The Guilt of a Single, Working Mum

13 Jul

Random survey – how many of you out there are full time working mums? I’m after some top tips for trying to become guilt free!

I’m not going to be able to go to Lily’s talent contest this week. Only the second school event I’ve missed but I fear not the last. And I feel equal measure of guilt and sadness! It’s not like her second parent can go instead is it?!

I wish I could afford to go part time but as a single mum…never gonna happen!

So, as I reflect on the past academic year for Lily and I, send me your working mum survival tips please!! :-)

Tales from the classroom 2

12 Apr

Promotion

Everyton Comp was my second job in my career. I’d stepped up the ladder and was now 2nd in charge of English three years after qualifying. Well done me! Though by today’s standards I had taken my time and would now be considered unambitious… ‘just’ a classroom teacher. The bottom of the heap. The pariah of the educational community. The root of all evil, complacency and youth crime. However, in the old days you worked your way up, collecting experiences as you went, doing work for free to show you were willing to learn and wanted to make sure you did the best job possible. You did not turn up fresh from college or on the job training and dictate that your way was the most innovative, inspirational and original way of sitting children in rows.

Everyton was in a once thriving mining community in South Yorkshire. Now the village was a heap of scruffy council houses, unemployment and over worked social workers surrounded by more affluent villages in the rural outlays. The comp was in its second incarnation, the first having been destroyed in an arson attack by some bored students years before. It truly was a comprehensive school with children living in extreme poverty jostling with those who went on skiing holidays biannually with a trip to Disney thrown in between.

Motivation

Inevitably exam results were not where they should have been according to government targets but what do governments know about the barriers families in low working class areas of deprivation face? When people knew where I worked they were horrified and asked if I was ok and safe! Being an immigrant from the North East, I was unaware of the area’s reputation. It didn’t put me off. In fact I found that coupled with the label of failing school and the area’s problems, the staff were incredibly supportive and the children amazingly kind.

Now. With this kindness also came pockets of extreme behaviour and a level of passivity that I, in my university educated bubble, had never experienced before. For many it was enough to just get to school…doing work there as well? Don’t be daft, Miss!

This particular morn I was aiming to get my Year 11 class (15-16 year olds) to organise themselves into groups and discuss the whys and wherefores of Macbeth’s downfall. Was it his fault? His wife? Fate? We’d done a lot of background to the story researching the supernatural and the role of women in Shakespeare’s time. We had done drama lessons exploring Lady Macbeth’s guilt to the soundtrack of ‘Insomnia’ by Faithless in a darkened drama studio. We had watched the modern BBC ‘Macbeth on the Estate’. We had explored peer pressure; mental health issues; modern day crime. Heck, we’d even read the text…the original script…the one that Shakespeare actually wrote! We were, in short, as ready as we would ever be to get the discussion rolling in preparation for writing an essay down the line.

Discussion

Groups of friends had huddled together around badly positioned tables (I still do not understand why the prospect of ‘group work’ renders all students incapable of joining two rectangular tables together to create a square). Because friendship groups had been allowed in this instance there were two tables of between 5 – 6 boys per table arrangement and then several sets of perfectly organised girls, 4 to a group. Then there was Sarah. No one wanted to work with Sarah. She’d already ‘done time’ and was currently awaiting a court appearance for verbally abusing three police officers in the village whilst they tried to prevent her stealing a little old lady’s shopping bags. You may have seen Sarah in her later years. She occasionally popped up in ‘The Sun’, ‘The Mirror’ and even made a couple of appearances on ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show’! Sarah snarled at anyone who came near her. She was happy to do this on her own.

The task had been set. Each group had a series of statements to consider and they knew which specific area their group was going to feedback on. It was important to consider every statement however as these would form the basis of said future coursework essay. This instruction would of course make no difference. Students would simply just do ‘their’ statement and would “be reet” when it came to writing their essay! Immediate hubub ensued. None of it to do with ‘Macbeth’ obviously. Group work clearly means Miss isn’t expecting us to start til we’ve caught up on the gossip that’s occurred since we saw each other fifteen minutes ago in the Science block(!)

