Pity The Parents Whose Boomerang Children Have Been Forced Back Home By COVID-19

One aspect of COVID-19 that is rarely mentioned on the news is the impact on families who – due to recent job losses – have had grown children return back home.

Some of you, I imagine, view the bounce back home of our Boomerang Generation as an opportunity to rebuild relationships, fatten them up and dry them out as one of the few advantages of this lurgy, but for others who have children like our second-born, Kurt, the predicament is a little more complicated.

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

Some of you might remember Kurt – our ADHD, larger-than-life adult, son from my earlier blog posts – because he was one of the main inspirations for this blog. He was the child who launched so many parenting curveballs at us on his journey through the teenage years that eventually – approximately one year and twenty-eight days ago – he left us no choice but to evict him for his and our safety and for the sake of our own mental health.

We didn’t evict him, really. Fortunately, around the same time we decided that the only course left open to us was to leave the country, our son decided that he’d had his fill of us as well, which made it a darn sight easier to convince him to that independent living was a blast.

Anyway… four moves later, after several fraught dealings with landlords, numerous police visits, a tenancy record, and a steep learning curve when it comes to budgeting, I will admit that the experiment has been an interesting, if not convincing one.

Suffice it to say, our boy gave it his best shot, but once the restrictions COVID-19 were enforced and he lost his job (in hospitality), it was impossible not to notice the deterioration in his mental health caused by his isolation with only four walls for company for the foreseeable future.

Kids like Kurt need to talk connection, which is why (like many families out there facing similar difficult choices at the moment) we’ve made the tricky one to bring him home. Emotional ramifications aside, he can’t realistically live on benefits and pay the high rent still expected by Sydney landlords during this virus – however generous the government has been – and from our own financial point-of-view, his rental offering will help us buy toilet roll should it ultimately find itself the black market.

He would agree that our renewed cohabitation is not an ideal solution, but he assures us that he is not the same boy who left home a year ago. Hence, new rules have been agreed, boundaries reinstated, and the lock has been taken off the bar.

Needless to say, it’s hard not to feel anxious about this change when some distance had improved our relationship with our son, but I am trying to stay positive. I’m endeavouring not to show my resentment at having to sacrifice my bedroom – our choice – in an attempt to maintain our sanity. Anyone who knows someone with ADHD will understand that some of them are huge personalities with a tendency to be nocturnal, so a relatively self-contained space of the house seemed like a sensible option.

And noise was a driving factor in our Kurt’s original decision to leave. Our son is naturally exuberant, musical, and (I can only assume) partially deaf – although unfortunately his musical knowledge does not seem to stretch to the term sotto voce. Added to which, he has inherited my father’s Chris Hemsworth baritone voice that gets louder whenever he is excited – which is often – like a puppy dog. By locking him down providing him with a self-contained room, the hope is that his nightly visits down our creaky stairs to raid the fridge, use the laundry, play guitar or to organise a rave for the neighbourhood kids should be restricted.

Inevitably, there have already been casualties: the dog has lost her leftovers; there are some mysterious new drink stains on the carpet; and the addition of a hideous pink velvet retro armchair to my Hamptons living area. There was also a skateboarding accident that in normal times should have received proper medical attention, a disastrous midnight head shave into a Mohican, and a noticeable twitch in my left eye each time I hear the theme tune to Endgame.

I love my son and I can see that Kurt is trying his best to behave like a normal human being, but for us sleep is probably the biggest issue caused by his return back home. It has meant that the old man and I have been forced to share the marital bed again, and while I have tried to put on a brave face about it – by justifying my stoicism as a necessity of this war – there is a limit to the number of times I can listen to him toss, turn and sniff in bed next to me without feeling the desire to stab him.

Educate your parents about COVID-19 – They may be stubborn old fools, but they’re stubborn old fools we want to keep in our lives for as long as we can

It’s been pretty appalling to hear the way some people dismiss the value of our elderly at the moment. This is what happens to equal rights in the face of a crisis. And while I understand the theory behind “survival of the fittest”, I’ll be the first to admit that it never crossed my mind that I’d experience the personal implications of it in my lifetime.

But worse is the sneaking suspicion that our parents and grandparents – many of whom survived world wars – aren’t taking this Coronavirus thing very seriously at all. Which means that while the majority of us are doing everything in our power to alleviate their risk, they’ve putting their own lives and ours in further jeopardy.

Only this morning as a threatening tribe of heaving shopping trollies (stacked to the ceiling with the sort of rations you would normally only associate with wartime) cornered me into the sweet section of the supermarket, an elderly lady tapped me on the back and pointed to my basket – containing tonic water and dog food because for this crisis I’ve got my priorities right.

‘It’s so surprising to see anyone still using a basket at the moment,’ she commented.

‘I suppose so,’ I replied vaguely, eager not to have to admit to my early morning raid of Aldi or to have an unnecessary conversation – that was definitely more than 1.5m apart – which might put her at risk from the light cold I’m still recovering from, (which is one of the downsides of working with children).

‘I’ve just come back from holiday and my children are worrying about me,’ she went on, as my brain imploded with the implications of this information. I put my hand over my mouth without thinking. ‘They told me not to leave the house. It’s quite ridiculous, isn’t it?’

‘Maybe,’ I replied, lying.

I mean, I get that there’s an admirable stoicism that comes from surviving wars, but it’s no excuse for naivety. We need to listen to what the experts are telling us. If we are to learn anything from Italy’s experience of the spread of this virus, that sort of “fight them on the beaches” bravado is not going to help lovely old ladies like this one when it takes down millions and she finds the value of her life measured against the life of someone half her age in the ER, is it?

Educate your parents. If you think you’re confused by the advice coming from the government and the media, imagine how they feel. Offer to do their shopping for them, visit them more to help alleviate the loneliness that self-isolation may cause, value their contribution to all of our lives.

We’ve reached a time in our lives where many of us are losing our parents to natural causes – and none of us have any control over that. But we can reduce their risk to the exposure of this virus. And while they may be stubborn old fools, they’re stubborn old fools we want to keep in our lives for as long as we can.

