Friday, 2 June 2017

On messing up my Daughter

I am probably messing up my little girl.

I think this probably several times a week, maybe more.
Particularly when I read about the emotional impact that enduring depression can have on your children, or when I read an article about the long-term consequences of not being able to fulfil a child's cries for attention each time we're needed, or when I open a book about healthy eating and it tells me that my bad habits have probably already rubbed off on my little one. No hope for her relationship with food then? No hope for her mental health? And no hope for her self-esteem?
I've pretty much screwed her up already.

And then I sit here thinking about real life.
A new sibling; moving house; a bereavement; a new job; redundancy; a disability; financial worries; a long term mental health issue; health worries; a job to go to; a friend to help; a phone call you need to make; a meal to cook; a marriage to save; morning sickness; a letter to write; a computer to mend; tiredness; fear; hair to dry; a dress to buy; a new hobby to try...
The list goes on...

My point is that, no matter how much we endeavour to meet all our children's needs, we are actually probably never going to, although we can perhaps exhaust ourselves trying. We can not shield our children from every negative emotion and at times, we ourselves are going to be the evil instigators of the negative emotions our children end up feeling.
I know that I can not shield my daughter from every mis-hap that life throws at us, or even at me; I am sure she has endured the consequences of my turbulent emotions over recent months and I've felt accountable for that. I know that she struggled with a recent bereavement, primarily because of the huge impact it had on me and I was probably verging on depression for a duration of that time; I could not have met her emotional needs when I was feeling so low in myself.
This makes me feel terrible. But, it's the truth.
And then reading articles telling me that my child has been yearning for my love and attention whilst I've been absorbed in my own selfish grief isn't going to change anything; it just induces self-loathing and I'm sure there are plenty of articles on the impact of that too!

I even feel terrible each morning I get myself ready for work and take myself into another room whilst she entertains herself, or that Daddy tends to get her dressed, because it takes me much longer to get ready than him. I question if I'm damaging her because I choose to spend time applying make-up for work, rather than spending an extra 10 minutes in her company each morning. And then, when I'm cooking dinner and she's begging me to play hide and seek, I remember the book I read which charted the consequences of ignoring a child's desire for play on long-term self esteem.

"Work can wait; children are the important work."

Words of this nature in bold on the page opposite, surrounded by colourful rainbows, flowers and flying pigs.

I am terrified of messing up. Terrified that she will one day (soon after turning 13) tell me that she has never forgotten my emotional volatility in her early years, or the time I told her I was too busy to help her with her homework when she was 7, resulting in a detention and a long term phobia of maths, or that I just didn't give her enough love and attention.

Or maybe worse, whatever worse may be.

I'm not condoning messing up my daughter in anyway, but I guess this is my confession, that I know it's inevitable that something I will do will not help her in the long-run. That one day, maybe stuffing my face with chocolate cake because I'm due on my period didn't seem like a lesson in gluttony to me, but to her, it was a free pass to bad eating habits and subsequent low self esteem.

If my lovely little girl ever does read this blog, I really hope she can tell me that regardless of how I've messed up, amongst the chaos of daily life, she knows she's always been loved, which  really is the very best I can offer.

Monday, 24 April 2017

My battle with the beige stuff...

Over the last few weeks, I've become increasingly interested in learning about nutrition.
For as long as I remember, Ive learned that fat is bad for you. Full stop. And the weight loss groups and fads I've followed over the years have caused me to develop habits that I'd never really questioned before, filling my plate with tons of "free" pasta and mountains of rice and potatoes, filling up to the brink of no return, but it's ok because it's low fat... Right?

Turns out, no. No it's probably not.

I've read a few books about nutrition, learnt a bit about eating for health rather than weight loss and discovered that my body has really missed fat. My spots are vanishing thanks to good old extra virgin olive oil which is well and truly back on the menu and I'm not craving salty carbs quite as much because I'm enjoying (God forbid) egg yolks and full fat butter on my wholemeal toast.

After not eating alpen in years (it's full of high fat nuts, don't you know?) Im eating it every morning for breakfast. It's as delicious as I remember. It good for me too according to the latest books I've read.

Who knows, maybe eventually someone will decide that good fats are bad fats all over again and maybe I'll be back to eating mountains of pasta, but for now, it's working because I feel better.

One thing I'm struggling with  is my little one... How do I get her to eat less of the beige stuff? How do I get her onboard with my latest colourful health kick-fad? Infact, how do I get anyone on board in my house for that matter?!

