I do not recognise September. There has been no mass exodus of family members, children are in and out of the house at seemingly random times and Mark doesn’t go out to work, instead working from the desk vacated by the children who are no longer remote learning. I am not dreading a phone call from Joe’s school telling me his autism is presenting problems to varying degrees, nor is there any expectation that I should be taking children to clubs and after-school evenings or helping out at any school event/class/outing. In many ways, this has been the most gentle back-to-school season ever.
The children seem to have happily slotted back into school, despite them tending towards feral up at the woods during the summer holidays. Amos and Melody were the first to return; there is very little Covid-caused difference in their school day other than the fact I can no longer accompany them into the playground in the morning. Peta was next. Covid-rules are more prominent in her timetable – she has a cut down lunch period so is home well before the little ones (the school has staggered breaks and home times), has areas in the playground she has to stand in when not in the school building and has to wear a mask moving between lessons. I have had my workout for the day provided by running back to the house to pick up the mask Peta had forgotten and needed so she could get into her school transport, but other than that, her return to school seems smooth. And Joe’s full time College course has been cut down to the minimum hours possible so the college can continue to provide teaching to as many students as possible while still conforming to the rules on class size/ student numbers in the building; it seems he is hardly out of the house. It’s early days, but despite transport not turning up when it should, then turning up when it shouldn’t, and Joe having to wear PPE when in the engineering workshop, things are going well. Joe has enjoyed his course so far; even dealing with a complete rewrite of his timetable more than once hasn’t caused him too much anxiety.
At first, I couldn’t understand how this September could possibly feel like the least traumatic back-to-school September yet. It’s definitely not that I’m feeling calm. There are plenty of things that up my stress levels – I have three sets of school/college Covid rules to remember, three sets of school opening hours to get used to (Joe’s are even different between each of the three days he is at college), masks to wash each night, hand gel pots to fill, increased email traffic from schools, PE kits to dry (Peta has to go to school in PE kit on three consecutive days, and if it gets wet, she has to sit in lessons wet, then I have to get it washed and dried for the next day – she ended up going to school in damp kit despite my best efforts last time that happened), the list goes on.
It look me a while to realise that the way I am feeling about this coming term has a strange familiarity to it, and with familiarity comes a kind of acceptance. I’m used to not knowing what’s happening from one day to the next, I’m accustomed to that email flying into the computer with the result that schedules are completely disrupted. For a long time I have had to be ready to change hard-worked-on plans at the drop of a hat; caring for an autistic child has taught me to be flexible and ensure I don’t commit to anything until I am relatively sure I can do so. I’m used to schools and authorities making decisions, especially with regard to Joe and autism, that I do not agree with. I am familiar with the emotions churning inside when I am not being listened to, used to feeling frustrated and helpless. I have been prepared for this September’s Covid-influenced return to school because I have been dealing with the lack of any certainty in our lives for so long. But what makes this September different for me is that I am not the only one feeling it. For the first time in a very long time, I feel more in step with the world. I’m not saying that this is a good thing – obviously it would be preferable that no-one lived with anxiety, that no-one was confused or stressed. But knowing that, for once, I am not the only parent in a sea of turmoil really does help me feel I am not alone. Just for once, instead of the burden falling on me as an individual, there are other people raising the issues that worry me (children sitting in wet PE kits, groups of 200 children meeting up in a hall for assembly without masks for example). Suddenly there are many people living their daily routine one day at a time. It is not at all that I am enjoying this – please, don’t think that – it is just that there is an element of a lessening of a burden when it is shared.
What I have learned from my journey with Joe is to remind myself to treasure each day of relative calm. I need to hold on to each day of sunshine and take maximum enjoyment from the peace I can grab hold of. The children are happy right now, and we are very fortunate to be in the position we find ourselves. I am so aware it may not last; at the moment things are changing so quickly. For perspective I look at our trees in the wood. They are drawing their energy back from their leaves, ready for the darker months; they stand so unmoveable, so steady. This pandemic is a blink in their timeframe. I am grateful for any days of stability; I try to build up my strength and hope that looking back, this pandemic is only a short period of time for us too; I hope that looking back we see a period of time which became a turning point for us and the world, a turning point that changed things for all of us for the better.