Behind the squares

If you are reading this you probably know I share our life on Instagram and I also blog here. I am always open and honest, but there are many times that when I am enjoying “likes” and comments on an Instagram post about my beautiful children I am also watching them hit each other. Life is full of ups and downs, Instagram has it’s name for a reason; it’s tiny instances shared and you don’t always show the whole story in an instant.

I like to think that I share more reality than those monochrome “perfect” accounts filled with succulents and expensive candles.

However, right now, behind those squares of my smiling children, coffee shop visits and shiny new trainers: there is cancer. Again.

I myself cannot believe how often I have been “touched” (punched in the gut more like) by cancer. My father died of cancer in 2010. My father-in-law-to-be died from cancer in 2011. My sister died from cancer in 2012. My mother died from cancer in 2017. And now… my brother battles cancer in 2018.

Me and my big bro.

It always made me a bit uncomfortable, sharing too much of this sort of thing on social media, but this time I feel so utterly thrown by it, I want to acknowledge it. I want to make sure people are always aware what’s behind the squares.

Just before Christmas, my brother found out he had ‘operable’ cancer. So it was upsetting, but apparently easily sorted. I took him for the operation on 27th December. After that, you’d have hoped it was all onwards and upwards, but he had another niggling pain. So, (after the obligatory painkillers from the GP), there were more scans, mores tests and yes, the cancer had spread.

Today he is in hospital having his first round of chemo. Week on week it has been news that has uplifted us and punched us in that gut again. They can’t quite decide how bad this cancer is. I have continued my weeks on autopilot. Much like when my mum was diagnosed with cancer and when she died, I had to “go on” with an invisible dark cloud over my head.

And so I sit and sing “Wheels on the Bus”, I make small talk with other mums over tea and biscuits “How are you?”, “Fine, fine and you?” I placate squabbling children, make dental appointments, grill fish fingers and function as a normal human being whilst in the back of my mind I am thinking about my brother. Constantly. About how he is young (43), that he’s one of the best people I know and that he doesn’t deserve this. How the kids adore him, how he adores them and how I just can’t take anymore of this darkness. Pain, suffering, death, I’ve had enough.

Sometimes when the kids are resisting their coats or fighting over a plastic egg, I want to scream at them; “Uncle Graeme has cancer! That’s more important than this crap!” but of course I don’t.

It’s pretty crazy to think about all the people “functioning” right now. I mean, I was in TK Maxx at 6pm on Wednesday night buying pants, socks and a jumper for my brother (as he was unexpectedly kept in hospital after an appointment about his scans). As I queued up and subsequently paid, with all the standard niceties “Have a nice evening”, “You too”; I wanted to scream “My brother might be dying! I need to get these clothes to him in hospital!”. And as I walked in the rain from my car to his ward, crying because I just don’t want this to be happening, I actually wanted someone to ask me: “Why are you crying? Are you ok?”, which is odd considering my “Fine” stock response to friends.

I suddenly became very aware that each and every person you pass on the street might well be dealing with something. The harmless old “Cheer up love, it might never happen” feels like such an unbelievable over step of the mark, because stuff happens . We are all dealing with dark stuff, all of the time. Break ups, miscarriages, redundancies, illnesses, deaths, depression, you name it; someone is putting a brave face on over something.

I can only remain hopeful that all will turn out fine (how else can I go on?), but I guess I want to end on two cheesy words that are said a lot right now, but sum up how I think we can make the world a better place and as a reminder that you never know what someone is going through behind the squares/their smile/their ability to say “I’m fine” (when that is, in fact, bullocks);

BE KIND.

x

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Mental Health and Mumming

Once upon a time I was a happy-go-lucky human who couldn’t get their head around how people who felt depressed couldn’t just think about happy stuff and snap out of it. Yep I was that naive.

This was before kids. Before 3 members of my close family died of cancer. Before I realised that sometimes it can all just become too much.

After my mum died last year I would find myself sat in the mornings feeling unable to motivate myself to get dressed and do stuff with the kids. I would stare into space. I would feel despair. I would feel “what’s the point?” And I’d feel scared by those feelings.

The first time I ever had these kind of depressing thoughts were actually after having Rex. The sleep deprivation and his general unhappiness as a baby made me feel like we had ruined our happy family by introducing this child. But I was functioning, showering, seeing friends… and I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want Rex to die. I just wanted it all to be fixed.

And so according to the test “they” (doctors, health visitors) get you to take; I didn’t have post natal depression. Clearly I was depressed, but not badly enough for any intervention.

This actually leads me to another example of why I get so frustrated by those who talk about the “suffering” of a sibling if you choose to continue with a pregnancy after a Down’s Syndrome diagnosis – that you are willingly choosing to bring a child into the world that will require more attention and cause your other “typical” children to be neglected in some way. We had a lovely child with Down’s Syndrome, she had all the love and attention she could want. We gave her a typical sibling and yikes, he was needy! Audrey’s needs were on the back-burner. She watched CBeebies a lot. And even though we’ve come through dealing with a very needy baby, Rex is still very much the one who causes upset. He’s the one that needs more attention in general.

