The End of One Chapter leads on to a New One

I know things are hugely different this year, but the sentiment remains.
💙💙💙💙💙💙💙

Although it is many moons ago, Mammy remembers getting her Leaving Cert Results.

Mammy was certain that the contents of the little brown envelope were going to change her life. Had Mammy’s life REALLY depended on the contents of that little brown envelope, quite frankly, I’d be living an utterly dreadful, mediocre and half-arsed attempt at one. 😂

Because the results printed on my little scrap of yellow paper were quite awful, if I’m very honest.

The only mark I remember (or tell anyone about!) was my A1 in Honours English. Go figure.

As for the rest of them? I’d say the examiners only passed me so that they wouldn’t have to read my verbal diahorrea again the following year. 😂I’m not exaggerating either.

But the other grades didn’t matter. The A in English was all that mattered to me, both then AND today. Yes, I got into college, but not until I had spent a week back in the brown uniform 😣😣 convincing myself that I needed to repeat the Leaving Cert.

It wasn’t until the second round offers and a trip to meet (attack😛) the Dean of the English Department in Coleraine, that I finally got my place on the degree course. (I might have only been 17, but I was a stroppy one!😂)

English was all I loved. It was all that I wanted to study and, as the little brown envelope told me, it was apparently all that I was good at… All that I was good at THEN.

At 17.

As it turns out, I’m good at a whole load of things.

The Big LC recognised my ability to understand Shakespeare and write stories off the top of my head, but it didn’t (and couldn’t) know how strong I was at things like organisation, being a friend, laughing or leading.

So I was crap at French. Biology for me ended after the section on photosynthesis. But although my maths grade was dismal, I challenge you to find ANYONE who can work out a % as quickly as me when I see the word “SALE”. 😂😂

So there.

Now, over 20 years on, I’m an English teacher. I’m a writer and I’m a businesswoman. I’m a whole lot of things that that little piece of paper could NEVER have predicted me to be.

Our young people are incredible. And no class before has ever been tested like our class of 2020.

These young adults are like no others before them. They have had a LOT going on…

They have given their ALL for 2 years, and didn’t get to sit the papers. This will never be understood fully by the rest of us.

Some of them are dealing with trying to live up to expectations that might be unrealistic.

They were playing the match of their lives, and the goalposts not only changed…they disappeared.

Today is the biggest day in many of their lives to date.

Despite what it is inflated to be, it is NOT the most important piece of paper in the world.

Yes, the letters and numbers inside it will have an immediate effect.

Yes, some doors will open and yes, some doors will close, but what is written on the page does not define them.

NO assessment can fully know our children. It can’t measure the whole person.

It doesn’t see their kindness.
It can’t recognise their wit or humour.
It doesn’t measure their ability to change things.
It can’t recognise their skills as motivators, or thinkers, or makers, or doers.
It does not define them, nor should it.

And it certainly can’t understand or fully reflect the strength, resilience and bravery required to face final year in a global pandemic.

Be proud, because regardless of what is on that page, your children have come through the most trying end to school life imaginable…and we must remind them that they CAN do whatever they want.

Because WE know what they can be.

There are ALWAYS options and sometimes, the path that they are so determined to be the ONLY one for them right now, was never the right one for them…it usually takes a few years for them to realise that however.

But they will. 💕

So in the meantime, tell them how brilliant they are. And leave them under NO illusion that no matter what words and letters are on that piece of paper, that you are and will always be proud of them and that you will help them to get to where they want to go, may it be straight through the college door or in a longer, roundabout way.

But all roads lead ahead. And this long chapter is finally over. It’s time for the next one.

Today, I send love to all of the young people (especially my own Babbies😘😘) and to all you exam parents who await the results today.

And remember, those numbers do NOT hold the key to their future. They hold that key already.

It’s right inside them.

And no piece of paper or words on a screen can change that.

M XXX

Once Upon a Normal…

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” 

I’ve said these words more than a few times over the past few weeks. Mainly, because I found myself absolutely bricking it over things that ‘once upon a normal’, wouldn’t have taken a fizz out of me. 

I’ve found myself anxious and sweating and with all the fizzy fingers at just the thought of having to go into the town. 

