The Boo Blogs: Day 3 – Otters Don’t Lay Eggs

Mr Geek & I have taken today and the bank holiday off work to spend a bit more pre-GCSE quality time with the kids.

Denial is the order of the day as we ended yesterday sourcing a new boiler & washing hair in bowls of kettle water. So instead of being adults, we headed up to London & went to the zoo!

Despite leaving first thing, we didn’t arrive until nearly midday, which meant that the goats (my favourite gender neutral term for my family, which frankly suits them) were starving. Lunch was duly unpacked & devoured.

Just look at the beautiful table manners we’ve taught them…

Rather than have the tired talk at the end of the day about bankrupting me in the shop, we opted for water bottles all round at the start of the day. This turned out to be a good choice as the weather was incredible! London Zoo has water fountains all over which meant that we could stay hydrated, and if you want to “upgrade” to 500ml of cold filtered water it’s 25p (bargain!).

Mr Geek & I are thoroughly enjoying spending another weekend just chilling together as evidenced by an array of weird selfies as we watched the penguins 🐧 (bangwangs).

After the penguins we did what all self-respecting cat people did and visited the lions. These guys (and gals) are part of an international breeding program and were happily chilling out & washing their toes. Once we’d wandered around the lions, we decided to watch the talk on the work they do with various animals. Unfortunately, the wheelchair accessible area had no shade, so I sent the rest of them the other side of the field to stay cooler. I texted them “Send me a selfie”… And got this:

After seeing cool birds, and meerkats, and more birds, the highlight of my day happened. Out came a serval. Happily following the guy around in order to get a handful of treats. Because she’d been rescued from the illegal pet trade, she was super calm around people and had no issue showing off her moves, although they were quick to warn us that she still thinks like a wild cat and would merrily chew your face if hungry. The way she followed him around chirping for attention & treats reminded me so much of Captain Jack & Leeroy Jenkins.

Oh my word, she was incredible. And this guy has the best job on the planet!

Alongside the tiger (who was resolutely chilling in his wood area) were two very handsome gibbons. But a clear highlight was finding Tad Cooper & singing My Dragon Pal & Me… With hindsight, it might not have been a great idea insinuating that the Komodo dragon could breathe fire with small kids around.

Still, we super believe in you Tad Cooper!

By now, we were pretty shattered, but no trip to London Zoo is ever going to be complete unless I see a sloth. This two toed sloth was not only chilling happily in the trees, but had a tiny two toed sloth baby!!

And with that, I’ll leave you with some final photos from today. Context free – fill in your own backstory!

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The Boo Blog – Part 1 : Heading Home

After an awesome fortnight in Northern Ireland, we borrowed our eldest god-daughter (Boo) to come back for an extra holiday.

As a fitting end to our time here it rained all the way to the ferry terminal! So with the car packed with three teenagers & our things, off we went!

These weeks here are a weird reminder of quite how little has changed, despite other massive life events & an extra 600 miles between us. We played games, wandered around National Trust properties, and reinstated Mrs B’s dreadlocks. And as always, I’ve ended the time reigniting our search for a property here (even if this is the wettest place on the planet… I mean, seriously, it’s August!!).

Getting on the ferry was a new one for us as we’ve only ever taken day crossings. It may have been a tiny bit more stressful than expected after being assigned a cabin on a deck that isn’t wheelchair accessible. It was rectified on the boat, but only after being told we should’ve paid extra to select our cabin.

This isn’t going to turn into an accessibility rant…

Once on the boat, hot chocolates were the priority and totally required!

The crossing was super clam and we all got a surprising amount of sleep! After that it was plain sailing all the way back to the house.

Day 1 at the house was a down day as I had to work. Leaving me to hide out in my office, the kids headed off to the park and used their sider senses to locate & purchase ice cream!

After a well deserved rest (is it a rest if you pull 11 hours in the office?!), day 2 is a visit to London Zoo! Watch this space.

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.

Introducing Students To Disability- Year 2

Last year I wrote about how I explained to my classes why their teacher who was previously using a stick, then crutches, was now using a wheelchair. Or for those new students, why the person in the wheelchair was in fact actually their teacher.

https://thehippygeek.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/the-easy-way-to-introduce-260-students-to-a-big-change/

I’m starting to look at how I should update that message to reflect where I am now & what I learnt from last year (yes I know it’s the start of August, but yes I’m also already planning for September).

The past year has taught me a few important things.

  • Discipline is harder from this vantage point – set boundaries and [insert deity here] help them if they cross it. 
  • Kids are often curious. Often a question about me is really about a family (or even them) that they’re worried about.
  • Kids adapt – after a few weeks, you’re just “Miss”

We use Google Classroom & as such I will post this to each class which allows them to read it in their own time & stops it eating into lesson time.

