“let the little ones come to me”

Some weeks the big issues talked about in our home are chosen for us. B & A are now using social media and see the trending issues as they come and go. So of course we have been responding to the highlighting of the way the immigration policies have been implemented in the USA recently, particularly the separating of children and parents as they cross borders, economic migrants and asylum seekers alike. It has made no sense whatsoever to them seeing pictures of small children so terrified, taken away from parents in a strange new place. They have wondered why, wanted to understand, and wanted to do something to stop it.

I share their concerns. And I found yesterday’s social media feeds difficult. I read wanting to know truth, wanting to respond and act to the true situation. Wanting wisdom, and a stronger heart with bigger, braver love. Jesus rebuked the disciples saying ‘let the children come to me’ (Matthew 19:14), he also of course told us to ‘love your neighbour as yourselves’ (Luke 10) – quite a few times, and to clarify also followed it up with the story of the good Samaritan in case we were wondering about the fine print. I want a heart like his, not one that scrolls quickly past the pictures of children hurting and hungry, suffering in a world full of injustice, so many pictures from so many places both in the headlines and not, but in my social media feed because of the charities I follow I guess. Displaced people is one of the big issues of the day, and so our immigration policies and how they get implemented are of huge concern. There are concerns in my heart about UK policies and implementation of policies too. I don’t for a second feel complacent that we are acting justly, respectfully, humanely as people come to our borders either.

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There is possibility and opportunity for our policies and response as countries and communities to be a blessing to so many people in need right now when you stop and think about it – thinking outside the baggage – and the flip side is of course that there is possibility and opportunity for our policies and response to cause more trauma and lasting damage, more hurt and division long term.

Before we moved to Nottinghamshire we had more opportunities in the everyday of life to practically respond to displaced families looking for asylum. In our church family we got to know families and individuals from all sorts of different places around the world, B & A got to know them, we heard their stories and felt their pain as they shared what they had left and shared their hopes as they navigated their way through the very complicated and clumsy asylum system here. But what for T where we live now? It is not in the everyday encounters that she will hear and feel the experience of displaced people. It is something that if I want her to learn I will have to be intentional about.

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Our church supports a project in Nottingham itself which supports refugees and asylum seekers so that is one very obvious way. In fact we have a fundraising quiz night coming up very soon, and someone from the Rainbow project will be coming to tell us a bit about what they do! Good timing. Of course there are also the families we are still in touch with from where we used to live, including our beautiful godchildren. And continuing to cultivate a culture at home of discussing, exploring and asking questions, bringing faith into all of that and trying to live out the things we discover matter, trying to make a difference.

IMG_20180620_203437811_LLSo, needless to say really yesterday my instinct was to end the day with T by steering the bedtime book choice towards a lovely thoughtful book called ‘The colour of home’, by Mary Hoffman & Karin Littlewood. It tells the story of the first day at school in England of Hassan, a boy from Somalia. Through his painting his teacher is able to speak with him through the language barriers and begin to understand and know him. It is gentle, age appropriate without glossing over the reality of fleeing from home because of violence and conflict. The pictures are wonderful, full of life and colour.

I also ordered a new book (which of course I will tell you about as soon as we have it) which came up on my facebook timeline during the day yesterday – the only thing I shared into the discussion! – written by a child, Fraiser Cox, called ‘There’s a boy just like me’ and Bedtime Story Winner 2017. The more books like this on my shelves the better!

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is it a paddy, is it a tantrum, no it’s super-meltdown: things I need you to know about meltdowns

The thing about sensory processing differences is that they are there all the time, sensory cravings alongside sensory defensiveness in a world full of light, noise, movement and touch means it can be surprisingly easy to get overwhelmed. The thing about autsitic masking (think swan with crazy fast, unseen feet working so hard to camouflage and do the right thing even when it feels like you are an alien in a world where the social expectations and rules are always just out of reach) is that it takes so much energy, so much focus to survive or overcome worry after worry just to make it through the day. So it doesn’t need much of a niggle, misunderstanding, or unexpected moment to be knocked off balance and all the bottled up worries and stress to burst out. Meltdowns happen. They are inconvenient, stressful, messy, noisy, attract unwanted attention, are painful and exhausting – for all of us, public or not.

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With a tantrum or angry outburst there are words, frustration and a battle for control. As a mum I know to reach for clear boundaries, definite options to move forward and get ready in the back of my mind for a suitable consequence if calm is not restored (for B when she was younger the consequence that worked best in these situations was her doll being put out of reach for the rest of the day… these days it’s much more likely to be screen time that gets affected if one of them simply refuses to stop and calm down.)

But a meltdown is entirely different. For us meltdowns are non-verbal, mute – there is sometimes shouting and screaming but there is no verbal communication. And there won’t be until a long time after the meltdown subsides and things are becoming regulated again. Meltdowns are not a choice, not consciously attention seeking – or a tool being used in a battle for control. A meltdown is out of control for the one experiencing it. As a mum I know this is not the time for negotiation, talking it out, or reaching for clear boundaries. My job is to keep things safe, and be there.

