Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lone parents to get sticks but no carrots

I'm going to be quite opinionated today, so I hope that I won't offend anyone, especially if you live in Dalkey....

Whenever a spokesperson for the Irish Government starts talking about protecting the most vulnerable, I expect yet another cutback to be announced.  And so it was this weekend.

Lone parents seem to be the key target in the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010 due to be debated in the Oireachtas before the summer recess in early July.  From April 2011 new lone parents whose youngest child is over 13 will no longer be able to claim one-parent family payments. From 2013, the cut-off point for these payments will be reduced each year until all recipients whose youngest child is 13 will be excluded in 2016.  

So what happens to all these lone parents and their teenage children?  Well apparently if they are not working - and most lone parents do work* - they will be able to claim the job seeker's allowance.  But the very same Bill also proposes that job seekers should have their benefits cut if they do not take up suitable employment.

Who defines what is 'suitable employment'?  Will any soul destroying job do? What about childcare and transport?  And where are the jobs?  Many lone parents are already in a disadvantaged position when it comes to taking up employment: they have only one income to pay for the childcare, there may be only one person to look after sick children, to cover for holidays, so they will hardly be the first choice for employers.  Government spokespeople have been talking about the need to help lone parents with these issues - BUT no measures are included in the proposed legislation.  It's all stick and no carrot.

Why is the Government doing this? 

Apparently "current arrangements, whereby a lone parent can receive the allowance without any requirement for them to engage in employment, education or training, were not in the best interests of the recipient, their children or society.  Despite improvements made to the one-parent family payment over the years, a large proportion of lone parents and their children are still experiencing poverty.”

So the answer to lone parents in poverty is to take away their payments!  

Like many other men and women, I never planned to become a lone parent.  And I hate  feeling like a social welfare sponger being an unemployed lone parent, and I would go back to work tomorrow if I could get suitable childcare (for children with special needs) and find another part time position in PR or something similar.

To me the craziest part of this is the underlying assumption that teenagers can look after themselves and that 'after ... primary education ... parents were facing less expenditure in bringing up their children'  Well my teenager is very expensive, with school books, school uniforms, and school 'voluntary contributions' to fund her education.  Plus holidays educational trips to the Gaeltacht and French College, as well as paying for her clothes and social life - because the Government also frowns on school children working when they should be studying, so she is not expected to make a contribution! 

Surely the most important issue here is the welfare of teenagers, and what is best for them.  I actually think that it is more important than ever to be around for Angel: at least when she is not in school.  To keep an eye on her and her activities, to have time to keep the lines of communication open, and to support her through her final exams.  I do not think that lone parents should be faced with losing benefits if they need to be at home to support their teenage children.

Perhaps this measure is this designed to appease the Disgusted of Dalkey types who think that Dublin's outer suburbs are populated by hordes of predatory young girls strutting around in their short skirts with the sole intention of finding a gullible young man who will get them pregnant?  This just so the Council will give them a house?  And these are the same people who would call for lone parents to be fined or locked up when their unsupervised teenagers indulge in a spot of anti-social behaviour....

Lone parents come in many guises, the rebellious teen is just a small proportion.  Young career women, separated women and men, widows and widowers all become lone parents.  They all have different needs and face different issues.  I don't believe that a one-size-fits-all solution will force every lone parents back to work, and if it does, we could be storing up a while new set of problems for the future.

* 84 per cent of lone parents surveyed by One Family in 2008 were working, looking for work or engaged in education.


Disclaimer: I am not affected by these proposals as far as I am aware.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

There's a dragon in my room!


I love the kiddies' bedtime, and not just because of the peace that follows!  In this house the routine gives me a chance to relax, and spend a bit of time with each child in turn.  Smiley goes to bed first, even though she's 13 now, and she usually gets really excited, it's like she's saying:

"Mum, you finally got the message:  I'm tired!" 

At 17, Angel often stays up later than me, but still likes me to go in to her to say good night.  And those midnight conversations are often the only time that she actually tells me what is on her mind.  I miss my little girl, but I'm glad that she still needs me now that she's all grown up :)

But it's CD's bedtime that I really look forward to.  He manages most of the routine stuff himself, but does need a gentle reminder every now and then, as he often gets distracted.  So I hover nearby, trying to look busy.  Just before lights out I read a chapter from his latest book.  But before that, we would often be chatting.  About his latest game, interest or something worrying him at school. He has an amazing vocabulary, but does need help in how to use it appropriately: it's a key problem for kids with Aspergers as outlined here.  But sometimes we do pretty well. At the moment CD is obsessed with bugs and dragons, and last night he managed a conversation that combined the two:


"Muuum!"

