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.”
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.
Magical moments indeed.

The Idea vs the Reality

Every parent makes plans. And has dreams and aspirations. It’s all so much worse in the era of social media and Pinterest where it’s all too easy to get swept up in the romance and beauty of other people’s picture perfect moments, even when we know deep down that these represent edited highlights and nobody’s life can look that good all the time. But it’s so seductive. And appears so effortless. It takes enormous self-control not to be swept along in to believing that we, too, can create those moments and memories with our own offspring.

And so it was, this week, that we set out on a little fruit picking expedition.

We had guests yesterday, and I had plans for some summer-berry based puddings to serve up. And since we live in the heart of the so-called “Garden of England”, virtually surrounded by fruit fields, it almost feels a little bit wrong to buy pre-packaged fruit, that may well have travelled miles, from the artificially controlled environment of the supermarket when we can go out and get it ourselves, straight from the bush, at a fraction of the cost.

And, you know, maybe have a few Instragram-worthy frolics whilst we’re at it.

You see, it absolutely wasn’t the aim of our trip. I’m not that shallow. I really did need a fruit haul. And I asked Thomas more than once if it was something that he wanted to do. He was actually disappointed when I delayed the trip due to the prediction of an imminent rain shower passing in half an hour (what did we do before forecast.io?!). But it seems that fruit picking is an “activity of the moment” (and why not, given that it is summer), based on the number of blog posts and Instagram photos of people’s idyllic days in the fields, with contented children, willing and able to assist in the harvest.

The sensible part of me worried that Thomas would not be all that keen. Unfortunately he’s a bit of fruit-hater, despite having loved the stuff up until he was a little over eighteen months old. Now, he’ll scream if you so much as suggest that he might want to try a strawberry. But we did take him blackberry picking last year, which he enjoyed despite his refusal to sample any of our harvest. And the strawberries, tomatoes and chills in our garden have provided plenty of amusement, if not any sustenance for the smallest member of our family. And so the not-so-sensible side of me said it would be fine. I let myself get carried away imagining us with thorn scratched arms, fingers lips stained purple from the juices of the ripe treasures we were sure to find.

Um, yeah. Not so much.

Thomas was entirely unimpressed with the rows upon rows of bushes and tress at our large local Pick Your Own. From the moment we set off down the fields he began to whinge about wanting to find the car. He didn’t want to see the fruit on trees, or the berries hiding amongst green foliage. He wasn’t, unusually, even happy just to skip up and down whilst I picked what we had come for.


“I just want to go and find the car Mummy” he pleaded, with such desolation on his face that to continue would have been cruel.

I did manage to get some blackcurrants. And we picked up more fruit from the farm shop on site. But it was most definitely one of those days where the idea in my head fell far, far short of the reality that ensued.



Ah well, you can’t win ‘em all.

And we did head to the park once we got home. Which resulted in a much, much happier little boy (and pictures much more worthy of sharing, as it turned out. So much for the plans!)



Even if he doesn’t like fruit, or its picking, he does love being outdoors and being active.

So you do win some!

mummy daddy me

Preschool Sport’s Day and “Missing Out” as a Parent

Last Friday was Thomas’s first Preschool Sport’s Day.

And I couldn’t go. Because I had to work.

Yeah, it made me a bit sad when I had to tell Thomas that no, I couldn’t be there to watch him and his friends.

I’m not in a position to moan really. I’ve read lots and lots of pieces about working parents and the balances and compromises they often must strike. Unlike a lot of families out there, we had a great deal of choice about what to do once Thomas was born. I could have given up work altogether if I had wanted. Equally Ian had the option to become a stay-at-home dad. We could have shared working and childcare (and did, for a while) and I could have gone back for any amount of time right up to full time without having to worry about child care fees crippling us or eating away the entirety of my wage. We are in this situation partly because of hard work, but, yes, we’re also extremely lucky.

