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Back to school guide for parents with chronic illness

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

It’s that time of year again, folks! Yep, the summer is well and truly over. We did it! We made it through but now, a new challenge begins.

While getting the kids back to school means our routines will settle again, it also means early mornings, arguments, searching for school books, shoes, lunch boxes, pencils etc etc. Mornings in our house are well, stressful. A symphony consisting of whining, shouting, shrieking and wailing.

In addition to the energy we spend getting ready for the school run each morning, stress can also really take it out of us and even cause our spoons to dwindle before the day has even begun.

This year I am determined in making a change, not just for me and my illness but for the entire family’s mental health. Stress first thing in the morning puts everyone in a fowl mood for the day. I am trying my very best not to sweat the small things in an effort to chill out and ease stress related symptoms.

I know I am not alone when it comes to the stress of the morning rush. Millions of families across the world go through the same thing. We all wish for the same routine, to wake up refreshed, have our breakfast and coffee as a family, to all get ready individually and walk out the door on time and kiss each other goodbye as we all go our separate ways. It may seem like a scene from The Brady Brunch or The Waltons but there are some small tricks I’ve learned over the past few weeks in preparation for the coming school year.

If my chaotic morning routine sings to you, why not join me in my attempt to be more of a Zen like zebra on a Monday morning.

Sunday night, everybody dreads it. You feel you’re wasting a perfectly good day off doing laundry, sorting homework, lunches and looking for books and hearing excuses like “I didn’t have time to do x y and z”.

Below was the trigger for my Sunday night dread. The moment that theme song came on, it was time for bed and began my anxiety, fearing Monday morning.

Not exactly an ominous tune is it? To me it might as well have been the Imperial March or ‘Jaws’ music.

Uniforms

This year, I am going to encourage my 8 year old to help me with the laundry on Friday afternoon. As soon as he comes straight home from school, he is to get changed. This is when his uniforms will be washed. He is well able to use the coffee machine for when Daddy needs his morning pick me up so he is well able to turn on the washing machine.

I know this will serve him well when he is older. I have met so many men (and women for that matter) over the years that didn’t have a clue how to use a washing machine once they cut the apron strings and flew the nest from their mammy.

During the week, my son will get changed straight away and put his uniform away while I prepare a snack for him. If the uniform gets dirty during the week, I usually just do a spot clean. If it gets particularly dirty, a quick wash will usually do the trick.

Homework

For now, my son does not get homework for the weekend. But during the week he can spend quite awhile doing homework due to his sensory issues and poor writing skills. Luckily his Occupational Therapist is going to recommend a laptop this year so hopefully that’ll speed things up. Bendy Boy usually does his homework in the kitchen. He is so easily distracted so we will set up a designated homework space for him this year. After he gets home from school, I usually let him have an hour of rest before we begin homework and physiotherapy. Then he must do his homework and physio if he wants to go out and play with his friends or watch some TV. This has worked for us for the most part in the past but when the days are sunny (almost a rarity in Ireland), I much prefer him to spend time outdoors in the fresh air and socialise with friends. Unfortunately we have had issues getting him to do his homework after play. “I’m too tired. I don’t want to etc etc”, there is nothing to look forward to now.

stressful homework

Lunches

It’s Sunday night. Sugar! No bread! No lunch meat! No fruit! This is also a regular occurrence and sometimes it even happens on Monday morning. Jesus, we really sound like the most unorganised family, don’t we?! If you have a chronic illness though, you’ll know exactly where I’m coming from. Brain fog…am I right? Anyway, this year all lunch box items will be organised on a Friday and rationed for the week.

Lunches can be so stressful, especially when you have a child that’s fussy or has sensory issues. One day they’ll eat sandwiches, the next day you’ll find them squished at the bottom of the bag (I was guilty of this). I am gagging at the very thought of bread in my teeth at the moment! We can’t all be like Martha Stewart or Bree Van de Camp and cook up uber healthy three course gourmet lunches (regardless of health, who has the time?!).

Give them what they like. It’s that simple. No use sending in kale and cucumber sandwiches if you’re just going to find them buried in the bottom of the school bag.

Bendy Boy gets hangry and I mean hangry. Don’t know what hangry is? Let me enlighten you. You know that feeling you get when every little thing bugs you? Someone’s breathing, chewing or you know…their very existence? Then you eat something and everything is alright again. That’s hangry. Think of the Snickers ad. Well, that’s Bendy Boy. When he’s hungry he’s in no fit state to be in school.

Obviously send in nutritious food but make sure it’s something they enjoy! Looking for some lunch box ideas? Check out this blog by awesome sister and nutritionist, Fiona.

As noted in Fiona’s blog, getting the kids involved with lunch packing the night before can take the stress out of what should be a pretty stress free job.

Like Fiona, for me, nothing could be touching and nothing could be soggy. Our poor, poor mother.

Make sure each day that you or your child empty the lunch box and clean it when they get home from school.

Monday-Friday

I refuse to have a screaming match every weekday this year. Nope. It’s not happening. If we sleep in, we sleep in, if we are late, we are late. It’s school. The world isn’t going to end. I am not going to give myself a migraine by stressing out. I’m not going to dislocate a hip running up the stairs like a crazy woman.

Between Friday and Saturday we are going to get everything ready so that we don’t suffer from Sunday night fear and we can enjoy the day relaxing or going on a family outing. So uniform will be ready on Friday and books will be sitting in his bag and by the door waiting.

On Sunday we will prep lunch and make sure coat, hat, scarf and shoes are waiting on the coat hook and shoe rail (right next to the front door).

One of the major causes of arguments in the morning with Bendy Boy is his distraction and forgetfulness. He goes and plays with toys instead of getting dressed and washed, he spends time singing instead of brushing his teeth (if he even remembers to do it). Half the time we have to remind him to do the next thing (now get your shoes on etc). So we have come up with a plan. He will have a chart in his room that will help him get ready on time in the morning. These are available all over the internet like this one . We are going to make one ourselves from card paper (spoon friendly activity) and write each task for the morning.

