Book Review: The Cracks That Let The Light In

Like so many of us, Jessica prepared for the birth of her first child with family advice, parenting books and classes.  Her experience did not follow the predicted path, their son was born with cerebral palsy and it filled them with frightening uncertainty, exposed to all of the difficulty and unfairness of life.  They were fighting to keep their son Ben alive.  Jessica was fragile, lost without a clue of what the future may hold and my heart ached for her and their family.  Rather than finding the demands of parenting impossible, it was the relentless demands that keep her going.  Being held together by her love for Ben and the family’s love for her. 

Jessica’s beautiful words and her intriguing honesty have given me a deeper understanding about embracing disability.  Her drive for people to understand what their life is like and so many others living with disabilities is inspiring as it will create better support and possibilities.  Without a doubt, her book will be extremely useful for my work with The Little Explorers Activity Club that supports families with special needs.  Packed full of thought-provoking discussions, she learns to truly listen with deep respect and love.

Extract from Chapter 4

We get a train from the nearest village into Edinburgh where the festival is on. While James goes to a comedy show, I take Ben to a gallery of modern art. We see an exhibition of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s images of photographic plates being electrocuted. They are dark pictures with bright white explosions of light, what he calls ‘Lightning Fields’. He seems to have made the invisible visible in all its unpredictable, unique beauty. Perhaps this is what is going on in our bodies – microscopic crackles between synapses and cells that we don’t normally see. Maybe we all have little fizzing rivers of energy flowing from our brains to our muscles, but Ben’s are more like these bright cracks and unpredictable explosions of activity. I am hoping Ben will let me see the whole exhibition, wary that if he is unsettled or something goes wrong with his milk I don’t have James there to help me. But as I push Ben around the museum in his laden buggy he is calm, looking up at the flares of light. I buy a poster of one of these white lightning bolts frozen mid-strike, with the artist’s name in bold text above and the Edinburgh gallery written below. For the next two years, until we move house and the frame gets accidentally smashed, the print hangs above our bed. A little flash of inspiration.’

I’m inspired and will be recommending her book to parents as a testament of following your parenting instincts.  Inclusion and environment is the key, Ben is included in all of the love and unique beauty a family can share.  Eleven years on, with two siblings he jokes and laughs with them using the Alexa speaker from his eye gaze device, he listens to his father read Harry Potter and a great many other books from their ever-expanding library. Their story spreads an uplifting feeling of hope and I admire what she has achieved and how it will bring light and joy to other families.

Ben (centre) with his parents, sister Molly and brother Max. Image: Kate Borrill

Inclusion for Ben is at the heart of everything,  so for parents who feel a little lost about where to start to revamp/re organise their homes I asked Jessica if there were any key factors, thoughts, ideas that she felt would be helpful to think about.

‘This is a huge topic. I had an enormous advantage in being an architect so I could tell when I looked round potential houses which would be appropriate for adaptation. I think the most important considerations are level floors and easy access in and out. It’s crucial to be able to get in and out of the house easily (we love having ramps rather than needing use any lifts) and then to have as large an area as possible on the ground floor without needing to push a wheelchair around sharp corners or bump over thresholds multiple times a day. Also, everything needs to be bigger than you think! I thought the landings and widened doorways were ridiculously large but now Ben is eleven I can see that we really need that much space (and still the walls are covered in marks from where we’ve bashed them). But also, good design is key. I feel passionately that designing a house to suit a disabled person doesn’t mean compromising on how it looks, it’s just that a lot of accessible design is bad. A fully accessible house can still be a beautiful house.’

After Jessica finished writing her book it should have been a time for celebration but the Pandemic has been very difficult for many of us for a variety of reasons.  I can imagine it has put a huge strain emotionally on families with disabilities as the hospitals were filling up and unable to cope.  I asked how she got through those dark moments of worry and what has helped her in these tough times.

‘We had a particularly difficult time at the beginning of the pandemic because I had an accident which meant I had to have major surgery on my ankle just before lockdown. Just as I was discharged from hospital, unable to walk, our daughter developed a cough and fever and so we not only all had to self-isolate at home, but we also had to separate her from Ben within the house. We have always encouraged Max and Molly to be very tactile and relaxed around Ben, and it was heartbreaking to ban her from touching him. At the same time I was reading reports of criteria for hospital treatment and it seemed like Ben’s ‘frailty’ would mean he might not be prioritised should he need hospital care, and we knew he was vulnerable to respiratory infections.

I coped with it by buying an oxygen saturation monitor in the hope that we could care for Ben at home as long as possible if we had to, and we barely left the house for months. We were lucky that some of Ben’s carers were still able to come, and as we headed into the summer last year I could walk again so it has all seemed easier since then. In fact, because we have been so cautious, Ben has been healthier than ever over the last year.

