Pity The Parents Whose Boomerang Children Have Been Forced Back Home By COVID-19

One aspect of COVID-19 that is rarely mentioned on the news is the impact on families who – due to recent job losses – have had grown children return back home.

Some of you, I imagine, view the bounce back home of our Boomerang Generation as an opportunity to rebuild relationships, fatten them up and dry them out as one of the few advantages of this lurgy, but for others who have children like our second-born, Kurt, the predicament is a little more complicated.

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

Some of you might remember Kurt – our ADHD, larger-than-life adult, son from my earlier blog posts – because he was one of the main inspirations for this blog. He was the child who launched so many parenting curveballs at us on his journey through the teenage years that eventually – approximately one year and twenty-eight days ago – he left us no choice but to evict him for his and our safety and for the sake of our own mental health.

We didn’t evict him, really. Fortunately, around the same time we decided that the only course left open to us was to leave the country, our son decided that he’d had his fill of us as well, which made it a darn sight easier to convince him to that independent living was a blast.

Anyway… four moves later, after several fraught dealings with landlords, numerous police visits, a tenancy record, and a steep learning curve when it comes to budgeting, I will admit that the experiment has been an interesting, if not convincing one.

Suffice it to say, our boy gave it his best shot, but once the restrictions COVID-19 were enforced and he lost his job (in hospitality), it was impossible not to notice the deterioration in his mental health caused by his isolation with only four walls for company for the foreseeable future.

Kids like Kurt need to talk connection, which is why (like many families out there facing similar difficult choices at the moment) we’ve made the tricky one to bring him home. Emotional ramifications aside, he can’t realistically live on benefits and pay the high rent still expected by Sydney landlords during this virus – however generous the government has been – and from our own financial point-of-view, his rental offering will help us buy toilet roll should it ultimately find itself the black market.

He would agree that our renewed cohabitation is not an ideal solution, but he assures us that he is not the same boy who left home a year ago. Hence, new rules have been agreed, boundaries reinstated, and the lock has been taken off the bar.

Needless to say, it’s hard not to feel anxious about this change when some distance had improved our relationship with our son, but I am trying to stay positive. I’m endeavouring not to show my resentment at having to sacrifice my bedroom – our choice – in an attempt to maintain our sanity. Anyone who knows someone with ADHD will understand that some of them are huge personalities with a tendency to be nocturnal, so a relatively self-contained space of the house seemed like a sensible option.

And noise was a driving factor in our Kurt’s original decision to leave. Our son is naturally exuberant, musical, and (I can only assume) partially deaf – although unfortunately his musical knowledge does not seem to stretch to the term sotto voce. Added to which, he has inherited my father’s Chris Hemsworth baritone voice that gets louder whenever he is excited – which is often – like a puppy dog. By locking him down providing him with a self-contained room, the hope is that his nightly visits down our creaky stairs to raid the fridge, use the laundry, play guitar or to organise a rave for the neighbourhood kids should be restricted.

Inevitably, there have already been casualties: the dog has lost her leftovers; there are some mysterious new drink stains on the carpet; and the addition of a hideous pink velvet retro armchair to my Hamptons living area. There was also a skateboarding accident that in normal times should have received proper medical attention, a disastrous midnight head shave into a Mohican, and a noticeable twitch in my left eye each time I hear the theme tune to Endgame.

I love my son and I can see that Kurt is trying his best to behave like a normal human being, but for us sleep is probably the biggest issue caused by his return back home. It has meant that the old man and I have been forced to share the marital bed again, and while I have tried to put on a brave face about it – by justifying my stoicism as a necessity of this war – there is a limit to the number of times I can listen to him toss, turn and sniff in bed next to me without feeling the desire to stab him.

WTF is wrong with some men? And why are we letting them get away with it?

I’ve reached a point where I hardly dare open the news apps on my phone each morning. Not because it is necessarily bad, but because of the increasing number of stories about men murdering, belittling and shaming women (or others that oppose their views).

Found on Pinterest from movemequotes.com

I dread to think how this news is impacting our kids. Cross that: I know exactly how it is affecting our kids.

I believe wholeheartedly in freedom of speech – obviously – but like so many of life’s more obscure areas, I also believe that its parameters can’t be set in stone – particularly when it comes to a democracy in which each of us (supposedly) has a voice.

For example, there is a level and a tone of speech that is acceptable to me when it comes to the personal opinions of others. Let’s call it a tolerance level – where Israel Folau and white supremacists don’t register, and Alan Jones is maybe a 1 – purely so we can analyse and ridicule his verbal twattery.

I write a lot of op-eds, so it would be wrong for me to judge people for having and voicing their opinions, but even I draw a line in the sand when it comes to my moral code when writing. I would like to believe that others will show a similar respect. I’ll give you an analogy: In the same way that no one is forcing devout Christians and Catholics to have abortions once the law in NSW is updated, I do not condemn them for their outdated opinions.

Sadly, that gene or part of the brain is missing in many men in the public eye, who like the sound of their own voices and appear to have forgotten the weight of responsibility they carry. Even worse is the number of media channels that condone their vile hate speech by using the freedom of speech argument – when we all know that what it is really about is clickbait and money.

Like children who misbehave for attention, the vitriolic words of these men who get off on bulling a sixteen-year-old for her views on climate change, who insinuate that a sex worker is somehow deserving of her murder, or who suggest putting a towel down the throat of a woman to shut her up – and a respected, female world leader at that – are not ones that we should be endorsing in these progressive times, in much the same way that we don’t sensationalise the murderers of women by disclosing their names.

I am watching the SBS series, “The Hunting” at the moment – a chilling awakening about the power of social media in the wrong hands, particularly in relation to the shaming of women. Frankly, the ramifications of such abuse are quite terrifying and this series highlights again the need for this growing sense of entitlement among SOME of our young men to be addressed, or the number of murders of women, such as Michaela Dunn’s, will continue to increase.

