Saturday, March 03, 2007

Down at the FACTORY FARM!

Saturday Cuppa: Organic Hot Chocolate, Bluebell Bookshop Style.

Monday 26th February 2007

Girls wake an hour or so earlier than normal. Bethany decides to begin her violin practice by standing outside my bedroom door playing Morning Has Broken. She continues with Ode To Joy downstairs in the dining room. Joy is the last emotion coursing through my veins this morning.

Take one mouthful of breakfast and realise that my stomach is no place for food.

Try hard to hold back tears. Eliza hugs me.

A few months ago Bethany decided she wanted to try school. The plan was that she would start in September for her first year of secondary education. However, as time ticked by she felt that it would be better to try primary school first so it wouldn’t be such a shock.

Two weeks ago we visited a local village school to see if there were any spaces…a Church of England school with about 170 kids. Eliza opted to stay in the car as she was, quite frankly ‘never going to school’. She used a similar tone when she was five to say “I’m NEVER going to wean!”

We were there about 10 minutes and then I took the girls off to Bethany’s music lesson. Within the space of about half an hour Eliza decided that she too would *try* school.

So here we are, the first day of the second half of term. And both girls are in their uniforms ~ pleased as punch ~ hair clean, and ready for whatever the day will bring.

Watch their faces as we arrive at school. Eliza’s as white as a ghost. Bethany tells me she’s really nervous. I tell them both to breathe really deeply as it will help ease the butterflies.

Paul and I help get the girls into their classrooms. Eliza’s teacher recognises that this is difficult for me even though I’ve managed to smile and not let any salt water down my face.

Drive away. Horrid feeling!

Drop Paul at work. That’s it then, my family all ‘disposed of’ for the day. My first holiday in parenting in 11 years. Wow. Should be excited. Feels crap.

Take issue 21 of The Mother to some local outlets. First stop, a vegetarian restaurant and watermill 1.5 miles from home. Second stop, Bluebell Bookstore. Derek asks me how I am.


Feel like I’m three years old. Not good. Where’s MY mother when I need her?? Apologise for pathetic performance. He makes me the best hot chocolate in town. At least it’s organic. Warms and comforts the physical body, ache in heart as large as ever.

Head to health store with the rest of magazines. Weird in the extreme not having my shadows deciding which treats to buy. Leave without spending a penny. Unheard of.

11.30am…they’ve been as school 2.5 hours. Feel likes a lifetime. I wonder about parking over the road from school in lunch break to see them playing. Change my mind. Feels too much like playing detective. Need to learn to trust my way through this momentous change.

Drop by to see Paul at work…his boss asks me how I am.
This time I know better than to open my gob.

“You’ll be suffering withdrawal symptoms.” Too bloody right!
He’s bright enough to know I’m about to break down, and leaves me with Paul.

Get home at noon. Three and half hours till I can see their faces again.
No-one to make lunch for. Still not hungry myself. Bought tasty treats for girls’ lunch boxes…a bit of mother-love in their day. Paul commented yesterday on the military-style operation of my lunch box creations. “They won’t eat all that!” “I don’t want them to starve.” I say with a glare that makes it clear I know what I’m doing. The girls end up proving him right. Pa! Frustrated because it’s no more than they’d normally eat in the course of a day.

Mail arrives…a review book called Our Stolen Future. How bloody apt! There’s a picture of a babe in utero on the front cover. Bwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. More bloomin’ tears.

12.30pm Bethany’s teacher phones. She must know I’m on tenterhooks as the first thing she says is “there’s no problem”.

They’re having a bread tasting afternoon. She tells me where all the breads are from. Mostly made by the Village Bakery 4 miles from here. Everything from there is organic and I know the ingredient list like the back of my hand. And then she adds that there is stuff from the supermarket ~ pitta and naan. Tell her naan bread is full of e numbers. Suppose I should have said that we limit wheat and er, did she have breads from other flours? Shut my mouth instead but kick myself for not having mentioned it in enrolment notes.

