Hallelujah!

Back to school

 

So judging from the feedback on my social media accounts this week I was not alone in merrily jumping out of bed at 6am this Monday morning in my best Mary Poppins mood and on countdown to the precious return of normality…….WOOHOO!!!  However, mine was probably a slightly different experience to many mums…..And my long-awaited ‘freedom’ was short lived as I was telephoned to collect the littlest baby after just 2.5 hours!

I have had a bit of a difficult relationship with State-provided schooling in the UK.  When done right, with passion and the right support, the kids flourish!   When done badly, it causes so much damage to a child.  I am a parent who has experienced both of these extremes.

I’m not sure if you know, but whilst providing your child (above the age of ‘Compulsory School Age’; AKA school term after they turn 5) with a full time suitable education is a legal duty of us parents; enrolling them at a ‘school’ is not a legal requirement.  Yes, I hear the gasps now!  I’ve personally chosen over the years to send my babies to State-provided schools; to home educate them myself when I’ve felt State-provided schools were damaging; and have also been forced into home-schooling (yes, this is different to home education!) by the failure of State-provided schools to meet their complex additional needs; and they are now back in a wonderful State-provided school.

Anyhoo…..moving on……

Like many single parents, school holidays can be fucking tough.  Your income doesn’t magically increase to cover the additional child care bills or the extra activities you need, or feel you need to be doing with the kids (the six week school Summer holidays alone cost me over £3000 in ADDITION to basic living costs!!!!).  And the extra food bills too!  Man, how come I can send my kids off to school with a packed lunch which on collection at 3pm they are still finishing bits off from on the way home, and yet come the school holidays they could quite easily eat the contents of a global buffet before 10:30am!?!?!  And if you’re a mother to TWO kids with complex additional needs like me, you can multiply this pressure by a billion, and times it again!

Every little minute detail needs to be carefully risk-assessed taking into account TWO very different set of needs – nowhere busy; crowded or noisey.  Nowhere with too many steps or too much walking.  Nowhere that’s too open-plan as I have a ‘runner’ who regularly escapes due to their total lack of sense of danger.  And equally nowhere too enclosed that it’s stifling.  The list is bloody endless.  And that’s before I’ve even thought about entry costings, travel times, along with ridgid medication and food times etc.  It’s an exhausting job just trying to plan the school holidays, let alone physically carrying out the said plan (which 9 times out of 10  don’t go to plan because of factors outside our control – i.e. health, weather, sensory overload, meltdowns, violent outbursts – the kids, not me).

BUT, over the years I perfected a small list of activities which are my go-to toolkit during school holidays and I print off a blank calendar that we complete in advance as a family:

Forest walks – on good health days – great as there are very rarely any members of the public around who can set off the kids’ anxiety (believe me, you do not want to be the kicking target of my special little monkey when they’re feeling overwhelmed!)  Price – FREE (sometimes a few quid for parking)

Swimming – my kids are both very sensory and absolutely LOVE being in the water.  We always go over a lunchtime when we can guarantee that the pools will be far quieter (again, to avoid an anxiety-driven violent outburst!).  If you’re on a tight budget like me, check which days your local pools offer FREE kids sessions – I took my kids swimming twice over the Christmas at two different local pools and it only cost me £4.00 in total!  Price – FREE to around £8 for a family of three

Museums – again, I have to ensure that we are there as the doors open first thing to avoid the crowds and only ever stay an hour so the kids don’t get too overwhelmed or exhausted – try to end the day on a high people!  And I always pick ones that I know THEY will enjoy; interactive ones with hands on experiences – rather that the ones that I want to visit to stop, read and learn about new things!  This is purely about keeping THEM calm, happy and engaged.  We are extremely lucky living in Wales as the majority of museums are FREE, and those that aren’t usually offer really good priced annual memberships which you can ask family members get your kids for birthday presents etc.  Price – FREE to around £20 for a family of three – Also worth checking in advance for concessions for those with disabilities and Carers as often discounts or FREE entry is available (sometimes a few quid for parking)

