I got it wrong again...
Updated: Apr 6, 2019
A friend asked us to come to her barbecue. She is more than a friend really, she’s one of those excellent people that texts every couple of months suggesting we meet for breakfast with the proviso that the cafe must also serve cake. We meet, we eat and we roar with laughter about our utter ridiculousness. We discuss the best and the worst bits of our lives in an atmosphere of total support and non-judgement and then we slither off back to our lairs until the next time. Last time we met I accidentally made her snort tea through her nose. That, and some graphically strong language means that we may not be welcomed back to those particular tea rooms. A couple of hours with her makes me giggle for a week.
This wasn’t really a barbecue, it was a statement of intent. I might have been the only one there who knew it. My friend is making some huge changes in her life and I, hovering around in the cheap seats, applaud her. It was important that I went.
I took the family. I had briefed Number 1 Son but it was clear from the outset that he was not sold on the idea. ‘Why do we have to go, Mummy?’ I tried to explain that parties are fun. No dice. He can’t bear being with people that he does not know. It is confusing and over-whelming. It was a beautiful sunny day but he is over-sensitive to light so that wasn’t a plus either. I couldn’t sell it to him on the basis of the food, as the few things he eats taste different on the barbecue. Different is not good. Ever. We settled on the fact that it was important to my friend and, as he is a kind boy who likes to help people, he reluctantly agreed to go.
Armed with his i-pad and a large hat, he bravely installed himself in the front of the parent-wagon while I put on his favourite music. By the time we reached the barbecue garden he had tears in his eyes and when the second person asked if he would like the music turned down, he lost it completely. We scuttled to the back of the garden so his shouting and crying could attract the minimum audience.
I felt awful. I had made him come, knowing full-well that he would not enjoy it. There were a hundred reasons not to go and only one reason to go. I wanted him to be there because it was important to someone else and so I inflicted the occasion on him. When he was a toddler and non-verbal he would have gone into total meltdown. Now that he is older and can speak, that which assaults him hurts him just as much and yet so much more is expected of him. I feel that he can handle more so, once a flood, I do make him come with me to the odd event. He feels awful, I feel awful and I wonder why the hell I have put him through it.
Husband went into sociable-mode and chatted to people on all our behalves. Small Daughter found the crisps and someone to arrange them into the shape of a person and declared it the best party ever. Number 1 Son and I looked deep into each other’s eyes, talked of happy things and typed an extensive list of things to take on our holiday. We remained glued to our chairs for the duration.
We lasted until there was 5% charge left on the i-pad and then, with a firm snap of the cover, it was time to go home. We left while some other people were arriving.
But we all survived. My friend was really touched that we had come and by the time we had got home and Number 1 Son had piled his plate high with carbohydrates, he had recovered. Small Daughter has no concept of time so we could have been there for ten minutes or ten hours and she would have been equally fine.
I have to let it be OK. For years I turned down everything on the basis that it was painful and impossible and my life shrunk to the point of suffocation.
I don’t ever want to go back there. I just can’t. I am so sorry my baby.
Martha Smith Parent Advocate is a supportive blog focusing on the challenges and wins of parenting children with additional needs. Based in Hampshire Martha runs workshops for schools and other education providers in Surrey, London & Hampshire on how to encourage children with additional needs to thrive in education.