Thank her so much for checking in with me. Poor teachers are probably living in fear of me after reading the NOVEL that arrived with girls.
Sigh…this is a huge thing to suddenly have someone else so totally responsible for my children for a big chunk of week.

Short amount of time to get house tidy, meditate, get in an hour’s walk in bitter wind, and then pick girls up. We’ll have dinner and then I’ll take Eliza to her first ever Scout group. Seems silly now, but I’d decided it would be a great way for them to make friends, but that was before the school idea came up.

Keep reading words from Kahlil Gibran’s ‘Children’.

“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the Infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.”

Yell over my shoulder to the Archer…" hey there, You, enough of the bending! I’ve got feelings you know! Paa!"

3.35pm Two sets of familiar arms around my waist. Yum. Eliza looks shell shocked. Bethany is screeching with delight. “I HAD A BRILLIANT TIME!”

THEY LOVED SCHOOL! They can’t talk quick enough about what they did, and who their new friends are. All their fears about not knowing enough have vanished. Eliza was well pleased with knowing why certain addictions like smoking or chocolate aren’t good for you. Bethany’s favourite bread was naan bread. E Number City. At least I laughed instead of crying. There’s hope for me yet…

Bethany asks if she can get the bus home instead of coming with me. Obsolete mother already!

4.30 Eliza helps me make us all a vegetable juice.

5pm early dinner then I leave for Scouts, though would rather snuggle by the fire with Paul. The theme at Scouts was fitness. They brought in an aerobics instructor. This was not what Eliza needed after a long day at school. Poor thing! She found the whole atmosphere painfully noisy too (without the aerobics).

8pm Quick lavender bath, and girls are in bed.

Numb out in front of tv..and eat… Eating for emotional hunger. NOT GOOD, but tomorrow’s another day. For better or worse.
Ten years without tv and now using it as a crutch. Standards are slipping quickly girl!

Tuesday February 27th

Girls sleep later than yesterday. Thank you God! Both wake up tired. I’ve heard many stories of families starting each school day fighting because of the stress. Am grateful to be organised. Everything’s ready the night before so all girls have to do is eat and get dressed and do their hair and teeth.

First morning going to school on the bus. My big nine year old looks so little and vulnerable when seated up high in the bus.

Had often wondered if the girls went to school at 4 years of age if we’d have settled into the village more easily; if being at the bus shelter with the others each morning might have created a different dynamic.

I’m touched by the genuine concern shown by the other mums as I move back from the bus with tears in my eyes. “It’s hard, isn’t it?”

9.47am get ready to leave for town for organic fruit and veg stall in open air market. It’s pissing down. Times like this it’s tempting to abandon principles and drive to Tesco for sheltered shopping!

Market stall run by a gorgeous family. Janet home-educated her five children until the oldest one decided, at 11, to try school. Her daughter Lucy now works at the market and said home education was great, but she went to school at the right time.

Promise myself a half hour in café for standing in the rain.
Think of my girls. Are they happy? I’m not. Need to change my thoughts.

Can’t help but wonder if all the effort I’ve put into TM in the past five years, had been channelled into the girls would they still be here today, or would the friendship thing always be the stumbling block unless we lived less rurally? No place for regrets though. Life’s too short for that.

Having to re-examine my identity. I’ve been a full-time mother for 11 years and now what am I? In human terms, that is, for my spiritual essence hasn’t changed. Time is my own to some degree now. I’ve never been the sort to just plump up the cushions; besides, the cushions are covered in cat foot prints, so I don’t really want to elevate their status to give my life purpose.

Wonder how the magazine will change now my kids are in someone else’s care. Found myself writing an article in my head about healthy school lunches. Bloody hell! Is this what it has come to? Lunch boxes!

Cancel cafe idea. Heart not in it.

House is freezing...but with no kids around, it feels pointless using up the firewood or wasting electricity to put a storage heater on for just me. Washing the dishes in hot water will warm me up.

Had planned to use my new found time…acres and acres of it…to write …but that’s the last thing I feel like doing. I need time to integrate how much this is impacting me. Us…

Paul’s work hours change from Monday meaning he’ll not get in till about 9.30, 5 nights a week, and 8 pm on another night…only having Saturdays off.

