Lockdown Learnings

March now seems like such a long time ago. Can it only be 5 months since everything was thrown up in the air?

I entered lockdown pretty terrified about what it would mean for us as a family. There was no mourning for a lost social life, I don’t have one. No regret over cancelled holidays, I no longer even have a passport. No panic over childcare, that all falls to me.

My terror was pretty specific to ‘if school is cancelled then we have nothing’. I don’t think we had ever had the luxury of being able to take the time to sit and reflect at how we had gradually shrunk our lives, reducing what we do, who we see and where we go in a desperate bid to grant smudge the capacity to cope with school.

It wasn’t working. She finds school traumatic. She doesn’t have the abilities to function in a mainstream secondary and even in assisted provision was barely managing. This barely managing was manifesting as increasingly demand avoidant, dangerous and violent behaviour especially at home. In layman’s terms if things were/are bad my 14 year old daughter beats the shit out of me and trashes our house.

The thought of being locked down with my abuser without even school as respite meant early lockdown battered my mental and physical health. As a key worker, G still had to work. I was left with a 14 year old and a 6 year old to home educate, 2 Open University modules to finish, attempting to keep some freelance working coming in, and going back out again, and all the usual life admin and domestic gubbins.

To begin with the juggle worked. With school off the cards smudge’s anxiety reduced and we had fun, we made it work. G had annual leave over Easter and this ‘new normal’ was ok chez macp. Until it wasn’t.

I got hurt, g got hurt, I got scared, really scared and poor puff witnessed everything. Our carefully constructed attempt at familial harmony fell apart.

And there was no help. There is no help. We have school, CAMHS and social work involvement but nothing is actually being done, no supports have been put in place, we are all on our own. Except we’re not. We have to tell tales, report back, go over the trauma, expose our hurt and shame poor smudge over and over again. With professionals who offer nothing in return.

And yet, we’re preparing the girls to go back to school having undergone a bit of a monumental shift. Having come to the realisation that shrinking all our lives and sacrificing so much to facilitate smudge’s schooling would be an acceptable trade off if she was gaining anything. Only she isn’t. She isn’t receiving any kind of academic education, all interactions with her peers end horribly and ultimately cause her trauma and I can’t think of a single positive from her last academic year. This realisation changes everything.

Smudge has a bit of a softer start, building up her time over a few weeks. We’re going to watch closely and at the first hint of her not coping we’re pulling her and demanding a meeting to discuss an alternative. What that alternative looks like remains a mystery. But I am not inflicting another 2 years like the last on any of us.

I also spent Thursday afternoon putting the Social Worker firmly back in her box. Laying down the rules around not shaming smudge for behaviour which is completely beyond her control. I am done with watching my girl attempt to shrink herself, contorting her body into smaller and smaller shapes to reduce the surface area for these professionals to cover her in shame.

I have detested lockdown. It has come close to breaking me. But I am grateful for it. Without a period like this I don’t think I’d have ever come to the decisions that I know stand the best chance of working in smudge’s best interests and of maybe making it a little bit more possible to attempt to build a life which isn’t solely focused on one member at the expense of 3 others.

Oh and incase you were wondering:

My home educating did not recommence after the Easter holidays.

I only passed my university modules because my final assignments were cancelled and the modules were graded on all the work I did before my children were at home all the time.

I have continued doing the tiniest possible amount of freelance work. I haven’t done any of the things that I optimistically and laboriously plotted out in my fancy goal digger planner at the beginning of the year.

And for once I say all this without a single hint of shame, guilt or regret. I’ve kept two children safe during a pandemic.



It’s the most ‘wonderful’ time of the year

Christmas is my absolute favourite. A small goth part of me wants to be all cool and claim that Halloween is my jam. But pretty coloured fairy lights, Bing Crosby, dedicated stationery and compulsory letter writing, a whole plethora of mythological figures, the sanctioned gluttony of the most delicious and decadent foods and the requirement to see and celebrate with all my friends and family.

Given free reign I would deck the halls with boughs of holly, have at least one Christmas tree in every single one of our rooms, of course there’s room for a wee tree in the bathroom and singlehandedly drain the national grid with the electricity requirements of bazillions of fairy lights.

One of the aspects of parenting I was most excited about was involving smalls in festivising. If toddler + glitter = carnage then bring it on. All the best dressed houses have glitter in the cracks between their floorboards. It’s fairy dust.

Christmas crafts, baking, trips to see the big man, carol singing, pantomime, sneaking into bedrooms to pop stockings at the end of their beads and basking in the glow of their joy as they rip into Christmas morning.

Only that isn’t actually anything like our festivities. Change and deviation from the routine must be minimised. Decorations must be contained to the living room and even then much lower key than I would like. Weeks of anticipation, build up and reminders that ALL IS NOT NORMAL will not be tolerated.

I understand. Life is unpredictable, confusing and hard to understand on the most boring and dull of days. Christmas is system overload for my eldest. It always has been.

As a tiny she was petrified of Santa. Not just wary but proper terror. The blood curdling screams she let out when Santa approached her at the supermarket silenced Sainsbury’s the Saturday before Christmas. I remain convinced people thought that at the very least she had lost a limb. She has never allowed us to put a stocking in her room. The thought of Santa coming into her room while she was sleeping took sleep completely off the table.

We now spread our Christmas over several days. Partially to minimise the impact. Partially so that we have plenty of time to deal with the inevitable meltdowns, dramas and crises.

