Brother!

I felt the need to post today because, being February 29, I won’t have the chance to do this for another four years. So here we go.

Today, as I went to pick up baby J from his cot after his afternoon nap, N followed me into the bedroom. When J looked up and saw his (foster) brother through the bars of his cot, he was so thrilled, his smile just burst out of him. They reached out towards each other and touched hands. I smiled and thought, ‘brothers!’

They are not related. They share no genetic code. They are from two very different cultures on opposite sides of the world. But here in my home, they are brothers. In the truest sense of the word. Bound by love.

It’s relatively early days for these two with J only 8 months old and N about to turn 2 (on Saturday). There’s a lot of wrestling and rough and tumble that goes with being brothers. Somehow through all that body contact, that pushing and testing their limits a bond is formed and it is formative.

Together with L, they make up my crew. My noises with dirt on them.

Then I read this beautiful, heartwarming and hopeful post from Try Defying Gravity

I hope you do too.

Here’s to brothers…happy leap year!

three brothers!

The Good, The Bad and the Beautiful

The Good   Life is pretty busy with three boys. Dealing with three different birth families, contact visits, extended family, the department, the support agency, disability services, medical and therapeutic appointments and more means the week can be very full. Do I actually have a social life, you may ask? Not really, I may answer.

But…on Monday afternoons we have a regular visitor – our Pyjama Angel Tracey. Pyjama Angels are volunteers who once they are trained and approved, commit to a weekly visit with a child or children who are in foster care. The goal is to narrow the well documented literacy/numeracy gap between children in care and those who are lucky enough to grow up in a loving birth or adoptive family.

So each week, Tracey comes over to our little house and spends an hour or so with the kids. The boys all have a lovely time exploring and make a great big mess as they go through Tracey’s box full of books, games and puzzles from The Pyjama Foundation’s library.

Tracey has been coming to us for around 2 years now. She’s been incredibly patient, getting to know L, building a relationship with him, following his lead and his interests, chasing him around the trampoline, putting up with the pinching & pushing, diverting him on to activities he enjoys. Coming back for more, consistently.

What a wonderful gift that hour is. We love having a Pyjama Angel and love Tracey in particular – she’s good! She’s very good!!

 The Bad   Now that the school year is well and truly up and running, I have wanted to set some of L’s extra-curricular activities and therapy sessions in place. School commitments mean that there is precious little time during the week to squeeze them in.

Before starting at AEIOU where there are in-house therapists, L was going to a practice which included speech, OT and physiotherapy services. L’s OT there was very experienced and she certainly helped in getting some functional skills off the ground if not perfected. This year, because of his sensory seeking behaviours I have been looking for an OT who takes more of a sensory integration approach.

A couple of weeks ago we headed off to a new OT with high hopes. After two sessions though, I gave him the sack. The main reason being that I was coming out of these sessions feeling really depressed. To me, this OT seemed to be out of his depth, overwhelmed by L’s behaviours and even worse, he felt the need to tell me how ‘low functioning’ he was. Thanks for nothing – I don’t actually need to hear that. This was making what is already difficult feel bad, really bad.

This OT was clearly not a good fit for me. I need someone who can relate to my boy, find the little rascal within and enjoy the work they do with him.

Today we have headed off to a new OT. I already feel uplifted after just one session. She quickly showed her understanding of where L is coming from. No more clinic sessions (oh joy), she will be visiting him at school and at home. This is looking good, very good!

Yes Please!

The Beautiful   This week has been an amazing week for little N. He will be 2 in another week, but this week was the real milestone. He’s been working up to talking for quite a while. After all the speech therapy and language development training I have done with L, I am very aware of the signs and stages.

Knowing that he was understanding a lot of what was being said, I knew that his expressive language wouldn’t be too far away. Well…this week he has really started talking. It’s so exciting to see how easily it is coming to him.

Every day he is saying a minimum of about 20 new words. It’s incredible. He’s gone from a vocab of about 20 words to over 100 in a week. Last week it was pointing at what he wanted and saying ‘this, this, this!’ This week he is pointing and saying ‘snack, drink, book, stuck, open, more, yoghurt, brekkie, grapes’ and on and on.

This morning we were looking at a flash card app on the ipad – he copied every single word. No matter how hard they were to say, he gave it a go. He was putting the sounds to the animals (you try making the sound of a camel!) and even a few actions that we have been doing.

How beautiful to see him truly discover the magic and power of language. Very beautiful!!

And that was the week that was.

My Optimism Is Bringing Me Down

I’ve always subscribed to the idea that being optimistic is the best, the only way forward. I like to see the best in people and believe that no matter how many times you may be disappointed by others, it shouldn’t stop you from staying positive about the future.

