Dear Friends…

I am excited about seeing you, my dear childhood friends, tomorrow at Martin & Steph’s silver wedding celebration. Twenty five years!  How is it possible that time has gone so quickly?  I was honoured to be a bridesmaid, to wear a beautiful dress and know that I mattered.  Version 2

If I could turn the clock back I would keep us all in Northfields and never have moved away, and I would certainly never have let any of you move away either.  We would have carried on in community, our lives intertwined on a daily basis, seeing each other’s children grow up together, as we ourselves grew up together.  But God had a different plan.  He knows best.  When I think of the friends I have met since leaving Northfields, I would not change anything; I know that I am truly blessed.  I matter to them (they have proved that especially over the past difficult two years and I am humbled).  I have a depth of love in my heart for you my sweet friends that is priceless, money can’t buy it.  God’s plan was indeed better.

Yet, paradoxically, sometimes I feel so alone.  Even a nice coffee with a friend doesn’t always ease it.  My home sometimes feels like my prison – I can escape for a quick dog walk “around the yard” (our local Heigham Park) twice a day and then it’s straight back inside.  I read voraciously; it is my escape.  We moved up here two years ago for my husband’s job, leaving colleagues and friends we loved, yet it did not work out as we’d hoped.  To quote one of my favourite lines from The Sound of Music, “When God shuts a door He always opens a window.”  God did not leave us, but rescued us, providing us with a cleaning job for Paul so that we could pay the bills.  Last summer he sold his beloved camper van mainly to pay the tuition fees for a part-time theology diploma.  He is thriving, and enjoying preaching – and I am enjoying him being happy again.

The thing we’d always done as a family, going to church, became too difficult.  Our beloved boy, struggling with autism and mental health issues, found it too much to cope with and found it difficult to leave the house.  Last week at his EHCP review, the placement at the specialist school we had such high hopes for a year ago was officially declared to have failed.  Well, we tried.  God has another plan then.

But back to church.  My husband and daughter would go off every Sunday, leaving us at home.  The kind folks at church had done everything they could to meet Sam’s needs, including giving us use of a private room.  But it was still too hard for him.  And he needed me with him, more so even than he did when he was a toddler.  Parenting had taken us on a different route than the one we had expected.  For years, our daughter was our special-needs child; she was the one having to go to the Child Development Centre; she was the one they were concerned about.  Whereas our bright little boy was reading fluently by the time he was three, and although we knew he was different from other children his age, we had not considered until some years later that he could be autistic.  Aspergers Syndrome was just not something we knew about, although now we are amazed at our ignorance and how we didn’t join the dots.

Last October I joined a choir.  Something to get me out of the house; something to help me remember that I was something other than a mum of children with additional needs.  My heart sank every time somebody asked me, “And what do you do?” – I hadn’t realised how much of my identity had been tied up in my job.  My confidence had taken a bash with what we’d been through.  How many little things had I previously taken for granted – such as having money for a hair cut (never mind highlights!), or having new clothes or shoes or make-up? Now there was just no spare money left at the end of the month for luxuries – if we could manage a weekly shop at Aldi and heat the house I was grateful! But the girls at the choir were so utterly wonderful – so accepting, so kind.  The church from my childhood that I had loved so much was constantly brought to my remembrance.


There were so many things that were similar: the large stone pillars, the side chapel, the chairs, the pattern of the wooden floor tiles.  And the music.  And the kindness of the vicar.  Suddenly, I started to feel as if I belonged.  When I was asked if I’d like to sing a solo at the Carols by Candlelight service, I was truly amazed.  I had joined the church choir at age twelve, and at the time had wanted to do this more than anything, yet it was never me who was picked.  Thirty odd years later God poured out His love on me and affirmed me. My heart was so filled with joy at His goodness that I thought I might burst!


I was reminded that whilst the day-to-day loneliness I’d felt might remain for the time being, this life will quickly fade.  Eternity is coming – an eternity where I will be with my friends forever, together with the family who’ve gone before, and there will be no end to the party where we’ll be praising and thanking God forevermore for everything He’s done for us.  And I am thankful.  Thankful for my “old” friends who love me.  Thankful for my new friends too.  (Thank you all for your lovely birthday messages!)  And thankful that moving to Norwich has not been in vain, because this is the great truth I have learned:-



We don’t have to struggle alone.  May His strong arms hold you up, as they have me.



