The Teaching Mum

A light-hearted look at parenting through the eyes of a very busy English Teacher.


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I Left My Tears in the Ocean

Cala Mondrego Beach wasn’t the beach I had been picturing in my mind on the journey in the taxi. It was considerably smaller than I imagined and wanted, but the view out into the sea was rather breath-taking. Situated in a cove, the small beach invited both holiday makers and exotic yachts to anchor down and appreciate their rather beautiful surroundings.

Only I didn’t do that – not straightaway anyway.

It took a simple act of unadulterated love to pull me out of whatever self absorbed hole I was in danger of being sucked into to make me look up and see the world as it should be seen: right here, right now and most certainly unfiltered.

When we arrived the beach, it was already filling up with couples and families both local and from father a field and an array of languages could be heard floating along in the warm breeze. We made a beeline for a couple of sun-beds only for us to be told that they were already taken. Eventually, we found two that were residing in the shade. We paid our 15 Euros and they were ours for the day. And when I say ‘ours’ I specifically mean my daughter and son because they immediately chose a bed each leaving both my husband and me laying out our towels in the sand. Within minutes, no, actually it was seconds, my daughter wanted her tablet and she cried (actual tears) when I informed her that she would only be able to watch the programmes we had pre-planned and downloaded for her. Yes! We preconceived that something like this would occur and downloaded a number of her favourite programmes. How awful of us!

“There’s no WiFi at the beach,” I informed her.

“No WiFi! But that’s impossible,” she wailed.

Wrapping herself up in a towel, she plugged her headphones in, laid back on the bed and ignored my plea for her to allow me to lather her in Nivea factor 50. My son, on the other hand, had already grown tired of the bed and was now lying in the sand and scooping it up onto the bed. He, bless him, had unknowingly placed himself a little too close to the childless couple on the beds next to us. Seasoned sunbathers, the couple had already moved their beds towards the burning ball of fire in the sky and had the factor two oil lathered on. The Earth must have tilted slightly in its orbit as the lady jumped up from where she lay and moved her bed onto my boy innocently playing in the sand. With her territory clearly marked out, she resumed her place back on her bed without even acknowledging the fact that she had placed her bed millimetres away from being directly on top of a three year old boy.

“Arseholes!” my husband shouted as he picked up his sand laden towel and shook it vigorously in their direction.

Our next task was one we had come to dread: applying sun-cream to children who don’t understand the importance of rigorous sun-cream application. By this time we were quite seasoned at this job and while one of us caused a simple diversion (usually using sweets), the other approached the first child from behind, jumped, grabbed any flailing limbs and lathered and lathered until they resembled a melting white Magnum ice-cream. We would then simply repeat this action with the second child and there you have it – two children ready to stay safe in the sun.

It was finally time to lay down and have a rest, but not before I hounded the husband to take a picture of me in my bikini as I was feeling surprisingly confident having spent the best part of two weeks running before the holiday in a last minute attempt to tone the ‘mumbod’.

“You’re so vain!” he laughed at me before grabbing his mini Magnum ice-creams by the hand and running off towards the ocean thus leaving me to try to take a selfie in the sun which proved impossible with the glare of the sun on my screen and factor 50 dripping from my fingers. How would all the people on my social media accounts know that I was having a wonderful time on holiday if I didn’t post regularly?

Having given up on the selfie, I had just finished applying my sun cream – factor 30 on my burnt bits and 15 on my legs – when I heard the familiar war cry of my children. They were salty and sandy as they launched their little bodies into my arms where they demanded snacks and pop. One visit to the beach shop later and they were munching on the famous Spanish dish we know as Salt and Vinegar Pringles and supping down orange Fanta. My job as this was all happening was batting away the wasps that were intent on getting their fill of the Fanta. As the wasps descended, I may or may not have been screaming and running around the beds much to the annoyance of the childless couple who were wasp-free and sunbathing on sand that was definitely on our territory. (Perhaps I should have scooched on down and had a wee around our beds.)

