I absolutely love this picture. Despite the fact that you cannot clearly see that it is Thomas – that you might not even know it if I hadn’t told you – it sums up so much about him. In fact, to me, it depicts exactly what childhood – if not life itself -should be all about: freedom, fun and absolutely no worries. I can’t help but smile when I look at it.
It came about in the midst of a glorious Sunday cycle ride across the Kent countryside. We’re so fortunate to live in the heart of the so-called ‘Garden of England’, and we try to make the most of it. After a damp and drizzly Saturday, Sunday dawned with such gloriously blue sky that it was calling us to get outside (and preferably to a pub garden if at all possible!) Thomas had plenty of energy to burn, despite a busy first week at school (more on that soon) and so we elected to tackle the Cycle Network Route 12, which runs from Tonbridge to Penshurst and is mostly off road.
The slightly adapted route we planned came in at six miles with a 47m gain. Which doesn’t sound like much for an adult riding an off road bike with 21 gears. It’s a quick Sunday stroll. But when you’re only four, have a 14 inch bike that you’ve only been riding since May, it’s a bigger challenge. Although Thomas has easily tackled three miles before, I honestly expected us to make it half way and then have to hitch him up to the trail-gator (that we’ve never actually used!) and turn around for home.
That didn’t happen.
We cycled on. We took a detour to avoid a narrow-ish fast-ish road section and got mildly lost in the Leigh flood storage area, turning a blind eye to a few “No cycles” signs and chucking the bikes over at least one gate (sssssh!). We had to give Thomas a push up some of the hills. And we we took it in turns to walk with him up the long, slow climb towards Penshurst – worth it for the views and then for the downhill that brings you in to the back of Penshurst Place stately home and the promise of a good pub and a rest.
And Thomas did not complain once. He found the grassy section hard going and the hills that were too big for his little legs and lack of gears a nuisance. But he was loving it. We even felt confident enough to try him along the road and he was an absolute star keeping his front wheel right behind Daddy’s and his back wheel just inside my front wheel, and looking and listening for traffic like a pro, tucking himself in without a moments hesitation as cars passed us. I can’t say I ever imagined allowing my four year old to ride a bike on the road (I even prefer to avoid riding on roads myself), but Thomas surprises me in new ways every day.
It may not be the “done” thing to talk about how great your child is, but a combination of Thomas’s effort, enthusiasm and the entire accomplishment of cycling so far so well just made me so proud of him.
We were justly rewarded with a fabulous pub, delicious grub, ice cream and two pints for the grown ups.
Then, of course, we had to do it all again in reverse.
But watching Thomas free wheel down that long hill that he’d slogged so hard to climb was pure poetry in motion.
And looking at our bikes chucked together in the hedge will never get old. It just says “family” to me.
The time is here, kiddo. Tomorrow is the day that you start big school.
It’s a huge milestone. And a huge one for Mummy too. I stood hanging out your clothes to dry this weekend and I suddenly remembered doing exactly the same thing the weekend before you were born. I was so aware, then, that life was about to change in ways I couldn’t quite truly imagine. This might not be quite such a massive shift, but it’s a significant change nonetheless. No longer a baby, a toddler or even a preschooler. You’ll be a real-deal school boy.
I look at you, in your uniform and you at once look both so tiny – hands disappearing inside a blazer that slightly swamps you – but also so grown up. And I can’t help but wonder how exactly we got here. In some ways that weekend of hanging out tiny baby clothes feels like yesterday, but simultaneously the time that you were not in our lives feels a whole lifetime ago. Perhaps I feel that more acutely because this month marks four years of trying to give you a sibling. And those four years have been interminably long. (I’m sorry we haven’t succeeded on that one, but I know that you are going to be part of such a warm, friendly school and hopefully your friends will continue to be your surrogate siblings.)
I look back, too, at just how much you’ve learned in the last five years. From the scrunched up little boy with a mop of dark hair who knew only how to suck and to scream (oh, how you could scream) you’re now a little boy full of knowledge. And not just facts but ideas, imagination, opinions. Yes, plenty of those and you’re not afraid to share them. You’re a character with a personality to rival the size of your newborn screams.
