Monthly Archives: September 2015

Blast From the Past

I’ve got one of those things on my Facebook app that shows me what I posted ‘on this day that is not today’ and this is what it chose to show me this morning; a post I wrote in a state of rage and distress, many years ago, a description of one of the experiences that led to the creation of this blog.

I had a long conversation the other day with a good friend of mine about catharsis. For a long time, incidents like this sat like a lead weight on my heart; they weighed me down. They sat on my shoulder and whispered angry words, they dug in their claws, increased my confusion.  They refused to let me go.

It’s been a long journey away from that place for me, but I’d like to bet that someone somewhere is hearing these words. I’d like to bet that someone somewhere, today, is reeling from the shock of being told that teaching their child isn’t their job.

I wept oceans then.  I weep no longer.

Thank you for reading.

What on Earth?

Pardon me for thinking that the teaching of reading was actually the teacher’s job. Pardon me for thinking that those children who had difficulties in learning, whatever their level, formed quite an important part of a teacher’s day.

Pardon me for thinking that those for whom reading, writing and maths are actually quite easy, who come from loving, supportive homes, actually need less time from their teacher than those for whom reading, and even speaking, is difficult, who have parents who either do not care, or who have run out of energy, or who do not know where to turn, or who simply do not ‘fit in’ to school.

And pardon me for insisting, with every fibre of my being, that my son, my darling boy, who statistically stands a better chance than anyone else in his class of being bullied, sexually abused, marginalised and generally having a lower standard of life, pardon me for standing up for him and demanding his right to be taught, to take his place in the community in which he lives, from the very beginning.

And do not pardon me for continuing to believe that his place in a mainstream school is important, not just for him, but for everyone else in the school, adults and children, for showing them that people come in many forms, that regardless of their difficulties they can still have friends, be loved and love in return. That the so-called ‘normal’ people can learn as much from him as he can from them.

And then take a look at my son, and congratulate him for everything he has achieved, for being a real example of what can happen when someone who loves you believes in you.

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Suffer the Little Children

When Sam was two years old he broke his leg.  It was awful.  He wasn’t overly well at the time, so, as well as a broken leg he couldn’t really breathe.  It was like one of those chain reactions where one disaster leads to another, and, after thinking that maybe he’d be in plaster for the usual six weeks, he, and I and baby brother, was interred in hospital for the best part of a couple of months.  It was not a high parenting point.

I take my hat off to parents of children in hospital, I really do.  As I had spent considerable time in hospital as a child myself, and then about ten years after the event as an out-patient (I got to know my consultant reasonably well), the experience gave me an insight into my parents that I would not have had otherwise.

You see, children’s hospitals are not nice places.  There is a sort of hushed desperation about them, an atmosphere of squashed hope.  Not because there is no hope, you understand, but because Hope dare not show its face, not until you walk out of the front door, shaking the dust (if there was any) of the place from the soles of your shoes.

I don’t remember a great deal about being in hospital.  My memories are fractured into snapshots; intense moments of feeling that have remained with me over the years.  Injections, blood tests.  Scans, stethoscopes.  The hospital school.  Full, and sun-filled in the modern hospital close to home, dungeon-housed and empty in the hospital far away.  I painted a picture.  I don’t know what happened to it.  I was very poorly for a long time.  There was a lot of fear, and a lot of hurty bits.

When Sam was born, it was my biggest worry that he would spend as much time in the hospital as I had; poked and prodded, in pain.  But apart from the Broken Leg, and the surgery that followed, it hasn’t been like that at all.  Instead of a life overseen by anxious doctors, the cotton-wool-ed existence of the poorly child (and being poorly can happen to anyone; it happened to me), his life has been, well, ordinary.  I wish I’d know that about Down’s syndrome, when I was busy frightening myself with fear of the unknown.

He goes to the school up the road; he rides his bike.  He has applied for guitar lessons.  He is regularly required to turn the music down, make his bed and tidy his room, take his plate to the dishwasher and lay the table.  Do his homework.

Now, instead of fear of hospital corridors, of white coats gathered around the curtained bed, strange as it may seem, I fear other people.  I fear the stares, the funny looks of strangers.  What do they mean?  What are their intentions to my son?  I fear the thoughtless actions of young people; young people who know no better, or who should know better.  I fear the prejudice of people who blame him for things he has not done, who fear him because of his disability.  I suffer agonies over him.  It is the curse of parenting, of motherhood, this fear for your children: this suffering.

