Month: December 2015

Seeing a need

Wow, it could almost seem as though I’ve given up … but I haven’t 🙂

For a week GGHQ was broadband-and-phone-less due to a fault that needed some vital piece of unavailable kit … it has to be said that some members of the family were less traumatised than others!  For me it was lovely having no calls to answer and no internet to distract me during the day … for the Junior GGs however, it seemed as though the world was ending as we faced dramatic sighs, exaggerated huffs of “How loooong will it take?”, the occasional stomp and even a door slam or two!

Normal service was resumed in time for Christmas day which explains my continued absence … time with Mr GG and the Junior GGs is precious and so the Love Dare and blog were set to the side (but not forgotten!).

As our broadband was slowly fizzling to nothing I was writing about Day 14.  The subject was compassion so, rather than read ahead and write about several days at once I decided to take a break and focus on what compassion means to me.  Now I have an opportunity to write and post I find that I’m scrapping all I’d originally written and starting again!

I guess I would like to think of myself as compassionate but, really, what does that truly mean?  It’s easy to watch something and feel pity, it’s easy to think about bad things that have happened to people and feel sad for them.  But is that compassion?  I don’t think so.  In recent weeks we’ve read and watched countless news reports about flooding here in the UK.  Different areas have been flooded and just yesterday we watched the sad sight of a beautiful old stone bridge in Yorkshire being washed away.  People have been left homeless or had to watch helplessly as their life’s work was washed away.  Heartbreaking.  It’s hard to watch reports like this and not feel something, anything at all.  But is that compassion?  I don’t think so.

I believe compassion spurs us into action.  Talking with a dear friend who lives in Cumbria, one of the areas hit hard with flooding, I was really challenged by listening to her talking about groups of people (from churches and other organisations) getting together to form work parties helping people who had been flooded … so much work has to be done.  The work parties have been helping to strip out old units from kitchens which have been destroyed, helping to salvage anything that can be saved from houses and helping people begin to look ahead.  I heard about people swapping houses so that someone living alone in a family house would move into somewhere smaller leaving their house for a family that had been flooded.  That’s compassion!

To be fair, it’s not always possible to be so practical but there is always something we can do.  I guess compassion is seeing a need around you and reaching out to meet it in some way, by donating time, money or goods or in some other way.  I’ve long been an advocate of practical help … providing a meal if someone is ill or hurt, or sometimes just because you’ve got a feeling that it’s the right thing to do.  I’d totally encourage anyone to follow their instincts … it’s only recently I’ve learned not to be discouraged by others putting me off by saying I’d be in the way because, in my experience, people are generally touched to know that someone is thinking of them.  It’s not for everyone though and I realise that … it’s a personal decision and there is no right or wrong way to display compassion … but I truly believe compassion spurs action.

The dare for Day 14 was to seek out opportunities to display compassion to my boys.  Having extra time has been great because I’ve really been able to consider how things affect each of the boys individually … taking opportunities to bake with a stressed boy or spend time playing MarioKart with a boy feeling lonely (they don’t like me playing MarioKart though, apparently I’m too competitive!) or spend one to one time with a boy upset about something.   It’s not exactly a dare that can be ticked off as ‘done’ … I mean, how can we ever say “Well, that’s all the compassion they’ll need” … it’s a life long process … just as well because I’ve still not cracked it!  I’m a work in progress thankfully.

The thorny subject …

It’s a bit of an unusual day in GG HQ today as one of the Junior GGs wasn’t able to go to school this morning.  I’ve mixed feelings about it … he couldn’t go to school as anxiety and stress about the thought of a school party absolutely overwhelmed him.  It’s the fifth year in a row that this has happened so, to be honest, I was expecting him at home today.  I love days like this though!  It’s not often that any of the Junior GGs are off school and it’s a special treat to have one of them at home like this.

