Monday, 5 February 2018

Here we go again.......

Hello to the New Year, new goals and all that rubbish everyone blithely abandons in a week or two from now....

I used to love blogging but then became weirdly anxious about it. I felt this odd pressure to 'perform'. To produce SOMETHING. ANYTHING. So I fell out of love with it, and instead became angry (which I have realized at my semi-advanced age, is my go to response to feeling anxious-I get angry & lash out when I'm not actually angry at all, just nervous & a bit overwhelmed.) All this was completely started, traversed and finished inside that small space between my ears. None of it caused by, or even witnessed by, anyone else. It became yet another stone added to the weight of shit hanging around my neck and adding to my stress. So I stepped away. A small cloud of blackness cleared and I felt lighter, in at least that small respect.

So I have decided not to perform. I have decided to blog when I have something to say, or something to show you. I crochet a lot. I make handbags. I 'art' a bit. And when I can't stop thinking about an idea, I write. So- here is a little story I recently wrote, and one of my most recent crochet projects.

                                                        The Weight

Once there was a girl with a hole in her chest where her heart used to live. She was rather fond of the hole, left it bare and bleeding for every one to see, decorated it, put scaffolding up.

It wasn't long before spiders and caterpillars and dust bunnies gathered round the scaffolding. Soon the floor became swampy and spongelike, collecting the glittering diamond tears that fell after her heart went the way of all things that were long abandoned, eventually dissolving into nothing. People simply ignored the hole, same as lovers had ignored the heart that left it. It grew stinging nettles, poison ivy, became so clogged with weeds there wasn't room for anyone or anything else and it hurt to breathe,  pinched and scratched when she tried to fit things in. 

So she ripped out the parts that made her feel, the parts that were painful, and filled it instead with concrete and barbed wire, flushed out the last remaining diamond tears, and made it an altar of stone where no one could brush up against raw nerves.

Time passed and she no longer even noticed the stoop of her shoulders, the cramp in her back from the weight of the concrete, until come the day it occurred to her that she wanted to fly. Try as she might, the pull of earth on the concrete was too strong and she stayed grounded, dragging useless and unfulfilled in the gutter, scraping her concrete heart against the curb. 

She picked at the edges of the wound, it tasted of caramel sauce, blood and regret. Examining it stung, every touch made her wince with self reproach. But she picked and picked until the mortar loosened, and the altar crumbled, and she kicked the weight from her chest. Her chest uncurled and opened like flowers blooming towards the sun. 

Then the girl and her hole flew away where warm sweet breezes hummed softly as they blew through the ever decreasing crawlspace, and the spiders and dust bunnies packed up the scaffolding and went off in a huff, unable to bear the song that her heart sang as it regrew until the hole was no more.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

                                           (get me a bed and WiFi, I'm moving in)


so...the dreaded Mentee Bio


Ugh pull my teeth without anesthetic, please. I hate writing about myself.

In no particular order (Yes, I watch too much X-factor)

I write because there is a whole village full of people (yes some of them are the village idiots) living in my head and they are all crying out for a day pass.

I write Young Adult and New Adult  fiction, probably because in my head I am still 19 or 20. (I still listen to the music I listened to in college quite a bit. Shout out to all the Cure fans!) My favourite characters are broken, tangled  and feisty, just like my favourite friends. 

I like to disappear into the woods near my house with a fishing stool and my laptop. The smell of the trees and sounds of nature soothes my soul and feeds my imagination. Now if only my battery would be more cooperative!

Sometimes I write until my elbows and knees and finger joints are throbbing because I'm FEELING IT and I don't want to stop. Or sleep. Or feed my husband and kids. Or talk to any real humans.

I love editing. To me that's where the real beauty and shine comes out in my writing. First draft is an avalanche of 'get the hell out of my head already!' Second, third, fourth drafts? ...that's where the magic happens (harhar. Apologies to the husband who thinks it happens somewhere else)

After my first outing at NaNoWrimo in 2011 I co-founded (and still chair) a fantastic writers group full of funny, supportive, wickedly talented people who I adore and never get to spend enough time with.

In an ideal world Cinnabon, fruit, peanut butter and anything caramel flavoured would constitute a highly nutritional brain feeding (and non butt increasing) diet.

