The vows I never said at our wedding

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The vows I never said

Muzz,

When we got married, you were quite in favour of the idea of us both writing our own vows. I said no. Not because I don’t have a million things to say (you know me better than that), or because I didn’t want to share these thoughts with you or others, but because I knew I couldn’t tell you this without wailing like a baby all the way through. Our wedding was a sob fest enough as it was! (Still not letting go the fact you hid behind your shades by the way). So here are my vows. Please do not write any in return, I know that’s not your style. But it is mine, and to tell the world (or my few friends who might take an interest). This being one of the many things you have learnt to accept about me.

As you know I had a somewhat unconventional upbringing. This made me yearn one thing. A solid family unit.

My little family had already begun when we met and I was sceptical about letting you in.

You were pushy.

I pretended I didn’t like that, but I did. It was not only very flattering, it was romantic.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but I’m a bit of a fan of romance…

I didn’t know how or when to introduce you to my two year old son who was undergoing a diagnosis of epilepsy, autism and adhd.

I told you that it would happen when I felt ready.

But being you, you showed up at my door uninvited when you knew I was with him.

My instinct was to be upset and turn you away but I was curious to see how the two of you would react to one and other.

You brought a pack of cards with you and in no time at all you were helping him line them up.

This was the first time I realised you really wanted something with me. And, that you were a foolish romantic, ready to give your heart to anyone. (As was I).

Your life had always been fairly simple until I was introduced to it.

Oscar had his challenges and tested us immensely. In our third year together we almost turned our backs on each other.

That was the worst time of my whole life.

We needed that small time apart though to realise that even at our most miserable, nothing was as unbearably devastating as not being together.

So we worked it out and moved forward.

Since then you have constantly surprised me, enlightened me, excited me, made me laugh, irritated the fuck out of me (in the kind of way that would be hugely missed if you were gone…), you’ve believed in me, confided in me, comforted me and taken the time to truly understand me.

And of course given me three more beautiful children.

I am hard work.

My family are hard work. (Many of us any way, sorry guys if you are reading this but look at us? Love you!)

You have always understood that our home is open to anyone who needs to stay.

You have always encouraged and accepted my wild side. (One of the many things we have in common.)

You have forgiven me for the most outrageous and impulsive decision making possible. (cough, horse for a week, never even rode it, gave it back cause it was a demon, and never got the money back…cough).

You support me when I publically open my mouth in ways that often makes you uncomfortable.

You never judge me.

You nurture my need to learn, and to understand people.

You stayed strong when I nearly gave up.

You work like a crazy person because you want our children to have the best.

You are the greatest father and friend a person could be.

You are my everything.

I am fucking crying now.

But I am alone thank god.

See why I couldn’t tell you this stuff out loud?

Because our life isn’t average.

We have been tested more in our seven years together than most are in an entire lifetime. Hell we were in the first two.

It’s exhausting and relentless sometimes.

But you are consistent.

You give me that stability I always wanted.

You give our children stability.

Not to mention non–stop laughter and kindness.

I don’t need anything more.

It’s only human to dream bigger, but we have it all right now. I really believe that.

Thank you.

Also…

…I don’t get it, but thank you, for picking me.

Vikki x

The truth about watching my special-needs son being raised by strangers

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Oscar was diagnosed with epilepsy at 2 years old. By three it was also confirmed that he has autism and ADHD. His father and I split when he was about 18 months. Though apart, we maintained a good friendship and parented Oscar together but separately. Within the next year, I met Muzz (my now husband). Through many ups and downs, the three of us did our best by Oscar and communicated well with each other during the process. 

