Another post by Cross and Ginger, back by popular demand…
School starts off as a great leveller. As parents we usually start with our eldest being dropped off, leaving us reeling from how fast time has gone, and wondering will they be ok, will they make friends, will they know how to manage without us. Often we fall in with other parents in the same boat, bonded by the same unfamiliar anxiousness. Then follows play dates, friendships, inevitable squabbles and misunderstandings mixed with pride and achievements. Gradually little personalities emerge. Shy, boisterous, bossyboots, clingy, sunny, helper. Occasionally however, a child doesn’t fit. Things that the other tinies take in their stride, this child struggles with, or simply cannot do. Initially there are sympathetic looks from the other parents. “We all have our off days” and “They’re so tired by this point in the week”.
Then the looks of curiosity when the teacher utters knowingly “Can I just have a quick word?” That’s when our journey really got going. “Would you mind getting his hearing checked, he doesn’t seem to respond like the others.” Of course his hearing was fine, technically. Yet at least weekly I was called in, usually with an audience of other parents, to be told of his misdemeanours and malfunctions. “He chews things. Can you tell him to stop chewing things?” “He won’t sit still on the carpet, can you tell him to sit still on the carpet?” His reports were similar, a litany of things he Could Do Better.
Just to confound the situation further, he had no less than six teachers in Reception. Pre-diagnosis, we had no real understanding of what was going on for him, other than he was miserable and withdrawn, and often exhausted. He would explode into tears on the way home, and then fall asleep in the car, on a journey that takes usually less than 10 minutes. The feedback from staff was consistent in its content but varied in delivery. “He just needs a closer eye, that’s all. Try not to worry,” from an experienced teacher, right through to nothing short of accusations, from a woman in her fourth term of education. “At lunchtime, he threw a fishfinger under the table. Do you allow that sort of behaviour at home?” “What the hell do you think?” I snapped.
I would try and find some common ground with the other mums, but increasingly, there was none. Their children were happy, compliant. Sometimes, with the best of intentions they’d make suggestions. “Do you think he needs more sleep/veg/exercise?” My child wasn’t always easy to be around. He had no real concern for rules, or personal space, yet was incredibly sensitive if anyone touched him without warning. The playdates slowed. Or they would be wrapped up with a caveat of “would you mind coming too?” He was clearly getting too much to handle.
Another mum friend from school was in a jam and needed someone to pick up her child, in my son’s class. I said it was no trouble, we had space in the car, I’d be happy to help. She responded saying that I had quite enough on my plate with my boy and adding her child on the top of that might be too much, and thanks very much but she would wait for someone else to offer. A crashing vote of No Confidence. I was shaken. I thought enough of her friendship to ask her what her made her react like that, and over a coffee she told me that it seemed that I didn’t tell my child off like she told hers off, and she was worried that my ‘lack of discipline’ might rub off, and that I didn’t seem to be able to control him so how could I manage another child on top. As I fought back tears, I asked her what she would like to see me do. Holding my hand, she gently told me that I needed to be far, far, firmer with him. I needed to ‘make him eat what he’s given and do as he’s told.’ “How?” I gasped. “How? I’m giving it everything and I’m still called into school all the time.” Then she said the words that will stay with me forever. “I honestly don’t know Ginger, but all I see is that my child doesn’t behave like that because I don’t let him. What about a parenting course?”
So there it was. My fault. I was simply Getting It Wrong. I thanked her and made an excuse as to why I had to suddenly leave. She saw me later, still sitting in my car where I’d parked it, still crying.
When my child was diagnosed with autism, sensory processing disorder and dyspraxia, less than six months later, I told her. “Gosh you’d never think it, would you?” she said. Apparently not. She was more than happy to think that her child behaved because of her own stellar parenting, and mine was like he was, because of my own shortcomings.
Thankfully I found my tribe. Parents who may have walked the same confusing lonely path. Parents whom without a shred of judgement, will deliver wine, hugs and sympathy. Who will share their experiences and knowledge just because they know how hard it is, and basically because they have compassion and understanding, not hurtful ignorance.
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