The Teaching Mum

A light-hearted look at parenting through the eyes of a very busy English Teacher.


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Poo Watch

Hello and welcome to the latest installment of the ‘Watch’ series.  Poo Watch, we have found, is very similar to Cot Watch only smellier, more messy and a lot less fun.  Where Cot Watch stole from you precious hours of sleep, Poo Watch will take away all aspects of dignity and self respect as you come to accept that walking around your home, garden or your local Co-op with a little bit of someone else’s poo about your person somewhere will become completely acceptable.

Give me the sleep deprivation any day.

So, *sob* the time has come to potty train the youngest thus signifying the end of my baby days.  This summer holiday I have made the decision to try to potty train the Dude because when I finally walk down the aisle in August I don’t want him meeting me at the end of it with a Fruit Shoot filled nappy hanging off him like (please forgive me for this simile, it’s Teaching Dad’s contribution) a pair of old man’s knackers…

My little man – currently battling a Fruit Shoot addiction.

In order to successfully participate in Poo Watch, you will need the following:

A potty.

A toilet seat.

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Is this how you do it, Mum?

A two year old.

Pants, pants, pants and pants.


And patience – lots of patience.

Day one of Poo Watch started like any other day.  My snoozing Dude woke me at 7am by pulling at my face, declaring that he is not a vampire and asking for a Fruit Shoot.  Bearing in mind that he had already necked a Fruit Shoot at 3am in the morning, I politely declined – a decision that clearly went down like a sh*t filled nappy because I promptly received a smack around the chops.

Pulling him off the bed before he soaked through his night nappy, I cheerily gave him the good news of the day:

“Someone’s going to wear big boy pants today.  Are you going to be a big boy?”

Nodding, he allowed me to rip off his night nappy which, I am estimating, weighed the same as a baby elephant, and as I turned to grab his potty, he was running naked into our bedroom to greet a snoozing Daddy with chants of “I’m a big boy!  I’m a big boy!”

A short wrestle later and he was placed on the potty peeing!

Yes!  Easy.  P*ss easy.

After placing the Dude in his first pair of ‘big boy’ pants, we were headed downstairs for breakfast.

“Do you want Weetabix, porridge or a poo or a wee?”

“Porridge,”

“Okay, go and sit down and I will bring it through into the living room.  Do you want to sit on your potty and wait for me to bring it through?”

“Fruit Shoot,”

Okay, so not the answer I was hoping for but it was a rather long sentence for a two year old to answer.  I refused him the Fruit Shoot, stepped over the tantrum that was playing out on the floor and continued to make the porridge.  Whilst he was down there,  I figured it wouldn’t harm the situation if I asked him if he needed a wee.  He kicked me.

***I am just going to take a break here because as I type this, the Dude is sitting on my shoulders (as I sit on the settee) and as he was climbing off, I smelt the all too familiar aroma of poo.  He has taken a sh*t on my head…albeit in a pull up but still his crotch was on my head as he was squeezing it out.  And we were doing so well… I’m just off to change him… bare with me (huh geddit?)***

Just having a poo, Mum. Don’t watch!

I’m back with clean hands and with the Dude in a clean nappy.  Yes, I said nappy.  Potty training is done for the day.

Where were we?  Ah, yes…breakfast was running smoothly and by smoothly I mean that I made both children porridge and within minutes the porridge had been discarded and both children were now asking for crisps and sweets.  They settled with my compromise of a banana each because ‘no child should eat sweets at 8am’ and as I stated this nutritious fact, I spied an open bag of Boost mini-bites in the fridge and grabbed a couple (four) because it was going to be a long day.

After breakfast, I noted that my boy had been in his pants for almost an hour and that needed to be praised.

“You’ve been in your pants for almost an hour, well done.”

As a two year old, he has no sense of time and celebrated his milestone by subsequently urinating down his leg.

Grabbing his potty (that was literally right next to him), I already knew it was too late and a puddle had formed around his skinny little legs and was now heading towards the brand new Sky Q box that contained a brand new episode of ‘Game of Thrones’.  It was a tough decision to make in the heat of the moment but you will be pleased to know that, unlike my son, the Sky box remained dry.

I brought down the second pair of pants.

“Superhero pants,” I cooed.  “I bet superheroes don’t wee their pants.”

It turns out that Superheroes do wee their pants.  A lot.  Who knew that Captain America, Iron Man and Spider-Man could be so wet?

In the midst of my despair, a text message lit up my phone like a shining beacon of hope.  It read:

I have my nieces for the afternoon.  Do you want a playdate?

Soft play was decided upon and out came the pull-ups because no one wants to be the parent of the kid who leaves brown stains down the winding snake slide.  In a crap (these puns are just running out of me like…) attempt to be consistent, I kept up to my pretence at potty training with half-arsed ‘do you need a poo or a wee?’ questions whilst sipping happily on my latte lying to myself that if your kid wears a pull-up then that basically means they’re potty trained because, you know, they can pull them up.

Poo Watch, you’ll be pleased to know, continued into our second day of the school holidays.  After achieving multiple pees in the potty and one poo, I declared day one a partial success.  At poo watching, we were the best.

The morning started positively when we celebrated the Dude’s morning wee in his potty with a high-five.  White star pants were placed over his diminutive derriere because he was our ‘little star’ for using his potty (there were no superhero ones clean and we were trying to be clever…).  Off we went downstairs to breakfast.  While eating his Weetabix, my boy pointed at the television.

“Poo!” He shouted.

“That’s not a very nice thing to say about Topsy,” I said thinking he had just heard the word one too many times yesterday.

When Daddy arrived downstairs, it became clear that I too had become desensitized to doo doo because he stuck his nose firmly in the air and declared that someone in the room had clearly let rip.

Oh, thank goodness, he wasn’t calling ‘Topsy and Tim’ sh*t after all.  (Big fan right here!)

Cursing myself because, by jove, the boy had got the hang of it, I grabbed the potty.

“It’s too late,” Teaching Dad declared and asked me what I needed.

I needed an extra pair of hands but instead, defeated, I asked for a pull-up.

“Pull-up?” my boy asked before hitching his pants up a bit tighter around his bum and I could only watch in dismay as those white little pants started to take on another less pleasing colour.

