No one will quite understand this unless the are a SEND or LAC/post-LAC parent… but I’ve been a bit pong-y today. I’m now fresh out of an uninterrupted 10 minute shower, where I not only got to shave what could only be described as “manly” pits, but I also washed my hair, quite literally 3 times. 3. Why? Cause I liked the way the suds felt in my hair AND I had the time to… and I used a fresh towel to dry myself. A nice crisp clean one that no dirty hands had dare touch. And shortly I fully intend to thoroughly brush my teeth for 2 whole minutes, instead of the usual flick around, job done.
May seem disgusting or TMI to mention. May even seem so trivial and small, bordering unpostable, to some. But in reality to me, it’s pretty major. These simple things are often overlooked for primary caregivers of SEND or children in/from care. Unless you live it you don’t really see the sacrifices, not even as a parent of children who haven’t faced trauma, or don’t have SEND. So I thought I would post, to reassure those out there with compassion fatigue, approaching caregiver burn out, you aren’t alone, I stink and am too hairy most of the time too… and to take your moment when you can, to enjoy that 10 minutes if and when you can, to destink. You’re worth it.
On 3 hours sleep, I have had a tough day. I have deadlines to meet by tomorrow, that look like a lack of sleep again. However, rather than mark the day with a list of negatives, I am choosing to post my favourite moment of today to leave that as the history I record:
Today as the heavens opened and the rain poured down the tremendous sounds of thunder became apparent. I ran upstairs (where I had sent the children to play) and ignored the riotous scenes I was greeted with to declare to the children there was a thunder storm and asked if they’d like to come spotting with me. Aware that a waterproofs routine may cause us to miss out, and knowing how they like to be appropriately dressed in the rain, I took the initiative to invite them to the “viewing platform” (otherwise known as “Mumma’s desk” or more aptly described as the junk storage corner). The excitement of every flash and the anticipation of every rumble was an amazingly happy experience in the midst of such utter nonsense that I took a step back. I smiled. And I enjoyed!
PS I got my new replacement laptop… so watch this space…
Finding therapeutic parenting strategies that work is so imperative to life with adopted children, not least because they need to not feel like they are “bad” or “naughty”; you’ll likely find that most adopted children have at some point felt like they are inherently “bad” and that it’s their fault that they can’t live with their birth parents. And that certainly is the case in our house!
Logan in particular struggles to see the good in himself, I mean, Caitlin does struggle with it but she does have rational moments where she can see her try self. Logan is barely able to see anything good about himself at all. And if you can’t see the good in yourself, you surely cannot value the good of other people. And if you cannot value the good of other people, you cannot feel the love given to you and accept that good things happen to you at the hands of other people.
This causes us no end of battles, we do lots of positive things with Logan and Caitlin. And so we have (read “I”) have been thinking of ways to reiterate the positives with him. And as we don’t see the Grandparents often and the children love having pen pals, we decided to make it so that the children write a newsletter of the things they have been up to each month to the Grandparents.
They have to look through the photos of what they have been up to in a month, and then select their favourites and provide a caption for each one. The selection process really forces him to be faced with a concentrated whack of “Wow! Mumma sure has arranged a lot of fun stuff for us this month…” and it’s hoped that the reiteration if that message in his brain will allow him to remember that positives are occurring from outside sources. They then write a “paragraph” in the cover letter (literally a sentence or two) on the laptop so are getting familiar with the keyboard. And if we have done something special in the month (Halloween being the last one) we do a “special” on it together.
On top of this, the grandparents send the kids a challenge each month. It could be something academic (like a book review), something craft-based (making a dream catcher), something physical (going for a walk), something nature based (counting bugs/birds), research based (finding out who the Wombles are). Anything, in short.
And everyone wins. The kids get a lot of therapeutic feedback, and reminders of how good things are now. Despite the stress of actually getting the task done, I get a lot of positive back from the children and I inadvertently get to see how they are coming along (caption creativity, spelling, memor). And the Grandparents, who see us infrequently get some insight as to what we are up to.
Below are some examples of challenges they have had to get up to.
