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D is for dick head

I have been quiet for a while. But today I feel compelled to speak. D is also for diagnosis and if you have had a child who is different, who struggles and has been a source of worry for you, you may have come across a short film called “A is for autism.” It was made a long time ago and explains a little of what autism means.

This week we sat in a consultant paediatrician’s office where she delivered the results of 12 months of testing. “Your son has Autistic spectrum condition.” She then paused to see f I would burst into tears. After 4 years of wondering wtf was going on with this child, it has not come as a surprise to me. I have read every book in the library, I have joined all local support groups and been on a 5 week course. Friends and family have asked me how I feel. Some days I feel blessed to have a child who views the world through a different lens. Other days it feels like a death sentence. Having fought so hard for a diagnosis, it can now not be taken back.

My brother came round recently to play Minecraft with the boys and from the kitchen, I heard one son ask “Can I make an axe?” My brother answered. The spectrum son asks “Can I shave a panda?” On days like this we laugh till we cry, and he is able to join in with the laughter. On another day, he would smash the house to pieces and cry for 20 minutes.

But I feel that very, very few people know even a tiny bit about Autism but feel compelled to give you their opinion and advice regardless. Schools are the starting point for this mis-information and 80% of teachers have had no training on it whatsoever. I say this, having been a teacher for 16 years. So I just want to give you a few pointers, just in case someone you know is dealing with a similar situation to us.

1) Don’t say the sentence “Well, we are all on the spectrum.” No we are not. And by saying that you are not showing empathy, you are demeaning the experience of someone who finds some things absolutely crippling.

2) Don’t talk to them about Rain man or ‘The curios incident of the dog in the night’. They are both works of fiction which cannot accurately represent the multitude of ways in which Autistic people experience the world. This can range from being non-verbal to being Prime minister.

3) Don’t give parenting advice. My child has not slept through the night in seven years. He wakes somewhere between 4 and 5 but it can be earlier. He does not go back to sleep. There is literally nothing I have not tried. Please don’t talk to me about sleep routines or behaviour boundaries.

4) Don’t ask what things the child struggles with and then reply with “Oh, MY child does that. ” If I tell you he cries on the way to school, I doubt it is in a neuro typical way. He cries about finding socks, about the toothpaste being too spicy, about dropping some breakfast on the table, about not finishing the programme he was watching, about being too cold, or too hot, or because it is raining. He can cry 20 times before 8:30.

5) Most of all, please don’t alienate us. There is a lot of writing about how Autistic people feel left out and lonely. But this can actually be applied to our whole family. I know there are friends who invite families round for gatherings, and I know that we are not invited. We miss out on Halloween parties, birthdays, and New years. We know we can be really challenging to deal with, but we will take ourselves off if it is becoming difficult. We want to feel part of the community too and have love to offer.

This year, I have put my career on hold slightly, so that I can fill out the millions of forms and attend the multitude of meetings in order to find some provision for my son that works. I have started my own Sensory art and Science class, design for children on the Autistic spectrum. Each week we have 9 children who vary in age from 7 to 14. We have 4 activities, all of which are optional. There is one art/ creative activity, one science build, one sensory bin activity and one cooking and eating table. These children are beginning to free themselves of the idea that they are a burden on their school class, make real meaningful friendships and learn in a relaxed and child led way. Each week I theme the sessions based on one of their “Special interests.”

Last session, I asked the class (both children and adults) to write on a post it note, one thing they like about the sessions. This is something I learnt during my Forest School training and it absolutely blew my mind. I had never done anything like this in my teaching career. I was in charge, I did not care what their thoughts were on the session. Well, I did, but it is not standard practice to ask children what they actually think! What a crazy idea?

And so, in conclusion, D is for dick head. Not for the professionals who did not spot my son’s difficulties, not for the families who ostracise us, and not for my son who can drive me to the very edge of my sanity. I am in fact the biggest dick head of them all. Because if I can be a teacher for 16 years, and not see this shit coming, it can definitely happen to anyone.

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Man down!

This week has been an emotional roller coaster and I think it is true to say that the world seems to be having a collective mental breakdown. I don’t know if it is the full moon, combined with Winter solstice or if the ridiculous political pantomime we have going on in the UK is just sending everyone over the edge. My children have cried approx. 500 times this week. Twice, the adults in my Forest school sessions have broke down in floods. I have a number of friends reaching out for help. I too felt utter helplessness last weekend. The world can feel overwhelming.

