The Teaching Mum

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


Leave a comment

And That’s All I Have To Say About That

You died on a Friday afternoon – it was the 30th January 2009 and today marks ten years since you left us.  We are taught from a relatively young age that dying is a part of life, but I sure wish it wasn’t.  A couple of months ago I spotted a video being shared on line.  It was amateur footage of a man holding a teddy bear and in that teddy bear was a recording device of some kind and on that recording device was the voice of his mum who had passed away some years before.  It was an old answer phone message she had left him and after she died, he could not bring himself to delete the message.  A friend had managed to take the answerphone message, store it on a device and placed it inside the teddy bear.  Before watching the video, there was a little context given so I knew what was going to unfold and I was certain about my reaction.  The man in the video squeezed the teddy’s tummy and his mother’s voice rang out.  It’s the man’s body language that is etched into my mind now as I think about it again. He doubled over, as if in physical pain, and he hugged that teddy so tight.  I was an emotional wreck ten seconds into that video; the emotion in him was so raw.  It was beautiful but also painful to watch because after the initial exultation over the fact he was hearing his mother’s voice, the realisation that is was just her recorded voice set in and the man stayed doubled over because the pain of her not really being there was a little too much for him to handle and understandably so.

I don’t have a recording of your voice; I don’t have any videos of you stored on my phone. But, I also no longer double over in pain at the thought of you not being a part of my life. I don’t need that constant reminder of your voice to remind me what I no longer have. Just your absence is sizeable enough even after ten years.

And in the ten years that you have been away from us, I can say that we are doing just fine but this is what you’ve missed:

I became a mum. A role that should not but absolutely does define me and every thing I do. I don’t think I am mumsy especially when I turn up to my daughter’s gymnastics wearing biker boots, jeans, a leather jacket and a She-Ra t-shirt and the phrase ‘full time Mummy’ would not sit well both on my Facebook page and on my conscience but first and foremost I am a mum. All of my decisions and choices always come back to the two lives I am trying to raise right. My outlook on life has changed with the landscape constantly evolving; no longer do I dwell upon my dreams and ambitions – I appear to have lost them somewhere in my endless laundry pile – but I dwell upon Grace’s and Zach’s. What type of people will they become and how will they make their mark upon the world because I sure haven’t made mine? My own mortality hangs over me; there’s nothing like having children to remind you that one day you won’t be there for them. I think your illness makes me worry more. Every niggle and every pain that can’t be explained and I’m in the doctors’ surgery. I was asked once by a doctor if I had hit my head after complaining of a headache that had lasted more than a week. ‘Yes,’ I told him with a serious look upon my face. ‘Three years ago I fell off my bike and hit my head on the pavement.’ He scowled, told me it was a stress headache and sent me on my way. Parenting leaves me stressed, anxious and exhausted but also more vigilant, I hope.

It goes without saying that my biggest regret in life is not giving you grandchildren before you died.  I’ve often wondered what kind of grandfather you would be, but I struggle to picture it so I don’t try to.  Why force an image onto something that won’t ever happen?

Your granddaughter at seven appears to have more confidence than I ever did growing up.  Last year I made a decision to move her out of a school she loved and into a new one closer to home.  I cried when I dropped her off on her first day as I knew I had taken her away from her friends, however I also knew that I had made the right decision to move her.  When I picked her up after school, I saw her alone and walking towards one of the ladies from After School Club.  Immediately my heart dropped because she had no friends but as it turned out, she was just asking where the toilets were and she had had a great first day.  She started a gymnastics class alone and she loves it and only three weeks ago she started Brownies.  She walked into a room filled with children she didn’t know, handed me her coat and walked right on in.  She’s good at making friends.  Let’s just hope she keeps them for life, like you did.

