When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a writer.
My bookshelves were bursting with myths and legends, tales of epic journeys and magical enchantments and warriors and warlocks and princesses; talking animals and terrifying villains. I read many of them over and over and would always think, when I closed the covers, how wonderful the author must have felt to have created such a thing.
I started writing my own stories, on sheets of rough paper, taped or stapled together. I would write the title first, then the author – me – beneath, then carefully index the chapters, number the pages and sometimes, if feeling really enthusiastic about the content, provide rave reviews for the back. I showed my parents, my friends, my teachers. People nodded and smiled.
I grew up, and kept writing. I studied English and French literature, and kept writing. I studied journalism, and kept writing. I got a proper job, and kept writing. Then I had a daughter, and stopped for a while. When I came back to it, I wrote furiously for several months, then realised the embarrassingly semi-autobiographical nature of the novel I had crafted, and put it aside. I got married, and got divorced, and had another child, and got married again.
There wasn’t very much time for writing, let alone for cudgeling my exhausted brain into thinking of something interesting to say.
Then my elder daughter Grace was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. It had taken us years to find out what it was that was ‘off’ – what the teachers saw, and wondered about, and what her peers saw, and walked away from, and what I saw, and thought was just my eccentrically lovable child. Finding out that my daughter had autism was like discovering she had been living behind glass for 8 years and that I had been oblivious to the sound of her banging her fists on it.
We were sent off with a label, and little support. Grace started to be bullied at school as she grew older and her differences became more apparent and other children were drawn to her weirdness and capacity for combustion when they pressed her buttons. They found all her buttons.
Grace spent a lot of time crying. I spent a lot of time crying. We both felt very alone.
Then one day on the way to work, I pulled out my notebook and emptied the thoughts in my head onto the pale blue lines. I scribbled and scribbled, oblivious to the other commuters, thinking that if I wrote everything down then I might be able to make sense of it. I came home and said to Grace: “Shall we write about what’s happening to us?” And Grace said: “Yes. Please tell them what it’s like.”
So I wrote. I wrote a blog and called it Grace Under Pressure. I wrote about how it feels to be the parent of a child with autism. I wrote about the things I was learning and about how much I realised I still had to learn. I wrote about Grace’s marathon attempts to fit in and understand her own limitations and learn to cope with the limitations of classmates who had no sympathy or understanding. I wrote about running a marathon myself in order to raise awareness among those who had no sympathy or understanding of autism.
People started reading the blog. Then more people read it, and more. Eventually, someone said: “You know, you should really think about making this into a book.” A publisher called Little, Brown agreed.
My book is not the book I ever thought I would write. But it is the kind of book that I used to read. It is the tale of an epic journey, and a magical enchantment, and a courageous princess. I am very proud of the princess, and I am grateful to her every day for letting me tell her story and for taking me with her on the adventure that changed our lives.
Grace Under Pressure: A Girl with Asperger’s and her Marathon Mom, by Sophie Walker, is published in the United States by New World Library, and in the UK by Little, Brown (Piatkus).
**Enter to win a free copy of Grace Under Pressure! Comment on this post for a chance to win — we will be choosing a winner on Friday, December 13th! **
This is an original post by our writer in the UK, Sophie Walker.
The image in this post is credited to the author.
Hurrah for Diana Nyad!
In a few short weeks she has overturned long-established ideas about age and ability and strength and given us all a reason to keep swimming.
Nyad, in case you’ve been looking the other way, is the 64-year-old woman who recently became the first person to swim the 110 miles from Cuba to the U.S. without a shark cage, taking almost 53 hours.
This would be a marathon effort at any time, but when you consider that it was her fifth attempt over some forty years; that she had to wear a mask to protect her from jellyfish stings; that she took in so much sea water it caused her to vomit constantly for almost all of that 53 hours; that she arrived finally with face and lips swollen from sun and sea water – well, then her achievement, and her insistence not to be deflected from her aim, would seem to reflect almost superhuman levels of endurance.
