Saturday, October 18, 2014

Unpredictability and Style

I've decided that September is my favourite month of the year.  It's a time for new beginnings and good intentions.  Family life here is unusual at the best of times, but in September at least it was blissfully predictable.  That gave me head space, to do things for me, time to think, solve problems, get things done.  But now unpredictability has crept in again, and every morning I wake up not knowing what the day will bring, or what plans will have to be changed or adjusted.  This is when working on my reasons to be cheerful becomes more important than ever.  And I have a big one for this week!

Road Trip

Really, is there anything better than a road trip during school hours to lift the mood?  Especially when unpredictability meant that it had to be cancelled last week...

So yesterday, as soon as the school buses departed, I headed for Newry with my "sister", as the Sainsbury's check out operator described her.  It's a long time since anyone suggested that I had a sister.  Sadly she isn't, but she is a very good friend and fellow special need mum - we share the same hairstyle but have different accents!

These days Newry is a relaxing place to visit, and some of my overwhelm is gone now that I have most of the birthday, Halloween and Christmas shopping done.  The relief is fantastic.

I came home totally energised, and managed to sort out the teenagers, take in the Tesco delivery, put on a wash, clean the living room and hide all the loot before sitting down with my laptop at 6.

Productive days and happy children are a great start to the weekend.  And there was a bottle of (cheap Northern) wine chilling in the fridge too.

Click on the badge for more reasons to be cheerful hosted this month by Jo at Ojo's World.

Ojos World

Striking Mums

Style is the topic for the Striking Mums this week and how it changes after children.  In many ways that's hard for me as my style would surely have changed in the past 22 years whether I had children or not.  But looking back at photos of me in my 20s, the main difference now is that I wear longer sleeves and hemlines.

Kate on thin Ice Striking Mums

Here are this week's questions that Kate has set on style:

1. Would you describe yourself as stylish? Has your answer to that question changed since becoming a mum?

I am certainly not stylish like a yummy mummy.  Looking down at my jeans, runners and purple T-shirt, my style is more like that of a very mature student.  And I guess it always has been.

Chrissie Hynde was my style icon: I aspired to her "Don't mess with me" look, but often got side tracked.  The black eyeliner though has become an everyday staple, but I couldn't wear anything like black leather to my job in PR.  There I was expected to present a very polished front (not easy for a young Mum!) and I often got it wrong, and still wonder why there are no gentlewomen's outfitters where you could get kitted out office-style, from head to toe.

So my style is comfort and camouflage: comfort to see me through the days, and a camouflage that presents the person I would like to be to the world.

2. Describe a stylish outfit you wear/wore and loved.

That's easy.  There was this little hippy shop in Hereford near where I grew up.  You know the kind.  It sold incense sticks, silver earrings and little beaded purses.  And a few clothes too.  It was there that I found my "thin" dress:  black velvet, slim, over the knee, long sleeves, with a cut out back partly obscured by a big floppy bow.  It was almost impossible to dance in and you had to walk very slowly in it, but I enjoyed every second of wearing it, and my daughter did after me too.

3. How important is it to have an individual sense of style as mum?

That is an individual choice.  But keeping some sense of individual style may help balance the loss of  self-esteem that many women suffer through the demands of motherhood.

4. Are you ever embarrassed about how you look when you are out and about?

Not usually, but there was one memorable night when I had arranged to go to the cinema with my stylish eldest daughter, and I just threw on some runners and an old coat as I'd no time to get changed. She totally cringed and I never made that mistake again.

5. Do you judge people by the clothes they are wearing? Do you feel judged?

I hope that I don't judge people by what they wear, but when you meet someone for the first time it's almost impossible not to look at their style and make assumptions about them, based on their appearance.  When you meet a friend, you may try to work out their mood based on what they are wearing.  Don't they say that we dress for how we feel?  I know I do.  Bright clothes when I'm feeling confident and happy, black when I'm not.

6. Does having a sense of style all of your own help with self-confidence?

Absolutely, see above!

7.. A challenge – put together an Autumn outfit and post a picture of you in it on your blog. If that is too much, you could just photograph the items in the outfit. You can use things you already have or throw caution to the wind and go on a shopping spree.

I tried to take a night time selfie in yesterday's outfit, with a flash where my head should have been.  But I really don't think that you want to see it.  There are a couple of autumn outfits on this post.  And  the little blue number?  I love it nearly as much as my "thin" dress.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The autumn of austerity?

So #Budget15 has been announced, and it left me pretty cold, in every sense.  There was much talk about recovery, and the end of austerity, and the sacrifices that were imposed on us.  I knew how it would go and the radio was switched off as soon as the Budget speech began.

The end of austerity?

Or just fallen leaves?

