Are we the Kind of Parents Who…

…Would send our child to a private school?

(tl;dr We’re sending our son to a private school. I hope that you won’t judge me for that, but I know many people will. Below lies an explanation for our choice, and why I feel that calling private education “unfair” is unfair in itself. We’re doing this because it is the right school for our son, and because we’re in the fortunate position – through hard work – to be able to make that choice. I don’t think private education is always “better” nor that there is necessarily anything wrong with a state education, this is just what is right for us.)

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I’ve known, ever since I first tried to write a post about school choices for Thomas, that I was going to find it hard. As hard as the decisions have been to make themselves. Yet whilst it’s obvious that deciding on what is best for at least seven years of our child’s life and their start in education is a tough parenting milestone, sharing those decisions should surely be easier, right?

Yet it turns out than in making choices that have turned out to be far from straightforward, I’ve had to examine myself and my personal beliefs and challenge the pre-determined assumptions I had about this stage of family life. And now I’m afraid to try and share all of that in a way that won’t make people judge me, or think badly of me, or – worst of all – make me doubt myself by challenging these hard thought out plans and my reasons for them. It turns out that whilst I’m very happy in life to be myself and do what I feel is right, I still have lingering issues with sharing the aspects of me and our life and beliefs that I feel may go against the grain, or invite questioning or criticism. I guess that I still, after all this time, care too much what other people think of me. Ironic, for a blogger, no?

But with change so imminently on the horizon – next week to be exact – it’s time I was honest. I know there will be judgement both of me but also, probably throughout his life, of Thomas because of the decision we have made for him. I know that when it comes to private education there are the supporters, the people who are doing the same and will get where I’m coming from plus the ones who will tell me they wish they could do the same, but circumstances prevent it. Then there are the haters. The ones who believe that everyone should have an equal opportunity in education, that it’s elitist, exclusive and detracts from opportunity for all (and that that is just for starters).

But it is the choice we have made for our only son.

I understand so many of the arguments against private education, but I believe that our choice, in our circumstance, is solid. And given that we will likely face ongoing questioning for it, now is the time to try and get comfortable with that.

Believe me, I never saw this coming. I’m from a decidedly middle class background, but I did not go to a prep school despite the availability of good ones locally. I didn’t imagine that we would send a child to a private school. I certainly never saw private education as “better” because I flourished in the state education system. Ian, on the other hand, attended a private school which he did not enjoy and which did not particularly support his natural aptitudes. Hardly a glowing endorsement. Add to that the fact that I’ve been exposed to plenty of the very worst that public schools can turn out and it’s not much wonder I never had a particular burning desire to put my own children in to the system. And “children” it would have been, had life dealt us a different hand. We’re financially secure thanks to hard work, but that almost certainly wouldn’t have stretched to three concurrent sets of school fees per year.

I can’t quite remember now exactly when we began to re-evaluate. I’m sure that it was during our infertility struggles when we began to realise that life was going to look quite different to how we had hoped. That, and the issues with availability of school places in our town being a constant topic of conversation amongst local parents – from the maternity ward onwards – it was hard not to give it some serious thought.

One of the chief arguments that comes up against private education is that it’s wrong to remove your child from the state system just because you don’t like it. It is more politically correct to remain within the system and change it from the inside out whilst preserving its funding. And I can see that can be quite true for areas with poor educational provision and undersubscribed schools whose funding is dependent on getting as many bums on seats as possible.

But what about areas like ours? We live a few hundred yards from a very good primary school and well under half a mile from another outstanding one. Both are horrendously oversubscribed. So let me make it clear that I have absolutely no issue with the schools that are potentially available to us, or with state education in general, it’s just that in all likelihood those schools won’t be available to us. Obviously things change from year to year, but two years ago we would have secured neither of our closest two schools, and this year we would have secured one by virtue of the local authority forcing them to take a “bulge” year – another issue in itself!

I don’t want to be the parent scrabbling around for a place at the last minute, or facing putting my child in a council-funded taxi to go to one of the outlying village schools which has a place. Nor do I want to be the parent that rushes in to a private school place simply because I don’t like what we are allocated. I wanted to go in to this calmly, with eyes wide open. I wanted to feel I was actually making a decision, not having my hand forced.

