Why I Let My Daughter Dye Her Hair Pink (and blue and purple)

I’m riding the “bad parent” wave each time we go out this summer. TinyPants starts high school in September and at age 11 has asked for a number of things that I’ve agreed to despite parental tutting. Here’s why:

She’s always had a strong sense of identity and year 6 has contained some big knocks for her. Instead of the last year of primary school being a fanfare of goodbyes, she counted down the days until she could be rid of bitchy cliques & a head teacher that she openly hated (strong words, but she had big boots to fill & did little to endear herself), and then there were SATS.

Since September, everything was building up to these bloody exams. Art, music, creative writing, science – all the things that made TinyPants love school went by the wayside. Maths drills, spellings, & exam papers were the daily grind – after which there were hours of tearful homework.

“Do your best & we’ll be as proud as always” we kept telling her. In the end, she sat in pain for 4 solid days doing her best (she was allowed to get up frequently, but allowed no extra time. Fearful that she wouldn’t finish, she didn’t take breaks. By day 4, she had a roll of physio tape strapped to her). Previous end of year reports have been a joy to read with comments given across the curriculum; this year one page was given with a table highlighted in red for each of the maths & english exams – “did not achieve”. The pass mark is 100, in most she scored 98 & in one 94. No “how I enjoyed my year” comment, but a “how could I have improved in my exams”. In contrast, her sister has a high school report with gold stars for effort & all subjects treated equally.

I was furious. My baby has fought past being born so tiny that she lived in an incubator; she fought apnea; she worked so hard to read (something that didn’t come naturally); she has emotional intelligence to rival most adults; she is a young carer; she has mentally prepared herself to be in daily physical pain & smiles through it; she worked like stink to pass those exams and yet she was deemed insufficient by a margin of 2 marks. She didn’t see how close she was – she saw “failure”. The piece of my mind that I’d like to give Gove, Morgan, & Greening may leave me without a mind. This narrowing of the curriculum and constant testing is stamping out the creative sparks that we’ll need in years to come.

So she asked to rebel, much like getting a statement haircut after a big break up. Step 1 was pink hair and I agreed to dye it for the final day. Step 2 was leaving primary behind – I genuinely feared her going out in a blaze of verbal glory, but she took the high ground and walked out with her head high (mentally flipping the bird as she left). And that was that.

She’s using the summer to find herself & that includes strange hair colours. We’re watching a pre-highschool reinvention of herself & it’s fascinating. She’s ditched the little kid clothes for older, but sensible shirts & jeans. I’m watching me grow up from a distance, but with a lot more self-esteem! Yes, we’ll have to get busy with the Head & Shoulders to remove the colour before school starts (eye roll), but for these 6 weeks the girls are allowed to be their genuine selves, whoever that may be.

We’ve just got back from a week at Disneyland where she asked to ride ALL of the rollercoasters on hoiday. I feel sick letting her put her body through that kind of strain – she’s already in pain most days & her back is a big culprit. Ibuprofen, TENS, & physio tape already feature quite regularly. Now, I could insist that she protect her joints at all costs, but shit, what right do I have to sap the joy from her life? She knows that adult life is going to hurt, but the pair of us are adrenalin junkies. At her age & into my teens I rode the coasters, I rode horses, I cornered so hard on my motorbike I could pick daisies with my teeth. So each time she wanted to go on a gut wrenching ride off Mr Geek went & rode with her.

Did it kill her? No. Ok, near the end of the holiday Mr Geek had to carry her out of bed & she gained wheels just like mum for part of the day as she couldn’t stand. Most days we paced quite well, the day before we’d thrown caution to the wind, but had the “best day evaar”.

Hell, even I rode a coaster – Mr Geek scoped it out and made sure it had head & back supports, I spent the previous day resting, he lifted me in – I screamed for the entire ride (on which my kneecap moved completely out & I pulled out both shoulders) – he lifted me back out & helped me pop things back, soothed the muscle spasms, then I rested for two days. All that pain for just 5 minutes? Yes. Totally worth it for feeling alive for just a while.

TinyPants looks at me and knows what’s coming – right now she wants to live as much life as possible instead of snatching 5 minutes of flying.

So, yes I’m letting her dye her hair far earlier than I ever thought I would, but it’s a small price to pay for the catharsis that its brought her. And as for Beanpole, well there’s no hair dye there – her genuie self blossomed at high school and my meganerd is blossoming into the intellectual fangirl that I expected, but she deserves a post all of her own.

Note: I’ve spoken a lot about pain here – for more info on Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, please read this post.

