Hello again! This is a lengthy post but with a happy ending.
For a lot of my life, I’ve felt I never was able to appreciate the month of May properly, because it was always a time of exams – taking them, marking them, helping students through them. For four years the Dafter was too ill with ME/CFS to take exams, and needed to be looked after by me, so exams weren’t a feature of either of our lives. But she was aware of them happening, and often said, “People complain about exams, but they are SO LUCKY to be able to go to school!” So this year, we have been lucky to have exam stress. It has been so intense that I redoubled my usual efforts to experience springtime. And May this year in Glasgow has been really beautiful:
Beautiful cherry blossoms. Glasgow, mid-May 2016.
We’ve had weeks of sunny, warm weather – everyone asking “Is this going to be our summer?”
Clematis gracing a blue fence, Glasgow, May 2016.
It’s been a time of intense struggle and work for the Dafter, and therefore for us. She’s had a number of hurdles to cross in order to finish Higher Photography and Higher Art & Design. She worked hard all through March, April and May, not even having an Easter holiday as she was going to Easter school. Her health, not surprisingly, suffered from pushing herself so hard. It has been a precarious month of battling through. For example, one morning she woke up unable to see and in intense pain with a severe eye infection – two days before her final photo shoot. I would say for most of May we have been taking things not one day at a time, but one hour at a time.
I’ve tried to rest as much as possible, and Tilly has helped:
Resting with Tilly, May 2016.
I have also tried, but often failed, to go for a daily walk. I was amused by these banners, and wanted to show you one after our conversation in January about the iconic traffic cone on the statue of the Duke of Wellington, and the affection Glaswegians have for the sight (see the comments on this post).
The Duke of Wellington statue used to advertise broadband. Glasgow, May 2016.
Tilly, in her second summer of being allowed into the garden, has begun to relax there:
Tilly in her preferred place in the garden.
She prefers to hide and have a lookout but the other day she amazed us by settling down and closing her eyes in a very exposed expanse of stonework:
A first: Tilly relaxing out in plain sight in the garden.
Staying calm has been a challenge this month. Jigsaw puzzles have helped. This one was particularly engaging:
Puzzling to stay calm: ‘Jigraphy’ map of Glasgow city centre.
By May 23rd, the Dafter had managed to complete all the work for her Photography course. That was a big accomplishment, though she was overly exhausted. She still needs to rest for hours a day, has only a couple of hours each day when she can work, and usually needs a day of total rest once a week or more often. However, she had few rest days, and knowing there is so little room for maneuvre with deadlines looming doesn’t help the stress level. or make true rest easy. For her final Photography task, a one-and-a-half hour evaluation done under exam conditions, she told me that by the end “each word I had written corresponded in my mind to a musical note. When I get really exhausted, I get synesthesia.”
Only the two-hour Higher Art and Design exam remained. As an educator, I have always felt that exams are a blunt pedagogical tool, and that they assess one’s ability to take exams more than one’s learning. However, they are part of earning most qualifications. Regular readers may recall that the Dafter was too unwell last spring to finish Art, so has been completing the course over two years, this being the second. The stakes were thus fairly high, as we all desperately wanted her to be able to complete it.
She had managed her Art prelim in January, the first exam she had ever sat, and did another one-hour practice exam in April. These were very helpful in preparing her to take the May exam (they were the first exams she had ever been well enough to take). Also the school was well aware that she might not manage the exam in May, so they were happy she had done well on both the prelim and practice exam, in readiness for appeal. I cannot praise her school enough for the true support they have given her and us.
The garden during May was undergoing huge changes and was a great solace to me.
Dutch iris ‘Symphony’. Glasgow, end of May, 2016.
My one gardening sadness is that slugs or snails (? I guess?) have eaten almost all my poppy seedlings. This is the first time this has ever happened to me, in 22 years of gardening in Scotland. I’m not sure what to do next year, as poppy seedlings generally resent being transplanted. Any suggestions are welcome!
Rose ‘Guinee’ in bloom, Glasgow, end of May 2016.
To continue with the Dafter’s journey, she was pretty flattened after finishing her work for Photography last week, but had five days to prepare for the Art exam. Her ME was very bad, and then she came down with a stonking cold. She spent the five days either in bed or, on two occasions, out in the wheelchair. She was very unwell, and hardly able to revise.
This morning, exam day, dawned. She was determined to take the exam, or at least attempt it. She felt the chances of her managing a two-hour exam (with extra time granted, which is not always an advantage with ME/CFS) were fairly slim, given how words had become musical notes after an hour an a half, the week before. She managed to get a bit of breakfast down, got into her school uniform for the last time, had a collapse on the floor, but revived with some foot massage and a pep talk from me. I drove her to the school door, wished her blessings and luck, and drove home. Michael and I sat at the table in silence, him unable to work and me knitting. The time of the start of the exam came and went; half an hour passed and the lovely Depute Head emailed to say he had looked in and she was working away; another half-hour passed, and we were jubilant, expecting a text any minute. Then two hours had crawled by, and the only texts were from friends hoping she had managed.
I was at the school by the time her extra time had elapsed, and she was just coming out the door, beaming. She told me that she had been close to fainting at one point, but had been allowed to eat, which made a big difference. She was able to answer all the questions, and told me about several of them, particularly the ones with unseen pieces to analyse, and talked me through her answers. “I felt interested and engaged,” she said. She must have delved deep within herself to find that stamina and focus, below her pain, fatigue and nasty cold.
Needless to say she is very tired, as am I. But she has accomplished a great deal – her first high school qualifications, although we must wait until August to see what grades she will be awarded. She still has a ways to go before she finishes her secondary education, but I think this will have given her a great boost.
I mentioned knitting – as always, Thank Goodness for Knitting. I finished the project that I was knitting at the Eagle Observatory in Harris:
My “Balance Shawl” – green being the colour of balance. Knitting it has been a great help in keeping my balance the last while!
The pattern is called “Orangery Shawl” by Carol Feller and the yarn is Sweet Georgia sock yarn. You can find the details on my Ravelry page here.
My Oregon cardigan continues:
Oregon cardigan, with armhole steek on the left and centre steek on the right.
In fact, I finished knitting the body during the Dafter’s exam this afternoon.
Echoing the cherry blossoms this month, my easy knitting is now this lovely scarf:
Start of ‘Firiel’ shawl pattern by Lucy Hague.
So we made it! Yesterday, a friend wrote, “It feels as if she’s climbed up a sheer cliff and now has to pull herself up over the top” – which is exactly how this month has felt. But she did it!
Strangely, 20 years ago almost to the day, Our Son came to us, age nearly 4, and we began taking him to (nursery) school. Now we are no longer parents of a school child. But learning, healing and life carry on, even with these markers. Thank you all so very much for your encouraging comments, messages and friendship. Your good wishes and thoughtfulness have made a real difference to our whole family.
I wish you all a great start to June. Let the summer begin!