Category Archives: School

Hair today…

…and gone tomorrow!

It’s an old joke, I know, but it sums up perfectly the start of the new school year for G. For those of you who’ve been following me for a while, you may remember that 2 years ago G took the plunge and decided to cut her beautiful long hair for charity. She donated the hair itself to the Little Princess Trust, who use it to create real hair wigs for children who have lost their hair due to intensive medical treatments. G also took the opportunity to raise funds for Over The Wall and it turned into an impressive occasion, leaving her with a very grown-up hairstyle as well as raising £500, which was then match-funded to create a staggering £1,000 fundraising total.

Over the summer months, G has been talking once again about wanting to cut her hair – I think the hassle of combing numerous tangles and knots out of it had all become too much – and so at the end of her second day back at school, she headed to our local hair salon and once again braved the cut. Mike suggested to her that she consider donating to the Little Princess Trust once again and as soon as she realised that there was enough length to allow her to do it, there really was no stopping her.

This time round she’s gone a little shorter than before, but it’s still an absolutely stunning style for my fast growing-up firstborn. We are so proud that she didn’t think twice about making the donation and even more so when she said that she wants to continue to donate her lengthy locks whenever she can. To paraphrase G, she wants to “…donate my hair, just like Dad donates his blood” – a fantastic ambition and who are we to argue.

Time to stop and smell the roses

New job, end of term, fundraising plans, health challenges, summer holidays… sometimes it really is nice to be able to stop and smell the roses, especially when they’re as beautiful as this bunch of flowers currently gracing G’s windowsill. A thank you from her Stagecoach school for all her help last week at their summer school – a small acknowledgement of her efforts and one that has very much been appreciated and enjoyed by us all.

We’re all taking a little time this week to slow down and appreciate life. With a couple of days off planned for the end of the week, I’m winding down to just spending some much-longed-for family time together and am wondering if I can convince the children to give up their technology for at least some of that time too. M is spending the week planning 101 things he wants to do with G before we have our break, whilst G tries her best to ignore him and focus on some gentle revision instead. Mike and I will complete as much work as we can and anything left outstanding will quite simply have to wait until we head back to our desks on Monday morning.

I hope you too get the chance to stop, take a breather and appreciate life in its fullest this week.

Happy Holidays!

We’ve made it!

We almost literally limped to the end of term, but we made it, not withstanding the challenges of mock exams, shingles and Lyme disease. Homework was completed (and handed in), sports day was competed in (and won) and the last day was enjoyed in all the glory of own clothes and an early finish to the day.

We might only be a week in, but already G and M have been busy. We’ve squeezed in a couple of films they wanted to watch, the beach has been enjoyed with G’s godfather and his family visiting from Canada and they’ve kicked off this week by volunteering at our Church’s holiday club for primary-age children during the day as well as taking part in the evening’s youth club for teens.

And there are plans for the weeks ahead: G is spending a week volunteering at their Stagecoach’s summer school, a visit to London to see the musical of their choice thanks to London theatre’s Kids Week and even some fundraising for the fantastic Over The Wall which they’ve planned themselves (more details of that to follow). We don’t have a “big” summer holiday planned having been to Berlin during May half-term, but instead have decided to enjoy our local area as well as the occasional overnight visit to somewhere a little further afield in the UK.

One thing’s for certain, it’s looking to be a busy, fantastic and very happy summer holidays and I hope yours are too!

An Enriching Experience

June always seems to be a busy month for G and M and this year has been no exception to that unwritten rule. As well as the hell that was the lead up to G’s Year 10 mock exams – the exams themselves have proved to be not quite as stressful as we all feared they might be – there’s also been the much more enjoyable enrichment week for M and G’s work experience week too. Add in Live Lounge performances at school, end of year performances with their performing arts schools, we’ve finally found ourselves at the end of June and it’s time to take a deep breath, enjoy the last few weeks of school (if that’s even possible) and look forward to the summer holidays.

