Before I was born, I was a whim, an idea, a little thought in the heads of two people much younger then than I am now.
One was my mother, a teacher… I’ve always rather thought of her as sensible, dependable and eminently stable. Though the stories of her school days and some wonderfully naughty anecdotes of time in America rather upset that stereotype I choose to see those as highlights that elevate a personality that might otherwise have seemed a little dull. She loves, she laughs, she lives… overall she’s as “sorted” as one might hope to be.
On a trip to the Mediterranean, more or less to find a boyfriend I’m told, she met a young man on a similar mission. He was, I’m told, a student (though of a different establishment to the one the young woman taught at) and once the screen goes blurry it becomes evident that the two of them hit it off!
Not only was he a student, but quite the intellectual with great aspirations to become a writer. Aspirations that became reality when he became a journalist.
Adventure followed, with a trip to Canada where I was to be born. A second child later, and a book which appears to have caused some controversy, “common sense” prevailed and a career change accompanied a return to France.
No matter. My father has always been, in my mind, a writer. He is also the best and worst kind of perfectionist, demanding of himself and of others nothing less than the absolute best. He loves passionately, laughs less than I would like to hear, and lives intensely. Though he can talk the night away, his emotions are often well hidden and it can be rather difficult to tease out the connection that exists between us. A very solid connection, I might add. That he loves me and is proud of me I have no doubt. Having said that, with such high standards of those around him, it comes as no real surprise that compliments from him are rare treasures.
This little, very modest blog has been in part a way for me to convey some of myself that does not easily emerge when face to face with those I love. I shoulder others’ emotions in a rather unhelpful way which finds me avoiding talk when my news tends to be difficult. Sweet Girl is much the same and seeing that trait in her makes me more aware of how frustrating it must be for those who love me! At least I have the written word in its wild and wacky bloggy form to tell them, “Here I am, this is me. It’s not all bad, it’s not all good, but I live, I laugh, I love – and that, after all, is really what it’s all about.”
I have never had pretensions as a writer. I did embark on a wonderful, mad, exhilarating jaunt into the world of writing a few years ago by taking part in NaNoWriMo – a month of daily writing in a bid to pen 50,000 words of fiction. It was a truly brilliant experience but I am still exhausted at its thought! Blogging for me is far less about writing than it is about being. But as I continue to blog, so I become taken with the twists, turns and tangles words can weave. I enjoy the rhythm that sometimes appears on my screen, or the delectable taste of a sentence that begs to be spoken aloud. Mostly, I enjoy the platform, the freedom to express my thoughts whatever they may be.
Once again, I find myself at the end of a long preamble only to discover that the post I intended is very short, and that the preamble is more “me” than the rest. I will leave my lovely readers with the prompt for this rather special post. It is an email sent to my by that intellectual young man, turned financial ethical guru, who through it all is also my father:
Dear ô dear Lady B !!!
I am a nullity when it comes to the modern “net” media, so my comment may be out of place, but the literary quality of your “billet” – not to speak of the content, which would be far too personal for an e-mail destined to be crunched by the American Security Big Brother System – should qualify the author for a regular column in an up-market magazine.
Sempé did enjoy the privilege of the front page in the New Yorker: you undoubtedly equal him in your “genre” !!!!
Turns out, I’m not done!
First, I love the fact that my Papa signs his name. There’s undoubtedly a whole other post in that sentence, but I’m just going to leave it at that for now. The intimacy of that is a gift of trust in and of itself.
Second, “Dear, o dear Lady B”… When at boarding school (or was it university?), my lovely Papa took to addressing his (very lengthy, and far too intellectual for my little brain) letters to me in this way. Shamefully I’m not sure how much of the content made it to the centre of my understanding, though I did try very hard to follow what were often deep philosophical arguments (I am absolutely not a philosopher), but the address became extremely important to me.
Having been brought up largely in England with a name that is, in this country, always a boy’s name, I was often nicknamed “Ben” or “Benny”. Names that I utterly hated. I’ve always liked my name, and the distortion of it into a boy’s nickname when I felt essentially, purely, totally feminine, was just horrid. Upon arriving at university, a fresh start was unfruitful and I became resigned to being known by this phoneme that barely belonged to me.
Resigned, it turns out, until I met Darling Man’s parents. At which point I realised that if I was to become known as “Ben” to them, I would have to live as “Ben” for the rest of my life. The famous buck stopped there. “Benedicte” in English is a little unwieldy. Most people who see me on a regular basis still call me “Dominique” or “Bernadette”… go figure!
