A poorly one.

I sit here and watch my 3 year old sleep. He has fallen into an exhausted, calpol induced sleep following hitting a fever of 39.2c and several bouts of vomiting.

I took him to the dr, perhaps he didnt need to see anyone, we could have rode it out at home, I previously always trusted my abilities to handle upset tummies and high temperatures. Perhaps I am right to follow my instincts and get him seen, the dr seemed to think that it could be a urine infection (except he couldnt give a sample) or a throat infection (his throat was very red, could be infection or could be due to the vomiting) Perhaps I am just that bit more cautious now, with him especially, given how ill he has been previously. This boy has over come so many hurdles. I watch him sleep and I think back to what we have seen.

At our 20 wk anomaly scan, unilateral talipes (club foot) was detected. We were referred for a more detailed scan with the fetal medicine consultant, and were offered the amnio tests. We were informed that talipes can often go hand in hand with other far more serious conditions and the subject of termination was even raised. We then had a further appointment with the paediatric consultant who went through the “treatment” methods with us, showing us photographs, without really answering any of my questions. I was told that I would need to forget my plans for a home birth because he would need to be seen by a paediatrician after birth and that he would need a hip scan.

Well fortunately our midwife was still very supportive of home birth and was happy for plans to continue. She reassured me that paed assessment could wait a couple of days and that a scan would be scheduled with an appointment so hospital or home made no difference.  We were lucky to have the home birth that we wanted and planned. He came into the world, our perfect little happy footer, at home with the family downstairs waiting eagerly to meet him.

At 2 days old we attended the general hospital for his paed assessment. They needed to take his blood but due to his talipes they were only able to bleed one heel. This was an horrendous experience. He screamed, they were too slow, they had to do it twice because the first lot clotted, then they decided after 25 minutes of this torture that his heart rate was a it fast so he needed to be monitored. After this the dr examined him and declared him “perfect except for that foot!” This was not the thing to say, he was totally perfect!!

He had an undetected diaphragmatic hernia, Drs say that it was a weakness in his diaphragm, they think that when he had his first cast for his talipes treatment at 3 weeks old that the extra weight and him laying on his back caused it to rupture. We hit a monday night when he started crying, and then he didnt stop. He wouldnt feed. He wouldnt sleep, he just kept crying. Every now and again he would fall asleep exhausted only to wake crying again a few minutes later. This went on all night, and then progressed to him vomiting bile. I dialled 111 in the early hrs of tuesday morning and was advised to call gp as soon as they opened. Which I did. The receptionist was not helpful. I will never forget her telling me that it sounded like he had wind. I argued my corner and she put me down for a call back from the on call dr. Luckily he rang me immediately, he told me to come straight down, he warned me that he would in all likelihood send us to hospital but by this point I wanted a dr to see him before I got stuck trying to navigate rush hour traffic with a poorly baby. The GP examined him, and phoned for an ambulance. We were blue lighted to the general hospital where we were taken to resus and my 4 week old little man was poked, pricked and prodded. They didnt know what was wrong but they knew it was serious. I remember standing outside the room on the phone to my husband, him asking me to keep him posted and me yelling down the phone “we’re in f*cking resus!”  It was some time later that the xray came back and the drs got a clear view of his abdomen. His bowel had moved up into his chest and was compressing his lungs making it immensely difficult for him to breathe. They got  on the phone to Great Ormond Street Hospital surgeouns to check for a bed, and then the CATS team arrived. He was sedated and intubated and transferred to GOSH where the surgeon was ready and waiting, They had him prepped and heading to theatre within 15 minutes of us arriving. I hated having to sign those disclaimers. And i genuinely dont think i stopped crying from 9am that morning onwards.

We were in GOSH for a week. He was in NICU and then moved to a ward. But his recovery has been outstanding. I was horrified to discover (after the event) that the survival rate for CDH is only approx 50%, and that there is so little awareness of it.  More recently I read here of a small child who died due to delays waiting for a repair surgery. Heart breaking.