Do you see the recovery?  I see it in the city centre shops, in busy restaurants, in the shiny new cars on the road, and the white vans parked up as yet another trophy home gets a revamp.

Yes there is a recovery, but not a real one.  This is a recovery for the lucky few.

I won't believe in it until everything changes.

When I no longer see posts on Facebook from friends who have no money - today - for medicine and heat for a sick child.

When our young people stop leaving.  And start coming back.

When there is a social welfare payment for the self employed who lose their businesses.

When I stop hearing desperate people ringing radio stations because they are in excruciating pain with no date for the operation they need, while operating theatres lie empty.

The saddest thing of all is that this crisis could have been an opportunity.  A chance to sweep away all the existing bureaucracies, to create a fairer society, with a simpler tax and benefits system - perhaps even the introduction of basic income.  Instead there was the usual tinkering around the edges, with increases in some taxes and charges, and reductions in others.  Even sensible suggestions were ignored, such as restoring the respite grant to carers, or introducing a vacant sites tax to encourage more house-building.  It was a Budget for the business lobby groups with a nod to the next election, though most of us laughed at that.

There was so much more that I wanted to say, but family matters are getting in the way.  The Budget could have helped with them too.  But it didn't.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Mistakes and Achievements

I wrote a post about autism this week, but I think it was a mistake.  Readers assumed that it was about my son even though he wasn't mentioned.  More posts were planned, but it looks as though this blog will have to become a completely autism-free zone, to protect my son now he is a teenager.  That's even though autism is the thread that runs through everything we do as a family.  I still write about it, and it's good to let go of all those feelings, but pressing publish would be better again, and I know that I can't.  It's depressing and I think my blog has suffered.  That's partly why I'm doing more linky posts, they keep me entertained, but perhaps not you...

So today it's all about my reasons to be cheerful and striking mums again, and apologies if some of this is not new.

I am five

I didn't even notice the anniversary, but my blog turned 5 this week.  It was begun with so little thought that it's hard to believe that I am still writing here, and that so many lovely people are still reading.  Thank you.

A successful election

Smiley didn't win, despite all the cakes I sent in to encourage everyone to vote for her!  But she did come second, and she is very proud in her new role.

A tidy house

It's not quite what you think, not everyone would be impressed, but it is a huge improvement.  The gaffe is no longer carpeted with small plastic toys or abandoned clothes.  Nope, my kids are starting to care about their surroundings and do something about it too.

The DIY queen

Well not quite, but I did manage to fix the broken toilet, the one that had been broken all summer...

And also on the toilet theme, my son not only set foot inside a shopping centre at the weekend but also minded Smiley while I made a quick trip to the Ladies.  On my own!

The Postman rang again

This week it was my turn to get excited when the postman rang the doorbell to deliver these.

One new Mia Tui rucksack for when I need to escape, and also.... well all will be revealed later.

And, finally

I also met up with friends for coffee, and for dancing.  Until Friday, it was as good as it gets x

More reasons to be cheerful over at Ojo's World.

Ojos World

Did you see the wonderful Lynda Bellingham on the TV this week?  I rarely watch daytime TV, but I caught this interview, and I could not turn away.  She was so inspiring about living life to the full in the face of terminal cancer.  And it was Lynda that Kate on Thin Ice was thinking of when she came up with this week's questions for her #StrikingMums series:

Kate on thin Ice Striking Mums

1. Tell us about a mum who inspires you.  What are her special qualities?

Six months ago I wrote about Five Women who inspired me.  But the one I remember the most is Everywoman, who could also be EveryMother.  She's not famous, she's not celebrated, but she is the backbone of the family and the local community too.  I wish I could be like her.

2. Are you happy? If not, what is stopping you?

Can anyone be happy all the time?  Is that perhaps too ambitious?  I embrace moments of happiness and hold them tight, like when my children smile at me, or laughing with friends, or singing along to the radio, or pausing to look at the pinky orange clouds as the sun peeks over the chimney tops.

3. What little things that don’t really matter do you allow to get to you?

I've learned to ignore so many things now, but anything involving waiting, such as traffic jams, checkout queues and automated phone systems, they drive me insane.  Other people can upset me too, especially when I worry that I've said the wrong thing.

4. Who do you need to talk to and why are you putting it off?

Oooh, I'll just go and check my "to do" list, there's bound to be a few on there ...

5. How are you inspirational? If you are not quite sure, ask someone close to you and see what they think. We do not always see ourselves as others do.

I am not at all comfortable with the idea that people think I'm inspirational!  It just make me feel like a fraud, because I am the most unlikely person ever to become a carer, and I'm only doing what anyone else would do if they found themselves in the same situation.  Which is: I'm a lone parent to three children, two of whom have different special needs.  I adore my children, but I don't really like life as a carer, so this blog is one of the ways that I try to improve my life and focus on the good things.  Perhaps that's why it's still going after five years...

