We were 8, 6, and 4 years old – My mum would argue, when I sought answers, that our dad did it as a kind of reversed psychology, so we’d grown up the opposite. It was a huge gamble that didn’t pay off.
‘You’re fat, lazy, and stupid! What are you?’
‘Fat, lazy, and stupid, Daddy!’
‘I didn’t hear you!’
‘Fat, lazy, and stupid, Daddy!’
Not surprisingly I had issues with my weight, bulimia, slow metabolism, and no confidence to learn. We didn’t know what mental health issues were back then in the early 1960s.
I was popular at school for being ‘the funny one.’ This hid a multitude of issues.
After leaving school in 1974 I went to work at a local nursery school as an assistant. I loved it. I didn’t have to be clever and found that I was very creative making friezes with the children, making up songs and inventing games.
I felt appreciated and loved.
I went from working at the nursery school to a position as a nanny for a retired Rear Admiral, and his very scary wife, caring for their grandchildren.
My days of being a nanny took me all over the world.
I lived in New York with a record producer and her two children until a musician named John Lennon was shot dead outside next door’s building, the Dakota Building, and I decided to come home.
I wasn’t home for long.
I started work as a nanny in nearby Marlow and not having learned to drive, the father of the children collected me each morning and then dropped me off each evening.
‘Wendy,’ he said on one of those drives. ‘I have an idea. I shall buy you a house in Marlow.’
So at 21 years old, I was the proud owner of a small, three-bedroom house in Marlow. I’d never been happier until that same year, I learned that my twin brother had taken his life. More about that later.
I met my first husband while working with the family in Marlow. We hit it off straight away with our similar taste in music and I made him laugh. We sold my small house and moved into a larger bungalow in the next village.
It was decided that I would go and work with him at his office. I dreaded it. He’d see that I was stupid. I was useless on the phones, broke the adding machine, couldn’t use a keyboard, and therefore couldn’t input orders.
It was while struggling to put a call through to him that he got very flustered and shook his head vehemently. ‘No! I’m not here!’
‘I’m sorry Jacquie, he’s not here at the moment. Would you like to leave your number?’
‘He has my number!’
Eventually, he actually sacked me. I didn’t want to work in an office. And nanny posts had such long and unsociable hours. There was only one thing for it – ‘I’m pregnant!’ She was a textbook baby. She ate, and slept, and was absolutely as good as gold. Now he had three girls, all born on a Monday – two on Bank Holidays.
As far as he was concerned, that was it. But I wasn’t finished yet. I wanted a sibling for our daughter. The twins were born and a year after, he’d left, for Jacquie.
I sought solace in my father of all people, holding out the olive branch and telling him that I forgave him. I didn’t even understand what he did or why, only that he must have been suffering, somewhere. I held his hand as he died.
For their formative years, I brought my three gorgeous kids up on my own – they were the best years of my life.
I didn’t want to go out to work, so I became a childminder. I was happy again caring for babies and toddlers while my three were at school and then picking them up from school with a trail of happy campers who would come to ours to play. I didn’t see it as work.
Then Ofsted came along and it became work. This was now serious stuff with paperwork, mid to long term planning, assessments, policies, procedures, and observations.
Childminders were now under the remit of early years. I was about to be uncovered as stupid again.
So important to me was it, that I succeeded, I started seeing a counsellor. She gently unpeeled each layer. We talked about my parents, how unprotected I felt by my mother. About my very low self-esteem and unworthiness. About my brother and about abandonment.
As she worked on me, I worked on exactly what was expected of me as a childminder. What I could manage, and what I could not possibly cope with.
I knew the children that I minded, this was not going to be rocket science. I bought colourful files for each child’s records and observations. I bought a cheap PC and printer to type out contracts, policies and procedures.
As my confidence grew, I started to enjoy writing. I found that I was good at wording documents and soon, other childminders came to me for help.
By 2016, I had had three Ofsted inspections earning me three outstanding grades. It was one of the Ofsted inspectors that asked me about a set of handmade felt stars that the children were playing with in the playroom.
I had made the stars and sewn onto them different faces showing different emotions.
I called these stars ‘My Mood Stars’, a resource I had made to implement the area of personal, social, and emotional development as I couldn’t find anything suitable on the internet.
The Ofsted inspector was very impressed with the Mood Stars and suggested that I market them saying how wonderful they would be for children on the autism spectrum.
This is where I want to mention my twin brother again as when my mother died, I found my brother’s effects in her house.
I read his diaries and school reports and from them ascertained that he was clearly high up on the autism spectrum being labelled as ‘disruptive, lazy, and stupid’. So, two years later, I brought my Ofsted inspector’s suggestion to life and ‘My Mood Stars’ were manufactured, design registered and sold to parents and schools all across the UK.
I wanted to share this as I believe that if it wasn’t for my counsellor and having someone to talk to, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
If people are suffering from mental health issues, they don’t have to spend money on counselling; there are many helplines and services available for free.
Please do talk to someone.
Wendy White is a retired childminder from Maidenhead, Berkshire.