Hayley’s final year at school

Tiger Mother is excited for Hayley’s future as she begins her final year at school

Wednesday, a calm empty kitchen after the morning chaos

Oh the freshness of the new school year, the hope and renewed enthusiasm. Clean copy books, new haircuts, unladdered tights, and, dare I say it, clean hearing aids. Like springtime in autumn. And it’s Hayley’s final year. It’ll be an uphill slog to get through GCSEs before deciding next options.

Catering is absolutely her thing, ever since she won a first prize trophy for cake baking aged 11. There’s something about cooking – where deafness doesn’t matter, where you can focus and disappear into your own little world of creating delicious things – that appeals to her. So she’s deciding whether to gain an NVQ at catering college or try for an apprenticeship.

Students in a school hallway

Summer’s been busy – working in a coffee shop, baking and waitressing, and also washing up in a pub where the chefs let her help with food prep. All this experience is like money in the bank for Hayley – far more valuable to her than any amount of exam certificates. Hayley isn’t one of the A-star students; her targets are Cs or B.Techs, which will be a struggle, but she doesn’t mind and, to be honest, neither do I. I’m ambitious for all my children, but only in as much as they throw themselves at life, grab every opportunity, work hard and be kind – that way they’ll be happy.

“What she lacks in academic ability she more than makes up for in sheer determination”

Hayley may not be university fodder – but why should that be the Holy Grail for every school-leaver anyway? But what she lacks in academic ability she more than makes up for in sheer determination, conscientiousness and common sense. She’s a trier and a grafter and has turned her disadvantages into advantages; with her deafness and other learning and social communication difficulties, she’s learnt perseverance and gained strength.

Hayley will be the first to offer help and to say yes to any challenge, whether it’s marching the beaches of Normandy with air cadets to raise money for wounded soldiers (tick), zip-wiring into an icy Welsh mountain lake (tick), or competing in tough cook-offs in Young Chef contests every year at school since Year 7 (four ticks). It’s all helped boost her confidence and self-esteem, along with NDCS events she’s attended.

“She might be about to surprise the lot of us by joining the RAF”

And here’s a turn up that’s astounded her brothers – she might be about to surprise the lot of us by joining the RAF. At school, an RAF careers officer said they were desperate for chefs and would take her at 16. After some basic military training she’d get catering training, gaining an NVQ, all on a wage most teenagers can only dream about.

What a thought; little Hayley at 16 off in the big, wide world. Finally being judged by her practical abilities and lovely helpful self, not how she performs in class. Free to fit in and make friends, away from the rigid confines and expectations of peers at school, free to be who she is and blossom into a young adult. I’ve long felt things will be better for Hayley when she’s left school behind, whatever path she follows.

I’m so excited for Hayley. I’ve always told her the sky’s the limit – and it really is…

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Deaf teen in young chef contest

Five minutes to go in the young chef contest semi-finals, but Tiger Mother’s anxious that Hayley won’t get her food out on time…

The tension is high, the stress levels producing waves in the air so thick you could slice them with a knife.

It’s a cook-off in the district semi-final of a national young chef contest and Hayley is in a huge kitchen, competing against nine other under-16s.

They each have to cook a fancy three-course meal for two, in under two hours.

We nervy parents and supporters are waiting beside a partitioned-off area where there are dining tables laid by each contestant, ready for them to serve up the food to be judged by the top chefs currently watching their every move in the kitchen.

Five minutes to go. And, while the other tables are now laden with the other contestants’ offerings, Hayley’s place settings are entirely empty; the little vase containing a flower that she’s placed on her waits, expectantly, all alone.

I won’t panic. We are a very last-minute family, skilled in achieving small miracles within tenths of a second tolerance.

The clock’s second hand jerks closer to the deadline. Four minutes.

Then Hayley emerges through the kitchen doors, soup bowls held aloft and I can feel the heat from her flushed cheeks as she steams past and sets them on the table.

She’s looking stressed but cheerful.

Two minutes later and she’s out again – it’s the main course, yes!

And she’s back again in less than a minute, running, desserts in hand and finally on the table. I want to faint from relief!

Now we wait as the chefs taste, confer and make their final decisions.

The young chefs are summoned in, we all gather round to listen. Only four contestants are to go through to the next round.

Hayley is not one of them.

A couple of the others seemclose to tears, one particularly overly confident boy  looks like a deflated soufflé.

I don’t need to watch Hayley’s face. I know she will be a good loser.  She’s just pleased that she did her best and got the three courses out.

“Hayley loves to cook”

Hayley loves to cook. With her hearing loss, I think the attraction of cooking is that it’s something she can do  without having to rely on ongoing instructions or complicated team communication.

She’s an old hand at this competition, it’s the fourth year she’s entered and the second year she’s got through to the district semi-final.

And she has the confidence and determination to pull it off – as well as the maturity and experience to take losing on the chin and offer congratulations to the others.

“She struggles socially and doesn’t get support others do from close friendship groups”

It wasn’t always this way, but lots of things have helped. As she struggles socially and doesn’t get support others do from close friendship groups, I always encourage her to join in everything she can.

NDCS events, local NDCS group outings, Guides and Air Training Corps (ATC) have all played their part in boosting her self-esteem.

We’re lucky enough to live in a community where people are supportive. And where people who know her have heard of her reputation for enthusiasm, determination and the willingness to get stuck into whatever’s going on.

It’s really starting to mark her out, define her. She’s recently been asked to babysit, and to help out at a function doing waitressing, and she’s even been invited to spend a day with a chef at a top local restaurant.

“We’re doing all we can to broaden her experience”

While the academic side of things remains an uphill struggle, and always a battle to get her the support she needs, I feel we’re doing all we can to broaden her experience and bolster her chances of a good career in the food world, which is her ultimate ambition.

Hayley for Master Chef, yay!