Yearly Roundup

31 December 2015

Dear friend,

Here we are at the end of another amazing year. I honestly can say that I have never been so tired as I am now. I was so ready for this break. Being a mum is certainly one of the hardest jobs in the world but also one of the most rewarding. I know I don't always get things right but when I look back on our year I know that I'm not doing too bad. 

Our year at a glance

Autiquotes: Quotes about Autism

30 December 2015

My aim is to spread a positive message about autism through my writing and to help my son to grow up in a world of understanding, compassion and acceptance.

Being a special needs parent is...

Dear friend,

Being a parent is amazing, exhausting, awe inspiring, confusing... full of contradictions. It is everything and nothing like I expected. When my son was 5 he was diagnosed with autism, one of life's curved balls and we had to learn to parent a little differently. Lots of friends sent us a poem to read. It was called; Welcome to Holland by Emily Perl Kingsley. Ironically most people who sent this did not have children with special needs.  I think it was a well meaning attempt to empathise with how I was feeling and perhaps they felt it had added significance as I live in Holland.  

Initially I loved the poem however, over time I have become less comfortable with the hint of disappointment expressed. Here is my attempt to describe my feelings...

Our experiences are unique and it is how we choose to respond to them that defines us. We need to trust that in the end we will all arrive at the place we need to be.

There comes a time when you have to let go, face the fear and embrace the unexpected! One thing is certain, I am going to make dam sure I enjoy the ride!

I posted a version of this post in March 2015: What is parenting from a special perspective. It was published in The Mighty.
The post was revised in November 2016.

Weekly roundup #17

28 December 2015

Dear all,

Wow this week went fast. We were really lucky to get to spend Christmas in Middlesbrough with my family and friends this year.

We arrived just in time to celebrate Grandad's birthday with a family meal in the pub. The boys were really happy to see grandma and grandad and had lots of fun with their mad uncle and cousins. 

Silent Sunday

27 December 2015

Christmas memories

25 December 2015

Dear friends,

What better way to celebrate Christmas day than a look back at Christmas since becoming a Mother. Some of my happiest memories brought together to share with you all. I hope you enjoy my rather indulgent Christmas day post. Happy Christmas everyone!

Silent Sunday

20 December 2015

Happy Christmas everyone!

Weekly roundup #16

18 December 2015

Dear all,

This was a weekend of Christmas Markets. First we visited the market in Leiden on Saturday and then on Sunday we went to Haarlem. It has really helped to get me in the Christmas Spirit, well the mulled wine did! And it was just what I needed after an extremely busy week at work. The end of term is always a hive of activity. Time with the boys has been short but we have been grabbing quality time together and playing Monopoly Junior most evenings after dinner. It is such a fab game!

My Sunday Photo

13 December 2015

Christmas market at Kasteel Keukenhof. 

Weekly roundup #15

11 December 2015

Dear all,

This has been a super exciting week for all kids in Holland as we celebrated Pakjes Avond (present evening). On the evening of 5th December there was a loud knock on our door and two very excited boys ran to find 3 sacks of presents on the doorstep. My goodness we must have been very good.

I couldn't wait any longer and on Sunday morning (after making the lego dimension portal for the boys) I got to work on our Christmas tree. I went for a different design this year with new lights, copper baubles and beads hanging down rather than round. I love it. The Christmas decorations are minimal but the candles are plenty and it is really gezellig.

Silent Sunday

6 December 2015

Weekly roundup #14

4 December 2015

Dear all,

Hurray, I am very relieved to report that our bathroom is finally finished. It is such a joy to be able to shower at home and not have to rush to the Mother in laws every evening. I think she is probably relieved too! 

The boys asked to have a gourmet evening on Friday much to my delight, any excuse for family fun time and we decided to make Friday a Family night, packed with yummy food, board games and lots of fun. A brilliant start to the weekend. 

Autistic people do show empathy

2 December 2015

Dear friend,

I love our conversations around the dinner table. I really feel it is so important to sit around a table on an evening share a meal and talk together. It has become one of my favourite times of the day, especially on a day that I work because this is maybe the first 'proper' conversation I have had with the boys.

I don't know how it is on a morning in your house but I am normally found rushing around, making sure they're dressed, have eaten their breakfast, the dog is fed, school bags are ready etc I sometimes feel like an army sergeant barking commands at his company, poor kids. Anyway, I digress...

The other evening at dinner we were trying to sort out our schedule for the week. The boys regularly announce that "Mark is playing tomorrow" or "I am going to Dave's" and we are generally OK with that but we like them to 'ask' as there may be other plans. At first I found this strange as I was used to the mum's arranging the play dates not the kids but I have learned to go with the laid back flow here and as long as the boys are happy that's fine.

