Teenagers and battles …

Tuesday 5 May 2021

“Miss!! Turn the board down ! It is so bright… it’s like Jesus has come into the room!”

And so, with a lot of laughter, my working week begins! Teenagers – I live with them, I work with them. They can test my patience and sanity to the absolute limit but at their best, their feisty, funny, outspoken best they can brighten up the day like nobody else. And, it is true in the classroom, that a lesson that begins with a smile, usually goes better than one that starts with a rant. But sometimes a rant also has its place. And this is equally true in the home…

Source: anniegetyourgum

Our house has been a whirl of school and college exams of late. High stakes for Prom-dress daughter who grinds stoically through a testing ordeal of assessments designed to support her Teacher Assessed Grades for A’levels this Summer. For Small Boy too, after a crazy 12 months of school closures and online lessons, come Year 10 Mocks. He also works well to prepare for his tests in most subjects. I say most, because there is one notable exception. The night before his maths exam, over tea, I offer to help him with some revision,

Oh, I don’t need to revise for that one – all the topics on the list are really easy”

is his casual response. It is like a red rag to a bull, not just because maths happens to be my subject, but also because ‘trying your best’ is our household motto. So this feels like a betrayal and I am unable to stop my hackles starting to rise. Predictably preachy and rather more acidly than I might have hoped, I point out that in our household we ‘always prepare’, that he does need to ‘look at some questions‘ and that I do expect him to ‘aim a bit higher’. Something about my tone clearly lights the touch paper of teen indignation because within moments, I am under fire,

You are putting too much pressure on me!”

“Its my life mum, not yours!”

Angry, self-righteous cries fly across the kitchen table. I am quite weary and for a split second toy with the idea of just giving in. It would be a lot easier. I could shrug and sniff ” Oh have it your way” and put my feet up with a nice cuppa. But it feels like a dereliction of parental duty so I dig in. But in an increasingly toxic atmosphere, I compromise and allow Small Boy to organise his own revision. Eyeballing me with disdain, this turns out to be my son swiping his phone on, watching a 3 minute maths video, before sauntering out of the room announcing ‘Revision done mother!” over his shoulder. It feels very much like a ‘lose , lose‘ situation and I grit my teeth for a tense week.

Happily however, I manage to avoid further confrontation and the ensuing days are harmonious ones. I do forget to wash Small Boy’s PE kit and have to rush it through a hurried 30-minute wash on PE morning itself. But I just apologise and my son really couldn’t be any more reasonable about heading to school in a distinctly damp set of joggers. As a reward for much improved communication and reliability when meeting his friends, Small Boy and I also negotiate a slightly pushed back ‘home time’ for his next social outing. All is well, all is calm, all is pleasant. Perhaps a battle really is never worth it, I ponder. But there is another page to turn on this tale.

Towards the end of the week, his teachers start to hand back test results and Small Boy is thrilled by his scores… with one notable exception. On Thursday, I arrive home to a cup of tea and a sheepish looking boy clutching a mathematics book,

“Er mum…I have to resit my maths test tomorrow…can you give me a bit of help ?”

Oh perhaps that really was the Lord in my White board at school, because this feels like divine redemption! It takes under 20 minutes, a couple of revision cards and a review of the salient features of the probability tree, before he is pretty much ready for anything ! I have to confess that I am unable to resit a bit of a raised eyebrow but my son holds up both hands muttering, “I know mum“, so I magnanimously leave it there and hope it is a lesson learned.

So can we ever completely avoid clashing with our offspring? Probably not. Look, I could have handled this week’s conflict far better, but I defy any parent to beatifically beam their way through the daily battery of teenage-rearing challenges. Not just because we’re human. Not just because our kids can be the most exasperating creatures on the planet. But because sometimes, it matters. The trusty old adage to ‘choose your battles’ is essential advice for any parent, but battle you sometimes must. Yes, occasionally to be a good parent (or a good teacher) you have to roll up your sleeves and face the flak, because its worth it and…they may even thank you in the end!

