A Very Muslim Christmas

I teach in  Christian school and when I was interviewed I agreed to uphold the Christian ethos of the school. In actual fact, we are a multicultural school as we have children that speak 16 different languages, over 90% of whom are Muslim. In my class this year there are no Christians at all. The children are, mostly, fantastic. All from deprived backgrounds, many refugees and asylum seekers; some of them have seen so much more than I would ever want my children to see in their short lives. Some of them use school as their safe haven and, as staff, its our job to make sure it stays that way. Since having my son I only work two days a week and let me tell you, that’s more than enough for me right now.

Our children are high maintenance. They need lots of love, lots of understanding, lots of consideration, lots of attention and lots of support. Some of them are even higher maintenance; these children just need someone to care just a little bit.

Anyway, I digress. Being Muslim, the children at our school don’t officially celebrate Christmas. They obviously cannot get away from the fact that it’s here- let’s face it, the baubles are bouncing in our faces from September onwards and the shops are pushing the season upon us earlier and earlier every year. But despite the fact that Eid is so much more important for these kids, boy do they give the Christian kids in our school a run for their money in terms of enjoyment!

The kids in my class are all 8 and 9. The sight of Santa sends them into a frenzy. The eleven year olds, ready for high school soon, are the same. They LOVE that fat man in the red suit! They embrace Christmas. They love the story. They love that Jesus was born with nothing but some hay in a shed and they love the fact that every year we, for some reason, erect gaudy trees and spend loads of money to celebrate. They love the fact that we spend around two weeks eating cheesecake at ten thirty in the morning “because it’s Christmas”. They just love the celebration. And hardly any of them get presents at Christmas.

My daughter found my Christmas present stash today and my first thought was that I would have to go out and re-buy EVERYTHING for her… but hang on. It’s not just about presents, is it? We had a chat and we discussed the fact that Santa sometimes asks us to get things for him and we don’t know who those presents are for. I felt a little like a shady dealer of some sort but at least we averted disaster. It left me wondering, however, do my kids really enjoy Christmas as much as the kids in my class do? My school kids don’t get a tree at home or presents in a stocking. They don’t get a Christmas dinner and they don’t get to see pantomimes with bags of sweets. But they LOVE Christmas. Not as much as Eid, admittedly, when they do get presents and sweets etc- but they only get one day off school then. Imagine if we had to send our kids back to school on Boxing Day…

So, school’s broken up and my children have left me with a huge smile on my face. They really love this time of year, almost as much as my six year old, and for them it’s all about being happy and nothing more. Lovely.


Happy Birthday!

I’ve spent the last twelve months secretly dreading my son’s first birthday, certain in the knowledge that I would be a complete mess and that I would become haunted once more with memories of his birth. In reality, my one year old keeps me so busy that his birthday was nothing like I’d imagined at all.

Determined to make up for last year, I went to town with his party and organised a do with his baby friends (without the mothers of these babies, I doubt I would be as sane as I am now) and family, as well as a family meal/ party for the actual day. I spent hours making a snowman cake in honour of the extreme weather when he was born, I shakily constructed a gingerbread house and I made party bags for almost everyone in the local vicinity. Yay, me!

Yes, it kept me busy. Yes, it kept my mind far away from the dark place I once never knew even existed. Yes, my baby loved every minute of it. Success! The only error we made was to give him a small bite of his own birthday cake- cue screaming all night in awful pain; that’s another story.

The only moment I had been truly but secretly dreading was the actual time of his birth. They tell me my baby was born at 6.45pm; I met him an hour later but again, that’s another story. So as the clock began to plod along to the special moment, we found oursleves sprawled around the living room watching the baby play quietly as his sister played noisily upstairs with her cousins. Now and then they shieked through the hallway,  lively reminders of all my baby has to come; mostly they stayed upstairs playing schools and leaving us to it. It. Watching my baby. Watching his chubby little fingers grasping a new book, watching him clamber over his nanna and toddle across the carpet in his new trainers. Watching him was lovely, seeing him there and being able to touch him. All of a sudden he looked at me and crawled over to where I was sitting, onto my lap and into my face. Then, you know what he did? He gave me one of his special, snotty open-mouthed kisses and rested his head on my shoulder for a cuddle. Over his shoulder I checked the clock again and it was 6.45pm!

