For to be free is not to merely cast off one's chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
- Nelson Mandela -

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I'm leaving the country...

but only for a while. A short while, I hope.
On Tuesday I'm going to Holland. My sister is in hospital again and I'm going to stay with her children for at least a week. My niece is in the middle of her final exams and these past few weeks it hasn't been easy for her to concentrate on her learning. Fortunately, her mentor is aware of the situation and is helping her any way he can. She goes to one of the best Steiner schools in Holland and enjoys going, she's actually thriving. I think if we'd still be living in Holland Myrna would probably want to go to that school and I wouldn't have any problems with it.
It's a shame there isn't such a school here, at least not anywhere close to where we are.
I find that even though home education is practically illegal in Holland, there is a wider range of school educational systems than in this country. Every major city has Steiner, Montessori, Jenaplan, Freynet schools as well as 'regular' ones, for all religious and non-religious walks of life. There are even quite a few private schools based on the Sudbury Valley School principles.
In this country educating your child outside the school system is a legal right, which cannot be appreciated enough. But - as far as I know, and I must admit I haven't done extensive research into the matter - there is a very limited choice of educational systems in schools. Which means that - unfortunately - the initial choice to home educate (or homeschool) is often a negative one: "I don't want to send my children to school." Instead of the positive: 'I want to home educate my child(ren) because I believe it's the best possible thing for them.'

In my eyes the difference in educational possibilities typifies the difference between the two countries.
Very generally speaking my impression is that in Britain things are more extreme, black and white, either / or, where in Holland there is a larger scale of greys.
Look at the difference in politics.
In Holland there are over thirty active political parties, of which I think twelve have representatives in the national parliament; the other ones are mainly active in local or regional politics.
And, as Wikipedia states, the UK is nearly but not quite a two-party system.

Anyway, I suppose I was just trying to say that my niece enjoys going to school and is very motivated to do well in her exams... which might sound like cursing in church on a home edders weblog ;), but I think it's wonderful and I can see her schoolgoing life genuinely suits her. She has spent a lot of time in our family, also here in England, and she absolutely agrees we're doing the right thing for us, but she's still adamant about preferring (her) school to home education for herself. And since she is a well balanced, confident, intelligent and happy girl I can only agree with her.

Obviously with my impending departure there are lists all over the house with 'things to do before I leave'. Also listed was getting the garden sorted. I'm not a very skilled gardener, but I just love putting my hands in the earth, digging and planting. I know it sounds silly, but I talk to every plant, tell them how pretty they are, why I bought them and how I hope they will feel comfortable and happy in our garden.
Only my little sedum plants didn't last very long. The morning after I planted them they were all dug up and in bits, poor things. First I blamed the cats, but then I saw from my bedroom window how the blackbirds were pecking at them, having a feast! Anyone knew that?
Ah well, such is nature, to eat or to be eaten.

So here's what I've been doing in the garden:

I don't like fencing, but we had this one put in to give AL some privacy in her conservatory. And to create a space behind the house where the dogs can wander around freely. On the street side I planted clematis and heather, so hopefully by next year this side of the fence will be colourfully covered.

Yes, the garden is only small and yes, Owen is a big lad :).

This charming spring flowering clematis grows just left of the front door and was a total surprise for us. There were just a few dead twigs there, until a week or two ago. And look at it now! And what about the hanging baskets (for the sake of symmetry there's another one on the other side of the door) with saxifraga in a colour matching the flower pattern in the stained glass window of the front door.

Myrna wanted a little rose garden, so we made this bed on the conservatory side of the fence with four rose bushes in different colours. And lavender - Myrna's other favourite - at their feet to keep the lice away.

Kitchen herbs are supposed to be planted by the kitchen door, but we don't have a kitchen door. And by the conservatory wouldn't be a good idea, because I don't want to have to go through AL's room - for reasons of self preservation and sanity. So these - mint, thyme and parsley - ended up by the front door....

together with these. The sedum still looked alright here :(.

And so this is what that side of the garden looks like now. Is it what you call a suburbian garden? I don't know. It suits the house and I'm happy with it, because I can just about manage it.
The garden in the Vicarage was so much bigger - about two football pitches - and so beautifully wild, with all kinds of wild flowers, apple and other fruit trees, high grass and all that. We didn't do much with it apart from mowing the bits where the mower wouldn't sink away in the mud. It was heaven for the kids when they were still climbing trees and building huts, and it was heaven for the dogs.
But they seem happy enough with where we are now. At least here we can go on walks along the river, where they can go off the lead without the risk of getting shot by a farmer who's worried about his sheep being upset. There's so many sides to life, isn't there? And different situations can be equally good. It all depends on what you need and want at that particular time.
We're happy here!

