When I Got It Wrong

I haven’t blogged for a while. Life is pretty good overall. My husband and children have had many fantastic achievements to their names over the past few months, and I started a great new job earlier in the year, which is taking up a lot of my time.

I’m lucky in my new workplace. I love the work I’m doing, and I feel as if I fit in. I work in an IT based environment, and cliche though it is, I think my colleagues are more used to, or at least more tolerant of, people who sometimes get it wrong. There are people around me who to my eye, appear to have some autistic traits, even if they would never think of using the A word about themselves. And most of the time, I’m very happy and comfortable in my work, and with almost everyone around me.

But sometimes I still get it wrong. I have a tendency to categorise everyone into those who are ‘easy’, and those who are ‘difficult’. This doesn’t reflect what kind of people they are at all – it’s about how I react to them. Those in the ‘easy’ group are easy to talk to. They’re easy to start a conversation with. They seem more forgiving of my weirdnesses. I don’t have to watch every word or force myself to make eye contact when I’m interacting with them. And most importantly, they tend not to react in ways I don’t understand.

I’ve learned how to talk to people in a polite, friendly and helpful way over the years. It’s not false at all – I am a polite, friendly and helpful person. This is essentially my true inner self, minus some of the more bizarre quirks that come with my autism, and minus the paranoia and depression that have, in the past, come with it as well. I guess the last two stem in part from the constant feeling of not fitting in, and not understanding why. It makes sense that as I realised that I’m not neurotypical, that there are other people a lot like me out there, my depression would lift and my life would become easier.

So easy people are those who respond well to my translation of who I really am, through a kind of filter which adds some of the social niceties I’ve learned over the years. Easy people react, to some extent, predictably to what I say and how I behave – or if they don’t, it’s obvious to me that it’s them and not me. Or, they just plain tell me – other people also have bad days.

Difficult people are those who can become hostile or dismissive. They respond with rejection to overtures of, not friendship, but a friendly and informal relationship. They are those who are rude. They are those who try to undermine me or cause arguments with me, or to agree with me one minute and disagree the next. A very wise friend of mine describes it as ‘someone standing on your head to make themselves six inches taller.’ They cause instability in my mental processes, and eventually in my mental health. I don’t know if they do it deliberately or subconsciously, and I don’t care. I’ve learned to avoid such people in my social life – they drain my energy and cause me to become exhausted very quickly.

This isn’t always possible in all kinds of non-social situations. I’ve moved dentists because I couldn’t cope with a receptionist who was constantly rude and dismissive. I’ve changed jobs because I was having to work with a majority of people who were inconsistent and blamed me for the problems that those inconsistencies created. They may have had a valid point – rigid thinking is an autistic trait, and maybe NT people just adapt to inconsistency without any problems.

I’ve had to think hard how to work with such people when I have to, and I now have a plan of action, which I work my way through systematically. Some people respond well to it – some don’t. The ones that don’t, those who fall out of the end of the process with no resolution, probably wouldn’t notice. I remain helpful and friendly toward them – but I avoid them as much as possible.

There is a term – Social Story – which is a trademark originated and owned by Carol Gray. It has a very specific meaning, and a social story has to adhere to many criteria, so the things inside my head helping me cope with the world are probably not, strictly speaking, social stories. But they are something similar – they’re processes that I can select in any situation which let me know what I should be doing, and what some likely outcomes will be.

This vast set of processes serves me well in most of my life. But sometimes, I still get it wrong. Recently there have been a couple of occasions where someone I had previously categorised as easy, suddenly reacted in a way I did not understand. I’ve felt that I’ve annoyed people, and I almost understand why, but I don’t quite see how I could have reacted differently. A few days ago I was at a social event with many people that I feel comfortable with – and suddenly I couldn’t read the situation, couldn’t read the people around me, didn’t know how to start a conversation, who to talk to, what to do. I felt I was pushing in where I wasn’t wanted. And along came that all too familiar feeling of being the weirdo on the bus. It didn’t last long, because a couple of kind people saw my ‘rabbit in the headlights’ look, and invited me into their conversations – and overall I had a great time. But I don’t know why it happened.

I’ve been looking back over my life, and looking at some of the many many times I got it wrong. When I copied people because I didn’t know what to do, not realising how creepy and annoying that can be for the people on the receiving end. When I pushed myself into situations where I wasn’t wanted, because I missed the signs until much much later – sometimes decades later. When I became needy and demanding because I needed reassurance that I was actually just like everyone else – and of course, even when it was forthcoming, it was never enough, because I’m not like everyone else (in the NT world at least).

