It’s 0101 am on a Wednesday morning and the phone rings. Even after several years of my boys living away my heart still leaps.
My youngest son Ash now lives by the coast ,near his university. I stare at the phone, scared to answer. It’s a familiar panic. Who gets a call at 1 am? I answer the phone, and its my youngest son, he’s talking loudly. For a few seconds my brain couldn’t decipher whether I should be worried. But no, he’s Ok, in fact he’s deliriously happy!! He’s just done his first take the mic gig. He’s buzzing, I feel the same exhilaration .It grows into an ecstatic exchange. Then I remember, he was going to sing his own material tonight. “I did it mum ,I faced my fear, it was amazing”
A few weeks earlier we had talked about his writing. He talked of how hard he had found it to “come out” and share his deepest thoughts with the world. I empathised with him. I remembered back to when I had started collage, all the essays I wrote had to contain my personal reflections. I had found it hard sharing them in those days . I tune in, I’m so pleased that he’s done it. That he was able to stand up in front of people and share something that was so personal and meaningful with the world. He had pursued and created opportunities to follow his heart. He had started doing this when he decided to finally go to uni. He had faced the challenges of student life and now was taking another leap.
I realised he was ok and felt relieved .
You see fear never quite leaves you. The moment the baby is in your arms they are your focus and you hope you can do your best for them. But it was different with my son.
Within 6 months of being born he didn’t sound good, he had this strange wheeze. By the end of his first year he was rushed into hospital. What followed were several hospital admissions and on each occasion, he stared death in the face. Each time he was admitted because he was seriously ill. Now with each cough, headache, sleepless night or sickness, my mind and body would spiral out of control. I would go into overdrive, preparing for the worst.
Over the years that followed, it became clear the hospitalisations had that left its scars. However after surviving bronchial pneumonia, meningitis and ecoli, he was incredibly lucky to be alive. The meningitis had damaged his hearing and impacted his development. Being rushed into hospital, being really ill and cared for but stared at by multiple doctors, left him traumatised. For months, after every time I wanted to leave the house he became really anxious and would fling his little body in front of the door, griping onto my leg. I became anxious too.
He battled when I tried to take him to school, battled when I took him to the doctors, battled when I took him home and tried to get him to work on his homework. I cried a lot back then. The sense of powerlessness and helplessness was a regular friend. He’d often play football in the garden with his friends but then run in screaming holding his head. He struggled to sleep and regularly had headaches. The illnesses had caused long term damage and now all we could do was focus on each day and work on repairing and retraining his mind body and soul.
I’m not sure if he ever knew the extent of the hospitalisation and illnesses. As a family you help your kids get on with it but the impact was huge.
Its also when my interest in mind body and spiritual practices developed. You start to look everywhere to relieve their pain and our anguish .I would learn to massage him every night to clear his lungs. I used aromatherapy oils to help him breath better . We would sing songs or do the times table to make it fun. We threw the ball a hundreds of times to improve his responses .
It was much later when I learned how repetitive input was key to change and improvement.
Things started to settle as he got through primary school, yet I spent most of my time trying to manage the expectations of teachers and their incapacity to deal with him. The teachers didn’t understand the impact that trauma has on kids. They didn’t believe he was struggling an that he couldn’t ‘hear. Everything was a battle. School life was fraught for both of us. I felt I was looked at either as a failing or overprotective parent . I didn’t know back then what I do now.
Over time I realised I had to follow what felt right for us . I let go of some of the ideas about what was the right way to do this or that. Slowly I began to realise I knew more than I had realised. So that when we got home, I let go of any struggle to get him to do his homework or read. We focused on the boys having their freedom to run around and play. They both needed to release all the bottled-up tension through games and play. He would play with his wrestling figures, crashing them against each other. He had allot of fun too flinging them from one end of the ring to the other. I knew it was how he released some of the burdens and mixed feelings he had.
As he got older, the school finally realised that they needed to make more effort to help him. Thankfully, we found that one person who had our backs and he started getting help.
Other than his resistance to comply, he was a happy and fun kid. He started sleeping and eating better but the impact of health scares never goes away
When I qualified as a therapist, I found myself also working with parents who had experienced similar challenges. They were now struggling with their own kids and the schools. Many of them also had kids who had been in hospital or had been ill. Staff in school didn’t seem to understand. There were some good teachers but sometimes it only takes one to change the trajectory of your child’s life. Staff struggled to teach them or implement what helped and sadly this is often still the case. Like me, they had to try manage the challenges and navigate the system. One parent had to think of everything her son did from balancing the food on his plate to riding a bike.
We fight on but its exhausting.
All the things we take for granted my son had to re-learn. We had a lot of bike crashes and spilt gravy back them.
I knew once he got into secondary school he would start to settle and improve. He had so much history with the primary school it was holding him back. But the struggle to write and manage his work still interfered. I was told it was a side effect of the meningitis. Everything was an effort for him. It hurt to write and it was hard to concentrate. Listening to the teacher when you cant hear properly amongst the hustle and bustle meant he just gave up some days-he would get exhausted. But he got through. We all knew he was capable of doing well. But his early experiences at school had also affected his self-esteem. But by 16 he surprised himself by getting all his grades. He now knew what he was capable of.