They love beige food in my house, good old plain, colourless, flavourless, stodgy beige food.
 So do I, I love it for convenience, but not so much for the flavour.

Then there's the grand-parents who supply endless snacks and meals of colourless, empty  beigeness with a side order of bread. Of course, they mean well, but how do I get anyone on board with my latest parenting fad without looking like some raging convenient-food-stealing-control-freak-witch? How do I make my toddler eat more healthily without helicoptering my way through her life snatching stodge from her hands, whilst other family members console her with ladels of ice cream and chips? How do I get her to like vegetables when I'm the only meanie giving her the chance to?

When she's older, I hope she'll appreciate my efforts; I hope she'll know that I cared for her inside and out, even if I did come across as a raging control freak. I hope I can be a good, healthy role model to her (even if I am a secret chocolate eater when she's sleeping, although apparently it's actually good for you! That's how I know this latest health fad is definitely for me!)
One day, I'll be able to explain to her that I just want her to live longer, that I want to keep her insides safe as well as her outsides, that I want her to love and like her body, that I want her to feel good and healthy. Perhaps it's only when you lose someone to ill health that you realise the true importance of health, after all, if you don't have a body to live in, where else will you live?
But for now, I know she'll see me as the good-stuff killing police.
Miserable Mummy.
The Chicken Dipper Thief.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

My beef with World Book Day


As usual, World Book day has filled my social media feed with images of familiar looking little people dressed in a range of elaborate, creative and even expensive fancy dress outfits. Some characters, I recognise from stories which coloured my childhood; others I recognise from book covers in the shops and some, I have gotten to know through the books I read to my own child. Others however, are not characters which have originated from a book.
I see them in the mornings on CBeebies.

You may think I'm being cranky, but this isn't my only beef with World Book Day: I see and hear of parents flocking to supermarkets days before in a panic to buy their child the best outfit, I see parents (ok, primarily mothers) trying to out-do their fellow parent peers by swatting up on how to create wondrous character-like sculptures on Pinterest weeks before, spending a fortune on crafting materials and a huge amount of precious time creating the "perfect" outfit for their little ones.
I am no doubt going to be quite guilty of this some day too.

What does any of this have to do with books? Actual books? Surely, a parent's time would be better spent sharing and reading books together, making books a part of everyday conversation at the dinner table, savouring magical places and words and imagination. I argue that most fancy dress outfits are more about "the outfit" than the actual character the children dress up as anyway.
That's not forgetting the extra pressure on parents to buy, create and master the perfect fancy dress outfit, therefore creating an epidemic of World Book Day competitiveness and perfectionism.

It's not what it's all about.

In my past life as a teacher within a Secondary school, I was regularly asked the same question by parents: "you say he needs to read more, how do I get him to read more?
I've bought him all the books."
In a diluted fashion I would try to relay the message that reading isn't just about reading the books, it's about making books a part of the everyday, a part of conversations, it's about asking questions about stories and characters, embracing the worlds that books have to offer. It's about conversations at the dinner table and taking an interest in what the world is showing to your child; more than books, it's about the possibilities they offer.

Also, putting on a costume emulating a favourite TV character is not celebrating books.

Everyday, I know that an adult in my house is going to read to my child atleast once, I know that she's going to have a favourite story which will change as she matures: her current favourite being "We're Going on a Bear-hunt." Today, she did not dress up for World Book Day, besides I'm not too sure how I would concoct a suitable outfit for her favourite book!  But at the weekend, we might go on our own bear-hunt whilst walking the dog and we may even use her favourite quotes from the story as we're tidying up,
"We can't go under it, we can't go over it, we'll have to go through it!"

Or maybe we'll go on a chocolate cake hunt instead (our favourite type of hunt.) Either way, the story becomes a part of our everyday, as do the characters as she carries her dolly around on her shoulders whilst wading through fictitious mud as she makes her way to the bathroom.

 I know that for so many parents, books come to life as part of their everyday too and most parents I know read to their children regularly. Therefore, it's a shame that World Book Day can't be more of a celebration of bonding, of imagination, of quiet time and listening and less about the competitive epidemic of Perfect Parenting.