So going back to work was very definitely a choice for me, and one that I’m currently entirely happy with. Sure, sometimes I moan about work, but that’s because like anything with responsibility for people, it can be extremely stressful. And at the moment anything at the sharp end of the NHS is definitely at least a bit taxing. But for the most part I love my job, and I really like the mix we’ve managed to achieve in our lives.

But on Friday, not being able to be there for an event that Thomas was very excited about was still a little bit heartbreaking. Friday is the only day of the week that I work in that particular practice. Having already taking three Fridays off in the last seven, I just couldn’t justify another one – on the grounds of needing to fulfill my targets for the business as whole and also out of duty to the patients who I don’t want to keep waiting for weeks on end for an opportunity to get an appointment with me.

And it’s that – the tearing of family responsibility against professional responsibility – that will always be hard. I know I’m far from alone. It’s hard for everyone – men and women, parents or not – because we almost all have additional responsibilities or priorities outside of the professional environment. Sadly there just aren’t enough hours, even with the greatest flexibility in working arrangements, to be able to do it all, all of the time. It’s always a compromise, no matter what.

The upside to this story is that Ian is lucky to have a reasonable amount of flexibility in his work. He’s part of a relatively small team and they recognise the importance of family life, so things like leaving early to do the nursery pick up when I have to work late are not a problem. He was able to work from home for the day and slip out for a couple of hours to be there, to Thomas’s immense pleasure. My heart hurts just a little bit thinking about Thomas being the only child there without a family member to cheer him on.

Of course, once again, I know that we are lucky. For some families there are no choices, and no flexibility. Missing out becomes not something they fear, but something that actually happens, and their child becomes that one.

At least I got to see the photos (of which I will only share a few here, in the interests of not sharing pictures of other children) and hear the first hand account of Thomas setting off to run his own race across the field, and how he “won” the potato-and-spoon race with liberal interpretation of the rules that involved holding the potato on the spoon! You’ve got to love preschoolers!

And there will be a next time. Hopefully next time I won’t have to miss out.











A Walk in Knole Park

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

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

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











Running at Knole Running at Knole2


Tree stump




Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and the Arcelor Mittal Orbit

On the afternoon of the day we visited the Discover Story Centre, Thomas and I meandered our way over to the Olympic Park for our very first visit since we were there for the games themselves. Thomas was less than a year old at the time, so he surprised me last week by musing out loud “We’ve been here before”. I can only conclude he’s seen the pictures or something – any other alternative is a bit freaky!





The best part of visiting the Olympic Park this time for Thomas was almost certainly the journey across Stratford, which offers the opportunity to see almost every type of train – and bus – that he could wish for. He was delighted by our journey to Stratford on board the HS1 Javelin Train from Ebbsfleet, and equally as delighted by “driving” the DLR to Stratford High Street and back. To be honest, if that had been our entire day out, I think he’d have been completely happy.

As it was, however, it was a beautiful day, so we did go for a walk through the park. The site is so vast that we traversed only one corner, and did not make it to much of what is on offer, including the large outdoor playground. We did have a lot of fun exploring the Year of the Bus Trail, with all 60 painted Routemaster models on display at the park prior to being auctioned off for charity. The exhibition has already been extended but is now due to finish next week. Thomas picked out some definite favourites, including one painted with a steam train, and another dressed as a Coldstream Guard in a bearskin hat!








Thomas was also absolutely overjoyed to spy a good old fashioned helter skelter. He first rode one at Carter’s Steam Fair last June, and still talks about it now, so when he saw this one in all it’s glory in the sunshine, I knew I was unlikely to get away without a ride! And as helter skelters go, it was a good one, even if carrying Thomas up to the top, along with my bags, did nearly kill me! he’s getting pretty heavy these days!





The main reason for our trip to the park, however, was a ride up the Arcelor Mittal Orbit – a first for both of us. The Orbit is Britain’s largest sculpture and on a clear day offers views over London reaching twenty miles in each direction. It may not be as high as the Shard, but it still offers a unique perspective – and is considerably cheaper to boot. There are good discounts for booking online in advance (which is what we did) and you can then exchange your tickets free of charge for one which is valid for a full year. I’ve no doubt that we’ll go back with Ian as a consequence. (This fact also meant that we came down in the lift rather than walking, as we’d already had a long day and I could imagine I’d end up having to carry Thomas most of the way down on my own. It’s good to know we can go back and do the walk without paying again.)

