The difficulties of Christmas and what I should have told my friends this year

I am an emotional wreck. Christmas does this to me every year. Like many aspects of motherhood, it shines a light on all my worst traits and makes me a ball of stress and overwhelm. 

My husband bears the brunt of this and it makes things a little (ahem) tense at home in what’s supposed to be the season of goodwill.

Much as I want to love Christmas, I find it hard. I want it to be a happy, family-focused time but the expectations rarely match up to reality. It cannot be the relaxed fun time I want, because that’s not what being the parent of a severely disabled child is like. At least, not with my child. Spontaneity and fun are possible – but usually planning and structure are the keys to happiness.

It breaks my heart to see this photo. I know how desperately I wanted a happy baby
and a happy Christmas

The first Christmas after Ted was born I was in a dark, bleak place desperately finding my feet as a mum with an undernourished, unsettled, unrelenting baby. There was very little joy in it for me. And if I remember rightly, Ted came up in hideous hives and we spent most of Christmas on a frantic tour of out of hours followed by a NYE in A&E with a suspected chest infection and terrible reflux. Fun times.

So, much as we have all moved on from that particular low point, the ghosts of that early trauma still colour my Christmases. I commented on a post on Instagram the other day about there being an element of sadness in me when I think about this time of year. A lovely lady chimed in to suggest a new family tradition like eating chocolates snuggled up in bed while reading new books on Christmas Eve.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that my kid can’t eat chocolate (or indeed anything that isn’t puréed and fed to him while in a super upright and supportive chair). Neither can I keep him still long enough to really ‘snuggle’ in a bed. Or that he is rarely open to new things. Books can be an especially disappointing example, provoking whingey cries at an unwanted and unfamiliar tale. We get there eventually but it takes a few tries. I’m sure there are things that we can do. But this sweet and seemingly simple suggestion made me cry much more than I was expecting.

The underlying anxiety that I have lived with constantly from the moment I became a mum doesn’t help. It gets worse at this time of year as I struggle with my desire for everything to be taken care of properly.

The irony of course is that nothing gets taken care of properly. I am a terrible multitasker (as most people are) and a seasoned procrastinator. In my defence, I have a lot of plates to spin and in trying to keep them all from smashing I can only focus on what’s immediately in front of me. I think we can all agree that a lack of forward planning is the worst when you’re on a deadline of last-posting dates and total seasonal shutdown. 

Cheeky Dilly elf

And so, if I manage to buy Christmas cards, they don’t get written. Or I write them and don’t send them. The presents are usually rushed purchases that I desperately want to be perfect but there are too many to think about. Ted has SO many people in his life. Therapists, TAs, teachers (there are two), a PA on transport, support workers… not to mention the cleaner, my nieces and nephews, parents, in-laws, sisters and husband, kind friends and their kids. 

I am SO lucky to have these people and this dilemma, I know.

I mean, to be stressing about needing to get gifts for my cleaner (and her super thoughtful daughter who passes on unwanted dolls to Dilly) screams of privilege. First world problems they may be, but they make my head spin nonetheless.

Some of my favourite people (when we were younger
with fewer children and lots more sleep)

The huge pressure I put on myself doesn’t help. Essentially, I try to make up for my year-long disorganisation with one last attempt to show people that I am thinking of them.

Because I am. Constantly. I may not send a birthday card on time (or at all). I probably don’t often comment on your Facebook pics, or congratulate you on all your achievements or go to your parties. I rarely phone you or reply to your texts within a timely fashion. It might take me six months to respond to an email. But I am here.

So to all my friends, these are some of the things I think about when I hear your names or see your photos. Maybe I will get the chance to tell you individually next year. Especially if you keep doing what you are doing and sticking around even when I don’t appear to notice.

Your kids are growing up beautifully. You’re doing a great job.

Your children are giving you a hard time right now. You’re doing a great job.

Your kids are having a hard time right now. You’re doing a great job.

I’m so happy you are thriving. You have grown so much this year.

I’m so sorry you are suffering. You will come out the other side eventually, I promise.

Your business and your work is amazing – I’m so proud of what you’ve achieved.

I’m sorry that you are grieving for dear ones lost this year.

I wish I could take away the pain of your long-term health condition.

I know you miss the way things used to be. 

You’re feeling overwhelmed but this too shall pass.

Your marriage may be over but your life isn’t, even if it feels that way sometimes.

