Me and Mine – August 2017

I’ve got a little – teeny, tiny – confession to make.

This picture wasn’t actually taken in August, but back in July.

One month ago, on the 31st of July, I was sat snuggled on the sofa with a poorly boy, having taken the day off work to be with him. All his usual vitality was absent – the only time Thomas is ever still, calm and quiet is when he isn’t well. As he half slept on me, I took the opportunity to sneak a look at the blogs in my feed reader, including – of course, the many Me and Mine posts that had been shared that day.

It was actually in that moment that I made a decision to try to resurrect the blog that had been languishing, unloved, for the previous eleven months, and that had been short of proper attention for considerably longer than that.

It was an idea I’d been toying with for a while. My blog may never have been particularly popular or widely read, but it was my space to share our family adventures. And in the last few months there has been an increasing amount that I wanted to have the means to share. I liked that blogging forces me to give structure to the recording of our memories. It helps me focus on editing photos and filing them away with written records of the memories they illustrate.

Whilst the family I have may be very much smaller than the one I’d envisaged, it is still my family, and we’re a very happy one. The Me and Mine project seemed like a fitting prompt to bring me back.

The problem, of course, was that my old blog was not in the best state. Plenty of broken links littered the pages. It could be incredibly slow to load thanks to a template that displayed whole posts on the home page, rather than excerpts. It hadn’t had a refresh in the six years since it was first published. If I was finally going to dip my toes back in the water, I wanted to do it right. So it wasn’t a matter of just throwing a photo up and joining in.

It took a couple of weeks to lick the blog in to some sort of shape (and that work is still ongoing!) I also settled on a change of name. The previous title – Sweetener and Spice – reflected my pregnancy with diabetes. But since there will be no more babies (and the child that resulted from that pregnancy was a boy anyway) it no longer felt right. I opted for the name Two Plus One is Three because it perfectly describes my little family.

And this is us, in the summer of 2017.

(We’re on a steam train on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. Trains are still a theme around here!)

The Me + Mine Project - Dear Beautiful

 

Happy Days – Books, Music and Hair

This week has gone by really quickly – I cannot believe it is the weekend again already! Overall it’s been a good one. Thomas has been a much happier boy this week too, which has a knock on effect on my mood! I’m linking up with Katy and Sian again with these things which have particularly made me smile this week!

  • Thomas completing the library reading challenge. He picked some really good books and I was particularly pleased to see him enjoying some fiction as he generally much prefers to read non-fiction books. Obviously any reading is great but I’d love for him to love reading stories as much as I do!

  • Vintage Topsy and Tim – I’ve added a couple of new titles to my vintage Topsy and Tim library. An updated blog post about my childhood favourite twins hopefully coming up soon!

  • Getting my hair cut and coloured. It has taken me a long, long time to start enjoying going to the hairdressers. When I was younger it was always a stressful experience as I never knew what I wanted and often ended up feeling really intimidated for some reason! I love my current hairdresser though. I also love getting it coloured – even though salon colour is ridiculously pricey. I love the fact that it covers the grey (obviously) but I also like avoiding making a mess of my bathroom, plus it means the whole hairdresser experience is dragged out much longer so I get to enjoy a couple of hot cups of tea and a good few chapters of my book.
  • Thomas’s swimming. Thomas hated the water and swimming for such a long time. It has taken two painstaking years of really good lessons to get him confident – it took 4 terms to get him to even put his face in the water. But suddenly it has really clicked. This week he was swimming underwater between people’s legs and swimming confidently without any kind of flotation aid. It is so wonderful to see!
  • We had a lovely day out at Knole House and Park this week.

 

  • Rediscovering forgotten musical favourites. We’ve had an Amazon Echo since last Christmas and one of the things I love is the ability to play music really easily. This week I have rediscovered a whole bunch of albums from my late teens and been dancing round the living room to them!
  • Sharing my blog posts. I’ve been writing blogs on and off since 2006 and have never been very good at promoting my blog or my posts – so they usually get half a dozen or so views (if that!). But I’ve been trying to put in the effort to sharing my blog since I came back to it, and this means I’ve also discovered a few more great blogs too.
  • And finally, we’re off on holiday tomorrow – we’re heading to Dublin for a few days and I’m looking forward to time out from work and everyday life!
What Katy Said

 

We Need to Talk About Infertility

A couple of years ago, at possibly one of the lowest points in our infertility struggle, a friend told me that I was the strongest person they knew. It gave me pause for thought and made me truly consider how other people viewed me. What followed was a good deal of sensible talking from people blessed with greater clarity in their thinking at that time than me and they gently brought me round to the conclusion that I was doing myself no favours by keeping our infertility struggles such a closely guarded secret.

