Thursday, 4 December 2014

Clouds that won't pass

      He delights in torture, but he holds my hand, and never shields me. Because the best shield is to accept the pain. Then what can really destroy me? Let me close my eyes and lie invisible, and perhaps the clouds will pass through me.

     But they’re not. The clouds aren’t passing through. I am in the fog, the fog of The Boy, and trying to understand how I can make him happy again. Because at the moment, every day is a struggle, and although there are brief shards of light and laughter, they only throw the dark clouds into greater relief.

     He doesn’t want to go to school. Every morning, it’s the same. The moodiness, the sulkiness, the deliberately slow act of getting dressed, sniping at The Girl, storming ahead of us up the driveway. Silence most of the way to school. Once The Girl’s been dropped off, I try and talk to him, to try and cheer him up. Sometimes it works. Some days he goes in happily. More often it doesn’t, and so I embrace him at the school gates, feeling the sense of resignation coming from him in waves, my heart heavy with unconditional love as he trudges slowly into the playground, looking back at me just before he goes round the corner, and making the heart gesture with his hands.

     I’ve tried talking to him. The school have tried talking to him. I’ve tried talking to the school. But there’s nothing, no obvious cause. He’s not being bullied, he’s popular, his work is good, he seems happy in class. He’s eating normally, sleeping normally. But the hour before we say goodbye is the longest hour of the day. And once home, any reminder of school sets him off into either a silent sulk, or an explosion of temper. Sometimes he leaves notes for me to find ‘I’m not going to school tomorrow Mum, please don’t make me, I love you, I miss you too much when I’m at school so I’m not going.’ He’ll talk to me openly about it, when no one else is around, which I tell myself is a good thing. At least he’s talking. At least he’s being honest. At least he’s not ashamed of feeling how he does. He’s not trying to keep dark thoughts hidden.

    But I can’t help him. I can support. I can alleviate. I can distract. I can reassure. But I can’t help him; I can’t fix what’s going on in his head. I can’t change the way his mind works.  And what I see is me. My failings, my flaws, my fears writ large that I see reflected in him. Because I know I felt the same way when I was his age. The only difference is that I kept my thoughts to myself.

     And it terrifies me. If he’s thinking this way, feeling this way, just as I did, then what does the future hold for him? My beautiful boy, the baby who would turn his head when he heard someone laugh, assuming that anything funny somehow involved him? The toddler who would reach out and gently touch every child he passed, as a sign of affection, friendship, warmth? The Boy who falls over laughing at some of my terrible jokes? The Boy who cried last week because he accidentally tripped his sister up and she hurt herself? The Boy who told me he was crying because he felt stupid and useless…

     It doesn’t seem to matter what I say or do, or how much I keep telling him of his good qualities. That he’s kind, gentle, thoughtful, caring, polite. Every teacher he’s ever had has praised him again and again for his sensitivity. ‘He’s such a nice boy.’    Even a stranger on a plane this summer praised me for my good fortune in having such a sweet and funny boy. Every day I tell him to believe in himself, that I believe in him, that I love him, that he matters, not just to me, but to plenty of other people too. But none of it seems to make any difference.


     I’m his mother. I should be able to make things better for him. But I can’t. All I can do is be there and hold his hand for as long as he wants me to. And it breaks me. On a daily basis. To see my son hurting, to see him struggle with the fear inside him. I do so much to help. But I can only do so much. And so much is not enough.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Are you certain he is not being bullied? Bullying can take different forms. I have a granddaughter who was being bullied in a subtle way. Couldn't even go through the school gates, would go ashen and shake. She was withdrawn from state education at 12 and home tutored. At 16 she is happier and confident and on her way to gaining GCSE's for 6th form college. A grandson was bullied in a more traditional way, teachers wouldn't accept that he was being bullied. Finally withdrawn from his school 2 years ago and sent to a smaller school with Head and teachers who understood his problem. He is now 10 very happy and confident and has taken up ice hockey and is a goalie. Both children are bright but couldn't articulate their feelings. Hope you can solve The Boy's problem. Thinking of you loads and sending big cotton wool hugs to you both. Elderly One xxx

Anonymous said...

