Friday, 31 October 2008

Probably not that much in need

Clearly I do not move in the right circles. Tiger, who has the right contacts, wangles herself an invitation to a party at the BBC. Today, as a Child in Need, she's whisked off at lunchtime in a minibus to scoff cake alongside Pudsey Bear, have a sing song, and be showered with fuss and compliments over the colour of her cardigan.

Tiger has managed this needy status thanks to attending Shed, the inclusive drama group that all the gritlets attend on a weekly basis and which has just received, courtesy of Pudsey and all givers, a lovely cheque so Shed can continue inclusive drama-ing up and down the country for another year or so. And they thoroughly deserve it too, and long may Shed continue.

But sad to say, these gritlets seem to take far too much of this adventuresome party life for granted. It may be time to change things.

I could start by asserting my rights. As Mother in Need. The one who works ceaselessly for her children's education and the one who got the little grits into Shed in the first place by arguing their special needs status as small person-type triplets.

With a Mother in Need status, I wouldn't say no to a day off, a big box of chocolates, the occasional thank you from Dig, and another couple of hours magically appearing before lunch. Because not for the first time do I approach my lonesome day by squeezing in as many activities as are humanly possible; activities which might educationally occupy the gritlets and keep me busy enough at the same time to ensure I do not sink in a haze of self-pitying alcohol abuse by tea-time.

So while Tiger is being photographed with Pudsey, the hard working mother takes her remaining offspring to the last sailing of the season, and then onto the spooky walk through the woods behind the cricket green. This is held by our wonderful parks department, and I know the ghouls, ghosts witches and demons are staff of the parks department dressed up and hiding behind trees, but all the tickets were sold pretty sharpish and I had to plead special status here too. You see? This is an example of the ceaseless, thankless work that goes on round here by this sad and lonely mother in need.

Anyway, when we're done with the walk and the hallowe'en games, then I take Shark and Squirrel to the party at the arts centre, where we get to play with glow sticks, warm ourselves by the bonfire, admire the scarecrows made on Wednesday's group workshop, and watch the horror film put together that day by teenagers working with a local film-maker. Then, after another party-fuelled social whirl of a day, we pick up Tiger and go home.

Rightly, all the gritlets should think themselves charmed and fortunate with a life like this.

But Squirrel is in protest and suggests she might be more in need than us all. She laments that the hot chocolate at the hallowe'en party was the worst she had ever tasted in her life.

My mother might have chosen the word, spoiled.

I, of course, will use the word, fortunate.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Brilliance! (And not so brilliance.)

In a flash of brilliant super organisation I manage to get Shark into a five-hour art workshop at MKG gallery, where she will conduct scientific experiments and call them art, a la Gilberto Zorio.

If this was not enough success, then I obtain tickets for Squirrel and Tiger to attend Lyngo children's theatre performance of Tom Thumb with a Q&A session on how the wonderful stage props work.

And because there is an hour magically appeared in today's timetable I astonishingly read aloud an early translated story of Perrault's Le Petit Poucet, from which Tom Thumb derived, and which copy I have no trouble finding whatsoever. Indeed, this collection of Perrault tales seems to jump into my hands from one of the bookshelves we have foolishly stacked up to ceiling height around this house, where usually we can't find anything. I can only deduce we have good fairies sitting on the roof waving six-metre wands.

But I know that some people believe for every day of brilliance and uber organisation, there must somewhere be a day of stupidity and chaos.

This might account for that day when I thought it a good idea to cease the dripping kitchen tap by pushing a foam bung up it. The irritating dripping noise stopped. So did all the lights in the downstairs rooms because I flooded the ceiling void, fused the circuits, and caused significant water damage up the walls and over the floor.

The foam might have been from a child's alphabet set which would also explain the missing letter L.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

My kids like carving pumpkins

I dread hallowe'en.

I dread hallowe'en because I might be hounded by Evangelical Christians and forced to justify why I am serving the devil in an unholy festival of evil by encouraging my kids to hollow out pumpkins. And because I have no smart argument ready to defend myself, I have to say, My kids like carving pumpkins.

I dread hallowe'en because some ancient old hippie like myself might make me justify why my kids are carving out pumpkins when we all know that here in the UK when we were kids there were never any pumpkins, there were turnips. And we didn't carve those out either. And now we are awash with American culture and it is all my fault. And because I can't defend myself against these charges, I have to say, My kids like carving pumpkins.