As the mother of young adults, I know a thing or two about the shaming and hounding of girls in school and afterwards, and at the root of the problem is often privilege – and primarily, the privilege of being a man, (and more often than not) being white and middle-class.

As this series points out, it is not the girls that we should be teaching how to behave, it is the boys and their mentors who need to be taught how to respect them. By endorsing men like Alan Jones, there is very little chance of that ever happening.

John Marsden has a point: Let’s strive to build our kids’ resilience, rather than trying to turn them into something they’re not

Many of you won’t be aware of this, but quite a large chunk of my career has been spent in education – working with kids with special needs. At the beginning of this year, I returned to the field to become the co-ordinator of a new after-school care facility.

Child sitting in a tree with her doll.
Photo by Vivek Doshi on Unsplash

Last week, we completed our first week of vacation care. For reasons of confidentiality, I can’t tell you too much about what happens on the job, but what I can share is the wonderful experience of working in a progressive school, ie. the type of school that encourages the type of childhood that most of us Generation Xers experienced – with its focus on outdoor play and exploration, and the inherent dangers therein.

While I try not to waste too much time reflecting back on my own parenting fails these days, it’s hard to ignore the ongoing evidence of the relationship between our kids’ deteriorating mental health and “helicopter parenting”. The link has made me think about how I would do things differently if I had my time again.

The school in which I work is a green, progressive school, set in beautiful, lush grounds in the bush where the kids spend much of their day, with the option not to wear shoes – apart from during funnel web season, when (obviously) I wear full body armour. And the focus is on learning through exploration and play, using nature as the primary resource for teaching. Technology is used minimally and the culture of the school is based is on kindness and respect.

I have never seen happier, more fulfilled children. Perhaps, because there are fewer rules, but most likely because they have the freedom to explore and take control of their own learning. That approach makes it the perfect setting for kids of different abilities and the responsibility it encourages boosts their self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities. It is such a privilege to watch them make up their own games and then extend them, and to work out their own problems. During after-school care, they sit together and play board, construction and card games, they colour in, they play together outdoors, they craft out of recycled materials, and even help cook their afternoon tea. Some of them are happy to simply sit and read a book.

While it is a child-centred environment – there are still expectations in terms of behaviour and respect for our resources, of course, but most of the time the kids sort out their own issues among themselves because they are encouraged to problem-solve at every stage of their learning.

As you can imagine, I was horrified in my interview for the job when I found out that the children were encouraged to climb trees and retrieve balls from snake-infested bushes. Hence, I have been forced to learn how to keep my own anxiety in check. As my supervisor explained to me, if a kids falls out of a tree and breaks their arm, they won’t climb as high the next time.

Humorous meme.
Found on Pinterest from http://www.shopatartworks.com

Raising my own kids, I know that I was guilty of the type of “helicopter parenting” that educator and author, John Marsden, talks about in his new book, The Art of Growing Up, so with this new responsibility I have been mindful of my need to relax and let go more. John worries about the effects of this parenting on the resilience of our children. ‘When I hear parents say ‘I want my children to enjoy their childhood; there’ll be time when they’re older to learn about those things’, I hear the voices of those who are scared of the vastness of the universe. These adults have a view of childhood as some kind of discrete interval, rather than just a few years from the continuum of life. How fortunate that the spirit, courage and curiosity of many young people remain largely undefeated by such adults.

One of the points he raises is the danger of putting our kids in a bubble to “protect” them from outside influences, which means that once they grow up and enter the real world they are unable to cope with its demands. Worryingly, when he interviewed a group of children and asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, many said that they didn’t want to grow up at all.

Of course, backing off and letting children with special needs like Kurt fail isn’t quite as straightforward. It is important to advocate for them at every step of their education, but towards the end of Kurt’s schooling I had learned not to sweat the small stuff and to pick my battles in relation to homework and lost uniform, a change that has stood me in good stead for this job – particularly on the days the kids make slime and potions, or when I catch one of them at the top of a tree!!!

But, perhaps, my enjoyment of this more relaxed approach to childcare has something to do with my appreciation for less drama in my own life right now, as well as my personal appreciation of nature and mindfulness that has developed with middle age. This new simplicity to how I live my life, boosted by my greater respect for nature, is empowering. And it is so much more fulfilling than the exhausting drive of my thirties and forties that I see evident in modern parenting, where parents are continually striving to turn their kids into something they’re not.

Mothers: Admit It, We Never Stop Worrying About Our Kids

Mothers, be careful with those little comments you drop into the conversation each time you see your adult kids (who have left home) and look like they haven’t eaten a square meal that month.

You know the type – How much fruit are you eating? ARE YOU EATING? You’re looking a bit pale, or How firm are your stools? The type that all of us mums just can’t help ourselves from asking.

Well, take my advice and shut the f..ck up, because those comments could come back to haunt you. Such is my fate since I foolishly peered into my son’s fridge and made an innocent comment about his beer diet.

‘Well, I was thinking…’ he replied the other night when he came around to ours for what looked like his first feed this month, (having obviously decided that this was the perfect window of opportunity for some long overdue Mum -manipulation), “that maybe you could deliver me a care package, once a week, for those difficult days leading up to pay day?’

‘What does a care package entail?’ I asked naively.

‘You know…a batch of Shepherd’s Pie, Bubble and Squeak – I’ll even eat your Lasagne if I have to. Something I can knock up easily myself…’ Ie. In his frying pan, which happens to be the only pan in his unit.

‘Perhaps you need to learn some money management,’ I replied wryly, fully aware of how he prioritises the half of his earnings that don’t go on rent.

‘Perhaps you need to remember that you were young once too,’ he reminded me with that twinkle in his eye that he knows makes me melt at the knees.

And he has got a point. I spent a considerable part of my twenties on the Marlboro and hot chip diet, and it’s not like I’ve got anything better to do in between my three jobs and nagging my husband (!). Of course I can sacrifice a few hours a week slaving away in the kitchen to make sure that my twenty-one year old little boy doesn’t waste away.

But just putting this out there – no one bought me care packages.

