Monthly Archives: July 2007

Beach boy

Excuse my absence.  I’ve been working on one of my long, epic posts on A Controversial Topic, complete with thoughtful weighing up of pros and cons, detailed references to the research, and careful explanation of exactly why the people I disagree with are talking utter bollocks, which, as usual, will be posted only several months later when everyone has stopped caring and moved onto whatever the next issue du jour is.  Because I could do with a break from that and my mother has been nagging me to insisting that I should get something up, I shall write about something more light-hearted for now.

This week, by an unusual stroke of luck, the one warm, sunny, rain-free day in a while happened to be a Tuesday, which is my day off.  So we piled into the car and drove off to the nearest seaside town.  Since I’ve always felt that the experience of getting coated in sand is a possibly overrated one, we were unsure at the point of setting off whether we would actually go to the beach or simply spend the day roaming around the pier/shops/arcades, but when I mentioned the possibility of visiting the beach to Jamie he latched onto it with a determination I hadn’t quite expected, and the aforementioned planned wanders were accompanied by a persistent background chanting of "Beach!  Beach!  Beach!"  Since his previous experience with the beach was limited to a few passing encounters last summer, none of them going as far as any actual playing on the beach, we were quite surprised that he was so keen on the idea.  That picture in the Peter and Jane series obviously made more of an impact on him than we’d realised.

Anyway, it would obviously have been a shame to allow aversion to a bit of sandiness to squelch that much enthusiasm, so we bought a bucket-and-spade kit, headed down to the sand, and introduced Jamie to sandcastle building.  Jamie introduced himself to sandcastle smushing.  We played for a while and Barry took Jamie for a walk up the nearby sand dune, which impressed him greatly.  "Climbed an enormous hill," he told Barry.  He was so pleased by the enormous hill that I took him back for another walk up it while Barry rested, although we didn’t get very far – he kept slipping and falling down and getting thoroughly coated with sand, and this is an even more interesting experience to a two-and-a-half-year-old than an enormous hill.  "What have you got on your hands, Jamie?" he enquired gleefully of himself, holding them up for inspection with a wicked grin.

So the beach was a huge success.  (Even I enjoyed it, once I got into the swing of things.  The sand actually brushed off pretty easily.)  We decided to leave Jamie’s introduction to the sea for another day, but Jamie felt differently about this and headed off towards it as we were trying to leave.  Barry kept an eye on him, expecting that he’d simply turn round and come back when he realised his parents weren’t following, but in fact Jamie continued to toddle inexorably towards the water’s edge and Barry had to run after him and retrieve him.  Which made me extremely proud.  We have raised a child secure enough to go off exploring without a backward glance, utterly confident that his parents will always be there and he has no need to hang around them.  We will, of course, have to keep a close eye on the practical results of this for the next several years, but it’s still good to know.

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Ducks

A few weeks back, I found myself expounding on the theme of a small plastic duck.  This is in accordance with Sally Ward’s Baby Talk, which is based on the principle that the best way to spend constructive time with children and improve their language skills is to talk to them, in short simple sentences, about exactly what they happen to be showing an interest in at the time.  When Jamie’s interest in said duck outlasted a few repetitions of "Yes, it is a duck, isn’t it?  A black duck.  And ducks say quack!" I expanded further on the duck theme, and thus it was that I found myself mentioning the possibility that Jamie might, at some undetermined point in the future, go to feed bread to the local ducks.

I hadn’t actually meant this as anything more than a passing comment, much on the level of "Wouldn’t it be nice to have a holiday in Spain some time?", but it captured Jamie’s imagination.  Over the next few days, he would repeatedly muse, to nobody in particular and often apropos of nothing very much, "Maybe go and feed some ducks some bread".  It seemed a shame not to follow up such an obvious interest, so that has been our weekend activity for the past few Sundays.

