Mayhem and Stardust

We are the proud parents of, amongst others, Jig, who has a handsome collection of diagnoses (ADHD, AD, FASD) which probably mean nothing and a generous smattering of fairy dust which probably counts for everything. School was a huge challenge and so we decided, probably rashly, to move to the country and home educate him. No medication, no 'support', chickens, space, a farm on the doorstep and a beach nearby. What could possibly go wrong?

The fire’s out and we aren’t ash…

Well, I was pretty cross there.  Did you think we had both been burned into piles of ash by the heat of that fury?!  Well, we weren’t burned to pieces but we were forged into something else by it.  It was a fire branding fury that burned a lot of chaff away and left me with a much clearer idea about what I should do next. So, at about that time I decided that enough was enough.  The bigger truth is that in fact I wasn’t enough. Not on my own at any rate.  For several excellent reasons I hadn’t enough left in my own tank and the Cornish life that we had set up was draining me and was about to toss my precious Jig out into the unforgiving waves that lash the Cornish coast relentlessly.  Our hideaway was becoming a prison and there were savages at the door.  Savages who did not speak our language and who were refusing absolutely to let us try to speak theirs.  My distrust of patriarchal bureaucracy as any sort of useful support team was already pretty solid.  You could sharpen knives on it now.

It is a year later, nearly.  I have moved us all back to our home city (Bristol) and into a rental while we sort the house situation out.  We have been letting Treguddick out on a holiday rental basis but now that I think it is sold (agreed if not actually done yet) I feel as though this whole moving process is winding down.  The deciding to move, the actually moving, the sale of the place that leaves me with such mixed feelings and the glimmerings of a new life here in Bristol has taken a year.  That’s about right I think.  Big changes need a year.  A full turning of the seasons and moons and all that each phase brings with it.

As I write all three of our younger children are in school although Jig is on the move again. His field trip to mainstream seems to be drawing to a natural close and this new moon is about properly focussing on taking the next choices carefully and gently.  I am working part time (more on that later – I have built a job that I just love and am very lucky) and so our options for Jig must take that into account.

The truth is that I know what I should do.  I should take him out, keep him home and take all that we learned from our out of school life in Cornwall and simply transfer it up here for him.  But I am bruised and scared this time.  If ignorance is bliss then naivety is the mother of all adventure.  I know that there is another adventure out there but I am less naive, sadly. We are currently holed up in a gentle harbour but we can’t stay here, Jig needs to learn somehow and he needs to be taught by someone like me on a good day, on a very very good day, on the sort of day that is currently still out of the question.  And he also needs to hear someone else’s voice – an essential  part of growing up and away from me.  But its pretty quiet out there, there aren’t any calls in the night that sound like a voice that he could follow.  So, for now, we are rolling gently in a small boat, anchored by attending mainstream under the tightest of rules and procedures for a short time in the week and scuttling back to me to fit in around my new working life.  It’s working for now.  Just.

Thanks for waiting for me to come back by the way…..!  XXX

 

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To the parents who complained about my child:

To the parents who complained about my child:

You complained because my child used the words that your child taught him, but louder.  You complained because my child challenges the whispered insults that your child delivers and that made you uncomfortable. You complained because my child appears very slightly different from yours and you used words that would damn him in your world, that would cause him immense and ongoing pain and difficulty if you had been able to but you are wrong, not about the words or the issue or the future that you wanted for him but wrong about the difference; the difference is not slight, my child is a glorious gilded giant and you are too small to even see past the stitching on the sole of his shoe.

I claimed anger with you for your complaint and the upset it caused, for the fact that it made us feel wrong when we aren’t. I said that I felt anger when I knew what you were doing and as the days have passed and the initial shock has settled I realise that the tiny pin hole that is you has allowed a growing rip in something that I thought was solid to unravel into a screaming, rending, irreparable gash and behind it was Anger herself.  Now I am the tiny speck and my Anger is a towering fury that has poured herself through what is left of the frayed edges of barrier that contained her.