So, anyway, call me a “Sad-Fuck-Of-A-Helicopter-Parent, but three Shepherds Pies were dutifully delivered to the next suburb on Saturday afternoon, along with step-by-step instructions for how to heat them up. Of course, the old man refused to have any part of what he calls my “pathetic enabling”, although he did mention that if there were any leftovers, he’d have one instead of salmon on our next fish night.

‘Where are my care packages,’ NC grumbled in a text when she sniffed signs of sibling favouritism from the city.

And so, it appears that the old man was right about one thing and wrong about another. He was wrong when he told me that no one really likes my home cooking – as was the dead fox outside our bins all those years ago that I have been reminded about after every one of my cooking fails. But he has been right all of those millions of times when he has said that I will never stop worrying about our kids.

Whereas, he appears to be coping quite admirably.

Why I Cried In A Star Is Born

For those of you who know me and my need to spew verbal rubbish at least twice a week as a means of therapy, you might have guessed that my past few weeks of silence has nothing to do with laziness or writers’ block.

However, this time, it is not my story to overshare. Instead, I want to talk to you about “A Star Is Born”, because it is rare for me to cry in a movie.

Admittedly, I cry each time I watch “Terms of Endearment” – who doesn’t? – but usually, I’m pretty hardcore when it comes to movies – even tear-jerkers. Be it emotional defensiveness or a block, I am lucky that a history of brutal initiation ceremonies at boarding school, a family tree that resembles the Ewings in “Dallas”, and the numbing effect of anti-depressants for my anxiety – all contribute to protecting me from the lows.

(I should also point out, in my defense, that – spoiler alert – BRADLEY COOPER DIED in the movie).

But sadly, while those are all highly plausible reasons for my ugly sobs at the loss of that perfectly chiseled and landscaped chest beautiful hunk of a man (and the hero of many a middle-aged woman’s fantasies), in truth, the reason for my public blub was the content of the movie. It was just a little too bloody close to home.

Anyone close to a person who suffers from depression, anxiety or alcohol and substance abuse will understand the sadness and sense of helplessness caused by their struggle.

The devastating effects of these conditions radiate throughout the inner and outer circles of the people close to them, provoking a fear that never truly goes away.

Unfortunately, mental illness is not something that can be fixed as easily or as quickly as a broken limb. Indeed, I am beginning to believe that perhaps it can never be fixed – although some people do learn to manage it.

I am not a psychologist or doctor, but I would like to explain in simple terms the “depression” I have witnessed. Due to a myriad of reasons, there are some people who don’t feel that they can ever be happy or slot acceptably into society. Particularly, a society that expects the same from them as everyone else – that views them as a problem rather than a group of people that need support. Modern society is a meritocracy that is not inclusive to those with a disability, and when these people can’t meet normal expectations, they start to feel inadequate or a burden and they isolate themselves. This is when many of them start to dance freely with the notion of death.

Inevitably, their behavior can leave their loved ones in a perpetual state of fear – a fear that is hard to understand when you look from the outside in. For while there is empathy for people who are physically sick with those illnesses of which we have a greater understanding, such as cancer, there is less for those who suffer with invisible illnesses.

Added to which, the desperation they demonstrate in their behaviors and choices in life is easily misunderstood. For example, a common misjudgment about homeless people is that they are lazy addicts that abuse the system -rather than victims of mental illness, neglect, or abuse, who have hit rock-bottom. Addicts are viewed as the dregs of society or irresponsible pleasure-seekers, rather than people suffering from a disease.

I’ve used the analogy of a game of “Snakes and Ladders” many times when I’ve written about caring for someone in this situation. To support a person that you love to the end of the world and back, who won’t seek professional help, is similar to playing the game. You take ten steps forwards, and just when you think they are finally making progress, they slide back down a snake.

During their better periods, you fool yourself into thinking that this time they will stay well. You pray that the new job, new house or new partner will provide them with the change they need to provide them with the purpose they need to live. But you never breathe freely.

You despair at the way they abuse their bodies as a coping mechanism – which, obviously, it isn’t. You know that they self-harm to feel something – anything – that they drink to forget or to find the courage to function in such an unforgiving world. You know that the alcohol and drugs – the very things they abuse to feel normal – are just a catalyst to greater heartache as you watch them spiral helplessly towards their own self-destruction.

So what can you do?

You can look out for the signs. You can listen to them without judgment. You can empathize. You can remember that depression is not the same kind of sadness that many of us experience from time to time. And yes, it is possible to function with it – which makes it even harder to spot. Eventually, you may have to acknowledge that you may not be able to save them.

If the statistics are to be believed, we have a massive problem on our hands with the number of “troubled kids” and men out there. The choice made by Jackson Maine in “A Star Is Born” is becoming more common as our kids are placed under greater pressure from advanced telecommunication, social media, and fears about their future in terms of climate change and housing. Many of them are reaching their tipping point. When that silent growth of fear linked to not being good enough that has been eating slowly away at them starts to spread – like the Melanoma in those scary skin cancer ads – it distorts the reality of their situation. And ultimately, without the right support – and even WITH the right support – it can lead to devastating, irreversible decisions.

To help prevent these tumors from growing, we need more funding in schools and mental health services. We need greater awareness and better education. Above all, we need more empathy and understanding. So please consider carefully who will best serve the future of our kids when you place your vote at the next election.

For the carers of these people – who love them unconditionally and who for the most part are at a loss for answers or solutions about how best to help them – the fear that they will make Jackson’s choice is all-consuming. That is why I cried in “A Star Is Born”.

9 Reasons Why Empty-Nesting Is So Much Better Than I Expected

Since Kurt left home – the last of our young adults to leave the nest – friends keep asking us how we are coping with our loss, how much we miss him, and whether we’ll get another dog?

Black and white image of young man looking to view of city.
Photo by Caleb George on Unsplash

And my diplomatic answer is a resounding YES – of course, I miss him terribly. The house isn’t quite the same without his raw energy, and I still feel that pull on my heartstrings whenever I notice something he left behind; or that queasiness in my stomach when he doesn’t pick up my calls or return my texts.

