Reality Bites

Frankl

Reality = The state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.

Conceived by choice or mistake, we are dispatched into the world whether we like it or not. The first few months are spent spontaneously pooing, weeing and draining every ounce of energy from our parents, not that we have any memories of this. We get to find out for ourselves when we have children of our own. This is the real reason why grandparents can’t stop smiling.

As a young child, I was spared the harsher realities of life. I existed on a need to know basis. I was happy. Then one morning, Ma took me to a place called school (later referred to as ‘that shithole’) and after numbing her backside on one of those miniscule chairs for a while, she quietly walked out without so much as a backward glance. I wanted to run after her but for some reason my legs wouldn’t move.

My tiny heart broke. I cried and my bottom lip quivered for the rest of the day, if not life. I wanted to be home watching Play School and eating beans on toast. What was happening? Was I being punished? Is it because I crayoned on my bedroom wall? After five years of relative bliss being at home with Ma, school life had started and my childhood idyll fell apart.

On the first day, I remember standing on the school yard staring at the bruise which was forming on my arm from where an older girl had pinched me, for no apparent reason. Cow. My reality took a direct poo-hit and would remain so for my entire school life.

Children, teachers, they all had it in for me. I attracted bullies like shit attracts flies. Or light-bulbs attract moths. Sounds nicer.

When I was little, I thought that monsters only existed in books and films but that’s not true. As well as certain little monsters, there were some bigger ones roaming around school calling themselves ‘Miss’ and ‘Sir’.

Me & Nev

My opinion of school aged about 6. Was too young to say “It’s shit”. FYI that’s not a rainbow, it’s just typical of 1970’s processing and that privet needed trimming.

I went through many phases where I wished I was someone else. Not a famous person or a character from a book, just someone else. I thought that maybe if I was someone else, I wouldn’t be bullied. When I was at home I read stories where bullied children triumphed and bullies got what they deserved – a damn good thrashing – if Enid Blyton had anything to do with it. Reading as escapism was healthy but wanting to be someone else wasn’t. However, it might give you, dear reader, some idea of the level of anxiety I was experiencing at school.

At some point we all have to face reality and mine is that I am overly sensitive to most things including people. I don’t fit as easily into the world as most do and that’s why I’ve been bullied. That’s my theory anyway. Escapism has been my saving grace. A book, a film, music and sleep.

In my dreams, I was popular, gorgeous (and spot free). In my dreams, I wasn’t the awkward girl with sweaty pits anymore. In my dreams, Nick Rhodes was waiting for me outside the school gate, leaning up against a massive limo with his lippy on and Le Bon as his chauffeur.

I daydreamed whenever possible. While the biology teacher was droning on about plant reproduction, I daydreamed. When the balled up pieces of paper hit the back of my head and brought me back to reality, I imagined stabbing the perpetrator’s zit ridden face with my compass. I doodled their initials on my notebook, then drew a fancy bracket with the word DIE at the point. {

I didn’t really want them to die – I’m not a psycho! It was just my teenage angst finding an outlet, innit.

Alright, maybe I did want them to die a bit but only because they were being really mean.

So that was school. Eleven years of misery and dreaming of the day I could legally leave it all behind. Then my life would surely change?

Nope. No matter where I went or what I did, I was still a misfit. Only difference was, I got slightly better at hiding it.

At almost 45 years of age, I’m still a misfit, only I quite like it now. And I don’t give a toss, which helps.

Normal? It’s overrated.

I’ve learned that, while reality is what is real, people’s attitudes are very different. My reality is that I am socially awkward. So what? I’m also a caring person and I can speed read. Go me! I have OCD, agoraphobia, anxiety, sensory issues and a list of flaws as long as an orangutan’s arm. Could be much worse, eh!

Oh, and I’m menopausal. Have I mentioned that I’m menopausal? I do like to get that in most of my posts, just incase I forget myself.

Sometimes I get tired of having to put so much effort into existing and find myself sinking into a supermassive black-hole (not a euphemism) but then I hear a voice or read a text saying ‘I love you, Mum’ and I re-boot, as it were. I might have given my children life but they’ve given mine it’s meaning and I would go through every shitty day again to have them in my life.

Life can be hard and some people’s realities are tougher than others but as Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, says…

The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.

I choose to accept who I am and acknowledge my experiences with an element of humour because it gives me some control back over my life and the only real control I have over reality is my attitude towards it.

mumturnedmom

 

The Impossible Dream

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From the day a child is born, it’s our job as parents to teach them the skills they need to survive in the world. Those first weeks of total reliance fly by and before long, they are taking their first shaky steps towards independence. This isn’t the case for all children because many are born with disabilities which make independence a more difficult, if not impossible, goal to achieve.

There are different disabilities. Some are evident and some are not. My youngest son has autism – the invisible disability.

I knew that S was very different to his brothers quite early on. He was late with his milestones, i.e still crawling when all of his peers at playgroup were walking. His challenging behaviour went way beyond the ‘terrible twos’. His ‘tantrums’ were unlike anything I’d experienced before. They were extreme and as bewildering for him as they were for me. Then there were his ‘quirks’ and obsessions..

My fear turned to relief when, at four years old, he was diagnosed with ASD and SPD (autistic spectrum disorder and sensory processing disorder). It made perfect sense and I was relieved that there was a medical explanation for his behaviour. However, an element of fear crept back in as I realised what the implications of his diagnosis could be.

