Mary Poppins Returns – Film Review

It’s striking how Mary Poppins exists solely for the purpose of child-minding yet has no children of her own. In fact I find an immense pathos in her character. It was there in the first film and it is present in Mary Poppins Returns. There is a longing for more in her eyes.

Where school teachers, babysitters, au pairs and nanny’s metaphorically swoop in to educate and care for children, Mary Poppins does it literally, first with an umbrella and then more recently off the back of a kite. Then as quickly as she arrives, she disappears again. She only appears in sequences where she is dispensing advice, medicinal spoons of sugar or reprimands. She doesn’t appear to eat, consuming little more than the odd cup of tea. She doesn’t appear to leisurely read any books. She may not even sleep, as she’s too busy singing everyone else to sleep and we never see her retiring to her own bedroom. She plays directly into the preconception many children have of their daytime educators and carers that they live either in the broom cupboard or simply materialise at the times they are needed. A student of mine was once dumbfounded to have bumped into me at the local cinema, then asked why I wasn’t at school.

This is where I find the pathos. She seems to live solely for the children. She doesn’t appear to have her own family. She is the sad epitome of the teacher who is so invested in their students that it has been at the cost of all other facets of their life. Even when the opportunity of finding a companion presents in chimney sweep Bert, she is too preoccupied by her duty to be “practically perfect in every way”. By the time she flies in on the kite in Mary Poppins Returns Bert has presumably put down his brush and been hauled up in a depression-era nursing home. Mary, on the other hand, hasn’t aged a day. Any attempt by her to befriend Bert would be weird, though equally it would seem inappropriate for her to begin flirting with young lamp lighter Jack.

No. It seems Mary is destined to be an old maid. Far from being the banner waving champion of the suffragette movement as Mrs Banks was or the flyer distributing voice of the labour party as Jane Banks is, Mary Poppins is so preoccupied with perfection it verges on being a diagnosable case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. She is so flustered by things being out of place that it’s hard to imagine she’d cope with the imperfection of most human relationships.

So, I find myself wondering how much I am like her. I found myself in a great moment of empathy near the films end when she is handed a balloon by Angela Lansbury and declares “it’s time” then floats away. I know that feeling too well from leaving classes of children behind me. She knows her job is done but still appears saddened to return the children to their circumstances for better or worse. Those children are not hers. She has invested in them as though they were her own, but they are not hers. And where Mary Poppins gets to return to her lonely single bed apartment in the sky, many teachers and nannies probably return to their single bed apartment on the wrong side of town too exhausted from picking up the pieces of other people’s messes to tidy up their own mess. When Mary pauses a short moment before re-ascending, I couldn’t help but think this was a gut-wrenching moment for her. I couldn’t help but think the Banks’ life was a life she wished she had.

Is she forever destined to pick up the pieces of people’s own mismanaged attempts at child rearing? Will she be perpetually running her gloved finger along the infinitely dusty mantel of childhood emotional neglect? Shall she be shackled eternally to her talking parrot umbrella as sole confident and companion?

For all the singing and dancing, Mary Poppins epitomises the lonely path professional child minders must often tread, with one foot in the adult world and one in childhood. As Emily Blunt sings, we are perhaps left looking for ‘The Place Where the Lost Things Go’ in a vain attempt to recapture our own childhood while forgetting to live our adult life.

Kid #30 – Be Quiet and Sit Down!

The thirtieth kid I hated probably had undiagnosed ADHD.

After all, she was a girl and we’re continually being told now that lots of girls are on the autistic spectrum or have ADHD, they are just better at hiding their symptoms. Or perhaps, in this case, not so good at hiding symptoms.

She was the sort of child where all the children would sit neatly in their places on the carpet. All of them would sit in straight rows. All of them would have their legs crossed and arms placed safely in front of them.

This child would also sit still, at least until the teacher had glanced down at their watch only to look back up, just in time to see her squirming around on the carpet like she was trying to remove a tarantula from her hair.

