Category Archives: individual development

Fifteen

One evening in early May, fifteen years ago, I greeted my husband with alarm when he came home from work. I was newly on maternity leave, nervously awaiting the birth of my first child and had spent the day in conscientious preparation (washing baby clothes in non-biological powder, packing a hospital bag), eating and dozing off in front of the television. I had awoken in a daze to find myself watching a travel programme where a harried, old-looking couple were trying to find a suitable holiday for themselves and their morose teenage sons.

I had not found out the sex of my baby but I knew, deep down, that I was having a boy and I suddenly started to panic about how I was going to manage with a teenage son.  What on earth had possessed me to think this mothering business was the right thing to do? Why had it not occurred to me until now – when there was clearly no going back – that a little baby boy would grow up into a giant, sullen creature with whom one would have to find a suitable holiday to go on? The only thing that calmed me down that evening, as I paced around a flat punctuated by lots of little babygrows drying here and there on radiators, was the rationalisation that, by the time one had a teenage son, one would (hopefully) have got to know him and so the whole going-on-holiday-thing might be less of a challenge.

Fast forward fifteen years and I like to think I understand my teenage boy and what makes him tick, for now at least.

It seems rather abrupt, however, that he has suddenly attained an age that can be counted up in fives, leading me to reminisce about him being a baby, about him being five, and ten and anticipating the speed at which twenty will come hurtling towards me. Time with him feels like it is accelerating and is being used up at a terrific rate. Unlike the baby-time – those hours that could feel like days, or the sleepless nights that could feel like weeks. It is poignant and a bit sobering to realise that there is really not very much time left with him at home to have those family holidays in that sent me into such a flat spin back in 2001. I have now started to worry instead about how to fit it all in, about how to make it count, about how to not forget the hours, the days and the terms which are slipping away in a blur of football fixtures, cricket matches, margherita pizzas and mock GCSEs.

The time I do spend with my boy now is precious. In years gone by, he could often be an even-tempered, personable, intelligent and funny companion: at fifteen, he is all of these things consistently.   Most of the time, he has a new maturity of attitude and is equable and affable (sibling relations sometimes being honourable exceptions).

He has a new, deepened interest in music and has eclectic tastes – equally interested in attending a classical concert with his parents and grandfather to listen to Elgar and Vaughan Williams; in listening to and researching the music of the Beatles; in understanding the reason why 80s classics are 80s classics and even in attempting his own compositions on the piano or guitar. We spent an enjoyable hour or two recently listening to a downloaded ‘Best of British’ album where I challenged him to guess the performer and the decade of each track and a long car journey at Easter was punctuated by having to score and rank Beatles tracks out of ten. I can share favourite old songs with a truly appreciative audience, telling him about dancing him to sleep with Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ when he was a baby, or explaining why John Lennon’s ‘Watching the Wheels’ struck such a chord with me when I stopped going out to work for a while.

He is endlessly acquisitive, searching facts and opinions on a diverse range of topics and – gradually – learning the difference between facts and opinions. He is articulate and well-informed on lots of current affairs, with a particular interest in the U.S. election, as well as an absolutely encyclopaedic knowledge of worldwide football statistics, honed by the considerable amount of his time which he devotes to football you-tubers. He is determined to get to the bottom of whatever he comes across, such as questioning me endlessly about the Cold War (as well as the rights and wrongs of 80s fashion) whilst watching Deutschland ’83 with me.

He is a child of his times in his communication strategies. He is a humourous texter (sometimes sending them to me in French or German, just because he can) and will sometimes talk to me via text from a different room in the house. This is not quite what I usually have in mind when I want to talk to him, but can sometimes elicit more information from him than a conventional conversation. He emails me his Christmas and birthday lists, but it is always politely done, with an acknowledgement that he does not expect everything on the list and with helpful links to the actual things he wants.   What he wants, aged 15, is trendy clothes (with a particular propensity for near-identical, ruinously expensive long sleeved grey tops), sheet music and lots of chocolate.

He is badly organised, messy, charming, impractical, beautiful, sensitive, bright and bonny.

He is physically stronger, bigger, hungrier, leaner and male-r than ever before, but I think he still has quite a way to grow.

