Five years

A lot of things make me think of Mum. Dates don’t mean much to me; they didn’t to her, either. As each anniversary of my sister’s death passed by she used to say to me ‘it’s just another day. None of the days have her in it.’ And it was a powerful truth, and one I live with now: none of my days have either my twin sister, who died aged twelve, or my mother, who died five years ago today. The actual date is unimportant. Two years, three, five, six or twenty six; the years themselves mean nothing. None of my days have my mum. 

Before she died, never a day went by without my speaking to her, sometimes by text, often in person (especially as we worked together for so long), or by phone. We always spoke. After she died, whenever my phone beeped, I couldn’t help thinking it was her. Sometimes when I awoke in hazy morning light, I forgot and could briefly pretend that it had all been a terrible dream. The diagnosis, the pain, the trauma of it all – it would briefly disappear, and I would think she was still here, drinking tea in her garden, surrounded by the beauty she had created. 

But of course, she isn’t. When I saw this baby moving around on the twelve week scan, I realised this is the first of my children that she won’t know. She knew Noah for two and a half years and Ella for eighteen months. Noah remembers her, indistinctly, as the grandma who grew blueberries and strawberries in her garden, and who used to cut apples in half for him. Ella does not remember her at all, but she is there, my mum, in each of them. She can’t not be, because she made me who I am, and I see her every day in who they might become. She was fiery, Mum, impatient, quick, kind. She wasn’t always the easiest, but she always loved me beyond life itself. 

And I can still feel it now, that love. It made me who I am. It made me sure of who I am, determined, strong. It made me the parent I am – one who loves my own children beyond life itself. 

I only had my mum for thirty three years, and that seems so short, when I think of all she won’t know. But some people will never know or have the relationship like the one I had with her. I was lucky enough to have it for thirty three years. And what survives of her, always, is love. 

That pregnancy I thought I’d have….

My newsfeed is swimming in pregnant bloggers, joyously posting weekly updates on their pregnancies. This mostly features pictures of themselves in lovely maternity clothes with teeny tiny bumps, sharing how their cravings are for oranges and that they’re feeling so well….just a little tired and not quite as able to go to the gym as they’d like. Added to the bloggers are all the celebrities, with their glowingness and their skininess and their glamorous photo shoots – step forward Rochelle Humes – in which they look beautiful and barely pregnant at all, even though they’re weeks ahead of me. I’m in awe of these women, I really am. Either they’re having the pregnancy I was meant to have, or they’re lying very convincingly. 

I’m sounding bitter. That’s probably because I am bitter. I thought – third pregnancy- I’ve totally got this. I’ve done it all before. I’ve had the morning sickness, the SPD, the aching exhaustion that makes you feel like you could lie down on your classroom floor and sleep. I’ve thrown up pretty much everywhere – shopping centres, a street at midnight at new year (people were skirting round me; I had to stop myself yelling defensively and pointlessly, ‘it’s morning sickness! I haven’t even TOUCHED vodka!’) and on one memorable occasion, all over myself and my car. (I was so embarrassed that my mum had to ring the parents of the girl I was supposed to be tutoring. I was 32) So on this, my third pregnancy, I was confident I knew what I was doing. I’d take bags! Spare clothes! Food! I decided that this time I’d ignore the fact that all I wanted was chips and take a bag of nuts and some apples everywhere with me, and not put on a stone in the first trimester through eating my bodyweight in carbs. In my more optimistic moments I thought maybe my body would be so used to being pregnant that I wouldn’t have morning sickness, or tiredness, or SPD at all. 

This lasted until week 4 of my pregnancy, when I started throwing up and never stopped. I am now 18 weeks. For 14 weeks I have been sick every day, at least once a day. I have felt sick all day, almost every day. I have got up at 2am regularly to be sick. I have spent most mornings on the bathroom floor wondering how I would summon the energy to make it to work, and most evenings lying on the sofa attempting to mark books lying down and being obsessed with how sick I felt. (I apologised to my husband once for being so boring. ‘You’re not boring,’ he said kindly. ‘Just a bit repetitive.’ In week 5 I abandoned the apples and almonds and headed straight for the crisps. I’ve put on a stone. I take a toothbrush to work. And a lot of crisps. The peak of my achievements in the first half of this pregnancy is that I haven’t yet been sick in front of a class. 

