guppy_sandhu: (Default)
Step one: If something is worrying you and you can do something about it, plan how to do it. If you can't, there's no point in worrying about it.

Once a week, the Sandhus have a family meeting, on a Friday night. Guppy used the opportunity to set down some new house rules, in order that his children not do paid work for known psychopaths.

"New rule." he says. "None of you are to take any paid jobs in the bar without discussing with me first. You may do minor, unpaid tasks, for adults who are on your trusted adult list."

"Why?" Fry asks.

"Because Buster was too big a pet for the two of you to look after on your own." Guppy says. "When you have shown me that you can use better judgement, I'll review the rule."

The kids nod.

"Next on the agenda." Guppy says. "We're all going to the park. Because we don't get enough fresh air and exercise."

"What, now?" Fry asks. "But it's not on the schedule."

"Okay, well the other three kids and me can go without you if you don't want to go, and you can stay with Mum." Guppy says. "And then next week I'll put it on the schedule."

It's still nice and light as he walks down the road to the park, with Gil holding his hand and Brooke and Coral running on ahead. By the time Guppy and Gil catch up, Brooke and Coral are playing football. Gil looks a bit wary of the fast-moving ball, and decides to run around the edge of the field looking at flowers.

"Daddy see!" he keeps shouting, pointing at one flower or another.

"Very nice, but don't pick it." Guppy says.

"Pretty!" Gil says, leaning over to poke a lupin.

"No touching." Guppy says.

"No tuttin."

"Good boy." Guppy turns around just in time to get hit in the crotch by the football.
guppy_sandhu: (intense)
Waiting rooms are the worst.

There's always a chance of being recognised by a patient. When he's here with the kids, they inevitably catch something, or do something hideously embarrassing, or have a sudden bladder emergency just as they're about to get called in. Fortunately, today, the kids aren't here.

There was something he had to do.

He'd talked it over with Fran and she'd kissed him on the cheek and given him a warm squeeze, and said she would make sure he didn't have to do this with a toddler in tow.

He's had the same GP for a number of years now. He's been stable enough to only come in every six months or so, but they've built up a trust. Nevertheless, he feels his heart pounding when she calls him in.

"What can I do for you?" she asks.

Guppy looks her straight in the eyes.

"I need to get better."

She tilts her head slightly, questioning. He continues.

"I've suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for over ten years, and generalised anxiety disorder since I was four years old. I have three significant phobias. I take medication that allows me to function but it's always there, and I still have the occasional panic attack. I have four children who need me. They're getting older and they're keeping secrets from me because they think I'll worry. And not just little secrets."

He pauses for breath. And she gives him the time.

"I've spent the last twelve years afraid to speak out because I was afraid for my career. But I'm not alone. Far from it. Many, many doctors suffer with their mental health at some time. And they don't speak out, because they expect to be above all of that. They bottle it all up inside.

"And the reality is, I'm at the top of my career ladder. I have a permanent consultant post. I have no trainer to convince that I'm good enough. I work with equals, who don't need to know about my mental health, but would probably have no less respect for me if they did."

She nods.

"Okay, let's see what we can do." she says, giving him a smile.

"You think I can get better?" Guppy asks.

"I do. It's been a decade since you had any sort of therapy." she says. "If you've suffered from anxiety since you were four, then it's probably not going to go away completely. But I think you could heal somewhat from where you are now, with help and support, and most importantly, self-care."

She hands him a leaflet and an envelope.

"Look, I'm not going to tell you how to suck eggs. But I want you to read this and refresh yourself with the basics of self-care, which I know with a busy job and four children you don't do enough of. This envelope here contains a self-referral form for talking therapies. If your therapist turns out to be someone you know, I'll arrange for you to get help in the next town instead."

Guppy nods. "Thanks."

"You've spent your whole adult life looking after other people." his GP says. "And I know that isn't going to change overnight. But be even a quarter as kind to yourself as you are to others, and I think things will start to get better. I want to see you in a couple of weeks, and if things aren't getting better, we'll have a look at your meds. But self-care first, because I think you've neglected that for a long time."

Guppy knows it's not going to be easy. But he does feel hopeful. And most of all, he feels it's okay.
guppy_sandhu: (cmere)
"It was very kind of you to look after the dog." Guppy says quietly to Fry and Coral, as they sit at the kitchen table. "But you should not have agreed to it without asking me or Mum."

Fry sighs.

"But you're scared of dogs so you would have said no." he protests.

"What's rule number one?" Guppy asks, without missing a beat.

Fry gets out his notebook.

"'If you didn't ask because you knew Mum or Dad would say no, you knew you were doing the wrong thing'."

"Right." Guppy says. "I am your father, I make the rules. If I say you can't do something, you have to do as you're told."

"Sorry Daddy." Coral says.

"Dad, we can't abandon Buster." Fry says.

"I know." Guppy says. "I'm sure Mr Warfstache had his reasons for leaving Buster here, and that's why I suggested to Teja that if the dog does need to go elsewhere, he should go there temporarily, and be returned to the older Mr Warfstache. In the meantime, I don't want the two of you looking after the dog on your own."

He hesitates then adds. "But I think it would be appropriate to give Mr Warfstache a week to make alternate arrangements. So for one more week, you can feed and play with the dog - inside - with supervision by a responsible adult."

"Is this because you're scared of dogs?" Fry asks.

"No." Guppy says. "Buster is a very big, boisterous dog, Fry. He really isn't a suitable children's pet."

Fry keeps quiet. Dad never did find out about them both falling in that hole.

At that moment, there is a knock at the door. Guppy goes to answer it.

"Oh hey Joram." he smiles, letting the boy in. Joram's English has been getting a lot better, and he's got a bike now, so he's cycled over sometimes to play with the kids. Today, Joram looks a bit upset, and comes to find Fry.

"Hello Joram." Fry says.

"I did a bad." Joram says, sitting next to him.

"Me too." Fry says. "Dad told me off. What did you do?"

Joram gets a book out of his bag, and opens it at a page of maps. They have been printing out a map of Holby, and marking places they know on it. Fry looks at it, and sees Joram has written 'Friend Sandhus' with an arrow at his house.

"Why is this bad?" he asks.

Joram points to another arrow, which points to the next door neighbours. Here, he has written 'Archie'.

"Archie very cross." he says. "He say not say he live here."

Fry nods, now understanding.

"You did not do a bad." he says. "Nor did Archie. His Mum said they live nearer your school because your school gives children places if they live closer."

Joram doesn't look like he understands. He pulls his sleeve up and shows Fry that he has a bruise on top of his arm, then points at Archie's name on the map.

Well, Fry is not having any of that! He motions to Joram to follow, and marches around through the gap in the hedge to next door, to Archie's house. He batters on the door. Archie answers it.

"Did you thump him?" Fry asks, outraged, pointing to Joram's arm.

Archie goes pink. "We got in a fight, yes. I didn't thump him hard though. I think that was my friend Joshua."

"You shouldn't thump him at all." Fry says, defensively. "He's smaller than you. And it's not his fault your mum lies about where you live, how's he supposed to understand? He's a refugee, hasn't he seen enough fighting?"

Archie offers Joram a handshake, which Joram accepts.

"Sorry." Archie says. "Not your fault."

Fry takes Joram back through the hedge to his own house.

"Do you have friends at school?" he asks Joram.

Joram shakes his head. "I not speak much good English."

"Your English is much better than it was." Fry says. "You didn't speak any English a few months ago."

"Thanks." Joram says. "What bad did you do?"

"Oh, I looked after a dog for a scary man with a pink moustache." Fry says, but apparently that is lost on his friend.
guppy_sandhu: (Default)
Guppy had had stern talks with Brooke at the beginning of the new term. In fact, they'd had a 'Naughty Amnesty', where he promised that she wouldn't get into any more trouble for anything she had already done if she fessed up, and together they would work on some guidelines for getting in trouble less at school.

