Can Kids be the Antidote to Anxiety?

17 Jun

Angus bouncingI seem to thrive on anxiety. It’s just as well as since setting up my own business I’ve found it difficult to switch off. When I’m not tied to my desk hammering out emails or working in London, New York or Berlin I’m poolside adrenaline levels rising as the girls pound up and down the pool aiming for times to get them to the next level of competition.

I then get anxious that the 3 year old, in spite of his disability, doesn’t get the attention his big sisters did at his age when I was safely ensconced in a 9-5 job and they were the focus of my world.

It was therefore fortuitous when a ludicrous public health order forced him to stay off nursery last week (he’d had contact with someone with a bacterial infection) while he went through various tests. Five long days later he got the all clear but in the interim I had had a deliriously happy time bonding with my little boy.

Although entertaining him by day meant that I then had to work long into the night to catch up (& ignore the older children) I will treasure those snatched moments in the rare sun of this Scottish summer forever. His joyful company was a million times better than switching off by relaxing in a spa or sinking a large glass of wine after a stressful day.

Scottish schools break up a week on Friday and I am determined that the few weeks we have away together over the summer won’t be marred by my thinking about work. To my shame my deaf 3 year old often chides me for checking emails on my iPhone shouting ‘wake up mummy!’  & it’s difficult to berate the older girls for being on theirs when I am doing the same thing.

I haven’t taken any time off work since this time last year bar a few days over Christmas. This summer I intend to kick back a little bit, enjoy our two weeks in Spain and Islay and concentrate on making my children as happy as they make me. Little did I know that the best antidote to anxiety has been bouncing around in front of me all the time.

Did you know it’s Deaf Awareness Week?

7 May

Blog Angus LBFDid you know this is Deaf Awareness Week? I have a deaf child and I have only just realised.

Initially I thought that the organisers had a pretty bad sense of timing planning it during election week but perhaps it was particularly astute.

As we neared election day it seemed that politicians would promise anything to secure a few more votes so by putting Deaf Awareness on the agenda this week maybe they have had to make some rash promises they’ll have to honour if they get into power.

Our deaf three year old is already suffering as a result of budget cuts. Two weeks ago we were told that his speech therapy was being taken away as his speech is where it should be for a deaf child.

The fact that it is nowhere near where it should be for a hearing child doesn’t seem to be an issue. Even though he is going to be entering mainstream education next year and will be expected to contribute to class in exactly the same way as his hearing classmates.

He has some great one liners but his speech is largely talking at us rather than with us. A bit like old people who compensate for hearing loss by holding court thereby avoiding having to have a conversation. That is not directed at my father- in- law. Honestly. *crosses fingers behind back*

The three year old also tells terrible lies. He came out with ‘daddy hit me’ last week when he got told off for something (I can’t remember if it was treating the fridge as a climbing wall or scaling the bookshelf) and came running to  me for comfort.

I can only hope the social services budget is cut too so no one listens to the few words he does say too closely!

5 Years Since the Crash

8 Mar

GRANDPA ISLAY READING HIS PAPERMarch 9 marks the 5th anniversary of my father’s death. Over time the pain has dulled but whenever I think about him  it forces suppressed emotions to the surface. Last week I heard that the house opposite my parents was for sale. Ever nosy and eager to see more I googled the name of the road to find the estate agent details. Instead of house particulars I was confronted by a five year old news story about the car crash which killed my father as he was going out to buy the evening paper. Tears spilled down my cheeks.

I can’t believe that so much has happened which he hasn’t been a part of.  I have had another baby. My baby turned out to be deaf. His sister died. His other sister died. I was made redundant. My husband was made redundant.

Put like that it doesn’t seem like he’s missed much. But he’s missed the happy times too.

The deaf 3 year old is a bundle of energy who has distracted us all from the void in our lives. The deaf issue is always at the back of our minds but is by no means what defines him and his joyful nature has almost single handedly put a smile back on the face of my mother. Not one for gushing about grandchildren she can barely contain her enthusiasm for him.

I tried for years to persuade my parents to move back to Scotland but since my father died my mother has reluctantly bought a flat in Edinburgh. She still has the house and countless friends in Derbyshire but now refers to the flat here as ‘home’ and makes more friends every time she comes up.

The 9 & 12 year old have transformed from High School Musical obsessed little girls to sport obsessed pre teens. He would definitely prefer hearing them talk about hockey, swimming and cross country results than watch them prance around clad in synthetic cheerleader outfits.

I’m not sure how he would react to my setting up my own business. He was a job for life kind of man and wouldn’t have encouraged me to take any risks but I think he’d have been pleasantly surprised by how things are going. Though possibly less relaxed now that my husband has been made redundant and Brownlee Donald Associates is going to have to support both of us.

I miss him for the financial advice I know he would give me. I miss reaching my arms around him for a big hug – he wasn’t tactile so wouldn’t have offered it first! I miss him for being a wonderful grandfather to my children. I miss him for looking after my mother. I miss his sparkling blue eyes which live on in my children. Five years on I just miss my lovely dad.

