An Inclusive Nativity

This is my dream

Angels with Asperger’s flap their hands

The audience hang on the words of stammering staccato narrators

Gabriel’s port-wine stained face is radiant with joy

The troublesome Holy Couple lay their babe tenderly in the straw

And we feel As One.

nativity

I know I’m not going to be alone in the community of special needs parents who feel a little heartbroken during these last weeks of term.  The empty school tray at Christmas Post collection time.  The Christmas cards that perhaps can’t be written independently.

I can’t help but feel that the nativity play could be such an opportunity to model to our children than no-one needs to be marginalised.  After all, isn’t that what the humility of the stable points to?  Kings and shepherds, Gold and sheep.  All are welcome.

I’m writing while it’s still raw.  I left the school hall having watched my last ever nativity play tonight. Only that wasn’t the reason for the tears.

Little One was a sheep, slender bare feet peeping out from her black leggings.  They’d lost her sheep headband that she had made at school.  She hadn’t been able to tell us that we were supposed to make her another one at home.

She is positioned by the door, TA close to hand.  We strain to see her enjoying the songs she’s been singing in random lines over the dinner table or in the car.  Her moment… up onto the stage, we try to catch her eye.  The Year 1 sheep come to the front for a song, but the Year 2 sheep don’t join them.  She sits beautifully, arms crossed, back upright.  Glancing up at the stars above her, awaiting the cue.  She has a chance to ‘baa’, sitting dutifully with her shepherds.  Time for the next number, she leaves the stage.

There are parents of other sheep out there tonight.  Little One wasn’t the only sheep singled out to miss an opportunity to sing or dance on stage.  But in this last year she’s learned so much and is able to be part of a performance, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other children, to remember a few of the words.

It would have been so precious to us if she had been given the chance to “access the curriculum” in this – an area where she has strengths and abilities.  Love of music, intrinsic rhythm and the biggest smile you have ever seen on a sheep.

I’m keeping my dream.

 

 

 

 

 

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The sorrow beneath the surface

He will wipe every tear from their eyes,

and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain

Revelation 21:4

sorrow

The thing is, there is sorrow.  So very close to the surface… we don’t often look for it in each other but most of us know it’s there in us.

Words we never said to those we loved.  Hurts we carry from our childhood.  Dreams that died under the pressure of our lives.  Loss, longing, love.  Unemployment, chronic illness, debt.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg even in our comfortable Western lives.

Yesterday my train journey to Devon was delayed by a fatality on the line in Darlington.  Just a month after a 51 year old man took his life on the same stretch of railway.  Just six months after another man aged 30 died on this line.

What I didn’t yet know as I sat down to read Faith Unraveled is that the lady sitting next to me had been widowed by suicide.

Some of you may know that my own faith has been unraveling over some years.  I’m done with a Christianity that offers blithe answers to the ‘problem of suffering’.  I am not ready yet to let go of the hope that our tears could someday be wiped away.  But we’re not living in someday, we’re living here.  A planet of individuals who know what it is to carry sorrow in one form or another.

The lady sitting next to me asked me a bit about my book, and what I do for work in the NHS.  When I talked a bit about using my experience of mental illness to teach others, there was something like relief on her face.  She poured out her story of the loss of her husband, in his fifties.  Earlier this year he took his own life after suffering from severe anxiety.

I have no answers, but I am finding the ability nowadays to sit with sorrow.  To hear this lady’s pain and not to try and say something uplifting or hopeful because it would ease my own discomfort.  To be a comfort just by being willing to hear her story.

There is death and sorrow and pain.  We don’t like to talk about these things but they are part of humanity.  I want to continue to learn to be a person who can listen, and accept sorrow just as it is.

Transition

During childbirth, there’s a phase called transition.  You move from riding contractions to the urge to push.  Often, this is a time when you feel utterly convinced that you can’t do this any more.  That your body wasn’t designed for this degree of effort.

I remember the sips of cold orange squash my husband gave me through a straw as I hit the wall during my own transition in labour just over 12 years ago.  The sweet, icy energy and the tenderness of a husband in waiting.  I stepped out of the birthing pool and into the bathroom of the delivery suite. From there my body took over.  Determination, resurgence of physical strength, intense focus.

And then she was here.  The moment of tearful announcement from my husband:

“it’s a little girl”

Holding her, wrapped in a towel, eyes dark as ink.  Our new life begun.

liminal

I find myself in another ‘liminal’ space now that the little bundle has begun her life as a high school student.  On the boundary between being needed and being in the way.  Between parent and confidante.  Sometimes the ‘cool mum’ who her friends like to be around, sometimes completely out of touch.