In a meltdown what I see when I stop and look into my child’s eyes is not frustration and willful battling but fear and the kind of rage that fear can be. It’s a panic attack. Their whole body is involved, flooded with adrenaline for fight or flight. The heart is pounding, their arms and legs lashing out in defensive attack. Things can be thrown as if in self defense, they can hide tight in an impenetrable ball, they can run as if their life depends on it. It is as if everything – every sound, touch, thought, feeling is coming at them. They are overwhelmed. They cannot find the ground. It is terrifying, exhausting. As a mum I know this is not the time for discipline, or consequences. My job is only to stay close, keeping them safe.

The aftermath of a meltdown takes a long time to go through. Rest has to happen, some withdrawal from demands. There is a need to feel secure and grounded again, either through a tight cuddle (T needs this often) or a familiar safe space and activity (usually a repetitive one). There will be no words for a long time. Often there is little to no recollection of the details of the meltdown at all, just sadness and regret at the thought that they might have hurt us. As a mum all I want to do now is give reassurance and be an undemanding loving, accepting presence.

It is often difficult to pinpoint the triggers of the meltdown. With a tantrum it is often much clearer what the whole thing is about. With a meltdown this isn’t always the case. With hindsight Andrew & I can work out some common contributing factors and we work to minimize these. We also see warning signs sometimes and if we can we can steer T or B towards a quiet space, or a calm activity which may go some way to prevent a meltdown. But this isn’t always achievable or possible. Sometimes we have chatted with our girls about what might have triggered the fear response, but this is rare. Often we find even approaching the subject of triggers can bring back the overwhelming feelings and anxiety visibly increases. Instead we talk together in calm moments about emotions, and physical reactions to emotions learning and exploring vocabulary so that understanding grows in the hope that emotions themselves can be ‘sat with’ more easily, and be less frightening in and of themselves. Hoping also that understanding and vocabulary can help everyday emotional regulation which in itself will build some resilience – and help me to understand my girls better so I can support them better.

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I am in awe of my girls. Having had bouts of panic attacks I know they are overwhelming, scary and exhausting. Facing them and enduring them takes courage. Getting through the day knowing that it could happen takes courage. And my girls don’t just ‘get through’ most days, they are adventurers and explorers who are interested in life, who face new challenges all the time. Meltdowns are not at all easy. They are not tantrums. They need love and support.

 

 

fun memory verse ideas

We are very caught up in revision at the moment, right in the middle of exams for B.

There are a lot of things to remember – not my best skill! (thank you long term sleep deprivation & anxiety) – formulas in science, definitions, quotes in English and RE. B actually has a really really good memory, and if she is engaged in the learning – if focused, definite, clear cut things get stuck so quickly.

Yesterday we were praying before leading our junior age church club, Blast, and listening to T beeping the numbers on the church key safe to help by getting the keys to open the main doors. She’d been allowed to do the code once before a few days previously and of course, yes, she could do it. The number sequence was at her fingertips. To me that kind of memory seems like a superpower! I simply cannot remember number sequences at all, and am pretty hopeless at recalling definite factual information from memory.

For me, remembering and being able to bring to mind verses from the Bible effort has to be intentionally put in. I know I want to. I know it’s not going to come easily. I know I have to put in the work. With all the focus on revision though at the moment, I am questioning whether I am sharing that hope and expectation about Bible verses. Do B, A & T even think about why or if its important to know verses and be able to bring them to mind? Am I sharing with testimony with them, of times when verses have powerfully changed a situation or strengthened me or someone else? They are naturally gifted with the ability to remember, am I encouraging them to remember the Bible?

I remember a season with A when he was facing night after night of nightmares which were vivid and difficult to move on from and find rest again. We taught him a tiny snippet of scripture;

‘…perfect love drives out fear…’ (1John 4:18)

thinking together about who we knew who was perfect love, and how strong a word ‘drives out’ is. Over a stretch of nights we spoke it before sleep, and when the nightmares came showed him how to speak it out and cling onto Jesus who is perfect love. We imagined Jesus like a superhero/ninja standing tall and kicking his fears out of the door, down the stairs and out into the driveway. We imagined him coming back into A’s room and standing guard till his angels took over again. Sometimes we actively did the kicking alongside Jesus, kicking his fears out of the room as we reminded each other that Jesus, perfect love, was with him fighting for him. We learnt it to the point when some nights we simply spoke out ‘perfect love’ as we sat with him, welcoming Jesus in and waiting for sleep to come again. It reminds me how precious scripture is for our children, how much I want them to delight in it and know it.

So some fun ideas to learn memory verses:

  • love this idea from #flamecreativekids of a dice race… who can be first to roll the dice and be able to say the verse in order.
  • of course, I’m immediately reaching for doodling and colouring… my latest colouring verse was designed for a friend leading an after school club wanting a verse to reflect on.

