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.