AQE and lessons learnt along the way

After going through the AQE transfer process for the second time, I thought it worth sharing some of what I learnt from the whole experience.For those of you who may be unfamiliar with AQE, let me explain in brief. AQE stands for Association of Quality Education. It is used to refer to the transfer tests that P7 pupils in Northern Ireland take to gain a place in our local grammar schools, and when I refer to it here, I am also including the GL tests which many children also take. We used to have an 11+ exam which all schools used and most children sat and whilst it wasn't ideal, many would agree it was better than this system we now have. Each November, 10 and 11 year olds across the country sit 3-5 tests, then wait for 2 months for a score before applying for school places and waiting 4 months to find out their educational future. It's been a rollercoaster and I am thankful we are finally done with it!Today we finally found out which school Conor will get to attend next year, and while we are delighted that he was happy when the letter was opened, I can't help but feel something else that I can't quite put my finger on. It hovers somewhere between anxiety, anger, frustration, disappointment, hopefulness and helplessness. I know I'm not the only one feeling this way today. And I know of many others who are still in that place, hoping that things will work out when the transition takes place. Praying for new friends for their child who won't get to transfer with their friends. And generally just wondering how on earth we got to a place that puts our 10 and 11 year olds under so much unnecessary (unacceptable?) stress and strain.So what exactly did AQE teach me?Well firstly, it taught me that our children are not defined by a score. Obviously no one ever defines their kids by a score, but it's amazing the power those numbers on the results letter in January had. We had tears as we processed higher scores as well as for friends who had scored lower. For weeks our children seemed to refer to these numbers as if they were the be all and end all. But I ask  you, how can a number add meaning to this?It will come as no surprise to anyone that another valuable lesson I learnt through this second time round is the value of friendships. I could not have come through this last few months without the incredible support of my friends, whether that support came in a text, a hug or a gin! And I know that the one thing that has sustained Conor has been his friendships, particularly with those who love him just for who he is. So thank you to all of you - you are truly angels sent from the Lord.The transfer process is truly awful for any child, but I don't really have the words to describe my experience of being an anxious parent trying to guide an anxious child through the last year. Maybe if you can just imagine feeling constantly on edge, waiting for the next meltdown and trying to be prepared to remain calm and not let your own insecurities come to the forefront, you might be able to begin to understand. And I know categorically that this is how so many other friends of mine have felt too. So I've learnt that we need to be gentle with ourselves and with our kids. My mum and sister will be howling at this, as this lesson is a serious case of don't do as I do, do as I say! Anyway, it has been the little things that have reassured us during these months. A kind word, a gentle hand of encouragement and taking comfort where we can find it are treasures to store in our hearts.Of all the observations I've made recently, perhaps none has resonated more with me than the need for each of us to embrace who we are and be ok with that. I have long ago accepted my own weirdness as a good thing! I no longer care what others think about my iMusic playlists and I have embraced my love of paranormal teen fiction (along with several of my closest friends, might I add!) That I choose to wear yellow shoes that look like I'm undergoing some sort of foot treatment bothers me not a jot! And I will keep trying to encourage both of my sons to do the same. You love cricket? You go play cricket. You want to make your own Lego WWI soldiers? You go for it! You want to dance along to the beat of your own drum? Be my guest!But if there is one thing that AQE has taught me more than anything else, it is this.Family. Is. Everything.The end. Beyond the people we love and live with there is little else that matters. It is these people who push us through when we are scared, and catch us when we stumble. They share our successes and failures without judgement. They couldn't care less what numbers are on a piece of paper or really what school we go to. They only care about us. Worries, warts and war wounds.So if you've been in the same boat as us this past year and have finally closed the door on possibly the worst experience imaginable for our children, then I salute you. That's a job well done!To those of you who have just started the process, maybe you'll take some comfort from this post and remember over the next year that your child is unique and amazing and that's all that matters. Because my son is this...But he is also this......and this.The beat he is dancing to is his and his alone. And we wouldn't have it any other way. PS:: The family photo and those portraits of Conor at the end are by Gather & Tides - they are amazing at celebrating their own family and I am so glad they captured ours last summer.

my loves

I have such mixed feelings about Valentine's Day. From the anxiety of much younger days when I pretended I didn't care if I got a card or not (when really I did!), to the frustration of the pink and red hype and overpriced flowers and chocolates that have been on the shelves for weeks and will be a fraction of the price again tomorrow. Typically, we aren't big celebrators of it in our house, but I thought it seemed like the perfect opportunity to share a few photos of the people who have my heart.Last summer, we asked Gillian and Tim of Gather and Tides, to capture our family on one of our favourite spots on the north coast - it was that day we will all remember as 'Hot Tuesday', when it actually felt like summer! Besides the whole shoot feeling like we were just hanging out with some great friends, what they captured of us is beyond words. They let us see what love in our family looks like, and that is a gift without price.So I'm happy to leave the roses in the buckets in M&S, and will happily pick up some bargain chocolate treats tomorrow. For now, I'll take these!

lately in photos

I'm not one for resolutions, but each year I like to choose a word that I'm going to focus on and allow myself to be inspired by. This year my word is *achieve*. I thought I might as well set the bar high!There are so many things I hope to achieve this year, from doing an open sea swim to reading 50 books. But one thing I really want to achieve is more focus on my photography, both personally and professionally. I'd love to be able to do what I love full time and have myself a lovely creative little life (even with all the hard work that goes along with those sorts of dreams).So with that in mind, I've embarked on a bit of an Instagram journey. It's my all time favourite social media platform, so full of inspiring photos and lovely people and really just a jolly place to while away the hours! Through Instagram, I found the most beautiful feed from Emily Quinton, which led me to her website, Makelight, and her online courses. And then I enrolled in one to help me grow my business through the magic of Instagram! Look at me being all achieve-y!So to that end, I've begun a new gallery to tie in with my blog, client work and Facebook page. This week, I've spent some time working on my images to create the kind of gallery that I hope you and my clients would like to see. It's a bit of what my life looks like, what inspires me, things I find lovely and some images of my work. If you're on Instagram, I'd love you to come and have a look. You can find me @jblifedocumented. And if you're not, fear not! I've a few images from the last week to share with you here!It's been a week of books, cups of tea, walks and sitting by the fire. Obviously there's been a lot of other stuff but it doesn't look too pretty so I think it's better suited to not being photographed! I might even try and do this a bit more regularly, if having a nosey at my days wouldn't bore you to tears! The reading and a cup of something really does seem to be a recurring theme, doesn't it?! To which end, if you've any recommended reads to share with me I'd love to hear what they are. Just drop me a wee comment and I shall add them to my list for the year!