Friday, June 30, 2006

Gadgeteens' Week

"Mum, Mr. Griffiiths rang to speak to you earlier, I’m sorry." Gadgeteen gazed glumly at me, He can do a good expressionless face.

Oh no….. I tried to read his face to assess whether the news was good or bad, and waited for more. He looked at me, but then his mouth quivered, and broke into a smile. He couldn’t do it.

"Oh…I can’t not smile....You thought I was in trouble didn’t you?.... Only joking Mum....He said I done good."

Phew, it was good news, though I was quite prepared to sit and talk through whatever ‘trouble’ was in a calm collected way. I am finding that get more out of him like that. No attack action so no need for a defensive reaction.

"Yeah, he said well done, and that I went to all my classes, and I did all the work in Spanish and got all the words right, and Miss Cahil was very pleased with me."

I smiled back at him and we had a hug.

"Cool, well done, I’m dead proud of you. How does that feel then?" I said.

"yeah, good."

I must say that he has been putting in the effort at home too, biting his tongue, making me coffee, and volunteering to do little things to help us.

I have been praising him to acknowledge all these nice little things.

I watched him kick a football against the garage wall in the garden the other day. Kick, bounce, catch… kick, bounce, catch, over and over again. 45 minutes of continuous kicking of ball against wall, watching the bounce, and reaching out with his arms to catch the ball as it bounced away from the wall.

He does have the ability to focus. I wondered what he thought about whilst he was doing it. I’ve not seen him do that before. Every now and the he would catch me watching him and we’d smile at each other.

I told Gadgetman what I’d been watching and asked him to look too. Just then the ball splashed into the fishpond, scattering seven goldfish suffering heart attacks.

Gadgetman started to go out to investigate the matter of the ball in the pond. Oh no, I foresaw potential change. I gestured quietly at him to come back.

"Let’s ignore it, let’s just leave him to it. He’s happy and focused for now. Ignore the ball bouncing off the windows. It doesn't happen often and he doesn't mean to. He just wants to kick, bounce and catch that ball." Gadgetman nodded and agreed.

When Gadgeteen eventually stopped he was soaking with sweat, well out of breath and very thirsty. He looked pleased with himself.

“How long was I doing that Mum? Thanks Mum.” He downed the glass of cold water that I handed to him.

"Really good focus Gadgeteen, 45 minutes, and…”

I grinned at him.

"If you can focus so well on the kick, bounce, catch for that long, then just imagine what would happen if….."

"Yeah I know Mum." He grinned at me. "I could do the same with all my subjects."

"And how long is each subject? 45 minutes? Yeah you can do that." I grinned back.

He hurrumphed at me.

We had a laugh.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

His own agenda

So what do I do about Gadgeteen? No improvement to report, only more calls to attend his school and more detentions for him, as well as an external exclusion next week. (For those like myself before it was relevant, an external exclusion means that he is not allowed to school for a day, penance for being caught smoking on school grounds and bunking off lessons that he doesn't like).

I’m so scared that he is starting a slippery slope to expulsion, referral units, and special schools for 'out-of-control' teenagers. He just doesn't seem to care about anything at the moment and is heading for expulsion if he does not buck up his ideas. He disappears off site at school to avoid subjects that he doesn't want to attend, hides in the bushes and smokes, (Yes, I know that many of us did something similar too, but did we get caught as regularly?), draws all over his arms, has scratched a cross onto one of his arms, cut about 20 thorn-bush-type scratches onto the top of his forearm, is aggressive and abusive if he doesn’t get his way, doesn't enjoy learning, and although he does his homework sometimes-he won't bring it home for us to see, is disruptive in class, doesn't care about the added pressure that his behaviour and consequences have upon us as working parents, and generally seems to just run by his own agenda regardless of anyone else.

Now we have been advised by the school to take him to the doctor for 'tests', and a referral to the local young persons social work team and an educational psychologist.

Oh help! I am scared now, scared that I have inadvertently failed in my role as a mother because of the morals and behaviour that he is displaying. It's as if our values and influences have somehow been re-interpreted by him.

Many parents would condemn/blame me/us and judge us by our sons’ behaviour unless they have had a similar experience and I would value any tips going. I have bought and read ‘Whatever’ - A down-to-earth guide to parenting teenagers (by Gill Hines and Alison Baverstock), from cover to cover and taken some tips on board, but I think I need to read it at least 9 more times for it all to sink in.