Thursday, May 01, 2008


I finally managed to get my stories written and sent off to the publishers. Blimey, it took me at least three times the usual time and I'm not entirely happy about the last one. I wouldn't be surprised if it comes back to be rewritten. The brain is still not back to normal working order and I feel every one of my fifty years.
Ah well, I'll try and be British about it, but that doesn't come naturally to me ;).

I need to show you a major metamorphosis within our family.
My youngest girl is definitely and most convincingly not my baby girl anymore.
I knew that, of course. She has told and shown me many times. But still, you know, it's kind of hard to let go...
Now, the outside has been adjusted to the inside.
One day she was looking like a tall little girl, on the balancing wheel in the playground.

The next day, after a visit to the hairdresser, she's this guitar playing cool teenager.

Mystery is her middle name.

Ahhh, another month and she will be thirteen and that'll definitely be the end of me being the mother of young children. I'll try and make the most of that last month.

About that playground.
I'm considering writing to my MP about it (does that sound integrated and British?).
See, there's this sign above the entrance:

I think that's just so discriminatory. Myrna and her friends really enjoy going in there, and even Owen likes to come along every now and then. They're always very mindful, helpful and kind to little ones. (When there are any, that is, because we're usually there in school hours.) They push them on the swings, they hold them when they want to climb, they pick them up and take them to their parents when they fall...
Yet they're all - apart from Myrna - over twelve, most of them over fourteen.

When I have the dogs with me, I'll not go into the play area because I realize some children might be scared of them. So I stay just outside. But I wish I had a pound for every time a little child comes up to stroke or cuddle them. And they are so good with little children, they lie down flat and undergo all the attention patiently. They've never yet scared a child, or caused any damage, for that matter.

On Mondays I take Myrna to the local Music Centre where the choir rehearsals take place. I always stay there until they're finished, not only because I like to hear them sing, but also because otherwise Mrs Y, who takes the choir, would be the only adult in the building. The Music Centre is on the premises of a Primary School, in a fenced off area, behind big iron gates. I don't know how, but the other day a group of about six youngsters - all boys - managed to get onto the school yard and into the Music Centre. Within a few minutes they managed to kick over all the bins, pull the fire extinguisher off the wall and shout offensive and obscene language at the choir girls. I know I can be quite scary and authoritative if I have to, but I can't say they were very impressed. Between the two of us Mrs Y and I managed to persuade them to leave, but not before they'd caused a lot of damage and a real fright with the girls of the choir.
Now, I'm pretty sure not one of these boys was older than ten. I'd say they were closer to eight or nine years old.
Which means that, technically, they would be allowed to go into that playground.
So where's the sense in that? What's age got to do with it in the first place?
IF, and I say if there has to be a sign, couldn't it say something about behaviour and respect for other people / children and the equipment?

I'm sure people who know me have heard me sing this song before, but I'm convinced that our (adult) expectations determine a large part of the behaviour of young people. I'm aware of the fact that children within the home ed community often have a more positive picture projected onto them. And I'm also aware of the fact that the school system makes it more difficult for children to be different to what they're expected to be. But signs like this certainly don't help bring about a change in attitude. They make teenagers feel excluded. They send out this message that when you're past the age of twelve you do not play and have fun anymore. Instead, you're expected to display bad and destructive behaviour, which makes you a potential danger to younger children.
Okay, end of rant. I'm preaching to the converted here.

I might set up a good old English picket line outside that playground with over twelves carrying signs: "We want to play, too!" or "I am nice, trust me!" (although then 'they' might think these teenagers are juvenile paedophiles...) or "Socializing doesn't stop at twelve" or...

The horrible thing is that Myrna - my law abiding daughter - feels that if she goes to that playground with her over twelve friends, she is breaking the law. And that she can't go anymore once she's thirteen. We've talked about it, but she's still hesitant. She's convinced she'll get into trouble when the park wardens see her. So, I'm back to taking my child to the playground. To make sure that she's safe. And happy.
What a strange world we live in.