Lockdown life

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).

We made rainbows to display on our window the day Audrey’s school closed.

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.

Tiny play house in our tiny garden.

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!

Rex’s lockdown fringe and ice cream happiness.
Audrey’s ice team happy face.

A Glass Half Full Decade

I took some snaps of Audrey one morning before school, she was beaming in full uniform and a little rucksack on her back. Rex and I dropped her at school and returned home to wait for Bibi (Grandma) to come. Rex was watching back-to-back Paw Patrol whilst I emptied the dishwasher and tidied the kitchen as best I could in the 20-30 minutes I would usually have before my mother-in-law Sarah arrived to watch Rex whilst I went to work in a cafe for 3-4 hours.

Ten minutes late was not unusual. I felt relief to be quite organised and ready for Sarah’s arrival. Twenty minutes late was unusual. But calling people when they are late and might be driving could add to their stress, so I didn’t do anything for a bit. I’m not sure what the order was particularly, but I know I called her mobile and home, twice. I sent a message via What’s app and a text. I messaged a friend to see if they had heard she wasn’t coming.

When she was around 30-40 minutes late I was definitely panicked, but I didn’t want to worry my husband Ted, so I called my brother and asked him what I should do.

I’ve relived the events of this particular morning in October more than I would care to. Recounting the details to shocked friends, watching their eyes widen when I say “she just didn’t turn up”. The fear that one day, someone might suddenly not be there. Well on that day, Sarah was no longer there. Ted and I have no parents, the children have no grandparents (well, one great grandparent – my 100 year old nan!).

When I recount the deaths of my father, Ted’s father, my sister, my auntie, my mother and now my mother-in-law… well I do feel like people may view me as the grim reaper. Our little (evidently getting smaller by the year) family is a happy one though. We feel so grateful to have each other and many wonderful friends to get us through these times, but, there has been a lot of death around us.

It’s now 2020. People are summarising their decade with weddings and travels and new jobs. I can see mine in two ways:

On the one hand, 2010: the year my father died. 2011: the year Ted’s father died. 2012: the year my sister died. 2013: the year we had a disabled child. 2014: the year I was made redundant and had a miscarriage. 2015: Audrey started therapy to learn to walk. 2016: the year we had Rex and learnt what exhaustion really means. 2017: the year I was made redundant again, the year my mother died. 2018: my brother was undergoing treatment for cancer, I was in therapy. 2019: the year Ted’s mum died.

Or I could look at it like this…

2010: I ran my first 5K.

2011: Ted and I got engaged.

2012: Ted and I got married and had an amazing honeymoon in New York.

2013: Ted ran a marathon. We had a beautiful baby girl!

2014: I started a new job.

2015: I got pregnant with Rex. We moved from a flat to a house.

2016: We had another beautiful baby! Audrey learned to walk (and so did Rex at 10 months)!

2017: I spoke to trainee midwives for the Down Syndrome Association’s ‘Tell It Right’ campaign. I met some significant new friends.

2018: Audrey became a model and started mainstream school, I started freelance writing.

2019: Audrey became a TV star. I got a new job working for a charity I care about. My Nan turned 100 years old.

We have definitely experienced more than our fair share of death, but we’ve had our fare share of good fortune too. We hope that 2020 sees us find a new home and that everyone we know and love remain in good health.

Belated Happy New Year!

 

 

A Strong Reception

As the summer holidays are in sight and Audrey is 6 (today!) I thought it might be a good time to write about Audrey’s life at mainstream school so far, because here we are, nearly finished with her first year in reception!

I mysteriously didn’t write (even a little) blog post about Audrey turning 5 (I checked back), but here we are welcoming the big 6 at the end of her first year of mainstream primary school and we have a summer break of (hopefully) fun times ahead.

By now I am sure you know I am so proud of my beautiful, clever, friendly little girl. We have come so far since that hot July day in 2013, when she was presented to me and all I saw was Down’s syndrome. What felt like a cruel blow now feels like the best thing that ever happened to us! We’ve had a fun and exhausting weekend celebrating her birthday, she got a doll’s house, her first “Ken” doll (she has mountains of female dolls) and as always, Audrey gave us amazing feedback saying “This is my best present ever” when she saw the dolls house and eagerly introducing Ken to “her girls” (the other dolls).

