Thomas and Parents: Tale of the Cinema

I remember well the experience of visiting the cinema as a small child. Back in the early eighties, things were very different to today. Home video recorders were still something of a rarity, never mind the idea of services like Netflix and Amazon Instant. There were only four television channels that broadcast limited hours each day and certainly no endless repeats! It meant that watching old films was rather more difficult than it is now and there was a good opportunity for cinemas to make extra money by showing old classics that weren’t otherwise easily watchable. This is how the first films I saw on the big screen came to be Disney pictures that pre-dated not just me in age, but my parents too. I remember, like many children the world over, seeing Bambi and being reduced to tears. I also have a very vivid memory of seeing the original animated version of 101 Dalmations and being petrified of Cruella De Vil. It was a petrification that I remember clearly enough to reserve some caution now about when I allow Thomas to watch that particular classic.

My local cinema was one of those beautiful, traditional picture houses, which borrowed much of it’s styling from the theatres of the West End and bore little resemblance to the big screens of today. It had big, swishy curtains of red velvet that covered the screen until it was time for the feature to start. There was a circle as well as stalls, and even boxes with ornate balcony carvings. The seats were deep, plush velveteen, and flipped up when you stood, like “proper” theatre seats should. The box office had a single window and the tickets were spun from a pre-printed roll and popped up with a satisfying clunk from a little slot in the metal counter edge. No pick-and-mix, or ice cream counter but instead usherettes selling from trays worn on their front.

A visit to the cinema these days may not involve so many traditional, romantic elements, but it’s still special. And the prominence of my own happy cinema memories (the tears and fears notwithstanding), tells me that those early visits are both an important and worthwhile part of childhood. And last weekend, it was Thomas’s turn to experience it for the very first time.

I’d been planning this trip for almost a year. That sounds like a long time in the life of a not-quite three-year-old, to be planning something essentially so ordinary. But I wanted to get it right. I wanted to take him to something that he would enjoy – and that wouldn’t reduce him to quivering heap of fear. He’s still unpredictable in his reactions to sudden, loud noises. It also needed to be something I could be pretty sure he would sit all the way through and be interested in, if not because tickets these days aren’t cheap, then because I didn’t want to put him off the idea of the cinema for ever more. And given that he’s still such a massive Thomas the Tank Engine (and his friends, of course) fan, a Thomas movie seemed like an obvious choice.

We briefly considered taking him last year when King of the Railway was released. But I was worried he was just a tiny bit too young to fully appreciate it, and be to be able to watch it the whole way through without wanting to run laps around the room. HIT Entertainment tend to release one feature per year, usually towards the end of August, and so we decided that, providing Thomas still loved Thomas, the 2014 film would be the one.

The Thomas films are a pretty good first film. Full of characters familiar from the TV series, with a simple storyline and lasting just 60 minutes, instead of the more usual full feature length of 90 minutes plus. I kept an eye out on the Vue websites (Vue exclusively screen the Thomas films in the UK) and we booked our tickets for Tale of the Brave almost as soon as they were available. At that stage, it would have been fair to say that I was more excited than Thomas!

I think, however, that it’s safe to say he loved it. We told him on the way there that we were going to see Thomas on a very big television screen. From the moment we walked in to the cinema lobby, he began asking “But where’s the big television Mummy?” He loved handing his ticket in to the man on the way in, and telling everyone that he was going to watch Thomas “on the big television”. Naturally, his own wooden Thomas also accompanied us for the trip.

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We bought a small popcorn, to complete the experience, and it’s fair to say that Ian and I didn’t get much of a look in on that one, although we’d intended it for us all to share! He sat, rapt, staring at the screen for the full duration, only dragging his eyes away to search for the popcorn bucket and grab another handful. Afterwards he declared “That was very good!”

Something that I didn’t think to anticipate when I became a mother was that I’d one day have opinions on children’s films. If you’d told me a couple of years ago that I’d have a “favourite” Thomas and Friends film, I might have laughed. But when you’ve been forced to watch them all as many times as I have, it’s hard not to develop favourites. And honestly, the story in Tale of the Brave was somewhat weak. The songs were no where near as catchy as those in King of the Railway or Blue Mountain Mystery, and the new characters less engaging that Stephen and Caitlin, introduced last year. Not that Thomas cared, of course. And to be fair, it is a film aimed at small children! They do a pretty good job to spin out 60 minutes of story from characters more normally confined to 10 minute episodes. It was by no means a terrible film, and I’m quite sure the DVD will find its way in to our house at some point.