But I can’t lie – it is also quite liberating not to have that pile of twenty or so extra towels to wash each week; it is much easier to sleep without earplugs; and I have found this wonderful new window of opportunity of approximately two hours each week when I don’t have to replace toilet rolls.

Most of all, I don’t miss the silent judgment of healthier-than-thou mums in the supermarket as they glance at the Kurt-food in my trolley.

In truth, the old man and are having the time of our life. And while I know that some of you experienced empty-nesters out there will wince at that rather self-centered admission – and I am prepared for those times when I sit down and sob over a guitar pic I discover under the sofa or the hidden box of dinosaur nuggets in the freezer – here are my reasons for it:

  1. Our relationship is better with him now. Luckily for us, he appears to have forgiven us for fucking him up, and, even more amazingly, he appears to want to stay in our lives. We spend short bursts of “quality” time with him now, rather than extended “nagging” time.
  2. The house is really clean and tidy. It’s not that he was a grub – but, well… you know how intolerant you become in middle age about empty glasses left around the house, clothes drying on the back of your favorite chairs, and (did I mention?) permanently empty toilet roll holders. The old man also doesn’t miss Kurt’s free access to his wardrobe, either, and the daily search for a pair of clean socks.
  3. SOME of the anxiety linked to our responsibility to turn him into a responsible adult has gone, along with that albatross around our necks of having to be his role-model all of the time. We can get pissed as farts, watch porn and swear at each other with gay abandon. Hell! We could even smoke weed if we wanted to – strictly for medicinal reasons, obvs. We remain delightfully ignorant of the ingenious ways our child is sticking up his middle finger at society now – hence we are sleeping better. We don’t wake up to the stress of getting him out of bed to go to school or work – he is managing that by himself now – and quite honestly, I hadn’t realized how exhausting “enabling” him was, or what pathetically easy pushovers we were.
  4. Our food shop has halved, which means it takes me about fifteen minutes to zip around Aldi. It also means that with spare dollars to spare, I can sneak into Woollies now and then. The best part is that we can eat what we want!
  5. We can walk around the house in whatever state of deshabille we want. There’s no need to lock doors when we’re in the bathroom. There are no more screams of disgust at the sight of our old, sagging bodies, and best of all, we can nap in the afternoon – without someone prodding us to check if we’re still breathing or what’s for dinner.
  6. We can eat out in nice restaurants again now without having to consider fussy palates or the cost of paying for four adults. We can go out later – after the babies and toddlers have gone home to bed.
  7. The silence is golden. No door-slamming, rapping or sibling arguments.
  8. Our wine and beer stash has a longer lifestyle, as does the loose change in my purse.
  9. We don’t argue about the kids as much or judge each other for how we parent them. We have assumed roles for who deals with which issue when they call – the old man deals with money, while I share my limited advice about cooking and how often to clean sheets – which has always been NEVER unless someone is coming to stay.

This period feels eerily like that rose-tinted stage of parenting right after I gave birth. It is similar to that sense of euphoria I felt as I looked down at the faces of my newborns for the first time and felt so damn grateful and proud that I had got through it. Just before I remembered that the thing in my arms was real and that I couldn’t hand them back when it got too tough or if I changed my mind.

Empty-Nesting: You Know When It Is Time…

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

The old man and I became empty-nesters this week. Kurt has left the building.

I swear he wasn’t pushed. We view our negotiations as closer to a manipulation that made sense – primarily, for him. Not once did we bring up the subject of our sanity in the conversation.

Anyone who has twenty-something-year-old kids still living at home will know that there comes a time. A time when the kids need their space to grow, go wild and make their own mistakes. A time when you need your sleep.

It’s one thing to offer them a roof over their head while they are studying – to improve their career chances – but it’s another to sacrifice your peace when they are in the workforce, with far more disposable income than you’ve had in a very long time, and living the rowdy lifestyle that goes with it.

We have tried to make living together work over the past year – honestly! In some ways, Kurt has tried harder than us, and yet no amount of nagging will make the twenty-one-year-old brain of our son think along the same lines as our fifty-something-year-old brains.

Particularly, an ADHD brain – which I can vouch for because I was that kid that smoked the butts of cigarettes at five in the morning, hitch-hiked across Europe, and strolling into work straight from nightclubs. Needless to say, “the crazy” hasn’t fallen far from the tree in our house.

Fortunately for my father, my period of existentialism happened away from home, with no one to nag me about noise, how often I ate, or the dreaded R-word (responsibility) every five minutes, like a stuck record.

I swear that the word will always be a trigger in Kurt’s life.

I have no idea how long this amazing strike for independence will last. Forever, I hope – for his sake – even though my heart physically hurts when I think about my loss. For all his noise, for all those visits to the police station and suspensions from school, I will miss our boy.

Like any child, he has made an indelible mark on my heart. But in his case I have shared his struggles so viscerally – struggles that have mirrored mine many times – so his departure almost feels as though a part of me is leaving with him.

But this decision is not about me.

When our daughter left, I knew that she was ready. Kurt’s departure is different – he needs to go. For him, for us; perhaps most importantly, for the future of our relationship with him.

I would be proud to say that raising my son has made me a better person, and yet I’ve never pretended to be that “perfect,” selfless stereotype of the mum of the kid with special needs who rose to the challenge. Our journey has been a tough one, and there have been times when I have resented his “different” dynamic in what should have been an ordinary life. ADHD is not an easy condition to live with – for neither the sufferer nor the carer – and it can have a devastating impact on close relationships.

But what I will say is that my son’s presence in my life has made me more conscious of “difference,” and the difficulties of those people that have a “different” brain, who struggle in a society not customized to their needs, that continues to deny their disabilities, and to fall by the wayside. Being Kurt’s mother has made me less discriminatory and an advocate for people like him – work that I am proud of.

Am I more patient? No. But then, this stage of my life is probably not the best time to be judged by my patience levels.

