Tag Archives: sleepless in suburbia

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.


From Publisher to TV Presenter

15 Mar

mr tumbleIt’s not until you experience something for yourself that you can truly empathise with other people. It was only when I experienced bereavement that I appreciated the shock and sadness that death brings. It was only when my son was diagnosed as deaf that I appreciated how many other things there are to consider when you have a child with a disability. And it is only now, experiencing redundancy for the first time that I appreciate the conflicting emotions of anxiety and excitement which constantly vie for precedence.

After my father died I realised how precious the adjectives are in letters of condolence. After my son was diagnosed as deaf I appreciated that hearing loops are not just token gestures to the PC brigade. Now facing redundancy I realise that it’s far better to confront the issue and offer positive words of encouragement rather than avoid mentioning it and offer only a sympathetic glance.

I feel guilty. I’m sure I have done the same in the past but the most frustrating thing in the last week has been people’s inability to make eye contact. In the same way that I found myself reassuring people after my father’s death or my son’s diagnosis, I have found myself bounding up to people reassuring them that I will be fine post redundancy.  I will. But a hug, a cheerful smile and endless flattery are doing me a lot more good than tragic glances across a crowded room.

Meanwhile the family remind me what is important. The 7 year old continued our run of good luck by coming first in breaststroke at swim club, the 10 year old has been selected to represent the school in the inter schools gala and the 19 month old took my mind off the office closure completely by having a sick bug for 6 days.

Having returned from a hectic week of conferences, film previews and networking in London it was actually quite relaxing to be forced to cancel everything and just sit holding my listless baby in my arms with Something Special on a loop for the whole weekend.

Thanks to watching Mr Tumble 24/7 his vocabulary has expanded from ‘oh oh’, ‘there’ and ‘pooh’ to include ‘helicopter’, ‘scooter’ and ‘lighthouse’.  Possibly a slight exaggeration but I’m word perfect – and can do the signs. An alternative career presenting childrens TV beckons.

Controlled crying. For or against?

8 Feb

Sleeping babyWhen I started this blog, long before my father’s car crash or our baby’s deaf diagnosis, the biggest drama in my life was sleep deprivation. Even post crash and deaf diagnosis, sleep deprivation still has the ability to transform me into a tearful shadow of my usual self.

Our 10 year old only started sleeping through the night when she began sharing a room with her sister. In an attempt to crack her sleep problems I bought every book on the subject, hired a ‘sleep doctor’ and had a researcher from a sleep clinic use her as a test case for a study so I know what I should be doing. I’m just not very good at doing it.

I dabbled with controlled crying but our first born cried so much she made herself sick and we would eventually relent. The experts advice to whisper words of reassurance was pointless as she couldn’t hear us through her own screaming. Our 18 month old can’t hear regardless so there is no point in whispering at all.

As we couldn’t follow the advice in the books we fell into all sorts of bad habits. Originally he would settle if we gave him milk so we gave him milk – at 11pm, then at 2am… then at 5am…. Latterly he wouldn’t go back into his cot and would literally wrap his limbs around us like a determined little orangutan until we relented and took him to our bed. I could have lived with that had he slept but even there he was taking longer and longer to settle with the result that since Christmas we have had to take it in turns to sleep with him so that we at least get some sleep every other night.

Detox January was manageable as we weren’t going anywhere but February marked the resumption of our social life and I realised that a dinner party wasn’t going to be a huge success if I had to go to bed when the 18 month old awoke at 11pm. Thankfully I had to go to London on business so charged my husband with the responsibility of forcing him back into the cot after his 11pm bottle and after that minor triumph decided to make him go cold turkey and venture into controlled crying territory.

It’s impossible to sleep when your baby is crying his heart out next door. My resolve very nearly weakened on numerous occasions but here we are 5 days on, the crying is less persistent, our bed is our own and the 18 month old is waking up at 7.30am with a big smile on his face.

He’s still hopeless at having a day time nap at his childminder but she claims that is because he wakes up at the slightest noise.  Our deaf baby hearing anything trumps sleep any time.

After the Crash and before the Jubilee

23 May

Never have I been more sleepless in silence in suburbia. Sleepless because my 9 month old baby has taken to waking at half ten and again at half twelve after which he steadfastly refuses to settle. Silence because in addition to his raft of tricks relating to whipping out his hearing aids and separating them into four pieces in a matter of seconds he has now added piercing the moulds with his razor sharp teeth rendering them virtually useless. Suburbia because although we’re always in suburban Edinburgh this week we ventured to suburban London for a much needed catch up with old friends. The girls think they went to London but in reality all of our friends have moved so far west that it’s practically the home counties. However a photo of the Harry Potter trolley at Kings Cross, a quick whizz over Waterloo bridge pointing out landmarks and we’ve convinced them they’ve been in the metropolis.

I was astounded by the prevalence of union jacks in London.  Everywhere I looked there was bunting whereas in Edinburgh, though not a city rampantly in favour of independence, it is only the occasional shop window that has an apologetic display dedicated to all things British. At St Pancras the girls were excited to see the Olympic rings suspended from the ceiling and even Marks and Spencer at Kings Cross had the All English range of sandwiches including Coronation Chicken and Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pud which I hadn’t spotted in their Scottish counterpart. In anticipation of the Jubilee, and presumably the Olympics, we had a note home from Brownies asking us to teach our children the National Anthem. As it was one of the first things I ever learned to blast out on a recorder at school (spit firing out the end) I was surprised that our children had got to the ripe old ages of 10 and 7 without learning it but as the anthem is generally only sung at sporting events which they watch with saltires painted on their faces I suppose it makes sense that they’re word perfect at the Flower of Scotland and clueless about the English equivalent.

