No, she is not a child carer

Yesterday, I had to take my 6 year-old daughter to A&E because she had hit her head at school and cut it open. On the phone to the school receptionist I was told they’d called an ambulance because her behaviour had changed and she was very pale. I panicked, and left work as quick as I could, bursting into tears as I went down in the lift. What exactly did they mean when they said she had a cut to her head?

I got to the school ten minutes later, about 30 mins after she’d hurt herself.  She was very quiet and pale looking, and didn’t want to talk much. A teaching assistant was stood outside waiting for the paramedics to arrive, except nobody arrived, and instead the ambulance control centre rang my number an hour later, to triage her over the phone, wanting to speak to Amélie herself as well. She didn’t want to talk to the stranger on the phone, and he asked me more questions, then decided she didn’t need someone to come out to her and that we should take her to hospital instead. Quite why they couldn’t have let us know that an hour before, I don’t know. Anyway, we got to A&E and were seen by a triage nurse relatively quickly, and then by the doctor after another wait. But it was a nurse practitioner who saw my daughter after the intitial consultation by the doctor, who said something which frustrated me. I had been quite relaxed after getting Amélie to hospital and knowing she was in good hands and we knew what was going to happen. But the nurse practitioner asked Amélie a few questions just to check she could remember things ok and she was otherwise well after the head-bashing. One of her questions was about at home, and whether she  ‘helped look after Mummy’.

I see. So we went from ‘aww poor girl, she has cut her head open, let’s make her better’ – to ‘aww poor girl, she has cut her head open AND she MUST be a young carer as well, brave little thing’. She asked me if Amélie was a young carer to which I replied ‘no, she’s not’, and she said ‘no but I’m sure she has some caring resposibilities to help you, do the school know, are they aware she is a young carer?’, and so on. She told me it might be good, for Amélie, if the school were aware she might need to help me sometimes.

SHE IS NOT A YOUNG CARER! She is a 6-year-old little girl who happens to have a mum who’s in a wheelchair. The school know me well enough, and they also know I have a very caring and supportive partner who works full-time, and I have a PA who, surprisingly, fulfills the role of ‘helping Mummy’ when I’m not with my partner. My PA was sat right next to me at this point. My daughter doesn’t need to look after me.  I look after her.

Yes, she is able to fetch things for me and she can grab her baby brother out of the bathroom when he’s gone to explore the toilet, but as far as I’m concerned that does not constitute a young carer, who needs keeping an eye on to check she’s managing her complicated life okay.

If I wasn’t a wheelchair user, I’d still get my kids to fetch the baby wipes when I can’t grab them, or to run and close the stairgate when their brother is about to venture upstairs, and they are nearer than we are. I know able-bodied bodied parents that are lazier than us!

It makes sense to get kids to be helpful in their day-to-day life, and know that it’s just a nice thing to do. I hope they are helpful to their friends and teachers alike. My kids are pretty independent too, possibly because I can’t do everything for them that most mums can and  although daddy takes care of most of the physical side of childcare when he’s not working, I think they’ve learned useful tasks earlier than most kids would happen to. Amélie makes cereal for her and her sister, she can make drinks and loves that she can make her own sandwiches when she wants to. She has even taken to flying unaccompanied to Spain for a weekend get-away once a month in a rented villa she found, whilst backpacking in her gap year between nursery and primary school. She really needs the respite from taking care of her entire family.

Of course I’m joking, but on a serious note she does not need to be my carer. Young carers are amazing, and what they do for their mums, dads and siblings should never be taken for granted. And indeed, they might need someone to check-in with them every now and then to make sure things are working and that they have time for themselves. But I have my own PA, so that won’t need to be the case with our children. They’re just regular children and until I’m old and losing it, they can have their childhood.

I think the nurse practitioner may have realised that she’d gone a bit too far with her assumptions, as before Amélie had her head stitched up, she came and sat next to me and asked about my ‘medical history’  (like every parent in A&E with their child gets asked, right?!) and said that it was great that I just got on with life and that I wasn’t really disabled as I don’t let it affect me. She clearly hasn’t read this blog!