  1. Make bed
  2. Get dressed
  3. Eat breakfast
  4. Put dishes in dishwasher
  5. Brush teeth
  6. Wash face
  7. Brush hair
  8. Put on your shoes, coat and schoolbag.

Your job

Because kids have the attention spans of well, children. We can’t rely on them to be responsible for all school prep. So have your own chart on the fridge to check off over the weekend to make sure everything runs smoothly.

  1. Uniforms
  2. Lunches
  3. Check homework
  4. Check for notes in bag about school trips or events
  5. Make sure books and pencil case are in the bag
  6. Have your own clothes ready for the morning
  7. Keys ready by the front door
  8. Check forecast. If the weather is particularly cold make sure to get up earlier to defrost your windscreen and in case traffic or road conditions are difficult to get around.
  9. Set your alarm.
  10. If your kids are getting off school early set a reminder in your phone to pick up or organise someone to pick up in case you have an appointment or other engagement.

One final thing, make sure you try and get a decent night and wake up before the kids and take your meds so you’ll feel more equipped to deal with what lies ahead.

walking to school.jpeg

Do you have any tips or tricks to help save time in the morning? Let me know in the comments below!

As my Dad always taught me; fail to prepare and prepare to fail!

Until next time,

Z.M

x

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Autonomic Testing: What you need to know

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

So a few weeks back I returned to London for some autonomic tests. While I was fairly prepared, there are a few things I would do differently. Even though I had been briefed by the investigations unit, I feel that some people who are due to have these tests would benefit from a few extra tips.

These are the tests that I had:

Autonomic Function Screening tests, plasma Catecholamine blood samples, head up tilt test (Autonomic Protocol), liquid meal test with autonomic responses, modified exercise test with autonomic responses to gravitational changes, cardiovascular autonomic responses to arm movements and a 24hr blood pressure monitoring using the autonomic protocol & analysis.

How do you prep for these tests?

Food and water

You have to refrain from any food four hours prior to testing and you can not drink anything until the lead up to the tests. So, I would recommend buying a breathe freshener spray as my mouth gets really stinky when I don’t drink water for awhile. So if that happens to you, you might want to bring some with you.

mouth spray

Luckily, my appointment was at 11am so I did have time to get up and eat something before we left. For 48 hours prior to testing you must refrain from eating anything with caffeine (coffee, tea, coca cola etc) bananas, chocolate, cocoa, citrus fruits & vanilla.

Clothing

You should wear loose fitting clothes for testing as the hospital informs, they suggested shorts in the documentation but London in spring is cold! I brought a few different things to wear and knew what would work for the second day of tests. What worked best was a loose t shirt (make sure the arms are loose or short too) and leggings. They only attach the vast array of wires and monitors on your upper body. The lowest they go is your hip area.

Medications

I wasn’t sure whether I should take my meds or not and it didn’t say what to do on the documentation so I refrained from taking my Midon but took my pain killers as the mornings are the worst time for me, pain wise. Luckily, I had booked a wheelchair to travel around London in so there was no chance that if I did faint, that I’d crack my head on the pavement. If you’re unsure yourself, give your investigation team a call or send an email to ask what to do in regards to your medications. It didn’t dawn on me until that morning on whether I should’ve taken my meds or not.

Punctuality

If you’re travelling abroad or far from where you live, make sure that you know which train/bus etc you need to get or what route you need to take if driving. I would advise for anyone having these tests in London, to check online whether there are any delays on the tube line you’re taking. I have a tube map app that was very useful for our trips around London. Give yourself plenty of time to travel. Be sure to get to the hospital in plenty of time so you can fill out any paperwork. Because we had the two kids with us, we did get delayed a bit so I was late for my tests but what we didn’t have time to do on the first day we did on the second.

How do these tests work?

Autonomic Function screening tests

This comprises of six tests. They are performed whilst you are lying flat, which will assess cardiovascular autonomic function.

The exercises vary in length, ranging from 15 seconds for the shortest and 3 minutes for the longest. The exercises examine blood pressure and heart changes in response to various stimuli: breathing exercises, cold, problem solving and isometric exercise. There
is a rest period between each test to ensure that your blood pressure and heart rate returns to baseline before commencing the next test. The autonomic function screening test also contains an active stand test. You will be asked to stand for a maximum of 5 minutes, whilst measuring your blood pressure and heart rate.
So, the breathing exercises were very straight forward. You are asked to breathe in deeply and then breathe out slowly for 15 seconds into a small tube. Then you’re asked to breathe quickly like you are hyperventilating.
The cold test was not pleasant at all. You’re asked to place your hand on an ice pack for 1.5 minutes. It doesn’t sound very long but trust me, it feels like forever. I won’t lie, it does hurt but as soon as that 1.5 minutes is up, you take your hand off and feel instant relief.
The problem solving test was tricky for me as I have a Dyspraxia diagnosis and people with this condition tend to perform very poorly when it comes to mathematics.
You’re asked to do fairly basic maths of adding and subtracting but when we got  to the big numbers, I ran into trouble. Plus the pressure of having to perform and brain fog thrown in, the odds were stacked against me but, they’re not measuring your math skills or intelligence, they want to see how your autonomic system reacts to these particular exercises.
Finally we did the isometric exercise test and this was simply having to squeeze a ball. With my weak hands and the wrists that are susceptible to dislocation, it was difficult for me but I was assured I did just fine by the lovely woman, Kiran who looked after me so well.
Plasma Catecholamine blood samples
Blood samples were taken from my arm using a small butterfly needle. Catecholamines / Metanephrines are a group of hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline and dopamine) which circulate in the blood and help regulate blood pressure and heart rate. The levels of catecholamines/ Metanephrines in the blood changes with posture (the levels increase from lying to standing). Blood samples were taken while I was lying, following the 10 minute rest period, and while I was on the tilt table in the standing position.
On some occasions, a spot catecholamine/ Metanephrines blood sample is taken during testing. This usually occurs if the clinical autonomic scientist observes a sudden marked increase in blood pressure and / or heart rate which correlates to certain symptoms. This test is performed to determine whether there are any sudden increases in the catecholamine levels, which could explain the symptoms.