As someone who generally is not in any way worried about going places, or being out in public, this new found worry, worried me.  

I’m the type of person who can happily spend a day wandering around London on my own. I won’t care if someone I’m meeting in a restaurant or coffee shop is 20 minutes late.  I’m more than used to going to events on my own.  It wouldn’t have cost me a thought to go to a new place before lockdown.  

So how come, after going in to do the Big shop (not for the first time) a few weeks ago, I found myself in an absolute tizzy when I got back into the car?  I’m talking palpitations, sweats and a frustration that had my shoulders up at my ears. 

I was engulfed with a rage at myself, at how stupid I felt and how anxious I was over something that only a few weeks earlier, had been one of the banal, ordinary, boring even, activities of my previous normal. 

And so for at least 6 weeks, I refused point blank to do the shopping.  I’m lucky I have someone that could do it instead.  We had been taking turns anyway, so he didn’t mind, but I simply could not face going back in. And because I didn’t have to, I didn’t.

Ridiculous yeah?

Then, when the phases began to move, we went to a local park with the girls.  I looked after the girls. Himself it turns out, had to look after me.  Because I was so terrified of them going too close to people or doing something wrong, that I was on ‘fight or flight’ mode from the second we parked the car until we got back into it.

The following week, my best friend messaged about a coffee date.  Yay and hurrah… 

We were sitting outside a cafe, having a long overdue catch up, but we were at least an hour in before my shoulders lowered to where they’re supposed to be and I actually relaxed. A bit. 

Sitting outside a cafe I’ve frequented for years, with my best friend of almost 20 years, waving and saying hi to people we knew as they passed… I was calm on the outside, but a trainwreck inside.  I wasn’t calm and confident.  I was buzzing on nervous energy and on high alert. 

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me!” I said to my parents a few days later.  

And as usual, they had the answer. 

“You’re afraid. We’re all so afraid.”  They’re wise, and usually right are my parents, but don’t tell them I said that.

So armed with the fact that if my Daddy and Mammy can be afraid of normal stuff too, I decided that if I was in fact afraid, I had to face it. 

I sent a few messages that night and arranged a different coffee date or walk for each day that week.  Having just one thing on my schedule (and yes, I wrote them into my diary which has been lying redundant since March 12th) made me face a different place each day. 

I had coffee with a friend on a bench.  I met a mate for a donut and cuppa on the square. I even had coffee and cake with a friend in the back of her husband’s van which has a table in it… A-TEAM, eat your heart out. 

And as nervous as I was about each of these, making myself do it and speaking to familiar faces who I have missed so much, was the tonic that I needed.  Even better, each and every one of them said that they were feeling the exact same. And my message had made THEM get up and get out of their own comfort zones. 

I’m not a psychologist. I’m not a councillor.  I’m a hot mess and like everyone, I’ve been affected by the changes of the past few months. 

 I am however, able to admit my weakness.  I learned a few years ago that if I’m not feeling “right”, that saying it out loud leads to figuring it out. 

I figured out that I needed to face my fear and make myself get up and go out. And I’m stubborn enough to make myself do it. 

And considering that I have to go back to work in our gym at 6am tomorrow morning, I really had no choice but to get up and out. 

Now, I still haven’t faced the big shop.  And I still have to take a breath and plan where I’m going beforehand.  And I still sigh with huge relief when I’m safe and back in my car. But I’m another step closer to being back to my old self. And we have to keep taking those small steps to get to where we want to go. 

So if you can relate to ANY of this, I hope that you can get out and about.  Go for that coffee.  Meet that friend for lunch. Take the kids to the park. Go to the shop you’ve missed. Go back to the gym.  Book that restaurant. Go get your hair done.

With care and planning and abiding to social distancing guidelines, we can stay safe and keep each other safe.  

And soon, our “Once upon a normals”, will be “Happily Ever After Lockdown.”

Life is a Covidcoaster, Just Got To Ride it…

Mammy likes rollercoasters. I like theme parks.

But we’ve all been landed into a theme park that we had not planned to visit, and it seems that we all have to travel on a whole series of rollercoasters before we get to leave.

It’s a bit like a bad movie, isn’t it? “2020 – The Theme Park of Covidcoasters…”

We’ve been on one already.