It was bad enough last year him working these hours, but at least the kids saw him for four more hours a day. Something has to change. I’m determined about that. A new source of income is needed. Family comes first.

I wonder about this new found freedom of mine. At least with Empty Nest Syndrome you can go off and sail the world or have a complete life change that works, but I’m only free between the hours of 8.30 and 3.45pm. I hardly get started and then I’m thinking about dinner and next day’s school lunches. Am also aware that although it feels like I have physical freedom, I’m not feeling free emotionally. Until I can find a way to be at ease in that department it will affect my physical being too.

Conscious though, of the need to find a way of making more use of this time. Wait at bus shelter at 3.45pm. One of the mums sits next to me and affirms how difficult this process is. She’s a school teacher and says how hard she finds it with the kids being disruptive. My girls have complained about this already…how some kids just keep misbehaving and that the teachers are forever having to stop what they’re doing to tell children off.

Girls step off the school bus looking like thunderclouds. Turns out school was great, again, but the kids were absolutely awful on the school bus.

Unpack lunchboxes to find Bethany’s eaten little more than a mouthful and had no water. She ‘forgot’.

Have Major Mother Meltdown moment (or several!!). Really not a pretty sight.

Then Bethany’s on the phone to a new friend and in a nano-second has organised to catch a different school bus tomorrow to go to her house for the afternoon. I realise I’m in some sort of PMT accelerator mode, but surely I’m not over-reacting by at least wanting to meet both the child’s parents first?

After ridiculous and unnecessary histrionics on both our parts, we agree to make it the following week and the girl could come here, then I’d drop her home afterwards AND meet the parents.

Eliza feels it unfair because Bethany’s class is making bread AND going swimming! Why don’t grade four kids get to do that?

7pm Speak with Nikki, a home educating mother of five children and former school teacher, and one of my lifelines in this crazy world. Her kids went to school, and then came out, but she knows the heartbreak I’m going through. She’s one of the few people not to dismiss my feelings. Why can’t people just ‘listen’ rather than try and ‘fix’ things up? Our culture is so dysfunctional. We don’t allow people to be vulnerable for even a moment without an intense need to make them ‘sit somewhere in the middle’ of the emotion range. Can’t have anyone’s feelings rocking the boat in case everyone falls in the water and drowns! That’s what it’s all about really, isn’t it?

This week has felt a bit like when you have a miscarriage, and the loss is so much more than physical, but all anyone can say is “oh well dear, it wasn’t meant to be”. As if that’s supposed to make you feel better? Agghhhh

Febuary 28th 2007

Wake up feeling more at ease. One the third day She rose. Ah yes, the resurrection only comes after the crucifixion!

Bethany shows me her spelling words. Eliza’s nose put out of joint as she wants me to ‘test’ her with spelling.

Have breakfast together, and Paul and I walk girls to the bus shelter and wait to get them on the bus. Paul goes to work.

Get phone call from home edding friend in Australia…We talk for ages! Can’t remember the last time I had a long phone call with anyone that didn’t involve kids demanding food or me to get off the phone or whatever… Time is luxurious.

A lot more conscious of our two cats now that they’re the only living things in the house apart from me and houseplants. The lazy-arsed critters are starting to bug me…all they do is sleep. I can not see how they can justify calories burnt and amount of food consumed.

For seven and half years this house of two bedrooms has felt tiny for four humans, cats of various numbers and a magazine construction zone.
Now, in the silence, the space seems vast. I feel like I’m living in a mansion. Funny how quickly perspectives can change.

I’m eating today without any sick feeling in my tum. Just cleared off a bunch of lychees. All to myself! Hey, there could be an upside to all this stuff.

