The Teaching Mum

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


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Guest Post: The Wash Basket

This post was not written by me.  I wish I had written it because I think it’s great.  I am not going to give too much away about it because I really want you to read it and appreciate it as I did when I read it at 6am this morning.  I was feeling a little sorry for myself as I was, as usual, still tired from multiple get ups in the night.  This post puts life into perspective, perfectly.

Written by a wonderful woman I feel privileged to have met upon a netball court a few years ago, this lady is a young, beautiful Mummy who loves her daughter fiercely. Currently pregnant with her second child, my friend is thinking about dipping her toe into writing and, in my opinion, I think she should just dive right in because she’s bloody brilliant. Funny, witty, heart-breaking and with a life-affirming lesson, here is: The Wash Basket.

I groaned this morning as I looked over and saw my wash basket overflowing;

Knowing full well it would have to stay put and just continue growing.

Daddy will be home from London today, a relief after three days of stress.

He’d double the already buckling load and I’d probably berate him for the mess.

That is where my poetry skills end. I was always a bit sh*t at waxing lyrical. God help me if I were to ever encounter being thrown into a ‘rap battle’ – I’m more Green Mile than 8 Mile.

Today, I woke up and I didn’t count my blessings. Forgive me. I woke to the 1st Lady peering over my face in a psychotic pox-covered pose to inform me she had ‘tiddled the bed’ but could I sort it out quickly as she ‘definitely needed more sleep’. First time in about five years, so i put it down to the medicine making her drowsy. No dramas sweet child, let me sort that for you.

As we were all settled back down for a few more Zzzs, the second child decided it was time for Body Pump Xtreme addition. No point me trying to sleep. Literally I may as well lay on a bed of nettles and have a three piece Mexican Mariachi Trio (complete with tasseled sombreros) stand by my bed every time my eyes closed for longer than a blink.

I got up and realised we had barely any food in because my useless hubby hadn’t gotten round to the food shop on the Sunday before he left for London with work on Monday. Inconsiderate a*sehole – he obviously didn’t care I’d have to charter that magical flying unicorn I use for transport after Steve (the bastard) failed me on my test (still bitter) and I still haven’t found my balls to re-take it. *Note to self* – dig out my girl testicles and dust them the f*ck off.

Some other annoying sh*t happened as I trudged through the morning: I was sick, hungry, my bedroom drawer snapped as I attempted to stuff just one more teeny weeny top inside. I spilled Calamine lotion on my bedroom carpet, my beloved big girl had developed more rashy spots, which immediately got my back up.  How dare this nasty announce itself to my Lady and potentially cause a lot of aggro for her and my second little bun? The work I was doing on the laptop was proving tougher than I was told (last minute hubby…a job he again didn’t get round to doing before he left.) I laughed my tits off when the power cable came out and it hadn’t saved.  Finally, I hauled my arse out for a two hour driving lesson and survived three people cutting me up (promise – genuinely not my fault.)

I was irritated. Stressed. Resentful that I was always the one dealing with the sh*tty end of the stick. I was annoyed at myself for my shitty time management and lack of being a household goddess this day/week. I was feeling terrible ‘mum guilt’ for things I physically cannot control. I was feeling like, without hubby, my wheels had fallen off.  I was tired, ballooning, emotional, hormonal – I needed my man back home. Even if he is sometimes useless and his attitude of “I’m gonna do it tomorrow”.  The truth is: my wheels don’t turn quite so good when he isn’t around. (Suffragettes recoil in horror!)

Then I saw the news.

And my fear, thank God, was extinguished before it had even ignited – our Daddy had left the Capital at lunchtime…and I’d spoken to him only minutes beforehand giving me a time he would be home. There’s no way he was caught up in the awful, heinous acts of terror that were unfolding as I watched glued to the ‘Breaking News’ bulletin. He was coming home.

But, for that wife and child who today lost their husband and daddy; the family who lost their daughter; the purely innocent tourist who won’t board the flight back home… they’re not and never will they again be “coming home”.

I struggle with catastrophe at the best of times.  I’m irrational and worry about worrying. My heart physically aches because out there now is a wife who will be glad she didn’t put a wash-load on this morning. A wife that rushes to her overflowing wash basket and finds the soft and worn shirt of her husband that’s still smelling of the love she has had so cruelly ripped from her life. She might be sat wearing it now. God knows I would be. A man went to work and kissed his wife goodbye and never made it back home.

