Tag Archives: Family

The talking watch

My dad loves to give gifts. When he was a boy, family tradition says that one of his uncles (he had many uncles, but no cousins) used to have everyone over for Christmas dinner and enjoy himself, as host, by, every so often, appearing with another gift, much to everyone’s delight (in particular, my dad). Today, he likes to carry on the tradition, not at Christmas, but when he visits, and my children greet his appearance with great joy and anticipation, as they swarm around him like cats, winding their bodies around his legs (or at least they did when they were younger), waiting for the inevitable to appear out of one of his many pockets (my dad is a man of many pockets, which is or is not an advantage, depending on whether you are looking for your glasses or your keys or not).

Having a family of grandsons has clearly been a source of purchasing pleasure for him, the father of two daughters. In some ways he has revisited his youth, with candle steam boats that float in the bath, microscopes (complete with accidental sample of grandfatherly blood) and all manner of funny games and build-it kits heavy with meaning for him (and none at all for me, except that I just know he is itching to buy my daughter a lurid make-up set so that h he can declare in sonorous tones laced with laughter, ‘let their make-up be like clowns’ – I began experimenting with make-up around 1985; I’ll let you draw your own conclusions).

Recently though, his gift buying has hit new heights (or depths, depending on your perspective); last Christmas, he bought Sam a talking watch. Now, Sam has been hedged about by timepieces for some time. I bought him a digital watch one year, a great big chunky orange one which he wore with great pride until he lost it (it turned up again when I swapped handbags). There is a teaching clock on his bedroom wall, and for many years, day and night were marked by a light up bunny that slept at night and trotted off into the big, wide world, knapsack on its back to the tune of early morning birdsong and a cock-a-doodle-do as soon as it was day. For all his difficulties in learning, Sam is getting along well with telling the time.

He doesn’t have an obsession with punctuality. Unlike his father, his default setting is generally later, rather than early. If it were up to him, I’m sure he would be perfectly happy listening to his internal rhythms and following them, note by note. No, Sam’s familiarity with the mechanical underpinnings of the daily timetable spring from our efforts to effect change. Sam is, you see, an early riser and we are, as I am sure you understand, heartily sick of being woken up.

It’s pointless trying to change Sam. He wakes up with the sun and who can blame him? During the summer months (I never thought I’d be glad of the dark mornings), with an Easterly facing bedroom, the sun gets up – and so does he.

I’m not sure that the bunny clock ever really worked (despite my jabbing finger and hissed instruction to OBEY THE BUNNY). Asking him nicely to keep the noise down and let the rest of us sleep works up the point when he decides that he is bored, all on his lonesome, and it’s time he had some company, or some breakfast. Sam is, for his sins, a single-minded person with, understandably in the young, a personalised set of priorities.

But the talking watch. This has been a genius gift. After all those years, Sam knows that 7am is the time for getting up, even though he chooses to ignore it and either get up and crash about or stay in bed and crash about until the rest of us, red-eyed and gritty-tempered are forced up. You see, there is no arguing with the watch. It’s time is set remotely, radio controlled from Far Away, and it always tells the truth; it never changes its mind, or its tune. We finally, after all these years, have found the thing that has changed the game.

Because it’s true, you know, that you can’t change the person. Sam is not a mistake that needs to be fixed. He is not someone who can be forced to fit in, no matter how much we might want him to just do as he is told. Bawling at him might provide a temporary respite, but it never works long term. It’s never easy, figuring out what it is that needs to change – and even if you do, it might not be possible; after all, we live in a family and we have two other, younger children. Like teachers in a classroom, needs must be balanced, weighed up, and the best course measured.

Finding the thing that he understands, making subtle changes to the things that surround him, removing barriers, works.  Because it is then, and only then, that he is able to make the change, for himself.

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Teaching: a socially mobile career?

Or: winding the web

I don’t know if you know, but I moved house about three months ago (I am trying not to go on about it too much). Due to the demands of a punishing commute on the part of the hubs, we have uprooted ourselves from the town that was our home for almost seventeen years and plonked ourselves thirty miles away and into the next county. It has not been easy.