Further, through some sort of warp in the time continuum she would seem to have appeared on the complete other side of the carpet space. It was very hard to explain – using physics – how she had managed to transport herself a good three metres past at least twenty other children, in the half-second it had taken for the watch-glancing to occur.

We tried a number of approaches: The usual specialty sitting cushions that have built-in barbs to hold the student in place, calming music to distract the student from using the muscles in their limbs, custom-made jackets where the sleeves fold around the back to join together with a buckle, and also a good old-fashioned set of safety reins. Basically, all the usual ethically-approved torture devices.

None of these seemed to achieve anything, so in lieu of a good spanking, we resorted to putting up with it.

Now the benefit of putting up with bad behaviour is that you don’t have to do anything and the child appears happier.

The downside of putting up with bad behaviour is everything else.

The behaviour becomes accepted as bad behaviour. In reality, it is probably some form of attention-seeking, due to another deficit in the child’s life. In this child’s case it was the lack of boundaries at home that was causing her to act out. Or rather the lack of love and boundaries.

When she was picked up from school, her father would be walking out of the gate before she had even caught up to him. No hugs and kisses. No “How was your day?”. At the end of the day she would simply point out her father to me. I would wave to him. He would wave back. Then as she walked over to him, he’d turn his back and start walking out the schoolyard. It was as though he was running an errand – and not an errand he seemed particularly bothered about.

The inverse would occur in the mornings when she would burst into the classroom, often knocking over a chair or tripping on a table leg, full of hyperactivity asking if there was any jobs to be done and how things were. It was guaranteed she would be one of the first students of the day to arrive. Clearly the parents were making the most of their access to free-government-funded babysitting. Or maybe they were just punctual people.

I almost found her early-morning enthusiasm endearing.

But as the terms spun on, my patience waned. Yes, she was given opportunity to express her personality freely. However, it becomes very draining giving so much emotional attention to the needs of an (undiagnosed) ADHD person. If it wasn’t providing her new strategies to conflict-resolve with her friends and enemies, the time would be spent concocting a long list of pretend jobs to keep her occupied.

Perhaps the long trail of chaos she left in her wake was nothing to be concerned about. Perhaps it was my own anal-retentiveness that found it difficult to allow her abrupt nature. Everything must be in its place including the little human beings I educate.

I’ve slowly become more patient at letting children express themselves through incessant babbling and constant movement around the classroom – at least for thirty seconds per day.

But if I ever met this kid again, I doubt I’d have self-restraint enough to avoid finding a more conclusive purpose for the spikey therapy cushion.

Kid #28 – The case of the stolen lippy

The twenty-eighth kid I hated held a grudge.

It was a very long grudge and gives proof to the adage that children have elephants’ memory – or so say I.  Well, at the least, they remember when they’ve been wronged, despite an inability to remember more academic tasks like how to spell; or how to add numbers.

The grudge this child held was due to the fact I’d confiscated her cherry coloured (and presumably flavoured) lip gloss. The girl wasn’t one of my student’s. I merely caught her smearing the stuff across her face as I descended the stairs to perform my weekly yard duty. I’d normally turn a blind eye to neutral lip gloss, as the crisp dry winters of England usually crack as many lips as a clumsy kitchenhand cracks saucers. But this ten-year-old trickster had no use for cherry colour or cherry flavour, unless of course she was about to seduce one of her peers or had low blood sugar, respectively – albeit in the case of low blood sugar it wouldn’t be medically recommended to eat a tub of emollients.

So it was, that I confiscated the afore mentioned cherry lip gloss and told her she could pick it up in the afternoon.

I had every intention of returning it. The problem was two weeks passed before the girl finally came to claim her lip gloss. As I opened the drawer, I had put it in two weeks before, I found nothing more than the usual collection of half chewed pens and confiscated gum. No lip gloss. It had been taken by an equally troublesome child; another mystery for another day.