Beaches – We are VERY fortunate to be surrounded beaches, all within a 30 minute drive.  The youngest loves nothing more to dig big holes, roll around in them or run into the sea fully dressed (gets this from Mummy!).   They are in their absolute element, no matter the season or weather!  Eldest likes to throw a ball around and hunt for fossils as they are fascinated by the natural world.  Always one of our favourite activities!  Price – FREE

FREE events listed on Facebook – There are ALWAYS a ton of FREE kids activities listed on Facebook, found either by searching under the ‘Events’ tab or by joining various local parenting groups.  This year we went to a fantastic FREE wrestling match held at a local holiday resort. Yes it was busy and crowded; HOWEVER as my kids absolutely LOVE all things wrestling, with a few tweeks to the day and precision planning around food timings etc , we had an awesome time!  Price – FREE

BUT…..

My TOP tip mind as a single parent to surviving the school holidays is to take time for yourself.  I can tell you the amount of nights I’ve had away from my kids in almost 11 years and lets say it’s less than 10 and half of them were spent in hospital either giving birth the the youngest or having major cancer surgery.  Parenting can often feel like a thankless, never ending job, especially when you are the only resident parent.  Add in the often intense and complex needs of children with additional needs and it can be a recipe for total exhaustion.

I used to be made to feel guilty for paying a private carer/personal assistant for the kids so I could have the odd few hours off here and there, but now I proudly grasp those rare few hours to recharge and refocus.  I’ve fucking earned them over the years.  It’s not cheap, especially when your kids have additional needs and take medications – you need highly skilled and insured personnel; not some teenager daughter of a friend willing to work all morning for a tenner!  Over the 224 WAKING HOURS (i.e. not when they are asleep, although that is hit and miss with both of them!) of the Christmas holidays, I invested in just FIVE hours of paid childcare over TWO separate days to try and recharge my batteries a teeny bit.  The first session I went for a long run, and the second occasion I went to the gym and food shopping (yes; food shopping in peace, such a bloody treat!).  Price – PRICELESS!

So parents, especially single parents (and especially SEN parents!) – you just carry on celebrating the shit out of those ‘back to school’ moments, knowing you bloody rocked the holidays in your kids’ eyes yet again even when things didn’t always quite go to plan!

 

cheers mother fucker

 

Amy Griffiths, Well Being Freedom Services Ltd ©

Switching Off…

switch off one

 

Does anyone else have a love/hate relationship with their smartphone??  I love that I can be contacted in an emergency regarding my kids; love the fact I can fill boring waiting times by checking emails; love capturing magical spontaneous moments with my babies; they are brilliant networking tools; and it’s amazing that you can now be connected with friends and family far and wide.  Plus, I love a good Insta selfie.  However.  I also hate the control these little screens have over our lives and the message we are sending our kids; really hate it!  But probably not as much as I hate computer consoles, but that’s a whole different blog!

When I was growing up, if the house phone rang and we were busy or eating we just ignored it.  We didn’t rush up to see who it was, we didn’t have an answering machine or caller ID; and we didn’t have ‘1471’ in the early days (shit I feel old!).  So if you missed a call, tough titties & nobody really cared.  The phone was also wired to the wall and located in the busy kitchen so there was no privacy as such.  So phone calls were to the point and purposeful.   We hated being on the phone; we had shit to do and people to see – you know, in actual person!

screen_addicted_parents_ignoring_child_v_dunckley_md

As a parent, especially a single one I think it’s really important to spend real quality time with my babies, and actually be ‘present’ rather than distracted by my smartphone.  They are growing up in a fast-paced technological world (which is great!) BUT there is simply never ever any substitute for being present and giving your time and attention to both your loved ones and people in general for that matter.   Since Cancer, my time with my babies is even more valuable and precious than ever and I began to distance myself from technology as a direct result a few years ago.

For example, I deactivate my personal Facebook account a few times a year to take a break; there are certain apps that I turn the notifications off for; all group message conversations are permanently muted; certain emails are filtered straight into specific folders so I only notice they are there by physically checking occasionally; no phones allowed at the table; I rarely scroll through the Facebook newsfeed and I’m not one to ‘overshare’ my shit on there either (show some damn dignity people).  I am a HUGE fan of the ‘Do Not Disturb’ function and use it a LOT!  I’ve also always turned off all notification and phone calls from about 8pm at night (unless I am out and need to check in about my babies).   And when camping with my babies I have always turned my phone off to enjoy the peace and experience fully.  I always thought that this was enough.  It wasn’t. 

