Stood in the classroom listening to the shrill voice of my son’s teacher continue to rise my shoulders slumped unintentionally mimicking his posture. I looked for a spot on the wall to focus on whilst his eyes looked firmly at the ground. I used to listen intently to what the teacher had to say but now just like my son I have to try not to switch off at the negative tone of her voice as it drones on. ‘Are you allowing him any sensory breaks?’
I ask, feeling a bit like a stuck record player as she paused for air. If possible her voice inched an octave higher, ‘I gave him a ball and it only made things worse as he threw it at somebody!’ At this point I had to quite literally bite my tongue to stop myself from laughing out loud. For a brief moment I contemplated what I would do if somebody gave me a ball with no clear instruction and sure enough kicking and throwing it came promptly to mind, clearly she didn’t get the memo about the impulsivity! She continued on her marathon rant with ‘We’ve given him colouring to do at his desk, but he just keeps getting up and wandering around and distracting everyone’.
‘Yes’ I sigh ‘It’s because he needs to move his muscles, this is his way of telling you he needs a break, this is why I have suggested a sensory break which is high energy and allows him to burn off some of his excess energy, what happened to the plan for sensory circuits?
She busied herself shuffling papers around until she finally announced ‘there just isn’t enough funding’ momentarily looking up she added ‘perhaps you’ll be better off where you’re moving to as they might have some’.
For those of you who are not aware, In 2014 the government recognised that high volumes of Adopted children required extra support in school and as a result additional funding called Pupil Premium was introduced (at the time) in the form on £1,900 per child per year (given directly the school) to ‘allegedly’ support the child’s additional needs. The number one question on my lips, is just who is monitoring the usage of this money? When speaking to one of my close friends (with regards to this funding) who also has multiple adopted children at a different school her response was ‘I think we’ve just paid for the new bike sheds’! At the time I laughed, but I can’t say it didn’t cross my mind that there might be some truth in the matter. Of course I have continually asked about the phenomenal amount of Pupil Premium that my three children have attracted over the years, sadly with not much success. On one occasion I even plucked up the courage to raise it with the organ grinder herself. The response made me squirm in my seat when she stared back at me in disbelief as if I were trying to scrounge money from the school for my next Primarni shopping spree. leaning forward in her seat and dropping her voice to a hushed tone she told me in no uncertain terms not to embarrass myself by talking about money.
Back to the classroom and frustrated by the teachers response, I promptly turned around and marched across the deserted playground.
Over the last school year, If I wasn’t being summonsed into the classroom my phone was ringing and if my phone wasn’t ringing my email was pinging at all hours of the evening. We became very accustomed to hearing the ominous sentence……’there’s been an incident’ I’m not sure why I want to say this using my best Taggart impression, but I do!
I can’t actually pinpoint when the incessant negativity started to take its toll on my well-being but I’m not afraid to tell you that it did.
I absorbed every negative bit of feedback like a sponge and gradually it began to erode away at my naturally sunny disposition.
When collecting the children I would either try to hide at the back of the playground and avoid the eye contact of the teacher or I’d find myself locked in a battle defending my boy.
One of the days he came out with his head hung low (this generally means it has not been a good day)and on this occasion he promptly dissolved into tears, ‘whatever’s happened?’I asked throwing my arms around him. ‘I lost two plays for not being able to look my teacher in the eye…I just couldn’t do it Mummy’. I was absolutely gobsmacked that he had been punished for his poor eye contact and that it was still possible for the mentality from the dark ages (linking poor eye contact to a lack of respect) to still exist. The following day the same happened again and this time my son explained that everybody in the class had been good and had been rewarded with a lolly but because he was bad he had been left empty handed. It turned out that the lollies were strawberry flavoured and due to his allergy to strawberry flavouring he had been unable to have one but the school did not recognise how this could impact on a child with low self esteem.
Momentarily walking in my son’s shoes I realised that I had developed his same two response settings to his teachers, withdrawn or defensive, we’d both given up.
Whilst I’ve always been partial to a little Nana nap the need for sleep gradually became overwhelming and comfort food became my new best friend. I can only compare the situation to treading water and after a while I became tired and struggled to keep my head above water.
The calls and emails continued with an added ugly twist which made me feel helpless and fiercely protective as a parent. At home despite his challenges he is accepted loved, and understood but at school it was clear to see that he was disliked, viewed as naughty and when the bullying started (despite never lifting a finger in retaliation) the stance was that he was somehow asking for the hiding he was receiving.
