An unplanned trip north

I am cautious by nature so during the great northern dash when traffic jams snaked around the Mourne Mountains and across the border, I couldn't understand why so many people were drawn to the shopping centres of Newry and Bangor.

Now I'm doing it. Going north I mean.

I blame Wales.  A lot of time was spent in supermarkets oohing and aahing over the prices and the products that you can't get in Dublin.  Now we're missing them, and since there will be no more visits to Wales for a while, a quick trip across the border seemed like a good idea, especially as I now have a van that does 50 mpg...

And yesterday was the ideal day.  Angel wanted to come with me and it was the perfect way to thank her for babysitting on Saturday, while aspie boy would be home an hour later than usual.  Of course the day arrived sooner than I expected and I quickly googled Tesco and anything else I could think of but google wouldn't give me the results I wanted - the new algorithm perhaps?  Eventually I found a Tesco store in Banbridge, about 10 miles from the border, printed off the map and away we went.  First stop was the service station, and a spot of refueling:
One and a half uneventful hours later and we arrived.  The massive car park promised much, but the store wasn't actually that large.  There was nothing to keep us there, so we got the shopping and left.  But what to do with the rest of our free time?  I drove into the town centre, even though it didn't look very promising, and we pottered around the quiet streets for an hour or so.  It was like stepping back in time...
But it was good to spend time together and chat without the constant interruptions and demands from the smaller children.  Even the sun peeked out from behind the clouds for a few minutes.
By 12.30 it was time to leave.  Just in case.  Perhaps Northern shoppers would be heading South?  There might be jams.  So we headed out of Banbridge.  And on the last roundabout we came across this sign:

The Outlet.

Ooops, looks like my research did not go so well.  Thank Google.  Not.

So please tell me: is the Outlet worth going to?  And where else would you recommend north of the border, for food, shopping or simply visiting?  Because we might be going back...

Time to be happy

After yesterday's misery wallow doom fest post, I absolutely had to come up with some reasons to be cheerful again.  They may be hiding, but they're always there.  It's time to be happy.

Angel on video

Finally, FINALLY, someone has videoed my daughter doing a series of backflips in training.  As essential skill for a gymnast, but not her favourite thing.  At all.  She won't be able to use the 'can't' word again anyway!  Sadly I am forbidden from posting it up here...

Saturday night

Complications around special needs (ie no respite) meant I had to cancel my day-time plans, but I'm should get out in the evening thanks to Angel and her friends who are going to hold the fort for a few hours.  Dublin watch out!

Aspie activities

Finally my son is listening.  After months of doing very little he has signed up to a number of activities this term which I'm hoping will reduce his anxiety: chess, art, tennis, science and Japanese...yes really!  

Running is the cure for everything

When I finally weighed myself two weeks ago and got my cholesterol results (6.7), I knew I had to take action.  But I don't do diets, they just make me feel miserable and deprived.   Well apart from one.  Hunger also has a bad effect on me - just ask my children.  I get snappy, upset, clumsy and then I start to feel faint and cannot focus on anything except food until I get some.  This was not good when it happened during lunch time business meetings.

Statins and supplements are giving me side effects, so what to do?  Well I only know of one alternative: exercise.  And I don't mean my old Jane Fonda videos.

I decided that I'd better start running again and seriously.  Running has helped me before, but in the past the received wisdom was that you had to have rest days, and you started by running just 2-3 times a week.  But I heard recently that the way to improve quickly is to run every single day.  Perhaps that might be the way to lose weight too?  So last Monday, as soon as the kids left for school I headed gingerly out the front door, checked that none of my neighbours were around, and wobbled down the road.  Eleven days later and look!  I've lost 6lbs.  A little bit of healthy eating was involved too: the boxes of chocolates are empty now after all.  But I think it's mainly the running, even though I've only managed to run on school days so far.  A leaner, healthier me must be just around the corner!

Submitted, as usual, to Mummy from the Heart for #R2BC

I'm almost free

Or why things are not nearly as bad as you expect them to be....

The deed is done.  The court has stamped the second agreement.  And once the solicitors have finished their work, my finances will finally be disentangled from my ex.  Woohoo?  Well not quite.