Last year, M was part of the school-based activities week as he wasn’t in a position to be able to consider being away from home from a health perspective and this year was no different, although the school makes the decision that all Year 8 students remain on-site, rather than being offered residential trips. After much deliberation, he was fortunate enough to be awarded a place on his first choice activity: the photography course. M really enjoys taking photos and has captured some really stunning snaps using just his phone’s camera at home. This was an opportunity to learn much more about the craft of photography itself and he spent 4 days learning about shutter speeds, taking action shots, images through water – lots and lots and lots of water! – and using light to write and capture words. He loved every moment of the course and has already decided to start saving up his pocket money so that he can buy his own camera as soon as he practically can.

The Friday was spent on a different activity and much to our surprise, he opted for paint-balling, something that has left him battered and bruised in the past. In fact, M hasn’t been paint-balling since he was hit accidentally by an adult using a high-powered weapon in the wrong part of the course at a friend’s birthday party. Whilst he wasn’t injured particularly and bounced back very quickly, the experience rattled most of the people there as M had his feeding-tube at the time and he was sore for a few days afterwards. However, the prospect of running around with a group of his friends and their plan to gang up on some of the teachers seemed to excite him and he couldn’t wait to go on the Friday even despite the rain. It was another fun-filled day and he enjoyed it all, even if he did come home sporting a rather impressive bruise to his right thigh by the end of it.

Whilst M had a week of enriching and engaging activities, G meanwhile found herself completing her work experience week. Back at the start of the school year, we had gone through a number of possible posts for her to consider and apply to for the week, but in the end she decided to spend the time working at the surveying firm as Mike. She spent her week learning how to carry out and complete property valuations, building surveys and home-buyers reports as well as the more mundane office and administration tasks that all good work placement employers expect: photocopying and shredding! Her Friday saw her spending the day at a building site and finding out about project management and property insurance claims. G very much enjoyed her week, though her diary entry for the Wednesday perhaps sums it up best – when asked “What have you learned about work this week?“, her honest response was “That it’s exhausting!

Birthday blessings

This weekend has been one of “those” weekends. You know, one of the ones where there’s so much to do and just not quite enough time to manage to do it all. A combination of birthday celebrations, performing arts classes, auditions and hospital appointments has left us feeling somewhat exhausted; but tonight, after a fun few hours with M, G and a group of their friends, I’m also counting our blessings.

It’s been no secret that M found last year, his first at secondary school, tough. The move into a school environment where his year group was considerably bigger than his entire junior school combined with family deaths and the inevitable challenge of his continued restricted diet left not only M, but all of us, struggling to find a positive way forward. Circumstances last year meant that we didn’t really do much to celebrate his 12th birthday, so I was determined to kick off his teen years in whatever fashion he wanted.

The celebrations started with an M-friendly pear and ginger cake with caramel buttercream icing on Friday evening to accompany his presents, which included the bass guitar and amp that he’s been yearning after for a few months. He had been slightly frustrated with Mike’s refusal to take him to look at guitars last weekend and was only marginally mollified by the promise to get up early this Saturday morning to visit our local guitar shop and examine exactly what was on offer. As you can imagine, his excitement in finding the guitar and its own mini amp waiting for him when he got home from Stagecoach was wonderful to see and we’ve been serenaded with renditions of both “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Seven Nation Army” since late Friday night! I’m just glad the bass guitar lessons he’s been having at school appear to be paying off already and delighted to see him so wiling to practise in every spare moment.

However, the culmination of M’s birthday weekend came yesterday afternoon as we spent the late afternoon and early evening with a group of his and G’s friends. M had chosen a group of old friends and new, some from school, others that he’s grown up with and the best bit was seeing just how well these different strands of his life hit it off and enjoyed the few hours together. After lots of chat, M had decided he wanted to try his hand at an escape room and we booked 2 rooms at one of our local escape rooms sites. We amicably split into 2 teams, each with an adult and a mix of the older and younger children and determined to compete against the clock, rather than each other to escape our locked rooms.