Weirdness, nerdy curiosity, and toddler like awe and wonder are my default modes.

In an alternate universe, I am a world renowned architect who creates elegantly strange and heart stopping buildings. In this universe I am so bad at math that anything I build would likely fall down around your ears. Flatpack furniture included.

Wear protective headgear.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

                                          (get me a bed and WiFi, I'm moving in)


so...the dreaded Mentee Bio


Ugh pull my teeth without anaesthetic, please.

In no particular order (Yes, I watch too much X-factor)

I write because there is a whole village full of people (yes some of them are the village idiots) living in my head and they are all crying out for a day pass.

In an ideal world Cinnabon, fruit. peanut butter and anything caramel flavoured would constitute a highly nutritional brain feeding (and non butt increasing) diet.

My favourite characters are broken, tangled  and feisty, just like my favourite friends. 

Sometimes I write until my elbows and knees and finger joints are throbbing because I'm FEELING IT and I don't want to stop. Or sleep. Or feed my husband and kids. Or talk to any real humans.

I love editing. To me that's where the real beauty and shine comes out in my writing. First draft is an avalanche of 'get the hell out of my head already!' Second, third, fourth drafts? ...that's where the magic happens (harhar. Apologies to the husband who thinks it happens somewhere else)

Weirdness, nerdy curiosity, and toddler like awe and wonder are my default modes.

In 2011 I co-founded (and still chair) a fantastic writers group full of funny, supportive, wickedly talented people who I adore and never get to spend enough time with,

In an alternate universe, I am a world renowned architect who creates elegantly strange and heart stopping buildings. In this universe I am so bad at math that anything I build would likely fall down around your ears. Flatpack furniture included.
Wear protective headgear.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Gladitude Week Two!!!

Woooo hooooo It’s week Two!!
It’s odd how you find what you’re looking for.
If you’re looking for reasons to be miserable or disappointed, you’ll find them.
If you’re looking for reasons to be grateful and find joy, you’ll find them.
Lots of them.

Day Eight
Today I’m grateful for TEDtalks!  (‎)
If you haven’t been introduced to the awesome world of TEDtalks, you’re in for a great treat. TED is a non profit organisation originally began with the aim to join communities of Technology, Entertainment & Design (see what they did there?). Since its inception, the scope has broadened to include so much more.
Since developing MS, I am regularly forced to sit down & shut up, to rest, to take it easy. Sometimes it’s really hard to read, and I’m not a fan of daytime TV. TEDtalks are fabulous, informative, entertaining, and VARIED. The speakers are leaders and innovators in science, education, music, art, architecture, personal communications, business…you name it, TED’s got it.

They have a website. They’re on YouTube. On Netflix. Go find them. Go fill your head with wonder.

Day Nine
Today I’m excited that I’m not a Victorian Woman.
This is a weird one, eh? I was thinking today about how they had to dress. All those layers & layers of clothes. Corsets. Tightness. Restrictions. AGONY.  As I write this I am sat in a pair of sweat pants and one of my husband’s old fleece sweatshirts. I could not possibly be in more comfy clothes.

My wedding dress was made in 1901, at the very end of the Victorian Era. I fell in love with it the first time I saw it & bought it on layaway at a vintage clothing shop for $50 a month. It has a waist the size of six year olds thigh. Yes, when I got married at 28, I was that small. I can barely get my wrist in it now…All I can say is it was a beautiful blessing on the day, and I’d never change my choice of dress, but how great is it that the next day I was in a t-shirt and jeans…how great that I had a choice and didn’t have to dress like that every day!

Day Ten
Today I am grateful for dishwashers & washing machines & tumble dryers.
Modern life is filled with many stressful things. I feel really blessed for the appliances that take away most of the stress involved with housework. Seriously. I know I moan a lot about it & in a perfect world I wouldn’t have to do any at all, but it’s not as back breaking and time consuming as it was in my grandmother’s youth. I have free time to write while machines do the bulk of the work for me, and I feel so blessed for that.

Now….If I could find a machine that would pick up the dog poop, my domestic blessings would be complete!

