A few years ago I was working for a telecommunications company as secretary to the Operations Manager.  Part of my role was to organise all the paper work, computer logins and orientation for any new employee that joined the department.  In this particular instance I was to arrange everything for a new customer service representative called Clare.

Monday arrived and the lovely Clare was sitting waiting in the foyer.

My phone rang, it was reception.

The new lady is here.

I walked downstairs and towards Clare, my hand outstretched ready to shake hers.

Hi, Clare, I’m Sarah.  I’ll be helping you to settle in today and you will meet with John later.

Anais,” Clare said.

I’m sorry?” I said, not sure what she meant.

My name is Anais.

I looked at my paper work.  Her ID badge clearly said “Clare”.  I looked at her, confused.  Had they employed someone else without telling me?

I changed it, my name.  By deed poll.

I had no idea what to say.

My parents chose my name, and I haven’t spoken to them in 10 years.  I never really liked the name they chose.  This job is a new start for me, so I thought ‘why not completely reinvent myself?’ and so I changed my name.  I named myself Anais, after Anais Nin.

She had also changed her surname to some equally exotic name – all traces of her old life erased.  Well, on paper at least.  I suspect a lot of what caused her to change her name would live with her for many years to come.

I nodded, admittedly dumbfounded, and took her upstairs.  I listened to her repeat the story at least 10 times that day to various people who were expecting “Clare”.

I was named after my great-grandmother.  My mother didn’t know her grandmother.  She had died young, aged just 56, the year my mother was born, but a scandal surrounded her.

The story goes that she was a domestic servant in a manor house, almost certainly not as grand as Downton Abbey, but a manor house none the less.  The family legend says that my grandmother came about as a result of a tryst between Sarah and the lord of the manor.  So strong was this rumour, and the resulting shame she felt because of it, that my grandmother had all evidence of her birth cremated with her when she died.

There are no details of Sarah’s mother, only her father, Charles.

This is my great grandmother Sarah, my namesake, taken I would say around the 1920s
This is my great grandmother Sarah, my namesake, taken I would say around the 1920s

My mom grew up listening to stories about Sarah:

Sarah had to return to work.  She had no alternative.  It is not clear if she returned to the original manor house.  My grandmother, as a consequence, was brought up in a convent, by nuns, until the age of 17.  Up until the age of 5, she had been looked after her aunt and uncle, who by all accounts had not cared for her that well.  My grandmother loved the convent, but saw Sarah very little.

My grandmother unsurprisingly became such a devout catholic that she was on course to become a nun herself when she met my grandfather.  Sadly, the shame surrounding her birth never ever left her.

But my mother fell in love with Sarah.

There was never any question that I was going to be named after her.

I think my mom had this idea that Sarah had been manipulated, that the power the lord of the manor had over her had resulted in my grandmother, that Sarah would have been poor, alone and without means.  It wasn’t an uncommon story of the time.

Somehow an injustice had taken place.  And somehow Sarah’s memory was going to live on in me.

For the longest time I did not like my name.  It was so plain.  I couldn’t shorten it.  I never got a nickname and god, I so wanted a nickname – a cool one like Tif or Kat or Shell.  There was no term of endearment for me.  I lamented how ordinary Sarah was.  And when I met Clare-now-Anais I so desperately wanted an exotic name too.

Yet, as I got older, became more aware, I realised that Sarah, the person, ran in my veins.  And I knew that I was her immortality.  I have no idea what she was like as a person, but I do know she was a survivor.  I know that she gave her daughter up to nuns who would care for her at a time when orphanages would have been the easy option.  I know that Sarah would have had to pay for that care.

I know that through that care my grandmother turned into a woman who, despite years of struggles and ill health, was kind and good and was adored by her family.  I know she gave birth to my mother who likewise was adored.

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My grandmother (second from the left) with my mom on her wedding day and my aunt and uncle


I know that my mother felt indignant at the shame the catholic church imposed on my grandmother, a shame that never left her, a shame that would reverberate for 60 years until my grandmother’s death, despite the catholic church excommunicating her because my grandfather left her for another woman.

And I know my mother instilled in me an incredibly strong sense of social justice, to question those in power constantly, to keep an eye out for the marginalised and disempowered, especially women.

I know that starting with Sarah a long line of strong women began, women who don’t give up, who persevere and who survive.

I know that as I stand here today, Sarah is a name of which I am very proud.  It carries with it a life line, a heritage that, rather than shame, fills me with pride.  It is the name that my mom uttered as she lay dying,  calling out to my grandmother whom she could seen in her last few days.  It is a name that has come to mean so much for over 120 years.

