Random Ramblings from the Watsons

Thursday, 10 January 2013

What's mine, is yours.

I know that I mention grief in it's various forms, along with the great love, and joy that comes with raising a child with special needs.

Sometimes I eavesdrop, on the special moments between my children.  Those moments when they are unguarded, when they don't know there is an adult listening..when they say what they really mean.

I think I have said before that watching the relationship between Georgia, and her older sisters, aged 9, 8 and 6, is probably one of the most special things that I have ever been gifted enough to witness.  But, the other day, the biggest joy, and along with it, quite a sucker punch of grief, came from hearing a conversation that I was not meant to be privvy to.

I had just woken up, and was on the way to the kitchen for coffee.  Georgia's bedroom is downstairs next to ours, and the other three girls are upstairs.  As I left my bedroom, I heard whispers coming from Georgia's room, which I recognised as coming from my 6yo daughter, Tana.

It went something like this:  (one sided, as Georgia doesn't talk, you see)

"Georgia, you know you won't have babies?  I mean, you might, but if you do, I will have to help you keep care of them, or mum will, or maybe Indi or Kota, as you won't be able to keep care of  babies.  I don't want you to be sad, as I will get married and have babies, and I promise that you can help me keep care of my babies.  And I will keep care of you.  You'll be ok Georgia.  Even if mum and dad get dead, we'll keep their money, and we'll use it to keep care of you.  You'll be ok, Bobo (her nickname)".

I looked tearfully around the door frame, and surveyed the scene.  Tana had pulled Georgie into her lap, and Georgia was leaning back into her, with a beautiful face lit with all the trust of one that knows she is loved.

I would never, in all honesty, wish for Georgia to have a child of her own, and that makes me sad.  I'm so happy to know that my other girls will share their babies, with all the willingness that they have shared every part of their life with her so far.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

I missed the girl you could have been, today.

This morning on the way home from school drop off, I stopped at a red light, and I turned around to smile at Georgia.  She grinned back sunnily, as soon as she saw me turn, and all of a sudden, I saw her without her extra copy of the 21st.

A lot of friends with children with Down syndrome tell me that they don't see the Down syndrome.  That they just see their children as all the same, and that often, they forget.

But I don't.  I see it every single time I look at her.  There is not a day that I don't think of Down syndrome, what it means, what it's doing, and to be honest, how it shapes every part of her.  I asked her dad once, if he ever imagined what it would be like if she was the same little girl, but just with the Down syndrome taken away.  He said he didn't, because it isn't, and can't be, and never was.  And I feel much the same.  It's not a place that I let myself go, as I know it would hurt too much.

But today, I saw it all, and I couldn't stop it, the big revelation that was triggered by that smile.

I saw a little girl with blonde hair, and hazel eyes.  She wore pigtails, and she skipped beside me.  I'd just picked her up from kinder, and I asked her how her day was.  She told me that she'd sung songs, and painted pictures, and made a special treasure, just for me.  I waited patiently as she squatted down, and fumbled eagerly with the zipper on her backpack, as four year olds do, so she could proudly present me with her masterpiece.  A picture she had drawn of her and I, with pasta shapes awkwardly but lovingly glued around the outside, to make a "frame".  I told her I loved it, and it was the best picture ever, and asked her if she would like to go for a milkshake.  She slipped her small hand into mine, and said "yes please, mummy".

I didn't see a little girl who, if I was gone tomorrow, would not even miss me, as long as someone was meeting her needs.  I didn't see a little girl who I wheel in and out of 4yo kinder in a stroller, who's never skipped beside me, who's never made me a treasure with her own hand.  Who doesn't know what a milkshake is, and is some distance away from holding one.  I didn't see a four year old that I have never held anything more than a one sided conversation with.

For just a moment, I saw what might have been, and it was so painful that it took my breath away.  I have always acknowledged grief as a part of the journey we are on, but this morning it was so searing that for a minute it almost felt like someone had died.  Someone that isn't, and can't be, and never was.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Because of you - in honour of World Down syndrome awareness day, March 21.

