Things were so hard. My whole family felt it. Joe was a ticking bomb primed by almost daily developments to his situation which unsettled him – the tutors were finishing, the tutors were staying, he could be moving to a residential school, there may be a day placement. It is incredibly difficult to hide things from Joe – tutors and teachers talked in front of him, and he has a habit of listening out of windows and round corners. Anyway, everyone who knew us, knew what was happening. It’s impossible to hide something that is impacting a family on such a huge scale. Three times we had prepared for Joe to be placed in a residential school, three times we had been relieved it hadn’t happened and three times we had gone through the realisation that we were back were we had been when Joe was first excluded. I was back on my knees where I had fallen, clutching the phone, hearing the headmistress from his school telling me she was excluding Joe for five days pending permanent exclusion; she was recommending I send him away to a residential school, telling me to think of my family… she’d never spoken to me before… she’d only been in post for three weeks.
All six of us were exhausted and showing it in our own ways. And then on the 5th May we had a phone call to say the Principle from the residential school was coming to visit Joe. If it all went well, he could start. I felt numb. There was no good way for this to end. I couldn’t cope with the status quo – nor could I cope with the thought of sending Joe away. He didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to lose him. But it happened anyway.
It took a month. We were promised a ‘Hogwarts’ style letter for Joe, to try and reconcile him with the idea of a residential school that would help develop his special skills. It never arrived. We were promised kit lists, information booklets. They never came. The promised introductory visit for Joe didn’t come easily – we had to keep pushing. The things we have been promised for Joe over the years… in the end you stop believing. Trust is non-existent.
We had been told that for the first month, Joe would not be able to come home – part of the settling in process. Not even for Father’s Day. I wanted to make his last days count. With three days left, we planned a big day at the woods. I had just started to cook the sausages over the fire when the phone call came – the tractor had begun cutting the silage in the field over the back of our house. Ever since Joe could sign tractor, he has obsessively watched the silage cut, turn and collection. I would dread it if the cut was started on a school day. Today there was no question. Mark took the children home and left me to clear up my dashed hopes of a special day out, torn by the fact that it was not to be because of Joe himself. It was what he wanted I reminded myself. That was the point of these days – to give him some good memories – and he loved to watch the silage cut. The trees swallowed my tears and did not turn away embarrassed as I cried out my pain.
The next day we climbed a mountain, all six of us. People kept stopping to ask Amos’ age. When I replied, “Just four”, I was so proud and they were so complimentary. But when we reached the summit, all six of us, my pride was for our team – for what we had achieved. My pride was for my family. We all held each other – even Joe allowed me to touch him. I have photos of that day in frames on both sides of my bed.
And the final day, Mark was at work, the girls went to school, so I took Joe and Amos to a museum we had tried to visit a couple of times but Joe had not managed. This time we managed it, despite Amos tipping an entire mug of very expensive and very hot hot-chocolate down himself.
The morning came. Mark was away. I caught sight of one of the piles Joe had made to take with him at the top of the stairs; his alarm clock, a giraffe I put in his cot in the hospital when he was born, and the hand puppet doll that had helped me out of numerous situations with Joe. That was the killer – I was the voice of that doll, that doll was the best of me. She was all the fun without the need to correct or instruct. Joe related to the doll when he was beyond my reach. And she was walking out of my house – they were leaving together, taking a huge gouge of me with them. I loaded the car with all Joe’s boxes and bags, with the other children’s bags and then all four children. I tried to keep things normal. We took Peta and Melody to school and they shouted their goodbyes to Joe. Then we took Amos to nursery, and he said bye to Joe. It was hard to act normally, hard to get Amos to settle, but after a while he did. I got back into the car with Joe. He didn’t want to go, but he too felt he had no choice. At the age of thirteen, he had resigned himself to the fact that the only way for him to be safe from misunderstanding, was to be at a school were all the children there were high functioning autistic. As he sat in the front seat, he looked so vulnerable. He was listening to a lullaby on the CD player. I can’t sing it anymore.
I carried Joe’s boxes into the room that was to be his, at the address that is now his home address. I helped him unpack, put a photo on desk of our family at the top of the mountain. I’d made a photo book of our life together since Amos birth – our team. He put it in a draw. We made his bed, then I had to leave. It’s rare for Joe to let me touch him. There was no kiss, no cuddle, no touch, just pain, so much pain. It felt like I was betraying him, my family, my values, my whole approach to life. I was not making a choice, just forced to take the least worst option.
That day, not even the trees could relieve the anguish. People told me to give it a year. There are twenty eight days left. It’s not feeling any better.