Nerves are high. Excitement and anticipation builds outside the classroom. Familiar faces reunite after a long summer. Some have grown taller, some are missing teeth and there is always one new broken arm courtesy of uncle Pat’s unsuitable Christmas Present. A friendly smile does much to ease the anxiety, most of it oozing from the parents desperately searching for a ‘Kindy Mum’ to chat with in the crowd. The children are usually much calmer, oblivious to what lies ahead. Mums and Dads milling around, re-adjusting bags on bag racks so they don’t have to stand alone like plonkers, checking lunch boxes for the tenth time. ‘Don’t forget to ask if you need to go to the toilet’, ‘Can you find your name on the door?’
The start of a new school year can be a very scary time. Full of unknowns for both the parent and the child. I remember back to one particular January as my thirty little people made their way into what would be their new home for the next year. All of my new little friends, a little bit quieter than they would later prove to be, a little nervous and a little lost. Like most years, there was one little person whose anxiety was running much higher than everybody else’s …or at least looked like it was. His name was ‘Toby and he had Special Needs, well…his were diagnosed. I like to think that ‘All’ of my children have a Special Need, and it is my job to uncover exactly what it is, and how best to cater for it in the weeks that followed.
To help the children settle in and to calm their fears, I would always commence the first day of school by allowing them to choose from a range of activities, naturally they would gravitate towards the one that was closest to their ‘safe place’. It is always amazing to watch as the personalities unravel. Before even meeting the children, you can tell much about them from their chosen ‘place’. Some immediately dive in to the building blocks and cars , these would be the hands on learner’s. Some head for the colouring in or the computers, enjoying the quiet independence of the task. Other’s simply watch, observing the people around them. Toby chose the big box of musical instruments. It is from this very moment that the scene was set for the rest of the year. Music would be his ‘safe place’ to turn when the going got tough. To this day I am still amazed by the affect that the loud, clanging tambourines had, so crucial in calming a mind that was exhausted from racing, exhausted from trying to make sense of the people around him.
Toby would go on to have regular meltdown’s, not unusual for a child dealing with Asperger’s. They were loud and disruptive, but so too were the thoughts in his mind that were creating his panic. His instruments saved him that year. At times they were the only thing to keep him from running home and never coming back. I wonder what it was that was so peaceful, what did he see in that box? He would play the instruments with conviction and rhythm , and often he would stop to let others into his world….albeit by his rules. What did he make of the noise? Or what it simply just to block out the rest of us?.
I realized that we all had our instruments. Our box of tricks. Our safe place. When we feel anxious we all run to our ‘safe place’. A place where we feel calm, a place where the rest of the world can melt away until we are just left with our own thoughts. Of course our places look and feel very different. For some it is behind the gate having a cigarette, for others it comes from the fridge or inside a book.
Me personally, I run. My safe place is in my mind and in the silence and solitude of a run. I’m not the best at it, I’m not the worst at it but I love to do it. I love the feeling of being untouchable for that hour (30 minutes if I’m feeling like a lazy pants). No one can call me, or ask anything of me. I run for me. It is during my runs that the world becomes calm. I can sort my thoughts and organize things, collate to do lists and plan my next movements, all whilst wearing my sneakers and dodging dog poo!
For my son it is his cars. He loves to line up his cars. He could do this for hours on end and still want to do it some more. He has a method to his madness, and an uncanny ability at aged 2 to tell his BMW’S from his Bentley’s. (not our influence, we own a humble Holden)
For my husband it is the soccer pitch. Not so long ago was his career of choice, and being lucky enough to have experienced being paid to do what he loved for so many years…it is naturally still his place to run. He also gains great calm from being part of a team, or being around a group of men, for which I grateful. The rubbish that he talks when with the boy’s ensures that I am only subjected to sensible, non sport related content.
For some it is just to be ‘near’ people. To talk, to touch and to be loved.