The Teaching Mum

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


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The Things I’ll Never Say.

I like to think that I’m quite good at speaking in front of people.  After all, it is something I do most days.  Talking in front of a group of thirty-two pupils daily, however, is very different to presenting to a large group of your peers, your friends and your loved ones.  I am not saying I couldn’t do it, I am certain that I could.

I did it at your funeral, remember?

It’s that awful feeling you get leading up to it: the churning of your stomach, the sickness making you feel dizzy, light-headed and not truly in the moment and then there is the fact that it’s all you think about before you stand to make your introduction to your awaiting audience. 

I don’t want those feelings.

Not at my wedding and I hope you understand.

Months ago, when the wedding planning stages were in their infancy, I had the idea that I would write something, hide it in my dress pocket and ta-da!  I would suddenly magically produce it from the pocket, stand up and present it to my captive audience from where I stood in the centre of the top table.  On lookers would smile and remember you with a fondness, Mum would look on at me proudly as I spoke with confidence and without wavering, Rob would roll his eyes willing me to finish and I would say all the things I want to say about missing you on one of the most important days of my life.  I would talk about how proud you would be of your grandchildren and if only you had met them because they would love you so much. I would speak of Mum and how, at low parts of her life, she refused to be beaten down. I would explain the many ways in which you and Rob are similar but so different in others (he supports Barnsley FC, I know someone has to) and how I saw him in a whole new light on the day he became a Dad for the first time.

I would be sentimental, funny, nostalgic and celebratory and I would make it through my speech without once stumbling on my words and without any tears.

That’s what I thought I could do six months ago.

As it turns out, with only three days to go, I can’t do it and I don’t want to do it.

Sorry.

Allow me to try and explain why.  It may sound heartless; bear with me though as I am anything but.

This one day is about me.

Your funeral gave me the opportunity to stand up and talk about the most important man in my life: you.  It was all about you, so understandably it felt right to talk about you and the father you were.

I don’t want you to be one of the main topics of conversation at my wedding because what will it only serve to remind me of? The fact that you’re not here.

Let me make myself clear.  You are never far from my thoughts and you know I speak about you often.  Over the last few weeks, you have been at the forefront of my mind despite my constantly trying to keep you at the back of it.

That’s not very a very nice thing to do, is it?

But, I have reason.

It’s those damned floodgates, you see. I fear that if they open, I will struggle to close them.  I know they didn’t open at your funeral and my only suggestion as to why is that I was all cried out and still in some state of shock that my father had been taken away from me when he was still so young.  

My friends keep asking me if I am excited about my wedding and I am but I have also told them that I just want it to be over.  That, I can guarantee you, is not true.  Having waited ten years to finally marry the father of my children, I do not want the day to be over.  I want to enjoy it.  However, there’s this thing lurking silently in the pit of my stomach just waiting for Saturday morning to arrive before it can leap out and paralyse me with nerves, anxiety and a deep feeling of loss.  I think the thing lurking is the thought of you and your absence.

Last week, while out shopping, Mum hooked her arm into mine and told me she was looking forward to the weekend and was starting to get ‘a bit giddy’.  I wanted to get giddy with her and yet instead I unhooked my arm and told her I was feeling so very apprehensive about the imminent Big Day.

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking that it’s very ungrateful and ungracious of me and you would be right.  After everything she has done for me and my family, I was throwing her excitement and her generosity back in her face.

Here comes my attempt at justification.  Shortly before hooking her arm through mine, Mum had told me that she had found and washed an old blue and white (LUFC colours, obviously) handkerchief of yours. She had been using it while pressing some trousers and it was clean and ironed and ready to be my something old, something borrowed and something blue and it could hide secretly away in my dress pocket.

I felt the flood gates unlock then.

It was a beautifully simple suggestion. No one would know and I would have something of yours.  But, I don’t want something of yours.  I want you.

I am not a religious person but I do put my faith and my belief in that there is something greater than all of us.  I have to believe this because if there is nothing after we die, then where are you now?  And it’s for that reason that I chose to get married in a church.  However, it’s the church ceremony that, over anything, even the poor weather forecast, that I am fearing.  Fearing my wedding ceremony.  Can you hear that? That’s horrible isn’t it? I’ve picked the flowers, the hymns and asked for the bell ringers.  It’s sure to be beautiful (and chaotic with nineteen children in attendance) but I am fearing it.

