I wrote this piece because I wanted to try and convey what high functioning autism is like through Polly’s eyes. We sat together and read it, and I was fully expecting her to ask me to change some (most) of it. Instead she looked at me and said “mummy, I love it, it’s exactly how I feel.” Needless to say I ended up in floods of tears… 

My name is Polly, and I’m almost nine years old.

I look exactly the same as all the other kids my age, and I mostly act like them too.

I’m not the same though.

I have a neurological condition called high functioning autism. This means my brain is wired differently to most of the other kids I know. 

through polly's eyesSometimes, when noises get too loud, inside my head starts to hurt. I know I should put on my noise cancelling headphones, but I don’t always like wearing them. If my sister is talking or singing in an annoying voice, it upsets me. I want to hit her and make her stop. Mummy says to use my words and ask her to stop instead of lashing out, but I can’t help it. My mind can’t think clearly when there is such a lot of noise going on. 

Sometimes, if I’ve had a bad night’s sleep, and I’m feeling agitated, I pinch my brother. I know I should get my fiddle toys out or pinch a cushion instead, but it’s not the same. It feels nice when I pinch a person, but then I feel mean when he starts to cry.

Sometimes, when we’re eating, I take food off their plates. I know we’ve all got the same, but their food always looks better than mine, and it’s too tempting not to take it. This often leads to fights being started, but I can’t control myself. It feels unfair that they get the nicest food.         

If we’re playing and they don’t listen to what I’m telling them to do, I get angry with my brother and sister. It’s annoying when they don’t follow my instructions. When they storm off to play by themselves without me, I scream “I hate you!” as loudly as I can. I don’t really hate them, but it makes me sad when they leave me out. Daddy says to jump on the trampoline and bounce away my anger instead. 

Sometimes, I get cross with my brother and sister for no real reason. Mummy asks me what’s wrong, but I find it difficult to explain my feelings. When I see them playing together, and being happy, it can make me feel sad. “I wish I could be as happy as they are,” I tell mummy after I finish crying. If I’m in the right mood, I like it when she cuddles me because it helps to calm me down.

When I’m not in the mood for hugs they just annoy me even more. I get angry and start throwing things on the floor and screaming. I get so cross with mummy for not knowing that I don’t want her cuddles, and would rather watch my favourite TV shows. Next Step and Junior Bake Off always helps to calm me down, but I get sad when they end.

If I’m playing nicely with my brother, I get upset when he goes to our sister in the middle of our game. It makes me feel like he loves her more than he loves me, and I get angry and sad. I start lashing out, and then no-one wants to play with me anymore.

through polly's eyesWhen my brother and sister touch my special things, I get really mad at them. I don’t like it when my things have been moved around, and aren’t in the right order. I like to have everything in the same order, every day, otherwise it makes me feel muddled.

Sometimes I cry myself to sleep, because I know I’ve not been a good big sister. I try so hard, but some days nothing I do is good enough. Once I accidentally made a glass lamp drop onto my sister’s head, and she had to go to the hospital and have it glued back together. I felt horrible inside, and was worried that she wasn’t going to come home, like Grandpa didn’t.

It’s hard for me to be a good big sister. I want to be, and I am trying, but I don’t always do the right things. 

Mummy says that my autism makes me a superhero. She says I have hidden powers that my friends don’t have. Such as remembering things like an elephant, and learning things really fast. Or when I walk into a room and work out what all the different smells are. Or how good I am at baking, even though I’m so young.

Mummy says that I’ve got deep feelings, we just need to think of better ways for me to show them.

So I’m making some promises to my family. I’m going to try and walk away if I know a fight is going to start, and keep my temper under control. If I do a quiet activity like colouring or playing LEGO before I’ve got too mad it’s much easier for me to calm down.  

It’s hard to be a big sister when you’re autistic like I am, but I’m trying my best.

Mummy and daddy say that’s all any of us can do.

I’d like to start this blog by saying that I’ve not been incentivised to write it. We were given complimentary tickets in exchange for my previous post, and I’ve written this purely to capture the day. 

The Good

Kidtropolis The event is held inside East London’s impressive ExCel Centre, which was easy for us to get to on public transport. The DLR stops next to the building, which means no wandering the streets looking lost. 

