Posted in Family, Travel, Writing

School’s Nearly Out for Summer

My column in this month’s Tetbury Advertiser marks the end of an era as my daughter prepares to leave primary (elementary) school – and I reflect on the day I left school myself.

No turning back
No turning back

It’s nearly time for school to be out for the summer, so why am I downhearted? Because the last day of term will mark the end of an era for me: my little girl will be leaving primary school for ever.

Really I should be celebrating. Laura has had the good fortune to attend an outstanding primary school, and I mean that in the OFSTED* sense. She’s gained a place at an excellent secondary school. I’ve enjoyed playing an active part in the life of her primary school, serving on the PTA for six years. I got time off for good behaviour this last year. But every parent I know who has children at senior school assures me that life will never be quite the same again.

On Your Marks…

With an aversion to change that is typical of her age, Laura is nervous of moving up, though less so with every step she takes towards it – completing SATS, visiting Open Days, planning her new school uniform. I’m sure that, by September, she’ll be eager to embrace the new opportunities that will come her way.

I know I was when I was her age. Gaining all the trappings of secondary school status was an exciting process, even if it was accompanied by my parents tutting at the expense. The smart new uniform and blazer, shiny leather satchel, a mysterious-looking geometry set in a tin, my own little hardback Oxford dictionary – all these heralded the start of a new adventure.

Get Set…

The author graduating from her American-style high school in 1978
As valedictorian at the FIS graduation ceremony: “And in 30 years time, I’ll come back and tell you how I became a writer”

Although I don’t remember my final day at primary school, I do recall sobbing as I got on the last school bus from my secondary school. I was living abroad, attending Frankfurt International School in Germany. The school was run on American lines, making much drama of our departure with a university-style graduation ceremony, complete with gowns and mortarboards.

I was voted “valedictorian” or class speaker, responsible for making a final address to the assembled parents and staff, on behalf of the graduating students. I still have the typescript of my speech, which I’d bashed out on my red portable typewriter (no home computers in those days) and sellotaped onto orange sugar paper. I spoke about how attending an international school fit us better to play our part in the wider world. The speech went down well. I remembered to speak slowly and clearly, as per the instructions I’d written to myself in big red letters around the edge; everyone laughed in the right places; and afterwards other people’s parents asked for signed copies, assuring me that I’d be a famous writer before long. Well, we were all saying what each other wanted to hear that day.

And Finally, Go!

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collection
A late developer

Now, more years later than I care to confess, I’ve just published my very first fiction collection as an Amazon ebook called Quick Change. It contains twenty terse flash fiction pieces, arranged in chronological order by the age of each story’s key characters, from cradle to grave. Pre-publication feedback is encouraging: “very subtle, very English, very clever”; “sly, witty, surprising, with genuine twists”; “they make domesticity look edgy, sometimes dangerous, but they are also life-affirming”. So rather like the Tetbury Advertiser, don’t you think?

I just hope Laura fulfils her ambitions a little faster than I did upon leaving school.

This post was originally written for the July/August 2014 issue of the Tetbury Advertiser. Here are some other recent columns I’ve written for this popular local magazine:

*For the benefit of my non-British readers, OFSTED is the government’s official school inspection board which visits all state schools every few years and reports on their standards. The highest level of praise they give is “Outstanding”, which is what they designated my daughter’s school earlier this year.

Posted in Family, Type 1 diabetes

The Seven Year Itch & Type 1 Diabetes

(A post written to mark the seventh anniversary of my daughter’s diagnosis with Type 1 Diabetes)

Debbie and Laura at TIm's house
Laura doesn’t remember being without Type 1 Diabetes

Getting ready to celebrate my daughter Laura’s 11th birthday in 13 days’ time, I can’t help remembering that seven years ago on this day, I was hoping that we’d be out of hospital in time to celebrate her fourth birthday party.

What were we doing in hospital? We’d been urgently despatched by our lovely family doctor, Dr Mather. She’d alerted A&E (aka the Emergency Room) at Bristol Children’s Hospital to expect our arrival.

It was imperative that we were seen straight away to reduce the chance of Laura becoming dangerously ill.

“Are you in a fit state to drive?” Dr Mather asked. “If not, I’ll call an ambulance to blue-light you there.”

With adrenalin surging from the shock of the diagnosis, we were almost in a fit state to fly there, Superman-style, to save our baby.

All Change with Type 1 Diabetes

That was the start of a whole new way of life for us, accommodating the daily need to do things that fly in the face of maternal instinct:

  • to stick needles in in my child to deliver life-preserving insulin
  • to prick her fingers, lots of times, every day, to draw blood to test it was neither dangerously high or low

It’s a balancing act, always, 24/7, 365 days of the year. Until a cure is found, there’s never a day off, because if we stopped doing those things, she’d be dead within days. Managing Type 1 diabetes is not for the faint-hearted. But being faint-hearted is not an option.

Lucky Seven?

Laura and Debbie Young on a hill
With Laura, aged 7

Seven years feels like it should be a magic number. It’s a special anniversary when people are meant to become suddenly desirous for change or take off in new directions in search of freedom.

There’s no magic here today, except the evidence, as every day, of the wonders of modern medicine and the compassion of our NHS (National Health Service) that supplies us with the resources we need to keep Laura alive.

Another Sea Change

Laura and friend at JDRF Youth Ambassador Event
Laura hugs a JDRF mascot for luck

When Laura was diagnosed, we were just getting ready for her to move up from playgroup to school. That’s enough change to challenge any family without the complication of serious illness, but hey, when it’s your kid, you deal with it.

Now she’s poised to move up to secondary school. Next week, as her final fling at the village school, she’ll be doing her SATS exams – the tests that the government imposes on every child in Britain at this stage. The school has been preparing the children for SATS since January, and the stress of SATS is bad enough for children (and parents!) who don’t have special health care needs.

But for Laura, she’ll have the added challenge of taking exams while trying to keep her blood sugar level. Stress can have two effects on a diabetic – it can send them very high or very low. Either state is not ideal for sitting exams – it can make you feel faint, drunk, angry, scared, tearful. Or it might have no effect at all. Trouble is, you don’t know how it will affect you till you’re there.

The supposed treat of a class breakfast in school at the start of each examination day adds further complexity. Moving away from her normal breakfast routine adds risk: if we miscalculate her insulin dose to deal with whatever she chooses there for breakfast, it could scupper her blood sugar for during the exam. But we don’t want to stop her from going to the breakfast, because it’s important for her emotional and psychological well-being not to feel different from her classmates – another potential source of distress.

Laid-Back Laura

Laura head and shoulders
Calm as ever

Fortunately Laura is the most laid-back person I know.

“I’m not worried about SATS,” she assured me yesterday. “I think doing tests is quite fun.”

She’ll be fine, I’m sure. She’s bright, she’s thorough, she has a strong  work ethic. She’s not spending the weekend worrying about her SATS – she’s completely absorbed in setting up a Eurovision Song Contest final for her cuddly toys.

Yes, she’s doing fine. But I still wish we could ditch the diabetes, seven years on.

Cover of my new book, "Coming To Terms with Type 1 Diabetes"
Click cover for more info

In November, I’ll be launching a paperback of the ebook I published last World Diabetes Day, to raise funds to search for a cure. All proceeds are going to JDRF, the leading charitable funder of Type 1 diabetes research. If you’d like to read the e-book in the meantime, it’s available exclusively via Amazon on Kindle for now, wherever you are in the world. (More info here.) If you’d like to be alerted via email when the paperback is available, please sign up for my mailing list here.