What happened to you on Tuesday? How about last Thursday? Or maybe 3 weeks ago? What did you do at the weekend? There are so many days we can’t recall. The I’m-just-getting-through-life-days. Routine. Run of the mill. Soon-forgotten days.
Then there are the days that linger. The days we might always remember. Special days. Exciting days. Terrible days. Days of celebration. Days of grieving. Days memorable for a specific reason, feeling, occasion. Today was one of those days.
It started off quite ordinarily, except that Laura wanted picking up to be taken to the doctor’s so I drove the two miles to her house, picked my way through the melee of cars as mum’s hurried their little ones into school and off we set to the doctor’s surgery.
Now the route took us within a hundred yards or so of our house and as we drove down the lane, through puddles and splashes and driving rain, I noticed a short huddled figure walking with purpose along the footpath. It was a particularly miserable grey day. The kind of day that makes you want to stay home and do some baking or sit down in front of a crackling fire with a good book and a mug of hot chocolate. Dressed in such gloom South Yorkshire does not put on a good show. I’m sure a Friday morning could never look quite so dull and dreary in the south of our green and pleasant land - Morwenstow, Devizes or Upton Snodsbury would turn their noses up at the mere suggestion. No, we seem to have a shade of grey that doesn’t exist on any colour chart anywhere else in the country. But I digress….
“Emily!” I shouted as I tapped Laura several times, “Emily, Emily….it’s Emily” By now Laura was wondering what the heck was going on. She nearly choked on the crumpets she’d sneaked into the car to scoff on the journey. I couldn’t get my words out. “Laura, Emily!” Sure enough, the figure walking up the path at the side of a busy road, was Emily.
There’s nobody with her!
In that moment my world seemed to freeze. My mouth went dry. My heart began to race. We were already 50 yards passed…..now a hundred. I couldn’t just stop, we were on a busy road with traffic right behind. And I shouldn’t want to stop. This was part of Emily’s travel training. There would be an occupational therapist nearby keeping an eye on her from a distance. Wouldn’t there?
“You’re not used to seeing that are you Dad!” Laura said.
“I’ve NEVER seen that” I replied, “in 22 years I’ve never seen that” and I must confess it was horrible. I dropped Laura at the doctor’s surgery and then drove back to where I knew Emily would be meeting her guide. Nobody there. I drove further and they were already together, on the way to the bus stop. Relief! Phew! Heart still pounding. But such a relief.
You see, Emily is so very capable in so many ways. She’s great at speaking, writing, dancing, singing, acting. She’s also really good at being grumpy, selfish, eating things not good for her and many other things besides. She’s particularly good at forgiving; making the first move to be friends after a fall out. And she can light up a room with a smile.
But she’s never been independent. She’s always been reliant on others. So when we heard of other people with Down’s syndrome having a door key, letting themselves in and out of the house, walking independently, catching a bus and making their own way to school at just 14 years of age we couldn’t quite believe it. I’m sure we’ve probably been part of the problem, limiting her instead of allowing a freedom to discover. But above all I have wanted to ensure that Emily is protected, that’s a natural part of being a parent. Finding the balance between protection and freedom is so hard for any parent with any child, but when the child has a learning disability? Really hard. And yes we’ve probably been over protective. But I’m not going to beat myself up over that!
So this day, Friday 14th November 2014, this day will be a day I shall never forget. This was the day I saw Emily taking her first real steps towards independence. There are many more steps still to come. Many more challenges lay ahead but we shall take one day at a time; we shall meet one challenge at a time. We shall celebrate when things go well and we shall learn lessons when things don’t go quite as we had planned. However, I know that Emily is capable of so much. She has a lot of self-belief and determination. She’s an adult; a woman.
I’m learning just as much as Emily through this and I’ve so much yet to discover. The greatest fear I have is learning to trust and let her go.