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,

SHW Signature


Dear Child Uncategorized

Autism + Siblings {It’s not always pretty}

Autism + Siblings

It was Miss J’s birthday a couple of days ago.  22 years.  Where on earth does the time go?

In the lead up to her dinner at a local Thai restaurant, I found myself reflecting on being a mother to her and what it was like for her to grow up in our household.

We try so hard as parents not to screw up our children.  We so desperately want them to remember their childhood with fond memories, all warm and fuzzy of what an amazing time it was.

It wasn’t for her.

Master J has autism.  We didn’t know he had autism.  We were told it was ADHD and that with proper behavioural management his unbelievable outbursts and rages would improve.  They never did.  And Miss J was usually caught in the crossfire.

Just let him watch the program he wants, Miss J

Don’t annoy him like that Miss J

For goodness sake, don’t sit in HIS chair, Miss J

Like any child on the spectrum, Master J had sensory issues.  He needed to control his environment to manage those issues.  None of us knew this.  We were just acutely aware of the rages.  Things flying across the room, walls being punched, the kicking, the biting and the screaming.  We, meaning I, would do anything to avoid it.

And Miss J copped the brunt of it.

I am still angry.  Angry that the misdiagnosis not only robbed Master J of early intervention which would have given him a much less anxiety-driven life right now, but also a better childhood than Miss J got.  She deserved so much better.

You love Master J more than me!

The words slapped me in the face.  How could she say such a thing.

You always let him have whatever he wants.  You always make me give up everything.

I denied it, of course, unable to face the reality of it.  Looking back, it was true.  Not the I loved him more than her part, that is absolutely not the case, but the part about her having to give up everything, that’s true.

Miss J has mentioned her childhood a couple of times recently.  She is dating a wonderful guy who also has a younger brother with autism.  They have been comparing notes, supporting each other in what is very often a lonely existence for siblings of children with autism.  It has clearly brought up some unresolved issues for her.

At the birthday dinner it came up again.

Mum loved you more

Damn straight, Master J responded (this is a usual response for him to a range of things)

I had to step in.

I don’t love either of you more than the other.  I love you both the same.

Nah mum, you know you love me more.  Master J said.

I don’t J, I love you both equally.

Well, it didn’t feel like it, Miss J said, he got away with everything and I got nothing.

My heart broke.  A thousand times.  I could never give back to her that was so rightfully hers.

I had a dilemma.  I wanted to deal with it, right then.  I needed to acknowledge her pain, yes, in front of everyone.  I needed to let her know that I understood.  But Master J was there too.  I didn’t want him to be left feeling like he was a bad person for what he had put her through.  But the reality was he hadn’t put her through it at all.  I had and Mr C had.

I know it was hard Miss J.  It wasn’t easy.  Dad and I did all we could to avoid Master J’s outbursts and rages and that meant you missed out on so much.  I know it affected you so much.

I felt so awful saying this in front of Master J.  I was so torn, as I always have been, between his very special needs and the very natural needs of his older sister.

The trouble is that we didn’t know that Master J had autism, we had no idea.  We had no idea how to cope and so we did the best that we could.  It wasn’t enough sometimes, but it was the best we could do.

Master J went very quiet.  Miss J just looked at me.

It just wasn’t fair Mom.

I know Angel, it wasn’t.

Mr R, the boyfriend piped in how awful it was for him too, growing up with a brother on the spectrum.  He used the word ‘horrendous’ and whilst I knew he meant it in the best possible way, to support, to show solidarity, I shuddered.  Master J by now was very quiet.

But you know, Miss J, there were a lot of good times too.  Like how you and Master J would dress him up in your outfits.  I have some wonderful photos of Master J in your dresses and even a bikini.

Burn them!!! Master J cried and we all laughed.

Plus, despite it all Miss J, you were so protective of him, loved him so much.

Still do, she said.

Dad and I should have, could have done things so much better, love.  We just weren’t armed with all the facts.

The conversation needed to end, so Mr C changed it and the evening continued as usual.

That night, at home, I worried how Master J had taken the conversation.

Did you think we were saying you were a bad person?  I asked him.

A bit.

We weren’t Master J.  You are an amazing person.  But your autism, when you were little, meant your ability to communicate was impaired.  This caused you to not be able to communicate what you needed and so you would rage.  Miss J often caught the brunt of that.  You have autism, that is a fact, but it is how Dad and I handled it that was at fault, not you.

