I don't blog as much as I used to, and I feel I owe you a bit of an explanation as to why not... I think it's safe to say that sometimes it feels as if sharing our story has become the very best of things in our lives, and also in some ways the very worst of things.
Since it started around eighteen months ago, this website has had around 700,000 visits. I'm staggered, delighted and terrified by that in equal measure. That so many people are interested in discovering more about The Boy is a never-ending source of delight and pride. But with it comes a sense of responsibility that I must do more to protect him in it all.
The Boy continues to amaze me with the steps he takes, the growth and changes just over the period I've been writing have taken me hugely by surprise. He attends school full-time, and although there are many ups and downs in his journey, he seems to at least be out of the brambles, and has finally discovered a path, albeit a rocky one at times.
And in many ways, it's this that troubles me. In my wildest dreams The Boy will one day sit down and read every bit of this blog. He'll laugh at the funny bits, cringe at the cookery bits and at the end of it hopefully understand his pain-in-the-arse dad a little bit more. And above all else I hope he recognises that each and every word was written from a place of love. And this is the tricky part because for it to have value this blog also has to come from a place of truth... but I need to balance that truth with the fact that the young boy involved has a life to live for himself. There are parts to our story that are missing - challenges and dark days that I know he wouldn't want to share. But I recognise that by not sharing them I present a view that's slightly at odds with the lives we lead.
I said this blog was both the best of things and the worst of things. If I'm honest, there have been times recently where I've questioned what I'm doing, and whether the time is right to stop. I've turned down press interviews at the last minute, turned down tour offers for the show, because even now telling our story still just doesn't feel right, almost voyeuristic even. Whether that's a lack of confidence on my part or a desire to protect him I don't know, probably a big chunk of both. And then I'll get a message from someone saying how much seeing the show or reading the blog has helped them on their journey and I get so confused by what's the best thing to do.
My one certainty in all this, is that The Boy has to come first. I was maybe naive when I started, perhaps I didn't think fully of the implications for him. I recognise there are many parents who blog, and I think sometimes we have to question just how much information we share. I just know that I don't always get it right. I read each blog to him as I write them nowadays, listening to his responses and scanning his face for anything that might indicate something he's uncomfortable with. I tell him each time I'm going to do a show, and I tell him how it went afterwards. I'm not sure that's enough, but that's all I can do for now. The moment I feel he is unhappy or I feel it isn't the right thing will be the point when I call it a day.
Please don't get me wrong, for the most part I've loved sharing our tale, and I actually think we've both benefitted hugely as a result. It's forced me to search for the positive in days when it was far from obvious. I've learnt so much from others who have shared their stories online and face to face, reminding me that all life is relative, that there is so, so much for us to be grateful for. Overall, I think it's made me a much nicer dad to be around, and a much better parent as a result. I just need to ensure I continue to question what I'm doing so I can be as certain as I can that it's the right thing for him.
I have to get off the computer now because it's needed extremely urgently by someone far more important than you or I... with almost impeccable timing I'm once again reminded just who this will always, always be about.
Although The Boy is settled in his new school, my heart still skips a beat every time the phone rings. After years of calls to be told of some grave misdemeanour or to be asked to collect him early, I still can't settle if I'm out and about with no phone signal or where I have to switch my mobile off. It was one of the joys of teaching him at home, probably the only joy... at least I knew the phone wouldn't ring.
Earlier this week I went along to his new school with a few other parents to help dig a new vegetable garden. And I enjoyed it because there was a sense of freedom - here I was where he was, for a few hours I could leave my phone in the car and not worry about who was trying to contact me.
I've never mixed with other parents much. Those early years in different playgrounds being yelled at because of whose father I was have taken their toll. Apologising on a daily basis, desperately hoping that someone, anyone might understand. I quickly learnt that it was easier not to talk to anyone than face the hostility. If I'm honest, I liked the days when they used to ask me to collect The Boy early. Because at least I avoided the other parents.
Yet digging the garden the other day was different. Here were a group of people who understood, who for many had been through the same thing. There was a dark sense of humour hanging over the proceedings that made it feel like we belonged together. "You'll all know my son", one mum began, "he's the one who does this..." "I know your boy!", another one cried out, "he did that thing at lunchtime with mine...". And we laughed about all the misdemeanours, the challenges, raged at the restraints and exclusions in previous settings, swapped notes on medication and sleeping tips and it just felt so good to be among those who understood.
At one point we were joined by a pupil from the secondary department. Very politely, he asked for a pair of gloves, and as he helped clear the weeds he charmed each and every one of us, making us laugh, chatting about the difference between red and yellow ladybirds and inviting people to his birthday party.
It was a brilliant morning, helped along by the sunshine. Do you know that bit in Shawshank Redemption where they ask for a bottle of beer as they're tarring the roof and then Morgan Freeman says they sat and drank with the sun on their shoulders and felt like free men? Well when we had a cup of tea that day after we'd finished, it was a little bit like that. Maybe we weren't quite the lords of all creation, but for the first time in a long while, it really felt like I was somewhere I belonged.
And I know that all this seems very airy-fairy, but there's one crucial bit of the story I haven't told you yet. The lad from the secondary department who came along to help and charmed everyone just by being the completely brilliant person he has always, always been?
It was The Boy.
This blog is about bringing up The Boy. He's 12 years old and autistic. It's written by The Dad. It's my words, my view. Other people will think differently and have different opinions. Good.