My Beck’s Blue Period

This post follows on from “Shall We Start with a Party “

It has been some weeks now since my 40th birthday, well 68 days to be precise but who’s counting. Not me actually, alright in the beginning I would think wow I’ve done “X” amount of days without a drink, but I’ve stopped now. My busy days merge into each other and I often don’t have time to think about it. I exclaimed just the other day “I don’t know when I ever had time to drink”.

The truth is I never had to make time to open a bottle of wine, I was able to guzzle and carry out most of my commitments at the same time, or so I thought. The realisation now is that whilst intoxicated or hung over I operated at a small percentage of my capability, just like most human beings. And with alcohol demanding an increasing amount of my time less and less of me was available for other life requirements. I knew this really but for a long time refused to acknowledge what would eventually put pay to my fun.

So what has it really been like for me to live without alcohol? When asked I’m telling most people “fine” and actually I am fine about it in that moment of enquiry.  Take me back to my holiday from hell cooped up in a caravan with my two delinquent children and a stressed out critical husband. Go on ask me now.  “It’s f*****g awful, I can’t bear it.” However I did bear it. I sobbed into my pillow and thought “this is when I would normally reach for a drink BUT I don’t do that anymore, so I won’t.” There in itself is lesson number one learnt. I miss alcohol most in moments of despair. Despair an emotion I visit often. Often but actually fairly briefly. So to lesson number two, despair can be lived through and life exists beyond. There is another lesson I’ve discovered regarding despair, it actually doesn’t visit as often when you’re not drinking.

I’ve not been going out on the town, choosing to avoid a situation where I feel grumpy in public because I’m the one without a goldfish bowl of wine before me. However a very enjoyable evening was spent just recently with friends at a birthday meal and I almost didn’t notice my lack of alcohol. I returned home, much earlier than I might otherwise have done, feeling very contented and happy with my life and grateful for my friends, had a cup of tea and went to bed. So lesson number four, it is possible to be out in a social situation and enjoy one’s self without the support of my faithful old friend. Oh and I get to like myself in the morning.

So instead of filling my evenings at home with glasses of wine I’ve been looking to occupy myself in other ways. Here you see one of my new found interests, this blog and writing. I am starting to find it all slightly addictive, and who knew I’d enjoy writing. Not me, I’ve never tried it before and now my mind teams with ideas, angles for a blog, I’ve even taken to keeping a note pad close by in which to document those flashes of inspiration. I’ve always loved sewing and making but the passion has returned and creativity pulses again. My mum has taught me to crochet and so I’m exploring the many possible ways to tie knots in wool. The more I do the more I want to do, creativity breading creativity. Lesson five, without the booze, all the things I’ve been wanting to do I am now finding the inclination to actually do.

But by far the greatest reward I’ve found in changing my ways is the altered state of my family life. I have found greater continuity in my mental well being, meaning I no longer experience a roller coaster of emotions. Giddy highs and plummeting lows are not conducive to happy families. Instead my husband is definitely happier, he never really enjoyed the whirling dervish that an alcohol soaked me sometimes became. The children have my full attention they are not competing for my affections or with the fractious aftermath. I’m by no means all calm and Zen like. I still lose it, screech, raise my voice, use inappropriate words, say things I wish I hadn’t, and feel anger, frustration, annoyance, even despair. The differences being I now cope with all these things, live with them, don’t hate myself for these imperfections, I face them and accept them, apologise and move on. Lesson Six no booze equals greater peace at home.

I’ve come to realise that alcohol was the last bastion for the fragile child within me, fragile but rebellious (more about her later, maybe). How she egged me on to avoid being an “adult”, “La la la la la” fingers in ears. I miss her; she was a lot of fun. She created a delight that is no longer a part of my life. But let’s be honest here, I’ve had my fair share of delight. Now it’s time for me to grow up and take responsibility for her, me and my family. I’ve exchanged fun filled delights for happiness and contentment and a desire to achieve. I’m not saying I won’t taste the “delights” ever again, that is almost a promise too far at the moment, but that’s ok because I’ve got another 297 days until I make that decision.

Saturday Night Kitchen

I’ve mentioned before our family love of food and I wanted to share a quick post with you about Stig’s signature dish, Quick Paella with Hot Smoked Salmon.

About a year ago, as I pottered in the kitchen one Saturday morning Stig came to tell me about something he’d seen on the television he thought I might be interested in. “I’ve rewound it and paused it”. Thinking it was going to be an advert for some Mega blaster X543 upside down inside out shooting thing that was required for Christmas/birthday, I reluctantly followed him to the lounge.  To my surprise he had been watching the programme I had sat and enjoyed a cup of tea in front of half an hour or so before “Saturday Kitchen”. “I think this recipe would make a good family meal” he said and pressed play. Indeed the culinary delight was super family friendly and we tracked down the recipe off the website soon after.