Friday, October 10, 2014

A message to everyone who thinks they want tax cuts

Do you have a parent in hospital?

A child in school?

A nephew with special needs?

An aunt with depression?

A friend who was burgled?

A neighbour who is homeless?

Tax cuts for you will reduce the help they desperately need. But apparently voters would prefer income tax cuts to improved public services.  If you are currently choosing between putting food on the table or heating your home, then I can understand why that would be your priority, even though any increase in your income is likely to be quite small.  But 44% of you?

As for me, I pay my taxes and no longer claim means tested benefits.  But I'm afraid.  I know that tax cuts won't help the fight to rid the world of Ebola, or help provide a good service for Smiley when she finishes school next summer, or reduce the chaos in A&Es up and down the country.

I know I've said it before, but just remember that one day - if all goes well - you will be old.  And you might be vulnerable, sick or disabled.

And you will be looking for services.

And they might not be there.

Because another generation will have voted for tax cuts.  After all they will be following your example.

And so it goes on.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Could it be Pathological Demand Avoidance?

The first in a planned series of posts on what I *think* I know about autism.

When a child is first diagnosed with autism or aspergers, parents read all the well-known text books, are referred to the same websites, and advised to use the standard autism parenting techniques.  With the correct diagnosis, luck, early intervention, support and services, the child will hopefully be helped to achieve his or her full potential.  For most families there are lots of speed bumps and meltdowns along the way, because every child is different, and what works with some, does not work with others, despite the insistence of autism service providers.

But sometimes things are very difficult indeed.  It could be the severity of the autism, challenging behaviour, multiple diagnoses, or any of the other slings and arrows that get thrown at families, who sadly are often blamed when the child's progress doesn't go to plan.  The implication is that the parents are not "strong enough", don't try "hard enough", are too selfish, too selfless, too useless to be able to help their child.

Sometimes it's because they haven't got the right information.

If NOTHING seems to be improving life with your child on the autism spectrum, it might be worth checking out the signs of Pathological Demand Avoidance, a diagnosis that is now being recognised in the UK and Ireland.

Here are some of the signs of PDA:

Demand Avoidance

Were you one of those teenagers who yelled "Don't tell me what to do!"  I certainly was.  Children with PDA are a bit like this, and will find clever and creative ways to avoid doing what they're told.  Tell them to choose between two courses of action and they will find a third....


This helps with finding excuses to avoid doing things.  It can also increase anxiety, as they can imagine all the frightening things that can happen, even in their own homes.  They may also have hypochondriac tendencies, especially once they can google symptoms, and nothing but reassurance from someone in a white coat will calm them down.

Destructive Patterns

Once they recognise that telling their children what to do won't work, parents may end up in an exhausting pattern where they make endless suggestions to the child, only for all of them to be rejected, either immediately or later.

Indirect or casual requests may work better.


The need to feel in control is at the heart of PDA.  Control of the environment, control of the emotions of loved ones, anything to make the world a less anxious, more predictable place.  When parents get upset, so does the child, as it's scary, but apparent indifference may lead to cooperation.  Even too much praise can be frightening if it is unusual.

So keeping parents happy may be a priority for them and you can use that to encourage good or helpful behaviour.


Children with PDA are often very sociable and charming, they like being around others, and may find it easy to make friends.  But their need to control everything and everyone may mean that these friendships don't last.  For example they may gather a following at the playground because they're great at organising imaginative games.  But the other children may not ask to see your child again.


Routine and structure may be resisted if it is being imposed by other people.  Mutual agreement may be the only way to achieve everyday things, both at home and in school.

Sanctions and Rewards

Reward charts are a standard behavioural technique for children with autism, and many therapists suggest applying consequences for behaviour that parents decide is undesirable by removing favourite toys or using time out.   Both of these strategies may not work at all with PDA, and just increase levels of anger and resentment.


As well obsessive interests - common when you have a child with autism - PDA children may get obsessed with people.  This may mean that they want to spend as much time as possible with that person, and constantly try to contact them when they are apart, which may annoy the other person and result in them keeping their distance.

Other features

Communications difficulties, up to and including selective mutism; difficult behaviour and volatile moods.

Does any of this sounds familiar?  If so it really is worth finding out more, especially as very different parenting techniques are recommended to help support and reassure children with this condition.

Information on Pathological Demand Avoidance:

National Autistic Society

Steph's Two Girls

Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome

PDA Society

PDA Resource

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Loo-sing the run of myself

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single mum in possession of a very large to do list must be in want of a handyman.  Or so I thought.  I managed to tick off one of the items on my list today, all by myself without even Google's help, and it was probably the highlight of my weekend!