The little man announced that he had a friend coming to play tomorrow then the big lad said, oh yes I have 'friend' coming too. But he didn't look very happy about this so I asked the question; Is there a problem because you don't look very happy about it? What he said next totally knocked me off my feet.

I don't really want to play with 'friend' he is not really one of my 'best' friends and I find him a bit annoying but no-one really wants to play with him and I think that's not nice for him so I think that I should. 

I have read so many times that autistic people lack empathy. This can be linked back to the work of Simon Baron-Cohen on Theory of mind.

Yet, I do not believe this as here is another example of my big lad demonstrating perfectly that he does have empathy for others. In a previous post I have also discussed how he almost seems to feel the emotions too much.

Theories develop as understanding grows and Simon Baron-Cohen and his team are conducting further research at Cambridge University into Theory of Mind. It appears that empathy has now been broken down into two distinct areas:

ToM is the ability to attribute mental states to others, to infer what someone else is thinking or feeling. It is one of the two major components of empathy, sometimes known as 'cognitive empathy'. The other major component is known as 'affective empathy', or the drive to respond with an appropriate emotion to someone else's mental states. Our work is showing that in Asperger Syndrome it is primarily cognitive empathy that is impaired, whilst affective empathy is intact. In classic autism, both components of empathy may be impaired.

If I understand this corectly then my big lad is showing signs of affective empathy, responding with an appropriate emotion to someone else's mental state. 

For me, however this is just another example of the complexities of autism and a reminder of how no two autistic people are ever the same. But ultimately it a moment to feel immense pride that my son is growing up to be such a kind and caring person.

Silent Sunday

29 November 2015

Heusden in the Netherlands.
This photo is unedited.

Weekly roundup #13

27 November 2015

Dear all,

The end is in sight our bathroom is almost ready! I can't wait! It has been a major challenge as both the big lad and I have had a rather nasty case of the tummy flu. But this week I had a treat, a fantastic weekend away with friends. A girls only weekend of chatting, drinking wine and shopping. It was just what the Dr ordered. We stayed in a B&B near Den Bosch that was styled beautifully and set in fantastic surroundings. I am super proud of myself, speaking Dutch, comfortably all weekend as I know I wouldn't have had the confidence or ability to do that a year ago.

Book Corner: Love Monster

23 November 2015

Dear friend,

I love reading and spent many a happy hour as a child curled up under my duvet, torch in hand reading fantastic tales that exported me to magical lands, other times and took me on great adventures. I want to pass that love of reading on to my children. I love it when you find a book that also teachers them something and I think my book of the month does this brilliantly.

Book of the month: Love Monster.

Love monster by Rachel bright.
Harper Collins. ISBN: 978-0-00-744546-2

Silent Sunday

22 November 2015

Weekly roundup #12

20 November 2015

Dear all,

This week began in a flurry of excitement with the arrival of Sinterklaas in Holland. It was a super weekend with a good mixture of Sint madness and relaxation too. We remain shower less although work is now well under way. All the business has meant that we haven't had as much Family time but the boys have been enjoying playing Board games after dinner and I have tried to switch off, log off and be more in the moment with my boys after work. I have felt the pressure this week. This weekend I am having a well earned weekend away with some friends and I can't wait...

Groundhog Day

18 November 2015

Dear friend,

Sometimes having a child with autism is a bit like being stuck in Groundhog Day. Here I was in another waiting room, biding my time while my son receives therapy.

It took me back to one of my very first posts. A piece that I wrote a long time ago near the beginning of our autism journey whilst sitting in a similar waiting room and reflecting on our situation.

What if anything has changed since this point?

My original post:

Today I sat, once again, and waited for my son to finish his physio therapy. I spent the time flicking through a magazine but not really reading. It was simply a mask for my thoughts. Perhaps I should be glad of this time, a much needed spare moment to myself. In the past I have been. But today I felt myself wishing that I could be anywhere else in the world.

During my day dream I was watching him play football, at swimming club, at street dance or at band practice. For most children of this age their world is just beginning to open up and new social horizons are being explored. I would love for my child to experience their world; somewhere he does not feel confusion, anxiety, uncertainty and simply 'unsafe '.

Instead I bring him here in an attempt to help him understand his "busy body" then I take him home and allow him to play for too long on his computer.

What remains the same?

Our big lad still has autism. You may think this is a strange statement, given that Autism is a lifelong condition. But after diagnosis (AD) I did daydream that they'd got it wrong. Wishful thinking perhaps but this was echoed by some family members and then supported by sensationalist journalism with articles claiming a cure had been found or a child had miraculously 'grown out of' their autism at age 9 etc

The big lad is still having therapy. We still sit in waiting rooms whilst these amazing people do their best to help our son.

