The Dash In-Between

There is a dash which represents our lives between birth and death.

This is the dash.

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My dash has one date before it because I’m still alive, or at least I think I am?

*checks pulse*

Yep, still here.

One day there will be two dates because there is no doubt, whatsoever, that I’m going to die.

I try not to worry about that too much.

OK, I’m lying through my teeth. I torture myself DAILY with thoughts of death. But then I suffer from health anxiety, innit?

I don’t fear death itself. Truth be told, living is hard graft when you are autistic and I’ll probably be glad of some eternal rest after a few more decades of life in the shit-lane. NOT that being autistic is shit. It isn’t. It’s the anxiety, that’s shit.

The thing is that death is still a bit taboo. Brits don’t like to think about death until they absolutely have to despite TV adverts encouraging us to ‘plan for the inevitable’. Life Insurance companies give away bribes gifts, like clocks, so you can watch the seconds tick away. Nice touch, Guys.

However, some of us don’t get the opportunity to plan for the inevitable because we get wiped out under the wheels of a Number 48 bus during a spontaneous sprint across the road to buy a pie or the shock of the £250 supermarket bill stops our hearts, literally. Or we succumb to some disease or other. We like to think we’re in control of our own lives but we’re not.

I’m 47 now. How did that happen? It only seems like yesterday I was snogging Nick Rhodes’ face off on my bedroom wall but thanks to an early menopause I feel like I’m in the re-make of Cocoon..

Having a biological age of 103 means I’m already down on the deal and at this rate I’ll be giving The Boy a lift to high-school on the back of a mobility scooter – which he’d probably love. Most women amble gracefully into menopause whereas I’ve been catapulted into it to find the hormone police waiting for me, truncheons at the ready.

‘ELLO ELLO ELLO! WHAT ‘AVE WE ‘ERE THEN? ‘OESTROGEN AND A FULLY FUNCTIONING PELVIC -FLOOR? WE’LL BE ‘AVIN THOSE! AND YOUR SANITY. HAND EM OVER, THERE’S A GOOD MRS. WE DON’T WANT NO TROUBLE NOW DO WE?’

Bastards.

So I’m swallowing all manner of pills and potions in an attempt to claw back a few years or at least slow the process down. It could be a lot worse. Of course it could because as annoying as my symptoms are, they are transitory and by the time I’m 50 (ish) I should be slightly less deranged. So my GP says, anyway..

With the menopause (and bits dropping off me at an alarming rate) I’m more aware of my ‘dash’ than ever. My parents are dead and mortality is slapping me in the face and, yes, it unnerves me. Someone told me that when you hit 40, it’s downhill from then on. They lied. It’s 35.

I grew up thinking that you got old and then you died. Grandma was in her 70s, as was Nan, and Grandad was a respectable 81 when he wheezed through the pearly gates…

That’s how I expected it to be.

Then the unimaginable happened…

A girl in my school died. She was fifteen years old.

Her dash was too brief.

Years later, my nephew died. His dash represented just four years. How sad is that?

My dad died aged 58 and by now I’d realised that ‘three score years and ten’ wasn’t a cert. To be fair, Dad’s dash was a happy dash apart from the last 12 months, which were shit.

I’m not afraid of death itself because I’m one of those lunatics who believe that consciousness survives death. It’s the before bit that worries me because I have the pain threshold of a testicle. I can’t even stand a deep clean at the dentist without having to be anesthetized so what chance do I have with something major?

I want to reach a grand old age (marbles intacto, obvs) where I can gracefully say, ‘Rightio, Death, I’m ready. You may take me now’. Then I want to slip into a Werthers induced coma having watched an entire box set of Ground Force and, seeing as this is my fantasy, Alan Titchmarsh can be the one to take me to heaven wearing nothing but his wellies and a smile.

That’s another thing about the menopause. One day you’re into Duran Duran and sling-backs, the next you’re craving middle-aged gardeners and comfy slippers. Or maybe that’s just me?