Well, it has to, really. It will forever be the first film that Thomas saw at a cinema. With the way entertainment is changing, I can’t confidently say that it will necessarily be the first of many. But it will remain a special memory, no matter what.

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Grieving For What Might Have Been

This week has been a tough week on the infertility front. It seems that a whole lot of babies have been in a rush to get themselves born before the school-intake cut off of September the 1st and consequently I’ve been hit with birth announcements on every social media channel as well as by text message and in person. There have been several blog babies born – including the lovely Carrie’s son on Tuesday – and Twitter has been awash with adorable baby pictures. In “real life” a friend also gave birth to a son on Tuesday, and another of my NCT group had her second daughter two days ago.

I’m genuinely happy at the news of these bundles of joy. It would take a heart of stone not to smile at the precious pictures of scrunched up newborns, snoozing contentedly on their mothers’ chests. How can I resent such joy when I know what it would mean to me? There is no doubt at all that it means just as much to all these mothers too. A healthy, happy baby is always news to be celebrated.

But it still hurts. In the deepest part of my heart, where I try to keep my desire for more children firmly locked, I feel it, heavy and sharp all at the same time. I can’t suppress it completely, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to. There will always be a part of my heart that grieves for the babies that might have been. Not just those that were miscarried – although so many birth, and pregnancy, announcements have reminded me that I should have been 31 weeks pregnant right now, counting down on the home straight to welcoming my own new arrival. But I’ll also grieve for the dreams I cherished that can now never come true. I can’t apologise for that. I know life rarely works out how we’d like. Men plan, God laughs. But we all have desires. Ambitions. Goals. Ideals. Hopes. Call them what you will.

In my dream life, my second child would have turned one this month. We’d have spent the last couple of months in a pseudo-debate about number three, but I know we’d have started trying by this month or next. And in another year or so from now, give or take a couple of months, we’d be parents to three children under the age of four. That was the dream, so starkly different from the reality.

Those children will never exist in this life, but they’ll always be in my heart. I’ll feel the weight of them there, even though I cannot feel it in my arms. Even though I cannot possibly rewind to make them a reality, I’ll still feel their presence. Or rather, their absence.

They say that time heals almost everything, and I know the pain and the hurt that I feel with each new pregnancy announcement will gradually fade. I know that we’ll have a lot of fun, as a family of three, or a larger one with bigger age gaps if that is what is meant to be. I know it will all be alright, however it turns out. How can it not, when I have a man that I love, and who loves me, and together we have such a wonderful, funny and bright kid. But locked in that deep, dark recess of my heart will be the babies that never were. The ones that never got a chance to shine. Never had the opportunity to make me smile and laugh the way my only born son does.

I’ll never know how it really would have felt to live that dream. What might have happened if it had come to pass. I’m sure it would have been hard. I’m sure there would have been times when I wondered why I wanted so many children. Perhaps it hasn’t happened for a reason.

I’ll never know.

I’ll only know the emptiness I’m left with. The absence. And wonder if it’s okay to grieve for something that you never even had.


The Tiger Who Came to Tea at The Lyric Theatre

The Tiger Who Came to Tea was one of my favourite books growing up. I recollect reading it over and over, even once I knew it by heart. I loved the simplicity of the story, and the matter-of-fact tone that made it seem a quite ordinary tale, rather than the stuff of fantasy. It’s a book that I’ve enjoyed rediscovering with Thomas, appreciating it afresh for Judith Kerr’s trademark illustrations, and the unavoidable nostalgia in the story itself, as well as the fact that it was a part of my childhood too.

During Ticketmaster’s “Kids Week” Promotion, I was lucky enough to secure tickets for Thomas and I to see the theatrical production of The Tiger Who Came to Tea at the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. During Kids Week, free child places are available with a full priced adult ticket. I had originally intended to book Aliens Love Underpants (another book that Thomas loves) but couldn’t get suitable times for us under the promotion. That was when I realised that we could see the Tiger instead.