We returned from London on Monday, a Bank Holiday here though nowhere else (interestingly the children only get one day off school for the Jubilee) and the children were still off school on the Tuesday. Perfect timing as it was my birthday. Twenty years ago I recall celebrating my birthday with a wild party in the garden of my London flat with free flowing Pimms and very little food. Ten years on I was pregnant with my first baby but still attempted to go out for a meal with a crowd of friends and pretend I hadn’t lost my party spirit. This year, increasingly unimpressed by my advancing years, I was quite happy to celebrate alone in the garden with the children.  I spent the day listening to one of our authors, Martin Spinelli, being interviewed on radio and TV. The subject of his book, After the Crash, resonates deeply with me. Like my father his wife was killed in a car crash but his young son was in the car with her and Martin barely had time to grieve as all his energy was directed at willing his little boy to recover.  Thankfully he did and Martin said in his many interviews that whereas before the accident, when he apparently he had everything, he was still dissatisfied with life, post accident he has realised that being a good father is more important than anything else.

It was ironic that as I listened to the various interviews and nodded sagely in agreement I was ignoring my own children. Though not as ironic as the phone in on one of the daytime programmes he was on which was on the subject of parents use of phones and computers being tantamount to child neglect.  I felt even more guilty then laughed as I heard the presenters urge parents to send in their thoughts by email, text or twitter or call them – no doubt with neglected children sitting in a high chair or crawling around their feet.

In fact I had a lovely birthday with my children.  The older one lay on her tummy in the garden reading magazines, the younger one cleaned out a water play tray for the baby to play with and he commando rolled around the garden, possibly in silence, certainly in suburbia, but clearly very happy.

A Mouse in the House

6 May

Heading out for the school run, baby already in buggy I noticed him looking even more animated than usual. Following his gaze I smiled when I saw he was looking at a cute mouse. Then did a double take. A mouse?! In my house?! As soon it saw me it dashed into a cupboard and I slammed the door shut thinking it would run under the floorboards and never be seen again. I should be so lucky.

On our return from school the girls went upstairs to get ready for hockey and there was an almighty scream. The mouse, admittedly only half the size of my thumb, was on the stair. Discovering my inner mouse shepherd I shouted at the girls to open the front door, nudged it down the stair and on to the path then collapsed with exhaustion feeling as though I’d vanquished a great enemy.

My older daughter doesn’t share her siblings love of animals but after the mouse experience is urging us to buy a cat. I have to say I’m with her. Although it was the tiniest mouse imaginable and the fact that it was on the stair has given my friends the amusing opportunity to break into song, it doesn’t seem so funny when I’m alone in the middle of the night. The kitchen scene from Ratatouille haunts me and for the last week I’ve been waking my husband to send him down for baby paraphernalia rather than risk venturing into a rodent house party on my own.

That’s when I can find my husband. For the last two nights we’ve had visitors over from France. A great friend from Courchevel and his niece who I thought was about eleven and who turned out to be a willowy six foot beauty of twenty. Our friend slept in the spare room, his niece in the girls room and our daughters who had friends for an impromptu sleepover took over our room leaving only the babys room, with cot and bunkbeds, available for my husband and me.

Post final feed I collapsed into the bottom bunk but when the baby awoke at 4am  and I couldn’t settle him I tried to find my husband to send him down to the kitchen for a dummy. He wasn’t in the top bunk. He wasn’t on the floor of the girls room and I hoped to goodness he wasn’t with the twenty year old niece so summoning all my courage I ventured downstairs to brave the mice on my own. Thankfully there was no sign of our furry friend – just a husband snoring beatifically on the couch – but in the face of such potential danger a cat suddenly seems rather appealing.

…and the new blog emerged from its shell and waddled down to the sea.

23 Mar

Lots of people have asked why I stopped writing the blog.  In part it was my crazy plate-spinning lifestyle. In part it was because without someone prodding me to deliver copy each week I kept procrastinating. But the main reason was because the editors, having asked me to concentrate on the ‘deaf issue’ felt my blog was no longer sassy and funny. They were quite right, but it’s difficult to laugh in the face of adversity.

I have included ‘silence’ in the blog title to reflect the fact that our baby boy is deaf. There is no getting away from ‘the deaf issue’ but now that I have the freedom to write about what I want, when I want I can again include the ridiculous antics of our six year old daughter (who worrying embraces all things chav) and the tentative steps our nine year old daughter is taking towards adolescence (asked to her first school disco last week) which make me laugh and cry in equal measure.

Since January we have had our baby baptised on the Island of Islay, I have returned to work, I have abandoned my family to go on business trips to London, we have spent a weekend with the parents of other newly diagnosed deaf children in Ayr and I have taken the girls to see X Factor Live in Glasgow. Of those the most relaxing, ironically, has been returning to work and the most frightening, not the deaf weekend but taking the underground train from Glasgow Central to the SECC surrounded by ravaging hordes of X Factor fans.

The ‘deaf issue’ impacts on our lives but it doesn’t define it.

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.

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