Category Archives: Here Be Offspring

Day In The Life

Welcome to the March 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Day in the Life

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have given us a special glimpse into their everyday.


Some brief backstory here: This is the third time I’ve written a submission for the Carnival of Natural Parenting despite the fact that – and I appreciate this may well be considered a vital criterion that I’m missing here – I’m not part of the Natural Parenting movement myself. (I aim to live and parent responsively and consciously, all right – I’m just not particularly crunchy about it.) But I like blog carnivals, and, for the third time, a carnival topic has come up that’s made me think ‘Hey, I’d find it really interesting to have a shot at writing about that.’ The first two I took part in, in case you’re interested, were my philosophy of parenting and my experiences with special needs; this time, the topic is a delightfully all-inclusive invitation to share a typical day in hourly photos or in a diary entry, and I figured I’d have another shot at writing a submission. The Carnival organisers can always turn it down if they object. Maybe I should have called it ‘A Day In The Life Of An Unnatural Parent’?

I prefer writing to taking photos, so I went for that option; besides, that has the advantage of not showing anyone how messy my house is. (Taking photos of consultations at work would also not be an option, for obvious reasons.) I liked the idea of doing it on an hourly basis, so I’ve stuck with that format. This is, as closely as I could remember and record it, my account of where I was each hour from waking up on Friday, 27th February.


05:30 – In bed. The alarm goes off and, with the skill of long practice, I roll over with barely-opened eyes, press the snooze button, and slip effortlessly back into sleep. I don’t have to get up until around 6, but I set the alarm for half an hour earlier to give me that much time to surface gradually.

06:30 – Kneeling next to the dishwasher, unloading the bottom tray. I’ve already hauled the load of towels I put in yesterday from the washing machine in the kitchen to the dryer in the garage and poured out a morning cup of tea to brew ready for my husband, so, when I’ve finished the dishwasher and got my own breakfast ready, I’ll have a bit of time to sit and relax with my laptop while I eat. As long as Jamie doesn’t wake up early, which he’s been doing more often lately as his growing body sheds his sleep needs. A few crucial quiet minutes to myself before the day proper begins.

07:30 – Heading into the kitchen to make breakfast for Jamie. The rituals of getting the children ready in the mornings are proceeding nicely on schedule – Jamie is dressed, Katie has her tights on and is deciding which story to choose while she has her hair brushed. Both of them are still in bed; Katie in her own, eyes still firmly shut against the day, and Jamie in mine, a waystation on the way downstairs and into full wakefulness. One bowl of Choco Rice Pops, no milk (yeah, not the most nutritious of breakfasts, but I’m glad to at least be starting to use up the boxes of cereals that have been taking up kitchen space since Jamie went through a brief and unsustained period of cereal enthusiasm a year or so back). And Katie’s drink, to carry upstairs for her to drink before she has her hair brushed.

08:30 -Patiently, matter-of-factly, disentangling Katie limb by limb from the sprawl of pillow and duvet that’s made its way onto the floor next to her bed and carrying her downstairs. Ignoring the fake wailing, accepting the real frustration of a not-a-morning-person (‘But I’m nocturnal!’) having to get up and face the day’s responsibilities, teaching her by example the lesson that you keep going regardless and do what needs to be done.

09:30 – Poring over a patient’s notes on the computer screen, deciding whether I can sign the repeat prescription for Temazepam for him that showed up in my pile. Whatever I decide about it, best do it quickly – the first couple of patients are arriving, and I want to at least be on time for the start of surgery, even if that state of affairs is inevitably destined to be a highly temporary one.

10:30 – Seeing a post-op patient, answering his questions, updating his records. It’s a long one and I’m slipping more deeply into the inevitable running-lateness that is my constant companion in my working life.

11:30 – Typing up the notes of the latest patient, fingers flying so as not to lose time. (Teaching myself touch-typing when I was seventeen was among the smartest decisions I ever made.) At least that one was a quick one – I made back a few minutes, got myself from 45 minutes behind to a mere 40.

12:30 – Sitting with another complex one, listening, advising, arranging the one practical bit of help I can offer towards this person’s insoluble problems and giving the sympathy and understanding that probably matters as much or more. And slipping further behind again while I do it, but for once I can do that without pressure – with only two more left to see and, oh joy, no visits on the list for me today, I can give this one the time that’s needed.

13:30 – And another. The second-to-last was here with a routine matter sorted out in a few minutes (and I shared his frustration at the one-hour wait he’d had to have it sorted, while still knowing I wouldn’t have done things differently), but the last patient’s another complex one. But zie is the last, and, free from pressure apart from the hunger that I’ve learned to put on ‘pause’, I work my way through to whatever limited resolution there is to be found for this person at this time.