"Yes, son."

"There's a dragon in my room."


"A dragon!"

"I meant a dragonfly."

"That's unlikely.  They live in ponds."

"Would it have laid some eggs in my room?"

"No, cos there are no dragonflies in your room."

"Are dragonflies really baby dragons that are learning to fly?"

"Wow, that's a really interesting idea...."

Don't you just love those bedtime conversations?


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Smiley's Story, Part 2: Failure to thrive

Smiley was born on October 29th, 1996.  She weighed 875gms (1lb 15 ozs) and her Apgar scores were fairly good considering, but she was rushed straight to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit).  Everyone left the delivery room.  The drama was over, but I was still in shock.  I went for a shower - the upside of no epidural - and then up to the ward.  Seven pair of curious eyes looked at me as I walked in with no baby.  I went to the bed, pulled the curtains, and prayed for sleep.

Later there were a few visitors.  And I will always be grateful to them.  I don’t know how other parents of premature babies feel, but I was hurt at being given so few cards, and absolutely no baby clothes.  Did everyone think that she would die?

There was one person that I was very happy to see - my friend from the pre-natal ward, whose baby was also in the NICU.  And so we went down together to see them.  Smiley was on an open incubator, she was so thin and tiny, not like a baby at all.  I couldn't touch her, I couldn't hold her, I couldn't help her in any way.  I felt sooo useless, yet I knew that I totally loved this baby with everything I had and I just willed her to live.

NICU was a confusing scary place.  Every time an alarm went off I would panic, thinking that my child was in danger, while the staff were more relaxed.  And I soon realised that alarms sounded almost continuously - you just had to stay calm.  There was a whole new language to learn: apnoea monitors, sats (as in oxygen) monitors, electrolyte levels, feeding tubes.  There were procedures to get used to, visiting times and the *joys* of the milk expressing room.  One thing did stand out.  On the label with all her details was the phrase ‘premature footling breech birth’.  I’d never heard of this before, and it was only later that I discovered the significance.

I went home after a short sleep, and fell into a new routine of home and hospital - work long forgotten. The days passed in a blur.  There was an early morning phone call when things went wrong, she had a bleed, but there was no noticeable change in her.  I cried, but none of it made any real sense, even after reading all the leaflets we were given.   Had I done something that could have caused this?  At 3 months pregnant I'd accidentally drank some day old milk in my coffee.  Could that have affected her development?  Or what about the sprained ankle a month later?

Poor Angel was in shock as well.  I thought I'd prepared her well for the birth of her sibling.  I explained that I would stop work at Christmas and that we would have a whole month of fun before her little brother or sister arrived in early February.  Imagine her shock when her Mammy disappeared into hospital in October!  RH was working shifts, so Angel stayed with whoever could take her.  Once Smiley was born she seemed to adjust faster than her parents.  She was given a colouring book for siblings of premature babies, and from the very start she made a big fuss of her little sister.  In those days siblings were allowed into NICU and Angel would sing and talk to Smiley - she even asked for an incubator for her dolls for Christmas.  Santa did not manage to find one, but he did get her a doll-sized set of syringes and feeding tubes.

We were encouraged to get Smiley baptised, but we refused.  It was like admitting that she might die and we couldn't do that.  The thought that she would one day be baptised in the same Church as her sister gave me something to hang onto.

Days turned into weeks, and we watched some of the other babies pass out Smiley: they were promoted to a lower dependency room.  My friend's baby went home and is now a happy healthy 13 year old.  We weren't really told why Smiley was still in NICU, just that she wasn't thriving.  There was one thing obviously wrong: her right hand was twisted, but as I said to RH, we could live with a damaged hand.  We were just so glad that she was alive.

Around this time, we were called to a meeting with a neurologist.  Most of what she said went straight over my head.  I was just so tired and scared for my little baby.  The neurologist mentioned cerebral palsy, in a very casual way as I recall.  She just dropped it into the conversation. Again it made no sense.  All I knew about cerebral palsy was the film My Left Foot, and surely Smiley wasn’t like that.

