A line in the sand….

Have you ever felt like running away? Just dropping everything, grabbing your car keys/travel pass/comfy walking shoes & heading off into the sunset?

I know I have – more so now than I ever did as a child & I’m pretty certain that I would be way more successful at it these days too – given that I am allowed to cross a road by myself* & go further than the bottom of the drive way & have a credit card to boot!

That not withstanding, the actual getting out of the house process within a 5 minute window – without leaving behind bags, keys, medical supplies – would be nothing short of a miracle in itself!

*of course actually having 5 mins peace to be BY MYSELF to enact the running away plan might be a hindering factor…. but if I’m sneaking off alone, I suppose I wouldn’t need half as much baggage (or snacks) as the usual shenanigans dictate when going out en famille? 🤔

Equally however, if I’m running away, I’m NOT leaving my shoe collection behind…. Minx has already called dibs & I wouldn’t put it past her to gather up the lot the second my back is turned & claim finders keepers so maybe this adult running away plan is more difficult than I thought to pull off.

I’m joking I think;

I (on the whole) love my life & know that I’m one of the lucky ones: supportive family & friends, a husband I adore & I’m fairly confident he feels the same (after 26 years together, 23 married – medal or martyr?! 🤣) 4 amazing, incredible, infuriating, fabulous, (some times fatuous) children, 2 daft dogs & a long suffering cat.

In fact as a mere observer, I live a charmed life. I don’t ‘work.’ I live in a beautiful house (the bank own more of it than we do but even so!) We have good food, plenty of it & nice clothes. We have reliable cars, althoughI’m pretty sure just typing these words means I’ve doomed that to 💩

I *may* have a reputation for chugging Prosecco/gin etc like lemonade & coveting shoes (kind of deserved) & handbags that on occasion I’m spoiled enough to receive. So I recognise that I am indeed more fortunate than so many, way ahead of the game.

But appearances can be deceptive as we all know; and whilst I don’t dispute all the lovely, material things I have (& have gratitude for) and I do wholeheartedly recognise that having the love of a good man and others in my life, equally I wouldn’t wish some of the practicalities or heartaches that living in a family with medically/physically complex children & a young person on the autistic spectrum, brings.

The constant stream of appointments, the letters addressed to the parent or Carer of… the endless meetings (or zooms/equivalent thereof during this time of ‘covidageddon’) the never-ending stock taking and ordering of medications & equipment and feeding supplies; the physio regimes & preparation of drugs that Walter White himselfwould be impressed by.

I don’t want to gnash my teeth in frustration trying to rewrite not one but 2 Education Health & Care plans (EHCP) that are so loosely written you could drive a London bus through the holes.

I don’t want to justify why my young people need the support that I’ve painstakingly outlined and have to listen to a teacher, SENCO (special educational needs coordinator) or bod employed by the local authority to tell me there’s no more money in the system; I’m being too demanding, expecting too much. You’re damned right, where my kids are concerned, never mind Tiger King, I’m Tiger Mum.

Then there’s the FEAR

Hyped even more in these “Covid times”

The worries that niggles away every day of parenting complex kids where there’s no benchmark for normal.

Wondering whether we wait out the latest blip at home or if it’s time to “bother” the professionals in hospitals – and that’s another worry – am I that over-reacting parent? Will the Dr’s/nurses label me as “GAD” (generalised anxiety disorder) or think me foolish? More scary still – FII??? (Fabricated induced illness – a real worry amongst the undiagnosed community as this term seems to be bandied around more readily) Have I jumped the gun too soon by rushing in or worse still, left it too late and I should have trusted my instincts in the first place. It’s completely exhausting, overwhelming at times.

Then there’s the bloody beeping feed pumps or sleepless nights because your child is in pain and you are powerless to take it away.

Watching the clock until the next dose of medications can be administered and the hope that then they can settle into some kind of exhausted sleep before the day begins again and you pick yourself and them up, hustle them into uniform, a wheelchair, reassurance that they can make it through the day ahead. A bright (but forced) “you’ll be fiiiiine once you’re with your friends!”

The drudgery of ‘normal’ parenting: washing, shopping, cooking, cleaning, ironing and the times when I really don’t want to debate exactly what I said, when I said it and who I said it too; take note kids: DO as I Say NOT DO as I Do!!

I don’t want to referee another fight, don’t want to help with homework or home school or any permeations thereof. I don’t want to share the raspberry & chocolate mini magnums or the Maom sweeties I’ve secretely stashed.

I am selfish. I want to lie in bed late & get lost in a great book, drink too much coffee (maybe too many 🍹) not answer to anyone but myself, definitely not the phone. I want to watch crap TV, not get dressed if I don’t feel like it.

I want to eat junk food (sometimes) and not factor in how many portions of fruit & veg I’ve crammed into the offspring to try & prevent ricketts, scurvy or whatever else might crop up to (metaphorically) bite them and therefore me, in the arse.

I don’t always want to be the grown up, the responsible one. And yes, dare I say it, I want something of my own identity back too.