If I could go back to the first week of May 2001, I would tell myself not to worry. Your boy is amazing and you will look forward to a holiday with him the summer he is fifteen.

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Mothering a Teenage Son – A Moment

It didn’t happen overnight, him being taller than me. It just felt like it did.

For so long, he was a little, little boy, catching up with me, inch by slow inch, agonising about how long it was taking him to grow, about how all his friends were towering over him. One year, he was under my chin, the next up to my mouth, then my nose, my eyebrows, my hairline; small amounts, year on year.

Then one day, I glanced over at him and realised that my eyes had to adjust upwards, to take in a defined jaw and handsome, long face. I realised that the tiny, incremental, years-long changes had crystallised into a beautiful young man, my teenage son.

……………..

When he was a very little boy, before he learned to speak properly, he would nevertheless make his views perfectly clear, as only toddlers can. ‘Big Up!’ he would command, imperiously holding his pudgy arms aloft in my direction, demanding to be picked up and carried.  ‘Big Up!’ I would repeat, swinging him up to my lofty height, showing him the world from my vantage point as he nestled his smooth cheeks into my neck and clung on to me.

The Big Up phase seemed at the time to last forever, an oft-repeated refrain punctuating my long, stay-at-home-mother days. A demand I found increasingly difficult to obey, as he grew heavier, as my belly swelled and my arms filled with his siblings.

Now, it seems like it went in a flash and I wish I could hear his baby voice lisping the command one more time.

………………

Last week, he came home from school and showed me the work in progress of the muscles in his  biceps whilst I was cooking the children’s tea in the kitchen. ‘Punch me there, Mum’ he exhorted in his deep, deep voice, ‘punch me, so I can see if it hurts’.   I explained, patiently, mother-like, as I carried on cooking, that I was not in the habit of punching my children and I had no intention of starting now.

He was briefly distracted by food, but waged an impressive campaign throughout the evening, continually urging me to punch his upper arm. ‘I don’t want to hurt you’, I repeated and he just raised his eyebrows at me quizzically, dismissing that notion as so self-evidently ludicrous that it did not even require a comment.

So, eventually, I did. I danced around on my feet to try to make him laugh, telling him I was going to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, as he stood there, bicep clenched in anticipation of the blow.   I didn’t put my back into it, of course. I wasn’t about to try to hurt him deliberately and I like to think I would have punched an assailant with considerably more force. Nevertheless, my pride also made me want to impress him with some modicum of strength.

Is that it?’ he said, with a disarming grin, when I had landed my blow – ‘never mind Mum’ and he ruffled my hair with a devastating smile, adding ‘Is there anything else to eat? I’m still hungry’.

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What has the FA Coaching Course ever done for us?

trainingAct 1

Scene 1

I turned away from no.2 son’s football practice and headed towards the lean, grey-haired man who was erecting goalposts and nets for the afternoon’s senior matches. Our paths had crossed on Saturday mornings before.

He held the key to the gate into the running track. That’s where the posts are kept between matches and he had let, or at least not stopped, my touchline pal and me onto the track to do laps while our boys practised.

An older man, diligently performing a community function.

“Can I help?” I asked, wanting to thank him and gain his confidence so that future excursions to the running track could be assured.

“No. It’s alright,” he replied.

I stood beside the goal and tried to be sociable. “Which team is it playing here this afternoon?”

The grey-haired man told me. “Oh,” I said redundantly, “not United”, the club my boys play for and whose practice sessions were going on around us.

“No,” he confirmed, “not this rubbish,” and he swept his arm out to indicate the dozens of kids running around on mini pitches. “This isn’t football. None of these kids are going to be footballers. This is just nonsense that comes from the FA.”

“Right. Well, good luck this afternoon,” I wished him, cutting short his rant and heading back to watch no.2 son, apparently, not playing football.

Scene 2

No.1 son and I arrived at our local park for a kick-about. A school friend, also with his Dad, recognised no.1 son and we combined for an impromptu Dads v Lads match.