He was 3 weeks old when he went into cast, his foot had been graded 6/6 which was the most sever grading. We were often told he had “a tricky little foot” we experienced several slippages. At one point he had to be out of cast for several days while sores healed. After 6 weeks worth of casts, he had his tenotomy. This was where they snipped the archilles tendon and stretched the heel, to hold it in cast for a further 3 weeks to allow the tendon to grow back longer. This procedure came with a lot of blood, and a very unhappy little guy who managed to slip his cast as soon as they put it on so it needed to come off and be re done immediately. Then the procedure wasn’t successful and  he needed to be scheduled to have another at 6 months old under a general anaesthetic. But then we went into boots and bar. Two boots, with straps pulled as tight as they would go, held together at an angle 23 hrs a day. Try to imagine your biggest bulkiest hiking boots, done up as tightly as they would go so that you are unable to move your feet inside them. Now imagine your feet held together in those boots, shoulder width apart at all times. Feel good? No, I dont think it felt good to him either, given how much he cried.

But onwards with the boots and bar, a crucial part of his treatment for the next 5 years. So we had blisters.  We had sores. I had dressings prescribed, sleep disturbed. I was kicked, i took a metal bar across the bridge of my nose when he rolled over in bed one night being a wriggle bum. 23 hrs a day, for 12 weeks. Then we were able to gradually decrease that time down to 12 hrs a day. We had leaky nappies and trapped wind. It was a challenge. Its easier now, he wears an ADM boot, so his feet arent held together in boots and bar anymore. Every night he wears his spring loaded ADM boot, this holds his foot in the correct position but still allows him to be able to walk. He is doing well, to see him running and playing every day you would never know anything was wrong. Would never know of the daily struggles to get his boots on, to rub his cramping legs, his sore skin on top of his foot.  But all of these things tend to bring out that worried, over concerned mama bear as soon as he is poorly.

So it brings me to tonight. He is sleeping, sick bowl beside him. I am thankful for my children. The baby is asleep upstairs with his daddy. J is in bed sleeping. And A! well, she will be 16 soon, and she had no second thoughts about coming with me to the hospital to get her brother checked out. She grabbed his blanket, sat next to him in the car holding his bowl for him.  We got home and she helped me carry our things up the stairs. Then as she took herself to bed she gave me a hug and said “shout if you need anything mum”

I know that whatever challenges life throws at me, as a person, as a parent, I will be able to tackle them. And I am reminded that when I worry and doubt and have those fears about a lack of formal education and worry that maybe I am failing my children (those wobbles that happen to all of us mums one way or another, lets face it, its bloody terrifying doing this parenting lark! Show me someone who says they arent winging it every single day and hoping for the best, Ill show you a liar!) I can look at these children and all that they achieve, and how much they help and have faith in other people and I know that they are good and decent human beings. That, right there, is parenting done right! Decent, loving, kind, respectful human beings who are loved.

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Some places we have visited.

We have been out and about making the most of our membership to English Heritage and National trust locations. We are finding that these places are not feeling terribly busy during the summer holidays yet they provide us with all we need. A place to sit and enjoy a cuppa while feeding the baby for me, huge grounds to explore, find something new and run wild for everyone and a play area for the children. Ticking all the boxes.

So far we have visited Wrest park which lets us enjoy glorious grounds from grass hills to roll down, beautiful buildings to explore, ponds and woodland areas with all sorts of wildlife to discover as well. We did an English Heritage event fairy hunt here. This was a fantastic experience, though aimed at younger children even the older ones got into it as the man doing the guided walk was incredibly funny and engaging. There’s some hands on activities inside the main house which makes for a great run and hide if the heavens open.

