Before Claudia started school I started freaking out a little bit.
She went to Kindy in Ngongotaha, Rotorua – then after we moved to Geraldine went to the Geraldine Kindy.
In Rotorua she had the support of Tracey, in Geraldine it was Mary.
We couldn’t have had better people.
It all went swimmingly with warm and welcoming staff , families who smiled at us and children who took her dragging her walking frame around behind her in their stride.
Claudia played happily alongside others and thrived with the excitement and action all around.
It all felt sweet and safe and as her fifth birthday and school loomed I began to get anxious.
It was then I was told one of the things which has certainly proved true.
A wise and wonderful woman with many years in the disability sector told me it was the seven year times I’d need to prepare myself for. And she was so right.
School was not so traumatic (well actually, it was, but only because the first school we went to had it’s own massive issues and attitudes which made the whole sorry thing toxic – but that’s a whole other story!)
No, in terms of Claudia fitting in or managing the day the transition was not the problem.
It was the “normal” growing up going on around her.
Until she was seven her disabilities had been largely camouflaged by her peers.
They played beside her, swarming around in a jumble of enthusiastic indifference to difference.
But by seven some of them were reading well beyond the “star word” recognition she could manage. The playground games had become complex , friendships complicated and there was a chasm where all the differences between her and everyone else were massive and obvious.
The same thing happened at 14. High school starts in Year 7 in a country district, so despite our fears about the new “big” location, the transition to High School went well because she transitioned with everyone from Primary School.
In addition she started with the support of one of her Teacher Aids from Primary School.
(This was a coup , happened on a bit of a technicality with the support of our Primary School and was the very best thing that could have happened. The problem of transition was never going to be Claudia, as far as we were concerned – it was going to be High School staff not knowing her and not understanding what she was saying. We knew she’d be fine as along as she was with people she knew and who knew her. But again, transitioning is another whole story)
But 14, puberty and the distractions that go with that was another time when the gap between Claudia and her peers became painfully apparent. It’s hard to see your child so very different again from everyone else and the massive change adolescence brings.
The times in between are largely routine, but those seven year ages really are the hardest.
In between the little core of girls with caring parents have made a point of continuing to be interested in and kind to Claudia. Every year for her birthday we would invite all the girls in her class to a party and in return she would be invited to the odd party.
The physical separation from those other girls that occurred at High School (because High School had a Learning Support Unit) was a loss we all felt.
The next one is 21 ; the very age she’s required to leave school in New Zealand and will be moved into her adult life – whatever that will look like.
The seven year thing turned out to be totally right.
I’m glad I was warned.
So I’ll pass it on ; be aware of those ages ~ 7,14,21.
As parents we’ll possibly mourn all over again as our children are left in the wake of ordinary kids storming ahead with their exciting lives. The gap can feel so wide at those times. But as my Dad used to say ‘this too shall pass”
And it does.