Until today I was feeling very down.  I didn't feel like celebrating.  I didn't feel grateful.  And I know I should as so many families have lost their homes, and hopefully that will not now happen to me or my children.  And I feel guilty about feeling down.

You see as part of the agreement I've had to give up my dream of moving to a little house by the sea, which we bought - thanks to my job - with a mortgage in 2003.  It doesn't work for my two younger children any more.  But it did once.

Sometimes special needs sucks.

When I started writing this earlier, that was the end of the post.  But now the deed is done, I feel a lot better and a lot lighter.  I'm on my way out of separation limbo at last.  A chapter of my life has ended, but a new one is now going to begin, and at least I have lots of happy memories. 

6000 reasons to be cheerful

Like a dementor, January seems to suck all the happiness out of life in the post Christmas gloom.  It's certainly having a bad effect on me: making it even more important to look for reasons to be cheerful.

Of taps and human kindness

The good stuff began last Saturday morning when the long overdue plumber finally arrived to replace a faulty dripping tap.  I guess I fully expected that he would look at the plumbing, shake his head, tell me that a lot of work was needed and double the price that I'd been quoted.  

It didn't go like that at all, he just got on with it.  He also saw Smiley in her wheelchair.  And when I returned from toileting her, he said - and I may be paraphrasing slightly here -

"All done, and I've put the door back on the hinges as well."

Remember this is a plumber?  I was really delighted: that cabinet door was just another annoyance on my ever-lengthening to do list.  He'd also stuck down some trim, and even showed me how I could fix the door problem should it ever happen again.  It just shows how you can find kindness in unexpected places.

Aspie boy leaves the house

Later that morning my ex arrived to take aspie boy out for the day.  One of my son's New Year's resolutions is to try more things.  So with an interest in all things science he agreed to go to the Young Scientists' Exhibition.  Sadly he said it was a bit boring and refused to stay very long.  But at least he went and didn't just spend yet another day hunched over his laptop.

Another Smiley

There's a little girl on Smiley's bus this year who could be her younger sister.  She can talk and sing and she thinks that every day is her birthday and every woman is a mummy.  "Hello mummy!" she calls when she sees me and then she launches into the happy birthday song...every morning.  It always cheers me up.

6000 reasons to be cheerful
I got a letter home from my son's school last week.  It was asking every parent to bring their child on a march to oppose cuts to teachers in disadvantaged schools.  I felt I had to go, so I took Smiley out of school early, wrapped her up Eskimo-style and made sure she was well-fed and toileted and headed down to aspie boy's school for 2.30pm, expecting to be one of a handful of parents taking part - most marches are not well-supported, you see.  How wrong I was!  A huge crowd left the school with banners and cameras and kids in buggies and as we marched down Summerhill, more schools joined in and families just left their homes and tagged on as well. 

Our final destination was the Department of Education and up to 6000 men, women, children and babies in buggies crammed together and waved their banners, sang songs and listened to speeches.  It was like a day in the park.  My son was happy with his school friends and even got chatted up by a very friendly girl of perhaps 11 in a leopardskin coat - he had no idea what was happening or what to say!  It was fantastic to see such a turnout, to see that people have not given up, and will continue to fight, especially when it's the future of their children that is at stake.

I'm entering this once again into Mummy from the Heart's wonderful reasons to be cheerful linky.

I'm going out for coffee...

Coffee does get mentioned a *few* times on this blog, so when my blogging friend Heather asked for a guest post over at hers, it seemed like a good time to give it a bit more attention, and not to be writing yet again about special needs or my Dad! 

I've read almost every post that Heather has written, because she's so funny, warm, honest and open about her life with husband Matt and their beautiful baby girl, living on the Welsh Borders.  I always feel as though I'm on her doorstep being welcomed in for a friendly chat, perhaps with coffee and cakes.

So just click here , take a break and head on over...

Things I don't understand

There's always been a lot of things about everyday life that puzzle me and now I finally have somewhere to write about them, and maybe get some answers? 

There are two unsolved mysteries that I've blogged about before and am still none the wiser, so if you can help I'd be very grateful, especially about the clothes thing.   And now here are a few other things that make my brow furrow, the worry lines start sprouting, and my mouth do that funny little panicky pouty thing...