I think there is a reason, why throughout history, we have a big celebration right in middle of winter. We need it to get though the bleak season. We have evolved to over think everything, but animals can actually point us back in the direction of listening to our instincts. At this time of year, birds fly south. “Bugger this for a game of marbles!” they think. The flightless mammals build a den, get a load of food in and sleep it out till April. The deciduous trees drop everything and going into suspended animation. No more work till spring. Nice idea nature.

Snail and babies hiding under a log till it’s warm.

But most of us cannot do all those things. What we can do is slow down. We can appreciate the last bird song of the season. We can plan to meet friends and reconnect with some good nurturing autumnal food. This week I made smores with my Friday Forest school group. One of the parents said her daughter was looking forward to it all week. Next week I will plan a fire pit feast and a mindful walk in the local park and we can all hug it out around the flames.

When a beautiful lady cried at my adult session, I brought her a hot coffee and let her spill her heart. Then we went out as a group hunting fungus. We found a fairy den and inside were hundreds of coral fungi growing. I told a story about doing my scuba diving training at this time of year in Devon and being amazed by swimming through a kelp forest. Even under the sea, the plants go all the rainbow colours in Autumn. That spurred others to tell stories and we walked and talked and laughed.

And yes, dear friends, that is a picture of me with some cone fungi on my boobs. Because sometimes adventure is the answer to your problems, and sometimes having a laugh is. No one could resist laughing at my rendition of Madonna’s “Like a virgin.”

Last week I was selected as one of the top adventure blogs in the UK. https://blog.feedspot.com/uk_adventure_blogs/ Which is wonderful and fabulous and helps me in my mission to connect people with wild places.

But this week I was reminded that it is our connections to each other and not the places we go that make us happy.

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Loving nature and nurturing love

Getting away on a “mini break” can be an absolute relationship saver. No one feels truly connected to their partner while discussing taxes, Brexit or the fact that fridge needs cleaning out. But this is also true of our friendships. Every once in a while we need to do something in the wilderness with people who are important to us. To experience something special and unique together.

Last week I started working as an adhoc, outdoor instructor. I felt like a little bit of a fraud, given that even though I have run numerous obstacle races and triathlons, and even though I seem to have amounted a ridiculous amount of activity qualifications (Scuba diving, sailing, Forest school, outdoor first aid) I had not really “coached” anyone else before. I have an exceptionally high pain threshold (Childbirth was my proof) and I don’t really feel the cold. I am an animal when it comes to mud and water, I will do literally anything. During one particular race, we had to go through barbed wire and underwater obstacles. But encouraging others to do these nutty things, is a whole different matter.

The lovely guy in charge put me on a technical and fairly high risk obstacle. In my head I completed a “dynamic” risk assessment: Drowning, concussion, shock, heart attack. The weather was pretty horrid and us instructors were all clad in our best wet weather gear.

At one point, the man who runs the event said “last year I had four squaddies manning this one. They literally stood in the water and shouted at people till they did it.” Well, that’s totally not my style, I thought. Over the walkie talkie I could hear someone requesting an urgent medic on another stage. I tried to stay focused on my task. I could hear that a group of lady medics in matching black tee shirts were going round. Each stage reported their arrival. When they finally got to me, they felt like old friends.

“You can definitely do this!” I said to them. “Over the big, under the small.” They looked at me, slightly broken and said “What?!?!? put out heads right under?”

“You have come this far. You are going to be so proud when you have completed this. I am right here if you need me. “

“I wish I could take a photo, one lady said.”

“I will take a photo” I said, like an idiot, realising that I did not know them to send it their way.

“Find me on facebook.” She said. So I took this brilliant picture.

Bristol Dental Specialists

To the Bristol Dental Specialists: I salute you. Keep taking risks, challenging yourselves and nurturing the sisterhood! You guys were fab!

The rest of my week was spent with my family in the forest of Dean, seeking new places to explore. We walked through cascading golden leaves, stomped through gushing streams and walked up steep old drover lanes. Time spent together in nature is never time wasted. And we even found a hedgehog! Something I have not seen (even as road kill) for 25 years. My hubby and I were convinced the son had found a dead one, but no, there he was just roaming around. It felt like we had found a fairy or a unicorn, the stuff of magic.

And if the great British weather is a bit inclement, well, just make sure you end the day in one of our bloody brilliant pubs. A glass of wine and a log fire will surely cure all ills in the world. Chin, chin.

How to find your tribe

Being a woman adventurer requires a special kind of tenacity. My experience is that it takes years to find your tribe. These are a special group of peeps who can cover your ass in every possible eventuality when you find yourself up a creek, lost on a mountain or just laughing your head off on a beach having not brought a swim costume.

Here are the top seven personalities you find on an adventure. I bet you can recognise all your mates in this list, and if you don’t you need to fill that void.

