Tag Archives: Boarding school

Light and Shade

IMG_1036I haven’t written anything for a while – too exhausted and unsure what to say. Jo is still at home but thinking seriously about going back to school tomorrow. It is a friend’s birthday, and she evidently feels that she is missing out on a good deal of social life. She can get quite disturbed at home and is very isolated. A couple of days ago Jo left empty sheet of paracetamol tablets ostentatiously on the kitchen table. I had no idea whether Jo had taken one for a headache, or the whole packet. We assumed that a serious suicide attempt would be more secretive, and she has long had a habit of self-medicating, as well as of threatening to kill herself, so I’m afraid we didn’t take all that much notice. I did mention this incident to the art therapist who came this morning, and he said he would have to report it. I also mentioned it to the woman from the LEA who phoned up to do a social assessment for Jo as part of the EHCP. She too was very concerned – although I assured her that Jo’s CAMHS counsellor was aware of her self-harming and state of mind. CAMHS can’t do much about it if Jo won’t engage with the service – I went on my own to her last appointment, as Jo wouldn’t leave the house. Jo wouldn’t engage with therapy at home either, barricading herself in her room when a lovely young woman came to do some drama with her. Jo has always engaged in risky behaviours, and our attitude since she was small was to ask ‘Is it life-threatening’? If the answer was ‘Probably not’ we would let her get on with whatever it was she was doing as supervising her was such extraordinarily hard work.

We had a good family day out visiting relatives a couple of weeks ago. The children are normally reluctant to join in our annual get-together and there have been occasions in previous years when having got them there they refused to get out of the car. Billy was the worst offender, but Jo would keep him company. This time his girlfriend Jane was invited along, which made all the difference. Billy behaved well in front of Jane, and Jane included Jo, making friends with her. Sunday morning we were discussing the success of the previous day when three CID officers turned up at the house. At first Billy assumeUnknownd that they had come to take Jo back to school, and told her as much. They were in plain clothes and an unmarked car, but unmistakably the police rather than Jehovah’s Witnesses (we had them today and they are always in twos rather than threes). To cut a long story short, Billy is in trouble over an incident that happened about fifteen months ago. The police had traced his address through his mobile phone number, which he had exchanged with someone else involved. They had a search warrant and took away Billy’s laptop and phone. He was shaken, as we all were, but resigned. He also had to tell Jane at least some of what it was about as she was in the house at the time and he could hardly conceal that he was in trouble. Billy’s biggest worry seemed to be the effect on Jane and their relationship. The police also made it clear that if he didn’t present himself at a police station for interview they would issue warrant for his arrest.

I had two days to try to find a suitable criminal solicitor, and last Tuesday evening Tony came from work and I picked him and Billy up, and we made our way to the police station where we met the solicitor. She didn’t think that it would be in the public interest to prosecute, but the investigations will take some time and he has evidently been engaged in risky, and often criminal, behaviour for some time. Although we were all in a state of shock, there was also a sense of relief that things were coming to the surface, especially as Billy is still a minor (under 18) and there is an opportunity to address the underlying issues when the legal process has run its course. Prosecution is a real possibility, especially if the police find more incriminating evidence on Billy’s laptop, which they hadn’t had time to go through at that point. Billy did a good job of explaining himself but it was far from evident to us that he understood what he had done, or why it was wrong. He clearly knew that he was in trouble, but seems to live in a world with different values. So far at least Jane and her family have stood by Billy – he was at their house last weekend. Its hard to know quite what she sees in him, although he can undoubtedly be kind and caring, and they seem very much in love. We will make the most of enjoying the positive influence Jane seems to have on him while it lasts.

On Thursday as well as attending Jo’s CAMHS appointment without her, I bought a cheap laptop for Billy so that he can do his college work, and Nokia pay-as-you-go phone so that we can contact him, and he can stay in touch with his friends and tutor. I also had to go to the Job Centre with his birth certificate, which the DWP needed for some reason. They haven’t paid Billy’s benefits this month or last, which makes it hard to pay his rent, but I haven’t had the time and energy to find out what’s going on as yet. As I walked through the front door I could see that all was not well. Although our house is messy and too full of stuff, most of the stuff seemed to be on the floor, along with smashed remote controls and debris. The first thing I saw entering the drawing room was damage to the plasterwork – and I later found a smashed up chicken coup on the decking. I was pretty annoyed, having spent another day running round after the kids while they smashed the place up. Billy had retreated to his room and Jo had calmed down by then. He knows exactly how to push Jo’s buttons by being incredibly rude to her, and she reacts but damaging things to deflect her aggression away from Billy. After the smashing episode she asked him how he would feel if Jane could see him, which touched a very raw nerve. He was sobbing but looked murderous. Tony remonstrated with Billy, who wanted us to simply blame Jo for the damage (and to call the police). His stated ambition has always been to make her so naughty that we get rid of her. He wasn’t in a mood to listen to Tony, but hopefully got the message that provoking Jo to get a result is just not on. It is a pattern repeated endlessly since they were very small, but no joke with two large teenagers.

