Toy Story

Lovely midday weather here in Yorkshire.

It’s funny how you can overthink even the simplest of tasks. We try to make Saturday evening the official movie night of the week. A regular thing for son to look forward to. Popcorn, cola and a great movie. We save up new movies for the full Saturday experience. If we don’t have a new movie then the next best thing is a blockbuster. For days I had been working on a list of potential movies for this Saturday. Scores of candidates slowly whittled down to three favourites.

The Martian

Terminator – Dark Fate

Rocketman

So Saturday night arrived. I proudly gave son the list of three movies.

Ok Dad, let’s watch Toy Story.”

And with that it was Woody and co. A top top movie. Perfect escapism for today’s anxious world. But how much energy did I waste on picking an unused movie list. But I guess the point is that it successfully distracted me for a few days. While watching the movie I played my usual game of trying to pick which character I was most like. Toy Story was easy, clearly I am Rex. Although this morning I am a bit more Mr Potato Head.

We often forget how stressful the current situation is for kids. Confined to base, seeing parents stressed, unremittingly bad news on social media, kept apart from friends. In our sons case the confined to base and kept apart from friends is not really an issue. But his Aspergers requires routine and controllability. These have gone out of the window over the last few weeks. Adjusting to different daily routines. Food on the set weekly schedule (which has been in place for years) becoming unavailable. A completely unpredictable world. The fear of illness and worse ramped up by a spreading pandemic. He’s so young, had to deal with so much already and he’s facing this.

He asked what my best guess was for when things might begin to settle down a bit. Sadly I couldn’t say anytime soon. When he asked about schools opening and I couldn’t see anything happening and sticking before September.

“Dad is that September 2020 or September 2021”

I wouldn’t like to bet my shirt on that. We just don’t know who long the current restrictions will be in place for. When they do come off, how long before they need to be reintroduced. But we just have to deal with that. I’ve got to focus on the one overriding aim. Give son the best childhood possible. So we make the best of the new normal. Strengthen the new routines. AND above all try to have as much fun as possible. So Toy Story is perfect. It’s fun. Thank you Woody and co.

Pizza Saturday

A new day. Let’s not allow any crap from yesterday mess up today. The cynical side of me is shouting – today probably has enough new crap to keep me occupied. But today is a new page and let’s see what it brings. Pigging lots of fun I hope.

Late last night (430am) I finally gained some control over my two brain cell super computer. My mind wandered to the stuff which social distancing is stopping which we could run virtually.

A virtual darts league

A virtual computer gaming league ( would be even more fun if it was just for those whose middle name is something like ‘Games Nube’ or ‘Apart from the old Atari tennis game I’m generally Crap’)

Virtual Cooking schools and bake offs (we did a brilliant one last year)

Virtual Gardening Clubs or in my case a Virtual Mass Plant Murderer Club

Virtual Exercise or Yoga Gyms

Virtual Book a major event. Say Wrestlemania, LiveAid, Woodstock, The Great Exhibition

Virtual Coffee Meet-ups

Virtual let’s recreate the cinema experience and watch the same film then review it night out

Virtual Homeschooling school gate meet-ups

Virtual bad hair days

Virtual fashion disasters as we can do whatever we like in our homes. Really go for it

Virtual design with Lego or whatever you have in the house challenges (come up with a theme and see what people and the kids make)

Virtual let’s write a song together gigs

Virtual let’s make pizza lunches.

On the subject of making pizza. Well that’s what we have just done.

Yes it’s not to Pizza Express standards. But we don’t care because we had fun… and yes I know the work surface needs a good clean…… Our pizza session also introduced a new concept to me. Ethical Cooking Balance.

Son looked at my attempt. A pizza which was completely dairy, gluten, meat free. Then back to his. A normal ham, full on dairy pizza.

