For me, Christmas is a time for family, friends and gratitude. Family isn’t determined by blood and I could not be more grateful for the amazing people that surround us, who are there for us and support us daily.

Last Christmas was spent in hospital with a very, very poorly boy.  Naturally, it’s been a prominent memory in my mind the past couple of weeks and I keep replaying it wondering each time whether there was something we could have done differently or should have picked up on sooner.

Upon reflection, it was a pivotal point in our parenthood journey.  It acted as a catalyst for the current year we have had and everything it has brought along with it. That admission was the first time Oliver’s development was questioned and I prayed so hard that whatever was going on with him wouldn’t be neurological. Heart, lungs, limbs – anything but his brain. Yet here we are.

In retrospect, we went in with a very sick child and came home with a very sick child. His seizures had stopped and he was stable to a degree; but he wasn’t the Oliver we knew or had anticipated throughout pregnancy.  It was the first time his needs became real and were much more than just a hunch or intuition.

So, we’re slowly adapting to life with Oliver not developing how we had imagined. Our calendar is full with appointments and our house cluttered with his aids. Regularly I envisage myself throwing them out the window, or better yet, him throwing him out the window – but hey, they’re a necessity so we’ll manage.

He was admitted to hospital last month and was really, really poorly. It was the worst we have ever seen him (which says a lot) and surfaced a whole new world of uncertainty, frustration and more questions that have been left unanswered.  We’ve pushed it to one side for now and will tackle everything in the New Year.

Oliver is loving pre-school. He only goes for an hour and a half a week with his Dad but he’s a very popular lad (that’s my boy). He often takes a pew on the bean bag acting like a King when he’s not thrashing about in the swimming pool. He’s also got himself a new wheelchair/pram which is the most amazing piece of equipment we have had yet. He is supported extremely well in it and can sit up at a table with us which is lovely. For me, it’s nifty and not at all as bulky or unmanageable as I thought it would be.

We took him to see Father Christmas last week. I could lie and say he absolutely loved it and was bursting with excitement, but he doesn’t have a clue what planet he’s on 90% of the time and this was no exception. He did, however, adore the Christmas light display and would have been quite happily hypnotised by it all evening.

It was a wonderful family experience and something we definitely didn’t take for granted given our circumstance. Nevertheless, it was also extremely bittersweet. I don’t know if it’s just us or if other parents who have children with special needs have that voice in the back of their head that just can’t be silenced.

‘It was lovely …. but he really should’ve been walking and talking.’  ‘It was great … but he really should’ve been excited’

‘That was fantastic … but …’

There’s always a ‘but’ and I hate myself for it. I am so conscious of treasuring every moment we spend together. This time last year I would have given absolutely anything to be at home with him, experiencing Christmas how it should be, so I really need that ‘but’ voice to pipe down.

Unsurprisingly, we’re taking a different path in life and that’s fine. I am also realising that it’s fine for us to take some time getting used to it. Inevitably, I do feel guilty when that ‘but’ voice creeps in but I suppose it’s natural and I’m sure there will be plenty more first experiences that we envisaged playing out extremely differently. Some we will be prepared for and others may catch us off guard, but we will adapt and remember to be thankful for every opportunity that comes our way.

This time last year I was whole heartedly petrified of the unknown and the threat that there ‘might have’ been a problem with Oliver’s brain. I couldn’t even contemplate it at the time and chose to ignore what was right in front of me. This Christmas isn’t what I thought it would be, but it was the best Christmas we have ever had. Our day was spent with our nearest and dearest, love, laughter and most importantly, our handsome, happy, quirky little boy.