Champion week

This morning began with a coffee in one hand, a pen in the other and this beautiful gerbera as my table companion. Not quite a salubrious setting (Sainsbury’s car park), but with the sunshine warming me right through to the middle, this was the best start to my day. I was definitely IN the moment.

This week off work had been eagerly anticipated (extreme understatement!) and has lived up to every expectation. I have found a place of rest, peace, achieving and sharing and I feel all the better for it. Relaxed, revitalised, re-motivated. It’s amazing what a little space in life can do – it frees you to BE and to GROW and to THINK. The rhythm of life doesn’t allow for that too often. Well, not in my experience anyway. How do YOU make space to BE and GROW and THINK? Not just the bleary-eyed, morning, quiet space, but a more prolonged time of escape (a day or two)? I’d love to hear your experiences. And try a few of them.

I think I’m marvelling a bit at this feeling because it’s happened with family in tow and particularly the last two days shared just with Ethan. A boy without medication for 5 days. Non-stop chat, non-stop movie/video dialogues, non-stop moving, spinning, jumping and climbing. Happy and FULL of fun. Without argument he’s sat and done his holiday homework with his assistant (me) by his side, redirecting his deficit attention back to the task in hand. He’s a clever boy. I wish I could work things out like he does.

His week began with a judo masterclass alongside a group of other children with similar conditions/qualities. Hooray! He didn’t feel weird, awkward or different as he does for most of the rest of his life. The adult and youth coaches at this event were amazing (big shout out to Dromore Judo Academy). Their acceptance of and encouragement to every child was a joy to watch (through the tears). Where else could a 10 year old bring down a 13st giant? (Probably even bigger than that but I’m not good at guessing weight and I don’t want to offend!).

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Headlining the event were two champions. Commonwealth, Olympic and European: Ashley McKenzie and Danny Williams. And they were much more than JUDO champions. They were ‘drawing the best out of these kids and loving them’ kind of champions. Ashley is a 25 year old with ADHD who as a boy discovered  judo as a way to channel his energy (and get his Pokemon card back!) . He has overcome his own challenges and won Commonwealth gold for team GB in 2014. He is now another of Ethan’s heroes. Move over Will.i.am. Make room on the bench!!

So it’s been a champion week in more ways than one. I am still enjoying BEING in the moment and not thinking ahead to Monday morning, relishing every moment of this ‘at home’ solace.

Shhhh! Stop moving so fast!

Ethan seems to have a very high pain and sickness threshold. Thankfully he’s not ill too often, but when he is, he really is. We had at least 6 trips to A&E before he was 9. So yesterday was one of those days when he wasn’t too well. Him and his Daddy didn’t make it to church because the battery in the van had died the day before round at a friend’s house and couldn’t be fixed once Katy and I had headed for church. When we arrived home  we discovered that he’d thrown up. We made lots of guesses about what he may have eaten, but then decided it was just a horrible bug. The throwing up carried on all afternoon, evening and into the night. Poor little guy.

He slowed right down, was lethargic, had no interest in doing anything, including screen-time (amazing), and just was ill. I found out that his brain was still buzzing though. I encouraged him out onto the bench in the sunshine and he snuggled up.

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‘When you die and go to heaven, will you remember your life on earth?’

‘Yes I’m sure you will.’

‘What age will you be in heaven?’

‘Not sure son. Maybe ageless? Your body doesn’t go, just your soul. Your personality, your thoughts and feelings.’

‘Will you know anybody else?’

‘Yes, I’m sure you’ll recognise people you know.’

‘But how will you recognise them if they don’t have bodies?’

Silence.

‘I think I need to do a bit of research!’

How can a child with no physical energy, turn his mind to such deepness? I don’t think he thought he was actually going to die, although at one point he did ask if the vomiting was ever going to stop.  He has been throwing a few other deep and meaningfuls my way recently. Keeps me on my theological toes.

His visits to A&E have been caused by things like: jumping off a wardrobe, opening (!) and drinking half a bottle of Calpol, some _itis in his stomach that begins with ‘m’ , and good old campylobacter  (food poisoning: after raiding the fridge and eating uncooked chicken goujons). It was during this last visit, which actually entailed about 3 trips, that he began to hallucinate. His clothes were walking round the room and there were people in the room that actually weren’t. It was very scary. And I got a little scared about 3 o’clock this morning when he told the silence to ‘shhhhh’ and me, lying still beside him to ‘stop moving so fast!’ I had just about planned the sequence of events to get us to the hospital when he fell asleep again and I convinced myself he was just dreaming.

