There Is No Better Education In Love, Compassion And Empathy Than Having A Child With Special Needs

A few weeks ago we went to a fundraiser. It was a black tie event to raise money for the family of an old colleague of the old man’s whose son broke his neck and damaged his spinal cord in a freak rugby accident recently.

Alex Noble is their son’s name, and if anyone feels like funding a real cause, as opposed to other, less noble causes, please feel free – here is the link to his GoFundMe page.

At one point in the evening, Alex’s parents stood up on stage to tell us a little about his story, his progress, and their plans for the future – should they reach their target that night to secure the funds they need to renovate their house, meaning he can eventually come home.

“There’s not a lot of joy in my life right now, but there’s a lot of love,’ his mother said.

It was a comment that hit me hard, because albeit that in terms of bums on seats that night, there was a wonderful level of support in the room, as a mum who is also a part-time carer of an adult dependent, (as well as being a professional cynic), I did wonder how many guests would be there for the long-haul of Alex’s journey, once the glitter is swept away.

Many of the guests were close friends of the couple or friends of their son, so in some ways it felt almost voyeuristic to be there, to witness the pain and rawness caused by such a cruel twist of fate; to sense the fears that his family feel in terms of the uncertainty of Alex’s and their future.

When we plan our children, we never anticipate for one moment that things won’t work out like the parenting manuals told us they will, so I understand what Alex’s Mum was trying to say. I’ve felt that way many times with Kurt – because let’s not underestimate the devastation caused by mental illness or disability, either. Indeed, it was only a week before that I thought that we had lost our son?

Scratch the surface and there is heartache in every family. I can’t tell you the number of times people open up to me about siblings or relatives with mental health issues who have been hidden, the skeletons in their cupboards.

But Alex’s Mum was right about how adversity cultivates love. Because in return for the pain caused by our son’s neuro-diversity, we have been given an education in love, compassion and empathy, and we are better people for that. We are as proud of him as we are of NC – much to her horror. While his steps forward have been slower, they have been celebrated with the same enthusiasm as hers, and his progress has provided us with an invaluable insight into how society should be measuring success.

Admittedly, there have been times when there’s not been a lot of joy in caring for someone who may never get better, and I wouldn’t wish our experience or that of Alex and his parents on anyone. Before his accident, they would have been looking forward to the last chapter of their lives as independent once again, but the ramifications of his physical disability may be lifelong, and they will affect not only them, but his siblings, and possibly future generations of their family.

I’m glad that they feel loved and supported. I hate cliches, but shit like this does make you stronger, because you have no choice but to be strong. But as I said, there are hidden benefits to life’s knocks such as this. While they will have to reset their expectations of Alex, his milestones will be as meaningful as those of his siblings – if not more so. And though it may feel painful at the time, this tragedy will draw a line in the sand between their true friends and their fair weather friends, because they won’t have time for games.

But they will be tired all of the time and there will be days when they feel like they can’t go on and will question why me? So I suppose what I really want to say to all those parents battling through each day with kids with disabilities or dependencies, is that your joy may well be diminished, but like a flower in summer, your heart will be opened to maximum capacity.

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.

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.

And The Progress Prize For Best Father This Father’s Day Goes To…

conner-baker-480775-unsplashI’d like to say an early “Happy Fathers Day” to all those men for whom fatherhood hasn’t been quite what they expected, perhaps due to their own issues, the pressures of “toxic masculinity”, or perhaps because, (as in the old man’s case), they produced a square peg.

First of all, I should probably justify my use of “toxic masculinity” in this context, which The Good Man Project defines as: ‘the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away,’ because I want to make sure that you don’t think that this is another attack on men. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Rather, it is an explanation for why some men struggle with relationships, aggression, depression and even suicide, because of the expectations leveled at them by society. It is why videos of tearful men cuddling newborns and greeting their dogs after long periods apart make women weak at the knees; it is why videos of sons coming out to accepting fathers are the best.

Margaret Mead said that “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think,” which (I believe) highlights the fine line between advising and judging our kids’ choices, as parents. We have to guide rather than direct. We have to be their consultants.