But it had been a bumpy road , however we all hung in there. I always knew both my boys would carve out a life that worked for them . I knew deep down that that would make their way and it work no matter what they did. I had my own history to prove it. They knew that everything I believed had been informed by my on personal struggles, hope and even triumph.
However, beyond those early days of fighting the school and helping him heal, I’d never shared my story with anyone. It was too painful- I would cry as though it was yesterday. I was aware that even now if either boy didn’t look well, I could feel the panic rising in my heart. My cupboards were always kept full and petrol in the car in case I had to make a dash to hospital. It was always at the back of my mind.
A few years after, my older son was diagnosed with diabetes and I was back to spending my life doing a round of trips to hospital or reminding teachers of his needs. I was always on tenterhooks helping them both to balance their needs . Both boys had faced deaths door several times .
I had wondered a few times why I had been dealt these cards, but you cant keep thoughts like this in your head to long, you pull up your socks and do your best.
I knew the impact of seeing my son so ill had made an impact on me. I didn’t share any of it with anyone. Unless you share it with other parents who have been through the same thing, no one really gets it. So, I locked it deep inside. My aim was to get on with life and manage day to day. I was glad when things eased and that they were mostly happy and growing well.
The fear of things getting worse never really went away. I guess you just get better at living with what has shown up. You create a life that works, manage the highs and lows and breath when there is respite. You learn to change what you can control and manage what you cant. At some point we learn to accept that’s how things are -at other times we pursue our cause with might and grit.
Two years ago, after 20 years! that old anxiety resurfaced. I couldn’t figure out why. Then one day it hit me. I had been driving past the hospital where my youngest son was first admitted. He was one years old and admitted for six weeks with bronchial pneumonia . We stayed there together and his older brother sent back off to stay with his nan .
The hospital was around the corner from my new job, I’d even had meetings there with the clinical team.
And now all the anxiety I had felt came flooding back. It was like I had dipped back in time, but this time I was feeling the full force of everything that I had bottled up and ignored. Within a few days the tears, agony and pain of everything I had witnessed came up.
I’m a spiritual person and I had learned that things emerge when were ready to deal with them. I’m aware that we need to process what were feeling, but it doesn’t make it feel any easier .
When I felt into those deeper feelings that I had managed to hide for so long , It felt like someone had been tearing my heart apart. I had felt this with both sons. The stress and trauma of having to keep seeing them ill was often to much to bear. The hospital staff were great and with their responses and skill- thankfully my sons are here to tell the tale.
Going to uni was a distant idea in his mind. It had been so tough for him at school. It was hard for him to maintain focus and attention. But after a few years working ,that nagging feeling of wanting to excel even further got louder and louder. I encouraged him to go for it and do an access course . Within a year the distant dream of getting place became a reality.
Three years later he’s managed not only to get through the work and live independently but also grow his talents. And now he was capturing and sharing his experiences. I felt so proud.
Along with the tensions of academic life, hes never been a good sleeper. Tensions arose when we were together at home. I’d had so much missed sleep when they were small that I now hated being woken up. Often, our worlds collided. Sometimes I was awoken in the wee small hours, I would find him singing along with his headphones on. Sometimes those mornings brought the worst out in me. I was desperate for rest and he wanted to live life 24/7. But that’s families isn’t it and living meant a whole lot more.
So, when he told me a few months ago that he was writing his own songs and wanted to perform them, I said go for it -face your fears and follow your heart again. I was really happy for him. I wanted him to continue to take his place in the world.
He lived through three serious illnesses so god must want him here for a reason.
Maybe, he has a message that will tap into the depths of other peoples souls too. I know music can do that.
All we want as parents is for our kids to be happy. We can’t bear to see them in pain. Of course, we want the best for them. I had always encouraged individuality and pursuing what fits . I wanted both of my sons to discover what was in their hearts. I didn’t want them to waste years following other people ideas of who they thought they were.
So when the phone rang at 1 am, of course I still panic. I’m not sure this will ever change but I don’t freeze, cry or get so lost in my own confusion anymore. I’m able to breath through it and allow my brain to settle quickly. This means I can be more present for my son and hear what he is sharing. This time its immense joy.
There’s nothing better than that . Life is full of highs and lows and sometimes those challenges are so hard that we need to not only make use of the respite when it arrives but milk the positive feelings for as long as we can . It can take many years before we learn about our role in our children’s life and if anything we did made a difference.
In the meantime, they borrow our brains, our money, our insight, our silence and acceptance…until one day we are so beautifully surprised….
oh and that’s him in the picture juggling with my battered fruit -the millions of call catch and throw paid off
#parenting #illness #childhood #trauma #attachment #belief #focus #heartcentredliving #followyourheart #joy #meningitis