Monthly Archives: January 2016

The beloved “School Journeys” (Holidays). A boost for Jah’s self-esteem

I had a very dear friend who had three children at the same Primary school. She had a good sense of humour and told me that she worked out very carefully the timing of her visits at Parent’s nights. She was often cast down by reports about one of the children, so she made sure she began with his teacher. She always ended with the daughter who was doing extremely well, so that she could go home on a ‘high’.

By the time Jah moved up the comprehensive school, Sam had proceeded to University, so our Parents’ Night visit was solely to learn about Jah’s academic achievements. We cannot talk of ‘going home on a high’ here, but usually this was a bearable experience, except on one occasion when he had definitely not worked hard enough. This was when he was getting older and really needing to be more serious about study.

In my most recent blog post I mentioned a wonderful national scheme – an obligation to help “looked-after” children. A Designated – called ‘virtual’ Teacher is appointed to promote the educational achievement of all adopted and fostered children. Such a teacher will have a work-load of many children around the country and undertakes visits to see how the child is getting on at school. That is exactly what Jah could have benefitted from. Ah Well. At least I can say that I am delighted that such a scheme is now in operation for today’s “looked-after” children. I so wish it had existed in the 1980s. It could make a difference for the whole of a person’s life.

220px-Royal_Opera_House_and_ballerinaOne summer, on the same evening as Jah’s Parents’ Night. I had been given a free ticket to see the ballet at the Royal Opera House. It is the only time I have ever been there. I remember vividly, sitting there watching glorious dancing in an amazing setting, but going round and round in my head were the comments of the school teachers. “Could try harder”. I had to pinch myself to try and sit back and enjoy the ballet and the whole environment and atmosphere of the Royal Opera House. It was not easy.

HOWEVER, on a more positive note, the most significant school-related things to happen during Jah’s teenage years were three magnificent school holidays. These were lovingly referred to as ‘School Journeys’ and Jah’s commitment to these holidays showed that he could certainly apply himself when he wanted to. Of course we paid for the holidays, but he decided that he wanted extra money to spend while away, so he decided to do a paper round to save up extra money.

Big brother Sam had done a paper round for many years. Now Jah had a round of his own. They were both delivering newspapers in a big tower block – not an easy task, especially when the lifts to the top floor were out of action. It amazed us that Jah persisted with the round, that he set his alarm, got out of the house on cold dark mornings and faced the daily challenge. He could clearly do something when he wanted to.

Newspaper delivery

 

 

 

Image courtesy of vectorolie at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

The first School Journey was to Greece. He came home more tanned than usual and radiant. That holiday was followed by one the following year to Italy and the third was to Teneriffe.

The holidays were led by a dedicated teacher and some other enthusiastic leaders. Every year the teacher presented each youngster with a postcard at the end of the holiday and on Jah’s he always wrote “Mr Perfect” This is what he wrote on one of his cards:

“Dear Jah

Thanks for coming along. Like last year your behaviour was impeccable. You have shown true consideration and respect for others. You seemed to have enjoyed yourself, singing, dancing, playing games, swimming, partying and going to the disco. I hope all these memories will live with you always. I know these experiences have helped to mould you into the very pleasant, kind, generous person you are. It’s been a pleasure to have you with me. You can come along anytime a trip is planned. Best wishes. G”

A “report” like that did wonders for Jah’s self-esteem. It also lifted our spirits.

1987 Jah reaches secondary school age

I suppose I risk of running out of historical events in writing about the upbringing of Jah and all the family. However, I don’t think I shall run out of reflections and fortunately this blog is entitled “Adoption ReflectionsBringing up a multiracial family”. Our society in 2016 is even more multiracial than in the 1980s so the situation of a multiracial family is still relevant. Therefore let us carry on. Today I am continuing with our story.

We are now in 1987. Strangely not a single child from Jah’s Primary school went on to the school we selected for Sam. However, since Sam was so happy and learning well at his Secondary school, we took it for granted that it would be a good place to send Jah. It had fulfilled its promise of being a good environment for a multiracial society, quite in advance of its time. We did also do the requisite visit to show Jah. He was already motivated to follow his big brother and happily agreed to attend that school.

A few months ago I heard that every school in England has extra money per school year allotted to help “looked-after children” – the current pleasant terminology for adopted or fostered children. (In the year 2014/14 the sum of money was £900 per child) If ONLY Jah had had this help! Sam might not have needed it, but Jah would have benefitted I am quite sure. He had some learning block that we could not understand. It was easier for Sam, as he had come to us more or less a ‘brand new’ baby.

For any reader who has not followed this story, Jah came to us a few weeks before his fourth birthday. So many vital things are learned and absorbed during the very early days of a child’s life. More is known about this today. Jah had obviously missed out on some things, as is the case with many children who move from family to family in their early days.

