There are a few phrases that have started to stick in my throat since Boo’s birth. I’ve blogged about one of my pet hates before when I explained why I find it hard to ‘take each day as it comes’. Another that really yanks my chain is one I haven’t heard for a while now, but which is circling round my head endlessly at the moment: ‘Sorry, my crystal ball is broken.’
It’s a phrase that I heard a lot once upon a time, not so long ago. It was in many ways the signature note of the early months of Boo’s life. In my blind fear and panic following his brain bleeds, then the PVL diagnosis, then the likelihood of a cerebral palsy diagnosis and after the onset of infantile spasms, I often used to ask questions after Boo’s future.
‘What does this mean for him?’
‘Will he be able to walk?’
‘Do you think he will be cognitively impaired?’
‘Will he lose skills?’
‘Will he be able to talk to me?’
There were others, too. It’s still a bit too painful to write them all down.
The answer was always a variation on a theme. ‘Harumph’; ‘You got me there;’ ‘Who knows?’; ‘How long is a piece of string?’, or my least favourite, ‘Sorry, my crystal ball is broken.’
I don’t ask those questions any more, although I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t think about them all, and many others besides, every day. You see, I’m a planner. I like to map out possible futures for us all (I did this pre-Boo), so that I can be prepared, think ahead, have a strategy, make the best of things. It’s just not possible to do that with Boo. I realise that now.
But there’s another important difference that has moved my thinking on from the bad old days. Of course, I want Boo’s life to be a long, healthy and happy one. A life of cognitive and physical potential. But I don’t equate happiness with him being able to walk any more, or even being able to sit unsupported. Life is more complicated and beautiful than that.
And I realise now that one of the reasons I so hated hearing that everyone’s crystal ball was broken was not just because no one could give me any guarantees for the future, but because the very fact that I had asked those questions betrayed a certain naivety and even, perhaps, shallowness on my part. No one can predict Boo’s future; no more than they can predict mine. And even if they could, knowing whether or not he attends mainstream school or walk won’t tell us if that future is a satisfying one or not.
It took a long time, and I still live with my old thoughts quite a lot, but I have moved on. It feels good to type that.
But now, the tables have been reversed. Now I am the one being asked to look to the future and I don’t mind telling you that I’m finding it really unsettling. Really, really unsettling.
It has taken me a long time to adjust my sense of time. To reconfigure milestones as inchstones. To think about physical and cognitive goals not as something that should happen in the next 3 months, but hopefully, with the wind behind us, the next three years. I may still have a tendency to micro-manage the day-to-day (and always feel like I’ve not done enough), but the future is something that I have partly let go of. I have goals, hopes and dreams, but my horizon of expectation has shifted. It’s still there, but fuzzier along the edges and more distant.
This has been a herculean effort for me. So I find it very hard, as Boo approaches 2 (actual, not corrected) in April that consultants and others are asking me to plan ahead and make big decisions.
Statementing and schooling come up at many of our appointments now. And different pictures are being painted. Sometimes I hear of special schools, communication devices and a non-verbal future in which we have to wait to see the extent of cognitive disabilities emerge. From others, I hear he’s not disabled enough to go to the specialist schools that are very near us. That there is no concrete evidence of learning difficulties yet. That it’s not clear what would be the best environment for him.
Then there’s a pregnant pause…
‘What do you think, Mum?’ (Why no one can call me by my name is anyone’s guess.) And then: ‘What do you want for, Boo?’
Surely, what I want is irrelevant, I shout in my head. What he needs is what matters and, although I have strong feelings about various things (I know he understands everything we say to him, he does have some words and communicates with them, sounds, and in other, non-verbal ways), I don’t really know what he needs to maximise his potential, or more to the point, what institutions might be able to meet those needs.
It’s the same with Social Services. I am grateful that they are looking to offer us money to help contribute to the astronomical costs of making our house (the house we moved in before I was pregnant so that we could have a second child) accessible for Boo. But I can’t answer their questions. ‘So, do you think Boo will be able to walk up the stairs by the time he’s five?’ ‘Do you think he will be able to bath and toilet himself by the age of 8?’
I want to scream at them, or failing that to say what I have hated hearing so many times before: ‘Sorry, my crystal ball is broken.’
Don’t get me wrong. I am glad people are consulting us. And some clearly take our assessment of Boo very seriously. That hasn’t always happened. It’s nice that it does.
But let’s face it, I’m no clinician and although I would argue till I’m blue in the face that I know him best (I do!), I am not a healthcare or SEN professional with enough local or sector knowledge to know what out there in home adaptations or schooling is best for him. And let’s be frank about this. Even if I did, not much of this is in my control. Geographical luck and, what it always boils down to, money, will play a big part in all this. We are the parents of a child with additional needs. We just have fewer choices than most.
I feel in the dark. Newly infantilised in only a slightly different way than the way I felt after his birth. It’s difficult to process. And it’s disorienting having made this mental leap to Boo let’s-just-see-how-things-pan-out time, to planning mode.
We have our first TAC (or Team Around the Child Meeting) in March. It has taken 10 months to set up and I hope it will help to clarify some of my thinking about all this, although I am really not sure what to expect of the meeting and would greatly appreciate any advice anyone has on how to get the most out of such meetings.
I know that the statementing process should start in the next few months. It is frightening. I know there are opportunities, but I can’t help but feel that we are walking in the dark. He is so young. So much could change. So much will.
How on earth can I navigate the path ahead when I can’t even see it beneath my feet?