Category Archives: Parenting

Being a part of history

August didn’t just mean the school summer holidays for our household. but also some much-needed time away from work for both Mike and me. We started our 2 week stint with a drive to London and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, home to the 2017 IAAF World Championships. We’ve long enjoyed watching the athletics on TV and ever since our visit to the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics have been waiting for the next opportunity to watch the sports live arrive. The announcement that this year’s World Championships was to be held in London caused great excitement and last August I joined the thousands of others hoping to be successful in the ballot and be offered tickets to the events of their choice. We were lucky enough to get both sessions that we had chosen, which then dictated the rest of our plans for our summer break.

Our start perhaps didn’t quite go according to plan, with packing for our trip abroad, accidents on the motorway and a necessary, but lengthy detour hampering the relaxed beginning we were hoping for. However, we got there in the end and with time enough to park our car and unload our suitcases into our Stratford hotel room before heading to the park itself. We had allowed enough time to explore Hero village, which was filled with athletic-themed activities, events, sponsor displays and the obligatory souvenir stands and I’m so glad that we had. The children had great fun competing against each other in triathlon themed challenges, trying their hand on a wheelchair obstacle course and racing the 100m sprint against Mike. It could have been so easy to have bypassed the village completely in favour of just heading into the stadium itself, but we all enjoyed the opportunity to soak up some of the Championships spirit and really immerse ourselves in all the glory of the event.

The Friday evening session was fantastic and we had the most amazing seats, which allowed us to watch the women’s long jump final with ease. The evening was filled with a great mix of field and track events including the hurdles, the hammer throw and the women’s steeplechase final, a race neither G or M knew anything about and found fascinating to watch, especially when 1 competitor forgot to go through the water jump on the second circuit of the track. However, as brilliant as that evening was, the best was yet to come and I’d be hard pressed to say who was more excited to be a part of what would become a truly historic occasion.

Since international athletics superstar, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt announced his retirement from the track following the 2017 IAAF Championships, I had been keeping my fingers tightly crossed that he would complete as part of the 4x100m relay team during the competition. Our second session was on Saturday morning and was due to include several more of the decathlon events as well as the round 1 races for all of the relay races –  men’s and women’s 4x100m and 4x400m. M in particular was incredibly excited that he might get see to his athletic hero race and the atmosphere was absolutely buzzing in the stadium that morning. It quickly become evident that we were witness to something spectacular and the whole family eagerly cheered the British teams who performed with enthusiasm and secured well-deserved places in all 4 finals. What wasn’t obvious at the time, but became sadly apparent at the finals that evening, was that we had seen not just some impressive races, but also what would turn out to be Bolt’s final track appearance as he sadly crashed out of the final with a heart-breaking injury that not only devastated him, but the watching world too. It was a great privilege to be to watch this inspirational man race and something we will all remember for a long time.

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Charity Cut

Whenever I write my blog, I am always conscious of not wanting to focus on any one emotion more than another, particularly when life seems pretty bleak to us. Yes, sometimes things feel overwhelming, but I know that in the grand scale of things life could be so much worse and I’m truly grateful that it isn’t. However, this is one occasion when I’m not going to apologise for shouting from the rooftops about just how fantastic both my children are in my eyes. They’ve both had brilliant end of year school reports and Stagecoach reports, which is a real testament to how hard they’ve worked this year, but this post is about something so much more than that and something of which Mike and I are incredibly proud.

In May, as part of National Eosinophil Awareness Week, M wrote to his Headteacher to ask if he could hold a “Dress as your Hero” day at school. Unbeknownst to me, M was invited to speak at one of the whole school assemblies about why he was running this fundraiser and took this opportunity completely in his stride. Both his class teacher and the Head have told me that he spoke confidently and with great articulation, able to clearly explain who Over The Wall are, what they do and the importance of these camps to him and to G. The school responded in amazing fashion and M’s hopes of raising around £100 proved to be a woeful underestimate of the final total.

Back at the start of the year, I wrote about our family’s New Year Resolutions  and mentioned that G had set herself a resolution that would be revealed in the fullness of time. It’s a real privilege to now share that resolution with you all. My gorgeous girlie decided that she wanted to cut her beautiful long hair before we travel abroad this summer and was keen to do it for charity if at all possible. So, for the past 7 months as G has been growing her hair as long as she could get it, she has been researching just how she could support a charity by doing so.