Another on our list was Waddesdon Manor where we enjoyed a shuttle bus through the grounds from the car park, a lego race car competition, glorious ice cream and an exhibition of animal inspired art. There is a playground in the woods on the hill, this makes walking up hill from the stable block much easier going as the play ground is on several levels so there’s lots of pit stop areas. This was ideal for my dad who had come with us and who struggles with walking up hill. There was a variety of equipment from swings and climbing frames, small slides, a zip wire and a really tall slide, there was lots to keep the three children happily occupied.  There are lots of refreshment areas, meaning no where was overly busy, we weren’t faced with queuing when wanting drinks, and there was plenty of sit down areas. We took in the views of the stunning house and gardens, visited the rare bird aviary and watched the boys running around playing happily on the lawns.

Wimpole estate  has been another on our visit list.  Here you can enjoy a tractor ride to take you too and from the farm, although it is also a very pleasant walk. There are several animal encounters to be had, feeding the pigs, donkey grooming and cow milking etc. There are exhibitions about farming, magnificent shire horses and a piggery where you can see the piglets. We visited on one occasion and were able to quietly view the piglets that had been born earlier that day. There are beautiful gardens, tea rooms, a restaurant, trees to climb and a woodland adventure playground. We haven’t even been near to the main hall part of this estate there is just so much to see and do. Next to the play area at the picnic area at the farm you can buy a delicious light lunch, hot pot of the day. It comes with chunky bread and is great value for money and very tasty on both occasions I have had it.

At Audley end J took part in an English Heritage event, training of the troops. A small assault course under orders of a shouty soldier. Again, play area, tea room, trees to climb. Large open areas of grass to run around on. Some beautiful ponds and lakes. There is the option to buy duck food should  you wish too. You can view the horses in the stable block and find out about the history of the estate. Across the road there is a minitaure railway which we walked across to also visit. Here we took the children on a ride that lasted approx 20 minutes through woodland where we were able to look out for wildlife and the teddy bear houses.

AS well as the National trust and English heritage locations we also paid a visit to Wendover woods A forestry commission site that is home to a large gruffalo statue. We have the gruffalo spotter ap on my phone and N really enjoyed seeing the characters come to life before jumping in to have his photo taken with them. This is a fantastic way to get small people walking through the woods and also a little bit of fun for us adults too. There a cafe in the woods to enjoy a sit down and refreshments following the 2.5km trail.

Another woodland area we enjoy is Rushmere country park Here N loves walking through the bushes and trees searching for the goblin doors. We like to visit in spring when you get magnificent views of the nesting herons, and there is again a very tall slide which the children love. There is also a smaller sanded play area for younger ones. This was the filming location for the game show the wild things and so you can find the tall wild things gate which looks quite mystical standing tall in the middle of the woods. There is a giants chair which makes for some fun photographs and plenty of pretty carvings and sculptures along your walk.

We enjoy getting out and like to find new places. Generally the children are wild, they feel grounded and happy wherever there is water or there are trees, animals are  bonus. These places have fulfilled our needs so far this summer.

He just didn’t want to people today.

It’s been a long and tiring day.

The three year old has found his voice when he doesn’t like people and he isn’t afraid to tell them. My often cute, cuddly and funny little guy has it in him to be a complete monster at times. Today was one of those days. He woke fine and happy, had cuddles with me, made faces at his baby brother and grinned happily at the gummy smiles thrown his way. Then other people happened. My best friend came over. He didn’t like her today, sometimes she is his best friend and he loves her, but not today. He spent a chunk of the morning crying that she looked at him, that she sat near him, that he could see her!!!

Things were no different when his big brother entered the room, or when he tried to leave the room to go to the kitchen, and big sister also got the same response. Kicking, screaming, pulling at me.

I went to my default mode; “when children are driving you up the wall, take away the walls!” … and so on went our boots and off we went.

We headed to our local (ish) forestry commission, to see the gruffalo and do the 2.5km trail. All was good, 3 yr old loves running from clue to clue and watching the characters come to life on the gruffalo spotter app on my phone. We enjoyed a snack stop in the cafe before visiting the carved gruffalo statue before heading home.

But through all this, he would only talk to me.