Tilt table test

A tilt table test is a non-invasive diagnostic test to determine whether your symptoms: dizziness, light headedness or loss of consciousness; are due to changes in the blood pressure and / or heart rate. At the  beginning of the test, you will be asked to lie flat on a table. Two straps are put around your body to hold you in
place. After about 10 – 15 minutes of lying flat, the table is then slowly tilted to raise your body to a head-up position – simulating a change in position from lying down to standing up. The table will then remain upright for
either a maximum of 9 or 45 minutes (maximum time depends on the test requested by the doctor), while your heart rate and blood pressure are monitored continuously. This allows doctors to evaluate your body’s cardiovascular response to the change in position.
Liquid meal test
This is a procedure that’s used to examine the effects of food on blood pressure (BP), heart rate (HR) and / or symptoms.
A liquid meal is used as the effects on BP and HR can be observed after a 45 minute period. Solid foods can take a lot longer to digest (up to 7 hours). There are two options for the liquid meal:
1) complan (original flavour) + glucose + milk
2) glucose + water
Most patients will have option 1 during the test. However, I had the glucose solution as I am lactose intolerant. It is so sweet, like sickly sweet. I would love my sweet treats but this was just gross. Both meal options are suitable for vegetarians and are gluten free.
So at during this test I was asked to lie flat on the examination couch for 10 minutes to get a baseline of my BP and HR. Then I had a tilt table test. Then I had to rest again until I was asked to drink the liquid meal. Then came by favourite bit, resting for 45 minutes. It was pure bliss, no noise, no lights, nobody crawling on me or calling for me every two minutes. It was every mother’s dream. I’m pretty sure I dosed off for awhile too.
During the 45 minute rest period, my BP and HR will be monitored continuously. During the 45 minutes however, my heart rate (HR) dropped very low. My usual HR is 80-90 BPM but mine dropped to 50 for awhile. The on call doctor was called to check my stats but no intervention was needed as my HR came up by itself. After 45 minutes, I had another tilt test to see if there have been any changes to BP and / or HR following the meal.
Modified exercise test
I was asked to lie flat on an examination couch for 10 minutes or until a baseline of
my BP and HR was established. I then stood for a about 2-3 minutes. I was then again asked to rest prior to performing the exercise. For the exercise, I cycled on a bike whilst lying flat.  It was tough but I needed to cycle at a continuous set speed, with the
resistance of the bike gradually increased over a set period of time. I performed the exercise as long as I could which was just 3 minutes. My knee and hips were giving out.
Following the exercise, I had yet another period of rest before standing again for 5
minutes. I couldn’t last that long either. My BP plummeted making me feel dizzy.
Cardiovascular autonomic responses to arm movements
 So I basically had to hold my arms out in front of me and then above my head for a few minutes. I think I only lasted a minute. My body has become so deconditioned that it physically hurt to hold my arms out in front of me. I could feel myself getting tachycardic during the tests.
 24hr blood pressure monitoring using the autonomic protocol & analysis.
I had to wear a small portable blood pressure monitor, which is on a belt and a blood pressure cuff, which was fitted to my upper left arm. The monitor will takes your blood pressure and heart rate every 20 minutes during the day and every hour during the night.
You are advised to continue with your normal activities, which will help to show your investigations team a typical profile of your blood pressure and heart rate during a 24 hour period. The monitor can be removed for a bath or shower during this period. I was also given a diary. The diary contains a list of extra activities that my team wanted me
to perform whilst wearing the monitor (these activities including measuring your blood pressure & heart rate responses to mild exercise, food and postural changes). I couldn’t do all of these activities as we were either out of the hotel, I was tending to the children or having a bath.
During the monitoring, you can eat and drink as normal prior to your appointment. Your doctor will advise you whether you need to stop any medication prior to and during testing.
 
After the testing, I did feel exhausted and a bit sick. Booking my wheelchair was the smartest thing I did in preparation for my trip.
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A couple of weeks later Prof Mathias spoke with me on the phone (this consult does cost extra on top of the couple of thousand pounds I paid for the tests) and I received a diagnosis of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, Autonomic Mediated Syncope and my Orthostatic Intolerance/Hypotension was confirmed.
If you have any questions, you can comment below or message me on my Facebook page: The Zebra Mom
So until next week,
Z.M
x
 

How ‘attachment parenting’ helped me with my chronic illness

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

Soon I’ll be back to London for my next round of tests and physiotherapy. The smallies will also be seeing their paediatric physio in the Hypermobility Unit in London. Going abroad with small children can be so stressful and takes up so many of your spoons. I remember with Alex, everywhere we went, even for a short trip to the city we had a truck load of things to bring with us. This time with Olivia it is so much easier because my parenting technique is so different.

Attachment Parenting&Chronic Illness

So what is “Attachment Parenting”?

Well, for me I just call it parenting, it’s the biological norm to raise a child so I hate putting a label on it.

According to parenting science.com:

“Attachment parenting” is an approach to child-rearing intended to forge strong, secure attachments between parents and children.”

Attachment Parenting is often referred to as AP.

But how does AP differ from any other type of parenting?

AP is associated with a number of practices, including:

Baby-carrying or “baby-wearing”
Breastfeeding on cue
Nurturing touch (including skin-to-skin “kangaroo care” for infants)
Being responsive to a baby’s cries
Being sensitive and responsive to a child’s emotions (e.g., by helping her cope with nighttime fears)
Co-sleeping

In addition, attachment parenting advocates often promote “positive parenting,” an approach to discipline that attempts to guide children by emotion coaching, reasoning, and constructive problem solving.

However, proponents of AP–like William and Martha Sears, who coined the term “attachment parenting”–note that there is no checklist of rules that parents must follow to qualify as “attachment parents” (Sears and Sears 2001).

Family circumstances may prevent parents from carrying out every AP practice. What’s really important, argues these authors, is sensitive, responsive parenting-— understanding and addressing your child’s needs in an affectionate way.

Similarly, the founders of Attachment Parenting International argue that that attachment parenting is really about adapting a few general principles–like providing kids with a consistent, loving, primary caregiver–to the particular needs of your family.