No.1 son was eight and had three years of junior club football behind him. Contriving defeats when we played each other was becoming easier, but still required concentration to ensure a close finish. His school friend wasn’t a member of a club and was less adroit. His Dad, a well-built, near six-footer, played close to full throttle. He challenged his own son for the ball, barging him over and then blasted the ball past no.1 son’s left ear, claiming a goal and leaving the keeper to trot fifty yards across the park to collect the ball.

On our way home, no.1 son and I speculated that his friend may have reason for being less keen to take up playing football.

Scene 3

Standing on the touch line at the pro-club development centre, I chatted to MarineDad, parent to one of no.2 son’s club team mates who had also been ‘spotted’. We discussed football and it was taking all my social skills to maintain a conversation where I disagreed with 90% of the opinions being expressed to me.

“They teach them these ball skills. Don’t know why they bother. I say to my lad in the garden, ‘take the ball past me’. He tries these fancy moves and all I have to do is stick my foot out to get the ball off him.”

Act 3

Scene 1

No.1 son is going on football tour. To Holland, aged just 12. It’s a team effort from the responsible adults at the club. A team lead by the Dad I first met in the park four years earlier, barging over his son and blasting the ball past my son. He has galvinised the parents and, importantly, the boys into fund-raising. He has consulted parents, reassured anxieties, even anticipated concerns: quietly explaining to me how he plans to ensure that no.1 son, as the sole vegetarian, is well-nourished and won’t subsist on a diet of chips.

The tour, like any adventure for 12 year old boys away from home, is not without incident. But he is instrumental in putting those incidents into perspective, and making the trip a sporting, social and developmental success. He cares about the boys he coaches.

The following year, he is hospitalised. He continues to text us, from his sick-bed, letting us know what’s happening that week for the team. He discharges himself to attend matches, to see how the boys are doing. The only difference is that he is, mercifully, a little quieter.

The team has groups of mates and some lads outside of those groups. He notices and challenges his players to recognise the value those boys bring to the team. He’s an extrovert, doing something difficult, looking out for the introverts.

The boys are now 15 and he knows that they have reached an age when many will be drawn away from playing the game. He is trying to run a team that will continue to be important to as many of these lads as possible.

Scene 2

No.2 son is thriving in his club’s first team. They are amongst the best in the district, playing a fast, passing-brand of football.

To begin with, they lost a lot of games. They kept changing goalkeeper, whereas all the successful teams had one boy in goal every game. The instruction they got from the side-line during matches was briefer, less angry and macho than that received by most of their opponents.

MarineDad is the co-coach and chief organiser. He noticed early on that the boys shook off the defeats faster than the Dads – including himself. He persevered with the style of play and by the end of the first season began to see whole matches, not just flashes, of smooth, cultured football. The keepers, three per game, are still volunteers.

When a game against a particular opponent, for a second time turns ugly, he takes measured sensible action, reassuring parents that he won’t allow a repetition. His one good knee buckles, so he runs training on crutches and even referees a match in a knee brace. When the coach for another of the club’s teams cannot attend training, he helps them out.

———————

What happened to Act 2?

A lot must have happened in the lives of these two dad-coaches between Acts 1 and 3, so much that it would be misleading to ascribe the changes I have seen to a single factor. However, I do know that both attended the FA Coaching Course and I do know that both talked differently about junior football after it. They are both good men, whose potential as coaches has been released by some timely educational input.

What about the lean, grey-haired man?

He still assembles the goals for Saturday afternoon’s senior fixtures by himself. I’ve not seen anyone help him, or try chatting to him. I think I have a solution for him. There’s a course he could attend..

 

 

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Ten

We had a difficult start, my last child and me, ten short years ago this month.

Three pregnancies in four a half years, a difficult birth keeping me in hospital for several days and the demands of mothering a four year old boy and a two year old girl had left me bone-weary and ill-equipped to give him the attention he deserved in those early days.

I don’t think any of us coped very well that first year. He cried, they cried and I cried: my memories of 2006 are a blurred confusion of tears, sick, nappies, double buggies, plastic animals and plain boiled pasta. His (as then undiagnosed and now outgrown) food intolerances to dairy and egg led to prolonged screaming and endless vomiting from him and frustration from me as he tried to digest the milk I produced on my dairy and egg rich diet.

