For someone who complains frequently that they don’t get enough sleep, you may find it hard to believe that on a morning when Joseph is at his Dad’s, I was up at 06:30. No Joseph to blame but heat, a muddle of thoughts in my head and a burning desire to get out and run.
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with running for as long as I can remember and vividly recall when I was 10 years old, my dad announcing that he was taking me down to ‘Arriers’. I had no idea what ‘Arriers’ meant at that time but at that age, I didn’t have the fear of the unknown that I have developed as an adult and happily went along with it. Rotherham Harriers became my life for the next few years until I realised as a teenager there was more to do in an evening than running relentlessly around the track or up and down the hills on the surrounding fields. I was never a great runner and don’t think I had the competitive streak I now have as an adult, but I had determination and heart and I still believe that’s what gets me to the end of each run now, not ability.
I have tried to apply the same determination and heart to being a parent. Being realistic with expectations, sticking with it through the tough times but knowing when to adjust the goal.
My last posts spoke glowingly of Joseph’s dance achievements yet in the backdrop was a situation occurring at school where Joseph’s behaviour was less than desirable to say the least. I was getting to work early so I could pick him up from school, having a tough day at work and only to be rewarded with the teacher’s familiar line of “Can I have a word?” or “Have you got a minute?” As soon as I see the teacher move across the playground in the direction of me, I know exactly what’s coming and want to run in the opposite direction every time he moves a step closer. If there is a next time, I might just say “No, can you contact his Dad as I might just cry today if you have to tell me anything bad” or I could give him some advice that I had received on a leadership course recently and tell him to alternate it with asking me to come back into school to tell me something good Joseph has done.
I never make excuses for Joseph but I try and see the reason for a particular problem. Again, he had decided to lash out at someone. When I asked for specifics, I was told someone was trying to help him and he had hit them on the back. I was kind of hoping it was because he thought they were choking but not sure whether Joseph has mastered emergency first aid yet. I was absolutely bloody furious with him and boy did he know it. He knew I had told his Godmother and wouldn’t even make eye contact with her. He sobbed when he heard me telling my dad and kept asking me for a cuddle but all I wanted to know was Why? Not only is Joseph’s difficulties with conversation hard for him but it’s hard for me too. There are so many questions I want to ask but I know I won’t get the answers. I struggle to work it out as he never does it at home (I know every parent says this) when anyone else is trying to help or encourage him so it’s odd he only does it at school.
The end of term was approaching and I knew Joseph probably needed a break from his learning like most other kids do. When I mentioned it was school holidays his whole face lit up and I hoped that the shitty Joseph I had seen had disappeared and wouldn’t rear it’s ugly head again in September.
He was invited to two parties at the end of term and I have spoken previously how appreciative I am of every single invite he gets. I wonder whether it’s the child who has asked for Joseph to come or whether it’s the parent who is understanding of the situation and wants to include Joseph as much as possible. Either way, I was just happy for him to have been asked.
The first party was a swimming party in a local leisure centre with an enormous inflatable in the middle of the pool. When I realised the set up, I spoke to one of the lifeguards to let them know that Joseph could swim (when he felt like it) but if they needed to give him any instruction, could they think of how they worded it and use simple language. I explained he had autism and that blowing the whistle at him wouldn’t help as he wouldn’t be able to identify why it was being blown. I asked her if she could circulate this message to anyone else on poolside to ensure that everyone was aware. That didn’t happen and I found myself up and down the stairs explaining over and over again. Joseph kept falling off the inflatable and wanting to get back on. What is wrong with that? You may be asking, well rules are rules and he was meant to move away from it and swim back to the beginning. The relentless blowing of the whistle was clearly getting on his wires as he then displayed his underwater skills and swam under the inflatable. Another no no and a big health and safety risk as far as they were concerned and more tooting on the whistle.