“Dad I think your pizza looks a bit sad. It needs something. Maybe some proper cheese and ham”

“Well son it won’t be ethical then would it”

Well think about it. I will take some of my existing topping and put that on yours. You then put some of your ethical topping on mine. We have not used any less ethical products and not used any more unethical stuff. The quantities are exactly the same as before. But now my pizza is slightly more ethical and yours is slightly less ethical, but will taste infinitely better. So we still have balance”

I tried but couldn’t really argue with that. So that’s what happened. And yes he was right – it did taste so much better….

Sausage Roll

Castle Howard is only a few minutes drive from our house. The photo is Castle Howard not our house. Sadly we don’t go that often now as it’s so expensive. Which is a shame as it’s truly stunning stately home.

Work came to a premature end at 10am this morning. That’s the deal with zero based contracts. Yes they are flexible and can fit round being a single parent but absolutely no guarantee of work. So a deep blue sky beckoned a first run in ages. The plan was to drive home and just run from the bungalow. But without really thinking I pulled over at the next village when I saw an enticing path sign. I thought ‘well lets see where this takes me’. The answer was stunning run which skirted the edge of the Castle Howard estate. All for free.

My trail shoes don’t have much tread left on them so I was taking a bit of a risk running down a steep muddy bank. I lost….. A sudden grip failure resulted in a crunching fall followed by several rolls down the steep slope. All sides completed covered in mud. After a few minutes the mud began to dry in the sun. I now know what it feels like to be a sausage in a sausage roll…..

After the painful and slightly embarrassing slog the run flattened out. The reward was glorious views of Castle Howard and the Estate. I had the trail to myself which gave me time to think. Probably too much time. It’s at times like this that my mind wanders to what has been lost. At least with running I do have a release valve. Just run quicker. It works but wow I’m knackered when I finish.

It was a wonderful run around a stunning track. My partner would have loved it. She would be definitely walking rather than running. I was sad that she never got to see these views. I will just have to look for the both of us. I really hope that works for her.

The road

The road often seems so long and never ending. Somedays it is, especially when your trying to run along it straight into the teeth of a biting north wind. Absolute purgatory. But then other days the road is short and manageable. Even in my rubbish car it only takes a couple of minutes to drive it. It’s good to remind myself this every so often.

In those dreadful early days of being a widow and a single parent the journey in front of me looked so daunting. So beyond me. A road with seemingly no end. I would shake my head and just think – I can’t do this. Yet I still set off down that road. I didn’t want to but I was faced with no choice. I was a parent to a young kid who has just lost his mum. He’s was also trying to get his head round not being able to read and that new word – Aspergers. I owed it to him to at least try. Nobody else would. It was down to me.

He only gets one childhood and it better be as brilliant as is humanly possible.

So I started down that road. I had no idea where the road led to. I was so confused. As a result I was hoping to find a ready made parenting plan – an easy to navigate road map. As hard as I tried I just couldn’t find a map which I could use. I searched everywhere. So many books and articles were scoured over for that magic road map. But in the end it was a futile search. No one is going to do this for me. No easy shortcuts had been forged by others. It was down to me and I needed to own it.

Fast forward to 2020 and I’m still here. Still a widow. Still a single parent. Still slightly confused. Still travelling that road. Still haven’t come across a map. But there is a difference. That road doesn’t quite feel so daunting. It doesn’t feel quite so long now. That’s progress in my book.

Energy

Well this friend likes my baking.

These days nothing goes to waste. Always find grateful recipients of any food we can’t finish. But there is a limit.

Today has been a bit unusual. Normally the body is willing but the mind refuses to leave my sleepless bed. Today was the complete reverse. My body felt like it was just a heavy sack of spuds. However the mind was sharp. Those three brain cells of mine were purring. Screamed through the workload which freed up an hour for exercise. Here is where the problems started. The bag of spuds just didn’t want to play. I dragged my body through the session but only just. The school run became a real effort. Trying to keep up with son proved impossible. I just wanted to collapse in a chair.

