Archive for the ‘childhood’ Category

One of the things I’ll miss most when the youngest child morphs from child to young adult is the singing. It doesn’t start first thing in the morning, when he’s a zombie and must sit plastered to the couch watching television. The singing starts from the moment of that first voluntary movement towards feeding himself, or finding and turning on his device of choice, he’ll begin to sing random snatches of verse from various songs. Not whole songs, sometimes not even choruses, just a few lines here and there, often repeated before I say, ‘OY,’ and he moves onto the next song that pops into his head. He and his friends have been that way since they were small.

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The songs continue throughout the day until he tires in the evening and starts to wind down with snack foods and the cartoon network.

When the youngest son is playing a game on his computer and talking to a friend through his tablet (who is also playing the same game), in between snatches of chatter about what they’re doing, and actually playing the games, one or other of them is bellowing a rendition of a song. They don’t bat an eyelid. It’s part of their banter, part of their way of bouncing ideas off the world. And it’s not just him, it’s all of them.

Kids sing. It comes as naturally as breathing and there’s something wonderful about that. 

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They don’t run out of song ideas or steam for it either. It’s simply amazing. I admire their fearless lack of self consciousness greatly. Imagine how great it must be to live that way. To be so young and carefree.

The youngest son’s voice is okay. He’s no Josh Grobin, but he can hold a tune. His natural tone when he’s burbling to himself is sweet. It’s just that he can’t seem to sing at a low volume for long, he and his friends have a habit of turning up the volume until, once again, I have to yell, ‘OY’ to get him to lower the decibel level.

I had expected the childlike tendency for song to have expired by now. However, even at the grand old age of thirteen, he still sings the whole day long. Not constantly. It comes and goes, in between activities and school and time spent playing Fortnite and planning to take the world by storm as the next YouTube gamer video star, the next Dan DTM. He still sings.

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I love it. He tapes himself playing online games for his YouTube channel, and in between the banter, he’s singing. I don’t know if he even knows he’s doing it. But, it’s got to be a surefire way to tell the older YouTubers from the younger generation. That’s for sure. Adults are far too self conscious to burst into spontaneous choruses of their favourite tune every other minute.

As a child, I used to sing in all the school productions and sometimes for certain events at church. But, then I grew up, and I stopped. I notice adults, in general, tend to sing, dance and laugh less than children, which strikes me as sad.

At least, for now, I know my youngest son is still a child because he’s still singing. Sure, I get annoyed when he repeats the same line twenty-five times. Sure, I get frustrated when I can’t hear myself think for his warbling. Sure, I get ticked off when he’s still singing and dancing in the living room instead of doing what he’s been told.

Of course, I do, even a tuneful melody can wear your nerves to a frazzle on the hundredth rendition.003 (16)Here are my Top Tips to survive as the parent:

When going on long trips, take ear plugs.

When it gets too loud, ask for an indoor voice.

When the same line is repeated ad nauseum, ask them to stop.

When jobs don’t get done, set a deadline or there will be loss of a treat or privilege.

When the singing and dancing jars the nerves, escape the room!

Even though I shake my head at times, there is still something endearing about hearing your child sing that wrings the heart strings. And, you can’t stay mad for long. As I said in the introduction, I’m sure this trait is the one I’ll miss the most after he’s grown up and gone. So I’ll withstand and cherish him while I can and he’s young.

How do you handle the never-ending melody of your children?  

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Children will not remember you for the material things you provided but for the feeling that you cherished them. ~ Richard L. Evans

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The stage that I’m at now with my kids, the eldest has his own family while I still have two teenagers at home. The youngest is halfway into his first year as a teen. He’s navigating new waters of social interaction with his peers. He’s figuring out how to stand on his own two feet. The middle son is special needs, with Downs’ syndrome and Autism. But, if you take some broad sweeps of the brush, there are many ways in which adolescence is universal.

Being a teen is confusing

Life suddenly becomes more complex. For instance, the youngest has become embroiled in intrigues and dramas at school between the groups of friends. He’s stuck as mediator and counsellor and he’s trying to unravel seemingly endless knots of disputes. There’s tension in every section. He comes home from school, more often than not, frowning, talking to himself; chock full of “teen angst.”

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It’s pressure-filled

You would not believe the amount of pressure these new teens put each other under to ‘find a girlfriend or a boyfriend.’ By the second term, the youngest had gained a “girlfriend.”