Oh, pants.

There’s always tomorrow.

And that, you’ll be pleased to know, concludes tonight’s edition of Poo Watch because as I type these last few words, my name is being shouted repeatedly by Teaching Dad who is in the play room with our little Dude watching him curl out yet another poo.

I’ll get the wipes; you grab the nappy.

At least one of our kids knows how to use a toilet even if she has to take a teddy in there with her.

 

 

 

 

 


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Jack’s Story (Part Seven)

I will keep it brief: click for part one, part two, part three, part four, part five and part six. (If you have all the time the world, that is!)

As the two boys had been walking in silence since crawling through the tree bark, Jack felt it was only right that he should try to get to know his new friend.

“You said you were waiting for me?” Jack started. “Why me?”

“I moved into the area a few weeks ago,” Will began. “I’ve seen you around and I have seen you with your friends. Your friends mean a lot to you don’t they? You always look like you’re having a laugh together. But, then I saw you this morning as you stepped from the bus and you looked as though you were carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. Your friends were speaking to you, Jack, but you weren’t hearing them. You were looking at them, but you weren’t seeing them. They didn’t notice. But, I did. I am here to make you see again. To make you open your eyes. We’re going to have fun you and I; we’re going to be heroes too, just you wait and see.”

Confusion and concern was starting to arise at the back of Jack’s head. Who was this boy and why had he been watching Jack conversing with his friends? “Heroes?” Jack asked. “How do you mean?”

“Someone needs saving, Jack.” Will answered. “And you’re going to be the one who does the saving.”

Silenced washed over the two again as they continued to walk along the muddy terrain. Every few yards, the boys stumbled over upturned roots and branches that had fallen from the looming trees above. All the while as they were walking, the moon had been their guide and its light beat down upon the path they were taking. As the minutes passed, the mud underneath their feet became rocks and pebbles. Then the stones gradually became neater and neater. Jack soon realised that they were walking down a path and at the end of the path there was a house. A large, magnificent house that looked like it hadn’t been occupied for one hundred years or more.

Together, they stopped and together they looked up at the building. The moon had found its place in the sky directly behind the house and its bright beam illuminated over the many flaws that had been left hidden in the shadows: the broken windows, cracked roof tiles, weeds and ivy growing in and out of crevices in the brickwork and a door stood slightly ajar hanging off its hinges.

“Death has swallowed this house whole,” Will said quietly.

What was once a grand Victorian design now stood lonely, decrepit and haunted by its past grandeur. Any life that had lived there had left long ago.

“I call it my Safe House.”

It didn’t look very safe. To the left of the house, Jack noticed that part of a wall had crumbled in on itself and remnants of rock and stone had fallen and piled on top of each other. Hundreds of weeds had taken root along the path, so much so that it would prove difficult to walk upon without getting your foot tangled in an over grown thistle. The path led to a huge door that once stood bright green, but now the paint had peeled and rotted away leaving behind only dull and splintered wood.

“It doesn’t look very safe,” Jack said. “I’m not going in there.”

“You don’t have to yet. I am just telling you that it’s a safe house. Should the time arise when you need somewhere to go, then run here and enter through that door,” Jack pointed towards the door. “Make sure it’s only that door you enter through though; don’t go around the back because it’s dangerous. I can’t protect you if I can’t see you.”

“What would I need protecting from?” Jack asked.

“We don’t know yet.”

Something moved in the darkness. A flicker in the peripheral vision, if you like. Had it being a normal day in normal hours in Jack’s normal school surroundings, it would have gone unnoticed. It wasn’t a normal day – far from it. Jack quickly glanced upwards to his left and his sight rested on a roof slate that was hanging precariously from the top of the dilapidated building. There was a black shadow resting on the slate and it looked as if it was tipping it backwards and forwards as if it were threatening to knock it from its place. Jack’s hand found Will’s arm and the firmness of the grip told Will that something was wrong. He followed Jack’s gaze and saw the shadow. He didn’t panic. It wasn’t fully formed yet and its power was not at full capacity. It was getting stronger by the day, but right now, this shadow could do very little harm to the boys. Certainly, it could send that roof tile flying off the house and crashing onto the ground in front of them but it was choosing not to. It was just watching them. For now. In fact, Will wasn’t even sure that it knew that it had been spotted.

“It’s time to go,” Will said calmly. “You’ve seen enough for today.”

“What is it?” Jack asked. His voice was an octave higher than usual.

“It’s time to go,” Will repeated.

Without turning their backs on the house, the boys backed up slowly onto the stone path. It wasn’t until the bright light of the moon was shining above them that they turned away from the house and returned to the tree. In silence, the two crawled back through the hollow stump and out into the open air. Jack didn’t think anything of it, but he had been leading the way through the tree. Slowly, like before, as his vision began to adjust to the darkness around him, he could see strange scratches on the inside of the bark. He realised, once again, that light had begun to seep in. This time it wasn’t the moon. The light felt warm against his skin, just like the sunlight had earlier when he walked out through the PE doors. How long ago was that? Hours? Days? It felt like a life time ago. If anyone had asked Jack what lesson he had sat through period one that morning, he would not have been able to say.

He finally stepped out into the bright sunlight and turned to wait for Will to emerge. Only he didn’t. Jack was alone. A sudden panic hit him. Had he made it into the tree behind him? He was certain he had because he could hear his breathing behind him as they crawled through the dry mud. What if it hadn’t had been him? In his mind’s eye, he saw the shadow seated upon the roof of the safe house and shuddered. Jack bent down and peered back inside the tree. The hollowness of it, however, had gone. It was just a tree, a large tree with a huge bark and in that bark there was a hole but it was not a hole a teenage boy could crawl through. No, it was just a small hole that led into the dirt – it was probably a wild rabbit warren. It certainly was not a doorway to another world.

Jack felt his skin turn cold. Had none of what he had just experienced been real? Perplexed, he glanced around him. In the distance, he saw his school and he was standing on the playing fields where Will had been standing and waving at him earlier. Suddenly, he could hear his name being called from afar. He turned back to the tree to see if the noise was coming from within. However, much to Jack’s relief, it wasn’t. He turned back towards his school and saw a speck. The speck, he saw, was wearing a red jacket and was walking towards him and growing with every second that passed. The speck became the blurry outline of a boy and the boy was waving at him. For the briefest of moments, Jack thought it was Will and was so pleased because it meant that he hadn’t made it all up in his head but then he was able to make out the voice.