On March 12th, all of us were hustled into little carriages and we’ve all travelled on our own Covidcoaster through lockdown.
For many of us, the track was scary and bumpy, but not too terrifying.
For many of us, it’s been an absolute nightmare and we step off it, battered and bruised and a big bit heartbroken.
For so so many, the rollercoaster still included working either from home or from the frontline… Every single person has had to travel on their own rollercoaster and every single one of us is absolutely allowed to feel a bit shaken by whichever track we were on.

Friday’s news of further relaxation of the lockdown restrictions came as a bit of a surprise to me.

I had taken a few days off social media this week and so I’d missed the usual leaks of announcements that always precede the actual announcements. I can’t say I was emotionally able for it. I wasn’t emotionally able for very much this week if I’m honest.😂

So the announcement that we are able to travel anywhere within our own county AND the realisation that things might just begin to move back towards our old normal a little faster than we’d hoped, was quite a gunk.

Add to that the realisation that we can look forward to opening our gym in July rather than August, and an already emotional trainwreck of a Mammy became an absolute blubbering mess! ❤

Messages began to come to my phone…promises of coffee dates and delight as friends realised they can finally visit parents and siblings.
Our beloved family and friends who have been so far away and yet so close since March, can now be visited and seen for the first time in almost 4 months.
Lists of shops and businesses were announcing their new opening dates on their social media, creating a whirl of anticipation and excitement in my tummy.

It is indeed a rollercoaster.

We’re already in our carriages, strapping ourselves in, slowly ascending; knowing that there would be a sudden burst of speed…
But knowing it is coming and being ready for it are two different things.

Some of us now face going back to work earlier than we had anticipated. Some of us have had our time in lockdown cut short.

Many of us now have to start to put actual measures in place to reopen our businesses, rather than the hypothetical “maybes” that we have been working towards.

And of course, with childcare facilities still closed, much of the workforce are wondering how the heck any of this is going to happen and who is going to look after the children?

And so suddenly, in the midst of the sudden joy that came with the 20k restriction being lifted and phase 5 being no more, a new and unexpected series of worries and problems are facing some of us.

While we have longed for this to be over, how many of us were actually ready for things to suddenly burst back to life? ❤

We’re in our rollercoasters but the safety barrier doesn’t seem to be quite secure. It’s a white knuckle kind of ride and it may be bumpy.

But the thing about rollercoasters, is that they begin and they move and they go up and down and spin around and round, but they eventually always slow down again and return to a pace where we can breathe easy again and eventually step back onto the platform.

And now, we all step onto the next rollercoaster in the Covid theme park.
It’s going to take us on another journey.

And it’s uncertain and frightening and exciting and wonderful all at once.

Whichever carriage you are in, I hope you have time to put your safety barriers down (or on!) and that you step off this particular stage of the journey a little further on and a little closer to contentment and normality.

And I hope that you all get to see someone who makes you smile in the next few weeks.

Schools…We’ll Sing Again

I went in to work in my classroom today.

The air was quiet…too quiet. One might say it was “dead”.

A building which usually fizzles with energy, when empty, lies in eerily quiet nothingness.

The decorations for the St Patrick’s Day that never was, and the notes on my whiteboard, are colourfully tragic reminders of how this virus lifted us out of our schools, giving no heed to sentiment or custom.

There is a calmness that made me shiver… all energy is stilled.

It’s as if the building is holding its breath…waiting.

And then, I heard a voice outside.
A familiar voice of a staff member downstairs. He didn’t know I was there. But I heard him.

And so I let go MY held breath, switched on my computer and logged in to my other world.

Then, I swung open the windows, played Musical soundtracks at full volume, and sang along as I worked.

I’m sure he heard me.

And in creating small noises, I reminded myself, and him I hope, that all it will take to reignite the energy in our beautiful cold building, is individual noises.

And individual noises, EVEN when complying with social distancing, will still build and grow into big noises; collective noises, noises which create energy.

While my first reaction was sadness at the “empty chairs at empty tables”, I think about the noises; the voices of the students who will eventually sit back on these seats, at these tables; each one a vital note in the song that is our school.

Our school is more than a building.

