Monday, 3 February 2020

Conversations with my children cont'd...

Oh, how times have changed.

Me: 'I got a text from Grandad this morning.  He said you left your earphones there when you stayed with them this weekend.'

Boy #2:  'Oh...'

Me:  'But don't worry - he said he'll post them up.'

Boy #2, confused:  'But why would he put them on the internet?'

Me:  Sigh.  'I mean, he'll send them to you.'  (Continued confusion on my son's face).  'By post.'  (Still no understanding).  'Oh, for pete's sake... Using the ROYAL MAIL.  In an envelope.'

I am a dinosaur.

Friday, 10 January 2020

'Mom jeans'. Really?

My blogging mate Toni Hargis posted the following comment this morning on fb:

'Mom jeans, M&S???
What fresh hell is this?'

Well, quite.

Has the world gone mad?  There's so much wrong with this concept I don't quite know where to start.  But let's begin with the fact that obviously, Mom's DON'T WEAR JEANS.

Of course we don't - we're far too staid, frumpy and downright out of touch with current fashion to want to clothe our aging bodies in denim.  I mean, what are M&S thinking?  There are perfectly suitable floral print mid-calf length skirts readily available in most supermarkets to clad the lower parts of our bodies (I would say 'legs' but obviously we don't mention those.  Far too vulgar).  And if we want to change it up a bit for high days and holidays, we can always venture into Laura Ashley, surely, and pick up a lovely patterned skirt with a matching pie-crust collared blouse to go with it.

Of course, I do appreciate the sentiment.  It's good to know that if some poor deluded mother should decide to go beyond the pale and consider a foray into the world of - shudder - denim, that M&S are there to help her make the correct purchase decision.  It would be awful for her to inadvertently buy something that is clearly only meant for those without children - straight fit, slim fit, god-forbid-skinny fit and so on.

No, much better to be able to walk straight to the 'mom jean' section of the store, where we're meant to shop.  I imagine that we'll probably be able to find wincyette nighties, big pants and housecoats in the same place.

Thanks, M&S.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Thanks for the memories

Ten years and one day ago today I arrived, with my family, in Moscow.  What an adventure that was.  The people we met, the places we visited, the experiences we had; I would not change one thing.  It was a five and a half year rollercoaster, one that in many ways we didn't want to get off. 

There were dark times, of course there were - nothing worthwhile comes without effort - but they helped to make me who I am today; a fifty two year old woman recovering from the flu who's using that as an excuse to sit down, do very little and revisit some old posts. 

Some of them are funny, some sad, some lost, some astonished at Moscow.  Not all of them are worth looking at second time.  I'd like to think that some are, however, and here's one  I wrote about travelling on the Moscow Metro.

Friday, 27 December 2019

Eyesight & Tracking; what it is, why it matters.

This is going to be a long one - but it's worth a read because if you have a child like mine, it could change your life.

(No pressure there, then).

My son (I am purposefully not identifying which of the two it is) is bright, clever, engaging, enthusiastic and charming.  He has wide and varied interests, a great sense of humour, a fantastic singing voice, and is a sensitve soul.

My son also has learning difficulties.  You probably wouldn't realise this if you met him away from the school environment, but they have impacted significantly on his life to-date.  From the age of approximately four until now there have been periods when our family has struggled to manage the anxiety he's suffered as a result of his challenges.  I won't go into detail here - it's his story to tell, not mine  - but it's been a steep learning curve for all of us.

As a result he periodically sees an educational psychologist to help him - and us - identify the best ways to support him, educationally and at home.  In the last report we received from them, there was a footnote that read something along the lines of:

'Children with X's learning profile often have problems with scanning and tracking, so it is recommended that you take him to a developmental optometrist and get this checked.'

OK.  Scanning and what?  Developmental what?  My son's eyesight had been checked - more than once - and despite a period aged around 5 or 6 when we noticed that he blinked a lot, the opticians always reported that he had 20:20 vision.  Surely this was going to be an expensive waste of time?

