As Down syndrome awareness month (October) is almost upon us, I thought it might be the right time to write about telling Audrey she has Down’s syndrome (-by the way for anyone who doesn’t know, Down’s and Down syndrome are both acceptable ways of writing her condition, the latter being more common in the US).
I have no great insight or advice for anyone wondering when or how to tell their children, but this is our experience…
The fact is, Ted and I really weren’t sure when to tell her or her brother. I kept thinking “Well here I am hashtagging her, sharing, chatting, raising awareness… but I haven’t really made her “aware” she has Down’s syndrome” and that seemed a bit odd. But also: she is at a mainstream school, with friends who are ‘typical’ children and they are all playing together and accepting of each other, pointing out her difference seemed a bit counter-productive.
Then the summer ended and I realised Rex would be at the same school as his sister, alongside lots of older children who may well know that Audrey has DS and what that means… I felt I wouldn’t want either of them to be completely baffled if someone mentioned it.
As a family, we have briefly alluded to it here and there over the years, kids can be hilariously disinterested when you attempt to get deep or explain complex things to them, so we don’t think anything ever sunk in. Generally these discussions would come to explain why Audrey was older than a certain child, but couldn’t walk like them. Because the ‘difference’ noticed has usually been physical, I’ve relied on ‘low muscle tone’ as an explanation.
Over the years I have seen children her age or older, with that look that says “What is she on about?” when she’s being silly (over excited usually) or doing something they might consider strange, but at the same time kids generally just accept stuff and move on.
Rex of course has always known Audrey as his big sister, with no expectations of what that might mean (should she be cleverer, faster, stronger or bossier than him? Shouldn’t she be out of night time nappies?). I know that in time, it’s likely he will start to feel like the older sibling, he will notice the differences between Audrey and her peers, but currently, it’s not something that needs highlighting. It’s a truly wonderful time for them to be siblings, with no “difference” being highlighted or acknowledged. But, that said, subtle differences are already creeping in. He knows he’s faster at running. He knows he can climb when she can’t. He may have thought it strange he nailed pooing on the toilet before she did. So the time came that we needed to tell them both that Audrey has Down’s syndrome…
We took an opportunity when running was being discussed again and said, “Well, Audrey has something called Down’s syndrome that makes it a bit harder for to run as fast as you, but she’s very flexible and good at yoga because of it”. We repeated this again a couple of days later and got the classic kid response “I know, you already told me”. But shortly after I heard Rex telling Audrey “You have Down’s syndrome Audrey, so you can’t run fast” and then Audrey replying “It means I’m super flexible!”. And that was that.
At present, with Rex just starting reception, it’s a short window whilst she knows more letters and words than he does, that she can read books and write sentences… but I can see it won’t be long until he’s caught up with her. I hope that we can always instil that sense that although Down’s syndrome brings challenges, there are positives to her condition. She wouldn’t be the child she is without it and we wouldn’t want her to be anyone else.
It’s taken me a while to post this simply because I’ve felt a bit “meh”. I mean, who wants to hear about our lockdown when they are experiencing their own?
At times like these (yes I’m now humming the Foo Fighters and yes, the BBC version with a load of famous singers I’ve never seen before did make me cry), you can become overwhelmed. Which I have. I’ve been overwhelmed by lots of things these past weeks. General emotions, pressures of work/school work, thoughts of the weeks ahead, thoughts of others, thoughts of getting sick, thoughts of getting fat (I wish that was a joke), resources, memes, quotes, articles, educational activities – I am so grateful for everything that’s been available to us, but at one point the various What’s app groups were awash with this stuff and it didn’t make me think “Oh great, so much we can do, so much to refer to!” it was more like “Where do I start? Is everyone doing all the things? Am I the only person who doesn’t find this meme funny? Oh God I’ve seen that one 3 times already!” and “What should I do will all this information?!?”.
