Tag Archives: Swap box

The many faces of friendship

Good friends have become a valuable commodity for our family over the years, something I have written about before and no doubt will write about again, but a few events over the last couple of months have made me realise yet again just how important these friendships are to us. In each case, the thoughtfulness of those friends turned what could easily have been difficult experiences into ones that were a little less stressful, something I always appreciate, but most of all at the moment as we deal with new school years, new medical teams and new jobs. Some of these are old friends, people I’ve known since my own school days who still play an important role in our lives, whilst others are those we’ve got to know as G and M build their own relationships with their classmates, but it doesn’t matter how long we’ve known them, they’ve been there to make a difference when it mattered.developing-friendship-machines-working-word-building-up-concept-construction-black-alphabetic-letters-forming-isolated-31326540

The first event was one of the most stressful I’ve had in a long time and even with this wonderful friend stepping in to help out, it was an experience I would have much preferred to do without. My Mum was away enjoying the wonders of Russia, Mike’s parents had flown home to Canada and Mike was back at his work, which is over an hour away from home even when the trains are running in his favour. For once I hadn’t left leaving work to pick up the children from school to the last possible minute and everything seemed to be under control, so naturally that was the point when everything suddenly went horribly wrong. My car wouldn’t start. Not only would it not start, but even with the engine turned off, the electrics seemed to have a mind of their own and the ignition refused to release my key. Even on the best of days this wouldn’t have been a good thing, but poor G had already had to disappear to the school library for an extra hour after school and I was now left with the dilemma of how to get home and get both kids without a car. Thank goodness for a good friend in our village, in the shape of the Mum of one of G’s friends, who kindly agreed to pick up M from his school, send her daughter to rescue G from their school and hold on to them both until either Mike or I was able to take them home. Her calm acceptance of the situation worked wonders on my frazzled nerves – I had by this point already phoned Mike in tears to tell him that not only had my car broken down, but that I was close to breaking down too – and reassured me that there was no need to panic as all I needed to do was get myself safely home. A couple of hours later I’d been rescued by our local garage and I rescued this friend from having to put up with my excitable duo for too much longer. It probably didn’t seem like much to her, I know it’s something I’ve more than willingly done for other Mums in the past, but it really did make a car-wont-start-186299740-e1431698432132bad situation a whole lot better and helped dampen my panic down to just concerns about how exactly we would manage without a car at all, given we’ve become a 1 car family over the last 6 months (and yes, I can be something of a “glass half empty” person at times and this was definitely one of them). Fortunately, the problem was nothing more than a flat battery and within 24 hours, it had been replaced and normal service had been resumed.

Fast forward a few days to when one of M’s friends brought a smile to his face with a small gesture that made the world of difference to my currently very sensitive lad. As I’ve mentioned recently, M has a well-stocked swap box in the classroom to ensure that he never has to miss out when his classmates bring sweets or treats into school to celebrate their birthdays. M has
become accustomed to swapping out the sweets for a non-edible treat of his choice, but I know that he misses the days when he used to be able to join in just like his friends and could eat a far wider range of foods. He had already brought home a number of Hero Attack trading cards for other birthdays, but I was met at the gate last week by a small boy hqdefaultwith the biggest smile on his face. This good friend and his thoughtful Mum had remembered that M can safely eat Foxes Glacier mints and so had taken a handful of those in for M, whilst the rest of the class enjoyed another brand of sweets. M was thrilled about being treated just like everyone else, his teacher was pleasantly surprised by this thoughtfulness and I was touched by this small step to include him in the thrill of the celebration.

Finally, we come to a recent Sunday afternoon spent with old friends and their family enjoying the chance to chat, play and share a meal. This is a friendship that has lasted over 25 years and which made them an obvious choice when we were choosing G’s godparents nearly 13 years ago. We arrived early afternoon allowing the children plenty of time to hang out and play together, whilst the adults enjoyed some much-needed catching up of their own. We talked about recent job changes, secondary school decisions and summer holidays as well as the ongoing saga of M’s health and hospital care; and before we knew it, dinner time had arrived. To our surprise, and M’s absolute delight, this wonderful couple had decided to cook a dinner that was completely M-friendly for us all and so we sat down to enjoy chicken kebabs, chicken goujons, rice, cucumber and some delicious applesauce together. friends-meal-jpgM felt a part of the proceedings in a way that was fantastic to see and when pudding arrived on the table – a safe baked rice pudding with more lashings of the applesauce – he was beyond ecstatic. That simple show of solidarity with our boy was amazing to see and whilst they didn’t think twice about doing it, was a thoughtful gesture that made an impact on us all. M didn’t feel that he was missing out on anything the others was eating and it perhaps gave them a small insight into what he lives with everyday.

