Tag Archives: superheroes

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!

NEAW 2016 – Definition of a hero

image17How do we define a hero?

The dictionary definition describes a hero as “…a person, typically a man, who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities…“, but personally I prefer the description given by Christopher Reeve. That man, best known for portraying iconic superhero Superman and his unparalleled physical strength, had to learn to develop a mental strength of epic proportions when faced with the devastation of complete paralysis following an accident that changed the direction of his life in the proverbial blink of an eye. He truly became an individual who persevered and endured and succeeded despite the obstacle of his impaired health and he willingly lent his voice to the campaign seeking a cure for spinal cord injury as well as improving the quality of life for those living with paralysis. An amazing and inspirational man.

Last week’s Invictus Games gave us a glimpse of a different set of heroes, who have survived, and continue to survive, against the most unbelievable odds. Their stories bring a tear to the eye and a lump to the throat and are more than enough to inspire you, and their determination to live life to its fullest is simply awesome to witness. These servicemen and women have taken the tragedy of mental and physical injury and turned it into a stepping stone to reach a new goal. Be they athletes or members of the Invictus Choir, their courage in overcoming challenges that most of us can’t even begin to imagine, as well as being prepared to share their struggles in the public eye, makes them a great inspiration for anyone facing their own silent battles.

So, it seems that M’s recent homework came at an opportune time. He was asked to think of a person who inspires him – famous, family member or friend – and come to school prepared with a picture and a 1 minute presentation explaining what makes that person inspirational in his eyes. With so many varied choices out there, I was intrigued to find out who he would choose, fully expecting him to struggle to decide and wanting to see if his final selection would give me an idea for a blog during #NEAW16. I’ve got my blog post, and it turned out that I was wrong as M knew almost immediately the person who inspires him and the reasons why. This is what he wrote:

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Finley, who is nearly 6, is one of M’s #EGID and #GOSH friends and is unable to eat anything. M often talks about Finley: the uniqueness of his chronic illness and his ever-present smile despite the challenges, so it came as no great surprise to me that M finds him inspirational. For M, Finley is the definition of an EGID hero; but he’s not the only one. We have come across hero after hero in our contact with our extended EGID family, including those young people and adults who, in the way they live their lives, are giving my son something to aspire to and showing him that he can achieve the goals he sets for himself. We’ve celebrated with others as their loved ones have achieved exam success, received college or university places and started out on new careers. Sharing these milestones within our EGID community reflects that these are families like ours, who are trying to make the best of the situation they find themselves in and using their own experiences and successes to encourage and help others whenever they can.

For me, the best response to M’s homework came during his last Stagecoach session as he described Finley to his singing teacher. That lovely teacher turned to my boy and gently said, “You are one of the most courageous and kind-hearted children I know. That reason you’ve just given me for why you admire Finley, is the very reason why you inspire me. Despite everything you cope with, every week without fail you turn up here and have a cheeky smile on your face that cheers me up and makes me smile.” And the look of quiet pride that slowly spread across M’s face as he absorbed that compliment told me everything I already knew: that in his own unique way, M also embodies the very definition of an EGID hero.

Just a reminder that as well as raising awareness of EGID this week, we are also fundraising for Over The Wall Serious Fun camps. If you are able to donate, even a small amount, that donation with make a big difference to children like M and G, who benefit massively from these camps. You can donate via my Just Giving page or the link on the side of this page. Thank you!

A Power of Superheroes

What is the collective noun for a group of superheroes? Any idea? I didn’t know off-hand, but as I looked around the room at the amazing group of people gathered to celebrate the 2016 Free From Foods Awards this week, I realised that that’s what I was in the midst of: enough superheroes to make any allergy sufferer’s heart flutter. Ever since I spent a fabulous 2 days judging these amazing awards at the start of February, the ceremony had promised to be the highlight of my season and, with M and G in their new role of diary contributors to the Foodsmatter newsletter, the whole family was lucky enough to be invited to attend.

13095812_10153421370696123_3435156642706845396_nM’s broken leg required some significant amendments to our original plans, but we were determined to get the family, wheelchair and all, to the event, held near Regents Park, London at the rather impressive Royal College of Physicians. We planned to leave as soon as the children finished school, which left ample time to reach our destination and even allowed strategic stops along the way to primp and preen ourselves for the evening. We all had new clothes for the occasion and G took the matter so seriously that she hand-wrote a note for her hanger to remind herself not to wear them before the day itself. Our journey started well and as we travelled along the motorway, the children took turns to pick songs for us all to sing or compared what cloud creations they could spot out of their respective windows. Naturally things couldn’t continue in that relaxed manner and we soon joined a queue of stationary traffic that had me biting my nails and stressing to the hilt that we wouldn’t reach London in time. Fortunately for all concerned, Mike has a much calmer Cg-yOG8WIAAwdZYhead than me and was our nominated driver for the night. The traffic eventually started to move, we crept past the accident site and soon were back up to speed and on our way without me completely losing my cool. We stopped just once and Mike, G and M were all able to nip into the service station toilets to glam themselves up for the evening. I was too anxious about our timings to take 5 minutes out to change myself and the following hour or so was filled with moments much reminiscent of Dirty Dancing – remember Baby changing on the back-seat of Johnny’s car? – as well as hysterical giggling from M as I contorted my body into unbelievable positions to don my own new outfit.