A decade on, it is almost impossible to conjure up the difficulties and the tiredness I felt then. My baby is now a beautiful, mostly cheerful, entertaining, irreverent and endlessly affectionate boy who has a great capacity for joy and who makes me laugh every single day. As the youngest in the family and the only child still at primary school, I see him now testing out a number of roles for himself – the joker, the sportsman, the Mancunian man-in-waiting, the eternal baby of the family.

At a time when I am having to reconcile myself to my older children of 14 and 12 growing up and away from me, I find great solace in the manifestations of the physical attachment to me which have thus far not left him. He is still keen to hold my hand, to sit on my knee or to ask me to lie next to him in his bed to help him go to sleep. More than this, though, he has a touching tendency to communicate the exact nature of the comfort this gives him: ‘I like this part of your shoulder the best Mummy’, he said to me recently, intently stroking a specific two inch length of my collar bone for a couple of minutes. Or, at the point of drifting off to sleep, whispering ‘I missed you in Maths today Mummy and wanted you to be on the seat opposite me so I could look at you’. As a younger boy, his class were asked to write a description of somebody and he wrote about my ‘soft hands’. In fact, he sets great store by softness generally. He has a special furry pillow case and will usually only wear soft trousers with a fleecy lining.

Another defining characteristic of my boy at ten is his enormous physical energy. I have often heard it said that boys are like dogs and, whilst it is a lazy analogy, the comparison certainly holds partly true in his case. He needs at least one outing a day, preferably more, otherwise trying to contain his energy indoors becomes painful.  He has a propensity to roll in mud and chase balls and regularly comes home from school in another child’s spare trousers, presenting me with a mud-soaked bundle of his own clothes with a rueful smile.

Although there are some encouraging recent signs that he is starting to sleep later in the mornings, he has thus far in his life awoken ready for the day, metaphorical tail a-wagging, at a painfully early hour and gone into everyone’s bedroom to enquire in a stage whisper whether they are awake yet. He is constantly hungry, wolfing down his favourites in surprisingly large quantities for a boy his size, big brown eyes looking eagerly for more. When he is happy, his energy erupts from him, causing dives and rolls around the floor, leaps around the furniture and an uncontrollable, infectious belly-laugh which can make adults in nearby rooms pause and smile at the wholehearted joy of it.

He is a committed, enthusiastic and competitive sportsman who has his older brother’s achievements in his sights. He is fast, bold and strong, often beating bigger and older boys at running and football. He is fearless and heroic on the field: his spells in goal often have me wincing and shielding my eyes as he launches himself towards metal goalposts to throw himself in the path of a hurtling ball.

He is careless of injury and impressively stoical when it invariably happens, enduring the studs in the leg or balls in the face which have other children understandably crying and being led from the pitch. In stark contrast to his first year of life, he now rarely cries in pain and I feel true panic if he ever does cry. He is also stoical when ill. When his siblings are occasionally struck down by illness, they will cry or throw up where they are, rendered instantly vulnerable and requiring rescue, but, since being very little, he has trotted obediently to the bathroom to complete the necessary unpleasantnesses in the neatest way possible.

However, whilst displaying stoicism in the face of physical challenges, pain or illness, my boy at ten is increasingly showing vulnerability in other more cerebral areas, as he comes to terms with growing up in our particular family, in our particular world. He is recently tearful, fearful and jumpy, imagining that strangers will attack our home, mistaking the noise of fireworks for gunshots and worrying that we will be gunned down if we travel to Europe on holiday. He is easily spooked by the tall tales from boys at school about ghostly faces in windows and is easy prey for an (occasionally) merciless older brother, who is trying to distance himself from his own previous insecurities by mocking his little brother’s.  The boy who shows no fear of physical challenges or danger can be reduced to a shaking, shivering, crying child who can only get to sleep with an overhead light shining directly in his face or a parent next to him holding his hand, the furrowed brow and quivering lip softening into a toddler-like curve of flushed cheek and swoop of long eyelash as sleep quickly overtakes him.

