Big Sky

Twenty years ago we came to look at our current home for the first time and we both immediately fell in love with it. Yes it was a bit small being a two bedroom bungalow. It needed a lot of work doing to it. Apart from a really small village store it was a long way from any other facilities. The garden was badly overgrown. It would have been so easy to drive onto the next house we were looking at. But then we saw the view from the back garden. That was it. We were sold. I remember saying – that’s a big sky.

It’s still a big sky.

Little did we know how important such an isolated garden would prove when we became parents. Apart from the occasional walker and farmer you don’t see any sign of human life. These days when a human is spotted son will scamper into the house until the all clear is given. I’m not sure he would ever surface if he lived in a busy city.

Today was a work from home day. In fact this is going to be a work from home week. So it’s one of those weeks which could go two ways. Bask in the splendid isolation or feel the intense loneliness. Well after a few hours today it was heading towards the latter. When that happens the house starts to feel very cold and very claustrophobic. So a few minutes later I had donned about 15 layers and was sat outside with the laptop. Sat under the big sky. Today it was particularly quiet. No walkers, no farmers, no farm animals. Just the occasional bird. Yes still lonely but now realising how extremely privileged I am to be sat under this big sky.

Then something struck me. Before the world changed we would always be sitting in the garden. Sat with a glass of wine relaxing talking about becoming parents. Then when son arrived we would sit and watch him play with his toy dinosaurs on the grass. The garden would become Jurassic World. Then after a few hours the big bad daddy ranger would have to locate all the dinosaurs. It’s amazing how camouflaged a raptor can be in a Yorkshire garden. Then the bad stuff happened. Yes I would go outside to play in the garden with our son. I would train and do exercises in the garden. But I didn’t /sit in the garden anymore. This was probably the first time I had sat in the garden since my partner had left us. I guess it just didn’t seem right. It was always our garden not my garden. Almost as if it had become fenced off. Today without thinking just maybe that fence has come down. If it’s sunny again tomorrow I will probably work outside again.

Time to work under the big sky again.

Two quotes

“I AM DIFFERENT NOT LESS” – Dr Temple Grandin

Another week we dust ourselves down and go again. Although the route is still shrouded in mist and we face countless dead ends – we must keep going. If not for me but for our son.

A session with a new health professional. Always a good sign when she does not ask me what I want, she asks our son. The health professional is going to contact school to see what work they have undertaken to help with our son’s handwriting. Assuming school has done nothing and has no plans to do so (which we believe is the position) then the health service will start a programme to help with his writing. This will be the first time in three years work that son will have had specific help with his writing. Let’s see what progress can be made, what writing aids help. If progress cannot be made then that might be the time we start to move away from pen and paper to keyboard and voice recognition.

So we start down another path.

These are the specific areas son asked for help with

  • Handwriting
  • Shoelaces and Ties
  • Holding objects like handles which require two hands.

Interestingly he sees Aspergers as who he is – his personality. Aspergers is not a label just him. However he now sees himself as not dyslexic.

The fact that I can now read some of the words and can mostly guess the rest means I’m not dyslexic. Now I’m just not very good at reading.

I think this recent view of dyslexia is down to school. Firstly school sees anyone with dyslexia as low attainment. Son hates being branded as below average. As a result Son sees dyslexia as an unwelcome label. Secondly the label dyslexic brings him no additional help from school. Whats the point of referring to yourself as dyslexic if it brings no support benefits and only results in being automatically branded below other kids in the class.

The bottom line is the school system has failed him. It has failed too many kids. That’s one of the reasons you read so many cases of great individuals who have decided to hide their dyslexia. Kenny Logan is a Scotland Rugby legend playing 70 times for his country. He choose to keep his dyslexia secret. From his team mates. Even from his wife. Only at the age of 34 did he finally seek help. On what planet can this be allowed to happen. So much wasted talent and opportunities. So much stress and suffering. This is nothing short of a disgrace.

I started with a quote and I will finish with one. One from our son

When someone has a disability your not allowed to discriminate against them. If your in a wheelchair you shouldn’t have to put your hand up for help. So why is it that when someone has an invisible disability you can be ignored and that you have to say ‘Please will you help me’ and when they ignore you it’s not discrimination.

Strange Yellow Thing

Such a change 24 hours. Yes still very very very wet and muddy. But that strange yellow thing in the sky has returned. It does make such a difference.

Son did you get time to look at the strange yellow thing in the sky today”

What strange yellow thing.

“That big yellow thing we don’t often get in Yorkshire”

Dad was it a large Canary or Yellow Parrot.

