Recently I have found my eyes welling up and emotions spilling out at the most inappropriate moments. For example; sitting on the bed, pegging the washing out, waiting at traffic lights, trying to park the bloody car in the narrow spaces in the car park, the self-service till in Sainsburys, signing in to reception at work, and while cooking dinner. For heaven sake woman…GET A RUDDY GRIP!
I’ve been a mother for 22 years. In fact, I don’t consider that I have been a mother at all- I have an aversion to the word and hate to be called “mother”, it sounds harsh & formal and hopefully not like me at all. Generally, I answer to a simple “mum”, but often Muma or Mumma, occasionally Mummy, Mumsie or even sometimes Mumma Evs, you get the picture. I adore all of those names and all of the roles I associate with them. I have felt loved by my children and a few others who might associate the labels to me.
For more than half of my time as a parent, I have been a single parent and no, it’s not been easy. I’m sure that even in a two parent family it’s tough as well. I didn’t intentionally set out to have a fundamental goal as a parent, initially I just had to cope & get by and I can’t imagine that this is any different to anyone else. Over time, and as life became clearer, the notion of giving my children Roots and Wings became part of our family values. I wanted to raise them so that they nurtured a strong sense of self and belonging, grounded in manners & respect for others, with a strong understanding of how everyone can be different, yet we are all the same.
I am incredibly proud of how they have taken our ground rules and flourished as individuals. They are both passionate in their own way, they will speak up for injustices even if their opinions differ strongly form their peers, that can be hard to do. If they ever have children of their own (the jury is very much out on THAT topic), then it will be interesting to see how that is passed down to future generations. Will they be as strong willed? Independent? Fiesty? Bold? Anyway, I digress.
So, one has already left home and the other, I doubt will be far behind her only yesterday he said “can she take me too” (more on that in a minute). Back to this concept of roots and wings; roots to know where you are from, wings to be bold enough to be your own person & follow your own dreams and ambitions.
Roots are not a place, but a sense of belonging, they are by definition what grounds you. A strong sense of home but not the actual bricks, more the people in your life who make you feel “at home”. Roots are the part of your core foundation where you soak up the unconditional love and innate sense of belonging, where you gravitate back to when the storms shake you. It is the understanding of family and of values. It is your safe place.
If you think of it literally, in terms of nature itself, anything will grow strong with the right conditions, food, water and care. Look at the trees, those with the strongest root systems will endure the drought, floods, wind & rain and still KEEP GROWING.
Wings; what the hell was I thinking about giving them wings. There are times when I have wanted to clip their wings. To keep my children forever by my side; to keep them safe, safe from all harm and not let them hurt or be harmed by anything. It’s damn hard not to clip wings!
To let them spread their wings you have to love them and trust them totally and unconditionally. You have to help them find their path but also let them choose their own direction even when you feel that the other way might be quicker, safer, and more secure. This is your ultimate gift to them. Unclipped wings.
This month has seen each of my children book a one way flight. Thankfully for now, the youngest is sailing from home and flying back, but the eldest has booked a one way flight to start her own journey. At the moment there is no end date to this particular journey and I have to keep telling myself that it’ll be OK. That she will be OK. That I will be OK. I will won’t I?
I love you both to the ends of the earth. Have the adventures & live the adventures but please, please, please come back & get your roots watered from time to time.
Anyone who knows me knows that I looked forward to visiting Bali with such excitement that I could hardly contain it. If someone mentioned the word Bali or holiday to me, I broke into this Cheshire cat grin and couldn’t string a complete sentence together. I am not well traveled and my income lies somewhere between minimum wage and living wage so the fact that I had the opportunity to visit somewhere so exotic was the stuff that dreams are made of.
Did Bali live up to my expectations? In short, no it didn’t. Generally speaking if people have asked me if I had a good holiday, I have given a polite society response of “Yes, it was brilliant thanks” for most people, this is satisfying enough. The same applies if someone asks “How are you?” and you respond “Fine thanks”. The conversation then ends and everyone goes on with their business.