What is in a name?  A new life, perhaps, like Clare?  Or perhaps a vindicated link to an old one.  What do you think?

How about you, do you like your name?  Were you named after someone?  Have you changed it?

Until next time,

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Master J finished school on Friday.

He bounced into the car, full of as much joy as a nearly 17 year old boy can muster.

I’m done.  I’m done for 8 weeks.

I smiled.  I love the school holidays.  It is just he and I at home.  Mornings are lazy.  No time frame constraints and we can do what the hell we like.

Today is Monday, the first day of our summer break.

It is raining outside.

I’m ironing sheets and duvet covers (really exiting summer break this one!).

The holidays are so boring!” Master J has just emerged from his room.  It is 8am.  On the first day of our summer holiday.  The one that we love so much.  The one that, whilst our paths don’t cross that often (meaning he immerses himself in his computer in his room and I busy myself readying for christmas, then relaxing and pottering), we are acutely aware of each others’ presence.  His autism means he finds communication really difficult, but I communicate with him.  I communicate with him through silent connection.  I love that so much.  I love him so much.

What do you mean the holidays are boring,” I protest, “they have barely begun.

Then a few seconds later.

Do you want to go for a movie?

He shakes his head.  I knew he wouldn’t want to – no self respecting teenage boy wants to be seen with his mum in public, autistic or not.

We don’t have parties anymore.  Why don’t we have parties any more?  It is so boring in this house.

It is true.  We used to entertain a lot.  We bought this house for its entertainment value.  Then six months later we became sober, then six months after that my mom died.  I lost my desire to connect.

Then we had a couple of parties,  nothing as plentiful as before, but a few.

Then this year Mr C ended up in hospital.  And I ended up in hospital.  So we haven’t had any parties this year.

Children on the spectrum struggle to connect.

We have parties at our house, and Master J will not move from his room.  But the other children will seek him out and sit with him.  This is him connecting with the world outside.

What he was really saying to me is that he feels isolated, that he needs to connect.

Which may seem weird to people who don’t understand autism, to people who have a stereotypical view of children on the spectrum.

The truth is that whilst anxiety drives them and their subsequent isolation, like any human being, like EVERY human being, they desperately want to connect, even in the smallest way.

I, on the other hand, am driven by depression.  I do not want to connect.  Not right now.  It is christmas and I am sad.  I want to stay indoors with just the two of us.  He in his enclave, me in mine, aware of each other, connecting in our own way.

I look at him.  “It’s really late in the year, Master J, people won’t be available for a party.  But we are going to The C’s for christmas drinks.

It wasn’t what he wanted to hear.  That will require effort – to get ready, to travel, to meet people he won’t know.  His face drops.

I tell you what.  How about we have a New Years party?  I don’t know who will be around, but no doubt some people won’t have plans.  Everyone can bring their children.

He nods, contemplating first, then accepting my offer.

I make a mental note to make sure I email everyone to see who might be around.  I also make a mental note to organise a few parties next year.

Connections are important.  They are important to Master C and despite my depression, they are important to me.  And it is important to maintain them throughout the year.  No matter how busy we are, or how ill we may be.  It is too easy to hibernate, to isolate, to lose connection.

You see, we are all connected on this crazy planet we call home.  Whether we like it or not, we are all connected.  We all have a burning desire to belong, to have a tribe of our own.  Even, or perhaps especially, children on the spectrum.  And so it is that I will be working hard to maintain those connections.  And so it is I have written a couple of dates in my diary next year to hold a party or two.  So that I can feel connected.  So that Master J can feel connected.

And so it is that my “I can do what the hell I like” summer holiday has now turned into “who the hell is around on NYE?” summer holiday.

Connections.  They drive us no matter what.  And that isn’t a bad thing.

Until next time,

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This post was written as part of #reverb14 – a blogging initiative hosted by Kat McNally.  The month of December is a good time to reflect on the year that was and for us to contemplate the reverberations that we send out into the world.  Please do hop on over to Kat’s blog and if you feel moved to do so, please join in.  Today is Day 8 of the initiative.




Autism and the sweet taste of success


Every now and again something happens in your day, in your life, that really is worth shouting from the mountain tops.

Today is one of those times.

But let me backtrack a bit.

This time last year, Master J was in Mansfield attending a residential intensive program for children on the spectrum.  He was suicidal, you see.  Life, his life, had become so unbearable for him.  He hated being autistic and he hated school.  He couldn’t reconcile the fact that autism is who he is, what makes him the beautiful soul that he is and he wanted to end it.  I sat and listened as he told me that he wanted to die, a very large piece of my soul breaking with him.

