Options

Something rather bizarre happened today here in Yorkshire. It was sunny with lots of blue sky. Most unusual.

Just after the dinosaurs had become extinct I was as at school. A time before home computers. A time when a domestic microwave was about as expensive as a Fusion Reactor. I was leaving secondary school just as MTV was starting. Definitely a different era. So you would expect a few limitations in the schooling system. Like the options available to kids in our sink school. A poor school in a poor working class area.

I remember the school option meeting. No parents. Just the snotty kid, the careers advisor and the headteacher. It basically went like this for me.

********

What options do you want to take?

I would like to take Latin, French and I would like to learn to program using something like Pascal.

Why?

Because I want to go to university.

Kids round here don’t go to university. You get jobs in the Chemical Works, the Steel Plant. The really smart ones might get a job as a clerk in a bank in the high street.

I don’t really fancy that.

We don’t offer those subjects anyway. Your option choices are woodwork, metal work or home economics. That’s cooking to you son…

*********

That conversation always stuck with me. Clearly stuck with a the others in my year. I was the only one to make university. I managed to scramble through a system setup for the benefits of the local economy and not for the pupils. Fast forward all those thousands of years. We find ourselves in 2021. Surely a more enlightened time. When microwaves are really cheap but bizarrely a 24 pack of toilet rolls is harder to get hold of than a Fusion Reactor.

We are looking at Hawklads option choices. He has to take Mathematics, Sciences and English. But has to choose four more subjects. It’s strongly recommended that French is selected. Which is odd as school are super keen for him to ditch that subject. One option really does suit him – History. As his last teacher told him before she left – ‘you know the subject better than I do’. And he loves history. Then it’s going to be Geography. He is ok with that subject but it’s never really fully connected with him. Two options left….

Here is where the problems start. PE might have been an option but it’s an essential requirement that you represent the school or a club in a sport. So that’s out. Information Technology would have been an option but the last two years of force feeding coding has broken his will in that one. The other handful of options just do not suit him at all. No interest in them. The teaching methods don’t suit him. No connection with the teacher. Or it’s an area he really struggles with.

It really does feel like the schooling system is still not truly aimed at the pupils. Take what you are offered rather than let’s see what really works for the individual. The schools take is rather than look for alternatives let’s just let him not select 4 options. He could maybe only do 3 or 4 exams as that would potentially help him pass something. OK.

So what is he going to do. Well he’s going to randomly pick two more options for now. Go through the hoops in case he sticks with mainstream schooling. But we are going to look at proper alternatives. What subjects can we find which are outside of the school remit which really interest him. That’s how education should be. That’s how it should have always been.

L

Signposts

Sometimes it’s good for me to know my place in life. To get a sense of where I stand. I guess like most people I can be guilty of over playing things. Sometimes under playing them. Misinterpreting or even missing clear signposts. Going down a path which is either wrong or just ultimately a dead end. The path could be a project, a relationship, a friendship, work, a dream, life in general. But every so often something happens that finally helps ground me. Get a better bearing of where I am. Shining a light on the direction I am heading. It could be a conversation, some written words, an action, an event or even an outcome. Doesn’t really matter what the source is, it’s just good to have that moment of clarity.

I think I’ve had one of those moments of clarity over the last few days. Still trying to process it. But it feels like I’ve been potentially heading down a wrong path. Definitely time to think and assess.

I remember climbing in Scotland when I was in my early thirties. I was climbing alone and trying a route which was just about within my capabilities. I was sticking to what I thought was a promising route to the top. I missed (or chose to miss) so many signs clearly indicating I was heading the wrong way. After hours of hard work I came to a dead end. Light was starting to fade and I had no choice but to abandon and go down. Never did go back to re-climb that rock face. Such a waste of beautiful climbing conditions. Still kick myself for ignoring the clear signals that day. Less stubborn, more aware and I would have easily made it to the top. That was probably my one and only shot at that climb. But what was ironic was that at the same time I was in a job that seemed promising. But again I missed the signposts. A few months later I suddenly realised that I was at a dead end. The dream job was a bit of a disaster. It felt like months of effort had been wasted.