The best thing about Kidtropolis is that once you’ve paid for your tickets almost everything is free. There are around fifty activities and two live mini-stage shows included in the price. We were also lucky enough to win both ballots, which meant we got a Next Step meet and greet, as well as a dance lesson with their choreographer Amy.

Of course there are extras that cost money – such as food, drinks and merchandise – but there is no obligation to buy any of it. We took food in with us, which saved tons, because it’s expensive once you’re inside. 

Kidtropolis is pegged as the best kids show in the UK, and I can totally see why. I think it’s safe to say that there is something there for all children within their advertised age range of 2-12. I can’t think of anywhere else on earth that it would be possible to meet the Lorax, Darth Vader, Next Step, PAW Patrol and Flawless within the space of a few hours.

As you’d expect the big stars are security protected, but some can be found wandering around chatting to fans. There were lots of opportunities to collect autographs, which is fully anticipated with the back page of the (free) programme being left blank, and marked autographs

The Bad

We had the afternoon session, which ran from 2-6:30pm, and our first live show started at 2:30. This meant dragging the kids away from the fun they were having on the 200ft obstacle course, which they’d all decided to gravitate towards first. It felt rushed, and the stage wasn’t particularly well sign posted, but we got there just before the show started. It was well worth persevering with, because Flawless were absolutely amazing to watch (see next section). 

After the show the children wanted to get autographs and learn some dance moves with them. This meant we got completely distracted and forgot about the dance lesson we had won in the ballot, which started at 3:30. By the time we remembered around 3:45, it was too late to join in. Polly and my friends girl were gutted, and as you can imagine there was lots of mummy guilt for not getting them there on time. 

That wasn’t the only unfortunate event that occurred. About thirty seconds after going inside the Next Step live show at 4:30, Clara said she needed to go to the toilet. As the show was only going to last around 20 minutes, I said to her that we’d run there and run back as fast as we could. It was very dark inside, and whilst running back I tripped over. I was convinced I was fine, until it was pointed out by security that I was covered in blood. Turns out that I’d cut my elbow quite deeply, but thankfully didn’t need any stitches. While I was being patched up by the paramedics, my friend made sure that the girls got to their meet and greet. I arrived just as our party was at the front of the queue, and managed to photobomb the pictures.

The Awesome

Kidtropolis The Flawless live show was nothing short of incredible. The level of coordination and effort that goes into that type of dancing is simply stunning, and a visual smorgasbord to view.

They had a huge mixed age troupe up on stage, and all the children had a turn to dance. Their sheer determination shone, and they were all an utter joy to watch. I didn’t realise that they run a dance school in central London on a Sunday morning, which might be worth checking out at some point.

I’m sure the Next Step show was fab too, if only I’d seen more of it. Polly and my friend’s 9yo were chuffed to bits to meet their idols and be cooed over. Myles signed Polly’s t-shirt and she has plans to put it in a frame so she can worship it.   

I’d say the best part of Kidtropolis was the children getting to make the decisions about where to go and what to do. Properly hanging out with the stars is a huge draw, and will provide them with many happy memories.

Tips for next time 

Kidtropolis I’ve asked myself if I’d go again next year, and would definitely like to if it’s on again. We got the ExCel Centre nice and early, and had the children to write a list of everything they wanted to do and see. In hindsight, I think that six kids aged 3-11 and only two adults was pushing it, because with the best will in the world, balls are going to get dropped. In our case it was the dance lesson. 

There was so much to do that it would have been impossible to get through everyone’s list. I think next time I’d be tempted to have a maximum of two similar aged kids per adult. Unfortunately, when you have to cater for bigger age gaps in general, you’re always going to come across this sort of dilemma.

Older children are perfectly safe to roam around independently, and there are clearly marked meeting points in case anyone gets lost. My friend’s 11yo was in the gaming section for big chunks, but they aren’t security tagged, so if you have a smaller child who likes to run off then you’d have to keep a very close eye on them. 

Overall, it was a fab day out, and we made lots more memories to add to the bank with our dear friends.

Oh, and for anyone that was wondering, my arm is healing up nicely thanks.   