Possibly because of the crisps, I look more pregnant at 18 weeks than I did with the other two at 25. I asked the midwife if I was more huge than I should be. She looked at me consideringly. ‘No,’ she said cheerfully. ‘The more babies you have, the bigger you get.’ The trouble is, I’m quite a vain person. I like to look as nice as I can. So the fact that this pregnancy is robbing me of my flat stomach, nice shiny hair and my usual trademark gel manicure (I’m mental about chemicals; the gels went as soon as I found out) – well, I find it hard. 

None of this, of course, takes away from the total joy of knowing that in April, all being well, we’ll have another tiny person and another little miracle. And I feel so, so fortunate to be in this position and have my beautiful girl kiss the bump every day and my gorgeous boy tell everyone he knows how he can’t wait to be a big brother (as long as it’s a boy. Or a girl that really likes Lego.) And I marvel at the wonder of how I can feel the baby moving and announcing its tiny presence. And I think of all the people in the world who won’t ever experience this joy and wonder, and I could cry for them. (I cry a lot at the moment) 

But I’d really like to stop being sick now. 

The temptation of doing too much 

My daughter has spent a fair bit of the weekend crying. This isn’t unusual – she’s a habitual crier, a child for whom no issue is too trivial to start her lip trembling. I’m a bit of a crier myself, so I have sympathy, but when her issues ranged as widely from being moved up a gymnastics group (she saw this in no way as the compliment it was; instead the leaving of her current coach and friends was a disaster of epic proportions) to when her brother didn’t want to share a bath with her because he was too busy playing with his Lego – well, that sympathy can wane a bit. I have no idea if all this over-emoting is common of six year olds, or six year old girls (child 1 is not a crier) or just our six year old girl – but it did make me think about resilience and whether we are doing a good enough job of creating it in her. 

If you’re a teacher, resilience can be a bit of a buzz word, and, like all buzz words, it can come to lose its meaning. But of all of the buzz words I’ve ever had to work with in education, resilience is the one that resounds the most with me since having my own children. Because sometimes I don’t think we’re creating a society of very resilient children. 

It’s hard to raise children to be resilient. I know this as well as anyone, because I’m the over-protective, neurotic type of parent, and, like most parents, my children’s happiness means more to me than anything else in the world. I want them to be happy. I want them to be confident. I want them not to suffer. 

And because I want all this for them so badly, I am doubtless guilty of wanting to protect and shelter them too much. In child 1’s worst patch at his previous school, when he cried hopelessly and despairingly and said he didn’t want to go because he wasn’t good enough at learning , i didn’t want him to go either. Because it wasn’t his fault and I hated him to be unhappy. When child 2 came home from school on Friday and told me in despair that she’d worked so hard for the handwriting award all week – and somehow, with no indication from anyone, had convinced herself she would get it – but someone else had, I looked at her big, tear filled eyes and wished she’d got it. Because she had worked hard and I hate her to be disappointed. When child 1 told me after gymnastics on Saturday that he’s the worst in his group and will always be the worst in his group (which is true, because of his dyspraxia) I wanted to tell him he could give up. Because no matter how much he practices, he’ll always struggle with it, and I don’t want him to have to always be the worst. 

But my first, and entirely natural, reaction would be unhelpful. Child 1, bar the odd meltdown when his ASD tendencies emerge, is a remarkably resilient child, and the reason for that is that he’s had to be. While child 2 has a perfectionist fit every time she gets a spelling wrong or her writing won’t go exactly the way she wants it or her sum hasn’t worked out, child 1 has never had that luxury. He’s had to work hard for everything to do with school – with the exception of reading, which came naturally and easily to him. And when he couldn’t do it, he had to go back and work hard again. And when school became far from fun, he went every day, usually without protest, and only in the occasional outburst, clearly built up over weeks, did he say he was unhappy and didn’t want to go. I’m proud of that hard-won resilience: it meant an easy, successful transfer to his new school in which he has never had an unhappy moment and in which he flourishes daily, proud of his new work ethic and the learning he does. It means he copes with change and disruption, neither of which come easily to him, in a way far beyond my expectations. 