One day I might start to open my eyes to the signposts. They are there if I just take the time to look.

J

Potatoes

It’s potatoes for tea tonight….. Something nice about eating your own vegetables. Anyone for chips or crisps or boiled potatoes.

In the end a few went into a warming vegetable stew. Didn’t predict that.

Before 2016 I (We) spent far too much time living the future. Thoughts about retirement. Marriage in the future. Visiting places like Canada and New Zealand – in the future. Planning for retirement, maybe even an early one. Dreaming of moving to Switzerland, down the line. Another child, one day…… And yes worrying about the future. Too much time thinking about what could go wrong with meetings, plans and life. Given all the time spent worrying it’s telling that the one thing that happened was never thought about.

Then the world caved in. That future had just died.

Suddenly my mind set changed. From spending too much time living in the future, I suddenly was living in the past. Reliving memories. Too many what if, why didn’t I – questions. Refusing to move from a door which had just shut permanently. So much wasted energy.

Now in 2020, hopefully the balance is now better. It’s more about living in the moment. Yesterday has gone, tomorrow does not exist yet and is so unpredictable. The only thing I can influence is the present. Just try to enjoy every single moment. It’s not easy but so worth it.

Penny drops

I tried to get an appointment to see my doctor for the first time since the pandemic hit. That was an experience….

  • First listen to the 3 minute recorded message about the pandemic,
  • Then listen to another recorded message about the importance of wearing masks,
  • Now listen to a message about the doctors and nurses avoiding making unnecessary face to face contact with patients,
  • Then join the queue for a receptionist,
  • Finally a real person. Need to describe any symptoms and the reason for calling. I can have a telephone appointment for later in the day,
  • Doctor calls and basically says that it is currently unsafe to bring patients in for appointments. Much safer to stay at home and avoid crowds. A few questions and then it’s a quick medical opinion. Time for stress busting, relax, have a break and hopefully things will sort themselves out. Probably been trying to burn the candle at both ends since 2016.

Having a break is not happening so it’s stress busting time.

  • Eating healthily – well I will try……
  • Mediation – I really must get my head round this, more free apps downloaded…..
  • Mindfulness – I thought that was mediation, free apps downloaded……
  • Yoga – the mind is willing the body is less inclined to bend…..
  • Plenty of sleep – I’m trying, been trying for ages……
  • Go hill walking – not going to happen this side of Christmas, tempted to add 2022……
  • Calming and relaxing music – I guess that rules out metal then…..
  • Make time for friends and doing fun stuff with them – I certainly will……
  • Find more time for reading – it would be great if I could……
  • Herbal teas – ok I can do this one……

In a nut shell I will try to improve things but need to recognise the current life limits. Maybe the secret is to be grateful for the life I have and to smile. Yes smiling more is a good start.

Sometimes the penny drops….

His eyes

It’s been a few months since I went trail running along this route. The first time I did this route I remember thinking that the route will gentle meander up the hill. Wrong. A direct, straight up mud fest.

When we came walking here with the dog I remember telling our son that the route was into the trees. Straight up and then down the other side. His response

Why don’t we just walk round the base of the hill. We will eventually end up in roughly the same place. Makes more sense to me.

That is the perfect metaphor for life and parenting. It’s something I’m desperate to learn from.

Each person, each child is unique. What works for one person may not work for another. My path might be right for me but is it really the right path for our son. The answer is probably NO. So why should be follow me up that hill path. He sees the world through his eyes not mine. He will see and interpret things differently to me. He has to find the route that works for him. That’s the way he becomes the person that he was meant to be. Not the person I, or the government or society believes he should be. He has to live his OWN life. Become the person he is most at ease with. His true self.

Dad why wasn’t I christened?”

Because that has to be YOUR decision not OURS…..

I might be convinced that homeschooling is best for him. But only HE really knows, so it has to be his call. If in September he decides that school is safe and that it’s where he wants to learn then he will go back.