A little girl tried to look at a gruffalo clue with him, she was sweet, she tried to hug him. His response “don’t touch me you stupid girl I will kill you and make you die!” … (the joys of parenting teenagers alongside toddlers means they pick up some colourful vocabulary much to my utter mortification!) I apologise to the other parents, red faced and carry on our way.

Once home his antics continue. Doesn’t want to sit with his siblings, just wants mummy. Mummy is exhausted and drained from the tugging, the shrieking, the crying all while also trying to meet the needs of an exclusively breastfed 5 month old.

At last, daddy arrives home. Pizza is ordered and some form of calm comes over the house. Another adult for me, the teenagers are getting fed, the 3 yr old is being treated to pizza. All is well with the world.

I sit and fill my husband in on the day. The trials, the challenges, the arguments, the sheer and utter exhaustion. Ive already forgotten our cuddles, smiles and story time with the gruffalo this morning. Lucky i filmed them because by now they are a hazy memory obliterated by the strong willed stubborness of the shouty 3 yr old. Poor daddy gets the unleashed vent of frustration and told all the hard bits.

His response?

“He just didn’t want to people today!”

So true! What a statement. We all have days like that. I am familiar with that feeling. His words echoed my own from just a couple of weeks ago. In fact, I’m sure some days I would love to be able to behave as he did today and get away with it. Some days we just don’t want to people. That’s ok. Why should I expect my 3 yr old to never have an “off” day? Never have a day when he is just peopled out and wants his mum?

I sit here, while my children sleep and resolve to be more mindful of these feelings, more accepting of these days and emotions, and more supportive in getting him through them.

And tomorrow will be better.

First times and last times.

As a home educating mum I have become aware of those child hood firsts that I missed with my older children. I have written previously about them. The first missing tooth that fell out in the classroom, the teacher who had the job of carefully wrapping the precious little pearly white in a tissue and envelope to come come home for the tooth fairy, the classroom assistant who sat with them by the sink while they rinsed their mouth out.  The first time that they read a tricky word out loud. The first time they played shop, or “IT”.  The first time they scored a goal. The first time they managed to follow instructions to independently build a model. I missed these moments for my older children. I remember being told about them, I remember reading about them in their learning records. So I wont forget them, I am aware that they happened, but I didn’t see them.

It was bought to my attention last year when I sat and watched my toddler launch into a game of “shop keepers” completely by himself in town one day. He hadnt done this before, and I knew that, so I sat on the wall and I watched him play his game. Roping his elder brother and sister into pretending to be his customers. While he served up imaginary pizza, tea and toys.

The last three years have been full of firsts for our family, and there are so many still to continue to come that I look forward to being part of.  But in thinking about the firsts, there is a small sadness creeping in. It is equal parts with acceptance, so the sadness can not be confused for any sort of regret, but it is there none the less.

You see, my husband and I decided that this baby, Michael, number four, would be our last. No more babies. So it was my last time being pregnant, my last time nervously and excitedly holding my husbands hand while staring at the ultrasound monitor. My last time ticking off our list of essentials for a new baby.  I have already seen my last babies first smile. I have watched my baby roll over for the first time, the last time. Those clothes that he has grown out of, will never be worn by one of my babies ever again. My baby is teething, I hate the discomfort he clearly feels, but no I don’t want that tooth to hurry up and cut through, because his first tooth will be my last first tooth! And he is getting bigger and will soon be starting to wean and explore new tastes and textures of solid food. I am excited to see him experiencing new things, but I don’t need that to hurry up. Because his first solid food, will be the last time I start introducing solid food.

And those lasts, the last times when we don’t realise it was the last time until looking back you realise. Michael’s lasts really will be my lasts! At some point, I changed Nicks nappy for the last time. I didn’t realise then that it would be the last time. It just happened, I took a nappy off him to put in the wash, and he didn’t ever wear a nappy again. There was a last time that my husband gave him a bottle. We didn’t know at the time that I wouldn’t express him a bottle again. A storage tub of expressed milk stayed in the freezer way longer than it was ok to use.  He doesn’t go up in wraps very often at all anymore. He did in July when we were on holiday, but only once. Soon I suspect I will look back and think about the last time he went “up”. He doesn’t grab our pretty woven wraps and demand up the way he used to anymore I know that for sure. But his lasts are not my lasts.