He woke up this morning with rosy red cheeks and I could tell he was back to his usual self because he recited the words of an entire Minecraft parody, followed by another one, and another. But he had deduced one thing from the whole experience.

‘I think God stopped Daddy’s van from working yesterday so that I didn’t go to church and give everyone my germs!’ Faith and logic.

 

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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scarlett ohara

If you know me well enough to get a close look at my phone, you’re probably one of my friends who has exclaimed with disbelief at the number of unread emails in my inbox. Yes, the number in the title is current. It is ridiculous I know and it probably reflects more about my personality and habits than I really want to be sharing with the world.
I’m sure some of you delete, delete, delete. Or maybe you file emails away into folders. I’m sure that some of you have less than 100 emails in your inbox and you think that’s untidy!! So, what’s my problem?

 

Well, I DO scroll through and deal with the emails that are important (although I know some slip through and I miss them!), but I never seem to get round to doing anything with the others. They’re mostly emails from random sites I’ve subscribed to at some point, all with information that’s relevant to my life in some way or another.

 
List-300x199The problem. I’m a procrastinator. I put off a lot of things (that I don’t enjoy doing) until the very last minute of must. And then some things, like the emails, I just avoid totally. I have pushed sitting down and writing this to the top of a list that includes things like….send parcel, clear desk, purge emails! I have lists about lists. And lists about those lists. I have an almost tangible feeling that if I make a list, I’ve pretty much got everything done already.

 
Would you be surprised if I told you that ‘Gone with the Wind’ is one of my all time favourite books? Scarlett O’Hara and I are soul mates. ‘After all, tomorrow is another day!’ If I don’t do it today it will (magically) get done tomorrow. Or the tomorrow after tomorrow. Or the tomorrow after the tomorrow after tomorrow.

 

choose-your-college-degree-then-take-massive-actionFrom time to time, I encourage myself with little mantras to spur me on to list-ticking instead of list-making. One of my simplest, most direct is, ‘just do it Kathryn!’ You’d think that would work, right? I’m not going to make lots of excuses for myself: too busy, not enough hours in the day, etc. And I’m not going to make any promises to myself either. That I will somehow pull it out of the hat, change beyond recognition and be the most organised person on the planet. But I think I need to find a way through the middle somewhere.

 
One of my wonderful friends reminds me that goals need to be specific. Maybe I need to delete 50 a day rather than add ‘purge emails’ to my ethereal ‘to do’ list.
What tips do you have for ‘getting the job done’?

Leaving home. Going home.

It’s quiet. Oh, so quiet. No voices calling for me, no guitar playing, no continually repeatedguitar movie dialogues, no lengthy exchanges about the fact that it’s time to get dressed/eat dinner/turn off/go out/come back/go to bed. I can hear myself thinking. It’s wonderfully strange and strangely wonderful. I have left them all at home and flown to my other home to visit Mum (and Dad, but Mum’s the patient with the broken wrist.)

In my quiet thinking time I have wondered how they will survive without me being there to organise them, mediate and feed them. In my quiet thinking time I have told myself not to worry. In my quiet thinking time I received an email from the boy to say that (while I was still on the way, on the plane) they had been locked out of the house and he’d had to ‘break in’ and save the day! Reward – £5! Mmmmmmm, feeling the anxiety climbing.

As much as I love my work uniform I didn’t really want to wear it on the way over, so got changed before I left. That’s when I discovered that my water bottle had leaked into my ‘change of clothes’ bag. There was no option. I flew damp.

I’m not a happy fly-er at all, but with my last minute ticket I’d been allocated 29E which was the very back row. Hemmed in by two sleepers, head down in my Good Food magazine, I enjoyed the happiest flying in a very long time. Anyone else find the back of the plane is better? I’m choosing back seats next time.

My friend Claire had kindly agreed to pick me up and so I waited outside the airport along with several other fellow fly-ers. Sure enough, a car pulled up with Claire’s hubby Jon driving. He smiled, I smiled. AND waved. AND leant to open the door.It wasn’t Jon! Embarrassed laughter. Obvious but pointless explanations.

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Home, the one I’m returning to, has been famous throughout the centuries for a whole number of reasons. From martyrs to incapacity benefit fraudsters, from being voted the most boring town in the UK to now being the home of TOWIE!

Brentwood has been home for my mum for her entire life (coming up 82 years) and she is a mine of information on its history and has been interviewed by newspapers, local radio and a local author, all gleaning facts from her memories. She’s resting now with her broken arm on a pillow, but fortunately her fingers are wiggling enough to text!

