Raised in Kent, I graduated from The University of Birmingham in 1999. I then travelled around Europe, living and working in the Czech Republic before going to Sydney for a year and then Sweden for three years. I now live in the UK as the mother of three young children and a secondary school English teacher.
When you’re young, I think you think that by the time you’re, say, 36, you’ll have it all figured out: love, family, money, career, that important fundamental kind of stuff. Not necessarily all perfect, white-picket-fence sorted, but perhaps at least a muddy-brown splintered gate sorted.
As I stand and watch two grown men tighten straps, fasten belts and anchor harnesses to secure my daughter’s wheelchair into the adapted minibus now required to transport her to school, my stomach turns. It is not an unfamiliar sensation.
As a child, New Year’s Eve was my absolute favourite time of the year, more exciting by far than my birthday or Christmas. Every year we would go to stay with my aunt, uncle and cousins, and New Year’s Eve would be a family party full of silliness, too much food, and brilliantly awful indoor fireworks. I loved it.
Well, I was right. Mostly right. As predicted, today was messy. Hannah played Mary, ‘Purple’ class played green aliens, 80 other immensely special (in the ‘unique’ and ‘brilliant’ sense of the word) children played stars, angels, donkeys, sheep, kings and shepherds, and I, you’ve guessed it, wept.
I like to think that I am generally a realistic, feet-on-the-ground, faces-the truth kind of a person. Since the initial shock of diagnosis wore off, I have imagined that I am facing the reality of my daughter’s condition in an informed and educated manner. But actually, I’m not. I’m in denial. And never has that been clearer to me than this evening.
In a few days’ time, I will be playing at single parenting for approximately 89 hours. It’s a daunting prospect in many ways, not least because I am increasingly unable to carry the six-year-old up or down the stairs, and because there is not a buggy in existence which can be pushed once they’re all in it.
When Hannah was nine months old and bedtime was proving a struggle, I dutifully read my Gina Ford, watched Supernanny, and asked every parent I knew who didn’t seem entirely sleep deprived, how you get a child to fall asleep without lying next to them. ‘Controlled crying’, came the resounding answer.