One sometimes hears that bereavement is the most stressful event in many people’s lives, followed by moving house. The thing that sends my stress levels through the roof is children refusing to go to school. Both kids have done this for prolonged periods, making full-time paid work impossible for me. This evening we should have been taking both children back to school but the signals from Jo were not promising. It started early afternoon with complaints about feeling sick and generally unwell. Spending the weekend in the dark playing on her computer or lying in bed with an iPad while snacking can’t help the digestion or headaches. She insisted that this was not the problem. Not taking a very long shower (an hour plus) was another bad sign, as was the fact that at 5pm she was still in her nighty, which she’s been wearing all day. Bringing her English prep to me about the time we were due to leave was a good sign, but was quickly followed by a return to bed and refusal to speak to anyone. My body was pumping adrenaline and I was feeling homicidal by this point, trying hard to maintain a calm exterior. I took Billy back to college (two and a half hours round trip) as he was already sitting in the car having a cigarette. I can’t see his tobacco supply lasting the week. I didn’t want to be in the house with Jo as years of school refusal have taken their toll on my nerves. Although feeling exhausted, at least taking Billy offered me the prospect of some time to myself in the car on the return journey. Walking into the kitchen on arriving home to find a new load of dishes and pans sitting by the sink didn’t improve my mood. Nor did discovering that Tony had not informed Jo’s housemaster that she wouldn’t be returning tonight. He had apparently had a rather odd conversation with a duty member of staff in Billy’s old school, who had eventually asked him which school he thought he was talking to. I have given Tony the phone number of Jo’s housemaster numerous times, and he could also have googled it. It is not the events in themselves that get to me, so much as continually having to take responsibility for others – I feel the need of some downtime. If I were an animal right now it would be a prickly hedgehog.
The problem is that for years, pretty much all her school career, we have struggled to get Jo to go to school. If we thought home education could work we would have tried it, but she is a non-co-operator and would have simply spent her entire life in bed. As an infant we could use physical force to get her dressed and into school. Once there if not happy, she did not generally appear unhappy, and she is a very sociable child, loyal to her friends, funny and good company. The middle primary school years were particularly hard as she was big enough to resist getting dressed or getting into the car, and out of it again at the other end. We might resort to force – extracting her from the foot-well of the car where she had jammed herself, then locking the car doors, for instance. Until the end of Year 5 I would then have to give her a piggyback across the playground to the school entrance. This process, which started with waking her up about 7am, often took till lunchtime, making a normal working life impossible. I would just have time to go home, have something to eat and walk the dogs, before it was time to pick the kids up again. To say that she has problems with transitions is an understatement. I loved my job, parts of it anyway, and it was good to be in adult company, but finding the time and energy for challenging children and a career was a nightmare.
There have been periods of weeks or months more recently when we began to think that Jo’s difficulty in getting into school was behind us, but sadly not. This is the second time in the last three school nights that we have been unable to get her there. When this happens it is rare that she makes it in on Monday, wiping out Monday for doing anything else, but she generally surfaces by Tuesday – taking out most of Tuesday as well. On the last difficult Sunday, the last week of the Autumn Term, she did eventually get dressed, and her bags were all packed and in the car. It got too late for Tony to come along and share the driving as he had to be up early Monday morning for work. Jo eventually came outside and to stop her going in again I locked the house. She stalked off round the side, in a well-entrenched pattern of behaviour – when little she would run into the garden and hide just as we were about to leave. I sat and waited in a cold dark car. Nothing. Eventually she returned and tried the front door, realised it was locked and went back into the garden. After about an hour in the car I had a phone call from her on my mobile (cell phone) to say that she was in the house. I had to admire her determination, which has never been in short supply. In pitch darkness she had manoeuvred a very large ladder from the far side of the house onto the decking, and up to my study window, then climbed in, leaving the windows wide open on a bitterly cold night. She was back in her bedroom and had no intention of moving. It was about 11pm by this time, and although the school had been alerted and said they would let us in when we arrived, I wasn’t up to a long drive there and back again by that point. One-nil to Jo! I revel in the fact that the children can now put themselves to bed, as bedtimes were awful, but it will be so good when we no longer have to persuade reluctant children to go to school, for them as well as for us.