Oscar was approaching 6 when I had my eldest daughter Susannah. Though he struggled to begin with, I received quite a lot of care (in our home) for him and plenty of family support from my aunts and Oscar’s father so we made it work. We had rough days of course but mostly, we coped. The next year, I fell pregnant again. This time with twins. From the very beginning the pregnancy was hard. I was very sick, anaemic and constantly drained. Oscar’s anxieties increased as I was not able to deal with him in my usual way. His violence was severe. Oscar would fall asleep (exhausted) between 6-7pm every night. By midnight (often before) he would be wide awake. That would be all he slept for the night. I would try to leave him to play but he would trash his room and his things and throw his belongings down the stairs. I also received a number of complaints from my neighbours because of the noise he was making during unsightly hours. To say it was a difficult time is an understatement.
Oscar had been building up to stay over night in the local residential care home (which is actually part of his school). It was to be arranged he would stay there a couple of times a week to give me a rest. In July 2013, my social worker moved him in on a 52 week basis after hearing news of him kicking me repeatedly in the stomach (while I was pregnant). I didn’t fight to keep him home because at that point, I was desperate. No one in our house was coping and nobody was happy.
Since his move, Oscar has blossomed in ways I at one point never could have imagined. His anxiety levels are so reduced now that he is progressing in school. He is able to match all the letters in his name and he is even starting to try and copy the sounds as he does it. Oscar is pretty much toilet trained. Though he has to do it on a timer, he is mostly dry and so pleased with himself for it! My time with Oscar is only positive now. We cuddle, laugh, play. When he comes home he tolerates his sisters and the noise because he knows he can ask to go elsewhere when he has had enough. I am slowly building the time up but I will never force him to spend longer here than he can manage. I am hoping one day he will be ready to stay overnight again. Most importantly, Oscar is now happy. He is content with his every day life, beaming when he comes home and from what I hear, has a great relationship with his dad still. Rationally, I know that this should be enough for me to accept what has happened.
Sadly, and perhaps selfishly, for me this isn’t the case.
At the end of last year I hit a pretty dark depression. I am on my way out of it now I think. There  many factors of course but my feelings about Oscar are the ones I am struggling to come to terms with the most. I am trying very hard to recover. Sometimes my blogs really help with questionable emotions. So I thought I would share my daily struggles.
Here is a list of the things I find troublesome about our situation with Oscar:
1) The automatic shame I feel when people ask about him. I hate talking about him because it just makes me feel sad. And like I have failed as a parent.
2) I feel guilty about how little of me he gets compared to his sisters.
3) I have no control over his diet. I am fairly into nutrition. All of my children eat healthily. I have always lived by the philosophy of ‘if it isn’t in the house, they won’t ask for it’. And they don’t! Oscar was happy to eat what ever snacks and meals I gave to him. Now I have to sit back and swallow my words as I observe him eagerly consuming huge amounts of cereal bars, biscuits, crisps, white toast etc. The actual meals the children are given are fairly balanced as they are delivered by a kind of ‘meals on wheels’ type company but it’s the snacks and amount of sugar he is allowed to eat that upsets me. I just wouldn’t ever have him eating things like that except for the occasional treat. Now he will insist on those foods because he sees the other children in the house with them. Of course they can’t deny him what they have and I don’t want him being treated differently. Some won’t eat anything else so it is of course great when they eat anything at all this is I suppose why they stock such items. Oscar has always loved food and now he chooses sugar constantly throughout the day because it’s an option. Who wouldn’t? I simply have to smile and bare it.
4) The same goes for his wardrobe. I shouldn’t get upset by this but I do. I said to Oscar’s key-worker from the day Oscar moved in that if he needs anything then I want to get it. I am still his mother and want to provide his clothing. The problem is, they now receive the allowance I used to get for him so they have to spend it on him. Sonia is a wonderful person and I couldn’t have asked for a better carer to work with my boy. She really does go above and beyond for Oscar. She does try so hard to buy things she thinks I would chose, and some of them I might. But it’s not the point. I want to feel like I am my son’s mother. At best I feel like a really close aunt. The last batch of clothing I bought for Oscar was handed back to me the next day by one of the members of staff after they rather non-emotionally explained “None of these fit, you may as well take them back.” Of course the person didn’t realise, but that hurt. I don’t even know the right size clothing for my child these days? Ouch.
5) I adore my visits with Oscar. I like to spend time with him at the home and build a relationship (and trust) up with all the staff members as well as take him out and bring him home. There are certain tasks however, I struggle to hang around for. The kind of things that used to be part of my every day life and now I have to watch strangers perform. Like administering his medication. Giving him a bath. Changing him into his bedtime clothes. Putting him to bed. The real I suppose, mundane, parental and necessary duties. I feel actual pain when I watch other people doing these things. True heart ache.
6) I find it very difficult to make myself heard if I do have any complaints as the house is quite understaffed. I actually very rarely have any upsets but over the 2 years, the odd thing has arisen and when I have voiced these issues, they have pretty much been laughed off, like I don’t know what I’m talking about. I like everyone there so much that I don’t want to cause any friction so I generally just leave it. It’s very awkward sometimes.