I dread hallowe'en in case I am challenged by Dark Earth Mother who is into Samhain and Beltane and knows all the phases of the moon and thinks I am an ignorant arse for letting my kids absorb a commercialised invention from a capitalist culture that is destroying the planet. Everyone knows this time of year is an ancient pagan festival nicked by Christians. And all I can say to her is, My kids like carving pumpkins.

I dread hallowe'en in case I am faced down on my own doorstep by some miniature ghoul got up in a black plastic cape and fake fangs, all from Tesco at a cost of 12.99. He'd be banging on the door demanding protection money in the form of Mars Bars, while his dad carries a box of eggs. Then I'll have to fess up that we don't have any sweets because we don't like that trick-treating stuff, and all hallowe'en is to us is the excuse to carve out pumpkins, because My kids like carving pumpkins.

And on hallowe'en I dread the sad, disappointed faces of Squirrel, Shark and Tiger if they don't carve out pumpkins. I buy three; one each. We attend a special pumpkin carving workshop, where all the kids make fantastic pumpkin scarecrows to be exhibited round an outdoor arts space on the 31st. I think preparation for hallowe'en doesn't come any better than this. Especially for kids who like carving pumpkins.

Ghost by Shark.
And believe me, suspending that head above that sheet wasn't easy.

Blue by Tiger.
Or Evil blue, to Mr Evil and Blue Evil of Doom.
No-one could quite decide.

The Sun, by Squirrel.
This pumpkin doesn't have a body because suns don't have bodies.
(It is also much, much better than last year when Squirrel carved
'Man walking a dog'.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Teaching the kids about architecture

Would you take your kids to a show home? A show home where everything is laid out perfect? Deep pile carpets, cream sofa, perfect bone china plates, colour coordinated bathroom with all the beautiful little bars of soap sitting on perfectly folded theatre set towels? Then the bedrooms: one like a princess room waiting only for the princess? Breathe deeply because this show home whispers I am style.

Grit takes her grubby little gritlets to one today. Partly because she is deranged by the vision that is home education, but also because she gets a buzz by doing these things, like the wet afternoons after the shopping creche closed. To go home I walked a slow, deliberate walk through John Lewis china and glass department. Best, my eyeful of toddlers were not strapped into the triple buggy. No, I just shouted Remember, kids! Mamma only has two hands! Be careful now! And that gave my sad day a little something like an evil sparkle: one way to resist a world that looked at me like an escaped freak from a sideshow was to become one.

Well now I do the same, and justify it not with What you looking at? But with We're home educated! like this is explanation and justification enough for some bizarre behaviour you're now about to witness.

Or it could perhaps be that home education unhinges you. Oh yes I believe it does a little, because once you step away from that normal template parent, then you start challenging all sorts of ideas and people and stick your face in places where it doesn't belong, and you may justify all oddities on the basis that knowledge is not something that is handed down to us; knowledge is something we produce for ourselves, and we're producing it right here and now and this is why we are carrying this chimney pot and that dead hedgehog.

And in this knowledge-liberated home ed world, this perfect show home is a perfect learning opportunity. Because last week we talked about architecture and looked at some working drawings and talked about building materials and construction methods. So today it's easy to say Let's go and see a building site!

You see how logical that is? How easy you can jump from talking about stuff to packing all the kids in the car and driving to a sales office here...

and interrogating the saleswoman for an hour, picking her brains about house building which Grit is pleased to call an architecture workshop, before watching the shock result when I say And can we now see the show home?

Once inside, Grit's plan of course goes wrong. This is the problem with knowledge - once someone gets hold of some, they start running about with it uncontrollably and doing what they like. A bit like Squirrel all over the show home with my phone camera. Because Squirrel, Shark and Tiger decide this is the perfect place to live in forever; mostly because it lacks any plastic crap over the floor and scribble on the walls - in fact no sign of real trashy human habitation at all - but so awe inspiringly Disney perfect is this palace to my little girls that they forget why we are here at all, but photograph every molecule in that show home. They finally only give up when the saleswoman's face is frozen by fear and the memory card on my phone is so fat and filled up that it is groaning under the weight shouting NO MORE PICTURES OF THE GREEN VASE.