That part may astound you, if you were a reader of my blog back then, or you’ve delved in to the archives now. For a considerable period of time I gave a blow-by-blow, technicolour account of our story, dildo-cam dates and all, right here on the internet.

In my real life, however, I wasn’t being quite so open.

It turns out that it is much easier to type words on a screen and send them off to in to the ether to be seen by relative strangers than to look someone in the eye and say “we desperately want another child and can’t have one.” Of course my closest friends knew the score, but my life is filled with countless other people who couldn’t have helped but notice “something” was different, yet not had any idea of the truth.

I suppose I was worried, as always, about what people might think of me, or what they would say and do if party to those private details about me. I struggled with the acceptance of being imperfect, of needing help and support.

The problem, of course, is that we live in a society that so often prizes strength and coping. The ability to keep a smile on your face at all times and leave your problems behind you wherever you go without allowing them to cross over in to any other area of your life. However, it is easy to become too fixated on that. Too desperate to appear to be coping that you either forget – or, as in my case, more actively refuse – to let anyone know that you have anything to cope with. But strength is relative. Ironically I was hiding my struggles out of fear of judgement, yet what people were seeing was someone who seemed very “un-together” and more than a million miles away from “strong” as I randomly fell apart. In short, a mess. Because without the whole picture, that is exactly how I looked.

With even a small part of the picture (the desperate struggle to conceive, which was just a part of what was going on at the time) things instantly begin to look very different. And when I did open up, it was immediately obvious how it changed people’s perceptions. I wonder still how more honesty on my part might have influenced the support available to me and hence the entire experience from an earlier point.

There were plenty of truly horrible individual moments in the process of IVF. Sneaking around making surreptitious phone calls to the fertility clinic in working hours, terrified that someone may overhear. Shutting myself in my surgery at work to receive the phone call that left me in floods of tears as I learned that none of my eggs appeared to have fertilised, whilst the names of waiting patients came up in the appointment book. Beginning to miscarry the pregnancy that I already knew had failed down the toilet at work whilst patients shuffled in to the waiting room to await their turn to see me. Being asked at least twenty times a day by patients how I am and affixing a smile to respond that “I’m fine” when really I was anything but. Waiting those two long, hard, harsh weeks hardly daring to hope that the tiny bundle of cells you saw under the microscope is turning in to new life inside you. Then peeing on a plastic stick and facing the reality as stark as the blank white space that stares back at you, before leaving the house for “business as usual”, passing pregnant bellies and prams full of newborns and their piercing cries.

All of those individual moments, however – even the actual moment of physical miscarriage, – pale in comparison to the enormity of the whole thing together. The inability to do what high school sex education would have you believe happens at the drop of a hat as soon as a boy and a girl slide between the sheets together.

That and the fact that because we already have a child we were supposed to somehow be okay with this. Let me tell you now, wanting another child has never in any way meant that I don’t love and appreciate the child I have. He’s one in a million and absolutely irreplaceable. He’s my moon and stars, my reason for everything. I love him more than I’ve so far found the words to truly express. In fact, the love that I feel for him is one of the many reasons that I’d so love to have experienced motherhood again from the beginning. It’s not wrong to want another child in exactly the same way that it’s not wrong to not want children at all, or to want just one. We all have our own personal dreams, and more than one child was amongst mine. To be unable to achieve that dream is still devastating despite my beautiful boy.

(If you still doubt me on that, take a look at your own wider family and those of your friends. Having more than one child is not some sort of exceptional circumstance. Its a basic and common maternal desire that I shouldn’t find myself repeatedly apologising for.)

One of the many hard things about infertility after having a child is just how inescapable it is. People make assumptions that because you have one child you must be able to have another. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked when we’ll be having another – a drawback of working closely with the public is that they think it’s ok to keep asking me such personal questions when, really, it’s never ok.

