The last half term of school is very much like the last few weeks of pregnancy. There are a trillion out-of-the-ordinary things to do before a rapidly approaching deadline, you are emotionally wrecked, your brain has ceased to function and at the end of it all, when you deserve and desperately need a REST, you get a CHILD instead. Or if you are extra-blessed, multiple children. This year we have the bonus of it being too hot to sleep, reminiscent of those nights where the twins were having punch-ups in the bump that was so big it hung off the side of the bed, preventing even the notion of sweet repose. (Yes, the fights began before birth. We had the scans to prove it.) (I can't believe it used to make us laugh. Pair of innocent young fools.)
I can’t even remember all the things we’ve done since Easter, but over the last couple of weeks there have been Summer Fairs, a whole-school Charity Run, a 'Run to Russia' challenge, Open Evenings, Work Shadowing, Enterprise Week, a ‘Project Fayre’, school trips, collections for teachers (with artwork by children), club presentations/displays, Sports Days, library book returns and many other things I’ve stumbled through with eyes half-closed and permission slips missing. I can't even remember if I've paid for the school meals, although I don't remember seeing the brightly-coloured sheets of paper that replace the white ones if you forget for long enough, like a colourful shout of, 'OI YOU! PAY UP ALREADY!' from the bottom of the schoolbag. ('And don't even pretend you can't see me - I'm ORANGE, for the love of all that is holy!')
But I digress, as usual. End-of-term chaos and things to remember is where I was, if your brain is as flitty as mine is right now. We didn’t actually make it to all those events, let alone the ones I didn't know about because the sheets of paper were white, or I failed to read an email, or because, well, my brain has been Playing the Nope Card for at least two weeks. There were days when one or other family member couldn’t cope, or Mum couldn’t be in three places at once. And then there were events we attempted and abandoned, or that didn't end so well, such as the attempted escape from school by a very upset child at the end of Juniors Sports Day.
There certainly have been upsets, and plenty of tears. We need to invent new words for the dozens of different types of tears we have seen here, from the ‘I’m tired’ to the ‘I don’t want to’ to the ‘My soul is broken and I just can’t do it any more’; from the gentle weeping to the uncontrollable silent floods to the heart-rending sobs. And that’s just the kids. If you know the tale of Eskimos having 50 words for snow because they spend so much time looking at the darned stuff and spotting the subtly different varieties, we may be joining them in naming forms of crying. Unless of course, we're too busy shouting, or blocking our ears to the shouts of other family members. Because there have been meltdowns of a more destructive nature too. Collateral damage has included a chair, an iPad, and a fair bit of crockery, about 90% of my sanity and a small corner of my heart.
Every parent, every person working at a school, and every child seems to be in a similar state. But I would argue that it's a matter of degree, and in a SEN-heavy household, the stress levels ramp up more quickly, go higher than many could imagine and will take much longer to come down. We're tired because it's a long term, but also there are so few 'standard' days at this time of term, and because the exciting 'treats' often involve uncertain outcomes or an element of competition, or non-routine foods with non-routine smells, or time outside when it's supposed to be inside time, or rushing from one place to another for longer than usual or less time than usual. These are kids who freak out if I buy chipolatas from Morrisons instead of Tesco, or 50:50 bread instead of Best of Both - and that's from tasting the seemingly identical items, not from spotting packaging. Every detail matters, and every small change is a marathon of adaptation for my kids. If my ADHD child had a chance of being focused and settled, it was because he knew what would happen every day, according to his standard school timetable. If my ASD child had a chance of coping with school, it was because he knew more or less what would be expected of him, and there wasn't too much teamwork or competition or the attendant emotions, or routines thrown out the window with everybody seemingly delighted about that and in fact appearing excited and even sometimes Wearing Non-Uniform, of all the heinous crimes. And then of course there's the uncertainty of School Beyond The Hols, with new teachers, TAs, classrooms and so on. And this year, even the weather has gone mad.
But what makes life most confusing for me as Mum is that among the stresses, the kids are having some amazing moments and feeling proud of themselves. Their efforts are being recognised in various ways, they are being cheered at various events and the twins even had school trips to Pizza Express. They might come home and melt down in increasingly dramatic ways after coping with all the excitement and uncertainty and difference, but I see their smiles and laughter too, and enthusiasm for dough-pounding and cheese-sprinkling and stuffing their faces with their own creations. So what do I do? How hard do I push them to keep going through all the 'difference', and am I doing them a disservice if I put my foot down and say that they just can't cope with another 'event'? Temple Grandin, an autism advocate and author, academic and autistic woman, has written a book called The Loving Push, which I believe addresses some of these questions. Clearly I haven't read it, because if I stay still for long enough to open a book somebody needs me or I fall asleep. But I'm thinking that I really must fit it into my life somehow, because I'm going around in circles. Yes, we all want to keep our children from being distressed, BUT I do agree with some of the criticisms of so-called 'umbrella parenting'. BUT, what if your children's conditions lead to levels of distress that seem far beyond the norm for children of their age? Just a small insight: most SEN parents I know have learned and used the terms 'self-injurious behaviour' and 'suicidal ideation' well before their children have finished Primary School. What if we don't act swiftly when we see their stress levels rising, to prevent their distress reaching debilitating levels? BUT, what if that means SEN parents become over-protective and leave their children ill-prepared for an independent adulthood? And how can we judge whether the brief periods of joy in new experiences are worth the hours of subsequent implosion - or violent explosion?
I have no answers, but I am really hoping that some of you lovely readers might be able to offer words of wisdom - or let me know if you've read The Loving Push and whether it might help me. On another note, because I'm constantly seeing parallels between caring for children and caring for myself, I also wanted to write about what happens with Mum-Care at this stage of term, but this post is already too long, so I might need to come back to that another day. I think it's fairly certain that I need The Loving [Kick up the Bum] on that front, though, no matter what is going on with the kids.
And if you're not a SEN parent and you're reading this, I'm sorry for whatever I haven't done that I was supposed to do. Glow-in-the-dark paper stuck to the kids' foreheads or camping on my doorstep are your best hope, but even then, I make no promises! Come ask me again in September.