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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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.

7

‘Miss, My Friends Ate My Geography Project’

I am half way through a very serious post about social work and how I realised I really shouldn’t be in that career (it was when I started to entertain myself by using obscure words in my case notes, because I had got tired of parroting the social work jargon which imprisoned my thoughts and judgement) and I will finish and post that one soon, but I have to finish making tea and my daughter wants to talk to me.

Also, she’s being very funny.

‘I’ve got a problem,’ she said ‘Seriously. You know that geography project?’

‘Yes, dear,’ I say ‘the one where you were asked to make a model of the globe and you spent all last night making one from cake?’

‘Yes, well M and R came over and they said where is your geography project and I said it’s downstairs and they said well bring it up we want to look at it and so I brought it up and then I went to the toilet and when I came back they had eaten TWO MASSIVE SLICES and a WHOLE COUNTRY and I’m going to get a detention now so please can you write me a note?’

Should I laugh? Maybe not. But HAHAHAHAHA…what else can I do?