Happily, I had that rather lovely, poetic Papa, who wrote me those tomes with a delightful, simple solution… while I would have been rather tickled to adopt “Lady B” as my new name, and I now ascribe such a moniker to a little red beetle known affectionately as a ladybug, I felt at the time it was rather too pretentious. The simple letter “B”, however was just lovely.
Ever since, I have been, “B”. My Sticks and Strings projects are often labelled “Be”, because in the last lifetime, I have come to appreciate the value of “being”, and the letter of my name coincides serendipitously with such a label.
Lastly, and most importantly. I am moved, overwhelmed and rather dumbstruck by the content of this email. (No, no comment on the fact that I’m clearly not dumbstruck – just look at the word count of this post so far!) It turns out that in some ways I am quite simply my father’s daughter. There are many words here because the emotions I carry with me are too big for words. Big words are pretentious and showy and so cannot convey the depth of feeling. Little words are so little… yet sometimes do the best job. Many words are too many, yet few are just too few.
Compliments from my Papa are true treasures because they only come when he truly feels they are earned and deserved. Compliments on writing are even more so because writing is, or was his craft. And here I have the two combined…
So I suppose inside, I’m feeling little words, and not too many.
I hear you, and I’m learning to believe you.
I love you, and know that you love me.
A couple of weeks ago, I undertook a new interpretation of the therapy I fondly refer to as “sticks and strings”. Until now, my particular version of this therapy has been primarily knitting, with some forays into crochet. I find the busying of hands at some creative activity to be very soothing and calming for the soul, and in those times when my mind is abuzz with the activity of a thousand bees I need some physical pursuit to calm me. Unfortunately in those times I also find myself quite literally unable to do all those practical day to day tasks such as housework and laundry.
Sticks and strings offers me a tremendous release and I’m certain that the creative aspect of making something is key. Additionally I am constantly struck by the beauty of the contradiction of such arts as knitting and crochet. Beginning with a solid, unyielding stick and a fluid, often unmanageable string that refuses to hold its shape, I end up with an object that is beautiful, defined in shape yet flexible in texture, and more often than not with a practical purpose. It is, to me, a thing of beauty.
More recently, in search of something “new” (I am easily bored), I entered into the rather different craft of cross stitching. The appeal at first was the new. I am also a follower on Facebook of the rather wonderful charity Love Quilts UK. These lovely people gather together something of a cottage industry in which some volunteers craft cross stitch squares (often themed for a particular child) to specific sizing criteria, and other volunteers then piece these square together into beautiful quilts which are donated to ill children. All three of my children have benefited from donated quilts from a different organisations, and they have provided enormous comfort to them in times of sadness or illness.
So I found myself in need of Sticks and Strings therapy, keen to attempt something new (my current knitting project is beautiful but requires more concentration than I am able to afford it at the moment), and also desperate not to add to the clutter in my very little home. Love Quilts and cross stitch provided the perfect opportunity. Having found a free pattern to download, I printed it, ordered the necessary supplies and got started as soon as the Royal Mail saw fit to deliver the goods. It was thoroughly enjoyable, up to and including the pleasure of posting my finished square in my local post office. (Strangely and happily, it was the first time in about 13 years that the postmaster saw fit to smile at me!)
The cross stitch bug having hit me, I found myself with a project in mind.
I am not good at celebrations, I’m fairly sure I’ve covered that in an earlier post. Shamefully I am not good at celebrating family birthdays (I even struggle to do the children, though the quartet of little girls chatting away with their hair in curlers downstairs would belie that statement), and extraneous holidays such as Father’s Day or Mother’s Day are made even more difficult for me by having different dates in France and England. All too easily I simply forget them.
And yet my loved ones are fairly constantly in my thoughts. I am heading towards an interesting therapy session I suspect in which I explore how one can protect oneself from loved ones’ pain without distancing oneself to the extent of being emotionally absent. Questions rife in my mind that need thinking about.
Anyway… thinky thoughts aside, here I am with a project in mind. It is modestly ambitious and I am fairly certain that if successful it will have the desired result of making my Maman and Papa rather happy.
So I gathered my necessaries… asking my lovely mother for photographs, yet demanding of her that she remain curious and in the dark. And I have to say that she did so beautifully and kindly.
My project is underway and I am now taken with this thought. Is it better to keep recipients of a gift in the dark during the making of the gift ortell them and rob them of the sweetness of surprise? Is anticipation just as sweet? Is it possible, in fact, for the gift to be in its gradual unveiling?
