So, having finally found a school for Max where he was happy, we started to settle down into a more harmonious family life. There were still problems: because Max’s school was some distance from home and there was no school bus (anyway, it would have been too much for him to have caught one were there one to be caught), he qualified for the school transport scheme. This meant that every morning a taxi would arrive at our house to collect Max and take him to school. Perfect, I hear all you frazzled mums saying, thinking of your morning panic as you try to get everyone dressed, lunch packed and out the door to catch to bus. Well, yes, it should have been. But unfortunately it didn’t always work out that way.
Let me try and describe the scene for you. Max: starring role; loving himself sick in his uniform; enjoying the packing up of lunch and school bags; slightly less interested in the idea of being transported away from home and the prospect of any of the latest Disney series that he may/may not be allowed to watch at some as yet undisclosed time in the future. Me: supporting role; frazzled (borderline hysterical) mother; desperate to get Max off to school so I can then put my other three children in the car to drive them to their bus stop in time. Really don’t want to chase the bus. Scene: house in somewhat chaos; Max standing firm and refusing to leave said chaotic house but enjoying his school uniform and lunch box to the point that he won’t relinquish the latter in order to allow support actor Mum to put it into the bag to take to school. Other three boys (in minor, but very important roles), looking on in various states of uncertainty; disinterest; anxiety depending on how they felt when they woke up that morning.
So, the taxi arrives. I, in my supporting role, have lost the script and it appears my prompter has gone AWOL. Minor, supporting actors now become incredibly important as I have run out of ideas. ‘Harry,’ I ask calmly (read screech hysterically) ‘can you please try and persuade Max to get his stuff and get into the taxi for school?’
So once again my hero, my darling and my Sergeant Major son at the age of ten, goes in to negotiate for greater good of the family and a positive outcome for the day. It’s only 7.15am. If he succeeds, then we don’t need to move to plan B; if he bums out (as is often the case, no fault of his poor darling), then we move to the Lieutenants: Sam and Louis, just six and five years old. Somehow, between the three of them, they manage to persuade Max that there is great good to be gained from getting into the taxi and going to school. Phew! Am once again poised, calm and confident in my role as a mother and can safely transport my other three sons to the school bus before going home for a good cry. It’s 7.45am.
As if the anxiety of the ‘getting into the taxi’ routine weren’t enough for me, and more importantly for the children, there was then the anxiety of who was driving the taxi. Over the years we had many different experiences, and of course the driver would have had a huge impact on Max’s willingness to get into the taxi in the morning or not. We had the driver who hit him; referred to him as ‘the boy’; and dropped him home one day without his ($800) glasses telling us ‘the boy’ had dropped them out of the window and it wasn’t his job to stop and pick them up; and then we had drivers who used to stop off to buy Max his favourite packet of chips; addressed him as ‘young man’ and bought him birthday presents.
I think I’ve said in previous posts that Max is a very accurate barometer for humanity; this is a perfect example of what I mean. No taxi driver enjoys dealing with a child who is fidgety; doesn’t want to wear his seatbelt; doesn’t like his travel companions. Some respond with aggression; others try to find a way to make the journey such a treat the child looks forward to it. And these drivers became some of Max’s best friends and strongest allies.
As for Mum, in my supporting role, it was the difference between either Mother Theresa or Hannibal Lecter arriving at my door in the morning to collect my darling boy: one had me slobbering with gratitude; the other had me shrinking in fear for his well being. And the day that followed was entirely shaped by that morning’s experience. In hindsight, we were lucky. As a supporting actor, I was far too big for my boots and made a lot of fuss about Hannibal Lecter who clearly thought his role in the drama that was Max’s life was very much more important than it should have been. As a result, his appearances became less and less frequent and were replaced with Mother Theresa and her colleagues who made Max’s journeys to school an absolute pleasure. So my days became easier over time, as they ceased to start with anxiety, tears and fear, and become seamless transitions between children at home to children on their way to school.
So, there we have it, my friend. What can I tell you? You are going to have to overcome obstacles you have never imagined existed, and you are going to have to deal with the worst kind of people you can imagine. But, and this is important, but you will have the immense privilege of meeting some of the best kind of people you probably never imagined existed; and you will discover in yourself a strength you never knew you had. Which is a great gift. And if, like me, you have other children in your family, you’ll discover the beauty they carry within them. Which is the greatest gift of all.