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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.

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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.

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.

Making deaf friends

4 Oct

trampolineThe deaf 2 year old and I have just had the most lovely morning.  Normally Fridays are spent dashing round to see local friends for coffee or waiting in trepidation for a visit from our Teacher of the Deaf.  This morning we were home alone but instead of insisting on watching ‘CBeebies’ , rampaging around the garden or firing his cars up and down the room the 2 year old consented to milk and a story.  He normally wriggles off my knee in seconds but he cuddled his dinosaur and I read The Littlest Dinosaur by Michael Foreman. Twice.

The morning just got better. I keep in touch with friends we met at sign language classes but we haven’t seen each other for over a year.  They have a deaf 8 year old and a hearing two year old so have the same big gap as we do and understand the deaf issue.  It was so good to have a play date with someone who identifies with what we’re going through and to see the two boys interacting.  Yes their 2 year old has better vocabulary but the different wasn’t massive and it was clear they could understand each other.

I loved being able to share anxieties about the care we are getting and I suddenly feel ready to take on the world. Instead of moaning that there is no provision for family sign language classes I am going to fight for them. Instead of worrying that if and when we go down the private school route we lose the radio aids which will help him hear his teacher I’ll fight to change that rule before it becomes an issue.  You wouldn’t take a wheelchair away from a disabled child if they entered private education I can’t understand why they take hearing aids away from deaf children if they do. But they do. Not the whole aid. But the extension which allows them to hear their teachers microphone in class. Simply because responsibility for the provision has moved from the Health Authority to the Education Authority.

I have always been slightly amused by the extension / microphone combination.  When our baby was first diagnosed as being deaf I asked our then 6 year old about the deaf child in her class.  She was completely unphased by his being deaf and just told me that the teacher has to wear a funny thing round her neck which means that the deaf child can sometimes hear her going to the loo if she doesn’t switch it off.  When I asked the teacher what the thing was (not mentioning the fact that the entire class listen to her going to the loo) she said that it’s a microphone linked to his hearing aid which enable him to hear her over all the other background noise but admitted that she finds it particularly useful when the children are at the far end of the field and she can quietly ask him to round up the other kids while her colleagues are screeching at their classes to come back.

We have only just been offered the extension and microphone and I was slightly anxious to hear that the reason one was available was because a deaf child had left school so was no longer their responsibility.   It seemed cruel to be chasing the family for the return of equipment which clearly enabled her to hear simply because she was making the transition from school to work. Surely it will be just as useful there, or at the gym or at any other form of class she might take in adulthood.

Meanwhile however I am just enjoying every day.  It was a joy to watch him chatting to his new friend today, dive bombing down the slide into a puddle of water at the bottom and the pair of them laughing hysterically on the trampoline. He is an utter delight and I will do anything to make his life as happy as he makes mine.

Our deaf toddler is 70% Deaf. 100% Boy!

15 Aug

2 yr old on golf courseI never thought I’d say this but I love hearing aids. I love them. The difference when he has them in is astonishing. He can hear a little bit without them but when he loses one, dips them in hoummous or goes to the swimming pool I suddenly realise what a massive difference they make.

I rarely take him swimming. Partly because he’s the third child and the thought of fighting to get his clothes off and on and then stand shivering in a pool doesn’t really appeal. Partly because his big sisters go to swim club training about three times a week so I spend my life beside swimming pools. Partly because hearing aids just complicate matters.

On holiday in Spain my naive hope that he would wear his aids to the pool and we’d just take them out when he wanted to go into the pool was dashed on the first day when he hurled himself towards the pool without warning…and without armbands. An hour later we had purchased armbands and removed his aids but then faced the additional problem of disciplining him when he couldn’t hear us. My cries of ‘careful!’ when he ran round the edge of the pool, ‘stop!’ when he tried to hurl himself into the deep end and ‘share!’ when he snatched some poor childs toy away from him were entirely lost in the silence. I think he rather liked it. Not being able to hear a nagging parent can’t be a great loss. I hated it. I hated it even more as the week progressed and I was conscious that I was continuing to say the same things (particularly the sharing bit) purely for the sake of the other parents.

I don’t really notice his hearing aids any more. When I met someone who took her child to the same toddler group I tried to describe my son and was describing him as blonde, loud and the size of a small giraffe long before I thought to describe him as the one with hearing aids. As soon as I did she knew who I meant immediately.

Because he couldn’t wear his aids at the pool we kept him in the apartment more than we would have otherwise. Our holiday rule is no TV but strangely the iPad seems a less offensive alternative so he sat happily on the balcony, magic ears in, watching Mr Tumble minus the usual background noise of our chaotic family as a result of which his vocabulary increased dramatically. His pronunciation of ‘app-le’ is the cutest thing I have ever heard.

Our next holiday of the summer was the day after he turned two at the end of July. We went on our annual pilgrimage to the Island of Islay where water didn’t pose nearly such a problem. Apart from the fact that he refused to dip a toe into the icy water for the duration of our stay he also has a pathological fear of sand so while his sisters were jumping on the dunes and playing in the rocks he was running around the cottage saying ‘moo’ to the cows in the field behind and doing a ‘digger!’ shout every time the tractor drove past.

It’s definitely a boy thing. I have attended the Islay Show for my entire life, the last 11 with children when the focus has been on bouncy castles and sweetie stalls. This year my primary focus was the sheep and cows (‘baa’ / ‘moo’) followed by the digger (‘digga’) stand where my 2 year old insisted on sitting on every piece of agricultural machinery on offer. I was rather pleased with the introduction, it transpired that the digger stand offers the most generous hospitality of anyone at the Show and while the rest of my family were paying through the nose for candyfloss I was eating strawberries dipped in white chocolate courtesy of W & M Currie & Son.

The following day we were at the Machrie Golf Course for the final round of a major competition. As the finalists stood on the first tee ready to take their first shot my two year old struggled from my arms and ran across the fairway. Scooping him into my arms I got him as far as the first green before he was off again, thankfully running backwards and spinning around the pin at the fourth rather than the first which would have substantially affected the competition. The gallery following the golf weren’t sure which was the more entertaining.

He had his hearing aids in the for the whole time in Islay (apart from the incident with the hoummous) and words started coming thick and fast. Our wonderful Teacher of the Deaf had introduced me to an iPad app called Sound Touch which shows animals and vehicles and their associated sounds. In Islay it was as if the app had come to life. Everywhere he looked there were sheep, horses, ducks, dogs, cows, cats and birds. We watched the plane land at the airport every day, tractors and quad bikes go past the cottage and on our final day he could barely contain his excitement as he watched the cars drive on to the ferry then a lifeboat appear alongside with a helicopter hovering above it and shouted ‘helicopter!’.

It’s funny how you can go to the same place on holiday year after year but have a different experience every time. I’m loving the new boy world he has introduced me to and had to stop myself shouting out ‘digger’ as I cycled past one on the way to work this morning.

Our two year old may be 70% deaf but he’s 100 % boy and with the aids in he is no different to his contemporaries. Except possibly more physical. More funny. More handsome. More cute … and more scared of sand.

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