Norfolk's winter colours by Susie Mallett, 2011
...well, it does in the case of Laddo!
I was relaxing at home, under the Christmas tree with a book, with some sewing and a cup of tea. After weeks of not having the time or the energy for more than just work and the occasional bit-in-between-for-conductors, I had at last tidied up and had sat down to do something just for me, when the phone rang.
In Germany it was the Zweite Weihnachtstag, the second Christmas Day, what we in England call Boxing Day in England, and I was enjoying a rare treat these days, a day at home.
I knew immediately who it would be on the phone as there was, as always in his case, a pause, a deep intake of breath and a great effort made to speak loud and clear.
It was Laddo
Laddo phones often. He leaves messages on the answer phone, all evening sometimes, knowing that I will call him back. I always do call back because I know that he usually wishes to discuss something very important. He rarely calls for chit-chat. He likes to discuss with me any problems that have cropped up at work, he tells me when he is sad about something or he describes new exciting milestones in his life.
I still visit twenty-one-year-old Laddo two or three times a year, but since he has achieved greater independence and is out there in the big wide world he seeks my advice more and more often on the phone. I am always so happy when he does this, as it is a great pleasure for me to know that he feels that I am there to talk him through the next steps forwards in his conductive life at all times and not just when I am with him in person.
Often all that Laddo needs is reassurance that he is doing everything as he should be, or he needs lots of praise heaped on him for some successful, new adventure that he just knows will please me, like travelling on his own to work and back.
Actively living in the techno-age
I could almost hear the relief in Laddo’s voice when he heard me say Hello. That relief came at the point when he realised that I was at home and that there would be no need for an answer-phone message or a redial. He uses both a mobile phone and the land-line phone, just like any other young person does. With his clumsy, athetoid fingers and hands, however, I know that he gets impatient when he gets an answer-phone service, even though it only means pressing Redial half-an-hour later. That is if no one else has used the phone in the meantime.
Joy at Christmas
Laddo began the recent conversation with a very jolly:
“Merry Christmas! How did you celebrate?”
I love the fact that he phones me quite independently from the rest of his family, and I am sure that they have no idea that we speak so often. He enjoys having someone who is his, who he can turn to in moments of celebration, the St Martin’s Day festival for example, at times of joy and also of disappointment, when worry or mourning.
Laddo as St. Martin:
I try to return calls that I miss as soon as I can and I spend time asking Laddo to repeat until I understand him, so that I can offer advice, congratulations, or console or share sorrows and joys. Not once in all the years that I have known him has he ever said that it does not matter, he has never refused to repeat until I catch on!
Laddo considers our chats very private and has often very quickly ended the call when a family-member enters his room.
This Christmas call was jolly, a merry Christmas call
I could hear immediately from the tone of Laddo’s voice that he was happy and relaxed. He was on holiday from work so had no worries to tell me about from that part of his life. His Granddad is recovering well from a serious illness so no sadness there at the moment either. I thanked him for my present and the card that he had created for me with paint and a typed seasonal message before we got on to discussing his busy life and I marvelled at the clarity of his speech.
Although I like to think that Laddo had just phoned me to wish me Happy Christmas, I could not help but wonder whether he had some pressing news to impart.
Perhaps he had met my bestest friend and colleague on one of his weekend conductive-living trips and had news for me from her.
I am so happy that my NICE conductor-friend in northern Germany agreed to do the bits-in-between-for-Laddo that became so very necessary as his independence increased. I saw a need several years ago for more conductive input in Laddo’s life than I could give at my routine stays at his family home. It came about when he was at the brink of independence and at the same time his siblings were all off doing their own thing and spending less and less time at home with him. Laddo spent a lot of time alone in his late teenage years and was getting quite miserable about it. With just his music and films to entertain him he had too much time to think and not enough to do to keep him busy and developing.
Time to find some new interests and activities
One of the new activities that we planned was the once-a-month-on-a-Saturday outing, travelling alone on public transport, to a pre-prepared conductive-meeting with my bestest friend. My conductor-friend emails Laddo a choice of four or five activities and Laddo decides before he sets off whether they will visit a museum, go swimming, shop for new clothes or do some carpentry.
This arrangement proved to be a turning point in Laddo’s development and, together with a few more activities in his near but ever widening world, Laddo now believes that the sky has no limits!