Kids Week is a good deal. Although it wasn’t Thomas’s first trip to see a theatre production (he’s been to, and loved, The Night Before Christmas and Not Now, Bernard at the Unicorn, in addition to the participatory Sensacional event there) but this was his first trip to a proper West End theatre, with a full auditorium rather than the small, intimate and open seating adopted at the Unicorn productions. I had some concerns he wouldn’t want to sit for the entire hour, or would freak out at seeing the Tiger come to life, rather than staying safely in the pages of his book. (This latter concern grew a little when, at the start of this week, Thomas declared that “I don’t like Tigers.” I asked him why, and he responded “Because they are scary. Rah!”) I also knew that he was pretty unlikely to actually sit in his seat throughout, and would quite probably want to sit on me. For all these reasons it was nice not to have to pay out for a full priced ticket for him. I felt less pressure to stay if it really wasn’t going well!

I needn’t have worried too much though. He didn’t sit in his own seat for anything other than the ten minutes before the show started. But then, to be fair, neither did I! The lady in front of us had a child probably a little older than Thomas with her who wanted to sit on her lap, She offered us the extra seat this created, which meant we moved from the second row of the Dress Circle to the front row, with a fabulous view. Thomas did benefit from sitting on me in order to see better though – and it’s definitely a consideration if taking younger children to the theatre.

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And he absolutely loved it. The play was simple enough, and faithful enough to the book in its styling and dialogue, that it was easy for little ones to follow. There were plenty of songs and even dance routines for everyone to join in with. In fact Thomas was so over exuberant with his “pouncing” during Tigerobics that I had brief nightmares of him flying over the edge of the balcony from our new front row seats! He giggled and clapped and shouted along and looked at me sadly when the Tiger was ready to leave saying “Does the Tiger have to go now?” He waved his Tiger flag furiously during the applause at the end and told me as we left “That was so fun Mummy”.



I’m so glad that he enjoyed it.Theatre has long been one of my passions, and I’ve always hoped that it would be something Thomas might grow to love too. The signs are certainly good. I’m so glad too that there are an increasing number of these kind of child-friendly shows cropping up in regional theatres and across London.Chatting and fidgeting is perfectly fine, because everyone is in the same boat, and the performances are adjusted to suit.

We followed up our theatre adventure by meeting Daddy for a spot of lunch and then popping in to Daddy’s office too – Thomas was quite fixated on seeing what Ian does there and where his telephone is (?!) He charmed Ian’s colleagues by playing with his trains on the floor of the office and chatting away amiably to them about Thomas and Friends, the train ride to London and how he wanted to go home on a bus. The kid makes me proud in the strangest ways every single day!

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This is not a sponsored post. I’m not associated with Ticketmaster or the production in any way and I bought my own ticket. I can, however, highly recommend going. The Tiger Who Came to Tea is on at the Lyric theatre until the 7th of September.

The Pre-schooler Birthday Bash Dilemma

Thomas will be three in just under three months. On the one hand it seems ages away. I look back at how much has happened and how much Thomas has changed in the last few months, and it seems ridiculous to be looking that far forward already. But then, last week, I was sent in to a spin by receiving not one, but TWO birthday party invites for him in October. The second one is just two weeks before his own birthday. The idea of “doing something” for Thomas’s birthday – or rather whether we needed to plan to do something for Thomas’s birthday – hadn’t been afforded any brain space until then, but I instantly felt under pressure to think, make decisions and plan.

For Thomas’s first birthday, we had a family day out to the aquarium. At one, any celebration is as much for the parents and family as it is for the child. Whilst I think it’s important that they enjoy their day, let’s be honest – they’re not going to care or remember exactly what you do. We picked the aquarium because Thomas loved watching the fish, it was something we all enjoyed too, and we had something concrete to tell him in years to come that we actually did with the day. We also had cake – that I handmade because I really wanted to – and of course wrapping paper! I remember the day mostly because it was also the day Thomas had his first taste of chocolate and took his first proper independent steps (the boy’s got timing, you have to give him that!)

For his second birthday, we had a small family party. Thomas was thoroughly spoilt by seeing all of his grandparents on the same day. He devoured his (handmade again) train cake and loved playing non-stop with his new toys along with his cousins. I don’t think he totally “got” the concept of a birthday, but he had a fun day nonetheless.