He nods.  I know he is processing.  His self esteem is so fragile, so very fragile.  Please god do not let it be broken.

Mr C says he is going to speak to Miss J further about this.  It is clearly an issue for her and we need to let her know how very much she is loved, how we are aware that her childhood was not easy, but that as parents we did the best we could.

And that is the crux of it, isn’t it?  We try so hard to do the right thing, with the information we have to hand at the time.  When I was pregnant, feeding had to be 4 hourly and nothing else, now attachment parenting and on-demand feeding exists, with baby led weaning.  It all feels so foreign.

All we want as parents is to bring up children that are relatively happy, and able to contribute to society in a way that is meaningful for them.  I think – I hope – we have largely achieved that.

Miss J and Master J are incredibly close.  Miss J is a young mum who is fighting very hard to live life on her own terms.  They both have incredible sense of justice and cannot abide any injustice in the world.  I could not be more proud.  And since I am their mother, I am exercising my right to take some credit.

Being a parent is hard enough.  Mistakes are okay.  And it is never too late to put things right.

Much love,

SHW Signature





Teenage suicide – what to do?

The phone rings.  I pick up.


“Sarah, it’s Bee”

“Oh, hi Bee.”  I sigh, I’m not really in the mood to talk to anyone from JC’s school.

“You know JC has this school excursion into the city tomorrow.  In light of his recent issues, I have been asked to accompany them in an incognito kind of way.  So that he wouldn’t be aware that I was with them, if you know what I mean.  Are you okay with that?”

I would be a fool not to be okay with any kind of support offered to JC, but I can’t help thinking that this is all a little late.

“That’s fine.”

“I have been asked to look out for what signs he might display if he is under any stress.”

I am tempted to say that he is ALWAYS under stress, only you don’t notice it.  I choose not to go down that route.

“He probably won’t show anything until he gets home, but he might become withdrawn, very quiet, look at his phone all the time.  As I said, I doubt he will do anything drastic, just wait to get home for the meltdown to occur.”

“I understand.”

Do you Bee, do you?  Because last week when our son was threatening suicide for God knows what reason, no-one seemed to understand then.  No-one understood that by virtue of the fact that JC got in the car that day and asked to have his medication looked at and begged to see someone because he had been planning his suicide, right down to how he was going to do it, that his condition was god-almighty serious, that his life was in the balance.  No-one understood then.  Now the pressure has passed, due to us keeping him home for a week, now you want to know what the signs are and you tell me you understand.

I think not.

For over a week now, I have been calling psychologists, psychiatric units and other professionals to help me help my son.  At every call I have been told that there is a waiting list (ranging in length from 4 weeks to 6 months!!!!), that until my son commits the act of suicide (which I guess we have to pray he botches up), they can’t see him on an emergency basis.  If I am that worried, of course, I can take him to the emergency department of my local hospital, apparently.

This is society’s solution to a growing epidemic.  Reactionary, rather than proactive, assistance.  Take him to the already burgeoning emergency room.  Have they any idea what that would be like for my son?  Firstly, being in a room that is overcrowded with sick, drunk and drug affected people is just going to totally freak him out.  We would be lucky to be there long enough to see anyone.

What message has been sent my son this week?  Don’t worry son, you are suicidal, begging for help (no mean feat for any child, let alone a child that is on the spectrum), but hey, until you actually go through with it, there is no help for you.  I feel sick just thinking it.

I have to ask the question, is this a cause for the increase in teenage suicides? It’s not real until it actually happens?

I have not been a nice person this week.  I have crapped on two psychologists and told my son’s teachers they aren’t giving the matter serious enough attention.

My son may think that society doesn’t care, but by God, he will know that I care. And I do care, I care very very much.

I have to deal with this crisis right now, but I have suspended my studies and I will be investigating this further.  We cannot have this continue any longer.  6 month waiting lists for suicidal children – it’s just ridiculous!!

Depression Teenage Pregnancy

Learning to face the world again.

I’m in pain when I wake up.  I have not slept well.  I have joined a weight loss program which requires an inordinate amount of exercise and yesterday I did a boxing class.  My body has gone into revolt.  So much so I cannot even contemplate getting out of bed.  It’s 8:00am on Sunday.  I decide to stay in bed.