 

  • following #godventure on social media means I now have the yummy idea in my head of icing parts of a memory verse onto different cupcakes so they can be arranged, remembered and eaten! Love the symbolism of that.2016-06-11 10.19.17
  • using lego, bricks or playing jenga with words from the verse on the blocks.
  • Making up actions to go with the words.
  • Enjoying a song that uses the words, T would be wanting to dance too.
  • Making a nature or magazine collage of the verse together and pinning it up in the kitchen.
  • playing charades to find the words
  • a treasure hunt for the words
  • make bunting or a set of decorations that can display the verse. IMG_20180602_232001_387
  • using different voices, or accents (both T & A find this funny)
  • use fabric pens and design a T-shirt or a tote bag with the verse on.
  • challenge each other to see who can use the verse in everyday conversation!

Please do comment with your favourite ideas for fun memory verse learning!

We all need rest

This week is our half term break, usually a time for a family holiday somewhere… but we are doing things a bit differently this time.

B is half way through exams, so we are supporting and encouraging revision and didn’t feel it would be at all helpful to go away. Going away is an upheaval in itself, even when its to a familiar place, and brings extra anxiety. To be honest we have enough anxiety already without doing things that are guaranteed to bring more!

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Anyway, a while back we came to the decision that Andrew would take A away for a boy’s week together and the girls and I would stay here, hold the fort & get on with that revision. So On Sunday Andrew & A set off for the airport, and flew to France (eventually – there were of course significant delays, and Andrew & I exchanged sighs of relief that we had not gone down the route of T going with them rather than staying here with me.). So Sunday began for us with the boys already left (4am!) – and with me leading communion at church (so the pressure of having to get there at the right time, feeling composed and ready – and the pressure for T to be having an ‘I can cope’ hour while I was involved at the front!). I know miracles still happen – we did it! There on time, T just about coped when I really needed her to (we’ll try & forget the over clingy wrestle mummy to the floor incident before the service started) and I managed to feel like I knew what I was doing.

When we got back from church we decided to chill – Sims went on, pj’s, hot chocs and no pressure to eat a Sunday roast quickly before the next thing. We pottered, washing, gardening, more Sims for the girls. Chickens, guinea pigs and hamsters all there to cuddle. And finished the day with a girly film together eating cake! Monday was another rest day with no pressure other than what the girls needed (for T that was me at her side & bidding for the whole entire day), ending with face mask hilarity with another girly film and then the usual anxiety ridden bedtimes (I have brought T in with me – don’t tell Andrew!! – it’s easier).

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Today revision starts again, and T has had an outing with one of the many wonderfully supportive people from church which has left me a bit of space and quiet to support B & get a few things done – like some writing (and just a little washing-up). Meanwhile physics, biology & more maths being looked at. Tomorrow maybe some English language, along with all sorts of wonderfully intense ordinary just us girls time.

Andrew & A are having a good time too, swimming in the pool, time with Andrew’s brother & wife. Kittens. Books. Outings. Good food, and a much needed break from the intensity of life in a household constantly shaped by autism, demand avoidance and anxiety.

 

pentecost prayers

IMG_20180519_114620532 Our church took part in the global prayer initiative #thykingdomcome, and we had our prayer room set up for 48 hours so that as a church we committed to pray for the whole of that time taking turns in the room.

It was set up using the resource ideas on the #thykingdomcome website. Which focused on the image of the Holy Spirit bringing light.

As a family we have got used to spending an hour in a prayer room together over the years,  (wrote about last years too!) but even so it does still feel a little daunting! And this year I remembered the wrong time!! Ended up gatecrashing another slot (thankfully a family we know well) and then coming back later to do the hour we had signed up for! So we managed it twice in the end…

Each section of the room led us to pray for ourselves or neighbours, our town or the wider world through a hands on activity to help us think or to visualize that prayer. T really liked the coffee filter pictures. We drew in biro first, our street or just our neighbours house, then decorated around the edge with colours of the warm fire of the Holy Spirit. When it was wet the invitation was to pray for that household as we watched the warmth of those colours get closer and eventually cover the whole house. It was messy, visual and meaningful.

Cutting out newspaper stories and putting them onto the large lightbox (a DIY job with a plain plastic box & white Christmas lights) helped us to reflect on how wherever Jesus’ light shines it reveals things for what they are – showing us what’s true.

Using mirrors and torches we tried to shine a light onto different countries on the big wall map of the world. It was quite tricky, and actually involved both B & T at the same time which was great. Finding countries we knew something about, then directing the light and praying.

There was also playdough, and a playdough mat with prayer suggestions. A local map to let feathers (flame colours of course) float down onto to choose us a part of the town to pray for. Some Christmas lights to add thumbprints onto to pray for particular friends. Spiral family prayers.

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Of course I managed to fit in drawing a reflective colouring page using verses about Jesus the light of the world and our calling to shine like stars. This went down well with B (and me!). Feel free to follow this link and print one out to use.

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Also a perfect opportunity to put my book to use, helping me to encourage us to pray boldly knowing that God will answer our prayers because he loves us!

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