Remembrance Sunday always held great significance for me, growing up as I did in a church where young people were encouraged to join Brownies, Guides and the Boys’ Brigade.  On this day, church parades took on a particular solemnity – everybody always wanted to be in the colour party, and it was especially desirable at the service where a single bugler played The Last Post. To wear the little leather holster (not quite the right word but I don’t know how else to describe it); to finger the varnished wood and cold brass of the pole made you aware that life was not all about you, that you were a tiny part of something bigger.  At that age I did not need much encouragement to read and so I readily devoured poetry at every opportunity, becoming familiar with names such as Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen in my early teens. My grandad had died when I was eight months old, and I would go with dad to the cemetery where we laid a wreath of poppies on his grave and whispered silent prayers in the stillness.  My fortitudinous Grandad had endured the first World War despite being shot; in his regiment of 1,000 soldiers he was one of only 180 survivors.  Still, how can you remember somebody you don’t remember?  I’ll tell you; by remembering the stories passed down through the generations, the impact that person had on somebody close to you.  May I have such an impact on others.  Grandad, I remember.


For my family, the second World War left deeper scars and, although both of my parents were evacuees, it was never talked about.  Although it left a legacy which I remember only too well – we were never allowed as children to leave as much as a morsel of food on our plates.  It seems poignant that today it is exactly six months since mum slipped away from us on her journey to heaven.  It has been a hard and painful time, adjusting to the death of such a key and vital person in our lives.  This has been a season of loss – trying to adapt to life as family dynamics shift like tiny grains of sand in an egg-timer.  Despite not consciously trying, every day I think of her.  Mum, I remember.


Yet loss can serve as a powerful reminder of what we have had, and been blessed with, and what we have still.  It’s taken almost two years for me to stop missing the job I loved, and the colleagues who made me feel valued and esteemed.  I appreciate it now more than ever, and often a memory will pop up suddenly from somewhere in the recesses of my subconscious, such as the song they made up for me and sang in the staff room, and I will smile.  I think back on the times shared with my beautiful friends – coffee and bearing our souls, and I feel so glad to have the kind of friendships that others only dream of.  They continue to be a source of joy and comfort to me.  They’ve not forgotten me and have been there for me, blessing me with texts, cards and visits.  I remember, and I am thankful.

Earlier this year, our camper van had to be sold – it would have been a big deal but the sadness was engulfed by mum’s cancer.  Instead we barely noticed. We were left with memories, photos and a journal of six years worth of trips.  Remembering the good times, the funny stories, people we’ve met and places we’ve stayed.  At the time camping was tough, I constantly complained that it was too exhausting/hot/cold etc. etc; I used to long for a bath and a proper bed – now I look back with joy on details such as waking up to see small excited eyes watching me from a platform above my head. Priceless.


One day my mother-in-law unexpectedly presented us with invaluable treasures – some old Bibles she had inherited which had been in her family for years.  We were delighted and amazed.  One of them was an “Active Service” Testament from 1916, inscribed in the front.  It had belonged to a Private H. E. Young, of the 5th Leicester Battalion, and was dated 27th October 1916.  However, we didn’t know who he was, or his link with my husband’s family.  A quick search online revealed that there was only one H.E. Young who fought in WWI – he was indeed of the 5th Leicester, and was killed in action at Flanders on 20th May 1917.  I can only imagine what grief news of his death would have produced.  Harold Ernest Young – we salute you.  We are grateful for your sacrifice and the price you paid for our freedom.  We remember.


Nice day for a… white wedding

There is nothing quite like a wedding for sparking emotions and a highly charged atmosphere.  For some, undoubtedly, there will be huge joy and excitement; for others, joy will be mixed with sadness and maybe a painful reminder of how life has not turned out as they’d hoped.  After my best childhood friend’s wedding, I felt so bereft that I cried for a week.  I was thrilled for her, but I knew our friendship would never be the same – it had entered a new season where my place as her chief confidante had been supplanted.  It exposed my selfishness, and I didn’t like it.  I felt needy and alone.

Nowadays, for me weddings serve as a reminder of how good God is – that He has allowed me to experience the fulness of marriage, and the many joys of being a wife and mother.  Sometimes we need reminding, don’t we, of how blessed we are.  I love to watch families being formed and feel honoured to be a part of a couple’s special day.

