Tonight, the school holidays draw to a close. No more long days in our bathers. No more serene afternoons with a book. No more evening walks and swims under a reddening sky.
It’s back to the daily grind of uniforms and books, and lunches and bags, and music lessons and sport …
I know that many, if not most, parents look forward to their kids going back to school. I don’t. I wish I did and I’m envious of those parents who do—they’re happy and their kids are happy. Meanwhile, I’m gritting my teeth and not just because our lazy days are ending. I’m also anxious about handing my kids over to the care of someone whose values and mine don’t always coincide. I’ve met some beautiful, caring teachers, but I’ve also met the opposite. One day, I might feel comfortable writing about the things that have happened and what I really think about schools and teachers—I have a long and complex history with them—but I don’t right now. For the moment, I’ll keep gritting my teeth and longing for the day when all of my kids have left school and I don’t have to do deal with the stress of it anymore.
The mood of the house has changed as everything ramps up again, but it’s not all bad: from tomorrow morning the house will again be quiet and I’ll have my days for writing. I have an article that I must write, and I’m hoping to write more often for this blog. Then there’s the novel …
Towards the end of last year, I started journalling. I followed Maureen Helen‘s advice of writing three pages, every day, first thing, before checking my emails or reading the news. I also read about it on Julia Cameron‘s blog. She calls it ‘Morning Pages’, which I think is a lovely term.
By the end of last year, my Morning Pages had become a habit, and my brain had cued in to the rhythm. When my alarm bleated at five am, I pressed the ‘Snooze’ button—I think I’m entitled to an extra ten minutes at that hour—and rolled over. The alarm, though, had alerted my brain, and while I lay in a semi-conscious state waiting for the second alarm, my brain was already at work. By the time the alarm bleated again, I had the first paragraph already in my head. I’m beginning to get along really well with my subconscious brain—it’s become my bestest writing buddy.
Over the holidays, however, I gave up all routines, including my Morning Pages. I’ve journalled some days, but not even most days, and I’m out of rhythm. The time away has been enjoyable and necessary, but it will be nice to return to this routine, at least. From tomorrow, it’s back to business. (Dear Subconscious, Please take note of that. x)
I’ve also read a fair bit this holidays, not as much as I’d hoped, but I have a few books ready to review. I haven’t forgotten that this is my ‘Year of the Classic’, and I’ve begun with ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood. I’ve heard Ms Atwood speak, but this is the first of her books that I’ve read. I’m nearly finished and I’m loving it—I shouldn’t have waited so long to read Margaret Atwood, and I’m cursing myself.
It’s not just that the story is captivating—I’m feeling sorry for all of the characters in this tale, and I mean all of them, the men as well as the women—but that I’ve learned so much from her writing style, too. Last week I had to edit a couple of scenes from my novel and I suspect they’re now imbued with a Peggy Atwood flavour.
On a completely different note, this holidays I’ve also written about my depression. I’ve alluded to it indirectly in other posts on this blog, but I’ve never devoted a post to that topic alone. I will soon, as it is a significant part of my life. Over the summer, because I could spend time outside in the sun and walk daily, and because I could keep my days stress-free (I was away from schools and teachers!), I was free of depression for the first time in nearly four years. I think talking and writing about my childhood last year helped a lot, too, and maybe some of the very old and very deep scars are finally beginning to fade …
That’s probably enough for now. As these holidays dissolve and become a wistful memory, I wish everyone well for 2015. May we all find brilliant ideas in our subconscious, great reads on our shelves, and caring teachers for our children.
You and your hubbie have the most beautiful grounded children, this time is yours. Go get em my friend xxx
Oh thank you, Rae. I needed to hear that today. xx
I heard Van Baham talk about the Handmaid’s Tale on the radio in Melbourne this past Saturday. Was it on Radio National? It’s a terrific book and Van’s take on it was fantastic. Made me think again, given my preoccupation with feminism these days.
As for getting into the school year, at last for me it’s over but I remember the slog of it, and the mixed feelings. Commiserations. Once the first eek back passes, then life gets back into rhythm and it feels better, but that transition is always tough. Good luck with it, Louise. Sounds like you’ve got lots to look forward to.
I’ll have to look it up—I subscribe to RN Books podcasts, so maybe it’s on that. I’d love to hear someone speaking on it. I’m just in awe of her story and characters, not to mention her writing.
As for schools—with four kids, although only three are still at school, there’s always something cropping up …
That first ‘week’ I meant. Sorry for the typo.
‘Eek’ fits equally well!