17 Signs Your Dog Is “A Princess”

Did I mention that WE’RE GOING TO HAWAII in a couple of weeks? Of course I did.

Three cute dogs sitting on their beds.

And, as you can imagine, it has been hard to contain the feverish excitement of the old man at the prospect of shopping in Honolulu, taking long, guided bus tours with complete strangers, and our first Luau.

But, like most parents, we’re experiencing the guilts about leaving our baby behind. We don’t have the boat, money or influence of Johnny Depp, and we hear that the Americans can be really quite scary when it comes to illegal immigration, so this time we are leaving her at home in the hands of a couple of baby…er… dog-sitters.

Note to self: remind aforementioned babysitters that “The Princess” doesn’t actually identify as a dog.

And because our dog isn’t any normal bone-chewing, butt-sniffing mutt, I envisage that the poor sods left in her charge will require some sort of book guide to her habits. She is, after all, a woman of a certain age, with special needs, who (suffice it to say) does not suffer fools easily. So, here’s some advice I’ve come up with so far:

  1. Sometimes, she eats breakfast, but more often than not she sniffs at the dog biscuits in her bowl in disgust and then death-stares you until you give her a treat.
  2. She has a part-time job as a door bell. If someone so much as breathes in the street, she becomes the true Rottweiler she was born to be – although she has also been known to sleep through several break-in attempts.
  3. Her favourite snacks are toast and Scotch fingers (preferably dunked in Lady Grey tea at 50 degrees). She will death stare you if you dare eat either of those without sharing.
  4. She is getting on in years now and has come to despise long walks. If she senses that a trek is on the cards – i.e. further than 2kms – she will tug on the lead in a type of doggie morse code to warn you to turn back. Such blatant abuse of her trust and freedom may trigger a depressive episode.
  5. Maintaining a body like hers requires a lot of water.
  6. “The Princess” likes to space her poos out on walks, to make the event more of a ritual. One log here, another a few metres on… She particularly likes to play this game when you are low on bags.
  7. Her two favourite meals are roast chicken and veggies (as in roast potatoes and nothing green, please) and Spaghetti Bolognese. She has excellent table manners and uses the living room rug afterwards as her napkin.
  8. Her preference in terms of sleeping arrangements is to sleep in the bed with you, in the foetal position, fur to skin, heartbeat to heartbeat. She will kick you intermittently to let you know that she is still alive.
  9. She does not tolerate other dogs, apart from fellow Spoodles. Any dog that gets too close to her rear end is dealt with appropriately. Interestingly, the same rule does not seem to apply to her own butt-hole inspections.
  10. She speaks three languages and is currently learning French from her parents’ latest Netflix obsession with foreign language series. Her favourite genre is Scandi Noir, and this is also her intended specialist subject for Mastermind.
  11. The highlight of her day – after any event that involves food – is to cuddle up on the sofa under her favourite blankie with Netflix and a glass of wine.
  12. She does not go outside in the rain, and during inclement weather she has been known to defy the age of her bladder and hang on for longer than one would believe is caninely possible.
  13. She is obsessed with balls – indeed, the word uses up five of her twenty-word vocabulary. Warning: she will jump off a cliff for a ball.
  14. Like most older women, she doesn’t tolerate idiots, doesn’t give too many fucks (unless food or plumbers are involved), and she has been known to suffer from the occasional mood swing. Her weekly visit to her therapist or a joint usually sorts this out.
  15. Common triggers: long walks, men, tradesmen, the vet, baths, the groomer, worming tablets, suitcases, Boris (the Maltese at no. 34).
  16. She is a homebody who does not cope well with transitions. She does a very believable impression of a dead dog attached to a lead when she is forced to do something she wants no part of.
  17. Vomit triggers: being in the car, homemade treats, any green vegetable, transitions, long walks, being left alone at home, staying with people she doesn’t know…

ENJOY!

There Is No Better Education In Love, Compassion And Empathy Than Having A Child With Special Needs

A few weeks ago we went to a fundraiser. It was a black tie event to raise money for the family of an old colleague of the old man’s whose son broke his neck and damaged his spinal cord in a freak rugby accident recently.

Alex Noble is their son’s name, and if anyone feels like funding a real cause, as opposed to other, less noble causes, please feel free – here is the link to his GoFundMe page.

At one point in the evening, Alex’s parents stood up on stage to tell us a little about his story, his progress, and their plans for the future – should they reach their target that night to secure the funds they need to renovate their house, meaning he can eventually come home.

“There’s not a lot of joy in my life right now, but there’s a lot of love,’ his mother said.

It was a comment that hit me hard, because albeit that in terms of bums on seats that night, there was a wonderful level of support in the room, as a mum who is also a part-time carer of an adult dependent, (as well as being a professional cynic), I did wonder how many guests would be there for the long-haul of Alex’s journey, once the glitter is swept away.

Many of the guests were close friends of the couple or friends of their son, so in some ways it felt almost voyeuristic to be there, to witness the pain and rawness caused by such a cruel twist of fate; to sense the fears that his family feel in terms of the uncertainty of Alex’s and their future.

When we plan our children, we never anticipate for one moment that things won’t work out like the parenting manuals told us they will, so I understand what Alex’s Mum was trying to say. I’ve felt that way many times with Kurt – because let’s not underestimate the devastation caused by mental illness or disability, either. Indeed, it was only a week before that I thought that we had lost our son?

Scratch the surface and there is heartache in every family. I can’t tell you the number of times people open up to me about siblings or relatives with mental health issues who have been hidden, the skeletons in their cupboards.

But Alex’s Mum was right about how adversity cultivates love. Because in return for the pain caused by our son’s neuro-diversity, we have been given an education in love, compassion and empathy, and we are better people for that. We are as proud of him as we are of NC – much to her horror. While his steps forward have been slower, they have been celebrated with the same enthusiasm as hers, and his progress has provided us with an invaluable insight into how society should be measuring success.