No it was Big Bird from Sesame Street”

Your pulling my leg aren’t you Dad. And Big Bird can’t fly.

Son it was the Sun. Did you see the Sun today”

Dad your not supposed to look at the Sun directly. It could damage your eyes.

*******

But life is good as the strange yellow thing is here.

*******

It’s Wednesday so it must be time for this weeks spelling test. Not the easiest thing for a kid with dyslexia. Ok Gang your words for this week which you need to learn or makeup fiction with are

Overreact, Hero, Claudio, Beatrice, Benedick, Character, Scene, Subservient, Discipline, Accused, Blessing, Suspicion, Breadwinner, Complicated, Stereotypical.

*******

But life is good as the strange yellow thing is here.

*******

A letter came home with Son today. In two weeks his year group will sit exams for all subjects. They will be organised in the same way as final exams to better prepare students. Exams will last 75 minutes with time for reading provided. Results are important as they will largely form this years assessment. This determines which set you are placed in.

*******

But life is good as the strange yellow thing is here.

*******

So beginneth the first true school test of 2020. A test for school not pupils. What support will school put in place for our son. For kids like our son. I have already let school know very clearly what we expect. Additional Time. A Reader & Scribe. Separate room. If these are not viable in any particular exam then significant marking adjustments or removing son from exams where adjustments can’t be made. Over to school now.

*******

But life is good as the strange yellow thing is here.

*******

Today at work I found out that the office unit might be relocating. A local Car Garage is looking for a trustworthy organisation to share a unit with. Oh what fun. It’s closer. More modern office. And best of all maybe I get some company. No more Billy no mates.

*******

But life is good as the strange yellow thing is here.

*******

On further investigation I do get some company just not quite what I was expecting. The garage will be using it’s part of the unit to store car parts and tyres. So my new buddies are called Mr Dunlop, Miss Bridgestone, Mr Goodyear, Mrs Pirelli and Mr Continental. Will have to tread carefully with these guys…..

*******

But life is good as the strange yellow thing is here.

Earthquakes and The Scottish Play

Finally succumbed to the New Year ‘Sort myself out’ bug. So the Gluten, Soya, Caffeine, Dairy, Meat Free diet is back in force. Whats the old phrase – in for a Penny in for a Pound. So on top of that it is a fasting type regime as well. 10pm to 4pm no food. Allowed to eat in just 6 hours everyday. If I was sticking to the 8:16 diet then I could start eating at 2pm but as Son is not back from school until 4 then might as well wait. It’s funny the effect it has on me. Even a simple bowl of green salad takes on an out of body experience at 4pm. Almond Milk becomes pure nectar.

Anybody who experiences the pleasure of IBS will probably understand the length you will go to try and sort your innards out. You realise it’s unlikely ever to be that magic fix. You happily settle for work around that settles things down for a few months. As you get older more items are added to the banned list. Or at best the once a year I’ve got to have my fix and will take the consequences list. It never seems to be the boring or least favourite foods does it. This Christmas shockingly Marzipan has been added to the naughty list. Absolutely heartbreaking. It’s bizarre as Almond Milk is currently fine with my body and yet Marzipan…… So if you ever see me in the street looking like Mr Creosote then you know I’ve just succumbed to Marzipan with a large coffee.

Anyway the diet switch has been surprisingly easy this weekend. As soon as we have got up Son has wanted to play football in our mud patch and then take the dog for a walk. It’s helped pass the empty feeling hours. Frustratingly the football was set all day in a misty and rainy backdrop. Only as we started to pack up did the clouds finally part and we got to see the last embers of the setting sun. It will be a brief interlude as another Atlantic Storm is flying towards us. The Trampoline is hopefully well and truly sandbagged down.

So now we prepare for school. Last week was best described as a holding pattern. It didn’t get worse but certainly didn’t move forward. Currently we are trying to revise for a Science Test. For whatever reason Son suddenly gets areas of knowledge that he just can’t visualise. Being dyslexic visualisation is his memory method. I’ve previously talked about his struggles with decimal points and shapes. We can now add Waves to the list of struggles. Poor kid just can’t get his head round them.

Dad not sure Im going to do very well on this one. Can’t even spell Electromagnetic or Longitudinal. So even if I do fluke the right answer I still won’t be able to write it down correctly. Maybe as I’ve been practising for a Shakespeare spelling test I should just put down random bard words. At least they will be sort of spelt right.

That did make me smile. Imagine the look on the Science Teachers face when the response to the question. Which of the two types of wave produced by an earthquake is the first to arrive at a location. And will it be the P or S wave? Is as following

Macbeth and Stratford upon Avon.

