6

Should we go quietly or…

My daughter has not been to school for a total of 3 weeks now, due to a fall-out with her friends which somehow escalated to the point that she is now a social outcast in school, and is too afraid to walk around outside our home in case she is Seen by one of Them.

I am utterly consumed by this situation, although I am maintaining a semblance of an ordinary life, for example I’m still going to work (and even doing work whilst there).

I have spoken to the Deputy Head of the school about the situation, I have sent her copies of threatening, abusive messages that were sent to my daughter, and I have taken these messages to show the parents. I have found myself observing their reactions in fascination. I have to remind myself that this is real and it is happening to us.

The message was indisputably horrible.

‘I spent all of Monday investigating it,’ said the Deputy Head when we went into school to discuss it, so that I almost apologised for the enormous inconvenience this must have caused.

‘Her friends were all absolutely shocked at the message,’ she continued ‘and they are very sorry.’

We were unconvinced that the children in question were shocked at a message that they themselves wrote. Also by the news that they were sorry.

‘They’re all calling me a snitch,’ said my daughter (who has access to social media and therefore knows what is actually being said out of earshot of the Deputy Head). This unwelcome piece of news bounced off her ears and was seemingly absorbed into the walls without going anywhere.

‘It’s yesterday’s news now,’she told us.

My daughter refused point blank to go to school from that day.

I have written emails to the Deputy Head to tell her what I think of her effectiveness and methods. I have also rung her to tell her. She simply corrects me.

‘No,’ she says ‘It isn’t like that. I didn’t say that. That is not the case. You have got the wrong impression.’

She also tells me that my daughter is being irrational and getting things out of proportion. There is no point in arguing with the Deputy Head, clearly. And little point in trying to make my daughter go to school. She wants to move school and to move area. I feel sulky and angry, wish I hadn’t suggested this to my daughter because we already moved twice last year and I’m tired of moving and I want to carry on living with my parents, where I feel looked after.

I don’t want to be a grown-up. A single parent again, unsheltered, in some windswept, Godforsaken Northern town…

I don’t want to make it too easy for the Deputy Head, who has not helped. I worried about getting a reputation with the new school – as difficult, liable to complain – would this affect my daughter? Yet I have tried playing by the rules. I have been polite, I have been compliant, I have tempered my complaints with praise for staff who ‘obviously mean well’, and this has not helped. I am being forced to move 10 miles down the road, away from the support of my family, because my daughter does not feel safe at school. Therefore I must complain, and this time I must complain to the right person. Somebody, somewhere has to at least apologise for this, surely?

*sense of humour may be absent for this post. It will return.

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2

Deja Vu

It is with some caution that I am blogging again. After all, when I started a bouncy, optimistic blog about my upcoming wedding, the wedding got cancelled (and to be honest, I’d run out of bouncy optimistic things to say a couple of months before that happened). When I blogged about my stepfamily through rose tinted glasses, my marriage collapsed (and although I didn’t actually see that coming at the time, with hindsight it was rather inevitable).

So I don’t think that this blog is going to become an upbeat story of life as the single parent of a teenage girl. It is with trepidation that I write anything at all about my relationship with my daughter, which is currently being reconfigured as we get used to living in a ‘small family’ again.

This child of mine does at times give me complete sense of humour failure, and so I’m going to have to leave the humour to Kathy Lette:

‘Teenagers are obviously God’s punishment for having sex in the first place…Living with a teenage daughter is like living with the Taliban. Mothers are not allowed to dance, sing, flirt, laugh loudly or wear short skirts.’

This is so true! These are the ego-shredding things I hear on a daily basis:
‘Please don’t sing, Mum.’

‘You really can’t dance. And what are you listening to?’

‘Er, Mum, are you actually going to go out like that? Will you walk a few paces behind me and my friend?’

Now I spend the majority of my spare time in the company of 12-year-old girls, I hear these things all the time. Yet I don’t actually feel that they are aimed just at mothers. They’re just as horrible to one another (except within their friendship groups; woe betide anyone who insults their bff…). Teenage girls’ egos are put through the mincer daily by just about everything in their environment. There are still a million insulting words for girls, including the word ‘girl’ – and these are the same words used to insult boys.