Why?

Because, no matter how hard I try to push you to the back of my mind I know I won’t be able to.  Standing outside that church with just me and Mum is where I am going to miss you more than I have probably ever missed you since the day you left us.  I’ll see you in Mum’s eyes as she too tries to not think about how her husband isn’t here to walk his only child down the aisle and I will feel it as she takes my arm to walk me down the aisle.  Every child hates to see their parents cry and as a parent myself, I know how much it pains me to see my children cry when they are genuinely heartbroken, in pain and distress.

With you in our minds, we will both be trying not to cry and if one of us utters your name, the floodgates will come crashing open.

I don’t want look heart-broken as I walk down the aisle and I think that’s why I am choosing to explain this to you now because if I speak about you on Saturday afternoon standing outside the church then my heart will be broken.

If, however, I think about you and make sure you remain firmly in my thoughts throughout the day then perhaps my heart will only be bruised a little and we can all smile through a little bit of pain, can’t we?

I’m sorry.

I hope you understand.

I also hope you enjoy the day, Dad, where ever you are (or when ever – I haven’t ruled out time-travel as an after-life possibility yet.) Be happy in the knowledge that I am marrying into a good and kind family; a family who have looked after me like their own for the past ten years.  Your grandchildren could not be more loved.  And Rob, well, like I said earlier, he is very similar to you.  He likes being at home (getting him to a family party is a nightmare), he loves to watch sport (shame about the football team though), he is quiet (unless he has had a drink), he doesn’t let me get away with anything but he supports me, cares for me and offers advice when needed (often with the lines ‘who cares what anyone else thinks’), but above all, he is a fantastic Dad.

Just like you.

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Chaos is a Caravan

“We have the caravan from Friday until Monday,” I said.  “So I thought, with it being the school holidays, we could go on…”

“We’ll go on Saturday afternoon,” was his reply.

“Well, I’ve paid for it all weekend and don’t you think some family time – just the four of us – would be nice?” I suggested.

“Saturday,”  came the reply.

“It’s a privately owned caravan,” I continued.

“It’s still sh*tting in a bucket,”

His stubbornness is relentless endearing but so is my nagging.

“Will you just consider going Friday afternoon, please?”

And so he did and so we did.

Family weekends away: what you want VS what you get

1. The Holiday Shop – what you want

A family trip to Tesco where you walk hand in hand with your partner laughing and smiling about the forthcoming weekend.  Your children, seated in the trolley, behave impeccably and do not ask for anything.  Life is bliss as you buy the caravan essentials of milk, eggs, bacon, bread, butter, water and a bottle of wine.  Just think: eating bacon and eggs in a caravan.  What a time to be alive!

The Holiday Shop – what you get

A family trip to Tesco where one child demands sweets, crisps, chocolate and a toy whilst the other one is proving to anyone who will watch that he is the Usain Bolt of the supermarket world.  As you reach the top of the cleaning aisle, he is already at the bottom of the pet aisle grabbing at a tin of Pedigree Chum and you don’t own a dog.  As you reach the tin of dog food and place it back on the shelf, he is already locked inside the ice-cream freezer holding up a box of half priced Magnums (and you can’t help but praise him on that epic find).

By the time you reach the alcohol aisle, you wonder if swigging a bottle now and then paying for it at the till will be frowned upon.  The one bottle of wine you were planning on taking to the caravan has now changed into a box of Tiger beers, two cans of Pimms, two gin and tonics and three bottles of cider.

On arrival at the check out, you will learn that you have spent over £30 on Haribo and packs of Pringles.

Then, when you eventually arrive at your caravan and unpack your shopping, you will find that everything you bought that needs putting in the fridge is precisely where it needs to be: in the fridge.  Only, the fridge the food is currently residing in is the one in your house back in Yorkshire.  Therefore, over the weekend you will survive on chocolate raisins, Haribo and prawn cocktail Pringles.


2. The accommodation – what you want

The caravan is clean, tidy, fresh smelling, warm and cosy.  Bedding is provided and every want and need is catered for.