Admittedly, there have been times when there’s not been a lot of joy in caring for someone who may never get better, and I wouldn’t wish our experience or that of Alex and his parents on anyone. Before his accident, they would have been looking forward to the last chapter of their lives as independent once again, but the ramifications of his physical disability may be lifelong, and they will affect not only them, but his siblings, and possibly future generations of their family.

I’m glad that they feel loved and supported. I hate cliches, but shit like this does make you stronger, because you have no choice but to be strong. But as I said, there are hidden benefits to life’s knocks such as this. While they will have to reset their expectations of Alex, his milestones will be as meaningful as those of his siblings – if not more so. And though it may feel painful at the time, this tragedy will draw a line in the sand between their true friends and their fair weather friends, because they won’t have time for games.

But they will be tired all of the time and there will be days when they feel like they can’t go on and will question why me? So I suppose what I really want to say to all those parents battling through each day with kids with disabilities or dependencies, is that your joy may well be diminished, but like a flower in summer, your heart will be opened to maximum capacity.

The Meaning Of Life: And Why People Who Live In Hot Countries Suffer From Depression Too

Kurt experienced a few personal setbacks a few weeks ago and because I know that many of you follow this blog because you too have young adults who struggle, I thought I’d take you through what we’ve learned from it. Obviously, I won’t go into precise detail about what happened, but suffice it to say that after more than a year of giant leaps towards a balanced, happier life, his world came crashing down around him and he felt unable to cope.

Man looking out onto world.
Photo by Larisa Birta on Unsplash

We’ve all been there – those parts of growing up when it feels like life is conspiring against us, leaving us no way out. But it’s worse when you have a disability and the lack of a good emotional skill set and resilience to cope with it.

His cry for help coincided with my first day in a new position at work – a position that I know is within my field of expertise, even though my anxiety consistently tells me that I can’t do it – so, needless to say, I was already in an emotional tail spin that morning when he started calling me. In hindsight, I think that I may have over-reacted to the situation.

My therapist tells me that anxiety can be contagious in some families, like a chemical reaction, where the molecules keep bouncing against each other, escalating it. Apologies for my simplistic interpretation but I never took Chemistry seriously at school. However, I did manage to stop my eyes glazing over as she was explaining what she obviously believed was a useful analogy to me. And I know that I use this expression all of the time in this blog, but sometimes it really does feel (for a lot of us) as though we will never get our shit together and that life takes some perverse enjoyment out of kicking at us when we’re already on the ground. Fortunately for us oldies, though, maturity and experience help remind us in those moments that we will (most likely) get back up on the damned horse, whereas Kurt is still young. He has yet to understand the difference a year, a day, or even an hour can make to how he is feeling in that moment, or how different those areas of his life that he struggles with today may look in ten years time.

When you’ve been misunderstood and had to fight for acceptance for most of your short life, resilience is hard to build.

However, a week on, I am happy to report that he is in a very different headspace. In fact, a few nights ago the family got together for dinner – Waltons-style (not quite) – I watched the light return to his eyes as he held court at the dining table, and it was almost impossible to believe that this was the same, broken young man from the week before.

Watch any documentary or reality show on the topic of depression or suicide ideation and you will see that most people regret their attempt if they survive to be given a second chance at this crazy thing called life.

We live in a crazy world, and not even maturity hands over all the answers to our reasons for being here. So it’s understandable for an over-thinking twenty-two-year-old, whose brain is still developing, to lose his way; to question if the pressure and suffering are really worth it, and (perhaps, more importantly), why the shit seems to be dealt out so disproportionately.

Hence, the rise in mental health issues in our youth.

I constantly question what we can change for this boy of ours to help him believe that overall the good outweighs the bad. That is the problem with depression – it is not something that you can fix by throwing money at it. On paper, Kurt has everything he should need to be happy. He has family support, a job and that sort of energising personality that Robin Williams had. ie. a convincing mask.

When the old man and I watched Chernobyl this week, I found myself looking at the bleakness of the Russian landscape in disbelief, wondering how any population could enjoy their lives beneath the heaviness of those grey skies and such an unforgiving political regime – let alone a dodgy nuclear reactor – and I decided that it is because they have known no different. But I was wrong. Happiness doesn’t come from the tangible stuff in our lives. It has less to do with blue skies and much more to do with living in a supportive community and having friends. It’s why the poorest in Africa and India are still happy. Seriously, Indian people are the most rounded, happy people I’ve ever met.

Blue skies help, but people who live in hot countries suffer from depression as well.

I keep telling Kurt that dealing with life’s crap makes you more resilient, even though I’m still trying to convince myself. I’m not comfortable using “stronger” in this instance – there are many days when I feel far from strong, but I hope that he builds the resilience to hang in there long enough to experience the good bits about this world. Ie. the myriad of wonderful relationships and experiences that are within his grasp if he allows his stars to align. But then that does require a certain level of positivity, hence the Catch 22 fuckery of my parental wisdom.

I suppose that the real crux of the matter when it comes to the meaning of life is that, in truth, there is no real alternative.

It Wasn’t The Lack Of Compassion That Hurt, It Was The Lack Of Understanding about Mental Illness and Addiction

I had been feeling upbeat over the past few weeks, ahead of our run for breast cancer – which we nailed by the way, raising in excess of $800 for research. And then I stumbled upon a FB share of an old article of mine that was published by News.com last year.

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

As a writer of contentious topics (for some) – ADHD, feminism, inequality, mental health – I realise that I put myself in a glass house when one of my articles is published, and I have learned not to read comments from trolls.

This particular article was a highly personal piece about Kurt, detailing his struggles with his mental health, and my reasons for coming full circle on my views about cannabis legalisation. It was an opinion piece – hence, bait for comment and constructive criticism – to which I am always open.

However, many of the comments were not constructive. They were subjective – targeted directly at me as the author and mother. They laid the blame for Kurt’s issues squarely at my feet, and it was that lack of understanding about mental health and addiction that hurt the most – even more than their lack of compassion.