Jamie loves it.  He still isn’t very good at throwing, so a high proportion of the pieces of bread have been landing on the edge of the bank and I’ve spent quite a bit of time leaning precariously forward to pick them out of the thistles (meanwhile, Barry hurls the occasional handful of pieces further out into the river in order to keep the ducks interested enough to continue to mill round) but he’s been visibly getting better at it in the few weeks we’ve been doing this.  When it comes to tearing the bread up, he’s almost too good – we had some trouble convincing him that it’s actually OK just to throw the last fragments from the slice he’s working on and go to get another out of the packet, so, several times, he continued tearing the last tiny piece in his hand into smaller and smaller crumbs, until Barry restrained him for fear he’d end up inadvertently splitting the atom.  When I tried telling him that perhaps the ducks would like a bigger piece of bread so that they can get a proper bite, he would obligingly hurl half a slice in.  Toddlers are not great at finding a middle ground.  But he’s nothing if not dedicated and enthusiastic.  "Hello, Mr Ducks, let’s have some of Jamie’s bwead!" he called to the ducks, who swam over, happy to oblige.

The swans have also been coming to share in the spoils, which gave Jamie a chance to learn something he’d been asking about recently – what noise a swan actually makes.  Barry and I backed this up with loud "Ssssss!"s of our own.  "Said swans," concluded Jamie, who has a devotion to this particular narrative style that strikes me as somewhat unusual in a two-and-a-half-year-old.  (A few weeks ago, when Jamie was in the bath and I’d been a little slow about passing him the bar of soap I usually give him to play with while I wash him, he came out with "’Would you like to play with the soap, Jamie?’ said Mummy".  Bloody hell – it’s not long since I was struggling to think of things to say to him because he was so non-verbal my attempts at keeping the conversation going felt hopelessly futile, and now he’s reached the stage of supplying my part of the narrative as well and saving me the trouble.)

I think the ducks know us by sight by now.  Or perhaps it’s just that they’ve learned that swimming rapidly in the general direction of small children approaching the edge of the river tends to be productive and worthwhile.  Anyway, it looks like they’re going to be in luck for a good few weeks to come.

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Second scan, and vaguely associated incidents and musings

I had my second scan Wednesday of last week – the mid-pregnancy one to check that there isn’t anything too blatantly obviously wrong with the baby.  Since I seem to be going on from there to write a long and rather uninteresting saga about various associated details I will spare you any suspense over the main point by telling you up front, Douglas Adams-style, that there isn’t – all bits and pieces appear to be present and correct (insert standard disclaimer about error rates of scans and the possibility of having missed something).

I was a bit surprised to be given the Wednesday date, partly because I hadn’t expected the scan to be until a bit later (it’s a 20 week scan and by that Wednesday I was 18 weeks, 2 days) and partly because I wasn’t given much in the way of notice.  The letter only went out the week before, which meant, since I leave early in the mornings before the post arrives, that I only saw it when I got home from work on Thursday evening.  At which point, as chance would have it, it was going to be another three days before I was due to see anyone from work again – I’d booked the Friday off as Barry was having minor surgery on his shoulder and needed someone to take care of Jamie while he was having and recovering from anaesthetic, and, of course, we’d then be into the weekend.  Has it not occurred to the ultrasonography department that some people could ideally do with some warning if they need to arrange time off work?  I know I’m legally entitled to time off for pregnancy-related appointments, but it’s not something I want to abuse.