“I’m terribly sorry,” I said, “but your lip gloss is no longer here.”

“Where have you put it?” she demanded.

“I put it in this drawer.”

“Well you owe me a new one,” she said.

She stormed off.

I felt a little bad that the lip gloss had been stolen, although I was hardly to know there was a high theft rate of beauty products from the stationary drawer. Probably some pre-teen, with a penchant for broken pencils, pilfered the possessions of the drawer and thought they had hit the jackpot.

Thinking nothing more of it I continued my day-to-day duties as an educator of young minds until one day our paths crossed again in the playground.

“That’s him,” exclaimed the girl to her friends. “he’s the one who stole my lip gloss”.

‘Stole?’ I thought to myself. We’re my lips particularly red and shiny? Did I look that well-presented, that I could have stolen her infantile lip enhancer? Had I been spotted picking cherries too frequently from the schoolyard cherry tree?

Presumably it was the latter. Either way this was to become an ongoing pattern.

On an intermittent basis the student would spot me in the playground and the same accusations would surface.

Months later, I was considering relenting to the harassment by replacing the lip gloss. Instead, another teacher friend had fortuitously made lip gloss with her Year 11 students at another school, during a chemistry lesson. She had some spare containers of lip gloss remaining from the lesson, so I happily took one and placed it in my top coat pocket to give to the belligerent child when our next encounter took place.

Of course, all things being even, when the girl next spotted me in the playground she had finally forgotten about the lip gloss; as did I until I next took my coat to the drycleaner and realised the entire contents of the container had melted into the fabric of my coat pocket.

So although the whole saga was probably of bigger concern to myself than to the student, if we met again in a school stairwell, I doubt I’d offer any of my own cherry flavoured lipsmacker.

 

Kid #26 – The Bright Lights of Holby City

The twenty sixth kid I hated appeared as a baby in the television series Holby City.

This wasn’t why I hated her, but it would have been reason enough. She was eleven years old when I knew her, and the class had been asked to complete an autobiography on themselves. She chose to focus on the time when she was one week old in hospital and the casting crew from Holby City had come around the wards looking for a baby suitable for one of their two week story arcs.

Apparently as babies go, she was the perfect infant for the job; or perhaps the only one who had parents who would agree to have their child appear on one of the most banal soap operas of all time. It was most probably this early experience of fame, catering trucks and pampering, that led to her awful pre-teen personality. She could easily be described as a ‘right madam’.

At first it was unnoticeable. She was very industrious. She would complete her work, shyly answer questions in class and present artistically presented homework. However, meanwhile she was unleashing a relentless tirade against one of the weaker members of the class. It was a subversive attack, completely unseen by the adult staff. It was a series of mind games aimed at deflecting from her own insecurities. It was a batch of actions torn from the pages of The Plastics’ Burn Book in Mean Girls.

Unbeknownst to myself she could be found whispering insults to one particular girl. In the playground she was gathering together groups of girls and gossiping nonsense, when her victim was nearby. I later quizzed the girls on what had been said. It had merely been a series of indistinguishable mutterings aimed at creating paranoia in her victim. Finally it was escalating to the point where she was encouraging all female members of the year group to steer clear of the other girl, rendering her victim completely friendless.

All this was happening in such a calculated manner, it went by without myself batting an eyelid.

Luckily for everyone the classroom teaching assistant was wiser than myself and had her ear to the ground. She soon brought to my attention the reality of the situation. The teaching assistant held a few round table conferences with the girls and resolved most of the issues.

When I confronted the girl about her manipulative actions and the seriousness of bullying, she admitted to everything. But that was only because the teaching assistant had already done all of the detective work, so the girl was cornered.

I said time was too precious to be holding round table discussions if this sort of thing happened again, and I asked whether there was anything troubling her that may have caused such nasty behaviour.