The bottom line is that removing my child from the state education system will have absolutely no effect on the funding available to any of those schools (because they will be full anyway) and, best case, it may release a place to someone who is not so fortunate to have alternative options. It may prevent one other person having to travel miles to the nearest available school and actually make a positive impact on that child’s, and family’s experience of primary education.

That last point sits at odds with what a lot of people feel about private education. They think that paying for an education is an unfair advantage because it’s not available to all, rather than seeing it as potentially opening up better opportunities for those without a choice. Development in our town continues apace, and alongside a baby-boom, the squeeze in school places shows no signs of abating. I can say in good conscience that not requiring a state funded school place can only be a helpful thing to the overall situation.

But yes, I have to agree that a private education may present advantages over a state education – although, not always, as it didn’t for my husband. It will almost certainly be better resourced with smaller classes and different opportunities, perhaps most importantly free from the rigidity of a government imposed curriculum and incessant assessment. But is it really “unfair” that we can access that?

We’re fortunate that we can afford it because we’ve worked bloody hard ourselves, all of our lives. I find the notion of it being unfair that some children gain advantages simply by virtue of their birth frankly absurd, as well as insulting. What have I been working hard for all this time of not to give my family the best that I can? Why do we talk of social mobility and closing inequality if not for that very reason – to help more people achieve just that. See, it’s not as selfish as it sounds. It’s not about “buying” the best for my child and sod everyone else. A good, appropriate and personalised education sets a person up to potentially contribute well to the world for the rest of their life. Isn’t that what we all want?

People that feel private education is fundamentally unfair are usually those who believe that education should be an absolutely level playing field for all. And in theory, I agree with that too. Everyone should be able to access a good quality education. It would aid social mobility and potentially help end so many inequalities. I know all these things. But sadly we do need to accept that education will never be a level playing field, no matter what we can achieve with “the system”. Because even if all schools were identical, and all lessons taught by clones with outstanding passion and ability there are many things that can never be the same. Most importantly children are not the same. So what suits one will not suit another. And everything that happens outside the door of the classroom is not level. If you hate the idea of variation in education, or streaming or anything that supposedly gives your child an “advantage” then I hope you don’t read with them at home. Or discuss their homework with them. Or support them by taking them to the library. Or on days out to bring their history lessons alive. Because millions of children don’t have that advantage of a supportive environment at home. They can’t get help with their homework. Yes, that’s a tragedy, but I don’t believe for a second that it means we should stop helping our own kids, otherwise who will be there to be the supporters of the next generation? Who will be the thought leaders who just might be able to get us out of the mess we’re currently in? Because if we try to level the playing field, inevitably it will fall to the lowest common denominator, and that does absolutely everybody a disservice, now and in the future.

Of course, you don’t have to go to a private school to end up being a strong contributor to society. Indeed It can be argued that many who go to “public” schools or independent secondaries aren’t the best contributors at all (see also: what got this country into such a mess in the first place). This isn’t as simple as private vs state education. What I’m getting at, and what really, really matters is that kids get the education that is right for them. It won’t – can’t – be the same for every child. And this is actually the single most important factor in our decision to send Thomas where he is going.

It’s also my biggest single criticism of the current state education system in this country. It often tries too hard to make things too level. There is too little room for manoeuvre and individualised targets or even differing learning styles. Children are too often seem as commodities to be pushed through, not as individuals. Living in Kent, a spiritual home of the Grammar School, and having attended one myself, I’m intimately familiar with how devisive their presence can be. And I agree that in the current set up they tend to be elitist and create unnecessary division, but that is simply because it’s a bit of an all-or-nothing affair. The alternatives, if you don’t go to grammar, are often not brilliant. But unlike a lot of detractors, I don’t think this is an argument against selective education. I think it’s an argument against the current system. Grammar schools are absolutely right and appropriate for a sub-section of the population who are academically oriented. What is needed is not “comprehensive” education for all, but selective education for all. There needs to be a variety of different types of schools that are properly focused on the wide variety of children that pass through them, catering for the creative as well as the academic, and for different types of learning style. I firmly believe that no one school can do it all, but each child has a right to attend a school that can cater for them (in order to curb length here, we’ll leave aside the difficult practicalities of such an approach for now, it’s simply a philosophy.)

