such a good idea

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It seemed such a good idea – pumpkin carving whilst talking together about how Jesus picks each one of us, cleans out all the yucky bits in our hearts, and fills us up with his light…

Sounded perfect in my head as I had run through it in my mind.

What could go wrong?!

 

Whether we just happened upon the wrong moment, or it was just never going to be a winner I don’t know… but it did not go to plan.

As we cut the lid and looked inside my gentle chatting was drowned out by expressions of disgust.

‘Yuck! It smells!’

 

 

The scraping and cutting out of the flesh inside which I had imagined to be a sensory treat turned instead into something that seemed horrifying to T. So disgusting she didn’t want to join in at all.

I let her have a go at taking pictures for me, but even that got too much and pretty soon instead of us talking together calmly about how Jesus makes us clean on the inside I found myself trying to manage a volatile few minutes as T tried to take pictures of everyone and everything! She finished off by taking yet more incredible selfies, with each face more and more exaggerated. Of course when I had finished and washed my hands, we needed to put the phone down have a look at the pumpkin and decide how to carve it.

Let’s just say, I had to go and hunt for my phone! Then before carving I had to take a walk in the garden and find and cajole T back into the house.

When I finally got her in, she made an escape upstairs and I was left carving (‘cos I have to finish what I’ve started at this point). Hope you appreciate my efforts – I opted for an unusually optimistic slogan, which seemed bold given the circumstances. It will certainly be something to reflect on… and yes I’ve been told, holes in pumpkins ‘aren’t meant to be that big Mummy’ – I’ll do better (if there’s ever a) next time!

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So, we’ve been back from our camping just over a week now and the dining room is now about a third full of stuff rather than so full you couldn’t get in like it was a week ago. Feels frustratingly slow progress though.

Trouble is I clean, sort, tidy away and then turn around to find other explosions of stuff happening everywhere else! (just this morning A ran over a new bottle of shower gel on the stairs, so I need to add ‘vax the carpet’ to the long to-do-list) Not to mention the explosions of emotion – sibling negotiating, stress from the change in routine, overtired but fighting it, meltdowns and the odd paddy (often ask myself why on earth we need those – this family are just so very talented at full on meltdowns, you know, the ones which are non verbal, aggressive, out of control, last hours, exhausting!).

So with the constant spiraling housework situation, and the constant emotional/behavioral trouble shooting, not so good sleep and a whole church service to prep thrown in it’s been a long week. We also tried a new discipline – a Sabbath time together – last Friday eve through to Saturday lunch. When we have fallen into a pattern I’ll let you know how it’s going.

I’ve also been aware of all the admin that goes with our family life. This week has been particularly busy with it and it brings a very particular tiredness with it.

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There are the forms to fill in for big organisations – for health professionals or DWP which inevitably mean going through a process of putting down in words the hardest bits of our family life – the unseen bits. The negatives, the ‘deficiencies’ (I’d like to see them as differences but to live in the culture we are in these are things that become obstacles in an inflexible system). These forms are asking for evidence, they feel cold, I fill them in feeling I’m having to put my children into a box just as I’m struggling to fit adequate explanations into little boxes on paper. These neat little boxes are an isolated snap shot of a bigger, vibrant picture, but this is not the place for the strengths. It is an emotionally draining process, but the support and opportunities we hope for as we fill them in make it a necessary one.

 

There is research to do – to prepare and resource myself for the academic term ahead. This week I have spent some time reading up anything I can about how to teach exam techniques – is this seemingly instinctive skill (as we seamlessly transfer knowledge we have often learnt from inference over many years of education from the lesson context into the exam room) something that can be broken down into steps or rules that can be taught? What are the ‘rules’ that unlock the meaning of an essay question? How can I teach how to find the question in amongst all the words? Do these questions have a knock on effect on how I need to be supporting the process of learning how to read for meaning while T is still an early reader? I also need to find out how to explain what ‘revision’ might actually look like in practice. How do others do it? What might work for us? Can we find ways we are comfortable with if we really think outside the box. How does B learn best, remember things best? How can I best help her to find a pattern that will be manageable, and how can I best prompt and support her getting into the rhythm of it. And yes, I am aware that my research as I sit waiting for people to settle to sleep is one thing, that hard bit will be sharing what I find out!

