The Only One Who Sees Me

This heat with a 2.5 year old who’s very emotional and trying to establish (read: push) her boundaries has been so tough. I have been in tears, I have shouted and I have hated myself as a result. I never wanted to be that mum.

Not able to lift her and soothe her during a crying fit in our narrow hallway the other day, I shouted, turned away and cried so hard I couldn’t catch my breath.

Squidge’s tantrum stopped dead and she crept back in, frowning with concern before she came and placed her baby’s bottle in my mouth because she knows, when babies cry, they need milk. My beautiful girl dried my tears.

Yesterday, we were planning to travel across the neighbouring city on the bus to see a friend and her girls. So looking forward to it. A big ask, but it felt like it was doable with Squidge mobile and the walker. People would know I was disabled, no worries about putting the pram down.

Except, walking with Squidge sat on the walker, every journey is twice as long because the wheels get caught between paving slabs, because the anti-tilt means I have to turn the walker round to pull her safely up and down kerbs. For an aid that’s meant to help me, I have to pre-empt everything. It gets tiring.

I had to coax her off the walker onto the bus so I could lift it up. She went to find a seat but I took so long sorting out my ticket that she came running back, crying for me not to leave her. I had to promise to finish my purchase at the other end of the journey and went to park the walker in the space. A kind lady took Squidge into her lap as I struggled, because the bus had already moved away. I’d planned to sit on the walker facing Squidge but my balance on it was so precarious, the kind lady insisted I take a seat, holding out her hand to me.

“You shouldn’t have to struggle like that my love” called out another lady. “That’s what the disabled seats are for.”

She pointedly looked at a lady in said seats with a shopping trolley who muttered “If she wants it, she can have it.”

I didn’t say anything. After all, I didn’t know the lady’s circumstances but it was quite hurtful not to be addressed directly. It just makes me feel like people are too embarrassed to recognise me.

The second lady, having watched me struggle to sort my ticket, asked if I shouldn’t get a concessionary bus pass. I told her the truth: “I was allowed one in England but the rules in Wales say not because I can walk.”

“That’s disgraceful.”

The first lady chatted with Squidge and I all the way until her stop. I wish it could have carried on that way.

But to the busy city crowds, Squidge and I were instantly invisible. She wanted to walk with me after so long sitting on the bus so well. I walked her not 50 feet into the bakery to get a drink. People leant round me and the walker to grab things as I talked Squidge through the options in the fridges and when we were waiting for someone to step back and let us leave, at least half a dozen people walked through the door with no thought to the fact the walker or indeed, the toddler might need a bit of room to vacate.

“Oh for God’s sake!” I fumed quietly.

“No Mummy!” Squidge reproached sternly. “No say that!”

I smiled. “Sorry baby, you’re right.”

Then a group of schoolkids came racing across the pelican crossing that I was trying to judge as flat enough to roll Squidge across in the walker. They were coming right at us but I thought “They can see me, they won’t run at a walker.”

I was wrong. They swarmed me, Squidge and the walker and I felt myself tense in preparation for a fall. It didn’t come but my nerves were so on edge in these crowds with uneven pavements that I screamed angrily after them, with no effect obviously: “Yeah, don’t worry about me.”

We waited for the green man as the city crowds ignored his absence and ran across the road anyway. When it was time, we went across the road to the stopping point in the middle, except the walker hit the lip unable to push up. Crowds kept coming as I felt the walker tilt and began to panic. To stabilise, I knew I needed to turn it round to wheel Squidge up safely. I tried to do it as quickly as her safety would allow but the crowds just kept coming over the crossing. No-one cared to see us there struggling.

I finally managed it, my stress increasing when the same happened again. Why could no-one see me?I felt the walker lurch again and cried out in panic: “Oh God, are you OK baby?”

Finally, without a word, a man reached down and lifted the walker over for me onto solid ground.

“Thank you.” I said. “You’re the first person that’s bothered to see me here today.”

How could so many people be so wilfully ignorant to someone with a mobility aid, with a child struggling? I could never do it, even though I’d be little help. I’d have to try.

