Saturday, 12 April 2008

Holiday day

If I was expecting a dismal breakfast I didn't get one.

Today, both Squirrel and Dig are out of the house. We are used to Dig's absence, and Squirrel is always late to the breakfast table. So no forced gaiety or determined smiles over the Rice Dream and muesli. Breakfast is normal, until Shark shouts out suddenly, 'Squirrel is abseiling!' I take this to mean either Shark has made some secret triplety mind connection over the distant miles, or she has read the PGL brochure while lying in bed this morning.

Anyway, me and the twins that are left are fully booked this morning, so we have no time to discuss whether Squirrel is clinging in terror to a mountainside, wondering where to go next. We have our own routes to follow.

One of the best things about home education, when it works, is the exuberance that comes with being permanently on holiday. And so it is today. I have booked us into a talk and walk about vipers at a local SSSI. It's a spot we drive by often. Occasionally, we take the country road and follow the sandy line to a car park where there is a visitor's centre built from wood, settling at the base of a sand baked hillside, heather creeping towards the conifers. From there we take the unhurried path where we can peer into the bracken for slow worms. I have never seen one, being too cumbersome and lumpy, but today Tiger spies one, bootlace coiled round a stick of gorse.

The viper tour assembles in the morning sun for the leader's talk on viper habits, likes and dislikes. He is clearly an expert, and I am in a different country. Even in Smalltown we can live inches away from neighbours, see them depart from their houses everyday, climb into cars and disappear until late and never speak to them. But here, assembling for the viper talk, we are amongst country folk who nod and expect connections. They can look at fractions of leaves and know what is signified. They have access to the secret codes and ciphers that is the viper's daily habit. They look at the ground and know things. Things that to me, as a smalltowny, are invisible. I keep my mouth shut, and don't ask any questions. One elderly gentlemen leans on his wooden stick, hewn from an oak tree, and patiently asks about the underbelly muscles of female vipers in August. Later, I see he doesn't need the stick. He may look 82, but he jumps over those sand ridges like a goat.

Throughout the introductory talk, Shark and Tiger listen patiently and Shark manages to stick up her hand as if she is schooled before politely providing the right answer: diurnal. I am amazed. How did she know that? Where did she get that answer from in the chaotic hurly burly life of our front room resounding with kid's voices, shouts and mess? How could she have learned something in silence amongst the noise? And then, she even got so far as to put up her hand, without having someone pull it down. The twin effect continues; Shark and Tiger stand close together and there is no shoving and pushing and complaining that a sister is there first or that her elbows are always there and that is not fair because my feet were here first, look, and it is not fair and I am leaving this family.

The walk continues, happily. The sun is warm and wins the battle; the wind cannot be bothered this morning to compete. Shark sheds her coat so she can run about in the April sunshine unencumbered. After fifteen minutes, on the pale honeyed banks curling with bracken, we see three vipers, lazily coiled and flattened to absorb the sun's heat; we see them magnified through lenses, and then, cautiously advancing, close up. Tiger is delighted and, sending the vipers skittering, bounces up and down. They are the first vipers in the wild she has ever seen. Me too, I say, and give her a hug.

When the walk is over and we all trudge back to the car park, all the talk is of Squirrel and how she would have loved it. Shark says we will bring her to this very spot and show her the vipers. She glories in her new found knowledge. Tony, our guide, is adored. He says, she tells me knowingly, that mummy vipers return to the same spot to warm up for months, and defend their sun lounging space from dogs by nipping them on the nose. At this news, she is positively gleeful. I tell her that when they are born, Tony says the baby vipers push off, and mummy doesn't have to take them shopping or wash their socks.

And our holiday continues. With just the three of us to please, we do anarchic things, like eat dinner from steaming hot bowls while perched on the sofa, watching Madagascar; we run around the garden pretending to be vipers who have lost their socks; we chomp crisps and slurp ice cream, and contemplate fizzy lemonade.

By the time Dig comes home, we are planning tomorrow's trip to Shropshire to pick up Squirrel. Tiger and Shark are in happy, buzzy moods, chattering to Dig their new knowledges of snakes on sandy heaths, skipping into bed and laughing themselves to sleep.

Managing just two children is easy, I confess in the darkness. It's made our home education doable, practical, achievable. I don't like to say it's true, because now I have to bear the guilt of betrayal as well as abandonment. Dig agrees, and says it could be any one of them that could be gone for a while, and life would be easier. It is the dynamic of three, the unstable off-balanced force we deal with daily. I enjoy the temporary relief from it, but only because I know she's safe somewhere, looked after by someone whose business it is not to lose her, harm her, or send her home in bandages. And I know that her absence is only for the shortest of times. She'll be fine, and when she returns, will glory in her own-two-feet type of independence. And I can look forward to her being back here with us all, slamming the doors, threatening to leave, and causing the spade-throwing fight by launching worms at Shark. After all, I console myself, even in the midst of that, we can still learn what it means to be diurnal.

Humph, I say, who can understand humans? They want things to be different, and when they are, they want things to be back the same. Vipers? Now they are much easier to understand.


Mean Mom said...

Oh, I'm so confused. Was Squirrel only gone for a weekend, then, or am I more confused that I thought? I thought she must have been going to the activity centre for at least a week!! I suppose I must have missed something, somewhere.

Anyway, I'm so glad that I didn't have baby vipers, believe it or not. I wouldn't have missed bringing up my boys for anything, even though I have had moments of immense despair and, occasionally,still do. I always wanted 3 children. Many people, including doctor and midwife, assumed that my third pregnancy was an accident. Cheeky! Having 2children was special. Having 3 was better.

You've been tagged over at my place. You thought I was too old to catch you, didn't you?

Brad said...

That was a great post.

Kitty said...

Great post. My eldest is off for an adventure thing soon. I'm quietly terrified, but she'll be fine, and it will do her the world of good on her journey towards healthy independent adult. x

the mother of this lot said...

When you tell Squirrel how much she's grown since you last saw her (yes, you will - it'll just come tumbling out of your mouth without you even knowing) don't forget how much you've grown while she's been away, as well.

Grit said...

Hi mean mom, Squirrel's out for two nights and three days on a trial. If she likes it, she gets to stay a further week later in the summer.

as you say, children are the cause of immense despair and immense joy. i'm still working that out. the triplets were a complete surprise when they happened here... and i shall come over to your place next!

hi brad, thank you!

hello kitty, i've come round to the idea that it is a growing experience rather than a frightening one! squirrel is aged 8 but all my 3 were premie babies; emotionally and developmentally I believe they're younger.

hi motl, yes, i think i have grown, and it has been a good experience for me too!

Potty Mummy said...

Don't feel bad Grit. Any mum with sense enjoys the respite of having one less child than usual for only a few days!

Grit said...

that makes me feel better, potty mummy!