With all of that in mind, we’ve chosen a school that we believe will suit Thomas. We haven’t picked a private school, as some people do (and others believe everyone does), in order to increase Thomas’s chances of gaining a grammar school place. In fact, we deliberately discounted any schools that assessed three year olds prior to entry. We picked our chosen school partly because it doesn’t enter every child for the 11+ (or Common Entrance). In fact, it’s a school that lost favour with some local parents in recent years because it doesn’t have a 100% 11+ pass rate. I see that as a good thing. It means I can be confident that they will suggest what is actually best for my child, not what is good for their figures (the same cannot be said for certain local state schools!)

We’ve also chosen the school because it’s small, with a real family feel that will absolutely suit him. Thomas is a typical young boy. He is hopeless in large groups, where he runs around and becomes the class clown, preferring to attract attention and laughs rather than concentrate. In a small group he is a different boy. Focused, determined, interested, curious and inquisitive. He seeks out one-to-one interaction however he can. He is a boy that could so easily be lost in a class of thirty children. He could so easily be labelled as a troublemaker or a joker, and slip between the cracks. The environment of his school will – hopefully – guard against that.

The fact that we can move him now, in to their preschool, is also a huge advantage. Thomas is already very ready for the learning aspects of school, despite not being old enough to start reception until next September. He can already read, races through simple mathematical problems and most of all wants to find out about things. He’s eager to learn and excited by it. But socially, and emotionally, he has a way to go. Normal, of course, for a year away from school start, but spending the next year in what will become his school environment will be an enormous help. Playtime will be shared with older children, and lunch will be eaten in the dinner hall. They “borrow” classrooms when older children are away swimming, in order to really get a feel for what “big school” is about and ease that transition. Why would I not want that for my child?

So this is where we are.

I’m not sure who I thought were the “type” of parents to send their children to private schools. I guess I was guilty of stereotyping, assuming it was “rich” people or simply people who are not like us, although I’m not sure why. The impression that I now have is that a huge variety of people make this choice for a huge variety of reasons. I don’t necessarily identify with all the reasons people have, but I’m totally comfortable with ours.

We have, and will only have one child. I want what is right for him. It won’t make him better than anyone else, but hopefully it will help him be the best version of himself that he can. I simply can’t apologise for that.

And so, I guess, it turns out that we are the type of parents who send their child to a private school.

“I’d Love Another, But We Can’t Have Any More”

It’s turned out to be a bit of a conversation stopper, that.

Yet, somehow, despite the fact that it seems to drag infertility front and centre, I’ve found myself saying it more and more recently. Because, of course, it’s not uttering that statement that brings our infertility to the fore, it’s the never ending barrage of questions about whether, or when, we’re going to have another child, or even why we haven’t got on and done it already.

And every time someone asks that question, it reminds me of what I long for, but cannot have, and it breaks my heart just a little bit more.

Those questions won’t stop any time soon though. I know that now. For as long as I’m doing nursery runs, and preschool birthday parties with other mums of about my age, for as long as I’m of an age where I should, at least in theory, be well pre-menopausal, and for as long as I work with the well-meaning public who like to make “small talk”, people are going to keep asking me about our plans for more children.

I’ve had to find a way to deal with that which doesn’t involve suspiciously frequent trips to the loo and a good supply of waterproof mascara.

And honesty, as they say, is the best policy. It turns out that being honest about it is nothing like as hard as either going through the infertility experience, or putting up a pretence of all being well every time the subject is raised.

In fact, funnily enough, it’s actually helped. Just by bringing infertility out in to the open I feel better. Acknowledging it rather than hiding it means it’s no longer a dirty little secret that no one can possibly comprehend because they simply don’t know. And it allows me to raise it, and then move on, rather than all those questions leaving a simmering hurt and upset that eventually boils over.