I went round each group encouraging them to make a start, ensuring EVERYONE was writing down the notes in their books, cajoling those who claimed they didn’t have a clue what was going on until finally I was convinced most students were on task and the noise became more purposeful.When the noise level began to rise I reminded of the need to find quotations from the text to support what they had said. The noise level dipped for a bit longer. The odd screech from self appointed team leaders as they admonished those “sitting on their arses doing nowt, Miss” but generally it was a fairly good working atmosphere.

I was initially impressed with the group of lads at the back left corner of the classroom. Not only did they seem much more animated than the rest of the groups in terms of engagement with the task, they were all leaning forward as if intent on hearing every single morsel of their team’s discussion. This was particularly pleasing given the make up of the group. Gareth who rarely attend school; Tom who is far too cool to come to school with pen, planner, bag and positive attitude to learning; Jack who was stoned for most of his existence; Adam who quite liked school but just didn’t quite ‘get’ anything and Mark…the team leader…the one all the girls in years 11, 10, 9, 12 and even 13 fawned all over. It was not your typical study group. Obviously, now I was into my fourth year of this teaching lark I was much more attune to ‘situations’ such as these. Rather than being pleased- they-were-quietly-getting-on-with-something-and-quite-frankly-I-didn’t-care-what-just-so-long-as-they-weren’t-mean-to-me…I was actually suspicious. I had been hoodwinked many times in my first few terms but I was becoming wise, hardened, no longer an idealist!

Comparison

I wandered around the room assessing progress and approached the boys. It went quiet.

“What are you up to, gents? Getting on ok?”
“Yes, Miss”
“What conclusions are you making?”
“Wha-?”
“About, Macbeth. Do you think he’s to blame for his own bad luck? Or is it down to something else?”
“Er, dunno, Miss”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“We don’t know, Miss”
“Have you been discussing the key statements?”
“No, Miss”

At this juncture I notice something on the table and begin to step away. Slowly.

“What have you been doing then?”
“Comparing pubes, Miss”, says Gareth removing his hand from his crotch and adding to the pile in the middle of the table.

Conclusion

Well. What do you say at a moment like that? I chose to take the obvious route.

“Gentlemen. Could you now consider whether you think Macbeth deserves what he got. I will be asking you to feed back first”. And I walked to the next group of busy students.

Tales from the classroom

9 Apr

Beginnings

“You may not wear trousers. You will only wear a skirt below the knee. You will not wear short sleeves or sleeveless tops. You will not wear a v necked top.” These were not school rules for the children. Oh no. These, my friends, were the words from the Headmistress of my first teaching placement Catholic school! My partner and I looked at each other. The Head had just wiped out every item in our wardrobe. We would have to go shopping!

Long skirted and sleeved we found ourselves walking up the path to the first teaching experience of our lives. We had so many meetings with so many staff it’s hard to untangle them all. They are all stuck together like threads in plasticine!

First of all we would need to know how to use a computer. A what?

Then we had to learn to lead prayers.

What scheme of work were we thinking of writing? Fox hunting? Hmmn…in a rural area? Were we sure?

We were going to volunteer to help with the school production weren’t we?

And sex education…we did know that we were delivering it to the worst year 9 class in the school didn’t we? As a tutor you realise how important it is that you ‘get involved’? Well yes, but given the subject matter, not THAT involved…surely?

One condom, a banana and a raft of taboo words later, we were on our way.

Finally teaching

After much discussion, late nights and the odd cocktail during Happy Hour my teaching partner and I were nowhere near ready to team teach our first lesson. But. Here we were. In the staff room. After break duty. With wads of paper, chalk, photocopies. Mrs. Nice-but-you-wouldn’t-cross-her was walking us along the corridor. I carelessly mentioned I could do with popping to the loo. More as a light hearted attempt to alleviate my nerves. “You must never neglect your bladder, Samantha! Never! If that is the only thing you learn from this TP then let that be it!” And with that we were being escorted to the staff loos.