It’s tough for the parent. Trying to find the right balance. I probably get it wrong every single day. But the secret is to learn from those mistakes. Parents should learn just as much or more from their children than we teach them. So hopefully I can stop myself from saying things like

  • You need to do…
  • This is what will happen…
  • This is best for you…
  • That is wrong for you…
  • This is the truth…

Replace these phrases with

  • What do you think…
  • How do you see things…
  • What is your heart telling you…
  • What works for you…
  • This is only my opinion…
  • It’s your call…

Ultimately it’s HIS life. It’s the ultimate privilege that he allows me access his world. To sometimes act sometimes as guide and but more often just as a companion. But it’s a two way process. He also guides me. More than he realises. Until he decides to spread his wings and fly, then I’ve made the life choice to be that companion and occasional guide.

Horse Racing

Another post and another rose. At least I can grow a few roses. That’s a start isn’t it. A start is usually a good thing…. In this post today means yesterday thanks to WordPress refusing to post last night.

This morning I started looking at employment options. It looks like my job will get mothballed for many months. It’s so dependent on public and sporting events. Realistically these will not properly restart any time soon. So it looks like the sensible decision is to close the company down and then relook to launch again in 2021. Which leaves a decision to be made. As it’s a great fit with my single parent circumstances, do I try to survive on savings until it’s back again? Or do I find something different to either fill in the gap or completely change career path again. So today I today I started looking at available options. I have to say trying to find a job I can make fit round our Son is not easy. I really fell on my feet with this current role. Yes the money is not great but the flexibility is such a bonus. Today’s search just confirmed that. Couldn’t find one option which would work for us. Especially when you factor in the potential commitment to full time homeschooling. But I will keep looking.

Dad not sure a Train Driver is a great idea. Even on tracks you would just end up getting lost.”

True…. what about a Zookeeper

Dad your scared on spiders, snakes, wasps and parrots.”

Ok what about a librarian

Your far too noisy and you can’t even put your own books away.”

Pants that’s true. What about a parking attendant. I would get a free hat.

You are too nice, you would never hand out any tickets.”

What about a chef.

Just NO.”

How about a window cleaner.

Have you seen how dirty our windows are”

So after drawing a complete blank we headed outside to contemplate life, the universe and the state of our windows. There we heard a sound which we haven’t listened to since March. Horse Racing… Our nearest neighbour is a lovely elderly lady. I’ve known her for 18 years now. Over those years she has become increasingly frail and hard of hearing. Each year her TV volume needs to be turned up one extra setting. Definitely now turned to 11 on the 10 scale. Which is great as I can turn my music up just a little louder without fear of upsetting the neighbours. Not sure the quaint old village is quite ready for loud Mongolian Throat metal quite yet… Its certainly not something you hear from my neighbours TV.

She only watches one thing really. Horse Racing. Today Horse Racing restarted without crowds, in the UK and it’s most definitely on next door. That means my neighbour is happy. And that’s a good thing.

Leave it

When we first moved into our home, my sister bought us two plants as house warming presents. 18 years later they are still going strong. The red one doesn’t flower for long but it’s just springing into life.

It’s quite amazing that after 18 years both plants are still going strong. I don’t have a great track record with plants. I remember my partner for a joke buying me a plant which was described as – the worlds most resilient….will survive anywhere. Clearly they missed off the words – apart from one house in Yorkshire. It was dead within months. But these two have survived. They arrived, I bunged them in large plant pots and left them. Since then they have occasionally been watered and that’s it.

Sometimes the secret is clearly to leave things to sort themselves out. Not always, but definitely occasionally.

I was listening to a politician last night talk about how schools should immediately reopen. According to him schools didn’t need to worry about things like hygiene or social distancing. Kids have been going to cramped classes for generations. Yes kids can catch our current nemesis but its an acceptable risk. Apparently teachers are paid to teach so they should ignore any concerns about things like social distancing and PPE. The economy is paramount. In one notable concession apparently government officials and assessors should avoid schools because of the risk of catching the virus. When asked about kids and parents fears the response was – tough, the economy is more important and if they refuse to attend then they should be forced to. It’s up to the government and the PM if a child attends school.