It was at this point she channelled her inner Regina George and played me for a complete fiddle. She told me how upset she was that her grandmother was dying and she may not see her again because she lived overseas. I asked what was wrong with her grandmother and the girl responded that her grandmother had been sick for eleven years.

At this point I smelt something fishy. I mean, if the grandmother had lasted eleven years already, she was as likely to live as she was to die. But I gave the girl the benefit of the doubt and sent her back to work.

A few weeks later the students were sitting their practice tests for the end of year exams. Due to limited resources the tests were downloaded from past papers stored on the Internet. So the sharp students were already onto these and downloading them from the web to cheat the system.

Unfortunately the girl was not smart enough. She had memorised the answers word-for-word from the marking scheme. One particular answer stood out as being so precise, there was no way she could have come to that conclusion without having seen the answer booklet. When confronted about it, she again crumbled knowing full well that the evidence stacked up against her. She had been caught red-handed. She was now a bully and a cheat.

A few months passed and everything went quiet again. Too quiet when there’s a rat in the ranks. I was keeping close watch on her and making sure to isolate her from situations where she’d be able to cheat or psychologically terrorise her companions. But then she struck again. She was caught, by a lunchtime supervisor, telling her posy of girlfriends that her victim had been saying things about them behind their backs – certainly a classic move in the ‘mean bitch’ stakes.

And so it was that I was left with no choice but to mark her behaviour down as ‘satisfactory’ instead of ‘excellent’ on the report card.

This did not go down well with her mother who turned out to be a beastly woman, who was ten times the bully her daughter was, but did not have the fall-back of being a ‘child-star’ on Holby City to excuse her behaviour.

She stormed into my room on parent teacher evening, declaring her daughter had never been anything but excellent in previous reports. She demanded the school records be adjusted to show her daughter as an upstanding citizen.

I pointed out the daughter’s status was still satisfactory, where I could have marked ‘unsatisfactory’, but I couldn’t possibly in my right mind say her behaviour was ‘excellent’ when she’d caused a near nervous breakdown in another student.

The mother, being a queen bee parent of deflection, proceeded to blame the other child for all the misdemeanours, began questioning my professionalism in behaviour management and espoused her misinformed knowledge about the academic curriculum because as she put it, “I work in schools and I know how these things work”.

What school she worked in and what particularly she did at that school I do not know. But she spoke with the knowledge of someone who perhaps restocked the stationary cupboard once a fortnight and only had interaction with children when her own brat wasn’t been looked after by the au pair.

The meeting spilled over by twenty minutes as she refused to leave. Luckily other parents begin getting agitated when this happens, and she only got the hint to leave when there was soon a number of angry faces leering at the window because their own parent meetings were now delayed. This didn’t stop her pursuing the deputy, the following day, to have her daughter’s behaviour record adjusted to reflect what she deemed to be the appropriate grade.

The deputy was a level-headed person who politely explained to her what good manners were and ushered her back onto the street. That was the last we heard of her. Well at least until the next parents’ evening.

There were no further flair ups from this pouting pre-teen plebeian before the year was out. Well, certainly there were no incidents that I was aware of.

Perhaps there was something deeper causing her puerile behaviour, which if I’d given more time to her, I’d have been able to help her with. On the face of it, she was probably bullying because of her own insecurities about her own lack of intelligence.

Or maybe she was in fact just mean.

Or perhaps it was modelled behaviour from her mother.

Inversely, she could be somewhere now being victim to a meaner nastier bully. Perhaps I’d even have some sympathy for her.

But if we ever met again, I doubt I’d sit down to watch old VHS tapes of her Holby City appearance.

Kid #25 – The Know-It-All

The twenty-fifth kid I hated was a know-it-all who heaved a big sigh, whenever someone didn’t know the answer to something.

For example a question, regarding seemingly simple mathematical equations, would be answered incorrectly by a student. Child number twenty-five would then respond with a deep sigh followed by a phrase such as: “It’s soooo obvious”; or “Everyone knows the answer is three”; or “That’s easy!”.

