Post lockdowns – back to school. Top 5 worries

Its difficult not to see the irony that in this last year and a bit, of intense, relentless adapting and coping there has been a huge need for processing life and yet the least opportunity to write! The least opportunity for space and time to gather my thoughts. We have learnt so much together, struggled together, worried together (of course!) and supported each other. And now we stand at the brink of another seismic shift – the (hopefully) final lifting of lockdowns and going back out into the world and to school. Its making me feel exhausted just writing that. Its going to be another intense few weeks, and months as we face that, adjust to it and find a new pattern for this next season.

These are top of the list of things that I am feeling overwhelmed at the thought of. I’m writing not to wallow, not to scare myself further but to begin the processing of it all. I write in the hope that it helps to say it out-loud, and to find out none of us are alone in this.

  • Energy Have I got the reserves I need to support my family through another hugely stressful transition? Sleep patterns as always aren’t great, eating healthily – not my best to be honest. Work life balance is just about manageable in lockdown, but feels daunting and untested outside of it again. And already I am experiencing the sudden waves of lurching anxiety (keep on taking the tablets Cathy!) that I won’t be enough; strong enough, wise enough, present enough to give what is needed in support day in day out. Its madness to worry, I know. I’m never enough – in God’s economy I don’t need to be, and wasn’t chosen in the hope I would be – how freeing – how terrifying. Truth is He is enough. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Cor 12:9 (Cathy – He is enough for you)
  • Catch up There’s a lot of talk about student catch up – not so much about parent catch up! Will I ever be able to get things back on track logistically? Will we get the washing & ironing sorted, how on earth did I ever do it? Will we ever find the dining room again – it has become storage, remote learning space, my at home office and my volunteering hub. It’s a mess. When will there be space and energy to unravel that as the pace of life picks up again? Even simple things like hoovering has been done less often – the noise levels for the sensitive bat ears we have in our family, the fact that almost always someone in the house is on zoom or teams – so there’s catch up everywhere I look. It’s not that important for our well being in one sense, its clean enough but at some point we’ll open the door again & people – other people – will come in!!! That’s a daunting prospect. “..but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:42 (Cathy – don’t lose sight of the important things)
  • Clothing Thinking about washing & ironing reminds me that a huge bonus of lockdowns has been the relaxing of the type of clothing I’ve had to battle T into. We’ve got completely out of practice wearing socks for example – a daily battle I’ve not been missing. Similarly, shoes have not been worn regularly. T has also grown, so not only is there a battle on the horizon to get used to the feeling of ‘out of the house’ clothes, and school uniform I need to negotiate through finding out what is uncomfortable and what doesn’t fit, and then of course the introducing of new items. Usually these two factors wouldn’t perhaps coincide quite so dramatically. But that’s going to take some doing. It will have fall out. It will be noisy, genuinely uncomfortable, emotional and a long haul. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” Isaiah 43:2 (Cathy – you’re not going through this alone)
  • Separation I was reading just yesterday that for many of us it will be a similar emotional roller-coaster to starting school in the first place – parents and students alike. We’ll have to go through another separation. T & I have been together day in day out for months now. We have been learning side by side, not sleeping well – mostly side by side. In the garden letting off steam – side by side. Going back out of the house to work and school, separately will be difficult. I know T is acutely worried about having to do school on her own, away from that close support and understanding. I know that even though I will love having some space to breathe I will worry while she is away from me. Remote learning has been sooo tough, but with it has come an opportunity to see how she flourishes with that close support (on a good day). And to see that the demands of the school work itself is challenging for T, and know with new insight she will be facing that in the challenging environment of school again. A huge increase in demands and anxieties. “He tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:11 (Cathy – hold onto this)
  • Pace I’ve already mentioned that it feels like the faster pace of life is looming around the corner. It is worrying me that its potentially a huge shock to the system to go from the pattern of life we’ve developed during lockdowns back into what I remember as a very fast paced, packed full (in a different way to the challenges of lockdowns) life. I’m reminding myself it will be more gradual than I’m fearing. School is the beginning, then other things will follow. Youth groups, Sunday services in the building, swimming lessons, in person social events will not all get up and running at the same time. It will be one step at a time. And I am telling myself to take those steps slowly and intentionally. I was packing too much into each week before, and here is an unexpected opportunity to do things differently – and perhaps push myself in an area I’ve never been good at – saying no to some good things, letting some things go. I simply have to. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…” Matthew 11:29 (Cathy – don’t panic, not everything needs letting go of, ask for wisdom)

These are my top 5 areas to pray about, and think about. Do they resonate with you? Maybe for you there would be others that would push some of these out of the top 5. There are certainly plenty to choose from right now as a mother of SEND children. It’s been a tough year, and it will be a tough transition coming out the other end. Please know I pray for you. Happy to listen. Happy to connect. Please don’t feel alone as this new season looms ahead. You are not alone.

Working out how to be a Part-time working Mum

So, since Lockdown number 1 lifted I have been getting used to juggling being in school some of everyday as the chaplain with all the other tasks & joys of life. To be honest it’s still a little odd getting my head around actually being an adult having an actual job! It’s a whole new way of juggling the needs of family life – any advice do leave a comment!!