Sending him to that school was by far the most difficult thing Mr C and I have ever had to do.  The school caters for children across the spectrum, meaning that children who are low functioning reside with those that are high functioning.  It is a lesson in tolerance, responsibility, community.  And it is very very hard to learn.

The endless phone calls begging to take him home, the screaming accusing us of abandoning him, the pleading not to take him back when we had the home weekends.  It was draining, and a mother’s worst nightmare.  The guilt I may have felt at all my failings as a mother was nothing compared to what I felt in those 10 weeks.

But he survived.

We survived.

He learned that he is capable of more than he ever thought possible.  We learned that he capable of more than we ever thought possible.

He learned that autism is not a curse but a gift.  We learned that to try to wedge him into a neurotypical expectation was destroying him.  We learned to ignore the constant cries of people who think that autistic children are just over indulged and need to learn to fit in.  We learned to accept him completely for who he is.  He learned to largely do the same.

We all learned so very very much.

This year he saw a future.  A future he couldn’t possibly see that day he begged me to let him die.

It has been a tough year for him.  A year where he has had to push himself beyond his comfort zone time and again.  A year when a few melt downs have ensued.  A year when small victories have been few and far between.  A year where he has continued to push forward.  A year where he has dared to dream, dared to hope, dared to take action.

And today was pay day.

Text from Master J:

76% Maths exam.  Second highest in class

Instant tears streamed down my face.  On the day of the exam, he was so anxious, so convinced he would fail.  Yet he had prepared.  Throughout the year he pushed himself to do homework even when, in his mind, he could not see the point.  “If they insist on sending school work home, why aren’t I being homeschooled?” he would ask.  His logic was flawless.  Yet, he would sit, even if was at the last minute, to do his homework, willing himself to focus, to ignore the pull of his laptop to complete the work at hand.  It wasn’t easy.  It was a mammoth struggle.  He took the first steps towards a future he knew he wanted to have.

My response:

OMG!!!!! I am so freaking proud of you, well done my love.  Do you know how clever you actually are Master J?  Please never doubt yourself.  The sky truly is the limit.

No response from him.  But then I didn’t expect one.

This is huge.  This is beyond huge.

I picked him up from school.  As he opened the door I whooped and cheered.

At least wait for me to get in the car,” he laughed.

He looked so radiant.  At the tender age of 16 and a half, he had finally tasted success, victory, borne of the effort he had put in, borne of him pushing himself so hard through obstacles that were, for him, so great.

My heart felt like it was going to burst out of my chest.

He sat in the car.

Oh my god Master J, I am SO proud of you.”

I got the bloody second highest in the class.

I know!!  The second highest!  Are you ecstatic?  I best Ms K couldn’t believe it.

Ms K is Master J’s maths teacher.  But she is also his pastoral care teacher.  She is on his pastoral care team that make sure he fits in at school.  She was one of the ones to suggest he attend Mansfield.  She has an incredibly soft spot for Master J.  And he hasn’t been easy on her.

Nah, she was pleased.  I asked her if I had failed and she said “maybe” and then she smiled and said I got 76%.  I got the bloody second highest in the class.

Swearing is something Master J does when he is excited.  We used to try to correct him but then we realised that it is how he communicates his excitement and Master J doesn’t express excitement very often.  We stopped stifling him.  We learned to accept him.

In fact, he said “I got the bloody second highest in the class.” at least ten times in the fifteen minute journey home.

This.  This is what success tastes like.  For him and for us as his parents.  Not that he got 76% for maths, not even that he came second highest.  No.  It is the fact that he is learning to believe in himself.  He is learning the correlation between applying himself and that great feeling of achievement after working through the challenging times.

Something tells me that this is just the taste of possible things to come.  And it feels good!

Until next time,

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Poetry {Family}

Sometimes blood, sometimes not
Always there no matter what
Different landscapes in the design
It doesn’t matter, that’s just fine
It’s where you hang your soul to say
Come with me, let’s hit this day
Your tribe, your vibe, your merry throng
It’s in your heart, your family song.
You love, you cry, you laugh, you fight
The family grabs you with all its might
And when you feel life has no more
It wraps you to the very core.
Not always, mind, we can’t deny
Not everyone hits that family high
But that’s the beauty of it all
Family is the rise and fall
It is our sun, our moon and stars
Usually the place we get our scars
They make us and bake us, for all to see
This mad creation we call FAMILY.

by Sarah Cox

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