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.

23

A Scarlet Reputation

Daily Prompt: Do you have a reputation? What is it and where does it come from? Is it accurate? What do you think about it?

Reputation – don’t talk to me about ¬†reputation. Reputations come from gossip and those who borrow their opinions from the mouths of others. No woman wants to get a Reputation.

I first got a reputation when I was 17 years old and I decided to dye my hair pink. It was a shocking pink; no fluffy my-little-pony shade for me, then, and this was the 1990s when only punks had colourful hair. For some people, the pink hair told them all they needed to know about me – but for me, their reaction to my pink hair told me everything I needed to know about them. I was not so much rebelling, as conducting my own sociological experiment, observing human nature from behind my bright facade. I was totally invisible at the same time as I was completely conspicuous – everybody noticed me, but nobody looked at me. Nobody looked beyond my shock of hair.

It never occurred to me that this experiment could stick; that this hair colour would still be reflected back at me in the eyes of others, long after I had let the pink fade to the white bleached hair underneath, and even many years later when I had gone back to a respectable brown.

It was the pink hair that first separated me, that first made me ‘other’, although it wasn’t the only thing. In my home town, I would always be viewed as different. Not normal. Someone who didn’t care; someone to whom the rules did not apply. Somehow this made me less human. After this, it was easier to disregard the things that made me human, easier for other people to believe that I didn’t care about anything; so that when I became a single mother the verdict was that, yes of course, I had done this on purpose. Just to be different.

You know you have a reputation when somebody opens a door to you and, as you stand beneath them on the doorstep, holding this small child who would melt anyone’s heart, who would make anyone – anyone who didn’t know you from those days – exclaim and coo

‘Hello, oh isn’t she gorgeous!’

but this is you and it’s your baby, and instead they say

‘Oh, it’s you,’ and wrinkle their nose as if they had smelt something bad and in their eyes you see the memory of your pink hair, and omg the things they heard about you at uni, and didn’t they always know you would turn out this way? You want to defend yourself, explain yourself, tell them no, it wasn’t like that – but reputations aren’t about truth, they’re about gossip and people who take their opinions from the mouths of others.

Reputation. Don’t talk to me about reputation.

0

Birth Song

When I am old and have nothing more to do but sit at a window, daydreaming my way through the scenes of my life, this song and the moment it evokes will most likely be on constant repeat.

‘Remembering when, I saw your face, shining my way’ will always remind me of the first time I looked into my daughter’s eyes. It was the biggest shock of my life.

This baby had begun as an ethereal presence which fluttered inside me, a romantic idea; the little girl I had always wanted, come unexpectedly, like a gift. However, as the months passed she became increasingly more solid and heavy. As the flutters turned to hard kicks, I thought more and more about my circumstances. I had been basically single, homeless and unemployed at the time that she had first made her presence felt inside me (having split up with her father, left my job and set off to travel around South America). By the time of her birth I had managed to find and sparsely furnish a home – a cold, damp, rented flat – but that was it. My conviction that it would all be OK had begun to falter, and now, following a 36-hour labour, I was beginning to doubt my own strength. I wasn’t sure that I wanted this after all; wasn’t sure if I could cope, actually.

I wasn’t the first to hold her; her hair and the blanket around her were perfumed with an unwelcome smell of aftershave, one which caused a lump of bitterness to rise in my throat. The blanket was taken off and a little, naked body was placed upon mine. As the walls and the ceiling of the room spun around me, I slowly managed to focus – on a tiny bottom and a pair of skinny, chicken legs. They had placed her facing away from me. I thought about moving her around, but my shaking arms weren’t obeying my commands. The midwives were talking, laughing and joking at the end of their nightshift, relieved that another birth had taken place without incident.

‘Excuse me. Excuse me…Can somebody move her around please?’ I asked. One of them heard me, ‘Sorry,’ she turned my baby around to face me.

I was looking into a pair of enormous blue eyes, and the expression in those eyes was one of utter fury. Another reality suddenly confronted me. I had had a wobble, wondered if I wanted to become a mother, wondered if I could do it. The truth jumped out at me from her eyes:

‘I did not ask to be born,’ they said ‘I am not sure that you did the right thing, either. I am not sure about you, or this world.’

‘It’s killing me, I’m dying…

To put a little bit of sunshine in your life’

As I looked into her eyes, and the room spun around me, I realised that motherhood was not going to be at all as I had imagined it. I didn’t feel an overwhelming rush of love when I looked at her, as I thought I was supposed to. I didn’t see a reflection of me, a repository for my own dreams and fantasies. Unexpectedly, I saw her – ready to fight, from the day she was born. I saw that the¬†odds were stacked against us, and I knew that we were going to struggle. But from that moment I knew that we would fight together.

I was on her side, and always would be.