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There’s also ongoing admin that gets revisited in the breaks. The visual timetables, the looking for the right visual timetable app (still haven’t found one we’re happy with), the updating of the behaviour agreements which get carefully discussed with each separately and agreed on (including appropriate consequences if we go beyond 3), signed and displayed. We use the 1,2,3 magic style agreements to work on 3 behaviours only at any given time. All other difficult behaviours we try to distract away from and prevent, but the 3 we agree to work on together we try to consistently work on in a ‘zero tolerance’ way till they improve. Really good to see improvements in the ones we had been working on last term… we no longer need ‘hiding the hairbrush’ on the agreement! We also have agreed parental controls limiting the time spent on computers in term time, but these will be looked over nearer the end of the holidays.

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I also want to think about what pattern or book we are going to use next for regular Bible reading and reflection with each of them this coming term and get into a pattern with them. I quite enjoy the way we often need to be creative to make this manageable but the process of choosing the right thing together and enthusing takes time and is a bit fraught at times so I need to begin…

Anyway – it all has to be done… but right now, I’ve been ‘called away’ ( ie: pulled from my chair and demanded) to be the teacher again for T’s dolls Annie and Lucy who happen to be dairy and gluten intolerant, struggle with being left and come with a whole heap of admin of their own!! But it’s ok, I’m meticulously told the script and stage directions as we go so at least I know what I’m doing – it also helps that we’re now a few days into the game so I’m getting the hang of it – and finding I’m having to be corrected slightly less often!!

 

Summer Festival

 

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a little patch of blue sky was spotted during the week!

For the last few years we have been going to the Christian summer festival, New Wine. Last Year I was reflecting on how important it has become for us as a family because it is a week of intensive community with our church family (both locally and families who camp with us from other churches). The week following New Wine we meet up with parts of our extended family for another week of camping in lovely Somerset. Inevitably we get chatting about the Christian festivals we each go to, some to Spring Harvest, Word Alive, some to Keswick. This year we chatted a fair amount about the logistics of taking our families – all in some way shaped by additional needs – to such large, noisy, intensive festivals. On paper it sounds mildly ridiculous to attempt such a thing, so what does it work out like in practice?

These are some of the ways we as a family handle the logistics of camping, being in community, going to the meetings and events, sleeping, eating, staying clean enough… and growing in our faith:

Eating

When we first began the adventure of camping the eating side of things was actually really difficult. B has not ever found eating easy, her diet at that time was really very restricted and her usual routine involved managing to eat just enough sitting on her own with the TV on simply to dampen the stress and panic enough to face the food. So eating while camping was tough for her. Most of her ‘safe foods’ were possible to store and prep in a tent so that was something, but of course no TV, no space, family and wider church community right there all the time.

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Plus whenever a bug, fly or wasp came even remotely near her she was panicked. So at first food was eaten (or looked at) rather stressfully outside with the rest of us, but by the end of each mealtime B was usually quite distressed and sitting in the bedroom, zipped in on her own. Over the years this level of stress about camping mealtimes has eased a little and most of the time B manages to join us and eat something. I think in part this is a reflection of a wider change about how B is coping with meals together all the time. Needless to say wasps are still a problem! This year with 5 adults around our table we still had a bit of a job dealing efficiently with them and keeping the meal on track!

As a church group we eat together in ‘family clusters’ – so everyone is included, and supported. This year we had the joy of 3 extra adults eating with us. All known really well by our kids, and all extremely accepting and patient of how our family life happens. Their help was invaluable at mealtimes, getting the food started when Andrew or I were still walking back after fetching T from a group, helping involve the kids in washing up and generally keeping us cheery throughout even the most dysfunctional moments, and bringing the first evening meal so we didn’t need to cook after putting up the tent and sorting the kids out on the day we arrived.