This is not the same as being overly-protective. By definition, securely-attached kids are not overly clingy or helpless. They are the kids who feel confident to explore the world on their own. They can do this because they trust that their parents will be there for them (Mercer 2006).

So how has AP practices helped me with my chronic illness?

Babywearing

When I was pregnant my Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome wreaked havoc on my body. I was wheelchair bound by 5 weeks into my pregnancy because I developed severe Symphysis Pubis Disorder (SPD)  and my Autonomic System was all over the place.

I knew that there was a pretty good chance that I would still be affected with the SPD post partum and I was right. Two years on and I still suffer with it. How was I going to push a buggy while in a wheelchair?

Babywearing was my answer. Even on days where I couldn’t wear Ollie for whatever reason, Daddy wore her. It was a lovely way for them to bond. While I liked my ring sling, he was more into the wrap type slings. My coordination couldn’t handle the wrapping at all.

Three months after her birth, I didn’t need the wheelchair as frequently but I still carried her. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to manage lifting and opening up a heavy buggy so just popping my sling into my bag was the easiest option. After the ring sling I opted for the Rock n Rolla Fidella buckle carrier it was badass. Then I switched to a beautiful pink Fidella Mei Tai before going back to a buckle carrier (Nova) as my shoulder became to sore for wrapping. The Nova hasn’t had much use as Ollie likes to walk but I do use it for when I need walk to collect Alex from school or when we are in London. We brought a stroller on holiday once and it went unused, plus it is a pain having to bring it along with the other luggage.

Me sling

In retrospect, I wish I had gone along to a babywearing group to try things out before I bought the Mei Tai. It was only after I rented a Nova from the group that I realised it was exactly what I needed, lightweight, breathable and tidy enough to go in my bag. I would absolutely recommend people to try before they buy.

Babywearing allows you to be hands free as well and baby sleeps contently snuggled into their parents chest.

Marty fence BW

It really is a win/win situation. Baby is happy therefore Mommy is happy.

I can imagine people who are unfamiliar with babywearing wondering how I possibly managed to carry extra weight with weak joints/muscles and pain.

If you’re wearing your baby correctly, you should be well supported and you shouldn’t feel the extra weight bearing down on you.

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Interestingly, I was sent a link to a blog called Babywearing with Disabilities recently. Until I began writing this post, I hadn’t opened it. Imagine my surprise to find out the woman who wrote the blog actually has hEDS too! She offers some very good advice about how to babywear when you’re disabled. Really worth a read. Further reading about the general benefits of babywearing for parent and baby can be found here.

Slings come in so many gorgeous prints and designs. Say goodbye to your shoe/handbag addiction and say hello to telling your other half “Oh I won that on a dip.”

Marty Ollie

Breastfeeding on demand

Sadly due to poor support and advice, Alex was only breastfed for just over two weeks. He had an undiagnosed tongue tie which caused me to be in a lot of pain when feeding him. Yet no healthcare professional said anything bar “it happens”. No. Breastfeeding should not hurt. That’s a different story that you can read about here.

Anyway, I remember being so exhausted when we switched to formula. Having to make up bottles in the middle of the night, dealing with reflux and constipation, the usual drama with formula was just so much hassle. Even with two of us taking turns to get up. I was also pretty annoyed that the weight that had been falling off me for the first two weeks stopped melting off me.

Luckily, armed with evidence based information and a fantastic network of breastfeeding mothers, I was determined that this time it would work out. It’s crazy the amount of misinformation being spread not just by ill informed loved ones but by actual health care professionals too. I actually interviewed one of Ireland’s leading IBCLCs and the world renowned, Dr Jack Newman about breastfeeding myths.

Anyway, unlucky for us, Ollie was also born with a tongue and lip tie. But, this time I was determined to get it sorted as quickly as possible so that we could continue our breastfeeding journey. After exclusively pumping for 3 weeks and then pumping while also    learning the skill of breastfeeding, we were on our way. Ollie is just two weeks shy of two and honestly, feeding her has been one of my greatest achievements as a parent. Breastfeeding is the biological norm but in Ireland where just 2% of babies are fed by 1 year, it’s a pretty big deal to even get to two years.

Breastfeeding forced me to relax and properly recover after the birth which in itself was pretty traumatic. I had to give birth early as my waters had broken. I ended up loosing half of my blood but the consultant managed to stop the bleeding just as they were calling for blood bags. I was very weak and ill after the birth so lying on the couch for the first 2 months while Ollie built up my supply was ideal. I didn’t have to get up in the night to make bottles and the lovely hormones released during feeding time helped me feel content and loved up. Plus with the extra hand it meant Alex could join in on the cuddles.

BF OA

Breastfeeding also meant that I didn’t have to bring a huge bag filled with bottles and powder everywhere we went. You literally just have your breasts and you grab a nappy and off you go. Babywearing while breastfeeding also meant that I could get on with whatever I needed to do while baby was getting everything she desired; being close to mama and her milk. Best part is that my meds are all compatible with breastfeeding as 99% of medications are, again unfortunately that is another piece of information that isn’t well known amongst a lot of healthcare professionals and new mothers.

You can read more about breastfeeding while being chronically ill here.

Cosleeping/Bedsharing

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We intended to have Ollie sleep in a cosleep cot that Daddy made following this hack. FYI total cost was 65 Euro in comparison to the phenomenal amount of money you spend on a store bought cosleeper crib! The new mattress was the most expensive part.

Anyway, so we had the cosleeper cot attached to our bed and by the looks of it, Ollie would fit into it until she was at least four! Well, nope, this happened:

cosleeper

You know what? It worked out for the best because having her closer to me meant she could feed as I drifted back to sleep and it became a place to keep all her clothes and cloth nappies! Now she is able to undress me and help herself while I stay asleep! Research shows that parents who bed share and breastfeed get more sleep than those who don’t.

Once you practice the safety guidelines, there is virtually no risk in bed sharing, in fact a lot of research shows that babies who are exclusively breastfed and bed share with their mothers are actually less likely to die from SIDS. You only have to look at every other species of mammal to see that the dyad sleeping together is a natural part of child rearing. Hey, the Gruffalos cosleep too!

997034-the-gruffalos-child

You can find some evidence based articles about infant sleep and bed sharing here.