This summer had been a challenging one, with our gorgeous son not able to leave the house for most of the school holidays.  We had a scattering of medical appointments, and  one visit to see old friends where we drove nearly three hours, our son sat in the car for pretty much another three hours (only getting out to go to the toilet), and then we drove home.  Previously holidays have included dropping round to see friends, picnics, day trips, lots of coffee, company, camping, festivals, friendship, and fun.  This year felt lonely in comparison.  At low moments I found it difficult to look at Facebook, trying to be grateful for my lot while others enjoyed foreign holidays and family staying.  So it was an absolute treat to be able to go to Rebecca’s wedding last weekend in Romania.

I have known her for twenty two years, and have watched her grow up into one of the people I most admire – resourceful, resilient, brave, creative, loving, full of fun and simply an incredible person to be around.  To escape from Norfolk with my daughter was exciting in itself, but to watch Rebecca being a bride was something I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

The plane was delayed, yet we were met at the airport by our hosts who were uncomplaining about the late hour, immediately putting us at ease.  Conversation flowed, and staying with Wendy and Sava was like a warm shower after a dry, dusty drive.  We felt honoured guests in their home.  It is utterly refreshing to feel that you are not just welcomed, but celebrated.

I’ve been to many weddings (the most unusual held in a South London allotment) but never one abroad.  It was so interesting to get a glimpse of how things are done in another culture.  There is a separation between church and state in Romania, so all couples initially tie the knot in a registry office in front of a huge national flag and an official draped in a sash to match.  While they sing enthusiastically, close friends and family hold bouquets of flowers making an arch over the bride and groom in celebration.

Then after a break, we drove outside the city to a specially dedicated wedding venue.   The service was held in the open air, in glorious 31 degree sunshine, with the bride and groom seated inside a little canopy covered in flowers.  How proud Brian looked as he walked his stunning daughter down the aisle.We didn’t understand Romanian, but we needn’t have worried – people were happy to offer to translate.  We were so blessed by their friendliness.  After following the happy couple down the aisle, we were ushered into a large ballroom with a satin embellished ceiling which was quite spectacular. Beauty was everywhere – from the dazzling radiance of the bride, to the lace, flowers and glass adorning the tables to the warmth of smiles from those who we couldn’t converse with but with whom we shared the happiness of the occasion, and a mutual love of this precious couple just starting their married life.

Thus proceeded an evening of delights.  It is not unusual for Romanian weddings to go on until six or seven in the morning.  The food was all delicious, and we enjoyed sampling the new flavours of traditional cuisine.  In between the many courses, we were able to play games in the large adjoining garden which had been laid out to resemble an English village fete, complete with coconut shy and splat-the-rat.  An essential component of any wedding, the music provided more entertainment, with pop from different decades interspersed with Romanian folk music where people held hands in a circle, and I had a flashback to country dancing lessons at school.  It was so sweet to watch different generations interact with each other.

Flying back, I felt so thankful to be coming home to a husband who adores me.  It felt strange to be at a wedding without him, and I couldn’t wait to fling myself in his arms and give him an especially tight hug.  When the flight attendant offered drinks, I asked for a tea.  He apologised for only having black tea, and when I said that was fine, proceeded to offer me milk with it.  Momentarily confused, I then remembered that Romanians only drink fruit tea.  The elderly Orthodox lady next to me tried to order something with three twenty pence coins, and was promptly rebuffed.  She clearly had no other English money.   I asked the attendant if I could pay for whatever it was she wanted with my change, and he nodded, kneeling down to explain this to the lady.  The smile she gave me lit up her whole face, and I was left feeling overwhelmed by the beauty of the Romanian people.  This amazing weekend, with my beautiful friend being surrounded by those that love her, has helped to me to be ever grateful for my own family.  Well done Rebecca – and thank you!  Ciao.


Hard Shoulder Days


We’d had a lovely time, Maggie and me.  We’d chatted and laughed, drunk tea and shared while our babies played contentedly, enjoying the pre-toddler peace that would evaporate in a few months when they were walking and fought over the same toys.

When it was time to leave, I strapped my baby in his car seat and off we headed to pick up his four year old sister from her play date.  It would be dark soon and there were things I needed to do before tea.

Just after joining the motorway, the car gave a tiny shudder, as if the cold February air had made it tired.  And then the engine died.  No lights.  No sound.  No illuminated dashboard.  Nothing.

We drifted to the hard shoulder where I fumbled around for my phone and the number for the rescue service.  I was surprised, to say the least, when I was told that we had to vacate the vehicle – there was a new law,  apparently, and we were now not allowed to wait in the car.  “But I have a baby!”  I protested, “and I didn’t bring our coats!”