To my dear little Georgie girl,

I remember the moment I first loved you.  It should have been the moment you were born, and in a way it was, but it took me a while to really open my heart.  In that first couple of hours, I did all the right things, all the things a mum should do.  I held you, and kissed your dear little head, I patted you when you cried, and when I knew you had Down syndrome, I wrapped you a little tighter, and rocked you, and told you it would be ok..somehow it would.

Somehow though, I felt a little distant.  I gave you to your daddy, in fact, I was eager that he take you.  The midwife said that I could take a shower, and I stood there, feeling almost out of body, and nearly out of mind, for 45 minutes.  When I came out, the light in the room was dim, and you were swaddled tightly, and laying in your hospital crib.  The double bed in the birth suite was made up, so that your daddy could stay the night, and we could try to come to terms with what we had just learned.  We were scared baby - so, so scared.

And then I had a dream.  A dream where a midwife was standing in front of a closed door.  She told me there were lots of babies inside, and I could take any one I want - and leave you behind.  I told your dad about the dream, and he wanted to know what baby I took in my dream - but of course he knew the answer.  I flew in there to get YOU, and you rubbed your soft cheek against mine and sighed.  I can still feel it, even though it was just a dream.

And that was it - I knew we'd be ok.  In the four years that have followed, you have taught us all a lot about life, and about what matters.  The day after you were born, a midwife told your dad and I about the statistical chances of us staying together now you were part of our family, and they weren't pretty.  But because of you, we have become stronger, and more important to each other than we ever were.  That was just the beginning of your superpowers.

At home, you started spreading your little awesome a little further.  It didn't take you long to let us know that you didn't like yelling, not one little bit.  You didn't mind people screaming as they had a game of chasey, or kids yelling near your ears, but the minute there was any yelling in anger, and you certainly could tell, your demeanour changed completely.  Your little face would get so sad, and then you would hold your breath for a few seconds, and then just HOWL.  You liked people to be gentle with each other, so, because of you, we all learned to be more gentle.

You didn't like to rush.  As far as you were concerned, you had all the time in the world.  You were so good at putting up with me as I rushed you to kinder and school runs, rushed your feed, put you down to play on the floor as I rushed to put on another load of washing.  You never complained, but I saw a change in you when I put you down, a disappointment, like you just wanted to be in my arms more, to just sit, be calm, be quiet.  All things that I was very bad at, always rushing from one thing to the next.  I said to your dad that we had to hold you more, as you needed us.  So, when your dad got home, he'd sit in his chair, take you in his arms, and most of the time you would both fall asleep.  And then later on, it was my turn.  The girls were always desperate for a cuddle too...so, because of you, we learned to be slower, to savour what mattered.  And it wasn't the dishes.

You didn't like to do things quickly!  Even by the "standards" set by other kids with Down syndrome, you were pretty languid.  But when you "got" something, oh my, how we clapped, and cheered, and how many happy tears dropped from our eyes!   Your sisters were only little, but they learned really quickly how important it was when you worked something out, and how it was the BEST feeling out.  So, because of you, we learned to be patient.  There's no hurry, after all.

In the early days, I had to hand you over to doctors, to operate on your eyes.  That was really hard, and I cried, and your daddy cried, and when I handed you over to a surgeon at 5 weeks old, for your first operation, it was the scariest thing I had ever done.  But you, you barely even shed a tear.  When you came out with stitches in your eyes, when you went under again to have those stitches removed, when you were frustrated with the patches and they made you swat at your eyes, still, you didn't cry.  And we decided, if you didn't cry, then we should try to be stronger, too.  So, because of you, we learned to be brave.  Because they don't come any braver than you.