It’s not my intention to make people feel uncomfortable or awkward, even though I recognise my words often do that. I see the look of panic flash across their eyes as what I’ve said sinks in and they flail to find something appropriate to say in return. (For the record “I’m sorry” or “That must be really tough” would be fine. Asking if we’ve tried IVF or considered adoption is like asking a dental hygienist if they know how to floss. And it’s a bit rude, not to mention inconsiderate. So yeah… Just. Stop.) But if I can make people think, then that has to be a good thing. If people can start to realise that these seemingly innocent questions can crush like a ton of bricks then that is great. If they can see that not everyone has the privilege of “choosing” the size of their family and that having an “only child” isn’t necessarily something that we wanted, nevermind it being selfish or lazy or all the other things people assume, then it will make me feel better. If I can make people realise that having one child is no guarantee of more to follow, then it’s worth a few seconds of squirming. In fact, if I can open people’s eyes to the fact that a family with only one child is a perfectly valid family, whether it was by choice or not, then we’d really be moving forwards.

But most of all, I’d like to hope that it will make people stop and think in future. And next time they meet a woman of child-bearing age, whether she already has children or not, they don’t pry in to her personal circumstances. Because really, the question of how many children you want, or are planning, to have, is not dinner table conversation.

It”s deeply personal. It can be a tough subject for so many people for a huge variety of reasons. And if I have to lob a few infertility grenades into conversations to get people to see that…well, so be it.

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The Disney Dream

I was a little under three and a half when I first went to Walt Disney World in Florida.

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And what a very different “World” it was then. The Magic Kingdom was there, of course and EPCOT (then EPCOT Center) was newly opened. But there were no other Disney parks. No Studios or Animal Kingdom. The water parks were Wet’n’Wild and Water Mania rather than the themed Disney extravaganzas that now exist. SeaWorld was there, as was Gatorland Zoo and of course the Kennedy Space Center, but there was no Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure. We visited CircusWorld instead. The scale of things was big, of course it was, but it was nothing on how big it all is now.

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It still made an absolutely massive impact on me though, despite that fact that I was younger than Thomas is now.

In fact, I count a number of specific moments as amongst my very earliest conscious memories. Waking up in our hire car en route from the airport, but stopped by the side of the road, by the noise of rain hammering on the roof as a terrific Florida storm unfurled above us. Staring out in to the darkness in our beach-front Gulf Coast hotel, unable to comprehend jet-lag or why it was dark when my body was telling me the day was already many hours old. Riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with my Dad as my Mum and my brother, too chicken to try it, waved from the bridge. I still remember exactly how that very first roller coaster ride felt, with my Dad’s arm wrapped around me. I feel the grin on my face.

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I’m on there somewhere!

I may not remember every detail. And some of my memories are possibly fabricated a little from the photographs – comparatively few though they were in the pre-digital era – and family stories. But I know it was absolute magic from the moment we arrived. It was completely detached from reality, brimming with the incredible, the improbable and the impossible. It’s absolutely fair to say that no other place on earth has ever had quite the same effect on me again. Different – wonderful, awe-inspiring – yes, but pure immersive magic, not even close.

It’s for that reason that I so often tell people that you can’t really be “too young” to go to Disney, and that anytime from the age three onwards even the “they won’t remember a thing” excuse doesn’t necessarily hold true. I’ve always maintained that kids need something big to hang the first memory they’ll retain to adulthood on. And it doesn’t come much bigger than Walt Disney World.

It’s also the reason that I’ve been dreaming of Thomas’s first trip since the moment I knew we were expecting him.

I remember looking forward, during my pregnancy, to being a family and doing things as a family. Introducing our child to the world and to all the fun things it holds and taking part in activities where a child is a necessary pre-requisite to participation. And whilst the latter isn’t true for Disney, recreating those moments of magic with my own child, being the one to make them happen was always something I just couldn’t wait to do.

This is a dream that I’ve always known I would eventually realise for my child. Quite possibly the very first dream I ever had for him, long before he was conceived.

And next year, it’s happening.

The intention was always next year, before he starts school and whilst we have more flexibility on dates. It was always meant to be next year, rather than this, because I’d hoped that baby number two would be approaching the age of three, and there would even have been time for baby number three to join us (sometime about now) and tag-along as a bit more than a newborn.

Yeah. None of that worked out, of course.

But we’ve stuck to the plan for next year anyway, despite my heart screaming to take Thomas this year instead. I hope the extra time will give him the crucial few centimetres of growth he needs to meet the height restrictions for some iconic rides (I was obviously taller than my son, or the height restrictions were lower in 1983, as he currently wouldn’t make it on to Big Thunder Mountain).

