Sunday, 31 May 2015

Teen and Tween Special: Leaving your children home alone

My boys are 12 and 14. I am a single parent. There are times, unfortunately, when I have to leave them on their own.

Even though my 14 year old is more mature than his own grandpa (oh - is it 6pm, mum? Time for PJs and cocoa!), I worry about doing this. The law is woolly, with the guidelines being

- children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time
- children under 16 shouldn't be left alone overnight
- babies, toddlers and young children should never be left alone.

We all know that the law is there to remind us of what should be common sense; of course babies should never be left alone. Of course you'd never leave your children overnight.

But can I leave my boys together for an afternoon in the school holidays, while I work? Sometimes I have to. And particularly now, as Tween's accident means he can't play sports for three months, which means his holiday club is out.

I feel very uncomfortable about it.

This, quite frankly, spells a pile of old bollocks for the summer holidays. It means that either a) I lean very heavily on the goodwill of other parents, unable to pay them back, because I'm always at work, b) leave the boys at home whilst I work, and risk them tearing each other to pieces over time allocation on the Xbox, or c) take unpaid leave. Which I can't afford. And honestly - work frowns on anyway (because we don't live in Sweden).

My boys beg me to leave them on their own. "You don't trust us," they wail. "Not like Freddie's mum - she leaves Freddie outside for DAYS." (He is left to his own devices A LOT.)  And I try to explain to them that it's not that I don't trust them (although obviously it is) - it's just that, I don't trust ANYONE ELSE IN THIS GOD FORSAKEN WORLD. Without me there, they could step out into the road (dead), fall down a cliff (dead), put their heads in the oven (extremely uncomfortably hot). They could get picked up by a stranger (dead), fall into a man trap (dead), or drown in the bath. Dead.

And that, I try to explain to them, is why they need me. Because I am their life-support machine. I keep them alive.

Obviously I'm joking. A bit. I never say these things out loud. But I do say them in my head. And I know that they're not 4 and 2 anymore and I know that, if this were the 1970s, they'd both be out on their bikes everyday, climbing trees, playing chicken - and I would only see them at teatime. And they'd very probably be very much ok.

Where are the Yoof Clubs of old? The places where our teenagers could go, shoot some pool, put some tunes on the jukebox and rot their teeth by drinking too much pop? If your child is sporty, all well and good - there are clubs galore - but if they're on the nerdy side, the pull of the online monster is too much, and they're all tempted to spend the whole day with the curtains shut playing Shoot My Fucking Head Off. To death. And what's worse is - they think it's OK. (It isn't.)
Teenagers. Not dead, but doing a YOOF drama project

We don't have a Yoof Club round here. I'm not sure if they even exist anymore. Sodding arsing Government cuts.

So this summer will be spent stressing that I'm not being a good mum (as usual). Leaving my children at home to play with knives or browse GodKnowsWhat on the internet, whilst I chew my nails at work and try to stop myself from phoning them every quarter of an hour.

Parents of Teens and Tweens - how do you cope with the holidays? I would really appreciate your advice.

_______________
@secretdivorcee

Ref: Gov website advice on leaving your child at home: https://www.gov.uk/law-on-leaving-your-child-home-alone

And then the fun began...
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Sunday, 24 May 2015

Sidmouth

This blog is about writing - except it isn't today, because I've got some photos to show you from Sidmouth. My holiday slides. (Don't all rush off.)

I've been properly learning about photography for about three years, and I'm still not very good. But what I like about it is trying to see the bits that you might otherwise miss. The moments, the light, the ...oh, I'm talking bollocks, of course.

Anyway, here are my photos from yesterday. I'd love to know what you think.

Lottie xx

I like what the boy on the left is doing here, and the swimmer, mid picture on the right, is mid-stroke.

This couple were all tangled up with each other. I was jealous.

He wasn't dead - I checked

Really lovely plant close to the sea - no idea what it is

Sodding evil seagulls every bleedin where!

Two islands

Leaping girl. Those red markers (rock warnings, presumably) are a bit of a thing at Sidmouth.

I would like to look like this lady when I'm a bit older. She's got a brilliant face.

I witnessed a hefty rockfall here a couple of summers ago. It's forbidden to go on this section of beach but people just seem to ignore the signs. #morefoolthem

Reminded me of my first time on rollerskates. Nice to see they're making a comeback!

I liked the lines in the sea and the blank, flat sky. Only four things to look at; two boats, the marker and a small gull.

Couldn't quite grasp this one but loved the reds and the greens.
Bird's eye view. You can just see a pair of legs sticking out at the bottom.