You have the strength to overcome yet another hurdle. I know you do.

Don’t compare yourself to others. You are achieving great things every day. 

I love the support you are giving other women – personally and professionally.

I admire your courage in following your dreams.

It’s so great to see you find happiness with someone new.

It’s lovely to see you living a full, happy life without a partner.

You make me laugh and always know what to say.

You make me think and challenge my outlook on the world.

You know me better than most people and I’m so grateful for our years of friendship.

The gift of… nothing

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Happiest birthday photo of Ted in six years. (Ridiculous filter appiled in an attempt to hide the mess in the kitchen!)

 

My children have their birthdays two weeks apart and this year we are doing a joint party in the middle of them, so yeah, my October posts may touch on this theme occasionally (ahem).

In the midst of my slightly angsty reflections on Ted’s birth, I realised mere hours before his special day that I hadn’t bought him a single present. Nor did I have a clue what to get him. After mulling it over, I decided I wouldn’t bother.

That sounds shocking, doesn’t it?

The truth is, I wouldn’t be buying for him. I would be buying for me. It’s a convention. A societal norm. We like to feel special and be treated on our birthdays – but as I can’t even be sure Ted has a concept of birthdays, do the normal rules apply?

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Six

Yesterday was World CP Day. Any half decent special needs blogger would have had a post prepared, but I didn’t feel much like saying anything. Or doing my part to raise awareness and educate others.

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My last day with a bump instead of a baby

The last time 6th October fell on a Saturday was the last day that Ted was safe and happy in my body.

I’m not going to say that it was the last time that all was well in my world. It sounds dramatic and while it might keep people reading, it simply isn’t true. To say that would be doing Ted a huge disservice.

But 6th October 2012 was the last time he didn’t have cerebral palsy.

That Saturday night that my waters broke, starting a birthing process that would turn our lives upside down much more than the typical first baby does…. and that’s saying something.

Although the rawness of what happened to us during Ted’s birth has subsided, I still wake up a little out of sorts around this time and having the dates match up with World CP Day, really hasn’t improved my mood much.

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Today, Ted turns six. I wish I could be all ‘Six! SIX! Where does the time go?!’ but actually, it feels like six years ago that he was born. Perhaps that’s what happens when everything stretches on so long. Ted is still in nappies, he still gets spoon-fed pureed food, he still drinks formula from a bottle, he still needs a dribble, bib, he still wakes up almost every night, he still requires 24-hour care, he still hasn’t hit most milestones. He is, on paper, still a newborn.

Expect that he isn’t and I no longer dwell on this dreariness. I feel the need to acknowledge it, hence this post where I am processing my emotions through writing (my standard self-medication) but Ted is completely something else.

He is not his diagnosis.

He is not the list of conditions and issues that appear on his hospital letters.

He is not just the product of a birth that went wrong or a boy brain-injured by the errors of two thoughtless midwives.

He is a six-year-old boy. 

He is a six-year-old boy who likes to laugh at farts in the bath and his sister’s funny dancing and silly accents and enigmatic speakers and people hunting frantically for lost keys.

He is a boy with no words but who knows how to get what he wants.

He is a boy that has no need or want for birthday presents, so instead gets a big shiny balloon or two and a day out with his family.

He is a boy who smiles at everyone so broadly, that everyone stops to talk to him when we are out.

He is the boy who made me a mother. Who has shown me the very best and very worst parts of my personality.

He’s the boy I would do anything for. I know him almost better than I know myself and I want to be the best mum I can for him. I don’t care about the ‘what ifs’ and ‘what may have beens’ because we have Ted. Smiley, stubborn, vocal, funny, innocent, huge-hearted Ted.

Who happens to have cerebral palsy.

Being brave

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Well, that was a slightly longer break than intended! I wish I could say that it was because I was travelling somewhere exciting, or working hard on new projects, or spending loads of time on self-care and soul-nourishing pursuits.

Elements of those things have been bubbling away – potential new social media clients, a few short-hop days out and nights away, and the odd bit of time to myself *has* happened in the past three months… Mainly, though, it has been the drudgery and grind of life as a stay at home mum. Not that being a SAHM is always boring – and I’m a firm believer that it’s vital, important work – but in my case it has been a bit like being in survival mode.

