'I don't want my children to dread school everyday like I did'
Whenever I tell people that my son loves school, they always say 'long may it last'.
Little do they know how much I hope that's true. Arguing with your kids about getting out of bed in the morning is one thing but I dread something much worse.
I had a terrible experience in school. I loved learning and even though I was a little shy, I enjoyed being around other children. Unfortunately, a quiet demeanour would ultimately place a target firmly on my back.
Primary school was a tough experience, I was always on the outside looking in.
If I was included, it was because other people decided I was okay that day but most of the time I was on my own. It hurt seeing everyone else having a group of friends but me. They would invite each other to birthday parties and hang out after school.
I had one friend who I would see if she visited her grandmother, my neighbour, but even at that, I was never asked to come to her house or birthdays.
Primary school was still bearable though. Secondary, however, a whole different story.
The couple of girls that I had been friendly with in primary went to a different secondary school to me. This meant starting from scratch, something I was actually looking forward to. I could cast off the previous school years and begin again.
I found quickly that I fit in even less than ever. I was made fun of for just about everything. I was short. I was shy. I was pale. I had frizzy hair. I had never tried alcohol. I had never kissed a boy.
For the first year of secondary school, a bunch of older girls used to follow me home every day just to call me names. I had no one by my side to defend me. No one in my corner. I felt totally alone. I would cry when I got home from school wondering what was so wrong with me. I felt like the only person in the world that didn't have a friend.
It persisted and I slipped into depression and completely shut down. I stopped interacting with everyone, even my family. My mental health suffered and I wondered if anyone would miss me if I were gone.
I then began to skip school to avoid being bullied. Eventually, it caught up with me and because I was afraid of speaking up about what was happening, I had to go back to school without anything changing.
The anxiety meant I couldn't focus at school. My grades began to steadily slip, meaning that on top of fears about the other students, I was getting berated by my teachers for my schoolwork.
In second year, I decided to take part in a summer project that the school had arranged. It was a decision that would change everything.
During the programme, I met girls from my year who felt similar to how I did. Some had been bullied but others just felt like they didn't fit in. We continued to keep in touch over the summer and when I went back to school for third year, for the first time I had real friends.
I had people to sit with. Friends to have lunch with. Friends to borrow notes from. Friends to go to the cinema with. Friends to go to the Debs with. Friends to text when life was tough.
I still got slagged off for being different. Wanting to listen to different music and dress differently seems to be the biggest offence you can make to your peers as a teenager apparently. I didn't care though because now I had people by my side and I wore my uniqueness with pride. I'm happy to say that they are still by my side.
Adopted aunts to my children. Bridesmaids on my wedding day. I can't begin to put into words how much I love and appreciate these women. They brought light into my darkest days and continue to brighten up my life.
I got through my school years and came out the other side but I keep thinking it shouldn't be that hard. Your school years are supposed to be carefree and fun, not filled with stress and anxiety.
As a parent, I was terrified when it came to my son starting school. I had visions of him being left out just like I was. Every school drop-off, I had a knot in my stomach.
Fast forward to him being only a starting first class and I'm delighted that his school experience has been so different from mine. He's confident, outgoing and has a large group of friends. What really makes me proud though is how he looks after the other children and makes sure to include everyone. His natural instinct is to be kind. It's a huge sense of relief to see that he isn't being bullied, but also that he will never be the bully.
I do still worry about my daughter. She's still a baby but someday she will begin that journey and the fear rises in me all over again. I feel like a lot of the reason I was bullied was that I didn't want to grow up as quickly as the other girls. I wasn't interested in having a boyfriend or sneaking into nightclubs. I just wanted to be a teenager, not an adult and for that, I was ostracised.
I look at some of the younger generations in my family and I have hope that things are changing. I've seen my little sister and relations close to her age with gaggles of friends, enjoying transition year and class trips, without any sense of trepidation. It makes me happy and I hope my children can feel the same. I want them to love being teenagers and have good memories to look back on.
As parents, we always want better for our children than we had for ourselves. For my children, I hope they have a happy childhood. All children deserve to be happy and all children deserve the right to be children.