Friday, 14 December 2012

The Christmas Photos.

We don't normally do photo Christmas cards, but this year I was inspired by various posts on Pinterest to do one of The Children.

We went to the lovely Kerry at Rooksdown Photography near Basingstoke who was offering a total bargain of a 20 minute shoot with 5 images on disc for £20.  She was the same photographer who took the other beautiful photos of the children earlier in the year and she is very patient and sweet with the children (and me!).

This was the one that we used on the cards.

Cute picture but sadly missing The Baby.

Tied them up, now creeping off...

Admiring her tying up handiwork...

Life is funny when you're The Baby.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The benefits of a diagnosis.

I have been asked by several people whether or not I think that there was much point in getting The Eldest diagnosed with Aspergers, considering how high functioning she is.  I would most definitely say yes, there are many reasons why my life is easier and her life is better, and not just because we get to queue jump at Legoland!

A diagnosis, once I was over the initial shock, has helped to take any "blame" away for her behaviour.  I no longer feel that it was/is my fault that she is the way she is.  No part of my parenting has "broken" her, quite the opposite in fact.  

A diagnosis has helped me to understand how I can help her.  I am able to phrase requests in a way that she will take notice of.  I am able to correct her behaviour in a way that is helpful for her rather than just being confusing.  Knowing that (some of) her behaviour is not dictated by sheer waywardness helps me to deal with her in a calmer and more confident way.  

A diagnosis has opened up extra help for her.  Not a lot admittedly, but it means that she has an IEP (Individual Education Plan) that is regularly reviewed by her teacher.  It means that the staff at school are more aware of her needs.  It has avoided her being labelled as lazy - she's dreamy and looks out of the window, but it is not laziness that leads her to do so.  If her needs were greater, it would have meant that we were able to access therapies for her, or get her some one on one time to help with her studies.

A diagnosis will, if I ever get round to filling out the enormous document, release some funds that we can use to help her.  Not a lot of money, but hopefully enough to help pay for things such as Rainbows to improve her social skills, or dance/gymnastics/swimming to help improve her gross motor skills.  Money that will help her.

Last, but not least, a diagnosis means that many places, such as Legoland, Peppa Pig world etc, will give her a queue jumping pass which makes our days out so much simpler and easier.  There are not many silver linings for living with Aspergers, but this is definitely one of them!

It's been almost a year since she was diagnosed with Aspergers and in that time she has made enormous progress.  Not only has her school work improved, but she's made huge strides socially and in her awareness of how the world works around her.  I really feel that a diagnosis has switched on a light for both of us - we are no longer stumbling around in the dark, fumbling and tripping, but moving with purpose with our way clearly lit.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Advent Calendar.

This year I have found myself Pinspired to throw away our cardboard advent calendars and make us one that can be reused each year.

I largely made it up as I went along and I think it has not come out too badly considering my lack of forethought and the fact that I did the majority of it with a cracking hangover.  

It's a fairly simple design - I cut out 24 squares of fabric from my Christmas material and hemmed them using iron on interfacing.  I interfaced a block of felt, then cut out the numbers using the magnetic ones that I have on my fridge as a guide.  I then stuck the numbers on with fabric glue and took a break overnight.  When I came back to it, I reinforced the numbers by sewing round the edges of them (this was probably the most time consuming part).  I then became sidetracked by making a Christmas wall hanging which I had vague ideas of putting the pockets onto, but came back instead to a plain back ground.  I cut out two equal rectangles, on one I ironed on yet more interfacing, and on the other I sewed the pockets on.  I sewed round three sides, leaving the top of each pocket free so that I can put stuff in it.  Then I sewed the two pieces together inside out, putting bits of ribbon in the right place for hanging and finally I turned it the right way round and sewed all around the edge to finish it off.  Simples.  It's not perfect, I certainly wouldn't try to sell it to anyone, but it will do for what I want it for.

And what I want it for is this - as well as the usual chocolates that I will put in each pocket (The Eldest was VERY keen to make sure that she would still get chocolate), I have a Christmas activity to do each day.  When we dish out the chocolate each morning, we'll also pull out a piece of paper that has today's activity on it.  The following our the ones I thought would be good for us, and I've decided which day they should be on, bearing in mind whether or not the day fell on the weekend etc etc.