Now it was time for the three brain cells to follow my bodies lead and shutdown. Basically I had nothing. Unfortunately this coincided with Pancake Tuesday. An utter and unmitigated baking disaster. A simple pancake was beyond me. The sticky mess produced was deemed even too bad for the wildlife. So for the first time in ages food went into the bin. I finally just slumped into a chair. Then it dawned on me. I had not eaten in over 24 hours. I’m on the 16:8 diet. Can only eat in one 8 hour spell. I had simple forgotten about an 8 hour food window. What a prize pillock.

Thankfully heaps of junk food has restored my energy levels. The body is now beginning to function. Unfortunately the three brain cells are now a spent force. So the status quo has been restored. Back to being a brisk walking zombie. But it just goes to show if you start to overthink life it’s so easy to take your eye off the basics. It’s also another important warning. We are down to one parent and hence we are walking a tightrope. That’s why it’s so important that in all my efforts to be a good mum and dad, that I remember to care for myself as well.

Hanging on

After all the bad weather. The floods. The driving rain. The damaging winds. After three storms. Conditions which have proved too much for the early daffodils. The snowdrops are still hanging on. They are truly wonderful little delicate flowers.

Hanging on applies to the humans as well.

Son’s anxiety levels are definitely spiking now. He is returning to the outside world after 10 days of safety within the confines of his house and garden. Days of not needing to build rickety bridges between his world and the world of others. It’s been wonderful to see a kid enjoying being a kid again. Seemingly without a care in the world. But soon school will open the gates to its hostile environment again. As hard as I try the smiles are harder won and often just a little too forced now. Today he is hanging on.

His Dad is just hanging on as well. Son’s anxieties are sending shock waves through my system. A system which is operating on too little sleep. A system which is facing its very own localised storm. A Grief Storm. These storms don’t last as long as they once did. But they still can have an intensity which still takes my breath away. Sucking the life force out of me. They often sweep in without warning. Turning seemingly light into dark. It takes me back to my climbing days. Happily climbing looking into a dry sunny cliff face, blissfully unaware of the raging blizzard which is screaming towards my back. Within seconds I am are grimly hanging onto the rocks trying not to be swept into the oblivion beneath me.

I strongly suspect this Grief Storm was germinated in my fears as a single parent and the growing prospect of homeschooling.

  • Is it the right decision?
  • Am I taking on too much?
  • What happens if my work levels and our income are adversely effected by factors outside my control. My role is heavily dependent on community and sporting based events. These are likely to be curtailed if a certain virus takes hold in the UK. That would make our financial position even more precarious.
  • Are we giving up on school too soon?
  • How will I find the time to do those things which currently help get me through the day. Homeschooling is likely to make activities like running a bit of a rarity.
  • And on and on

Wrestling with these factors on my own. Thoughts then increasingly turn to the gaping hole left by my partner. Suddenly it’s a full on a Grief Storm. So I end up just hanging on. But at least I am still hanging on and that’s a start.

Baking

It’s weaponised baking time. In my defence this beast was created without dairy, eggs and gluten. It’s also created without the slightest modicum of baking talent.

If you quickly skip over the earthquake damage it actually looks like a carrot cake. Scarily it is almost edible.

Today was a bit of a struggle for me. Just an hours sleep last night. Woken by a vivid dream about being late to pick son up from school. Every route I tried was blocked. Nobody to phone someone for help but I had no one. Complete feeling of hopelessness. That was it unable to sleep again. So tired and still with that nagging cold. A day when you just want to slump. Still feeling uneasy after that dream. That realisation that I am now running without a safety net. No backup. It’s down to me to navigate the next few years. It’s such a sobering thought. Yet it’s not just me feeling this way. Too many are basically flying solo with no co-pilot to take over if things go wrong. Whether that’s parenting, or caring, or putting food on the table or just surviving.