One of the things I’m currently not sure I’m winning with is the washing – you’ll know I’m sure that its never as simple as working methodically through the washing Himalayas – there is an almost daily urgent need to prioritize particular items needed straight away… which I kind of (well very loosely) kept on top of before but now seems rather tricky and incredibly last minute. Sounds rather insignificant written down, but believe me it is certainly not insignificant when the only item of clothing that is acceptable to be wearing is in the mountain and not back in the draw in time!

Other than the practical logistics – which I’m sure will settle into some kind of routine – I find myself working out in a new way how to pace myself emotionally and energy wise. Family life for us can be draining, a lot of the support needed that is over above what you might expect as a parent of my age kids is emotional support and the creative finding, teaching and prompting of coping skills to deal with relentless anxiety (which has been through the roof this year), sensory overload plus self care and interpersonal skills – all of which require deep deep wells of patience and empathy, the negotiation skills of an international peace envoy and the imagination and energy to keep finding new approaches and adaptations. I need energy.

In many ways going out to work has been energy-giving in that it is a step away into a different world. I have a lovely base in the school, neat, calm and relatively quiet – which now has its very own colourful bespoke ‘stained glass window’ display. And I am loving the role with its opportunities for building relationships, offering support to the community and helping to shape the faith provision and culture of the school. But of course it is tiring too. Its as much about being fully me, fully present as any of the tasks I have to do and so introvert me is tired as I walk home. So I am praying for extra doses of patience and energy on that walk each day to arrive ready to be fully me, fully present and available to the needs at home.

I am becoming more aware that I need to get better at self-care myself! Eating healthily, trying to get more sleep when I can, doing exercise, and getting back into a routine of writing – about time too I guess many of you are thinking as you read this!! Watch this space. Something I read this week that struck a chord was an invitation to write ‘Ta Da’ lists at the end of a day rather than ‘To Do’ lists at the beginning… so here’s the beginning of my visual ‘Ta Da’ list from this week:

Girlguiding volunteering – the groups have started up again
Act of Remembrance for school and collective worships
Loads of emails and admin
planning our next student service

Apologies – and the guilt coming out of lockdown

Is it true, what I’ve been reading on social media over the last 2 months, people have been redecorating houses, getting fit, taking up new hobbies? Apparently lockdown has been an opportunity for such things – for some!

Isn’t it hard not to face coming out of lockdown with a whole load of new things to feel guilty about. The untidy, unclean house let alone not re-decorated; the really few number of ‘good days’ of school at home; the fact that I’ve not been able to sit here with a cuppa for a whole 2 months!!; the non-existent new hobbies and achievements. Oh dear, if comparison is the thief of joy this is going to feel rather tricky to negotiate!

Surely I’m not alone!

Well, to try and help myself, I’m going to sit here for a moment and list my lockdown achievements – however different they may be:

  • We have (just about) always had clean clothes to wear!
  • Everyone has eaten something every day (even if it wasn’t at the right time, or in the same place as everyone else, or particularly nutritious)
  • School work has been printed out and talked about – a lot – enough said!
  • I have discovered and explored new places in the house and garden to create semi-permanent dens and tents. (safe chill out spaces and divide and conquer!)
  • Church has come into our living room, and study, and kitchen, and sometimes bedroom and even behind the sofa on Sundays.
  • I have become quite used to filming, editing and leading myself in worship and reflective activities of various kinds.
  • I have created film studio zones in the house and garden – that can be rediscovered under the mess when needed.
  • My volunteering responsibilities and my work have been done – that should be in capital letters, what an achievement in these circumstances!
  • And I have learnt all about green screens, stop frame animation and some basic editing. Watch out world!!
  • I have continued to exercise my extreme parenting skills – juggling, multi-tasking, peace keeping and hostage negotiation, wrestling the octopus-es or is that -i?, mentoring, counselling, resilience under a regime of sleep deprivation and red-coat entertainment as required.
  • We have bought and settled in 2 rabbits – Flapjack, and Tiffin.
Flapjack on the right, Tiffin on the left
  • I have tried new baked goodies – A has been baking lots of bread, and cake.
  • As a result I reached my ideal weight for the first time in years – even if fleetingly.
  • T has made it into the bath and shower enough.
  • I have made fabric masks for all of us.
  • I actually rang the doctors – yes me – if you know me well you will instantly agree it has to go on the list of achievements.
  • I have smiled, and laughed, played games and spoken to extended family regularly.
  • (I have also sighed, been tired, grumpy, frustrated and very anxious in equal measure)
  • I have not fallen out (permanently!) with any family members!!

Thanks for listening! It really helps to list things sometimes – there have been plenty of achievements – but as always they might not look the same in our family. What do they look like in yours as you ease out of lockdown?

free printable: faith doodling

Why is it that holidays feel so crazy busy?? Well, church holiday club, new wine & camping near Exmoor  now done. We’re getting the tents out one more time before the new school term begins.