As stated before, AP doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can formula feed and babywear, you can breastfeed and use a buggy. I just know from my own experience that following my mammalian instincts has helped me to cope with parenting while having a chronic illness a whole lot easier.

Until next time,

Z.M

x

 

10 things to do with your children when you’re stuck in bed

Hi there, hi there, ho there!

It’s Mother’s Day here in Ireland. While most moms enjoy having a day to relax, those of us with chronic illnesses would love nothing more than to actually get out and about and do something fun. However, no matter how much we want to, sometimes it just isn’t possible to move from our bed, let alone leave the house.

As a Spoonie, days where I have a random burst of energy come far and few between. When I do feel good I take advantage and go on a spoon spending splurge with my children. Our favourite activities are going to the beach for a walk, going for lunch/dinner or searching for fairies in the woods. Unfortunately, those days don’t happen very often as my Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and Dysautonomia wreaks havoc on my body. There are days where I can’t move from my bed never mind actually leaving the house. My illness not only affects me, but my entire family. The children have to endure many days stuck inside because mummy is unwell. So, for those days we try and do things together from the comfort of my own bed. Here are some of the things we do together. I hope it helps another Spoonie parent who may be at a loss with their children on the days they’re stuck in bed.

10 Things to do with the kids when you're bed bound

Read books

One of my favourite things to do as a child was to read with my Father. Going to bed when I was little wasn’t the big fight it turned out to be as a got too old for bedtime stories. His voice even to this day is so soothing. His Anglo-Irish accent is so pleasant to listen to that I could quite happily listen to him read the dictionary to me. Quite often I did! If I didn’t know what I word meant I was sent to his study to fetch the dictionary. There was no Google back then! My favourite book as a child was The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton.

The_Magic_Faraway_Tree

Considering the first edition was published in 1943, I’m sure the everyday lives of those children brought back some fond memories of my father’s own childhood during the 1940s. When we finished one chapter of that, Dad used to make up stories about a mischievous little girl called Yvette (hmmm I wonder where he got the inspiration for the name) who used to get up to all sorts of mischief. When her parents found out what she did the story always ended there with her parents shouting “Yeeevette!” A few years back I dug out my copy of The Magic Faraway Tree and gave it to my son Alexander when he was about 4 with a note:

“Dear Alex,

I hope this book brings you as much joy as it has brought me.

All my love,

Mum.”

I love reading The Gruffalo with the kids too. Sometimes Alex and I turn it into a song. Alexander will beat box while I rap the story. It’s great fun! Every now and then during the summer when my pain isn’t too bad, you might hear us in the woods reciting the story aloud by heart while we stroll through the rows of beautiful green trees and bunches of bluebells and daisies. Recently we started putting on the torch and getting under the duvet to read. It gets a bit stuffy though.

Watch movies

For as long as I can remember TV and movies has been a massive part of my life. Most things I know about life I’ve learned from television! I try to limit my own kids TV limit but sometimes when you can’t do anything but lie there, TV is a Godsend. I do love the days where I snuggle up with the children and show them the movies and TV shows I grew up watching. I get such a warm feeling watching their little faces in wonder at the magic of Mary Poppins or the original Doctor Doolittle. Of course the old school Disney films like Pocahontas, The Lion King and Aladdin are a must. Movies bring me hope and joy, watching others overcome their struggles sometimes give me a boost or inspire me and that’s what I want for my own children.

Watch funny videos

Sometimes looking up fail or funny animals videos on YouTube is just the thing to cheer you up. Laughter is a great medicine and the children get such a kick out of watching them. Of course do make sure that you are supervising the children when giving them access to the Internet!

Art

Art is a great therapy for everyone, young and old. Grab some crayons/markers/pencils and   a few blank sheets of paper or a colouring book. Art is proven to be beneficial for mental health, something many chronically ill patients suffer from, unfortunately. Creating art relieves stress, it encourages creative thinking, boosts self esteem and a sense of self-accomplishment, increases brain activity and so much more! Make art work a hobby if you enjoy it, it’s a great way to forget about your illness for a while. Creating art can help you work through the feelings you have about your illness.

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Puzzles

Jigsaw puzzles are not just for rainy days; they’re great for bed days too. If you have a tray a table that you’d usually use for breakfast in bed, you can use that to make your puzzle on. A duvet is no good as one movement and the whole thing will fall apart. Soul destroying!

Play games

Board games are a great way to pass the time and are so much fun. I personally like playing Guess Who with my son because it teaches him to use his descriptive words, improve his concentration and his observational skills. Operation is another great option for fine motor skills, which many children with EDS have difficulty with. Travel sized games are perfect for playing in bed. Sometimes we forego the board games and play I Spy or Simon Says.

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Creative writing

Creative writing can be very therapeutic for people suffering from mental and physical disorders. Using your own experiences can help you gain perspective and work through emotions and obstacles in your life. Of course, it doesn’t always have to be so serious. Sometimes it can just be funny to take turns making up sentences of a story. So for example if I said, “there was once a unicorn,” My son, Alexander might continue with “who had rainbow coloured poo,” or something as equally juvenile and silly.

Put on a show

Shadow puppets, actual puppets or just themselves a lot of kids like to entertain their parents and show off a song/poem/dance they’ve learned in school. I just love when my children sing and dance for me. It reminds me of when I was a child and my cousin and I would put on shows for our parents at Christmas time. There is a really cringey video of us doing our own version of Father Ted, a comedic show about three Irish priests. Our parents laughed a lot but I’m guessing it was the combination of alcohol and their 10-year-old children saying the iconic lines “Drink, Feck, Arse!” or “That money was just resting in my account.” The two of us really loved being the centre of attention, I can see that in my own children now.

