Let the Kids be Free: 2013 365 Challenge #275

Inventing ball games in the play room

Inventing ball games in the play room

The kids had a day off school yesterday, in our school at least, because one of the unions was on strike. I’m not here to talk about the politics, largely because I have conflicting views: I studied the nineteenth-century industrial revolution in history and I know how important unions were in ensuring safe and healthy working conditions and fair pay for workers. How unions work now I’m not so clear on.

I know teachers work impossibly hard – my friend, who has three children under six – doesn’t see her kids much in term time as she’s at school until 9 pm most nights and then marking until midnight.

I do know that it rankles that the school can close for a day with little warning and no compensation, forcing some parents to take a day’s leave or pay for extra childcare, but if I take my child out of school in term time I pay a £60 fine. Hmmm

Anyway, I said I wouldn’t discuss the politics. What I found interesting was how people chose to spend that day. My daughter is in Reception (I think Kindergarten in the US?), in her first week of full time school, so I knew it was going to be a down-day: one where she could do what she wanted, without worrying about rules or getting her uniform dirty or anything.

Playing shops

Playing shops

We hung out with friends, went to the park, baked cookies and did painting. My only rule was that she wash her hair (it’s long overdue) and even that resulted in tired tears. (To be fair, we’re all tired. Hubbie and I are dipping down into depression and the slightest thing sets me off sobbing. I feel like we’re all broken!)

That aside, I’ve learned recently that I’m more of a hippy parent than I ever knew. Because I want my child to be free as much as possible. I don’t want to do after school clubs and classes: I want her to be home, running with her brother, being as loud and messy as she wants to be. Plenty of time in the 6.5 hours of school five days a week to stick to the rules.

I’m sure, as she gets older, the balance will change. I want her to do well at school and in exams, as I did, although I want her to have more to life than just her education. For now, though, it makes me feel warm inside to see her playing ball games with her brother, or – as she did this morning – to sit quietly in her room for an hour playing doctors with her teddy bears while the rest of the house slept.

There was a woman in the park yesterday bringing (I’m guessing) her 7 or 8 year old grandchild for a play. It was around 2 pm and she proudly told a friend of mine that they’d already done flute, numbers, writing, piano, swimming, French (I can’t remember the exact list, but something like that) and now they were ‘burning off energy’. It made my soul ache.

Preparing for a rainy school run

Preparing for a rainy school run

Each to their own, and I’m trying really really really hard not to judge other styles of parenting than my own. But a whole new world has opened up to me, now I have been blessed with watching how my children interact and play when left to their own devices. How they comfort each other, sort out their own problems, find new games to play, take turns, share, apologise, teach and learn.

I loved school, I think my children will love school. But for the social aspect, as much for learning. We don’t come from a big family – their friends are all from school and nursery.

We went to the school curriculum evening recently and I have to say I wasn’t that thrilled with what’s to come for my children. Not the teaching – that all looks grand – but the building, the resources and, in some cases, the teachers. The building is old and dark, the classrooms dated and cluttered. The teachers seem rough and grumpy (and not one introduced themselves by name apart from the Reception teachers, who we already knew).

There aren’t so many alternatives round here. I’m going to the fee-paying school open day on Friday, but I’m pretty certain it isn’t what I want: I think there will be more rules, more activities, more expectations, fewer chances for down time, grazed knees, torn clothing, dirt and fun. Homeschooling isn’t the answer, because it’s the social element that’s important. Sigh.

I just have to remember that, whatever choices we make, the kids will be fine. In the meantime, we battle the rain, the parking fiasco, the chaos and commuter-like experience of the school run and hope we’re doing the right thing.

________________________________________________________________________________

Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

________________________________________________________________________________

Claire regarded the airport through heavy eyes, expecting it to look different somehow. Surely the world had shifted on its axis during the long weeks she had been away?

Around her, people greeted loved ones, hurried towards men holding name cards, or – like her – shuffled head down through the waiting crowd, knowing no one was there to meet her.

Why would they be? No one even knows I’m arriving today.