I could not, and still can’t, take Thomas to swimming lessons, soft play or even school drop off without being faced by round beach- ball bellies and double buggies containing two smiling siblings. The friends that shared my first pregnancy long ago moved on to second and third children and it’s difficult not to feel somehow left behind. Everyone else moves forward whilst my own life stands still. It’s hard not to feel a bit jealous of those who didn’t even have a child when we started trying for a second child, but now have two, three or more. It’s hard sometimes not to think that it should be my turn by now.

Sharing just what exactly was happening behind the closed doors and the tear stained face was definitely a turning point though. When work colleagues knew what I’d been hiding, my behaviour obviously made sense. It wasn’t so much that I was forgiven, as that they were reassured I hadn’t changed fundamentally as a person. People suddenly saw someone who was actually coping reasonably well with difficult circumstances rather than the slightly flaky person who’d been standing before them a moment before. The “strength” word came up again because people could see the heavy load I was carrying, rather than seeing someone who was beginning to buckle underneath seemingly nothing at all.

And some of the conversations around me changed, because topics that were off limits were easier to see. It turns out that you cannot always expect people to be sensitive in their questioning if they don’t have any idea. Although, for reference, it’s not really anyone’s business when or whether other people plan to have children and it’s never really appropriate to ask. Just because someone has one child, don’t assume that automatically means they can have another. If you know a woman has miscarried don’t tell her “its for the best” or even “you can try again”. Sometimes trying again will cost thousands of pounds, or simply not be possible at all, never mind the emotional toll it will take.

Actually, that is the other reason I was glad that I started to open up.It gave me an opportunity to educate a few people on these home truths about the suitability of their questions. The fact that this is necessary to do though simply underlines how much of a taboo infertility still is. It turns out that I was far from alone in hiding what we were going through behind closed doors.

In recent years we’ve seen a lot of progress in the conversations about miscarriage, about subjects like birth trauma and about mental health. Yet infertility doesn’t yet seem to be a fair game topic. So many women hide what they are experiencing and so often they only reveal it when they have a positive outcome. Their happy news is shared with the story of what a struggle it was to get there.

The problem with that is it not only allows the struggle to be immediately glossed over by the fantastic ending, it also sometimes gives a false impression of the success rate of infertility treatment. If people only ever hear the good outcomes, it’s natural to assume that that is all there is. But sadly that is not the truth. Whilst success rates have improved, and we have much to thank modern medical science for, there are still plenty of us who don’t ever get that happy outcome. Sometimes miracles don’t “just take a little time” – they may never arrive. And sometimes it really is the end, even when it is not okay. Dreams, it seems, don’t always come true and believing you can is not always enough.

I’m glad I ended my personal infertility silence, but I wish I could do something to support others – who want to – to do the same. Of course fertility and trying to conceive is a very personal thing, and not everyone wants to open up. But we need to create the right environment for those who do. It’s time to open up about infertility and all the myriad ways it affects us. It’s time to normalise it, to raise the profile and end the inappropriate questions of young women (and men) about their family plans. It’s time to let others know they are not alone, no matter what the outcome. It’s time to be there for people facing infertility, so they don’t feel they must carry the burden in silence.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

25 Things from a Very 1980s Primary School Experience

With the end of the holidays fast approaching, school has been on my mind. As we’ve begun preparing Thomas for the new term, it’s given me cause to reflect on how different his school experience is from my own. There are a whole host of things we used to get up to back in the 1980s that simply wouldn’t be allowed these days, and we certainly lacked a lot of the technological advantages of current day school children (interactive whiteboards, the internet… even proper photocopiers!) But I’m a very nostalgic person, and can’t help but look back on my childhood era with immense fondness.  So here are 25 things that made up a very 1980s Primary School Experience:

1. Overhead Projectors. There were no computer projectors (there weren’t many computers) so we used these things instead. Especially for projecting….

2…. hymns in assembly. They were mostly taken from the “Come and Praise” book. Ones that particularly stick in mind include Autumn days (“So I mustn’t forgeeeeeeet, to say a great big thank you”) Cross Over the Road, When I Needed a Neighbour, The Whole World in his Hands and One More Step Along the World I Go.

