Archive for the ‘parenting’ Category

I got caught on the hop this week. I discovered on Tuesday that I was due to give a speech at Toastmasters the following day, and I had to come up with something in a hurry. I thought about Sam, my sixteen-year-old with Downs’ syndrome. In the four years I’d been in Toastmasters, I had not tackled the big issues. I’d spoken about all kinds of major things, but, I hadn’t had the courage to talk about Sam, and Downs’ syndrome, or anything about my life as a “special” mum. I still haven’t had the courage to talk about about my youngest son, who has Congenital Heart Defect, and the life and death surgery he went through twice at the tender age age of five. Similarly, I have yet to give a speech about my grandmother’s death, or those of my parents (both deceased within the last four years). I didn’t feel I could do them justice.

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But, when Toastmasters asked me to do my first speech of the year, I decided the time had come to delve a little deeper and share more of my personal stories. In Toastmasters, they say that personal stories are the most powerful, they are the speeches people remember. I decided I would share the story of Sam’s arrival in my life and being a parent of a special needs kid. The speech title, ‘The Road Less Travelled,’ comes from the last verse of one of my favourite poems, The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

I opened my speech by recounting the story of Sam’s birth, in more or less these words:

When I was pregnant with my second child, I was thirty-six. My doctor recommended I take an amniocentesis test, which tests for any abnormalities in the child. I agreed and booked in for the test.

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But, the night before I was due to go into the hospital, I woke up at exactly 11 o’clock at night, with an epiphany. I sat up in bed and asked myself,

‘What would you do if there was something wrong with the baby?’

I knew I could not go against my moral code and abort it. So, literally at the eleventh hour, I cancelled the test.

Some months later, after a difficult birth, my midwife handed the baby to me with the words, “I’m sorry, but I believe your son has Downs’ syndrome.”

My world, my life as I knew it up to that point, ended, and a whole new life began in a whole new world. It was one I knew nothing about, and I had a lot to learn!

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Downs’ syndrome is a genetic condition which results from a third copy of the 21st chromosome.

One in six hundred babies are born with Downs’ syndrome every year in New Zealand. The condition entails delayed development, low muscle tone, and this combined with a large tongue makes it very difficult for many Downs’ syndrome kids to talk clearly. 70% of girls with the syndrome will be understood by anyone outside their immediate family and that figure drops to 40-50% for the boys.

The things that our normal babies take for granted, like sitting up, standing, walking, none of these things come easy for a special kid. Every step is hard won. Sam was three-years-old before he could crawl, five before he could walk, eleven before he was potty trained during the day and thirteen before he was dry through the night.

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We special parents say, ‘it’s like taking one step forward, two steps back.’

Therefore every milestone achieved, every hurdle crossed, with these kids is such a triumph. You feel so proud of them you could burst. I know how hard Sam has worked to learn how to do every little thing.

Being a special needs parent has enriched my life. Sam has taught me so much; I have gained so much from his example. He’s taught me humility, patience, tolerance, compassion, forgiveness and how to care for the underdog. I would say most of all, he has taught me how to be present. For Sam, there is no future. He doesn’t have the ability to look ahead and imagine outcomes, there is only right now.

Sam is always present. That lesson in itself has been a gift.

The road less travelled by continues to reap dividends, and I am so grateful I accepted the challenge.

Thank goodness. Imagine what I would have missed out on!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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“There’s not one path. There’s not even the right path. There is only your path.” – Nietzsche

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Subscribe to my Newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

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Tuesday the twelfth of February marked the first anniversary of my father’s death. It was a year ago on a Monday that I got the phone call you dread, that someone you love has died. It was my elder sister, who was ringing from the Waikato Hospital.

I think it was seven o’clock in the morning – too early to be good news – “Dad passed away last night.”

I felt sucker punched.

My sister said the hospital then the funeral home was taking dad’s body to do the final things that needed to be done; he would be sent home to us in a day or so.

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I started packing our bags. I spoke to all the people I needed to speak to, excused the boys from school for the week, and we were on the road to my father’s log cabin within the hour.

I’ll never forget the scene, when we drove into dad’s seaside town and neared the mountain he lived on, we found the peak was completely hidden within its own private cloud. It was so unusual I had to stop and take a photo.

I felt the land and the sea surrounding us were speaking directly to our sorrow.

