This last couple of weeks have been busy, and that’s just me. No wonder most of the teachers in the land are about to collapse into a sweaty heap, little squares of glitter stuck to their damp cheeks and foreheads, resisting a washing off for at least a week. The end of the winter term is almost as exhausting as the end of the summer, in terms of plays and performances, but without the sport or reports.
So far this month I have been to one Christmas Fayre, one play, four carol services and one concert. It would have been two, but I had to go to work and it was supposed to be daddy’s turn only Sam was poorly and he ended up not going after all. I have heard all about it though. I have baked, written cards and bought wrapping paper for mysteriously hidden parcels, stood in post office queues and done battle with the printer. So far, so Christmas.
I do not enjoy much of the preparations, I have to admit. There is too much rushing around for my liking, followed closely by too much standing about (I am usually late to things and have to squeeze in at the back). Too many things to get ready and fancy all at the same time.
I gave up trying to produce the Perfect Christmas some time ago. I made my own Christmas Puddings three years in a row, and that was enough. I don’t mind making some mince pies (my mum lends me her Festive Pastry recipe) if I’ve got friends coming round, but really, muddling through in a relaxed manner (we have already ordered the chocolate log from the supermarket – I had a go at making one once, but honestly, it wasn’t much good and the shop one is miles better anyway) suits me fine. We decided as a collective that doing things our way (ie relaxing and generally not doing very much at all) was the way forward.
But, you know, I am a contrary beast. There are some things about which I find myself alarmingly pedantic. The roasting of potatoes (45 minutes), the writing of Christmas cards (fountain pen), the singing of carols at the Correct Speed (not to fast, not so slow that a person runs out of breath at the wrong moment), the proper rehearsal of children in the school performance. Oh, OK. This post is entirely about that. Forgive me for amusing myself with a couple of flourishes before getting to the point.
On the whole, the Christmas performances I have been to this year have been a delight. They have each been special, each in their own way, set against the backdrop of the splendour of a medieval abbey. Not many children or young people get to perform in such a place – my own are truly fortunate. It’s a pleasure to go and share the (somewhat chilly) time with them.
But the one that really impressed me this year was not my daughter’s final primary carols. It wasn’t the secondary school, a fine celebration of the choral tradition. It was Sam’s. His last carols and the first ones out of his special special school and into the town.
I wondered for how many children the experience of attending a service in such a large building was the first. I know it’s not for Sam. He has been going there since babyhood; he helped give out 400 oranges, stabbed with sweets and raisins at last years’ Christingle. He reduced the congregation to tears, and nearly the Bishop of Gloucester, with his-and-my prayer at harvest festival, which she had to read because we couldn’t. For some of them, the power of the organ, the unfamiliarity of the standing up and sitting down in the winter chill (despite the listed radiator churning in the corner), was a new one, and a challenging one at that.
But what they did that day, when it ran like clockwork, when the talents of the students were showcased and celebrated, where prayers were clapped and everyone knew what to do and when and what would happen next, is they put those of us who do not give children the time to practice, who forget that while we adults do it every year and may very well be tired of the whole shebang that they are not, to shame.
Rehearsing for the Christmas show, be it infant nativity, carols or panto, is never a waste of time. Showing our children what it takes to be good at something, what a good performance, what excellence, is, is never a waste of time. Those moments when we step off the timetable, when we come together as a community, to create the shared memory that binds us together as us are always worth the bother. When we continue the traditions that generation after generation remembers from their own school days, remembering that the little ones are empty pages, their stories as yet unwritten, we do something that goes beyond the utilitarian value of the measurable-on-the-spreadsheet education.
And lastly, because I can’t quite get this into the narrative I want you to listen to this, from a young person who attends a special school; and the next time someone tries to tell you that SEND is all about attainment, remember. https://www.instagram.com/p/BOFBaEuDDWE/?taken-by=nancygedge