Today was Adam's first Nativity performance at The Bridge. I had no idea how it would go but Chris and I were both joking that it would be absolute chaos. I feel ashamed to admit that but it's true. We assumed that because The Bridge is a special needs school and that all of the children have severe and profound additional needs, that the performance would be chaotic - cute of course - but chaos.
We were completely and totally wrong -
- and I am delighted to acknowledge just how wrong we were.
The performance was beautiful on so, many, many levels.
As it started, the Deputy Head told us all that some of the children would find the experience to be hard - wearing costumes instead of their usual clothing would, for some, be a very uncomfortable experience. For others, entering a hall crowded with parents would be overwhelming. But each child was going to be encouraged to take part and given the choice as to whether or not they felt able to.
Then, she began to sign the Nativity story - I think it was BSL rather than Makaton but as I don't speak that language, I wasn't entirely sure. Just that alone was immediately so touching for me because it instantly spoke of inclusion.
Then, as the story continued, each one of the children were gently led in by a member of staff. This was the moment that I started to understand how special this performance was going to be. The very first character was the angel - and he was in a wheelchair, with a seizure helmet on his head and in a beautiful costume. The member of staff walking with him was truly cherishing him, slowly walking down the aisle and encouraging him to have his "moment" without apology.
The child who is profoundly deaf, nearly blind and cannot sit up unaided was also an angel. His teacher paraded him around in a big circle for the angels dance and took her time to make sure his mum could take plenty of photos. The child with Downs Syndrome who needed to come down the aisle on her tummy, pausing for long breaks as she decided if she could make it to the front was encouraged step by step by her teacher who helped her every inch of the way.
The child with severe autism who peeped into the hall and immediately crouched down into a ball with his fingers in his ears and his eyes screwed shut as he coped with the sensory overload was given all the time he needed. After a long period of time spent at the back, he was able to slowly inch down the aisle on his knees, literally one inch at a time. And I was in tears, so incredibly touched, as I saw his teacher on her knees beside him, also inching down the aisle exactly the way he was, one inch at a time. She had all the time and patience in the world because he clearly wanted to participate - he wasn't leaving the hall although he would have been welcome to do so if he had needed to - he just needed to take his time and that was fine.
When it was Adam's turn - and His Majesty was very aptly cast as a King - he walked down the aisle, hand in hand with his teacher as they negotiated who would hold his distraction toy and who would hold the King's present. When he got to the front and took his place on the chairs, head down and busily playing with his toy, his teacher quietly sat beside him and helped him to play so that he felt able to stay.
A vast majority of the children were calm and able to participate but for those who were struggling, if they caught sight of their parents and ran to them, that was absolutely fine. We were just encouraged to cuddle our children and then help them come back up to the front and to sit with them as part of the cast. When one of the siblings became distraught because she wanted to go see her brother at the front, her parents allowed her to do so and once she had said hello to him, the Deputy Head very gently picked her up and cuddled her as the performance continued and she slowly calmed down.
I was wiping away tears for so much of the performance and, of course, part of it was because my little baby was in his first play (and any parent would get a bit weepy at that!) but it was so much more than that. It was about the way every single child was celebrated and cherished just the way they are. There was no need to be different, no pressure to participate, just a whole hearted celebration of the fact that every child matters.
And as I sat there watching, unbidden, the thought came - God is celebrating this moment, dancing around the throne and saying, "these are MY children too and I love them. I created them and they are so special to me."
There was a time when I felt sad that Adam was being sent to The Bridge because it is a school for children with profound disabilities - and you don't choose it, you are sent - but I have long since come to feeling so privileged that we have a place like this on our doorstep. Today was one of those moments.
Every child matters and every child is special - and that was abundantly clear.
*P.S. I would love to show you some of the beautiful photos of the performance so that you could see how special it was, but while we are allowed to take photos for our own use, there are very strict rules preventing us from publishing them online so forgive me if this post is unaccompanied by pictures.