Family wood-time

img_3358We spent the day in the wood on Saturday, arriving just after breakfast and not leaving until late at night. (It is an unusual weekend when we don’t spend at least a couple of hours in the wood, but often one or two of the children are off doing other things, and visits are shorter.) The whole day was lovely, one of those days that I will always remember for its quiet enjoyment. There was nothing momentous about it, it was just one of those unusually peaceful days that I get once in a while to enjoy my family (when I say peaceful, all things are relative). It was the search for days like these that drove us to buy the wood in the first place.

Lighting the fire and putting on the kettle is the first thing we always do. Peta and Amos don’t drink tea, but they still expect a fire to sit round. It is strange, but the fire is the focal point that everyone gravitates to. Hammocks are strung in the trees around it, we sit round it to chat, to read, to do any job that is not place determined. The fire is the centre of the family wood, a comfortable thing that draws people to it.

Once the fire is lit, people tend to have particular jobs in mind. This weekend, Joe was metal detecting while Peta, Melody and Amos decided to build an active volcano and then a canyon water ride in the sand pit. I had a car-engine inspection camera that I was hoping would send photos to my tablet by WiFi and a load of nest holes I wanted to investigate with it, and Mark was in woodman mode, splitting and stacking wood for next winter. Joe had a go at splitting wood too, and got pretty proficient at it – I saw him smile with pride when he looked up at the mound of split logs he had accumulated around himself.

A friend visited – he’d brought his chainsaw to give us a hand. He asked if we often spent all day at the wood. I suppose it’s an odd setup. I don’t even think about it any more; to me, it’s more normal (and desirable) to spend a day up in the wood than a day inside a house. After a sneaky look into a nest of blue tits, a wander round the wood, and soup by the fire, our friend said it was actually quite relaxing in the wood. I guess it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it.

The children spent some time whittling – Joe is really good at making wooden owls now and Peta is making a lovely wooden knife. I took the children to peep inside the nest boxes – Peta helped with the camera at the nuthatch nest, Joe at the greater spotted woodpecker hole, and Amos and Melody saw the great tits chicks that had been fed regularly all day on the other side of the tree to which they’d been playing. It was lovely to see the children’s excitement as we took privileged glimpses into the lives that go on, usually hidden away, all around us.

This day in the wood was exactly what I had needed as the last month has been particularly hard for me. The strain had clearly been showing earlier in the day as we’d walked up to the wood because even Joe had noticed something was wrong, though perhaps the way he expressed it needs some work – ‘You can’t break now, it will ruin my career prospects.’ That’s my boy…

It’s been relatively settled with us since January when our county council stopped trying to put Joe into a mainstream school and agreed to fund his residential placement until July; but life never stays still. All is about to change again. Joe is coming home. For the last year of his GCSE’s, Joe will have a day placement at the school he has attended as a residential student for the last two years. I should be ecstatic, and I am. Just thinking about the days when Joe first went to live away from home wrings my heart out, I can’t talk about it without crying even now. I can’t describe the relief I feel to know he will be living with us again.  But his homecoming is at a price, there are other weights to replace those lifted. Once Joe’s GCSE’s are over, because he will no longer be residential at the school, I have been told Joe’s place is unlikely to continue to sixth form. I no longer have any professional support, I am more alone than I have ever been, and in July, I will welcome back into my home, a young man who is wonderful, domineering, sincere, loud, eager to help, quick to become angry, struggling with autism and PDA¹. And, by taking him home, I am jepardising his future education because without support, I know he will not be able to access a sixth form. I cannot imagine how I will manage to support Joe and myself and the family through that one.

Peta, Melody and Amos are already planning the banners they are going to hang up to welcome Joe home. Melody is determined she wants to buy him a tankard in celebration (Joe had said he’d like one last time we all sat round to play his favourite game, Dungeons and Dragons – Joe is Game Master of course). I am going to be partying right there with them. I am going to lock my fear away. But I need to concentrate on days like Saturday, need to store away some good memories as anchors for the future.

As our Saturday afternoon drew to an end, my family all came together round the fire. The evening sunshine trickled through the new green leaves, and fluffy clouds breezed through the blue skies. We ate a pasta meal and a pudding of baked bananas. We drank hot chocolate and the children toasted marshmallows as Mark and I did the dishes. All hands helped to carry the kit from the day, back to the shed, then pulling on warm clothes, we crept up to the main badger sett. We settled ourselves down and were as silent as we can ever manage. While we waited, we were treated to entertainment by the treecreeper family, baby treecreepers learning to climb the trunks, tumbling in a heart stopping scramble of fluff only to grab hold of the bark again at the last moment. Amos turned puzzle book pages loudly and Melody couldn’t sit still, but the badgers came anyway. We saw them as they trundled from one sett entrance to another, calling on neighbours. We saw a cub, but how many adults it was hard to tell as one would go underground, then come up through other entrances. Maybe it was just the same adult badger, putting on a show, but I think there were more. Regardless, the children loved it. They bounded back out of the wood, excited by the day, exhausted, ready for bed… and happy.

That is what I must remember.

¹Pathological demand avoidance.

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