And in the mean time my dreams keep on growing. The more I read and the more I research, the more I can’t wait. For the moment that he sees the Cinderella Castle for the first time and recognises it as “The Dis-in-nee castle” from the introduction to every Disney film we’ve watched. For the moment he gets to meet his favourite characters and have their enormous character hands envelope his tiny one. For his excitement at the simplest things like the Magic Kingdom Railroad and the monorail system.

It’s hard to put Disney magic in to words, and I guess that if you haven’t felt it yourself, you’re quite possibly rolling your eyes at what I’ve built this up to be. And of course, by setting the bar of my expectations so high, I’m setting myself up for crushing disappointment if the reality doesn’t live up to the dream.

I know that it won’t exactly, because nothing ever does go quite how we imagine it. But I’m still confident that the realisation of such a long held dream will be magical, in new ways that I haven’t even dreamed.

And perhaps in 32 years time Thomas will still be reflecting on it, as he prepares to take his own child or children for the very first time too.

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The Purple Pumpkin Blog
I’m sharing this post in the #100DaysofDisney Linky

A Trip to Legoland

We all have aspirations for our children. To be healthy, happy and fulfilled are the usual suspects that head the list. But we can all admit to having a few other secret wishes for our offspring, even if we can acknowledge their lesser importance. Like hoping that they, too, will love the little plastic bricks that click together to create whatever your imagination can dream!

Fortunately for these Lego-loving parents (we own a very impressive collection of Lego from both of our own childhoods, but a not insignificant amount acquired once adulthood was reached too – I bought Ian a Lego Death Star for his thirtieth birthday some five years ago, and it now takes pride of place on a high shelf in the (Thomas’s) playroom) Thomas is following in our footsteps. It began as surely every Lego collection does with a massive pile of Duplo and has now progressed through to Lego Juniors models. Whilst he can’t quite follow the instructions to build a specific model without help, his ability to locate and fit together pieces is growing day by day. And a whole year later Thomas still talks about, amongst other things, the Lego Discovery Centre in Berlin.

With our first family trip to Florida planned for the early part of next year, we wanted to do some gentle introduction to the idea of theme parks before the Magic Kingdom blows his mind. So given the passion for Lego, and the fact that Legoland is designed for and aimed at children from two to twelve years of age, it seemed like an obvious choice for our first proper family theme park visit. And last week presented the day of choice, with my (also Lego-mad) brother on a flying visit from the West Coast of the US. So we set off around the M25 for a day of fun.

And it didn’t disappoint.

Thomas was captivated from the moment we entered. The Hill Train helped with that, of course as the train obsession remains as strong as ever. “There is Lego everywhere” Thomas declared with glee. Within moments he’d spotted The Aero Nomad balloon carousel, and any concerns about a fit of timidity in the face of rides were immediately quashed. We subsequently ducked inside to avoid a short rain shower and discovered the Scarab Bouncers, which elicited a continuous fit of giggles from start to stop, and even the darkness of the Laser Raiders ride was no match for our little man. (Sadly my brother was a match for me, roundly beating me in the shoot out competition. I may have stuck my bottom lip out in a recreation of our childhood.) The Train ride around the park was another must for Thomas too.

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We headed inside for lunch as the sky took on an ominous blackish hue. We managed to secure window seats overlooking the pirate show and catch some of the stunts whilst avoiding an absolutely torrential – and I mean skin soaking – downpour. We may have lingered over lunch a little longer than was strictly necessary….

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The afternoon brought plenty more adventures from a Submarine ride to rediscover Atlantis, driving a Duplo train and flying a Duplo Helicopter. “It went up and up and up “ shouted Thomas afterwards, jumping up and down. “And then it went round and round and round” he added, spinning on the spot for effect!