It’s a rollercoaster ride

Luckily, he doesn’t expect me to help. He only tells me the occasional insight, the shortened update that comes after he’s figured something out. I’m glad for that. Even the précis of his adolescent spats, are so convoluted they could suck all time for productive worthwhile endeavours into them like teenage black holes.

I do not envy my boys this stage in life. I wouldn’t go back there for a million dollars.

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What can I do, as the parent of these teenage boys?

I’m constantly juggling balls in the air, balancing the day-to-day stuff of running a family, while walking the knife edge of constantly gauging their wellbeing. When you’re the mum in such a situation as this, you learn to spot fires and put them out before they get out of control. If you don’t want World War Three in your house, you get to vet the teenagers’ emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing throughout each day.

I think parenting teenagers is just as exhausting as the pre-school years. It takes every ounce of savvy and screws every drop of resolve out of you, and as with all parenting, it requires your time and doesn’t let up for a minute.

With the middle child’s recent diagnosis of autism, I’ve learned to apply the rapid salve of one-on-one time. Instead of waiting for the teenage angst to send him to Mars, each time I notice him becoming restless, I suggest we do an activity together.

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We’ve played cards, board games and balloon tennis. He’s responded wonderfully to this diversion tactic, and there have been less aggressive outbursts.

While having one-on-one time works with my special son, it doesn’t work as well with my youngest son, who is starting to value hanging out with his friends, on line and at school, above spending time with mum.

I googled ‘tips or how to raise teens.’ These are my own versions of the tips which have worked for me, so far:

Let them grow up

A bit of trust goes a long way. Teenagers want to be respected. I’ve given the youngest more rope this year than he’s had before. This year, he’s started to stay late after school, and visit friends on the way home. He’s got a later bedtime and has more freedom.

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Set out the guidelines

I’m a firm believer in letting the kids know what the rules are in the house.

Give them more responsibilities

Let them do more around the house and do their share.

Have consequences

When the rules are broken, it’s time out on their own for ten minutes and they can’t return to the family until they’re ready to apologize.

 

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Have an open ear

I try to be as open minded as possible. If he feels safe to talk to me, and knows he can trust me, we’re on a good footing.

Talk about risks, discuss game plans for dangerous situations

I try to teach the youngest on how he can protect himself on the internet and in public. On a practical level, it’s important for teens to have a plan for what to do if they need help.  I always make sure the teenager has a cell phone with credit, and that we run through game plans ahead of social situations. I let my teen know that he can call at any hour, and I’ll come get him. The best I can do is provide the information and the safety net. And, pray like crazy, of course.

Hope that helps!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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‘…if you have raised a few teenagers you will understand that there is some point when sanity is questioned (yours not theirs).’~ Ann Kaplan

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When I received a dramatic phonecall from the ex-husband tonight, I thought something terrible had happened to one of the boys. But, no. The cafuffle was over the fact our thirteen-year-old had left his cell phone here at home.

I could hear the teenager in the background, saying in no uncertain terms, “But, you don’t understand, I need my phone!”

“Are you able to drop it off tonight?” asked the ex-husband, hopefully.

“No.” I told him they could pick it up on their way to school in the morning. It was the principle of the thing. I wanted the teenager to learn the consequences of his actions.

And also, every kid needs to learn how to survive without their cell.

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What is it with this kid and his phone? In the last couple of months, since turning thirteen, his phone has become the most important device in his life, trumping his computer, tablet, even his X-box.

When he got home from school this afternoon, he turned on his mobile to the tune of a string of beeps and whistles that went on for several minutes. What was that? I asked.

“Seventy-seven text messages,” said the son. 

That’s more than I get in a month! His social life is more banging than mine. His circles are chatting all the time on Google Hangouts, and he spends half his time divided between Instagram and YouTube. Of course, he’s riveted.

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I probably would have been the same, had all this technology been around when I was a teenager. Luckily for me, in my heyday, phones were attached to the walls of people’s houses, and I had no choice but to hang out with my friends in person and talk to them in real time.

I have a great deal of concern for the generation coming up, that they spend so much time experiencing life through a screen, having connections and relationships with people predominantly over their devices. Because of this phenomenon, my thirteen-year-old takes his cell everywhere. It’s never far from his hand. And he’s not alone, I gather. Talking to a friend the other night, about the university students she teaches, she said although she asks them to put their mobiles away every day, they still set their phones right beside them.

Kids these days have to stay connected. They expect it.