It’s true that children are like sponges. You’ve proven that. You’ve learned to crawl, to walk and then to talk. You’ve learned shapes, colours and numbers. You’ve learned to read. The list goes on. And now you constantly surprise me by just how much you know about so many different subjects. Trains are still your top obsession, but space – the sun, the planets, asteroids and comets – comes a close second. One of you favourite games this summer has been “Give me a fact about…” where we have to ask you for a fact about a variety of given subjects. And the stuff you come out with when we ask for a fact about the sun, or trees, or insects, so often amazes me, if not for the fact itself, but where you get this stuff from. You just soak up information and bring it out again at will.
And that is why, my most favourite little boy, you are so, so ready for this next step. Life with you is filled with a never ending barrage of questions about what, when, why, how. You’re ready to learn more. And I know you will. Not just more facts and information, but skills too. (And some of those will be more challenging for you that the basics of letters and numbers. Learning to lose gracefully for starters!)
Of course I have my worries about you. It’s true that we send children to school here in the UK when you are all still so tiny and sometimes your anxieties and your behaviour give us a glimpse of the baby boy still inside.
But I have to let you go. It’s time.
And I’m excited too. To watch you take this next step. I’m ready for there to be someone else to respond to all your many, many questions and to start to teach you the things I have no idea how to teach. I’ll miss you. Of course I will. Those two days a week that I don’t work have always been “Mummy and Thomas time”. And no matter how nice it might be to have a quiet cup of tea or do the shopping in peace, I’m going to really miss your company. The funny things you say and the adventures we have. I’m so glad that schools have holidays and that I get you back.
You know, it’s a real privilege to be your mum.
And that is why, amongst all the things that you learn at big school, I hope that you don’t unlearn the skill you’ve perfected of being the indescribable you.
I love you, always and unconditionally. But I hope you already know that.
Thomas and I have seven more days before he starts school.
Well, obviously there are more days than that – four and a half weeks to be more exact. But for most of those Thomas will be at the “Holiday Club” at the school, and I’ll be working. There are weekends, of course, but those are “Family Days” for all of us to share. As are the days we’ll spend in Copenhagen at the end of the month.
What is left is seven days of uninterrupted “Mummy and Thomas Time”. (Yes, we really do call it this!)
Ever since I went back to work after maternity leave, and Thomas started nursery, we’ve had several days each week apart. And I’m firmly of the opinion that it made the solid days we had together even more special. I had the time and energy (and money!) to do all kinds of things, from exciting days out and theatre trips, to the more mundane park visits and days at home snuggled up with a book or playing endless train games. I planned and looked forward to that time.
And now, those days will be drastically cut down.
Starting school is a massive milestone, right? It is its own thing to anticipate – for the good and the bad – right? Isn’t there is too much new in the adventure to think about to worry about the old and what might be missed?
Starting school is the moment when children start to take really independent strides away from their parents. It’s when they start to form friendships with children you’ve never met yourself. Start to spend days doing things they only share the merest glimpse of with you. And they seem to age immediately as they dress up in smart school uniform for the very first time. For parents it is a whole new routine. There is the anxiety of learning how the school works and meeting new parents, many of whom seem to know each other already.
How about if none of this is really true?
Thomas is staying at the same independent school where he has attended preschool for the last year. He is simply moving across the playground to the little reception block, complete with its outdoor learning area. A place where he has been visiting and “practising” for the last term.
He’s moving across with all of his well established friends. In his class there are just two girls who didn’t attend the preschool (both also have older siblings in the school already). His friends are children I already know well, and like. I also know many of the parents well, from the endless rounds of preschool birthday parties and events like the school nativity and the preschool “Moving Up” day. I know (as much as any parent ever does) how the school works and who most of the staff are. Thomas knows so many of the older children by name (and they him). He already plays in the playground with the older children, lines up with them in the mornings and eats lunch in the dining hall, sitting at a table that he sometimes help to lay correctly with cutlery. He wears a uniform too – that I’ve grown used to laundering constantly – and has been looking so almost like a school boy for the last year.
