Monthly Archives: October 2013

Happy Hallowe’en

Today I have been to see my eldest son perform at my local theatre.  This is quite a big deal for us, because for years he has been anti-any form of theatre visiting.  I blame the pantomimes.  After all that ‘it’s-behind-you-ing’, shouting and explosions, booing and hissing and dressing up he decided that shows of any kind were to be avoided at all costs.  This includes all forms of puppets, clowns, people dressed as Disney characters, any kind of darkened space where a performance may (or may not) take place (including church services) and Hallowe’en dress-ups (including houses, people and shops).20131031-154201.jpg

When I was asked to provide a costume for Sam to be a Zombie in the performance, I had to take a deep breath.  It’s not only that I was worried about how Sam might take to being dressed as a monster, but also that I, personally, have a long standing difficulty with most things Hallowe’en.  Now I don’t mind a bit of larking about and wearing silly costumes (after all, I went to a dress up party myself only last weekend), it’s just that I think the whole Hallowe’en thing has got out of hand.

For a start, I object to the racks and racks of sweets standing there in the shops at this time of year.  We don’t make much of Hallowe’en in our house, but even my daughter has started to show a general sense of excitement about the sweets.  There is this creeping commercialisation in our society that sticks in my throat.  All the traditional things about Hallowe’en, like apple bobbing, seem to have been flung out of the window, in favour of selling plastic pumpkins for children to carry their sweets from house to house.

And while I’m at it, what about all those real pumpkins?  I don’t for a moment think that they are all going to be turned into soup.  Or pie.  They will sit on people’s doorsteps, or window sills, glowing away (in various states of competitive carving) until they rot and are thrown in the dustbin.

When Sam was born I found myself noticing how many cheap and nasty children’s costumes were suddenly on sale, ready for the 31st October.  I also found myself looking a little more closely at what the costumes were.  I was going through a phase of questioning the slogans we put on our children’s chests at the time (after my sister in law gave him a romper that said something along the lines of ‘it wasn’t me’ – you know the sort of thing that is marketed towards parents of boys), and I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to dress my baby, or my young child, as some sort of demon, some little evil being.  I don’t see my child that way, I don’t want others to see my child that way and I certainly don’t want him seeing himself that way, even for just one evening.

And I don’t understand trick or treating.  How is it that so many people don’t see it as begging with menaces?  How is it that, for one night of the year, it is deemed acceptable to go out in the dark, knock on the doors of people you don’t know and ask for sweeties?  What happens when those little ones, who were taken around the streets by their parents, turn into big ones who want to go around, knocking on doors on their own?

There is this peculiar strand in English culture that doesn’t turn the world on its head and laugh in the face of death, but throws flour, eggs and dog mess at other people’s houses instead.  These children, who we taught to knock on doors in the dark, dressed as ghosts and ghouls, start taking it all a little too seriously.  One of the things that I have pointed out to my children is that we don’t trick or treat around here because there are an awful lot of old people, who most likely find the whole thing genuinely frightening.

Now I’m not sitting in judgement on anyone who wants to do the whole Hallowe’en thing.  Sweets aside, I can see the attraction.  When I was about ten, my sister and I started up a ghost club with the children who lived down the road from us.  It didn’t have much to do with ghosts, to be perfectly honest, it was more of a vehicle for my sister and I to compete with each other in writing the club magazine, and arrange dates and times that we were going to explore the churchyard opposite in the dark (not allowed), and we decided to have a Hallowe’en party.

Obviously we needed a pumpkin lantern, but in rural Devon in 1982, such a thing was not to be found, so we were advised to visit one of the local farmers who might be able to provide us with an alternative.  We discovered, later that day, after walking about five miles between various village farms, that the mangelworzel was not the ideal vegetable, despite its rotund nature, for lanterns.

I can’t really remember much about the party itself – I think there were some attendees – but what I can remember was my mum and grandma, who was staying with us at the time, joining in with great aplomb, prancing around the garden in the dark, dressed in sheets declaring ‘woo woo’ in dramatic fashion.  I also remember the one and only trick or treat attempt, which involved my friend James tying his fishing line to our door knocker so that he could rouse the house invisibly, in great Beano tradition.  Unfortunately he didn’t anticipate his line being quite so visible to the naked eye, or the fact that I would pull it in with such glee (goodness only knows how far away he was hiding, it seemed to go on for miles), or that I would hand it back to him with a smirk at school the next day.