Having home far away from home would leave me feeling pretty helpless in a situation like this, so I’m very thankful I was able to get over this weekend, see my sister in amongst all her own busyness and cook up a few meals for Mum and Dad’s freezer.

I have enjoyed the quiet, I must confess, punctuated by incoming texts from Katy, keeping me up to date! I am relishing each hour of it. But, equally looking forward to hearing their voices soon.

And my clothes are nice and dry for tonight’s flight back home again.

Changing lenses

A few weeks back I had an idea for a new blog which was going to be reflective and have a devotional feel to it. You can have a look at it right here if you like! Please do. But, in doing so I began to rethink this blog, which I have pretty much neglected over the last year (a bit like my garden), and let’s be honest, have never really faithfully done anything about it.

The reason for the new blog was to try and ‘get writing’. Well, get writing and get it out there where someone would actually read it – hopefully. And then I started to think about this poor blog, dormantly hoping I’d get back and give it some attention.

I had to have a rethink then about the purpose of this blog. I needed to hone things a bit in my mind. The ‘mud and sparkles’ of life with the Fyfes was its original intention and I guess it still is to a degree, but there are some specifics of our life that I wanted to be able to express.

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Just over a year ago we brought home our Lacey from the animal sanctuary – our 13 week old mad puppy. A week later, Tony (hubby) had a stroke. In the weeks following that, late at night in the middle of winter, Lacey and I would wrap up and walk the streets of Belfast. She was probably oblivious to the oceans of tears that I shed on those walks. I was trying my best to look after a recovering stroke patient, a hormonal ‘tween’, a 9 year old son with ADHD and ASD and now a puppy! Mostly the tears were from emotional exhaustion, but I had to try and see the funny side. It’s a good job God was walking the streets with me, because he and I had some very long conversations during that winter.

There were a lot of stories to be told in that year, and if like me you keep a journal, you’ll understand the pages of outpouring. Maybe it was wise that they weren’t all spilled into a blog, maybe it’s time to share some of them and maybe it’s time to talk about the rebuilding of our life together.

So, I’m adjusting the lens a bit on what I want you to see in our ‘mud and sparkles’ , refocussing I suppose, and hoping that our journey will inspire and encourage  you in yours.

Celebrating Autism!

autism butterfly

Just in case you didn’t know, today is Autism Awareness Day! Look out for jigsawed ribbons and people wearing blue!!!

Our son Ethan (9) is blessed with a collection of letters after his name…ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).  So, today, I am celebrating Autism and the beautiful things that it brings to our life as a family.

Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder. Ethan’s brain is wired differently to yours and mine and probably was so from birth. The exact cause of this is still being universally investigated, but probably a combination of genetic and environmental factors contribute to the disorder. More than half a million people in the UK have Autism, around 1 in 100. And Ethan has joined quite a hall of fame: Stephen Spielberg, Bill Gates, Einstein to name a few. (With his ADHD he will proudly tell you that he joins the same club as Leonardo da Vinci, Alexander Graham Bell and Will.i.am!!) There are a host of other famous names to add to both these lists.

All children with ASD share three main areas of difficulty although it affects each child in unique and different ways. These difficulties affect the child’s  thinking, talking and the way he interacts socially.

If you analyse a conversation with Ethan you will soon realise that first and foremost his conversation is about…..Ethan! Oh,  and Ethan’s interests! Match this up with another ASD trait, obsessions, and endless dialogue about Spongebob or Lego can ensue. The other day, he asked me what I was knitting. This was cause for celebration as he rarely verbalises an interest in what others are doing, just to make conversation. When he was 4, prior to diagnosis, he was referred to Speech Therapy because his speech was so unclear. Actually he was just speaking incredibly quickly because his brain has so much going on all the time and he was tripping over his words to get it all out there.

For Ethan, life is very literal. Everyday sayings that we take for granted have to be explained to him, otherwise he would be looking out the window for rainclouds spilling cats and dogs. This black and whiteness means he says it like it is. If you have a spot on your nose, Ethan will tell you about it, just in case you hadn’t noticed.  And he will be completely unaware of any effect his comments have on you!  Ethan has caused offence by commenting on people’s size and colour. He is not judging or being unkind,  or even rude, just telling it as it is. We are doing our best to teach him how these comments can make a person feel.

