A Letter to Father Christmas

Last week we began a tradition that I’ve been excited about ever since Thomas was born. We sat down together and wrote his first proper letter to Father Christmas.

We’ve mentioned to him a couple of times recently that he could “maybe ask Father Christmas” when he has expressed his latest wish for a particular new train or two. But the excitement for writing a letter reached fever pitch this week just before a trip to the library. I had to explain to Thomas that we’d have to return a very favourite book about trains as we’d reached the maximum number of renewals. He sat at the top of the stairs and sulked for a few moments before his face lit up. He looked at me and declared “I’m going to ask Father Christmas”. We headed off to the library and to run a few other errands, finishing with a Mummy-and-Thomas-date in Starbucks. There he pulled all the usual tricks of charming (or irritating, depending on their disposition) other customers and engaged in a long conversation about dinosaurs with an elderly gentleman. When I told him it was time to put his coat on, he ran back to the same man and declared at the top of his voice “I’m going home now. I’m going to write my letter.”

And I’d hardly got us through the door before he was pulling me towards the table asking if we could start yet.

He dictated to me carefully what he wished to ask for. He also added that he thought he’s been a good boy (and I couldn’t help but elaborate that I felt he’d been “mostly good”!!) His list consisted of two new wooden railway trains, a new train for his electric train set and his beloved train book. (The first two items we’d already got covered. I discovered later that day that the book is actually out of print. Cue a five minute panic until I managed to find a used copy in “very good condition”. Crisis averted!)

When he was finished, I asked him if he wanted to write his name at the bottom. He’s been getting better at forming specific shapes and letters for a while, but hasn’t really shown much interest in writing anything specific other than numbers up until now. And being so young, it’s definitely not something I want to push or even work at. So imagine my surprise when he took the pen and wrote his name, if not entirely clearly, at least recognisably at the bottom! I don’t care how gushy I sound, it was a proud mummy moment and somehow seemed extra special to be at the bottom of that particularly traditional letter.

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The decoration around the edges was all his own work too, after a raid of my Christmas craft supplies.

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Later that evening, before bath time, we completed the establishment of a tradition by placing the letter in the fireplace. (Excuse our fireplace. Hopefully it will be replaced by a lovely stove sometime in the new year!) As a child, we never made much of a ceremony about actually sending our letters. I think my mum just took them to “post”. We didn’t have a fireplace anyway. But I’ve been looking forward to spinning the story of the letter in the fireplace being collected by elves overnight. And Thomas, obviously, got completely on board. He even ran to check the following morning and declared with glee that “The letter has gone.”

Fortunately no elves really seized the letter, for that is one that will be going in to the memory box for keeps!

Me and Mine – November 2014

It’s been a funny sort of a month. It’s been incredibly busy and in some ways seems to have passed in a flash. But at the same time there has been a slowness about it, and an edge of deep sadness too.

This was the month that, back in March, I was optimistic would see another face joining our Me and Mine shots. I thought, if only for the briefest of times, that I’d have another child to call mine, and we’d become a family of four. Instead, this month has been spent coming to terms with the fact that it will never happen and beginning the slow journey to acceptance of that fact. We have to move on, and that has to start somewhere.

When I look at pictures of the three of us, though, it helps me to remember that the reality really isn’t so bad. Sure, it may not match the dream. But that was only ever just that: a dream. A fantasy.

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This picture of me and my two boys was taken on Thomas’s birthday. It was the only one out of a considerable number that is in any way usable. The rest feature at least one of us (usually Thomas) in a blur of movement, or one adult with a small child’s finger inserted into a mouth, ear or nostril. Or they are just plain out of focus. Or have us all creased in two with laughter, only the tops of our heads caught by the camera.

Because despite the tears there has been a lot of laughter too.

This is my family. It may be small, but it’s incredibly perfect. And I love them to the moon… and back.

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Back Behind the Wheel

I’m sure it will be a betrayal of my thoroughly middle-class roots if I admit that I had my first ever driving lesson on my seventeenth birthday. Being born in January, I’d stalked the weather forecasts for days and prayed, possibly for the first time in my life, that the monotony of school would not be disrupted by snow, desperate as I was to get out on the road. Less than six months later I passed my test on the first attempt (I know, I know… apparently all the best drivers take at least three tries!) and off I went.