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 Have a sing song/listen to music

I have to say it but the majority of modern music pales in comparison to the music of “my day”. I grew up listening to Nirvana, Metallica, Smashing Pumpkins, ABBA (I know), The Police and Fleetwood Mac. Now I am partial to a bit of Ed Sheeran, Hozier, Rag N’ Bone Man a few other singer songwriters. But I feel that music isn’t as big on the story telling anymore. Stick on iTunes or a CD player (whatever you have) and introduce your kids to the tunes from your childhood. Take turns with your child and let them introduce you to the music they like. Again, my Dad’s influence comes in here. Driving to/from school or to a hospital appointment used to be my time to have Dad up to date with “new music”. As a teenager I was a big fan of Avril Lavigne and Dad was a fan too. We used to bond with music a lot. Sitting down on a Sunday morning listening to classical music is still a time in my life I look so fondly back on. Sometimes I put on some classical music like The Four Seasons and my son and I close our eyes and talk about what we imagine when we hear the music.

Knitting/crocheting etc

 Learning to knit/sew or crochet is a skill that will always be useful and also enjoyable. The sound of the clicking needles in a rhythm has always been comforting to me. Sadly, knitting isn’t an option for me any more since I began dislocating my wrist. Knitting was dying out for a while but it has gained popularity again when many celebs said it has helped relieve their stress. Teaching a child to sew a button is a skill that they’ll always have as they grow up. These practices are also a good way to improve motor skills.

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Pick something to learn about

My kids love learning and my son’s choice of book is more often than not, an encyclopedia or history book of some kind. His thirst for knowledge is contagious; I love to learn with him. Even as adults there is still so much about the world we have still to discover and learning about it with your children is so, so rewarding. If my son asks me about how something works and I don’t know, we will try and find a book, or if we don’t have time (or I’m ill) we will Google it. This probably stems from my childhood. Whenever I didn’t know what a word meant, my Dad used to send me to his den to get the dictionary and look it up. This led to me knowing the longest word in the English dictionary by the time I was six (it’s floccinaucinihilipilification in case you’re wondering). Interestingly, this word never came to use in my days as a journalist! YouTube has some great educational videos produced for children. Netflix also has a brilliant selection of kid friendly documentaries. Our favourite are the dinosaur themed documentaries.

 Have a conversation

Every now and then I’ll ask my son questions like “What’s your favourite book?” “What’s your favourite colour?” Anything I can think of I’ll ask him. It makes him feel important to talk about what he likes and that mom is taking a real interest. Every time I ask his answer changes, it’s the nature of children, I guess. Ask them about their friends and school or what they want to be when they grow up. You could plan a nice day out for when you’re feeling better.

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“Feeling guilty often comes part and parcel of being a Spoonie parent. But remember; you can only do your best and you won’t help anyone, including yourself if you run yourself into the ground. All our children want is to know they are loved and have some quality time with their parents.”

Until next time,

Z.M

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9 ways to keep the romance alive when you’re chronically ill

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

So last time we discussed how sometimes people forget that life for the chronically ill person is far more difficult than a carer’s. I briefly touched on how relationships can dwindle from lovers to a carer-patient relationship when your signifiant other is acting as your carer. So, with that in mind, let’s look at some ways you and your partner can keep things romantic even when chronic illness tries to intervene. A lot of the things I’m going to talk about can be applied to any couple that may have let the romance die out a little.

Kiss. 

When you’ve been with someone a long time, sometimes you genuinely forget to kiss-even if you’re not chronically ill.

“Even just a quick touch of the lips.”

When you’re so busy concentrating on your illness and/or family life it can be easy to forget to just stop and have a moment together.

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Do something together at least once a month.

Whether it’s getting in some alcohol free wine/beer, watching a romantic movie or having dinner together-make the time to spend a couple of hours together not talking about family/illness etc. Even a gentle stroll on the beach/ woods while holding hands can be just enough to keep that flame-a-flickering.

Go back to where you first met.

If it’s possible, go back to the place where you first clapped eyes on each other. Try and remember how you felt that day. Recreate your first date. Go to your friends house and help them get you ready.

“Have your partner pick you up or meet you at the place where you had your first dinner/drink together.”

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Do something nice for each other.

It doesn’t have to be a birthday or a special occasion to do something nice for your significant other. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture or anything expensive. Write a love letter and leave it somewhere for them to find.  Make a playlist of all their favourite songs or songs that remind you of them. Run a bubble bath, light some candles and let them have some time to themselves.

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Massages

Get some nice oils, light some candles and help get those pesky knots out. PLEASE do be careful if you’re massaging someone with a hyper mobility syndrome-last thing you want on your romantic night is to end up in A&E!

Go on a weekend break/holiday.

If you’re like me and are seriously affected by low pressures and crap weather, you might appreciate getting away to somewhere warm (but not humid).  A nice week away to the Mediterranean can give you and your partner a break from pain and all the other symptoms associated with your condition.

Renew your vows.

You don’t need to recreate your wedding day-unless you want to. You can simply organise to renew your vows with your priest/registrar/humanist. You can do it alone or just invite your close family and friends.

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I love you.

Those three simple words should be said every day. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or last thing at night.

“Let your significant other know that they are loved.”

Just like kissing, sometimes it can be easy to forget to say it. Especially when brain fog is a factor of your illness. Set a reminder if you have to!

Sexy time.

If you can do it and want to, go for it. 90% of the time us spoonies don’t feel sexy or attractive. Sometimes you gotta make yourself look good on the outside to help you feel better on the inside. Make yourself feel sexy by having your hair/ make up done. Have a relaxing bath, shave your legs (if you want), get into a nice nighty or PJs. Do whatever makes you feel good about yourself. Sometimes after all that effort-the last thing you want to do is to do the horizontal mambo but if you still have some spoons left and you’re not in too much pain, use that last bit of energy to make lurve. Remember, you don’t have to necessarily have to “go all the way” sometimes some heavy petting can be just as nice.

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Till next time,

Z.M.

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Teaching our children about consent should start in early childhood

The topic of consent is everywhere at the moment, it is an important social issue that affects each and every person, male or female, no matter their age. While I welcome mandatory consent classes on college campuses, I can’t help but wonder whether we are leaving it too late to begin introducing the topic of consent to the young people of Ireland? Let’s face it; the majority of first year college students are already sexually active. Should these mandatory classes be apart of the secondary curriculum? Absolutely. But as parents I feel it is our responsibility to plant the seed much earlier on in life.

