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Archive for June, 2015

Jun 28 / Caro

Preschool Sport’s Day and “Missing Out” as a Parent

Last Friday was Thomas’s first Preschool Sport’s Day.

And I couldn’t go. Because I had to work.

Yeah, it made me a bit sad when I had to tell Thomas that no, I couldn’t be there to watch him and his friends.

I’m not in a position to moan really. I’ve read lots and lots of pieces about working parents and the balances and compromises they often must strike. Unlike a lot of families out there, we had a great deal of choice about what to do once Thomas was born. I could have given up work altogether if I had wanted. Equally Ian had the option to become a stay-at-home dad. We could have shared working and childcare (and did, for a while) and I could have gone back for any amount of time right up to full time without having to worry about child care fees crippling us or eating away the entirety of my wage. We are in this situation partly because of hard work, but, yes, we’re also extremely lucky.

So going back to work was very definitely a choice for me, and one that I’m currently entirely happy with. Sure, sometimes I moan about work, but that’s because like anything with responsibility for people, it can be extremely stressful. And at the moment anything at the sharp end of the NHS is definitely at least a bit taxing. But for the most part I love my job, and I really like the mix we’ve managed to achieve in our lives.

But on Friday, not being able to be there for an event that Thomas was very excited about was still a little bit heartbreaking. Friday is the only day of the week that I work in that particular practice. Having already taking three Fridays off in the last seven, I just couldn’t justify another one – on the grounds of needing to fulfill my targets for the business as whole and also out of duty to the patients who I don’t want to keep waiting for weeks on end for an opportunity to get an appointment with me.

And it’s that – the tearing of family responsibility against professional responsibility – that will always be hard. I know I’m far from alone. It’s hard for everyone – men and women, parents or not – because we almost all have additional responsibilities or priorities outside of the professional environment. Sadly there just aren’t enough hours, even with the greatest flexibility in working arrangements, to be able to do it all, all of the time. It’s always a compromise, no matter what.

The upside to this story is that Ian is lucky to have a reasonable amount of flexibility in his work. He’s part of a relatively small team and they recognise the importance of family life, so things like leaving early to do the nursery pick up when I have to work late are not a problem. He was able to work from home for the day and slip out for a couple of hours to be there, to Thomas’s immense pleasure. My heart hurts just a little bit thinking about Thomas being the only child there without a family member to cheer him on.

Of course, once again, I know that we are lucky. For some families there are no choices, and no flexibility. Missing out becomes not something they fear, but something that actually happens, and their child becomes that one.

At least I got to see the photos (of which I will only share a few here, in the interests of not sharing pictures of other children) and hear the first hand account of Thomas setting off to run his own race across the field, and how he “won” the potato-and-spoon race with liberal interpretation of the rules that involved holding the potato on the spoon! You’ve got to love preschoolers!

And there will be a next time. Hopefully next time I won’t have to miss out.

 

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Jun 25 / Caro

The Baby Who is Not Here

I’ve read enough about conception and miscarriage at this point to have come across, over and over again, the sentiment that a baby is real to its parents from the moment the second line appears on the test. Hell, I’ve experienced it myself. When you are desperate to have a child, all your hopes and dreams seem pinned on that stick and its result. When the outcome is positive, it adds colour and flesh and vibrancy to a hitherto merely imagined scenario, even though it may still be tinged with deep, deep caution. Even though you know that it still may not come to fruition.

When you go through IVF, however, the second line is not even necessary. From the moment that your cycle is planned in meticulous detail, you know roughly when any resulting baby will be due, and that is where it starts. Even when you’ve been disappointed again and again in the past. Even when you’ve had positive outcomes that went on to end in miscarriage. Even when you know that all the odds are stacked against you and your rational head wants to overrule your hopeful heart. Still, the idea that a baby could be joining your family all those months down the line is impossible to resist. And after all, you have to believe that it will work in order to keep putting yourself through it.

Arguably you could think that way about each and every cycle that you try naturally. After all, if you have no cause to believe otherwise, there is a chance each month that this will be the one where the stars align and eggs and sperm meet at the right time in the right place and do absolutely everything that they need to do to make a new life. You could, if you were so inclined, mourn every period not simply because it means that you did not make it this month, but because you flushed your potential child down the toilet.

That is going further than I think entirely rational, though. In the end we all know that the chances in any given month are slim. It’s likely that if you don’t get pregnant, no fertilisation even occurred.

And that is how IVF is really different. A full two weeks before anyone could pee on a stick, days before anything is even put in your uterus, you get the long awaited phone call from the embryologist to let you know how your eggs and sperm “got on”. And assuming you don’t face the heartbreak of a zero fertilisation cycle, in the moments of that phone call, the world tips on its axis. What you hear in the call is how many potential babies you’ve made.

