This week The Rose completed her first year of college.

Like the rest of her large year group, she is with people who all failed to achieve any recognised paper qualifications at school.

They are a mixed, interesting and eclectic bunch. No one else as far as I know has Aspergers, but for a variety of reasons each has failed to gain academic recognition and each has come into this year to explore a bit more of the world beyond school and to find their own route in practical skills.

I know very little about this new, semi-grown up world  The Rose moves around in. They don’t do notes in book bags or send home school projects to be signed. The students all now inhabit a clandestine world filled with a mix of responsibility, freedom and transition. It’s hard for any teenager. It’s even harder if your social skills don’t give you friends to help or share the changes and the newness.

But I do know is that The Rose is happier than she ever was at school. Much happier.

Occasionally I hear the names of others being mentioned. They never come round of course and she’s never been out with them – but I have started to notice a couple of times the names come up more than once. Do I whiff a sniff of…. tah dahh dahhhhh… FRIENDSHP?

I am beyond excitement at the prospect – but I am very aware that any inkling of a smidgeon of the merest interest in this will bring up The Rose Draw Bridge and leave me floundering in the muddy moat.

We are glimpsing a gossamer like shred of possibility, I can feel it. I hold my breath. I don’t want to disturb its blooming fragility –  but I so want to help and I know how big my feet are. Tread carefully Mum, tip toe around this. Take care.

So this week The Dad and I went to the end of year ceremony, where each student gets an attendance certificate and is helped to feel good about completing the year. Some are leaving, some are going sideways to try another skill at an introductory level, some have apprenticeships, work placement or jobs and just a small handful are going ‘up’, to a second year to learn more and develop the skills they have acquired.

The Rose is one of these. She has chosen to stay on and go up. She’s knows it will be harder but her confidence has never been higher. She loves this college.

There are over 60 students and their parents, filling the college hall. Of course we don’t know anyone as we haven’t met any ‘friend’s’ parents, but it doesn’t matter. We are here for her. Though to be honest, (and I know this sounds harsh)  we’re not really looking forward to an hour of sitting, gently clapping, watching students we don’t know, filing up sulkily to shake hands and sit down again – but that’s not really the point is it? The Rose is here. And so are we.

Unusually she has dressed up. She looks beautiful. In a simple white dress and salmon coloured pumps she shines out against the urban fatigues and Converse trainers of her peers. This was almost her undoing. She wanted to go home when she saw they hadn’t dressed up as she thought they should – and we gathered ourselves and prepared for melt down – but help came from a totally unexpected quarter.

One of the students waved at her and said ‘Hi The Rose you look amazing’.

So she stayed. Who wouldn’t?

20 mins later in the hall and now well into the ceremonial clapping, hand shaking and certificate passing, The Rose appeared at the head of the slowly dwindling queue of students waiting to go up. I stirred from my somnambulance and just caught the words…

“ And this year the prize for the overall Most Outstanding Student goes to… The Rose”

And the next things I hear – almost simultaneously are 1) A crescendo of clapping and cheering and 2) The Dad bursting into tears.

The next moments are a blur. A mix of shock and exploding pride deafens and blinds us. No one had any idea. Then suddenly it’s over. The Rose is having her press photo taken with her huge engraved plaque; I find myself hugging The Dad, The Teachers, The Governors, The Head, random students who can’t run quickly enough. I’m thanking anyone and everyone who ever breathed. I’m crying, I’m gushing and I’m causing people to form exclusion zones around me in order to gawp from a minimum safe distance.

Eventually the photos are over and I get to hug my Rose. She is cool, calm and poised. Her mother is red eyed, snotty and hiccupping. She allows me to fawn just a smidge longer than usual, as a special treat, then moves off… towards a small group of …students?

I stand stunned. They are talking to her, hugging her and delighting in her success. She smiles, accepts their compliments, hugs them back. She’s shining.

These are her FRIENDS?

I watch in awe. Eventually I approach, but cautiously. The Rose looks nervous. I stand just on the edge of this lovely little knot of sociability. I smile. I so want to hug them all. The Rose graciously introduces me (she points, straight armed, right in my face – “ That’s my Mum” she shouts). The Friends giggle. I ask their names. Unbelievably I recognise them. She’s mentioned these names before. They must be real.  I shake their hands. I try to hug one but The Dad pulls me back in the nick of time.

And there we stand. Beaming. And there The Rose stands. Beaming back.

I ask what they are all doing for the holidays. They start to tell me. I see The Rose flinch imperceptibly, but recognise I need to withdraw, this is her space. In my haste to do so,  but in my desperate need to ensure these friends know they are so very, very welcome to be my daughter’s friends, I clutch at the only point of reference I have. It’s from Primary school, the last time friends came round.

 “Please do come over in the summer holidays and play with The Rose. You can all stay for tea too”

The soon to be 18 year old adults, almost legal drinkers and almost certainly actual drinkers, old enough to vote, drive and get married – just stare at me. I hear the tumbleweed rolling across the ground between us.

I freeze.

“ Muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuummmmm! ”

Oh no. What have I done! Meltdown?

But The Rose is in a new situation. She’s with friends. They don’t get angry. They giggle; they laugh and I hear them saying yes they’ll come. The Rose laughs too – eventually. She’s been headed off at the pass, by a new form of protection. Not parental – but peer.

Oh The Rose. I am as proud as it is ever possible to be. I’ll clear away your toys and even get the paddling pool out!