Nevertheless I found a developmental optometrist, and at the end of October he had his first appointment when we learned - after a session that at certain moments seemed like so much snake oil -  that he does have a tracking problem with his eyesight.

Until then, I didn't know what tracking - as a function of eyesight  - was.  Turns out, neither do some opticians, and those that do don't necessarily know how to check it, but in brief, a tracking problem is when a person does not have perfect binocular vision.  Essentially this means that when they look at an object their eyes are not focusing on the same point on that object.  This is not a problem if the object is more than around a metre away, but the impact on close work (reading, writing, sums and so on) can be enormous.

The best way to explain that is to ask you to think about how you read lines of text.  Maybe even these lines of text.  You think you're reading them in a gradual smooth motion from left to right, yes?  I did, anyway.  But that's not what's going on, not at all.  Our eyes and brains are complex and miraculous organs - you know that, I'm sure - and when most of us read, we are using a technique (which we are not even aware of) called 'hop and stop'.  We develop this naturally once we are proficient readers and have learned how to recognise entire words rather than decoding them letter by letter.  Instead, when our eyes see a line of text they break it into blocks of words, and then hop from one block to the next, stopping to read (i.e. recognise) each entire word in that block simultaneously before moving onto the next block.  For example, here are nine words as our eyes and brains might process them;

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog

Subconsciously we look at each block, recognise the words, and then move on.  (The size of the block will vary with reading age, but it could be 3, it could be 5 or 6.  Isn't the brain amazing?).  But what does this have to do with perfect binocular vision or the lack of it?

Let's imagine you are a person with tracking problems reading a line of text.  You read well; you've moved on from decoding words one letter at a time and instead recognise words when you see them on the page.  Your brain groups them together into blocks and unconsciously you 'hop and stop' across the page.  The only problem is that since your tracking is off your two eyes are not working as a team and looking at the same blocks of text.  It's hard to explain what that means in writing, but let's give it a go.  Below is line of textual numbers:

one two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen fourteen

You're not aware of it, but it's likely that you read it in blocks, as shown in different colours below:

one two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen fourteen fifteen

That's because your eyes, whilst working independantly of each other, still focus on the same groups of words, sending similar visual messages to your brain which then recognises and instantly understands the words.  This is perfect binocular vision.  Like I said, the brain; incredible.

Children and adults with tracking problems, however, don't see text in that way.  Their eyes over or under converge, which means the messages they send independantly to the brain don't match up.  My son, for example, has eyes that over-converge.  Let's imagine he's trying to read the words highlighted in red:

one two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen fourteen fifteen

It should be simple, but when he tries to read the words in red, the over-convergence of his eyes means that the message his brain gets (in red) is:

one two three four five                eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen fourteen fifteen

Unconsciously he knows something's not right.  There are two words missing, and on a subliminal level  his brain recognises that.   All humans fill in the spaces in situations like that - it's why we're able to make sense of those memes which on first sight are nonsense because of mis-spelt or missing letters - but supposing what we fill the gaps with is wrong?   My son's brain knows that's a possibility, so how to manage it, how to make sure the eyes haven't missed something important?

So it does the obvious thing; it sends an instruction to the eyes to read the block again.  But guess what?  Those eyes haven't miraculously cured themselves in the last nanosecond.  So it might take a person with tracking problems 3 or even 4 tries to read a line of text completely - and all without ever consciously knowing that this is going on (remember, they don't know any different).  Consequently, it takes that person 3 or 4 times as much effort to read each and every line of text.  Or numbers.  Or sums. Or really any kind of close work, including music, symbols and so on.

Just think about how exhausting that would be.

And whilst this is going on, the brain of this person with tracking problems is distracted from various other executive functions it should be managing.  Listening.  Focusing on what's going on around them.  Moving information from short to long term memory.  Filtering out white noise.  Working out the sense of what they are reading.  I could go on, but I'm sure you get it.

