Parent-Child Solidarity

Your 5 year old son is suddenly complaining that his friend is with us.  You’re on the 185 coming home from Lewisham. It’s March, absurdly hot and the teachers are on strike. You wonder how London will cope in the Olympics. You wonder if 2012 really is the beginning of something more awful than the end of anything else could be. The bus is packed. Your son won’t shut up. You try shifting seats so he can sit next to you. You try shifting seats so he can sit by himself. You try starting the story book at the beginning as he asks you to, from where you left off earlier as he asks you. You apologise to your son’s friend. You say your son is tired and overheated. You congratulate the friend on how he’s dealing with being told he’s not wanted anymore. Your son won’t shut up. You don’t turn round to apologise to the rest of the passengers on the bus but think they deserve it. You imagine an African mother tapping you on the shoulder and asking if you’ve considered a short, sharp slap. The words meltdown, awful child and worst nightmare come to mind. You ignore your son. You concentrate on ploughing through the book about space travel with your son’s friend who doesn’t seem too bothered by the 30 minute outpouring of hatred against him.  That seems exemplary practice. Today, you manage to keep your cool. Today, you are an icy planet inside.


A letter from me and a note from the school.

7th November 2011

Dear Miss xxxx (the teacher) and xxxx (the teaching assistant)

 I’m writing because I wanted to share with you some of the reasons why we are arriving late and to communicate what we are doing about this.

 Zeca is insisting that he doesn’t want to come to school in the morning although I’m pretty sure he enjoys it when he gets there. I try to think of fun things to do on the way in and all the things he’s going to do when he gets there. He tends to like doing things in his own time and can be very stubborn, especially with me.

 I respect his own time and am learning how to not rush him in the mornings. He’s impossible to rush anyway. Somehow we get to a point where he’s dressed and ready to come to school but it takes an enormous effort and a slow pace.  This is a challenge for me as I was brought up to be on time and I really hate being late and I really hate Zeca being late. However, it feels more important that we actually arrive and that we arrive with our relationship and our connection intact, rather than stressed out and with Zeca having been forced to come in tears.

 I’m a bit stumped as to how to proceed with this. As we spoke at Zeca’s assessment the other afternoon, I think Zeca does find it bewildering when he’s late and all the activities have started.But he doesn’t seem to have translated this into an understanding that if he listened to me encouraging him to be on time, he could avoid this.  Maybe this understanding is coming and I just need to persevere a bit.

 I hope this is useful for you and that you can find some way to encourage Zeca to be on time during the day that might make the difference to him.

 Thanks for your help and apologies for Zeca’s lateness so far


  Ceri Buckmaster

And this was the note I got from the school on 16th November 2011

 “Your child has arrived late for school 8 times since September. Please make sure that he is in the playground by 8.55am to avoid education welfare involvement.”

And a spreadsheet of his lateness for the term so far. / / / for attendance and arriving on time. L L L for attendance and lateness.

It would be really lovely to talk to someone. It would be GREAT to talk to someone so you don’t need to use that as a threat. I would love to sit down and tell you the strategies I’m using to get Zeca to school on time, how well I’m doing, how connected I feel to Zeca as the thing that seems to be working is if we have some really good play time in the morning and if I get him ready at 8am rather than 8.20 or 8.30am. I’d love to tell you all of this.

I’m glad I’m not the sort of person who would find your note rude, cold and unsupportive. You’re only doing what your computer program tells you what to do, I’m the sort of person who can understand that it’s not your fault.

Can I suggest that you do get in touch with parents who come late to school with their children, because there obviously is something going on that you might find interesting to hear about? Can I suggest that you listen to what’s going on for the family before you repeat the idea that we have to be on time because they will already know that. But you probably do not know what’s going on for the family.

I know you want to be supportive.

//// LLLL //// ////OOOO////  ////VVVV//// ////EEEE////

I’m furious.

“I don’t want to go to school”.

Why the fuck can’t he cooperate. I’m sure there are loads of children out there who, when a parent says, “Let’s go now”, they say, “OK Mummy” and skip along.

I’m not listening to him today. I’m furious

I’ve gone out the front door with all bags and clothes to put on him. He hasn’t even got his socks on yet. I shut the door thinking he may come running if he hears the door shutting behind me. Not a chance. He’s gone up to his bedroom to start playing the recorder. I can’t sit it out downstairs. I’m too furious.

I’m furious when I go up to see him and he’s playing the recorder.

“Go away”.

I’m not listening to him. My fury is too strong. I do everything for him. This morning we watched some episodes of Mister Maker on the iplayer and then we made an alien out of a plastic spoon with pipe cleaners for arms and plasticine for feet. We even painted it green. I remember making and doing lots of things before school in the late 70s and 80s; reading, knitting, sewing. It was therapeutic me time before going to the place where I had to go. I can’t remember ever resisting school, even when I hated it. At first it was a place to make things and be active and that suited me well. Later on, the pressures that crushed my desire out of the balance drove me to timidity and depression.