And let’s be honest, for some parents that’s easier than for others. While some parents rise to the challenge of a kid that is not textbook and who refuses to listen to a darn thing you say, some fall face down in the mud for a while before they get back up – like the old man has, in his struggle to accept Kurt’s unbridled passion for life and magnetic attraction to trouble.

That’s why I’m nominating him for a “progress prize” on Fathers Day this year.

It’s a sort of apology for all the times I used him as a boxing bag for my fears about our son or ignored his input because I was scared.

It hasn’t been easy for the son of a middle-class, ‘normie’ family (as Kurt describes neurotypicals), who was brought up in a traditional, white-picket-fence environment and for whom a crisis was when one of the boys kicked a ball over the neighbor’s fence and someone had to retrieve it. Parenting this larger-than-life son, who has turned every one of his old-fashioned values on their head, spat in the face of just about every law and convention ever created, and defied every parenting strategy, has been a learning curve for this mild-mannered man who can’t even book a table at a restaurant. It has probably taken the full twenty-one years of Kurt’s life for the old man to reach a full acceptance of him, as well as taking twenty-one years off his own; but he has been there, he has stayed the course.

There have been altercations – many vocal, some of them physical – and visits to the police together. He has been roadie, banker, and advisor to a child that has pushed him to the brink of his patience in his attempts (mostly futile) to knock some sense into educate our boy – and let me draw your attention  once again here to the fallacy that we are only given the stuff we can handle – and yet, while Kurt may not be the child either of us envisaged, I truly believe that one day the old man will thank him one day – if for no other reason than the shitload of content he has provided him with for dinner parties.

Parenting is the greatest and most arduous of journeys. It provides an education like no other and at times it is far from plain sailing. Our journey has been a rocky one, with lots of motion sickness along the way, and yet finally, I can see dry land on the horizon, and the old man helped get us there.

 

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.

 

My Kids Will Be Able To Say A Lot Of Things About Me, But Never That I Didn’t Love them.

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A friend asked me the other day about how I felt about Mothers Day, and I knew that the question was loaded – you see, I haven’t had a mother for a long time. And for the first time, it struck me that I don’t view the celebration from the perspective of my own mother. I lost her too young to remember her as a real person, so my only association with the day is as a mother to my own kids.

 

There are times when I would love to be able to recount stories of our time together. And in those fourteen years, we did make stories  – on family days out, cheap holidays, when we grew vegetables together at the end of the garden or searched for our runaway tortoise – and yet most of those memories are clouded by her struggles as a single mother, her battle to keep working to provide for three small children, to keep the car running, to keep the smile on her face.

 

Perhaps, that’s why I’ve never allowed myself to fully commit to Mothers Day, with no mother to spoil, to take out to dinner, or to have a monthly spat with – which I understand is very common. And perhaps that’s why I can be somewhat cynical about these ‘special’ days, which can throw up all sorts of pain for those that are excluded or feel isolated – mothers that have lost children, children that have lost mothers, adopted children, mothers that have lost connection with their children. And Mother Day, in particular, sugarcoats a biological responsibility that is not necessarily ‘the best thing’ EVERY woman has ever done. The day can highlight shame and failure for some, as well as the smug gratitude of those women lucky enough to have cultivated perfect relationships with their children – if they do, in fact, exist.

 

Relationships between parents and their children are not always Waltons or Brady-esque. Sometimes, they are not straightforward, as Nikki Gemmell exposes in her book, ‘After,’ which I picked up recently as research for my manuscript. Nikki’s story covers the ways she handled grief after the death of her mother, and yet for me, the greatest comfort I took from the book is her honesty about her tricky relationship with her mother, because it forced me to recognize similarities between her mother’s behavior and my own.

 

Sadly, only after years of distance between them was Nikki finally able to make peace with her mother, only to be shattered a few years later by her mother’s suicide – perhaps, her final act of revenge, in Nikki’s eyes. Personally, I can’t imagine the guilt attached to losing your mother to suicide. Can you imagine the questions you would be forced to ask yourself, even if you knew that chronic pain was at the root of her reasoning? Can you imagine the sense of betrayal? That the person that gave birth to you should choose to leave you in such a way?

