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!

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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 🙂

memoirs of a preschool mum (or: letter to a new mum)

preggers
Tomorrow, the boy in my belly in this photo starts school. I’m not anxious for him – he’ll be fine. It’s me who has to adapt.

You see – my baby boy, who was born approximately 5 minutes ago, is starting school. He’s got a uniform and everything. He’ll be learning important, grown-up things – and relating to people for several hours each day without any intervention from me. He’ll even have to wipe his own bum.

What do you do with a 3-day-old? Why, take him to a wedding of course! Friends, I am not lying when I tell you I knew ZILCH about babies
What do you do with a 3-day-old? Why, take him to a wedding of course! Friends, I am not lying when I tell you that I knew ZILCH about babies.

I don’t feel old enough to be a mum, let alone a mum of a school-age child. Several of my friends have become mums recently, or are shortly to become mums. They are just starting out on the journey. But despite the fact that I don’t feel very far along the road myself, I need to man up and realise that the preschool days (for Mister, at least) are over. So, to mark this transition, here are a few thoughts on the last few years.

Joel's dedication. We didn't only spend our preschool years in churches, I promise you.
Mister’s dedication. We didn’t only spend our preschool years in churches, I promise you.

I had no idea what I was doing with baby Mister. Not much of a clue when it came to baby Missy either, to be honest. But they’re still alive. Let that be an encouragement to you as you read this at some stupid hour of the morning, nursing your child whilst keeping your brain alert with a small smartphone screen and some little ramblings from a friend.

I watch you with your babes, you new mum friends, and you are utterly fantastic. You rock them with confidence. You know all their different cries, and where to pat when they have wind. You’re in tune with their rhythm. I had no.frigging.idea. God’s grace, folks. That is all.

DSC01315
Mister’s first birthday. Still loves a slide!

Then there are the Baby Groups. You need and fear these in equal measure. You need mum friends who understand and nod sympathetically and empathise and share tips and encouragements – you need to find your tribe with whom you will navigate these important early years as you raise your kids together. But you also fear becoming someone you are not. You fear only ever having conversations about nappy rash and weaning, not knowing what’s happening in the Real World, memorising breastfeeding stats, learning which Tweenie is which. You fear that you will not fit in. And I understand. I’ve been there. I arrived in a new city, had a baby, and had no choice but to frequent these groups in order to find my tribe. I found it – and breathed a huge sigh of relief. These were not ‘mumsy’ mums, with nothing to speak about but the length of time it took them to conceive – but real people, like me, flung into motherhood in a variety of situations, none of us prepared, none of us experts. Some of these early friends have become very close – and I now count it as a privilege to have a group of people around me who I can chat to about anything. You stick at it, new-mum-friend, and the tribe will come. Not quickly or immediately, but you persist and it will come.

I loved babyhood so much I did it again. Note the sarcasm.
I loved babyhood so much I did it again. Note the sarcasm.

Moving from a very structured job, with every hour marked by a bell, into the most unstructured job ever, I was determined to fill our week with activities: regular events with a start-time to aim towards – milestones, if you like, in our week. Friend, hear this: these groups rarely create community. We enjoyed baby yoga, baby signing, Tumbletots, music classes and more. Did we make long-lasting friendships in these groups? No, we did not. We turned up, did the thing, then left. Did we fork out a small mortgage? Pretty much. Do I regret it? No – I was aware of not over-filling our week, and these groups do give amazing opportunities to babies and toddlers. But we made our friendships at the children’s centre, at church toddler groups, at the spaces which were designed for us to simply sit and chat and play. Understand the difference, and you’ll be a happier mum.

I’m massively grateful for being able to have stayed at home with Mister. We’re not all in this position – but, whatever your situation, don’t fret. My friends have done a variety of different things – some at home full-time, others working part-time, others working near full-time, others taking a bit of time off then returning to work after two or three years. Don’t regret the time you can’t spend with your child – but do make the most of all the time you can.

joel and mummy
Another church shot. We really are obsessed with the place.

I never expected to feel guilty as a stay-at-home mum – but yes, guilt seems to just come as part of the parenthood package. Whatever you choose, whatever you do, there will always be some guilt attached. For me, it comes every time I fail to give the kids my full attention, any time I play half-heartedly (or not at all), any time I whack the telly on, any time I read some super-duper, arty-crafty parenting blog. The voices come thick and fast: “But you’re a stay-at-home mum! You have no excuse! You don’t have a job to fit in! You’re not juggling enough! You’re lazy!” These voices aren’t helpful. They’re from a greater force who wants to tear down every last bit of confidence we have in raising our kids. Friends, recognise that you will feel guilty at some point (maybe at lots of points) – but remember that Jesus takes it all. It is not God’s plan for you to live in guilt, because it’s not God’s plan that you shoulder the weight of parental responsibility yourself.

New-mum-friend, take heart. This is not your show. You’re in it, for sure, shaping and influencing your little person to become a great player themselves – but leave the directing to the One who knows your baby more than you ever could. Who has known them since the beginning of time. Who loves them even more than you do. When I drop my baby off at his Reception class tomorrow morning, I’ll be doing just that.

With my boy this summer. He's not a baby. Sniff.
With my boy this summer. He’s not a baby. Sniff.