Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Not Neurotic But A Potentially Perceptive Mum...Who Knew?

It's been a roller coaster few days.  Emotionally I have been all over the place.  Confused.  Fearful.  Totally overwhelmed.  Crying at the drop of a hat and resembling more a wet rag than a woman.

My concern for Captain Underpants has clouded my every waking moment - and most of my sleeping ones (not that there's been much of that).  Friends have been eager to reassure me that Captain Underpants is a wonderful little boy, who is just under a hell of a lot of emotional strain.  And it's true, that is undeniably the case.

But then again, so is his brother.  Yet his coping skills - at even 2 years his junior - are far more honed.  Now I know Johnny Drama is a whole different kettle of fish and should not be used as a benchmark where Captain Underpants is concerned.  They are as different as chalk and cheese.  But I am still - as their mother - beginning to appreciate that personality differences might not be the only explanation as to why one is struggling and the other isn't.

I happened to mention my concerns to the guy I work with and it turns out that he is a specialist social worker trained to work with children, many of whom have 'special needs'.  (I still can't help but grit my teeth where that terminology is concerned...I know it's wrong, but it just holds such negative connatations for me.)  After I described the situation in brief he very calmly confirmed that there are definite indicators, irrespective of our personal family situation - yet this is not to be perceived as a bad thing.  We talked about it in much more depth and he advised me to go and talk to the school's SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinating Officer) to get their opinion.

I then talked to Mr eHarmony, as we hadn't touched base for a while.  Being a woman with blabbermouth tendencies I mentioned to him the issues I was going through with my eldest - and he revealed that he had gone through similar circumstances with his eldest son several years before (his son is now 14).  He had a wealth of information and contacts, should I need it, and would be more than happy to help in any way that he could.

Another couple of friends read my blog and reached out via email, revealing their own journeys along this path (which I hadn't been aware of).  One of them suggested I look into Sensory Processing Disorder, a relatively new 'syndrome' aligned with autism/Aspergers, but not.  I checked out a website online (www.sensory-processing-disorder.com) and, just for the sheer hell of it, had a little looksee at their all-encompassing checklist, making a note of traits that struck a chord.  Once I had a page full of notes - over 30 characteristics (and this was without writing everything down that rung true for CU) - I stopped.

And just started to sob.

The picture through that particular looking glass was overwhelmingly clear.  I felt terrified at what I was potentially getting us - and particularly him - into, but also the most incredible relief that I possibly wasn't going mad.  My biggest fear is that I am being a dramatic, neurotic mother, dragging her poor innocent son into the great unknown, for no reason at all other than sheer desperation, and to detract from the almighty mess that is his family life.  To have a sense that this isn't necessarily the case and that there is evidence to back up my concerns, was reassuring to say the least.  Maybe not mad.  That was a thought worth hanging on to.

Here is a small sampler of the things that rang true to me:

  • Incredibly sensitive, colicky baby with sleep issues and who couldn't be comforted by touch/being held
  • Never crawled.  Walked very late (could be a premature indicator) and walked on his toes.  Hated new sensations - walking on sand / grass / different textures
  • Talked late - and didn't have a tendency to babble.
  • Drooled excessively for first 3 years of life and still soaks his pillow/bed sheets every night.  Sucks fingers / clothing as a comfort mechanism, but was never soothed by sucking a dummy/thumb as a baby
  • Overly sensitive to changes in routine, even now
  • Is often overwhelmed by group situations and will withdraw - even on a play date he has requested - to play quietly on his own in a corner
  • Completely freaks out about his toe nails being cut.  We have recently turned a corner with his finger nails, but this is still something that needs to be negotiated way ahead of time for him to be comfortable with it and to not disintegrate into a nervous wreck.
  • Has an absolute panic attack if he is spun or is threatened to be held upside down
  • Can't stand loud noises - says it feels as if his ear drums are about to explode if he hears something unexpected.  The very thought of attending firework night practically brings him out in hives.
  • When in an active social group he either stand on the sidelines and keeps with the adults, away from all the commotion, or he enters the fray with abandon and is far more excessive than his friends.  He talks VERY loudly and will not stop.  There is no volume control.  He can easily become hyper, which is very out of character for such a sweet, passive boy.
  • He can't sit still at meal times and constantly moves in, out and around his chair.
  • He can't stand his hair being brushed - even with the softest bristles - and as for hair cuts...well, you can imagine.
  • Sits/stands inches away from the television and, given the option, would always dictate that the volume is at least 10,000 decibels or more.
  • When excited or overstimulated he will repetitively screech at the top of his voice, like a large bird being violently castrated.
  • Shakes and moves his hands rapidly and repeatedly in anticipation of something good happening
  • Moves from placid to aggressive in a split second - over reacting to the simplest of provocations, sometimes with violence (his current preference is to choke / attempt to throttle whoever is upsetting him - most typically his brother who has an annoyance factor of at least 1000%)
  • In comparison to his friends, has poorly developed gross and fine motor skills
There are other things that his teachers are picking up on, which are little red flags and which seem 'out of character'.  And I guess this is the thing that is most confusing for me.  Because most of the time, and in the right setting, you could not meet a more delightful, mature, polite, intelligent, caring little boy.  He is ahead of the game academically and quite gifted in maths and science.  He is far more empathetic and intuitive than his brother and deeply cares about the feelings of others.  He is a total joy and I love him beyond measure.

But to ignore the fact that he is hurting and struggling - and that there are potential indicators which could help to explain why (not that I am attempting to diagnose him, I appreciate I am no expert) - will be doing him the greatest disservice.  

All I want is for him to thrive.  

All I want is for him to be happy.

End of story.

And I will do whatever it takes to make that happen.  Ditto for Johnny Drama.

Of course, I have so many doubts about even venturing onto this path.  Where on earth will this lead?  Will it provide any answers, in terms of a diagnosis?  What is more terrifying - getting a diagnosis or not getting a diagnosis?  I am intimidated by my Ex a little and his reaction to the steps I am taking.  I have treaded on eggshells so carefully over the past few years and I know I need to handle this situation sensitively to avoid a potential backlash.  He's a great dad and just as concerned - but I get the feeling that this is an arena which is potentially easier for a mum to negotiate than an A-type, competitive dad (albeit with many sensitive traits himself).

I am particularly frightened of doing CU a huge disservice.  From seeing things that aren't there, to over-compensating and creating a co-dependent relationship.  I don't want to create a handy excuse for behaviour that is simply not acceptable (ie. throttling his brother, much as I am tempted to a lot of the time).  I certainly don't want to make him feel any different to anyone else.  He tries so desperately to fit in and be liked as it is.  But most of all I don't want to constantly be on the back foot, reacting to situations after they have happened and feeling so fucking helpless in equipping him to handle situations in a way in that he understands.

I am also  scared of impacting Johnny Drama.  I don't want to replicate how I felt when I was younger - my sister appeared to be always heralded as much more 'special', 'delicate', 'gifted', 'one-of-a-kind'.  

I also want to feel far more adept at handling similar 'negative' behaviour from both boys in different ways, suitable for both personalities.

But most of all, I am just plain scared.  Scared at how ill-equipped I feel.  Let's be honest, I can be an emotional basket case at the best of times.  I am rarely a placid and calm human being.  My own anxiety,  loneliness, lack of confidence and emotional swings between buoyant happiness and abject sadness is not the most solid foundation for coping with this situation.

And above all, I feel guilty.  Guilty that I have missed years of potentially obvious clues.  Years of people who know me and my son well, trying to bring attention to areas that they have noticed and are concerned about.  