Dear students,

You’ve probably noticed that Mrs Geek has evolved wheels & you might have a few questions. Our lesson isn’t the time for this, but you can always ask me questions during break / lunch! Until then, here’s the biggies:

Why are you in a wheelchair?
I have a genetic condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome & POTS. EDS makes my joints & organs more stretchy than they should be, so I get hurt quite a lot and those injuries don’t heal very well. POTS means that when I stand up, or get too hot, my heart beats too fast & makes me dizzy. I’m using the wheelchair to stop me from hurting my joints, or dizzy, & getting too tired to mark your homework! People use wheelchairs for lots of different reasons. I love teaching you & this will help me to stay teaching you for longer:)

Can you walk?
Yes, a little bit. Don’t be surprised if you still see me stretching out my legs in the chair, or stand up. You’d be achey too if you sat down all day! Lots of people who use wheelchairs can still stand, but it’s safer for them to use the chair.

Why do you sometimes have other bandages?
You might see me wearing various different neoprean supports. I can damage my joints very easily & these help. Lots of you have noticed my knee brace (yes, you may call them Robolegs. I do!). Sometimes you might hear my joints cracking or pop – don’t worry!

What do I do if I need your help?
In some rooms it’s hard for me to get to you, but you can come to me & I’ll take control of your screen. We’ll keep using Google Classroom & that should help us lots! If you are at all worried that you’re not getting enough of my attention,  please come and talk to me.

Is it OK to ask you questions about your disability?
I don’t mind you asking outside of lessons. I can’t promise I can answer them all, but being with someone disabled isn’t something to be scared of. Even adults aren’t always sure what is ok to ask. I promise not to be offended as long as you are polite.

How fast does your chair go?
The powerchair you see at school goes 4mph which is a quick walking speed. I’m much faster in my racing wheelchair. Keep an eye out for me at sports day!

Can I have a go in your chair?
No. I rather need it:)

Can I help in the classroom?
Sometimes I may ask you to carry books / chrome books for me & holding the door open is always appreciated. Please keep your bag & coat under the desk & your chair tucked in to allow me to get around the room. Other than that, our classroom is business as usual.

Chronically Optimistic

I quite often feel bemused when people look at me just getting on with life and exclaim “I don’t know how you’re so cheerful”, or “I don’t know how you do it. You’re really brave.”

Anyone who actually knows me, knows that rather a lot of the time I’m angrier & more irrational than a wasp, and spend an unnecessary amount of time holding pity parties. Generally this is in the privacy of home where Mr Geek can appreciate the full spectrum of my whining. God, he’s a lucky bastard.
But as I trundle out of the door, Mr Geek gives me a kiss & grumbles something about dinner and I slap a smile on.

Because, you know, if you take a deep breath & smile…. it confuses the living shit out of people. I smile at people because it makes people feel nice to be smiled at. I love my good morning routine as I roll past the ladies in the front office, the premises guys, & the happiest maths teacher on the planet. 

It doesn’t matter that I’m struggling with increasingly uncontrollable pain levels. I’m more than my body. I might not be physically dancing about in a snorkel anymore, but I’m still me. Weirdly, the end of term approaching has reminded me that I’m more than the sum of my parts. Rather than finishing this year haggard and wondering what a bloody stupid idea it was to become a teacher, this year I’ve been a wreck anyway so actually I’m ending it appreciating all the ways that teaching allows me to be a real person.

Next year, I welcome my new form (my last lot have now flown my nest after 3 years of growing into adults!). Each of us in the year team have a special reason for students to be placed with us – think of it like a teacher talent tree. Mine is routines & extra TLC. Our routines are visual and planned in advance – I am happiest when everything is structured & my kids tend to be those that thrive on similar. The TLC bit applies to a whole range of reasons. Kids arrive with a spectrum of issues that reflects the adult world, from shyness to mental health to physical health. There is no child that doesn’t benefit from someone who welcomes them as part of their extended family. In turn, I get to witness their successes, their soap opera style relationships, hand out birthday cards, read to & with them, I’m the sympathetic ear when they need one, and the kick up the backside when they’re being a knob. My last form witnessed my health decline rapidly over 3 years & they used it to forge intensely empathic responses to others who needed help. I didn’t think I could be prouder.

Then I was when I met my new form. I ended our induction day by showing their parents photos of our day together where they’d overcome fear of school, of new places, of sensory overload, of looking silly (posing for selfies with our form teddy bear when you’re 13 wipes out any Alpha male ideas). Just like having another child, you don’t divide your love, it multiplies. And stealing the words of an old headteacher “you’ve gotta love em. Children, no matter how old, need love”.