My Daughter is a Raptor

I think most parents with an aspie child have days when they look at their child and think “yeah, I’d probably do that too”, it’s just today I envied beanpole’s way of dealing with things being up in the air. Tonight that has taken the form of her being a raptor & it’s making her happy. (School project has allowed her to immerse herself in her favourite subject since the age of 2. Dinosaur knowledge is way beyond stuff I know). I have chest pain…. She’s being a raptor. Frankly, I reckon she’s coping much better!

It’s been a weird old week. Beanpole went off to a school residential camp, I’ve had a course outsude of school alongside long evenings with open days for new students & our usual weekend routine got turned upside down.

By Friday I was coming apart at the seams. My personal limit was found when I eventually found where beanpole was staying (5 minutes further than I had anticipated), found a dodgy parking spot and was promptly told to move. There was nowhere else to park. I tried to reason, but instead had to do a 12 point turn and drive back up the single track road until I found a bush soft enough to park the car in so I wasn’t blocking the road. This wasn’t the plan. Now I was late. I’m a professional adult who has been reduced to tears because I didn’t know where to park my car. In fact I hadn’t quite pulled myself together by the time I joined the other parents. A few excuses about work being full on….

At least it’s the weekend. We have a routine. But not this weekend,  because seeing as I’ve been ill for two weeks and have barely stopped we’re going to cram extra stuff into the weekend on top of the 10 hours of prep/marking that I’m attempting to get done. Our standard family dinner where we discuss the week went out the window, so now I’m already unprepared for Monday. The less organized I feel, the tighter my throat feels and the more I feel like running away and hiding under a blanket.  Or more realistically,  stamping my feet publicly and shouting at everyone to do what they are meant to be doing & stop changing things (translated in my head as why are you acting like arseholes? Can’t you see this is driving me mad? )

This is all sounding very familiar.

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I think this suggests I’m back to being anxiety girl (with the superpower of blowing things out of proportion! )… and I secretly know where beanpole gets it from.

I’d much rather be a raptor than me right now.

There’s Something About Sunday… It’s the Yorkshire puddings.

There really is something about Sunday that makes it realistically essential to my sanity. This stems from a mixture of time to sort out my life & food.

I got up late this morning after LSH let me lay in until 9.30 (bliss!) as I’d been up half the night coughing like a plague victim. I needed sleep. I needed my body to just get on and heal itself.

So at 9.30 I dragged myself downstairs to drink the final cup of coffee from the machine and commence on the standard Sunday morning homework marathon (them doing it, me marking it!). I find this quite relaxing now as they know Sunday is homework day – there’s no arguments, just get on with it. And now beanpole likes her teacher, she’s throwing herself into her tasks!

LSH took the girls over to his mum & dads at around 11, leaving me at home due to the evil germs that I really don’t want to share around. So, I carried on with various prep & marking bits until 2 then put away some laundry until they got home.

Our afternoon was spent with TinyPants drawing, making dens and playing strange computer games whilst Beanpole and I made a start on her take home task (like homework, but long term) which she’s chosen to do on dinosaurs (huge surprise)… The task is to chose a time and place in history that you would like to travel back to & make a scrapbook about what went on there. She’s throwing herself into this one!

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The best bit about Sundays is that we have time to cook. Traditionally, it’s a roast, and today we’ve got roast chicken with all the bits. Especially Yorkshire puddings.

These are my domain & today’s are sage & onions yorkshires.

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They start off looking a bit weird, but then I sit in front of the oven threatening to maim anyone who dares to open the oven as they start to rise….

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Wow, my oven needs cleaning… Well that’s on the list!

After this stage, it’s basically witchcraft to get them to this stage….

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Cue one big family dinner, bath time all round and ready for another week at school 🙂

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The September Germfest

When kids go home for the summer, I’m convinced that they become little distilleries for mega germs which they store away for September to launch at unsuspecting teachers the minute we return and set them homework.

My personal downfall this year was looking at past social media statements I had made over the past few years about how awful ‘freshers flu’ is and the general germiness of the Autumn. As I read these, I chuckled to myself at how terrible my immune system must have been last year and how I’d escaped scot free because I’m soooo much healthier now. We all know where this is going….

I left school at 5.30pm tonight feeling a bit scratchy, but clutching my box of marking. By the time I got to the kids’ trampolining lesson, I felt sort of heavy, but I’d had a full day with no break (hall & lunch duties made sure that I ate on my feet and just about got a loo break). No biggie. Probably just need to sit down.

Trampolining is a full hour, so out came the marking and I ploughed in with my notaredpen, got the stuff done and actually quite enjoyed the task (mainly because this first programming task was to write a program that tells a joke – wow, they know some REALLY nerdy jokes!). As I got up to collect the kids I sneezed. Oh crap. It’s not hayfever season… Dust? Yes. Dust. Please let it be dust….