For those of you who remember the dodgy Chumbawamba song, for a little while I had my very own version which went a little bit like this……
I get knocked down but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down
I get knocked down but I get up again
You’re never gonna keep me down
She ate a Mac & Cheese, she took a Nana nap. She drank a full fat coke she drank a glass of wine. She played the songs that remind her of the good times she played the songs that remind her of the better times……
Before I knew it my Ben Fogle ‘Escape to the wilderness’ fantasies became all consuming and dreams of growing vegetables and home educating my tribe disturbed my thoughts daily. The need for change weighed heavily on my shoulders and
my own impulsive nature saw the For Sale Sign being hammered into the ground. Of course upon reflection it’s never good to make big decisions when things are tough but I was exhausted from the constant battling and had no more energy left to fight. The only way we could meet the ‘Ben Fogle’ day dream financially was to relocate miles away.
Now I would consider myself to be a strong resilient person but in reality we are just grown up versions of our children. Recently I’ve been reminded of our window of tolerance during an activity using a pair of jugs (I’ll spare you the jokes that are running through my head right now) Humour me for a moment and picture my jugs…no pun intended! One represents me with a little bit of stress sloshing around at the bottom mainly from being a working Mum and the other one is full to the brim of fluid to represent stress. Every time ‘an incident’ at the school occurred my jug was being topped up with stress. Due to the frequency of the incidents it was being topped up at a quicker rate than I could empty it (with self care). Of course there is only so much room in the jug and eventually my jug (tolerance) can’t take any more and naturally it starts to spill out. Just like some Adopted children we learn to contain ourselves in settings such as work (for them school) but sometimes our meltdowns are with the ones who we feel the safest around e.g our partners or besties.
During our assessment to be considered as Adopters our Social worker discussed the quality of our support network and this is because it’s recognised that at times as an Adoptive parent you may face additional challenges leading you to rely on those around you. If I’m honest, I’m not sure how we’ve managed it but over the years we have developed a strong extensive network, who have never left our side. They have shared in our Fostering and Adoption journey, rallied around us during my major surgery and unsurprisingly enough know me so well that they were the first ones to spot that I needed some extra support.
The other thing that we explored during our process is the importance of self care and that’s because it’s also recognised that there may be challenges along the way which can impact on your mental health or general well-being.
It’s in great times of stress that you truly realise who your friends are and just how important a support network is as a parent. When the dust began to settle we still made the decision to move……….but this time we made the decision to move school. My day dreams were just my way of telling me that both my son and I needed a fresh start.
Oh and just in case your interested I put my name down for an allotment so I can finally fulfil my dreams of growing vegetables!
And lastly without trying to make this sound like a BAFTA nomination a quick shout out to my local support network who have been a huge part of my self care over the past few months…..and in no particular order.
To my beautiful friend who managed to spot my difficulties even during the most painful and challenging time of her own life. Thank you for introducing me to spin class (Alexa add padded pants to the shopping list) and booking me in for some much needed pampering.
To my real life Taggart Mate who in her spare time goes undercover as a nail technician. Thank you for feeding me cheese and wine through a straw (I couldn’t move my hands obvs!!) Walking me through fields and understanding that from time to time my jugs may become leaky…sorry I couldn’t help myself!
To my hardcore Personal Trainer Mate who knows all there is to know about schools. Thank you for pushing me to me to my limits pounding the village pavements whilst imparting your wisdom. I’m sorry sometimes I struggled to reply due to lack of oxygen!!
To my special teacher friend who opened the door and answered the call to my tears. Thank you for understanding my children, not judging me and knowing that I try my absolute best as a parent. I wish every teacher was just like you.
To my GP Matey who should have been a stand up comedian thanks for prescribing Laughter as opposed to Prozac.
To my work mate bestie who likes to nurture…thank you for swapping the cake to nutrition bars, making me belly laugh and imparting your social work words of wisdom.
To my crazy mate who cooked me the lushest lemon pasta…..I’m still bloody waiting for the recipe!
And last but not least to my Yummy Mummy friend who introduced me to sledging and squats in the park…I’m so glad you didn’t have your camera that day!
Final note to self, do NOT Google images of overflowing jugs again!!