Monthly Archives: September 2012

Entropy and the School Bag

This week on the Rob Brydon show I heard Dr Brian Cox explaining the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which I think is otherwise known as entropy.  I was not paying full attention as I was, at the time, trying to repair a school rucksack, not yet two weeks old, with a tapestry needle and some flimsy cotton.  I realised that in fact what I was trying to do was reverse the inevitable process of entropy.  Had I had access to an industrial sewing machine I might have made a better job of it.

I am not a physicist and so forgive this donkey explanation, but entropy is basically the process of things cooling down, breaking up, losing form, spreading out. It is an ice-cube melting in a glass of gin, autumn leaves being scattered by a breeze, it is a pile of dirty laundry and a sink full of washing up.

Of the five items usually housed in my son’s PE bag, only two came home at the end of last year; a pair of trainers and a pair of shorts.  He searched at school for the missing items, possibly, but despite being named they did not turn up, that was until I had posted a cheque for £49.50, at which time the sweatshirt reappeared.  I don’t know which part of entropy was demonstrated by the random reappearance of the sweatshirt, but it was too late to get my money back.

My son is a human entropy attractor and should be studied by science.  I am the main counter-entropic force in his life and I can tell you swimming against the second law of thermodynamics is frustrating and expensive.  The pencil-case is another example.  Every August I put together the most elegant and complete set of writing-related tools into a clean and tasteful pencil-case.  As a lover of stationary, I marvel at my triumph.  ‘Look what I have gathered from the outer reaches of WHSmiths and Rymans’ I say to myself.  I then pass this gift to my son and have high hopes for the preservation of the pencil-case and its contents.  But every evening I reach into the school bag and look inside the pencil-case and a piece of my heart withers and dies.  Pencils are not only worn and in need of sharpening, but lacking in lead despite being sharpened at both ends, rubbers have been pulled off, marmalised and rolled into grey bogey balls, some pencils have been SNAPPED IN HALF.  I cannot bring myself to report on the health of the geometry set: it is too painful.  A red pen has carelessly bled over everything.

‘Your child will need a ring binder for science this year’ said the note from school. Not only did I have a ring binder, but I filled it with clear plastic wallets, for extra-entropy protection and put inside the homework which we had just finished shouting at each other over.  I put the folder inside the ripped school bag and allowed myself a small flutter of satisfaction.  The folder, despite counter-entropically displaying his name, has not been seen since and the homework, now overdue, has to be done again.  It is a matter of time before a drinks container leaks or a forgotten banana weeps inside the bag and over its entire contents.

I remain resolute in my counter-entropic efforts but I know that at some point in the academic year, probably just after christmas, I will accept defeat.  I will find a dog-eared piece of paper, a chewed biro and write ‘Sorry Miss, the second law of thermodynamics ate the homework, the school tie, the trainers,has eaten everything’.

Big School, Little School

School can be one of the most challenging areas of life for an adopted or looked-after traumatised child.  It pokes at all the things that these children find the hardest of all; listening, focusing, concentrating, peer relationships, being judged, tested, cognitive skills, behaviour systems, change and the list goes on.

One of the big decisions which carers and parents of traumatised children face is which type of school will be the most suitable for my child.  I chose our son’s first school based on the fact that it was within easy walking distance and the head seemed nice.  It was a small village school.  Things did not turn out well.  Jamie was often in trouble, did not respond well to the behaviour systems and made some very unwise relationships.  His trauma was interpreted as naughtiness and a lack of discipline by some parents.  There were complaints.  It was a difficult time and not made easier by living and being educated within the same community.  We eventually moved him to another small village school some distance away, which I knew to have knowledge and experience of working with traumatised children.  It was an overwhelmingly positive experience.  He was accepted, his needs were understood and dealt with patiently and with empathy.

Our daughter, who is less traumatised but nevertheless presents with some attachment difficulties thrived as well in this small school, early on.  So far, so good.  But as I came to learn, a child who is slightly ‘different’ can stand out in a small school particularly one in a mainly middle-class area.  She gradually became socially isolated and this was not just the work of other children but parents as well.  She would find herself the only girl in the class not invited to her ‘best friend’s’ party, the same friend who would then beg to come to our house to play.  She suffered a whispering campaign.  She was called ‘weird’.  Towards the end of last term she filled in a questionnaire.  One of the questions was ‘how often to you wake up and not want to come to school?’.  She ticked ‘almost always’.  She told me this with tears in her eyes.  She is a robust child who doesn’t like to expose her emotions so I knew we had a problem.  This was all despite the school handling attachment issues professionally and the staff providing fantastic support.  I suggested to her that she think about changing schools.  She nearly bit my hand off.  Within a couple of days I had visited our local middle school, a large secondary school-like set up which takes children from nine to thirteen and had put her name down.

She has only been at her new school for five days.  She went in bravely, not really knowing many children but she come home every day with the biggest smile on her face and yesterday said ‘I’ve had the best day ever’.  The school have rung to tell me how pleased they are with her, that she has made some lovely friends and appears happy and enthusiastic.  It was the best news.  I know there are likely to be bumps in the road but this is a great start.  She needed to feel part of a gang, to have a wider choice of friends and to be accepted for her enthusiastic and sometimes eccentric and artistic ways.

I have learnt along the way that school has a large impact upon the lives of our children and upon life at home.  It is important to get it right. And if a school doesn’t get attachment and trauma, then you will be forever swimming against the tide.  However a small village school, whilst having a safe, family atmosphere can sometimes be too claustrophobic, too tight, not accepting of difference.

So we now have two children, in two completely different school systems.  Raising traumatised children is never straightforward least of all when it comes to education.

Are We Nearly There Yet?

I have taken a break from blogging over the summer holidays.  Frankly, just getting through the almost seven week holidayathon is as much as I can manage and in the time it takes to type in the password into my laptop a fight will have broken out, a child will have shut the cat in a drawer and another child will be stood over me screaming ‘Mum mum mum mum mum’.  So I have been digitally absent.

Hard though the holidays have been, I was fearing they would be catastrophic. I was dreading the swearing and shouting, the breaking and throwing, the fighting and arguing.  Getting through a weekend of this is bad enough.  Seven weeks is a serious endurance event, with no medals at the end.


At the end of the summer term, something quite magic happened.  Son no. 1 received some painful and difficult therapy.  He got into the car after the therapy session and remained pleasant for the entire journey to collect his sister from school.  He was pleasant to his sister, he was calm and lovely all weekend.  Rob and I remained on edge, primed for the next fightathon.  But son no. 1  coped well with the last week at school and was reported to be ‘a joy to spend time with’.  The holidays started, usually a flashpoint, and he remained calm and happy.  I started to relax, a little.  We went on holiday to France.  There was lots of travelling involved, it was bound to be awful.  But apart from a couple of incidents he was in the main part calm and happy.  I read four novels.  I haven’t been able to read on holiday for eight years.  Rob and I relaxed a bit more.

We are now limping through the last few days before the start of the autumn term.  Rob and I are both feeling under the weather with something vague and tiring.  The past eighteen months have been very very hard.  Our bodies are enforcing rest and recovery.

I don’t know what the next year will bring and I’m not quite ready to think about it.  But we’ve survived another summer holiday. Now surely it must be time to go back to school.