I was impressed with how well they all worked together and certainly those on my team managed the frustration of solving some of the clues well, with only one of M’s friends needing some redirection and reminders to focus from time to time. We were lucky to escape with just 2 minutes to spare and although Mike and M’s team were not quite so successful – they had found all 4 keys, but failed to open the door in time – everyone enjoyed themselves and were ready to move on for a dinner to suit all dietary needs that were present.

The chatter, camaraderie and chuckles around the table were wonderful to experience and all the children were a delight to spend time with as they enjoyed their food and just spending time together. It was a wonderful way to celebrate M’s 13th birthday and I really have counted my blessings tonight that M has finally found his way out from the darkness of last year with the help of some amazing friends, who accept him for who he is and don’t see his health challenges as a barrier to their friendship with him. A perfect celebration with both new friends and old; and a combination of friendships that I hope will keep going for many years to come.

Exploration through Enrichment

One of the things I love about G and M’s secondary school is the Enrichment week they run in June. Every year the young people are encouraged to explore new activities and opportunities during the week and try their hands at things they perhaps haven’t had the chance to experience before. When G was in Year 7, she opted for Bush Camp – an African-style adventure that involved 4 nights away from home sleeping out under canvas with campfire dinners, quirky showers and earth toilets for her home comforts. If there’s one thing that proves my daughter doesn’t always follow in my footsteps, this choice was it as I am a reluctant camper at best and it would take an awful lot to convince me that this could be considered as a fun week away from home. However, G loved every moment and couldn’t wait to choose her options for both Years 8 and 9.

Whilst G had determined that this year was going to be the year for a week away at pony camp in the Brecon Beacons, M’s choices were limited by the reality that he wouldn’t be able to spend a week away from home. We made the decision right at the start of his Year 7 year, not wanting to put him through once again the trauma of last-minute decisions and the inevitable disappointment that he experienced when we had to conclude that he couldn’t go away to the end of term Year 6 camp last year. We opted that M would be based at home for the week and instead he had to  the activities that he would participate in during the school day.

M decided on Action Adventure, where he got to try his hands at high and low rope courses, archery, building a trebuchet and bush-craft skills over the first 3 days of the week. Day 4 was designated as a community day, which was designed to give the children an opportunity to understand their role in our local community and to give a little something back. Some children did bag-packing at a local supermarket, others chose sponsored activities to raise money for local charities and M’s group of year 7s built wooden bird-boxes to be put up in the grounds of their school.

On his final day, M was keen to join the trip to the Tamworth snowdome, although he was disappointed that he had to ski, rather than being able to show off his rapidly improving snowboarding skills. He has been learning to snowboard since Christmas and has been coming on in leaps and bounds on the artificial slopes. He didn’t find it as easy to ski as he had hoped and the combination of time spent focused on skiing and ice-skating meant that he and his friend slept on their way back home. Both children had a great enrichment week and I’m grateful that this fantastic opportunity has been available for them both to fully experience, explore and enjoy. Not only am I impressed by the variety of opportunities they have to choose from, but the school did a great job of keeping the parents of around 900 students updated about their return home on the final day, which is no easy feat!

Quiet week…?

I wish!

I thought this week would be quiet as G is away at pony camp for her school’s enrichment week and M is busy doing “activity adventures” for his. I thought that would give me a week to catch up on writing some blog posts, finish the tales of our trip to Scotland over Easter and sort and store the photos from that said-same trip.

And then work just exploded and deadlines needed to be met – and still do to be fair – and life carried on with little consideration for my plans for the week.

Ah well, maybe that quiet week is just around the next corner?

