The School Gate

Sometimes I am suddenly struck by the contrast between Nathan now, and that tiny baby Nathan in the incubator 3 and a half years ago. It comes unexpectedly, a flashback, built on a detail hardly recollected until it is triggered by something. They say that the sense of smell is closely associated with memory, and its true that some smells evoke that NICU time – the hospital handwash, a certain antiseptic, the shower gel I was using at the time, the fabric softener the hospital used on his blankets.  I know this and am prepared for it. I don’t use that shower gel any more.  I steel myself for the memory rush before using handwash in any hospital. It is the things you’re not expecting that take your breath away.

What surprised me last week was a sound.  I was at school, at Nathan’s school, collecting him at lunch time from his nursery class. At drop off in the morning the gates are open and I walk right up to his classroom.  At lunchtime they are shut, and I have to press the buzzer to get in via the school office.  Buzzzzzzz.  A pause.  Then “Ding. The door is open. Please close the door behind you”.  And I was back there, standing outside the NICU doors in the first few weeks of his life.  Coming out of the room we slept in, waiting for someone to let me in, for someone to allow me to see my own baby.  Just woken up or just returned from a meal, sauntering back or rushing.  Either way, I am standing there with butterflies in my tummy because this pause whilst I wait for a nurse to let me in allows time to think.  And thinking lets me worry, lets me imagine the worse or perhaps face the likely.  Buzzzzzzz.  A pause. How is he? Is he OK? Could this be the time when I go through that door to find he is worse, he is sickening, he is surrounded by doctors or that he is slipping away from me, that they are very sorry but there is no more they can do.  And then “Ding. The door is open. Please close the door behind you”. A surge of adrenaline.  Pulling the door open, taking quick steps towards the sink to sanitise my hands as I try to glimpse a 2lb baby across a busy room to make sure this time things are OK. Quickly drying hands and throwing the paper towels towards the bin as I rush towards the monitor to check his sats, his BP, his heart rate. Breathing a sigh of relief as I allow myself to relax, knowing that this is not that hour, this is not the crisis, for now there is calm.

And then back to reality, back to the present. This time I am pulling open a very different door.  Negotiating a pram through it, a pram containing a healthy 6 month old full term baby.  A pram with a buggy board on the back, ready to receive a tired toddler. Wheeling past children’s drawings, past friendly notice boards, past a library of colourful books stacked in waist high shelves.  This time the worst that could happen is to arrive and find Nathan has refused to eat any lunch, or that he’s fallen out with a friend.  This time the NICU memory feels fabulous, for once I am happy and amazed to remember that tiny sick baby who nearly didn’t make it, because that tiny sick baby came through it all, defied the odds and grew into a rough and tumble happy little boy who is getting on great at big boy school.  I am so proud of him.

I think its a sign of post traumatic stress disorder – when you get vivid flashbacks of events, flashbacks that intrude on your life here and now.  I don’t think I have PTSD, but I  do think that few people going through the NICU rollercoaster come out the other side unscathed.  I find now that I can cope with the everyday reminders.  Watching One Born Every Minute, or seeing a baby with a feeding tube, those things don’t throw me anymore. But that door buzzer got past my defences. I was not braced against the sudden onslaught of memory. Even years later the experiences of that NICU are still fresh, and still come to the surface at unexpected times.

The comforting thing is this; the more time passes, the less those memories hurt and the more they inspire pride in my amazing son. I would not wish those experiences on my worst enemy, but I would not be the mother I am today without them. From now on I will enjoy pressing that buzzer.  Nathan, the door is open, your future is ahead of you.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Significant numbers

Since deciding to write a blog (and naming it ilove10) I realised the name might need some explaining.  Of course there is the “info” section, but it doesn’t really tell the full story.

I recently read a biography of Simon P. Norton which is about a very gifted mathematician who is, shall we say, less gifted in other life skills.  Reading the description of his childhood reminds me a little of Nathan. In particular, how Simon called his mother “45”.  It’s prompted me to get round to this topic.