14:30 – Typing again, documenting the phone call I just made about a blood test result and the medication decision that the patient and I collectively reached. Must hurry – I should be leaving in the next few minutes and still have a couple of things I want to get done before I go. After catching up on the test results/incoming mail over lunch, I allowed myself a few minutes to decompress and read the internet, but it drifted into a few more than it should have and now I’m pushed for time again in this life where a few minutes here or there make a difference.

15:30 – Driving home, the children in the back. We’re normally home by this point, but we stopped to get a cake for Katie from today’s school cake sale (Jamie’s had already been bought and consumed before I collected Katie; his class lets out fifteen minutes earlier, and, as much of a pain as that is with a hyper decompressing child to keep out of trouble for fifteen minutes every day before being able to get his sister and leave, it’s at least useful for beating the queue at the termly cake sales). It’s been a good day for the children overall, but Jamie lost his ever-volatile temper after breaktime in an escalating situation that ended up with him kicking one of his TAs and pushing another; now he’ll have to write letters of apology to them both and lose thirty minutes of his computer/DS time as a penalty (we remain committed to trying to teach the children through discussion/explanation/coaching, but the practicality is that sometimes we need a deterrent as well). He was furious a minute ago when I reminded him of this and he’ll be furious again in another minute when he remembers, threatening me with unspecified dire fates if I dare to ‘delete’ any computer time, but for a minute in there he’s giggling over something he’s said or remembered or heard from his sister, the ever-precarious balance tilting back towards cheer again.

16:30 – The kitchen again, cleaning out the lunchboxes I didn’t have time to do earlier. It’s been a difficult hour, with Jamie, moody over his lost computer time, still muttering dire warnings to me. Not to mention messing around with his sister’s Geomag creation until he inevitably ended up squashing it and screamed indignantly about it being an accident. (Because, hey, who could have possibly predicted that repeatedly pretending to sit on it would end up with it accidentally being squashed! Funny how these things just happen! Though, to be fair, he did reassemble it for her.) Usually at this time of day I can leave the children alone for short periods of time while I get other things done, but today I’ve needed to be there, a low-key calming presence, and, more to the point, someone alert and on guard in case I need to step in and prevent a situation from escalating.

Which was tiring, and annoying, and the kind of joyous relief that has me thanking the universe for mercy. Because, a couple of years ago – less – he wouldn’t have had the restraint to keep it to muttering. He’d have been screaming and fighting and I’d have been physically wrestling him down to keep him from grabbing the forbidden DS, and grabbing the flying fists and feet to keep from getting hurt, and trying desperately to juggle this with meeting Katie’s demands as well. Now, he can keep it together well enough for me not to need to do more than sit with him and keep an eye on him. It’s slow, but he’s growing. He’s maturing. I love seeing it.

But it still meant the darned lunchboxes didn’t get cleared out earlier.

17:30 – Waiting for Jamie to finish watching something on my computer so that I could reclaim it. We have limitations on his computer time because otherwise he plays it every waking minute and his brain disintegrates into screaming mush – DS and Wii only after 4 pm on school days, computer not till after 5.00. But recently he’s started learning computer coding at school and discovered all the free programmes on the Internet for children who want to learn to code, and a new passion has been born. It’s definitely one I want to encourage, so I’ve decided that coding should fall under the ‘available from 4 pm’ category (useful skill or not, it does still involve sitting in front of a computer screen and he needs some kind of a break from that), but for some reason that probably made some kind of sense at the time I’ve been letting him have my computer to do it rather than changing the time limits on his computer. Which can sometimes make it hard to reclaim the computer when I want to use it. At the moment, Jamie and Katie seem to have found someone else’s coding programme involving pictures of a kitten creating coloured lights to music. Amazing what you can find on the Internet.

18:30 – Starting to get dinner onto the oven trays, ready for cooking. The delays earlier have led to dinner starting later than I’d meant to; then again, Friday dinner is always later than I mean it to be because by that time of the week I’m always tired and struggling to find the motivation to get up off the sofa and get stuff in the oven. Oh, well. Weekend in sight. I get out the somewhat random assortment of frozen and tinned foods that has accreted into our normal Friday night meal plan (cooking is not, shall we say, quite the forte of our household).

19:30 – At the dinner table.Dinner table conversation, alas, isn’t something we’re that great at either. Barry normally watches the news over dinner; I feel I ought to insist on a TV embargo with Sociable Conversation, but the reality is that it would end up being a monologue by Jamie about his computer games, with Katie interjecting now and again with random and somewhat surreal comments about kittens. So it’s another of those issues I’ve always just put off till some unspecified and nebulous later time. I skim through the week’s BMJ, figuring I might as well be getting something useful done with the time.

