I left my sanity at home

I have been on long term sick due to labyrinthitis, M.E and fybromyalgia. Today I had a meeting at work. Although I was initially excited, as time drew near I started dreading it in a heart dropping, stomach churning way. What if they thought I was faking because externally, I look no different. What if they pushed me to return or allocated work which would, at the moment, be too much? My imagination fired up as non-existent conversations between colleagues in my absence came to mind. “Ere, I bet she’s dragged this out coz her kid’s had the summer holidays, don’t you?” “She’ll have forgotten everything, we’ll have to train her again! Imagine the time that’ll take!” “Have you noticed how quiet it is?!” “She’ll be wanting annual leave next!” I distracted my mind before it traveled further into the realms of the untrue..

I ambled slowly to the bus stop (I am, for now, unable to drive due to symptoms). I felt as though I was in a Victorian novel:

The sky was a blanket of grey, draining the world below of all light and energy. The wind blew icy cold and light rain bit the face of Angel as she pulled her coat tighter around her. “I should’ve let this coat dry after washing it! Now I feel colder than ever” she thought (O.k, that veered from the Victorianesque slightly). She shivered and kept her head down as she battled through the winds. The streets were empty. save a few brave souls, blowing into their hands and marching on to their destinations. Cats lurked down every pathway, glaring accusingly as Angel passed: their whiskers kissed by the fine rain, their eyes bright with the challenge of the day.

The bus stop, when I got there, was busy with people waiting: A lady in her tracksuit smoking to “pass the time.” A young man in a t-shirt bouncing from foot to foot, puffing on an electronic cigarette and swearing profusely, his mother giving him the odd smack on the shins with her walking stick. A young mum rocking a pushchair gently back and forth. Her baby shoeless, coatless, sockless, hatless and blanketless wriggling red toes in the rain. I perched on a wall away from the group and started to plan things to say at the meeting.

Maybe I could ask for a fan. I struggle controlling my temperature. Maybe they would let me have drinks by my workstation. Maybe I should mention my hearing is now damaged in my left ear and my memory is shocking. Maybe not. The bus came, the group of people boarded and I stayed put. My bus was next. A lady joined me and asked if she had missed the bus. She was relieved to learn that I was waiting for the same one. We watched a postman across the road slip and drop his letters. How long before the red vans, the post boxes and the daily deliveries from, generally, cheery postman become a memory of the past? Will Abi tell her children about it:

When I was a kid, we posted letters in a red letter box to Father Christmas. He would write back, you know. And we got post everyday. If the postman had a big parcel, he would pull up in his red van outside the door. My stepmum was a postwoman for a while, and our neighbour was too. They have some stories to tell about banging heads on hanging baskets, running away from barking dogs and finding pet rabbits on pavements! (all true!)

I digress.

The bus arrived. The clock was now ticking. In exactly fifteen minutes I would be walking off the bus right on the doorstep of work. My heart started beating faster. I distracted myself further by staring out the window trying to get gardening ideas from the properties we passed. I started feeling travel sick. I looked down. I looked ahead. I looked to my left. Nothing helped.

By the time I got off the bus, I felt dizzy, exhausted and sick. I stumbled in to the door frame of my workplace and came face to face with my two bosses. Well, I thought, at least I look ill! My worries were instantly quelled as they both held me and were happy I had made it. Over coffee and a catch up, all my questions were answered and my worries eased. In two to three weeks I will be back at work. In my swanky new workspace complete with new chair and new blinds (so I am more in control of the light in the room). I will be meeting the rest of my colleagues next week and I am told there will be a buffet for the occasion. I do hope there is carrot cake!

I am a notorious deep thinker and worrier. Nothing is ever as bad as I fear it will be and today is a classic example. The results of my worry are, as always, exhaustion. I have spent the rest of today power napping whenever I can. I have longed for pyjamas since the meeting closed. I have wanted to run back to the safety of my home and close the door on the world for the day, safe in my cocoon of home comforts: my partner, my stepdaughter, my space, my cats, my sanity! At home I am, for the most part, calm. I am free to be me. I don’t need to wear the “i’m fine, really” mask. I don’t need to worry about what’s about to happen. At home, I am never alone. At home I have unconditional love and support. At home I am complete.

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Will the parents of Abi come to the pool side please.

ImageThis is my stepdaughter Abi (8). The picture speaks many words. Abi is confident, cheeky, dramatic and always singing. Always armed with her quick wit, she is a master (or madam!) of managing to get herself out of trouble by making others laugh. Those who meet her never forget her: she is our shining light, our star.

We have never been pushy parents – I see too many pushing children through auditions and working numerous rehearsals around and sometimes during school hours. I watch from a distance and see the toll it takes on their little ones. These parents I have known since school. They too used to audition for shows. One mum in particular desperately wanted fame (I think the writer Judy Blume classed this type of person as a bun head). She now wants the same for her daughter. Nor are we pushy in the sporty sense. We are not the lone parents standing up to watch our child win a swimming gala race, shouting “faster, faster” from behind the video camera, then giving a twenty minute lecture about technique and how this will evidently need work- even though their child won the race and even had time to tread water and check where his competitors were in relation to him!

Whatever Abi wants to try her hand at, within reason, we let her try. She will find her niche someday but needs the opportunity to try things out first. We have encouraged swimming though. When Abi was little we lived in Cornwall near a river. We figured swimming was essential for safety purposes so enrolled her in the local swimming club. Abi was four. We spent ages choosing swimming costumes (“not that one, it hasn’t got FiFi on!”), goggles and floats. We made it exciting with songs and games, then the day came.