Friday, 27 January 2017

The Dehumanisation of Teachers

I am no longer a secondary school teacher and it feels SO good, despite the large slap in the face of our finances and ignoring the fact that we are overspending on nursery fees as a result. The feeling of freedom, liberation and flexibility is a solace for years of stress, undeniable anxiety and depression under the institutionalised profession of classroom teaching. People often say that you struggle to see a situation clearly until you're standing on the outside looking in and I feel that I've had enough time away to be able take a look inside.

Looking in as an outsider, there is mainly one concern that I have for those left in the teaching profession, and it's one that I never fully understood or appreciated until I was free.
I feel human again.
But, what does it mean to feel human? In simple terms, for me, it's being able to feel at all.

As teachers we are taught not to feel, not to encourage natural feelings of annoyance, frustration, despair, sadness, upset; we are performers. We spend most of our days putting on a show to engage and educate our students in the ways we have been told to; we are pushed and pushed over the brink of despair day in, day out and yet, we are not supposed to let our feelings show. We are supposed to be pillars of composure, of tolerance, strength and resilience; we are supposed to be robots, even when under the persistent fire of management, parents and children themselves. We are not to shout or scream, or walk away or ignore or protest or refuse, or cry, we are supposed to give up our much-needed breaks and mental recuperation time to give away yet more and more of ourselves and we drag our weary selves home at the end of each day knowing that tomorrow, we will have to do the same again.
How much more can we possibly give to this profession?

 As humans, we all have limits. But, what happens when those limits are tested and pushed every single day? What happens when we deny ourselves these intense, unruly, disobedient and very normal, natural feelings which we find ourselves frantically forcing down our throats like disgusting lumps of venomous poison?
We become numb; exhaustion happens, along with anxiety and depression and probably a range of other mental and physical illnesses. How is this healthy for a human being? Since when did the basic, human needs of our teachers become washed aside in some crooked old ship which we're steering to God only knows where?

We are persistently directed to differentiate our lessons, to know that Every Child Matters and to incorporate them in our Schemes of Work and Lesson Plans, but somebody forgot to point out that Every Teacher Matters too. They matter because at some point in their lives, there is a strong possibility that a teacher once experienced a yearning to educate, to help and develop people of the future. That they once had a passion and found an outlet for their passion in teaching, but our teachers are becoming institutionalised under a bureaucratic system, which is burning them out.
If Every Child Matters, your teachers need to matter too.

The amount of mental strain placed on the heads of teachers nowadays is unbearable; I do not understand how one person is supposed to retain the sheer degree of knowledge and to-do lists that a teacher is required to. In fact I am sure that equivalent physical labour would be illegal and these duties come aside from the mental drain of controlling a classroom full of children each and everyday.

I have seen many teachers give up hobbies and personal pursuits for the sake of teaching, because they just didn't have the headspace for anything else. It's an unhealthy profession which undoubtedly impacts on the health of our teachers in many ways both physically and mentally. After the birth of my child, I was treated for PND and several healthcare professionals informed me that they see more teachers at the hands of PND than any other profession; why is that?
I argue that it is the dehumanisation of teachers adding to such high levels of mental illness within the profession and that unless we begin to treat our teachers as human, then we can no longer serve as role models to your children.


Wednesday, 28 December 2016

From Kirstie Allsop to a Frozen Food Christmas

 Last year, I endeavoured to create the perfect Christmas.
 I made Christmas tree decorations from scratch and foraged for natural materials whilst enduring off-the-beaten-path kinda walks with our mental dog. I dried fruits and hung them from beautiful threads of rustic twine with bows and ribbon and created jars of beautiful natural foliage freshly picked from one of my stressful dog walks, dressed with sparkling lights and scents of cinnamon. Every aspect of our Christmas dinner was handmade with stress and ridiculously high standards and guests were treated to a buffet breakfast and a buffet in the evening.
Sounds lovely, but it wasn't, it was bloody stressful. I never made it to the sofa during the entire day  and only managed to relax when my head hit the pillow in the evening, which was at around 9pm! Kirstie Allsop may have been proud, but my Christmas overall had even too stressful and pretty pants to be honest.

This year has been all about doing things simply.
Luckily, I still had many of the handmade decorations from last year to decorate the tree with, giving it the same rustic charm of the previous year. Many of my dried fruit decorations had gone mouldy in the box, so I unfortunately had to chuck those out and make do with fairy lights around the window sills, I also used battery operated lights in my jars this year, tarted up with a few oranges decorated with cloves from the spice cupboard. No stressful dog walks for fresh foliage involved.

