Night night. Sleep tight.

‘Night night, sleep tight’ are words that I don’t really say to the boy. They are not in the routine, because they suggest I won’t be coming back up the stairs or seeing him until morning. And to him, that is upsetting.

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Since he was able to sleep in a cot at around 6 months or so, E has needed physical contact to help him fall asleep. To begin with he would grasp my little finger as I stretched my hand down into the cot, my feet on tiptoes. I don’t think I ever fell asleep in that position, but there was often a dead arm feeling or a rush of blood to the head.

 

When he was big enough for a bed, maintaining that physical closeness was easier. Sitting together reading stories, my arm round him til he fell asleep. I can’t even remember at which point I realised his dependence on that contact to lead him to sleep. It wasn’t just physical contact. It was me. Daddy didn’t quite do the same job. Probably because he didn’t do it exactly the same way. There was the expected back rubbing and a lot of hand contact, Ethan balling his fist and twisting and turning it in the curved palm of my hand. He still does this. There was a stage of him pulling my hand to cover his eyes and then positioning my fingers to rest on his closed eyelids. When he was a toddler, going to sleep with a dummy, he would push my fingers hard into the little air spaces each side. Sensory seeking? I think so.

I went through a period of time when I tried hard to wean him off this contact so he could go to sleep independently. In the end I decided it was no sacrifice really, snuggling with him, singing, praying, reading until he fell asleep. Surely he wouldn’t need this still when he was a big, big boy?

My parents would come to stay, or we would have friends in the house for the evening, and I would spend anything up to an hour each night sitting with him to go to sleep, with Tony entertaining guests downstairs. If I left him on his own to settle, it would result in a late awake and tired boy who then needed the whole routine anyway when it was my bedtime.

The curious thing was, that if Tony and I were out and a babysitter was in the house, he seemed able to settle and sleep fairly easily. It was curious too, that if I went out on my own, leaving Tony to do bedtime, then invariably Ethan’s face would be peering through his bedroom window on my return. Waiting for the routine. Not so curious I hear you say. He’s got you wrapped round his little finger!

And we did have a routine. Back rubbing, singing lullabies, lavalamp, meditation music and praying. I began to be able to judge the very moment when it was safe to say, ‘I’m going downstairs for a cup of tea now.’ Then this sequence of words would follow…lavalamp-1255942

‘Ok . You’re coming back?’

‘Yes. I love you.’

‘Love you too.’

This became a winning sequence and invariably I would hear no more from him and go back to a sleeping boy later in the evening.

When he had his ADHD diagnosis and the sleeping situation was discussed with his doctor, she suggested and we accepted, the use of melatonin to get him over to sleep. This helped a lot and reduced the routine time by about half.

He has just got a new bed. One of these climb up the ladder to sleep and with a desk underneath. It means that I cannot physically snuggle beside him. No way can I tackle that ladder. I do still climb up onto a chair (precariously), hold his hand and stay until the meditation app is in full flow.

Recently, turning 11 and entering his final year at primary school, it is apparent that he understands that some of his routines and sensory issues are not experienced by most of his peers and that he is different. He is trying to cross the river, wading at times, into a new territory which involves letting go at bedtime and trying new foods (a whole other post). I was trying to think of other things to add to that list, but couldn’t, and figure that two things at a time is enough for anybody to be working on!

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The girl with the auburn hair

 

lacey-and-glen-signTuesday mornings have become my ‘walk up the glen with the dog’ day. I drop the kids off at school, drive down the Rocky Road and park at the bottom of the glen. Within about 30 seconds I have lost the sound of the rush hour traffic and all I can hear is the tumbling of the river water, birdsong and the journey of the wind in the trees. It has become a favourite habit. At that time of the morning I can be brave enough to let Lacey off the lead without fear of meeting too many people for her to greet with her muddy paws. Mostly just other dog walkers and the odd runner.

