One of my four children here has special needs, but can you tell which one?
Matt is the little monkey swinging in the background, Abby and Beccy are painting with Sam. It was a beautiful day at the Chelsea playground, a very special place where I could go with my family to relax and to enjoy. No judgmental stares, no disapproval, no pressures for Sam to blend in and to be "normal".
(Strange thing is, he always "behaved" himself when we were there, with love and acceptance a given, he felt no threat or fear once inside those grounds.)
All my children enjoyed this place, but for me? I truly believe it salvaged the little that was left of my sanity.
Most every Saturday, and almost every summer break, I turfed up with our bundle of nappies (three of my children here were still nappy bound!) and five packed lunches to camp out and to chill.
Back then their daddy worked round the clock, it was his way of coping. It didn't always stay that way, he just took a little time to set his head on straight. We all got through as best we could, just like the many other families I met down there. We all had had a bomb explode on our lives, it took a while to clear the wreckage away, realise the future still held promise.
And it did. Oh my, it did.
It wasn't long before my "normie" kids began dragging their playmates along there too. It is open to all family members of disabled children, as well as to their friends. Their motto is "The more the merrier". Safely gated off, and with a high ratio of staff, it provides a desperately needed sanctuary for both the parents of, and to the children of special needs.
It's a truly magical place, run on only a wing and a prayer, funded solely by fund raising and private donation, it is constantly under threat of closure, subsisting hand to mouth (which it has done for well over thirty years now). Without the dedication of the parents and their supporters there, it would have long since have been thrown to the wind.
Even little Abby played her part - oh Lord, did it rain that day! The helpers at the Chelsea Playground were only the first link in a long, long chain of back up and support that's been there for us.
Sam has grown, developed and matured far beyond my brightest hopes were for him back then. So many people have had a hand in that; good, giving, caring folk - those who were able to see the boy behind the disability, and who have strived to help this fine young lad emerge.
Next term he starts a "Life Skills" course at college, which upon completion I have every confidence he will find a job-placement from. I can't believe those four cherubs of mine are now all teenagers. It blows my mind!
My son celebrates his 16th birthday today in Ireland, watching the bike racing with his beloved daddy. They have such a special bond between them now, it's precious and deep, so obvious for anyone to see.
Our family has travelled such a long way since our first wobbly steps at The Chelsea Playground. It opened a path to so much more for us, and was nothing short of a lifeline for me back then. I've met many Angels in human form, Penny Smith who ran this place was only the first in a long, long line of them. She held me when I cried, listened when I yelled, and had the wisdom to never offer platitudes. She held her tongue, never thrust advice, and was simply there - completely.
And now, just look at where we are! So much water under the bridge, so far we have come.
(Happy birthday my Sweet Sam, you can have no idea of how proud I am of you.)