 

I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again: relationships are complicated –  particularly family relationships, where the blood connection can force us to continue with toxic, destructive alliances. Anyone who has produced a child that went against the grain will recognize the sense of shock and the grief for the child you expected to have.

 

The death of my own mother, along with the distant relationship I have experienced with my father at various periods of my life has affected my relationships with my children. Not necessarily for the worst. At times, my insecurity has made me cling too hard and suffocate them; at others, my aloofness, lack of empathy and lack of a filter have left them feeling confused and unloved. I am not a perfect mother; and yet I am the only mother they have. And in the end, when they describe to my grandchildren the ways I fucked up their lives, they won’t be able to say that I didn’t love them. Just like I can’t about my own mother.

 

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.

My Husband Seems To Have Forgotten This Year That Valentine’s Day Is A Competition

I choose not to remind the old man about special events during the year, such as our anniversary, my birthday and Valentine’s Day because it makes our relationship so much more interesting.

I know that many people frown upon the commerciality of Valentine’s Day, but personally, I have always lapped up the opportunity to receive the only bunch of dead flowers from the petrol station I’m likely to receive in any given year as well as a meal out – nothing too expensive, mind you, because as a friend reminded me today, then they think they deserve sex.

In the old days, the old man used to cook for me on Valentine’s night, a mistake that I soon realized wasn’t romantic at all when I had to stand over him the whole time and interpret the methodology into a language he understood, then had to clear up his mess afterwards.

In our forties, when we thought we were rich, (before being rudely reminded about the cost of care homes and healthcare), we progressed to dinner out – generally not on the night itself due to the sacrilege of increased pricing that the old man couldn’t quite stomach – but the sickening sight of young couples, and particularly men, squirming in their seats, praying not to fuck the night up, (albeit highly entertaining), wasn’t how we wanted to celebrate our own special love.

So our current Valentine status is that we pretend we just don’t care are pretty chilled about the whole thing, even though, deep down we both know that there is still a competition going on. Generally, there is a reluctant exchange of cards with a few lovey-dovey words that convey that although we hate each other most of the time, VERY, VERY deep down, there is obviously something deep and meaningful there. And perhaps we’ll treat ourselves to a pizza.

This year, however, I had been somewhat out of sorts after a virus knocked me sideways, increased my intolerance to wine and gave me a cold sore as its finale. Added to which, he-that-rhymes-with-Burt has been stretching every last ounce of my patience since Xmas as he continues to deny my rights to retire from parenting. So, I have been lethargic, bad-tempered and meaner this past week than normal. Everything is the old man’s fault, including the length and debilitation caused by my illness, because he made me play tennis when I was literally still on my death bed.

I am of the belief that if you try hard enough, it is possible to blame your husband/partner for just about everything.

So I was not feeling particularly amorous when I spotted the first red cards in the shops, and perhaps it had nothing to do with the virus at all, and the reason Cupid has been on an extended holiday from our house is because we work from home together, hence get on each other’s nerves 24/7. Anyway, call me bitchy, but I knew that the old man would have no idea what month we were in without a reminder as salient as billboards in our street when I decided to surprise him with my card.

You get where I’m coming from, Ladies?

Unfortunately, however, last week was one of the rare occasions that the old man left the house over the past year and he too spotted the red balloons and the heart-shaped stickers and didn’t wonder whose birthday it was. Something resonated, and because he has no respect for my privacy and is the type that raids my in-tray and text messages regularly – he says, to check which bills I’ve forgotten to pay and what library books I’ve forgotten to return; I say, to see if I have a lover, because deep down I like the idea that he thinks that I could get a lover – he found my Valentine’s card to him and hotfooted it down to the petrol station to buy one for me that was no-way near as offensive as mine – in fact it was downright romantic – and so this year, I suppose, he wins in the game of love.

But where exactly are my dead flowers, ass-hole?

