A Snapshot of Life at Three and a Half

Ignoring completely that it’s a long time since I wrote anything at all here, it feels like forever since I wrote to, or for, or about Thomas specifically. That’s partly for the sake of some degree of privacy, and not wanting this space to just be a blow by blow account of his every milestone as it unfolds. It’s also because I’ve preferred to record aspects of our lives as a whole family. And, of course, not least of all it’s because I’ve been rather wrapped up in my own emotional state in the last couple of years. But whatever I want from this blog and my online presence, a reason to document the things I don’t want to forget about my precious only son is still foremost amongst them.

And so here we are, at three-and-a-half-and-a-bit-more.

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And first and foremost: The kid can read. I’m not plonking this here in any attempt to brag about my son, because I only know that not all three year olds can read with the fluency that Thomas can because other people keep banging on about it, but for all I know, perhaps most of them can. However, it would be wrong to say that I’m not a little bit proud of him. He’s the boy who remains completely obsessed with numbers to the point that I was afraid he wouldn’t find the same joy in the written word. So to have him be so utterly determined to decipher the world around him by reading words, and to be so keen to read books to himself and figure out the story from the symbols on the page is absolutely heart warming.

He’s been trying to read for a long while but fear of being seen as a “pushy” mum, never mind not really knowing anything about phonics or how to go about helping him led me to keep pushing the issue aside, hoping to hold him off until he goes to school at the end of next year. But his frustration at being able to read numbers but not letters soon led to some pretty epic tantrums. I couldn’t blame him. The closest thing to knowing how he felt for me was thinking of visiting countries that don’t use a Roman alphabet, and therefore being unable to even guess what so many words around me said. It’s no wonder kids get overwhelmed. Thomas would look heartbroken as he sat on his bed with a book and said “I want to read. I can’t read the words. Please teach me to read.” It seemed cruel to say no to something he wanted to understand so badly.

So, after a quick crash course for myself, off we went. Within two weeks he’d mastered all of the most common phonemes and the art of both blending and segmenting. Since then he’s raced his way through Julia Donaldson’s Songbirds books and many of the Read Write Inc books. Everywhere we go he points out letters and sounds and reads words he recognises. Every conversation is punctuated by him declaring the sounds that the various objects we are discussing begin with, or segmenting a particular word to figure out how it is spelled. Seeing him decoding so many things in the world around him has been an amazing journey for us too.

All I can hope is that this is just the beginning of a life long love affair with the written word, reading and writing.

The love has numbers has not gone, either. He mastered counting to one hundred earlier in the year, and the idea of one more and one less. he can now recognise a group as being a particular number without the need to count them out, which makes playing dice games much, much easier! He’s currently absorbed in basic addition, subtraction and sharing of numbers. His ability to manipulate numbers, however, far outstrips his drawing and writing ability. So many of the paper based number activities involve drawing more of something. For example, he knows that if you have two buttons and add two more you will have four buttons, but he cannot draw two more buttons next to the ones on the page for love nor money! I’m wondering if writing and drawing will be the next big interest in the same way that reading followed counting!

Just in case anyone is worried that I chain Thomas to a desk to practice reading and number puzzles, don’t worry, he’s still very much an over enthusiastic, boisterous handful of a little boy. He’s still as obsessed with trains as ever and still wants to be one at every opportunity. He makes us line up to be tenders or coaches and race along the “rails” on the pavement, stopping to open our doors and let in passengers, or fill up with coal and water at every other lamp post . We visit rooms in the house picking up and dropping off various toys that stand in as passengers. He will tell anyone that will listen about how stream trains work and we still watch plenty of videos of trains on You Tube. In fact “can I have a video?” is one of the most oft heard phrases in our house right now.

His other absolute favourite game right now is hide and seek. Not that he’s any good at it, mind you. He wriggles and giggles to give the game away long before we’re even in the right room, but that joy he gets from both “hiding” and seeking is immense and evident from the face-splitting smiles. He could also play “snap” for hours and “Can I do an app?” is another frequent refrain.

We get plenty of standard pre-school behaviour too, and some that I’m concerned is not so standard. He’s a deeply particular person who wants things exactly so. What Thomas doesn’t realise is that we aren’t capable of reading his mind and we don’t always understand how he is imagining that something will work. He gets so frustrated if we don’t do or say exactly what he wants, even if he has not made it clear what that is. One middle of the night meltdown involved the order in which we went in to his room and left and what exactly we each needed to say to him. At three in the morning on the fourth wake up call of the night, is was easier and faster to try to comply, but even that took a long time and left me back in bed with my mind wondering to how he will ever cope in the world when people don’t do things exactly as he wants. It is as simple as being bossy (although he is that) or wanting to be in control (ditto) but more that he seems to genuinely believe that something terrible might happen if things don’t happen as he envisages.