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When we arrived at the empty house that was when the tears flowed. I couldn’t believe dad wouldn’t be there, as he always had been there: reading the paper, watching the 6 o’clock news, doing the crossword, feeding his birds, working in the garden, making food in the kitchen, playing cribbage with us in the evenings. Dad would never be there again.

I looked at my two youngest boys and they looked at me, and I knew I had to be strong for them. Though dad had only been gone a day, certain doors had closed, and a new one had opened, that of my stepping up in rank in our family.

Now, it was my turn to begin the walk of the kaumatua (elder).

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I unpacked our bags, and started preparing food for my sisters, who were driving to Thames Hospital to sort out paperwork, and would then make the trip to us. It all felt surreal. The reality arrived when the funeral home brought dad’s casket to the house a day and a half later.

The funeral director said, ‘the hardest moments for the families are when the lid is first removed and when the lid of the casket is put back on.’

Both moments were heart wrenching. Yet, my father himself looked like he was sleeping, and he was dressed in his very best Sunday suit. We took it in turns after the initial outpouring of grief to sit with him. We didn’t leave dad alone, apart from when we were sleeping.

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Dad spent two and a half days with us at home. We sat with him, held his hands, stroked his hair, sang and talked to him. More family arrived until we were all present. Friends came by, bringing food, neighbours baked cakes and lasagnes.

In the evenings, we siblings sat around the dining table, spending hour after hour going through the old photos. There were boxes to view and sort and distribute between us. Each day, we selected another room of the house to clear out and sort through. The contents of our parents’ lives spread before us.

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Although it almost felt disrespectful to touch their belongings, two people’s lives and a house full of possessions needed to be resolved.

After dad had been moved to his beloved church and had been given a beautiful, moving ceremony, we laid him to rest, alongside mum in the town’s cemetery.

Tuesday 12th 2019 marked the first anniversary of dad’s death. My sister and I travelled to mum’s and dad’s hometown in order to pay our respects.

We visited the cemetery and cleaned the headstone; we put in fresh flowers and solar lights. We spoke to dad and said some prayers and sang a song. We told him and mum that they’re not forgotten. It was sad but it felt like the right thing to do.

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I came home to the city and my kids musing on the fact sometimes growing up can be hard. I felt sorry for my teenagers and their travails.

In the last two weeks, my youngest son has started high school. He’s made several commitments to teams and groups, at the same time undertaking more chores at home. Tonight, when I asked him to do the ‘umpteenth thing,’ he said, “GROWING UP SUCKS!”

It does, man, there’s no other way of putting it. Yet, the tragedies and the hardships we go through, as we get older and lose more people, are what also shape and craft us into better, deeper, more empathetic human beings.

Sometimes, it sucks, yet, that’s okay. It means another phase of life begins.

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Talk to you later.

Yvette K. Carol

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It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. E.e. Cummings

 

 

The youngest son began high school this week. He was nervous about the extra work load and whether he’d fit in. At the same time, he was excited about the new opportunities. When his older brother and I joined him the first morning of the Orientation day, for the Powhiri (traditional Maori welcome ceremony), my heart was wrung inside out to bear witness to his slouching, head hung down awkwardness.

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I can remember my first day of high school. I walked – it was a good three quarter of an hour distance – and I was petrified, wondering what college would be like. After a while, another girl, who was walking along in the same uniform, joined me. We immediately became friends. All the nervousness melted away. For that important first day, I strolled in the gates with an ally and that made all the difference in the world.

I hoped my son would find his friends.

Eyes are watching, everywhere.
Look at the seniors, we wouldn’t dare.
Talk to old friends, the pressure ends there.
From ‘High School’ © Nikii
Source: https://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/highschool

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The youngest son’s first day at high school was an orientation day so there were no classes. I was distracted the whole day, worrying about him. He survived however, and somehow, miraculously figured out which bus to catch home, returning faded and dusty around four in the afternoon. He’d found one of his buddies from last year, he said.

Yet, I noticed he was still carrying the bag with his year’s worth of stationary.

I said I’d buy a school locker, but no, he was ‘too nervous to get one!’