Two years on, S has received the best support we could ask for. He has a statement in place at school and a support teacher who works closely with him for the majority of the school day. He’s also been approved a place at the local autistic children’s group. This is so he can spend a few hours on a weekend with other autistic children. While it’s primarily for him to spend time in an environment where he can comfortably be himself, it’s also to give OH and myself some needed time to ourselves. Parenting any child is hard work but parenting a child with special needs is exhausting and can test even the strongest of relationships. This is why we’ve taken the necessary steps to get support for us as a family, not just for S.

Autistic people are capable of amazing things. Many if the world’s greats, past and present, are considered to be on the autistic spectrum. I don’t see autism as a curse, I see it as a blessing, albeit a mixed one. The autistic person can see beauty where others cannot. They can feel music deeply and when they read a book, they become part of the story. Their obsessive nature means that when they like doing something, like art or music, they excell at it. S loves numbers and by the age of four, knew, off by heart, the entire twelve times table. This is classic autism.

In my heart, I dream that S remains as happy as he is now but in my head, I know it’s an impossible dream because the statistics speak for themselves.

Children with autism are four times (or more) likely to be bullied (at school or via the internet) because of the way they communicate and interact with their peers. Autistic children are generally more trusting, have a poor sense of danger and can be manipulated very easily. The differences between them and their peers become more apparent with age.

I’ve already witnessed incidents in parks and on the playground with children laughing at S instead of laughing with him, as he thinks they are. To him there’s no difference between playing with someone much younger than himself, or older. He has no social boundaries. He thinks it’s perfectly OK to barge in to a group of tweens (or older) and expect them to play with him. I can’t control what other children do or think,  all I can do is help my son to develop the coping skills he needs in order to function. I want him to live, not just exist or be someone that he isn’t in order to fit in. The problem is with society, not him.

The challenging behaviour is a problem but it’s his reaction to an overwhelming world. It’s important to understand that. The behaviour has a function – there is always a reason. When my child displays challenging behaviour in front of other parents, it’s understanding that I need, not judgement.

In a perfect world, S wouldn’t have to learn how to ‘fit in’. He would be free to be himself and his quirks would be embraced instead of mocked. For instance, he came out of school last week and it was raining. He doesn’t like rain so he shouted at it. Parents stared. His peers stared. Wouldn’t they like to have the freedom of mind to be able to shout at the rain?

I wish the world was more empathetic to children like my son. But the truth is that people are selfish and cruel, choosing to boost their own self-esteem by demolishing someone else’s. They knowingly target the vulnerable with no regard of the long-term damage that they are inflicting on another human being. There is a lot of ignorance towards autism and I’m hoping, by spreading awareness, we can change this.

I can’t stop children being unkind to my son but I can intervene and give him strategies to cope. It’s because I was bullied by children and teachers, that I am extra vigilant. I am watching and ready to defend him. Education is the key to giving children an understanding of what it’s like to be different. How S’ autism is approached within the classroom, is something I will be addressing with the school, although I’ve had no real problems with them so far.

Like any mother, I just want my child to be happy.

My problem isn’t with my son, it’s with the people who don’t see him as I do – beautifully imperfect.

CC Image Credit Frankieleon via Flickr

mumturnedmom

 

And Winter Came…

Winter

Definition of nesh ~ Being either afraid of the cold or feeling the cold a lot. Used across the Midlands and the North.

You don’t need to wear a coat today, you nesh git!

Nesh: I am the definition of nesh. I was born in the middle of summer but swear I came into the world wrapped in a duvet, well, maybe not a duvet as Ma didn’t give up her sheets and blankets until the late 70’s but when she did, to quote the youth of today, ‘It was like totes amazeballs!’

In my day it was just ‘ace’. Gone were the itchy blankets and ten layers of clothing. It was like sleeping in a marshmallow. Once you’ve had duvet, you never want to go back to blankets. If heaven exists, I hope it’s got a 13.5 tog rating!

On top of my natural nesh-ness, I am menopausal and I suppose you could think of winter as the menopausal season because reproduction grinds to a halt, things turns white and bits snap off. The only difference is that the youthfulness of spring won’t be returning, unless you want to pay a few thousand to look like a crap waxwork.

Poo Bags: Autumn’s riot of colour gives way to winter. The berries and evergreens inject life into the landscape. The woodlands, alive with greenery in the summer, are stripped bare to reveal hundreds of black poo-bags. Seemingly, people gather up their pooch’s poo in a bag and then SLAT THEM UP INTO A TREE OR A HEDGE! No, I don’t understand it either.

Snow: Winter can be barren but when Mother Nature does her stuff and makes it snow, it can transform even the ugliest of places into something beautiful. That is, until a dog pees in it or someone sticks a Carling can in it.

I used to love snow. All children love snow, right? When I was a girl, winters were hard and the snow used to drift up the back door. Of course, not every winter was like that. In fact, for the first seven years of my life, there was no snow to speak of. The first year of any significant snowfall was 1977/78. I remember the unconfined joy of being snowed in. No school! Ma hated the snow. She saw only inconvenience. I saw Narnia.