I am also taken with the idea that life has no thought for our plans. It takes its path, with its twists and turns, regardless of our hopes and dreams. So while I happily wield my sticks and strings (a cross stitch needle is a much tinier stick than I am accustomed to), I have become aware that across the sea, and the hills and the plains of France, those I love are in the dark. They are no doubt wondering what new scheme I have up my sleeve, and I am quite sure thery is no upset. But life could easily upset my plans and there is a multitude of ways in which those for whom I am stitching might never see the finished work.
My intention is not only to finish, but finish well and sooner rather than later, but I am taken by the fleeting nature of “now”.
And I have come to think that “now” is worthy of being shared.
My project! To reinterpret my parent’s ancestral family home – that has been in my Paps’ family for around 400 years, and which is now my parents home in the very real, very “now” sense – as a cross stitch image.
So I started with a photograph.
And then tried to find a way to change it, to turn it into a 2 dimensional image, and reimagine what is a rambling farmhouse attached to a tithe barn into a picture more in keeping with the cross stitch sampler.
I started with a picture on graph paper.
And off to stitch I went! As usual I am far less fastidious than i should be. There is much of this progect that will be altered and made up as I stitch. But so far I am rather happy with my progress and so I find myself rather keen to share it!
Maman has long found pleasure in cross stitc – at a time when I found it rather dreary and painstaking. And the one lesson I remember from her stitching is the importance she placed on the neatness of the back of the work. The pride a crafter takes in making even the invisible look beautiful. And in honour of that lesson, I wanted also to share the back! When finished I plan for this project to be framed as a picture to hang on the wall. No-one will see the back, sothis is my opportunity to share, to allow the invisible to be seen.
“Here we go again” springs to mind! Last Saturday a heavy envelope thudded ominously through the letter box: Sweet Girl’s long awaited, and somewhat dreaded statement of Special Educational Needs.
Long awaited, because Darling Man and I have known for at least two years that she needs a substantial amount of extra help at school, and the only way to access that kind of help is through the bureaucratic system that is the Special Needs System.
Dreaded, because the help she can access will depend entirely on the wording of this ten to fifteen page legal document. It’s a strange thing, the writing of which is shrouded in mystery. A statement writer is responsible for reading through the mountain of accumulated “evidence” – from the school, parents, health professionals, education psychologists, the child and anything else that has been collated. She or he then proceeds to turn all that evidence into a document which describes the child’s special needs, then the provision needed to allow that child to manage (dare we say thrive or succeed??) at school. The final document, once signed by both the local authority and the parents is then a legally binding document. It is not something to trifle with, and it is far more important than many first time parents realise to make sure there are no mistakes, and that every need is accounted for and can be provided for.
I have no idea what qualifications are required to be a statement writer – one of many little mysteries. Certainly that person is not a lawyer as far as I am aware.
I sometimes wonder about the necessity for a basic grasp of the english language… I have seen the most marvellous and surreal sentences in the four proposed statements that have thudded to my doorstep.
There are also no requirements to have any medical knowledge as far as I am aware – another little mystery. The result of this one was a particularly glorious example of irony in Little Man’s first proposed statement, in which there was repeated mention of his “gastronomy”.
[ Now, just to clarify:
Gastronomy: The art or science of good eating.
Gastrostomy: Surgical construction of a permanent opening from the external surface of the abdominal wall into the stomach, usually for insertion of a feeding tube
And for further clarification, the need of a feeding tube is usually because the person concerned is unable to eat… be it good eating or bad eating!!!]
Oh the joy, the relief, the sheer flutter of excitement I feel just now in sharing that little titbit of information. I laughed it away at the time in a slight daze of shock, and without fully realising the importance of this legal document. But actually, the reaction of the local authority was to excuse the mistake by simply stating that the statement writer had no medical knowledge. I would have settled for him or her having the ability to read – and copy accurately!
There is one very salient point to be made about all this before thinking any further… The statement writer is employed by the local authority and clearly is made very aware of the resources available to that authority. So an exercise which in theory is all about one child, his or her special educational needs and the provision necessary to educate that child to its potential (criteria that each school aspires to, and many claim to achieve, and that each adult and parent expects of the state school system) becomes about the spreading of limited resources amongst many such children.
I do not expect resources to be unlimited, let me be plain. In fact, I have yet to meet any parent of a special needs child who has ever asked for more than the bare minimum for their child. And in fact, most of us are so desperate that our child’s educational potential becomes secondary. We are often just asking for our children to be safe in school – physically and or emotionally. Learning has become a sideline of school life by the time we receive that bundle of a “proposed statement”.