20:30 – Upstairs in the bathroom, getting Katie ready for bed, taking a few minutes to floss and brush my teeth while I wait for her to finish on the toilet (which can be a looooong wait). Jamie’s still downstairs, maybe talking computer games with Barry or maybe lost in one of his own computer monologues complete with sound effects as he plays through assorted imagined game fragments in his head. Until a few months ago we always did things that way round, but then Katie protested the unfairness and so now the children take turns to be the one who gets a bit of extra time downstairs (much to Katie’s chagrin, because since Jamie had several years of being the second one upstairs then she should have several years of being the second one upstairs or otherwise it will be THE UNFAIREST THING EVER!! I informed her that she already had. She wasn’t mollified.) I’ll call Jamie up when Katie’s ready for bed. Trying to get them both ready at the same time tends to be… counterproductive.

21:30 – Stretched out across my bed. The children are finally in bed, though I’ll still have to listen out for them – mostly they settle down these days, but when one of them starts talking or making noise things escalate rapidly through a vicious circle of setting each other off into heights of overexcitement if not calmed down quickly. But for the most part my time at this time of day is my own. I’ve put some laundry away and soon I’ll have to go downstairs, wipe off the countertops and dining room table so I don’t come downstairs to a mess in the morning, do the exercises I didn’t have time to do earlier, write more on this blog post before the details of the day fade too far into obscurity. But for now I’m just enjoying the rest, the quiet, the chance to read undisturbed for a few minutes. If I can keep my eyes open long enou…


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:



Filed under Here Be Offspring, The doctor is OUT. To lunch.

Another project

So, I’ve been plugging away at this parenting gig for a good long time, and I’ve now reached the point where I have children of nine and six. In fact, by this time next week, I’ll have children of ten and seven. Wow – it seems like only a couple of geological ages ago that I was getting up for night feeds. So, for those of you still struggling through the baby and toddler years, my PSA of the day is this: Yes, those rumours about how those stages end really are true. Hang on in there, and some day you too will have children who can eat the same food as you (even if they won’t), make it through most nights without requiring feeding or attention, take themselves off to the toilet and deal with all needed post-excretion cleanup activities, entertain themselves without completely demolishing your front room, and have interesting conversations to boot.

Anyway, one of the things about this age I particularly like is school. Part of that, of course, is the whole thing of having my children looked after for a few hours most days at the state’s expense, but there’s also the fact that I find it fascinating. I love hearing about what they’re learning and what topics they’re working on and seeing what Katie gets for home learning, which is what they call homework these days (Jamie is in a specialised autistic unit and doesn’t get any). And it’s something I’ve often wanted to blog about, except that I can’t think of any particularly pithy observations to make about it – just lots of rambling on about such gripping stuff as the fact that Jamie’s current class topic is Britain from the Stone Age through to the Iron Age whereas Katie’s for last term was Hot and Cold Places and we haven’t had the handouts sent out about this term’s topic yet. All of which, as riveting as it is to me, would be also of interest only to my mother, possibly some other family members, and the occasional Googler for information on what UK children might get set for homework at such-and-such an age.

While this might not seem like such a problem given that it’s not as though I write anything else on this blog these days, I do at least in theory plan to start using it for edgy observations on the state of the world or something. And then, the other day, I suddenly realised the perfect and obvious solution to this problem was to set up another blog for the sole purpose of writing about school-related stuff. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it years ago.

And thus did it come about that I have set up The School Chronicles, where I will waffle on about school-related stuff to my heart’s content while saving this blog for any actual interesting posts I ever get round to writing in the future.

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Filed under Here Be Offspring, Onward and upward

An Abundance Of K(C)atherines

(Short note: I wrote this post back when the date says, saved it with the plan that I’d give it a reread for any edits prior to posting it, spent a lot of time not getting around to it… and I am now getting back to it in January 2015. Normally I just post my late posts when I post them, but this was downright ridiculous and anyway the story comes from last June, so I’ve posted it with the original date. This may of course be confusing to anyone who checked my blog in the meantime and knows perfectly well that this post wasn’t up until June, so, there you go, that’s the explanation.)



“Guess how many imaginary friends called Katie I have?” Katie asked me this morning.

“Um… three?”

“No. Guess again.”


“Not quite.”


“Yes! That’s right! There are the SuperKatie twins; that’s one and two. The Hero Katie twins; that’s three and four. And Commander Katie, who’s in charge of them and has a sword. You do not want to make her angry because she might hurt you.”