I know that above all else I love my children & other half fiercely and ferociously. I do not want (or deserve) praise or recognition for getting on with the hand that life has dealt us but sometimes, just sometimes, I want space to breathe and just be.

Where is the girl that loved singing, acting, dancing, Smash Hits & Just 17? The one who knew all the Top 40 bands & could name the song from the opening notes? The one who was going to marry George Michael (ok in hindsight that was never going to work itself out for a variety of reasons 🤣🤣) or one of the NKOTB’s? (equally as unlikely!)

Who was that woman who had ambition, studied, took exams, embarked on a (surprising!) career in finance, a 5 year plan?

Oh dear…. maybe it’s better not to look back too closely at old pics!!

Somewhere along the way of the adulting process, the parenting, school runs for the last 16 years, last minute magicking up of ingredients for a forgotten domestic science lesson, PTA bake sales, the medicalising & therapies, in amongst all the battles with services, social care and such like, I’ve lost who I was, who I am.

Sometimes I see a tantalising whisp of her on a day when she’s donned a posh frock, a fleeting glimpse at the edge of the mirror when applying her lippie or when she sings along loudly whilst Miley Cyrus* blasts out on the radio, loud and punchy.

*for the avoidance of offending Miley and her legions of fans, I’m definitely not claiming I’m anything like her in any way but dang that girl has amazing pipes (no lewd comments please!) & I’m loving her latest stuff, especially the Stevie Nicks Edge of Seventeen sample on Midnight Sky! Midnight Sky Miley Cyrus

Sometimes when I try to remember what it felt like to be just ME, not someone’s mum, wife, chief cook & bottle washer, it feels like a game of Guess Who, trying to pick her out in a line up of vaguely familiar faces and accessories.

👩🏻‍🏫🧒🏻👩🏻↗️🔙❓⁉️🔜👁‍🗨 ↖️👧🏻👩🏻‍🦱👩🏻‍🔧

Or maybe it’s more like those Usborne books? The series of “Thats not my…” insert unicorn/penguin/car? “That’s not my Mum – her eye bags aren’t big enough! That’s not my Mum – she hasn’t got any wrinkles on her forehead…” I don’t think this book would be one of their greatest sellers to be honest…

And it makes me feel terribly guilty to acknowledge all this; after all, as one of my young people is fond of pointing out, it’s not their fault, they didn’t ask to be born & if I can’t cope, I shouldn’t have had so many children…. ouch…point taken.

Recently I had what I like to think of as a “factory reset opportunity” & I snuck away with Mr DNTW’s as my partner in crime, or rather partners, 2 of them being of the 4 legged variety.

It was a glorious day, one that emphasises how very beautiful North Yorkshire is. Mr DNTW’s & I jumped in the car after loading up the pooches, headed up the A1 and went to the seaside *“sans enfants

*Before anyone calls Social Services, the younger 2 weren’t left home alone with a box of matches, baked beans and tin opener. We are lucky to have some very experienced and fully trained carers to call on for respite

I felt a split second of guilt knowing that the kids would have loved to come too…. but it evaporated quickly with the sun glinting off the road surface, the fields that rolled away behind us and the knowledge that we were getting ever closer to the water.

Admittedly the North Sea doesn’t have quite the same pull as say, the Med but having lived all my life (prior to the last 6 years) on an island surrounded by water, (yes I know the UK is an island but it is not the same as the Channel Islands!) the sea is the one thing I miss hugely and always feel drawn too.

Sunny skies…. oh I do like to be beside the seaside….

So when we arrived in beautiful Saltburn-by-the-Sea, eventually managed to find a place to park and then the restaurant that made both of us go “oooohhh” (those of you old enough to remember the Bisto twins advert peering in the window, it was very reminiscent of that!) had a free (socially distanced!) table AND would accept the dogs, well it felt like serendipity, the stars were aligned and the gods were smiling on us!

I won’t bore you with the inanities of our lunch (delicious! Worth every penny) but the fact that we didn’t have to pick a restaurant based on how good it’s Wi-fi was (or wasn’t!) whether there was something on the menu that everyone in the family could eat or how we could seat so and so next to so & so but not next to them was an added and unexpected treat.

We hadn’t even really set out to find somewhere to lunch. We just stumbled across the restaurant as we began our walk. Having been so careful for so long about maintaining shielding, not socialising, not going out unnecessarily and so forth, I think we both felt a frisson of excitement, liberation I suppose.

Outside in the sunshine

We laughed, we chatted over numerous different topics, reminisced and remembered why we love being together so much in the first place.

We had 3 courses AND coffee without anyone moaning they were bored or too hot/cold/wanted to go home. We people watched and admired the decor inside (we were outside on the balcony because of the dogs) The toilet facilities had me in raptures and starting a new Pinterest decor board! (Octopus tentacle door handles are surprisingly pricey it turns out! 🤣)

The dogs too were happy under the table, loving being with their hooommmaannnss; occasionally small noses would snuffle up by our knees & 2 pairs of beseeching eyes would watch EVERY.SINGLE,BITE.OF.FOOD we took. They were content with the occasional bit of ciabatta surreptitiously smuggled under the bench and watched the seagulls with their beady eyes.