So reassured by promises that someone would be with us within the hour, there I was, scrambling up a steep grass verge, clutching my precious child as tightly as I could while I navigated nettles and thistles, trying to find the best spot to sit.  The ground was damp from the light drizzle that permeated the air.  I sunk to the ground, feeling in my pocket the mobile phone which I’d forgotten to charge earlier, and which promised to mimic the car and die any second.

The darkness came.  I unzipped my cardigan, thankful that I’d worn one with a hood that day, and zipped it back up with my precious bundle pressed tightly to my chest; the best idea I had of keeping him warm.

And we waited.  In the dark, and the cold, and the drizzle.  Zoom!  Zoom!  Zoom!  went the other cars as they whizzed by, sending up tiny sprays of water.  Nobody noticed us.  There was not enough phone battery left for me to call a friend.  All we could do was wait.

And so we waited.  The other cars carried on with their journeys, their headlights beaming brightly, full of purpose and promise.  While we were just stuck.  Waiting.  Alone.  Invisible.

“Help!  Help!  We’re here!  Rescue us!”  I pleaded with them silently, while I nuzzled my baby’s head with my cheek for comfort.  Just him and me, fighting this silent battle of endurance, one that he would have no memory of in the future.

Tears of frustration spilled out – how stupid I was!  Not to bring a buggy, or blankets, or coats!  What kind of a mother?!  How could I have put my child in such danger?  Yet he was safe, with me, next to my beating heart.

The hour ended.  No help had come.  I rang them again, and just as I had given my policy number for the second time the phone died.  That was it now.  We were cut off, the last bit of hope gone.  All I could do now was carry on waiting, hoping, praying for rescue.

Still the cars whizzed by.  How could they not notice our dilemma?  How could they not notice us?  For another long hour we hung on, while I fought against guilt and despair and condemnation, stirring my inner Pollyanna to find things to be thankful for; singing to my child to reassure him that being stuck out in the cold was normal and not forever.

And I remembered  when I was ten.  My dad had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumour and he was in the National Neurological Hospital, having had extremely dangerous brain surgery.  I was walking down the road with my mother, and coming towards us we could see a lady we knew from church – my mum’s friend.  Before we could greet her, the lady crossed over suddenly, and as she passed us on the opposite pavement she opened her bag and pretended to rummage inside. For a moment, we stood still.  I was unsure how to react, or what to do.  It was quite apparent, even to me as a young girl, inexperienced in the ways of life, that she  had crossed deliberately so as to avoid my mother.  Yet I remember mum grabbing hold of my hand, lips pursed, chin resolutely forward.  She had this.  She was going on with the fight.  She walked on determinedly, picking up the pace – her body language teaching me that she would not give in, not give up, even if every friend deserted her.  And 30 years later  I realised that this had been a hard shoulder day. Mum had taught me that you don’t quit, when you are alone and in the dark.  She had modelled for me what to do when life hits you with its worst, and you are invisible in your pain while everybody else whizzes forward with their lives as yours is collapsing around you.  You take another step, then another, and then another.  You keep on keeping on.

And the gift she gave me then, was the gift of courage.  She showed me hers in action.  She showed me that you carry on fighting, even if you are ignored, and rejected, and alone.  She taught me that you don’t let self-pity rule your life; that you just get on with it.  Until help comes.  And it will.

Writing this and remembering her bravery, I realise that I have only survived the struggles and pain of the past year because of her.  She taught me resilience, and how to forgive.  Not just on that day, of course, but over time.  And that this road we have been travelling with our gorgeous boy, where life seemed to stop with his depression, and anxiety, and autism, is just another collection of hard shoulder days.  Some people who had formerly been our friends had crossed over and walked on by.  We’d been alone in the dark, waiting for rescue.

And it always comes.  Always.  Because God has promised never to leave us or forsake us.  He will remember us.

So if you’re stuck on the hard shoulder of life today, take heart.  It won’t be forever.  Find your inner Pollyanna, and be thankful – there is a lot to be said for counting your blessings.  If this is your first Mothering Sunday without your mum (Maggie – hugs) or your last one with your mum here on earth, be thankful.  You are who you are today because of her.  Don’t look at the whizzing cars that pass you by all bright and fast and shiny.  Look within, and see what treasures are inside you.  Your mum will live on, and through you her legacy will be passed on to others.  Thank you, Mum.  Happy Mother’s Day.  I love you to the moon and back.



Grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair…

… and let me tell you a story.  All the chapters aren’t yet complete, but who has the luxury of enough spare time to read a book all in one go, anyway?  Because there are times when you want to read (hopefully now), and there are times when it is not a printed page which calls you, but a blank page.  The silky smooth paper summons, and as you press down the ball point of your favourite pen and watch its ink mark the snowy whiteness, you find yourself travelling back in time until the tale forms in your head, and the opening sentence begins.

This is the story of the little boy who wouldn’t go to school.

He wasn’t a naughty little boy.  And he loved to learn.  In fact, he had taught himself to read before he was even three years old (yes, really), and even though his mother had warned his nursery teacher of this fact before he even started at Early Years, she has dismissed it as merely memorising the pages of his favourite books, and assured the mother that he couldn’t possibly have any phonics knowledge.  “Well, you will find out soon,” thought the mother, knowing that this first battle with the education system was one which she would surely win.  And sure enough, before the week was out, the nursery teacher discovered that in fact the little boy could fluently read absolutely any book on her abundantly stocked shelves.

By age 5, the little boy was reading himself books such as “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.  As he was working with the top of the cohort in the year above, some of the children in his own year group began to resent him.  He didn’t like football, and he went to ballet classes, and he was odd, and he just didn’t fit in.  “You’re a girl!”  they would taunt him in the playground.  “You’re gay!”  The little boy didn’t understand what they were saying, but he knew he wasn’t good enough to fit in.  And so the little boy started to hide his shoes in the morning, or his book bag, or the worried mother’s keys.  Anything to delay the inevitable walk to school.

He stopped writing.  He stopped talking and just shrugged his shoulders when asked questions in class.  The caring teacher was concerned that the confident little boy she’d taught for two years had stopped trying, and she suggested to the worried mother that he should be referred to an educational psychologist. So the worried mother asked the first scary GP to refer him, and the first scary GP said, “Absolutely not!  If the school think there is a problem, THEY can refer him.”  Then the worried mother asked the mean Headteacher to refer him, and the mean Headteacher said, “Absolutely not!  THEY can refer him. There is no evidence of a bright child,”  even though they had documented his advanced reading age in Early Years.  The worried mother didn’t know what to do.  “I’m not going,” the little boy announced, “and you can’t make me!”  But they did.  Eventually he became so unhappy that one day he tried to run away, and his parents decided enough was enough.

They found the little boy a new school and he cheered up, free from the bullies and the mean Headteacher.  Yet with each passing year, he became more acutely aware that senior school loomed.  He would soon be back with those same children – but this time there would be even more of them!  All summer the little boy cried himself to sleep every single night, dreading September and wanting to die.  The worried mother would hold him until his sobs subsided, trying not to let the little boy notice the silent tears which trickled down her own cheeks and into the little boy’s hair.  She reassured him that everything would be alright – as much for herself as for him.  The sweet sister helped, and gave her little brother lots of love and lots of time, strengthening a beautiful bond between them both.

The leaves turned, and the dreaded September arrived.  The little boy managed the first day – but then it all became too much.  “I’m not going!” he announced, “and you can’t make me!”  The sweet sister was distraught.  The hardworking daddy had just gone to a different city to work, and on school mornings the worried mother left the house before the children, so the sweet sister had to get the little boy to school on her own.  Before long, the worried mother was drawn into meetings with Heads of Year and Attendance Officers who threatened to take her to court.  The little boy went to see the second kind GP who told him to take his time; he listened and promised to help.  (He did.)

Help, when it came, was not what any of them had expected.  The little boy was issued feathers, dark green feathers, and told to exhale slowly when he felt anxious.

The worried mother left the job she loved and took the little boy and his sweet sister up to the different city to join the hardworking daddy.  Another new school ensued.  The little boy managed the first day – but then it all became too much.  “I’m not going!” he announced, “and you can’t make me!”  New mean boys had called him a goblin, and he had been left hiding behind a wall crying for all of his lunchtime.  The little boy went to the third inutile GP for help asking to be referred, who reluctantly agreed only because of the second kind GP’s letter.  The worried mother was again threatened with court, but she held fast and insisted on yet another new school.

The new school was a huge success for the sweet sister.  She made friends quickly, and was universally loved by children and teachers alike.  But the little boy managed the first day – and then it all became too much.  “I’m not going” he announced, “and you can’t make me!”