One of Nathan’s quirks is his fascination with numbers.  He has been interested in counting from being very young, and he seems to have a natural talent for spotting patterns, stacking and sorting things, and more recently being able to read most 3 digit numbers – something that is beyond his years.  I’m not sure how many 2 year olds can identify a rhombus, but he was one of them.  He giggled so much that he nearly stopped breathing the day he realised that turning 6 upside down makes 9 and vice versa.

Like Simon, Nathan uses numbers to label things.  So, people are referred to by the door number of their house, and cars by the digits in their number plates.  Jigsaws are primarily referred to by their number of pieces, and only by their content if several jigsaws have the same number of pieces.  Busses are, of course, referred to by their number.  Nathan finds it hilarious if the same number crops up in a different context – for example the 115 bus runs near our house, but on the way to school we pass a house with a prominent 115 on the door. Every time we pass it the house is worthy of comment… “115 house, bit like 115 bus”.  Nathan also likes to spot the numbers of the carriages on the DLR trains, which is particularly exciting because there are 3 carriages on most trains so 3 numbers to spot.

I have previously blogged here about how he self-sooths at bed time by counting, and how he can be persuaded to eat food he does not like by counting the spoonfuls – although these days we are told “lets do 60″ rather than the rather old hat 10 spoonfuls.

I’m not sure whether this is some Aspergic trait showing early on (although undiagnosed, I was also a very “adult” child who liked to line things up rather than play with them) or whether this is just a precocious talent for maths along the lines of Simon (I do have a maths degree so there is some genetic precedent, although not at that level!).  I’m not even sure which I hope for – studying maths at a prestigious university taught me that most people who are good at the Queen of Sciences have paid for it in “life points” from some other category such as the ability to socialise, to eat anything but 3 favourite meals, or even to be happy in life. So, whilst I would be incredibly proud if Nathan is the next Fields Medal hopeful, I would prefer he is content in life, has the ability to support himself, and a good set of friends around him. Perhaps he might manage both? (pushy parent, moi?)

So far, our “significant numbers” include…

0 – aah zero, a funny concept.  The joy of zero was discovered about 6 months after the joy of counting to 10. Days spent walking up and down stairs (aka being frogmarched by a toddler), counting on the way up and stepping back down to zero on the ground level.  Zero, you are both hilarious and good exercise.  Also known as “zero-bye-bye-Numtums”.

1 – “number 1 leeds” is where Grandma and Grandad live

9 – our friend Elliot’s house

10 – very significant of course – the first number that Nathan expressed an emotion about.  It is our door number, the day (and nearly the hour) of Samuel’s birth.  Because we have 10 fingers (and thumbs) it is often the last number in nursery rhymes about counting, and it is the lift level for “show me show me” on Cbeebies. It’s also the largest number in “one ted fell out of bed”, a favourite story.

11 – our friend Lucy’s house

14 – Auntie Dani’s house

15 – bob the builder jigsaw and a local bus number

22 – Auntie Ann’s house

25 – jungle puzzle jigsaw

35 – “35 London” is Grandma and Grandad’s other house as well as “35 fireman sam and big engine” and “35 fireman sam and dogs” which are jigsaws.

50 – finding nemo jigsaw

54 – our car

60 – favourite number of spoonfuls of horrible dinner to eat.  Why? noone knows!  He would rather eat 60 spoons of disliked goo than 10.

87 – other Grandma and Grandad’s house

115 – local bus number

135 – local bus number

277 – local bus number

493 – bus number near Grandma and Grandad’s house

695 – a favourite number on car number plates we see on the way to school

905 – another numberplate favourite

1000 – this is becoming funny as Nathan explores the naming conventions, it is either pronounced “ten hundred” or “a thousand” depending on mood.

26, 24, 11, 10 – the door numbers on the lead up to our house, sometimes discussed when Nathan is thinking about going home (“don’t live at 26, don’t live at 24, don’t live at 11, we live at 10″ is sometimes a request to go home!)

So, to all you maths geniuses and Aspergers adults out there… did any of you exhibit this sort of strange “geeky” behaviour in early childhood?  What do you think about our special numbers?  Am I raising Simon Norton or Sheldon Cooper?