The big lad remains at 'normal' school. We were advised to move him to a special school but ignored this advice because we felt he was well supported and happy where he was. The special v normal school debate is a difficult and highly individual one which must be based on the needs of the child. This is something that I still worry about. I have got no doubt that we made the right choice but we need to carefully monitor the situation to make sure it remains the correct option.

We are still a happy family. The boys have a great relationship. The little man adores his big brother. I feel having a sibling has been of great benefit to the big lad's social development.

Hubby and I are still together. We had heard that a large proportion of marriages fail. At times it has been tough but we have pulled together and we make a great tag team for each other.

What has changed?

Therapy has changed. There is not as much (no physio or speech therapy) and he doesn't have it all the time, he has it when it is needed. There is more time for him just to be a child.

We have changed. When I read this post I recognise the mother who was doing her very best but who felt overwhelmed and I can feel a hint of sadness and pain in the writing. A sense of loss. But the person who wrote this around 4 years ago no longer exists. Hans Asperger called it 'Looking with open eyes'. Instead of us looking at how we can change our sons behaviour (essentially cure him) we are looking at what we can do to support him, understand him or teach him.

Asperger talked about a need for the teacher to themselves become 'Autistic'. Perhaps that can also apply to parents of autistic children as five years later hubby and I regularly ask the question; Do you think I am autistic too?

I am no longer frightened of what the future will bring. Nothing has turned out as we imagined and whilst we are realistic we are also optimistic. I am inspired by people like Temple Grandin and Steve Silberman who are looking at autism in a more positive, almost revolutionary way. Not as a problem to solve but as a group of people or a person to understand and value! A powerful message.

The big lad has changed. He has grown in confidence and developed into a funny, caring, kind, handsome, crazy, sensitive, computer loving, tenacious young boy who we are extremely proud of.

This isn't Groundhog Day this is Thanks Giving.

It is a time for me to give thanks for my fantastic son, amazing supportive family and the wonderful people who have all helped us to arrive at this place where our future looks so much brighter!

Family Fun: Sinterklaas arrives in Holland

16 November 2015

Dear friend,

Saturday brought much excitement to our house. The little man has been asking for weeks when Sinterklaas will arrive and this weekend much to his delight, he finally did. For those of you that don't know what Sinterklaas is, it is a Dutch children's festival that is celebrated every year in Holland on 5th December. (If you want to find out more you can follow this link to wikipedia.)

The build up to Sint began weeks ago:

The little man made his list with Papa, he couldn't wait!

Silent Sunday

15 November 2015

Due to all the questions I have added a link to an article: What the bleep is Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet?

Weekly Roundup #11

13 November 2015

Dear friend,

What a great week! The tooth is feeling much better and I can eat again. Hurray! We had a visit from fantastic family friends from England who I have known all my life. I loved showing them around and it made me really look and appreciate what an amazingly beautiful place we live in. Even though the weather hasn't been great we still managed a few trips out and had a lovely afternoon at the tea house in the park.

Silent Sunday

8 November 2015

Weekly Roundup #10

6 November 2015

Dear friend,

This week I have been recovering from my dental surgery.  The swelling has finally gone down and I am able to start eating more than soup and yoghurt. It has been a busy week with work as it was parents' evening. I don't like working late because that means I only get to see the boys for about an hour before bed but thankfully it doesn't happen too often. And as usual we still managed to squeeze in lots of family fun!

Silent Sunday

1 November 2015

Weekly Roundup #9

30 October 2015

Dear friend,

This weekly roundup is really almost 2 weeks as the first week was our half term holiday. I was torn between wanting to rest and recuperate after a busy half term and our recent illnesses and not wanting to waste our days away doing nothing. I think we found a happy medium. Fun days at home, crafting, playing games and visiting the library and a museum day, beach walk with kite flying, indoor playground visit and a cinema trip. Wow I think we need another holiday now!

Family fun: Naturalis

26 October 2015

Dear friend,

We have been talking about visiting Naturalis for ages and finally got around to it during the half term holiday. Hubby took a day off and we had 2 free museum tickets from the post code lottery to use so what better way to spend a day? The natural history collection at Naturalis is the 5th largest in the world with over 37 million objects and it is right on our doorstep, in Leiden. 

The boys were excited to see Freek from the Dutch TV program; Freek's wild world but I was totally amazed at the sight that met us at the entrance. Nature's theatre: An exhibit of just about every species of animal and insect you can think of. It was totally amazing. The big lad and I spent ages finding the names of different animals and their countries of origin from the large catalogues of information displayed.

