2014: The Year in Review – Blogged and Otherwise

Back on the first of January, I wrote this post about the year ahead. Looking back at it now is slightly difficult, because this year did indeed become exactly what I had so fervently hoped it would not. It became the year of infertility treatments and all that comes with them physically and emotionally. It’s certainly influenced my blogging too, and whilst I never intended for this to become an “infertility blog” it’s inevitable that it’s been the focus of much of my emotional outpouring for the last twelve months. As such, it’s almost become quite difficult not to chart the year in terms of the milestones on our infertility journey – which is exactly what I did yesterday. But there has been so much more to the year too, and to not make reference to that as this current, albeit somewhat arbitrary, chapter closes and a new one begins would be to do myself and my family a disservice.

We may have been mired in the heartbreak that infertility can bring, but at the same time I think we’ve been reasonably successful in seizing the happiness where we find it. In fact, it’s become perhaps more important than ever to me to do that whilst it’s been in such short supply. After all. even when life is handing you lemons, there are positives to be found and whilst they cannot completely negate the sadness, they can help tip the balance a long way. And, perhaps most importantly of all, no matter how difficult a period of time is, you cannot get that time back. Thomas will not be a two year old again. We won’t get back the time that has passed in his childhood. I’m pleased, and grateful, that he managed to bring so much light in to a dark time.

Not all that we’ve got up to this year has made it on to this blog. Some of that is due to laziness, some due to prioritising other things I’ve wanted to publish. Much of it however, I’m not sorry to say, is because there have times where we’ve been simply too busy enjoying ourselves to document it. After all, I don’t want to live our lives solely through a camera lens. But this is my round up of some of the highlights, whether they’ve been blogged before or not.

We’ve fitted in three trips away this year – to Center Parcs in the spring, Berlin in the summer and a short break to Brussels earlier this month. Thomas has also enjoyed five theatre trips – Not Now Bernard and Sensacional at the Unicorn, The Tiger Who Came to Tea and Room on the Broom at the Lyric and Peppa Pig’s Big Splash. Thomas also experienced his first big screen film at the cinemaThomas and Friends Tale of the Brave. In fact, film has been a big part of the year as we’ve started to introduce Thomas to many of the Disney and Dreamworks classics, which kicked off a minor obsession with Toy Story. I’ve been pleased at how much he has also enjoyed the ‘classic’ classics though, such as Snow White and Pinnochio and things are shaping up well for a trip to DisneyWorld!

There have been plenty of days out this year. To the zoo, to farms and to local National Trust properties and the historic dockyard at Chatham, where we met a Gruffalo. We went up the Shard for a milestone family birthday. There have been trips to the big museums in London, and quieter trips to local fetes and to Carter’s Steam Fair. The train obsession goes on, and in addition to many hours spent train spotting at our local stations, we enjoyed another Day Out with Thomas and a ride on the Santa Special. There have also been many trips to London with the main intention being to ride on different forms of public transport and we took a train trip to the seaside.

There have been lots more ordinary activities as well. Our music classes and swimming lessons. Days spent in the garden, splashing in the paddling pool or digging in the dirt, plus a very first egg hunt. Walks in the woods and to feed the ducks and oh so many trips to the park and sandpit and riding bikes. There have been lazy days at home watching Toy Story over and over again, or creating ever more elaborate layouts with the wooden train track, not to mention the quarantine at the height of summer when Thomas finally succumbed to Chicken Pox. We’ve cooked together. Eaten together from picnics on the floor to “dates” in Starbucks, to ice cream cones. We’ve read our favourite books more times than I care to remember, but Thomas has begun to sound out the words of his favourites as he moves towards reading for himself. There has been messy play, and crafts and painting. There have been painstaking hours spent practicing writing the letters of Thomas’s name. There has been singing, dancing, den building and dinosaur chases. I’ve been a patient in Thomas’s doctor’s surgery more times that a healthy person should, and I’ve enjoyed watching what his imagination can create as he plays and telling stories through actions. We’ve also begun a love affair with Lego that I hope will last for years to come. In case you missed them I shared some videos that demonstrate what a happy, outgoing and cheeky kid I’m proud to call my own.