Our boy has only moved up the road, which means that he can pop back, anytime – which he did last night at 1.30am, in search of a clean towel – and we can reach his new unit within five minutes if he needs us. Nevertheless, the three of us know that we need this time. We need time to heal, time to forget the scarring judgments spoken in anger, to repair, and to breathe freely again. We need time apart to remind ourselves of how much we love each other. The old man and I have more than twenty years of sleep to catch up on.

A year ago, I would never have believed that this day would come. A year ago, it felt like a fantasy to think that one day Kurt would hold down a job. A year ago, we feared for our son’s life, or that he might remain fully dependent upon us for the rest of ours.

In those darkest moments, hope and survival are sometimes the only things to hold onto, and one of life’s greatest gifts is the element of surprise. Always remember the healing power of time and its ability to scaffold forgiveness, change circumstances, and people. We are so proud of where Kurt is right now.

Friends, whose kids have already left the family home, have assured me that their relationships with their kids improved once they decamped. And while my relationship with Kurt has always been complicated – intense, symbiotic, and unhealthily enabling at times – I know that deep down both of us need this move to work. Little has remained left unsaid in our relationship. We know each other inside out – for better or for worse – so we know what we mean to each other.

Nevertheless, it is time for our chick to fly.

How To Cope With An Internet Outage With Millennials

bruno-gomiero-94171-unsplashMy sympathies lie with the businesses that were affected by Telstra’s latest outage last week. My own family has been at their mercy for the past two weeks, effectively in lockdown.

Any parent will tell you that there is no greater pain than watching a child suffer, and that is exactly what we have been forced to endure during the outage. While for the old man and myself – hardcore Generation Xers who were brought up on The Famous Five, Cats Cradle, conkers, and – dare I mention – books, it has proven to be more of an irritation than a personal loss, our two young adults have experienced immeasurable grief.

While Kurt’s body has completely lost the ability to function – withdrawal seeing him pace the house like a caged animal to metamorphose into a frightening hybrid of Gollum and the Hulk – NC has refused to come home or return my calls.

And yet, perhaps more terrifying than the sight of two young adults in a perpetual state of despair is the grey pallor and twitching of the parent that is responsible for fixing the problem.

Suffice it to say, the old man has been forced to use his home blood pressure monitor more than usual over this past two weeks. So, when a friend caught him chained to the fencing of the golf club, refusing to go home, and promised him that “cable is three times faster than anything else, mate,” desperation forced his hand and he made an uncharacteristically impulsive decision.

He ordered cable.

In hindsight, I will admit that our expectations were stupidly unrealistic, not helped by the events of the night before during which Kurt managed to use up five precious gigabytes of data within the space of an hour – apparently, that is a lot in data-speak, particularly in a house that prioritizes data over food. So it was with bated breath that we watched cable guy do his ten-minute reconnaissance of our joint and set to work, first in the lounge, and then up a pole on the other side of the street – which foolishly, I interpreted as a positive sign.

And when, finally, he placed the magic card in the old man’s hand with our new passcode – which, it is no exaggeration to say, was the equivalent of Charlie’s golden ticket, (so much so, the old man has since tattoed had the number tattooed his chest) – I can only compare the euphoria to seeing Buble perform his complete collection of Christmas songs live…and naked.

Obviously, being ever the practical one of the family, he held cable guy captive a little longer as he tested and ran through every nuance of the new technology with him, and cable guy was generous enough to humor him, even when he asked some (frankly) very stupid, Generation X type questions.

But I will admit that the sound of my husband’s whoop of joy upon his discovery that the new speed of our new internet thingy, (insert appropriate technological jargon here), far exceeded our expectations was a beautiful thing, comparable I would say to his reaction to the births of our children – although he didn’t do a celebratory lap around the block naked either of those times.

In fact, we remained high on life even when cable guy left our home to save some other poor family in similarly dire straits.

Until, the call from upstairs the wild, that no father wants to hear.

‘DAAAAAAAAAD! The Internet doesn’t work on my phone!’

We are back in lockdown. An immediate state of emergency has been called in which we have hourly meetings to discuss possible emergency action such as new routers, a different bedroom… perhaps even a new house?

I am confident that we will work through this difficult time, folks, but in the meantime, we would be grateful for your prayers.

*Reaches for wine.*

 

I Must Thank My Son For His Mental Illness

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The boy turned twenty-one last week, and while part of me wants to scream and holler with excitement, pride, and relief, the other part wants to sit in a corner, rocking and licking my wounds.

Many of you will be familiar with our journey with Kurt, our son. It was one of the reasons I began to write this blog, and I suspect that some of you follow it because you too have kids with mental health problems. You’ll also know that life with them is not what you signed up for, not by any parenting manual standard.

Some people say that parenting brings out the best in you and there have been times, particularly over the past six years, when I’ve wanted to rip that statement apart, over-analyze it with a few bottles of wine and then say “Fuck You!” because parenting is hard, and because there have been so many times when I have hated the person it has turned me into.

Before I had kids, I believed that being a parent was something I was born to do, and I made the assumption that I would be good at it. That naivety and arrogance have made the past twenty-one years feel like a very long and hard road at times, with its highs and lows, the steps forward and backward, the silent condemnation, and then more steps backward.

I’m not seeking pity or consolation. This is my honest acceptance of some responsibility for our journey, because perhaps if we’d done certain things differently, the outcomes might have changed. But we were amateurs at this parenting lark, carrying baggage from the past and the false expectations of others. And we’ve made it. We’re not out of the woods, but we can see the lights of the pub at the end of the road as we approach the start of the next phase of his life and the signs are that phase horribilis is drawing to a close.

My son is officially an adult, and as I draw the curtains on the past few years, I owe it to him to thank him.

I must thank him for shredding my heart strings and teaching me how vulnerable all of us can be – for which there’s nothing to be ashamed of – and for showing me how strong we can be when needed. This experience has opened my eyes. I have learned and grown from it more than from any other experience in my life and it has inspired me to write, develop compassion, get to know people before I judge them, and to form a concrete understanding of difference, unconditional love, and mental health that I will take with me into every other decision I make. 