On a weekend self care escape in Builth Wells, celebrating another mum friend’s birthday, we had found Sugar and Spice; by daytime a cafe, some evenings a bistro, in the nearby town of Llandridnod Wells. We messaged ahead of our trip to find out if the evening bistro would be running whilst we were there, it was, and happened to be running on the night of our arrival into Builth. Understanding we had a bit of a drive to get there, they were very flexible with our arrival time (allowing us a 30 minute arrival time slot rather than a arrive at this time type thing).
It was very easy to find the building, but due to an event in the town, parking wasn’t available immediately outside of the location. However a 2 minute walk away there is a car park, and all the surrounding streets have on street parking available. We managed to get a space within minutes of being in town centre and walked across to the bistro.
First impressions were that it looked like a small rustic cafe, which I suppose is how it should look, given that by day it functions as a cafe, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. There was a large table booking and a couple sat separately, We were given the choice of anywhere else and chose to sit in the little cove by the window. It was cosy, but not in a cramped way by any means, it was cute and, paired with the low sounds of Bob Marley, gave the air of a relaxed and chilled intimate dining room. It was the perfect atmosphere to start off our weekend of relaxation.
Jess was so attentive and really tailored our experience. We built up such a great rapport with her with such minimal effort; she was interested in what we had to say, and keen to ensure our experience was nothing short of first class. Nothing was too much trouble, not even our indecisive (and overtired) brains. From the off she was on top of what we liked/disliked and guided us through what was best to choose for us and how she could make it different to meet our needs/preferences etc. So from the outset we knew we were getting our needs met. She even giggled with us when we mentioned we forgot our wine (it’s a bring your own and pay corkage kind of deal) so we ended up buying cordials instead.
The food. I mean. Where do I start? The menu and deal I suppose. The menu was 2 courses for £20, 3 for £25, and for an evening meal I don’t really consider that bad prices at all. Starter was not a hard choice for me at all. I saw the word “avocado” and I was sold. The dish was their take on a caprese salad; caprese for those who aren’t aware is a tri colour Italian salad normally consistent of mozzarella, tomato and basil seasoned with olive oil and salt, making up the colours of the Italian flag. However, instead of the basil representing the green in this salad, there was an avocado crush which was served on a bed of mozzarella topped with oven roasted on the vine tomatoes and some mixed leaves and bread on the side. It was delicious, the flavours were amazing. I said it then, so I will repeat it now… it took every ounce of energy I had to not lick the plate clean (although I was told no one would judge if I did hehe).
For main course there was some debate for the birthday girl, but for me there was none; I tend to go with the vegetarian or vegan dish on most menus, as meat and dairy affect my intolerance and stomach issues, plus they are usually exceedingly tasty. So I went with the Romano Pepper and birthday girl (who loves fish) went with the Catch of the Day which was sea bass. We both absolutely loved it. I can’t personally comment on the fish dish (I wouldn’t even try any as I hate dish) but I have to admit that it looked appealing. But the romano pepper. Wow. Just. Wow! It was bursting with flavour. It felt, along with the relaxed-go-happy atmosphere, like I was back in Santorini for a moment. It was a party in my mouth and it made my soul dance. Served with the cous cous, beans and tenderstem broccoli… I was in heaven. It’s like I had gone into a kitchen and made the choices myself (and I am quite particular about what I like to go together). I couldn’t offer advice on room for improvement to be honest because it was my kind of perfect.
Then it came time for pudding. The food, up to this point, had been so amazing. The menu choices for pudding were all so tempting. How were we supposed to choose? We expressed this and asked for help. Jess made the solution simple… it was to the effect of “don’t choose, I will make you a sharer board with a bit of everything”. How utterly perfect?
To break it down: Home made honey ice cream – as someone who hates honey, for me to want to keep eating more than a small taster spoonful is amazing, but I did. BECAUSE IT WAS AMAZING! Chocolate brownies – vegan and gluten free yet tasted so moist and so much like best chewy dairy brownies I’ve tasted that it was impossible to tell. They were divine. Eton Mess – I mean. It’s meringue, strawberries and cream. What’s not to like? It was amazing. The meringue was just the perfect amount of crisp and chewy. Lemon cake with orange curacao cream – so moist and flavoursome. I couldn’t stop eating it even when I was waaaaaaay past full.