In the meantime I had to plan for Christmas.  It needed to be special for both of my children.  Santa even found his way to Smiley’s incubator and left a little teddy for her.  I bought the smallest Christmas dress in the whole of Dublin -  it was for a 5lb baby and reached nearly to her ankles. But I think she looks really cute in it!  We all visited, and took turns in holding her carefully, to avoid dislodging all the tubes and pipes: she was still so small and fragile.

Foolishly I made a pact with, well whoever is listening up there, that if Smiley reached 3lbs by Christmas Day, then everything would be okay.  Sadly, she didn't....

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why I didn't go 'naked'

Surely I can't be the only person who does not answer the door until the eye liner and slap are on?  Let alone show the world my naked face...

So I was very interested to hear from Jen about Bloggers without Makeup day over at Mummy Mayhem.

The idea was to post and tweet a make-up free photo of yourself on Friday 14th May.  It was a huge success with worldwide interest, and 180 people took part!  I was amazed that so many women would bare their faces on-line.  And I have to admit that they all look amazing :D Does this mean that they are truly grown-up confident women who are secure with themselves and their looks?  And is this a one-off, or do many women not wear make-up at all?

My make-up, hair and clothes are all designed to present a certain image to the world.  They are a crutch, I admit.  I have always believed that if you look vulnerable, people will take advantage of you. If you look confident, tough or well-groomed, they won't.

In my natural state, I am not a pretty sight: I have dry frizzy hair, a large nose and skin that goes red when the temperature changes.  That did not make life easy for me in school. But then two things happened: Grease hit the cinemas and all over the world teenage girls - including me - discovered the power of black.   In 1979, I found my role model: the fabulous Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders.  Finally I knew who I wanted to be :)


I just love her image: it screams "don't mess with me, I am strong."  Just how I'd like the world to see me, even if I'm nothing like that really.  I've borrowed ideas from her over the years, and the way I look helps me to overcome my shyness and act confident and assertive.  

At work, I had a different image, and again, for me, going 'naked' was not an option.  Many of us wear make-up to work: in PR it was expected, and I was even told to wear more.  This did not refer to the black eyeliner lol. And I didn't try the Chrissie Hynde look at work either!  But I did try to look groomed, slapped on the foundation when I had time, wore the suits, sourced the accessories, all so I could pretend to be this together career woman.  And oddly, when you look like one, people think you are one, and you feel like one, so it all helps.  Currently this section of my wardrobe only gets dusted down for important appointments, but I still think I get results by 'dressing for success'.

In the blogosphere you can be whoever you want, and I haven't decided yet who I want to be, which is why my picture keeps changing, but then I keep changing too, so maybe that's okay.  

But I won't be showing the world my 'naked' face any time soon...would you?

 







Saturday, May 15, 2010

Confessions of a Coffeejunkie (15 of them)

The lovely Jean has tagged me to write 15 things about me, not sure there's anything else you really want to know, but this gave me a great excuse to take a break with a very large mug of coffee :D


1. Things that scare me
This may sound completely paranoid, but I just feel that it would be bad Karma to answer this question. I keep my fears buried very deep, and try not to think about them.

2. People who make me laugh
Victoria Wood
Billy Connolly
Friends and family too numerous to mention

3. Things I hate most
Power cuts
Queues
Cabin fever

4. Things I don't understand
Why Fianna Fail is still in power in Ireland
Why people aren't nicer to each other

How to drill holes in walls

5. Things I am doing right now
Drinking coffee
Writing my to do list
Looking out at the blue sky and sunshine with a smile on my face :)

6. Things to do before I die

Go to a really fabulous ball: to see what all the fuss is about
Go to Paris

See my children grow up and be happy and sorted and settled

7. Things I can do
Live
Love
Smile

8. Ways to describe my personality
Loyal
Pig-headed

Contrary

9. Things I can't do

Back flips : but Angel can!
Drill holes in walls

Be tactful 100% of the time - it's a family problem

10. Things I think you should listen to

Waves
Birdsong
Your kids

11. Things you should never listen to
Bigots
Misogynists
Religious extremists


12. Things I'd like to learn
How to use a drill and other essential skills for single Mums
How to be superwoman

How to enjoy proper grown up books - then I could join a book club!