Things have calmed down a little now. Oh the kids are often feral, but I’ve learned to live with it better. Anyway on to my lockdown babble…
Audrey’s school closed 20th March and it was a gentle start of social distancing. We still went to the park on the Saturday, we still went for coffee, we just knew we shouldn’t get too close to other people and that was should wash our hands lots. It felt strange and we knew potentially things would become more restricted, but it all felt unreal.
By the Monday, it was no longer cool to hang out at the park or go for coffee. Advice for businesses was conflicted (people were being told not to go to pubs or restaurants, but pubs and restaurants were not officially told to close).
Pretty soon, we were in full lockdown mode. Kids at home, both me and Ted working at home, lots of TV, lots of drawing, lots of stir craziness, a smidge of school work and plenty of Zoom calls.
I work for a charity that helps families with children with special educational needs and disabilities, so I am aware that this kind of change has a massive impact on SEND families. For us, Audrey is the homebody, she likes cookery, TV, books, dolls and imaginative play. It’s her brother Rex, the typical child that needs to be walked like a dog. We are lucky to have a garden, but it is very small, so he dismantles the sofa everyday and throws himself around on it… it’s all a bit chaotic here.
Like many, we started with a vague routine planned; a relaxed Cbeebies morning, PE at 9am (sometimes Joe, sometimes Cosmic Kids Yoga, sometimes zumba), followed by snack, then a learning task or two, TV and lunch, kids choose afternoon (from various activities – baking, craft, lego, games, chalking etc) , well I reckon that lasted about a week. What a cliche we’ve become!
I found out Rex hates organised exercise (despite wanting to do nothing but bounce and jump all day), that Audrey loves this kind of exercise, but has to be in the right mood for most things and that school work may only be possible in 15 minute chunks. I learned that I’m not very patient, but that I can still get a lot of work done whilst listening to kids TV and having two small people constantly hound me for things… “Can I have “insert snack food here”?, Can you get this “lid off/bag zipped up/thing down from a high place?”, “I NEED A POO!” and so on. To get out of this happily, I have to attempt to free myself from wanting to “achieve” certain things each day. I realise that often I can feel really good about doing a lot work, but that will usually align with guilt that the kids have watched TV for hours and I’ve not interacted with them other than as snack opener and bum-wiper. On the flip side, if I have spent time, playing, teaching and interacting with them for hours, well, that usually means of course that I’ve done no work. So doing things in small chunks of time works best for everyone’s well-being.
So I cut my hours at work (it’s made things much more manageable), Ted is working full-time, shut away upstairs most days from 8am-6pm. I’ve allowed them to have days that are nothing but TV and play. I have braved taking them out on my own more (two small children being told not to be near people/touch things – it doesn’t always go well) and I’ve been running/drinking a lot more wine (though not at the same time, obviously).
I have no super duper lockdown survival tips (because I don’t know how we are sometimes), but I can only say, that despite the moments of absolute despair, we have still found time to have fun. We can look on the bright side – we could still be in our old flat with a baby and no garden or our mums could be alive and having to isolate… so the timing isn’t so bad. At least we do all get on, can work from home and we all love movies and board games and dancing and things you can easily do at home.
I guess I am really writing this post for prosperity, I want to look back and remember that this time was hard. The kids were demanding, there were lots of tears and guilt and shouting, but there has also been lots of lovely moments – our first viewing of Harry Potter, altogether snuggled in the sofa enjoying a feast! Ted bought a pizza oven, so good pizza has been a weekly treat. Audrey has been pooing on the toilet more (as opposed to her night-time nappy) and has done some really super writing. Rex has already shown he can follow lines and shapes really well in a ‘first writing book’. They have both coped really well with the change to their routine and are good at talking openly talking about the virus.
In fact, in some ways this time has been “easier” than the summer holidays! Because there is literally zero expectation that I need to plan anything or take them anywhere. Sure, we all think a zoo trip will be the best day ever, but the reality is often much more stressful than the fantasy, so in many ways it is a relief that we are at home and a brief trip to the park is all they hope for.
