Dear June,

Dear June,

As usual, you have been the busiest, most emotional, expensive and tiring month of the year. Every year, I know it will be the same, and every year you manage to surprise me with how intense you are. This year you even brought extra luggage with you. The ‘end of primary school for ever in this family’ bag and the ‘interview for a new job’ bag which definitely fell into the ‘excessive weight’ category. It was difficult unpacking the first one and the second one seemed to take forever to empty. Now they’re both zipped up again and the contents transferred to my mind and heart where I’m continuing to process them, but at a much more leisurely pace now that you’ve gone.

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Who’d have known that driving out of the gates of E’s school for the last time would be such a wrench. What an amazing place Lough View has been for both of our children. A place of polytunnels, creativity, respecting rights, buddy systems, Lifeguards, Judo belting, musical excellence, pond dipping, Roots of Empathy, amazing teachers, oh and academic learning! We will certainly miss it.

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And who’d have known that you would bring with you the opportunity of a job which I love, made permanent. I certainly wasn’t expecting that and am truly grateful. Not just because it’s a job, but because of where it is and with whom I get to work. I am very blessed.

So, now you’ve packed your bags and gone again. Thanks for the lovely moments of variety shows, visitors, P7 discos, fairs and fun nights, plant sales, end of year ‘do’s’, Prosecco, hugs from friends, flowers and whiskey.

Thank you for the endings, and the anticipation of beginnings.

See you next year,

Much love,

Kathryn x

PS. Please could you forward some sunshine – July arrived without it!

Celebrating generosity

Yesterday the postman called with a package full of surprises from dear friends. It’s always a joyful IMG_2825moment that brings close those who are physically far away. As we untied the string around gifts which brought smiles and excitement, I thought of the precious hands that had tied the bows thousands of miles away – their touch brought near again. (Can you understand why I have to keep that string now?!) As I opened a letter full of news, hopes, words which were thoughtful and kind, the heart of a friend was brought close. I didn’t feel sadness in the missing, I felt joy in the nearness this package had delivered.

Yesterday was the day that Ethan and I had planned to surprise the postman with a bar of chocolate – something to keep him going for the rest of his round. This was an idea from 40acts.org.uk. We had wondered if we would even see him and so having him knock the door was just the perfect thing to happen. He was a bit surprised and very thankful for the treat. But, in the giving, I think Ethan’s heart was even fuller than the postman’s. ‘This is for you. Have a nice day!’

IMG_2826Over the last 2 ½ years, as a family, we have been totally overwhelmed at the financial and practical generosity of people. Envelopes put through our door or into our hands with cash or vouchers tucked inside. Food parcels from a local church who understood our need. In times of despair and hopelessness these profoundly kind and timely gifts have brought us tearfully to our knees. The gratitude in our hearts has not always been expressed in person as often these were anonymous gifts. But I am convinced that the joy in the heart of the givers has matched and even surpassed our thankfulness.

If you are reading this and are one of those givers (secret or not) – THANK YOU. Please know that you have impacted our lives in remarkable ways, helped us when we couldn’t see a way, and blessed us beyond anything we feel that we deserve.

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Thankfully the darkness of those times has largely passed and we are again hopeful for a new season ahead and the opportunities for us to give again in the way that we have received. Believe me, I know that it’s not all about giving financially. There is so much that we have received from the hearts of our family and friends that is immeasurable: support, encouragement, listening ears (often while I cry), kindness, prayer and understanding – because of ALL of this, we are still standing.

In this season of #doinglentgenerously I wanted to mark the sand with this expression of gratitude.

THANK YOU     IMG_2828

 

Night night. Sleep tight.

‘Night night, sleep tight’ are words that I don’t really say to the boy. They are not in the routine, because they suggest I won’t be coming back up the stairs or seeing him until morning. And to him, that is upsetting.

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Since he was able to sleep in a cot at around 6 months or so, E has needed physical contact to help him fall asleep. To begin with he would grasp my little finger as I stretched my hand down into the cot, my feet on tiptoes. I don’t think I ever fell asleep in that position, but there was often a dead arm feeling or a rush of blood to the head.