Because as if I was not lucky enough simply to have parents who forked out for all those lessons that got me there, I was also lucky enough to have access to a car that was only three years old. The bright red Mini Cooper, won by my brother in a competition, definitely had its flaws. This was a “proper” old-skool mini, not the modern day incarnation with all mod cons. My Mini had a non-locking petrol cap that made it the target for fuel thieves and meant I had to fill her up before every journey. She had a manual choke that required dedication to master. There was no de-misting system, and the only way to keep the windscreen clear in winter was to drive with the window partly open. And no, the heater was not very effective either! Thanks to that little car I learned all sorts of tricks that were certainly not part of the driving test. I was a dab-hand at jump starts and running bump starts.

But the downsides apart, that car to me represented a degree of freedom. Growing up in a village un-served by trains and with a bus service that rivalled Christmas in its infrequency, driving was a game changer. I was no longer reliant on lifts from my parents to go places and do things. And like a lot of seventeen year olds, I did things that make me cringe a bit now. Like the time I crammed five friends in to that tiny car – I’m surprised to this day that we ever managed to pull away. And there was the time me and my lead feet did a ton on the M25, just to prove that a Mini was capable of it (It probably lasted all of twenty seconds before I pulled in and dropped the speed back to something both more legal and more manageable for the engine – and fortunately I wasn’t clocked at that speed!)

My driving days, however, were pretty short-lived, however. I went to University in London, where I had no need of a car. I last drove during my first summer break back in 1999. Shortly after that, I did battle with meningitis and it was that which ultimately led to the surrender of my licence as a result of seizures.

Still a student in London, I didn’t immediately miss driving. Studying a professional course, from the second year onwards, summer breaks were short lived and I rarely left London. I honestly did not need a car, and likely could not have afforded to run one anyway. None of my friends drove at the time either, so I really did not feel that I was missing anything.

The first time I missed driving was during the time that I lived in Devon, where it became awkward to constantly beg lifts from people who I’d know for only a short time. But then I ruptured my achilles tendon, and entered a two year battle to walk, never mind drive, and it became the least of my concerns. It next arose when we moved out of London four years ago. Part of the attraction of our house was its proximity to the station and to all the local amenities, including my place of work, so driving was still not a necessity, but I came to realise how much more freedom it would give us. Sadly, at that time some ill judged indiscretions with medication meant I couldn’t haven’t re-applied for my licence, so I pushed it to the back of my mind. We at least had a car that Ian could drive.

After Thomas came along, my lack of driving became progressively more problematic. I was easily able to get lifts with NCT friends initially, with baby car seats easy enough to move from car to car. But it was more difficult when I wanted to go to places that others weren’t going. Taking Thomas to mother and baby swimming lessons was a particular headache. And as he grew out of his infant seat, the car seat issue became much more problematic too.

The biggest issue that I now faced, however, was after so long as a non-driver, I was incredibly anxious to get back behind the wheel. I was anxious too that I’d somehow fall foul of complex rules around driving with diabetes and be denied my licence despite being sure that I met the criteria to re-apply. It took a lot of liaising with my various healthcare providers, and reassurance from friends and family to finally pluck up the courage to fill in and send off the pages and pages forms to get my licence back. And it took them months to process them (This became frustrating, because I’d thought so long and hard about it, and I know that there is no way I’d contemplate getting behind the wheel, especially with Thomas in the car, if I wasn’t 100% sure that I was medically safe to do so. The suspicion that I may not be being truthful is difficult, despite knowing that not everyone is necessarily so careful and they have to follow protocol to help keep everyone safe.)

But this week, the brown envelope I’d been waiting for was on the doormat when I arrived home from work.

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My licence!

And in a fit of efficiency, Ian rang the insurance company that very evening and had me added to his policy. Despite not having driven for 15 years, and fully disclosing my medical exclusion, it made the policy cheaper! (It may be to do with working in the NHS.)

So all that was left was to do battle with my nerves about getting back behind the wheel.

And today, I did it.

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I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. Our current car – a VW Tiguan – is an absolute tank in comparison to the Mini that I last drove. It’s also an automatic and I’ve only ever driven manual before, and also has a fancy electronic parking brake (which to you and me means that it basically has no handbrake!) We started in an empty car park  on the local industrial estate with the intention of going forwards and seeing how I felt. Happily I discovered that perhaps it really is like riding a bicycle (although now I’ve driven one I have no idea why automatic cars aren’t more popular in this country. I still firmly believe that very one should learn to drive manual, but once you now how to do it, why bother?!)

Thomas did unnerve me a little by yelling, unprompted, from the back seat “No, We don’t want to go on the main road!” when I left the car park. But we all survived, and even Thomas admitted later that Mummy isn’t a bad driver. Finally, after all these years as a passenger, I feel confident that yes, I really can do this.