Even his routine will remain the same. With just one major exception, of course.
He’ll be going five days a week.
That, is the only difference.
We’ll be losing much of our treasured “Mummy and Thomas Time”. And I suppose that is the only thing that is really affecting me.
“Starting School” per se does not feel like a major change. It’s like we conquered that last year, with some tears and protests and initial reluctance. Now Thomas is so happy and settled he asked me a few months ago, with genuine worry, whether he would ever have to change school again.
Not having him all to myself for the two days that I don’t work is the only thing I’m struggling to wrap my head around. It’s true that in some ways I’m looking forward to some “me-time”. Some opportunities to do long neglected household tasks (clearing out my wardrobe, for starters!). An opportunity to get my hair cut without juggling childcare. To drink a cup of tea and read a book without interruption or guilt. Going for a swim or a run during the day, rather than in the dark evenings throughout the winter. Even scheduling medical appointments without having to take Thomas with me. I’ve not had such free time since… well ever before really. Having worked full time, like so many women, before having a child this will all be a new experience.
But at the same time, I’m really going to miss Thomas’s company. I’m going to miss his singing from the back seat of the car and his vociferous opinions on which songs he does and doesn’t like. His running commentary around the shops about what I mustn’t forget to buy. I’ll miss his music group and the genuine friends I’ve made there. I’ll miss our shared lunches and little coffee shop dates. I’ll miss park trips where there is no competition with much older children to use the best equipment. I’ll miss the freedom to take him to museums and child friendly events during the week and outside the school holidays where we don’t have to battle crowds of other children. I’ll even miss his trains constantly strewn across the house, packed up instead until he arrives home.
School uniform notwithstanding, he still looks so little. And whilst he is keen and excited about finally being in Reception (he’s been asking how many sleeps since before Christmas) and more than ready to satisfy his innate curiosity for learning in ways that I alone can’t, I’m not sure if I’m quite ready to accept it. I know that I need to focus on it as the adventure it is and the new it will bring. You can’t freeze time, nor continually look backward for that would be to miss so much more.
I doesn’t make it simple though.
Just over four weeks to go. Seven single days of one-on-one with my best boy.
I’m so glad I don’t have all the other changes to contend with too, and this one seems big enough on its own.
At least I have the holidays to look forward to.
So, how many sleeps until half term?
Little Loves was the last thing I took part in – a hence the blog post I left there on the front page – before I went off on what began intentionally as a brief hiatus before becoming… well… a much more unintentional long, long break. So it seems fitting that three post in to a new phase that I join back in with this Linky. I like it, because I like focusing on the things that have been good about the week. It’s good for me, and all that.
Sometimes very popular or critically acclaimed books completely pass me by. Usually it’s because popular books aren’t offered in sales or promotions, don’t pop up for 99p on the Kindle, haven’t yet been donated to my local Oxfam bookshop and attract seriously long waiting lists at the library. (Seriously, I once had a little look at Me Before You on the library reservations system. The waiting list was over 200 people! I didn’t join and I actually still haven’t read it!) These days there are so many great books available for little, or no, cost that it’s pretty rare for me to pay full price for a paperback. And so it was that I’d actually never read Emma Donoghue’s Room.
But now I have.
And if you haven’t yet read it, you should.
I devoured it in two sittings, staying up well past my bedtime to finish it. A simple idea, but beautifully done.
Thomas and I had a trip to London this week to see the Trash Test Dummies at London Wonderground. Three grown men dancing with dustbins. It was as wacky as it sounds, but absolutely great fun, physical comedy with lots of audience participation – the kids were able to storm the stage and throw balls at the performers, what more could they ask? And like all the best family shows, there were plenty of touches for the adults too! If you have a chance to see them, do it!
On the same trip we also watched a man blowing giant bubbles on the Southbank – Thomas first saw this performance when we took him to the London Aquarium on his first birthday, and he still loves it now as much as he did then!
And finally we sat and watched the “Master Yogaliser” who put on a fantastic show contorting himself in to all kids of improbable shapes and finally cramming himself in to an impossibly tiny perspex box. Brilliant fun!