Beautiful Saltburn-by-the-Sea

Later with our bellies pleasantly full but not sleep inducingly so, we set off down the pier to walk off our lunch and let the pooches have free roam along the beach. There’s a stretch closest to the ice-cream shops, toilets & arcade that’s designated dog free or dogs on leads & not on the beach itself but just a little further on, miles of course golden-red sand that was perfect for them to run free, in & out the water, chase each other; investigate the tantalising seaweed, flotsam & jetsom of sea life that the incoming tide was depositing randomly along the shore line. Judging by the amount of sniffing and enthusiastic tail wagging, the short, happy sounding barks, they too were #livingtheirbestlives.

Actual footage of yours truly in the sea…. the NORTH-BLOODY-FREEZING-SEA!!

All in all we walked for around 2 hours. My ambition to keep walking until we drew level with the wind turbines further up the coast was perhaps a tad ambitious (apparently 10 miles or so further up the coast!!) and so mindful of the fact that we did indeed need to return home that same day, we about turned and made our way back to the car, happy, tired, a bit sandy but refreshed and exhilarated.

That day stands out to me. It made me feel like me again. It gave me a glimpse into the future of what times might be like when Mr DNTW’s reaches retirement age (a good while yet!….and not budgeted enough for!) and the knowledge that we will (hopefully) be able to be more spontaneous, jump in the car, drive up the coast, do something on a whim from time to time.

And it reminds me too that we are the lucky ones: too many parent-carers out there terrified that their children won’t make it and if they do, because their care needs are so profound, so complex, so costly, what the hell happens to them when their own parents are no longer around or no longer able to provide the care they need? A tale for another time…..

In the blink of an eye(roll)…

It’s arrived. I always knew this day would come but I don’t think I expected it to be so soon. 😫 Or so sudden.

It probably wasn’t – that sudden – but it feels smack you-round-the-face-excruciatingly-so-upon me. Sigh.

I thought I had years to go, many more eye-rolls to bear (how exactly can one, fairly diminutive 10 year old convey such soul-churning disdain in a mere upward flick of one perfect eye brow and simultaneous roll of said eye-balls?!) but in the way of the cliche, time has sped up & my ‘littlest’ is not so…. well ‘littlest’ I guess. However petite she may be in stature, make no bones, this girl is growing up. F.A.S.T.

Of course as parents that’s what we want. ❣️ Of course it should be the natural progression of life and indeed, I am starkly reminded to be humbled and grateful in contrast to far too many of those we have known along the way whose children will forever remain but 4 or 5 or X amount of years young.

I’m full to the brim of love that Minx is following in the trajectory of ‘tween’ girls the world over, especially given the at times mixed prognosis of her youngest years and some of the curve-balls she has thrown at us latterly. I think really she just wants to keep us on our toes, never a dull moment and all that. But at times: whoosh, a sucker punch to the gut.

I digress. What has ‘come’ that I alluded to at the beginning of my rambling?

ATTITUDE!

In spades. Big time.

I shouldn’t really be surprised I suppose. She comes from a long line of family members who know how to speak for themselves, fight their corner & generally not take ‘no’ as a complete sentence. (No finger-pointing please!)

Secretly a (very) teeny tiny part of me is enjoying this new territory, the minefield to navigate of what she will wear, what is sartorially appropriate (or not, depending on which one of us you are speaking to!) the determination to do it (or not) her way. But by Lordy, it is tiring at times! And the girl can argue….

Minx embracing “Break The Rules Day” at school recently

Gone is the elfin child so pretty in a plethora of pink & purple, ribbons and sequins , frothy trappings of Monsoon, Accessorize et al. Replaced by a love of glitter but of the sparkly eye-make up variety – the contents of MAC shop, Urban Decay make up or a bath-bomb (or 5) Her clothing choices now consist of darker hues, bigger and baggier, less ‘girly’ more quirky and sassy.

When she said she wanted to ‘go to the theatre in tattoos’ this wasn’t quite what I had in mind….

In place of the (long past) nursery rhymes, Disney tunes and Nickelodeon, a fascination with Billie Eilish, weird-pranking You-tube families, LD shadow Lady and Roblox (parental controls on) has emerged. She spends hours watching make up demonstrations or bizarre things you can make out of recycling crisp packets, how to make tiny working copies of day to day stationary – one inch perfect replica glue stick anyone?! 🤔

In a rehash of my Dad asking me what on earth I could possibly need to speak to my school friends so urgently about given I’d only been out of school for an hour and off the school bus for 10 minutes max when I rushed in from school to pick up the phone, Minx /bounds (*slightly* too strong a word . usually knackered after school but you get the picture) straight to her bedroom, door firmly shut before she giggles away to her friends via face-time or school group chat. The peels of laughter, the loud shushing and use of code-words (and shouting) if someone inadvertently enters her room without knocking (I’m looking at you here Big Brother G!) as well as the general disarray of her bedroom (despite my best efforts) all serve as reminders that my affectionately known little Millie Minx is maturing.

