Cyril – a chance encounter

I have seen Cyril many times over the last number of years. Driven past him, him walking purposefully to somewhere. Or pushing a bike. And always with a few plastic bags in his hands or hanging from the handlebars. The look of a homeless man. Dirty clothes, worn shoes and a big beard. But I’ve never met him. Until recently.

My Tuesday Cregagh Glen walk was much later  (because I’m trying to get this book written  – you know, the one we all have) and there were lots more people up and down the glen at 11.30am than there are at 8.30am. At the bottom, on the way down, I met Cyril. We had a conversation about how long the Glen has been ‘renovated’, the fact that I’m from Essex (and wasn’t Brentwood famous? Yes, but for all the wrong reasons!) and that I’d first met my Glenravel husband at Gatwick airport en route to Jamaica, before I went and lived there 26 years ago. And the fact that my son is on the Autism spectrum. It’s amazing how much of your life story you can share with a stranger in the space of 2 1/2 minutes.

And then, for the next 45 minutes, a patient Lacey at my feet, I listened to a man, self-diagnosed with Aspergers, retrieve from his phenomenal mind, fact upon fact, quote upon quote. He is Mr Ology. He has read it all. Quantum physics, natural healing, Northern Ireland’s heroes, scientists, authors, spirituality. As he spoke, non-stop, with brief cross-references to my Essex roots and my son with ASD, I was amazed at the holograpicuniversetalbotmemory that shone from behind his flickering eyelids as he read (I’m guessing here) from the memorized pages of books. He can quote page and line number of the information he is expounding. An amazing man, who will share his natural healing theories with you on the bench opposite the lifts at Forestside. He’ll even write down possible concoctions to heal your ailments, having himself partaken of his daily tonic before leaving his ‘home’. If you don’t catch him at Forestside, maybe your paths will cross on a walk in Botanic Park where he passes the time of day with tourists and lecturers and proudly shares the fact that his photo is all over the web.

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And sure enough, if you Google ‘Cyril of Botanic’ you will find out more from others who have met this fascinating character. My day was made undoubtedly richer by this chance encounter.

 

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How odd!

 

 

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How do you feel about odd numbers? I like them! A lot! Don’t ask me why because there’s no rhyme or reason at all. I just like them. I have enjoyed all my odd number ages and strangely enough, ALL the houses I have lived in have been odd: 49, 85, 89, 39, 127b (even the ‘b’ feels like an ‘odd’ letter!) and our current home, number 1. I was born, graduated, married, moved country (twice) all in odd years. I guess it’s not that strange: I had an even chance of all those things happening in an odd year.  So, all this to say, I am enjoying the thought of this year being odd!

 

Yesterday I found some time to sit and think about my hopes and intentions for this odd 2017. I made four lists (personal, family, home and others – as in other people) and tried very hard to balance intentionality and eagerness with realism and practicality. I have planned on some things which just need to be done better and some things which need me to step up and be different. Some things which are carried over, a bit like Christmas turkey and need eaten soon, and some things which will take me out of my comfort zone. Some things which I hope will help us as a family to be together more and some things which will help us to think outside ourselves a bit more.

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It warms my heart that these ‘hopes and intentions’ are not just randomly pulled out of the air because a list is being drawn up. They grow out of the journey travelled this past year. Experiences, relationships, listening, reading, thinking, watching. Everything that I have soaked up to make me who I am at the end of 2016, spills out into the dreams and motivations for a new season. Things that have been whispering in my heart, increase volume in the expectation and energy of possibility. Things that I couldn’t have hoped for last January, come nearer and become clearer. Things that I never imagined I would be able to do, grab hold of new confidence and determination, nurtured in the old year.

 

I wonder how you see the new year. How you hope and dream. From whatever place you find your feet standing now, there IS hope. Whether the path you see ahead is straight and beautiful, rough and lonely, beside still waters or steeply uphill, there IS hope. And I pray you find it.

Have a happy and odd 2017!

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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.

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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.

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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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