I have, you may be relieved to note,  also booked some proper refresher lessons with an instructor (in a manual car) to go over some of the finer points, like night driving, motorways and parking. But I’m sure that I can do it.

And it will change our lives. On the days I’m home alone with Thomas I’ll no longer be quite as restricted in what we can do. Getting to friends’ houses for play dates will be easier. Taking Thomas to certain activities will be possible. And we’ll be able to make much greater use of so many wonderful local attractions and amenities. I’m so looking forward to this new chapter in our lives!

Christmas Cake Wishes

Christmas cake is a tradition in our family. An un-breakable, must-be-made-and-eaten-no-matter-what part of the festive season that features in even my earliest memories of Christmas. I still remember clearly perching on high stool as a child, helping my dad weigh and mix the ingredients, chopping glacé cherries with precision and providing my finger to help tie the knot in the string around the brown-paper clad tin. And I’d remember the rich, spicy smell of it baking forever more, even if for some unimaginable reason we never made it again.

It’s the activity that defined the beginning of winter and every single November, until the year I was 24 and living in Devon, my dad and I liaised on a suitable date and I made a pilgrimage back home to help mix and stir and pour our annual family Christmas cake.

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We’ve always used the same recipe, without so much as a minor alteration in all the years we’ve done it. It comes from the Reader’s Digest Cookery Year. My parents’ battered and well worn copy was (and still is) pulled carefully from the shelf and dusted off for its annual moment of glory. Slipped between the pages to this day is a lined sheet of paper with my ten-or-so year old handwriting carefully listing the reduced quantities for a slightly smaller cake than that called for in the book, and translating the various cooking temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius.

It’s such a staple, and such a delicious part of all of my Christmases that obviously it was a tradition that I wanted to carry over to my own little family. To begin with, Ian and I worked from a photocopy of the Cookery Year recipe. Then, a few years ago, we stumbled across a copy of the exact same vintage as my parents on the book stall at a local fete. We snapped it up for fifty pence, and suddenly the experience seemed that much more complete. I added a similar piece of lined paper with the same quantity and temperature adjustments, stickler for tradition that I clearly am.

The Christmas cake has always been made in early November. The year that Thomas was born, I was determined to get it made despite his November due date. I knew it would be an impossible task once I had a newborn to get to know, so the day before I was admitted to hospital to begin the induction process, we made that year’s offering, with heavily pregnant me struggling to reach the bowl to mix. And that year, for the indispensable part of the ritual that sees family members stirring the mixture with their eyes closed as they cast a wish, my wish was obvious: a healthy, happy baby.

That one came true, although romantic as I can be, I acknowledge that it was pretty unlikely to be anything to do with the cake!

Three years have passed and three Christmas cakes made since then. And oddly enough, my wish for each of those years has been exactly the same.

I know it’s supposed to be bad luck to tell. Supposed to mean that it won’t come true. But in my heart of hearts, I know this one won’t come true anyway.

My wish, each year, has of course been for another baby. The first year I simply wished that we would have another happy, healthy baby, still believing then that we could, and would. The second year, already well down the road of infertility investigation, I wished that it would happen soon.

This year, I just wished with all my might that it may happen at all, despite all the wonders of medical science having not made it so.

If only my Christmas cake were as magical as it is delicious, how different things might be. I just wonder if I’ll ever be able to make another wish over the mixing bowl until such time as I reach the menopause.

If you wish hard enough, shouldn’t your dreams come true?

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Thomas at Three: A Video Interview

I’ve been conscious recently of the fact that I’m forgetful when it comes to recording video clips of Thomas. Whilst photographs, and even written words, serve as a wonderful record of our lives together, there are certain things that only video can capture. The actual sound of his voice. The way he says certain words. The way he moves.

I know this, but it’s still not become as much of a habit to capture film footage as still photographs. And even when I do record what we get up to, I’ve always been hopeless at actually editing that footage and doing anything more than letting it sit on a hard drive. In fact, I’ve only recently learned how to edit videos. But having learned the basics, I’ve still been reluctant to share too many. Partly because I’m conscious of my very fledgling video skills, and nothing I put together looks very inspired or aesthetically pleasing. But it’s also because I’m one of those people who really, really hates the sound of my own voice.

When I saw Chloe’s video interviews on her blog, however, I have to admit to being inspired. And now I’ve shamelessly stolen the idea; A way to edit a conversation with my little boy without my voice being included (okay, okay.. it’s in there once!) and to capture the things that interest and excite him at just turned three years old all in his own inimitable way.

