First Day At School

Bessie started big school this week.

It has not phased her. Things like this do not phase her. Bessie is enthusiastic about new places and new people.

She expects to love everything, existing as she does in a state of perpetual optimism.

Every day is a treasure box but, like us all, she has her downs as well as her ups.

Disappointments are crushing and deeply felt but blow through her quickly because there is just so much in the world to be joyful about.

There is no time to sulk or dwell. There is bouncing and there is ice-cream. Beaches and chips. Sleepovers at Grandma and Papa’s. Armchair reading snuggles with her sister. Kitchen discos and riding in the shopping trolly.

To Bessie there is little to fear in the world and so to her why should big school be any different?

Bessie runs into life headlong– she launches herself into possibility unfettered by the tentacles of anxiety and fear which hold so many of us back from doing things we want to. Her first school report had her as ‘emerging’ in just about everything except confidence and sociability and this – a testament to her wonderful teachers – is a lesson to those who suspect it’s only possible for people to enjoy things they are ‘good’ at.

Her attitude demonstrates experiences of the world are open to everyone who lives in it – the best of life is not the preserve of those who always win at the things society values most.

Bessie’s perspective is infectious and expansionist.

It is inspirational to those lucky enough to live in her life. Shyer people who hold back and feel inclined to exist in the margins get sucked into her slipstream. Bessie wants this very much – she wants to bring people along with her. Everyone is invited to Bessie’s party. Unprompted she says she thinks her job is to look after people and I think she is right.

She certainly looks after me. 

I slipstream her all the time.

It’s brilliant to be able to walk into any setting and know within minutes Bessie will be talking to everyone she can find – that she’ll be inventing games and dancing – that she will pay no heed to the invisible rules making everything so much less fun. Watching Bessie work a room is an education – relentless charisma that liberates everyone from the need to conform to social niceties.

Bessie brings the party even when there is no party – especially when there is no party.

None of this means Bessie is inherently better than anyone else.

She is not too good for this world. She is not an angel sent from heaven.

To say so invites the sort of well-meaning romanticism that others, trivialises and dehumanises.

There are good reasons rules and social interactions exist There are – sadly – good reasons we can’t suddenly all jump up and start dancing in the middle of a meeting.  Bessie is disadvantaged as well as advantaged – what makes her wonderful also makes her more vulnerable and in need of greater protection.

She has the capacity to behave badly and to behave well. She has agency in what she decides to

What she shows us is those who are ‘different’ or ‘diverse’ or ‘non-typical’ or whatever term we use furnish us with different ways of seeing the world – windows into a universe far bigger and wilder than what are accustomed to seeing every day – evidence what society values and celebrates aren’t the only things worth valuing and celebrating. A demonstration how we organise things is not the only way things could be organised.

On Bessie’s first day at school – Monday – we found out from other parents who arrived later than we did our formidable daughter had appointed herself a sort of ‘chief greeter’.

There she was on the threshold. Smiling. Waving the other children in.

Inviting them all to the party. Inviting us all to the party.

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