The accommodation – what you get

Having spent half an hour driving around the camp site because “caravan 243 does not effing exist” you will eventually arrive at caravan 243 to find that it is clean, tidy, fresh smelling, warm and cosy.  Bedding is provided and every want and need is catered for…until…

“Mummy! I NEEEEEED A POO!”

Despite the kitchen being literally right next to the toilet, the door must remain open in order that you, whilst realising that you have no cold food packed, can keep one eye on your defecating five year old.

“Oh my Gosh!” You’ll exclaim as you abandon the shopping to grip your nose.  “What have you eaten?”

And in an instant, the caravan is no longer clean, tidy, fresh smelling, warm and cosy as windows are frantically opened and food  is left discarded on the side.

3. The entertainment – What you want

A free kids’ disco and reasonably priced alcohol.

The entertainment – what you get

After paying £54 for two adult entertainment passes (thank God the kids are still free) you would expect EVERYTHING in the entertainment complex to be free much like an all inclusive holiday.  Absolutely nothing (apart from two slides, a set of swings and a roundabout) is free.  There is, however, a kids’ disco that’s open to all but navigating your way through to it is like wading through mud and you’re sinking, sinking and sinking because in order to reach the end goal of the disco and (more importantly, the alcohol), you must first battle your way through hundreds of 2p and 10p slot machines.  Expect to wave a sad goodbye to your July wage as the slots swallow up your pound coins.  Your daughter, when standing next to the 2p change machine, won’t believe her eyes when 2ps come showering down into her plastic cup.

“Look mum! I’ve won!”

“No, love.  No you haven’t,” You may be crying at this point as you pick out another pound coin from your purse.

Can we have some more money, Mum?


Like jungle explorers, you will eventually manoeuvre yourselves safely around the various slot machines and into the bar. While it’s great that your moods remain unscathed at having successfully pacified your kids with pound coins and rides, your pockets will now be filled with ‘winning tickets’ as opposed to precious pennies.  At least you’ll be able to get that beer (and hope that ‘winning tickets’ can be exchanged for cash) and sit and watch your children dance to the music that’s been just beyond your reach for the last hour.

As you open the doors, however, you hear the dreaded words: “Can we have the lights on? Eyes down and get ready for Bingo.”

Bugger.

4. The precious family time – what you want

Having spent an evening enjoying the odd slot machine and the kids’ disco, you’ll walk back to your caravan.  Perhaps one child will be on your shoulders while the other one claims that you are the ‘best parents in the world’ for bringing them away on this little break.  Once inside your caravan, your children will change into their pyjamas and take themselves off to bed as you cuddle up on the sofa and watch television with a cup of tea and a biscuit.

The precious family time – what you get

After missing your chance to purchase a Bingo ticket, you head back to your caravan.  One child is clinging to your hip because they are over tired and the other is veering unsteadily on the path because perhaps the three slushies she downed may have contained a little too much food colouring and sugar.

“Hold my hand!” You’ll shout but it will fall on deaf ears as your five year old will already be off running to try to find the caravan that a grown man couldn’t find in daylight and with a map only three hours earlier.

Lo and behold, she will find it though and as you open the door and ask your children to change into their pyjamas, they will ask for more food and refuse to go to bed until a ‘tablet time’ deal is struck.

After ten minutes of ‘tablet time’ you will ‘playfully’ wrestle the tablets out of the little hands that have a surprisingly firm grip and you’ll lay with them because they are scared of monsters.

Unfortunately, because your children are warm, snuggly and give the best cuddles, you will invariably fall asleep and wake up cold three hours later.  After a slight panic at the thought that you have no idea where your other half is, you’ll find him snoring on the sofa wrapped up in a sleeping bag he bought for a biking weekend last May.

Hmm, where’s Daddy?


The weather – what you want

Sun.  And at some point over the weekend you will get this.  However it will be at an inappropriate time like, for example, when you’re waiting for your friends to arrive.

Waiting in glorious sunshine for her friends to arrive.


The weather – what you get

Rain. 


On the day that you book the Pleasure Beach that’s when it will rain.  Don’t be fooled by the morning sunshine peeking from behind the clouds.  It is tricking you.  It is giving you false hope.  It is telling you not to layer up, not to take a coat and to leave the waterproofs behind.  This is a mistake.  By 2 o’clock in the afternoon you will be p*ss wet through but because British stoicism will always shine through (unlike the sunshine) you will continue in your quest to find pleasure at the Pleasure Beach.