Weather is bitterly vile. Not remotely tempted to go outside for a walk. Am tempted, however, to curl up in bed with hot water bottle, hot drink and a great book. But don’t. Get to work on issue 22 of The Mother. Funny how easy some jobs seem when your work environment is one of silence rather than juggling a family’s demands. Could make The Mother magazine a weekly publication if the girls stay in school. Mmm, maybe not. Did promise Paul I’d have no excuse not to keep on top of the housework. Have come to the conclusion that I’m not the only one to make mess around here. Once I’ve tidied, nothing moves till the other three humans get home. Turns out I won’t need a housekeeper after all…

Had another long phone conversation this afternoon…no interruptions. Complete focus. Weird.

3pm Find myself singing. Singing? Happy. Dancing around the kitchen with fat lump of cat in my arms. Think he’s happier by the sound of his purr.

Make banana and sunflower cookies for girls’ lunchboxes.
Pick them up at 3.45 from the bus about 50 metres from our cottage. They’re NOT happy about the naughtiness on the bus. Ironic given the bus has a guardian to stop misbehaviour!

Thursday March 1st

My appetite is back. I’m coming to a state of acceptance. Paul does maths tuition with Bethany. SATS exams in 8 weeks or so.
Eliza plays piano, then we walk them to the school bus.

I know my detractors will be clapping their hands with glee that the girls are in school. People tend to think you’re a Smother Mother by wanting the best for your kids in terms of home education. We have little understanding, culturally, of how our children learn. The factory farming approach of most schools is so inadequate for children’s needs. Even those parents who can see that often just go into denial, as they feel they’re too small to question the system and feel home education is too big a leap.

Two girlfriends phone today and I indulge in long chats. Ah, this is the life.
Do manage to write a feature article this afternoon, not done that for a while. If I wrote an article a day that’d well and truly keep me out of mischief.

Have been mentally plotting how to rearrange our life so I can find a FABULOUS human scale school for my daughters, something that will keep them and their parents happy. It’s not here in Cumbria. But where is it?

Take girls to piano and violin lesson after school. Bethany changes her mind about joining Scouts. She feels knackered and is wanting to take her first grade piano and violin exams. Clearly this is all too much with SATS and high school preparation as well.
Girls tell me all about their school day. Both still very frustrated at how much time is spent by the teacher having to tell kids off for misbehaving. Bethany was anxious because an aide was trying to explain something to her but she couldn’t concentrate because of the racket being made by the other kids. Eliza says she spends most of the day with her hand in the air wanting to answer or ask questions, but she doesn’t get asked.

Get home, have dinner and it’s time for bed.

Trouble in paradise. I get letter from head teacher ticking me off about my letter re: my zero tolerance approach to bullying. I’d heard she could be patronising.

One village mum once was at the school complaining about bullying and was told ‘there is no bullying here’. And the mum said, yes there is, the teacher is a bully. Ouch. Same person told her that in order to treat lice she should shave her daughter’s bum length black locks off.

Dentist appointment tomorrow…lucky for him there was no garlic in my dinner!

Friday March 2nd

Only four more weeks till end of term…
Eliza’s upset because Bethany won’t be at school at lunch time due to swimming lesson and Eliza’s friends eat at a different time because they have school lunches.

Find out the school children don’t have anywhere to sit for their morning and afternoon tea breaks and so my girls are skipping that meal! Who can blame them when they’re not allowed on the grass in winter and when the boys dominate the playground field with football? The girls have been raised eating meals quietly at the table. Food consumption and appreciation is a sacred act, and now for 15 eating times a week they’re inundated with loud noise and inappropriate eating places.

Bethany forgot her PE gear yesterday and couldn’t join the class. Forced to sit on cold cement. I’m ropeable when I find out.

Paul used to joke, years ago, that the local school teachers were lucky that our girls didn’t go to school as I’d be up there every day complaining about something.
Thing is, that’s how I feel now. I’ve not been up, but I do have a hell of a lot of puncture marks on my tongue.

What do I do? Suppress all my feelings? Accept the system is bigger than me? Say goodbye to 11 years of relatively conscious parenting?

I have three fillings fixed and dentist does a fab job of sandpapering some rusty bits off my front teeth. I’d figured the only option was the £500 bleach job ~ YUK! Bless him, he didn’t even charge me and reckoned bleaching wouldn’t have sorted the problem. I love it when I meet honest and authentic professionals.

