Lucky

Well, what a hectic half-term that was. We headed to the wilds of a Yorkshire forest for 4 nights with my parents, Sister and family. Then it was back home for Pudding’s ERT, straight off to Leicester, via Martin House, and back just in time to drop both boys off at school yesterday morning! Hubby and I were both fairly sleep deprived and loved having our own bed  last night, but the week has helped me realise again how lucky we are.

Yes, I know how strange that might sound to some people. And I certainly couldn’t have imagined saying it two years ago when we first got Pudding’s diagnosis, but lucky we are.

Pudding in red waterproofs running away along a forest path.

The Forest Holiday (which could have been a disaster if I hadn’t realised we’d booked for a completely different site to Sister) was a superb family break. Having other adults around to help supervise Pudding takes the pressure off us, and Pudding always laps up the extra attention. Although we wouldn’t let him try the zipwire, pumpkin carving or outdoor hot-tub, he did come on some beautiful walks in the November sunshine and there was always the TV. I am so grateful that I have family living nearby who also don’t mind sharing their holidays with us.

I wrote about Martin House on our first wonderfully relaxing visit. This time was a bit different as we decided to leave Pudding there after our first night, and head off for a trip to the National Space Centre. It meant that T had undivided parental attention for 30 hours which he certainly appreciated. I also noticed how much more we could enjoy him without having to negotiate the sometimes difficult interactions between the boys. And although I thought about Pudding often and worried about things like bedtimes, I had complete confidence that he would be very well looked after. Yet again, I felt lucky that we have access to this resource.

We have a stable family life, a roof over our heads and enough money to live comfortably. We are lucky to have one gorgeous son with no medical issues and despite his MPS, Pudding thankfully has very little in the way of day-to-day health needs.

During the time that we were at Martin House, we did of course see children who are far more poorly than Pudding. It’s a hospice after all. But despite this, it is not a sad place. And in fact, talking to other parents and seeing the matter-of-fact dealings of suction tubes and peg feeds is sort of reassuring. It helps me think I could deal with that if I need to.

Unlike many families we haven’t had to fight. So many others – not just those with MPS – struggle to get diagnosis, struggle for access to services, have to fight for school provision, fight for EHCPs, DLA and Blue Badges (see glossary). Although the forms and medical stuff still take it out of me, I feel lucky that our path is easier than some.

Of course, it isn’t always easy to focus on the positives. But I know things could be so much worse for us, so right now I’m living in Luckyville.

Surviving

Did you enjoy the holidays? As the beginning of the new school year is upon us I’m looking back on the last five or six weeks and trying to work out the answer to that question.

Pudding running towards camera. His big brother is behind him with hands on his shoulders.I suppose the truth is that I haven’t quite retained the boundless optimism of the beginning of the holidays. I’ve also not sunk back into the hole! But as with many SEND parents (excepting those whose children suffer from anxiety) I’m going to be very grateful for the start of term.

So how did I get on? Here is my full-proof method for surviving the long holidays:

Have lovely friends and family. As I said before, we didn’t book any holiday away. In the first week the boys and I went to stay with Grandma and Grandad. And last week we landed on some super friends in Gloucestershire who gave us the run of their house while they were away. We had very few instructions apart from ‘feed the cats’ and ‘we’re not precious about anything in the house’. In other words, don’t worry too much if Pudding breaks anything! He had a super time, exploring a whole new house and garden and terrorising the cats (hope they’ve recovered) while we could relax

Respite.  We had five 6-hour days when Pudding was looked after by an experienced short breaks worker. I know I’m lucky to get this. Some families don’t. Dealing with a Pudding is exhausting at the best of times, let alone day in, day out for 6 weeks. But I do sometimes wonder if it is just me not being up to the job. So it was with a certain amount of satisfaction that I heard at pick up time ‘Oo, I’m ready for bed now!’ from someone else. These days allowed T and I to get up to adventures that Pudding just couldn’t have joined in – from making natural sculptures in the woods, to a full day out at Lightwater Valley. I found it a really relaxing break and T certainly appreciated not having his fun curtailed by his sibling.

Divide and Rule. Much as I would love to have picture-postcard, perfect family days out where we happily do a range of activities together….. Well, it’s just not possible. Pudding can’t run very far before getting tired, so often needs to go in his buggy. And even then, he complains more these days. So after a bit of an explore somewhere new, perhaps some football, he is ready to leave. There is no bargaining or bribery possible – the promise of an icecream if he waits patiently for a while means nothing to him. Which means that T is often dragged away from whatever he has set his heart on doing. The answer we’ve found, like many SEND families before us, is simply to split up. One parent supervises T, while the other gets the job of pushing the buggy round (or sitting in a cafe!). Not always ideal, but it works in a fashion.

Cut yourself some slack. TV. It’s been on far more than I ever would have thought my kind of parenting would allow. But hey, maybe I’m finally getting better at adjusting my expectations. I may not be a perfect parent, but Pudding doesn’t seem to be complaining. Well…not much anyway!

Now the only question is, how will I be spending the first day they’re back at school? I’d like to say taking a few deep breaths, drinking hot chocolate and relaxing in a nice bubble bath. But we’ve got workmen round drilling lots of holes in the walls, so maybe not.