Whilst we were there, the “Bricks in the sky” exhibition was still on, showcasing miniature Lego models of the Olympic venues and other London icons. In addition there were plenty of Lego bricks available for free building, which captivated our budding Lego enthusiast almost as much as the skyline views.
















It was a very full and exciting day, despite barely scratching the surface of what the area has to offer. Thomas still had enough energy for a good run around the park on our way home, and I’ve no doubt at all that we will be back, as it’s firmly on our list of good places to go in London.





{Living Arrows 2015} 1/52

Or rather, 1/however many I actually manage to share.

And notice there that I said “share”. Not “take”.

Devoted readers may have noticed my tendency to start projects on this blog and not quite see them through. I started sharing a 365 project two years ago, but the photos fizzle out before the middle of the year. I joined in with the Living Arrows project last year but the posts stop less than six months in. Yet in both of these cases, I don’t consider that I really failed. The 365 project foiled me in the organisation and the sharing. In actually finding and editing the pictures and then getting them on to my bog in a relevant and timely way. Oh, and the old devil perfectionism, that haunts me. You know, feeling the photos weren’t good enough to share! But having gone back through my photos for that year since, I’ve identified just five days on which I did not take a photograph. Failure, no doubt, to some 365 purists, but given that I’d stopped motivating myself with the actual goal of completing the project, I think that was pretty impressive.

Likewise with Living Arrows, of course I have a picture of my son, or something related to him, representing his childhood, for every single one of the 52 weeks of last year.  I don’t need a challenge to ensure that happens. I can’t stop myself taking pictures of him and for him. No, I simply failed miserably at sharing them here in a timely manner.

So why am I trying again? I’m not sure, when the odds of success seem anything but in my favour. I think it’s mainly because I’d like this blog to be a bit of a one-stop archive, if only I can organise myself a bit better. I’d like to be able to look back through the edited “best bits” of our years in one place, rather than wading through digital folders stored ten deep to pick out my favourite memories.

And you’re only truly destined to fail if you never try in the first place.

The photo I’m sharing this week was taken at the cinema as we waited to see The Penguins of Madagascar. It eclipsed all others I’ve taken this week, despite the poor lighting and grainy quality of the phone snap, because it absolutely sums up Thomas’s personality. The head tilt, the cheeky wink and the accusatory finger admonishing me for taking a photo. This is absolutely Thomas, at age three and two months.


Living Arrows

2014: The Year in Review – Blogged and Otherwise

Back on the first of January, I wrote this post about the year ahead. Looking back at it now is slightly difficult, because this year did indeed become exactly what I had so fervently hoped it would not. It became the year of infertility treatments and all that comes with them physically and emotionally. It’s certainly influenced my blogging too, and whilst I never intended for this to become an “infertility blog” it’s inevitable that it’s been the focus of much of my emotional outpouring for the last twelve months. As such, it’s almost become quite difficult not to chart the year in terms of the milestones on our infertility journey – which is exactly what I did yesterday. But there has been so much more to the year too, and to not make reference to that as this current, albeit somewhat arbitrary, chapter closes and a new one begins would be to do myself and my family a disservice.

We may have been mired in the heartbreak that infertility can bring, but at the same time I think we’ve been reasonably successful in seizing the happiness where we find it. In fact, it’s become perhaps more important than ever to me to do that whilst it’s been in such short supply. After all. even when life is handing you lemons, there are positives to be found and whilst they cannot completely negate the sadness, they can help tip the balance a long way. And, perhaps most importantly of all, no matter how difficult a period of time is, you cannot get that time back. Thomas will not be a two year old again. We won’t get back the time that has passed in his childhood. I’m pleased, and grateful, that he managed to bring so much light in to a dark time.