13. My favourite foods

Almost anything cooked by someone else.
Very dark chocolate
Moules à la crème

14. Beverages I drink regularly

Coffee
Er Cappuccino?
Oh okay maybe wine as well

15. Shows I watched as a kid
No TV as a child, so I like watching kid's TV now!

Three people I would love to see tackle this are:

Jazzygal
Auntiegwen
mammydiaries

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Surviving appointments...

(this is a repost as a number of people could not see the original: hope it works this time)

As the parent of kids with special needs, appointments are just another of the fun things in our lives...

First they need to be made.

And this can be a very loooooong process.


Letter, email, phone call, message, follow up phone call, shouting match with receptionist, apology to receptionist...

until finally...

The letter arrives and you breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Then you open it and see the appointment, and it clashes with:

a) Work

b) The school run

c) Another appointment

So the process starts all over again ...

Finally you get a date and time that work and the day dawns.

And of course you've planned everything like a military campaign. Your child has been given a diagnosis of special needs for a reason: they may need wheelchair accessible facilities, dislike lots of people and noise, be on a special diet. Get it wrong and OMG, actually let's not go there.


At this stage Smiley and I cope quite well. We have the Smileymobile which is allowed to park in disabled spots - though wheeling her out the back can sometime stop on-coming traffic. Then her buggy and wheelchair are so huge they are like driving a tank - people just scatter in all directions as we approach.

But the key thing is what is in Smiley's bag. This is our survival kit.

Today it contained the following:

ipod nano x 1

nappies x 1

drinks x 3

chocolate buttons x 1 packet

pink hairbrush x 1

sparkly handbag x 1

The appointments letter stated that we could be there for a number of hours, so I was hoping I had enough stuff to keep her entertained. But today, luck was on our side and we were out by 10 o'clock, after the consultant said her legs looked fine and that she appeared to be very well looked after - well yeah I hope so!

While we were waiting we had fun with a very large mirror and the camera phone:

So do you have an appointments survival kit, and if so, what is in it?

Surviving appointments

As parents of kids with special needs, appointments are just another of the fun things in our lives...

First they need to be made.

And this can be a very loooooong process.


Letter, email, phone call, message, follow up phone call, shouting match with receptionist, apology to receptionist...

until finally...

The letter arrives and you breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Then you open it and see the appointment, and it clashes with:

a) Work

b) The school run

c) Another appointment

So the process starts all over again ...

Finally you get a date and time that work and the day dawns.

And of course you've planned everything like a military campaign. Your child has been given a diagnosis of special needs for a reason: they may need wheelchair accessible facilities, dislike lots of people and noise, be on a special diet. Get it wrong and OMG, actually let's not go there.


At this stage Smiley and I cope quite well. We have the Smileymobile which is allowed to park in disabled spots - though wheeling her out the back can sometime stop on-coming traffic. Then her buggy and wheelchair are so huge they are like driving a tank - people just scatter in all directions as we approach.

But the key thing is what is in Smiley's bag. This is our survival kit.

Today it contained the following:

ipod nano x 1

nappies x 1

drinks x 3

chocolate buttons x 1 packet

pink hairbrush x 1

sparkly handbag x 1

The appointments letter stated that we could be there for a number of hours, so I was hoping I had enough stuff to keep her entertained. But today, luck was on our side and we were out by 10 o'clock, after the consultant said her legs looked fine and that she appeared to be very well looked after - well yeah I hope so!

While we were waiting we had fun with a very large mirror and the camera phone:

So do you have an appointments survival kit, and if so, what is in it?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Atlas

Family was not something I thought about for many years. I fell out with my parents in my teens and got a bit bored with my siblings. But I come from a very small family - small, but perfectly formed obviously. There's me and my siblings, our families and my Dad. There's also my Dad's brother, his wife and family, but they live in Australia. And that is about it. I have great aunt, and there are second cousins somewhere, but I don't really know them.

Everything changed when my Mum fell ill. There was no-one else, so we had to pull together. And devastating as it was, Mum's final illness achieved something that nothing else had: it brought the family back together again, and made me appreciate those who are closest to me. Living overseas, I did very little during this crisis. The Irish Ferries plus motorway trek a few times a year with the three kids was about all I could manage. It was very hard for my Dad as well. But a new hero emerged. Drums roll!!! My bro stepped up to the mark and, as the crisis deepened, somehow he found the strength to keep us all going, and to help any family member who needed it.


Our Atlas.



