Turning up

Funny old week in the world of teaching; students and teachers have all been in need of some additional TLC. Non-assessment assessments (‘call them what you like Miss, they are exams’) and lethargy about booking a ballgown or tan when the prom could get cancelled for the second year in a row, have made this a wobbly time for all.

When on ‘call out’ earlier in the week I am radioed to go and assist a parent who has successfully driven her son onto the school site but then hit a road block. Although the first bell has long gone and the student appears uniformed and ready for lessons, he is refusing to leave the car. I do not know the student and I think this works in my favour; some assertive verbal negotiation and five minutes later we are heading towards the geography block and mum is finally off to work. From behind the student’s mask he explains his wobble to me:

‘I don’t like the teacher’.
‘All the geography team are fab, I wish I could go to your geography lesson. Who have you got?
‘I don’t know’
‘So, how do you know you don’t like them’
‘I’ve just been moved to this class’
‘Why?’
‘I didn’t like the students in the other class, so I asked to be moved’.

As I say, it has been ‘that’ kind of week.

Thinking about it later, I admire the mother’s calmness and her confidence that a member of staff will be able to collect her son and work the miracle that she hasn’t been able to. If she can get her son into the car, she trusts that someone else will get him out. She knows that she isn’t the right person for the job so she calls in help. I am the same when it comes to cleaning the oven.

I actually felt quite empowered that mother and I have worked together in a pincer movement and that there has been no stand off from the student. A naive refection.

Next morning, I am teaching; I look down from my first floor window. There below me in the school car park is the same car and the same student, with the same scenario unfolding . Groundhog Day. Mum is calmly waiting for another member of staff to appear and work yesterday’s magic over again – probably different negotiations will need to take place for science is on the timetable . I no longer feel like the chosen one but I admire mum for doggedly refusing to give in to her son. I admire her for turning up each day. Sometimes this is all we can ask of ourself.

By the end of the week, work is just one part of of my own personal wobble. By Friday, because of additional ‘stuff’ going on outside of school, there is a danger that I may drive myself to work and then refuse to leave my own vehicle. Harry Nilsson must have had a head like mine – or at least worked in a school – when he hit the charts with, ‘Everybody’s talking at me, I can’t hear a word they’re saying,’ back in the ’60’s.

Despite the most fantastic friends, I still find myself longing to call up my sister and ask for her advice. Although she was the most organised person in the world and prepared me well for when she would have to change postcode, even she couldn’t have seen the wobble that the last 12 months would cause us all. Even knowing that she may not have had all the answers, I still want to ask her to walk my feet forward until I feel strong enough to pick up my stride again. In truth I just want to hear her voice again. It is always ok to ask your sister for help. Sis would always allow time for a ‘pity party’ (maximum half a day – ‘let it out and move on’) and then irreverent humour and a ‘can do’ list would invariably galvanise the situation.

Sometimes I just miss Sis so much that there is nowhere for all that love to go. Other weeks I am better at disguising it – this is not one of those weeks.

I am just not great at asking for help. I remind myself that it is Mental Health Awareness Week and that there is no shame in highlighting a personal wobble. There is no decree that, ‘thou shall only help others,’ in MHA week. However, I always find it hard to ask for help when I don’t really know what help I need. Often I am far too proud to ask for help. As I say, fortunately I am blessed with my friends. Yesterday on our run, my running partner navigates me through both a deer park and my gift of tears without dropping pace and I feel my shoulders lift a little. And, even though she is far too many miles away for my liking, my oldest friend (you know, not the oldest – the one who has known me longest) sees through my valiant attempt to be chirpy on line, and manages to pepper me with appropriate and timely WhatsApp messages throughout the weekend.

I visit mum and she plies me with coffee and allows my eyes to leak quite comfortably as we unpack my bag of woe. At two weeks off 95 years old, she is a local cause celeb and is becoming quite the village elder. She remarks that I am the third person to take her box of tissues hostage in recent days. I apologise, for this is the last thing she must need. I come over all Mother Theresa and explain, ‘ I am so much better at helping other people; I hate it when I get like this’.

‘No, I’m flattered,’ she says, ‘I am relieved that I can actually hear you all again and, if there is one thing I would tell my younger self it would be: stop marching on alone, when you can ask for assistance. Now, I accept any offer of help going – and I realise that it makes people really, really happy to help out’. She chuckles conspiratorially and whispers, ‘sometimes I ask for help when I don’t even need it.’

I tell mum the story of the student in the car and say that I admire the mother’s faith that someone will open the car door and walk her son through his next steps if she is unable to.

‘It works as a metaphor,’ mum agrees. ‘Take that car for example; sometimes we are driving, sometimes we are the passenger – and in my case, sometimes I have a cheeky snooze while I trust someone else to take the wheel. Sometimes we have to park up and allow someone else to open the car door, greet us like royalty and walk us on to our next little adventure. I am sure there was an advertising campaign; tiredness can kill; take a break. Mind you, I miss driving my own car; I will never forgive you lot for taking it off me.’

I always feel better for time spent with mum. She tells me that she is relieved that I am admitting to having a ‘not OK’ day and reminds me that I need to get back inside a church again. We talk about Sis a lot and it is fine to let some of that love leak out. ‘She always had an uncanny knack of knowing what to do, your sis, ‘ mum says. ‘She liked serving others better than she did herself.’

We go shopping and she gets excited because she has not been in a Waitrose for over a year. I turn my back for a minute and soon she has people assisting her with ‘scan ‘n’ shop’ (‘so much quicker, dear’)and offering to carry her shopping to the car. She also seems to keep bumping into people who insist on telling me how wonderful my mother is and how she has helped them out in the past. I feel slightly redundant but leave mum to sign autographs and sit on a bench to watch her golden moment.

No surprise that I find myself nudged into church this morning. We are socially distanced and it is my first time in this particular building although I have run past it many times. I feel very welcome. It is very, very peaceful and calm. I find I have space and quiet to think and my eyes leak away quite comfortably and trickle their evidence away behind my mask. I sense Sis is close by and smiling warmly; she seems to have control of the organist’s fingers because he is now offering a very chilled rendition of ‘The Servant King’, her personal favourite. I reflect that, ‘We are charged, renewed, to bring our life to you,’ are kind words to echo through my mind if the week starts badly. I am glad I turned up today.

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