The theme park – what you want

You get to go on every single ride (even The Big One) without queueing for more than five minutes.

The theme park – what you get

A ride in a fairy taxi, which your son will hate.  A ride in a hot air balloon, which your son will hate. 


 A slow, slow ride through the exciting, multi-lingual world of Dora the Explorer but all of this will be worth it just to see your partner and your daughter battle it out on SpongeBob Square Pants Splash Bash.

“You’ll get wet,” you will warn your child.

“I don’t care, Mummy.”

Famous last words.


Friends – what you want

You will spend your weekend in the caravan with your friends.  Together, you will eat, drink, chat and be merry.

Friends – what you get

You will spend your weekend in the caravan with your friends…and their kids.  Together, with your children, they will become a force to be reckoned with and the caravan will descend into a pit of chaos as beds are jumped on, poos are pooed, tantrums are thrown and food is dropped.  But, despite this, you will eat, drink, chat and be merry.

And you wouldn’t want it any other way.


“Never again,” he said as we left the caravan with two content and dozing children.

“The kids have loved it,” I said.

“Yeah, but it’s still sh*tting in a bucket isn’t it?”

Don’t worry. He loved our family break. Here’s my proof.


 

 

 

 


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Back to Work with Love the Sales

I know I shouldn’t be thinking about going back to work yet as I have only been off a week and a half.  But, I am.  Unfortunately, work is never far from my mind.  I know I have data to analyse, new schemes of work to write and seating plans to create before I head back in September.

However, before I start creating my new ‘Horror Writing’ scheme for our new Year 7s, let’s first think about creating a new work wardrobe.

When I return to work in September, I will be a ‘Mrs’ as opposed to the ‘Miss’ I was when I left.  Therefore, with a new name, let’s look at some new clothes.

I like wearing dresses for work and one of the dresses that caught my eye was the navy Hazar Night dress from Reiss.  It’s really simple but I like the high neck, the length and the fact that it comes in at the waist.  More importantly though, I think this is a very professional looking dress and it is important, when working in a school, that you look professional and formal at all times.

With a new dress must come new shoes and because this Hazar dress is navy, I have had a look for blue shoes. Usually for work I tend to wear black shoes because they are ‘safe’ but blue and black don’t always sit will together. I have taken a look at the Ted Baker site and picked out these little beauties. However, after a day of teaching back to back lessons, I am not sure if I will still be able to stand! I had better invest in some of those gel pads you can place in your shoes.

 

Ted Baker

Ted Baker Saviy Pointed Toe Court Shoes, Dark Blue Suede

For the last two years for work, I have been using a hand me down Marc Jacobs bag. My mum, a keen collector of designer handbags, gave it to me when she was done with it! Since then it has been filled with red pens, board pens and exercise books and is now literally on its last legs. If I were to buy a new handbag for work, it would again have to quite large as being a full-time working mamma, I bring a lot marking home with me. Once again, I looked at the Love the Sales website and found this black handbag from Ted Baker.

 

Ted Baker Taleen Bag

Taleen Bow Detail Leather Bag

Despite preferring heels for work, when it comes to casual wear I love jeans, t-shirts and trainers. Once work finishes and I arrive home, that’s when I become Mummy again and there is no way I can chase my kids around in heels. Looking at the Converse section on Love the Sales, I have picked out these floral trainers. Having owned a number of Converse trainers in the past, I wanted something a little different and I think these are perfect. They come in two different colours also: green and pink or lemon and pink.

 

Converse

Converse Breakpoint Ox Floral Textile

Finally, I love Superdry T-shirts and own a number of them because they are comfortable and not expensive. I found this bright t-shirt on the Superdry site and thought, when teamed up with blue skinny jeans and the above Converse, it would look very summery and when I return to work in September, the outfit will take me back to summer 2017!

 

Superdry

HIBISCUS – Print T-shirt

Right, I think that’s enough talk about work for this week. Now to go back to enjoying my summer holidays with these two.

All of the above were sourced from Love the Sales. 


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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.

img_0816

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.