My goal has just been to get through the day. Ted has been unhappy and in pain, causing sleepless nights, early mornings and high anxiety all round, cross words in my relationship, doubts about my parenting, an influx of those insidious little thoughts that chip away at your confidence and weigh you down. When every waking moment is taken with caring for a child (one or the other always needs something, as is the nature of parenthood) it is like treading water. It has been very tiring but I feel at last, the lifeboat is here and I’m not going to go under after all.

A dose of cranial osteopathy and some hardcore reflux drugs have sorted the boy out, for the meantime at least, so I can get back to living rather than just existing.

And lo, not only is it 2018 already, it’s halfway through the first month. The time when your good intentions may have slipped or the strict regime you have placed yourself under suddenly feels a bit too much. After so many failed attempts at diets and giving up smoking on Jan 1st in my much, much younger years, I have not made resolutions for a long time.

Instead I am using a guiding word. Do a simple exercise to find one for yourself here and I will post a video from the very excellent Lucy Sheridan (aka The Comparison Coach) at the end. My word is COURAGE. It is underpinning everything I am doing these days and for all of 2018. I needed it to get back on the horse (keyboard) and show up here again.

  • I needed it to make a tough decision about Ted’s medical care that I thought I could manage more naturally.
  • I am using my courage to tread an unusual therapy path with Ted that goes against conventional NHS thinking about physio and the body, but which makes huge sense to me and benefits him without a doubt. It involves shouldering most of the therapy work myself (though I may change that if it seems I am being a martyr or a control freak, or both, about it) and a Mon-Fri 6am start to get it done before school.
  • Courage is helping me to push myself from my comfort zone and to embrace change. This is something I always find difficult. I once wore the same homemade sweatshirt and jogging bottoms (thanks mum) every day for almost an entire summer when I was about nine. Yes, I am that cool. Familiarity is comforting to me but it also means I put up barriers sometimes. I want to be more fluid and go with the flow and open myself up to new things.
  • Courage is driving me to shout about my skills and capabilities and get a new business off the ground.

I think five years at home with children (minus nine months back at work after having Ted) and giving up a media career and a very London life to live in small-town Wiltshire have suddenly taken their toll on my confidence. I have taken steps to get back to a more dynamic, creative me. Yet, after the initial elation at passing my Digital Mums course with excellent stats and having a whirlwind time while training, I have been in a funk. Lost my mojo. Felt flat and not worthy of much. I withdrew and retreated. I listened to the negative voices. Not any more. They have had their time.

No one but me can get me out of this dark hole, so courage and grit and bit of self-love (not that kind, smutty) is what I need right now.

See you out there, somewhere?

Emma x

Live well, eat well, feel happy – 7 essential life hacks for busy mums

 

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Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
Hang on. *All* mums are busy, aren’t they? It comes with the territory. We are (usually) the driving force behind the household. The person who knows where everything is, the one who does the washing, the cleaning (or who briefs the cleaner), the tidying, the shopping. We are the replenisher of toothbrushes, keeper of tissues, signer of school forms, and so on and on and on.

The list of tasks is endless but while I have previously railed against the mental load, I am now here to bring you some super duper life hacks to combat that. Seven simple ideas to free up more headspace, make life run a little smoother, maybe even save you some money. 

Social media vs happiness

Bare Organics

I had a post lined up about the mental load, but then this Mumsnet thread blew up on social media last night and it felt relevant to say a few words about it. (Also that mental load post really wasn’t working for me so hurrah for a diversion.)

The crux of it – if you don’t want to waste an hour or two of your life reading increasingly snippy and personal comments on an internet forum – is that some people are getting fed up of Instamums. I’m paraphrasing here, but several people are taking umbrage at those with tons of followers, sitting in their Farrow & Ball painted houses, getting loads of free holidays and goodies in return for sticking a few pics up on Instagram and selling out to brands.

Some valid points are raised about the transparency of which posts are ads, what products have been gifted, whether holidays are paid for and whether the authenticity of what is being posted can be trusted as much as when they had fewer followers. Digital advertising is changing. Sometimes the waters are murky and not every influencer is open about what they receive. I feel the particular women who are getting slated in this thread ARE pretty open (after a career in media I can read between the lines but maybe not everyone can) and people have to accept that this is their business now. If they are a successful influencer, why not make a career of it?

Like any job, it takes work. Getting those insta-worthy pics is time-consuming, they will often hire photographers, pics need a certain amount of editing to maintain the look and feel of an account, you have to write decent copy to go with it and I’m certain they turn down way more brands than they actually feature. But I’m not writing this to comment on the digital advertising industry.

