Life has been feeling good, but there's a measure of overwhelm creeping in, and that disconcerting feeling that the year is flying by without me really having a handle on things. In my 90daysdry blog I wrote about that sense of being overwhelmed, of expecting too much of ourselves and needing to step back and look at any small achievement in order to regain a bit of perspective. But I can feel myself reaching a point where I'm not actually sure what I've achieved or what I'm supposed to be achieving. A stage where I'm genuinely surprised that there are no clean school shirts one morning, but only then realise that I haven't washed any for days, despite the fact that my usual daily routine has 'washing' inked right across its centre in blood, laundry liquid and the tears of my previous self. I'm having a great time in some areas of my life - like starting an exciting new Mum Job while the kids are at school - but this week I've really noticed that I need a bit more balance of old and new priorities in my life, if I can even remember what those priorities are supposed to be.
And this takes me back to where I always end up: both needing to parent myself, and needing to learn from my kids.
You see, common to most kids with Autism or ADHD is the feeling of anxiety, the fear of losing control, the balancing on the brink of overwhelm. All. The. Time. Unable to filter external stimuli as others might, or to understand sudden changes or unfamiliar situations, or, at a certain point, to moderate their reactions in socially 'usual' ways , my kids and so many others like them are dealing with challenges that we might never understand. I learned the hard way that my job as Mum is to provide them with strategies to pin down 'Life' a bit more and get themselves through from one situation to the next as smoothly as possible. Now, I don't suppose I'll ever feel that that job is done, and I have the smashed-up kitchen, holes in doors and torn wallpaper to remind me of the times when 'smooth' just didn't happen. (None of that was me, by the way! It was the tiny, terrified children who have Hulk-like powers when they can see no other way out.) But with help from courses and books, and especially the team at The ADD-vance ADHD and Autism Trust, a few ideas have sunk in and been put to good use. So how is it that as I merrily roll along talking to the boys about ways to avoid feeling overwhelmed, I'm losing the plot myself?
I've been asking myself this question a lot since my last blog post and have concluded that this 'Mum-Person' lark needs me to turn my Mum skills on the Person part of me (who was last seen stumbling off a Night Bus in about 2005 with nary a care in the world). I've learned so much by being a parent, but failed until recently to apply any knowledge to my own life, as I've been so wrapped up in the kids and their challenges. Worse than that, the little I knew about keeping on top of life got left in a maternity ward in White City well over a decade ago and has not been seen since. I still write lists, yes, but I lose them. Or forget what they mean. Or decide there's too much on them so I'll just do whatever I'm being chased to do on a given day. Or sign up to walk 100 km for charity or blog about not drinking for 90 days and make those my key goals for the coming year instead of attending to the really boring list items related to housework, budgeting or getting decluttered and organised. (And yes, I actually did both those charity challenges, which were fabulous and life-enhancing and life-affirming and quite possibly life-changing in the case of being sober for three whole months, but didn't get me any closer to remembering to wash the school shirts as well as doing Person stuff.)
So it's time to make a change. I'm going to hunt through my clutter to find the notes I made on my ADD-vance parenting course many years ago, and turn lots of strategies on myself. 'Finding' is not an easy task around here, however, so until that happy day when something I actually need surfaces from the pile of junk I should really clear out, I'm going to rely on the most obvious ideas I've used and remembered.
Possibly the first thing most SEN parents learn is to make timetables - especially visual timetables - for their kids, so that the kids can see what to expect from a day or week or hour ahead of them. From here the whole family (or class, or club) has an overview, which can then be broken down into 'now' and 'next' for a potentially overwhelmed child, so that they can stay grounded in immediate expectations. So, for example, 'Now I am doing Spelling. Next I will do Maths'. When timings can be understood or countdown timers used, it gets even clearer, so the child knows that even if they hate Spelling, it will be over in however-many minutes or however-many inches of sand, and they can literally remove the Spelling symbol from their chart and move on to Maths. Maths becomes 'now' and the next item from the timetable becomes 'next'. Nice and clear. My problem - but also, yes, enormous privilege - in life as Just Mum is that there are chunks of my day where I'm in charge of timetabling. Frankly I'm rubbish at planning those chunks of time in advance, always having a vague idea of what needs to be done, or a list of 75 things to fit into a 1-hour time slot. Clearly the result is much Drinking of Tea and Wanting to Hide, before a 15-minute flurry of activity to do any small task that will make it look less like I've been Drinking Tea and Wanting to Hide for the previous 10 minutes (or more). Usually those flurries of activity are based on other people's needs, because I only get chased if I fail to meet other people's needs. My own 'needs' fail to make it on to any to-do list but mine, so are much easier to ignore, as every Mum knows. Surely only a parent could forget to eat meals because there's washing to do or milk to buy?
Anyway, I'm challenging myself this week to plan every day in my Brand Spanking New Diary (because every life challenge requires new paper products), but then to break it down into timed 'now' and 'next' sessions. The post-school-pick-up 'nows' will probably be along the lines of 'break up fights', 'remind them to flush the loo' and 'convince them that they really do like that food and claimed yesterday that it was their favourite'. The 'nexts'? Identical, with a bit of 'fight about bedtime' thrown in. Hopefully the daytime will be a bit less soul-destroying and repetitive, with 'Person' input as well as 'Mum'. Right now I'm thinking that it's going to take several hours just to list all the things I want to fit into my hours, before starting to prioritise them. There are many notes and bits of mail and random memories of commitments to process, before I even start to react to the daily absurbities of life with kids. (Actually I can probably write next week's blog post right now. It will say that I bit off more than I could chew. As usual. But that I'm trying hard to see the positives etc etc blah blah. But I hope not.)
I must sound utterly ridiculous to anyone who has their life even vaguely together, but I feel like somebody has to be honest about starting again with such very small steps, so that may as well be me. And actually, if I get as far as 'now' and 'next' for even a few hours next week, life will feel very much better than this week, and that's all a new Mum-Person can ask.
Just wish me luck. Especially as the diary may already be lost.