I had just picked Hayley from college for the February half term holiday and she was so excited to be coming home again. How quickly I had forgotten just how much my daughter liked to talk.
This holiday marks the halfway point in Hayley's first year at Dilston and I couldn't believe how fast the time had gone by. This time last year we were hanging on to see whether we would get the funding to enable her to take up the residential place that she had been offered. Little did we know what a struggle it was going to be but we got through it, and life has changed for us all.
For Hayley it has been very dramatic with everything that she had got used to over the years being turned upside down. For the first time in her life she has had to deal with compromise and with conflict. As the youngest of four and the only girl, she has always had a lot of freedom to decide things for herself. Never having to share a bedroom or any of her possessions (the boys having an aversion to anything girly or pink!) she suddenly found herself in a smallish cottage with, at first, three other girls and, after a few weeks a fourth with whom she had to share a bedroom! A recipe for disaster? Well I think it took some getting used to.
After all five girls together, all with very different personalities and varying degrees of learning difficulties, could lead to a lot of conflict and difficulty. I for one was concerned that Hayley wouldn't be able to cope and there have been a couple of flashpoints over the months but I have been amazed at the progress my daughter has made.
At first she hated sharing a room, which didn't come as any surprise to me. At home she had always been on her own and her bedtime "routine" had been almost obsessive. Blackout blinds, tucked in tightly, no lights on whatsoever, all doors in the house closed! It had become quite restrictive and I celebrated when she went away by leaving all the lights on and all the doors open (a practise that I have now given up!). But, surprise, surprise, although her sleeping has still been a bit unsettled, she loves sharing a room and relishes the girly chats she and her room mate have once they are tucked up under the duvets. I'm not sure that the staff enjoy trying to prise the girls out of their beds in time for their sessions each day though!
I also think that Hayley had gotten used to not being pushed very much at school during her last year there. The college day is full and quite demanding. There isn't much time to do nothing, although the students have plenty of social time once all chores have been completed, and at weekends. Sessions start promptly and students have to make sure they are there on time. This has been quite a challenge for Hayley and it was no surprise to find out that if it's something she enjoys she's there pronto! However she quickly learnt that she could waste a lot of time around the site pretending she didn't know where she should be, or taking her time going to the toilet! Freedom and responsibility has been as much a part of the learning curve as all of the time tabled sessions!
For us it has been a time of readjustment. The freedom we now have has been quite liberating. For almost all of our married life we have had responsibility for our offspring, more so with our youngest than with the boys, all having left home and being independent. We now have a chance to holiday on our own, as many of our peers have done for several years now. We can go shopping or out for a walk without having a reluctant daughter making it difficult (and who can blame her for not wanting to be with her parents all the time!). Even being able to watch T.V. without having to interrupt my viewing to make sure that she is in bed on time, and not being woken in the middle of the night to deal with her needs is such a treat for me.
But I do miss her. I do wonder how she feels. I do worry about her future and how she is going to cope on her own. Will she find someone to share her life with, will she be taken advantage of by strangers, will she be ridiculed for being different by those who are prejudiced, and will she enjoy herself and find fulfilment as she grows older? I never stop asking myself these questions, but I am beginning to learn to deal with each milestone as it comes along.
My daughter has the potential to have a very happy and independent life. I don't ever want to deny her what every other young person expects for themselves. Holding on too tightly will do that, and I have had to learn that worrying from the sidelines is okay and necessary if she is to have the life she deserves!