Category Archives: The Teenager

Look Back In Anger?

tattooThe Teenager had a tattoo on his 18th birthday, and he invited me along.

It felt weird to hold his hand (his grip is pretty strong), and get him through it, just as the midwife had held my hand almost exactly 18 years previously.

He’d thought long and hard and we’d held discussions for well over a year beforehand. Did he know it was a lifelong commitment? The pain? But he was adamant, and I eventually backed him completely.

He wanted his friend’s name and date of birth. And death; he died aged 17 of cancer and The Teenager wanted to symbolically take him along on all his adventures that his friend hadn’t lived to see.

Fast-forward five months and The Teenager (plus a huge bag of laundry) landed back home again for a second tattoo, on the other arm. Same discussions, same concerned parent. But he’d booked an appointment, paid a deposit and came home wrapped in cling film.

The result was a tribute to the grandfather he never knew and my dad, who died aged 35 from complications arising from his MS. I’m still pretty stunned.

I remember being so angry, back when I was first diagnosed, that I would never have the chance to talk to him, to share our experiences. I felt wholly, absolutely, alone. I was four when he died, so I don’t remember much about him, just snapshots, which may or not be constructed through other people’s observations.

Above all, I feel incredibly sad that in less than a generation, things could have been so different for him. I also feel moved beyond words that The Teenager has created a permanent memorial. He had the words ‘Live Forever’ tattooed underneath, a fitting tribute to a man who was apparently so full of life, and a nod to The Teenager’s favourite band.

Before I veer into maudlin territory, I am full of admiration for The Teenager’s determination to rise above the experience of having a mum with MS. He’s been through hell, all through his secondary school education, yet he has come out fighting and is passionate about justice and caring for others.

In short, I am proud.

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Wise Beyond His Years …

owlThe Teenager is back for the holidays and my heart is bursting with pride.

It seems I sent a child off to University in September and he’s come back a man.

Sure, he’s stripped the fridge, freezer and every cupboard bare in a never-ending quest for food. He brought back three loads of dirty laundry, and he’s spending an inordinate amount of time in bed.

But in amongst filling and emptying the washing machine, we’ve had some great chats, in particular one about regrets. He explained he had none at all, despite everything, including growing up with a mum with a serious illness. He felt it only added to his compassion and understanding of what it is to be human.

Blimey. We mulled over some other points, and nope, he has no regrets about anything and he’s enjoyed finding out more about himself these last three months.

What a brilliant attitude to have at such a young age. Isn’t it weird when we find ourselves learning from our children? I thought hard about what he said, and I really do think from this point onwards, I may just adopt this way of thinking. Given the absolute hell of the filling out the PIP form, raking over every single aspect of my life and also reflecting back on this MS journey and more importantly, the journey that me and The Teenager have had together for the last 18 years, it is now time to look forward.

His excitement for the future is infectious. PIP is sent, there’s nothing else to be done apart from prepare for a fight. But that can wait for now. It is more important for me to count my blessings and concentrate on everything that is good in my life, and there are many things. The Teenager, you guys, my friends and so much more.

On that note, I’m off to stock up the freezer again …

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The Teenager Returns …

backA flurry of texts, a bus journey cancelled due to an international rugby match, a friend’s car pressed into service over the Severn Bridge:

The Teenager arrived home from University for a gathering of sixth form friends on Saturday night.

And suddenly, there he was, towering in our little cottage doorway.

The Teenager had returned, albeit for a quick overnight stay. We hugged, or rather, I did, The Teenager a bit embarrassed. And tired. And hungry.

Much the same as when he was much younger, his first word was ‘food!’ He raided the fridge (‘Cheesy Strings!), the freezer (pizza!), the cupboards (bars and crisps!!), as intent as a locust. Finally sated, we chatted. A very fast, very convoluted catch up before he jumped up, ‘Shower! OMG, a dry towel! Shampoo! OMG, Loo roll!’

Many wet towels later, accompanied by blasting music from his phone, he popped back downstairs to get to know our cat again. And eat more pizza and protein bars. He told me that one of his best friends also has a mum with MS and I’m overwhelmed with happiness that they can support each other.

‘Mum, it’s weird, but it’s just weird, like very weird being back in my bedroom, very weird. You know?’

‘Yep, must be … strange?’


He wolfed down his pizza, slurped the rest of his drink and jumped up again. Before I knew it, he was dressed to impress and ready to leave.

The next morning, I woke up to a stack of bar wrappers, empty cans, wet towels and the fan in the bathroom still chugging away. The TV was frozen on ‘Match Of The Day’. I got on with paperwork, one eye on the clock for his return journey to Bristol.

At 3pm, I knocked his door.

‘Muuuuuum. Hiya! I’m fine, but leave me … it’s my double bed. It’s amaaaaazing.’ He made snow-angels underneath his American flag duvet, but I nagged him (how I’ve missed it!), and he showered, changed and was ready to go back to Uni.

I drove him in to town, dropped him at his bus stop and watched in my rear view mirror as he got on to the coach. He’s going to 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?


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