P, C, F Greenwich

Amid silly amounts of sleep deprivation, out of control bedtimes and hubby not being home more than he was, an impressive list of awesome also occurred this week. Thought it would be nice to share a few of the ups from our rollercoaster of a life…

Book edits

The biggest news is that I’ve finished the edits for my novel, and am happy to start submitting the fifth draft of Picking up the Pieces to would-be agents. Although it’s a daunting prospect, it’s also an exciting one. Getting this task done has been no mean feat considering that three months ago I’d lost all faith in the book and my writing abilities. Once I put my mind to something, and fully commit to it though, I’m a force to be reckoned with. It’s great to feel proud of something that I’ve achieved, now I need to keep this momentum going and not get too disheartened by the inevitable rejections.

Back to learning

Even though they were all enjoying their Smartick lessons, I’ve really struggled to get the kids to do them throughout the summer. Polly felt it was unfair to have to work when her friends were playing all day, which is of course a valid point. However, I don’t think that 15 minutes maths each day is too much to ask during the holidays. I was really pleased that she did her lessons every day this week, and watching Polly meant that Clara and Freddy wanted to do their lessons too. We’ll continue doing this for two more weeks, then start our learning schedule after that. I’m excited about getting back into our routine, we’ll all be desperate for it by then.

Winning at GAPS

I’ve been back on the GAPS Intro Diet for three weeks now, and am feeling good for it. You can read more about my current journey over on my other blog. I’ve been loving getting back into shopping at farmers markets, and making loads of stock and fermented veggies. Here’s a photo of a delicious plate of ceviche I made, I cannot tell you how good it was. You know you’re in for a treat when you buy fish on a Sunday that was caught on the Friday.

ceviche

Caring for a sick pigeon

Yesterday morning we discovered an injured pigeon in our garden. It looked like it had been attacked, was unable to fly and could barely move. The children worked beautifully together as a team to take care of it, then we took it to a pigeon rescue centre. It’s run by volunteers, and I’m glad to have found it in case we need to use it again in the future.

Jumping on a giant trampoline bed

It’s not often you get to bounce on a giant trampoline disguised as a bed outside an iconic London train station. When Virgin Media invited us to do so, while we’re promoting their new Kids TV channel and app, we jumped at the chance. My three relished their time on the bed, and were all smiles throughout. It’s just a shame this isn’t an every day occurrence! You can read more about that here.

Howling family days out have been well documented here on the blog (remember Father’s Day?) so for me to give anything the accolade ‘best family day out ever’ is really quite something. This is how I’m feeling about Friday, which was a wonderful boost as we’ve not been having a great time lately. What made it so wonderful was that all five of us spent more of the day smiling and laughing than we did grumping and harumpfing. It’s literally that simple, but sadly doesn’t happen often enough for us. What did you get up to, you might be wondering?

We went to see PAW Patrol Live at Wembley!

best family day out everUnless you live screen free, most children have a favourite TV show. Sometimes these fave shows last a few months, and other times they last for years. Us parents have to cross our fingers and hope that said fave isn’t insufferable (not mentioning names here, but that pig…)

3yo Freddy has adored the Paw Patrol for over a year, and fortunately for me, I don’t mind them either.

Who are the Paw Patrol?

For those not in the know, the PAW Patrol are a team of super dogs led by 10yo Ryder. Together they save their town Adventure Bay from trouble and strife. No job is too big, and no pup is too small for the PAW Patrol to save the day.

Freddy has all the soft toy pups, tons of PAW Patrol clothing, and has watched every episode at least a hundred times. In fact it’s fair to say that he bases his whole life around the gang. This is an actual quote from my boy:

“My favourite colour is yellow mummy, because Rubble is yellow and he is my favourite pup.”

You can imagine the glee when he was told that we’d be seeing the pups in real life on stage. We’ve been on countdown for weeks, and on Friday his mind was officially blown!

Our thoughts on the show

Freddy has the capacity to sit in front of Netflix and watch endless episodes, so the live show being an hour and half (including a small interval) was perfect for him. 

Freddy loved singing along to the songs, and really got into the storyline, which wasn’t dissimilar to those from the TV series. The characters were a true representation of what they look like on the TV, and he was very happy that the PAW Patrol saved the day in the end. I was especially impressed with the actress who played Mayor Goodway, she had the voice and persona down to a tee.