He is acutely aware of his place as the youngest child in the family and displays increasing vulnerability when comparing himself to the achievements of his brother and sister, particularly living in an area still ‘blessed’ with a selective secondary school system, which is now looming large for him. Whilst his teachers do not recognise my descriptions of a boy who hates school, he usually comes out of his classroom sulky and miserable and declares on a daily basis that he hates school and is no good at anything (or at least anything academic – he acknowledges some sporting prowess). Perhaps this is some sort of self-protective mechanism against his fear of failure, the result of having siblings decreed by the system to be clever and successful, or perhaps he genuinely just does not enjoy school and I am over-analysing the situation. Either way, it upsets me that my lovely, clever, intuitive boy feels this way and I am at a loss as to how to resolve it for him.

He also shows that he is testing out an identity for himself as a northern boy, in a northern town. He revels in his northern accent (consciously making it stronger and broader), prefers the nylon football strips of his sporting heroes to the jeans and jumpers I buy for him and spends time perfecting his goal celebration signature moves, usually involving thumping his chest, running around in circles whilst acknowledging the adulation from an imagined thousands-strong crowd and sliding on his knees. I gave him dolls and even dressed him up in his sister’s princess outfits in his early years, but he has rejected all my attempts to avoid stereotyping and deliberately chooses mannerisms, actions and clothing which signal his preferred role models to the rest of the world.

 

My last child entering double digits is a rite of passage for me. For nearly fifteen years, I have found my identity as a mother to young children. My last child leaving single digits heralds for me a brave new world of less physical parenting, more time to myself and the need to develop a new relationship with my son as he grows, when I know I will still see the face of the beautiful baby he was in the face of the beautiful, complex boy he is becoming, when I turn off the bright light shining in his sleeping face.

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Twelve

party_12

 

Occasionally, now, she can be prickly,

As hormones without warning ambush her,

Diverting her from habitual dimples and smiles,

Into causeless tears and despairing shrugs.

She does not know why she feels this way,

But I do. I remember.

 

So I open my arms and pull her close –

Small enough still to tuck under my chin,

With room to spare.

As she nestles into my chest,

Her father’s blue eyes look up at me

From her upturned face, freckled and pale

Like cinnamon sprinkled on milk.

 

She is all elbows and knees, jabbing into me,

Lithe and lean,

Limbs like knotted rope

From the hours upside down or swinging high

In her purple velvet leotard,

The slightest curves beginning now to break the lines.

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Bold fearful boy

FullSizeRenderObserving no.1 son grow up has, on many occasions, felt like undergoing a psycho-therapeutic exploration of my childhood. So many of his motivations and anxieties trigger memories of my own youth and the predicaments that my thoughtful but naïve younger being would self-inflict. And seeing my older son heading up cul-de-sacs of his own making would make me wish I could convey what I have learnt: making mistakes is uncomfortable but worth getting used to; doing something is almost always better than doing nothing (exceptions: sinking sand); you only look embarrassing if you are looking embarrassed.

I have never been unaware of the possibility that I am merely projecting my personality and motivations onto my older son. Approach a problem with a particular frame and you’ll see what you want to see. I believe, though, that I have indisputable evidence that this is not a solipsistic delusion. The most persuasive argument I can present is: no.2 son.

Four and three-quarters years younger than his older brother, the third and last of Mother in the Middle and my progeny, he clearly has different influences to the first born: the example of two older siblings, relatively relaxed and experienced parents, a busy household, a school and social life where for many he is so-and-so’s little bro’.

Yet, allowing for these environmental factors, there is an innate distinctiveness. When friends ask how the family is, I relate Mother in the Middle’s non-stop life and then for the children I will summarise the latest achievements of no.1 son and the 1&onlyD, then pause. “No.2 son, he’s just a [insert age] BOY.” That sounds belittling, but I know when I’m saying it, I’m shaking my head with wonder, trying but failing to encapsulate the essence of energetic, affectionate, noisy, charming infancy that he represents. Where his older brother and sister have been precocious, pushing some of the boundaries of their age, no.2 son exists comfortably within the developmental median for his calendar age. He’s a pup in no hurry to be a dog.

Mother in the Middle booked our summer holiday before last Christmas. The kids had months to speculate and build expectations of their two week stay in France in August: the pool, the tennis court, canal, river, pizzeria, beaches and French folk. One day, earlier in the summer, rain falling outside, the 1&onlyD was longing for this trip. It would be so good just to sit in the sun and read, we agreed. No.2 son heard us, expressed shock: “No. There’s a pool and a river, we’re going to be swimming, not reading.” We had, but really didn’t need, fair warning.