“Jack! Where the bloody hell have you been?”

Jack stood staring silently at Michael, who was now standing in the field in front of him.

“I turned around in the corridor and you were gone. A Year 7 told me he had seen you slip outside through the PE door. We’ve got Geography now, you doofus.”

Still Jack didn’t speak, but he began to walk towards the fence that was separating him from his best friend. He found the hole in the fence and climbed back through it.

“What have you been doing?”

“Um, I thought I saw a rabbit or something,” Jack said.

“Come on! We’re going to be late for Geography now.”

The two boys began walking back to the school building. Jack turned to look behind him, hoping to see Will but to no avail. Unbeknown to him, in his pocket, his phone lit up and his signal returned. The time on the clock on the phone was 10.10am which meant, according to his phone, he had only left English five minutes ago and would only be two minutes late to Geography due to a quick detour out of the PE doors to chase a wild rabbit down a hole.

 

 


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Songs of Innocence and Experience

“Are monsters real?” my daughter asked this evening as she was in the bath.

Momentarily, I stopped lathering her up in pink soap suds and sat down on the toilet (lid down, if you’re wondering) and pondered upon my answer.

This could be a learning opportunity here, I thought.  We could talk about the fact that, yes dear, there are monsters in this world – bloody horrifying ones; ones that obliterate innocent people’s lives in an instant and ones that deliberately seek out to hurt our children.  Monsters do exist and they can be standing in front of us in the queue for the cash point and we may well never know.  However, of course, this wasn’t my answer as my daughter is five years old.  She doesn’t know what happened in Manchester last week (although she was aware of Mummy’s need to listen and read the news that day), she doesn’t know what happened in London in March and she has never heard of Paris, or Brussels or New York or that a local mother by the name of Jo Cox was killed last year.  Because why would she?  She’s still so young and so innocent.

My answer, naturally, was to tell her that no, of course monsters don’t exist.

“Then what are the shadows in the night in my room?”

A chill ran through me then.

Shadows that lurk in the night.  Shadows that make that last train home, after an evening out with friends, unnerving; shadows that make you run from the sports centre door to your car after an evening gym session; shadows that you spend your life trying to avoid even when you are doing the safest of tasks in your own house, your own street and in your own city.  We shouldn’t have to avoid the shadows and yet we do.

“It’s probably just the curtains,” I told her. “You’ll always be safe with us around.”

“Do monsters only come out at night?” she asked, still pushing the subject.

Still seated on the toilet, I thought and thought.  Some do, I wanted to say.  Some of the most cowardice monsters only come out at night because that’s when we are at our most vulnerable; that’s when our guards are down and that’s when, sometimes, whilst we are out having the times of our lives, that for a moment we stop looking for the shadows in the corners of clubs, bars, pubs and concert venues.

The conversation moved swiftly on to the fact that a boy at school could balance a fidget spinner on his eye but for a few moments, my daughter believed that monsters were real.

Only, they are aren’t they?  Otherwise, my daughter wouldn’t have been taught The PANTS Rule in school at just five years old.  At five years old, she was being taught about how her body belongs to her and if she ever feels worried that someone, whether it be a known adult, another child or a stranger, is encroaching on her body then she is to tell a trustworthy adult.  I find this so desperately sad that my daughter has to be taught this at such a young age but at the same time, I support it whole heartedly because you do whatever needs to be done to keep your children safe.

“My bum belongs to me!” she told me after learning about The PANTS Rule the next day.

I smiled at the childish nature of the comment and yet I felt a like she had lost a little bit of her innocence that day.

There’s no denying it anymore.  We live in a dangerous world where monsters can live and breathe among us.  Innate evil exists, which is nothing new I know, but it’s just that our children, our young ones, our innocents are starting to notice it too.  They see it in us, their parents, when we won’t even leave them alone in our own garden in fear that something untoward may occur; they read it in stories that reflect modern life; they see it on the TV screens as parents dare to click away from CBeebies for a moment just to catch a glimpse of another God awful event that has unfolded in the world and they see it in the eyes of the armed police officers who are currently patrolling our cities, shopping centres and public spaces.

Was I wrong to tell my child that monsters don’t exist?  After all, I am in a quite an influential position in my role first as a parent and then as an educator.  Am I doing my children a disservice by not telling the truth?  Because wherever there is evil, there is good and I should take every opportunity to talk about the good in people.  In the minutes I took to read about last week’s tragedy, all I have seen shining through my television, my phone screen, my friends and my colleagues has been goodness and it has left me blindsided.  Never have I seen such an outcry of adulation for the UK public services as I have this week.  Never before have I seen a picture of an armed police officer or paramedic and felt 100% safe in the knowledge that they are there to protect me and my family and never before have I felt so proud of a community that has come together in love despite the rawest of all pains.  They could have rebelled, they could have rioted and they could have wanted their revenge and we would have understood and yet the people of Manchester, they chose love.

I didn’t want to write about Manchester because I think everything’s been said and I think it’s been spoken with such eloquence that I have nothing to add.  I have read articles by mothers telling their children to go out and live their lives but I also stumbled across a post by another mother telling her child that she’s not so sure anymore that love always wins.  I have even read an article posted by a music loving father and daughter about the rules she promises to abide by from now on when she attends gigs and concerts.  The meticulous planning of these rules was almost comical if you didn’t take into consideration the circumstances as to why they have had to be written, especially when twenty two years ago I attended my first concert at Manchester Apollo – of all places – and the only rule my mum had stipulated was that I sat upstairs in the balcony away from the crowd surfers and mosh pit below.

I had the time of my life.  As any fourteen year old music fan should.  It remains, to this day, one of the best nights of my life.

My most sobering moment – when I learnt that the world was not as safe as my mum and dad would have me believe – was on September 11th 2001 when, aged 20, I had just returned from having spent my summer in a children’s summer camp in Massachusetts and the Twin Towers came down. (Two weeks earlier, I had been at the top of one of them).

That’s when I really saw the monsters for the first time.