What I do expect is that the person employed to write the statement based on professional evidence should do so based solely on the evidence given. So that the proposed statement should be an accurate depiction of the need and the provision required to meet that need. That then should go to the Holder of the Purse Strings, to see how the provision can be … well, provided!
We live on the decisions made by people who are no longer answerable for them. In my part of the world, I and my family are deeply fortunate that there is considerable provision for children with special needs, and that the state bears responsibility for education each and every child to their ability and in accordance with their needs. And yet, in my little part of the world, some politicians or bureaucrats made the decision a number of years ago, to abolish “special schools”. These schools were thought to segregate “different” children and be “bad”. And so in the bright light of “inclusion”, special schools were closed, and mainstream schools were ordered to take in children with a vast range of difficulties.
There is much good to be said for inclusion, and I’m certain that in many cases, the special schools of old did promote segregation. But they also allowed children to progress at their rate, and they allowed very special teachers to learn more about how to teach “special” children.
[I’m not a fan of the word “special”, but it is one I choose to embrace rather than rail against. Much like “disabled”, and many other labels, I feel that those affected can choose to be offended and upset, or embrace them as part of a new language. I choose to do the latter, largely because I simply do not have the energy to waste on being upset by a word.]
The trouble with inclusion is complicated, and given that Darling Man is about to present me with dinner, I will stay on its surface. For inclusion to work, two things must be in place::
Either all children must be made to fit into a “norm”, and teachers expected to “differentiate” the work within the spectrum of that norm, or…
Schools and teachers must learn a vast amount of different teaching styles, become familiar with a staggering amount of different conditions that affect children’s learning; be adaptable in every imaginable way, to allow all children to learn (to begin with, the fact that children in this country can NOT be held back a year or moved forward a year flies in the face of the flexibility that true inclusion requires).
Inclusion is far, far more complex than anyone realises, but it is a pleasant smokescreen to make the general public feel that we as a society are truly accepting of differences and disabilities. To some extent it can work… though the cost, the real cost of inclusion is that children at the margins of the “norm” truly feel marginalised and often do no more than struggle through their school lives. The strongest of them will then find their paths in adult life. Many will live a life of struggle without ever getting close to their potential.
And then there are those children who are incapable of squashing their square forms into the round holes offered by mainstream school. Many of them are aware of their differences, which only adds to the agony of day to day life.
Eldest, Sweet Girl and Little Man, each in their own and different ways are three such children.
Eldest survived two years of normal school… I say survived with a sense of accuracy, because his second year was so emotionally painful for him that he used to beg me, on a daily basis, to kill him. He was six years old.
Sweet Girl has been in mainstream school for the whole of primary school. But in the last three years she has needed psychological help which took her out of school up to three times a week, and her attendance in this last year was 49% as of February. All due to sever anxiety, which is a symptom of her Asperger’s Syndrome. Hers is the proposed statement which has prompted this post.
Little Man has had a statement of special needs since he began school. It has provided largely the support he needed, and his is the closest we have to a success story regarding inclusion. But despite being a very sociable little boy, his differences mean that he has no friends. His medical and physical needs together with learning difficulty mean that mainstream staff simply do not have the capability to meet his needs within the setting of a “normal” school day.
Eldest has been in a specialised residential school for the last few years – and is thriving. Progress is slow, but overall steady, and he has a real chance at independence and to be a valuable member of society when he grows up.
Little Man will be moving to a special school that specialises in helping children with complex medical and physical needs and learning difficulty in September. This after a year-long, emotionally draining and intellectually taxing battle. With a slower pace of life, more suitable learning styles and incorporated physical therapies, he is likely to make progress both physically and academically.
Sweet Girl is currently in limbo. Her proposed statement lists a significant amount of need but currently suggests that she would be able to cope in a mainstream secondary school with a minimum amount of teaching assistant time. All those of us who know her, have worked with her and have seen her progress this year [crapahooting through the year is a fair description] know that this is not only far from what she needs, but that such a placement would be very detrimental to her mental health.
The cost of educating these children is far from negligible. And yet I ask myself, and I have asked the authorities on many occasions:
A child is in education for approximately 12 or 13 years. That child will go on to live approximately 65 more years. And this is the equation that MUST be resolved. The cost of (a maximum) of 13 years against the cost of 65 years.
For many children in need of specialised education, that help over the course of a few years will allow them to become independent, self sufficient, productive, and valuable adults – and let’s be frank, I’m talking economically valuable because this boils down to money.