The first morning of the holiday, I woke early. I carried a chair, a book and a cup of tea out into the sunny garden. Minutes later, no.2 son was at my shoulder, asking for breakfast. Not many minutes after that, he was back, in swimming shorts.

Can we go to the pool?

No. It’s too early.

Will you play football?

Not yet. And can you speak quietly, there are lots of people sleeping around here

Ok. [withdraws, singing heartily]

Throughout the two weeks, no.2 son’s appetite for activity was continuous, and probably entirely consistent with that of a nine year old. In child- and adulthood, I have had a threshold where the desire for activity is submerged by a preference for comfort. Sure, I’ll play in the pool. But once I’ve dried off, getting wet and cold again has insufficient appeal. A kickabout in the garden is fun, but tea time means full-time, not half-time. No.1 son shows similar reservations and qualified commitment.

I admire and envy my younger son’s relentless pursuit of physical fulfilment. Another plunge into the pool, yet more charging after a ball in the garden, gymnastics with his sister if that’s the only action on offer. This physical boldness equips him well for sport: tackle after tackle on the football field; every time he gets the ball, a dribble past opponents or attempted defence-splitting pass; in goal, he bursts out towards attackers, diving at their feet; on the cricket field always closing in on the batsman, defying the coach’s instruction to take 10 steps backwards; sliding, sprawling to stop the ball hit in his vicinity.

Standing on the touchline, I see him play without fear. It is exhilarating, the most predictably exciting part of my week. And it’s disorientating, that a child with my genetic inheritance runs unencumbered by fear, the very impulse that has inhibited my every sporting fixture or active adventure.

He’s not tireless or immune to pain, but neither are reasons to stop. Activity is an end in itself. Comfort, reflection, quiet time are reluctantly accepted and usually attempted swinging from a chair, singing or chatting in a funny voice. A family friend once asked Mother In the Middle what it must be like for no.2 son to live in such a quiet family. It’s a good question.

Where might this boldness end? In A&E, Mother in the Middle worries, particularly when we’re on holiday. Our time in France, though, showed that it has its natural limits.

Sitting together on the flight, I tried to distract no.2 son’s anxiety of flying by reading and offering sweets. Twenty minutes after take-off, his hand still gripping my arm, Bilbo Baggins’ adventures were lost in the drone of the plane’s engines and no.2 son’s anxious inattention. A lady in the row behind tapped me on the arm. “My daughter wondered if your son would be happier with this,” handing me an iPad, headphones and a Pixar movie, which he used for the rest of the flight.

Shopping in France, there was a bouleversement in the supermarket. A known shop-lifter was being escorted out, against her will, noisily. No.2 son grabbed my arm and tried to drag me away from the till which the assistant was keeping shut while the incident was dealt with. “It’s a riot. I want to go. Take me out,” he implored.

Then there was the thunderstorm. Like flying (and dogs) it’s not an unusual fear for a nine year old. But, given his bullish, bold presence through so much of life, it’s a reaction that surprises me.

There’s one rather bland conclusion to this reflection about my younger son: that we are all complex beings with apparent contradictions at our heart.

Writing it down has helped me reach a slightly more sophisticated insight. It suits my shorthand image of my family that no.1 son is ever so similar to me and his younger brother a different animal all together. As a shorthand it holds a lot of truth. But as an appreciation of my children it short changes them and risks me under-appreciating where my older son is different to me (his ease in the company of adults, is a strong example) and the many aspects of my younger son where I can’t just sit back and say, “Wow, I could never have done that.” Difficult as it is to do, I would be better off keeping the comparisons to myself out of it.

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An Inspiring Mother

hands2If you were to catch a glimpse of Anne walking down the street, you would not think her extraordinary in any way. Perhaps you wouldn’t even notice her in the first place – most people don’t notice old women. If you did pause to look for a moment, you would see a white haired, stooped, smartly dressed eighty three year old who still moves quite briskly for her age. If you looked a little longer, you may pick up in her unflinching, challenging gaze a hint of the steeliness and determination that sustains her.