In my sons' case this diagnosis explained a great deal whilst still leaving me wondering what to do next. Would it mean surgery, or lengthy sessions of special exercises?  How was I going to persuade him to buy into it all? But no.  This situation - this condition that has impacted on my son's entire learning process until now - can be (mostly) fixed, and not with invasive medical procedures or exhausting daily sessions of eye exercises, but with a special pair of glasses (available on the NHS), and regular checks to ensure the prescription is correct.  And there are no special exercises; for the glasses to help correct the problem all he has to do is wear them for close work (reading, writing, sums etc) as a matter of course for the next eighteen months to three years.  Whilst they will always be helpful, he will - after that time - not need them as a matter of course.

I've been sitting staring at the screen trying to find the right words to sum up what has happened since my son got his glasses.  From the first day, it was as if I was picking up another child from school.  A boy who told me about his day.  Who had the energy to converse.  Who will sit and do his homework without real complaint, without panicking he won't be able to do it, without running away in a tantrum when things didn't go to plan, without hiding (literally) from the fear of failure.  A boy who goes to school so much more happily in the morning.

It's been a game changer.   He still has learning difficulties, but now he has more energy to deal with them, and as a consequence so do we.

This is not a sponsored post.  But here's a link in case you're interested in finding out more about scanning and tracking and possible treatments for it.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Taking stock

Well, hello.

I'd forgive you for thinking I'd hung up my blogging hat and disappeared for good - I have to admit, the thought had crossed my mind.  It's not that I've had nothing to say in the last ten months, you understand; more that I've had too much.  But here I am, again, picking up the reins and wondering if anyone out there will find time to read this.

A quick update; Boys #1 and #2 are now well into secondary school, getting taller, smarter and funnier (to Husband and I, at any rate) all the time.  Boy #1 has overtopped me by 3 inches already, and whilst Boy #2 isn't there yet, our feet are practically the same size.  There is, of course, no way I can even consider helping with maths or science homeworks for either of them.  Not without a great deal of humiliation for me or eye-rolling on their part, at any rate.

We're still living in the UK, Husband still travels for his job, and The Dog is still the only member of the family who's face ever makes it onto the internet.  Here he is, practicing looking noble and hoping that I will forget the fact he got me up twice in the night to take him outside so he could deal with the after-effects of eating something revolting on a walk yesterday. (No chance, sunshine).

As for me, amongst other things I've spent the last year writing, re-writing and then completely starting from scratch a novel which I am determined to finish one way or the other before Christmas.  (This, obviously, is why I am now blogging again.  Procrastination, much?)

Blogging for me is still likely to be theraputic, to make myself laugh, to self-edit the crap stuff, and to record memories, in the main, but it may also prove useful as the occasional soap box. - apologies for that.  

However (yes, I drew you in with the picture of the dog, didn't I?  You should have known that wasn't all there was too it), if you are reading, and I have got your attention, I would like to direct your attention to an article in today's Guardian regarding the disproportionate decline in the number of opportunities for women in the retail sector.  I would also like to suggest that the next time you go to the supermarket you think twice about picking up that hand-held terminal, and instead endure the additional five minutes or so it takes to queue at a checkout, and be served by a person.

Because honestly, is the time we might save by using the hand-held really worth somebody else's job?

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Another snapshot

It's been a while - but let's not dwell on that, eh?

Another snapshot from Life with Boys.  Boy #1 has been manfully fighting off a cold for the last couple of days.  This is the same cold his father succumbed to for a week.  When I say 'cold' it was of course more than that for Husband; it was a Man Cold. This required that he commandeer the only warm room in the house (the kitchen, obvs), so that despite his life-sapping illness he could continue work as best he could, from home.

In turn this required that everyone else vacate the kitchen (remember; the only warm room in the house) so that he could make calls, and do all the other Important Things that Couldn't Wait for him to recover. Needless to say, I was delighted when the cold lifted and the kitchen was no longer off limits.

Anyway, back to Boy #1. 

This morning, after a difficult night, he announced that he was too exhausted to go to school today.  Thinking back to Husband's illness last week I decided to go against normal practice - which is a) to check their temperature is normal and b) make sure they are not throwing up or the Other Thing and c) if both of the previous are fine, send them to school anyway - and let him stay home. Anything to avoid a teen with a Man Cold.