After an hour of confessing, they narrowed it down to 'No climbing, no name calling, keep your hands to yourself, don't touch the teacher's things without asking, and use your inside voice' and so far Brooke had kept her nose clean for the first week.

He'd had a word with Miss Brimstone and offered her his support and encouraged her to communicate with him. The woman shows the same signs of nervousness that he does. Does she really just not like Brooke, as Brooke claims, or is she suffering from stress? Or both?

On the way out he'd stopped to see Miss Hewitt, Gil's teacher. Gil is angelic in school, and has become quite the favourite with all the staff. Which is fortunate as with hindsight, both Guppy and Miss Hewitt have had some doubts as to whether he was really ready for school, because every time they have story time he says 'Night night' and goes to sleep. They agree to try not to let him have a nap, to try and get him out the habit.

Alas for such good intentions, it doesn't take long for Brooke and Miss Brimstone to come to blows.

It comes, to Brooke, quite out of the blue. While painting, she dips the red paintbrush into the green paint, again. Tilly, across the table, starts making a fuss.

"Miss Brimstone!" she wails. "Brooke ruined the paint again!"

"BROOKLYN!" Miss Brimstone shouts so uncharacteristically loud that the whole class jumps and is silent. "HOW MANY TIMES MUST YOU BE TOLD? YOU DO THIS EVERY TIME, YOU RUIN IT FOR EVERYONE!"

Brooke blinks. She doesn't cry, mostly she's surprised. Several of the other children, who have never seen Miss Brimstone lose her cool like this, do start to cry, and the teacher looks rather embarrassed and starts trying to comfort them.

She doesn't see Brooke do it. But when she goes back to her desk, some time later, her register is under an upside down pot of pink paint.

Some time later, in the staff room, Miss Brimstone sits down wearily next to Miss Havisham.

"What syndrome does the older Sandhu child have?" Miss Brimstone asks.

"Asperger's. Why?"

"That Brooke... she can't be normal." Miss Brimstone declares. "It has to be ADHD or ODD or something."

"I don't believe in ADHD. Most of the time." Miss Havisham says. "And I've never heard of 'odd', whatever that's supposed to be. Besides, Brooklyn is capable of sitting quietly at a desk doing lines just to make a point, so I doubt attention is the issue. In any case, I am the wrong person to ask."

***

"Hello Brooke. Can we have a chat?"

Brooke looks up from where she had just been debating with Alisha whether to bring in her realistic rubber snake and if so, where in contact with Miss Brimstone they should put it.

"My name is Mr Irons." Mr Irons says, as she follows him inside to his small room.

"I know who you are." Brooke says. "You help weirdos like my brother."

"Not quite how I'd describe it." Mr Irons says. "I'm here to help people who are finding school difficult, for one reason or another. Getting into trouble a lot. That sort of thing."

Brooke eyes him with suspicion as they sit down.

"I'm not like them."

"Who?"

"Fry, and Coral. I'm not like them." Brooke says.

"I know." Mr Irons says. "Brooke, I want you to answer me just one question."

"What's that?"

"Why do you mix green and red paint?"

"To make brown." Brooke says.

Mr Irons just watches her.

After a moment Brooke carries on. "Miss Brimstone never puts out brown. She puts out pink. I don't paint pictures of myself pink."

"Because you're mixed race." Mr Irons says.

Brooke nods.

"Did you ever tell Miss Brimstone this?" Mr Irons asks.

"No." Brooke says.

"See, if you'd just asked nicely, she could have mixed you a separate pot of brown." Mr Irons says. "You don't have to fight with people if you just talk to them and are patient."

"She yelled at me."

"I will tell her what you told me." Mr Irons says. "No doubt the two of you can make amends."

By the time Guppy comes to pick her up, it appears that Mr Irons has smoothed the ground between Brooke and her teacher. Miss Brimstone makes an honest confession to yelling at Brooke, which Guppy appreciates.

But what warms his heart is when he sees, on the table, that Miss Brimstone has not only made pots of brown, but has mixed them to four different skin tones. Maybe there's hope for the two of them yet.
guppy_sandhu: (cmere)
It's the night before Christmas and, finally, all the children are in bed. Even Fry, who rarely settles down before ten; or if he does, will be up again before five.

It took a few moments to remember where they hid all the Christmas presents, but Guppy and Fran have got most of them under the tree when Guppy hears just a little noise on the stairs, and turns to see two peeping brown eyes and a lock of brown curly hair in a gap in the banister.

"Why aren't you in bed, Brooklyn?" he says, in a soft but stern voice.

"I was just checking." Brooke says.

"Just checking what?" Guppy asks.

Brooke pads down the stairs, clutching the big fluffy tarantula she takes to bed with her.

"Daddy, the elfs on the shelfs, in the bar, they were real, weren't they?"

"Well, they went back to Father Christmas, yes." Guppy says.

"Does that mean... does that mean I'm not getting any presents?" Brooke asks. "Because I'm sometimes naughty?"

"Come here." Guppy says, sitting down and plonking his daughter on his knee. "Do you know who gives you Christmas presents, here, in this house?"

Brooke thinks for a moment, then points at him.

"That's right. Me and your mum and your brothers and sister, and your aunties and grandmas and friends." Guppy says. "You might get a present from the Father Christmas in the bar, but at home, you get your presents from us. Do you know why that is?"

"Why?" Brooke asks.

"Because we love you." Guppy says. "And we love you whether you are naughty or nice. And that is what Christmas is all about."

He watches his fiery little girl absorb this. Then she nods, slowly.

"So it doesn't matter if I am naughty?"

"Oh it matters." Guppy says. "Being naughty can put you in danger and spoil things and it can make other people sad. But everyone is a bit naughty sometimes. It's part of learning and growing and becoming who you are. Remember the other day when Coral unravelled half her jumper pulling that loose wool?"

Brooke giggles. "That was funny."

"Yes it was a bit." Guppy admits. "But then she didn't have a jumper any more, and Mummy was cross because she's spent all that time making it, so it was a naughty thing to do. It's better to do nice things, like when you helped your team shoot a goal, and made me and Mummy very proud of you." He kisses her gently on the forehead, and then chuckles slightly.

"'There once was a girl who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. And when she was good, she was very very good, and when she was bad...'"

"'She was horrid.'" Brooke grins and slips off his knee and heads back towards the stairs.

"Want me to tuck you in?"

"I can do that." Brooke says, padding back up the stairs. She pauses just a second and adds. "If you got me a snake, don't forget to feed it."

"I think we made it very clear that we weren't getting you a live snake."
guppy_sandhu: (Default)
They'd discussed, together, how far exactly they ought to let Gil go.

All their kids had, at one time or another, cross dressed. As a rule, they tended to get hand-me-down clothes from Fran's sisters Hannah and Tanya, who both had daughters a bit older than Fry. Fry had worn his fair share of pink tops with butterflies on, and Coral and Brooke had worn Fry's old t-shirts with dinosaurs and diggers. So it wasn't really a surprise that Gil ended up with quite a few pink t-shirts, being the youngest of four, though he would also go for anything with a tractor on.

When he'd gone to dance, he'd wanted to dress like the others, most of whom were girls, most of the time, and they'd been okay with that. And he was always in the dressing up box at nursery school, and they were okay with that. And now and again he'd put on his sisters' dresses at home, and they'd been okay with that.

But Guppy worried that, especially now he went to school with older kids, that wearing girl clothes in public might get him teased. So they'd decided for now to try and restrict these things to dress up play.

He was thinking about this when he took the kids to a clothes shop to get outfits for their Christmas party. It was hopeless to try and guess sizes for surprise gifts. Coral's was inevitably too big, Brooke's inevitably too small, and Fry wouldn't wear anything unless he had first touched the fabric and smelled it and it had met his requirements.

Perhaps he could find Gil a sparkly waistcoat or something? He pauses over a rather dashing gold and black suit.