So, in honour of World Down syndrome Awareness Day, on March 21, I want to thank you, for all the gifts you have given us.  Sometimes I have sat in groups of people, and told them about how many positives that you have bought to our lives, but I sometimes see their eyes cloud over a little, as if I am trying to sell something, and they ain't buying.  But that is just simply not true.  Imagine telling people that you had met someone who taught you the true value of family, taught you what mattered in life, taught you how to slow down, and savour life, and be more gentle, and more brave, and more strong.  They would say, who is this wonderful person!?  Aren't you the lucky one?  Does it matter that those gifts were given to you by someone who just happens to have an extra copy of the 21st chromosome?  It doesn't, not a bit.

We always call you the heart of our family, and you really are.  A giant heart it is, too, as it holds a piece of all of ours.

Love you to the moon and back (and then back again),
Your besotted mummy.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

On doing it all....and doing it badly!

The events of this morning had never happened before, but they did have a familiar ring to them.

It went something like this.  We were in the car, on the way to Bakers delight, for lunch on the fly, as there was no fresh bread.  I parked right in front, flew inside, and bought two packs of mini rolls, one cheese and bacon and one Vegemite.  I felt a little happy buzz, when the assistant offered me some paper bags to separate them into for school lunches - clearly not to only flustered mum that shops for school lunch on the way to school!

We were on the way in plenty of time, and Dakota added the rolls to the other items in the lunch boxes, as I drove.  I smiled, content that everything was under control.

Then a small voice came from the back.  "Mummy, Mrs Andrews said I had to give you this note yesterday, but I forgot".

As she said the words, I knew.  Prep entrance testing, and I knew it was Wednesdays, and I knew this was the last one, and worst of all, I knew that I had booked Montana in for a 9am spot.  Crap.

Pull into the school carpark, and try to decide what is worse.  Ringing the school and saying that she can't come, knowing that I will mess up a really important schedule, or find a way to get her in there.  Miraculously she has dressed herself this morning (preps have Wednesdays off for the month of February, and Montana has been doing school runs in her pi's on those days), but she has not put on any shoes.  I put the other children on the job, and we scratch around frantically in the car for something she can wear in on her feet.  Finally come up with a pair of ill-fitting thongs, and I think we're on our way.

Then, disaster.  I realise that Georgia's stroller was in the front seat that morning, and Dakota needed to sit there, so instead of putting it in the boot, I chucked it under the carport.  I didn't have a stroller for her, and she is too heavy to carry, so there was no way I could go in.

I rang the office from my mobile, from the car.  Could I send her in with her sisters, and then drive home and get the pram, and come back and collect her after the testing?  They are so used to me flying by the seat of my pants, that this time they cheerily say, "sure, send her in", without the audible sigh that usually accompanies these exchanges.  I send her in, watching her struggle behind her sisters, as she doesn't do thongs that well yet, and thinking about how extremely fail I am.

Drive the 15 minutes home, put some clothes on Georgia and give her some weetbix.  She looks faintly alarmed at the quick turn around back into the car, but luckily she is an easygoing kid.  Drive 15 minutes back, and pick Tana up just as Mrs A is wrapping up.  Drive home, thinking that was really a power hour....and not my finest.

I'd like to say that the above is an isolated type of event - but it's not.  School excursion notices and permission sheets are nearly always signed on the last possible day, and usually with reminder notes sent home with the children, and, if they go unread, a phone call.  My house is a mess, as I clean one part of the kitchen, then wander off and put a load of washing on, then do a bit of the bathroom, then onto the computer to pay a bill, or trawl Facebook, never really finishing any tasks.  I am doing fine with my studies so far, but that is only because I have a good retentive memory for what I learn in class, and rarely need to refer back to my notes.  On the odd occasion I do, I find them all over the place, and take 10 minutes to find a paragraph that I know is there, and that I should have been able to find in 2.