“It takes a village to raise a child”
One of the other activities that we chose for Laddo was water-aerobics at his local village pool. Yes, this village of less than one-thousand inhabitants really does have a swimming pool and a large one at that. Laddo has attended this water-aerobics course for several years now with his mother, auntie and a dozen other villagers.
The swimming-instructor is the father of Laddo’s riding-instructor, who, with her riding school and stables five-hundred metres along the road from Laddo’s home, also owns the horse that Laddo rides for the St. Martin’s festival.
It was another step in the right direction for Laddo when his riding lessons moved from a village ten miles away to his doorstep meaning he walks there once or twice a week on his own.
Not only does he walk to the riding lessons alone he also has to organise himself before hand on his own so he gets there punctually.
Mum or Dad, brother or sister do not remind Laddo, they do nolonger have to think about Laddo’s appointments because they do not have to drive him any more. These are his hobbies and now that he gets himself there under his own steam he also has to remember to go. This need for planning is something quite new in the life of this physically disabled young person who, after years of hard work, finds himself at the age of twenty-one independent enough to go places alone. We practise it together and it has been known for Mum actually to let him forget and miss an appointment so that he learns how to deal this the consequences of doing so.
Learning to snorkel in the sink
Some readers may remember that I wrote about the fun Laddo and I had together while developing the breathing technique needed for snorkelling. We did this walking around in the house with the snorkels on and by submersing our faces in the bathroom sink.
We took on this task because the water-aerobics and swimming-instructor had thought up something more interesting for Laddo to do at the end of the water-aerobics class. During the time when the middle-aged, mostly female fellow-swimmers swim a few lengths of the pool to finish of the evening, Laddo dons the snorkels and flippers and learns to snorkel. I have watched the teacher when involved in teaching this difficult task and I admired his patience and determination as much as I do Laddo’s. Next time I visit I will, having been asked to do so by the teacher, get into the pool and join in.
The cherry on the cake
Just as I guessed there was a cherry on the cake to my jolly Merry Christmas call.
It was almost as a by-the-way that right at the end of our conversation, that included work, home, family, music, television (a new one for Christmas with a difficult-to-master remote control), that Laddo eventually came to the point! And a very important point it was too.
“I am going to Egypt.”
I knew immediately that praise was due. That Laddo had at last mastered the art of snorkelling!
One of the snippets of conversation that I had picked up from the side of the pool on my last learning-to-snorkel visit was the swimming-instructor’s telling Laddo that, if he mastered the art of the snorkel and the flippers, he would take him to Egypt on his next diving holiday.
It seems like yet another milestone reached
I also remember Laddo’s mum asking whether the teacher was planning on taking Laddo to Egypt on his own. To our pleasure and amazement the answer was Yes. Mum was not to be left out, however, and she and Laddo’s big sister, plus a couple of other villagers, will all be joining the snorkelling party on a trip to Egypt in the spring.
I think that Laddo’s Mum, who has been going along to water-aerobics for just as long as Laddo to assist him with the undressing and dressing and prevent falls on the slippery tiles, is thrilled that she can go on a holiday with her son as an equal. There will be enough willing pairs of hands to make her help almost redundant for much of the time. Mum’s and Laddo’s hard work is paying off. As the conductive lifestyle spreads its wings ¬- beyond the boundaries of the home, the village, the work place and visits to my bestest friend, to sporting holidays abroad - more people are involved in Laddo’s life and know how to help make life interesting and as independent and fulfilling for him as possible.
This will be a holiday of a lifetime for this family and their friends. A holiday where Mum’s presence, and that of his sister are welcome, but not absolutely necessary.
Well done Laddo!
I look forward very much to joining in with some of the final snorkel-practise sessions in the pool on my next visit, and to joining in too with the pre-holiday excitement.
Laddo’s perseverance through the ups and downs of teenage life is certainly paying off and I think he will be the first time to tell me this next time that we meet. He often tells me how pleased he is that his Dad and I did not let him give up when all he wanted to do was turn his back on all the hard work.
All I can say is how pleased I am too. I just love being involved in the life of this young man, his family and his ever-increasing village of friends.
It takes a village to raise a child:
Book by Hilary Rodham Clinton
African proverb, attributed to African proverbs, could be Nigerian Igbo people whose name for children is child of the community”
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