Two weeks ago, G faced her charity cut and had over 10 inches cut off to benefit 2 amazing charities. The 10-inch plait has been sent to the Little Princess Trust, who will use it to make real hair wigs for children across the UK who have lost their hair due to intensive medical treatments. Not content to leave it at that, G decided to join M in his fundraising efforts for OTW and asked family and friends for any sponsorship they were willing to give her to support her in her efforts. Regardless of any lingering nerves or uncertainties, G was excited to see her final look and I’ll be honest enough to say that we now have a teenage daughter that looks stunning and even more grown up than she did before. She really is rocking her new style:

Working together with this shared purpose, G and M have succeeded in raising more than a phenomenal £760  for Over The Wall, the charity that provides free camps for children with serious health challenges, their siblings and their families. As you’ll have read more than once on here, G and M have both benefited hugely from attending the Over The Wall camps and as a family we have chosen to support the work of this charity in every way we can. This really is a proud Mummy moment for me, seeing G and M be determined to raise awareness and financial support so that OTW can keep creating the magic they do every day at camp.

We are, of course, more than happy to keep collecting for this fantastic cause and you can add to the hard work of both children over the last couple of months by donating via our Virgin Giving website here. Thank you

“This is my one small step, this is my walk on the moon”

I’m not quite sure how this happened. Two years ago marked the end of G’s Junior school career and now we find ourselves at the cusp of a new adventure for us all as M’s time at the Juniors similarly draws to an end. The past 4 years have been a true roller-coaster ride and the staff at our wonderful village school have been there for every step of the journey. From the moment we stepped through their doors, they have embraced the challenges of having M in the school and provided the whole family with the support we’ve needed to get the children through all those ups and downs relatively unscathed.

In some ways, the last 6 months have been the toughest of his school career, even more so than the NG-tube and broken leg we’ve dealt with in that time. He wasn’t able to attend his Year 6 camp because of poor health, but he found the joy in spending the day there getting muddy with his friends instead. We survived the stresses of SATS and celebrated in style last weekend when we found out just how well he did in passing them all. We’ve enjoyed the Year 6 production of The Wizard of Oz and are finally winding down to the Leavers’ Service at the end of the week.

This comment in his end of year report from his class teacher reflects the wonderful young man he is growing up to be:

He is an inspiration to his peers that in spite of his health issues, he participates fully in everything and does not use his illness as an excuse not to try….Thank you M, for being such a valuable member of the class this year. You contribute more than perhaps you realise!”

As we wave goodbye to the end of an incredible era, there will be more than one tear shed along the way, but we are preparing to embark on the next big adventure, building on the incredible foundation that has been put in place with great care, love and consideration over the last few years:

Carnival Magic

Never being one to let something get in my way, I’ve tried to instill that same determination to succeed in both G and M. This time last year was the perfect example of this, when M took part in our local carnival parade, albeit in his wheelchair, and G stretched her self-confidence to become one of the dance captains leading their Stagecoach school as they danced their way along the carnival route. Kitted out in their 70s-inspired costumes, with the likes of Tragedy, Night Fever and Disco Inferno blaring out to get not just the kids, but all the spectators dancing too, they definitely captured an essence of Rio de Janeiro on the day.

This year we were back again, though our carnival offering really couldn’t have been more different to the party atmosphere of 2016. G and M were both keen to be a part of our church’s carnival float and relished the opportunity to choose the characters they wanted to portray from that classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. With her long dark hair, G was perfectly suited to playing the part of “Belle” and suited the yellow costume I managed to pull together in the 10 days leading up to the event itself. M in the meantime, conspired with his best friend at church and agreed that he would play “Lumière“, whilst C would be “Cogsworth“. M’s final outfit certainly did the job, though the glorious June sunshine made for one very hot and slightly grumpy child once the parade was over. The carnival float itself looked amazing and the children loved being able to sing along, dance and wave to everyone as it carried them down the street. I love being part of such a fantastic local tradition and can’t wait to see what next year brings for yet another repeat performance.

NEAW 2017 – Living with the unknown

2017 marks our 5th National Eosinophil Awareness Week and yet, in many ways and for many reasons, this year may be one of our quietest yet. One of those reasons is that over the last 12 months, we have experienced a significant shift in the way that M’s doctors view his diagnosis and that change, along with the inevitable amount of growing up that is going on in our household at the moment, means that life has become about a lot more than just the label we’ve been handed to explain his medical condition. I’ll be honest, that transitioning medical opinion has been difficult to live with because it has challenged the very way we’ve coped with the last 11 years of our life and has demanded that we examine closely all of those decisions we’ve made believing them to be in the best interests of both our children and not just M. It has made us sit back and question whether we’ve been choosing and doing the right thing.