The simplest things were beginning to feel too hard and behind my sunglasses, I began to cry. The city was busy and loud so I didn’t bother trying to muffle the sound, half wishing someone might slow down and ask me if I was OK or needed help. Nobody around me did.

Instead, my beautiful girl said: “Don’t cry Mummy.” Oh, how I loved her then.

“I’m so sorry baby. I’m sorry it’s this hard.”

I tried to coax her onto the next bus to our friend’s.

“No” said Squidge.

I was stressed, so terrified she was about to throw herself down in the street for an emotional tantrum.

“Please darlin’.” I pleaded. “I can’t lift you with the walker.”

But she didn’t tantrum at all. “My no want to go on bus.” she said calmly.

What was the point trying to force her? It just doubled the journey and effort of trying to get her home safely when I’d be in pain from the effort. I think she knew that.

“I go home and see my daddy.”

“OK baby. Shall we go get an ice cream from Maccy’s first for Mummy’s superstar?”She walked all the way until she recognised the Golden Arches. I text Kev, telling him how defeated and tearful I was that I was so invisible here, that I was ashamed I had let my friend down.

(I shared the same sentiments when I apologised to my friend. She promptly told me I shouldn’t dare to feel ashamed for trying as hard as I had. I love her for that.)

I also told Kev that Squidge had been such a comfort, I would buy her another ice cream if she wanted. I took her into the disabled toilet to get changed.

Hot, beaten and emotional, when she sat up, I asked: “Can I have a hug?”

She gave me the sweetest tightest cuddle yet.

“I got you Mummy.”

I broke down crying in my toddler’s arms.

“I’m so glad you do, baby.”

She was only coaxed onto the bus home by promise of seeing her daddy again.

She was exhausted, meaning the decision not to carry on our journey across the city was the right one.So sweet right? Except I was full of dread. I couldn’t carry her from the bus and the walker. I’d fall. I needed her to walk off the bus. So I had to lift her into my lap and rock her awake, cradling her head against injury thanks to the erratic braking of the bus and throwing us forward.

And today, my shoulders and wrists hurt so much from the effort of having to lift the walker up over every uneven paving slab out there that Squidge even attempted to lift it for me.

I cannot describe how sad I am to live in a world where only my 2 year old daughter cares to notice how hard it is becoming for me to get through every day. It’s so bloody shameful.

But I could not be prouder of you baby girl. Thank you for seeing me when the world ignored me. I’m so glad to have you. I know now more than ever I couldn’t do it without you.

Mummy’s medicine

Pain is a huge part of ageing with cerebral palsy. Whilst its omnipresence is unavoidable, the levels of pain I wake up with every day are unpredictable and draining.

The impact on my emotional wellbeing is getting larger every day.

Yesterday I woke up with very painful tension in my neck and shoulders. Movement was too hard and I was reduced to slumping on the sofa.

Kev climbed in behind me and began to massage the tension. I cried out in pain.

When she was younger and Squidge’s saw that, she pushed Kev away, shouting “No Daddy!”

Yesterday however, Squidge saw and heard my pain and climbed into my lap. She wrapped her arms around my neck. “Ohhh!” she sang empathetically.

But I struggled to hold her as Kev continued apply the necessary pressure to my stubborn muscles.

“Oww!” I whimpered, unable to hold it in.

Squidge pressed her hand tenderly to my face, stroking my cheek as she asked: “You OK Mummy?”

My heart swelled as she worked so gently to distract and soothe me. I didn’t want her to think that her daddy was hurting me so encouraged her to climb into Kev’s lap and feel the tension for herself.

She knew what the solid lump was as soon as Kev helped her feel it with her little hands. “Mummy ow!”

“Yes baby. And Daddy is helping take the ow away for Mummy. It is Mummy’s medicine but Mummy is not very brave, so Mummy say ow.”

“Do you want to help Daddy give Mummy her medicine?”

“Yes.” she said, hands poised in the same position as Kev’s and bless her, she started pushing gently on the lumps.

Kev’s pressure increased, needing to use his elbows. So Squidge climbed down.

“Ow!” I cried out loudly.

But Squidge frowned, telling me sternly: “No Mummy. No ow. Mummy’s medicine not ow.”