I suddenly don’t give any f*cks that my drawers are broken, the cupboards aren’t full, the work didn’t get done, the pissy bedding is still in the washer, that my carpet is stained with a white chalky liquid or that I’ve had literally no rest whatsoever whilst our Daddy has been away.

I have my family back home. My reasons to live and love. Every minute of every hour.

Because life is terrifyingly short.

Count your blessings and never go a day without appreciating all the little things

My wash basket has doubled in size tonight… and I couldn’t be more f*cking grateful.

Char
(Not a poet. Nor a writer. Just a mum and a missus.candles-1645551__340)


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Hunting for The Gruffalo, fresh coffee and a 4G Signal at Sherwood Pines.

I think it was around 10pm last Saturday night when my mum bought me a fancy gin cocktail at a party we were attending in Leeds.  It was a rare child-free evening for me and the highlight of my whole night was getting to spend the night away from home at my mum’s in a double bed to myself.  You may not know me, but I am a reluctant co-sleeper, so a child-free bed a was a dream – an absolute dream.  However, this post isn’t about that.

It’s about this:

I think it was around 6.45am last Sunday morning when I woke up blurry eyed with the remnants of the previous night’s makeup still clinging to my eyes.  Stretching out and enjoying the space of a whole bed to myself, the sudden pang of guilt hit me as I realised that I was missing my children (and Teaching Dad, of course.)  The lie-in I had promised myself, therefore, ended abruptly as today I had made plans with a friend to take our children Gruffalo hunting at Sherwood Pines.  This was, I thought, not only the perfect way to get re-balance the scales after my abandoning them for the night (Teaching Dad made the guilt hit even harder when he told me that our son was screaming for me in the night), but it would also be the perfect opportunity to try out my very amateur photography skills using my new camera, which in my opinion, is the best compact camera Panasonic make.

And so a text was sent to Teaching Dad asking for the children to be dressed and ready for the off by the time I arrived home.  I also asked him to get some bread out of the freezer in order for me to prepare some packed lunches.  ‘We haven’t got any bread’ came the reply. Hmmm.  Well, at least they would be dressed.

They weren’t dressed.

Running at me their pajamas when I arrived home, I was greeted with joyous cries of “Mummy! Mummy!”, which was lovely.  The only problem: it was 9.40am and we had to be out of the house by 10.30am.  I needed to get the kids dressed and get myself ready for the off also.  It would be okay, however, as I would have Teaching Dad helping me.

“I’m off to do ‘The Big Shop!'” was all I heard from downstairs as a door slammed shut and a car engine roared into life.

Great.

However, by 10.25am the car was loaded with the essential Gruffalo finding kit: an Amazon Kindle Fire, a Sat Nav, a spare pair of boots, a towel and a pack of Tropical Skittles.

Do a weird side smile if you’re excited!

After meeting my friend and a 50 minute car journey later, we arrived at Sherwood Pines. The thing we noticed first was the fact that there were lots of bikes and scooters and not many pushchairs.

We had brought pushchairs.

Now all we had to do was find the start of the trail.  You would have thought that the huge Gruffalo signalling the start of the trail would be easy to spot, but it wasn’t and therefore we took a few wrong turns before seeing large numbers of excited children and parents gravitating towards and area that we were actually walking away from.  Finally, from behind the cafe, we saw The Gruffalo himself beckoning us towards him and the start of the trail.

Found him!

“Well, he was easy to find,” I quipped.  “Shall we go and find a Starbucks?”

Alas no.  On we trekked to the trail opting for the ‘Spotting’ option as opposed to the ‘Orienteering’ option, which, we feared, might mean using ordnance survey maps, a compass and, perhaps, some caving.  Yes – caving!