My love affair with the white stuff ended abruptly in 1984 when I fell over on my way to school. I was 14 and very self-conscious. My hair (styled on Sara from Bananarama) was a work of art, taking an hour and a half to achieve. It was backcombed to within an inch of it’s life but looked fabulous, or so I thought. Being a teenager, vanity won over common sense so I attempted to walk to school in a pair of flimsy suede effect boots in about four inches of snow. I skidded (a lot) and finally went down with the finesse of an elephant in full view of the entire world, or so it felt like. My hair was a right off. My boots, once they’d dried out, had nasty white rings around them. Lesson learned.

31 years later, it’s a totally different story. I couldn’t care a less what I look like as long as I’m warm and vertical. I have become my mother and whinge like buggery everytime I see a flake of snow.

Cold: Despite being Nesh of the North, I embrace the cold for two reasons. One, I can cover up my bingo wings guilt-free and two, it helps with the hot flushes which are the bane of any menopausal lady’s life. A quick arctic blast in the face and sanity is restored, well, sort of.

Cold weather means having to put the heating on more. Unfortunately (for OH)  I was brought up with Ma’s philosophy of ‘If you’re cold, put another jumper on!’. She demanded to see breath on the inside of the house before she’d reluctantly override the boiler. This would be met with, ‘You’ll all be the bloody death of me!’ to which we’d reply, ‘Not if hypothermia gets us first!’

Winter Nights: Another negative is the longer nights which means more time in front of the TV. The problem in our house is that OH guards the remote like a dog with a bone. He keeps it within grabbing distance and, short of tranquilizing him, there’s not much I can do about it. This means that I have to watch boring woodwork and wildlife documentaries. Oh the joy of sitting down to enjoy a chicken madras just as some poor gazelle gets downed by a lion with the munchies. Occasionally I’ll put my foot down and demand to watch Eastenders and he’s exited the room by the second duff. Men, eh?

Beauty ‘n’ Stuff: Personal grooming takes a back seat in winter, well it does in this house. What’s the point in spending precious time shaving bits which won’t be seen? My Bic is redundant until at least April by which time my legs need strimming, rather than shaving. Bad hair day? I stick a hat on. One of the perks of the menopause is that you stop worrying about such things. Quite liberating, really.

Defrosting the Car: Is always easier when you use the correct implement, i.e, an actual ice-scraper – not an old beer mat. Trust me!

I’m bored of winter now. The novelty has worn off. I’m looking forward to spring when I can go for long walks without freezing to death. Not that we’re safe from snow in spring, or summer for that matter..

A bit of trivia to amaze you. Or not.

In June 1975, SNOW stopped play in Buxton.

It was a real experience,” explained Bird, 77. “I’ve never known anything like it during my 50-year involvement in cricket. I’ve seen plenty of games affected by rain and bad light in my time, but never snow. ~ Dickie Bird

Good old British weather, eh?

mumturnedmom

 

Family Is What You Make It

Fam 4

The era of the nuclear family is all but gone. It’s been replaced with single parents, non-married parents, foster families, couples without children and my family – the step-family, also known as the blended family.

According to an article in The Guardian, one in three people in the UK  are now a step-parent, step-child, adult step-child, step-sibling or step-grandparent. The statistics speak for themselves.

I was born into your bog standard ‘nuclear family’ – a mum, a dad and three children and in turn I helped create my own with my husband and two boys. Twenty years later the marriage sadly ended and a new chapter began..

After what I call my ‘wilderness year’ I bagged a blokey who was willing to put up with my shit. By shit, I mean my mind baggage and in my mind, I have more baggage than Manchester airport. Like me, he had children and we both understood that if we were to have a any kind of story, our children would be part of it.

The next few years were all about dipping toes in the water and trying to keep all ten. After being used to boys, I was faced with the daunting prospect of girls. Scared? Erm, YES! I’d been one myself and knew how challenging it could get. I decided the best approach was to be my strange, but amiable enough, self.  At first (and understandably) there was resentment. They named a toy dog after me and chucked it out their bedroom window. Well, at least it wasn’t actually me they were hurling onto the pavement. I counted my blessings!

My lads seemed to cope better with the situation (of which I am grateful) than the girls but studies suggest that this is generally the case with blended families. Us females are more complicated, don’t you know.

After living together for a year, OH and I decided to try for a baby. He knew all there was to know about me and hadn’t legged it so this was the next step. Also, there was the small matter of my biological clock reminding me that I was 38 and in danger of being ‘past it’. However, Mother Nature was on my side (for once) and a year later we had a baby boy. It proved to be a good decision as my ovaries surrendered soon after. We hoped that our little boy would help to bond our two families together.

I have read that it takes step-families (or blended families as is becoming the term) about seven years to function well together. It’s totally unrealistic to expect a step-family to work from the outset, it takes time, patience and effort. Some step-parents try to assert themselves as being equal to the child’s parents and it’s a mistake. I don’t try to be a mother to my stepdaughters. They have a mum. That job is taken. I know my place and my place is a supporting role. My sons get on well with OH and that is largely down to the fact that he’s never tried to be their dad.

I would advise any step-parent to understand that, while a certain amount of respect should be a given, respect works both ways. If you are a complete arse to them, they are likely to return the favour with bells on or ignore you completely. If you go all Eric Cartman and demand that they respect your ‘authoritah’. You’ll most likely be greeted with a two fingered gesture as the door is slammed off it’s hinges. Expecting your step-children to like you from the start is unrealistic. With time and effort, feelings do change. Go in with low expectations and you’ll save yourself thousands in therapy.