However, this is one of the times that I hate autism.  Hate is such a strong word but it’s the right one for now.  I hate that autism makes my beautiful sons struggle with things that many of us take for granted.  I hate it when people say “He doesn’t look autistic”.  I hate being accused of labelling my sons when, in actual fact, all I’m doing is trying to ensure that they get the best support available to ensure they have the best opportunities to do whatever it is they want to do in life.  I hate when people hint that the only problem with my sons is bad behaviour and more effective discipline would help.  I hate being classed as a “special needs mum” (but that’s a whole different blog post!).  I hate it when it’s assumed that I know all about autism because I’ve got children on the spectrum when, in actual fact, every single person with autism is as individual as anyone else and all I know is my own sons.  But, most of all, more than anything, I hate seeing my children suffer.

All the things I mentioned have happened to me … the truth is, I didn’t choose to be in this situation.  I didn’t choose to have children with autism but I do and I wouldn’t change them one bit.  There are so many things I love about being the parent of children with autism.  I love my boys’ frankness.  I love their unique perspective on things.  I love that my oldest son has no qualms about ending every phone call to me with “I love you” no matter where he is.  I love that being the parent of children on the spectrum opens my eyes to see the world in a different way.  I love that parenting my children means I have to be creative in my parenting.  I love that my children are secure enough in my love (and their Dad’s) to be absolutely themselves at home, even though the person they present in public can be entirely different.  Yes, maybe I didn’t choose to be in this situation but I thank God every day for the privilege he’s given me (even on the sinking, not swimming days!).

So, today is all about discipline.  Ouch!

Originally I wrote this blog post earlier today and recounted a situation I believe I handled well (quite proud of how it turned out actually) but then the two school boys came home and everything went haywire!  I’ve always felt comfortable in how my children are disciplined.  I thought Mr GG & I were fair in dealing with the boys and doing our best to follow through what we say both in punishment and reward.  However, today, I examined things a wee bit more and I realise that the truth isn’t quite so rosy!

When things are difficult for the boys (like now, leading up to Christmas) I realise that it’s easier to give in than risk a meltdown.  It’s easier to go back on a punishment than face the results.  However, the truth is this is exactly the time when standing firm is what’s needed … a no has to be a no and a yes a yes.  When life is stressful for my lads (well, especially one) then what is needed is to know exactly where the boundaries are.

I’m always (I hope) willing to acknowledge mistakes, I may not like it but I realise that I’ve been wrong lately, I’ve been allowing the boundaries to be moved.  It’s time to tighten up and rethink my approach to discipline.   I’ll keep you posted!

And in answer to what today’s Dare is … it’s to re-examine my approach to discipline … so that’s one to tick off J

 

Generation to generation

I’m taking a wee detour from the Love Dare today … there’s no real reason apart from the fact I’ve been thinking about “family” today.  It has been a quiet, lazy day in the GG HQ and it’s been much appreciated, I’ve enjoyed having time for reflection.

It’s now over fourteen years since Mr GG & I tied the knot.  We’ve had many, many good times along the way sprinkled with heartaches that have, I believe, drawn us closer.  One thing has been missing from our marriage however and that is the presence of my mother-in-law, Pam.

Pam died three years before Mr GG & I became a couple so I never had the benefit of her wisdom or ever really knew her well … I feel the poorer for that.  Anyone who knew my mother-in-law speaks highly of her … she was kind, loving, wise and loved her Lord.

A wee while back Mr GG found a piece of paper somewhere (I think in his Mum’s Bible but I’m not altogether certain about that) on which she’d written a list of “sayings” … it’s been stuck on the wall in our kitchen for months but now I think it’s time to record her words … a piece of paper is easily lost!  So, here goes:

  1. Make the best of all that comes and the least of all that goes.
  2. Children need models more than they need critics.
  3. Only a child can catch a raindrop or see any value in puddles.
  4. Don’t count your years … make your years count.
  5. If a man sees both sides of a problem you know that none of his money is tied up in it.
  6. The reason a dog has many friends is because he wags his tail instead of his tongue.
  7. Some people live by the “sheep syndrome” – nobody wants to be first to do anything.
  8. The great pleasure in life is doing what people say you can’t do.
  9. Success comes in cans, not in can’ts.
  10. Giving our best today is the recipe for a better tomorrow.
  11. So often we seek a change in our conditions, what we need is a change in our attitudes.
  12. Why can’t life’s big problems happen when we are teenagers and know everything?
  13. What you see often depends on what you are looking for.
  14. As I grow older I pay less attention to what people say, I just watch what they do.
  15. Happiness consists not in possessing much but in being content with what we possess.
  16. How well you like hard work often depends on whether you are doing it or paying for it.
  17. The trouble with experience is that it usually teaches you something you didn’t really want to know.
  18. Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.
  19. Ideas bring in nothing unless carried out.
  20. A house is built by human hands, a home is built by human hearts.
  21. More knowledge enters your head through open ears than through an open mouth.
  22. There are two lasting bequests we can give our children, roots and wings.
  23. One of the greatest labour saving devices of today is tomorrow.
  24. The vision to see, the faith to believe and the will to do, will take you anywhere.
  25. You’ll be happier if you give people a bit of your heart than a piece of your mind.

My mother-in-law had a heart for her family and for the people around her … that, I believe, is clear in the sayings that she felt were important enough to record.   I love having this little bit of Pam’s wisdom in my home … I feel sad that I didn’t know her but like to think that she has an influence on my life none-the-less.

Building up

Not long ago the telephone rang and, recognising the number, I realised it was a call from our school.  I’m sure most parents will appreciate that sinking feeling before answering as they wonder if someone is ill or hurt but I was relieved that the call turned out to be about something pretty trivial which was easily dealt with.  The call ended in a lovely way, with the form teacher telling me what an amazing boy my son is, how much all the children in his class love him, how they see him as their mascot and take delight in looking out for him … in our secondary school form classes are vertical which means that there are children from each year group in the same class … I think it’s a brilliant arrangement and I’m thankful that it’s working out so well.

Anyone who knows me will know that I’m immensely proud of my sons, all three of them.  I think they’re amazing boys who take the difficulties they have with life and do their very best to work round them.  I constantly try to reassure my lads that there is nothing they can’t do … their route may be different to some other peoples’ but they can do anything at all.

This year has been incredibly difficult for my oldest son.  He’s faced the transition from primary to secondary education including uncertainty (pretty much right up until the end of primary school) about which secondary school he would go to.  He’s taken everything in his stride, adapted to the changes with seeming ease and is loving the challenges and adventures that his new school is offering him.  He’s embracing the extra-curricular activities and has joined a variety of clubs (variety being the key word!) and is smiling and chatting to everyone he meets.  He’s amazing!

Today’s subject has been encouragement.  This is one of my favourite subjects as I’ve got a real bee in my bonnet about encouragement and how often we choose to exercise our gifts of discouragement rather than practising the art of encouraging and building each other up.

As with any parent there have been many times I’ve had to rebuke my children but I make a point of telling the boys that what they’ve done has been bad or wrong rather than telling them that they’re bad or wrong themselves.  How easily we can give children a confused image of themselves if we tell them they’re bad when they do something naughty and then tell them they’re good if they do the right thing.  I’ve always focussed on the act being naughty or good rather than the person … I’m not sure if that makes any sense but, in my head, it’s clear as crystal!  Apologies if I’m rambling 😉

Years ago I read an article which suggested trying to give two positives for every negative.  That’s fine in theory but, in practice, it’s not always so easy.  I don’t mean that it’s hard to find two positives but rather that the situation doesn’t always allow for that practice.  However, I’ve made a point of praising my children for something every day, it’s pretty easy as I’ve been given the gift of amazing children who give me many occasions to praise them.  I’ve always made a point of telling the boys that I’m grateful they’re in my life and I’ve often prayed with them (as well as privately) thanking God for them.  I have to balance that by admitting that there have also been many occasions when I’ve cried out to God for the strength to carry on and be the Mum that he wants me to be and there have been more than a few occasions when I’ve felt like throwing in the towel and feeling convinced that I made a mistake thinking I could ever be a half-decent parent.