Daddy’s new toy

Somehow, and I’m not entirely certain how, we have limped our way through what has proved to be a tough 5-weeks and finally Term 3 has drawn to a close and half-term has arrived. M’s health was hit hard when he came down with Aussie ‘flu just into the New Year and the term has been turned topsy-turvy as he’s struggled with high temperatures, heavy head colds, aching joints, lethargy and low energy levels. He’s also been trying to cope with unbelievable bouts of insomnia since the end of last term, a problem that has taken its toll not only on M, but the rest of the household too as Mike and I have juggled home and work as well as the impact of the serial bed-hopping that has become an almost nightly occurrence. Except on Wednesdays. I’m not yet sure what makes Wednesdays so special, but over the last couple of weeks, M has achieved something that has been such a rare event that I can pretty much count the number of times it has happened in his lifetime on the fingers of one hand. In bed – his bed – fast asleep and then nearly 10 blissful hours of interrupted sleep for the rest of us!

One of the highlights of half-term has been opportunity to finally try out the new toy that Mike had for Christmas. A stove-top smoker. Following the discovery of what quickly became a new favourite with M when we were in Greece last summer, Mike has been exploring whether there was any way to replicate the delicate flavours of this smoked chicken at home. He talked a few times about the possibility of buying a smoker, but as so often happens in our household, the chat didn’t lead anyway and eventually the idea faded away into seeming obscurity. However, whilst all thoughts of a smoker had disappeared from Mike’s head, it had taken up permanent residence in my mind and I was undertaking some research of my own.

Finding the perfect Christmas present for my other half is always a challenge, particularly as his birthday is just 2 months before, but waiting until December gave me enough time to read around the subject and pick out what I hoped would be the perfect choice. It came as a complete surprise on Christmas day and a present that both Mike and M were looking forward to experimenting with in the New Year. Sadly ‘flu got in the way of any such trials in January, but Mike being at home with the children for half-term gave them the perfect opportunity to give the smoker and a variety of wood chips a whirl.

By the end of the week, it turns out that Mike’s worked hard to see just what flavours he can produce and M feels that there’s still some work to be done to perfect the chicken to his exacting standards. It appears it’s all too easy to over-smoke the meat and end up with a bitter dinner, rather than the aromatic flavours we were hoping to find. M has suggested adding lemon and herbs to help flavour the chicken and I’ve no doubt that Mike’s new toy will be a source of much fun and experimentation over the coming months.

All Different, All Equal

This week is Anti-bullying week and this year the campaign has adopted the tagline “All different, All equal” to promote difference and equality in schools. As the Anti-bullying Alliance’s website states, the idea behind this is to “…help children and young people celebrate what makes them, and others, unique and help them understand why it’s important that every child feels included in school able to be themselves without fear of bullying...” This has struck a particularly resonant chord with me as feeling different to classmates is something that not only do I recall from my own school days, but something I am aware both G and M have felt over the years.

For me, and let me be brutally honest right now, I hated every moment of living with T1D as a teen. Not only was I having to deal with the challenges of impending adulthood and puberty like all of my peers, but my T1D added another layer to the emotional mix that I really didn’t want to have to face. At school I felt like the odd man out. I didn’t really know anyone else my age with T1D and I was the first diabetic in my school. I suffered extreme teenage angst about not being able to buy sweets and chocolate from the break-time tuck shop and that seemingly small thing became a massive problem that I struggled to overcome. My friends accepted my differences far more readily than I did and yet I felt alienated from them. My own anxieties and poor self-image became mountains I just couldn’t scale, particularly when some of the other girls in my school year began to exclude me from friendships that had been there since I was little and threw cruel words in my direction which hit incredibly deep.  Whether they had truly identified my lack of self-esteem as an easy target for their unkind comments and actions or not, I can still recall just how devastating that time in my life was for me. I’m sure that I was not on my own with those feelings, but I felt isolated in a world that seemed to be quite happy without me.

Sadly, G struggled similarly during her Infant school years when so-called friends who had helped ease her move to a new school, discovered that her health issues could be used as a taunt against her and caused her unbelievable emotional pain. Thanks to a fantastic and supportive Year 2 teacher, G was encouraged to tackle the bullies and their behaviour head-on and she learned to stand up for herself, something I didn’t learn until I was much, much older. I know that her gluten- and dairy-free diet still makes her feel too different to the rest of her tutor group for comfort and she has struggled with sticking to the restrictions, especially when her friends are enjoying treats that she would love to be able to eat. We’ve worked to fill her lunchbox with foods and snacks that make her feel a little more “normal” and a part of the crowd, and I will continue to hope that this doesn’t become a cause for bullying as she moves her way through secondary school.