So here is the result.

Given that Thomas is going through a bit of a camera-shy phase, I had no idea how it would go down. But he was surprisingly excited by the idea and co-operated for much longer than I’d predicted. Of course, not all of the answers are exactly what I might have predicted either. I’d have added his obsession with “Thomas wooden railway collection” videos to the question about YouTube videos. If I’d tried to pick his favourite book, the list would have been much, much longer and whilst his answer would have been in there, I would not have put it at number one.

However, the overall impression you might get from this video is of a boy obsessed with trains, Buzz Lightyear and counting. And that would be an incredibly accurate picture of my little boy at just turned three years old!

 

World Diabetes Day: Going Back To My Roots

Once upon a time I was, for want of a better term, a “diabetes blogger”. By which I mean I wrote a blog dedicated to diabetes – my experiences, my thoughts and my fears. It was a good way of venting my frustrations at a time when I was burned out with my chronic health conditions and, as cheesy as it sounds, it helped me to put things in perspective and opened the door to a support I’d not previously known.

The problem was, it was only a diabetes blog. I frequently felt constrained by its title and niche when I wanted to go completely off topic. My readership was almost entirely people with diabetes themselves, who I felt wouldn’t be interested in my more mundane rumblings, although I know this restriction was entirely self imposed. But what frustrated me most of all was that there was no way through my blog to reach out to people beyond the diabetes community. Much as I liked being able to offer support to other through the means of “me too” and “I understand” sometimes I felt like I was preaching to the choir. These were people who did absolutely already get it, who believed as passionately as I do that research in the condition needs to remain a priority, and that we need and deserve access to the best technology we can get.

Gradually my passion for “diabetes blogging” faded away. I suppose I wasn’t in a place where it was a priority in my life any more. And simply living my struggles was enough, without thinking them through in order to write and share them as well.

That said, when I started this blog, diabetes was still in my mind. Newly pregnant, diabetes understandably had to take a central role. And I was keen to write about pregnancy with pre-existing diabetes. The difference this time was that my posts didn’t only focus on diabetes, but on all the routine aspects of a first pregnancy, from excitement to fear and back again.

Once I became a mum, the diabetes side of my blog faded again. I guess that whilst I was working hard to ensure my diabetes didn’t impact on my son, or my ability to breast feed him and keep him safe, I wasn’t in the mood to think about it any more than I had to in order to achieve these things. Sure, I write about it sometimes – like last week – but now I worry that my readership won’t understand or be interested in my rambling on blood glucose levels and insulin pumps.

Today, however, is World Diabetes Day. And it’s time that I went back to my roots. It’s time to out in to practice what I wanted to all those years ago. To share what it really means to live with diabetes with an audience of people who mainly have absolutely no reason to know, understand or care.

WDD_logo_EN_200pxI’ve written before about how diabetes reports in the media swing between terrible desolation and tales of magnificent achievements made despite diabetes. In the former category are the tales of awful complications and their cost to the health service. Stories of people who’ve been affected by complications – stories which are always edited to make it seem as though the person has not looked after themselves, glossing over the fact that the risk of complications is lessened by good control but cannot be entirely eliminated. Yes, you can do everything right, and still suffer, because that’s the true nature of the disease. The latter category includes people climbing mountains or achieving sporting excellence. Nothing wrong with that, but we need to remember that just because a person doesn’t achieve big things with diabetes, it doesn’t mean they are a failure either.

And what all these stories miss is the vast majority of people with type 1 diabetes who are just living and getting on with it. Fitting it in to their careers, their families and their every day lives as best they can. What these stories also miss is whilst it’s true that diabetes doesn’t have to stop you doing almost anything that you want to do, it’s still really hard work.

Really hard work.

When people ask me what it takes to live well with diabetes, I still struggle to answer concisely, even after all these years. But here’s an idea.

It takes hard work. A lot of hard work. And it takes organisation, planning and attention to detail. Dedication and commitment. It takes the ability to be self critical without giving in to self loathing. It takes courage to keep trying, even when nothing seems to work. It takes strength to face the fear of what can go wrong, and determination to keep going in the face of its relentless presence.

Because it never goes away. Not at Christmas, or on birthdays. Not for a weekend. Not even for your wedding day or the day your child is born.

Living well with diabetes takes multiple daily finger pricks to test blood sugar levels. It takes counting of every carbohydrate you eat, whilst also considering fat and protein, and expected activity levels. It takes organisation of medical supplies and medical appointments. It takes ensuring that you’re never without access to glucose in case of low blood sugars. And of course, it takes injections. Or cannula insertions and the wearing of an insulin pump on your person at all times.