Next we headed down to where it all began the Primeval parade and took a look at the truly fantastic display of dinosaurs, prehistoric animals and their fossils. It fascinates me that these things are millions of years old, how privileged we are to be able to see them up close. But I don't think the boys really understand that yet.

The longest skeleton was that of the Camarasaurus, at 18 metres the head looks over the second floor. It was excavated in America and brought to Naturalis in 1996, where it was put together. The boys looked tiny next to it.
I was really impressed with how interested the boys were. The little man loved the information points and my big lad let me wax lyrical about fossils and how they were formed.

The Earth gallery has a huge rotating globe in the middle put together from satellite images. It is the very realistic and also the largest of it's kind in the world.

The Super senses  exhibition was the most fun. Here the boys were able to investigate how animals rely on their senses and how they are far more developed than our own. We got to smell, hear, taste, see and touch lots of cool things. The boys especially liked making monkey noises.

We loved the Dodo skeletons, what a rare find! My favourite exhibit was Triceratops live part of the Research in Progress exhibition, palaeontologists are currently at work in America recovering 3 possibly 4 Triceratops (1 young) that were found during the recovery of a T-Rex. The T-Rex is due to be displayed in 2016 but you can currently see part of a Triceratops skull. The Giant Japanese crab was also a sight to behold and the little man liked scaring mum with the bird eating spider and posing with the flying squirrel (or squirrel from Mario as he liked to call it).

What an amazing day and great value too at 9 euro per child (adults 12 euro). I would highly recommend it and we will definitely be making a return visit to see the new dinosaurs exhibition. 
Our Family fun, museum visit was a huge success! 
Don't you just love making memories with your kids?

Liked this post then check out more of my EXPAT series here.

Silent Sunday

25 October 2015

What makes me a woman?

21 October 2015

Dear Friend,

A while ago I wrote a piece about 'periods' and I was overwhelmed by the response the post got. Obviously this is a hot topic with many women suffering in silence. After several months of problems I had a procedure to try and alleviate some of my symptoms but unfortunately, it wasn't a total success. I have been offered an alternative; hysterectomy. 

I wasn't shocked, I had expected this outcome as I had done the unthinkable and completed my own research on the Internet (what on earth did people do pre-internet?) What I didn't expect was my reaction...
Will I still be a woman? 

feel a huge amount of shame for my self indulgent behavior. It's only a body part and one I won't need again so why am I so attached to it? 

I know my response is purely emotional...

I will be womb less. My ability to carry children will have gone. The place where I held my boys for nine months will no longer exist. It is intrinsically linked to my concept of motherhood. To letting go of probably the best period (no pun intended) of my life,  the end of my child bearing years and it has happened too soon, I am not ready for this yet. I am only 42, this happens to women in their 50's doesn't it?

Jessica Rabbit
Hubby's response to my panic was typically blunt; well if a man has a vasectomy does that mean he is no longer a man? Brilliant logic that can not be argued with of course. 

The stupid thing is that I don't actually want any more children. Our family is complete. But the fact that the option of more children will have been taken away, gone forever, unnerves me! I think I liked the idea that there was always a chance...

What is it that makes me a woman I don't honestly know! I don't want to go down the road of gender stereotypes (like Caitlin Jenner who in a recent Vanity fair article incurred the wrath of many feminist writers.) 

Unlike Jenner I don't think being a woman is about corseted breasts, high heels, make up, big hair and being emotional (e.g. Jessica Rabbit). My idea of being a woman is looking after your family, standing up for your rights, following your own path and never giving up on what you believe. 

Faced with the prospect of severe pain every month for possibly the next ten years or having a hysterectomy my choice is clear. I just need my heart to catch up with my brain.

What is your idea of being a woman?

Read more of my Hysterectomy diary...

Book corner: The little rabbit who liked to say MOO

20 October 2015

Dear friend,

I was invited to take part in the Love to read linky by the fabulous Angela over at Days in Bed. I was thrilled to be invited as this is right up my street. As a Primary School teacher I recognise the value and importance  of reading with your children. Reading and understanding language is central to learning.

We have a house full of children's books. This is especially important to me as my kids are growing up bilingual. Every trip back to the UK I buy more books and I am lucky to be able to borrow from my school library too. Hubby is not such a book worm so we make up for our lack of Dutch language books with trips to the library which luckily is at the end of our street.

Weekly Roundup #8

19 October 2015

Dear friend,

Welcome to my Weekly Roundup, a post where I like to share the ordinary moments that have made up our family time during the week. As a busy, working mum family, time is tight and this post allows me to focus on the little things that we do together that make our lives special.