We ate this meal last Saturday when my mum came to stay. Stig was insistent he cook for granny, even after his very tiring week at adventure camp. In fact he didn’t only cook it; Saturday morning he read the recipe, made his own shopping list and then accompanied me to the supermarket for the necessary ingredients. One of the items on his list was chorizo, so we wandered up to the deli counter to take a look.  There were two different types. “Which do you think?” I asked. He looked up and pulled the crooked mouth puzzled expression. “Well you don’t want it too spicy do you so why don’t you ask the lady which will be best”  cue lady “hello can I help?” eyes on me. I move my eyes to Stig and he swallows hard before almost whispering “which one isn’t too spicy?”, she can’t hear him so looks at me again; my eyes are back to Stig. He speaks up and she hears but it’s now her turn to pull the crooked mouth expression. “Can we try them I suggest”? Done, chorizo sliced and offered over the counter. I watch my little man as he cautiously places a piece in his mouth.  First eyes narrow then, as the paprika kicks in, his eyes widen then the mouth widens and a grin appears, head nodding “yep it’s good, that’s the one I want”. I’m grinning to, a shared moment, a passion explored together, teaching your kids the joys of life.

So as sous chef my only job is to slice the chorizo and the rest Stig does, obviously I also supervise with the chopping and any hot things involved. As he moves around the kitchen he still asks for pointers and support but his confidence in his actions is growing. We discuss the difference between paella rice and long grain rice, flat leaf and curly parsley, I remind about positions for fingers when using a knife and talk about making your own chicken stock.  Then there is the stirring, seasoning and tasting, he scoops a small spoonful up to my mouth “what do you think?” He thrives off the discussion, is alert and interested, engaged yet calm and proud of himself. The meal is a triumph and seconds and thirds are requested, everyone enjoys the tasty dish and we all thank Stig whole heartedly for his effort.

I often worry about what type of a future my children will have and what kind of relationships and friendships will emerge and be sustained along the way. Their broken beginning suggested that these complex rituals could be tough going. What Stig is developing in his love for food is an interest, a passion even, that he will hopefully carry through life giving him something that in social situations he can offer as a discussion point with confidence and knowledge. I suppose food to us might be another family’s football, dancing, shopping, wrestling, or gardening, any activity or pastime that people find a space in their lives and their hearts for. I’m glad Stig has chosen food as one of his loves, firstly I can rest assured he will never go hungry and secondly, if he can’t charm someone with his charisma and wit, he can always woo them with his food.

Here is the link to the recipe page on the BBC.

We substitute the clams for prawns, not because we don’t like clams but because in the very land locked location we live in I don’t often see clams I would like to eat.

Quick Paella Recipe

The Brave Adventurer

The other morning, as Stig and I approached the HQ for his summer camp activities club, I spotted something that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. The head coach had two mothers huddled around him, these parents had that conspiratorial arch to their spines, hands touching their faces as if to muffle the sounds, occasionally casting a cautious over the shoulder glances. I knew straight away that this involved Stig, call it adoptive parent intuition. As I too wanted to speak to the person in charge, I waited a suitable distance away, but anxious to confirm my suspicions and just hoping that on this occasion it was nothing to do with my kids, I strained to hear the conversation,

Mothers: “It wouldn’t be tolerated on other camps”, “What is your stance on….”.

When I’d collected Stig the previous day, apart from being by far the dirtiest child there, and there was indeed plenty of filth, he wasn’t beaming as he usually was after a day of muddy fun, he had a crestfallen face and he searched my eyes for reassurance. The coach approached me and explained that Stig had struggled in the afternoon session, clashing with another child, resulting in some name calling, angry behaviour and him then walking away from the activity, den building, into the woods on his own. I didn’t react well to the extreme dirt or the said incident and once in the car I demanded an explanation. Stig’s insistence that he didn’t know what he’d done to upset this child increased my annoyance with the situation. I was trying to do the “how could you have behaved differently?” conversation, but had slipped very firmly into critical parent mode. I pointed out that these incidents were rarely one sided, as we often discovered with similar events in school. I made some sounds about it needed to be better the following day or the rest of the week would be called off. I was tense and stressed and his head hung low as we journeyed in silence.

Post hot bath and snack, he joined me in the kitchen wanting to be close, to help, looking for the assurance that things were mending between us. The guilt of my outburst was settling on me and I too made an effort to engage, encourage and comfort. I apologisied for coming down on him “a bit too hard”  “I just know you can do this “I said.

“No mummy, it was me, I shouldn’t have done it “he replied. The dagger of guilt twisted. The day had quite obviously drained him mentally and physically and after pushing his tea around  his plate he made the decision to head for bed.