Since arriving at the beach, I had not spent one minute of my time at the beach laid down so I decided to go in the sea. I’m not a huge fan of the ocean if I am being honest. I like to admire it from afar; preferably from a sun-bed with my Kindle in one hand and a lager in the other but those delicacies were now ancient relics from other holidays past when we were the childless couple lapping up the sun’s rays and staring down the couples who had had the audacity to procreate. The sea at Calamondrego Beach however, was really nothing short of wonderful. The cold didn’t bite at your toes as you entered and the waves didn’t threaten to knock you down. Amiable water lapped up over my toes and the waves were lulling me. They forced me to stop and take a minute. I breathed in and out and in and out as I felt the warmth of the sun hitting my back. I noticed with clarity that my children had left the confinement of their towels and beds and had rushed to be in the ocean with me; their father followed close behind.

Then something in my periphery vision makes me turn around slightly and that’s the moment when I begin to appreciate where I am.

A mother is carrying her child across the beach and they are heading towards the sea. He is laid across her and she is carrying him like he’s a baby, holding him under his legs and supporting his body. Only this child is not a baby – far from it. I guess his age at about eleven or twelve and yet she carries him without burden as though he is as light as a feather. There is a vacant look in his eyes and yet a smile is etched across his face because he knows where he is going. I become acutely aware of the fact that I am staring but I can not tear my eyes away from this woman carrying her disabled child into the ocean. Everything I have complained about in the last few hours hangs around me like the albatross on the ancient mariner and I am a little ashamed of myself for not being there in the present unlike the mother who’s now passing me and entering the ocean. She isn’t deterred by the initial coldness of the sea splashing up against her legs and she continues without hesitation as the water rises up against the boy in her arms. Delicately and with one arm she scoops up water to gently wet his hair and as she does this, his smile grows. I sit in the sand and allow the sea to wrap its arms around me just as this mother is wrapping her arms around her boy and I continue to watch. I can hear my own children shrieking and laughing as their father swims with them in the sea. My admiration for her is great and I see a strength in her that I just don’t see in myself at that moment. Here I am sulking over the fact that I haven’t been able to lie down and top up my tan and filter the hell out of ‘a perfect family moment’ to share online and yet here is this woman whose sole intention is to give her son the best day at the beach. I realise that my eyes are filling with salty tears and they fall down my cheeks and into the water; they join the ocean where they will stay forever. Unintentionally, this mother has given me a small wisdom that I hope to live my life by.

This mother is in the now; she’s living in the moment, as his her son and they are loving every second of it.

I turn my attention back to my own children laughing, playing and splashing in the sea and I stride towards them scooping my son up in my arms as I reach him. My phone is discarded somewhere, the iPad is turned off and my Kindle is sitting unread on the sun-bed.

I’m in the now and it’s right where I should be.


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Jay’s Ghost

I started writing this story two years ago and have just found it on an old laptop.  Should I continue it?

Chapter One

Jay

Jay was ten years old when her mother died.

It was on the eve of her thirteenth birthday when she saw her again.

Miss Rose

Every year it was the same. It was the first day of a new term and Miss Rose and all of the other teachers at Seaworth View Secondary Academy were at school whilst the pupils enjoyed the final days of their long summer holiday. Seated at her empty desk (that would not remain empty for long once the new term began), Miss Rose scanned the names of pupils in her new classes. It was a requirement that all teachers familiarise themselves with the pupils in their classes. A simple, but time consuming task because it meant trawling through individual pupil data to find out their grades from the previous year; it meant opening restricted files in the Special educational Needs folder and looking through private documents that could never ever been seen by pupils or parents alike; it meant reading through individual care plans in order to learn as to whether a pupil in your class would need an extra bit of attention from you their teacher this forthcoming year.

This is what Miss Rose was doing when she saw Jay Sumner’s name for the first time.