So my question really is, let’s weigh up the cost of special schooling against the cost of an adult lifetime on benefits, in social care of some kind or another.
And honestly, my question truly is,
Let’s weigh up the cost of a few years of special schooling against the cost of an adult lifetime of regrets, of sadness, of little if any self worth. Let’s weigh the cost of those few years of special schooling against the cost of those who will end their own lives rather than continue living in a way that is simply too painful.
I forgot!!! I clearly found myself in something of a rant, published then re-read my title!!! Sticks and Strings do play a large part in my panoply of coping strategies for stress and anxiety. Be it knitting or crochet, having something to make, to do with my hands is a remarkably soothing balm to the tangles being twisted in my mind. This week I have embarked on something new – Cross Stitch. And since I really don’t like clutter and have far too much of it, I am planning a cross stitch square to send to a lovely charity, Love Quilts. These fabulous people make cross stitch squares with sick children in mind. Another team of volunteers sew the squares into beautiful, custom designed quilts which they send to those children. Go look at their page, maybe give it a go!!! I’ll post a picture when I’m done!
So I’ve been knitting! I use Ravelry to find free patterns because I’m a cheapskate!!!
That hat was knitted from the brim up, whereas this beauty for my Sweet Girl was knitted from the top down…
And then the finished article on my little Miss:
Two hats down, Little man was feeling left out!! Once again thanks to my sister’s wonderful present, I was able to send for some special yarn. Little Man’s favourite colours are red and orange, so I fell hook, line and sinker for this beautiful Alpaca yarn….
Now, I’m working on a matching scarf for him. But what a delight it is each morning to see him pop that little hat on his head with a great beaming smile, and what joy to see him come out of school still wearing it!
Next is a project for me – using some Noro yarn for the first time. It’s been a little ambition of mine since I became a more avid knitter, ad more discerning yarn lover… And the time is nearly there!
This is my second post entitled “Sticks and String”… I simply didn’t want a different title.
Given the chaos of real life, those sticks and strings afford me a great deal of peace… there’s a lot to be said for a little time, a little creativity and simple items joined with repetitive movements.
Knit well, all you who do.
And those of you who do not… why not try it?
Despite the fact that I often feel as though I’m on a merry-go-round (my goodness, the fairground metaphors abound this week!! (see my last post)), I have had a joyful reminder that progress is ongoing! Whether it is forward or backward is debatable at times, but my sticks and strings combined with busy fingers have finally produced a baby blanket for Miss Above and Beyond.
I have to say I’m very happy with it. I have been knitting almost daily for the past three weeks or so, all the time thinking of all that Miss Above and Beyond has done and continues to do for me and my little ones. Recently she finds herself facing the Authority and their remarkable ability to pass the buck. She faces the music and does what is needed for the child concerned. I do not envy her, but I am more grateful to her than words can say. So as I knit, with every stitch goes a little love, a little more care, a little hope for her and her new family. Every ten rows I had to choose the next colour for the blanket. The pattern I chose created a checker board of sorts and I was aiming for a random “pattern” of colours – random is incredibly hard to achieve because actually the eye doesn’t like something that is utterly random. As simple as the pattern was, it required a good bit of sitting back, thinking and deciding. This is one reason I loved doing it so much. I absolutely did not want to grab any old yarn, follow a pattern blindly, wrap it up and offer it to her. I wanted to invest time and thought into a small gift for a great teacher.
I have but a few short weeks left of Miss Above and Beyond’s time. Following Christmas, she will be busy looking after her new baby and quite rightly buys building her own little one. Some people find it difficult to understand that I could hold two conflicting emotions in my head, my heart at once. Well… it is often the case that I can be happy and sad simultaneously.
So.. I am thrilled for Miss Above and Beyond. There are not many people I know who are more deserving of personal happiness than her, and I am happy and excited to see her put herself first for a change. This is an absolutely sincere emotion and not at all marred by the accompanying sadness and quite selfish fear.
Sadness? That’s very simple! For the past eight years, I have had a close relationship with someone I admired from the first, and who has continued to inspire respect and awe in me. Social complexities we impose on ourselves mean that a parent teacher relationship cannot easily become a friendship. Add to that the delicate problems involved in caring for children with special needs, and you have a recipe for disaster if the relationship does not keep a clear professional level. Treading that line between friendship and professional relationship is very difficult. On the other hand, it would have been impossible for me to go through eight years of close professional links with Miss Above and Beyond, working together to help three very different children, without first of all baring my soul to her. And she has managed to find a path that keeps professionalism visible throughout but allows compassion a place. I feel I know her, and I believe she knows me… sounds like a good relationship to me. Will it change after she leaves? Will it survive after my children leave the school? I hope so, and I believe it can, but I can’t help feeling we are on the cusp of a big change. Given that, sadness feels like a legitimate emotion.