Swiss Sunday

It’s Sunday so it’s time for a bit of Switzerland.

Time travelling back a few years. The Hotel Owner takes a look at our shorts, T-shirt and sunglasses.

“I do hope you have brought something warmer with you. It’s going to be warm this morning but we have a cold snap coming through this afternoon. If not let me know and I can get you some jumpers”

I know it’s a generalisation but I always found the Swiss to be staggeringly polite. My partner knew this country so well. Even though this was deep into May she knew it was worth bringing a few items of wool. So with warmer gear in my rucksack we set off. Within a couple of hours it was most appreciated.

Another thing about Switzerland. The weather forecasts. In the UK our gerbils give more accurate forecasts than the weather services. Switzerland is different. Like its trains the forecasts are usually precision perfect. Each day would start with watching the weather guide on the TV. No weather presenter here. Stunning live web videos from the countries best locations with the hourly forecast underneath. I could watch that all day. So on this Sunday the forecast had snow from 2pm. At 1pm the clouds rolled in and suddenly the temperatures dropped sharply. Just after 2pm the snow started.

We watched the snow line descend rapidly down the mountains.

A few snow ball fights later and we found ourselves in the hotel enjoying copious amounts of pizza and apfelsaftschorle. The Hotel Owner confidently predicting that tomorrow would be a sun cream day.

The next morning we opened the hotel window and were rewarded with this view. Yesterday’s cold snap was so worth it.

Odd sizes

Running. Running. Keep on running to try and get closer to the hot air balloon. As hard as I tried this was as close as I got. In the photo it looks so small. Odd sizing.

Only two hours work today. Really could do with a few more hours. But that’s the price you pay for having to work to a zero based contract. What I miss out in terms of money is balanced by the flexibility it affords me. I’m lucky it’s run by good honest people. On the way back home I called into the supermarket. The shop has over the last few days introduced a new car parking layout. After two minutes of unsuccessfully trying to park I realised the problem. Unless you are driving the smallest two seater then your car is going to be too big for the parking bays. Clearly the shop only wants to attract those with car boots the size of glove compartments. Odd sizing.

Is it so difficult for running shoe manufacturers to actually use a shoe sizing standard which applies to all trainers. Each manufacturer seems to have a slightly different definition of what size 9 is. That’s UK 9 or EU 43 or US 9.5. Yet depending on which brand I go for sometimes I need to buy a 9. Then again sometimes it has to be 9.5. Then again 8.5 has been the best fit. That’s even before we go down the line of feet width. According to some manufacturers I’m wide, some think I’m standard and one company think I’m narrow. This is all fine as you can try them on in the shop. But what happens if you need to buy them online because they are so much cheaper. It’s a nightmare. My new trainers came today. With New Balance I’m either a 9 or 9.5. So I played safe and went 9.5(wide). And guess what they are too pigging small. So they have to be sent back. Deep breath. Along with Son’s new coat. Which was too small even though I went two year sizes up – so he could grow into it. Ha ha. Very odd sizing.

Yesterday was the school bag apocalypse day. Every two weeks we have one day which requires separate kits for Drama, indoor PE and outdoor Games. The day also involves Design Technology with its own wheelbarrow full of items. On top of this he needs to bring the bucketload of daily required school gear including books and iPad. And then as Monty Python would say ‘just one more wafer thin mint’ – room needs to be found for his lunch (as school can’t guarantee that he will be given food). Poor kid was sent in with two extra large rucksacks packed to busting. Too busting for his plastic lunch box. So with trepidation the food is sent in a food bag. Asking for trouble.

Dad I look like I’m carrying a parachute and a paraglider.

No wonder when he comes home we have rucksack chaos resulting in sports kit being scattered over a 15 mile radius. Even accounting for lost items you can still see the forces building inside the bags like an overheating pressure cooker. The seams fighting not to burst like The Hulks pants. And at the bottom of the last bag is his uneaten packed lunch. Due to the Black Hole type conditions at the bottom of the bag the packed lunched has been compressed into a fraction of its original size.

“I take it you didn’t have your packed lunch.”

No after PE it was missing in action.

Did you get a school lunch then.”

No by the time I had got everything back into the bag the queue was too long for lunch. So I just gave it a miss.

You must be starving. What do you want to eat now”

Super size bowl of cornflakes with a mega packet of crisps. The biggest banana in the house washed down with a pint of orange juice. Then the biggest bar of Cadbury’s chocolate as second helpings.

****

That’s an odd sizing order I can finally sign up to.

Lakeside

New Years Eve. A walk to a local lake. For our Son a good walk as apart from a couple of anglers we had the place to ourselves.

