Monthly Archives: June 2013

Project Me: Just say ‘No’

Due to the popularity of last week’s post entitled Project Me: Taking Care of the Carers I have prepared a follow on, which explores the philosophy further.

The Mohne Dam (during term time)

Carers are not unlike dams. We hold back a lots of water and if we start to crumble, bad things happen.  Here are some more ways to keep the water from coming in over your head.

1.  A wise man once told me that there are two types of people in the world; radiators and drains.  A radiator radiates energy and laughter and enthusiasm and makes those around them feel better for having stepped into their glorious presence.  Drains are the very opposite.  They suck the very life from a person, their optimism, their hopes and dreams for the future.  They love nothing more than telling you the ways in which their lives are so much more difficult than yours, in fine tooth-grinding detail.  They dislike everyone and everything around them.  The simple advice is this –  surround yourself with radiators and avoid drains like the plague (see 2. below for more).  Your energy, your optimism for the future, is the mortar between the bricks from which the dam is constructed.

2.  Resign from all committees, with immediate effect.  What?  You say that your PTA, your village hall committee, your board of governors, whatever it is, cannot possibly function without you?  That unless you are the Vice Chair or the Treasurer or whatever, all the little children will suffer?   I have been there, I have the clip board and the t-shirt and I can tell you, that committee that you have sleepless nights over, will carry on without you.  And you will have more time to devote to Project Me, which is of course for the good of everyone.

3.  Essential as a follow-on from 2. above, practise the use of the word ‘no’.  Do it now.  Pretend I’m an alpha mother and I’ve rushed over to you in the playground.  I have brushed my hair and have  marvellous children.

Me:  Now that you don’t have anything else to do (laugh), you could serve the tea and cake at the sports day.

You: No.

Me: Come on, it won’t take long.

You: No

Me: Perhaps you could make a Victoria Sponge then.

You: No.

Me: I’ve made five already and my children play the saxophone.

You: Well done you.

Followed by: drawn out and awkward silence during which you must not be the first to crack.

It may feel painful at first, especially if you are the sort of person who likes to say ‘yes’ and be an all round good egg.  But remember, you can’t make omelettes without breaking eggs.

4.  The received wisdom says that your children will drown in a swimming accident unless you take them for expensive lessons at very inconvenient times of the day for 45 weeks of the year, for at least ten years of your life. Project Me is about testing received wisdoms.  Unspeakable though it may sound, especially to the try hard middle classes (which I used to be one of), you don’t have to inflict swimming lessons on your family. Patch together something in the holidays, take them swimming yourself, accept that they may develop ‘interesting’ swimming styles.

4.  And talking of try hard middle classes – music lessons. Forget them, until your children want to do them and are old enough to manage their own practise time.  Otherwise there will be shouting.  You all have enough on your plate without adding more.

5.  Do your children’s’ homework for them whenever needed. I recently dictated a 500 word essay on Oliver Cromwell.  We got it done in 10% of the time it would otherwise have taken, there was no shouting and nothing got broken. Result. (And I might add I got a very good mark.)

6.  There are objects to be found in most good homes which contain children, which, although do not serve a critical purpose appear to now be considered essential for child development.  These include nail varnish, body glue and body glitter, mouth wash, toilet wipes, vitamins disguised as sweets, pain killers disguised as sweets, paints which pour and I could go on, but you get the picture and your list may be different from mine.  Put them in the bin with immediate effect.  Your children will no longer have to spend time dreaming up ways to torture you with them. Everyone will be relieved.

So much of what we burden ourselves with is about outside pressures, what other people consider to be good practice, good manners, good child rearing.  We are doing it differently because we have to. So sister and brothers, stay sat down, and let me hear you say ‘NO’.

Project Me: Taking Care of the Carers

Caring for the children of trauma, or indeed any child with complex additional needs can at times leave one feeling entirely grey and bleak.  It is exhausting in the proper sense of the word. And you can’t just escape from it for a few days and ride ponies around the New Forest.

When I catch sight of a poo stain, or a mouldy sandwich and then cry for an hour straight I know that it’s time for Project Me.  Project Me is not a selfish enterprise because there ain’t no one else who is going to clean up that poo stain, pick up that clump of mould and then be empathetic and curious about it afterwards.  So for anyone out there who needs a spell of guilt-free Project Me, here are my top tips.  I write them as much to remind myself as for anyone else, but I hope you find them useful:

1. Stop watching the news. Stop listening to the news. Stop reading about the news. It is depressing.  You do not need depressing.

2.  You know that song, that piece of music that almost never fails to make you dance? Forget the dishes and listen to it. Close the curtains.  Go wild.  Here is one of mine.