Since we lost my Mum, he's carried on being the Atlas of the family. He arrived on the boat in Dublin on Friday on a hunch that I could do with a break. And yep, he cooked, which was fab. Fixed a few things that would have taken me months or years to screw up the courage to tackle. And told me that he loves coming over cos he finds my house relaxing :-S.

But his most valuable contribution is just in being there for me this weekend: problems always seem to grow legs when you are trying to deal with them on your own. When Angel was little, the first thing I learned was that hooking up with other Mums was the best way to stay calm on the journey through babyhood. Now Angel is almost an adult, but it's not fair to burden her with too much adult sh*t. You need another adult to share it and put it into perspective.

So here's to you bro! And since this is effectively my Gratitude post for the week, to everyone who contacted me during the week and arrived on the doorstep with wine and hugs, a huge THANK YOU!


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Making memories

I've never been too keen on giving the kids lots of expensive presents, even though that's what they ask for most of the time.... I don't think they appreciate them, and from my own childhood, I barely remember the presents at all - apart from my silver and blue Vindec Atlantic bike which was my absolute pride and joy, well until I got my first car anyway.

Anyway I digress....
Apart from some everyday stuff, it's the trips and special events and outings that are my best memories, and so I wanted to recreate that for my own kids. With Angel it was easy, there was just her, and she was always so enthusiastic about everything, from a boat trip to see Fungie the Dolphin, to dressing as Hermione Grainger for a Tesco photoshoot. Smiley is easy in a different way: I don't know how good her memory is, but she certainly shows her appreciation for trips, especially shopping trips. CD is another matter. He can meltdown at the mere mention of leaving the house. But this week I had the chance to tackle that as the girls were in school while he was on mid term break. So on Tuesday we went to Tesco. He sat on the floor in the toy aisle and played his DS while I threw everything in the trolley as fast as I could and, as agreed, he was still there when I returned. Yesterday we went to four different places, and while he started to grumble, we got through it, and I got everything done.

So, remembering all his interests, I took a deep breath after lunch yesterday, and asked: "Would you like to go to the Natural History Museum tomorrow?" "Yes," he replied. It wasn't said with much enthusiasm, but I nearly fainted on the spot.




So the plans were made. I carefully explained where and when we were going, and what we would be doing. He happily hopped in the car just after 10 this morning, and off we went. Admission is free, woohoo! And basically the Museum is two large rooms full of stuffed and preserved animals, birds and skeletons. CD was fascinated and couldn't have been more excited if I'd bought him a new Zelda game :) He skipped around the room looking for his favourites: wolves especially and I was instructed to take this photograph:


We also had to find the ducks, the rabbits, the anteaters and the gorillas.

He ran past some exhibits and lingered by others.


All went really well for about 45 minutes. It happened when we were looking at the sea anemones. One moment he was listening to me talking about rock pools. The next he was legging it for the door. So off I ran. "My tongue is dry," he said. Or perhaps I was just getting boring. So back to the car we went to get a drink, but then the spell was broken and it was time to go home. Still that was our most successful outing ever, and hopefully it will be a happy childhood memory for him :D

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mr Angry

If you were nine and your Mum, said: "Let's go to the beach! Just you and me, we'll leave the girls at home." Wouldn't you be a just a wee bit delighted? A chance to get Mum all to yourself for a bit and talk about boy stuff. Well not my little aspie boy.
"I'm not going :("

"I hate the beach!"

"I just want to stay here with my friends." (Uh they have visitors and you're going to have to leave anyway.)


With each exclamation his voice gets louder and higher, and he gets angrier and angrier.

I tell him we both need some fresh air and exercise, I plead, I threaten, I cajole, until finally he agrees to go to the beach for 1/2 hour. OK, so I've won but only on his terms.
All the way down in the car he sulks in silence. But the second I stop the car, the door is opened and he's off.


Suddenly I have a different child. He shows me the 'best way' to run down sand dunes, and I show him mermaids' purses and razor shells. We walk down to the stream, and I demonstrate how to cross the stepping stones. We get wet and sandy and out of breath and laugh and talk and it was really great to spend time together.


But why did it have to be that hard? I rarely make the effort any more to suggest trips to the beach, or trips anywhere, cos you never know how bad the meltdown beforehand is going to be. Of all the issues associated with asperger's it's the anger that I find the hardest to deal with. And deal with it I must. The emails have gone out and the follow up phone calls will start this week. With a bit of help, we will banish Mr Angry together.