To Be Loved In Death As In Life Is All Any Of Us Can Really Hope For

I lost an uncle over Christmas. And as I write this post, an aunt lies in a hospital bed somewhere in the UK in a medically life-changing situation. Both events have been a sharp reminder that the wheels of time stop for no-one.

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In words that echo the theme tune of Love Actually – sort of – it is a sad fact that death is all around us, and no matter how much we cut down on wine or how much time we spend in the gym, it gets all of us in the end.

 

Death doesn’t terrify me as much as it used to. Anyone who has been exposed to the death of a close loved one at a young age will know that it has a habit of fucking you over, yet it can also harden you to its inevitability. When you’ve experienced such a huge disappointment at the start of your life, nothing else comes close.

 

But that experience can mean that I don’t react appropriately to the news of a passing. I don’t grieve for long. With a heart half-closed and a head that has forced itself into defense-mode, instead, I focus on the practical; on how best to utilize the time I have left. There is a satisfaction in spitting at that sucker in the face, the closer you get to doomsday. After all, none of us has the power to change the rules.

 

I’ve shared lengthy discussions with people over the years about the best way to go. I’ve seen people go slowly, through debilitating illnesses that have nevertheless given them time to say goodbye, and I’ve experienced first-hand someone go just like that, with no warning. Whoosh! – in a puff of smoke. 

 

Optimists and religious people tell us that we grieve for our own loss, rather than for the person that has died. And I believe that to be true when death is provoked by natural causes, although not if someone is taken in the appalling circumstances of murder, for instance. I try to remain optimistic about the day I will finally meet my maker. I comfort myself with the knowledge that although my body will pass, no one can take my legacy away from me.

 

My name will remain on my family tree as a fully paid-up member, and although I might not see them often, the branches of my extended family remain close to my heart – as they have been this week. The hope is that my successors will keep my memory alive – through silly and embarrassing anecdotes and stories, I imagine, rather than a pompous list of achievements that I deemed important at one time.

 

‘Remember that time that Lou (or Auntie Lou or Grandma or Mum) ‘… they’ll say…and for a moment I’ll be remembered – in all likelihood for that time I made a complete ass of myself when I fell off my bike into a rice paddy in Bali.

 

My uncle will be remembered for being a good man, who took us cousins swimming together on the weekends with the boundless energy and enthusiasm of a man half his age. He was also one of the archetypal dad-jokers before the phenomenon was formally recognized, and he will continue to be as loved in death as he was in life.

 

Which is all any of us can hope for.

 

 

Heghan – There’s Something About Harry

I failed miserably to maintain the cynicism of my Royal Grinchness as I watched the Harry/Meghan engagement interview yesterday, although it is irritating how difficult it is to turn their names into some catchy moniker such as Kimye or Brangelina, which is why I’ve decided on Heghan

 

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My apologies – I’ve used this phot before. But I bloody love it!

 

I only watched the interview for research purposes, obviously, but I have to admit that not even the stony chambers of my cold heart could fail to be moved by the young couple’s declarations of love. Sure, they are both old hands at the media game – which helps – and Harry does a fine job of concealing his contempt for the press. But he knows how is bread is buttered, and at thirty-three, it’s time to add to the most famous family tree and tow the family line.

 

Meghan, meanwhile, appeared a natural; supremely confident in who she is and in her relationship with the spare. Let’s face it, the job description ain’t bad – she gets to carry on with her humanitarian work and live in a palace, with far less scrutiny than poor Wills and Catherine. When the reporter brought up the question of children, I could feel my middle-aged ovaries beat loudly against the crumbling sides of my uterus.

 

Meghan’s response to the reporter’s baited question about sacrificing her career for a man was impressively measured. Personally, I probably would have leapt off the sofa and beat the shit out of her for opening, what I am sure, is a fairly recent wound. But who wouldn’t make a career shift for Harry? There’s definitely something about that boy. And even I, bitter and twisted Feminist that I am, can see the influence of this couple together, whose work stands to leave a far greater legacy than Meghan’s role in Suits – I should mention that the old man disagrees on this point. These kids make the Obamas, the Beyonces and Brangelina look like Barbie and Ken, so all credit to this girl – there aren’t many of us who’d choose the slums of third world countries over time on set with Harvey Specter.