Choose and decorate a Christmas tree.
Write your letter to Father Christmas.
Make paper chains to decorate the house.
Make paper snowflakes
Write your Christmas cards.
Go to a Christmas Pantomine.
Give your cards out to your friends.
Bake some Christmas Cookies
Decorate some Christmas Cookies
Dance to some Christmas music.
Watch a Christmas movie
Have a Christmas Party
Make Fudge and cookies for your teachers.
Colour a Christmas picture.
Ring their Aunt and sing Jingle bells to her.
Read a Christmas story.
Give Cards and presents to your teachers.
Make a cotton wool snowman.
Drive up to see Granny and Granddad in Norfolk and Go for a walk in the dark with torches.
Visit Father Christmas in his Grotto.
Open the Christmas Eve Box (with new pjs and slippers in, a christmas movie, hot chocolate supplies etc)

There are loads of other ideas around on Pinterest and elsewhere on the net, I just picked the ones that worked for us.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Could we not just pretend we've already had this battle and I've already won?

I like to pick and choose my battles, but some are thrust upon me.  Every morning I battle with The Boy to get him up and dressed for school.  I always win, eventually, but I am getting fed up with it.  This morning I did indeed say, "Boy (well, actually I used his name, but I shall call him Boy here), could we not just pretend that we've already had this battle and just move on to the point where you give in and get dressed?", but for some reason that didn't wash with a 4 year old.

Angelic now, but you just try getting them dressed for school.
A good friend of mine has recently decided that pocket money should be linked to behaviour and I am rapidly coming round to her way of thinking.  We haven't introduced pocket money yet, but at 6 and 4, I think that the eldest two may be ready for it.  The Boy certainly seemed keen when I mentioned it to him and The Eldest called out from her bath that she would like a reward chart too.  I am more than sure that the Feral One will rapidly get the idea and set up some scheme to diddle the older two out of theirs, save up, invest, buy, sell and end up owning the world and ruling us all.

Plotting to rule the world.
I have to work out an appropriate amount - enough to buy a comic and a chocolate bar at the local shop would probably be about right, if I can deal with the tantrums that are bound to erupt when they don't have enough.  I also need to work out what needs to go on it and to not make it too complicated as I'm tempted to put down every single piece of behaviour on it, but I know I need to focus on just a select few. Just the morning routine for now, we can work on other things once we have that on the go.  I think that we will design them tomorrow after school and I will let you know how we get on.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Sometimes I dream of returning to work...

Most of the time I enjoy my job/role as a mother/housewife/bottom-wiper in chief.  90% of the time anyway.  But days like today, when The Husband came in from work to find me lying, defeated, on the playroom floor while The Boy gently kicked my head from his position on the sofa and the baby used me as a trampoline (the older girls were "playing" pushing), dogs unwalked because The Boy was ill and off school, yesterday's washing unsorted in the sitting room, with today's piled on top of it - I long for the peace of working in a class room of 8 year olds.

It's been quite a tough couple of days actually - The Boy has been sickening/ill and has thrown several impressive tantrums.  One of them today involved me removing him from the car and setting him on the side of the road because he refused to do his seatbelt up, and when I did it up, he undid it again.  After half a minute of screaming (from him I might add, I had my temper just about in check), I let him back in the car, he did his seatbelt up and we were able to continue on our way, but it was draining nonetheless.  The Baby has also been a touch trying with several tantrums of her own - unusual for her really, but she's learning from the best.  When she's not throwing tantrums, she's emptying the kitchen cupboards, or escaping up the stairs, or taking or the DVDs off the shelves. The Feral One has weed on the sofa several times and The Eldest has been very Aspergic (that's not even a real word, but it sums her up). Added to that a course of antibiotics for me and The Husband returning to work after a week off and any old ladies who tell me to "enjoy every minute" are likely to get their eyes poked out.

Of course, I know that I won't return to work, not yet anyway.  Childcare costs for 4 children under 7 would wipe out my salary, not to mention paying someone to come in and walk the dogs.  Getting nutritious meals on the table is hard enough when I have all day to prepare them, god knows how I would manage it if I were out all day.

Most importantly for me though, 90% of the time I really do feel genuinely grateful that I can spend these years at home with my babies.  I try to remember this through the tougher times.  Tomorrow is another day, lets hope that it's a bit more successful than this one.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

An updating sort of post.

I thought I'd just do a quick update on several things as I meant to and I never got round to doing it.

1. Operation Sleep Through.  This has been largely successful.  Now, unless the baby is ill, or teething, she generally sleeps a full night.  It only took a couple of nights to achieve as well which we were pretty amazed by (we had given ourselves a week to deal with it).  Of course, the others will wake at times, so I can't guarantee a full night every night for me, but it's made a huge difference and I am much less tired and snappy.