The worried mother tried to encourage him.  “Just get him here, and we’ll do the rest,” the new school told her.  Yet they were soon ringing her to ask her to collect the little boy, as they couldn’t manage him.  The little boy had started to run off, and after a particularly stressful morning where he had been chased around the car park and the adjacent road by not one but three members of the Senior Leadership Team, the worried mother was relieved when the SENCO agreed that the little boy needed help.

Yet help was refused by the green feather issuers in the different city, and the worried mother was told it was because of the third inutile GP’s letter.

The little boy was by this time very poorly.  He wanted to kill himself, he couldn’t cope with the stress of school, or people, or even his own beloved family.  He had shut himself away in his room with only Lego and Nintendo for company.  The worried mother, desperate, took the little boy to A&E, where after a five hour wait they were reprimanded for wasting the doctor’s time.  The little boy and the worried mother felt sad that nobody would help them. Yet despite telling them off, the handsome young doctor managed to get them an appointment with the green feather issuers.

The worried mother was sent on a parenting course.  The hardworking daddy worked even harder and prayed it would all be ok.  The little boy was an enigma to him, and he struggled to understand why he couldn’t just do as he was told.  The sweet sister just got sweeter and sweeter, trying to cheer them all up.

The green feather issuers didn’t give the little boy green feathers.  They gave him something much more wonderful.  They gave him the Incredible Dr Hoo and Amazing Jo instead.

Amazing Jo came every two weeks to see the little boy.  He wouldn’t talk to her.  He wouldn’t even look at her.  So she listened to the worried mother instead while the little boy fiddled with his Lego.  She kept coming.  Eventually the little boy let her in his room.  He still wouldn’t talk.  But he would nod and shake his head when she asked him questions about how he felt.

After a while, Amazing Jo arranged for the little boy to see the Incredible Dr Hoo, except the little boy got so anxious he ran away, and so it was the hardworking daddy who was told by the Incredible Dr Hoo, “He has ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder)”.  The hardworking daddy started to understand why his little boy couldn’t manage, and that he wasn’t being naughty.  Bits of the puzzle started falling into place.

After this, the worried mother and the little boy met the benevolent Ed Psych.  They had been warned that he would be unsympathetic, that he would not want to listen, and would not want to help.  Yet the warnings were erroneous.  He saw the potential in the little boy, and he cared.  The worried mother was full of hope.

The little boy stayed in his room for eight months.  He hardly went out in all that time.   But he started to get better.  He started to talk again.  Amazing Jo had cheered him up.  Amazing Jo had cheered up the sweet sister too, and the hardworking daddy, and the worried mother (who had also hardly been able to leave the house as the little boy wasn’t always safe to leave alone).  She became an absolute lifeline to them all.

One day, the worried mother heard some good news – the little boy had been given an EHCP thanks to the benevolent Ed Psych, which meant that the threats of court were mere vapour.  The little boy wouldn’t be forced back into mainstream education.  Instead, he would go to another new school; this time a special school just for children with ASD.

The first day of school dawned – an fun afternoon instead of formal lessons.  Yet when it was time to leave, he announced, “I’m not going; please don’t make me!” And so they didn’t.  They held him tight while he sobbed and shook for over an hour.  They knew he was gradually getting better.

Amazing Jo said not to worry.  A new visit to school was arranged for the Tuesday morning.  It took the worried mother 45 minutes to get the little boy out of bed, and another 25 minutes to get him out of the car once they were there.  Yet he managed to stay for an hour.  He even let the worried mother buy him some uniform and a pair of shoes (he hadn’t worn shoes for a whole year, only Crocs!)  The next day, the little boy was still nervous, but he managed to stay at school for two hours.  And the day after that. By the Friday, he was so looking forward to going to school, he had got himself up and dressed by 6am.

The sweet sister hugged him hard – she was so delighted for him.  She loved to hear that he had friends now.  The hardworking daddy and the worried mother were thrilled beyond words.  They knew it was truly a miracle.  They knew that the little boy had taken the first steps out of the prison of mental illness and into his future.  The hardworking daddy decided that he wasn’t going to work so hard, and that he would try and and have more quality time with the little boy.  So he became the solaced daddy instead.