I have no constructive criticism for them, except I could moan that they make me want to get super fat, but actually that says more about my complete lack of self control than their food. It was to die for. I would happily go back a million times over.
And to top it off, rapport and conversation that had built up through the evening led to the discover that they own a grocers just next door, La Vida Verde: promoting zero waste, buying local and plastic use reduction. The kind of ethics I love to hear about (we may have had a sneaky tour at the end of our meal). Thank you. We will be back.
I booked to go here with another mum friend for a quiet weekend escape to celebrate a birthday (see here). We wanted a quiet place to relax, preferably without children, not too far from home with the luxury of an on site or nearby spa or a private hot tub. From the descriptions we could see (and the reviews) Wye Cottage at Penrheol seemed just the ticket. In a rural location just outside of the town of Builth Wells, complete with epic views of the countryside and hot tub it was perfect.
We had booked through Airbnb (as that’s where we found it) which was straightforward enough. Claire sent us a message with information on how to find the property, where to find the key on arrival etc. Claire’s instructions were very clear and (along with the post code being set in the Sat Nav) the property was very easy to find. On arrival, Claire came out and greeted us, gave us a quick tour, showed us how to use the hot tub and wished us well.
The accommodation was well laid out and equipped and very comfortable. Knowing it was 2 mums coming for a break, they had set the one twin up as a king room with the beds pushed together and an insert between the beds. All rooms were en suite accessible wet rooms (with seats and disability supports etc.) The spaces within the accommodation were bright and airy with modern decoration that tastefully incorporated the character features. A nice addition was the woodburner (complete with a basket of logs and some fire lighting equipment). It helped with the requirement to relax (I do love watching flames).
Some sachets of shower gel were available for use, there were plenty of towels and toilet rolls and there were extra blankets available. Some extra nice touches were the drawer full of DVDs and CDs below the TV, and the cupboard full of board games and books. In the kitchen, along with the house and hot tub rules (nothing too outrageous, just really respecting the property and neighbours), we found that we had been left freshly laid eggs, a bottle of soft drink and home made welsh cakes.
Outdoors, at the rear of the property, were amazing country views, a large garden with patio and hot tub complete patio furniture and a bbq and fire pit. At the bottom of the garden, behind some hedging is a gate leading to the children’s play area.
Wye Cottage was a brilliant place to stay. I wouldn’t hesitate to return here again, whether as a family, or as a grown up couple/group. Would highly recommend this place to other people. It is by no means a party cottage, but is most definitely a rural haven.
A friend announced that, for her 30th birthday, she had big plans. She too is a home ed mum of a SEN child and is very exhausted. She wanted to make it special, then with some new on her health her plans had to change, so I suggested “why don’t we go for a mum’s weekend of self care… a spa hotel or hot tub cottage, some nice food and a massive relax?” I did make it very clear I wasn’t expecting her to change plans, but more putting the offer on the table and making it available if she’d like to chose it. But by that time she had already been struggling with herself about what she could do and still have a special time. My plans appealed to her and she was again excited by the approach of her birthday.
When it came time to book (as in, we actually had the funds there to do it) we took a look around. Our specification was to book hotel or hot tub cottage – even glamping with a hot tub was a possibility, but whatever it was had to be close enough to get back promptly if we needed to as all of the children suffer with massive separation anxiety and can get extremely upset to the point of very bad consequences. After a long search we decided to go to Builth Wells and stay at Wye Cottage, Penrheol Self Catering Barn Conversions. You can read my review of that here. It’s a very rural hot tub tub cottage, with amazing views. Perfect to relax away from children.
Then we needed to make some decisions on food. We had been looking around and saw some places advertised. My mum friend really likes tapas, and an evening bistro popped up “Sugar and Spice” – it’s not strictly a tapas place, but they do have tapas nights. But the food looked awesome so we got ourselves booked there. You can read about our experience there just here.
We had also seen that, just outside of Hereford, there’s the picnic bench afternoon tea experience. This got the birthday girl very excited so, despite being an hour’s drive, we factored that into our weekend. You can read our experience of that here.
But ultimately we went to relax. And that’s what we did. In between the eating out, we chilled, in the hot tub, in our beds, in the living room watching films. It was extremely slow paced. And the most exciting thing… being able to toilet COMPLETELY alone. No interruptions. Amazing!