Hello. I cannot begin to understand what this must feel like for you. What I can say is that from reading your posts what shines through is the love that you have for your two children. Not in any "Look at my kids, aren't they amazing! LOOK, LOOK, LOOK!!!", overbearing and slightly psychotic way but in an honest, open, warts and all, this is what having kids is like way. They are very lucky in that they have a mum that wants to engage and talk and listen to them. Children remember everything and they will remember this. I do hope that you find out what seems to be the problem.

Anonymous said...

Oh you poor thing and poor boy. Maybe he is being bullied in a way as the poster above says. Maybe he needs to go to a different school....
I was bullied for years at an all girls school but refused to tell anyone at all. I pretended everything was OK but it really wasn't. I still remember the feeling of dread about going every day.
Good luck. xx

Anonymous said...

Try looking at Red Balloon Learner Centres for children who can't or won't go to school due to bullying or trauma. http://www.redballoonlearner.co.uk/about.htm

discojen said...

I have the same with my daughter (12). From her very first day of nursery to present day (year 8) she has been the same every morning, never wanting to leave me and go to school. I overcompensate in other ways, buying her things, lavishing her with love, taking her everywhere to try and make her life outside of school the very best it can be. But Monday morning and her unhappiness always come back around. I too feel the guilt of not being able to take this away. She is not being bullied (it isn't always the answer to a problem), is intelligent, funny and loving. She has begged to be homeschooled many many times.

It hurts.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't go to school at one point. My poor mother. I was labelled a School Refuser - my mother was given advice to make me go to school at all costs. She didn't. She took me out and home schooled me. Even now (I'm 39) I can't look at back at memories of those times without tears and sadness. I think I've blocked most of it out and can't remember events, just my deep sadness. I wasn't bullied, I was bright and had lots of friends. I just couldn't 'do' school. - But I happily went back into a small school when I was 15, finished school and went to university and had a ball. I have a BA and an MSc and happily worked full time before having a family of my own. I can't look back on my 'school refusing' days as it is too painful, but I got over it and your son will too.

Hen said...

My younger son was the same. In the end, I took him out of school to home educate him and now he's a happy boy again. He still sees all his school friends, but all his learning takes place either at home or in the community. We visit loads of galleries and museums. Is this something you could consider? I realise it's not possible for many people. I was able to do it because I'm already at home with my elder son, who has SNs.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever considered home educating your child? I took my child out of year 2 because he wasn't enjoying school and we have never looked back - in fact we now educate both our children at home and they are thriving. There are many more people home educating now and lots of well-organised local groups that provide support and opportunities to meet up regularly as well as organise group visits and access to specialist resources, etc. Have a look at the Education Otherwise website for some introductory information.

Anonymous said...

If you can in any way manage to home educate your son, please do so. My boy was/is exactly like this: kind and sensitive and loving and totally bewildered by school. I left him there until he was 10 before finally deciding I he could not be asked to endure this misery any longer, so now he is being educated at home and we are skint but happy. But the damage done to his self esteem may never be fully repaired; I so regret not removing him from school sooner.

Anonymous said...

Home education is the way to go as I don't see this situation getting better, only worse. You don't want to be I the position of having a depressed teen self harming or worse. Do something about it now. Read up on home education, you don't need to be a teacher and there's many different ways from structured to unschooled. You can still get qualifications if and when you want to in fact some children even do some early. Don't get suffocated by the system.

Helen said...

You aren't helpless. As the others have said, please consider home educating your son. Just a few minutes on Google will find you loads of info, and there will almost certainly be a Facebook group for home educators in your area. We started home eduacting nearly five years ago and it's been just wonderful for our family - I can't recommend it highly enough. We have no plans ever to send our children back to school.

Laura said...