So like everyone else in this position you just have to force yourself on. So wearily and reluctantly breakfast was made. While Son wakes up and eats I get some house jobs done. Then it’s exercise until he is ready to roll. At least by this stage I’ve got out of first gear. So it’s time to try and fill the house with happiness. Once Son kicks into gear then I have to synch with his world. A world which spins much quicker than mine. So off we go

Talks

Football

Board games

Talks

Lunch

Baking

Nerf Guns

Talks

Football

Trying not to fall asleep during Pokémon

Board games

Talks

Dinner

Talks

Movie

Bed

Blog

Collapse

Unable to sleep

Blog and here I am at 2.55am

Yes today was a struggle but the only thing that matters is that Son laughed and smiled a lot. He’s happy so I’m happy. Flying solo worked today. In fact even the baking worked today. So a good day. Yes a tired day but a good one. Job done…. So we dust ourselves down, hopefully sleep at some stage and we go again tomorrow.

Dad are you cheating

Dad I hope your not cheating”

No son of course not”

Dad I saw you. You went outside with some bread and seed. You tried to get the birds in next doors garden to move into ours. You also went over to the tree on the road and you tried to tempt the birds onto our lawn”

Yes I did. I was desperate as it was the RSPB Garden Bird survey this weekend. You can only count birds that land in your garden. This weekend even our normal visitors were refusing to land. Yes I know no shame. I did go and try to tempt birds from next doors garden. Yes I did go underneath the trees to try and tempt birds into our garden. Those beaks and eyes looking down at me in the same disdainful way Hitchcock’s Birds looked upon their soon to be victims.

Eventually a few reluctant souls landed but none of the birds I had tried to tempt.

Came across a great poem from Tina (Pippi’s Poetry) that fitted perfectly with the bird count theme. Thanks Tina for letting me share it.

I’m trying to bee more English
As I take my afternoon tea
It’s the simple things that make life sweet
They are perfect gifts that make life complete.

I’m dreaming of an English landscape
Where daffodils seem to grow wild
And a yard is called a garden
As it was in the beginning–before the world went wild!

I’m imagining a pretty country home
Where sheep graze in distant fields
And bird counting is an annual event
For life is short, and joy it can steal.

So I’m trying to bee more English
As my mind buzzes with daffodil daydreams
And of a land I’ve never been nor seen
But for the views I’ve glimpsed through my t.v. screen.

Tina S.W.
January 26, 2020

The birds that did kindly consent to being in my garden count are regular visitors. They don’t bother flying off when we come out now. I know them better than most of the humans in the village. So far in 2020 I’ve spoken to one person from the village. Whisper it quietly I speak to these feathered characters everyday.

Tina in her wonderful poem spoke of the English landscape and daffodils. Today that landscape was cold, grey and bleak. But bleak is good some days.

It matched my mood. Walking through the village which once seemed so full of familiar faces and friends. Now it seems cold and full of strangers. A world I don’t fit anymore. Yet a few strides and I’m back in our garden. Amongst friends again. My world has shrunk but it’s still a world of beauty.

A welcoming party waiting for today’s food offerings.

Dad are you cheating again. I’m not falling for that one.”

Yes I was. Every year we watch the famous Kitzbuhel Skiing Downhill race on telly. Every year we play the who can spot The Terminator first game. The race crowd is full of famous people but the crowning glory is always Arnold Schwarzenegger. This time we recorded the race. My cheating plan was while Son was having a bath I would fast forward through the recording to try and spot him first. I was busted before I could find him. On the actual viewing I lost the game – yet again. Arnie always where’s a warm hat here. No wonder I couldn’t spot him on my fast forward cheat.

Just goes to show cheating doesn’t work.

Grief and muddy puddles

A brief respite before the next storm arrives. Grey, cold and very muddy. Soon to be grey, cold, very muddy, very wet and stormy. It’s been one of those winters. Constantly just trying to avoid deep muddy puddles. Today I failed. My old running shoes have hardly any tread left on them. As I tried to sidestep a large puddle my foot slipped and I ended up standing in 4 inches of dirty water. Lovely. I really should buy a good pair of trail shoes but money is a little tight. Expenditure is prioritised. They will have to wait their turn.

If you we’re like me then you tried not to think about death and grief. I knew it would strike at some stage (that’s life) but best not think about it too much. I could understand the emotions as I had experienced losing my Dad when I was quite young. But I was shielded from much of the fallout. I really didn’t have the faintest idea about the practicalities. Years passed and I avoided thinking about death again. Then my mum died. This time no shield. Suddenly I was grieving again but this time I was also dealing with practicalities. So when my partner then died 6 weeks later. I was doubling up on the emotions and doubling up on the practicalities.