This experience has shined a glaring light on what I see now was confusion in my younger years about what really matters.

Some God said that we are only given the stuff we can handle, and there have been times over the past decade when I was certain that I couldn’t handle being my son’s parent – or even why I should. You can lose sight of who you are when you have kids, and when you become the parent of a kid with special needs or a maverick, (or in our case ‘that kid’), there are times when you feel resentful about your needs being usurped by theirs. Instead of triumphs and awards, you get calls from school, the police, and the parents of other kids, and the pressure to keep pretending to be a professional at work (when your home life is falling apart) requires your finest thespian skills.

Not all of us are Mother Theresa types, with their long grey hair, premature lines, and a forgiveness in their heart for whatever shit life throws at them. Some of us lie in bed at night feeling broken, rallying against the unfairness of it all, thinking ‘why me?’

No one could have loved my son more than I have, and yet it’s hard not to think about how he might have fared with parents that were more liberal, or less anxious people than us; who might have come to the party with fewer middle-class expectations and ill-informed judgments. Poor kid. Although with fewer boundaries, who’s to say how he would have turned out.

As a parent, you can only follow your heart and do what you think is right.

At seven, I never thought my son would read and write; at twelve, I never thought he would have any friends; at sixteen, I thought he would kill himself; at eighteen, I thought he would end up in prison; and at twenty-one, I am still worrying – because what mother ever stops worrying about their kids?

But I am so proud of this young man. He has fought his own demons to stay here with us when others have given in, and with his fiery temper and big heart, his abounding energy and gentleness, his optimism in the face of constant rejection and his childish vulnerability, he has shaped me into who I am now – a better person.

And like every mother, I believe that he will go on to do great things – in his own time, (because Kurt has only ever done things in his own time). And I don’t mean GREAT things, necessarily,  I mean that he will do something extraordinary that is unlikely to fit squarely with society’s view of what is great; yet somehow, I have a feeling that it will be memorable.

 

Kids’ Birthday Cakes: Or As I Like To Call It, The Public Shaming Of Mothers That Can’t Bake

Yep, there it is – new evidence of my failure at motherhood in one of its major disciplines – Kurt’s twenty-first birthday cake.

Kids’ birthday cakes have always felt to me like one of the ultimate tests of motherhood; rather like keeping your kids alive when as toddlers they seem hellbent on killing themselves.

In my experience, there is a scale of acceptability when it comes to kids’ birthday cakes if you are a mum that can’t bake. You can either spend a month’s rent on an all-singing, all-dancing, Zumbo-styled, perfectly-themed cake with gold-plating and a chocolate fountain at its epicenter – leaving you feeling like a cheat (and broke), or you can create the type of annual home-made disaster I specialize in and retain some sense of pride. The second option also solidifies your status as worst cook/mother ever.

Lately, my cakes have fallen somewhere in the middle of that scale, and my signature birthday cake has evolved into what I like to think of as a hybrid – as in, half-bought and half-ruined by me.

This year marks my twenty-fourth year of this onerous responsibility, and I have no idea why I continue to feel the need to prove something or to torture myself in this stubbornly idiotic fashion. In general, I am not a stoic, yet for some reason, when it comes to the kids’ birthday cakes I turn into Joan of Arc in the kitchen. 

Needless to say, the only cake Kurt truly remembers from his childhood is the super-expensive, perfectly-iced, fire engine cake that cost me half of my salary for his sixth birthday. Obviously, he has chosen to blank from his memory the amazing skateboard cake with its licorice wheels, and the guitar cake with its licorice strings – (he recently admitted to me that he hates licorice) – or the multitude of sunken sponge cakes, with sinkholes at their center.

Mention of the cake in the lead up to their birthdays provokes an eye-roll from both of my kids, which I have interpreted as a defense mechanism for coping with this annual disappointment. But since they haven’t told me not to bother, and they’re now in their twenties, I can only assume that they must derive an inordinate amount of pleasure from my suffering.

I was certain that Kurt would accept my offer of a shop-bought cake for his birthday this year – an offer made in part to demonstrate the importance of the milestone, and in part to get me off the hook. But, unfortunately, giving Kurt choices is never a good thing. It gave him something else to worry about ahead of what is always an overwhelming day. When I presented him with my Donna Hay Chocolate book and I saw him flick miserably through the pages with a – ‘You choose, Mum – just make it creative’ – I knew I had to take back control.

Anyway, if there’s one thing my kids can guarantee, it’s that their cakes will be creative – although there was that one year when the cake slipped my mind completely…

So I ummed and I ahhed about which cake to make. A large chocolate brownie cake? A red velvet cake? The chocolate candy bar cake I made the previous year – which pre-empted the old man’s brief hospitalization? I knew the cake needed some wow factor, but I wasn’t prepared to risk another lava cake *should have been a sponge cake*. So, eventually, I decided to play safe and create another hybrid – something simple, yet fancy enough to sate mine and Kurt’s creative whims.

The vertically-challenged, Croquembouche materialized – minus the spun sugar, or indeed anything that involved technique or cooking. Coles ready-made profiteroles stuck together with icing; some stick on chocolate stars and gold dust for the wow factor – et voila, a new birthday masterpiece!

Zero shame. Almost.

Car Insurance, Teens, And Just How Far Parental Responsibility Extends

key-791390_960_720Insurance is one of those dirty words that you only have to deal with once you grow up – kind of like calories and tax – and as a serial procrastinator, I always found that it was best left well alone until I needed it. But from my perspective as a parent, it is an issue that gets entangled in the question of how much we continue to support our kids once they become adults – and a tricky one. For as much as we want to support their growing independence, in certain areas such as car and health insurance, the penalties for youth are unfavorably high and that decision may not necessarily be the right one, for any of the parties involved. 

Married to an accountant, I’ve never been given a free hand with the administration of our personal finances, (nor have I ever had very much money to spend), but we have taken a stereotypically gender-based view of who deals with which insurance. I tend to sort out the house stuff because I know exactly how much our eighteen-year-old Ikea furniture is worth (sobs), while he has adopted car and health insurance.