We laughed together. Our wonderful girl had listened so well. She knows that medicines exist to make us better. Therefore, we have already taught her it is useless to give into pain.

I like that. Our parenting means thst she already knows that pain is there to be pushed through.

We’re not going to be defeated. Mummy must take her medicine.

“Look Mummy, who’s that?”

Yesterday, I walked with Squidgelet to the end of our street and purchased a walker.

*exhale*

My teenage self is disgusted with me. Scoffs that I have given up.

My 2 year old daughter didn’t bat an eye.

That morning she walked halfway to the library for Rhymetime holding onto the pram. All I had to do was tell her where to hold.

“No let go of pram” she promised me faithfully. There was no question that she would. She understands she needs to listen.

I showed her where to hold the walker. It was exactly the same. I was so proud of her.

I text Kev to say it had been bought. He told me he was proud of me for making such a huge step for my independence even if my pride was hurt and my 14 year old self sulking indefinitely.

“I know it’s a good thing…” I typed, “…but I feel so defeated and defined by it and it breaks my heart.”

It felt unnatural to rely on it, even if I know it’s not for all the time. It felt, rightly or wrongly, like my capabilities came in second after this unsightly lump of metal.

I started to cry, as softly as I could. I couldn’t help it. I was grieving, letting my teenage self let out her disappointment. After all, I never knew this is where I’d be at 30 years old. I don’t know what I could have expected when the medical profession and support services stayed tellingly silent. But I never thought being 30 would look quite like this.

Squidgelet frowned when she saw me wipe my eyes. “Mummy ow?”

“No darling. Mummy not ow. Mummy sad. What would you like to watch? Wiggles?”

She pondered it for a moment. “No Wiggles. Photos.”

All our photos slideshow on our TV.

Looking at me, photo after photo, she asked “Look Mummy, who’s that?”

With her beautiful big heart, Squidgelet distracted me from my tears.

Mummy proud, Squidgelet. Mummy so proud of you.

My little cheerleader

It feels so strange to say it, but this last week or so, I have been on top of the world. Tired, but accomplished and oh so proud.

Knowing that I struggle and knowing that I don’t want to hide forever, I have taught Squidgelet to say 2 phrases on demand:

“Take your time Mummy’

&

“Come on Mummy, you can do it!”

I love so much that she’s so willing to support me in this way because, whilst I confess I am easily overwhelmed, she remains the reason I do everything and her words calm and focus me so much.

We are home alone today and I was determined not to waste it slobbed out in front of Youtube. Despite how much the thought scared me, we got in the car and I drove. Somewhere new. And when I pulled perfectly into the space, Squidge declared: “Mummy did it!” I was so proud.

Today, for the first time ever, I took Squidgelet swimming on my own. She’s two-and-a-half now, with such amazing communication and empathy for her mummy. I have always been too scared, terrified I might fall.

But she listened to my every instruction, always looking back as she held my hand to make sure our small and steady steps on the slippery surface were keeping pace.

She splashed, she jumped, she kicked her powerful little legs and swam all on her own. It was almost as though, with her buoyancy vest on, she didn’t need me. But better than that, she wanted me there.

I struggle to pull myself up onto the side of the pool, but my beautiful girl pulled me the rest of the way by pulling my shoulders with all her might, so determined was she to push me in again.

I’ve never had so much fun!

I dreaded getting dressed again but kept my voice calm and we talked through every step together. I even managed to coax a hesitant Squidge into the showers. I have learnt everything is a matter of making time for it. No need to get annoyed. No rush.

And here is our #successselfie

My awesome little sidekick and me, all dressed.

I had some shopping to get so decided on lunch in Morrison’s 2 minutes away. Parked perfectly there too.

Squidge, very well rehydrated after swimming had an accident as I sat her in the trolley. Potty training is going really well so we’re at the stage of pants rather than nappies and we’re just starting to have dry days.

Related to the cerebral palsy I believe, I had bladder incontinence issues well into my teens that was resolved by medication in the end. I have never forgotten the shame or lengths I would go to to conceal the problem so I wouldn’t have to miss anything fun. I fully believe Squidge has the same excitable logic and I absolutely refuse to let her feel one iota of the shame I did. We carry 10 changes of clothes and handle everything with a “No worries.”