It was a slap in the face to realise that in spite of the attempts of fantastic organizations such as Lifeline and Headspace and various media outlets to improve awareness about mental illness, (as well as the increasing numbers of kids that are taking their own lives), that many people still believe that kids with mental health issues deserve no support, and should even be punished for not towing the societal line.

I am used to being held responsible for Kurt’s choices. Sadly, blame starts with the parents when it comes to ADHD, although there has been a gradual shift in attitude in recent years, thanks in part to the increasing acknowledgement and support of the condition by world governments.

And I can (sort of) see why. A child with impulse control or oppositional issues can look like a monster when you peer in from the outside. However, that refusal to show compassion or to probe more deeply into understanding the condition is why so many of these kids end up being bullied, isolated and rejected, leading to depression, self-harm, OCD and self-medication.

When it comes to inclusion, attitude is the biggest problem we face. But trust me when I tell you that any child with mental health issues who self-mutilates or lines up pills on the carpet is not “attention-seeking” (by our common acceptance of the term). They are seeking attention for help.

Beyond the public condemnation, perhaps the hardest part of the journey for parents or carers is the lack of support, the sense of isolation and the self-blame. That’s why I wrote that article. For others out there, like us, going through what we did and feeling alone.

It has taken years for me to come to terms with the fact that I am not to blame for Kurt’s struggles.

Sure, if I had my time again I would handle some things differently, but I know that no child could have been loved more. We raised our kids identically. We put the same boundaries in place that we did for NC, and like any normal teenager, she tested those boundaries. The difference was, NC was able to distinguish which of her strikes for independence were worth the consequences – unlike Kurt, who was encumbered by poor impulse control.

I try to give people the benefit of the doubt – at the very least until I have all the facts or I have met them personally. Rather than judging a book by its cover or from local gossip, I arm myself with as much information as I can before I draw my conclusions. When did we stop doing that as a society? When did we decide that it was acceptable behaviour to take a pop at someone for our own entertainment?

Surely, there can be no excuse for ignorance when we have access to information at our fingertips?

Social media has made it easy to bully without consequences and I fear that we are losing our sense of compassion. So before you jump right in with your heart rather than your head, remember that there is a real person at the other end of posts or comments, who is often motivated by doing good. That person has a heart and possibly a full wardrobe of skeletons that you know nothing about.

Mothers: Admit It, We Never Stop Worrying About Our Kids

Mothers, be careful with those little comments you drop into the conversation each time you see your adult kids (who have left home) and look like they haven’t eaten a square meal that month.

You know the type – How much fruit are you eating? ARE YOU EATING? You’re looking a bit pale, or How firm are your stools? The type that all of us mums just can’t help ourselves from asking.

Well, take my advice and shut the f..ck up, because those comments could come back to haunt you. Such is my fate since I foolishly peered into my son’s fridge and made an innocent comment about his beer diet.

‘Well, I was thinking…’ he replied the other night when he came around to ours for what looked like his first feed this month, (having obviously decided that this was the perfect window of opportunity for some long overdue Mum -manipulation), “that maybe you could deliver me a care package, once a week, for those difficult days leading up to pay day?’

‘What does a care package entail?’ I asked naively.

‘You know…a batch of Shepherd’s Pie, Bubble and Squeak – I’ll even eat your Lasagne if I have to. Something I can knock up easily myself…’ Ie. In his frying pan, which happens to be the only pan in his unit.

‘Perhaps you need to learn some money management,’ I replied wryly, fully aware of how he prioritises the half of his earnings that don’t go on rent.

‘Perhaps you need to remember that you were young once too,’ he reminded me with that twinkle in his eye that he knows makes me melt at the knees.

And he has got a point. I spent a considerable part of my twenties on the Marlboro and hot chip diet, and it’s not like I’ve got anything better to do in between my three jobs and nagging my husband (!). Of course I can sacrifice a few hours a week slaving away in the kitchen to make sure that my twenty-one year old little boy doesn’t waste away.

But just putting this out there – no one bought me care packages.

So, anyway, call me a “Sad-Fuck-Of-A-Helicopter-Parent, but three Shepherds Pies were dutifully delivered to the next suburb on Saturday afternoon, along with step-by-step instructions for how to heat them up. Of course, the old man refused to have any part of what he calls my “pathetic enabling”, although he did mention that if there were any leftovers, he’d have one instead of salmon on our next fish night.

‘Where are my care packages,’ NC grumbled in a text when she sniffed signs of sibling favouritism from the city.

And so, it appears that the old man was right about one thing and wrong about another. He was wrong when he told me that no one really likes my home cooking – as was the dead fox outside our bins all those years ago that I have been reminded about after every one of my cooking fails. But he has been right all of those millions of times when he has said that I will never stop worrying about our kids.

Whereas, he appears to be coping quite admirably.

9 Reasons Why Empty-Nesting Is So Much Better Than I Expected

Since Kurt left home – the last of our young adults to leave the nest – friends keep asking us how we are coping with our loss, how much we miss him, and whether we’ll get another dog?

Black and white image of young man looking to view of city.
Photo by Caleb George on Unsplash

And my diplomatic answer is a resounding YES – of course, I miss him terribly. The house isn’t quite the same without his raw energy, and I still feel that pull on my heartstrings whenever I notice something he left behind; or that queasiness in my stomach when he doesn’t pick up my calls or return my texts.

But I can’t lie – it is also quite liberating not to have that pile of twenty or so extra towels to wash each week; it is much easier to sleep without earplugs; and I have found this wonderful new window of opportunity of approximately two hours each week when I don’t have to replace toilet rolls.

Most of all, I don’t miss the silent judgment of healthier-than-thou mums in the supermarket as they glance at the Kurt-food in my trolley.