Today’s dare is a cinch however … I’ve to commit to mention positive attributes to each of my children every day for the next week!  I can do that!  I’ll not always record them here but today I’m commending my youngest son for his helpful attitude towards other people, my middle son for overcoming his anxiety about a difficult day at school today and my oldest son for understanding and accepting that things don’t always work out the way he wants.  In innumerable ways, I’ve been blessed far beyond anything I could ever deserve and, for that, I give thanks to God.

Lessons, lessons, lessons

A few months ago our family was completed (note Mr GG, that means no more pets!) by the arrival of two fluffy kittens named Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia.  These bundles of fur have pretty much kept us on our toes ever since and are barely tolerated by our resident black panther, Slinky Malinky who still mostly greets them with a hiss and a swipe!

However, a few days after the kittens arrived Junior GG No3 was telling a lady in our church about them and invited her to come and meet his new pets.  To my eternal delight this lovely lady, not wanting to break a promise to my lad, then phoned to make a date to visit.  Junior GG & I had a chat about how Mrs W was his guest and he had to look after her when she visited.  My boy did me proud.  Not only did he make his guest a jam sandwich when she arrived but he also gave her a curly straw for her coffee!

The actions of my son warmed my heart … I love having visitors to our home and I love entertaining (by cooking, not singing … that would be painful to all involved) so to see him taking his role as host so seriously was just lovely.

Today’s subject in the Love Dare is teaching.  It’s a subject that interests me.  I would have loved to home-school the boys but given the social difficulties that two of my lads have we felt it was better for them to be interacting with other children as much as possible.  The danger, for us, of home-schooling would have been that the boys became more isolated and less able to socialise.  I’ve never regretted that decision although I miss them and always count down to holidays (as of today we’ve got 9 more school mornings until the Christmas holidays … hooray).  The boys have all, at times, suggested that I teach them at home but when I reminded them I’d be there 24/7 and they’d not get any holidays (haha) they soon changed their minds!

However, school aside, there is so much I can teach my children.  Life skills, Bible knowledge (my favourite is still the time we taught them about the armour of God and had a life size drawing of a man on the wall … the boys called him Ryan!), caring for one another (just like looking after guests!) and so much more.  I love having the boys in the kitchen with me helping to bake and although we’re still working on it, they’re getting better at using the vacuum cleaning and washing machine (mind you, I still double check there are no nasty surprises hidden amongst their white shirts!).  My instinct is to do everything for the boys … a couple of reasons are behind that, it’s quicker and, well, I just want to look after them … but it’s not in their best interests for me to do that.

Mr GG has a big role in teaching the boys and there are few things I love more than to watch Mr GG and one of the boys working together on some project or other.  I love how they look to him for guidance, how they watch what he does and try to copy him.  There’s something so very special about seeing a father and son together.

So, today’s dare was to make two lists of things I can teach my children.  The first is a list of Life Skills and the second a list of Life Lessons.  The lists are started but I’ve a feeling that there will be lots of adding to and crossing things off for a considerable time!

I’m now more than a quarter of the way through the Love Dare and I’m enjoying it.  I’m learning and feeling encouraged by having some of my parenting ideals reaffirmed to me.  As with many things, however, I’m taking from it what I believe is applicable to me and my family but it’s an individual journey and I’d recommend it.

Mind your manners!

Being a naturally anxious person I’ve a tendency to fixate on things … I could easily become obsessed with completing the Love Dare each day and I’m making a conscious effort not to do that, I want to take my time and do it properly rather than rush through and miss out on learning more.  Therefore, the guilty feeling that I’ve not been reading and “daring” for the past few days is being squashed down and (nearly) shoved behind me.

Recent days have been busy … I’m not alone in that.  December is a busy month for most people … shopping to be done, parties to go to, shopping to be done, nativities to watch, carol services to go to, shopping to be done, presents to wrap, shopping to be done, cards to write, food to eat and, of course, shopping to be done!  Sometimes it’s hard to keep focus on what Christmas is all about.