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Which means I have to start every conversation with my teen by asking, “Can you please put down the phone?” shortly followed by, “Can you please look at me?” and routinely accompanied by, “I’ll give you to the count of five to put it down or I’ll take it off you.” That usually gets a quick response.

It’s annoying to fight to get his attention all the time and it’s tiring work. Given this background, can you blame me for feeling joy when I heard the teenager had left his cell at home? My first thought was it would be good for him to take an enforced breather from technology (rubbing of hands, secret parental glee).

In the initial conversation with his father on the phone this evening, I heard my son in the background ask his dad ‘to chill,’ and his dad saying, “Did you just tell me to chill?” Yes, the youngest gives us lip and a bit of attitude sometimes, nowadays.

He has to nudge the boundaries a bit to see what falls and what stands. He’s constantly testing, and I understand. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

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Yet, as a parent, I can’t afford to lose ground, I have to pull him up on attitude and demand respect, or all hell will break loose. I try to do so in a way that is loving, kind and firm, so he knows, we’re still on the same side.

I think that’s just as important for teenagers as staking out boundaries, is to give them a soft place to fall, to make sure they know they are loved.

I remember my grandmother being proud of the fact, that all through my father’s childhood, ‘they could always talk about anything.’ So, I try to follow her example, to keep the door open. I try to keep an open mind and open ears, so my new teen feels he can talk to me.

I try to put myself in my teenager’s shoes and not to judge him for his awkward, idiotic, inflammatory moments. I used to be a teenage terror once, too. Thank goodness there were no mobile phones then!

Come to think of it, I’m sure I used to drive my parents crazy. I believe this is called karma. What about you, are you able to separate your teens from their phones?

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(Me, at fifteen)

Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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You don’t have favourites among your children but you do have allies. ~ Zadie Smith

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My brother and I decided to start the school holidays with a working bee. We made our first “boys trip” to mums and dads home by the sea since our father died.

I wanted to continue the tradition we had set up years ago, of taking our sons to the family homestead and spending time together during each school holidays. Back then, of course, the family vacays had been primarily for us to gather the boys around their grandfather in a regular fashion. However, after dad died in February, my brother was ready to abandon the holiday get-together – so much so, that we didn’t meet up there in the last school break. My kids and I really missed it.

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These family sabbaticals are essential, to my way of thinking. Otherwise, we see one another briefly a few times a year for birthdays and other celebrations. It’s not long enough to keep the fabric of our familial relationships alive and breathing. The internet is great and all very well. But, a true actual connection with your people comes through face-to-face conversations and spending time together.

I said, ‘I would like to continue the “boys’ trips” for as long as our teenagers want to go.’ My brother agreed, and we met in mums and dads quaint wood cabin on the first day of the holidays.

IMG_2957Unfortunately, without our parents there to maintain the place, when we drive up, it’s to a wild wonderland of weeds and overgrown paths. We’re also still reclaiming the land from the wilderness which had begun to overtake the gardens in the last few years of dad’s life. Upon every stay there now, we are reminded of how much work there is to be done.

The flat downstairs has been successfully renovated for renting out. The upstairs doesn’t need anything doing inside. It’s the house exterior and the grounds that need drastic elbow grease applied. Therefore, every trip is a working bee, by extension.

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We classed our stay at Grandpa’s as the ‘fifth working bee,’ and while we were there, we took three trailers of rubbish to the dump, marking the 23rd trip made to release our parents’ plethora of stuff.

Although the kids helped at times, mostly they wanted to have fun. Left to their own devices, they reverted to teenage things: like trekking down to the reserve to play ball, or lying around playing cards, and even tried their hands at cooking. They got to play cards with us in the evenings and watch movies lying on mattresses pulled before the fire.

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We didn’t trek up to the peak of the mountain, we didn’t go to the beach or the golf course, nor did we catch any fish. We worked hard on the family property, made meals together, and got to hang out in each other’s company for four days. And it was wonderful.

The best memories in life are made of such simple shared times as these.

It was such a delight to be in the fresh air of the seaside. It was such a pleasure to have an open fire, which we left burning all day on the really cold days, and it was satisfying to see the neglected areas come to life with a bit of TLC.

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We aim to slowly do the clean up and improvements on the house exterior, as well as to make the gardens low-maintenance, except for the veggie gardens, which we’ll hopefully keep going. We need to repaint, and to redo the steps and the ramp.