 

When he was big enough for a bed, maintaining that physical closeness was easier. Sitting together reading stories, my arm round him til he fell asleep. I can’t even remember at which point I realised his dependence on that contact to lead him to sleep. It wasn’t just physical contact. It was me. Daddy didn’t quite do the same job. Probably because he didn’t do it exactly the same way. There was the expected back rubbing and a lot of hand contact, Ethan balling his fist and twisting and turning it in the curved palm of my hand. He still does this. There was a stage of him pulling my hand to cover his eyes and then positioning my fingers to rest on his closed eyelids. When he was a toddler, going to sleep with a dummy, he would push my fingers hard into the little air spaces each side. Sensory seeking? I think so.

I went through a period of time when I tried hard to wean him off this contact so he could go to sleep independently. In the end I decided it was no sacrifice really, snuggling with him, singing, praying, reading until he fell asleep. Surely he wouldn’t need this still when he was a big, big boy?

My parents would come to stay, or we would have friends in the house for the evening, and I would spend anything up to an hour each night sitting with him to go to sleep, with Tony entertaining guests downstairs. If I left him on his own to settle, it would result in a late awake and tired boy who then needed the whole routine anyway when it was my bedtime.

The curious thing was, that if Tony and I were out and a babysitter was in the house, he seemed able to settle and sleep fairly easily. It was curious too, that if I went out on my own, leaving Tony to do bedtime, then invariably Ethan’s face would be peering through his bedroom window on my return. Waiting for the routine. Not so curious I hear you say. He’s got you wrapped round his little finger!

And we did have a routine. Back rubbing, singing lullabies, lavalamp, meditation music and praying. I began to be able to judge the very moment when it was safe to say, ‘I’m going downstairs for a cup of tea now.’ Then this sequence of words would follow…lavalamp-1255942

‘Ok . You’re coming back?’

‘Yes. I love you.’

‘Love you too.’

This became a winning sequence and invariably I would hear no more from him and go back to a sleeping boy later in the evening.

When he had his ADHD diagnosis and the sleeping situation was discussed with his doctor, she suggested and we accepted, the use of melatonin to get him over to sleep. This helped a lot and reduced the routine time by about half.

He has just got a new bed. One of these climb up the ladder to sleep and with a desk underneath. It means that I cannot physically snuggle beside him. No way can I tackle that ladder. I do still climb up onto a chair (precariously), hold his hand and stay until the meditation app is in full flow.

Recently, turning 11 and entering his final year at primary school, it is apparent that he understands that some of his routines and sensory issues are not experienced by most of his peers and that he is different. He is trying to cross the river, wading at times, into a new territory which involves letting go at bedtime and trying new foods (a whole other post). I was trying to think of other things to add to that list, but couldn’t, and figure that two things at a time is enough for anybody to be working on!

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The girl with the auburn hair

 

lacey-and-glen-signTuesday mornings have become my ‘walk up the glen with the dog’ day. I drop the kids off at school, drive down the Rocky Road and park at the bottom of the glen. Within about 30 seconds I have lost the sound of the rush hour traffic and all I can hear is the tumbling of the river water, birdsong and the journey of the wind in the trees. It has become a favourite habit. At that time of the morning I can be brave enough to let Lacey off the lead without fear of meeting too many people for her to greet with her muddy paws. Mostly just other dog walkers and the odd runner.

 

But last Tuesday we met someone with a different walking habit. Near the top of the glen you can choose a path that takes you through a gate and into a newly harvested field. After a couple of hundred metres around the perimeter you come to the gate of the American Military Memorial. As we got closer, a young, auburn haired woman was coming through the memorial gate to start her walk. At first glance I inwardly commented  that her pale coloured pumps were probably not the best foot attire for a walk in the field. They were a bit out of place with her otherwise ‘ready for the occasion’ outfit. Jeans and a hoodie.

 

As we walked closer to each other I realised that she was in fact, shoeless! And sockless! After our ‘good morning’ I watched as she kicked up the grass cuttings and revelled in the cool dew of the field. There were other things in that field which I hope she managed to avoid!

 

lacey-and-glen-pathHow wonderful to have just parked up, lost her boots and socks and enjoyed the moment of peace at the start of her day. I admit, I was a bit jealous! (Not that there was anything stopping me from joining her.) Of course I don’t know if she was thinking about her day ahead (as I was) or a pre-school tussle (as I was) or what I was cooking for dinner that night (as I was), but the very image she conjured up for me, just because she had on no socks, was one of freedom.

