Parent Space

I am back at school this morning again, taking Joshua in with me but I will be there for the parent coffee morning. I was busy last night baking a victoria sponge and a chocolate cake and I have made some cheese straws this morning, and another Mum is bringing some homemade sausage rolls, so there should be something for everyone. I never know who might come and so it is hard to judge how much to bake, but I do know that I have plenty of enthusiastic volunteers , both at school and my office, for any leftovers , so nothing ever goes to waste.

We have a smart new space at school to meet in, I was given a tour of it when I was in school on Wednesday. Joshua’s school has grown considerably since he joined 8 years ago and they moved into a brand new purpose-made building. Back then it was spacious and shiny new, but now 8 years on , the building is bursting at the seams. The number of pupils has grown considerably to many more than the building was designed to hold, so much so that there are now two classes off-site, to be able to offer new starters an appropriate education, when our school really should have turned them away as there was no room.

Our coffee morning has always been held in a meeting room at the far end of the school, overlooking the senior playground. But that has not been ideal as parents have had to be escorted through the school as they arrive and then back to reception if anyone needed to use the toilet facilities. With the expansion in pupil numbers, staff numbers have increased and so there has been more need for administrative staff. Those staff have been squeezed into a range of ad hoc spaces, but there was always a plan to create a space for all of the admin staff to be grouped together in one area of the school. So offices  has been created out of a wasted space under the stairs and a new meeting room has been created behind reception, which should be a lot easier for parent events. We will see how it works out today for our first coffee morning in the new space. My initial observation is that there is no running water or kettle there, and so we will be more reliant on school staff organising flasks of boiling water for us, but I am sure we can work with that. It is still a new, bare room but I was assured that it will be decorated with pupil’s artwork soon and it still needs a blind for some privacy from reception. They are hoping that parents will be able to wait for their children there when they pick them up at the end of the day too, rather than loitering in the corridor.

I am excited to christen the new meeting room with our first coffee morning in there, so I hope that many parents will come to take a look and stay a while to chat and share.

Let them eat cake

I took Joshua into school yesterday as I was having my second ‘school day’ of the week. We arrived with our music blaring out and the windows down, as it was sunny morning, so Joshua was happy. He rushed upstairs without a backwards glance, keen to get on with his busy school day. I was fulfilling my role as school governor in the morning, monitoring how their new reading programme was being implemented across the school ,so I went in a range of Junior classes to observe and to speak to the staff. It was an interesting and fun morning, that flew by.

I then met my sister for lunch and then we both came back to school for my afternoon Mental Health session with parents. I had chosen a loose theme of grief/loss to  discuss, as it seemed relevant at this point in time. There were just seven of us in total, which was a perfect number for everyone to have a say and for people to show their more vulnerable sides with confidence too. I was pleased with how the discussion went and of course we had general chat over cake too, so it was not all doom and gloom. I love how ,when I set these  groups up years ago, I thought that I was offering support to other parents. But more recently, they have been supporting me with friendship, rather than just being the other way around. That means, for me,  that the group works well as it is not just a one way street, which it probably was at the beginning. I was amused at their confidence in my ability to provide home-baked goodies, so much so that some did not have any lunch, just to leave room for my baking.

These groups do not happen overnight, it takes time for people to feel comfortable and confident. I really hope that they will be my legacy at school once Joshua leaves next year and that they will continue to grow from strength to strength.  We will have a whole new crop of new parents from September and hopefully some of them will join us. I think that the baking was the initial incentive for parents to come along, but now I think it is the support that brings them along, hopefully the home-baking is just a bonus and that being the case,  it should continue on after my time. Alternatively, I have a year to hand over some of my favourite recipes and to encourage a culture of home-baking to anyone who was willing to learn. Perhaps next year we could meet in the cookery room, create and then eat what has been made as part of our transition?

Reap what you Sow

Around four years ago now, I suggested to Joshua’s Special School that I set up a monthly Coffee morning for parents. As most of our children are transported to school by taxi or bus, we do not automatically have the opportunity to meet other parents at the school gates,as happens at mainstream schools. So the coffee morning was designed to be an opportunity to be a safe, friendly space where parents of children with special needs could share , or forget, their problems for one morning every month. Over the years many parents have come and gone, but there is now a core of parents who I consider to be friends as we know what is going on in each other’s lives and we are in contact , mainly on social media, in between coffee mornings.

All this time, I thought that I had set up the event to support other parents, to offer them a safe place once a month. I learnt yesterday that I need, and benefit from, that support too. I realised that, despite grieving, I wanted to see my friends and I needed to call upon their support. I wanted to show that I could still function, that I was able to bring homemade short bread, cheese straws, cheesecake and brownies to the table. In exchange, I asked for several hugs, which I received. They took their lead from me, so I had said that I would not wish to talk about Mum , but at one point yesterday we were talking about cremation and sharing ash-scattering stories. I was given the benefit of experience from other parents there who had lost their parents and I just felt surrounded by warmth and concern, which made me smile rather than cry.