...Why is modern stuff such rubbish?  I've had three microwaves in the last year, my fridge is still a disaster, my last (nearly new) car was in and out of the garage for the three years that I owned it, and most of the clothes I buy look dreadful after a few months.  Yet I still use the Kenwood mini electric whisk that belonged to my lovely Gran who has been dead for almost 30 years.  My 1978 Caseo Calculator works perfectly, and the batteries last for years.  Clothes from the 1980s that I saved are now worn by Angel and look fresh and stylish.  Perhaps I just becoming a grumpy old woman (see below).

...And on the subject of batteries, are things now designed to use batteries even when they're switched off?  Like my emergency torch.  Thankfully I've never needed it.  Just as well, as when I checked it recently the batteries had gone flat.  We've all got torch apps on our mobiles now instead.

...Why is it so difficult to write the opening date on all the jars and bottles I have in the fridge so you don't be throwing them out because you can't remember when they were opened and you're afraid of poisoning the children?  Or you sniff them, hope that you're not developing a cold and losing your sense of smell, then you try some and wait 2 hours to see if you develop a tummy upset and only then risk feeding the contents to anyone else.   I thought the solution was to stick on a label.  But this usually peels off and you find a little pile of them all cuddled up together on the bottom shelf....

....Why can you only tumble dry clothes from Tesco and M&S ?  Shops where no teenager will ever venture?  I do actually quite enjoy hanging clothes on the line.  But I live in Ireland.  So clothes put on the line do not dry for days - if at all - in the colder months of the year. 

...Why don't (more) banks have cash points inside?  There are so many unpleasant things that can happen at an outdoor ATM: a soaking, frostbite, mugging, scamming, blocked pavements, begging...That sounds very middle class doesn't it?  Well you do feel quite vulnerable when you are trying to keep charge of a bored aspie boy and a teen in a wheelchair.

...How I got to this weight

...Why is turning 50 so scary?  It's happening to me this summer.  Already I have a big night out planned with three fab friends, but I need something more to take my mind off this landmark.  Luckily my friend Jazzygal has a plan.  The #50club.  Hopefully we'll be celebrating all year together with Midlifesinglemum and anyone else who cares to join us.  Slàinte!

The title of the post was borrowed shamelessly from my blogging friend auntiegwen - with her permission of course.

Don't stop the miracles - oppose cuts to teachers in disadvantaged schools

I got a letter home from my son's school today - and a text asking me to read the letter.

It was important you see.

The school has been told that it will lose two more teachers under cutbacks in the Budget.  This is on top of two teachers lost last year.  And there are only a small number in total.

My son attends a 'disadvantaged' school (a DEIS school).  Not because we are disadvantaged.  We're not.  But because the school has an excellent asperger outreach unit and these all seem to be attached to disadvantaged schools.  Funny that.  The school also takes lots of other children with a variety of special needs and many with none.  It also works miracles.  Yes we have hit a few speed bumps in the last 18 months, but aspie boy is now attending mainstream classes regularly, on his own.  

Just two years ago he was out of control and causing constant disruption in his previous school, even with the support of an SNA.  And I was really worried about where he would end up.  As a school drop out?  Or worse if his anger issues could not be addressed?  Now I am looking for a suitable mainstream secondary school for him and I have a good story to tell when I ring them.

How has this been achieved?  

With a lot of intensive work by a highly trained team in very small classes:  the asperger classes have 6 pupils, a teacher and 2 SNAs.

All this work that is helping my son and others will be put at risk by these proposed cuts.  These are children with huge potential.  They just need a bit of extra help to get there.  It is in the DEIS schools that this extra help is provided.  And so they have a higher pupil- teacher ratio.  And perhaps the Government thought they were another soft target, perhaps the Government thought the parents did not vote and would not protest.  Well they were wrong. 

We love our children and we want the miracles to continue.

We won't let these cuts happen.

Losing the Plot

I was almost 39 weeks pregnant on number three, further than I had ever got before.  On a sunny mild April day, I was visiting a friend in the country with my two girls in tow.  

It was also the last peaceful day I was to enjoy for a long long time.  The following night I woke at midnight after an hour of sleep with that now familiar feeling.  Yep my waters had gone again.  And I was happy.  Finally I was going to meet the baby I had desperately wanted for the past four years.