To which I would usually reply: “If it’s so obvious, why don’t I send you to university”; or “Clearly not everyone knew the answer otherwise idiot Joe over here would have responded correctly”; or “Go jump in a creek, you purulent child”.

Sure these were petulant reactions to a petulant child, but he was infuriating.

He would lean back on his chair causing his eyes to roll backwards in his head. We gave him the benefit of the doubt about the eye-rolling – he claimed it was a nervous tick. More likely it was induced by a case of misplaced arrogance from his overfed lower middle-class ego that had been fuelled by the sycophants who fuelled him further with Haribos so he’d not beat them up.

If it weren’t for his intimidating physique, booming sigh and pseudo-psychosomatic eye rolling, he’d have been just another mediocre nerd who had spent a few extra hours reading some pages of an Encyclopaedia to one-up his mates.

We’ve all had to withstand such buffoonery either as children, parents or teachers. The child who memorised some large, yet ultimately useless, calculation to impress; or the fool who attended a summer school learning Latin and then enjoyed espousing the importance of prefixes derived from ancient languages; or the young hoodlum who spent every other evening swim training, so thinks they’re the next Leisel Jones, because their mother said so.

Child number twenty-five was that kind of kid. The dark reality was his show-boating was an attempt to distract from the clear eating disorder he had. He was at least three times larger than the second most obese student in the class. His mother was not obese.

She would come to parent meetings lamenting how the child never listened to her, when her husband was working away. She complained her son seemed agitated and unfocussed. In lieu of a medical degree, it was still reasonably clear that most of these things could be traced back to his high daily intake of sugar (and this was before faux dieticians Sarah Wilson and Davina McCall were publishing sugar-free books).

This is not to solely blame the child’s poor attitude on his diet. That would be unfair. He was most likely a horrible person by nature. But his mother’s constant feeding did not help. She was a sympathetic feeder, giving him what he wanted, when he wanted it. Hell, if I lived with him on a permanent basis I’d probably done the same – not just giving him slices of cake, but force feeding him the entire triple-layered chocolate sponge, Boris Bogtrotter style.

There was one particular meeting where the mother really felt at the end of her tether. I was also at mine. But as I said to the class teaching assistant, “How do you tell a mother her child is fat, and that it’s her fault?”

The answer to that question is probably to be more direct. Instead, in my ever diplomatic style, I beat around the bush. I raised with her our concern that her son had been turning up to school with energy drinks in his bag. Politely I suggested the guarana and caffeine could be a root cause for his lack of focus and any hyperactivity. She said she hadn’t given the drinks to him. He must have stolen them.

Either way, that didn’t explain the Nutella sandwiches, bags of sweets or chocolate coated sultanas he’d often bring to school. The idea he’d stolen them is as bizarrely ignorant as saying a child watched porn without their parents knowing, or cranked up thousand dollar bills on in-app purchases, or got drunk off your vintage wine cellar while you were out picking daisies. Parents should throw the television out the window, disconnect the Wi-Fi and pour the alcohol down the drain respectively. Remove temptation.

Likewise if your offspring have a sweet tooth, then incinerate all sugar-based products within a one hundred metre radius of your home. Leave them to gnaw on what they hope to be a sugar-cane chair, only to find it’s made from bamboo. They’ll be eating salad sandwiches soon enough.

If I had my time again, I’d probably be more direct with the parent, or have done some better health education in class to steer the child in the right direction. If only I’d had access to That Sugar Film, back then, things may have been different.

I’m sure the young man is growing up to be a more tolerant and intelligent person who will hopefully come to his own conclusions about his diet. Our destiny is in our diet.

But if I ever met him again, I doubt I’d suggest popping down to the local ice creamery for a catch up.

The twenty-fifth kid I hated was a know-it-all who heaved a big sigh, whenever someone didn’t know the answer to something.