The second day, he was still finding his way around the new school, navigating his classes with different teachers. “Everything about high school is weird,” he said, upon returning home that day. They had done a tour of the nurse’s office, “And on the walls were giant posters, one was for LGBT rights, and the other was about using condoms.” I gather he was slightly shocked.

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He’s being treated in a new way, as if he’s older, which he quite likes. He still didn’t appreciate hearing the input of the teacher, who – upon seeing he and his friends laughing in the break – said, “You won’t be smiling like that for long!”

We all know, high school is a place of hard knocks, but no one expects the teachers to be telling the new students that message on their first day at high school. He’ll find the truth out on his own!

The youngest son came home around four in the afternoon, weary and wan, and devastated that he had been given homework already! Stepping into high school, apparently, was like stepping into another world. He said, “The kids don’t really play games in the breaks, they just walk around the school talking.”
There’s peer pressure, sex, violence, and too many fights to imagine.
People, who you thought were your friends, are the ones you mainly end up fighting.
From ‘A Typical Teenager’ © Courtney Dailey
Source: https://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/a-typical-teenager

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The third day at high school (today) was a new experience again. Youngest son came in the door around four this afternoon, tired and pale, yet, he was smiling. He said, “Remember how I wanted to go to this school because my friends were going there? Well, I found a crowd of them today. It was awesome!” Additionally, a number of them catch the same bus route home. Happy Days!

I noticed he’s still carrying his year’s worth of stationary around with him.

Maybe that will settle down and he’ll be able to trust his stuff to a locker in the second week? Unknown. For now, I can say, we have both managed to get through those gnarly first days, and he’s managed to find his feet to some degree.

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According to some statistics, kids generally enjoy high school. Teens say they have their best memories from school in high school (45%) versus those that rank Middle School/Junior (33%) or Elementary School (22%).

I can remember having an awful lot of fun in high school and meeting my best friends there.

The youngest son has five years ahead of him at this institution. Though I worry he’s underweight, and possibly a bully magnet, his years at high school could also be the making of him. Given the right sprinkle of teachers and the right sequence of learning opportunities, he might grow in confidence as well as size. He might gain maturity and become more responsible. He might make lifelong friends. You never know.

What I do know for sure is that we’ve seen another milestone. Now, I have two boys in high school. Another phase in life begins….

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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“There’s not one path. There’s not even the right path. There is only your path.” – Nietzsche

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Subscribe to my Newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

It’s interesting living with young men, as you never quite know what mood you’re going to find them in. The sixteen-year-old was a drama a minute all of last year. Myself and the rest of the family were exhausted by Christmas. Yet, this year, he seems to be settling down and finding his middle ground.

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The youngest is on the cusp of adolescence. At the gullible age of thirteen, he takes everything so seriously, and lately, he has become even more into online gaming. These summer holidays, he was forced to take a two week break from gaming and spend time with family. But the last couple of weeks he’s been home and playing online most of the time. I offer him other activities. He says gaming is his way of relaxing.

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Apparently, most of his friends have moved on from constant Fortnite to other games like Call of Duty and Skate 3. They’re still ‘hanging out,’ just the same way I would have started doing with my friends at his age, but they’re doing it in digital form. The gamers follow one another in herds. All the friends who play regularly together, move by word of mouth to the games where the other kids are. All the time they’re playing they’re keeping up a constant conversation. In fact, if there are kids who are new in the group and they’re not talking, they get asked to speak because if they don’t, everyone else ‘gets sketched out about it.’

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I listen to the youngest son’s conversations sometimes, as I do sanction eavesdropping (not constantly, but on occasion) while a child is under the age of sixteen. A young person can easily be led astray without even realizing its happening. And this is such a potentially scary time for parents of pre-teens and young teens as everyone is so accessible. I admit I have nightmares about it sometimes. I worry about my boys often.

The other day, I heard my youngest son repeating some very unsavoury words, that he was obviously parroting someone else saying to him. I said, “WHAT are you talking about?”

He said, “I was talking with so-and-so (one of the people he plays online with) and he just randomly started saying these strange things.”

I said, “Unfriend and block him.”

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The youngest son did so. It surprised me that he had no idea what was going on. That’s where I feel a little parental guidance and supervision is required, at times.

He’s doing fine navigating things himself, yet he needs a bit of course correction now and again.