She is fire and gold.  She is trailing you and all those who came before you with their petty judgments and personal failures as dust on the hem of her golden feathered cloak. She has all the systems that call themselves support and who never show up grasped in her jewelled fists and she is raising them to the black and howling storm. She has the world as you see it in a crumpled ball of greying tissue that will simply vanish into her flames. You are nothing.

And look, there on her shoulders is my son. My son who was born to a woman whose battle with your small life rules had been lost.  My son who inherited her bruises and her scars and who has tried so hard to limp along in the shoes you gave him but that are always too small for him. And look. My son is dancing on the shoulders of Anger. He is throwing his head back and he is crowing with the joy of his freedom and the beauty of his own world. My son is a barefoot dancer.

And hear, hear his words above the roar and the howling of the storm that is Anger’s song. His words are rubies and sapphires, mountains of jewels and glory that you can only squint at through your closed eyes. He makes his words spiral and dip, rise and fall and he is a poet.

And above the smoke and the fringes of anger’s burring there is a sweetness, a rich dark sap of scent that wraps lazy fingers around the copper could of Anger’s hair and it is my boy, the essence of him that sits so well here, is so safe, so cushioned.

So watch, if you dare, and listen to my Anger.

Stories

So, Jig is in school full time again. Something indefinable and yet good has happened and it is working out. Yes we have taken some steps backwards and as each obstacle arose we deliberately chose to step back in order to plan our way around it. We brought him back home for short times, and then for longer times. He stayed home for half days and full days and we kept dipping our toes back in the water, waiting for the chill of it to subside. During this time I learned the astonishing value of this stepping back, not as a failure but as a strategy. Just because school exists and just because ordinarily kids go there pretty much all of the time that does not mean we need to or have to or will even benefit from it. Some times you need to alter the plot to fit your character. School have trusted us with this and I have learned what true partnership with teachers means. My job is to parent, to create the positive internal narrative and the small world that every child needs as their firm base and theirs is to understand when my child is ready to take a step out of that small world, to be carefully led into a wider space where the outside world can begin to add its magic to the mix. Neither will work without the other. We are working together to identify which role belongs to which of us, we are valuing the essential in each sphere and we are making progress. In order to do so we have to keep an eye on the system, the usual, the prescribed norm but we need to be brave and creative enough to deviate, to make up our own rules and to do it differently. The fact that we live in a rural area with a disinterested and complacent local authority is, as it turns out, quite a gift.

It is a gift because we can just get on with doing what we know in our hearts to be right. It is a gift because every unavoidable brush we have with the system means we have to define Jig as needy and failing in order to identify the sort of environment where he would thrive. Because we can see how it has been different we don’t need to buy into that. We can tell the difference between labelling Jig’s failures (always failure to comply and accept) in order to access resources and believing Jig to actually be that list of failures. This system does not allow us to celebrate what he can do but also to nurture him and we were in danger of wasting our time by chasing meaningless diagnoses in order to get “support”.

As we rapidly approach the transfer to secondary school we are telling two stories at the same time. One of them is the traditional tale of woe and neediness, the plot includes diagnosis and assessments and a shrinking of the opportunities open to him but it is a safe and approved narrative. The other is one of potential and hope, given the right environment and supported by brave and creative people. It is a deviation, a surprise in the plot. We don’t know how this will end.

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IMAGINE

Imagine if each time your child asked something from you, either by using words, behaviour, emotions or whatever means of communication they have available you were able to respond by doing what actually felt right to you, what felt good in your heart and soul, what you knew was the right thing to do even if it flew in the face of absolutely all the advice that was out there.  Imagine if we trusted ourselves to make those parenting calls because we genuinely believe ourselves to be the expert and to have the right to act on that belief and because we know our child and we are the ones with whom the ultimate responsibility for this childhood lies.  Imagine if, having thought hard, listened well and carefully and taken time to learn how to trust our own judgement we simply, quietly, did what was right for our child every day.  Every time they came to us, however that happens, we looked them in the eye and said “I love you, I am holding you safe, I’ve got this, I think I have an idea and we can try it together”.

