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Excitement builds …

The excitement is building in GGHQ … Christmas has well and truly arrived.  I love this time of year, I love how excited the boys get each year and I love how, over the years, we have developed our own wee traditions that they look for. 

 There are three advent calendars to be opened this year.  There is the basket of goodies each day (although there has already been confusion when someone opened Day 13 instead of Day 3) which has something for each of us each day.  There is the obligatory Santa advent calendar which tells us something to do each day (some days it’s watch a movie, or a Christmas light hunt around the area, or a Christmas scavenger hunt).  Then lastly, my favourite, bits of tinsel hung over the door with numbered envelopes attached to it … each envelope contains verses from the Bible relating to the birth of Jesus … helping us remember what we, as a Christian family, are really celebrating at Christmas.

 So, the downstairs of GGHQ has been well and truly Christmassed … there are scented candles, fairy lights, decorations, tinsel … the tree was decorated by the boys on Saturday and, so far, I’m doing well in resisting the urge to re-position any of the ornaments.  Each day something else appears … to be fair, I’m not quite sure who the child is here as I get as much enjoyment from this as the boys do.

A couple of weeks ago we had a wee flurry of snow which was exciting and resulted in lots of chat about sledging and whether the sledge will last another year.  I know lots of people are hoping we don’t get snow but, quite honestly, I’m really, really hoping we do … lots of it … lots of fun, sledgeable snow … just like this …

So, Day 37 of the Love Dare for Parents is entitled ‘Love fulfils dreams’ and uses 2 Corinthians 12:15 as its focus:

So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well.

The book talks about how God loves us with extravagance.  I love that thought.  It’s something I know but is it something I ever really think about?  I know so well the words of John 3:16 but I wonder how often I take time to sit and really think about the extravagance of the gift God has given us, and as Christmas approaches it’s even more apt for me to think about the gift we’ve been given … as Christians we celebrate the birth of Jesus at this time of year … BUT, for me … how can I ever truly comprehend the absolute magnificence of the gift that I’ve been given … me … little me … pretty insignificant me … able to call myself a Child of the Living God.  I don’t really think there’s anything better than that!

 The dare for today is to begin making plans to spend time or money on a gift that would overwhelm my children.  Again, very appropriate for this time of year, don’t you think!  I particularly like that the plans are to spend time or money … time … so often it can be easy to substitute time with money … spend money on things rather than spending time with the children we have around us.  For the GG clan, time is important … family time … making memories.  Like most families, we don’t have an infinite supply of money to throw around making extravagant gestures (although, Mr GG, if you’re reading this … a Land Rover or some chickens or a couple of sheep would just about cover it). 

Anyway, I’m digressing … back to the Junior GGs and the Love Dare.  To be fair, a pretty massive, life-changing plan is already under way here at GGHQ … some of our close friends know about it, many folks don’t … all I’d say now is keep watching this space and as soon as possible all will be revealed.

 And, now, back to Christmas decorating …

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That was the day …

Aren’t memories funny things. Precious things. I have so many memories going right back to a really early age … memories of an uncle who died when I was just two, memories of my pushchair folding up as my Mum was crossing a road, memories of finding a wee dead bird at the side of the garage and being so upset about it. Some memories are clear, vivid whilst others are barely there. I remember, as a pre-schooler, going out of church to Sunday School each Sunday morning and waving up to my Dad standing in the pulpit, and I remember so clearly how he would smile and wave back to me. I have happy memories of each of my grandparents … memories of my Grandpa putting his hand on my head and saying “Bless you my child” in a kind of sing song way. And I have memories of my Grandad sitting in his wee shed watching and chatting to his grandchildren as we stripped the plants free of garden peas and ate the lot before our Gran laughingly scolded that she didn’t get one meal out of them. Or my Grandmother in the last years of her life when a stroke had robbed her of her independence, talking with her about what I was doing, holding her hand and just enjoying being in her presence. I pride myself on having a good memory … for most things. I can clearly recall conversations I had with Mr GG or others from years ago but if you ask me to nip to the supermarket for something I’m guaranteed to get there and wander around aimlessly hoping something I see will remind me what I’m there for.

Other memories are bittersweet: the pain of losing each of my grandparents, the memory of the babies we had who went straight to heaven. Today is one of those bittersweet days … it is five years ago today that Son No2 was diagnosed with autism which means that it is just over eight years ago since Son No1 was diagnosed. Our lives have changed so much since we received each of those diagnoses. As a couple Mr GG & I have had to get our heads around the fact that life for our boys isn’t going to be straight forward … we have tried so desperately hard to teach them that although their route may be different to some other people, there is nothing they can’t do (to be honest, silver service may possibly be pushing it for one boy in particular). Our role is no longer just ‘parent’ … we are advocates for our boys, we are their voice in meetings, we are fighting for them to get the help they need, the therapies they need and the acceptance they deserve. As a family we have lost friends who just didn’t understand that life was different for us but, we are so very thankful for the friends we have, both new and old, who ‘get’ it, who love us as we are, accept our quirky family, join in the mayhem at GGHQ and relish the many laughs that fill our home.

Yes, the path I walk as a mum of children with special needs is not what I expected but I wouldn’t change it for one minute … I’d change the world for my children but my boys are just exactly the way they are meant to be.

So, anyway, back to the Love Dare … day 36 today which means, if I try hard I can finish the next four dares before the end of the year. Christmas is fast approaching though and already the boys are begging for the tree to be put up (not before December!), the advent calendar is made (I’m quite proud of it so here is a pic!) and I’m still trying to scrabble ideas together for presents!

