Sunday, 11 July 2010

Paul, Pat and Angharad

I think this is going to be about friendship and autonomy.

For nigh-on twenty years Nik and I have passed all our decorating, and odd-jobs, to Paul Elliott. Paul is primarily a decorator but has loads of transferable skills and turns his hands to many other trades (free plug: 07779132539). He has been responsible for the decoration and redecoration of two of our homes. He does a lot more than it says on the tin. His first task for us was to hand-strip the old Edwardian rails and banisters in our last house. They had accumulated layer after layer of paint. Maybe, with hindsight, Paul regretted agreeing to take on that contract as it took him a long time and lots of scraping to complete the job. But he'd warned us it would take time and the results were spectacular.

Each year since, Paul has been called back at least once to do something or other for us, most of it interior decoration. We became friends. He coped with the onset of a bad depressive episode for me and I coped with his singing and jokes. It was a match made in heaven and we three became friends. Then we got to know his wife, Pat, who has had her own troubles to bear and has done so with humour and dignity. They were delighted for us when Nik became pregnant and more so when they actually met little Angharad. Even before she had had her open-heart surgery, aged 16 weeks, Angharad loved to be held by Paul and would gurgle away and pull at his laughable attempt at a beard, taking great pleasure in this. Pat assures us that Paul is not and never has been a child-magnet and that his inclination has been to leave them well alone.

Paul has taken to ringing us these last couple of years to ask if it's OK for him or both of them to call around to "see the little one". We always say "of course" (we quite like seeing them too!) and Paul and Angharad bond immediately. An example: she was really excited that Paul was calling in this morning and had been looking out the window for him. When he arrived at the gate she shouted out "Paul" [sounds like 'paw' in Angharad], made the finger sign for 'P' and then stroked her chin (being the sign for Paul) and ran to the door happy as Larry to see him.

It's always this way but I thought about it properly today. It's easy as a parent to think of one's child as "my daughter". It's factual of course, but also a little bit proprietorial. It maintains our parental responsibility over them, it maybe keeps them dependent upon us over and above their basic needs ('s_hierarchy_of_needs). It carves in stone that parent is protector and child is protected. But of course what we are doing as parents is preparing our kids to get away from us, to enter the world and make their way through it. To love them and give them opportunities and help them develop skills and philosophies of their own.

Paul doesn't come to see Angharad because he's my friend or Nikki's. He comes because he is Angharad's friend. They have a relationship that is their own and equally valuable to them both. It has little to do with Nik or me except that we facilitate it and value it. We see the same things with other friends and their families too. But it's today I'm thinking about it so Paul gets the mention. So don't let me get away with whining, when Angharad eventually chooses a partner and/or moves from home; I've got long enough to come to terms with it now I've recognized that Angharad has already started down that road.

Last week of Nursery year

And here we are. In school, everything is being geared-up to the leavers' recognition of achievements award and some sort of concert. At least, the nursery kids have been practising something or other for a couple of weeks now. All will no doubt be revealed in epiphanic glory on Wednesday or Thursday. In the meantime at home, it's plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose; the girl changes and grows almost before our eyes yet she becomes more herself, with a sunny, optimistic, playful nature and an inquisitive mind. And non-school events remain constant - if it's the weekend then it's a 4th birthday party! Yesterday's was Grace's party and the picture-sequence below comes from that. They show Angharad jumping from the edge of a bouncy castle onto a soft plastic mattress (which sport she had been sharing with Sofia for some minutes), the same pair playing with a sort-of concertina-tunnel and Eva playing see-saw with Angharad.

I have written before of the frustrating times when Angharad is exerting her independence (a developmentally necessary occurrence) and of other times when this takes the form of fighting us and screaming and generally, well, being a four year old. But the pics above and below help show just what a lovely time time we have being her parents. (That's why I have posted so many today.) For those of you who've been here already I hope they remind you of your kids' early years. For those of you there just now, like us, or with it all to come just reflect for a moment that a great deal of our time is spent watching developing minds and bodies learning and growing and having fun through play. We are immensely blessed.

Your correspondent was particularly touched that yesterday's birthday cake was decorated with an icing-picture that he had taken at a previous party. I'm thinking of enrolling on an adult education course for Digital SLR enthusiasts this autumn so this was a confidence-booster.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

End of an epoch; the start of an even better one?