Parenting is hard but being a step-parent can be an absolute minefield. You just can’t bollock em like you can your own, can you?!  Neither should you lie on the floor and assume the doormat position. There is a line which you need to find. It can be difficult but there are moments when you feel you’ve turned a corner. Its the smile that isn’t forced, a kiss on the end of a text or them simply choosing to sit and talk to you.. small things which mean a lot because maybe your starting to become part of their story instead of being the outsider.

Step-monsters mothers get a bad rap. If the Disney films are to be believed, we all cackle in front of the mirror and think up evil ways to kill our step-kids. Well, I do cackle a bit, especially first thing, but I don’t plot my step-daughters demise. I quite like them.

Eight years down the line, we are beginning to blend together. We’re an eclectic mix of creative and logical (and in my case, slightly insane) minds. Each unique and caring in our own ways. We’re not perfect, but then, no family is.

mumturnedmom

Forever Begins Today

Neil Baldwin

Every year we make resolutions that we fail to keep.

We promise ourselves faithfully that we will lose weight, stop smoking, drink less, spend less, save more, get fit, etc etc

We celebrate the end of the of the year by getting totally trollied. We dance about, cry a bit and Big Ben’s dongs are usually drowned out by the strangulated sound of somebody barfing their Shiraz up all over the cream carpet.

First resolution is that we will never drink again!

This resolution usually fails within a week, especially if the Coop have a deal on.

I’ve had my share of heaving down the toilet, we’ve all been there, right? But thanks to my menopause, a pint of beer is now my limit and I’d had it by 8pm so I saw the New Year in with a mug of Horlicks!

So I was able to ponder 2014 with sober eyes and it was a memorable year for me and my clan.

It was the year that my youngest son was diagnosed with autism. With a statement in place and excellent support from school, he is thriving.

My eldest son made his TV and film debut and was nominated for best actor in theater awards. One of the other nominees was only Kenneth bloody Branagh!! Branagh won (the bastard) but C was just happy to be there. To be nominated for best actor only three years after leaving drama school aint bad at all, folks!

My son, K, held his first photography exhibition in London and passed his university course with flying colours. Clever boy! Gets it from me? Er, no. He knows how a camera works, I just click and hope.

My step-daughter, C, qualified as a hairdresser and having fantasized about being 18 since she was 13, decided she wanted to be 13 again having reached 18 to find that it involved having to pay board – which she found a bit shite. I had to cough up half my YTS money to Ma so I felt her pain.

We finally got the lurcher spayed, so now there are two menopausal bitches in the house!

After a three year break from driving (due to malfunctioning hormones) I started to drive again.

I’M BACK ON THE ROAD, MOFOS!!

And finally, on Christmas Day, K and his girlfriend ‘face-timed’ me with the news that he’d popped THE question and the fool said YES so I’m to be a mother-in-law! *preens*

Unfortunately, prior to the call, I’d been watching The Snowman and when he melted, so did my face. I had a full emotional breakdown at my son’s announcement, ON SCREEN and in front of her PARENTS!! Damn technology!!

I’ve always wanted to be a mum. I remember wanting to be a hairdresser when I was about 15 but that was because I had to do something as ‘dole’ wasn’t in Ma’s vocabulary and it was becoming obvious that Nick Rhodes wasn’t going to marry me. :(

I’ve worked in pot-banks, been a nursery nurse, a school caretaker, packed drugs (that’s pharmaceutical drugs - I’m not Mimi Maguire, dear!)  and I’ve cleaned bogs for a living but the best job of all is being a mum.

Watching my boys grow up has been the joy of my life. They think I’m a tit at times. They even tell me I’m being a tit occasionally (and I can be a bit of a tit) I’m complex but they know that as long as I live and breathe (and beyond) I’ll always love them. I hope this paragraph will earns me some extra TLC in my dotage..

So, I’m going to gain another daughter. She knows were all insane in this family and still wants in, so she’ll do for me! I hope she’s as happy about gaining me!

Yes, life can be good but, sadly, it’s not always the case..

In 2014, four stories affected me deeply.

The first was of Stephen Sutton – a terminally ill young man who spent the last months of his life raising money for charity. He raised over £4.96 million. I was humbled by his selflessness.

The second was the story of the amazing Neil Baldwin, the former Stoke City kit man, featured in the inspirational BBC film Marvellous.

The third was the tragic death of Aussie cricketer Phil Hughes who died after being struck on the neck by a cricket ball.

The forth happened a few days before Christmas…

Reports on the radio started coming in that a bin lorry had gone out of control in Glasgow and several pedestrians had been seriously injured. As the tragedy unfolded, the gravity of what had taken place became shockingly apparent. Six people were dead and many injured. For me, the saddest part of this tragedy is the woman who is thought to have stopped to use a cash machine and witnessed her mother, father and 18 year old daughter fatally injured after being struck by the lorry.

I have no idea how someone can even begin to deal with that much sadness.

I can’t make sense of it but if I’m to take anything from such a tragic story, it’s to remind myself that life is unpredictable and precious. We all think we have time but unfortunately life has other ideas.