So I dropped my 6 year old off at school this morning and now I can share with you my thoughts on how things have gone for us, having a child with special needs attending a mainstream setting.

I had many fears about her starting school (even with a deferral making her one of the eldest, rather than youngest in the class), but I also knew that there was a big chance Audrey would thrive in the setting. All the adults that “worked with her” (key person at nursery, therapists, inclusion service etc) would say what a sociable, outgoing child she is and that she’d have no trouble making friends and that reception was all about making friends.

My main worries were “she’ll get crushed to death” – she is small and her low muscle-tone makes it harder for her to navigate obstacles/stay on her feet when getting knocked around. I also wondered if the whole environment might just be too loud and full-on for her.

As I am slowly learning, she is often more resilient than I expect her to be.

She did indeed get knocked about a fair bit at the beginning of school. Things you couldn’t anticipate (tripping on a trolley, getting hit by a rogue ball in the playground) will simply happen in a busy school environment. It is heart-stopping to get the call that your child has had a bump to the head, but she’s survived and I think everyone is aware now that she’s a bit more fragile than some of the other kids.

We had a parents’ evening at the beginning of school and it was so uplifting. We had fantastic feedback about her settling in, making friends, being part of the class and her positive attitude (she arrives every morning saying “Good morning guys!”). Our second parents’ evening was much the same, aside from one tiny comment about how Audrey wouldn’t be reaching her Early Learning Goals. It’s not like I expected her to be performing at the top of the class of typical children, it’s just that I had forgotten that she wasn’t on the same level, I had forgotten because we are so often focused on all that she can do. You can sort of put yourself in a protective bubble, where you look at your child through rose-tinted glasses because they, to you, are perfect. This was just a reminder that our child, measured against “typical” standards is “delayed”.

Put academic measurements aside, look at the bigger picture and you’ll see Audrey attending mainstream school has been a success. She’s made brand-new friends, she’s learned how to write her name (just about), she can sound out and read all kinds of words and she can tell me details about her day. She has progressed physically and mentally just from interacting and learning alongside her typical peers.

Audrey has school lunches – this may have contributed to an improvement in her eating at home too, as she now eats lots of vegetables and is happy trying new things. She always tells me what she’s had for lunch (macaroni cheese and fish and chips are her favourites!) and explained recently that the children line up for a “squirt” before lunch; yes, I was confused at first, but when she mimed it out I realised she meant hand sanitiser! It’s tiny details like this that really show how far she has come with her communication.

The thing is, I can put myself in the position of a parent of a typical child starting reception… you learn there is a child in the class with “special needs”; they need a 1:1. Being brutally honest I do think it would have raised concerns for me. I would wonder: “Will their behaviour be challenging?”, “Will their needs affect the class as a whole?”. So I was also nervous of the the other parents and their attitudes. I wanted to be able to tell them all that they would soon see what an asset she is.

I’m hoping it didn’t take long for people to see that. Audrey’s presence in the class is not a drain on resources. It’s not a waste of time for her to be there learning with her typical peers – it’s a success story and a positive experience for all concerned. She learns through copying, so typical children propel her education and she provides them an insight into disability. She has her challenges and I’m sure sometimes the other kids wonder what on earth she’s on about(!), but also they’ll see she is kind and thoughtful and likes lots of the same stuff they do. I also like to think her 1:1s are an asset to the class because, yes, they are there specifically for her, but they will no doubt help other children when needed.

Everyone has been welcoming and Audrey has made some great friends. We’ve had birthday parties and play-dates a plenty. She’s been on school trips to the local library to see a puppet show, to the zoo, she took part in sports day, harvest festival at the church and she performed in the nativity as an angel. Audrey was recently chosen to be “Star of the Week” (along with other children), getting a certificate and a little box allowing her to take something into school for “show and tell”. My heart is filled to the brim with pride that she is taking part in all these school activities.

She does get very tired at school, she can exclaim “Not again!?” when I tell her it’s another school day, but mostly she bounds into school full of enthusiasm and bounds out ready to tell me she had so much fun.