As you can see, friendship has many faces and each of them, in their own particular way, makes a difference. I don’t think any one of those individuals thought they were doing anything out of the ordinary or extreme, but without those gestures our life would be far more challenging and a lot less fulfilling and colourful than it is.

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A Survival Guide For School & Allergies

The end of August always seems to be something of a surprise in our household. We arrive home from our holiday feeling relaxed and calm and then almost immediately face a madcap race to reach the finish line of shoes bought, uniform named, PE kits found and bags packed before school starts. In years past I have also had to make sure provisions are packed, discussions had and medical notes updated for M, but, for the first time ever, this year I wasn’t trying to squeeze in a critical meeting alongside my own new start with a new job. img_11331I know that next year when M moves up to our local secondary school it will be a very different picture, but after 3 years of working with the teaching community at our junior school, and with no major changes to contend with, M was able to start in Year 6 without this over-anxious Mum hovering in the background.

Without a doubt we have been incredibly lucky with the amazing support given by the fantastic teaching staff at our local school, but we have also had more than our fair share of bad experiences and teachers who don’t care in the past and I can well remember the anxieties and hours of meticulous planning that heralded the start of every new school year. The novelty of not having to head into the classroom before the end of M’s first week back has still not worn off and I’m certain that it’s thanks to the hard work that’s been put in on all sides to formulate strategies that meet M’s needs and to develop a strong working relationship between home and school that is reliant on open communication that flows both ways.

Over the last few weeks, there’s be a lot of chatter in the online allergy community about the fears that surround the milestone of starting school and, with over 8 years of “parenting-a-school-child-with-allergies” experience under my belt, I’ve been asked what tips I would give to any parent facing this situation for the first time. In all honesty, M’s first few years at school were difficult and certainly not the positive experience we would have liked. We had to deal with a SENCo, who trivialised his allergies because they “…wouldn’t have to call 999 if he ate something he shouldn’t…” and refused to recognise how important it was to communicate his allergies and health issues to any member of staff dealing with him and not just his class teacher, which led to numerous occasions of him being offered food he couldn’t eat. His teachers lost their focus in teaching him because they felt he already had a lot to cope with with his regular appointments at GOSH and his education suffered as speech impediments, dyslexia and dyspraxia were missed by those who worked with him on a day-to-day basis.

Fast-forward to the start of Year 3 and all our negative experiences became a thing of the past. The year actually began at the end of Year 2, when I met with the Head, SENCo and class teacher of his new school to discuss all of M’s health and educational needs and worked with them to put practical solutions into place before the term started. They understood the value of seeing him as more than just his EGID and food allergies, circle-timebut also knew that his health problems were a big part of his everyday life and couldn’t be ignored. At the end of his first week there, M’s teacher held a circle time in class where she shared about M’s ill-health and restricted diet with his classmates. It was done in such a nurturing and non-confrontational manner that by the end of the session M was willing to answer any question that his new friends had about what they had been told himself and has being doing so ever since.

fabed1The information sheets that I had provided were given to the teachers and, combined with the notes they had taken whilst talking with me, used to draw up a healthcare plan for M that covered all possible situations. His on-going bowel control problems were sensitively handled and a contingency plan put in place to ensure that he always has access to a toilet wherever he is in the school. The HCP was written by the school SENCo and then sent home for my review before being published, shared with the whole teaching team and displayed prominently in the staff-room. Even better, every year since then I have been asked to review and amend his HCP to reflect any medical changes that have happened and the school continue to be sympathetic to his needs.