The pregnancy had been closely monitored, but all had gone well.  I'd given birth twice before, so I was pretty sure that I knew how to handle it.  I even had a very simple birth plan : lots of walking around and pethidine.

Third baby = short labour.  Right?  I might even get back to sleep afterwards...

My MIL arrived, breathless, busy and excited and I left with my then husband for the short drive to the maternity hospital. The pains were steady and regular and easy enough to cope with.  I was full of optimism, but as usual I hadn't read the small print.  I met with the midwife and explained that the pains were in my back, which I hadn't experienced before.  She told me that the baby could take a while to arrive, and suggested I take a nap on the maternity ward.  Well I was wide awake and itching to get things moving so I said I would just walk up and down.

So I did just that.

I paced the quiet, dimly lit corridors. Up and down, up and down.  It was just me and OH and the occasional check from the midwife. 

By around 5am the pain was severe and I was shown to one of the labour rooms.  Having previously given birth in a cubicle with curtains, I felt completely spoilt having a whole room with an ensuite all to myself.  But I didn't get much enjoyment out of it.

OH slept on the bed for a while as I paced, but it wasn't long before I needed the bed myself.

I needed pain relief.  And quickly.

You see I'm not keen on pain.  I don't see the point of putting up with it when there are so many pills and potions available that will get rid of it. But childbirth is different.  Not only do most of the methods of pain relief come with fairly scary side effects, but these days at least you're not expected to do your day job at the same time, so I was hoping to muddle through on pethidine, which helped me to focus and stay calm during the very premature birth of baby number two. 

The midwife was called and I asked for pethidine.  She wasn't keen and suggested gas and air. 

"But I don't like like gas and air," I told the midwife, "it makes me feel sick and dizzy."

I was assured that it was different now.  It wouldn't be the same as the gas and air that I had (not) enjoyed on baby number one.  And you know when you get to that point in labour when the pain stops you thinking clearly or being able to argue your case?  I'd got to that point.

I grabbed the gas and air as I needed something urgently.  And I started to feel sick and dizzy, but I had to have something so I just kept sucking in great lungfuls.  The only thing that kept me going was the midwife telling me that she thought the baby would be born shortly.

But by 8am I was exhausted, woozy, and barely aware of my surroundings, only the waves of pain registered.  Then the midwife shift changed.  I'd started to trust the woman who had helped me through the night, and when two new faces appeared, I began to lose hope that I could get through this.  I told them I wanted an epidural.  "Not now," they said.

Forty-five minutes later and I was begging for an epidural.   It's too late now, they said. You need to push.

 How could I push?  I couldn't cope with the pain now, how could I deliberately make it worse, with no help?  So at that point my mind gave up, I couldn't take any more.. Nothing seemed real anyway.  I forgot abut the baby, I forgot about everything and everyone.  I remember very little of the next hour, except a feeling that I was floating up in the air watching this woman labouring below on the bed.

Finally the midwives realised that I wasn't going to do this on my own.  They called the anaesthetist, who eventually managed to get the epidural in.  And then they called the consultant in case an assisted birth was needed.  But shortly after the anaesthetist worked her magic, the fog cleared and I was back on the bed and I remembered that there was a baby to give birth to, and I started tentatively to push.  

And when the consultant arrived I started to feel more confident - hadn't I seen him almost every week for the past 4 months?  He knew me, he would know what to do.

  "I think this baby will be born without any extra help," he said.

And then I knew I could do it.

Everyone sighed with relief as my baby boy slid out.

And I lifted up my tired woozy head to see what this had all been for.

  The next day the anaesthetist popped into the ward to see me.  I nearly kissed her.


"You lost the plot, didn't you?" she said.

Got it in one, I guess.

Happy Holidays

The holidays have been happy, for the kids anyway.  We did very little in the end, but I have a few ground rules.  I have to make sure that there is some routine and that Angel is the only one still in a onesie at dinner-time.   

6am - no-one is allowed to get out of bed any earlier than this.  I'm looking at you aspie boy.

10am - all of us (except Angel) are supposed to be dressed and breakfasted by this time (looks at watch, it's 10.15 and we're not oops).