Some genius inventor person has created an interactive app for The Gruffalo Trail, which requires you to hunt for the footprints of all the characters in the much beloved story.  The first set of tracks we found belonged to Mouse.  Excited, my friend and I grabbed our phones while our children were nearby screaming the word ‘snake’ at a tree trunk.  Immediately, her app burst into life and an animated image of Mouse popped up on the phone; it was great.  My phone, however, just remained it’s usual cracked and crappy self.  Already being on its last legs, the thought of finding imaginary animals in a forest was just too much for my iPhone to handle, so it responded by switching itself off.  I think we managed to find Fox, but Owl, Snake and, of course, The Gruffalo alluded us.  To be honest, my daughter didn’t seem to mind so much because recently she has developed an innate fear of her brother running off.  Despite him having reins on, she could be seen chasing after her younger brother and tackling him to the ground any time he went further than 30 centimetres from us.  This, I know, is very loving and kind and it’s a beautiful thing when a sister cares so much for her younger sibling.  However, it’s also a royal pain in the arse.  Therefore, to the parents who had to experience me shouting: “Get off him!  Get off him or we’re going home!” over and over and over again whilst you were trying to get a decent picture of Snake slithering out of his log pile house, then I apologise.

How clever is this? Image is not from my phone as it had packed in by this point.

The deeper and deeper we got into the trail, the more difficult it became to  manoeuvre the pushchairs around the now deadly terrain.  With mud splashing up onto the pushchair’s foot muff, we were worried that we had accidentally stumbled upon the orienteering trail. But, lo and behold after finding The Gruffalo, (well, I actually didn’t, but let’s not dwell on that…) we caught a glimpse of the cafe at the start of the trail.  Yes!  Coffee and sandwiches were on the horizon.  Alas, so was the biggest queue I had ever seen.  Looking like Snake from the log pile house, the queue outside the cafe was snaking its way around the play area.  We found a seat at a near by table and admired the beauty around us. Sunday was an almost perfect spring day.  The sun was shining; the temperature (for the first time this year) was bearable.

My photography skills.

In fact, it was a fine day for a picnic.  Thankfully, my friend, who had also been out the previous evening, proved to be the more organised parent because despite having a drink or two the night before, she had made arrangements to ensure that her children would be sufficiently nourished.  She brought a feast consisting of: sausage rolls, Dairylea, yoghurts and – best of all – birthday cake. Where as all I managed to muster up was a Disney Princess bag that contained four Fruit Shoots and three bananas, which only made the bag because after packing the car up, I returned to the house to grab my iPhone charger (for all the bloody good it did me out there trekking in the deep dark wood.)

Between eating cake and changing nappies on a wooden picnic table (yep we were like Bear Grylls with Pampers), the children all managed a run around the small play ground area. Well, I say run, but every time my boy made a mad dash for one of the little mushroom houses, he was tackled to the ground by his sister, who was afraid he would go running off back into Fox’s underground house.

In his reins saying ‘cheeeese’ whilst literally eating cheese. What a hoot…

A rare picture of my daughter NOT tackling her brother to the ground.

Finally, after a couple of hours, it was time to return to our respective cars.  Tiredness was beginning to creep in (on me, not the kids – they were wired on birthday cake and Fruit Shoots) and it was time to begin the car journey home.  We left in the promise that we would return soon with Teaching Dad in tow, a bike, a map and a compass and that we would tackle the orienteering trail.

Well, the kids would anyway.

My plan was to tackle that cafe queue and try to get a hot coffee while hoping for a 4G signal so that my damned Gruffalo app would work.  After all, there’s a mouse, a snake, an owl and a Gruffalo still waiting to be found.

 

 

Disclaimer: This post was written in collaboration with Panasonic.  All views and opinions and hysterical (!) musings are my own. 

 

 

 

 

 


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Jack’s Story, Part Five – Romeo, Juliet, Jack and the Stranger.

This is part five of a fictional story I am attempting to write.  I am not 100% happy with this as I wrote this from scratch last night.  Everything else that has been published on here has been sitting on my computer for the last six years or so.

If you are interested in catching up on the story, you can click on the links below:

This is part one.  This is part two.  This is part three and this is part four

Unsurprisingly, Jack barely slept a wink that night.  His mother, true to her word, stayed with him until the morning and woke him with a gentle squeeze of his hand.  He had dozed, but his dreams were fitful and in them he was surrounded by familiar faces all asking him the same question about his Dad.  Was he going to die?  Jack, in his dreams, had stared at everyone blankly while listening intently to a rhythmic tapping that was sounding out in the distance somewhere.  A rhythmic tapping that only he could hear.