Have you considered home education? School does suit many kids, but there are just as many children who really don't thrive in school, and your son sounds like one of them. It doesn't have to be because of something like bullying, kids all learn in different ways and sometimes a child just doesn't fit the rigid, excessively structured type of learning that school offers. If you're in a position to, perhaps give some thought to home education. You don't have to be a qualified teacher and it doesn't, as many people assume, have to be 'school at home', that is, you don't have to replicate school in the home environment. You can tailor your days in whichever way suits your child best, whether that's workbooks and tutors or learning through play, practical activities, home ed groups, trips out and about ... in other words, you can give them a unique learning experience 100% tailored to them, which no school can replicate. There are lots of good home ed groups on Facebook if you're interested in learning more :)

Anonymous said...

Children learn best when they're genuinely interested in what they're learning about and are learning about it in a way which excites and interests them. If your son doesn't want to be in school and would rather be at home or somewhere else, then he won't be putting 100% into his school work and won't be reaching his potential, regardless of how good the school itself may be. As others have said, home education would mean he could learn at his own pace and in a way which suits him. Don't be put off by the name, 'home' education is misleading! Many home ed children spend very little time at home and lots of time out and about, socialising with friends, and exploring the world, rather than just reading about it in a workbook. Perhaps have a look at this video which may get you started: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJTxIBkxTX8

Anonymous said...

Have a look at these blogs by home educating families. They give you an idea of how home ed can work day to day, how fun it can be and whether it might suit you and your son. Education is compulsory but school is optional, so there really isn't any need for him to go to school if he doesn't want to!

http://happinessishereblog.com/category/homeschool-life/
www.classroomfree.org
http://www.anordinary-life.blogspot.co.uk/

Anonymous said...

My 8 yr old daughter is just like this. She frequently tells me she's sad all the time but doesn't know why. I recently got our gp to refer her to Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service where they've started the assessment process. Just desperately want her to be happier.

Lucy Benedict said...

Wow, um, I'm really overwhelmed at the response I've had to this! Thank you for taking the time to read it, and comment with kind words, support, advice, encouragement - it really does mean so much, and if I could I would track each and every one of you down to thank you with slightly crushed flowers and some chocolate.

Home schooling is something I've not previously considered, but I definitely will check out the links and see if I think it would work for us. I had a really productive meeting with the school today, and they've thought of some very constructive ideas to help him cope, all of which he seems happy with. So I guess we'll try those first, and then see where we are.

But thank you, all of you, for reading. It's made me realise that a lot more children struggle than I thought, and that we really do need to talk to our children and each other about the ways we can handle difficult emotional situations.

I promise I'll come back and let you know how we get on!

Anonymous said...

I am so glad I took my son out of school when he was showing signs of sadness and depression. Home education has been great for our family, so good I never sent the rest of my kids in the first place. Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

Bit late to the party on this one but wanted to add my voice/hoot ;o) You are most definitely not alone, there are - sadly - many thousands of young people who struggle with school, for all sorts of reasons. Yes, it does sound like separation anxiety, partly - but there will be all sorts of reasons why it's become such an issue for him and so long as he isn't literally glued to you 24/7 apart from when he's at school, that's probably far from being the only factor at play here. I would talk to him - and The Girl, to be fair - and explore options, think of the pros and cons of the options available, and take it from there. I do know there are all sorts of fab HE networks and systems in place these days - not least because it's such a huge issue. I hate what we have done to our education system :/ but that's a whole other story. Do what's best for your kids - you always do, you know xxx

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that you're describing your son as a very sensitive boy who perhaps has some attachment difficulties. I would go and get some advice from a family therapist (NOT Relate) about games you can play that will help him detach from you when he needs to. There is an excellent book by Lawrence Cohen which I think is called Playful Parenting (not sure of title but author is correct) he has some wonderful ideas and advice that I think will help.

Anonymous said...

I was just like this as a child and so was my sister. We hated school and were very sensitive. There was no bullying although in those days teachers did inspire fear. We just wanted to be at home. It was a daily ordeal.

I am so, so relieved that my own child seems to live school and not feel like this. I would hate to think of him feeling like that. I don't think I ever got any real 'social' benefits from ny schooling.

Am not always convinced by some families' reasons for home schooling but in cases like this it is definitely worth considering.

Life's too short, and childhood too fleeting, to suffer unnecessarily.

Caroline said...