 

I suspect she is aware of the daunting future she has ahead of her: spearheading campaigns, keeping on the right side of the RF – a welcoming, open-minded family, from what I hear – procreating and taming Harry, whose wildness, (linked to PTSD, I believe) will never be contained. But if there was any sense from the interview about who wears the trousers in this relationship, it wasn’t the fifth in line to the throne and that’s probably what Harry needs.

 

The boy done good. He, out of all the Royals is the one the public identifies most with. If his mother was the Queen of Hearts, he is the prince. He has conquered the public through his closeness to normalcy, he has grown up with us and always worn his heart on his sleeve for us, as well as making the sort of public cock-ups, (that while awkward at the time), have endeared us to him. What’s not to love when he slips into the modern-day vernacular to talk about ‘upping his game’ for Meghan? Swoon.

 

The world will never forget Harry’s face, plastered across our tv screens, as he followed his mother’s coffin down the Mall – the face of a boy whose heart had been ripped out. And I always sensed that he would need a strong woman to fill the shoes of the most important woman in his life. It looks like he has found her, and while most of us have come to realise that fairy tales are a load of bollocks, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this one.

And On The Topic Of Self-love And Acceptance…

And while I’m on the topic of self-love and acceptance…

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Cue kaftan, joss sticks and Hare Krishna chanting…

 

That trip to the movies symbolized the start of a new chapter for me this week – a chapter I like to call “thinking about myself for a fucking change” – not to be confused with the old man’s version when he leaves the toilet seat up or only makes a coffee for himself. No, this chapter is about self-love. “Loving yourself” is something many of us lose sight of when things don’t turn out as planned or as we get sucked into the vortex of responsibilities that go with parenting or the demands of life and its disappointments.

 

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the ways to initiate self-love is to get back to the stuff you used to enjoy and made time for, before you became an obsessive worry wort that forgot how to compartmentalize problems. And there are lots of ways to do that. As you are probably aware, I’m not hugely spiritual, so the whole happy place/yoga/taking up religion isn’t really my thang, but going to the movies – albeit by myself – was one step, “painting” will be another and “reading” is a huge priority.

 

I read my first book this week. Baby steps, I thought, so I chose something really light to break myself in gently – a book about the dangers of taking responsibility for the challenging behaviors of our children!  This, as you know, is a topic close to my heart and a conduct I have been guilty of for some time but never found the clarity needed to put it right. You see, I confused the responsibilities of being a mother and its requirement of unconditional love and sacrificed my own happiness for that of my child’s – which is no good for either of us.

 

It’s time to stop punishing myself.

 

(However, a return to self-love doesn’t have to emanate from parenting issues, it can come from any adversity that has knocked you sideways and tested your priorities and purpose, not just the stress that comes with the territory of raising challenging kids or kids with addictions).

 

What I loved about this idea is how the author rams home the importance of reaching an acceptance of who your child is, and ultimately the need, (as a parent), to put away the picture we expected of them when we saw that thin blue line.  We don’t all get the happy, smiling baby on the front of the parenting manuals and that’s okay because it takes all sorts of people to create a society.  

 

In the same way that our children have the right to live their own lives, so do we. Wallowing in anger, disappointment, and guilt means we miss out on living, and that ultimately helps no-one, least of all the child who senses that negativity.  Self-love is just as important as the support we continue to offer our offspring.

 

It is also important to remember two things: 1) we don’t know how much time we have in this world and 2)  in most cases, “change” only comes from people when they are ready to commit to that change – and it’s generally not something we can coerce them to do successfully. While in the author’s opinion, it is fine to remain in a consultant capacity to these children, we do need to step back at some point and take back our own lives.

 

I also have to stop punishing my son for how he has chosen to live his life. The book is about recognizing mental illness and addiction as a sickness rather than a weakness or a faulty gene and treating that person with the same respect you would treat someone with a physical illness. Which is fucking hard, to be honest, and for a while now my halo has been slipping as the lines of unconditional love began to blur.