Fear? Oh boy yes!!!
Not many teachers in mainstream education have such an affinity for children such as mine. I know ( I have a very good idea) how much effort Miss Above and Beyond puts into explaining, informing other teachers. And that education needs to be repeated over and over again. Then again there is the effort put into all the necessary paperwork, keeping in touch with all the outside agencies (therapies, social services, outreach services, case officers, Authority managers etc etc etc). It is not by coincidence or naivety that I call her Miss Above and Beyond. I know full well that the chance of her work being done by a replacement is infinitesimally small. Superficially I’m sure all will be done. But the daily support and awareness of how these children are doing? The constant phone calls, emails and reports to ensure that all is being done in the best possible time to support the children? A replacement will be hard indeed to find.
My sadness and fear sit very comfortably with my happiness because they are all facets of the same thing. She is a wonderful teacher, but more than that, she is a very special human being. For that, I am happy beyond imagining for her happiness. For the same reason I feel her loss keenly.
For those who find my name a little long (Benedicte), I am often known as “B”. And I’ve taken to signing my knitting or sewing with a more meaningful “be”. Especially when I make a baby gift, I hope for that child to hold on for as long as possible to his or her ability to simply “be”. Without expectation, without fear of failure and with the acceptance that whatever scratches and dents we acquire in life, they all make us who we are. In the moments that I am able to simple “be”, I’ve found a peace that is really rather special. So my fairy wish for baby “bob” is … to be!
Eldest was just about to start school, and his soon to be teacher had taken the decision to visit each child in their home before the beginning of term. This was in the pre-diagnosis era, and all I knew was that I had a wonderful, quirky, headstrong and (let’s face it) odd little boy. We baked cookies and practised saying hello and offering the new teacher a drink and cookies – yes, it was important to practise because none of these skills came naturally (nor do they still!). I’ve forgotten the precise conversation, but needless to say, his quirkiness was unmissable. Miss Above and Beyond was lovely, smiley, kind and immediately made me feel that I could confide and trust in her – happy Mummy!
Two weeks into that first term, Eldest was placed on the special needs register, and Miss Above and Beyond had already spent some time with him putting in place a number of strategies to help him navigate school. A poster with “Zack’s Rules” was on the wall of the classroom to his delight (and other parents’ horror), picture timetables were in use etc etc… : all the strategies you would expect to find in an autistic classroom though I did not know it then. Throughout that year, we had many incidents to deal with, and the one thing that kept school manageable and tolerable was that teacher. She “got” this little boy, understood that despite his intelligence he had very real difficulties and was extremely vulnerable. Where dinner ladies feared him, she saw him for what he was – a little boy. I strongly suspect that she shielded me from the minor incidents, dealing with them herself.
[The intervening year was a metaphorical bloodbath of trauma culminating in Eldest being removed from school and embarking on three years of homeschooling. Miss Above and Beyond was no longer his teacher, nor did she have any power to help him during that year. Dark days.]
Lucky me!! Sweet Girl would be starting school with Miss Above and Beyond. It was a very different picture: Kesia was angelic (though the occasional “Kesia strop” became legendary very quickly), eager to learn and please, very intelligent and had a touch of vulnerability as a result of her home life which frankly only made her more endearing. This was a wonderful year of celebrating successes. It was also a year in which Miss Above and Beyond showed her true colours. Opening her classroom doors to both boys when I came to volunteer, she showed a keen interest in Eldest’s progress and encouraged him to help out or play with the other children. He was much more comfortable with younger children than himself, so this proved to be a really positive experience. She was always interested in what we were doing at our homeschool, and loved to read Zack’s stories or look at his pictures. She even listened to his endless plans to build a flying car (at age 6 he had decided to build such a vehicle, which would be propelled upwards by several high powered hairdryers. Further hairdryers positioned on the sides and back of the car would give steering control… the lectures were lengthy!).
For a mother who had become terribly isolated as a result of her child’s disability, this interest and care in what we were doing was invaluable.