 

But last Tuesday we met someone with a different walking habit. Near the top of the glen you can choose a path that takes you through a gate and into a newly harvested field. After a couple of hundred metres around the perimeter you come to the gate of the American Military Memorial. As we got closer, a young, auburn haired woman was coming through the memorial gate to start her walk. At first glance I inwardly commented  that her pale coloured pumps were probably not the best foot attire for a walk in the field. They were a bit out of place with her otherwise ‘ready for the occasion’ outfit. Jeans and a hoodie.

 

As we walked closer to each other I realised that she was in fact, shoeless! And sockless! After our ‘good morning’ I watched as she kicked up the grass cuttings and revelled in the cool dew of the field. There were other things in that field which I hope she managed to avoid!

 

lacey-and-glen-pathHow wonderful to have just parked up, lost her boots and socks and enjoyed the moment of peace at the start of her day. I admit, I was a bit jealous! (Not that there was anything stopping me from joining her.) Of course I don’t know if she was thinking about her day ahead (as I was) or a pre-school tussle (as I was) or what I was cooking for dinner that night (as I was), but the very image she conjured up for me, just because she had on no socks, was one of freedom.

 

Freedom to stop, to walk, to feel, at a different level to those with shoes. Freedom to do what she wanted (in a beautiful not defiant way) and be unconcerned about anything outside of that. Freedom to connect with creation with an extra sense.

 

Maybe we all need to take off our socks a little more.

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A new leaf

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A couple of weeks ago, Ethan lifted a huge leaf from the ground which had been ‘Autumned’ with beautiful colours. It got me thinking that even as the seasons change, there is so much beauty to be found in the season you’re leaving behind. It reminded me not to rush into what’s next, but savour what has been, as it goes. Those thoughts became quite poignant as the next few days days unfolded.

Have you ever had that moment when it seems like all the leaves on your tree are suddenly blown away and you’re left feeling a little vulnerable? A bit exposed? But excited about what happens next? In my last post I was looking forward to a new season, but to be honest I didn’t expect as much change as the last week has brought me!

A bit of a shift at work, a long term dream beginning to come true and some extra time created to do a bit more writing (especially ‘the book’ – we all have one of those, right?). My brain is buzzing with it all and I’m not sleeping great because my brain is buzzing. But it’s exciting.

I’m not the best adapter to change. It’s usually a slow process with me. But maybe a few things happening all at once is just what I needed to elbow me off one path and onto another. And this new one has a different feel underfoot. I’m intrigued as to where it leads, refreshed by the variety of experiences it holds and humbled to be journeying with some new companions.

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Three things

Everyone is saying the same thing. And it’s true. ‘I can’t believe it’s nearly September!’ ‘Where has the summer gone?’ In fact, where has this year gone? It seems a blink away that the New Year turned and with it, for me, brought some hope and light. It’s probably a matter of days not weeks, and the shops will be filled with Christmas. Let’s not go there. Let’s BE in these moments of late summer sunshine.

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The school holidays always cause me to reflect on life – the pace at which we live as a family during term time and how tired that causes us to be. Tired in body, mind and soul. I have learnt (more or less) not to sign up for things (oops, just broke that one!) or make BIG decisions or start BIG projects during the summer. I just can’t follow through with the same level of energy and enthusiasm once term begins again. And then I feel deflated and defeated.

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I read a church hoarding recently that said: Live simply, speak kindly, love unconditionally. It stirred something in me and I’ve taken it to heart. These are short, wonderfully memorable phrases but extremely challenging. When I stop and think about how those words work out in my life, I’m only really in the starting blocks.

Live simply, speak kindly, love unconditionally

 

This past weekend K and E and I were camping with some friends, enjoying the sunshine and beauty of Tollymore Country Park. The boy spent two and a half days screen free without a bother. When you can make forts in the forest, play on a rope swing hanging from a tall tree, find more sticks for your collection, cover your face in soot so no-one can see you in the dark and swim in icy mountain rivers, then who needs screens? I love that simplicity. But life back home isn’t like that. Can’t be like that. All the time. A friend reminded me…we are sojourners in this space of beauty and simplicity. And what a joy and a privilege to be a sojourner. For those of you who know me well, you will know how much I appreciate the ‘seasons’ of life. The fact that most of our experiences, both joyful and painful, are temporary. Life ebbs and flows. That helps me to withstand the tough times and appreciate the easier times. To learn from the challenges and be a stronger person because of them. To enjoy the smooth seasons and share the peace of that with the people around me.

