I had one of those phone calls from school recently that as a parent I dread.

Usually it means somebody is ill, and I have to go and collect them early. Always at an inconvenient time – like when I’ve just sat down with a coffee and clean house for the first time in a week. I’m joking. Coffee and a clean house never happens at the same time.

Anyway, there were actually 2 phone calls from school and 2 voicemails left. Both within minutes of each other. I knew Emily was ok because I was on a school trip with her class at the time of the phone calls from school. Which meant it was about Ruby.

Immediately I began imagining all kinds of scenarios that would warrant 2 calls from the school in such a short space of time. From vomit to electrocution. From abduction to an intruder. My mind ran through all kinds of crazy scenarios. I tried to rationalise with myself that I could just listen to the voicemails and find out what was going on. But it’s not easy to rationalise with yourself when you suffer from anxiety though.

Or when you’re on a school trip with 32 excitable 10 year olds.

I excused myself from the rabble of children I was supervising and went to find somewhere quiet to listen to the voicemails. 

The phone calls from school…

The first one asked me to call a teacher back urgently. The second one left a little bit more information. I needed to call Mrs S back urgently regarding a disclosure made by Ruby. 

I know that Mrs S is one of the school’s safeguarding team, but I couldn’t for the life of me think what Ruby could have said that would have generated such urgency. 

Safeguarding

There wasn’t any time to call back as we were just about to get all the children ready for the walk back to school. Now I knew it wasn’t a disaster and that Ruby was ok, I decided to wait until we were back at school and go and speak to Mrs S. 

I was a bit distracted on the walk back, because I was trying to think what on Earth could have happened. And when it could have happened. Both girls pretty much live under my feet!

Arriving back at school

Half an hour later I was standing in reception waiting to speak to Mrs S. Nervous and worrying like crazy. I genuinely couldn’t think of anything that had happened recently or historically that would have been a safeguarding concern. Mrs S came to meet me at reception and showed me into a little meeting room.

She explained that Ruby had written something very concerning in a piece of writing that morning. Her teacher was worried and had spoken to Mrs S about it. They had obviously both called me, which is why I’d had 2 phone calls from school.

At this point I was simultaneously thinking will you get on with it, put me out of my misery and tell me what’s happened? and also please don’t let it be something bad that I haven’t picked up on. 

Mrs S showed me a piece of writing in Ruby’s English book that said : 

My Dad is drunk most of the time. My Dad upsets me and Emily and Mummy when he is drunk some of the time. My Dad annoys us all of the time. 

Ruby Fox 20/11/2019

For actual fucks sake!!

Mrs S had a whole bunch of questions for me. Like;

  • How often does Ruby’s Dad drink?
  • What impact does it have on our home life?
  • How much does he drink?
  • Do we need any support to help deal with his drinking?

Initially, I laughed manically at the ridiculousness of the situation. This was the wrong thing to do judging by the stern and unimpressed glare I received.
I explained that we are separated so it’s not an issue.

Mrs S asked me about his contact with the girls and whether the girls ever stay overnight with him. She also wanted to know whether we had separated because of his drinking and whether what Ruby had written is an ongoing concern or if it happened historically. 

Eventually, I composed myself enough to tell her that we separated in January 2012, live 500 miles away from him, and that he sees the girls maybe 9 days a year.

We were just discussing what could have led Ruby to write something like that, when Ruby came into the room.

This is the kind of thing that happens all the time in my life…

“Ruby”, I asked, “why did you write those things about Daddy drinking?”

“Remember on Grandad’s funeral Daddy got so drunk he couldn’t speak?” she replied.

“Yes” I said. Mentally wondering where this was going.

“Well, I needed a drink when I was doing that writing and it made me think of Daddy being really drunk so that’s why I wrote it.” She said. 

“OK, well maybe next time you should think more carefully about what you write in your sentences in the future. Because you don’t want to worry your teachers unnecessarily.” I said. 

“What?” Said Ruby all innocently, “It’s not like I wrote about that text me and Emily read in Daddy’s phone from that woman. You know the one that she said sorry for breaking his shower when they were having sex in it.” 

For Fucks Sake I thought to myself, going bright red as Mrs S almost choked from trying to stop herself laughing. 

What do you say to that? Is there ANY way to recover from that kind of unexpected embarrassment?

In short, no.
All I could bring myself to say was;

“Let’s go home now Ruby. I think everyone’s heard enough now.”

A face like butter wouldn’t melt

If you’re worried about a child for any reason, please see the NSPCC website for advice.

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