The year passed very pleasantly, to be followed by a third child starting school with this inspirational teacher. Third child, third entirely different picture. Where Eldest had to be coaxed into doing anything at all but was extremely capable, Sweet Girl was already looking for reading books in the Junior library during her first year at school, and Little Man arrived with considerable difficulties speaking. I’m sure parents of more than one child are already with me in the bafflement of producing such utterly different creatures from the same basic ingredients!!!
The mark of a successful teacher, I think, is to be adaptable. To be able to gauge a child’s strengths and weaknesses quickly, then address those in as individual a way as is possible given that you have thirty children to teach.
Miss Above and Beyond gave each of my very different three children a start to schooling second to none. And in each case she did this with professionalism, deep care and personal interest. Not only that, but she is able to address me as Zack’s mum, or Kesia’s mum, or Tom’s mum, with no apparent difficulty. Underneath those labels, I am obviously the same person, but when dealing with any one of my kids, I become a different kind of tigress. Miss Above and Beyond adapts to this, for which I am truly grateful.
These few paragraphs cannot do justice to the difference she has made and continues to make to my life and my children’s lives.
And now, eight years later, changes are afoot. Not least, I can see the end of primary school. Chances are that by this time next year, there will no longer be a member of our family there.
And Miss Above and Beyond will also have different priorities as she begins her own family. At this point, I find myself at a loss for words. I am so happy for her I could burst, and seeing her put herself first is very exciting. How we will miss her, of course!! But it feels like a new chapter rather than an ending.
Because Miss Above and Beyond is one of life’s very special people. She will never stop caring, nor will she stop doing everything in her power to help.
I don’t think words exist to crystallize all I would like her to know… so I’m knitting (oh yes… mad knitter alert). Into my knitting goes all that is in my heart, so it seems only apt to knit for Miss Above and Beyond. Bamboo, because it is so soft and easy to wash. Sock yarn, again because it is soft and light but ever so cosy. Blues and greens, because Miss Above and Beyond has never been a frilly girl,but with a touch of fantasy from that amazing fluffy yarn. And a dash of red, just because life mixes things up a little every now and then. A baby blanket, because those are useful, and useable every day. Not too big, so it can be used in a pram, or later as a cape… And a simple checkerboard pattern to give the blanket a gentle flow.
It’s not much, but with every stitch is a wish for good days and happiness, for strength to deal with bad times and with the blanket comes a whole barrowful of love.
I am not a prolific knitter. More often than not I struggle to find a knitting project that really speaks to me.
I am stingy – I hate spending money, yet my knitting only “works” when I use beautiful yarns. They are not the most expensive yarns (I just simply cannot make myself spend more than £15 pounds on a skein and that took my breath away – it was in a good cause), but I now can’t stand knitting with the basic washable, cheap man made fibres. I have become a yarn snob.
I love bamboo yarn – it is soft beyond belief, and it’s bamboo!! We eat the stuff (so do pandas, and it turns out to be pitifully poor in nutrition, but hey, how cool is it to knit with something edible!), we build with it, we make music from it, and now we can knit. Then there’s the whole wonderful magic about bamboo’s anti bacterial properties. It seems that socks made from bamboo fibres stop your feet from smelling. All of these little things just make me buzz, and I love the feel of this wonderful yarn. Recently, I found some magic bean yarn in a bargain bin. Just kidding, it was soy bean yarn. But again!!! Oh me oh my! Soy bean?? Very different texture from bamboo, yet still very lovely.
My stinginess finds me looking longingly at yarn made from silk saris – the colours, the touch, the stories behind such a skein of yarn have me in a daze. One day, I hope to find just the right project for such a skein. In the meantime, I simply cannot justify the cost, so I regularly go to the Fluffatorium and dream! So I stick to natural fibres at reasonable prices, I love a bargain and I also try to stick to yarns that are machine washable. I am a disastrous housewife and can only maintain a semblance of order if things are really easy.
Last summer I knitted myself a cardigan – it was my first such project in years and years. I wanted desperately to try a top down, one piece garment on circular needles and I had found the soy bean yarn mentioned above. The cardigan was to cost me about £6… pretty, satisfying, soft and a bargain: my idea of heaven!! It took me most of the summer thanks to a pretty but annoyingly fiddly pattern, but turned out pretty well. Next time I would stick to a plain stitch for speed, but I loved the top down nature of the cardigan – it allowed me to fit it directly to me, and it was a real joy to finally put it on. Needless to say, I washed it carefully according to the yarn label (oh yes, I often lose the labels as soon as I begin a project), and all was well. Until the second wash. I had remembered the temperature required for a safe wash. Not the type of machine cycle. Turns out “delicates” is not the same as “woollens”. My cardigan shrank. Strange thing happened at that point. I won’t say I wasn’t disappointed because I was. But not nearly as much as I would have anticipated. As much as I enjoyed wearing this lovely handmade cardigan, I had enjoyed knitting it more. my now slightly felted cardigan was the right size to make Kesia a little jacket which she wore very happily for several months. Until it got caught (I think accidentally, but knowing me I may simply not have bothered enough) in a load of washing destined for the more plebeian cycle. I still have this cardigan in my sewing drawer – I’m sure it will make the perfect doll’s sleeping bag once it has been cut up and sewn appropriately.