With less than 24 hours to go before the big SENCO meeting this morning, I spoke with a woman who is one of the leading campaigners for autism today and who has knowledge and experience across the spectrum of neurological disorders.  She couldn't have been more insightful and supportive and reassuring.  She had a voice similar to a meditative CD, which instantly calmed me irrespective of the informed advice she was imparting.  The fact that I have this woman in my corner, to go to for advice and support, is so incredulously fortuitous.  She listened.  She reassured.  She articulated simple and straightforward advice, which made absolute sense.  There are obviously no answers at this point, but she talked me through the process, gave me guidance and offered a wealth of support and people to talk to.  God love her, how lucky am I?

And the meeting with the SENCO woman today was...you know what?  I can't put it into words.  It reassured me beyond measure that I am doing the right thing in moving this forward and checking out every avenue.  None of my concerns were dismissed as immaterial.  None of the evidence disregarded.  Yet also - importantly - no assumptions immediately made.

We have a plan moving forward, with in-house assessments to start and specialist assessments to follow. Maybe there is no diagnosis as an end result, but I am convinced I am going to reach a deeper understanding of how to help my son more effectively than I am doing at this present moment.

And that is all that matters.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Anxiety...or Aspergers?

I have always felt incredibly over-protective towards Captain Underpants. 

But never more so than now.

My son is hurting.  His courage is failing him.  His ability to deal with life with ease and confidence is deserting him.  He is distraught and lost and struggling with everyday situations.  He over-reacts impulsively and without warning.  His tummy hurts.  His enthusiasm is waning.  He is trying so hard to cope and to keep up with the ever-changing situation around him.  It is all proving to be too much.

I feel utterly, utterly helpless.

At this moment in time, if I could wrap this boy in cotton wool, pull him into my lap, lock the door and never let him go...I would.

I just want to stop him hurting and it kills me that my efforts, right now, are verging on ineffectual.  I am floundering almost as much as he is.  

He loves the fact his dad is now living close by.  He loves his father unconditionally and misses him enormously when he is not around.  But he doesn't want to go and stay at his dad's temporary home.  He is not sure he wants to go and stay at the new house, once they move in November.  He wants one home, absolute routine, no to-ing and fro-ing.  He is desperately trying to put on a brave face; he has always tried to conceal his deep un-ease with the situation.  I can tell he doesn't want to upset me or his father, by saying the wrong thing.  He loves us both and is highly attuned - even at 8 years old - to other people's feelings.  

Not only that, but he is also struggling at school.  Academically he is ahead of his years.  Socially, he can find it hard to fit in.  He is struggling to deal with a larger class size, of 30 children.  There is more noise and it is generally less orderly.  He seems to be finding the environment more stressful than his previous school.  Not only that, but this year he has a mish-mosh of teachers.  His main teacher is there from Monday to Wednesday lunchtime.  Then he has another teacher for one day on a Thursday - and yet another for one day on a Friday.  He likes them all but is finding it hard to develop a sense of confidence and trust with so many adults to get to know.  He is getting less individual attention than at his private Chicago school, which appears to be making him feel lost and inconsequential.

A lack of stability at home.  In conjuction with a lack of stability at school.

This child, who thrives on absolute structure and routine and adult interaction, is floundering in a sea of change and uncertainty.    Will he adapt, as everyone says he will?  Or will things go from bad to worse?

I just can't take the risk of waiting to find out, can I?

But it is also more than that.

There are aspects of his behaviour - the depth of his sensitivity - which lead me to believe it could be something more.

You know.  The sort of something where people start to bring the word 'spectrum' into the mix.

The sort of diagnosis that both his father and I are terrified to consider - and have possibly been in complete denial about for many years.

I think his father is still in absolute denial.  After a meeting with the school on Tuesday - where they expressed their concerns and we dismissed them with countless logical reasons - Ex turned to me outside and suggested that Captain Underpants is demonstrating this type of behaviour due to a lack of consistent disciplining on my part.

He cited the birthday weekends as an example - where I ignored mayhem and let Ex deal with the admonishing.

I was too busy attempting to stem a flood of tears to either defend myself or slap him.  I have NEVER proclaimed myself to be the perfect mother.  How convenient that these troubles with our adored son could potentially be attributed to the gaps in my parenting technique.