This week the government announced changes as we try to get things “back to normal”. Everyone seems to be incredibly annoyed and “confused” by the advice to “stay alert” as opposed to “stay at home”. I’m not confused. It’s hard to keep a “stay at home” slogan when you are telling people they can go out more. They can stay out for longer periods of time. Go out not just for exercise but also just to sit. See friends, but at a distance. Some businesses are opening again. Restaurants can deliver… it’s a gradual process of returning to normality. Potentially a trickier time than when the guidelines were clearer and strict though. For those of us with small children or children with SEND, it’s not a massive change. I won’t be taking my kids on long walks as they can’t be trusted not to lick something on the way. And I can’t have them meet a friend at a “safe distance” because no doubt they’d like to lick that friend. I jest… but honestly you should see Audrey sucking her thumb after playing in the dirt and Rex hugging a lamppost, it’s constant!
The biggest announcement in the government’s recent changes to lockdown had to be that Audrey’s year may return to school 1st June – which seems way too soon. Again, if we as a family are still practicing social distancing, what is the point of then sending one of us into a building with around 300 other humans in it?? I know she would love to be at school and I would love her to be there… but not until it really feels like the virus is no longer a threat.
We haven’t been ill, so at this point I feel like we could manage to shield ourselves entirely from Covid-19 (am I dreaming?), but if we have to jump back in before the storm is over… I don’t know, I just feel like Audrey might get hit hard (she has no underlying conditions or respiratory problems, so maybe not), it’s probably just that I see her as more vulnerable because of her additional needs.
It’s certainly funny to think after all the stress of lockdown, that now there is an end in sight and a return to school date, I feel like it’s too soon!
Today Rex is going to his last session at the nursery Audrey first attended age 10 months in 2014.
If you don’t know by now, I do get incredibly attached to things. Places. People. Garments. Routines. Buggies(!). So it’s a very big deal to be leaving. It was a tough decision, but Rex has gone down to one day a week there since September last year (when we added a day of preschool) and he started to express a preference for preschool for some reason.
We felt we needed nursery (because it runs all year around, plus we can add extra sessions with short notice), so we were very reluctant to let it go. However Rex is starting school next year, so maybe it’s no big thing to deal attempt the work/school hours juggle a bit earlier…?
I will miss the Wednesday calm time, because Ted takes Rex to nursery, I get to take Audrey to school and pick her up alone, spending an afternoon with her, knowing she will calming eat her dinner at the table (Rex is not a fan of dinners). However, this isn’t a reason to keep up the expense of nursery. I have to embrace change (annoyingly), I realise that eventually the scary new routine becomes second nature pretty quickly.
But still, we are leaving a nursery that took my little baby girl all those years ago and helped her to learn so much. Audrey always loved nursery. Rex has mostly loved it. But I guess I’ve loved it the most, because there is nothing quite like knowing your child can be somewhere 8am to 6pm and be safe and cared for with a strong routine, good food, friends, learning… it was great for Ted and I to have “day dates” when the kids were at nursery!
But the time has come to move on and get used to the juggle of work and school holidays because we have many more years of that to come!
I need to rant about buggies/strollers/prams and general small-kid mobility. I suspect this will be quite a dull blog post for many, but read on if you fancy hearing about our experience with many buggies…
We went shopping for our first pram when I was pregnant with a baby we knew nothing about (which is how it works for most people). We still joke about when we were approached by a salesperson in Mothercare, offering us options I said “We’re not Bugaboo people”, because I thought £500 was a ludicrous amount to spend on a buggy. As it happens, we did decide to buy a Bugaboo Bee. It remains my favourite buggy to date, because it was light, easy to steer, Audrey was very snug in her cocoon and just as happy when it adapted for her to face the world, it served us well.