@shopgirlygm

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10 Signs You Love Parenting 

Disclaimer: please read 10 things you can’t stand about parenting’ if you’re not in a positive parenting place right now, like me most mornings. That fluffy focus-on-the-good parenting stuff needs balancing out a bit.

 

1. Spending ridiculous amounts of time just looking at your baby/child. You know their every detail to the extreme, and of course they are the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. You often feel smug when you look at people who aren’t your child’s parent (so pretty much everyone else except your partner) and gloat inwardly that they don’t get to look at your child every day. You regularly feel the urge to ferociously approach strangers crying “look at her face, she is beautiful!” because, they didn’t seem to be paying much attention.

2. Feeling that aching proud feeling in your chest when they’re so scared to swim in the swimming gala but they do it eventually. Even though they came last, they did it. All the other kids were probably doping anyway.

3. Watching your kids hug each other. It’s quite a skill to have made a little pack of humans whom you hope will confide in each other when they’re bigger and always have a friend who knows them so well. This morning I overheard my two eldest discussing how they liked ‘their baby [brother]’.

4. Wanting to bottle the smell of your baby’s head. I know it’s a cliché but if one of my kids is sat on my lap it’s quite likely that I’ll have my nose in their head (that sounds normal), which is fine until they notice and tell you to stop sniffing them.

5. Loving the power that the iPad or sweet foods has over other humans. I am God. You can make them tidy anything with the promise of an ice lolly.

6. When their favourite song goes from ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ to something over 20 seconds long and becomes ‘Paranoid Android’ by Radiohead, like my 6 year old daughter (which Daddy is very proud of).

7. Watching them learn to read, or write their own name. The months of choosing their name suddenly becomes a lot more serious. (May have set the bar quite high for our daughter Geneviève, poor kid.)

8. Sitting on the floor and having your baby crawl over to you and rest their head on your thigh. Loving that you’re what they want right now, not a brightly coloured, obnoxiously noisy toy in the corner.

9. Spending weekends watching them run around in the sun and play in trees, or even just giggle at cartoons. This is their childhood. Remembering what you remember from your childhood and realising that this is that, for them, right now. Wanting to make it brilliant.

10. Having made some freshly squeezed brand new people that are largely part of you, but are also separate beings and wanting them to be a bit like you, but also have a better life than you. You know they will probably make the world a tiny bit better.

 @shopgirlygm

10 Things You Can’t Stand About Parenting 

Disclaimer: read ’10 signs you love parenting’ for if you need to be reminded that you do love it really.
1. When someone misidentifies the gender of your baby. You may like to think you’re quite a liberal parent and want to buy your girl a red truck for her birthday, saying ‘fuck you’ to gender stereotypes, but it’s still a little infuriating when your dainty little girl dressed in a blue dress and flowery sunhat gets told she is a handsome young man.

2. Mornings when you feel your stomach acid start to bubble up due to the rage caused by the amount of times you have to tell your daughter to not just stand there in yesterday’s pants for a further 23 minutes, but actually make movements – any freaking movements at all – to get some additional kind of clothing on. And also, when you ask what on Earth they’ve been doing for the last half an hour they seem to have no recollection of their activities. Astonishing. Like it’s been erased from their memory. Which reminds me…

3. Sometimes, they remember everything. Apart from important stuff. But they do somehow remember that last week you promised them they could have packed lunch at the end of this week, and now it is Friday, 8:27am and you now have an obligation to rustle up a nutritious picnic for the clever little thing.

4. You want to be a fly-on-the-wall at school lunch time and have the power to poke other kids when they say something mean to yours. You hate the idea that your daughter is sad and you’re not there.