Your grandson looks like his dad – there is no getting around that fact.  His ears though – I would say they are yours.  Whether that’s a good thing or not, you can decide for yourself.  He’s just started playing football and when I say playing football, I actually mean that he runs around a field, chases his friends, sits on footballs and doesn’t listen to instructions.  He does all this dressed in the Barnsley kit his dad bought him though so perhaps you wouldn’t be surprised at his footballing antics.  I couldn’t visit your grave yesterday – on your birthday – but your grandson did.

img_0224

You missed my wedding and didn’t see me finally walk down an aisle.  I didn’t particularly enjoy the run up to my wedding and in the weeks and months beforehand, I left most of the planning to my mum.  I thought I was going to find the day really difficult and felt incredibly anxious over walking down the aisle with my mum and not you.  As it turned out though, I was completely wrong.  Nerves were defeated by perhaps a little too much champagne as I was getting dressed and ready and the day was up there with one of the best.  Your picture hung from my bouquet, you were toasted and remembered and then I just danced and danced and danced.  There wasn’t a shadow hanging over me that day, only light.

img_2756

However, after the births and the weddings we are left with this: the every day – the normality and you have missed 3650 of those every days.  Age is creeping up on me and sometimes I don’t recognise myself in the mirror.  Granted it’s usually at 6am in the morning, in the harsh bathroom light and without makeup on but I can see the fine lines that no longer disappear when the smile (or grimace) leaves my face.  You saw me as an adult but not as one who carries responsibility around with her daily.  My actions and reactions can impact upon someone’s life whether it be one of my children’s or one of the countless other children who see me and rely on me (and probably moan about me) everyday.  I am accountable and sometimes I miss my younger care free self but at 28, she was a little lost and now despite some inevitable dark days, I do know my self worth.

In the ten years since you have gone, I may not have travelled the world or lived the life I imagined, but I have become someone I think you would be proud of.  I have many, many faults but fundamentally, I am a good person.  Just as you were.

As turbulent and traumatic your final months were, I hope your final moments were anything but.  I miss you; I will always miss you.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

img_2103

 


11 Comments

Why Teaching Was My Saviour.

Seven years ago, I was asked by the PE Department at my previous school to accompany them on a trip to some army barracks in Yorkshire.  We took a small group of Year 10 students and stayed for three nights.

It was in January so as you can imagine, it was cold, wet, muddy and tiring – as school trips always are.  Teenagers on school trips believe that sleep is for the weak.

I shouldn’t have gone.

I shouldn’t have gone because I didn’t teach PE and was accustomed to the warmth of a stuffy English classroom.

I shouldn’t have gone because I spent the week in layers and layers of army khaki.

I shouldn’t have gone because it was cold, wet, and exhausting.

But mostly, I shouldn’t have gone because a week after returning, my Dad died.

I knew it was coming so why did I go?  Where on earth did my priorities lie?  If I could go back, I would tell myself to stay at home and spend some precious time with my family. I would convince the younger me, the me who was not in a good place, that I would not find the mile run across some scenic countryside in army camouflage and heavy Timberland boots invigorating.  I would explain that I hated sleeping in a grotty twin room on camp beds in a borrowed sleeping bag.  I would tell myself that the long walks through the woods chatting to my Year 10 students would not take my mind off things and I would tell myself that standing in darkness beneath a clear sky glittering with beautiful stars would not make things all right.

But still, I went.

I went because running in khaki got me outside.  I went because sleeping in some barracks took me away from hospitals.  I went because talking to my Year 10s about their lives, took me away from mine and I went because looking up at a sky filled with a multitude of stars made me realise how insignificant I was and how amazing the world could be if I just stopped, looked and took it all in.  Beauty around us doesn’t fade when life gets a bit tough – it just becomes distorted and it’s up to you to find it again.

My Dad would have been okay with my going, I think.  I don’t know.  I never got around to ask him.

A day after returning from the trip, my colleagues and I had a Friday drink in the pub down the road from the school I was working at.  I received a phone call from my Mum:

“Your Dad has fallen.  He is okay, the ambulance has taken him to St Gemma’s Hospice.”

The plan was for him to leave the hospice and come back home.

He never did.

Throughout next week I continued to go to work as normal. I was lucky enough to be teaching a phenomenal Year 10 class (some of whom had gone on the army trip) and without knowing it, they made my life normal.  I laughed with them, at them and they laughed at me – in between me instilling them with a love of English Literature and good grammatical skills, of course!