And that’s the truth. I’m so proud to call him my son. So proud to be his mum and get to share my time with him. He’s grown up before our very eyes this year, turning from toddler in to fully fledged pre-schooler, with such firm beliefs and strong opinions – that he’s not afraid to voice and which show him to be well on the road to becoming his own person. If my life hasn’t quite panned out the way I would have chosen if choice were an option any of us had, then at least I have my husband and my son in the life that I do have.

And as for me? Well I had my five minutes of fame in Mother and Baby magazine. My job continues to be a source of both great satisfaction and also, at times great stress. But I’ve hit some career development goals this year, even in the midst of the IVF turmoil, and of that I’m proud. We also bought a new car in the summer, and finally, after 15 years, I got my driving licence back this month, which will open up so many more opportunities for us in the New Year. I’ve also remained mostly heathy, and achieved another year – 31 in total – of living well with type 1 diabetes remaining, at least for now, complication free. And, well, I underwent a lot of fertility procedures!

It may have been a year of failed fertility endeavours, but it’s also been a year of growing our family in completely different ways. Of cementing our bonds and enriching our lives despite the trials.There has been incredible sadness and heartbreak. But there has been incredible happiness too.

Yes, it’s not been all bad at all.

And things can only get better.

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Me and Mine – December 2014

So here we are – the final day of 2014 and the final Me and Mine portrait of the year. My intention, after missing several months last year, was to ensure that I tried my best to participate every month this year. I guess I did try, but I certainly didn’t succeed! Sadly that seems to be a bit of a theme as far as participation in this kind of thing goes. My Living Arrows posts petered out after I got behind and well… excuses, excuses!

To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure about contributing this month. Somehow the only pictures I can find of all three of us over this festive period are some horribly grainy selfies taken to share our family efforts at Christmas jumpers.

The thing is – I’ve said it before – the fact that these pictures are of horrible quality actually matters less than the fact that they exist at all. If I hadn’t seized that opportunity one evening to capture a quick snap, we wouldn’t have any pictures of the three of us as a family from this month.

And continuing that theme, I guess it doesn’t matter that I haven’t managed to take, or sometimes just share, a family picture every single month. At least I have some pictures, and that is always better than none. When I look back at the Me and Mine portraits I have shared this year, they fill me with warm fuzzies. I know that my family may not look exactly how I may have hoped and dreamed, but it’s my family nonetheless and I love my happy, daft, kind, generous and devoted boys more than the words can say.

So I’ll leave you with our silly selfie. Yes, my jumper is flashing. If you’re going to do a Christmas jumper, you may as well do it properly!

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dear beautiful

2014: A Year In Blog Posts

It’s that time of year already: The closing moments of twelve calendar months that make up the year and the time when we inevitably look back and reflect, before looking forward to the new year. I’m not naive enough to believe that the turn of the calendar page, the ticking over of the clock, really makes some monumental shift to our existence. Things won’t cease to feel the way they feel now at tomorrow’s midnight chime. But years are one of the many ways we mark time, and they do offer a theoretical blank slate and fresh start. It’s natural to segment our lives by these arbitrary date divisions.

One of the ways I’ve used to reflect upon 2014 is a look back through some of my blog archives. Flipping through post titles and opening paragraphs reminded me of a review meme I’ve taken part in before. And so, prompted by its appearance  yesterday on the same blog where I very first saw it – Six Until Me – I decided to repeat the exercise.

It would appear, from these opening lines of favourite and defining posts from each month of the year, that 2014 did indeed become “The year of IVF”. Or perhaps more fittingly “The year of infertility hell”. There has been much, much more to the year as well, but I’ll let this review stand not only because I’m proud of some of this writing, but because in years to come I know that it is exactly what I will remember this year for the most.

That, and the better aspects of the year deserve their own review!

January: If I’d ever imagined a caricature of conception, then the egg would have been cool and mysterious, aloof even.

February: I’m writing this with a photograph of you in my hand.

