Star starts Ballet

Last week did not begin well.

I was called into class after school, to say that Star had been more tricky than at any point so far this academic year.

The teacher and I chatted for a while and I am sure that Star is triggered. I believe she recognises the changing day length and as we are approaching a difficult anniversary for her, she is worried that she is going to be removed again.

The result is a child who oscillates between defiance and (usually in the evening) a child who is clearly very, very scared.

Someone described it to me as believing she is going to be removed so pushing us as hard as she can, so that we will reject her -to just get the pain over with.

Like taking a deep breath and holding it, before jumping into cold water.

It is very, very hard.

A month ago we decided Star could start ballet and Hannah volunteered and had been accepted as a helper in Star’s class.

The ballet teacher has been so welcoming, she knows that Star has Down syndrome and she invited her to start ballet almost as soon as Star joined our family through adoption. The girls have been so excited that it felt wrong to stop this plan despite the difficulties of the last few weeks.

Last week Star went in to her first ever ballet class and the teacher said she spent a lot of time looking at herself in the mirror !!! The teacher thought she was getting used to being in the room.

This week, after 10 minutes or so, I was called in, and my heart sank.

The kind ballet teacher was concerned that Star wasn’t joining in and invited me to sit in and watch. (Hannah told me later that Star had been asking for me.)

And yes she was right, there were times Star was not joining in – I quickly realised that it was often when she knew she could not do what the rest of the class were doing.

However, once I was in the room, there were lots of times she did.

And I find myself amazed at how children develop. At how one instruction might require 5 or 6 skills in order to complete it and how most children just manage this.

And I can see just how many hurdles Star has to overcome.

For example the instruction: “Girls, walk in Demi- point.”

This assumes that:
the girls can hear this instruction
that they understand the need to continue walking in a circle,
that they continue to hold our their skirts,
that they understand that “Demi-point” means “tip toes”
and that they are able to do this without falling over.

Before this morning did I know what Demi-point was? – Nope.
Did Star know? – No.

Did she do it?
Yes.
Brilliantly.

She copied the rest of the class and walked around the studio beaming!

Did she manage every instruction in the class? – no.
Did she attempt most? yes.

As I watched her sat with the class trying to listen and clap out a rhythm or join in with a series of steps, (which at the moment is too hard for her), I could feel sad.

But I don’t.

She was there, included and happy.

At one point the girls were practicing jumping from first position, pointing their toes and landing in first position again. The older girls were helping the younger ones.

Around the room there were twenty little girls springing in the air, trying to land nicely, sometimes succeeding, sometimes wobbling, faces concentrating hard on what they were attempting.

In the centre were two sisters, completely focused on each other. One, aged nearly 9 demonstrating the move with skill and patience, the younger watching and attempting to copy.

I can honestly tell you that in that moment I was so proud of my two girls.

As I watch I realise that Hannah is translating the instructions perfectly to Star’s ability to understand, she is praising Star’s every attempt to try. She gives her one simple instruction to try to improve next time.

And Star, looking intently up at Hannah with a rapturous admiration for her big sister. Trying so hard to copy her movements.

First position, jump, point toes, land.
And again.
First position, jump, point toes, land.

Then they joined hands, facing each other, feet in first position and jumped together, smiling.

I realised, that my girls had just snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Star and the London Bus

Star was very excited to be visiting my brother and his wife in London.

Despite growing up in suburbia I have never driven through central London, we always use the train and tube instead.
So we set off one chilly December morning, with our warm coats, hat, gloves and a backpack full of Christmas presents. For the hour and a half long journey to “Uncle Robin’s.”

“Oh that will be so exciting for the children,” said lots of our friends.

And it was exciting.

Public transport is also fairly challenging if a you a child who struggles with transitions.

We spend a lot of our lives thinking about, planning for and dealing with transitions.

On some days, literally

every

single

one.

Going to the toilet, washing hands, clothes off, clothes on, slippers on, slippers off, shoes on. Eating breakfast, drinking juice, finishing breakfast.

On the days when I do the morning school run and then go straight into work I feel like I have done a full day by 9.15am!

We try to use lots of strategies: “now, next” boards, signing, encouragement, giving Star a choice where possible, but there are some days when nothing seems to work.
At school, they have similar issues. And it was strangely therapeutic for us to hear experienced teachers tell us how they had used all the strategies from the professionals (the Ed psych, the SALT, the SENCO) to no avail.

We were sat at parents evening to be told of a morning when Star would not stop playing with the mud kitchen.

For forty-five minutes she had been happily scooping mud from one ladle to other and she didn’t want to stop.

Her Teaching assistant tried everything.

The sand timer.

The now and next board.

Signing “finished.”

Then the teacher was called

And then, Headteacher was called out of a meeting.

She came in her high heels down to the reception playground, to tell our daughter it was time to stop playing with the mud.

And what do you think Star did ?

Completely ignored her.

Another day at school, another transition. She was asked to do something she didn’t want to. So she ran into the toilets, locked the door went under the cubicle to the next stall, locked it too, sat in the far corner and LAUGHED at the teacher.  [It is a mark of how much Star has changed me that instead of being completely mortified by this defiance, I thought – that is actually really clever. She had managed to get the only place in the reception classrooms where they could not reach her.]

So I think you can imagine why, with some trepidation, we set off on our journey of one overground train, two underground trains and half a mile walk.

On the whole Star did pretty well.

On our way home, we decided to board a double-decker bus for three stops to save the children’s legs from more walking. They were so excited to climb to the top and watch the hustle and bustle of Islington High Street below them.

We tried to prepare Star that we needed to get off soon.

But predictably, it was far too short a trip on the top deck for her.

Some of us had made it to the pavement, when the bus driver was about to pull off with an unhappy Star and Eddie still on the top deck. My sister-in-law alerted the driver to wait and Star was told us with some urgency

“We need to get off now, Star.”

At which point she turned around and addressed all the passengers of the top deck of the bus

Off NOW”

 

“She Adopted a Downs Kid”

It was a sunny summer’s evening when I walked up the lawn of my colleagues’  front garden to join the celebrations for his wedding. I was greeted by a group of retired doctors and their wives.

Aneena, a retired practice nurse, asked after my family and especially Star. I spoke about what they were getting up to now, how Hannah had been in a dance show, Ben loved football and how Star had loved our holiday on the beach, was learning new words and getting ready to start school. I am not sure if some of the group could hear me above the noise of the band and the celebrations. The conversation came to a natural close and I said goodbye and went to find the newly weds to congratulate them. As I walked away I heard Aneena say loudly to the group:

“She adopted a Downs kid.”

Continue reading ““She Adopted a Downs Kid””

Treasuring Ordinary Moments

When my eldest daughter was born so many people said to me:

Treasure every moment

It goes so fast

Make sure you enjoy it

And if I am honest I found that a huge pressure and it made me feel guilty.

Guilty that I wasn’t enjoying things enough.

That I haven’t got neatly made baby books and journals detailing every event of their first years.

Continue reading “Treasuring Ordinary Moments”