And to keep my innocence about the true horrors of this world in tact until 20, well, I don’t think that’s bad.

However, for my daughter to be five and on the verge of losing her innocence about the world around her, well I think that’s sad, incredibly so.

Last Tuesday, as I was waiting to drop my daughter at school, I was trying to listen to Chris Evans talking about Manchester – the place I spent my university years – on his Breakfast Show.  My girl was talking incessantly about being afraid of wasps and I kept turning up the radio.  She noticed that I was trying to drown her out and she asked what it was I was so desperately trying to hear.

“Someone has hurt some people in a city not too far away from us,” I tried to explain.

“Will they come here?” she asked, meaning our sleepy little village.

“No,” I reassured her.

“I’ll fight,” she said.  “Even though I don’t know karate, Mummy, I’ll fight.” 

Her innocence, once again, came shining through and yet simultaneously I saw it fading as she should never have to fight or even think about fighting.  Not now.  Not ever.

She should be able to just be a child.

As should all children, the world over.

Sheer joy – please don’t take it from our children.


 


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Jack’s Story – Part Six

Despite setting up a new page for my fictional musings, I thought I would post on here also as I have a larger following.  However, if my other page starts to grow then I will use this site for my parenting and teaching posts.  Thanks for your support and comments as always.

This is part six of Jack’s Story.  I have changed the title to ‘A Test of Wills’.  This is just a working title – I still haven’t decided quite where I am going with it yet!

If you’re interested in the earlier installments, then just click these: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five

Part Five

If a bell rang to signal the end of the lesson, Jack didn’t hear it.  His eyes were still fixated on the boy who was standing in the field opposite his classroom.  Michael hit him on the head with his bag on the way out of the room.

“Come on!” Michael urged.  “Geography next.”

Jack nodded, grabbed his belongings and paced out of the room behind his best friend.  Walking along the crowded corridors suddenly became over bearing for Jack and he found himself struggling to breathe.  Michael was marching off ahead so didn’t notice when Jack stopped and stood back against a wall in order to prevent other pupils from bumping into him.  He took a few deep breaths and realised that he wasn’t going to Geography.  He was going outside.

Minutes passed and as the crowd of pupils dispersed, Jack walked towards the doors that led to the PE changing rooms.  Through those doors was the field that the mysterious boy had been waving from.  From staring out the newcomer, Jack had felt no fear or malice emit from the stranger and so didn’t hesitate when he sneaked into the boys’ empty changing room and outside into onto the school fields.

The crisp spring air was a welcome relief as Jack let go of the breath he didn’t know he had been holding.  Clinging to him like a warm hug, the sun’s rays wrapped themselves around his body and he embraced the feeling they left behind.  Mentally, he could feel knots unwrapping inside his head as thoughts from the previous evening were slowly burnt away by the heat of the morning sun.  Breathing the scent of freshly cut grass, Jack made his way towards the playing fields.

He didn’t know what to find when he reached his destination and in his heart of hearts, Jack didn’t expect to find anything or anyone.  Only he did.  The boy was still standing in the same place as he had been earlier, only now his face was turned towards Jack and he looked to be still smiling.

“Shouldn’t you be in a lesson?” Jack shouted as he walked over to the boy.

The boy didn’t answer.

“Are you new?  Which year are you in?”

Still, there was no reply.

Jack paused then for a moment and checked the phone in his side pocket to check the time.  He didn’t want to be late for his next lesson and yet he couldn’t leave this boy on his own.  What Jack failed to notice was that there was no signal on his phone.  He was out of range.  Should he fall into any trouble now, no one would be able to reach him.

They were standing face to face now and still the boy had not spoken.  An uneasy feeling wormed itself into the pit of Jack’s stomach and slowly and slightly pulled at his insides.  Something wasn’t right.

But, then he looked up and stared into the boy’s eyes.

They were amiable eyes, yes, amiable, definitely.  There was a sparkle to them as if they were greeting a long lost friend or relative.  Flecked with bright blue, the eyes smiled at Jack.  The boy raised an eyebrow while at the same time raising a hand towards him.

“Hello,” he said in a surprisingly confident manner.  My name is William…erm Will, actually.  You must be Jack.”

What came next felt like a blow to the stomach as Jack staggered backwards slightly in shock.  It was his turn to remain silent.

“I’ve been waiting here for you all morning,” Will explained as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world to be stood alone on an empty school playing field.  “You need to come with me now. We have much to do.”

Jack found the voice he had lost.

“You know my name,” it wasn’t a question.  “I didn’t tell you my name.”

Panic set in.

“Is this a joke?  Has Michael set you up to this?”

Will shook his head and gestured with him arm.

“You need to come with me now,” the boy urged.  “It’s a matter of life and death.”

Afterwards, Jack would claim that it was the word ‘death’ that made him make the rash decision he did.  He was too afraid to find out whose death it might mean.

Will didn’t wait for a response.  He simply turned and walked up towards some high fencing that led to a nearby wood.  Jack followed, obediently.

Upon reaching the metal fence, Jack noticed that a part of it had been ripped away from the earth and that, when pulled up, it would be large enough for a young person to climb through.  Without question and without thought, Jack followed Will through the hole in the fence and together they walked onwards towards the wood.  The deeper they ventured, the darker it became and still Jack felt no panic, no fear and no sense of regret that he was missing Geography.  He was searching for valid excuses to use with his teacher tomorrow, when the two boys stumbled upon a huge oak tree.  With hanging branches, it embraced them and welcomed them into its midst for this was precisely the destination they were heading.  Will gestured for Jack to come closer towards the tree’s darkened bark and when he did, he noticed another hole.  Once again, this was large enough to crawl through.  Will crouched down and crawled towards the hole.  Instinctively, Jack followed.  He bent down and placed his hands on the ground underneath him; it felt warm and dry as the soil coiled itself through his fingers.  He felt the mud seep into the knees of his school trousers as he passed under and inside the hole.  He was crawling into the tree itself.  Darkness engulfed him as he realised he was wholly inside the tree’s bark.  How was it possible?  It wasn’t.  And still he crawled through blackness following Will’s laboured breathing.  Time passed.  Was it a minute?  Was it two?  Suddenly, Jack’s eyes adjusted to the dark and he could make out faint outlines on the wall of the bark next to him.  Strange markings had been etched inside the bark.  It was impossible to make out what the marks were, but it dawned on Jack that the reason he could see them was because light was seeping in somewhere.  They were crawling towards the light.  The longer and longer he crawled, the more the light grew.  He could now see his hands in front of him pressing on the dirt beneath.  He could see the outline of Will’s shoes as they rhythmically moved forwards.  Slowly, the light grew and grew and Jack noticed that it was a hazy light – not bright like the sun – but luminescent and cold like the moon.  Up ahead, Jack noticed that Will had vanished and just before panic could consume him, he realised that there was nothing over head anymore – just open space.  Jack stood.  Uncoiled and at full height, Jack looked above him and gasped in astonishment.  A blanket of stars covered the night sky and the beacon that looked to be leading those stars was the most breathtaking sight Jack had ever seen: the moon.  The monumental sphere hung low in the glittering sky.  Jack almost reached up to touch it when all of a sudden, for the first time since entering the bark of the tree, Will spoke.

