When we moved house recently we lost our entitlement to local authority school transport for Freddie. I have to walk him to school now, and I have been rediscovering the joys of the school run – you know, walking hand-in-hand with your offspring, chatting about the school day, or the things you see, maybe sharing a little treat, getting soaked through to your underwear by a sudden, unexpected shower. Actually when is a shower ever NOT expected in this country? You’d think that after fifty years of living in the UK I’d have got the hang of carrying a raincoat everywhere, even if it’s 25 degrees and not a cloud in the sky when I set out.
Anyway, I thought losing school transport would present me with a real problem, because I don’t drive. Perversely, it’s actually been really good for us. At first, Freddie was just about able to walk the distance, provided I let him stop for a rest several times along the way, hoping no one would come out and shoo us off their garden wall. Now he walks it easily, and we usually only stop once, on a conveniently placed bench, for the purposes of taking the time to properly enjoy a Cadbury’s Wispa. I’m not going to pretend I give him apples and carrot sticks – they’re hard, and he won’t eat them because he tends to get them stuck in his throat. But the Wispa slips down easily, so I hope you won’t mind if we carry on enjoying our chocolate while you enjoy judging us.
Freddie is getting more exercise, and we are at last making progress in weaning him off the dratted buggy. We haven’t used the thing in weeks. This is good news for him, in terms of activity levels, maturity and self-image; it’s good news for my knees and elbows; and it’s good news for the Wheelchair Service—we’ve worn out several of their MacClarens already. When I exchanged the last one I could see the technician was struggling to find something appropriate to say instead of ‘it’s completely fucked’. He’s also getting out in the fresh air more, and it’s really nice to get to spend a bit of extra time together with nothing else to do but just be in each other’s company and chat.
The biggest bonus of all though has been that it has given me the perfect opportunity to try to teach Freddie about road safety. He learns best by observation and imitation, so I try to do exactly what I would want him to do, all in a rather exaggerated physical fashion. I stop very deliberately at the kerb, placing a hand in front of his chest, I catch his eye and point up and down the street in the direction we need to look, all the time talking him through what I’m doing. When we walk down residential streets, we look out for cars coming in or out of driveways, and I talk about how to tell if a car is parked or might be about to move. To the casual observer I must look like some sort of obsessive.
Freddie’s attention span is short, and his powers of concentration are still quite poor. When we are out in the street he always seems to be in a day-dream world, and I can never be sure whether he is listening, or how much of what I say he is actually processing. So I reckon it’s going to take a longer, and need a lot more repetition to learn this. But learn it he must. And I would rather teach it to him myself than trust anyone else with it.
It is difficult to imagine Freddie ever being any different than he is now. But this ‘otherworldliness’ of his may just be a phase that he will grow out of as he matures. And grow up he will, whether I like it or not. One day he may want, or need, to go out and about by himself, much as the idea terrifies me. And I have to equip him with the knowledge and skills he needs to navigate the world, no matter how I do it, or how long it takes. Teaching him how to keep himself safe around traffic is relatively easy, except when people don’t use their indicators. I really wish they would, it’s very helpful to pedestrians to know whether or not the car is about to turn. But not everyone is considerate or kind, some people are just assholes. Teaching Freddie to keep himself safe around people like that is another matter entirely.