I took a sharp intake of breath and braced myself for the anticipated unravelling of the child before me. Across a crowded table at a child's birthday party a parent, quite appropriately, corrected a child that had just given them a slightly cheeky answer to a question they'd asked. Time stood still and the parent's words hung in the air while my grip on the edge of the table tightened anticipating a great unravelling.
The little girl, looked a little taken aback, mouthed the word 'sorry', smiled and ate some cake.
I'd not realised I'd slipped into alert, I'd anticipated an unravelling, a tirade of abuse or meltdown of some flavour or variety. It just didn't come, the mam and the girl just moved on, they probably didn't even notice.
It's hung on me, really heavy, I couldn't get it out of my mind. I told my adopter friends of this thing I'd seen, I'm not sure I could articulate how I felt about it. I think it wasn't the little girl it was my anticipation, my gripping of the chair and my sense of inevitability of conflict.
I'm not quite sure when I left normal behind. Caring for a child with complex needs can edge you to the fringes of normal, however you want to perceive normal. We've made this slow but necessary shift from the universal norms of parenting to a hybrid parenting model made up of a little bit of all the courses, books and helpful conversations. We live with complex behaviours that are predictable and unpredictable at the same time, that place us on high alert and vigilant. We anticipate challenge, friction and conflict and adjust our expectation and requests to suit. A strange and sometimes isolating world.
Over the last few weeks I've spoken to parent, carers, adopters and a whole range of professionals in lots of different places. At the start of my sessions I ask those there:
'Who in here lives, knows or works with children that can sometimes be aggressive or violent towards their parents, carers and families?'
It's a key dramatic moment and sets the tone for the rest of my session, without fail I take a deep breath before I ask the question, perhaps it's just my family, my child, my normal. I ask the question and wait................. Always hands go up and I breathe a sigh of relief. I'm not that strange, we're not that odd we just have a different version of normal.
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