2. Back to school blues.  Really, they haven't been as bad as I feared at all.  Getting up early has made a huge difference to the way our mornings happen.  The Eldest seems to have "woken up" at school, continuing to make good progress with her reading and spelling generally.  I am very proud of her.  The Boy has taken big school in his stride, we've only had a couple of weepy mornings, apart from that he's settled in well and is a rather splendid little lad.  The Feral One LOVES preschool, she thinks it's the best thing ever. Preschool seem to love her too :)

3. Time to stop yelling.  I'm extremely pleased to announce that Screaming Harpy Lady has not been seen this week.  Hopefully it's the start of a calmer stage in my life, now that the baby is nearing a year old and I am less tired.  I still have grumpy days and I'm not all sweetness and light, but at least I am always in control of my temper.

Trying to get the little "cherubs" to do as I wish.

My children are generally pretty well behaved little beings - or at least they are when we are out and about.  At home they can drive me totally nuts with their squabbling, but (apparently!) fighting with siblings provides important social lessons for them and so it a Good Thing.  Right.  Whatever.

Anyway, back to behaving.  I try to set them clear boundaries.  I am clear about the consequences of crossing them.  I try to make consequences logical and, as far as possible, immediate.  I try not to use threats that I know I cannot or will not carry through. I am consistent in the things I pick up on, BUT sometimes you have to know when to fold.

Example - walking along the road as a family.  The walk up the hill to school gives me the heebie jeebies.  The pavement is narrow and the cars are fast.  The children cannot mess around for fear of falling off the edge of the pavement and being squashed.  The Feral One is good at walking, but can be distracted, so I warn her that if she cannot walk nicely, she will have to hold my hand and I follow through.  I've been known to carry her a considerable distance by her arm (I do not recommend this as a course of action, both for the safety of their arms and the good of your back).  We also walk in the woods with the dogs and, fairly early on in all their childhoods, I've left a screaming child on the floor and gone ahead and hidden behind a bush where I can see them and ensure that they remain safe (normally with the older children sobbing "Nooooooo!  You can't leave xxx behind!", "Shuddup and hide!").  Sooner or later, they've got up, dusted themselves off and come to find us.

Example - squabbling over toys.  They drive me nuts with this - they have thousands of blimmin toys, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they will all want the same one at the same time.  So the first warning goes out, "Please play nicely and share with the bag/dolly/crayons, or I will take them away".  Second warning repeats the first and may also offer a solution, "If you cannot play nicely with the toy, I will take it away and neither of you will have it.  Why doesn't xxx play with it for a few minutes and then xxx after?" or, "Could you get her another dolly to play with?".  Then a final warning and it's gone.

Example - physical fighting and hurting one another.  They actually don't get a warning for this - they know full well that they shouldn't do it.  They have Time Out which removes them from the situation and gives it a chance to simmer down.  After Time Out, they need to come back in, talk through why they shouldn't hit/punch/claw eyes out/hit over the head with a wooden car/kick and make amends, normally by apologising and giving the hurt one a cuddle to make them feel better.  Sometimes a cuddle is the only sorry that you can get from The Feral One, but you've got to allow them some wiggle room.

There are hundreds upon hundreds of examples I could give - daily battles and hurdles to jump.  As well as the consequences I've outlined above, others could be not getting pudding because they won't touch their tea (I don't ask them to clear their plates if they don't want to, but I do ask them to try it), sent to their rooms to spend some time simmering down.  I would not, however, threaten removal of pudding for a fighting infringement earlier in the day - firstly because pudding has nothing to do with fighting and secondly because it's too far away.

Finally, the other weapon in my arsenal is Time In.  I use it if I need to break down defiance (when they are standing there rigid with determination, a cuddle is of more use than escalating the situation further - I normally get my own way anyway, but with happier children).  Oh, and I praise praise praise when they do something kind, or that I want them to do - there is no point just picking up the bad, you have to reward the good too.

I hope that this doesn't sound like I think I have all the answers - I know full well that I don't and I also know that all children are different and what works for one will not always work for another.  The way that you deal with your child will depend on their own personality and also on yours, but this is what works for us.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Time to stop yelling.

I've been a bit remiss about writing this blog since The Boy started school and The Feral One started preschool.  They've both settled in well and I thought I would have loads of time to get things done.  Well I don't.  I won't say that I have less and it's certainly easier to get things done when they are at school, but I still seem to be chasing my tail most of the time.  Still, time really to try to get back to the blog.