Insurance becomes super-complicated once your kids pass their driving test, as anyone with young adult drivers in the house will testify. Super-complicated, as in super-fucking-stupid-expensive, and while on the one side, you want to encourage their independence, (in the vain hope that they’ll move out quicker), on the other, you’re not sure why you have to remortgage the house for them to trash your car. 

If you looked too closely at the statistics of accidents caused by young, inexperienced drivers, you’d never let them get behind the wheel of a car (and certainly not your own). And while the statistics for young adults are terrifying, the statistics for young adults with ADHD are Roseanne Barr-on-Ambien-terrifying, hence the reason we refused to get in the car with Kurt for a very long time, in spite of him being a naturally fast adept driver as a result of his online twelve-year apprenticeship with Top Gear.

We have regretted that decision many times over the past year as each corner of the old man’s car has been reshaped, (although neither sibling has taken responsibility as of yet), and Kurt has accumulated more parking and speeding fines than earnings.  But fortunately, Australia is a nanny state that doesn’t take kindly to free spirits – quite rightly in this instance – and as such, it is unlikely that Kurt will remain in the driver seat for much longer. A fact that didn’t stop him this weekend from going out with a bang. Literally. A minor one, fortunately, thanks to the robustness of the undercarriage of the old man’s car and the softness of the terrain of the roundabout he chose to bypass on his midnight hunt for Coco Pops. However, one that will seriously dent the wallet with an excess on our insurance policy that equates to the cost of Meghan Markel’s wedding dress, meaning anniversary plans may have to be scrapped, and the old man has yet to utter a sentence without a liberal sprinkling of the F word.

Kurt will pay for the damage, over time – no doubt via interest-free installments over the next decade to the bank of mum and dad – and I know I should be grateful that he (or no one else) was hurt, but it has taken all of my strength this week not to call those parents in the US who sued their son to get him out of their home, for a lesson in just how far parenting responsibility extends.

The Awkward-Scale For Teenage Boys When Shopping With Mom

I went shopping with my teenage son yesterday, whereupon he bestowed upon me one of the greatest honors of my parenting life when he told me that I was (and I quote) ‘a nightmare to be seen in public with.’

 

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‘Oh, and these ten packs of condoms and tube of lube for my son over there, please.’

 

Job well done, I say; if not for the niggling suspicion that the nightmarish aspects of my company had rather more to do with my senility than my embarrassing-mom qualities.

 

Although many men people would have us believe that men and women are very different, in my opinion, the only time there is a palpable difference between the genders is when it comes to clothes shopping. Now, before all you male fashionistas jump down my throat, let me explain. I have based this opinion on the two socially-anxious males in my house, for whom malls are almost as terrifying as attending a feminist rally in a Trump tee-shirt – something I blame on my mother-in-law, who used to chain-smoke her way around shopping malls just to get through the torture. Oh, how she would have loved online shopping – although I suspect that she understood even less about technology than the dangers of passive smoking.

 

Anyway, as such, clothes shopping with my son is, shall we say politely, is something that I avoid at all costs.

 

Perhaps a little more elaboration is required here. For not only does Kurt have a deep-seated hatred for crowds, bright lights, the smell of German bread (!) and the overwhelming choices that shopping throws up as a result of his ADHD, he is also incredibly fussy about what he puts on his body from a sensory processing perspective and his side order of OCD.  His wardrobe is lean, and any clothing lucky to make the cut into its minimally perfect world has a very limited shelf life. In general terms, that generally means he has a single outfit on the go at any time, and he washes it daily.

 

However, recently re-employed, (thank you, God), yesterday he was forced to beg the Bank Of Mom to tide him over with some new work clothes, and while I worked out the interest rate on my loan, he got to grips with the idea of a mall trip with mum, her symptoms of early-onset dementia, lack of filter, embarrassing approaches to every female she thinks is potential daughter-in-law material, zero sense of direction (particularly in car parks) and her middle-aged intolerance to just about everything – but particularly poor service. In other words, the afternoon did not bode well.

 

Rest assured, we lived to tell the tale and for your entertainment, the following are invaluable lessons that I learned, based on an innovative scientific scale – the awkward-scale or AS – that I have invented for this exact purpose:

 

DO NOT go into a pharmacy with your teenage boy because (apparently) any hot shop assistant will think you’re buying him condoms – AS 8

 

DO NOT drag your son to the till to pay for his new undies, because there is some awkward (perhaps sexual – Ewww) connotation in that as well – AS 9

 

DO NOT complain about anything, ask for a different size or ask for assistance in any shape or form – AS 7

 

DO NOT attempt to accompany him into the changing room, even if he walks around naked at home – AS 9

 

DO NOT express your disgust loudly at your usual Mexican lunch outlet and then try flirting with the hot, young assistant (your son’s age) when he tells you that they have started charging $2 for the avocado topping – AS 10

 

Learn how to use the self-service checkout – AS 8

 

Never discuss any medical/biological/sexual topic over coffee, especially when you know your voice has the phonic capability of reaching the Northern Hemisphere when you get over-excited. NEVER use the word moist – AS 10

 

NEVER feel the end of your son’s new shoes to check for growing room, especially when the girl serving him is future daughter-in-law material – AS 210

 

But the crime of the century should probably go to either, a) my appalling parking skill in public, in front of hundreds of shoppers/witnesses, because it is difficult to maneuver a family-sized vehicle around a column with Kendrick blasting in one ear and your son screaming in the other, ‘learn to drive, will you!’ Or, b) losing the parking ticket and having a very loud conversation with the man in the machine at the barrier, while everyone queued behind us.

The Sins Of The Mothers

In view of Mothers Day in the UK yesterday, I thought I’d tell you about a funny little conversation I had with my son last week. For those of you with younger kids, be warned that like me you will reach a point with your almost-adult kids – usually at the end of  seven years of testosterone-fuelled silence with boys – when they believe they have a right to use the limited wisdom they’ve acquired in their twenty years, to judge your choices and more poignantly, your parenting skills.