If my trip to New York in 2014 made me feel bold & brave then Bali has unsettled me to such a point that at times I feel like I have taken at least five steps back in the progress that I have made over the last eighteen months. The thoughts in my head ricochet like a game of pinball stopping me from concentrating on any one task for longer than a few fleeting moments. Although I know that writing down & organising my thoughts would help; I have done everything I can do avoid doing so, including ironing & washing my car!
The last thing that I should have encountered on this holiday was conflict and yet we did; not between our unit of three I hasten to add. It serves no purpose to share details with you here in much the same way that I haven’t shared details about my ex-husband. Some of you know the story and some of you do not, it’s best that way.
Out of the drama that unfolded I have learned that my daughter has picked up my ability to go into ‘emergency mode’ and by that I mean put emotions aside, find and execute practical solutions very quickly. Can someone please remind me of this when she wants to go travelling next year! Tell me that she is a strong & capable young woman who can handle herself well, with integrity and confidence no matter how scared and hurt she is feeling inside.
For while I saw my son retreat into his own autistic world again, non-communicative and withdrawn, having worked so hard on his social skills and his belief in himself, to see this destroyed by one person’s lack of awareness was heartbreaking. The single mother’s guilt and loneliness I felt for taking them almost to the other side of the world, just to face distress on what should have been an idyllic holiday, reappeared and made me vulnerable. I didn’t like feeling that way at all.
I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of a stranger; the relative of a friend who stepped in to help us. I felt gratitude for my family & friends for the offer of money to assist us, it came immediately and without question and in total trust (although I was too proud to accept). I also felt less alone in a foreign country with the daily messages from those in the know back home who wanted nothing else but to just keep me grounded.
I will have to come to terms with what happened and this is going to take far longer than the week that has passed since we returned. It’s not the worst thing that has happened to me, not by far, but it has left wounds and they need to heal. The process has started by being back home, feeling love from family and friends, being reassured, being hugged, and being told ‘not to be a dick’ when appropriate! Sleeping (or in my case, not sleeping) in your own bed also helps.
So what else happened in Bali?
I should probably start (BD – Before Drama) with Tirta Empul. Tirta Empul (to quote Wikipedia) is a Hindu Balinese water temple located near the town of Tampaksiring, famous for its holy spring water with curative powers.
Of all the temples that we saw or visited, the experience here will say with me forever. We traveled to Tirta Empul as part of a private tour with an English speaking Balinese driver called Ketut (Balinese names explained), we didn’t expect to stay very long but events overtook us. I don’t really know how but Putu, one of the Temple custodians sought us out. Was he skilled at ‘working’ the tourists or was there something else far more spiritual and unexplainable at work? I think the latter.
Blimey could Putu talk! He guided Emma through the ablution & blessing process. He then sat and talked to me, he shared part of his life story at first I was extremely skeptical but he quickly (intuitively?) up on my past, mentioning specific things that he could never have known, it disturbed me and I was very guarded but emotion took hold and tears flowed; how can a stranger have such an effect on me?
He escorted us through the Temple explaining this & that (it’s a bit of a blur to me) but every so often he would turn his attention back to me. He was not going to give up on his mission! I am not a religious person, but I do have respect for faith, Putu explained the Hindu belief of Karma & Dharma to me. We think of Karma as someone getting what’s coming to them, but it’s nothing like that! Karma is the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds; and dharma, which has no single word western translation but simply put is the eternal law of the cosmos, inherent in the very nature of things – that we are all connected. At times during our visit Putu took my hand; towards the end of our visit he insisted that he could help me and he took my head in his hands, he spoke softly to me (a deeply personal message), and he applied very specific pressure to the back of my neck. I wish I could tell you what I felt; but I can’t even begin to understand it.
I completed two of the items on my bucket list! Whitewater rafting & having a cream tea! I have decided that a cream tea in Bali (lovely though it was) doesn’t count and I haven’t crossed it off yet- I’m looking for the fully English experience with that one, either in a pretty tea room or a house with a history.
Emma & Matt went Canyoning (with Adventure & Spirit)! I did not. They have balls of steel. I do not. I have seen the Go-Pro footage & that was enough adrenaline for me. This was the highlight of the trip for them and the company deserve their Trip Advisor rating.