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Nosferatu

Some say the origin of the vampire stories is sexual repression in Victorian times, that it is a thinly veiled analogy of lust, sex and being swept away in the tide of desire.

Not so, I tell you. Nosferatu is real, and living among us. They are exceptionally beautiful creatures, drawing you towards them with their smooth pale skin and their deep blue eyes. You reach to kiss their cheek, then it happens. Suddenly, lightening fast, their head whips round and their mouth is on your nose, or chin, or cheek biting down with an unstoppable force, then sucking so powerfully they could drink you dry. If you are careful enough to avoid bringing your face near it does not matter – a shoulder, a finger, any flesh will do. As they bite and suck they rake you with sharp claws. If frustrated they utter an inhuman shriek which carries on the cool night air. You may have heard it last night, closer than you would like to think, in your street or even in your very own house.

Luckily they are easily dealt with. Rarely do they actually kill someone, preferring instead to leave their victim alive, ready for another attack later. Should you fear you have one in your midst, 2 things will protect you, 2 potions to ward them off. Not garlic, no cross or silver bullet will defend you. No, the only 2 protections you can rely on are these… milk, and bonjela.

Yes, dear reader, nosferatu, the vampire, is really a 4 month old baby, teething and hungry. Beware, he will bite you then drink you dry!

Here is an image of the beast in action…

20120823-112341.jpg

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

My fathers bookcase

I have this bookcase. It has 4 shelves, solid sides and backboard. It wobbles a bit. My husband does not like it. I admit it is not something with an easily apparent beauty, but I like it. It is made of rough, cheap wood of a middle colour which does not match any wooden furniture you could buy. It snags dusters and resists polishing, preferring to keep its shabby chic. I’m being generous when I say shabby chic.

As a child it was part of everyday life, something in the corner of my bedroom which held my most treasured possessions, my books. As an adult I rescued it because my parents wanted to throw it away. Over time it was relegated to the garage, a storage place for fuses and lightbulbs, odds and ends. There was an attempt (by my husband) to get rid of it during our recent house move, but it backfired because I have rescued it again, cleaned it, and put it in pride of place in the admittedly shabby toy room, where it holds Nathan’s books and fits in with the 1970s ambiance.

20120823-112832.jpg

Why do I love it so much? Well, this bookcase was handmade by my father, at school, when he was 16, in woodwork class. Now anyone who knows my father knows how ridiculous that is. He is not the handyman type. He is a hard nosed businessman with a background in accountancy, known for turning around failing companies by taking unpopular decisions. He is the sort of man who hires a handyman to put up pictures or shelves. I have always looked up to him, admired his work ethic and the respect he commands, wanted to succeed at work like he did. But at 16 he did not know he would grow up to run a PLC. He did not know he would have 2 daughters who would look up to him. He hadn’t even met my mother. He was just a kid taking his O levels, hoping to do well. The son of a plumber, in a time when all boys took woodwork class, I imaging people saying “it’s good to have a trade” to him as he put together that bookcase, hoping but not yet sure that he would not need these skills for his career. Thinking about his future and whether he might one day have a wife and kids and need to put shelves up.

I think about how far he has come since being that young man. How successful he is, his weaknesses and failures too, how his marriage to my mother has supported and helped him, how proud he is of my sister and I, and how besotted he is with his grandchildren. I think of my two boys and their futures. The uncertainties, the possibilities both good and bad. I think of myself at 16, just discovering rock music, just finding out about myself as a person, just about to launch into the world. That bookcase isn’t just an ugly piece of furniture. It stands for hopes, dreams and fears, for being on the brink of becoming, for learning who you are and accepting who you are not. It stands for growing up, for launching into life, and for the bright future that awaits.

When we finally get permission to renovate this house (the huge Georgian grade II listed house that my 16 year old self would never hope to own), I will find a corner somewhere for that beautiful ugly bookcase. I will tell my boys who made it, and teach them to be themselves, to reach for their dreams, and not to fear the future.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

What children teach me about God

After a time away from blogging (I could claim I was busy, but actually I discovered mother and baby cinema in Greenwich) I am returning to you with a thoughtful post. It’s a faith based post so if you’d rather not read about Christianity then look away now.