So, there has been some space, some chocolate & some tea-shop visits; lots of family games, giggles and all the niggles of family life – but under canvas! And time was found for some faith doodling.

I also began another, thinking about ‘patience’ – ironically not finished, yet!

Download these here:

Brave

Hope

Strong

 I enjoyed doodling them, I pray you enjoy colouring them and reflecting with God while you do.

preparing for visitors

Ok, so Christmas is a busy time… extra services, extra fancy food, extra special activities and for us extra people coming to stay over the holidays.

There are a few things I have learnt the hard way over the years about helping my children through all the change that having visitors brings so as I’m thinking through all the behind the scenes tasks I have yet to do I thought I’d share them in case they’ll be useful to any of you…

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creating space

With a houseful one of the hard things is children losing that sense that they have a space that’s theirs, to escape to, to be calm in. So we work hard at creating and articulating for them some space they can call their own. It’s usually bed space, but it is more than that physical space that’s needed. Visitors sleep in A & T’s room, and they come into ours on camp beds, so we work together to make sure that all the books/soft toys/lights/clocks that are essential to that feeling of safety and ‘my space’ get moved too and each of them gets somewhere to put them, and lay them out how they are comfortable. For B, who has cousins sleeping in her room with her, we encourage her to do the same, taking all the essential things up into her high bed (which does make it a bit crowded – or should I say more crowded than usual, she is a nester!) and keep that space just for her.

Having a designated, easily visible space they can go to is so important to enable them to regulate their emotions during the time visitors are with us, and to give them a place to go to when they are reaching their limits of sensory input. If they don’t think to take fiddle/sensory toys to that space then we take them there anyway, they are usually needed.

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But that’s mine!

The other half of the story about space of course is that each of my children has to loan their bedroom to visitors for the time they are here. Right from the start we have strongly encouraged sharing, but it soon became clear that the concept needed to be broken down into clear, manageable steps… so from the time B started school we had developed a ritual of sitting her down and discussing which things were too special to share – we put limits on just how many of these there could be! – and these were then put carefully in a box or bag and put right away while the guest was with us. We did the same before friends came for tea even… just knowing that those special things didn’t need to be shared took some anxiety away about how they might be touched, played with differently, broken etc.

The discussion also involved the negotiating of an agreement that the things left were ok to share, we were expecting the children visiting to be able to touch them, play with them, look in the books and so on, and that we expected B not to be cross when they did. We spelled out that we would be supervising too, to make sure things didn’t get broken, and if they did we would try to mend them, but that it was ok to let visitors play with our toys.

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We try to have fun thinking together about what each visitor might enjoy while they are with us… which books could we choose & put next to their bed for them to read at bedtime? Do they usually bring a cuddly toy for bed? If not, is there one maybe that we could tuck into their bed for them to find when they arrive and cuddle each bedtime they stay for? When they wake up in the morning what do we think they would enjoy playing with before breakfast? could we make sure those kinds of toys/activities are easy to find on the shelf? And what about creating some lovely play spaces downstairs together to use during the day? And to think together about a box of crafts or activities that could be dipped into for ideas during the visit. Yes, doing it together does make everything take longer! But I’ve found the detailed, methodical collaboration pays off in the way it reduces anxieties and helps to visualize the activities of the days ahead.

that’s theirs this week

I find it helpful to say out loud that the room we let guests sleep in is their space while they are with us. We need to ask before going in, and we need to not go into their cases or bags looking for things.

We had a ‘funny with hindsight’ moment when B was only a toddler. We were hosting as part of a pastor’s exchange, and our guests had just arrived, and were having lunch. B never stayed at a meal table back then, and so she was toddling and playing. About half way through lunch we noticed how quiet it was… oh yes B had taught herself a new skill and had discovered zips on a rucksack! All our guests camera film was on the floor, and B was happily focused on the lovely film that could be pulled slowly or fast out of the containers!!!

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when and what next?

Yes my children need to know when visitors are arriving and when they are leaving, and they really do feel far less anxious when there is a plan for what we will do each day when visitors are with us.

Sometimes we can get away with working out a list of possible activities and explaining that we will do those things over a number of days but we will work out the order with our guests, or perhaps depending what the weather is like each day. There are usually many fixed points during a visit though too, that we write in the plan and then stick to. Over the years we have learnt together that time between definite activities (or even whole mornings without ‘a plan’) is manageable when we have carefully gone through the processes of preparing play spaces, craft box etc in advance. Somehow it gives boundaries and confidence to a ‘gap’ on the timetable.

We also find it makes things easier when we plan the meals and go through it with the children in advance too. And extra special foods for Christmas always have an alternative that is familiar. We have also found that it helps to say in advance where my children can sit for the meals – especially if there will be a kids table and an adult’s table.

I have prepared a social story about our Christmas dinner – because its a flash point! (see here    – I have left as a word document so it can be easily adapted)

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Well, I’m still expecting there to be ‘moments’ while visitors are with us… but at least when I try to do these things I feel more prepared, and feel I have prepared them as best I can!