This seismic shift that we’ve been experiencing is not isolated to our experiences or even to our part of the world, but rather appears to be part of a nationwide change in the understanding, and even the diagnosis, of Eosinophilic disorders themselves. As a parent to a child with this diagnosis, the prospect of moving away from recognising Eosinophilic Disease as a genuine medical condition is a daunting one. Whatever title you want to attach to this little-recognised health issue, the hard facts are that those diagnosed with it are struggling and suffering on a daily basis and removing the validity of its name does not, and will not, remove the reality of the problem itself. The steps we have taken over the last 4 years since diagnosis have not always been easy ones, but without a shadow of a doubt, they have been ones that have seen much improved health for M at times when we have had to make what are unquestionably the toughest of choices.

Similarly, we are not the only family who has found itself moving away from the care provided by GOSH over the last couple of years – some have moved by choice, whilst others have had little or no say in the matter. In our case, our GOSH consultant and dietitian recommended we sought local input into his care because they had reached a point where they could find no explanation for why his body reacts as it does and felt that a fresh pair of eyes might be able to give us different insight into how to go on from here. The last 8 months have been extremely challenging for us all as our local consultant has made suggestions that we are not always 100% on board with and it has taken unbelievable courage on the part of all in our family to even agree to try new things that no-one really knows will succeed in the long run. The jury is still out on whether we are currently heading in the right direction with his care and truthfully only time will tell whether the decisions we are making this time round are the right ones or not.

Without any funded research into the complexities of gastrointestinal disorders, individuals like M will always be at the mercy of what can only be seen as an experimental approach, as diet, medicines and psychology are discussed and considered and tweaked to produce the best possible outcome on very much a “trial and error” basis. In our experience, we know that food plays a huge part in the way that M’s body behaves and the medicines he’s currently on appear to be doing their job of dampening down the body’s reactions to everything he eats. Likewise, we agree that there is a psychological element to it all and have had our concerns about the psychological impact of a chronic illness on his mental well-being. Sadly, where we have currently agreed to disagree with the medics is whether the psychology plays a bigger part than the physiology when it comes to M’s day-to-day health and responses. Yes, we know that stress can wreak havoc on the digestive system of just about everyone, but we will not be swayed in our belief that it is more than that for M. The hard facts of our 11 years with M show us that his health challenge is unquestionably a physical one and we will continue to fight for greater understanding of Eosinophilic disorders and how they affect everyday living for those diagnosed with them.

This week is about raising awareness of EGID and sharing our experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly – of living with it. For us, and for the families we’ve got to know who live with it, EGID is a part of our lives that we have to accept and learn to come to terms with, no matter what discussion is being had in the medical world. It might not be clear whether EGID is in itself the final diagnosis, or if it is simply part and parcel of a larger problem that is, as yet, unknown, but it is our reality and it shapes every step that we take.

This year we have decided to continue our support of the amazing charity, Over The Wall and their camps. If you’re able to donate even a very small amount, please follow this link to my Virgin Money Giving Page where your donation will help more children living with chronic illness like G and M by giving them and their families a chance to enjoy some much-needed time away from it all.

#NEAW2017

May 8th: No matter what’s going on, there’s no escaping #EGID or leaving it at home, even for one day. For all those facing exams over the coming weeks, their EGID will be just one more challenge that they have to survive.

Today, this is for M – and his schoolmates and the other Year 6s across the country who are taking their SATs this week. We’re so proud of you: of the obstacles you’ve already overcome and your determination to succeed. Just remember, the results really don’t matter.

Mini Cycling Adventures

A month ago we spent our Saturday afternoon in what can only be described as a most unusual way for our particular family. It had all actually started a few days before, when Mike’s bike had developed a persistent flat tire that no amount of minor repair work was going to fix and he finally decided to take it to our local Halfords store for a complete overhaul. Unfortunately, the prognosis wasn’t good and sadly Mike had to come to terms with the terminal diagnosis that his bike just wasn’t going to make it and it was time to think of finding a suitable replacement. Not only did Mike need to urgently replace a crucial part of his daily commute, but my Mum had also been reminding me that I needed to actively do something to buy myself the bike that she has bought me as a birthday present for 2 years in a row, and so we headed back to Halfords to see what we could find.

If I was to say that G and M were not too enthused by the prospect of an afternoon investigating potential bike purchases for Mum and Dad, it would absolutely not be an exaggeration, but they really didn’t have much of a choice and so they begrudgingly came along, grumbling all the way. When we first arrived at the shop, it seemed fortuitous that they were having a end-of-season sale, but I really should have realised that being April Fool’s Day, the joke would ultimately be on us. Mike had already done some investigating into some options for me and I swiftly settled on a purple Apollo Elyse that would be everything I needed for future family cycling adventures.