I’ll admit to slight trepidation, a bit of panic. I’m not ready for my little girl not to want me or need me. I’m not ready to stop kissing the top of her head & inhaling that fresh-from-a-bath-scent before she goes to bed (or the sweet-not yet-sweaty-smell when she wakes of a morning) I like still reading bed time stories, the books I loved as a child.

Since Minx is the youngest of our children and there are most definitely NO plans to have any more, I’m unsure whether my reluctance (fears?) stems from that letting go of the ‘baby’ stage or whether it’s down to the medical issues and difficulties she has faced (& will continue to) in the years to date; somewhere between the 2, I suspect.

But importantly, most importantly, she is ready. Wanting to strike out on her own, arguing it’s fine to go out in just a t-shirt & cropped leggings despite it being single figure temps outside (Mum: I’m sorry I remember us having those arguments when I was her age! 😫) her Dad asking incredulously if we had actually paid good money for the jeans with the rips in and why we couldn’t just slash some of her other things with an artfully wielded pair of scissors.

I’m reminded of that beautifully written, perfectly summed up quote from Nanny McPhee but I think it’s rather more for my own benefit now than hers:

#Parenting Advice 101#

And without going over all Darwinian/survival of the fittest, over the years I’ve been privileged to be a mum (& I’ll be honest, there are many many moments it hasn’t felt like such a privilege!) I’ve come to the conclusion that the very best you can hope for if you have done a reasonable job of parenting is that your child(ren) will have confidence enough – ideally in leaps & bounds – in their own abilities to strike out on their own; that they will seek to carve their own way, flee the nest to live their best lives and all that jazz. That the mistakes they will inevitably make are small enough to learn from but not big enough to endanger/hurt or ruin life (theirs or another’s) and that is more than enough **

Offspring however, if you are ever reading this: a visit to your old mum & dad in their dotage, the occasional cup of tea and a desire to spend some time in our company that doesn’t involve gifting you data/food/money/combinations thereof , wouldn’t go amiss….

*Either that or you’ve fu#*ed it up so badly, they have fled for the hills at the first opportunity. Cold comfort. You’re welcome. 😉

3am Eternal….

It’s 3am (actually it’s not as I write this, it’s more like 8pm but the thoughts that led to this blog post pinged into my head at 3am & hoping to eventually get some semblance of sleep, I declined to let the brain-fart creative juices run riot)

3am. In the days of my ‘yoof” it meant something quite different to where I find myself now: 3am might have been when I rolled through the door, perhaps *slightly* tipsy; 3am giggling chats with my school or uni besties; where we had face-packs & chocolate (& revolting White Lightning Or MD20/20 in the latter years) and shushed each other in overtly loud whispers.

3am Eternal, that absolute belter of a tune by The KLF with their ancients of Mu Mu! Now I have an ear-worm & find myself mentally humming. These days if I had the budget, I’d rather like to be more in tune with the Mui Mui (fashion darling!) but that’s another story…

3am now: when the rest of the world is sleeping. When all is quiet. When you feel alone, scared and any problem(s) you have feel insurmountable, all consuming and impossible to solve.

Ironically, I’m far from alone. I’m on a children’s hospital ward where 3am doesn’t mean all is quiet and settled. It’s an alternative, less pleasant version of a city that never sleeps.

Whilst the nursing staff go about their business calmly and efficiently, even if (when) the dreaded crash bell sounds or alarms from machines and monitors peal and squark; the heart-tugging cries of babies and children in pain or scared There is both an urgency and yet serenity of those on duty in these darkest hours.

We have a 3am visitor. A surgical resident called up to our ward because Minx isn’t behaving. Anatomically speaking.

  • 3am is when my imagination goes into over-drive. I’m over come with the ifs, the buts, the maybe’s; the pointless worries and the unhelpful questions that come unbidden when you’re a parent, and especially the parent of a medically, physically, cognitively or combination thereof child/ren.
  • In reality of course I know I’m far from alone. Wherever it’s 3am, there will be a multitude of man-kind engulfed by their own demons, be they parents or not. Those worrying over relationships, financial matters, jobs, mental health issues, where their next meal is coming from. I’m sure Dear Reader, you can add a plethora of reasons I haven’t listed.
  • I can add guilt to my annoying bed-fellows who hover sadistically at the 3am party. For however many of the worries my brain attempts to rattle through, I know I’m one of the ‘lucky’ ones.
  • I’m reassured by the surgical resident’s breeziness, by Minx’s visceral reaction to his proposal if matters don’t sort themselves out; even groggy from the after effects of surgery and the powerful pain medications pulsing through her, she is not one for rolling over and playing easy. She is not in favour of his plan and whilst a part of me knows that ultimately we may have to adopt the cruel to be kind approach, it is heartening to see she is strong enough, with it enough, to protest and rail against it.
  • So whilst I may wonder at 3am how I will ever juggle all the varying needs of my children, if I remembered to order medications, feed, equipment & supplies; did I send that email, reply to that message, make that all important phone call, at the very least I am fortunate to have those worries; the luxury for want of a better word to fuss and fumble, curse and sigh about all the never-ending chores.
  • I would take that in a heart-beat over the emptiness, the silence, the agony of losing a child. There are friends, far too many dear friends, who deal with that hollowed out grief. Who lie awake at 3am with the eternal knowledge that never again will they hold, sooth, cuddle or fuss over their cherished child. Who would give everything they had and then some to be in my shoes, (slippers) right now.