We got her changed and enjoyed lunch together

Pretty much as soon as this orange juice was consumed in one slurp, there was another accident. She waddled back to the toilets, but I praised her highly, remembering too well how uncomfortable it is to walk with soaked legs.

Quick wardrobe change and Squidge was back in the trolley, diligently ensuring all our purchases were well placed.

I adore her and didn’t care a jot when she admitted to “Poo!” as we were at the checkout. It’s much better to see the hilarity in heading back to the toilets for the third time in 2 hours and wondering how I hadn’t been questioned for shoplifting.

The freedom that my determination to show Squidge that there’s “No worries!” is immeasurable. It, and she, are doing me the world of good right now.

Mummy did it, Squidge!

It Doesn’t Have to be a Nightmare

So I thought that first fall was my worst nightmare come true. I never counted on feeling worse than that, even though I know it was unavoidable that it would happen again.

On Thursday night, Kev went for a run whilst I agreed to bath Squidge alone. I wrapped her in her towel and lifted her into my arms, doing well so far. I tried to pick my steps back into the lounge carefully, she is precious cargo after all. But I kicked one of her boots that I’d stupidly left on the floor and we keeled over together. I wanted to throw her away from me, but the only direction she could land in the split second that we fell together was towards our glass coffee table and I just couldn’t make myself let her go. So in that instant decision, I had no choice but to land on her. I moved off as quickly as I could, but understandably she cried.

The guilt coursed through me and I cried too, checking her over again and again, even when she’d stopped crying as soon as I’d adminstered ‘magic kisses’ to where she said her arm hurt. But oh, I felt like a monster, a careless monster. After all, I should have known to pack her shoes away before undertaking bath time by myself. I called Kev in an instinctive panic and he came home as quickly as he could. The rest of the evening passed just as normal, though I’ll admit I did have a glass of wine for medicinal purposes!

The next day, playing on the floor with Squidge, she playfully pushed me back on the rug, wanting to climb and lie on me and play. That’s usually a good way for us to play together, because there’s nowhere else to go if you’re already on the floor, it’s pretty safe. But this time, I fell back on her big toy drum with quite some force and I cried out in pain when it dug into the tense muscles of my shoulder.

Squidge stopped dead, frowning in concern and confusion as Kev moved to help me get up.

“Mummy ow.” I explained when I was sat down safely.

“Mummy ow the drum.” she replied.

About half an hour later, she threw herself down on the floor, striking her back on the drum in the same fashion I did, looking over at me as she shouted: “Immy ow!”

In that second, I was heartbroken, realising she was imitating my fall, repeating my pain as if it was a normal aspect of the life we live together. In the next second, I was impressed that she had understood the whole incident. After all, imitative play is how children develop an understanding of their world and whether I’m comfortable with it or not, falls and pain are a regular and undeniable part of our life.

I got down on the floor and said gently: “Oh darlin’, Immy doesn’t have to ow. Mummy ow cos Mummy fell over.”

“Immy and Mummy fell over.”

Then I realised she was connecting the two incidents, as if it was she thought she had to fall because I did, because we’d fallen together the previous night. Again, heartbreaking. After all, I am her mum. I am alive to be her greatest protector and yet from my arms, she had felt pain, however fleetingly. I felt so guilty, although given how much I worried about this exact incident when she was a tiny wriggly newborn, I suppose there was a need to be proud that it had taken me over 2 years to get to the dreaded moment.

But still, it showed how clued in she is. That made me very proud too. She shows such a great level of understanding and empathy.

“We did fall over darlin’, but only because Mummy has tired legs. Immy has clever legs, you don’t need to fall.”

I showed her where on my body I had hurt myself on the drum, let her feel the tight tenderness in my shoulder.

“I don’t want you to ow like Mummy, when you have clever legs!”

“Clever legs!”

“And what does Mummy have?”

“Tired legs.”

I think this is the start of explaining Mummy’s differences. In the simplest terms I can. And so far, my beautiful Squidge’s head and heart are keeping up. I really hope this won’t be so bad after all.

“Mummy, I’m alright!”