Vaccine 2!

Monday 5 April 2021

Is it just me or do other people turn on the TV and just wonder ‘what on earth‘ is everyone talking about?

An erstwhile fan of the Smiths, I did, long ago, claim that Morrissey has a ‘lyric for every situation’ and the line racing around my head most Spring mornings in 2021 is that the news , “says nothing to me about my life...” Never more so than with the vaccine.

In December 2020, when Margaret Keenan became the ‘first person in the world’ to get the Covid-19 vaccination, it was a joyful and emotional moment. Not only our first real chink of light in the grim lockdown tunnel but also a fantastic symbol of humanity; that the first person to be chosen came not from the ranks of the most powerful but from the population of those most at need. After months of a devastating global pandemic, whilst it made clear sense in terms of medical resources, this was also a powerful symbol that we chose to value our grandparents and loved ones as highly as great leaders and the economy. We cared about everyone….or did we?

Several months later, a generation of jabbed adults appear to have forgotten about those still at risk, and have turned their thoughts towards: vaccine passports, foreign holidays and seats in football stadia. I am lost because, although millions of ‘stay-at-home’ adults, for whom age was an easy filter, are now wrapped in AZ or Pfizer protection, one person very lose to my heart is still waiting. My second child has not yet received her vaccination, despite being assigned to a higher priority group that anyone else in our house, and we really would like that extra layer of protection for her. Not for exotic beaches, or trips to the theatre, or nights at the pub, but just to reduce the risk of hospitalisation. This, in brief is why.

Five years ago, a severe run of asthma attacks, resulted in my daughter being hospitalised on three separate occasions. The first; a bewildering blur, introduced to the world of ‘blue lighting’ and oxygen-masking as frightened novices. The second; a complete body blow, as my head and heart had to accept that asthma is not something you cure, rather an ever present condition, that may strike at any time. The third, and most severe was a wake up call for me that, single parent or not, I needed to do better.

The third occasion included the most aggressive treatment. Due to oxygen levels dropping unexpectedly, my girl was required to undergo several hours of intensive treatment, attached to a mask and machine that made her incredibly ill. She would struggle, wave at me in panic. I’d remove the mask. She would be sick and beg to stop, plead for even a short break. The nursing staff would kindly but firmly re-attach the mask and she would be made to continue. It went on all day. By 9pm the nurse arrived with the latest readings and the awful news that she would have to resume treatment for the third time that day. I was aghast, because I would not be there. I was the only adult in the house and had two other children, both under 15, ‘home alone’. The nursing staff assured me, as I left, that they would ‘look after her’. But they did not. Not due to lack of kindness, I hasten to add, but lack of staffing. My daughter was left, struggling alone on the machine, ringing a bell that was never answered and vomiting into her own slippers. Eventually, some one else’s mum came to help her and clean her up. Imagine my shame!

As I listened to her account the next morning, and dropped the gruesome slippers into the garbage can, I promised her that ‘never again’ would she do this alone. If our hospital system relied upon parents sharing in the non-critical care, I accepted that I had failed to play my part. It was time for me to swallow any shred of pride I had left and beg for yet more help and favours from friends and family to enable me to stay on the ward in future. Happily, however, fortune shone on us over the ensuing years. Transferred from our patchy primary provision to Consultant Care, we benefitted from a return to the routine calendared checks, we’d enjoyed when living ‘down south’. My daughter’s meds were cranked ever higher, but on the upside her asthma seemed relatively under control. And then corona virus arrived.

I watched the scenes of patients in Italy on ventilators, fighting for breath. I heard the chilling news; that covid- patients were allowed no visitors and it was like re-awakening to a former nightmare. Any promises I may have made to ‘always be there’ suddenly looked very flimsy. Ex-Hub and I discussed our daughter uprooting to move to live with him for the duration of Lockdown 1, but for various reasons decided against it. Instead she lived in her room, eating meals off a tray, working, sleeping and being alone within the family unit. In April 2020, came the truly tragic story of a 13 year old child dying alone in a UK hospital. We were stunned but deeply thankful for the subsequent decision by Matt Hancock to change these rules and sanction limited visitors for covid patients. And gradually, life became a little more bearable.

Indeed we grew used to the virus. We followed the rules. We returned to school and college. We kept ourselves as safe as possible and I’d be lying if I claimed that we continued to be anxious about its threat. But the landscape has changed now. There is a vaccine. My daughter has been prioritised for it and I know she deserves this extra level of protection. Unfortunately, as a ‘child’, a few weeks shy of 18, she has to await a GP appointment and a vial of Pfizer and although, as advised I call weekly, our practice have not been able to provide this for 5 frustrating weeks. In that time, I’ve been jabbed. My eldest child, as a medical student, has been jabbed. My son has had covid, so probably has antibodies. In our home, the only member of the household still to receive additional protection is the only person who really needs it. So you’ll forgive me if I’m not in the debate about passports, outdoor beer gardens or elbowing my way to the front of the queue for FA cup tickets, because quite frankly I’m nowhere near future plans. Right here, right here, right now I simply ask that this ‘world beating’ vaccination programme does its primary job and protects the vulnerable… my vulnerable. Isn’t that more than enough for anyone?

Is it time for a 5 year plan?

21 February 2021

It’s a funny old half term and it all start with this Monday morning call.

Am I speaking to the one and only Becky ….”

Yes, one very confident, chirpy cold caller! And life insurance broking is his game. Whilst I choose not to invest in any of the deals, he does make me stop and think about the insurance I do have. I root out my policy to find that it covers me for a bizarre number of years, with a seemingly random sum of money. It is clearly no longer fit for purpose and needlessly pricey. As I start to research alternatives however, I hit a brick wall of indecision…because making a wise choice depends on where I see myself and the teens in the next 5 or 10 or 15 years . And I just do not know. A lot can change in 5 years…

Here I am 5 years ago. It’s my birthday 2016. I am coupled up, dressed up and out for the evening!

Fast forward 5 short years to my recent 2021 Birthday and here I am, single, sitting in my lounge and Locked Down with a take-out curry!

Who could have known quite how different life would be? And the next quinquennial, promises to be no less dramatic in terms of change. No more teens, no more mortage, no need to work as many hours, no need to live in this corner of the North-west. It is difficult to know how to even start thinking about it all.

It has been a year when I have grown accustomed to living; day to day, tier to tier, Bojo press conference to inevitable U-turn! But if I thought I could run away and hide behind the covid curtains for a bit longer, I was mistaken. Half term also brings necessary negotiations with tree surgeons and roofers. Thinking through some fairly substantial financial decisions keeps bringing me resolutely back to the same daunting, dithering ground. Because, ‘How much to pay?‘ and ‘How much to do?‘ are all balanced by looking ahead to how much longer I expect to be here.

There is certainly a lot of advice out there for those of us facing the prospect of ’empty nesting’. Indeed the Citizens Advice reports finding “a huge demand – nearly half its enquiries” – from the 50-plus age group, for whom the main issues were pensions, mortgages, wills and life insurance. I have to be honest though, at the heart of my unease is the fact that I’d never expected to be facing these choices and ‘resetting the life plan’ as a single person. Without a partner to bounce ideas off and help me to frame a way of thinking about it all, I’ll confess to feeling absolutely terrified. So I start smaller. Next week I have an appointment with a, Independent Financial Adviser to talk… about me. Not stereo-types, not ‘typical case studies’ for my age group, just me. And I feel calmer. It was clearly time to stop avoiding the issue, I am a long way from a plan at the moment, but getting some facts hearing some options, doing my homework…none of that can hurt, in fact is it very much what I am about…

If you are planning for a year, sow rice. If you are planning for a decade, plant trees. If you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.”