7pm, we drive to the station to collect the other adult who’s been in London all day and is on the train back home to us. He’s tired and hungry, but in a good mood and texts me updates on the station as he goes. I sit in the car listening to the kids singing really flipping loudly & wonder why my eyeballs are throbbing.

8pm, kids are in bed. The other adult has been sent out on a mission to fill the car up with fuel & locate soup based food. I change out of the new super smart teacher clothes into slouchy pjs and sit on the bed with the iPad to check emails (nervous parents with homework questions – I have no issue answering them) & put together a bit of a blog post. Then it hits me. Oooh soft bed. Hello bed. Throat sore, head fuzzy, nose itchy. Oh bugger. They got me with their germ warfare.

What they didn’t bank on is me having my own ammunition… I have a bag of pain killers, throat sweets and tissues. I will survive, but will they after I’ve sneezed on their homework?

Let Sleeping Teachers Lay

11pm – laying in bed rolling over possible ideas of how to get ‘that class’ to knuckle down to some real work. They’re clearly learning something, but the behaviour leaves a lot to be desired.

As I stand at the front of the class using positive language and body language to show that I’m waiting for them to shut the hell up be quiet and let me speak, I am mentally channelling this guy:

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In my head I am repeating that these are not bad kids. They’re really not. They have no idea how important the time that they are wasting actually is and it’s my job to drag them all the way through to the end. Mr Drew is a bit of a hero of mine. I draw on that mental image of him greeting each child personally in the corridor as I enter ‘that’ classroom. I make sure I start with a smile – there’s a lot to be said for expecting the best. These kids are not grades on a bit of paper, so no matter how much they ‘banter’, I am not giving up.

At the start of last year, one of them announced proudly to me that they’d got every teacher they’d had as a class to leave within a year & I was next. Bless them. I made it through last year & this year, well, this year I’m back in true terminator style. And this time I’ve got handouts.

My mission this year is to find that tactic that breaks down the teenage bravado exterior and feeds the intelligent child inside that was swallowed up by testosterone and overly liberal deodorant. There have already been lessons where I have needed to breathe deeply (not too deeply, remember the deodorant) and rationalise that not every battle can be won. But every victory on my part brings them a step closer to succeeding.

This week’s small victory was to set a test, where they all scored over 50%. Every one of them. I chose five of them to give verbal feedback to in the form of a video where I talked them through their paper, the rest were marked traditionally. Verbal feedback is personal, but can be embarrassing when you are a teenage boy with a reputation to uphold. Easier then to have a video that you can watch when your mates have gone away which praises your efforts and shows you how to move forward. This is diplomacy at its best – I’m meeting them half way, but on my terms.

There will always be lessons where I may feel like this inside:

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But that’s only because I can see this big picture. I want them to do well, and it upsets me to see them waste the precious little time they have left at school.

Why State Schools Work (aka Why Gove is Wrong)

Why do I feel the need to publicly defend the state school system? Why? This article http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-26015535

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Mr Gove (excuse the twitching as his name is used) thinks we should change our state schools to be more like independent schools. Well, I guess they perform better and he must have experience in teaching in both sectors to have formed such an opinion…. Oh. Hold on, he’s not taught in either? The Minister for Education hasn’t actually taught a single lesson? Yes, this is true – there’s actually a petition in action to get him to try out teaching! (There really is, it’s here: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/michael-gove-to-teach-for-a-term)

So why do I feel qualified to publicly say that Mr Gove’s daily spoutings are the rantings of the politically insane? Well, because I have more teaching experience in both sectors than the UK ‘s Minister for education. (That in itself is just plain wrong)

So, I’m going to look at some of his latest ideas:

– open schools from 8am – 6pm
Let’s put the staffing issues aside here. I’ve seen first hand the effect that an 8am – 6pm day has on a child. Young teenagers end the term in tears from sheer exhaustion. Fights break out (yes, that’s in a ‘posh independent school’) because boys are tired and in close proximity to each other. Quality of work diminishes significantly because the mental health of the child is precarious to say the least.

Thankfully, in independent schools, these exhausted teens are only expected to handle this for 5-6 weeks at a time with significant holidays in between – the summer being on average 9 weeks.

Except Gove is suggesting reducing the holidays to 6 weeks in total. It doesn’t take a genius to weigh up the impact this will have on the children involved.