“Um… she’s got an imaginary sword” I pointed out. “How much is she going to be able to hurt me?”

“A lot.” Katie clearly wasn’t having any of her imaginary friends dissed here.

Meanwhile, Katie has made some real friends at school, one of them a girl called Catherine. Her mother and I finally, after some false starts, managed to set up a date for Katie to visit last Friday, and the two of them played happily together for hours, decorating Catherine’s living room to look like a park so that they could have a picnic there, and finding a dead bee and (Catherine insisted) an orange tarantula in the garden, which Catherine rapidly retrieved her plastic sword for defense against (yup, let me know how that works out for you, child). Then I invited Catherine’s mum in for a coffee when she dropped Katie off and the two girls promptly disappeared upstairs to see Katie’s room, reappearing some time later to ask for flour, salt and sugar for the strength potions they were making for the fairies. I provided small amounts of all of those, but drew the line when they returned later to ask for butter.

“But we need butter! The invisible spell book says so!” Catherine protested.

“Sorry.” I stood firm against the apparently unassailable logic. “The other things you had can be vacuumed up if they spill on the carpet. Butter makes too much of a mess.” (Also, we only had olive spread. I decided not to get into discussions of how that might affect the potion quality. Strong fairies with better cholesterol profiles?)

“Why don’t you use invisible fairy butter?” Catherine’s mother suggested.

“Fairies don’t have butter,” Catherine insisted.

“Yes, they do! They use it to fly.”

“Fairies do not use invisible fairy butter to fly,” Catherine explained patiently. “They use pixie dust.

Catherine’s mother conceded the point, but I remained firm on not conceding the butter, so the two of them retreated and (I later learned) made do with the last of the rose lemonade instead, which Catherine assured Katie was authorised as an adequate substitute by the invisible spell book. Equipped with all of that plus chalk dust, the multicoloured bubble mixture we’d bought a couple of weeks ago, and gold glitter glue, they mixed happily away upstairs and, by the time we eventually went upstairs for Catherine’s mother to retrieve her daughter, had a nice little laboratory going on the table in the children’s bedroom, from which they’d produced two brimming pots of work-in-progress strength potion (and slopped a lot of water onto the library books, which may never be the same again). Catherine was solemnly directing operations – “Shine the torch on that for two minutes, Katie! It needs some light!” – and proved difficult to extract, but eventually she departed with promises all round that she could come and visit again shortly and finish the potions then. In the meantime, Katie will keep enjoying the company of her imaginary friends.

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Filed under Here Be Offspring

In Other News, Sky…

Jamie, unlike many autistic children, has in fact been a brilliant sleeper for most of his life – we definitely caught a lucky break there. However, he does go through phases now and again of being hard to settle, and Christmas holidays have been a big culprit for the past few years, this year included. This has in fact been very much a "Wow, parenting really does get better! Cool!" moment, as the situation has been a dramatic improvement on The Great Sleep Fiasco Of Christmas Holidays 2011, which I prefer not to revisit even until memory except to say that at times I was seriously wondering whether the penalties for beating children unconscious/tying them to their beds were actually that severe. Two years down the line, Katie at least has developed the common sense to realise that there's actually something to be said for staying in bed and trying to get to sleep at night, so that means only one of them at a time to deal with, which is a massive relief.

However, Jamie's antics have been keeping Katie awake, and, unlike her brother, she usually does take a long time to drop off. Last night, when she was still awake long after even her brother had finally succumbed, I tried talking her through a visualisation I sometimes do for her at such times to help her to relax, called 'floating on a cloud'. This involves getting her to picture herself floating upwards on a cloud and looking at all sorts of lovely things below/around her. I worked my way through the usual sequence of grass, flowers, trees, and baby birds.

"The mummy and daddy birds are flying in to bring their babies worms to eat," I told her. "They're taking care of them just the way Daddy and I take care of you and Jamie. Well, except that we don't bring you worms to eat, but you know what I mean."

"They're taking care of the babies by doing the things for them that they need," Katie clarified. "Just like you and Daddy do the things for me and Jamie that we need."

"That's right, Boo!" I hugged her proudly. "And now you're floating up higher, higher, and seeing all those beautiful green leaves spread out below you… up, up, into the blue, blue sky.

"It isn't blue," Katie objected.

"Really? What colour is it?" Katie likes adding her own imaginative twist on things; I thought for a moment that she'd just decided to float off into a pink sky because she liked it better, or some such.

"It's some other colour that Daddy told me about. I can't remember what, but it just looks blue because that's the way we see it."