"Daddy? I like this one." Brooke says, reappearing with a pink sparkly dress.

"'I'd like this one please'. Hm, that is nice." Guppy says, looking at the price tag. Brooke is the best at picking out clothes, but can't read price labels well and can always be relied upon to grab something expensive. "You have good dress sense Brookie, but if we get you this for Christmas, you are not to wear it in the garden or anywhere dirty, okay?"

Brooke agrees. Guppy changes it for a slightly larger size, hoping that it might last a bit longer.

Coral picks out one in light blue after being prompted to put back a nightie and a bridesmaid dress.

He's just about to steer Gil towards the gold and black suit, when he sees Gil clutching a dark green and white dress.

"Pretty!" he says, turning around and showing Guppy.

And at that moment, it hits him.

People like Emcee, who only this week ended up in a huge pool of blood - people like him died for this stuff. Not just people who were Jewish died in the holocaust. People died for being different. For freedom of expression of gender and sexuality. For cloth sewn in different ways.

He crouches down and pulls his little boy into a hug for a moment, much to the surprise of the other children.

"Yes Gil, it's very pretty, you'll look great."

Fry and Coral exchange a glance.

"I hope Grandma won't be mean." Coral whispers.

"Grandma's mean every Christmas." Fry whispers back. Then adds to Guppy. "Dad, I don't have to wear a dress, do I?"

"No, you don't." Guppy says, straightening up. "But it's a party so you need to pick something from formal wear."

"I did."

"Minecraft pyjamas are not formal wear."
guppy_sandhu: (Default)
After Brooke shaved her head, Guppy and Fran had one of their rare arguments. As Guppy had feared, Fran thought Brooke should be able to 'express herself' and if she really wanted to have her hair like that she should be allowed. Guppy thought there was no way Brooke should be allowed to get away with shaving her head without permission.

In the end, Fran took Brooke firmly by the hand and stormed off with her to a late night hairdresser.

By the time she came back, admittedly, Brooke looked less ridiculous. The hairdresser had shaved some of the other side, and cut the top a little shorter.

Nonetheless, by the time they walk into the school playground the next day, all the parents turn and stare at Brooke. Esme-Rose's mum raises an eyebrow.

"More freedom of expression?"

"Mm yeah, this bit wasn't planned." Guppy says, not wanting to get drawn into too much conversation.

"Are you aware that thanks to your younger son, the entire class now calls my daughter 'Elmo'?" Esme-Rose's mum continues.

"I'm sorry, he doesn't mean it, he can't say her name..." Guppy says. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to have a word with the headmistress."

He takes Brooke up the playground to the head's office. He's decided that the strategy here needs to be united on all fronts. Fran's got her way on the eventual hairstyle, he and the school need to agree on the punishment.

Once inside, he sits Brooke down in front of the head's desk, and explains the story to her. Mrs Patel listens with a sober face. Guppy detects that she is as disapproving of the hairstyle as he feared.

"Well, Brooklyn." Mrs Patel says. "We don't allow our students to shave their hair; boys or girls. It's in the school rules."

Brooke looks a little bit more sober in front of the head than she did in front of her parents. Mrs Patel continues.

"Dr Sandhu, what role has Brooklyn got in the upcoming Christmas Play?"

"She's playing a king." Guppy says.

"Brooke, your punishment is that you will not be allowed to play a king in the play." Mrs Patel says. "I will ask Mrs Donkey to change you to a part where your hair is not seen, like the star. I won't have you representing the school looking like that. If you accept your punishment bravely, and do not cut your own hair again, we will say no more about it."

Guppy fears that Brooke might fly off into a tantrum. But instead, Brooke says meekly, "Yes Mrs Patel."

(What is that woman's secret?)

"Oh, and Brooklyn." Mrs Patel says. "You are not to go boasting about your hair to the other children, or I shall find a bigger punishment."

She lets Brooke go. Guppy lingers for a moment.

"Thank you." He says. "I think that was very fair."

Mrs Patel smiles. "Don't worry about it."

"Is Brooke... is she causing a lot of trouble for Miss Brimstone?" Guppy asks, anxiously. "Because the school has our full support and I would want to know if there's a problem."

"A problem?" Mrs Patel smiles again. "Dr Sandhu, Brooke is a horror at times, but that's entirely normal for a four-year-old; it's your other two who are more rule-abiding than average! I'll speak to Miss Brimstone, but please don't worry."
guppy_sandhu: (Default)
It wasn't often that Guppy ran into kids on his elderly care ward, certainly not in the staff areas. But this boy is in Dr Ahmadi's room, quietly attempting to do some maths.

"Hey, have you seen Dr Ahmadi?" Guppy asks the boy.

The boy looks up, startled. Suddenly, Guppy can see the family resemblance. This must be his colleague's missing nephew from Syria.

"Are you Joram?" he asks, gently.

The boy nods, then gets up and offers him a handshake.

"My name is Joram. What is your name?"

"Dr Guppy Sandhu." Guppy says. "Is your uncle around?"

Joram doesn't answer. Guppy suddenly realises that he doesn't speak a huge amount of English. Fortunately his colleague appears in the doorway. Joram smiles slightly and goes back to his maths.

"Hey, here's the audit you wanted." Guppy hands Dr Ahmadi the USB stick he'd brought in. "Your nephew is very polite."

Dr Ahmadi smiles. "He is. He is struggling a little with the language though."

"I bet he'll pick it up fast at school." Guppy says.

"We have to move his school." his colleague sighs. "Some of the children were spitting at him and telling him to go back to Syria to die. He understood that."

Guppy blinks in shock, and looks back at the little boy. He can't be much older than Fry.

"Poor kid, he's been through a lot. Have you got another school lined up?"

"Yes, he's going to one closer to our home." Dr Ahmadi says. "Berry Hill Top?"

"Oh, I've heard good things about that one." Guppy says. "Our neighbours bought a flat in the catchment area to get their son transferred there." He looks at the boy. "How come he has homework?"

"He's quite behind, he was a good student in Syria, but he missed a lot on the journey." Dr Ahmadi says. "He's just catching up a little."

Guppy considers for a moment.

"If he's short of friends, would he like to come on a playdate with my kids?" he says, spontaneously.

***

He was slightly relieved that Joram didn't bring the maths homework with him when the kid came over. His uncle stuck around and had a cup of tea with Fran, while Fry and Coral taught Joram the words 'Nintendo', 'game', 'win' and 'tennis'.

"Four children under eight? I don't know how you manage it." Dr Ahmadi says. "I have enough to learn with one."

"At least they're all toilet trained now." Fran says. "But yes, they can be a bit of a handful. Brooke has just been through the terrible threes. Her teacher sent a letter home today despairing that she keeps insisting that she wants to be a dragon."

Dr Ahmadi laughs. Guppy looks thoughtful.

"As in the creature or the ice hockey team?"

"... I hadn't thought of the hockey one, maybe that's what she's on about!" Fran grins. "Maybe she should try out, might burn off some energy. She can ice skate pretty well."

"At four? Surely she's too young." Guppy says, getting out his phone. No, wait, you can start at four. Who knew?

"Is it fair though," Fran says suddenly. "For her to do two big activities?"

"Maybe she could do karate and ice hockey instead of learning an instrument?" Guppy suggests, suddenly keen to do something positive with Brooke, who has really been... incredibly difficult over the last year.

***

When Guppy approaches the ice hockey coach with Brooke, the coach's face lights up. He assumes for a moment that it's because she's already pretty steady on skates, but then he sees the coach looking her up and down.

"Hey kid, I'm Scott." he says. "What's your name?"

"Brooke." Brooke says, grinning at him.

"How old are you, Brooke?"

"Four."

"When's your birthday?"

"November 5th." Brooke says.

Scott grins broadly.

"You the biggest kid in yer class?"

"Yes." Brooke says.