5. Dressing babies. Due to my disability I can’t do this myself but I’m usually the one trying to pin said baby down while others try to insert him into trousers. They should use this activity to torture prisoners – see how long they last with a baby (okay maybe just a doll) who, just when you’re getting leg #2 into place, they retract leg #1. Leg #2 then becomes leg #1 and the ordeal is repeated about ten times. It’s the same with sleeves and shoes. You all end up screaming and you put your son in a dress and be done with it.

6. They do not want you to sleep. Babies are arseholes during the night and that’s all I have to say on the situation.

7. When you’re supposed to cook something nutritious to fuel their growing bodies but you’ve just got home and it’s 6pm – fridge tapas will have to do. You boil up some pasta, add cheese and a bit of sandwich pickle, some sliced up cold sausage from the weekend BBQ, and throw in some frozen mixed veg to pretend it’s healthy. They don’t eat it, and instead have some questionable yoghurt from the back of the fridge for dinner. If they get the runs it’s their own fault.

8. Meltdowns which occur outside the home. Nothing screams “look how shit I am at parenting!” than when your child decides to lie down on the floor in the frozen section in Morrisons. You’re a mum in a wheelchair and the verbal attempts to get your child to stand up are not working. Then the Parent Samaritans rock up and offer help and you just want to scream “You can fuck off too. Leave me alone.” in their face. You’d quite like to just ignore your child and leave them to their tantrum as you might at home, but unfortunately it is frowned upon in the public arena.

9. Morning wake-up calls before 7am when you’re not getting up early to go on holiday. I love that my kids want to snuggle in bed next to me in the mornings but when they are 3 and 6 years old, it is 5.48am and within 3 minutes they are arguing about not having enough space or any covers, you regularly scream “it is MY bed, it’s not even 6 o’clock, bugger off”. You load YouTube on your phone and some sickly sweet video of some girls unwrapping Frozen-themed Kinder Eggs, and send them on their way. You’ll deal with the post-YouTube comedown later on.

10. After all the other trivial, albeit shitty stuff that happens day-to-day as a parent, you have the overwhelming sense of disappointment that you can’t give them everything you want to. You can’t promise the world will be nice to them always and you can’t promise nothing bad will happen, and that sucks.*

*Although you can help them to be strong, loving and open-minded people, and that might help with those things.

@shopgirlygm

Sorry, those GCSEs are not for you!

I’ve thought hard about writing this piece. The last thing I want is for it to sound like a disabled person droning on about something unfair that happened to them as a child or growing up. At the time I didn’t realise quite what it meant, but in hindsight, some people made some very unfair decisions.

You’re 14, and suddenly you have to choose your GCSE subjects (these are the compulsory exams children take in schools in the UK at age 15-16 that determine what college *high school* and subjects they can take in post-16 education, which subsequently determines which degree subject you go and study for, which in turn is likely to determine the kind of career you might go into) it doesn’t always work out quite like that though, and your career may have nothing to do with the subjects you chose to study as a teenager. Normally we might choose between languages like French, Spanish, German and Latin, between humanities like History, Religious Studies and Geography, and design subjects like Art, Food Technology, woodwork, electronics, metalwork and graphic design for example. Subjects like Maths, English and Science are compulsory, which is a good thing, although I’d like to think in the future young people would appreciate their free education at a young age enough not to feel like they’re being ‘forced’ to study for a Physics GCSE.

When it came to choosing my own GCSEs, there was a conversation which I think went something like this:

Head of Humanities: “Elizabeth, as you are aware the coursework project for Geography GCSE takes place, as it has done for many previous years, at Kynance Cove. This is a very rocky inaccessible beach, so basically you won’t be able to do the Geography GCSE”

Me: “…….um Okay…”

Or words to that effect. I guess that wasn’t really a conversation though, was it? Like I said before, I didn’t really notice what had just happened, at age 14. I had just been told that I wouldnt be able to do an entire GCSE because the couresework involves trips to Kynance Cove, which is beautiful I hear, never been there though personally. So given that we had to pick two humanity subjects out of three available, there wasn’t much of a choice. There wasn’t a choice at all, I would have to study History – The Industrial Revolution – and Religious Studies – not even one of the pretty colourful religions either, just Christianity and its musty damp churches. I think we only went on one school trip for RS, to visit a ridiculously tiny Church that I could barely move around in. And I do appreciate now that the Industrial Revolution was quite, um, influential and important, but at the time I wasn’t particularly bonded with the subject, although I do have the name ‘Eli Whitney’ and his Cotton Gin forever etched in my memory.