SAM_1175As for his swap box, it has proved to be an invaluable tool in the classroom setting and is something that is really easy to implement. The idea behind the swap box is a simple one – it contains a selection of safe items, be they edible or non-edible, that can be swapped for those unexpected treats that sometimes come into the classroom to celebrate birthdays or other special events. When M’s swap box came into being, it was filled with a mix of Haribo sweets and the odd Lego minifigure and the choice was his as to what he chose to take. Since going elemental 2 years ago, the box now contains Lego, trading cards and other fun small toys and ensures that M never feels that he is missing out when his friends celebrate. What’s more, his teachers have taken inspiration from it for their own purchases of small gifts at Christmas or the end of term and given him something he can enjoy.

I think the biggest secret to our great experience with our Junior school is communication. The lines of communication are always open and actively work in both directions between home and school through meetings, phone calls, e-mails and the home/school book. The willingness of so many of the school staff to learn to support M to the best of their ability has created a level of trust unlike any other and means that I am ea544311f5697d6334b2df7079ccedf9happy to leave M in their more than capable hands on a daily basis. It is a testament to their dedication to their work that, in the last 3 years, the only things that have caused an extended absence from school have been the annual hospital admissions at GOSH. They have always endeavoured to make sure that M is safe whilst at school and the fact that he was able to attend as normal with both his NG feeding tube and his broken leg is incredible. A truly remarkable relationship has grown over the years between our family and so many of the teachers and is something I really value.

They have also nurtured and encouraged M to talk about his allergies and EGID and have shown continued support as he has become an advocate for educating others about his illness. M has held cake sales, run playground games and created short films explaining the impact his diagnosis has on his life. He has developed a confidence in talking to others and 18 months ago was able to answer the questions asked by members of home-school-connectionevery class in the school. When he left his Infants school, he was a child reluctant to talk about his food allergies or hospital appointments because he was scared of being isolated and bullied because of how different he was to everyone else. These days he has an incredibly strong friendship group who look out for him during school hours and think about him when he’s had to be in hospital, and he never thinks twice to share what’s going on with his friends.

If I had to sum it up, I guess I would say this:

Be open, be honest, be available. Keep communicating and tell them how they can make it better if you need to. Do what you can to help them out and don’t forget to say thank you when they get it right.

The Secret of the Swap Box

Well, I couldn't resist just one more memory to celebrate Fathers' Day!

Well, I couldn’t resist just one more memory to celebrate Fathers’ Day!

This weekend has been a lot less manic than the last.  Other than the obligatory Fathers’ Day celebrations on Sunday, we also had 2 very important appointments to keep on Sunday afternoon.  G and M took their very first individual Speech and Drama LAMDA exams.  It’ll be a wait of another 6-8 weeks until we hear the results, but I’m proud of them both for having a go at this new challenge.

So, we’ve spent time playing games, watching TV, doing some homework and enjoying some quiet family time.  We’ve also worked on a project that has become very important to G over the last couple of weeks – her swap box.

This is an idea that was recommended to me about a year ago by a parent at M’s school.  She had overheard a conversation I was having with a fellow Mum about having to anticipate when treats might be given out in class to avoid having to deal with M’s frustration when he couldn’t have one.  She asked if we’d ever thought of providing a Swap box to be kept in the classroom.

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I looked at her blankly, listened intently and then wondered why I had never thought of such a simple solution to this problem.  The idea really is an easy one.  We provided a box, decorated by M, that was filled with a selection of sweets, biscuits and other treats that were M-friendly.  Whenever M is given a treat for any reason in the classroom – birthday celebrations, leaving gifts, rewards for good behaviour, Advent chocolates or Easter eggs –  he is allowed to take what he’s been given and swap it for a safe alternative from his box.  This means that he never feels excluded from all that is going on and we can be assured that he isn’t being given any food that could cause an allergic reaction.

I had never considered the need for G to have same, but in the last couple of weeks she has been unable to have caramels or chocolates that have been brought into school to share.  I was hoping to maybe make it to the end of term (well there are only 5 weeks left) and sort G’s swap box over the summer holidays, but alas, that wasn’t to be.  G was adamant that she needed one now and so we found a box and allowed her to decorate it this weekend.  I’ve filled it with a small supply of Haribo sweets, fruit snacks and some M-friendly packets of biscuits and she’s taken it into school this morning to stash with her teacher.

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It really is one of the simplest suggestions I’ve come across in dealing with M’s condition and has proven to be invaluable as he has found no need to strop or complain about being different to his friends.  After all, when you’re struggling with quite so many challenges, being able to take part with everyone else is really worth it’s weight in gold.