I recently watched Louise O’Neill’s documentary Asking for It? If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here. After it’s airing, I began scrolling through comment sections on social media to suss out what the Irish public thought of rape culture and the issue of consent.

Sadly, I was unsurprised to see so many people claim that Ireland does not have a rape culture. People were either too fixated on the word “culture” or almost literally sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming to avoid dealing with this very real issue. It’s such an Irish thing to do, to sweep it under the carpet, no need to make anyone uncomfortable. We have a rich history of turning our backs on painful subjects. Just look at the Magdalene Laundry scandal, for instance. Modern day Ireland is repulsed with how women up until very recently were treated by the Church. We are also disgusted that as a society we kept quiet. This attitude reflects what we are seeing today with women being perceived within a Madonna-whore complex. No, “rape culture” does not mean that as a nation we condone rape. Not. At. All. Of course the vast majority of people believe that rape is a heinous crime and those who carry out such acts should be punished to the fullest extent. Consent is consent and using excuses means we will never tackle the real issue head on.

We have a tendency to victim blame, not just about rape but also in many other situations. Just look at Kim Kardashian’s ordeal in Paris, for example. The narrative wasn’t about this traumatic event a human being went through but rather, blaming Kim for showing off her very expensive jewellery on social media. That she was “asking for it to happen.” The same thing happens to victims of sexual assault.

“Well if she’s going out dressed like that…”

“She shouldn’t have walked home alone”.

“How much did she have to drink?”

“Sure wasn’t she mauling the face off him earlier on in the night? What did she expect?”

Excusing a man’s (or woman’s) actions because they were drunk and saying “he/she would never do that normally.”

Every time these words are uttered we undermine the actual issue.

Growing up in Ireland, I could not go with friends for a night out without the following lecture chanted at me like some sort of protection spell:

“Stay with the crowd, don’t wonder off alone. Watch your drink. If someone is buying you a drink, go to the bar with them.”

As a young teenage girl, I had never been exposed to rape. It was something I only knew about from obsessively watching Law and Order: SVU. It was something that happened in far away lands, not here in little ole Ireland. Then again, I did live a fairly sheltered life.

But, as I began going out more, I started to understand why my mother gave me the same speech over and over again, each and every single night out. Even today at 29, a mother of two children, I am still reminded by my mother to do all of those things. Years ago I would have rolled my eyes at mum followed by a “yeah, yeah, yeah. OK, Mum.” Now?  I make sure I don’t walk home alone on the rare night I do go out. Or if I can’t get someone to walk home with me, I call my husband for the 7-minute walk home. A lot can happen in 7 minutes.

I recently had a discussion with an older relative about rape culture and particularly, victim blaming. The conversation went something like this:

“Women have a level of responsibility to protect themselves,” the relative said.

In a perfect world, it would be great for women to feel comfortable enough to walk home alone at night. It has been drilled into our heads so much that we shouldn’t put ourselves in dangerous situations but how about we start telling young men before they go out to respect any girl they potentially hook up with. That no means no and not try a little harder to swoon her into submission.

Sexual abuse is rarely ever about sex, it’s about power. Assault can happen anytime, anywhere and the attacker more often than not is someone familiar to the victim. 93% of perpetrators are familiar to their victims.

I responded to this relative with a question.

“If a man is mugged in the street at night. Do you blame the man or the thugs that mugged him?”

This made my relative stop and think.

A few days later we went to the woods for a stroll and some foraging. We separated for a few minutes. I noticed a white van with no windows pull up near me. I looked around to see how many people were around me and checked the laces on my runners were tied properly. My male relative didn’t acknowledge the van, as in he didn’t think twice about it. Women all over the world are on edge. We always have our defenses up. Will that guy cat calling follow me home? Will I arrive home safely in this taxi?

When scrolling through the comments section under Jennifer Hough’s article about rape culture in Cork one comment stuck out for me.

It went something like this:

There have been no reports of rape over the weekend so I question the author’s claim that she saw this happening.

One in four Irish women have experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lives. One. In. Four. That’s almost as common as cancer and yet, why don’t we see it in the media more? Victims of assault fear the trauma of reliving their experience during an investigation or fear of being accused of leading the perpetrator on; that they did something to ask for the attack. According to the Rape Crisis Centre Network of Ireland’s (RCC) 2014 statistics 33% of survivors contacted the police about their assault. According to the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland Report (SAVI), only one in ten sexual crimes are reported in Ireland. Of that one in ten, only 7% secures a conviction. Less than 1% of victims of sexual crime in Ireland get justice.

So, just because we don’t see it in the media everyday, it doesn’t it’s not happening.

Consent is a hot topic and Louise O’Neill’s documentary resulted in the subject being discussed everywhere-amongst friends, on social media and in the news. The end message is we need to teach young men about consent just as we teach women to protect themselves. We are now seeing mandatory classes in collages being taught about consent but should we wait until most young people are already sexually active before we introduce the idea of consent to them?

Just the other day my 7-year-old son was trying to get his 19-month-old sister to give him hugs and kisses. She was shouting no but my son kept trying. At that age of course there was no malice in his actions but something clicked. This is where it begins. I told my son there and then that if his sister didn’t want hugs and kisses and she is shouting no that it meant no and to stop. I want him to understand that now, not when he’s a teenage boy. No means no. We see it all the time, relatives practically forcing children to show them affection. Why are we so pushy for physical affection? Children are not property. We have no right to hit them so why should we force them to hug and kiss us? It is their body. It is their choice. Their feelings about their personal space matter as much as any adult’s.

It all starts in childhood. We need to teach our children that our bodies are our own and nobody, not our parents or siblings have a right to invade our personal space or have forced affection brought on them. Parents often tell their children to let them know if anyone touches them inappropriately. Abuse often starts with uninvited touching, hugging or stroking. If we force affection on a child who clearly doesn’t want it, it can be confusing for them to know when something is inappropriate. Forced affection doesn’t show children we love them, it shows them that we can do as we please with their bodies.

If you don’t believe the idea of consent should be introduced to children just take a look at the figures from the 2014 RCC report:

52% of survivors aged 13 to 17 were subjected to rape

15% of perpetrators were under 18

9% of survivors attending crisis centres in Ireland were children.