It’s been a bit of a making month in our household. We have about eight family birthdays in July, so it’s felt like I have spent the entire month making birthday cards with Thomas! Other than that though, we’ve been busy in the kitchen. Thomas and I made Thomas cupcakes. These are a packet mix, which we haven’t done for a while in favour of making cakes properly from scratch, but actually these mixes are pretty good in that Thomas can more or less do the whole thing unaided (and we got to practice counting in fives when adding teaspoons of water!)
I also made a Lime drizzle cake, but modified the recipe to include… ahem… just a few shots of gin. It didn’t last long!
I haven’t worn anything particularly exciting, but Thomas did wear his school uniform this week! I managed to pick up shirts, shorts and trousers when M&S had 20% off, but we bit the bullet last weekend and bought all of the branded stuff as the supplier was offering a discount on purchases made before the end of July. He looks like such a little man in his tie and blazer. I just cannot believe that we’re here already and my baby boy is soon to be a schoolboy. I do have some fab cheeky shots of him in his uniform, but if I choose to share any I’ll do it when he actually starts. For now, you can see his wardrobe stuffed with uniform bits. And wish me luck with the 25 or so individual bits which need to be nametaped!
Hmmm…. tricky one. Does it count to say that I’ve heard Thomas’s absolute incessant chatter? Probably not, since I hear it all day every day! But as we went to get off the train on our way back from London this week, the man who had been sitting in the seat in front of us stood up to get off too and gave me a wry smile as he said “I bet you never get bored”. This was after a 40 minute journey in which we’d discussed, amongst other things, the solar system, the phases of the moon, the Tower of London, what execution is, types of trains and how they differ and the history of the Flying Scotsman! Yeah, Thomas’s voice is definitely the thing I hear more of than anything else. Wouldn’t change it for a thing though!
We have a busy weekend coming up as we’re off to see Finding Dory at the cinema and also have a family BBQ. Events where food is involved are finally becoming much more pleasurable now that Thomas is not quite so difficult with food as he once was. Here’s a bonus picture of him stuffing his face during our lunch date at Wagamama… and a little ice cream selfie too!
This is likely to be a bit of a controversial post, and one that might not win me too many fans, but it’s something I’ve felt and believed for a long time, brought to the forefront by current events. And if I’m coming back here, perhaps I ought to do it with a bang.
So here is the truth: I don’t particularly feel that it’s “great” that Theresa May has diabetes. I don’t think it’s a bad thing either. I mostly think it’s an irrelevant thing. I definitely think it has received a disproportionate amount of attention from some of the diabetes population. I don’t, (gasp), feel immediately drawn to her, or anyone really for that matter, simply because of our mutual diagnoses.
It’s not her (or my) defining characteristic and I cannot base my feelings about someone in such a complex position entirely on that. There’s not even a tale to tell of her having risen up the political ladder “despite” diabetes, as she was already the incumbent Home Secretary (almost inarguably one of the toughest jobs in Westminster) when she was diagnosed three and a half years ago. What I’m saying is that I can’t have an opinion on a person simply because we have the same chronic condition. And I’m completely leaving the politics aside – as are so many of the pro-she’s-a-diabetic commentators. Which is really my point. I wouldn’t suddenly feel different about any politician because of their endocrine issues, it wouldn’t matter if they were the leader of the Monster Raving Looney Party. (If you’re interested, though, I was In. A staunch Remain supporter from the outset, although more vocal over the fact that it is not a question that ever should have been put in the British public’s hands – more on that another time, perhaps. And I was also firmly in the Anyone-but-Boris camp.)
From a wider perspective than Theresa May alone, I’ve often noticed a feeling amongst the diabetes community that we’re all instant friends. And I can’t subscribe to that. That we’re all in this together I do get, to a degree. We face some of the same challenges. Only someone who has experienced the fear and confusion of a middle of the night low, the raging thirst and sickness of extreme high blood sugars or the frustrations of continually getting different results despite doing the same things can understand what those experiences are like. And our voices are stronger together in campaigning for things like better access to technology (I’m currently a trustee for a charity doing just this). It’s also true that I do have something in common with all of the millions of other type one diabetes suffers.