It may well mean that you don’t conform on occasion.  You will probably begin to challenge all manner of assumptions and cultural rules, you will become noticed.  What will also happen is that other people like you will see you.  They will move towards you and greet you. Pretty soon there will be a small group of you and then, maybe, a larger one. And then the system that isn’t really working (whichever one it may be) might begin to lose power and become responsive. It might become human simply because you are. Imagine all the people….IMG_2420

Dear Teacher,

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Thank you for trying to include Jig in your class and for altering every one of your behaviour policies to be fair to him, and then changing them again when that didn’t work either.  Thank you for recognising how good he is at reading, story telling, debating, researching and how much help he needs to sit in his seat, not to shout out, not to punch people who get too close and to add two simple numbers on one day and then not on the next.  Thank you for trying to hold him safe during the panic that noise or the transition between activities, rooms and spaces creates.  Thank you for understanding that his own noise is merely a defence mechanism. Thank you for trying to find a way for him to play with his peers without either him, or them, getting hurt and thank you for always being willing to take him with you on trips, even if you know you really need a back up team of experts that you simply don’t have.

Thank you for noticing that some of his worst behaviour is handed to him by others and for continuing to smile good morning to him even when he is sullen and uncooperative because you know he is really just overwhelmed.  Thank you for continuing to do your job when other support systems such as CAMHS and the LA are nowhere to be seen.  Thank you for shedding a quiet tear when I shared the earliest photos we have of him for the dreaded family tree project and for staying awake at night fearing for him, just like I do.

Thank you for trusting me to know him.  Thank you for listening to me explain things that don’t really make any sense.  Thank you for coming with us on this exploration of his mainstream potential and not flinching when we came up against the fact that we are probably on the wrong path and will need to retrace our steps.  Thank you for not making us stick to that wrong path, the path that you believe is right for almost all of the other children in your care.

Thank you for letting us cobble together a unique and probably annoying patchwork of a timetable to work towards some success while we work on a longer term solution for him even though we don’t know what that might look like, yet.

Thank you

Jiggy’s Mum

Be careful what you say…

I heartily subscribe to the theory that you need to be careful what you wish for, and that your thoughts make your reality and so maybe I should have been more careful when I restarted this blog a few days ago…

His school is trying their best to make sure that they do the best for him but in the end, they do have to consider the impact of him and his unique approach to life on the others around him. I am called into school about two or three times a week to try and work out how we can all best work with Jig (that’s code for “to listen to what he did wrong that day”) yesterdays phone call should not have felt any different but it did. Maybe it was my own slowly dawning realisation that our square peg child just was not going to be accommodated in any sort of square hole.  We have argued to the point of legal action with Cornwall, I have made nearly 50 separate contacts with them in the past two years and despite 6 separate assessments, all who find that he needs to be referred to the next level up (whatever that might be) it just doesn’t happen.  I have one last iron in the fire (well two, if you count actually hiring a lawyer) which relies on the Adoption Support Fund being manipulated in a way that it wasn’t intended to be in order to fund an NHS assessment at the FAS clinic in Surrey.  Talk about robbing Peter to pay Paul…

So, school called.  The conversation began in the same way but I found myself sitting back in my swirly chair and raising my hands.  “Stop a minute, lets just stop a minute.”  So we did.  We stopped talking about how my rather wonderful little Jig needed to change and we began to really, properly talk about where he really should be that would support and develop him. Yes, the outcome is that we will slowly remove him from mainstream again and no, we don’t know exactly where we will go instead – but for me the moment that I took total responsibility for him, regardless of the failings of the appalling system and chose to follow my heart was a tiny little revolution. Let them all be useless.  Let the LA fail in every possible way.  We are stepping sideways and it feels GOOD!

Don’t misunderstand me – it is so very wrong that we don’t have any sort of reliable system in place for supported our vulnerable adopted children and it is catastrophic that parents are left to fend for themselves in the way that they are.

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But just for the moment I feel a warm glow.  A sense of excitement and pleasure that we might yet have a chance to avoid the trauma that mainstream is likely to be for Jig. A little track has become open to us and I have no idea where it might lead but it feels as though we should take a careful step forward – and take care what I blog about!