I know that sending your child off to school can be nerve-wracking for anyone – suddenly your child is spending a lot of time with people you don’t know very well. But it didn’t take long for her to be well-known throughout the school and I have no doubt that Audrey will have many happy years at this school.

And so on to Audrey’s second year of primary school (confusingly; year one). She enters with a knowledge of the school routine, a good group of friends and her can-do attitude! But for now, a bit of summer time fun and a break from the school routine… a welcome break but also a terrifying stretch of days ahead entertaining my two active children… wish me luck!

Game of Buggy Thrones

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.

Audrey does the splits in a Bugaboo bee buggy
Audrey in her Bugaboo Bee

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!

Two children sleeping in a double buggy
The dreaded Phil and Ted buggy. I know they are asleep but look how uncomfortable it is!

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.

Two children in a double buggy
The Baby Jogger City Select double

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…!

Pregnant woman and child in a buggy
The easiest way to carry two – one in a buggy, one in the womb!

 

School of hard knocks

Since Audrey started school last September I have had quite a few texts and calls relating to her falling at school. Sometimes she trips, but often than not she is knocked over by other children running or playing nearby.

Yesterday I had one of those calls. I had just calmed Rex from a grumpy car nap wake up and I was preparing lunch when the call came. The school nurse calmly explained there was nothing to worry about, but that Audrey had recently been in to see her, having fallen in the playground, onto her face. Cutting her lip. Hitting her tooth (which doesn’t seem loose, don’t worry). She’s fine now. She also got quite wet so could I bring a coat at pick up? Eek.

I did my bit. The equivalent of smiling and nodding but down the phone (“Mmm, ok, ok”). I hung up. And then I cried. I went through what I assume are cliched phases – upset (cry cry), angry (why wasn’t someone stood right by her?!), acceptance (but they said she was ok) and helplessness (imagining her so far away from my arms, hurt and crying).

I pulled myself back together and sat with Rex to watch Peter bloody Rabbit for the tenth time this week and eat lunch.

If you don’t know; it is torture to hear your child has been hurt. “Some older boys were running past and they knocked her…” Did they notice? Did they care? Did she scream? Sob? Ask for me? Did someone cuddle her? Did she bleed?

Audrey at school
Audrey at school

Yes, torture. I still can’t quite get over how long the school years are. How many more of these calls will I take?

Interestingly I also had a call from Audrey’s speech and language therapist (SALT), to discuss her progress ahead of her education, health and care plan. She expressed how Audrey could benefit from her 1:1 taking a step back to allow her to play with her peers. It made me see more clearly (because at that point I was stupidly wondering why her 1:1 wasn’t basically holding her hand, stood exactly next to her like a bodyguard to prevent her getting knocked over!). There are times to be involved and times to step back. Obviously she can’t really have someone protecting her at all times. Plus she does need to have a full life experience (bumps, bruises and all).

The SALT was full of good things to say about Audrey’s progress and abilities, which was a nice uplifting call to take after the horror injury call!

And when I went to collect Audrey (expecting a gaping wound in her lip), she was fine. A graze on her lip (barely noticeable), still full of beans and thrilled to see me, definitely not scarred for life in any sense.

Yet still I found myself picturing the moment over and over. As I was brushing my teeth that night, I imagined her getting knocked over and a full shudder ran through my body and my stomach flipped. I felt sick. My sweet fragile little girl. I now completely understand why my mother used to describe as as her “precious jewels” (we thought she was such an embarrassing loon).

Audrey drinks her juice from a straw
Audrey getting refreshed after dance class

And so, today was another dance class trial. One where I should drop her off (but they allow you to stay for the first session, so of course I stayed!). But I guess I have to take a step back and start allowing her to get on with things, in the same way I do dropping her off at school.

I watched her today, filled with pride as always. She was like Phoebe Bouffay “I’m totally doing it!” and that was awesome.

Party on

I mentioned on Instagram the other week about a clunky moment when a pediatrician asked if Audrey was being invited to birthday parties. I found it quite odd. Audrey has been going to birthday parties since birth. A friend made me realise this was the doctor’s way of measuring that Audrey is being included and has formed friendships at school.

