The End of The World

Do you keep momentos? Of times, of events, of places? I do. Not masses. At least when I began keeping things it wasn’t masses. But it all adds up doesn’t it. And here I am, staring down the barrel of 40 and suddenly wondering why I have kept the cuttings I had on my wall at 17 and the t-shirt everyone signed when I got made redundant at 26.¬†I’m not a hoarder by any stretch of the imagination, but some of the things I devote my space to would, I’m pretty sure, make most people raise an eyebrow.

I don’t have a big house (have I mentioned that before ūüėČ ). But I am devoting at least some of this, frankly non existent space, to things that rarely get looked at and have no practical purpose. Which can only lead to me deduce that they have some emotional purpose. Some reason that I choose to let them reside still. Not to let them go.

I’m not one for knick-knacks. I have few ornaments on show or photos on the wall (beyond beautiful ones of my son). So what compels me to keep a corner of my office full of boxes devoted to my youth. Is it a tangible reminder of just that? That once I was young? Or is it proof that not all of my teenage years were horrendous? That loyalty and happiness and love existed? Or is it proof that any of it happened at all? Who am I proving it to? Surely not me. After all I was there! Or perhaps it’s some form of security blanket, fashioned out of ephemera. One I know I can go to, should I need a quick fix. A fix of what though, that is the question? What does any of it mean?

And what would it mean to get rid of it?

Let’s just think about that for a minute. What would it mean to take the stuff, the theatre programmes, the tickets, the clippings, the useless bits and bobs that would mean jack to literally anyone else and just bin it? Anything?

Everything?

I watched the film The World’s End the other day (easy watching fun for fans of Simon Pegg/Ed Wright collaborations). The protagonist cannot move on from the happiest time of his life, so much so that he still drives the same car and wears the same clothes twenty years on. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying my situation is quite the same, but the idea of hanging onto tangible items in this way really struck a chord with me. As did the idea that living this way, can hold you back from moving forward and living your life now.

I once ate a peach, that was the juiciest, ripest, most delicious peach I’ve ever had. I’ve tried to find its likeness for years but to no avail. The fact that this peach of dreams was eaten on on our honeymoon, on the Greek island of Lesbos, was probably harvested from a tree two minutes down the road and was eaten in the sun, while relaxing, well….. How can any future peach measure up?

I guess what I’m just coming to realise is when you view the past through¬†the tinted rear view mirrors of time (which can only grow rosier the further away you get), how will any subsequent time in your life measure up? Perhaps precious memories, need only to be that. Not a crutch, not a yardstick, not something to aspire to.

And definitely not a box of bits kept in an office at the end of the garden.

The time has come…..

I’m a sociable person (and by sociable I don’t mean a drinker I promise!). Some people find energy and focus in solitude. And I find mine in other people. I need other people. I guess I’ve always known that on some level, but it’s only recently occurred to me just how much. I’m guessing it might explain why being at home alone without Oscar has been so ridiculously hard for me. And may be why I seem to write better, more from the heart, when I’m with or have been with other people.

Admitting the truth of my needs has been longer coming than you might think. I seriously can’t remember how things were before Oscar came along, but I know since then, my needs have been totally subsumed. By him, by Autism, by getting through today, by planning for tomorrow. I don’t think that’s unusual. Parents, and particularly mothers, are often consumed by their children. Thing is, I didn’t think I would ever lose myself inside motherhood, but I have.

So admitting I have a NEED for human interaction; that a lack of it was depleting my reserves was something of a really important epiphany. And it made me look at areas of my life I hadn’t considered before. The size of our house has always bothered me. We bought it, a two bedroom cottage, before we knew Oscar was on the way. We bought it thinking we had a decent size spare room and with thoughts of extending the ground floor. The spare room became a nursery within a year and the extension turned out to be more expensive (due to lack of access) than it was worth.

I could never understand why this bothered me so much. We have a wonderful garden and yes the house needs a bit of tlc (what period property doesnt?) but it does have charm. So I started to look objectively. To ask why having no spare room sat so heavy in my heart. Why having nowhere for a dining table made me so sad. I’m not a materialistic person. Yes I love the odd new gadget here and there, but I don’t measure my life’s worth by the ‘things’ we have. So I asked what would I do with all this extra room, what would it mean to me, to our life, to MY life? And the answers astonished me.

I want a spare room so friends and family can come and stay with us. I want a dining area so friends can come to dinner. I want a larger lounge so we can seat more visitors. Every reason I had for wanting more space was not about me. It was about other people. And then I realised it wasn’t about other people at all. It was speaking to my need to have other people in my life.

The house we have might fulfil our basic need for shelter and security, but I’ve come to realise our beautiful house no longer meets MY needs, on a very fundamental level.

And that’s quite a sad realisation. This was the first house we ever bought. It was Oscar’s first ever home. And it’s hard to accept you no longer fit into a large part of your life. Or more specifically a large part of your life doesn’t fit YOU anymore. It will always hold a very very special place in our family history. The memories we’ve created here will always be with us.

But the time has come.

Even though it means having to deal with estate agents and legal processes and finance and all things that are liable to send my anxiety levels sky high. Even despite all that it entails.

The time has come to move.

I’ll let you know how it goes…..

Time to move on….

How I met Father Christmas – and why I wouldn’t do the same thing for my son


When I was a kid, going to see Father Christmas (because back then he really was just Father Christmas. I’m a bit more interchangeable with what we call him now. Father Christmas, Santa, I don’t really mind, Oscar knows they’re one and the same) was one of the highlights of my year. I can’t tell you how magical it was for me and that was due, in no¬†small part, to the Father Christmas we used to go and see.

If you grew up in or around Coventry in the late 70s/early 80s, I’m guessing you also went to see Father Christmas at the Co-Op, a¬†department store in the city centre. I say that simply because I don’t remember ever going¬†to see him anywhere else. And to be honest I never wanted to go anywhere else. I went¬†with my mum and Nanna (and probably my brother although I don’t remember him being there) and it was almost more exciting than Christmas Day itself. Almost ūüėČ !

It was super special to me and thousands of others over the years, because you see they didn’t just have a Santa in a chair that you queued up to see, oh no!¬†Before you went anywhere near a guy in a red velvet suit you had to get the sleigh to Lapland. Because you see we weren’t going to see any old Santa in a department store. No, we were travelling to Lapland to see the actual man himself.

My memory of 35(ish) years ago, is some what hazy, but I clearly remember that the experience began with queuing up and being taken through a door into a room. The room was small and dark and lined with benches all facing a wall, in front of which where two (models) reindeer! Once everyone was seated, music and jingle bells would start, as would a¬†projection of moving snow in front of the reindeer. It looked as though they were actually ‘dashing through the snow’. Suddenly we weren’t in just a room, we on a sleigh and we were off to see Father Christmas! My memory also wants to say that the seats moved, tilting as we dashed through the snow, but I honestly can’t see how that could have been and maybe I’m imagining it. Did it?

The most jaw dropping bit of the whole experience for me, was when we ‘arrived. The ‘sleigh’ would stop and we would be shown out of the room, but, and this is the best bit, everything outside the room was different to when we came in. We were in Lapland. As a three and four¬†year old that blew my tiny mind. It was the most exciting part of the whole deal. We had actually traveled to the North Pole! While I’m still not 100% sure how it was accomplished, I’m pretty sure now, that we were just taken out of a different door than we’d come in. But however they achieved it, at the time and for far too many years after I believed we’d actually traveled¬†somewhere. It was truly magical.

After all that seeing Father Christmas was just the icing on the cake. I sat on his lap and got my present wrapped in garish 70’s paper. I smiled for the photo.

1980s child with father christmas

Seeing Father Christmas at the Co-Op, Coventry, circa 1981. Note the reins. Oscar truly is his mothers son! Also who knew Father Christmas wore grey suit trousers under his coat?

Well I did eventually. The first year I was taken I was just one and having none of it. And quite right too. Now I have children I know how frightening that must have been to a one year old. But it’s still gone down in family lore that I wouldn’t sit on Father Christmas’s lap¬†the first time I met him and my mum had to sit in his chair with me instead.

child crying meeting santa

My first visit with Santa circa 1979. I was just one. I look pretty terrified of the man in red. I’m still not a big fan of beards now ūüėČ

Because the whole seeing Santa thing can be overwhelming. ¬†The experience I had as a child was so sensorially exclusive. There’s no way I could ask Oscar to do any of what I enjoyed (eventually) as a child. Because we are/were very different children. We have in fact only taken Oscar to see Santa once in his life, when he was 5 months old and it really was more for us as parents than for him.

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Oscar meets Santa in 2012. He wasn’t fooled by the beard. He tried to pull it off minutes after this!

The following year he was already struggling with things such as waiting. And following his Autism diagnosis we stopped even considering putting him through an experience we were pretty sure he wouldn’t understand or appreciate and could cause him great anxiety. Like I said, very different children.

However, as he grows, his capability and understanding grows with him. He’s much more aware this year of who Santa/Father Christmas is and this year for the first time in years we actually feel we want to give him the opportunity to see Santa; for him, rather than for us. It is true that some places are becoming more aware of inclusivity or even just providing a range of experiences to meet all needs when it comes to big events, such as Christmas. Last year I even read about some shopping centres (unfortunately not near us) running Autism friendly Santa grotto experiences, which is fab. All children should be given the opportunity to meet the big guy if they want to. However we have plumped for a very different kind of meeting all together this year, one that hopefully speaks¬†to Oscar’s interests and needs.

Following our fabulous day out on the Watercress Line in the summer we have decided to take him¬†on the Santa Special where you “travel in a festive traditional train carriage, while Santa and his jolly helpers visit you in your seat with a special gift.” I have high hopes for this as it combines two of Oscar’s favourite things in the world; trains and receiving presents! It also removes any need to queue, something Oscar finds so hard to do. It also gives us our own space and we can take toys and snacks to help him if needs be.

I honestly can’t wait. But wait I will have to, because I’ve booked it for Christmas Eve. This may sound bonkers to some of you, but Oscar struggles with the concept of time. My concern was if we saw Santa too soon, he might want his presents NOW, and not cope with having to wait weeks to get them. I could be wrong of course, but that’s AutismMamas for you. Always trying to second guess, always two steps ahead!

Anyway, Christmas Eve it is. Who knows it might work out perfectly and bingo, we’ll have ourselves a new Christmas tradition. I mean it’s not as amazing as actually travelling to Lapland, like I did.

But I think it could still be pretty magical ūüėČ .

 

Crank up the Cliff, we’re going on a holiday….

 

We haven’t been on holiday since before I fell pregnant with the boy – it’s been a frigging long time and it’s starting to get me down. Having family in Devon is great as we can go and visit them and it feels like “going away” but deep down I think we all know it’s not really the same thing. A holiday comes with no obligations and a trip to the city where all your family and friends live does not. I’m not complaining, it’s just the way it is.

So anyway yeah, Oscar has never had a proper holiday. This is mainly down to lack of funds if truth be told. But it also has something to do with not really knowing how to holiday as a family/with children. Before Oscar, we were massive fans of the Greek Islands having visited five different ones over the past 10 years. When he was a baby, and buoyed by a complete naivety of the situation, I was adamant I wanted to take him there, right now! Maybe it would have worked when he was a dot of a thing, but the more I get to know him and the more I wise up to what he’s all about, the more I know a proper beach holiday is going to have to wait. Not really for any other reason than he’s a runner. He would NEVER sit on a beach and build sandcastles, at least not yet. At all times one or the other of us would be having to run after him. I’m sure he’d think it was a great lark, but he’d put up with constantly being dragged back, about as long as I would put up with running after him. We’d come back more knackered than when we went away!

This being the case I think Ben would be just as happy to not take a holiday, or at a push take a ‘staycation’, a holiday at home. Only that’s all I do. I’m here all the time. It would be like me suggesting we spend a week in Ben’s office in Camberley, taking day trips out to the Co-Op or to look at Sandhurst barracks down the road. He sees these things every day – it wouldn’t be a holiday for him. And as I spend my whole life in my house or around the local area, staying here wouldn’t be a holiday for me either. If they say a change is as good as a rest, then that wouldn’t be it.

So I got to thinking, maybe the answer would be to consider the unconsiderable (at least it was two years ago) – holidaying in the UK. My childless self would have just gasped and slapped me. What is the point? It’s more expensive and the weathers shit, right? OK, so yes it can prove just as expensive as flying to another country (which is bonkers if you ask me) and the weather can be wholly unpredictable. But look at last summer. And this summer’s not shaping up to be half as bad either. It can work. And kids don’t care where they go do they? I didn’t.

I spent the first 12 years of my life in the West Midlands. In that time a holiday to us was a week in the UK, usually somewhere like Bournemouth, Devon or Cornwall. And I loved it. I still remember the thrill of staying somewhere new. And the butterflies I’d get when the sea would come into view, competing with my brother to be the first to shout “I can see the sea!”. We spent hours playing on various UK beaches, my favourite at the time being Boscombe Beach. I remember it’s ramp down to the sand, the concrete hot under your bare feet, the pier we never went down, but occasionally sheltered under if the weather suddenly changed and the excitement of queuing for an ice cream or gathering to watching a (frankly macabre) Punch and Judy show.

The last time I worse a bikini! My brother and me on Boscombe Beach circa 1985

The last time I wore a bikini! My brother and me on Boscombe Beach circa 1985

I’ve no idea how my parents felt about the whole experience but I loved it and it gave me precious memories to carry with me for life. But I was older. And I was a very different child to the boy. What can we do, that Oscar will enjoy, will work for who he is, but that wont leave us with black rings under our eyes cursing the money we’ve spent? You might think we’re over analysing the whole thing and there might be parents reading this who are screaming hey just do it – go with the flow, enjoy it. But I know my guys (the big one and the little one) and if it’s not going to work for both of them, in some way, then what on earth is the point?

Last week we were introduced to the idea of a UK hotel break, but one that is super child focussed. Our friend Michelle and her hubby and two toddler girls went to Moonfleet Manor in Weymouth, part of the Luxury Family Hotels chain. She came back saying she hadn’t relaxed so much since the girls were born, thanks to the absolute focus the hotel places on enjoyment for all the family. I had to check it out and they really do seem to understand toddlers, and more to the point the parents of toddlers, completely. Part of the deal is a creche, run for four hours a day to allow everyone in the family to spend some time doing what they enjoy most. It really didn’t take me long to sell it to Ben. We’re going for a mini break in August and Oscar’s already booked into the creche for two hours each day. I hope to use the spa, absolutely I do, but I think I’m just looking forward to sitting. In peace, without feeling like I should be doing something. And with the baby listening service provided as part of the deal it’ll be nice for Ben and I to spend some quality time together. You know, just being grown ups.

Maybe one day we’ll be able to do two weeks in the Med, enjoying the beach and the local food and all that jazz. For now, I’ll take a hotel in Dorset that is going to help me care for my son and give me the break I’ve been craving, every time.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

 

 

 

 

Diary of an Imperfect Mum

Sold!

I’ve never been a hoarder. Ever since I left home at 18, with my life packed up in my boyfriend’s Citroen AX, I’ve been acutely aware of keeping what I need and moving on what I don’t. I moved house a lot in my 20’s, which only served to reinforce my brutal approach to clutter (you try moving house, across London, on the Tube with only two large rucksacks and a boyfriend for help and then tell me you have to keep that pair of jeans you never wear or that frog ornament you never liked.)

Since having Oscar I’ve become ultra efficient at moving stuff on, for two reasons. One is that children out grow EVERYTHING very quickly. Not just clothes, which they can speed through quicker than you can say “this season’s JoJo catalogue” but also toys, books, equipment, furniture. You name it, they use it and grow out of it. The other is that we live in a tiny cottage. We have two bedrooms, one of which is a loft extension, meaning storage is at a premium (our “loft” consists of three small cupboards in the eaves of Oscar’s bedroom). These things combined mean I have little option other than to constantly move things on. You simply couldn’t live in this house, with a child and not be a ruthless declutterer.

But do you know? I love doing it!

I get a real thrill from seeing things I no longer have use or space for, being given a new home and a second lease of life, while I get a little money in my back pocket. I have several ways in which I do it:

eBay

I love eBay. Yes I know it has its issues and not everyone wants to pay the fees they charge, but as platform for selling to as wide an audience as possible it’s hard to beat. I’ve been selling on eBay since 2009, when I moved to Swansea, with no job and time on my hands. Because that’s really what selling on eBay requires, a bit of time. I still regularly put things on eBay, although with the cost of postage going up and up I am finding it less and less appealing for children’s clothes. People just aren’t prepared to pay more than a couple of pounds for an item they then have to pay £3 or £4 postage for. I still sell adult clothes with some success but for children’s clothes I have started to favour Facebook.

Facebook

You can advertise your items in your own News Feed, if you think you have friends who might want what you have but I’ve found the best way to sell through Facebook, is to join a local buying and selling group. I’ve joined several community groups, aimed specifically at buying and selling childrens items. These groups are all voluntarily run and the good ones are run really well. They enable other members (usually people local to you) to see the items you are selling and contact you directly about buying and collecting them. I’ve become much more keen on using this method for Oscar’s things as they charge no fees and buyers seem happier to pay a little more for each item as there is no postage cost.

Nearly New

I don’t know about your local area but we have a really active NCT branch where I live. They do all sorts for local parents, but being a charity have to fund their work themselves. One of the biggest ways in which they do this, is their bi-annual Nearly New Sales. This is a mammoth feat of organisation, but results in a super opportunity to buy really decent quality second hand items. I’ve been attending our local sale since I was 8 months pregnant with Oscar, first as a buyer, then as a volunteer. I also tried my hand at selling last year. The sales offer an opportunity to sell items for you (no manning a stall needed) and the fees charged go to a local charity rather than a massive corporation. However, preparing items for sale can be rather time consuming, particularly if these items don’t sell. I had better luck selling equipment and toys rather than clothes here. I think I’ve learnt you have to make a decision at sales like this. Do you want to make money or space in your house? I know one of our most successful sellers sells large quantities, but at 50p an item. So you need to ask yourself, why are you selling your items, before pricing them up.

Charity Shop

I tend to donate things only when I’ve tried and failed to sell them or if they were given to me in the first place. All things donated really need to be in good condition – which some people forget. I used to work for a charity that had a shop. I have sorted many a bag of generous donations, but I am telling you now, if you wouldn’t sell it because it’s torn, stained or unwearable, then charity shops can’t sell it either! If they’re switched on then these shops will be able to recycle these items, but, seriously people, think before you donate!

Recycling

I’ve taken clothes to recycle banks (like bottle banks but for clothes), but I’ve only ever used paid recycling when I worked at the shop. There are more and more companies springing up that collect clothing and pay a small amount for it per kilo. I have never had enough at one time to make this worth me doing, but my Mother in Law had a proper clear out recently and managed to make £11 at 50p per kilo! If you’ve got heavy adult items (or perhaps just lots and lots of children who have trashed clothes you can’t sell any other way) I guess this might be worth a look.

There are lots of other ways, including various online swapping, selling or giving sites I’ve tried but had little luck with. I have also never tried a car boot, yard or jumble sale, again because I’ve never had enough all at once to make it worth while, but I’d be willing to give it a go if I did. I’m happy to move most things on, in any number of different ways. But despite this being the case, I can assure you, I don’t lack sentiment.

In my wardrobe I have a tote bag filled to the brim with pieces that mean something to me, all that bring back a memory of Oscar’s life. I have the 0-3 Month baby grow we were going to bring him home in, the (second hand newborn size) babygrow we actually did, the outfit from his Pleased to Meet You baby party, his first rattle, his first shoes, his first pair of jeans, the list goes on. Occasionally I take them out and look at them. I remember, when I’ve forgotten, just how tiny he was and I smile.

Yes I’m a ruthless declutterer, yes I get a thrill out of selling our stuff, but there are some things I would never sell.

Not for all the tea in China.

Mums' Days