Waiting until our children become young adults to discuss consent is too late and the figures reflect this.

Although parents or relatives have no intention of harming a child, nor do they think they are doing anything inappropriate; we are teaching our children that an adult or other person’s want for physical affection is more important than their own comfort and safety. It starts as early as toddlerhood; we are laying the groundwork for behaviours that continue into adult life. Teaching our children that no means no could potentially save them from assault later in life. It could also empower young people to have sex only when they’re ready to.

We don’t see physical interaction amongst children as a problem until it’s too late. They tickle, they force hugs and rarely they mean any harm. But every parent has experienced an occasion where their child has either been subjected to touching they didn’t want or have been the ones to force the affection or tickles. So how can we introduce consent to children without going into too much detail about sexual abuse?

We need to teach our children to ask for permission to touch another person. “Is it okay if I hug you? Or “Can I have a hug?”

This teaches our children to ask for permission and it also teaches them to think about their actions before they do them.

We need to teach our children that consent can be taken away too.

Adults know all too well, especially parents that we have days where we feel “touched out.” Kids have those days too. They may have been very affectionate and willing to accept affection the day before but they are well in their rights to tell someone that they don’t want to be touched today. This maybe confusing for other children so it is vital that we show them that it’s OK to change your mind.

A child should never be forced to show affection to another person.

It is a common occurrence that children are told, “go give Nana a hug” or “give Aunty a kiss”. Children are eager to please so they may oblige but that shouldn’t be the case. No matter how familiar your child is with someone, he/she should feel comfortable enough to say no. Given that 93% of cases involve a person the victim is familiar with, it is important that we validate our children’s feelings and respect their decision. Under no circumstances should you guilt a child into giving you affection. Don’t pretend to cry or be sad. So many of us are guilty of this. I know my husband and I have been guilty of this. Humans need touch, we are social creatures but it isn’t really affection if you force or guilt a child into it is it?

Not saying no doesn’t mean yes.

As discussed, children are eager to please so they may do something they don’t really want to do to please a friend, teacher or family member. You may think your own child has no problem saying no but they may not be so forthcoming with someone other than you. Our children must also learn just because they don’t hear a resounding no that it means they can go ahead with that hug or kiss.

Practice what you preach.

Lead by example. Children imitate what they see in their day-to-day lives. If they see Daddy (or Mommy) force affection on to one another, the idea that it’s OK to do that is solidified. Many couples will force a hug or a kiss a form of tomfoolery and no there is no ill intent but still, it is important for us to show our children that we should respect everyone’s boundaries.

Further reading and helplines:

http://www.rcni.ie/wp-content/uploads/RCNI-National-Stats-2014.pdf

Rape Crisis Centre helpline:

1800 778888

or see the website www.rapecrisishelp.ie.

Until next time,

Z.M.

 

Household Gadgets for Spoonies-Part 1

What’s a “spoonie”? A spoonie is a person who suffers from a Chronic Illness. It is derived from Spoon Theory. When you are ill every. single. day, you need to decide what’s important. Do I shower or clean the bathroom? Although it might be a no brainer that you obviously choose the shower, for many of us, we have to forgo the shower otherwise the house will look something like this:

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Laundry-

When it comes to actually doing the laundry, it can actually be quite tough on the body with all the bending down to grab clothes out of the machine and reaching up to hang them on the washing line. To stop me bending down so much I bought a laundry basket with folding legs. I also bought a device that helps me fold clothes beautifully. I suffer from DCD like symptoms as does my son due to our EDS.

Top tip: Mountains of clothes stacked on chairs around the house? Everytime you do a load of laundry check the sizes, condition and try to remember the last time you wore it. Is it too big or too small? Put it in a bag to pass along to a friend or charity shop. Does it have holes in it? In all honesty, are you going to repair it? Bin it. Have you worn it in the last 6-12 months? If the answer is no, put it in the pass along pile. This will save you doing “the big clear out”.

Cleaning-

This is something everybody hates doing so can you imagine what it’s like for someone who may end up in bed for a week by doing simple cleaning tasks?

Hoovering and mopping the floors is a massive task for spoonies and can often lead to injury. Lugging around hoovers and buckets of water for the mop can often mean I dislocate or pull something. Hence why I don’t do the floors often! We did invest in a steam mop that can also be used to clean surfaces. I do the find the X5 to be a bit heavy so if anyone knows of a lighter model, let me know in the comments! What I particularly like about the steam mop is that you can clean without the use of chemicals.

I haven’t bought one yet but I’m dying to get a cordless hoover from Dyson or a one of those rob hoover/mops. Other spoonies have recommended them to me. Come on, how awesome is this?!

 

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Top tip: Fill one of these guys with 1 part dish soap and 1 part white vinegar. Keep it in the shower and wash down surfaces before you get out of the shower or while you are conditioning your hair. Simples!

If your shower or bath has mould growing around the rubber edges you can soak some cotton pads in bleach and place it on the mouldy areas. Leave them there for a few hours and then wipe clean. The rubber areas will be white again!

Tidying up-

If you have kids and are chronically ill, keeping the house tidy can be a full time job. We live in a two storey house which makes things that bit more difficult. Recently, I bought two little blue baskets. When I am tidying up I go to each room and put things in the basket that don’t belong in that room. Then, as I go from room to room I put the things where they belong. If you have visitors coming around and you need to tidy quickly-just fill up the baskets and leave them to sort later.

Top tip: This one is particularly handy for the little ones. Buy a timer. Each day set it for 5 or 10 minutes-whatever you can manage and for those few minutes do a little cleaning or tidying. It’s amazing what you can get done in such a small amount of time!

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Some other gadgets for cleaning and tidying:

 

Messy in the kitchen? Invest in some stove top protectors 

Dog hair everywhere? Dyson have an attachment you can use to hoover your pet

Slipper mops allow you to clean the floors while you walk to the fridge-or to bed.

A keyboard with storage is handy for extra wires, notes and pens.

I hope some of these tips have been helpful to you. Have any tips/gadgets you want to share? Hit me up in the comments and I’ll add them to Part 2.

Till next time,

Z.M

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