In truth, the old man and are having the time of our life. And while I know that some of you experienced empty-nesters out there will wince at that rather self-centered admission – and I am prepared for those times when I sit down and sob over a guitar pic I discover under the sofa or the hidden box of dinosaur nuggets in the freezer – here are my reasons for it:

  1. Our relationship is better with him now. Luckily for us, he appears to have forgiven us for fucking him up, and, even more amazingly, he appears to want to stay in our lives. We spend short bursts of “quality” time with him now, rather than extended “nagging” time.
  2. The house is really clean and tidy. It’s not that he was a grub – but, well… you know how intolerant you become in middle age about empty glasses left around the house, clothes drying on the back of your favorite chairs, and (did I mention?) permanently empty toilet roll holders. The old man also doesn’t miss Kurt’s free access to his wardrobe, either, and the daily search for a pair of clean socks.
  3. SOME of the anxiety linked to our responsibility to turn him into a responsible adult has gone, along with that albatross around our necks of having to be his role-model all of the time. We can get pissed as farts, watch porn and swear at each other with gay abandon. Hell! We could even smoke weed if we wanted to – strictly for medicinal reasons, obvs. We remain delightfully ignorant of the ingenious ways our child is sticking up his middle finger at society now – hence we are sleeping better. We don’t wake up to the stress of getting him out of bed to go to school or work – he is managing that by himself now – and quite honestly, I hadn’t realized how exhausting “enabling” him was, or what pathetically easy pushovers we were.
  4. Our food shop has halved, which means it takes me about fifteen minutes to zip around Aldi. It also means that with spare dollars to spare, I can sneak into Woollies now and then. The best part is that we can eat what we want!
  5. We can walk around the house in whatever state of deshabille we want. There’s no need to lock doors when we’re in the bathroom. There are no more screams of disgust at the sight of our old, sagging bodies, and best of all, we can nap in the afternoon – without someone prodding us to check if we’re still breathing or what’s for dinner.
  6. We can eat out in nice restaurants again now without having to consider fussy palates or the cost of paying for four adults. We can go out later – after the babies and toddlers have gone home to bed.
  7. The silence is golden. No door-slamming, rapping or sibling arguments.
  8. Our wine and beer stash has a longer lifestyle, as does the loose change in my purse.
  9. We don’t argue about the kids as much or judge each other for how we parent them. We have assumed roles for who deals with which issue when they call – the old man deals with money, while I share my limited advice about cooking and how often to clean sheets – which has always been NEVER unless someone is coming to stay.

This period feels eerily like that rose-tinted stage of parenting right after I gave birth. It is similar to that sense of euphoria I felt as I looked down at the faces of my newborns for the first time and felt so damn grateful and proud that I had got through it. Just before I remembered that the thing in my arms was real and that I couldn’t hand them back when it got too tough or if I changed my mind.

Empty-Nesting: You Know When It Is Time…

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

The old man and I became empty-nesters this week. Kurt has left the building.

I swear he wasn’t pushed. We view our negotiations as closer to a manipulation that made sense – primarily, for him. Not once did we bring up the subject of our sanity in the conversation.

Anyone who has twenty-something-year-old kids still living at home will know that there comes a time. A time when the kids need their space to grow, go wild and make their own mistakes. A time when you need your sleep.

It’s one thing to offer them a roof over their head while they are studying – to improve their career chances – but it’s another to sacrifice your peace when they are in the workforce, with far more disposable income than you’ve had in a very long time, and living the rowdy lifestyle that goes with it.

We have tried to make living together work over the past year – honestly! In some ways, Kurt has tried harder than us, and yet no amount of nagging will make the twenty-one-year-old brain of our son think along the same lines as our fifty-something-year-old brains.

Particularly, an ADHD brain – which I can vouch for because I was that kid that smoked the butts of cigarettes at five in the morning, hitch-hiked across Europe, and strolling into work straight from nightclubs. Needless to say, “the crazy” hasn’t fallen far from the tree in our house.

Fortunately for my father, my period of existentialism happened away from home, with no one to nag me about noise, how often I ate, or the dreaded R-word (responsibility) every five minutes, like a stuck record.

I swear that the word will always be a trigger in Kurt’s life.

I have no idea how long this amazing strike for independence will last. Forever, I hope – for his sake – even though my heart physically hurts when I think about my loss. For all his noise, for all those visits to the police station and suspensions from school, I will miss our boy.

Like any child, he has made an indelible mark on my heart. But in his case I have shared his struggles so viscerally – struggles that have mirrored mine many times – so his departure almost feels as though a part of me is leaving with him.

But this decision is not about me.

When our daughter left, I knew that she was ready. Kurt’s departure is different – he needs to go. For him, for us; perhaps most importantly, for the future of our relationship with him.

I would be proud to say that raising my son has made me a better person, and yet I’ve never pretended to be that “perfect,” selfless stereotype of the mum of the kid with special needs who rose to the challenge. Our journey has been a tough one, and there have been times when I have resented his “different” dynamic in what should have been an ordinary life. ADHD is not an easy condition to live with – for neither the sufferer nor the carer – and it can have a devastating impact on close relationships.

But what I will say is that my son’s presence in my life has made me more conscious of “difference,” and the difficulties of those people that have a “different” brain, who struggle in a society not customized to their needs, that continues to deny their disabilities, and to fall by the wayside. Being Kurt’s mother has made me less discriminatory and an advocate for people like him – work that I am proud of.

Am I more patient? No. But then, this stage of my life is probably not the best time to be judged by my patience levels.

Our boy has only moved up the road, which means that he can pop back, anytime – which he did last night at 1.30am, in search of a clean towel – and we can reach his new unit within five minutes if he needs us. Nevertheless, the three of us know that we need this time. We need time to heal, time to forget the scarring judgments spoken in anger, to repair, and to breathe freely again. We need time apart to remind ourselves of how much we love each other. The old man and I have more than twenty years of sleep to catch up on.

A year ago, I would never have believed that this day would come. A year ago, it felt like a fantasy to think that one day Kurt would hold down a job. A year ago, we feared for our son’s life, or that he might remain fully dependent upon us for the rest of ours.