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I am journeying on a path now where there is more hope. As a family our hatches have been well and truly battoned down over the last year and a half, and caring for my ‘three’ has been paramount. Of course it always will be, but, I feel like my head is coming up and my fingers are unfurling again. I am wanting to find that place again where it’s not about me, it’s about others. Where my hands are open and stretched out. Where kind words and love are working their way outwards, beyond my front door. Welcome, new season.

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13 days

Day 1: catch a cold

Day2: have dinner with friends – discover Cooneyites

Day 3: go to bed – cold horrible

Day 4: Dublin zoo with the boy – a first

Day 5: go blonde and short

Day 6: Mum and Dad arrive

Day 7: rain

Day 8: rain

Day 9: rain

Day 10: Andy Murray wins Wimbledon – hooray!!

Day 11: run very fast with the boy on the lawn at Mount Stewart

Day 12: drop off the boy at his friend’s and worry for 5 hours that everything is going ok

Day 13: play hide and seek with the boy in the ruins of Grey Abbey

 

So far, so wet and so wonderful.

 

Unmedicated days with the boy are up and down. He hides in his world of other places, found in the black hole of his tablet screen. My heart struggles between letting him be there and making him be present with us. The first option is so much easier. And so quiet. The second involves schedules, lists, bargaining, timers set, goals made, constant questions about the next screen time, arguments, chocolate, fridge raiding, movement, hyperactivity, requests for help, abandoned activities, tears and mediation.

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The summer break is always longed for by me. No rushing in the mornings, no packed lunches to make and no busy activity schedules. I love the quiet first thing in the day, the cup of tea, my garden bench (the one Katy and I sat on yesterday and it collapsed under us!), space to think and read and write. I relish and cherish these moments. They are precious. They set me up for the rest of the day, strengthen me, flood me with quiet energy and restore me. By the end of the day I feel emptied and at times struggling to find patience, but the sleepy ‘I love you’ from the boy softens my edges and reminds me that I am blessed to be his Mummy. No-one else got that job.

 

I struggle sometimes (often) to believe that I am doing that job well. I struggle sometimes (often) with the disappointment that our life isn’t screen free simplicity. I struggle sometimes (often) with how other people respond to Ethan. I struggle sometimes (often) with how I respond to Ethan.

 

But tomorrow morning, and the next, and the next, I will sit on my bench (the other one), with my tea and breathe in the stillness of the morning, the presence of Creator, ready for another day.

bench and tea

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Champion week

This morning began with a coffee in one hand, a pen in the other and this beautiful gerbera as my table companion. Not quite a salubrious setting (Sainsbury’s car park), but with the sunshine warming me right through to the middle, this was the best start to my day. I was definitely IN the moment.

This week off work had been eagerly anticipated (extreme understatement!) and has lived up to every expectation. I have found a place of rest, peace, achieving and sharing and I feel all the better for it. Relaxed, revitalised, re-motivated. It’s amazing what a little space in life can do – it frees you to BE and to GROW and to THINK. The rhythm of life doesn’t allow for that too often. Well, not in my experience anyway. How do YOU make space to BE and GROW and THINK? Not just the bleary-eyed, morning, quiet space, but a more prolonged time of escape (a day or two)? I’d love to hear your experiences. And try a few of them.

I think I’m marvelling a bit at this feeling because it’s happened with family in tow and particularly the last two days shared just with Ethan. A boy without medication for 5 days. Non-stop chat, non-stop movie/video dialogues, non-stop moving, spinning, jumping and climbing. Happy and FULL of fun. Without argument he’s sat and done his holiday homework with his assistant (me) by his side, redirecting his deficit attention back to the task in hand. He’s a clever boy. I wish I could work things out like he does.

