Photo story: Today my world turned orange!

27 April 2015

Dear friend,

It is the time of year when Holland turns orange. I love it! I love that the Dutch are unashamedly patriotic. I love seeing all the flags hanging. I love seeing everyone dressed up in orange; clothes, feather boas, deely boppers, hair and inflatable crowns. I love the orange cakes and cookies in the bakers (too much). The Dutch really know how to party and there is certainly something for everyone on King's day. 

When I enthusiastically announced the imminent arrival of Koningsdag to the boys, little man was filled with enthusiasm but big lad's response was lukewarm to say the least.

Oh no, not Koningsdag!

Ok, so I get why this day can be a nightmare for anyone with sensory issues. 

Crowds of people everywhere, noise, colour, more noise, more people, no space, no peace, talking, laughing, music, lights, new people, old people, strange people, more noise. 

We take Koningsdag slowly and in manageable bits. We have plenty of rests at home in-between the festivities. We stand on the outskirts of the crowd. We go at my big lad's pace. But we go! 

I do not want to limit the big lad's life experiences just because he has Autism. I think that it is important for him to lead a varied life and not to be isolated or withdrawn from his community! 

However, sensory issues aren't the real reason for his reticence. It is the free market...

Koningsdag always begins with a free market. It is an opportunity for children to offload all of their old, unplayed with toys, books etc on other children (for a small price) and most parents to despair at how much money they have wasted over the last few years on rubbish toys for their kids.

The big lad hates it! He does not want to let go of any of his toys! To an outsider this may seem like spoilt behaviour. But if I tell you he was unconsolable when the old, broken washing machine was taken away perhaps you will understand more. It was our machine. He liked it. He didn't want a new one. He doesn't want change!

Big lad's interests are few but extreme and his play is limited. I have tried everything to introduce more variety. We use picture cards, timers, rewards, rules etc but he still has too much screen time and we have cupboards filled with dusty toys. 

The first time I suggested that we sell some toys at the free market I wasn't prepared for his reaction. Total meltdown! There were his toys, his things, he liked them. Instead we took him to the market and bought more crap to sit unplayed with in our cupboards!

Last year I was sneaky. I took away some 'baby' toys in advance. On the morning I announced that the little man and I would be selling them and he could help if he wanted. Big lad reluctantly joined us. I won't lie there were some tears when the first item was sold. But once he realised the money was for him he began to get a taste for it. He even began overpricing items and haggled with some customers. 

I was so proud of my boy, interacting with other people (strangers) and they made enough money together to buy a new computer game. Happy boys and happy mummy!

This year my preparations started earlier. We sorted out the toys together and came up with a stash of things to sell. Including the much loved and much played with Thomas Trains, books, toy story figures and a few of little man's many cuddly toys. 

The weather was beautiful.
We were ready!

Some things we decided not to let go of in the end.

Someone got a little tired of selling. 

The boys needed a little rest.
Almost time for home. Not much left!

After all that hard work we deserved a treat!

No tears, no tantrums. Lots of interacting with others. 

A really successful morning.

Now the boys are looking forward to spending their money at the toy shop.

Oh well, more stuff for next year's free market.

Happy King's day everyone!

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

Photo of the week

26 April 2015


Life, death and autism. Helping your child cope with bereavement.

24 April 2015

Dear friend,

Having a child with autism has certainly taught me to be prepared. But can you ever really be prepared for someone's death? How do you explain death to a child with autism?

For a long time the big lad held the belief that all people died when they reached one hundred. I am not sure where that belief came from but I must admit that I didn't actually do very much to challenge it. Then something happened. My father was very sick and I had to return to England really quickly.

We explained this carefully to the big lad and he had only one simple, clear question.

Is grandad going to die?

Photo of the week

19 April 2015


Why I hate Birthday Parties!

17 April 2015

Dear friend,

Birthdays are a wonderful time. A day to celebrate, to feel special, to show people you care. Magic moments spent with family and friends. Balloons, bunting, presents and cake. In Holland birthdays are a huge deal, traditionally celebrated with a Dutch circle party.

Since having kids my love of birthday parties has turned to dread and fear. It is not family parties that fill me with dread but other children's.

What do you do when your child isn't included?

Every child is different. Not every child can be the popular one and as a teacher I get that.

I am not a helicopter mum, hovering around my children, organising play dates every day, pushing to make connections, to forge friendships. I want my kids to make their own way to choose their own friends. But as a mum I find it hard to see how anybody wouldn't love my little darling, wouldn't want to be their best friend, wouldn't want them at their party.

How do autistic children contend with party season?

Let us first dispel this myth that autistic people are loners who do not want friends.

For the big lad the opposite is true. He thinks that everyone is his friend. What a great attitude to have.

Trusting, open and unspoilt.

He organises his own play and often arrives home after school with a friend saying we want to hang out. But he is happy to play with his brother or to be alone and he tends to play with one good friend.

In hindsight, perhaps I should have been more proactive? Encouraged the big lad to invite more friends to play after school. Networked more with the mums. But as an expat learning the language, I find this difficult and life is busy... I work and the boys have swim lessons and therapy. Time is short!

There have been several reports in the news and on social media involving autistic children who have had disappointments on their birthdays. These have ended up good news stories with amazing, kind hearted people making the child's birthday one to remember, sports people, police and fire departments have even got in on the act. Amazing stories but...

Why can't we just support each other, why do we need the help of kind strangers? What has happened to our community?

I spend most of my time and energy advocating that my son is treated like everyone else, that he is included, accepted. Stories like this show me that we still have a long way to go!

We assume that people 'get it', understand the challenges faced by parents of special needs kids. But can any parent really understand how it feels to watch your child struggle to do the things that their child takes for granted? Whether that be, make friends, kick a ball, read, write a story or even speak.

