With and Without You

Yesterday my latest copy of A Beginner’s Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorders arrived in the post, just in time to give to his new teacher at the end of Transition Day. I wanted to write a note to go with it in anticipation of not getting chance to talk to the teachers (good plan, I didn’t get chance, and as he currently teaches at another school I wont see him now until September). So I re read the book, just to make sure it could be read in an hour as  I wanted to say (it took me about 40 minutes, but I’m a fast reader). I feel a bit cheeky, asking him to read something, I have some idea how much work outside the classroom teachers do (a lot), how little of the school holidays they actually have as ti me off, plus he’s been teaching 7 years already I didn’t want to insult him. So, I hope my note adequately acknowledged these things and persuasively explained why it was important he read this book.

Then there was my re reading the book. Which on the one hand, made me doubt he is on the spectrum (as it’s clear there are are people on the spectrum with more problems with him). On the other hand, it made me ashamed, as it talked about anxiety and how people can’t learn when their stressed. You see I spent a lot of time shouting at him the previous evening as he was driving me around the twist (the irony of only feeling able to express my frustration with ASC in metaphors is not lost on me). I went to bed the night before, early, with a headache, in tears. And indeed I’d got cross with him that very morning too. So re reading the book reminded me how rubbish/wrong/coutnerproductive/cruel my behaviour had been.

The probable reason his behaviour had been trying the night before is that yesterday was both Transition Day, when he spent the day with the teacher he will have in September, in the new classroom, and also the day they went the whole year went on an overnight school trip to a marine aquarium to “sleep with the sharks”. Stellar timing school (not).

So, yesterday evening, after the hectic rush of getting him and a classmate (who lives far away) and classmates mother and brother back to ours, the boys changed, fed an evening meal and back to school in an hour and twenty minutes, we then had an evening, a night, a morning of just one child.

I knew it would be different, but how much quieter, easier, calmer it is just blew me away. Even once she was asleep and he would’ve been asleep had he been here, the atmosphere in the house was completely different from normal.

So now, I am back to thinking, he is not average, there is “something” different about him (and ASC seems to be the best fit). And I am not just a rubbish parent, parenting him is so full on, noisy, relentless.

And the bit of the book where Paul Taylor says not to try and do anything with them when they’re stressed, to leave them be. I really understand why he wrote that, it makes so much sense. But the problem is not me leaving him be, it’s him leaving me be. He follows me around shouting at me. I want him to find a quiet space and leave him to calm down, but he doesn’t want to do that, his constant need for attention means that he would rather shout at me. And of course, this happens when I am trying to cook for everyone. In fact it all started as he was in ultra noisy mode and I wasn’t coping with it. Whatever I did, whatever I said, however gentle, persuading, reasonable I was, whatever tactic I tried, all I could hear was him shouting and banging and it took up all the space in my head. And when I’d finally had enough and asked him to go upstairs and read, he rolled on the floor and shouted at me instead. And when I insisted he stamped his way all up the stairs.

Sometimes I need time to calm down. Sometimes I need leaving alone. And that doesn’t seem to happen.

Right now, is the calm before the storm. In half an hour I have to go and get him, and deal with the fallout. He will have had a great time, and not enough sleep and will be wound up.

Was the stress worth the experience for him, almost certainly.  Was the stress worth the calm for me? I’m not so sure right now. I do know that I haven’t missed him, which is not to say I don’t care, this was a planned trip and he’s gone less than 24 hours, but I have not missed him, in fact I have been guiltily day dreaming about having him sleepover with someone else once a week just to give the rest of us a break. Very guiltily day dreaming.

 

Insanity is hereditary, you get it from your kids.

That flippant headline is a favourite quip of my big brothers. Some thoughts about my mental well being and my children and being a parent have been bouncing around in my head for a few days, despite my best efforts to ignore them and I’d like to get them straight.