"Awesome. Might have to make you netminder." Scott says, straightening up. "All right Dad, off you go to the other side while I put Brooke through her paces."

Guppy realises later that this is to make sure that Brooke can't only perform with a parent present. He heads back towards the dividing rope, and goes to look for Coral, who is making her way around the edge of the rink. Being a perfectly competent skater himself, he moves easily over to her. She reaches out to take his hand.

"You're quite sure you didn't want to have a go?" he asks her.

"No thanks." Coral says. "I'm all wobbly."

They skate around together for a bit, before getting off the ice to watch Brooke through the glass. Apparently Scott hasn't decided where to put her yet, because she seems to be doing a bit of everything, and considering it's her first time, pretty well.

"Brooke, you did brilliantly." he says at the end. It's the first time in a while he's been able to say that, and it feels good. "Good job." He looks at Scott. "Can she come next week?"

"Sure thing." Scott says. "She's naturally sporty, she'll be on the team in no time. Probably end up in the net."

"Long as she burns off some energy." Guppy laughs.

"Oh she will, netminder is the hardest job, you're on the ice the whole match." Scott grins.

"Am I a Dragon now?" Brooke asks.

"Not quite." Scott says. "Welcome to the Newts."
guppy_sandhu: (Default)
It's been a good week at work. Aside from the usual work, one of the other consultants in his department has been searching for his missing nephew for weeks, and now has finally got a lead.

"The social workers think they may have located Joram." Dr Ahmadi told him one morning. "In Holby of all places."

"Perhaps your brother told him he had family here." Guppy says. "That sounds positive, anyway."

He didn't want to get his colleague's hopes up too much. Ever since Dr Ahmadi had heard of his brother and sister-in-laws' deaths in the Syrian war, they'd all tried to get the little boy found on social media. But with so many refugees in Europe, and so few making their way over to the UK, it had seemed like a needle in a haystack.

"So what happens now?" he asks.

"They're arranging a visit with the foster home." Dr Ahmadi smiles. "I have not seen Joram for many years, he was only three when I last saw him, he would be eight now. But we will talk and we will be able to find out if his father was my brother."

Guppy wishes him luck. As he leaves the office to go and pick the kids up from school, he passes a newspaper stand. The front pages of one of the papers criticises the country for taking refugee children. He stares at it for a moment, and sighs. A woman in front of him picks one up, makes a little haughty noise, and takes one of the papers to the cash register.

The kids had asked him what refugees were - especially after Fry's week at the community centre - but he'd given them quite a gentle version. What age should children find out the horrors of the real world? Joram has, and he's only a little older than Fry.

He is half way driving to Gil's nursery when he remembers that Gil started the nursery class today at Cherry Tree, the same school the older children go to, having reached an acceptable standard of toilet training. Apparently he had clung onto Fran's leg and howled this morning, which judging by all the emojis in her text had been rather harrowing.

He pulls into the school car park and heads into the nursery. He peeps into Nursery 2, hoping to avoid a prolonged conversation with Miss Brimstone, Brooke's teacher. No such luck. She spots him at once, and makes haste to get Brooke's coat.

"Dr Sandhu." she says, opening the door and looking rather flustered. "Do you think you could perhaps help Brooke think of a word beginning with O tonight that isn't a rude word?"

"I daresay I can." Guppy says. "Why, what did she come up with today for N?"

"Knob." Brooke declares, loudly.

"Brooklyn, that isn't very nice." Guppy says sternly. "Also, knob starts with a K, not an N."

"Yes." Brooke says, innocently. "Miss Brimstone writed it on the board to show me."

Guppy rolls his eyes, picks up her book bag, and goes to collect Gil from the next classroom. Apparently his first school day has all been a bit much for him; he's curled himself up on a cushion in the book corner asleep.

After some gentle prodding awake, Guppy scoops up his smallest small person. As he does so, a parent he recognises comes into the classroom.

"Oh, hey." Guppy smiles. "I didn't realise Esme-Rose and Anna came here."

The mum smiles politely. Esme-Rose runs up to her mum to put her coat on. Gil blinks blearily, then waves.

"Bye bye Elmo!"

Esme-Rose's mum gives him a look.

"Did he just call her 'Elmo'?"

"Oh, er, sorry, he's only little." Guppy says.

The other nursery children, who haven't had any success pronouncing Esme-Rose's name either up until this point, start also waving and saying 'Bye bye Elmo'.

"Ah, well, they're all quite little, er, see you at dance." Guppy says hurriedly, grabbing Brooke's hand and making a swift exit.
guppy_sandhu: (consult)
It had been hard for Guppy to explain to the older kids that they couldn't join in Gil's dance group's photoshoots. The appeal of dressing up as a super hero or a fairy in a photoshoot was something they could all get into.

"Why can't we all do it?" Coral had begged, in the morning while Guppy was getting Gil ready.

"Because his dance teacher only booked it for his class. Sorry Col."

They had had some debate on how to do Gil's costume. They had expected he would pick the fairy - he tended to pick whatever the other kids at dance did, and most of them were girls - but then he'd decided to specify that he wanted a 'Boy fairy'. After much google searching, they had settled on some shimmery shorts and no top.

As they enter the studio, the parents of the other kids turn and stare. Esme-Rose's mum raises an eyebrow.

"Look, before you start, there are a lot of boy fairies in fiction." Guppy says. "In Shakespeare for example."

"Oh, of course, it's nothing." Esme-Rose's mum shakes her head.

"Mummy? Me do that?" Esme-Rose asks, pointing to the super hero sample picture.

"No, silly." Esme-Rose's mum says.

Guppy rolls his eyes and takes Gil a little further away. But he can just about still hear Esme-Rose's mum continue.

"Why can't she, Mum?" asks Anna, Esme-Rose's big sister, who looks more Fry's age and is wearing a matching designer dress to Esme-Rose.

"Why do you think?" the mother says impatiently. "You won't impress anyone looking for models dressed like that. They're not looking for cross-dressers. Or people with... disfigurements."

Guppy stops dressing Gil, and looks down at the big scar on his son's chest. Gil twirls around in his fairy wings, then goes to look at himself in the mirror.

"Pretty?" He asks Guppy.

"Always." Guppy says, grinning at him. Who cares about the scar? Let Esme-Rose's mother drag her kids around to modelling jobs.

When it's Gil's turn to go in front of the green screen, the photographer looks at him with interest. And right in front of him, Gil is suddenly posing for the camera, and doing just as he's told, and clearly enjoying himself. Guppy has to wonder where the kid gets the... the instinct to perform from, because it certainly isn't from him or Fran.

At the end of the photoshoot, he watches a few of the others, before wandering with Gil to get changed. Is this the right environment for the little guy? Or should he follow his instincts and get away from most of these parents as fast as possible? But as he's leaving, the photographer comes up to him and hands him a business card.

"What's this for?"

"If you fancy getting him into modelling, give me a call." the photographer says. "He works well with the camera, and if you don't fancy mainstream, I know someone who's doing some work on body positivity in kids."

Guppy thanks him, and watches as he goes off with his camera, not stopping at Anna who is waiting in the hope of getting a card for her and her sister. After a minute, she sidles up to Guppy, rubbing her nose slightly in shyness and getting make up on her designer sleeve.

"Er hi, Gil's Dad? Can I please get that number? My Mum'll be really mad if you guys got a card and we didn't."

"Here." Guppy gets out his phone, takes a picture of the card, then gives it to her. "I really don't think we'll be using it, but just in case his mum wants to, now I have the number."

"Thanks. See you." Anna smiles slightly, waves at Gil, and darts off.
guppy_sandhu: (cmere)
Guppy waits in the wings next to the stage. He has no idea why he feels quite so nervous - after all, it's only Fran and the kids who know him in the audience.