I have found parts of the last year incredibly difficult, as have so many people, but I’ve been lucky to have a husband to share the challenges with, and we are fortunate to have brilliant carers for Ben who have helped us enormously. Still, the pressure of needing to do and be everything to him (teacher, physio, speech therapist, nurse) has been a lot. I actually think the difficulties of Ben’s early years, and the ways in which we are used to our everyday lives being complicated, in some ways prepared us well for the pandemic. The past year has been hard, but we’ve had lots of hard periods over the last eleven years and so I think we have some experience in how to deal with difficult situations!’

Jessica’s book, ‘The Cracks that Let the Light In: What I learned from my disabled son’ was published by Endeavour and released this month.

Buying Iris’s Original Paintings

We have a selection of Iris’s Original Paintings that are for sale, if you would like to enquire about pricing please email Arabella at irisgracepainting@yahoo.com

The paintings are sold unframed, dry mounted onto board. We transport them using a company called Pack & Send, they create a wooden casement for secure delivery and offer insurance.

In our opinion the paintings are best framed with glass that offers UV protection.

Last Chance to buy Iris’s Cards

We have limited stock left of Iris’s beautiful card packs. They come as a collection of 16. Each one will be cellophane wrapped with an envelope & blank inside.  The cards are 15cm x 10.5cm.  

To buy your pack click here

Tumpty Tum

Dance to the Oboe

Whisper

Explosions of Colour

Raining Cats

Anima

Painting a Lullaby

Water Dance

Blossom in the Wind

Monsoon

Story of the Secret Seahorse

Trumpet

Dancing in Snowflakes

Octavia

Sunflakes

Under the Sea

£2 per card. £32.00 for the pack. FREE DELIVERY

All of the profits raised from the sales of her art towards her ongoing therapies and some saved for her future.

Online Support For Families

It has been a dream of mine for a long time to create an online service at The Little Explorers Activity Club so we can help many more families through our approach.  Now, with the Covid19 Pandemic it has become vital that we take the time to develop this support for families in their own homes so they can apply our methods.

With a grant from the Leicestershire County Council Communities Fund this dream has become a reality. I’m delighted to announce that for families that live within Leicestershire, the 30 page E-Booklet is free of charge. To receive your free E-Booklet email us at thelittleexplorersactivityclub@yahoo.com

The power of flip thinking has turned the tragedy of the Pandemic into something that will inspire and support families around the world.

To buy the Harmony at Home E-Booklet use this link to The Little Explorers Shop where you will be able to download the PDF.

All profits go back towards the running costs of the animals for our animal therapy sessions.

The Egg Project

Iris’s education has always been developed with her interests at the heart of it all. I have designed a project that will enable me to cover all of the different areas of the curriculum so that it is intrinsically motivating for her.
I can test her knowledge without pressure through games.
Set out on a table that is inviting and comfortable.
The displays are interactive encouraging participation.
Natural light from the windows enables me to work with Iris without distractions from other artificial lights.
She is free to explore and use different forms of media to express what she is learning.
Using flowers and an embroidered table cloth it softens the learning environment to be more inviting.
And of course it’s always good to have a faithful friend around to enjoy the experience with.

Iris Grace Silk Scarf Styling Tips

There are so many fantastic ways to wear a silk scarf and here are just a few. Iris and I have been having fun this morning dressing up and trying some of them out.

Calming the senses with a wrap-around effect.

Pretty in pink with this sophisticated necktie.

This photo of Iris is the meadow was from last summer, oh I can’t wait for those warmer days!
A beautiful solution for any bad hair day.
Draped over shoulders like a cape is a favourite, gives comfort & security.
Every artist needs a headscarf at hand to keep her hair tidy.
A delightful way to accessorize toy boxes, bags, baskets…
and of course, our faithful friend Thula modeling the ‘Raining Cats’ Silk Scarf with such style and majestic grace.

If you would like to buy your own Iris Grace Scarf here is the link to her online shop – https://www.irisgracepaintingshop.com/products/raining-cats-silk-scarf

 

Hiatus Auction

Hiatus-Auction

We are trying a new way of auctioning Iris’s Paintings this month, it will be done by a ‘sealed bid/silent auction’ where the buyers will kindly submit their highest bid in one email rather than bidding as the week goes on.  I want to adjust our system as the interest in her paintings is so widespread around the world that this seems to be the fairest way to conduct the auctions to fit in with everyone’s time zones.

So remember this is a one-bid auction of your highest bid and email that to us at irisgracepainting@yahoo.com

‘Hiatus’ is painted on thick watercolour paper with many layers of acrylic. It has also been dry mounted onto board and will be sold unframed. If you are bidding from abroad we have a brilliant International Courier Service which we have used to send her art safely to it’s new home in the past.