Filling in forms. And more forms. And more forms….

5 Sep

Happy FamiliesMy life seems to be an endless cycle of form filling. Paperwork for my new company. Entry forms for athletics competitions. Permission forms for the girls various activities. Emergency contact forms for our sons nursery.

But the most challenging are those associated directly with his hearing loss.

When our baby boy was first diagnosed as being severely deaf we were told to apply for Disability Living Allowance.

I remember filling in the forms through a mist of tears as I was forced to confront the realities of what the future held for him before I’d come to terms with his hearing loss in the present.

Six months before his 3rd birthday we received the forms to fill in again. I hate being forced to confront the realities of his disability and prefer to focus on the fact that he’s only 70% deaf but 100% boy.

For months I didn’t even read the forms and they languished on my desk getting buried under more forms until I finally plucked up the courage to tackle them.

Surprisingly it wasn’t as hard last time. Largely because the worst case scenarios we could only imagine when we were holding our deaf baby in our arms are now a reality. A reality we are coping with. Most of the time.

But then the letter came back from the DLA. Clearly to be seen to be coping is not a good thing.

We have been unsuccessful in our application.

Not only that if we want him to retain any benefits at all we have to fill in further forms. The same information transferred to a different form. Filled in by hand. 42 pages in total.

More anguish. More admin. More asking the professionals who work with him to write letters of support. More anxiety for us. More work for the people at the DLA.

I fail to understand who benefits at all . In fact I am slightly in awe of anyone with the patience and persistence to commit benefit fraud.

It’s tempting not to apply at all but we are constantly being told of ways in which we can improve life for our deaf 3 year old.

Whether it be adapting the room at his nursery to improve the acoustics, getting private speech therapy to supplement the state supplied therapists who are on a constant round of maternity leave, paying for one to one swimming lessons instead of the group lessons where they sing nursery rhymes he can’t hear or paying for the whole family to learn sign language.

All of them are lovely ideas but all of them cost money. So we plough on with the applications and hope that he will get the DLA. It’s worth the endless form filling and anxiety if it will improve the life of our otherwise happy and content deaf wee boy.

Disciplining a Deaf Child

1 Mar

hearing aids sketchChild no.1 gets all the attention. As a parent you may not know what you’re doing but you have the time to read up about it and do things by the book. You travel in packs so know when it’s time for your child to eat solids / stop using a high chair / do potty training / move to a big bed and have long discussions about it while doing kids tea  party/ adult wine time on a Friday.  Child no.1 grows up feeling nurtured but slightly neurotic.

Child no.2 follows in the slipstream of child no.1. You can still remember what to do so have none of the anxiety you had with child no.1.  Some of the rules may have slipped a bit. Chocolate buttons replace carrot sticks and Annabel Karmel home made recipes are replaced by Ella’s Pouches. You signed them at birth for the classes / child no.1 was already doing. You don’t obsess about them.  Child no.2 grows up independent, happy and confident.

Child no. 3 is pretty much ignored. You can’t remember what to do but everyone thinks you do so no one tells you. Not only does child no.3 watch a lot more TV than the others but child no.3 watches inappropriate TV. More likely to be watching Take Me Out than Mr Tumble.  More likely to be singing One Direction than Wheels on a Bus. Child no.3 is wild.

Now imagine that child no.3 is deaf so can’t even hear you on the rare occasion that you try to do the Mary Poppins bit and instill some discipline.

I have always taken my children to church on a Sunday morning. The older one preferred to sit angelically on my knee, the middle one bounded happily into creche, the younger one bounds happily into creche then clouts anyone who tries to plays with the toys and tries to lock other children in the toy cupboard.  I have taken to pretending that he is clingy and / or toilet training so that I can stay with him and police potentially hazardous situations.

When he’s good he’s really, really good. His smile could power the national grid. His eyes twinkle mischievously.

When I try to get him to do something he doesn’t want to do he goes mad.  He screams.  He Shouts. He Cries.  Often I cry. My biceps are bigger than they ever were when I was going to the gym every morning as I wrestle him into cars / out of cars / into the bath /out of the bath / into the buggy / out of the trampoline.  It’s nothing to do with being deaf but being deaf doesn’t help when you’re trying to talk soothingly through a major tantrum.  Or a cinema with surround sound when I’m trying to hiss at him to be stop bashing the chair in front.  Or crossing the road when he can’t hear me over traffic noise and is flatly refusing to hold my hand, oblivious to the danger. Or at the swimming pool when he has his hearing aids out and any attempt at discipline is quite literally falling on deaf ears.

It was a particularly disastrous swimming class yesterday.  Before the lesson even started he was told off by a life guard. I had to tell her he couldn’t hear her. Once in he kept trying to get out.  Obviously once the lesson was finished he wanted to stay in. He was jumping off the steps with glee when an impatient mother asked him several times to move. He couldn’t hear her. I grabbed his hand and yanked him off the steps. He wailed. I carried him kicking and screaming into the cubicle. I wailed.