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Today is all about love bearing all things. ‘You saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked (Dt 1:31).

We need to allow our children to make mistakes and bear the consequences but they need, always, to be sure of our love for them. We need to judge how to react whether with compassion or by ‘turning up the heat’ (Love Dare for Parents, Kendrick, p178)

The example used today is that of the Prodigal Son … I love that parable … the father allowed his son to go off and do his own thing, make his mistakes, he didn’t chase after him … but … when his son came home he celebrated and welcomed him back, without chastisement. That’s the type of parent I want to be.

The dare for today is one that baffles me … reassuring our children that our love for them is constant. Isn’t that something we all do as parents? I don’t know. I know that it’s something Mr GG and I talk about with the Junior GGs … they are, I trust, secure in the knowledge that our love for them isn’t dependent on how they behave or how well they are doing. Our love is unconditional … it’s important that my boys know that.

So, another busy day beckons … Mr GG is working from home today which usually means I get to have lunch with him but I’m off out and leaving him to eat alone … I hope he knows I still love him all the same and doesn’t feel too abandoned … especially after accidentally locking him out this morning … oops

Friday … at last!

In my last blog post I mentioned that this week was anti-bullying week.  Son No3 duly went to school in his odd socks …  IMG_0868

This week also ends with Children in Need … a really worthy cause and something that most children love supporting.  All three Junior GGs have gone off to school in casual clothes.  This pleases me not least because it means a couple less white shirts to wash this week! 

The boys all had to pay to dress down and there are different things going on in school throughout the day.  However, Children in Need day comes with an element of fear for one of the Junior GGs who has a phobia of anyone dressed up … last year we unwittingly walked into one of our local supermarkets to be greeted by someone dressed as Pudsy which resulted in him bolting out in terror … this year said boy refuses to go into any shop before Mr GG or I have checked it’s clear of danger!

Ah yes, it’s been a quick week, this post should really have been written a good few days ago but time left me behind.  It’s been a week of meetings with teachers, psychologists and other professionals … weeks like that, I find, are exhausting both mentally and emotionally.  It’s been a week of decisions too and changes are afoot within GGHQ … watch this space for more news in the next few weeks!

So, Day 35 of the Love Dare for Parents is all about love rejoicing in the truth and it uses the words of Proverbs 11:19 to guide our thinking.  I feel challenged as a Christian mum as to what I praise my children for.  Am I as quick to praise my children for walking in God’s ways?  Or am I quicker to praise them when they get good results from school, or do well in a race?  I’ve always tried to encourage my boys, I don’t know if they would say the same especially when I’m asking them for the 8 millionth time to tidy their rooms (maybe a slight exaggeration … or, on second thoughts, maybe not).

I’ve said many times that my desire for each one of the Junior GGs is that he grows up to become a man of God, someone who’s heart is focussed on doing what God wants him to do.  I really hope that I’m encouraging these traits in my sons, encouraging them in their spiritual journey and not hindering them.  I hope that I set an example to them that is good and God-honouring and not nagging and grumpy.

The dare for today is to identify a Godly trait in my sons then find a Bible verse which encourages them.  I’ve not completely done it yet.  I will though.  It’s a dare which I’m enjoying, I like the idea of finding a verse of Scripture for each child which I can use to encourage him. 

And in the meantime, I’ll be making a concerted effort to make sure that I practise encouraging the boys both for their positive personality traits (of which there are many … I’m a biased mum!) as well as their achievements.  [Whilst writing this I received an email with yet another positive referral from school for one of the Junior GGs … proud Mum]

So, onwards towards the weekend … Friday night is a busy night in GGHQ and we have no great plans for the weekend but it is time spent together … family time both with our biological family but also with our church family … something I never fail to look forward to.

Happy weekend one and all!

 

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Old, old photo but I love it … time with my Junior GGs is always special.

 

Good days and bad 

As you will have noticed most of my posts refer to or allude to parenting children with autism. It’s hard to write from another perspective as this is pretty much the only parenting I know. However, I think a lot of my experiences are similar to any other parent … after all parenting is a tough job no matter what.

But lately Mr GG and I have been faced with the challenges of social media. Whilst I like elements of social media like Facebook and, to a lesser extent Twitter, I have yet to find the fascination with media like Snapchat or Instagram and as parents of children with special needs it’s hard to know what to allow or what to avoid. Son No1 in particular is keen to be the same as his peers and painfully aware that he is different at an age where fitting in is so important. He engages with social media and is keen to keep in contact with his online friends.

Sadly, however, his autism and beautifully trusting nature make him a target for bullying and exploitation. It breaks my heart. He doesn’t understand why people are unkind. My amazing boy is friends with everyone and sees the good in all around him, even those that are unkind at times.

Last year we had to deal with an issue of bullying through social media which was swiftly and, we thought, effectively dealt with by school … however, it’s happening again and I’m cross, really cross. I’m not going into details as that’s not helpful, but it’s the same person, someone who has known my son long enough to understand how vulnerable he is and therefore someone who should know better. I’m devastated. I want to protect my son. I want the person involved to see the impact of their actions and realise just how deep the scars of bullying are affecting my child.

So, what do I do? The bullying is, in the main, cyber-bullying … from the safety of distance … although at times the person involved has physically and verbally assaulted my son. Do I remove social media from my son, thus punishing him for being a victim?

