Tag Archives: Islay

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.


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.

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.

Charity begins at home

17 Jun

moonwalk finalIt’s all about sponsorship at the moment. Husband missed Father’s Day weekend entirely as he was doing the Caledonian Challenge in the Highlands. The week before I spent Sunday in a zombie like state having spent all night doing the Moonwalk. The plus side is it makes lots of money for worthy charities. The downside – apart from losing a weekend with the children – is then being beholden to everyone who sponsored us to sponsor them back.

It reminded me of the concept of ‘pay for your own leaving present’ which I thought up as I stuffed another fiver into an envelope knowing I had put so much in to leaving presents over the years I’d never make it back when I finally left the company. I came up with the inspired idea that any time anyone leaves everyone should put cash not into the whip round envelope but into their own leaving fund. As the company gets ever closer to closing the Edinburgh operation and it looks like I will be one of the last men standing I wish I’d introduced it.

I was in two minds about asking friends to sponsor me for the Moonwalk. I dream that in years to come I’ll do something bigger and better to raise money for the deaf charity which is so close to our hearts but know that if I hadn’t had the sponsorship to motivate me I might never have made it to the start let alone the finish.  I was astonished by how generous everyone was and particularly by the random people who responded to my Just Giving plea, the first of whom was a boy (now no doubt old and balding man) I haven’t seen since I was 16.

The 10 year old was keen to participate in the Race for Life at the weekend and I dissuaded her as I didn’t want to be asking the same people for sponsorship so soon.  When I saw a photo of two of her friends beaming with pride holding their medals I felt very guilty but was relieved when she went to swim club and was given a medal of her own for a recent gala.  The 8 year old loves nothing more than taking things like that into ‘show and tell’, this week she has an embarrasment of riches. My Moonwalk medal, her father’s Caledonian Challenge medal and her sister’s Swim Club medal. Who would ever have thought that we could earn the moniker of the ‘fit family’?!

The fittest however is not the mother who walked 26.2 miles through the night, nor the father who walked 54 miles in some of the roughest terrain in the Scottish Highlands, not even the girls who spend every waking hour playing hockey or at swim club but the 1 (nearly 2) year old who entertains himself by doing push ups between his cot and bunk bed, free climbing up bookselves, vaulting the poles beneath the slide, bouncing on the trampoline and backflipping (still wearing hearing aids) into the enormous paddling pool. His energy knows no bounds and he is scared of nothing. Apart from sand. That is going to make our summer holiday on a remote beach in Islay an interesting experience.

You’ve got to have faith

16 Dec

I wasn’t particularly religious until our baby girl died at 23 weeks in December 2003.  That night in hospital, holding the tiny but perfectly formed baby in our arms, I gratefully accepted the offer of a visit from the hospital chaplain who said a prayer over her little body and recited the blessing which is traditionally sung at Church of Scotland baptisms.  We would never have chosen to have an actual funeral but were told that there would be a cremation as a matter of course and it was our choice to be there or not.  So it was that one cold winter day we arrived at the crematorium and were handed a small white coffin to carry down the aisle.  The hospital chaplain conducted a short service and the only people present were my husband, my older daughter, then aged 16 months and me.

We were overwhelmed by cards from friends and relatives, the most moving of which was from a business colleague in Holland who said she had lit a candle for our daughter in a beautiful church in Amsterdam.  Thereafter, whenever I went on a business trip I made a point of seeking out a church to light a candle for our little girl. It was in a cathedral in Frankfurt that I had the realisation that I could probably get the same solace were I to go to church at home and from then on I started going to church on a regular basis.

Both my girls were baptised in Islay, a beautiful island on the West Coast of Scotland where my own name is on the cradle roll.  We will do the same with our baby boy but I wanted to do something at home to celebrate his birth in our own church, as to be honest, he could do with all the prayers he can get.  It seemed appropriate to arrange the Blessing for the anniversary of when we lost the baby which by coincidence is the same date I found out I was pregnant last Christmas.

I thought we could cancel out the negative emotions with positive ones but going into church and seeing her name in the Book of Rememberance, I was choked and bitterly regretted putting mascara on my bottom lashes.  It wasn’t helped by the fact that in attempting to downplay the occasion, my husband’s family were up en masse but none of my family were there at all, apart from a second cousin who I clung to, grateful that I had at least one blood relation in the congregation. Thankfully I was able to pull myself together and smiled proudly as our nine and six year old girls were invited to light the advent candles, and even managed to sing the Blessing when we stood at the front, as the minister carried our baby around the church.  The only moment I faltered was when he held our deaf baby boy and said, ‘May you Hear the voice of God ringing clear for you every day’. Tears welled in my eyes and those of most of the congregation.