A new year is the chance to start afresh but so is every day. If every year is a new book, then every day is a fresh page on which to write our story. We may not be able to control what life throws at us but it’s completely up to us how we write it.

I have only one resolution this year… to be happy with what I have today because that’s all that I can be sure of.

I hope 2015 is kind to you all.

mumturnedmom

What Not To Buy The Menopausal Woman This Christmas

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In the spirit of the season, I am imparting my menopausal wisdom onto the male of the species so that they may not only survive Christmas, but gain valuable brownie points by not buying something totally crap for their hormonally challenged other half.

If your significant other is going through the *whispers* change of life, then read on, this post is for you.

If she isn’t at this stage of life yet, read for future reference. You’ll thank me!

Jewellery

Steer clear of chokers if, like me, your beloved has acquired an extra chin. Or two.

Lingerie

Us women know how you men love to wander through the lingerie department on Christmas Eve. It adds a little frisson of excitement with the added bonus that you just might get your leg over this festive season if we neck down enough mulled wine. It is Christmas, after all!

Reality check..

The skimpy bits of string modelled by anorexic looking dummies will most likely not translate as well onto your other half’s posterior. Thongs (bum floss) should only be worn by those with a functioning bladder.

Perfume

You’ll still be in an hypnotic trance brought on by the sight of all those bras and knickers as you stray into the land of the orange people (the beauty section) whilst looking for the exit. The combined scents of the perfume section are just about to put you in a coma when you have a brainwave…

“I know, I’ll buy the light of my life her favorite perfume – the delicate floral one she’s worn for the last thirty years”

Alas, due to hormonal changes, that perfume now smells like fox piss and will continue to do so until her hormones settle down again.

Cautionary note…

My dad bought my mother some Tweed when she was going through the menopause in the 1980’s. I now associate that smell with flying plates and slamming doors. I get flashbacks whenever I smell it.

Anti-Ageing Products

In the name of all that is Holy, DO NOT buy the menopausal lady anti-ageing make up or skincare products. You might as well write “Merry Christmas, you old crone!” on the gift tag.

We all buy it but you’re not supposed to know that. It’s our little secret.

Body Hair Removal Appliances

My OH asked me if I would like an “all singing, all dancing” body hair removal thingy for Christmas. I replied, “Yes dear, if you don’t mind spending the day at A&E having it surgically removed FROM YOUR ARSE!!!”

We might be turning into Sasquatch at an alarming rate but we deal with this in the beauty salon (if posh) or the bathroom with a Bic (if not). It’s our secret.

However, it is perfectly acceptable for women to buy their middle-aged OH’s nose and ear hair trimmers…

Stuff what requires AA batteries (or a small generator)

As you wander up the high street clutching a carrier bag containing naff slippers and a bath bomb, you spot a well known British multinational retailer company specialising in sex toys and lingerie, and think, “Ah ha!, I will buy my sweetie pie a little something to ‘blow out the cobwebs’ as it were.

Problem is that, being a bloke, you’re bound to buy something totally inappropriately sized for a woman who’s squeezed out babies the size of, er, Wales. So your ‘purse’ sized one will pail into insignificance compared to the seven inch bad boy she’s got stuffed in an old boot at the back of the wardrobe.

Get out of there, now!

No, don’t stop to look at the French maids outfit! (or the pretty girl serving behind the till) Your good lady is hormonal (bordering on psychotic) and more likely to strangle you with it than flick a feather duster around in it.

Kitchen Knives

Not a good idea for a woman who’s bang out of oestrogen to be honest…

Anything from Poundland

No.

Books

Steer clear of murder mysteries – don’t want to be giving her any tips.

Petrol Station Goods

Rest assured, if Schnookums rips open the wrapping paper on Christmas morning to find an ice scraper and a Magic Tree (or cheap equivalent) you’ll die.

A Onesie

In my opinion, the onesie is the worst fashion crime since the shell suit.

Hot sweats, malfunctioning bladders and general insanity make the onesie a no go area for menopausal ladies. “Eh-Oh!!” for sure or “soggy bottom” as they say in the Great British Bake Off!

Ped-Egg

You would only buy this as a gift for somebody you truly despise.

This year, I asked OH to have Alan Titchmarsh gift wrapped for me, complete with wellies and trowel. In return he can have Wendy James (Transvision Vamp).

Ol’ Wend doesn’t have quite the same allure as she did in the 80’s (when OH was spotty) whereas Titchmarsh has aged like a fine wine and can still lay a decent patio.

I hope my little what not to buy guide helps to keep the yuletide A & E free.

Just to add that this isn’t representative of all menopausal ladies, so don’t panic! Some are total Goddesses. Sadly, I am not.

The one thing women don’t want to find in their stockings on Christmas morning is their husband.~ Joan Rivers

Image Credit Via Flickr

The Ghost Of Christmas Past

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Christmas is supposed to be a time of great joy but my dad died on a Christmas Day. Of all the days, it had to be that one.

Losing somebody you love on any day of the year is hard enough but to lose someone on Christmas Day just intensifies the pain. My world was in the bin and it was as if life was taking the piss. I listened to Noddy Holder scream out “IT’S CHRISTMAAAAAASSSS!” and pondered how cruel life can be..