Both my kids have had disappointments.

But when you have a child with autism the problem is exacerbated. It is simple he doesn't get invited to many things.

This week the big lad had a massive disappointment as someone that he considered a close friend didn't invite him to his party.

How do you help your child deal with the disappointment of rejection?

When the parents of the party giver are also 'friends' then it hits you hard!

It is more proof that autism awareness does not lead to Autism acceptance even among people you thought were friends.

I am beginning to hate birthday parties because for me they signify, disappointment, rejection, non-acceptance. It is a reminder that my child is different, that he doesn't quite fit in.

I only hope that, people begin to realise that being a friend to someone a little different can be amazing too!

Photo of the week

12 April 2015


Photo story: 25 reasons why it's super to be six!

8 April 2015 2231 Rijnsburg, Netherlands

Dear friend,

Time flies when you're having fun. 

I can't believe how quickly my boys are growing up.

I catch myself looking at my youngest son a lot at the moment and thinking how great it is to be six. He is teaching me so much as he seems to find fun and wonder in everything. 

Here are my 25 reasons why it's super to be six.

1. Your thumb tastes delicious.

2. Wearing dress up costumes is still ok.

3. You can cuddle up tight on someone's knee. 

4. Being carried to/from the car and up the stairs to bed.

5. You can sleep anywhere.


6. You love spinning around and feeling dizzy is fun.

7. You turn invisible hiding behind the curtains.

8. Father Christmas, the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy

9. Paddling in the sea then coming home in just your pants
     and daddy's enormous t-shirt.

10. Running, skipping and jumping everywhere.

11. Catching water drops on your tongue. 

12. Playing all afternoon in the tent. 

13. Picking things up with your toes.

14. Kisses make everything feel better.

15. Mummy knows everything.

16. A bed is an Olympic trampoline.

17. You're cute so can still get away with things.
          (Like wetting all your trousers in the sea!)

18. Tickles are the funniest things ever!

19. Bedtime stories with cuddles and sloppy kisses.

20. A cardboard box can be a space rocket, a train, an elephant...

21. You can hide anywhere!

22. Swimming in the bath. 

23. Climbing into bed with too many cuddly toys to count. 

24. You are still small enought to sit in the dogs basket. 

25. Your brother is your best friend! 

Photo of the week

5 April 2015


Losing teeth

3 April 2015

Dear friend,

This week we had a major event in our house. The big lad discovered a wobbly tooth!

As a teacher I have never underestimated the enormity of loosing teeth for children:

Everyone needs to hear what has happened and the tooth must be examined properly. It should be placed carefully into a tissue and wrapped in cello tape. Finally it should be set somewhere safe and handed over to the child at the end of the day. It must be treated like a special gift because don't forget, later this will be rested lovingly and excitedly under a pillow in readiness for the arrival of the tooth fairy.

Loosing teeth is one of life's key moments, a right of passage, a sign that our children are growing up. But what happens if the experience scares you, makes you feel unsafe?

I must admit, I love these parenting moments. The bits where you get to swoop in like super mummy and rescue the child in distress. You get to prove you're worthy of the role of mummy. Your child needs you!

But sometimes autism has a habit of interfering with my super mummy performance. It tends to throw in a few curved balls.

Our nana

2 April 2015

Dear friend,

When I learned that my nana was dying lots of memories started to tumble into my head and I started to write them down as I didn't want to forget anything. Then I read an excellent blog post by Hands free mama, The life of the party is closer than you think. It inspired me to write this eulogy for my beautiful, spirited Nana. Although this is deeply personal I have chosen to share it as I wanted you all to know what an amazing woman she was.
I was honoured to read this at her funeral.

Our nana. 

Glamour personified:  
never without your Jewellery, rouge or lipstick. 
A cloud of perfume. 
Kisses that smelled of pressed powder. 
And left a lasting lipstick mark. 
Hugs that enveloped you in their warmth and safety. 

You were the party... 

Sleep overs.  
Toffee making.  
Licking the bowl. 
Playing frustration. 
Watching the sullivans on TV. 
Flannels and Palmolive soap.
Tucked up tight in cotton sheets, clocks ticking loudly. 
Nana's magic bag: full of favourite things... 

You were the party... 

Queenie queenie who's got the ball. 
The colour green. 
The smell of fadgies. 
French fancies & battenburg cake.  
Never missing the icecream van. 
Feeding the dog grandad's chop and choc ices.  
Beer mats in shoe boxes and rubber collections kept in a biscuit tin. 

You were the party... 

Jumping on the bus. 
Trips to doggy market and Redcar. 
The club trip to Scarborough or Whitby.  
A plastic bag full of 2ps. 
Tea dances. 
Going down the club.  
Cigarettes kept in a floral purse.  
Housey books and dabber pens. 
Always sweating for one number. 
A pint with a half glass. 

You were the party... 

Late night telephone calls. 
Family Parties. 
Sing a longs. 
Hand written Letters with 5 pound notes hidden inside.  
An open Catherine Cookson novel.
Sunday mornings: Music playing loudly as you cooked the dinner.

You were the party... 

Popping in for a cuppa. 
"I'm in here cock!" 
Heating set to tropical. 
Tv volume on deafening. 
Videos for 50p. 
Family photos everywhere! 
Never forgetting the kids Pocket money.
Purses hid under the unit you had to get out with the fire fork! 
Offering everyone a glass of 'something' at 11.00. 

You were the party... 

What you lacked in stature  
You more than made up for in personality.  
Your energy and vitality shone. 
You taught all of us to live life to the full,
And enjoy every single minute.  

Always a twinkle in your eye!   

You were the party! 

Thank you, nana! 
Thank you for the fun and for the never ending love...

Forever in our hearts,
Catie, Gert & boys x

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