Of course, as it turns out, I needn’t have worried. We arrived bang on time and thanks to the helpful College staff, we were able to park in their car park to ease the burden of manoeuvering M and his wheelchair around. Convoluted lift systems negotiated – seriously complicated as we had to go down from the ground floor to the lower ground floor before taking a different lift up to the first level – we were finally there and the children were thrilled to receive name badges of their very own. From the moment we stepped into the room, I was surrounded by a group of innovative, interesting and fantastic people who all had one thing in common, their passion for the freefrom market. Some of them I had had the honour to meet at one of the judging sessions, others I know from social media, whilst others I’d never met before, but as we made our way across the room, being hugged and kissed by new friends and old, I realised that I really did feel at home with them. We parked M’s wheelchair close to the stage so that he could observe all the proceedings with ease and my thanks go to the Romer Labs UK representatives, one of the Awards sponsors, as they made sure he could see what was happening at all times.

Michelle Berriedale-Johnson was the emcee Cg_buJJW4AUTEpIfor the evening and the awards presented by celebrity chef, Antony Worrall Thompson, who gave what has to be the quote of the night that “..free from people should not be seen as niche people but normal people..”, which was great to hear. It was wonderful to see so many creative and innovative producers receive commendations for their hard work and the winners were all deserving in their categories. It was good to remember some of the fantastic new foods that I had tasted and wonderful to see G so excited about the gluten- and dairy-free offerings available that her own mini fist-pumps could be seen as she heard who the winners were. The full list of winning entries can be found on the Awards website, but a special mention must go to the winner of the FAIR trophy for the Best FreeFrom Food 2016, Nutribix. I was particularly thrilled to see this breakfast cereal win, not least because I had been fortunate to judge the Breakfast products category in February and absolutely loved it. Nutribix is an amazing product, reminiscent of Weetabix and unlike anything else available on the freefrom market at the moment. nutribix-awt-mmoWe’ve still to track down a box in our local supermarkets for G to try, but I’m even more determined to get my hands on some now that one of my favourites has won the overall title.

It was an unmissable night and we could easily have stayed for hours chatting to the other attendees. G and M were on best behaviour and did some impressive networking of their own – politely introducing themselves and chatting confidently to the adults in the room. I received several compliments from those they spoke to, which makes me immensely proud. G was absolutely buzzing from the thrill of having canapés and a buffet that were, more or less, all safe for her and certainly enjoyed the food – the surprise hit of the evening being water buffalo canapés which she declared “delicious” and helped herself to more as soon as she could. It was wonderful to have the time and opportunity to put faces to names of so many other allergy bloggers and companies out there and whilst I won’t even attempt to list them all for fear of forgetting someone, they know who they are and I can’t wait to the next opportunity to meet up. The free from community can sometimes be surprisingly small, but it is also very close-knit and these are people that I’m delighted to be able to describe as friends. Even better, we already have a date in mind and many of us will be able to reconnect at the Allergy and Free from Show at Olympia, London during the weekend of July 8-10th. There’s also the Free From Eating Out Awards coming up later in the year, which is looking to recognise nationwide chains as well as independent restaurants who go the extra mile to provide safe meals for their allergy-suffering diners.

Special mention has to, of course, go to our very own superhero, Ryan from Borough 22 doughnuts. He got one of the loudest cheers of the night, partly aided by our very exuberant family, as well as 2 very much deserved Highly Commendeds for his doughnuts. The highlight of M’s evening was meeting the man he now terms his “personal chef” and even more thrilled that Ryan signed his cast too. It says a lot about the difference this man has made to M in such a short space of time that today even his teacher understood why M was so excited to have met “the doughnut man” in person.

Oh, and I still don’t know what that collective noun is, but I rather think “A Power of Superheroes” fits the bill perfectly! MzQ1QzM3M0E4MzFCNjM4QjYzMUY6YWUxNzkyMGNiZWRkMjJhNGIyYWI2YTNlNDZiNGJjODM6Ojo6OjA=

Early arrivals

efcniToday, November 17th, is World Prematurity Day. A day that acknowledges the early arrival of 15 million babies across the world every year, a statistic that increases annually. Pre-term births are defined as “babies born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed”, but…

What do you think of when you think of a premature baby?

