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‘A Carers Life’ September 2020 – Sam

The new normal?

This phrase has been the bane of my life recently. I swear I hear it everywhere: in the news and on social media, but what does it really mean to me and my family? 

Lockdown brought some challenges for us as a family, aside from there being so many of us, we also live in a shoebox house with an absolutely huge back garden. Occupying the kids hasn’t been massively different to usual. We run our house on a schedule. Everything is planned as far in advance as possible to give us time to prepare the kids for the days ahead. In our house anything last min or unexpected can cause issues so I’m prepared for it all. Accident, messy kid, hungry, bored, meltdown – no bother! But preparing for a global pandemic at short notice, well that one has definitely been harder. 

We don’t watch the news whilst the kids are awake. We have found that relaying the information to them means that we can change some of the language to make it more understandable, downplay the bad and upsell the good parts! The subject of how Covid is spreading has been hard to avoid and masks have been everywhere. At first, we tried to explain the safety aspect of it, this evolved into looking at whether we as a family needed them. Of course my husband and I wear them all the time, as do our eldest two kids, but one of our boys is deaf and has autism and at 12 he’s old enough to wear one, but wearing a mask when we are around him means he can’t lip read. So, we purchased visors for us and an exemption card and lanyard for him to wear although he doesn’t like to wear the lanyard and prefers to wear the visor.

Explaining the pandemic to a 5-year-old who has suspected sensory needs, and a 9-year-old who suffers from anxiety, well that was definitely a harder prospect. Trying to get a child who spends his time chewing and licking everything and everyone to stay safe and social distance has been interesting to say the least. He has taken the social distancing surprisingly well though and actually told a lady off in Farm Foods recently because she came to close to us! Usually I’d have reminded him not to talk to adults in that way but this time even the lady laughed when she realised he was in fact correct and she was a little closer than the markers on the floor. 

The local support available has been the biggest help for us though. We as a family have been very lucky that despite the pandemic, some services have continued. A few weeks into lockdown I began ‘Parent led CBT’ with a psychological wellbeing practitioner through CAMHS along with other parents, via Teams online. I have to admit I was sceptical: I mean, I’m in here with 5 kids and I definitely wasn’t the only one, but I persevered and with the help of the worker and a book, print outs and emails, I ended up with another challenge to try to add things into our daily life and surprisingly its worked. Not all the time, but now and again I can see those strategies we have devised popping up while we support our 9-year-old with her anxiety and panic attacks.

We have taken part in many weekly family quizzes through carers, with Sarah and her silly singing and the occasional guest host. My husband has been involved in the male carers group, and my 13-year-old has taken part in activities over Zoom and socially distanced during the summer as well as received phone calls from Carers just to chat as she has found being around so many siblings with needs that little bit more challenging than normal without the respite school and other activities bring. 

Four of my kids have done a few days with West View Project and as a family we have been able to have a few days with 1 Hart, 1 Mind, 1 Future, including a socially distanced picnic, trip to Tweddle Farm and a day out at Carlton Adventure Camp.

I’ve also had the opportunity to make some calls to isolated carers through the new ‘Care for a Call’ scheme that was launched over lockdown. Not only has it meant that other people have felt less alone, I’ve felt like I’m actually helping too. Crazy, I know with my daily life, but to sit down for 30mins and chat to someone else about how they’re finding things has been so rewarding. I find myself looking forward each week to ringing my new friends, finding out how they are and listening to them, even the mundane things are a relief to hear because it means that they are managing to get through this too. Even as far as discussing our allotment and their garden and what is growing well is a conversation starter that reminds both me and the person I’m calling that life still is going on outside of our own four walls. 

Of course, as a family we have had our share of hiccups over lockdown. Meltdowns have been common, our 14 year old has voiced his opinion rather loudly at why he believes he is hard done to having to do his work and not being able to see his friends, their online work has stalled and my cupboards have been attacked by kids who have had insatiable appetites, proven by the 2-3 inch growth each of them has done over the summer and there have been days where I feel like nothing has been achieved. It’s hard (wow is it hard!) but amongst all of it I’ve learnt. I have learnt that as a family we are resilient, that my kids are far brighter than I realised (some of their work is really hard!) and that help is there although not always easy to find. Our local community has come together in so many ways and daily I’m being reminded that I’m not alone and I’m able to remind those around me that they aren’t either. The next few weeks will bring more challenges and I’m certain it will bring its own new set of struggles to navigate with it and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive about that too.

So what does ‘The new normal’ mean to me and my family? It means that life goes on and we are capable of more than we realise.

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