For example a question, regarding seemingly simple mathematical equations, would be answered incorrectly by a student. Child number twenty-five would then respond with a deep sigh followed by a phrase such as: “It’s soooo obvious”; or “Everyone knows the answer is three”; or “That’s easy!”.

To which I would usually reply: “If it’s so obvious, why don’t I send you to university”; or “Clearly not everyone knew the answer otherwise idiot Joe over here would have responded correctly”; or “Go jump in a creek, you purulent child”.

Sure these were petulant reactions to a petulant child, but he was infuriating.

He would lean back on his chair causing his eyes to roll backwards in his head. We gave him the benefit of the doubt about the eye-rolling – he claimed it was a nervous tick. More likely it was induced by a case of misplaced arrogance from his overfed lower middle-class ego that had been fuelled by the sycophants who fuelled him further with Haribos so he’d not beat them up.

If it weren’t for his intimidating physique, booming sigh and pseudo-psychosomatic eye rolling, he’d have been just another mediocre nerd who had spent a few extra hours reading some pages of an Encyclopaedia to one-up his mates.

We’ve all had to withstand such buffoonery either as children, parents or teachers. The child who memorised some large, yet ultimately useless, calculation to impress; or the fool who attended a summer school learning Latin and then enjoyed espousing the importance of prefixes derived from ancient languages; or the young hoodlum who spent every other evening swim training, so thinks they’re the next Leisel Jones, because their mother said so.

Child number twenty-five was that kind of kid. The dark reality was his show-boating was an attempt to distract from the clear eating disorder he had. He was at least three times larger than the second most obese student in the class. His mother was not obese.

She would come to parent meetings lamenting how the child never listened to her, when her husband was working away. She complained her son seemed agitated and unfocussed. In lieu of a medical degree, it was still reasonably clear that most of these things could be traced back to his high daily intake of sugar (and this was before faux dieticians Sarah Wilson and Davina McCall were publishing sugar-free books).

This is not to solely blame the child’s poor attitude on his diet. That would be unfair. He was most likely a horrible person by nature. But his mother’s constant feeding did not help. She was a sympathetic feeder, giving him what he wanted, when he wanted it. Hell, if I lived with him on a permanent basis I’d probably done the same – not just giving him slices of cake, but force feeding him the entire triple-layered chocolate sponge, Boris Bogtrotter style.

There was one particular meeting where the mother really felt at the end of her tether. I was also at mine. But as I said to the class teaching assistant, “How do you tell a mother her child is fat, and that it’s her fault?”

The answer to that question is probably to be more direct. Instead, in my ever diplomatic style, I beat around the bush. I raised with her our concern that her son had been turning up to school with energy drinks in his bag. Politely I suggested the guarana and caffeine could be a root cause for his lack of focus and any hyperactivity. She said she hadn’t given the drinks to him. He must have stolen them.

Either way, that didn’t explain the Nutella sandwiches, bags of sweets or chocolate coated sultanas he’d often bring to school. The idea he’d stolen them is as bizarrely ignorant as saying a child watched porn without their parents knowing, or cranked up thousand dollar bills on in-app purchases, or got drunk off your vintage wine cellar while you were out picking daisies. Parents should throw the television out the window, disconnect the Wi-Fi and pour the alcohol down the drain respectively. Remove temptation.

Likewise if your offspring have a sweet tooth, then incinerate all sugar-based products within a one hundred metre radius of your home. Leave them to gnaw on what they hope to be a sugar-cane chair, only to find it’s made from bamboo. They’ll be eating salad sandwiches soon enough.

If I had my time again, I’d probably be more direct with the parent, or have done some better health education in class to steer the child in the right direction. If only I’d had access to That Sugar Film, back then, things may have been different.

I’m sure the young man is growing up to be a more tolerant and intelligent person who will hopefully come to his own conclusions about his diet. Our destiny is in our diet.