So as one academic year ends (in a week and 1/2) & another is right around the corner, I’m optimistic. By September, I’ll have my Master Teacher badge which sadly is just that – gone are the days of elevated pay, but it’s nice to be recognised as a subject specialist & be involved with training new Computer Science teachers.

Making it through the tough bits means I reap the rewards of being a stubborn arsehole who’s still got more fight left in her. And, well, Mr Geek, that lucky bastard gets at least another academic year of me falling asleep on my marking & being a diabolical wife.
Maybe this year will be the year I finally get around to submitting my fellowship for the Society for Education… dream big 💖

Star Wars – From Mother to Daughters (no spoilers!)

Growing up in the 80’s as a nerdy girl was ok. Mainly because we didn’t actually know any better. My 2 hours between 3pm & 5pm after school (because that’s all of the kids TV we had back then….) consisted of the following:

He-Man (and later She-Ra):

Like seriously, a guy with a dodgy hair cut (even for the 80s) in fur pants (briefs) and his sister in a dress so short she really ought to be wearing some Bridget Jones sized knickers under there to preserve some dignity. And cleavage in a kids show! Actually, scrap that – the cleavage is quite good. But she generally got herself into trouble and He Man with his massive sword had to save her. Off you go Freud – have a field day.

Dungeons & Dragons

Ok, this one was vaguely better (although I was pretty much always more interested in the DM as he was a pain in the arse and much funnier than the whiny kids – but again, with the girls in totally tiny skirts and the boobage… these are middle school kids. ew. Longer skirts, or some damned trousers and more irritating balding DM, he’s cool.

Always be the DM.

There were plenty of others… Knightmare being another most excellent one, although Knightmare was extra nerdy and I’m not even sure the contestants knew that there was a difference between genders…

And my kids are growing up to be in the same group of nerdy, game playing weirdos who ultimately grow up and make use of all of those hours playing puzzle games to be the smart adult with a job that involves the part of their body that benefits most from being wrinkly (their brain people). I love the fact that they are embracing the stuff that makes them excited rather than being drawn by the girly girl cliques that they are surrounded by. In actual fact, sometimes they do want to be pink and girls – for instance, TinyPants chose for her Darth Vader costume today: a Vader mask, black leggings, my black chiffon headscarf from Egypt, & a pair of flowery boots, over which went her Paddington Bear duffle coat. She was the most kick arse Vader in the room.

BeanPole on the other hand, decided to go a bit more obscure and dressed as R2D2. She loved what she chose and has decided that ‘next time I’m going as a wookie’.

It occurred to me, that just like with previous films, Star Wars pretty much doesn’t give a crap about gender roles and girls are just as double hard as boys. It’s a truly gender neutral franchise. No-one cared that my girls wanted to dress up as an evil telepathic dictator, or in fact a robot that swears so much that all of his lines are bleeped 😉

This particular film, did gender neutrality proud. Now, get out there and enjoy it with your sons, daughters, husbands, wives, whatever – it’s at the top of my favourite films ever. In fact, it’s the first time in years that I’ve ended a film in a cinema where a British audience openly applauded at the end.

No spoilers.

Like Mother Like Daughter

A few years ago, I wrote a post about my very much beloved Mooncup which years later is still very much in use, has travelled with me to no less than 5 countries, because seriously, ffs, every single holiday, and remains the only thing I need, and will need until I hit menopause.

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I continue to race about it to all my friends, who continue to make faces akin to having just watch me stick my entire arm inside my own vagina, and I continue to find it weird that people would rather stick bits of bleached cotton wool inside themselves than washable silicone.

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For those of you who I haven’t evangelised, the mooncup (or in fact any menstrual cup) is a small silicone cup about an inch in diameter and a little taller which you insert into your vagina to form a suction around your cervix and collect menstrual blood. At regular intervals, you just pop it out, give it a wash, then pop it back in again.

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If you need another reason to try it, how about this:

1 pack of 24 branded tampons cost £3.50 on a good month that might see you through. Based on an average of 1 period each calendar month, that’s £42 per year.

1 menstrual cup is going to cost you around  £15. It’s going to last you years – so far I’ve been  using mine for 4 years. Let’s compare that to tampons over 4 years : that’s £168 or £15.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on a tangent. I had the conversation this week with Beanpole about keeping a “girl bag” in her school bag just in case. And having seen me so comfortable with it, she asked for a mooncup! There’s nothing wrong with using a menstrual cup from when periods start as all it requires is to be comfortable with your own body. We also bought some really funky washable sanitary pads in rainbow colours.

My baby has planned to be a woman and she’s a woman who won’t kill the planet or isn’t frightened of her body.

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