Written By School Mum Contributor Carla
An old family friend was counselling me during a particularly difficult time a many years ago and I’ll never forget her story. She wanted a girl but she ended up with boys; five of them. She had raised five boys while building their dream home over five years on a remote property outside of Coffs Harbour.
Throughout those five years she had experienced floods (to the extent of needing to be airlifted off of the property.) She had gone through winters so cold water would freeze, the same water needed to wash themselves as they had no running water or electricity. Two of her boys became teenagers during those five years. One of the two eldest boys had become a very young Father himself during that time to twins no less. And the other developed a serious problem with alcohol. Her husband was bitten by a red belly black snake, and survived. She and half of her family accidentally ate magic mushrooms and all ended up hospitalised. Oh the stories!!!
I asked her, how did you do it? How did you manage? How did you cope? She said, “God only gives us what we can handle. Nothing more but nothing less.” I laughed and said “well clearly he doesn’t have much confidence in me then, look, he’s given me the perfect baby!!!” Oh how I wish I could go back and eat those words now. As I was writing this I paused, and with a smile put my face in my hands and shook my head. If only we knew. If only we knew what was ahead. If only we knew just what we would be given. If only we knew just how much we could handle. If only we knew what we know now.
What I did know was that I was always destined to have girls. I mean I’m girly, like really girly. I moved to Australia in 1996 with a backpack and a pair of high heels strapped to it. I spend a lot of money and a lot of time on my clothing, my hair, my makeup, my skin regime and my shoe collection. I had a terrible relationship with my Mother during my teen years for a myriad of reasons some of which include having older boy friend’s, hanging out with people who drank or did drugs, stealing my Dads cigarettes, not sticking to curfews and basically being a royal pain in the arse. Pretty much I was set up to have a daughter to do just the same to me and I was ready for just that. I had it covered. I was going to do everything differently to my own Mother when my daughter came along.
The universe had other plans. I was given two boys. Pause. Shake head again, still smiling. I was NOT prepared to have a son. I was NOT prepared to have two of them 6 years apart. I was NOT prepared for one of them to have a disability never mind both. Nice one universe. You got me!
I stumbled through the first few years on my own. I was a single parent in my early 20’s with no contact with the Dad but things were pretty smooth (as far as my parenting went.) My first child slept, ate what I gave him, was toilet trained at a normal age and in my mind pretty much was on track to be completing University by the time he was 12 and I was #SuperMum. His paediatrician even made mention of his early speaking and language development so I decided Montessori was the place for this little gifted wonder. He would require and receive educational freedom to self express and build the extraordinary life he was destined to lead. Maybe he self expressed a little too much, now 14 he recently recalled playing with a Rubik’s Cube for a week in class as he had the choice to do as he pleased. For the record, this is neither my recollection nor my understanding of the Montessori principals, (of which I both respect and value) however nor did it appear to have the structure that my free spirit needed to keep on track.
I decided State School would be a good middle ground. Not tie and shiny shoes structured but uniforms and class time tables that would give him a good grounded education. We could always play dress up and write songs together as a creative outlet at home and school could be a different kind of learning. But he struggled from day one. In fact, ON day one he introduced me to his teacher, “Mum I’d like to introduce you to John, my teacher.” I shook the teachers hand and said “Hi John.” He looked me square in the eye and said “It’s MISTER. Suchandsuch” and darted his eyes toward my little boy. I thought we might be in trouble then. My then Master 9 was used to a principal of mutual respect where teachers and students are called by their first name and certainly did not intend the contrary…He lasted a year, and it wasn’t his best. We were living in an area that had alternatives and so I looked into private schooling. After an interview with the junior school teacher I decided on a change of schools again because I really liked HER as a person. She was genuinely interested in this child. She had studied medicine but chosen a career in teaching. She was creative. She was funny. She cared. My son liked her and the class room and while we knew we were in for a learning curve when it came to the rules and the regulations of “private school” we felt it the right thing to do.
I busted my balls to pay for it though. As a single parent with zero child support this was quite the ask. By this point I also had child number 2 and while I had parental support I did not have financial support for my firstborn and so this was a tough call. We decided my son would repeat the year he had done at the State School as he was so far behind and we were now worried about a learning disability. Child number 2 was NOT the easy child my first had been already and the time was proving to be a gift apparently I was capable of handling. Boy did I have my doubts!
We saw an Educational Psychologist for IQ testing – which surprisingly came up with “superior” in most categories. We did some other testing over a period of some weeks and also saw a Paediatrician and even went as far as having an MRI due to some numbness in his fingers and toes on and off making us question whether this had been a neurological issue all along. At the end of the day the medical diagnosis was ADHD which at the time was still largely disputed by many in the community as something you label bad kids with. Well my kid was and is funny, charming, loving, creative, kind, and well mannered and you would honestly have to get your own sanity tested if you ever labelled my kid “bad.” He excelled over the next 4 years and grew into a lovely young man developing some strong abilities and showing his talents off in the area of Maths and Music. Sadly however I found the payments to be too much to handle and so we talked. I explained there was a school he might be able to get into with his grades that could offer him the academic and music excellence programs he was quite capable of doing well in. I explained without spending the money spent on private tuition private music lessons and tutoring could be offered. But there was a catch. The school was nearly a 90 minute trip. Each way. We couldn’t move due to the school the youngest now attended which is another story in itself. I’ve written a bit about my youngest in What is wrong with my child – One Mum’s Story.
It’s been nearly a year since we took on the challenge. He’s coped remarkably well. His closest friend ironically is someone he met on day one at State School way back when and so they are growing up together, finding their way. There are challenges I have with a boy, now a teen boy I never imagined having and so I too am learning as I go. We see a Psychologist weekly, or he does. It’s a male Psych so my son has an outlet other than me, his Mum. His girly Mum. He also has a male home room teacher and the same teacher for several classes. And he attends the local youth group and is under the care of a Male youth Pastor I think highly of.
It’s funny (interesting funny) and I’ll never know if it’s nurture or nature but he takes as much pride in his hair as I do and has had by choice, the same hairdresser for years (mine.) He has chosen to have a pedicure as a reward for good behaviour and I did not hesitate to buy him a silk eye mask for his 14th Birthday (he loves it!) He painted his nails as a little kid (or asked me to do it for him) and still doesn’t mind prancing around in my shoes (as a joke.) He is also masculine and into getting bigger muscles, checking out chicks, has picked out his first sports car or three and has been busted looking into the odd “men only” websites. He is a boy! He also has a beautiful heart and a touch of me. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I still don’t, but I reckon through it all I was given exactly all that I could handle, I reckon through it all I made choices that were right for us. I also reckon I was destined to have this child. This child just as he is. This child just as he is and no different. And I reckon this child was destined to have me.