It’s humiliating. It never stops being humiliating. It is not the fault of the people who rejected me – they can’t help how they react any more than I can. If they try to be kind, I miss the signs. If they try to be harsh, I’m devastated. It’s a lose lose situation.

I think I’m doing it less often now – I’m learning the signs (I’m sure I only get things wrong about half of the time!) I’m happy enough with myself to carve my own way without that desperate need for the approval of others, so I think I copy a lot less often. But I still have times when I feel absolutely lost. When I’m living in a foreign country, where I think I understand the language, but in fact, the words don’t mean what I think they mean.

I’m lucky. I’m about as certain as I can be that my family and a few true friends love me and accept me for who I am. So I will rely on them on my lost days, and try to be the best I can be without compromising who I really am. I guess that’s my overall, lifelong, social story(TM).

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Last night there was a terrorist attack in the centre of London. So far seven innocent people have died, and three attackers were shot dead. This follows a suicide bomb at a concert in Manchester less than two weeks ago, and a similar attack involving a car and a knife on Westminster bridge in March. And there have been a myriad of such attacks and bombs in other countries over the last few months.

These are unexpected, traumatic incidents that cause appalling damage to everyone involved, and horrify the vast majority of people who witness them, either on the scene or from the wider distance. But even when such events are not taking place, on a more personal level, and a lesser scale, people do damage to each other. All of us have will been hurt by people we love and trust to some degree, at some time in our lives, with varying effects.

It’s easy to become, and remain, hurt, angry, bitter, about all of these kinds of things. There is a saying ‘Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me’. But after years of hanging on to past pain and rage, eventually I found I don’t agree. In the times we live in, with evil and trauma all round, I believe I have to make a choice. There is a benefit in being careful, wary even, taking sensible precautions – listening to our intuition, learning from the past. But there comes a point where that tips over into rage, and hatred, bitterness and cynicism. Where, if I go down that path, I lose my belief in love, and my joy in life and my ability to trust, and see the best in people. Where I start wanting to hurt other people who have hurt me or my loved ones or even, as last night, murder people I don’t know. And then I’m just perpetuating the cycle.

I wish with all my heart that no-one ever felt the need to cause needless pain and damage to others. (Needless because dentists and surgeons and doctors sometimes cause pain – and sometimes emotional healing is painful. I don’t regard that kind of pain as unnecessary). But even though they sometimes do, I will try with every part of me not to want revenge. To accept the hurt and anger that comes immediately after incidents like this, but to let it ebb away. To do what I can to stop other such incidents happening, if I can in any way, but somehow to prevent myself from becoming bitter and cynical and angry. To hold onto my belief in love, and loving kindness.

I know sometimes I will fail – but that’s what I aspire to. And if my naivety and trusting nature means that sometimes the evil in the world hurts me, I think that’s a price I have to pay. Because if I go down the path of anger and revenge, I lose my ability to help, and heal, and maybe to make the world just the tiniest bit of a better place. And in the end, if I can boil all of my spiritual beliefs down to one single tenet, that’s why I think I’m here, to do what I can to make the world a better place.

By the way, this post has the title Imagine for two reasons. Firstly, Imagine, by John Lennon, has a vision of a world where there is peace and love, where ‘the world will live as one’, a dream worth holding onto in times like these. Imagine is also a song associated with a yearly event that I and some of my friends observe, called the Celebration of Love. We have been celebrating this day for over twenty years, and gradually more and more people have started joining in. In hard times I find it helps to hold on to the thought of this day. Anyone who holds similar beliefs about love and the importance of love in the world is welcome to join in – you can find out more about the Celebration of Love here.

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I gave up my OU course this week. It was a postgraduate course, the second I’ve attempted. I didn’t enjoy the first one much, but I thought the second, having had a great write-up, would be different. The material was different (and really interesting) but the assessments weren’t.

The idea is that you learn to critically assess, summarise, and compare and contrast, academic articles from peer reviewed journals. The difference between courses appears to manifest in the subject matter of the articles you assess. I found that this is an activity that I don’t do well and don’t enjoy. So rather than struggle on, stressing myself out, doing something I don’t enjoy, I withdrew from the course.

