School is not a subject I find easy to talk about - and my son Brody doesn't even go yet. He's 4 and a half years old and should have started this new school year, but we chose to defer him so that he'll start next year.
For me, school is a significant milestone and another one of those doses of reality that pop up once in a while to remind you that life isn't quite straight forward - like birthdays, Christmas and important hospital appointments. I struggle to talk to anyone about it without getting teary eyed, so with a year of TAC meetings and a lengthy school application coming up, I need to find my best game face and channel some SEND mum PMA!
When Brody was born we didn't know that he had disabilities. I imagined us walking to school together and me chatting to the other mum's at the gate. I imagined he'd have a best friend and would come home and tell me about what he had learnt. Maybe he'd do that thing where they take home the class teddy bear for the weekend and we'd write about their adventures. I had a vision of him starting school with my friend's children, who had babies at the same time as me. We'd go and watch them in class assemblies and Christmas plays together. I guess I imagined a whole different future. One that was disability free.
A year or two ago, I believed that maybe this might still be possible. Maybe I pinned too much hope on nursery working a miracle. Just like I had initially - maybe naively - thought that speech and language would magically make him talk or occupational therapy would have him blowing out birthday candles (I hate birthday candles).
The truth is Brody has come on leaps and bounds since starting nursery. They have worked really hard with him and there has been lovely progress. I have a list on my phone month by month of the past 2 years with his achievements big and small (you should do this). From stepping up a curb unaided to signing "more". Nursery has been wonderful and I am truly grateful to them, as I once thought I'd never feel comfortable leaving him with anyone. Best. Nursery. Ever.
Unfortunately though, Brody is still primarily undiagnosed with severe Global Development Delay (and other disabilities) and nothing will alter that fact. So here we are, about to start the school application process and it is now without a doubt that he won't be able to go to a mainstream school. And although I love him with all my heart and wouldn't change a single hair on his perfect head, I still feel sad about it. There will be no walk to the local school. Instead there will be a school taxi or bus to another village because our local school can't accommodate his needs.
I visited the school that he will hopefully go to last year. It seemed nice. Everyone seemed happy. But it was very quiet. It just wasn't school as I know it. And that's just something I need to come to terms with. I listened to the head teacher talk and kept that game face on really well (honestly, I'm quite good at it if no one gives me an empathetic look or asks if I'm okay). Then I got to the car park and those annoying hot tears started to flow. You know the ones that just won't stop.
Being a mum to a child with disabilities, and having some friends who have children with life limiting syndromes, I truly know how fragile life can be. I think all SEND mums do. And when I take a step back from the what ifs, I recognise how lucky I am that Brody is able to go to school. And I am so thankful. I'm sure he will enjoy it too. This is what is important. And this is what I need to focus on.
School is a special milestone for every child. Maybe we won't be walking the same typical path as everyone else, but we'll be walking our own special one. Hopefully we will meet some friends on our journey. It's always a great tonic meeting others who walk similar paths.
Brody will learn, continue to amaze us and make us proud. Brody will make friends. And Brody will have fun.
So I'm going to take a deep breath.
Put that game face on.
School application... here we come.
This post originally appeared and was written for Family Fund.