I often wonder if I should have tried to do less, but do it better.  Would I be a better mother, if I had had less children?  I know there are neglectful mothers out there.  Even abusive mothers.  There are kids denied even the basic care.  My kids are well cared for, fed, clothed, generally provided for, and very, very loved. I just hope they don't think they could do better with a mother that was slightly less scatty, and all over the place.......

Has anyone else been this shockingly disorganised and managed to turn it around?

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Help your babies to accept mine

We were a bit late for kinder this morning, and all the littlies were playing outside.  As I pulled up, most of the kids stopped what they were doing, and ran towards the fence, yelling "Georgia!  Georgia's here!"  They waited patiently while I unpacked her stroller, and then surrounded her as we walked in, all chattering away at her.  Georgia gave her usual aloof turn of the head, though I could tell she was delighted, as a slight smile twitched on the corner of her lips, and her eyes twinkled.   Georgia doesn't like to give too much away, but I can see that she is finally realising what it feels like to be part of a group - to be ACCEPTED.  And as I drove away, I realised how desperately I don't want that to change.

The decision enrol Georgia in mainstream 4yo kinder was only made late last year.  I had sent her to a 3yo kinder program at the special school where I plan for to do her to be educated.  She was to do the 4yo program there too, before starting prep in 2013...but a little plan started forming in my mind about sending her to mainstream kinder, the same one all her sisters went to, and when I contacted them, I found that they would welcome her with open arms.  The deal was sealed after I chatted with Georgia's retired case worker from Vision Australia, Rob (who I am lucky enough to call a friend now).  He was delighted with the idea, and said that it would be as good for the other kids as it would be for Georgia.  As he said, "you can't fail sandpit!"  I relished the idea of being a "normal" kinder mum for one more year.  And I realised that this is the last mainstream thing that Georgia would ever do, where she is on a relatively level playing field.

The kids all accept her so readily, so unconditionally.  She doesn't really understand how to play with other kids in any sort of exchange yet, but they don't mind.  The teachers say that during free play, other kids bring toys etc and just sit near her to play, just wanting to be around her, and when they are around the table, there is quite a competition to sit with her.  I think as kids, they can feel her gentle aura, something that has touched all of us at home, and pretty much everyone who has ever met her.

Sadly, I know it won't always be this way.  Most of the kids at my 3 older girls primary school know Georgia now, from seeing her at school pick up's etc.  My blood ran cold when my eldest child (now 8) came home last year from school, and asked me what a "retard" was, as someone had told her her sister was one.  I knew it was coming, but it was pretty hard to explain to such a small child that people were sometimes unkind because her sister was different to them.  That she was going to have to learn to stand her ground, and stand up for herself, and her sister, because there was going to be more of it.

At the same time though, I taught her how to educate.  To always be ready to answer questions about her sister.  Initially kids are matter of fact - they just want to know.  And the way we tell them is very important.  But the real responsibility lies with parents, and the attitudes that we pass onto our children.

So, if your kids go to kinder with Georgia, or any other child with special needs, and they ask you questions, take the time to sit down and answer them.  You can do that in any way you think is suitable for your child at their age level, as long as it comes from a place of kindness, not ignorance, or fear.  Kids learn to fear what they don't understand, and once that happens, it might already be too late.  Teach them how to be kind, how to tolerate, how it is never ok to use words such as spastic, and retard, and how to tell your mates it's not ok if you hear them saying it.  And honestly, don't use these words yourself.  Just don't.

Until this morning I couldn't have known what it would mean to me to see Georgia embraced as part of a group, to see her start to recognise it...and to wear my heart pinned on the outside of my chest, exposed...realising how easily that can be taken away from her, and that probably, one day it will.

It's a big call, but maybe with your help, that won't happen.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Indicating...a love story.

The fella has always had something of an "issue" with my need to compulsively indicate.  I can, and have been known to indicate coming out of my own driveway...at which time, if the fella is in the car (and I would have to say this is rare, if the fella is in the car, he is usually in the drivers seat, unless there is no other way), he makes some comment (complete with raised eyebrows), along the lines of "who do you think is behind you?  One of the ant's in an MG?"  The fella can be a bit of a smart arse.