Self care is something that is prominent in conversations I have with people about parenting in general. But when it comes to SEN or adoption parenting it is so much more important. The expectations and pressures you are put under when a child has additional needs is tremendously strenuous. Being able to find moments to take care of yourself is the difference between being able to handle a situation and being completely depleted and incapable. Compassion fatigue is real and deeply impacting. So to be able to do something as major as a weekend away was fantastic!
I know that it’s super late to be talking about what we got up to over advent, but as I have said in some previous posts, we haven’t had the best of Winters… not that Winter is easy for anyone, but anxiety is especially high in our house from approximately October through to mid January here. And then we had loads of things happen like flooded house, car accident, emergency vets, a 3 am trip to A&E… on top of building works, it’s been quite a time. And this blog is primarily for me to keep a track of what’s occurred so I need to go through it all… no matter how late!
As we do every year, we arranged a calendar which gives the children a bit more focus and reduces the anxiety somewhat (well… it doesn’t reduce it, but it makes each day more manageable). The calendar is presented differently each year – sometimes in a series of envelopes, sometimes in little glass bottles. And in each one is a little message that says what today’s theme is.
There are days and activities that occur annually: Letters to Santa on Day 1, putting up the decorations on the first Sunday, Christmas Eve box .The rest generally follows this pattern (unless the above falls on one of those days: Monday: Charity day Tuesday: Craft/Challenge Wednesday: Christmas food Thursday: small gift day (basically, something we would have given for Christmas but they can’t cope with much so we spread it out). Friday: Family movie day Weekends – family related activities (such as visiting Santa, baking Christmas goodies etc.)
This year, as they are loving the whole West Midlands Safari Park idea, we did the Santa Safari for their annual Santa visit. We got an early slot, so that the kids could beat the busy atmosphere – we won’t usually go somewhere like this on a weekend at a “normal” time of year, let alone a busy one. We got there a little early, and they were first in to see Santa. It was definitely well thought out; they had the normal safari park stuff (no theme park during Winter) so access to the safari drive through, access to the walk around bits and sea lion show etc. but with an area setup for Santa. The kids go went through these little sections to break up the queue; a “sleigh ride” to the North Pole, a walk through a little winter Wonderland to Santa’s little lodge, where they get a photo with Santa and then through to the workshop to choose their toy. The ticket also included a visit to get one of Mrs Claus’ cookies and a hot chocolate. The kids thought it was amazing. Because we have done the safari park and the bits around, we didn’t stick around for the festivities as they really cannot handle it, so we leave on a positive note before they get too overwhelmed and have a meltdown. They loved every second of it.
This year, we added a new event to our advent setup that we think we will continue to factor into our yearly plans; we arranged a Christmas coffee afternoon. You can read more about it in our Christmas and New Year 2018 post… but this meant that one of our days was spent baking in preparation.
Logan and Caitlin were very insistent that we have Christmas at home, which in some ways is great – it’s so expensive to go away and not be able to join in with anything for Christmas, due to the sheer volume of other people being about. However, being at home for Christmas has never been successful (we had had 3 Christmas days with the children before this one; the first two at home, the third at Bluestone). The only one successful in that time frame was the one spent at Bluestone. So we had to figure out what was different about being at Bluestone (aside from, you know, the obvious of being on holiday) that we could influence from the perspective of being at home. We came up with a couple:
People and expectations: In going away we had taken them away from family and friends and as a consequence lowered their social commitments and expectations. “Ok. We need to replicate that” we thought, so we arranged to have a Christmas Coffee afternoon – mid December. We would have our presents ready for everyone, if people wanted to exchange presents with us (which we discourage as the kids are easily overwhelmed, can’t let go of the stuf they have and don’t have room for more, and frankly, they don’t need presents, they need presence). We would bake a load of goodies and take them with us, setup mulled wine and mulled apple juice, and other drinks. People could just drop in and go off as they please, but we’d be there for like 4 hours. some activities for the kids and it’d all be great. So. That’s what we did.