On a similar vein, he is very ritual led. He doesn’t have particularly rigid overall routines, but there are certain specific sequences that mustt be played out. Lately we have to pretend to race him to do certain things – such as take his clothes off for the bath, turn the television off, go up the stairs – and then pretend to be upset when we “lose” (which is not helping his competitive “me first” streak at all!) We have a very rigid sequence of things which have to be done at bedtime and any deviation means we have to go right back to the beginning.

I’m telling myself this is all normal, and it, too, shall pass.

After all, his sleep is better. He generally actually stays in bed now, and goes off to sleep well more than half of the time. We’re up at some point in the night pretty much every night, but it’s often only once which is a big improvement. He’s still an early riser and we often see 5am, however we did put some renewed effort in to the Gro-Clock and a sticker chart. he got a sticker each day he stayed in his room until the sun came up and these days it’s often 6am until we hear “Mummy and Daddy come and play with meeee! It’s morning”

Ah yes, sticker charts. there are a lot of “incentives” in Thomas’s life right now. I prefer that term to “bribes”. I see it as teaching him that things can be earned with hard work, and effort, and doing things you don’t necessarily want to. After all, the vast majority of adults go to work primarily to get paid! Whilst Thomas will talk to anyone and soon round up a bunch of kids of all ages at the park and have them under his control in a game of “Shops” or “Postmen” or “Trains” he can be quite physically timid – afraid of climbing or new slides and things like that. We’ve used offers of treats to get him to try the things we know he will actually love, like the water slides at Center Parcs. We’ve also had sticker charts for everything from staying in bed, to dressing himself and trying new foods.

Yeah, that. Eating is still a bit hit and miss. Overall he’s more adventurous than he was. He has now earned a total of three new trains for trying fifteen new foods in the last six months, which I think is pretty amazing! They’ve included things like kidney beans, lamb and green beans. In fact, last month he happily ate first one green bean, then nine more with no fuss at all, which a few months ago would have been unthinkable. It brings the vegetable count to peas, carrots, sweet corn, corn on the cob (his favourite) and green beans. I’ll happily take that. (Fruit is going less well. We’re stuck with apples, tinned peaches and anything pureed. Ah well, perhaps eating pureed fruit from pouches will be a future adult craze!)

Other than all of that, he’s just a rally fantastic little boy. He talks non-stop to anyone and everyone. He has a fantastic sense of humour and really gets jokes now. He runs (or now skips, often hand-in-hand with me) everywhere and I’m unsure if he knows how to walk! He still loves his bike and is a balancing pro now. He’s too smart for his own good at times. (Doing “Stranger Danger” at preschool the staff expressed concerns that he was quite happy to keep going off with “strangers” whilst they were acting it out. On the way home he brought the subject up himself told me all about how you should never go with someone you don’t know, or accept things from them and recited the “rules” perfectly. I asked him why, then, he had gone with the “strangers”. He gave me such a withering look and said “Mummy that wasn’t a stranger, that was ” I had to admit he had a point!”)

On the one had he has a great attention to detail and brilliant memory, remembering things from two years ago with clarity I cannot always match. Sometimes he’ll become engaged in an activity for so long that time seems to stand still. And he can be incredibly patient if waiting for something that neither he, nor we, can control, such as the start of a show. On the other hand, he often has a typical short attention span and cloth ears. Often he wants everything “now” especially if that is my attention.

Of course, I don’t begrudge him that. He’s my only one. My special son. His smile brightens my day and stills my heart all at once. I still love him more than I can find the words for. in fact, I’m not sure the words for it will ever come, even if I should live to be one hundred and one.

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{Living Arrows 2015} 2/52

Thomas is a really fussy eater.

You might not believe that, based on the number of pictures I seem to have shared of him stuffing his face, but the range of foods he will eat has shrunk steadily over the last couple of years. If I let it get to me, mealtimes could easily be an immense battleground with tears and tantrums on all sides. And believe me, sometimes I’m very close to that. But instead I save my frustration for the people that spout the nonsense about how “feeding your baby a wide range of foods will ensure they grow up eating a wide range of foods” and “babyled eaning creates much less fussy eaters”. I know that this stuff is utter claptrap because Thomas could not have been fed, nor more happy to eat, a wider variety of food from weaning until things went downhill between the ages of one and two. He was fed many of these foods in ways that babyled weaning purists would be impressed by (although our approach was truly more Thomas-led and involved cutlery as well as finger food, spoon feeding as well as self-feeding – it’s probably a tale best left for another time).

