‘I’m going to school today,’ says my youngest, dancing down the stairs to the kitchen. She’s been home sick for the whole week, and while I’m hanging for her to go back so I can write, so I can work, so I can rest, burdened as I am with the virus she so kindly sneezed all over my face. There’ nothing like being splattered with a loved one’s mucus. But she fell asleep at about 3pm yesterday, slept until after 5pm and then went back to sleep again at 7.30pm. Unheard of for her. This is the girl who I had to force to drop her day sleep at 2 years old because whenever she slept she would remain wide awake until well after 11pm. Enough to destroy what was left of her mother’s sanity. So I was not quite so convinced that school was a good idea just yet. Not matter how much I wanted it.
Her older sister, who had decided the night before that she would not be going to school today as it was ‘unfair’ that she had to go when her sister did not, woke up with a raging fever. She’s a powerful little being. I am not sure if she too was sneezed all over or if she just willed the fever into existence to prove a point.
As soon as my youngest got wind of this strange turn around, and realised that she would be going to school while her sister stayed home, the water works started. ‘I don’t want to go to school,’ she wailed so loudly I’m sure our neighbours were left wondering what strange and unusual punishment we had concocted for our three-year-old.
My husband was clear, she was well enough for school. As she writhed around on the floor, I considered it might be possible, but I was reluctant to send her back too early. Plus, there was no way I could get her sister into the bike to go and pick her up from school should we be wrong. So home she stayed.
A year or so ago I started following a delightful blog about a woman who had seven children, for that I was ready to erect a statue to her. But she also chose to homeschool. I was wondrous and amazed. I love my children but the idea of homeschooling makes my ovaries want to crawl up into my spine. My biggest challenge as a mother has always been the relentlessness of it all. When they were both home from school, trying to get any time to myself was near impossible and it exhausted my spirit. I loved playing with them, and caring for them, not so much the washing, folding and putting away of all of their clothes, and I definitely grew to despise scraping egg yolk from tables. I love setting up spaces for them, creating cupboards that make sense of their toys, and shelves to organise all of the creative outlets we explore together. We collect spring blossoms to hang on their book tree (a book case shaped like a tree, branches and all), we paint, we craft, we colour, we cook and take care of our plants, but when my husband is a away for weeks at a time and they are sick, I return to those earlier dark days, of sleep deprivation and relentlessness and my spirit shudders. No reprieve. No time. No space. ‘I want…’, ‘I need…’, ‘get me …’
And so I admired this woman for being able to embrace the everydayness of her life, the relentlessness of her tasks, the unfinished state of her projects, the lack of personal space, within her body, and in her home. Those babies of hers are always around her. Always. And she seems happy.
‘I could never home school,’ I told my husband one night, the blue glow of my phone dancing on the wall, as I read another post of hers. I laughed with her at the unfinished washing, and the sense of chaos that life with young children can create. I admired her, but in the way that I was grateful her life was not mine.
At the end of my daughter’s first week at this school, her dutch teacher said that my daughter was now ready for full days. So on Monday when I brought her for her first full day, having prepped my anxious child all weekend, he said that I should pick her up at 1pm.
‘I’m sorry, 3pm?’
‘No,’ he said, ‘1pm.’
‘But you told me on Friday that she was ready for full days this week.’
‘Yes, but on Tuesday, and Thursday. Monday, Wednesday and Friday she will finish at 1pm.’
‘That wasn’t clear. I can’t pick her up at 1pm.’ On and on this discussion went, until finally he brought his colleague, who marched over and started speaking at me. Her short brown hair, bobbed up and down as she made her point, letting me know in no uncertain terms that this was my mistake and that the school guide clearly states that children do not attend full days until you are told by a teacher.’
I felt like a student in the principals office. ‘But I was told,’ I tried but she wasn’t really listening. She was midway through her speech and had points left to make. When she finally concluded, she brought her hands together, and turned on her heel and walked away. I stood there, cod fish like, trying to fathom what had just happened, and simultaneously trying to quell the spite that made me want to pull my kid out of that school that second, as well as nurture the part of me that wanted my daughter no where near a person who would be so punitive during a misunderstanding.
The final straw for the school came with the discovery that the playground was in fact a thoroughfare between two hotels, that had a set of three bars, a metal climbing igloo, and a see saw. There were no trees, no plants, nothing green, or real, or natural. And the kids would spend about half an hour out there, dodging bikes and people as they tried to play.
So I applied to numerous schools and even managed to secure her a place at a great local montessori school, but she refused to go as the teacher’s spoke dutch. No matter how much I wanted to pull her out of the school, I couldn’t throw her into an environment where she could not understand what was going on. She did not want to, and I didn’t want to force her, regardless of how well other kids might adapt.
Since then the question of homeschooling has come up a few times, mostly as a bit of a joke I have with myself, but even I have to admit it may not be a bad option until she is ready for a dutch school. And so, I’ve been reading. Books about education, about different philosophies, about Finnish schools, where kids don’t start school until they are 7 and go for half a day and never get homework. I love it and I want to move to Finland, my husband shakes his head. So I read about forest kindergartens, and re-wilding our children. I embrace the idea that there is no bad weather only bad gear, and so spend my children’s college funds on winter gear so they can play outside, rain or snow. I buy a new coat rack, to hold all of our new coats, and felted pants, and snow pants, and down-filled jackets and wind proof jackets, because our other coat rack keeps tipping over. I fill a box with scarves and gloves and beanies so that they will always have a clean, dry set.
And while they are home, I create a rhythm. Breakfast, and then we work; puzzles, writing, letters, counting, then we stop for creative/imaginative play, and then we walk in the park. We prepare lunch together, my youngest daughter complained about not being able to open the fridge. So I brought up the small fridge that was sitting downstairs doing nothing, and connected it, alongside their oven. Now they can make their own snacks, and drinks, and I don’t have to listen to the whinging and demanding.
After lunch, we rest. We read, and then we head back outside. I’ve set up a mud kitchen and they create wet leaf sculptures that terrify my husband’s need for neatness and order. Then we strip off all our clothes and come back inside to draw quietly, paint or play games. It’s a rhythm that suits us, and it is surprisingly soothing.
For the last month, my girls have been sick on and off, more on than off, and they have spent more days at home than they have at school. And as I satt, on the floor printing out page after page of counting and number worksheets, of dot to dots and mazes, it occured to me that I was beginning to embrace a homeschool approach.
So when my youngest decided she was ready to head back to school, I wasn’t so sure. I quite liked the girls being home. I quite liked this new rhythm, this new flow we were creating together. And I liked the dailyness of our interactions.
‘Let’s get all the edge pieces,’ says my eldest, directing her younger sister on the fine art of puzzles, her way.
Her sister finds a piece and fits it neatly where it belongs. ‘You’re so clever,’ says my eldest, joy and pride tinging her voice.
‘Yes,’ says her sister, pleased and seriously chuffed with herself, ‘I am very clever.’
It’s such a sweet moment, and I can’t help but think there might be something to this whole homeschooling thing. Maybe I could do this. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
‘Stop it! No! I’m not sharing!’ It is my eldest, her obstinate voice ringing loud and true from the lounge. My youngest wails, and I know she is writhing around on the floor, hoping her pitiful, helpless display will get her what she wants.
Then again, maybe a month is enough.