His week began with a judo masterclass alongside a group of other children with similar conditions/qualities. Hooray! He didn’t feel weird, awkward or different as he does for most of the rest of his life. The adult and youth coaches at this event were amazing (big shout out to Dromore Judo Academy). Their acceptance of and encouragement to every child was a joy to watch (through the tears). Where else could a 10 year old bring down a 13st giant? (Probably even bigger than that but I’m not good at guessing weight and I don’t want to offend!).

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Headlining the event were two champions. Commonwealth, Olympic and European: Ashley McKenzie and Danny Williams. And they were much more than JUDO champions. They were ‘drawing the best out of these kids and loving them’ kind of champions. Ashley is a 25 year old with ADHD who as a boy discovered  judo as a way to channel his energy (and get his Pokemon card back!) . He has overcome his own challenges and won Commonwealth gold for team GB in 2014. He is now another of Ethan’s heroes. Move over Will.i.am. Make room on the bench!!

So it’s been a champion week in more ways than one. I am still enjoying BEING in the moment and not thinking ahead to Monday morning, relishing every moment of this ‘at home’ solace.

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The Ancient. The Simple.

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Over the past 25 years, Co. Donegal has claimed a big part of my heart. Whenever we head over the Foyle Bridge I always feel the stresses and strains of life shedding, my heart skips a beat and the words of appreciation begin. What is it about this part of the world that affects me so much? I’ve thought about it a lot these past few days and concluded that there are two main things.

The ancient and the simple.

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On Saturday morning when I stood again on Tullagh Beach I thought back to the last time I had sunk my feet into the same sand exactly a year ago. A LOT has happened for us since then, and most of it has been tough. But those giant waves have rolled onto that beach every day since and those craggy mountains haven’t moved. In fact way beyond this year, way beyond my lifetime and back into millennia that beauty has remained the same. Our life journey is bumpy and we have big things to face when we get home, but there is deep peace here in the ancient creation and the awesome presence of the ancient creator.

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Our daily walks have taken us past ancient peat ditches and land that has been farmed from way back. A mountain-ward glance and miles of dry stone walls can be seen built in times past by the weathered hands of sheep farmers. The white-washed walls of old stone cottages stand out against the green, their peat smoke trailing skywards.

There are only so many belongings that can be squeezed into our ‘ancient’ Citroen ZX, squeezed in between two children and the dog. The usual for us would be: food, clothes, books, board games, knitting, drawing/writing stuff and Whiskey. And that is very simply what makes up our days and nights. Walking, reading, writing, playing, eating and sleeping. Oh, and Whiskey-ing. Our days here are simple. All my lists are left behind. There is nothing I can do about them. There’s no internet! I am the most happy of Mummies! Facebook doesn’t whisper, ‘come check on me’ and all the things I feel the need to Google, can’t be! It’s so simple. And I realise how crowded I am by those things. They press in on me in their sneaky, cheeky ‘you need me’ kind of way, and I don’t like that. I like simple.

The kids have survived with no internet and no TV! Ethan has devoured a whole ‘adult’ dot-to-dot book (can I just clarify that’ adult’ means hundreds and hundreds of dots rather than inappropriate content!), Frisbee-ed his heart out and parkoured the sand dunes and rocks.

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They adopted three lost lambs and named them Jesse, Steve and Bee. Every day we would look out for them in our garden or a nearby field, until the farmer chaperoned them home.

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A road trip for Katy and I took us up through Mamore Gap with amazing views, pink sheep and some thoughtful moments at a shrine to St Eigney.

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Ethan’s biggest challenge this week has been the shower. ‘I can’t use that shower. It’s old. It’s dark. It’s different.’ His biggest joy? All of us sitting round the peat fire reading and dot-to-dotting.

Simple.

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