This is quite hard for me. Firstly, like most people, I like to split my subjects into seperate boxes and rootle through them seperately. This is a natural human tendency, we simplify thing to make sense of them. Thinking about more than one thing at once is hard. Thinking about the links, relationships, interractions, causes and effects between two or more things is really hard, it adds several orders of complication. Now I have loopy knotted strings, like a spaghetti fight in the London Underground Map, joining up and going around and through my seperate subject boxes. Taking a step back from myself and trying to think about these things in a way approaching impartial, well lets just say it’s a worthy if impossible aim.

But those things are true to some extent about any bunch of subjects. My mental health, my children and being a parent are not any old subjects, they’re biggies.

Thinking about my mental health is difficult for me, full stop. Who am I kidding, thinking “me” and “mental health” at the same time is really is hard, let alone writing them in the same sentance. Lets just call this a work in progress.

Then there is what my husband termed “Mother Guilt”. I’m sure it’s not exclusive to mothers, but in my experience they seem to be it’s natural breeding ground. It has many manisfestations, some more subtle than others, and many sources, internal,peers, professionals, media, but it boils down to a feeling that you’re not doing it good enough,that you should do better, that you’re letting the children down.

I’m not saying I condone it, I’m all for “Good Enough” parenting, but it is endemic in the atmosphere and for now I’m just acknowledging that it’s there and it makes thinking about this topic harder.

So, with all those problems in mind, what do I think about my mental state and my children? Firstly, I’m very lucky, I did not have Post Natal Depression with either of my two. I found having a baby relatively easy, if with all the expected drawbacks of lack of sleep etc. It came with basic instructions, if it cried you changed what you were doing until stopped. And I’m lucky enough to live in a society where I was allowed, expected and encouraged to focus on doing just that, keeping the baby happy.

Two very small children is harder than one, but doable, although my job plus two children under 3 quickly failed the cost benefit analysis, but enough of that for now.

I guess what I’m skirting around / building up to is how much does my relationship with my children effect my mental health and visa versa.

A few weeks ago This is How it Feels by the Inspiral Carpets came on the radio. I guess I was familiar with the song, a blast from the past, but had never really thought about the lyrics. The tune is even quite upbeat. But as I heard the opening lines “Husband don’t know what he’s done. Kids don’t know what’s wrong with mum. She can’t say, they can’t see,” I burst into tears. I don’t know what they’re intended to mean, but they summed up me on a bad day.

I don’t want to contemplate what my kids percieve about my mental health though. Oh the worrying implications and Mother Guilt there. Nope, not ready for that. Hmm, this post is turning into a list of things I’m not even going to think about, let alone write about, at the moment.

I think that I am ready to admit that sometimes it feels like my kids drive me crazy. I don’t know how much their behavoir triggers mine (she types bravely resisting the Guilt at the implication her children may in some way be partly responsible for her problems) and how much my mental state impairs my ability to cope with their behavoir. I suspect it’s a bit of both.

I was wittering on before about babies being relatively easy. It’s not that infant school kids are any easier or harder necerssarrily (different granted), but expectations change. Others expectations change for a start. It is generally expected that babies are tiring and hard work and people ask how you are, offer sympathy and unsolicited advice and if you’re lucky bring you a meal or some chocolate. By the time they’re at school it’s generally expected that you should be able to cope with them. After all you’ve had several years experience. Sure you get asked about how they’re coping with school etc and are expected to moan about a few things, but it’s no longer expected to be an exhausting potentially ovetwhelming task. And now, if they have undesirable behavoir such as sleep issues, there’s a bit less sympathy and acceptence that that is the bad hand fate has given you and a bit more of a feeling that it’s your own fault for not dealing with it properly, for letting it happen. The honeymoon period is over, the novelty has worn off, the sympathy has run out.