Sprouting_nut_by_EaglewolfTony and I had a few sleepless nights feeling that we had reached another crisis, or at least turning point. Having both children at home with two parents is tough, but with one parent impossible. We agreed that Billy could only come home if he or Jo had a friend staying so that there is someone to act as a moderating influence on Billy’s behaviour (although this is not always effective) and both parents are at home. Logistically this might be difficult but we have been here before. It means cancelling other plans and commitments, which is annoying but can’t be helped. On the plus side, Billy did apparently attend a music therapy session that took place in college today. I just hope he finds a way to work through some of his anxieties and feelings in a way that enables some positive changes in his life. One of the images that came up in the art therapy this morning was that of a nut, like a conker, hard and brown but breaking open with the green shoots of new life. That is what I would wish for each of us.

Life Goes On

IMG_0825It’s half term, both children at home. Given their dysfunctional love/hate relationship that’s always stressful, but good news for the dog – one of them at least. Our piggy labrador gets plenty of opportunities to sneak upstairs and eat the cat food. She is masterful, waiting until attention is elsewhere and the doors left open, which sooner or later they always are. Not so good for the cat, who then has to parade up and down in front of me meowing until I notice that her bowl has been licked clean, again.

The kids feel unsafe together, even at fourteen and sixteen, without an adult present. We separate them when possible, or take it in turns to leave the house, but today Tony was working and I was at home. I needed to go to the post office then walk the dogs, and had only been gone about ten minutes when Billy phoned to say that I needed to come home. That they, not the dogs should be my top priority, and he wanted me to take him to get a haircut. He is a long way off being able to walk into town to go to the barbers on his own, and this level of dependence makes him a bit edgy and aggressive towards me. I was in the woods about ten minutes later when Jo phoned. I had to come home straight away because… I forget what exactly but they were squabbling and Billy wouldn’t leave Jo’s room or stop fiddling with her things. Apparently Billy was wearing his only pair of clean jeans, which had a tear in them. He didn’t want to wear them in town, and tried to get Jo to sew them up, while still wearing them. I suggested he change into tracksuit bottoms and I could then mend them quickly  when I got back. This wasn’t acceptable apparently, but I haven’t heard any more about torn jeans so far. Not exactly a relaxing walk. We still approach the house with some trepidation if the children have been home alone – looking out for broken windows, obvious signs of a fight, loud shouts and bangs, or smoke escaping from a door or windows. We had an outbreak of good behaviour when they tried to get me to pay for an Xbox game that they could download onto both their machines. As Jo has very few games that she likes or can play I wasn’t against the idea, but didn’t want it to be a  free gift. I said they needed to do some chores, and they did at least go and tidy their rooms. It’s not exactly doing something for me, but still better than nothing. They continued to phone from Billy’s room to my study on the floor below. Billy was trying to strangle Jo or something. I think they just need the reassurance that I’m still around and within reach as they both have trouble regulating their behaviour.

Billy had taken my letter about having to take responsibility for keeping his bedroom tidy pretty well, and at least made an effort to put dirty clothes in a laundry basket. He had asked for a bigger bin, so I bought a huge orange one meant for horse feed, which he has filled with empty cans and bottles, crisp packets and goodness knows what else. We did have a conversation when he came home on Friday, in which he said that he didn’t want to leave home at eighteen, so I assured him that we weren’t about to throw him out, he just needs to do some growing up. Billy returned to the subject today. The fact that he is nearly seventeen and that before long eighteen will be on the horizon has shaken him a bit. He did say that he didn’t feel mature enough for seventeen, let alone eighteen and the adult world. Billy didn’t come home last weekend. He texted to say he wanted to go to a friend’s house. I tried to get an address and phone number to check up, which was like squeezing blood from a stone. Eventually he said the friend’s dad (the parents are separated) would be away, but that they were both going to the boy’s elder brother. I persisted in asking for a name, number and address, which I was eventually given. I spoke to the brother, who confirmed that he knew Billy, and that there would be no drugs in the house. I looked up the address on google maps, and it was where I had been told it was. I offered to pick Billy up and take him back to college on Sunday – with his weekly supply of tobacco, but he put me off saying he was getting a lift. He did phone from his digs on Sunday afternoon to say that he didn’t have his key and was locked out, and needed tobacco supplies. He was also cold as he only had a T-shirt on. Quite what I was supposed to do about it I wasn’t sure, but I contacted his landlady who was on her way home, and kindly bought the tobacco en route.

It is very unusual for Billy to go two weeks without seeing me, but during last week I had another text telling me that he hadn’t  been at his friend’s house after all, but at Jane’s. This was the first we had heard of her, but either his conscience had pricked him for not telling the truth, or more likely knew he’d be found out sooner or later, and thought it had better come clean. We wouldn’t have objected, with the usual caveats of wanting to know where he was, so not sure why the secrecy. Billy had apparently had a good time, and had been invited to go back over half term, then Jane will come here for a couple of nights. Having extracted a name I did some googling and was pleasantly surprised that they seemed a nice, regular family (which is more than I can say of the last girl we knew about, where we had two very needy kids together). Billy had said Jane’s family fostered, and I take my metaphorical hat off to anyone who does that. Jane’s mum phoned during the week and we had a good chat. I didn’t let on that Billy hadn’t told us that he was with them last weekend, nor that we hadn’t heard of her daughter until a couple of days before. Apparently he was a charming guest, kind and thoughtful. I was torn between thinking they must have got the wrong child and pride, or maybe it was relief, that he could make a good impression when he tried. Perhaps eight years of private education were not totally wasted if there is at least a veneer of social confidence and politeness. I’d like to think that our values have not been totally lost on Billy. He had even told them that his sibling was transgender, although Jane’s mother was confused about which way, unsurprisingly as Billy would have referred to her as ‘he’ and used her former male name. Apparently Jane has an elder brother with a life-limiting condition, and Billy had made a point of talking to him and introducing himself.