March: Wow, what a difference a week makes. And, because this one is also important to me: Wanting another child who is biologically mine – and my husband’s – does not make me a bad person, in exactly the same way that wanting a second child at all does not make me a bad person.

April: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

May: At a quarter past six this morning, with pale sunlight working its way around the edges of the blinds and Thomas chattering happily to his trains in his room, my heart broke just a little bit more.

June: I’m struggling a bit with writing here at the moment.

July: If at first you don’t succeed… …should you try again?

August: This week has been a tough week on the infertility front.

September: This month marks two years of trying for our second child.

October: It’s odd how a make or break moment of my life has come down to a plastic stick and three minutes. 

November: I didn’t know how I’d got where I found myself.

December: A couple of weeks ago we returned to our fertility clinic for a “follow-up” appointment after our last failed cycle.

Who knows where 2015 will take us…

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Emotions at Christmas

I like Christmas, just as much as the next person. The festive cheer and the pervading spirit of fun, generosity and love warms me up on the coldest of winter days. Gifts – the giving, surprisingly, more than the receiving – fill me with pleasure. I love the decorations – the sparkle and twinkle greeting me in the darkness at the end of a long day, making everything seem brighter than the time of year should dictate. I love the food – dare I say it, the indulgence. Most of all I love the tradition that is entwined through the season. The memories that cannot help but spring to mind as we navigate the festivities. I love it all.

Yet at the same time, it can be an incredibly difficult time of year. Emotions run high and time is often in short supply, fueling stress and tension. Never has the paradox been more evident for me than during this Christmas season.

This year has been especially magical in so many regards. At just-turned three the magic for Thomas is absolute. His complete belief in Father Christmas was heart warming to watch. He couldn’t wait to make a special mince pie for the man himself. He had absolutely no doubt at all that he would be coming down the chimney, and he was completely convinced that the reindeer themselves were responsible for the mess of reindeer food in our garden, and Father Christmas for the crumbs by the fireplace. At the same time, he had such minimal and simplistic expectations and such carefully marshalled excitement. The anticipation and the magic were almost enough. We didn’t go overboard with gifts, and he was entirely content with what he received. It all seemed so far removed from the tackiness and consumerism that can so easily take over. It was pure fun and a joy to behold.

Yet at the same time, the whole season has been tinged with a feeling a sadness for me. The adherence to tradition has allowed the ghost of Christmas past to sweep in with memories which, whilst not entirely unhappy, have prompted the realisation of yet more things that will not be. Spectres of Christmases future that will not come to pass have hung heavy. I have felt, almost more acutely than at any other moment this year, the absence of another child.

I don’t know what it is about Christmas that seems to heighten feelings of grief, loss and absence. Perhaps it’s because expectations run high and we all seek a bit of perfection, highlighting to ourselves in the process all the dissatisfaction we feel with our lives. Perhaps. But truly I think it’s simpler than that. The focus on family draws attention not only to what is there and the love that we share, but also what is not there. Traditions can feel hollow and cheer can be hard to muster when something is missing.

Taking in Thomas’s wonderment at everything Christmas, I couldn’t help but think back to his very first Christmas, three years ago. Just six weeks old, he had absolutely no clue about any of it, yet he was captivated by the sparkle and lay transfixed by the fairy lights for the longest time, smiling smiles that split his face in half and cracked my heart too. And inevitably I thought of the baby we lost. The baby who would have been a very similar age this Christmas. The baby that Thomas would have lent the smaller of his two stocking to, before helping him or her open a couple of token gifts. I thought too, of what we may have had if things had gone closer to my ideal. We’d have had an eighteen month old toddling around, still not quite “getting it” all, but having plenty of fun nonetheless, old enough to be led in to mischief by their big brother.

Just to type it brings tears to my eyes.

At Christmas, you can’t deny so easily what is missing.

