College trip to New York

Hayley’s growing up, becoming more independent than ever, and travelling halfway across the world with her friends…

Sunday early evening, at the computer

“OMG it’s soo amazing, we’re having a wicked time! Love you x”

Hayley’s messaging me from across the Atlantic. She’s eating breakfast (pancakes with maple syrup and bacon) and I’ve just cleared up after dinner (ham, egg and chips) at home.

She’s gone off on a five-day trip to New York with her college and I’m scrolling through a stream of photos she’s just posted up on Facebook – iconic cityscapes and landmarks, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the Empire State Building, American traffic cops mailboxes, ‘don’t walk’ lights at traffic signals, and of course endless snaps of food they’re about to eat, have just eaten or would like to eat…

Arms raised in the air

When I shelled out for the trip back in September when she started college, I thought it was tied in with her Hospitality and Catering course, was all about the gastronomic delights on offer.

But when Hayley said their itinerary included eating at Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Café, I was surprised. It turned out the trip was open to all at the college, whether hairdressing, engineering or floristry students.

I didn’t mind though, because to be honest it marked such a turning point in Hayley’s life.

She was massively keen to go because of course it was billed as the opportunity of a lifetime.

But the other reason she was so hell-bent on going was that her friends had put their names down and she so desperately wanted to go with them.

Regular readers might recall that Hayley has struggled socially throughout her school life from the age of eight when she was diagnosed as deaf. It wasn’t just the obvious things, the hearing aids, the ‘otherness’ of being the only child in school who was deaf.

It was a subtle mix of things to do with deafness that combined and conspired to set her apart. Having to sit in a certain place in the classroom so she could hear the teachers and see their face to lip-read, rather than with a group of friends. Time off for hospital and audiology appointments and surgery to remove the cholesteatomas that grew aggressively in her ears.

Never quite being in on what was required next in class, where to go, what to do, though she watched her classmates eagle-eyed to try to keep in the loop.

Always being one step behind in the conversation, processing slower, not getting the joke or getting it one beat too late, all the struggles of trying to hear and make sense of everything in the noisy, fast moving din of the playground, everyone talking and shouting at once and on the move so that things were lost on her.

Having to be taken out of class for extra sessions to work on phonics and her word retrieval difficulties.

Yet Hayley was always so sociable, never stopped trying, but it so often didn’t go well for her and only got worse at high school. She spent a lot of the time feeling lonely, sad and isolated.

College proved a different story, a clean slate where she made friends, proper friends, with likeminded people who shared the same interests.

And the fact that at the other end of the college year they’re still good mates and experiencing the joys of New York together is testament to that progress.

Please note image is not Hayley

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Hayley’s not hiding her hearing aids

Sunday afternoon, at home on my mobile

Ping! Hayley’s posted more photos on Facebook from New Year’s Eve.

She went to stay with a mate for the celebrations – a sign of the times, Hayley being 17 now and it being far too boring at home with the folks.

The photos show Hayley and friends, a happy bunch, all glamour and smiles for their group shots.
teenage girl hearing aid
Scrolling through, I can tell that she was feeling confident as she got ready to party with her friends and others, friends of friends she’d never met before.

I know because her hair is in an ‘up’ do.

It’s often possible to gauge Hayley’s confidence levels by her hairstyle, up or down, tucked behind her ears or brushed over them.

I remember back to last year when she went to registration day on her Hospitality and Catering college course – out into the big world of strangers, beyond the smallish community where we live, where she’s been around the same familiar peer group since nursery.

As we got ready to drive to college that September morning, I noticed Hayley wasn’t wearing her left hearing aid (her slightly better ear). She had her hair tucked behind that ear and swept across to the other side, covering her hearing aid in her right ear (which is more severely deaf).

I asked her where the missing hearing aid was. Hayley shook her head, smoothed her hair further over her existing one.

“I don’t want people to know I’m deaf or wear hearing aids.”

This was a first. She’d worn them since the age of seven and never seemed to mind before; they were part of her.

“But why, love?”

“Because people treat you differently.”

Really?

“Yes mum – if they know you have something wrong with you, whatever it is, like special needs or even if you’re diabetic, they see you differently and treat you differently.”

But…

“Yes I know they’re going to see my hearing aids eventually because I have to tie my hair back and wear a chef’s skull cap.” Looking defiant now. “But I want to get to know them and make friends first, before they judge me.”

Wow. She’d really thought this through. My heart gave a little ouch, thinking of her preparing for the big day meeting all the other new students. Most teenagers would be feeling self-conscious pangs of doubt, wondering how they measure up, how they’ll fit in. She had an extra insecurity to wrangle with.

And I can’t fault her thinking. She’s right, people do make judgements. Who am I to instruct her to bold it out, stick with what is righteous, when this is the real world and not a politically correct one.

Anyway, within a week Hayley was comfortable enough to go back to two hearing aids, hair scraped back for kitchen duty. She’s made good friends who accept her and her confidence has grown.

And that’s what shines out in the party photos…

Please note photo is not of Hayley.

Hayley’s got the revision blues

Revision is on the cards bringing with it big stress and frustration as Hayley embarks on the final run up to the GCSEs.

Tuesday, early evening after school

I walk into Hayley’s room. She has adopted the usual position – huddled under the duvet still in her school uniform, headphones on, Facebook up on her phone. I brace myself. Yet surely there’s no need, we’ve discussed this in a calm manner and agreed with logic and good grace that it has to be done.

“So, you going to get on with some revision then…?” I venture in a cheery, no problems, no arguments kind of way.
The response is one of disproportionate rage. What happens next is like a scene from The Exorcist, all spitting fury and head-spinning outrage.

I close the door on it and take a deep breath, searching my brain for another tactic.

Yup, the revision’s not going so well.

Student drawing a chart

We’ve had a letter home warning that Hayley is ‘at risk of not achieving a C grade in Maths and English’.

It follows the one earlier this year which said she’d been identified as at risk of failing to get five grade A*–C GSCEs’ so I’d already been through the ranting incited by pure frustration at Hayley being cheated of an equal education. Rage that the school had finally seen what I’d been banging on about for years but only now that the crunch had come, and their standing in the league tables in danger of being affected, had they taken notice and tried to pull out the stops.

But there’s room for more anger because now they’re personalising the blame, saying in so many words how of course much of the responsibility for a child’s failure or success comes from home.

Yes I know I’m angry, defensive, bitter and cynical, but that’s how it gets to you after years of dealing with the system and bashing your head against a brick wall to get your deaf child the help they need.

Anyway, we’ve been summoned in to various meetings to address it. The revision strategy meeting was useful and seems to have inspired Hayley, like it always does until the moment comes to stop talking about it and actually do it.

Suddenly clearing out the fridge and rearranging your books shelves in alphabetical order seem so compelling. We’ve all been there.

So I keep telling her you’ve just got to bite the bullet and do it. Break it down into small chunks, remove all electronic devices and screens other than the one with the revision websites up on it. And above all put it in perspective – it’s a tedious, mind-numbing, big black cloud enveloping you, but it is just a tiny little pinpoint moment in your life that can wield a huge influence on the future stretching out before you.

Perhaps the most effective wake-up call was showing her on a calendar that in five weeks she’ll be in the thick of it and two months from now she’ll be as free as a bird.

In the meantime we’ll try every strategy, bribe and reward going.