As the world's worst driller, I often despair of my DIY and home maintenance skills, but sometimes I get it right.  The feeling of being just a teeny bit competent is amazing.

It's a long story too, this toilet has been broken before and kindly fixed by a family member.  But then earlier this year it broke again.  I've no idea when it happened, and we just learned to live with it over the summer, even if it meant a reduction in visitor numbers, because "you can't expect my friends to put their hands in there to flush the toilet, Mum!"

I'd got to the point of calling a plumber and getting the whole thing replaced.  It is old, probably leaks, and uses a worrying amount of water every time it's flushed.  I could see the euros clocking up on the water tax bill.

But thanks to having a little free time now, I'm not constantly planning the next challenge, and I can think and observe things, even inside toilets.  So this morning I had a look in the cistern, found the piece that had fallen off, and put it back on.  But that wasn't the end of the story.  There was nothing securing it in place.  I was about to give up, when an idea popped into my head.  What's the best friend of the novice DIYer? Well, apart from my old friend Blue Tak, it's Duct Tape of course.  How I love Duct Tape, you'll find it all over my house, keeping things from falling apart.  So I wrapped a little around the ...  well obviously I have no idea what it is called ... and it worked!  I have a proper working loo once again.  None of the children have noticed yet.  Or perhaps they are just conserving water...

Now I just need to find a brick.

Anyway, flushed with success, I got out my list, ticked off the toilet repair item and looked at what else needed fixing.  I think I may be loo-sing the run of myself.  Next time things could go horrible wrong.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Postman Rang Once

(For Reasons to be Cheerful and Striking Mums)

The Postman Rang Once

Tuesday did not start well.  Nothing went wrong, I just felt miserable, for no apparent reason.  Not even the prospect of doing that bendy shit (see comments here) could lift my mood.  And then the postman rang the doorbell.  Admittedly this usually means something good, after all, bills don't come in boxes, do they?

But on Tuesday it turned out to be a very special parcel.  There was great excitement in the house, and that was just my 22 year old.  So what had arrived?

Well this.  Which was much tinier than I expected, plus a year's free subscription to Netflix, all thanks to this little blog!  So I've joined something called the Netflix Stream Team and I will be reporting occasionally on how we all get on.  So far it's looking good.  Smiley was the first to try it when she came home from school and we watched an old episode of the RugRats together.  It's perfect timing for her, because all three of our donated video players have stopped working, so having Netflix means she can continue to see her favourite programmes.  Meanwhile her brother and sister have been exploring what they can do with it on the big telly, and it's great to see them in the living room again.  Netflix could really help bring this family back together.  Fingers crossed.

And the possibility that Netflix will get everyone out of their bedrooms and back into the heart of the family is this week's reason to be cheerful - head on over to Ojo's World to read the good news from other bloggers.

Ojos World

A little light laughter

I often think that middle aged people can be horribly serious, it's like they've forgotten how to have fun amidst all their responsibilities.  Perhaps they don't have time.  To see whether it's true or not, Kate on Thin Ice has chosen the lighter side of life for this week's Striking Mums.   Loving her questions, because they make it easy and make me think....

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What led to this?

In the kitchen earlier this week with my kids.  As the kids mature and my parenting evolves, home life is gradually getting calmer, and there is now the space to have fun.  It just happens, as we all amuse each other.  This week it was ninja training while I cooked the dinner.  If only they'd let me record it!

What is the silliest thing you have ever done?

Now that I have the memory of a goldfish I couldn't possibly tell you.  But I can tell you about the silliest thing that I did this week.  Line dancing.  Something I never thought I'd try, and I actually enjoyed it too.  The class was billed as 'Shape up and dance' so I had no idea, and yes, I'm going back for second helpings next week.

Ask your child what they would like you to do that is really silly and see what they come up with and reveal all.

That would be FAR too dangerous.

Who is your favourite comedian/comedienne? When did you last watch or listen to them?

It used to be Victoria Wood, now it's probably Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan, though sometimes he goes too far for me.  Perhaps I am getting middle aged after all.  As for when, who knows: time flies around here, it could have been a month ago or six.

Who do you enjoy laughing with most?

My children.  Well that was a predictable answer, wasn't it?

How good are you at seeing the funny side in challenging situations?

Not good enough.  I'd love to be able to find the funny in everything, and I know people who do.

Make us laugh with a joke or a funny anecdote about being a mum.

See a request like that just makes my mind go blank.  Anyway, I'm only funny by accident, or so I'm told.  I don't really tell jokes or funny stories, I'd be too worried that no-one would laugh.  The mad things in this house just happen, unscripted and unexpected, and that's the way I like it.

Wishing you all a lovely laughter-filled week.

Kate on thin Ice Striking Mums