Day 11
Wow. Veterans’ Day.
So many of my family and friends have served in the military, a few are still serving in very dangerous places. I hate the fact that we NEED the Armed Forces to protect us. Hate it that the world is the kind of place where we only feel safe because we are bigger and badder than our perceived enemies. BUT I respect and admire and appreciate so much the men and women all over the world that are willing to undertake such a harrowing job, willing to do a job that scares me silly.
Yes, it is a job. Yes many of them choose that job. But it doesn’t make them any less brave. Doesn’t negate the fact that they put themselves in harm’s way so that WE don’t have to, and for the most part they are paid crap to do it.

Appreciate them, people. Support them. Show them your gratitude.

Day 12
My boys.
When we got to the end of two years of marriage & still had no kids, we went to the doctor. The news was bad. I took every test offered, gave vials and vials of blood, took drugs, had operations. The doctors weren’t hopeful, told me to concentrate on my career.

I used to come home from afternoons in town in hysterics because I’d counted pregnant women, and undeserving women who were screaming at  their kids in the grocery store.

Then a miracle happened. One of the operations worked. 5 years and 3 months after we got married our Jed was born. Three years later we were shocked to find Morgan on his way with no medical intervention.

I am not a natural mother. I am not nurturing and soft hearted. I’m rough & tumble. Screechy. Defensive. Disorganised. Sometimes I get put out about the work involved, I can be a bit selfish. There is absolutely nothing like parenthood to show you just how immature, inept and unprepared you are. It’s the best place to humble you, to knock the spikey edges of pride off your ego. (Try being big headed and prideful when you’re exhausted, five dress sizes bigger than you ever vowed to get,  covered head to toe in vomit, and knee deep in dirty laundry.)

These two boys have taught me more about tolerance, patience, endurance, selflessness…and a million more things I very obviously needed to learn. Things I am still learning on a daily basis. They are funny, witty, creative, generous and amazing. It’s astounding that they’ve turned out so well with me as their mother.

It’s kind of a miracle that they’ve made it so far in one piece. Seriously.

And yep, when they were little, I was occasionally that woman who shouted at my kids in the grocery store. We live and learn…

Day 13
Today I am thankful for Autumn.
It’s been a long time coming to the UK this year. The leaves are setting the roadside ablaze, today the weirdly warm temperatures nosedived. Autumn is a mixed bag for me. I love the colours. Hate the death of summer. Hate the slow inevitable slide into winter. Love Thanksgiving, love stodgy warm comfort foods, nights curled up with a book. Hate waking up to the dark, having it dark again before supper.

But we are all curled up watching a funny film together, we have a warm home, food on the table. And though we are sliding on that soon to be icy slope towards Winter, Winter always limps wetly into Spring and then SUMMER.  Life is good.

Day 14
WRITERS GROUP!!! Yess yessssss yes, I am so grateful for my Writers Group.
Three years ago this month, I got brave and jumped on a train on a nasty cold night after work and went into the heart of Manchester, by myself, to meet a bunch of complete strangers in a pub at Picadilly. They were the riff raff that made up that years NaNoWriMo group from Manchester. Everyone who knew me was shocked. The Husband called me about 20x to make sure I hadn’t encountered any axe murderers along the way. I quickly stopped shaking in my boots & had a grand time. AND best of all, I met a local friend who agreed with me that we ought to start a local writers group after we finished beating ourselves up over our NaNoNovels…

We did it. It was scary. We fell lucky on so many levels. And I’ve made some uplifting, inspiring, lifelong friends along the way. We’ve all written our fingers off, participated in local council arts programmes, run workshops, laughed our heads off and had a blast.

And I am so blessed to know each and every one of them.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Do you have a BAD attitude or a GLAD attitude???

You have two feet and one mouth. Dance more. Moan less.

Welcome to November. Welcome to falling leaves, wet sloppy weather, plunging temperatures. Some people’s idea of sheer heaven.

Remember that when you’re freezing your outer & inner & nether regions to bits….remember that to some people this is BLISS. Also remember that as yucky as November is, it’s NOT February.

Even though I’m an ex-pat, even though I’ve lived in the land of spotted dick and dodgy coalition governments for 22 years, I still revere Thanksgiving as my favourite childhood holiday (after my own birthday of course!). Starting today, in honour of all things turkey & family & comforting, I am doing a daily gratitude blog to remind myself and anyone who cares to join in, that there are MILLIONS of things to be grateful for.