It’s an energy, created by the voices that combine to makes its noise; to sing its song.

And although we might be quiet right now, there is still a murmer…

A murmer that begins as soft, quiet, individual, but that will soon be together, performing once again, in harmony and syncopated rythyms.

We will sing again and these tables are only empty momentarily.

And the building will once again breathe and our air will be noisy and “awake” again.

“Awake”, not “alive”… it never died.
M x

What We Wouldn’t Give…

Usually, the night before we return to school after a break, the internet is full of funny memes about going back to work and teachers playfully grumble about having to return to reality.

Well let me tell you, today is different.

What we wouldn’t give to be getting up tomorrow morning, dropping our own kids to creche or childminder or school, and driving in the gates of our respective schools.

What we wouldn’t give to hear the lighthearted greetings in our staffroom, with “Here we go agains” and “Welcome backs”.

What we wouldn’t give to be walking into our classrooms, booting up the computers which have been sleeping for a week or two, opening the windows to let some light and air in.

What we wouldn’t give to have the door open and the first of many groups of teenagers saunter through the door, fully committed to the “I don’t want to be here” demeanours, but still smiling and throwing the odd “Maidin Mhaith” or “Yes Mhaistreais” as they find their usual seat.

What we wouldn’t give to hear the familiar voices mutter or announce their “here!” or “Yips” or “Anseo!” as we call through the roll before starting.

What we wouldn’t give to see the faces who in many cases have been in front of us for 6 years, some smiling, some growling, some feigning carefree apathy, some feigning interest.

What we wouldn’t give to hear the voice of the secretary over the PA system, apologising for interrupting the class.

What we wouldn’t give to have our colleagues wave through the window as they pass, or coming to the door to ask a question or give a message.

What we wouldn’t give to hear the bell; the awful, invasive, horrible ringing blast which we curse and loath usually; but which right now, would sound like music on the wind.

What we wouldn’t give to hear the noise; the calls, the laughs, the random sounds that can only be created by a few hundred young people moving from classroom to classroom.

What we wouldn’t give to sit in the staffroom and hear the familiar voices and quips and jokes and laughs from the colleagues we have worked beside for years.

Because you see, teaching is more than turning up and imparting information.

Those young faces that sit in front of us are more than just a name on the roll.

Those young faces have grown and changed in front of us daily, so gradually, that like our own kids at home, we never notice them growing.

We know them. We care for them. We get them. Well, we TRY to get them.

And while there is nonsense and rascality and mischief and sometimes tantrums, mostly our young people are a pleasure to teach and to see every day.

Students are under so much pressure right now. The uncertainty is painful, and it is painful for them and for their families… and for their teachers.

We miss them. We miss the craic. We miss their faces. We miss the personalities and attitudes and talents and challenges.

We were not ready to walk away from our students on March 12th.
We were not ready to say goodbye to the Leaving Cert students who we have known and taught for six years.
We were not ready to not see the kids who we taught and cared for each day.

So yes, tomorrow morning, we would do anything to be able to go back to school.

We’d give anything to see our “other babbies” and to do our jobs in the best way we know how, in our classrooms.

We’d give anything to hear them and answer their questions and laugh at their jokes.

And we’d give anything to have the answers to all of their questions and fears and to make them all feel safe and OK and that everything is going to be OK.

Because we miss them. (Every single one of them…even the ones who I guarantee do NOT miss us!)

Instead, we’ll get up early and do our jobs in the only way we can right now… from a dodgy laptop in the kitchen or spare room.

And we’ll doubt everything we’re doing and worry that it’s not enough.

And we’ll worry about the kids who we know can’t keep up.

And we’ll worry about the kids who we know are in difficult situations at home.

And we’ll worry about ALL of the students, (even those who are not doing state exams.)

And we’ll worry about the kids who we know are under serious pressure, for so many reasons.

Because, they are not just students.

They are OUR students, in whom we invest so much more than just 40 minutes a day.

I have a magnet in my classroom. It says “Teaching is a work of heart”. A student bought it for me in 2001.

I always thought it a bit cliched.

But it is not. It is true.

And for most of us, our hearts won’t be the same until we get to see our students again.

And all we can do right now, is look forward to that day.

teaching