Thomas also wanted to have a go at driving a car in the Mini Driving School, which is a smaller version of the bigger attraction, and aimed specifically at 3-5 year olds. And it was whilst standing in the queue here that we had a moment-in-a-million real life blogger spot! As it began to drip with rain again, I asked my brother to pass over Thomas’s rain coat. As I edged slightly back down to queue to grab it I recognised first the child a couple of people behind us, and then her mummy as Carie from Space for the Butterflies. It was one of those moments where I’m glad that I had no time to think, or to be shy or nervous and simply said that I’d just recognised her! I can be very shy about meeting people “in real life”, but I’m so glad that there wasn’t time for nerves to get the better of me! It was so lovely to put a real person to the blogger and have a quick chat as we waited and watched.

Thomas and Kitty were in the same driving group (fortunately no accidents, because if my son had run her daughter off the road, that may have been embarrassing). As with everything, Thomas was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. When the staff told his group that it was their turn, he literally jumped up and down saying “Hooray, it’s finally our turn!”

And watching him drive that car was one of those moments that makes you smile and feel a bit tearful all at once. Because he tried so hard. And to begin with he had a couple of crashes in the curb and has to be put back on track. But then, all of a sudden, something clicked and he got the hand go steering to go exactly where he wanted to go. Of course, it was all over far too quickly, but once again he hasn’t stopped talking about it. (He thinks he’s a better driver than me now. Ahem.)

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As the afternoon wore on, we headed over to the Knight’s Kingdom area for Thomas’s first real roller coaster experience. Bold as he may be, Thomas can sometimes be reluctant to try new things, but fortunately this wasn’t one that phased him. In fact, he loved it so much that he wanted to go straight back on! (We sent Grandpa on for this one!)

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We finished up the day in the Miniland section of the park. This was absolute heaven for Thomas who spent over an hour following the trains around and working out where they all ran. I definitely forsee a Lego train set in our future. In fact, when we went in to the shop at the very end of the day, he gravitated straight towards one said with a pleading look in his eye. Not just yet, kiddo. Maybe when you’re a bit older!

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There is so much that we didn’t get to do. The park is absolutely vast, and the opening hours of 10-5 relatively short (although to be fair, Thomas was flagging by the time we left at past 5 o’clock anyway). You could easily spend the day just looking at Miniland and the other Lego exhibits and building in the Imagination Centre without even looking at any rides. We missed out the Splash Safari and Drench Towers entirely as well as a couple of other whole areas of the park. No matter, of course. It’s just all the more reason to go back!

If you are wondering about a trip to Legoland with your own preschooler, I can highly recommend it. The park is truly designed for children of this age. The height restriction for the majority of rides that have one is just 90cm (even my very short three year old is well over this) and many have no restrictions at all, so long as you accompany your child. The rides are all designed with young children in mind. There is nothing too thrilling or scary (with the possible exception of the new Riding Adventure, which also has the tallest height restriction at 1.2m) The only drawback if you have only one child is that all going on the rides together can feel bit awkward, as one of you obviously has to sit on your own, but I probably think about things like this more than average, because I’m vary aware of that empty seat and how very much I’d like it to be occupied!

And of course there is plenty that isn’t a traditional “ride”. There is lots of Lego to build with and a couple of large play areas. You can pan for gold. You ride the submarine which takes you through an aquarium filled with real fish to spot, or wander the park finding Lego animals.

It is big, though. We no longer own a buggy, so Thomas was walking the whole day. He did get tired, and so did catch a couple of lifts of shoulders, and the lack of buggy meant we didn’t have anywhere to put bags, so was instrumental in our decision to buy lunch rather than take it with us. I would recommend taking a pushchair if you have one, even if you don’t usually use it much. And there is plenty of space for picnicking if you choose to do so.

I will leave the final words of the day to Thomas. This was his face when we told him we had to go home.

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And when we asked what his favourite bit of the day had been, he responded emphatically “All of it!”

Everything Changes (But You)

Dear Thomas,

I’ve been putting off writing this letter, in much the same way that I’ve kept dithering over talking to you in depth about the changes we’re about to inflict upon your life and your routine. But now, it’s just weeks away and there is no more escaping it.

In a few weeks we’ll be moving you from the only nursery and preschool that you’ve ever known. You’ve been there since a few days shy of six months. When you started you could only just sit up. You couldn’t crawl, let alone stand. You were just days in to your weaning journey and I still had to visit you each day to feed you your milk because you never did get the hang of taking it from a bottle, stubborn as you are. You’ve moved through the rooms there, forming attachments to the staff, who all know you and your (huge) personality now, making friends and making yourself thoroughly at home.