– teach more like an independent school
I am a firm supporter of our state system. Why? We are producing an increasing number of stable, resilient young people who know how to learn for themselves (not just remember facts) and who move on to university with an understanding of their responsibility for their own learning. This does not happen in every case, and there are still examples of a real need for resilience. However, state schools are far less prone to spoon feeding a curriculum in order to get the ‘right’ exam results. Four A*s at A Level may look impressive, but when consideration is made that independent schools will ensure those results through one to one lessons, coaching and coursework help, they no longer seem so impressive. Even less so when university progression is looked at – whilst acceptance to university may be high, the drop out rate is significantly higher for those who were hand held through exams at school.

There is another significant reason why independent schools achieve such high results – common entrance exams cream the top performers. Is this Gove’s suggestion? Should schools become selective? Should we just give up on the less academically inclined? Or should we provide education for ALL?

I am far prouder of my state school cohort who achieve Bs and Cs and I some cases very hard fought for Ds through their own hard work and determination whilst I facilitate their learning. There is nothing like seeing a student receive their exam results knowing that this is a result of that child’s hard work. That is the kind of learning that stays with you. That is lifelong understanding of how to learn.

Ok, now we can mention the teachers (not too much though)

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When will I prepare my lessons? I already work each evening and every weekend?
Am I to be driven purely by exam results and see these kids as numbers rather than amazing individuals? If so, tough, because these kids are awesome. They are not numbers.
Why am I so pro-state? I am a better teacher because of my state school. They support my teaching. They support me. I have had more CPD in a single term than in three years in the independent sector. I am encouraged to lead and my ideas are celebrated. My ability to teach is recognised as a craft which we spend time honing. I get sworn at an awful lot more and on occasions I become disheartened because of the verbal abuse from students, but I feel valued as a person because of the support from my colleagues.

What about parents?
Well, it doesn’t seem that they have been consulted at all. Of the parents I have spoken to, they are horrified at the prospect of longer days. Questions are asked : When will I see my children? How will they attend their clubs? What about quality of life / family time? What if I actually want to look after my children?

This is when I look at the argument from a different perspective. As a parent. I no longer fear for the education system as a whole, but for my own children. As a parent, I simply would not put my children through the trauma of long hours away from their family (currently, they have a wonderful set of grandparents who very much make up for us being out at work). I would not expose them to the stress levels placed on children who are put through many independent schools. This is not a reflection of all independent schools and like Mr Gove, I can only talk from my own experience of teaching in both sectors.

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With this said, should these reforms come in, in direct contrast to what the government hopes will happen, (that is mothers returning to work), as much as it would break my heart to do so, I will remove myself from my beloved profession and put that to good use through homeschooling my children.

Slow cooking my life

So it turns out that cooking actual food requires preparation, care and someone willing to prevent the food from burning.  I lack all but the first of these, and frankly my preparation is a bit haphazard.

But with a family of four adults and two kids, food must and will be cooked.

This weekend witnessed what shall now be known as the Great Family Grocery Budget Debate. This went aling the lines of me & LSH being totally frustrated that despite the weekly shop having arrived two days earlier, we lacked the full ingredients for modt meals. Mum responded that we had to remain in budget, and I rather tactlessly duggested that she stopped buying a load of pre-packaged crap. (Actually, she took that remarkably well).

The decision was made that we would make a weeks menu and a list if any other groceries that we need for next week and create an online order product by product on our chosen supermarket.  It became a game and Sunday morning was spent playing Supermarket Wars. I can smugly say that I won. By a margin of £20. And swapped in tiny packets of packaged fresh veg for big 1kg bags of frozen. Bulk buying FTW!

We’ve also looked at our eating habits.

Cue Bean chilli.
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This consists of 5 cans of various beans, chopped tomatoes, spices, onions and a couple of fresh peppers. Stuck gun ho into the slow cooker and left to get on with it while we headed out for a few hours of skating. Enjoyed by most with a helping of rice. TinyPants declared it to be poison. I declared her to be eating it if she wanted pudding.

Tonight’s sliw cooker noms is named ‘WTF do I do with 5 sausages and some left over gammon??!’. Again, I’m working on the basis that LSH has been in London all day and not due back til 8. Meanwhile I have 20 mins in between arriving home and heading out to a Brownie thing with the girls.

Solution? Shove random stuff into a slow cooker on high and hope for the best.

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What have we here? Sausages, torn up gammon, tin of chopped tomatoes, bit of added water, carrots, onions, potatoes, paprika, coriander, 2 garlic cloves, a bit of beef gravy.

2.5 hours and it smells quite edible.

So there you have it. Slow cooking – perfect for those on a budget and who have the culinary ability and inclination of…. err…. someone with Dominoes on speed dial 😉