What’s “funny” (incredibly annoying) about the buggy situation is that we chose one that didn’t have a carrycot option, so if Audrey was asleep in the Bugaboo and I wanted to go home to our first floor flat, I had to carry the entire buggy up a set of external steps, a couple more in the hallway and then a double flight to our flat door. Oh and did I mention I’d had a c-section? And that she had an oxygen tank attached? Ha ha, yeah not that funny. I may have picked an option with a carrycot had I have known Audrey was going to be such a good buggy sleeper… but then again it may have been the cocoon on the Bugaboo Bee that she loved (many of our friends had babies unhappy in carrycots), I guess we’ll never know.
Anyway, Audrey absolutely loved sleeping in her buggy, so it was incredibly frustrating to me that I could rarely sleep when she slept, because I couldn’t get the whole thing into our flat without a lot of heavy-lifting and risk of waking her. But we didn’t know much about baby naps when we made the purchase. We borrowed a Babybjorn sling which was great too and when the time came to return that to my friend (who was having twins), we purchased an Ergo which goes up to age 4.
When I was pregnant with Rex, I bought a secondhand cheap Maclaren stroller to use on “nursery runs”. Because Ted was able to do drop off, I figured he could take Audrey in and I could use the other single with Rex. I also panic bought a double Phil and Ted’s (quite an old model) from a friend, ready for trips out with both of them. So we had three buggies and a sling! We had moved to a house with no steps at the entrance – I was very much looking forward to wheeling my sleeping baby in so I could nap!
As it turned out, Rex hated buggies. He would scream and cry and eventually fall asleep but if the buggy stopped then we were screwed, he’d wake up and start crying again. So he was on my body pretty much all the time.
My life was sling and single buggy, but when I attempted the double Phil and Ted’s double I absolutely hated it. The kids heads would bash against unpadded metal bars, the hood was absolutely useless and didn’t cover the child on top, the child below had no cover (other than the kid sitting on top of them), it had a stiff metal foot brake and the steering was terrible. It’s safe to say I was immediately stalking other secondhand buggies on eBay.
We sold the dodgy Phil and Ted double, sold the Bugaboo and bought a secondhand Baby Jogger City Select – a fantastic double (but quite bulky so difficult to get in our small car’s boot). I also bought a (new) Baby Jogger Vue (for buggy training days with Rex whilst Audrey was at nursery) and this left us with 3 buggies in rotation! Ted was beginning to think I was some sort of buggy collector. The Vue was good because it’s like a Maclaren stroller, but can be used from birth with a facing you option.
Eventually Rex got used to buggy life and we sold the old Maclaren. We we down to just two buggies (closer to a normal amount of buggies?!), I figured we’d keep this all going until both kids showed more promise of walking further, but unfortunately the double buggy broke (the main frame) and it pushed us to make a decision and try life with a single buggy and buggy board.
Wow this really is a thrilling tale.
We’ve been doing fine without the double, but not great. Usually Audrey is sat in the buggy and Rex is walking or scooting until he gets tired and then he is on the board. If we have the scooter it’s quite a balancing act for me – I feel much like a cart horse as I push them and all our bags etc, the scooter slipping off the buggy frame, usually with someone complaining.
Yesterday morning Rex decided he wanted to sit in the buggy, so Audrey walked for a short while (she can get almost to school, almost!), but she hates the buggy board and so it was stressful convincing him to let her sit for the last bit. I basically forced him onto the board and he cried and whined until we got to school, where he then wanted to walk to preschool whilst I pushed the empty buggy.
It won’t be long until they are both too big for a double buggy anyway, so I have to learn how to get by and in a new twist – we have a special needs buggy coming our way today!
Audrey saw the physiotherapist and occupational therapist last week and in discussing her stamina with walking, we were told that after she turns 6, we cannot apply for a special needs buggy, they would provide a wheelchair! Which is definitely not necessary, so I’m pleased we had that meeting as we were able to apply for and receive a special needs buggy that will be big enough to cover this time and on wards whilst she is a little bit too big for a standard buggy, but clearly not “disabled enough” for a wheelchair.