Funnily enough, just recently we have had loads of birthday parties. Audrey loves a good party, however sometimes the bouncy castle is too busy for her. Sometimes the general ambiance is too loud for her. Sometimes she’s just not in the mood. But mostly she enjoys all that comes with sort of event; party music, dancing, party food, pass the parcel… and of course, the wonderful cake moment singing ‘Happy birthday’ – she does this with huge enthusiasm and joy. On your birthday, if Audrey is there, it’s like having your own personal cheerleader.

Last Saturday we went to one of those parties that just wasn’t her thing. We arrived and the hall was loud and chaotic with her school friends running around, making a lot of noise, but she was ok. It was such a pleasure to see her hugging her friends, holding hands, running around together, it was a great feeling watching her being part of the gang.

Then the entertainer arrived. Uh-oh. It started well, Audrey sat laughing along with her friends and I was sat back on a chair, thinking how well she was doing and how far we had come… when she started to look for me with her bottom lip protruding. She came to sit on my lap “Can we go home Mummy? I don’t like it, he’s scary, it’s too loud”. She asked to go to the toilet (a cunning way to leave the loud room) and she did do a wee (hurrah!), but we ended up waiting in the hallway and then the kitchen, because she was too upset by the noise in the main hall. Once the entertainer finished, there was a party tea (which she didn’t eat) and a brief moment with music where she ran around with her friends (and my goodness 5 year olds are raucous), but I was relieved and thought we’d see this party through… when the entertainer came back to do his closing set. So we left early.

Where we (society) have come so far is that Audrey was even invited. She is part of a mainstream school class and she is treated the same as her typical peers. Also, everyone is understanding. No one is asking “What’s wrong with her?” (because she doesn’t like the entertainer, but every other child does), people are not making us feel weird. It’s fine that she’s not feeling it and off we go.

One thing I know, Audrey will always be invited to birthday parties. Yes, the kids will start to cherry pick their favourite friends and everyone should have that right, but I am confident that my kind, gentle, fun little girl will be considered an asset to a party by lots of children.

We have another school friend’s party in February. I know it involves a big bouncy castle and maybe some soft play, I suspect it won’t be her thing, but we will go. Because we have to try. Audrey has been to the cinema, bowling, she has seen live bands, watched parades, been on a Ferris wheel – there are many things I’ve been concerned she might not like… but we tried anyway. Because sometimes she loves things that we might have been told she would hate. Knowing she has special needs means we are aware of some of the challenges she may have, but nothing can predict your child’s personality and their preferences, you just have to live your life and discover together, one party at a time!

Why I know nothing about potty training

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…

  1. “Don’t leave the house for a week.” Not an option. Rex is feral at home, we’d go mad.
  2. “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.
  3. “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.
  4. “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.
  5. “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.
  6. “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.

Why I Still Love Christmas (having lost both parents)…

Christmas was once the most excruciatingly exciting time of year. From age 3 to 13ish it was the highlight of  life, from the build up (decorations going up, rifling through the wardrobe for presents, the BIG shop that included fizzy pop and chocolate) to that fateful night where the anticipation is just too much and you cannot sleep to that morning (eek I am sure we were up at 4am sometimes!) where the presents were ripped open and the day was pure joy and chaos.

We had big family Christmases, I think at their peak there was around 12 for dinner. My dad’s parents were not around (aside from his stepmother but she wasn’t with us Christmas Day), but my mother’s parents were close (Granddad was hilarious and a must-have for family games), I had three siblings, two old enough to have partners/kids, sometimes my uncle would join us with his wife, I think we had a great nan around too. We had one of those extendable tables and garden chairs with cushions were added into the mix.

I always had a mince pie for breakfast. We always played charades and various games in the evening. We always ate too much. I would have a Christmas Day outfit planned (a velvet dress generally, ooh I remember a year with ski pants and a roll neck!). My mother would embarrass me with her interest in flashing Christmas themed earrings and knitwear. My dad made me ‘snowball’ cocktails (don’t worry, mostly lemonade).