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The elusive Kynance Cove – Photograph by Hannah Blandford, one of my school peers

That wasn’t the end of the story though. When it came to the design subjects, I was told I wouldn’t be able to pick anything except Food Technology and Art, as the other subjects were too risky for me to possibly be involved in, despite having been in those classes for the first 3 years of secondary school, and I didn’t die then. I’m not quite sure why they came to this decision either, as I usually had an adult helper with me in lessons which involved me needing physical help (as I did in Food Tech and Art also, but I guess I was less of a liability with a spatula than a soldering iron) so it puzzles me as to why my school wouldn’t allow my helper to ensure that I’d be safe in these lessons in order for me to do a Graphics GCSE for the final 2 years of school for example.

Oh but that’s still not the whole story. Way back when I first started secondary school at the tender age of almost 12, I remember being quite excited that my mum had bought me the school PE (Phys Ed) kit, which consisted of a navy blue pleated skirt, I think, and a white collored t-shirt. Not very exiting you might think but it was an improvement on the itchy black leotard and plimsol days of Primary School. Ahead of what I guess must’ve been my class’ first PE lesson, I was told that instead of doing the same activities like running, long-jump, netball and even contemporary dance etc with the rest of my female peers, I’d be doing separate things with my helper. We’d spend a while in the basketball courts trying to beat my own records of bouncing a basketball, and at other times in my first few years at school I’d go to a local hotel’s swimming pool with my helper. Swimming was and still remains a good exercise for me as I can move about a lot more freely in the water, and the perks of my Dad being a Naval Officer meant as kids me and my brother had regular swimming lessons which I loved. However, this still meant I was separated from my peers and my two good friends whilst they were together playing team games and practicing for Sports’ Day, which I was never involved in for the 5 years of secondary school.

There were other times that I didn’t get to do what everyone else had the option of doing – like going on trips abroad with the school – there was a residential trip in year 6 that I couldn’t go on, and I guess we just went along with the advice from the headteacher that it’d be too difficult. I did get to go to France at the end of Year 7 though, which I loved but that was the only trip I went on. I’m pretty sure there was a skiing trip at some point, and whilst I cannot ski, well in the traditional way anyway, I’m sure I’d have liked to have tried para-skiing, or just been strapped to an inflatable doughnut an released down a mountain, whichever. But of course it wasn’t even considered that these kind of monumentous trips abroad could include a disabled student, regardless of whether or not I could ski. It would’ve been nice to go and watch and be with the other kids. Or maybe the trips abroad could’ve included more cultural adventures rather than extreme sports in order to make more events more inclusive of students with differing abilities.

The problem for mainstream schools though, is that disabled students are always the minority. So any resources and funds put in place in order to make subjects and extra-curricular activities available to all students, probably get forgotten about. Imagine if schools had a clunky old racing wheelchair, or a stool for people to sit to throw a javelin, or students’ classmates all got excited at the idea of racing their paralysed classmate down a snowy hill in toboggans. Everyone has to put up with past-it sports equipment, almost chopping their fingers off whilst using an electric wood cutter, and getting homesick whilst away with school, it shouldn’t be any different for disabled kids in mainsream education.

I’d like to think that things are different now than back in 1998 when the internet was too young for new ideas to spread and attitudes didn’t change as fast as they can do now. If you’re the parent of a disabled child, please don’t settle for being told your kid can’t be the next David Attenborough just because the curriculum might contain things they’ll find physically difficult or even impossible. Insist that they change what can be changed.

