Friday, 31 January 2014

Getting bruised

I was sitting in a cafe in deepest Suffolk today, tapping away at the book, when a call came through from school.

This is never good news, and almost always means our son has done something to himself.

Last summer term, I had The Call two hours before the end of the school year. He'd fallen on his head, and it needed stitches.

Today, the Teaching Assistant was clearly worried. She had not been able to get hold of my husband by mobile or landline, and she knew I was having some time away, so felt guilty for disturbing me, but felt she had no choice.

Son had fallen in the playground, and hurt his wrist. The TA wasn't sure whether it was serious or not, but there was some swelling, it had been bandaged, and she didn't think it was a good idea he did Forest School. She wanted to know whether I thought he should be picked up early.

Son was hanging about (lapping up the love), and I asked for him to be put on. "It's a blood cell," he importantly assured me, and I said it was probably a good thing for him to stay warm and snug until Daddy came.

Hardheartedly, as I listened to him talking about being able to wiggle his fingers, hand and arm, I thought he was probably just fine, but a bit bruised (spot the self-justification).

They asked if I would email Daddy just to make sure, which I duly did. Daddy duly stopped what he was doing and came back from central London to pick up injured son.

When husband got son home, I suggested he send me a photo.

Injured son

Now, I'm no doctor (well, actually I am, in French literature, but as I can't even say "sprained wrist" in French, there being little call for this vocab in Existentialism or Surrealism, I'll be quiet), but I reckon my right-handed son could probably have remained at school until 3.30pm, despite the severity of this injury.

But helpless at two and a half hours away, what could I do but capitulate to Health and Safety?


The TA I mentioned in this piece also happens to be a fellow mother, a friend of mine with a son in the same year as my daughter.

After reading this post, she got in touch to point out that contacting me was the absolute last resort, knowing that I was away, and that she had not wanted to do it, but staff at the school felt they had no alternative, under pressure because of Health and Safety guidance, however paranoid it seemed.

I felt absolutely terrible that I'd turned an already awkward situation for my friend into something embarrassing by sending it up in a blog post, which was as much self-directed as anything else.

I was trying, poorly, to make a particular point — about the way mothers are so often contacted by schools because fathers' phones are mysteriously turned off. As it happens, my husband was not on important business. He was in central London, buying ingredients to make Dim Sum for Chinese New Year for some friends. Well, he would say that was important business, but the reason his phone was off was just because he was in the Underground.

I also wanted to make a second (to my mind more important) point, that national anxiety about Health and Safety precautions can be taken to extremes which actually impact negatively on a child's learning time in school. On the end of a phone line, I was not able to persuade the school that I was happy for our son to stay there — and in fact actively wanted this outcome. There seemed no way around the implication that I was being a negligent or unfeeling mother if I overrode the school's concerns — even if my intuition from listening to our boy was correct. Which is why, I think, it became personal, when it should have remained procedural. The madness of it all is that when the Tories came to power in 2010, they immediately set about slashing at the Health and Safety advice which had mushroomed under Labour, reducing it to a slim leaflet. I know this because I was writing articles about it for an education information service while it was happening. So my 'common sense' approach makes me, apparently, right wing, just to add insult to injury.

In the end, however, these two points were ultimately swallowed up by the fact that, inadvertently or not, I hurt the feelings of a professional who is also a mother, trying her best to do the right thing for my son.

And that, for me, is Motherload.

I apologise unreservedly. Words hurt.


litlove said...

Schools!! It is extraordinary what they consider to be an injury worthy of a mother's care. And why do fathers never answer their phones or seem to be around? The times I was supposedly meant to be free and yet the call came my way because my husband was mysteriously unavailable. Grrrrr.

Francesca said...

Ahahah we have the opposite here. I arrive to pick up my son and he'll have a black eye or a huge gash (and I mean HUGE) and "it's fine! We gave him arnica. It'll make a man out of him"...