Good luck Everyone, the auction is now open to submit your bid! irisgracepainting@yahoo.com

The proceeds from the sales of Iris’s art goes into her own savings account to be saved for her future.

Iris’s Film Project

Iris has been working very hard over the past few weeks on her new home ed project documenting life with her animals. She has also narrated the film. This project was created with her own interests at the core, it has improved her confidence while recording her voice and built on many skills as we worked together creating the film. I have a feeling this will be the first of many as she has really enjoyed making this one with me.

6 Top tips for filming animals:
1. Patience, Patience, Patience! 
2. Get into the animal’s world
3. Wait & Watch
4. Get up early to get the best light
5. Know your location
6. They don’t follow scripts so follow them and see what happens, be flexible

Dear Iris

I hear you even if you do not speak.  I watch, noticing the details, see and feel more than I ever imagined I could.  I stopped focusing on what was hard, I stopped pushing those things that frustrated you, aggravated or even blocked your learning.  Together with the help from our animals, you are learning to use your voice.     

We have learned how to be with each other without needing these words and I feel that has helped you, the pressure was lifted. 
I am so proud of you for creating this video with me and sharing it with others, to inspire them to give their children the space and time they need too.  x    

Iris’s Prints, Cards & Scarves available to buy through her online shop
https://www.irisgracepaintingshop.com/collections/all

10 Top tips to support your child’s reading at home

Little and often

Reading can take a lot of energy, as adults we take it for granted but for kids that are learning this new skill it can be exhausting so go at their pace, little and often is key. 

Follow their interests

Before choosing or buying a book have a think about what they love.  What captures their imagination? What films do they like to watch? What’s their favourite animal? What cartoon characters do they like? What sensory preferences do they have? For example if they love water play a story with water would be great.

Read stories that they connect with, share books and encourage them to explore and read where the motivation is intrinsic because it’s about something they love.

If your child’s passions are a little unique you can create your own stories.

Pair up their interest with the book too, so if your child loves cats, read a book about a cat to a cat.

Cars – read a car book in the car.

Bikes take a bike ride and a picnic and read about a bike ride.

Thomas the tank engine on a train….you get the picture

Make the stories come alive, inspire your child.

Create themes around a book and other fun activities to go with the story.

Beyond books

Reading doesn’t have to be just with their children’s books.  It can be recipes while helping in the kitchen, ingredients, choices for activities, shopping lists, tv guides, apps, sign posts, letters, magazines…They will start to see that reading is useful, reading means freedom of choice and knowledge.

Get comfy

Notice where your child goes to relax, where do they naturally chill out? It could be in the garden under a shady tree in the summer with a bean bag, a warm place in the house, a big comfy chair, some love to be cuddled under a duvet in bed.  Or lying on the trampoline, maybe beside their favourite pet.

Take their books to them, if they are happy with you being in their space read a little and settle in, appreciate what they love about this chosen place and notice how they use the space.

Some children need physical space to learn and that includes us being a distance from them, I have read books to Iris from another room, knowing she is listening and absorbing the words.  Don’t always expect a picture of you beside your child turning pages together.  Remember to follow them and take their lead.    

Freedom of choice

I like to keep a selection of books in most rooms so where ever we are Iris can take a book of her choice and have a read or just take a look at the pictures.  It’s useful for us to notice when their interests shift onto another topic, it allows for new stories and learning and stops the possibility of getting stuck. 

Curiosity

Children are naturally curious, if you would like to encourage their interest in a particular subject or book create an enticing display with toys and props to ignite their curiosity in that book. 

Repetition

To learn new words children need a lot of repetition so for this I like to use Iris’s ipad with story book apps that say the word out aloud for her to hear every time she touches the word.  Some books highlight the words as they are read out aloud.

I also buy as many books as I can with the unabridged audio book so she can listen to the cd while she reads the book.

Technology

It’s there so let’s use it

Interactive Story Book apps are incredible these days!

Films spark an interest in more stories, more books and turn those subtitles on, it all helps.

Find lyrics for their favourite songs (Youtube)

Kindle

Iphones, Siri

Ipads

Google

Youtube

Spotify

Google Maps, Google Images

Video calling friends and family to encourage conversation

The list goes on and on.  Encourage typing, encourage curiosity

Be safe, add parental controls and passwords where needed.  Check search engine histories and youtube history for security but also to give you more information about their minds, what do they want to know about?

Create their own stories

This can start with picture stories with photos of what happened that day or on holiday.  Add in short sentences and then create stories.  Encourage your child to have their own voice, telling a story, this can be drawn, acted, played or danced.  It doesn’t have to be written down.  Be creative.