It would be wrong not to mention that Nikki and I are acutely aware that there only a couple of weeks left of Angharad's nursery year. She attends Marlborough school nursery every morning from 0900-1130. Then, most afternoons she has activities that I take her to. These include swimming, dance, parent-and child classes, music and so much more. This September sees the start of her Reception year. Angharad will, at our request but backed by the head teacher and the LEA, leave the mainstream class she is in right now and move to the Special Resource Unit, where kids with particular needs can be given extra supervisory support. There will be a SENCO (school special educational needs co-ordinator) and 2 support assistants for about 8 kids. These kids may have conditions like Angharad's or autistic spectrum disorders or anything else.

It isn't the case that "if you have condition X you go into the unit". It's more about supporting any child's particular needs. Thus we and the school feel that Angharad will be best placed there not because she has Down Syndrome per se but because that condition has caused her some speech and language delays. This is NOT a distinction without a difference. Placing kids into the Unit because of a condition, regardless of need, would smack of an educational ghetto. Placing them there to help with a specific need recognizes that the need might successfully be met and the child able to move fully back into the mainstream setting.

Different criteria might apply where a child's condition necessitates that they attend a Special School. That is not Angharad's case. She is in a mainstream school and will remain so. There will be ready and frequent integration with her age-peers and not just at break and lunch-times. (And she is no shrinking violet; she will be out there seeking the friends she has made this year and joining them in play, we have no doubt.) If she was in the mainstream reception class Angharad would need a full-time adult 1:1 supporter. If all had agreed this to be the right option for her funding would have followed her and been made available. Nikki put it best though, had we opted for this option it would have been harder for Angharad to be herself than being in the Resource Unit. The latter has 3:8 staffing ratios (good) and avoids the need for permanent 1:1 adult:child assistance (which in Angharad's case would soon have been unacceptable to her, marking her out as different). Time will tell us if our instincts are correct. But the school Head and SENCO have been at this for quite a while and we have visited the class, been impressed and trust their advice. We heard this week that the SENCO is moving on. But we learned at the same time that the Head had already appointed a replacement who has signing skills and set about adapting the Resource Unit physically (involving real ££) to meet the particular needs of Angharad and the other newbies starting this September. Still, it is the end of an era.

We will need to find new after-school activities too. After a full day at school we doubt Angharad will be able to do much for half a term or so simply owing to tiredness. But she will soon enough be ready for more. We shall keep going with her 1:1 swimming lessons and, in some format or another, with her dancing. She loves these activities and wouldn't let me stop taking her, I'm sure! So watch this space in the Autumn to see what else she fancies having a go at. We'll no doubt return to this at the end of term.

Parties and post-GCSE revels

If it is a weekend it must be a 4th birthday party! Alex's last week and Flora's this weekend. The first snaps are from Alex's, when Nikki sent ACE off on a zip-line (sort-of a cross between being on a swing and abseiling)! Sitting on a ski-lift-type seat and clinging on for dear life, the rider takes off from a raised platform and plummets at increasing velocity till the pulley hits rubber at the far end; the rider clings tighter as she is halted with a bump before sliding back the way they have come, at some speed. Needless to say parents all pray their child doesn't fall off and feel inordinately proud when the squeals of pleasure indicate that the whole affair was a marked success.

Then, when Angharad teamed-up with two good friends at Flora's party we had a pretty picture:

Then it was shoes on and time to go see...

... Rob, Jan and Alex (not the four year old Alex who had a party a last week!) in Dunvant to help celebrate Alex's post-GCSEs party. He and his brothers have been Angharad's favourite fellers for some while and there is an earlier blog picture of them serenading her with guitars. More than that, Rob and Jan have agree to take Angharad off parental hands for a Saturday night soon, allowing Nik and I to book into the St Bride's Hotel and Spa in Saundersfoot for serious gastronomy and pampering. The party went well with high-spirits but decorum and dignities maintained. I've learnt so much about being a parent from my own mam and dad and from friends like Rob and Jan and Gary and Deb who show us what can be done. Our thanks and love to you all. A few nice images from the Swansea-leg of the weekend follow.

And, to close, the image of the weekend. Do-gooders note: the bottle was empty. Probably.