I also like to push the envelope when it comes to believing in what I can do, how much I can manage in my work or my capacity to love and care for the important people in my life, especially the kids.

I guess that’s why I have three kids and would love to have more – if I only I could get a few more hours sleep each night! Don’t worry people, I’m not going there (at this point anyway).

Every now and then I go over the line and end up scrambling to try to catch up or needing to delegate or bring in the reinforcements. Even then, that’s OK…you live and learn. I don’t mind making mistakes, so long as I’m trying.

Having a child with autism can quickly knock the wind out of those optimistic sails. The future is suddenly very uncertain. You are in for the ride of your life and you are most definitely NOT in the drivers seat. But the autism label does not change the child – they are still that little one you adore and love beyond limits.

After a while you get used to having that label. You get used to the meltdowns, the picky eating, the slow progress. Used to having to wait for cognitive processing, to still dealing with nappies and more poo than you would ever wish upon your worst enemies. Cos that’s your little darling inching their way through their milestones, getting there – despite everything, getting there.

So you stay focussed on the day to day challenges. You hear about a great program or a wonderful therapist or the amazing ipad or chewy tube or a babysitter who can handle your situation. You keep trying every possible avenue to help make their journey a little easier. You buy books, you download apps, you trawl through the internet.

But autism is not a sprint. It doesn’t even have an end point. You are in it for the long haul, so stamina is vital. You are the coach, the cheer squad and a co-runner. You are the marketing team, the walking brochure, the general manager and the bank.

Which brings me to the title of this little ditty. It’s been pretty difficult lately. Still I look towards the brighter future – we’ll get through it etc. I know it is true and I can see it happening before my eyes. The behaviour management strategies are working, the aggression is abating and we are having a nice time together.

I have the highest hopes for my little boy but I don’t want to be a deluded fool. I want to set realistic, achievable goals that help him to find his place in the world and I want my place in that world to be one that doesn’t involve hitting my head against a brick wall (metaphorically speaking). Possible? YES…maybe…don’t know.

When The Going Gets Tough

It’s been a tough week or so. I’ve been trying to let life settle into a predictable routine – and have made some progress there, but man oh man I’m feeling a bit tired.

L has a communication book that goes with him to school each day. It’s good to hear how he has been going and by all accounts, he’s doing great. Problem is after being such an angel all day, he’s ready to cut loose by the time he gets home and the devil in him emerges just in time for the arsenic hour. When I finally get him to sleep (after I’ve gotten the other two to sleep)… I’m a wreck.

I try to get him out into the back yard where he can play with water, jump on the trampoline, play in the sand etc. None of this will do, he’s straight onto N – pushing him over, pinching, scratching, spitting and screaming at the top of his voice. If I turn my back on him for a second, he’s at it again. So back to the hyper-vigilant, eyes in the back of my head, take him everywhere I go, room to room. Back to the blocking, the planned ignoring, the one warning only, the time in, the time out. But most important of all, the praise for good behaviour, those rare precious moments when he displays some self-restraint.

We started with a new OT this week, hoping they can provide some guidance. Well, he (yes…a he) saw the full gamut of behaviours. I didn’t intervene during the session, so L just escalated and escalated. The OT said ‘well, at least I got the opportunity to see him in action and I don’t have rely on just being told about what is happening’. So I guess that’s one positive thing.

I know it’s a phase. We’ve been here before. But I want the phase to be over. I want my lovely little boy back feeling settled, happy and calm.

 

#2 Enter At Own Risk: Sydney

I hit the big smoke (Sydney) as a fresh faced 18 year old in late 1977. Disco sucked and punk was in. That was a lot of fun, maybe too much fun but I saw a lot of live music. The live music scene in Sydney was huge in those days. People would cram into all kinds of crazy venues, then spill onto the streets in a sweaty, beer-soaked mess.

1978

One of my oldest friends Dave, was a drummer and we shared houses for many years. He managed to get himself into a few bands that did pretty well and I got to go along for the ride. Through him I got my first industry gig selling t-shirts and counting punters. But it wasn’t till 1983, after travelling overseas, bike riding expeditions and various other activities that I finally decided to bite the bullet and went and bought myself a bass for fifty bucks.

It was a Hofner violin shaped, semi-acoustic similar to the bass Paul McCartney played in the early days of the Beatles. I loved that bass and swore I would never sell it. It was a piece of crap, but I didn’t care. Within a few months I was in a band and it was all over red rover.

That band was The Happening Thang. Our first gig was at a party in a house overlooking Sydney Harbour. Our set list was a mash up of classic country rock and selected covers along with a few originals. We were entertaining and added a new flavour to the Sydney scene and as a result we were never short of a gig.