    So when I’m feeling overwhelmed and exhausted with it all, I will remember that in reality, I am one of the fortunate ones & banish those unhelpful spectres back where they belong. Dawn will come one way or another and the 3am fears will recede. We will fight on another day. ❣️

    Tonight Matthew I’m going to be……

    An adult!

    Strictly speaking I ‘adult’ every day, albeit some days more successfully than others.

    Yesterday however, I ‘adulted’ myself to the nines.

    So that you can feel comfortable continuing to read and for the avoidance of any misunderstandings, I should reassure you that this post is perfectly respectable and I won’t be revealing anything x-rated or of a delicate nature. You can all breathe a sigh of relief and resist the notion of poking out your own eye-balls/resorting to mind bleach for fear of dodgy pictures and such like!

    I don’t know about you dear reader but the majority of the time I don’t feel old enough, responsible enough or even qualified enough to do the “adulting” parts of life. Certainly not with success and authenticity in any event.

    Apparently however, being married having children, dog ownership (he might dispute that as pretty sure Milo thinks he owns me) a mortgage and all the other infinitesimal accoutrements of life plus being over a certain age means I automatically qualify as an adult… and there’s no resignation option (well unless you ‘check out’ entirely but that’s generally speaking a bit drastic)

    Over the last year particularly, “adulting” has been a part of my life I’d quite like to have run away from.

    Somehow wherever I hide, no matter how precisely I have chosen the deepest, darkest recess or how carefully I stick my fingers in my ears and shout la-la-la, the necessity for “adulting” always has a way of finding me….darn it.

    And even before last years ‘annus horribilis’ I must confess that I had very often felt like a player in that game “Hedbandz” rather than a real adult.

    For the uninitiated, the game compromises of a plastic head band device with a slot in which you stick a card in which states the object/word/profession and the wearer has to ask a series of questions to try & work out what or who they are.

    For added ‘fun’ you can do a timed session so they have to guess in a specific time period or a specific number of questions. Adding alcohol into the equation for the ‘Adulty’ version I’m sure can only enhance the fun 🙄 But never in a million years would any card ever depict me as an adult; in fact I think I’m possibly only marginally up from a lemming….

    Anyway, what I mean by my ramblings above is, in theory I suppose I should know I’m an adult but the actuality is very different and frankly I really don’t feel I’m quite mature enough to make life or death (somewhat over dramatic!) decisions on a day to day basis when I can barely decide what to cook for dinner!

    So now I’ve long-windedly explained that, I’ll get to why I ‘adulted’ properly yesterday.

    For those of you who have followed my blog for a while or who know me in the ‘real world’ you are probably familiar with my involvement in SWAN UK.

    SWAN stands for syndromes without a name and it is the only specialist support network in the UK dedicated to families of children and young people affected by a syndrome without a name.

    Having 2 children who are classified as SWANS – they are both medically complex and although they have multiple diagnosed difficulties/needs, we don’t have an over-arching diagnosis that draws everything together – getting support from SWAN UK over 5 years ago made a huge difference to myself and the whole family. In fact, if we had not joined SWAN UK (its free!) we would have had no idea where to even begin to think of living when we moved to the UK some 4 years ago.

    Mr Def Not The W’s was allocated Leeds as a base when he joined his new airline but we knew nothing about the area, about hospitals, schools, housing and services and so it was to my trusty network of online friends that I turned to to seek advice and guidance in helping us formulate a plan.

    Of course SWAN UK’s services go far beyond the things I mention above. You can read more about the vital support they provide here: http://www.undiagnosed.org.uk/

    Over the years, the advice, reassurance, sense of belonging and community not to mention the family days out, coffee mornings and get togethers have been a huge source of comfort, support and a wealth of experience for me.

    Back in 2013 it became apparent that holding down a job, even working from home as I had done since 2008, in a role that I could fit around my children, was no longer viable.

    I eventually found that in order to keep on top of work I was in a seemingly endless cycle of being up very early, going to bed very late and working all the hours in between that weren’t occupied with the needs of the family including weekends. Something had to give. It was *almost* my sanity.

    Although I don’t miss the crazy relentlessness of those days and we are fortunate in that we can (just about) manage for me not to work (and are hugely grateful at times to our parents for stepping in when an unexpected bill/costs rears their ugly head) I do miss that feeling of achievement and accomplishment.

    So in September 2015 I decided I would like to try and do something useful with my life and if possible, give a little something back.

    I recognised that combining this with (at the time) 3 children with extra needs was going to potentially be problematic. (Turns out we now have 4 children with additional needs, although our eldest is almost 18 and would revolt against the use of the word child!)