Fortunately, one of the few advantages of the ghastly Advanced Access system (you know, that wondrous new innovation of the government which means that people find themselves only able to get GP appointments by ringing up three hours in advance or something ridiculous like that) is that we don’t have many advance bookings and it’s actually quite easy to get time off at short notice.  Still, I thought it only fair to check that the date I’d been given didn’t happen to be on a day when half the other GPs in the practice had already booked time off or anything, so I rang the practice first thing in the morning before leaving for the hospital.  Unfortunately, it turned out that the assistant practice manager, who deals with requests for time off, was out at a meeting, together with the manager.  They would be back in by 2.30, the receptionist told me.  This was unfortunately of somewhat limited help, given that by 2.30 I would be in a hospital room trying to keep my toddler from demolishing the place while providing succour to my husband in the final minutes before he was wheeled down to be put under anaesthetic.  If I’d tried hard enough I daresay I could have found a few minutes somewhere in all this to run up my mobile phone bill phoning the practice again to find out for sure whether or not I could get the time off (and then the scanning department to cancel if it turned out I couldn’t), but, frankly, there are limits to the lengths to which I felt I needed to go to give the scanning department sufficient notice of a cancellation of an appointment for which they couldn’t be bothered to give me sufficient notice in the first place.  So I arranged with the receptionist to book me provisionally as being away that morning, and left it until Monday morning to find out whether I’d be able to get the time off or not.  Fortunately, it turned out I could.  If not, I’d have had to cancel the scan with only two days notice, and serve ’em right too for not telling me further in advance.

Incidentally, since I brought the subject up, Barry’s surgery all went OK. The surgeon couldn’t find a cause for his chronic shoulder pain, but the MUA (manipulation under anaesthetic – a technique that basically involves wiggling the shoulder around while the patient is anaesthetised and therefore can’t scream in pain, and strikes me as a slightly more sophisticated version of thumping the TV to get it to work) seems to have improved things somewhat, so we will wait and see on that one.  There is also a lesson here for any doctor who ever deals with pain control – start by finding out exactly what the pain is.  When Barry was in the recovery room, the anaesthetist titrated his IV morphine dose against his pain, a technique that involves injecting it very slowly while asking the patient whether or not they’re still having pain so that you only give them as much as they actually need.  It’s a great idea in theory and usually works well in practice as well, but unfortunately Barry was too dopey from the anaesthetic at that point to clarify that his mumblings of "Yes, it hurts!  It hurts!" actually referred not to his recently-incised shoulder but to the sling, which was too tight.  When he became coherent enough to explain this, back in his room, and we got the sling off, his pain settled immediately, but by that time he’d had the entire dose of morphine unnecessarily.  It took him until after ten o’clock to stop throwing up, in spite of the anti-emetic injections.

Anyway.  All of that is by-the-by.  To get back to the scan, the other issue I considered was whether having it slightly earlier than expected would be a problem in terms of what the ultrasonographer might or might not miss.  (This part of it, I will clarify in fairness to the scanning department, was not so much their fault.  I calculate all my dates from my ovulation date, which I know due to having charted my temperature at the time – however, pregnancy is traditionally counted from the first day of the last period without taking variations in cycle length into account, and therefore this is how anyone with my medical records has been calculating my dates.  The difference is only four days, but adding this to the week of variation one way or the other that the scan department allow when figuring out the dates for scans, plus the minor variations on top of that according to what days they have appointments free, came out with, well, the 18 week and 2 days date I was given.)

So I posted the query over at Doctors.net.uk and a very nice helpful GP with an MSc in ultrasonography explained that, although it would make a difference to their chances of picking up any minor problems, they should be just as well able to pick up anything major at 18 weeks as at 20 weeks.  (The exception, apparently, is a decreased chance of picking up heart defects, but it seems the chances of that are not great even at 20 weeks – for that, you’re better having a 24-week scan, not an option routinely offered on the NHS.)  Anyway, this was fine by me – the major problems are what I care about picking up.  If it means likely stillbirth or likely vegetable, I’d like to know.  More minor things, I’m not bothered about picking up at this stage and can even see advantages in missing (i.e. not having to spend the rest of the pregnancy fretting over something I’m not going to be able to change anyway).  So, I went ahead with the scan, and, as I said, all appears to be well.

The tough question, the one some people prefer to ignore: What would I have done if all hadn’t been well?  I don’t know.  Never having been faced with such a choice as a reality and not as a hypothetical situation, I never will know for sure.  I do know that it’s an issue on which my feelings have changed according to just how hypothetical it’s been for me at any given time. 