Now of course, as well as trying to fit in the demands of a full days work, we have to use part of our annual holidays, which we have already allocated for different periods during the year, (like Greavsie), in order to sort out Gadgeteens rebellion, not for a physical sickness that of course I wouldn't hesitate for, but because of his behaviour.

A part of me resents that. Both Gadgetman and I are under extra pressures at work due to certain obligations at the moment anyway. Does it really sound selfish to resent having to do that when his actions have affected our quality time off together as a family?

I know that Gadgetman has coped really well in my absence, the 10 days spent with my mother, during which he had to deal with work and a busy home life with the kids activities, when there are two of us around, all on his own and I had so hoped that Gadgeteen would be as helpful and co-operative as possible during these extenuating circumstances.

On the other hand, I am at my wits ends; I really don't know what to do to help him get back to caring about his future.

I read back through this and think that it sounds like I'm over-re-acting, that I really have few problems with him and I know that many parents go through this, and get to the other side, but how? I can't help but think,"Oh help!" *Gulp*

The school expects certain standards of behaviour from him, (and so do we), that he is not complying with and I am scared that he will use up all his chances at school.

We have denied him ‘privileges’, and his freedom has been restricted in that we take and collect him from school and other activities that haven’t yet been denied him, we've stopped him using MSN and confiscated his phone whilst he's at home, but we’re running out of options here. We are both investing so much time daily talking with him, listening to him, (reflective of course), comforting him as he cries with despair, praising him for the little things that he does to try and make amends, (liking making me a coffee earlier and clearing the dinner table voluntarily), and generally being as supportive as we can but still enforcing certain boundaries.

I know that I am not a perfect mum, I have my own issues of ‘ free-spiritedness’, that include ‘itchy feet’ and I am a smoker, those are my two big sins, I suppose, but I believed that as parents to our kids we’re a team and we've stuck together, and done the best we can to set them out on a path as balanced individuals.

"Enough, enough already!" I hear you cry. It's not like you to write such a lengthy moaning/downbeat rant."

Yeah, I'm a wee bit down at the moment, and I was before Dads death, so it's not connected, but I just can't write about the more personal feelings here, though I wish I could sometimes.

I haven’t got much time for Blogging at the moment, it’s all I can do to write this, read a couple, and comment here and there. (I’m lurking though).

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Dads death

I always wondered how I would deal with my fathers death. Would I be able to be strong for mum or would I be a blubbering mess? Would I burst into tears at the slightest memory of him or could I cope with seeing his slippers still under his bed? I wondered the same about mum, and my brothers over in Canada. How would we feel?

We all knew that his days were numbered and even thought he was going to die a few years ago, when he had a spell in hospital so we've had time to say all the personal things that we wanted to say several times over. My brothers were over at Christmas specifically because they thought it would be his last, and I was down just a couple of weeks before his death.

My last words to him on that visit were, "I love you Dad," I stroked his face and smiled at him, and he gave his best shot at a smile back and his body shook with emotion that he couldn't express any other way.

For me, that was the perfect way to say good-bye to my father.

When Mum phoned the news through, she was calm and pragmatic. She said that she had been reading to him late at night, when his breathing slowed more than usual. She continued to read, though aware of every breath he took. Eventually he just stopped breathing. She carried on reading out loud, of the adventures of a couple crossing the Sahara on camel back.

She had nearly finished the book, and.apparently hearing is the last sense to fade so she continued for a while. Then she went to bed. She was up again at five, but didn't want to disturb anyone at that hour, so she carried on reading the last chapter of the book to him and eventually rang me when she knew I would be up.

He died just as she, (and Dad), had planned and hoped for, at home, with her at his bedside, and even better, whilst she was reading to him.

A perfect way to go. No fuss nor struggle for another breath.

My Dad didn't want any fuss over a funeral but Mum decided on a Woodland burial after reading about them in Saga magazine. She liked the idea of him buried in a Somerset willow casket with a tree of her choice planted next to him, and didn’t want any kind of religious ceremony.

The day was lovely. A few close friends and family in a grove of various young trees, on a rolling hill with warm-but-not-too-hot weather, out in the countryside, within site of the sea and with a serene and peaceful aura.

We all spoke of my Dad, and even had a few laughs at some of the memories, such as his love of Cornflakes and his enjoyment of sunbathing. Mum read out some poems, a Louis Macneice, one by Emily Bronte, and a fun Joyce Grenfell poem.