Oh gosh. Several things. First, you aren’t alone with the not necessarily jumping out of your skin about ‘school tomorrow’. I too loathe the whole having to think about the school lunch box, and I hate the woman I become on school mornings: “get dressed, do your teeth, where’s your reader, hurry up”… (I’m a harridan and it’s my issue, not theirs… I should be more organised, I am permanently running late). Second, I realise in my new So Far Into You book, I have a character called Maggie Atwood!!! Eeek, there’s one I didn’t see coming.
Third, yes, you’ve alluded to the depression before in one particular email with me that I remember well. I can’t offer you much on that front, except every positive thought beneath my pink beanie.
Finally, this is going to be a year out of the box. I feel it in my waters. For both of us.
That’s the thought I’ll hang on to as I’m trying to be imaginative about what goes in the bloody lunchbox tomorrow! 🙂
Firstly, I had to look up the word ‘harridan’—a strict, bossy, or belligerent old woman. Sounds like me on school mornings, too! Secondly, methinks your subconscious has been at play with ‘Maggie Atwood’! I hope she’s influencing your writing, too. Thirdly, thanks for the positive vibes—I have been getting them and they do help! I’m being serious—the support and kindness that everyone shows me is humbling. Sometimes, I think I must have done something good in a past life to deserve the wonderful people around me in this one. Lastly, my creativity has usually done overtime by the time school lunches are being prepared, so my kids basically get the same thing everyday. Actually, sometimes they get mountain bread if we’ve run out of actual bread.
Louise, I’m absolutely delighted that you are a morning page writer! As you know, I absolutely love the time I spend writing first thing in the morning. I also love the way my life is ordered and peaceful when I write like that. I can’t think of a better way to understand and deal with depression than by listening to the words that spill out onto the page first thing in the morning.
Look after yourself tomorrow. Sounds as if it could be painful.
I agree, Maureen. If I start the day like this, it continues on like that. But look at me, breaking my own rule—replying to you when I should be writing my Morning Pages!
And thanks for the wishes for today—it will work out! x
Hi Louise 🙂 I’m totally with you, I’m not one of those people who rejoices when my daughter goes back to school. I know she enjoys it and I’m very happy with her teachers this year, but I miss her while she’s there. So I comfort myself with a quiet house and time to write… Over here our big holiday is in July/August, but I do remember those long sunny January’s, especially in our years living on the Mornington Peninsula. It sounds as though you’ve had a wonderful summer and experienced some profound changes – how wonderful! I think 2015 is going to be an exciting year for us all, and I love the idea of your Morning Pages – apparently the hours between 4 and 6am are the best time to tune into the ‘universe’, at least according to meditation books I’ve read – just wish I could get myself up early enough! Good luck tomorrow, hope all goes well x
Yes, I’m very excited about 2015, too! And I agree about the hours between 4 and 6am—they are peaceful. It’s often dark when I come in to write, and I turn the light on dim and open the blind wide so I can see out. It’s a treat to write in the quietness to a lightening sky.
I didn’t realise you’d lived on the Mornington Peninsula—what a lovely place to spend your time in Aus! And lucky you—our summer is waning as yours is coming on!
I love this post. You’ve given me some great ideas, especially when it comes to journalling.
I had to work three days a week, but I set myself a task of getting up each weekday morning and going for a walk with the dog – I am pleased to report that I carried it through and even got up before the school run today to do so.
I did close the books to any freelance work for January, so I had the other days free to ferry kids around and just hang out. Had some amazing conversations with Miss Attitude. I really felt that I needed to be available and I’m glad I was.
My congratulations to you on the dog walks—double that for doing it while working three days a week! It’s lovely to hear that you’ve been able to spend time with your kids, and one day I’d love to hear how ‘Miss Attitude’ got her name!
I cannot speak highly enough of journalling. It’s a bit like blogging, except that it doesn’t have to be coherent or complete! I can scrawl anything and leave off, and return to it the next day. Often I do—I take a thought as far as I can one day, and a couple of days later I’m able to take it even further. It’s a great way for me to sort my mind. I’m sure it helps in all aspects of life.
Hello Louise, I am very taken with the writing three pages every morning, thank you. Looking forward to hearing more from you xxx
Thanks, Rae. It’s just a habit to get into. Rarely am I scratching around to fill my three pages. Once I get going, well, sometimes I end up with ten!