Sometime in the early nineties I accompanied mum to the local garden centre to finally update our hideous Christmas decorations. For years we had dragged those sparkly pink, purple, blue, silver… (you name it) foil garlands and lanterns (that hung from the centre of the room to each corner) down from the loft. We had a toilet-roll-holder-type-angel for the top of the tree. We revamped things that year and switched to green and red traditional stuff and ditched the tinsel. It was a big change back then.

It was in my late teens/early twenties that it really hit me that Christmas would never be the same again. I was no longer filled with that crazy level of excitement, our numbers had diminished a little, but most of all we were all grown up. Only a single nephew remained “young enough” for true Christmas excitement… for me, mum’s novelty stocking fillers became eye-rollerable rather than excellent (and she was an absolute stocking-filler-pro! Pre-internet we had lots of personalised items with our name or initials on, as well as very bizarre stuff like chocolate shaped like sardines in a tin, I LOVED my stocking in its heyday).

By the time I had met Ted and we tried that Christmas juggling you do when you are first a couple and want to spend Christmas together, but also do not want to leave your traditional family Christmas behind… I was ready to accept that Christmas had changed for good.

I think that made it easier for me to live with the fact that now, Christmas is very far away from that of my childhood. I have no parents, I have lost one sibling (and the connection to her two grown up children is weaker), My eldest brother is… well that’s difficult to describe, let’s just say he’s ‘a problem’ and my other brother battled cancer this time last year. I have one grandparent left, but she doesn’t know who I am and she is in a nursing home.

Yet none of this has ruined my enjoyment of this time of year. It has definitely affected it, you can’t escape the sadness loss brings, but that’s life. Naturally every emotional Christmas advert sets me off. Every Christmas song. I am either smiling or crying or both. But I’m a grown up now, it comes with the territory.

My mother was also a fan of Christmas. She liked to complain (in more recent years) about the stress and the effort, but she still had two Christmas tress and a crazy amount of decorations. She would still stuff the cupboard with nuts, chocolates and crisps even if only a few people were visiting, hey even if no one was visiting! Now I am in charge of creating the magic (hiding the presents not rifling through the wardrobe to find them!). Now I want to wear stupid Christmas jumpers and hats, now I see the fun in the tat.

And of course Audrey and Rex bring a whole new level to Christmas. We have their innocence and joy to surround us and their happy faces at what will be (in the scheme of things) quite simple presents. I took Audrey to an eye test last week and in the car she was singing along to Wham’s “Last Christmas” (she catches on to familiar tunes quite quickly and she’s definitely enthusiastic, if not in key), it was lovely.

The thing is, I like to think that everyone is in a better mood in December. So what’s not to like about that? A couple of weeks ago, a friend posted on Instagram about Kindly and the project they were running for people to write a letter for someone who is isolated at Christmas time. So I signed up immediately and within hours I had an email confirming I would be writing to a woman called Sheila (which was my mother’s name). I mean, obviously I was in tears but I was also so wonderfully uplifted by this tiny coincidence. That same day, I had stopped to donate to an old man collecting for the Youth Cancer Trust in our local Tesco and we had a very long chat. He was perplexed by the amount of people who completely ignored him saying “Good morning” and I told him about Audrey and how she loves to say hello to people but often they are just in their own world (or on their phone/listening to something on headphones). It’s part of life now to be zoned out and not in the moment with the other humans around you.

Which is why it is important to remember that Christmas is a time to connect with people. I had little wobble the other day when our ridiculous bumper pack of Audrey’s school pictures arrived and I thought; wow, we really don’t have that many people to give these to. But then I remembered that we do. We still have lots of family left and we have many friends who are “aunties” and “uncles” to our children. We have a wonderfully wide network and I am so grateful for that.

Every Christmas will be different, it may have felt like pure light as a kid and now it has darkness too, but I can handle that, because now my children are building their Christmas memories and they only see the light.

Merry Christmas one and all x

The Down Syndrome Diary

Back in 2014(!) I remember vividly that I was walking Audrey around in her buggy when I received a message from Jamie to see if I’d be interested in writing in a “physical diary” about Down’s syndrome – to put pen to paper and tell our story. I was very flattered and of course said yes straight away.

