It is not what they are, but how we respond to the circumstances we find ourselves in that defines us.
Is that a quote? I think it ought to be. Maybe I am the one who said it. Maybe I pinched it from someone else, I don’t know. Whatever, it’s something that I try to live by.
People used to ask me how I came to terms with having a baby like Sam. How did I get over it? How is it that I managed to be so happy? I might go into some form of metaphysical/religious discussion with some. With others I might raise my eyebrows and challenge them as to what is so different between my life and theirs, my baby and theirs? With a select few I might share a conclusion that I came to quite rapidly when I was still in the hospital, wobbling around, waiting to be told I could go home and get on with my life.
I decided that I had a choice. I could weep and wail and be depressed, or I could get on with it. I could take every moment of delight that there was to be had from my beautiful little baby, or I could spoil the moment by wishing that it was different to how it turned out. I jumped for the joy.
As I grow older I have found myself getting better at spotting the silver lining of circumstance. Take my experience of being bullied. Yes, it was horrible. Yes, I had headaches and it took longer than I expected to get over them, but without it, would I have noticed my second son’s pain? Would I have been able to interpret his mournful, confused declaration that ‘they are always getting me’ and go and see his teacher? Would he have continued to accept the blame for other children making his life a misery?
Without it, would I recognise the call for help from the children I teach? Would I be able to decipher the seriousness behind what seems so little? The bully deals with the shadows; smoke and mirrors are their stock in trade. If they can pass off responsibility and blame their targets, they will.
It was hard enough for me to recognise what was going on. It was so far out of my experience that someone should have it in for me, and deliberately aim to trip me up that I was ankle deep in the mire before I even knew where I was at. If it was like that for me, how much more so is it for a child, one who doesn’t have the life experience, or the linguistic ability to name either how they feel, or how it came about? Now, after having been in the position myself, I know the power of being believed, of how much of a difference it makes when someone says that they are on your side.
It makes me continue to watch my Sam carefully. So it’s not likely at the moment that anyone is going to have a go at him, he’s far too pushy-knows-what-he-wants-y-doesn’t-care-how-he-gets-it-y for that. There are far too many people keeping an eye on him. But I won’t be letting him take himself to school on his own any time soon. His little brother won’t be taking him the mile up the road, either.
And, after the Winterbourne View scandal, I am more and more convinced of one simple thing. That the people who hold the care, either the sort that comes in a home, or the sort that comes in a school, of the most vulnerable, children or adults, in their hands, must be of the highest calibre. And while we don’t value those who care for the weakest in society, the youngest or those with additional needs, while we continue to pay peanuts for the most challenging work, while we don’t even ask nicely for the kind of qualifications that speak of diligence and patience, commitment and creativity, that is exactly what we won’t get.
It isn’t good enough. Looks like I’ve found a bit of my feist. Rargh.