Fran had insisted that since Guppy went to dance class with Gil, it was Guppy who should stand on stage with him doing the dance recital. It is therefore Fran's fault, he has decided, that he is currently the only male parent standing backstage in a yellow tutu, next to Gil who looks adorable in his duckling costume, and a group of mostly sniggering mums.

"Esme-Rose, point your feet!" one of the mums instructs in a whisper, rehearsing another toddler through the moves. Guppy watches the pair in bemusement, pretty sure that his own child doesn't even know which bit of him his toes are.

"Now come and watch your sister." Esme-Rose's mum commands. "You might learn something."

Guppy peers past the curtains as a much older girl, a little older than Fry, takes the stage. She twirls gracefully, does some acrobatics, and finishes to a great applause.

"Well done, that was incredible." he congratulates the girl as she comes off the stage. She grins at him through what is, on close inspection, a thick layer of make up.

"Anna, don't sickle your feet." the mother says.

Guppy opens his mouth to say something, but it's time for them to go on the stage, so he takes Gil's hand, goes on the stage and tries to think like a duck.

As the music starts, he feels his face going red. Gil and Esme-Rose seem to be doing far better than he is. But after a very long minute and a half, the audience is clapping, and the kids look happy, so he decides it was worth it.

And that's when Gil makes a run towards the edge of the stage. And instinctively he darts forward to grab him...

***

"You're quite sure you aren't concussed?" Fran asks, as she drives them home. "You definitely fell head first."

"I'm fine. I'll put some ice on my... everything." Guppy says.

"Dad, why did you fall off the stage?" Fry asks. "None of the children did."

"I thought Gil was going to fall off. But he stopped and I tripped over him." Guppy says.

"I can send that to You've Been Framed, right?"

"No, you can't. I will literally give you £250 not to send that to You've Been Framed."
guppy_sandhu: (cmere)
"I need to talk to you."

It was hard to pluck up the courage to approach Mrs Wolf after the class. It's been six weeks, and Gil is thriving, and Guppy's nervous that he's going to ruin it.

The dance teacher looks around. "Yes?"

"Gil... it wasn't clear from the start but, um, you know he's a boy, right?" Guppy says, watching his son still doing the cool down wriggles. "I just realised you called him a 'madchen' and I looked that up and that's a maiden and I wasn't sure whether he was going to get kicked out."

Mrs Wolf shakes her head, apparently unsurprised.

"Of course he won't be." she says. "On one condition."

"What's that?" Guppy asks.

"You never expect me to treat him differently for being a boy." Mrs Wolf says. "We have no blue t-shirts in stock at the moment in his size."

"That's fine, he likes pink." Guppy says. "I think he really likes dance too. He has three noisy older siblings and it's nice for him to do something for him. But this is totally new for me, so if he takes to it, what do I do? Like what age would he need to do sort of structured dance?"

"Just come to class." Mrs Wolf says. "I do music with movement classes until four, then I take them on to ballet."

"Do you teach any other boys?" Guppy asks.

"Yes, a couple. No special snowflakes." Mrs Wolf says. "I expect as much of my boys as my girls. No more, no less." She tilts her head. "You thought I would throw him out? Really?"

"No, but I felt bad for misleading you."

"You didn't." Mrs Wolf says. "It's hard to tell at his age."

The other parents, overhearing the conversation, give him and Gil a bit of a look. Gil is running round with Esme-Rose, a little girl about his age whose mother appears to be taking this Very Seriously (with notepads and everything). Esme-Rose's mum raises an eyebrow at Guppy as he comes back over.

"Well I think it's wrong." she says.

"Excuse me?" Guppy asks.

"Passing him off like a girl. Dressing him like that. Painting his nails. He'll grow up confused." Esme-Rose's mum says.

Guppy looks at her, then laughs suddenly.

"He's not even two. He can wear anything he wants. We offer him a choice of one colour or another in the morning. And right now, he wants to wear pink like his sisters and pink like his new friends at dance school. He laughs when we paint his nails. And it's cute." he scoops up Gil. "I never said he was a girl, you all just assumed and I was too shy to say."

The other mum humphs. Guppy continues.

"I have four kids. This is the least dramatic thing a parent has ever had to call me out on. So forgive me if I don't get very excited."
guppy_sandhu: (Default)
Once a week, the older two children go down to the leisure centre to learn martial arts. Guppy has been keen to make sure that they have a good grounding of it, particularly since they have their own door to the bar.

Usually he'd take the little ones swimming at the same time, but literally just as they get in, he looks down and sees a spreading purple cloud.

"Brooklyn! Don't pee in the pool!" he hisses. But it's too late, the damage is done, and the lifeguard orders everyone out while the water gets cleaned. Guppy feels his cheeks burning as he takes the little ones to get changed again, and they go out to watch the martial arts class through the door.

Brooke finds this rather more interesting anyway, as she will be four in November and will get to join in. Guppy watches with her, with a sense of pride. It's difficult for Fry to deal with people touching him, but he's learned not to flinch, he's learned some controlled movements to move people away. As for Coral, she is the smallest in the class, but she's determined enough to make up for it, and she's fast.

He watches Brooke with interest, wondering whether she will surpass her siblings at martial arts when she joins up. Brooke is a big girl, and always has been; like him and Fry she is tall for her age, though Fry is skinny. Coral and Gil are both tiny ex-premmies, like Fran's sister. In fact, with Brooke following the top 10% for height and weight, and Coral the bottom 10%, Guppy has the feeling that Coral might be about to be overtaken in size fairly soon...

As he's busy contemplating that his kids would make quite a well-balanced team of superheroes, he realises he's lost track of the youngest, and looks around quickly for Gil. He hasn't gone far, he's gone over the corridor and is peeping in a different windowed door. Guppy gets up and looks through the top window.

It's a room full of little people, sitting in a circle, mostly wearing pink, doing some sort of moves to twinkly music, jumping and turning around and wiggling their toes and things. Gil, who has a pink jumper with bumble bees on*, is copying the moves, wiggling his toes and bouncing around.

Suddenly, one of the instructors, an excited lady with a German accent, appears at the doorway.

"Look at the kleines Mädchen!" she exclaims, beaming at Gil. "Would you like to join us? First session is free!"

"Oh, thanks." Guppy smiles. That will fill the time nicely until the older kids finish martial arts. "Can my older one come in too? She's three." he adds, indicating Brooklyn.

"Of course! Well this is the one and a half to threes, but it'll give you a taste. I'm Mrs Wolff." she shakes Guppy's hand briskly before ushering them in to her class.

Brooke looks less than impressed at the twinkling music, some of which is in German and some of which is classical. She towers over the other children and, after a while, starts doing an imitation of the moves she was watching in the other class in time to the music instead. Guppy grins at her, and she grins back. Perhaps martial dance will take on. In any case, she's behaving herself, which means he gets to help Gil, who really appears in his element.

Mrs Wolff laughs with him at the end of the session, as the other parents are packing up.

"I think your older girl would rather be with Kitamura-Sensei." she says. "But she is not yet four?"

"Not until November." Guppy says. "Kitamura-sensei says they aren't insured for under fours. I have to admit we never thought about dance, whether she was the type as it were..."

"All types and shapes can dance." Mrs Wolff says, with a shrug. "I am a big lady, and I dance. I had a student with one leg once, in my older class, she dances. Dance is inside you, liking it is much more important. But Brooke, she is too old for this class, it isn't interesting for her. She can try my older class if she likes, but I will not be offended if she does not.

She turns and looks down at Gil.

"Your kleines Mädchen, likes to dance I think. You should come again next week, Gill!"

Guppy agrees; it's important for his youngest to get some time to do things that he wants to do, and there's no reason why he has to do the same as the others. But as he goes to collect Fry and Coral, there's something at the back of his mind.

"Mädchen..." he says to himself. He's heard the word somewhere. He pauses and types it into his phone, and then grimaces.

He waits until he gets home to Fran, then with the kids out of the room, explains what happened.