Soon, sun starts to stream into the room.  I stretch out, like a dog does when it is content, happy.  I love this house.  I look around my bedroom and I realise that in the last few weeks I’ve allowed it to get really dusty.  I’ve neglected this house that has come to represent so much to our family.  The light does a good job of highlighting all the dust.  I make a mental note to really concentrate on the housework this week.  Jay has her friends from the UK and she won’t be seeing me this week.  I have time to concentrate on the house.  It deserves better than I have been giving it.

I emerge out of bed and take a very tentative shower.  My body does ache so much.  I am determined to lose this weight though.  With Jay’s baby only a few weeks away, I really want to be well on my way to leading a more healthy lifestyle.  I realise that I am really excited about the arrival of Baby C. I can’t wait to hold him, cuddle him. Jay’s tummy is so very big now.  She is tired and she gets out of breath so quickly.  At 33 weeks, she is so much further than anyone ever thought she would be.  We are taking bets in the family as to how far she will actually go.  I am reckoning on full term, Dee is reckoning on 36 weeks.  I think Jay is secretly hoping it will be any day now.  We all want to meet him so much.

As I wander around our house, I realise just how big it is and how empty it feels without people in it.  When we bought the house three years ago, it was intended that the four of us would be moving in.  In my mind’s eye, I had visions of Jay being at Uni or Tafe, having friends over for swimming and playing pool.  I imagined a house full of people and laughter.  It was utopian, and perhaps unrealistic.

Jay moved out before we moved into the house and the minute we moved in JC retracted into his own world and refused to engage with anybody outside of school hours.  Apart from the odd BBQ, and our family christmas this year, this house has not seen people, heard the laughter that a big social gathering brings.  I miss that so much.

We used to entertain a lot.  Then things happened.  Life happened.  I could not face entertaining.  We stopped entertaining.  And the laughter stopped.  JC misses our parties.  He said so this week.  Perhaps I need to start entertaining again.  Perhaps it is more a case of that I need to learn to face the world again.  In the last two years since my mom died, and possibly since I gave up drinking, I am acutely aware of how I have become a recluse.  I have lost trust in life and living.  I think I may have passed that onto JC.  I think he may be following my lead.  Except with him it is much much more isolated.

I was meant to take this year to find my path back into life.  Then Jay got pregnant.  Life happened again.  My path got changed. I retreated even further.  But paths change.  Life happens.  I need to find another way of coping.  I do not want to be isolated any longer.  I want to find my path.  Live my life.  Laugh again.

I think my determination to lose weight is part of my path.  I have joined a Facebook forum of people who are doing the same program, and who exercise close to where I live.  I am thinking of joining them.  I have become such a recluse in the last two years, become quite shy, lacking in confidence.  This is a step out of my comfort zone.

Changing paths, stepping onto a new journey.  This is part of life.  This is what I have tried to teach my children.  This is what I need to do now.  I need to learn to face the world again.  One step, one day, at a time.



Autism Uncategorized


I run to the car and quickly start up the engine.  The electric garage door is taking too long.  Damn, damn, damn!  I’m going to be late again!  I cannot believe this.  Actually, I can.  When I write/blog, time runs away with me.  JC is never going to forgive me for this.

I scream into the school car park.  He is not waiting.  Phew, I may have gotten away with it.  I rest my head back and close my eyes.  The car door opens.  “You’re late.”

“Oh hi my love.  How was your day?”

“You’re late.”

I want to get belligerent, tell him that so what, so I’m late.  But I know that isn’t right.  “I know, but only by a few minutes.”

“It’s red rooster day today.”

“No, that’s Thursday.”

“No, it’s today, remember we changed it.”

Damn, he’s right.  We did change it.  I know I have no money in my purse.  “I don’t have any money I’m afraid, darling.”  I feel like Mrs Dursley in Harry Potter appeasing that awful child of hers, Dudley.  I quickly regroup.  “We’ll have to do it on Thursday.”

JC slinks down in the chair, turns his music up loud and looks out of the side window.  He is shutting me off.  I ruffle his hair.  Touching him is risky, but as a mum I can’t help it.  He jerks his head away, but doesn’t yell at me.  That is a good sign.  I start to speak to him.  “How was your day at school?”