 

Freedom to stop, to walk, to feel, at a different level to those with shoes. Freedom to do what she wanted (in a beautiful not defiant way) and be unconcerned about anything outside of that. Freedom to connect with creation with an extra sense.

 

Maybe we all need to take off our socks a little more.

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A new leaf

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A couple of weeks ago, Ethan lifted a huge leaf from the ground which had been ‘Autumned’ with beautiful colours. It got me thinking that even as the seasons change, there is so much beauty to be found in the season you’re leaving behind. It reminded me not to rush into what’s next, but savour what has been, as it goes. Those thoughts became quite poignant as the next few days days unfolded.

Have you ever had that moment when it seems like all the leaves on your tree are suddenly blown away and you’re left feeling a little vulnerable? A bit exposed? But excited about what happens next? In my last post I was looking forward to a new season, but to be honest I didn’t expect as much change as the last week has brought me!

A bit of a shift at work, a long term dream beginning to come true and some extra time created to do a bit more writing (especially ‘the book’ – we all have one of those, right?). My brain is buzzing with it all and I’m not sleeping great because my brain is buzzing. But it’s exciting.

I’m not the best adapter to change. It’s usually a slow process with me. But maybe a few things happening all at once is just what I needed to elbow me off one path and onto another. And this new one has a different feel underfoot. I’m intrigued as to where it leads, refreshed by the variety of experiences it holds and humbled to be journeying with some new companions.

Three things

Everyone is saying the same thing. And it’s true. ‘I can’t believe it’s nearly September!’ ‘Where has the summer gone?’ In fact, where has this year gone? It seems a blink away that the New Year turned and with it, for me, brought some hope and light. It’s probably a matter of days not weeks, and the shops will be filled with Christmas. Let’s not go there. Let’s BE in these moments of late summer sunshine.

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The school holidays always cause me to reflect on life – the pace at which we live as a family during term time and how tired that causes us to be. Tired in body, mind and soul. I have learnt (more or less) not to sign up for things (oops, just broke that one!) or make BIG decisions or start BIG projects during the summer. I just can’t follow through with the same level of energy and enthusiasm once term begins again. And then I feel deflated and defeated.

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I read a church hoarding recently that said: Live simply, speak kindly, love unconditionally. It stirred something in me and I’ve taken it to heart. These are short, wonderfully memorable phrases but extremely challenging. When I stop and think about how those words work out in my life, I’m only really in the starting blocks.

Live simply, speak kindly, love unconditionally

 

This past weekend K and E and I were camping with some friends, enjoying the sunshine and beauty of Tollymore Country Park. The boy spent two and a half days screen free without a bother. When you can make forts in the forest, play on a rope swing hanging from a tall tree, find more sticks for your collection, cover your face in soot so no-one can see you in the dark and swim in icy mountain rivers, then who needs screens? I love that simplicity. But life back home isn’t like that. Can’t be like that. All the time. A friend reminded me…we are sojourners in this space of beauty and simplicity. And what a joy and a privilege to be a sojourner. For those of you who know me well, you will know how much I appreciate the ‘seasons’ of life. The fact that most of our experiences, both joyful and painful, are temporary. Life ebbs and flows. That helps me to withstand the tough times and appreciate the easier times. To learn from the challenges and be a stronger person because of them. To enjoy the smooth seasons and share the peace of that with the people around me.

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I am journeying on a path now where there is more hope. As a family our hatches have been well and truly battoned down over the last year and a half, and caring for my ‘three’ has been paramount. Of course it always will be, but, I feel like my head is coming up and my fingers are unfurling again. I am wanting to find that place again where it’s not about me, it’s about others. Where my hands are open and stretched out. Where kind words and love are working their way outwards, beyond my front door. Welcome, new season.

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13 days

Day 1: catch a cold

Day2: have dinner with friends – discover Cooneyites

Day 3: go to bed – cold horrible

Day 4: Dublin zoo with the boy – a first

Day 5: go blonde and short

Day 6: Mum and Dad arrive

Day 7: rain

Day 8: rain

Day 9: rain

Day 10: Andy Murray wins Wimbledon – hooray!!

Day 11: run very fast with the boy on the lawn at Mount Stewart

Day 12: drop off the boy at his friend’s and worry for 5 hours that everything is going ok

Day 13: play hide and seek with the boy in the ruins of Grey Abbey

 

So far, so wet and so wonderful.