3. The lack of a standard curriculum. Ah, it was a liberal time. There was no National Curriculum, and seemingly often little guidance on what we should actually be doing, with a lot of focus on creativity and “The 3Rs” (only one of which actually began with ‘R’, ironically enough!). It meant there was no levels, no SATs or formal testing. Of course it also meant that there was often no history, no geography and no science either! I remember my dad (in a science based career) coming in to do “experiments” with us once. He took small groups off to an office to show them things like vinegar volcanoes. The mum of one of my friends always came in to do “cooking” (which was always making scones anyway!)

4. On that note – whilst there was absolutely no problem with my dad – any old person could come in to the school to listen to reading, or even to teach! There were no DBS checks then and qualifications seemed to be an irrelevance. Same went for school trips. Anyone could help out and it often involved piling kids in your car with no thought to car seat or even seat belts in the back!

5. Learning to read was in an experimental phase too. Phonics was out but no one could really agree how we should learn. I fondly remember the Ginn 360 Reading scheme (more on this one soon), Bangers and Mash books, the Hummingbirds stories and Breakthrough to Literacy. The latter was responsible for the big orange “Sentence Maker” (a folder in to which you slotted pre printed cards to make stores before copying them in to your book).

6. We also had Look and Read. With classics such as Geordie Racer, Dark Towers and Badger Girl, plus the one no one seems to remember called Fairground. The TV shows had accompanying books and worksheets and we watched them on…

7…. The TV on a trolley. The TV was always strapped to a high trolley, with a video recorder underneath. We all got crick in the neck from looking up at it as we watched from a cross legged position on the floor (why was the trolley so high?!) Other TV classics included Words and Pictures (Magic E and the magic flashing pencil) and “How We Used to Live” – ha, the 80s could feature on there now!

8. SMP – The School Mathematics Project cards. Anyone remember those? The cards were grouped together by topic, and there was always a topic set everyone wanted to avoid. I remember one that was supposed to teach about negative numbers by talking about Damascus and Sea Level!

 

9. Lunchboxes. Remember these beauties?

10. Donut with a milkshake for pudding with school dinners. Usually a limited number available, so given to those who ate fastest, which meant the same kids had them every day whilst the rest of us pushed the soggy cabbage around the plate and then got given semolina or tapioca!

11. Shiny white “tracing paper” toilet paper. And the horrible smelling green sludge soap.

12. Teachers smoking in the staffroom.

13. There was possibly one computer. It was usually an Acorn or BBC Master. t was wheeled around on a trolley and you usually got to use it as a reward for being good. And then had to wait hours for a program to load from a cassette tape.

14. The school secretary had an actual typewriter.

15. There were no photocopies, only “duplicates” often made on a Banda machine and therefore purple. The copies were always a bit wonky and smelled funny!

16. As there were no photocopiers, the easiest way to draw maps in your Geography book was using a Map roller – like a rolling pin with the map of a continent embossed on it which was rolled in ink then transferred to the page.

16. Country dancing. And dancing around the maypole.

17. Being sent “to the wall” for being naughty, which involved standing with your nose pressed against the wall for a determined amount of time. If you fidgeted, it was extended. (This never happened to me, because I was an angel, natch!)

18. Blue Peter “Bring and Buy Sales” in the school hall.

19. Playing British Bulldog. And Kiss Chase.

20. Proper blackboards, that you could pull on a roller to move road. And the board rubbers that went with them with their tightly packed concentric rings of coloured felt.

 

21. No such thing as a PE kit for the girls – we did it in our vest and knickers.

22. Magic Steps Shoes…

Or before that these classic T-bar shoes from Clarks.

Or, if you were really cool, the ones where you could turn the strap to go around the back and thus make them in to slip-ons. All the boys seemed to wear those nylon parkas – Snorkels – with the furry hood and a bright orange quilted lining.

 

23. No water bottles. Just water fountains in the playground that you had to join a long queue to use.

24. The school dentist and eye checks – waiting to see if you were given “the letter” to take home. And the nit nurse, of course!

25. Bomb scares. Thankfully always a hoax, but it seemed at one point like we were herded away from the school every other week because someone had phoned in a message.

What else do you remember, fondly or otherwise, from your school days?

