Dancing Dustbins, Cake and School Uniform #LittleLoves

Little Loves was the last thing I took part in – a hence the blog post I left there on the front page – before I went off on what began intentionally as a brief hiatus before becoming… well… a much more unintentional long, long break. So it seems fitting that three post in to a new phase that I join back in with this Linky. I like it, because I like focusing on the things that have been good about the week. It’s good for me, and all that.

Read

Sometimes very popular or critically acclaimed books completely pass me by. Usually it’s because popular books aren’t offered in sales or promotions, don’t pop up for 99p on the Kindle, haven’t yet been donated to my local Oxfam bookshop and attract seriously long waiting lists at the library. (Seriously, I once had a little look at Me Before You on the library reservations system. The waiting list was over 200 people! I didn’t join and I actually still haven’t read it!) These days there are so many great books available for little, or no, cost that it’s pretty rare for me to pay full price for a paperback. And so it was that I’d actually never read Emma Donoghue’s Room.

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But now I have.

And if you haven’t yet read it, you should.

I devoured it in two sittings, staying up well past my bedtime to finish it. A simple idea, but beautifully done.

Watched

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Thomas and I had a trip to London this week to see the Trash Test Dummies at London Wonderground. Three grown men dancing with dustbins. It was as wacky as it sounds, but absolutely great fun, physical comedy with lots of audience participation – the kids were able to storm the stage and throw balls at the performers, what more could they ask? And like all the best family shows, there were plenty of touches for the adults too! If you have a chance to see them, do it!

On the same trip we also watched a man blowing giant bubbles on the Southbank – Thomas first saw this performance when we took him to the London Aquarium on his first birthday, and he still loves it now as much as he did then!

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And finally we sat and watched the “Master Yogaliser” who put on a fantastic show contorting himself in to all kids of improbable shapes and finally cramming himself in to an impossibly tiny perspex box. Brilliant fun!

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Made

It’s been a bit of a making month in our household. We have about eight family birthdays in July, so it’s felt like I have spent the entire month making birthday cards with Thomas! Other than that though, we’ve been busy in the kitchen. Thomas and I made Thomas cupcakes. These are a packet mix, which we haven’t done for a while in favour of making cakes properly from scratch, but actually these mixes are pretty good in that Thomas can more or less do the whole thing unaided (and we got to practice counting in fives when adding teaspoons of water!)

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I also made a Lime drizzle cake, but modified the recipe to include… ahem… just a few shots of gin. It didn’t last long!

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Wore

I haven’t worn anything particularly exciting, but Thomas did wear his school uniform this week! I managed to pick up shirts, shorts and trousers when M&S had 20% off, but we bit the bullet last weekend and bought all of the branded stuff as the supplier was offering a discount on purchases made before the end of July. He looks like such a little man in his tie and blazer. I just cannot believe that we’re here already and my baby boy is soon to be a schoolboy. I do have some fab cheeky shots of him in his uniform, but if I choose to share any I’ll do it when he actually starts. For now, you can see his wardrobe stuffed with uniform bits. And wish me luck with the 25 or so individual bits which need to be nametaped!

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Heard

Hmmm…. tricky one. Does it count to say that I’ve heard Thomas’s absolute incessant chatter? Probably not, since I hear it all day every day! But as we went to get off the train on our way back from London this week, the man who had been sitting in the seat in front of us stood up to get off too and gave me a wry smile as he said “I bet you never get bored”. This was after a 40 minute journey in which we’d discussed, amongst other things, the solar system, the phases of the moon, the Tower of London, what execution is, types of trains and how they differ and the history of the Flying Scotsman! Yeah, Thomas’s voice is definitely the thing I hear more of than anything else. Wouldn’t change it for a thing though!

And lastly…

We have a busy weekend coming up as we’re off to see Finding Dory at the cinema and also have a family BBQ. Events where food is involved are finally becoming much more pleasurable now that Thomas is not quite so difficult with food as he once was. Here’s a bonus picture of him stuffing his face during our lunch date at Wagamama… and a little ice cream selfie too!