 

Unmedicated days with the boy are up and down. He hides in his world of other places, found in the black hole of his tablet screen. My heart struggles between letting him be there and making him be present with us. The first option is so much easier. And so quiet. The second involves schedules, lists, bargaining, timers set, goals made, constant questions about the next screen time, arguments, chocolate, fridge raiding, movement, hyperactivity, requests for help, abandoned activities, tears and mediation.

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The summer break is always longed for by me. No rushing in the mornings, no packed lunches to make and no busy activity schedules. I love the quiet first thing in the day, the cup of tea, my garden bench (the one Katy and I sat on yesterday and it collapsed under us!), space to think and read and write. I relish and cherish these moments. They are precious. They set me up for the rest of the day, strengthen me, flood me with quiet energy and restore me. By the end of the day I feel emptied and at times struggling to find patience, but the sleepy ‘I love you’ from the boy softens my edges and reminds me that I am blessed to be his Mummy. No-one else got that job.

 

I struggle sometimes (often) to believe that I am doing that job well. I struggle sometimes (often) with the disappointment that our life isn’t screen free simplicity. I struggle sometimes (often) with how other people respond to Ethan. I struggle sometimes (often) with how I respond to Ethan.

 

But tomorrow morning, and the next, and the next, I will sit on my bench (the other one), with my tea and breathe in the stillness of the morning, the presence of Creator, ready for another day.

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The Ancient. The Simple.

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Over the past 25 years, Co. Donegal has claimed a big part of my heart. Whenever we head over the Foyle Bridge I always feel the stresses and strains of life shedding, my heart skips a beat and the words of appreciation begin. What is it about this part of the world that affects me so much? I’ve thought about it a lot these past few days and concluded that there are two main things.

The ancient and the simple.

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On Saturday morning when I stood again on Tullagh Beach I thought back to the last time I had sunk my feet into the same sand exactly a year ago. A LOT has happened for us since then, and most of it has been tough. But those giant waves have rolled onto that beach every day since and those craggy mountains haven’t moved. In fact way beyond this year, way beyond my lifetime and back into millennia that beauty has remained the same. Our life journey is bumpy and we have big things to face when we get home, but there is deep peace here in the ancient creation and the awesome presence of the ancient creator.

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Our daily walks have taken us past ancient peat ditches and land that has been farmed from way back. A mountain-ward glance and miles of dry stone walls can be seen built in times past by the weathered hands of sheep farmers. The white-washed walls of old stone cottages stand out against the green, their peat smoke trailing skywards.

There are only so many belongings that can be squeezed into our ‘ancient’ Citroen ZX, squeezed in between two children and the dog. The usual for us would be: food, clothes, books, board games, knitting, drawing/writing stuff and Whiskey. And that is very simply what makes up our days and nights. Walking, reading, writing, playing, eating and sleeping. Oh, and Whiskey-ing. Our days here are simple. All my lists are left behind. There is nothing I can do about them. There’s no internet! I am the most happy of Mummies! Facebook doesn’t whisper, ‘come check on me’ and all the things I feel the need to Google, can’t be! It’s so simple. And I realise how crowded I am by those things. They press in on me in their sneaky, cheeky ‘you need me’ kind of way, and I don’t like that. I like simple.

The kids have survived with no internet and no TV! Ethan has devoured a whole ‘adult’ dot-to-dot book (can I just clarify that’ adult’ means hundreds and hundreds of dots rather than inappropriate content!), Frisbee-ed his heart out and parkoured the sand dunes and rocks.

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They adopted three lost lambs and named them Jesse, Steve and Bee. Every day we would look out for them in our garden or a nearby field, until the farmer chaperoned them home.

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A road trip for Katy and I took us up through Mamore Gap with amazing views, pink sheep and some thoughtful moments at a shrine to St Eigney.

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Ethan’s biggest challenge this week has been the shower. ‘I can’t use that shower. It’s old. It’s dark. It’s different.’ His biggest joy? All of us sitting round the peat fire reading and dot-to-dotting.

Simple.

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No matter what…

It’s not often that Ethan divulges any of his feelings, so when a rare moment happens, the rest of us take it all in. The other night it was Katy who overheard a conversation between Ethan and one of his friends, in the car on the way home from the school quiz night.