Jay Sumner? She pondered upon the name for a few moments. It didn’t start alarm bells ringing in her head alerting her to a bothersome pupil one of her colleagues had taught last year nor did it leave her with nothing. There was something there in the back of her mind waving solemnly like an elderly distant relative saying goodbye for what you knew was going to be the final time. Miss Rose noticed that there was a file attached to Jay’s name and it was her duty to read it. She learnt that Jay was a new transfer to the school having recently moved over the Pennines from Lancashire. School transfers were not uncommon though, so why the note? Miss Rose read on. Soon, she learnt that Jay’s mother had died in a car crash when Jay was only ten years old and that if any teachers needed to contact home, then dad would be the first point of contact followed by an aunt who resided in Oldham. Miss Rose felt a slight pain in her heart for the child – it wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling – she had taught many pupils over the years that had lost parents, siblings and grandparents. She made a mental note to keep an eye on the young girl. Being a teacher of English meant that, more often than not, some of the topics they covered often revolved around the themes of death and tragedy, and sometimes that meant treading carefully with some pupils in her classes. There had been times when she and her classes could put the world to rights over whether or not Lady Macbeth was a tragic character or not; they would debate over whether they felt sympathy for Curley’s Wife in ‘Of Mice and Men’; she had had girls run out in tears over the untimely suicide of Juliet and she had had boys make inappropriate jokes, because some of them just weren’t quite mature enough to talk about death in a serious manner. Yes, she would keep and eye on Jay.

The day pushed on and the light changed in the silent classroom as Miss Rose put the final finishing touches to the seating plans she had meticulously created using the data she had been given, the knowledge she already had of the child and whether the child was a girl or a boy. The late summer sun had lowered in the sky and had started to reflect upon the computer screen. Pushing back a stray blonde stand of hair behind her ears, Miss Rose decided to call it a day. After all, she would be back in her classroom again in the morning and by 9am, the seats would be filled with fervent pupils, who were well rested after a long summer and eager to learn. Well, that’s what she told herself anyway. (In reality, they would be clock watching and counting down to the end of the school day in order to enjoy the early September weather – anything to hang onto the final remnants of the summer months.) She switched off the computer, grabbed her coat and bag and shut her classroom door on the way out. For the last six years, this room had been her second home and often she preferred it to returning to her actual home. Did anyone really relish the thought of returning to an empty house – especially when it was twenty degrees and still light outside? Ten years ago, she would have been arranging to meet a friend in a near by pub beer garden, but a lot can change in ten years.

*****

Her laptop whizzed into life. Despite being planned for the week, Miss Rose logged into her work email and checked for any updates on the new school year. There were none. She checked what day her Year 8 form had assemblies, she double checked her library lessons and she ensured that she had sent all of her resources to print. There was nothing to be done. The evening before a new school year begins is the only time in a teacher’s working year that the ‘To Do’ list is complete. She knew that as soon as she walked through the door tomorrow, her list would begin and it would grow and expand and almost cripple her, but that was her job. Being a teacher was all consuming; it was emotional and it made her dog tired. The job ate its way into Miss Rose’s dreams and night, filling them with anxiety for the day ahead. Sometimes, she thought about pupils long after they left her classroom because she was worried about them, or they had made her particularly proud that lesson or (although not that often in her lessons) she was angry at their behaviour and that anger just wouldn’t simmer down. The classroom never really leaves you as a teacher, you see and the pupils, well, the pupils, they can imprint on you forever. Miss Rose didn’t mind this though. The all consuming part of the job was the bit she relished because it ensured that it kept her demons at bay. If she didn’t have the time to acknowledge them, then they didn’t have the time to torment her.

