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The Mum-Person

Once upon a time there was a Person. She had a load of hang-ups and was a bit complicated, like most People, but she also had dreams and when she got an idea into her head, she would pursue it. Then the Person got married. She was still the Person, but kind of a Person with Benefits, and, well, A Mortgage. She was pretty happy and has the photo albums to prove it, although, as with all young married People, she probably didn't fully appreciate how free she was at that time. There were some sadnesses that haunted her, but also made her grasp life to the fullest, which is how she had come to marry someone in the UK rather than worrying about the details of having her roots - her family, her history, her culture and, even more seriously, her favourite foods - in New Zealand. (Pineapple Lumps and Bluebird Chips are easy to post, after all, and then a Kiwi food shop opened up just 5 minutes from her front door in Shepherd's Bush. All was well.) Then she became a Mum, which was the thing she had wanted most at that time in her life. And she would have made - and still would make - any sacrifice to have that child and keep him close and as safe as humanly possible. And the years went by, and twin brothers arrived, and there were playgroups and nurseries and schools and after-school clubs and coffee mornings for Mums and somewhere in amongst it all there were diagnoses of Autism, Dyspraxia, ADHD and various lesser-known Additional Needs for the various boys, and Mum kept Mumming. Even through nits and worms, and terrifyingly violent behaviour from one of her children, and suicidal ideation from another, and endless school difficulties from the third. And then she kept Mumming some more. Feeling always that she needed to Mum harder, to be better at being her Mum Self.

And now here I am. The Person who became a Mum. Some of you will have read my previous blog (www.90daysdrydreamingofpimms.blogspot.com) and know that through that blog I began to explore the possibility of becoming more of a Mum-Person, as opposed to purely a Mum or purely a Person. It was supposed to be a blog about not drinking for 90 days at the end of last year, but by accident it grew into something more. It all got a bit deep and meaningful, to be honest. I hadn't expected it, but I do have one of those minds that can't resist a tangent.

So how did all that come about?

My eldest child ('The Big Boy') started secondary school in September and the twins ('The Cat' and 'The Dog') are 8. (More about their blog names in a future post!) I've mentioned that they all have diagnoses of what are variously called Additional Needs or Special Educational Needs (SEN) or Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). Basically, they are packed full of neurological quirks, which make them wonderful, mind-stretching company, but also sometimes challenging, particularly when they are themselves feeling challenged or anxious. In the early years, pre-diagnosis, their differences and behaviours were mystifying, and their need for guidance never-ending. I might well have lost all grip on reality, let alone Mumming, if I hadn't had relatively early diagnosis for one child, which led me to seek support from a local charity called The ADD-vance ADHD and Autism Trust (www.add-vance.org). They helped me to understand my children's needs and to bring a bit more predictability and calm into our lives, and then to seek the diagnosis and medication my most desperate child needed in order to begin to reduce his frustration and fears, which were resulting in his violent behaviour in our home. So a couple of years ago, when things were as calm as they ever get around here, I jumped at the chance to join an ADD-vance team doing a fundraising walk of 100km from London to Brighton. It was wonderful, and life-affirming, as well as horrendous and exhausting and skin-stripping (I'm talking feet). Afterwards my lower limbs wished I'd never done it, and the feeling in one toe has never returned, but the three of us in the team had raised a significant amount of money for the charity who had given so much to our families, and I was proud. I thought it was the beginning of some sort of 'comeback' where I could do major events whenever I wanted. I could be 'Mum Plus', as the mothers of children without Special Needs, or the mothers with extensive family support networks (their own Mums closer than New Zealand, for example) seemed to be.