I am grateful for TECHNOLOGY!
1.      I have Multiple Sclerosis & find it really hard to hand write more than 30 or so words before it becomes painful and illegible.
2.      My family & many friends live in the USA, I live in the UK…skype, Facebook, e-mail….total Godsends. Total.
3.      I am a writer (no duh!) and the process is so much quicker/cheaper/easier now that submissions & researching & networking are widely available online!!
4.      Diagnosis and care of my MS has leapt into the stratosphere with technological advances.
5.      Downloading music online..***sigh*** …YouTube …yay!! and and and…you get it.
6.      Kindle. I am a reading addict & have a verrrrrrry small house. I still prefer hard copy, but what a blessing.
7.      Paperless society??? Well, not quite. Still, it’s getting better all the time.

Are you grateful for technology? Why?

I am grateful for TEACHERS!

1.      I love to read. Love to read. LOVE to read. I learned HOW in school. I learned the WHY in school & at the feet of my dad.
2.      History & other cultures are fascinating & I learned to love them in AP European History in year 12. My teacher was a dapper little man called Mr Gullo who used to be a Jesuit Priest & spoke several languages. He would put his shiny little shoes on the desk and read PRAVDA to us when we were 17 yrs old. He opened my eyes to a world outside of my tiny, tiny rural upstate NY town.
3.      Ted Spooner was my English Teacher when I was 14. One day he shut all the blinds, turned out all the lights, and crawled under a thick blanket. Then he proceeded to read Ray Bradbury’s Kaleidoscope. It made me shiver, made me feel claustrophobic, made me want to cry. But more importantly, it made me WANT TO BE A WRITER. That's a great teacher.(does anyone have any idea where he is btw?)
4.      My children go to a great high school. The teachers are positive, fun, engaging. They make me wish I could do it all again and go to THAT school.
5.      I have a few family members and friends that are teachers. Think about your kids on their WORST DAY. WORST, WORST, WORST day. Multiply that by at least 20 kids. Every day. Interspersed by pockets of willingness, engaged brains, delightful imagination. Just enough to make it worthwhile. Now halve your pay. Halve your resources. Multiply your hours by half or a third. Go.

Be grateful for teachers!!!

I’m grateful for BOOKS!

1.      I literally could not tell you how much I love to read. In an alternate universe I spend all day & night reading & writing.  Getting lost in the worlds created by someone else’s imagination is such a great pleasure. Being enlightened to new cultures and histories wakes up your brains, your heart, your empathy.
2.      Reading teaches us to think, builds new neural pathways in our brains, makes us wonder:  WHAT IF? HOW’S THAT EVEN POSSIBLE? WHAT WOULD I DO IF THAT WAS ME? HOW WOULD I DO IT DIFFERENTLY? WHAT THE HELL WAS WRONG WITH THOSE PEOPLE? Or even better: WOW! HOW BLOODY COOL WERE THOSE PEOPLE? All those thoughts are the beginnings of something called CRITICAL THINKING. It’s needed in all areas of life, allows us to evaluate and assess events and information and informs our ability to make decisions. And you thought you were just reading about vampires…or spies….or real life famous shipwrecks (look up,  her upcoming book about Victorian shipwrecks off the Scottish coast will astound you. I have learned so much, honestly it opened my eyes to matters of history covering class differences, sexism, health & safety…loads of things!!)

3.      This year I have discovered two authors that have become fast  favourites: Patrick Ness and Erin Morgenstern. I read Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go & its follow ups, The Ask and The Answer & Monsters of Men early this year. I have badgered just about everyone I know to read them and the rest of his catalog. The books are thoughtful, powerful, the best of YA writing. I kind of love him quite a bit. Then,  just a few months ago my friend Zoe, who is the absolute best judge of books to share, loaned me The Night Circus. I’ve read hundreds of books, people, several of them debuts. Erin Morgenstern’s first book blew me away completely. Her command of language is lyrical, to say the least. The book is magical, layered with lush descriptions, mysterious characters, beautiful mystical settings. I could read it over and over again. You should read it at least once. I almost cried when I contacted her on Twitter and was informed that it would be ages before I could expect anything more. But she has a pretty awesome blog as well…

 READ people. PLEASE read, it will make so much of your life better. I promise.