And it makes me think a lot about child 2. She, like me, is tremendously hard on herself. She copes horribly with getting things wrong; she sees it, despite my firm belief in growth mindset and my endless banging on about how getting things wrong leads to getting better at them, as a failure. She has got better: gymnastics is helpful because the only way to improve is to practice, and this year for the first time she sees that changing and improving her work at school doesn’t mean it was terrible to start with. And all the time I try to make her more independent and not give into my desire to try to ‘fix’ things for her, because that will only lead to her never having the confidence to think she can fix things for herself. So when she doesn’t get gymnast of the week, or a merit, or her work doesn’t get noticed the way she wants it to, we talk about how it’s the work she’s done that’s important, not the recognition she got for it. And I try never to forget that she’s still so little- she has so much time. 

I think about my own mother, often. She would never have fixed anything for me, not because she didn’t care, but because she knew that wasn’t her job. If someone was horrible to me at school, then i had to find a way through it. If I didn’t do my homework, she would never have written me a note excusing me for it. If I forgot my PE kit, I took the consequence. If I didn’t make the progress she expected, she told me I had to work harder. If I was scared about a test or an exam or a presentation, she helped me prepare for it and told me I had to get on with it. And as a result, she created in me someone who solved her own problems, who took disappointments – cried, naturally – and moved on and fixed it. 

That’s what I want for my children. I want them to have confidence. And I know they won’t grow that confidence by my trying to fix every problem they have, and trying to find a solution every time my sweet, fragile daughter cries, no matter how heart breaking I find it.  So I am trying to step back, and to watch, and to find the problems that truly need my help. For the rest – I’m here always to listen and to give cuddles – but sometimes they need to seek those solutions alone, just to know that they can. 

First pregnancy vs third pregnancy – the differences: 

Telling people: 
First pregnancy: you are superstitious about telling people and only confide in a chosen few. You aren’t that good at keeping secrets so this expands gradually until practically everyone knows. Everyone is hugely excited for you, you can’t stop beaming as you deliver the news, and it’s all just the best thing that ever happened. 

Third pregnancy: you tell virtually no one until after the 12 week scan, not because you’re superstitious but because you can’t quite believe it yourself. You find yourself delivering the news in an apologetic fashion, and not just to your boss. Very few people jumpup and down and scream with their excitement for you; most people look at you in total shock and/ or assumes you’re joking. This is totally acceptable, because it’s probably the way you would react too. Almost everyone asks if it was planned. (They couch it in gentler terms, such as ‘oh! Was that a surprise for you too?’) Some of your friends who last accompanied you on the baby journey six years ago react with genuine horror, imagining their current existence of children who can get their own breakfast and get into cars by themselves reduced to rubble. They go home and tell their husbands that sex is never happening again pre-vasectomy. You become a cautionary tale. The more people you tell, the less real it seems. 

Rest: 
First pregnancy: you have no other children, although work seems really hard work at the time (you haven’t yet worked full time with two small children so you have no real idea of what exhaustion really is) so every night you get into bed about six pm. You intend to get up at some point but you mostly end up sleeping for fourteen hours. You tell everyone how tired you are (which you are; it’s just that it’s all relative) and revel in all the lovely sympathy. 

Third pregnancy: you stagger through work, children’s tea, reading, homework and bedtime unless you can beg your husband for an hour’s sleep because otherwise you will lie down on the tiled kitchen floor, fall asleep and never get up again. Despite his general amazingness at giving you this rest and doing pretty much everything for the whole of the first trimester, you become increasingly more bad tempered. You remember a time in the distant past when you were a good mother with your older children and had some reserves of patience, but it’s too long ago to really grasp it and get it back. 