He pulls the ear phone out of his ear.  “What?”

“I said, how was your day at school?”


“What did you do?”

“Not much.”

“Well, you must have done something.”


Monosyllabic talk is routine with people with autism, but especially so with teenagers with autism.  “Did you get caught in the rain at all today?”

“Mum, I don’t want to talk anymore.”

“Well, I want to talk.  I miss our talks.”

“Well, talk to yourself.”  In goes the ear phone.

I pull out the ear phone.  “There’s a new rule in the car.”


“No iPods.  Only talking.”

“Nope.  I’m breaking the rule.”  In goes the ear phone.

His comfort zone, that thing he likes to call music.  Am I right for wanting to fight it for his attention?  I drift off in my thoughts when Dee phones.

“Hi.  How has your day been?”

“Yeah, good,” I say.  “I wish JC would talk to me more though.”

JC must have turned down his music slightly because I catch him rolling his eyes out of the corner of my eye.

Dee and I talk a little longer and then ring off.  “I’ll pay for Red Rooster, but you have to go after you drop me off at home.”

“I beg your pardon,” I say.

“I’ll pay, but you go and get me Red Rooster – as pay back.”

“Pay back?” I ask.

“Yes, for being late this morning and for this afternoon.  And I have to have fanta as my drink.”

I recognise a manipulation when I see one.  JC is not normally allowed Fanta, or anything with orange food colouring in it.  The orange food colouring in particular tends to affect his moods, and not in a good way.  Scientific research does not back this up, but my personal experience does and as such we avoid it like the plague.

I realise I am being offered conditional forgiveness.  The question is, do I take it?  Of course, the parent of a normal child would say no Fanta and no Red Rooster with some lesson about respect, and coping with life’s ups and downs being offered by way of explanation.  But JC is not a normal child.  He has autism and what he has presented to me is, in fact, quite remarkable.

His routine dictates that he has Red Rooster on a Tuesday.  It is the only day in the week he is allowed junk food (unless I cook it!). Today has been a shambles of a day for him (and for me, as his carer) – I got him up late, picked him up late and forgot money for his weekly treat.  He thought about it and came up with a solution that would not only maintain the equilibrium of his world, but would also afford me forgiveness for the many transgressions of the day.  It would also get him the forbidden elixir.  It doesn’t take me long to decide to take it and wear the consequences.  I am proud of the problem solving skills he showed today.

I smile at him and immediately he knows that I have agreed.  “Wait here,” he says, and runs into the house.  He brings me his wallet and throws it onto the passenger seat.  “Don’t forget the Fanta.”

I drive to Red Rooster.  It is bucketing down outside.  I could walk over really, but it is busy with cars, and they have yet to build a proper pedestrian walk way, if indeed they ever will.  I return ten minutes later with his meal.  “Have you got the fanta?”  The dreaded elixir.

“Yes, it is here.  But if you so much as twitch with anger…”

“I promise I won’t.”  It is an empty promise.  I have no right to even ask it of him.  He has no control over it, the chemical that affects him so negatively.  He grabs the drink and food from my hands and slumps into his bedroom.  His world has been restored.  He is in his bed, in the dark, with nothing but his boxer shorts on, reading Naruto Fan Fiction whilst eating Red Rooster and drinking fanta.  I would say that this is JC’s version of heaven.

I  decide to busy myself with blogging.  I like blogging.  It is my own heaven, my own elixir.  So here we are, two people in the house, each alone, each in their own little world, but happy.  One has had his world restored and the other has been forgiven for upsetting that world.  It doesn’t really get much better than that, does it?

Teenage Pregnancy

Another clinic appointment – 3 February 2012 – 18 Weeks

Jay is due for another clinic appointment today.  I am starting to feel normal after my surgery and am grateful to feel well enough to go on a shopping trip.  It is almost two weeks since I have seen Jay.  Not being able to drive has meant that I have been unable to collect her.  Dee has picked her up once to come and see me after the operation.  It wouldn’t have been good to drive as I have not been feeling all that great.

Now, though, I am feeling fabulous.  I am determined to lose weight as I know that my diet is directly related to me needing to have my gall bladder removed.  It is hard though, my body craves sugar, like it used to crave wine.