It’s definitely been unsettling, but most days it’s kind of fun.  Our new life begins.

 

Struggle

brain hurts

Little One is struggling.

Her ‘no’ is louder, more insistent – the frustration palpable when we can’t accommodate the refusal.  When it’s getting dressed for school.  When it’s time to go to bed and we can hear the exhaustion pouring out in her tears and protests.

Her body is stronger, like a bowstring tightened in anticipation of conflict.  We tighten in response – doing our best to placate and soothe, to make it clear what’s happening next, to avoid friction.  But all the while steeling ourselves, wondering how we’ll handle it the next time.  Questioning ourselves.  Feeling weary and tense.

School is boring.  School ‘makes my brain hurt’.  Maybe the world feels like a set of unattainable expectations at the moment.  I don’t know…

I’m not going to ask myself for solutions today.  I’m just going to feel.  I feel sad, a bit tired, and a bit lost for ideas.

As parents we are sometimes caught up in the struggle, sometimes able to see our way through it.  Little One had to go out with Dad and her Beaver Scout troop to join the Remembrance Day parade today.  It’s cold out there, late in the day, and I understand why staying at home seemed a far better option. For the rest of the day, Jaffa Cakes and TV on the sofa with warm blankets will probably get us all through.

 

The evolution of not giving a cr*p

benetton

Picture the scene – 1988 in the overheated foyer of a local swimming pool.  The place is heaving with high school students waiting for our swimming lesson.  I’m holding the plastic carrier bag containing my swimming things down low to the ground, hoping that this time it won’t be the subject of derision.  A Tesco bag was nearly as bad as a Grandways bag (ask your parents/a friend from Northern England over the age of 40)

The Pretty Ones have their green Benetton bags slung over their shoulders.  A proud marker of parental spending on the latest in European chic (or so it seemed to my insecure teenage mind).

Let’s fast-forward to 2017 – my first ‘adult improvers’ swimming lesson.  I have a fond chuckle to myself as I lift the reusable Aldi shopping bag from the passenger seat.  I have 3-weeks’ worth of stubble on my legs, unshaven armpits and a lovely Animal bikini that I bought on a recent mums’ surfing weekend.  I’m about to inhale serious amounts of water through my nose as I attempt front crawl for the first time.  I probably look rather strange in my black prescription goggles.  And I truly, deeply, do not give a cr*p about any of these things.

The lesson was one of the best things I’ve done for myself in a long time, and I can’t wait to go back next week.  I might even shave my legs, purely for streamlining purposes of course!

 

 

A word in season: feel

I’ve been given so many opportunities to feel this last few weeks.

Grateful for the impossibly warm, amber sunlight that ushered me home after a long day at work.

autumn

Deeply cared for when a beautifully illustrated Wild Swim book arrived on my doorstep.  A friend in Sheffield had taken the time to wrap it in soft paper and string, and attach a small leaf.

WILD+SWIMMING+FLORA+JAMIESON+GEMMA+KOOMEN+#7

Encouraged by a tentative visit to a school for children with additional needs… A pizza oven, a fire-pit, chickens and rabbits to feed.  Apprehensive too, about the process and whether the Education Authority will agree that Little One may need specialist provision.  But we have time.

Excited for the next milestone in Eldest’s life – her twelfth birthday.  The party is a reflection of her spreading wings… A train journey with friends, pooling their pocket money for a shopping trip.  Meeting up at Gourmet Burger Kitchen (of course husband and I will be on a different table)

Joy in my beautiful, precious new niece.  The peace of sitting with her in my arms for a feed, the memory of bottle feeding my own girls and often feeling so far from myself.  This time I was right in the moment, wrapped up in love, secure in the fact that I actually was, and continue to be a good mum.  Now I have the chance to be a loving auntie too.

Relief for my blogging mentor.  A brush with Oncology did not lead down the road we might have feared… I’m so thankful for her.

Eldest and I have a phrase, “it’s okay to feel all the feels” – maybe you could take some time to reflect on how you are feeling this season?

 

Zentangle

IMG_20171017_184445522

I found these four artist’s cards yesterday with some of my first Zentangle drawings.  I made these almost two years ago while in a mental health respite centre.  They are dated and given titles on the reverse.

