This year, would have seen the 100th birthday of my beloved, Nana Holywell and her twin sister Auntie Nellie. Both of the women were huge influences in my life and play a significant role in the fondest of my childhood memories.
Although moving, to the small Welsh town of Holywell (hence her name), she missed home and I spent many a happy school holidays visiting my Nana’s native Leicester, where we stayed with Auntie Nellie and Uncle Cliff.
I loved their house, except for the outside bathroom. It was here I learnt to squat when you pee, rather than sit down and risk freezer burns on my delicate little bum! Auntie Nellie married later in life, and did not have children, so whenever I went there, I was spoiled rotten.
I would be allowed to stay up late playing Chase the Ace, for pennies around the fancy dark wood dining table, I was allowed to place bets on the horses with my Uncle Cliff, I was taken to every park across the city of Leicester, my favourite being taken every year to the Abbey Park Show.
One year, Even making the front cover of the Leicester Mercury newspaper pictured feeding a goose! My Auntie Nellie was always well presented, I used to play with her powder puff, old fashioned hairbrush and would smear her rouge on my cheeks whilst sitting at her fancy dressing table. I still catch my breath when I get the smell of traditional beauty products at the make-up counter, thinking of her.
In her later years she never answered the door without a full face of make-up, with extra red lipstick. It reflected her bold character and sense of mischief! I don’t have a single photograph of her where she wasn’t smiling or laughing. I remember visiting once, when she was heading towards her 90th year, and she took great delight in making my Dad blush, telling him about a TV program she had recently watched about how penis extensions were the next big thing, literally!! Not many people can leave my Dad with nothing to say.
She was always able to find humour in everything. I feel I have inherited my wit from her and finding the light moments in the darkest of days has been an absolute lifesaver for me in recent years.
Leicester was not the only exotic destination Nana took me to. It was as her travel companion to Australia to visit her daughter Linda, when I was just 9, was what firmly injected the magic wanderlust in my blood. Due to a Quantas strike, we got to spend 4 days in Singapore on the journey home, which meant, as well as enjoying the pleasures of the land down under, I got to experience an exotic new world, filled with an excitement I’d never thought possible (Scarborough didn’t quite cut it as a holiday destination after that!)
As an adult, I accompanied her to Australia again, to attend my cousin Leanne’s wedding. I spent 2 of my 3 weeks there, visiting friends in Sydney and expanding my love of new cultures, and new beers.
When I was 20, my wanderlust and desire for new adventures took me to California to work as Wrangler at a summer camp. I was so proud of myself to do it all alone, I was a truly independent woman. I embarked on this particular adventure knowing absolutely no-one. It was a decision I thought I would live to regret on the first leg of my journey, when at 3am I boarded a National Express bus in Preston (near Manchester) bound for Heathrow. It was filled to the rafters with very drunk Glaswegians, determined to sing rebel songs the whole way to London. To say I was uncomfortable is a little understated, nowadays I’d probably just join in the singing, but 43 is very different to 20.
When I got to the airport I spotted lots of gangs of people with the same ‘Camp Counselors USA’ luggage tag as me, all grouped together having the craic. I was so tempted to join them, but instead I sat nervously, pretending to read my book. It was only after I realised, that I hadn’t turned a page in 20 minutes and the book was in fact, upside down, that I decided to make the move and introduce myself to one of the groups. I never looked back!
This was my summer of discovery. Riding horses through the forests of the Southern California mountains, making a gaggle of international friends, sampling exciting new foods, and most memorably, meeting wonderful children with terminal illnesses, that showed me the true meaning of living life to the full.
I even got to ride on the back of a quad bike with a Calvin Klein model and played pool at the local bar, with Chandler from Friends – I kid you not!! The summer of 1996 was the best of my young life, and apologies for the cliché, but it was ‘the making of me’. Had my Nana not brought me here, there and everywhere from Bagillt to Brisbane, I don’t think I ever would have had the confidence or the desire to make that trip.