But really, even after the shouting and fisticuffs over possession of the phone camera, this visit fits perfectly with Grit's project on architecture. Because these are not just any old homes, these are Oxley Woods homes, and they use no slates on the roof, and no bricks on the walls and they use torn up recycled paper for insulation. These are green homes with solar panels and ecohats and take a matter of minutes to build as opposed to half a year, and this is what we come to see:

As we are leaving, the saleswoman wipes her brow and heaves a big sigh and consoles herself with the thought that when all is said and done, the little grits are the house buyers of the future. And then I can add smugly, And the architects.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Remember that promise of lemonade?

Squirrel, Shark and Tiger are behaving oddly. Like agreeably. This outbreak of cooperation has been ongoing for several days. All this mutual support, like a deep underground rumble, is unnerving me, and I ask myself, Are they plotting something?

Are they huddling together in some strange tripletty-mind-pact, wordlessly? Plotting perhaps to lull me into a delusion that right now we have a content and happy home? Allowing me to rest that thought for a moment on my naive and smug backside? Long enough perhaps for me to consider that I am doing an OK job, what with single mothering, home educating, and keeping up with the laundry.

Perhaps when they've put a complacent foolish grin on my smug face, they'll proceed to wipe it off. They might lure me into the kitchen. Here they'll suddenly explode this satisfied atmosphere and Grit's brain into the bargain, by responding to some secret signal and reverting to triplet type. Like that signal when Tiger grabs Shark's head and slams it on the kitchen table hollering SHARK IS PISSING ME OFF! And then Squirrel will start crying that ghastly howling abandoned baby wolf noise that whoowooowooos like an ice pick skewering my synapses. And Shark of course will be fighting back by then, snarling and grabbing Tiger by the hair so she can draw her fingernails down Tiger's sweet face and ruin her chances of marrying into British royalty forever, despite the horse riding and skiing lessons for which we are specifically paying with that goal in mind.

And how will these little triplets justify this massacre of both the happy house and Grit's brain? It will not be of course prompted by something significant like our shared concerns over the collapse of the UK banking system, and how are we going to keep a roof over our heads. No. It will be something more fundamental to our lives, like Where is the lemonade? You promised lemonade! You said last April we would make lemonade and now look! It is October! You have not bought the lemons! And that is why we have to do this right now and put dynamite under the roof of this house! Then Grit will be that normal failing shit mother again; the one who blames herself for this mess and tells herself how wrong and badly she is doing everything and who proves it by wading across the kitchen floor knee-deep in last week's laundry.

But, like I said, none of this bad blame and misery stuff is happening. Not at all. After breakfast Shark, Squirrel and Tiger jump happily into the car. We drive to the woods to listen to a storyteller, which mummy Grit calls an English lesson, and no-one is phased by that, and then we run about and collect leaves and twigs and conkers to help tell stories. Afterwards, we come home and eat lunch nicely with table talk like, Will you pass the apple juice please? Yes! Here it is! Thank you!

Listen! Can you hear rumbling?

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Education for free down the shopping centre

Do you know, when we are doing well, this home education lark is like one long permanent holiday? Like ice creams and hot sunshine and golden sand every day?

However, please don't try it. The queues and crowds at the sea life centres, and in all the museums, workshops and galleries will become miserably long and I shall be forced to put Shark, Squirrel and Tiger into school to escape.

Remember that home educators are a ragbag of old hippies waiting for the revolution. We smell, too. Vile. Send your kids to school. School is best, that's what I say.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, home education, going well.

Today Grit (rancid old hippie, Scargill was right, it's all a government plot etc. etc.) takes her (vile, smelly) home educated kids to the (stinking capitalist enterprise), Milton Keynes shopping centre.

Here we can benefit from the studious Open University, which has set up lots of science education stalls as part of a grand science festival. This sounds odd, doesn't it, popping to M&S for knickers and emerging two hours later with a new planet and a gravitational microlens, but bringing knowledge to the people is one of the things the Open University is all about. And if the people won't come to science, then it must come to them. Well we don't need any encouragement about that, seeing as we hippies believe home education is really education anywhere, anytime.

Surrounded by shops selling ski boots and handbags we meet a lovely man who tells us how to land satellites on comets (comets, small deaf Squirrel, not camels), and how to grow bacteria behind our ears (Shark, stop sniggering, he said ears, not rears). Then we explore exoplanets, European space research and moon rovers, and discuss whether six billion pounds is a useful amount of money to spend on something that looks like a disability vehicle without the disabled person sitting in it.