I think not.

For those who find social interaction difficult there are immeasurable benefits of social media … it’s a place to make friends, talk with them, and build a social network without the stresses of actually being in the company of people, trying to read social cues and understand body language.

We have a responsibility to train our children in using social media. To teach them how to beware of making themselves vulnerable and what is acceptable behaviour online. Whilst our children are entitled to privacy I also still, maybe controversially, feel strongly that we need to monitor our children’s actions online and deal with any bullying traits that may be exposed. Bullying isn’t always obvious, sometimes the bully is not aware that their behaviour is threatening and overpowering, sometimes they don’t realise how their actions are being perceived by the victim … sometimes a bully doesn’t know that’s what he or she has become and that what started out as something innocent has been built up to overwhelming proportions.

However, as a parent, I’m struggling with how I feel about the bully … I know I need to forgive and I need to help my son forgive but I don’t want to … I really, truly don’t want to. It’s one thing to hurt me … but another entirely when someone hurts of Mr GG or one of my Junior GGs. I’m a work in progress though, I’ll get there however long it takes.

Just today one of our schools tweeted that next week is anti-bullying week and children are encouraged to wear odd socks on Monday to celebrate that everyone is different and unique. That flags up different issues in a house with autism … wearing odd socks is anathema to one child who will definitely be wearing matching socks (and definitely the ones with the right day of the week on them!) … however, I’m sure at least some of us will be taking part. Exactly what it will do to help with bullying issues I’m not sure but … we’ll do it anyway.

So, setting the whole horrible cyber-bullying issue to one side it’s time to look back to the Love Dare. I’m on day 34 now … the end is well and truly in sight which I’m sure many of you will be breathing a sigh of relief about … peace comes … maybe!

Today the subject is marriage. Whilst the Junior GGs are all too young for marriage I’m well aware that time is whizzing past and before I know it they will all be flying the nest, making their way in the world, building homes of their own and, I pray, happy marriages and families.

It’s a thought … gives me chills really … I can’t imagine any of my boys grown up and away from home although the first Junior GG has now left me behind in the height stakes so I guess I ought to be getting used to it. I remember being told when the boys were wee (maybe only Son No1 was around at that time) that we have a responsibility for eighteen years to train our children to live independently of us … it’s true … but a horrible thought! I’ve loved having little children around but I’m also loving the boys they have become and the young men they are growing into. It’s a privilege to be their mum and I hope that when they grow up they think I’ve not done too bad a job!

So, the dare for today is to talk to the boys about marrying the right person … and at the right time. It’s a subject that’s been discussed around our table before as the boys know that Mr GG and I knew each other for many years before we eventually became a couple and got married. The dare also encourages us to pray for our children’s future spouses. It’s a thought! I wonder what the future holds for my sons, I wonder who they will eventually marry, I wonder what adventures lie ahead of them.

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Count your blessings …

You know those weekends that pass far too quickly but are filled with lots of happy memories?  Yes?  Well, this past weekend was one of them!  Happy times with my favourite GGs.  There were, of course, the usual sibling squabbles and not everyone was exactly delighted when we went out for an exploring walk on Saturday afternoon but it was a happy weekend nonetheless.  A weekend balanced with time at home, time outside in the fresh aid and time spent with our church family learning, praising and spending time together.

Last night in church our pastor, at the end of the service, used the priestly blessing (Numbers 6: 24-26): 

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace.

As Andrew said those words I thought of my boys and was struck by how that is my prayer for them.  In life I want the best for my sons, I want them to be happy, to be content in the careers they choose, to marry and have children, to live full and happy lives but most of all I want them to know the peace of God, to know and understand what God has done for them, to be his children.

Now, when I was thinking all this I had not read the Love Dare for today!  Honestly!!

After the calm of the weekend today was one of those days where I got up this morning feeling overwhelmed by the length of the to-do list and the lack of time to complete it.  Writing a blog post was one of the things that I thought would get pushed to another day but … well … when I read through Day 33 as I ate my lunch I realised that I had to post today after all.

You see, today’s Dare is entitled Love Blesses and the Scripture reference is, you’ve guessed it, the priestly blessing (also known as the Aaronic Blessing as it was given to Aaron to pass on to the Israelites). 

The Dare begins with explaining what a blessing actually is:

‘To bless someone actually means ‘to speak well of’.  It’s a parent using their God-given authority to verbally affirm their children for who they are, while also encouraging and inspiring them towards future success.’ (Love Dare for Parents, Kendrick, B&H Publishing Group, 2013, p161).

I often speak of my sons as being gifts from God, blessings that he has given me.  But reading the definition from the Love Dare seemed different so I googled the word ‘blessing’ to find out more. 

Good old Google gave me a few different definitions including the one above but also, ‘a beneficial thing for which one is grateful’!  Phew!

So, the dare for today is write a blessing for each of the Junior GGs thinking of now and looking ahead. 

Our meal is going to be late this evening but I’ve written out the blessings and will read them to the boys (if they haven’t eaten the table first because I’ve dilly dallied so long … boys are ALWAYS hungry!) … and here they are:

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Son No1 – You are so special, your birth turned me into a Mum and you bear all my parenting mistakes with a hug and a kiss.  You make people smile and feel welcome … you never pass anyone you know, whether old or young, teacher or pupil, without greeting them and, if you can, you always use someone’s name … that makes people feel loved.  You have a real talent when it comes to music, your ability to play by ear amazes me and it surprises me sometimes that you don’t realise just how good you are.  I truly believe that your future lies within the music industry in some way if that is the path you choose to take.

