For a glorious three week stretch through the middle of January Tom has been professional-free. Following a tuning session with the audiologists on the 4th, there were no early morning motorway excursions down to Bicester therapy sessions; no psychological torment in the QMC’s bizarrely obstructive multi-storey car park and no house callers armed with ring binders and bags stuffed with aurally challenging toys. Strange times: no ‘interventions’, no assessments – just us.
This hiatus came to an end with a visit to the nursery/infants that Tom will start attending in September – an occasion that succeeded in being both curiously reassuring and intrusive simultaneously. We draw strength from the affirmations of Tom’s progress that generally accompany the appointments; concerns accumulate like weeds in the kitchen garden and, while we’re both becoming more accomplished with the hoe, they keep coming back and expert advice is required.
So we met up with the marvellous Tanya, Tom’s Teacher of the Deaf, for an appointment with the school’s new Head teacher to discuss the preparations required for Tom’s arrival. The impact our son is about to have on this school is multi-faceted and will include training for staff on the more practical aspects of dealing with our wired-up bionic boy, the potential adaptations to the fabric of the building that should make it easier for Tom to hear and possible support provision.
The school, thanks to Tanya’s forward thinking and organisation, is ahead of the game and I came away reassured that things will be OK. Now, a few days on and with wearying predictability, there has been a stirring up of emotions. Between Nik and me, it’s safe to say, there are a surfeit of emotions and their stirring up is a fairly frequent occurrence. Some of them are predictable anxieties tied up with transitions and the thought of our baby going off to school; the sort of every day anxiety we like to wallow in, celebrate and adorn with associated worries such as ‘must get the little blighter potty trained’, ‘he will NEVER sit still’ and ‘he’s too little!’.
Others, though, are a little more specific and, for me at least, hark back to unspoken expectations about my son and his glorious progress; a triumphant, joyful, painless romp through childhood featuring a modestly worn yet undeniably keen intellect, prodigious sporting talent and an ever-present smile.
This vision did not include support teachers, nor did it include a strikingly obvious difference that marked him out from day one. The tale I had woven for Tom is typical parental aspiration - the emphasis was on triumph and there was a noted absence of adversity.
We have met and continue to work with some talented, caring people because of what has happened to Tom. They have an enormously difficult task to do because, of course, we would rather have never met them. If we’d gone through life with only a vague understanding about the devastation that meningitis can cause and the impact of deafness on a child’s life then, let’s face it, we wouldn’t have worried too much.
The way it is though, Tom’s implants are working – his understanding and his spoken language is flourishing thanks to these audiologists, therapists and teachers. As Jacqueline Stokes tells us every time we see her, he is a clever boy and is going to flourish. The bigger challenges, I think, are social and, rereading this, making sure his dad doesn’t fuck him up in an appropriately Larkinesque way. The last thing he needs is the baggage of my expectations.