Cuddle Fairy

 

Living Arrows – Train Reading

This weeks picture captures a whole bunch of things about Thomas within it’s confined frame. We were on the train – his favourite place to be -and he’s reading, something that he’s both good at and finally increasingly coming to actually love. More than that, though, he is reading a Thomas the Tank Engine book. Despite the array of books that he owns and is able to read himself, he still loves going back to these well worn stories, and to watch him become absorbed in them all by himself tugs at my mummy strings!

Thomas reading

(The final thing this picture captures is his hand inside his waistband. This is on the list of “Things people should tell you when you have a baby boy”!)

I wanted to be able to share something new for Living Arrows, but I also can’t help myself but include these two pictures from our trip to a local sunflower trail last week too, because I really love them.

For me pictures of our sunflower adventure, read the full post here

Linking up with Donna at What the Redhead Said

Living Arrows

 

When Thomas Met the Flying Scotsman

I can pinpoint the moment that Thomas fell utterly in love with trains. He was 18 months and 2 days old. I remember  it that exactly because we took him to meet Thomas the Tank Engine at the Spa Valley Railway in Kent. (Tickets were free for children up to 18 months of age. I classed 18 months and 2 days as close enough to 18 months to be free!)

He was mesmerised by all of the trains, not just his namesake. Steam and diesel alike, they all lit his little face up. It was that day that we bought him his first wooden Thomas train (Thomas, naturally) which was the start of what is now a simply vast collection. The wooden train, and its track, quickly became his favourite toy, one that he would not go anywhere without. To this day, train tracks still criss-cross the floor of playroom on a semi-permanent basis.

The love developed to encompass the trains that run through the local station just a few minutes from our house. For the longest time he referred to the Class 475 Southeastern trains as “Seventy-Two train” and we never did get to understand why! But the sight of these very ordinary commuter services rushing through the station filled him with a joy that literally made him jump up and down. We’d make daily stops to watch them, supplemented by endless You Tube videos. Riding a train was his favourite thing to do, eve if we just rode to the next town, got out and came back. Downtime was filled with train books, both fiction and non.

Thomas the Tank Engine was his biggest love for a long time. Each morning started with an episode (or four!) and we worked our way through the entire library of stories. But gradually the obsession has expanded. He has a particular fondness for the Shinkansen Bullet trains and can tell you in great depth about how they were engineered (as a result we’re off to Japan next year to ride them). Other favourites include the Eurostar, Virgin Pendolinos and the old Intercity 125 HSTs. He doesn’t just love to watch and to ride on trains, he loves to know how they work. He can tell you about everything from pantographs to Pandrol clips, how a steam engine works to how the wheels stay on the rails. He rates the standard of his day by how many trains he has been able to see. When he says that he wants to be a train driver, I completely and utterly believe him.

He doesn’t just like trains. It is an obsession. A love affair.

One of his favourite trains in the last 18 months or so has been the Flying Scotsman. We’ve watched endless documentaries about her most recent restoration and he is a walking encylopedia of facts about LNER Gresley Class A3 4472 (aka Flying Scotsman). He even asked for the Flying Scotsman in cake for his fifth birthday (I obliged, as best I could).

When we heard that the Scotsman was coming to the Bluebell Railway, close enough to home for an easy day out, we knew that we had to take Thomas. Unfortunately both Ian and I were at work on the day tickets were released, but it was Grandpa to the rescue as he painstakingly refreshed the page and kept his patience, finally securing us tickets to ride behind Scotsman between Sheffield Park and East Grinstead in the very first carriage.

It wasn’t Thomas’s first visit to the Bluebell Railway, but it was definitely the most exciting. We kept it as a secret until the day before, which was probably just as well because I think he’d have been beside himself having to wait much longer.



We were booked on the second service of the day, and the Scotsman had already left Sheffield Park on her first run by the time we arrived. However there was plenty more to explore.

Typhoon – a one third scale model of the Flying Scotsman, normally found at the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway in Kent, was at Sheffield Park. The two engines were last together at Kings Cross in 1927, where they were described as ‘The Giant and the Dwarf’. We weren’t able to stay right to the end of the day when they were drawn up alongside one another, but Thomas had a good chance to explore Typhoon, even sitting in the cab.