The important thing in this little story is that knitting for me is far more an act than a noun. There is something almost spiritual in the act of creating something that holds its shape yet moulds to another out of some sticks and string. The repetitive nature of the act calms the mind and the creative nature of the project, from choosing the pattern, yarn, needles to sewing up the finished item promotes a deep sense of satisfaction.
About three and a half years ago, due to difficult life circumstances, I broke. I had been hanging on to the cliff edge by my very finger nails for some time, and I simply let go. It was the single most terrifying thing I have ever done, and as I felt myself falling down to who knows where two emotions warred inside me. One was the relief in doing what had become inevitable, the other was a tremendous sense of guilt. In letting go, I may have been admitting that I could not carry on as I had been, but I was also letting everyone down – my husband, my kids. My kids. Three years later, the horror of those few days and weeks is still fresh in my mind even if I am better and a much stronger, more stable person as a result.
Anyhoo… the thing is, a funny little trio of “therapies” helped me back to the land of the functional, the “sane”, the “strong”. Drugs were involved – not the back alley kind, good grief!!! The ones prescribed by the doctor and taken precisely as prescribed (I have a great fear of losing control, so I’m really not the kind of person who would ever dare play with even potentially mind altering substances). Eventually I found a wonderful psychotherapist thanks to my best friend, and she continues to help guide me through the maze of life. But the third therapy was possibly one of the strongest of this trio because it was something I did for myself, and that I can always do for myself. It does not really rely on time, travel, money or doctors, and so it feels wonderfully constant. That therapy (oh the suspense!!! – cos I did write it into the title, so there really is no mystery)… is knitting.
Oh… I include crochet in my whole world of sticks and strings, and sewing sometimes has its place as well, though knitting is central for me.
Most of the items I have knitted in the last three years have been for others. I discovered two at a time toe-up socks thanks to a wonderful Momcologist, Mindi, and spent quite some time with socks – for Darling Man, for my parents (in a slightly adolescent need to show that hand knitted socks needs not be scratchy and could be wonderful), bags for my niece, mittens for Sweet Girl, baby blankets to commission, doll’s clothes etc…
I have to admit to a particular thrill when I was asked to knit a couple of baby blankets by a mere acquaintance. To be paid a modest sum was quite lovely (I did say I have a rather mercenary edge, didn’t I?), and the knowledge that a little baby and her mother will enjoy something homemade thanks to me is just magical. The only downside to this particular project was that cost to the lady and babies’ tendencies to create lots of laundry made the choice of yarn simple but a little sad… typical, all purpose baby wool, machine washable, non-shrinkable etc etc… But I was happy with the result – the rainbow blanket was first (up above here somewhere), and the girly lacy one second. I can see a little girl playing with it very happily in a few years’ time.
My most recent project has been for me… and it’s only recently finished, and I admit to being over the moon with it. The pictures are not great because I don’t have willing photographers around me. But for the sake of posterity, here is my cardigan (which I am determined not to shrink!!).
Could any one not a knitter understand the excitement and buzz I got at joining the left and right side of this cardigan using the fabulous and simply mysterious Kitchener stitch? Oh the smiles and thrills in my tummy!!
Once again a wonderful bargain of yarn bought on ebay – merino wool that is cozy and soft and just fabulously touchy feely, and the colour was just right. And yay me, thanks to a few months of joyful knitting, I get a custom made cardigan for £10 (oh yes, the miser strikes again!!).
Thanks to knitting, I truly have my smile back.
Thank to knitting, the drugs part of the equation in the title is no longer needed, nor has it been for a year now.
The therapy continues because actually we all need to explore our landscapes through eyes other than our own sometimes.
Mostly the knitting continues because it allows me to create, and to enjoy the magic of making something useful and pretty from just a couple of sticks and a long piece of string…
Why do you knit??!
I have to add a link to the best online knitting teacher I’ve found:
Liat Gat over at www.knitfreedom.com