In the last year, however, things have changed. Thomas is definitely much more aware of birthdays as special days. He frequently asks when our birthdays are, talks about presents and loves to sing “Happy Birthday”. He has also now been invited to, and attended, several organised parties by his nursery and preschool friends. And boy have things changed since I was a kid. Gone is the tendency for these parties to be hosted in people’s homes, with a few sausage rolls and pass-the-parcel. Now people go all out, hiring a hall, theming their parties and handing out elaborate party bags.

Despite Thomas’s enormous enjoyment of these shenanigans, I still hadn’t considered that we might want to do the same thing until these most recent invitations arrived. One is from a close buddy – one of our NCT cohort who lives just down the road. Given how many of these things he’s been invited too, is it rude not to take our turn? And more importantly, will Thomas be expecting his own party with all his little friends attending? Will he be disappointed if we have a family day again, or just go out for a meal?

I don’t want to throw a party simply to keep up with what everyone else is doing. I know that isn’t really relevant. But I do want Thomas to enjoy his special day. And I’m still unsure what to do.

The problems, of course, are multiple. For starters there is my own anxiety. I’ve talked before about how I find it difficult to make friends and along with this comes a depressing tendency towards self-doubt. For years and years I’ve shied away from organising anything for my own birthday because I’m terrified that people won’t want to come. I’m not proud of this, but it’s the way I feel. It was my major anxiety about our wedding, that everyone would decide they had better things to do that day (of course they didn’t, but it stressed me out for weeks!) I suppose I’m a bit afraid of rejection, and now I’m afraid of rejection on my son’s behalf. I know I have to get over this, in order to prevent a self-fulfilling prophecy, but right now I’m still worried that although I know many of the nursery parents to chat to, I’m not really “friends” with any of them, whereas several of them are a part of a strong friendship group. No matter how well our kids get on, at this age the decision to drag your child out (on what could be a cold and wet November afternoon) to go to a party rests mainly with the parents and how motivated they are. I have visions of hardly any kids showing up, and I can already imagine how that will make me feel.

But let’s say I manage to put that anxiety aside. What about the proximity to his little friends’ birthdays? I fully understand why people don’t have pre-school birthday parties in their own homes, and we definitely don’t have the room for hordes of boisterous children. In our town there is really only one option for where to host a three year old’s birthday party. Having done the research in the last few days, I know this to be fact. The party package is so much more affordable than a DIY equivalent or similar party. Each party Thomas has been to has been at the same venue, for good reason. Other excellent venues cater only for older children. Or you’re looking at soft play, which I simply refuse to do if for no other reason than the cost! If we hold exactly the same party just two weeks after one of Thomas’s best buddies does it, will he even be able to differentiate between it being “for him” or just another play session? Or am I underestimating him? And how will I be able to stop myself comparing my efforts at hosting when the dates are so close together? Will mutual friends want to do it all again so soon, or will they pick just one party to attend?

And let’s face it, these parties don’t come cheap or stress free. By the time venue hire, food cake and party bags are taken in to consideration, you’re looking at at least a couple of hundred pounds. Wouldn’t Thomas get more out of that money spent elsewhere? Put towards another holiday, days out or even more trains (for the train set he will be getting for his birthday!) And in “compensation” we’ll get lots of small birthday gifts from his guests when our house is already over-run with toys anyway!

Do three year olds really need birthday parties, or can I delay this stress for another year? What did you do? Or better still, what would you do if you were me? Hold an identikit party a couple of weeks after our friends, and Thomas’s third in one month? Hold a different party and hang the cost? Or not bother at all? And if we do organise a party, should I have done it already, given that we’re getting invites for October already? Who knew you had to think so far ahead?!

So many questions. A three year old’s birthday seems such a silly thing to be getting stressed about, but I think this is my first taste of a different side of parenting that comes as your children grow ever more independent. I know full well that I will look back at this post in a couple of years and laugh at my anxieties. But right now I’m still totally undecided on what to do, so could someone please talk some sense in to me?!

The Fork in the Road

Thursday was D-Day. Decision Day. Commit to another course of IVF? Or not? Which way to go?