I completely regret not having been able to study Geography, I loved it for the first three years of secondary school and I know I would’ve continued to enjoy it. I’m fascinated by our world and how it formed and is still changing, and that 12-year-old girl who was really proud of the cardboard model showing gradients of hills, really wishes she could’ve had some of the same adventures as the rest of the year-group when it came to exam years.

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The cove last year, still being obnoxiously inaccessible. Photograph by Jolly Rogers, who has known me my whole life.

If you’re a teacher or a headteacher, or a head-of-department and you think there might be parts of the curriculum which aren’t within every student’s grasp, you can change it. And if you’re another disabled kid just like me, don’t be afraid to ask ‘why not?’. I didn’t, and I wish I had.

 

Reasons I love half-term

Well firstly I mean, is it really necessary? I’ve only just got over having Bertie the class bear to stay for the week in October half-term. They’ve only been back at school for about 6 weeks after having just had 2 weeks off and loads of presents and chocolate, I actually think being at school is a break for them. Calm and routine and less chocolate and movies. And they listen to teachers. They don’t bloody listen to me. They don’t even work as hard as us, why do they get a week off ‘work’ to do everything else, where is my parenting half-term? I work a lot harder than my kids and I don’t get a break. It’s just unfair.

  1. It’s 5 whole days. FIVE. Surrounded by 2 either side of the 5 days. That’s NINE days. 2 days at a time I can handle, and by Monday it’s a beautiful thing to wave to your kids at the school gates knowing they have to listen to someone else’s voice for an entire day, asking them to perform tedious tasks. Comeuppance, I say.
  2. Any sentence from a 3 year-old which begins “Shall we play…?”. Clear your throat and get ready to say ‘NO’, before the 6 year-old gets a chance to respond.
  3. Any sentence from a 6 year-old which begins “Shall we play…?”. Clear your throat again and get ready to say ‘NO’ before the 3 year-old works out what the 6 year-old wants to play and responds unfavourably.
  4. The sight, smell or mear mention of the term ‘Play-Doh’. The devil’s belly-button goo. My sister just bought a set of the bastarding pots for our now 6 year-old, and she is yet to hear what I will do to her as punishment. I haven’t decided yet but it will be harsh and she will learn never to do that again. It might start with me smearing it into her bedroom carpet and bedding.  When she has kids of her own and I get to buy them gifts, I will have the last laugh. (6 year old loves it, so that’s all that matters, apparently) 
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    Play-Doom

  5. The requests for food throughout the day. They begin at 6am when the 3 year-old requests breakfast literally as soon as her feet touch the bedroom floor, we try and hold her off for at least 30 minutes after which time she will sit in the kitchen for an hour, and eat precisely one spoonful of cornflakes. Snack requests begin immediately after being dressed. They don’t stop until they go back to sleep in the evening. Nobody can afford these kind of children. I exist mainly on tea and Aldi digestive biscuits so I don’t see why they can’t also.
  6. The sight of other peoples’ facebook updates, photographs and love for half-term. No one else needs to see how #soblessed your week with the little darlings is. Stick them in front of a movie with Nutella on crumpets and get over yourself.
  7. The sight of other peoples’ holiday photos which show that these people are just not good with money. I refuse to spend 300% more on a holiday abroad booked in the half-term week when I know that holiday destinations will be littered with other holidaying families taking up poolside loungers with more irritating children and their verrucas. If we decide to go on holiday with three kids, it will be in term-time and I will happily sacrifice their education for a week or two. I’d find court quite exciting too I think.
  8. Teachers who say “oh but children need a week off to chill out at home, they get so tired and really need it, and so do we”. THINK OF THE PARENTS PLEASE. If you care about these kids, you’ll keep your watchful eye over them so I don’t have to say “go to the bloody toilet then!” 13 million times a day. They’ll listen and pee on demand for a teacher. Also, if one needs a week off one’s job every month and a half, maybe one is in the wrong job? *
  9. When a child mentions “Mummy, can we do some cutting/painting/sticking”. RUN. RUN FOR THE HILLS.
  10. The weather. It always rains in half-term week. It’s the rule and it’s stupid. It means we can’t really go out and do anything because getting wet sucks. Kids are obsessed with wearing wellies and wellies are stupid because kids trip up in them and fall in puddles and cry. Wellies should be reserved for river-wading only, the house gets covered in streaky wet muddy marks, and then if we stay indoors all day somebody goes insane and it’s me, always me.
  11. Another half-term gem has to be the older ones waking up the 6 month-old one. He’s taken to napping for about 7 minutes, so on the rare occasion it approaches the 8 minute mark, if another child so much as exhales near him I will scream. And cancel Christmas.
  12. Needing to get out of the house to relieve the steam building up in your head through stress, but dreading the thought of walking through anywhere with other people when your 3 year-old will definitely shout out offensive observations at passers-by. Like for example when we walked past an older lady with water retention and the child exclaims “Mummy look, fat legs!” and you look, because you’re a parent and when a child tells you to look, you look, or they will shout louder.