Just perfect.

I do not mourn the death of my Dad with a sad heart. My love for him will never change. I am proud that he was my father and so fortunate that in living his dream with Mum he provided a life for us that for most, will always remain just that, a dream.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Dad has died

Apologies to anyone who comes to read my site regularly but I have not had access to a computer with Internet access.

My Dad died last Wednesday so I have been staying with mum. We have been coping fine because it's been a long time coming and a relief that he suffers no more. Nonetheless still an emotional time of practical issues, driving mum around, and being there for her in an otherwise empty house. We have been organising a woodland burial for him at Cleeve Priory, near Minehead, which is this coming Friday.

I am just back for a day or two for one reason....

It's parents evening at Gadgeteens school and he is in a land of not caring about school at the moment. The head teacher is worried and we have a meeting this afternoon prior to seeing his teachers individually.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Bequian home grown

“So where exactly do we find these little mushrooms then?” I asked my friend-in-the-know, Mark, one tropical day.

“Just head out of the town. (Port Elizabeth), towards Spring Bay, keep walking until you come to a field with loads of cows in it, and that’s where you’ll find them, loads of them, everywhere.”

“How will we know which ones they are?” I didn’t want to eat the wrong types.

“They’ll be the only ones growing out of the cowpats. It's worth it though," he said with a wicked grin.

I stored this juicy bit of info until eventually yonks later, (when I was about 13 and Pete was 10), we did get to Bequia, and as luck would have it, I spotted my friend-in the-know-Mark in top corner of the anchorage on his pretty little boat too. I really liked this guy but my parents didn't, not a good influence, they said. My little brother Pete, (usually my partner in crime), and I lost no time in meeting up with him for a trip out to the field…

I vaguely remember the walk out there, along a gravelled road with many potholes, past a large school, houses, then fewer houses, up into the hillier terrain, and finally the field. It was big enough for us and the cows, and they were far too busy chewing the cud to be interested in us and they obviously ate a lot. Cowpats were splatted everywhere and on the slightly dried out ones sprouted pointed little mushrooms with dark undersides and long stems. Careful picking was advisable and once we pinched off the ends with the cow pooh on them, we were munching away. It started raining, refreshing in the tropics, so we weren’t deterred and kept downing these mushrooms in the pouring rain.

We started off counting but gave up after a while…

They tasted earthy but hey, at least they didn't taste of pooh. We wandered from pat to pat, keeping a watchful eye on the cows and having a laugh, Pete and Mark got the giggles and set me off. then...oh sod it....
Basically, then there’s a gap in my memory, and I next remember experiencing a weird feeling whilst walking back down the road, as if I was walking on a cloud but my legs seemed to belong to someone else. I could see my legs doing the walking but I was sure they weren’t a part of me. School was letting out as we passed and that was hilariously funny. Kids doing normal things, whilst we walked along amongst them stoned out of our brains and giggling stupidly in our own world.
We slumped in a tree on great lounging branches, on the waterfront, and watched life pass us by, too out-of-it to move any further and too stoned to go back to the boat anyway.

There’s another huge gap in my memory….

By dinnertime we had to return to the boat, I was meant to be cooking dinner. (Mum and Graham were on a visit to England). I managed beans on toast, though what Dad must have thought of our behaviour, I just don’t know. We giggled every time we looked at each other and avoided Dad for the rest of the evening.

Never been the same since, some would say.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Lovely old job

I Spent the day with Met police traffic officers on Friday. Booked myself on a Bike Safe day to have my riding skills observed by those whose assessment I would respect. There were 7 of us, including Fazerman and we met at ‘The Warren’ near Bromley, in Kent, about 25 miles from home.
What a really informative, fun and well-organised day. We started with coffee/tea & biccies in a conference room, and were shown a powerpoint presentation with a talk on the major causes of bike accidents, positioning on the road for the best view ahead, how to anticipate potential hazards, filtering wide to have a better chance of being seen, optimum positions for cornering, road surfaces, general awareness and loads of other stuff too. The facilitating officers were really good at putting us at our ease so that we had lots of laughs along the way. We needed to forget that they were police officers in a way, and just think of them as experienced bike riders who had vast knowledge that we could benefit from.
After the talk we got paired up in groups with the traffic officers who were in uniform, and on police bikes, though being the only one on a Harley I was taken out on my own by two officers, (one of whom was learning the ropes and routes), and we were off for the morning ride. I’d ticked on my form that most of my riding was done outside of towns, so I was taken down into Orpington for a ride through the high street, which was slow moving and required constant smooth clutch, brake & balance adjustments, as well as acute all round observation of potential hazards. Knowing that my skills were being assessed resulted in a few nerves too, and because they were behind me I wasn’t riding my usual position on the open roads, I was riding as if I was part of a convoy.