#The Matriarch

This is the friend who you call when you are probably struggling with some life decisions. You know they have some great but gentle advice to help you sift through the rubble. You go on a walk, make sure there are regular pit stops, and accept that you are going to get some tough love but by the end you have put the world to rights.

#The philosopher

This is probably someone you have known for a VERY long time. They have an uncanny ability to turn their hand to everything and probably have multiple qualifications in everything known to humanity. You know that even when you are talking verbal diarrhoea, they will gently find a way to find zen and wisdom in the random rantings of a camping night. Nothing is bad, only good, as {add quote here} said. You bloody love their company.

#Partner in crime

AKA the one who always gets you in trouble. I distinctly remember calling said friend out of the blue saying “I am on my way to yours. I have a bottle of wine.” She took a long hard drag of her cigarette and replied “Bring two.” I remember one time waking up in a house I had no recollection of ever entering. Another time with one of my “partners” we broke into a party in central Paris, and broke out with hand fulls of Mangos from a kitchen window in the basement. There is a picture of her on a red vintage moped which neither of us have any idea why. We were tailed by men on that trip, but told them we had no time to mess about, we had an important photo shoot tomorrow!

#The dare devil

Oh the fun we’ve had! Sometimes I make sure there is someone else about just to make sure we don’t end up in A&E. My best story involves a fated trip to one of the best surfing beaches in Europe. I am not a very experience surfer. My friend is. She briefed me on the correct entry, explained how to ride the waves, and warned me of the hazards of this reef surf. In panic, I did none of the above, and appeared an hour later with both legs dripping in blood. One time we completed a 10k obstacle race. Another time an off road triathlon. I should probably be dead. Cheers for the good times!!

#The witchy one

You probably have a friend who grew up in the country and has an amazing amount of lost knowledge. This friend decorates my hair with wild flowers, pulls leaves out of waterfalls for me to eat and has a herbal remedy for every ailment. I have friends who are qualified doctors, but it is this friend I call when the kids are ill. She has a sixth sense.

#The starry eyed wanderer

This is probably someone you met while out on an adventure. She has probably lived in multiple countries, had multiple professions and has an incredibly calm nature. Nothing phases this friend. A favourite story of my Dad’s is him meeting up with his. They were on a beach. His friend had no phone, but he is pretty sure they go to this small festival every year, so he turns up in hope. One time, she had a disagreement with her partner, so she said “That’s it! I’m off. ” and waded out into the sea, fully clothed. She just stayed there until finally he roamed off having felt a little stupid.

#The eternal child

This one can be the most dangerous. For mine, we have till this day made sure that we have never been drunk at the same time. We just don’t trust ourselves. We have NO inhibitions. And that is while we are sober. We are loud, gregarious, hedonistic, spontaneous, and totally lack remorse. We love life. We love people. We love to laugh. You go out with this type of friend for a pint of milk and wake up in Mexico.

So forget the seven people you meet in heaven. It’s too late then. Make sure the seven people you share your piece of heaven with are worth the time spent. Here’s to the tribes! May yours be forever full of fun, laughter and magic.

The subtle art of being skint

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How to live life on the edge of your pants when you don’t have shed loads of money to throw at fancy trips.

Becoming a parent is absolutely humbling. That, and just about the most challenging thing any of us would ever have to contend with. Just imagine someone gave you a precious sports car and told you to drive it through the Namibian dessert at night. Not only that, you don’t get a map, you have never had a single driving lesson and you actually have gone temporarily mad due to 3 years of sleep deprivation and worry about said trip. Your body will feel like it has been battered with a hammer during said torture and you have forgotten what a hot meal is. It’s a winning combination for success. If we approached the work place with such a lack of preparation, it would be insane, but instead you have to study for years, get some experience, have a mentor check on you and a bi-annual review.

My children are constantly re-educating me on how to be a human. Hedonism is something which is slowly drilled out of us as we get older. My quest this year to complete 52 micro adventures has led me into all kinds of new and terrifying experiences. We also stop taking risks and I think as we do so, we progressively stop believing in ourselves. The biggest asset my new year’s resolution has given me is a massive confidence and happiness boost.

I am currently at adventure #41: Go on a cray fish hunt.

Here are some of our best family Micro adventures (with minimal cost)

#1 Go fossil hunting. My kids genuinely thought they had found a fossilised dinosaur poo. They were thrilled.

#2 Make art on a beach with found items. It never ceases to amaze me how children can only concentrate for 10 minutes in a classroom but hours on a beach.