“Do you want an adventure, Jack?”

Glancing up again at the moon, Jack felt the weight of his worries slip way.  He looked at Will then directly and with intent.  He nodded, grinning.

 

 


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An Open Letter to My Year 11 Form Group

My final maternity leave was over and I was returning to work.

Before announcing my pregnancy, I had been told that I was going to be a Year 7 form tutor – something I had never been despite being a teacher for almost ten years.

I then fell pregnant and subsequently had my form taken away from me before they had even started school.  It was understandable though.

I expected to be given a new Year 7 form when I returned to work the following year but I didn’t.  I got you.

You were given to me as you were entering Year 10 because your form tutor was switching to part-time.

I didn’t want you, not at first.

No, I wanted a Year 7 form.  I wanted the cute eleven year olds who spend their first few weeks in a new school looking like rabbits in the headlights of a fast moving car.  You know the type I mean – the sweet, innocent ones – you were them one once.

Did I want a form filled with hormonal fourteen year olds about to embark on their GCSE years – the first year who would be sitting their English and Maths 1 – 9 exams? No, I didn’t, not really.

Then I met you!  All doubts I had about your acceptance of me, your potential teenage behaviour, your possible negative attitudes were vanquished almost instantly. Please believe me when I tell that I don’t want you to leave in two weeks.

You’re funny, you’re intelligent, you have a strong work ethic, you’re beautiful, you’re stubborn, you’re kind, you’re sarcastic, you’re polite and you always have my back.    Sometimes you’re over whelmed and over worked.  Sometimes you’re upset or even heartbroken.  More often than not, you finish your homework in my classroom.  Sometimes you’re lazy and you just want to give up.  I have lost some of you along the way due to your behaviour and attitude (not towards me – never towards me).  If only you had talked to those members of staff as you had talked to me and you might still be sitting in my classroom.  I have spoken to your parents and carers and learnt about what you love, hate and fear about school and your upcoming exams.  I have learnt about your health issues and have been in a room with your parents as they have broken down in tears because they just don’t know what to do with you.  I have shouted at you for not getting enough hours sleep, I have scolded you for driving around on a ‘ped’ because I don’t think you’re old enough. I have snatched Coca-Cola off you because you can’t drink it as you’re diabetic.  I have listened and empathised as you, rightfully, have had a little moan about your lack of sleep due to a new baby in the house.  I have monitored and checked your safety because I thought you were going out with someone who was too old for you.  I have bugged you to apply for Head Boy and Head Girl and I have been disappointed in you when you didn’t apply for Prefect when you so thoroughly deserved it.  I have tried to talk to you about Star Wars because I know you love it so much.  I have been immensely proud of you when you have won certificates and prizes in assembly even though you hate getting up and accepting them.

And what have you given me in return?

Every morning, as I dash in from the school run, you greet me with an ‘ey up Miss’ as I rush in, tell you I am tired, complain about either the traffic, my children, my partner and my complete inability to be a functioning working adult.  You take the chairs down from all my tables and open the windows to let some fresh air in.  You offer me sweets, drinks and chocolates.  You lend me pens when I can’t find one.  You reluctantly go pick up my photocopying because I have forgotten to collect it again.  You tell your Head of Year that your planner is all signed and up to date when I may have forgotten to sign it every now and again.  And every morning, every single morning as you leave my room, you tell me to have a nice day.

You are a diverse bunch and I know you’re not all friends with one another but I know you’re not not friends either.  You laugh at one another and I hear quips being passed through the room but I have never seen any sign of malice in anyone of you.  Last year, a boy, who spoke no English whatsoever, joined our form.  He had travelled from Africa.  He was alone and without his family and you made him feel so welcome.  I imagine he was apprehensive and scared and yet within days he appeared so happy and I have never seen him without a smile on his face.  I could not have been more proud of the boy who became his ‘buddy’ for those first few months as he was settling into his new school, his new surroundings and his new country.

Enough adulation from me for the moment.

Let’s get down to the business end of things.  Excuse me while I put on my English Teacher hat.

You are the first year to take the new English and Mathematics 1 – 9 GCSEs and I feel for you, I really do.  I was angry at the new changes.  I was angry that a corrupt, rich, privately educated man in the current government decided to scrap the way we used to test English Language and Literature.  I still can’t get my head around that you’re not going to achieve As, Bs and Cs at the end of it all. The fact that there is no longer any coursework makes me so desperately sad.  Not necessarily for the high achievers among you but for the ones who struggle with exams and writing quickly and accurately under timed conditions.  Coursework would have meant that, no matter what, you would have achieved a grade.  Unfortunately, without coursework it means that some of you won’t.  Yes, I will admit it, I think you have been dealt a tough hand and with English and Mathematics teachers learning the new exam specifications literally as they teach, it has been a steep learning curve for all of us.  I have had to learn how to teach new texts, new poems and new ways of critically analysing texts (Yes, I mean you EDEXEL ‘evaluate’ question) and sometimes it may have shown in my lessons despite my preparation and planning.