This might have been the first place we walked to when we moved to the village. A time before parenthood. But parenting was at the forefront of our thoughts. It was the main reason we left the city. It looked a good safe place to raise a family. A perfect fit.

Fast forward far too many years and again I’m walking around this lake. This time as a parent. Still thinking about parenthood. Realising with hindsight what an excellent location choice we made. It’s perfect for our son. A landscape which can inspire dreams. Quiet. Isolated.

Yet even here sometimes it’s not isolated enough. Two anglers fishing at the far corner of the lake. A hundred yards away. Yet son still pulled his hood over his head and talked quietly. Just in case. It’s so difficult for him to interact with our society. Imagine how difficult it would be for him if we lived in a busy city. How difficult it is for him trying to learn in a school with 800 pupils.

Looking back to my life I can understand his anxieties. I can understand the effect those two anglers can have. I’ve always struggled in social settings. People thought I was outgoing and confident. They didn’t see the nervous kid with a stammer. The child only truly at ease when he was playing by himself. Only happy to laugh and joke when in small groups of trusted friends. Or within a trusted sports team where I would allow myself to take down some the self erected defensive walls. Yet throw in a stranger and I clammed up. I remember the teacher telling the class that the next day would be different. Kids from another school would be visiting us. The thought of strangers spooked me. The next day I bunked off school. As I walked towards the school gates I panicked. I spent the rainy day crouched under a bush. As an adult again I was often seen as the outgoing confident joker. Oh so wrong. Often my social skills needed to be fuelled with alcohol. Those antics masked my anxieties. I kept to a small circle of close friends. Avoided strangers. Constantly battling with my insecurities and nervous stammer.

These years later I’m still wracked with social anxieties. Now no alcohol to fuel the alter ego. So yes I can understand what our Son is going through. I’m no expert but what he has to deal with makes my struggles look like a cakewalk. So everyday I ponder on ways I can find to help him with his anxieties. Yet apart from Sport, Alcohol and hiding under bushes I’ve not been able to help myself. Maybe we could add – walking around completely deserted lakes to the list.

It’s such a hard life

Time for some random words.

Subservient Tudor Expect Discipline Chaperone Accused Suspicious Breadwinner Complicated Stereotypical Shakespeare Elizabethan

A few beauties from this weeks school spelling test. Is this really a level playing field for kids with dyslexia. I remember joking that in a few months he will have to learn the spellings of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs like Micropachycephalosaurus. Well the way these spellings are going I’m not ruling it out now.

A bit of a test day today for me. Trying to work from home completing jobs usual done at the work base. Reassuringly it went well. So well that I managed to complete about an hour ahead of schedule. With an empty work list I managed to go for a run. A chilly and very windy run. It was also quite a ‘hurty’ one. I was convinced that my knee and foot were playing up. At the end the real reason became apparent. Thankfully not my body. The shoe soles had worn completely through. Might as well have just run in my socks. Captain Chaos was in raptures. Two old trainers and a pair of running socks to chew and bury. After a frantic hour of digging and re-digging the poor chap was tired out. He needed a few quiet moments with his teddy.

It’s such a hard life….

Maybe I don’t need to replace my running shoes. If and when homeschooling kicks off my opportunities to go out running will be severely curtailed. May need to think about looking out for a second hand treadmill. When Son caught me looking at eBay he added to the shopping list. So on top of a treadmill apparently we need a second hand cinema sized TV, a slush puppy machine and a chef. Maybe we could find a chef who specialises in funny coloured iced drinks. With that thought swirling in my head it was time to take The Cap for his walk. Luckily I do have an old pair of trainers which still have some tread. But strangely I couldn’t find them in the shoe rack. Oh hang on. Worryingly I found the sole-less running shoes next to the dog basket. So exactly which shoes did he bury then. Bugger. Yes in a hole in the garden are my one usable pair of trainers.

It’s such a hard life….

Red School Sky

Red sky at night ready for the school fight.

So the dreaded hour is fast approaching. School opening its gates again. Feel so sorry, sad and angry for the kids like our Son having to face up to the nightmare which is modern schooling. I use the term modern in its loosest sense.

Increasingly my thoughts are turning to homeschooling. When to flick the switch. How to make it happen. Trying to stress tests the plans which are swirling around in my pea soup of a brain. Which options are best. What fits best with our circumstances. The aim being to have a workable plan in place by the end of February. As ever Son is the voice of reason. In fact as it’s his future he is driving the process. It has to be that way. He really isn’t happy but he’s giving the new term a go.