Today I’m grateful for CREATIVITY!

I feel really blessed by my own creativity, but even more by the creativity of others. Art in almost any form. Beautiful architecture makes me weak at the knees. Sculpture, paintings, music, landscape gardening, fashion designs, writing, dance, engineering…it’s all art. It’s all creativity. It lifts me and it lifts others. It inspires me, makes me wonder all sorts of things. How did they think of that? Why did they use that particular form/material/word/colour?  What were they thinking when they created it? What did they think that I would think?

But most of all I love it when I see, hear, touch or read something and I think…OMG I really want to meet this person. I want to learn at their feet. I want to hang out with them. I want to bake banana bread for them. I want to be their friend.  You know why? Because they made me FEEL something.

That’s what creativity is all about.


Ooooh what are we grateful for today? LANGUAGE!

I am a word weirdo….I love the way they sound, the way they feel in my mouth when I say them.
Squish, squelch, pummel.
Amanuensis (no I’m not telling you, look it up)
And on and on and on…..

Try it. Open up a dictionary. Find words you don’t know. Roll them around in your mouth, shout them around the house a few times.
Play with them. Words are soooooo fun. I promise. They are. Go on, try it.
You’ll be glad you did.


Plants, baby. Today I am grooving on the wonder and variety, beauty and usefulness of plants. Plants feed us, they are a feast for our eyes, noses and fingers (have you ever felt a Lamb’s Ear Plant? It’s a weenie little comfort blanket in pale green. When I was a kid I sat on our front lawn gently rubbing it’s leaves between my fingers in unashamed joy). They heal us through our eating of them as well as their medicinal benefits (seriously, eat better and you’ll be shocked what it does for your body.) Plants were here long before pharmaceuticals and they were the way your grannie’s grannie treated her sick animals and her sick children.

This TEDtalk discusses the surprising health benefits of introducing plants into a work environment. In what was deemed a ‘sick building’ due to overall employee health and days off work sick, scientists introduced 3 readily available house plants throughout the space and reaped astonishing results.
If it can do that to an office building, just think about your home, your family’s brains, their health.

Scientific studies will tell you that a daily half an hour walking outside in nature will go a long way to curing depression, in addition to the fact that added oxygen levels improve thought processes, and the exercise will improve your health. The beauty of a stand of woods, spring flowers, your neighbours vegetable garden…all of it is a treat for the eyes and the soul.

Go feed your soul. Breathe some healthy air. Appreciate the free beauty all around you.


Today I’m appreciating Architecture!!!!
It all started with Mrs Nixon’s house when I was growing up. She lived five houses away from us in what I always thought of as the ‘mini-White House’.  Her name wasn’t really Mrs Nixon, but I remember when we used to go trick or treat to her house, on a stand in her hallway there was a picture of her deceased husband shaking hands with Richard Nixon, so that’s how I remember her. Her house had a sweeping porch, white pillars, was set way off the road with Chesnut trees in the yard. Every year my mom had to crawl under our front porch and dig baby chesnut trees out of the ground as we gathered up garbage bags full of conkers in the Fall and threw them under the stairs. I adored her house, at ten years old I coveted it in a major way. I used to dream about the bedrooms, the sweeping stairways, wonder what her back yard looked like.

The house I grew up in had 2 living rooms, a small library, a huge dining room, and beautiful, fluted dark wood pillars separating the wide, open plan doorways.  A carved, fruit and bird laden fireplace surround, bay windows, white hydrangeas all down the side of the porch, lilac bushes lining the drive. It was a gem. I still dream about it even though it was torn down years ago to make way for a parking lot at the doctor’s office.

In Rochester, our nearest city, I nearly bust a vessel seeing the huge beautiful homes on and near East Avenue, The George Eastman House, houses near Harley Allendale school. The Mushroom House at Powder Mill park….I was an addict & spent hours driving around getting lost on purpose just to find another gem.