Is there more? Hell yes!
I have had a massage on the beach overlooking the Indian Ocean! I have worn a bikini in the first time in…well about forever! I have seen Volcanoes, bathed in hot springs, cooled down in waterfalls. Stared in awe at rice field upon rice field, pondered the human endeavour in building the terraces, contemplated the success of the irrigation and water management vs the UK’s hopeless flood/drought methods and wondered why we cannot learn from a system that has worked for over a thousand years.
I have been disturbed by the gluttony, extravagance and overindulgence of some of the resorts vs the poverty experienced by many of the island inhabitants. I have felt guilty for enjoying some beautiful meals when others have nothing.
I have always been fascinated by creative people and Bali has more than its fair share of talented painters, woodcarvers, silversmiths, stone carvers, every imaginable style of textile work there could possibly be. Every single village that you pass through bears testament to this.
Bali has many sides and many, many colours. It has a unique landscape and feel to it; grey volcanic ash, lush tropical forests, green paddy fields, golden beaches, blue skies, turquoise sea, vibrant ceremonial clothing, a black undertone of corruption, flowers, flags & kites everywhere. Oh and scooters…nothing can prepare you for the scooters and the ‘no rules’ traffic management! Bali also has a serious waste crisis. The Balinese traditionally used only organic materials, leaving no waste behind. With the introduction of plastics the island is covered in non-degradable waste from head to toe. The blame doesn’t lie entirely with the tourists either.
What about the coffee?
I don’t like coffee, thankfully! Just Google Kopi Luwak & you will see what I mean!
I am still in awe of the lovely Balinese people that we met on our visits, tours, outings, meals & excursions, many who guided us through our adventures, or who served us beautiful meals or spent time bartering with us when we bought our souvenirs. They are the happiest and kindest people that I have ever met.
Sometimes I think my life is so boring and other times I crave something more normal, with less drama and some tranquility. I have been quiet for a few weeks because the drama took hold of us. I’m not sure you would believe me if I told you the events of the past few weeks. My friend called it “situation overload”.
When someone asked me “how are you?” or “how’s things?” I could barely string a sentence together. I couldn’t even respond with the standard stiff upper lip of “fine thanks”. At one point I literally went and hid when someone asked me.
My son had Situation Overload.
My daughter had Situation Overload
Me? I had Situation Overload AND Situation Overload by Default.
My advice to my children- you have to go through shit in your lives. You have to learn that it’s okay to feel negative emotions of anger, fear, sadness, frustration, doubt and guilt to name but a few. You have to learn that these feelings do generally pass IF you allow yourself time to feel these emotions and know that with strength and tenacity you will get through it.
I’m not telling them to pull themselves together; I’m definitely not telling them to Man Up (a phrase that I actually abhor). I have told them that they are awesome, they have conducted themselves with dignity, they have cried and smiled, and their relationship has developed another layer of closeness.
In amongst all of the drama here are some of the simple things that reduced Situation Overload to a mere Situation:
Watching Pitch Perfect 2 with the daughter- whilst eating vanilla popcorn.
Ice Cream- it’s always a feature.
Friends who touched base, but knew that I needed time- I am so grateful.
The Bali Squad and the huge hug I received- what a lovely evening we had making plans together and eating Chinese food.
Watching Untouchable for the third time- this is my all time favourite film.
Laughing so hard when I just overheard my 14yr old ordering pizza with his friend “do you want a stripper combo?”
And finally… getting the opportunity to write some thoughts down. Breathe.
If you have any contact with a child with Autism you will be all to familiar with the term Social Story, but that’s not really what this post is about. However, these days, we all have a social story of a very different kind. The story that we set out to show the world via Social Media.
The end of my marriage coincidentally was the beginning of my social media story. It all began when my daughter wanted to have a Facebook account. The only way I felt comfortable enough to let her do that was by having one myself and ensuring that I had access to her password and could monitor and close the account down should I feel that it was ever being used inappropriately.