I got my batchelor’s degree in Maths and Statistics from the Open University – it took me 17 years overall, but I did it. I really enjoyed most of the courses, and the assessments and activities and exams. Because it was a degree in Maths and Stats, most of the coursework involved questions that were basically equations, or ‘sums’, and had a right or wrong answer. There were very very few essay style questions, and those there were had a rigidly defined structure and were quite short.

The postgrad courses though, give the students a lot of freedom – we/they have to choose topics, find relevant articles, and then write long essay style assessments comparing and contrasting the articles and their contributions to the topic. For me, that’s too much freedom. Confronted by such a task, I freeze, and panic, and have no idea where to start. Eventually I do start, by kind of squinting sideways at the problem, grabbing a topic out of thin air, doing a google scholar search or a search in the OU Library, finding an article vaguely on the subject in question, and grinding my way through the summary painfully – and not very well.

The boys, middlest especially, have the same problem when confronted by homework. If there’s a list of questions, sums, or any kind of structured activity, that’s fine. But anything freeform, anything that requires them to ‘go off and find out about’, or ‘draw a poster on this subject’, results in panic, tantrums and tears.

Apparently, this is common with autistic children. There’s a strategy that can help them called scaffolding, where the basic structure of the homework is set out for the children, to help them know how to get started. Once scaffolding is in place, the task becomes easier – although still not particularly easy.

All of this has given me an insight into the way that I work, and is one of the reasons I don’t feel so bad about giving up my course. If there’s a template, and defined sources of information, I’m fine. In my working life, if there’s not a template (and there usually is), I can almost always find something suitable on the internet.

My problems come when someone asks me to ‘just knock up a one-pager’. For those of you who are lucky enough never to have heard this phrase, it means to summarise information into one or two pages of a Powerpoint presentation, usually in order to present it to much more senior people. The information they want me to summarise is usually vague and ill-considered, and there’s no pre-defined structure to what the requester wants me to present. I expect that neurotypical people can just do this stuff but I have no idea how. And I find myself getting more and more stressed, and feeling incapable, until someone supplies me with a template or a previous example. This is actually one of the (many) reasons I decided to leave my last role.

Luckily so far in my current role, this hasn’t happened, and isn’t that likely to. But I’m already planning a coping strategy in case it ever does. I’ve seriously considered having a tantrum, bursting into tears and curling up into a ball under my desk… but on reflection, I’ve decided to just say ‘Are you asking me to ‘just knock up a one-pager’? Yeah, I don’t do that’. I’m very interested to see what the reaction is… I’m already known as someone who doesn’t do ‘just pop a half hour call in the diary’ if I can possibly avoid it. Mostly because the outcome of such calls tends to be a request for me to ‘just knock up a one-pager’…

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I Don’t Know How To Wash My Face

When I was a little girl, back in the Stone Age, I think I might have washed my face with soap. Then I grew up a little, and shower gel was invented so I washed my face with shower gel.

I grew up a bit more, and became a teenage girl, and acne and various other skin problems arrived in my life. My parents took me to the beauty counters in Boots, and when they were feeling flush, David Evans in Cwmbran (our local department store, now a House of Fraser). I’m fairly certain I actually did meet the original Sacherel lady, later made famous by Victoria Wood:-) During this time I learned that cleanse, tone and moisturise was essential to every female’s daily routine – although I struggled to do it every day.

I even once went to an exhibition while we were on holiday at Pontins, where a lady with an slightly orange face and bright orange lipstick sold me some products from Oriflame. I’ve just looked them up, and they still exist! I also remember with great fondness Japanese Washing Grains – they still exist as well!

I can’t remember now how well any of them worked, but I must have tried just about everything within my price-range-at-the-time in my life. However, I was told recently that because of various health issues, I should be careful of some of the toxins that go into beauty products, and around the same time, I found Tropic Skincare. I’ve tried various of their products, and I do like them, but I’ve recently run out of my cleanser and moisturiser.

I’m getting old, you know. I’m getting wrinkly, and a bit saggy, and I have age spots on the skin on my face – they’re like really big light brown freckles, and I noticed another two the other day. I don’t mind them at all – but I feel I should be taking care of my skin, and honestly I do notice that my face feels a bit tight and unpleasant if I wash it with shower gel and don’t use a moisturiser. So I have to get a replacement skincare routine.

