This month, we focus on events that happened last month to The Girl, my daughter, who happens to have Down Syndrome (DS). We begin with how I lost her dog.
Mid-morning. I’d let the dogs out the back to do what dogs do when put out the back. A few minutes pass and then I let them both back in, or thought I did. I try some of the physiotherapy exercises I’ve been given to ease the path of my Parkinson’s, which takes about twenty minutes, during the practise of which I think I hear a dog in the front room barking at the postman as he comes up the path. This is quite normal.
I sit down for ten minutes and drink a cup of tea. Looking about me I see the older dog, Meggie, in her blanket close to my chair. This is normal too. She likes to stay close. I assume Wookie, The Girl’s dog, is asleep in the front room; she likes the comfort and the chance to watch as the world passes by outside. I decide the dogs should have a chew and call Wookie. I don’t hear her paws pattering along our tiled and hard-wood floors. I call; nothing. I whistle; nothing.
Fearing an accident, I run past the empty front room, upstairs all the way to the second floor. I check the library, the pool room, the second bathroom. I’m getting more frantic. I scan the front bedroom, the back bedroom, The Girl’s room, the main bathroom even. My sang froid has upped and gone. Down to the ground floor. Front room again, middle room, toilet, dining room; The Girl’s play-room, kitchen, and utility room. Nothing. I think I can’t have let Wookie back in so I go out the back and search. Nothing. The garden gate is closed so she can’t have escaped that way. (Can she?) She’s not in the shed or the garage. Maybe, in my haste, I had missed her lying dead? I start again. This time in the utility room, working my way up each floor room by room. All the while I’m calling her name, “WOOKIE!!”. I search in, on, and under everything. I close each door behind me once each room is cleared. I open up wardrobes – as if the little dog could have climbed in and closed the door after herself; and then died. No sound, no sight of her.
I sit down in the kitchen and pull out my mobile. Logically, I tell myself, I must not have let her in from the back and someone from a dog fighting gang has seen the opportunity, come in via the side gate, and stolen her as bait. “Yes, that’s what happened.” I wonder how I am going to tell The Boss and The Girl that I had lost Wookie without even leaving the house. I am dialling 101 (police) when I realise that I haven’t checked the front porch. I put the call on hold and rush through the house hoping to find her – full of renewed hope! But she’s not there. Belatedly, I wander down the front path, the gate is secure. Whoever stole her had shut both the gates behind them. Turning, I walk back up the path. Looking up, I see the dog, on the balcony of the front bedroom! Our house is up for sale and we’d had a viewing yesterday. The estate agent must have pulled the balcony door to but not bolted it. From within, it looks as it always does – closed. The dog must have pushed it open and the wind slammed it shut behind her. I hadn’t thought to check the balcony. (Well it’s always locked shut you see!) I thank my lucky stars that I’d thought to check the porch. What if I’d made the call to the police? Imagine how I’d have felt when the officer came to the door:
Police: “Sir, you’ve reported a dog theft, by a dog-fighting syndicate you say. Please walk this way sir.” [S/he walks down the path away from the front door, turns around and looks up at the front bedroom balcony above the door.]
Me: “If I walk that way I’ll get arrested.”
Police: “Very droll sir. [S/he points upwards.] Would that be the animal in question sir? Now, can we have a few words about wasting police time…”
Calm once again, I collect The Girl from her Primary School for a visit to ‘Big’ (Secondary) school. As part of the application process for the Autumn 2017, Year 7 intake, we have been invited to tour the facilities and meet the Deputy Head, the Special Needs Co-ordinator (the ‘SENCo’), and other members of the Learning Support Team. This is a big deal for us. We believe that The Girl should attend her local Secondary school alongside her typically-developing peers, with support, rather than a Special school miles away. We are given a tour of the class-rooms, the canteen, the library, and the nurture rooms. We meet four other teachers, two in passing, as it were, and two more who have stayed behind specifically to meet The Girl.
The SENCo and her colleagues sit The Girl down and tell her all about: the school day; how the building is configured; how lunch works; that she would generally have one of four members of staff supporting her (one of whom we meet – he will soon be visiting The Girl at her Primary school); that the Nurture Room is used to deal with emotions and feelings; etc. They also draw our daughter out (not that she needs much drawing-out, she is eyes-wide-open excited and full of questions) and tell her about all the activities the school offers. Cue one entranced child. We are told that the SENCo and another member of staff yesterday attended a day long course about how kids with DS best learn.
All this evident preparation and attention for a little girl who may (‘probably’, we hope) be joining the school in a year’s time is impressive and I say as much. Then I ask whether she thinks the school will be ready for The Girl. It is a serious question and the SENCo takes it as such. But she cannot hide her delight: “your daughter will be the FIRST pupil with Down Syndrome EVER to come here! There WILL be a culture shock for the school and I think that will be no bad thing! And we have arranged that [the Wales Manager of the DS Association] will come and give a talk to the staff and pupils”. The SENCo insists that we come to tomorrow’s Open Night.
Twenty-four hours pass. The Open Night is very well organised. We visit class-rooms, view experiments, and meet staff There are hundreds of parents and kids attending. We make our way to the Main Hall, where some of the junior choir give us a little rendition, and the Head Teacher, Head of Music, Head of Lower school and Deputy Head each gave a talk. I absolutely believe them when they explain that they are about getting each and every child to be his or her best. Teachers too are expected to continue deepening their knowledge and improving their performance. Even the discipline policy (there has to be one for such a large school) is based on principles of learning and dignity.
Anyway, the Hall empties at the end of the event and the Head, the Deputy Head, Head of Lower school, and a few other teachers and parents are left chatting. We introduce The Girl to the Head and then thank the Deputy. Our daughter spots the microphone the staff had been using, takes it out of its stand and clambers up onto the stage with it. I am mortified. (You’ll have gathered that I’m a tad retentive.) So here she is, the first little girl with DS ever to come here (if she gets in), on the stage, watched by the most senior school staff, smiling at us all, and saying “sit down everyone [we sit], I’m going to sing you a little song”; at which point she pointed and wagged her right index finger at the Deputy Head and said “you’ll play the piano”. [Good-natured laughter from watching staff.] The Deputy Head does as instructed, with great grace, and lets rip with something akin to ‘chopsticks’. She gets into quite a funky groove.
The Girl then sings about her friend Cxxxx and how they will be in the same school again when our daughter gets to Year 7 next year. After about a minute I jump onto the stage and say “come on then, time to go”. She replies “not until you sing too dad”. Dying inside, I sing “thank you Mrs Deputy Head, for letting us sing these songs, and for playing the piano, but now it’s time to go”. The girl grins broadly as we leave the stage, and she thanks everyone for coming.
An hour later, back at home and with a glass of wine to hand, I say to The Boss “you know that I was totally out of my comfort zone back there. I wanted to stop her, it wasn’t any part of my expectation that she would sing on an open microphone to the Head, whilst wagging her finger – SHE WAGGED HER FIINGER!!! – at the Deputy head…”. I take a breath, then continue: “…but I’m glad now that I didn’t try to stop her. She proved to the staff that she is funny and has a lovely nature; that she can get up and perform; that they will have a real character to work with. What’s more, she was true to herself, wasn’t she? That’s who our girl is. Only I was fretting. The professional educators in the room were probably already thinking that she has real presence and will be able to add value when (if) she arrives”.
I had learned a lesson about letting go, and trusting our daughter to be herself. Because being herself is more than all right. And I hope all our readers are content at this festive time that being themselves is good too: merry christmas!