You might recall images of micro-preemies, those babies born so early and so small that they can be cradled in the palm of their parents’ hands. You might think of babies covered with tubes and wires, enclosed in incubators or even tucked into supermarket sandwich bags to help keep them warm enough to survive. You might know of the risks associated with an early arrival and how hard the doctors, nurses and parents fight, with every inch of their being, to get those babies through another day and another long night. You may even have survived the weeks of hoping to get “just one more” week through your pregnancy, knowing that every single hour counts.

The thing is that preemie babies come in all shapes and sizes; the reasons for their early arrival are many and varied; and every family has a similar, but also hugely different story to tell. Each parent and child has their own individual challenges to face and yet premature birth is a common bond that links them all. Let me introduce you to 3 special preemies, each with a unique set of circumstances and a shared experience marking their arrival  :

20131118_191134Of course, you’ve already met the first one: G just crept into the premature category, arriving at 36+6 nearly 12 years ago and weighing an extremely respectable 8lbs. Her delivery was the result of fears about my T1D and the signs that my placenta was beginning to fail, so the doctors made the decision to deliver her to ensure she had the best start in life. Even though she had an initial problem with plummeting blood sugars, G’s stay in SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit) was short at just 3 days and thanks to the wonderfully supportive nurses on the High Dependency ward who looked after us both, Mike, G and I were able to come home a week after she was born and spent our first family Christmas together at home.

M was even more impatient to arrive than his big sister, although his birth weight of 5lbs 12.5oz at 33+1 gestation was equally impressive. M spent his first few days on NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), although there were times we felt something of a fraud, especially compared to the tiny 26-weeker 2 cribs along, who had been born at exactly 5lbs less than him. We had been warned from the moment I was first admitted at 26 weeks pregnant that once he arrived, M would almost inevitably need to stay in hospital until he reached his due date. It is of great credit to the dedicated doctors and nurses who looked after him that we were, in fact, able to bring him home after just 3.5 weeks and in perfect time for Mothers’ Day.

10329684_10152507367497848_7913075952615166607_oAnd this tiny, but beautiful fighter is B, the second son of our close friends and M’s godparents, L and C. Due to fetal distress resulting from pre-eclampsia, B was born at 27+2, weighing just 1lb 9oz and has had a very different battle so far than either G or M. He had suspected NEC (Necrotising Enterocolitis) in hospital and for a week things were very touch and go. Despite this rocky beginning, B is an incredible battler and even though he came home on oxygen after a long 98 days in hospital, 5 weeks later he had been successfully weaned off that too. 18 months on, he is a happy, loving little boy, who may be on the small side for his age, but is otherwise doing well and I know that his parents, just like us, will be forever grateful to those medics who have helped B fight and win.

image_for_happy_world_prematurity_day_5715493946These 3 precious bundles may not have had the easiest start in their lives, but we are lucky that they have each survived and become an irreplaceable part of our families. With a national health service that is in crisis, the neonatal units where G, M and B and thousands like them are cared for on a daily basis are seriously overstretched and understaffed. These children need an incredible level of specialist care to help them make it through those critical first few days and weeks of life and the doctors and nurses who give it are simply amazing as they offer not just medical care to the babies, but emotional support to the whole family. That is a gift that cannot be easily replaced and we know that we were extremely fortunate to be able to receive it.

More than a smile

It all started with a simple compliment that was probably given without too much thought, almost a throw-away comment, but the words, planned or not, had a profound effect months ago and still do. I had walked M and G to school after a particularly difficult night with M,  following on from a couple of really tough days and I was tired and emotional as I left the school grounds. Passing their Head at the gates, I gave a small smile, a nod of my head and a quick reply to his question about how M was feeling. His next words stopped me in my tracks and even now continue to resonate in my memory, especially when things are feeling a little more challenging or tiring than normal:

“I just wanted to say that I admire your constant smile and upbeat attitude about everything. Your positivity is reflected in the way both children deal with whatever’s thrown at them in the classroom and in life.”

My garbled response was a variation of my stock answer:

“What else can I do, but smile? If I didn’t I might end up crying, but that won’t help M or G or me; and it won’t change the way things are…” (I shrugged) “…besides, if I don’t smile and get on with things, who else will? That’s my job as Mum.”

That might be true. but I know a lot of people who wouldn’t be able to smile about it. They’d feel hard done by and resentful of the hand they’ve been dealt, their response would be focussed on complaining – that simply isn’t you or the children.”