"I didn't realise because of the German, but she called him a little girl, and I'm sure she heard his name as Gill. He has that pink jumper on, and you know girls and boys look so similar at his age..."

"So?" Fran shrugs. "Just correct her next week."

"But all the others were girls, I think it might have been a girls' troupe." Guppy says.

"If he wants to join toddler dance, he should be allowed." Fran says indignantly. "So if she says no I will be having Words."


[*With four children in the house, and Fran a big disbeliever in gender colours, clothing tended to pass down. The bumble bee jumper had been cousin Abby's, who passed on anything to Fry that he didn't find too bright to look at.
Gil liked anything pink, but also anything pastel or shimmery, which was fortunate, as he received quite a lot of it.]
guppy_sandhu: (asskicking)
One minute he was training inside the ball, for what felt like hours, but can't have been. He moved in a digital world, facing little blurry enemies of mice and birds and all sorts.

And then suddenly the ball shakes, and Guppy finds the digital world fading, and suddenly there is a burst of light as he flies out of the ball into the grass.

He's a lot smaller than usual; Fry is standing towering above him, as he stands about the size of a puppy. Gil almost runs forward to pick him up, but then points.

"Birdie!"

Guppy looks around at the bird.

He knows enough from the digital game that he has to fight this bird. But which move does he go for?

"Fry, what do I do?" he asks.

"What moves have you got?" Fry asks.

"Laser dinosaur eyes, hair ruffle or tackle." Guppy says. "What's this bird?"

"It's a level three pidgey." Fry says. "Use the laser eyes."

"You're sure I won't go blind?" Guppy says.

"No, that never happens." Fry says. "But you should use an electric move on flying type."

"I thought I was water/fighting type." Guppy says.

"Laser eyes is obviously electric." Fry says. "You can have moves that are different to your type."

Guppy isn't sure he understands this game, but the bird is about to peck his face.

"Dad, Laser Dinosaur Eyes!" Fry shouts.

Guppy blinks. There is a brief red beam, and then the bird squawks and falls over. He has a whooshing sensation, and he's back to his usual size.

"Did I kill it?" he asks tentatively, prodding the bird with its foot.

"No, it just fainted." Fry says.

"Right. Well, good team work." Guppy says. "But now none of us are to wander off into the forest and touch things."

"Okay." Fry says. "Can we go home now?"

"Sure." Guppy smiles, scoops up the baby and toddler, and heads back towards the bar.

Fry follows just behind them; experimentally, he tries to see if he can recall his father into the ball, and when satisfied that the recall seems to have broken, puts it in his pocket to keep. A real Poké Ball is a worthy prize for his efforts.
guppy_sandhu: (aaaargh)
Brilliant, just brilliant. The poetic irony of being stuck in a stupid ball.

It's sort of floaty in here. And sort of two dimensional. But in front of him, he can sort of see a computer screen interface. It looks familiar, like the game Fran plays... of course... it's a Poké Ball.

The screen looks like something he can touch and click. So he starts off by clicking 'Status'.

Level 1 Guppysaurus
Ability: Wibbling
Type: Water/Fighting
Moves: Laser Dinosaur Eyes, Hair Ruffle, Tackle


Great. So, how does he do laser eyes? Will it make him go blind if he tries?

Everything jumps suddenly. Has one of the kids picked him up? They aren't going to start throwing this thing around, are they? He realises the two little ones are left alone with Fry - will he know what to do? He doesn't exactly have a track record for being nurturing...

But on the other hand, Fry probably knows how to get him out of his ball. And if Guppy has understood Fran babbling on about this game, it probably involves finding a pokemon, and throwing him at it.

He opens a menu called 'tutorial', and starts learning how to fight.
guppy_sandhu: (unbreakmyheart)
[oom: After this.]

After school, Guppy gets called into the classroom by Mr Irons, Fry's teacher.

"I asked the children to draw their islands of personality." Mr Irons says. "The things that make them who they are." He hands over the picture. "The fact that he completed the task is in itself an achievement, though he did find it very hard to express what his islands might look like."

Guppy looks at the picture. Family, friends, those are heartening to see. Fry's drawn his family and friends, that part was obviously easy. Then there's the biggest island in the middle with a trophy and a triangle on. A little to the right looks like it's made of piano keys and music. The one furthest right looks like it's probably made from minecraft blocks.

"What's this middle one?" he asks, getting the feeling that the biggest one, which was obviously something more abstract he found difficult to draw, was in Fry's opinion most important.

"He said it was about 'being good at things like maths'." Mr Irons says. "He got a letter today."

"What letter?" Guppy asks.

"Inviting him to national final of that maths challenge, but in the group closer to his age level." Mr Irons says. "I think I may have advised you badly." he adds quietly. "It looks like it's really important to him. And this turn of events puts a different spin on things, it could open a lot of doors for him."

"It could?" Guppy asks. He knows Fran wasn't keen on Fry doing any more of these intense competitions.

"He might not have stood much chance against the top ten to eleven year olds, but he certainly stands a good chance among the other children his age." Mr Irons says. "And if we could put a number on it - say find out he was top ten in the country - that might help with getting him into a mainstream secondary school. Aside from the fact that he seems to be taking interest in other children with the same target."

Guppy looks at the picture.

"Oh... bother." he says. "We've got this wrong, haven't we?"

"Maybe." Mr Irons admits. "We were worried about him being one-sided, about him getting too far ahead; but if he'd been super talented at sports or piano or anything else we would have done everything in our power to launch him forward."

"Instead we only thought about the problems later." Guppy says, sighing. "I'll talk to his mum."

"Talk to him." Mr Irons says, gently, pinning the picture on the wall with the others.

Guppy heads out into the playground, feeling somewhat guilty. Fry is in one corner, spinning round in circles. Before Guppy can go over, he is rugby-tackled and almost falls over.

"Careful Brooke!" He scoops the three-year-old up. "Did you have a good day?"

"Yeh!" Brooke says. "Me and Evie put broggly up our nose and it was like big bogies."

"Oh Brooke, you mustn't do that, it's dirty and rude." Guppy says gently. "Broccoli is for eating."

"We ate it after." Brooke says.

Guppy rolls his eyes and goes to collect Coral from the other side of the playground, where she appears to be pretending to be either a seed or a pokemon with her friends. Then he rounds up Fry, and they head back to the car.

"I hear you got invited to the finals." he says. "Good job!"

Fry sits in his seat and does up his seat belt.

"Mum said no more extra maths. That means I can't go."

"That was before you got through to the final." Guppy says. "Do you want to go really badly?"

"Yes." Fry says, flashing him a cautious look.

"Well if we let you do it, and we let you go all out, you have to keep some promises." Guppy says. "You have to promise not to do maths at sleep time. You have to promise to stop practicing if a grown up tells you that you did enough today. And you have to do your other homework first. If you promise those things, we'll let you do it, and we'll help you too."

"Really?" Fry asks.

"Yes really. We'll get you books and everything." Guppy says.

"Then I promise." Fry doesn't smile, because he often doesn't, but Guppy sees a happy little look in his eyes, and he flaps his hands a couple of times happily.

And as he drives back, he marvels in the forgiveness of kids when he doesn't know, or gets it wrong.
guppy_sandhu: (unbreakmyheart)
It was when Guppy had just got home from work that he got an inkling he was in trouble. Fran is loading the dishwasher with what appears to be some force. He circumvented it by heading straight for Gil, who is in the play pen in the living room.

"Hey Gil." he scoops up the smiling infant.

"Dada!" Gil makes grabby hands at his face.

Guppy bounces him, singing the teapot song quietly, as he goes into the kitchen. Fran won't yell at him in front of Gil...

"Hey." he says. "What's up?"

"Hey." Fran says, a little tersely. "This is up." She thrusts a gold certificate at him. "That maths contest you let Fry enter."

"Well that's great, isn't it?" Guppy says, trying to see the catch.

