Last year, in April, I turned forty. I still feel twenty-three. Anyone else or is it just me? I may not be at all old, but I have thought more often the last week of that beautiful poem by Dylan Thomas, raging ‘against the dying light’. In some way, years of experience may weary the body and often the mind but they also guide us through journeys and provide strength, I would like to think.
Support means many things to me. It can be the support you give others, the support they give you and the support you offer yourself. All of these things are important and I’m a great believer in society and that united we are stronger: divided we can fall.
Firstly, I am thankful that my parents and close family have always been an integral part of my life and it is certain that I am very fortunate. Without their unconditional love and support, even when in the past I may have been one of the most intensely annoying, aggravating and ungrateful daughters, they have always been there for me. Without them, I would not have learned to play the French horn, saxophone and recorder; relentlessly, my father would taxi me around to numerous orchestral rehearsals and sat through hours of practice as I progressed from beginner to grade eight standard. Without them, I undoubtedly may not have completed my A-levels and my degree. Without them, I may not have qualified to be a teacher or sustained, so far, fifteen years in UK classrooms without their helping to look after my two children.
When my mother had stage three bladder cancer three years ago, I was all too aware of the fact that we are all mortal, but the thought of losing her was somehow beyond my realm of imagining. Angry is how I felt as the medics kept referring her for tests that investigated a collapsed womb or weak core strength. If it weren’t for the relentless pursuit of my sister telling her into keep going back about the blood-stained urine, the tumour may never have been found. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy ensued and I am thankful to say she has been in remission, albeit not diminished somewhat, from the dreaded C.
October 30th 2019, it was therefore quite a shock to receive a phone call from my other sister from Gran Canaria informing members my mom was in hospital following a heart attack. Needless to say, during half term, when I should have been working, my concern was with making sure she was safe and being looked after. After studying Spanish and living abroad, I had no doubt the healthcare system was fantastic, the main concern was locating her and establishing what exactly had happened and what her prognosis was. Even though I am lucky to have a good understanding of spanish, my parents do not. Even though one of my sisters is a doctor, she had flown home with her family and ethics prevents involvement in care anyway.
Luck and time were on her side, a stent was inserted and following surgery, they returned home with medic accompaniment three weeks later. Phew! Her vulnerability is stark and we have had her under house arrest with Dad since before lockdown began.
My mom stopped teaching biology just before I was born after twelve years in secondary. Adults would still come up to her twenty years later and thank her for her support. She had planned to return when my eldest sister and I were five and six respectively, but when they fell pregnant with my youngest sister, I think she felt as if too much time had passed. She gave up a lot to support us three: she may not see it that way, though, I know almost for sure.
Selfishly, in November 2019, my parents support with our children had suddenly vanished and a stark truth appeared to me, which I realise now was exaggerated and rash. How would I cope? My daughter was tasked with collecting my son from primary school as my relationship broke down with his school after he suffered two head injuries in the week after half term. I did not trust he was safe in school and given the amount of issues he was experiencing in school, I did not trust the breakfast and after school club to be able to manage him. It felt as if the scaffold was collapsing.
Now, all is much calmer, despite the bizarre time of lockdown. the resolution to events mentioned above is still ongoing but I turn my attention to support we give others. Apologetically, perhaps, but not deliberately so, I now am making sure my parents receive their weekly shopping and my mother has all her medication. This is the least I can do in such strange circumstances. I am very lucky to have my parents nearby.
Lending support to others is what educators, be they teachers in school or otherwise. Always I try to think of what I could do to help all in front of me; thinking of what strategies could assist or provide a pathway through an assignment or situation. Whether it be telling a tutee they can drop in anytime during lunchtime, or devising a resource to help a child individually, or being ready to explain a concept in multiple ways, or personalised, to try to ensure anyone can grasp a new nugget. What is sometimes hard is making sure time and resource are available to ensure this support can happen. I’d be lying if I said I don’t struggle at times with that because, if an opportunity is missed, it may feel as if you have let someone down and that is a feeling that is hard to quash because it can impact on ourselves.
This brings me into finally the support we give ourselves. I am slowly learning to give myself a break and accept doing all and everything is not possible. Coping in a crisis comes relatively easily to me but that is different to coping when under certain pressures. The skill of looking after myself in these moments is still one I need to perfect. But perfection is elusive and impossible I know and in reality ‘refine’ is more apt, perhaps.
Never shall I give up trying, however. Running and yoga and swimming and cycling and reading and talking and eating good food, accompanied with good friends and family are all things I love. The amount I do does vary, I’m sure I’m not the first to admit. Being outdoors and listening to nature keeps me closer to that primitive, yet more so an elevated idea of life and its purpose. I love the freedom of listening to the birds in the trees, water flowing over rocks or crashing on the sand, skylarks sweeping across the hills and infinite colours of fragrant foliage. As we pursue an enforced ‘Newfoundland’ of lockdown and reflection, the quest for routine and an enlightened plan for a pathway through the present to a different future is my new idea of support.
Life truly can begin at forty and those years of support will guide me on my way.
I am very happy to have been accepted to participate in this #DailyWritingChallenge and it is a huge support for me too, so thank you Hannah Wilson and all involved. I feel privileged to have read your words. We are not alone: this microcosm of society is beautifully supportive.