However, Thomas also really loves food.

Well, as long, that is, that it’s one of the foods that he likes. Thomas is very much all or nothing!

This week’s picture was taken about thirty seconds after Thomas was served a bowl of pasta bolognese in Pizza Express this weekend. This is very definitely a food that Thomas really loves – even more than he loves my own version, much to my chagrin.

But then, you can probably tell that just by looking at the picture!

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(By way of comparison, this post includes pictures of Thomas devouring the same meal almost a year ago)

Living Arrows

Recipe: Malteser Cupcakes

Malteser Cupcakes close up

It may be a slightly ironic hobby for a type one diabetic, but I’ve always loved to bake. I love the process as much as eating the results. There is something enormously therapeutic about the manipulation of raw ingredients in to aesthetically pleasing finished products. So baking is one of the things I’ve recently promised myself to make more time for. In fact, I’ve gone so far as to pledge to myself to stop buying any pre-made baked items, but instead to spend time baking anything that I want to eat, and baking something at least once a week. Three weeks in to this pledge, which is as much about creating a bit of time to myself as anything else, I’m doing really well!

I don’t usually blog recipes. In fact, I’m almost certain this is my first, but it’s one that I had to share after whipping it up this week when charged with providing cake for a work colleagues birthday.

There is something about those little malty chocolate balls that everyone seems to love – my colleagues definitely included. So straight away I knew I wanted to use a Malteser theme for the birthday cake. The only problem was with transporting a full size cake in to work, whilst also juggling Thomas on the nursery run, was going to be a challenge. I knew that cupcakes would be much easier. So I set about adapting a Malteser cake recipe – from the Hummingbird Bakery – in to one I could use for cupcakes. This is the end result. I may be biased, but they are really good. And judging by the empty box, my work mates agreed!

Malteser Cupcakes

For the cakes

150ml Sunflower oil – using oil rather than a solid fat makes for a much lighter cake
75ml whole milk
75ml buttermilkcan be tricky to find (Waitrose sell the St Ivel brand, find it near the cream) so you can just use extra milk, or plain yogurt
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
215g plain white flour
25g cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
310g caster sugar
40g Ovaltine or Horlicks powder
100ml boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 140 degrees centigrade

2. Beat together the oil, milk, buttermilk and vanilla extract. Then add the egg and whisk again.

3. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder. Then mix in the sugar.

4. Mix the Ovaltine or Horlicks with the boiling water (add a little water to the powder at a time, and stir well).

4. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl of wet ingredients a little at a time and mix well. A rubber spatula works well here. After each addition of dry ingredients, add a little of the Ovaltine mixture too. Continue adding until all the ingredients are combined.

5. Divide the mixture evenly between 12-16 cupcake cases – depending on size. You need to fill them about 3/4 full

6. Place in the oven. In my very efficient fan oven, they took about 25 minutes to cook, with one turn at about 11 minutes. In the last five minutes they were checked every 1-2 minutes. This is key as the cakes can easily overcook and become dry. It’s important not to cook them at a higher temperature as this will lead to them becoming more dry around the edges, and also gives cupcakes that “peaky” look. They should spring back lightly when they are done. Take them out of the oven and leave for a few minutes to firm, before transferring to a wire rack.

For the topping

200g chocolate – it’s up to you what you use. For a richer topping, use dark 70% cocoa solids. For a lighter result, try milk. or you could do half and half
225ml double cream
150g Ovaltine or Horlicks
50g full fat cream cheese
50g icing sugar
Maltesers to decorate

1. Melt the chocolate (either in a bowl set over simmering water, or in the microwave)

2. Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks (use an electric whisk). Whip in the Ovaltine powder.

3. In a separate bowl, mix the cheese with the icing sugar. Be careful not to overbeat. Add the chocolate to the bowl.

4. Add the cream to the cheese and chocolate mixture a bit at a time, still being careful not to overbeat.

5. Pipe on to the cupcakes and add Maltesers for decoration.

more malteser cupcakes

And then: Enjoy!

More Musings on Diabetes and IVF… and Carbs

I’ve already mentioned that one of the main things I’m doing differently in the IVF cycle is really focusing on my diet. It’s always made sense to me that what I put in to my body has the potential to affect the quality of the eggs that I’m growing. To that end it seemed logical to choose fresh and natural foods in preference to processed ones, and to choose the best quality ingredients available to me. But this cycle, I wanted to think beyond that.