Anne’s son is nearly fifty now. He does not live with her, but she sees him three times a week. One day she visits him, one day he is brought to see her and one day they are supported to go on an outing together. If they have enough staff on the rota to provide him with the two-to-one cover that is required to keep everyone safe, that is, so quite often it gets cancelled.

She told me that she knew from when he was a toddler that something wasn’t right. To start with, people told her the tantrums were a phase that he would grow out of and that all children behaved this way. She so wanted to believe that her beautiful, bewildered boy would stop the biting, the head-butting, the rocking, but as time went on and he didn’t grow out of anything, she grew more and more worried. As the months and years ground on, it was clear to everyone that he wasn’t developing as he should; that he was not ‘normal’. The few words he learned were simply not adequate for him to articulate the frustrations he felt with the world and so the lashings out continued. He clung to Anne as to an anchor in a stormy sea but, sometimes, she got in the way and the older he got, the more it hurt.

Friends drifted away. He was too difficult to be around and people – even the kind hearted, sympathetic ones – didn’t want their children to be around him. Eventually, when their boy was five, Anne’s husband left too and neither of them have seen or heard from him since.

The doctors tried to help her, but they couldn’t find an answer. He was definitely autistic, they told her, but that couldn’t explain everything. There was no other specific diagnosis, but talk of ‘developmental delay’. They talked about finding him a place in a children’s home, about how this would be the best place for ‘a boy like him’. So she went to look at the one they wanted to send him to and decided that no-one was going to lock her son up and throw away the key.

Who will love him when I’m not here?

So she fought the doctors who thought they knew best and kept him at home with her. She fought the social workers and she found a special school that would take him. She fought the local authority and she got the budget for transporting him to school and home again and for some respite time for her, so she could keep going. She fought the system and – eventually – she got the disability benefits to which they were both entitled.

Who will fight for him when I’m not here?

When he got to be adult sized, Anne realised she could no longer cope by herself. She couldn’t keep him safe and she couldn’t keep herself safe. She couldn’t believe that he wanted to hurt her, when she knew he loved and needed her so very much, but she did keep getting hurt. The amount of physical restraint required to control him became impossible when there was only her there to do it and he was bigger and stronger than she was. The complexities of dealing with a boy whose hormones, cruelly, developed normally whilst the rest of him did not, were too great for her to manage alone. So he went to live in a house with ‘boys like him’, with staff there day and night. And then, in due course, to another house, with different men.

Now, at almost fifty, he has been living in the same house for nearly two decades. Other men have come and gone, carers’ faces have changed regularly but there has been stability and security for him and always his mother at the centre of it all. Anne has continued to fight for him every step of the way, has been at every assessment and has protested against every repeated attempt to cut his care package. She has taught herself about the law and about his rights and she has been tenacious at securing those for him.

And now, as she progresses into old age, Anne is preoccupied with trying to make sure everything is as secure as it can be for her child before she dies. She has made sure that her son is not just locked away, that he has the opportunity to have physiotherapy in a hydropool, that his physical health needs are not neglected just because he cannot articulate what those needs are, that he is taken out into the community with an appropriate level of support.

Who will make sure he gets what he deserves when I am gone?

She has made friends with each and every one of the underpaid, endlessly replaceable carers assigned to be his key worker, to show them she appreciates what they do in the hope that they will be more inclined to look kindly on her son.

How will he cope in a world when he is difficult to like and there is no one left who loves him?

She is dismayed at the news of the austerity measures and the public sector cuts and what this will mean for her boy. She has refused to accept austerity-inspired attempts by harried social workers to ‘still meet his assessed needs, but in a cheaper way’ and has harnessed the support of charities and solicitors to prevent her son being moved, aged 49, to a care home with people decades older than him.

Who will protect him when I’m not here?

Anne once told me that she wished people who said they never wanted their children to grow up had some understanding of what having a child denied the opportunity to grow up was like for a mother. Meeting her, witnessing the strength of her love for her son and the extent of the fight she has made, has been humbling and moving.

She is an inspiration as a woman, an (unsung) disability campaigner, carer and mother.

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