Up until the first time I got pregnant, I’d always felt sure that if I found out that I was pregnant with a fetus so severely disabled that it literally couldn’t survive after birth – really fundamental stuff like missing kidneys or the like – I’d find it a no-brainer to decide to go ahead with an abortion.  A miserable no-brainer, but a no-brainer nevertheless.  Not that I thought abortion was necessarily always the right thing for a woman even in that situation, and I could understand that women might want to go ahead with a pregnancy even then, but I was sure I wouldn’t want to – there was no way I could see myself dealing with months of joyful congratulations on my swelling belly if I knew all I actually had to look forward to was a dead baby. 

Then I thought about the whole thing again the day before my scan with Jamie, trying to work out what I’d do if something was wrong, and suddenly realised that even if the situation was that dire there was no way I’d be able to face having an abortion.  It was impossible, unthinkable.  I couldn’t say that I loved the baby inside me because, at that point, I didn’t – happy terrified anticipation isn’t the same thing as love.  I hadn’t realised what a strong bond I had with the-fetus-destined-to-be-Jamie until that point.  Of course, I also don’t think I’d have been able to go through with a pregnancy had anything been fatally wrong, so I’m truly not sure to this day what I would have done, and, good god, am I glad I never had to find out.  (I’ve sometimes wondered since if I’m the only woman ever whose primary reaction to the picture of her baby on the prenatal scan was delight at the presence of the kidneys.)

This time around?  I’m not sure.  This time, I do think that if something had been fatally wrong I’d have had an abortion.  As grief-wrenching as the thought would be, I don’t find it as unthinkable as I would have done last time around.  I don’t know whether this is because something about having a child already, having that focus, has made the thought of going on after such a tragedy less impossible; or whether it’s just that the situation is still that bit more hypothetical this time around than it was last time.  After all, this time I had a scan at 15 weeks, and although that wasn’t officially aimed at anything other than checking that the heart was actually beating, I’m guessing that at that stage any really major abnormalities would probably have been visible and that the consultant doing the scan would at least have noticed in passing that something was badly amiss.  I may or may not be right about this, but, correct or not, it’s a belief that at least meant I really wasn’t expecting anything in the way of nasty surprises on this scan.

A more cheerful issue on which I’ve changed my mind as time has gone on has been the whole issue of whether to find out the sex of the baby.  I always used to be adamant that I wanted to wait and be surprised when the baby came out – an issue that sparked some dissent from my sister during my first pregnancy, as she was equally adamant that she did want to know and therefore expected me to ask.  We were still in disagreement over this by the time the date of the 20-week scan in my first pregnancy arrived.  Barry, meanwhile, held a middle-ground attitude that it might be quite nice to know if it so happened that the ultrasonographer should get a good view easily.  My sister travelled up from London for the 20-week scan in my first pregnancy, so a certain amount of debate on the subject ensued as we headed for the scan. 

There was then an intermission in the scan when Future Jamie, having wriggled and twisted into every other position imaginable, simply wouldn’t turn into the one position the ultrasonographer needed to check a final view of his spine.  The ultrasonographer finally suggested that I go and sit outside for a bit in hopes that, given a bit more time, the baby would turn into a more optimal position.  During this time we discussed the matter further and Barry commented that it had looked like a boy to him on scan.  So, in the end, that was the curiosity that tipped me over the edge into asking – curiosity over whether or not my husband could read a scan correctly.  The ultrasonographer, as it turned out, concurred with him, and that was how I did ultimately end up knowing Jamie’s sex before birth.  I can’t say the lack of surprise particularly bothered me when Jamie was born – the whole experience felt quite surprising enough.

This time around, I decided beforehand to ask.  After all, it was possible that the baby wouldn’t be in the right position for us to see at all, and it’s also possible for a scan result to be wrong.  I decided that was enough uncertainty and surprise to keep me going, so I asked the ultrasonographer to tell me the gender if she happened to spot it.  As it happened, the baby was in a position for her to get a good view; she told me that she could tell the gender with 95% certainty, which is as high a level as you can ever get from a scan.  So, it seems we can anticipate with reasonable certainty that we will be getting a little girl.

