What School Did

Today we've woken up to no sunshine, after a couple of days of the sun shining bright we've been given cloud and lots of it. it's raining in that drizzly half-arsed way where you're not entirely sure if a rain coat is really needed. I put the girls in coats for our walk to school, thicker than a rain mac but not a big warm winter coat. Under their coats they wore their lovely red gingham summer dresses - oh how we love the red gingham summer dress! A sure sign that the summer term has arrived, red gingham dresses mean sunny days and the countdown to the big summer holiday can begin. Except for today, today a red gingham summer dress meant trouble.

Isla was already tired, already showing signs that she could 'snap' at any point. I hoped that the novelty of having her friend to walk to school with would be enough to stop the walking on eggshells feeling that we were getting. It did help, her friend arrived and all was good. We were organised and ready to face the day with smiles. phew. We walked a few yards towards school and the 'I'm freezing cold!' began. It was too late to turn back and have a wardrobe change, so we carried on our way. Isla was cold and unhappy, and she was going to let me know about it. I tried, like I do a lot in these situations, to divert her attention away from what was making her unhappy. I tried to engage her in conversation, encouraged her to cheer up, for her friend's sake if nothing else. She responded with grunts, dramatic eye rolling and sullenness. Then we arrived at school, her little sister attends the infants side of school and Isla attends the juniors side. We always go and stand on Martha's side outside her class and Isla walks from there over to her side with her friends. If she's not in a mood. This morning she didn't want to leave me, still protesting that she was too cold. She let her friends walk on without her whilst she clung to my side, trying desperately to stall the inevitable, her big eyes almost pleading for me to say she didn't have to go. I explained that she would be late if she didn't hurry up and reluctantly she said goodbye, with her head down looking like she might burst into tears. I watched her walk across the playground, alone, looking like the weight of the world was on her shoulders. That sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach making it's presence known, those tears swelling trying to escape from my eyes, deep breaths, deep breaths and sadness, watching her walk until she went out of sight. She never looks back, I don't know if she knows I watch her, even standing on tip-toes to get the final glimpses of her before she disappears for the day. I don't know if she knows that my heart breaks a little every time she is unhappy, every time that she walks away from me reluctantly. I don't know if she knows that what I really want to do is hold her close to me and take her back home, to cuddle, to talk to, to take all of her unhappiness away. I don't know if she knows any of that, but I would guess that she doesn't.

In September of 2014 Isla began her Year 1 school year at a new school. She had left all of her old friends behind, but she was so brave, so strong and so excited about starting a new school and making new friends. We were helped massively by the fact that Isla would now attend school with her cousin, they were going to be in the same class.

Isla loved it, for a while. But she became anxious and controlling. It was as though everything familiar to Isla had been lost, taken away from her and she needed to gain back some control of her life. She did this by controlling me, making me feel guilty, punishing me, getting angry with me and lashing out at me. She was unkind to her cousin, deciding without rhyme or reason to stop talking to her, refusing to play with her or ignoring her. But always expected to be forgiven, to be able to pick up where they'd left off, whenever she felt less angry, less controlling. She chose to be in a mood often and there would be no obvious trigger, no clear reason. She just did it. And to some extent she got away with it. Her cousin was incredibly patient and although bewildered accepted that it was just Isla being Isla. We were all so guilty of thinking 'poor Isla, look at what she has been through' that maybe I didn't discipline her as well as I should have done. It was incredibly hard to parent such a versatile child, and I was trying to do so alone. Family helped, they did what they could, but I always knew that as good as their intentions were, Isla would resent them for 'stepping in', that they were potentially damaging bonds if they said or did too much. But I accepted advice, gratefully and sometimes desperately, I needed help.

She started to refuse to go to school. It was awful. It truly was an incredibly tough part of our journey. A little vulnerable and damaged girl hysterical every weekday morning. Mornings were a huge traumatic battle, Isla admitting to defeat if and when she put on her school uniform. Until we got to school. The walk to school varied, she could be happy and full of beans or incredibly quiet and withdrawn. As a rule, if she could walk there with a school friend, we'd have more of the happy Isla. But when the time came for Isla to line up ready to go into class, she would crumble. Every single morning. She would latch on to me, with such strength and beg me to not make her go in. she would cry and say over and over again 'I miss daddy'. It was the worst moments of my life - watching my beautiful little girl be consumed with anxiety and distress every day, over and over again.

School stepped in, an experienced teacher had observed Isla's behaviour and thankfully offered their support. I was too proud to ask for help from anybody other than family. I was too ashamed of looking like a failure, not confident enough to approach somebody I didn't know for advice. I was too broken to be able to try and fix my daughter and it was a very painful truth that I didn't want to face up to. But school stepped in and school helped us.

What school did, was find the appropriate support for Isla and this came via a bereavement counsellor called Jo, who worked for Lifelines (https://www.shropshirelg.net/services/targeted-mental-health-support/schools-and-professionals/lifelines/).  Jo became one of the most important people in my little girls life.


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