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'A carer, what is that?' I am a weight lifter. I am a nurse. I am a specialist. I am exhausted.

I care full-time for my son, who has Hunter Syndrome, as well as being a mother to my other two young boys – yet I am often looked down upon by others.

Geraldine Renton

I DIDN’T REALLY see myself as a ‘carer’. I saw myself as a mother who happens to have three wonderful boys, each with their own unique needs and – let’s face it – demands!

I don’t work outside the home, because I can’t. That’s the truth.

I have been living in a secret world for about 12 years now. A world where I don’t know how to answer that question; “What is it you do for a living?” I normally say “I am an at home mom”, which is met with the usual nods and the smiles. When I feel braver I say “I am a full-time carer for my son”. Why is that answer braver? Because it is. There are always follow up questions, “Oh, what does he have?” or “I’d have never known” or the really obnoxious reply: “Really? Wow. So you’re on the social.”

I don’t get a break

My day is not spent sitting and watching day-time TV, despite what an awful lot of society thinks. I don’t get a break when my two eldest boys are at school. My mornings are spent cleaning, hoovering, changing sheets, washing clothes, trying my best to dry them despite the weather, thinking ‘if I don’t have that duvet cover dry by this evening I’m unsure if he will sleep’.

When I’ve done all I can do with that side of the housework, I’ve to start the dinner, get all the kitchen cleaned and interact with my youngest toddling son, who, like most toddlers, cannot be trusted for two seconds.

While dinner is cooking, I’m wary of the clock. It seems to speed up once 12 o’clock strikes! I double-check my white board to ensure I know when and where I have to be for the rest of this week. Appointments are a must, but boy are they an inconvenience – especially the ones that require me to bring Ethan along so his team can talk to me while he runs wild. They always have to send me an email to remind me about what ‘we’ spoke about during the appointment—trust me, there is no ‘we’ in that conversation, unless I’ve a point to make.

I’ve to get Ethan’s clothes ready so the transition from uniform to casual clothes goes smoothly. I’ve to run up to ensure my middle son’s desk is clutter free and ready for the daily torture that is his homework—J has ADHD.

Hectic and demanding days

The boys come home at 3pm. The toddler is still up and very cranky, but in his wisdom, refuses a nap at every opportunity. Dinner is served. I spoon feed Ethan and my toddler while my side of dinner gets colder. If I remember something like ‘the cooker ring is still on’, we all must get up to check (it’s not safe to leave Ethan and toddler alone, for any length of time).

J begins the daily ‘torture’ and spends most of his time coming in and out of the room informing me of the random thoughts that pop into his mind. I try not to get annoyed. I’m not always successful.

Ethan and toddler are having some sort of pooping contest. I’m the referee and the cleaning lady. I’ve no choice but to participate. While cleaning the toddler, Ethan will want my attention or be so engrossed in his TV that he will start yelping and screaming, which used to frighten the toddler. However, now the toddler thinks that’s a perfectly acceptable behaviour and joins in. I have a headache normally by 5pm.

The torture of J’s homework ends around 6.30pm after much arguing about what he has and has not to do for his English, Maths and so on. Then daddy comes home. I have my second warm cup of coffee of the day, in peace.

I prepare the tea while I listen to the radio. I get all the medication out and prepare it for both the boys. I make lunches for the next day.

We have our tea. The boys go to bed roughly at 8pm. J objects and refuses to go. Ethan happily goes up and finally falls asleep about 9pm. Toddler just got moved into a ‘big boy’ bed – need I say more?! J finally gives up and is asleep by 11.30pm.

We go to bed.

I am exhausted 

I’m up by 6.45am. I’m always trying to be one step ahead of Ethan, as Ethan is a ‘smearer’. I shower him slowly, trying not to upset him as his body is stiff from the night’s rest. He has just turned 13 and is built like a house, the last thing I want is to get a ‘smack’ from him, for not knowing he was sore. I dress him, which hurts my back as I’ve to manoeuvre him in order to get him dressed. I try to strip Ethan’s bed before the toddler announces that he is ‘weady for bekkie’ over his baby gate.

J leaves at 7.40am with his daddy. Ethan luckily has a bus collect him at 8.20am and I am very lucky to have remembered to have brushed my teeth by 10am!

I am exhausted. I am a weight lifter. I am a nurse. I am a specialist. I am a doctor. I am a teacher. I am an advocate. I am a mediator. I am a secretary. I am an occupational therapist. I am a speech and language therapist. I am a physiotherapist. I am a cook (not a great one). I am a children’s entertainer. I am a cleaner. I am clown, when I need to be. I am an encourager. I am a holder of secrets. I am a bottomless pit of information about children’s rights… Yet, I am insulted regularly by what ‘title’ is given to people like me. I am looked down upon due to being ‘just a carer’.

I am a mother to three wonderful boys; each have their own unique needs and wants. I am also a full-time carer… I am a writer… I am funny… I am sociable (when given the chance)… I am an optimist… I am far more than ‘just a carer’… I am everything to three little boys, while these boys are everything to me.

“So, what do you do for a living?”

‘I’m Ger, wife to David and mother to three wonderful boys, Ethan, J and baby D. We live in the city of the Tribes! Our world was rocked to its core in 2008, when Ethan was diagnosed with Hunter Syndrome, a life limiting condition. We are slowly learning to laugh and live again in our ‘new’ world.’ (Geraldine Renton blogs at www.geraldinerenton.com)

This week (8-14 June) is National Carers Week, with events happening all over the country to recognise the work of family carers. Check out the website (www.carersweek.ie) for details of events in your local area. 

‘Sometimes, I see fear in his eyes. I constantly reassure him but reassurance only lasts seconds.’

What’s life like as a young carer? Jamie has cared for his mother since the age of six

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About the author:

Geraldine Renton

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