I quite like Facebook, or possibly did like Facebook. Life as a single parent is pretty isolating at times and more so when you have a child with additional needs and also have very little money for babysitters. It means you don’t get out much! Facebook was useful for keeping a virtual eye on teenage habits (the trick is to watch & not comment) it also enabled me to keep in touch with friends, some who lived many miles away and some who lived in different countries altogether. What I hated was the teenage idea that more Facebook friends meant that you were more popular.
I “cull” my Facebook account quite regularly, it might seem harsh to de-friend people, but if they are just there sitting on the periphery of my life and have no interest in interacting with me what’s the point? It’s the equivalent of the friend that never responds to your invites and doesn’t call you back. There comes a point where you have to let them go.
Linkedin is another social media site where I have had quite a lot of experience. I was asked by a friend to work with her on a project on Linkedin. It involved me working from home (perfect for childcare) and coincided with me needing to change my job from a well paid role with an IT company where I was so desperately torn between my new (sole earner) family responsibilities and my children’s needs for a more present, calmer mother. I’d also has a spate of illness which ended in me needing an emergency operation. Ill health focuses the mind to what really matters! Working from home it was then.
It was perfect timing, I was able to regroup my family, recover and work evenings. I grew a Linkedin Group from 1800 members to nearly 18000 in just under two years. I knew very little about the field that I was working in, but I did know how to talk to people and encourage conversations. Social Media conversations do not start themselves. You have to be present and you have to put the effort in. Just like in real life.
Jumping forward to the point where my son wanted a Facebook account, I considered that I was quite savvy in the world of social media. WRONG! This is the point where I became more wary of social media. Whilst any social interaction for a child with autism is seen as a step forward the pitfalls are so exaggerated. Bullying is more rife than in the real world as people are somehow braver (or more stupid?) sitting behind a keypad, keyboard or touch screen. It reinforces my instinctive belief that you have to be a part of your child’s online activity. I have deleted content, blocked and reported (to the police at one point) a great deal of vile content from his Facebook. It’s very clear that many parents do not have a clue what their children are up to on social media. Yet it remains a valuable means of communication for any teenager in this world today.
My relationship with Facebook is love/hate. I love seeing updates from friends (real friends), I enjoy feeling that we are still ‘connected’. I hate a great deal of the ridiculous stories that get shared about on this forum and I mostly hate that children are not monitored in their online activities.
So what about Twitter? I find myself with a relatively new Twitter account mostly because said daughter has fallen out with Facebook and defected to Twitter, she has also moved away from home and it’s a nice way to touch base with her daily life and occasional rants. More than that though, I have found that I am in a odd place myself.
My long term relationship seems to have ended, my children are older and I am craving the company of like minded people. I know that I need to ‘get back out there’ but I am not really ready YET. At the moment I am enjoying ‘meeting’ new people on Twitter. Sharing parts of my life that I have, until now, kept really private and finding out that my story, not just my social media story, resonates with others. I feel safer sharing some of my experiences with people who otherwise don’t know me but I also value the human interaction that has been missing in my life.
I am being myself and being totally up front and honest about who I am, with a view to learning that despite some challenges along the way, I know that I need to steer my story nearer to where I would like it to be.
…Or what dance training has given my daughter (a mother’s point of view).
For my daughter’s 18th Birthday, her friends and I compiled a scrapbook of her life to date. It turns out that it was the best possible therapy I could have ever had. In all their comments and letters and Facebook posts and chats, in their photographs, shared memories and the secret afternoons spent with them, I was given a unique view of her from the perspective of others.
One thing became obvious though…We couldn’t imagine what this girl would be like without dance in her life.
I don’t have a dance background myself; I never went to classes as a child so why did I choose ballet classes for my daughter?
She was clumsy, always falling over, usually splitting her lip and when she did so she would leave a horror scene in her wake! She couldn’t skip either – it was a funny one legged attempt. I thought all girls could skip naturally! I enrolled her in the local ballet class when she was just a tiny three year old!
I was a good dance mum; I made the costumes, supported the shows as a chaperone & matron. I loved watching her dance more than anything. She stood out because she was mine and for no other reason than that. At seven her dance teacher pulled me to one side after her lesson and said “she has something special, a unique quality. I want her to audition for The Royal Ballet School”. YOU WHAT!?
