Thurs 22 August 2013
Week 1 Day 3 and the minxes were so tearful and unhappy about going to school that I decided to pay a visit to their teacher before class. We had a good, productive chat.
I explained that Maxi was a very anxious child and that moving house one weekend and starting a new school the week after was bound to affect her adversely. The teacher hadn’t realised that we’d moved house too. Yep, right across the country. She instantly came up with half a dozen examples of Maxi’s anxiety bubbling over. See? Told you she was unsettled. It gave me a beautiful opening, though, to explain that not having named coat and tray tags would be no big deal to most, but when a child is already very anxious, upset and feeling friendless and like a misfit, it’s A Very Big Deal indeed. I let the words ‘friendless’ and ‘misfit’ and ‘outsider’ sink in. The teacher apologised for not doing the tags: she’d forgotten again. I let a little silence descend instead of reassuring her that it was ok. Well, that’s what you normally do when someone apologises to you, isn’t it? But it wasn’t ok. The girls had asked for 3 days, now. When the silence got painful I suggested that she get the girls to do their own. She brightened. Then I asked what the Normal Procedure was, when new kids joined the school: did they get buddies? Helpers? She un-brightened and didn’t answer that question, but instead suggested that Maxi sit beside a responsible kid. Yes please. Instead of the little kid who it seems has been in trouble constantly from the first minute. Lovely child, I’m sure, but probably not the best to help ease Maxi and Midi into new surroundings.
Naively I thought that would be that. I like the teacher: she seems very approachable, friendly, interested and caring. But the girls continued to struggle to settle down and make friends. Perhaps they were finding it hard because they’d been effortlessly gregarious before? Maybe. But Maxi only got to sit beside a responsible kid for 2 days before being moved back to sit beside the original one for the forseeable future. Most days I had at least one minx tearfully cling to me at the school fence, begging me not to leave them. A couple of the other kids came up every single morning to say hiya (bless ’em!), but Maxi and Midi reportedly didn’t have any friends.
What’s a mum to do? I can’t go in and make their friends for them. I can’t force their teacher to introduce them to the rest of the class. The golden moment for giving them buddies was gone by Day 3. I don’t want to mollycoddle them – learning to fit in is a really important life skill that I, as a social retard, struggle with now. But on the other hand, I don’t want them – ok, Maxi – to go through this massive angst unnecessarily. What’s the right balance to strike?
Maybe by the end of Week 2, start of Week 3 I saw some glimmerings of hope: they got invited to another girl’s birthday party, and Midi started talking about friends. Yep. Friends, plural. It didn’t bother Midi so much that she didn’t know anyone – she’s quite happy to barge on in and introduce herself to anyone. As I’ve said before, how I wish I were more like my second daughter with her calm, assured, self-confident approach to life! Maxi, however, still insisted that she had no friends at all and rarely spoke to anyone.
Last week (Week 3) I went in to see the headteacher when both girls complained that an older boy had tried to punch Midi in the dinner queue, and had threatened Maxi a few times. The head didn’t seem that concerned, though a curious expression filtered over his face when I said, “I mean, I’m happy teaching them how to deal with that kind of bullying myself, but I thought you should know first”. As my hair is a nice, conventional bleached pale lemon, I don’t look like a scary aggressive blue-haired monster, so I wonder if it was the word ‘bully’ that triggered a reaction, rather than the thought of me teaching the kids to defend themselves? I also landed on him that the girls hadn’t settled in at all; they weren’t meeting or talking to people and felt that they had no friends. I asked again about Normal Procedures for new kids arriving, and pointed out that Midi was younger than some of the P1s who still had buddies helping them, despite also having a transitional period; she’d had neither. He also didn’t answer the question, but explained that the kids were all encouraged to seek out and befriend lonely-looking children. (To be fair, I’d certainly seen some of the younger children especially do just that, every morning). I asked that he could keep an eye out for any opportunities coming up where Maxi and Midi could maybe meet and talk to more children that they would otherwise. He faithfully promised.
And blimey, within a week, Maxi was in the Pupil Council and had spoken on her own at assembly twice, representing the News Group and describing what the burning of the clavie was!
It’s now the end of Week 4 and I’d say that I’m finally no longer concerned. They still have the odd wobble (Maxi sobbed on me yesterday when I dropped her off, and at the beginning of the morning. Her teacher had established that she was missing her old friends and school) but they’re both looking much happier: I see them talking and playing with other kids in the playground in the morning; they don’t have meltdowns if I drop them off then leave before their lines are called in; even Maxi is giggling again. They’re also grumbling about “too easy homework” (ha – it’s not too easy!) and about school dinners being better at the old school (probably – 6 week rotating menu there instead of 4 now, and they got more vegetables in Moray), so situation normal.
And my impressions of the school? I like it. I like it a lot. I’m really impressed with the staff, even if my moaning above hints otherwise! I think their teacher is very caring and thoughtful and I like the ideas and direction that the head is leading the school in. The staff seem like a happy team, as far as you can judge from observing them every day shepherding kids onto buses and to waiting parents – talk about herding cats! And it’s little things: one wee boy wasn’t really sure where to get off the school bus or whether anyone was going to meet him, so the head reassured him that he’d follow the school bus in his car and make sure he got off ok and was met. The wee boy stopped crying and looked so grateful it made your heat pang!
I love the curriculum. I was happy with what they did at the old school, but now they also get Drama, Music and French once a fortnight, and seem to do more science (they were deeply impressed with an experiment involving vinegar and bones). At PE the other day they learned yoga. I’d love Maxi to learn yoga because I’m sure it would help her chill out and focus, and I told her teacher how brilliant I thought it was. As for listening to 3 little minxes swaying on the back seat of the car, singing, “Bonjour la classe! Je m’appelle (insert name of appropriate minx)“, well, I don’t know what to make of that! There’s something about hearing your little 3 year old lisping in French that makes this grumpy old heart melt.