You really are at home there. Confident, sociable, outgoing. You chatter about your days and you friends. You have favourite places, from the window where you wave to me in the morning, to the book corner and the playhouse in the garden. By now you can, of course, run, jump, skip, hop, talk nineteen-to-the-dozen and even read and write, and so many of these developments have been aided by your fantastic nursery and the people there who have watched you grow. People who really know you and genuinely care about you.

So making the decision to move you has been one of the hardest choices we’ve had to make as parents so far. It’s hard, this aspect of parenting: making decisions on behalf of your child, trying to decide what is best for them when you can’t really know how it will all turn out, and all the while being aware that it could have far reaching consequences. We talked for so many hours about the pros and cons. We looked at the option of moving you after another term. We looked at the option of leaving you where you are for one day a week and moving you for two. Believe me when I say, we really thought this through. But in the end, the choice was made.

In my heart, I know this is right. We’re moving you to the preschool at what, all being well, will be your “big school” and where you’ll be until you’re eleven. Eleven! Imagine that? (I can’t.)

No matter how much your current preschool has helped you flourish, I know you are ready for some new challenges. Being an older child in your school year, you’ve already done three terms of “official preschool”. And before that you always moved up a room every few months. I know that staying in the same place again may make you stagnate. You might lose your currently seemingly infinite passion for learning and exploring. And the very last thing I want to do is switch you off education before you’ve even had a chance to properly begin. I firmly believe that you’re someone who benefits from change, and variety. And I want to encourage that.

I know that you will miss your friends. But we picked the timing carefully. So many of your friends are already four, and they’re all off to school in September anyway. It makes sense for you to move at the same time. In fact, I sort of thought you’d think everyone was leaving, but for just a moment I forgot how smart you are. As you told me “I’m too small to go to school”.

Yes, you are kiddo. But then, I’ll probably always think you’re too small to be such a grown up boy. I think we’ve overcome the confusion that panicked me for a while, where I think you believed we were packing you off to “big school” early. You know that this is still preschool. Just different preschool.

So, yes, this is happening. You’ve visited your new preschool over and over. You’ve told us how much you like it there. In three weeks it will be where you go three days a week. It will be a big change. You’ll wear a uniform. We’ll have to leave earlier in the mornings because instead of dropping you off on my walk to work, I’ll have to drive you to the top of town, before turning round, driving home and then walking to work alone. That drive will mean your pick up is a little later too. The routine will be different. And because the preschool is attached to a school, you’ll go from being one of the biggest fish to being one of the teeny tiniest, as you mix with the reception children during playtime.

Such a big change for you, because you know nothing different to what you do now.

But everything changes.

Everything except you. Because no matter what, I know that you’ll still be my bright, bubbly and confident boy. At least, I hope you will. I hope that I’ve made the right decision on your behalf and that this move will help you soar, rather than hold you back.

Everything changes. But you’ll always be my best boy.

IMG_4426(Despite the fact that you’re not going to “big school” just yet, your current nursery are letting you “graduate” with your friends. You look a bit like you’re off to Hogwarts!)

All my love, always

Mummy

Type one, Type Two and the Crossfit Furore

Over the past couple of days there has been a bit of a shit-storm on Twitter centred around the Crossfit account. At the heart of the furore was an image.

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This is many things. Without a doubt it was incredibly ill judged. It’s inaccurate at worst, vastly over simplistic at very best. It perpetuates stereotypes that do nothing to support any of us living with diabetes. It also has the potential to be offensive. But get this: it’s offensive to all people with diabetes, whether that is type 1 or type 2.

As Allison tweeted, poking fun at any chronic condition, at any type of diabetes, is simply not ok. The development of type 2 diabetes in particular is not as straight forward as even many in the type 1 camp would believe. But interestingly it was the type 1 community getting riled up.

http://twitter.com/AMNimlos/status/615894384580517889

http://twitter.com/AMNimlos/status/615907636693766145

And this persisted, even when Crossfit clarified that they meant type 2. To be fair to Crossfit, the character limit on Twitter doesn’t always help these things. But as noted above, whether type one or type two shouldn’t matter. What we should have been attacking Crossfit for was their overall lack of courtesy and inconsideration and the fact that making jokes about anyone with a health is not a nice thing to do. And of course pointing out that the relationship between sugar and diabetes is very weak.