Death is going to happen sooner or later because none of us are immortal except for Bruce Forsyth who’s 302. We can always pay to have ourselves cryogenically frozen but it’s out of most people’s price ranges. Not to mention, creepy.

We worry about death but forget that before we were born, we didn’t exist. Get your brain cells around THAT one! We are part of something much bigger than ourselves but we’re all connected right down to the microscopic stuff that we can’t see. There is too much intricacy and beauty for it all to be random or meaningless, so says me. Our bodies become diseased or frail and eventually stop working but the essence which is us cannot die because it’s energy and energy doesn’t die – it just re-groups.

The dash represents our entire lives. We don’t get to choose when we we’re born and the majority of us don’t get to choose when we die. What happens in-between isn’t necessarily our choice but our attitude to any given situation, regardless of how difficult, most certainly is our choice. This is what our eulogies will be about. Not how long we lived, but how we lived.

In this little corner of the internet I make fun of myself because it’s therapeutic. I try to be kind to my fellow human beings even if I don’t understand them very well. My life will always require effort because I’m autistic, not to mention a nervous Nora. But I brought three amazing human beings into this world and that’s what I’m proud of and when the day comes when my dash is complete, I hope their memories of me will make their tears happy ones. Happy as in I’ll be missed. Not happy as in doing the conger round the living room shouting ‘YESSSSS!! THE OLD BAG’S FINALLY CROAKED! WHERE SHE KEEP THE WILL, BRO’S?’

None of us are getting out of this thing alive, are we? All we can do is accept death and hope that when he does come for us, he’s a friend. Most importantly, we need to make our dashes count.

“DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING, said Death. JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.” ~ Terry Pratchett – Good Omens

 

Richard and Jaco: A Life With Autism

I watched BBC One’s Richard and Jaco: Life With Autism last night.

As a parent, I am able to identify with Welsh actor Richard Mylan’s fears for his son’s future.

As an autistic person, I understand Jaco’s world.

My son will be eight this year but does not have the ability to mask his autism as I have been able to do. Like Jaco, his autism is obvious. He wandered in while I was watching it and saw Jaco wearing his headphones. He said “Look mummy, that little boy looks like me!”

Richard impressed me with his desire to understand his son’s world even though it’s impossible for people to truly understand what they don’t experience themselves. However, Jaco is a lucky little boy to have Richard as a dad and the love he has for his son is a beautiful thing to see.

You get a view of what life can be like with an autistic child like Jaco. He reminds me so much of my own little boy, as in,visibly uncomfortable with environmental stimuli but happy in his world.

In order for him to learn more about Jaco’s future, Richard went to meet various people on the spectrum. First he met Alex Lowry who is a motivational speaker and trainer on autism. An animated man, he is obviously passionate about what he does.

Although Jaco started secondary school and was happy, Richard was interested in finding out about special schools. In one such school he met two teenagers who had been tasked with the job of showing him around. One boy told of the bullying he’d endured in mainstream school culminating in a broken arm and the other told of being ‘kicked out’ of school for being ‘naughty’. Both struggled in mainstream but both spoke highly of the special place where they are understood and most importantly, happy.

Then there was Edward who is severely autistic and in residential care. He is a young man who is happy in his own world and who has a great support network. He, like every other autistic person, does not know what ‘normal’ feels like. All we know is our normal. Ed has an amazing memory and can tell you what day your birthday was on when you were born in a matter of seconds. He is a fascinating person.

Ed’s mother by her own admission has taken a leap of faith in allowing him to live independently but said, “You have to let your kids go don’t you? You have to let them grow up and be independent”.

Bottom line is yes, we do.

The person who struck me the most was the young man who Richard visited in his workplace. This man was literally living his dream of doing admin. Yes, admin! The job that so many people loathe. Yet, he was happier than a pig in muck sorting through all the letters and stuff. What’s more, he is a valued member of the team and according to his boss, contributes to the happy and relaxed atmosphere of the office. What choked me up was when he said to Richard, “If I didn’t have autism, I wouldn’t be as special.”

