The children are so excited. One week left of school, then what seems to them, endless holidays. Amos talks about his starting school full time in September as though it’s years away – he’s not dwelling on it at all. Melody’s September return to school has been made less daunting – a change in class organisation means she has another year in the middle class rather than joining the year five and six group. Peta is excited because she is moving to big school – I am so glad for her; we won our appeal (an alien feeling for us) and since she found out she could go to the school of her choice Peta has become quietly confident, strangely focused. For the three children at home, September is so far away, it’s not even on the radar. And Joe just can’t wait to get out of school – he’s instructed us to be there at 3PM on Friday; he wants to leave the moment he is allowed through the door. Joe will not yet be thinking about the end of August when he has to go back to school. It will come soon, with much complaining that he has to go back a week before everyone else, but I probably have four days wind down time with him before he starts to wind back up again… Friday, if anything like other ends of summer terms, will be a whirlwind of pump bags and smiles, presents and waves, bad jokes and laughter.
Everyone is happy, so I feel bad that I don’t feel the same. I dread this time of year. Every July I feel desolate. I thought this end of term would be easier than last year’s, when I watched a primary school close for the last time filled with such strong feelings of loss, when I heard the school bell rung for the last time before it was laid to rest on the church altar, driving home the finality of it all after 176 years. Melody was the youngest in the school – the end of the line. I thought this end of term would be easier because I wouldn’t feel so raw at Joe’s move to a residential placement, because I would have got used to Amos being at school part time, because I would be glad to see Peta move from the school that excluded her brother. Instead, I feel the ache of hopelessness. The glimmer of a chance that Joe’s residential place was a harbour in a storm has been replaced with dashed dreams. Two independent mainstream schools have said there is no room for him, and they were our last chance. So not a harbour in a storm, but a final destination. Joe is locked in for GCSE’s now, no reprieve. And from September, for the first time in fourteen years, five days a week I will be alone. My best friends of fourteen years have all moved on. I am glad for them, I do not want to hold them back. But I feel an empty void that I do not know how to fill. I have been trying to work out what I will do for years; I have seen this coming. September looms and for me it is dark and silent and empty. And I know on Friday, when we press the GO! button on the summer holidays, an unstoppable current will hurl us towards September with frightening speed.
So, I will bury what I feel as well as I can for six more weeks. I am determined, as usual, to cram as much as possible into the time we do have together. The moment the children finish school we have arranged to camp at the woods. No time to stop and think. No time to ache. I have set myself a good challenge. Joe still has not spent a night in a tent since he was 18 months old. And so to recap. Joe has an issue with tent fabric – it is a sensory thing. We put up a metal shed in our woods, hoping Joe could have a camp bed in there alongside the storage space. The shed leaks and sounds like a giant is playing percussion on it in the lightest of drizzles; Joe will not sleep in the shed (even though it hasn’t rained for four weeks). He said he’d rather just sleep outside as he’d done on a canoe camp with school, so we thought about a camp bed just outside the tent where he could be close to the campfire (Joe loves the campfire). This apparently was a bad idea because of badgers (to me this made it an extra good idea, but evidently not). So we came up with the idea of a fence round the camp bed, made up from a strong nylon mesh we had. Joe considered it for a while, but then decided no. Next idea was a hammock. Joe is comfortable in a hammock during the day, he’s even slept on them with school, so we looked for a sleeping hammock. It had to be blue, not tent material, pulling up at the edges and bigger than Amos’s hammock. I trawled the internet and Yes! We ordered the hammock. After 3 weeks of waiting, I was asked to wait a few more days then get back to the company who had dispatched it. The conclusion after the ‘few more days’ was that the hammock had been lost in the post. One refund, one reorder and one further week of waiting and the hammock arrived.
Joe put up the hammock on Sunday. It looked great. I was so pleased, but no. Joe said it didn’t feel right – the material was too clingy. It’s hard to think imaginatively when disappointed. I find myself in this place over and over and over again. My home is littered with attempts to accommodate autism in a way that means Joe doesn’t miss out. Sometimes I give up for a few hours in an anti-autism temper before gathering my shredded nerves more rationally around me, and ploughing on in the determination that one day Joe and I will succeed. I went and poked the fire. Joe went and flaked out on the trampoline. It’s a big trampoline. With net sides. And a zippy door. And a comfortable, Joe sized base. It took Mark to point it out to me. And so we have it. A plan. Joe has happily (well, happily for him) agreed to spend the night on the trampoline. By this time next week, we may have achieved camp status….