But Sam, just like so many other children with learning disabilities or difficulties, does not suffer from it.  It is not an illness or a disease or a broken bone.  He is not afflicted by an extra chromosome, and neither is he an affliction.

IMG_3475

Rocket powered jumping for joy.

 

Learning Opportunities

People who know me know that I am not what you might call a formal dresser.  I like clothes, don’t get me wrong, but for many years, the driving force in many, if not most, of my wardrobe choices, has been function over form.  I can’t abide being too cold or too hot, or uncomfortable.  I hate thin tights.  I can’t bear static electric fabrics.  I find those events when I have to think about what to wear, like nights out, or the first day back at school, a trial.

I’m alright once I get going.  Once the term swings into action I get into a routine.  Like my children, I have a uniform in which to work.  Once I’ve decided which parts of it I’m wearing that week I am good to go.

The children are the same.  Sam’s uniform, despite the change in school, hasn’t changed, apart from the colour of his sweatshirt, in ten years.  What he’ll do when he finally leaves I have no idea.  He’s more than happy to go up the road with the embroidered badge borne proudly upon his chest.

My daughter is a bit more of an individual.  As a girl, she has the choice between skirt, trousers or dress (pinafore or summer checks – although this year it was so chilly she only just made it out of her trousers).  She enjoys wearing her wildlife socks.  She particularly enjoys the days when her socks are cheerfully odd.  It started in celebration of her brother, and, thanks to my inadequate laundry system, continued well beyond the month of March.  Who wants to wear boring socks anyway?

Every summer, I stock up on uniform items; they have invariably grown out of shoes and to the shops I must go, and swallow and dismiss any thoughts I might have had that I might get something new, and more recently, each summer I have an argument in the shoe shop.  Like my parents before me, I am finding myself increasingly at odds with my children over what constitutes appropriate footwear.

Not for them the attractions of the man-made leather white stiletto, oh no.  Not for them the electric blue kitten heel.  No, the object of their desire, for 2 and 3 anyway, is the Velcro fastening.

Now in theory, I have nothing against Velcro shoes.  On Sam’s behalf I am very glad that they now go up to size five and possibly even size six.  He struggles with more than the first part of tying a bow, and the existence of an easy shoe means that he can put them on himself, without bothering me.  Thanks to the continued existence of such shoes, and their enduring popularity, the stigma of wearing them is lessened considerably.

So when I insist that my twelve year old don not the Velcro but the shoelace version I find myself in a bit of a bind.  My children, like me, have small feet and both middle and baby child still fit into the easy shoes, no problem.  I walk a fine line, when I visit the shoe shop, in explaining why they must have lace ups, and he not, but I see no reason why my younger children should be de-skilled because their brother has special needs.

It’s all over the place, when you think about it, the de-skilling of ordinary children.  They stay in nappies for years and years, because the disposables are just so good.  They don’t know how to cross roads safely because they are invariably driven everywhere.  They don’t have to remember their home phone number.  They never have to think about the boundaries of their schools because the grounds are increasingly fenced in.  No decisions here, please.

But the one that really gets on my nerves is the school tie, and I don’t mean the Old one.  Now, I admit I’m not a fan of the tie anyway (despite the fact that my dad loves them and has a vast array for every occasion), but if you are going to insist that children wear the things, at least make them wear a real one, not some sort of clip on horror that not only looks ridiculous but digs in the neck as well.

Because it seems to me, in my humble opinion, as it were, that the solution to the problem of kids misbehaving with ties, is not to take them away, or make it impossible to tie it too tight or too loose, but to get on with the difficult business of expecting children to rise to the standards you have set them.  The way to help children behave at playtime is not to take it away from them.  The way you learn to do something is, funnily enough, by doing it.

Maybe, in our busy, pressured lives, rushing around as we are, filling this in, planning for that, paying this bill and that one, the hours spent at work, not at home, the hours spent thinking and planning for teaching and filling in forms and data trackers afterwards as opposed to actually doing it, that the effort of getting children to learn stuff, like boundaries, or bedtimes, or tying shoelaces or ties all feels like too much like hard work.

I think we’ve got our priorities wrong.  We do far too much taking away of learning opportunities.