 

We are human, after all.

 

Everyone deserves to be loved and second and third chances, no matter where their journey leads them. From the kid that can’t walk a straight line and the toothless, homeless man on the street, to the lottery winner who wastes all his winnings on drugs or the sex offender who was abused as a child, acceptance, love, and forgiveness are the sign of true strength.

 

Now I just have to practise what I preach.

Maudie, Self-Care and The Simplicity of Love

One pearl of wisdom you finally discover in middle age is the answer to that all-consuming question of “what the fuck is it all about?”.  And that it is “love”, of course.

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And trust me, you couldn’t find a better demonstration of that than the movie I saw yesterday when Louisa-No-Mates dragged herself along to the movies by herself for some TLS, or tender, loving self-care.

 

The rediscovery of simple things you enjoyed doing in the past is a little tip I picked up in the most recent self-help book I have read on self-love, and as it had been a while since I was brave enough to admit publicly that I have no friends, left the house or got dressed, I decided a trip to the movies would be a good starting point.

 

I rarely to the movies these days, probably due to my warped penchant for sad movies -something that is not shared by anyone else in the family… or anyone really. NC, the logician of the family, can’t bear to watch any movie that attempts to locate her heart strings, doesn’t have dragons, robots or star troopers, while Kurt and the old man – stereotypes for emotionally under-developed males – barely stray from violence or superhero nonsense.

 

Conversely, I like to give my mind and heart a full workout during a movie, and I am drawn to those thought-provoking little gems that usually have fuck-all budget. I like to see characters bare their souls and evolve in stories of personal triumph over tragedy. 

 

Maudie, the movie I saw yesterday, is based on the true story of Canadian artist, Maude Lewis, and her husband Everett. It is set in Nova Scotia, on the edge of a small town that has the appeal and climate extremes of all seven kingdoms of the Game of Thrones combined, and is the story of Maude, a woman physically disabled by arthritis and rejected by her family, who is left no other choice than to work as a housemaid for Everett, who is, in the words of Bridget Jones’ mother, ‘a very cruel man.’

 

In truth, the meat of this story is not the amazing tale of  Maude’s rise to fame to become a successful folk painter, but rather the simple and unlikely romance that develops between her and Everett, a man also starved of love as a child, and the way in which she successfully unlocks his unyielding heart.

 

‘The world didn’t give this woman much, but then, not much was required to make her happy.’ (Bob Mondello)

 

For while her painting fulfills her need for creative expression, Maude’s main goal in life is to be loved and to achieve happiness. Her poor start has made her more determined to find someone to love her, and although Everett is hardly Romeo material, (nor very much of a talker), when he demonstrates his developing love for her through small acts of kindness – albeit without grace – these are enough to give Maude the hope she needs to stay with him. 

 

‘I have been loved,’ Maude tells him when the light globe of Everett’s emotional intelligence finally switches on and he comprehends what she truly means to him.

 

‘It’s a story of pain and difficulty and cold, and also of happiness.’ (Glenn Kenny)

 

It is a story about the fabric of life and love.

 

 

11 Things I’m Bloody Loving Right Now

I’m sorry, I really am for ignoring you over the past few weeks, but in all honesty, while everyone else in Sydney has been fighting the flu, I’ve had a bad case of Blogger’s Block. Hence the decision with this little piece to reconnect, even if it isn’t one of the typically self-absorbed, cerebral pieces of drivel I normally churn out.

I don’t want you to think I’ve died.

Anyway, a loyal friend of mine who reads these little outpourings of mine, always tells me how much she loves my recommendations, lists of which I usually put out when I have fuck all else to say or can’t find the latest controversial piece of feminism or neo-Fascism to stir up with my wooden spoon.

I could lie and blame my “block” on how quintessentially busy my life is right now, but you’d know I was lying, and that in fact, my life is very boring. We’ve battened down the hatches as it’s winter here, Kurt is being suspiciously well-behaved, NC is working hard to complete her thesis and as sit in the grey area between winter and Christmas, there is frankly nothing to get my creative juices flowing.