As with others above I would offer my own experience for you to consider. For many years I was also a trained volunteer on the Education Otherwise helpline so I have spoken to many parents in desperation at their child's distress.
First take a proper look at our education system - we take it for granted and accept that it is undoubtedly a GOOD THING. However having said that it is also a system of mass education that has evolved based on a male model of schooling. Ironically there is increasing evidence that that system is better suited to girls in the modern age and it is more often boys who are unable to fit into it.
Second, our children are the full spectrum of human variation yet the system only permits them to enter the sausage machine and progress according to a predetermined timetable; many are able to cope/adjust but a minority struggle; even find it soul-destroying.
Third however much parents try to inspect and judge schools the bottom line is a that a group of pupils will be thrown together with a random teacher and it is pot luck how they get on together - sometimes it is great for most, sometimes awful but often some will suffer. This is why it is quite possible for parents and pupils to differ widely in their experience and opinions about the same school - and be equally legit! Continued...
.

Caroline said...

So having recognised that it is not anyone's fault we can then appreciate that from the school's point of view every problem passes on - children grow up and move on so sitting it out is seen as the sensible path by many heads and teachers (I was a parent governor of my children's primary school and saw this first hand).
That brings me to focus on you and your child. You may wonder why you are so bothered yet other parents seem able to shrug it off. I have a theory about that too! My son was/is very sensitive and observant - he doesn't miss much. He and I have always been 'in tune' - we seem to be wired similarly and almost able to read one another's thoughts. Continued...

Caroline said...

My son went full time to day nursery before the seven month separation anxiety kicked in and loved it from the start - and they adored him. But Infants School was a bit of a shock and a let down as he was in a large class with a terribly dull unattractive old lady teacher and trying to communicate with lads who had not yet learnt any social skills. continued...

Caroline said...

He became quieter and more withdrawn and we worried. His sister started three years later - keen to go to big school and join her brother. Then one day I saw and bought a wonderful book in our local Oxfam shop called 'Teach your Own' by a wonderful humanitarian called John Holt. I was wowed - I had never even known that home education was an option. I collected my two from school later that day - aged 9 and 6 - and was taking them to Pony Club when my son started complaining about school - he didn't usually. I told them about home education and to my surprise they both got very excited about the idea! I agreed to do more research. This was Easter and we ended up taking them both out of school at the end of the summer term. In the end for four years. My son came back to us - he had been battening down the hatches and not thinking it was worth sharing his unhappiness about school. Now he blossomed and became like the lively lovely boy he used to be - full of clever humour and passionate interests. continued...

Caroline said...

A year later he attended the primary school year 6 open day at the local high school - came home and told us that he did not want to start in year 7. To my amazement when asked why he had decided that he proceeded to describe in incredible detail all that had happened that day. We were so impressed by his powers of observation and sophisticated thinking we could not but agree! His description of tension between the teachers when something went wrong was hilarious...
He did go back for year 10 to do his GCSEs and then A Levels.
So Home ed is not an all or nothing - it might be best for a child who is not ready for school at 4 (in Scandinavian countries they do not start school until 7) and much needed for a child who has landed in a destructive environment in high school and needs to rediscover themselves. But the vital factor is a parent who is 'wired the same' - who cannot but feel their misery. Please don't blame a partner who can't take this on board - it is pot luck whether we have anything in common with our children (and I wish far more books about parenting recognised this!). It is the sensitive child who seems to fall foul of the current system and a break to discover who they are can make a huge difference. My parents were very disapproving and thought that empowering a 9 year old and 7 year old with the decision - and again at 11 - we were being irresponsible. continued...

Caroline said...

But they are now 19 and 16 and happy young people confident in their identities and who communicate freely with their parents - it was hard financially but definitely worth it. Btw my son has started his own business and is very much his own man; my daughter got straight As at GCSE and is at Sixth Form College planning to apply to Oxford. Oh and they mixed with others intensively from 5 months of age and when out of school did Pony Club and Fencing and Ballet. By contrast when they went back to school the were too tired to do so much. Those HE children who had never been to nursery or school they did find a bit odd as they did and said unexpected things! We humans are so varied...
Education Otherwise is the HE charity - in countries like the USA, Canada and Australia 'Home Schooling' is seen as normal and there is so much online to make it possible for anyone these days. It is no-one's fault - and not many heads take the time to be interested but neither is it a hill of beans in the longer time scale! Your child is so lucky to have a parent who is in tune and compelled to act - not many do and that is the genetic lottery with no-one to blame...
Very best wishes
Caroline

Bev said...