To finish - the two sides of Sidmouth. It's known as a seaside resort for the oldies, but it's also great for watersports. I've called this photo 'Worlds apart'


Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The accident

Playground


"Hello, it's Lorraine from school. I'm phoning because T has had an accident..."

It's The Call. We all get it at some point; some more than others. I wearily tuned out. What's he done this time? Stuck a pencil up his nose? Tripped over his shoelaces? Dropped his dinner tray on his foot?

"...and because it's a head injury, we've called the paramedics."

I snapped back into consciousness. A head injury? Paramedics?

"Sor...sorry.... what happened?" I could feel my heart simultaneously in my mouth and on the floor. He'd jumped down some concrete steps, but in doing so, had hit his head on an iron door frame. He had fallen backwards and cracked his head on the steps.

I put the phone down, picked up my keys, mumbled something to Teen, who was already home - and left in a fug.

The Deputy Head showed me down to the playground and there he was, Tween, stretched out on the playground floor, surrounded by three paramedics. Another teacher was saying something to me - I could see his lips moving - but I couldn't really make any sense out of it. My world was suddenly full of my baby boy, being shuffled onto a stretcher, half conscious. There was a tube coming out of his hand.

He was talking but in pain. He said he felt sick. And complained that he couldn't hear properly. He kept doing odd things with his jaw. I could see a huge white egg on his forehead, but he said all the pain was coming from the back of his head. I daren't look there.

I phoned his Dad. Matter of fact. Tween's had an accident. We're going to hospital. Meet us there.

The paramedics were calming. "Just a precaution." "Back playing tennis in no time!" "Not serious enough to put the lights on..." I sat in the jump seat in the ambulance. Tween's trolley was facing away from me, so all I could see was his head. I longed to run my fingers through his hair, but my seatbelt held me like a vice.

A&E. A CAT scan.The news that it was more serious than first thought. "He's fractured his skull in two places, and he's got a small brain bleed. We're going to transfer him to Bristol Children's Hospital". I looked at my ex and made a small involuntary noise. We held one of T's hands each. T looked scared.

We waited for the ambulance on the children's ward. T was given morphine, and went to sleep. My ex and I sat next to each other, and spoke quietly and decently - something that we haven't done for ten years. We talked about our parents. He told me about his girlfriend, who is much younger, and I could see that he loves her. I told him a little bit about my sad love life. He seemed genuinely sympathetic. We talked about mutual friends, and even had the odd gentle joke.

But then the ambulance came at 3am, and we were transferred to Bristol. T started being sick, and didn't stop. And the anxiety came back full force.

At Bristol, a quick stop in A&E and then a trolley ride (more vomit) to a large, windowless room with umpteen machines. An eery light. A large central bed, and a tiny put-me-up in the corner, hidden behind a column of pumps and dials and sockets. It reminds me of a film set. Something from Alien, maybe.

HDU

My ex left to get some sleep, promising to take over the next day. The nurses were kind, and quiet, and efficient. They showed me where the toilets where. On the way, I looked at a sign. "What does HDU mean?" I asked. "High Dependency Unit," she answered, and held my eyes. It took me a few seconds to understand that that was where we were. The High Dependency Unit.

I dropped my eyes and felt them sting.


Tween and I spent 12 hours in that room, but it felt like a week. With no windows, we couldn't tell whether it was day or night, and time was marked only by hourly observations on T. Blood pressure, lights in the eyes, what's your name, squeeze my hands, move your feet.

Are. You. Still. Alive.

At one point, with a flurry of drama, a group of doctors appeared. They pealed through the door in order, it seemed: most junior first attached to clipboards, then more and more senior, culminating in the man himself. He was stern and perfunctory, and I vaguely remember getting close to him and telling him to sound less cross as Tween was only 12.  He reeled backwards and looked at me as if I was insane - to be honest, I probably did look the part, with witchy hair and pin-hole red eyes, but he did soften slightly.

The nurses were angels. I always remember the midwives at the birth of my children, and I will always remember the nurses who cared for T this weekend. They were reassuring, helpful, kind. When a nurse saw me crying silently on my little bed behind the machines on T, she brought me a cup of tea and rubbed my shoulder.
Tween asleep

My ex arrived at what I assumed was evening.  A chance for escape. I taxi'd home to my older son, who moaned when I didn't cook the tea he wanted. It was all I could do to stop myself from screaming at him; instead, I cooked him his bleedin' chicken nuggets and went straight to bed.

Next day, early doors, a lovely friend came to pick me up and take me to the hospital. En route, we talked about T, and about her daughter, who had been through a horrifying experience some years ago involving an exploding cyst. We talked about how it feels, as a parent, to watch your child in excruciating pain and be helpless. Your role as a parent has always been to make things better, and now you can't. You want to cling to your child in the hope that you can mop up their pain and fright, absorb it into you, somehow. But it's impossible. And it's awful.