"Kid," I told her, "you're floating on a cloud here. I wouldn't delve too deeply into the physics of this if I were you."

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Talking with children about religion – an atheist parent’s experience

For some considerable time now I've been thinking, as one does, that I should really get back to blogging, and even planning different possible re-entry posts. Then, by pure chance, I stumbled across a blog carnival on one of the subjects I'd been thinking of writing about – the Carnival for Atheist Parenting – and decided it would be the perfect opportunity to restart. This is my submission for November's Carnival of Atheist Parenting.

I was interested to see that a lot of people feel daunted at the thought of discussing religion with their children, because that's never been the case for me; on the contrary, I think it's an interesting topic that I've looked forward to discussing with them as they get older and finding out their views on. Maybe that's because I don't have any particular endpoint in mind in terms of their eventual belief. My goal has always been not to teach them to be atheists, but to teach them to think for themselves about what they believe and why.

I don't raise the subject, but when it comes up – when the children have Nativity plays or tell me some snippet of religious education they had in school – I take the opportunity to mention that different people believe in different things. Some people believe in lots of gods, some in just one god, and some in none, and they'll probably decide for themselves what they believe as they get older. Last year, Katie's first Nativity play was set in Fairytale Land and was introduced and concluded with a song containing the line "Will you please remember, we are just pretend/But the story of Jesus rea-lly happ-ened" (yes, the scansion was that bad). I burst out laughing when she first sang that at home, and explained that, in fact, a lot of people do think that the story of Jesus is made up as much as any fairy tale (while, of course, a lot of others believe in it).

For several years, of course, neither of them was that interested in the topic. (I still remember being asked to discuss Jamie's thoughts on the Christmas story for a school assignment when he was five; he came out with 'Mary was very great. Joseph was brown and Mary was blue.') Lately, however, they've had more thoughts about it.

Katie has decided she, also, doesn't believe in God. "You and Daddy don't," she told me when I inquired as to what had led her to this conclusion.

"That's not really a good reason, Boo. I mean, I think we're right, but you shouldn't believe something just because Daddy and I do. You should think about whether or not you believe it."

Katie gave it a moment's further thought and stated "Well, I see real things on the news and I've never seen God on the news." Which struck me as an interesting point. Of course, it's still open to logical challenge, but I let it go for a bit – she's starting to give some thought to what she thinks and why, and that means she's on the right track.

Jamie, some weeks after that, announced "I'm secretly a Christian."

"Why secretly?" I inquired, with fleeting visions of undercover Bible-reading and cloak-and-dagger church attendance.

"Because I believe in God."

"Oh. Well, that doesn't mean you have to be a Christian. You could be one of the other religions or be Christian or just believe in God without being any religion. Do you think you believe in one god or lots?" (This last always strikes me as a great point for getting some perspective on the whole do-you-believe-in-God-or-not question; the fact that those aren't the only options. To paraphrase Stephen Roberts slightly, we're all atheists one way or another; it's just that some of us are atheistic about more gods.)

"One, I think,"

"Yes, that's probably simpler. What made you decide that?"

"Well," Jamie said thoughtfully, "I think something has to happen to us after we die."

So, so far I'm raising one atheist and one unspecified theist. I'm  awaiting further developments on the topic with interest.


Filed under Deep Thought, Here Be Offspring

Miss Dose, the doctor’s daughter

In September, Katie will be starting school. The school have a rather well worked out induction period involving visits first with a parent and then without, and the filling out of a booklet about her likes, dislikes, attributes, and abilities, including some questions about basic knowledge such as ability to name shapes, colours, and body parts.

"Katie," I told her, "your new school wants to know if you know any bits of the body. Can you think of any?"

She thought about this carefully.

"Skeleton?" she suggested.

Give her time; by the end of primary school I expect I'll have her up to scratch on the full list of internal organs.


Filed under Here Be Offspring

Ah, the warm glow of being viewed with awe and respect

A few weeks ago, Katie's nursery school was doing a theme on 'People Who Help Us', and asked me to come and say a few words to the tots about my chosen profession. Having done this before for both reception classes at Jamie's school and for Katie's other nursery (she's at two – long story) I agreed quite equably, turned up, gave the assembled preschoolers a few minutes of discourse on how my job helps others, and showed them my stethoscope. (More accurately, I showed them the stethoscope I'd borrowed from one of the practices I work for, my own having gone AWOL.)

"Doctors help us," my daughter mused to me later on, "so we need you. Even though you don't know as much as Daddy."