 

One day at a time

It is another damp and grey green day here in our Cornish hideout. It has been a while since I visited this blog, I have been busy arguing with the teams of people who self identify as professionals down here in the land that time forgot and this home education blog seemed defunct – but maybe our time in the surreal world of mainstream is coming to an end. Jiggy has been in school for a year now, gradually building up to full time attendance last September.  He is usually in trouble, often punished, respected hugely for his story telling skills, tolerated by many, given a wide berth by most. He is acutely alert, academically able, socially inept, creative, chaotic, entertaining, endearing.  He knows all of this. He is now in year 6 and theoretically due to move up to secondary school in September.  Neither school, nor the educational psychologist, nor the CAMHS psychologist, nor I hold out any hope at all for this being the right environment for him but in the absence of any health department (CAMHS) input into our Education and Health Care Plan due to inefficiency, delay, failure to stick to policy and total lack of any democratic decision making we don’t really know where he should be or what to do with him. School has been a relative success (no medication, no exclusions) for this past year and we must be proud of that but I am increasingly aware that it might just turn out to be a sort of extended field trip.  A visit to mainstream. CAMHS and Cornwall Education Dept simply don’t have the interest, ability or desire to support and I can’t change that. Having Jig at home again would have very many benefits (and yes, to us both) but those pre-pubescent and early teen years are a hormonal cocktail that creates the sort of fireworks that make me slightly nervous.  I am teetering on the edge of quietly moving back into our home ed world, where we understand the simple commandments of educating children like Jig or bracing myself for the move to a very ordinary secondary school who show no sign of being able to adapt to the needs of the Jigs in their  community. I know what works in theory and I cannot find a place that might be able to apply the theory other than home and, to an extent, the small village primary who have worked hard to learn these rules of engagement.

  1. Relationships are key.  Nothing good comes of relying on social understanding of hierarchy.  Every interaction has to be built on an understanding of each other and an earned respect.
  2. Change is your enemy. Changing classes, changing people, changing sounds will all ratchet the adrenaline of an attachment disordered child up past the point of no return in a very short time.
  3. Rules must be tested to breaking point, immediately.  Even identifying a time slot is up for challenge (think of timetables, the foundation of secondary school days, and the  myriad of possibilities for disruption before you even get to your desk!) All rules must be chosen carefully and implemented with the full agreement of your Jig.
  4. Rewards and sanctions will never work and as they are the backbone of all mainstream behaviour policies you may as well not bother.
  5. Environment is everything.  A calm space in a predictable day, with controlled sensory input makes for a child who can and probably will, learn.

The local secondary won’t be able to achieve any of that. We must now decide if that matters enough to keep him out.  The local special schools all feel just a bit too special and seem like a step too far. So, after some really pretty high level complaining, emailing, threatening and politicking, we have agreed in principle that Jig can stay at the primary school for another year if we want him to.  This is obviously a holding pattern so that I can decide what we are actually going to do.  There is no support help or advice available from the local authority and it would be pointless to pretend differently.  It would waste my time and importantly it would erode my thinking energy.  Jig says he doesn’t want any of his options and I can see exactly what he means, neither do I.

So, what to do? Maybe in this dark time of the year we should just be hunkering down and waiting for the solution to break through the clouds.  A finger of God ray of sunlight onto our damp and grey Cornish moorland. It would seem that just taking a day at a time is easiest done when you have absolutely no option.

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Open Nest Magic

What a wonderful few days at the Open Nest camp in North Yorkshire last week.  The sun shone, La Rosa campsite was perfect and the kids had a ball at their “Kids Club”.  We met some wonderful and inspirational parents and spent time wandering slowly around Whitby and loving the calm of the empty and almost entirely purple moors. We have come away inspired and energised – magical.

We met children and families who are living with incredible trauma and complicated behaviour and realised, oddly and perhaps belatedly, that we are too! While you are in the thick of muddling along and trying your best and just getting on with things it is rare to stop and think. Acknowledging the fact that what we are doing is demanding and that we are absorbing a mother lode (hm – I like that phrase, there is whole theory here!) of inherited stress is just critical. Too many adoptive families crumble in one way or another and the supporting of them is the only way to make it possible for the most damaged children in our community to even hope for healing.

