In the middle of the night I thought about my teacher with the ruler. Following the last blog, many may blame her from my picture of the little girl standing in a puddle of her own making. Although she held some responsibility and she certainly was not kind, there were many others and many experiences that contributed to my lack of self-belief and poor self-image. Being part of a minority group is always tough – in particular you cannot hide faceless in a crowd, when your difference is always on view to others. The first aspect that some make judgements on is your outward appearance, closing down their ability to listen to your voice, or understand the meaning of your words or actions. They decide on your worth in one quick glance. However, the positive part of my experiences is that I was lucky enough to have people along the way, who demonstrated a belief in me and modelled for me forgiveness and care. I learned to be resilient. I learned to be empathic. I learned eventually to love, in part, who I am. I have always strived to be that same life-line to the children and young people I have met along my journey through life; the person that believes in them because it does make a difference.
When I was in my late teens, my mother, unaware of the meanness of this first ‘educator’, begged and cajoled me to visit my “lovely first teacher” as she had moved into a house down the road, and was lonely. By that time she was an elderly lady, a spinster with no children. Eventually I agreed.
I had always wanted to please my mum – the look on her face, or the touch of her hand when I did something ‘good’ provided that warm, fuzzy ‘I am loved’ feeling of toddlerhood. The opposite was provided whenever I said ‘no’ and displeased her. The disappointed look and withholding of warmth and positive touch provoked sadness and loneliness in me, and feelings of guilt that I had somehow hurt her. The long-lasting deep roots of this attachment relationship have provided the blue-print of many future relationships and my responses in very many experiences – my wish to please and to be the ‘good girl’ comes partly from that warm fuzzy feeling that results. I have battled long and hard to learn that saying ‘no’ sometimes is healthy and necessary for self-preservation. I have realised that the ‘good girl’ doesn’t change injustice. I still wrestle with the heavy trappings of guilt and the effects this has on me using my voice.
I did not attend a preschool and did not spend time with any other adults but my mostly loving parents. I say mostly because their demonstration of love sometimes came in strange ways. My lovely dad fiercely wanted to protect me and my sister – but when we fell over he would smack us before he would hug us. I now realise that the surge of Adrenalin, and his reptilian brain ‘fight or flight’ response kicked in, and whilst it was confusing as a child, as an adult I realise it came from a fierce urge for protection and from love. There were plenty of times when he demonstrated his love in far more recognisable ways: climbing onto his lap for a big safe bear-like hug and to smell his wood-worker smell; him handing me peas from his garden to eat and turning his back when I picked them myself and buried the pods in his garden because I knew it was forbidden. Warm memories…and he learned how to manage his first fierce response as we grew older and were hurt. I have learned with age that parents are only human with all the warts that come with being human – as parents we do our very best as there are no instruction manuals. I was raised at a time when smacking was the norm though, and it was still a widely held belief that children should be seen and not heard; my familial adult/child relationships were based around hierarchy and power. I don’t regret any of my early home life – I knew what it was to be loved.
However, my life experiences have shaped a deeply held belief that those working with babies, children and young people need to pay heed to the relationship roots they provide, that help children grow. They can provide acceptance of the expression of all children’s emotions, even those that some may name as ‘negative’. They can help children regulate and manage those emotions that are so big that they overwhelm them, until they can manage those emotions alone. They can help them find words, when those big emotions have stripped away any other form of communication but physical action. Most importantly, but simply provided to me, they can provide warm arms and a lap when the world becomes a scary place, when emotions get too big to cope with, with reassurance that there is a safe space to weather the storm. We cannot be perfect, “we are only humans after all”, but we should be aware how our actions and words are noticed and internalised by small people. Practitioners and teachers should strive to help grow those wriggly roots of “I am loved and lovable”, rather than those deep tap roots of shame and guilt which are hard to unhook. These early relationships form deep roots, setting the foundation of who children become and how they view themselves and go out in the world. We owe it to them to try to get it right…they are our future and we reap what we sow.
I remember walking into the home of my first teacher, and saw the small, wizened, frail, lonely human in front of me. I made her a cup of tea and sat politely on her sofa, talking weather and flowers. In my mind I thought of her punishing ruler, and the way her comments made me feel…but in that visit I realised that I felt deeply sorry for her. Here she was alone in the world at the end of her life, and soon I would be walking up the road to my bonkers, laughing, mostly loving family. Though I did not realise this then, I was approaching the prime part of my life, after a brief bump in the road, whilst she was reaching the end of hers. I would like to say that in that moment of forgiveness, I found it in my heart to visit again…
However, this isn’t a story book but real life; I was a self-centred young person, who viewed old age as an alien, poisonous, nothing-to-do-with-me, far away concept, and I never returned to see her. I hear her voice as I type this: “Typical”…but I forgive her.