In many ways it is thanks to Sam, that our family has never come under any pressure to join in with Hallowe’en.  So, after I took a deep breath about the Zombie costume, I realised that this show, this ‘Not-So Scary’ creative dance and film holiday course could do us all a favour.  Because by getting dressed up and pretending to be someone or something he’s not, even if he was the only one who scorned the face paint, he is learning not to be afraid of the masks and makeup.  That under the scary exterior it’s just pretend.  It didn’t stop him pausing at the entrance to Tesco, mind you.  The cauldron display and the be-costumed assistant still gave him a bit of a fright, and we nearly had a tussle at the doorway, but still. It’s a journey and we’re not at the end yet.

20131031-154222.jpgWith greatful thanks to www.gdance.co.uk and www.artshape.org.uk for making such a difference to more than one little boy.

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Teacher-parent/parent-teacher?

I used to be a hard hearted teacher. Not the sort that never cracked a smile, or ever told a joke, or even never let the children in my care see the soft-centred me, but what was I thinking when I gave kids a hard time for turning up too early in the morning? How was it that I didn’t realise that children have no power over what time they are dropped off or picked up?

I am so thankful that I always gave the children in my class the chance to practice their spellings while I was doing the register. I am glad that I figured out that some children don’t get the chance to do things like spellings, or times tables at home. It might be because they don’t have a quiet space, or, as I know now, because mummy has to cook the tea, or there is a new baby, or visitors came round, or that there is Brownies that night, or that, like my children, once they step beyond the school gates, everything that has gone on in there all day is wiped from their memories, because they have much more important things to be doing.

I understand so much more now about the priorities of children. These days the children I teach look at me with amazement when I refer to a TV programme they might have watched, or a cool toy or a comic. It’s as if I have suddenly popped out of this grey ‘teacher-world’ where everything is dull and difficult, into the real world, where I am a ‘real’ person, someone they can relate to, someone who understands that when they say they know what a healthy meal is, they have absolutely no intention of ever eating one.

Back before I had my own kids, I bemoaned the fact that homework added extra to my classroom responsibilities, and piously declared that children these days ought to be playing out and getting exercise. But I had no concept of the impact of homework in the life of the family. I didn’t know then that visits to relatives would need to be cut short, or playtime would be missed because the school work was waiting. And I certainly didn’t appreciate the difficulties of getting three children to do their homework, each of whom can’t do it on their own.

Before I was a mother I would have wondered how on earth this state of affairs could come to be. After all, I had been successfully managing groups of up to thirty-five of them, all working away, all at the same time. What I didn’t understand was that there is a huge difference between what children can do in the heightened atmosphere of the classroom, and what they can do at home, when there is all the temptation of all the things they would rather be doing right there, in the next room.

And how do I give them the kind of support they need when there are three of them? I don’t know if it is down to the Down’s Syndrome, but my children seem incapable of doing homework independently. The vision of the children working away at the table while I make the tea simply doesn’t exist in my house. Each child wants my undivided attention. Each child demands my undivided support. It would be easier if I could cut myself into three pieces. As it is, I have opted for helping them out, one after the other, and doing my best to swallow my resentment. Like them, there are thousands of other things that interest me more, and after a week spent cajoling the most reluctant of small people into hard-won feats of learning, the very last thing I feel like doing is repeating the act all over again at home.

I hate the fact that homework has been one of the biggest cause of fights between me and them. It feels to me as if the hand of the state has reached into my home, given us a sound telling off, and set us into generational opposition. What was it I used to say to parents when they came to me, worried about their children’s reading? Don’t make it into an argument, said I. Don’t force them, if they don’t want to. It’s supposed to be a joy, a pleasure, an entry into worlds unseen, as well as our own. Cuddle up on the sofa together. You read your book while they read theirs. Let them read what they want to; joke books, comics, how to do magic tricks, whatever. Take the pressure off. I hate the way that, under the threat of lost playtimes, I fell into the very same trap myself.

Back then, I didn’t understand that the child belongs to a set of family circumstances. They are not an individual at home in the same way they are at school. I didn’t have the first inkling of the complexity of needs and abilities at play in the family, let alone when one of the children has significant special needs. I never appreciated the fact that, if I give my children everything the school asks of me in terms of support for homework, then there is very little energy left for me.