This is Freddie. Freddie is the most loved Fox there ever was.

Freddie came into Squidge’s life when she was just a few weeks old, my own best friend introducing my baby girl to her own best friend. I love that. I love that Squidge loves someone else so much.

He comes with her everywhere at the moment. He came with us to the playground opposite our house. She pushed him lovingly back and forth on the swing until, inevitably “Freddie glide!” (Slide, of course!)

Squidge has always been so confident physically, very rarely is she willing to accept help. And I love that confidence, I want her to have it always.

But because she was so determined that beloved Freddie should enjoy the experience too and she would not let him go, she lost her previously confident footing on the suspended stepping stones.

I know every parent experiences the horror of slow motion. I saw her fall before she did and cursed my body for not reacting in time as she sobbed in shock.

I bundled her into my arms and checked her over, horror and tears coarsing through me. I had never seen her actually hurt herself before. I called Kev instinctively as I soothed her, convinced we’d be going to A&E.

As it rang, I asked Squidge where she hurt. She’d fallen forwards about three feet and I was terrified she’d say “head” or worse, nothing at all because I’d allowed her to be so damaged she couldn’t remember.

“Chiiiiin!” She wailed. I personally have split my own chin open twice so was terrified to look where she pointed. But there wasn’t so much as a graze. The sobbing subsided (from Squidge at least!) and Kev, thank God, was calm.

“I can’t even hear her crying.”

“She is!” I insisted as she wriggled out of my arms.

“What’s she doing right now?”

As I remained a tearful, guilty wreck on the floor, I dared to look up. And not only had our beautiful, brave, confident girl climbed back up onto the slide; when she saw me looking, she called out reassuringly “Mummy, I’m alright.”

And so Squidge and Freddie played on until she could be tempted away with an offer of tea and an episode of “Money” (aka Tipping Point) and I was amazed and humbled by the utter resilience in someone so small.

The guilt made my stomach wrench as my baby cried but that baby, she consoled me. Never have I been so reassured of the good job I am doing as a parent.

Mummy sees you’re alright Squidge. I think you’ve got this, baby one.

Facing up to the reality of stress

Months ago, I took myself to the GP and told her that I was overwhelmed and sad. She referred me to the Mental Health team who have in turn, given me the opportunity to attend some Stress Controll and Fulfilment classes.

I went to the very first session of the Stress Control Group yesterday. I was anxious about it all day, nerves writhing in my tummy. I couldn’t concentrate and got very little work done. So a stress course was essentially stressing me out, making me feel guilty for not applying myself to my paid work. Ironic isn’t it? But I walked to the venue, I walked through the door. Three people in the queue ahead of me asked to be directed to the same place, so I didn’t even need to feel daft and just walking into that room felt like such a big achievement. I was after all, there to help myself.

There were so many people in that room. It was amazing. You always think that you are the only one, when in fact, stress is as common as can be, causing so many related issues for us all, like constant physical pains. Who knew, right?

I felt quite panicky just being sat there and could feel myself losing my sense of “being in the room”, spiralling off into my own panic. I wanted to cry for all the struggling people they talked about in the case studies, I wanted to get up and run. It was hard to listen, though I laughed to myself when the course leader said exactly that – that concentration is always poor when we’re stressed and anxious. But she also kept saying that I was in the right place and it made me feel braver, safer.

I can’t pretend I listened well for the whole two hours because I know I didn’t. But some snippets really resonated with me.

We all have stress in our lives.

None of us can change what has gone before, so why waste emotional energy overthinking what you cannot change? What’s ridiculous is, I of course, know this, but hearing someone, a professional, say it out loud, the little monster that lives in my ear unclenched a little bit and stopped dead. Because it’s so true. You have to go on. And in spite of everything I have told myself I am not capable of, the one thing I know I am capable of is going on – nothing has killed me yet.

They told us that stress feeds itself on all your other stressors. So if you spend a long time feeling stressed and overwhelmed, chances are the thing that stressed you this week is not the thing that set off the stress of last week. You have to find ways of cutting the little monster off. And hopefully, that’s what these courses will enable me to do, to find happiness in the little things and to feel real pride for all my achievements.