Yesterday was lovely … it turned into a shopping relay … I spent the morning in Glasgow with my mother, sent her on her way on the train just before lunch then waited for my dad (lovingly known by me as “The Old Boy”) to get off another train so he & I could do the whole thing again!  It’s fair to say that Mum & I were much more successful shoppers than Dad & I who spent more on tea breaks than anything else!

Yesterday was, also, yet another day when the overwhelming responsibility of being a parent and the sheer physical exhaustion of being “the adult” felt like it was too much for me.  It was a day when I looked at the Love Dare and thought, “Nope, I’m not cut out for this”.  Then I realised (when I felt calmer) that it’s exactly for people like me … people like most of us who, as parents, are all too aware of the ways in which we fail and just want to do whatever we can to do the best job possible.  Everything that could go wrong in my parenting did go wrong yesterday morning … the end result was lots of apologies, cuddles and tears!  But I felt just like this:

 

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So, it was somewhat ironic that today’s reading is about manners!  It’s hardly very mannerly for a mother to freak out because her children have put their jumpers on back to front (two of them … v-necks no less … and we were running late … and it was at the end of a long line of events … that’s my excuse anyway!).

As parents we are an example to our children, they watch, listen and learn … quite scary isn’t it?  I try to be a good example but then the crazy inside me comes out and all the good work is shot down in flames!  It has been helpful having a reminder that the responsibility for the manners of the Junior GGs lies firmly with Mr GG & I as parents … all manners, from table manners, to how we interact with people, to learning what is appropriate or inappropriate.

Living with autism brings its own challenges when it comes to manners.  Things that many of us treat as second nature take a lot more effort.  One of the Junior GGs struggles with fine motor skills so eating with a knife and fork is something that he really struggles with and, if he thinks he can get away with it, cutlery is discarded and fingers it is!  Another Junior GG struggles with talking to people and tends to face a wall to talk rather than look at someone (especially someone he doesn’t know well) … this is often perceived as rude and whilst Mr GG & I understand that he can’t help this we’re trying to teach him ways of coping with facing people as he talks with them (even if he doesn’t look at them directly, to be facing them is a huge step).

Unfortunately today’s dare is one that I just don’t get … holding a “manners night”.  I don’t really get this … I can’t teach my children manners just by sitting talking to them.  Of course Mr GG & I talk to the boys about manners but we do it as occasions arise and all three boys behave impeccably at times.  However, I honestly think if I said to them “Right, we’re going to have a manners night this evening” they would fall about laughing, then eagerly give examples of what they shouldn’t be doing … I’ve no doubt it would soon descend into a frenzy of burping and, well, …

 

Cherish the love, cherish the life …

Cherish!  That’s the subject for today … cherishing our children.  ‘Cherish’ is a word I use fairly often, I talk about cherishing each moment and I strive to cherish the Junior GGs just as they are so it was very encouraging to read something reminding me that I’m doing the right thing!

The journey to becoming parents wasn’t straightforward for Mr GG and I.  I know many, many others face similar heartaches on their journey and, for some, the journey is much longer and more arduous often having a different outcome but, in our case, I believe that the trials we faced made me much more appreciative of my children and much more determined to cherish parenthood (probably the reason I’m undertaking the Love Dare).

I love my boys so very much.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all hearts and flowers and perfect home in the GG HQ.  Quite the opposite.  I find living as the sole female in our home can be beyond frustrating at times (especially in the bathroom!!!) although if I complain I’m put in my place and reminded that one of the cats and both the guinea pigs are female J.  I also find living with autism can be completely overwhelming.  I wouldn’t change the Junior GGs for anything, I love their quirks and I love the unique insight that they have on life but it has trials that I’m not prepared to write about in depth right now.  We can present as a tight family bond (and we are, very much so) but the stresses of the world often spill out in the safety of home where there is utter confidence that no matter what happens, love is unconditionally given … it’s a privilege to be in this position, to know that out child is so secure that he can truly be himself … but there are times it doesn’t feel like a privilege and that’s where the work of cherishing my children truly starts.