We also had the opportunity to walk underneath a steam train and get up close with all the pipes, springs and wheels. It was hard hat territory! And there was plenty to explore in the engine sheds outside too.


We then got to visit the cab of one of Bluebell’s permanent Southern Railway steam engines, and Thomas even allowed to stoke up the fire with coal and wear the drivers cap!


We were back with Typhoon when Thomas spotted what he had been waiting so patiently for…

… the Flying Scotsman herself!







We crossed over to the platform and climbed aboard for our trip to East Grinstead and back.





Thomas (as all of us) spent a fair amount of time with our heads out of the window, enjoying that beautiful steam train smell and trying to avoid smuts of soot in the eye. The route was lined with people waving at tis iconic engine puffing her way past. (We waved back, or course!)

Thomas could not wipe the grin off his face. He turned to look at me, as we pulled out of the station, and said “I can’t believe we’re on the Flying Scotsman!” His joy was utterly infectious!

All too soon we were back at Sheffield Park. There was still plenty more to look at, including the permanent Southern Railway exhibition. Thomas had a chance to move the signal levers, ad learn how they worked, as well as dressing up in a drivers outfit.


(We need this sign for people entering our house – the trains are everywhere!)

All too soon it was the end of our day.

Thomas’s verdict?

“That was the best day ever. I loved it so much.”

Can’t say more than that!

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Happy Days: Festivals, Camping and Dates

So. I made a decision to return to blogging partly because I had so much that I wanted to record in a way that I can easily look back on. And I was full of enthusiasm and inspiration and raring to go and then…. Well, then this week happened to me! Safe to say it has not been one of the easier weeks of life or parenting with Thomas managing to simultaneously push almost every single one of my buttons. Something is clearly bothering him, although we haven’t got to the bottom of what and it has been reflected in his behaviour. Add stressful work and general life stuff in to the mix and it would be very easy for me to throw up my hands in despair.

But.

There has actually been quite a lot of good stuff this week. So I’m linking up this list of little happy moments with Katy and Sian

    • Fun, and a couple of pints, in the sunshine at a local community music festival. Thomas had a ball dancing, and was also excited that there was a fire engine in attendance. Firefighters are a big thing at the moment – he’s even told me that he might want to be a fireman rather than a train driver (*shock*horror*)

  • Thomas really enjoying a full day of Judo camp, despite being quite anxious about going and being one of the two youngest ones there.
  • Sleeping out in the tent in the garden with my boy. He camped out with Daddy last weekend but was desperate to have Mummy join him too. We had heavy rain and thunder to contend with, but it was lots of fun even though it was only the back garden!

  • Getting all of the back to school shopping done without too much hassle. I actually bought all of his shirts, shorts and trousers back in July with 20% off but we needed to go to the school outfitter for all the specific stuff. We had a giggle when the first pair of PE bottoms the lady bought out pulled all the way up to Thomas’s armpits and looked like proper clown trousers! I was also winning because I had his feet measured and they haven’t really grown, so the new school shoes we got not long after Easter should last a while longer yet!
  • A “date” with my little man at the Cinema. We went to the Kid’s Club screening of “Sing” so it was £2 a ticket. Although it is an old film we haven’t seen it yet and Thomas has been wanting to for a while. It was actually really good – I couldn’t help but sing along – and Thomas gave it a massive thumbs up.
  • A date with Ian… well almost. Thomas was meant to stay with my parents on Wednesday night and so Ian and I snuck out for dinner and drinks. We’d just ordered when we got a phone call to say that Thomas was inconsolable. We still haven’t got to the bottom of what was upsetting him – he’s stayed with my parents lots before and never had a problem, so we know it isn’t that. We did manage to wolf our dinner down pretty quickly befre heading back though. Small wins!
    • New clothes in the sale. Including this dress which I have had my eye on all summer, so even better to get it at sale price

  • Nice little notes and comments – I signed in to my work computer today and received a little thank you note from one of our hygienists for something, and I’ve had some really lovely feedback forms from patients too this week, which is always good for the soul, especially when things are generally stressful and pressured.

Phew. That turned in to quite a list. Good to know there is plenty to be thankful for even when the week has felt like a struggle!

What Katy Said