It’s more than simply knowing that you had plenty of unprotected sex and could feasibly be pregnant. You can’t help but see these as bigger chances. This is a real, potential child with all of its genetic material right there is that dish. You know exactly when that child was conceived and therefore you also know exactly when it should be joining the world as a newborn baby.

If only everything else goes right, of course.

When it doesn’t work, that loss is far more similar to the loss of miscarriage than to a negative pregnancy test or period arriving after a “natural” attempt at baby making.

I know this, because I’ve experienced it all.

If our final IVF attempt last year had worked, my due date would have been tomorrow. And as a diabetic with a previous c-section behind me, I would no doubt have come under pressure to have an elective section at 38 weeks. Which means that baby would have been born almost two weeks ago, on our fifth wedding anniversary.

I’ve been waiting for this date since that fateful telephone call last October. Still etched across my heart, despite the fact that no baby has been growing in my belly.

I couldn’t erase it. Nor could I ignore it.

It is impossible for me not to mourn that child that might have been. Even though he or she was never anything more than a collection of our genetic material. It never implanted in to the lining of my uterus. Never grew arms and legs or facial features. It never even had a heartbeat.

But it was my baby.

My last chance at another child.

I’ll never be able to erase the sadness of its loss, either.

Jun 23 / Caro

To the Parents of Children With Diabetes: You Can Do It

I’ve seen a fair few new diabetes diagnoses popping up lately, and a lot of new blogging and tweeting on the subject, from parents who’ve literally just been dunked in the deep end. In my former life as a diabetes-centric blogger I was used to reading diagnosis stories, and tales of all the literal highs and lows of life as a parent to a child with diabetes. There were, and still are, plenty of them out there. What is different for me this time is that these are blogs which I followed, or at the very least was aware of, long before diabetes entered the picture. And something about that fact has really heightened my awareness the sheer smack-upside-your-head-turn-your-world-on-its-axis nature of this kind of diagnosis.

Forgive me. I was three when I was diagnosed. I certainly didn’t have a clue back then and I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated it before in quite the way I suddenly do now, no matter how ridiculous that sounds. I just don’t know what it feels like to go from knowing very little about diabetes to having to integrate it, and all its associated behaviours, in to your life.

What I do know is exactly what living with diabetes means. I know how the specific thirst of a high blood sugar feels. I know what a low feels like, and what the hangover can do to you. I know the fear. I know only too intimately all the bloody frustration. I will never, ever be the person to make one of those ridiculous comments about sugar – or worse – that are all to common. I can tell you that I absolutely understand.

I feel I need to say more, though.

If you are the parent of a child recently diagnosed, or perhaps going through the transitions of puberty, or an adolescent rebellion, I need to say this to you: Diabetes didn’t stop me.

It’s very easy to get bogged down by the minutiae, the day-to-day of blood sugars, boluses and carb counts and not look up, on and ahead. Life is still very much there for the living, and without wishing to trivialise the impact of diabetes, live it you can. Honestly.

Where there is a will, there is a way. Almost everything takes more planning and preparation with diabetes, but I’ve travelled across the globe (alone, at times), gone to University and partied the night away, competed in a variety of sports, lived alone as well as with others. I have a responsible, professional job after years of study and hard work. And most of all I have a wonderful husband and an amazing son. All of it, achieved with – despite, if you like – diabetes. There has been almost nothing that I’ve ever wanted to do thatI have been unable to do because of diabetes.

A diabetes diagnosis changes things, but it doesn’t have to end dreams or goals or the pursuit of a fulfilled life.

I also need to say this to you: It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Sadly, we have to face the fact that this could well be forever, for this generation, if not for the next. At some point you have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Each high blood sugar is not a tragedy in itself. Even a few weeks of high blood sugars is not an automatic passport to complications further down the road. Good control is important, but good control does not mean perfection. I appreciate that there may be an element of luck involved, but if I look back over the last 32 years of diabetes I must have had countless months worth of extreme blood sugars (particularly taking account of that period in time where taking insulin regularly slipped off the bottom of the to-do list, but we won’t go there now) and I’m still kicking. I’ve faced the worst that diabetes has to offer. I’m not proud of my hospital admissions for ketoacidosis, but they’ve happened. I’ve had low blood sugars leading to me passing out and having seizures in public. For the parents of a diabetic child, it’s the stuff of nightmares. I’m not telling you these things to keep you up tonight. And I’m very definitely not suggesting that you don’t try your hardest to avoid them happening. I’m just telling you that I’ve been there and done it – and I’m still here talking about it. Most importantly at all, I’m not some sort of failure because those things occurred. Diabetes, ultimately, is the thing at fault.