"Do you know what he said when he came home today?" Fran demands. "He put it on the table, and he said 'Rosie Sinclair beat me' and walked off."

"Who's Rosie Sinclair?" Guppy asks.

"A kid in year six." Fran says. She's not yelling, but she looks like she wants to. "Is this how it's going to be? Competing against kids three years older than him and then being disappointed with a fantastic result? And now he's upstairs cramming for the regional round, in just two weeks, which he'll be in for an even bigger disappointment because you can bet all the kids there will have been coached through the nose."

"Well could we relax our rule on training him just for once? If it's only for two weeks?" Guppy asks, rocking Gil who is looking a little nervous.

"What, so if Rosie Sinclair does three hours a day, we'll do four? What if Xiao Wang's doing five hours a day, shall we get him to do six? I don't want to raise him as a genius, Guppy, he's got enough things to worry about! I failed my maths GCSE and I got through life okay, he doesn't need to take it years early."

Guppy pauses. She has a point. But there's something else there.

"You failed your maths GCSE?" he asks gently. "You never told me that."

Fran sighs and picks up the certificate.

"Yeah." she says, putting her head in her hands suddenly. "I took Key Skills before I became a physio. But I can't bear to see Fry disappointed in himself when he's better at maths age seven than I'll ever be."

Guppy puts Gil down on the floor, and slips his arm around her.

"It's a shame he's not old enough to decide things like this for himself." he says, slipping an arm around her. "He can't think far ahead, he can only think about how things are now. He thinks we're holding him back as it is."

"I know." Fran says. "I know he's never going to be a normal kid, but I've got to be honest Guppy, I'd rather he was sitting on minecraft than up there cramming."

They sit and think about it for a bit.

"I think..." Guppy says after a while, watching Gil giggle as the new puppy, Pooh, licks his feet. "I think we should let him do the regionals - I doubt he'll get through to the nationals - and after that we try and distract him with one of his other hobbies in his schedule. It's gardening season now and he likes that. And he and Coral have got chess tournaments coming up, so they can do that."

Fran nods, though doesn't look entirely convinced this will work.

"And now I'm going to talk to him about this certificate." Guppy says, picking it up and going up to the attic to find Fry.

Coral is half way up the stairs, playing some complicated game involving dinosaurs and a teddy and some drinking straws. After cautioning her not to leave anything that anyone could fall over, he carries on up to the attic rooms and knocks on Fry's door before entering.

Fry's room is immaculate, as always. He's not, it turns out, poring over a book, but instead is lying on his bed with his Nintendo DS. On closer inspection, it's still a maths game, but it's a game nonetheless.

"Hey Fry." Guppy says. "Pause in a minute?"

He waits for Fry to finish the level and pause, as from experience interrupting him in the middle of a game goes down very badly. Then his oldest son sits up and looks in his general direction.

"Hello Dad."

"I saw you got a gold certificate." Guppy says, sitting next to him on the bed. "Good job!"

Fry shrugs. "Rosie Sinclair beat me."

"If you won a Pokémon battle with one Pokémon still usable, and Rosie won with two still usable, is it any less of a win?" Guppy asks.

"No." Fry says, after a moment. "A win is a win."

"Right. And what you did was an epic win." Guppy says. "So it doesn't matter if Rosie Sinclair got a few more points than you did, you both got gold, and you both got through to the regionals."

"Huh." Fry makes a noise of agreement. The logic does seem sound.

"Now Fry." Guppy says seriously. "If you want to go to the regionals we'll take you and we want you to do your best. But there's going to be a lot of kids there, and nearly all of them will be older than you, and some of them will have been forced to train many hours a day. We won't be doing that because it's important that you do lots of things, like get enough sleep, and because you like to do other things like play the piano and play minecraft. So we'll take you if you understand that you will probably not be the top scorer and can go and compete without feeling sad. Do you think you can do that?"

"I guess." Fry says, shrugging.

"Good lad. Shall we put your epic win certificate on your wall or on the kitchen board?"

"My wall." Fry takes it off him and takes it to the cork board, where he pins it carefully next to his 25m swimming.

Guppy smiles at him, before heading back downstairs. But a part of him feels lost. This situation just isn't in the parenting manual.
guppy_sandhu: (pooh)
Guppy had got the warning when he'd seen the little dog appear in Milliways, sleeping by the fire, just a tiny bit translucent.

Sparky has been on her last legs a long time.

He rushed home in order to find her before the kids could see, and had wrapped her up in her favourite blanket, and told the kids that she'd gone to Milliways to live. It wasn't a lie. Fran, who didn't go to Milliways, had to excuse herself for a few tears, but Guppy stayed with the kids and talked about Doggy Heaven and how it looked like they'd still get to see Sparky. They talked about how Sparky was a good dog, but she was very old, and that being a ghost would let her be young and free again.

They buried her body in the garden, and Coral and Fry helped plant a dogwood bush over the top.

"Fran." Guppy says as they go inside, squeezing her hand. "Please don't bring home another dog without consulting me. Sparky was particularly non-threatening."

"I won't." Fran says, wiping her eyes.


***


"Fran."

"Yes?"

"It is literally eighteen hours since I asked you not to get another dog without consulting me."

"We're just fostering him Guppy."

Guppy looks down despondently at the puppy. Okay, so it's small now, some sort of little white sausage dog thing, but it might grow up big and bitey and growly.

"This is a terrible idea. We have two very small children. Is it safe around children?" he asks.

"He's trembling in the corner of the utility room Guppy, he'll be fine as long as nobody crowds him." Fran says firmly. "Look Guppy, I'm sorry, I know what you said, but I just went to the shelter to look, and they said he was going to be put to sleep!"

"Why?" Guppy asks, suspiciously, looking at the puppy.

"Well he's... a little bit deaf." Fran says. "White puppies often are."

"How much is a little bit."

"A little bit like... profoundly?" Fran says. "Guppy, I'll do all the training, he'll be fine, I promise. The kids have seen him now, please don't send him back."

Guppy puts his head in his hands. Like they need any more complicated members of the household! Is four children, one with special needs, not enough? But then the puppy comes out of his corner, and stands at the baby gate, and Looks up at him with big, different-coloured eyes. Something about that stare, that says 'give me a chance'...

"Fine." he says. "We can foster him, but any signs of aggression and he goes straight back, okay?"

"Deal." Fran grins, knowing full well that the puppy will be staying.

They meet in the living room to discuss a name for the puppy. Fran suggests they stick with their aquatic theme by going for 'Starfish', Star for short. Fry suggests Cylinder. Coral suggests Olaf, immediately vetoed by her brother. Brooke eventually shouts her own suggestion - 'Poo!', which the other kids approve of.

"We are not calling the dog Poo." Guppy says. "I am not shouting that in the park."

"You won't have to shout it in the park, he's deaf." Fry points out.

"We could spell it with an h, like Pooh bear?" Fran suggests. "It'd make it easier at the vet."

"I'm not going to have any say in this am I?" Guppy rolls his eyes.
guppy_sandhu: (cmere)
"Do you think this gets more nerve-wracking or less?" Guppy asks Fran as they sit in the hall for parents' evening.

"Well let's put it this way." Fran says. "We've had pretty much all the bad outcomes before, so we should be experts at how to make our faces react by now."

They debate whether to divide and conquer or go together, and decide to go together rather than do rock paper scissors as to who gets to do Coral. Brooklyn's teacher has a free spot, so they decide to get her out of the way first.

"Brooklyn is an excellent reader, she's clearly very bright." her teacher says. "It's a shame she refused to co-operate in the IQ test you took her for."

Guppy grimaces, remembering. Since they had tested Fry at a young age as part of his special needs developmental assessment, it had seemed unfair to not let the other kids take the test also. Coral had scored surprisingly highly too, because the test didn't expect her to read, but Brooke had simply refused to co-operate after the first fifteen minutes. The professor testing her had suspected that actually, she was also very bright, but part of her personality meant she wasn't interested in such menial things as IQ tests.