I would generally say that I am a good parent.  My children are happy, reasonably well behaved, bright and interested in the world around them.  Of course we have our ups and downs, some days they are more polite than others - all four of them played a blinder today whilst out at lunch with friends - some days they squabble and fight more than others, but all in all, they are good, sweet kids.  However, I do have an area that I really need to work on.  Where I really fall down is my tendency to shout when stressed.  I'm not talking about when I shout "Stop!" across the field, or raising my voice to make a point or to be heard above the general insurrection, I'm talking proper screaming harpy, about to burst a blood vessel loss of control.

What is so baffling about this complete loss of temper is that it never happens with anyone except the children.  I don't shout at my husband (I prefer to snipe), I don't shout at my parents, siblings, friends, acquaintances or even random strangers, however rude they may be to me.  I certainly don't shout at children who come round to play, or even in front of them.  I don't shout at the baby, and it is rare for me to shout at the Feral One (although she is sometimes caught in the cross fire).  Mainly, it is The Eldest who gets it in the neck, followed in second place by The Boy.  So why do I lose it with the children?  Those little beings who really are the most important things in the world to me?

I recently read THIS blog about stopping what she refers to as a "Mama Tantrum" and I can relate to it.  I've sat down (well, I haven't, but I've thought about it whilst doing other stuff) and tried to work out where my triggers are and I think I have it.  It's not children wetting themselves.  It's not drawing on the walls.  It's not treading mud (and other unmentionable stuff) into the house.  It's not attempting to cook dinner with The Boy wrapped around my legs.  It's not refusing to eat their dinner and throwing it on the floor.  It's not them having a tantrum in the supermarket.  Most of the time it's not even them beating each other around the head with toys (although that is close to being a trigger point, especially if I'm trying to get something done at the time). All those trials of parenthood are met (normally anyway) with equanimity and calmness.

My trigger for a loss of control screaming tantrum from me is when the baby is screaming and I cannot pick her up to stop her because I have my hands full of other children.  As soon as the baby starts to cry, my stress levels soar, I get hurried and impatient with the older children which flusters them as well and then it all goes downhill as fingers start to fumble with seat belts, water bottles get dropped, bags get forgotten, time starts to tick on and we're not ready to depart for the school run (see, it's that time of the day again, oh how I hate it) - cue Mummy having a hissy fit.  Of course, me screaming does NOT make fingers any less fumbly, or find bags and pick up bottles, it just ends with a stunned silence (except from The Baby, who just ignores me and carries on with her own woes) and possibly tears.  It does not help the situation in any way, shape, or form, and I need to stop doing it.

Don't be fooled by the innocent exteriors,
they are perfectly capable of throwing at least as big a tantrum as I am!
So armed with the knowledge of my trigger point, I am going to follow her STOP strategy.  Wish me luck, I will report back in a week.

Here is a short UPDATE on how it's going so far.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Getting up early has changed my life.

The children are not
always keen to get up...
Now I know that the title makes me sound like a bit of a saddo, and in reality, that's probably what I am - that and a control freak!  But the reality is that getting up an hour before the children has changed every single day and changed it for the better.  I can appreciate that not everyone has time to get up early (nor many people the inclination!) and probably if you have fewer animals and pets than me, then it wouldn't be so important, but that hour's "peace" in the morning before the rampaging hoards awake sets the tone for the whole day.  It even helps me to lose weight!

I get up at 6am.  It takes me 20 minutes to shower, wash my hair, attack my face with some makeup and get dressed.  The next 20 minutes are focused on chores, I feed the dogs, cats and fish.  I put a load of washing in the machine, I clear and lay the table for breakfast, I put away the stuff that was washed up the night before. The final 20 minutes are spent preparing my breakfast and eating it in peace - having time to do this sets me up for the day food wise and means that I'm less likely to snack and make unhealthy choices.
Sometimes they are
positively difficult in fact.

By the time the children get up at 7, I'm ready to hit the day running.  I have no growling stomach making me grouchy with the children, I have no lurking animals trying to trip me up as I try to get the breakfast on the table whilst the children bicker and fight.  I have no baby screaming and banging on the shower door as I try to get clean and ready for the day.

I might even go so far as to say that my mornings are fairly zen like now.  And the dread of the school run?  Well that has largely passed too due to being more relaxed and organised.  I won't go so far as to say that we skip up the hill, but there is less screaming involved from all of us.  And that is always a good thing.
But we're generally ready to leave on
time with some semblance of a smile on our faces...

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Back to school blues.

Well that's it, the summer holidays are officially over and tomorrow we start another academic year.  The school uniform is purchased and named, the new shoes are sitting clean in the cupboard, the PE kit and book bags have been found and filled and lunch has been put in the box.  There are big changes afoot this year, The Eldest goes into Year 2, The Boy will start Reception on the 20th September and The Feral One starts 10 hours a week of preschool on the 17th (god help them - the preschool staff that is, rather than The Boy and The Feral One).  The Baby will just be at home with me as usual.