Then I heard a clear little voice, still without his hearing aids in, say ‘what’s the matter mummy?’.

I had thought I was crying for him but in fact I was crying for myself. He is fine. I am the one with the problem. Most of the time I am fine but when the deaf diagnosis lamps me between the eyes I am ashamed to acknowledge that I am still the quivering mass of anxiety I was when he was first diagnosed.

It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life.

21 Jan

Deaf baby swimmingAlthough outwardly positive, anxiety is often my default setting. I’m that duck who appears to glide over the lake of life while frantically paddling underneath. However I was truly inspired by a friend’s astonishingly positive Facebook post, at a time when she could have been wallowing in self pity, and am determined to stop worrying about things which might happen and enter 2014 feeling good.

Her father had just died, a feeling I know only too well, but instead of starting the new year thinking about what an annus horribilis she had had, she used her Facebook post to reflect on all the great things that had happened in 2013.

Careering towards the end of my career was crushing but out of it has come a whole new world of opportunities and such good wishes and support from some wonderful friends within the publishing industry that I wouldn’t turn the clock back if I could. Brownlee Donald Associates launched on 3 January and I’m loving every minute of it.

The children also continue to delight. For every stroppy teenage moment the 11 year old has (there are a lot. She spent much of Christmas in New York on Facetime to friends in Edinburgh) there is another moment when I burst with maternal pride, when she wins a swimming gala or just puts her iPad down for once and wants to hang out.

The 8 year old astonished me at Christmas by being selected to sing a solo as the Angel Gabriel in the nativity. I went along with trepidation, but her voice (largely in tune) soared up to the balcony where all the parents were sitting and I could have wept. She overcame fear and bullying from some children who teased her for doing it and made me so so proud.

The deaf 2 year old will never be bullied. I find it hard to believe that we perceived him as a victim when he was first diagnosed. He is so happy – and so strong – that no one would dare mess with him. That said my heart broke a little when I took him to his first swimming lesson last week and realised that it revolved around singing songs which he couldn’t hear without his hearing aids in.

I didn’t tell the other parents he was deaf and they no doubt pre judged him as he ignored the teacher and splashed round the pool. When the other 2 year olds sat nervously on the side of the pool during ‘Humpty Dumpty’ ready to ‘all fall down’ into their mother’s arms, mine just looked perplexed. Until he got the gist of what was going on. Then he scrambled out on his own using the bar for leverage like a small monkey and letting out a great roar took a running jump and leapt into the pool. The teacher looked horrified but he emerged, elated, water dripping from his long eyelashes and we both burst out laughing.

When we first got the deaf diagnosis we couldn’t see beyond immense sadness but in fact thanks to him there is always laughter in the house.  It is he who keeps a smile on our faces.

So as I enter a new dawn, a new life, a new day. Life is good.

Decision made. Introducing Brownlee Donald Associates.

8 Nov

Home fire burningSince we were told that our office was closing at the end of the year and being absorbed into what is now Penguin Random House I have gone through every possible emotion. Denial, grief and anger have all raised their heads but I’ve finally reached acceptance and it’s great. I’ve contemplated every possible option and have come to the conclusion that working for myself in an industry I love with contacts made over 23 years in the business is without doubt the best way forward.

It also gives me the flexibility to work from home thereby walking the 2 year old to the childminders every day, splashing in puddles, kicking piles of leaves and generally dawdling and still be at my desk earlier than I am at the moment.  It means I can light the fire on cold winter nights and the 11 year old can come straight home and get on with her homework instead of standing shivering on the doorstep waiting for us to get back as has happened on a number of occasions recently.  It also means I can decamp to our island idyll of Islay and let the children run wild in the summer while I continue business as usual. I am so happy and strangely confident about what the future may hold.

My happiness is enhanced by the deaf 2 year old who has now been given the much sought after ‘dangly thing’ which I now understand is a ‘radio mike’ and has ‘FM receivers’ attached to his hearing aids. The new aids are enormous and look rather clumsy but the effect on his attention span has been immediate and instead of disrupting Book Bugs and Daisy’s Music Time he is now participating with enthusiasm.

The 8 year old is making me smile too.  After years of my insisting that the Times Table app on the iPad is in fact a game her mental arithmetic is second to none and she is sailing past the boys in top group in her Big Maths / Beat That test every Friday – much to the surprise of her parents and teachers. Download it. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

So looking forward things are pretty good in the Sleepless household.   The 8 year old is currently at a sleepover.  The 11 year old is at the cinema with a friend who is coming back for the night. Their social lives are far better than mine. Last Sunday I let the girls sleep in to recover from a hat trick of late nights which had begun with Hallowe’en. They eventually woke up at 1pm in the afternoon.  When I wrote my first Sleepless in Suburbia blog all those years ago  I couldn’t imagine a time when they might sleep through the night let alone through the day. Life is constantly changing and at the moment it seems to be changing for the better.

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