The word endurance does not typically bring to mind 64-year-old women. In our culture, it is often used to describe young men – runners, rowers and cyclists at the peak of their profession or pushy capitalists doing extreme sports to fill that adrenaline void when Wall Street is closed.
Google “Endurance” and up come pictures of young, lean, tanned male muscle in a celebration of machismo as traditional now as images of mustachioed weight-lifters once were in Victorian times.
The same web search also shows sepia-tinged photographs of the tall-masted Victorian adventure ship christened Endurance, on which British polar explorer Ernest Shackleton set off for Antarctic expeditions in the last century. (Twenty-first century sailor Ellen MacArthur’s solo circumnavigation of the globe strangely does not feature.)
Nonetheless, I think many women, hearing Nyad’s achievement, will have given a little nod, and maybe a small smile, of understanding. Many more will never hear of her, yet understand without discussion the will that kept Nyad going.
Though they may not be sports fanatics, or travelers with a yen for the toughest destinations, many women set their own personal standards of endurance in their day-to-day existences.
Their marathon may consist of walking for hours to find water and food in conditions of extreme poverty and hunger. Their endurance training may consist of watching their children die for the lack of a cheap vaccine. Their 53-hour record may be for the time worked within a dangerous and miserably uncomfortable factory, to earn a tiny amount with which a family can just about be supported.
For the luckier ones, endurance may just mean a bleak commute, juggling the needs of employers and families and ever-mounting bills. It may mean keeping smiling when a child is in pain, it may mean getting up for the fifth time in one night to attend to small, fevered offspring while knowing that big important morning meeting is looming. It may mean getting over the disappointment when that male colleague got that promotion. It may mean an ability to keep walking with head high when the cat calls keep coming.
Endurance can mean many things. Diana Nyad has reminded us that it is not an exclusively male domain. Already crowds of cynics are assembling to cast doubt on Nyad’s achievement, wondering how an old woman could have completed that swim in that time. Clearly her next endurance test lies just ahead.
But whatever the outcome, she has broadened the parameters of what the will to keep going looks like. And that is no small feat, either.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer in the UK and mother of four, Sophie.
The image used in this post is credited to Alan Cleaver. It holds a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.
The sun is shining through the trees at the bottom of the garden and dancing dappled light on the kitchen window. It gilds the pot of basil on the sill and warms our faces and illuminates the dust of flour in the air around us as Betty bends to her task.
She stands sturdily beside me, elevated on a kitchen chair, wrapped in a bright plastic apron. I have tied her hair up – though untidy tendrils still make their way across her cheek – and as she leans over to check her progress I have to resist the urge to kiss the perfect dimple in the nape of her neck.
Betty and I are baking. With nimble little fingers she is sieving the flour and baking powder, tap-tapping it against her palm like a tambourine and watching the clouds of white fall into the bowl. From time to time she looks up at me and grins, exposing the sweetly crooked front tooth that is the result of falling on her face mid-dash down the garden path a year ago. Betty does everything at a dash: most of her toys have to have wheels just to keep up with her. But today, she is by my side and she stays there. It’s Wednesday: our baking day, the day I don’t go to work. So here we are, elbow to elbow, delighting at our creations and the alchemy we work.
This is just as new to me as it is to Betty. I have always cooked, rarely baked. I have produced breakfasts, lunches, dinners; steaming layers of lasagne (“with GREEN pasta, Mummy!”); round, ripe tomatoes stuffed with rice; home-made turkey burgers with a secret parcel of melted cheese inside; roast chicken, roast lamb, roast beef; fat, gleaming omelettes; pancakes on feast days and naughty nuggets and chips on holidays and just-because-we-can days. But baking: that was for people who had time. I provided proudly but quickly and efficiently and then I got on with the next thing on my list.
What Betty and I do now is different. I watch her tap the egg oh so carefully on the rim of the mixing bowl before gripping it with both her little thumbs and attempting to prise it apart. Her approach is not working, so she grips it harder with her little fist and the egg crunches and splatters into the creamy whiteness of the blended butter and sugar. She makes a sound of consternation and looks up at me. I laugh, and she relaxes, and together we pick out the bits of shell. We are both learning to be patient, to enjoy the process as much as the outcome. She is so entranced by what happens when she stirs the ingredients together that she forgets to fidget and want to run. I am so entranced by her absorption that I forget to worry about what’s next on the list.