Really. I will see you in court then.

Schools do need to reopen when it is safe for kids, parents (guardians) and staff. Now is the time to make school a better place to learn and work in. Surely the days of treating schools like archaic education factories must be finally over. Yes schools have been this bad for years and years. That doesn’t make it right. We burned witches for years and years – does that make that practice right…..

And as for the idea that school visits by inspectors are too risky yet it’s ok for the kids and teachers…..

Let’s start making positive changes to schools and then we can start a process of gradually reopening schools. Fully involve teachers, pupils and parents in the process. That way we can build confidence in the system. Some families will be able to go back quickly. Others (like our son) will take longer. Some bloke in London telling people what to do would be just so wrong. My Son will only go back when HE IS ready.

It’s back to online school

Orange sky at night homeschoolers delight?

This weekend we return to the wacky world of schools version of home schooling. When we joined thus school, all parents had to buy an iPad which would become the school iPad. It would be integral to the teaching approach. It never seemed to be fully exploited. Well that was until the schools went into lockdown. Now it’s allowed the school to run the usual school timetable completely remotely. After a few weeks we can confirm that the technology works well. The quality of the lessons varies between subjects. Some of the lessons just feel like it’s basically read a text book for an hour. Lessons like Mathematics have used existing online teaching apps which work really well. To that extent it definitely feels like Maths could just become a home based lesson as standard, with the teacher just providing a guiding overview and tracking development.

Lessons like History can be so hard to bring to life. They tend to be too dry for many kids purely delivered from the classroom. Anything which opens up this teaching approach gets a thumbs up from me. Suddenly History is exploiting interactive media. How about the next stage being history lessons delivered from local historical sites.

P.E is a subject he dislikes at school. Too much pressure, too little time to change clothes in cramped and noisy changing rooms, so many kit items to remember. Yet at home he has loved following the lesson requirements in the safety of his garden. English is another subject which has worked much better in the home. At home Son is much more relaxed and will happily ask for help. In the classroom he just won’t ask….

What hasn’t changed sadly is some of the marking and review processes. That doesn’t apply to all the subjects. Some of the comments are supportive, encouraging and helpful. Unfortunately too often correct spelling is stressed rather than actual content. How is making a dyslexic type out each spelling mistake three time going to help him. It will certainly knock his confidence. He had to submit a project which he worked really hard on. When I checked it I was seriously impressed. I learnt a lot from it and I got an A in that subject at college. Yet when it came back from the teacher the only comment was that it was ok and please correct the spelling mistake…. The look on his face when he read that feedback told me everything.

Then we have subjects that won’t accept work unless it’s done on paper and then submitted via a photograph. What is certainly not helpful is making someone with handwriting problems write (not type) work out then mark it down as not being good enough and needs more work. What’s not good enough is that teaching approach.

Going forward he is happy to keep working through schools online programme. He is hoping that it will run for the rest of the school year. From a parenting point of view, I’ve got used to it pretty quickly. The quality of the teaching has varied between subjects. But without a doubt Son has been much less stressed out about school. The question will be what happens when schools reopen. Ultimately it’s his call. If it’s September then has time to have a good think about if he wants to return or opt for full home schooling. At least now we will have a better grasp on what homeschooling may entail. What works for him and what needs changing. If schools open in the short term then it will force his hand. In the current climate and without significant change in school practices, he’s just not ready to go back. I suspect it’s the homeschool option. At least he won’t be crashing into homeschooling, he will have already tipped his toes in the water. And whisper it quietly, it’s not as daunting as it seemed 6 weeks ago.

Brave New World Part 2

I wasn’t planning on having a two part Brave New World post but the staggering incompetence of our Government intervened.

This Brave New World post originated from listening to few callers to a local radio show. A number of times I heard the following heartfelt wish

I can’t wait for the restrictions to be gone in a couple of weeks, we will have beaten this virus and so we can get back to living like we did.