There is a huge amount to be done. But, nothing is daunting when you have a team alongside and you do each stint together. Every day, we moved mountains of rubbish and cleared whole areas of weeds. I made big pots of food each night and we feasted as only those who are truly hungry can. You’re exhausted and replete and sleep well.

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I particularly enjoy the conversations in the car. On this trip, my young nephew, who sat shotgun, was able to whip out his phone and check messages sometimes. But, the rest of the journey, we were stuck together with nothing to do but talk. You get to cover a broad spectrum of topics and catch up on everything. You can’t wander away and make food. You can’t read. Your attention is focused on what is being said. Car-bound conversations are some of the best I’ve ever had.

We finished our break by plotting the next one! We know it’ll be more blood, sweat and tears and, yet, we can’t wait.

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts. ~ Author Unknown

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On Wednesday, the thirteen-year-old had done his chores without being asked and was ready to bike to school by 7.30 a.m. I commented on this radical departure from the way he normally has to be asked to do everything and leaves for school with two minutes to spare. He said, “I’m more mature. I’m a teenager now.”

I was enchanted. I hugged him and told him how much promise he has as a young man coming up in the world, how much he has to offer.

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On Thursday, I had to nag him to do every single chore and he was running late again. I asked him what had happened. He said, “I’m not a teen anymore, I’m just a kid again.”

“Why?”

“Because being a teen is boring! You just have to do more work.”

I had to laugh. Good luck on the Peter Pan wish, kid.

I think of my new teen like a reptile that has outgrown his skin without fully inhabiting the new one. He’s a little bit stuck betwixt and between. He’s not grown up enough or confident enough to be a full teenager, yet neither is he a tween any longer.

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His friends are just as important as ever, that’s one thing that’s remained a constant. He’s taking his first tentative, teetering steps into crushing on a friend. The social activity, his teacher reports, is increasing. Break times at school, which used to be all about sport, are now more often about socializing.

He’s a shape-shifter. Daily, the youngest son’s interests and appearance change. He veers from dependable, docile and close by, to unpredictable mood swings and long sessions whispering into his cell phone in the bedroom closet. The growth he is doing now is unparalleled; he’s morphing into new skins. The rounded cheeks are no more. They belong to yesteryear. I realize his voice isn’t as high pitched. He’s sneaking up on my eye-level.

I miss the days of my youngest son being a “tween” though. It was a lot quieter around here then. He’s gone to visit a friend, it’s been half an hour since he left, and yet, my head is still ringing.

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Bored with Fortnite, he’s back to playing roblox on his computer which means he is stationed on the kitchen counter, the only available spot left for a computer at this end of the house. The games make noises; like blaring sirens and bells ringing, and then the son himself is talking to the friend he’s playing the game with via his mobile phone. So, I hear the friend’s chatter and my son’s. I can deal with this. It’s all normal teen stuff. However, as the game goes on, his voice tends to take off for the stratosphere like a supersonic jet.

The youngest son doesn’t have to be situated in the kitchen, but I’ve watched enough Oprah shows to know that kids taking computers into their bedrooms is never a good idea.

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And, while the incessant chatter that goes on after school between he and his friends is annoying, I’d rather that than not be privy to what they’re talking about or getting up to.

Nevertheless, after the kids have gone to bed each evening, I feel like my head has been freed from the inside of a bell.

At least with Fortnite, the son played it in the living room. I never thought I’d be suggesting to my youngest that he might like to play Xbox, but I have done so. A number of times. However, he’s not buying what I’m selling. Fortnite is so last month. Of course, the key factor is that all his friends have returned to Roblox. Kids flock together. It looks like I’m stuck with him in the kitchen drowning out all other sounds for miles around. I’m thinking of buying sound cancelling earmuffs.

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Perhaps the earmuffs might also help me withstand what he himself has called “verbal diarrhoea.” He’s at the stage of having a lot to say. He talks a lot when he’s not gaming, texting or on a phone call, practising his drumming, or eating. Once he starts to talk he just keeps going. He doesn’t need me to say anything, just listen.

All he needs is for mama to set the framework, hold the course, to give him someone to bounce things off. And, to keep the food coming, of course!

It’s nothing a good pair of earmuffs and a regular sabbatical won’t heal. What about you, how are you surviving the teen years?

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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All kids need is a little help, a little hope, and someone who believes in them. ~ Magic Johnson

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The “tween” morphs before my eyes. This weekend, he celebrates turning thirteen (ominous bells toll somewhere!) Wasn’t he a baby a moment ago?