But if I ever met him again, I doubt I’d suggest popping down to the local ice creamery for a catch up.

Kid #24 – Hyperactivity

The twenty-fourth kid I hated had ADHD.

Having been brought up in a generation where ADHD was sniffed at as a cure-all for misbehaviour, I still have apprehensive cynicism when I first meet such children. Yet this child would be the child to blow numerous misconceptions I had about the condition out of the water.

To begin, he certainly had attention deficits. You would be working with him individually on a task, where he’d be acting engaged and enthused. But turn your head for a moment to give attention elsewhere, and he’d have caused mischief to another unsuspecting member of the room.

He was also hyperactive. He was always dancing (except for one occasion when he was supposed to be dancing, and then refused). The rest of the class were lined in regiment ready to commence the day and he’d be James Brown shoe shuffling, krumping or moonwalking his way up and down the line.

When he had finally been commanded to a stationary position his knee would be twitching in anticipation of his next jazz split.

But worst of all was when his ADHD manifested itself as anger. He could be triggered into full blown tantrums or attacks with very little provocation. This of course incited his peers to find various ways of chiding him into unbridled hysteria. As in adult life, psychological warfare is less frowned upon than hand-to-hand combat. So the kiddely-winks took the opportunity to create situations of paranoia which would eventual lead the child to an outburst of violence.

The fact he’d hit someone in the head was easily proven, but the jeering, teasing and subversive undermining of his character was always hard to pin point. So, inevitably he was the one who’d find himself standing in isolation outside the staff room during lunchtimes.

The general lack of acceptance led him, on a number of occasions, to create rather contrived stories. He was forever banging on about his mother’s promise to take him on a trip to Jamaica. He also claimed one of his Jamaican cousins had arranged a romantic liaison for him with a nice young girl via Skype.

On one occasion he brought to class a series of handwritten notes from the ‘girlfriend’, arising much suspicion considering it was supposed to be an online relationship. Also, most of the notes were only a couple of sentences, meaning it would have been a lengthy exchange of messages if they had indeed been posted back and forward between the UK and the Caribbean using the British postal system.

There was also a level of censorship required with this child. Most of his peers were still under the impression that babies came from cabbage patches, storks or Amazon’s home delivery service. But the ADHD kid spent a lot of time hanging around older cousins and had clearly been informed about the birds and bees, and a few species in-between.

It took me a while to pick the glint in his eye when he was heading down the path of one of his more inappropriate tales – tales that would be rated PG in comparison to his Skype dalliance. One such tale involved him wandering down a beach and spotting a group of people lain near the water. He told the story with such flare and embellishment, including details of seagulls, sandcastles and pelicans, I was caught unawares when he concluded with his punchline: “And then I saw that one of the girls wasn’t wearing a top and I could see her boobies!”

The conclusion was met with raucous laughter from the class, again fuelling his delicate ego and curing his low self-esteem.

The adults around him must have been reasonably doubtful and untrusting of him; myself included – not undue to stories such as the one previously mentioned. He always needed to prove himself in cold hard fact. Perhaps it was a self-aware case of ‘the boy who cried wolf’.

One particular weekend, after a long absence by his father, the young lad spent a day with his father in Leicester Square visiting M & M World and the cinema. He returned to school the following Monday with his ticket stubs from Wreck-It Ralph (an apt choice of film, due to his own tendencies towards destruction). It was one of the saddest things I’ve seen. Normally telling people you’ve seen a movie and verifying a few plot points suffices in convincing them you have indeed viewed the film. Yet here was a child so desperate to prove the existence of a promise his father had delivered on, that he brought in a couple of torn ticket stubs.

Or perhaps he had stolen them from a bin outside Odeon.

He was an insecure sweet heart at the best of times and an infuriatingly stubborn child at others. It was his stubborn misbehaviour that led to him being banned from performing in the Easter play, being banned from making homemade bread with the class, and causing the football coach to have a meltdown and resign.