You may be wondering as to why I didn’t get in the pool and I questioned that myself whilst Carry on Swimming was in full mode and the truth is, I just didn’t want to. I had asked the parent who had organised it as to whether I would need to get in and she said that if he’s eight he can go in alone. I wanted to give him some independence and as he can swim, thought it would be ok. Another misjudged situation on my part. I was getting sick of walking up and down the steps from the viewing area and power marched to the front desk. If I was semi-pissed off before I spoke to the Duty Supervisor, I was at tipping point by the time I had finished.
I was lectured on health and safety reg, risk assessments and why I hadn’t got in the pool as my son’s carer. Fuck off carer! I am his bloody mother. I explained that I shouldn’t need to speak to every member of staff there and in hindsight I probably should have spoken to a manager but I don’t want to have to go in with some flashing sign shouting at the top of my voice “MY SON IS AUTISTIC!” I want him to feel part of the group and I wasn’t expecting major adjustments, just compassion and patience. Was it really too much to ask? She told me she was going to explain to Joseph the rules so I almost ran back to poolside to prevent her from doing so. I would explain, not her. Joseph was brought across to me and I could see in his face he was wondering why he was being asked to get out the pool and come to me. I started to explain to him that if he fell off he needed to swim back to the beginning and she started talking over the top of me and telling him why it’s important not to get back on the inflatable. He probably didn’t even know what inflatable meant in all honesty. I gave her my death stare and continued to speak to Joseph and said he needed to do what I said otherwise he needed to get out.
When I went to help him get changed after, he was singing along to himself ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’ and I could see the other boys there found it amusing. And whilst all the others were covering their modesty Joseph had no worries about his male pride being on display, something else they found amusing. I just wanted to scoop him up and get the fuck out of there because the whole situation was starting to drain me.
It went from bad to worse when we went up to the party room after singing Happy Birthday. Joseph, clearly (to me) recounting a video he had seen on my phone where after they sing Hip Hip Hooray, decided to lead the Hip Hip’s. Fine in itself and all the children played along but then Joseph kept repeating “Right then children, let’s go and see the animals”. The children all laughed and so Joseph did it even more and they were egging him on to do it. Nobody stopped it so I told him that was enough now and to stop saying it. I had tears ready to flow and wondered how long actually we could continue with Joseph in a mainstream school. The gap was widening and I didn’t want Joseph to be a source of amusement for the older children.
In contrast, the party the day after was a bowling one. He was surrounded by girls and a very good set of staff who were patient and considerate of him, even when he wanted to double up on his turns. The girls like to mother him and he likes to be mothered and he seemed to fit in quite well, so my feelings of anxiety from the previous day drifted away and I was back to thinking anything is possible.
So similar to my running, I have days when I can barely run a couple of miles before thinking I am out of my depth and days where I feel like I could run like Forrest Gump; well almost. It’s about believing in yourself and those around you. Picking yourself up when things don’t go right and trying a different tactic. Different day, different environment, different outcome.
Today I ran seven miles which may not seem a great deal to my running friends but I haven’t run further than 10k since I was pregnant with Joseph, but today the time was right. I didn’t break any records and it’s not about how I got there; I just did. The last couple of years, I’ve kept promising myself I’ll try harder with my running and get back to a place where I used to be and it’s never happened. The last six months have been different though. Whether that be that determination that has kick-started some ability inside as there has been some sort of improvement overall. Tomorrow I might get out of bed and struggle to get round the block, but I am not going to let it deter me from trying it again the day after. Some days it’s about simply making it through the day and other days it’s about shouting from the rooftops the smallest of achievements.
This morning I watched a short video around the London 2012 Olympic Games and I cried. I cried not only because of the achievements and success those games brought but because Olympic year signifies that it’s four years since I realised I was not indestructible. I spoke about this defining period in my post ‘Fixing Me’ where I had nearly three months off work trying to figure everything out. One month off for each difficult year I’d had prior to that point.
I now know how far I have come and that during that period I would not have even considered writing about Joseph or my own feelings. To be pragmatic about our good and bad days shows that I am not just coping but I am managing it well.
Whatever your challenge is, don’t let it defeat you. Surround yourself with people who can support you and listen to your gut instinct. Even if I never write another blog post I will feel proud of what I have achieved.
AND I ran seven miles.