Richard said “So you see it as a positive thing?”

With eyes that twinkled (and bloody good eye contact thank you very much) the young man replied, “Yes. autism is a very special thing and whoever has it should be proud of it”.

I am proud of who I am and I want my son to be proud of who he is too.

The Boy and I have the same problems but we react very differently. I am an autistic person raising an autistic child and I know how important these next few years will be for him. I can’t sit back and do nothing because he will be a teenager before I know it. I have to prepare my son for a life without me and I have to do it now. I can’t guarantee that his secondary school experience will be as positive as his primary one but I will be watching closely and if he’s unhappy, I will have NO problem in placing him in a special school, especially after seeing how happy those lads were.

My passion comes not only from being his mum but also my years of suffering in mainstream. I know, without a doubt, that I would have been happy in a special school tailored to my needs. With the confusion and crowds removed, I would have thrived instead of having just about survived. However, my time has long since gone. It’s my son’s time now..

I want him to have a relationship. To be able, not only to work, but to be appreciated for his contribution to society. Ultimately, I want him to be able to live independently of us. Don’t get me wrong, I dread the day coming when he no longer needs me but that’s also the day I’m aiming for. It’s what every parent aims for. Sadly, some people are too severely affected for total independence to be an option.

More than anything else in this world, I want him to be happy and to embrace his differences, not hide them as I have done.

We, as parents, do the best we can for our children. We give them the tools they need to survive and they take what they’ve learned out into the world. With autism, the work starts earlier. It has to. Richard Mylan knows that. I know that. Most autism parents will understand that. Another thing that unites us all is the fear of not being here for our special children so we do the very best we can while we are still around.

Thanks to Richard and Jaco for a glimpse into your lives and for helping to spread awareness.

Richard and Jaco: A Life With Autism is on BBC iplayer for one more week. Well worth a watch, folks.

Spectrum Sunday

My A to Z of Teenage Boys

It’s midnight. A new day has begun. Only this isn’t any ordinary day. This is the day your son turns into a TEENAGER and so the metamorphosis begins..

Within the next few hours he will lose the power of speech and most likely the use of his arms and legs. However, he will retain the ability to eat, sleep and game. The next few years will test your sanity to its LIMIT so strap yourselves in for a bumpy ride but take comfort in the thought that one day he may have teenagers of his own..

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Ablutophobia

The fear of washing and bathing. Note, this fear miraculously disappears when girls are no longer considered repulsive.

Brains

The teenage brain isn’t developed fully – especially the part that deals with consequence which is why they act like morons occasionally. It’s biological.

Crazy

Is what you’ll be by the time they’re 18.

Tip: Alcohol helps.

Deodorant

Often used in lieu of a bath.

Embarrassment

Once you were the center of his world then puberty called and now you are an utter embarrassment to him. Isn’t it time you were in a home, you geriatric old sod?

Food

Teenage boys are bottomless pits when it comes to food consumption. They will eat you out of house and home and still complain you’re starving them to death. Good news! When they invite you to their house (Christmas 2053) to sit on a crappy old deckchair with more cobwebs on it than your reproductive bits, you can get your revenge by wolfing down their Quality Street, drinking all their booze and anesthetizing them with your sprout-fueled farts. Karma, no?

Grunt

The power of speech is temporarily lost at the onset of puberty and replaced with grunts. Texting by way of communication is an option but expect to receive one word answers to your 5000 word epic. Forget ‘kisses’. Those days are gone for the foreseeable, if not forever. However, you are guaranteed one on your embalmed forehead when you’re laid out in the deceased depot after choking to death on one of your false teeth.

Hormones

The reason your little prince turns into an argumentative sod.

I

I want. I need. I can’t.

The teenager’s world revolves around themselves. It’s biological.

Jurassic

The period they presume you to be from because you are in your thirties or forties.

‘OMG you’re THIRTY? That’s like SO OLD! YOU REPULSE ME! SOMEBODY ADOPT ME?’