However, (if we are still speaking in card game metaphors) you have been dealt an amazing hand when it comes to the school you are in.  Never in my teaching years have I ever seen any year group be given as much support as you have (perhaps that’s because I have seen it as a form tutor for the first time.)  As an English Department, we have pushed you and pulled you in every way possible.  We have given you mock after mock after mock.  You have attended weekly boosters for two years.  You receive weekly homework tasks and personalised booklets to complete.  You have a designated room to study in until 5pm every evening and my classroom is always open to you.  I know some of you hate this amount of work and pressure and yet I also know some of you relish in it and need it.  I fear that when it gets to 6pm on an evening and you’re writing another descriptive piece of writing about a beach, you despise everyone of us with a passion but please know this, it’s because we care.  It may appear clichéd but with all our hearts we want you to pass these exams.  As teachers teaching a brand new exam, we don’t know grade boundaries yet; we have no previous data to rely on.  The only thing we can do is give you enough ammunition to walk into that sports’ hall and kick the ass out of these exams.

Also, as a teacher of a core subject, it is easy to become wrapped up in just English.  During form time, I yap at you about the language and structure question and I complain to you about the fact that you have to get your timings right in your exam (a mark a minute – come on, how is that even possible?) and what do I forget?  I forget that you’re probably getting this from at least eight other subjects too!

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed by it all but its not okay to feel stressed, panicked and fearing that if you don’t pass these GCSEs then your future is in tatters.  It isn’t.  Yes, these exams are important but they don’t define you and won’t influence the adult you are to become.  Achieving a 9 or an A* in one or more of your GCSEs won’t necessarily get you to where you want to be in life.  Sure, your exam results will help (my GCSEs still appear on my CV) but kindness, compassion, acceptance, patience, love, friendship, support, humility and empathy are the skills that are essential for reaching your end goal.  And you, Year 11, already have those skills.

I don’t claim to know much (unless it’s about ‘Game of Thrones’ or Green Day) but what I do know is that there is a big wide world out there that’s yours for the taking, if you want it.  Don’t bury your head in the sand and pretend that these exams aren’t happening – they are.  At the same time, don’t feel like you can’t ask for support from anyone, you can.  You’re our future.  You can change the whole landscape of the world if you want to (or you can just grow up to be decent human beings – that’s fine too) and we need you happy, healthy, inspired and prepared to take on whatever life has to throw at you.

If you keep being who you are, then I am certain that the world is in good hands. 

Stay safe and I will miss you.

Clearly not a member of my form but a child I like to think I teach and influence nonetheless.


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Motherhood: Destination Unknown

In my early years of teaching, I was very lucky to find myself working with a lovely young lady by the name of Stef.  Stef and I both eventually gained new jobs at different schools.  In the last five years, she has excelled in her profession, whereas I got knocked up – twice.  However, in June Stef is expecting her first baby.  We don’t see each other very often anymore because as you well know, life gets in the way.  But what I do know about Stef is that she is well known for her random acts of kindness.  Earlier this week, we had a little Whats App conversation about her impending motherhood and, as everyone does, she has a few worries about birth, feeding and what it’s like to be the mother of a new born. Therefore, this, my dear, is my random act of kindness to you.

No one else but yourself can prepare you for the birth of your child.  People can guide you and coach you, but no one knows your body, your physical and emotional state as well as you do.

Don’t think you’re not prepared.  Believe me, your body is prepared – don’t underestimate it.

Your birth will be unique to you and you simply have to listen to what your body is telling you.  This is what mine told me on the morning of the 29th October 2011 when I was 37 weeks and a day pregnant with my daughter:

My body, at 7am, told me I needed a wee.

“I think I have had ‘the show’,” I told Teaching Dad as I climbed back into bed for more sleep.

“What’s that?” he said.

“Erm, it’s a bit minging, but it’s also a sign to say that the baby might come soon,”

That’s when I felt it.  Something was about to explode and I needed a wee again.  I waddled to the loo and my waters broke just as I made it to the toilet.

“I think my waters have broken,” I called from the bathroom.

“Are you sure you haven’t just p*ssed yourself?” was the response.

I didn’t answer because I was really giddy.  I wasn’t frightened – I was excited.  I had packed my hospital bag a few days before and was good to go.  I thought I was prepared, but then again I had in my bag a pack of Bodyform sanitary towels.  So yes, my body was ready, but my common sense wasn’t!

Off to the hospital we went and once we arrived we were asked to wait.  My waters kept breaking over and over again, but I wasn’t in any pain and I decided to display this fact by standing and swinging my legs backwards and forwards one after the other. By the time the midwife arrived, my trousers were soaked through to my skin and I was slightly out of breath from trying to prove to my partner that being in labour was a piece of cake.

The midwife had clearly been moved by my performance as she sent us home.

She made a mistake.

She shouldn’t have sent me home and perhaps I should have been more assertive.  As soon as we stepped through the door, I started to feel a bit of pain and within half an hour, I was bent double.

We hotfooted it back to the hospital and was placed back on a bed where I was told not to push because I was still fully clothed.  I pushed anyway because when your body needs to push, you obey.

Forty-five minutes later, my daughter was born.

My Baby Girl


Hours passed and we remained in the birthing room as a new little family; it was lovely.  However, the time soon came for Teaching Dad to return home alone as my daughter and I were required to stay overnight.  Being left on your own in a hospital bed with your new born child can be quite daunting.  I was in a ward with three other women, all of whom had their curtains drawn tightly around their beds.  I felt incredibly alone and yet incredibly happy and in this oxymoronic state, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself.  I tried to sleep, but when it didn’t come, I simply waited for my girl to wake.  She didn’t feed after she was born, so she would be hungry.

Finally, she began to cry and the midwives came and tried to help me breastfeed, but I just couldn’t do it.  It wasn’t a complete failure; she managed to latch on for a few minutes on one side.  The anti-natal classes had lied to me.  This didn’t feel natural.  It felt uncomfortable and overwhelming, especially as I had two midwives grabbing me and contorting my boobs into ridiculous shapes in order for them to fit into the tiny mouth of a newborn.  Throughout this comedy of errors, I remained mostly silent when really I should have spoken up and told them that right there, in that moment, it wasn’t working for us and was there anything else we could try?  However, I just nodded and agreed with everything that I was told to do because I didn’t know any better.

Don’t be afraid to admit that you feel over-whelmed.  It doesn’t matter that you don’t know what to do right away.  You’ll get it.  We did, eventually.

