When E and I first lived in Singapore, the school our children were at introduced a “1:1 Laptop Scheme” for every child in Oldest Daughter’s year group. Under the terms of this scheme, the parents of each child were ‘required’ to provide a £1,000 MacBook (only MacBooks, and only MacBooks of a certain spec were allowed), the child would be require to take said MacBook to school every day (and additionally purchase the required, apple insurance policy), and the school would dictate the contents and use of that MacBook.
I absolutely loved that school, it was small, friendly and right in the heart of Singapore, and all four of the children had settled in beautifully and made some lovely friends from all over the world. But I was really concerned about the Laptop Scheme. Not only was it landing an extra £1,000 on an already stretched budget (admittedly, not a problem for most ex-pats), but I was also worried re how much classroom time would be spent on the laptops, how much security there was at the school and how safe the kids would be taking the MacBooks to and from school every day.
E and I wrote a couple of strongly worded letters (mine were mildly sarcastic, his were slightly rude), and I had what I thought was a light-hearted exchange on twitter about the scheme with the Head of the school. At the same time, I was writing a tongue-in-cheek blog about what was happening. When we received no real response to our concerns (other than invitations to information meetings – to give us information we already had), and in reaction to other parents saying to us that the only way to get anywhere was to get more parents on board, E sent a mass email to every parent affected by the scheme (he did this by clicking ‘reply-all’ to a school email, which kind of proved our point re data security etc at the school). Just over a week later, and the day after attending a parents’ evening where we’d spoken to all four kids’ teachers about how well they were doing, we got a letter from the school telling us that, due to our response to the scheme and my blog, they felt the school was not suitable for our children, which force us to withdraw them from the school, and left them without a school place for four months.
It was devastating. The kids were heartbroken – they’d moved 7,000 miles just months before and now everything was unsettled and insecure for them. I was inconsolable. It was my fault. Nothing hurts more than seeing someone hurt your children, and it’s even worse when you know you’re responsible for that pain.
Looking back, and knowing more about Singapore’s face-saving culture, I realise that what E and I thought were firm but fair emails must have seemed arrogant and aggressive, that what I believed was a mildly amusing anonymous blog about my experience was deeply embarrassing to the school and that E’s mass email simply compounded their impression of our behaviour as rude, overbearing and inappropriate. With the benefit of 20-20 Hindsight, I would never have written to the school. I would have picked my battle a little more carefully. I would have placed my children’s happiness and security above my ‘principles’ re how the school should operate.
Having said that, whilst I absolutely acknowledge my part in what happened, the school was very, very, wrong to cynically use my four young children (they were aged just 4, 7, 8 and 12) to hurt us. I’ve never forgotten the depth of the pain it caused E and I.
I’d never felt shock or pain like that before and, until now, I’ve never felt it since.
E not paying money into my account, whilst a clear attempt to bully me into doing what he wants and selling the house, is also hurting his children terribly.
I’m hoping he’s just trying to make a point re the power he has financially and the fact that I’m utterly dependent upon him (a fact that wasn’t lost on me to start with) and will eventually put money into the account. If he doesn’t, I won’t be able to afford food to feed our children, let alone clothes for them.
Obviously, if he doesn’t pay any money into the account, there are legal routes open to me – and I’ll take them all – so I’m not scared. I know I’ll be ok. But the fact that he’s prepared to stoop so low as to do something like this has shocked me and makes me question the one thing I’ve told the children since he left – that even though he doesn’t love me, he still loves and cares for them. The fact that he’s prepared to withdraw financial support from them, just to flex his muscles and manipulate me, suggests that he doesn’t care nearly enough about them.
At first, when it began to dawn on me that he was withholding payment, I blamed myself for the situation. After all, I blocked his emails and texts – he may have felt he couldn’t contact me and had no choice? Then I realised that of course he could contact me, he can call me, or leave messages on the landline, he could write, he could even speak to me face to face and not hide in his car when he picks the boys up (although, to be honest, after this week, I’m not inclined to do that anymore). I also realised that this is the first time in 27 years that I haven’t done exactly what he wanted. When he got a job that meant working frequent evenings and weekends and sometimes two months at time with no breaks, and made following my own career pretty much impossible, I just soaked up the flak and got on with looking after our four children, our house, our lives on my own. Every time he got into debt, I agreed to re-mortgage. When he started up a business, I got a personal loan out to support us for the six months he wasn’t being paid. When he wanted to move to Singapore, I upped sticks and moved myself and four kids with him. When he didn’t pay his taxes in Singapore, I agreed to come back to the UK with the kids and spend a year on our own whilst he got his act together. Whenever E has asked for my help or support it’s been given willingly and without condition. For the first time in his life, he’s told me he wants to do something, and I haven’t agreed to it. Maybe he’s in shock too? Maybe, this is the first time I’m seeing how E reacts when he doesn’t get what he wants?
The stupid thing is, it’s not even that I won’t do what he wants. Trust me, nobody wants to be in an easier financial situation than me. I’m struggling to afford to run this house and support the children, I simply don’t have enough money and I’m slowly going into debt just trying to afford the basics. I’m far from averse to selling the house, but I’m not doing anything without a fair, legally binding, agreement that ensures the kids (and hopefully I) are looked after and have somewhere to live. Far from making me inclined to sell the house immediately, E’s actions (or lack thereof) this week, have shown me how right I am to hold out for something that will protect us.
As Oldest Daughter recently said: “every time I think E can’t lower the bar any further, he crawls under it” and this has created a new low in opinion of E. It’s despicable to use someone’s children to hurt them and that’s exactly what he’s doing. I’m reassuring them that everything is fine, but the children are all upset and confused by what’s happening and it’s just not fair to them.
I don’t know what will happen next, in the meantime though, I sincerely hope, for her sake, that P meant it when she told C and M that she didn’t want children. If not, I hope she’s watching his actions regarding his existing children very carefully. She needs to watch and think for herself, because he won’t be giving her a fair version of events . I know first hand how E talks about people he doesn’t like, or who stand up to him. He described his boss in Singapore with words like ‘nasty’, ‘incompetent’, ‘stupid’ and ‘unstable’ and I believed every word – looking back, she was probably just standing up to him and not putting up with his shit, a bit like I am now. He’s been similarly scathing re anyone who has upset him or disagreed with him throughout his entire career.
I wonder how he’s describing me to P at the moment?