In those darkest moments, hope and survival are sometimes the only things to hold onto, and one of life’s greatest gifts is the element of surprise. Always remember the healing power of time and its ability to scaffold forgiveness, change circumstances, and people. We are so proud of where Kurt is right now.

Friends, whose kids have already left the family home, have assured me that their relationships with their kids improved once they decamped. And while my relationship with Kurt has always been complicated – intense, symbiotic, and unhealthily enabling at times – I know that deep down both of us need this move to work. Little has remained left unsaid in our relationship. We know each other inside out – for better or for worse – so we know what we mean to each other.

Nevertheless, it is time for our chick to fly.

And The Progress Prize For Best Father This Father’s Day Goes To…

conner-baker-480775-unsplashI’d like to say an early “Happy Fathers Day” to all those men for whom fatherhood hasn’t been quite what they expected, perhaps due to their own issues, the pressures of “toxic masculinity”, or perhaps because, (as in the old man’s case), they produced a square peg.

First of all, I should probably justify my use of “toxic masculinity” in this context, which The Good Man Project defines as: ‘the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away,’ because I want to make sure that you don’t think that this is another attack on men. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Rather, it is an explanation for why some men struggle with relationships, aggression, depression and even suicide, because of the expectations leveled at them by society. It is why videos of tearful men cuddling newborns and greeting their dogs after long periods apart make women weak at the knees; it is why videos of sons coming out to accepting fathers are the best.

Margaret Mead said that “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think,” which (I believe) highlights the fine line between advising and judging our kids’ choices, as parents. We have to guide rather than direct. We have to be their consultants.

And let’s be honest, for some parents that’s easier than for others. While some parents rise to the challenge of a kid that is not textbook and who refuses to listen to a darn thing you say, some fall face down in the mud for a while before they get back up – like the old man has, in his struggle to accept Kurt’s unbridled passion for life and magnetic attraction to trouble.

That’s why I’m nominating him for a “progress prize” on Fathers Day this year.

It’s a sort of apology for all the times I used him as a boxing bag for my fears about our son or ignored his input because I was scared.

It hasn’t been easy for the son of a middle-class, ‘normie’ family (as Kurt describes neurotypicals), who was brought up in a traditional, white-picket-fence environment and for whom a crisis was when one of the boys kicked a ball over the neighbor’s fence and someone had to retrieve it. Parenting this larger-than-life son, who has turned every one of his old-fashioned values on their head, spat in the face of just about every law and convention ever created, and defied every parenting strategy, has been a learning curve for this mild-mannered man who can’t even book a table at a restaurant. It has probably taken the full twenty-one years of Kurt’s life for the old man to reach a full acceptance of him, as well as taking twenty-one years off his own; but he has been there, he has stayed the course.

There have been altercations – many vocal, some of them physical – and visits to the police together. He has been roadie, banker, and advisor to a child that has pushed him to the brink of his patience in his attempts (mostly futile) to knock some sense into educate our boy – and let me draw your attention  once again here to the fallacy that we are only given the stuff we can handle – and yet, while Kurt may not be the child either of us envisaged, I truly believe that one day the old man will thank him one day – if for no other reason than the shitload of content he has provided him with for dinner parties.

Parenting is the greatest and most arduous of journeys. It provides an education like no other and at times it is far from plain sailing. Our journey has been a rocky one, with lots of motion sickness along the way, and yet finally, I can see dry land on the horizon, and the old man helped get us there.

 

I Must Thank My Son For His Mental Illness

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The boy turned twenty-one last week, and while part of me wants to scream and holler with excitement, pride, and relief, the other part wants to sit in a corner, rocking and licking my wounds.

Many of you will be familiar with our journey with Kurt, our son. It was one of the reasons I began to write this blog, and I suspect that some of you follow it because you too have kids with mental health problems. You’ll also know that life with them is not what you signed up for, not by any parenting manual standard.

Some people say that parenting brings out the best in you and there have been times, particularly over the past six years, when I’ve wanted to rip that statement apart, over-analyze it with a few bottles of wine and then say “Fuck You!” because parenting is hard, and because there have been so many times when I have hated the person it has turned me into.

Before I had kids, I believed that being a parent was something I was born to do, and I made the assumption that I would be good at it. That naivety and arrogance have made the past twenty-one years feel like a very long and hard road at times, with its highs and lows, the steps forward and backward, the silent condemnation, and then more steps backward.

I’m not seeking pity or consolation. This is my honest acceptance of some responsibility for our journey, because perhaps if we’d done certain things differently, the outcomes might have changed. But we were amateurs at this parenting lark, carrying baggage from the past and the false expectations of others. And we’ve made it. We’re not out of the woods, but we can see the lights of the pub at the end of the road as we approach the start of the next phase of his life and the signs are that phase horribilis is drawing to a close.

My son is officially an adult, and as I draw the curtains on the past few years, I owe it to him to thank him.

I must thank him for shredding my heart strings and teaching me how vulnerable all of us can be – for which there’s nothing to be ashamed of – and for showing me how strong we can be when needed. This experience has opened my eyes. I have learned and grown from it more than from any other experience in my life and it has inspired me to write, develop compassion, get to know people before I judge them, and to form a concrete understanding of difference, unconditional love, and mental health that I will take with me into every other decision I make. 

This experience has shined a glaring light on what I see now was confusion in my younger years about what really matters.

Some God said that we are only given the stuff we can handle, and there have been times over the past decade when I was certain that I couldn’t handle being my son’s parent – or even why I should. You can lose sight of who you are when you have kids, and when you become the parent of a kid with special needs or a maverick, (or in our case ‘that kid’), there are times when you feel resentful about your needs being usurped by theirs. Instead of triumphs and awards, you get calls from school, the police, and the parents of other kids, and the pressure to keep pretending to be a professional at work (when your home life is falling apart) requires your finest thespian skills.

Not all of us are Mother Theresa types, with their long grey hair, premature lines, and a forgiveness in their heart for whatever shit life throws at them. Some of us lie in bed at night feeling broken, rallying against the unfairness of it all, thinking ‘why me?’