Son No2 – My precious boy.  You have an infectious laugh and it is one of the sweetest sounds to hear you laughing and chuckling as you watch something or talk with one of your brothers.  Life is so hard for you in so many ways but you are a warrior, you may worry but you overcome far more obstacles that you ever let beat you.  I love how fascinated you are with food.  I love that you will experiment and try new foods and that you like to cook whenever you have the opportunity.  My clever son, you can do whatever you set your mind to, even if your route may be a little bit different to that of some other people.  Be yourself, shine as you are.

Son No3 – My star.  Your caring heart is beautiful to watch.  It fills me with delight to see you working out ideas to make life easier for other people.  Your compassion when gathering together items for the shoebox appeal was heart-melting.  You have a real gift for drama despite your reluctance to show it … you have a talent for mimicking accents and copying how people speak and have an air of comedy about you.  I love to curl up and read stories with you.  The world is out there waiting for you … I honestly believe you are capable of anything you put your mind to!  Keep smiling because seeing your smile can cheer me up on the hardest day.

My sons, I give thanks to God every day for you.  I thank him for giving me the privilege of being your mum, for having the joy (yes, even on those really awful days) of parenting you and teaching you.  I’m thankful for the family we are … you, me, Dad … we are all meant to be together, we are Team GG.  I pray for each one of you every day and my heart’s desire is that each one of you comes to love God and lives your life doing what he wants you to do.  I love you.

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Fireworks …

Ach!  I had today’s blog all written and ready to post … and I’ve ditched the lot.  Sometimes that happens … I write a post and then something else happens and somehow my original writing doesn’t seem to fit so well.

So, we’re into November … it’s old news really but, hasn’t this year flown past!  Even Son No1 keeps telling me that time is flying past … although Sons No2 & No3 tell me that some school days seems to last for ever.  However it’s the weekend … a full two days with my four favourite people, I can’t think of anything better.

This evening we went to a firework display as a family.  This was a big event for us.  Social occasions are difficult for several members of our family and the thought of un-known numbers of people milling around can be quite overwhelming.  There was lots of discussion and lots of ‘What if’ questions asked … the final decision was that we would park the car somewhere that the occupants could still see the fireworks without having to be part of the melee if that was what they chose.

It was a great night.  The fireworks were awesome … way more exciting than my poor attempts at capturing them on camera.  We spent time chatting with friends, making new friends and watching our boys running about playing with their friends … special memories are so easily made.

Already in GGHQ talk is turning to Christmas … I’m often reminded that it’s ‘just next month’ although it really feels as if the Christmas decorations were only packed away a couple of weeks ago. 

I love the lead up to Christmas.  I love building up the anticipation for the Junior GGs with variations on advent calendars (this year it’s a home-made one with something for everyone each day).  I love the fun of the boys opening the Christmas Eve box which invariably contains new pyjamas for us all, hot chocolate, a DVD and maybe some sweets and I love then getting all cosy and watching a movie with the boys before they go to bed for the first time that evening.

Last year we set aside two boxes for Christmas Day … each day in December the boys chose a food treat that they would like for the holidays and we bought one for each box.  A couple of days before Christmas we took one of the boxes to the foodbank … it was a really interesting experience for the Junior GGs as, whilst they donate to the foodbank through school, it was the first time they’d seen just how much is needed … all three boys came away from the foodbank feeling challenged and are keen to do the same again this year.

Anyway, today is Day 32 of the Love Dare for Parents and it’s all about ‘Love Prepares’. 

In day to day life I do try to be prepared.  If there isn’t a degree of preparation in our home then getting the three Junior GGs out to the right school at the right time probably wouldn’t happen.  Living with autism means Mr GG and I have learned that the boys find comfort in knowing what’s happening.  During termtime life is fairly straight forward … each day is relatively structured and the boys generally know what to expect.  In school holidays we try to plan each week so that the boys can easily see what’s going to happen each day.  We’ve also tried to throw a change in now and again as, however hard it is, we have to prepare our boys for life which, as we all know, is unpredictable and throws us a curve ball from time to time.

One area I enjoy planning is our menu.  Each Sunday my foodie boy and I sit down together and plan breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the week ahead.   As with our calendar, now and again we have to swap meals when circumstances dictate but we find having a menu means that the boys know what to expect (and when to moan all day because they’re not going to like their evening meal!).

However, the Love Dare is talking more about preparing our children for life.  My shelves are full of books (back to reading again) about various issues that the boys may face in life … as a mother I want to be as prepared as I can although I’m horribly aware that no parent can be prepared for every eventuality.

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The Dare for today is to make a list of topics that Mr GG & I need to discuss with our children from relationships to puberty, teenage years (eek!) to facing illness and death, from handling day to day choices to preparing for independent living.  I certainly think my shelves are full of equipment to prepare so I guess now the thing is to find the extra hours in the days to read all the books I’ve lined up for myself!

Ah well, time to go … I hear a book (or 10) calling …

Who’s a bad influence?

Twice in one week … don’t get used to it!  However, I’m supposed to be doing coursework and, as any student will know, procrastination is a finely honed skill directly correlated to the amount of studying needing to be done!  Friends … now is the time to visit GGHQ … the housework will be up to date, there will be freshly made brownies available and, who knows, I may even have painted the ceiling that desperately needs some attention.