Audrey cuddling the Down Syndrome Diary

I had found so much comfort from Instagram accounts and blogs that I found (relating to DS) in those early days. I was inspired to share our family life and so adding to a travelling diary seemed like a great idea.

Jamie started the diary and began to send it around the world to gather family’s heartfelt stories, but I don’t think anyone could have know how long this might take or that so many people would want to be involved; she’d have to send off lots of other diaries to meet demand!

Once the diary finally arrived my house (I was definitely feeling scared to have it) I thought I’d add my entry and pass it on to the final contributors. Simple. Maybe a week to turn it around?

But, just like everyone else, it took me a while to get going with the writing. I needed to read the other entries. Then I needed some pictures of it with Audrey… but she wasn’t playing ball and oh how precious a real book of heartfelt stories is, I couldn’t let the kids have free-reign with it!

Finally I put pen to paper and wrote my entry (slightly disappointed by my handwriting!), but I must admit the words didn’t come as easily as I’d have liked. I felt a lot of pressure not to repeat what other families had written and also not to repeat things I have written in my blog over the years.

I’m very proud to have taken part, added our entry and pictures of Audrey, but of course I feel like I could have done more. Poured my heart out more, stuck in the best photographs, said something deep. And I forgot to take pictures of my entry and/or type up my words, so I can’t even tell you exactly what I wrote! Oops. Oh well, it’s with the penultimate contributor now, before hopefully winging its way to a (famous) advocate to write the forward to what will hopefully be a published piece of work!

One thing I do know, is that writing makes me happy. Advocating for Audrey and people like her makes me happy. As she begins her new journey from toddler life to schoolgirl (!), I too shall be start my new journey to pursue my writing. To devote time and energy to it, but also have the flexibility needed to work around Audrey’s school life. So far (fingers crossed), Audrey loves school and is throwing herself into it all will full enthusiasm and making me proud like she always does.

Audrey Starts School!

Audrey holding a picture of me at primary school

I’ve just dropped off a piece of me in a classroom with lots of people I don’t know. The little lady has started reception at primary school.

My daughter is friendly, kind and gentle. She loves imaginative play and reading books. She likes routine. I have no doubt that she will enjoy school, I’m just not sure how much I’ll enjoy her being there!

Anyone who knows me that I will cry at TV programmes, songs that come on the radio and a fleeting thought about someone’s sad situation, so it was a huge surprise that I didn’t cry today dropping Audrey off at her first day of school.

Several factors helped – school drop off is not a romantic, sound-tracked moment.; it’s carnage! We went as a family, with a child in a buggy and one on the loose, we battled through a crowd of legs and shouting and hugging and hellos and goodbyes to get to her class. Also, Audrey was very excited. She managed to (almost) walk all the way there (major achievement) and she jumped, sang and hugged her way down the road, she was genuinely happy to be going to school. It’s tricky to feel the true emotion of a momentous occasion when you are in it. It’s actually easier for me to be tearful anticipating it or reflecting on it.

And so, here I am in a cafe. Ted and Rex are off shopping (typical boys!) and Audrey is in her school classroom, with her teachers.

Of course I can’t help but reflect on 5 years with her. 10 months of maternity leave of just us, followed by a mix of us and nursery, us bump and nursery, us Rex and nursery… and now Audrey has her own thing, she is a schoolgirl!

“They” say it goes in a blink of an eye. I don’t know if  I feel quite like that, but I do feel immensely proud of Audrey and how far we have come from tiny baby on oxygen to confident 5 year old.

As I analyse my feelings, I can see what is creeping in… I felt it during maternity leave with Rex. She had her nursery days and we went to groups but I was suddenly a different mum, I was seemingly a mum of one typical child but that was not my whole identity. She is a part of me, a part of me that I am truly proud of and it can feel very strange to be out and about without her. What a mix of emotions this brings and a new chapter for us all – I have handed in my notice at work and plan to work on freelance writing. I am very lucky to have a supportive husband allowing me to take this leap and it also means that I can be there to drop off and pick up Audrey from school.

Happy September and good luck to everyone in their “firsts”, I love autumn and I’m feeling so very happy that its crisp and sunny outside and the leaves will soon be crunchy under our feet. My favourite time of year.