I made the most of that cuddle. The year before, I was lying oblivious on an unforgiving operating table, tubes down my throat and a knife at my belly. I didn’t get the first glance, I didn’t hear the first cries and I never got to announce his name or say ‘Wow’ when I found out his weight… I never got to hold him. But this time, I did. He chose me! He kissed me and cuddled me and laid a few demons to rest at the same time.

So now I wonder what I was dreading. Memories, yes. But seeing my baby with his family and friends, playing- happy, healthy and loved? That’s all I ever wanted!


A whole year has gone by…

Today would’ve been the baby’s birthday, had the hospital not changed their mind about my lovely, calm planned section. If they’d listened and understood so much of last year would’ve been so different.

But would I be the person I am now? I truly believe that the things you go through only serve to make you stronger. I keep thinking of the hug my mum gave me two days after he was born, on the landing outside the bathroom as I cried like my heart was breaking. She told me I would get through this and I didn’t think I would- but I did. I am. 

What makes a person able to go right to the brink of all that is precious, stare over the edge of life and come back again, unscathed? What helps a person to forget the darkness they’ve glimpsed and the terror of a life that was nearly placed before them? How does a person move on through the days when they’ve seen a glimpse of a different world, a world that was meant for them, if only for a brief moment or two? I know.

My baby. When he smiles, when he laughs, when he cries, when he kisses me, when he clings to my leg, when he reaches up to be held… when his chest moves gently with every breath he takes and I know that he’s here. After all, what happened that day happened for a reason, hospital errors or not. It happened so that I could be the person I am today.


Sticker charts, warnings and despair

Why don’t my children eat? Mealtimes are becoming a total battlground in our house and we now have a six year old and a one year old who refuse to take pleasure in sitting down to a family meal.

For the little one, there are days when he’ll start to scream as soon as the bowl comes out of the cupboard. His little face screws up and turns scarlet and he starts to writhe and wriggle, wanting to break free from the restraints of his highchair. There are certain, fail-safe foods that he’ll tolerate on days like these, but they change all the time. They used to be porridge or weetabix. Just lately, it’s bananas or nothing, the little monkey.

The big one seems to be regressing- once an adeqate eater, we are now resorting to sticker charts and bribery (no pudding, no television, no party bag at your brother’s party…) just to get her to eat a meal. She’s looking thin to me but then what do I know?

Isn’t it my job, as mother,( carer, social worker, teacher, friend, enemy) to feed, to nourish and to fret over my children? Isn’t it my duty to make three different meals per person per meal, in the hope that I might stumble upon something they deem palatable? Isn’t it my duty to spend valuable time each day planning the evening’s meal and more time later cooking it?

Well, no, actually. I start to lose patience for a few reasons these days. Being back at work, teaching children with little or no manners and behaviour issues, I’m a little tired of reward charts and positive praise by the time it comes to dinner time. Excuse me if I don’t feel like cajoling and persuading- I only have an hour before the bath needs running and tired children need their beds. So, I suppose I give in. Because making three different meals with a small child clinging to my leg, pulling my tights down and whinging (not to mention the six year old already moannig about her meal and bargaining with me to let her have macaroni cheese for the third night in a row) IS NOT EASY!!

So, tonight the little one had a breadstick, a banana and a bowl of weetabix. The big one had some cheese sauce, a bite of ham and a banana. WE had a lovely joint of ham cooked in the slow cooker with cheese sauce, veg and mashed potato. YUM.

I’ll start the sticker charts tomorrow. After all, as a teacher I know that they work. I guess I just wanted an easy night tonight- I am human, after all.

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