I filled the freezer with as much easy to cook crap as possible and even made sure that our Christmas dinner involved as little prep as I could get away with. I didn't chop a single vegetable on Christmas day. Everything was boxed, oven-ready and microwave-able, the only thing I needed to do was to unbox and press the button... Ta-da!

Presents were mainly limited to vouchers: meal vouchers, shopping vouchers, wine tasting experiences, with the odd box of Christmas biscuits, wrapped nicely with ribbon as opposed to the heap of beautifully wrapped "bits" that people usually get. Gift bags were a God-send and my own child got what she wanted or needed for Christmas and not much else... easy! Hers were wrapped roughly and I didn't bother with tags... it's not like she can read them!

We have thrown 2 Christmas parties and buffet food has been plentiful, but unimaginative. On Christmas Day, the last guests left the house at 12.30 pm, leaving us almost an entire day of super relaxing family time; our toddler even remained in her pyjamas for the entire day!

I can honestly say that this year, I have thoroughly enjoyed my Christmas. I've hardly seen the kitchen really and although I've missed my usual baking bonanzas, I've not missed the stress of trying to fit everything in. It's been one of the Christmases I can remember as a kid: the usual buffet of frozen finger food, playing with toys in my pyjamas all day and lots of time spent with other family members. Christmas is about people not perfection.

In the run up to the big day, I worried needlessly that I wasn't making enough effort, that I didn't seem to be busy enough to be able to pull it all off. But I did, maybe not in style, but I certainly pulled it off. I saw photographs of other families in the run up to Christmas, particularly on Christmas Eve on Social Media, sharing snaps of their "Christmas PJs" and "Christmas Eve boxes," which left me questioning my own efforts. Then I had to remind myself that we all have enough pairs of pyjamas, we didn't need Christmas ones and that I don't believe in Christmas Eve boxes anyway, we get enough presents on Christmas Day for heaven sake, why do we need presents for Christmas Eve? Then there were the elaborate advent calendars, we made do with milky bar ones that cost me £1 from the corner shop.
But it was enough. Enough is enough.

The last few months have been testing for us and we haven't had much time to invest in creating the Perfect Christmas, but it's actually been great. It's reminded me about what Christmas is all about.
Family time.
Next year, I'd like to think that I'll have a little more time to use my creativity to indulge myself in a few handmade/homemade touches, but I certainly won't be busting my gut over it.
Life is too short to spend fussing over making things perfect, there's no fun in that!

Merry Christmas!






Sunday, 18 December 2016

The naughtiest kid in the room

You know that feeling? When you look around at everyone else's child and realise that your kid is by far the naughtiest in the whole room? I often feel like my boyfriend and I should be excelling in the behaviour stakes, we are teachers after all, we're pros at this, aren't we?

Turns out- No, no we're not.

Yesterday, from start to finish, the leaving-the-house-for-a-party preparations began at 4pm and the party didn't start until 7.30! This involved the larger than average snack to begin with at 4pm, to tide my toddler over until the buffet, bathing myself, bathing my toddler, 2 lots of hair to dry and style, a toddler to dress and me to dress and a toddler to entertain all in one go. Boyfriend is currently on an indulgent stag do abroad, so naturally, I despise him right now.

We got to the party in one piece, just about, after my toddler slipped over in her new shoes and banged her head, ripped my tights and had 14 meltdowns during the preparations to leave the house. I was happy to arrive at the party, plenty of family around to help me keep my daughter occupied and a chance to sit down, at last! But from the moment we walked in, it became apparent that my stress levels were really about to be put to the test.

I watched other toddlers, dancing on the dance floor close to their parents and checking in with them every few minutes or so, whilst my daughter stole their toys, poked and grabbed their faces and kept running off out of my sight with a cocky confidence (she would have gladly gone off with a complete stranger). 1 hour in and I hadn't touched my drink, my family dipped in and out, but gave up chasing my toddler after 10 minutes (I don't blame them) and I felt sweaty, red and breathless. On sitting down at last, I decided to just let my Daughter run off, I'd just stand up to see where she'd got to every few minutes and not indulge her in her chasing games.

It was the first time I stood up to check on her that I spotted her leaving. Out of the door and out to the car park. I dashed from my seat,almost knocking over unsuspecting children and found her wedged between 2 heavy double doors between the carpark and the venue screaming her head off. At this point I scooped her up in my arms and carried her, screaming to the front of the venue where I packed up our belongings in psychotic fashion as she tried to push me away from her as people watched, grateful that it wasn't their kid.