#3 Breakfast picnic. Our favourite is to go to a bakery early (one of our kids wakes at 4am) and sit in the park on a sunny morning in complete solitude apart from us four, the birds and the flowers swaying in the breeze.

#4 Climb a mountain (or big hill). You may have to invent a creative game to entice them up, but the views are humbling to all. Seeing places you recognise gives you a humbling reminder of perspective in life.

#5 Go on a fungus hunt in a forest. My kids get points for each different type and bonus points for especially ugly, colourful or massive ones. It is amazing how attentive they are. They nearly always triple my score.

#6 Tell a shared story around a fire. Anyone can make a fire and we could all make up a tale, but google has replaced creativity and experimentation. Sometimes I long to not know the answer to a question, to ponder and consider. Some of the times my kids have absolutely laughed the hardest is about one of my ridiculous stories.

#7 Make dinner together. We have arrived at a really strange state of cultural climate where it can feel like our offspring are small princes with which we constantly serve. Kids these days don’t seem to do chores, partly because the likes of dishwashers, washing machines etc have made life easier, but I am constantly astounded at how the art of cooking, a basic human need, is one which we leave too late to teach. Kids bloody love cooking!

#8 Collect forest treasures. The world is full of wonder and awe when you are 5. I have rediscovered my inner child by finding pleasure in examining acorns, looking for four leafed clovers and singing Victorian songs long forgotten about nature.

#9 Draw an observational sketch of a found object. There is a great deal to be gained from slowing life down and disconnecting from screens. Children’s vocabulary is suffering in this digital age. The sheer act of using language to do art together is deeply wonderful. They will disclose all kinds of weird and wonderful thoughts about the universe.

#10 Watch clouds. Do you remember that? Being bored as a child and finding the mundane fabulous. Nebulous thoughts are so relaxing. Sharing this moment with your children is an act of bonding.

So let’s try to stop distracting our kids so we can “Get on with stuff” and realise that perhaps it is the stuff, which is distracting us from our kids. Because they are the most precious and important thing we have in our lives. Everything else is just glorified dust.

The art of hedonism

The world has a song and no one hears it

Dave Jones
The beauty of simple things

I managed to squeeze in two micro adventures this weekend. #27 was a family walk round Warmley forest park. I have lived in this city for 16 years and I had no idea of its existence. It is not the most striking of beautiful places, but what amazed me was how much public space there was. We hardly saw anyone. People seem to prefer malls and fast food and being glued to their phones.

I have recently met some incredible women as part of a new group. I was chatting to one husband while out for a drink. We tried to bring him into conversation as he was the only guy, the rest of us having failed to bring our partners and all us women are pretty big personalities. “What do you do?” Is a question social norms tell us to ask. “I am a farmer.” He replied. “He absolutely loves it!” Said his wife. “I love every day.” He said. And he had a wonderful poetic soul and spoke of his connection to nature and meaningful work.

Most of us start our working lives following rules which tell us we should strive to join a “profession”. If we do this we will earn lots of money, buy a nice house, get a flash car and then we will be happy. Career advice at school fails (like so many things in school) to ask us the most important question “what do you enjoy?” If the starting point for decision making is based on money, it will almost certainly end with pain. If the starting point is happiness, the rest will probably follow.

I text a friend about a year ago. “How are you all?” Her reply has been indelibly marked on my grey matter “We are poor, but happy.” For a while I had visited this friend while her partner was working. I would cycle over and have cheese and wine and we would analyse life and motherhood. As I would go to leave, I had to unlock my bike and happen upon a scene of the two adults through the window who showed each other pure love. They looked so happy.

You never stop learning nor growing

Sy

Adventure #28 was an adventure with the little one and I. He had been feeling jealous that the big one was having a Granddad day. So we bunged our bikes in the van and went off to Colliere’s way cycle path. I had been along it when Z was about 2 but not since then. He sung and weaved around in the dappled sunlight. It cost us nothing and he was happy as it encompasses two really great play parks.

A cycle through the mendips

I accidentally took us on a 10 mile trip. By the end we were both really tired. But it cost us nothing apart from the ice cream we chose to buy.

Three books changed my life. One of them is called ‘lost connections’ by Johan Hari. He talks about uncovering the real causes of depression and cause six is “Disconnection from the natural world.” The wonderful thing about this book is that you realise by the end that there is no barrier to you really feeling better. The resources are right in front of you and at your disposal.

It was while on this micro adventure that I devised a new idea for a business. Could I build a new carrier path based on what makes me happy? I knew it would not pay as much as teaching but imagine waking up every day excited! Most of us spend 50 weeks of the year being miserable in order to be happy on a two week holiday. What if we, like the lovely farmer, could flip that idea on its head?