Not all that we’ve got up to this year has made it on to this blog. Some of that is due to laziness, some due to prioritising other things I’ve wanted to publish. Much of it however, I’m not sorry to say, is because there have times where we’ve been simply too busy enjoying ourselves to document it. After all, I don’t want to live our lives solely through a camera lens. But this is my round up of some of the highlights, whether they’ve been blogged before or not.

We’ve fitted in three trips away this year – to Center Parcs in the spring, Berlin in the summer and a short break to Brussels earlier this month. Thomas has also enjoyed five theatre trips – Not Now Bernard and Sensacional at the Unicorn, The Tiger Who Came to Tea and Room on the Broom at the Lyric and Peppa Pig’s Big Splash. Thomas also experienced his first big screen film at the cinemaThomas and Friends Tale of the Brave. In fact, film has been a big part of the year as we’ve started to introduce Thomas to many of the Disney and Dreamworks classics, which kicked off a minor obsession with Toy Story. I’ve been pleased at how much he has also enjoyed the ‘classic’ classics though, such as Snow White and Pinnochio and things are shaping up well for a trip to DisneyWorld!

There have been plenty of days out this year. To the zoo, to farms and to local National Trust properties and the historic dockyard at Chatham, where we met a Gruffalo. We went up the Shard for a milestone family birthday. There have been trips to the big museums in London, and quieter trips to local fetes and to Carter’s Steam Fair. The train obsession goes on, and in addition to many hours spent train spotting at our local stations, we enjoyed another Day Out with Thomas and a ride on the Santa Special. There have also been many trips to London with the main intention being to ride on different forms of public transport and we took a train trip to the seaside.

There have been lots more ordinary activities as well. Our music classes and swimming lessons. Days spent in the garden, splashing in the paddling pool or digging in the dirt, plus a very first egg hunt. Walks in the woods and to feed the ducks and oh so many trips to the park and sandpit and riding bikes. There have been lazy days at home watching Toy Story over and over again, or creating ever more elaborate layouts with the wooden train track, not to mention the quarantine at the height of summer when Thomas finally succumbed to Chicken Pox. We’ve cooked together. Eaten together from picnics on the floor to “dates” in Starbucks, to ice cream cones. We’ve read our favourite books more times than I care to remember, but Thomas has begun to sound out the words of his favourites as he moves towards reading for himself. There has been messy play, and crafts and painting. There have been painstaking hours spent practicing writing the letters of Thomas’s name. There has been singing, dancing, den building and dinosaur chases. I’ve been a patient in Thomas’s doctor’s surgery more times that a healthy person should, and I’ve enjoyed watching what his imagination can create as he plays and telling stories through actions. We’ve also begun a love affair with Lego that I hope will last for years to come. In case you missed them I shared some videos that demonstrate what a happy, outgoing and cheeky kid I’m proud to call my own.

And that’s the truth. I’m so proud to call him my son. So proud to be his mum and get to share my time with him. He’s grown up before our very eyes this year, turning from toddler in to fully fledged pre-schooler, with such firm beliefs and strong opinions – that he’s not afraid to voice and which show him to be well on the road to becoming his own person. If my life hasn’t quite panned out the way I would have chosen if choice were an option any of us had, then at least I have my husband and my son in the life that I do have.

And as for me? Well I had my five minutes of fame in Mother and Baby magazine. My job continues to be a source of both great satisfaction and also, at times great stress. But I’ve hit some career development goals this year, even in the midst of the IVF turmoil, and of that I’m proud. We also bought a new car in the summer, and finally, after 15 years, I got my driving licence back this month, which will open up so many more opportunities for us in the New Year. I’ve also remained mostly heathy, and achieved another year – 31 in total – of living well with type 1 diabetes remaining, at least for now, complication free. And, well, I underwent a lot of fertility procedures!

It may have been a year of failed fertility endeavours, but it’s also been a year of growing our family in completely different ways. Of cementing our bonds and enriching our lives despite the trials.There has been incredible sadness and heartbreak. But there has been incredible happiness too.

Yes, it’s not been all bad at all.

And things can only get better.