Morning sickness: 

First pregnancy: It’s pretty bad, but you sort of welcome it because it reassures you that everything’s fine. Every time you throw up you have a tiny glow that your body is just doing so well producing all these necessary hormones. Also, you have no children (I’m not sure whether I mentioned this before) so you can go home after work and go to bed. Everything feels better with sleep. It ends soon after the end of the first trimester. 

Third pregnancy: It’s so bad it takes over your whole life. You spend all your time not at work throwing up on the bathroom floor or lying on the sofa boring your husband (in person) and best friend (via text) with how terrible it is. You begin to bore even yourself. Your daughter doesn’t know why you’re sick but takes to running to the cupboard and bringing you a dry cracker every time she finds you on your knees in the bathroom. Your son tells everyone that you’ve brought a sickness bug into the house. You ask your midwife why it’s worse this time around. She suggests it’s because you’re older. You already feel like a geriatric thanks to all this ‘older mother’ stuff and do not welcome this diagnosis. It gets worse soon after the end of the first trimester. You anticipate that you will never experience not feeling sick again, ever. You will have a slight green tinge and look this horrendous for ever, too. This is just life, now. 

Nights out: 

First pregnancy: you have enough time to sleep beforehand and therefore continue to go on nights out. You don’t drink but everyone knows you’re trying for a baby so it’s a dead giveaway and they leave you alone. 

Third pregnancy: your friends greet the idea of you not drinking with hilarity and disbelief. They buy you vodka anyway, and then admire your restraint. You mutter blatant untruths about detoxes and then eat all the crisps In sight. ‘Funny detox,’they say, happily unsuspicious, because you are so far off their pregnancy radar you are off the scale. After week 5, you never go out at all, because that would mean leaving the sofa. And the bathroom. 

Thoughts of the future: 

First pregnancy: you are lost in rosy daydreams about this little being you’ll have. You can’t believe you could be this lucky. You can think of nothing else. Life glows. 

Third pregnancy: you are too tired and sick for rosy daydreams. When you think of the future you mostly think of sleepless nights and going back to work when you have a small baby and all that pursuing it around the house while it relentlessly attempts to damage itself. Sometimes you think of tiny newborn cuddles and how much you loved the baby stage with the others, but it all feels surreal and you can’t really imagine having a baby. The other babies seems so long ago. 

And then you reach the 12 week scan and see this little being waving its arms on the screen, all alive and vibrant and miraculous. You see its little face and realise that somehow your body has created this – this tiny being. You tell your other children, and you realise this is the best present you could ever give them. They don’t ask whether it’s planned. They aren’t shocked or surprised or horrified. They scream and jump up and down and throw themselves upon you and their little faces are lit up with the greatest excitement you’ve ever known. 

And you look at the scan picture with them, and you think of how this one will be a whole other human being. A little creature all of its own, bringing with it the greatest joy and love and wonder in the world. A little gift, with its tiny beating heart and its own beaming smile and big, wondrous eyes. 

You feel blessed. 

The summer holidays: expectations vs reality

The mornings: 

The expectation: Ah, isn’t this lovely? You’ve waited so long for these holidays: no school run, no getting out of bed early, no yelling ‘teeth! Shoes! WHY DOES NO ONE ELSE CARE THAT WE’RE SO LATE ALREADY?’ into an empty space while the children, singularly unmoved, continue to build Lego mini figures or take everything out of their painstakingly packed school bags and lunch boxes. Instead, you’ll be lying in bed reading your book/ sleeping/ wasting time on Facebook until 9am while the kids catch up on all those lie ins they’ve missed during the school year. Or, alternatively, play together nicely downstairs. Out of earshot. 

The reality: One of them (always only one; the other continues to sleep, just to give you a tortured glimpse of how it could have been)  gets up at 6am, excited about a day of Lego building/ drawing/ colouring/ whatever the hell it is they do with their time. They want breakfast. They want a drink. They want company. They, reluctantly, disappear downstairs when you beg them just for five more minutes. You spend the five minutes reassuring yourself that they’ll become immersed in something and your five minutes will become a nice peaceful hour. You plan how you’ll go back to sleep. You think about the book you might read. No child can resist the lure of uninterrupted time with toys they don’t have to share. You wait. 

