, made programmes… All the things I was trained to do. And I did them well – award-winningly well, in fact. Well enough to feel a wrench when I closed the books.

When I was expected Big, I immediately knew that my professional life did not tally with that of a mother. I couldn’t take off for five days to cover Badminton and not be there to kiss her goodnight. I couldn’t justify battling social media on behalf of a client until 5am only to be too exhausted to read Fox’s Socks for the 58th time. Fundamentally, my priorities were going to change in the biggest way possible and now I wonder how I had the foresight to predict that and also to immediately reconcile giving up a successful 18-year career in the process. I loved my job. I met my heroes. One of them even made me a cup of tea in her kitchen, but it was blindingly obvious that with the hours Lovely Husband works and this precious bundle imminent that something would have to give. In this case, my career.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss it. It means I’m resigned to it. I’d be lying if I said that feeling my fingers flying over the keyboard as I carefully constructed the right message didn’t give me a buzz. That second guessing and predicting the effect didn’t remind me of the best of my time in my profession. But it did make one thing abundantly clear: I did the right thing.

I did the right thing because for those hours while I got a hold of what needed to be done, I was absent. My children were waiting to give me birthday presents. Medium wanted to tell me what she’d done on the potty. Big wanted to not only tell me what my present was, but also where they’d bought it. Little just want to bite me. But all three wanted me and I realised that by moving on from professional life and into the confines of domesticity, I am there. And I am theirs. And that is the greatest accolade.

Maybe one day I will go back to it. I am good at it and I enjoyed my brief sojourn out of retirement. I just wish it had been under more pleasant circumstances. But for now, the only headlines I need to concentrate on are those that my family creates.

Confirmation

I bet Victoria Beckham doesn’t do this

I’ve neglected you, my friends. I apologise.

Half term has pretty much summed up the glamour of being a mum and juxtaposes the blissful week that went before.

We took advantage of being able to take Big out of Pre-School and prefixed the week off with a week at Centre Parcs. Prior to having the pixies, I wrongly assumed Center Parcs to be an instrument of torture, much like Butlins or Maplins (those under 35 won’t get that reference, in which case, you’re no longer my friend). All jolly campers and *eurgh* ORGANISED FUN. Two words that should never sit together. I digress. It was a lovely week and as far as I know, it’s the only place you can neck a glass of wine and eat a reasonably decent meal in peace while your children clobber others in the soft play.

I’d made the decision that I’d potty train Medium while simultaneously weaning her off her dummy during half term so she could go back to Pre-School in Big Girl Pants. By Big Girl Pants, I mean boys’ pants with Buzz Lightyear and the Gruffalo on because retailers assume that girls can’t possibly like cowboys, cars and dinosaurs.

I hate potty training with a vengeance. I don’t really know why. It’s just a week but by the end of it, my own voice sounds like nails being scraped down a blackboard. If I hear myself saying, “Medium, do you need your potty? Try for Mummy” one more time, I might scream.

Inevitably, there have been accidents. While scrubbing a number two (seriously, how does such a small body hold that much sh1t?!) from our leather sofa, I couldn’t help muttering that I bet Victoria Beckham never has to do this.

As is usually the case when trying to teach your child how to go to the toilet without it ending up in their pants, the week was spent at home, dishing out multiple stickers as Big has decided she should get a sticker for wiping her own bottom. The pixies have found their own entertainment though, by exploring the mound of soil that’s been delivered for some trees we’re planting. Thoughtfully, they’ve trudged that through the house and in my paranoia about anything brown, I’ve carried on scrubbing.

Why won’t anyone give me stickers? Ones that I can trade in for nice, large glasses of Malbec and a takeaway. I bet Victoria Beckham gets those. I want those.

I bet Victoria Beckham doesn’t do this

Fighting for Big

I’ve alluded to the issues that pre-school have identified that Big is struggling with. Being the consummate professionals, they don’t – and won’t – label her. Something I am hugely grateful for. She’s four. She has a lot of growing up to do.

At the beginning of last term, they secured extra funding for her to up their adult:child ratio so that they could spend more time with her. How they managed this without the supporting statements of a million professionals is extraordinary. Like I’ve said before, Big’s pre-school is outstanding. And not just because Ofsted say so.