At bedtimes there have been many times when magical cuddles with Audrey have happened to a soundtrack of Rex having a tantrum over socks or some other nonsense. He has much more of a temper than his sister, he likes to push boundaries and in fact, he has started pushing and hitting and Audrey does so back. She has learnt a lot of bad habits from him – she never would have climbed on the coffee table pre-Rex and she never would have hit me. She had never attacked the toilet tissue before Rex showed her how it’s done! Having a child with special needs can be tough, but having kids is just tough anyway.

They are now both perfect siblings – holding hands and plotting together one minute, crying and fighting over a piece of cardboard the next. Lovely, exhausting little… angels.

And so, with the level of adulthood I have now reached (bills to pay, important people to mourn, feral children to discipline), I find myself in therapy. I am attending counselling sessions, which is actually great. I find it particularly strange that it started about grief and soon became “good god my kids are driving me insane” and is now “please help me figure out how to be confident and do something with my life”. Well, at least we are progressing!

What you learn in therapy (or rather what I’m learning), is that “me time” is crucial to mental health. Doing what you love or doing something that makes you happy, regularly, will keep you sane.

I am fully aware that if I am lacking in “me time” it’s usually my fault. I still find it difficult to not think of the kids as entirely my responsibility. So whenever I leave them with someone (even my husband!) I feel guilty or like a clock is ticking and I need to get back to my job as mum. Crazy but true!

To briefly summarise the journey of a mother: pregnancy gives you a passenger/parasite to deal with, dramatic body changes and hormones. The baby then remains a parasite of sorts and your body is still different and very much not yours. Once they finally become a walking, talking more separate human, they create a lot of stress and mess and you perhaps still don’t feel like you can be yourself. I put on a new dress last week and by the afternoon Audrey had jumped on me and knocked my (thankfully not hot) tea all over me. I regularly find play doh on my jeans. This morning I was applying eyeliner in the bathroom whilst two children attacked my legs. I very often wee whilst being harassed by them both; “Mummy! Mummy? Do you need tissue? Are you finished? Wash your hands! Dry your hands! Mummy!”. It can feel all-encompassing and unescapable at times. How can I find the time to be me and not “Mummy”?

Thankfully, we have good settlers and our evenings are our own. I need to prioritise more time for things that keep me sane and also remember that although my day is peppered with stress and lunacy, it’s also full to the brim with beauty and love. I mean; look at them:

Merry Christmas 2017

Merry Christmas everyone.

The kids have had a fabulous December so far. They love Christmas lights and treats and music… and today they loved opening mountains of presents.

We celebrated at home with my mother in law, brother in law and brother. Our first Christmas without my mother, who died in April. So much making it a tricky time, but we kept the festive spirit alive and had a really lovely time.

At a Christmas carol concert yesterday Audrey was not only the star of the show “Hello everyone!” but also got to be Mary. She adores Mariah Carey’s ‘All I want for Christmas is You’ and she loves mince pies.

Rex is approaching 2, so is in equal measures adorable and horrific. Tantrums have reached a peak.

I have to admit that I was scared about how I might “get through” the holidays without my mum or my dad, but the kids really do make it.

Stuff! And Things!

Hello! Yet again real life and raising children somewhat takes over from blogging. So here’s another quick update on anything and everything I can think of.

They both had haircuts and behaved so well:

The other week Audrey was feeling poorly with a high temperature, laying on the sofa under a leopard print blanket. I came down having got dressed and she said “Mummy, you’re the same as the blanket!” I was initially confused, I explained I was wearing a cardigan, not a blanket… when I realised my t shirt was leopard print! How proud I am of Audrey and these simple moments.

The winter has already meant a steady stream of germs, but there is no escaping it when they both go to nursery and we spend our lives at play groups and music groups with dirty toys.

Audrey’s current favourite song is ‘Hocus Pocus’ by Focus. It’s worth noting as we’ve been through various favourites;

‘Black Magic’ by Little Mix

‘Ice Ice Baby’ by Vanilla Ice

‘Sorry’ by Justin Bieber

‘We Built this City’ by Starship

They both currently respond well to Hot Chip.

We watch ‘Trolls’ at least three times a week, but just a month ago it was ‘Moana’ a go go, so who knows what they’ll be onto next?

Rex is currently obsessed by cars, lorries and fire engines. Audrey is very keen on books and dolls. They both love handbags.

I am starting to appreciate them both more and more. Just looking and listening and seeing how wonderful they are. This is when they are not fighting over a toy or throwing a tantrum over something incredibly minor.

They both love Christmas (the build up) so far and I’m excited to enjoy it with them.

Audrey was recently a poster girl for a local charity (Amaze), which we were thrilled to see.

Will try not to leave it too long before my next blog post, we have a lot going on (Down’s Syndrome Awareness wise and in general).

Rex’s words and general hello

I started writing this post in May (!) and listed Rex’s words;

Mama

Dada

Up

Tumble

Milk

Yeah

No

Down

Ball

Dog

Bird

Audrey (Audrew)

Dum Dum

Teeth

Duggee

Hat

At least half of which were combined with Makaton signs. Yes he’s basically a genius.