Sadly they are in for a shock. The lockdown will continue for another 3 weeks. It’s not like we have a tap that we can just switch the old life on and off. The eventual easing of restrictions does not mean we have won. Even in countries like Germany who have managed this crisis professionally, the restrictions are being eased while many are still dying. Thousands are still getting infected. We haven’t defeated this virus. All we have done is get through the first onslaught. What’s happening is that we are now trying to find ways of living and working around the virus. This virus is not going away. We wait for a vaccine. Yet even if we are lucky and a vaccine becomes available in the summer, it will take many months for it be manufactured and potentially several years before the programme covers everyone. Things HAVE TO CHANGE for this to work. It will be trial and error. Strict Restrictions may have to be enforced again.

So things will need to change. Certainly over the next year or so, maybe longer. Some things are relatively easy. Shaking hands surely has been consigned to the bin. Increasingly shops are changing how they manage customers to keep them and staff as safe as possible. What worries me is that in some areas the assumption seems to be that we can just go back to the old ways. Namely Schools.

Over the coming months schools will start to reopen. So as mass gatherings are still banned, the daily school mass gatherings will start. What will have changed. In the UK the answer appears to be nothing. It will be ok we are told because kids are at lower risk than others to this virus. Yet even today I’m listening to the Government warning

It can effect any person. ANY AGE. Even those without underlying health conditions can die from it.

But then we are told that it will be ok for the kids as more are naturally gaining immunity and yet we know so little about this virus. How long does acquired immunity really last for. Worryingly we are seeing increasing reports of people getting the virus more than once. Let’s be honest. What ever we do going forward is a risk. Sending kids to school is an increased risk now. So what are we doing to minimise that risk.

So when schools reopen – what’s changed. How are we going to safeguard the health of our kids, teachers, support staff and families. In the UK many school facilities are not fit for purpose. Insufficient and out of date hygiene facilities. A rammed timetable which provides no time for that number of kids to repeatedly wash their hands and for surfaces to be cleaned. Too many squeezed into such a confined space. Absolutely zero social distancing possible. Things have to change.

This is the time we should be looking at all options. Reviewing what can and can’t be done. How can we improve things for the better. Schools should be given the freedom and backing to make positive changes before the kids return. Give Headteachers the authority to protect those under their care.

  • Give them access to appropriate PPE and safety kit. Do kids and teachers have to wear masks?
  • If schools are forced to open before the summer break it’s likely to be happening while infection rates are still uncomfortably high. Do we initially focus on opening for just a small number of children. Just those children leaving in the summer.
  • Allow Heads to consult with parents on which kids can spend part of the school week at home.
  • Rip up the national school teaching mandates. Allow Heads flexibility over timetables, opening hours and subjects.
  • Allow them to vary teaching delivery for each subject. Some classes may need to delivered in the classrooms. But surely not all of them. For example in the UK we have access to an online mathematics teaching resource. The last few weeks have demonstrated that with the overview of the teacher, maths can be successfully delivered remotely. History can often be such a dry subject to deliver from the classroom. How about the teacher delivering lessons from historic sites (either with the class or recording the lesson). Lets make the teaching more engaging.
  • What potential untapped learning resources do we have amongst parents and the local community. At Son’s last school they did a session on the how the various body organs worked. A parent who was a Doctor delivered the lesson.
  • Some kids will need to be in school full time. But we will have a number of kids who can for at least part of the week be schooled at home. What’s the scope of saying some kids attend school for only part of the week and work from home for the rest of the week.
  • Invest in online teaching resources. I am a critic of our Son’s school. But they have invested in this area. They have delivered online schooling for every subject. Yes some work better than others – but it’s worked.

If we can deliver on some of these changes it will allow schools to space kids out more. We can bring down class sizes. We can allow those in school a chance to practice social distancing and effective hygiene. All things we are told that are essential for daily life now. Surely that’s a safer, more effective and sustainable way of delivering teaching in the modern age. I’m not a teaching expert but I have worked for years in logistic planning for public services (including schools). In our country we don’t ask the right questions early enough. Our Government does not allow Heads and Teachers professional freedom. That’s why education is failing so many kids and that’s why our schools are basically unfit to meet the current challenges. It’s time for change. We have to change or this virus (or the next one) will win the war. It’s time for change. Yes it’s time for a brave new world.