In college, I wanted to be an architect but had a fatal relationship with math, so I studied Interior Design instead. I went to Chicago and toured every single Frank Lloyd Wright building possible. I drooled. I coveted. Now I look online at his Pennsylvania house, Falling Water repeatedly. In an alternate reality I am an architect, and I’ve built a whole universe full of fantastic houses. Ask me, I’ll let you stay in one if you like.  (take off your shoes first)

Nearly 40 years later, I still feel my pulse race when I see a beautiful building, old architecture or new, I appreciate it all. I fantasize about building my own home someday. The play of light spilling down a stairwell, piercing a canopy of trees just outside the living room window. A little nook where a clever book case is built. An enormous expanse of windows that look out over a storm swept lake. I watch Grand Designs.

I dream.

I’m glad I’m not a cave woman.

Thus endeth week one! Join me next Friday for week two!!!

Monday, 30 September 2013

Bring on the Slings and Arrows

I’m not one for shouting about my political leanings. I’m an American living in a European country. I can’t vote here because I haven’t given up my US citizenship. I don’t vote in my home country as I have lived here for 22 years and I don’t know enough about what’s going on over there to make an informed decision. Both situations leave me frustrated. BUT I’m a bit annoyed at the minute, a few raw nerves are starting to niggle at me and I need to say something.

I LOVE the National Health Service. 

I love it AS IT IS, warts and all. And the thought of it being mangled and destroyed, at the hands of politicians who are wealthy enough to pay for private health care and don’t care about those who are not, angers me. The fact that they freeze pay in the LOWER ranks of the NHS whilst higher pay grades AND government officials continue to get pay rises, nearly turns me into the Hulk, I get so angry.

It’s by no means perfect, but nothing in life is. I have seen both sides of things, I grew up in a country where public health care was sketchy and largely unavailable. I am the only one of my close friends or childhood family to have moved here. I have a brother living in Pennsylvania who has epilepsy which developed in his adulthood, and who spent years dangerously unwell as he kept running out of money for doctors. Diagnosis was impossibly slow because he got shoved from pillar to post and he kept having to start over again from scratch with new people when his funds ran out. I know people who have cancer and have had to sell their homes to pay for health care.

I have no idea how Obamacare will work, if it will work. But I think that the idea behind it is sound, and necessary. It is closer to our British system of health care than previous models used there. From many outside observers point of view, just across the border, Canada has a successful NHS. I’m sure in Canada, as in the UK, it has its own detractors, but public health care CAN work. It has worked for many years.

I am not a politician or an economist.

I am a person who thinks that we as a people, be we British, American or Swahili, have a God mandated duty of care for other people. We can and should look after the weakest and poorest amongst us, which means equal opportunity for legitimate, timely, affordable healthcare. If that means some of the richest amongst us have to put our hands in our pockets to care for our brothers and sisters, so be it.

We are all so busy looking in mirrors that we can’t see the bigger picture, or the person in the gutter three feet from us. The Me First attitude, the Me, ME, ME! mentality so pervasive in the world as a whole is a cancer of it’s own, eating away at our ability to see the bigger picture, to understand needs outside our own. It’s selfish and ugly.

When I read the first draft of this piece to my ENGLISH husband, he reminded me of the quote inscribed on the bottom of the Statue of Liberty
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door. 
Whatever happened to that attitude?
I repeat, I am not a politician or an economist.

What I am is a person who has seen both sides of the situation; a person who suffers from a currently incurable illness which regularly knocks me on my ass. A person who has been loved and cared for by our FREE health care system. By nurses who are stretched to their limits by budget cuts and staff cuts. I have received care & medication that in REAL TERMS I could never afford on my budget because after years of working full time, my illness now prevents me from working. I am that SPONGER that YOU are paying for.

How’s that sit with you?

I know many people complain that FREE health care means that people who are LAZY and unwilling to work get a free ride. That may be so. But the physical numbers of people that fall into that category are far less than the numbers  of people who are legitimately ill and unable to work, unemployed due to the recession, or on low wages.

From my outside observance, one of the biggest complaints I see about Obamacare is that people don’t want to spend their hard earned money caring for those who can’t afford healthcare.

Grow up people. Any country and  people who refuse to band together in support of the weakest, the less fortunate among them is NOT a country based on love and human kindness.

It is a country that is headed for trouble.  

I love the NHS. And I think Obamacare, once the bugs are worked out, will be a GOOD thing.

