New School Mk II

Argh, where to start? Well, we’ve been busy at Garrison Trout: we’ve moved house. Our lovely home on the beautiful Moray Firth coast finally sold, and we’ve bought fairly close to where we’ve been renting since August. I’ll give you the low-down on the new house and village another time, but in a nutshell: light, airy, warm, clean, functional, friendly neighbours, welcoming community, smiley people, hills and woods, rolling countryside, rural, happy, happy, happy.

It also meant a move to yet another new school for Maxi and Midi Minx. I didn’t take that decision lightly, remembering the full month that it took them to settle down in the last new school in August. And even then, we still had leg-clinging and tearful goodbyes for weeks afterwards. This time I went over to interview the headteacher first, to intercept any problems.

“[Maxi] doesn’t have Asperger Syndrome, but she shares an *awful lot* of traits with people who do”, I’d told him, knowingly. He looked a bit alarmed, but didn’t skip a beat. At the end of an hour’s chat, he’d worked out a plan to gently induct Maxi and Midi to the school. I’ve no idea if other kids get this kind of attention, but my word, what a star!

They first did a Friday afternoon at the beginning of February: just PE and Golden Time, so no pressure at all. The headteacher was in the playground waiting for them as we arrived, all 3 girls hiding behind my legs and clinging to each other. He called over a hello, introduced himself, and “Everyone knows you’re coming and they *can’t wait* to meet you”. Serious Maxi’s little face broke into a smile. I left them in his care and beetled off. I picked them 2 happy little girls a couple of hours later, full of tales of their new buddies (kids identified as caretakers for the newbies) and their new teacher.

Then they did the Wednesday afternoon before half-term. Like on their previous visit, I took them out the playground of their old school, with half a dozen of their friends sweetly waving goodbye to them (some really lovely kids there that the girls are now missing). Afterwards, they seemed just as happy and enthusiastic to start.

We had a long week at home for half-term immediately afterwards, where I reluctantly had to ignore them most days as I was packing up the house to move. Actually, that was quite a week: as well as packing and cleaning, and ignoring the lake in the middle of the living room (leaky window lintel), we celebrated The Boss’s 35th birthday and also celebrated Midi’s 6th birthday a day early so that she could open her presents on the last day of half-term when her Daddy was actually at home (he was heading back to Moray to supervise the removal men shifting from the old home).

So, the first day of the new term, on Midi’s actual birthday, and in shiny new uniforms – same colour as the last 2 schools, though! – they started school. I was more nervous than them, but I’m better at hiding it. I’d no need to worry – the head brought us all in early, showed the girls their named pegs, their trays, and talked them through the normal morning routine. Oh.My.Good.God… an organised induction! I swear I could see Maxi’s fret-lines disappear, and her little shoulders relaxed as The Scary Unknown disappeared in a puff of thoughtful explanation. At home time, the girls were full of tales of new buddies and yummy school dinners and everyone singing happy birthday to Midi.

The one thing that nearly reduced me to tears, though: I think I’ve said how long Maxi takes to eat. She’s linger over meals for hours if she could. She’s been like that since she was weaned. She just cuts and chews far slower than everyone. She likes to savour how her meals look and taste. I’ve tried all manner of bribes and scolds to speed her up, but realised that I’m on a hiding to nothing. At her last school, it felt like she was forever being punished for taking longer than 20 minutes to eat her lunch: she’d be made to bring her lunch tray to the foyer and finish it there, beside the toilets. And this was after receiving a scolding from the dinner lady. Contrast this with New School Mk II: Maxi was shovelling her lunch down as fast as she could, even though she was really enjoying it. The dinner lady said, “Oh don’t rush it – slow down and enjoy your food”. What a wonderful thing to say to that particular little girl! And even better: “Would you like me to stay and chat with you? Tell me about yourself?” I don’t think my little chatterbox could have been understood any better.

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We’re now starting Week 3 at the new school, and both girls have made lots of friends. From Day 3 they’ve zoomed off in the playground and not wanted to pause to kiss their Mummy and little sister goodbye. They like their teachers, they’ve started making close friends, and the brilliant thing about living in the village: playdates! And another thing: being able to walk to school in 4 minutes flat. And a final thing: last week we had our first ever home-lunch. I picked the minxes up, raced them home to a house that was reeking of my own take of stovies, they demolished it happily (first time ever…) and walked back in plenty of time for afternoon school. There’ll be lots of home-lunches now that I need to be on a serious economy drive, and now that we can actually walk to and from school and eat leisurely in time.