10-1pm - I run around the house frantically trying to do anything urgent - washing, dishes, phone calls - you know the rote.

1pm - lunch.  Like other meals this takes about 1 1/2 hours once Smiley has been fed (she mostly can't do it herself right now)  and then toileted.

3.30pm - this is the time we usually escape from the house.  I insist on a teeny bit of fresh air and exercise every day, even if it is just a walk to the post box or the local shop.  And we did manage a few proper outings - the Phoenix Park, the National Botanic Gardens and Dublin Zoo - as well as visiting friends.

6pm - dinner time when I tear out handfuls of hair metaphorically while trying to whip up 4 different tasty and nutritious meals for 4 fussy eaters.  Then it's more toileting, physiotherapy and the bed time routine.

8pm - I start putting Smiley to bed.  Physically it's demanding, but there's no upset - like any other teen, she loves her bed!  Though she still often calls me in the night.  Which is not so good.

8.30pm - bed time for aspie boy.  Lots of reminders about what he needs to do, followed by another few pages of the latest Harry Potter book, read by me.  Then I have to sit on the end of the bed while he goes to sleep.  This I find very stressful as I hate waiting!  The iPad is my saviour as it is completely silent. 

9.30-10.30pm - I slip out avoiding the creaky floor boards and head straight for the fridge or the kettle, depending on the day of the week you understand...

School starts back on Monday, and anxiety levels are rising.  Aspie boy has a new teacher, so there will be a new routine and some interesting times ahead.  I just hope he will remember how happy he has been during the holidays.

This blog post is part of the awareness raising campaign - Special Saturday - raising awareness of people living with special needs around the world.  Some aspects of this may have appeared in previous blog posts, so I apologise if you are a long time reader.

Please join the cause by joining the facebook page -

Following on twitter - @Specialsat and retweeting hashtag - #specialsaturday

Reading and following the Special Saturday Blog -

Calling all special needs bloggers

Actually this is for anyone that blogs, but I'm especially interested in special needs bloggers. A new showcase is going live next week, called Love All Blogs, created by the amazingly energetic @MammasaurusBlog who has 8 kids and a very entertaining blog.  So I have high hopes for her new venture.

To join in you just submit an excerpt of your post in the appropriate category with a link back to your own blog, and then everyone who has subscribed - and a lot of people already have - gets a summary each week.  The deadline for this week is midnight tomorrow.  This showcase could be great for raising awareness of special needs and gives all bloggers a chance to bring their writing to a wider audience.

Why am I telling you all this?  Well Mammasaurus has farmed out each of the categories to foolish willing volunteers to promote and introduce each week.  And late one night earlier this week I volunteered to look after the Special Needs Section.  Only because no-one else came forward, obviously.  So I would love it if you would join in x

Groundhog day

I love my kitchen.  But I don't want to live in it.  Yet this Christmas it has often felt as though I was doing exactly that.

One morning this week as I stood at the sink I could not remember what day of the week it was.  I have the domestic form of motorway boredom, I'm on complete autopilot, lurching from dirty dishes to smelly nappies to discarded clothes, and so the days were passing in a blur like the view from a car window.

Once again I'm restless, staring at the patch of blue sky above the rooftops that seems so far away and watching the ivy on the wall taunting me as it dances in the fresh breeze. 

The children don't seem to mind, even Smiley is mostly happy about staying in the house.  It wasn't supposed to be like this.   Other Christmases have included trips to Wales or Wexford.  Not this year.  Perhaps it's just the loss of my Dad that is still so much on my mind.  No-one is sick and we have got out of the house every day, even if it was just a walk to the shops.  My plans for my son hit a roadblock when the friend he wanted to see was not available, and he refused to arrange anyone else over the next few days in case a new arrangement could be made.  So we did nothing for four days.

Perhaps this is a case of welcome to the real world?  Perhaps the new challenges in my life will be how to live a normal life, an uneventful life, where the mundane and the routine dominate as the days pass.  Somehow that doesn't sound like me.  I need a project, something new and exciting.  I may even write about it here.  So watch this space!

I wrote this two days ago. Yesterday we spent the day at Dublin Zoo with friends and already the holidays seem much more enjoyable, though the house has paid the price - you've seen the photos before...