That love of new adventures and travel is what made me bite the bullet and move to Ireland. I came here on a 2-year contract, that was in 2002! Here we go with the biggest cliché of them all – I met Mick and the rest is history. My Nana helped to make me an Independent woman. Just like she was.
Being widowed at 60, with 3 of her 4 children living abroad, before Ryainair was even a twinkle in Michael O’Leary’s eye, way before straight forward, cheap travel was an option. But this blue rinsed, little old lady, with a passion for chocolate eclairs, made the most of the life she had and embraced it with all of her might.
In September, we held a mass in their honour, celebrating their memory. Even as a staunch agnostic, and dedicated Darwinist. My Mum wanted to mark their memory appropriately. My Autistic Son, Patrick doesn’t ‘do’ church. Every visit, it has gotten harder and harder, from rolling around on the floor, to refusing to participate in any way, even at the lovely monthly children’s service that is offered in Mohill.
He and Erin go to a Church of Ireland School, but we are all Catholic, so he has tried both flavours and finds neither to his taste. At Saoirse’s enrolment mass for Confirmation last year, Patrick sat in the row banging his head off the pew in front of him, shouting “this is f@@king stupid, I want to leave.” Mick and I decided that was probably the time to stop taking Patrick to mass!
My Mum didn’t mind that he wouldn’t be going today, to be honest I think she shares his sentiments on religion! I however had hoped that he may come for a little while, my good friend Nicola has always been on hand to remove all or any my children, should they become difficult, at important masses. I was hoping she might oblige today, so I could have Mick by my side, rather than at home minding Patrick.
We tried for weeks, but there was no convincing Patrick, then Halleluiah, he said that morning, he would come for a few minutes and was willing to sit quietly at the back with Mick, leaving if he felt uncomfortable. But this is my life, and nothing is ever straight forward.
My 6-year-old daughter,Erin, decided now was the time to have an epic meltdown about what clothes she would or would not wear. Even when we finally agreed to let her wear her filthy, ripped, too small LOL leggings, she had passed the point of no return. There would be no convincing her that anything other than rolling about on her bed screaming hysterically was an option.
Erin has serious meltdowns, so much so she has also been assessed for the possibility of being Autistic too. She apparently isn’t, but that message hasn’t reached the meltdown part of her brain, so it continues to launch meltdowns that would measure on the Richter Scale.
Sadly, due to the challenging behaviour, of Patrick at home, Erin experiences trauma and this drives her own challenging behaviour. Not to be out done by her big brother, Erin’s meltdowns, usually start, just as one of Patrick’s finishes. Never a dull moment in our house! Luckily Saoirse had been at a sleepover the previous night, and was meeting us at the church, so we didn’t have any teenage terror thrown into the mix.
So, with 5 minutes to spare before mass started and knowing my Dad’s watch was set precisely to 3 different time zones, I had to leave. I had hoped to attend this mass with my family, it was so important to me to commemorate this special day. I walked up to the mass by myself, but I didn’t feel like an independent woman. I just felt Alone.
That feeling of being alone is something no one warned me about when you are a parent to a child with special needs. You are surrounded by professionals of every shape, size and support agency. My parents moved here to support us. I engage in friend therapy (basically me whinging, whilst eating cake) regularly, and I am blessed to be have a supportive, engaged, husband.
But often, I do feel so very alone.
Logistically, I am regularly, physically alone, in order to facilitate the right environment to make life easier for Patrick, I attend things without Mick as he has to stay home taking my place, as carer. I sit alone most days, in the waiting room of the endless appointments.
But it’s more than that. Alone with my thoughts, alone with my fears, alone with my emotions and worst of all alone dealing with the fact that, I don’t always feel the way I’m apparently ‘supposed’ to feel about being a Special Needs Mum and at times it’s really bloody scary.
But then, I suppose that is the same for everyone. No matter what is going on in our lives, there are so many things we aren’t ‘supposed’ to talk about or aren’t ‘supposed’ to feel, but I believe maybe it’s time we all bloody started talking. Because if we start being honest with each other, then maybe we can honest with ourselves and that isn’t such a lonely place after all. It’s a liberating one.