And here’s my first one:

Our homework was to draw out our “vicious circle of stress” – all the things that stress us and how they manage to keep themselves going, so that we could try and work out ways of starving the stress. Now, I didn’t get that far, because honestly, my circle was far too busy to be a circle. A list of stressors came pouring out of me. And when I read it back, I realised that for years now, I have been dealing with a lot!

I haven’t necessarily dealt with these things well, these are things I am looking to learn, to help myself. But nevertheless, I am constantly dealing with a lot, even outside the standard “marriage, child, house” that it’s likely everyone else in that room was dealing with. I have pain, I have limitations, which in themselves need a lot of work on acceptance before the anger wins. I have uni, I have long-distance relationships to maintain and a lot of memories to process that have hindered my sense of independence and self-confidence.

And suddenly, I felt proud of myself for being able to carry on. I’m going to give myself less of a hard time. I never feel proud of myself. Me, myself & I have pretty much always struggled to get on, so honestly, this was a great start.

The mantra of the stress control course is something like “Face your fears. Be more active. Watch what you drink.”

Avoidance is a huge crutch of mine and the course already recognises that avoidance does work to control stress in the shor term. But avoiding your fears just builds them up into a more deep rooted problem longer-term and to be honest, I think therein lie a lot of my problems. They’ve gone unfaced for too long and have become a horrible, stubborn part of me that I hate, but that really has quite a grip on me.

So I’m trying to take the mantra to heart already, even without realising it.

The day before the course, I walked Squidge to playgroup. She needs constant bribing to get in the pram now because she’d rather walk, but we did OK.

She was patient, she listened (she even collected the Deep Heat lotion for me that morning when I was on the floor complaining that my “neck ow!” She handed me the container saying “Mummy medicine neck ow!” I was so blummin’ touched. She went into playgroup without a backward glance when previously she’s refused to go in without clinging to me. Well done Squidge, my big, brave, grown up girl.

Enjoying her soup before Wednesday’s playdate

I pottered round town, buying all the bits we needed and then I went back for me. She wolfed down some soup and went for a nap in preparation for a park playdate we had with a friend. But she wasn’t ready for me to wake her an hour later and howled like I was beating her whenever I made moves to get her dressed. She clung to me, sobbing, only comforted when I rocked her like I did when she was newborn. I felt awful, that my baby was so upset, that I couldn’t dress her, that we’d be late, what my friend would think.

As it was, we were only ten minutes late and my friend couldn’t have been kinder – and Squidge couldn’t have been more delightful, cooing over her baby boy and guzzling her babyccino like a pro.

Face your fears – I didn’t allow myself to cry off and let a friend down, or let myself feel terrible for doing so, like I didn’t deserve friends. I told myself (and Squidge!) that she was getting dressed because I knew we’d (both!) appreciate the experience much more when we were there.

Be more active – Two walking trips to town and back. Well done me!

Watch what you drink – I got a 12 bottle box of wine at cost price from work for Christmas, so I’m not gonna lie, I have been caning the rosé (which for a lightweight like me means 1x large glass, so only just topping my 14 units/week (maybe?) I’m probably not drinking to medical excess even now, but I know it’s still more than I really should. So yesterday, I had a small one.

See? Wins all round!

And today, I met up with another friend and her little girl at mine & Squidge’s favourite soft play and then they came up to play at the playground by our house for some outdoor time. They ran off to the basketball court together to run about and when they came back out, they were holding hands like the best of friends. My heart felt so huge with love in that second, I felt so happy.

Playing with her lovely friend on the “tee-taw” today – and absolutely not looking at Mummy’s camera!

The lovely mobile hairdresser came round too to check how I’d gotten on with the ponytail tuition and would you believe – I actually did it! Even with my weak hand, I got my hair up higher than I ever have before, so I have the skills there now. Just more practise and then I can learn a messy bun to go with my messy ponytail. (So relieved these are in fashion because these are what comes naturally to my wonky hands too!)

I am very proud of me. Because in these last 3 days, I have done a lot to benefit myself, which in the end can only mean the best of all things for Squidge. A little less avoidance from now on. Let’s see what the best of me looks like!