She didn’t get in. It had nothing to do with me sewing her elastic on her ballet shoes and forgetting to take the pins out either! Not getting selected at that audition may have been the best thing that happened to her, ever. She was successful at her next audition and has never looked back since.
So in the very first instance, dance taught her that rejection is not the end, if you keep at it the right opportunity will arise. There have been other disappointments in her training and in her life outside of dance but she has always referred back to that first rejection, gathered her thoughts and moved forward. It was an important life lesson to have experienced so early on.
She has learned to appreciate all people, from all walks of life and from many parts of the world due entirely to her dance network and experiences. After the Royal Ballet she auditioned for The Urdang Academy in London. It took her (us) into London most weekends and London is very different to where we live. It taught her how to read bus and train timetables more by osmosis than actually reading them because at such a young age she clearly wasn’t travelling by herself!
Her first show, at The Place in London, was just a couple of days after the 7/7 bombings, the bus in Tavistock Square exploded just a street away from the Theatre where she was due to perform. I don’t mean to oversimplify things but this brought into sharp focus that not all humans are kind, that life is for living. These were the kind, simple, gentle explanations that you would give to an eight year old. We looked at the pictures of missing people pinned to the railings outside Euston Station and we talked. This was a sad lesson in man’s inhumanity to man. I could have stopped her going, but doing that would have let down her classmates. The entire cast turned up as always, the show must go on. I think the media coverage after 7/7, rather than the event itself, left her with a fear of the underground for a while, but she also learned to overcome that fear. She has engendered a passionate interest in world events, conflicts and difficulties, determined to change the world someday.
I separated from her father when she was just about to start secondary school and at this very difficult time in our lives I know that dance gave her escape. Escape from the troubles at home, escape from the arguments, and escape from me trying to hold things together. Her dance teachers at this point were incredibly supportive becoming almost surrogate parents. Without dance I could have had a very troubled teenager on my hands!
Dance gave her friends; it gave her friends outside of school. So when friendships got tough in the teenage years there was always dance class later and other friends to be with. I am very sure that some of them will be there for the rest of her life. You cannot measure the value of the gift of friendship.
Ah, what about body confidence? I do remember when she was a baby promising myself that I would do all that I could to make her feel beautiful. I didn’t want her to have any of the emotional attachment to food that I have. This is always a tricky subject in the teenage years, but regular exercise had seen to it that she had a neat, strong little figure, yet also had the ability to eat more than you would think could physically fit inside her torso. She still does and I am jealous! She doesn’t weigh herself and eats only when she is hungry, which is quite often! She loves food.
Fitness and stamina come next. This girl has an innate hatred of running for exercise. If she sees runners or joggers she will spout forth a diatribe of why…why would anyone do that, what’s the point? Completely blinkered to the fact that they could be just as passionate about running as she is about dance! Yet during the school years on Sports Day she was a secret weapon for her team; she was always in the long distance races. This girl who hated running would start at the very back of the pack and just keep going without even breaking into a sweat. She only ever ran once a year. To my knowledge since leaving school she has never run again. Dancing for 5, 6 even 7 hours some days gave her incredible stamina packed into a tiny physique. Little did she know that by the time she would attend University the dance day would often be double that.
Does she sound like she was a perfect teenager? Honestly, she wasn’t! But finding a passion early in her life meant that she always had something to work for, a goal or a target. Young dancers are also used to criticism and corrections, they don’t harden to it and you have to be there for the tears and the breakdowns but they do know how to take it. You cannot answer back to your ballet mistress. Dancers have tenacity, persistence, perseverance and every other synonym of determination that you can think of. Dance kept her busy with little time for distractions and unnatural stimulants had no part in her life, she preferred instead the endorphins and adrenaline of performing. For this I am incredibly grateful.
She had learned from a young age to plan time for her homework; I always used the threat that if homework wasn’t completed there would be no dance lesson. By the time she was studying for GCSE’s she was so good at time management that I could just trust that she would just get on and do her school work, I never had to check or nag. At ‘A’ Level she was an expert; she already knew that by studying during her free periods whilst physically at college it left evenings free for dancing and now also teaching.