Charming. Reminds me of the time when Barry first went back to work, and was telling Jamie about what was required in becoming an engineer. "You have to pass lots of exams," he explained, "which means you have to answer a lot of questions to see if you know the answers to them. Then you have to go to university and do lots more exams."

"I think," Jamie mused to me later that evening, "I'll be a doctor when I grow up. Because I don't know the answer to very many questions."


Filed under Here Be Offspring

Life with my son

Welcome to the March 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With Special Needs

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how we parent despite and because of challenges thrown our way. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


For the second time, I’m taking part in the Carnival of Natural Parenting despite not considering myself a Natural Parent, in response to a topic that happened to be relevant to my unnatural self as well.  The topic this month is ‘Parenting With Special Needs’.

My son Jamie, now aged seven, is autistic.  He’s not what you might think of when you think of an autistic child; he doesn’t spend his days sitting in corners rocking unresponsively, locked into his own little world.  He’s fully verbal, attends a mainstream school, and loves to tell you about his computer games, cooking, and the things he’s learning about space and planets at school this term.  But, if you met him, you’d pretty soon notice some unusual things about the way he acts. 

When I say that he loves to tell you about his computer games, that doesn’t really cover it; he will talk incessantly about his computer games, and, while I appreciate that this is within the bounds of normal behaviour for a seven-year-old, the way that he does it isn’t.  He’ll describe the game in obsessive detail without ever giving you any sort of general explanation of what it’s about, unable to see the wood for his focus on every tree.  If you try to stop his monologue to do something else it will freak him out.  So will any attempt to stop him when he’s fixated on an idea or way of doing something (including an idea that someone else in his life should do something in a particular way).  It’s often not obvious in advance when that is – he’s not one of those children who need every little detail of the routine always to be the same, but, when he has got it into his head that things should go a particular way, any expectation that he change his plans without warning will cause all hell to break loose.  He doesn’t really understand how the way he acts can affect the feelings of others.  He doesn’t really get the normal social conventions that other people pick up easily enough to take for granted.  He manages at school only with full-time one-to-one assistance from a teaching assistant and a lot of flexibility on the school’s part about how much of the curriculum he actually does. 

Communication can be a problem because, while Jamie superficially seems to have very good verbal skills, but it really isn’t the way that he most easily takes things in, and I’ve had huge problems with getting his attention to ask him or tell him things.  This can be extremely frustrating, all the more so because he seems able to understand perfectly well when he wants to and it’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking he’s just being naughty and ignoring me.  But he isn’t; he genuinely has a problem processing what he hears, and the fact that he often does manage to deal well with that problem doesn’t change the fact that it is a problem.  He’s a lot better at it than he used to be, but it will never be the easiest way for him to take things in.

The key, with this, has been to write things down.  Whether it’s something as simple as the choices available for lunch (for a good while, I had a standard menu saved on my computer to print out a list of choices from which he could pick) or a more complicated issue that needs a social story to help him understand what he should be doing, writing rather than talking has been a huge help.  It seems appropriate; my husband and I met on a social group on the Internet, and now, twelve years later, here we are communicating with our first-born child in writing.

I’ve written before about my attempts at trying positive discipline with my children.  Jamie’s difficulty in communicating his wishes definitely made this harder at first.  Before I’d ever heard the term ‘positive discipline’, I’d devoured Faber and Mazlish’s ‘How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk‘, with their description of solving discipline problems by presenting the dilemma to the children in an empathetic way (“Oh, no!  You and your sister both want to have the yellow cup!  Looks like you both really want it!  What can we do?”) thus inspiring the child to come up with his or her own answers.  I loved the idea and looked forward eagerly to trying it out with my own children as soon as they were old enough (I read it when Jamie was a toddler).  But, for a long time, it was an absolute non-starter for Jamie – he would carry on screaming with no concept whatsoever of the possibility of trying to solve the problem, leaving me wondering unhappily what I was doing wrong.

(I eventually found Ross Greene’s books ‘The Explosive Child‘ and ‘Lost At School‘ to be useful reading here, although they aren’t about autistic children; they’re about working with children who don’t have the normal social skills and do need a lot more prompting through the whole problem-resolving process than the children in the ‘How To Talk…’ examples.  They didn’t teach me anything very new about the process, but the books did help me to realise that it was OK for my son to need quite a bit more guidance through the procedure, and that doing so was helping rather than stifling his development in this area.)