Ethan and three of his mates from school had come back to our home, raked around, had penssomething to eat (brain food), made team posters and practised some quick-fire rounds before we headed up the hill, back to school. It always does my heart good to see Ethan with this particular group of three friends. They are such lovely boys: funny, loud, quiet, good-mannered and above all else (in my books anyway) KIND. (And they eat whatever I cook them!) They handle Ethan with acceptance, understanding, honesty and patience.

As the evening went on, I could sense Ethan experiencing sensory overload as he began to excuse himself more frequently from the hall to get some space. The boys assured me, ‘he’ll be back in a minute’. This told me that they KNOW him. They KNOW that he can’t cope for 2 hours in a hall with 70 other people, bright lights, music, chat, time restraints for questions etc. They KNOW that he needs a break. No-one went after him and when he returned there were no questions, just back to business.

Jelly-Beans-1KIN-JEL-JEBThey argued about answers, gave way to each other, admitted graciously when they got it wrong and bigged up each other when they got it right. We came somewhere near the bottom of the leader board, but they got prizes for being the only team with posters, and they were happy. At the end of the night there were hugs and high fives, plenty of laughter and the energy of  fizzy drinks and jelly beans.

But the conversation on the way home was both a little sad and heart-warming. The boys were talking about the quiz and their friends at other tables, when Ethan began to tell M how glad he was that M was Ethan’s friend. He began to tell him that outside of these 3 boys, at school he doesn’t have any real friends. He feels the others don’t like him, don’t include him, think he’s weird.

E: They don’t like me.

M: They think you have issues. Problems. That you’re ‘psycho’.  (Hopefully that’s an expression for ‘a little different from what’s normally expected’.)

E: So why are you my friend then?

M: I don’t think they’re right. I like you the way you are.  I’ll always be your friend, no matter what happens.

Between the tears that Katy and I shared as she recounted this to me, we determined to do our best together to help Ethan with these three friendships. To create opportunities more often for him to get together with the ‘Thunder Knights’ and for him to feel and appreciate in his own way, the love and acceptance that they give to him.

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Nerf Wars

This past week has been mid-term break and a mixture of calm and storm. The boy was at a Lego camp each day for four hours. He loved it! He came home every day with a new mini-figure and a clay creation (in various states of squashedness). Could he tell us the names of any of his new friends at camp? No. Could he give us details of any of the teacher-led constructions he made? No. The only piece of willingly offered information was that on the last day, they played Nerf Wars! And he had scars to prove it.

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On Thursday night we had our own version of Nerf Wars here in the house. He had had a blast of an evening at his ASD youth club, playing hockey with Adam Keefe, Captain of the Belfast Giants ice hockey team. When he got home, his sister was in the final minutes of a movie she was enjoying and Ethan decided that if she was watching that, he could use his Kindle. At this moment I made the WRONG decision. I put myself in the battle frontline and said NO! It was bedtime. It was 9.30pm and it was bedtime.

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The bedtime routine for Ethan is very structured, involves me being there and I could see it being very late before anyone got to bed if I added in the struggle to get him off his Kindle. So, NO. No Kindle.

The battle began. Doors slammed, words spewed. ‘It’s not fair!’, ‘You hate me!’, ‘I hate you!’, ‘You don’t love me!’, ‘I don’t love you!’, ‘You’re mean!’. Missiles flew (mainly empty toilet roll holders I’d been saving to make seed pots!) and then the Nerf Gun was brought into play. Looking down the orange barrel I was filled with a mixture of nerves and bravery. I stood my ground. He’s not such a great shot. I survived. This lasted about 45 minutes and could have been avoided, maybe, if I’d said YES.

 

 

When Ethan has been to the height of his mountain, he spends time alone coming down the dinosaurother side and then is totally remorseful. ‘I can’t believe I said that to you. I’m so sorry. Did I hurt you? I love you.’ As I comforted a sobbing sister (‘All I want is some peace in this family and for everyone to stop shouting!’), Ethan’s remorse appeared in the form of a note, attached to the Nerf gun. ‘I’m sorry about the way I behaved. Can you forgive me? Here’s the Nerf gun so you can get me back.’ After a few words on ‘forgiveness is love, not revenge’, there were hugs. For Katy, the sobs subsided as we talked about the best way to love Ethan through his mountain-climbing. For Ethan, he had immediately moved on and away from the battle. Never to be mentioned again. Apart from by me in the next day consequence of NO KINDLE FOR A WHOLE DAY! Yes I bravely went there, stuck to it and survived with no threats from the Nerf.