So this brings us to confidence, at just 16 she could command and control a class from ages 3 to 13+, she could confidently liaise and converse with their parents and was well liked and respected by all. She could travel confidently alone to other towns and cities to take a new class of her own and immediately integrate and socialise with her peers.
There have been turning points and defining moments. She has had some wonderful mentors and role models. She has had dance experiences with many less fortunate than herself and they have been life changing. She worked with Epic Arts (Cambodia) one year and communication was almost impossible initially but within a week there was mutual respect, affection and understanding between all the dancers. This was a major lesson in learning to trust.
Dance has cost me dearly financially, but if it had been a conscious investment I consider that the returns have been priceless.
If the opposite of normal is abnormal where do you draw the lines?
Synonyms of normal might include usual, standard, typical, common, ordinary, conventional, to name a few. Do they describe your family? Those words don’t describe my family and for that I am quite grateful.
I have an autistic son; I have no idea what it’s like to have a ‘normal’ son because he is MY normal. In much the same way I have a fiercely tenacious daughter, it scares me at times but it’s quite ‘normal’ in our house. I really don’t consider either of them normal; they are exceptional in every way.
One of my biggest frustrations has been the measuring stick that is used in schools these days. My daughter was constantly told that she should be less sensitive. WHY? Don’t we need sensitive people in the world? My son had to learn to read from fiction books that didn’t make any sense to him, they seemed pointless. But give him a technical article about a ship or boat or train and he could read every word and remember every fact. Why was this so much of a problem?
At times I have craved normality, feeling that we just limp from one drama to another, each one requiring more tolerance, patience and strength than the last and taking what little energy that I seem to have left these days. But I don’t think there is one that we haven’t conquered. I realise now that doesn’t make us normal – that makes us successful. But I am only just beginning to see this.
the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people
Is it possible for a white girl from a middle class village to experience discrimination? A little while back, I read my friend Pavla’s blog Small is Really Beautiful and it got me thinking about my own childhood home. It was so interesting to read her views on racism in my own country.
I lived in a small affluent Surrey village between ages 9-18, in the only social housing in the village. As a teenager I found it very isolating as the “council house” kids were not considered appropriate friends for other wealthy villager’s children. My school was miles away, as was the nearest town. Transport out of the village was a single bus daily, miss it and you had a long walk! I hated it!
Without a doubt I have been discriminated against as a single mother. There will always be some article or report somewhere blaming a heap of issues on broken homes and single parents. Even people who I thought were friends distanced themselves when I became single.
It’s my experience that any small “difference” from the norm will get noticed, discriminated against or become the target of bullies. My son has been bullied at school because of his autism. My daughter has been isolated at University by a group that quite literally tormented her because of her drive and determination (she didn’t want to take part in the constant drinking).
I have a few questions for you all. What is the difference between bullies, racists, homophobes, misogynists and the like? Are they simply people who never outgrew the playground? Do they ever choose to grow up and think about their past and change or apologise?
Would you agree that education is the key? I think it is, but not formal education. It’s OUR responsibility as parents to teach our children respect for all human beings. To help them find the joys of being with people with different outlooks and experiences. Help them to learn that, for the most part, each individual wants a good life just as we all do. The countries that we wage war with – they have people there with families too, just the same as you and I.
My life has been enriched by people who are categorised as foreign, gay, autistic, disabled, but to me they are just my friends and family.
This has to be one of my favorite photographs of her, barely two weeks old, beautiful chubby cheeks, arms in 5th position – very telling!
Four years of infertility treatment was exhausting and soul destroying as anyone who has experienced it will tell you! She was conceived naturally following a decision to have a short break before trying IVF. That alone changed my world.
Her pacifistic tendencies were at work early on in her life. My parents, who divorced some years earlier, decided whilst passing each other in the hospital corridor that they would put their differences aside for the greater good of this beautiful human being. That also changed my world and that of my parents, sister and the rest of our family.
She has taught me many things throughout her life so far and the ripple effect just keeps on going. I watch with immense pride as she matures into a beautiful young woman.