A few days ago I was trying to reply to a really important email; the kids nagging me for yet another snack; the youngest getting angry; I couldn’t concentrate on the email; it was turning into bloody chaos.  In that moment I had forgotten my priorties.  The email actually wasn’t that fucking urgent, yet my kids craving my presence was.  So the phone got ditched and I gave the kids their 10th billion snack of the day as we all sat and chatted about travels and holidays we were planning for next year.  How it should be. 

That evening I decided to stop ALL notifications on my smartphone and placed contact restrictions on many people in my caller list who are known to drain both my time and energy needlessly.  And it’s been liberating.   I only know if I have an email or message if I make an effort to physically check, and no more of those annoying Facebook notifications for everything single little bloody thing!

Now, we aren’t all Topsy and Tim (God those obnoxious little brats irritate the hell out of me and well that mother is clearly using something to get her through the day!).  But I do feel it’s important to set a good example as kids mimic behaviours they see.  I want my kids to gain confidence with the outside world and real bloody people – not waste their life away watching YouTube videos of some anti-social gamer playing a video game and commentating as they go (what the actual F is all that about?!?!)

So, if you don’t get an immediate response from me (or no response at all)…..it’s either because I have my priorities set differently to you; or I’m busy doing the other zillion things single parents have to do!  I’d definitely suggest giving it a go – you would be surprised at how addicted you actually are to those pesky little screens!

switch off 2

 

Amy Griffiths, Well Being Freedom Services Ltd ©

When the music just isn’t doing it….

busy-brain

Does your brain ever feel so busy that you are sure it’s about to explode?  Usually a good dance to loud music or exercise (on my good health days) really helps to clear the noise and get clarity on my thoughts.  Music is a wonderful tool for the brain, I live for music!  I wrote a previous blog about it’s therapeutic qualities which you can read here.  But lately neither exercise or music have worked.

It’s been a very difficult few months; health flare ups, massive issues with my youngest baby’s education (or lack of, but that’s whole other rant!); studying; exams; life.  I’ve been running on an empty-autopilot state for the past few months, under huge demands, not really processing much, just fire-fighting situations and trying to get through my exams.

If you follow me on social media, then you will know that despite everything going on (and being a single mummy to two wonderful quirky kids!) that my hard work paid off – I am now a fully qualified Fitness Instructor, YAY!  This means I can better meet the needs of my clients, rather than simply focussing on good nutrition.  But I will write more about that another time, sooooo exciting!

Anyway, back to my busy brain……side tracked again!  So when music and exercise fail to clear my mind sufficiently, I jump in the car and head to one of my special places to reflect and sort the crap.  I have four main special places which help me to reflect:

  1. Cardiff Bay – this is not so much the ‘place’ but who I feel close to when I am there; miss you always xxx.
  2. Caerphilly Mountain – this is a few minutes from where I live so I head there quite often if I need a quick ‘fix’ and can’t get to Cardiff Bay.
  3. My Aunty’s grave in Gloucestershire – although since moving away I haven’t had much opportunity to visit.  I need to make more time, I’m sorry.
  4. Torquay – before the babies came along, any sign of trouble or overwhelm and I was straight in that car!  Sometimes I didn’t even pre-book accomodation, just knocked on hotel doors until I found space.  These days I have to be less spontaneous due to said babies.  But we still enjoy heading to the ‘English Riviera’ once a year, although not much peace these days to reflect!

So, today I was meant to be going for a swim during my two hours of childfree time as it helps my Lymphoedema and EDS.  But instead I got the pull to grab the dog (we are looking after the most gorgeous doggie this week for a friend!) and head to Cardiff Bay.  I’ve hardly slept in weeks, so this busy head needed to empty!

It may sound odd, but when I reflect I am able to visualise a spreadsheet where I can sort all my tasks, thoughts, feelings etc into tables and columns to give me more clarity on situations.  It doesn’t necessarily always stop my brain being as busy, but stops a lot of the rushing around and muddling that can happen when i’ve been running on autopilot too long.