Mum (Ma) and Dad always made a big deal about Christmas. Having three children and not much money, Ma started buying our presents in September. They both worked hard to make Christmases magical. I love them so much for that.

Ma usually put the decorations up (with me hindering her all the way) but one year she allowed Dad to put them up. The result was that our living room looked like Santa’s grotto. He really went for it. We loved it, Ma absolutely hated it. It turned her orderly world upside down. She tolerated it but could have out-smoked Dot Cotton through the stress of not being in control.

Ma loved to remind me of the time I sang Jingle Bells on the bus in the middle of summer and how amused the other passengers were. Apparently I was ‘jingling all the way’ from the bus station to our bus stop. I loved Christmas, you see, and when you love Christmas it’s in your heart.

Once Christmas With Bert Kaempfert and his Orchestra hit the turntable, we knew that the boxes of decorations would soon be brought down from the loft. Once opened, they would unleash an aroma acquired by decades of dust and nicotine. I especially loved the fairy lights… I still do. In my opinion, fairy lights should be for life, not just for Christmas.

I was 6 years old when, a week before Christmas, my paternal grandma died. I was too young to understand but now I know how hard it must have been for Dad.

On Christmas Eve in 1978, I risked the wrath of Ma to go downstairs and get a drink of water. Unfortunately I saw Dad putting the presents under the tree. In a moment of defiance, the magic was lost.

I remember my maternal grandparents coming for Christmas…Nan enjoying her brandy (bottle of) and Grandad with his whistling deaf aid and wheezy chest. In 1983, aged 81, the wheezing stopped as his heart gave up. Nan was lost without the man she’d loved for over fifty years. She only lived for three more years before she became unwell. Ma went to look after her and one morning Nan told her she’d had a strange dream that Grandad had ‘come for her’. In the time it took for Ma to go downstairs and make a cup of tea, Nan had a massive stroke and died. I like to think that Grandad was there and it wasn’t just a dying brain playing tricks.

I was fifteen and old enough to understand about death but not the depth of grief my mum was going through. Her heart broke again when Dad died but this time, mine broke too. Now I understood the pain of losing a parent.

Ma never stopped missing her mother and often told me to make the most of her because, one day, she too wouldn’t be here. I always told her that she’d have nagged me to death first…

The surreality of Dad’s death in a hospital ward which was in party mode is something I’ll never forget but reality hit when we returned to the family home to see his presents unopened under the tree and his empty chair. The house felt cold, despite the heating being on. It was as if the house itself was grieving.

Over the next 15 years, Mum came to us (or my brothers) for Christmas. It was never the same, how could it ever be the same without Dad? But we made the effort for her and the children’s sake. It’s what you do.

In 2010, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had to have Mum at ours that Christmas. I can’t explain it, I just knew that I had to. She loved being with S for his second Christmas. I held her tighter than usual. When she went home I was overcome with emotion. I lay down on the bed she’d been sleeping in and cried until the tears ran dry. I’d put a letter in her suitcase telling her that she was the best mother in the world and I loved her so much. She phoned me later to tell me she’d found it. She got emotional (it took a lot for Ma to cry) but I put it down to the pain of her arthritis getting her down.

That was the last Christmas I’d ever spend with her because eight months later my beautiful mum was dead.

There’s not much I wouldn’t give to see my parents here this Christmas but I know they’ll be here in spirit. In the spirits knowing those two! And who knows, maybe Mr Kaempfert himself will be serenading them as they dance around the stars.

Life has taught me not to take time for granted. We all think we have lots of time but life just isn’t like that. It sometimes gives a warning before it takes a loved one or it blindsides you on a summer’s morning. What I am trying to say is we should live in the present and make each moment count.

My parents live on in me, my family and the music of Bert Kaempfert.

Instead of feeling sad for what I’ve lost, I am happy for what I had and what I had were the best parents and grandparents a girl could ask for.

When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things- not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness. ~ Bob Hope

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Friendship In A Digital Age

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On Christmas Day in 2011, 42 year old Simone Back posted this message to her 1,082 Facebook ‘friends’.

Took all my pills be dead soon bye bye everyone.

The police knocked the door down the next day and found her body. She’d killed herself.

Nobody went to help her, despite some of them living within walking distance of her house. There were some who were desperately trying to get her details but unfortunately were out of town.

As if this isn’t bad enough, while she lay dying, some of her so called ‘friends’ were taunting her.

This person replied,

She ODs all the time and she lies.

It makes me feel incredibly sad. The lady was in mental distress and was reaching out for help. Where was the compassion? Where were all her so called friends?

Can online friendships be real friendships?

Despite the heartbreaking opening story, I think so.

I’ve made some really lovely online friends who I genuinely care about. I might not have have the pleasure of meeting them in person yet but they are part of my life and they matter to me.

There was no such thing as social media when I was a kid. We had pen friends and it was exciting waiting for a letter to come through the post. I had a French penfriend and remember that she had beautiful curvy handwriting and used little hearts instead of dots above her i’s. I remember that I tried to write like her for a while but no matter how hard I tried, my writing still looked like a spider had rolled in ink and break-danced across the page.

Like most people of my generation, I have adopted social media and found it to be a lifeline..

Even my Ma went online! She was absolutely delighted when she realised that she could bollock me via MSN. I’d jump a mile every time the little box pinged up saying, “I know you’re there, Madam!!”

