This week we had Sissyboo’s parents evening. Since she started in year 1, back in September, things have not been easy for her. Most kids in her class seem to have found the jump from Reception to Year 1 a mild culture shock, but the transition has been felt more keenly than it should have because their teacher has been on a phased return after sick leave. As someone who did the same earlier this year, I have no feelings but sympathy for the teacher, although I can see it unsettled the children quite a bit.
You see, the teacher couldn’t get to know the children very well. And in the first few weeks of term, Sissyboo was clearly on the brunt of a few misconceptions that I was anxious to clear up. But when I finally managed to talk to the teacher (much harrassed by other concerned parents who thought their child needed go up two reading levels or maths groups) my anxieties just increased. I didn’t recognise the little girl she was talking about. Either she didn’t know Sissyboo at all, or Sissyboo was behaving very differently there than at home. Either way, I was worried. I explained my anxieties and tried to make as clear as possible that I didn’t doubt her word or professional judgement, but the disconnect troubled me, especially given that Sissyboo was claiming stomach aches every day and not wanting to go to a school that has been something of a haven for her since her brother was a few months old.
And my heart sank. Because I knew that as much as this was about disruption at school, it was about disruption at home. About the stress we’ve been under waiting for Boo’s test results to confirm the best case scenario of cerebral palsy or, worst case scenario, something that could kill him. (If you don’t read the blog regularly, it was the best case scenario.) I tried to conceal my mounting anxiety as we waited for results that, as it turned out, had sat unopened on a consultant’s desk for weeks. I tried not to show the strain of the formal complaints we launched against our PCT over Boo’s place on waiting lists. But she’s not daft. She knew. She felt our pain and a huge dollop of her own. And it troubled her deeply. And then, we got the diagnosis and she learned there was a phrase that helped explained her brother’s difficulties, that he wouldn’t grow out of them. And our house started look more and more like an extension of the hospital.
I mentioned in passing to the teacher the pressures at home that I thought were troubling Sissyboo, and to my horror, she claimed not to know any of it. The handover that was supposed to take place with the Reception teacher last year evidently hadn’t taken place. She had no idea. Telling her was a good thing. I asked her not to treat Sissyboo any differently because of what she now knew, and I’m sure she had no intention of doing so anyway, but it allowed her teacher to see her differently. To help make sense of her. And that’s not easy. Because most of the times, she is all laughter, and sunshine and craziness. And then she wakes sobbing in the middle of the night. Or, as happened only today, you say ‘I need to talk to you about something’ – the fact she’d left her sweet wrapper on the floor (again) rather than in the bin – and she will turn ashen and say ‘is Boo going to die?’
She is very good at putting on a good front. She is her mother’s daughter, after all. But sometimes the front falls. Fronts do.
It has not been an easy half term for her. A new teacher. A new curriculum. Her brother. The stresses at home. Her best friend being moved on to a private school. But she is coming out the other side. We have talked lots about her brother’s CP and try as much as we can to build her confidence and make her feel that everything will be OK. The teacher has seen her differently. She has learned that Sissyboo is not cripplingly shy, but sometimes anxious and unsettled.
And so when I went to parents evening I was pleased to hear how happy and confident she is, something that has become very apparent in the last 3 weeks. Her reading, writing and maths has all accelerated as a result, but this appointment wasn’t about academic achievement for me. The bigger achievement here is how Sissyboo has worked through a difficult time with her usual combination of compassion and craziness. She deals with the difficulties of our situation in a more mature way than most adults could or would.
Her teacher finished by saying, ‘You know, she talks about her brother a lot at school. More than most children talk about siblings. But I have never heard her say anything negative. Everything she says about him and home is full of love and fun. She is a wonderful girl.’ And, I added, ‘her brother is very lucky’. ‘I can see that’, she said. So am I.