The fella is a good driver, a PROFESSIONAL driver, as he likes to tell me, and therefore, he can clearly do no wrong.  He'll chuck a look in his rear-vision mirror, and if there is no one within cooee, he won't bother to flick that little lever on the right.  Waste of energy, clearly.

So, it was with much dismay that I recently had to phone the fella on a Monday morning, and let him know that, while distracted (read: borderline insane) by the cries of my children about something unrelated, I placed my foot on the accelerator, instead of the brake, flew out of the bottom of our impossibly steep driveway, and smashed into something in my very own court, which contains all of four houses.  The hit'ee (is that a word...the thing that was hit...?) came out of the altercation intact, but the hitter (my lovely Landcruiser) did not.

The conversation went something like this:

Me:  "Gaz, I crashed the car"

Fella:  "you're joking?"

Me: "is this a laughing matter?"

Fella:  "are the children ok?  Are you ok?"

Me: yes.....

Fella:  What about the people in the other car, are they ok?

Me:  Well....here's the thing...I was coming out of our driveway...the other vehicle was un-occupied.

Fella:  What?  You're *expletive* joking, aren't you?

Me:  didn't we already establish that this is not a laughing matter?

Fella:  If I didn't laugh, I'd cry.  So, have you taken the children to school, now?

Me:  No (starts crying).

Fella (takes pity):  Is the car driveable baby?  I can't come now, I am on the other side of town, but I'll be there soon....

Me:  It's driveable...the kids are inside...(more whimpering).

Fella:  So, put them in the car and drive them to school.  It's like getting back on a horse. (Of COURSE it is, how had that escaped me?)

Me:  (whimpers....)...."But, the indicator is broken, I can't INDICATE".

Fella:  Who cares?  Is your front indicator working?

Me:  Yes, but what about if someone else is behind me, and I stop suddenly to make a turn...they'll be mad at me?!

Fella:  Just stick your hand out the window if there is someone behind you, so they know what you are doing.  Take the children to school.

So, I agree, and hang up, but have no intentions of it.  Children are all inside, installed in front of ABC kids on a weekday, unpacking their school lunches picnic style on the lounge room floor, and they're in for the long haul. Pity for them that the neighbour, summoned by all the commotion, knocked on the door soon after, and upon hearing the story, insisted on driving the kids to school in her car.

Off they go, and I am left with Georgia, who needs to get to daycare.  I am kind of agreeing with the fella, about getting back on the horse, so I mentally calculate how I can get to the child care centre, making almost exclusively left hand turns.  Even in my not so built up area, I don't want to hang a righty, in case someone comes flying out of a house, roaring at me about the non-use of the right indicator.  There are people everywhere with nothing better to do, surely?

I work out that I can do it with only 2 right hand turns....one of which is a u'turn from a right lane, so people are going to go with the law of averages, and realise that I am almost certainly going to go in a right hand direction...right?  Well, not necessarily, but that is another vent altogether).

The fella rings back, seeking further re-assurance of our well-being.  I tell him that the children are safely at school, and I am just about to jump in the saddle for the daycare run.  He tells me that I only have to put up with it for one day, as when he gets home, he will move all the child seats over to his Holden SS, and we can, as he calls it "swan about in that".  After all, from what I have told him about the extent of the damage, Blind Freddy would know I fucked the car, and no indication was possible.  Thanks babe.

So, I strapped Georgia in, and set out for daycare.  I flicked on my useless indicator for my right turn out of our 4 house court...content that I had one out of the way.  I think travelled about 2 kilometres out of my way in order to execute a U-turn from  a dedicated right turn lane.  When entering the lane, I stuck a companionable hand out the window, so the people behind me knew that I was braking to enter the right hand turn lane.  I could literally see the confusion, the 'what the hell is this woman doing with her hand?", on the face of the gent behind me.  I think the fella has spent too much time on a pushie, if he thinks this primitive indicating system will work.