All of this is wonderful education because the children imagine themselves as tiny as a molecule and Tiger, Squirrel and Shark make blobby things out of plasticine. Then Grit becomes ridiculously excited about OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb like she just found three squares of chocolate at the bottom of her handbag that she thought she'd eaten. Yes, as excited as that: the jumping up and down look!look!look! sort of excitement.

Now of course Grit with her education hat is all fired up again and is off to reinforce ideas about camels, rears, and nanotechnology and will be purchasing a copy of Fantastic Voyage almost immediately. All that is left of this splendid trawl round the science stalls is to remember next time to buy some knickers.

And, of course, copies of Das Kapital, On the Road, a tie-died frock rubbed with odour of goat, and some skunk for the kids.

Tiger's (out of focus) molecules. Please keep up.

Light and paint

What's on the family learning project today? This fantastic art-science workshop from MKG based on the work of Gilberto Zorio, and part of the national Big Draw project.

Really, I have nothing smart, lippy, irritating nor tuttytuttut to say about this two hours of pure gold. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger make their own animated films on clear tape spun round a 1970s classroom projector and amuse themselves making shadow puppet theatre until the glow-in-the-dark footballs come out. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger play with those well past dark, passing the ball very well to each other but completely missing the point about the feet.

And since Grit is now living dangerously with her increased radioactive brazil nut consumption, the Zorio exhibition suits me down to the ground. Because if I take a wrong turn round the gallery space I am threatened with electric shock, chemical burns, strobe-induced epilepsy and a rather vicious looking spear.

Highly recommended.

But is it art?
Looking a bit like a womb under the microscope,
let's call it Fish in Red Ocean.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Living dangerously

Grit takes Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to a lecture room at the Open University to discover everyone is blasted by alpha radiation all day long. That is, when we are not being poisoned by radon gas, or blitzed by stray beta radiation - that's the type of radiation I can stop if I hammer aluminium saucepans on everyone's head. Strapping the lead suit on us all might be a tadge tricky and possibly dangerous, but it will stop most of the gamma rays from eating our brains and mashing our bodies.

As you can see, life after the children's radioactivity lecture is a lot more dangerous than it was when we started.

But this is possibly a good thing.

For example, it puts into perspective my worrying about the additional glass of malt whiskey following last night's particularly traumatic hair combing. Now I can have two glasses, the last one in celebration of surviving the radioactive rocks we foolishly brought back from Cornwall last July and which are sitting at this very moment like harbingers of doom on the front doorstep.

Knowing that life is dangerous at every turn also helps me elaborate my random dark depressive thoughts when I think I am going to die. Like, now the puffin which will kill me while I am seated on the toilet is actually a gamma radioactive puffin which explains why it is sailing through the air in the first place and can crash through the window above me.

But best of all I have now found a way of living dangerously everyday. Since children, life has just become too safe. Let's face it, the biggest risk I take is to occasionally drag the car out of a mud-congealed field without needing to hail a passing tractor. No. Now I can take a real plunge into the danger zone every breakfast time after that second cup of liquid radioactive coffee.

Pass me the brazil nuts.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

No good can come of this

While Dig boogies round strange places on the other side of Planet Earth, Grit drives the two minute journey to Tesco and buys booze. In quantity.

Really, she is not proud of this moment, so don't applaud.

In fact, my voice of guilt and doom tells me to hang my head in shame, have both my alcoholic pickled legs amputated, forget I have early onset dementia, and be denied a transplant. Because I have convinced myself that all this inevitable misery is my just deserts for one drop more than a small bottle of beer with supper. And that's before I push that trolleyload of beer, red wine and whiskey to the checkout. This little prim voice in my head, the one which sounds like my girls grammar school English teacher, the one who strangled herself with a lace collar, says I am going to die a horrid all alone death without a liver.

But today the other little voice in my head, the one that sounds like Jack Nicholson from The Shining and wears a red cape and has little horns and carries a pitchfork, whispers Come on, for here you suffer an absent husband, an alone October day, a home education schedule as gruelling as having an axe embedded in the skull, and squabbling triplets who can swing a punch that would knock out a donkey. That Doublewood whiskey at bedtime? It's your reward.