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And what you need to remember is that each time you hit the bumps in the road, no matter how bad the numbers seem, they aren’t the only thing that matters. Remember: Marathon; Bigger picture; Don’t obsess over the individual numbers, the single days or even whole weeks. Each time you navigate a storm, you are adding to your metaphorical toolbox – and more importantly your child’s metaphorical toolbox – for the future. Next time you’ll have additional skills to know how to get over those same bumps. Or if you can’t get over them the same way (because diabetes has a nasty habit of throwing curveballs and changing the rules) you, and your child, will have a greater belief that you will get around them eventually.

And having that understanding that you can do it, even if it sometimes takes a while, is the key. It makes an enormous difference.

I need to remind you that you can only do your best. You best is good enough.

Look at me. There have been many times where my best has fallen very far short of perfection, yet I’m still doing it.

And I know that you can do it too.

My words, as always, don’t somehow seem enough. But I see all of you working so bloody hard to keep your kids healthy and safe whilst giving them a normal childhood alongside, where diabetes does not steal all of the focus. And standing here, on the other side, I believe in you.

I really do.

Because you can do it.

You can.

Jun 22 / Caro

A Snapshot of Life at Three and a Half

Ignoring completely that it’s a long time since I wrote anything at all here, it feels like forever since I wrote to, or for, or about Thomas specifically. That’s partly for the sake of some degree of privacy, and not wanting this space to just be a blow by blow account of his every milestone as it unfolds. It’s also because I’ve preferred to record aspects of our lives as a whole family. And, of course, not least of all it’s because I’ve been rather wrapped up in my own emotional state in the last couple of years. But whatever I want from this blog and my online presence, a reason to document the things I don’t want to forget about my precious only son is still foremost amongst them.

And so here we are, at three-and-a-half-and-a-bit-more.

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And first and foremost: The kid can read. I’m not plonking this here in any attempt to brag about my son, because I only know that not all three year olds can read with the fluency that Thomas can because other people keep banging on about it, but for all I know, perhaps most of them can. However, it would be wrong to say that I’m not a little bit proud of him. He’s the boy who remains completely obsessed with numbers to the point that I was afraid he wouldn’t find the same joy in the written word. So to have him be so utterly determined to decipher the world around him by reading words, and to be so keen to read books to himself and figure out the story from the symbols on the page is absolutely heart warming.

He’s been trying to read for a long while but fear of being seen as a “pushy” mum, never mind not really knowing anything about phonics or how to go about helping him led me to keep pushing the issue aside, hoping to hold him off until he goes to school at the end of next year. But his frustration at being able to read numbers but not letters soon led to some pretty epic tantrums. I couldn’t blame him. The closest thing to knowing how he felt for me was thinking of visiting countries that don’t use a Roman alphabet, and therefore being unable to even guess what so many words around me said. It’s no wonder kids get overwhelmed. Thomas would look heartbroken as he sat on his bed with a book and said “I want to read. I can’t read the words. Please teach me to read.” It seemed cruel to say no to something he wanted to understand so badly.

So, after a quick crash course for myself, off we went. Within two weeks he’d mastered all of the most common phonemes and the art of both blending and segmenting. Since then he’s raced his way through Julia Donaldson’s Songbirds books and many of the Read Write Inc books. Everywhere we go he points out letters and sounds and reads words he recognises. Every conversation is punctuated by him declaring the sounds that the various objects we are discussing begin with, or segmenting a particular word to figure out how it is spelled. Seeing him decoding so many things in the world around him has been an amazing journey for us too.

All I can hope is that this is just the beginning of a life long love affair with the written word, reading and writing.

The love has numbers has not gone, either. He mastered counting to one hundred earlier in the year, and the idea of one more and one less. he can now recognise a group as being a particular number without the need to count them out, which makes playing dice games much, much easier! He’s currently absorbed in basic addition, subtraction and sharing of numbers. His ability to manipulate numbers, however, far outstrips his drawing and writing ability. So many of the paper based number activities involve drawing more of something. For example, he knows that if you have two buttons and add two more you will have four buttons, but he cannot draw two more buttons next to the ones on the page for love nor money! I’m wondering if writing and drawing will be the next big interest in the same way that reading followed counting!

Just in case anyone is worried that I chain Thomas to a desk to practice reading and number puzzles, don’t worry, he’s still very much an over enthusiastic, boisterous handful of a little boy. He’s still as obsessed with trains as ever and still wants to be one at every opportunity. He makes us line up to be tenders or coaches and race along the “rails” on the pavement, stopping to open our doors and let in passengers, or fill up with coal and water at every other lamp post . We visit rooms in the house picking up and dropping off various toys that stand in as passengers. He will tell anyone that will listen about how stream trains work and we still watch plenty of videos of trains on You Tube. In fact “can I have a video?” is one of the most oft heard phrases in our house right now.