After five minutes, they appear again. This time they’re louder, and you leap from the bed like a ninja, whisper-screaming that if they wake their sister, there’ll be hell to pay. Because the only thing worse than one child being awake before 7am is two children being awake before 7am. That never ends well. 

Time together: 

The expectation: They’re spending six weeks together; they’ll take advantage of this and become friends, real friends! They’ll live in some kind of alternative fantasy universe together, being dragons or horses or characters from Beast Quest in that terribly charming way they did when they were younger and which I JUST DIDN’T APPRECIATE ENOUGH. (I was told repeatedly that everything’s a phase, and it was my mantra when they were babies, but foolishly I thought that was just the bad bits. It turns out, no) The mental, frankly ridiculous notion of having children 12 months and 5 days apart will pay off! They’ll be the best of friends and will bother me for nothing. While they play, Little-House-on-the-Prairie-like, in the sunshiney back garden, I’ll get to the bottom of the laundry basket. (This is the zenith of holiday accomplishments as far as I’m concerned; I got 85% of the way there once) 

The reality: They fight. A lot. He focuses on Machiavellian tactics which (bloody naturally) wound her to the heart, and which she won’t shut up wailing about. To be frank, I find the crying about how he’s told her he doesn’t want her to be his sister any more even more irritating than the act itself. I have to stop myself telling her that I might feel the same in his position and she just needs to stop making such a fuss over something he is doing solely and precisely to provoke this sort of reaction. The phrase ‘stop making such a fuss’ is repeated so often I bore even myself, along with ‘I’m not listening. If you are being horrible to each other, I’M NOT LISTENING.’ My whole street has heard me yelling of a morning. I am SO OVER arguments about who last went in the front seat of the car. As they climb into the car, one victorious, one sobbing over the unfairness of life, I repeat empty threats at top volume about how we’ll just stay in all the time if they carry on like this. Such threats are met with a distinct lack of botheredness, probably because they’d rather stay in and build Lego than go to their swimming lesson anyway. 

Education: 

The expectation: You buy those nice shiney maths workbooks with all the gold stars, because there’s nothing you loved more when you were a child than a bit of holiday homework. (I was a geek. I’m still a geek. You know those types who thought the teacher’s threat of reading silently for a whole lesson actually sounded like the best lesson there ever was? That was me.) And you buy journals, because every child loves writing about their holidays, right? You anticipate a nice hour at the kitchen table of a morning, doing a few sums, dishing out a few gold stars, helping compose sentences with nice descriptive words about swimming and beaches and parks with your sunny, enthusiastic children. 

The reality: The workbooks are used precisely once by one child, who then looks at you like you’ve grown a second head when you suggest it again. What, do maths when he could be wandering the house looking for his dad’s secret stash of Pokemon cards, and then’ borrowing’ a few which he will then use to defeat him soundly later? His workbook moulders in a corner for the entire summer. The other child loves a workbook and grows a bit obsessed with getting stars. This means you spend so much of your time being talked through sums and arguing about the best ways to work out fractions (nothing is done the way we did it at school – nothing, I tell you) and handing out gold stars that you start to think about burning the bloody book. Primary school teachers need a medal, I tell you. A medal for every day they spend in that classroom. 

As for the journal – well. It starts beautifully. Well, it does for child 2; child 1’s remains resolutely blank – there’s too much Pokemon-pilfering to do. She writes in it every day, her handwriting is beautiful, she draws a lovely picture to go with it. I mean, you wouldn’t want to read it, full as it is of dreary, exhaustive details about swimming and tree climbing and playing with friends, but it’s still an aesthetic delight. By week 2, she’s throwing down the odd observation about the camping trip you went on in the rain to give them lasting memories, which mostly is about how she was sick in the car on the way there, in handwriting that the dog could have produced. The journal languishes in the same place as the other child’s maths workbook. You decide the summer dip, which you curse so much in your own students, can be the teacher’s problem, and reassure yourself (while drinking wine) that you’ve done your best. Child 2 is still colouring in maths worksheets, after all. That will probably make it to week 3. 