Execute the U'ey, precede on for another kilometre or so, and make a left hand turn onto the street the daycare is located.  Briefly consider going on another 500 metres and making a u-turn at a not too busy roundabout.  Do two things concurrently.....look in rear-vision mirror and see car travelling about .5 of a metre from the busted arse of my car...and decide to do a big, brave, PROFESSIONAL driver manoeuvre, and stick my hand in an exaggerated fashion out of the window, as he was so close to my tail he SURELY wouldn't see it unless I was making a really big deal out of it.

And lets just say that he coped fine, but as he was passing me on the left, I hear the unmistakable roar of a trucks horn, coming towards me.  I brought my outstretched arm inside the car about a millisecond before his truck removed it.

I've decided that I'm just not all that renegade.  The carseats were in the driveway waiting when he got home, and I await the return of my beloved right indicator.

Thursday, 9 February 2012


You know the term "you are only as old as you feel?"

Well, I feel a great deal older than I did before this past week kicked off.

Let me set the scene for you.  For the last 8 years, I have been a mum.  I have often used the term "only a mum"...because somewhere over those years of bearing four children, and doing everything that went with raising them (I can't say raising the fella, can I?  That would be rude...but you get the drift....) I quite forgot how to be anything else.

This year, I decided that it was time to change all that.  I saw my third child off to school last week, and Georgia is well looked after in daycare and kinder, so I took a big deep breath, and traipsed off to the local TAFE, to enrol in a Certificate 3 in Community Services.

I would like to think of myself as a bit of a youngster.  I certainly don't feel any different than I did when I last studied, and I won't say how long ago that was, but just quietly, it is soon to number in the decades...(and that is more than one decade...., is there anyway to make the type smaller for that bit...holy shit...)

Or do I?

When I went to the information session, and completed my enrolment, there were no students on campus.  There were lots of "mature" people like me at the information sessions..and that was very good.  The faculty staff were "mature", too - tick!  I had convinced myself that the years would slip away and my world would be awash with new social opportunities with adults.

Well, that did happen...and it didn't.

Life experience lends itself well to the field of community work.  I know I have something to offer, I just need to learn, and grow, and get out there amongst it.  I have been leaning towards wanting to be a Youth Worker for some years now, but what I didn't realise is that I had totally forgotten what it is like to be young.

This week, I have started getting to know the other members of my class.  There are at least half around my age and older, but there are also many that are young enough to be my own children.

Community Services is a very broad area, which is why a lot of people are doing this course, - as a foundation to build upon.  A lot of them want to be Youth Workers.  Over the last few days, I have learned that the youths of today have a lot to offer the young.

I have gravitated towards the older members of the class..especially the mums...what is with that?  You don't have to answer that, it's only natural, I'm sure.  However today, we were put into random groups to "brainstorm", and I ended up with many of the youngest members of the class in with me.

We started discussing the topic at hand, and I was briefly left wondering how they would fare in this course (which I am already finding quite challenging), and life in general.  One girl said, "like, you know what I mean?" about 30 times in the space of 2 minutes, and I'm afraid a lot of the time I didn't know what she meant.

As we got further in though, and I started to decipher the new language they were speaking, I learned a great deal.  Early days in the info sessions, the co-ordinator was at pains to weed out everyone who might just be there to satisfy Centrelink training requirements, or anyone who thought this course was a "soft option", and just about helping people.

In my group there were kids that had been in care, removed from their own homes, with stories to tell too terrible to mention.  Kids that had slept in parks and cars, and streets, and eaten out of garbage cans.   And they weren't there with some airy fairy notion of being able to help their fellow young people, but there because they were sure they could.  And they had to.

I am sure that somewhere along the line I will have something to teach them about life, but for now I am more open to what they have to teach ME.

But they're still, like....whippersnappers....know what I mean?