The day will come, Michaels lasts. His last nappy, his last bottle, his last breastfeed, his last snuggly wrap nap. These will be my lasts as well. I know that with parenthood the adventures don’t ever stop. I know that there will be so much to enjoy and so many fantastic firsts and big moments ahead of us as a family. But that knowledge, these big first moments are my last, it is a little bit sad. I will soak them in, enjoy them. Never be too busy to stop what I am doing and cuddle. Those small arms around my neck are the most precious jewels that a mother can ever have.

I know how fast the time goes. My eldest child turns 16 in less than 2 months time. Where have the years gone? Time just slips through our fingers and is gone. Grasp it, breathe it in, live it and enjoy it. I read once, we only have 18 summers with out children and then they are gone. Just 18 of these long summer breaks to fit in what we want to do, to fill their hearts and souls with summer memories to last them a life time.

I am in the middle of processing this. My time to make childhood memories with my daughter is nearly up. How many more summers will I have with her to do daft bonkers things before she finds herself tied down by adult responsibilities? I am enjoying her big lasts, some pretty big firsts on the horizon for her as well. The time is just keeping on passing and there is no way to pause it or slow it down. This knowledge doesn’t stop me feeling excited for the future, and feeling totally blessed that I get this time with my children.  But It also makes me a little bit sad, and feeling that is ok too.

Summer “break”.

Our summer holidays, aren’t really holidays as such. Not much changes. They see more of their schoolie friends and a bit less of their home ed friends. Our regular activities come to a halt because a lot of places run different things during school holidays and they are quieter during term time. A lot of our favourite hang outs are busy and the children get less enjoyment out of them so we tend to choose to stay away.

We have enjoyed visiting national trust and English heritage sites, these tend to charge entry and so remain quieter. We also spend a lot of time at a nearby safari park which has a large indoor play area, we reserve this for rainy days mostly, the animals are actually more active in the cooler weather, most people seem to do zoo trips on nice sunny days. We have membership for these places so our days out during the holidays don’t end up adding up quite the same.

The children continue their book work as usual. They are currently working on English, Maths, History and Geography.  Today the older children are off to a local lake to have a go on the big inflatables, wipe out style course, with friends. English Heritage destinations through the summer put on various themes each week, this week we plan to visit one for a fairy day, allowing them the chance to learn about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle while enjoying the Victorian themed hunt for fairies and fairy doors.

There seems to be this assumption at times, that learning is restricted to school hours and term times, and anything else is fun. But learning isn’t? Do we not learn from our experiences in every day life all the time? Not all learning is fun, we learn some pretty harsh lessons at times. But those are lessons that even I learn as an adult. Just when we think we’ve got it all figured out the universe throws us a curve ball.  What I love about being  a home educating family is that the children see these ups and downs, they are not hidden from them, they are involved in decisions and informed of what is going on. We have found that this is a brilliant coping strategy for J, who as part of his ASD, copes far better knowing exactly what is happening and when. He copes with changes with far less anger when he knows that he is and will be kept informed. We have seen such big improvements in his behaviour, attitude and coping methods with this realisation. But they are also learning to be better able at making decisions, prioritising and at compromising,  had they remained at school I believe there would have been significantly fewer opportunities to learn these skills.

A is working through her history, its been a wonderful discovery that she can learn about Henry viii while studying for GCSE thanks to the changes in syllabus. It was an area that fascinated her anyway. She includes her English work in this area, working on essay formation and reading comprehension as well as other areas. She is also working through an “adults” maths book based oon “stuff you forgot from school”. Shee is enjoying this because it is laid out with  humour and feels less like a school text book while still including the same content. We have planned our tower of London visits, plans to visit Hatfield house, The Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth and Hampton Court. Trips out that are relevant to her area of interest but that the boys will also benefit from.