As we cuddled in bed the next morning he seemed reluctant to return to camp. He’d been so excited about a whole week of adventures but now, anxiety and uncertainty was all I could see.  I knew my own selfish reaction had caused this turnabout.

“I think you’re scared that mummy will be cross if you don’t have a good day and you’re not sure you can make it a good day, especially if that boy is there again”

He nodded his head in agreement, so I dug deep to find the words of encouragement he needed knowing full well I was guilty to the bone.

He decided to dress and eat breakfast and seemed resigned on going although with a little less enthusiasm than the previous day. In the car his apprehension about another possible encounter with the other child was obvious as his chat soon returned to him. We talked techniques, ignoring, walking away and talking to the coach if it got too much. I then tried to change the subject by asking about the other kids and the possibility of making friends. Ask the children “What’s your name?”  (Funny how this just never occurs to Stig) I suggested, “What games do you like?” “What TV programmes do you watch?”

“He’s got Lego Indiana Jones on the PSP”  Stig announces, bringing the conversation back to the child. As a last resort I suggested that maybe then this boy could be a friend instead of a foe “Why don’t you go up to him and say “sorry for yesterday I hope we can be friends””. We turn into the car park, “He’s here, I can see him”, Stig states.

So once the spine arched parents had gone it’s my turn. “Was that about Stig?” I ask the coach, his head nods to confirm. My heart sinks a little as I launch into a ramble about how “I’ve spoken to Stig about his behaviour and how I’m sure he will be fine today”. Coach nods along, and then kindly reassured me that the said incident had been nothing but “boys being boys” and that Stigs actions had been no worse than the other child. I felt a little relieved but my heart was in my throat all day wondering how he was doing.

“So how was his day?” I ask eagerly as Stig and daddy come through the door later.

“Brilliant, Coach said we should be very proud. He apologised to the other child who showed little graciousness compared to Stig and he got on with the day. He’s been great, no trouble”

“Mummy, coach said he was very proud of me” beamed Stig.

“Me too my love, me too”

Sometimes I know I expect too much from Stig but then on other days he blows my mind with what he’s capable of. He will wear his heart on his sleeve with pride, he does get hurt, even by those closest to him but he gets back up again.His emotional strength is inspirational and truly humbling.

A Death in the Family (Small Boy Chapter-3)

About three weeks ago we had a sudden death in the family. Tink held his little guinea pig, Willow, in his arms as it drew its last breath and then “went floppy”. After I had examined him and declared very gently that I thought he was dead, Tink stared wide-eyed at me before bursting into floods of tears. A more than natural reaction for a child of 7 when one of his beloved pets dies, but not for us, this was a special occasion, for us this was a real milestone.

In the almost 6 years Tink has been with us I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen him cry raw emotional sad tears. Oh yes we’ve had tantrum tears, “I’m not getting my own way” tears, we’ve occasionally had “I’m frustrated and don’t know what to do” tears, there are over tired tears, and there are dramatic tears, Oscar nominated. There are never tears of pain, you race towards him as he slams face down in the playground, he stares at you for a moment, checking those emotions and pushing them back inside, dusts himself down and then states nonchalantly “I’m fine”. We’ve had a few trips to hospital and I’ve seen fear in those eyes and a slight glazing, a wobbly lip, but no floods, not even a drip.

The first time I experienced his tears was the first time I realised that we hadn’t experienced tears of this nature before.  Following a day when we had done quite a lot of life story work (a book accompanying an adopted child informing them of their life journey) we sat on his bed at bedtime and he asked me a question regarding birth mum. As I answered this delicate query I could see the sadness brimming in his beautiful eyes, gently pulling him towards me I nestled his head in my shoulder and stroked his head. As we sat in the dark his body began to judder against me and ever so faintly the sound of sobbing could be heard muffled into my clothes. In that moment I realised I had never before experienced this with him, this was something new; the sadness of it brought a lump to my throat. I didn’t actually get to see the tears, he wouldn’t look at me when he finally pulled away, but there was a wet patch as proof. It would be some time before I experienced them again, and I don’t remember all occasions with such clarity but I do know that it has not happened often.

So to the week of little Willows demise, the same week we were seeing CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) for a review of Tink’s ADOS assessment (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule). I had become increasingly anxious about the feedback, trying to decide in my own mind, do I think he seems autistic? The fear had been growing inside me. What if they find him to be on the autistic spectrum when actually he’s not? What if any attachment issues or early life trauma issues go undiagnosed? Will people, school look to manage his behaviour instead of exploring the reasons behind it? And there I stand yet again with him pulled into me as he sobs, not hesitantly but full shoulder shuddering tears. I see them again as he reaches school and he tells a friend of his sad news, and then at pick up on seeing me his eyes glisten as he runs into my arms.  Days later he is contemplative as we bury his little friend in the garden and he decorates the grave with sea shells, saying his goodbyes.