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Just Like…. Riding a Bike!

Thomas has always loved bikes. Toddling around the local playground when he could only just walk it was always older children’s bikes that he was interested in. And sure enough, the scooter he was given was rejected pretty much as soon as he was too big to ride on the attached seat, because it no longer resembled a bike.
So we bought him a balance bike the summer he was two.
It was probably slightly too big for him, a child who was long down in the lowest part of the growth charts. So it took him a short while to get the hang of it, me running along behind, holding on to help him learn to balance (whilst simultaneously wrecking my back – ahh, parenthood!). And then he was away. Picking up his feet and gliding along, reaching speeds that made him challenge to keep up with. And “riding my bike” has been an obsession ever since.
Last winter he began asking for a pedal bike. By now, the seat of his balance bike was at its top height, and picking up his feet to glide was more of a necessity than a choice. And I could see he was ready to at least try.
His fourth birthday would have been a good opportunity. But the trouble with a winter birthday is that it comes along with big puddles, slippery leaves and so much mud. Not to mention short days a deep darkness. Hardly the ideal conditions for learning to ride a bike and consolidating that skill. If Thomas and I both hadn’t been so keen to avoid stabilisers and the potential loss of that vital balance skill, we might have done it. But I wanted to wait.
Winter and Spring were punctuated with reminders that he really, really wanted a “big boy bike” and to learn to pedal properly. He was adamant that riding a bike was something he was going to do “before I start school”. So eventually we promised that when we got back from Florida, we’d choose him a bike and he could start to learn.
We kept our promise. The weekend after our return saw us mooching around a few local bike shops, checking him against frame sizes to ensure we were picking the right one. We were very firm that we needed to look around first and we wouldn’t be buying a bike that day. Surprisingly he took that pretty well.
We learned quite a lot about bikes that day. About how the majority of girls bikes are pink or princess themed, and the majority of boy’s bikes are superhero themed. We learned that wheel sizes vary on the same sized frame, and that not all handlebars and brakes are equal. But in the course of our search, we came across the next model up from his balance bike. It has the same shape and styling, just a frame size larger and with pedal and two brakes. Back home, online, all the reviews suggested kids found the transition from the same balance bike to this one pretty seamless. And better still it was on offer.
Despite saying we’d not be buying a bike that day, what Thomas didn’t know is that by that evening it was ordered. We selected the free build service and arranged to pick it up that Friday. By good fortune I finished work early and had time to swing by the shop and stow it safely in the boot of the car, only having to remember not to let Thomas put his school bag in the boot when I picked him up.
The next day dawned overcast and showery and my heart sank. But by lunchtime the sun was out in full force, and operation ride a bike was go.
We asked Thomas if he wanted to go to the park. As we left the house, I told him that I needed something from the boot of the car. I only wish I’d had a camera ready as I opened it. “A bike, a bike, my pedal bike!” The boy was literally jumping for joy.
Despite his enthusiasm, we got off to a slow start. We encouraged him to use it like a balance bike and get the feel for it, but he seemed frustrated by that suggestion because it was a pedal bike and he wanted to do it properly. We worked our way slowly across the park with me first supporting the handlebars as he pedalled, and then just the saddle from behind. As we tried to assure him that he needed to maintain speed, Ian and I have never uttered the words “pedal, pedal, pedal” so many times in a single day. Thomas’s response over and over was to make sure that I wasn’t going to unexpectedly let go. I kept sneaking my hands off for moments at a time, and I was confident he could do it. He just wasn’t confident himself.
In the end, it was a train that made him ride.
We reached the section of the park where an underpass crosses the train tracks to enter the woods. It’s Thomas’s favourite place, because he can sit and watch the trains to and from London that pass with efficient frequency. As he heard the tell tale rumble of an approaching service he looked up and gave the familiar refrain of “A train, a train” and within moments he was away, feet up on the pedals and flying.
It took a good fifteen seconds before he remembered to shout “don’t let go Mummy”.
And I was trying hard not to cry as I shouted back that I’d never been holding on in the first place.
He stopped and looked over his shoulder before giving me a massive grin and declaring “I can do it. I can really do it.”
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Watching him fly along the path away from me made me think of all the ways he flying away from me as he grows in size, in independence, in maturity and in skill. But that cheeky grin and the pride on his face reminded me that he’ll always be my baby.
That was nearly two months ago, and he hasn’t stopped since. He’s so proud of his skill, telling everybody about his new bike and how much he loves riding. He made me share it on his school’s online learning journal and couldn’t wait to call his grandparents to share the exciting news.
The only downside for me is that there is absolutely no keeping up with him on foot. But it does mean that my own bike is getting regular outings too, and suddenly a whole host of destinations are within much easier reach without needing to take the car.
Learning to ride a bike is one of those milestones that we all remember. I still remember my little Raleigh “Bullet” and my own dad running along behind me until I’d mastered it. And family cycle rides around the park are one of those activities that I’ve been looking forward to since that second pink line appeared.
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Magical moments indeed.