So, without further ado, here are some of the things I’m attempting to spice up my life with at the moment:

drink-19202_1920Sangria – A bit retro, I know, but the old man decided to knock up a vat of this for my recent birthday celebrations and it was a massive hit. Recently reminded of its ice-breaking powers on our trip to Queensland, although I was initially cautious – from memories of painting the toilet bowl red on the Costa Del Sol in the eighties  – with an element of discipline, the drink didn’t wreak the havoc on my head in the way cheap red wine does these days. The old man chose a brandy-based version for his concoction and you should have seen the bun fight between middle-aged men to get to the punch bowl.

White-Fucking-Everything – It’s no secret that if I had only birthed Spoodles, my whole house would be white, and I am now converting my wardrobe to a similar colour scheme. I’m absolutely loving the classicism and simplicity of white jumpers, shirts, and trousers, which I lift with accents of gold or ocean blue. When we move back to The Beaches later this year, all my vibrant city colors will be out again and in will come the calming blues and neutrals of the ocean as well as my new, very expensive Hamptons furniture, which the old man will agree to invest in because he loves me so much. 11324TWDE_1

Rose-Gold Jewellery – Talking of gold, I treated myself to some new jewellery for my birthday and even though I hated rose-gold with a passion when it first became stylish a few years ago – mainly because it gets lost in my Rosacea – I’ve done a complete turn-around on this one because it warms up my three staple colours of white, black and blue of my wardrobe.

Decjuba is a clothes shop I’ve been frequenting recently, mainly because they make it so easy for me with their core colors of black and white, but also because they love stripes, are generous in their proportions and reasonably priced. I got this classic white shirt from there ($79.95) and if you’re a member you get a 10% discount, which really means it’s virtually free.

diamond_cushion_cover_in_seamist_by_ecodownunder_4Eco Down Under is another shop whose wares that offer “better environmental options”, I salivate over at the moment. Frustrated by the Princess’s paw prints on my white bed linen, the old man had a domestic hissy fit and asked me to invest in some muted pastels recently, and Eco’s simple, calming collection of bed linen and towels is fabulous. I think the cotton is a superior quality to other sets in the same price range and their sales are great – I got this Queen cover set for $59.

Pinot Noir – Friends and family have been on a mission to convert me to the red grape for decades, but I can be an obstinate bitch at times, dug my heels in, and stuck loyally to Chardy. Then one morning, (after a raucous night on the white), just like that I was converted to red. Pinot Noir is at the milder end of the red grape spectrum, according to those in the know, and having trialed and tested several from the budget end of the range at Dan Murphys, I can highly recommend the Frontera Pinot Noir, a steal at $10 a bottle. 824024_0_9999_med_v1_m56577569855120487

Game Of Thrones – If you’re not watching GOT, you have to question if you are truly existing. I had no choice with two die-hard fantasists in the house who both asked me when the dragons come in when they read my manuscript. Admittedly, the plots can be tricky for those of us middle-aged folk on a fast-track to Dementia with armies of characters with easily forgettable names, but it is nevertheless compelling viewing if for no other reason than to increase your appreciation of a good heating system. There is also Kit Harington, Nikolai Coster-Waldau, Iain Glen and Jason Mamoa…

maxresdefaultTom Hardy – And on the topic of talented actors, Tom Hardy has been on my radar since his performance as the mad Alfie Solomons in Peaky Blinders. Tom is very good at playing psychopaths and what woman doesn’t like a fictional bad boy? He also stole the show in The Revenant from Leo de Caprio and is currently mesmerizing as James Delaney in Taboo on BBC First, so imagine my surprise when he turned up as a very stiff-upper-lip World War 2 hero fighter pilot (swoon) in Dunkirk.

Halloumi – Since NC has guilted us out of eating meat most of the time and the egg debate has restarted – according to a recent article published in the Journal of Atherosclerosis Research, eating eggs is the equivalent of smoking five ciggies a day – I’ve switched to halloumi for lunch, (although I’d prefer the ciggies). The only problem with working from home is having to think about another meal, but halloumi has paved the way for some wonderful creations in our house. My fave is halloumi on toast with wilted spinach and roasted tomatoes, while NC knocks up a mean veggie burger with avocado (of course!), caramelized onions and chili. According to the Greek shelf stacker at my local Harris Farm, the Greeks sprinkle lemon and black pepper on the top.