Although Polly and Clara (8 and 5) were complaining that they were ‘too old’ for PAW Patrol, they both really enjoyed themselves. The cherry on the cake was getting to meet Chase, Skye and Ryder on the stage afterwords – it really was pawsome! We all left the arena buzzing, and agreed that it was the best family day out ever.

**Spoiler alert (from the mouths of babes)**

Freddy’s favourite part was when Everest and Jake rescued Rocky and Rubble from the avalanche.

Clara’s favourite part was when Marshall rescued Chickaletta.

Polly’s favourite part was the singing and dancing at the beginning and the end.

All in all, a resounding thumbs up from us. If you have a fan of the pups on your hands, I can guarantee that you would make their year by taking them to a live show!

best family day out everThe official word

The PAW Patrol pups are coming to an arena near you for their first ever UK and Ireland Live tour! When Mayor Goodway goes missing during the day of the Great Adventure Bay Race, the pups come to the rescue.

Families can join Ryder, Chase, Marshall, Rocky, Rubble, Zuma, Skye, and Everest for an action-packed adventure that shows no job is too big and no pup is too small!

Running at 80 minutes, PAW Patrol Live! “Race to the Rescue” includes two acts and an intermission. The show is set to engage audiences with Bunraku puppetry, an innovative costuming approach that brings the PAW Patrol characters to life on stage with their vehicles and packs.

Give the pups some social love

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follow the hashtag on Instagram #PAWPatrolLiveUK 
Website

**disclaimer: we were given our tickets for the show free in exchange for writing this post, all thoughts and photos are my own. For my full disclosure policy, click here** 

A story of mental health #mhaw17When I found myself pregnant with Polly in 2008, the state of my mental health had never been better. At the ripe old age of 29 I’d already been on a remarkable journey.

Extraordinary even

I had survived a dysfunctional childhood, and self-destructive young adulthood. I’d dragged myself through two mental breakdowns, and experienced the highest highs and lowest lows.

I had travelled the world, and met my awesome husband along the way. I’d made the most wonderful friends a person could wish for. Which is just as well, because at 25 I estranged myself from every single member of my family. 

I’d also learnt (the hard way) that the answers to life’s problems could not be found at the bottom of a bottle.

Believe me, I’d searched every external crevice for happiness, and realised that it comes from within.

I learnt that to be happy, I would need to look in the mirror and like what I saw

I had to distinguish between my wants and my needs, and get to know who I really was. I’d need to forgive myself for the things that I wasn’t proud of. I’d need to truly let go of the past so I could make peace with it.

I was in such a good place when Polly came along. Even a traumatic birth didn’t stop me from loving her fiercely from the second she came out. To be honest I didn’t properly recognise it as traumatic until I was giving birth to Clara two and a half years later. That’s a whole blog in itself though.  

I walked everywhere that summer, staring at my beautiful baby in wonder. Had I really made her? Could I really be that lucky?

By the time I became a mum I had overcome so much, that I honestly thought the hardest bits were over.

Surviving: A Story of Mental Health #MHAW17Oh how naive I was

I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined that my own children could push me to the edge of my sanity. That I would watch my mental health deteriorate and feel powerless to do anything about it.  

Friends with kids had somberly warned me about newborn sleep deprivation. They’d said to watch out for pesky teeth, and strange changes that occur when babies are going through growth spurts.

A good friend, who’d had two kids very close together, had said to expect one seriously tough day a week. A day so bad I’d be reaching for the gin before the witching hour was over. One that I’d want to completely forget about as soon as the kids were asleep.

That’s not going to happen to me, I thought, no way. I’d leave a sensible age gap between my kids, having them super close sounds like a nightmare.

My girls are 2y 7m apart, and take it from me, the age gap is the least of our troubles

At seven months pregnant with Clara I found myself sobbing to my ex boss.

“I’m so exhausted, I don’t think I can last another three weeks until my maternity leave is due to start.”

Fortunately he’s a family man himself, and one of life’s good eggs. He let me tie up my loose ends and finish that day. If only all work managers were like him.

Back then I had a toddler who would get up ten times a night as standard, have huge meltdowns at 3am, and refuse to go to her daddy. As well as that we had a very noisy neighbour on our hands, who would be up all hours. 

We managed to muddle through though, and cope. Somehow.

