Tag Archives: university

We Are Five

candlesMy little blog turned five last month.

Five years old!

The Teenager had just celebrated his 13th birthday, I was a lot skinnier and life was pretty horrendous.

Full of frustration and anger at the constant bullying I was experiencing in work since my MS diagnosis a couple of months earlier, I needed an outlet.

I had been chatting through email with a wonderful author, M. J. Hyland (her books are brilliant – I totally recommend ‘How The Light Gets In‘), who herself has MS, and she encouraged me to start a blog. And so, I did.

Five years later, The Teenager is throwing himself into University life, I am mourning a wardrobe full of clothes I don’t fit (thanks to Grave’s disease) and life is pretty wonderful.

Looking back over the last five years, it’s been a twisty-turny path. For at least two years, I was in a dark place; coming to terms with such a diagnosis was complicated enough, but coping with vicious bullying in work and an extreme course of MS treatment at the same time almost pushed me over the edge.

And then I was sacked from my job for ‘being a liability’ due to MS and with the ensuing legal battle  life wasn’t fun for me, or, more importantly, for The Teenager. Something had to change, and luckily it did: this blog.

It’s no exaggeration to say that it pulled me out through the murky swamp I had found myself in. After a shaky, tentative start, I began to receive comments on my posts. There were other people out there, just like me! You guys. I talked about everything. And you sent me your own experiences and your wisdom. We mulled over problems, worked things out and I had the benefit of many different viewpoints, not just my own.

Life now is a world away from five years ago. The Teenager is a happy, confidant, go-getting young man and I could not be prouder of him. He tackled all the challenges he faced head on. I’ve completed a Master’s and gained a Distinction. I enjoy my new job and it’s flexible, working around the MS quirks.

I often wonder where I would be today, had I not had this diagnosis. Quite possibly, unfulfilled, still dreaming about writing, still wondering when my real life would start.

Now I know there will be no knight in shining armour, I have gained an inner strength. Now I know that life can be utterly random, I go with the flow.

But above all, now I know there are people like you out there who take the time to send comments, opening my eyes and expanding my vision of the world, I know me and The Teenager will be ok.

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Living Alone, With A Cat …

CatThe house is eerily quiet, although the fan in the bathroom is humming in the background, trying to cope with The Teenager’s last, long epic shower this morning.

Spookily quiet, after 18 years of noise, from toy drums and rugby studs on the wooden floor to blasting music on the iPhone.

Hmm. So this is the Empty Nest.

All I can hear is the pesky cat crunching her biscuits.

A couple of hours ago, I took The Teenager and five huge blue Ikea bags to his new flat, at Uni.

A weirdly quiet journey as The Teenager was asleep for most of it with a heavy head cold, only waking with a start when Kasabian came on the radio (‘saw them live’), before nodding off again.

I nudged him awake as we navigated the campus, where I was handed a huge neon sign to put on the dashboard before we drove in circles, guided by people in neon coats. Maybe they reuse all the stuff for the first Fresher’s Party? More neon people greeted us when we finally found his block and strapping students (in neon) helped take his bags up to his flat.

The room was great, and I bustled around, sorting out his stuff (as previously agreed in the ‘What Mums Can and Cannot Do On Drop-Off Day). Towels, shower gel, plates. I held a box up, ‘these (dramatic pause) are washing tablets.’

As it was, he was so tired, all he asked for was his bed to be made up as he wanted to sleep; seems he was totally embracing the student life, right from the get-go. Impressive. More impressive was the huge sign outside the courtyard of blocks – ‘Pizza Delivery Point’.

So I tucked him up in bed, admired the view, and told him I would always be there for him, but would never, ever turn up unannounced. He smiled as best he could and I left him, with a card containing an Amazon voucher and all my love.

The drive home was weird. Getting in the front door was weird. Walking in to the silence was weird. I wandered around the house, clocking his ransacked bedroom, just his prom outfit and a few pairs of shorts left hanging in his wardrobe.

I opened the freezer and sighed when I saw the bags of his favourite chicken. In the fridge, there’s half a carton of his milk left. It all feels … weird.

But yet, taking him to his new place today, feeling the buzz around the campus and watching him take his first step to adult independence, I was bursting with pride. As my mum said on the phone when I got back, ‘it’s not been the easiest of journeys, but he did it. You did it. You must be so, so pleased.’ And she wasn’t talking about the M4 roadworks.

So as The Teenager begins a new phase in his life, so must I.

This is where the adventure starts …

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One Child, Multiple Sclerosis …

single parentFor me, the worst feeling in the world isn’t a relapse or falling face-down on the pavement.

It’s telling your child you have MS.

And not only that, telling him it’s just me, the one with MS, who will be guiding him through his teenager years.

A bit like saying, ‘yes dear, I have your rugby kit, but I’ve trampled on it and chucked it on the club-house roof. Go fetch.’

Looking back over the last six years, we muddled through; I made numerous mistakes, I mishandled situations (kids prefer the truth), and I spent a lot of time pretending to be well. But you do, don’t you?

How do you explain the realities of life with MS at the same time as shielding them from the realities of life with MS? As the only parent? If you’re the 100%, there’s no room to carve out any space to get better, to regenerate. The Teenager saw me at my very worst and my very best.

It saddens me. If there had been more support in place, I could  have recuperated from treatment, gone through the weird and wonderful journey that is a 5-day course of steroids on my own and come out the other end, ready to be the parent I always wanted to be.

Up until MS happened, I was one of those annoying mums who scanned the free mags, looking for trips to bird sanctuaries, animal handling events, pumpkin carving evenings and all the rest of it. We made shields in Cardiff Castle, clay faces in pottery cafes, constructed buildings from cardboard, complete with messy painting and Lego figures.