Paradise

I have a neck!

(How stupid does that sound? Nearly 46 years on this planet and she’s only just realised…)

The truth is I’ve been walking around since Monday morning like a swan with an elegant long neck rising effortlessly out from my shoulders. I had forgotten what feeling truly relaxed is like. The norm for me had become anxiety and stress, both emotional and physical – pushing the buggy, coercing a reluctant child up the stairs, carrying the heavy weight of an MPS diagnosis and all that it entails.

So what has changed? The paradise on earth that is Martin House Children’s Hospice.

When Pudding was first diagnosed, several people mentioned Martin House to me, but I pushed that idea away as fast and far as I could. To me, a hospice meant dying children and that was something I did not want to think about. Even when it was explained to me that many families go there for respite rather than end of life care, there was a barrier that I just couldn’t cross; it was one more thing on the path to acceptance of a life-limiting condition.

Earlier this year though, I was finally ready to take that step and got in touch. We went for a first look round in May, and ever since T has been asking ‘When are we going back to Martin House?’

Hubby looking out from a balcony at the grounds of Martin House at several rabbits on the lawnIt’s hard to describe what a special place it is. Sitting here I’m stuck for words. But I can close my eyes and see… Rabbits on the lawn. Jars full of cake. Paths that twist and turn through peaceful gardens. Communal tables set out for dinner. A rainbow of children’s faces on the wall. A bench in the sunlight. And I can hear shrieks of delight from T as he plays in the water with other siblings.  Birdsong. The patter of Pudding’s feet when he takes a break from TV to run to me for a cuddle.

A carer is allocated to each of the children to give parents a break from the constant monitoring of vital signs or medications. In our case, it was freedom from the need to be on constant high alert. It’s only when we got a break from that – a proper break, not just a few hours while he’s at school or asleep – that I realised just how wearing it is.

It was odd at first to let go. After all it’s second nature for me to jump out of my chair to follow him when he runs. I constantly assess his mood to second guess whether he’s about to hit anyone or throw something. But for the whole weekend someone else was there to do that. They even sat with him at meal-times so we could eat our food without having to persuade him to eat or stop him from cramming too much in.

A path winding through some trees and under a pergola. Hospice buildings in the background.So I sat in the sunshine and read a book, played with T and the other siblings, and chatted to other parents. I was so relaxed I barely took any pictures.

As I expected, we saw the difficult stuff too. At least one of the children staying didn’t have much longer in this world. And while we there a group of bereaved siblings were having a get-together. But the atmosphere is definitely not a sad one. It’s a welcome and warmth. The feeling of being well looked after and peace. A little slice of paradise. A weekend that meant more to us than I thought any holiday could.

As we drove away on Monday morning back to normal life, T asked ‘When are we going back?’

As soon as possible please….!

(Martin House survives on the kindness of volunteers and donations. If you would like to contribute to their wonderful support of families dealing with a life-limiting condition, you can do so here.)

Respite

‘He’s a handful, isn’t he?’

‘You can’t relax when he’s around.’

‘Gosh he’s full on.’

All things that have been said about Pudding lately, and they have made me very happy. Why? Because they were said by two ladies who are long-term childminders and respite carers.

pudletI’ve sometimes wondered, in my more hopeless moments, whether I struggle with Pudding simply because I’m not very good at this parenting lark. Whether I’m getting this help under false pretences. Those who’ve had a lot to do with him, such as Sister (who has now fitted locks to keep him out of Niece and Nephew’s rooms) and my mum, would I assume say no, definitely not. Most others only see him outside the home – strapped into his buggy or playing happily in the park – and therefore don’t get the full glory of his behaviour. So when someone experienced at looking after children (both typical and special needs) says things like the above statement, it makes the whole world seem lighter. It says to me, you’re right to want this. You’re not inventing difficulties.

The standard Short Breaks offer for families who are able to access it is for 100 hours throughout the year. This can be taken flexibly in a way that suits the individual situation – a regular two hours a week for example or fewer longer days.

As is the case with many other families I found the summer holidays particularly challenging last year – 8 weeks break from playgroup seemed to stretch into infinity. So we’re using our short break hours to have a morning every three weeks, and then the rest as longer days in the holidays.

So far it has been working well. Last weekend I had Pudding to myself while Hubby and Twiglet went to visit the in-laws, so a morning break enabled me to get through the rest of the weekend in tact. And the time before that, the three of us went trampolining and then shopping for Lego. Spending family time doing normal stuff without the need to meet Pudding’s constant demands is fantastic. Hard to describe, but it’s like I am released to enjoy myself more freely.

I know all parents probably need a break from their kids at times, but the sort of usual options – encouraging them to play in their own room, or arranging a reciprocal play-date – just can’t work for us.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore my boy, and we have great times together as well, but there’s an element of freedom during respite hours that we just don’t get otherwise. In our longer summer days I’m planning some trips with Twiglet to places that would be a nightmare with Pudding in tow – climbing some rocks may be on the cards!

It’s a hard thing to admit that you need a break from your child, but harder still to soldier on regardless.