6/11/15 Mourning into dancing (bottom right)

10/11/15:

Every tear is precious (bottom left)

Growth is messy and beautiful (top left)

Beauty in the Now, not Yet (top right)

I was in respite on an important birthday for Eldest.  Hope felt hard to reach, hard to hold on to.  The guilt of my daughter going through this milestone birthday with a very poorly mum.  It wasn’t hospital, at least.

Through a haze of sorrow, I found there was immense tenderness within me. Firstly, towards Eldest – this helped me find the energy to make a trip into the local town and buy ingredients for birthday cupcakes topped with her favourite American candy, (Reece’s pieces and Reece’s peanut butter cups!)  A support worker took time the evening before her birthday to help me make them.  The conversation was gentle.

On the day, we opened presents in my small respite bedroom and I was able to take some leave for the morning.  I was there to hold her hands while she had her ears pierced, and to buy her some pretty silver studs.  A landmark celebrated, not as we would have hoped, but together.  For better, for worse.

Compassion towards myself was beginning to grow.  I can see it now in the Zentangles.  I knew that this was a time of tears, of mourning, of mess.  I felt it deeply, but I knew there was the capacity for beauty in me, in the way I was living this illness.

 

Today, almost two years later, I met staff newly recruited to the community perinatal mental health team here in Devon.  As part of their induction, I had the opportunity to talk them through our story of postnatal illness and beyond, and to help them reflect on how a mother’s mental health impacts upon the whole family; dad, baby, siblings.  When I talk to staff, I use a photo-story, with pictures of both my beautiful girls as babies and as they have grown.

Finding the Zentangles was the right timing; growth is messy.  Today it felt beautiful.

 

 

 

The power of play

Definition of Play

‘A physical or mental leisure activity that is undertaken purely for enjoyment or amusement and has no other objective’

playtherapy.org.uk, 2017

orbeez

I first started thinking about this post when I bought Little One some Orbeez

Playing with Orbeez is about as pure as play can get.  It’s sensory, it’s fun, silly and ultimately quite pointless.  But that’s the point…

Initially I bought Orbeez with educationalist, adult thinking.  Mindful, sensory play after school to quieten the noise of a day’s overload.  Science!  Experimenting with liquid, solids, estimating volume, tipping, pouring.

But you know what some of the most fun things to do are?

  • Squish Orbeez between your fingers
  • Put your feet in a washing up bowl filled with water and Orbeez
  • Tip Orbeez from a great height and watch them bounce all over the kitchen
  • Pipe a single Orbee at a time out of a plastic piping bag

(I’m aware that these are also Science but they didn’t come out of that ‘child must learn something’ motivation!)

I have laughed along with Scary Mommy and her puzzlement about why her kids are obsessed with Orbeez (check out the YouTube video!) but I am also learning a lot for myself by observing the way Little One approaches her Orbeez time.

In our increasingly pressured world, we need time for utterly pointless play – especially us adults.  It might not look like a washing up bowl full of Orbeez for you or I (although I would recommend trying it!)  It might look like putting on some boots and kicking Autumn leaves.  Making some jelly (or Jell-O USA buddies) for your kids’ tea, just because it’s Tuesday.  Swimming in the sea for fun rather than for exercise.

Whatever you choose to do, try taking the adult objective out of it.  Do it just because it’s pointless, and fun.

History into future

IMG_20170927_145209731

I made two skeins of t-shirt yarn today.  A task to do from home in my personal assistant role while my friend is away.  I save the fronts of the t-shirts for a blanket project my friend has in mind, and the backs are destined for crochet yarn.

There will be remembrance of history – a different time and space in life – in her blanket project.  There will be the creation of a new story in beautiful things made of t-shirt yarn.  I am grieving for this friend as she continues to endure a long and exhausting season of pain.  I am humbled by her ability to see a future of beauty.  I am encouraged by the vision she has to create new from old.

Images from ‘Big Hook Rag Crochet’ by Dedri Uys

It’s slow, mindful work producing t-shirt yarn.  The fabric is sliced almost to the top in equal sections.  Turn the fabric through 180 degrees, slice every section in half – stopping just before the top.  The corners of each section are rounded off, until a long single string of yarn emerges.  Wind the yarn gently around your hand into a skein.  I want to buy some beautiful brown paper luggage tags to label the yarn in length and width.

It’s slow work unravelling my history to make something beautiful for my future.  I’ll be pondering the lessons I could learn from t-shirt yarn.