His other absolute favourite game right now is hide and seek. Not that he’s any good at it, mind you. He wriggles and giggles to give the game away long before we’re even in the right room, but that joy he gets from both “hiding” and seeking is immense and evident from the face-splitting smiles. He could also play “snap” for hours and “Can I do an app?” is another frequent refrain.

We get plenty of standard pre-school behaviour too, and some that I’m concerned is not so standard. He’s a deeply particular person who wants things exactly so. What Thomas doesn’t realise is that we aren’t capable of reading his mind and we don’t always understand how he is imagining that something will work. He gets so frustrated if we don’t do or say exactly what he wants, even if he has not made it clear what that is. One middle of the night meltdown involved the order in which we went in to his room and left and what exactly we each needed to say to him. At three in the morning on the fourth wake up call of the night, is was easier and faster to try to comply, but even that took a long time and left me back in bed with my mind wondering to how he will ever cope in the world when people don’t do things exactly as he wants. It is as simple as being bossy (although he is that) or wanting to be in control (ditto) but more that he seems to genuinely believe that something terrible might happen if things don’t happen as he envisages.

On a similar vein, he is very ritual led. He doesn’t have particularly rigid overall routines, but there are certain specific sequences that mustt be played out. Lately we have to pretend to race him to do certain things – such as take his clothes off for the bath, turn the television off, go up the stairs – and then pretend to be upset when we “lose” (which is not helping his competitive “me first” streak at all!) We have a very rigid sequence of things which have to be done at bedtime and any deviation means we have to go right back to the beginning.

I’m telling myself this is all normal, and it, too, shall pass.

After all, his sleep is better. He generally actually stays in bed now, and goes off to sleep well more than half of the time. We’re up at some point in the night pretty much every night, but it’s often only once which is a big improvement. He’s still an early riser and we often see 5am, however we did put some renewed effort in to the Gro-Clock and a sticker chart. he got a sticker each day he stayed in his room until the sun came up and these days it’s often 6am until we hear “Mummy and Daddy come and play with meeee! It’s morning”

Ah yes, sticker charts. there are a lot of “incentives” in Thomas’s life right now. I prefer that term to “bribes”. I see it as teaching him that things can be earned with hard work, and effort, and doing things you don’t necessarily want to. After all, the vast majority of adults go to work primarily to get paid! Whilst Thomas will talk to anyone and soon round up a bunch of kids of all ages at the park and have them under his control in a game of “Shops” or “Postmen” or “Trains” he can be quite physically timid – afraid of climbing or new slides and things like that. We’ve used offers of treats to get him to try the things we know he will actually love, like the water slides at Center Parcs. We’ve also had sticker charts for everything from staying in bed, to dressing himself and trying new foods.

Yeah, that. Eating is still a bit hit and miss. Overall he’s more adventurous than he was. He has now earned a total of three new trains for trying fifteen new foods in the last six months, which I think is pretty amazing! They’ve included things like kidney beans, lamb and green beans. In fact, last month he happily ate first one green bean, then nine more with no fuss at all, which a few months ago would have been unthinkable. It brings the vegetable count to peas, carrots, sweet corn, corn on the cob (his favourite) and green beans. I’ll happily take that. (Fruit is going less well. We’re stuck with apples, tinned peaches and anything pureed. Ah well, perhaps eating pureed fruit from pouches will be a future adult craze!)

Other than all of that, he’s just a rally fantastic little boy. He talks non-stop to anyone and everyone. He has a fantastic sense of humour and really gets jokes now. He runs (or now skips, often hand-in-hand with me) everywhere and I’m unsure if he knows how to walk! He still loves his bike and is a balancing pro now. He’s too smart for his own good at times. (Doing “Stranger Danger” at preschool the staff expressed concerns that he was quite happy to keep going off with “strangers” whilst they were acting it out. On the way home he brought the subject up himself told me all about how you should never go with someone you don’t know, or accept things from them and recited the “rules” perfectly. I asked him why, then, he had gone with the “strangers”. He gave me such a withering look and said “Mummy that wasn’t a stranger, that was ” I had to admit he had a point!”)

On the one had he has a great attention to detail and brilliant memory, remembering things from two years ago with clarity I cannot always match. Sometimes he’ll become engaged in an activity for so long that time seems to stand still. And he can be incredibly patient if waiting for something that neither he, nor we, can control, such as the start of a show. On the other hand, he often has a typical short attention span and cloth ears. Often he wants everything “now” especially if that is my attention.

Of course, I don’t begrudge him that. He’s my only one. My special son. His smile brightens my day and stills my heart all at once. I still love him more than I can find the words for. in fact, I’m not sure the words for it will ever come, even if I should live to be one hundred and one.

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