Time out

In 2010 John and I had a mini break in the Lake District, staying next to a farm in the middle of nowhere. On our last day we went up to ‘Surprise View’ which overlooks Derwentwater, and John asked me to marry him. I’d thought he’d been a bit possessive over the backpack while we were away and it was because each day we’d been out and about he’d had a bottle of champagne, glasses and an engagement ring smuggled in the bag and he’d been trying to pick the right moment! Obviously I said yes, and it summed up a very happy few days away.

We always said we’d go back to the same place for our 10th wedding anniversary, which was last year. We’d booked it all but then because of whichever covid lockdown was in place at the time we couldn’t go in the end (I think the rules last year were that we could meet people outside but not go in each other’s houses, so we couldn’t send the kids to stay with grandparents or have them come and stay at ours). We managed to re-book it for this year so have just had 5 days / 4 nights days back in that same spot in the Lake District.

We big time needed it.

This was the first time in 3 years we’ve had a night away and the first time we’ve ever left the kids for more than 1 night. I was so excited to spend some time just with John, just being us as a couple not mum and dad. It’s next to impossible to spend any time together at the moment. John is working long hours and when he’s around day to day life takes over. It’s not always a bad thing because it’s spending time with the kids or other family and friends, but it’s also the drudge and daily grind that mean days can go by where we’ve barely spoken. Or we do speak but it’s 100% functional. Can you make the lunches while I do bedtime? Did I tell you I need to be in work early so can you do both school runs? Don’t forget to take the cat to the vets. Or we’re tired and by the time we’ve struggled through yet another difficult bedtime with Katie we end up arguing with each other. All the habits I thought we’d never let ourselves slip into yet somehow we have.

There is no phone signal where we stayed, although there was wifi so we did WhatsApp the kids to check in. Other than that we didn’t look at work emails or get sucked back into normal life, we just had those 4 days to switch off. It was like stepping back in time 12 years. It was reassuring to know that we can still have conversations that don’t revolve around Katie, Alice and Matthew. I don’t even know what we talked about and I love that. 4 days of being able to make each other laugh, talk about everything and nothing, or not talk and have comfortable silence. It was a very happy few days and I felt a lot lighter.

I didn’t want to come home and that makes me sad.

I missed the kids and was happy to see them again but I find every day life a bit overwhelming at the moment.

I find the lack of sleep really hard to deal with and can’t see an end in sight to that one. I go to bed later than I’d like to pretty much every night because of Katie’s difficulties with switching off and getting to sleep, and it’s very unusual to have a night without either Katie or Matthew (or both, but it’s usually Katie) waking me up for something. The getting up isn’t necessarily an issue but a lot of nights once they’ve got me up my mind starts racing and it’s really hard to get back to sleep. Nearly 10 years of cruddy nights are taking their toll and Katie has so much anxiety and so many habits and rituals she has to go through that I don’t know where to start with trying to get more sleep.

I know it’s the same for a lot of parents but the amount of life admin is so much sometimes, and it was really nice to escape it for a short period! The never ending emails from school about sports days, permission slips, school trips, cases of headlice or chicken pox or worms, fundraising and requests for volunteers, reminders about where you can and can’t park, non uniform days etc. Remembering to book breakfast club for Katie, ordering school lunches for Matthew, booking after school club for all the kids on a Monday. Remembering to book riding lessons for Katie. Making sure PE kits are being sent in on the right days and homework is getting done and going back to school on the right day. Monthly repeat prescriptions for Matthew’s asthma medication and the cat’s heart medication, booking check ups at the vet, hospital appointments for Matthew’s asthma and allergies, check ups at the dentist, check up at the opticians (Katie is currently about 3 months overdue). Birthday cards and presents to buy, playdates to arrange, after school activities to get the kids to.