It seems a bit daft, writing it now, to exclaim that my choice about whether we move forward with more fertility treatment rested on a single day. Of course it wasn’t really that straightforward, as these things never are. But all the thinking, discussing and planning in the last few weeks had, in fact, led me to this one day, and in particular one result that I was due to receive then.

On Thursday morning, I set off bright and early for an appointment at my diabetes clinic in London. It was an overdue appointment really. One that had been shuffled and rearranged to fit around more pressing matters, including fertility related appointments. It’s almost certainly not the right attitude to have, but I tend not to place too much importance on these appointments, and I’m happy to leave long gaps between them. I’ve been diabetic for 31 years, and whilst I’m not arrogant enough to say that I know it all, I do know an awful lot about my personal diabetes, and I simply don’t find much of the input of the professionals on a routine basis useful. I much prefer to seek them out with specific problems than simply turn up at quarterly appointments in order to tick a box. This feeling has increased since many of the actual monitoring tests (kidney function, retinal screening, annual bloods etc) have now been passed out to GP care. In other words, I don’t even need to attend the clinic to get these important tests done.

On Thursday, however, I was nervous.

Long term readers may recall that I’ve done this exact dance before. I wrote about it back in February of 2013, when we’d been trying to conceive just less than six months. Back then I still had no idea of how much longer that pathway was going to be, or that 18 months on I’d still be sitting here as the mother of one child and still not even pregnant, with two failed IVF cycles behind me. But I wrote then about my fear that my blood glucose control might not be good enough to continue to try to conceive, because it is poor blood glucose control that contributes to many of the risks of a diabetic pregnancy. Somewhere between there and here, my blood glucose control has stopped being my number one concern. Obviously, we’ve now got much bigger concerns in relation to trying to have another child. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. Just that the amount of time and other hurdles have dulled its immediate presence at the forefront of my mind.

It is still important though. In fact there are concerning studies that show even non-diabetic women with modest (as compared to a person with diabetes) elevations in long term blood glucose levels have a dramatically decreased chance of success in assisted reproduction cycles. If anything, it’s more important than ever that I have good control.

And that’s why I was so nervous.

My decision on whether to go ahead had come to rest on this: I’d only consider going ahead with another round of IVF if my HbA1c (a measure of the average blood glucose levels over the preceding 2-3 months, for the uninitiated) was low enough. If we’re going to take our final chance, and spend all that money on it too, I need to know that I’ve done my absolute best and there are no factors I can look back on in regret.

The number was 6.

And just like that, the decision was made. My A1c when I conceived Thomas was 5.9%. “Normal” is usually stated as 4.0-6.0%

Until that moment, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted. I’ve written already about my uncertainty with going ahead, because once it’s done, there are no more chances and, if we’re not successful, all hope will be gone. I thought I was frightened of that. But when I saw the result staring back at me, I couldn’t have been more pleased.

So just like that, IVF number three, our final cycle, is go.

Right now I’m not ready to share exactly when it will be happening. I haven’t yet decided if I want to be as open about it in real-time as I was during the previous cycles. But we’re definitely doing it, the dates are all booked in to the diary and the drugs will soon be on order.

And one thing is for sure. If it works, you guys will definitely be amongst the first to know!


Thomas and the Pony

(I thought one of the plus sides of a week of quarantine might be the opportunity to catch up on blogging some of this summer’s magic moments without also feeling the pressure of too much new stuff to blog about. Of course, it hasn’t really worked out like that and I still have just as much as ever to share, but here is one small effort to start to address that!)

One of the things that always stands out in my memory of childhood summers is all the local fetes and carnivals we attended. I remember our village green coming alive with stalls and shows. I remember the feeling of the aeroplane chair ride, spinning faster and faster, higher and higher until the world around became nothing more than a blur. I distinctly remember my dad taking us in a swing boat. A proper wooden, hand painted affair that creaked as he pulled the rope to rock us back and forth. Those fun filled summer afternoons, or at least my nostalgia for them, is one of the reasons I still seek such events out these days. And this summer we were lucky enough to be able to attend the fete in the very village where I grew up. A proper walk down memory lane, with my son in tow.

It was a day that the weather forecast predicted to be showery and overcast, but turned out to be gloriously warm and sunny. We tried our hand at the various tombolas, collecting a reasonable selection of prizes for our efforts. Thomas rode a small train ride with much joy. We watched local dance displays and examined the vintage vehicles on display. We ate ice cream rapidly, before the fury of the sun demolished it.