But this thing had legs. And looking at it from the outside it seemed that a lot of type ones were saying “It’s okay for you to make that joke just as long as you are clear that type 1 and type 2 are different things.” And that is not helpful at all. Because like it or not, all types of diabetes tend to be lumped together by those without intimate knowledge, and if you want to improve people’s understanding and perceptions of what we go through, we need to stick together. If type ones perpetuate the myths surrounding type two, we’re only harming ourselves in the long run. It’s not okay for Crossfit to perpetuate those myths, and it’s not okay for us to use the guise of  “defending our own interestes” to do it either.

There was a lot of misinterpretation, too. Quite a few tweets I read came from people who seemed to think that Crossfit were saying type 1 could turn in to type 2. Clearly that is impossible. We don’t need to re-hash the Halle Berry issue here. But what was being said about people with type 1 diabetes developing type 2 in addition is actually factually correct.

The development of clinical features of type 2 diabetes (insulin resistance and associated body composition factors) in people with type 1 diabetes has been recognised for well over twenty years. What you have to remember is that type 2 diabetes is not something for which there is a test that flashes up saying “Yes, you have it.” It is a collection of clinical features and a diagnosis made by the meeting of certain criteria. One of these is elevated blood glucose, which people with type one already have as a result of that condition. Another is insulin resistance, but that alone is not enough either. People with type 1 can have insulin resistance for other reasons. Women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome can have insulin resistance without having any type of diabetes. But if the other diagnostic criteria are also present in a person with pre-existing type 1, then it is reasonable to assume that even if the patient did not already have type 1, they would, at this point, have developed type 2. The widely used clinical term for this is “double diabetes”. It may be a horrible term, but it is scattered throughout the literature and defines the specific situation of having characteristics, beyond just insulin deficiency and resistance, of both types of diabetes.

I’m really not sure why so many type ones are offended by the statement of this fact. Or want to insist that it is not possible. That you can only have one or the other.

Consider the alternative scenario. Are you saying that it would be impossible for someone with type 2 diabetes (positive c-peptide, no auto-antibodies, so definitely not a misdiagnosis) to develop type 1? If they developed auto-immune destruction of beta cells (distinct from beta cell exhaustion common in long term insulin resistance) would you instantly say their type 2 had gone away? Yes, this scenario is unlikely, as type 1 would usually manifest first. But it illustrates the point that it is not – cannot be – impossible for the two conditions to co-exist.

I’m not defending Crossfit. As per my earlier paragraph, they are still guilty of perpetuating unhelpful stereotypes and misinformation. The heart of their original argument was that “sugar causes diabetes” and they chose to back this up by citing a couple of individual studies that show a correlation between consumption of sugary beverages and the development of diabetes. In actual fact, the evidence for the association, and certainly for causation, still appears rather weak. And there are so many confounding factors in diabetes. Thus, it will almost certainly never be as simple as saying that a single thing causes it, because it requires the perfect storm of factors to come together.

What is not helpful is to keep defending this stance using infographics culled from the internet that cite no sources. If you want people to listen to, and appreciate, your argument, you need to make sure that it is properly backed up. As a community, we do better when, instead of attacking those that spread misinformation, or poorly worded statements that imply untruths, we focus simply on spreading the correct information. Sugar does not “cause” diabetes, but healthy lifestyles can help to minimise the risks if you happen to be pre-disposed.

The bottom line, however, is that it is not okay to make jokes about any type of diabetes, or any other condition, be that cancer, mental health issues or physical disabilities. But that message to Crossfit was lost in a war between diabetes types and you can bet that is why the message is so often lost on the general public. By focusing on the distinction between types, all people have done is given Crossfit a way to try and argue back, as their consitent responses that they meant type 2 have shown.

What we should have been telling them loud and clear is that “Picking on people’s health vulnerabilities is an abhorrent thing to do.”

I for one would have liked to see them argue their way out of that one.

Because it it.

I don’t understand how anyone can argue with that. So as a type 1 diabetic, please make sure that you aren’t inadvertently doing it too.