Apart from that, I can see the attraction. The kids are playing these super fun games from the comfort of home, yet, they’re still having this socially bonding experience with their friends. They’re all “What’s up, G?” “Let’s go!” “Yo!” and when a move taken in a game is a bad one “That’s cancer!” and when someone wins the game “You’re a god!” They talk the same lingo, and yet the words of choice change every week. What started out one week as ‘bro,’ turned into ‘bruh,’ then into ‘brr’ and, as of this week, they’re saying ‘bro’ again. You’ve got to be in the clique to know which words to use. One time I overheard the youngest son ask someone, “Why do you sound like you’re thirty years old?” They can tell when you’re not one of them in a twinkling.

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I can’t complain. If all this fun online stuff had been available in my time, I’m sure I would’ve been into it, too. I just worry that my boys don’t get out into nature enough. I want them to get outdoors more often. Throughout the holidays, I’ve invited the youngest son outside for rounds of badminton – formerly our favourite game – and he has declined the offer. Although I did convince him to joining myself and his brother for a number of swims.

I bought the youngest son a really good teen novel for Christmas to encourage him into reading. I want him to read at least one page every night this year.

I know he will come through this fixated, over dramatic, friends-are-everything stage, just as his two brothers did before him. Nevertheless, I try to stay vigilant in guiding and protecting him. I tell him he can always talk to me, that I’m always here for him.

The best advice my grandmother gave me for parenting was, ‘keep the lines of communication open,’ and that’s what I endeavour to do. What about you?

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Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

 

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Raise one foot and you get ten feet of wind. – Chinese Proverb

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Subscribe to my Newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

Love is the greatest gift that one generation can leave to another. ~ Richard Garnet

A couple of weeks ago, I learned that my nephew, a hardworking student doing his masters in architecture, had lost out on the summer job he’d been expecting. I wanted to support him. But I’m not going to just give him money. What does he gain from receiving something for nothing? Nothing. Far better, he moves and breaks a sweat, then gets the reward. In my home, my nephew, along with my three boys, and another nephew (who boards here), are all welcome to stay as long as they like. If they need money, they can have it, but, they have to earn it first.

I think a family, no matter what the shape or size, needs rules and to keep the rules simple. 

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I offered the nephew a few weeks work around here, as the old homestead was due for sprucing anyway. No problem. In fact, I realized it might even be preferable to put the effort in now, instead of waiting for the sweltering heat of the holidays.

It’s a win-win situation: I get help with the big work of summer, and he gets some income to pay his rent and eat, until he can find himself another part time job.

He and I have been working on the house maintenance the last two weeks, and we’ll most likely get finished next week. I feed him and pay him well, so I know he’s getting fed, he can pay his bills and in return, I’m getting all our jobs done early this summer. There’s nothing wrong with that. It means that this year, I might actually relax during my break. There’s nothing wrong with that, either. I think they call that a ‘win-win-win situation!’

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I really do want to support my nephew and help him. He’s a wonderful young man with a bright future ahead of him, and a social conscience as to how he can help people.

The proposal he recently submitted for his Master’s thesis – which he has to write next year – is about ‘the absence of the Maori voice, presence and culture in our present New Zealand society and in our design aesthetic.’

It was so poetic and poignant, I was struck by this boy’s mind and heart, his eloquent vision, and how much potential he has to do good in this world through his humanitarian approach to architecture.

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Sadly, my nephew’s mother died when he was only seven-years-old. I had been his “nanny” from the time he was three weeks old to the age of seven – as his parents were both busy professionals, working long hours – so we’ve always been close. But ever since his mother’s death, when his father remarried, I’ve felt like I was a standby, second mum for him.

I’ve watched him rise up through the ranks of college, choosing tech drawing and design classes the whole way through the school system.

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He always knew what he was interested in and what he was good at. I’ve seldom seen such singularity of purpose in a young child. So, I’m in awe of his trajectory, and I intend to continue to act as a support network behind him. As I’ve said to him many a time, if ever you need anything, you always know you can come here. Family should keep an open door for each other.

It’s difficult for young people coming up these days because everything’s so expensive.

Rental prices in this city are sky-high, so a lot of young people’s incomes are absorbed by the rent each week. It’s hardly good incentive for tertiary study.