But, as the years have gone by and Jamie has matured further, I’ve found that problem-solving is starting to work.  It’s working more often in the short term, and, little by tiny, tiny bit, he’s picking up more of the skills of self-control and conflict resolution that I want him to learn in the long term.  And, as I’ve learned more about the principles of positive discipline, I’ve realised that they are, if anything, even more important with my son.  Instead of seeing unwanted behaviour as ‘naughty’ and something to punish him out of, I’ve learned to see it as his lack of ability to behave appropriately, and his need for more teaching and guidance.  Or as his response to the stresses that freak him out and that I need to learn to understand.  Often when Jamie acts in a way that seems ‘naughty’ or inappropriate, it’s because some seemingly ordinary part of life is freaking him out in a way it wouldn’t freak out another person, or because, for all his verbal ability, he’s just not very good at explaining his feelings to us. 

I remember one occasion, a couple of years back, when, in the middle of a screaming fit, he made up a rule that Katie and I weren’t allowed in the living room.  I don’t remember the exact rule – I think he defined a narrow age range that was permitted in and that would have excluded both me and Katie while including him – but I do remember him screaming it at us, screaming over and over “You are not allowed in the living room!  Get out!”  I was outraged – how dare he try to make up rules about who was or wasn’t allowed in a room of the house that we all shared?  And then I suddenly thought about what it must be like to be a little boy with autism who really needed a few minutes on his own, just a bit of space, but who wasn’t good at explaining his feelings in words and was feeling too overwhelmed by life right now to phrase his reasonable request in a socially acceptable way.

“Jamie,” I asked him, “do you mean that you want to be on your own in the living room for a bit?”

“Yes,” he said a bit more calmly.

“Then the way you say it is ‘Could you please leave?'”

He repeated the phrase, and I scooped up Katie and left.  Because, after all, once I’d got past the way he was asking to what he was asking, it was a perfectly reasonable request; heaven knows I’ve needed a few minutes (or hours) on my own for down time in the past.  He simply hadn’t known how to ask for it without having a meltdown.  By understanding where he was coming from, I’d been able to help him with the skill he needed.  (And, after that and other similar occasions, he’s since then been able to echo the phrase back when it’s needed at least some of the time.)

Life with Jamie feels normal to us because it is what’s normal to us.  It’s just the way our parenting experience has been.  Maybe it would have felt different if we’d had Katie first and were always comparing Jamie to a memory of a neurotypical (the autistic word for ‘non-autistic’) child of the same age, but, as it is, we pretty much take his differences in our stride and figure out ways to work with them or work round them.  Parenting is about accepting, respecting, and working with your child’s strengths and weaknesses.  Parenting Jamie, with his particular and less common strengths and weaknesses, is just the variation of that principle that we have in our lives.

People so often hear ‘disability’ or ‘autism’ as dark scary words warning of dire fates, but to me, those words have always been positive.  They’re words that open up new worlds of interest to be explored, worlds that hold some of the keys to understanding my son and to understanding more about people anyway.  And they’re words of comfort and reassurance; the words that told me – and still tell me, in times of doubt – that Jamie’s differences and difficulties aren’t due to any failing on my part as his mother, that they’re not evidence of anything I should be doing differently or more of or less of.  They’re words that have freed me to understand him as he really is.

Being Jamie’s mother is often difficult, usually interesting (apart from the whole listening-to-monologues-about-computer-games bit, which is mind-numbingly boring), often challenging, frequently fun, and nearly always exciting and intriguing.  And writing all of that kind of feels like a ‘Duh’, because, well, isn’t that what being anyone’s mother is like?  Obviously, if the genetic shuffle had dealt me a neurotypical child for my first as well as my second then my overall parenting experience would have been rather fundamentally different, but I’m glad that wasn’t how things ended up; I like having one child of each variety, one with whom I can have a fairly normal parenting experience and one who’s stretched my experience and my ways of seeing the world into new and interesting shapes.  Our story isn’t a story of tragic struggle or heroically overcoming the odds or finding new meaning in life – none of the traditional themes for Disability Stories.  It’s just about my two children – one disabled, one not – and about how grateful I am to have such a funny, interesting, challenging, lovable, wonderful little boy and girl in my life.


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Given that the whole point of struggling through NaBloPoMo was to overcome my writer's block and get me posting more, you'd be forgiven for thinking at this point that it really wasn't worth the trouble, given how scanty my posts have been lately. To be honest, I'm not sure what happened; first there was the scramble to sort out all the Christmas preparations that I should have done weeks earlier combined with trying to get that mammoth post about bedsharing risks written on my other blog, then there was the Great Bedtime Nightmare of the Christmas holidays where the children's always-shaky journey towards bedtime disintegrated completely under the weight of holiday excitement and one, other, or both of them would take until midnight or later to get to sleep every. bloody. night. that holiday, then shortly after I got that improved somewhat Jamie got worms and his sleep went haywire again, then I was trying to actually spend a bit of time with my poor husband after all those shattered evenings, then I'd got out of the habit of blogging, and suddenly here I am two months later with nothing written other than one post about Nativity plays and one about sex workers' rights.  (At least the content makes up in eclecticism for what it lacks in quantity.)