7) Oscar’s father can not forgive me for allowing Oscar to live there. I understand. He is not a well man so cannot have him full time. And in his eyes, I have a cosy new family and Oscar is conveniently out of our hair. Part of me justifies my new life and embraces it. A larger part of me agrees with him, we all have choices in life and I chose to have more children and risk my abilities to look after my son who needs at least one-on-one with him at all times. I have four children (the girls are 3 and twin 18 months). The maths does not add up. I find impossible to forgive myself for the way things have turned out so how can I expect Oscar’s dad to? This does of course contribute to my unhappiness because in my eyes we are all still family and I care about him deeply.

8) If I envision a future without the belief that Oscar may not one day come home to me it makes me think terrible (some would say irrational) thoughts that I can’t control. Quite frankly, I don’t want to go on if that is to be my future. All I need to be happy is all my children, under one roof. I picture us somewhere self sufficient where we live of the land and our animals. Somewhere quiet and safe. It may be a romantic thought but it’s a dream that I use to get me through the days. Not entirely unachievable. One can live and hope.
I’m sorry if this is coming off bleak, but it’s reality. We are living a very complicated situation. I don’t know of anyone who can relate to my yearning. I don’t know if I will ever be OK. Maybe I won’t?
I just need to hang on to the truth, Oscar is happy. It may not be because of me or anything I have done for him as a mother but he is. The way he has advanced over the past couple of years, proves that he may one day achieve anything he desires. And he might come back to where I feel he belongs. Until then, I have to clutch on to any beautiful moments we share together and use that warmth to smile when I talk about him instead of cry. Until then I have to be grateful for how much fantastic support we receive as a family when so many people out there are struggling. Until then I have to remind myself that it’s better that I continue with a lugubrious hole in my heart than Oscar not gladly thrive and grow. It is a sacrifice. One that benefits him for now. That is of course what matters the most.

Let us feel!

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This morning, my three year old daughter susannah had a cry. It was over a strawberry. It was my fault entirely, I wasn’t thinking. I know perfectly well that she receives huge pleasure from biting into the biggest strawberry in the punnet. Yet I cut it in two. She is very expressional, (I try to encourage that, being an very sensitive human being myself, I am well aware that my children might be the same way), so when her large brown eyes fill up with tears and she looks at me I say: “Oh Susannah, are you sad because I cut the big strawberry?” She nods frantically and the tears race down her cheeks. I give her a cuddle and add: “I am so sorry! I know you like the big ones and I cut it up! How silly I am to forget.” Susannah replies: (as her eyes start welling up again) “Yes because now it isn’t big or massive anymore it’s small and there are no more big ones left.” Her feelings have been acknowledged, she is now on the mend- I know what I have to do to uplift things completely. I pick up the strawberry halves and put them in my eyes and say “Ahhh but with two pieces I can be mrs strawberry eyes! (I put on a funny voice) “Hello- pleased to meet you, I’m mrs Strawberry eyes!” Susannah’s tears subside and her face is now filled with glee and she jumps off her chair and asks me to hand her the strawberry pieces. She imitates me and laughs so much even the twins join in with the giggles. What could have been a huge meltdown has been turned around into fun and silliness.

 

This technique works most of the time and it is rare that Susannah has any kind of giant meltdown. If it does happen it is usually because I am irritable so not thinking properly about how she’s feeling. This is the key really. I hear myself saying on some days (for example) “Susannah, it’s just a strawberry and you are going to eat it anyway so who cares. Just eat it and be quiet.” This will upset her enormously and quite rightly really; by saying that, I have basically told her that what she is feeling is irrelevant and she should feel what I tell her to.

 

But who am I to devalue a person’s emotions like that?

 

The thing I think is so important, and that is so easy for any of us to forget is how small our children’s worlds are compared to ours. Susannah knows nothing about hunger or war or financial stress. Susannah is usually thinking about drawing or clothes or riding her bike. That strawberry and the complete excitement of biting into it’s giant, juicy shape was a big part of her morning. It probably is equal to the excitement I feel when the weather is warm for the first time all year. Cutting it up was like a wind and hail storm arriving just as I make plans and pack a picnic to enjoy the lovely weather. Horribly disappointing and ultimately changes my plans ahead.

