Last weekend was magical.
One of those weekends where simple pleasures and family life combine to create beautiful memories.
On Saturday night I took A to the Globe to see a Midsummer Nights Dream. It was spectacular and enthralling. She complained loudly all the way there about how she was going to have to stand for 3 whole hours… We played the mini game on the bus, she won. She complained some more about standing. We had a lovely meal and a drink on the Southbank. She complained some more about standing. We found a great spot near the front with the other ‘groundlings’. She continued to complain about standing – until the magic of the evening and the performance did something special. As the sun set and the actors transported us to a magical forest where sprites make mischief with love potions, my daughter forgot all about her poor aching 10 year old legs. She got caught up in the mystery and beauty of the theatre around her. And as we walked back down the Southbank at night, her conversation flowed and her eyes sparkled with the wonder of it all.
The next morning bright and early we took the dog up to Goblins Wood (actually Gobians Wood – but we renamed it years ago). This year has been a bumper year for bluebells and the woods did not disappoint. Swathes of beautiful bluebells under the canopy of the trees. D got to search for sticks, J (the dog) gets to chase those sticks, and A actually now appreciates the wonder of the Bluebell Woods – I wonder if she makes the connection and imagines Titania in this wood. That convergence of art and nature – doing subtle and wonderfully creative things her young head.
Then we had a perfect late summer lunch with family to celebrate their recent nuptials. (and I wish them all the very best as they start this part of their life.)
And I have the pleasure and the privilege of sharing these moments with people who mean so very much to me. A set of treasured perfect memories.
D is in reception. Every week yet another child comes into school clutching a pile of envelopes and with the help of their parent hands them around the gaggle of children waiting to go into the classroom. D is luckily (for now) oblivious, but I am acutely aware of what is going on.
I hold my breath – trying not to make eye contact with the parent, because if I do they get flustered and look away – and this then means a few weeks of them avoiding eye contact with me until the party is over and the cake is now but crumbs on the floor.
There are 30 children in his class – so far he has had 1 invitation (and to that Mum I am eternally grateful). But there have been many many parties. Other parents at the classroom door tell me how busy their weekends are, how it just seems to be one birthday party after another. They stand and chat about how little Jimmy and little Jane looked so cute as they attempted to play musical statues and chased bubbles around the room. Normal children, doing normal stuff, learning to be part of a bigger social world.
I know all the arguments – that your child has the right to invite who they want to their birthday. It is after all their special day. But this right to choose leads to a very insidious and subtle form of exclusion.
None of these parents are awful people – in fact the very opposite – they are good members of a strong local community – but who have no real concept of what it is like to have a special needs child in your family.
But it brings into focus just what the life of a special needs child is like in a mainstream. They are always on the periphery. Always observing.
A parent who had struggled with moving her child from mainstream to a special school was astounded by the number of birthday invites their child now got and how more meaningful the friendships he formed became.
I don’t know what to do about D. I can’t make friends for him. I can’t find a way into these fast forming friendship groups. He’s not ready for them yet.
But next time you come to write the invitation for your child ‘s party – please for one moment stop and think about whether you could play a small part in helping a little child learn to play their part in a bigger world.