    I decided to volunteer to be a SWAN UK parent representative for North Yorkshire…. if they would have me! And they did.

    In fact, this was absolutely perfect because recognising that caring for medically/physically and or cognitively complicated children can mean life doesn’t follow the best, most carefully laid plans, SWAN UK are happy for parent representatives to volunteer as much or as little of our time as we are able to give. They also understand that sometimes we have to drop everything with little to no notice and have always made it clear that the needs/demands of our children, wider family and ourselves are paramount.

    Over the years of being a SWAN UK parent representative, I have spoken at a Rare Disease conference about my experience of being a parent of undiagnosed children; I have contacted my MP about being part of an APPG (all party parliamentary group) to discuss and raise awareness of being undiagnosed and the implications that has on families as a whole, not just the affected individual. I have visited Parliament and spoken to a wide variety of professionals about the difficulties of living with the unknown and unexpected as well as assisted in organising days out to celebrate Undiagnosed Children’s Day (last Friday in every April) arranged coffee mornings and fund-raising events.

    I don’t want to come across as holier than thou but aside from (hopefully) raising awareness and sign posting SWAN UK, it did make me feel useful and purposeful again.

    It gave me an opportunity to step outside the role of parenting my own children’s medical management and hopefully gave a voice to others in a similar situation.

    Anyway back to the reason behind the recent adulting: after something of a hiatus in 2017, I attended a professionals meeting at our local hospital.

    Having contacted the Harrogate and District Hospital administrative team (via FB messenger no less!) I pretty much threw myself on their mercy. They kindly directed me to the Head of Paediatric Nursing and The Head of Paediatrics and we set up an appointment Gulp.😳

    The fact that the head of paediatrics is also my children’s consultant was not lost on me and was more than slightly daunting.

    Somehow, seeing me in a different role to G Man or Minx’s Mum felt strangely discombobulating; at least in the run up to the meeting itself and I was plagued with disconcerting dreams that I would somehow disgrace both myself and SWAN UK.

    Nonetheless, I asked SWAN HQ to send me some literature and armed with this, my trusty, very bright pink SWAN UK bag, business cards (get me! I’m posh!!) and a lanyard, I put my big girl pants on (erm figuratively you understand, I haven’t gone totally Bridget Jones yet) and my “grown up” clothes on.

    Being only 5ft almost 3 inches, adulting clothes usually involve heels for me. Fretting that I didn’t want to look like I was trying too hard or heading out for a slap up meal, I opted for heeled boots, a patterned skirt & top, with a bit of jewellery and a swish of eyeliner & lippy.

    On the inside I may have felt about 5 and was quaking like a jelly but externally I *hopefully* projected confidant, knowledgeable and approachable….

    Obviously I couldn’t really ask those present at the meeting if I had successfully captured that but my audience were enthusiastic and receptive. They were keen to read and then display the literature I provided and told me that they would be disseminating the information to fellow colleagues, the Paediatric ward, Child Development Centre, Parents Room and Paediatric clinics. I also got agreement to have a stand in the foyer of the hospital to coincide with Undiagnosed Children’s Day in April. So all in all, I think it went well.

    I came away feeling positive and uplifted and like a real-life proper grown up for the first time in a very long time. I’m pretty sure I didn’t have my skirt tucked into my knickers at any point or commit any other embarrassing epic social faux pas’s so all in all winner winner… I hope…. 😊

    Somewhere over the rainbow… 🌈🌈❣️

    Hello my hooomannn’s!

    Mum, its been over 6 weeks now so I thought it was time I brought you a ‘pup’-date from over the rainbow bridge.

    I know you have been so sad about my passing. I have watched you feeling down, seen you wracked with guilt, doubts and worries, especially over the last few days of our time together.

    I wish you wouldn’t dwell so much on those sad times nor second guess the decisions you made before I had to leave you. It wasn’t your fault, you couldn’t know I was poorly and we dogs love to please so much, I hid it well, I always tried to keep my best brave snout on for you, no matter what.

    Even when I wasn’t feeling my best in those last few days, I did enjoy our walks. Honest. Well I suppose if I’m strictly honest, I enjoyed you and the rest of my hoomann families company… and not forgetting the sausages you brought me when we went to the cafe by the river; especially the sausages!

    I thought you might want to know a little about where I’ve been, what I’ve seen and what I’ve been up to.

    Well first things first, I don’t hurt anymore and I don’t feel tired! In fact I feel like a puppy again. Boundless energy, everything is so exciting and needs exploring! And the smells – wow – I don’t even know where to begin in describing those!! It’s like every amazing, delicious, fantastic thing you could ever wish for: cheese, carrots, steak, sausages, newly moan grass, crispy leaves, Fox poo and all my hooman family smells rolled in together!! Yum! Absolute paw-fection.

    There are so many other animals here to play with and lots have similar stories to mine!

    Here no one here is scared or lonely, no one is hurting; no one feels tired or has any cares. No one is old or unwanted. In fact, most importantly all any of us know is love and happiness.

    Our bellies never feel empty yet there is always room for more. I only have to think about a nice, sizzling sausage or bit of crunchy carrot and suddenly I can taste it!