Since then he has mastered Mummy and Daddy and basically attempts to repeat any word you throw at him. He’s started singing Baa Baa Black Sheep a lot as well as the circle time song that Audrey used to plague us with a year ago (she still sings it now and again, but wow was that on repeat for a while). It’s November now and he has lots of sentences and is a very chatty young man.

This is a bragging post because I’m proud of him, but also because I want it to be known that it doesn’t really matter. Most of Rex’s milestones have been annoying to be honest, crawling, standing, walking, climbing… it’s just more to worry about. Talking you’d think was all good, however it does give him a chance to say “no” and to ask for things he can’t have. It’s a challenge to explain things to a 16 (now 20) month old.

Anyway, he’s doing well and we’re really pleased about that, but we were and still are, really pleased with how Audrey is progressing.

In fact, I remember my time alone with Audrey as an 18/20 month old as not very different. No walking of course, but I feel like we had our little chats and she made choices, yet I know she wasn’t at the Level Rex is now at. I guess I’m just saying that you can be content with your child and their development even when it’s delayed/tough going.

Life is still very challenging with two small humans, they test me daily, but it’s also wonderful. Their little voices! The chats they have with each other! The cuddles! The fights! The tantrums! Losing my mind! All life is here.

If I Could Go Back…

It’s Down Syndrome Awareness Month (predominantly in the US, but happy to embrace it as I always do), so what better time to direct you to a short film I had the pleasure of contributing to.

I have mentioned The Specials before (an online series that also aired on OWN in the US), they have been a fabulous, fun part of our journey with Down’s Syndrome.

I used to work for a company that sold documentaries internationally and we represented The Specials before I was pregnant with Audrey.

It was quite a moment for me, when, back at work visiting colleagues with my small baby, I bumped into Katy (producer of The Specials) and for the first time, I felt excited to tell someone that my baby had Down’s Syndrome! I knew that she would get it.

Anyway, the company I worked for went into liquidation, time passed, but I thankfully remained in touch with Katy because she’s just one of those lovely-type-people you stay in touch with.

She asked if we (my family and I) might be interested in being filmed for some content for The Specials website. They were interested in representing a different part of the Down’s Syndrome journey – the early part with a little one like Audrey.

Of course I said yes, I am always thrilled at the prospect of showing off Audrey and reaching people with our story – showing what life is like.

Katy started filming us the summer Audrey turned 2 and continued into the winter when I was heavily pregnant with Rex.

I’m pleased to be able to share with you a short film that came from some of that filming: a project called “If I Could Go Back…” that has given a voice to a variety of parents of children with Down’s Syndrome, explaining what those early days are like and what we’d like to say to ourselves if we could go back…

Click here to view on YouTube

It’s a perfect film to share during Down’s Syndrome Awareness Month and one that I hope will be useful to new mothers, fathers, grandparents… basically anyone who fears what it might be like to have a child with Down’s Syndrome in their life. What we thought “then” and what we know “now” = just wow. I could literally talk all day about what I thought it would be like to have a child with Down’s Syndrome and what it is actually like.

Audrey makes me so happy, so proud and she continues to surprise me every day with what she is learning and has achieved. So different to the fear in my heart that moment I first looked at her face.

More links to come no doubt, but for now, I hope you enjoy this one, it’s certainly emotive!

Late for school

This week you will no doubt see pictures of beaming children in their school uniforms for the first time all over your social media feeds. Unless you don't know anyone with school age children. Or you're not on social media.

But there will be no picture of Audrey in her uniform.

Just six weeks dictated Audrey would be one of the youngest in her school year, instead of one of the oldest. So when school selection time came around (and the formulation of an Educational Health and Care Plan), we weighed up our options. The new system for summer born babies and children with special needs allows you to apply for a deferral; so that your child is the oldest in Reception and progresses through school in that class. Since Audrey is both a summer baby and a child with special needs, we knew we had a great chance of getting a deferral to start Audrey in September 2018.

We made a list of pros and cons and to be honest the only pro to Audrey going to school this year was a saving in childcare costs! More important than that was the chance for Audrey to "catch up" a little with her typical peers (since we have chosen mainstream schooling). She isn't potty trained, she hasn't really been walking unaided for a year yet and she still needs assistance in many areas… She's also very small and quite delicate, the thought of her in a class of typical 4-5 year olds is pretty scary!

I should consider ourselves lucky in that we know she can progress and close a gap (even if only a little), but for some children with special needs, a year might not make a difference to their ability to settle into mainstream school. Mainstream might not even be an option. So yes, we are lucky, but here we are, watching her NCT and nursery friends go off to school and I do feel emotional about it. It's a huge step, a big change and we've dictated that it's not her time. We've changed the path. I think I'm struggling a little with the fact that this is a different path from the one I had expected "our child" to take, like mourning the loss of an expected reality.

The thing is, I am excited about that first school uniform picture of Audrey, I am excited about her starting school, but I also know that starting now is not right for her, she isn't ready.

So another year of nursery. Another year of music classes. Another year of swinging in the park. This reality is not a loss for me I guess, but a gain…

Good luck to all the September 2017 school starters!