As well as leaving behind family and friends, and going to a place where we know no-one (or I don’t, so that effectively adds up to the same thing), we have remortgaged and found ourselves in the unenviable position of living in a smaller, more expensive house. We have had to chuck out a whole load of stuff (one of the side effects of living in a big old lady of a house is that there is no need to throw anything away, ever), buy a whole load of new, smaller stuff, and committed ourselves to paying off such a large debt that we will never be able to help out our rapidly growing children, should they decide to do what we did and take up the offer of a higher education.

On the face of it, R and I could be the poster children of social mobility. Born out of the Second World War, our parents were all the first in their families to go to college. Most of them, from working class roots, made it up the ladder to teaching positions, home ownership and a different kind of life altogether to the one that their own parents experienced. My parents moved away too, adding a geographical distance to the mix.

As a good friend of mine explained to me, on her return from a three year stint in the States, they had the opportunity to reinvent themselves, to become persons unfettered by other people’s expectations of their backgrounds, wiping away accents and enjoying the opportunity to be a new self. If you don’t have roots, if there aren’t people around who remember the day you were born, your awkward teenage years and that terrible cough you had the Christmas you were the narrator of the school play, it’s easy.

But here’s the thing. Roots, community, family, friendship; these things are important. Without them, we are a little lost unit, making our way in an uncertain, lonely fashion. Without the patriarchal model, where one person goes out to work and the other stays at home to run the kids about to their various bits and pieces, to spend the time not only running the household, but weaving the social web, the one that stands in for you when your family cannot, it’s, truth be told, a struggle. Politicians and the like, who like to talk about social mobility do so only in economic terms, as if ‘lifting yourself out of poverty’ is the only thing that matters.

Maybe that’s why so many people from working class backgrounds, when they graduate, turn to teaching. You don’t have to rip your family apart in order to get on. If you’re lucky you can enjoy the long holidays and the artificial sense of gentility they bring, so long as you don’t rub it in the noses of your wider family (in which case, it probably is better to move away, in an absence making the heart grow fonder kind of sense). You can tell children that if they work hard and they pass all their exams then they too will reap the rewards, based on merit, because that’s what happened to them.

Until, that is, you move away, and you become a creature of suspicion, even in teaching circles; the person with no connections, starting all over again, proving yourself, all over again, winding the web, all over again.

 

 

 

 

She Stands at the Window and Weeps

The suds slide slowly,
Abandoning the porcelain
For the cooling, greased greyness
And a diminished, laboured repetition.

They echo, with their soft descent,
The trickled tracks
Of raindrops;
Crystalline sisters, wedded to glass.

Their tired decay
A contrasting parallel
To tears
As she stands at the window and weeps.

Elastic

This week has been one of journeys, of visits, to the past, and glimpses of the future. Sam, at 16, is leaving the care of paediatricians, moving towards adult health services, and together, we are making our way between appointments, visiting the places and people of our shared past.

There are changes in us all. Instead of a rough collection of post-war prefabricated huts there is a brand, spanking new Children’s Centre, but, funnily enough, many of the faces are familiar; over the years, the medical staff have rescued one or other of my children from the jaws of whichever illness was threatening to pull them under more than once or twice. One of the reasons, after our housemove, we have opted to stay on at the same trust is the continuity. Many of the health professionals who see Sam for routine check-ups have known him, and me, since he was born.

This week, after the hearing aid debacle (I have checked everywhere, in and out of pockets and bags, the washing machine and the reception desk at college), it was the turn of the heart scan. It’s been on the horizon since the summer; twice now we have had to postpone, due to holiday or work commitments. The date has been on the calendar for at least a month, a final check, just to be sure.

Sam’s heart hasn’t had such close attention since he was three days old. That day, bleak, and grey, the tail end of January, was wet. Instead of sunshine, the crispness of a golden autumn, it was slick. Brown and dirty; the dampness in the air, the remains of tears, the shaky sweat brought on by the hospital and a darkened room cooling in the cold air. Then, he was a tiny baby, he hadn’t been home, hadn’t had his first bath; now he is on the cusp of manhood. This was the morning when together, we looked in the bathroom mirror as he shaved the beard that is slowly roughening his baby face.