And then the fun started. Whilst Mike explored the 2 floors to see what choices he had, both children took matters into their own hands and found bikes that would suit them too. We had been briefly discussing the fact that both G and M were starting to outgrow the bikes they had at home and the unquestionable allure of some great deals in their end-of-season sales plus a further negotiated discount because we were buying 4 bikes, instead of the anticipated 2, meant an attractive offer that we just couldn’t turn down.

It took a couple of weeks to pick up the bikes as they had to be ordered, delivered and serviced before we could finally take them home. Mike’s bike was pressed into instant service and the children were keen to get theirs out for a test run as soon as was humanly possible, so the Easter holidays came at the perfect time to allow them out on some mini adventures with Mike. However, I hadn’t had the same opportunity until last weekend dawned with the most glorious weather and with no homework left to do for either child. We decided to head out in a different direction than the ones they had been in before and cycled along the country lanes winding through the farm land and fields that surround our house. We cycled to the next village and back, not a huge distance by any stretch of the imagination, but a 5 mile introduction to what promises to be some great family adventures for 2017.

Giving fair warning

It might be late on a Sunday evening, but tomorrow sees the start of May and just as in previous years, I’m giving what I consider to be fair warning!

The 3rd week of May is National Eosinophil Awareness Week 2017. For the second year in a row, I will be trying to post a new photo, fact or update on my Facebook page every day for the whole of May, which of course will include my regular daily blogs during the week itself. With M’s SATs and some tight deadlines at work, this will be no mean feat, but one that I will be determined to achieve if at all possible. Some might happen earlier than others, some might simply be repeated from last year, but the important thing is that we’re raising awareness of #EGID.

Please feel free to share and help us reach as many people as possible.

Birthdays, exams and an awards ceremony too

The last 10 days have been busy ones and I for one am glad to be heading into the last week of term, though the dawning of the school holidays definitely does not equate to any time off work for me this year. Looking back at my blog posts from previous years, it does appear that March and April are consistently a hectic time for us and this year was no different. World Book Day passed surprisingly easy, with M heading to school in his own clothes for his school’s Roald Dahl-themed day as he chose to represent “…a material witness at the trial of Goldilocks, Mummy…” in Dahl’s version of that well-loved Fairy tale.

We seamlessly segued from my 40th celebrations to M’s 11th birthday and onto my 4th blogaversary before celebrating Mother’s Day in fine style too. School presented its own challenges to both G and M, with homework tasks, concert rehearsals and posters revising the finer details of grammar and punctuation – fronted adverbials anyone? – filling our evenings and weekends. Next came 2 sets of exams: Performing Arts exams for both children with their Stagecoach school, followed just a few days later by M’s Grade 1 Cello exam, which I’m delighted to say he passed despite a persistent reluctance to give much more than a cursory nod to his daily practice. Continuing with the music theme, G performed with the school clarinet group at her school’s Spring music concert last week, whilst M is singing with his school choir at a regional music concert involving children from Junior schools across our county this week.

On top of all of that, we also managed to squeeze in a trip to London for 4 and an evening spent celebrating the success stories from this year’s FreeFrom Food Awards. Once again held at the Royal College of Physicians near Regent’s Park, the evening was a glittering event designed to recognise some of the fantastic freefrom products nominated this year and was a great opportunity to not only catch-up with friends from the allergy blogging world, but also try those tasty treats that had pipped their competitors to the winning post. Hosted by the fabulous Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, director of the FreeFrom Food Awards, with a helping hand from restaurateur, celebrity chef and awards patron, Antony Worrall-Thompson, the Awards were a real testament to the changes brought about in the Freefrom world over the last few years.

The complete list of winners from #FFFA17 can be found here, but the big winners of the night were Irish bakers, Bfree, whose Sweet Potato Wraps are impressively top 14 allergen free and won high praise from many of the judges for being “…enormously versatile, beautifully soft and pliable, a lovely warm colour and tasting delicious…” This year was the 10th anniversary of the FFFA and to acknowledge this remarkable achievement, nominations had been invited to recognise a Freefrom Super Hero from within the industry itself. There were 5 very worthy nominees, all of whom are, without a doubt, heroes within the Freefrom world, but there could only be one winner and the inspirational Clare Marriage of Doves Farm was chosen for her unquestionable dedication to the production of numerous flour blends that have transformed the lives of those having to bake freefrom.