Ward

When I arrived, T was on a ward, asleep. Children's wards are incredible places. This was a neuro ward, of mixed ages; opposite was a baby who kept fitting, and was in for tests; next to us was a teenager with multiple issues - such a brave boy but in an awful lot of pain; and diagonally was a teenage girl who was constantly texting. She seemed to be waiting for something.

And the angel nurses came from one to another with infinite patience. Sickness and toilet accidents were swept up with 'not to worry!' and 'better out than in!' There were kind smiles and sympathetic smiles and good morning smiles. There were older ladies with tea trollies and menu plans. There was a play specialist who got on T's nerves. There were teachers. Slightly scary consultants. Psychiatrists. A never ending trickle of mostly underpaid NHS specialists, all coming together to heal my little boy.

I sat in the chair by his bed for three days. A short time, actually, looking back, but again, time was stretched into an interminable mess. Drugs were given for the pain. Trips to the shower and toilet were accomplished - this time without any sickness. T's pain score went from an '8' to a '4'. He was getting better.
The view from Tween's bed. It's a Banksy.

The nights were noisy. A pull down bed meant that I could sleep next to Tween, which was brilliant. But some parents insisted on watching telly until late, only getting told off at around 11.30 (way past my bedtime). And the babies crying kept everyone awake, of course. But much worse was the poor boy next door, who had just had surgery, and was screaming in agony.

In that one children's ward there were so many stories of pain and hardship and love and endurance and heartbreak. Some will end happily. Others won't.

Fast forward to yesterday morning. T was much brighter and had done well on his memory testing. They were talking about discharging him. His smile was huge, and his joy at the prospect of going home eclipsed the pain in his head. The nurse came back. "Actually," she said, "Can you go now, because we need the bed."

So that was it. Ingloriously kicked out, we shuffled off the ward, past the nurses station. There was no one there, so we couldn't even say thank you, or goodbye.

It will be a long road for T now. The thought of three months with no sport is killing him (not literally, thank goodness). But when in hospital, we were reminded several times of how lucky he was to still be here.

We're just taking one day at a time. And are trying our best to avoid iron bars in future.

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Saturday, 2 May 2015

Closing the door on childhood

The Pinch Point has passed (hooray!). Thanks so much for all your lovely messages. The headache has gone. Work seems to be improving. The man is still not my man - but I hope we will be friends.

Life is back on a straight, manageable, line again.

But something happened this week that, because of the fug, almost slipped by unnoticed. And it was this:

Tween started to shut his bedroom door at night time.

This may seem like the tiniest of actions, a nothing. And it is unremarkable, on its own. But add in to the mix that, since birth, he has been afraid of the dark and has always had some light in his room at night. The landing light has always been left on, the bedroom door slightly ajar.

His older brother, Teen, started to close his door a year or so ago. I remember the first time I saw it, firmly closed, when I came up the stairs one night. It seems ridiculous, but I was shocked and unnerved by it. Suddenly, he had literally closed the door on his childhood; gone were the late night checks and light kisses on the cheek. Just a white, slightly grubby door, metaphorically saying "FUCK OFF".

I don't need you any more.

But it was ok, because Tween's door was still open. I was still able to pop in on him, look at his sleeping face and the funny way his mouth makes an 'O'; put the duvet back on if he'd kicked it off; shush the cat out if she was dozing on his head.

And then, this week, it came. About a year earlier than Teen, perhaps encouraged by Teen's door-shutting firmness. The grubby barrier. The two fingers.
I saw it when I went to bed. On the one hand, a tiny thing, a closed door - just two inches of change.  On the other, something had shifted on a much grander scale. I raised my hand to knock, hesitated, lowered it again.

Before I got into bed, I gave myself a good talking to. They need their space. They're growing up. They are becoming adults. It's exactly what I did. Get over it.

But what the bloody hell are they doing in there? Wanking, probably. Browsing porn on their phones. Inappropriately texting. Watching violent films. Playing '18' rated video games. Oh God oh God oh God...

The truth is, they might be doing some of that. They probably are. But Christ - when I was 12, I was writing all sorts of crap in my diary about boys. And aged 14, I was snogging and fumbling with Paul thingy at the bottom of the garden. It was normal. I didn't have sex until I was 16 and by then I was fully aware of the risk of pregnancy. Although I was generally a twat as a teenager, I had a fairly sensible head on.

And I think my boys have sensible heads, too.

The door is shut.

I'll leave them to open it.