Yippee!! Happy, happy, happy!

Forever New Kids?

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.

Kim Jong Il, from Team America: World Police, Paramount Pictures 2004. He was “so roneree”, just like Maxi

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!

From Adventures of a Gringa in Brazil: http://gringagoestobrazil.blogspot.co.uk. Probably better that the minxes sing Bonjour la Classe…

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.

Still New Kids

21 August 2013

I sent the minxes off to school on Day 2 probably more nervous than they were. Well, I was the idiot who’d been telling them for weeks how wonderful their new school would be and how easily and quickly they’d settle in. So I’d downplayed yesterday’s events and tried to make their miserable, awkward experiences seem normal. We’d agreed some strategies for them whenever they felt lost or alone (Find your sister. Ask an adult. Smile at your sister. Tell someone you’re new and that you need help. Say Hi and introduce yourself). Just in case, I went in to the school early and had a chat with the lovely Administrator: I could ask her about the school transport snarl-up as a conversation-starter.

Right on cue, she asked how the girls were settling in.

“Well, to be really honest, they’re not: they came home feeling lonely and like they didn’t belong or fit in.” Wham. No point trying to disguise a cruise missile as a fly-swatter.

The nice lady looked shocked. I asked if new pupils normally had buddies or helpers. She tactfully pointed out that the teacher was new herself and might have forgotten.

“Would you like me to have a word with her?” she suggested. I thanked her for her kindness and agreed that it might be better and gentler coming from her.

I spent the rest of the day with Mini hoovering carpets (again…), feeding and cleaning out 2 cats, ironing next week’s school uniforms and The Boss’s shirts (I owed him some Big Favours. No way would I normally do another adult’s ironing!), doing 4 loads of laundry (I’d stupidly put the bedding in drawers that I thought were sufficiently cleaned out. The thick orangey-grey dust clinging to the bottom of my entire bedding stack shouted how very, very wrong I’d been…), baking coffee buns together, having a 10 minute snuggle on the bed, taking a car-boot-load of recycling to the dump and going for a lovely long walk through the woods behind the school and exploring the short cuts. So *we’d* had a pretty boring day with some good snippets!

Waiting at the school gates, I even made some banter with some other mums. I’m shy, awkward and socially stunted, so this was a big deal for me. Unlike their old school, when you had to collect your kids from the school door, the other mums here wait outside the school fence. In fact, you rarely see another parent in the playground. I rebelled by lolling against the fence from the inside. Safer for an over-excited Mini.

Ursus arctos middendorffi /kodiak bear/ Kodiakbär

“Buddies. Name tags. Introductions. Now. Please”
Ursus arctos middendorffi aka kodiak bear aka Grumpy Old Mummy

Maxi and Midi came out earlier than yesterday. First impressions were that the day had gone better. Maxi rated it 6/10 and an exuberant Midi gave it a 10. On closer grilling, it seems that their teacher forgot to make the name-tags for pegs and trays again. This was a big deal to 2 little girls who still felt like “unwanted misfits” as Maxi put it. They’d still not been introduced to the class. THey still didn’t have buddies. This irked me because all the little P1s had buddies, but Midi, who at 5 was probably younger than a few of the P1s, didn’t. At drama, they’d done a little exercise to introduce the kids to each other. Yet Midi hadn’t been given a chance to be one of those involved and was still angry about that. Maxi noted that people generally thought they were twins. That’ll be interesting – there’s 2 years biological and social age between them even if their height difference is only an inch or 2. This might explain why Maxi is so frustrated at the easy classwork she’s been given the past 2 days…? They’d enjoyed their school dinners greatly and had started to mix with the other kids in their class, so that was progress.

I’ll give you an example of the minxes’ differing approaches, though. At school, the girls’ toilets light is activated automatically. Maxi didn’t realise this, and rather than cause a fuss or ask anyone, she assumed the toilet was broken and didn’t go in. Midi, on the other hand, barrelled up to the first person she met: “Hi, I’m new, my name is xxx. Why is the toilet light not working?” I don’t think I need to worry about Midi fitting in. I wish both Maxi and I were more like Midi! 😀

New Kids on the Block

20 August 2013

8am, excited about going to school

8am, excited about going to school

Day 1 of the New School and new school year and all did not go well: Maxi Minx summed up her day as 4/10 and Midi assessed hers as 2/10. What went wrong?