 

It’s been a lovely Saturday here with Mr GG and the Junior GGs … we spent time with grandparents, we spent time together as a family and we got on with some chores that needed doing around the house.  I even managed to get my act together and do some candle-making … the results are setting at the moment.  I think Mr GG is hopeful that I’ll be bitten by a candle-making bug … I love candles and nearly always have some burning in the kitchen while I work or at the table as we eat our evening meal together … it can be an expensive business! 

The clocks change here tonight … it heralds cosy dark nights, Christmas and winter … coats, hats, scarves and gloves have been brought out of the attic in preparation and the winter coats have been set out ready for the cold mornings.  The first frost has already taken me by surprise and, as every year, resulted in the school drop-off running late!  I love this time of year … I love the colours of the trees and walking through piles of leaves that rustle underfoot.  I love the promise that winter is coming and days when the cold stings our cheeks as soon as we go outside.  I love living in a country where we have seasons (admittedly sometimes all four in one day) and I love the anticipation of something new every few months … I’ll be as excited when the clocks change in spring heralding longer days and lighter evenings.

A huge thank you to everyone who got in touch with me after my last blog post.  Thank you for the notes and cards that were sent to me, for the private messages that I received and for the words of encouragement.  It means so much to me.  I try to be as honest and open as I can be … I find it cathartic, and good practice as all too often I put on the “all is fine” face when I see people.

So, today is Day 31 of the Love Dare for Parents and the subject is ‘Love Influences’.  As parents or grandparents or carers or teachers or, well, anyone who spends time with children we all have an influence on the little ones we come across.  It’s up to us whether that influence is a good one or a bad one. 

I have a lovely memory of a dear uncle teaching me to jump in puddles when I was a wee tot … whether the memory is real or has been cobbled together from stories that I’ve heard I’m not sure but it’s there … and I remember later in my childhood talking about it with him and he laughed saying he was a bad influence on me.  Not at all!  Jumping in puddles was fun … he was, probably unwittingly, teaching me to embrace times when life wasn’t exactly as I would have liked it … he was helping me make memories that I treasure … and while nowadays a number of factors mean that I don’t get to see him as often as I would like I still have those memories that I hold dear.

Everything I do has an influence on my sons … and, as I’m sure most parents will agree, that’s not always a good thing.  When I’m tired or crabbit or stressed I show my children the side of my character that I’m not proud of … and those are the times when I have to go back and apologise to the boys, admitting that I’ve done wrong.  Those times, whilst not easy, can open the door to some of the most exciting conversations … times when I can talk to the boys about how I have so much to say sorry to God for as well as to them … times when I can tell them, again, that although the consequence of sin is death that Jesus has paid the debt once for all. 

The Dare for today is to make a list of Christian books, music and movies that will inspire and encourage my sons over the next years.  To be honest, I find that hard … when it comes to books I have lots … I’ve always loved reading and since becoming a wife and then a mother I’ve read many books about becoming better at the roles I’ve been given.  I originally was going to say that I’ve been really restrained lately and have managed not to buy any books for the past couple of months in order to catch up with reading pile … but, *hanging my head* I have to admit that I’d forgotten a book I’d bought this week and am really excited to read … ‘Fingers in the Sparkle Jar’ by Chris Packham.

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So, as a reader myself, I’ve naturally tried to cultivate that love in my sons and, yes, they all do enjoy reading … but I’m at a loss at how to encourage them to read more Christian books … I wonder if I’ve truly looked enough and searched for Christian books that will grab their attention and encourage them as they grow older.  A couple of years ago the Topz Books were a big favourite with the Juniors and one of the first choices when it came to curl up reading together times.  But, time passes and, certainly the older two, have moved past that stage … I need to find something that they can relate to at the stage they are at now in their lives.  Any readers who have recommendations I’d love to hear them!!

 The music side will be left to Mr GG … whilst we both love music Mr GG listens to more Christian music than I do … he writes and sings his own songs too … I’m sure there’s an album hidden somewhere ready to be recorded at some point!  However, I digress … I think, as part of our teamwork, I’ll delegate that part of the dare!

Movies?  Well, I think that’s something we can look into together … we love a movie night with the boys … a big bowl of popcorn, duvets downstairs and curled up together on the big settee … recipe for a lovely evening!

So, another day is ending … one horribly tired boy is nearly in bed, another is playing in his room and another is out with Mr GG.  Can’t forget that the clocks change tonight which used to mean an extra hour in bed but these days, and for most parents, means an extra hour of children!!  Sleep well folks …

 

 

Facing life’s challenges

Ach, here I am again … too much dithering about and not enough writing … this Love Dare is taking me a lifetime to complete … or, at least, around the lifetime of an octopus (trying to be educational, hahaha!).

The past days, weeks, months have been, as I’ve said before, the most challenging Mr GG and I have faced.  There have been more times than I can remember when I have fallen down exhausted, crying out before God to give me the patience I need to become the mother my sons need.  I’ve been exhausted by the relentless obstacles that seem to be thrown in our direction, by the continual demands on our emotional and physical strength, by meetings which we prepare for in one way and then they go off in a completely different direction, from conversations with professionals who don’t actually “know” my Junior GGs the way that Mr GG and I do, from finding myself in situations where I’m trying to explain to the un-understanding why my sons sometimes behave in particular ways.  I’ve had periods of time where I have chosen to distance myself from the world, to step back and focus on my relationship with God, on me, Mr GG and our Juniors … time that I have desperately needed to take before falling to pieces completely.