Now Tropic Skincare products are great, but they are pricey (quite rightly, they are very good products), and I decided to see if I could find a cleanser and moisturiser that aren’t full of toxins and are aimed at more of a budget-focussed market. However – as it turns out, it’s not as simple as that.

On The Body Shop website alone, there are:

  • gels
  • facial wipes
  • cream cleansers
  • facial washes
  • facial cleansing polishes
  • cleansing butters
  • squeaky-clean scrubs
  • clearing foaming cleansers
  • silky cleansing oils
  • a 3-in-1 wash scrub mask

I’m not unfairly singling out The Body Shop – a quick run round the interweb shows that most other brands are equally confusing. I looked at Tropic Skincare as well, but they’ve changed their range, and whatever I bought last time that worked so well, they don’t appear to sell any more, having replaced them with products that have different names and packaging…

So I’m baffled. I’m not even sure this is specifically an autism/asperger’s issue. I believe that this is a marketing ploy to get everyone to buy more stuff. I’m sure it works too. But now I’m sitting here, looking at my laptop like a rabbit in the headlights, thinking ‘I just want to wash my face’…

If only they had a product called ‘Facial Wash for Older Ladies with Age Spots and Slightly Wrinkly Skin’… and if you put that exact phrase into Google, products from Liz Earle, Vichy and Eve Lom are returned. Who knew? Still, they’re around the same prices as Tropic Skincare, and called equally confusing titles – so all in all I’ll be getting something (who knows what) from the Body Shop.

And dear readers, if any of you have any hints or tips or recommendations on toxin-free facial care for older ladies, please please please let me know!

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How I Stopped Caring (and started asking “obvious” questions)

One of the situations that causes me a lot of upset, and I believe I’m not alone in the neurodiverse world in this, is when I don’t know what to do – when it’s not obvious what my next action should be.

For instance, in cafes and restaurants. And canteens. And pubs. It’s going to be blindingly obvious to the people who own and run such establishments how they work. You come in to the establishment in question, sit down, and a waitress or waiter comes over and takes your order. But wait – sometimes, you have to order at the bar. These two types of establishment usually look quite similar, and it can be difficult to know what you’re supposed to do.

Sometimes, you take a tray and walk along toward the till with food on display, and you choose some of what you want to eat, like sandwiches or dessert, but other items of what you want to eat, like a hot main course, you have to order. Then if you do that, sometimes they dish up the hot food on a plate for you to take immediately, but sometimes they give you a number and you sit down and wait for the serving staff to come over with the food you ordered. Quite often, you don’t know what’s available until you get to the right area of the cafe (they’re usually cafes), and you have to read the menu and make a decision while the serving staff are looking at you, impatiently waiting for you to order, and there’s a queue building up behind you.

All of this becomes especially difficult to cope with if you have children with you. There have been many occasions where I’ve become too stressed out to choose anything at all, and the boys have ended up with food they don’t like because they, and I, could not make a rational decision in the face of all of this pressure.

It’s not just eating establishments that have this problem. Doctors’ surgeries and clinics are another example. They all have a different system, and they all expect you to know what that system is without being told. And cinemas – sometimes you buy your tickets from the place that says ‘Tickets’, but also quite often you buy them from the sweet and popcorn counter.

When I first got on a bus in London, I swiped my Oyster card with no problem. But I didn’t know whether you also had to swipe it when you got off (turns out, you don’t). The Tube is different – you swipe in and swipe out. And the trams are different again – I’m not sure I ever figured them out properly.

A genuine question for my neurotypical readers – does this stuff really come naturally to you? Or do you just not feel the stress that neurodiverse people feel when you realise you don’t know what to do?

Recently, I decided to stop caring and just ask. No matter how idiotic it makes me appear, I’ve started saying ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand – what am I supposed to do here?’ Or in the case of cafes where it’s difficult to find out what’s on offer, with the queues and the lack of menus, I’ll often go somewhere else.

Asking the obvious question worked at the cinema the other weekend, where the counters that said ‘Tickets’ were closed, and there was no-one there. There was one person at the popcorn counter and two people waiting to take tickets. So I said to the two people taking tickets ‘I don’t understand, where do I buy the tickets?’ And they were very nice, and pointed me to the popcorn counter.

It worked at the physio clinic, where the lady behind the desk gave me a string of verbal instructions quite rapidly. I filled in the form as she asked, and then said ‘I’m sorry, what am I supposed to do next?’ And she told me, quite pleasantly, and it was no problem.

