This summer has been very different, and long.
My head injury forced an early start to the holiday – 4 weeks early, making my annual retirement training quite realistic indeed. Once I was on the mend Carol and I were lucky enough to be able to take on the challenge of walking the North Norfolk Coastal Path.
I really didn’t know if we’d be able to do it – we hadn’t put that many miles of preparation in, so would our feet and legs be up to the task? I decided that this challenge would place us under absolutely no pressure whatsoever, because we both agreed that when we’d had enough of walking, we’d simply catch a bus to our hotel and have a rest.
So we dropped our son off for his activity holiday near Cromer, dropped the car off, then got the bus back to Hunstanton to begin our 4 day walk.
In short, the walking was wonderful – 10+ miles a day of marshland, beach, forest and the prettiest of villages. The coastal path is a great introduction to long distance walking – no hills, easy navigation (keep the sea on your left) and a tail wind the WHOLE way! This whole experience was a great therapy for my poorly head, since each day I had nothing to do except walk to the next B & B. I would recommend this to anyone wanting a bit of a challenge, or just a bit of peace and quiet.
The peace and quiet accompanied us every day, which gave us a great chance to just talk and talk, in a way that just doesn’t seem possible in the hustle and stresses of every day life. We talked about our son a lot, and decided to make some changes. Honesty time … frank admissions coming up …
I have reflected on how other people deal with difficulties, and I know one person in particular who seems to be able to have a positive take on everything. She’s a positive wizard, but not in a sickly not-really-real way – she really does seem to ‘always look on the bright side of life’. We haven’t always been like that with our adopted son, Anders. Although I teach psychology, that doesn’t make me an expert carer. His autism so often comes as a surprise to me. I wanted to adopt because I thought we could make changes, add to a child’s life, fix them and send them into adult life more equipped as a consequence of our good parenting. I didn’t realise that good parenting of a child with special needs requires far more skills and resources than I could have anticipated. I hate that – as a teacher I’m used to stepping up, taking control and making things happen, so when I see that I’m not making anything happen, I get grumpy and fed up. We cannot fix Anders – I cannot teach him about social norms and expectations, because his brain prevents him from recognising the importance of this, and yes, sometimes I get cross with him. Yes, I know, he has a disability and its like telling off someone with one leg for not keeping up, but I warned you this was honesty time …
So on our walk we talked about not trying to teach him anything else about social interactions. When he’s rude, or selfish, or defiant or showing any other socially inappropriate behaviour we will ignore it. But we also look hard for that one tiny bit of positive and praise him for that. That way he doesn’t get negative vibes, only positive – classic behaviourism. We both realised that this was basic stuff, but somehow we’d lost sight of this key principle and we were both very committed to the new regime. We even devised code words to help us to remind each other during a future challenging encounter to remember Norfolk, to stop, calm down and look for the positive.
We wanted to apply these principles to ourselves as well. Its so easy to fall into the ‘poor us’ space when we have difficulties and problems. Sometimes I can wallow in my misery of how hard it is for us … but all that really does in the end is lower morale for all of us. I have to look to my role model and look on the bright side, work the problem – don’t winge.
So we arrived at Cromer, feeling very proud of ourselves for a fabulous 40+ miles of walking and picked up our son … minus his brand new trainers and his phone charger. This was because no one read or took note of the needs we detailed on his ‘Camper Information’ form and left him to pack on his own. We put our plans into practice right away – don’t winge, be positive, look for the positive and focus on that.
A few days later we were off again – this time he was taking part in a Hunger Games camp down in Bristol, that finished on his birthday. The plan was to pick him up, then stop at my dad’s on the way back up for a family meal to celebrate his birthday. He’d had a fantastic time at his camp so his birthday had gotten off to a good start. A couple of hours later we arrived at my dad’s house where he opened his cards and presents and then the day went downhill.
Anders was very cross indeed that the week’s holiday in Cromer, the Hunger Games camp and his Hull City season ticket was accompanied with Skull Candy, not Beats headphones, that his new season Hull City top didn’t have his name on the back, that his desk light was not something he’d wanted, and his grandad gave him £50 in cash, but not in a present. He was too angry to go for his meal, so took himself off with his birthday money to take public transport 200 miles back to Hull.
I won’t give you a blow by blow account of how I managed to find him at the train station, get him into the car and get us home safely, but I’ll just mention a lasting image I have at this moment of my dad, who is 80 and lives on his own, stood at his door, waving us off and facing a meal at the table for four he’d booked, alone.
Did we look on the bright side? Well I’d kept him safe and got us home – that’s positive. On this occasion he didn’t swear – that’s also positive, and he did actually say “goodbye” to his grandad, and I did actually make a point of praising him for that. But today, I couldn’t shake off the disappointment on Dad’s face as we left. I was caught in between – who matters more, Anders or Dad? And yes, I was a little short with him at dinner time, and yes, I had a little winge to myself and then later a jolly good cry.
The upshot of all this is that I’d failed our new plan at the first hurdle. Well first two, actually, because a few days ago his social worker told us that social services were not going to fund Anders to go to the college of his choice. The outcome of this hurdle will be another blog post altogether, probably, because I suspect we have a big battle ahead.
I have to be careful now, because this blog post has to have a purpose. I have to be careful that this isn’t a “poor me” post … I know it probably reads like that, but that’s not why I’ve written it. I’ve written this because I have no one else to turn to about this sort of stuff, so writing helps me work it out a bit.
I think what today has taught me is that not wingeing is a good goal to aim for, but its okay to feel sad sometimes too. Its like grief – crying is a normal part of grieving, and no one would use the “At least …” phrase when you’re grieving the loss of a loved one. Similarly if I’m grieving because my son did not get BBC at ‘A’ level and is now off to uni, in fact he hasn’t got anywhere to go in September, because the social worker thinks he’s so attached to us he should stay where he is, when in fact I see no evidence of any desire to be with me or lean on me for any support at all … or grieving because the only friends on his Facebook that wished him a happy birthday yesterday were our adult friends … or grieving because I’m rubbish at being a positive wizard … then that’s fine – I can grieve these things without reminding myself that “At least he’s not …” or “At least you can …” Those thoughts can come another time, and come they will, because at least he’s still alive. We both breathed a sigh of relief to have gotten a child of our past their seventeenth birthday.
Therefore I gave myself permission to grieve a bit, but not too much, not to wallow …
So we’ve been working out how to avoid the “you didn’t get me the world” tantrums at Christmas, I’ve written a long letter to the powers that be challenging the social worker’s decision, I have made lots of phone calls to prepare for our battle with the funders in two days’ time, and I have written this post.
And I’m not crying now, either