During our week in purple heather and blue sky Jig joined in on some levels, Moo loved every minute and Titch reached exhaustion (which is actually very rare) and we napped and planned. We planned for our own respite and healing and that of our children and others like us.  Not entirely unusually Jig completely lost the plot during a family visit on the long trip home and I looked at both him and I in the middle of the storm and saw us differently.

Now that’s magic.

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Back in this saddle

It has been four months since I was here and during that time I have often wondered why I have stopped.  I am still busy, still facing the same issues and still battling with the same systemic failures as before. I am happily engaged with ongoing projects at home, getting involved in local volunteering roles (adoption based, all of them) and now that we have extra child care and help at home I am probably even more able to sit here, in my lovely room, in the quiet, and blog. But I haven’t.

This weekend some of my wonderful older children have taken Jig, Moo and Titch away for the night.  They are having an action packed weekend in Bristol and so we have had two days to ourselves.  Did we go to the Rogue Theatre production in Tehidy that I have had pencilled in for months?  Did we go to the beach side bistro in Bude that has been recommended to me several times lately? Did we find a pretty pub and enjoy a rare glimpse of Cornish evening sun in their garden? Of course not, we watched “Bake Off” on i-player and slept for ten hours!

It is the same thing you see.  Just because you have the time and space to do a thing that you have wanted to do doesn’t mean that you have the mojo left to actually do it.

Anyway, the part of me that I use to blog and write must now be rested enough after a summer of hugely increased support and encouragement in order to actually do it.  She is tanned and fit, resourced and ready to go. The part of me that I use to go out in the evening and do interesting adult things is currently somewhere in a dark room, curled up in a ball, pale and small, gasping what could be taken to be her last breath. She isn’t going anywhere right now and that is just fine.  She needs to be left alone, with a glass of water and a soft pillow.  She’ll be back when she’s ready.

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(Yes, blue moons do happen – July 2015)

Responding to disidealist.wordpress.com this morning: Mediocre Failures

disidealist.wordpress.com this morning: Mediocre Failures on the impact of testing children in schools.  Actually she was particularly engaged by the notion of re-sitting SATS which seems to me to be fiddling while Rome burns.  SATS are the issue but only then the tip of the iceberg.  What we need is properly individual education with autonomous schools.

This is what I think…

I have children with similar profiles and experiences to the author of this article. There are, in fact, many thousands of families like us and we are not new. We are certainly not new to this government. We have seen governments come and go, political promises made on the back of a personal power programme of all hues and labels. I have recently become more attractive (no, sadly, not surgery) due to the introduction of the pupil premium, which gives my local school an extra £5,700 pa because we are there. Yes, it helps. Generally speaking we are overlooked because we don’t fit any particular cohort of voters and are as such of no particular use to any party. General education policies rarely apply to us, health provision does not understand us and we have little use for the rant and rage of party politics, having more than enough of our own. However, what I and many others including the author of this article have in common is that we have always had intelligent and personalised support from our schools for whom we are individuals. I have found that I am listened to and I think it is because the vast majority of teachers and head teachers would like to be able to do a good job for us. We have had really dedicated in-school support both full time one to one and more hands off, kept one child back a year (against policy) travelled (against policy) flexischooled (against policy) home educated all, some or none of our band of happy learners and we have achieved, through it all, some sort of progress towards ordinary. That, to us, is our goal. After the trauma our children have been through and the battles we have had it would be the work of a moment for us to choose not to resit a SAT (that we don’t care about and never have, ever since their introduction in the olden days when our older (marginally more easily educated) children were in school) It is just one more choice that we will need to make and not even one that we need to amass any new energy for.

I do not believe that there is any space in my life for party politicising (aka flight-feathering any politicians’ career wings) My wish would be to be left in the hands of the teachers who know their job and for them to be given the freedom to make choices on behalf of my children that may or may not suit the prescriptive homogeneity of any party policy. I would like to be trusted to know what is right or not and I do not believe that any party out there will actually back me. I will therefore vote for the one that will continue to leave me alone.

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