Jay’s tummy is really quite round now.  I just want to stroke it all the time.  I gently place my hand on her tummy.  “Wow, Jay, it’s coming along now.”

“It’s quite active now, I feel butterflies all the time.”  I feel a warm glow fill my cheeks.  Wow, it’s kicking and is active.

We make our way to the hospital.  We talk about the arrival of the baby.  “I don’t want to be in any pain, Mum.”

“You don’t have to be Jay.  You can have an epidural if you want.”

“How do you bath a baby?”  We are now in the waiting room of the Young Women’s Clinic.

“Google it.”  You have to love google.

Jay googles “bathing a baby” and we watch a fantastic You Tube video showing how to bath a baby on a dining room table using a baby bath.  This is good because Jay and Em’s place only has a shower – no bath.  “See,” I say, “anything you need to know, you can  You Tube it.”

“Jay!” It is Laura.

We walk into the room and Laura asks how things have been going.  Jay admits that money is a real worry for them but they are managing to cope.  Gen Y are not very good at doing without.

“OK, you have been booked in for your ultrasound in two weeks time.  You will then come back to the clinic two weeks after that.”  She hands Jay a card with the time for the ultrasound on it.  “Is there anything that has been worrying you?”  Jay admits that she is feeling isolated.  I ask about any young women’s support groups.  We don’t really have any, but your local LGA might have one.  I know they don’t.  I revisit the idea of starting one in the back of my mind.

“Are there no antenatal classes.  That is where I made friends when I was pregnant with the kids.” I say.

“No, they don’t do that any more.  There is an antenatal class on a Saturday, which for Jay will be in May, which gives a tour of the birthing unit, the post natal ward and the nursery.  It talks about the birth and taking baby home, but that is all.”  I am deeply disappointed by this.  “There are private ante natal classes available around.”  I know Jay could never afford this and I wonder if it will be helpful as I suspect it will be mostly women who are in the 30-plus category.

I cannot believe that in two weeks Jay will be half way.  Only 5 months until we get to hold our little bundle of joy.  Jay is impatient.  She wishes it could happen straight away.  I know that sense of impatience, but I am also aware that those 9 months of preparation are so very important.

We head off to the shopping centre close to where Jay lives.  Big W are having a baby sale and we go a bit mad putting a whole lot of stuff on lay by – a bouncy chair, some clothes, some toys, nappies.  It is fun and it is the most baby-real we have felt since Jay fell pregnant.

We head back to our house.  Em has agreed to collect Jay a little later in the day.  We have a lovely cup of coffee and sit on the settee chatting about babies.  Jay is still deeply concerned about experiencing pain during the birth.  We talk about the various pain relief choices.  “I want an epidural, but I’m scared of the pain of the injection.”  I laugh.

“So, you are afraid of the pain of childbirth, but don’t want the pain relief because you are scared that will hurt too?”

“Yes,” she laughs.  “I don’t like injections.”

This is true.  Jay has always hated injections.  Getting her immunisations done was a nightmare! “Jay, it is your choice.  I am willing to bet that when the time comes, they could stick a needle into you the size of big ben as long as it relieved the labour pains.”  Jay is not convinced.

Em arrives home to take Jay back to their house.  He cradles her tummy.  It never fails to warm my heart.

As they drive off, a smile makes its way onto my face.  It has been a good day.

Autism Teenage Pregnancy

Christmas 2011 – 12 weeks

The flurry of Christmas is soon upon us.  It is at our house this year and we are having 13 people over for Christmas dinner.  Dad’s time with us will soon be over and we busy ourselves shopping, buying Christmas presents for everyone.  I want this Christmas to be special.  It is the first in our new house and the last with the family as we know it.  Next year, we will have a little baby in our midst and a new Christmas will be borne for our family.  I have not felt very Christmassy since Mom died, but I am feeling a little more cheerful this year, although the warmth of Christmas has still not fired up in my heart to full strength.

All I can think of is the baby and I search for things that it might need.  I manage to buy two gorgeous baby body suits from Zazzle.  One has a picture of a heart on it – one half of it as the American flag and the other half as the UK flag.  The other bodysuit is a he says/she says body suit – he says diaper, she says nappy – you get what I mean.  Em is half American on his mother’s side and lived for 11 years in St Lois, although his accent is devoutly Australian.  Jay is British through and through although she was born in  South Africa.  I know the kids will love it.  I manage to buy Em a mug and matching coaster with the emblem of his favourite team, the St Lois Cardinals.  I hope he will like them.