In the Bible, God describes himself as our Father.  Its one of the names we have for him, and Jesus referred to God the Father as “Abba” which roughly translates as “Dad”.  Since having children I’ve been fascinated by the way the parent – child relationship reflects so much of the God – human relationship, and how this description of God as father really works.

Some things are obvious – that God is in charge and we are not, God chose to create us, He loves us, and looks after us. Some things are less obvious. This post is about the things my children have taught me about God. I’m a mother rather than a father of course, but I think a lot of truth still holds.

Mummy loves you very much

I love my children so much.  A lot more than I might have imagined before I had them.  Its a visceral, instinctual sort of love, as well as being an enjoyment of them as people and joy at watching them learn and grow. There is no doubting it, even when I am sick, angry or miles away.

When Nathan was lying in hospital, brain damaged and with a poor outcome expected, I still loved him.  I didn’t mind if he could ever walk, or go to school, or become an independent adult.  I just wanted him to be him, and to make the most of whatever he could do.

Now he is a healthy toddler, and much of that worry has passed to be replaced with different ones, but the love is still the same. When he gets things wrong, runs too fast and falls over, or has a tantrum and throws things on the floor, I don’t love him any less.  It can make me a little disappointed, but my first reaction is to think the best of him, to make excuses and understand his point of view, to defend him against anyone who judges him. Sometimes it actually makes me laugh, but I do my best to keep my mummy face on and respond in a way that will help him to learn, become emotionally continent, happy and content.

Thinking of how much I love my children and delight in them regardless of how they act, has opened my eyes to just how much God loves each one of us.  And just like I would rush to defend my children from anyone else who judges them, God defends us.  He is our judge, but we shouldn’t fear his judgement when it is tempered by mercy and love.

Ouch, you hurt mummy

With 2 small children I am often a human climbing frame.  I have my hair pulled.  I have my feet stood on (regularly).  I have my wrist wrenched in an effort to escape my grasp, and I get hit in the face more often than anyone ought to put up with. Corners of hardbacked books are not my friends. Small plastic toys leap under my bare feet.

Small children are not careful by nature, and they struggle to understand that they have the power to hurt people, albeit mostly by accident.  Nathan doesn’t realise that he can cause me a lot of pain by being careless, or in a fit of pique. Often I find myself explaining that “mummy has an ouch, please say sorry”.

It got me wondering about how we hurt God – by ignoring Him or by deliberately throwing His gifts back in His face, by sinning and by avoiding apologising. I still don’t get it right all the time, but I’m more aware of when “God has an ouch” that I need to apologise for.

I’m sorry it hurts but its for your own good

Recently Samuel had his 4 month injections.  I held him still and allowed the nurse to stick him with a needle 3 times. He screamed and screamed. Later, he got a fever and was pretty upset for the whole day.  It upsets me to deliberately do this to him, but it is far far better for him than getting the diseases he has been immunised against.  As a young baby, Nathan had procedure after procedure which hurt him but ultimately saved his life.  Never once did I agree to slice open his foot just for fun.  Many times we did it to test his blood so that the doctors could ensure his breathing support was correct. It probably didn’t feel that way to Nathan though.

There are other, more everyday things where I encourage or even force my children to do things they really dislike. Nathan went through a phase where he hated having his car seat straps done up.  He would live on a diet of chocolate sandwiches and yoghurt if I let him.  Samuel recently tried to wean himself on paper until I discovered him and removed his snack, much to his annoyance.

You see, as the adult I have more information than them.  Information they can’t even understand yet, can’t hope to grasp until they’re much older.  And I have the responsibility to take decisions in their best interest.  This is also the case with God and us.  He is omnipotent, and loves us. When He lets us suffer it we tend to assume he’s forgotten us, or is being mean.  Maybe there are reasons we can’t hope to understand until we’re much more mature.