I hope that today, or next week, or next month, when a parent comes to see me because their child is having difficulty with their work or problems in the playground, or any of a myriad of concerns, I will be able to see beyond the label ‘fussy parent’, or ‘pushy parent’, especially if that parent has a child with Special Educational Needs. I hope that I won’t take it personally if that parent is abrupt, emotional, or even aggressive, because I understand what it has cost them to come in to school in the first place. I know how difficult it is to have a conversation with a teacher at the end of the day when there are three clamouring children in tow. And I know the depth of feeling in the heart of the parent who has made the effort to come in, to make an inroad into the precious time of their child’s teacher.

This is not to say that only teachers with their own children understand the lives of the children they teach. It’s just that I didn’t. I didn’t see that family lives really matter. I didn’t know quite what a difference they make. I was guilty of saying all the right things, but not seeing the child in context, only the face they presented in the classroom. Would I have understood that the little boy in my class was tired because his brother had woken him at the crack of dawn for the fourth week in a row? Would I have seen that the little girl was finding it hard because the other children were asking her why her big brother was allowed to get away with such strange behaviour, when she didn’t understand it herself? Would I have understood that the child with Down’s Syndrome had already scaled a metaphorical Everest before they even set foot through my classroom door?

And this is not to say that teachers who don’t have children can’t be great, sensitive and inspiring teachers. They, unlike me, don’t have divided loyalties. They don’t need to rush out of work in the same way that I do, because they have small people who rely on them to transform themselves back into mummy on the way home. They are free to pursue far greater knowledge and understanding than I because they have far more time. They are far freer to discover through research and professional discourse the thing that I found out through pain and tears and confusion. That the parents matter.

That these people, these tired, divided, imperfect people hold the keys to their children’s success, and that when we set homework, or send letters home or ask if the children can come in fancy dress tomorrow we need to take them into account. We need to see not just the child, but the whole web of connections within which they sit.

Getting from a to b

My husband started a new job about five years ago. It hasn’t turned into the most interesting job in the universe, but one good thing was that when he was sent on lots of training courses. And, because I had been at home for so long and hadn’t been on a course for years, he got into the habit of bringing all the notes back and passing them on to me. One of the most fascinating was the one on learning styles. As ever, we were not at all interested in anyone else, but immensely taken by what we could see in ourselves.

Over the years, friends and relatives have expressed surprised as to the success of our marriage; as an illustration I could point you towards our bookshelves. My books encompass plays, poetry and stacks and stacks of novels. His are mostly how-to tomes. How to fix the car, put in central heating, build solar panels, sail a boat, the sort of thing that doesn’t interest me at all. While I am sociable, he is shy. I love all things words, he loves all things numbers. I like lyrical melodies. He likes crashing guitars.

But when we looked at our learning styles, the Honey and Mumford combination of activist, theorist, reflector and pragmatist, we were surprised. It turns out that despite our differences in taste we are both activists. My friend Liz laughed like a drain when I shared this discovery (she was amused that I had never noticed before, and, being a psychologist, it was all old news to her), and a whole lot of things fell into place. Now I understood why we keep buying houses in precarious states of disrepair, and how a new bike turned into a camping-and-cycling holiday around the Scottish Highlands. We just can’t help rushing into things.

I recognise a lot of this activism in my children. They need to have all the Lego, all of the cars, or all of the dressing up clothes, all out at once and they hate putting it away. I mean, why would they want to? They might need it again in a bit. We all share the same tendencies. All, that is, apart from Sam. Sam is different. Where we like to hurry, he likes to dawdle to a stop. Where we want to get simply and quickly between A and B, he likes to go via C, D and E.

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In many ways this is enormously frustrating. I often look in wonder at those mothers with those strange children who stay by their sides when they are walking through the town, on the way to school or the park. They never seem to have to holler at the top of their lungs while one child runs off and the other lags ever further behind, leaving mummy stuck in the middle with the toddler climbing out of the pushchair, unable to decide which child to rescue and who to castigate first.

Sam’s obsessions also form an obstacle to the easy journey between A and B. He has a long running love affair with all wheeled vehicles, but a special relationship with those that pull caravans. Not for him the tractor (although they are quite cool) or the fire engine (though he would never refuse the offer of a quick go in the uniforms and a press of the buttons). For Sam, the ultimate in vehicles is the car-and-caravan. Or sometimes the camper van. I am pretty sure that one of the things he likes most of all about camping holidays is not the fresh air, or the excitement of sleeping under canvas, but the perfect opportunity it presents of observing as many caravans as is humanly possible.