Stages

One of my first records I purchased was ‘All the worlds a stage’ by the rock legends, Rush. Shakespeare wrote that ‘All the worlds a stage’. Don’t worry I’m not going all thespian on you. But I must admit I fancy my chances these days of doing a mighty fine Richard III stage performance. Why is the Stagecoach Bus always two hours late when I try to catch it. Just watched wrestling on the TV which is staged. So many stages.

Then you get stages in grief. A couple of years ago someone asked me what stage I was at in my bereavement process. I just looked on blankly. All I could think of was two stages. Your life before the death and the life after the death. So I answered – in the second stage and I always will be. I guess that’s not the answer they were looking for.

Last night I was reading an online article about bereavement counselling. It talked about every bereaved person going through the same 6 stage process. I wasn’t convinced. Surely every person’s grief journey is unique. Why force people to follow a predetermined text book bereavement route which doesn’t suit them. So I gave up with the online article and scribbled down my own staged journey so far. It’s my interpretation of MY journey and in no way is it supposed to fit other people. Remember I’m not a Doctor or Psychologist. I moved a potted plant into my bedroom to raise the rooms overall IQ score. The height of my powers these days is to get the cling film wrapper off food without slicing off a finger…. So here goes with my journey.

The SHOCK STAGE. Within a period of 6 weeks I’ve just buried my mum and then my partner. I’m a complete mess. Barely able to function and yet I’m supposed to be a Dad. It’s like living in a prolonged nightmare. Trying to sort out the practicalities and legal side of death, but actually got no idea what I’m doing. Basically doing stuff I’m told to do.

The FRUSTRATION STAGE. The cards, flowers and phone calls have dried up. I’m becoming more aware of the reality of the situation. Trying to get my head round how to be a single parent and at the same time keep some money coming in. I need to find an alternative to my career as it just isn’t doable anymore. The frustration comes from realising that what worked in the past just isn’t going to work now. It’s also so frustrating that the world is still spinning without seemingly even blinking after my partner exited stage left. It feels like I’m fighting this new normality.

The ACCEPTANCE STAGE. Eventually I began to accept the new reality. This is how it is and I just have to deal with it. I came up with a mental picture which I still use today. A door on my former life has locked shut. It’s never going to open again. I can look through the door window and see memories but I can’t touch them. I could stand here forever but this door isn’t opening. So I have a choice. Continue to stand by the door or set off and find other doors which are still open.

The IT’S LOVE STAGE. Linked with the Acceptance Stage. I opened a mental dictionary and found a better definition of grief. It defined grief as another word for LOVE. That sounded so reassuring to me.

The IT’S OK TO GRIEVE STAGE. Up to now I would hide my grief. As if it’s something unhealthy, something deeply embarrassing to others. People might ask how I was doing but they appeared to rapidly change the subject if the answer I provided was not – I’m fine…..But suddenly as grief was another way of saying LOVE, suddenly it became ok to grieve. Yes it could still be so painful but it’s something I shouldn’t be hiding. It’s nothing to be ashamed about. It really is OK to be sad.

The IT’S OK TO LAUGH STAGE. Up to now I felt bad about smiling and laughing. It was just not right. I would focus entirely on making our Son happy but shunned doing it for myself. It took well over a year but the penny finally dropped. Yes it’s ok to be sad AND YES it’s just as OK to be HAPPY.

The IT’S OK TO LIVE AGAIN STAGE. After the funeral all my dreams died. When I looked at life I saw it entirely through our sons eyes. When I tried to see it through my eyes all I saw was blackness. Absolutely no future. However over time it became OK to live again. Remarkably I can still be happy. I can find new doors that will open and create new memories. Life can still be at times sad and painful BUT IT CAN also be fun. Just starting to dream again.

That’s the stage I am at now. Embracing the happiness as much as I respect the sadness. Maybe, just maybe tipping the life balance in favour of fun. Yes it still can be a wonderful life.