Chinese Proverb

Me and technology …

Saturday 16 January 2021

Is it only me, or are teenagers not the most tolerant as their mum tries to cling onto the rapid pace of technological change in the 21st century …

Okay, I’m not as quick or slick as anyone else in the house when it comes to texting, scrolling and scanning on the mobile phone. Admittedly, I can whirl around the electronic ether in bewildered circles trying to connect to a friend on Zoom. Yes, I do accept that my failure to ever load more than 2 songs onto the i-pod did, in fact, condemn us all to Robbie William’s ‘Candy and ‘Moves like Jagger‘ on endless repeat during one very long (and tense) car journey to Wales. But the palpable embarrassment, the eye rolling and the mocking laughter from my offspring really does not help. At my lowest, it make me feel old and flustered. And the irony is that I used to be pretty good. I was even whole school ICT trainer about 20 years ago! It was, if the truth be told, three maternity leaves, yes the arrival of the trio of doubters themselves, that threw me off course. By the time I made it back into the workplace, the world has moved on and I’ve been playing catch-up ever since.

Most days I can see the funny side. Nonetheless, I resolve not to tell the teens about my electronic exploits at work…

My first major foray into the wonderful world of Microsoft Teams comes in November with the Year 11 Mocks. A week out from the start of our exams, thirty pupils are sent home to isolate and I take the decision to concurrently run mocks remotely for those not in school. Knowing that I’m not the most confident with new technology, I compensate by being over-prepared and arriving very early to start each session. And all runs smoothly. Numbers wax and wax further as ever-more covid cases hit pupil attendance, but I rise to the challenge. So much so that by the start of week 2, I become a bit blase and that is where things go a little pear-shaped.

It is a ‘double-mock’ day. English Lit runs like a dream and I allow myself the luxury of going to lunch, nonchalantly popping back with only 2 minutes to spare for the start of the Science exam. I find the Teams chat already a flurry of activity,

Miss we can’t get in; 10 of us are stuck in the lobby”

Has the exam started yet Miss – I’ve been trying to get in for 5 minutes?

To my horror, I find that I can’t get in either! Not only that, but I cannot even see the lobby! Battling rising panic, I tap out a reassuring reply.

Hi everyone. There’s problem at our end, Give me 5 minutes to work it out!

I hit the edit key and scour my invite like a crazed hawk trying to work out what has gone wrong. Then another message pops up

Where is everyone? Five of us are in an exam but Miss isn’t here? It does say ‘English’ though, not ‘Science’?”

I gaze in shock at the screen. Where on earth are … any of them? Could I go down in history as the first teacher ever to have pupils floating around lost in the electronic ether? By now I have over sixty pupils doing mocks at home, and, in increasing numbers, they all seem to join the chat with queries and questions. In the growing chaos, one poor trusting soul even types,

Don’t worry. Miss knows and is sorting it all out.”

Well she had more faith in me than I do at this moment!

And then suddenly, from somewhere, inspiration strikes. My strained eyes notice that I have sent the meeting invite out as a face-to face meeting. I click a button to switch it to ‘Teams Meeting’ and … boom, problem solved! Pupils’ face flood onto the screen. I instruct the famous five sitting in the English exam to leave their exam and re-join us in Science and we are ready to start. I smile, in glorious relief, at the gathered ranks and decide to dodge the blame,

The school wifi !” I fib , with a helpless shrug of the shoulders, “Thank you all for being so brilliant and hanging on . Anyway. Science. Have we all got our equipment ready …?”

Thereafter, I go back to arriving 20 minutes early for every exam.

One upside of my mock exam adventures is that when we do shift all lessons online, in response to, pupil cases, staff shortages and then Lockdown, I am feeling pretty confident, even proud of my middle-aged voyage on this steepest of learning curves. Until that is a message from a Year 10 pupil pops up at the Leadership Team meeting

Miss – why is tomorrow’s lesson at 5:30pm?”

Yikes! ” I confess “It should be at 2. I’ll change it now

OK Miss. Thanks -no probs

Well, on the bright side, at least my pupils are a lot kinder than my own children…

Into isolation…

Saturday 5 December 2020

I guess, with all three of us at educational establishments, it was always just a matter of time, but at the start of this week one of the teens tests positive for covid-19 and we, plus our bubble, are sent into isolation for 14 days!