As we worked our way around the field, one thing caught my eye: Pony rides.

It turns out that it had caught Thomas’s eye too. And he was more than game for a go, skipping gleefully towards them shouting “Hello horsey!”

The pictures tell the story. “It’s bumpy mummy” he giggled to us as he was led up and down the field. And he couldn’t wait to tell my dad, who’d missed the occasion that “I rode a donkey Grandpa. And it was bumpy!”





Just for good measure, and to prove that this really was a trot down memory lane, here’s a picture of me riding a donkey at the very same event in 1983, when I would have been a little under a year older than Thomas is now. Thirty one years ago, health and safety did not call for saddles, never mind helmets, but does that smile look at all familiar?!


Day Five in the Pox Household

And we’re finally turning a corner!


We’d almost given up on Thomas ever contracting Chickenpox by the time I got “the call” from nursery last week. This is at least the sixth time he’s been closely exposed to it since he was six months old, never mind the more casual encounters I’m sure have occurred without my knowledge at playgrounds and playgroups. Between nursery outbreaks and spending the day with friends and family members who’d erupted in spots the very next day, to sharing a kiss at a toddler group with a child who, unbeknownst to me and her mum until several minutes later, was already spotty, he seemed magically resistant to it. Obviously I wasn’t complaining. I’d never be one to deliberately infect my child, because I do know that complications, although rare, can happen. However, it was starting to get a little frustrating. Never knowing when we might have to put our lives on hold for a week (or more) of quarantine. Fearing that we’d end up having to cancel a holiday. Or that he wouldn’t get it until he went to school, when time off becomes less desirable.

The current outbreak at his nursery (as well as in the local area in general) has been going now for nearly four weeks. I’d already pretty much decided that if he came through this time without catching it, we’d be looking at the possibility of vaccination, just to end the uncertainty of when it would finally hit. Call me frivolous and silly if you like, but the vaccination is definitely cheaper than wasted nursery fees, time off work to care for a contagious child, or cancelled holidays and plans.

In the end though, he was case number 21 in his room at nursery. Hard to believe there is anyone left who hasn’t had it! Of course, typically, it has finally come at a time when everyone is too ill themselves, too pregnant or too on holiday to provide the back up childcare we usually enjoy during times of illness. And obviously anyone with children, especially babies, who haven’t yet had it is also off limits. Never mind that it’s a big ask to get someone to look after a child who needs to be confined to the house and garden!

So work has been missed and plans juggled. It’s been a tough few days.

He doesn’t seem to have had it horrendously badly, to be fair. He had a temperature for the first couple of days, and was definitely more quiet and subdued than his normal, bubbly, vivacious self. But the scratching. Oh, the scratching!

We’ve used chlorphenamine (Piriton) and it does work and absolute treat to minimise the scratching. BUT, Thomas is one of those (many, I’m sure) children who goes a bit hyper on it. No drowsiness or extra sleeping for our already-insomniac child. He was literally bouncing off the walls. A hyper-manic version of his already manic self. So we had to make a trade-off and the result is some pretty raw scratching, despite the liberal applications of various topical remedies. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve uttered the phrase “stop scratching!” Also, and he’ll probably hate me as an adult for sharing this one, he’s suffered from A LOT of spots in the pants region. It’s an area which, to be fair, he has trouble leaving alone at the best of times. But this has made it worse. And potty visits have caused quite a few tears too, which is quite distressing.

The very hardest part, however, has been keeping him occupied without leaving the house. Especially once the initial “quiet” phase passed, he’s been his usual intensive, demanding self. Finding activities to keep him happy, and trying to make him understand why the park, library and other trips out are all off limits has been a challenge. Add to that the fact that he’s really struggled to sleep – yes, more than usual – so we’ve had many extra hours to fill each day. Saturday night saw me watching Finding Nemo at 3am, and Sunday night was Toy Story 2 at 2am!

Of course I’m grateful, though, that this is not a serious thing for him. It is temporary and will pass soon with no lasting effects. The amount of suffering has been pretty minimal when I put it in perspective. I’m just really, really looking forward to getting back out of the house and resuming normal summer activities soon!