I have mixed feelings about school restarting.  On the one hand, it will be nice to have a bit of a break!  I have no doubt that the house will be tidier, the bottom of the laundry basket will be seen more regularly and the dogs (and I) will be fitter.

But I hate doing the school run with a passion - it is the biggest flash point during the day between me and the children.  You can almost guarantee that I will lose my temper at least once - normally when the baby is wailing because I have had the temerity to put her down whilst trying to wrestle another child into their coat and shoes.  Then we'll be half way up to school and the cry of "I NEED A POO!" will be heard along with screams of, "I DON'T WANT TO WALK UP THE HILL!".  Or, just to make a change, "MUMMY, YOU'VE FORGOTTEN MY LUNCH BOX!" (or worse still, "Mummy, you've forgotten the baby!" - I joke, but in the scrum that is getting out of the house in time for school, it could happen I am sure).  Dragging the children up the hill sobbing that they wanted to drive, then finally we get to school, the whistle goes, The Eldest lines up and then I have to endure the heart wrenching tears from her because she doesn't want to go in as I grin madly in a fixed way telling her that she'll have a wonderful day.  Please please please let her be more enthusiastic about it this year.

Which leads me on to other issues thrown up by school - disagreements with her friends (and foe!), pressure to complete reading and homework, dealing with other issues that come up at school when you have a child with Aspergers.  I know that I have to chase up the SENCO to see if she is going to get any extra help (probably not, but it's got to be worth a try) and I have a load of forms to fill in preparation for The Boy's start.  I love the holidays because we exist in a bubble of our own where none of these cares impinges on our enjoyment of day to day life - there are no politics or policies to deal with, just me and the children and friends and activities of our own choosing.  They may drive me up the wall on occasions, but at least it is my own wall.

Short of homeschooling them though (and it's something I have seriously considered), school is something that has to be dealt with.  The bubble has popped, the summer is over.  Roll on half term.

Here is a short UPDATE on this!


 I have 4 small children (although they are rapidly growing up, gulp), 2 dogs, 2 cats, a tank full of fish and a husband to look after.  I don't have any regular help with the children during the week except statutory education during term time (The Eldest is in full time school, The Boy is just about to start full time school, up until now he's been at preschool for 15 hours a week, The Feral One is about to start preschool for 10 hours a week, before that she was with me full time and The Baby is still at home with me full time).  The Husband is pretty good at helping out, but he leaves for work between 7 and 7.30 in the morning and comes home around 6 at night.  The children get up at 7 and go to bed around 7, you do the maths.  My mother lives not to far away, but works full time.  My sister and Mother in Law both live further away and have their own lives to live.  Whilst I can call on people in an emergency, on a day to day basis, it's me, with help from The Husband in the evenings.  How do I do it?  Well, quite apart from the fact that I don't think I do "do it", here are the things that I DO do.

Prioritise sleep.  We all need differing amounts, but I like 8 hours at night or I feel like death.  It's amazing how my parenting skills and ability to keep my temper improve when I get some sleep.  So I go to bed early if I need to and recently I've worked on getting the baby to sleep through.

Get up before the kids.  This is a relatively recent addition to my survival skills, but already it's made a huge difference.  Now that the baby has started sleeping through, I can go to bed at 10pm, fairly safe in the knowledge that I will get 8 hours sleep before getting up at 6am.  That hour to myself before the kids get up allows me to get organised and have my breakfast in peace.  Then I can hit the ground running when they wake up and I am less likely to metamorphose into Screaming Harpy Lady.

Get organised. I try to make sure that everything is where it should be the night before, so that we are not running round like headless chickens in the morning before the school run trying to find shoes and coats.  Packed lunches are made the night before and stored in the fridge so that they can just be grabbed.  The children know where their shoes and coats are kept so they can get them without my help.  Of course, you can pretty much guarantee that something will go awry, a child will undress them selves just as you are going out the door for example, but being organised lessens the chances of a meltdown by any of the parties involved.

Get out of the house and do some exercise.  I have two dogs who need to be walked everyday and I know that I feel better when I do it rather than leaving it to The Husband.  Unless it is snowing heavily, there's really no reason not to go out.  I wrap up everyone in waterproofs and head out.  Our wet dog walks are legendary and generally really enjoyed by all.

Batch cook. Why cook a meal two or three times when you could just cook double or triple the amount and then stick it in the freezer?  It's also easier to remain Zen at meal times when they refuse to eat what you have cooked if you haven't slaved over it for hours (by the by, I operate an "Eat it or starve" policy when it comes to meals).  I keep freshly cooked meals very simple for the same reason.