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I know this particular nephew has a huge student loan already, and he’s still got his fifth year of University to go. He relies on paying work during summer, to put enough money away in the bank, to survive through the next school year. But, the company who had promised him work this summer went belly-up. The promised position had evaporated. Family can not only step in at this point, they can bang the tom-toms and send the message out to others. I can let my friends know there’s a willing young man looking for yard work. His father’s living down south at the moment so he’s not around, but I’m here, so that’s okay. No matter what, I’ll help get him through. That’s what family is for. I think it’s especially important to lend a hand to the up-and-coming next generation – they are, after all, our future.

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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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Subscribe to my Newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

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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Subscribe to my Newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line.

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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From the time he was small, my son Samuel has had episodes of erratic behaviour. Talking with my friends who also parent Downs’ syndrome kids, I discovered this can be part of the syndrome. Small stints of bad behaviour seemed to come about in cyclical fashion, and among our circle, we called it ‘running with Diablo.’ Our kids would run wild every now and again, and then it was over as fast as it started. No problem.

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Sam’s episodes have always been doozies though. I put that down to his being a strong, forceful character, a little volcano that needed to let off steam like Mt. Vesuivus. From the age of five-years-old to ten, Sam’s mischievous escapades were epic. He once carried the entire contents of the fridge and freezer into our living room and spread it out on the floor while I was putting out the washing. He once escaped the house by climbing out of the living room window at two o’clock in the morning. One time, he was walking along nicely beside us as we went to school and on the turn of a dime, he burst into running full tilt across the road in front of a Kenwood truck. In the latter two cases, Sam was lucky not to have been killed.

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Sam is no longer a ten-year-old. Now, he’s fifteen, and he’s bigger and stronger than me. His behaviour this year has steadily deteriorated. Tonight, he decided he was leaving with our carer supporter, who had spent a couple of hours helping Sam with homework. Neither the carer supporter, nor I, could stop Sam’s focused march down the drive as he repeated, “Good morning, Sam” over and over. He refused to listen to reason.

For the first time, I felt really afraid, that we’d lost control over him. I couldn’t see the boy I knew in his eyes anymore, his eyes looked blank, and the pupils widely dilated like that of a cat with the wind in its tail.

Then, I remembered something said by a friend whose child is autistic. Her child’s behaviour had gone off the rails at the onset of adolescence. Medication had helped, though it had been trial and error to get the medication right. I grabbed onto this idea like a lifeline. I sent her an email.

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I also remembered a neighbour telling me, her autistic child had started eating chalk and wire. However, medication had stopped the behaviour and he was attending a normal school. Maybe there was hope we could come out of this ditch, too.

The thing is, when Sam was small, he was diagnosed by a specialist as having a dual diagnosis: Down’s syndrome and Autism. But, somewhere along the way the ‘Autism’ tag got dropped. Tonight, I realised, Sam is autistic. He is a dual diagnosis. It might have gone into a latent period, for some reason. And, potentially, in Sam’s case, the trigger for setting it off again was my father’s death. Sam’s behaviour has been totally unpredictable ever since dad died.

I looked up Autism to read about it a bit, to see if my hunch was correct.

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This from Wikipedia: Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by troubles with social interaction and communication and by restricted and repetitive behavior.[3] Parents usually notice signs in the first two or three years of their child’s life.[1][3] These signs often develop gradually, though some children with autism reach their developmental milestones at a normal pace and then worsen.[9]

Tick, tick, tick. All these things applied to my son.

Then, from HELPGUIDE.org I found some tips on How to help your child with Autism thrive

*Provide structure and safety

*Find nonverbal ways to connect

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*Figure out the motivation behind the tantrumIt’s only natural to feel upset when you are misunderstood or ignored, and it’s no different for children with ASD. When children with ASD act out, it’s often because you’re not picking up on their nonverbal cues. Throwing a tantrum is their way of communicating their frustration and getting your attention.

*Create a personalized autism treatment plan

*Find help and support

I decided to reach out for support.

I had joined the Crippled Children’s Society years ago, so there would be someone to advise me on things to do with disability, when needed. However, I never used the service. Tonight, I sent an email to my advocate at CCS, titled, ‘Help.’

We need to see a specialist and sort out a treatment plan. Wish me luck!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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“Don’t waste a minute not being happy! If one window closes, run to the next window – or break down a door!” – B. Shields

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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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Subscribe to my Newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com