He’s taking that step over the threshold, from hovering ‘between child and teenager,’ into official teenagedom.

We’ve been feeling the rumblings of the fiery belly within the volcano for a few months now. I’ve referred to my youngest son’s tween years in previous posts, by likening our household to being the wary villagers living on the slopes of an active volcano. Rumbles like meltdowns and unexplained grumpiness accompany bouts of joyous abandon on a daily basis.

The “tween” morphs before my eyes. His second year of intermediate school is much more social and about friendships and social groups. You never let your friends down, so he tells me. He’s spending more time on his phone. I had to request he put his mobile down for the entire drive we took in the car today, so that we could have a conversation.

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The first year at Intermediate school, he spent an hour or so gaming in the evenings, but it was on his computer, mostly playing games like Roblox and Minecraft, which he did for the most part alone.

This year, every night after dinner’s eaten, homework and drum practise are done and all the chores are finished, the youngest son plays Fortnite. There are alternate explosions henceforth, of giddy dances of triumph, and bursts of molten lava bearing anger and frustration down the slopes, either killing or scaring the daylights out of the poor, unsuspecting villagers.

What weaves these explosions of energy together is a lot of enthusiastic boy talk as he and his friends discuss their game. I watch sometimes from the kitchen while I’m making dinner. Their continuous conversation is punctuated with “Bro” “Bruh” “Yo” “Rip” “and “tight.” Every aspect of the previous game and the kills they made has to be discussed before they can start again.

The son does play solo quests sometimes but, they seem very sad affairs. No, Fortnite is all about the squads, and the way the groups of kids get to hang out together in virtual reality and play war games to their hearts’ content.

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In our house, Fortnite is played through the Xbox on the big screen of the tv, and the youngest son can talk to his friends as they play. This sort of enlarged experience is all part of the more hyped up version of himself he is at present. His voice rises in pitch more often, and he sometimes collapses to a bed mortally wounded by something I’ve said. Apparently, I don’t understand where he’s coming from, even though on the other hand I’m ‘the only one he can tell everything to.’ I tell you, it’s turbulent times in the village. We look up at the black smoke wisping from the peak across the sky.

What else is to come?

The “tween” morphs before my eyes.

There’s no change in the tone of voice yet, he can still reach a high note I can only dream of.

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Another thing that hasn’t changed is the sweetness. The innocence is still there, thankfully. I delight in the purity I still see in him.

And, he retains a need to discuss everything with me. I’m a “touchstone” for now. I remember though, with horror, the terrible creature I morphed into at the age of fifteen. I shudder to think of that happening to my youngest son. He has such a beautiful heart. So far, he hasn’t changed from the usual earnest, sensitive spirit he always was.

However, his appearance is slowly dramatically changing. He doesn’t look like my baby anymore.

All of a sudden, he’s sprouted literal inches overnight.

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I swear. I looked at him tonight and he’s taller than he was yesterday! I felt like someone had taken my child away and replaced him with a much bigger version, and I wanted the smaller one back. His face looks different, the cheeks no longer chubby. Can people really grow that fast? I’ve heard it said that the body releases so many growth hormones, that it does more growing in adolescence than at any other time in our life.

The youngest son’s only just started shooting upwards.

Tonight, he and I looked at one another from his new elevation, and he said, “Imagine when I’m looking down on you.” I said, “Let’s not imagine that, yet.”

Did you ever see the play, ‘Stop the world, I want to get off?’ I did, and that’s how I’ve been feeling lately, with my newly minted teen. Any advice would be welcome!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Parents are the bones on which children sharpen their teeth. ~ Peter Ustinov

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012 (16)What a week! There is this thing kids with special needs do sometimes, which myself and friends who have special kids like to call, “running with Diablo.” It refers to those inexplicable times that come around with cyclical regularity, when our kids go off the rails for a short time.

Overnight, they go from sweet and obliging to fickle and resisting.

I’m not sure what sets Sam-the-man off. Our fifteen-year-old with Downs’ syndrome will periodically become impossible to deal with. What causes it? I’m not sure.

It never lasts more than a few days, yet while it’s here, he can cause merry havoc.