********

The all too familiar sound of her digital alarm clock sounded loudly in Miss Rose’s ear at 6am. She was already awake. It was the same at the start of every school year. Her mind had not switched off from the previous evening and, like she knew they would, her anxious thoughts ate their way into her dreams and she had found herself standing at the front of an unfamiliar science classroom surrounded by children she didn’t know and she was screaming at one of them to get out of the room. Only there was no voice emitting from her mouth and the more and more she tried to shout, the more frustrated she became. Soon, she had started gesticulating with her arms in a vain attempt to just get the kid out and then she whacked her hand on a protruding gas-tap next her computer. In these dreams, Miss Jones was always in a science classroom with its high tables and tall stools – she never knew why this was the classroom that haunted her dreams, but it did. Snapping her eyes awake, Miss Rose looked at her clock at saw that it was 5.30am. There was no point in trying to sleep for half an hour more not when each time she closed her eyes, sleep tried to pull her back into that daunting classroom that had forcibly pushed her into silently screaming for help. No, she kept her eyes open and thought about the day ahead. She had Year 8 first period. Jay wouldn’t be in that class. Briefly, she thought that it was strange that she had thought of Jay, but the moment passed in an instant and she laid and watched the clock and in doing so, forgot to turn off the irritating alarm that hadn’t rung in just over six weeks.

6am. She would be out of the house by 7am and seated at her desk at 7.30am. Mornings were easy when you only had yourself to worry about. Miss Rose lived in a quaint three bedroom cottage in the village of Castleton, which was about fifteen miles away from the coastal town of Whitby. Despite living on her own, she found that she needed her three bedrooms. One had been turned into a small office; one was the space she slept in and the third she had turned into a dressing room. Fastening her dress-gown tightly around her, Miss Rose left her bathroom – with the pleasant scent of lavender chasing her – and made her way into her dressing-room. She loved this room. It looked out onto the Dales and beyond that she could see a small railway line that carried the daily commuters into town. Sitting down at her dressing table, Miss Rose pulled open a drawer and pulled out a rather expensive looking makeup bag. Inside was a treasure chest that any teenage girl would give their right eyebrow for. Literally spilling over the top of the bag were foundations, eye creams, lip creams, eyeliners, eye shadows and various contouring kits. Even though Miss Rose’s social life was somewhat limited, she took a lot of pride in how she looked and what she wore, choosing to spend her money on what made her feel and look good in the hope that it would cover up the way she felt inside. No amount of makeup would fill that hole though. Sometimes it grew that huge, she thought it would consume her. Not today though. Today she was filled with hope because it was the start of a new school year and with new years brought new hopes for both her and her pupils. She stared deep into the mirror and pressed lightly at the soft bags beneath her soft turquoise eyes. When had she become this woman? Tiny lines had started to trace their way outwards from the corners of her eyes. Laughter lines her mother called them, but Miss Rose didn’t have much to laugh about these days. “Scowl marks then,” her mother had sneered when Rose had tried to tell her that she had been feeling a little down’. “You’ve been scowling at that computer of yours for too long,” her mother suggested. “You need a holiday; you need to relax.” What she needed, however, was someone to listen to her, someone to tell her that what she was feeling was perfectly normal for someone of her age to experience, but her mother had failed to notice this cry for help. Her mother had failed her at a lot of things over the years, but Miss Rose had always been reluctant to cut ties with her completely, despite what others had said, because she was her family and without family, she had nothing. She picked up a small, but expensive, jar of cream, opened it and dabbed the tiniest amount onto her forefinger. Dabbing under her eyes, Miss Rose hoped to see a difference in the puffiness around her face. She didn’t, so she pulled out the ‘big guns’ as it were: the concealer, the primer, the foundation and the blusher.

Ten minutes later and Miss Rose had started to recognise the woman who stared back at her from the mirror. She smiled. However, it was a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. Whether is was because she didn’t want to see the wrinkles she had spend ten minutes covering or whether it was because she didn’t want to admit to being able to see the deep sadness that currently resided in her face, she would never know because she would never allow herself the time to really ponder over that question as the answer, quite frankly, scared her. A sombre mood and swirled its way into the dressing room and the dressing room was supposed to be a place of glamour; that’s what they had decided on anyway when they first purchased the house ten years ago. Shaking off dark thoughts, Miss Rose stepped over to her wardrobe and pulled out a red polka-dot three quarter length flared skirt and teamed it up with a crisp white shirt, skin-coloured tights and red ballet pumps. It was a bright morning outside and she felt she had to dress to reflect the weather because before she knew it, October would be upon her and with dark nights come dark thoughts.