Baby Lust No More?

Shortly after our third IVF attempt and failure, I wrote this, about how hard it was to surrender hope when I still wanted another baby so badly. At the time, I couldn’t imagine ever not wanting it so fiercely that it hurt from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep.

It turns out that perhaps there is truth in the old adage that time heals. A bit, at least.

I’ve come to realise in the last few weeks that maybe, just maybe, that fierce devotion to the dream of another child has shifted. It’s in no small part due to all the other crap that has taken my focus away in the last 12 months. But I think that is just the thing that has masked this change in perspective as it happened, and allowed it to creep up on me.

It’s more that I’ve come to accept that I cannot ever have my dream. That ship has sailed. Even if I did miraculously conceive another child, I can never have the “three under five” sort of family dynamic that I once longed for.

And more than that, it would alter our lives so much to go back to having a newborn now. Contemplating that sort of change in our lives is very different to the longing to have been able to have had another baby almost four years ago when we started trying.

The thing is, we’re reaching a stage where our lives are really moving on, for want of a better descriptor. Thomas starts school in September, and though it may win me a bad mother award, I’m quite excited by the prospect of having 9 to 3 free, two days per week. Sure, I’ll miss that time with Thomas, but his school is awesome and I know he’ll be enjoying it. Having some time to get my hair cut during the day, go for a swim, do household tasks without the hindrance of a small child’s “help”, sort out seemingly endless rounds of doctors appointments so I don’t have to drag Thomas to them… The list of things I’m looking forward to goes on. These are things I’ve never had much opportunity for before, as prior to having Thomas, like so many women, I was working full time, 5 or 6 day weeks. You can forgive me for looking forward to it, no? Having a younger child, of course, would delay this point by a while longer. Had I had my last baby last year as I hoped, I’d have three or four more years to wait. If I fell pregnant now, it would be at least another five.

And we’re starting to reclaim more of our own interests too. This weekend we – all three of us – rode our bikes together across the parks and along local cycle lanes to a pub with a garden. We sat in the sunshine and Ian and I had a cheeky pint and some good conversation that didn’t revolve around parenting. Thomas was quite happy drinking apple juice through a straw, searching for the biggest sticks he could find and making friends with the dogs lying in the sun. It was exactly the kind of thing we’d have been doing on a sunny Saturday afternoon if we didn’t have kids. Again, it may win me a bad mother award, but doing things which we want to do as well as things which are more centred around our child is, to my mind, essential for balance. Far from being selfish, I think all parents need to have the opportunity to fulfill some of their own desires and interests as part of rounded family life. But that is only possible as kids get that bit older, and more able to understand the importance of anyone but themselves and make their own enjoyment out of varied situations.

