So today I had my first little taster day at my new job (yes I have a new job and yes it’s still in education but I still have two weeks to go at my old job too) and it was remarkable.
I have (in the near past – I haven’t blogged in ages but) extolled the virtues of the young people in my ‘care’, and what I love about them, (and also written about my own offspring, whom I have referred to variously as #thelittledutchman, and #thedevilchildren respectively). Anyone who knows me knows I love my kids. And they know I love my grrls. And they know I have a sense of humour about both. (I DO love my boys I promise)
On Friday of last week my oldest little man, the 9 yr old, didn’t want to go to school. He woke up with classic anxiety about ‘what happened last night’ and REALLY didn’t want to go to school. What had he done? He has a new friend and she’s a she, and she came to play on the Thursday after school. She’s super cool (she likes skulls too and needless to say I loved her). But my little dude woke up and was immediately struck with the potential fallout from people having seen us all going home the day before in the same car.
I recognised his anxiety because I’m a Mamabear who wakes up the same, some days. The random, sick feeling that maybe I did something wrong yesterday and might have to face stuff the next day. The absolute terror of facing the world with no words to put to the fear.
Now, to understand me is to understand some of the stuff I respect and love in people. I fell in love with the Grumpy Dutchman not because – and he’ll question this – he is pure and simple gorgeous. Or because he is arrogant/sexy-as-fuck. Don’t get me wrong, he is (oh my god), but believe it or not, I see through that. And it wasn’t because he is well spoken, or in to art, or any of that stuff either. What sealed the deal for me, as it were, was because I could see we were exactly the same. We don’t fucking back down and we don’t bow to peer pressure.
Now that sounds like drama, but what I mean is that if the GD loves something, or believes in something, he will listen to you and he will recognise and (mostly) respect the reasons why, but he’ll quietly go on doing what he was doing, or believing what he believed in the first place. He’ll probably tell you you’re wrong – he’s arrogant (I told you that), and he will carry on, whether or not you’re gonna stay friends with him. And I was, and have tried to, remain the same all through adolescence and adulthood. (And no it’s not fun to be married to someone who thinks he’s right ALL the time – but so’s he so it equals out).
One of my best grrlfriends took great pleasure in introducing me to the WHOLE party as the Virgin when I arrived, right up in to my late teens. RIGHT UP UP UNTIL I WAS 19, I would arrive to any party and Theresa would shout to get everyone’s attention (and she could cos’ my grrl has charisma coming out of her ass), and she would quiet the party and announce that I had arrived. The Virgin. The girl who Didn’t Take Drugs. The girl who’s Mother(s) were coming to get her at midnight. I was that girl. And for the most part it didn’t worry me. At all. I had lesbian parents in the 90’s (very rarely admitted back then), I took no drugs when everyone around me was trying EVERYTHING, and I liked guitar music and was not to be swayed, even when dance music was at its peak and everyone was out of their face on ecstasy. I had people lining up to buy me ALL the drugs just to see what would happen. No dice. No friends. No cares.
So naturally the GD and I love when our kids are the same as us. One of master 9’s teachers a couple of years ago really struggled to get him to join in and finish required work; he was clearly capable but the child was not going to do it. While we shared his (the teacher’s) despair that peer pressure wasn’t getting him to do his required reading, we quietly, privately, were proud of him because he didn’t care ‘that all the other kids were doing it’. He had/has no learning difficulties – the child is straight up lazy – and we saw that; I am happy to report that he is ahead of his classmates now in reading and writing and we are mostly proud because he found his own motivation and got his shit sorted because he knew he had to.
And this stuff transfers. The 9 yr old now has a best friend who is female. OH MY GOD. The other boys are struggling and I totally get it. His bestie (boy) friend feels so left out and sad that he is angry. He feels excluded from the fun and games and missing my boy, and the only way he knows how to deal with it is to make the interloper friendship alien. So he is saying they are in love and are going out, he tells their mutual friends to exclude my boy and all that bullshit. I can’t tell someone else’s 9yr old that it’s not appropriate to sexualise children like that; I can’t talk to him until I’ve talked to his Mum (who is totally cool so I can chat to her) because that would be me bullying a child so all I can do is support my boy. We also like his friend and don’t want him burning that bridge so he’s not allowed to talk badly about him or say ‘it’s all his fault’.