I was actually prepared to just “muddle through” with a single buggy and a board, but since doing the drop off and pick up this week I am unsure it is going to work. There is no escaping that the board is not for Audrey – she doesn’t have the balance or core strength. It was something Rex loved (novelty value), but now he is unwilling to be the one who is always relegated to the standing position.
Yesterday he was sat in the buggy and unwilling to give up his seat. Audrey walked for a very short while before complaining and as I stood begging her to give the board a try – just to the end of the road, pleeeease, Rex simply climbed out of the buggy, silently walked around and stood on the board. It was a huge relief that he helped me out for once. We got half way home before he started complaining and he got the seat whilst Audrey walked, all the time whining and saying she wanted to be carried.
I had taken it for granted that they would both simply get used to walking further, but unfortunately a tiring day at school/nursery just doesn’t lead to energy and enthusiasm for walking home. Dare I suggest I panic buy of a double buggy?!? Ted will be over the moon to try out yet another model…!
Potty training was always something I feared; I simply decided that for a child with a learning disability it was worth waiting for her to be older and have a better level of understanding before even attempting such a task… but also I hoped she might just magically figure it out for herself.
Before she was two, Audrey started to shuffle off to corners of the room to poo in her nappy. She often signed for a nappy change. We were attending Whoopsadaisy around this time and Audrey was learning to stand and walk, they encouraged sitting on the potty and subscribed to a different method to me – get them on the potty early and chance a pee here and there, hopefully she’ll get the idea. Well she did a wee on the potty a couple of times by chance, but it didn’t make sense to me work at it so early on.
I guess found it odd to encourage a child that couldn’t walk or stand to use a potty and once she was two and a half, Rex was born and the last thing I wanted to do was potty train! A discussion with a helpful health visitor made me feel better about that – she said “do not try to potty train whilst dealing with a newborn”. So I didn’t.
Time went by. Pull up nappies were used, potty books were read… it felt like we had so much time (since we deferred Audrey’s school start). Yet she started school in nappies.
We had many wee successes, but she was wasn’t consistent. I knew she didn’t need to be in a nappy all day because she could go hours without a wee, but I wasn’t convinced she actually knew when she needed a wee. I had some discussions with healthcare professionals about her being constipated quite a lot and they said this could mean she feels “full” all the time and that it wouldn’t be as easy to identify needing a wee.
With little effort, it wasn’t long before we switched the pull ups to knickers because Audrey decided to hold her wee all day – she would just do a wee in her nappy in the morning and a wee on the toilet at home before bedtime. Great that she was dry, but unhealthy and stressful for me (worrying about urinary tract infections!) and she also had a couple of accidents at school, wetting herself when falling over.
We’ve had the Christmas break and suddenly Audrey has been really getting it. Asking to go for a wee (even out about) in the morning and afternoon and successfully having a wee. Oh how we celebrated! She’s been back at school over a week and they’ve only seen one wee from her…! And so we are back to where we are started, but at least she is consistently dry.
Well, I have a second child. Did I mention? Ha. He is 3 next month. And… I know nothing about potty training!! Rex requested to wear big boy pants and I thought “Wow, it could be this easy, maybe I don’t need to actually do anything to potty train this one either…” – that was before 3 wee accidents and a quick return to nappies.
He does hide in a corner to poo (in his nappy!), he responds well to rewards, so we could be on our way, however he doesn’t seem to quite “get it” yet and the thought of wee every where just puts me off. Both are in nappies at night time. I thought that was fairly common, but after a chat here and there with other mums, I find many have nailed the night time training too by 3 or 4 years old.
Advice I have heard…
“Don’t leave the house for a week.” Not an option. Rex is feral at home, we’d go mad.
“Take in a potty about 10pm and put the sleepy child on for a nighttime wee.” This maybe in our future, BUT, Audrey is very sleepy and I’m not sure she would wake enough to wee, Rex is the opposite and I fear we’d wake him up and not get him back down.