It worked when I asked the driver on the London bus whether I had to swipe back out again, although he did look at me a bit strangely.

Problems do happen when you get a, frankly, nasty person behind whatever ‘counter’ you’re having to deal with. There is a receptionist at a particular establishment that I used to frequent, who is really unpleasant. She is deliberately unhelpful, and really quite rude when you don’t know exactly what you’re supposed to be doing without being told.

I don’t go there any more.

Perhaps I’m becoming harsh in my old age, but I’m definitely learning how to hold a grudge, and vote with my debit card. I guess being what I now call ‘somewhere on the ASD spectrum’ and used to call ‘socially inept’ makes me quite vulnerable in some ways. It’s actually a really easy way to weed out the kind from the unkind, and I value kindness above most other qualities in any person. So from now on I’ll be asking questions when I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing, and making a judgement on what response I get back. Anyone who belittles me, acts as if I’m stupid, or is in any way unkind or impatient with me because I had to ask, might just get told exactly what I think of their response. As bluntly and socially ineptly as I can.

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Autie Birthday

It’s Youngest’s birthday this week. Because I won’t be there on the day (work commitments), we had his birthday treat day today. This is the story of that day.

This year, we all went out to the cinema, with Youngest’s best friend, to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Two of our local cinemas, Vue Cwmbran and Cineworld Newport, both do Autism Friendly showings once a month on a Sunday morning (different Sundays luckily!) They turn the sound down, turn the air con off, don’t show any adverts or trailers, and advertise it as Autism Friendly, so that anyone who attends knows that children (and some adults) with special needs will be attending, and may disrupt the screening somewhat.

Youngest is, admittedly, not 12 yet. But the film is a 12A, and he loved it. Actually, all of us loved it:-) I actually did laugh out loud on many occasions, which I don’t often do in the cinema. (I will now have to go back and watch Guardians of the Galaxy 1. I didn’t like it at the time I watched it, but looking back, that might have been on Netflix while being constantly disturbed by children and cats. So I’ll try to make some space to watch it – not undisturbed, obviously, but with less disturbance).

This is not the first Autism Friendly showing I’ve been to, but I’d forgotten how relaxing it is. The sound is not so loud it’s overwhelming – in fact, at the start of GotG II the sound was so quiet we were having a bit of trouble hearing it, but they turned it up pretty fast, until it was just the right volume. And the lack of adverts and trailers was very helpful, especially because this was such a long film.

But what was so absolutely great was that all of the other people there were parties where one or more of them had special needs. So if the boys went out to the loo several times, fidgeted around on the chairs, moved chairs to see better, ate loud rustley popcorn, and didn’t moderate their voices to a whisper when they wanted something, or wanted to comment on the film, it didn’t matter – because many of the other people in there were doing exactly the same. Including me.

I didn’t realise fully until today how much energy it takes to take my boys out in public. Not because there’s anything wrong with them, but because they are different. Noticeably, flappingly, shoelessly, different. And sometimes their differences do cause a disturbance. In a non Autism Friendly showing at the pictures, we have to shush and manage so that the rest of the audience aren’t disturbed. If someone is disapproving, we have to defend our children – and by implication, our parenting. All of this is usually done non-verbally, with body language and looks. So sometimes we don’t notice it at all until it’s already escalated in the heads of the people doing the disapproving.

All of this is exhausting. But we will continue to take the boys to ‘ordinary’ screenings, if they want to go, because they enjoy it even if we are shushing and managing all the way through.

And we will continue to take them to Harvester restaurants, where the waiters and waitresses are infallibly polite, friendly, and accommodating to our children and their eating needs. Today, despite the exacting instructions from the boys (and parents, and Grandma) about the food and what it can and mustn’t contain, I took the herb butter off the steak (and had to wipe the steak off with a clean napkin), and removed all of the cabbage and green beans from mixed steamed vegetables… but no-one’s dinner had to be taken back or replaced with something else, and everyone had a great time and enjoyed their meals.

All in all, this was a very good day – another unexpected bonus:-)

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Unexpected Bonuses

Recently I read an article on the BBC News website about how parents of autistic children are expected to be relentlessly positive about their children, and celebrate their differences and triumphs. The article centred around one parent who was discussing how difficult that can be, and how she wishes her children don’t have autism – she says “I often feel there’s not really space in the autism world for a mother to say ‘I really wish this wasn’t happening, I don’t feel blessed, I don’t feel strong, I don’t feel like it’s all happening for a reason'”.