Meal plan. I do a weekly meal plan to make sure that I know what we're eating every evening and to make sure that I've got all the ingredients.  There is nothing worse than looking in the fridge at 4.30pm thinking, "What on Earth am I going to feed them?!!".  I don't always stick to the plan, but at least it's there as a point of reference.

Pick your battles.  The Feral One has drawn on herself?  Never mind, it'll wash off.  The Eldest refuses to touch vegetables?  It's ok, I'll puree it into her meals.  The Boy has pulled out all the toys and thrown them across the playroom? Well, he can just help me put them back again. The baby is pulling all the DVDs off the shelf? At least it is keeping her quiet.  I don't sweat the small stuff, it's ok if the kids spill water on the floor, it's ok if a child wets themselves, it's ok if they've drawn on the walls.  I'd rather it didn't happen and I'll try to ensure it doesn't happen again, but it's ok and certainly not worth losing my temper over.  It's NOT ok if they hurt each other or if they are mean to one another or if they are rude to me - those are the battles I pick.

Know your limits.  I am neither Superwoman nor a saint.  I know what I can and can't get done during the day with the kids in tow.  I do NOT do the weekly shopping with them, it's just not worth the hassle and stress.  I do it online in the comfort of my own sitting room after they are in bed.  If I don't get all the washing sorted, so what?  It'll keep (and if I'm lucky, then The Husband will sort it for me).

Count your blessings.  I know that there are many people who would give their right arm to be in my fortunate position and when I really want to scream, I try to remember that (only try, I'm not a saint and some days the scream just has to escape).

Look on the funny side.  We were walking the dogs up on the common yesterday, it was a beautiful day, the girls were on their scooters and The Boy was on his bike.  I just shouted to The Eldest to wait for the rest of us, when she went round the corner, down the hill and badly grazed her knee (quite a lot of blood).  As I legged it towards her, further screaming ensued behind me - without my constant guidance, The Boy had driven his bike off the path and down the hill into a bush full of brambles and had then fallen over.  I had to laugh - it was either that or cry...

Outsource the cleaning.  Ok, I admit that I am a very lucky girl to have this.  The lady who cleans my house is amazing, she comes in once a week and blitzes it.  I call the day she comes "Sparkly Thursday".  It takes the pressure off me, because at the end of the day, I am not superwoman, nor do I claim to be.

If all else fails then:

Eat chocolate.  I'm never going to be thin, but hey, I'm a nicer person when I have eaten chocolate.

At the end of the day, I'm only human.  I have coping strategies, but there are definitely days when I am more Screaming Harpy than Calm and Collected Mummy.  Remember:

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Living with The Eldest.

I find it hard to write about The Eldest in a way that doesn't make it sound like she is naughty.  She's not naughty, in fact, she is really pretty well behaved and I want to make that clear here.  She doesn't do "naughty" things on purpose.  One on one she is an absolute delight - a sweetheart who loves to draw and play "dogs".  It seems that she is fairly well behaved as well when she goes to her friends' houses - unless that is the other parents just don't tell me when she has been bad which is perfectly plausible!  She has a nice group of friends and even went for a successful sleepover at a friend's house this last week.  She is bright, reading well above her expected age and spelling almost as well as I do, although if she's gifted, she's hiding it well...  Like any 6 year old, she is testing boundaries and it's often hard to pick apart the behaviour that stems from Aspergers from the behaviour that stems from just being 6!

So how do I describe the difficulties of living with her? Well, she doesn't see the world in the same way that an NT (neuro typical) child does.  Whilst many young children suffer from selfishness, with her, she simply cannot see the point of view of another child.  She lacks what is called "Theory Of Mind" which means that she cannot "see" what another person is thinking unless they explicitly tell her.  She doesn't get the undercurrents that run through all the activities we do day to day.  I have to explain the unsaid to her in books and films, she only comprehends the top strand of the story, not the nuances.

So it is very hard for her to learn to share and she very much acts first, then thinks later.  She will snatch a toy from her siblings, behaviour which she really should have grown out of by now.  She often treats the baby like a dolly, carrying her round when she doesn't want to be, sitting her down when she wants to stand up and so on.  She's the same with the orange dog, she will drag him round by his collar and treat him like a toy who should sit where he's put, rather than an entity with his own mind.  He loves her though, which is fortunate...