    There are balls and plenty of squishy toys everywhere and even if I chew the flip-flops no one minds and I don’t get a bellyache! That’s a definite plus.

    Did you know Mum, some of the other souls here previously lived with bad hoomans who only caused them pain and fear? The ‘tails’ they tell me are horrible. Fortunately they are now but distant memories and those of us who want to, can watch over our loved ones whenever we choose.

    I look in on you all often and it’s been lovely to see you this last week with the new addition to the family: little Milo. What a cracking young pup he is!

    I know you think that I might feel betrayed – too quickly replaced – but Mum, he was my gift to you all! I knew you needed him. I opened your hearts you see.

    When you were first thinking about a dog and you got me, after so many years of ‘Pawcrastinating’ I knew I needed to guide you in the ways of all things canine. Although you had researched a lot and borrowed other people’s dogs, it’s a bit like what you told your hoooman friends about having children: until you have your own, you just aren’t prepared, no matter how many books you read or how many pooches you ‘pup-sit.’ But like you also said, it brings you far more laughter, fun and happiness… albeit with a fair amount of 💩💩 thrown in!! 😆

    So I went as easy on you, my Martin Dad and your other less furry children – my bros and sis – as I could; although I do know that when I had to leave, it almost broke you 😢

    We won’t dwell on that though. Because I want you to know I’m happy and that means you have to be too.

    My gift to you all was empowerment and knowledge that our family NEEDED another dog, to give a happy home, needed a dog to keep up your usual level of functionally dysfunctional chaos! So now you know.

    I see already that young master Milo has been well indoctrinated in the ways of mischief. Hiding your dad’s slippers was very clever. But a stroke of genius to divide and conquer: 1 in the crate and 1 secreted away in his bed! Clever pup. The force is strong in this one.

    I see he shares my love of blueberries, carrots & the odd crumble of cheese. Positively discriminatory on the cucumber I note but you can’t have everything… and anyway he seems partial to celery … which frankly I agree with Martin- Dad on: it tastes of welly boots… and not in a good way!

    He’s starting to master the cava-tilt head pose and cottoned on to staring up at you beseechingly whilst you prepare food at the kitchen island. Smart move… took me much longer to suss that one out.

    So Mum, when you think about me now, please know that I’m well looked after. Please reflect on the fabulous times we shared, the wind in my fur and running free through the nearby park. Know that I’m watching over you all and if you catch a glimpse out the corner of your eye of me, you didn’t imagine it; I’m just checking in on you all.

    It’s almost 2018. You can leave the last year where it belongs: in the past. Look to the future. Teach Milo well – I think he could master some of my old tricks quite soon… oh and mum, go easy on dressing him up in the jumpers…. yes yes, it’s all very cute and I guess quite needed whilst it’s a tad on the chilly side… but a dog does need some dignity you know!

    So from my furry little heart to you and yours, I wish you peace, happiness and good memories. Embrace it Mum! ❣️🌈😍🌈

    (Wo)Man’s best friend ❣️

    This is a post I didn’t think I’d write for many years to come. One I shouldn’t even be thinking of composing. It’s not right. It’s not fair but here it is.

    I am also acutely aware that this ramble may be perceived as very self-indulgent. Far too many of my good friends have lost their children. I would not dream for one moment of comparing my grief to theirs. But nonetheless the sudden and very unexpected loss of our much loved dog burns white hot and I am hollowed out with sadness. For all intents and purposes, our pup was a fully paid up 7th member of the family. Well technically 8th I guess if you count the cat. (We do love her too!)

    If you have read any of my past blogs, you will know some of the difficulties and battles our family has faced over the last few years.

    Whilst it’s not a competition, no top-trumps fest, the day to day demands of medically complex children, the amazing quirks but also relentlessness of autism, endless appointments, clinics, surgeries, battles for and with various agencies and services takes its toll. You Buddy (or Sir Budston of Burnarrrr as we sometimes referred to you!) my wonderful little dog, helped alleviate some of those burdens.

    Please don’t misunderstand me. I recognise there are many people, probably some of them reading this, who would give everything they have and then some to be facing those same fights and difficulties I mentioned, having lost their precious loved ones far too prematurely; but oh my boy, I thought we had so many long and happy years ahead; wondrous walks to stroll/pad through, delightful or disgusting (depending on your perspective) smells to sniff and cuddles on the sofa to sneak in at any and every opportunity.

    Buddy, much admired by all who met you, faithful four legged companion. How can we only have celebrated your birthday a month ago? How can it be that we never even made it to a whole year of you being in our lives, in our home?

    You were my birthday present almost one year ago. We had talked about having a dog for over 5 years before taking the plunge. A bit like having a child, it was never quite the right time to introduce a dog to our chaotic lives.

    Enlarging the family, moving house, redundancies, working abroad, relocating and leaving the island of my birth and the only home our children had ever known followed by house rentals before finally having a settled(ish) house of our own.