Dad going to give it a real go. Want to either see me moved up in the subjects I’m good at or want to be helped in the ones I struggle a bit in. Just one subject move would be cool.

“It’s not the subjects you struggle in. It’s the way the teachers judge you in those subjects. It’s never about the stuff you know. You have never had one comment about that. Remember what that teacher said last year – Don’t let anyone tell you your not clever. You are. The problems are not yours. It’s ours. We need to find better ways of getting the stuff in your head out into the wider world.

Ok Dad. Well let’s see what happens. What’s the plan if it goes pear shape this week at school?

Send you up chimneys to earn some money to pay for my rock and roll lifestyle”

Are you joking?

“Sorry, yes son I am pulling your leg. At least you can fit up a chimney.”

Your bottom would me a fine chimney sweeping tool. Not much would get past that.

“Let’s hope that school goes really well and your super happy. Let’s cross the over bridges if they happen. Most bridges are good ones.”

Which bridges. If I remember correctly we drive over 5 on the way to school.

And the voice of reason brings his Dad back into the real world again. So many options to consider.

  • Online tutor v Local tutor.
    How much will I teach. I can certainly do Computing, Mathematics, Science.
    Subjects like Geography and History maybe we just let him run with it. As last years Class Teacher said ‘you probably know the subject better than me already“. Just concentrate on how to access his ideas. Find the best way to express them.
    How to tailor some of the tuition around times that I need to go into the work base.
    Restructuring work to fit round the new world. Luckily I can probably do this. Just maybe will have to put off buying that sports car for say the next 100 years.
    When we move into the 15 and 16 age range how to handle examinations. Some of the colleges have courses for qualifications he could opt for. Would that work for him. Or do we go the tutor or online tuition routes.
    Languages – how far do we go down the online packages route such as Rosetta.
    Ways to ensure that he can socialise when he wants and needs to.
    And on and on

So much to consider. Maybe just maybe school might step up to the plate and this is never needed. That is probably a pipe dream so it’s time to sort this out. It will be a reassuring feeling when a plan is in place. When we have an idea what his education week and plan will look like. To our Son that level of practicality is an essential part of the transition process. It will help him at school knowing that he has a Plan b.

If anyone reading this has ever homeschooled then it would be great to hear from you. Either as a comment or email. What did your ‘learning week’ look like. What approach did you take. I’m sure this wont be the last you hear of this. I think the more we can talk about homeschooling the better. In many places it’s still frowned upon or it’s seen as a bit of a dark art. Maybe people should frown upon the mainstream school system instead.

I will leave you with one final thought.

Dad Santa can get down chimneys so there is always hope for you. There is always hope.

Flick the switch

Ans so the transition begins.

A transition from a happy and relaxed boy to one wracked with doubt and anxiety.

School starts to flick the switch again. How many kids are going through this experience. Far Too Many.

Here the school prison gates open on Monday. Son’s words not mine.

So on this glorious winters day he tries to wade through the homework which was dished out before Christmas. He spent an hour trying to sketch a mirror image of a Scream like skull photo. The fear of picking up a negative for not putting enough effort into the drawing driving him on. Sadly I fear it’s also driving any love he might have for art well and truly out of his system as well.

Once the skull torture was finished. He started work for two upcoming spelling tests. Then time spent on Science, Mathematics and French work. Finally he needed to work hard to complete a writing piece neatly. His teachers words. Whats the point, going to get told that it’s not good enough, I haven’t tried enough and it needs to be done again. Son’s words.

This really can’t go on. Son deserve so much more than this. So many kids deserve better than this. Is it so difficult to make education just a little less daunting and just a little bit more inclusive. What’s the word I’m looking for. Welcoming. Another word. Enriching. Another word. Fun.

Who am I kidding. It will be the same school that he was so pleased to escape from before Christmas. But 2020 feels different this time. This time the prospect of a positive change has dimmed significantly. Our Government is now in place until son will have left secondary school. It is committed to extending the current education philosophy which has already created this hell hole. We are now facing a real risk of son being failed for the entirety of his school life. That’s a sobering thought.

2020 will start with yet another push to deliver any positive change at all. Again school and teachers will be told exactly what actions and support son needs to be put in place to make his schooling work better for him. The dialogue will be constant – certainly from my side. But deep down I know what the likely outcome is. So this year the question is probably more about what it will take for us to flick the switch and turn off this failed schooling nightmare. If we were still a two parent family then the switch would have already been flicked. Homeschooling. With Single Parenting it’s more fraught with logistical and financial issues. So many issues to address. BUT son only gets one childhood. One go at his formative years. Flicking the switch is increasingly looking inevitable.