One Tuesday morning, I had stayed overnight at my Mum’s and she told me not to go into work that day. She advised that we should both spend the day with Dad.  The sad thing though was that she had to talk me into not going to work.  Like my Father, I have a very strong work ethic, and phoning in sick is just something that I do not do.  Reluctantly, I called my Head of Department and obviously she was insistent that I spend time with Dad.

I took some GCSE essays with me to mark.

I am ashamed to say that as we sat around my Father’s bed waiting for the consultant to come and see us, I sat with my head bowed low reading my students’ GCSE Film Reviews.  What kind of daughter does that?  My Mum told me afterwards that the Macmillan nurse asked her why I was marking and wondered if it would help if I had someone to talk to, someone to share my fears with.  My Mum assured her that this was my way of coping.  She told them that I wouldn’t want to talk to anyone – and she was completely correct.  Reading this back now, I sound heartless, but this is how I dealt with my grief.  Gathered around that bed on that Tuesday afternoon, the grieving process had properly begun; we all knew that the inevitable was upon us.  Nothing could change that, so the essays that needed marking might as well get marked.

I returned to work the next day.

Friday afternoon had arrived and it had been a week since the PE trip.  I was with my tutor group and I received a call from an unknown number.

I hung up.

I shouldn’t have hung up.

Instantly after hanging up, I knew I had just missed a call from the hospice.  After dismissing my pupils, I raced downstairs into the PE dept and I found the Other Half (as we worked together once upon a time).  He held me down in the eye of the storm and for a brief moment there was only us and silence.

My phone rang again and this time it was my Mum.

His time was almost up.

She told me to get to the hospice.  I had one big errand to run first: I had to pick up my 89 year old Grandma.

Grandma was sitting and waiting patiently for me dressed in her coat, head scarf and patent shoes.  Throughout Dad’s illness, my Grandma, his Mother, barely lost face.  I think I saw her cry twice.  She was a fiercely independent woman who, despite being 4ft 11 with a dodgy pair of lungs, was incredibly strong willed and, like me, wasn’t good at sharing feelings.

We left for the hospice.

But the detour meant we were too late.

I missed you go Dad, I’m  sorry.

Looking back, would I have done it differently?  Would I have picked up the phone?  Would I have left school without running to see my partner first?  Would I have left t’old Grandma to catch the bus?

Of course I wouldn’t.

I don’t think seeing Dad take his last breath would have made things easier for me.  It couldn’t possibly have made the end more final than it was or given me the closure I needed.

I sat with him for a long time afterwards.

I think it was all for the best really.  My Mum was with him and she was enough.  More than enough.  Throughout Dad’s short battle with Cancer, my Mum was a hero.  Like my Grandma, I never saw her break or falter.  She carried us completely.

As the first few years passed, I felt like I had just not seen Dad for a while.  Seven years, however, feels like a life time.  In that time, I have had my family, mourned my twenties and even hit my mid-thirties.  I have forgotten what Dad’s voice sounded like and yet I know that I would recognise it in a instant if I heard it.  He visits me in my dreams every so often and especially at this time of year.  Only last night, we were sitting at the dining table in our old house and he was ill (he is always ill in my dreams) and I was telling him how much I missed him.  Wiping away tears, I woke and instinctively I felt at my cheeks and they were dry – they always are.  The dining room, the talking and the crying are never real.  As distressing as they are though, I welcome the dreams.

On the 29th January – Dad’s birthday (he passed on the 30th), I will draw a heart around the date on my white-board at school – as I do every year.  It’s my little way of telling him that he will be in my thoughts all day.  No song and dance in my remembrance, I’m afraid; a little heart will suffice.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have gone on the army trip.

Perhaps I should have picked up my phone.

I am sorry that I marked essays beside his bed.

After losing Dad, I returned to work after two weeks.  Some might think it was too early and maybe it was.  I returned to my classes and I returned to my Year 10s.  We started studying GCSE Literature and began to read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.  I had never read or taught it before – but boy, did they get some good grades and do me proud!  It remains now one of my favourite books, not because it is so universally well loved and one of the ‘greats’, but because it reminds me of the time when teaching a bunch of Year 10 students saved me.

And I don’t think Dad would have questioned that.

Dad

I don’t think you could get more of an ‘eighties’ picture if you tried!

 

I keep him in my car too!