Light seeped in through his eyelids as Jack reluctantly let the new day in.  The first thing he saw was the smiling face of his mother.  It took a minute to comprehend that she was actually speaking to him.

“…so you don’t have to go to school today if you don’t want to.”

Jack shook his head at this suggestion and explained that he wanted to go to school.  He didn’t want anyone knowing his family’s news – not yet.  He couldn’t bear to think of the looks on his teachers’ faces or the inevitable uncomfortable silence as he revealed his father’s illness to his friends.

“As you wish,” she mother said.  “I understand.”

She left him then and returned to his father, who, as far as Jack was aware was still sleeping soundly in their bedroom.  Ordinarily, Jack’s father would have been at work today.  He worked as a civil engineer for the local council and had done for over twenty years.  Jack recalled his father telling him last week that he was owed some holiday and was taking a few days off.  Knowing what he knew now, Jack wasn’t sure that his father would be going back to work at all.  As it would turn out, Jack was correct in his assumption because Carl was too ill to be at work and once the chemotherapy began, he would be introduced to a weakness like no other.

Carl was still asleep when Jack dashed out of the house just in time for the school bus.  Waiting for him upstairs on the double decker was Michael, Jake and Aaron.  Jack could tell that Michael was angry at him over something, but he could not, for the life in him, remember what he had done wrong.

“Where were you last night?” Michael asked.

“At home,” was Jack’s reply.

“I was online for hours waiting to play.  You know, like we had agreed just before you left my house,” Michael said.

“My mum made me finish my History project.  She wouldn’t let me near the bloody X-Box, let alone talk to you on it all night.”

You alright this morning?” Aaron asked Jack. “You look knackered, mate.”

“Just tired, that’s all.”

The rest of the journey was subdued.  Michael continuously checked his phone to see if Chloe Peterson from English had text.  She hadn’t.  Jack didn’t care.  He merely stared out of the window and thought about who he had seen last night in his garden.  He was about to ask his friends whether they had been out late the previous evening, but it had been the small hours of the morning when he had heard the tapping.  Michael was afraid of his own shadow and always appeared to panic whenever they were out past 9o’clock.  No, the leg didn’t belong to any of his friends.  Pushing his thoughts aside with some force, Jack continued to look silently out of his window until he was nudged in the arm by Jake telling him to get his arse downstairs because they had arrived at the school gates.

English was first.  By 9.05am, a bright, but crisp sunshine had begun to light up the school.  The cold was still bitter and there was a dampness in the air, but as Jack turned towards the classroom window, he could feel the sun on his face and the heat emitting from it.  This signalled the start of spring.  It was coming; there was still a way to go before bike rides in the long summer evenings, tree climbing by twilight and hideouts and dens in the woods behind the park.  Momentarily, Jack wondered how his Dad’s illness might impact on these activities that meant the world to him, but in the grand scheme of things, they were unimportant and unnecessary.  He could already hear his dad telling him not to think like that, yet when it’s your own family in danger then the little things, no matter how significant you think they are, get pushed to the back of the queue.  Cogs and wheels began to churn and turn in Jack’s mind as his attention moved away from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and onto the classroom window that looked out onto the playing fields.

He stared out of the window for a long time and when he turned his attention briefly back to the class, Jack noticed his teacher, Mr Watson, give him the slightest of nods.  It was the ‘knowing’ nod.  The nod that told Jack that Mr Watson knew and he was not going to punish Jack for being off task and staring out of the window because Mr Watson had learnt earlier that morning that ‘there were issues at home’.  Sadie had been quick off the mark.  Yes, she agreed that she wanted Jack’s life to continue as normal, but she also knew her son inside out and no matter how much he wanted to continue as normal, he just wouldn’t be able to do it.  That’s the beginnings of distress and grief: the mind wanders lost and lonely and sometimes it is only the slightest of nods from your English Teacher that is needed to bring you back into the real world that you want to escape from.

The familiar monotonous tone of the Bard’s words filled the stuffy classroom as Mr Watson recited the familiar monologue:

“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,

Who is already sick and pale with grief,

That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.

Be not her maid since she is envious.

Her vestal livery is but sick and green,

And none but fools do wear it. Cast it off!”

