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.

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.

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…

4

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.