 

I remember when Jim (the eldest of my three younger brothers) and I were about four and three years old and we were driving home from somewhere. Our mum promised us that we could stop at Little Chef on the way for some dinner. We were ecstatic! Not only did this prospect contain the adventure of eating out, but we were also given a lollipop after we had finished by that particular chain of restaurant. That was probably going to be the best thing that was to occur on that day, or possibly for all of that week. Sadly, we fell asleep in the car and mum didn’t want to wake us. I will never forget the overwhelming sensations of sadness, regret, disappointment and anger this (what felt to me was a tragedy) sparked for me. The devastation I experienced in that moment from missing out felt as painful as a break up. That’s how big it was to me. Because my world was so much smaller that it is now. But that shouldn’t mean my emotions were any less valid. It’s just different things that triggered them. As my world grew, so did my ability to control my responsiveness as have the things that make me respond.   That’s what I try to remember when I think my children are over-reacting.

 

How often do you hear parents say “It’s not a big deal”, “Get over it,” “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill,” “There are far bigger things in life to worry about” and that kind of thing? But if we think about it, children react to things just like we do, except they have not yet learnt to understand these intense feelings or how to manage them. So how do these phrases help a child determine these things?! I think reacting to a child this way teaches a child that to feel is incorrect and to be ignored. How incredibly lonely we would all be if we were all treated this way?

 

Even as adults, we expect a certain emotional etiquette from each other in everyday life. We belittle the way others feel just because we don’t accept that it’s reasonable to feel a particular way over a particular thing. If we don’t share the reaction, we discount it. Surely that is the gateway to depression? Feeling isolated with our emotions.

 

You know that other expression “life is hard”. Couldn’t we, instead of using it to shut others up and expect them to deal with their challenging emotions in silence,  use that as a reminder of how we all find things difficult at times? As a way to unite us as human beings and normalise any negative reactions to the everyday struggle we call life? Why is being sad, angry, lonely, disappointed is nothing to be ashamed of. We all feel this way from time to time and we all have our own reasons. Let’s stop expecting everyone to respond the way we think they should. Let’s accept their responses as theirs and be there for them.

 

Muzz and I have been together 7 years so we have had long time to grow together and understand how the other deals with certain things. Muzz’s family are some of the most wonderful people I have ever known and I am so thrilled to have them as family now. But they are not emotional. That is of course acceptable! Everyone deals with things in their own ways. But Muzz did not understand how sensitive and over emotional I am as a person because he had never really seen it before. It does not take a lot to make me burst into tears and at first Muzz would often resort to telling me to ‘dry up’. I am very over the top so you could hardly blame him. Sometimes I just get sad about how beautiful things are and how people let the exquisiteness pass them by. Did you ever read ‘the secret life of bees’? There was a character in that story called May Boatright- she would feel such heartache that she would write about it in little notes and hide them in a wall at the end of the garden. I am like a (slightly less dramatic) version of her. I feel so deeply and care so much it is a stirring. It keeps me awake. It is a pumping through my body that could quite frankly tip me over the edge if I didn’t monitor it frequently. Not everyone experiences emotions this intense on a daily basis, many people simply react to particular circumstances. And that’s what we like to expect from people, a bloody good reason to feel something. But why? To feel something is not a choice, it just is. So with time, Muzz learned to tolerate and relate to that side of me. And I have figured out many distractions to keep me from spending an unhealthy amount of time on one particular emotion. Tit for tat. And perhaps we could all think about limiting how much we compare ourselves to each other. Muzz has accepted that I am very extreme emotionally and I have accepted that he isn’t all the time. Both are common and respectable.

 

I spoke to a doctor recently that gave a good analogy for how people deal with their feelings. He said that not everyone in concentration camps experienced depression, but most people did. Meaning of course that in one of the most extremely bleak scenarios imaginable, still some people cope mentally, and others don’t even need to be in a severe situation to fall apart. We all have our breaking points and we don’t choose where they are. Conclusively, there is no right or wrong to these feelings, they just are and we should all try to respect what another person might be going through emotionally, even if we don’t understand it.


And when it comes to our children, I think we should do this will bells on. Surely it will help them develop a healthy understanding of their own emotions and a compassionate approach to others. If we can normalise their emotions by acknowledging how they are feeling and allowing them to talk about it  then it will be easier for them to work out how to anticipate these feelings and cope with them. Often, that is all any of us need to feel instantly uplifted. Time, respect and compassion from the people around us.