A day when she is in the house is a day punctuated by screaming and squabbles.  A day when I really can't get anything done at all because I need to be on hand to adjudicate, to help guide her (and the others) to a resolution.  Don't get me wrong, she is perfectly capable of playing nicely with the others, so long as they all do exactly as she says - it's when they demonstrate that they have a mind of their own that the trouble breaks out!

She will often join in crying if another child does.  Sometimes because she has done something to make them cry and she knows she's about to be told off, but sometimes just because she doesn't like the sound of them crying and it upsets her.  She used to be very upset by hand dryers and, although she's much better now, still doesn't like to use them.

She has to learn intellectually what the others learn intuitively.  She has to be told that she cannot smack or hit or snatch and she has to have it explained that it hurts the other person.  She has to be told, "You must not try to carry the baby up the stairs", or you will turn around one day and find her halfway up the stairs carrying said baby.  I suppose you could say that she lacks common sense - certainly she is unable to assess risk yet.  Currently we are working on what to do if another person is upset.  Almost every time someone is hurt of crying, I try to use it as a teaching tool (which is REALLY popular with the others...).  "Right, they are crying, what should YOU do" and we work through it.  Again.  And Again.  And Again.  One day it will sink in and she will do it.  Once she has done it once, hopefully she will do it again, and eventually it will become ingrained, a learned strategy so that she knows what to do when another human is upset.

She takes up more of my time and energy than any of the others do (bless them) and sometimes I worry that I am not only shortchanging them, but that I am short changing her.  If I did not have so many children, I would have more time to devote to her and to help her cope with the world.  On the other hand, the constant interaction with her siblings provides a relatively safe environment for her to learn about other beings and their needs, so perhaps I am being unduly harsh on myself.

There are days when, even though I know that it is not something I have done and Aspergers is something that you are born with, I wonder what I have done to "break" her.  I wonder where I went wrong, what I could have done differently.  Even though I know intellectually that I haven't done anything wrong (and that the things I do have helped her), it is easy as a parent to blame yourself.  On days when I really am at my wits end, I look at The Feral One.  The Feral One is independent and spiky, but also incredibly loving and giving.  She learns by imitation and intuition - an ordinary little girl, who happens to look like a flower fairy.  And as I look at her, I think that I must be doing something right and that helps me feel like I am on the right track with all of them.

We'll get there, The Eldest and Me, it is just a longer and stonier track that we have to travel, but travel it we will and we'll travel it together.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Summer Fun Week 5!

Wow, where is this summer going?!  5 weeks down, only one full week left of The Eldest at home.  I need to plan some fun activities into next week and make sure that we get to see the friends who we haven't yet managed to see.

It's been another fun week here at Team Rambling HQ.  We got back from Norfolk on Saturday after a 5 and a half hour journey back, just in time for The Eldest to go off to a birthday party with one of her best friends.  On Sunday we headed out for a BBQ with friends and I also got out the Aqua Beads.  These are amazing - they are meant for use in flower arrangements and are not toys.  However, they make wonderful sensory play.  The beads come as teeny tiny dry ones, which you then "inflate" in the water (they need about 6 hours).  Once they are inflated you can get them out of the water - we had a chat about how they felt to touch and what they looked at.  The clear ones were particularly amazing as they pretty much completely disappear when you put them in water.  I had assumed that you would be able to see them like you can see a glass pebble but they really do almost completely disappear.  It is strange to feel them in the water without seeing them and it looks weird when you hold one between your fingers and then put it in the water as you can see from the pressure points on your finger that you are holding them, but you can't actually see the bead.  I can imagine that we will use these loads in the future - almost all of the parents I have shown them to have made a mental note to buy them themselves!

A bowl of Aqua Beads - you can't see the clear ones, but they are in there!

Anyway, Monday was a quiet day when a lovely friend took The Eldest and The Boy off to her house to play and it reminded me of just how quiet the house is with only The Feral One and The Baby in residence!  I got more done in those 3 hours than I had done in the whole of the summer holidays to date...  I managed to make a Lego Travel Box that evening too.  This is for the Busy Bag.

We had friends round on Tuesday (8 children between us, the oldest three of whom had just turned 6)...

... and one of them brought a craft activity in the form of Sharpie Tie Dye which was fun, even if we really should have read the instructions before we started...

Wednesday saw more friends visiting from London and we played with Vinegar and Bicarbonate of Soda...

As well as some impromptu water play when The Eldest decided she wanted to bath her dolly.  The Feral One joined in and The Boy ended up making muddy puddles as he always does.