Unfortunately much of what was said smacked of jealousy and unhappiness.

I agree that sometime when a person takes on a lot of brand work, it makes them less interesting. I stopped looking at one particular account because her new direction wasn’t really my bag. Not because she was doing ads, just that I realised our fashion sense wasn’t quite the same after all. Yes, I found it a bit dull that a couple of big brands seemed to supply most of her current wardrobe but hey, we all have different tastes. I felt her earlier appeal was muted because she posted less about what she was actually buying but her posts were clearly marked as collaborations so I didn’t feel cheated. Not everyone feels the same.

What interested me about this thread is that the accounts of a certain group of women (many of whom I follow too) have made others feel pushed out. There has been talk of ‘Mean Girls’ behaviour, making the less insta-gifted among us feel like they aren’t in the cool gang, a sense of ‘you can’t sit at our table’.

Some women did appear to feel cheated by the inevitable changes that success brought these women. It was like they were friends but one found fame and moved on while one was left behind feeling stupid and frumpy and unable to afford the finer things in life. Yet they were never friends. A follower is just that. You may feel like you know these people but you are usually just a casual observer. There is a sense of disconnection between the affluence of the middle-class London lives of these women and what ‘real’ women are experiencing. Somehow the balance between slightly aspirational and totally unattainable has tipped too far for some.

Social media involved in ‘making women unhappy’ shocker!

Why is it that we torture ourselves with things that make us unhappy? It has been widely shared that Facebook (in particular) can make you lonely/depressed/unhappy/isolated. There is an unfollow button if you don’t like what you see. It can feel cliquey when you follow people who are friends and you see them going to parties and events together and getting goodie bags and freebies. But you don’t have to look. Whose responsibility is it to protect you from the envy or dissatisfaction? I think you’ll find it’s your own. You have a choice. You can choose to walk away and you can choose how you react to what you see. If it irks you so much, what does that say about your life? Are you happy with it or unhappy? Is this about them or you?

Social media is a fabulously seductive, inspiring, creative, wonderful, connecting place. But in terms of mental health it has a dark side too. You need to look at it with one eye open, so to speak. Protect yourself. Remember that it is curated. It is a business for some. They need to keep up certain standards (although I would argue there is plenty of imperfection on their feeds too – look and you’ll see imperfect bodies, messy kitchen drawers, destructive toddlers). I’m sure they have made mistakes, maybe choosing a brand who jars a little with their image or writing content that is just a bit flat. Haven’t we all made errors? Do you always say exactly the right thing, wear the right outfit, eat the right things? Would you want those choices torn apart on Mumsnet?

Comparison is the thief of joy and social media is made for comparisons. But if you can’t see that it all isn’t real, then you are very likely to be adversely affected by a lot of scrolling on Insta. Are any of our feeds real? If I am taking a pic, I style it up (badly, usually). I can’t do flat lays to save my life, but I will move mounds of washing out of the way for a better shot. I choose the cutest pics of my kids and a flattering angle for my mum tum. Rightly or wrongly, I like to show a slightly better version of myself. We all do. It’s not at the expense of the more real posts – I document our difficulties regularly too.

I also know when to step away.

Do you? (It’s waaaaay before you start commenting on the physical appearance of other people’s children on a Mumsnet thread, btw)

 

Do one thing: creating happy habits

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Photo by Raphaël Biscaldi on Unsplash

This week’s blog is a little late as I have just come back from holiday and mentally I am still in hot, sunny Ibiza. Don’t go imagining it was all hot-dog-legs selfies, falling asleep on the beach and drinking cocktails by the pool, though. We were with small children.

That said, it was brilliant fun and I could easily have done another week (thanks in no small part to the family members and carers who came too and helped dilute the difficulties of being away with my food throwing, pool resisting, inappropriate nap-time mini humans).

There’s something magical about being on holiday. Is it the sun, the lack of routine, no work to go to or stress over, new foods to try, new places to visit…? All of it and more, probably. Whatever it is, I always come back feeling ready for a change, a new start, a new path. A bit like New Year but somehow more doable and less forced. Maybe because it’s not all about deprivation, which many New Year’s resolutions hinge on, its more to do with reinvention.

August is here; a new month seems like a good time to start anew with a fresh attitude, so I thought I would start by putting forward my ideas about creating happy habits.