Autism is not a straight forward path and as the boys get older they are more and more aware of differences between them and their peers.  Sometimes they struggle and beg Mr GG and I to help them stop being autistic.  I hate that.  I hate that they can be so unhappy with who they are (but can totally relate to how they feel … I see so much of myself in them) … they are, each one, awesome, clever, funny, caring, loving, talented and, oh, so handsome. 

During a recent conversation with one of the boys we were talking about how life has changed from the ‘olden days’ (when I was a child – thanks boys!) and how I remember children from my class in primary school who, looking back, had definite autistic traits, but who were sent to be taught in a ‘remedial’ class.  How thankful I am that things have changed … my Junior GGs went to a fantastic primary school where they were nurtured and accepted as they are.  I’m thankful too that, at our lovely church, the boys are known and loved and their quirks are accepted.

I truly believe that God doesn’t make mistakes.  As a parent struggling with going through the diagnosis process (and even since) people used to say to me things like ‘God only gives children with extra needs to people he knows will cope’ or (even worse) ‘Only special people have children with special needs’.  Comments like that never, ever helped me, they only gave me a desire to bop the speaker on the nose (which I never did!) BUT I am convinced that the family God gave me is the family I was always meant to have and that my boys are exactly the way God wants them to be.

As a child (maybe 11-13, certainly no older) I was given a book by a lovely family friend.  At the time of giving me the book she said that it wasn’t the book she’d planned to give me but she hoped I’d like it.  It was a book called ‘Simple Simon‘ (thankfully eventually renamed as ‘In a Summer Garment’) telling the story of the author’s son who had autism.  The book fascinated me and I re-read it several times over the years.  Later on, in my 20s, I was attending a city church where there was a family who had a son with autism … he couldn’t cope with sitting in church so a group of us would take it in turns looking after him during the service … he was a delight and I learned so very much from him.  It’s only in recent days that it has really struck home to me that God was preparing me for being a mother, right back in my pre-teen days and in the years inbetween.  Mr GG and I maybe had to wait for the right time for us to marry and then face heartbreak before becoming parents but God has prepared and equipped us for the role that he has given us. 

This is Day 30 of the Love Dare for Parents (more like Day 700 in reality) and today’s reading starts with one of the verses that I have clung to as a mother, and especially, in those pre-school days.  Isaiah 40:11 says ‘He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.’  That verse gave me so much hope and still does now … yes, my young aren’t quite so young now but I’m so aware that God is leading me and carrying my children close to his heart.

The subject for today is shepherding the hearts of our children, how we help them face disappointment, heartbreak, bereavement and, well, the difficulties of life. 

On first reading my initial thought was ‘it doesn’t apply to us’ as, other than the very real pain of facing the death of pets, the boys have not really experienced bereavement in their lifetimes.  However, they have faced disappointments and hurts and rejection by peers.  And it is never easy!

I’ve written before about a time when one of my Junior GGs was being bullied and what a challenge it was for me to forgive the bully long after my son had forgiven and forgotten.  That incident was not the only occasion when we have had to deal with bullying so, yes, my children have, like most others, certainly faced hard times.

At home, around our table and around the house we regularly talk about different issues that the boys are facing … sometimes they struggle to articulate what they want to say and retreat into themselves but Mr GG and I have learned to recognise the signs (mostly) and try to encourage them to talk as best they can.  Children don’t always communicate with words and sometimes we have to be quite creative to get a story from the boys.

Every child faces struggles, every child will have to face bereavement, cope with being rejected, have a broken heart, be mis-represented or betrayed at some stage in their lives.  It’s a sad fact that life is so incredibly difficult at times and we, as parents, have a responsibility to lovingly teach them how to cope with the obstacles they face. 

The Dare for today is to talk about John 16:32-33 and Romans 8:28-39 with our children and help to encourage them to hold on to those words when they face hard times.  They are verses I have turned to so often myself, maybe especially the ones in Romans and my prayer is that, as my boys grow up, they learn to love and cherish and learn from the Word of God just like their parents and grandparents.

So, yes, I’ve struggled over the past months, but I’ve learned too and been reassured in so many ways that God is with me, giving me the strength and patience that I need.  I’ve so much more to learn as a parent, my role changes from day to day as the boys grow up, mature and face new challenges.  I’m a blessed mother, I’m thankful for all that I have been given, even on the days when I feel like I’m clinging to my sanity purely by my pinkie!

 

Challenges and changes

And just like that the summer school holidays are over … the bags are packed, lunches made, hair-cuts done (and they look great) and uniforms washed, ironed and hanging ready to be worn. This has been, without a doubt, the hardest summer we have had here at GGHQ. It was to be anticipated. The next Junior GG is moving from the security of primary school into the great unknown of secondary school. Although he’s been prepared with an enhanced transition, the apprehension of changing school has manifested itself in levels of anxiety never seen in him before… and, as a parent, it’s incredibly difficult not to be able to help nor know what to do for the best.

Our family holiday was in Campbeltown this year. Or rather, a couple of miles outside, in a wee cottage just 10 yards from the sea. The area where we stayed was stunning beautiful. Idyllic was a word both Mr GG and I used often while there. Seals basked on the rocks right outside the cottage we were staying in. Oyster catchers and cormorants were in abundance. And, I’m told that dophins are often seen in the sea but, if they were there, they certainly managed to leap and frolic well out of our visual range!!