Your own expectations change too. I think most people realise when their baby is due that things will be different, that it will take over their life. But slowly you aquire a small personn with growing independence and you start to want some payback for all your hardwork. Once someone can get themselves dressed you expect them too. Unfortunately small children have a different agenda and being reasonable isn’t on it. It’s so much more frustrating doing things for someone who could do it themselves but chooses not to than for someone who can’t.

And then their expectations develope and change and get expressed better and louder.

I realise I’ve gone all third personey and vague. Back to my house. One of my main problems is listening. Our family is bad at it. People walk off as you’re talking to them. They don’t answer. They mumble and when asked to repeat themselves they shout angrily. They interrupt you mid sentance, regardless of if you’re talking to them or someone else. They answer for someone else. And it all drives me to distraction.

I have figured out some of the reason why. I am trying to project manage and team manage and yet I’m not allowed to communicate effectively. Maybe that sounds a bit grand. But enter our house after breakfast on a school day. I have to get 3 people out of the house on time. First I have to remember what tasks this involves. Most of it is rather basic, each of us need to clean our teeth and put our shoes and coats on etc. Then there’s the extras like remembering child A needs to take a packed lunch and child B needs to take their library book. Ok, so far so good. But I have to tell them what they need to do. In theory they should know most of it but in practise they are very far from reliable. So, I have 3 seperate task lists in my head, I have to jiggle the orders round (so 2 people aren’t trying to go to the toilet at the same time, but I’m there to supervise teeth brushing etc), and give them their orders one at a time (as they can’t reliably remember more than that), keep track of whose supposed to be doing what, check they haven’t got distracted, remind them if they have and do what I’m suppose to be doing at the same time. Is it starting to sound more complicated yet? I can’t do this sequentially, it has to be in parallel as a), we simply wouldn’t have time and b), they don’t sit still and do nothing whilst you’re dealing with a different one. So, as I’m trying to do this everytime I need to tell them what to do next or check they’re doing it I have to repeat myself several times, get interrupted and struggle to get answers. It really hampers me. I lose my place in my complicated to do list. I lose my ability to think straight. And unlike a stressful job I don’t get to go home after a shift, this is home. After a while it builds up and underminds my ability to cope (or maybe my unability to cope lets it build up?).

And then there’s the noise. If you know Dr Seuess’s One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish you may remember “I do not like this one so well, all he does is yell yell yell. I do not like this one about. When he comes in I put him out.

Yell Yell Yell by Dr Seuess

Well, that’s my son. Wherever he is and whatever he is doing I can hear him. Shouting, stamping, banging, yeodelling, asking questions, screaming, tapping, etc.  He’s less, “I think therefore I am” more “I am heard therefore I am”. And it takes up all the space in my head for thinking and I struggle to hold my 3 task lists in my head, let alone to try the difficult job of communicating.

So, that is me on a bad day. But also, my kids keep me sane, they really do. Because as well as all the soppy reasons about how much they mean to me and how I enjoy their company, when I am stressed and anxious and avoiding things that all melts away when I’m with them. Because they live in the moment I can too. And I can cope with the moment. My dread is the future and what might be and dealing with adults and phone calls and emails and they don’t expect me to do that. I can help with lego and do up buttons and read stories just fine, I’m quite good at that sort of thing.

One thing I have realised recently is that in the past, i.e. before kids, I had a tendency to impulsively get away from it all from time to time. Whether it be hoping on a train to stay with a friend for the weekend after a quick phone call (in my pre husband days), or going for a walk at 9.30pm, I could “run away” when I felt like it (within reason and job/money constraints etc). I’m not aware that I was running away from issues as such, but looking back I think I used it as a safety valve to stop things getting to much. And of course with two small ones it is very hard to find some time for myself, let alone spontaneous crazy running away time for myself. There are too many constraints of school pick ups and bed times and not leaving them alone and all the other things.

I’m not sure this post has a conclusion. I don’t think I’m even trying to look for answers. I’m more trying to understand and accept how things are. I think that is enough for now.