By early 2017 I wasn't in such a Happy Place. The kids were struggling on various fronts, the appointments related to their conditions were endless and I was so damned busy Mumming that my headspace was zero. Although I was fully committed to my battles to have the boys' needs met, I could feel myself shrinking miserably away in the background of all my child-related efforts. So I returned to the previously successful formula: I signed up for a major event on behalf of ADD-vance. This time a half-marathon, scheduled for October. I thought that this would somehow force me back to the way life was when I was training for the 100km walk two years earlier. Way back in my previous life as a Person, setting a goal made me reach it, no matter what.  But it soon became clear that this just wasn't the right time: when I made forcible attempts to Person my way through half-marathon training I just kept injuring myself. And The Big Boy really needed me to be fully Mum in the lead-up to Year 6 SATS and the transition to Secondary, while The Cat and The Dog needed help adapting to their new Junior School. I had to pull out of the half-marathon and lost all confidence in my ability to do anything ever again, feeling that I should never commit to anything with other people, as I'd be bound to let them down.

Then, quite frankly, I got over myself. Two of my closest friends had faced traumas that were unimaginable, and there I was feeling sorry for myself for not being able to fit marathon training into my life. I wasn't feeling mentally strong, but hating myself wasn't going to help that, so I tried to shut down the inner voice that was telling me I was a stupid selfish cow for ever feeling any self-pity, and instead resolved to take small steps forward that involved caring for myself and my family. No more berating, punishing or unrealistically pushing myself. Somehow, in the delirium that happens when you're in a trampoline park during the school holidays, I created a 90-day self-care challenge for myself. Not to run or diet or do anything time-consuming that would take me away from the family, but to give up alcohol for 90 days, and to blog about the process. I sat in the horrendously noisy cafe of that hideous kid nirvana and posted a sponsorship page before the boys' Jump session was up, so that I couldn't back out. On the one hand I was embarrassed to ask for sponsorship for something so personal and relatively flaky, but on the other I knew that I wasn't capable of anything more, and that this was the time for me to learn to take on challenges that I could actually fit into my life, rather than dreaming the impossible dream. (I do have to say, though, that I was pretty scared that 3 months without alcohol might be more mentally challenging than walking to Brighton through the night.)

And I did it. Three months without a drop of alcohol, as planned. What I hadn't expected, though, was the process I went through when writing my blog posts. Being continuously sober for three months took away my 'f*ck it button' - that moment where you decide to pour the evening wine and hope for a better day tomorrow, rather than actually reflecting on life and how you might live and think and react. Yep, sh*t got meaningful. Over 90 days, I reflected on life and my approach to it, recognised some patterns in my past and decided to try some new approaches to being Me. Crucially, I decided to be kind to myself. I decided to accept 'enough', rather than 'perfection'. I decided that things could be ok, and to slow down and resist being overwhelmed. And I started to ask what looking after the lost Person in me might mean. Unexpectedly, in light of my conviction that I sounded self-obsessed and neurotic in everything I wrote, people around me responded incredibly kindly and thoughtfully to what I wrote, and we began conversations that don't normally happen among tired Mums who are trying to remember if it's Cake Sale this week or swimming tomorrow or when on Earth the holidays will arrive. And Special Needs Mums talked to me about themselves, not just their fears for their children, or medications or visual timetables.

And so I'm back here on a new blog, tracing my continuing attempts at Mum-Care, and wondering what conversations I'll have next. Why Mum-care, not Self-Care, you may ask? Because the books and apps and marketing materials of the self-care industry don't take into account the huge demands of parenthood, and especially Special Needs parenthood. My aim is to be a Mum-Person, to bring together some of what I want and need (once I figure out what that may be!) with some of the role that is mine forever and that is just as enriching and wonderful as it is exhausting and terrifying. My Mum self is not something I can - or would want to - switch off, but the Person bit needs to stage somewhat of a comeback, to make me feel a bit more balanced, and equipped for life in the longer term, where my children with 'needs' become adults with 'needs'. (Also it's Mum-Care because Mum-Person-Care would be a rubbish title for a blog.) If you follow me you'll find that a lot of the time I'm talking nonsense - or at least that's how it feels to me! - but maybe we can figure a few things out together.

Or maybe you'll conclude that I'm self-obsessed and neurotic. Who knows?

I'll keep writing anyway.

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