Surviving: A Story of Mental Health #MHAW17When Clara was born I did everything I could to enjoy her baby days. Knowing how fast they’d go, I drunk up every delicious drop of that gorgeous girl. 

Polly was jealous of her sister, beyond what felt normal, and it was heartbreaking watching her regress. Nursery was more of a hindrance than a help, but we thought we were doing her good by letting her socialise. She was diagnosed with an allergy list as long as my arm, and so began years of exclusion diets. More frustration. More difficulty. 

Fast forward fifteen months, and a prosecco fuelled evening lead to Freddy being conceived. (Hubby has never touched the stuff since!)

By then I was back to work, and the girls were both at nursery. Clara slept through from ten weeks old, which was just as well, because Polly was still up all night. Challenging behaviour was the order of the day.

I found myself wondering on an hourly basis how I’d cope with three children when two already seemed like too many

Freddy’s pregnancy was the toughest, but with two kids to keep me busy it went fast. Two maternity leaves in three years.

Polly started school and struggled massively from day one. 

“She’s fine when she’s here.”

Oh how I loathed those words, and the patronising delivery of them. The inference being that we must be doing something wrong at home. Clearly the meltdowns and night time antics were either exaggerated or our fault.

Polly’s allergies weren’t getting better, so we had her tested for every gastrointestinal disease under the sun. Nothing. When a leading gastro paediatrician told me the tests had come back in normal range I knew what was coming next.

Autism. Diagnosed a year later

Surviving: A Story of Mental Health #MHAW17By then it felt like we were a broken family, and we desperately needed help being put back together. No such luck. When you live in London under the Tories, you’re on your own. 

Polly was on a clear cycle by then. Sleep and post-school meltdowns would get worse as we neared the end of term. Then we’d plough all our energy into making her happier over the holidays only to watch our hard work unravel when she went back.

My poor baby girl was severely overwhelmed by school, and they were doing precisely nothing to help her.

Home education wasn’t a last resort, but I wasn’t going to sit back and let it get that bad. Eighteen months later, and here we are.

Yes we’ve made progress, but the set backs can send us to square one in a heartbeat

We’re now the noisy neighbours. Our kids are loud. They have meltdowns and tantrums multiple times a day. Individually they’re awesome, collectively they make me want to cry.

I have good days and bad, but just lately there haven’t been many good ones. The challenges have been never ending, and keep on coming.

My previously rock solid marriage can feel as shaky as a dingy in the middle of the ocean on a stormy night. Most days I want to punch my husband in the face when he leaves the house to go to work, because he gets a break from it all.

Sleep is better than it’s ever been, but it’s still rubbish. Freddy’s in our bed every night. Polly’s often up. And although Clara sleeps, getting her to bed can be a tiresome task. She’s not getting enough Zzzzz’s and unlike her brother and sister, who are used to running on empty, she can’t handle it.

Home education often means being a prisoner in my own home. If Polly is anxious and exhausted and I can’t convince her to leave the house. Most days I have fun things planned for us to do, but usually we do none of them because we get caught up in Polly’s rage. She’s taken to using me as her punching bag. At least she isn’t being so violent with the younger two.

Surviving: A Story of Mental Health #MHAW17Eight years ago, when I was nearing the end of Polly’s pregnancy, I thought I had it all sussed out

Surely motherhood was like everything else? The harder you worked, the more rewards you would reap? I’d just work my butt off, and give my absolute all to my kids. Surely that would equate to happiness?

To be completely honest, even if it was possible to go back in time and tell my thirty year old self how it would actually be, I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway.

My plan was fail safe. I’d just love my kids more than everyone else loved theirs, and not make ridiculously stupid decisions that would mess them up in later life.

Once again, I’m learning the hardest way that it’s not that simple though. So here I am, eight years later, feeling more clueless now than ever before. The game is constantly changing, and I have no frigging idea what the rules are.

People warn you about maternal and post-natal depression. Nobody tells you about surviving chronic stress due to challenging children. 

The emptiness you can feel when you give everything to your kids and get treated like the enemy

The cycle of self-loathing that’s created from having toxic thoughts about the little people you created. 

The loneliness you can feel, even though you can’t take a pee in private. 

All any of us can do is try our best, and hope that when all is said and done, it was enough

**sharing for world mental health awareness week**