Today’s dare was to choose a gesture that says “I cherish you” for each of the boys.  Easy-peasy!  Or was it?  I’m quite a gesturer (is that even a word?) … I like to put my hand on the boys’ shoulders and tell them something that’s good about them, I like to give a random hug as I’m passing, or tickle them unexpectedly … that’s just me.  To be honest, I’m not the most huggy of people, I don’t particularly like hugging people that I don’t know well or am not that comfortable with … but I do love to hug people I care about, I never, ever see my parents without giving them a hug and kiss (and I really, really hope that my boys grow up to be the same with me).  So, today’s dare wasn’t as easy as I expected because I wanted it to mean something but I think I succeeded … I guess you’d need to ask the boys to know for sure though!

Holding Hearts

The Bible tells me that if I live in God’s presence I can rest in his shadow.  It’s a verse that I turn to again and again, especially at times like this when life feels horribly busy and my tendency towards anxiety is harder to stamp down.  There’s nothing like curling up in my bed at the end of the day and reminding myself that rest is available to me, that God’s shadow is protecting and guarding me, that the (often ridiculous) fears and worries that I have can be given to him and I can sleep … it’s not automatic though, I still have that inbuilt desire to hold on to my anxiety, to feed and nurture it like some beloved household pet … I’m learning to let go but, like my striving to become a better parent, the path is long and not without its stumbles.

So, it’s been three days since I last wrote my blog.  I’m on Day 8 now and already it looks like I’m hesitating … but I’m not … my anxiety, however, is fighting to take control and it’s a tough battle, this is a big stumble!!  The truth is that the past few days have been busy, very busy.  On Tuesday evening I had the privilege of hosting a wee party for some friends … there was lots of laughter and chatter, so much so that Son No2 came downstairs to announce that he couldn’t sleep with so much nonsense going on!  He makes me smile, tact isn’t exactly one of his strengths, he says it like it is and, oh boy, he can show me up at times but he’s just so funny … and he knows it, there was a wee gleam in his eye as he rebuked us on Monday evening and eyed up the cakes!

Now, my friends visited on Tuesday so I guess that means I could have written on Monday?  I did read on Monday, I made sure I took the time to … but then all good intentions fell to the wayside.  Have you ever noticed, maybe I’m alone in this, just how suddenly your home looks tatty when you know that you’ve got visitors coming?  It’s easy to live with that missing strip of wallpaper usually but when folk are coming to visit …. well … (if you want the story behind the wallpaper then I’d suggest you speak with the kittens … probably mainly Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker isn’t quite so guilty!).

That’s the first two days taken care of.  Yesterday was a special day … Mr GG took a day’s holiday from work and we spent the day doing Christmas shopping and just enjoying being out and about together.  Time as a couple is so precious when you have children.  Time as a family is invaluable and I treasure it but it’s lovely to be just Mr & Mrs GG sometimes.

Anyway, excuses out of the way I’ll update on Day 8.  This day focusses on winning the hearts of our children.  When they’re really little that is a relatively easy thing to do but as they get older winning and keeping their hearts becomes harder and more complicated.  As Son No1 gets older there are more occasions when conflict arises … his desires aren’t always the same as mine or Mr GGs … his request to go and “hang out” at the park or on a street corner (I kid you not, that has been suggested!) at 9pm is not something I’m likely to encourage or agree to, especially taking into account some of the additional difficulties he faces.  It’s a learning curve for sure but letting go and keeping hold of his heart … it’s tough!  I’m learning too that keeping hold of the hearts of each of my sons takes a different approach … just as they are individual in the ways that they receive love and affection, they are individual in how I relate to them.

The Dare for Day 8 was to spend time individually with my children, to ask him if he was hurt or angry with me in any way and to talk about how he and I could grow closer.  I haven’t completed this dare yet, I’m aiming to complete it this afternoon when they come home from school … our advent activity today is to make paper chains so, as we work, I’ll get the opportunity to have some one to one time with each of the boys.  I’m looking forward to this challenge … although I must be careful when I talk about holding their hearts … the literal minds might find that slightly disconcerting!