When Samuel was screaming after his injections, and when Nathan was having heel prick blood tests, I did not abandon them.  I understood they were upset.  I knew they might feel betrayed, hurt, and in pain.  I held them and comforted them and dried their eyes, and one day I will explain it all to them, if they want to know.  Luckily they are both young and trusting enough to accept my comfort despite the appearance of my betrayal. Doing this for my children has reminded me to accept the comfort of God even when it seems He’s allowing me to suffer needlessly.  One day I hope to understand, but in the mean time I’ll have a cuddle, some milk, a chocolate button or two and be as brave as I can, because if we don’t trust God to have our best interests at heart then what kind of “good” could God ever be?

I’d suffer your pain for you if I could

I remember praying when Nathan was sick in hospital, the sort of desparate bargaining prayer that starts with an “if you…” and ends with a promise.  If you let him live then I’ll never doubt you.  If you take away his suffering I’d happily get a nasty disease instead of him.  Its a bit related to the last point, but as a parent you hate to see your child suffer any sort of distress – physical or emotional.  If you could stand up to the school bullies in place of your child, if you could have the operation instead of them, if you could jump out infront of the car and push them out of the way then you would.

God feels the same way.  I can say this with utter confidence, because He did it.  He came to live here, to find out exactly what it was like, to win the battle of living a good life whilst facing all the difficulties and problems we have.  Then He took the consequences of our bad choices, our sins, for us.  He got in our place and did it for us.

It would be ridiculous if my children said to me “mummy, I know you pushed me out of the way of that car and broke your legs and everything, but really i’d rather have worked it out on my own and I’ll be jumping infront of the next car that drives past because its important to be self reliant, thank you anyway”.  My children remind me to say yes, thank you Jesus that you already did it all, and that I don’t have to deal with the bad consequences of my sin. Thank you for loving me enough to do that for me.

Mummy’s just in the next room, stop whinging

Lightening the tone a bit as it got a bit deep there.  Small children often go through attachment phases where they cannot stand for you to be out of their sight.  Once they get mobile they will follow you everywhere – even into the toilet.  Smaller children will cry and cry if they think they’re alone.  They struggle to understand that you haven’t abandoned them, that you’re coming back soon, and that you’ve made arrangements for their safety and comfort in the mean time such as using a baby monitor, leaving the TV on as background noise, or asking a friend to babysit.

In an earlier post I mentioned how Nathan asks “mummy coming back soon?” when we put him to bed.  It’s a common phrase in our house.  Another one is “mummy’s just in the next room, i’m really near you, there’s no need to cry”.

After Jesus had risen from the dead, he returned to heaven.  He said we shouldn’t whinge about this, that it was necessary He go so that He could send us the Spirit to be with us, and that He was coming back soon.  Sometimes it feels like a long time that He’s been gone, and we wonder if he’ll come back at all.  These days imagine God saying “stop whinging, I’m very close by, just in the next room, and I’m coming back soon”. He’s left the Holy Spirit to look after me, and I don’t need to stress about it.

You can’t imagine all the great things ahead of you

I love dreaming about my children’s futures.  Yes, it will be wonderful to get to know their characters better as they grow up, to find out their strengths and weaknesses, and to watch them become young men then adults, moving out into the world and their own lives.

But the dreaming I really enjoy is planning how I will introduce them to things I know about that they don’t yet know are coming.  Nathan’s first trip to Legoland was last month, and he was amazed by the trains and the pirate show and the maze.  I can’t wait until he’s big enough for roller coasters – Alton Towers and Chessington and even perhaps Florida.   I think about horse riding, about snowboarding, about riding bikes and rowing boats and trips on aeroplanes.  I think about their first best friend, about falling in love, about moving out for the first time, about discovering bands and clubbing and theatre and films and all the things there are to enjoy in the world.  They might not like all of it, and almost certainly they won’t like exactly the same things as I do. But I can’t wait to see them enjoy it all.

That sense of anticipation, that the best is yet to come, that the future is limitless and enjoyable and wide open to them, that is how I believe God feels about us.  We are just at the start of our eternity with Him.  He’s preparing a room for each of us in His house, He’s getting ready to show us how life should have been, how it can be.