We have a menu that we only have to tweak each year as dietary needs change, and alongside the menu we have 3 shopping lists! One is a list of what needs to be prepared or bought and packed to take with us (we prep 2 main meals in advance and take them frozen.). The second is a shopping list for Andrew to fetch while I register the kids with their groups after the tent has gone up on arrival day. The third is to be bought on the day off, including things to take to the BBQ with our whole church group that evening.

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a bit wet for BBQ but great food & company! (Thank you A.Wall for the photo)

Sleeping

What can I say??? We’re not naturally great at sleeping anyway! This year though we all slept in the same bedroom section and I think, miraculously, we possibly got more sleep than usual!

Washing

There are shower blocks dotted about the showground where New Wine is held. There are also sinks in all the loo blocks which lots of people use for washing faces and doing teeth though we do that in the tent where it’s less crowded and distracting. The showers are quite small and there is almost always a queue, it’s also fair to say that they are a little hit and miss – usually a mixture of hot moments with unpredictable cold ones thrown in. This year we also faced the challenge of some of the showers losing water pressure – not easy with shampoo already applied but only a dribble of water running down the wall to rinse with!

When B, A & T were small enough we took a large-ish flexi bucket for baths in the tent. It was a bit of a slow process heating a few kettles to add to cold water to get the temp right, but it was clean, enough room for me to help, and no queuing, as they grew a small paddling pool also came in handy in a similar way. Now they are all too big, but we have managed finding times to use the showers and have coped. And with T this year I simply haven’t pushed it – baby wipes took care of it! There is a disability accessible shower on site, with enough room for a parent to help a larger child. We may well look into using that next time.

I take travel hand wash detergent with us and try to wash tea towels and any other essentials on the afternoon of the day off. This year was so wet I didn’t get the chance – nothing would have dried. But of course the wet, and the festival mud created a lot of washing, and ‘Our Place’ (New Wine’s inclusion teams) came to the rescue washing the things we really needed – especially T’s ‘apple blanky’ when it was dropped in a puddle.

Meetings

There are kids groups right through from baby to late teens, and registration forms are taken between certain times on arrival day, and the kids are given wrist bands. Most of the groups have a couple of sessions each day, babies fewer and older teens more choices but a similar amount of time.

There is a thorough system of dropping off and collecting, with more than one check of your ID, the handover card you gave in that day, and the child’s wristband. It takes a bit of time but works well. T didn’t like the wristband at all this year, and kept taking it off and ‘putting it somewhere safe’ – so on a couple of the days that she went to her group we had to get her an alternative, approved ID badge from the admin team at the back of the venue.

The groups are very busy and so they are quite noisy even without the music & use of microphones. There are stage lights and live worship bands, and in the younger groups often team in costume for the upfront parts of the session. Kids are in smaller groups with team looking after them and always get dropped off and picked up in that same place with those team members. For the younger groups the sessions are very tightly structured and include upfront storytelling, silly games and worship and prayer and also active games. craft and chat in the smaller groups.

This year T struggled again and we were so very thankful for the Our Place team. Our Place have team in every venue supporting children to help them join in with their group. They also have a break out space near the side or back for times when kids need to escape or some calming down space. They have fidgets, a visual timetable and ear defenders at the ready! We needed support at drop off, and T needed support during the sessions she attended. Our Place also have a separate kids, youth and adult venue that is open a bit later than the others as a safe haven for those who can’t settle or who can’t manage a whole session. T loved the kids venue and most evenings we went there rather than her group having used all her energy up during the rest of the day.

Some mornings were also just too much and we took T with us to the main arena. Getting out my emergency distractions and other little games that I always have to hand.

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B, A & T all have boxes or tins in their rooms where we put all the little oddmenty toys – from those fast food freebies, to the one off homemade and all things small and unique. I pack up a small bag of these when we go for days out or away for longer like these weeks. I also like to have bubbles (the small tubes sold as party favours are great), fidgets, little notebooks and pens (the ones with multiple colours in just one pen are my favourite – space is of the essence, I have to carry it everywhere!). This year A & I turned a little mint tin into a habitat for a tiny dinosaur complete with rocks trees and volcano – a whole world in a tiny portable tin – perfect!