Anyway, that's immaterial.  Nothing else matters except opening our eyes to the fact that we need to get some help - some professional help - before our diminutive son crumbles even further before our very eyes.

I spent the day talking to friends and colleagues who have experience with sensitive / anxious / autistic children.  There are several indicators, that he has had since infancy but which have definitely become more pronounced in recent years, that fit within an autistic / Asperger's diagnosis.  Maybe I am jumping several guns here.  I can have a tendency to think 'worse case scenario' but I have reached a point where I want to leave no stone unturned.  

I made an appointment next week with the school specialist, as one of my first ports of call.  I have ordered book upon book from Amazon.  I felt a bit calmer, once I began to consider the possibilities and take action in getting some outside help.

I was on my way home tonight, internally mocking myself a little for being such a neurotic mother, when I received a phone call from Captain Underpants.

He was in tears.

Not sobbing, angry or stub-your-toe tears.  These were the saddest tears I have ever heard.  Quiet and heartfelt.  I sank onto a step outside my office and my own heart plummeted.  I fought to stop myself crying in sympathy alongside him.  He softly cried and cried, while saying that he didn't know why he was upset, why he was feeling the way that he did - he couldn't even articulate what it felt like - but he didn't want to feel this way any more.  He wanted to stop this feeling and he wanted to come home to my house.  He was crying out for help - and I had no idea what to say or do.  I listened to him and talked to him gently and reassuringly for nearly half an hour.  He calmed but didn't seem significantly happier.  I talked to his dad, hearing the concern and emotion in his voice mirroring my own.

I am so terrified of failing him.  I love him immeasurably and wish I could magic all his cares away.  But I think we need to rely on a little more than just love at this stage.  

My special, special, special boy.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I Think My Soulmate Might Possibly Read The Guardian...

Now Ex and I are living in the same country and sharing the parenting once more, it seemed time to dust off my libido (shoved hastily into the 3rd drawer down on the left), tenderly cradle my bruised and battered heart...and enter the fray of Online Dating once more.

Oh, more fool me.

The first hurdle is setting up a profile.  I guess there are worse ways to spend my time.  But really, I can't think of many.  It's right up there with writing a new CV...and I have been successfully putting that fun pastime onto the back burner for over 2 years now.

Oh to be able to skip this part of the process altogether.  It's a shame it is pretty much essential.  I did attempt to do without it (I sat and simply stared at the Guardian Soulmates website for quite a few days) but nothing much happened as a result.  No winks.  No emails.  No totally fantastic, compatible man beating my door down and sweeping me into his arms, before carrying me off into the sunset...

Turns out guys on GS may have many weird and wonderful talents or characteristics.  But telepathy isn't quite as common as you might expect.  This was an unfortunate discovery, particularly where my writer's block was concerned.

I think the reason I hate sitting down to write a profile is due to the fact that my expectation of being able to write something out of the ordinary is quite high.  But the reality is, I don't have a single innovative idea when approaching a piece orchestrated to capture the essence of 'me'.  I sit and stare at those stupid empty boxes, waiting to contain 2,000 characters, and feel a fug of distinct antipathy.

Put down on paper, I sound much the same as every other woman featured.  Which is very annoying - given the fact I like to harbour the illusion I am pretty bloody special, most of the time.

Whilst pootling on the edge of 'am I going to dip my toe into these muddy little waters, or what?' I did a little site research and was staggered by the ease with which most people were able to blow their own trumpet.  It would appear that all the attractive, intelligent people in this country are - in fact - single, judging by the content of most of the profiles.  I felt more intimidated than ever.

Finally I sat down and scraped an unimpressive profile together, then uploaded a few photos which vaguely resemble the real me, if you look at them from a distance with a squint.  Then I ran from the computer at a sprint that Linford Christie would be proud of and waited for a reaction.

Sweet FA.

That's what happened.