The worried mother reflected on the lonely months in the house with the little boy.  She had so missed her friends and her work colleagues from home, and had battled loneliness along with him.  Yet she had seen the heart of this little boy, and learnt that he was truly a priceless treasure.  She loved his sense of humour, his use of wit and irony.  She loved his fierce bravery, his persistent refusal to give up and his compassionate desire to help others.  She learnt that he loved words and writing just like she did, and it thrilled her that he could use his words, full of passion, for good.  She knew that God had given her the most wonderful little person to love.  He had become not just her little boy, but a true friend.  She was blessed.

The blessed mother wondered how she could ever thank all the people that had rescued them and helped them escape from their prison.  There were many  who had made  a difference, and how could she possibly explain to them the depths she had travelled to?  How could she excuse her lack of contact with friends from the outside world? She hoped they would understand that it had just been too hard to share how dark those months had been, and that they would still love her anyway.  She knew that without Amazing Jo and the Incredible Dr Hoo, they would have been sunk, and maybe the little boy might have even travelled up to heaven.  She would never be able to thank them enough.






Meltdowns and Telephones

So a lot has changed this week.  I have a job!  I still can’t believe it.  As most of you will know, I have been a Teaching Assistant for nine years now and it is a fabulous role for me.  I love children.  I love helping.  And I love learning, books and education.  So it has been the perfect job, and I have been WAY happier doing that than I ever was as a Theatrical Agent, (the job I originally trained for) without the pressure and long hours and daily travelling across London.  I have found that children are generally accepting, less judgemental and appreciate my silly sense of humour.

When I first left home, I flat-shared with my best friend (we had been planning this since we were fourteen) and the guy in the next door flat had a crush on me. I had to check the coast was clear before I could go out, and avoided answering the door as much as possible, making my flatmate do it.  After answering the door to him three times in one day to borrow sugar or whatever it was he wanted, she then answered the door to the old lady below who had come up to complain about me.  With a sigh, my flatmate remarked that I was  like Marmite: people either absolutely loved me to bits or couldn’t stand me.  I have always felt loved in school, so after SATS I felt sad that my job had ended (although the timing was perfect in that it allowed me to be with my mum while she was in hospital).

Out of the blue, I received a phone call from a Headteacher who had heard about me from the Head of the last school I’d worked in.  When I’d started at a Norfolk school last January, one of my responsibilities was to run groups during assembly time for children who found it more difficult to form friendships.  They played number bingo, and pairs, which they enjoyed but I felt was a little dull.  In no time we were having exciting “cup matches” – table football with scrunched up pieces of paper, progressing quickly on to competitions with Nerf guns and plastic bottles.  Suddenly everybody wanted to be in their friendship groups – even children from other classes!  I was taken aback to find out that the Head knew all about this (despite the frequent complaints we got from other teachers as we were making too much noise!).

So my first inset day is on September 1st.  This means that in 2016 I will have moved house and started a new job the very next day, TWICE.  Gulp!  I am not sure if I should be proud of this achievement or not!

Also this week, my beautiful boy has been diagnosed with Aspergers.  It is a huge relief to both of us that the difficulties he’s been suffering finally have a name, but also a little daunting to think about the future.  He has pretty much missed the whole of Year 7 due to his panic attacks and inability to cope with the social side of school life.  We have no idea whether he will be able to successfully reintegrate back into mainstream; time will tell.  I do remember his Early Years teacher telling me certain things which now make perfect sense, although they didn’t at the time due to my lack of understanding of this type of Autism.  There is an excellent link here if you are interested in learning more:

We have been out twice recently when he has had a meltdown in a public place; he can’t control his emotions and becomes overwhelmed.  This has resulted in varying reactions from people shaking their heads at our inability to quieten our child to sympathetic smiles from kind people who I could hug.  What a wonderful virtue kindness is, and what a difference it can make.  If you’re reading this, you have shown me kindness at some point, and I thank you and hug you too!  Friends, family and love – I am blessed with all three.  Life is good.


Trees, Trains and Trailing Roses

In the last two and a half weeks, I have been to stay in London three times.  Without my children. As far as I can remember, in the fifteen years since my daughter was born, I can only remember going alone once overnight: for a family funeral.  This time, I was going to support my mum after her diagnosis of the little “c”.  (As I once heard somebody say, cancer is the little “c”, not the big “C”, for the big “C” stands for Christ, and He is bigger than any problem.)

Just as my sister was about to ring for a minicab, so that we could go and hear from the consultant whether the little “c” had spread, the phone rang and they told us that mum’s appointment had been cancelled, oh, and by the way, the cancer hadn’t spread.  In a daze, instead of a hospital room, we found ourselves at a favourite pub in Twickenham having a celebration lunch.