Love each other. Put all the energy you direct at complaining to good use. Make things better for EVERYONE not just yourself.

That’s my political rant over.
Bring on the slings and arrows.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

It Takes a Village Full of Kevlar....

It takes an entire village to raise a child, so the saying goes.
I’d amend that to say it takes a village full of Kevlar to raise a teenage boy.

I came to this conclusion last week whilst foraging for blackberries by the river with my mate Gill Hoffs & her gorgeous little boy. ( Our day out came 2 days after I had gone through the most nerve wracking morning of my life, and I was feeling quite reflective.

Last year, during my first year gathering blackberries, I did a few things right, a few things wrong.  I wore long sleeves. GOOD. I didn't wear gloves. BAD. This year, I swapped that around. I wore gloves and saved my manicure (a rare accomplishment for me, nice nails). I forgot long sleeves. My arms looked like cat scratching poles. All weekend, through jam making, smoothie making, freezing punnets for winter treats, my skin stung, puckered, itched and bubbled from contact with nettles and berry thorns.  But….that jam is so divine it was worth every ounce of pain and hassle. I might even go back in a few days and get more berries, heaven knows there’s gallons more there. This time I'll wear long sleeves.

And so to Kevlar. I’m short. My 16yo son calls me a hobbit. The whole time I was in those berry bushes, I just wanted to push in deeper, climb up a bit higher, get every juicy berry I could see. I wanted Kevlar and a stepladder.

As I was wishing for more protection on my arms, I was thinking back to a few days previous. To Thursday. To the day when Mike and I, along with other UK parents of 16 year olds, waited with a clenched fist of dread in our stomachs, for the results of GCSE tests.

It’s been no secret to any one in my real life circle of family and friends that raising our 16yo son has been a battle since day one. From a very small age he has been an uncontrollable ball of energy, a screamer of questions, a speeding rocket of dangerous inclinations. When he was 7 we were told he had ADHD. Not great news since I have Multiple Sclerosis, and find many things in life a challenge.

School was a huge trauma. Not that he wasn't good, he was. He saved all his acts of defiance and vandalism for home. At school he was sweet, kind, goofy, charming. But he couldn't sit still, couldn't do quiet work. Couldn't do homework. Couldn't stop distracting everyone else.

In primary school it wasn't too much of a problem as they had a strict rota standardized across all years for English & Maths homework. I always knew what was due and when. High school was a NIGHTMARE. We spent years fighting with him and teachers trying to keep on top of assignments, projects, trips, money due, evening programs. Simple things like remembering his PE kit or food for cookery class were just beyond him. Each time he missed a homework assignment he got a detention. Each time he got a detention, he was grounded. It got to the point that family teased him and pointed to the grass & sky asking him how long it had been since he’d seen them. Girlfriends threatened to dump him because they never spent time together. We despaired because he wasn't stupid. Far from it. He was blindingly intelligent. Just unfocused, dithery, flighty. His grades never reflected how sharp he was. We were frustrated, and so was he.

Then this year, in his last year of school before he heads off to college, he suddenly  GOT IT. He went crazy, astonished us all. When he walked out of the school hall waving his results, when we saw THAT LOOK- that look of personal pride on his face, it was worth all the battle scars. Worth all the tears (his & ours), worth all the screaming and grounding and arguing. All the money spent on tutors. He got brilliant grades that finally were a true reflection of all the cleverness hiding behind his disjointed struggling.

But looking back on it, I still wish I’d been better prepared. I wish I’d had some sort of Kevlar, something to protect me a little from the pain and stress of all the years that had gone before. Something to help me deal with it better. I often worried that in my efforts to help his future, I was permanently damaging our relationship.

Good Jam. Good kids. It takes some effort. But it’s worth every bit of it. Especially when they have that look on their faces. That look that says WOW, finally. I feel like a worthwhile person.

That look that says that they found in themselves what you knew was there all along.


 Yummmm. Want some jam? Too bad, we're not sharing!

The boy with his guitar. He got a Distinction* in Performing Arts, an A in Music.

 The reward for pulling his grade up in math from a fail to a pass? A designer Karl Pilkington t-shirt.
 (Do I know how to score mum points or what?)  (go on. ask me where you can get one, I know you want to! Tom Davies on twitter @1TD)