His inability to process thoughts, his relentless fidgeting and social ineptness are now my benchmark for ADHD. He convinced me there is a need to deal with such children in a different manner to those without the condition.

I even choked up a little bit on his last day, at the thought of him being left out in the ruthless world of high school where he’d probably be thrown to the dogs for his abrasiveness. A world where ADHD is a dirty word and you’re expected to do what you’re told when you’re told.

But if I ever met him again somewhere in the Caribbean, I doubt I’d shout him a Pina Colada.

Kid #23 – Smacking A Parent

The twenty third-kid I hated hit his mother repeatedly in front of the entire playground.

The mother just stood there taking it. She had such little self-esteem and self-respect left that she allowed this seven year old boy to continue hitting her again and again. Sure he was seven and doing little damage, but it was concerning she allowed him to do this without reprimand or consequence.

She stood there, looking completely unsure what to do.

The classroom teacher needed to intervene. The teacher guided the boy to a bench and sat down with him and started going through the reasons he shouldn’t hit his mother. The mother also sat with them silently allowing the teacher to do all the talking.

It concerned me how little authority the mother had over her own child.

It also concerned me that teachers are having to fill such gaps in parenting.

What was more concerning was a bigger-picture problem where mothers are disenabled by their male counterparts within their own families.

There’s the old catchphrase, “Wait until your father gets home!” used by mothers throughout the decades.

But in the old days, this phrase was used as a final stage in a long series of sanctions. Normally the mother had complete control over the situation and wanted to add the cherry on top of the guilt that was the discipline pie implemented in her home.

However, in some families I’ve witnessed situations where the women are seen and not heard.

Often in these families the mother has told me, “I don’t know what to do. My child doesn’t listen to me. They only listen to their father and he won’t be home for a couple of weeks.”

I ask myself, What will happen in the meantime? Are we all expected to withstand the belligerence of your offspring, while Daddy’s off abroad wheeling and dealing?

The answer I come up with is ‘No’. Children are very in the moment. They don’t need hierarchal systems. You must establish your own relationship with a child and the respect will operate within that framework.

If a child respects your boundaries for behaviour and achievement, then they will respond accordingly. If you have disempowered yourself by always referring them to third parties, they won’t be interested in what you ask of them.

More at fault of course are the men who have devalued their wives and daughters.

One father I dealt with had a wife who always looked very sheepish and began every sentence with, “My husband was wondering ….” or “My husband would like our daughter to …” or “My husband wishes to…” She was always very pale and nervous looking, speaking quietly and continually appearing sleep-deprived.

When I finally met with the father, I was surprised to find him a most amicable character. But soon enough it became evident where his values lay. He would speak about how successful his sons were academically and that he liked to see them pushed. But his daughter, whom I taught, he said was not as gifted and he was simply content to know she was happy at school and would have the skills to be able to look after herself and family when she was older.

It sounded like he was planning to raise a 1950’s housewife.

Turns out his daughter was quite intelligent. More intelligent than her brothers. Definitely more intelligent than her misogynistic father.

But then these are the sort of fathers who lead to such incidents as what I witnessed in the playground that day. A mother, who had no means by which to discipline her own child. A mother, whose own father had presumably taught her to be subservient to the whims of men. She’d married a man who then asked her to look after the household and left her to solely look after the kids; probably to return to a chaotic home, demanding why the children’s behaviour was so out of line.

It was no wonder the child had such little respect to start laying into his mother publicly. His mother was a metaphoric punching bag for the father, so now the child had brought the metaphor to life.

In a generation where hitting your children is frowned upon, perhaps the balance had shifted the wrong way. If his mother had given him the odd smack, perhaps he’d have known his place. But then again, her inability to control came from the father’s own misplaced family values.

Either way if I ever met this child again, I doubt I’d join him for a round of ‘Whack-a-Mum’.