Yesterday saw us back at Sheffield University, this time looking at another department with me taking Ben on an extensive walking tour of my former favourite haunts as a student in that lovely, friendly city. ED came too, however. Okay he was a faint shadow of his former bullying self, but he was there, tagging along with us throughout the day...
Firstly, there was the fact that we did so much walking when we had a 'Day Rider' ticket for the buses and trams. And the fact that I often had to tell Ben to "slow down, this isn't a route march!" And my feet were KILLING ME by the end of the day (and still are!)
Calories were top of my mind - to make sure Ben got sufficient. And we still need to buy food that I know has sufficient calories to avoid Ben 'over-estimating' how many calories are in an item or cutting back on food further along the line.
But the Good News was that it didn't take us long to choose the 'meal deal' from Boots. In the past he'd be chopping and changing, picking stuff up and putting it down, getting as far as the till then back-tracking to painfully try and make another choice. We would have been in their for AGES!
And the other Good News was that, when the wind blew the packet of crisps [potato chips] all over the grass in the delightful Botanical Gardens, he took it in his stride. Again in the Bad Old H-A Days he would have freaked out. He also agreed to make up for the lost calories later on.
More Good News was that that packet of crisps / chips was extremely calorific - the kind of thing he would NEVER have eaten in the Bad Old Days.
So next on my mind was how to ensure Ben made up for the lost calories - something that I imagine wasn't top of mind for the majority of other parents shepherding their 17 year old sons and daughters around the university campus.
In the end we ended up at Starbucks with a coffee and biscotti, which I was happy with.
At 3.30pm we attended a departmental talk and, as with the previous university visits, I found myself scanning the other teenagers to see if my son stood out as the skinniest or unusual in any way.
And, again as in previous talks, I couldn't help noticing the boys who were of a similar build, body shape and height to Ben. Or at least boys who were of a similar build and body shape to what Ben might have been had the anorexia not hi-jacked his body for 24 months.
I expect all parents of teenagers with eating disorders can't help but do this comparison and, yes, it is heart-breaking as you wistfully imagine what could have been...
And, indeed, SHOULD have been...
Like all good universities, the Sheffield department was asking for 3 grade A's at A Level. Although Ben has been incredibly successful at keeping up over the last 24 months when he's missed so much schooling that his grades probably aren't quite as high as they should be. Intellectually he is more than capable of getting 'straight A's' but Ed has got in the way of this, especially during the AS level exams this summer when Ben scarcely slept at all.
So, right at the end when everyone else had left (including Ben to the toilet), I'm the parent staying behind to ask the staff what the procedure is for applicants who have missed a substantial amount of school through illness (I didn't specify what that illness was...)
I believe they do make some minimal allowances but, as they rightly said: "If he is still only able to do school part-time, you need to be completely sure he is (a) ready to go AWAY to university in 2012 and (b) that the illness will not get in the way of his studies or attendance."
I agreed and said that if we weren't 100% certain he was recovered then he'd take a gap year, or two.
So I came away feeling the usual sadness-verging-on-impotent-anger at how the eating disorder has hi-jacked my wonderful, intelligent and beautiful son and messed up this really important and exciting period of his life.
But then I was reminded of the fact that not all successful students enter college or university straight from school.
My sister, who got a higher class of degree than me, entered college as a mature student, without the 'standard' academic qualifications, and did very well indeed - and still is.
So all is not lost.