This week we have succumbed to the bugs again. The big lad and I have both had throat infections then to add insult to injury I got an infected wisdom tooth (which needs removing) ouch! It's times like this (when you just want to curl up and die) that family time becomes even more important! I hope you enjoy this weeks post.

Silent Sunday

18 October 2015

Ways children torture their parents

14 October 2015

Dear friend,

Today whilst making lunch for my kids they sat playing on the Nintendo DS and the iPad. Yes I know screen time is the devil, bla, bla, bla. Anyway I digress. After about 5 minutes I snapped and screamed; which one of you is that? Turn the bloody sound down it is like a form of torture! 

If your kids have these things too then you’ll understand, the constant repetition of tinny techno music drives me totally insane. It climbs into my brain and blocks up my synapses so I just can't think!

But actually it did get me thinking. I could seriously sign my kids up for the FBI. Withholding information? My two will get any information out of the most hardened criminals in 2 minutes. In their short time on earth they have perfected the art of parental torture. 

Weekly Roundup #7

12 October 2015

Dear friend,

It is Monday so that must mean Weekly Roundup, a post where I like to share the ordinary moments that have made up our family time during the week. As a busy, working family, time is tight and this post allows me to focus on the little things that we do together that make our family times special. 

We have all been fighting the bugs this week at different times so it has been a little challenging and with hospital appointments, therapy, hubby decorating the attic bedroom etc time has been short.  I hope you enjoy this weeks post.

Silent Sunday

11 October 2015

Weekly Roundup #6.

5 October 2015

Dear friend,

It is Monday so that must mean Weekly Roundup, a post where I like to share the ordinary moments that have made up our family time during the week. As a busy, working family, time is tight and this post allows me to focus on the little things that we do together that make our family times special. I hope you enjoy this weeks post.

Our week at a glance

Photo of the week

4 October 2015

Taking a breather at the view point.  

The loving push!

30 September 2015

Dear Friend,

There was a lot of head scratching, hair pulling and teeth grinding before we made the decision to tell my big lad that he had autism. We took advice from people in the know and hubby and I talked it through and through and through... For quite some time we went with the "you have a busy body" explanation and it worked so why change? He began to say things like; I'm stupid, I'm rubbish and I wanted him to know that no he isn't. He is autistic.

At first he embraced it. Oh, that happens because I have autism. Yes, a break through. But... 

Big lad started to say stupid autism, I hate being autistic or they don't get that I'm autistic. Sometimes he is right, it is autism that is making his life difficult but...
He is clever enough to use his autism as an excuse too.

When I hear this negativity it is like finger nails down a blackboard to me. I want to scream; No!!!
Why is my reaction so strong? 

I don't want him to become his label!

In hindsight, had we made a mistake and introduced 'autism' too early? (A good intentioned mistake but a mistake non the less.) By handing him 'autism' had we also handed him an excuse and ultimately limited his behaviour?

Everyone is a genius but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing it is stupid. - Albert Einstein

Time for the experts to step in. The big lad began a course with a young therapist to discuss: Who am I. The intension was to give him a much more positive view of what being autistic means for him. This was very difficult for me as in all honesty I was also struggling to find positive aspects of Big lad being autistic. I needed to change my thinking too! 

Being autistic means my big lad is brilliant at:

  • Seeing the detail: lost ear ring, no problem, he can spot anything. 
  • Seeing things in a unique way.
  • Visual puzzles, logic puzzles, seeing the pattern.
  • Being totally honest! Want the truth ask big lad. He never lies.  
  • Remembering things. Amazing memory. Put on a CD and he knows which number he wants, he remembers facts, funny stories (especially ones you don't want to) and promises made. 
  • Smelling things. He knows what's for dinner before he gets downstairs. 
  • Keeping going! He is passionate and tenacious. Big lad never gives up.
  • Following the rules: He has a strong sense of what is right. He sticks to rules. 
  • Being Loyal. He is very loyal to his friends.
  • Forgiveness.

Having autism means you learn differently and think differently but so what?!  You can not blame all problems on autism. It is not an excuse! I want my son to know that he can do or be anything he sets his mind to on.

Temple Grandin and Debra Moore spread the message well in their book entitled the loving push. 

High-functioning autistic children learn differently, but they are capable of living independent, productive adult lives IF their parents and other caretakers lovingly push them to do so.

My big lad will not be defined by his autism. He will be defined by his love, his passions, his sense of humor, his loyalty and warmth, his amazing memory and his intelligence. I will continue to lovingly push him to achieve!

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