Mr Watson broke off from his lines to pose a series of familiar questions.

“ ‘Juliet is the sun’ is an example of what?” Mr Watson asked.

“A metaphor, Sir,” a voice shouted out.

“Yes, thank you Jordan, but let’s not shout out.”

“Sorry!” Jordan shouted out.

“What does the metaphor tell us about Juliet?” Mr Watson asked, once again.

“She’s bright, Sir.”

“She’s yellow, Sir.”

“She’s hot, Sir!” came the barrage of replies.

Rolling his eyes, Mr Watson dared to move on and a flicker of panic crossed his face as he posed the next question:

“Anyone recall what we said Juliet’s ‘vestal livery’ is?

The unfamiliarity of the phrase meant that, this time, no one shouted out.

“It was the uniform worn by, erm, virgins,” Mr Watson finished quickly.

“What’s a virgin, Sir?” Jordan asked with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

Mr Watson raised a knowing eyebrow and yet suddenly a bombardment of comments began to flow through the room as the pupils saw their opportunity.

“Eww, Sir!  You told us she was only thirteen, Sir.  That’s gross.”

“Did Romeo go to jail, Sir?”

“No Kieran, you know this!  You’ve watched the film twice.” said Mr Watson incredulously

“He should have been arrested, she’s a teenager,”

“So is Romeo, Jimmy,” Mr Watson sighed.

“Sir! Why do the characters speak English if the play was set in Verona?” another person shouted up.  “They should speak Veronian.”

“That’s not a even a word, Elise.” Mr Watson said.

“Sir!  Sir!  Can we watch the petrol station scene again with the guns?”

“Please remember, Joe that in the exam you won’t mention guns,”

By this time, Mr Watson was almost swimming in his own despair.

“Stop!”  He shouted.  “Just stop.  Year ten, we have read this scene before, we have watched the scene in the film, you know the play is set in Italy and you know what Juliet being only thirteen was, well, it was normal, in the 1500s.

“What was?” Jordan shouted.

It was nothing more than a whisper and yet it felt like a thousand decibels: “Get out.”

Suddenly, the class was silent.  Standing up quietly, Jordan made his way to the front of the class.  As he passed his teacher, he raised his hand to his mouth and bit hit thumb.

“Jordan, what the hell are you doing?” Mr Watson asked.

“I’m biting my thumb at you, Sir.  You know what that means don’t you?”

There was a slight snigger from the rest of the class.

Mr Watson couldn’t help but smile as he pointed to the door.  At least something of what he was teaching was lingering in their brains somewhere.  He turned back to the remaining pupils in the classroom.

“I’ll let you watch the petrol station scene again if you agree to watch the balcony one again too,” said Mr Watson. “You lot are going to be the death of me.”

He paused then and looked over to Jack because he realised he has said something that might upset one of his pupils.  Jack, however, remained oblivious to the whole conversation.  He didn’t know what a ‘vestal livery’ was and nor did he care; he wasn’t bothered that the Shakespearian characters would have fought with swords and not Smith and Wessons and he didn’t know that when Jordan was biting his thumb at his English teacher, he was actually swearing at him.  Jack was oblivious to the classroom antics because Jack was staring at a boy standing alone in the field outside.  And the boy?  Well, he was staring right back at Jack, and waving.

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No relevance to the story at all, but who doesn’t like to see a boy with a toilet seat on his head?

 

 


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The Girl Who Didn’t Want to be Brave.

Today I made a mistake; a boundary was crossed – if only for a second.

I did something that teachers aren’t supposed to do.

In my defence, I had to do it because she was inconsolable; I had to do it because I have walked a mile in her footsteps; I had to do it because I understood how she felt, but most of all, I had to do it because she was scared.

I hugged a pupil.

For the briefest of seconds – all done in front of CCTV cameras – I offered some solace to a fourteen year old girl, who was crying over her mother being ill.

During English lessons, my pupils and I often discuss the difference between sympathy and empathy.  It’s a key factor that comes in to play when discussing how flamboyant words, intricate sentences structures and enduring characters can influence a readers’ thoughts and emotions.  ‘Sympathy is something we feel’, I tell them, while ’empathy is something we understand.’  The ability to empathsise with somebody is incredibly powerful because with just the slightest of nods and a look deep into their eyes, you know you’re not alone in feeling the way you do.  But, with some of the texts we read and in some of the poems we analyse, empathy is the one feeling I do not want my pupils to identify with.