Living with Ethan is sometimes very challenging. He is the sweetest child and also in his frustration he is quite an aggressive child, full of deepest remorse after a hurtful outburst. To those who meet him out and about, in their home, at church, on the street, I think he probably comes across as a funny, friendly, slightly quirky young fella with a huge amount of energy. I’m not sure any more because we have just gotten so used to him being who he is. From strangers (and people we know)  we  see tuts and shaking of the heads brought about by his hyperactivity usually, but by those close to us who really know him, he is very loved and that love for him we truly appreciate. Thank you.

So, that’s the awareness bit over and done with. On to celebration!

Ethan is fun and funny. He is physically strong and energetic. He has an incredible memory and a super quick brain for learning stuff. He is able to learn concepts and put them into context while I’m trying to keep up with the initial explanation. He can construct a Lego set in no time at all and plays strategy and logic games annoyingly well. He loves stories and characters. He loves to snuggle with me and a good book at bed time and (because he lacks the sleep chemical melatonin) finds it incredibly difficult to go over to sleep on his own. But hey, what an excuse for longer snuggles! He brings noise to our home. Lots of it. Mostly laughter, singing and of course those endless movie dialogues. He has inspiring determination  and one of his favourite words is ‘perseverance’.  He has very few real friends  (because most ‘normal’ children think he’s weird) but to those few friends he has, he is intensely loyal and loving!

ASD does not make Ethan who he is. Neither does ADHD. He is unique and destined to be who he is, created by The Creator who knows every hair on Ethan’s head and every thought in his oh, so busy mind. In our church, we have a tradition that on the day a baby is dedicated, a candle is given to the family. We light Ethan’s candle every birthday to remind ourselves of that dedication day. Ethan’s candle is quite unusual. It’s like three plaited cords of wax, woven together in the colours blue, red and yellow. We, and Ethan’s Godmother who chose that candle, had no idea that those colours, in jigsaw pieces, would represent the very condition that he has. But our heavenly Father who gave us the honour and joy of being Ethan’s parents; He knew.

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‘Go on yer girl ye!’

A milestone! Week one completed! And on my third run, in the morning darkness I was encouraged to go all the way by a little old lady in her dressing gown having a ‘feg’ on her front doorstep. I wasn’t sure whether or not to stop and engage conversation, but then decided maybe that I would be distracted from the beeps and instructions that are C2 5K! My legs have stopped feeling like I’ve been torturing them and I feel totally pleased with myself that I’m an eighth of the way there. I confess that on day 3 as I was running and most definitely feeling the need for vast intakes of oxygen, I had a vision of my friend Karen serenely running along the road at Ballylinney and doubted that I could ever achieve the same! But, definitely buoyed by A LOT of encouragement from my friends and family, I head into week 2 with ENTHUSIASM!

(apologies if I’ve misspelt the title by the way. I’m sure a NI friend can correct me!)

Happy New Year!

Dry JanuaryHappy New Year everyone! January 1st 2014. No new year resolutions for me but some resolve about a few things like getting organised and sending birthday cards and Christmas  cards this year! Getting fit and losing a few (actually quite a few!) pounds. Much more decluttering, physically and mentally, to give more space for the important things in my life…. God, my family and my health and well being.

So yesterday I started the C2 5K (couch to 5k in 8 weeks!). I’m laughing with myself really, because I can’t remember the last time I did any kind of organised fitness regime. I’ll have to keep smiling anyway if I’m going to break through all the pain barriers to get fit and lose at least a stone!!! Last night my toe was in agony and this morning all my leg muscles are politely reminding me that I did exercise yesterday for half an hour. Luckily for them they get today off!! I have absolutely no proper clothing for running and looked quite a sorry state in Tony’s waterproof coat and 10 year old joggers. You’ll understand why I chose to start running while it was still dark and raining! Less chance of anyone I know seeing me, or for that matter anyone I don’t know!

I know I have to do less of the eating stuff too. Well eating the wrong stuff anyway. It’s tough this getting fit idea isn’t it. No more chocolate indulgences, crisps, peanuts and birthday cake. Oh so sad, but oh so necessary!

And then this morning I heard about ‘Dry January’. An alcohol free month to raise awareness of alcohol related diseases and give people a chance to change their drinking habits. My drinking habits aren’t excessive, but it was the promise of losing a few pounds that intrigued me. I’ll add it to the resolve list for January and stick it out…it’s only 31 days!

I’m slightly reluctant to tell you that I weigh 11st 4lbs, but there, I’ve just done it. My goal is to get to 9st 13lbs so I can say I weigh less than 10st!

Happy  ‘dry, fat free, running in the dark’ New Year everyone:-)