J has discovered the GCSE Geography book, he hated geography at school, but this has sparked his interest. There is a lot of looking at habitats. The great thing with this is that we can refer to this in relation to nature reserves, conservation and link it to whole other subjects as well. Every season, every location. He works on his English and maths each day.

N is loving songs, recognising numbers, drawing, painting and still as per usual loving being outside. His progress in all areas is fantastic. Everything is a learning curve, everything an adventure. He is constantly testing his own strength and abilities and I love that I get to enjoy this with him. I get to see it, see his progress for myself. I missed so much and was just told about it by preschool workers with the older children, this is a lovely experience for me as well.

And little M, at not quite 5 months old our days are mostly at his pace. He feeds when he is hungry, so at that point we sit down and take a breather wherever we are.

The older 3 amuse themselves and each other. Sometimes this involves screen time, sometimes picking up a book, sometimes rolling down grassy hills. There is so much variety but either way they are managing to find themselves something to do, rather than sitting and complaining that they are bored because momentarily I have stopped focusing my attention on keeping them busy and amused. Once again we have reached half way through August and I am amazed that we do not have the popular cries of “Im bored!” It just doesn’t seem to hit us quite the same.

I don’t know what the rest of the summer will hold, in honesty I don’t even know what the rest of this week will hold. We are mostly free to wing it and enjoy it day by day. Without the stresses and worries of needing to do a back to school uniform shop, without the worries and anxieties of new teachers and new schools lurking over us, we can continue to follow the interests and the goals of the children with no set timetable in place and that is what works for us.

A Tower of London visit

A trip to the Tower Of London, always a lovely day. We have membership to the historical palaces, which was a fantastic purchase considering that with one visit to the tower it would be nearly impossible to see it all.

On this occasion we did not enter to see the crown jewels. We saw those in December and visiting during the summer holidays meant that there was an exceptionally large queue to get in. The queue was moving quickly, had we paid to get in then we probably would have joined and viewed them, inside there is a moving floor so that you can view them without stopping to linger.  However, this week our adventures took us on another route. We were going in search of the Royal Beasts.

It is well known that the Tower of London housed a menagerie of animals, gifted to our royals by foreign rulers. A polar bear, Barbary lions, tigers, an ostrich, an elephant and many more. Some of the tales of their care are shocking, and reading some of the reviews of people who visited and saw such animals were fascinating. Seeing tigers described as “pretty looking hell cats” goes a long way to highlight how much we take for granted the sight of these animals now. To imagine never having seen one, having no idea that such a creature could possibly exist before coming face to face with one must have been a unique experience. Our nations first introduction to the idea of a “zoo”.

It is a relief that we know so much more about the needs and the care of these animals these days, Able to partake in much needed conservation work and breeding programs around the world. Reading of the polar bear, kept tied on a rope to allow him to swim and catch fish in the Rive Thames, an Elephant who was given wine to drink as a method of “keeping out the cold” and the Ostrich who was fed nails believing that it could digest the iron brings home how little was known.

When walking around we saw the Yeoman living quarters. Cottages and apartments complete with washing hanging out on the lines and pretty flower beds, the guards call the tower home, security and all. No random late night popping out for them.

We went up inside the White tower, walked through the line up of kings admiring the armour for both men and horses. Comparing that of the different kings with that of the other knights and gentry. We saw weaponry including some rather pretty gold plated and diamond encrusted guns.

We read about the role of the Tower during the 1st world war, and saw the comparison photos 100 yrs on which was haunting and sad yet interesting to see the changed in uniform and appearance. We read that there was no executions from 1780 until the 1st world war, the first being Sir Simon Burley in 1388 by beheading and the final execution at the tower being Josef Jacobs in 1941 by firing squad. 133 recorded executions at the tower in total.

In a day we can cover so much! Our monarchy, our history, crime and punishment, wars, defence, trade and finances the list goes on and on and it all suitable for all ages. It is a destination that we will return to again and that I would really recommend. You can find out and start planning your visit here