It was supposed to be no big deal. Like I said, it’s been on the calendar for months. Over the years, we have got used to dividing our time, not exactly taking turns, but attending the appointments, of which there are many, separately. Most of them are mundane. Most of them require only the polite boredom of waiting your turn, the oft repeated recitation of a medical history, the everso slightly defensive spike, the sensitivity to unsaid, but assumed stereotypes. I was unprepared for the wash of emotion, the tidal return of a day long gone, when I feared, when I truly feared what our future might be.

There was no reason to fear. There was no sign of breathlessness, no dusky tinge to his skin. As he has grown, he has become a vision of good health. I knew that this scan was a formality, a chance for a doctor to see the baby grown, to shake his, and my hand and say goodbye. But still. There are moments when reason does not feel strong. There are times when the echo of the heart is an unstoppable force. It overwhelms, and it catches you out.

We left with a smile. A wry admission that we hope never to meet again was our goodbye. We move on. We may carry the echo of that dark January day, but today there is sunshine. Today, there is tomorrow.

via Daily Prompt: Elastic

Sunday Best

I had the oddest experience the other day. As you (probably don’t) know, I moved house recently and, as the nights are drawing in and I have reached the conclusion of my hemming and hawing, I thought it was about time I sorted out some sitting room (the hubs calls it the lounge, which I tease him by declaring that that name is horribly bourgeois) curtains. I found a nearby branch of a fabric place I have used before (I’m not what you might call skilled in the matter of sewing), and off I trotted, measurements in hand – and they refused to sell me any. Not in so many words, you understand, we ran out of time and I had to make a dash for it (slave to the school-and-college run that I am), but still. I got the distinct impression that something was…off.

I thought about it afterwards as I scratched my head and googled around to see if there was anywhere else I could get hold of something to keep the darkness at bay, and I came to a depressing conclusion. I think it was something to do with me. Not that I barged in to the shop and demanded to be served, not that sort of thing (people who do that never seem to have any trouble getting what they want, after all), but that I didn’t look like someone who could afford to spend the kind of money that the curtains are going to cost (don’t worry, I have saved up – I’ve bought curtains before, I know they are costly things). Seeing as I had been cleaning the house (the other treadmill of my life), and the fact that it was raining, I had not considered dressing up a necessity – rather, I was considerably dressed down. Outward appearances did not tell the truth of the matter.

I’ve come a cropper in this way before, you see. I went through a phase of dressing up for church, when the kids were little. In an unconscious echo of my teenage years, when I dressed up (or down, depending on which way you looked at it) for the evening service, it was my one opportunity of the week to wear something swish, after a week of anonymous dressing in the ubiquitous uniform of early motherhood.  I’d even do my hair (well, sometimes) and put on makeup. I knew I wasn’t presenting the right kind of image after I had one very difficult conversation with someone or other (I had done something wrong, spoken the wrong way or asked for the wrong thing – in the wrong way) and I had to point out that I, as the mother of a disabled child, was the very person that, perhaps, they were seeking to reach.

Sometimes I think it was the same when  Sam was at primary school too (although we never had the same full and frank exchange of views about it). I didn’t fit the mould of the person who might need a hand, every now and again. Some people get all the help in the world, the cups of tea, the signposting to official people who you can ask for help, some people get the sickly sweet patronage of the welfare state and others, those hampered by their membership of privilege, instead of helped, are pathologised. Demanding. Fussy. Pushy. Difficult. Asking in the wrong way and at the wrong time, not following the plan, or being the right kind of mother.

I don’t know, maybe I should just suck it up. Maybe I should dress up for shopping and dress down for church, just so people know I mean business. Maybe I should cry in school playgrounds, not save my tears for the washing up or when I’m cutting onions; maybe I should publicly broadcast a somehow acceptable disability story so that everyone can feel sorry for me, and good about themselves for helping. Maybe I should hide who I really am, don the cloak of hypocrisy so that they don’t get defensive and I get…I don’t know what I get, a relief from disappointment, perhaps.

I’ll go back and get my curtains. I’ll screw up my courage, flick my hair over my shoulder, put on my sunglasses (even if it’s raining) and remind myself that I don’t have to care what other people think, or appear to think of me, that it’s the results (in this case, curtains) that matter. One day, I’ll transfer the lesson and I’ll stop being phased by the criticism of wrongness and then we’ll see.