It sometimes feels frustrating that it’s not straight forward getting to sessions I want to get to – this year I didn’t make it to many things in the evenings at all – but over the years I have found these times when I take a little one to an alternative venue (either Our Place, or Stepping Stones when T was little – a large play space, with tea coffee and the main arena being shown live on a screen) to be full of valuable conversation, chances to connect with other parents often feeling the same frustration and the team in these venues just as ready to pray with you and to talk discipleship!

Our Place run seminars for parents in the mornings which have been a place of gentle challenge (ok sometimes challenge never feels gentle!) encouragement and prayerful support. I have grown such a lot in my faith as I have been a part of the Our Place family network. The encouragement and safety of the space they provide has helped me to go on wrestling, to dare to step out and step up, to trust and hope in deeper ways as we share experience together, know that whoever we sit with or pray with there is understanding and acceptance. This year we looked together at the story of Ruth and reflected together on feeling uprooted, the frustration and pot-boundness circumstances can sometimes make us feel; how God provides, often through the support and help of others – like Ruth’s Boaz; and how God turns the situation right around breaking the chains around those women and leading them to fruitfulness. Plenty for me to treasure and to keep on reflecting on in the midst of piles of muddy washing, a garden that has grown quite a bit while we were away, a tent in need of drying, camping gear to put away, a house that is in disarray and trying to help the kids adjust to down time at home, while Andrew goes back to work!

 

 

 

snapshot

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me next, my turn, can I, can I!

Thinking about my role as a Mum (peacekeeper, advisor, cheer leader, servant) for my gaggle of Kids…

3:05 – time to set off to fetch T from school. I am near the end of a meeting of diocesan reps talking about disability awareness in the churches in this area. Andrew is on pick up today. I exchange phones numbers and connect with people, hoping T will be okay with the change in plan… I had forgotten to let her know this morning.

3:25 – get back home. Quick check where (and how) everybody is. Has A got out on his paper round alright? What mood is T in? – it’s swimming lesson later, and the usual teacher is on holiday, will it be impossible or not? A clingy cuddle or few later and I’m getting swim kit ready, and ironing a shirt for Andrew & a dress for me – we’re all planning to be out tonight briefly for a farewell party for a colleague and good friend. Wonder (and fear?) how that will go!

4:10 – have checked in with B upstairs, she’s shutting the world out but okay. So tired at the moment though. Now time to get T into shoes again and walk to the leisure centre.

4:30 – Andrew is ready to drive us down so we won’t be late, now need to persuade T into the car. As I strap her in I’m letting her know it will be a different teacher. She’s had supply before and begins to try to work out which it will be – I know there’s no way of knowing till we get there and see, but nevertheless the trying to work it out has to run its course.

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4:35 – we pause to give best friend D a wave and hug on the way past the first waiting area, it’s the routine. Now we can go & get changed ready to swim. The usual cubical has it’s baby changing mat down, so we sort that and discuss at great length why it was left down & who had used it. Hair has to go in a bobble. Pick up the towel and go through to our waiting area.

4:45 – friend from school arrives and having seen, and found acceptable, the supply swimming teacher, she and her friend go to the bench ready for the lesson to begin. I take a minute to catch up with Mums – I can see T finding it difficult to confirm her name to the new teacher. She gets through it, and they walk to the pool.

5:15 – another good lesson, she gives it all she’s got. And she has done her best to try putting her face in water, and pushing off from the side unaided. She has had quite a few good tries at swimming independently on her front. It looks hard work on those hyper mobile joints and muscles of hers!