I know it is fashionable to condemn religion.  I know it causes as many problems as it solves.

But I really need to have faith that my baby girl is in heaven and that my prayers that my baby boy will grow up to be able to hear and speak will be answered.

Benches, broken noses and birthdays

19 Aug

Our annual family pilgrimage to the Island of Islay was very different this year.  It is the one time of year we traditionally spend two weeks in close proximity to my parents and my brother and family visit from overseas.  This year my brother was unable to come as his wife was due to give birth in mid August and there was obviously a gaping hole left by the recent death of my father.  I can normally feel the stress of everyday life leaving me as the Balamory-style ferry reaches the island but this year was marred by constant anxiety regarding where the bench in his memory would go, when we would be able to bury his ashes and how my mother would cope in a cottage on her own.

As musical beds is my childrens favourite past-time they were happy to increase their reach to include the spare beds at my mothers cottage and we took it in turns to have sleepovers there.  The Golf Club were extraordinarily sensitive and positioned the bench within easy access of my mothers cottage with views towards the first five holes of the golf course, the sea and the farmhouse where he first met my mother.  My sister-in-law was also extraordinarily compassionate, squeezing out the baby two weeks early which gave us a much needed distraction and which will ensure that my new nephew always celebrates his birthday with us in Islay, the day before my older daughter who is also a ‘Cross Week’ baby.

The Kildalton Cross golf competition draws people from all over the world and is the reason my father visited Islay in the first place. This year would have been 50 years since he had won the much coveted silver celtic cross.  My husband has no interest in golf whatsoever so we opt to stay in a cottage on the beach where he reverts to hunter gatherer mode, foraging for wood by day and burning it by night, dram in hand.  As a result he knows the bays, cliffs and waterfalls of the imposing hill behind our cottage almost as well as my uncle who has farmed it for the last 65 years and was able to leap into action when we heard cries for help as we were about to go to bed one night.  Donning head torch he and a friend ran into the darkness where they rescued two 17 year old girls who had found themselves completely lost when the sun set and there was no reassuring sodium glow to guide them home.  Meantime, left at our cottage with the children, I ran in to get my phone lest they need to contact me from the hill, not realising that the rescue party had pulled the plate glass door closed as they left.  There was a resounding crunch and I reeled backwards, realising as the days progressed and my nose swelled to gargantuan proportions that I had broken it. It’s ironic that the foolish campers who had got lost and their brave rescuers returned without a scratch and I was the only one who sustained an injury.

Thankfully with the help of arnica and ibuprofen it subsided so my daughters 8th birthday photographs are not marred by images of a disfigured mother.  As ever she had her first celebrations on Islay with what is now our traditional barbecue on the beach.  Some campers had also brought paper lanterns to light and send up into the night sky which I cunningly pretended to have arranged specially for her.  It would have been a lot cheaper and more impressive than her actual party on our return which was a limo for 8 children and the opportunity to record a four track CD in a recording studio.  I had only booked the limo aspect to save parents crossing the city and negotiating the industrial wastelands in search of the studio but as it transpired the limo was half an hour late, failed to set up the karaoke for the children to play on the way there and then got lost with the result that even I, with my appalling sense of direction, found it before them and had ten minutes of utter terror wondering where the driver had got to on his own with 8 young girls.  Thankfully, apart from mild travel sickness, the children didn’t realise that anything was amiss and were unaware that the actual party organiser had to leave early.  The owner of the studio gamely stayed on and allowed the children to record their ear- splitting renditions of the Black Eyed Peas, Mamma Mia, Katy Perry and High School Musical which they proudly took home with them instead of party bags.  The delay meant that the limo got the kids home so late we only had ten minutes to feed them tea and do birthday cake before parents arrived for pick up at which point I justifiably withheld some cash from the envelope I handed over to the driver and said I would be speaking to the owner of the company.  He went bananas, cursing me, threatening me and aggressively squaring up.  The children were horrified and the talk of the party then moved from the fun they had had to the scary driver who shouted at us.  The limo company still haven’t been in touch but the recording studio who weren’t even at fault were hugely apologetic that we didn’t get the whole experience we had been promised and have promised us a repeat visit free of charge either for kids or their mothers.  I know exactly which frustrated X Factor contestants will be taking up that particular offer, they’re not 8 years old and they certainly won’t be taking a limo.

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