Saturday, 10 March 2007

Things I Saw

I have decided that I need to do some home educating. And it has to be today. Enough drifting along, doing as we like. We need direction, goals, achievement, focus.

I have the Nature Detective packs. So we're off to the local National Trust parkland where there's a good selection of trees to study with the 'Twigs and Buds' worksheet, and a good selection of animal holes, puddles, litter, dead leaves, and streams for the worksheet, 'Things I Saw'. I pack pencils in the pencil case, distribute clipboards, hand out cold pizza and we're off. It's just after midday and I am very focused.

The first problem is getting past the Ticket Inspector in the gift shop. Apparently Dig is a criminal. He has been underpaying the National Trust and this is probably a national crime. He pays them on a direct debit for an adult couple but with no children. Oh dear. We have three children, and as they crash around the gift shop inspecting the stuffed deer and National Trust teapots, they look a bit obvious to me, and to the National Trust Ticket Inspector who points them out. She says it will cost me £9.90 to get the children into the outside world, past the deer and the teapots. Rather foolishly I say I've never paid for them before. This is a mistake. Mrs Ticket Inspector takes a big breath, scrutinises my card again and I watch her quietly telephone Mr. Big at the National Trust Central Office. He says Dig has never paid for children when he jolly well should have paid since they are aged over five. So my card gets confiscated, I get a big telling off, the children get told to put the teapots down and I provide Dig's details so he can be charged extra.

We see quite a bit after that. We find Alder and Oak and Beech for the 'Twigs and Buds' and animals holes to tick on 'Things I Saw'. Then Squirrel says she is hungry. Despite still being able to see the car park and the gift shop I suggest they get out the cold pizza. Tiger looks in her bag and says she has lost hers so everyone has to share. This is not fun and requires some sitting down on the bench refusing to move until Tiger's cold pizza appears. I am not accommodating and tell everyone they are aged seven as we all know, even Mr Big in the National Trust Central Office, so stop behaving as if they are aged three.

After thirty minutes the children have stopped sprawling on the bench and have decided to follow the path to hollow tree. We all know hollow tree. We have been to this parkland lots of times. This is the place where I got my ball confiscated and where a National Trust warden picked a fight in 2005; whenever I see him now I'm reminded that I intended to report him. So we have fond memories. And then hollow tree comes into view and everyone runs to climb on.

Squirrel climbs up hollow tree and within seconds starts howling that she is scared to come down. She says she cannot see the ground. I say this is nonsense. She is about a metre off it. I offer to lift her down. She refuses and demands that Tiger and Shark get down first. And they do. This is extraordinarily helpful. I offer to lift her down again and she howls some more. Then I say I might leave her on hollow tree, in the middle of a field, howling, and she howls a huge, unending howl that soars above the trees and into the clouds.

At this point an audience starts to gather. It probably looks like I have sent my daughter up hollow tree and now refuse to help her down. So I threaten that if she does not stop howling I will leave. This is a disastrous mistake. Perhaps it is because Dig's away. Perhaps she is very short-sighted and really cannot see the ground. Perhaps she has a sudden attack of vertigo that she cannot explain. Because the howl turns into screams and yells and roars.

But now all I can see is the track back to the car. Tiger's reluctantly following; Squirrel's still howling on hollow tree; Shark's now screaming because I'm leaving Squirrel in the middle of a field on hollow tree; the audience is watching. This is about as bad as it can be.

I stop at the gate to the field, aware of the Saturday walkers with their well-behaved schooled children, all taking a well-deserved break in the Spring sunshine away from their classroom labours, while my home educated children who are brought up in the midst of society are now standing in a field screaming at the tops of their voices, unable to see that they are a focus of attention for what feels like miles around. Squirrel is bellowing 'I'm leaving this family!' Shark is shouting 'Mummy's leaving! Stop mummy!' and Tiger is hobbling towards me on the stony track, loudly sobbing.

I wait at the gate, all of thirty yards away from hollow tree. After another ten minutes the children join me, one by one, all scowling, sobbing and glowering, and we make our way back to the car. I watch Squirrel's 'Things I Saw' worksheet scamper off over the field with the wind.

At the car I feed everyone cherry cakes and then we drive home. And now I'm more determined than ever. When I get my new, legal, National Trust card, we're all coming back. I'm packing the cold pizza, and I'll be keeping my eye on Squirrel, just to check that she really is alright. I'm packing the 'Things I Saw' worksheets too, and I'll make sure we all take the track that avoids hollow tree.

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