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Sam’s been running with Diablo this week. Yesterday, his teacher rang to say he’s not listening to any of the teachers in class. The day before, the taxi driver had to move him to the back seat, because Sam kept taking his shoes off and putting them in her face as she was driving. On Tuesday, my neighbour came to tell me Sam was in his school uniform lying on the grass verge. We ran down and there he was. He must have gotten off the taxi outside our house, as usual, but instead of walking up the drive to the house, he’d walked along the street and lain face down on the grass verge. Luckily he was unhurt. I thanked my neighbour and brought him inside, thanking our lucky stars as well.

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The rest of the time, Sam’s a model child! He will do everything he’s asked. He knows his daily routines, though he still needs a parent there to keep him on task. He can do everything for himself with guidance. It’s taken a lot of work and patience over the years to get him to this level of independence, but we’re here and so proud of his progress.

Sam’s doing really well in school and in general. He’ll happily sit and do his homework for an hour with his carer supporter in the evening. He’ll do anything he’s asked with a smile on his face that melts your heart.

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Then overnight, Sam is the exact opposite, he won’t do a thing I say, and he won’t go along with a single thing the family is doing. He plonks himself down and refuses to move. It’s like a switch is flipped. I talk to him a lot at these times, to explain why he has to do a thing. If he hears enough that makes sense to him, he’ll cooperate.

Next week, I’m attending another child behaviour workshop run by Sam’s school. A special needs mum needs tools in her kit!

The best tip I ever heard was “Distraction! Distraction! Distraction!” and it’s the parental trick I use with Sam most often.

They say the mental health of someone with Downs’ syndrome is five years younger than their physical age. Therefore, Sam is mentally around ten.

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When his behaviour derails, and he’s sitting on the floor refusing to get up and walk to the taxi, I divert his attention, “Oh, did you see that bird?” “Did I tell you about the thing we’re doing this weekend? Come on, get your shoes on and I’ll tell you.”

And the second best tip would be momentum. Once you’ve got them moving in the direction you want them to go/doing what you want them to do, KEEP GOING, do not stop!

Momentum is your friend.

A friend asked, “How do you cope?” Some days are harder than others.

Sam-the-man tests me sometimes to be more resourceful, and he keeps all of us on our toes. There are times when he’s locked us out of the house, or taken something important, like the remote for the garage or a personal device or car keys, and hidden them.

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We’ve lost many tv remotes and devices over the years that the phenomena even has a name, we call it a “Sammy special.”

The fact is it’s not easy, and as a parent I am tired a lot of the time.

I’m not sure whether his cyclical bad behaviour is a childhood thing he will grow out of or not. I remember my father asked me a couple of Christmases ago, “How much do you think Sam will grow up?” And I said, “I don’t know.” That’s the thing. The future is unknown. We’ll find out when we get there, I guess.

Meantime life is never boring, and I wouldn’t trade Sam for all the money in the world.

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with open eyes. ~ Nehru

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Me with Al0001

In October of this year, my youngest son will be going on the trip of a lifetime. He and eleven other lucky kids from across New Zealand have been chosen to go to Disneyland.

Two weeks ago, we received an invitation to apply for a place on the coveted annual trip with Koru Care New Zealand, through our association with Heart Kids NZ. Yesterday, we got the happy news he had been accepted, and we’ll happily do our bit to help raise money for the trip, as this is such a great opportunity.

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Koru Care New Zealand is a charitable trust established in 1983. It’s run by volunteers ‘making dreams come true for seriously ill and disabled children.’ Heart Kids NZ is another charitable trust. It’s committed to providing lifelong support to those born with congenital heart defects and heart disease.

The youngest of my three boys was born in 2005, with complex congenital heart disorder (or CHD), although we did not know that at the time.

The first clue came when he started coughing at three weeks old, though he had no other symptoms of ill health.

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The cough would come and go from then on, however when he did contract the flu, then his health would plummet fast and the cough would become life threatening and continuous. It took me five years to get a diagnosis, as we went down the road of misdiagnoses and educated guesses and countless trial treatments.

Finally, after trying everything, I went back to our doctor with the whole story. She listened carefully to his chest. Her discovery of a heart murmur led to the hospital tests, which finally confirmed the problem was a hole in his heart or Atrial Septal Defect.

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In 2010, he underwent double bypass open heart surgery. The operation was later added to the “unusual casebook.” The hole in his heart was ‘more than just a hole, there was only a rim between the upper chambers,’ the surgeon, Dr. Elizabeth Rumball, told us later. ‘And his heart had grown a single vein from the liver to the bottom of the heart,’ something she had never seen before. Dr. Rumball had to figure out how create an autologous pericardial patch to fix both issues.