    Quite out of the blue and having been a steadfast, most resistant party, I’ll never forget the day my hubby, Martin, turned to me and asked if I wanted a puppy for my birthday!

    Minx was about to go into theatre for surgery number whatever and was giggling woozily from the pre-op medication. I recall being so taken aback I asked him if he had actually downed the pre-med instead! I was ecstatic and not about to give him time to change his mind.

    Although it had been a long time coming, I knew exactly what kind of dog would suit our family, our crazy-hectic-bonkers lives and had done quite a bit of research in the hope that one day… maybe…just maybe… we would be lucky enough to have a pooch of our own.

    We saw your picture first and a flurry of emails were exchanged before THE BIG DAY: your homecoming; my 40 something birthday. The moment I picked you up, cuddled you to me and laughed at the thought of putting you in the enormous crate in the back of the car, you filled our hearts so entirely. The void you leave behind is a chasm of epic proportions. I don’t know how or if ever it can be filled.

    It doesn’t seem possible that I’m writing about your passing over the rainbow bridge when we should be looking forward to so many more years of mischief and mayhem. More days fretting about what you might have managed to scarf down if one of us wasn’t quick enough to stop you – I lost count the amount of Lego I scooped up just in time; how many bits of this and that I retrieved from your doggy jaws. Your quivering nose whiffling along always seeking out, questing and foraging. You could smell a dropped blueberry from a 100 paces and hear the rustling of the treats bag in the kitchen no matter where you were in the house or garden; a pretty useful tactic when you were being cheeky and not wanting to come to us when called!

    You brought so much happiness. Joy, laughter, giggles and fun. And so much poop too! Martin tells me he cleaned up 12 doggy bags worth yesterday. Considering I last did it on Saturday morning and yesterday was only Wednesday, that’s quite an achievement. Especially since you were nil by mouth from Monday night on. And you were at the vets all day Tuesday….

    We joked it didn’t feel right to get rid of all the 💩; perhaps we should create some poo-based monstrosity altar dedicated to you? Your legendary pooping out an entire, intact nerf bullet still makes me smile now. (NB definitely not to be encouraged responsible readers/dog owners – the children learnt the hard way that I meant what I said if they left things like Lego/nerf bullets lying around = bin)

    A lot of expectation on such stumpy little legs. Not just the 6 people in your immediate family cuddling you, loving, and petting you. So many people that had the pleasure to meet you – our favourite coffee shop by the river and all the employees therein, our lovely groomer and her dog Poppy, friends and family and the seemingly never ending stream of delivery people with medical supplies or equipment, Amazon deliveries and so forth. Always an action packed day in this wonky-old household and you always ready to greet them with a deep woof, occasional bark and a wave of your magnificent plume of a tail. We often remarked your tail was bigger than you! It looked like it should sit in pride of place on a hat worn by one of the 3 Muskateers. And now I have a small piece of it saved in a memory box to remember you by. It smells still of the grooming, pamper session you had just last Friday. I’m glad it is of that and not the clinical smells of the veterinary practice, their kindness not withstanding. Your grooming sessions over the year cost more than my haircuts!

    You were my secret keeper extraordinaire. Too many nights I muttered oaths into the top of your sweetly curling fur when dealing with the latest co*k-up from various services, be they special needs, medical bods or utility companies. So many times I poured out my heart and soul to you, you listening attentively with your head on one side, adopting the classic cava tilt that all other cavachon owners will recognise in its uniqueness. When I was saddest you snuggled that bit closer. When I was happy you were delighted that there were extra treats and cuddles and when it was all just a bit too much, you expected nothing but ensured your presence was always felt.

    We joked often that you were not so much a dog – more part goat, part sloth. Your dislike of vigorous, brisk walks was the cause of much frivolity and it was remarked upon more than once that you were the perfect companion for a fair-weather not terribly exercise motivated owner such as myself. Too many times at the site of your harness and lead you would feign sleep or rush back to your bed refusing to come out, especially if it was cold. and dark. and raining. and there was a ‘Y’ in the day…..

    Of course now I know my darling boy, you weren’t just faking it; you weren’t trying to make me feel better about the dislike of walking in the 4-seasons-in-1-day climate of Yorkshire. You were tired. Your little body was constantly battling a build up of toxins that in the end would be your downfall.

    I try to take comfort from the fact that you are no longer suffering. That we could afford you the peace and dignity that is so often missing when our human loved ones are terminally ill. It makes a small dint in my grief.

    At the moment there is too much sadness in this household. Too many reminders everywhere we look: your water bowl empty, toy box neat and tidy, not strewn all over the kitchen. Your place on the sofa vacant. I think even Tilly the Cat in her own feline way misses you; after all she can no longer take a swift munch out of your breakfast or dinner when she thinks none of us are looking.

    Members on a wonderful Facebook web site I belong to for cavachon lovers have provided me with enormous support. An out pouring of love, empathy and sympathy. A stunning bouquet of flowers was delivered from them to me today. It made me cry again. But the tears were underscored by gratitude too. After all as Alfred Lord Tennyson said it best: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”Buddy 04/10/2016 – 14/11/2017 🌈❣️