Patience

They will turn pages before you are ready, skip pages, rip pages, dirty pages, interrupt you, leave the room, come back, leave the room, come back…not have the faintest interest and then 6 months later that one book and them could be best friends.  No predicting it I’m afraid, Iris even enjoys a book on horseback!  Just go with the flow and no pressure.  Add some reading time into each day but that can be in so many different forms that it doesn’t have to feel like a job or something to tick off that list.  Reading becomes part of life. 

Atoms of the Rainbow

Hands cradled the golden fairy hummingbird wings, Iris positioned the Christmas tree decoration to face her and smiled at the fir needles with atoms of rainbows.  I feel a lightness of being present in the moment, in the bird I can see resilience and independence.  They are a sign of love in Central America with wing beat patterns symbolising infinity.  In other cultures they are healers and where ever they are seen they bring joy.  Our Christmas has been filled with so much joy this year, many firsts, the first time Iris has been an Elf helping Father Christmas at the Club, the first time Iris had enjoyed opening her presents with everyone, the first time she had chosen to sit at the table with chatter around her. 

Then fear cut through, breaking the celebrations in my heart when I couldn’t hear her hum, the music dulled my senses and the distractions of being social meant that I missed her leave.  The backdoor left wide open, tiptoes and bare feet silently made their way out into the cold.  Moments of magical time turned into a ticking clock, sand slipping through fingers as I check each room and grabbed a pair of boots to take with me on my search.  Iris’s mind thinks in patterns, so must mine.  Last time she went missing it was the Swedish midsummer celebrations and she was next door checking out their kitchen cupboards.  My mind was made up that’s where I would go and as soon as I was out of the door I see the neighbour and she points to her house.  Iris is there, safe.  I walked her back to her grandparents in her grandmother’s wellington boots, she hums with her arm linked in mine.  My hummingbird is with me.

I think a lot about how I can keep her within the boundaries, installed coded gates at home and taught her she must only leave home with me, taught her emergency details, printouts of our telephone number, address and her name are taped to her wardrobe and we practice saying them.  Could a tiny GPS gadget be the answer alerting my phone? But the ancient farmhouse walls blocking the technological world and signals in my parent’s house would laugh at such a suggestion. 

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, by her age I was adventuring on my bike or pony, a traveller’s spirit within me always wanting to see what’s around the next corner.  I know I can’t keep her winglet in my arm forever but I feel behind, left behind with so much that I need to teach her to keep her safe. As time goes on life has got easier, communication improved, social skills…but in those night time hours, my mind fills with worry, wandering thoughts about a wandering Iris.  I know I am not alone, it’s an ingrained fear in most special needs parent’s minds.  My way of overcoming this fear is empowering Iris with more skills, more knowledge and abilities to try to minimize the danger.  She can not live in a fortress or a cage.  The hummingbird reminds me although we can fly backward and learn from past events we must move forward too, lifting negativity and flipping it into a positive.  So as we leave 2019 behind I would like to take with me the knowledge that Iris is not afraid to leave what she knows, she is happier in social situations, she is seeking, she is talking to me through her actions and this will guide us forwards for more adventures in 2020.    

Iris Grace Giclee Prints

Since publishing Iris’s story we have been sending her prints to new homes all over the world. We are very lucky to have such a dedicated and talented team working with us on this project to deliver the highest quality of Giclee prints to Iris’s customers. They are produced at On The Edge Framing & Art only one mile down the road from where they were painted.

Using extremely ‘high end’ scan-back camera technology and daylight balanced lighting, we are able to create an incredibly accurate and detailed digital image from Iris’s Original Paintings.  Our colour management ensures consistency and guarantees the highest standards and quality of image.

‘we love our prints! amazing quality and I can’t wait for them to come back from the framers, they will be calming for our daughter to look at every day.’ ~ Buyer from Portugal

‘Here in Malaysia at the Sunway Medical Centre Iris’s prints inspire and soothe our patients.’

The word Giclée (“g-clay”), is derived from the French verb gicler meaning “to squirt or spray”, Giclée, is used to describe a fine art digital printing process combining pigment based inks with high quality archival quality paper (Hahnemühle German Etching,  310 gsm) to achieve Giclée prints of superior archival quality, light fastness and stability.

I have struggled with great loss in my life, I have found Iris’s Paintings to be calming and enlightening giving me peace as I look into the images that she has created.’ ~ Buyer from South America 

There is a sense of harmony, joy and my spirits lifted as I look at her paintings, thankyou for this special gift. x’ ~ Buyer from the U.S

If you would like to view the selection of prints we have for sale please do visit Iris’s online shop https://www.irisgracepaintingshop.com