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BUT, it wasn’t home.

On the morning after we arrived, as we gloried in the magnificence of all around us, the boys wandered about exploring rock pools, counting seals and paddling around in the sea. Our ‘water boy’ was in his element … he was happy … truly at peace … something we so rarely see. A few minutes later he wandered back to the cottage and, as he passed me said, ‘My leg is stinging a wee bit. I’m going to have a shower.’ He wasn’t distressed, even when he appeared beside me a few minutes later with a leg like this …

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Yes, he’d picked up a jellyfish and, fascinated with the texture of it, had set it on his leg. We scurried back inside, doled out some antihistamine and set off to find a pharmacy to see what else we could do. In true autism style, the sting (which looked agony) didn’t appear to be causing much discomfort whereas a tiny wee piece of skin sticking out from the side of his nail was enough to cause a full blown meltdown. I will never get used to autism, never fail to be surprised by the extreme reaction to a minor complaint as opposed to relative nonchalance when faced with much more painful (but less obvious) ones.

The combination of anxiety about leaving primary school and trauma of being away from all things familiar were, I believe, too much and, after a few days that I’m still struggling to speak about or recall, it was eventually agreed that we would return home a few days early.

The rest of the summer holidays continued pretty much in the same way. My boy was anxious going beyond our garden and I truly believe that if we’d left him to his own devices he would have spent the entire summer going between his bedroom, the kitchen and the garden … oh and the bathroom … he does like to be clean!

Anxiety is horrible. For years my boy has lists of words that upset him but is too frightened of them to tell us what they are other than they’re not swear-words. Now and again he’ll come to me and, making sure no one else can hear, will whisper ‘That word [you, Dad, etc] said. That was one of the words that frightens me’. Songs from TV programmes haunt him. He is utterly terrified of being in crowds of people (I’m with him on that one). The thought of someone dressed up paralyses him (again, I’m with him there!). Going somewhere new frightens him. Going somewhere we’ve been before traumatises him in case he meets someone he knows. Meeting anyone out of context is enough to bring a fun day out to a screeching halt. The cinema is an absolutely no-go, not because it’s noisy but because once he saw a school friend. And no amount of reassuring or therapy has made progress in reducing his anxiety.

Mr GG and I feel like we are constantly walking on egg-shells because we don’t want to frighten him more than he is already. Yes, definitely, the last months have been utterly mentally exhausting for our family.

Today’s Love Dare is about listening to our children. I honestly hadn’t read this dare before I wrote my last piece where I mentioned wanting the Junior GGs to grow up knowing they would be listened to by Mr GG and I.

Listening and hearing is such a vital skill to possess. How easy it is to just let our children rattle on while we shove ‘Uh-huh’ and ‘OK’ in now and again. Children aren’t daft, they know fine when we’re not really listening or interested in what they want to tell us and, in time, will just stop. I don’t want that for the Junior GGs. I’m not perfect, I fall into the trap of not really listening far more often than I should but I’m ever hopeful that practise will stop me from doing that.

The oldest GG is now into his teenage years and wholeheartedly embracing the teenage attitudes. I’ve often said, to him, to Mr GG and in prayer that I want to maintain the communication throughout these years so that when he eventually comes through the other side we’ll still have a relationship where he wants to and will confide in me.

I love this quote … it says so much more succinctly than I ever could, just what I’m striving for at home. ‘Too often young children, especially teenagers, keep the deepest matters of their lives buried and hidden from their parents. They don’t feel invited to share. Or perhaps they’re just afraid of being ignored or rejected if they pour out their true feelings, needs and concerns. But you, as their parent are the very one God has commissioned to love them at this level.’ (The Love Dare for Parents, Kendrick Brothers, Day 29)

The dare for today is to take each of my children out for a special meal alone over the next week. That’s not going to happen! For one thing, we just couldn’t afford to do that … rather, I’m planning to spend time alone with each of the boys doing something together with them. Maybe we’ll go out for a drink and a cake somewhere (but, one boy wouldn’t like that!) … maybe we’ll got out for a muddy walk somewhere (one boy DEFINITELY would like that) … or maybe we’ll send everyone else out and spend some time baking cakes (and everyone would like that!). I can’t always follow the dares to the letter … but I’ll most definitely be spending time over the next week finding opportunities to have one to one time with my lovely Junior GGs.

So, off to bed for the GG family … an early start beckons and the start of a new academic year with all that it holds. Despite the anxiety from one, excited anticipation from another and resignation that the ‘perpetual torture zone’ awaits from yet another none of us quite know what the next year holds … new teachers, new experiences, new lessons. It’s a time of change.

Oops, it’s not still March …

[I’m feeling slightly ashamed of myself but, I’m going to post anyway … this blog post was originally written in March so although I’m talking about frogs and frogspawn, it was entirely relevant at the time. I’m not going to completely write something new just to save face … I have to accept the reality that I will probably never be a reliably consistent blogger … but those of you who know me probably know that already! So … here goes …]

Mum, Mum, Mum we found frogs in Grandad’s garden … Mum, Mum, Mum I accidentally stood on one, but it was OK and hopped away … Mum, Mum, Mum we’re going to get some frogspawn and have our own pet frogs … Mum, Mum, Mum isn’t it great we’re going to get frogs … Mum, Mum, Mum I’m so happy to tell you about the frogs cos I just know you’re going to be so excited … Mum, Mum, Mum when is Grandad bringing us the frogspawn, is it today? … Mum, Mum, Mum I’m so excited, aren’t you?