Week by week we work our way through her favourites. My baby daughter has my heart already but week by week I give it to her all over again in every offering: tender yellow vanilla-scented cupcakes that she decorates with butterflies; sturdy banana and cherry loaf; chocolate chip cookies that expand so alarmingly while cooking that we shriek and slam the oven door shut quickly and giggle. We make flapjacks, shaking oats and raisins into the mixing bowl and I smile to see her eyes widen and her hand wobble at the weight of the golden syrup we spoon in next, inhaling the bitter metal smell of the glutinous mass, our mouths watering.
Sometimes Betty gets tired and pushes the bowl back over to me to mix. Sometimes she rests her head against my side and curls a small arm around my back, sucking the first two fingers of her other hand as she watches me turn the mixture over and again and back on itself until the lumps are gone and the components blended. Then she stirs to help me transfer it into multicoloured cases, or buttered tins, before setting about licking the spoon clean, rosy pink tongue lapping like a kitten’s.
When our cakes are baked and ready, our kitchen smells of love.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our contributor in the UK and mum to 2 daughters and to 2 step-sons, Sophie Walker.
The image used in this post is credited to the author.
My mum used to say to me: “Don’t wish your life away.”
Nowadays I sometimes feel as though that’s all I do. To be more specific, I’m organizing my life away.
With four kids, my job, my husband’s job, and the diaries of both our ex-partners to co-ordinate, there are often times when I look up from the calendar and realise I’ve scheduled myself right out of the current school term and into the next-but-one.
This can be particularly painful when I have to re-adapt to not being in warm late summer and that campsite in France but instead in bleak mid-winter suburbia. January is a bad month for making wishes and looking away from the here and now. “I want to be thinner/fitter/better employed/better loved by X month,” we tell ourselves, shading our eyes as we scan the horizon for that magical time when everything will be perfect.
The temptation to hurry past moments of disappointment or frustration is immense, and only human. I feel this keenly as the mother of a child with autism. School is a big issue for us, and the day-to-day of persuading my child to go and, once there, to participate, is exhausting. (more…)
This week’s Saturday Sidebar is a spin on one of the writing prompts from Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous Writer’s Workshop:
“What is one piece of advice you would give your teenage self?”
Check out what some of our World Moms had to say…
Ms. V of South Korea writes:
“That perfection is both impossible and undesirable so spending any time trying to be perfect is a waste of time. Less work, more play!”
Mamma Simona of South Africa writes:
“You’re NOT fat and worthless!! Trust your instincts about people. It’s YOUR life to live; so stop wasting time thinking you’re just ‘not good enough’! You ARE worthy of unconditional love, so be as kind to yourself as you are to others.” (more…)
We arrived in the dark, our headlights sweeping around the corners of the single-track lane as we drove and illuminating fringes of fields and hedgerows that suggested vast open spaces further beyond.
Snow and ice crackled beneath the tyres. In front, suddenly: a white-faced owl, which rotated its neck magisterially at our approach then slowly flapped up and over us. A little further along a muntjac deer high-stepped cautiously across the road, its retina reflecting night-vision green in the beams of our car.
We had left London three hours ago. In the back seat baby Betty was entertaining herself by playing hide and seek. “One, two, three, comingreadyornot!” she shouted, snugly strapped in to her child seat. “Boo MummyDaddy!” She bubbled with laughter then gently subsided, turning her face up to her window to gaze at the thousands of stars above. No sodium street-lights here. My baby daughter, more used to pointing at the trains that pass along the bottom of our garden, was entranced by the massive constellations over her head.
Tired, broke and frazzled by the constant juggling of work and family, my husband and I had called time on our responsibilities. With our eldest children weekending elsewhere we had thrown two small bags of food and clothes into the car, hoisted Betty aloft and run from our terraced house to a tiny countryside bolthole.
Which we had just found, tucked away in the dark where we might never have seen it but for a friendly (more…)