After six hours of surgery, my five-year-old woke in Pediatric Intensive Care, with a gash down his chest, in a lot of pain. His recovery process began there. Only three days out from the surgery, he moved to the high dependency unit and was already taking his first steps. Three days later we were released to go home.

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We’ve come a long way since those days.

They say it takes paediatric heart patients a year to get their energy back and a decade for the body to recover to the pre-surgery state, however, he is in good health these days. The difference with heart kids is that they are a little “fragile,” they don’t have the same stamina as other kids. They are also susceptible to emotional, developmental and behavioural problems.

My son has thrived since the surgery. Gone are the days and nights of coughing. He has quality of life and the prospect of a healthy future ahead, thanks to the wonderful doctors and staff at Starship Children’s Hospital.

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While we were in hospital, we joined the amazing Heart Kids NZ foundation. We put his name down on the list of kids interested in going to “Heart Camp,” a weeklong retreat each summer. From the age of eight, he has gone to camp every year. He’s learned adventure skills like kayaking, abseiling and rock climbing. He’s sat around campfires, and gone swimming, ridden the flying foxes and water slides. He’s made friends and had important experiences of independence. Because he was well known at heart camp, his name came up when Koru Care said they had places for four Heart kids on the Disneyland adventure.

Nat camp

My son was the right age and state of health to be eligible, so his name went forward with a lot of others. And we were lucky enough to get picked. He was excited when I told him the good news because he has never travelled anywhere or been to a theme park, and he’s always wanted to go. This sweet boy who has been through so many trials in his life, will get to go on the adventure of a lifetime, to Disneyland!

Thank you to Koru Care New Zealand and to Heart Kids NZ and to the medical staff along the way for making all of this possible and for making a boy’s dream come true.

Blessings come in many ways, even when they’re sometimes dressed as catastrophes.

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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If you can dream it, you can do it. ~ Walt Disney

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A tragedy befell our garden this week of Edwardian proportions.

On Tuesday night, around nine o’clock, a storm sprang out of nowhere. It only lasted a few hours and yet, it did untold damage across our region. Trees fell down on people’s houses, on cars and across roads. Winds gusted 100 -160 kilometres an hour and in some places got up to 210 kilometres. A four story building under construction caved in, and there were power outs in many areas, leaving people without heating on the coldest night of the year.

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I went to bed around 9.30 on Tuesday night, afraid of the big gusts of wind roaring around the house. About half an hour later, I was woken by a loud, insistent banging on the door. My neighbour, Pete, stood on the doorstep in an oil slicker, holding a powerful torch, with the wind and rain howling behind him.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yes, why?”

“Your big tree’s fallen down.”

My heart sank. No. Not that tree.

The Liquid Amber

Not the tree my parents planted in 1962 when they first moved in. The tree my brother-in-law dubbed ‘The Jewel of the Garden’ for its radiant magnificence. The tree whose dramatic changing hues, shedding of leaves and regaining of resplendent green shoots has heralded the turning of the seasons throughout my life. The tree I went and hugged for a few days in a row after dad died, and sang to. No. Not that tree.

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I remember when dad came back to visit the old homestead, a few years ago. He walked out into the backyard to admire the liquid amber he’d planted fifty years before. His head tilted, and he marvelled, “It’s grown so big.”

No.

Not that tree.

I couldn’t bear to go and look at it that evening and, besides, it was too wild outside. I waited until the next morning. Then, I went out into the garden, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.

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Most of the main column was gone. My nephew, who lives in the sleep out, said he could hear branches cracking in the storm. He’d gone outside to get a look and could see the big gusts of wind whipping the branches around. He went back to bed and threw a mattress over himself when he heard another loud crack, then a resounding thud when the top half fell.

Miraculously, it had crashed into Pete’s backyard, missing everything except for his clothesline.

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I was relieved to see the remaining trunk was still firmly planted in the ground and that many of the branches still seemed strong.

The tree removal guy says he hopes to salvage what’s left. He can trim the branches and trunk. The tree will be half the size, but the prognosis is that it might survive to be hugged another day.

Boy, I hope so.

I don’t care to lose too many more family members at the moment.

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The theme of loss and the reality of it in our daily lives is difficult.

At the end of the middle grade novel I’m working on, The Last Tree, when the hero, Aden misses his elderly mentor, Geo, he asks himself, ‘Is this what it’s like to grow up, there’s more pain and losing people?’