First things first, everyone is okay. ‘Covid-teen’ is very unwell for 36 hours, with a sky-high temperature, nasty cough, severe headache and dizzy enough to need help with any movement. Thereafter, happily, my child is quickly back to normal and enjoying meals-on-trays in front of the TV, to keep apart from the rest of us.

We all get our first experience of the covid-19 test too. Well I’ve definitely known more fun family outings! And I can assert that there is nothing quite like sticking a swab down your throat and up your nostrils in a cold, drafty portacabin, to re-focus the corona-weary mind on home hygiene. I spend the rest of the week flinging open windows, laundering at 60 degrees, pumping hand sanitiser at everyone and dousing anything in sight with anti-bacterial spray. So far so good. We still stand at only 1 positive result. Whether that is my enhanced cleaning or simply the reality of living with teens, who like to spend as many hours as allowed in their rooms, I’ll never know!

What is without question however is that isolation is a complete pain. We have to cancel and rebook; hospital appointments, a grade 8 violin exam and picking up my eldest from Uni. I creep out, under cover of dark, like a masked covid-criminal, to collect prescriptions, crickets for the gecko and ‘click and collect’ groceries. Thursday comes and goes without my mum’s weekly visit and her famous cheese and onion pie, and in its place my miserable, soggy, left-over vegetable bake is a poor substitute. School and college work shifts completely on line for both teens. I also move my job onto Microsoft Teams, but the resentment from colleagues, who have battled in on cold, grey days, as I ping into the morning meeting from my kitchen is palpable.

One rare nicety  is that  I am actually at home to look after an unwell child, as opposed to abandoning them to chance with paracetemol, the heating thermostat and my work phone number, and feel like a half-decent mum. That apart however … all rather grim

On the upside, we do make it to Saturday. Not only does the weekend  mark the motivational half-way point,  but this morning, a crate of 12 wine bottle, originally earmarked for Christmas also arrives. Now  I think most people would forgive me for opening my presents early … just this once!

Half term’s here!

Friday 23 October 2020

Oh my goodness! The final bell of the day rings and a mood of unadulterated joy erupts throughout the building ‘Half Term’s here!’

I have spent the day wearing both my mask and visor, desperate to make it to the end of the day; the end of the week and the end of the half term without catching covid. I am on a quest to go nowhere near anyone who might cause a notification to pop up on the dreaded NHS test and trace app! I am practically sitting in the corridor for my performance management meeting. I skip and dance my way through 3 lessons, firmly fixed to the ‘teacher zone’ cordoned off at the front of the classroom. Just the last thing you want, after the toughest of two months in school, is the news that you have to spend half term isolating your kitchen!

Not that we can do much in a region cast, as expected, into Tier 3. Nonetheless for an exhausted team of teachers, the elation of making it to the finish line cannot be subdued today.  So how do I feel …. I put it in song. A song that I sing aloud to the wonderful pupils filing out through the year 11 exit …this song (stolen from Friends) … with the lyric changed to ‘Half term’s here!’

Real Neat Blog Award, congratulations, nominees!

Image result for real neat blog award

About the Award

In 2014, the Real Neat Blog Award was created to recognise the many bloggers whose blogs deserve more attention.

The kind petrel41 sent me this award and, in accordance with the rules, I am now delighted to be nominating you.

So, the ‘rules’? Designed to promote interest in our BLOGS but entirely voluntary, even if your name is not Dominic Cummings, (I’ll confess, I struggled to see how to follow them for a while and went for a new page!)

  • Put the award logo on your blog.
  • Answer the 7 questions asked by the person who nominated you.
  • Thank the person who nominated you and add a link to their blog.
  • Nominate any number of people linking to their blogs and let them know you nominated them by commenting on their blogs.
  • Come up with 7 questions for the people you nominated.