So, when I hear these things, it is with a sense of deja vu. I remember being a 12 year old girl. I remember how the choice of an outfit could actually be critical, how self conscious they all are, and how slavishly they all listen to the same sounds.

These things are all reinforced by celebrities who seem to remain in an eternal state of adolescence, or reality TV stars or whatever they’re watching now (*disclaimer – if my daughter ever reads this: I am not claiming to know anything at all about life nowadays. This is purely conjecture…)

With these thoughts in mind, I try to gather up my dignity when around these correctly-dressed girls. I tell myself that it’s hard being a teenager and I should be glad that I don’t have to be one any more. I keep telling myself this when I hear them rolling around on the floor, shrieking with laughter, while I am making dinner.

‘They’re having no fun at all,’ I remind myself, as I mop the floor.

I pour myself a glass of wine.

‘Can I have a sip?’ asks Daughter.

‘No!’ I snap ‘Alcohol is the reward you get for being an adult!’

Be the woman you want your daughter to become

I once wrote, and I’ve lived by it ever since.

I never got on with teetotallers, anyway.

3

Anarchy in the UK: what happens when the teachers are on strike?

No, it wasn’t the return of punk rock: yesterday was Teacher’s Strike Day, perfectly timed for the end of March, when most parents have used up their holiday allowance until the end of the financial year.

Groups of joyful children roamed the streets of the UK, looking for an adult-free house to spend the day in. This was like an unexpected snow day, with the added bonus that as there was no snow, parents could still go to work (and not only could go – they had to go).

I checked my phone at my desk, thinking optimistically that my daughter was unlikely to get out of bed before noon and so there was no need to worry about her yet. Everyone at work was in a good mood after an easy journey to work; the roads and buses were clear of school-children.

I text-ed my daughter a morning greeting, and through a painful process of questioning and monosyllabic answer managed to find out where she was. (just to give you an idea, my text ‘how is your day going?’ – followed by a hopeful smiley face – got the reply ‘fine’, and ‘where are you?’ was answered with ‘out’. At this point I realised it was going to be hard work).

I managed to extract the information that she had – incredibly – got out of bed, got dressed, and gone to a boy’s house, by 10.30 in the morning. She would be coming home soon, however, with a group of friends. They were going to watch a film and eat popcorn in our house.

I spent a few moments complaining to my phone handset that none of this had been mentioned last night, when we discussed plans for the day. Realising the futility of this, I spent another few moments considering what she and her friends might be getting up to, worrying about the mess they would leave at the house, and planning to take an hour at lunch to find out exactly what my child was doing.

As I usually do in these situations, I thought about what I would have done at her age. This gave me absolutely no comfort at all in terms of reassuring me that she was going to be sensible. However, it gave me a very clear memory of how it felt to be worried about, at that age.

My parents tended to let their imaginations run away with them, having nothing real in their own experience to compare my young life to. I remember feeling that they always thought the worst. I remember that this had absolutely no effect on how I behaved or where I went, but it did have a serious and damaging effect upon the relationship I had with them.

Of course, now I have my own daughter I understand what they went through. I now get to experience the fear and bewilderment of living with the fast-changing whirlwind of self-righteous confusion that is a girl entering puberty; watching her throw herself into the unknown, with no certainty that it will all be OK.

Yet I have an advantage – having grown up in a similar situation and environment, I know this: that if I am afraid, she will be too. If I don’t trust her, she will never learn to trust herself.

I owe it to her to believe the best of her. I know that suspicion, fear and mistrust will make not the slightest bit of difference to her actions, but will forever influence the way she feels about herself.

Although I will protect her from danger when I see it, and come down like the proverbial tonne of bricks when I know that she has done something wrong, I have to accept that now there will be times when I just don’t know whether there is danger or whether she has done anything wrong, and those are the times when I must believe that she has learnt enough to protect herself and to keep her feet moving in the direction of the straight and narrow path – and hope that this belief will give her the confidence to seek help when she needs it.

Teacher’s Strike Day was indeed a day of anarchy for the children; a break from normal rules and structure, giving them time to explore the possibilities of life without boundaries, for a brief period. Although there was no school, we may still have managed to learn something, my daughter and I…(I still went home for lunch, though).