I would love to hear about these teachers. I take great pride in my relationships with my students and hopefully 99% of parents so it would be very enlightening to hear about what might upset a parent. My children mostly had excellent teachers during their school years except for one who hated Grade Two boys and would smack them hard on the head. I didn’t like her much. I was sorry the holidays ended as well but for a different reason Louise 😉
I’m sure you’re a wonderful and dedicated teacher, Pinky, as most teachers are. I’ve found some teachers that go over and above their duty, who are really dedicated, and who seem to really care about the children in their care. It’s just the occasional one, but, like anything negative, that’s the one that sticks in your memory.
Last year, we had a terrible year with a particular teacher, who yells at the students, puts them down, humiliates them in front of the class or group, and treats them unfairly. Many parents have complained, but I’d always kept quiet—instinctively, I knew there would be repercussions on my daughters if I did complain—and tried my hardest to get along with the teacher concerned. In the end, there were two big final straws and I couldn’t keep quiet any longer. It’s a long story, which involved telling our daughter she could play at Graduation and a week later telling her he wanted someone else to play; yelling at her and humiliating her in front of the class; telling the class I had complained; then not giving our daughter the prize she deserved.
The saga spiralled from there. The Principal did nothing about our complaints, as she’d done nothing when all the other parents had complained, so my husband and I took it further and went to the School Council. We knew there was a long history of complaints about this teacher, and we thought they’d see we were reasonable people, our daughters were good and responsible students, and how cruel and unfair the teacher had been. But they supported the teacher, dismissed our concerns, and did nothing. So, we kept complaining. Things became horrible and very emotional, and the Principal started intercepting my emails without my knowledge. We were also sent a letter from the school’s lawyers telling us we were defaming the teacher and that if we weren’t happy, we should leave. They did tell us that the teacher had given an assurance that he would ‘communicate better with students, parents and staff’.
We had to back down because we didn’t want a legal battle, but it was very hard, and we felt very bitter. We knew the way this teacher treated the girls was wrong, we knew how many other parents had complained, but we were clearly told whose side the school was on. To make it worse, our daughter had only one more year of school and wants to pursue the subject taught by the teacher when she finishes, so we had to keep sending her back to the school and back into that class.
At first, things improved, but within a few months of the lawyer’s letter, the teacher was back shouting at the girls and putting them down again. The final episode came when he called our daughter and another girl out in front of the class and lost his temper at them, yelling at them in front of everybody. Our daughter, by the way, hadn’t done anything wrong but he’d jumped to conclusions without knowing the facts. We made another complaint to the Principal, and this time the teacher denied he’d yelled at the girls. Despite knowing his past history, the Principal took his word for it, and refused to speak to either of the girls involved or any of the witnesses in the classroom, even after we pleaded with her to speak with them. The girls wanted a hearing—they felt they’d been painted as liars—and they deserved one, so we went to the Council again. The girls went with their fathers as, by this stage, the mothers were too fraught.
The teacher never admitted he lied, and we never got an apology. He’s still there and still teaching our daughter. We’ve been given another assurance that he won’t lose his temper at our daughter and we’ve been able to get support people in place for her if he does, but the real issue hasn’t been addressed. The other day when I wrote this post, I was feeling particularly anxious about sending our daughter back, worried that he’ll do it again, and if he does, that the school will bring the wall down again, and nothing will be done …
I know a lot of parents can shrug these things off, and believe me, I’ve tried. I used to tell my girls, ‘Just let it wash off. It’s him with the problem, not you …’, but it was opening old wounds. A big part of it is my issue with this sort of thing, as it involves something I’ve done my damnedest to protect my children from—abuse. It’s been really hard to accept that I’ve been unable to stop it …
Having said all of this, I’ve had some really good experiences with teachers and schools, too. Our sons’ school, for example, is much more progressive. Every year we fill out feedback forms—they want to know what parents think, what we’re happy with, things we don’t like. I get emails from their tutors or teachers—passing on something good my son did or that a teacher might have said about him, or it might have a photo of my son attached. When I get one of these, I feel as if the teacher cares. I’ve only had a couple of issues, and they’ve listened each time, and if a mistake has been made, they’ve admitted it and sorted the problem without a song and dance. I know my son isn’t the only boy in their care (they have over 1600 of them!), and that mistakes happen and I accept that.
I apologise for the length of this reply, but as you can see, I could write an essay on the topic, and a passionate one at that. I will write properly about it one day, and the impact it has had on our daughter and our family, but I need to feel more comfortable about that before I do. Maybe I’ll call it: ‘How To P!ss Parents Off—A 7-Step Guide For Schools’!
My favourite Margaret Atwood is The Blind Assassin, I think you’d enjoy it.
We have that here. And Oryx and Crake. I’m totally won over by her writing and I loved the story, too.