And what finally tips me over the edge, into the alcohol aisle of perdition?

Close to bathtime I can no longer escape the obvious. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger need their hair combing. Quite frankly it looks as if three dead cats got entangled in those woolpits. Tonight, only a decent malt will alleviate the pain.

And here's the problem.

We haven't got any. No whiskey. Beer. Wine. Don't ask where it's gone.

Well I could blame Dig. He normally buys, and possibly drinks, the booze. Now Dig has failed in this monthly husbandly duty, because he is not here. Normally, in his absence, I'll buy my beer when I run down to the Co-op for bread, cheese, stamps. But actually this routine is pretty difficult when I'm on kiddy call 24/7. And when I try to buy my evening bottle of beer on the sly, then Squirrel invariably pleads to pop into the Co-op with me, so then I buy beer with her standing at my side, eyes wide and innocently fastened onto the behind-the-counter hard spirits and cigarettes. The worst is when I get the tee-total checkout assistant at the till who slowly gazes from the bottle of beer, to me, to Squirrel, then back again, with a hardening face of judgement that damns me as a mother destined for hell. She should just go ahead and add, Would you like crack cocaine with that? For the CHILD. Well lady, do not bother, because truly, I have put myself in damnation already.

So with my beer run failing, I glumly face my evening meal with a glass of apple juice and probably kiddy spit in it too. There is only one solution. Stick the kids in front of Night at the Museum again and get the booze run over and done with. Buy the month's supply in one go.

And that's what I do.

I'll just pray the whiskey's not included in that timetable.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Mad science

Tiger, on hands and knees, crawls towards a bucket of dry ice. Grit is reminded that buckets are usually for throwing up in, after a heavy session the night before. But buckets do not, in her recollection, normally produce something that looks like smoke, unless they are on fire. In which case the title of today's blog would not read Mad Science but Tiger throws up in a bucket which is on fire.

Yes, we attended a Mad Science lecture which we now vote as just about the best party entertainment going, only we can't remember much science and hope that words like sublimation enter our brains by osmosis. Whatever that is.

And just to keep daddy Dig informed while he is being wined and dined behind a light industrial estate somewhere near the North/South Korean border, this is what your little gritlets did next.

Threw themselves about in a contraption that looks like the the inner of a tumble drier

...hung lifeless from trees pretending to be sleeping leopards

...and failed completely to photograph any sister on the swing.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

No exit

This is ill at-home day for Grit, who is officially worn out, fed up and choking to death on her own swollen throat. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are all at various stages of cough-and-cold too, so I'm declaring our household diseased. We lack only a bell to sound.

At 9pm Grit takes to her bed and contemplates why, in some vulnerable moments, does she feel like the world is against her and why she is so beaten down and lacking in any resources at all. And strangely the memory of this notice pops unbidden into her head, as somehow summing up all that is life.

This notice she saw last Sunday in the ladies changing room at the lake; the changing room which is really a cold metal portacabin of a broken toilet and a disused shower. Because Grit went into this dank, dark and miserable place, slammed the door shut, and turned round to read this notice:

And then Grit pushed hard at the stiff, closed door, looked around, and thought to herself, What whistle?

Monday, 20 October 2008

The Magic of Oxygen

You don't see me organising events for our home ed groups. Yes, I feel guilty about that. Everyone except me organises amazing workshops and stuff, while I just take along triplets to pull each other's hair or poke each other's eyes.

But one day I am cruising about planet Internet when I eye-spy the Magic of Oxygen chemistry-based lecture to be held at the Open University. It's a breathtaking WhizzBangPop! aimed at school groups.

Then I immediately shoot an email to the organiser hinting at educational discrimination and threatening to disembowel myself over an office chair if home educated children are not encouraged to participate. Foolishly, because at that moment I am feeling the sweep of grand gestures and expansive statements, I suggest I could amass a group of, hmm, let's see, twelve people, children and adults, who would enjoy this lecture. Now I throw the gauntlet down. I say prove how much education matters to everyone and not just the Jessies in form 3G.

I expect to be ignored. But I am not. I receive a message by return which says the lecture will be well attended by schools but suggests perhaps fifteen home educators might be accommodated with some special chairs up the aisles.

And so I send out a message on the home ed email lists offering a jolly good deal on a Magic of Oxygen lecture and hey! because by then I am in full righteous organising flow, I throw in a Radioactivity lecture too.