This year we’ll do the meal, just the four of us, on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. There will be presents, probably a walk on the beach and a tonne of chocolate consumption on Christmas Day. Boxing Day will be for R&R&R&R – Rest, Relaxation, Recuperation and Repair. Then on the 27th we’ll head down to my parents, hoping that at least one of my sisters and her brood will have already gone home because she can’t cope will all the family all at once.

It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting because this is the final hurdle. We’ve been deep in firefighting mode since the 2nd of December. School starts to change. There is talk of dances – nope not a chance, trips to the pantomime with the drama department – cue weeks of trauma about who she will sit next to on the bus, PE morphs into Scottish country dance classes – traumatic to most teenagers let alone the socially impaired and this is before people stop wearing what she expects them to – her fury at a teacher having the audacity to wear a Christmas jumper and pudding earrings could probably have helped me power a good few of those bazillion fairy lights.

Balancing her needs for home to be a sanctuary with my desire to mummify the house in tinsel is hard enough. Throw an excited, Santa daft 4 year old into the mix and things get, well interesting just isn’t quite right, I need a metaphor around nuclear fusion.

I’m running myself ragged trying to meet the needs of two girls so diametrically opposed that it should be funny. Only we can’t laugh. The eldest is horribly paranoid and will flip out believing that we are laughing at her. The little one is so excited that if we start laughing you know she is going to join in. I’m confident that she is going to prove that the scene in Mary Poppins where Dick Van Dyke has tea on the ceiling is possible. There is enough DIY to do around here without having to repaint the ceilings after scraping over excited children off them.

So while it will always be the most wonderful time of the year, please excuse me if I don’t look full of the joys of the season, I’m spent. But I absolutely mean it when I say that I hope you have a magically marvellous Christmas and that 2019 is happy and healthy.

Mummy Manifesting

It took us a while to become parents. Years of trying, fertility investigations, treatments and adoption. My girls are very, very wanted and It is no secret that becoming Mummy was and is massively important.

The other day I caught myself mid rant. Miserable. Exhausted. Thoroughly fed up with the whole thing. I am not the mother I envisaged. Admittedly that lentil weaving, floaty skirted, zen mama maybe is a little unachieveable given my personality. But even so this short tempered, screeching, she devil is way too far in the other direction.

I do not want. No that isn’t strong enough. I completely reject the knackered, shouty, stressed mother I have become.  I spent years putting heart and soul into becoming a Mother. It was not for this.

I love being Mummy. I adore the house being filled with their laughter, sticky finger prints, plastic tat booby trapping every floor, socks of varying sizes all missing a buddy and all the apples in the fruit bowl missing just one bite. This is the life I dreamt of. This is precisely what I signed up for.

I’m going to be a lot more conscious of the mother I want to be.

Using a quiet and calm voice. The fact that this is way more terrifying when a small knows that they have done wrong is definitely a bonus.

Actively seeking out time with and activities with my girls. Spending time with them is a pleasure, a joy and a privilege.

Refusing to engage in moaning, bitching or embracing the negativity. We create the life we focus on. Yes there is always room for improvement. By concentrating on the good, the joy that they bring me and the smiles this becomes the story.

I am manifesting that zen mama. Although I’m still at a loss as to how you weave a lentil…



When love just isn’t enough

My eldest daughter has complex additional needs. Her diagnosis is far from clear cut and includes a couple of conflicting conditions, which aggravate, mask and exasperate each other. Getting her help is never going to be a magic pill which miraculously transforms her into the girl she normally manages to pretend to be.

See this is the truly heartbreaking nature of it. If you were to meet my eldest daughter you would find her to be charming, personable and engaging. If you got to know her well you might think her a little socially awkward but these complex additional needs, well her mother is obviously neurotic.

Only I’m not. Ok, well not in this instance!

My darling, kind, funny daughter has two sides. A side that she shows to the outside world. A mask she can maintain when everything is calm, safe and predictable. Sadly, her conditions mean that very often the world to her is far from calm, safe and predictable. She lives is a heightened state of anxiety. A state she is completely unable to cope with.

In this state of anxiety the other side of my daughter makes our family life miserable. We call them meltdowns. Probably the easiest comparison is to a toddlers temper tantrums. But in a 12 year old and with a 12 year olds stamina. They can, and frequently do, last for days.

During these periods we all have to endure being screamed at, insulted, physically threatened and what is worse watch her treat people we love so horribly. It absolutely is emotional abuse in a pure and potent form. If she was my partner I would be packing up and running. But she’s my daughter.

This behaviour is functional. She is attempting to communicate her distress. I am massively sympathetic to that and on hand to help in anyway I can. But when she is in this state she is beyond reason. In this state she absolutely does not want to sit down calmly and tell me how a classmate’s perfectly innocent comment has left her confused, hurt and entering into a primal fight or flight adrenaline roller coaster.

No, in this state all she is capable of is trying to show me how she is felling by making me feel the same. I’d describe myself as pretty empathic, finding it incredibly easy to imagine how another might been. If she was able to articulate even a fraction of what she was experiencing I’d get there. But she isn’t able to identify, untangle and discuss her emotions in this way. She just doesn’t have the ability.

How she communicates is by inflicting pain. My girl who isn’t really able to understand that the sensation she is feeling is cold and can be fixed by putting on a jumper is an absolute master at finding a point of sensitivity and exploiting it, mercilessly.

I am used to screamed insults, my younger daughter will frequently play in the middle of what should send a less desensitised 4 year old crying to their Mummy, my husband normalising the physical interventions when he has to get in her way as she flies at me. Our family life is frequently a battle ground. And I am without a weapon.

I need to find a way to protect myself and those I love without wounding a confused and distressed wee girl.