Whenever I discuss empathy in class, a glimmer of light always ignites somewhere deep in my sub-conscious and I am instantly taken back to when I first read about the Thestrals in ‘Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix’.  Harry could see the skeletal horse-like creatures that pulled the Hogwarts carriages when, in previous books, they had appeared to move of their own accord.  He could see the Thestrals because he had seen death.

I would be able to see the Thestrals.

Fourteen year old children shouldn’t have to see the Thestrals.

She walked into my classroom late.  We were reading silently.  She looked at me as she came in through the door and I asked her if she was okay.  There was a flicker of acknowledgement in her eyes because she knew my story and I hers; she began to crumble.  Instantly, before the class could see her facade break, I ushered her outside and left my class.  In a heartbeat my colleague saw us – gave me the slightest of nods because he too understood – and went to sit with my class.

We’re taught not to ask leading questions when it comes to speaking with pupils in distress.  Therefore I didn’t.  I didn’t need to.  Her emotions overflowed as words she had been keeping to herself were finally out in the open.  Then, when it was my turn to respond, I found that when I tried to speak, I couldn’t because my own understanding of her situation had got the better of me; when I opened my mouth to talk, my voice cracked and I too cried.  I cried because I felt completely helpless.  I lost one of my parents to Cancer so how could I offer her any comfort when my story ended with such a defeating blow? How could I offer her any comfort when I didn’t know the full extent of her own inner turmoil?  How could I offer her comfort when I wasn’t the one person she really needed right now?

So we sat.

And she cried.

I told her that there were people in school who were fully trained to give her the advice she needed.  She told me that – amongst many other things I am sure – that their advice was to be brave.

“I don’t want to be brave,” she cried. “I just want my mum!”

And that was when I hugged her. We were seated next to each other and I put my arm around her for a matter of seconds because my roles blurred for a moment and I was no longer just an English Teacher; my parenting instinct kicked in as I saw a child in distress. Yes, it’s a maternal instinct to comfort a child in need, but it’s also a human one.

We were both handed tissues by another amazing colleague who too, unfortunately, could empathise completely with us.

“You are going to have to be brave,” I started. “This journey (yes, I really did use the clichéd ‘journey’) you’re about to embark upon is going to be tough.” I explained that chemotherapy was hard and that her mum might have to get sick in order for her to get better again.

I don’t know whether the truth helped, but telling her to be brave wasn’t what she needed to hear.

“But she will get better,” I said. “And that’s what you have to believe. It’s all you have, but it’s enough and your mum will see that.”

The corridor started to fill up with pupils moving onto new lessons and we were ushered into an office where we were both greeted by other members of staff who looked at us as if we were a pair of Thestrals.

I left her then with my colleagues and under their mindful eyes, she composed herself and calmed down.  I too composed myself and re-entered my class where I was greeted by pupils concerned for their friend’s well being.

There was half an hour of my lesson left and I decided to abandon it.

“Let’s play a game,” I suggested.

A quiet ‘yes!’ resounded in the room.

“Bookworm,” I said. “It’s a word game.”

A unified groan now reverberated around the four walls.

Within minutes though, a fierce competition had begun and pupils were trying to beat my high score. My classroom was loud as my pupil reentered the room and quietly took a seat near the back to be with some friends.

Because it was normality she craved.

And it was normality she got while seated at the back of my room with friends as I had an argument with a fourteen year old boy as to whether ‘flobbering’ was a verb or not. (It’s not, for those wondering…) She had told me outside that she didn’t want to be brave and yet here she was, and probably without realising it, being the bravest girl in the classroom because she dared to be honest, not only to herself, but to trained staff, to me and, perhaps most importantly, to her friends.

No, she wasn’t going to be seeing the Thestrals – not today. Not for a long, long, long time, I hope.

I may have crossed a boundary.

I don’t even know if I helped or if I was a hindrance. But, what I do know is that I am a teacher and I am a mum, and for the briefest of seconds, I was both.

Parenting, like teaching, is a balancing act, but the end goal is the same: a child’s best interest is always at heart.