That is what’s tough about losing someone so close to you. At your lowest emotional point you are saddled with practicalities. You can’t think but you are trying to organise

  • Registering the death
  • Informing people
  • Organising a funeral
  • Sorting out your job
  • Sorting out your partners job. Returning work assets and documents.
  • Trying to work out finances
  • Trying to find the will and wade your way through probate
  • Dealing with Government Departments, Banks, Utility Companies
  • Trying to change the deeds to the house
  • Going through personal items and enduring countless trips to charity shops
  • Trying to change car ownership so I can sell her car
  • Sorting out what to do with the ashes

Your not even warned that the ashes come back in a glorified giant sweet jar. I wasn’t expecting an Egyptian Sarcophagus but I certainly wasn’t expecting a sweet jar shaped thing.

Like grief the practicalities tend to stick with you. As we were not married probate was brutal and took 15 months to finally bottom out. I didn’t expect that. I never considered that my career would have to be ditched quickly as it became incompatible with the now number one priority – single parenting. Suddenly two steady incomes dropped to one zero based hours contract income. Where did that practicality come from. I should have realised really. The sudden loss of someone your intrinsically linked with is going to send seismic waves through the very foundations of your life. Stuff will fall down. Things will change. Seismic waves – guess whose been trying to help son with Wave Theory for school.

So here we are in 2020 and I’m still dealing with grief. Still dealing with practicalities. I have managed to kinda stabilise the new post death financial world. But things are tight. Very tight. Again something I would never have immediately associated with losing someone close to you. But it is what it is. You prioritise the essential stuff. Unfortunately brand shiny mud loving trail shoes are not essential. So I guess it won’t be the last muddy puddle I end up standing in.

I guess I can forgive myself for not seeing that particular connection. Grief and muddy puddles.

Flick the switch

Ans so the transition begins.

A transition from a happy and relaxed boy to one wracked with doubt and anxiety.

School starts to flick the switch again. How many kids are going through this experience. Far Too Many.

Here the school prison gates open on Monday. Son’s words not mine.

So on this glorious winters day he tries to wade through the homework which was dished out before Christmas. He spent an hour trying to sketch a mirror image of a Scream like skull photo. The fear of picking up a negative for not putting enough effort into the drawing driving him on. Sadly I fear it’s also driving any love he might have for art well and truly out of his system as well.

Once the skull torture was finished. He started work for two upcoming spelling tests. Then time spent on Science, Mathematics and French work. Finally he needed to work hard to complete a writing piece neatly. His teachers words. Whats the point, going to get told that it’s not good enough, I haven’t tried enough and it needs to be done again. Son’s words.

This really can’t go on. Son deserve so much more than this. So many kids deserve better than this. Is it so difficult to make education just a little less daunting and just a little bit more inclusive. What’s the word I’m looking for. Welcoming. Another word. Enriching. Another word. Fun.

Who am I kidding. It will be the same school that he was so pleased to escape from before Christmas. But 2020 feels different this time. This time the prospect of a positive change has dimmed significantly. Our Government is now in place until son will have left secondary school. It is committed to extending the current education philosophy which has already created this hell hole. We are now facing a real risk of son being failed for the entirety of his school life. That’s a sobering thought.

2020 will start with yet another push to deliver any positive change at all. Again school and teachers will be told exactly what actions and support son needs to be put in place to make his schooling work better for him. The dialogue will be constant – certainly from my side. But deep down I know what the likely outcome is. So this year the question is probably more about what it will take for us to flick the switch and turn off this failed schooling nightmare. If we were still a two parent family then the switch would have already been flicked. Homeschooling. With Single Parenting it’s more fraught with logistical and financial issues. So many issues to address. BUT son only gets one childhood. One go at his formative years. Flicking the switch is increasingly looking inevitable.