This 'limpet' just wanted someone she could cling to

8th October 2010 at 01:00

When I was a poor student with a young family, a friend loaned us a caravan. It was situated on the cliff tops at Flamborough on the Yorkshire coast. This turned out to be the perfect location for a young family with too much holiday and too little cash. There were no arcades or fairground rides, and our biggest outlay involved the purchase of two buckets and spades and a pair of fishing nets.

The seaside offers so much in the way of free activities. You can annoy starfish, crabs and the occasional shrimp by scooping them out of rock pools and subjecting them to detailed scrutiny in a plastic bucket. You can scour the shoreline to find more shells than an Iraq-based UN weapons inspection team. Or if you prefer a real challenge, you can try dislodging limpets from rocks.

Thanks to its peculiar conical shape, its big sticky foot and an ability to secrete powerful glue-like mucus, the limpet has, over millions of years, honed one special survival skill: a bloody minded determination to stay attached to the same place on the same rock. It is a known fact that this marine gastropod will generally resist every effort of wind, waves, predators and my children to prise it loose.

Limpets will always remind me of Horrible Hannah and a game I used to play with her during break times. A colleague would approach me in the playground and say, "What's that horrible thing on your arm, Mr E?" I would stare down at it, assume a look of shock and scream, "Urgh! It's a Horrible Hannah! Help me! Get it off! It's a Horrible Hannah!"

For some minutes my colleague and I would try to shake and pry the Horrible Hannah loose. But the Horrible Hannah would hang on even tighter and shout, "No! No!" and howl with laughter. And it would be easier to detach a limpet than detach a Horrible Hannah.

Hannah did not always shriek with laughter. Some days she would be... well... horrible. At the least provocation she would down tools and pull a just-how-low-can-a- bottom-lip-go sulk. She would throw her books to the floor and curl up in a foetal position in her chair. She would snatch things from other children and have to have them prised from her fingers. She would kick the furniture or the door or the wall. She would hide under her table and take bites out of anybody foolish enough to try and retrieve her. The worst times were when, for no apparent reason, she disappeared into the book corner, buried her head in her hands and wept quietly.

Of course, Hannah wasn't like most children. In my SEN folder she was described as a LAC (looked after child), but what she "LAC-ked" more than anything else was what other children took for granted. At the end of the day when other children went home to a mum and a dad, or to one or the other, or to grandparents, or at the very least to some other family member, Hannah didn't. She waited in the corridor for her taxi to take her to the home of her latest foster parent. And her latest foster parent, like her previous carers, was finding it more and more difficult to deal with her extreme behaviour.

According to her pupil records, Hannah, like many looked-after children, suffered from reactive attachment disorder. According to notes from the psychological services... traumatic experiences - seriously inconsistent, neglectful or abusive - during early childhood may cause children to have difficulties forming normal, healthy relationships.

Hannah liked to test the boundaries of her relationships. Apparently this is common behaviour in children rejected by their parents. The relationship they had with them broke very easily. And when you're only small it's not easy to understand how that can happen. The one lesson from it is that relationships cannot be trusted. They should be expected to break down at any time. That is why they must be pushed against continuously. That is why they must be stretched to their limits. That is why they must be tested to breaking point.

Hannah no longer attaches herself to my arm in the playground. She no longer hangs on to me like a limpet while I make her giggle by pretending to shake her loose. Somehow she got washed away by the tide of events that forever swirl around her. She has moved on: new foster parents, a new school, and the hope of another rock to cling to.

Steve Eddison is a KS2 teacher in Sheffield.

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