The Happening Thang 1985

Soon after that I got together with a couple of other singers and together we formed a group called the Wild Wild Women (Tony Alaylis, Alice Pappademetriou, Kate Swaddling & myself). We were an ‘a capella’ group – voices only, no instruments or backing. Four very different girls (ahem…women) singing some really diverse songs – everything from Free Nelson Mandela (who still needed to be freed in those days) to My Body The Car/Godley & Creme. No one else was doing this at the time, except…a group of four guys, called The Elevators.

We would often work with these guys. It was a great line up. We’d each do a set and then do a set together. Leading the Elevators was Tony Backhouse. A wonderful musician, vocalist and arranger who would go on to lead the Café at the Gates of Salvation choir and many other musical adventures.

We did a LOT of gigs and became a group that could slot into a lot of different situations. We did a bit of touring – totally unorganised and audacious in our approach. I remember trying to organise shows out of the local phone booth (lots of 20 cent pieces!). Our first tour took us to Brisbane and while we were here we managed to wangle our way onto the bill as the support act for Jonathon Richman and the Modern Lovers who were touring Australia. Jonathon loved what we were doing and invited us to do the rest of the tour with him – yes please! We had a great time with those guys. We never recorded except for an afternoon with radio station Triple Z in Brisbane – a tape that went into the vortex.

Wild Wild Women 1986 in rehearsal

Soon after we were invited to open for Screaming Jay Hawkins of ‘I Put A Spell On You’ fame. Eye opening, to say the least. Yes, he did the whole emerging from a coffin thing and rattling skulls and bones around the stage. We also got to tour with some Australian artists including The Black Sorrows and Hunters and Collectors. Our act was always a surprise to the dedicated fans who would attend these shows, but it was a thrill for us to win them over and have a thousand or so people stomping and screaming for an encore.

I became a member of another group – Bellydance Disco, later known as just Bellydance. This group was a soul/funk/reggae outfit with most of the music written by singer Tony Hayes. Bellydance went on to get signed to a label and although that can often be enough to kill the spirit of a band, Tony and Bellydance are still going.

I bought myself a new bass around this time. Got it at a pawn shop in Kings Cross which could be good or bad…depending. It was a Fender mustang which is a ¾ sized bass and it was…good! I’d stepped up in the world and spent a whole 300 bucks. It was a great bass for me – not too fancy, not too heavy – just right.

The Happening Thang at The Hopetoun 87 (mustang)

Another group I was in was The B’jesus Burgers. Legendary, almost mythical status. The stories are all true! We were a self-indulgent collective of idiots from various bands around town who just wanted to play some fun songs and dress up (Pat Powell, Tony Gilbert, Andy Travers, Peter O’Doherty, Ashley Cadell, Irish Ted and me). I mostly sang but also played bass on a couple of numbers. We had nights where we could clear the room and others where we were absolutely in the zone. Our set list was raided by lots of other bands who were looking for a good cover to exploit. We never recorded, but had a hell of a lot of fun!

B'Jesus Burgers backstage at The Piccadilly Hotel 1987

Meanwhile, The Happening Thang was getting pretty serious. The line up had consolidated into Cathy Wearne on vocals, Andy Travers on guitar & vocals, Jeff Mercer on guitar & lap steel, Robbie Souter on drums and myself on bass & vocals. We also had a lot of people who would guest with us including Reg Mombassa, Graham Lee, Mark Dawson, Murray Cook and Ian Simmo Simpson. Andy was the main songwriter, but I had tried my hand at writing a few songs and got a couple onto the set list.

We were playing lots of shows, getting plenty of media and generating some interest. Although I was not involved in any negotiations at all, we ended up signing with Trafalgar/WEA.

Right around this time, I was kind of unhappy with myself. I felt like I wasn’t very good at anything. You know that feeling where you feel like you’re faking it and pretty soon someone ( or everyone) is going to find out. Well that was me.

So I decided to get out of Sydney and go and study music up in the lush green hills of northern NSW around Byron Bay. At least then I would know what I didn’t know – instead of just flailing around blindly. I remember Neil Murray telling me I was absolutely insane for leaving town. I did keep playing with the band for a while and had two songs on the first album which I was involved in recording. But I didn’t like the raw ambition you needed to succeed in the business of music.