The art of spotting caravans does not have to be restricted to camp sites, however. Once you know that the sign of a car that pulls a caravan is that it possesses a tow bar, you can keep an eye out for these as well. You’d be surprised at the number of be-tow-barred cars and vans there are between our house and almost anywhere you might want to go when accompanied by a small boy.

One of the mistakes that many adults make in relation to children is in assuming that children share our motivations for doing stuff. Sam, for instance, loves coming with us to Tesco. We live very close to our nearest store, and this has had the rather unfortunate effect of making us the most disorganised shoppers in the universe. Why should we worry about leaving essential items off the list when it’s only a matter of minutes to dash to the shops and back again, bearing the very ingredient that dinner requires for its success? You’d be shocked at how often this happens, and how many times, as a family, we visit the same shop in a day. And, as soon as we indicate a need to pop out, Sam is there, wrestling himself into his shoes, ready to not carry the bag, but maybe pull the trolley (if it’s empty).

You might think that he enjoys being tempted by the plethora of interesting and delicious items on display in the shop. After all, he finds it impossible not to make suggestions as to the contents of the shopping basket; he is always convinced of the need for more bananas and more tomato ketchup, such that unless one is especially vigilant one can find one’s cupboards overwhelmed. Or it could be that he takes particular pleasure in the self scanning checkouts. Who doesn’t like being in charge of that satisfying beep, or enjoy the way the notes are whizzed out of your fingers when you pay? It could be that he has made friends with several of the staff, who like to say hello and ask him how he is.

But no. I have discovered, after what must be hundreds of journeys up and down the same roads, always in a hurry to fetch that which has been forgotten (not bananas or ketchup), that the real reason is tow bars.

All I can say is thank heavens for grandmas. Because she, unlike me, doesn’t mind stopping and watching the world go by, waving to all the taxi drivers who take his friends from school to their homes. Unlike me, she doesn’t struggle under the weight of domestic responsibility; she is under no compulsion to hurry from one point to another, personal inclinations aside, because she needs to get tea on the table, or because she needs to pick the others up from another school at the same time. For her, just as I suspect it is for her grandson, the joy is in the journey, not from A to B, but via C, D and E.

Funny Looking Faces

I wrote this when I only had one child. I hadn’t yet learned how many times three of them would put me in the hospital – worrying!

For quite a long time now I have aspired to be ordinary. I don’t want to be special, I don’t want to stand out from the crowd; humdrum would suit me fine. Unfortunately I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. My family is out of the ordinary. Especially my son Sam, the one with Down’s Syndrome. Up until he arrived I was doing quite nicely at keeping my own difference generally under wraps. My scars aren’t visible unless I go swimming, or it is particularly hot weather; I had major surgery when I was six years old, you see. Thanks to him I can’t hide any more.

I thought that having a baby was a relatively simple thing, once the doctors had got over the novelty of listening to me breathe (that’s part of the surgery thing) (it’s a lot easier to tell people I suffer from asthma). All I had to do was get pregnant, push it out with as little intervention as possible, get breast feeding established and I’d be off, doing the whole parenting thing; taking baby to swimming lessons, music sessions, running the parent taxi service my mum and dad ran for me. Even when Sam’s chromosomal abnormality, Trisomy 21 (that’s Down’s Syndrome to me and you) was diagnosed, the ‘difference’ implications didn’t quite sink in. I knew that Down’s was a learning difficulty and that people with Down’s looked different, but that was about it.

I didn’t know, for instance, that it carries with a 50% chance of a heart defect, from life threatening to the kind of tiny hole that many of us are unknowingly born with. I didn’t know that his low muscle tone would mean I had to teach him to sit, to stand to crawl and to walk. I had no idea that the simple addition of an extra chromosome would make him one of the most vulnerable people in our society, in ways that I still don’t like to think about, or that there would be a whole range of possible problems, from bad vision to hearing loss, to early onset of dementia. I didn’t know that Sam would struggle so to acquire language and that it would be years before he called me ‘mummy’.

But if I’m honest, the prospect of a heart defect, or some other problem that required surgery, scared me, in those early days, more than anything else. Because, thanks to my own experience as a child in hospital, someone who had surgery when very young, I was in the unusual position of being able to see his situation from both sides.

When he was a teeny tiny baby, going for a heart scan was possibly one of the hardest things I had to do. I thought, a couple of days after I’d had the baby, I would be going home, just like all the other new mums, not trailing down the motorway to another hospital. But it wasn’t so much the fear for my child, rather the whole double perspective thing that was so unexpected and overwhelming. By a strange twist of fate we took Sam to the same hospital where I had been a child patient, just over twenty years before.

