The little girl smiled up from the chair, eyes luminous in the softly lit room. She was tiny and undernourished, blonde hair tied back harshly but her smile lit up her face and warmed you deep inside. The chair, a big recliner seemed somehow to enfold her, safe at last. She was playing quietly with some fuzzy felts, her feet contained in the hands of the reflexologist, quiet music played in the background to the accompaniment of the water fountain. The room was filled by a lovely fragrance and an Aladdin’s cave of treasures to delight children of all ages.
“Hello, do you mind if I come in and look at A Quiet Place?
“No, come in” she replied
“What is happening to you” I asked
“I am having my feet massaged” she said, “it’s lovely.”
“I can see that, you lucky girl, I wish it was me. What else happens here?”
“Well, Kathy lets me take a smelly tissue back to class and I have got one for my friend and the teacher too. Oh yes and one for my mum.”
“What is that?” I asked
“Kathy lets me choose a smell from her box and put the oil in the foot spa. Then I can have the same oil to take with me in case I feel sad in the day, and it will make me feel like I am back here in A Quiet Place again happy”.
“Ah I see, and what are the rest of the things in here for, I can see that Kathy has finished now would you mind showing me around?”
She put on her shoes and socks still smiling and relaxed and took my hand innocently. “This is where I can go and hide and listen to one of the stories. She took me into a tent made of many colours and filled with soft cushions, sparkling lights and soft toys.”
Mmmm I thought I could just stay here myself!
She invited me to sit down and showed me some of her favourite books all full of spirit and hope and fun*.
Then we came out of the tent and went to the musical instruments, a huge gong hung on a beautiful carved wooden hangar.
“What is that”, I asked
“I can only bang the gong on the way out,” she looked up shyly at Kathy who nodded permission, “But I can show you now if you like?”
She picked up a blue padded hammer and shockingly for one so fragile gave it an almighty thwack and the whole room vibrated with a beautiful but hardly quiet sound.
“Wow”, I said for there was nothing else to be said
She laughed mischievously at my surprise and took my hand to show me the other instruments, lovely sounding bells, a rain stick, ocean drums and wooden xylophones.
“What do you use these for?” I asked
“Well I see Fran as well as Kathy and if I am feeling a bit too sad to talk Fran talks with me through the drums and we have musical conversations, I usually feel better then and perhaps do a drawing or play with the sand or clay.
But come and look at these, this is my favourite toy, she is a mummy polar bear with her baby.” She picked them up and started to play without any self-consciousness. Mummy bear speaking to baby bear, having a little tea party and being tucked up in bed. These activities go on in most children’s lives as the norm but not with this little one.
“What is that?” I asked
“It’s a trampoline which Fran lets me jump on when I come in it helps me keep fit.”
Keep fit I thought this fragile little girl?
“I go to ballet .”
She smiled up at Kathy who nodded for her to continue
“I was on stage yesterday and everyone clapped,” she looked down shyly.
“I have asthma and cannot always do my practice and so Fran and Kathy have helped me to do this show.”
I raised my eyebrows? “Tell me more” and Kathy said
“When N first came she was very shy and often felt unwell. Her little brother comes as well and he used to be a bit grumpy with you N didn’t he?”.
“Yes, he used to kick and punch me very hard all the time but now he has stopped and we are good friends. I don’t seem to be so sick all the time and have been able to practice and won my prize and that is what I said I wanted to do when Fran first asked me.”
“Yes” said Kath,” N is on her second six week programme because we are making good progress and wanted to support her through this show and there we are. Now it is time to go back to class N.”
I thanked her for showing me around she smiled sweetly and taking Kathy’s hand they went happily back to class.
I picked up her case notes as I was already fully aware of her case with giving supervision to Fran.
I stood in the room for a while breathing in and enjoying the atmosphere, the sense of stillness and peace I had hoped would be here when the idea first came to me, to be able to share this peace with others who didn’t want to sit and meditate, whose lives were a noisy and chaotic simply because that is how they are where there is no privacy to think your own thoughts and just be still. Then those whose circumstances are more nightmarish, living with trauma and violence to learn how to trust an adult again to touch and be touched with care and nurture, to be listened to and respected, to feel love and experience compassion for others. This is what A Quiet Place is all about. It encompasses the whole family because we are not islands floating in the ocean unattached to our families, environment communities and society -we are each a unique flower blooming in the soil of our genetics and nurtured by our experiences. These experiences are soaked in since we were in the womb and before with body chemistry and will inform our behaviour because the body and mind are nothing but a series of rippling connections which impact upon our immune system and our bodies ability to fight infections and therefore our ability to respond and learn to the best of our potential.
The unfolding of A Quiet Place into any environment also depends upon the same premise. It has various criteria which roll out into the unique form of a school or whatever environment within which it exists.
I spoke to one of the teachers who had sent a number of children through the programme and made good use of it herself. This woman I knew to be one of the best and most dedicated teachers I had come across had been having her own family problems. So difficult had things become at home with health problems that she had taken time off with stress related issues. We had been able to offer her aromatherapy and psychotherapy which had maintained her in school with her 11 year olds at a crucial transitional phase for the last half term of the year .For her self esteem this had been a wonderful achievement, for the children the least disruption to their learning and the financial costs for the school saved hundreds of pounds of supply cover. A good outcome for all concerned at every level!