No one could have loved my son more than I have, and yet it’s hard not to think about how he might have fared with parents that were more liberal, or less anxious people than us; who might have come to the party with fewer middle-class expectations and ill-informed judgments. Poor kid. Although with fewer boundaries, who’s to say how he would have turned out.

As a parent, you can only follow your heart and do what you think is right.

At seven, I never thought my son would read and write; at twelve, I never thought he would have any friends; at sixteen, I thought he would kill himself; at eighteen, I thought he would end up in prison; and at twenty-one, I am still worrying – because what mother ever stops worrying about their kids?

But I am so proud of this young man. He has fought his own demons to stay here with us when others have given in, and with his fiery temper and big heart, his abounding energy and gentleness, his optimism in the face of constant rejection and his childish vulnerability, he has shaped me into who I am now – a better person.

And like every mother, I believe that he will go on to do great things – in his own time, (because Kurt has only ever done things in his own time). And I don’t mean GREAT things, necessarily,  I mean that he will do something extraordinary that is unlikely to fit squarely with society’s view of what is great; yet somehow, I have a feeling that it will be memorable.

 

The Sins Of The Mothers

In view of Mothers Day in the UK yesterday, I thought I’d tell you about a funny little conversation I had with my son last week. For those of you with younger kids, be warned that like me you will reach a point with your almost-adult kids – usually at the end of  seven years of testosterone-fuelled silence with boys – when they believe they have a right to use the limited wisdom they’ve acquired in their twenty years, to judge your choices and more poignantly, your parenting skills.

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And let me assure you, it’s too soon.

 

I mean, I’m glad that my son feels he can reach out and share the disappointments of his young life with me. I assume that means we’ve forged some bond, (although with his ADHD, saying what he thinks has rarely been a problem), that he is comfortable about airing his views about the not so finer points of our journey together. But what I know – and what he has yet to find out, (and when he does I will be thousands of miles in a world of silence in a nunnery in India), is that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to parenting.

 

And I have learned from our time together – and unless I become one of those fifty-three-year-old women that fall pregnant in menopause because I haven’t been punished enough – the wisdom I will take away from him is not to try and mold our kids into our expectations, not to catastrophise too much about their refusal to conform. I would also recommend making friends with the local policeman, hiding the car keys once they have their license and access to Valium at all times.

 

We were in the car the other day, unusually only one row down about where exactly he is going with his life, when out of blue, he turned to me and said, ‘Remember when you changed the pin on the Disney channel, Mum? I’ve gotta tell you, that was badass. That scarred me.’

 

‘Well, you were becoming like those Disney brats with your whatevers every time I asked you to do anything – like go to school.’

 

‘You mean, you made me the victim of your own anxiety about bringing up a brat?’

 

‘Maybe…,’ I said, ‘Anyway, changing the pin didn’t work, did it?’ I said with a cheeky grin.

 

‘No, but it made me hate you for a really long time. A boy needs his daily dose of Hannah Montana,’ he said with a wink.

 

‘Mylie has a lot to answer for then.’

 

And I lectured him reminded him about how none of us parents really know what the fuck we’re doing most of the time, and while it definitely would have been a smoother ride if I’d had a textbook Dr. Spock kid, the rules of parenting keep changing anyway. (Although it never gets easier – I’ve lost count the number of times my fifty-something friends and I have spotted the toddler tantrum in the Coles cereal aisle and been forced to abort our Pods mission).

 

My parents didn’t have to worry about the influence of The Prince of Bel Air or that their daughter would think killing people on Grand Theft Auto (while they believed I was at school) outstripped education on every level. And in the same way that I look back and think my parents had it easier – because in the seventies you could put your needs ahead of your kids and you didn’t have parenting psycho-babble bullshit pushed in your face each day – my kids will probably say the same thing each time they dump the grandkids on me in the future and do a runner.

 

‘Yeah, remember how you hid my PS controllers as well?’ Kurt went on, obviously really bitter.

 

‘And how did that fuck you up, exactly?’

 

‘Lets just say I wasted a lot of time hunting through your cupboards, finding shit I didn’t need to find at age of eleven – if you know what I’m saying,’ he said, eyeballing me. ‘That was pretty scarring.’ I was forced to look away.

 

‘Well, that was a pre-meditated life lesson?’ I lied. ‘In a perverse way, my anxiety about you getting Carpal Tunnel Syndrome by the age of twenty taught you not to invade the privacy of others. How is your thumb, by the way?’

 

‘We both know that’s not why you did it, Mum,’ he said. ‘You did it to be mean. It was a power trip. But do you think any of that shit actually worked?’

 

‘Probably not,’ I said, ‘but it felt really good at the time.’

 

 

 

Why Every Parent Should Watch Lady Bird

Described by Empire as ‘A coming-of-age story like no other, Lady Bird is smart, emotional, funny and completely original. Rarely has a directorial debut been so assured, so singular and so heartwarmingly affecting,’ the movie Lady Bird has been critically acclaimed worldwide, and as a sucker for any movie that offers the secret to parenting, it was a must-see for me.

The best part about Lady Bird is the lightbulb moment as you leave the cinema that there aren’t really any secrets to parenting. The truth is, every parent and every child comes from the lucky dip of genealogy and we all end up just doing the best we can.

Every parent of teenagers needs to go straight to the movies to watch this movie. I’m not saying it’s the best film I’ve seen this year, but if you are in denial about what really goes on in the head of your soon-to-be adult child, it offers a formidable apprenticeship.

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to learn the truth that love isn’t always enough – not without communication or being able to put yourself in each other’s shoes.

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to better understand the limitations of the young, under-developed brain, packed full of dreams and hope and so often at war with the older, bitter brains acquired through life’s experiences. It’s not rocket science, but perhaps our kids aren’t always being intentionally difficult; maybe they’re simply looking at life through their own lens. 

