Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A person's a person, no matter how small . . .

Last week was one of the busiest I have had in a very long time. I know this is subjective - as people can feel all kinds of busy with varying demands upon them. But I'm sure, in its own way,  my 'busy' was very busy last week. I'm still recovering!

After working for two terms in a local primary school, the end of term madness had kicked in. Students had parties and sports days, reports went home, parents meetings and training sessions continued, teacher assessments and test results  were published while teachers moved - lock, stock and barrel - to new classrooms. Children carted home folders of work and carrier bags full of christmas cards and old newsletters while stock cupboards (some of which had not been spring cleaned in a number of years) were emptied in to endless binliners. Chaos ensued. Furniture removal companies have nothing on a bunch of teaching staff who have a finite number of hours to get a job done. We're not talking displays, labels, planning, classroom organisation, teaching resources or motivational posters (all made by theirs truly) as that comes  later during the summer break. This was just the end-of-year loose ends, furniture shifting and stockroom moving shinannigans.

As school staff tend to be up for most challenges, this bunch just got on with it. We were our own cheerleaders. We kept our spirits up while becoming more and more dishevelled. Even the new headteacher rolled his usually pristine sleeves up. And so we battled on, full of positive pushes to keep fighting the fight.
Thick with dust and sneezing rather spectacularly, one staff member carrying furniture cursed her choice of stacked mules. Outside, the still, sticky heat made the children dozy and even the ever popular loomband making was too much effort. A few hard liners still attempted football with faces shining red until supervisors stopped their sticky fun.
As is the way with all moving days, domestic or business, suddenly it all seems to get to a point of no return. We had been at it for hours, days some of us. The place was in turmoil. Sticky and grimy, sense of humour failure was rife and even the most docile of teachers were getting a little bit snippety. Yet, while our cheerleading may have become quieter, we were still pushing through. We waved the children off at 3.15 wishing them safe and happy holidays. Then the real work began.

I had just trekked what felt like a good half mile with 90 exercise books - an unwelcome delivery to my old class's next teacher who I found surrounded by piles of library books, story books, tatty atlases and dictionaries - when I rested against a nearby windowsill. Either I'm getting older, or fatter, or both, but I'm sure I had more stamina back in the day.

The deputy head, her usually tidy demeanour a little frayed round the edges, strode down the corridor towards me cradling an A4 paper box and we smiled at each other wearily. She tipped the lid off .
"It's still alive," she smiled. Looking up at us from deep inside was the most beautiful housemartin, all irredescent greens and blues, its little head cocked to one side and its wings still.

"What do we do?" she asked. "I'm no good with birds."

It transpired that after saving this tiny creature from an almost certain lunch date with a cat, our Deputy, who was 'no good with birds', had regularly checked on the poor thing through the day. The bird had sat quite happily in her stock cupboard, in said box although it had been expected to keel over at some point during the day. However, now that it was perky and almost certainly not on its last legs, we needed to do something.

My suggestion was to give it to my dad who is, by his own admission, a bit of a twitcher and knows alot about dying birds after a life time of saving them from the jaws of various family cats.
The caretaker, himself also a bit of a BirdMan, suggested we take her to the highest point we could find. He shared with us that housemartins need to take off from up high so they can fly with the wind beneath their wings. I'll save you the Bette Midler tribute that ensued. We were a little amused though.

It's safe to say I've never been on the school roof before. Climbing a number of rickety steps  to the loft then up to the roof, the now five strong group trooped their way up, up, up. I  had a vision of Brian Blessed cheering me on as my vertigo kicked in.

Up on that roof, the bird was lifted up on to a cable and without a moment's hesitation, off she flew, the wind catching her and lifting her away. She was gone so quickly, some of us even missed the moment she left us and we scanned the horizon desperate for a glimpse of our tiny mascot.

On that roof, we all quietly stood. Away from the chaos of the corridors and the end of term turmoil, we had saved a life.

