The sentence that as been proferred most often since i became a home educator is “oh i couldn’t do that!” Most people give one of 2 reasons ‘i just don’t know enough’ (which is, i suspect, a thinly veiled version of ‘no one but teachers know enough and i, unlike you, know my limits’) or ‘i just couldn’t spend that amount of time with my children.
I remember that feeling. I remember taking my eldest two to nursery and then playgroup and being utterly relieved to have time without them; i remember first Maddy and then Amelie going off to nursery and being glad of time to “do things properly” with Fran. It all seems a very long time ago now and really quite hard to believe that for my first 2 1/2 children, i was an avid user of “the system”, even if i had no plans to send them all to school. It was really only Amelie’s rejection of nursery that changed things and i suppose it is inevitable that the gradual moving away from that system, alongside Josie’s firm “mummy only” stance, has made me forget who i used to be. I still stand absolutely by the decision that playgroup for Fran (not nursery, i regret that) and nursery for Maddy were good for them, but i doubt i would do it again. But i do wonder at times about the overall effect; it is certainly true that my elder girls are quieter, less character filled children compared to my younger ones and it interests me (rather than worries me) that they are so when they were the ones who had out of the home childcare. But there were other factors at play, so i’ll never know.
Talking to my sister last night, and moaning about school, i was reminded again about the difficulty of being a long term HEer. I’m very comfortable in my skin about it now and i make no apologies for it. I don’t expect anyone to apologise to me if they send their children to school because they think it is best any more than i think they should apologise if they send them to bed at 7pm or toilet train from 2nd birthdays or use Gina Ford methods for babies. And that is the problem; it’s a long time since i saw HE as being a separate thing from parenting; i don’t worry (unless asked or put on the spot) about educational provision as a separate thing from family life, i can’t imagine willingly keeping records on education or ticking boxes about it. I’m intrigued at times by “progress” and the like, under presure i’ll fret about it but try to separate out family life from educational provision and i’m sunk really.
It became much easier to spend time with my children the more we did it; i’m an awfully long way off perfect (in fact, according to my friends and the ticking of boxes on Facebook i am apparently the very worst mother you can imagine) but in general i know that spending time together has improved our tolerance, our understanding of each other and our ability to communicate. It’s something i feel almost tigress like in defence of; i happen to believe that bringing children up so that they have a long and dependable experience of a tribe/clan/family that functions well, weathers storms and can withstand constant togetherness, constant sameness, is actually how you build children who can adapt. I’m not a believer in exposure to pain and confusion teaching you to deal with those things and i’d say that the state of our communities bears this out. I believe that being stable, experiencing stable gives you a basis from which you can be firm but adaptable in the face of change. I no more believe that experiencing distress teaches you to handle distress than i do that being bullied teaches you to stand up to a bully.
And so, when i appear to stand up for HE as opposed to school, i think what i am really standing up for is our choice of family life, not educational choice. We’ve chosen not to separate things out and so they have become intertwined to a point where i don’t see them apart. I see my children developing emotionally and learning as part of the same thing. Fran going to school has rocked away at that a bit; everything changes, not just her educational choice, but everything. If she stays at school it is certainly true that she will never be who she would have been if she was HE’d, (even if who she is instead is perfectly lovely) but it is also true that we will never be the same family again. Something is altered and far more than how she develops educationally, or even emotionally, i’m unnerved and anxious about how we change as a family. It might be good, it might be better, but it will never be the same.
I do appreciate that some of this is selfish. I’ve got some pretty small limits on emotional tolerance when it comes to change. Over the last 3 years i’ve discovered, or perhaps simply come to terms with, the fact that i’m simply permanently damaged in terms of normal, sensible, likeable ordinary-ness. I’m constantly at war with myself and i don’t like, nor ever really will like, the person i am. I don’t like how i look or how i feel, how i talk or how i react, how i see the world or how i interact with it. I fight a pretty constant war against very dragging depression which i deeply resent and which i don’t get much better at dealing with. It’s like being made of glass and filled with water but with a thin cylidrical core which is made of overlapping scales, filled with a very poisonous substance inside it. As long as that stays very straight and the scales don’t bend apart at all, i’m fine – but if i move too much or bend too much or let those scales slip apart, the poison leaks out into my every day self, the water, and spoils everything, poisons everything. Every new thing, every argument or difficult issue is a bend in the core and i’m never quite sure how well the seal will hold up. It’s trying.
And so i have learned to stay still, not move too much, not go to far, not do anything that is too difficult or might involve facing anything that might move the scales. And that isn’t very comfortable really; it’s too rigid to have much of a life. But life when the poison leaks is just too unbearable. Things like the everydayness of our life changing are frightening, not frightening because they are bad, but difficult because i get anxious about the idea of being anxious. I don’t actually mind the change, but the idea of initiating it and dealing with the consequences scare me very much.
Fortunately, life with 4 children changes quite a bit and however much i kick and scream in private, we do do it – and it turns out okay. The school thing has been difficult – whether i’m anxious about the effect of it on Fran, or on the family, our way of life, i’m also struggling with the fact that i’m frightened that it will show up that i’ve failed, or that i’ll fail in supporting her in going. I’m frightened of it going wrong and then me being rendered disfunctional when she needs me by one of the scales moving. And the fact that on top of school, i’ve also just been through hell and high water over my marriage and, however fixed that is sometimes i just choke on how close we came to disaster. I’m trying very hard to be calm and reasonable about the fact that i’ve been trying to get pregnant for 7 months now and failing to do so quite dramatically. I can’t ask for medical help on that, which i accept and i can’t reasonably even be grumpy about the fact that it isn’t happening. In fact, mostly i’m quite calm about it – i can accept that it will simply be a “not meant to be” better than an “i wasn’t allowed to and i’m angry about it”. In fact, i’m working very hard on keeping the scales flat over it all and i’m succeeding, but i’m very aware of the fragility of that just now.
And so family life moves on; inevitably the things about school that worried me the most have been the ones that needed worrying about the least. This week Fran made a friend, got accused of cheating because she produced good work and i was told she wasn’t odd and they hadn’t noticed her. She’s breezed past a friend issue that would have floored me as a child. Her sisters are missing her but i’ve been proud of the fact that her roots are clearly deep and strong and she’s getting a chance to explore something and make some decisions.
I suspect, as an HEing family, we are in our last week of a world we know and that when the HE review is published, things will never be the same. I suspect the days of being a responsible adult deemed responsible for our children are almost over and that very shortly, accountability will be parental only when the child is going wrong. I suspect that the right to be a small family unit and say “everything can be learned from the safety of this platform” are nearly over and that as a parent with a history of depression and no decent record keeping skills, the people my children actually are will count for little. I suspect that the freedom to be and function normally in a way that was once an intrisic part of the fabric of living is in deep danger of disappearing.
I feel sad about that; i could bang on about HE v school for a long time, but what i really believe in is absolute, rock solid family relations that are given time to grow so that everything a child learns is based on the right to explore and investigate and experiment with the safety of a place to come back to. Unless harm is being done, i don’t think anyone, certainly not state, should interfer with that. I don’t accept that distance in families is inevitable, or that even difficulties within family life is damaging. I know my children know i cry a lot, i know that Fran and i were in danger of falling apart over school. I’m sure that my mum and i would have done in the same circumstances; i might be judged the worst mother available in my circle of friends but i take a lot of comfort from the fact that Fran and i seem even closer over the school thing now. I was honest about my feelings, she failed to show hers as is her style – but we’ve survived and we seem to be better for it. I’m hoping that honesty in emotions is better than walling them up and that all our children will have a solid experience of real life from that.