Is it too much for your kid or simply a new challenge to overcome?

‘I don’t want to go to school,’ wails my eldest.  

‘I’m not going to school either,’ echoes my youngest.

‘Why not,’ I ask my eldest and try to tune out the barrage of whining that comes from my youngest, something about if her sister doesn’t go then she shouldn’t have to go because that’s not fair etc, etc.

‘I want to go to an English school,’ she says and then bursts into tears.  ‘I only have one teacher who speaks English, they all speak Dutch.’

‘Are you having trouble understanding what they are saying?’

‘Yes.’

‘Does it feel really hard?’

‘Yes,’ she wipes her face and then tightens her jaw.  ‘I’m staying home.’

‘You are both going to school.  I know it’s a hard thing.  I have my dutch school today, and it’s really hard.  I haven’t done my homework and I don’t want to go, but I need to.  Sometimes we have to do hard things.  Remember when you started kinder, you didn’t want to go, but after a while, you loved it.  And when you changed classes, you didn’t want to.  That was another hard thing, but you did it, and you know, after a while you loved that too.  And then when we came to Amsterdam, you started at a new school, and you didn’t want to do that either.  But you stuck with it, and now you miss it, that’s how much you grew to love it.  Let’s give this school a little more time, you know, you might grow to love this one too.’

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Homeschooling… No, well, maybe…

‘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.

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Finding the right school when you don’t speak dutch is like finding a needle in a haystack.

My daughters are now enrolled in four schools and on the waiting list for another six. To be fair it’s across two different countries, but still, it’s a lot of paperwork, a stupid amount of money, and a whole lot of stress.

I thought I was done with the school issue. My husband and I have been having the same debate (read argument) for the last four years. Private school versus Waldorf education. I’m pro Steiner, but my husband has equally strong views, both about that ‘hippy school’, and about the superiority of private education. Of course I am the one doing the reading, filling out the paperwork and dealing with the school meetings, so his opinion has very few time constraints, mine keeps encroaching on my day, filling the hours I am supposed to be spending writing.

In Melbourne, we had time to luxuriate about our different opinions, my eldest has been enrolled in both his and my preferred schools since she was a year old. We’ve been more lax with our youngest, because once one is in, it’s much easier to get the other in. Having just moved to Amsterdam, and then deciding we like it here and might actually like to stay, has really made life difficult. Our eldest turns five in September. That’s only four months away, as each school likes to remind me. And each of the schools we want has at least 10 other kids ahead of her. Of course, it’s made all the more difficult because 1) she doesn’t speak dutch and so cannot go to a dutch school and 2) I am really fussy about schools. I eliminate half of them because I don’t believe in their philosophies – where as my husband is inclined to just ‘apply everywhere and we’ll see where the chips fall.’ Of course, I’m the one filling in the paperwork, so it’s very easy for him to say that!

We have success at one school, but they want an immediate payment. It’s not our first choice, it’s not actually in our top 5. We decide to gamble her place, and take another spin on the education wheel. But we are already paying for two different kinder programs, the one she was attending in Melbourne because you have to give a full terms notice and we didn’t know if we were going to need to come back, and the one she is attending now, here in Amsterdam. I’m sure we could have bought first class ticket to anywhere in the world with the amount of money we’ve spent on school application and acceptance fees.

At this point it looks like I’ll be homeschooling, and my sanity is not sure this is a viable option. I call my husband, who has been chasing our number one school option.

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