"She needs a lot of exercise if you want her to behave." Fran is saying. "Don't be fooled by her chunkiness, she was born chunky, but she's all Tigger inside."

Brooke's teacher laughs. "Yes, we do try to channel her inner Tigger. She hasn't led an escape attempt recently, so I think we are winning."

They head to Coral's teacher next. This one is usually the easiest, and sure enough Mr Walker has only good things to report about Coral, especially as her reading has got better with her special glasses.

"The only thing is." Mr Walker says. "Since the twins left, I think Coral's found it tough making a new best friend. Now don't get me wrong, you can put Coral with almost any kid in the class and she gets on well with them, and she's always kind to everyone, but I think she gets left out a little. If things don't pick up by Christmas, we'll look at finding her a buddy."

"Thanks." Guppy says. "Is there anything in particular we can help her work on?"

"I don't think there's anything specific." Mr Walker says. "She's a sweet kid and I'm sure she'll work it out soon. Maybe organise a few playdates for her?"

The Sandhus feel relatively optimistic approaching Fry's teacher, Mr Irons, who Fry seems to have been getting on really well with. Waiting in the queue though, even out of earshot, it seems that not all the parents are enjoying their evening with Mr Irons. Bethany's mum practically storms off in a huff, pulling out her phone to presumably call her ex-husband and complain.

"Is it bad that I'm glad that's not us for once?" Fran whispers.

Guppy gives her a grin, then they take their place at Mr Irons' desk. The teacher gives them his small, reserved smile, and then begins.

"Alexander's classroom behaviour is on the whole good, with the occasional lapse usually provoked by overstimulation or anxiety. He has learned to deal with planned changes to the classroom layout, and with a pre-warned change in the seating arrangement. He has also learned to tolerate a short planned interruption to an activity providing he is able to complete it later.

Academically he is top of the class in maths, though he has improved in all subjects by an average of 12%. His reading age is that of a thirteen year old in terms of vocabulary, but he lacks understanding of abstract concepts. He struggles with comprehension exercises and composition. Similarly with history, his memory is good but he struggles with any form of imagination questions. I think he has some room to improve there in time, but really his maths is his biggest problem now."

Guppy notices suddenly the emptiness of his desk; unlike every other teacher there, Mr Irons doesn't have a single piece of paper, no notes, no prompt. 12%? Where did that even come from? But then he catches the last line, and blinks.

"His maths is his biggest problem? But he's good at maths."

"Well he is." Mr Irons says. "But more importantly he finds maths relaxing, because it has right or wrong answers, with no ambiguity. If you took any bright child and were able to engage them in sustained maths practice for, as in his case, an extra hour a day, with a particular keenness to learn new topics, they too would improve at a rate far above and beyond that of their class. This has been demonstrated in several cases nationwide by parents who have, say, coached a child with normal IQ to get their GCSE years early."

"You've lost me." Fran says. "What's the problem?"

"At Alexander's current rate of maths progress he will be at GCSE level by the age of twelve." Mr Irons says. "Now while he is at this school, where every kid is learning at their own pace in the book, it doesn't really matter how high up he gets. Myself and the teachers in the classes above are all capable of coaching the early senior school years when it comes to maths. But Alexander has skipped a year, which means he will be hitting senior school at ten."

"So it'll be difficult to accommodate him?" Guppy asks.

Mr Irons nods.

"You really have three options - you try and speed him up, which I don't advise, because it'll impact his other learning. You could try and hold him back, which we have in the past and it hasn't worked. Or we carry on at the current rate, and worry about the problem later - but either way, I wanted to make you aware that this isn't going to be easy."

"We'll carry on as we are for now." Fran says. "But thanks for telling us."

"I have spoken to the headmistress." Mr Irons says. "And if nearer that time Alexander is struggling with other subjects and you wanted him to stay in primary school another year, we could always put him back into his original academic year. I just wanted to make sure you had all the options."

"We really appreciate all the effort you've put in for Fry." Guppy says. "All the classroom arrangement and low distraction environment and stuff. He really seems to get on well in your class."

"You're welcome, but I arrange all my classrooms that way." Mr Irons says. "I like things to be in a logical order myself."

As they leave the parents' evening, they can hear Bethany's mum still yelling on the phone to her ex husband.

"Well if you didn't have to have a restraining order and were able to come to parents' evening, maybe you could ask him why he thinks Beth has ADHD!" she snaps, before catching sight of the Sandhus and finishing the call. "What?!" she snaps again. "Is it payback time? Do you want a gloat?"

"Of course not." Guppy says calmly. "We didn't know before and we won't tell anyone else."

"Beth doesn't have ADHD." her mother says. "He's a special education teacher, he's looking for anything medical."

"I'm sure." Guppy says gently. "But Mr Irons has been a real ally to Fry and... if there is anything in what he said about Bethany look, we've been through this sort of thing a lot, and if you want to talk about it..."

"No. But thank you." Bethany's mother pushes past them and leaves.

Guppy watches after her, but Fran frowns thoughtfully.

"I don't think Mr Irons is just an ally." she says.

"How do you mean?" Guppy asks.

"Didn't you notice? He rattles off stats, he barely smiles, he likes logic and order and lack of distractions." She looks up at him. "He's autistic too, Guppy."

Guppy watches the angry parent getting into her car and turns back to Fran.

"I think you might be right. Better make sure we keep it to ourselves."
guppy_sandhu: (cmere)
It hadn't escaped Guppy's notice that Fry had been acting oddly since he came back from George's House. But he didn't work out what was going on until stumbling on it quite by chance about a week later.

He had been getting up to Brooke at around four in the morning, because she'd got herself overheated in the warm Autumn weather and got herself in a tizz. And it was quite by chance that he noticed at the bottom of the stairs that there was a light shining under Fry's door in his attic bedroom.

He creeps upstairs and pushes open the door. Fry freezes, caught in the act with the book in front of him.

"What are you doing?" Guppy asks quietly, not wanting to wake Coral in the next room. He comes over and looks at the book, frowning. "Why are you doing maths at four in the morning?"

Fry looks at the table.

"I... I did a bad thing and if I confess you're going to take the book away. So I tried to finish it before I confessed."

Guppy frowns and takes the book.

"Maths book five? Where did you get this? Because we agreed you weren't going to have stuff like this in your room because you don't sleep. Same reason why you can't have a computer or piano keyboard or a games console in here."

"I bought it off the internet." Fry says, in a small voice. "But I paid back the money, I put it in mum's purse after I got my pocket money."

"Fry!" Guppy stares at him. "Why did you do that?"

"Because George already did book five and she's going to do the year six maths competition next term and I won't be able to compete with her."

"You don't have to beat everyone at everything." Guppy says. "It's not important if you win a maths competition."

"It's important to me!" Fry says. "You wouldn't let me do any maths this summer, you made me go to summer school to learn how to tie my shoes and do traffic lights and have table manners."

Guppy sighs.

"Look, Fry. There's so many things to learn in this world. Mum and I are proud that you're good at maths, but even if you do all your maths exams early, you're still going to have to go to school, to learn all the other things. We don't mind you being ahead but if you go too far ahead, you're going to be bored in class.

"But if you want to enter this maths competition, we will let you study for it for a little while in the day, if you give me or Mum the book so that you don't sit in your room doing it at night. And as long as you promise me you'll never buy stuff using our accounts on the internet without asking again. If you do, this book goes away forever."

"I promise." Fry says quietly, handing over the maths book. As an afterthought, he hands over the other two he bought too.

Guppy sighs and shakes his head, thinking he must be the only parent in the world who has to stop their child learning.

"Fry, can I have your rules book please?"

Fry hands it over. Guppy turns to the front cover and writes in front of all the other rules.

'Rule #1
If you don't ask because you know we would say no, chances are you know it's wrong.'
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