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Patchwork

We saw the opto-thingy on Tuesday and received the verdict we have been passionately hoping for for the last few months – No More Patches.  Not for now, anyway.  His vision continues fine in the left eye, he’s clearly using it a lot more since he had the surgery, and we now have official permission to try without patches and see how we get on. 

This is pretty much just formalising a decision that Jamie had already taken – keeping the patches on him for more than a few minutes has become next to impossible short of tying his hands down, a length to which I am not prepared to go, and so I can’t believe they were actually making much difference to his sight in any case – but it’s an incredible relief to have it made official.  Or will be once it’s sunk in – it’s still hard to believe, after a year, that this particular mini-ritual no longer has to be a part of our day.  No more struggling with the dilemma of whether I should interrupt a fun session of playing or reading together to stick on a patch that I know he’s supposed to have but also know he’ll hate.  No more trying to nudge him into opening the packet up (he insists on opening them up himself and will complain bitterly if anyone deprives him of the privilege, but once he has the thing in his hands ready to open he has a marked tendency to decide that opening it at some unspecified point in the future when he’s finished his book will do just fine, and it can take a lot of nudging to get him going).  No more hovering around ready to grab the patch he’s just ripped off and either try to straighten it enough to replace or slap another one on.  No more watching the clock and wondering how much longer I can distract him for.  Boy, oh, boy, I’m missing it all already.

Anyway, the appointment went much as usual – the pictures for Jamie to identify to test his vision, the singing unicorn that the opto-whatsit uses to check his focus at a distance (or something – I have no idea of the precise details behind the different tests she does), the machine with the slides for him to look at (ditto the above – all I know is that it looks like some bizarre throwback to the Victorian era.  With a chin rest.  And eyepieces.)  All much as before, except, of course, that now Jamie can talk.  This time around, he could name the pictures instead of just pointing.  I wasn’t at his last appointment, so this is the first one I’ve been to where this was the case.  Another reminder of how far he’s come with his speech in such a short time, and how good it is to be able to hear that little voice speaking up. 

We have another appointment with her in September, and she’s also arranging an appointment with the ophthalmologist (the doctor who specialises in eye problems, for those who were wondering) to check that his prescription is still correct.  Meanwhile?  No patches.  It still feels bizarre to know that I can stop having to worry about all that.

A lot of people seem to find this blog via searches for information on squints in children – in fact, without having done any official counts, I’d estimate that it’s the second most frequent way in which people find the blog.  (In case you’re interested, the third most frequent way is via searches on Gina Ford, and the most frequent is via searches on sleep training and CIO methods.)  With that in mind, I add two practical points here before I close. 

Firstly, if you’re here because you’re hoping to find out how the hell to get a toddler to keep his patches on – well, you’ll already have gathered from the above that I have no magic to share here, but one thing I can highly recommend, for those with broadband, is the Teletubbies website (mainly the Fun and Games link, but also Nursery Rhymes).  This distracted Jamie for many, many hours earlier in his patch-wearing days, with the bonus of giving him lots of stuff to look at and focus on with the eye that was meant to be getting the exercise.  The Night Garden site is probably worth checking out as well.  (And, you know – I never thought of it at the time, but do try Boohbahs, which my husband discovered years ago during general web browsing.  It kept him happy for ages.  If he’d had an eyepatch to distract himself from then he’d have been totally sorted.)

And, secondly, in case anyone wants to read the whole story of what might be involved in dealing with a child’s squint, I’ve set up a separate category for posts relating to the squint to enable people to do so easily.  You can get the category by clicking on the highlighted words in the last sentence, or in the category title in the list to your right.  For those unfamiliar with blogs and their layout, the posts are in reverse date order – once you’ve clicked on that category, scroll down to the last post on the page as your starting point and read them in reverse order.  Hope it’s of help, or at least of interest, to somebody.

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