I do think that any time anyone tries to impose a one-size-fits-all attitude to any subject, that’s going to be unacceptable for some people. I’ve done a lot of thinking around the subject since I read this article, and the opinion I’ve landed on is, if you can take pleasure and pride in your autistic children’s achievements, that’s fantastic. And if your life, and theirs, is difficult and challenging and demanding and exhausting because they are autistic, and if sometimes that just plain brings you down and makes you unhappy, and you wish it weren’t so, that’s just as valid an experience.

The autism spectrum is very broad, and it so happens that our children are articulate and intelligent. So for us in the House of Autism, we have good times and bad times. Even if we could, we wouldn’t take away the boys’ autism, but we do wish they didn’t have some of the associated problems. We wish they were happier. We wish they found it easier to deal with unexpected changes, to have more friends, to not explode in anger at what seem like trivial triggers. On the other hand, if all of these were true, would they be autistic? More importantly, would they still be themselves?

There are days when we are exhausted, and fail to cope. There are days when they’ve had a bad day, for whatever reason, when life does seem dark and the future seems very uncertain. So I do understand that an insistence on relentless positivity is not balanced, or helpful.

But it so happens we’ve had some good times this weekend. And I wanted to share them – partly just to emphasise that it’s not all always a dark time, but mostly because I could bang on about my children and how wonderful and marvellous they are for hours on end. And that’s nothing to do with their autism, their struggles or their capabilities – it’s because I’m a mother:-)

This weekend The Husband is having a well-earned break from his role as primary carer, and is at a writing retreat concentrating on his other job as an about-to-be-published author. So I am looking after all three boys by myself.

Since I work away for part of the week, this is something that The Husband does most of the time, and I’m well aware that this is a full time job and a half. When he has a break, which we try to arrange for once or twice a year, I look after the boys, and apart from last year (when we had a crisis with the cat with the pacemaker at the same time he was away and I was also trying to work from home and it all got a bit stressful), I cope pretty well.

Times like these do give me more one to one time with the boys though, which is great, and fun, and full of unexpected bonuses. Yesterday, I had to pick up a parcel from the post office, which is somewhere on an industrial estate in Pontypool. I looked up the postcode but it’s not obvious where exactly it is, and the card does not give the full address. So off I went with Youngest, who is nine next week. He had the card, and instructions to tell me if he saw a sign with ‘Industrial Estate’ on it. He saw the sign – I did not. Off we went down an incredibly long narrow road, which continually looked as if it was about to go up the side of a mountain. Youngest had instructions to look for a building with the same logo as the one on the card, while I concentrated on not driving into other cars or lampposts. He spotted the Post Office building – I did not. Without Youngest in the car, I would have been driving around Pontypool for hours.

Then Middlest, who is 12, was playing in the back garden on the trampoline, when he decided to mend the washing line. He found various of those strange shaped pieces of metal that will come in useful later, and astonishingly, they came in useful. He also knows the workings of the washing line gadget and how to make it longer and shorter, whereas I have no idea – and now we have twice as much washing line as we did, and high enough up off the ground so that the towels don’t drag in the mud. I hadn’t even been aware there was a problem – but he saw an opportunity to make things better, and so he did.

Meanwhile we’ve been struggling to feed Eldest a decent diet. He’s 15, and ravenously hungry most of the time (when he’s not sleeping), but his food preferences are limited. So he decided to make an Obama list. Apparently when Barack Obama was in office, in order to reduce decision fatigue, he supplied his chef with a list of all foods that he liked, and the chef would just pick something from the list and serve it up. So yesterday, The Husband and I received a list by email of all the foods Eldest will eat – with a lovely picture of Mr Obama at the top. Eldest was so impressed at how that cleared his head and reduced his stress, that he’s decided to do the same with his clothes. In order to do that of course, he’ll have to tidy his bedroom and excavate all of his clothes, many of which have erroneously been declared missing.

Ok so Youngest made a hole in the wall after a row with Middlest, Middlest keeps forgetting his homework and has immense trouble with focus, and Eldest is a typical antisocial grumpy teenager with a bedroom that looks as if someone shook it up like a snow globe, but there are moments of pure joy when I’m so proud of them. It may be that we’re very lucky – or it may be that even those parents in the worst of situations have the occasional moment of pure joy. I really do hope it’s the latter.

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