"We'll look after her from now on, just stay a little while longer" came  pleas from family members, happily slurping away at glasses of wine and G&Ts.
"You don't know what you're letting yourself in for!" was my snappy reply. I was right. They didn't.

Bunging my naughty toddler into the car was the best decision I could have made. As I pulled into the driveway at home, I looked back at her snoozing away peacefully in her car seat, still wearing her sparkly anters which she'd nabbed off some poor child at the party. I quietly and carefully dressed her in pyjamas as she cooed sleepily and laid her in her cot, kissed her, told her I loved her and felt guilty for cursing her in my head.

I tell myself that it will be some other kid next time, that mine will be well behaved and I'll be glad it's not me. Or this is what I hope will happen...!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

A letter to my students




I thought I should tell you that I'm leaving half way through the school year.

I know it's probably come as a little unexpected; I performed well up there on the classroom stage didn't I?
But believe me, inside I was breaking.
Inside, many of us teachers are breaking.

It broke me when I sat at my desk, eyes poised at the screen of my computer, filling in data, whilst I gave all of you a task to get on with in silence, because I had yet another data deadline to meet. Believe it or not, I much prefer the fun, interactive lessons, but there's just no time for them; everyone wants figures, predictions, scores, numbers; I just really want to teach.
The problem with giving you a task to do in silence is that you don't know how to work silently and independently anymore, because your previous teachers have also had hundreds of deadlines to meet and criteria to fulfil, so you've been spoon fed and taught how to pass the test.
That's what we all do.

So when I'm being interrupted every 30 seconds to answer very simple, monotonous questions, I'm becoming irritated because I need to meet this deadline and I wish you had a bit of initiative and imagination. Then the guilt breaks me, because I'm not supposed to feel irritated, I'm supposed to be the composed, rational adult in the room with no limits, no feelings and no worries.
Robot-like.

It broke me when my school nightmare came true.
The recurrent dream before returning to school after a school holiday, where I'm standing in front of all of you, waiting to begin my lesson, longing to still be on holiday and the whole class completely ignores me, as if I'm not even in the room.

It broke me when I sat consoling my poorly child in the evenings, feeling guilty that I wasn't marking your work or writing your reports and then feeling guilty for feeling guilty, because ultimately my own child should come first.

It broke me when your mother emailed me to accuse me of bullying you when I instigated a punishment after catching you nastily bullying another student in my classroom. Had that happened outside of school, as a fully fledged adult, the punishment could have been quite severe; I was then asked to send more positive comments home about you in future and that really broke me.

It broke me when you told me that my lesson was "shit" after I'd spent a day of my own time in school during the school holidays (something I do regularly, when I could be at home spending quality time with my family) preparing lessons for you.

It broke me when I dragged myself into school through illness and ended up with an even worse illness as a result, because there was no time for me to stop and get better. I only have to return to the workload afterwards, which triples when I'm absent.

It broke me when I had no other choice but to take time 'off' sick and yet I sat in my dressing gown, next to a bucket full of sick, emailing in cover lessons for your cover teacher. Yes. Ever wondered where those lessons came from....?
Me!

It broke me when I had to give up on being a creative, exciting teacher with a zest for engaging lessons for being an exhausted, undermined, robotic one who ticks the boxes.

It broke me when my observation feedback requested me to do more marking, because even when I spend my evenings marking your work, I still don't do enough.

It broke me when I handed my child over at nursery, sweaty and crying, with a temperature and I spent the day teaching you when many of you didn't want to be taught, feeling like a terrible mother, counting down the lessons before I could console her and hold her again.
Because, I don't get paid for taking time off for my sick child, and I can't afford not to get paid.

It broke me when I gave up. When I realised that I couldn't make much of a difference, when the government stopped listening to us teachers, when they made you sit through a new curriculum that even we didn't fully understand. When I realised that sitting quietly in rows, sometimes over 30 of you, waiting to be engaged by one single person in the room, when you're used to so much more stimulation and freedom in the outside world, just isn't working. When I realised that your old fashioned, out of date, inadequate education system is failing you and when I realised that the only way to battle through it is to give up; it broke me, because ultimately, you deserve better.

I wish the best of luck to all of you.

Your teacher.