The house: 

The expectation: you’re full of plans about how you’ll spend all this time you have over the summer clearing out the house! You’ll reorganise the playroom! You’ll throw out roomfuls of plastic tat/ old clothes/ oxtonauts that the kids haven’t looked at in four years but clutch to their chests with fear filled eyes when you suggest a charity shop! This will be the best the house has ever looked! 

The reality: it takes all your time to keep the house looking vaguely as if it’s ever seen a vacuum cleaner. The kids leave a trail of destruction everywhere they go. For the first week you attempt to enforce some kind of chores rota, remembering all that stuff you’ve read about responsibility and building self esteem; by the second you’ve lost the will to live watching them forage through piles of Lego and delighting  in finding bits they thought they’d lost INSTEAD OF JUST PUTTING IT BACK IN ITS BOX. You spend so much time tidying up that you start to wonder how you usually fit work in. In fact, you’re not sure how you fit anything in at all. Just the sweeping, the endless bloody sweeping, and the laundry basket.

Happy summer holidays to all my lovely readers. I hope your realities, like mine, include not only that listed above but also all those myriad tiny moments of real joy and wonder that encapsulate motherhood so well, and which are present in each and every day.

 And lots of wine. 

Seven and six years ago…..

Seven and six years ago, we were in the grip of a heatwave. Seven years ago, I was seven days overdue; I was huge, hot, sleepless, and couldn’t imagine wanting anything more than for that baby to be born. Six years ago I was approaching my due date and thinking that if she wanted to stay in a bit longer that would be really fine by me. I wanted to meet her and everything, but I was also aware that once she arrived she’d introduce untold chaos. (Which she did; she’s never been the sort of child just to fit in and get on with it) 

Seven years ago, I didn’t yet understand the magnitude of the love I feel now. I didn’t know how I would feel, then- I didn’t know that they would be born and would, immediately, hold me fast in their tiny grips. That the way they would stare up at me, their newborn eyes clouded navy and dark with bewilderment over this brand new world, would reach out and ensnare me, never to let me go. That their tiny fingers, wrapped around mine, would wrap also around my heart. They reached out, one seven years ago and one six, and took hold of that defenceless heart.  

They’ve made me vulnerable, these two. I’ve never known fear like it: the fear something will happen to them, the fear they won’t be happy, the fear life won’t be good to them. They’ve made me cry for other parents who have suffered the worst that can happen to anyone: that little boy at Disney World, those three children on MH370, that mother who blogs about gun safety after her child died at a friend’s house. They make me shiver with horror, these stories, and my heart aches for those parents. They mean I can’t watch Comic Relief without floods of tears, and I look at every child differently. They mean I don’t judge those who have made mistakes and been punished in the worst way possible, because we all make mistakes, and they will never be allowed to forget theirs. Each of these stories makes me clutch them a little more tightly before they go to sleep at night. They mean I look at every child in my classroom and realise that they, too, are everything to someone. 

I didn’t know, seven and six years ago, that they would have the power to simultaneously lift my heart in the purest joy with their happiness and tear it to shreds with their despair. I didn’t know that some moments I would look at their little faces and think I wouldn’t be able to bear the strength of my love. I didn’t know, then, that these little creatures, so recently formed, so new, so fragile, would take everything I knew about love and throw it high upon the air, to settle back gently, and make everything slightly, unimaginably, irretrievably, changed. I didn’t know that over the seven and six years they have lived so far, they would grow and change and infuriate and delight and charm and enrage and ensnare. I didn’t know that those years would speed by, flying ever faster in the face of my wishes to stop it, savour it, take those moments of joy and love and keep them for ever. 

There were many things that I didn’t know, then, and that I am so very grateful to know now. The landscape of my life is irretrievably changed by these two. It’s more raw, my fears for them often an open wound, but it’s also brighter, lighter, and full of joy. 

