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.


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…


Snapchat and Backchat

My daughter is sitting in the corner of the living room, pulling gruesome and bizarre faces into her i-pad for ‘selfies’ which she sends to her friends. (This is apparently called snapchat…) I am being treated to this spectacle because I have protested about the amount of time she spends up in her room on the i-pad, even banning it for several days so that I can have the pleasure of her company for a while. She is now clinging to her i-pad, but making an effort to sit with us.

I watch her for a moment in fascination, reminded of when as a 2-year-old she once sat through an entire haircut pulling these same faces into the mirror. I remember laughing with the hairdresser as she unselfconsciously pouted, smiled, yawned, contorted her eyebrows and widened and narrowed her eyes. She was so intent upon pulling faces that nobody could get her to keep her head down for the hairdresser to cut the back of her hair, and an amused teenage assistant ended up crouching in front of her with a small mirror, so that she could carry on pulling faces as she looked down.

‘You know what this reminds me of?’ I say ‘that time when you were 2 years old and you kept pulling faces in the mirror at the hairdresser.’

She turns on me a well-practised look of utter disgust, and spits the word ‘Mum’ with the disdain that only a pubescent child can muster

‘Why do you have to keep reminding me of that all the time? It’s not even funny!’

‘But you were so adorably cute then,’ I sigh nostalgically, looking wistfully at her as she scowls back into the i-pad and takes a picture of herself.  She may or may not be mouthing a rude word.

Yet, although I look back at those days with rose-tinted glasses, this  post from Katrina Anne Willis on BlogHer, and this one from AC Melody reminded me that looking after a toddler was not actually the highlight of my life. Teenagers may give you constant backchat, but they never get you up in the middle of the night; actually, they let you lie in (in fact, you have to get them up). When I remember the monotony of watching Dora the Explorer over and over again, the nose-wiping and the potty-training and the hour it took to persuade tiny fingers into gloves – well, like Katrina Anne, I feel exhausted just thinking about it.

I have heard the toddler years and the teenage years described as very similar. In both cases, the child is striving for independence and becoming frustrated because they cannot achieve it – they still need their parent to help them, however much they want to do things on their own. I can see the similarities between toddler and teenage tantrums, but I can also see some differences which I feel positive about:

  • you can’t lift a teenager up and bodily carry them to bed when they are tired and grumpy, but your back never hurts and you don’t have to bend down to take their shoes off (they can take their own shoes off)
  • you can (sort of) reason with a teenager
  • teenagers never embarrass you by having tantrums in public, in fact they are more likely to completely ignore you
  • teenagers are wittier than toddlers which makes their moods more entertaining

and one similarity

  • although basically ungrateful for your parenting efforts, teenagers can still surprise you with sudden touching displays of affection, just as toddlers do.

I’m grateful to Katrina Anne Willis and AC Melody for reminding me that, while those toddler years were a delight in many ways, and not something I would have wanted to miss, I can also feel grateful that time has moved on. My stroppy, snapchatting, backchatting daughter is still a source of wonder and fascination, as she grows into her own person – and, if I squint and pretend she isn’t taller than me already, she still looks childishly cute.


The Valentine’s Day Wedding (That Never Happened)

Weekly Prompt: Valentine’s Day

Last year, Valentine’s Day was a momentous day, in a momentous year. It was the eve of my 40th birthday, in the year that I was to get married.

valentine's day wedding, rings

Ring a ring a roses

It was also the year 2013.

In 2013, I suddenly heard the ticking of time-bombs, whose existence I had never even guessed at. My head had been filled all along with fairy tale cliches, templates for living which I had successfully ignored all of my life – they didn’t fit and couldn’t be superimposed upon the landscape of my modern world. Yet now they were detonating in an explosion of longing; filling the landscape of my mind with a profusion of blood red…roses.

I wanted to get married on Valentine’s Day – the day before I turned 40. It was absolutely vital that my prince rescue me before that clock struck midnight and I became an old hag, and I knew beyond any doubt that the only way I could survive my 40th birthday was by waking up a bride. I would carry red roses, their colour splashed against the white, snow covered hills that would surround us. I found the perfect place: a country hotel, with a small room housing an enormous Gothic fire place. I would be married in (fake) fur, lit by the glow of firelight and candles.

Things started to go wrong with this picture as soon as we began to plan it. Firstly, the number of guests – it kept increasing. I suddenly had many more friends than I had could ever remember having had before, and it was going to be an impossibility to fit them all into the small room with the Gothic fireplace. I gave up on that fairly early on in the proceedings, but I cried with the disappointment. We booked a larger room, and now we had to think about entertainment, whether to book a late bar, how to get people home…many things which I hadn’t imagined in my romantic vision. The wedding seemed to have taken on a momentum of its own.