Thanks to type one diabetes, I try to stick to a lower carb diet, since carbs are the macronutrient which has the greatest and most immediate effect on blood sugar levels. Now isn’t the time or place for a dissertation on carbohydrates or my feelings surrounding the recent sensationalism of the so-called “paleo” way of eating, but suffice it to say I’m not interested in labelling the way that I eat, or being particularly evangelical about it. Diabetic since the age of three, I grew up thinking about carbs, and counting them in every meal. I’ve been eating the way that I eat now for more than ten years and I just do what works for me and my health. On a day-to-day basis that means being careful about carbs, but I still indulge in bread, pasta and plenty of cake as and when the time is right. Eating lower carb, however, almost inevitably leads to an increase in the proportion of the diet that is composed of protein and fat. So when I learned before our first IVF cycle that a high protein diet is recommended during the stemming phase, I felt pretty set. I didn’t think specifically about the carbs and I didn’t delve in to it further.

This time I thought I’d check out the evidence for the high protein suggestion that seems to be so widely accepted. A quick Google instantly threw up plenty of results, most of which ultimately led back to a small study, the results of which were presented at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists meeting almost exactly a year ago. There are plenty of problems with taking this as gospel. The fact that it is such a small study, with seemingly limited control of confounding factors, and the fact that it has not yet been published in a peer reviewed journal chief amongst them. But the findings are intriguing enough. Especially the specific relationship between low carb diets – less than 40% of calories from carbs – and IVF success rates – jumping up to 80% in this group.

Given that this may well be our last attempt at IVF, I need to feel that I’ve done it right. And suddenly my usual casual attitude to my diet doesn’t seem enough. I feel I need to make minimising carbs an absolute priority because limiting carbs is much less likely to cause a problem than eating them excessively.

I should have left it there. I should have kept my focus that simple and not over-thought it. But me being me, I couldn’t leave it alone. And given that carbs are the subject of discussion, it didn’t take very long until I began stumbling across references to insulin levels and blood sugar levels. And then the fact I’d been trying to avoid hit me in the head.

The conclusion in the popular media is the same one that crops up over and over again when anything to do with carbohydrates is discussed. They apparently cause “soaring blood glucose levels” and it is the blood glucose levels rather than the carbs themselves that are likely to do the damage.

An easy way to annoy a type one diabetic is to talk about food causing “soaring” or “skyrocketing” blood glucose levels in non-diabetics. If you haven’t experienced a blood sugar level of 20mmol/l, you have no idea what “skyrocketing” means. And here’s a hint: if you don’t have diabetes, you haven’t. Blood glucose levels can and do vary in non-diabetics, but by definition, if they get ups above around 6.5-7mmol/l, you’re probably in the club that no one wants to join.

This doesn’t, of course, mean that the assumption that raised blood glucose levels can harm eggs is a bad one. Any female diabetic will know only too well the list of potential complications for an embryo if blood glucose levels are not controlled during early pregnancy. The body doesn’t thrive with too much sugar running around in your blood stream, and it’s clearly not the best environment for creating genetically flawless material. I already know that.

But if the assumption is correct, that higher carb diets are detrimental because of the variations in blood sugar levels in non-diabetics, then what hope do I have? Suddenly this is all about so much more than my diet. Of course I work really bloody hard to keep things as stable as I can. I eat lower carb for precisely this reason – to minimise the swings. But inevitably my blood sugars stray up to the 7 or 8 region more often than in a non-diabetic, and also stray higher than that. And then I have a day like today:

Vibe graph

The red lines are all numbers above 7.8mmol/l. The gap in the graph spans about three and half hours where the sensor was changed over. I wasn’t high that whole time – in fact, I had a fairly epic low. But when I look at the rest of the afternoon, I can’t help but feel that I’ve messed up our chances of this working before we’ve even got to the exciting part.

Rationally I know that people with diabetes get pregnant all the time. They even get pregnant as a result of assisted conception all the time. and they also conceive with less than ideal control and experience no complications. My control was good when we conceived Thomas, but I’m sure I had similar strays in my blood sugars that month. It’s just that it seems like we have so much against us in this. We know that the embryo implanted last time, that I don’t have implantation issues, nor any of the other major leading causes of recurrent miscarriage. So the most likely reason for failure is a genetic one within the embryo.

I just feel as though I can’t possibly do enough. Despite the fact that my conclusions are based purely on assumptions and that the effects of diet are unproven never mind the causation of the effect, I still feel hopeless. Diabetes is a beast that just can’t be tamed all of the time. And I feel as though it has the potential to steal our last chance, no matter what I do.