On our return we had a debrief, my assessor, (Nick Brown), said, “Your experience showed as soon as we rode out of here, I can see that you are really comfortable with your bike, great ride, fantastic, lovely old job" - (one of his favourite phrases). Wow, how encouraging is that! The only thing he added was that during the afternoon ride he wanted me to concentrate on optimum road positioning for the view ahead.
One guy didn’t make it back, took a corner too wide and came off, wrecked his bike but was not injured. Apparently it was the 4th time off the same bike in 18 months. He was used to old British bikes and the Jap bike was too differently powered for his experience of riding.

Buffet lunch was included in the price of £30, and we chatted bikes as we munched through the feast provided, then off we rode for the 2hour country ride. I was paired up with the only other female and we headed out to Westerham and on to Ide Hill, lovely lanes with great windy hilly roads requiring full-on concentration. I found that I could forget about who was behind me, and just think about my positioning for cornering and best view ahead. It was fantastic, such a buzz. I missed a couple of over-taking opportunities through over-caution on unfamiliar roads, but made up for it on others, so I returned on a high for our debrief back at The Warren. My assessor asked if I noticed the difference now that I was positioning for the wider view. I had felt liberated from the responsibility of bothering about the bikes behind me and just got on with my ride, so yes, I sure noticed the difference. The traffic officer that was learning the ropes then took my bike out for a spin, he’d never ridden a Harley before. He came back with a big grin actually.

For me the day was well worth it, my skills as a rider have been honed by the experience and as my assessor said, “You never stop learning.”

I’m looking at an advanced riders course now, lots of opportunities for day rides out in different counties with good riders, then I’ll be entitled to an insurance discount too. Lovely old job.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Visit to Mum & Dad

Mum comes out to meet me as I arrive, “Oh good, I’m so glad you’re here, John has fallen out of bed and the doctor is here checking him over”.

Oh poor dad, he is so defenceless and dependent on mum for his every need. There he lies on the floor below the installed adjustable hospital bed in the living room. His body racks with dry sobs as he sees me.
The doctor reports that no bones are broken. Dad can’t speak now. His throat, mouth and tongue paralysed by one of the many strokes that he has had over the last 10 years and he is also paralysed down one side of his body from others and struggles to move any limb efficiently.
His sight is poor, caused by earlier detached retinas, and he has huge red and purple bruises all over his arms and hands where his veins have ruptured and the thinned blood has oozed out and settled just under his thin skin.
He communicates by occasional whispers of mumbled words that I rarely decipher. I see his long bare legs for the first time in years. They are skin and bones.
I caress his clammy and cold forehead and kiss his cheeks, as a parent would comfort a child. I hold his hand in mine and whisper words of comfort.
What words of comfort can I offer though? “No broken bones then” are the first, then I joke about needing ‘leecloths’ for his bed now, (these stop you rolling out of your bunk at sea).
He smiles as he gazes up at me.
A million memories of dad flash through my thoughts. Dad with his pipe, dad striding down the dock, dad sitting at the helm of ‘Kim’, dad huggin me when ‘Picket’ sorted my foot out, dad showing me how a sextant works, dads brown back glistening as he worked in the heat of the day on ‘Kim’, dad helping me with my maths homework, and endless more flashes of memories.
I wonder if he thinks he’s had a good life, I wonder if he has achieved all that he wanted and reflects with pride on a life lived fully.

An ambulance arrived and carted him off to hospital because his pulse and blood pressure were low. Both mum and dad have been struck down with a virus and he was left very dehydrated as a result.
Eventually he was returned to us at 130 am. When I asked the A & E doctor why he was being discharged at that time of the morning he replied, “Well can you tell me where I could find a bed to put him in?”

Wednesday is mums day off and Sam, a paid carer tends to dad for the day whilst Mum, her friend Sheila and I visit Tyntesfield House . We enjoyed the gardens and the guided tour of the house in the afternoon. What a chance to have a day out without the gadgetkids telling me how much they would rather be doing something else and when can they have an icecream!