It’s my birthday at the weekend and i’ll be 59. I don’t feel old but I am having a crisis. I’ve been saying i’m going to retire for a few years now but kept saying yes to jobs and seemed to limp along. A bout of illness at the end of last year made the decision for me and I had to cancel work bookings. It’s definitely a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’. I feel lost, invisible, isolated, guilty and am driving my long suffering husband to distraction. I want to be useful, I want to do something for charity, I need to be creative … my head is ‘a shed’ and I’m not sure where I go next.
This morning I received an e mail from someone I went to school with and haven’t seen for 40 years! They were so lovely about my book Learning Through a lens and had taken the time to contact me. You have no idea how much that helped me. It really did make a huge difference and made me determined to make sure I tell others how much I appreciate them.
So at the minute, I’m trying to turn my sewing into a productive hobby (very frustrating but rewarding), I’m investigating charity ideas and planning to spend my birthday with my two grandchildren at my great nephew’s 5th birthday party – how can you feel down when surrounded by so much joy x
Do you ever drive somewhere and when you arrive just literally shake your head as you have no idea how you got there? I was having this discussion with an old friend and we both feel like that about our lives – how did we get here? We are pushingsixty our children are grown up, married, parents. Our own parents are in their 80s and some have died. Life has quite a surreal quality at the minute. This week it Is 30 years since my eldest son died and I want to mark it in some way. He died when he was 8 weeks old and I will never forget how soft his skin felt when he was first born.
Do I see him as a 30 year old? No he’s my baby, he will always be my baby and I can’t imagine him as a grown up. I think about him, the hurt has faded and I know he would have suffered if he’d lived. Has he left a gap, changed my life … hell yes! When he was 21 – I bought a watch which I have worn everyday since. I take flowers to his grave, I talk to him there. The anger has gone – you can’t be angry for 30 years, the pain has lessened, the memories though as sharp as ever. The sounds and smells of the intensive care unit imprinted on your subconscious.
As Matthew only lived for 8 weeks, his birth and death are all intertwined in my memories – I wrote this last year but never posted it.
Certain days are etched on your memory. The sounds, the weather, the emotions. One of my worst days was 29 years ago today. My baby son died in my arms. He lived for 8 weeks and 2 days. I’d held him up to the hospital window to show him the world he would never get to experience. I’d cried and begged him to let go, I could see he was suffering. The fear, the sheer terror accompanied by the steady hum and beeps of hospital monitors. Death isn’t peaceful it’s drawn out and rasping breaths getting further apart mark life’s end.
The silence when it comes is all invasive and the need to run or scream or curl up in a ball take turns at overwhelming you. Nervous expressions, kindly smiles but no one knows what to say. You are offered a Polaroid once all the tubes are removed but I can’t look at it.
The uncomfortable silences, the forms, the formalities and then you go home without your cherished son who has been your focus every single hour of his short life. Emptiness,sadness, bitterness, rage – every emotion you can think of and suddenly it’s 29 years ago. You are divorced from his dad, you have a younger son who has his own children, the floral tributes now include one to ‘uncle Matthew’. Life goes on, the hurt is buried deeper, the scars fade but nothing can take away the memories.
So here I am 30 years on, blessed with two amazing grandchildren- no idea how I got here but I’m going to enjoy it and honour the memory of my beloved Matthew by looking after his namesake Thomas Matthew, and his little sister Layla Jane
‘Tread softly for you tread on my dreams.’ WB Yeats
Tommy and LJ love our garden, they love Mamma’s greenhouse (Tommy has been calling me that since he began talking and couldn’t say grandma). We are learning so much by playing outdoors just in this small space.
I wanted to share some free and inexpensiveideas for developing your garden and using it for fun learning
I’ve left a patch of grass ‘wild’ to encourage butterflies and bees. It looks very wild now and the grasses are almost waist height for Tommy and LJ. They love walking through this and feeling the different textures as well as looking for butterflies.
Seeds – I saved seeds from poppies, sweet peas and foxgloves last year and we planted these earlier this year. They understand the sequence of plant pot, soil, seeds, more soil, water and writing a label and can now plant seeds with very little help.
We won a book on Toppsta called ‘Bee and me’ this is a stunning book all about the friendship between a little girl and a bee. It arrived with a packet of beautifully illustrated seeds. Obviously we planted theses and nurtured them ( toppsta is a site where you can look at book reviews and recommendations but can also win ‘ giveaways- well worth a look)
As a result of the above we now spend a lot of time looking for ‘buzzy bees’ and talking about pollen and flowers.
I caught Tommy outside with his camera taking ‘photos of flowers like mamma’
We allow the kids to fill up the bird feeders and that’s one of the things they ask to do now.
Tommy has a digger with a bucket on the front and we collect small items to fit in, leaves, feathers, stones all the while talking about big and little
We listen for sounds – I could have cried when Tommy said ‘listen to the birds singing’ -Tommy particularly likes aeroplane spotting.