3.  People are not going to die of malnutrition if you fail to produce correctly balanced meals for a week or two.  Project Me is about taking off the pressure whilst maintaining adequate service.  So I say to you ‘baked potato’ and ‘baked beans’, I say ‘ready meal’, I say ‘soup’. I say ‘apple’, I say ‘banana’.

4.  Stop recycling.  There I said it. It’s just another tedious job which you can return to with gusto when you feel better.  But for now, if your eyes fill up at the thought of having to dress yourself, bugger the plastics. Don’t wash them out, put them in the bin. Don’t tromp down the garden in the rain with a bad of mouldy carrot peelings, foul brown juice leaking down your arm.  Put them in the bin – now.  And remember this adopters and carers  - the most costly activity to this wonderful planet is procreation.  You’ve already done your bit. You have the carbon footprint of a vole.

5.  When you’ve done the absolute bare minimum i.e. everyone is wearing clothes, no one smells of wee, they have eaten something and you have delivered them to wherever it is they go (apologies if you have younger than pre-school or school age children, I can only cry with you right now, but hopefully it will get better), give yourself some guilt free DAYS OFF.  You heard right.  OK, these are not days off as most people would understand them, these are Project Me days off.  In the hours you have available you have my permission to lie on the sofa and watch day time television, or a film, or that thing you recorded. Or you might prefer to sit in a semi-coma and stare at the walls. You are absolutely not to fuss about dirt, mess, laundry, whatever.  It’s not going anywhere anytime soon and it’s not going to kill anyone.  And another thing – eat chocolate, scoff crisps, drink strong coffee – whatever it is that you do to self-medicate.

6. Make friends with a sensible, reliable teenage girl aka potential babysitter.  Plan an evening out. Stop listening to the guilt track (‘my children won’t like her, they will miss me too much, I’ll pay for it later’).  All these are probably true but this is Project Me remember and it is for the greater good.

7.  Accept help.  If none is on offer, ask for it.  Be firm. Say what you need.

8.  Be more like Ron Swanson than Leslie Knope.  For those of you who have missed Parks and Recreation on BBC4 this means be less like a head girl, less perfecty perfecty, tidy tidy, less super-organised.  Ron avoids work, hates rules and believes in every man’s freedom to engage in risky behaviours.  And by the way, watch Parks and Recreation, it’s very funny.

9. When you absolutely have to leave the house to gather food, if you possibly can, don’t go to the busy place that leaves you feeling like you’ve visited hell, or all your good work will be undone.  Go somewhere quiet and relaxed.  I like LIDL.  No one has any expectations (except that you have a pound for the trolley).  They sell pizza. They sell bags of salad.

10. Let the kids watch hours of television and play hours of computer games during your recovery.  It’s not going to kill them.  You can sit alongside them and read or maintain a steady state of barely disguised consciousness. This measure has the added advantage of doubling as ‘close supervision’ and may start to calm the very behaviours which have helped to put you in this state.

11.  Forget homework, forget learning the three times table, forget the bloody book bag.  If you feel you need to justify yourself, speak to school and tell them you have enough on your plate at the moment and that normal service will resume soon.

12. Plan something to look forward to.  This is very important.

Although Project Me was designed as an emergency measure it can become a more permanent way of thinking and living.  If you are the column that keeps the entire building up, then you need to take care of yourself, for the long-term, for everyone’s sake.  You have my permission, now go forth and vegetate.

Sunny Intervals and Exciting Times

On Saturday afternoon I sat under our apple tree, on a sun lounger, and read a book whilst our children played contentedly in a den they had constructed out of garden chairs, blankets and cushions.

A normal summer afternoon in most families perhaps, but not in ours.  I can’t remember this ever happening before.  Sure we’ve had short periods of calm and mellow blissfulness, but they tend to be short and far between. No, this felt real and was followed by a similar day on Sunday.

Twelve months ago Rob and I thought we were heading for some kind of catastrophic adoption breakdown, so difficult and relentless were the behaviours we were living with.  We were picked up by our social worker just before we hit the ground.  A year later and I cannot believe the progress we’ve all made.  The red anger, the aggression, the swearing, the hopelessness have all subsided, partly due to maturity, but in much larger part due to full on therapeutic parenting and some direct therapy which our son received.

I know that other families feel they may be where we were a year ago and I felt the need to offer up some hope and to share in our mellow June afternoon.

And what of ‘the book’? I’ve been busy reviewing the proof and planning some publicity.  No Matter What will be published on 23 July and can be pre-ordered from Jessica Kingsley Publishers and other online book retailers.  And no, those feet, they’re not mine.