When we speak of the gifts given by our Toy Appeal we, of course, mean dolls and bikes and every other joyous item that fits in Santa’s stocking. But we also mean something more, because often the real ‘gifts’ are more subtle. Sometimes the presents act as tokens of recognition and belonging, and sometimes they’re a reminder that the world can provide and nurture, as well as take away and punish. Most commonly, however, they tell children they’re not alone. Here mum Cathryne tells us about her most precious possessions and explains why the gifts we gave them mean so much to her.
On Wednesday I could barely move, and it felt like I was wearing a lead suit. Today is better but my hand is bad, and if I do too much my body will physically stop me. The fibromyalgia started last year but the pain in my hips began with the birth of my first child 16 years ago.
Pregnancy triggered an impingement in my hip joint that caused me a lot of pain and ongoing discomfort. Then, after the birth of my second child, I was left in a wheelchair for about eight weeks before I could walk, and the nurse told me not to have any more because I could end up in a wheelchair permanently.
Despite being told that, it was hard to get the NHS to recognise my ongoing problems, and it sometimes felt hopeless… It was mentally exhausting as Physios would suggest it was all in my head, and I was even told that I should just lose my baby weight and do Pilates. This is while I’m having to be helped out of the bath.
Even now, more than a decade (and two surgeries) later it’s still something I struggle with daily. Nobody tells you what pregnancy can do to your body, and I didn’t expect to end up in that position, but I was fine with having no more children, as my two boys were enough for me. I may be biased but I think they’re the best kids on earth… I really believe that’s true. They’re so sensitive and caring – that’s been the case ever since they were little.
I may be biased but I think they’re the best kids on earth… I really believe that’s true. They’re so sensitive and caring – that’s been the case ever since they were little.
My eldest has always been a particularly sensitive boy, and experienced sensory issues early on relating to the autism that wouldn’t be diagnosed until he was around 10.
I think that even back when they were small children my youngest was acting as a carer for him in some ways, as he had to have the emotional understanding to handle his meltdowns.
At that point I was still struggling with anxiety and depression because of the constant pain, but the children didn’t need to care for me as much as I was still with my husband, who was in the military, so I had support from him and the army community. But that stability ended when my marriage finished. When a military marriage breaks down you essentially get evicted from army housing, and my sons and I moved three times in two and half years.
Originally when we moved the temporary accommodation was amazing, but when the local authority allocated us a permanent location it wasn’t suitable. For example, it didn’t have an upstairs toilet, which was a danger for me in the night as I’m unstable on my feet. I was terrified as this was just after COVID.
We still had a roof over our head, but we literally moved two weeks before lockdown into a… well, the word I want to use is a swearword. With the two boys sharing it was hard for my eldest due to his autism, but we were there for about 18 months in the end. It was during this time Family Action’s young carers service came into our lives.
The Young Carers service
It was my youngest that wanted the support, which makes sense as he’d always had to care for both me and his older brother. He’d never had experience of a world where I didn’t have mobility problems and he’s always had to have an uncommon level of understanding ever since he was a toddler. As a result of providing this support he’s very intuitive and caring… he doesn’t like to see people suffering so if he can help in any way he will.
He does a lot of practical things for me – even up to getting me out of bed – and, if I’m out walking, there will be times when my hip gives way and he’ll have to catch me. Most importantly, however, he’ll make me a cup of tea… that’s the first thing I taught both of them when they got old enough to do it safely! I’m joking, but honestly the pain is so bad sometimes that I can’t lift the kettle, so I need that practical support.
Even though my youngest was the one who was interested, Sarah from young carers agreed to meet with both of my sons. Because of COVID It started off with video calls, which my youngest hated, but Sarah was amazing… she said “It’s ok. We’ll just keep checking in and doing it at your own speed”. When lockdown was lifted and they could finally meet up in the park and at school; that’s when he really took to it, relaxed and could discuss his emotions.
Talking with her helped his anxiety massively because he used to get very scared seeing me in pain and not being able to help. She also helped him understand my moods, as if I’m having a bad day, I can get a bit snappy. The understanding he got from those meetings was fantastic. He also got the chance to do “level up” sessions where he could meet with other young carers and activity days where they could all have fun and I think that was really key for him, as it helped him to understand that he wasn’t alone.
The Christmas Toy Appeal
For me, that’s what the Toy Appeal meant too. It was like a recognition for him; recognition that he’s doing things that not all kids do or have to do, and It made him feel important and worthwhile. I always praise both my sons for what they do but I’m a single parent who can’t work due to my condition, and finances can be tricky. Mentally I battle with that as I have a degree, and I’ve always worked since I was 14… my life went a different way than I expected it to.
For me, that’s what the Toy Appeal meant too. It was like a recognition for him; recognition that he’s doing things that not all kids do or have to do, and It made him feel important and worthwhile.
At the moment I can’t work so I could never afford the gifts they were given by the people donating to the Toy Appeal and it takes away the guilt I feel, as no parent wants to be in that position. Having somebody else who’s not in our immediate network praise them helps them to realise that they’re doing something out of the ordinary.
For those people who donate to the Toy Appeal all I can say is thank you doesn’t cover it. I don’t think you could ever understand what impact that act of generosity has. It might feel small to you, but it plays such a huge part in the bigger picture.
You can help more children like Cathryne’s enjoy the Christmas they deserve. Find out how we’re supporting families who are struggling this Christmas.