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    A very reasonably priced child I thought.

So I propose to the schools of this country, or at least my daughters’ school, that half term consists of just 2 days. A Saturday and a Sunday beginning immediately after the last Friday of term. Then by Monday we can all be okay again and Mummy doesn’t lose her shit.

*Disclaimer: I know teachers work ridiculously hard and do amazing things for our children, despite the growing pressure they are under. And despite kids being arseholes some of the time, their teachers still encourage them.

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Cute baby – hates sleep.

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I heart half-term

What is it about half-term, that induces this feeling similar to when you realised you forgot to do your essay and hand it in at college, you know, the dreaded sensation that feels like your stomach is about to fall out of your bum? I haven’t planned anything specific for my children to do every day, other than to save money by not sending them to holiday club at nursery, which would have enriched their week no end, I guess, but instead, they are at home with me whilst I am on maternity leave. We are on I think maybe the fifth movie of the week. They’re sat watching Arthur Christmas, it’s October ffs and it’s not even 10am yet. Do I win at parenting this week?

So far the week has been peppered with arguments about whose bed of cushions is whose, who can do a better forward roll, and drawing on each other’s paper because “she’s not given it any hair so I’m doing it for her.” And then saying ‘sorryyy-a’ because she means it so much she gave it an extra syllable.

To add to the pressure of giving my children a fun-packed week of wonderfulness, we have an extra house guest for the week. Bertie the bloody class bear. Bertie has his own personal journal where’s he all braggadocious (thanks Donald Trump) about the delightful things he’s been up to since his holiday started back in September. Seriously Bertie, get a job -stop exploiting children’s weekend freedom by insisting they pose with you for photos in front of the Eiffel Tower or whatever other parents do with their little sweethearts on their time off. He really has been up to all sorts. Well I’m sorry, Bertie, your extended holiday with us might not live up to your high-society expectations. We won’t be visiting the aquarium so you can pretend that you’re interested in learning about freshwater sting-rays, and I refuse to spend £8 on a ham sandwhich and a tiny yoghurt in an imitation happy-meal box for you in the cafe. You probably won’t even eat it, you’ll just sit their sulking like when you bring a friend home from school and your parents have got the wrong kind of ketchup. Then you’ll down the fruity drink of doom in 1 long gulp and refuse to admit you need a massive wee ten minutes later.

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Bertie on the way home from school to begin his excursion. Refused to wear a seatbelt.

Bertie has so far, however, enjoyed watching his hostess go swimming with Daddy and her sister. I say watched, he napped in the bag with the towels after the obligatory photo-opportunity but after swimming he enjoyed drying under the hand-dryer after the humidity got to him, and I’m pretty sure he found this quite invigorating. Made him feel all macho and bear-like. He’s since had a ride into town in the pushchair basket, and was very content unlike his hostess, who complained about having to walk ‘for ages’ and questioned whether we were in town yet every 90 seconds even though she knows the frigging walk into town like the back of her hand, and the traffic lights at the cross-roads is not town, is it darling.