Being the parent of an autistic child in a mainstream school can be socially isolating. I am the mother of ‘that child’. I am a pariah – a social outcast.

Or this was the case until recently when I found a fellow autism mum at school. We’re now good friends. Hurrah!

And just this week another mum came up to me at school and asked if I was S’ mummy. My heart sank and I thought, “Shit…what’s he done now?” but she surprised me by asking if we wanted to go on a play date! I picked my jaw up off the floor and thanked her. Maybe my pariah days are over?

It’s lovely to be able to go to somebody’s house, sit with a cuppa and have a chat, safe in the knowledge that my little boy can be himself. Being able to talk to someone who ‘gets it’ is wonderful. I get hugs, too.

But in general, me and the boy are given a wide birth. He might be oblivious to the judgmental stares but I’m not. Sometimes it gets to me and that’s where the online support becomes invaluable.

Added to that, oh joy of joys, I’m agoraphobic!

I struggle in crowded areas and can’t stand where all the parents congregate without hyperventilating and touching my house keys umpteen times. After 44 years I’m used to being me. I’m probably labelled as shy (or weird) by the yummy mummy’s club but it’s not shyness and I don’t really give a shiny shite what they think anyway. Eff the lot of em, I say!  It does isolate you though because you try and avoid those situations which make the old circuits spark.

My little man displays challenging behaviour and it is mentally exhausting. but whenever I’ve really needed to ‘talk’ to someone, without fail, there’s always been somebody there. It makes the difference between coping and crying myself into a coma.

We all need friends. We all need to communicate with others. We are a social species. Even the most introverted of us needs a friend. We need to feel loved, appreciated – needed.

People with friends (and I mean friends, not just a trillion Facebook ‘friends’) live longer and are happier. Lonely people are more likely to die younger. Now there’s a sobering thought…

When my mother died, there were a couple of special ladies who were there for me. I’d never met them but they got me through one of the worst times in my life. One of those ladies also has an autistic son and she was there for me from the very beginning of our autism journey. I am indebted to her. She’s a lovely person.

The posse of online autism parents support each other and that support means so much. We are a band of mothers fighting for our special children. If one of us is having the day from hell, the others step up and offer words of comfort. It really helps.

Social media is an eclectic mix of personalities. It gives the narcissists a platform on which to inflict their relentless selfies on the world and puts like minded people in touch. It allows the socially awkward to be themselves without the obstacles which hinder them in ‘real life’. The downside to social networking is that it allows for anonymity and while that it a good thing for those who have a genuine reason for wanting to remain unknown, it unfortunately leaves the door open for abuse.

My life is enriched by a few special friends and they know who they are. They make me smile most every day and are proof that online friendships can be a real friendships. I would never ignore their cry for help and I hope they would never ignore mine.

Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…. ~ C S Lewis

 

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63 Not Out

The news has been dominated by the sad loss of Phillip Hughes, a 25 year old cricketer who died after being struck on the neck by ball during a match at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

His death has been very public, as has his funeral.

Tragedy brings out the humanity in people and it’s been an incredibly moving sight to see the bats laid out in remembrance of the young man who loved his cricket.

As a former ‘cricket widow’, I understand the love of the sport. I have a place in my heart for the game which dominated my life for twenty years. On a beautiful summers day, with a book on the go (for the boring bits) and a glass of wine (or three) what’s not to love about it?

I was uncomfortable with the intrusiveness of the tabloids – his poor mother’s grief there for all to see. No mother should have to bury her child. That’s not the way it’s meant to be. But the media also showed us the compassion of cricket fans the world over. In this grief there is love and unity.

Australia’s captain. Michael Clarke, gave an emotional tribute to his friend.

This truly must be what they call ‘the spirit of cricket’.

Michael Clarke may have his critics but I like him. He played for my (now) local team in 2002 in the Lancashire League. As a captain his role has been tested both during and the days after the accident. He has won the admiration of his country. He’s certainly won mine.

No captain envisages a day where they will be called upon to deliver a message from a heartbroken family nor a message on behalf of a stunned team.

On what must have been one of the hardest days of his life, Clarke delivered an emotional speech in memory of the man he considered to be his “little brother”.

So what now for cricket?

Protective helmet sales in Australia have increased by 70% since the accident and that’s a good thing.

ECB guidelines are that under 18’s must, without exception, wear a protective helmet. It’s standard practice throughout England and Wales. There are no such rules in adult club cricket. I’ve known many cricketers who’ve refused to wear helmets for various reasons such as comfort, ability to see the ball, cost or the, “I’m ‘ard” – approach.

For the mothers and significant others who spend their weekends watching their loved ones play cricket – it can be nerve racking. The ‘near misses’ are enough to have one reaching for door to the bar and I’ve certainly done the “Wear your helmet, you silly git” nag on a few occasions.

Should we change the way the game is played?

I don’t think so.

My heart goes out to Sean Abbott, who bowled the unfortunate ball. He bowled a bouncer - a tactical ball that is used to intimidate the batsman.

Intimidating bowling is considered to be part of the game and has been since the 1932-33 Ashes tour of Australia when the England team devised a tactic to combat the awesome batting machine known as Don Bradman. It became known as the Bodyline Series and it changed the game.