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And let me assure you, it’s too soon.

 

I mean, I’m glad that my son feels he can reach out and share the disappointments of his young life with me. I assume that means we’ve forged some bond, (although with his ADHD, saying what he thinks has rarely been a problem), that he is comfortable about airing his views about the not so finer points of our journey together. But what I know – and what he has yet to find out, (and when he does I will be thousands of miles in a world of silence in a nunnery in India), is that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to parenting.

 

And I have learned from our time together – and unless I become one of those fifty-three-year-old women that fall pregnant in menopause because I haven’t been punished enough – the wisdom I will take away from him is not to try and mold our kids into our expectations, not to catastrophise too much about their refusal to conform. I would also recommend making friends with the local policeman, hiding the car keys once they have their license and access to Valium at all times.

 

We were in the car the other day, unusually only one row down about where exactly he is going with his life, when out of blue, he turned to me and said, ‘Remember when you changed the pin on the Disney channel, Mum? I’ve gotta tell you, that was badass. That scarred me.’

 

‘Well, you were becoming like those Disney brats with your whatevers every time I asked you to do anything – like go to school.’

 

‘You mean, you made me the victim of your own anxiety about bringing up a brat?’

 

‘Maybe…,’ I said, ‘Anyway, changing the pin didn’t work, did it?’ I said with a cheeky grin.

 

‘No, but it made me hate you for a really long time. A boy needs his daily dose of Hannah Montana,’ he said with a wink.

 

‘Mylie has a lot to answer for then.’

 

And I lectured him reminded him about how none of us parents really know what the fuck we’re doing most of the time, and while it definitely would have been a smoother ride if I’d had a textbook Dr. Spock kid, the rules of parenting keep changing anyway. (Although it never gets easier – I’ve lost count the number of times my fifty-something friends and I have spotted the toddler tantrum in the Coles cereal aisle and been forced to abort our Pods mission).

 

My parents didn’t have to worry about the influence of The Prince of Bel Air or that their daughter would think killing people on Grand Theft Auto (while they believed I was at school) outstripped education on every level. And in the same way that I look back and think my parents had it easier – because in the seventies you could put your needs ahead of your kids and you didn’t have parenting psycho-babble bullshit pushed in your face each day – my kids will probably say the same thing each time they dump the grandkids on me in the future and do a runner.

 

‘Yeah, remember how you hid my PS controllers as well?’ Kurt went on, obviously really bitter.

 

‘And how did that fuck you up, exactly?’

 

‘Lets just say I wasted a lot of time hunting through your cupboards, finding shit I didn’t need to find at age of eleven – if you know what I’m saying,’ he said, eyeballing me. ‘That was pretty scarring.’ I was forced to look away.

 

‘Well, that was a pre-meditated life lesson?’ I lied. ‘In a perverse way, my anxiety about you getting Carpal Tunnel Syndrome by the age of twenty taught you not to invade the privacy of others. How is your thumb, by the way?’

 

‘We both know that’s not why you did it, Mum,’ he said. ‘You did it to be mean. It was a power trip. But do you think any of that shit actually worked?’

 

‘Probably not,’ I said, ‘but it felt really good at the time.’

 

 

 

Why Every Parent Needs To Watch Lady Bird

Described by Empire as ‘A coming-of-age story like no other, Lady Bird is smart, emotional, funny and completely original. Rarely has a directorial debut been so assured, so singular and so heartwarmingly affecting,’ the movie Lady Bird has been critically acclaimed worldwide, and as a sucker for any movie that offers the secret to parenting, it was a must-see for me.

The best part about Lady Bird is the lightbulb moment as you leave the cinema that there aren’t really any secrets to parenting. The truth is, every parent and every child comes from the lucky dip of genealogy and we all end up just doing the best we can.

Every parent of teenagers needs to go straight to the movies to watch this movie. I’m not saying it’s the best film I’ve seen this year, but if you are in denial about what really goes on in the head of your soon-to-be adult child, it offers a formidable apprenticeship.

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to learn the truth that love isn’t always enough – not without communication or being able to put yourself in each other’s shoes.

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to better understand the limitations of the young, under-developed brain, packed full of dreams and hope and so often at war with the older, bitter brains acquired through life’s experiences. It’s not rocket science, but perhaps our kids aren’t always being intentionally difficult; maybe they’re simply looking at life through their own lens. 

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to understand that however hard they make our lives, it is wrong to destroy the dreams of our children; we mustn’t infect them with the poison of our own lives and our anxieties, and nor should we push our own expectations on to them, borne of our own failures.

As a child psychologist once told me: Be consultant, rather than judge.

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to appreciate the struggles young people face today – the pressures of social media, mental illness, shootings, hazing – stuff that we didn’t have to deal with, that may contribute to that entitled or narcissistic label. Their goals aren’t the same as ours – and that is progress. The world is different to the one we grew up in, and if their challenges are important to them, we need to take them seriously.

Everyone should watch Lady Bird because it may not have the artistic depth of a film such as Call Me By My Name – my favorite film this year, with one of the most emotive father/son scenes I’ve ever sobbed my way through – but it is an authentic and honest portrayal of real lives that will resonate with most parents. Spoiler: Any of you of a blubbing disposition will need tissues for the scene where the mum drives away from the airport.

Fact:

Sometimes we say terrible, abusive things to our kids because we’re tired, hormonal or under stresses that they know nothing about; nor should they know about.

Sometimes we swear at them.

Often, we cry over them.

Parenting can be a mind-fuck that pushes the limitations of even those patron saints of parenting among us. It can be heart and gut-wrenching. The clever way it exposes our vulnerabilities is terrifying. Who hasn’t raged at a toddler? Who hasn’t threatened to kick their child out of home? Lady Bird highlights those tough parts – the unemployment, depression, and relationship stress that we all have to manage as we raise our children. But it also shines a light on the really good bits, borne of those tough parts.