We arrived at the school in plenty of time because I needed to give the lovely, efficient Administrator more details for the 3,557 forms I filled in last week (we now have a landline and a GP) and pay her the money for Maxi’s school uniform. Luckily I had it all ready in a sealed envelope as the poor woman was busy with lots of other new arrivals: the school roll jumped by around 12% in the holidays, if my counting is right. I asked where we should go to start the day. She assured me that the Head would go outside and tell everyone where to line up. I was strongly discouraged from coming into the school, too. So I shuttled the girls outside and waited for the bell.

Oh right, the bell… they don’t have one. Or at least, one that I could hear. I saw the Head appear. He looked at 3 rough lines and started filing one line of kids in. Maxi, Midi and I huddled at the back of the playground looking lost. He filed in another line. Hmmm… I ushered the girls into the back of the last line and told them to remind him that they were new and where was their classroom, please? The door was slammed shut right behind them. So my last sight of my little 5 and 7 year olds was of them being ignored as they asked questions. I shushed my inner dragon who wanted to march round to Reception and sort it all out, and I walked away with an upset Mini, who was already missing her sisters. Her sisters are confident, resourceful little girls; their teacher knew they were new; they’d be just fine.

Except they weren’t. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled going to unusually supportive schools as a pupil 100 years ago and a parent, so I just expected that 2 new pupils would be introduced to the rest of the class by the teacher. I assumed that they would have a named coat peg and tray. I assumed that they’d be allocated a buddy who’d show them round for the first few days, or at least be given a named person they could ask things of. Nope. Nothing like that. Maxi claims to have spoken to 3 of her classmates all day; Midi to 4. They spent the whole day feeling confused and just following what everyone else was doing.

I asked about playtime – didn’t they talk to people then? Maxi was too horrified at some little boy legging it off to pee in the bushes. I wonder how many playground supervisors there are? Maxi also spent most of her playtime trying to find the toilet and find her way back again. She claimed to have asked other people, but not really gotten much help. I say ‘claim’ – she’s pretty reticent about speaking to strangers for any reason.

When I picked them up at 3.15, they were left till almost last, at 3.30. Even though Midi was pointing out that she could see me in the playground, she was ignored. Perhaps because there was a big mix-up with Maxi being on the school transport or not (her teacher was adamant that she was; she insisted that she wouldn’t go on without her sister. Either way, the school got it wrong, because the Council say that because we live 1.8 miles away from school, it’s ok for the kids to walk to school along a busy 70mph dual carriageway and we’re not entitled to transport).

Anyway, the girls barrelled out of school looking sad, fretful and upset. We had a long chat about it and I tried not be critical within their earshot. Apparently their teacher forgot to do their name tags and promised to do them tonight if she remembered. I reminded the girls how I’d found out where to buy their dinner tickets and where the office was (“Hi, I’m new around here. Please can you tell me…?”) and coached them to do the exact same. I explained that self-reliance and resilience were really important lessons for them to learn, but privately I didn’t really envisage them having to do this kind of thing till they were a fair bit older. Perhaps I’m babying them too much?

So while the elder 2 minxes were feeling vulnerable, lonely and like misfits (their words), me and the youngest minx had a boring old day hanging around waiting on an Ikea delivery – a new bed for me and The Boss! Ahhhh, no more sleeping in the softest, dustiest mattress in the world! (Yes, ‘in’, not on: it sank down that much…). Mini moped around a lot missing her sisters and her Daddy, but perked up when we played outside with the football, the Frisbee and the seesaw. She helped me do some cleaning and tidying (I can’t miss a single day – it’s too big a job. I stopped counting the number of Dyson-containers of dust emptied after the 7th one went, by Day 4) and happily helped me do a big shopping at the ASDA near The Boss’s work. I’d texted him to suggest we meet for lunch, but he didn’t get the text till too late. He said he’d arrived to see us turn down the slip road. Funnily enough, I was off on a quick drive-past of his work – I’d seen a fire engine head that way towards a plume of black smoke. It was the unit next to his work. And I’m not paranoid. Or a stress monkey. Oh no.