I live with the fact that we won’t have a child every single day now. I suppose slowly, I’m beginning to process it and start the long road to acceptance. To moving on. Christmas, in some ways, has felt like a massive set back in that journey. I’m only too aware of how small our family feels, and how it is shrinking with the generations. I fear for Christmases in the future, when Thomas has no siblings to share them with. No rowdy rabbles of twenty round the dinner table. Tradition means so much to me, yet I can see it all fading before my eyes.

But most of all, I feel incredibly sad for what we so almost had.

Once again, this feels self-indulgent. Self centred. Compared to what others have been through this year, and this festive season, I have so little to complain about.

But I cannot help how I feel.

And how I feel is like the final flicker of a fused fairy light. The last gasp of a punctured inflatable snowman. The crumbs on the mince pie plate.

I feel deflated. Washed out.I feel more than ever as though something is missing.

No matter how selfish it may be, I simply feel grief for the family I will never have.

Room on the Broom at Christmas

Last Christmas, we took Thomas to the theatre for the very first time. We saw a production at The Unicorn Theatre entitled “The Night Before Christmas” which was based around the well-known verse. It was perfectly pitched for his age, and became the first of several theatre trips this year. But sadly, when it came to seeing what the Unicorn had to offer this season, there wasn’t really anything aimed quite at his age group and interest level, which led to us looking elsewhere for a Christmas theatre trip.

We considered Pantomine, obviously. And whilst Thomas loves the theatre and I think would have no trouble sitting through a Panto – and even enjoying it – I just felt that we might be better saving this British institution for another year, until he was even better able to get in to it. We also considered the West-End production of “The Snowman” and Thomas was completely obsessed with the television version last year (I think we watched it every day for a month!). It turns out he still loves it this year, but the stage show is incredibly expensive – it would have cost well over £100 for the three of us to go. I don’t mind splashing out for great theatre (and by all accounts the show is good) but I didn’t want to gamble that much money on Thomas completely enjoying it. he can still be unpredictable in what entertains or scares him!

So in the end we settled on “Room on the Broom” – a Julia Donaldson favourite around here. Granted it’s not an especially festive tale, but this was more about having some special family time to look forward to in the run up to Christmas itself than being purely related to the season. The tickets were also raesonably priced and there were both morning and early afternoon times to choose from.

It turned out that we had chosen a day that was to bring beautiful weather to London. Clear, crisp and incredibly bright, with that low winter sun that seems to give everything added sparkle. We headed up a little early and went to see the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square, before taking a wander across Leicester Square and up to the Lyric theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue.

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It’s fair to say that the show did not disappoint. I’m always intrigued about how relatively short children’s books will be adapted in to a longer show, and how faithful they will be to the original text. In this case there is some additional scene setting and plenty of singing that does not use verse from the original book, but it is completely recognisable. There is a great amount of repetition for younger viewers too, and Thomas stayed absolutely engaged throughout the just-over-an-hour show.I was slightly concerned that he may find the dragon scary, but I needn’t have worried at all.

This is the first Julia Donaldson inspired stage production that we’ve seen, although I know there are many others out there. I’d definitely recommend it as a great introduction to theatre if you have a Donaldson fan!

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Following the morning show, we walked back across London, enjoying the beautiful weather. Thomas wanted to cross the Hungerford Bridge (is it still even called that?!) to see the trains on their way in to Charing Cross, which made his day. We then made our way over to the Southbank Christmas market and ended up having lunch in Wagamama. (Given how fussy an eater Thomas is, this is an odd one, but Wagamama, along with Pizza Express, is one place that he absolutely guaranteed to love). Our celebrity spot of the day in here was Russel Brand!

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The market itself was very busy, but there was plenty on offer. We didn’t end up spending long as Thomas was pretty tired, and we had already had plenty of Christmas market experience in Brussels.

It was a lovely family day out though, and the tradition of seeing a theatre show in the run up to Christmas is now well and truly cemented!

And Thomas… fell asleep on the train home!

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A Christmas Pudding in the Preschool Nativity

Last Friday was one of those parenting milestone moments for me. It was Thomas’s very first preschool nativity performance.