My Nominees

  1. Pointless Overthinking
  2. Rose Girl’s World
  3. Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice
  4. Wee Ginger Dug
  5. Pilates Leeds
  6. Ramblings of a Rookie Life
  7. The Perfect Juggler
  8. Silent Pen
  9. H.J Tanner
  10. Solo Mum in Aus

My Questions

1. What is your most visited blog post of 2020?

2. If you could have a ticket to see any live act, who would you pick?

3. How have you coped with Lockdown?

4. What is your favourite quote?

5. Nature or nurture?

6. What advice would you give your teenage self ?

7. Can you name politician you admire? If yes, who?

The End of September

Monday 30 September 2019

As the sun sets on another September, it’s a good time to reflect upon the last 30 days.

Now I use the term ‘sun’ metaphorically, because the skies have actually pelted us with rain for most of the last 30 days and there are flood warnings in place across much of the UK, as the ninth month of the year comes to an end. I also read that 2019 has been the wettest across the USA as well. Is it a result of global warming and the alarming acceleration in the impact of humankind on the plant? Greta Thunberg would certainly say so, and September has seen this remarkable young woman deliver her passionate address to the UN Climate Action Summit, supported by further waves of, predominantly youth Climate Strikes, across the globe.

Closer to home, my young people have also has a productive month. My eldest has finally completed her personal statement, applied to Uni, started partying with avengeance, as the entire year group begins to turn 18, … and booked her driving test. Prom-dress daughter has made an impressive start to College life, joined the Production, re-joined the gym, signed up for various trips and blows my simple-mathematical mind, as she ponders her philosophy and history at the dinner table. Small Boy has ambled on quietly, possibly a little lost, as the girls have taken up a lot of my attention, but he seems okay.

As for me, well I did secure one new work opportunity but wasn’t successful with the other. So, whilst 1 out of 2 isn’t bad, I search on for a substantial change in my working life. Maybe my fortunes will change in October 2019? It’s a month when Mondays all fall on multiples of 7, which is always a bonus for me. I resolve to apply for at least one new job per month, pour myself a glass of wine and bid a fond farewell to a pretty good September, for the young people of the world as well as three I live with…

Fantastique Day!

Saturday 21 September 2019

As Saturdays go, that was a pretty perfect one!

The morning sees the resumption of Saturday activities for the teens freshened up with a change of location. And this, in turn means exploring a new run route for me. I swap my well-trodden tracks, through a scenery of urban streets and sassy bars, for parkland and lush greenery. It is glorious in the warm September sunshine, the oxygen coursing through my veins and fuelling my heart with energy and optimism.

The afternoon takes me to a rehearsal for a performance of the dream-like Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz. Mine is a small part, the ‘off-stage’ oboe player in Movement 3. I find myself positioned in a dark dusty side room for my solo, with only a partial sight of the conductor and totally hidden from audience view. One of my GC (Group Chat) friends makes me laugh out loud with the comment that this sounds like a metaphor for her life, and I think that it many ways it probably is for mine too. Perhaps all parents feel that, much as they strive to play a beautiful part in the symphony of life, their contribution can feel a little invisible at times. But I don’t feel unappreciated this afternoon. The solo may be written to sound distant but it is so haunting that I absolutely love it and many member of the orchestra are kind enough to compliment my playing very generously too.

The additional bonus, of only appearing in one movement, is that my rehearsal time is very short and frees up the afternoon for catching up with the teens, doing the laundry, sorting out the weekly shop and doing my share of ferrying to volunteering … and to parties. I experience an usual sensation of being almost on top of things.

And tonight I am relishing a chilled glass of white after an awesome concert. My little moment goes well, but above all I am blown away by the Symphony itself, which I hear in full for the first time this evening. It’s testament to a great orchestra , where players commit fully to a truly emotional performance, but it’s also the music itself . Bernstein describes it as “a first musical expedition into psychedelia and it certainly sends me home on a real high.

Feeling ‘fantastique’, long may it last…