So, what's been happening?  I really do need to get back to posting the snippets more regularly, even if not on a daily basis this time; without that, life with the kids blends into a sort of general fog of thrilled contentment at their general wonderfulness laced with frustration at what little devils they can be when it suits them.  Some specific moments:

When it snowed, a few weeks ago, I showed Jamie the white-blanketed world from the window when he woke up.  "It's really cool that Great Britain decided to do that," he commented.


Katie: "What's sawdust?  Does it come from a sword?"


Jamie (who has been learning about the solar system at school, and also, as luck would have it, has a placemat at home with facts about the different planets on it): "Saturn is really big, and it's got 61 moons!"

Katie (whose placemat shows a map of the world): "Russia's really big also, and it's got THIRTEEN moons!"


Me, to Jamie: "I was born in 1970."

Jamie, surprised: "How do you remember that?"


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‘Tis the season

It's been a blur of last-minute on-line orders, frantic scribbling of cards, and vows to do Flylady's 'Cruising Through The Holidays' scheme next year like I should have done (hang on a moment – didn't I make that same vow before?) but I did, finally, get enough Christmas preparations done in time.  And, after that, Christmas itself was wonderful.  Barry's family were staying so I had people to fob the kids off on while I curled up for two blissful days of indulging in books and chocolate.  And, yes, I did emerge for long enough to help with meal preparation, but Barry did the bulk of that, producing a magnificent Christmas feast and some decent recipes for the leftover turkey this week. 

For the Nativity this year, Jamie's school gave a performance of 'The Supersonic Lamb', which, like 'The Hoity-Toity Angel' the previous year, followed the theme of 'Conceited being journeys to stable and, as a result, learns valuable life lesson about importance of not being conceited'.  As Jamie's in Year 2, he got to have a speaking part this year instead of just being part of the chorus, and chose to be one of the three kings.  We did have a minor crisis at one point when he decided, after everyone had learned their parts and it was far too late to change, that he wanted to be an old sheep instead and if he couldn't do that he wasn't going to be in the play at all – when I heard that I was all, good grief, child, even Edward VIII required rather more inducement than that to make him give up on kingship and, by the way, if you feel that way I happen to have this rather nice mess of pottage here which I'm willing to trade for the very reasonable price of only one birthright and would I be right in thinking that you might be interested… but, in fact, when I saw the production I did see where he was coming from on this, as the old sheep actually had really important parts.  (They had a dispenser-of-wisdom role, repeating the play's moral – "It doesn't matter at all whether you're first or last, just as long as you try your very hardest" – at frequent intervals throughout.  The kings had a couple of lines and one song.)  Anyway, after some persuasion all round Jamie reconciled himself to being a king.  And a very fine job of it he made, standing up there in his cloak and crown and joining in the lines and the song with the rest, and I wiped away a happy tear or two as I watched.

Katie's nursery had a short sing-song of children's carols and Christmas songs, which Katie had great fun singing around the house for days beforehand, occasionally with the conventional words but more often with her own misinterpretations and/or cheerfully scatalogical changes of the lyrics mixed in.  At one point, collecting the blocks of the marble run I'd been trying to put away, she told me they were food that we had to take to Away In A Manger's house to make the Baby Jesus lie down.  We were supposed to put her in a Christmas-themed costume, but when Barry found an angel costume in Sainsbury's for her she insisted she wanted the ballerina one instead – I came up with the idea of putting her in that and saying she was the fairy on top of the Christmas tree, but, when I told Katie that plan, she insisted that she was a ballerina.  And, no, not the Sugar Plum Fairy either (my next idea) – a ballerina.  (I did not succeed in explaining to her that the Sugar Plum Fairy is danced by a ballerina.)  So, a ballerina she was – I figured (correctly) that no-one was going to turn her away from the nursery carol concert because her costume was inadequately Christmasy to be allowed in.  Anyway, it was better than Buzz Lightyear, which had been her initial suggestion.

On the day itself, Katie squealed in delight at all the new Duplo she could add to her collection and sneaked Pringles and chocolates throughout the day, and Jamie accepted his new gifts with equanimity and spent the day playing his various electronic games both new and old.  And I enjoyed my time off, dived into my stack of new books, and am feeling quite refreshed and at least somewhat ready to face whatever the new year may bring.

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