“Take them to the toilet every 15 minutes.” Well this is practical if we follow advice number 1. But if we want to live a normal life, going outside, doing things… I just don’t know how I would get Rex to the toilet that much.
“Reward them with chocolate/a sticker for every successful toilet visit.” Ahh yes the bribe. This one is interesting as Audrey had a chocolate button for a wee for a while and Rex would get one too (or face his wrath!) and now it’s his turn, he doesn’t actually seem that fussed. I suspect that off the back of Christmas-let’s-have-chocolate-everyday he doesn’t feel he has to work for it.
“Put pants on with a nappy over the top.” We did actually try this one with Audrey for a bit, but she didn’t seem to care that she was wet and she got sore. I think Rex would get confused by the double.
“Let them run around with nothing on their bottom half.” A great one for summertime. Rex would gladly do this, but I’m also sure he’d wee everywhere!
Part of me feels like it really doesn’t matter once both my children “nail” this toileting malarkey, another part of me feels huge pressure to get them there. Both are really great (chatty!) communicators and they are both very aware of the process of toileting (we have an open door policy!), but I am lost in the world of potty training.
This could be the secret of course; do very little and the kids get it anyway. Fingers crossed.
Last week I had a rare full day alone with Audrey (as we are in the school holidays and Rex was at nursery). We went in the car to a lovely play park and cafe by the beach. We picked out our best pebbles and I told her how I used to go to the beach with my mummy and collect the best shells. Audrey has a wonderful way of interacting, she’s supportive and interested; “Oh wow, with your mummy? That’s great!”.
We had a play in the park, we shared scrambled eggs and toast in the cafe. Audrey bossed me around a bit, she bossed around others too (telling a mum to “Calm down” when she was telling off her toddler!), we got back in the car and headed to the supermarket.
She flatly refused to get out of the car when we go there – told me she wanted to stay put. I tried to be as gently as possible in convincing her, but I was getting no where fast. I eventually had to man-handle her out and then distract her with news that the trolley had a ride-along buggy board! Fun! It worked.
At home we were both tired and sat watching a film until I thought it best to head out again (or we’d easily watch TV all afternoon) and we walked to our local park.
None of this is a big deal… but it was a big deal. For Audrey to walk to the park and back and not ask to be carried, for her to interact and play with other children once we got there, for her to stop sensibly to cross the road and hold my hand – things one might take for granted in a typical 5 year old – I do not take for granted. I revel. I praise. Oh wow… she is going to have such an inflated ego!
Because none of this simple stuff was expected, because her default position is a condition that “limits”; I am constantly lifted and amazed by her. As we walked to the park, having a conversation, I thought back to the leaflet we were given when she was born. It’s intention is not negativity, it aims to give you a fair account of what to expect of a child with Down’s syndrome; but they have to cover everything. So the list goes on; language delay, possible hearing problems, possible sight problems, speech may be difficult to understand (if they master speech at all), a long list of health issues, challenging behaviour, the autism spectrum, food problems, thyroid issues…. it goes on and on.
To be honest we hid the leaflet away and didn’t return to it. Sometimes something will get mentioned by a professional “Of course you are aware that children with Down’s syndrome can be prone to…” and I think “No, I wasn’t aware of that” and it doesn’t matter.
I know that knowledge is power. I know it is good to be prepared. I also like that my child leads the way a bit. There was no leaflet with Rex; we just muddled our way through.
I know that for some, that negative list in the leaflet is a reality and they aren’t walking to the park with their 5 year old with DS chatting about flowers and “Oh look that’s where I had my birthday party…”, I know we are so lucky. I feel lucky every time she calls me “Mummy”, every time she holds my hand, holds it to her face and then kisses it.
Our life is not without stress – several bouts of diarrhea for the kids last week, the two of them fighting, stropping, running off, challenging me… but I want to remember all the good stuff. Actually, I want to focus on it! Because how else do I get through all the crazy days with these kids?! My magical, crazy and surprising kids, that have no guidebook.