Claire adjusted the straps of her rucksack and looked around for signs to the train station, hoping she could catch a direct train to Cambridge. Her first priority was getting to Kim.

Through every minute of the thirty-two endless hours it took to get home, concern for Kim had kept her from sleep. During the stopovers at Sydney and Dubai, with no iPad for company and no money for food, she had sat cradling her phone praying for news.

There had been just one text from Jeff, telling her that Kim was scheduled to spend a few days in the hospital so the staff could ensure she didn’t make a second attempt on her life. Jeff had had to fight to stop her being transferred to a secure facility.

Poor Jeff. Poor Kim.

That was as far as Claire could think. Her own role in her friend’s drama ate at her like a cancer, until she too felt an eternal sleep might be preferable to continuing to live every painful day.

Hanging in the limbo of a long-haul flight, lost to the world and unconnected to anyone in it, it wasn’t difficult for Claire to imagine what drove her friend to her desperate act. Anything to make the emptiness go away.

The darkness pursued her now, as she shouldered her way through the happy faces. A lump lodged in her throat and she longed for solitude, so she could break down in peace.

“Claire!”

The voice brushed at her back, but she refused to turn and realise it was not her being hailed. Footsteps ran along after her, and she jumped as someone touched her arm.

“Claire, wait! I can’t believe you came through just as I was getting coffee. I thought you might like this.”

Turning slowly, Claire’s eyes opened wide as she took in the reality of her boss standing in front of her holding out a giant cardboard cup.

“Conor. What are you doing here? How did you know I was landing today?”

Thoughts and emotions crashed in her mind like waves in a stormy sea. With numb fingers she accepted the coffee, the aroma seeping into her fuddled brain with all the comfort of home. When did she last have a proper latte?

“I follow your social media. Someone called Jeff wished you a safe flight home, said he’d see you today. It wasn’t hard to figure out which flight you were on, there aren’t so many from Christchurch.”

Claire stared mutely, wondering if it was her destiny to be surrounded by stalkers. The last person to track her down through social media had been Michael. Honesty forced her to admit that her ex-boyfriend’s tenacity had proved useful, rescuing her from a night passed out in a dark lane with a bump to the head. And now her future boss had come all the way to the airport from Dorset, on the strength of a Facebook update.

“Are you for real? What are you doing here?”

“You said that already.” Conor grinned. “Come and sit down, you look bloody awful.”

The words hit Claire like a blow, and the tears began to pour out as if the force had broken a pipe. She felt Conor guide her to a bench and sit her down, taking the coffee from her limp grasp.

For a while they sat and Claire rode out the wave of sadness and humiliation. At last she became aware of a tissue being offered underneath her curtain of unwashed hair. Accepting it, Claire dried her face and blew her nose.

“Sorry. I wasn’t expecting anyone. You broke down the barrier, damn you.”

“What happened? I thought you were having a great craic in New Zealand. Your blog posts and texts were all about sky diving and rafting, getting drunk and all that. You look like you’ve been in a concentration camp. Did you forget to eat?”

Claire shook her head, unsure whether Conor was berating her or trying to make her feel better. She couldn’t think. She wanted him to go away, but didn’t want to be alone. Feeling the tears building again, Claire dug her nails into her arms, wishing she could rip her skin off and fly into oblivion.

As if sensing Claire’s distress, Conor patted her knee. “Come on, let’s get you out of here. Where do you need to be? I am at your service.”

“Shouldn’t you be at work?” Claire’s voice sounded heavy, the words hard to speak. Suddenly she just wanted to sleep.

“It’s Sunday afternoon, I don’t have to head back for a few hours. Where can I take you?”

“Cambridge. I need to be in Cambridge.”

Claire saw Conor’s nod through her curtain of hair. He rose abruptly and tugged her to her feet.

“Cambridge it is. Here’s your coffee. Drink it, you look like you need it. And a shower.” He sniffed, dramatically. “You definitely need a shower.”

He grinned and, through the numbness, Claire managed to raise a smile.

***