It had this weird sense of the familiar and the unknown; the front steps looked smaller (after the way I had described them I think my husband was expecting something like the entrance to the British Museum) but the atmosphere and environment was just the same. Even the posters on the wall encouraging me to look after my heart looked looked the ones I had enjoyed as a child.

The strangest thing of all was seeing a trolley bed. It was black leatherette with steel legs and those big black wheels with pneumatic tyres. And the scariest thing about it was that it had a seat belt. For strapping children down with. And you know what? I remember being strapped down to a trolley like that. I remember being terrified by the most non-invasive of scans, dreading the blood lady who would prick my fingers, and hiding from the physio who came to pound my chest, lying on the painful side first so that I could get it over with.

I realised that this was perhaps the future for my own baby. He might have to spend his life in and out of hospitals, with years and years as an out patient, being pawed/pored over by student doctors because he was an unusual case. Fat chance of fading into the background then.

Thankfully for Sam, I didn’t have to follow him straight into the operating theatre, as did my mother, waiting to find out whether or not he had pulled through, wondering if they would find anything else while they were in there, as his heart turned out to be just fine. Rather, he waited until he was two and had his tonsils and adenoids removed following a broken leg (one day, when I think I can manage I’ll write that story!).

I think it’s every parents’ nightmare that they are going to have to spend large amounts of time in hospital worrying about their precious one; I certainly know it’s mine. The nights I have spent in hospital watching oxygen sats trickle downwards have to rank amongst some of my life’s least pleasant experiences. And it is surely one of every parents’ nightmares that their darling child will be different, that they might look odd, or behave odd, or not be able to perform as well as their peers; that someone, sometime, is going to draw them aside saying, ‘I think we have a problem’.

I have worked hard to take the view that my mum tried to instil in me, when I was recovering from my own surgery; that the signs of difference, mannerisms, scars, funny looking faces, are badges of bravery. Signs of courage that your children have had to live through experiences you had rather they hadn’t, but make them who they are.

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I never thought it would happen to me

It simply never occurred to me that any of my children would have learning difficulties, let alone a learning difficulty like Down’s Syndrome.  My pregnancy was boringly normal, and every time I consulted the baby book I turned over the pages dealing with medical problems in the baby.  I was far more worried about the birth itself to bother about what it was going to be like when the baby actually arrived and I didn’t think much further than that.  Why bother worrying about something that was never going to happen to me?  My children were going to be geniuses, the lot of them.

Looking back on it, the possibility that my son Sam had Down’s was suspected pretty early on in his little life.  The moment he was born he was very floppy, but as I was so weak after giving birth that I could barely hold him, I wasn’t really aware of the concern going on around me.  By the end of the day, however, I had got the idea that something was wrong.

I will never forget the look on my husband’s face when we were told that it was most likely our baby had a “chromosomal abnormality”, Down’s Syndrome.  I had thought that the consultant was coming to talk to us about the problems Sam and I had in establishing breastfeeding, but we were given much more frightening news instead.  He  looked as if he had been kicked by a shire horse.  I didn’t feel much differently myself and could barely take in what the consultant was saying.

Over the next three days I embarked on an emotional roller coaster.  At first I was shell shocked that such a thing should have happened to me and my baby, next I was amazed that the most pretty newborn I had ever seen (even though he seemed unconnected with me, and it felt like he belonged to the hospital) could possibly have anything wrong with him.  I veered between fierce hope that the medics were mistaken, that the blood test he’d had on his second day of life would prove them wrong, that the fact that he was now breast feeding successfully, that he’d had a normal EKG result would mean that this wasn’t happening to us, and the feeling that I simply didn’t want to have to deal with anything this big, with a responsibility that overwhelmed me.

Eventually, after the blood test results didn’t come back on the day they were supposed to I could stand it no longer.  The suspense of not knowing was paralysing me.  I endured family visits and the constant trail of people telling me that there could be something else wrong with my baby.  With having to hear that my baby wasn’t “normal”.  With having my joy stolen.  I gave up.

I thought to myself – I don’t care what they say about my baby.  I don’t care what his chromosomes are.  He’s my baby, and I love him.  I’m not having people I don’t know, who don’t know me, who don’t know my baby telling me that he’s anything less than just right.  I’m going to steal my joy right back and feel pleased with myself for having been so brave and doing it; having a baby.  Just like every other mum.

After that I felt better.