Zoe and I had decided who was to go first in the sequence of teaching. It was me. It was a shaky start but the kids were nice and were either too bored to notice me or too polite to say anything. Difficult when it’s a speaking and listening unit. However, on we ploughed with photos of carcasses of fox eaten rabbits, carcasses of foxes ripped to shreds and photos of Hunt Sabs and red breasted riders battling it out in the English countryside. For or against? I’m not sure anyone was particularly bothered to be honest. The meaning of why became clear when Zoe moved to the back of the room.

Malfunction

The students were looking at her and trying to hide a smirk, failing, then letting their compadres in on the ‘secret’. The secret turned out to be Zoe’s attire.We had carefully followed the dress code since our first meeting at the University Education department. Today I was wearing a white t-shirt and a floor length dress over the top…doubly sure. Zoe, a pencil skirt with a floaty white blouse tucked in. And herein lay the problem. As Zoe bent down to assist one of the many students who suddenly, like wild fire, were requesting assistance around the room, the matter was revealed. Literally. A full frontal attack on teenage senses. The loose fitting scalloped neck blouse was so loose fitting that when she leaned forward it was indecent. Immediately realising the issue I tried to illegally communicate with her across the classroom. She just thought I was asking her to go see another student. It resulted in more students being aware of her underwear than I had hoped. Fortunately Mrs nice-but-you-wouldn’t-cross her hadn’t noticed. Yet. She and two short sighted students sitting near the front. Zoe could take the suspense no longer and broke protocol to speak to me during the lesson. The peep show was over, more prohibited items of clothing were added to our repertoire, but we had survived our first lesson!

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

I’m mentally ill. Not a criminal!

6 Apr

We still haven’t got to grips with dealing mental health issues yet. It’s not just about ‘feeling down’, feeling a bit fed up! It is an illness which prevents you from physically and mentally being able to do the simplest things. It’s the crippling effort it can take to get out of bed each day; to feed yourself; to leave your home.. let alone get to work and manage your duties.

I have always been one to put ridiculous amounts of pressure on myself. I can see where the origins of this lie: when my parents split up I threw myself into school work and activities. If I wasn’t getting 100% in tests I had a meltdown! In my career I did the same…promotion after promotion after promotion. I had learned to use school, university, work to avoid the other stresses and strains of life. However, avoiding something doesn’t mean that the ‘something’ completely disappears.

My mental health was beginning to take a downward spiral. I was drinking too much; I was barely eating; I was having horrific nightmares…during the daylight hours. A work colleague noticed and they talked to me.

Depression and PTSD

The result was that I finally disclosed a rape from 12 years previously. There then began a very long and arduous battle with depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The doctor put me on anti depressants but these made me feel suicidal. The doctor didn’t believe it was the pills and prescribed counselling. I had a 6 month wait and the pills were making me feel worse.

I managed my workload but alongside that I was managing the symptoms of depression and PTSD. What did this look like? For me it was flashbacks to the rape triggered by a number of different things: a smell; a tune on the radio; a word; a physical feeling; the time of day. Flashbacks made me feel intensely frightened for my life. I had panic attacks, I would cry. It eventually lead to a period of not leaving my flat for three months for anything other than medical appointments and to get food. I was too scared. But then I became scared of my own flat. In addition to this I couldn’t sleep, I lost weight, I couldn’t think clearly and the pills still made me feel suicidal. Indeed I found myself in A&E being assessed by the on call psychiatrist at least three times. The conversation always went the same,

Psychiatrist: Why did you take too many pills?
Me: Because I was raped and the feelings I have with that get too much and I just want to forget about them for a while.
Psych: So you don’t want to kill yourself?
Me: No, I want to feel better.
Psych: So you won’t do it again?
Me: No.
Psych: OK. I’ll write a note for your GP then you’re discharged.

And repeat…

Let battle commence

I worked my way through different counsellors including the one originally assigned to me by my doctor, Rape Crisis, Victim Support, ones I paid for privately. None of them were making me feel any differently. I finally, with the encouragement of that work colleague, went to the surgery again and demanded to see a GP who specialised in mental health. Eventually, things began to change. He altered my prescription and referred me to Cognitive Behaviour therapy. But this had taken 18 months.