Well, this is reassuring, I would think.  Yet another lesson in 'well, if you were going to make the mistake of ever thinking too highly of yourself...then please, don't'.  A week went by and every now and then I would furtively check into the site and see if my profile had been viewed.  Honestly, I have seen the carcases of dead chicks, which have fallen out of nests into remote gutters, get more attention.  It was depressing stuff.

I hadn't paid anything at this point and was considering aborting the whole exercise and simply hiring a sandwich board with "I have been single for so long I will pretty much consider dating anybody", then standing outside my local Sainsbury's handing out my phone number with the headline "VERY single (and just as desperate...) call me".

And then *PING*, I received my first email.

I opened the message with caution.  It was funny.  In fact, it was original and funny.  So I read his profile - which was also incredibly witty.  I was impressed (but also, let's be honest here, a little pissed off that he had succeeded where I had failed).  There were two photos, which were so-so.  Not necessarily my cup of tea, but he looked interesting all the same.  And, most importantly, the profile was right up my street.

I replied and we bantered back and forth for a few days, before arranging to meet.  I was curious but not particularly excited.  The ongoing trials and tribulations of Captain Underpants were unnerving and distracting me.  However, I thought a coffee with this guy would be a pleasant distraction and, after all, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  I had at this point paid a subscription, so may as well attempt to get my money's worth by actually meeting up with at least one person of the opposite sex.

The next day I bump into a friend in the playground, who is also on Guardian Soulmates.  She is slightly embarrassed and reveals she has just received the exact same (original and funny) email from the guy I am due to meet.  Identical, word for word.  Which kind of throws me a little.  I am not surprised that he is still approaching other women.  That's the whole point of the site, after all.  But I didn't anticipate that his initial approach hadn't been specifically crafted just for me.  He had said my profile was 'witty and delightful', after all.  What a big, fat fibber.  He quite possibly hadn't even read it.

After the initial shock, I thought it was quite ingenious, if a little lazy.  It had been a really funny email - I could see it would have been a shame to have wasted such literary genius on just one woman alone.  If I had managed to be so inspired, I would have been emailing men left, right and centre.  I actually quite admired his tactic, I thought to myself ruefully.

My friend emailed the guy back and said something along the lines of, 'gee, thanks for the email, but you are due to meet up with a friend of mine shortly, so I think we'll just leave it here, shall we?'

A couple of days passed.  I was supposed to be confirming our meet up plans, but, what with one thing and another, just hadn't got around to it

At which point he panicked and emailed:

My only thought was: I hope it's not Nicola!
Anyway, it looks like it was.
Shame, because you are definitely the main reason for me staying on here.
I think you are COMPLETELY gorgeous, and very funny.
I'd rather put dignity to one side, than miss a chance like this..
30 minute coffee?
I think that was an email worthy of absolution, don't you?  I chucked to myself as I replied to put him out of his misery.

And as it turned out, the coffee meet up was great.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Me, My Ex...and His American Girlfriend

So Ex did finally move over to the UK in September, much to many people's surprise.

Given our typical communication brilliance, I didn't have any insight into his actual plans other than an approximate arrival time.  "Where's he going to live?" friends would enquire.  No idea, I would tell them. I could see them look at me with the obvious 'well, haven't you just asked him?' question in their eyes.  The next question would typically be "is She coming with him?" followed by, "Do you think they will get married?"

I knew the answer to the first question - yes, American Girlfriend was upping sticks and relocating to the UK.  As for marriage - this wasn't something that I particularly wanted to dwell on in too much detail, although it did occur to me that actually things could be a lot worse than Ex marrying AG.  At least I knew what I was dealing with, where she was concerned.  I knew she was lovely to my boys.  I knew she was very respectful to me and that we were able to spend time in each other's company without feeling compelled to claw each others eyes out.  In the past two years she has allowed Ex and I to parent our children together and not to interfere - at least not where I was concerned - and I appreciated that to be a BIG deal.

