Over the years I have read many blogs from mummy’s trying to navigate their way through the hazardous path that is parenthood. One thing that always struck me were the blogs explaining just how much of a cut throat environment the school playground really is. And I don’t mean the children here, I mean the parents.
*** before I continue this blog I would just like to say, the time I’m referring to in this blog was before I really knew anyone in my village. The friendships I have made here have kept me together and supported me through the toughest times. And for that I cannot thank you all enough. But I know some parents never escape that horrendous “newbie parent” phase. And when you have a child with autism, it is so much worse… ***
Before our family started down the diagnosis path of autism, I ran a childminding business. I LOVED it. It was my second baby, second to my amazing kiddo of course. And with the job of childcare comes the inevitable school drop offs. I still remember the first day I started these. I knew pretty much nobody. Having not had a child at the school yet (for Kiddo was only approaching the age of two), I nervously approached the school reception and allowed the children to guide me through the swarm of crowded parents. Although from the outside it looked like a mess of adults all muddled in together, I realised very quickly that in fact these people were in perfectly formed groups, happily glued together in what looked like some kind of DNA formation that simply couldn’t be broken. And whilst the children in my care weaved through this crowd with practiced care, I did not. Because unbeknown to me at the time, this was kiddo’s idea of utter hell.
When I initially arrived I felt a small swell of nerves in my stomach, but that was nothing compared to the tornado of horrendous anxiety that was about to hit me. Because kiddo started a meltdown. And I’m not talking a small tantrum with frustrated screams of impatience, I’m talking full blown grade A meltdown. At that moment I wanted a black hole to open up and swallow me. This was horrendous.
As parents turned to stare to see what the commotion was all about I felt sweat start to drip from my temples. My heart started racing. But I could not leave. I had to make sure my childminded munchkins made it into the classroom safely. So I rode it out.
I tried to comfort kiddo, with everything I could. Nothing worked. Nothing even touched the sides. Eventually the children blissfully skipped into their classrooms. And I ran. I ran full speed with my buggy past hoards of mums, praying that somehow I had miraculously found Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak and was visible to no one. Only I was visible to everyone. In fact, I may as well have had a large neon sign above my head that said “mortified mother trying to make her escape”.
I finally made it home. The walk (or run) was only 5 minutes but it felt like 50 miles. The pathway home had become a treadmill and I wasn’t making any progress at all. How I longed for my front door. I shakily put the key in the door, praying that the neighbours were out and that they too wouldn’t be haunted by the blood curdling screams that kiddo was now projecting.
Inside the house I dissolved into tears, and collapsed in a heap on the floor. Luckily my husband was working from home that day. He took the kiddo to safety in his room but it took him another half an hour to calm him. As I had no pre schoolers to childmind that day, I made a cuppa and sank into our sofa. Kiddo was settled and asleep and I had time to reflect.
My husband looked at me in disbelief. “What on earth happened?” He asked. “The school run happened.” I replied. And it was at that moment I realised that something was not normal. This can’t be normal. Surely? How can dropping some children at a school be so horrific? But I had no choice. I had to keep going. Twice a day.
Each day was the same, the screaming, the violence projected from the buggy. Violence towards me and any other adult who approached him. It was hopeless. Each day the stares would come, and do you know what? I don’t blame any of them. We were quite a spectacle. I started to try new tactics to keep him calm. Snacks, sweets (I could see to many parent’s horror) and of course the life saving electronic tablet. I’ve already talked about how I feel about that in another blog… check out “I See You…” if you’d like to read about that gem.
As time went on I felt more and more isolated. After all, who wants to stand next to a screaming child whilst they wait to pick their cherubs up from school? I dreaded 8.55am and 3.30pm every day for months. But during that time, there were two people who saved me. Let’s call them M and R. I’ll start with M.
As time went on I would move our waiting spot up on to a corner of the playground. Moving away from people had seemed to have a positive effect (remember, at this point I didn’t really have any understanding of autism at all). It was lonely and it was isolating. Until I met M. One day she approached with her younger child and sat by us to wait. Not too near, but not too far. This lady knows something I don’t I thought, for kiddo was not troubled by her at all. She gently started speaking to me and for the first time since starting the school run I felt accepted. I can’t tell you what that conversation meant to me that day. It saved me in ways you could never imagine. To this day she is a very dear friend of mine. I hope you know who you are when you read this. Your kindness and willingness to look past my kiddo’s behaviour was one of the most generous acts of friendship I have ever known.
Moving on to R. A grandmother of two whom she dropped and collected most days. I later learned that she worked at the school outside of hours. I remember the first day she came up to me and asked if we were ok. The only person to ask me if I was ok. I explained that I didn’t know what the problem was and she stayed and chatted to me, simply raising her voice above the conundrum that continued to come from the buggy in front of us. Every single time she came to school she took the time to speak to us, waving to kiddo and acknowledging him, even when he kicked her away. It didn’t put her off. As time went on she began to follow our progress through the autism trail, always asking how I was getting on and eager to learn the signs and symptoms for herself. R, your willingness to talk to us each and everyday will be remember by me forever. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Two years on and kiddo is about to start his second year at pre school at the same school. As time has passed I have made so many friends, most whom have children at the school. Now I have an in depth knowledge of autism and sensory processing difficulties I understand the agony and the pain of the sight and noise that kiddo would have felt in that playground. He now starts fifteen minutes later and finishes fifteen minutes later to avoid anymore pain or discomfort.
To any new parents (or experienced for that matter) who feel the anxiety of the new school term approaching, I have two things to say.
If you see a parent struggling, or isolated, standing alone in the corner alone, take the time to say hi. If they seem to be battling behaviours unknown, ask them if they are ok. For they might need you more than you can imagine.
To those who parent a child (or more) with additional needs. Be brave, you got this, for nothing is achieved without persistence. Two years ago I would never have believed I would have made such good friends around our school. But time and experience are great healers and eventually we got there. It is a journey worth taking. For I wouldn’t change my friends for anything in the world. I love you all.
Thanks for reading,