Christmas day arrives.  Dee’s sister and her family have spent the night, but Jay has spent the night with Em and his family.  It is an arrangement we made at Jay’s birthday in September.  They get her for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day breakfast and we get her for Christmas Day dinner.  I feel like Jay is some token being passed around, but know this is a sign of the times to come.  This is the circle of life after all.  Jay is breaking away from our tribe and forming her own.  I cannot deny that I feel a sense of loss at this, but am also grateful that her new tribe is one that is so welcoming and warm.

Christmas morning is busy.  The two patriarchs, dad and Dee’s dad, cook us a hearty breakfast which we enjoy in the alfresco area near the pool.  It is warm and we enjoy our meal – a full English breakfast, befitting of an English family whose dad runs and English B&B.

I busy myself with the cooking of the Christmas Dinner – turkey, ham and all the trimmings.  “What time is Jay getting here?” dad asks.

“I don’t know Dad.  Around 4pm I think.”

“That’s a bit late, isn’t it?”

“Well, they are having to see all of Em’s family before they get to us.  You know how it goes, Dad.”  Dad nods.

“We never had that problem being in South Africa.”  I remember it well.  We had no family in South Africa being English immigrants of the 1970s.  Our Christmasses were spent all alone, just the five of us.  Now we celebrate Christmas as a large family gathering.  Fun, but at times I do miss the quieter times.

Just as I am about to finish dishing up, Jay and Em arrive.  Jay looks well.  At 12 weeks pregnant, she is largely over her morning sickness and I notice a hint of a bulge on her once size 8 tummy.  Her breasts have definitely got bigger, although I am not sure I am meant to be noticing such things.   I am happy she is with us and giver her a warm hug.  It is good that Em is joining us too.  He puts their stuff in the spare room as they have agreed to spend the night with us.  I feel happy that our family is complete.

We enjoy a beautiful meal which everyone agrees is a lovely end to the day – lots of toasts are made.  Opening our gifts is great fun.  Of course, Jay and Em have received the lions share – new pots and pans, cutlery, crockery and a fair few items for the baby.  They absolutely love the Zazzle items.  We finish the day by watching all the DVDs that we have all received as Christmas presents.  I scan around the lounge with us all crammed onto the settee and feel the warmth that once used to dwell in my heart at Christmas time rising up inside of me.  Em is stroking Jay’s tummy with such tenderness and affection.  It is so obvious that he adores her.  Even JC is sitting with us instead of being in his own lounge.  He has actually taken to Em quite well.

This is my family, and my family is about to get bigger, and better.

Teenage Pregnancy

The confirmation – take 2

The next two weeks pass by in somewhat of a blur.  Jay and I keep our usual Tuesday and Friday dates but rather than go to the movies or look at shoes shops (Jay’s obsession), we wander around baby sections and imagine a life with a baby.  I am still not really ready to play this game.

I have done some research.  There is a young women’s clinic at our local hospital for women (girls) aged 19 and under.  Jay just qualifies.  I phone the clinic.  They need a referral from the doctor, which I agree to get.  We talk about the support that she will receive and what will be involved for her.  I still feel like this is some ridiculous dream.  I keep saying to myself that this is just not real.  I am fooling myself of course.  I make an appointment for Jay to attend the clinic in about 6 weeks time.  She will be about 12 weeks pregnant.

On the day Jay is to see the doctor, she is to have the follow up ultrasound to make the confirmation.  This time, Em is not with her and I pick Jay up from home.  I am irritated by this.  Dee was at every one of my ultrasounds and we shared the journey together.  I realise that Em is still probably hoping for a different result, but am still annoyed.

“Why isn’t Em with you, Jay.  He should be here.”

“Oh Mum, don’t start.  He has to work.  He can’t get the time off.”

I drop it.  “You don’t really look well.  Are you okay.”

“I’ve been feeling sick.  Do you think it’s morning sickness?”

Sure confirmation there then.  “It could be love.  Is it mostly in the morning?”

“Not really,  I just feel nauseous all day.”  Mother like daughter.

“It could be.”