Thomas is now happy to do so many things that we would do without a child to consider, and stuff that is harder with a swarm of kids. Sure, we can’t take him to 18 rated films at the cinema, or to some of the more adult theatre we enjoy, nor is he an equal with whom we can discuss everything. But we’re really beginning to enjoy being a family without it all having to be kid-centric – lovely and fun as those sorts of activities are, and grateful as I am to have the opportunity to do them because I have child with who to do them.

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Last month, I was sure that I’d ovulated. It doesn’t happen very often, but so many years of focusing on your fertility help you to tune in to the signs. And then, no period arrived. Not strange in itself – they often fail to show. But the fact that I was sure I’d ovulated made me just wonder if it were possible. It was a fleeting thought, that I tried to quickly suppress. But with it came a host of confusing emotions. I suddenly questioned exactly how I’d feel if I were, indeed pregnant.

Ecstatic, of course I would. Years of longing for a second pink line that never appeared means it would an irrepressible instinct.

But.

But.

I’m not sure that now is the right time. I think all the times that could have been the right time have passed.

I wasn’t pregnant. Obviously.

But the experience has allowed me to realise that I may just be ready to let go of the thought that it will ever happen. I think I’m at peace with that now. It will always hurt, but I know that it would still hurt just as much that we weren’t able to have a baby back when we were first trying, even if we had another baby now. Managing to separate out the unrealised dream from the bare fact of infertility is a massive leap.

It comes down to this: We wanted a baby. We couldn’t have one. I’ll never really – truly – get over that.

But I’m ready to say that I don’t really want another baby now, anymore.

This is my family.

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 (Okay, okay… minus the mice!)

I don’t have to like someone just because we have one thing in common

This is likely to be a bit of a controversial post, and one that might not win me too many fans, but it’s something I’ve felt and believed for a long time, brought to the forefront by current events. And if I’m coming back here, perhaps I ought to do it with a bang.

So here is the truth: I don’t particularly feel that it’s “great” that Theresa May has diabetes. I don’t think it’s a bad thing either. I mostly think it’s an irrelevant thing. I definitely think it has received a disproportionate amount of attention from some of the diabetes population. I don’t, (gasp), feel immediately drawn to her, or anyone really for that matter, simply because of our mutual diagnoses.

It’s not her (or my) defining characteristic and I cannot base my feelings about someone in such a complex position entirely on that. There’s not even a tale to tell of her having risen up the political ladder “despite” diabetes, as she was already the incumbent Home Secretary (almost inarguably one of the toughest jobs in Westminster) when she was diagnosed three and a half years ago. What I’m saying is that I can’t have an opinion on a person simply because we have the same chronic condition. And I’m completely leaving the politics aside – as are so many of the pro-she’s-a-diabetic commentators. Which is really my point. I wouldn’t suddenly feel different about any politician because of their endocrine issues, it wouldn’t matter if they were the leader of the Monster Raving Looney Party. (If you’re interested, though, I was In. A staunch Remain supporter from the outset, although more vocal over the fact that it is not a question that ever should have been put in the British public’s hands – more on that another time, perhaps. And I was also firmly in the Anyone-but-Boris camp.)

From a wider perspective than Theresa May alone, I’ve often noticed a feeling amongst the diabetes community that we’re all instant friends. And I can’t subscribe to that. That we’re all in this together I do get, to a degree. We face some of the same challenges. Only someone who has experienced the fear and confusion of a middle of the night low, the raging thirst and sickness of extreme high blood sugars or the frustrations of continually getting different results despite doing the same things can understand what those experiences are like. And our voices are stronger together in campaigning for things like better access to technology (I’m currently a trustee for a charity doing just this). It’s also true that I do have something in common with all of the millions of other type one diabetes suffers.