There were more ticking time-bombs. My daughter was entering puberty, and things were detonating around her, too. She had had a father-less childhood,and struggled to get used to her Stepdad-to-be – but now, suddenly, her blood father came blazing out of the shadows, bringing carnage in his wake. Her long-lost father, often no more than a disembodied voice on a phone (when he could be bothered to ring), now there in the flesh and staking his claim: I am the Father, and you shall have no other Father but me. He asserted his visitation rights, and he pulled her into his virtual world.

She talked to a counsellor. The counsellor was concerned enough to call me in to express her concerns about the way my daughter was feeling, and how confused she was.

My romantic Valentine’s Day wedding, 2013, disintegrated in a blizzard of tears. There was snow, and there were rose petals, but there was no wedding. The ill-fated event was cancelled.

I awoke on my 40th birthday, not married. Not a princess. No hearts and flowers; just fear and worry for my daughter, and for our future.

Yet, I was surrounded by family. My daughter was OK. My not-husband was still there, because we wanted him there – my daughter and I – and his son was there, wanting to be part of the family we had tried to make. Our extended families were there, too; instead of the wedding his family came over to my parents’ house, broke bread together and afterwards took a walk in the freezing February air.

‘We would have been getting married about now,’ said my not-husband, as the sun reached its early zenith in the pale sky. We held hands as we walked ‘Still, our families have met. So we don’t actually need to bother with a wedding any more…’

As usual, his irreverence made me laugh, against my will. And we were still together. All of these explosions had not blown us apart, they had brought us closer together. All four of us – our children, and us. Me and my not-husband. And somehow, that was more romantic than any wedding could have been. We did get married later, when things calmed down and when I knew it was the right thing to do, for my daughter as well as for me – but that time, that decision we made to stick together, through doubt and fear – actually meant more than any vows we ever made.

So, tonight as I saw all the worried faces queuing around the card and flower displays – red roses now going cheap – I know that, of course, love and commitment go deeper than that, and red roses are beautiful any time of year…


Dear January

January, you have been cold, dark and dreary, but I expected that. I fought your darkness with the fire of my ambition – starting a million challenges at once (well, OK, three) – new job, 30 days without alcohol, and the 30 day blogging challenge: Zero to Hero.

You must have laughed to see me huddled over my desk, drinking tea in the dim light, listening to the rain pouring a steady stream of cold water over the whole of the disillusioned population of Manchester, as they dreamed their small dreams – of sunshine, warmth, cheer; just one glass of wine/bar of chocolate/day without exercise. You sent hail to beat them down when they had the least resistance, tempting them back into the bad habits they were trying to give up, smiling triumphantly as you drove them back to their small comforts.

My fiery ambition was not enough to melt your misery, even though I was successful in all of my challenges. I managed over 3 weeks without alcohol, the new job was fabulous, and I gained lots of lovely new followers for my blog as well as making some great discoveries on WordPress. But January, even though you didn’t break my resolve, you knew that this was cold comfort, as you enveloped me in your Weather; your sombre skies and pervasive atmosphere of gloomy exhaustion. I could have won the lottery and I would still have felt depressed.

You may have had the last laugh this year, but wait until next year – for now, I have a new secret weapon.

It came to me this morning, as February made its entrance, whispering sweet promises in my ear – speaking to me of hearts and flowers and a bridge over to Spring. I woke to find my husband gone, his car disappeared

‘He’s left me,’ I thought dolefully (a January thought) until the sound of the door opening made me jump.

‘Happy Birthday!’ he said (although it isn’t my birthday for a few weeks yet), handing me a huge box.

It was a light box, to blast away the winter gloom. I have had 2 hours of ‘light therapy’ so far, bathing my eyes in its brilliant light. My SAD is gone. I can still hear the wind whistling around the house, but inside it is as if the daylight I have been waiting for these 6 long months, is finally here. I don’t want to turn it off and leave the house.

My husband, who grew up peering through the permanent drizzle of the Welsh countryside, is dazzled by the unreasonable brightness of this light

‘I think I have LAD,’ he says, shielding his eyes ‘Light Affective Disorder.’

He may be a ‘lad’, but he is thoughtful and wonderful, and has just handed me the tools to beat you. He may find the light too bright, but January so will you – and next year, I will banish you from my house, where it will be perennially light. Like August in Spain…my little haven away from the dread winter gloom.