Likewise, M’s complex medical needs have left him being subjected to cruel words and unkind actions in the past, something that is not unusual in the world of chronic illness. Whether it is an obvious physical difference, or something more hidden like T1D or allergies, the sad truth is that children can, and will, be cruel. All children are fighting to find their place in the world and will look to find their footing without regard for those surrounding them and especially not for their feelings. As parents we need to teach our children about the beauty in diversity and encourage them to be kind in their thoughts and deeds. My children are wonderfully unique as are their friends and that is something to embrace wholeheartedly and without reservation. This year I will be making sure that they understand the truth in these words: All different, all equal.

Brave New World

If you’re on any social media platform, be it Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, the chances are that your timeline will have been flooded this week with the ever popular first day photos like this one, on what an old friend humourously terms “National Stand in Front of your Door Day”. The start of every new school year always brings a list of tasks that need to be completed, which includes for us more than just name-labelling the new school uniform and buying huge amounts of school stationery that will potentially have disappeared by the end of the first week, but also making sure that we’ve dotted the “i”s and crossed every single “t” relating to the health needs of both children.

This year felt like even more of a challenge as M moves up into the same secondary school as his big sister and we find ourselves dealing with the reality of different teachers for every subject, a year group that’s bigger than the whole of his junior school and the need to educate the school in the world of M. The good news is that having reached the end of the first week, things have not gone horribly wrong and on the whole, it has all been a huge success. Every evening, M and I have looked through his timetable for the next day to discuss what he might need to do to make sure all his needs are being met as they need to be. I was as delighted as he was to discover that his educational needs have been noted on the tutor group register and so his teachers are aware that he needs extra support in relation to his Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. We still need to iron out the finer details of note-taking in class and how he prepares his homework for each lesson, but our unexpected find of yellow-tinted sunglasses whilst on our summer holiday have been an added bonus to helping him read the worksheets he’s given.

Disappointingly, though not altogether surprisingly, the level of awareness about his EGID and food restrictions has not been what we hoped it might be, but whilst my hopes were high, my expectations were truthfully quite low and we knew there would be work to be done in this area. He went to the Student Services with his medicines on the first day and by day 2 was confident enough to ask for a set of yellow cards, which gives him permission to leave class early to take them, jump to the front of the queue with 2 friends when it comes to lunchtime and go to the toilet whenever he needs to without having to wait and ask permission. Our biggest challenge was the one we feared it might be, that of the Food and Textiles classes that he will be taking this year. His cookery teacher was not aware of his dietary restrictions or just how important avoiding the cross-contamination risk is for M and so I’m waiting to talk to her after school on Friday to discuss just how we go forward with the lessons**. We are all keen for him to take these lessons and learn to cook, but Mike and I are very aware of the need to protect his fragile mental health and so will be working hard to make sure the cookery lessons don’t become a challenge too far for him.

As for G, my big girlie quietly and confidently started in Year 9 and is looking forward to the year ahead. She’s a little anxious already about making her GCSE choices later this year, but we have been spending time reassuring her that she won’t have to make those decisions on her own and that we will help and support her every step of the way, as will the school and her teachers. This year is a little different for G as they are now splitting a number of her classes into sets and her hard work over the last couple of years has stood her in good stead as she has been placed in the top 2 sets for almost all subjects.

It really is a step into a brave new world for the whole family and I can’t wait to see what the year ahead will bring for us all.

** So that conversation has happened today and I’m delighted to say was a really positive one. Mrs J has agreed that M can use ingredients and adapted recipes that are safe for him wherever possible and will work at his own station to help reduce the cross-contamination risks for him. She is as keen as we are to make the lessons a positive experience for him and will be regularly touching base with me to make sure we’re all getting it right.