But in the vast majority of cases, that will be the only thing I have in common with them. It doesn’t mean that I have to feel a kinship to each and every one of them, or even to like them, nevermind liken them to me. It’s no sole basis for a friendship. Because by the same standard I have something in common with somewhere around half the world’s population in that I’m female. (I have that in common with Theresa May too and it also doesn’t mean we’re at all alike. And whilst she may only be our second female Prime Minister, and that is noteworthy in itself, it’s equally not the most important thing to focus on. After all, Andrea Leadsom is also female. [And for what it’s worth in relation to that, I think that whatever was said, however it was written and reported, what she probably wanted to say was that she could demonstrate that she doesn’t want to fuck the country up because she has a vested interest in the future of the nation by virtue of the fact that she has children who will live with the legacy of the decisions that her party, or any government for that matter, makes. In other words, she wants a secure future, even if that desire is born of the selfish motivation to support her own offspring. Whether her version of a secure future would have meshed with anyone else’s will never be known] Wow, what a digression!)
Back to the matter in hand, I have my hair colour in common with countless others. I share my birthday with millions of people and I do the same job as thousands of others. None of these things alone instantly link me to those people, and neither does my malfunctioning pancreas form the basis of an instant relationship. Making it clear that I’m still leaving Theresa May and politics aside, but as a general observation, I also don’t have to instantly like or respect another person because an – albeit unpleasant – aspect of their life is similar to mine. For let’s not forget too that we all have different experiences of diabetes. It’s a bigger part of life for some than others. Some struggle more than others and many, many thousands of people still don’t even have reliable access to insulin, nevermind worrying about complications the psychosocial side of chronic illness or advances in technology – things which, at times, could be considered the diabetic equivalent of middle class problems.
There are potential positives, of course, to a Prime Minister with diabetes. It may help keep the issue front and centre in the minds of the government, the media and the population at large. But notice that I said “may” (no pun intended). Because it is equally possible that Theresa May will go on being a private person and little will be said. It’s possible that diabetes policy will actually be pushed down the agenda either because her own experience of living with diabetes is not troubled by issues that policy can fix, or because she doesn’t want to be seen to be focusing too much on the things in which she has a vested interest. It’s also just as likely that her diabetes will not surface and this in itself will help to cement the idea to the media and general population that diabetes isn’t that much of a big deal. We’re caught constantly between wanting to prove that we can follow our dreams and achieve our aspirations despite diabetes, but wanting people to realise that it’s still a difficult and dangerous condition. But the way people could easily perceive it is that if you can be Prime Minister with diabetes, you can do anything and it isn’t necessarily more challenging than for anyone else.
That latter point is dangerous in itself. Sometimes I think there is a lot of pressure on people, particularly young people, with diabetes to “achieve despite diabetes”. To stick two fingers up and say “Look what I can still do”; Climb mountains, fly a plane, break marathon records or whatever else. Sometimes simply living a normal life, and living it well, doesn’t seem to be enough, even though that is what most of us do. Diabetes brings enough pressures without people thinking they have something to prove.
At the end of the day, we have a new Prime Minister. There remains just as much uncertainty, both in Westminster and the nation at large, as there has been since this whole mess started. And there is as much uncertainty as there always is with a change of leadership. What Theresa May can, and will, do in office remains to be seen. But her being diabetic is not a special reason to support her, or admire her or even like her. It’s just part of the package of who she is.
It may horrify you, but I don’t feel an affinity to every person with diabetes. Some of my friends happen to have diabetes, but they are friends – and people that I admire and respect hugely – for reasons other than that. People with diabetes are from the same diverse community as people without. It pays for people to be kind and tolerant and to get along – life would be so much simpler if we could all just do that. But we’re all different and we’re no more defined or bonded by that one characteristic than by anything else.
I guess I’ve devoted a lot of words to the simple belief that Theresa May’s type one diabetes makes no difference at all to how I feel about her or her appointment to the biggest job in Britain. And no person’s diabetes makes the slightest difference to how I feel about them at first sight either.