It was a fantastic night and it was wonderful to be able to mingle with the crowds of fellow freefrom foodies, rather than negotiate them with a small child in a wheelchair as we did last year! G not only enjoyed helping herself to a number of the goodies on offer on the Winners’ Buffet, finding a new gluten-free favourite with Kelkin’s chocolate-flavoured teacakes, but also found the courage to strike up a brief conversation with her very own Super Hero, Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne, the creator of G’s gluten-free bread of choice, Genius. I can’t wait to see what the year ahead brings for the Freefrom industry and am definitely looking forward to #FFFA18!

A fine Fish supper

With an unbeatable combination of good health all round, a new approach to food challenges and an accommodating restaurant, this year we had one of the best Mother’s Day lunches that we’ve enjoyed in a long time. Last year’s celebration fell flat, when my Mum was relegated to her sick-bed and left Mike, the children and me to savour yet another fantastic family meal at what has become one of our all-time favourites for allergy-friendly meals, Wagamama. However, a recent visit to our local Wagamama for M’s birthday tea meant we didn’t fancy a return visit quite so soon, after all it is possible to have too much of a good thing and as much as I fancied treating Mum to a late lunch at the amazing Cafe Nouveau, it was just too far to trek this weekend. Fortunately, the opportune coincidence of trialling prawns and our Sunday lunch plans meant we could visit an old haunt that received recent recognition as a gold award-winning venue at the 2016 FreeFrom Eating Out Awards.

Of course, we couldn’t just turn up on the day assuming that we’d be able to safely feed both children, so a preliminary phone call to not only book a table, but also run through all of our allergy requirements for the meal was an absolute necessity. We have been incredibly lucky in the past as we don’t always call ahead and have still found ourselves able to eat out as a family, but a special meal such as this one required a little forward planning. Our restaurant of choice was the marvellous Fishers Restaurant in Bristol and we had our fingers crossed that the inclusion of prawns for the day would make it possible for us all to enjoy a lunch at this great seafood restaurant. The staff were fantastic when Mike called and reassured him that not only could a safe prawn starter be prepared for M, but, as they were including chicken as a main course for Mothering Sunday, prepping chicken, rice and cucumber would be an absolute breeze too.

We had high hopes for our first 3-course meal in a long time, but the generous portion sizes left us all feeling full and satisfied before the dessert menu could even be properly considered. Fishers were able to adapt most of their menu options to be both gluten- and dairy-free to suit G and she was thrilled to be able to order calamari with a sweet chilli sauce, something that is an unexpected favourite with my oft-time picky oldest. She was also delighted by the gluten-free bread basket that she was able to enjoy whilst waiting for her starter to arrive and there was barely a crumb left by the time the calamari appeared. Mum settled on mussels, Mike picked smoked salmon and M and I enjoyed a similar starter of tempura tiger prawns, though mine came with a soy dipping sauce. I would love to be able to share with you the plate of prawns that M was presented with, but my joy at being able to watch my foodie savour every single mouthful meant that I forgot to pull out my phone until that plate was cleared.

G and M’s choices for their main course were a little more mainstream, with M being greeted with a fantastic-looking plate of plain rice, grilled chicken and cucumber batons, whilst G’s huge plate of gluten-free haddock and chips was enough to feed a small army. I was pleased to learn that they have a dedicated fryer to cook all of their gluten-free offerings and seemed to be very much attuned to the risks of cross-contamination for their freefrom guests. We had already confirmed that M could eat the lemon sorbet for pudding and were keen to see what was on offer for G. Sadly, this is when disappointment really hit as despite their brilliance in providing lots of gluten- and dairy-free alternatives for the savoury courses, dessert was a real let-down. The only choice readily available for G was sorbet, which she absolutely hates and when pushed, all the kitchen could offer was the apple crumble – without the crumble. We had heard that in the past, they had been able to go off-menu and cook a gluten- and dairy-free banana fritter, but we were told that they were no longer able to prepare that as an alternative. It was perhaps lucky that G and M were both full to the brim from the rest of the meal and didn’t really want to stick around any longer for pudding and so the rest of us willingly abandoned the sweet finale to our meal and instead travelled back to my Mum’s for a refreshing cup of tea.

Fishers was a great choice for lunch and we were impressed at their willingness to accommodate some tricky dietary requirements. However, the lack of an imaginative dessert menu for those with allergies was extremely disappointing and an area that could definitely do with some improvement to make it a truly excellent Freefrom restaurant.