It was Sunday afternoon and I was stressed out. I was overwhelmed, and Leo was crying. He was looking at me like I had utterly betrayed him. I cuddled him and told him I was sorry, I was just trying to help him, but I had got it wrong. How had this dramatic scene come about? I had taken him to a baby swimming class.
Leo had not been swimming this year until we went to the hotel pool last month. He had been ill, and we had been busy at weekends. He hadn’t enjoyed the hotel pool – it was cold and noisy. I knew swimming was very good for him – the water would support him, and he would enjoy greater physical freedom than he is used to. I was determined that we would get back into swimming with him.
A visit to our local leisure pool went better and I was looking forward to the swimming class. It takes place in a hydrotherapy pool which is great for his muscle tone and there would be no older kids jumping around and shrieking. I had a vision of a lovely mother and son bonding moment in a cosy pool while Leo grew confident in the water.
The reality was 30 minutes of fast-paced activities, feeling like I didn’t have enough hands and a very upset Leo. I felt quite stressed trying to keep up and I felt very guilty that Leo was having such a rotten time. At the end of the class, the stress subsided, and I felt very upset. First of all, I felt very bad that I had put Leo through such a miserable time. Then I felt disappointed that I had failed to find the right class for him. Finally, I felt demoralised. I had acted with the best of intentions and I had upset my son.
I am what you might call a ‘summer person’. I love light nights and going out without a coat. I used to feel dragged into autumn kicking and screaming. Wishing for one more day dashing about in flip-flops. But not this year. While autumn always felt like the end, this year it feels like a new start. Like a new term, but for family life. While I used to crave excitement, now I like order, routine and knowing my plan from one week to the next.
Our transition from spring to summer was sheer relief. Leo spent eight weeks of spring in hospital and he was discharged in May. He had been gravely ill – more so than I would allow myself to reconcile with at the time – and were just so grateful that he was well enough to go home. I looked up and noticed that the trees were full and green, the sun was higher in the sky and the grass was regularly overgrown.
I was feeling a bit frazzled this morning. I don’t know how getting two humans out the house feels like such an ordeal, but most parents would agree it’s a challenge. Leo was up too early, and he had to entertain himself just a little bit too long when I did unreasonable things like having a shower, drying my hair, tidying up, putting the washing on, getting all his stuff together for nursery and packing the car. His little toy giraffe was shouted at and the poor wee wooden animals were decanted from their ark. I do a lot of singing in the morning to keep the entertainment going while I try and sort things out. Leo’s little applause at the end of each song keeps me going.
Despite being up for more than two hours, I left without time for breakfast. That wee emoji with the steam coming out, that was me. As usual, once we are in the car, we both calm down. We chat about our day, sing songs and practice animal noises and arrive at the nursery. We are always greeted with a cheery welcome and Leo brightens further when he realises a fun morning awaits.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when your family gets a week off to spend together, at least one of you will get ill. That’s what happened to our family this week. Ross and I both took the week off work and Leo came down with a cold. I put on my out of office last Thursday evening and by Friday morning I had Leo at the GP surgery to get checked over. He is fine, and it really is just a cold, but the poor wee guy is out of sorts. On Monday, I woke up with a blocked nose and scratchy throat, and so it continued.
Just like the physical strains begin to show when you get some downtime, so do the psychological effects of needing a break. I found myself a bit tetchy this week. Not feeling 100% and looking after Leo who is less contented than usual was taking its toll and something else had upset me. Something that might not usually make me react emotionally, but I was more vulnerable than usual.
I took a course of action when I realised this. I cancelled a non-essential event I had planned – it needed me to be in a positive frame of mind and I wasn’t. I invited a friend around. We had a takeaway for dinner and a great conversation with plenty of laughs. I continued with my plans for Leo. I made sure I got to the gym. The what, now?
I have had this post in draft for a couple of months. I was waiting for the right time for our family to share it. Lately, Leo has been doing so well and we are feeling positive. We don’t shout about Leo’s disability but we don’t hide it either. It’s just something about him. I have encountered ignorance about disability (and confronted it) for almost my whole life and I think the only way to counter it is to be open about the realities. If you understand someone’s journey then you will have more empathy. This morning I learned it was World Cerebral Palsy Day and I felt that it was the time to share this post. I am a lot less angry now than I was when I wrote it.
I know that people reading this will be from all walks of life, will do lots of different types of jobs and will have their own challenges to deal with. I hope that reading this will make them mindful that they don’t know what people are dealing with in life and that kindness should always be the default response when faced with someone different from you.
This summer, exactly a year to the day we were given the devastating news that our son’s brain scan was showing evidence of a brain haemorrhage, it was confirmed that he has Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy. That means the right side of his body is impaired by the damage done to his brain. We knew this was a possible outcome but had remained optimistic. The signs over the last few months had been hard to ignore and my fears of these two words were realised.
Leo, the boy who had overcome all the odds to be born at 25 weeks and 5 days and not only survive, but thrive, breathing independently and requiring only dietary supplements on discharge from hospital three weeks before his due date. Leo, our baby who one week before his due date was undergoing surgery so a neurosurgeon could fit a shunt that would drain excess fluid that wasn’t been absorbed in the ventricles – another side effect brought about the bleeding on his brain. Leo, the amazing child who got through his first winter without a single bug. Fate was not yet done with Leo.
I don’t remember enjoying the period between Christmas and New Year so much for a long time. I was working parts of it for the last two years but even before that, I didn’t seem to count it as a proper holiday. I’ve really gotten into it this year. We haven’t made plans – no travelling, no nights out, no shopping sprees, no madcap schemes for self-improvement. We have embarked on absolutely guilt-free resting, listening and reading. I’m not entirely sure we should feel guilty about those activities anyway. Rest, listening and reading being essential ingredients for curing the modern mania of 24/7 living and connectivity.
This Saturday was Small Business Saturday in the UK. This annual non-commercial campaign does good work highlighting the contribution small businesses make to the economy and the character of our town centres. Held on the first Saturday of December, it’s also a key day in the retail calendar. The day many people flock to the shops to do Christmas shopping after the all-important November payday.
This time last year, I was running a small business, Time Lifestyle Boutique. It was a gift shop in Dundee city centre, on the street that connects the civic centre of the City Square to McManus, the city’s current star museum ahead of V&A Dundee opening in 2018. I closed the business for good in March this year after a whirlwind adventure where I chased my dream, achieved what I always wanted to do and learned very valuable and hard lessons. Ultimately the business was not to be sustainable one but it was the start of a new chapter for me where I faced fears and made things happen in life. It’s in this spirit I have continued on my journey.
The reason I bring up Time this week is because I thought about the shop more this weekend than I had for the last few months. Small Business Saturday was the day we would take the most money each year. I did a lot of promotion of the event and wrote and spoke a lot about how important it was. In 2014, I also coordinated a campaign for other city centre businesses to get involved with. We offered discounts and shared information about the other participating businesses in the spirit of collaboration, rather than competition. I hope that this awareness campaign has at least resonated with a few people who include small businesses in their buying habits to this day. It might just save other small businesses from the same fate as my own.