I felt a little edgy about them both moving to the UK and - presumably - taking their relationship to the next level.  But all in all, I knew it was a good thing for the boys.

However, as it happened, AG's visa failed to materialise and Ex arrived alone.  Oh.  I thought.  Interesting.

September was crazy busy, with both boys birthdays being celebrated within 2 weeks of each other.  Ex and I hosted parties and took the boys on a long awaited trip to Legoland.  When in each others company we were stiff and a little awkward.  But we started to text and email each other, sometimes late into the night.  It would start off with sensible enquiries and updates, before morphing into teasing ribs and personal mockery.  It felt like the beginning of a new friendship.

During one of these exchanges Ex dropped a text like a bombshell.  'With AG moving over in the next few weeks, I would like to talk to you about my plans moving forward...'  I instantly felt a little bit sick.  He's going to tell me they are getting married.  Crap.  Now this moment is here, how do I really feel about it? I knew I should write a breezy response, but couldn't bring myself to.  I felt really grateful that he was keeping me in the loop and wanted to share information before I heard it from anyone else.  Really grateful.  But I still wasn't sure I was quite ready to hear it.

In the end a few days passed before I got a chance to respond and then I received another email:

I know its a difficult topic to address but I just realised we did not talk about that text I sent last week about me and AG. 

The long and short of it is that in moving to the UK she is making a pretty significant commitment to me - and to the boys, in fact - and in return I want to make a commitment to her. I am definitely not talking here about marriage (I don't think that's right for the boys at all) but definitely some form of commitment and I wanted to let you know first.

This is probably the wrong way to talk about this, so am happy to talk face to face when I'm back. But I didn't want this to linger, I tried to broach it a couple of times but we kept getting interrupted. 

This past weekend has shown me how committed you and I are to being a team around the boys, and the importance of our closeness and I never want that to change. 

I hope me sharing this doesn't make it change. 

My heart sank, but I felt bad that Ex had to reach out one more time.  I took a breath and wrote a response before I could think too much about it:

I know - I kept meaning to refer to your text but what with it being a busy week...

Thanks for sharing. I really appreciate your openness and your communication. I know how tightlipped you can prefer to be - so this act of sharing means a lot. 

As for marriage - you know, I don't think this would be such a bad thing for the boys in the near future, if it's on your mind. As long as you are happy they will be happy. And having at least one of their parents settled and in a steady, reliable situation is good for them. I won't deny it - I wish it was me providing them with that type of security, that base of 'family'. Oh well. My time will come. There is some poor bugger out there who will be blinded by my charms at some point, I'm sure ;-). (he's no doubt hiding under some huge distant rock right now...come out! Come out! Wherever you are...)

So thanks. 

I'm happy for you. I'm happy for you both. I really like AG and think she is lovely with the boys. 

I still struggle with the situation sometimes, as I'm sure you're aware. You know me - over emotional and terribly envious with a touch of insecurity. Not the most endearing combination of qualities. I'm working on it...

And yes - I love the fact that we are a team where the boys are concerned. I do value your support so much. 

And then I shut down my phone and went to bed.  It felt good to have been so honest.  And when I received Ex's response the next day, I wish I had been honest a little bit sooner:

Oh Nicola, your writing is so raw, so open and so honest. Its so you. 

Thank you so much. Your note and your support means so much. 

PS no dating anyone who's crawled out from under a rock. Top of the heap for you. 

Ex x

Within a matter of days, AG's visa had arrived and she was in the UK.  The boys drew her a welcome card.  I bought her the fantastic book "Rules, Britannia: An insider's guide to the UK" written by the amazing Expat Mum (does this make up for the previous shoddy post???) and wrote a brief message in it, along with my mobile number and the invitation to get together.

Which has resulted in AG and I planning to have dinner together next week.  I am trying hard not to find an excuse - any excuse - to weasle out of it.  I remember how hard it was to move to a new country and find my feet.  Woman to woman - if I can make this easier for her, then I know that I should.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Inexplicable Mindset of My 8 Year Old...