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After drying his lustrous tendrils, Bertie let Amélie dry her hair too.

Later on today we plan on walking to the newly refurbished park so Bertie can be thrown gleefully down the slide and span round on the roundabout. If he pukes I will not be impressed. But I’ve already made a large parenting cock-up by suggesting that we might walk to the park later, while the girls were getting dressed. “Might”? What the hell was I thinking? Do I not know my own children at all, and realise this will start a cascade of ‘when are we going to the park? Can we go to the park yet? Are we actually going to the park? What time are we going to the park?’ So I’ve nipped this in the bud by stating that anyone who queries when we are going to the park, will not be going to the park. Not that I will follow through with that threat, because the idea of staying in all day and policing altercations over who lost Anna’s cape and winter fucking snow boots, is quite frankly hideous (I beg you, dearest doll manufacturers, glue the sodding stilettos, boots, crowns and other garments onto these princesses, please, they don’t need to come off. At no point in Frozen, did Anna remove her boots before frolicking in the snowy mountains with Kristoff because cartoon snow is still bloody freezing) and anyway Bertie must have a lovely lovely holiday and he really wants to go to the park and have a super time.

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Bertie didn’t have anything off the menu yesterday, I didn’t know if he had any intolerances and I don’t want the blame for bear diarrhoea.

It is really going to be a wholesome and adventurous week, honestly. For all you know we might have taken an overnight trip to London yesterday and have been to the Natural History Museum already this morning, and after lunch we are nipping for a quick go on the London Eye and then cruising the Thames before catching the train home. I just can’t prove it because we left the sodding bear at home by accident which is such a shame as he would’ve loved the Big Smoke. I could’ve taken photos of the girls but we didn’t want Bertie to be jealous, we just told him we were popping to Aldi and would be back in an hour.

I know children find school exhausting by the end of half a term and they need a break, and I know half-terms are really for the teachers’ sanity so they don’t end up tying children to their chairs in their class. But I think it should be that schools send home a parenting care-package for the week, which I suppose can provide some good old-fashioned phonics fun, but really it should include daytime essentials like extra-strong PG Tips teabags, or a giftcard fot Costa, pre-made BLT sandwiches and chocolate, and also post-bedtime necessities such as a good white wine (not Chardonnay), Dominos vouchers for when our brains can only cope with phonecalls rather than trying to decide what to cook, and a list of activities to revise for tomorrow when they wake up and expect you to be all parenty and organised again. Or Netflix works just as well.

I’ll let you know if I survive the rest of the week.. Only had two cups of tea this morning so far, the girls are currently not arguing/crying/sulking/playing too loudly for my liking, and the baby is sleeping. For now.

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Bertie may have gotten a slight concussion.

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You can see how much i enjoyed the roundabout. Made my eyeballs feel like they were falling out of my skull.

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The School Mum 

My daughter, Amélie is soon going to start school. Along with thousands of other kids across the country, we’ll be getting up extra early on Monday September 7th to get her school uniform on, pack small pots with snacks and sandwiches and make a head of 4-year-old hair look suitably coiffed. Amélie will be a little nervous no doubt, but will mostly be excited, more so because she gets to use her Frozen lunch box and rucksack. I on the other hand, will be more apprehensive. 

The daunting thing is that we are both starting school that day, and aside from my sometimes unfounded anxieties about my children, I am selfishly more nervous about my new role as a School Mum. I don’t think I know which category I fit in, I’m presuming there isn’t a group next to ‘yummy mummy’ or ‘forgetful parent’ that says ‘the disabled mum’. Are there any books I can read to prepare myself for how to behave? How many people do I need to converse with at the school gates?  What do I wear? How many times is it acceptable to use the question “did you have a good summer?” Is it frowned upon to only talk to people you already know? Surely complete strangers don’t need to introduce themselves just because their respective children spend all day together? I’m imagining it might be a bit like going to the hairdressers’. Neither party in the hair cutting experience actually wants to get into the other’s personal life in the 50 minutes you are sat in the white faux leather chair, with a floor-to-ceiling mirror reflecting your own awkwardness. The hairdresser doesn’t particularly want to know if you’ve any holidays booked this year, and she couldn’t give two hoots about your perspective on the weather. If she wants to know, she can look out of the window.