Life was getting better. I had a University course in mind which would ultimately increase my earnings. I went for the interview, receiving positive feedback.  A month before MS. My child-emergency-friendly, low-paid job, which fitted in around his school hours turned into a nightmare of stealthy bullying, step by step. After almost ten years in a similar low-paid, child-friendly job, this was devastating.

And again, being the 100% parent only increased the amount The Teenager saw. There was no hiding the realities of the situation but I cried when he was in bed. I held it together until then and everything was normal. Ish. But, of course, it would never be normal again.

The upside? Of course there’s an upside. The Teenager has been exposed to human frailty at it’s worst, and got through it. Sure, this has not been the childhood I wished for him, and I will always regret that. Yet, he is thriving.

For him, I moved from inner-London chaos to lush, green North Cardiff. He had an enviable childhood in that respect – we live on a green field and he and his friends explored far and wide on their bikes when they were younger. Does it make up for being a wonky parent? Probably not.

As he heads of to University, I know he will find his niche. Have I done enough to prepare him. Perhaps not. Will that be half the fun?

Maybe.

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Trolley Wars

trolleyMe and The Teenager joined thousands of other mums and Uni-bound kids at Ikea yesterday.

Each pair had a trolley, a long list and a dismal vibe of wanting to be anywhere but here.

But we were, so we rolled our sleeves up.

We’d discussed our tactics in the car – bathroom stuff, bedroom stuff and kitchen stuff. Easy.

Except Ikea doesn’t work like that. Bathmats, towels and flannels downstairs, loo brush upstairs. Despite this, we executed a fairly neat trolley dash, grabbing most of the list with one sweep of the Market Place. But then we went round and round and round and round looking for the hard-to-find items, which were probably cunningly concealed so we would buy more candles and mini vases.

Despite our best efforts, we came away with no baking trays. Roasting tins? Abundant. Roasting ceramic dishes? Loads. We began to flag and that’s when the niggles started.

‘That’s not a potato masher.’

‘It is. Kind of a modern take on one.’

‘It’s … squiggly.’

‘If it mashes your potatoes, it’s a masher. Trust me on this one.’

‘What duvet cover do you want?’

‘D’mind.’

‘Can you get off your phone for like, one second?’

‘S’importan’.

I chose both sets in grey. Same for his towels, bath mat and flannels.

‘Oven glove?’ said The Teenager.

‘Really? Even I don’t have one?’

‘It’s on the list. Need one.’

‘Grey?’

‘Fine. Which pillows? Put your head on this. Then this one. Firm? Or soft?’

‘You serious? Can we get a hotdog now?’

We eventually joined the huge queues of similarly distressed people, shuffling forward inch by inch. Once we reached the check-out, I packed, obviously. Three massive blue Ikea bags later, we joined another queue for hotdogs before realising that yep, it was long, but every single person was ordering for twenty (slight exaggeration). We left.

And joined another queue at McDonalds, round the corner. As you do. One happy teenager later, filled with his protein and chemical quotient for the day, we drove home.

‘It’s been nice spending the day with you, sweets’, I said.

‘You too, muvver. Gimme a lift to my friend’s later?’

‘Gah.’

‘It’s great being an adult, mum’, he said.

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He Got Wings …

wingsOk, so I’ve always been fairly sanguine about The Teenager leaving home.

I felt so proud that he was becoming more independent and ready to take the next step in life.

Likewise, I had never felt that as a mother, I’d lost my identity or a sense of who I was underneath the daily child-rearing.

So when I waved him, his tent and an early entry pass off to the Reading Festival on Wednesday morning, I was fine. I went to work. I came home. I tripped over the cat. The usual. I made dinner. Then I burst into tears.

A wave of emotion punched me smack in the solar plexus. This was it. 18 years, done. Finito.

It wasn’t so much the empty house; this has been happening with increasing regularity over the last year. It wasn’t the reduced shopping order I put in with Tesco, devoid of crisps, gallons of milk and cereal bars. It wasn’t even the thought of having a full night’s sleep, without one ear listening out for the key in the front door in the early hours of the morning.

It was simply the realisation that my role in his first 18 years is finished. 18 years as a definitively single parent, the last six of which were clouded with MS, has been the best of times and the worst of times. As it has ended, I can see now that no matter how prepared I think I am, there is without doubt a sense of finality and a period of adjustment.

Perhaps it’s because everything has happened at once – he had his exam results  and University place confirmed on the 17th of August, turned 18 on the 21st and headed off to Reading for five nights on the 23rd. In less than three weeks, I will be dropping him off at University.

I searched ’empty nest’, only to throw up advice aimed at couples – you’ll have time to reconnect! This is about you and your partner now! Make the most of being child-free! In contrast, as a footnote, ‘if you are a single parent, you may feel very depressed (sad face)’. And even worse, ‘if you are the single parent to an only child, you’ll feel doubly bereft (very sad face)’.

Well, no, I don’t. I don’t feel bereft as such. 18 years of doing something, being responsible for another person’s life is a big task. When it ends, there’s bound to be a shock to the system?

Other parents have chuckled when I’ve mentioned it – he won’t be gone for long, watch out for the piles of laundry, you’re always a parent. Yep, and gladly so. We just have to formulate our new relationship – far more hands off and way more being the constant, behind the scenes presence in his life.

Anyway, day three of The Teenager being away and me and the cat are doing just fine. I’m in a new rhythm now and I’m excited about both our futures. Horizons are widening.

Bring it on …

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