There isn’t a day of the week where one of the kids doesn’t have something going on apart from Mondays, but then they’re in after school club because I work later on a Monday. Tuesday Matthew has swimming, Wednesday Alice has gymnastics, Thursday Katie has youth group, Friday the girls do singing, Saturday the girls have swimming, Sunday Katie has riding and then we start again. John suggested we drop something but I don’t know what that would be. I’m the one that makes them do swimming lessons because I don’t want them to drown! Matthew is on the waiting list to move to a Saturday class so that would free Tuesdays up, but at the moment there isn’t space for him. Alice absolutely loves gymnastics and Katie absolutely loves riding. They’re their ‘things’ and while they’re getting so much out of them I wouldn’t ever want them to give them up. The youth group Katie goes to is one that’s run just for autistic kids and it’s benefitted her a lot and built her confidence so that’s staying. Which just leaves singing and I have mixed feelings about that. The lady who runs it is passionate about supporting children’s mental health and has good intentions but she doesn’t have kids herself and it shows. She bombards parents with emails and has sometimes unrealistically high expectations about how much time kids can devote to practicing. I don’t agree with some of her initiatives, like the ‘golden microphone’ award that gets handed out each week to the kid who was most enthusiastic or knew their words the best etc. It’s a bit like ‘star of the week’ at school, which I also don’t like. If anything I think it demotivates some of the kids as there will always be the ones who are trying really hard but are consistently overlooked. But…Alice in particular does really enjoy it and they get involved with some really nice projects. They’ve recorded a CD, sung in concerts, got involved with Xmas lights switch on etc. And my mum pays for it and takes the girls when she can so singing is staying on the agenda as well for now!

Work is hectic at the moment and I sometimes feel I’ve taken too much on, but then it’s hardly like I’m the only working mum out there. I totally fell on my feet with my job as the hours are really flexible and it’s term time only so I can be with the kids through the school holidays and don’t have to worry about childcare. I also like what I do and the people I work with are lovely. A few months ago my role changed (at my request) which although was a good move for me it’s meant having to more or less start from scratch and re-learn a load of new processes. I also changed my hours so I could be around more after school, mainly for Katie, and although again it was my request and it’s great that work were flexible and allowed me to do that, I feel like I’m always bouncing between work life and mum life and not doing a good job on either of them. My head is never completely in work or completely with the kids. I’m usually in some sort of not very satisfying limbo where I’ve not quite finished what I wanted to be doing work wise or had to cut a conversation short with one of the kids because I’ve got to rush to get out the door on time.

If I break work and home down into small pieces I like them both. I’m really glad I can be around to ferry the kids to their activities. I get to see Katie light up when she gets to the stables, I see Alice’s perseverance at practicing her gymnastics moves, I get to see Matthew’s excitement that he’s been moved up a swim class. I see the improvements they make over time and I know what they’re talking about when they mention whichever horse or whichever person in their class. I get satisfaction out of my job and in spite of feeling like I’m not always concentrating on it as much as I’d like to, I am also quietly confident that I’m pretty good at what I do. Even the life admin stuff is fine when it’s taken in isolation. It’s nice that I can order Matthew his lunch and know he’s having something he likes, and permission slips generally mean something good is going to happen for one of the kids. It’s just when it’s all thrown together and I’m bouncing around endlessly from one thing to the next and the to do list is never getting any smaller and it’s hard to find the time just to cook dinner never mind achieve anything.

We separated the kids while we were away, so Katie stayed with my mum and step dad and Alice and Matthew stayed with John’s parents. We thought it would be easier for our parents than having all 3 kids at once, and also thought the girls could benefit from some time apart. Their relationship isn’t good and is something I probably should write about at some point but I’m not sure where to start. Unfortunately a break from each other doesn’t seem to have had any benefit which is difficult in itself.

The big thorn in my side at the moment is the tribunal coming up for Katie’s EHC needs assessment. I’ll probably do a post on that at some point but at the moment I’m alternating between furious and desperate and wish I’d never started it and I’m not in the head space to write about it. I submitted the request back in December, the LA refused it, I appealed, they rejected the appeal, and it’s now going to tribunal. The amount of time and emotional energy I’ve put into submitting all the evidence and responding to the BS the council is throwing at me is huge. The whole process is intimidating and demoralising but it’s out of my hands now because the final deadline for evidence has just passed and the case will be heard sometime before the middle of June. Whichever way it goes it will be stressful because if the tribunal agrees that there is no need for an assessment I’m out of options and that’s a big heavy door slammed in our faces in terms of accessing support for Katie at school. If the tribunal decides there should be an assessment that’s great but it will probably also mean another load of paperwork, a lot more time, and after the assessment there is still no guarantee she’d get an EHCP.

For now….keep calm and carry on. And look back on photos of our mini break!

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