At a recent meeting to discuss her transition to school, They – the faceless decision makers that hold a child’s future in their hands – decided that Big’s primary school will be able to meet her needs, despite that place having not yet even been offered, without extra support. I received a letter that was so badly worded it took me several re-reads to work out exactly what they were saying. I even had to pass it by pre-school’s supervisor to check I was reading it right.

Let me be clear: Big certainly doesn’t need to go to a special school. Her issues are not severe at all, but pre-school maintain that she will need extra help to reach her potential. I went to our GP to ask for a referral to the Child Development Centre in order to get some sort of paperwork to support their concerns. The CDC refused to see her and referred her to Speech and Language, who promptly discharged her and referred her back to the CDC. Unwittingly, I’d entered a playground of swings and roundabouts where reaching the top of the slide seemed impossible.

We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to engage an educational psychologist privately. I am incredibly fortunate to have received a fantastic education and having been brought up with parenting that resulted in my becoming a tenacious and confident adult, willing to question to status quo and fight for what our family needs. I lucked out with Lovely Husband who supports me unequivocally and, when I said we needed to pay for an EP, didn’t even question me. Like I’ve said before, he rocks and he is my rock.

Yesterday, the educational psychologist visited us at home and took Big through a battery of tests. Some that I didn’t even understand myself. Big’s unwavering cooperation and concentration was brilliant and I felt immensely proud. The EP will visit her at pre-school the week after next to get a rounded view of her in two different environments.

Today, the EP emailed me her initial thoughts and she confidently believes that Big has a Specific Language Impairment (SLI): a type of speech, language and communication need. This means that, while she is as able, bright and healthy as other children, she has complications with talking and understanding language. This could be a legacy from her hearing impairment days, or, more likely, something that developed before she was born. Our bright little button talks ten to the dozen. In fact, she never stops. Much of her monologue though, is irrelevant – a trademark of SLI. She has ideas in free fall, but she can’t necessarily articulate them.

Big needs instructions and questions posed to her in a certain way. If you ask her to, for example, pass you the tractor after she has put the car behind her back, she’ll give you the tractor and forget about the car. Instructions need to be clear; ask her to put the car behind her back, let her do that and then ask her to give you the tractor and she’s there. Her dialogue can be muddled: She will talk about what she wants to talk about, despite the conversation you were engaged in seconds ago. Most importantly, children with SLI can find it hard to join in and follow what is going on in the playground, and that epitomises the concerns that pre-school rightly raised with us and it’s that which I most want Big to be able to overcome. I want her to enjoy meaningful relationships with people that have her back.

SLI can (and hopefully will be) short lived. It can affect children long term. Either way, children with SLI need appropriate support in and out of the class room. I have already been back in touch with Them and they have agreed to reassess Big’s needs as soon as the ed psych’s report is ready. Good job. It’s not as if I would’ve let it lie. Will this guarantee her the funding she needs? No. But it re-opens the conversation and those that know me, know that I can talk the hind legs off a donkey.

But how do I feel? I feel angry for the children of parents who may accept the status quo and either can’t afford to or don’t have the confidence to question it and hire their own experts. How will children with additional needs ever succeed if those needs aren’t supported? We could’ve left it; we could’ve taken Them at their word and assumed that because they said they’d reviewed her file and she’d be fine, that she would be. It breaks my heart to think of her beautiful little face becoming worried as she tried her best but couldn’t quite understand what was being asked of her.

I question myself. I question if this is my fault; did I grow her wrong? And then I chastise myself for even thinking it: Big is wonderful. She’s a bright, kind, funny and beautiful little girl. She’s an eternally bubbly and happy little soul, despite the challenges she faces. I didn’t grow her wrong: I grew her and this is part of her story. She’s my amazing daughter. Maybe more amazing because of this. I’ve lost count of the amount of people that have looked at me like I’m mad when I’ve told them of pre-school’s worries. That clever little girl has found a way already to muddle through. But I don’t want her to muddle through. I want her to fly. I will make damn sure she does. No matter who I have to convince, no matter who I have to harangue. The fight is on. And I’m ready to step into the ring. My little girl will fly, even if I have to blow the air under her wings.

 

Fighting for Big