However, let’s not dwell on the above. We are now just a few weeks before Jah was due to start at the secondary school and a school-related crisis had erupted. Asbestos was discovered in the building. The new entrants had to have lessons in prefabs that were set up on one of the playgrounds. The builders were very busy everywhere. It must have been a nightmare for the staff. I think the children were quite interested, but it must have been a slightly unsettling beginning to their secondary school experience.

construction workImage courtesy of xedos4 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

After several weeks working in these prefabs, the building works became more intense and the lower school was evacuated to an old school building in the Kings Cross area. It was deemed to be “rough”, so the children could not go out at lunchtime. The gates were shut. The children were very impressed and apprehensive. To them it sounded like being in a prison. In those days, school entrances were not usually guarded.

Today, in 2016 Sam and Jah’s secondary school has electronic passes to enter and exit, but things were more relaxed in the 1980s. (They were so shockingly relaxed, that local residents used to walk their dogs in the school grounds – with the attendant mess. Nowadays the entire site is surrounded by a metal fence – and a good thing too. This avoids dogs’ mess and unwelcome intruders.)person walking dog

 

 

 

 

Image courtesy of Vlado at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I am not sure how much I shall write about Jah’s secondary school experience. As far as I remember, the aspect he enjoyed the most was an out of school activity arranged by a very gifted teacher with one or two other teachers involved –

– namely the beloved “School Journeys”

of which more another day.

Happy New Year! LEISURE ACTIVITIES with the family in the 1980s +1980s Racism.

Resuming the story of our multiracial family. . .When we moved to London in 1983, we joined a church in Camden Town. The congregation was very small and very friendly. There was one family of two children from a dual-heritage background. The mother was from Northern Ireland. The father was Asian but he died when the children were young, so the mother was bringing them up alone..

There were adults from the Caribbean, from Trinidad and Tobago, but no children.

 

There were also adults from Guyana and a delightful family from Ghana

The Ghanaian family had two tiny children and a baby, but every time their youngest could be separated from the parents, he or she was sent back to Ghana to be looked after by relatives until the young parents had finished their studies and could return to Ghana to join their children.

So we were in a multiracial setting in London, but at church there were no black children for our children to play with. Sam was already 11 years old and we hoped that he could meet other secondary age children as well as his school friends, so we looked around for another multiracial congregation. Fortunately we found one in Tottenham.

Travel to Tottenham was fairly easy by car or public transport and we attended there for many years. The children had plenty of black children and young teenagers to be with and to share ideas with.

The Minister and his wife took the children on holidays. They were very adventurous and took the children as far as Cornwall. This proved to be a learning experience for the London kids. They encountered some hostility from the Cornish children on one occasion, but I imagine that the minister dealt with the situation successfully. We only heard about this later on. The Minister and his wife took children back to Cornwall the following year. Each time many adventurous activities were available for all the children, including abseiling and caving. These holidays were excellent occasions for all.

I don’t have very clear memories about the Sunday school or the activities there, but I feel that we did as much as we could to ensure that the boys would meet other black children. We knew perfectly well the pressures that young black people had to endure in those days. Our son Sam was a well-motivated, polite and lovely young teenager, but he was frequently “picked on” by the police for absolutely nothing. On one occasion he was simply walking home from school and a policeman stopped him

London policeman

Image courtesy of vectorolie at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Policeman: “What’you doing round here son?”

Sam: “I’m, walking home.”

Policeman “Oh. YES??” Sneer: “ I bet you don’t belong round here. . .”

This kind of statement was stupid from every conceivable point of view. Yes. Our house was in Primrose Hill, but if the policeman felt that black children could not live in the private houses, there was also a huge Council block of flats in our road, so obviously he could have ‘belonged’ in one kind of property along that road. (It was a very mixed community in every sense. Long may London remain like that.)

I am talking about the 1980s and I don’t want to recount the other occasions when Sam had to endure unfriendly reaction from the police. (Sadly there were a few.) However, I will say, that when I observed young black adults chatting to each other on the Underground, I sometimes noticed that they were discussing their own encounters with the police and that they were always extremely humorous about these encounters. I was quietly eavesdropping on their humorous comments. Of course I kept quiet. Their conversations were nothing to do with me, but inside me I saluted their reaction to this kind of harassment and humiliation. Clearly humour can help in many occasions. As parents when we tried to help Sam, humour was not an appropriate reaction, but among the young people themselves, it probably gave them an upper hand on the situation that they constantly found themselves in. Sharing these experiences with their friends and putting their own gloss onto the encounters would help them to deal with the injustice.

Nowadays, in 2015 I am in the grandparent generation and not involved in bringing up teenagers and I like to think that open racist comments are not so prevalent. I do not know, but let’s hope not!