It started much as it ended: Abi, despite being surrounded by peers she knew, screamed! I don’t mean shouting and crying which echoes around the sound-magnifying hall, I mean deep breath, full lung scream! We reassured her that she would be safe and went to the cafe in the hopes that she would calm once we were out of sight. We could still hear her from the cafe. We snuck a peek through the window to see her clinging on to the teacher, legs hitched high out of the water.

At the end of the lesson, the teacher asked why Abi would have such a fear of water. We couldn’t give an answer. We had never “dropped” her in water, she had never been out of her depth. She relished baths, enjoyed splashing around and loved water toys. We couldn’t understand it.

The next week was a little calmer, but Abi continued to cling to her teacher. And so it went on, sometimes screaming, sometimes not. Never jumping in and never letting go. Her peers moved up a class, Abi stayed put. On bad days, the tannoy would boom “Would the parents of Abi come to the poolside please” and we would have to fish her out. We gave up. We figured Abi would learn in her own time. Just like she did with potty training (on her terms), riding her bike (on her terms – she would not let us help!), tying her laces (on her terms) and getting dressed (you guessed it! On her terms!). We don’t always give in to Abi but we choose our battles wisely.

Fast forward to eight years old. Abi is in a school swimming gala. She struggles to swim a width whilst her peers are diving in the deep end. She watches them intently. She decides she wants to do what they are doing. Abi has finally set her terms. Now is the time!

We enrolled Abi in three 1-1 lessons so they could gauge which class she should be in. Over the summer, in three half hour slots, she mastered swimming a front crawl, swimming a width, jumping in the shallow end and swimming for short times out of her depth. She is now having group lessons. Her swimming peers are mainly younger than her by a year or two but she is driven by determination to “show them” at the next school gala and dive in with the boys. Today she was made an example of swimming a width front crawl. The others had to watch and copy. Today she jumped in the deep end for the first time.

Today she smiled.

Abi has decided she actually likes swimming now and is keen to learn everything there is to learn. Abi has decided she will not only “show them” next year but will win too. It is such a magical thing to watch your child grow in confidence. All it took was the opportunity to do it….

…… on her terms!

I will hold the mirror up to you

When you try to hurt me I will smile and close the door. You try to enter my mind and fly around in fits of excitement playing games but the way is barred and the only storm raging is yours. You think I don’t see you with eyes wide open, but I do. You have no power over me, my life is my own. I will not react.

BUT

If you try to hurt her, the door will not close. You are in her mind playing in the playground she freely shares. There are no storms there but bitter laughter echoing in her head. She is waking up. She is seeing you of her own accord. She knows. If you think you can continue, my own storm will brew. You will not be solitary in your bitter world for I will join you. I will hold the mirror up so you see yourself. I will hold her up so you see what she has become. I will show you the results of your mindless acts then I will take her hand.

We will walk towards beauty, towards love, towards calm, leaving you behind in your ugly, dark, lifeless world.

Don’t eat the cucumber! It’s for your eyes!!!

ImageIt only seems like yesterday since Abi was in babygrows, eating books (well, pages!), waking us at 0430 (yes! really!) every day and drinking from a bottle! The days of mid morning or car journey naps have gone. The mushed banana splattered shirts we wore are gone. The adoration for Iggle Piggle has gone and “eat all your dinner and there will be a party in your tummy! Can we hear the party? (ear to tummy) yayyyyyyyyyyyyy!!! (there follows the cha cha song!) works no longer!

Abigail is now eight. I hear my mother now when I speak: “Don’t try to grow up too quickly!” Abi has moved on from nursery rhymes and general songs from the charts. She now loves Olly Murs and Little Mix and is totally bought by merchandising. Abi wants the latest this, that and the other. Her days are filled with music and games. Similar to when she was little, but the music and games have changed. Hungry Hippos has been replaced by Mario Karts

Abi has strong ethics and standards and understands the need to work for what she wants – if it is something expensive then she earns money by doing jobs or having little clear outs and taking her old things to sell at carboot sales.

I do find it exciting watching her grow and mature but that excitement is tinged with sadness. I always wished for her to hurry up: I couldn’t wait for her to say my name, to be potty trained, to drink out of cups, to eat with a knife and fork, to eat vegetables, to be able to read and write. I no longer wish for her to do anything.

We must live in the now because now doesn’t last for very long! (See when I wrote “now,” that now has gone!)

I know some days are hard and sometimes we just need to clean something or sit back with a cup of tea a kitkat and several biscuits (O.k, that may have been a little extravagant!), but when the energy is there, make the most of it! Below are lists of things we have done. I hope when Abi is older that she will look back on these times with fondness and know that her Mum ans Stepmum did their very best 🙂

Bake! Make mess – cover the kids, yourselves and the kitchen in flour.

Enjoy the rain! Splash in puddles, jump in mud! Have mud fights and see who can get the muckiest!

Have a bonfire! Gather wood, climb trees, make it into a nature walk.

Get arty, glue, glitter, feathers, anything!

Give each other make overs or face masks! I have numerous pictures of the “art” work on my face once Abi had finished!

Jump waves, make sandcastles and look for shells.

The list is potentially endless but completely magical! Kids have a wonderful way of bringing out the inner child in us and be honest – would you really have done this on your own? Would you have gone out in the rain and jumped in puddles giggling loudly? Embrace children before the inhibitions adulthood brings take over!