I think that’s one of those storms we all have to go through, when we start to mature, in becoming aware of our mortality and that our parents aren’t going to live forever. There are moments of understanding that one day we’ll have to find our way through this world alone, and one day, we’ll take the place of our parents as the elders in our own families.

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The elderly or grandparent character in a story always represents our mortality, by the nature of their advanced age, they represent impermanence.

I love to write the grandparents and always include them in my fiction. The truth is, that half the Jewel of the Garden must be taken away, that grandparents will die some day, and that our beloved parents will one day do the same, and so will we. But, the student, the child, the garden will carry on. The new growth will replace the old tree. And the next generation will blossom and thrive and have their season in the sun. That is the flow of life, and there is comfort in that knowledge and wisdom in acceptance.

Have you ever weathered a major storm or lost a tree you loved? What did you do? What nugget of wisdom did you gain from the experience?

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(Dad’s grandson and great-granddaughter)

Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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If we know how to appreciate these beautiful things, we will not have to search for anything else. Peace is available in every moment, in every breath, in every step. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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Because my siblings and I have been clearing out my parents’ home recently, we’ve pored through literally hundreds of old photos. I was thrilled to find photos of the very early days of our family homestead, the house I still live in today, which none of us had ever seen before. And, the idea came to me, to do a photo montage of the journey this old house and yard has taken to the gorgeous beauty it is today.

patch of dirt with promise

It all started with a patch of dirt with promise.

In 1962, my parents were set to immigrate to New Zealand with their two young daughters. Dad came to New Zealand first, to build his young family a house in a newly opened suburb, with the help of two professional builders.

Dad building the house

By the time mum and my sisters took the six week journey from the U.K by boat in 1963, a nice tidy three bedroom wooden house was waiting for them.

The new Lockwood house was home.

The finished house

Back

The finished house, front

Front

I was born in 1964, my brother two years later. We lived a semi-rural lifestyle with a menagerie of pets, and enjoyed an idyllic, safe, free childhood in this house.

The garden, back

In the backyard, my parents had planted a hedge of bentamy trees along the fenceline, and a liquid amber sapling in front of the canary aviary.

The house took a lot of wear and tear.

The house, 1980's

In the 1980’s the house was painted brown, and apart from the extensive vegetable garden, there was not a lot of garden, just three fish ponds and two bird aviaries.

A triumphant return.

The house, 1990'sThe house, front

My parents offered me the house for rent in the 1990’s, and I returned after a long absence. The exterior wall colour had changed to white. Otherwise, the homestead had remained unchanged inside or out since the 1960’s.

In the backyard, we found a jungle.

The garden, back, 1990's

The bentamy had been left to multiply untended for the whole six years their house had been rented out and had grown ten, twelve feet high, and engulfed the aviary completely. The neighbours behind us complained their garden received no sun in winter or summer.

The back garden clean up

The back garden clean up crew

My parents and brother pitched in to help with the enormous job of trimming the hedge. The arborist carted away a ton of wood on his truck.

reclaiming the aviary

We found the old aviary had survived underneath the bentamy, and we turned it into a garden shed.

under the bentamy

We left some foliage for privacy and planted a line of native trees called pittosporums along the fenceline. Within a few years, we’d take out the bentamy stumps altogether and let the natives take over.

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My husband and I began updating the interior of the house with a new kitchen, taking out the old fireplace, and putting in new LED lights. We added verandahs front and back as well as French doors.

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I had the roof fixed, the “hips” replaced, and I had the house painted a new colour called “Parchment” with white trim.

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I went on a planting spree and planted flowers, trees, and shrubs everywhere.

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I fenced the entire property and added three lockable gates.

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The liquid amber had bloomed into a fantastic venerable tree. As the oldest of its kind in the district, it’s leaves are the last in the neighbourhood to change colour in autumn and the first to get green buds back again in spring. It truly is the jewel of the garden.

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In 2014, I knocked down the old aviary/shed and built a brand new sleep out in its place.

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The maintenance on the house and property is nearly a full time job, yet, with a lot of hard work, I’ve managed to reclaim this place and create a magical garden getaway in the heart of the urban landscape. The house my father built was a haven for us growing up and is now a base for my kids and nephew and I that has heart, history and a family legacy rooted in its foundations.

I love our home.

Where do you live and why? Tell me where you grew up…

papa bear and me

Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” — Leonardo da Vinci.

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