I’m wondering if every school mum strives to be on the PTA. I’m not sure if there’s an audition process, or if I’d have to bake a homemade coffee and walnut cake as bribery, or if I have to be related to the janitor or something. I’m assuming it’s still somewhat of a club for moany overgrown Teacher’s Pets like when I was in primary school. I love a good moan and I’m all for supporting people to make changes that need changing, especially when it comes to something my children have to be involved in, but I’m not sure if I want to be a part of yet another battle of popularity, ego boosting and parent politics.  It’s going to be complicated enough trying to find ways to explain to new people that they don’t need to swoop in and do my kid’s coat up for me. I don’t doubt there will be a Rescue Parent rotating around and with their nose in everyone’s business at all times. Those are the kind of parent politics I’ll be dealing with!

So what sort of school mum are you? Do you always try to make conversation with the person standing next to you or is it acceptable to have moments of relative silence, not needing to know what brand of cornflakes the other buys, or how their kid scored on the spelling test? Is it important to make sure your little darlings look their best for at least the beginning of the school day, out of the fear of what other parents might think? Nobody doesn’t judge. We all do it. I like my kids to look tidy for the most part and I like their hair and clothes to look like they’ve been washed recently. No one wants to sit next to the smelly kid. But almost equally, they are kids after all and does it really matter if their shoes have yesterday’s mud on, or they have a toothpaste smear on their sleeve.* 

I do also wonder what teachers’ impressions of certain parents are. I often get anxious about the fact that I don’t often speak up about something I want to say to those looking after and educating my children. In a similar way, I get anxious and paranoid if I ask those people something which I only need to ask because of my disability out of fear of being an awkward burden. For example, at the Parent/Teacher meeting a few weeks back, I seemed to get more stressed than necessary, about needing to ask Amélie’s future teacher what the wheelchair access is like throughout the school. I don’t plan on hanging out in the playground at lunchtime, or joining in with the infants’ Christmas Production, but I need to know what kind of lengthy detours I’ll have to take to get around in the buildings my child will be in for the next 7 years, and my youngest child for three years after that. I don’t want to single my children out as those kids whose mum can’t get into their classroom for parents’ evening. 

It’s given me a lot to think about. I wonder what Amélie’s new friends will be asking their parents about the lady in the wheelchair, and what their parents will say back. You might be thinking that this is all very presumptuous to think that I will be occupying people’s thoughts this much, and that I’ll blend in with the rest of the parents waiting to pick up their little darlings and their precious offspring won’t stop to stare (which I don’t mind, by the way) and maybe you’ll be right. But experience tells me otherwise.

It hasn’t ever happened. I’ve never blended in; as much as I’ve tried, I’ve always been ‘different’. Well since I started primary school myself around 25 years ago. Attitudes have changed since then but there is still a heck of a long way to go. Just having to ask about school wheelchair access singles me out instantly. Then I have to consider the gradient of the slope into the school entrance, too steep and I’ll have to bulldoze parents (maybe some kids too) on my way in, or I’ll need help just to access the school to pick my child up.

I just don’t want Amélie to feel different in her first few years in education because her friends have noticed something different about her family. The next few days and weeks will be very telling. 

Until then, I’ll be the one lingering at the outskirts of the queue like the awkwardly misshapen carrot in the field that isn’t quite sure of its future occupation. 

*seriously, how long until a child stops wiping their toothpasted face on their clean sleeve? I’ll let you know in a few years…

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