However I did join one more band for the summer of 87/88. The Stetsons was a group of established musicians from different bands – mostly gangaGANG and Mental As Anything and put together by Buzz Bidstrup who had gotten an album deal for the group. My friend Peter O’Doherty had a song on the album, a duet called The Ballad of Fifi and Jimmy and he asked me to sing it with him for the recording. Then, as the band were rehearsing for the launch of the album and the various gigs to follow, their bass player pulled out of the live shows (he’d gotten a better paid tour for the summer with Jimmy Barnes). I ended up being asked to step in.

The Stetsons 1987

We played quite a few shows including one at Australia’s biggest country music festival, Tamworth. It was a fly in, fly out gig – all of us on a charter flight. There were a few jokes about the Big Bopper & Patsy Cline, but we made it back in one piece.

It was all soon to change as I packed my bits and pieces into my car and drove 9 hours north. It was a risk, but I knew it was the right move for me.

Status: Destination Unknown

Enter At Your Own Risk: music and me

Music has been an incredibly powerful force in my life. Why? Well that’s just one of life’s little mysteries. But here is a bit of the how.

My mother played the piano so we always had one in the house. When my four sibs and I were young, she would often play at night and I have those fuzzy childhood memories of lying in bed letting the music wash over me till I was asleep . My dad had, and still has, a genuine love of music circa 1948. He loves to sing and can usually find a song for most situations. Something I had a genuine hate for as a teenager. As a young man he had played the Hawaiian/steel guitar and also the harmonica, but I’ve never seen him in action. So there was always a bit of music going on around the house.

There have been a few pivotal moments along the way that led to the casting of that magical musical spell which has dominated my life. The first would have been in 1970 when my older brother blew all his pocket money and brought home his first 45 – Let it Be/You Know My Name, Look Up the Number. We would sing our hearts out to the classic, but the B side – it connected, it spoke to me. It was crazy, with it’s weird beat and strange lyrics.

This was a new world. I was 10 and instantly, I knew there was more out there. Some of what was out there would make more sense to me than my current reality growing up in the steamy heat of far northern Australia.

The next 45 was Mungo Jerry with In the Summertime. Loved that shuffling, skiffle beat. Something had shifted in me and The Banana Splits, Lost in Space and Maxwell Smart, as fun as they were, started to fade as music drew me in.

My first performance had been singing ‘There’s a Kind of Hush’ by Herman’s Hermits at the kids summer camp on Magnetic Island a year or so earlier. Bold as brass.

Then, for the first time in my life, I asked my parents for a specific Christmas present – a transistor radio! The ultimate possession. It was a big investment, but they made it and my dreams came true on Christmas morning.  From then on I had that single ear piece crammed into an ear, or had the radio going under my pillow at night. I loved that tiny black box (the first of many). It gave me the world.

Fast forward a few years and I’m living in another country town, in the cold country of regional NSW. It’s 1974 and the whole singer/songwriter thing is going on. My brother (yes, same one and dammit – now I’m realising how much I owe him) is fooling around with guitars. So I decide I’m going to teach myself the guitar. And I do. First song I learn (forgive me) is Annie’s Song by John Denver. You know the one…you fill up my senses etc. etc. Yeah, I know, not very cool. It gets worse. It also gets better.

Here’s the worse bit. I became a dedicated fan of the group America. Bought every album, knew every song. Even now, when I hear one of those songs, it takes me straight back to those times. But I wasn’t a one group girl.

Here’s the better bit. I managed to convince my parents to sign up to the World Record Club – where they would send you an album every month whether you wanted one or not. You were sent a catalogue and could choose an album or they’d just send you one. Well, I would look through those catalogues with an eagle eye. There was a lot of classical music and compilations in there, but in amongst all that I managed to get a few gems including Paul Simon/There Goes Rhymin Simon and The Beach Boys/Pet Sounds.

I’d started spending my own money on albums once I’d got myself a job. The first album I bought was Van Morrison/Moondance, followed by numerous James Taylor, Steely Dan, Seals & Croft and of course, America. And this was how I learned to sing harmony, singing along with these guys.

Of course we had the obligatory Beatles, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, etc. But I had moved on from the world of radio to the world of ‘yeah, I’m into music’.

Yes, it’s all a bit white and a bit mainstream, but I was living in a small country town, I had no music mentor saying – you gotta listen to THIS. I was just blindly finding my way. So it wasn’t until later that I started to delve into the rich history of blues and jazz and r&b, of soul and funk and gospel, ska and reggae and all that good stuff.

That white boy music saw me through all those angsty teenage years while I was waiting for my life to begin. But in the meantime, I went to my first live show, Australian band Ariel, at the local town hall. Years later I would end up working with one of the guys from this band and funnily enough, I would also put a few tours through that very venue. Live music! PA’s, electric guitars, amps – I wanted more of that thrill. Status: totally addicted.

More of this fascinating story in my next post.