We make our way into the ultrasound waiting room.  This time we have an appointment and Jay’s bladder is nice and full.  Jay’s name is called.  It is a different sonographer so we quickly run through the story again.  We come to realise that repeating ourselves over and over again will become the norm with this pregnancy.

“Ah yes, there is the embryo.  And it’s heart is beating nice and strongly.”  Jay smiles.  So there it is, my grandchild is a reality.  I wasn’t expecting any other result really.  The women in my family are fertile and strong when it comes to baby making.

The size of the baby has changed.  Jay notices it.  “You can see its head now Mum.”

“Yes, you can my darling.  It is resembling a little baby now.”

We make our way to the doctor upstairs.  “Is this your first pregnancy?”  At 19 years of age, is she serious?

“Yes,” Jay replies.

“Well, you are now about 7 weeks pregnant and the ultrasound that you had two weeks ago shows that your due date is the 7th July.”  I sigh.  The baby is due the day before the anniversary of mom’s death.  “You will need to take some vitamins specifically for pregnant women.  This greatly reduces the risk of birth defects like Spina Bifida.”  I know Jay has no idea what that is.

I ask the doctor for a referral to the Young Women’s Clinic.  Surprisingly, she has never heard of it, but agrees to give me the referral anyway.

“So, you’re going to have a baby, angel.”  I squeeze her tightly into me.  “Are you happy?”

“I am Mum, but I am also scared.”

“Of course you are angel.  That is totally understandable.  But you know you aren’t alone don’t you.  We will absolutely be with you 100% of the way.”

“I know, Mum, I love you.”

“I love you too my darling.”  I feel my heart swell.

I take Jay to the shopping centre for a drink and some food.  Em and Jay have been struggling for money in the last couple of weeks and I am sure Jay would not have had breakfast.  Judging by the way she demolishes the food, I know I am right.

After our meal, I offer to take her to a dedicated baby store to check out the essentials that we will need.  Jay eagerly agrees.  We go to a shop called Baby Train.  I am totally blown away by how far baby things have come along since I had JC 13 years ago.  So much choice!

The manager of the store wanders over to us.  “Can I help you?”  I falter momentarily.

“Yes, my daughter is expecting a baby.  She is not due for a few months [obviously], but we thought we would have a look at what we might need.”

He doesn’t miss a beat.  “Of course.” and to Jay with a big smile, “Congratulations, what are you hoping for?”  I wonder how many 19 year old pregnant girls have walked through his doors.  Not many.  I have done my research.  Only 1.6% of pregnant women in Australia are between the ages of 15 and 19.  The median age of pregnant women is 30.7 years.  Jay is a full 11 years below the average pregnant woman.  This could be a problem.

“I don’t mind what I have, as long as it is healthy.”  Every woman’s wish, no matter their age.

We have fun test driving prams, cots and other paraphenalia.  I feel like an expert as I impart my advice to her.

On the way home, I call Dee.  “Hey Grandad.  It’s confirmed, we are going to be grandparents.”  I suddenly feel quite warm inside.

“Well, I guess we better let everyone know then,” he says.


Traditional family values – extinct or not?

Whilst on my way to work today, I tuned in to my local radio station.  The topic for the ten minutes was whether or not traditional family values exist.  The argument, according to the middle aged presenter, was that The Brady Bunch should return to our screens so that current up and coming youngsters can learn what true traditional family values are all about.  The Brady Bunch episodes would always culminate in the entire family being together either at the dining table or in the lounge discussing the moral of the episode – the proverbial image of families talking together and solving problems together.  The lines were then opened to hear what the general public thought about this notion and indeed the notion of traditional family values and whether or not they still exist.

An expert was called in who categorically declared that the traditional family values of sitting down and eating together do not exist and that it is due to technology that this is the case.  Then a plethora of people called in.  Most of them wanted to make me puke.  You know the kind.  The goody-two-shoes types you used to hate at school who would tell on you if you were passing notes.  I listened as mom after mom phoned in to say that they had traditional family values and that they insisted upon it in their family (not a hint of jealousy there, see?).  I wanted to hit each and every one of them.  I preferred the ones that phoned in to say that it was a miracle if their family got to see each other for more than five minutes in a week.  In fact, I liked them a lot.