I found breast-feeding my daughter very difficult in the first few weeks; it was also very lonely at times.  Pumping ‘liquid gold’ at 3am in the morning on an electric breast pump with nothing but the whirring sound of the machine can do that to you.  This situation I found myself in was my own doing.  I had told the midwives I wanted to breastfeed and they took this to mean that I wasn’t willing to try anything else.  Not true.  I would have tried anything, but how were they to know this if I didn’t speak up?  On my daughter’s first night on earth, she barely ate and the second night was pretty much the same as she slept for six hours without waking.  Piece of cake this mummying lark, I thought as I grabbed a few hours of sleep myself .  However, by the morning, I was soon told that this was because she was weak.  Throughout the night, I had heard other women struggling to feed and heard them being offered formula, but I was never asked.  I was too damn polite because I knew midwives were always so busy.

Eventually, formula was ‘forced’ upon us and I took it with open arms. Lo and behold, my daughter started drinking and once she found a bit of strength, she could latch on – but only to one boob.

In the weeks that followed, I had visits from some ladies who went by the name of ‘Little Angels’.  ‘Little Pains in the Ass’ would have been my name for them, but they were only trying to do their job, which was asking me to strip in my living room where they could grip my boobs and wrestle them into my daughter’s mouth.  I know they were meaning well, but I found it all achingly uncomfortable and by the end of the third week, I found myself ignoring their calls.

It all worked out, but for about four weeks it felt like torture – both physically and emotionally.  Teaching Dad didn’t really offer much support.  He had seen me shoot a baby out in less than an hour and he didn’t understand how breast-feeding could hurt more – but it did.  After a few fraught late night arguments about him thinking I was being over dramatic about the pain and me waking him to make formula (only for me to not use it and use my one raw breast because the guilt I felt at the thought of using formula was crippling), we found that we were balancing our relationship on a fine line and it was about to break.  Before this could happen though, we agreed to combination feed with both breast and formula and for six months that’s what we did and it worked.  It just took a turbulent few weeks for us to get there.

You want your baby to be happy and healthy and your baby needs you to be happy and healthy.  Fed is best – whether it be from a boob or bottle.

Things were a little different with my son.  I was a little older, a little wiser perhaps?

We had chosen the local mid-wife led unit for my birth and on the morning of the birth (one day before his due date) I had downed two cups of raspberry leaf tea and eaten a full pineapple because no way was this little blighter go over due, not when my last baby was only 6lb 10oz.  I wasn’t mentally prepared for anything much bigger emerging from down there.

I had started with a small back ache so decided to go for a walk.  And by walk, I mean drive in the car.  I called in at my local Natwest Bank and as I was standing in the queue wearing my ‘bang on trend’ black maternity leggings, I could feel water slowly creeping down my leg.  My waters were breaking right there in the bank.  Honestly, my first thoughts were not those of panic.  I was, once again, excited as, if everything went according to plan, by the end of the day our family would be complete.  Without any fuss, I paid in my money and left a trail of water behind me as I returned to the car, called Teaching Dad and drove home.

When we arrived at the mid-wife led unit, contractions were pulsing through me every few minutes.

“We might send you home for an hour,” my midwife said.

“You won’t,” I said. “Not again.  I’ll wait.  Can I get a cup of tea, please?”

There was no time for tea.  There was almost no time for her to get her surgical gloves on.

“Hang on a minute,” she cried as I began to push.

Twenty minutes later, my boy was born.

My Little Dude!


I was a bit more assertive that time around.  I never got my cuppa though, but I got a son, so I guess that will suffice.

With regards to feeding, this time I had come prepared.  I had bought a new born starter pack that came with tiny bottles of formula.  If my baby wouldn’t feed, then one of those bottles was going straight in his mouth.  I told the midwife this and she understood.

There must be something about boys and boobs though because no sooner was he placed on my chest on the evening of the 7th January 2015, he latched on and didn’t stop feeding until March 2016!  That was not in the plan!

I spent many a stressful night thinking about that.  Would people think I was weird for feeding him for so long?  How on earth would I ever get him to stop?  Would my boobs ever look like they did back in 2011?  But, there has to come a time when you stop stressing over small worries such as this and that time usually comes at 2.53am when you have woken for the millionth time to feed your baby.  By this time, you feel emotionally and physically drained and the only thing to do is to put the baby in your bed, lay down and snuggle alongside them.  Nuzzle in next to their head and take a deep breath inwards because their warm scent is addictive.

I suppose what I am trying to tell you is to trust your own body and listen to its needs and the rest will work out for itself.  Everyone around you on the day and in the weeks and months that follow will always have your best interests at heart, but no one knows what your heart wants more than you and that little life inside of you that has been listening to it beat with excitement for the last eight months.

You’re going to be a great Momma Bear! x

 


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Modern Life is Rubbish.

Born in January 1981, I was the epitome of the ‘eighties child’: white knee socks, a floral dress and a bowl cut or dirty knees, scraped hands and messy hair – there was no in-between.  My childhood was an extremely happy one, even more so when I met my best friends, Jenny and Linsey. United by the fact that we were, all three of us, only children and lived on a busy road away from the other children in our class, meant that we were each other’s siblings and became inseparable for those indispensable primary school years. My memories are filled with long summer evenings having water balloon fights, chasing each other ‘around the block’ on our bikes (Linsey always won because she had a mountain bike, which destroyed my racer bike and Jenny, well Jenny, she’d already climbed off her BMX half way around the circuit), or we would be zooming up and down my steep driveway on our skateboards, or selling broken bric-a-brac crap at the end of Jenny’s drive and genuinely being down right annoying to the loved up teenage couple who would meet on a wooden bench opposite my house and kiss like their lives depended on it.  Well, that’s how we remember it anyway.  We would play outside for hours and hours long into the twilight, venturing inside only for bathroom breaks and ice-pops.

Together we devised a brilliant – albeit lethal – game of ‘The Crystal Maze’ in my parent’s garage with my dad’s plumbing tools. The ‘crystal’ was often a large nail placed precariously on top of some ladders or in and amongst his levellers, screw-drivers and wrenches. Two of us would ‘create’ a task to complete (it often required one of us jumping in and out of ladder rungs or climbing on a decorating table) and if we didn’t acquire the ‘crystal’ in time then we would be ‘locked’ in the garage for twenty minutes whilst the other two buggered off to get another ice pop.

