Monday 3 October 2011

Once more, with feeling

Of course, I spoke too soon.

I thought that it would get easier. Instead, I'm just getting used to how hard it is.

I'm writing this long-hand in my notebook, journeying home, as my fellow commuters read and doze and sway. One sitting close to me takes occasional glances at my notes. I do hope she isn't moved to ask if I'm alright. The first sign of sympathy is likely to start me wailing.

I'm slow and thick-headed and have been all day. This morning I felt the way I used to early on Saturdays in my rambunctious twenties: exhausted, dry-mouthed and headachy. Yet I had consumed no alcohol and knew I could not sleep it off or wait for the next day's fresh optimism and energy.

On Friday night Grace cried and cried as she recounted the latest incident of classroom teasing. On Sunday night, having steered her through an anxious weekend and hours of impenetrable homework, I cried and cried as I sat upright in bed in the darkness, unable to sleep for worrying about her. This morning, as we perched knee to knee on tiny chairs in her classroom, her teacher blinked back tears as she apologised for the way she had handled the incident.

It feels like Wonderland, as though like Alice we are all bobbing about in a sea of our own tears; struggling through the brine in a crazily distorted landscape and confronted with endless un-solvable riddles.

On Friday afternoon Grace's class was doing computer work, sorting through photographs of their recent school trip and writing up their reports. One of the pictures showed Grace in an ungainly pose, snapped with an expression that rendered her ugly. Observing her discomfort, a classmate gleefully decided to download the photograph as a screensaver. Grace shrieked and slapped her. The classmate slapped her back. Grace burst into tears, drawing the amused attention of another pupil, while another still printed off the photograph and started waving it about. At this point Grace bolted out of the class, hurt and embarrassed and furious and entirely unable to process the experience. It is bafflingly unclear to me how the incident went undetected by her teacher -- but it seems she was busy with another pupil, and it did.

I'll run through this. I got up that hill last week; I completed nine miles in unseasonal heat with insufficient water on Saturday. The half-marathon is in 6 days. This is just another stage in my training: another lesson in staying power.

Grace has been volatile all weekend: both in need of soothing routine and fretfully chafing at any constraints. In the car on the way to her drama club on Saturday afternoon, she picked up the thread of her story again, and told me how she tip-toed back into the class and told the teacher what had happened, confessing to her own part in shouting and hitting. The teacher warned the class that anyone talking from then on would miss playtime on Monday. Shortly afterwards, Grace whispered to her neighbour that she liked her drawing. The teacher promptly banned her from Monday play.

Grace reached the conclusion of her story and once again I found myself sitting in the car with her -- so many of these scenes involve us sitting in the car -- trying to staunch her great, gusty sobs and trying again to persuade her everything would be alright. I swore to her that she'd get her playtime back. I swore to her that I would take her to school and not leave until I had rebuilt it as a safe place for her. It felt like being confronted by that hill at mile 8 and wondering how the hell I would keep going.

This morning I went to school with Grace, feigning light-heartedness as we walked there, while inwardly boiling with fury and questions: how did her teacher not see this? Why was this incident not shut down instantly? Had she read Grace's file? Had she undergone training? Had she any idea of the misery that Grace endured over a long, long weekend of knowing that she would still be in trouble on Monday? I wore heels and a smart dress and carried an impressive handbag stuffed with papers and books on Aspergers: a mother's battle outfit.

I had anticipated another long wait in the school office, sitting on the grey felt chairs and reading for the hundredth time on the wall opposite, the laminated school rules about being nice to each other, while beside me the gluey liquid of the ceramic water feature trickled and plopped. I expected faintly defensive staff and a subtly different version of events. Instead I was greeted promptly by Grace's teacher and the school's special needs co-ordinator and whisked into an empty classroom where they both hastened to apologise and reassure and tell me the incident had been dealt with. It was clear both had discussed what happened and felt bad about not having dealt with it better. Grace's teacher paused several times to swallow hard and control the glistening of tears as she told me how fond she was of my daughter and how bright and funny she was. At the end I stood up and shook hands and left.

It was singularly depressing, unutterably wearying. I am sure they will do their best. I am sure it will happen again. In the meantime I will keep running. At least I'm starting to learn where the hills are.


  1. I think I understand how you tackle your running: head strong, determined and in pain.

    Just as how you tackle protecting your daughter from the world.

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