Guest Blogger – The Auntie
(Post 2 of 2 about our respite weekend)
I’m an Auntie. I’m an Auntie to four fabulous young people. Two of each flavour – two nieces and two nephews. And I have a great relationship (I think) with them all.
I am NOT a parent. I think it is important to make that point, as I don’t know the day to day struggles that all parents have in trying to guide their precious bundles through the mire of modern life, protecting, safe-guarding, educating and hoping to facilitate their journey to becoming a stable, capable, able and loving adult.
One of my nephews is adopted and has FASD. He’s 11. Those are the facts but, let’s not stop at the facts, because they don’t define him.
Let’s call him SuperT.
If he was a stick of rock he would have the word “Joy” running through him. He LOVES to dance. He LOVES to sing. He LOVES to laugh. Bordering on obsession? Possibly. But I LOVE Shakespeare… possibly to the point of obsession, so I get it.
What I didn’t get was just how very good his parents were at pretending that they were coping. It took my sister-in-law breaking down in tears, in a coffee shop, with my sister and I, for us to realise the level of stress that she and my brother were under. They had sort of said it before and we knew it was tough, but it wasn’t until that moment of vulnerability from my sis-in-law for us to recognise the call for help.
So I offered to have him for the week-end. It was something I had been thinking about for a while, but hadn’t actually suggested it. So I opened my mouth and said something. I suggested that he come to me the week-end before Christmas, so his parents could spend time doing practical Christmas things and spending time with their older son, who sometimes misses out on some fun because meltdowns happen.
Yes, I planned the week-end so SuperT was constantly occupied. As a non-parent I was able to dedicate the whole week-end to him. Walking, scooting, cooking, bird-watching and, of course, singing and dancing. Lots of singing and dancing. And on the two occasions when behaviour hinted at a possibly over-excited episode, I was able to gather him into my lap and have 5 minutes of quite cuddle time and it passed.
Oh, let me tell you that I am a non-parent that doesn’t have a regular job (I’m an actor) so I don’t have to worry about dead lines, targets and offices etc etc. When I am working, I’m usually in another county, so I’m not always around. But I was able, for this week-end, to put all my energy into activities for SuperT.
I think that his mum had his doubts that the week-end would be a success. There was the caveat that I could always take him home. But last night (I’m writing this shortly after his dad collected him) she texted me to ask if everything was OK, as they had the sudden chance to go out for a pre-Christmas drink with some friends… I was able to assure her that SuperT was gently snoring, following a roast chicken dinner (recently he’s not been eating much in the evening). She and my brother didn’t leave the pub until the staff were putting the chairs on the table!! FABULOUS! She has written that she didn’t get respite, until they got it.
So. What am I trying to say? What have I learnt?
My brother and sis-in-law had a break. This was the whole reason I opened my mouth and said something in the first place. I thought it was a very practical thing – I’m like that – quite practical.
But. Oh my word. I think a lot more than just having a break happened.
I learnt that I can cope with SuperT.
I learnt that SuperT can cope with me. Within 2 hours of being in my house he had put his pjs on…. that told me that he was comfortable with being here. We spent time sitting in the room he was going to sleep in making sure that he was OK with it.
I’m not his parent, so the rules are different. I’m the mad Auntie, who can, maybe, relax the rules a little bit. No, I wouldn’t let him stroke my hair (it’s a thing), but I can let him sit on the kitchen floor doing “The Cup Song” thing with a plastic cup for 20 mins. Remember, I was able to dedicate the whole week-end to him. I not juggling another child and two important jobs. My nerves are not frazzled. I’m not at breaking point. Then he peeled the potatoes for supper.
SuperT took the whole thing in his stride.
Parents of kids with FASD have frazzled nerves. They are probably close to or at breaking point.
You CAN do something.
Pop in for coffee. Take him for a walk. Take him to the park. Sing a song with him. Let him show you something on his phone. Change the atmosphere.
When you are removed from the day to day, you don’t always see that the breaking point is looming. And, trust me, you won’t be told. These parents that are determined not to give up on their kids, are also really crap at being honest about how much they are struggling. Don’t wait for them to ask for help. Just turn up.
Respite (noun): A break from something difficult, by FASD_Mum