The walk to school yesterday was pretty much like any other.  The boys run ahead through the woods, only to instantly return and cling to my side like limpets when I bump into a friend and attempt to have a conversation.

What is that with kids?  The telephone has the same effect.  They can be playing quietly for hours...but if I dare to pick up the phone for any reason and attempt to call anyone - they are there, by my side, loud, insistent, irritating, irksome and pernicious.

I was trying not to raise my voice, I really was.  I was trying to enjoy our morning walk, because they would be gone all weekend to stay with their dad and I didn't want them to start their weekend with the memory of me snipping and snapping at them every 2 metres (which is, unfortunately, how it can be some mornings...much to my chagrin).

We bump into other families on their way to school.  A friend from Captain Underpant's class whizzes by on his bike.  Captain Underpants walks alongside me, holding my hand.  I look at him, in his new specs, as he looks back at me and smiles.  This boy is a total joy, I think.  I squeeze his hand in mine.


"Yes, love?"

"Erm.  Nothing..."

There is a big pause and CU starts to look a little uncomfortable.  He has a look on his face that typically appears just before he is about to make a confessional admission.  You know the sort of thing.   Spilt drinks.  Uneaten lunches.  Getting told off at school.  Losing his library book.  Forgetting to hand in his school club money.

"What is it, sweetheart?  You can tell me.  It's okay."  I look down at him and smile reassuringly.

He is not convinced.  He can't quite meet my eyes and starts to shift his gaze around the path we are walking on.  He looks embarrassed and just a little bit guilty.

Well, I am all ears now.

Now, I have to know what it is that is bugging him.  What it is that he can't possibly tell me.  I look at him a little more keenly.  Oh yes, I think.  He is itching to tell me really.  Oh boy.  This must be really bad.  I search my brain for things that I might have forgotten, which concern him.  PE kit?  Nope.  A request for loo rolls / cereal boxes / egg cartons that I have forgotten about?  Nope.  Something - anything - concerning his dad?  Possibly.  Worries about school?  Could be.

I am very much aware that CU is not a happy bunny right now.  He is struggling to adapt to the extent of change in his life - a new school year with teachers who are job sharing plus a new routine spending two nights a week with dad, freshly moved over from Chicago, plus me now working 3 days a week is not providing the platform of consistency that he prefers.  There have been ongoing complaints of tummy aches.  Tears before school.  Tears before going to stay at dad's house.  My heart aches to observe his anxieties, heightened by the fact that he is desperately trying not to say anything to upset either me or his father.

Now he wants to tell me something.  Something big.  Something that is troubling him.  But he can't find the words and the last thing I want to do is to add to the pressure I know that he feels he is under.

Once this walk to school is over, I am not going to see him until Monday pick up.  Light years away.  This moment will have long passed by then.  I don't want him to have to internalise and fret about anything else.  He has enough on his plate as it is, my sensitive older child.  I have no idea what to do - how to drag this information out of him so that he can just relax.

I stop walking and crouch down to his level.

"You really don't think you can tell me?  I promise not to get upset or angry.  I promise not to say anything at all, if that's what you want."

He shakes his head, glumly.

"Well, how about this then.  If you fancy telling me later, you can take Daddy's phone and just call me, okay?  And if you want to tell me in private, with nobody else listening, you can go into the bathroom and lock yourself in, so no-one else can hear what you are saying."

His face brightens.

"So no-one will hear me?  And no-one will see me.  Right mum?"

I nod.

He nods, solemnly and walks forward with a new spring in his step.  "I will call and tell you later.  On the phone.  From the bathroom."  He seems reassured.  I am anything but reassured, however it appears that a weight has been lifted and he skips off in search of his brother.