What we can do, and have done, is support his choices – his new friend is cool, they should be friends and we want them to be and we are clear that we think that. Neither of us have made dumb comments about them being boyfriend/girlfriend and it’s all good.
What we were also clear on was, that although he was feeling shit, he couldn’t not go to school on Friday. He was worried that his friend and him would get teased because she came to play at our place. And I get that. But he couldn’t leave her to go to school to (potentially) face that teasing and still be a good friend. Part of the integrity of that friendship had to be owning it and being a team. There was going to no wimping out. It totally sucked for all of us. It took me an hour to drop him off to school that day and I was very close to wine for breakfast by the end believe me.
The saga continues. I went to school with him on Friday and spoke to his teacher, she was great. We are emailing, and I will talk to his other friends Mum if the situation doesn’t improve, but we are checking in daily. The 9 yr old seems chipper having been listened to and taken seriously. We could have taken his side – he said he was being bullied and wanted his (ex-ish) friend punished but actually he needed to be listened to and have the situation explained to him from the other perspective.
How does it relate to my day of enrolling kids for my new job?
Well. Kids aren’t born bad. You know that, I know that, and the world knows that, but fuck man, how many times do we forget that?
What struck me today was that a 10 yr old boy who clearly tried all the avenues he had been told to try to deal with being bullied at school, and was ignored by the adults trusted to protect and care for him, for a year and half, had to deal with it himself in the only way he knew to make it stop, and got expelled for his efforts,
That a young girl, known to take care of those less fortunate than herself, who made sensible choices to remove herself from those influences that dragged her down and suffered for those choices for the next two years – to the point that she had such crippling anxiety she was self-harming and couldn’t leave her bed – is now seeking alternative care, despite having really supportive parents and teachers,
And that a girl so intelligent she is passing all of her classes despite never being there; has such big walls up that she fights with ALL people who show any care for her; that has has burned all of her bridges at 14, cried at the interviews today because her mother was trying to lay all the cards out on the table.
These kids were failed by the adults in their life.Harsh shit, I know.
These children, and mine, were not born with the skills to deal with this sort of fallout. They rely on the mental health institutions our government fund to support them, the educational institutions available to them and, fundamentally, their whanau or community to find places for them, to teach them resilience, perseverance, and that ultimately, they deserve to take up space and receive quality education.
It’s not for nothing that these kids today reminded me of my boy.
I need to stress that all of these kids today were accompanied by their parents who were with them in an attempt to support their efforts to enroll, and to validate this positive choice their child was making. Students are not allowed to enroll if it isn’t their choice, and they make all of the appointments and have to follow through to be part of the center. These kids want to be part of something positive. They want to succeed. They have hope.
But I am fearful for the future. We, as a society, as a community, increasingly vote for people who see education as a business. With bottom lines, profit/deficit goals, ‘targets’ that mean nothing to individuals and data gathering exercises that speak to international graphs and tables. Who is funding the basic tenements of global citizenship – where is the testing for compassion, empathy and responsibility for one’s actions?
If, for whatever reason, in the case of our boy enrolling today, all of the adults (including his parents) fail him in asking for help when school is SO unsafe that he needs to resort to violence after over a year of ‘trying to harden up’ (his own words) fails him – why is the ONE specialist school in his area (staffed to take a maximum of 20 kids for the greater Auckland area) the only answer?
I am fucking excited about my new job, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE tweens/teens/young people, and I think I’m good at ‘them’. But what about all those other kids? When will we, as a community, face the fact that NZ society and it’s voting is fucking them over?
This is what I worry about with my little Dutchmen: what if they go to a school one day where the teacher doesn’t give a shit that one of them is being isolated by the other kids on the basis of their friendship choices? What if my kid is sticking up for the gay kid? Or the Pasifika kid (I have taught my kids, and will continue to teach them, that they must use their white, male, middle class privilege as a tool to support and protect others). Or the atheist kid? What if they can’t find adult role models in their schools to fight the good fight?
There isn’t room where I’m going for all of them.