There was a time, back in the day, when I would have cried at the drop of a hat. A rom com at the cinema would definitely have set me off. That TV programme Noel Edmonds presented on Christmas day (where deserving people got amazing presents) has been known to leave me a blubbering mess. And when Mark Kinghorn, my boyfriend when I was 14, dumped me for Laura Healey in Year 10… I mean devastated isn’t the word. I was distraught. (I’m pretty certain that neither of them follow this blog, but if they do, all is forgiven guys, promise). But yeah back then, emotional was my middle name. However, fast forward a good few years and I don’t know what it is… whether it’s growing up or having had children, but in a lot of ways I seem to have grown a thicker skin.
I guess having Oscar has made me that way. Big Girl Pants have most definitely been required on a number of occasions – his diagnosis, his heart surgery, his various other surgeries and of course, his first day at school. All of these have been monumental milestones that I know will be permenantly etched in my mind.
We’ve come a long way in a year and with Oscar’s first year at school almost completed, I thought I’d reflect back on how it has gone. For as tough as I thought I was, when Oscar started in reception class back in September, my anxiety levels and emotions were all over the place.
I remember taking Oscar to his first settling in session at school, round about this time last year and at first him being really subdued. I noted at the time that him being shy was actually a pretty good result, because let’s face it, all the while he was being quiet, he wasn’t causing havoc. But then of course, he got more confident and although he played brilliantly for the entire length of the session, in the final 5 minutes, he’d obviously had enough and went into destruction mode. MORTIFICATION! It was around about this time, I clearly remember coming home and declaring to Chris that “maybe we’d made the wrong decision” and “maybe mainstream school was going to be too much for him”… Of course, in usual Chris style, he told me to relax, didn’t pander to my melodramatics and told me to give our boy a chance.
The first term was all about adjustment. Oscar needed to settle into the routine and understand what was expected of him, but the school, his teachers and his LSAs equally needed to get to know him. He started off doing half days and did so up until the first half term. I remember going to pick him up each day and standing anxiously outside, worrying if he’d been good for them or if they were going to come out and tell me he’d been awful. They never did, for the record (the awful bit I mean). Of course there was the odd minor blip here and there, but the school were never anything but encouraging and supportive. I’m pretty sure though, that first term the school thought I was slightly imbalanced because any time we had a meeting or they’d say anything remotely positive, I’d be feeling so relieved, that I’d well up or cry. And the times they told me that there’d been little hiccups, I’d cry because I worried that this would mean they wouldn’t want him anymore. Yep… Mental!
So the first term came and went and we were happy with how settled Oscar seemed. He’d go into school every morning without looking back and I don’t think there’s been a single day when I’ve said to him, “Lets get ready for school” when he hasn’t shouted anything other than “yeaaaaah”.
But then January came and he had to go into hospital to have surgery on his ear. He’d been diagnosed with Chloesteatoma which meant he needed a 5.5 hour operation to remove a growth. A growth that had been eating away at his inner ear and affecting his ability to hear properly. Recovery meant that he needed almost three weeks off school but it wasn’t until after the operation we realised the huge impact this disease had been having on our little man. He had been waking every night prior to the operation up to 6 times a night (for the 6 months prior). I’d find him writhing around in his bed, unable to tell me what was wrong, yet as soon as he’d had the surgery, his nights, although on occasion he’ll still wake, have been so much more peaceful. This has had such a positive effect on his focus and attention and although he’s still a minx at times, his behaviour has certainly calmed down.
Which brings us to his final term. The term we feel he has made the most progress. Whether it be because he’s had the surgery and his ear isn’t causing him as much trouble or simply that he’s starting to understand what’s expected of him… By all accounts it’s been a great year.
Some of you will know we decided to ask the school/local authority if Oscar could repeat reception. It wasn’t because we or they were feeling he wouldn’t be able to cope in Year 1… more that he’s a summer born baby (July), his speech is still evolving, we’re still working on toileting and because he had a chunk of time off for his operation, recovery and follow up appointments. It wasn’t a decision we took lightly but we were thrilled when we had the go ahead and the support from the school. We have gone with our gut and although he’ll/we’ll be sad to say goodbye to his current class, we feel giving him an extra year to cement what he’s learnt thus far, can only benefit him in the long run.
And when I think back to all the worries I had back when he started. Whether he’d cope? Whether school would cope with him? I’ve realised that if both parties (us and the school) are on board with wanting to make it work, it will. I think communication has been key here too. We have had a communication book that’s come home every afternoon with him, it has a few lines about what he’s been doing that day. It might sound silly but it’s been so wonderful to read what he’s been up to and how he’s getting on. Of course there’s contact with the school on occasion but I’m really careful not to be that annoying SEN mum, constantly asking them questions or interfering. I have faith that they are doing everything they can for him.
I worried at first about how Oscar would fit in and whether he’d make friends. I’m not going to lie, I have felt sad at times over the last year watching how some of the other boys and girls interact with one another and wondering if Oscar will ever have the speech to be able to do this. You may have seen my post recently about the fact that more words are coming but it’s a slow process and I guess watching the other children together and how easily their friendships have formed, can hurt at times.
I took Oscar to a birthday party for one of his classmates this weekend though and the difference in his ability to interact with his peers and seeing how they did so with him, was just so heart-warming. At one point Oscar sat down on the floor and got upset. One of the little boys went over to him, crouched down right in front of him and had a little chat with him. I’ve no idea what he said but it was enough to make him stop crying. Another girl, who I know he shares a special bond with, spent most of the party holding his hand, sitting next to him, hugging him, helping him and dancing with him. It was just so lovely.
Friendships for me especially, were so important. Sure, the academic stuff is too but one of my biggest worries was that he wouldn’t make friends or that others would get fed up being around him. I needn’t have worried. Just yesterday as we were walking in to school, one of Oscar’s classmates came up beside us. And as we continued walking, his mum and I talking as we went, I looked down to see that this little boy had taken Oscar’s hand and walked the entire way in to school with him. They’d said hi to each other when they first held hands but other than that they didn’t say too much. What I loved about it was that there was no prompting from his mum, this little boy had just grabbed Ozzie’s hand because he’d wanted to. And even though there wasn’t much dialogue, every once in a while, they’d share a look and smile.
Oscar won’t be with those kids next year but he’ll still see them in the playground I’m sure. I have faith in him that he’ll be able to cope with the next step. He’ll meet new friends. He’ll carry on trying his best. And without doubt, I know he (and all his peers who happen to have DS too), will carry on smashing those misperceptions some of us had about Down Syndrome, out of the park.