And then I remember why I do not organise many home education events.

First, it is the organising. I am not good at administration. Of any sort. Numbers, ages, names, dates, locations, timings, letting people know, that sort of thing. As you can see, I have a problem recalling what day it is. Sometimes I beat my head with my knuckles to remember simple things like Where are my car keys? and What have I done with my glasses? Not surprisingly then, this Magic of Oxygen lecture quickly blooms to twenty emails in eight different directions, and several lists of names, notes and jottings which I immediately lose on my desk.

And here's the second reason why I don't organise things. Because it all goes out of control quicker than a rat up a drainpipe.

Here we are, showing up at the OU reception. From a promise of fifteen people, I turn up with an out of control rabble of thirty people and my face saying I don't know who they are, so don't look at me. The people who show up bear almost no resemblance to the list I carefully lost three days ago. Meanwhile, the receptionist is experiencing a bat-up-your-skirt day. Strange sorts of people not in suits are messing up her lovely reception and they do not have identity numbers or name badges and say they are meeting here and Now look! A baby with a pushchair has arrived and that is just about mind blowing and she may have to lie down behind the counter and inject drugs.

And this is typical of home ed groups. Tell me if yours is any different. From fifteen seats suitable for upwards of age nine I have amassed an intergenerational party of thirty for the WhizzBangPop! including a crying baby, two running about toddlers, grandma, and a selection of infirm who may need the oxygen. And now is foolish Grit thinking Crikey! We're for it! Because how can all our bottoms fit on fifteen chairs?

But should I have worried? No. The organiser is one step away from being more poorly organised than me, the out of control home ed rabble take over the lecture theatre, run about, and squeal yippeeyippeeyippee! and the school party leaves 40 empty seats because they never show up. Quietly I think, yup, next year, it won't matter how disorganised or out of control I am, because with a home ed lot like this, and a resource this good and free, I'll just send the invite to every home edder in a fifty mile radius, and we'll mob the place.

Be forewarned, Miss Bat-up-your-skirt.

Preparing for the WhizzBangPop!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

A sorry tale of mud, field, indignity, and soiled grey Tesco value clothing

One of the awful things about Dig's absence is the terrible and terrifying thoughts that beset me. Like, what if some disaster were to strike?

What if I were driving Shark to the lake today for her sailing lesson and we were struck by an out of control lorry and I died and all my darling children were ambulanced to hospital, motherless and alone in all the world?

Or what if I popped down the Co-op for a bottle of beer, leaving Shark, Squirrel and Tiger glued to Night at the Museum which they think is the funniest film they have seen forever, and I never returned because some druggie outside the Co-op decided to murder me on the spot because I am carrying a bottle and it is brown and the colour brown sends him crazy because he thinks brown is a member of M15 and out to destroy him? What if that happened?

And what about the puffin? I know it sounds unlikely, but horrible things happen. Then there are the heart attacks, the electrocutions, collapsing buildings, falling trees, runaway buses, dropping down dead, all of these scenarios that, given a fraction of a second and the wrong turn, could happen, might happen.

Then I think the emergency services will have to break into the house, and what would the newspapers report? No longer Woman on toilet struck dead by puffin but Mother in drugs death traded triplets for booze.

Of course I have one safeguard against these dreadful newspaper reports that will blight the lives of my little girls forever. It is to clean the hob. Because when the police break down the door - because Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are unable to open it, driven to zomboids by watching a looped Ben Stiller - then the police will look around the kitchen and know that this mother may have been clubbed to death in a Co-op doorway by a drugged out crazy before being mangled to death and simultaneously electrocuted in a road tragic accident by a runaway train, and finally flattened by a dead puffin in a falling tree, but look at that hob. Now her children need protection for ever because that hob proves she cares.

But today none of these things happened. What did happen is that, while running across a muddy field to take this photograph ...