Superga Sneakers – My Sciatica has now committed my body to flat shoes and since I threw anything higher than a few millimeters out in our recent Council clear-up,  I am living in these Superga Sneakers. I secretly wish I’d gone for the rose-gold version now (see anal-ness about colour coordination), but as these sneakers are available in an array of wonderfully kitsch patterns and colors and around $80 a pair,  I could probably have a pair for each one of my black outfits. download

And finally…

566349_xlarge_6Nude Magique BB cream by L’Oreal – I recommended the Clinique Redness Solutions foundation a while back which is great, but this is a lighter cream for daytime and it is fabulous for covering blemishes as well as making your skin feel as soft and velvety as your Granny’s. It is also about half the price at around $25 in Australia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Seven Secrets To A Lasting Marriage

rose-petals-693570_1920Apparently, marriage is back in fashion and as it was our anniversary yesterday – hence, that time of the year where I selflessly dedicate twenty-four hours of my time to be nice to my husband in return for a slap-up meal – I’ve decided to share the reasons behind our unmitigated happiness and unbridled passion.

 

Is marriage what I expected when I stood at that altar all those years ago?

 

Perhaps. It would have helped if either one of us had been grown ups or I hadn’t been looking through the rose-tinted glasses of a bride, more concerned about whether the wedding favors matched the flowers, or where I could smoke in a marquee. But a warning about the shit stains in the loo, the money worries and the curse of children wouldn’t have gone amiss, so my first secret is tolerance. Because whenever the old man fucks up, I always try to remember that no-one is perfect, even though I come pretty close.

 

I do miss being able to do exactly what I want to do all the time. Last Sunday was the perfect example of where compromise sucks. NC and I decided to watch the first season of a new series together and after a six-hour mammoth session of over-achievement, the old man dared to demand the tv room back, so while she sloped off to watch the rest of the series in her bedroom, I was left to sulk and invent new forms of torture for him. You spend a lot of time planning your partner’s death in marriage.

 

Communication and mutual interests are hugely important, which is why we continue to drink copious amounts of wine together. I did invite him to hot yoga with me – normal yoga during the menopause – but that was obviously never going to happen. “Walking” together clears the cobwebs and eases the tensions in neutral territory where we can discuss important shit without access to crockery to throw. Who knows, this time next year we could be gardening together.

 

Admittedly, I never thought we’d make the twenty-four-year mark and having realistic expectations has helped. I carried the stigma of being the first child of a divorce at school – please refer to scarred by my parents – so I was skeptical about marriage. But so far, we’ve weathered the near cyclonic storms with minimal damage – both the ones I’ve created because I like the sound of my own voice as well as the ones that life has thrown at us, such as the loss of loved ones, career disappointments, money lost through investment and that murky bag of smaller, miscellaneous disappointments that form part of the fabric of life. So you need backbone and commitment to keep going, as well as something that comes later in life for me – an appreciation of the little things.

 

Trust is a huge part of marriage. I admit that I am one of those stupid women to entrust my husband with our money – mainly because I am useless with it and we would be living on the streets if I managed it for us. A ‘running away’ account is currently being negotiated because we I am very open like that. In much the same way, he has entrusted me with the organization of our social life, because he is useless with people and would become a hermit somewhere in the Snowy Mountains if allowed. 

 

And my last secret is that you need to cuddle. A lot. Now, I’m not a natural cuddler – see ref. above about being screwed up as a child – but the old man is like a big teddy bear that needs to feel loved. Some might call him “needy.”

 

Twenty-five years might be pushing it if the old man’s rabbit in the headlights expression was anything to go by when I said we need to do something amazing next year – please refer to realistic expectations above.

 

Here they are again:

Communicate

Compromise

Mutual Interests

Cuddle

Commitment

Tolerance

Trust