I don’t know if the exhaustion of a failed food trial and a bad night’s sleep had made me more sensitive to the world around me, but his words had an impact that I felt resonating deep in my soul and gave a lightness to my step that certainly hadn’t been there 10 minutes earlier. All the way home, with unexpected tears in my eyes, 11987081_10153905230214523_3086822525667980358_nI pondered what he had said to me. After all, am I really that unusual in my response? I don’t feel particularly unique in my attitude and, believe me, I can certainly have a moan with the best of them. I suddenly had reason to reflect on how I present our situation to the outside world and why I smile, even at the most difficult of times.

I smile because, despite everything – the difficult pregnancy, the premature birth, the EGID diagnosis and the decision to tube-feed – I have a lot to celebrate. I have 2 amazing, beautiful, cheeky, intelligent children, my children with super powers, who astound me regularly with their unexpected insights into the world and make me smile. Whilst I might not be able to say truthfully that they are both “happy and healthy”, the wish of every new parent as they await the arrival of their latest addition, they are growing into young people I am proud to say are mine and fascinating individuals in their own right. They might have their struggles to manage, but they are here with me and every day with them is one more opportunity to cuddle, to kiss and to share their lives. As a family we have a lot of fun and there’s always a reason to have a giggle, laugh out loud and just smile together, even at the darkest moments.

Of course the truth is that, in many ways, my smile is also much, much more than a reflection of the joy I feel when spending time with my nearest and dearest. It is also my most effective disguise. If you look hard enough, there will be times when you might notice that the smile doesn’t quite reach my eyes or that my smile is perhaps a little bittersweet. Those are the days when it’s been hard to fight the urge to crawl back under the covers and pull the duvet over my head. The days when getting up, getting dressed and just being is a massive success.12049331_865332913546071_5149015929277272601_n The days when it’s been hard work to put one foot in front of the other and not just get started, but keep going too.

And I’m not alone. Out there in the real world are a huge number of parents who are facing the same struggles, fighting similar battles and often surviving a reality that is far harder than the one we face each day. I have been privileged to meet and get to know some of these superhero parents through our shared experiences and I see that same positive and undeniably brave approach to life reflected in each and every one of them. They are often the parents who just a tiny bit more weary at the school gates, a little more contemplative at the end of each day and a lot more determined to make the most of every moment they have because they know just how precious those minutes are. They will be the ones who will shrug off your questions about their well-being and turn the focus firmly back to you and yours. Not because they don’t want to answer, but because they know that if their emotional floodgates are opened, it will cause a tidal wave that will engulf them and make keeping their heads above water just a smidgen harder to do. And they will be the parents that tell you they don’t consider themselves particularly special or outstanding or unique because this is their life, they know they can’t change it or their children and nor would they want to. M might end up being the cause of many more grey hairs than I’m ever going to admit to, but I wouldn’t have him any other way; he wouldn’t be him any other way; and those parents’ love for their children transcends the unexpected difficulties they’ve been presented with.

I want to finish with a beautiful thought that a friend shared on FB when we were reflecting on this thought-provoking blog post and our own life experiences as special needs parents:

“That’s the thing…we weren’t given these special children because we are special, they make us that way with how amazing they are.”

superhero

NEAW 2015 – The final day

letter_eThis has been the hardest day’s blog to write.  Inspiration has been lacking and I just couldn’t think of what to write about on the subject of “Engage“.  In an attempt to stir my creative juices, I looked again at the many daily updates, photos, videos and statistics I’ve been seeing, reading and “liking” all week, posted by many fellow EGID families on their FB pages, all in an attempt to raise awareness of the illness.  It was as I was browsing that I started to notice that many of them began, almost apologetically, with words to the effect that they were sorry to be bombarding their FB friends with these regular informational posts on the subject, but that it would be for this one week only.

superheroThat’s when it struck me.  This week, 7 days from May 17th to 23rd, I and tens of other EGID families here in the UK and across the world have been fighting hard to raise awareness of this illness that impacts our lives; and we’ve been apologising for it.  We’ve been grateful that we have been able to engage with our audience this week and we’ve almost promised to give it a rest until NEAW 2016 rolls around.  BUT the reality of EGID for us is that we don’t get that break.  We don’t get the chance to focus on it for one week only and then go back to the daily grind of school runs, workloads and running the home.  This is it.  It’s not even just a year-long commitment, but a life-long one and there’s no escape.  I can’t shut down my computer and ignore the posts. I can’t groan inwardly, grit my teeth and ride the week out, thankful that the 24th will soon be here and then breathe a huge sigh of relief that that’s it done for another year.  I don’t have that privilege.

The reason the EGID community has been trying so hard to engage with you this week is the people in our lives who struggle with this rare condition on a daily basis: our superheroes.  Their strength and courage in facing adversity is awesome and their brave smiles bring inspiration at the most difficult of times.

My reasons for engagement are summed up beautifully here by my 2 amazing children:

myfeelins familyfeelings

and with that, there really is nothing more to say.