We have picked tomatoes from the green house and eaten them outside ( I have stressed he must always ask me first before eating anything!! Paranoid grandma.)
Tommy uses the hosepipe to water the tubs and we are gradually learning what is the correct amount of water – we’ve had weeks of too much water to get to this stage!
None of this is rocket science I know but I’ve really started to learn about the joys of outdoor learning as I have been privileged to work with Juliet Robertson ( take a look at her blog there are so many ideas on there!) on two of her books Dirty Teaching and Messy Maths ( both by Crown House ). I now think about the language I use and can see joy in the kids faces when we lay on the floor to look at a green caterpillar or Tommy asks what the berries are on the tree. I love it when they are excited to see starlings feeding their young or when LJ makes piles of pebbles. Yes they get dirty and my hosepipe is Tommy’s favourite toy but they are outside playing and learning to love nature which has got to be a good thing
We did buy some items, a magnifying glass which meant we could look closely for caterpillars and bugs, children’s gardening gloves – they were £1 a pair at a local hardware store, smaller watering cans and the children’s first book of birds from The RSPB.
I have been horrible this weekend. Bad tempered, snappy and irritable. Why? I’ve no idea – I just know I’ve been difficult to live with. You know those times when you can hear yourself and know you need to shut up but can’t – yep one of those days!
Two things made me stop and think about what mattered this morning both tiny little things but they made me stop and smile. I have lots of virtual friends on twitter – many of whom I’ve now met in ‘real life’ but this morning one of the ones I haven’t met yet @KathyKelliott tweeted about my photos of wildlife and my grandchildren – it’s so lovely when people appreciate your work and what you are trying to share. Kathy typifies many of my followers – supportive, always caring and ready to share. Thank you for pulling me up short Kathy!
The second tiny thing was when I got to Tesco I realised that I hadn’t put my necklace on!
I wear it all the time – it was a Christmas present from my two lovelies – it has their names, DOB and fingerprints and as my Daughter in law said ‘it’s so you can hold their hands even if they aren’t with you’.
Strop over, irritation gone, I know how lucky I am and if I forget I can just hold their hands and remember 🙂
Tommy and LJ love ‘Play Valley’ and a trip there instigates almost mass hysteria. Never underestimate the pull of brightly coloured plastic!
It occurred to me yesterday that there are pearls of wisdom ( tongue firmly in cheek) I can pass on to Rookie grandparents
Footwear – never wear shoes that have laces or are difficult to get on and off. By ‘difficult’ I mean you must be able to just step out of them at a seconds notice to race after your charges. I know you will usually take them off when you get there but the same rules apply – no 2 year old is going to sit and wait patiently whilst you untie your laces!
Clothes – nothing ‘posh’ nothing restricting – it may be years since you climbed to the top of a huge slide but once your grandchild runs up those squashy stairs and totters at the top – you will have no option but to scramble after them.
Ball pools – may look empty BUT always assume there is a child hidden under the balls (99% of the time there is) so do not allow your grandchild to dive in head first
Do not assume you can sit at the side sipping your latte in a leisurely fashion – get that fitbit on and realise the only way to cope is to get in the middle of the melee and follow your grandchild within grabbing distance.
Food – you are usually not allowed to take your own food but there will be an enticing ‘bag’ option. Do not even think about trying to steer toddlers into the healthier option, pick your battles – they are never going to go for a banana when there is the option of chocolate. Give in gracefully and eat half of it yourself.
Don’t underestimate the fearlessness, agility or speed of your grandchildren. I am still cringing as LJ (who is 19months) pushed a 5 year old down the slide yesterday as she was sitting at the top too scared to move and was in her way!
Change their nappies before you go – they will create such a fuss if you try to take them away from the coloured plastic for something as mundane as a nappy change.
The machines that require money for a ride are always ‘broken’ well that’s what I always tell my two – having once made the error of saying one ride only each …
Always smile encouragingly and sympathetically at a grandparent who is trying to coax their toddler to leave – it won’t make a difference but hopefully someone will return the favour and smile in sympathy with you when it’s your turn to leave.
Take your phone or a compact camera – the smiles and joy are worth all the aches and pains you will have tonight – and reliving it over a glass of wine in the evening will make you smile.
The lack of left handed cameras is frustrating, as is the lack of understanding on the part of major manufacturers. However, we are undeterred and yesterday saw a breakthrough for us.
We were in a cafe when Tommy put his camera onto the table and looked at the live view screen, he shook his head and said ‘can’t see you mama’ He was actually trying to line up his shot! I am so incredibly proud of him. He usually balances the camera on his little arm and presses the shutter with his left.
Later on I put my own camera away and realised I was thinking about tripods in the wrong way – he doesn’t need a proper size one just a miniature one. I had a very small gorrilla pod and attached it to his camera – we then laid on the floor – RESULT – look at this photo of LJ – Now look closely in the bottom right hand corner – total fluke but you can see myself and Tommy in the reflection in the cooker. Its not an ideal solution but it’s one we are going to continue to experiment with.
April is limb difference awareness month and combined with this photo of Tommy from yesterday I’ve been spurred to write. Tommy is a mischievous, bubbly two year old who meets life head on. He bursts into our kitchen with the door rattling on its hinges and announces gleefully ‘I’m back’. He is a confident and happy child for whom life is an adventure. Yesterday I took hundreds of photos of him and his sister LJ as they played in the garden. Although there are loads of images of Tommy this one really struck me. Not because of any technical quality in the photo but because it shows a child who is happy in his own skin. He’s content, he’s holding his bucket with his little arm, life is just what he makes it. It’s not a struggle it’s just the way he does things.
The quote below is from the inspirational Molly Stapleton founder of the Lucky Fin Project Lucky Fin Project
A child being born with a limb difference is not tragic. It’s extremely important to show our children how capable & wonderfully made they are. If we treat them as flawed or limited that is who they will believe themselves to be- and that would be the tragedy.
I’m so proud of my son and daughter-in- law for the way in which they have always supported Tommy. He’s never mollycoddled he’s just loved. Each week brings a new challenge, toilet training is different as Tommy has to learn to leave time for him to take his trousers off, planting seeds is fun but he wants to wear grandma’s gardening gloves, riding his bike means leaning forward to hold the handle bar, spreading butter on his toast is a bit hit and miss at the minute but it’s all a learning curve.
His little sister copies him, they are inseparable and he is alternately her protector and tormentor – it’s ok she’s a feisty little thing!
This post is meant as a celebration for all those who have limb differences and for their families who give them the self belief they need. The photo below is from a Lucky fin meet up last year – these three are a force to be reckoned with 🙂 #luckyfinsrock
Is Tommy favourite saying at the minute. He loves cardboard boxes and whenever he sees a large box he gleefully demands that you build him a house with it. Along with generations of children before him he is fascinated with cardboard boxes. He will climb in, on, under them, or failing that he will walk round with them on his head. A door cut in the side is fascinating to him.
In Shanghai last week the 3 year olds were no different. Playfully colouring in the inside with chalk and then climbing in ( I waited fearfully for the complaints about dusty uniforms from parents which thankfully never materialised) building cardboard cities with their own tower blocks, ariels and lights.
Children are the same the world over – imagination is priceless and cardboard boxes are free
Tommy and LJ had a ‘sleepover’ yesterday ( the reason for the inverted commas will be obvious to any grandparents out there). I’ve watched Tommy develop and am struggling with being amazed at what he can do with his little arm and being cross with myself for being amazed, as to him this is just the norm.He was ‘decorating’ ( yes those inverted commas again) the Christmas tree and couldn’t get the bauble string to go over the branch. I never do things like that for him although the grandma in me often has to sit on her hands to stop herself! He held the bauble with his left hand and pushed his little arm Into the middle of the string to hold it open. Amazing he’s worked it out, but why wouldn’t he it’s normal for him?
We snuggled reading books and he had a bottle of juice with a stopper, he opened with his left arm whilst tucking the bottle under his little arm, he used his little arm to press it down, he opened it with his teeth. I watched in fascination. He is oblivious as this is his world. I have hundreds of examples of where he amazes me but then I make myself remember he’s an ordinary little boy learning to do things his way.
He climbed over his baby gate yesterday and found his advent bag – one book a day for December and a toy on Christmas Eve -really grandma?? – well at least he and LJ have lots of books to read and play with now – my poor son was distraught and was going to wrap them up again but it’s just Tommy being a 2 year old.
LJ is now one and is the most independent child I’ve ever met. She meets life on her own terms, cuddles when she wants, climbs, feeds herself potters happily and has been walking for ages! Having Tommy so close in age she just copies everything he does – they come as a pair and he greets her like he’s not seen her for months when you pick them up from nursery where she is in a different room – here she is and a hug.
I’m so proud of the pair of them, I know they will cope with whatever life brings them – they will both have their own challenges and I need to be amazed by them as the brilliant children they are.
It’s advent soon and I’ve nearly completed the advent sacks for Tommy and LJ. This isn’t my idea or even a new idea but it is lovely and I decided a bit of positivity was called for today.
Instead of chocolate I wrap up 24 different books and number them, then put them in a sack for my grandchildren to open one each day. It’s great that they love books, there is something so special about having a warm wriggly child snuggled next to you listening in awe or playing with the interactive books with a giggle. Seeing books as a treat and as something to associate spending time with someone you love is priceless.
It doesn’t have to cost a fortune – I bought a pack of 10 books in TKMaxx this morning that had a RRP of over £60 for £12.99. I add a couple of Christmas books but many of the classic children’s books too. There is a special one for Christmas Eve, I includeda personalised one and a beautifully illustrated one from YSP last year.
Ps there are ideas on Pinterest if you want an alternate to using a sack.
Share your ideas for what books would be great in an advent sack?