So there I have it, transparency, I know for certain my child is struggling to come terms with his broken beginnings, that the emotions have been buried deep within for fear of showing vulnerability. I knew it really but this was the sign, something to spur me in my determination to ensure we don’t stop exploring Tink’s emotional needs. Luckily for CAMHS they agreed with me, although Tink is on the autistic spectrum they believe things for him are complex and we need to explore how best to support him emotionally as well .Appointments have already been made to speak to school, a follow up appointment will help Mr H and I to understand a little more about living with Tink’s autistic traits and there is even a whisper of some play therapy.  I breathe a huge sigh of relief and feel we will start to get thinks right for Tink, especially during his much loathed school days.

So to the lovely little fur ball that was Willow, I pay tribute to this mischievous, greedy, popcorning, (it’s a guinea pig thing, look it up), forever squeaking guinea pig. You gave your life to an amazing cause and I can’t thank you enough, I’m just really sorry it had to be this way, R.I.P.

Holidays – 5 Reasons to Smile

We are on holiday, a Caravan in Wales. We’ve not done this before, a caravan, Wales; we have been very lucky in the past few years to stay in a fairly isolated but very large villa in Portugal. Plenty of space for the family, room to be together or room to be apart and no neighbours to over hear all the tantrums and tears and not just from the kids, I’m prone to the odd holiday meltdown. So here we are in close proximity to other human beings, my boys interacting with other children and living with each other in a relatively confined space. Even as I write this I’m wondering why I ever thought this might be a good idea. I wasn’t naive enough to think that the changes would go without a hitch, we did do some preparation for going on holiday work, but looking back I should have done more. So instead of going to bed in tears, I’m going to try and find my holiday smile by doing a top five inspired by, http://katetakes5.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/listography-top-5-things-about-summer.html

1.Pyjama Days

It’s the law in our house that the first none weekend day of all school holidays no one has to change out of their pyjamas or leave the house if they don’t want to. I must say I usually do get dressed but my youngest is the king of this activity and lounges around like Hugh Hefner, watching the TV, reading, playing his DS. Occasionally he might venture to the garden to bounce on the trampoline climb a tree, swing on a swing or ride his bike but all in his pyjamas. I like the one day where there is no pressure to do anything we don’t need or want to do. We just about manage the low level of structure for one day, but I always have an activity or two up my sleeve in case of restlessness, which Stig is quite susceptible to.

2.Outings with Friends.

I love those days when you are able to pack a picnic and head off somewhere open and green for a day with friends. It’s great when the kids play well together and forget about bothering you with every little thing their brother did/said to them and just have fun. In the meantime myself and other mum get to have a chinwag. Perfect.

3.No School Uniform.

I didn’t know whether to include this one, but I really do hate having to sort school uniform and constantly insure there is clean uniform causes me, a slightly disorganised mum, constant anxieties. I love the fact that I can send the kids to get themselves dressed or if I have to find clothing in my ironing mountain, any pair of bottoms and a top will do the job. To be fair the kids are also happy not to wear uniform, preferring to be draped in shorts and a t-shirt,  especially Stig  who likes to know he won’t be berated for covering his clothes in mud if he so decides

4.Hanging Out with the Kids.

It’s the opportunity to spend more time together. Now granted this is actually the exact thing which is causing me to tear my hair out at the moment, but I can see the golden opportunity of bonding this creates. It’s those snatched conversations which come from just being together. There are deep and meaningful questions as well as the rambling insight into their world and their thoughts or the lovely little statements they make, all pure magic. As Stig and I lay on his bed the other night, not rushing to turn the light out but just discussing the ins and outs of anything and everything he turned to me and said I’m so happy you’re my mummy”. Like I said.. Magic.

5.Returning to School.

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing and boy six and a half weeks together starts to be a bit too much. It’s not that I don’t enjoy all the hanging out together but routine must return or all that being together wouldn’t be special. To be honest it’s exhausting and I’ve always said that I’m the best mum I can possibly be when I have a little space to be me. So although the holidays are about family time, term time is my time, working, running, home stuff and organising. I’m excited for what the next school year will bring as I possibly start work on a project with my husband as well as put more time and effort into my creative side, Freda and Me ( see my Etsy Shop http://www.etsy.com/shop/fredaandme ). Stig will be ready to return to school and see all his friends although he will, as always, be apprehensive about a new teacher. Tink will not want to go, but I am confident that following his recent assessments (see previous post http://thepuffindiaries.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/story-of-a-small-boy/  ) school will start to improve for him. For both boys school is a big challenge but not one that we will shy away from. After hopefully creating warm and fuzzy happy holiday memories we will move forward with all that we face and not be afraid, that is something to be excited about.

Do you know what? I think it’s worked. Having reflected on all these positives I am going to bed looking forward to what tomorrow will now bring….