5:18 – the cubical we use is already occupied, and our bag has been moved. We find our things and we negotiate a different cubical. We have to use the toilet again before we can get dry and changed, which has its’ own checks and routines. We finally get back into clothes.

wisdom5:25 – Agreed time to meet Andrew for the lift home to be quicker than usual. We’re not at the door yet. T wants to get a snack from the vending machine near the changing rooms, it what we do every other week (and it’s that week) but we need to hurry. I suggest the machine near the door instead and reluctantly we set off. Andrew has come to find us and hurry us to the car (he’s got food ready for them and we need to be out again just after 6:30). T is finds it hard to deal with skipping the vending machine. I find it hard to keep us walking to the car at the same time as finding the right words and the right moments for hugs or space… so hard to know which will be helpful in each moment.

5:35 – home and sitting them up for tea. The paper round went okay, check; there will be homework to do when we get back with B, check; T hasn’t got an outfit in mind for the next thing which makes things a little easier in some ways, check; Andrew has had a phone call, someone needs a vicar tonight so we agree a time to leave so he can fit that in afterwards; go and get changed.

6:00 – nearly changed. B unsure what to wear. Invite said smart casual which is vague rather than definite but not free for all, tricky negotiations. It’s very tiring agreeing outfits that could be tried on, tiring for B to feel comfortable with a decision. At the same time I negotiate T into an outfit. Lose the battle over socks – flip flops will have to do! I carry on trying to be available to help B. T goes downstairs, can I hear more discussion about footwear?? B reluctant & ready. Time to get going. Grab a few extra distractions & fiddles for my bag. Andrew has persuaded T to let him brush her hair (second brush this week, it’s knotty!)! That makes me smile. Now to the car.

6:34 – who pushed (touched) who? Can I find the right words to calm this before we arrive? I worry, this may all go horribly wrong. Don’t want to spoil our friend’s evening if it does. We’re there. I remind them to hold the door open till they are all out of the car, I remind them about trying to behave quietly, sensibly, without arguing or hitting or kicking or annoying … We are greeted warmly at the door, drinks (glass cups – aghh!!!), hug with our friend – “there are puppies in the garden, come this way”….

8:00 – and we’ve done it… no glasses broken, no meltdowns, some conversations, puppies have been adored, photo with our friend, leaving the puppies behind achieved – to the car, and home. Next, bedtime for T, A needs to relax, want to find out how his day went, B needs to do homework – I’ll need to be there to support that, wonder how long Andrew will be & how it will go, never easy when it’s someone you don’t know…

It’s a small snap shot of a small part of an average, long day. What comes to mind as I jot it down is just how much I need wisdom for my actions, my words, my attitudes; discernment; tact & diplomacy! Thank goodness I know someone who loves to gift people with just those things…because today is another average, long day.

 

sunny sensory

Sunny weather is here… it has been incredibly hot in the last few days. So I’ve been reminding myself of all the sensory rich go-to activities we enjoy outside – and have been looking for inspiration for new ones!

Get creative!

  • water painting the patio (& walls, stones, benches, windows…anything that stays still long enough!) Just a plastic container for water & a range of different sized brushes or sponges. We also enjoy dipping biscuit cutters into the water and ‘printing’ their shapes, or of course getting hands and feet wet enough to print with them. Pictures dry up quite quickly so we never seem to run out of space. Though worth having a camera at the ready to capture pictures they don’t want to lose…

 

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T’s wonderful water painting of a bicycle

  • sand pit play is always a winner. Great for digging, mixing, building and shaping. Great for storytelling type play with action figures or dolls or toy animals. It’s also a great place to remember Bible stories together in that wind down part of the day.

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  • Painting & decorating! Painting outside can go big. Paint onto card, or large paper, or an old sheet. Get a great big box and cut a door into it, then paint away – add windows with views, pictures on the walls, brick work… wherever your imagination takes you. When it is dry bring out dressing up clothes & a picnic and enjoy your new playhouse…
  • Texture treasure hunts don’t need any planning at all! A piece of paper each, a box of wax crayons, and ready steady GO! See how many different textures or patterns you can take a rubbing of as you fill the paper up like a patchwork. If it needs to be a competition a prize for the most, or a prize for the most unusual textures, or the best patchwork design…

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Get wet!