It was miraculous.  One minute there had been talk of palliative care and hospices; the next, of surgery and general anaesthetics – something that they had previously feared mum’s weak heart could not cope with.  Nevertheless, she had passed all the tests and proved them wrong.  After lunch, I ran errands – wandering around Ealing Broadway for what must have been the first time in at least ten years.  Lots had changed.  The same, but different.  Same Town Square, different shops.  The club where we did lots of our growing up was still there, only it was called “Karma” now, not “Broadway Boulevard”.  The gorgeous art shop on the corner of Bond Street was the same, full of inspiring and original pieces whose prices even now made me suck air through my teeth.

IMG_8787It was walking through the parks, however, that drew me back to my past and my happy childhood.  These tall, majestic trees had heard mini-me laugh, seen me run, chase friends, play tennis and, later, kiss boys.  One or two anyway.  Those same trees stood proud, prompting me to remember.  Same branches, different leaves.  The same, but different.  They seemed smaller now. And I was grown up, yet I felt smaller inside.  Gone were the assumptions of youth – replaced instead by the realities of an adult life.  I looked at the playground  (which bizarrely had jumped across the path to the other side of the bandstand) and listened to the children’s voices; they echoed those of my childhood friends.  Friends I loved still.  Memories from years ago resurfaced: of school trips trudging across these parks in the cold, learning the names of the types of trees in Brownies, performing on a festival stage to a large crowd, picnics, robins and the thrill of being allowed to “hang out” with your mates listening to a cassette of tunes taped from Capital Radio.

Memories.  Some are painful, remembering those no longer a part of our lives, and the loss of childhood confidence.  Yet the happy ones are jewels, helping us to remember that we sparkle still – a smile is still a smile.  Assessing life’s journey, and its purpose, and thinking about how God weaves all our experiences together to make us stronger.

IMG_8991As I got on a packed train 48 hours later, I was sad to leave my mum and sister – I’d enjoyed replaying the past and loved the family banter, yet now it was time to be an adult again.  Clutching my ticket, I was surprised to see somebody sitting in “my” seat.  Upon comparing tickets, we remarked how silly it was of the train company to issue us both with the same number.  He suggested I sit in the empty space next to him instead.  This charming young man then started chatting, and before long we were having an incredible conversation, real and honest, about life, grace and relationships, in the full hearing of the passengers around us. Which was a total surprise to both of us.

How refreshing it was to meet this beautiful soul, only eighteen years old, and how privileged I felt that he shared his heart with me on the train that day.  His enthusiasm for life was infectious, and in no time I felt enthused about my own future, and the reality of what Jesus had done for me on the cross.  My new friend had no idea of what a special boy he was, and as he shared his plans to work among the poor of Nicaragua this summer I felt deeply moved that God had let us have the same seat booked to encourage me.  I am the same – the same person I was as a child, literary, dramatic, music-loving.  Yet I am different because I understand now why I’m alive, and I know Who walks alongside me in my struggles.

I had some precious time with mum while she was in hospital.  It was wonderful to be with her, to reminisce and laugh together.  She is truly amazing; as strength, courage, warmth and dignity in suffering was modelled to mum by her own mother, so has she modelled it to me throughout my life.  As we were leaving for her surgery, I tried to hold back the roses which were hanging over the path.  I offered to prune them in her absence, but she was horrified by the suggestion of cutting them down while they were in full bloom.  So every day I would step over the little fence at the end of the garden as I found the roses trailing over the path too annoying to bother fighting with.

IMG_8985When mum stepped out of the taxi after being discharged from hospital, she exclaimed, “My roses!” She stopped and cupped a flower tenderly in her hand, slowly and carefully inhaling its scent, tears in her eyes – so thankful to be alive and so happy to be finally home.  I was ashamed.  How had I missed such beauty?  In my mad rushing around I had failed to see the roses as a blessing, instead they had been to me a thorny nuisance.  I’d missed it.  Which is true of many of the “thorns” in my life – they also contain a lesson and, yes, even a blessing too, if only I’d look and see what is right there in front of me.  “This has been one of the best weeks of my life!”  Mum continued as I stared at her incredulously, lost for words as to how she could possibly think that.  “I never realised before how many people cared so deeply about me,” she explained.  Trailing roses.  With a lump in my throat, I realised how much I still have to learn.  Such gratitude and grace, in the midst of so much trauma.  Such beauty in people, and such power in love.