But in the vast majority of cases, that will be the only thing I have in common with them. It doesn’t mean that I have to feel a kinship to each and every one of them, or even to like them, nevermind liken them to me. It’s no sole basis for a friendship. Because by the same standard I have something in common with somewhere around half the world’s population in that I’m female. (I have that in common with Theresa May too and it also doesn’t mean we’re at all alike. And whilst she may only be our second female Prime Minister, and that is noteworthy in itself, it’s equally not the most important thing to focus on. After all, Andrea Leadsom is also female. [And for what it’s worth in relation to that, I think that whatever was said, however it was written and reported, what she probably wanted to say was that she could demonstrate that she doesn’t want to fuck the country up because she has a vested interest in the future of the nation by virtue of the fact that she has children who will live with the legacy of the decisions that her party, or any government for that matter, makes. In other words, she wants a secure future, even if that desire is born of the selfish motivation to support her own offspring. Whether her version of a secure future would have meshed with anyone else’s will never be known] Wow, what a digression!)

Back to the matter in hand, I have my hair colour in common with countless others. I share my birthday with millions of people and I do the same job as thousands of others. None of these things alone instantly link me to those people, and neither does my malfunctioning pancreas form the basis of an instant relationship. Making it clear that I’m still leaving Theresa May and politics aside, but as a general observation, I also don’t have to instantly like or respect another person because an – albeit unpleasant – aspect of their life is similar to mine. For let’s not forget too that we all have different experiences of diabetes. It’s a bigger part of life for some than others. Some struggle more than others and many, many thousands of people still don’t even have reliable access to insulin, nevermind worrying about complications the psychosocial side of chronic illness or advances in technology – things which, at times, could be considered the diabetic equivalent of middle class problems.

There are potential positives, of course, to a Prime Minister with diabetes. It may help keep the issue front and centre in the minds of the government, the media and the population at large. But notice that I said “may” (no pun intended). Because it is equally possible that Theresa May will go on being a private person and little will be said. It’s possible that diabetes policy will actually be pushed down the agenda either because her own experience of living with diabetes is not troubled by issues that policy can fix, or because she doesn’t want to be seen to be focusing too much on the things in which she has a vested interest. It’s also just as likely that her diabetes will not surface and this in itself will help to cement the idea to the media and general population that diabetes isn’t that much of a big deal. We’re caught constantly between wanting to prove that we can follow our dreams and achieve our aspirations despite diabetes, but wanting people to realise that it’s still a difficult and dangerous condition. But the way people could easily perceive it is that if you can be Prime Minister with diabetes, you can do anything and it isn’t necessarily more challenging than for anyone else.

That latter point is dangerous in itself. Sometimes I think there is a lot of pressure on people, particularly young people, with diabetes to “achieve despite diabetes”. To stick two fingers up and say “Look what I can still do”; Climb mountains, fly a plane, break marathon records or whatever else. Sometimes simply living a normal life, and living it well, doesn’t seem to be enough, even though that is what most of us do. Diabetes brings enough pressures without people thinking they have something to prove.

At the end of the day, we have a new Prime Minister. There remains just as much uncertainty, both in Westminster and the nation at large, as there has been since this whole mess started. And there is as much uncertainty as there always is with a change of leadership. What Theresa May can, and will, do in office remains to be seen. But her being diabetic is not a special reason to support her, or admire her or even like her. It’s just part of the package of who she is.

It may horrify you, but I don’t feel an affinity to every person with diabetes. Some of my friends happen to have diabetes, but they are friends – and people that I admire and respect hugely – for reasons other than that. People with diabetes are from the same diverse community as people without. It pays for people to be kind and tolerant and to get along – life would be so much simpler if we could all just do that. But we’re all different and we’re no more defined or bonded by that one characteristic than by anything else.

I guess I’ve devoted a lot of words to the simple belief that Theresa May’s type one diabetes makes no difference at all to how I feel about her or her appointment to the biggest job in Britain. And no person’s diabetes makes the slightest difference to how I feel about them at first sight either.