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:
I started writing this post in May (!) and listed Rex’s words;
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.
I can hardly believe it, but I now have a 4 year old daughter!
I'm also wondering why mothers aren't always a blubbering mess on their kids' birthdays. I started reminiscing days before her birthday and it's started to blow my mind that Audrey and Rex both grew inside my body. Woah.
We had a rocky start with Audrey popping out all "extra-chromosomey" so the love we have and the way she is now is extra sweet.
Our next big hurdle is potty training, which she's been potentially ready for for someone (a year maybe!) but I've been putting off and putting off… but once we've nailed that, wow, onwards and upwards for our grown-up girl.
It's a funny time because Audrey's typical peers will be starting school in September (we have deferred her to be the oldest in her year next year), so it's strange that we aren't moving forward in that way. But Audrey needs the extra time and when I look at how far we have come since her 3rd birthday I know it's the right thing to do.
Yesterday we had a great party (a BBQ at home), it rained half the time but we were ok inside. I made a chocolate peanut butter Hey Duggee cake and Daddy cooked lots of meat and made burger buns. Audrey got lots of lovely presents and was out like a light at bedtime, exhausted by a very fun day… the same couldn't be said for Rex unfortunately, he seems to get wired, but he fell asleep eventually.
Today I went back to work after 18 months of maternity leave (well, the cold, hard fact is, I was made redundant whilst on maternity leave, but let’s ignore that).
As I walked home (that’s right, no dodgy commute, just a meander through leafy Hove), I felt so incredibly emotional. I’m a cry baby anyway (I’m sure I’ve mentioned my tearful John Lewis advert moments/sniffles at people dying on Neighbours/sobbing to La La Land?), but this felt like such a mix of feelings. Rex spent an entire day cared for by nursery staff! – You see he’s only spent time with friends and family before, this was a big deal.
Audrey is a nursery pro – she started at 10 months and save a few tears at pick up (when she realised we left her!), she’s always been an easy-going sort; she took to it like a rubber ducky to kids’ bath time and we never looked back.
Rex has been a bit more clingy in general and at 16 months he’s at a trickier age than she was, but, nursery settling sessions went well. So I wasn’t crazy-nervous about him starting and to be honest second time around you’re much more willing for your kids to fly or fall. But when lunchtime arrived I realised I was keen to check in and hear from nursery that he was having a good time (which he was).
Once the day came to an end I was excited to get home to see my family. It was a good feeling because it is so rare that I get to miss Rex. Audrey has been going to nursery twice a week and on those days I get very excited for her to come home… clearly every day I cannot wait for my husband to get home, but for Rex… well we just don’t get very long breaks from one another to miss each other. What a novelty. I missed him. Amazing.
In many ways I’m one of those mums that complains about how I’m always with my kids and that I have no time for me, but then doesn’t let others look after them. I fear leaving them, it’s a control thing and I’m working on it. Walking down the street alone on a mild summer evening was pretty awesome. I started daydreaming about dates with Ted, maybe going for a run; just time without kids that I haven’t “allowed” myself before.
Getting home (5 minutes before my crew), I really got the “sight for sore eyes” phrase. Wow. My beautiful children arrived home with their Daddy, full of smiles and lots of shouting “Mummy!!”, it was wonderful. Rex was very clingy, but in such a lovely way and I got lots of cuddles and kisses.
For anyone wondering if working (and this is only part time to be clear) after having children is a good idea… thinking; will you feel guilty? Will it be difficult to do something other than wipe bums and faces? Will my children suffer? Well, in my experience, working or just having a regular activity away from your children is a great idea (insert thumbs up emoji here). I just feel like I’ve had a boost and that both my children seemed lovelier because I didn’t spend the day with them! Ha.
Check them out in pics below – Rexy got for a balloon on his first day and he loves balloons!