After drop off, I head off to work troubled by our conversation.  The day passes.  I am conscious of the time and hope that CU will follow through and tell me what's on his mind.  I dash out of the office early because I desperately need to get to the bank.  I had my brand new purse stolen a week before and still hadn't received replacement bank cards.  The bank's location is not convenient, the tube and streets are heaving and I am a sweaty mess by the time I get there.  I dive into the branch with minutes to spare till closing time, completely flustered and stressed.  As the clerk deals with my request, I dig into my bag for my phone, wanting to check the volume is at its highest.

No phone.

I can't find my phone.

I really can't find my phone!  I am already sweating rather unattractively due to legging it across central London in the rush hour and unexpected 27 degrees heat.  Now I am seriously sweating and experiencing the onset of a panic attack.  Oh God, Oh God, Oh God!  I can't find my phone!

As desperately as I search for it, the bloody thing fails to materialise.  I dump the bag out onto the floor, rifling through it like a woman possessed.

"I can't find my phone!"  I shriek at the other customers and the bank staff.

"I can't find my phone.  Oh God, I've lost my fucking phone.  I don't fucking believe it.  I've lost my fucking phone....shit, shit, shit, shit, shit."

The cashier looks at me uncomfortably - I am guessing that customers having a nervous breakdown on her watch is not commonplace - and hands me my cash.  I grab it without looking at her, embarrassed by my panic and the fact that I am now in tears.

First my purse.  Now this.  The grip on my sanity has always been a little bit tenuous.  Now it appears the grip on my possessions is following suit.

I try to breath normally, go outside and empty out my bag for the second time.  I need the phone.  How else will CU call me?  Normally it wouldn't be an issue.  But today it is imperative that I am there to talk to him.  He needs to know I am there when I say I will be.  That despite all the flux in his life, my being there is a constant that he can depend.  Oh for God's sake - where is my fucking phone?

I race back to the tube, barging through commuters and provoking many a disgruntled glance.  I start to retrace my steps.  Where could I have left it?  I must find it.  I absolutely must find it.

After 45 minutes of frantically chasing my tail from Holborn, to Baker Street, to Selfridges and back to Bond Street, I admit defeat and head back to the office.  I start to think about the photos I have taken on my phone, which I haven't yet downloaded.  I very rarely synch my phone, because I am a lazy arse and generally technically inept.  Now I can't speak to my 8 year old AND I have lost the only photos I have from both the boys recent birthdays.  What has happened to me?  Why am I always lurching from one crisis to the next?  I need to stop being so easily distracted, so away with the fairies.

I walk into my office, sweating so copiously that there is steam rising from my skin and my clothes.  My colleague looks at me in surprise and I explain what's going on.  I try to think clearly about what I need to do next.  The important thing - above anything else - is that I speak to CU.  My colleague dials my number and we both sit and listen to the phone ring and ring.  I am pretty certain it is on silent.  If someone has found it, maybe they just can't hear it ringing.  I sit and breath for a minute to calm down, collect my thoughts.  I mechanically empty out my bag again and sort through the debris that is its contents, while trying to remember Ex's phone number.  I reach for the bag to shove everything back in it again - and there nestled at the bottom is the phone.

I stare at it in disbelief and start to laugh.  The relief is overwhelming.  My sense of stupidity overrides it.  I am such a moron.

I quickly dial the number to speak to CU.

"Oh, hi mum!"  He sounds chirpy and untroubled.  I start to relax just a little.  I prompt him to tell me what was on his mind that morning.

"Well, you know we saw X riding his bike in the woods this morning?  And you remember you said that when I am older I can ride to school all by myself?  After I have been on the cycling course?  Well...me and X have talked about it and we are going to wait for each other and ride to school together, when we are older.  But only when we are older.  Not before you say so.  And his mum says so.  Okay, mum?"

After all that - and with everything else that is going on in his life - this is what was plaguing him?  Really?  I am utterly stunned into (almost) speechlessness.

"That's a great plan sweetheart - I like your thinking." I tell him.  For once, I really don't have the words to say anything else.

I breath a huge sigh of relief and think...if I thought I understood my 8 year old, this just goes to prove that I really have no concept of what is going on in his head.  At.  All.