  • dolls laundry. A big bowl of warm soapy water – the more bubbles the better – and a pile of dolls clothes; a clothes airer and pegs. I always make sure there’s a towel to hand for all the moments when it gets too much and hands or faces need to be dried before starting again. We use a toy shopping basket as a washing basket – it looks a little like mine, and I have a small peg basket with a handle which is great to play with. And of course my pegs are all sorts of colours so there’s fun to be had choosing pairs to go with the clothes, or deciding which side of the airer has to have which colour.

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  • Aquaplay. We were given a playset a number of years ago now, which clips together to create canal systems – each time can be a different configuration. It has straight and curvy pieces, locks, gates, boats, and water pumps. Once you have clipped it all how you want it you fill the system with water and can move the boats around, bring cargo from one side to the other, take action figures on boating holidays etc. It is wonderfully absorbing, has a rhythm and order to the way you have to move the water through the locks to get your boats round. Great play value. (Just had a quick look, and it’s still available to buy)

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  • paddling and pools are brilliant, especially when in the shade so you don’t have to worry too much about sun cream (the nature of kids with sensory cravings is that they often have strong sensory defensiveness too – and for us sun cream is one of those). Again, have towels at the ready, the end of this kind of play often comes abruptly & urgently in my experience. Balls, dolls, pouring, mixing, splashing, floating/sinking objects – and so many more ways to play. Put a paddling pool on a slight slope and you have water that meets land – a barbie beach, an animal watering hole…

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  • Ice cube arctic. Another paddling pool idea, but could also work in a sensory bin or tray. We collect flowers, stones, pebbles, feathers, cut up bits of drinking straws, glitter, small toy animals etc and put them into a variety of plastic containers – all sorts of sizes and shapes. Pour water in and pop in the freezer. When ready (I have put them in to freeze during the morning and got them out after school but really they last longer if left in to freeze right through.) get them all out into the paddling pool or tray along with other toy animals.

Get Trampolining!

  • Wet Trampoline – This gets slippery so careful supervision called for! All you need are full watering cans, and gentle bouncing – or water balloons plus bouncing – or to get the Trampoline wet with the hose before bouncing!
  • Ball pit Trampoline – simple, put ball pit balls (or a mix of different balls but making sure none are too hard or heavy) onto the Trampoline. These are amazing fun to bounce with, and also become (in our house anyway) all sorts of games – colour sorting, lining up, in or out, characters in an imaginary role play game (ie balls in our house all have names and are often at school when on the Trampoline, being moved to & from the shed in a school bus (push along dumper truck), facing time out if naughty, moving around to different lessons, taking turns to be bounced with etc).

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Get making!

  • Mud pies and potions – This activity needs very little resourcing or encouragement. Though I do steer to particular areas of the garden to find mud and stones etc, so my flower beds aren’t all dug up by the end. Similarly rules about which flowers to pick have to be agreed. I am always careful to be very near by just to make sure there is no eating or drinking of the pies and potions either… can never be sure. I am keen to create a mud kitchen over the summer this year, so am enjoying looking at other’s ideas – pinterest is an amazing place – and making plans.
  • Dens – made out of washing lines with big sheets, or clothes airers and blankets, or big cardboard boxes, or play tents. String, pegs, safety pins and stones to weight things down can all be useful.
  • holes – making a hole with a spade or a spoon might sound incredibly dull but believe me it’s absorbing, hard work, and full of interesting treasures – are you digging like an archaeologist looking for artifacts, a pirate looking for treasure or are you a bug hunter? It’s useful to mark out a small patch of the garden where you can live with this activity happening, or perhaps have a large plant pot filled with soil just for this. You might even want to bury some treasure for the digger to find! At the moment we seem to be finding a lot of broken pieces of kitchen or bathroom tiles – each with colour and pattern. They are then washed lovingly with a paintbrush and find their way to the fairy garden with all kinds of other little collected treasures.

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I could keep going – but lunch is calling… what do your kids enjoy, what activities make for perfect sunny sensory for them?