"A special boy at the local café taught me what it truly means to be a parent."

I often find parenting hard, even though I have only one child, a nine year old boy, who is absolutely gorgeous.

But the accumulated weariness brought on by parenting sometimes bursts out at the seams in the form of harradin screams, berating my child for not finding his hat, or for forgetting his homework book.

Occasionally I take refuge in a special café on the way to work. I chat to Craig and Finnegan, father and son pair, who are there every morning for half an hour or so before school.

What an indulgence, eh? Fancy getting to a café before school every day – how organised would you have to be?

Except Finnegan is a special needs child, who is home-schooled.

Before the teacher arrives for the day, Finnegan and his Dad go to the café, where they are known by all, have their breakfast, and look at one of the books or brightly-coloured brochures his Dad has brought along for that morning’s amusement.

The four questions every kid asks Jess Smith on I Don’t Know How She Does It. 

Still sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

A bit of morning entertainment before the real day begins. But Finnegan does not have full muscular control of his limbs, and like all kids, he is not always interested in breakfast, so getting a spoon of porridge into his mouth requires the kind of patience that most of us just dream about.

Finnegan does not speak, but he is learning to communicate. He has learnt that he must look at and wave to all the ‘regulars’, like myself, who say hello and goodbye.

I sit down to chat to Craig; he is well read and endlessly interesting, though if our conversation gets too focused, Finnegan, like all children, has his ways of drawing our attention back to him. If he is excited, Finnegan might bounce up and down, and make loud noises while looking at the pictures, or clap his hands.

When he knows you well, he will reach out and touch your hand, a way of acknowledging that you are welcome in his circle. It’s a special gift which he imparts, and one is privileged to receive it.

children disabilities
Except Finnegan is a special needs child, who is home-schooled. Image via iStock.

He can’t read, but he can use symbols from a special language-learning book, and put these in sequence, to communicate simple sentences. It's painstaking and slow, but Craig, ever patient, helps him through. Finnegan is 16: these patterns will not change.

Newcomers glance awkwardly at this odd pair. They see immediately that Finnegan is ‘different’, and they don’t know how to react. Young kids do what young kids do, and stare and point and say blunt things to their mums and dads.

But newcomers soon note how Finnegan and his Dad are immersed in the community of the café. The owners simply welcome and accept them, Craig and Finnegan are part of the furniture. The regulars know them well, and sometimes get to know each other as we stop and share time with them. Today a young girl takes out her flute and plays it for Finnegan and he touches it, in wonder.

The café is a community of its own – welcoming, protective.

Jessica Smith: motherhood with one arm on I Don't Know How She Does It. 

Membership is fluid and depends solely on repeated custom and time shared.  This community is clearly important to Craig and Finnegan. I imagine that Craig, devoted to his son’s care, draws much from the extended company available there, and it surely expands Finnegan’s world.

He is learning that there are many nice people around, that there are basic manners of greeting, that he has to eat his breakfast.

But we, too, are lucky to have them in this place – to remind us that our hardships are few, that there is room for difference in the world, and that friends come in all shapes and sizes.