And it felt good.

However busy, however important our Things to Do list might be, it is always crucial to keep an eye on the bigger picture. The people we work with, the lives we come across will always benefit from another's kindness.

In the words of one of the greats, I'll leave you with this last thought:

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better. It's not.

So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact.
And remember that life's A Great Balancing Act.
                                                               Dr. Seuss.



Tuesday, 15 July 2014

What a difference a year makes ...

I wrote this in 2013, at a time I had just started working again after a long illness. I remember how hard it was back then and count my blessings now. Every day.

There is nothing you can count on in this life except change. (Said by someone else, somewhere else, sometime long long ago.)

Many years ago my life changed. I hadn't asked for change yet it came.
Walking across a road at twelve years old, my life stopped for a few seconds, then my old life stopped forever.  Life would never be the same again.

Eleven years ago my life changed. I hadn't asked for change. Yet, again, it came.
Pregnant with my first child, I was hopeful and giddy. Life would never be the same again.

Then nine years ago my life changed once more.
As my second child grew inside me, my bones cracked and fractured as I fought to keep my life the same. Cautious, yet buoyant with a healthy new baby boy,  life could never be the same again.

Six years ago change came once more.
But without the rain, there would be no rainbows someone had told me.
I was unsure at the time what that meant. I know now.

When my illness struck, my life changed.
On stronger days, family and friends would take me out in a wheelchair with my two boys as life buzzed along without me. I  had become merely an observer.  Things had to change. Ihad to make that change. Baby step by baby step, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.

Reducing medication I had taken for such a long time was a mixed experience as the withdrawal and anxiety clawed at me. Yet, the awakening I felt with every step I took closer to being drug-free was worth so much more than any relief I gained from lapsing and taking another yet pill.

The numbing of the pain had numbed the experience of all life: emotions, highs and lows. I had coped with an illness and a half life by burying myself within a cocoon of tramadol, fentanyl, codeine . . . whichever prescription I'd been trying.  Though the consequences of long term pain relief outweighed any pain relief benefits I had been promised.

Finally, I awoke from my opiate-riddled doze. And it was my sheer bloodymindedness and the unwavering support of Team Kate who stuck by me regardless of how hopeless it must have sometimes seemed.

As I steadily improved, I found work again, and with that my financial independence. I was back in the game.

And all this time, I wrote. I wrote stories, made notes from great novels I read, jotted down comments I'd overhear as I drank coffee in local cafes. Sometimes ideas came from the collection of opiate-induced dreams I woke from, sleepy hands reaching for the notepad and pencil in the darkness. Deciphering my scrawl, however,  was another matter . . .

Some days I'd sit in front of the screen wondering where to start, afraid to write. Afraid to write nothing of substance. Afraid to write nothing of substance and spend a month doing it.
But I knew I would always write. I would always try. Because change happens and with change good things can come. Even on my worst days the glimmer of hope for better things was always shimmering somewhere, just beyond the darkness.

I still teach from school to school and write every day, my stories and imaginings driving me on to write once the boys are in bed. Sometimes I write and the next day I shudder at the sheer awfulness of my clumsy sentences, yet other days I write and on a second reading know there may be something there.

I know I will always write, just as I know I will always teach in one form or another. I will always try. Because as change happens, good things can come.

Without the weight of painkillers, negativity and exhaustion, I can now focus on my future. Rather than frantically putting out the fires of my daily life, blinded by the smoke and drama, I can look forward and plan my next steps when I find myself on a day when my health, optimism and courage collide.

But maybe that is what that leap of faith is. Maybe we make leaps of faith every day on our brave days: - simply writing down ideas or cobbling a paragraph together; taking less medication or stepping out from the cocoon of the house or the life/relationship you have wrapped around you fearful of feeling the cold.

Courage can be the tiniest steps towards better things, embracing change and knowing that with hope, something better is possible.