I know.  I am a soft touch.  Except, I haven't told you my dastardly plan yet.  It worked as follows:

Me:  'Ok, you can stay home....'

Boy #1: 'Thanks, Mum.'

Me:  'But!  I still want you to take a shower this morning, and then you can come down to breakfast with your pj's on. If you still feel rotten after that, you can go back to bed.'

Boy #1: 'OK.' (doing his best to look pale and wan).

After a healthy breakfast (Weetabix, scotch pancakes with maple syrup), Boy #1 started to make his way into the den, phone in hand.

Me: 'Where are you going?'

Boy #1:  'Into the den. To rest...'

Me:  'Oh, no.  If you're going to rest, you're going back to bed. All day.  And you're leaving your phone down here.'

An hour later, he reappeared.  'I've had a rest.'

Me: 'Great.  The tv's staying off though, and your phone is still off limits.  I recommend you go back to bed, really knock this thing on the head.'

Boy #1 paused.  'Ummm.  Actually, I think I'm ok to go to school.  If that's alright.'

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Breaks and accidents

One of my current chores is dropping off and picking up the Boys - #1 & #2 - from school.  This is necessary because Boy #1 has a broken leg.  Boy #2 could walk, of course he could, but as any sensible parent of teens will tell you, if one of your children needs a lift somewhere there is No Way the other can countenance walking - even if Exercise Is A Good Thing, and that they would Really Benefit From A Little Fresh Air.

It's not so bad, really; after spending the summer holidays ferrying my older son around like a junior pasha, injured limb propped up on cushions across the back seat of the car, making the short trip to school twice a day doing the same thing does, in fact, seem like a bit of a break.  (Not an intentional use of that word, but it seems to fit so I'll stick with it...)

Ten days after the start of term, the boys threw open the car doors and climbed in, all mangled bags, crumpled blazers and monosyllabic grunts.  Boy #1, thankfully now not requiring the entire back seat, thumped onto the front next to me.


I glanced down to the floor, and saw that below the cast encasing his leg from knee to the ball of his foot, his big toe was wrapped in bandages.  Please, not again.

"Oh god.  What happened?  Is your leg alright?"

"My leg's fine.  I slipped, and cut the bottom of my toe."

"How on earth did you manage that?"

A long explanation followed.  Well - long for a fifteen year old, as I believe more than ten words were required.  He had been in the school gym going through the exercises set by his physio, and it had seemed like a good idea to remove the plastic sandal protecting the underside of his plaster cast.  When nature called,  rather than waste valuable time putting the sandal back on, he'd headed for the bathroom without it - and that was when the accident happened and he'd tripped and sliced a sizeable piece skin off the base of his toe.

There was quite a lot of blood, he assured me.  After asking whether the accident had hurt the healing broken leg - it hadn't - I moved on to my next question.

"Why on earth did you take the sandal off?"

"I don't know.  I just did."

"But you'd left the trainer on your other foot...?"  He nodded.  "Because - you just did, I suppose?"

He nodded again.

I took a deep breath.  "OK.  Well, I'm not going to say anything about that - although I'm sure you've worked out for yourself that walking around with one leg essentially longer than the other is likely to lead to tripping up."

The faint look of suprise suggested that perhaps he hadn't considered that as a cause for the incident, but he nodded seriously - mostly, I think, in the hope of shutting me up.  It didn't work.

"And - no, don't look at me like that, I hadn't finished - the only other thing I want to say is that whilst you've got this cast on, the next time you think of taking your sandal off away from home, can you consider where you are beforehand?  Because of all the indoor places to do that, the gym - where people sweat, wear dirty trainers etc, is probably the second worst place to do so."

He sighed heavily.  "OK Mum.  Where's the first worst place, then?"

"I'm glad you asked.  The worst place to be without proper footwear, for reasons I really hope I don't need to spell out, is where you were headed for - the school toilets."

Is it just boys, I wonder?  Answers in the comments box, please...