Thomas and the Chocolate Cake

Yesterday we had Easter lunch at my parents’ house and in the afternoon, we had a chocolate Easter cake. This was very exciting for Thomas, who has previously had chocolate cake only on his first birthday. (I’m a mean mother, right?)

Let me at it

Let me at it!

I'll just have a bit of this

Do you think anyone will notice if I just pinch a bit from the top?

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Mmmmmmm. Mmmmmmm. Everything nice food-wise lately is met with a very firm “Mmmmmmm”. (To the extent that he declared “Mmmmmmm” as his meal was served to him in a restaurant this weekend, and made the waiter giggle – and my heart melt!)

Here I go

Here it comes!

Yummy

Nom, nom, nom!

More!

More! Daddy, give me more of yours!

Messy face

The end result.

Except, that wasn’t quite the end of the chocolate cake, and I really should have known better than to let Grandparents spoil him. We had the chocolate cake in reverse in the car on the way home. All over Thomas. All over the carseat. And I became that mother, pulled up at the side of the road, rinsing everything down with a bottle of water and baby wipes!

Curry Kickstart?

Six heavily pregnant women and six nervous fathers-to-be walk in to a curry house.

There’s no punchline: it’s an NCT group pre-parenthood night out!

With due dates rapidly approaching, there is obviously much speculation about whether the spice of the night will kickstart any, or all, of us in to labour. With a planned sweep on Tuesday, and the feeling of a deadline looming for me to go in to labour spontaneously, it more than crossed my mind to use the opportunity as a bit of a helping hand. I’ll admit that I ordered a fairly spicy option.

Of course, I regret it now. Not a whisper of a symptom other than excruciating heartburn.

That aside, it was a great evening. It struck me that there is a very high likelihood that this will be the last time all of us meet without any babies being in the picture, which strangely brought it home even harder how close we are to the finish line. You’d think I would have got that by now, with less than a month to go and formal arrangements about to be made for the eviction of Flangelina. Yet somehow I’m still managing to compartmentalise things, and not making the connection that the end of pregnancy will mean that we have a baby.

I think we’ve been extremely lucky that our NCT group has provided us with the new parent network we feel that we want and I’m looking forward to sharing our journey with these guys. Mindful of the looming changes in all our lives, we took the opportunity to get to know each other a little bit better as non-parents, and then to discuss some of these fears about how it’s all going to change.

Heading home afterwards, not even particularly late, but already shattered, I couldn’t help but wonder when Ian and I will next have a night out. And I know that we’ll have babysitters to worry about when we do.

Filling the Freezer

Over the last few days I’ve done a lot of cooking – and I mean A LOT – involving at least two kilograms of minced beef, around eight onions and several hundred grams of chopped tomatoes, amongst many other things. At one point today I had two enormous saucepans on the go, both full of the same bubbling Bolognese sauce.

I’ve got a cosy image in my head that I’m quite willing to acknowledge is unlikely to materialise. But in my fantasy land, once the baby is here and Ian has his two weeks of paternity leave, we’ll be able to snuggle up together and just get to bond as a family. We’ll only go out because we choose to and there will be some degree of suspension of normal life rules. Obviously we’ll have to eat though, and I want to eat well. I don’t, however, fancy spending precious time trailing around supermarket shelves with our newborn in tow and nor do I want to eat take away food or ready meals every day. So the only solution is to do all of my home cooking up front and stash it in the freezer. Eating well will simply be a matter of pulling something from the freezer and cooking it through. I know that life post-baby is unlikely to be that simple, but a freezer full of lovely food is an achievable aim, so I’ve been working steadily towards it.

And honestly, it’s been fun. It started with planning a number of suitable recipes to batch-cook and freeze. I came up with Bolognese, Chilli Con Carne, Chicken Curry, Moussaka, Stroganoff, Spanish Chicken Pie and Shepherd’s Pie. I ordered all of the ingredients in one go in a big online shop, along with individual portion size foil trays and freezer bags to store them in. And then I started cooking.

There has been something enormously therapeutic and comforting about chopping and preparing ingredients and watching these big batches of food evolve, before portioning them out, labelling them up and then slotting them carefully in the freezer. It may be a version of nesting, but I feel calm and in control, as if I’m preparing us for the storm that our baby may bring. I feel efficient and organised and quite possibly the closest to “Domestic Goddess” that I’ll ever achieve, all whilst eight months pregnant.

And if nothing else, it’s a fantastic way to pass time that just seems to be dragging. And being eight months pregnant is a cast iron excuse to make the mess in the kitchen and then somehow not get around to doing the clearing up….