In just under a year, you will go to school.
Three hundred and fifty-eight days. Eight thousand, five hundred and ninety-two hours.
But right now you are huddled on my lap, legs horizontal across mine, head buried in my chest. I can see a drop of wetness glistening on your collarbone, catching the morning light.
You have just calmed, just relaxed in my arms.
This morning, everything was wrong – a huge effort, a mountain to climb. This morning, I don’t know where you were. When I asked you what you wanted for breakfast, you looked blankly. When I took you to the kitchen and pointed to the brightly coloured boxes, still, you could not speak. When I went through each option, asking yes or no, you began to get distressed.
But you need to leave with daddy soon and there will be no other food until lunch at nursery. And so I made you coco pops – a usual favourite – and sat you down to eat.
You screamed and screamed and sobbed and I could not understand what was wrong. There were snatches of speech… “Not good”… “Can’t eat”… “Please mummy”. But I could not make you explain. Offers of other food were ignored.
So went the morning, with every little thing, every detail of your life. Getting dressed, brushing your teeth – all was wrong, all seemed painful, all the end of the world.
And so I stopped and held you, little body shaking, perfect pale collarbone wet with tears, and waited until you could breathe again.
Yesterday was your second day back at nursery. Back to the usual, unusual routine. Back to coping with social interaction and sensory overload and trying to communicate with those who can’t always ‘get it’ as quickly as mummy or daddy do. Back to using up every ounce of energy, every scrap of resilience, every drop of effort just to….be… while you are there.
Back to using up all of your spoons*. When you come home to us, this is the toll it has taken.
In a few minutes you will have to stand up. I will wipe your tears and send you off with daddy. Because your nursery is a wonderful place – with orchards and forests to play in and people who care about you. Because you love it there and will grow and learn so much. Because you must learn to cope, even though it is so, so difficult – for you, for me.
But sweet boy my arms will ache for you all day. I will ache when I have to let you go, send you off when I know what it will cost, what it will do, to maintain that effort.
And in five hundred and fifteen thousand, five hundred and twenty minutes, I must send you to school. If a few days at nursery can steal you from me for so long, how on earth will you, will all of us, cope with school?
Stay away school. Let me pause time now so that you are not-quite-but-very-nearly-four forever – so that I am always able to help you, to support you, so that I do not have to give over so much of your care to strangers, to people who might not understand, to people who might make things harder for you, even as they try to help.
I want to hold you on my lap, little boy who is not quite yet four, and keep you calm forever.
But I cannot.
Because in three hundred and fifty eight days you must go to school. You will learn so much there, about the things you love, about yourself; I cannot deny you the world because I want to protect you from it.
Your nose is red and your cheeks are damp as daddy bundles you into the car.
And in just under a year, you will go to school.
* Spoon theory can be adapted to be a great way to explain how autistic children cope in school. You can read about it in this great article by Lynn McCann on Reachout ASC.