We flew down to the south west coast to spend a week with my parents and godparents in a holiday cottage by the sea. My parents go annually, and have since they met, to a folk festival on the coast and we took full advantage of there being a spare room in a picturesque seaside town with nearby playground! It was wonderful: we spent 7 days surrounded by friends and family, with sunshine, swings and company on our doorsteps. We also got to meet fellow preemie mum and blogger Diary of a Premmy Mum and the delightful Smidge, which was very special to finally meet someone you connect with 'virtually' who knows so much both about your life, but more importantly understands what you have been through and what it means to come out the other side. We slowly made our way back north, but via two more friends to stay with for a few days each that we rarely get to see due to the distance. The last friend we stayed with was one of my closest university friends, now herself a single parent with a beautiful little baby boy and it just rounded off a perfect holiday with someone I adore and who knows all too well the bringing up of a small person alone.
And then, at the end of August and beginning of October, something amazing happened.
Wriggles took her first independent steps. At just shy of 3 years old, she stumbled across to a toy, beaming from ear to ear. I hadn't known she would be able to so soon; I and the physios and doctors had wondered that it might take months or even years longer. But she showed her silly muscles and cerebral palsy just who was boss: her. Not just that, but suddenly she started putting words together, words that just kept tumbling out her mouth. Words I knew were there but for months and months she had been unable to speak and words we couldn't find signing for. And as she let loose the conversational floodgates, with practise her speech began to sound clearer so that other people could understand her too. I always knew she would get there in her own time and I knew it would be very emotional after the pure fight she has had to put up, but it just floored me. To see what she could achieve but above all how pleased she was. You assume they get frustrated, but if they haven't had a skill can they miss it? Judging by her little face every time, she was as happy as I was that she was getting there, if more so. It made the hours of therapy, the tears of heartache and the sleepless nights of anxiety worth it in a second. Of course I would have loved to re-write history and erase the premature birth and magic away the cerebral palsy and development delay, but in this world you can't change the past-but you can make some enormous strides forwards!
Wriggles turned 3 in September: it was bittersweet as usual with sharp memories of the day she was born and the terror of her delivery and subsequent hours not knowing if she were still alive, but fresh with her new skills of walking and talking, it made me proud to bursting point of how far she had come over time and the limitless possibilities she could yet achieve. Disabilities aside, she is a massively stubborn child with a keen streak of independence and knows exactly what she does and does not want, which many a time can cause friction but at the same time can really pay off in making big progress. At the end of the month she started preschool. The idea of preschool had plagued me with so much anxiety, not least because there were a few weeks whereby it appeared that the professionals who support us all appeared to be on completely different pages as to how we would manage preschool and what support may or may not be in place. Luckily it was resolved and after a good bit of prodding, we won funding for a 1:1 support worker for Wriggles. By the time preschool came around, we were both totally ready. The difference in the 10 weeks since we signed the paperwork and when Wriggles' first day was was astounding. I think she would have coped if she hadn't been taking some independent steps and been able to verbally communicate but there is no denying that achieving both those things made the transitional much easier for everyone involved. I wasn't surprised at how easily she settled and familiarised to the new routine and with both excitement and some sadness, accepted just how quickly my little girl who once fitted in my hand, was growing up.
On one hand, I was and am, very excited for this next chapter in our lives as Wriggles is thriving and growing up. And on the other, as silly or selfish as it may sound it just floors me. The last years have been a struggle. There have been some truly special moments and I would not trade any of it as every day has been with Wriggles who has changed my life upside down, but there is no covering up that even on the really good days: life has not been a bed of roses. I hadn't been prepared for parenthood 3 years ago and I was definitely not prepared for single parenthood. When I previously used to think about the future, bringing up a family of one, two or more on my own just did not even get a look in as even an outside possibility. Sometimes though, life has other plans and you either get on with it or you don't. And with some hindsight, it has been non-stop. Hospital admissions, my own mental health battles, health scares, lifestyle changes and the huge unknown that is a child's development when they have problems to contend with...it leaves you running on adrenaline just day to day. Because often if you stop and think, really think about it then you can tip over and fall into a big black hole. But if you keep running, keep savouring those moments of pride, those small steps, those little snippets of ordinary that you treasure for years to come; then that enables the days to keep changing, the world to keep turning and suddenly you get to a point and think, but in a really good way, "how the bloody hell did we get here?". I certainly would not have seen this point when we came home from NICU or even a year ago or less. And that is where I found myself as Wriggles happily settled into preschool and I suddenly could think and open my eyes a little wider. It threw me: for some reason it really rammed home this line we have been straddling, this balance of needs and wants, of what is expected and what happens. Things I haven't allowed myself to think about or miss because I had a very big priority who needed a high level of care all the time. And while that hadn't all just gone away, the world had shifted a bit and the path we have been walking on seems to have gotten wider as there are more possibilities now. As the health and development side of things have became less intense, I find myself floundering a little. I can't wait to enjoy it but a part of me is almost afraid to. Now I can stand and watch Wriggles fly across my vision, giddy with the feeling of being carried by her own two feet, holding herself up tall and proud. It reminds me that that is what I have to keep doing: if anyone can make sure I too put one foot in front of the other and keep going with a smile on my face, it will be her.