When Sam was two years old he broke his leg. It was awful. He wasn’t overly well at the time, so, as well as a broken leg he couldn’t really breathe. It was like one of those chain reactions where one disaster leads to another, and, after thinking that maybe he’d be in plaster for the usual six weeks, he, and I and baby brother, was interred in hospital for the best part of a couple of months. It was not a high parenting point.
I take my hat off to parents of children in hospital, I really do. As I had spent considerable time in hospital as a child myself, and then about ten years after the event as an out-patient (I got to know my consultant reasonably well), the experience gave me an insight into my parents that I would not have had otherwise.
You see, children’s hospitals are not nice places. There is a sort of hushed desperation about them, an atmosphere of squashed hope. Not because there is no hope, you understand, but because Hope dare not show its face, not until you walk out of the front door, shaking the dust (if there was any) of the place from the soles of your shoes.
I don’t remember a great deal about being in hospital. My memories are fractured into snapshots; intense moments of feeling that have remained with me over the years. Injections, blood tests. Scans, stethoscopes. The hospital school. Full, and sun-filled in the modern hospital close to home, dungeon-housed and empty in the hospital far away. I painted a picture. I don’t know what happened to it. I was very poorly for a long time. There was a lot of fear, and a lot of hurty bits.
When Sam was born, it was my biggest worry that he would spend as much time in the hospital as I had; poked and prodded, in pain. But apart from the Broken Leg, and the surgery that followed, it hasn’t been like that at all. Instead of a life overseen by anxious doctors, the cotton-wool-ed existence of the poorly child (and being poorly can happen to anyone; it happened to me), his life has been, well, ordinary. I wish I’d know that about Down’s syndrome, when I was busy frightening myself with fear of the unknown.
He goes to the school up the road; he rides his bike. He has applied for guitar lessons. He is regularly required to turn the music down, make his bed and tidy his room, take his plate to the dishwasher and lay the table. Do his homework.
Now, instead of fear of hospital corridors, of white coats gathered around the curtained bed, strange as it may seem, I fear other people. I fear the stares, the funny looks of strangers. What do they mean? What are their intentions to my son? I fear the thoughtless actions of young people; young people who know no better, or who should know better. I fear the prejudice of people who blame him for things he has not done, who fear him because of his disability. I suffer agonies over him. It is the curse of parenting, of motherhood, this fear for your children: this suffering.
But Sam, just like so many other children with learning disabilities or difficulties, does not suffer from it. It is not an illness or a disease or a broken bone. He is not afflicted by an extra chromosome, and neither is he an affliction.
Rocket powered jumping for joy.