Eliza steps off the bus upset because Connor (the one considered by all the kids to be the worst boy in school) has chased her the whole morning, lunch and afternoon break. I asked if she told a teacher and she said that the person said ‘oh, he annoys everybody’. That’s it then?

Bethany had a similar attitude from her teacher about being chased. “Just ignore him”

The information the school sent me in reply to questions about their bullying policy, is a load of crap, quite frankly. Clearly something which has been cut and pasted from somewhere else, as it isn’t what is happening in the school

Playtime code of conduct
Playtime should be enjoyed by all children without fear of injury or upset caused by other children.

Use of force policy
All members of staff are authorised to use force to control pupils’ behaviour. (Glad they got the apostrophe right there, as it was misused in another official school form ~ doesn't inspire confidence in their teaching ability).

Saturday 3rd March
Attention Deficit Disorder
Enjoy family cuddle in bed which the family outgrew years ago. Squished like sardines, happy moment deteriorates when Eliza starts expressing that we must love Bethany more because she’s getting special attention (Paul spending time to help her with maths). Whole morning turns to crap as this upset goes on and on and on. Cuddles and words don’t console.

Eliza has been coming home with silver stars and ‘good girl’ stickers. We haven’t pursued a praise/punishment system for their childhood. Getting stickers for putting chairs away seems rather odd. Whatever happened to humans contributing to the smooth working of a situation because that is what their heart inspires them to do?

I leave this week older, but don’t feel wiser. Me, more than anyone, wants my children to grow, thrive, explore, feel challenges and enjoy life.

Puncture marks in my tongue aside, I do have faith that my children KNOW that if school, at any point, no longer feels right for them, then they have the option of withdrawing. Most children don’t have that choice.

From a free range childhood, my girls are now in the FACTORY FARM. And what do we know about factory farms?
They’re unethical.
They don’t consider the individual needs of the inhabitants nor meet their biological needs....
and their sole purpose is profit and quantity, not quality.

I can’t help but think of all the letters I’ve had over the years from mums who’ve read my articles on our home education experiences in The Mother…and who took their children out of school as a result. Have I/we let them down? Or have they now found their feet?

As for our family, I’ll scour the country looking for a human scale school which works for all of us. In the meantime, I need to breathe deeply and TRUST.


The Beehive said...

Hi Veronika,

I have just read this week's blog and it struck a real chord (not just because I hope my apostrophe is in the right place !!).

I don't think for a second you have done any diservice to your readers who have chosen to home-ed, or seek out alternative education. Awareness to an issue is the first part of changing cycles. Having had a recent discussion with friends on the necessity (or not) of pre-school for 3 year olds left me reeling that if people aren't made aware of alternatives and choices then the cycle of "having to attend" pre school continues because they know no other.

I love this quote so thought I would share it with you:

“You don’t have to think about doing the right thing, if you are for the right thing you do it without thinking”.
Vivienne Baxter Jackson (mother of Maya Angelou – “I know why the caged bird sings)

I hope Eliza and Bethany continue to enjoy school and if not, they are wise enough to be able to know they do have a choice and that they can exercise that.


Harmonious Living said...

Thanks for the latest mother mag, precious as ever
Really moved by your open hearted blog this week.
There are no words, just feeling, and a holding of your mother heart.
Much love. ruth.

Helen said...

Nothing else I can say but to send you hugs and healing for the puncture wounds.

Helen said...

Nothing else I can say but to send you hugs and healing for the puncture wounds.

Jax said...

Come in via a thinkingblogger link from Lucy at by other means (I'm the Jax who tagged her and now she's listed you) and had to read back to find out how come your kids are in school. All power to you for supporting their choice in this, it must be a time when you desperately feel like telling them you know better.

Wanted to say that there are some good schools out there - my children are flexi-schooled in a montessori private school in West Yorkshire, and they adore it there. Montessori seems to make so much sense to me, and the environment is wonderful.