things i have learnt since sending my son to a school in special measures

This post, explaining why we were confident about sending our son to a school in special measures, provoked a big response this summer. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, why not have a look now? It will make more sense of the following!


So we’re already half a term in to our son’s school career. Forget what he’s learnt – I feel like I’ve been on a hugely steep learning curve since term began. And already God has graciously affirmed the decision He led us to make regarding our son’s schooling – time and time again. Here are some of the things I’ve noticed. (Please forgive any unintended arrogance/offence/political incorrectness caused by the words I use, and instead remember that I come from a position of naivety, having been in a pretty middle-class bubble my whole life.)

Those from tougher backgrounds are often more open than those from more advantaged backgrounds. We who have been lucky enough to have more advantages in life do feel the need for a facade, don’t we? All through life – whether on UCAS forms, CVs, in job interviews, on dates, and in social situations – we learn (indeed, we’re conditioned) to hide our flaws and promote our positives. This term, I’ve had people I hardly know share pretty deep and personal things with me during a brief exchange in the playground. I’ve had to learn how to hide my shock at what I may have been told, and replace with sympathetic nods and words. There is no facade, no pretending that life is OK when it’s not. I find it refreshing. I’m learning how to be open about my weaknesses, my mess, my falling apart. As new friends start to enter my home, I’m remembering that mess and dirt are OK – they’re the reassurance that I don’t have it all sorted. And hospitality (search the blog for more on this!) is the ultimate display of our vulnerabilities.

I’m suddenly embarrassed by all the Stuff. Exacerbated by the onslaught of new Stuff from the kids’ birthdays, I’m seeing afresh just how much we have – not just the quantity, which we try and keep on top of, but the quality. I’ve never been one for designer brands, and mainly buy my clothes from charity shops, but walking through the playground in my Hunter wellies while my kids ride their expensive scooters does make me realise how privileged we are. I wouldn’t go back to leaky wellies, or heavy, hard-to-manoeuvre scooters – but where do I find a sensible balance?

Difference doesn’t matter – integrity does. There is no shying away from it: I look different to a lot of the other parents. On weekdays the ones who look like me trundle past our house to take their offspring to the More Middle Class School Down The Road. But perhaps I’m not so different to the other mums I’m meeting after all. I’m not going to dress differently, disguise my non-local accent or pretend I don’t live in the huge house opposite the school (although I will remind people, ad nauseum, that we don’t pay for it, it comes with the job). To do any of this would be ingenuine – it would be an insult to those I’m meeting, as if I were saying to them You couldn’t possibly want to be friends with someone like me. How arrogant and patronising. If I’m open to getting to know other mums, then they will want to get to know me too. We will find there’s more in common than we thought.

A simple greeting breaks the ice. I’ll be honest: there have been times when I’ve stood in the playground and felt like some weird social experiment – a misfit, an oddity. What am I doing here? I imagine the worst of those standing next to me: they’re looking at me weirdly, I’ve offended them, they hate me. If I’m brave enough to be the first to smile, the first to say hello, then I discover no such thing. In fact – perhaps they were thinking the same about me? We break the ice, we connect.

I can refer to Al as ‘my husband’, and not as ‘the kids’ dad’. This is actually a Thing. Our kids are so lucky to have an amazing dad who lives with them and is fully invested in every part of their lives. End of.

I bet your kids have been learning loads at school this half term – but what have you learnt? Do share your thoughts…I’d love to hear them 🙂

35th ‘breakfast-themed’ birthday party

Hubby turned 35 the other day. Seeing how this is halfway to 70 (of which he bizarrely keeps reminding me) and therefore very important, we decided to engage in a bit of celebrating. I let him choose the theme, and he chose a nice, streamlined theme of ‘breakfast’.

After being pounced on by our children at whatever o’clock in the morning, we headed down the stairs for an exciting treat awaiting us in the dining room. (Last night’s dishes, to clear away before festivities could begin.) We enjoyed a small amount of party food – I think Missy had rice crispies, and I went for toast. We sat on real dining chairs. There were some cards and presents, which hubby quickly got stuck into opening. Presents from the kids were going to be a day late because, you know, I hadn’t had that much warning about hubby’s birthday popping up on the exact same day as it does each year.

There were no games, because I felt that, to stay true to theme of ‘breakfast’, and seeing as we don’t usually play games at breakfast, there should be no games.

There was no music, because – again – we don’t usually have music at breakfast, so why break the theme?

We did a little open-ended craft activity. I gave each party-goer a drink, and let them get creative. Unfortunately it wasn’t much of a success – only Missy really engaged with this, and made a lovely milky pattern all over the tablecloth and floor.

We did, however, have decorations. A couple of limp balloons left over from Joel’s birthday, a nearly-dead orchid on the sideboard, and some mess on the floor.

I could have made a card, but ran out of time. Ditto cake.

There were no photos, as we wanted to savour the special moments being created by this wonderful family time together. Why live life through a lens, right?


Can you guess that, by October, I’m partied out?? Apologies Desert Dad, I’ll make it up to you at Christmas.


(With thanks to the wonderful Marilyn and Derek, who prompted this post.)


celebrating five

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Last week, Mister turned five. We celebrated with our usual traditions – measuring him on his height chart (3cm in the last 6 months, for those of you who keep track of such things), eating cake for breakfast, a homemade card from us (featuring a poem co-written by me and Desert Dad), and – Mister’s choice – a drink and a bit of cake at our favourite Bistro Guy after school. There was also a helium Spiderman balloon because, well, five.

Unknowingly, I have started a tradition of blogging about my children’s birthdays. The other day I thought how nice it would be, on my children’s 18th birthdays, to print out all of these birthday blogs and compile them into a little book, so that each of them could read what I was thinking on all their age milestones.

But, you know, I don’t always feel particularly deep or insightful during birthday month. Just because the children have gone up a digit doesn’t mean I’m suddenly struck by a philosophical muse. I just keep looking at Mister, running and climbing and drawing and writing, and in his school uniform, and all I can think is…“They handed me this big red baby – and I loved him instantly, and couldn’t stop gasping and wow-ing and laughing at the incredible fact of this tiny person, who had needed to live inside me for nine months, now being able to survive outside of me – and that was approximately five minutes ago – and now he’s a boy“. And that doesn’t seem very insightful.

It’s true that my big red baby is now definitely a five-year-old. In the last year, he has mastered the monkey bars, developed an interest in Lego and superheroes, learnt how to draw and colour accurately, started reading short words, enjoyed longer books read by me and Desert Dad, made new friends at his new school, and taken part in a range of activities without us.

If, on 30 September 2009, I was amazed at how independent this little baby now was, by being able to survive outside the womb, I never cease to be amazed by each stage of independence Mister gets to. The same boy who screamed when I left the room three years ago now leaves us happily to go to school – and even wants to go when it’s a day off. (Hmmm, maybe this says more about how boring mummy is to spend time with…)

So – nothing deep, nothing insightful. A bit like the day-to-day of parenting really – you’re aware you’re doing something pretty important, in the scheme of things, but actually it doesn’t feel very important from day to day. This post mirrors that. Nothing big to say – just that I love my boy very much, and am so grateful to have him.

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