I envy those who successfully manage to meditate each day.  I just don’t have the alone time or patience for it, so for me I have to ‘reflect’ on the go which probably isn’t the most productive way to sort a busy brain, but hey life and shit happens.  So a calming walk around the Bay was the ‘meditation’ I really needed – I won’t dwell on the part where I had to pick up the biggest dog shit from right outside Starbucks – thanks Douglas for your audience witnessed crap! 

Welcome to my random life 😉

 

Amy Griffiths, Well Being Freedom Services Ltd ©

Still Kicking Cancer’s Butt – Yay Go Me!

Warrior

This afternoon’s ‘office’ (Friday 14th) is sat on the step of the harbour lock at Cardiff Bay, overlooking the water.  Those close to me will know the significance of this place.  I can feel him sat with me, silently…..and then eventually telling me to get off my phone lol!  We miss you xxx.

Anyway…….

What a week!  The lead up to my Oncology check ups are always very difficult.  I tend to shut myself off from people, chuck myself into exercise (when well enough), work, studying, DIY and dance like a buffoon around the kitchen to try to dull the wait.  Sometimes it works better than others. I’m glad today is over for another six months.

Anyway, yes thats me TWO years and 7 months clear of cancer now!!!  I can’t quite believe it!  Wow, a lot has happened in those two years.  That doesn’t mean I’m ‘free’ from the aftermath of cancer mind; people forget that cancer treatment is only the very first step (but that’s another blog post!).  For me I have a love/hate relationship with my cancer.

I hate my cancer because:

  1. Of the unbearable fear it caused incase I had to leave my young kids without their mummy (anyone who knows me, knows I am a complete tigress when it comes to my babies!)
  2. Of the pain my children suffered.  I will never forget the day I had to tell them.
  3. Of the time it stole from our lives.
  4. My decision to have more kids was ripped away.
  5. I’m left with permanent daily complications.
  6. Of the chance of recurrence.
  7. I had to go through major and risky surgery – and suffered a big bleed on the operating table (I thank my wonderful surgeon each day for saving me!)
  8. I’m sometimes angry about the medical neglect and delayed diagnosis.

BUT, I also LOVE my cancer too (odd ‘ey?!) because:

  1. It’s allowed me a freedom I’ve never experienced; like proper life changing freedom!  Hard to explain, but I’m finally free.
  2. I’ve learnt to love hard and proper – never mediocre & no apologies.
  3. I’ve learnt to commit hard and proper to people, work, life – never mediocre.
  4. I can now walk away from things that don’t benefit us.
  5. I’ve learnt to appreciate the simple, thoughtful things & gestures in life.
  6. I’ve mastered the art of saying ‘no’ to people.
  7. I’m stronger, more confident and happier than ever.
  8. It’s also made me more spontaneous, ambitious and adventurous than ever.
  9. I now have a zero tolerance of bullshit. No exceptions.
  10. It’s made me more honest, open and blunt like never before (and I wont apologise for it, sorry!)
  11. It’s taught me that ‘failure’ and ‘adapt’ are two very different things.  I never fail.  Ever.
  12. I will never take a ‘passive’ role in our medical care ever again.
  13. It’s taught me that you are responsible for making your own happiness in life.
  14. It made me both limit and value those people I now welcome into our lives – feel privileged if you are still part of our ‘team.’  We Love you!  For those of you no longer in our lives, it’s probably due to number 9 on this list! *scrolls back up lol!*
  15. Finally, and most importantly; I’m a better mummy to my beautiful babies. (Ok, I was already pretty amazing before, but you know!)

So you see I have FAR more reasons to LOVE my cancer, than to hate it. I know that will seem odd to many people.  Wow, it feels odd to even say it; really wasn’t where this blog was originally heading!  Yes, there are days where I struggle to see the positives it’s given me.  But today isn’t one of those.

Cancer; you may have taken loved ones, but I can guarantee you will never take me…….I’m just too damn awesome for you baby!



Amy Griffiths, Well Being Freedom Services Ltd ©