But contrary to popular belief, the needles are by no means the worst part of diabetes. I still hear people say “I could never inject myself every day.” And my response is still “You would, if the alternative were to die.”

Diabetes is like a beast that needs constant and careful attention in order to keep it subdued and quiet. And the more successful we are at juggling the multitude of factors that affect it – food, stress, exercise, hormones, illness, the weather – the easier people think it is. But often, the easier we’re making it look, the harder we are paddling under the surface.

 

All of this said, we’re still lucky.

Yes, a cure would be nice. Or at least a means of prevention, or reversal of the early disease, to spare the next generation a lifetime of managing this chronic condition. But we have access to, and sometimes take for granted, so much. The technology in insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors has come on leaps and bounds in the last decade. We’re getting ever closer to automation of control, via artificial pancreas research.

Yet just 100 years ago, insulin had not yet been discovered and diabetes was still a death sentence.

And we’ve lucky because in some parts of the world, it still is.

Diabetes is hard work to live with, but I’m so grateful that I get to live at all. For too many people, insulin and the very basics needed to manage diabetes are still out of reach.

If nothing else, I urge you to consider that today.

I’m Sorry That You’ll Never Have a Sibling

Dear Thomas,

A year ago, just after your second birthday, I wrote you a letter, explaining just how much we wanted to give you a sibling for your birthday and how sorry I was that it hadn’t happened. I also promised to try the best we could to make it happen this year, for your third birthday.

Your third birthday has been and gone. You loved your new train set and your Buzz Lightyear.

But you still don’t have a sibling.

The sad truth is that you will never have a sibling.

When, a couple of weeks ago, you asked me where your baby sister was, my heart cracked in two. I couldn’t answer that question, not only because the hurt in my heart made it hard for me to speak without tears, but more simply because I don’t know the answer. I know that you believe that there is no question I can’t answer and that “Daddy is good at fixing things”. But I don’t know the answer to this, or why this has happened, and sadly, this is something that Daddy just can’t fix.

It’s not for lack of trying. The one thing I can promise you is that we didn’t give up easily. After I wrote that letter last year, everything went a bit crazy. Just a few short weeks later, we received the crushing news that medical science was our only chance to have another child. So that is what we’ve spent this year doing; Three rounds of IVF. We came close on the first try. So close that for a blissful but brief time I really believed it could happen. That baby would have been due the week before your birthday.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

It seems that another member of our family just isn’t meant to be.

I know that right now, at the age of three, you don’t really care about any of this. You only ask questions about a baby brother or sister because so many people in your world have new baby siblings. You don’t grasp at all what having a sibling really means or the finality of our inability to give you one. My greatest hope has been that the upheavals we, as your parents, have put ourselves through this year haven’t impacted on you negatively. Given what a happy kid you are, I’m pretty confident that reading these letters when you’re old enough may well be the first hint you’ll get of the turmoil we’ve been through.

I also know that there’s every chance that the “older you” will be wondering just what I’m making a fuss about. I know of plenty of people who’ve grown up happily without siblings and say they wouldn’t change it for the world – your own Grandpa included. After all, you cannot miss what you’ve never had.

But then, you don’t know what you’re missing either. And sometimes I just feel so sad that this is being thrust upon us and you, and that none of us have a choice. I can understand where people’s sympathy wanes when it comes your Dad and I. After all, we’ve already had the joy of parenthood once, and perhaps we don’t deserve any more. But you. You’ve done nothing to deserve to be denied the opportunity of a sibling relationship.

This is why secondary infertility really hurts. Of course there’s my own unsatisfied longing to become a mother all over again. But there is also my unsatisfied longing to see you as a sibling. It’s a double punch.

I don’t want you to think for even a moment, however, that my pain at not having another child can eclipse my joy at having you in my life. I hope that you’ll know that intrinsically as you grow up. I’d be lost without your cheeky smile, your infectious giggle and your quirky obsessions. If we can’t have two, thank goodness we have you.

I can’t really say much more that hasn’t already been said in last year’s letter. My feelings are largely the same. The main difference is that back then we had hope.

Now, we have none.

Or at least, no realistic hope.

I’m just grateful that this doesn’t hurt you yet. And if you should grow up to be unhappy about your “only” status, at least we have time until that happens. And I will cherish every moment of your childhood until then.

Just know, kiddo, that I love you endlessly.

That’s the most important thing of all.

Mummy xxx

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