When the test results came back positive I was still sad; I still cried.  I still mourned the fact that my baby was different to everyone else’s, but having the knowledge was better than not knowing.  The suspense of waiting for results was far worse than the news when it eventually came.

Finally we had to take Sam down to the Bristol Hospital for Sick Children for a detailed echo scan on his heart.  This is because there is a 1 in 2 chance that a baby with Down’s Syndrome will also have a heart defect, from severely life threatening to barely noticeable.  We could have waited to have the echo where I’d given birth, but this would have been a wait of three weeks and after the suspense of waiting for the test results in the first place I couldn’t stand any more delays.  I wanted to get it over and get on with our lives.

I had been in there myself as a child, but I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming sense of dread I felt as I entered the front door, or for the rush of memories I’d not thought of in years.  How could I stand it if my baby had to go through what I did, possibly even worse?  The thought that my little one might have to spend his babyhood in and out of hospital, being poked and prodded by doctors appalled me.

I vividly remember sitting in that warm, darkened room, listening to the Bob the Builder video that was going on in the background, with uncontrollable tears running down my face and a lump in my throat so large I couldn’t swallow, let alone speak. When the cardiologist finished the scan and told us that Sam’s heart looked normal to him I could hardly believe that we could leave the hospital and never return.  I couldn’t get out fast enough.

After all the drama of tests was over I worried about telling everyone about Sam.  The gifts, cards and flowers flooded into our house and each time we received a card rejoicing that we’d been delivered safely of a gorgeous bouncing baby boy there was the bittersweet feeling that yes, we had, but it wasn’t quite like that.  I feared people’s pity and I didn’t know if I could talk to people on the phone and maintain control of my voice.

In the end I wrote and emailed everybody and they were wonderful.  They were shocked, as we were, but they didn’t pity me to my face.  They didn’t make out that an extra chromosome was the biggest thing about Sam.  They still wanted to know about all the details of his birth and what his weight was, what his hair was like and all the other things that people want to know when there is a new baby.  By their unconditional acceptance of Sam as a baby first and foremost I was able to put things into perspective; to see that despite being made to feel as if I had a freak in hospital, all babies are different and that the range of their difference is unimaginable before they are born and amazingly obvious straight away afterwards.

Although I think I already knew it, Sam has shown me that there is no such thing as a normal child.  It’s a term I don’t use any more.  I prefer the word ordinary.  I have changed the way I refer to Down’s Syndrome too.  Sam is not a Down’s baby – he’s a baby (first) with Down’s (a long way down the list of things that he is – shouty, cutey, hungry, bananery, smiley, wavey and clappy being far more important!).

Of course, my experience as the mother of a baby with learning difficulties is different to those mothers of ordinary babies.  I have a lot more visits to hospital to endure (there is an increased risk of a vast array of medical problem associated with Down’s, few of which seem to affecting Sam so far, thank goodness), and a lot more health and education professionals to see.  Most of them have been great, but just occasionally I do come across someone with an old fashioned attitude.  Amongst these people it seems that having a baby with Down’s Syndrome gives them a license to patronise.  I have lost count of the number of times people have “consoled” me by telling me that Down’s people are “so loving”, “will always be with me” (heaven forbid!), and “special” in that they make us aware of other dimensions to our lives and make us look at things in a different way.

One of the most difficult things to handle is the expectation that I am not allowed to dream for my child’s future; that unlike every other ordinary child, his future is not an open book, his character is set before he’s even a year old.   How intolerable is that?!  I am discovering my child just like everyone else.  My child’s future is not set in stone.  Sam is just one more completely unique human being, a living demonstration of the vast range of human experience, if you like.

Having Sam has certainly made me look again at the expectations I unknowingly and unthinkingly had of any child of mine.  It has taught me that wanting my child to be anything other than confident, independent, true to himself and reasonably happy (let’s be realistic!) isn’t fair.  It has taught me that when you embark on the adventure of parenthood there are no guarantees.

I think that these days we are led to believe that our children come with a “checked for intelligence and social acceptability” label, but none of us know what lies around the corner.  After all, I didn’t have a baby so that I would love him only on condition that he would have the right number of chromosomes, or not fall out of a tree, or not cause me any nights of worry by staying out late at night, or of not making the choices I think he should make.  I have learned that my child, and the children I hope to have in the future, owe me nothing.  It is I who owe them everything.

I wrote this when Sam was a year old.  He is now nearly thirteen and there is an awful lot more water under the bridge – much of which will follow in this blog.  Enjoy.