The battle continued with further visits to A&E and consults with the on call psych until the GP found an anti depressant that didn’t make me feel suicidal. I drank too much while I was waiting for a drug that worked. The drink meant I was able to forget for a short while. I went clubbing 3 or 4 times a week. My CBT therapist gave me exercises to face my demons and desensitise myself to some of my memories so I could function. I finally plucked up the courage to report the rape to the Police and an investigation began with everything that that entails: interviews; statements; more interviews…

Alongside my battle with my mental health I was still managing my career. I had the odd day off, then the three month incarceration in my flat, back to the odd day. The colleague I had originally confided in was a huge support and tried to convince me to talk to my managers. But I didn’t. I was too afraid of the stigma. And I couldn’t take time off…the guilt.

My hand was forced after an A&E visit that resulted in me having to be kept in. I couldn’t keep my mental ill health a secret anymore. I had to tell. But aside from personal support from individual colleagues there was no specific approach from the organisation. So I continued my battle securing a promotion as a Head of Department. From the outside looking in I looked everything like the successful career woman! Only those close to me knew the reality.

Mental ill health in the workplace

My CBT therapist was superb and I am convinced he saved my life. I continued to meet with him on a weekly basis for 2-3 years. And the flashbacks and panic attacks began to recede. I didn’t drink to blot things out anymore. I had started to tell my family and friends what I had been dealing with. When the police investigation reached its peak I had a bit of a setback and ended up being off work for two to three week stretches as I dealt with the fallout from the investigation. Again, some work colleagues noticed I was struggling. They didn’t know why but they took the time to ask me and I felt I could tell them. They offered me personal support but again, from a whole organisational point of view, there was very little done to take away my anxiety about the stigma of mental health at work.

In contrast, a few years later I had a cervical cancer scare. The reaction to this physical ill health was so different. Sympathy, flowers, messages of concern and support. A meeting! A meeting to see if anything could be done to help me be able to do my job! I got none of this throughout my five year battle with mental ill health!

Time to change

It’s the 21st century. I really struggle with society’s treatment of mental health issues. Just because you can’t see the reasons why a colleague is having so much time off work or isn’t handle their duties well does not mean they are not ill! We have a responsibility as individuals and as organisations to educate ourselves about mental ill health and remove the stigma. Stringent support mechanisms need to be in place. The law needs to be followed. See http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/your-organisation/support-workplace

I guarantee someone you work with right now will be fighting their own battle. They may be fighting to get up in the morning. They may be fighting invisible fears you can’t possibly see or comprehend. They may be fighting for their life. If you think someone you work with may be suffering, talk to them! Ask them if they are ok? Don’t accept the, “Yeah I’m fine” answer…make em a cuppa and offer to have a proper chat. You could, quite literally, be saving a life – like that colleague did mine.

Top tips needed for starting a new job in a new workplace!

26 Feb

In preparation for starting my new job, I’ve been reading Michael D. Watkins’ The First 90 Days – all about the fact you have just 3 months to ‘set out your stall’ in a new position. It gives suggestions of things you should and shouldn’t do in order to be successful and create a positive impression in your new role.

It then got me reading about organisations that are failing. Somehow it feels easier to learn from a system that’s struggling – it’s sometimes hard to spot what makes a successful organisation so outstanding because they do it so well it looks effortless! But you watch an organisation that’s lacking and you can’t help but be filled with ideas of what should be happening!

This will be my first new job in a new organisation in over 14 years! What are your dos and don’ts for making sure my first 90 days are successful?

Thanks!

With every germ of truth, her heart breaks a little more…

8 Nov

I’ve had a very difficult conversation with my 5 year old daughter tonight. She has always known about her birth family- everything I tell her is the truth but it is age appropriate. She summarised all that she knows so far and then asked me a very difficult question about them.

I have always vowed to be honest with her – after all it is her story not mine. So. I was truthful with my answer. And I think I broke her heart a little :-(

Adoption is a really, really amazing thing! I’m so lucky. But with it comes the knowledge that your child has had a heartbreaking start. You can’t take that away from them and each time they learn something new about life before their forever family, their heart will get broken a little bit more.