As I scheme about how to bless my children, how to introduce them to the wonderful things life has to offer, I also try to remember that God is doing the same for me.  And that, too, is one of the wonderful things in life I hope to introduce my children too, so that after enjoying this life together we can also enjoy God’s house together, for the rest of eternity.  What amazing experiences lie ahead of us?  I can’t wait to see!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Baby monitor side effects

We have a baby monitor.  We do not use it to monitor the baby.  Instead it is a weapon against wandering toddlers in the middle of the night.  It is one of those under-mattress sensor pad ones, that alarms if the baby stops breathing in the middle of the night.  Over anxious parents (like me) buy them for their newborns because they are afraid of cot death (or in my case, of their newborn removing his oxygen supply whilst asleep and asphyxiating).  Now I have more experience and have read the internet, I know you’re not likely to get an alarm from one of these things until its way too late to resuscitate your baby, so they are a bit useless for the stated purpose. (It must be true, its on the internet.)

Not so for the wandering toddler.  An alarm which beeps when it feels no breathing motion is an alarm that can detect a small boy who has decided toys are a more appropriate pasttime at 2am than sleeping.  Without an alarm, this behaviour is hard to detect, especially if you’re not on the same floor as said boy.  After 2 attempts at sneaking out of bed, ending in 2 floods of tears at the pesky alarm noise, our eldest decided that it’s not worth the trouble of being rumbled before you’ve got your cars out of the garage.

A second feature of the alarm is a blue night light which you can switch on.  Nathan is fascinated by all forms of traffic and recently we have been learning some road safety by talking about the red man and the green man at pedestrian crossings.  “Red man says stop”, “Green man says go” are often receited as we drive down the road.  Well in our house, “blue light says stay in bed”.  It seems to work, although now I worry less about a rogue toddler in the wee small hours and more about a frightened toddler in a house fire trying to decide between running from the flames and obeying the blue light.  Motherhood – pure stress!

The alarm also comes with a remote monitor, so you can put the baby to sleep in one room then go elsewhere in the house and hear what’s going on.  It has a microphone, a room thermometer, and of course it links to the under mattress sensor thing.

All of which pre-amble brings me to the point of this post – the sweet things you hear when your toddler has been settled down for the night.  All of this is new to us since Nathan only started talking a couple of months ago.  Most nights we stay with him until he’s very sleepy as small boys can’t be trusted to stay in bed and go to sleep if they’re not most of the way there already. (well, mine can’t).  Sometimes though he is still fairly awake when we leave him.  These are the nights I cherish – I rush downstaris to the remote monitor and turn it on, and wait for the monologue.  Sometimes it’s just a solitary “bye bye mummy” as he ponders my absence from his bedside.  Sometimes he admonishes himself to “stay in bed, go to sleep, good boy”.  And sometimes he treats me to a much longer chat where his words are not always decipherable – perhaps including “daddy at work”, “grandma grandad house saturday today wednesday”, repeating the end of prayers “Jesus-Christ-name-amen”, or the super cute “it ok babe Sam-el dont need cry”.  Sometimes it’s a lonely “mummy come see me soon” which is both a request and a repeat of my promise to look in on him on my way to bed.

Occasionally I’ll come downstairs and turn the monitor on whilst Darren is still settling Nathan, and I get to hear their (semi) private conversation.  I think I will never get over how lovely it is to hear the man I love and the child we share bonding over a bedtime chat.

Right now we are all sharing a bedroom, as we have not yet cleared enough boxes to fit a double bed in the master bedroom of number 10 (the room is currently called “the garage” as thats where most of the contents used to live).  I am staying up late to complete a few household chores (midnight washing up, my life is so glamorous), and of course writing a blog entry is an absolute must.  Darren has gone to bed, Nathan was in bed hours ago, and Samuel is sleeping by my side downstairs.  Usually the first one in bed turns the monitor off.  Tonight we forgot and left it on.  I’m sitting in the living room listening to 2 boys – one grown up and one still little – both snoring away.  Every time the big one lets out a big snore, the little one gives a big sigh, turns over, and starts snoring again.  It is the sound of a contented household.  And so to bed, to add one more snore into the mix.  Samuel’s… of course I don’t snore.  ;-)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shiny!!

I am writing this post on my shiny new iPad, using our just-installed Internet.  I think number 10 is finally in the 21st century!  Hooray!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment