“I Want a Brother” and Other Things That Make Me Immeasurably Sad

I see a lot of blog posts about positivity. About happiness. About the simple things that bring joy.

This is not one of those posts.

It may not be “the done thing” to make a list of negatives, and there may not be a linky for “top sad moments of the week”, but this place is my honest outlet. The place to share and offload how I’m really feeling, downs and all.

And this week had a real downer.

Last Wednesday, amongst recurring tantrums that I wasn’t doing exactly what Thomas wanted (despite his lack of communication on what that was) as we played together, and outbursts of anger that he wasn’t capable – or at least thought he wasn’t capable – of doing certain things that he wanted came a mega strop at me. It was provoked by my momentary unavailability to be a train, or whatever the game of the moment was. I was trying to prep for dinner, hang a load of wet laundry and answer a couple of important – as in “must-be-done-before-5pm-type – emails simultaneously. All I’d asked of Thomas, after a day spent in London together, and then playing together for a couple of hours, was that he play on his own for a bit.

If there is one thing that my son is not great at, it’s playing on his own. He’s a people person and always wants a playmate.

So when I asked him again to give me five minutes he hurled a real cracker at me:

“I want a brother. Then I’ll always have someone to play with me.”

It’s fair to say, I finished up in bits. I know that’s he’s not capable of intentionally trying to wound with words and that he couldn’t possibly comprehend their power. But my goodness, it fucking hurt.

Leaving the obvious aside for a moment, it was a sock in the gut because it was the preschooler equivalent of “I hate you.” In that one small sentence, he was telling me that I wasn’t good enough because I don’t play with him enough. He wanted someone other than me, who would be a better playmate.

It doesn’t matter that the rational part of my brain knows that this isn’t true – I spend huge amounts of time immersed in his games, down on the floor, building train tracks, acting out the fat controller, playing snap or snakes and ladders. We play with Playdoh and paints. We cook together and stick stickers together. It’s a simple fact of life that, sadly, I also have other things that must be done and I cannot be one hundred percent available to Thomas one hundred percent of the time.

But that’s not how Thomas perceives it, and no matter how silly, it still hurts.

But of course, it’s worse than that. Because I would dearly have loved to give Thomas a sibling. If you read regularly, you cannot fail to know that.

I know that that too is not as simple as it sounds. Even if we had fallen pregnant the first month of trying, that child would be almost two and so only really now beginning to be capable of participating in Thomas’s games. And that is assuming that they even wanted to. Having another child could have raised a whole lot of different issues, with Thomas constantly screaming that they were ruining his games, or taking his toys. With me unable to leave them together for fear of them falling out or hurting one another. Having another child is no guarantee that they’ll be friends or playmates. I know that.

But once again, it’s Thomas’s perception that counts. He’s suddenly decided that a sibling would equal a permanent play mate, and for a child who always wants to be with others, that’s huge.

And of course, it’s the one thing that I can’t do.

I would give everything I own to make it happen. But I can’t. And this, the first time of Thomas openly articulating a request for a sibling, stung me to my very core.

Somehow this moment opened the floodgates and turned my sensitivity meter to high, because for the next twenty four hours, everything seemed to hurt. I’m getting pretty good at suppressing the sadness associated with our infertility, and avoiding the things that trigger it, Thomas’s comment was like picking at a scab, and then I just couldn’t leave it alone.

Amongst other things, I took myself on to Facebook. I don’t really use Facebook anymore, and there’s an obvious reason why not: It seems that EVERYONE has either just had a baby, or is pregnant. Scrolling through all the pictures in my newsfeed made me realise just how many people who hadn’t even had their first child when we started trying for a second now have their second child too. Which in turn made me realise that from the point that we started to try for Thomas, to the point that we started to try again having already had him was a shorter period of time that we’ve now been attempting to have another baby. I don’t know why that upset me specifically, but it did. Possibly because it made me realise just how much of my life this has taken up.

Then elsewhere online, there seemed to be a lot of baby talk and rather than turn a blind eye and move on to something else, I kept reading. I saw conversations unfolding where people talked almost carelessly of how and when they will have another child. They talked about how long they are leaving it to start trying because it needs to fit in with their plans, or they have a dream about how it will all fit together.

When I see stuff like this I feel like butting in and telling them to just get the hell on with it, because it turns out that you can’t truly plan these things. Fertility has no regard for your dreams. I want to cringe at their naivety that it can all be so easy just because they’ve done it once before.

But then, once I was that naive. I did it too.

And the honest truth is that, for the very vast majority of people, their plans and dreams will come to fruition.

Just for us, they didn’t.

How I wish for those carefree moments of assumption back.

How I wish it were all different.

How I wish I could give Thomas the sibling he asked for.

Losing Touch in the Facebook Era

imageI have a confession to make. Yeah, another one.

I don’t really like Facebook.

Okay, okay, these days that’s not so uncommon. It seems like hoards of people are jumping up and down to decry what was certainly once the world’s premier social network. And I have a lot of the same concerns as those people. I worry about issues of privacy. I get tired of the same inane links doing the rounds. I don’t need to know what someone I once went to primary school with had for their lunch, nor hear about their child’s potty training exploits. And for an infertile, Facebook can simply be an enormously painful place, full of scan pictures, bump pictures and happy announcements, the like of which I’ll never have another opportunity to annoy others with. The Facebook timeline can easily become a constantly updated reminder of your infertility, and surely no one willingly wants to expose themselves to that torture over, and over, again.

Beyond the hurt and upset all that baby news can bring, however, is a greater potential for my heart to ache, and a deeper cause of my current dislike for Facebook and the methods of tenuous social connection it’s spawned.

You see, it takes just a few minutes of clicking around to find out a good deal about the lives of people who were once really important to me, and to whom I was something more than a “friend” on a list, picture on a screen or short status update. It takes just minutes to find their wedding pictures, and the fact that they have a beautiful baby now. All four of their sisters are easy to click through to, also with spouses and almost enough kids for a football team between them. I can chart their moves around the country, and stops around the world. All without having spoken directly to any of them in several years. In fact, to the youngest of those sisters, I’m almost certainly an unknown, for she was just Thomas’s age the last time I saw her in person.

This isn’t heartache about the “one who got away” in a traditional sense. It’s not wishing I were married to that person instead (In case you were in any doubt, I wouldn’t change my husband or child for the world – my ending may be differently shaped than I imagined, but it’s still happy). It’s more the reminder that they once were there, and thanks to the online world that reminder is almost impossible to suppress. Sometimes I guess we’d all like to know what ever happened to those friends and lovers of yesteryear and even lose ourselves in the fantasy of what our lives might have been like if we’d taken a different path. But there’s a difference between idle daydreaming and actually being able to see how the story unfolded. Thanks to the interent, it’s pretty easy to get a real idea of that.

And that’s great. It really often is. But also it leads to wondering. Wondering if you hadn’t moved from friends to lovers, whether you’d still be good friends now. Or worse, to realising that you almost certainly could have been friends still. That you’re over the moon for them that everything seemed to work itself out after that shaky start to adulthood back in the late nineties. That you get real pleasure from seeing their happy ending.

And then, inevitably, you wonder just why it all faded away.

I can’t help but think that, wonderful though social media can be for relieving isolation and creating new connections, it actually does a disservice to those vital, long-established and well-worn, real-world connections that we’d fostered in the old fashioned way for years, the relationships that made up our past and contributed to who we are in our present. Thanks to the ease with which we can now find our classmates of thirty years ago, or that person you met on holiday and wrote – pen and paper style – to for months after you got home, we tend to assume that everyone is still within easy reach.

That’s the problem. That’s what I dislike.

In short, I think that Facebook makes us feel far more connected than we really are. It makes us lazy about keeping up the connections. Sometitmes we’re lazy about it until we realise that they’re gone. They slipped through our fingers whilst we were busy wading through game requests, memes and endless personality quizzes. And then, as the final insult, Facebook rubs it in our faces, showing us those lives we were so nearly privy to and intensifying the sense of sadness.

I know it’s not all down to Facebook. Obviously friendships take work and effort from both sides and at the end of the day I only have myself to blame for the people I’ve allowed to slip away. But I do think that social media doesn’t really promote cherishing the old. It facilitates the new. The always moving forwards. Despite the hoards of people that we haven’t seen in years that populate so many people’s friend lists, it doesn’t really help us keep up those relationships in a true sense.

The internet gives us more connections. But often they’re more tenuous, or more more fragile than any of us are willing to acknowledge. And despite all the ways there are to keep in touch, amongst the crowded webs of connections, it sometimes it feels harder to actually do so with the people that actually mean something in our life stories. Harder than ever before, when landline telephones and envelopes and stamps forced us to make the proper effort.

It seems sad that these days we all move on so quickly. I’m sure it didn’t used to be this way.

(This post is dedicated to Simon – I’m sure you’ll know who you are – and his sisters, should any of them every happen to stumble across it. I know that the cracks in this particular relationship pre-date Facebook, but I’m still sad about it, and sad that I can see the pattern repeating over and over for others around me.)

A Walk in Knole Park

I’ve written before about how much I love our National Trust membership, but now that I’m able to drive again, I’m loving it even more. With driving comes the freedom to nip to any one of the glorious spaces close to our home here in Kent. I no longer have to wait for the weekend, or someone else to give me lift to some of the more inaccessible sites. If the mood takes us, we can simply hop in the car and go.

So last week, we did just that. I needed to be in Sevenoaks in the afternoon anyway and it was a beautifully bright, if cold, day. So we decided to pop in Knole park for run around in the mud and a chance to spot some deer. (And, if I’m honest, to get Thomas to burn off some energy after some nightmare behaviour the previous day from too much pent up steam!) Thomas has been to Knole countless times since he was born, just as I went countless times as a child before him. It’s an amazing open space and something about the air and the light means I never fail to catch at least one photo that I love.

Thomas had a fantastic couple of hours racing up hills and through puddles, peering through cracks in the wall and the keyhole in a gate he spied. Armed with paper and crayon, I attempted to teach the idea of bark and leaf rubbing, with some fun results. We ate our lunch outdoors (as the tearoom and restaurant here is currently undergoing drastic rebuilding and refurbishment). Thomas climbed inside an old tree stump, and balanced his way along logs, tightrope style. When it was time to leave he begged to stay “just a bit longer” racing away from amongst the trees and inviting me to chase him. We took away a considerable amount of mud, both on our boots and on our car but Thomas was suitably worn out and promptly fell asleep during my afternoon errands!

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Running at Knole Running at Knole2

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Me and Mine – February 2015

Yes, we’re so far in to March that it’s almost April. And so no, I couldn’t be much later with this post if I tried. But here it is anyway, in the interests of being better late than never, and because I don’t want to be the blogger -never mind the person – that can never commit to anything, or see anything through.

It’s true that I’m far closer to being that kind of person right now than anything else. I want to be… so many things: more productive, more organised, more efficient, more creative. But more than anything I want to be more motivated to be these things. I want to recapture the enthusiasm and zest that I once had. I don’t want to be floundering in the sea of “can’t be arsed” that threatens to overwhelm me at any minute. It may seem that the reasons for my apathy don’t require genius to deduce, but like so much of life, it isn’t all as straightforward as it appears.

But this. This is definitely the thing that keeps me going: My family.

Small. Different to how I once imagined. But mine. Ours. Us.

We’re good. Even if one of us is bored by the fifth or sixth take it took to get this! Even if my hair is a disaster and my trousers are wrinkled. We fit together.

And I’d be lost without them.

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dear beautiful

Favourite Preschool Apps Part One: Books and Book Characters

I know that the use of technology like tablets and smart phones by children remains a divisive parenting topic. However I’ve come to the conclusion that not only is it not all bad, but it’s actually pretty essential that we let our kids master these things. Sure, technology should never be the only tool in the armoury, or a permanent substitute parent or babysitter (but let’s face it, many of us have used a game on a phone on tablet to occupy a child when we have something we must get done) but it’s the way the world is going. Scratch that. It’s the way the world has gone. Children need to master touch controls, web browsing and other associated skills just as much as they need to be able to read and write. And it follows that it makes sense to let them begin to learn these necessary skills as young children.

Add to that the fact that there are a huge number of apps and games available that do have more than a modicum of educational content, and letting a preschooler loose on a tablet really becomes a no-brainer. So in recent months we’ve been increasingly using the iPad together to explore topics from basic maths and phonics through science to creative play and storytelling.

Of course one of the most difficult things to do as a parent is sorting the wheat from the chaff in terms of which games to play. I’ve spent a lot of time searching for reviews of favourites apps for Thomas’s age group – preferably those which aren’t biased and don’t just say “This is great, my three year old really loves it.” Yes, that’s lovely, but the question is will my three year old really love it? I’ve also found that a lot of the summary reviews are US based, which can colour the opinion of an app.

So having spent a lot of time reviewing various apps for ourselves, I decided to put together my own review post of the apps we use the most and our honest thoughts on them. Originally it was going to be just that: a post. But then I realised just how many apps we use and decided it was going to have to be a series if I wanted to cover the subject with any depth and credibility.

So this is Part One (of an as yet undetermined number but future installemnts will include maths and number games, phonics and reading, plus general games). This installment covers our favourite book based apps and games based on famous children’s book characters. (There are of course many, many children’s ebooks available too – lots of them free – but those are beyond the scope of this series.)

A couple of quick notes before we begin:

iOS vs Android: I use an iPhone 5 and an iPad. My husband is Android through and through. Many of the apps I’ve reviewed are available on both, but for various reasons we keep most of Thomas’s stuff to iOS, and I haven’t had the energy to do a full comparison – sorry!

Prices: I’ve included app prices where possible, but obviously these are subject to change. Before anyone concludes that I’m made of money, we did specifically ask for some App Store vouchers for Thomas at Christmas in order to purchase some of these. After all, he has enough toys! In general I prefer apps which have a “Lite” or free version to try first (and in some cases we use this without upgrading). I prefer to avoid lots of in-app purchases, the exception being if the original download is free and then releasing the full content is an in-app purchase, as this is often easier than having to re-download a second “full” app.

Kids are all different: as noted above, all children are different. I’ve reviewed what appeals to me and Thomas (three years and four months at the time of writing) but I hope that I’ve provided enough information for you to decide if it will suit your child. I’ve deliberately avoided calling this a “Top Ten” list, as everyone’s top ten will be different!

And a word about safety: I always use “Guided Access” mode on both my iPhone and iPad (triple click the home button). If you’re not familiar with this fantastic feature, it basically locks your child in to the app they are using and requires the passcode to exit (just make sure you child does not know yours!) You can also customise this mode to suit you in various ways.

 

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Bizzy Bear on the Farm and Bizzy Bear Builds a House. (£2.49 each. No free trial. No in-app purchases. British Accent and British English)
We’ve had these apps, from Nosy Crow, for quite a while. They are based on the Bizzy Bear board books but in place of the pop ups and sliders in the physical versions, these have various interactive tasks on each “page”. You can help Bizzy Bear to put on his boots, or hard hard, and then complete activities such as feeding the pigs, rounding up sheep, collecting eggs, digging a hole and shovelling and dumping sand.  There is a story woven through each app with the option to have it read aloud or “Read by Myself” for older children. They can get fairly repetitive, but Thomas still loves these apps months on, and they are ones that he can confidently play with by himself with no adult input.

 

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CBeebies Storytime (Free, no in-app purchases. British Accent and British English)
This app from the BBC is based around favourite CBeebies characters, although even if your child does not watch much CBeebies they will probably enjoy the stories. Certainly Tho,as has never watched the Octonauts or Grandpa in my Pocket, but still enjoys these stories. The app is laid out like a giant story book, and again there are options to read by yourself or hear them out loud. Each story has some interactive elements, such as tapping the mouse’s nose, and at thee d there are multiple choice questions about the story to answer. The only issue with this app – which again Thomas can manage unsupervised – is that it can be buggy, sometimes losing the sound and requiring a restart.

 

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Gruffalo Games (£2.99 no free trial and no in-app purchases.)
This app has a nice selection of games all beautifully themed around Julia Donaldson’s character with Axel Scheffler’s trademark illustrations. Developed by the creators of the animated film, it also uses music from the animations, giving it a familiar feel throughout. The games include snap, which as a nice touch you can play against the Gruffalo himself, noughts and crosses and matching and jigsaw games. The latter two are unusual amongst preschool games apps as the matching game is not the usual “hidden pairs” type but a timed race to match face-up pictures in wholes or halves. The “jigsaws” are actually slider type puzzles which whilst a bit too complex for Thomas at the moment would be great for older kids for whomthe usual six piece jigsaws in such games are a little too easy. Other games include nut catch – where you need to guide the mouse to catch falling nuts from above whilst avoiding other falling objects – and marching bugs – which is a timed pattern matching and sequencing game. Overall it’s an app with a nice variety, but some supervision tends to be required for my three year old as some elements are a little difficult for him and liable to cause frustration!

 

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Room on the Broom Games (£2.99 No free trial but no in-app purchases)
Similarly to the Gruffalo Games, this is based on Julia Donaldson’s Characters and Axel Scheffler’s illustrations.  I find the initial menus a bit dizzying, as various objects fly by, but it’s nice that these are not just a re-hash of the Gruffalo Games with different branding. The games include a star chase, where you help the witch fly from star to star and then guess what object her trail has drawn, the chance to search for the witches various lost objects and an interactive dot-to-dot style game. There is the chance to win medals depending on how well you perform in each game too. Overall the level of difficulty is probably slightly higher tha. The Gruffalo Games, but there is still plenty suitable for a three year old too.

 

IMG_0053Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Farm (£0.79 No in-app purchases. British accent and British English)
We bought this app after being given the book version of the Flip Flap Safari. The app is a bargain out price compared to the books, and is fantastic for it’s portability. At this age I feel it is an app to share, as the fun is in making up hilarious animals by matching halves of various farm animals, and pre-schoolers will require an adult to read the mashed up names to them. (the Squrkey is a favourite in this house) Although there is a “Read to Me” option, this is fairly slow and reads out the short poem associated with each animal half every time. Thomas certainly prefers to flip through the animals – each one being met with a peal of laughter – quite quickly initially, so we do this together, selecting specific combinations to read the full prose for. It’s a great value app with lots of entertainment value for the grown ups too!

 

IMG_0055The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Friends (Trial version available free, full version £2.99 with no in-app purchases. American accent)
We’ve so far only used the free version of this app which has limited functionality. It is a beautiful app, faithful to Eric Carle’s illustrative style and with some stunning 3d pop-up effects. The main potential drawback for a British audience is the American accent. Games include spot-the-difference, an animated sticker book and a fairly standard assisted jigsaw puzzle game. The graphics are lovely, although there doesn’t seem to be anything else particularly special about this app.

Probably the major issues I have with most of these apps is not taking over myself – as beating the high score in the Gruffalo nut catch can be a bit addictive! – and also making sure that Thomas doesn’t spend too much time on them. Lately he’s taken to asking for “an app” first thing every morning. As I said, they have educational value, but not at the expense of all other forms of play. We continue to strive for balance, but apps remain my go-to when I have something pressing to get sorted!

Let me know in the comments if you have any personal favourites and look out for Part Two, coming soon!

Talking to Thomas About Diabetes

I’ve read a few things from mothers with diabetes over the last couple of years about the conversations they’ve had with their kids about their condition. Some of these people have had much older children, capable of really understanding the ins and outs of diabetes, and from whom it would be almost impossible to hide the tell tale signs of living with it. Others have pre-school age kids, more like Thomas. And it is some of those whose kids astound me with how much they already seem to know.

I have a confession to make on that front. I’ve never, knowingly at least, used the word “diabetes” in front of my now three-and-a-quarter (the quarter’s important dontchaknow?!) year old son. And I’m pretty sure it’s not a word which is in his otherwise extensive vocabulary.

Obviously Thomas has seen my insulin pump, and asked what it is. He’s seen my testing kit, seen me using it and revelled in the fact that it churns out numbers – his second favourite thing after trains (yeah, I’m waaaay down on that list!) He’s seen me chugging Lucozade to treat a low and asked what it is, or what I’m doing. In every single one of these cases I’ve replied with the very generic “Mummy’s medicine”.

It’s an answer he happily accepts. He knows that he has medicine when he doesn’t feel well, but he also knows gets what he calls “medicine” every day in the form of vitamin syrup, so “medicine” doesn’t have purely negative connotations for him. And it’s not an outright lie. These are things that I’m doing, or taking, in order to keep myself healthy and ready for whatever Thomas needs from me.

I don’t really know *why* I haven’t told him more than that. Or, at least, it’s not simple to explain.

To say it’s because I don’t think he would understand would be doing him a massive disservice. He’s a bright boy and, more than that, a deeply empathetic and caring one too. It’s fair to say that I currently have no idea exactly how I would explain it to him, how much detail to include or what words to use, but that is as much because I haven’t given any thought as because it might be hard to do. I’m sure that I could come up with the words if I really wanted to.

I do wonder sometimes if it’s because I don’t want Thomas to regard me as I some way “broken”. Thomas sees me as his Mummy – an absolute, reliable constant. He knows that I give good hugs, always come when he needs me and can kiss almost any bump or scrape better. I don’t want anything to cloud that image.

It’s rather like how I felt back when I was a new mum and was witness to debates about post-pregnancy bodies and “snapping back in to shape”. Back then, I couldn’t actually have cared less how I looked because Thomas didn’t. All he cared about was my presence. All he wanted from my body was its warmth and security and milk – all of which he got in abundance. I want Thomas to go on not caring about my body and it’s workings, or lack thereof, just the person that I am to him. I could argue that I don’t want to do anything to jeopardise the perfection that Thomas sees in me even if I don’t see it myself, no matter how daft that may sound.

And of course, there is what other people might think of me to consider too. If Thomas were acutely aware of diabetes, I have no doubt at all that it would be a daily topic of conversation around the pre-school lunch table. Thomas can’t help but keep re-iterating to everyone there that his mummy wears glasses (and contact lenses). It’s just a fact about me that he’s fond of repeating. But what if I only wore lenses and I weren’t comfortable for everyone to know? And honestly, where diabetes is concerned, I don’t necessarily want everyone to know.

That may sound strange coming from someone who posts the intimate details of her life online (hello, not sharing my full name) and someone who is incredibly comfortable with impromptu advocacy and education sessions when the teachable moment arises. I guess I’m fine talking about it openly once people know, but the letting them know in the first place is awkward for me. I’m never sure how people might react and a lot of that relates to my profession and how people would regard me if they knew I had a laundry list of chronic health problems with diabetes right up there at the top. Chief amongst my faults is caring too much what people think of me, but once that information is out there, I can’t take it back, so I’m hesitant around those who don’t know.

And maybe it really is as simple as that. Maybe I’m just hesitant about letting my son know at all because it’s something I just find difficult to do even when the person in question loves me more unconditionally that anyone else in my world.

Maybe it’s just too hard.

Before I started writing this post, and I wondered to myself exactly what the reasoning was behind my reticence, it crossed my mind that I might be protecting him from a reality that he shouldn’t need to worry about yet. But at the same time I realised that Thomas is about to reach the very age I was when I was diagnosed, and it became not just an abstract idea, or something that applied to someone else, but my very own reality.

Perhaps it’s time to give my son the credit he is due, get over my hang ups and let him process the information in the way I’m very sure he is capable of doing. After all, it may be hard for me to share the story with him, but it must have been a whole lot harder for my parents to share it with me.

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Any tips on how to have conversations that you find hard with pre-school aged children will be gratefully received!