For some children the hurt and abuse is so much that they won’t ever really recover or will find it difficult to form any kind of trusting relationship. Going to the park or to the shops might be too much for them to cope with. Being told off in public will reinforce their deep seated feelings of rejection and they will withdraw or behave so badly that any ‘normal’ form of discipline just doesn’t touch them.

But it’s these children who need forever families more than ever. Sadly the longer they have to wait the more ‘unadoptable’ they become. If you or anyone you know is thinking of adoption (or fostering) I’d urge you to look into it.

Hopefully this link will work. It’s a really good intro to the basics you have to face re adoption.

http://www.adoptionuk.org/sites/default/files/documents/LetsLearnTogetherNIMarch2013.pdf

Thanks for taking the time to read

It’s National Adoption Week 2013

3 Nov

It’s National Adoption week this week. To dispel a few myths I’ve had to tackle over the years…

No I didn’t adopt cos I felt I was a failure!

Yes I realise I am single…single parents are not the enemy you know! My mum brought up three university graduates all on her own. What finer role model could I have asked for?

What will I do for Childcare? The same as other working mums…find a wonderful childminder!

Yes I’d like to have given Lily a forever daddy as well as mummy. Unfortunately I haven’t been lucky enough to find a decent guy…should I have left Lily where she was?!

I suppose I could have given birth to a child, but I chose to be the mummy of a child who was already here.

Lily IS my own child.

Of COURSE she calls me her mummy…I AM her mummy!

Yes she knows all that it is age appropriate to know of her birth family. After all it is HER story, not mine to hide away. And one day if she wants to meet them I will be by her side.

Of COURSE I love her…she’s my baby!

Across the UK 4,000 children are waiting to find an adoptive family, but for 1 in 4 it is likely to remain only a dream. And for every year a child waits their chances of being adopted reduce by 20%. National Adoption Week is for anyone who would like to help change this, so that every child waiting in care finds somewhere they can feel safe and loved. We ask you to think about the children who wait the longest. Please consider making room in your life and your heart and start your journey below…

http:// nationaladoptionweek.org.uk/

Thank you

Not for the faint arted

30 Jun

Originally posted on How we laughed!:

I love the idea of being ‘arty’. But the fact is, I’m not.

I studied Art ‘O’ level years ago – 1985-87. I had to fight to be able to mind. I was strongly encouraged to choose an ‘academic’ subject. Fortunately I was a stroppy cow even then and stood my ground. I can’t remember being particularly good at art as a kid or being especially talented. I did enter a competition to design a poster for The Language Festival in 1985 in my 3rd year of secondary school. Came first with a tribute to Toulouse Lautrec dontcha know?! I enjoyed drawing and I wanted some light relief in amongst the Latin, chemistry and maths I was going to be studying.

I was disappointed with my lessons once they got going to be honest. Our motely crew had to share our teacher with 6 form photography students – guess who…

View original 1,436 more words

Well it’s what you wanted!

30 Jun

It’s been 9 months since I had any ‘me’ time. By that I mean a whole 24 hours all to myself: no morning routine to abide by; no child to get ready for school or drop off at childminder’s; no job to do; no chores at home that must be done in snatched moments of time before bed.

Before I became a mum one of the main pieces of advice people kept telling me (aside from “Calpol is the answer”!) was to make sure I made time for ‘me’. Especially as a single mum.

Let’s be clear…I set out to be a single mum all on my own. I wasn’t in a relationship with someone and now have an ex who shares my daughter at weekends. I didn’t become a widow. I was already single and decided I wanted to be someone’s mum. Well. Now I am. And when I feel like this – knackered and burnt out – I have only one course of action…suck it up! I chose this life you see…it’s what I wanted…so tough tanarnies!!