Knowledge

Teenagers know EVERYTHING. You can die now.

Life

You give them life and you ruin their life by asking the impossible of them, like putting the bin out.

McDonalds

Popular food of choice and possible first job (not counting paper round) which may or may not lead to a managerial position within the first week.

Nintendo

Or other gaming console. Your teen must be plugged into this machine for at least eight hours a day to maintain their vital signs.

Onesies

An oversized babygro which some teenage boys like to lounge around in while watching programmes about big-breasted vampires.

Pit

Bedroom. Derived from cesspit, as in, an underground hole that stinks. Enter at your own risk, preferably wearing full bio-hazard suit.

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Quiff

A 1950s hairdo that’s seen a bit of a revival. The teenage boy either can’t be arsed faffing around with his barnet OR or he has the entire range of products in Superdrug’s hair section at his disposal and goes out looking like Justin Bieber.

Elvis, Morrissey and my Dad all rocked the quiff, though not necessarily at the same time.

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Mozzer, not AS quiff as it was in the 80s but still a quiff.

Rude

Teenagers tend to go through a manners malfunction stage and like to mutter expletives under their breath which bat-eared mothers NEVER fail to hear. I once told mine to sod off. I was upstairs, she was in the next town. She heard me.

Speed

Even the laziest of teenagers can shift faster than a greyhound out of a trap when threatened with the confiscation of their games console.

Tired

Teenagers can rack up more hours asleep than a sloth if given the chance. It’s biological.

Underwear

The young teenage male will happily wear the same pair of pants for a week month. Parental intervention (nagging) is essential during this phase to maintain their hygiene and your sanity.

Vomit

Teenagers + alcohol = projectile vomit + stolen traffic cones

Why

‘WHY WAS I EVEN BORN!!!!’

A phrase often used by teens when asked to wash up when they are trying to rid the world of zombies.

You: ‘Do the dishes please’

Them: ‘UH?

You: ‘The dishes?’

An hour later….

You: ‘DISHES, NOW!’

Them: ‘OH MY GOD. IN A MIN. OK?’

This goes on until you finally lose it and yank the cable out of the wall. You threaten to throw the games console in the bin. NOW you have their full attention. They scream ‘I HATE YOU! WHY WAS I EVEN BORN?!’ They stamp off upstairs, you go full Basil Fawlty and wrestle the console away from the TV. You launch it into the wheelie bin and then flounce round the shop for some alcohol. You’re that pissed off you haven’t even noticed that you’re still in your slippers! Two pints of wine later, you wash the wretched dishes yourself. Then you retrieve the console out of the bin and as you stand there wiping yesterday’s spag-bog off it, you silently will your ovaries/testicles to expire so you NEVER have to go through this shit again.

X Rated

Starts off with the undies section in your catalogue. Before you know it they’re going blind staring at heaving bosoms on the internet. Once the bed-sheets begin self-starching you know your little prince is gone forever. Weep for innocence lost then dry your eyes and get them to strip their own beds. *shudders*

Yob

Boy spelt backwards. Uncultured arse-biscuit who hangs around outside Co-ops laughing at pensioners and trying to impress girls with weird eyebrows. This is the type of teen who goes on Jeremy Kyle for a paternity test and a free bargain bucket meal. If your son ever turns up with one of these creatures in tow (or, worse, becomes one) write him out of the will and rent out his room.

Zits

Sods Law (or Karma) says that teenage lads will suffer an outbreak of pus-ridden zits when they least want them, like on a date with Courtney (who drops the u and the y and adds an e) from up the road and that’s not all she drops if you get my drift? One word, people.

Sabotage.

‘What’s that sweetie? You’ve run out of Clearasil and Lynx?’

‘Oh my God! How did that happen?’

Gale_Henry

You know it makes sense.

This ‘ere A to Z is based on my own experiences as a mother, sister and observer with poetic license thrown in. Obviously, not all teenage boys are into girls, gaming or vampires but that’s another post, eh Bro?

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