planning for holidays

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The summer holidays are nearly here!!!

(I say, half excited half terrified!)

It’s altogether a little bit overwhelming at the moment for the Porter family. The heat has been incredibly intense for us – keeping cool in hot weather brings with it particular sensory challenges. Noisy fans, different from usual clothes, sun cream, extreme brightness, open windows (noise we don’t usually hear in the house, insects coming in)… Of course it also gives us sensory opportunities to enjoy – I have written before about some of our favourite hot weather sensory activities – and we also discovered ‘skidding ice cubes with kittens’ this week too.

We are also near the end of term so there are lots of extras going on, each an exciting new challenge which is tiring for all of us. And there are more in the next week too – services, concerts, parties and BBQ’s.

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Do you like to plan ahead for school holidays, or do you prefer the freedom to be spontaneous? I am so looking forward to the pressure of the school mornings being lifted, but I do not like the thought of no routine at all – if I feel we need a day without any structure at all it has to be planned ahead for! And we call it a pj day – then it has expectations and routines all of its own! The first three weeks we have planned for us: the church holiday club (all of us involved either as leaders, young leaders or part of a group), then straight to New Wine summer conference followed by holiday in our usual campsite. Each of those weeks has their own order and lists, usual things to pack, play and do.

When we get back we have some time based at home, Andrew will be back at work and I will be balancing our need for ‘down time’ – lots of time for special interests; family together time – maybe a familiar outing or two; get together with friends; and getting us prepared for a new term – lots of questions, worries, fact finding and getting used to new uniform (not to mention the dreaded shoe shopping!).

I usually find it helpful to have ‘ready to go’ crafts, and games all to hand before the lack of routine (and anxiety) makes it almost impossible to plan and prepare anything.

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Here are some of my favourite go-to sites:

I love the ideas and printables on RedTedArt – great ideas for activities and crafts with everyday things, bookmarks and models to print and make.

A lovely list of (mostly) no prep outdoor ideas with notimeforflashcards

Always lots of new fun meaningful ideas with flamecreativekids

I will be busy collecting ideas I find on one of my pinterest boards

 

 

 

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transitions and anxiety

Monday was ‘transition day’, the day when our local family of schools all have a taster day for the following year, whether that’s the next class in the same school or in a new school altogether. A day to meet the teacher, meet your new class mates and get familiar with the routine and lay out of a new place. For T it’s a change of schools, up to juniors. For A just a change of tutor and timetable. And also Tuesday was leavers assembly and prom day for B, really making it clear that the familiar routine of school is finished and it’s time to try and get used to the idea of college in September.

Add into that sports day, talent show rehearsal, school musical rehearsals, doctors appointments, unexpected visits to family, the house beginning to fill up with church holiday club scenery and its been quite a time since my last post, with huge amounts of anxiety, plenty of avoidance, tears and clingyness.

T is getting a lot more confident with reading at the moment, and as we walked to school this morning she read ‘transit’ on the back of a van.

“That van says transition day Mummy”

“It does have the beginning of that on it doesn’t it. It says ‘transit’, it’s a transit van”

quizzical look.

“Transit means to move something. The van is designed to help us move things. Transition means moving from one thing to a new thing”

“It’s moving me. Transition day was about moving me to a new school?”

“Exactly”

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Movement is a funny thing, it can be soothingly repetitive (as long as you are the one in control of that movement I think – nothing more irritating that someone else’s pacing or tapping!), it can on the other hand cause motion sickness, or dizziness, or tinnitus on days when nothing is still or quiet for a second. Movement can be exciting, getting us to places and people we’ve been looking forward to being with. It can be scary, getting us to unfamiliar or stressful places and people. Movement is tiring. It is tiring to think that life could be thought of as perpetual transit! But life is full of movement, of transitions.

When I got home from the school drop off (which by the way was really stress free this morning! Always unexpected and a relief) I played with Padfoot & Jaffa for a bit (trying to make sure they get good attention before I get stuck into work) and when they got tired they both climbed onto my knee and flopped to sleep purring loudly. It was beautiful. But I was kneeling on the kitchen floor, so soon my ankles were going to sleep, and my knees aching (must be getting old!), so I tried to gently move. Not even the smallest movement was possible without waking them. Eyes opened, ears pricked up as if to say ‘what? why? where?’ They readjusted, shuffled, tried to get floppy comfy again every time but the movement stopped them feeling safe and relaxed. After a couple of attempts of freeing my ankles and sitting differently they hopped off in disgust and went to find a predictable, un-moving resting place – where they have happily stayed curled up as I am writing.

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They remind me of my girls. No matter how gradually, how small each movement, transitions make them twitchy and uncomfortable. They are unsettled by it. They both find it really difficult to visualize an unfamiliar place or event, they cannot prepare for change easily without support. So anxiety is high, meltdowns increase, and sensory overload is pretty much round every corner because senses are heightened when they are in constant alert.

There are things that can support transitions.

  • Good visual social stories can help with visualizing the unfamiliar and are tangible, and can be referred to over and over (and over) again.
  • A visual timetable for the transition, with definite dates and times.
  • Collecting factual information about the unfamiliar event or place.
  • chocolate (- that’s just for me!!)
  • A visual timetable in advance (and taken along) of each small step of the transition.
  • Doing the steps with someone familiar alongside.
  • Practice walks of new routes, or places.
  • support with emotions, identifying them and ‘sitting with’ them as they come and go.
  • prayer!
  • A steady pace with rests – not always possible of course! Grab resting places wherever you can (time with special interests, chances to zone out)
  • patience!
  • Keeping other things as steady and familiar as possible while change is happening – again not always possible but usually we can find something that can stay constant even if it is something as seemingly insignificant as not changing the bedding until next week if it’s all a bit much this week.

Is 41v10

 

meet our kittens

 

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Jaffa and Padfoot

A momentous day yesterday, we went and chose and brought home two new additions to the family life, Jaffa (with a little ginger face) and Padfoot (with creamy dipped feet).

Part Maine Coon, part Bengal we are hopeful they will bring the best characteristics of those breeds. We need pets able to enjoy our often lively household, animals that will make a strong bond with us and will want to be alongside us in our adventures.

So we are very much enjoying getting to know them, and working out boundaries that give them enough space. And we are enjoying watching them getting to know us and their new home. They have already made claim to a shelf in the kitchen for resting in, and are keeping us busy teaching us how they like to play.

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I’ll let you know how we’re all getting on from time to time, and am bound to post lots of pictures on Instagram (clearlynurturing). Am so thankful to have found them.

 

“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!

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.