But now, fury. I’m not listening to him. I tell him. I demand. I point my finger. I poke it and waggle it. “I’ll be waiting downstairs to go”.

I go down, grab my book to write and sink into myself again so I write and release the fury onto the page.

I hear him playing with the blinds upstairs. Now, he’s coming down. What’s he going to say?

I’m sitting on the stairs. He taps me hard twice on the back. And again.

I turn round. I tickle his feet.

“Shall we go now?” I rephrase this, “Zec, are you ready to go to school?”

Still, “No”.

“Zec, I have to go to work”

“I want to come with you. I don’t want to go to school.”

“You can’t. I’m going out. I’m not going to be here”

Where are you going?”

“To Brixton”

“Are there computers there?”

“No, I’m going to talk to someone.”

“I want to come with you.”

“You can’t. This is work I have to do on my own.”

Fury again. “I’m going outside to wait for you. I go out the front. His trousers and school top are outside. His bag, my bag. I don’t feel at all calm. I’m fuming. I can’t get into the spirit I invoked in recent writing and don’t even try, but I’m aware how different I feel now. I feel really unconnected to Zeca. I’m angry, I need his cooperation. I’m bored with his resistance. How can I approach this in a different way? Is he not feeling listened to? I haven’t done much listening today. I don’t feel connected to him today. I’m annoyed.

But I didn’t lose my temper with him. I was short, grouchy, clearly pissed off, but I didn’t lose it with him.

I seem to have accepted that this is the battle I have with Zeca, or rather that this is a battle he is waging with the world and with me, as its apologist.

‘Why do I have to go to school every day?’

Monday to Friday 9am to 3.15pm.

Grey trousers, blue top, grey jumper.

He didn’t want to go to school. And I didn’t make him. Why is getting to school on time more important than me listening to him when he says No!

I listened to him.

It wasn’t easy listening to him because I’ve got a sick lurch in my stomach of the panic arising in me.

And all the shit I’ve been clobbered with about getting to places on time.

It’s deep, deep fear about being late and when Zeca invokes the power of the 4 year old and SLAMS down his foot on my fear and squelches it into the ground. No! Your fear is meaningless. These laws are validated by absolutely nothing. I don’t want to go to school. School doesn’t exist. No!

This is after numerous attempts to start from scratch, trying to find a game to play on the way to school, trying to make him fall for going to school while thinking of something else.

“I know! Let’s take your batman mask and show it to everyone at school.”


“Do you want to see what I’ve got in my bag. Here. Close your eyes. I’ll put it in your hand. He opens his eyes to stickers that he’s already been given and that were in my bag for safe keeping. He knows he’s seen them before. I commit to my material.

“I know! Let’s find places to stick them on the way to school, signs posts, cars. No not cars. I know where I’ll put a sticker. On the Flodden Road sign.”

“Where is the Flodden Road sign?”

“It’s on the other side of the road. I don’t think you’ve seen it before. Let’s go and put a sticker there!”

“I don’t want to go to school. I want to stay at home today.”

“Ok, well I’m going to do something else.”

I washed up. I went out the front to write. People passed by on the way back from dropping their kids off at school. I dropped into myself again, writing and stopped caring about being on time. The pumpkin outside was going all soggy and tiny black flies were tucking into its flesh. The coffee grounds all around the plants in containers were going mouldy. Russet leaves were piling up in corners. It wasn’t cold.


I went inside.

“I found some toys inside your bag.”

The contents of my bag were scattered all over the table and he’d found a little train and some plastic insects.

“Oh thanks you’re giving my bag a sort out.”

He was stretching an elastic ghost between two slats of the chair.

“Look! A bridge!”

I tidied up a bit.

“Are you ready to go to school now Zeca?”


We got dressed. I dallied a while to clean his teeth, we were late anyway, he might as well have clean teeth. He raced outside, popping with excited giggles as his new proper school trousers – the ones he refuses point blank to wear, the ones he shrieks in horror at,  that I’d managed today to sneak onto him without him realising – were falling down to his ankles. I pulled them up. They fell down again. Little bare boy legs and orange and blue stripey pants.  An old lady walked past.

“Oh come inside Zeca. We need to put your old trousers on again.”

Zeca’s late today because it’s more important to me to listen to him and if the head teacher has a problem with that and wants to tell me how it is compulsory to be on time, I’ll say I don’t care about mindless rules that drive people apart from their children. The most important thing is that Zeca comes to school and more importantly, he comes because he wants to.

This is a parent’s struggle and as from Tuesday this week, it’s a single parent’s struggle.

The most important thing is that we arrive with our connection intact.