Presents: Presents were spread out, family had given us presents before we left for Bluestone, we couldn’t take them with us, nor could we fit in ours from one another so we did that exchange before we went away. So Christmas Day was just presents from Santa only and was VERY low key. So we had to aim for that. So we arranged that any presents we had been given before Christmas would be opened prior to Christmas Eve. Then Christmas Eve we would exchange our household’s presents so that by bed time the only thing left would be Santa.
And actually – those two things were the only significant differences we could identify. So we did our Coffee afternoon, exchanged presents there. Then opened anything the children got there slowly over the course of the week that followed. We had a special early Christmas planned for Christmas Eve, whereby they’d wake up and get their usual Christmas Eve box (new PJs or an outfit, some new underwear and some hot chocolate ready for bed time routine). Then had a normal morning, followed by a special lunch and a treasure hunt (with picture maps) around our house to find presents that we had bought (and hid) for them – they would open each present in between the search meaning that they had time to run around looking for the next one reducing their anxiety and emotional behaviour. It really worked.
After exchanging presents, the children had a bit of free play time to burn off some energy and emotion. Then as they know I love Harry POtter and had bought me the Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit game, we play that and some other games until it was time to have PJs, get Santa’s treats ready and get up to bed. Every Christmas Eve we hide a new book under their pillows (a tradition we had arranged to hopefully have a little fun)… this year it was a tradition that was finally remembered by them and they were so excited to get through pre-bed time routine to get to their beds . Bed time went smoothly (with the exception of Caitlin feeling a little worried about someone coming into our house whilst she is sleeping… we reassured her that no one apart from us would be in the house. We reminded her that Mumma frequently does things like magic-ing things into a room and she has no idea how they are done, in a similar way her presents would be magic-ed into the living room but offered her the opporunity to sleep in Logan’s room on a mattress. This worked.
Christmas Eve I had made it very clear to the kids, excitement trumps everything. So no time was too early to ask if it was time to get up on Christmas Day. They would either be told “no, not yet, a bit longer” or in most likelihood “hell yes!”. As I child I was always up at 4am persuading the youngest child in the house to go badger the grown ups to let us get up for Santa’s deliveries. And, anxiety was low enough. For the first year ever I didn’t give up at 8 and go and get them (already awake but too scared to say anything) up myself. They called up at 6am “Mumma, has Santa been?” my heart beated joy “Oh, um… I dunno, why don’t you go down and take a look?”
Santa had been, and he hadn’t left much of his treats on the plate…
The excited screams sounded their way up the staircase. I was worn out, but very VERY happy. I could have cried happy tears in fact “they are doing ‘normal’ kid stuff… what is this?”
The Logan and Caitlin don’t like anyone being left out so Bruce and I have to make each other a stocking and the children had won a stocking at a Christmas Fair so we “had” to fill it for the dog… of course.
The day was very low key, after opening presents, we pulled out the sofa bed and chilled watching the 1940’s version of A Christmas Carol. Then had some breakfast and mostly did a lot of nothing. It was perfect. And ate some glorious food in between. It was perfect. We pulled off a Christmas at home. We know what we need to do now.
Normally for New Year’s Eve, we have an evening all prepared, we put the clocks forward 3 hours so midnight arrives at 9pm (much more manageable in this house). But actually, some friends were going through a hard time. They came and stayed over. The kids all played together. The adults all played board games and laughed. The kids fell asleep early. We got no photos. It was just immensely fun. A welcome break in the midst of a very stressful time. We loved it.
We are a bit late reviewing this as, well…. Winter in this house is just so difficult… but it’s important to me that we do this. So here it is, better late than never hey?
The children were absolutely desperate to have a birthday party, but it just wasn’t feasible; they are coping better with parties, but not with being centre of attention in groups. So I was trying to come up with a SEN/sensory friendly alternative. I came up with the idea that a story teller/puppet show would be a great alternative. A little bit of research and some questions asked in the correct direction, and Sea Legs Puppet Theatre was one of the companies shortlisted. A brief email exchange filled me with the confidence I needed to decide “yes, this is it!” So, it was decided that they would come to our gathering to perform “The Selfish Giant”.