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to understand that however hard they make our lives, it is wrong to destroy the dreams of our children; we mustn’t infect them with the poison of our own lives and our anxieties, and nor should we push our own expectations on to them, borne of our own failures.

As a child psychologist once told me: Be consultant, rather than judge.

Every parent should watch Lady Bird to appreciate the struggles young people face today – the pressures of social media, mental illness, shootings, hazing – stuff that we didn’t have to deal with, that may contribute to that entitled or narcissistic label. Their goals aren’t the same as ours – and that is progress. The world is different to the one we grew up in, and if their challenges are important to them, we need to take them seriously.

Everyone should watch Lady Bird because it may not have the artistic depth of a film such as Call Me By My Name – my favorite film this year, with one of the most emotive father/son scenes I’ve ever sobbed my way through – but it is an authentic and honest portrayal of real lives that will resonate with most parents. Spoiler: Any of you of a blubbing disposition will need tissues for the scene where the mum drives away from the airport.

Fact:

Sometimes we say terrible, abusive things to our kids because we’re tired, hormonal or under stresses that they know nothing about; nor should they know about.

Sometimes we swear at them.

Often, we cry over them.

Parenting can be a mind-fuck that pushes the limitations of even the patron saints of parenting among us. It can be heart and gut-wrenching. The clever way it exposes our vulnerabilities is terrifying. Who hasn’t raged at a toddler? Who hasn’t threatened to kick their child out of home? And Lady Bird highlights the parts of the job that aren’t sugarcoated: parenting when we’re unemployed, sick, depressed, or your relationship is breaking down. But it also shines a light on the really good bits that you can miss if you blink too quickly, that are often borne of those tough parts.

Why Won’t Our Kids Let Us Mold Them Into Who We Want Them To Be?

 

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“You will find as your children grow up that as a rule, your children are a bitter disappointment – their greatest object being to do precisely what their parents do not wish and have anxiously tried to prevent.”

 

“Often when children have been less watched and less taken care of – the better they turn out! This is inexplicable and very annoying!”

 

(The words of Queen Victoria, taken from History Extra – author Denys Blakeway)

 

Queen Victoria was a lucky woman, for, in spite of having nine kids, she only saw them when she felt like it or had to as a PR exercise. I’ve been glued to series 2 of the same name over the past week because the queen’s fetish for getting pregnant is all the more impressive when you find out how little maternal instinct she possessed. She also had a son like Kurt – Bertie – who ended up being a decent King, which means there is hope.

 

If indeed, it was easy-peasy to raise children, child psychologists and writers of those lying, fucking parenting bibles, would be out of a job. And if Queen Victoria can have one of those kids, what hope is there really for the rest of us? While the old man and I plod along (what should be) the home stretch of parenting, astoundingly we are still confronted by those occasions when like Queen Vic, I would prefer not to do this job at all, and the other night was one of those.

 

Some of you might have picked up my leaning towards being a bit of a control freak, worry-guts and helicopter parent, and that night was one of those that I’m sure will resonate with most parents of teenagers. Tossing and turning in bed, praying that my son would return home safely; promising God a lifetime of attendance at church if only he took care of him; and then as soon as I heard his key turn in the door, I was down the stairs like a crazy woman, berating him for his selfishness.

 

Such nights are less common now that NC has abandoned us and Kurt has survived his teens. Either the sleep medication really does work, or somewhere in my sub-conscience, I have accepted that my children may be adults and let go…a little. It’s sexist I know, but you don’t worry as much about boys, especially when they are of the puppy dog variety like my son, who would rather eat their own shit than throw a punch.

 

That night’s insomnia, however, had less to do with a fear for his safety and much more to do with the visceral disappointment and bruising realization that our son was going to let us down again. Parents of children such as our son will understand this feeling, although I imagine that parents of normal children will secretly condemn me for my honesty. I’m sorry, but if you haven’t got the tee-shirt…

 

It confirmed that I will never be able to mold my son into the adult I expected him to be. I adore him and I know he loves me, but he adamantly refuses to let me turn him into an upstanding citizen of society with the moral compass that we had at his age. He is fundamentally a good person, but convention, abiding by laws and keeping promises are just not his bag, and no matter how many sleepless nights I have, or how many times I try to clip his wings or lock his shackles, he breaks free of them, usually with greater aplomb.

 

When we plan our children, we have all these loopy ideas about how they will turn out while secretly praying that they will inherit the good bits from each of us. The reality is, we consider all the physical stuff at length, then glaze over the personality stuff and make assumptions. I remember that my hope was that our kids would inherit the old man’s brain and my skin and the old man hoped that they got his brain and his motor skills with a remote control and any type of ball. Genes, however, can have a distorted sense of humor and ignore those best-laid plans, claw back into the murky depths of the family tree and fuck you up with a child that resembles great-great uncle fuckwit who lit the Great Fire of London and bred those rats in his home-made lab.

 

Like their mother, neither of our kids can catch a ball.

 

How your children turn out is a lottery. I’m not saying that nurture and education are ineffective, but in some cases, the genes are simply too powerful.

 

I won’t bore you with the intricate details of how my son tested the last vestiges of my endurance the other night, or as is his want, made the bloody deadline by the skin of his teeth in spite of it. Just not in the way I would have approached it. There was no planning, no sense of responsibility or urgency, no anxiety or anal preparations; he had about two hours sleep the night before and on the day, instead of the loving support of a family who would have willingly packed him off with his lunchbox and a pat on the shoulder, he got the cold shoulder.

 

I don’t know why he makes life so hard for us on himself. Perhaps the frontal cortex of his brain should shoulder some responsibility; perhaps he is simply a pig-headed idiot with some growing up to do who will always do things his way and worry about the consequences afterward. All I know is that he does things differently to us and when I moaned the next morning about how he had kept me up all night, he told me that was my problem.

 

And perhaps he has a point.

 

All I can hope is that one day he proves us wrong and out of the ashes will appear a phoenix, a rehabilitated version like Russell Brand, and I will have to eat my words as I proudly tell my friend’s, ‘that’s my son.’