There were no ‘selfies’, no filters that made everything brighter and more pleasant to gaze at, no social media to boast on, no hash tags and certainly no #squadgoals.

Yep. I had a perm at nine.

It was a great time to be a child.

Netball in the early 90s. Linsey is the GD at the back. She was and still is notoriously camera shy. Me? Well, just look for the big fringe!

What made it so great was the contribution my parents made to, not only my happiness, but to my friends’ happiness, and also to the collective safety of us all.  They kept us at ‘arm’s length’ as it were.  However, I don’t mean this in the negative sense of the phrase.   We thought we were being let loose and running wild, but they could always see us either in a back garden, on a drive way or across the road over on the grass.  I was given strict curfews and I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere alone.  I can recall feeling embarrassed in my ‘tween’ years when I was given permission to go and ‘hang’ out in my local park, but only if I was home for 7pm – hours before it grew dark.  However, curfews and rules were respected and as I grew older and developed a penchant for rock music, I was given a little more freedom – freedom with invisible boundary lines, that is.

Gotta love a bowl cut.

My parents ‘parented’ me. They offered me compromises which gave me the independence to be my own person. They allowed me to go to rock concerts at the Town and Country Club in Leeds if they could drop me off and pick me up. They didn’t allow me go to night clubs in Wakefield.  They let me go shopping in Leeds on the bus with friends if I got myself a part-time job.  My mum even agreed to me ‘getting inked’ when I turned seventeen (those who know me, know I both love and hate my Green Day tattoo in equal measures) if I promised not to get it on my arm, ever get another one or dye my hair blue.  So I didn’t.

Yes, they ‘parented’ me. They didn’t over parent me.

Despite working full-time in a job that ensures I also spend at least one day of the weekend marking and planning lessons, I fear I over parent my children.  And by over-parenting, I do not mean that I spend too much time with them.  I don’t.  During the week, I don’t spend enough time with them at all and when I am reunited with them after work, I worry I am never truly in the moment as there are always breakfast dishes to wash, dirty clothes to wash, clean clothes to hang out and just general tidying up to be done after my two little whirlwinds have stormed the house. I very much doubt I am alone in feeling this way and it’s these worries – among others – why I think I am ‘over parenting’.  I don’t want the modern world to tarnish them and yet I want them have the same experiences I did when I was growing up; I want them to believe that they can achieve anything they want in life, but my desire to keep them safe and close can be quite overwhelming to them, myself and others.

Four years ago, we took the bigger mortgage on the nicer house on the private road and crippled ourselves financially in order that our children would live on a very quiet street because we want to keep them safe from speeding vehicles and passing strangers. We soon found that most of the people living on our street bought their houses off plan back in 1967, meaning that my son and daughter have no one to throw water balloons at and no one to race around the block with.

Nowadays, I have found that play dates are arranged with parents days in advance. In 1987, if I wanted to go play with Jenny, I would bound out of the house and run up the street to her house (with my mum patiently waiting for me at the bottom of our drive), I wouldn’t even knock on her door, I would just go right in and ask if she was ‘playing out’. These days, my house doors are always locked and if a youngster happened to knock on my door to ask if my daughter was ‘playing out’. I would ask them if their parents knew if they were out at this time alone, whether this little rendezvous had been pre-arranged and had I missed a note in her school bag?  I would probably also try to find the parents on Facebook just to, you know, check.

Erm, was this pre-arranged?

Prearranged playdates lead me nicely onto soft-play.  A place where I over parent that much, I take the joy out of going.  I visited one at Christmas and panic mode set in at least four times when I couldn’t see my two year old.  Other parents were sitting and enjoying a cup of coffee and a piece of cake while I was hanging from monkey bars and scaling cargo nets only to find that my son was seated happily in a ball pool eating someone else’s sock.  Only last week Jenny had to turn my chair away from the soft play area just to keep me from running in after my son, who could manoeuvre himself around the place like a professional after two minutes. But, there is always that niggling feeling of what if he fell off and landed funny on his neck or back?  What if another adult sneaked in and realised that they wanted a snotty nosed little boy for their own?  What if my son saw an open door and just made a run for it?

The thought of it all makes my stomach turn.

Sleeping has always been a bone of contention in our house.  From the moment we had our daughter over five years ago, it was decided for me that we wouldn’t allow her to ‘cry it out’.  So we co-slept.  We found that in order to save our own relationship (because 3am arguments over allowing your child to cry or not are heart-wrenching) and for our own sanity, our daughter would sleep in-between us.  Then our son came along three years later.

My son and I have co-slept for two years.  It has been a labour of love, but it has been a strain on the relationship I have with my partner.  The screaming arguments didn’t occur this time around as the silent pact was made that he would not ‘cry it out’.  However, now we’re like ships that pass in the night.  This, I feel, is over parenting at its best or at its worse, if you like. My children can’t put themselves to bed; it’s ridiculous and I am ashamed of myself.  My parents didn’t lay with me at five years old until I fell asleep and if I tried to sneak in between them in the night, I was swiftly deposited back into my own room.  However, there is something so wonderful and pleasing in knowing that I can pacify and soothe my children with only a kiss and a cuddle and watching your two year old slip peacefully back into the Land of Nod is something else, it really is.

My over parenting will mean that my children quickly learn that they are loved and cherished and that their parents will do everything in their powers to keep them protected.

But, what about their independence and their spirit?  They won’t find them laying next to their old mum lulling them back to sleep.

Daily, I tell my daughter that she can be whoever and whatever she wants to be, but what if I hold her back?  What if I just can’t bear to let her go?  We discuss the world and she knows that there are children out there, both near and a far, who would give anything to live in a nice, stable family like her own.

Right now, her world is perfect and yet she knows THE world is far from perfect.

I am going to have to try to learn to keep my children at an ‘arm’s length’ and ensure that those invisible boundaries are safely in place.  Because, there is nothing like experiencing childhood looking down from the tops of trees with dirty knees.

Life is better experienced when it’s in full colour and unfiltered, don’t you agree?

Hashtag No Filter…