I don’t care that they’re only three and four years old. I don’t care that it’s not “proper” school and so, according to some “not a proper nativity”. I don’t care that the children didn’t do any acting, and only a couple of them had anything to say. It may just seem to be a glorified sing-along to some, but it was Thomas’s – along with his friends’ – first chance to stand up on a stage and perform something that they’d practiced really hard for in front of their families. And they all sang their hearts out.

There were traditional nativity characters – Mary, Joseph, Kings, shepherds and angels. They stood at the front during a short reading of the Christmas story, and whilst everyone sang carols including “Little Donkey” and “Away in a Manger”.
There were also plenty of other Christmas characters – Father Christmas, reindeer, snowmen and the like, which fitted with the many other songs the children sang. Thomas’s part? The Christmas pudding! I racked up some serious Mummy-points by making his costume myself – it was a very simple tabard style outfit made from felt and had the advantage for the nursery staff of being light and very easy to put on!

Thomas absolutely loved it all. From the moment he spotted us when we arrived, through the part where he ran down the aisle to me where I was seated just after they’d been walked on stage (yes, I was the mum walking my child back up on to the stage – and yes, I had a tear in my eye at his overwhelming enthusiasm) to his actions and dancing on stage and waving to us throughout. All of that is what I will remember forever more. No question at all that this was a special moment.

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Santa Special

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When your son is a complete train obsessive and your local heritage railway run dedicated festive services, there is really only one option of where to go to meet the big man in red. Add the fact that we took Thomas on the local “Santa Special” service last year – and it’s fair to say that he really loved it – so why take the chance of going elsewhere and having an overwhelmed pre-schooler on our hands when we knew this would be a massive hit?

So last Sunday we set out bright and early for Eridge station to join the train in what could easily become a family Christmas tradition. We enjoyed the lovely log fire in the waiting room, and hot chocolate (or orange juice, in Thomas’s case!) in the buffet car before the train pulled in to take us on our way.

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This year, in contrast to last year’s set up, Father Christmas actually visited each child on the train to have a few words and give them a little gift. (I won’t spoil the surprise in case anyone is going on the same trip, but it’s a decent quality item with plenty of play value.) Father Christmas then posed in his sleigh in the engine sheds at Tunbridge Wells. This actually worked very well as it meant each child got two opportunities to see him (and this would be helpful with a child prone to getting shy, overwhelmed or otherwise potentially distressed) and it also cut down the waiting time in the engine sheds as each family was only posing for photos, rather than also getting their gift and chatting to Father Christmas for a while.

Thomas is at a really perfect age for becoming completely wrapped up in the magic of Christmas. Although he’s normally full of questions about “why” or “how” it hasn’t occurred to him yet to be anything other than completely absorbed by the magic of the season. I know that we won’t have that long until it begins to fade, so I want to clutch it hard whilst it is here. Seeing the look on his face when the big man arrived in our compartment was one of those moments I’ll treasure.

Thomas very sweetly whispered to Father Christmas to remind him what he had written in his letter, and Father Christmas was happy that he’d come on his train ride, given that he wants trains for Christmas!

He also very happily climbed aboard the sleigh for photos, which was something I’d been unsure that he would actually want to do!

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IMG_6631(That is my mum, hiding behind Thomas!)

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IMG_6723(Father Christmas climbing back aboard the train for the return journey)

We then got the train back to Eridge, complete with a visit from a balloon modeller (yes, the same guy again!) Thomas was suitably impressed with his sausage dog that had eaten a single sprout! We also had delicious mince pies, and a train shaped shortbread for Thomas, included in the ticket price.

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Thomas absolutely loved the train ride, quite apart form seeing Father Christmas. He spent a good deal of the time with his face out of the window shouting about the trees, tracks, animals and steam that he could see.

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He wasn’t too happy about leaving the train when we got back to Eridge, but we had a table waiting in a local pub for a delicious lunch… and The Polar Express to watch (again) when we got home!

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We went on The Spa Valley Railway Santa Special Service but paid for our own tickets and all thoughts are our own. I can highly recommend this trip, especially if you have a little train enthusiast, and similar service operate at other heritage railways across the country.