We were out on Thursday in Thame, and on Friday had an extremely quiet day at home.  Friday also saw The Eldest go for her first sleep over at a friend's house.  She had a lovely time, even if it did seem a little strange in the house without her.  During Friday evening bath time, The Boy and The Feral One were trying to blow bubbles in the water which reminded me that I wanted The Feral One to practise her bubble blowing to help in the pool, so I grabbed a couple of straws and handed them out for bubble blowing practice.

Friday afternoon also saw us making Rainbow Rice which we played with this morning and which was a great hit.

Finally, today we had friends and Granny round for lunch.  We were planning a BBQ, but the weather obviously knew that and provided us with thunderstorms, so we had a grill up instead.  After lunch we got out the playdough and buttons which provided good entertainment for both adults and children, because who doesn't enjoy sorting buttons out and stuffing them in blocks of play dough?! 

This week also saw Operation Sleep Through achieve it's objective!  The Baby now sleeps through the night, occasionally needing her back rubbed to settle her back to sleep if she wakes in the night.  It is great to be finally getting some sleep after so long although I am somewhat perplexed and put out to still be totally exhausted.  Maybe it will just take longer for me to catch up with myself than a few nights unbroken sleep. 

Rainbow Rice!

I made Rainbow Rice this week which turned out to be incredibly simple to do and had a great end result.  I bought some cheap Basmati rice from the supermarket (I'm not sure that Basmati is necessarily the best, but it worked fine).  I then gathered together some food colouring, distilled vinegar (rubbing alcohol or surgical spirit is equally effective).

Into a glass jar, I put 1 and a half tablespoons of vinegar, some food colouring and a cup and a half of rice.  None of these measurements were exact!

I then gave it a really good shake.  Note to self, make sure that lid is properly attached to jar before shaking.  Here is The Boy giving it a good shake!

The I put the rice into a baking tray for drying.  This happens to be a Jamie Oliver enamel one, but you can just as easily just line a metal tray with foil.  I then put it into the oven for about 20 minutes at 150c to dry it out.

After it was dry and cool, I put it into a plastic box....

...with some plastic cups....

....and let the kids at it!

We soon decided that the plastic cups were not enough and I collected some of the play cutlery that we have - much more fun for scooping and scraping.

It kept the children entertained for a significant amount of time!

It was a definite success.  I am going to make more with different colours and I will also put it in a bigger box with more room!  I really enjoyed just playing with it myself, very therapeutic!

Vinegar and Bicarbonate of Soda fun.

Bicarbonate of Soda and Vinegar experiments are everywhere on the internet (so I'm not going to link to a particular post for this idea).  I've seen all sorts of variations, from popping plastic bags to using food colouring to making volcanoes.  I decided to use spray bottles.

I poured a load of bicarbonate of soda into a tray and put distilled white vinegar and food colouring in some empty spray bottles.

I then let the kids do their worst!

They had fun doing it, but the spray bottles didn't really work out well - there was a tendency for the spray to go across the table and towards the face of the person sat opposite.  In the end we took the tops off the bottles and poured.  The next time we do this, I am going to invest in some pipettes as I think it will be better.  The kids enjoyed it though and thought it was pretty cool when I ended up emptying the ENTIRE bottle of vinegar straight into the tray - bubbletastic!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Sharpie Tie-dye

I had two sets of friends around on Tuesday (8 children, the oldest 3 of whom had *just* turned 6) and one of them brought a craft activity with her that she had found online.  It was Sharpie Tie-dye.

We started with clean white T-shirts that had been pre-washed to remove the finishing.  We put cardboard in them so that the pattern didn't go through to the other side.

Then we gave the children sharpie pens and told them to make patterns as they wished.

There was much concentration and hard work!

Once the children had drawn patterns, we got to work with surgical spirit.  Putting the t-shirts over plastic disposable cups, we rubber banded them in place and then dropped surgical spirit into the middle.

The surgical spirit carried the dye to the edge of the cups and made round circles.

We experimented by using a bowl instead of cups to see what would happen

The older children were able to drop the surgical spirit themselves, but we did it for the younger ones (please note the "artistic" expression on this adult's face).

Of course, once the kids had finished and rampaged into the garden, the adults got into the act too.  I came over all patriotic and made a Union Jack one to go on my Olympics t-shirt.

Once the T-shirts were finished, we hung them on the line to dry out and then set them in the tumble dryer for 15 minutes.  

The resulting T-Shirts were a joy to behold!  

It was only after we had finished doing them, that my friend googled the instructions and we discovered that we had been doing it wrong :-p  We should have put the t-shirts over the cups, THEN drawn the pattern and used the surgical spirit! However, our t-shirts came out nicely enough anyway and the kids (and adults) had good fun making them and that's the most important bit.