This got me to thinking.  Why was it that I despised the family-value supermoms and loved the family-value wrecks.  Was it because that I indeed fell into the category of the latter.  Let us have a look at it.  I am in my forty’s.  I have a husband, an 18 year old and a nearly 13 year old.  I work part-time, my 18 year old is hardly ever at home and the only time we get to talk is in the car when I am ferrying her from one place to another (which admittedly is quite frequently).   However, she announced the other day that she really hates my incessant questions in the car, to which I snapped that I wouldn’t ask so many questions if she would volunteer some information on her life, rather than have me extract them like some painfully wedged in wisdom tooth.  Strike one there then.

Our 13 year old has PDD-NOS and Sensory Processing Disorder.  For those unenlightened (as we once were), PDD-NOS (which is short for Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified) is a mild form of autism and SPD is a condition that renders the sufferer unable to filter sensory input.  They, by default, find communication on any standard level extremely difficult.

And isn’t that the point of  the Traditional Family Value (which we shall term TFV for short) of getting together at the end of the day?  For families to get together to communicate, to talk about their day and find solutions to the day’s problems as a collective family?  I wondered at my own upbringing and tried to remember our TPVs.  We sure enough sat down each night to eat at the dinner table, but more often than not, my parents would end up arguing.   Us three kids would just look at each other, rolling our eyes, sighing at yet another chaotic meal.  Eventually, my father would insult my mother and I, being the eldest and feeling the most protective of my mother would jump in and have my say too.  We invariably would end up in our rooms not talking at all (and even perhaps a bit hungry because the meal had not been finished).  However, sure enough, the next night, we would all have to sit down to begin the ritual again.  By the time I was 15, I began a protest and simply refused to eat at the dinner table.

When I became a mother, I imagined a life of TPVs and the Brady Bunch image of eating together, talking through our problems and celebrating our successes together.  But, alas, the reality just didn’t gel.  I was exhausted, suffered terribly with post natal depression and it was all I could do to get the food down the baby’s throat so I could curl up and find some blissful sleep.  As the children got older, I returned to study and then to work.  Time became an issue.  The children couldn’t wait for my husband to get home as they would be too hungry, so I would feed them early.  Being almost six years apart, the conversation was somewhat difficult.  They certainly did not want to communicate with each other.  I would try to eat with them, but gave it up in favour of adult conversation later in the evening.  While they were eating, I would try to complete household tasks so that my house didn’t permanently look like a bombed flat in Beirut.  The TPV dream seemed to be slipping away.

Eventually, I didn’t even think about the TPVs.  We succumbed to technology (which, frankly, I love).  A TV and laptop in each room and a mobile phone for each person.  When we have dinner, sometimes we manage to eat together, but more often than not we don’t.  TV eating is big in our household.  I get the feeling I should be ashamed of that, but somehow, actually I’m not.  I realise that society’s demands are a double-edged sword.  It demands as a mother you expose your children to as many activities as is humanly possible, jamming their every waking moment with some learning experience.  But then, you also have to make sure that they have enough time to slow down and sit quietly at the dinner table (and even at lunch on the weekend) to talk and be together.  Frankly, with all the activity we are shoving at them, it is incredible they even have the energy to eat, let alone talk and solve problems as well.

As it happens, neither of our children do ‘activities’.  They are extremely anti-competitive and as such don’t do sport/music/dance.  Our 18 year old doesn’t talk full stop.  It wouldn’t matter if we made her sit down and eat with us, she would still glare at me every time I asked her a question about her life, like I was invading her privacy.  Our son blurts out random things whether we are at the table or not.  As parents we can make sense of what he is saying, but again, sitting at the dinner table would have no baring on that at all.  As for my husband and I, well, we have always done our talking in bed (among other things), when we have crashed after a very tiring day of working, cleaning, cooking, running kids around, etc., etc.

In fact, I am wondering, really, why we have a dining table at all.  All it is used for is a dumping ground and on which to do homework when the kids don’t want to be in the study.  I guess it is a symbol. A symbol of an ideal – of a family that sits around it at each and every meal time, talking animatedly about their days, sharing and caring in that Brady Bunch way.  I guess it is an allusion to a TPV I once wished I had, but now realise is just a pipe dream (loaded with guilt for the time strapped mother).  Maybe one day, in act of rebellion, I will burn it, but for now, I’ll keep it … just in case.