And so as you approach your seventh and sixth birthdays, my lovely two, I wish you everything. You have been, and will always be, the greatest of all gifts. You hold my heart. 

A new start – and a different child 

I’ve been a bit hesitant to write much in the blog about the child’s new start in his new school, scarred as I was by his last year. There were days then when it seemed he’d taken a few steps forward, and days when it seemed he’d taken a thousand back. We got used to the roller coaster of good days and bad, better days and worse days. It’s only now that I see that, in the last year, they were nearly all bad days. I knew he was unhappy and was losing his confidence but, until I saw him get it back, I had no idea how much. 

Now he’s been at his new school a few weeks, I feel less tentative about talking about it and how, within the first two days, he was an entirely different child. It’s difficult to describe very accurately because it came from the very core of him. He was lighter. Happier. Confidence began to shine from him. He didn’t talk about school much, but when he did it was with pride. He talked about the friends he’d made and things he’d completed and the work he’d done and what he’d learned. The teacher commented on how much he loves learning and how engaged he is and how enthusiastic about everything he sets out to do. 

When I think about the biggest difference in him, it’s that. He had become convinced he wasn’t very good at learning. And in his previous school, he wasn’t, because learning in the state system involves so much that he can’t do, because of his writing. He just couldn’t write as much as the others. Even though he’s an avid reader, a child who is interested in everything, a child who, as his teachers have said over and over, has it all there in his head, he just couldn’t keep up. So he came to think he couldn’t do it, any of it. He couldn’t understand that he could do so much, and that the writing would come, but it would come more slowly than it would for others. And it was pretty heartbreaking to watch. 

In his new school, learning is very different, based as it is on a philosophy of children moving at their own pace and being intrinsically motivated to work, rather than managed to work. At the end of the first week, I dropped him off and went in and watched him start his day. He went straight to his work drawer, got out his work plan, decided what task he was going to do, and sat down to get on with it. No one had to tell him, ask him, or chivvy him. When I first went to the school, I saw with slight incredulity all these five and six years sitting working, incredibly intent and engaged, seemingly for no reason other than they wanted to do it, and I asked the question then: ‘what if he won’t do that?’ I envisioned all these other children hard at work, heads down, brows furrowed in concentration and our child, in the middle of such industry, day dreaming, doing nothing, or disrupting. I couldn’t imagine how, when in his previous school he had so often chosen not to work, he would choose to work here. But he does. He sat that day, the first to his table with his task, the model of industry. And he showed it to me with such joy, such pride, such confidence that his face shone and I had to bite back tears. 

And since then it has continued in the same vein. I don’t know what it is that has made the difference. I don’t know if it’s the atmosphere in that room – so calm, so still, so industrious. I don’t know if it’s the multi sensory learning and the belief that children should develop at their own pace and learn to write when they’re ready. (He writes when he chooses to, and he does choose to, now. They, like me, believe the focus on so much writing, so young, is damaging) I don’t know if it’s the individualised, child led learning. I don’t know if it’s the lack of targets, the lack of pressure, the practice of teaching and learning subjects in depth (I’m continually taken aback by his new knowledge in geography and history in particular) before moving onto the next thing. I don’t know if it’s the lack of timetable – of refusing to rush children from one subject to the next even when they are totally absorbed in the first thing they were doing because the national curriculum demands it. I don’t know if it’s the forest school time, the huge open space they have at playtime, the swimming, the rota for clearing up after lunch, or the focus on independence and taking responsibility for themselves. 

I don’t know what it is that has made the difference. And I don’t know if it will last. But I do know that we have a child who not three months ago cried in the mornings in real despair, who couldn’t ever see a way out of where he had found himself, who every day was part of a system that made him stressed and anxious and feel terrible about himself – and now everything is different. And I look at him now, our lovely boy, and see the confidence shining from him – the way he wakes up in the morning now and his first instinct is to smile – the way he looks up and catches my eye and beams at me – and it is worth everything.