This was my welcome home the other day, everyone talking, getting louder striving to be heard! However, it appears that the boys have not grasped that frogs, toads, slugs, snails, anything like that, absolutely give me the heebies. Not all that long ago I picked up the lid of one of the (many) recycling bins in our garden and inadvertently touched a slug … I screamed, danced about in horror, screamed some more, cried a little, washed my hands several times trying to wash off the feeling. And, anyone who knows me may want to ask my Mum about the time she asked me to wash leeks picked from her garden that came with added protein!

Truth is though, I was really pleased for the boys, they were so completely delighted to have discovered the frogs … it was lovely to see them so excited and chattering away about the anticipation of watching frogspawn hatch eventually and later that evening, frogs and frogspawn featured significantly when we prayed together.

My last post was quite raw and open for me and I was truly humbled by the number of people who sent me messages or stopped and spoke to me about it. Maybe the post was more honest and vulnerable than others have been, I don’t know, but I want to thank everyone who got in touch, it meant so much to me and, even now, months later I still often think about it and feel touched by the encouragement I was given.

For some reason I often find it hard to sit down and write … I tend to read the Love Dare challenge and think about it for a few days before I start a post … OK, maybe even five months. There are only twelve days left after today’s and I’ve started thinking about what to write about next. At the moment I’m thinking about blogging my way through ‘Desperate’ by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson but I may change my mind before then … after all, who knows how long it will take me to get through the next twelve dares!

So, Day 28 in The Love Dare for Parents is entitled ‘Love is God’s Word’. This Dare is to think about family devotions, spending time reading God’s word and talking about it as a family. Over the years we’ve done different things with the boys. When they were tiny we used to read a story Bible with the boys … I have lovely memories of sitting on a rocking chair in Son No1’s bedroom when he was only months old, looking at pictures and reading to him. I know I did the same with the following Junior GGs but the pictures aren’t so vivid in my mind.

Mr GG and I have adapted our devotional times as the boys have grown older. Currently we are working our way through a wee book on Proverbs called Wise Up (Marty Machowski, New Growth Press, 2016) and have some interesting chats with the boys about what we read. They’re enjoying working their way through Proverbs and from time to time mention what we’ve talked about during the day.

These days we find that morning is the best time to read the Biblimg_30761.jpge and pray together and it’s one of my favourite times of the day. We have a ‘big breakfast’ (the menu often depends on whether it’s a day Mr GG works at home or not), sitting around our lovely big kitchen table chatting about our plans for the day ahead and, for those of us who find sleep harder to leave behind, slowly coming to with a lovely big mug of tea. Often I set the table the night before and fuss about making sure the plates etc are all colour co-ordinated … Mr GG fears that our boys pick up some of the quirks and traits from me … I’ve no idea why!

We also spend time individually with the Junior GGs praying together, reading and chatting at different times of the day … for me, one of my favourite places to talk with the boys is on my bed … it’s the place where we have the most honest discussions, where fears are admitted, where confidences are shared and where we just enjoy talking together. One Junior GG in particular often wants to talk to me about things that worry him so we go up to my bedroom and he makes sure the door is firmly closed so no one else can hear. I can tell the level of his anxiety by how carefully he shuts the door and makes sure it’s secure … once he’s satisfied the door is closed, and only then, his fears and worries will come tumbling out and he’ll ask me to pray. It’s a most precious time for me but, quite honestly, it breaks my heart to know just how much my lad worries and frets over things.

The boys all enjoy too going out to Mr GG’s mancave and talking with him there. The mancave is a ‘mum-free zone’ … it’s cold and a bit too outdoorsy for me … and I’m never fully convinced I’ll not encounter a slug on my way there so it’s a place where they can safely have man-to-man chats.

One of the most important things is that the boys will always feel they can talk to us … I’m sure there will be things they don’t want to share but we have tried, over the years, to listen to the boys, to encourage them to talk with us, and to make them feel that what they have to say is important. [I don’t always find that easy, especially when one or other of the Junior GGs is talking about gaming … I just don’t understand it … there I’ve admitted it!]

I’ve quite enjoyed this dare … I found it challenging at first but it’s been encouraging to look back over the years and reminisce about the times we’ve talked with and taught the boys. We fondly remembered the summer we studied The Christian Armour, in Ephesians 6 and had an outline of one of the boys (I think maybe Son No2) on the wall complete with armour and memory verses. He was affectionately known as Ryan for some reason and was definitely a topic of conversation for visitors who came over the months he resided in our kitchen.

So, I would like to have the Love Dare for Parents completed by the end of this year … it’s certainly possible but who knows … I like to keep you all guessing!

Update

Mr GG thinks it might be helpful for me to point out that it’s not all roses, glitter and unicorns in our home … not everything goes to plan … this morning, for example, as we had our family devotional time ‘someone’ sat clutching her cup of tea with barely open eyes, one son sat staring off into the distance and couldn’t have told his dad anything that was mentioned, another son sat picking a scab on his leg and yet another sat making faces as he fought imaginary enemies.  Yes, we have some lovely conversations and discussions and talk about things happening around the world and Christians we know and love in other countries but there are days like today when no one seems particularly focussed or cooperative (and yes, that’s me with the tea … I don’t like mornings!!) …