Rob was very approachable from the outset and was understanding and accepting of the needs any of the children may have. And very clear about what we could expect on the day, 2 hours to setup, 45 minute show, 15 minutes to meet the puppets afterwards and then up to an hour for take down. He brought along some rugs, and had already suggested we setup some chairs for the adults. We brought along a load of scatter cushions too for added comfort.
The set was really quite spectacular, the puppets were exceedingly intricate and the show was very well thought out. Everyone loved it, adults and children alike. Since the party, we have had so many comments over how different, but great, it was to attend a birthday celebration where even the adults were able to be involved, entertained and happy to go back and repeat the experience. 25 3-14 year olds, all of whom were fully engaged for the entirety of the performance. They were all very excited to have the opportunity to meet the puppets at the end. All the children have since expressed how they loved it (all of them), and several have asked when the next show is. Which is entirely a possibility for the coming year.
… you know the one at the end of the tunnel. It’s still there, it’s just that the length of the pathway, the obstacles in my way and the stability of the road aren’t clear. And at the moment it feels very unstable and full of obstacles. Relentlessly so. I’m quite literally treading water with my energy, my body, my health. And I keep thinking “oooo, just gotta do x, y and z and then I can recover a little….” but then the list is scuppered by major dramas. Just to list a few to give an indication:
Major roof leak (on one section of the single-storey part of the house only)
Car drama – headlights stopped working, intermittently, couldn’t recreate scenario at the garage. Eventually got something sorted.
Logan’s sleep saga continues… although now we are back (begrudgingly) with Melatonin and this time we are actually seeing some more benefit than last time; it definitely hasn’t fixed the problem, but we are seeing more “good” nights (where there’s a more solid chunk of sleep).
Caitlin’s muscular issues have been fluctuating, and where we have had a more steady constant stream of physical activity, I am less able to predict what’s going to be too much (I am sure our super steep stairs do not help, some visitors actually get anxiety about coming down them).
Colds and Flu – I have SOOOOOOOOOOOO not been on top of our immunity routine. And although we have a very good diet, it just hasn’t been enough. Cue a series of colds, and what we think was the flu on the last batch.
Bank drama – 6 months after moving (5 months after no access to old house/address change) the bank decided to “accidentally” post some of our account details to an old address (I had been into the bank to change it personally as they wouldn’t do it over the phone/couldn’t online). So needless to say I am changing banks.
Therapy – each session seems to actually be leaving the kids feeling vulnerable afterwards and having an impact on behaviour for a week or two afterwards now. Which is good in some ways (it’s working, but it’s exhausting).
Uni – has started back up again, and I may have bitten off more than I can chew all things considered this year, but I’m the kind of person that makes things happen. I always have been.
However, despite all the drama and exhaustion, we now have someone coming in to do the deeper clean of the bathroom, en suite and kitchen. And a volunteer from a wonderful charity called Home Start coming in to just give me a bit of human interaction once a week (and eventually we are hoping it’ll lead to respite for me, when the kids are able to trust her enough to listen to her whilst I am out of the room for long enough for me to just go read a bit, or soak a bit), and access to regular groups where the kids can just be themselves without me having to care.
AND on top of that, I actually got some me time. with a friend… a mini spa day (by mini I mean, no treatments just use of the facilities and a relax for a while). It was at the St Pierre Marriott Hotel and Country Club. I will not waste my time with a review – I will just say: we arrived to find staff talking about their desire to “get out of there” and travel and work cash in hand on the fly as they do, with little interest in us actually checking in/any queries. The facilities were tired and outdated. When we got in the jacuzzi, it was hard to relax for all the unregulated children running around screaming, and when they finally left I had a headache and couldn’t be bothered any longer. Got out to try and have lunch, and despite the bar being less than 25% seated, they told me food would be at least a 45 minute wait. Don’t even bother going. It wasn’t all to waste though, as I went by train so I got to enjoy listening to music on my MP3, whilst alternating between reading my Kindle and checking out the views!
Regardless. I am here, plodding on, taking the obstacles as I come upon them. Some days life feels like it is moving forward. Some days it feels as if the weight of the world is against us (or rather me) and that I am fighting against it alone. But now it feels like we are balancing out a bit more, like the days moving forward are happening more. Still largely over shadowed by fighting and grief, but with a more constant presence of underlying peace and happiness.