Another one here who can't recommend home education highly enough! I pulled my son out of school aged six for much the same reasons as you, and found that as soon as he realised he would never have to go back to school, he was a different child! We did a mixture of formal learning (some with myself teaching him, maths with a tutor and various subjects in small groups with other home ed kids), and informal learning through messy science experiments, visiting places of interest, and playing, lots of playing. He went on to take 12 iGCSE's, 2 A-levels and is now studying medicine. Home ed did wonders for him academically, but more importantly, he was truly happy, and he very much views education as an enjoyable, lifelong thing, rather than a chore as I believe he would had he stayed in school. The only regret I have was sending him to school in the first place!

tgroom57 said...

I home educated Key Stage 3, from the start of secondary school until GCSEs. I'd been to grammar school and that was enough to teach them 3 years at home. My two girls went on to take GCSEs at the local college and have done well, better than many of their peers. They are more rounded and more connected as a family, looking out for each other. Both were lucky to have 'reasonable' primary schools - but the nastiness started in the last 2 years of primary. I've read your description of him & what the teachers tell you- school will change this child if he stays, and you won't like and won't be able to reach or change the result. Please consider home education sooner rather than later.

Anonymous said...

Lucy five years ago I could have written your post word for word. I have two sons and my eldest would run to nursery and not look back as I left; he settled into primary school like a duck to water. My second son would cling to me at nursery and I would be literally carrying him under my arm to school. Year 2 primary was the worst. I felt sooooo awful knowing that no matter how good my day was he was hating his. When I picked him up he would just mumble about his day and tell me nothing. I found out about home education and withdrew him from school. Was a major sacrifice on my part as was about to go to university to retrain for a new career (teacher training ironically). Had to turn down all my uni offers. But just could not bear him not thriving either emotionally or educationally or socially for that matter! What was the point of trying to help other children when mine was suffering? Taking the leap was scary but I got a lot of advice from Education Otherwise.
Five years later my DS is a much more confident and well rounded boy. We have great days, O.K. days, and you're-getting-on-my-nerves-days, but he would tell you that all those days are miles better than what he suffered at school. He has had flexibility to learn at his own pace, and experiences he would never have had in school. In no way has he missed out educationally, he has gone on more educational trips and outings than he ever did in school for one thing. I truly couldn't tell you where I think he has missed out except that he could have done with a more organised mother sometimes!
Not all children are the same and we do live in a society that really places emphasis on fitting in with the group and being an extrovert and a 'team player'. Even the school system caters towards this - children are put in groups and encouraged to stand out by raising their hands in order to answer questions for which they receive praise; required to part take public school performances and group sports, have to be seen to be playing with other children, etc. There is not much catering for children who are possibly a little more introvert -which is an equally viable way of learning and interpreting your world - and who may need extra 'me space', and children like these may quite understandably feel that they are 'losing themselves' every time they go to a classroom filled with up to 30 other children.

I really encourage you to look into home ed. As already said by another poster, my only regret is that I forced my son to endure for ONE day the misery he experienced. If H.E is not a feasible option, would switching to a smaller school with a smaller amount of children help? Either way I hope you can both sorts things out in a way that's positive. He's lucky to have such an intuitive mother. Continue to listen to your gut instinct.

Anonymous said...

It's fantastic news that you will look at home schooling. I wish I was in a position to home school, but I also know I do not have the patience for it. Another possibility is getting the school on side to do a hybrid. Part-time school in the school setting and part-time home educated. Or being able to use some of the school's resources such as the library and going on school trips. Or possibly a period of home schooling, but keeping the doors open to return him into school if you feel it is not working out or there is a shift in his outlook after a period out of school. best of luck with it.