As well as our coffee morning, school was welcoming new parents too, those whose children would be joining the school in September. I showed my face at their meeting and was introduced as someone who does ” amazing baking” every month and I donated some samples to their event. I would like to think that those new parents will also in time, benefit from the warmth of the group. I am hoping that this positive support group will continue long after Joshua and I have left the school next summer and if so, that would be a legacy that I would be very proud of. I was asked yesterday if I would come back sometimes when Joshua has left, to tell them about how life is beyond school and I joked that I could be an occasional guest speaker. Joshua is now the oldest pupil in that coffee morning group, so many of those with teenagers, are eager to see how we fare in the big bad world of Adult Services and hopefully they could learn from our mistakes or experiences. I had thought that I would leave them to continue on after next year, as it needs a new leader, but after the support that I received yesterday, I realised that I will want to continue to visit occasionally, as a guest, and rather than feeling awkward as I had feared, I think it will feel like a natural thing to do.

End of term entertainment

Tomorrow it will be my final parent coffee morning in school, and it will be the ninth one as we started back in November. I am still reeling from the fact that it is the end of term really, how quickly has this academic year flown by? Joshua has one more year as a Senior and then he will be a sixth former!! My own school days felt like eternal time and I wonder if Joshua feels the same?  I am hoping for a good turnout as the coffee morning  falls on the last day of term, but the recent good weather may deter attendance- who wants to sit in a stuffy school room when you can be enjoying the sunshine in your garden? So I have made enquiries as to whether or not there is an outside space we could migrate into if the weather continues to be kind?

At first I asked if we could place picnic rugs in a corner of the playground and not be too much in the way. But at playtime, the children, quite rightly, have the run of their open space and most of them will need it to let off steam on the last day of term, and our presence there could be a problem for some. So the headteacher suggested an alternative area and now we are hoping to have access to one of the class’s gardens, attached to their classroom. I have made these investigations as the week has got hotter and hotter, it is bound to be cooler or wet tomorrow, but at least we are prepared for a picnic-style gathering if the summer is kind all week long!

Joshua has been worn out by this spell of hot weather, he has been droopy at school and after tea at home, has curled up to go to sleep at home early in the evening. So he may not be impressed that tonight, at 5.30 he will be taken back to school to dance the night away at the school disco. We have gone every year that Joshua has attended this school and it is a fun event when we usually see the same families there, both pupils’ families and some of the staff’s too. Joshua may not survive all two hours but I feel that we should support these social occasions as much as we can, or else we risk losing them, as they will not be sustainable.

Coffee, cake and chatter

Today is the penultimate Parent Coffee morning of this academic year, so I have been busy baking last night and this morning to tempt more parents with homemade treats. I never know how many parents will attend so it is always tricky to judge how many cakes to prepare. What I do know is that there is usually a small queue of staff at midday to gather up any leftovers, so there has never been any waste so far.

I have been trying to recruit new visitors over the last couple of weeks and I hope to take some photographs today for the school website and noticeboard. Many mums that I have spoken to have felt intimidated by the concept of a coffee morning and walking into an imagined room full of strangers. So I want to show that we are friendly and informal, as well as not such a large crowd that feels overwhelming when you know nobody. Several of the mothers that I have called on the telephone have described themselves as being ‘anti-social’, which is rather sad. I wonder if they have always had that personality or if it is as a result of parenting a child with special needs that has lead them to withdraw, to become shrinking violets? We feel different to ‘normal’ parents and face different challenges, but that is something that we all have in common even though our children’s disabilities are so varied.

We usually cover a wide range of topics and I am sure that this morning’s referendum result will be discussed today and I am expecting to hear some wide ranging views. I have explained that the discussions are not all doom and gloom, special needs parents all feling victimised and alone. It is quite the opposite, the debates are helpful and often empowering and advice is regularly shared. There has been talk of extending the group beyond daytime coffee to a night out together, so let’s see how that idea progresses today.

I am looking forward to this morning, so had better get a wriggle on…..

Review of my blogging year

By next weekend, I will have been writing this blog for a full year, which seems incredible to me. On the year anniversary, coincidentally I will be staying with the friend who gave me that push to start my blog, so that is timely. We were idly chatting one day about all the rich experiences that I felt that I had picked up over Joshua’s 15 year life and what I wished I had known when I started my journey, when she suggested that I write a blog, and the idea stuck.

I am able to see that over the last 51 weeks, I have made 360 posts in total – who knew that I had that much to say?? There have been 4339 visitors to my blog site over that time, which is an incredible number and that is an exciting prospect. I have been moved by the comments that I have received from strangers over the last year, who clearly feel like they know Joshua now, through my writing. I feel proud to think back on just two ‘rants’ over the course of the year, which is remarkable considering what Joshua faces on a daily basis.

More recently the website has asked my to categorise my themes, which  also gives a good indication of my priorities in life :  they all have the overall theme of parenting and disability, but below that my most frequent theme has revolved around ‘eating out’, which clearly dominates my early morning thinking. Then I have written about ‘friendship’ 21 times and then ‘humour’ and ‘respite’ 20 times.

It was our 7th parent coffee morning at school yesterday and it was the best attended so far – at one stage I thought that we might run out of chairs and mugs! There were some new faces who joined us, which is great, so it is starting to grow. But it covered most of my blog themes as we are all parents of children with a disability; we mostly eat cake – although  there was a bid for more healthy eating with one mum bringing punnets of strawberries in to share to comply with her new diet, although we joked about me serving carrot sticks and celery instead of cheesecake and victoria sponge! New friendships are being fostered, it represents a brief moment of respite from daily routine and a lot of laughter is exchanged too over the course of the morning, as well as good advice, parent to parent. I really hope that it grows from strength to strength and that ultimately we outgrow the school meeting room.