Do you know that quote? There’s a chance you might associate it with American presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton and her 1996 book of the same title, but in fact it comes from an Igbo and Yoruba (Nigeria) proverb and has a sentiment that is echoed by numerous other African sayings. It recognises the great value of having community involvement in a child’s upbringing, not just for the child and immediate family, but for the extended family and local community too. As I have mentioned so many times before, we are incredibly fortunate to have an amazing community surrounding us, who are unbelievably supportive, and none more so than our fantastic village school.
Since day one, when G first headed in through their gates, we knew that this was a place that would offer our children not just a great education, but also a safe and secure place to grow and develop, all within walking distance of our home. The children have had the opportunity to build strong friendships with others living nearby that will hopefully continue into their teenage years and beyond. In the 2 years that M has been there, we’ve seen time and time again just how invaluable the school community is, not just to M, but to G and to Mike and me too. The impact of M’s ever-changing health has been particularly profound in the last couple of years and there is no doubt in my mind that the unfailing support of their school has been a steadying force for us all.
Without the readiness of the Head and other key members of staff to accommodate M and all his needs, we would have struggled to keep his education a priority this year and I doubt I would have been able to continue working. Their willingness to have M in school as normal and to learn the intricacies of his NG-tube and feeding regime has allowed me to stay in my job, confident in the fact that this is a group of people dedicated to including M in every planned activity and who have taken on that intense in loco parentis responsibility without a second thought. This year in particular has tested their mettle with the demands of not just feeding tubes and complex allergy requirements, but of occupational therapy, dyspraxia and dyslexia added to the mix too. His teacher, Mrs M, has been amazing and she approaches every new challenge with great positivity and an unparalleled sense of humour. Even the minor hiccups encountered along the way – non-stop beeping, blocked tubes, leaking pumps and soaking wet clothes to name but a few – haven’t derailed her and that attitude has helped M cope remarkably well with all the changes this year has thrown at him. I cannot thank her enough for being the rock that M has needed during school hours.
Equally, Miss K, G’s lovely Year 6 teacher has been a real blessing to us as a family and to G in particular. She has encouraged G every step of the way and helped build her confidence throughout the year. M’s hospital stay in December was difficult for G as he and I disappeared off to London for 2 weeks and couldn’t be around to help celebrate her 11th birthday or enjoy the end of term build-up to Christmas. What made a big difference was Miss K, who was fully aware of all that was going on, made herself available to G whenever necessary, understood that emotions were high and made allowances when needed, and stayed in regular e-mail contact with me during our stay and also during the Christmas holidays, so she was as prepared for where things stood with M as the rest of us. She is moving on from the school at the end of this term and I, for one, will miss her, especially as I was hoping she would be M’s teacher for his Year 6 year.
It’s not just the teaching staff who have done their utmost to give us the support we depend on, but the parents and children too and this past week I was left speechless by the thoughtfulness and compassion of M’s class. Following his presentation during EGID awareness week, this group of enthusiastic 9 year-olds discussed different ways they could support him and focused their attention on the fact that he has to wear a backpack all morning, which contains his pump and his “food”. This is what happened next:
“We decided, as a class, that we would all wear a backpack for a morning so that we are able to understand a little of what M has to go through each day. Therefore, on Friday 10th July, it would be great if all of 4M could wear their backpack to school and keep it on for the whole morning! If you can make it weigh about 2 and a half kilograms that will be amazing as that is the weight that M carries around each day.”
On Friday I had the privilege of going into school to see this amazing group plus teacher and teaching assistants with their backpacks on and to express my thanks, not just to the children, but to Mrs M and the school for encouraging and allowing them to show their support in this tangible way. His classmates have adapted well to M’s tube and accept it as an essential part of him. They’ve asked questions and been interested in the whys and wherefores about it and then just forgotten all about it and carried on with day-to-day life, which is exactly what M has needed.
There have also been shows of support from parents, including one from a Mum I’d never met before and doubt I’d recognise again. We were travelling back home late from our last GOSH appointment after a long, hot day in London and arrived back at our local train station. As we reached the stairs of the railway bridge, I became aware of a fellow passenger catching up with us and smiled with her as she chuckled at the inane chatterings of my night-owl. I paused to let her go past, but she slowed her pace to match mine and started an unexpected conversation:
“I just wanted to tell you that my children are at the same school as your son and came home and told us all about his presentation. They both raved about how amazing it was and how much they had learned from watching it and asking him questions. I just wanted to tell you how impressed they both were, especially as they now understand a little more of what he’s having to cope with and we all think he’s incredibly brave.”
The conversation carried on until we reached our cars and said a quiet good-night. This for me is the advantage of having not just a child who stands out from the crowd because of his tube, but also a community who is brave enough to have the confidence to speak out words of encouragement to a near-stranger because of a shared experience and the desire to add their voice to offer support.
From helping take G to school early in the morning to having my tubie home for tea; and from working hard with M to improve his handwriting to encouraging G to reach her potential and aim for the stars, our school, its outstanding teachers and the families who go there have helped us out along the way. This academic year has been a tough one, but we’ve survived all the bumps in the road with the loving support of the truly exceptional community that we live in.