We’ve had two primary school graduations in two years and despite the venue and the table decorations being exactly the same I’m not sure it’s possible for them to be more different.
At the end of 2017 I was quite happy in the lead up to William’s graduation. I am usually a reluctant shopper but I relished the opportunity to dress up my shorts-and-t-shirt loving boy. He looked so handsome and I felt really proud to be in his company, celebrating this milestone with him. But then we got there and I realised that because most of his friends were in the year below, he didn’t really have any close friends to celebrate with. This also meant that we didn’t really know any of the parents. I started to feel isolated and out of place. The other parents at our table didn’t help matters by immediately rearranging our place settings so that they could all sit together down one end of the table leaving Mike, Will and I stranded at the other end. I understood that they were friends and wanted to enjoy their evening but it still hurt that we didn’t have our own friends to celebrate with.
I was trying to be resilient. I reminded myself that this event was not about me or my feelings. Then the awards were being handed out and I couldn’t help but feel sad knowing that William wasn’t anywhere near close to getting an award. Before you all shout me down, I know that not everyone can win awards. Believe me, I know! I don’t need my children to win awards. I know how hard they both work and I’m proud of their efforts regardless of the outcome. I guess it just hurt that despite his hard work and his great attitude, he would never be in contention for those awards. It only added to my sense of isolation, of otherness, of not belonging. And it made me scared for his future. What would become of this awesome but quirky kid?
My daughter’s graduation was just last week and like everything else with these two kids, this experience could not have been more different. Firstly, she was excited to get dressed up. Rachael loves to shop. She jumped at the chance to spend her father’s hard earned money, choosing a dress, shoes, jewellery and hair style with joyful anticipation. She got to sit at a table with some of her best school friends, whose parents are lovely and didn’t shun Mike and I to the far end of the table. And not that it’s even close to the most important part of the night but we actually had some great conversations with some truly lovely people. I didn’t once feel excluded or isolated or other or less than. Rach did win an award which of course made us proud. But more important to me was the fact that she was a contender. It was a possibility. I’m not afraid for this girl, for her future. I don’t know where life will take her but I’m quietly confident that good things are coming her way.
I’m probably always going to have raw emotions around the differences between my children’s experiences of the world. I’m probably always going to be slightly more afraid for William than I am for Rachael. I think it’s just part of parenting neurologically diverse kids. I think I’m actually getting pretty good at processing all of these different emotions. That’s not a challenge, by the way.
I want to add two things before I go. The first is that William has exceeded all of our expectations in his first year of high school. Yes, it’s been a bumpy ride but he has come through it all with grace and maturity. He’s received lots of encouragement and even a few awards. His school recognises the efforts of both mainstream and special needs kids. And while I don’t need or expect him to win awards it’s nice to know that it’s a possibility. Which brings me to my last thought…I sent an email to the kids’ primary school regarding the idea of an award for those kids who might have a disability but who also overcome their challenges with hard work and a great attitude. I haven’t heard back yet. But whether or not they think it’s a good idea I know that I feel better for having suggested it.
PS We ordered William a meal off the menu because it was easier than explaining that he wouldn’t eat it. So Mike and I got to eat a little extra each, such is our sacrificial love for our son. ;)
PPS We have been blessed to have some truly wonderful teachers educating our children. If you taught either of our children at either of the two schools that they have attended during their primary school years then we want to say thank you very much for helping shape these two children into the excellent young adults that they are becoming.
PPPS Thanks also to the high school teachers who have helped to make William’s first year as smooth as possible. Love your work. See you all again next year.