Jo in fact is very bored. She hasn’t been to school since 30th January, and can’t decide whether she is going back to her boarding school at all. She did say something about doing chores if she was allowed to stay at home. We are in a limbo, not knowing whether we should be looking for another educational setting or just giving her a chance to regroup. Jo coming out of school coincided with totally running out of money so we haven’t actually paid school fees either. So far the school have been patient on both fronts.  It seems that being told she couldn’t take sex education classes with the girls was a final straw for Jo. Even the thought of school makes her shake, and she had reduced her life to her bed or duvet on the sofa, thus minimising all chance of anxiety-producing situations. She wanted to go to school on Friday to pick up her belongings and say goodbye to a couple of her girl friends. One faithful friend came back with us for a couple of nights. He is quite clingy and misses Jo, finding it difficult to make new friends. She finds this quite difficult as she likes her personal space, but he has been patient and loyal to her, and they play together much of the time on-line. I think Jo realises that if she ignores him altogether she will find herself almost totally isolated. Another reason for going to the school on Friday was a visit from a solicitor specialising in SEN legislation and tribunals. He explained how the new Education Health Care plans that replace the old Statements of Special Educational Need work. It was useful, and if we are going to get Jo back into her current school or perhaps a unit for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties (an EBD school), we will need to go through the application process for an EHC plan. My heart sinks at the thought as it is distressing, depressing, exhausting and very very time consuming and expensive. It shouldn’t be, but it is. I also met the head, who was concerned and obviously wanted to know what was happening. Talking to Tony later, we decided to see if the school will keep her on the books but suspend fees so that we can divert them into paying for a solicitor (notional fees as we haven’t raised the money as yet). We tried three times for a Statement for Jo in the past – or her primary school did on two occasions and we did the last time, and became increasingly cynical about a system which does not work for children by any stretch of the imagination. In retrospect we should never have gone to a tribunal hearing without legal representation, so we won’t make that mistake again.

IMG_1174When I wasn’t trying to walk dogs or manage the children’s anxieties, I was on the phone to the Department of Work and Pensions and filling in forms the length of short novels for Billy’s benefits. There is an enormous amount of duplication in the process as well as people just messing up. They are nice enough when you speak to them but the systems are not adequate to the task, which creates a huge amount of work for claimants. How Billy is seriously expected at sixteen to manage claiming on his own behalf I can’t imagine. Here I am with a PhD and it takes all my time and energy, telephone skills and perseverance. Given that the benefits are because he has learning difficulties, as do many who apply I imagine, the set-up is impossibly complicated. To relax I have signed up for Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s 30 day forgiveness challenge. I could watch the opening video, which only lasts a few seconds, with Desmond and Mpho laughing together on its own. It is a great de-stressant, with Desmond’s lovely infectious laugh. I can feel my stomach unknotting just thinking about it!

Falling apart or falling into place?

When you are in the middle of a situation it is hard to know which of these two realities one is living. Are things falling apart or falling into place? I guess it always feels as if unplanned changes represent things falling apart, even if experience tells one that such times can be creative. They generate change. Jo is like a chrysalis tucked up in her duvet, waiting to emerge as a butterfly. I suspect that this could be a long and painful process, and unlike the caterpillchrysalis to butterflyar who can just wait until the sun comes out in the Spring, Jo will actually have to find the resources to be proactive at some point. The crux of it is that she won’t return to school. It has been an increasing struggle this year, not that it was ever easy getting her there. She has now missed so much of her GCSE work that she has little chance of catching up, which is another disincentive to return. The main problem is a developing social phobia, not wanting to be looked at. Unfortunately our lovely daughter will only continue to become more biologically male, unless and until she can get her head around attending the University College Hospital endocrine clinic and going on hormone blockers. The problem is therefore not going to disappear with the Spring sunshine.

We tried and failed three times to get a Statement of Educational Needs for Jo, so will now need to start again with the new Education, Health and Care needs assessment process. In theory it is more holistic and will look at social and emotional factors, as well has Jo’s base- line cognitive ability. The SEN Statement process was also supposed to take broader needs into account, but in practice these were summarily dismissed. Jo might find the courage to carry on with her education in a much smaller residential setting, with therapeutic support available and a better understanding from all those involved of her complex mix of needs, her strengths and weaknesses. If she was in a wheelchair or was on the autistic spectrum I suspect her needs would be better identified and catered for, although I know that it is increasingly hard for all children and young people with any disability or mental health issue to get support and to find a place in society. The transgender process is just another part of Jo’s complicated but no doubt wonderful jigsaw. I can’t wait to see the finished picture (in this life or from the next!). We were planning a meeting at the school, with social work support and the Virtual School involved, but there seems little point if Jo doesn’t return there. It is hard to know how to plan or move ahead. It is also painful scraping around trying to find school fees on a month-by-month basis, with repairs and other things jobs on permanent hold, when the child is actually at home in bed.

Lone hero parent

I attended a retreat/conference in Italy and was, most unusually, away for four nights, leaving Tony to cope with both children alone at the weekend. This is not something we aim to do if we can help it. Billy arrived back from college with a friend. The friend had been before when they camped in the woods next to the house. I gather that all three children had some fun playing with B B guns (not something I like as they shoot hard plastic pellets, which I’m always afraid the chickens or other animals could eat). Jo was included, and from the range of pellets around the house and garden they obviously had a wide-ranging battle as well as some target practice. They also seem to have consumed plenty of fish and chips as the food left in the fridge was largely untouched and the debris extensive. Unfortunately, as so often happens, things took a turn for the worse on Sunday. Tony suspects that Billy was smoking cannabis, or something else that he shouldn’t, which makes him extremely aggressive. Apparently he physically attacked Jo in her room, and threw food or drink all over the wall by her bed (the evidence of which will remain until we can redecorate the room at some time in the future). Billy was extremely rude and verbally aggressive to Tony, who managed not to react – much to his friend’s embarrassment. I suspect that Billy’s friends, who all seem a nice lot, are just not used to seeing or hearing someone be so aggressive and rude within an apparently civilised family setting.  Billy is not going to find it easy to keep friends, or be welcome in other people’s homes, if he can’t get on top of this behaviour. I had several requests for money while away, and as usual the money for his train fare seems to have been diverted, presumably for drugs. This is another situation in which it is hard to know how to react.

imagesOne decision I did make was not to clean and tidy Billy’s room. I went up on Monday morning intending to do it, but partly through exhaustion, partly annoyance, but also I hope some wisdom, decided that apart from taking a plate and fork down to the kitchen I would leave it as it was. My hope is that if I stop doing things for Billy he will begin to do them for himself. He won’t always have me around to tidy up after him. If I don’t do things for Billy he generally gets very cross with me and sees it as a lack of love and care, which makes him feel very vulnerable. Maybe at some point he will allow me to help him do the clearing for himself. If he felt that he had more control over his environment without relying on others he might be happier. A friend told me that one of the effects of dyspraxia is difficulty not just sequencing, but also generating the action words needed to perform tasks. This makes sense to me as I am aware of telling myself to do jobs one at a time in order to get them done (‘ignore the food and cans and pick up the clothes’, now take aftershave, razors, deodorants etc. back to the bathroom’, ‘get a bag and collect all the tin cans’ and so on). If I need to do this to accomplish a task, I do understand how Billy finds it difficult to even get to the stage of seeing the individual tasks within the whole chaos of his room. What I don’t really understand is why he needs to trash the room so comprehensively within such a short time. One little obsession is removing all his many caps from his cupboard, and hooks on the back of doors, and scatter them over the room, so one of the tasks I usually perform is ‘now find, pick up and put away all the baseball caps’. I have asked him why he does it but he doesn’t have an explanation for this behaviour, other than it is a habit. It sometimes feels as if adoptive parents need to be professional psychologists, rather than just overworked, underpaid, and very tired housekeepers, cooks and drivers.

Down time

The ground has some good hard frost at last – needed to kill the unwelcome bugs in the chicken run. It has been a week with some much needed down time. I have been quite tired following surgery last week, and haven’t had theIMG_0463 energy to persuade Jo back to school. She seemed to need some thinking time, and after a week in bed has emerged a bit more relaxed, trying to get herself into a less nocturnal rhythm for a return to school on Sunday. She has been thinking about the need for injections if she goes ahead with hormone blockers to arrest the progression of male puberty (fully reversible). Whenever we probe as to whether she had doubts about being a girl she strenuously denies this. It seems to be the thought of injections every twenty eight days as well as the initial physical checkup and blood test that are causing so much anxiety. Maybe she needed this week just to let her subconscious as well as conscious mind come to terms with things. She does have processing problems due to the FASD, but also shows remarkable perspicacity when it comes to explaining what is going on, and her thought processes. Our youngest dog was treated to a frosty early morning walk as Jo seeks to get into a better routine. I think its the first time she has left the house all week. I’ve hardly seen her as we were like the weather men, one in and one out, never both around at the same time. Apart from occasional muttering that there isn’t much food in the house (plenty in fact, but I’m not cooking for her in the middle of the night), she has been very easy and uncomplaining.

Billy had a review meeting in college in Tuesday. I felt for the poor boy with seven well-meaning women giving him advice on what he needed to do to stay in college. Neither his attendance nor work are what they should be, but he just seems to lack the organisational skills to turn the situation around. He is happy enough and his social life seems much improved on boarding school, but it doesn’t add up to the standards the college normally set out. Billy was evidently stressed by the meeting and looked as if he would say anything to get out of the situation, without taking much of it in. As someone said afterwards, he looked a bit like a rabbit caught in the headlights. He doesn’t have a plan B and wants to stay on next year, but there is quite a mountain to climb if he is going to make it. He is fortunate to have high levels of good will and support, but taking advantage of them is another matter. Attachment and trauma, or whatever diagnosis one puts on it, are hidden disabilities but with quite profound effects. There must be many thousands or hundreds of thousands of children and adults struggling with similar problems, meeting with a lack of comprehension and negative judgements from a society that is unaware of the nature of these disabilities. We were pleased that Billy came home today seemingly in quite a good mood. Hopefully in very small steps he is edging forwards into future that he has chosen and is actively trying to shape.

On trying not to over react

IMG_1082Jo was bored. Billy spent Friday night at a friend’s house, then phoned very early Saturday morning to ask how he should get home as there was snow on the ground. We checked the trains on-line, all running normally. He eventually made it home by early evening, but in the meantime he had invited another friend along as well, a refugee from building work on his house. That meant that Billy had company all weekend and didn’t need Jo. Jo was bored and stressed. I don’t know quite what happened but there was some incident on-line with one of her oldest local friends, who never wants to see her. Maybe with Billy occupied she had tried to find other company and was disappointed that it didn’t work out. It became apparent on Sunday that she had no intention of returning to school. By the time we took Billy to the station on Sunday evening to make his way back to college we found “my blood is on you all” smeared, in blood, all the way up the white wall of the staircase. On Billy’s bedroom door, along with more bloody finger marks, was the word “Die”. Very jolly! Tony and I were both tired and not in the mood for Jo’s drama-queen antics. We focused on getting Billy out of the house, and assured him that we were not ignoring Jo’s behaviour, we just weren’t sure how to deal with it. He suggested she needed an exorcist.

Part of me wanted to ring her CAMHS counsellor first thing Monday morning to say that we simply couldn’t cope with this sort of thing. Part of me just wanted to tell her off and get her to clean it up the mess, as it seemed indulgent and uncalled for. Billy and his friend had ordered a Domino’s Pizza takeaway after supper on Saturday evening, refusing to share any of it with Jo. On Sunday Jo refused to eat saying that she only wanted a Domino’s pizza. I don’t usually buy them as they strike me as overpriced and not particularly healthy, but Sunday afternoon I had made a special journey to get Jo a Domino’s pizza. This she had turned down on the grounds that it was too small. She had evidently boxed herself into a place where she felt she had to act out her frustrations, as happened so often when she was younger.

Fortunately Tony and I were too exhausted to do anything and Jo was hiding under her duvet, refusing to make contact with anyone. We decided that we would ignore her histrionics, calculating that she was not a suicide risk. I could see some blood on her sheet and broken glass on the floor, but nothing to cause too much alarm. We hadn’t the energy to try to get Jo back to school, and phoned to say she wouldn’t be in that evening. Her housemaster was relaxed about it so we did not feel under any great pressure from that direction. A couple of hours later Jo appeared in the kitchen and presented me with a dirty pink flannel, with which she had evidently wiped the blood off the wall (we have tough wipe-clean paint for good reason). I asked her to move the flannel from the kitchen table to the washing machine, which she did. She then found the remains of her breakfast sausages and the Dominos pizza still in the oven and disappeared upstairs with them. She didn’t say much until this evening (Monday) having slept all day. She is clearly stressed, and has cuts all down one arm, having broken something made of glass her friend had given her, in order to make the incisions.

Part of the problem seems to be Jo’s indecision about going ahead transitioning from male to female. She feels female and just wants people to treat her as a girl, but is finding it hard to accept that she needs medical intervention if people are not going to see her, at least partly, as male. We find it easier and easier to think of Jo as a girl as in personality, and the way she talks, thinks and acts she has always been far more female than male. But one can’t escape the facts of puberty. However she dresses and does her hair, Jo is in a male body. Hopefully taking about it, rather than just acting out her frustration and sense of isolation, will help Jo move forward. I’m glad we didn’t react to her message in blood, even if it was because we simply didn’t know what to do and were too tired to engage with it at the time. You could say it was a call for help, certainly a bid for attention, but not one we would wish to encourage. Being fourteen is never easy, and for Jo there is a lot more to work out than just who your best friend is and why she doesn’t like you.IMG_1084

Sex education and the transgender child

images-6Jo sent me a text wishing me well for my operation yesterday. I was chuffed that she remembered and was thinking of me. I was sitting in the car waiting to go home last night when her housemaster phoned. My first reaction is always, ‘Oh dear, what have they done now?’ but apparently he had a tricky situation that he wanted to discuss. He kindly said that he had phoned me as the ‘voice of reason’. I can see that when staff are close up to a situation it can be difficult to step back and consider the options. This term in Citizenship classes Year 10 are covering sex education. We had received a letter informing us of our right to withdraw our child from this section of the curriculum. Jo had been asked whether she wanted to go with the boys or the girls, and had not surprisingly wanted to join the girls. Some of the girls in the class felt inhibited with what they saw as a boy present, and at least one parent had raised this as an issue with the school. The teacher in charge of Citizenship had gone to the housemaster for advice. Maybe they were hoping we would just exercise our right to withdraw Jo and solve their problems that way, but that would stigmatise Jo through no fault of her own. I reminded the housemaster that if they felt they could not teach Jo as one of the group they had an obligation to provide individual tuition for her to cover the same syllabus with a suitably qualified (female) teacher. He was open to that, but wondered aloud about the competence of any of the staff to take on that role. I also suggested that the school could use this as an opportunity for some wider gender education, and that the Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in London, and Gendered Intelligence, must have plenty of experience they could draw on in this area. I offered to speak to the headmaster to see if he would pay for someone to go and speak to the staff and/or students.

It was also a chance to discuss with the housemaster what Jo had said earlier about feeling it had been left up to her to explain to fellow students about being transgender, and what it meant. She rightly felt that this was not fair. I passed on to him that tutors had not adequately explained to their tutees what it meant to be transgender, and that just saying that Jo had changed her name and would return to school in girl’s uniform wasn’t enough. He conceded that most tutors probably hadn’t explained it as they didn’t understand themselves. We left it that he would talk to the head, but I can see that this is one I will need to follow up. I do hope that this becomes a positive opportunity for some further education rather than just a negative experience of stigmatisation and exclusion for Jo.

Meanwhile Billy continues to avoid classes at college, and the people who could help him, while sending regular texts for more money. He wanted another £20 because he ‘took the wrong bus’ which I think probably translates as ‘had to ask x or y who is over 18 to buy tobacco for me and pay them to do so’. I continue to urge him to speak to his tutor or leaning support teacher about issues he has with attendance. He did say he was feeling overwhelmed, but seems paralysed when it comes to doing anything about it. People can only help, however willing they might be, if he turns up. I can’t seem to get that through to him. I have seen the same situation with university students, some of whom are probably exhibiting signs of depression, but they are not my responsibility in the same way and are older, better able in theory at least to take control of their lives. It is hard to know when to stop pleading with and for someone, and just let them get on with making a mess of things.

UnknownWe put the dog pack in kennels for a few days so that I have some post-operative time without them jumping up and pulling on the lead like a husky team. It is blissfully peaceful in the house without them. Much as we love our dogs we never planned to have three large ones. It makes a change to be able to leave doors open or unlocked (the pointer can open every unlocked door), without dogs rushing through the house, muddy feet and enthusiasm everywhere.

Stressed Out!

Unknown-1One 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 contUnknown-4inually 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.images

Endurance

Today is our wedding anniversary. Thirty-three years ago, in deep snow and ice, I crunched across the road to the church with plastic bags covering my wedding shoes. A family friend cleared a path to the church, just as a few weeks later another friend dug the hole where my father’s ashes were interred behind the same village church. Today is wet and very windy but not cold. Perhaps perseverance is a more appropriate noun than endurance. To live closely with someone for thirty-three years and still be on speaking terms, even enjoy one another’s company, is certainly something to celebrate, but also a testament to a good deal of perseverance on both sides. If we choose with whom we live with and what we want to achieve in life before we are born, then the lesson Tony and I set ourselves was to learn to work together as a team in order to bring up two great but demanding children. Neither of us could have done it on our own. Nothing romantic imagesplanned for tonight I’m afraid, but we might open a bottle of wine with our Tesco Finest meal deal supper.

Tony fetched Jo from school, and she seems in good form, but insists she had a ‘shitty week’. Perhaps she did. Chatting with her in my study there is the usual list of ailments and invisible injuries (all caused by some remembered long-past incident in which Billy did something to her) and renewed pleas for box braids. Some of her schoolmates who are African or of African descent have had their hair re-braided over the holidays, and Jo still hopes that her small portion of Jamaican genes will transform her silky brown hair into something resembling that of her ‘Jamaican sister’ or Nigerian friend. Unfortunately as we live in a largely white area there is no expertise in box-braids among the numerous local hairdressers. We could venture further afield but that requires Jo getting out of bed during working hours and then having the courage to present herself in a salon. Public appearances in new places, not knowing how people will react to her, are stressful and generally avoided. If possible I tip them off that my daughter is transgendered, and have never met with anything but kindness. The last visit to the opticians was not, however, a success. The optician referred to her as ‘he’ and she wouldn’t go back to collect her glasses. I had to get special permission to fetch them without her getting a fitting, having explained the circumstances. I am willing to find a suitable hairdresser for Jo, but not prepared to make endless appointments that are never kept.

Both children had evidently forgotten that I was supposed to be in hospital today for an operation. At least they hadn’t been worrying about me but I would like to think that they were at least a little concerned! Billy made numerous phone calls and sent texts worrying about how he was supposed to be getting home. We had discussed this last Sunday; he would get a taxi or lift to the station then get the train home. I would transfer the money in good time into his account, but not so early that he would have spent it all by Friday. Some of the texts and calls involved the fact that he had asked an older friend to buy some tobacco for him as he’d run out. That was the taxi fare gone. He managed to get a lift with his landlady/host, but bought a single train ticket, which costs almost as much as a return. He evidently hopes for a lift back on Sunday night. Its not that we mind giving him a lift but it is a four-hour round trip if we have to deliver both children back to school/college, and Jo has no options other than the car. Billy seemed in good humour when I picked him up at the station. Dressed only in a T-Shirt and jeans he was not surprisingly rather chilly, as well as hungry. The weekend supply of snacks has already been devoured. Whether either child will have room for supper remains to be seen. Both complain at the habit the other has of eating all the food. It’s great to have someone else to blame; we all like to do it. Taking responsibility for oneself can also take a lifetime to learn, and is not a lesson we learn just once. Like marriage it takes perseverance and practice.

Triumph!

imagesDyno-Rod came to unblock the blocked attic loo, which took about 30 seconds. The man then had a go at our washbasin, which was only draining very slowly, but somehow managed to make it worse. The water sat in the basin for a few hours until I decided to have another go with a plunger myself. After several minutes of vigorous plunging, having put in all other plugs and blocked up overflows, triumph, a little whirlpool appeared. A bit sluggish but the water started to drain out. I can cancel tomorrow’s plumber. Further investigations would have involved removing bathroom tiles and other fittings in the only room in the house we have redecorated recently, so glad to be spared that.

That wasn’t the only triumph. I had a planned visit this morning from two women working for the local authority. One is with the post-adoption team and the other works with adopted children via the Virtual School. There is at last some money available for post-adoption support. This meeting was to finalise an application for therapeutic support for Billy and Jo, and discuss what might or might not help. We quickly dismissed another parenting course. Don’t get me wrong, they can be very useful. I do understand that parents are the main resource for bringing up kids and that training the parents is therefore a worthwhile thing to do. There was a general feeling, however,  that there was not much more to be gained by this route. We have attended numerous courses, read a lot, go to support groups, use helplines, tried various therapeutic techniques, some with some success. What is needed now is more direct intervention with the children, especially as they have reached an age at which being a ‘happy family’ together is no longer our goal. We want to keep them apart as much as possible and equip them to go out into the world with basic skills and values. We decided that some sort if mindfulness training would help both children. CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services) had recommended this for Jo to help deal with the need to self-harm, and to help her focus on school work. Unfortunately it was up to her to download an App and have a go herself, which she would not do. She is very resistant to letting her parents teach her anything, so nothing happened. The proposal is for the Virtual School worker to visit Jo’s school with me to discuss her lack of academic progress, and alternatives to GCSEs. This could include work experience. We also hope that the school might agree do some group work on mindfulness and meditation. They should jump at it, as the Virtual School would provide a person to teach and the funding.

Billy has a review meeting coming up at his College in a couple of week’s time when we can discuss the best way to deliver something similar for him. Mindfulness and meditation could help him deal with migraines and stress. We have also talked about EMD (eye movement desensitisation) for Billy, as it is supposed to help with trauma. If anyone has had experience of these forms of therapy with adolescents I’d love to hear about it. EMD might be simple enough that Billy would cooperate. Anything too demanding of time or energy is a non-starter. The last thorough two-day assessment that we managed to get him to participate in at Bibic in Somerset was very good at identifying his strengths and weaknesses, and probably helped him get his PIP (personal independence payment) but the suggested therapy was rejected. Bibic are heavily into Johannson Music Therapy, which Billy has tried before when younger after an earlier Bibic assessment, but it requires a high level of commitment on his part and he wasn’t prepared to give it a go. We didn’t push it as it would also have cost several hundred pounds and after paying for the assessment we had run out of money anyway. It was really good to talk to two women who understood what it is like to parent traumatised, troubled teens. It makes a refreshing change as so often we have either had “I don’t know how you cope”, “it must be terrible”, “I couldn’t do it” (not very helpful when you are looking for professional support) or suggestions that our parenting style was the main cause of their problems. We have also come to realise that there are no magic solutions. The kids just have to grow up and make their own way in the world. We can help them with baby steps and try to get as much appropriate support as possible. The rest really will be up to them.

IMG_1066Despite the dark, dreary winter drizzle the chickens are aware of the lengthening days. They are upping the laying and two Silkies have gone broody. I had seven eggs yesterday, and five today. Last year’s chicks are still a bit young to lay, and the little black Pekin bantam is definitely too old. Others like the Cotswold Cream Legbars are very seasonal layers. My little Silkies do, however, keep going throughout the year and only really stop when broody, which they are frequently. I don’t think my Bluebell or Burford Brown hens stopped laying either, nor the two rescued hybrids. They all slowed down a bit but we have never run out of eggs, or not had enough to share with the neighbours.

One of my sisters has sent me a DVD of the Coen brothers version of Fargo, which lasts about 90 minutes. This should just be long enough to make inroads into the ironing. I finally managed to clear the clothes off Jo’s floor, put away her decorations and remake her bed, so all-in-all not a bad day.

Why Transgender Children Need and Deserve Support

IMG_0546I drove Jo back to school last night, after a last minute marathon to do at least some of the homework that could and should have been spread over the past four weeks, rather than the final an hour and a half of the holidays. I sat at the computer while Jo dictated to me, or left instructions as to what to say while attempting to dye a strand of plaited hair blond (it didn’t work). In the car she shared her anxieties about school, and I can see her point. Although the staff have been very supportive, and she gets sick of her housemaster, tutor and others saying that they are totally ‘there for her’, its still hard. She had wanted tutors to explain clearly and fully to their tutor groups what being transgender meant. Instead, the message seems to have been that Jo had changed her name and would be wearing girls’ uniform. That left the onus on her to do all the explaining. The girls in her age group mostly accept her as a girl, but there aren’t many of them, and one or two have been very unkind (‘spreading rumours about her’, she says).

One of the easiest ways to get at Jo is to say that she is gay – which means that boy friends or potential boy friends are also automatically labelled as gay. This started before she transitioned. She was still outwardly a boy but clearly felt female and her sexual orientation shifted from girls to boys. Jo and her boyfriend do not see their relationship as one between two gay kids. Having close relationships with either boys or girls is complicated for her. She is biologically male, and has not started on hormone blockers. Living on the girls’ landing in a boarding school is out of the question – she could theoretically get a girl pregnant, however unlikely in practice. She shares a room with another boy who boards part-time. This was her choice as she didn’t want to be isolated in a single room – isolation carries its dangers in a school setting. She doesn’t socialise with the boys on her landing. There have been incidents when they threw her padded bras out of the window, and sprayed her perfumes all over the place, drew on mirrors with her lipstick and so on. They have two fantastic common rooms on her landing but Jo feels awkward socialising with a group of teenage boys (most of whom have learning and behavioural difficulties) and prefers to stay in her room.

She did have a small, supportive group of boys and girls she hung around with, who accepted her as she was, before and after her transition. Unfortunately they have all left, either expelled or withdrawn from the school (in other words asked to leave) – mainly for drug offences, a ubiquitous problem it seems. With a couple of exceptions the boys don’t want much to do with her. Most are awkward in her company. They don’t know how to react or what to say. She overheard one kid say to another, “that girl’s got a dick”. Its understandable if they have not had any real education in gender issues but also deeply hurtful when you just want to go about your daily life. New children are a threat as they pick up gossip from peers and stare. It seems that things are not explained well to the other kids. It is a while since I have really had a chance to talk to her tutor, who I seldom see, or housemaster, who is usually busy looking after the children and sorting out various problems when we drop her off or pick her up. In some ways negotiating reactions at school and engaging in educating her peers in a relatively safe environment is good preparation for adult life, but I can see how tough it is. No wonder she has little energy and attention left for academic work. The best part of the week is apparently sport, which she used to hate, as this year instead of being forced to take part in team competitive sports she has opted for climbing, at which she is pretty good.

Leelah Alcorn

leelah

Images: Justice for Leelah Alcorn/Facebook

It is only one week ago, on Sunday 28th December 2014, that another transgender teenager,  took her life by walking under a truck. She was just 17 years old. There can’t be many parents, especially parents of trans children, who don’t feel distraught at the tragedy of the loss of this young life. Leelah Alcorn from Ohio in the USA left a suicide note on her Tumblr social media account to be posted automatically after her death. The account has since been removed, but her message needs to be heard if Leelah’s plight is not to be repeated, so I make no apologies by posting it here in full. I don’t blame her parents or community, although I do believe they were and are profoundly mistaken in their attitudes. They have lost a child, which is tragic. They are in defensive mode, it seems, trying to justify why what they did was right. They were apparently convinced that their Christian convictions did not allow them to recognise Leelah as transgender. There is nothing in the Bible on the issue and although I don’t want to defend the Bible (I was brought up on Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror), I can’t identify their attitudes as Christian.

There is a valid argument that Christianity is what Christianity does. In other words it doesn’t exist in any abstract form, but is the sum of what people who identify as Christian say, think, believe, teach and do. The same can be said of any religion. While to some extent I subscribe to this view there is also something to be said for rejecting extreme manifestations of a religion that are not in accordance with tradition and core teachings. Most Muslims do not regard the Islamic State jihadis as exemplars of their faith. There is nothing in Buddhism that exhorts its followers in Sri Lanka to persecute Muslims, or anything in Hinduism that compels Hindu nationalists in India to regard non-Hindus as second-class citizens. Certainly living in the UK I have never come across people calling themselves Christian who subscribe to the views of Leelah Alcorn’s parents. Maybe they exist, but strictly binary views of human nature are either not the norm, or if held are put alongside a willingness to learn from others’ experience. If God is Love and there is no male and female in heaven, gender is part of our adventure on earth as human beings, not something intrinsic to our spirit, which exists before and after this lifetime. If God is Spirit and not an anthropomorphic person, being in God’s likeness does not imply being either male or female. For people who are not religious the whole debate must seem ridiculous, and does a great disservice to religion in general.

So here is the text of Leelah Alcorn’s message to all of us:

If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue.

Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in … because I’m transgender. I could go into detail explaining why I feel that way, but this note is probably going to be lengthy enough as it is. To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally “boyish” things to try to fit in.

When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.

My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to Christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more Christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.

When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.

I formed a sort of a “fuck you” attitude towards my parents and came out as gay at school, thinking that maybe if I eased into coming out as trans it would be less of a shock. Although the reaction from my friends was positive, my parents were pissed. They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight Christian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted.

So they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.

At the end of the school year, my parents finally came around and gave me my phone and let me back on social media. I was excited, I finally had my friends back. They were extremely excited to see me and talk to me, but only at first. Eventually they realized they didn’t actually give a shit about me, and I felt even lonelier than I did before. The only friends I thought I had only liked me because they saw me five times a week.

After a summer of having almost no friends plus the weight of having to think about college, save money for moving out, keep my grades up, go to church each week and feel like shit because everyone there is against everything I live for, I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.

That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself. Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.

Goodbye,

(Leelah) Josh Alcorn

Printed in: http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/12/31/leelah_alcorn_transgender_teen_from_ohio_should_be_honored_in_death.html

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