As for the teachers – I think they are striking for the right reasons and so I wish them well.

6

Thought for International Women’s Day

be the woman you want your daughter to become, inspirational quotes, thought for the day, international women's day

My Thought for International Women’s Day

After all, Gandhi said ‘Be the Change You Want to See in the World’ and for the mother of an 11-year-old daughter this seems as good a place as any to start.

As my daughter gets older, she certainly isn’t listening to anything I tell her any more – but she is watching every move I make. Like a hawk. Having spent so long focusing my attention on her, becoming invisible as mothers can tend to do, the spotlight is suddenly on me.

What am I showing her? What does the example of my life teach her? As she grows into a woman herself, what paths does she see ahead of her?

The thought of being a role model makes me briefly toy with the idea of giving my daughter a ‘How Not To’ Guide, something along the lines of

horrible warning, setting a bad example, role model, quotes

Quote from Catherine Aird

This would surely be easier, but I’ve already done this and it seems like a risky parenting strategy.

No; in honour of International Women’s Day, I will stop taking the easy way out. I hereby resolve to stop trying to become invisible, and to live consciously in the world. To become the woman I would like my daughter to become one day: strong, resilient, loving, but above all, happy and fulfilled.

0

Saying Goodbye

I spent this morning in a small terraced house; an old factory workers’ terrace in a place they now call ‘dog shit valley’. The factories that brought people to live in these rows of terraces are long gone. The bell may as well ring now from the Asda down the road, as every morning people flock down the hill in their green fleeces to work their 12-hour shifts. In the small patch of grass in the garden (too small to fit a lawnmower) cats fight to bury their excrement. It’s the only patch of grass for a mile or so.

I parked my car on the familiar street. where once I walked out to find an American tourist taking a picture of the plaque on the wall opposite – I’d never noticed it before, it said ‘Victoria Street, 1885’. A piece of history; part of the daily furniture of my life.

I turned the key in the lock, and as I stepped over the threshold the house enveloped me in a motherly embrace. My muscles remembered the actions of turning to lock the door; completed every day for 6 years, they were still automatic: turn, put the key in the lock from the inside, push the handle down, then up again, hear it click and turn the key – and now you are safe….

This is the house that gave me shelter for 6 years. Here I fled my home town with my 2-year-old daughter, and here we lived until she was 8 years old. In 2010, we moved out to live with the man who is now my husband, and when I sit down at my kitchen table – still there – to record this moment in my diary, the date I unconsciously write is 2nd March, 2010. Since then the house has changed, altered itself a little to fit the tenants who lived here – a single mother with her two children – it is a generous house and can expand itself to accommodate anyone. Yet it recognises me still, whispering memories into my ear.

Lazy afternoons on the sofa in the living room, watching the light slant golden through the window, lighting up the wall in just that way. I am reading stories to my little girl, she’s snuggling into me, and it feels as if it will always be like this – the two of us, resting and dreaming together, curled up like a hand in a glove…

Cooking dinner in the large kitchen – music on, cooking bubbling on the stove. She’s choreographing a dance and making me do it with her. She won’t leave me alone…

Lying in bed in the morning, she’s running in to show me her first coin from the tooth fairy…

Lying together on a double mattress I have put in the living room (I can’t remember why). We are ill and have been alternately being sick and sleeping for two days, with a bucket each, and drinks by the side of the bed. There is nobody to help us and I look after her as best I can. We play playdoh when we are feeling alert, and watch TV…’nobody has come to us,’ she says ‘nobody has knocked on our door.’ 

There are memories in the very fabric of the building, in the walls that I decorated so many times, in the stains on the carpet and the noises that the boiler makes. Memories of contentment and loneliness, triumph and despair, love and exhaustion – and most of all, fulfilment. My single parent life.

I was there to put the finishing touches to the decoration, to clean the house ready for sale. Life moves on, and that life is no more, that little girl long gone. Yet after I had cleaned the detritus left by the tenant (coffee stains, dried spaghetti on the floor, thick balls of dust on the carpet by the wall…) the house belonged to me again, and I belonged to it, memories resonating through the both of us.

I escaped its embrace, but it was hard to leave…