Hmmm…this martyr business is wearing thin. I want a break. Actually, no….I NEED a break. And I don’t mean an hour snatched at the end of the school day when Squidger goes to swimming or Rainbows. Don’t get me wrong…these precious two hours are gratefully received but they’re often spent doing an extra hour at work or getting a bit of shopping in. Once in a while I’ll get home early and drink a cup of tea in silence! Generally these little breaks keep me going through the week. But I now need a proper break.

Let’s explore this ‘me’ time people speak of…’Get up an hour earlier’ someone advised me. Are you insane?? I already get up at 6 and this is a huge stretch. I go to bed between 10 and 11 to get a full 8 hours. Getting up at 6 is a nightmare! When I do, I have enough energy to shower and get Squidger ready and that’s about it! Squidger is up at the same time anyway…she has the ears of a bat and can sense when I’m up before I’m even up. All getting up earlier will achieve is the same routine at 5 am but us both sitting around like lemons ’til it’s a reasonable hour to go to the childminder!

I try to ‘relax’ in the evening. 7pm comes around and I’ve a whole 3 hours to myself! Whoop! Three hours to make packed lunches, sort out uniform and do one of the household chores eg clean bathroom surfaces. I used to save all the chores ’til Saturday morning…not great! I now have all the chores split evenly throughout the week. If I do one 15 minute job every night I need only do a cursory Hoover on Saturday and get the wash on! So, my three hours in the evening are reduced to perhaps two and a half. Two if Squidger doesn’t go to sleep on schedule(!) I may spend these two hours watching TV, or reading or bathing. Generally, they keep me going. But as we speak…I need a proper break.

Some people find refuge in their work when home life is really busy. I’m a teacher. Secondary school, with some challenging classes. There’s not much down time in my job. Lessons aren’t copying out of a text book you know. It takes oomph to be engaging (Did I mention my OFSTED ‘outstanding’ judgement from last week?!) in a classroom! I sometimes forget/don’t have time to a) drink and b) pee during the course of a working day. And I don’t really class going to work as ‘me’ time. My time is being paid for and I’m earning my keep!

Weekends…surely time for ‘me’ there? Well, you know what I do Saturday morning! The rest of the weekend often involves a Squidger type activity…a party or a trip out somewhere, usually interesting to the both of us. I also encourage Squidge to play by herself…and she does…brilliantly. But I am then subjected to a couple of hours of ‘Barbie, The Opera’ as she sings her way though the various dramas of 12 plastic dolls and their compadres. Our flat is small. There is no escape.

So. ‘Me’ time. What does it look like to me as an ideal? Well, pretty much what it looked like before I became a mum…its defining feature? Peace. That’s it. Were you expecting massages, book reading, walks along the beach? All I need…but I do need it really badly right now…is peace. Home is noisy, my job is noisy, life is noisy. Most of the time I thrive on this. But. It’s been 9 months since my daughter went to stay at her aunty’s for the week because our October half terms didn’t coincide. I cried when I left her. I came home and the house was too empty and sad without her. The quiet was sometimes too much. But I needed it. I didn’t realise at the time but it helped to recharge me.

We’ve had a particularly busy couple of months: Lily’s dear Grandad (Foster carer) died; we lost our nanny and had to start a whole new routine with a new childminder; Squidge put herself in A&E, “Is that Lily’s mummy? She’s had a fall. She’s unconscious. We’ve called an ambulance”; at work our new school year starts in June, not September, so I’ve had all new classes to deal with and Ofsted to boot; Lily’s started Rainbows and swimming; she’s also turned 5 and has all the chutzpah of a 15 year old!

I’m so, so lucky. I adore Lily and I love our life, but this week end (the past two weeks?) my patience has been less than paper thin. I need some peace and 24 hours of it please. I’ve done the usual – bath, book read, walk. It’s not enough. I need recharging and I need some peace before I tackle the next 9 months. It’ll come and there’s little pockets of me time coming in the next couple of months. In the meantime: no radio on the way to work; I’ll continue bathing and reading in the evenings; I’ll try and come home early and enjoy that Rainbows cup of tea, just to tide me over til I get my 24 hours.

If all else fails, I might try that Calpol stuff out myself.

Image

Silent Sunday

13 May

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