According to the ECB, fast bowlers regularly win international matches. It’s natural in the aftermath of such an accident to want to take steps to make sure it never happens again but in this case, I don’t see that anything can be done that wouldn’t take the game a step backwards.

Only 100 cases of this type of injury have ever been reported and only one was due to a cricket ball.

The wearing of helmets has only become commonplace within the last 30 years and that in itself has changed the game because batsmen are less fearful of the ball. Some would argue that, although it’s safer to wear a helmet than not, it does create it’s own problems.

Helmets have unfortunately taken away a lot of that fear and have given every batsman a false sense of security. ~ Geoff Boycott

Having seen the state of helmets that have taken the full impact of a ball, it’s clear that while they can’t prevent injuries, they do an important job in absorbing the impact.

Hughes was wearing a helmet but it was a 2013 design. The new one offers more protection but experts say that there is currently no helmet which would have been guaranteed to save him. Realistically, if a sport involves contact with a hard ball, it has to be accepted that there will be freak accidents. It’s tragic but I don’t think for one minute that he would want the game to be changed.

I can’t imagine what’s going through Sean Abbott’s mind but I’m sure that his team mate would want him to carry on playing their beloved game to the best of his ability. A big ask, but I hope he receives all the love and support he needs in order for that to happen.

The Australian team will grieve but when it’s right they must pick themselves up and play on. Grief affects people differently. I’ve known players go to pieces after the death of a loved one. I’ve known others go out to bat and score a century. The difference here is that the death was that of a cricketer and it took place on the pitch.

Phillip was a talented young cricketer with a bright future ahead of him. Sadly it wasn’t to be. He will forever be 63 not out.

Phillip’s spirit, which is now part of our game forever, will act as a custodian of the sport we all love.

We must listen to it. We must cherish it. We must learn from it. We must dig in and get through to tea. And we must play on.

So rest in peace my little brother. I’ll see you out in the middle. ~ Michael Clarke

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November 30, 1988 – November 27, 2014

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A Letter From The Front.

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December 27th 1914

Dear Mam,

Hope you are all well back home, I miss you all so much. Who’d have thought this time last year that I’d be spending this Christmas on the front line?

We all got a Christmas gift from Princess Mary – a tin containing a card, cigarettes, picture and a pencil. I got your card and package, those socks were just what I needed! Thanks, Mam.

The weather has been wet for most of December but the temperature dropped on Christmas Eve and there was a heavy frost, which at least made it feel a bit more like Christmas. I longed to be sitting in front of the fire, teasing our Gladys and the boys. How is Glad? I worry about her. Tell her she must be brave like her big brother.

Conditions are hard but our spirits are up. The trenches are waterlogged and one solider, Albert, keeps singing about being in the Navy. Funny lad, he should be on the stage! Humour is never far away and thank God for that!

I wanted to tell you of the strangest thing that happened on Christmas Eve…

We heard the Germans singing carols. Word came from their lines that, if we didn’t fire on Christmas Day, neither would they.

We were wary at first but then we saw them climbing out of their trench, hands in the air – obviously unarmed.

They shouted out to us, “Happy Christmas English soldiers!” A few of us ventured out of our trench and met them half way. A German shook my hand. He told me his name was Karl. He didn’t look much older than me. He showed me a picture of his wife and son. We exchanged gifts. I gave him some cigarettes, he gave me some cake and we both swapped buttons off our coats.

Everybody was so friendly, it was surreal.

During those two days, not a shot was fired. If I hadn’t have seen it happen with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed it, Mam. I keep looking at the button to check that it really did happen.

It made me realise that they are just following orders the same as us and they have families too.

Hopefully this war will soon be over and, God willing, we will return home safe and sound.

I must close now but take heart that a miracle really did happen this Christmas.

All my love,

Jack

P.S Could you send some lice powder next time?

The letter is fictional but it’s inspired by a true event.

The Christmas Truce took place in the Christmas of 1914. Though there was no official truce, roughly 100,000 British and German troops took part in unofficial cessation of fighting. This would prove to be the last significant act of chivalry between the two sides. Future attempts at cease fires were met with threats of disciplinary action. At this point in the war, censorship was still in its infancy so many letters sent home reported this as having happened.

Letters played a huge part in the war. The most effective weapon wasn’t a rifle, it was morale. Receiving letters was one of the few comforts a soldier had and writing them helped relieve the boredom. The given reason for censorship was to prevent the enemy from finding out secret information but it was also to stop bad news from reaching home. Some letters slipped through censor net and for the sake of this post, this is the case for this letter.

Support was vital from the home front. The majority of soldiers kept their letters as upbeat as possible, shielding their loved ones from what life was really like.

Given the appalling conditions which these men were living in and the horrors that they faced each day, it’s not surprising that the Christmas Truce should have had such a profound effect on those who witnessed it.

Seemingly neither side wanted to be the first to break the goodwill so those men were replaced with others who hadn’t taken part and the war (which people initially thought to to be over by Christmas) carried on for four more years with the loss of about 10 million military personnel and a total of around 37 million casualties.

The legacy of the truce is the message of hope that in our darkest hour, humanity can still be found.

But, however, looking back on it all, I wouldn’t have
missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything~ Bruce
Brairnsfather, an English solider.

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Header Image by Kevin Walsh

Christmas Truce Image – Wikimedia Commons

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