...without my knowledge or consent yesterday's knickers detached themselves from my trouser leg and flew out to greet the people behind me.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Because at no point can I say, 'Ask daddy'

Grit: And then we will drop off Shark at her lesson and you Squirrel will go to the playground. So wrap up warm because it is cold.
Squirrel: What?
Grit: I said wrap up warm because it is cold and you will be cold in the playground.
Squirrel: What?
Grit: How do you mean, what?
Squirrel: What playground?
Grit: The playground you are going to when we drop off Shark.
Squirrel: What do you mean drop off Shark?
Grit: You know Shark is going to her lesson and you are going to the playground.
Squirrel: You didn't tell me that.
Grit: Yes I did.
Squirrel: No you did NOT.
Grit: Do you remember that we are going to drop off Shark at her lesson? And you Squirrel will go to the playground? I am asking you to wrap up warm because it is cold.
Squirrel: You never told me that.
Grit: Well I'm telling it you now.
Squirrel: What?
Grit: I want to be locked away in an institution for a year because right now that seems preferable to having this conversation.
Squirrel: What?

Friday, 17 October 2008

Theatre treat

Thanks to the moron mother who thought it a good idea to give each of her three kids the biggest bag of sweets she could find, where every one of those sweets was further locked in a RUSTLING FOIL WRAPPER, I had to sit through a 50-minute puppet performance of Beauty and the Beast with


going off in all ears. Indeed Phil Spector and all his firearms would be particularly proud of this Wall of Sound. After fifteen minutes most of the words Beauty or the Beast could utter were drowned out in a slobbery sea of chomp and bag crackle. After twenty minutes it seemed like a totally reasonable action to turn round, snatch those bags of sweets, clap those kids across the choppers and throw every toffee right at that moron mother's head.

But because I am grown up, I just TUTTED.

Well not next time matey. NEXT TIME when your fat kid who cannot stay off the TOFFEES for longer than one minute dares to unwrap his first juicy THEATRE treat I am going to pass you a bag of cold wet spaghetti and pickled eggs and dump it on your lap and listen to you SCREAM.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Dig goes to Korea. Or somewhere.

Now I feel awful. Not that Dig exited the front door dodging missiles, daggers, or words like Never come back. Quite the opposite. Dig has been with us all summer, mostly. Probably the longest continuous time he has spent at home for several years, all rolled into four months. We got used to him upsetting us, carving out his own space, leaving a step ladder in the office, building an irritating tower of papers on the floor, probably so he can shout at us when we knock those over while avoiding the ladder. And now he's gone.

Thinking about things, it's not the worst. That was Nottingham. When the children were a month old and, back from hospital barely a week - four or five days - I was dreading him going away even for one night because I didn't know how the bottle steriliser thing worked. That was the only time I have ever asked him not to go. Well I didn't exactly ask, more collapsed sobbing, blubbing and pleading somewhere about the level of the floor. Really, I had to summon up all my energy to keep living, forget taking charge of mewling red-faced babies who were so tiny you'd have lost them in your pockets.

That was a long time ago. I'm stronger now, and have realised this streak of Gritness, which is all about melding the top teeth to the bottom teeth and getting on with it. Because if I don't, the only other options I can think of are death, drugs or vodka.

Complaining is good of course, and I'm better at that too. And I will complain this time, because Dig's itinerary is exciting - compared to Grit for whom the highlight is a local field in the mud. Over the next month or so Dig will be feted about Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China.

Let me say now that the more light industrial estates he's frog marched about, the better.

Because of course once I would have tagged along, fulfilling my role in life as a pointless clothes horse, enjoying the top table without having done anything to earn it, except slept with the top boy. Not that I'm regretful about that of course, because it's not a bad life if you can get away with it.

Well we're all left behind now, and the whole household is quiet. Not the crying I would have expected from Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, who probably take this See you later in their stride. Only weeping from me, because I need to have it over and done with so I can emerge to cook veggie rice, complaining about the onions and don't worry, it will be alright because we're going to have fun! Now about tomorrow. Who wants to collect conkers in the field? Ordinary words like that.

Today the only grit I've got is one that's morose, self pitying and heading for the beer.

Tomorrow, I'll be clenching those teeth and heading back to that field, complaining.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Tit for tat

I get that warm all gooey ahhhh mothery heart feeling today. I have not the faintest idea why. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger stay the same squabbling rabble they ever were; the sort of squabbling rabble that has me threatening to sell them for medical experiments if they ever do that again in public; the type of squabbling rabble that pack-like growls in full view of everyone, then disloyally turns as if they treat me all the time like that, even though I lock into their eyes with my bestest hard evil stare. They send that hard lip and fixed eye stuff right back at me, facing me out. Worse, because I think by then everyone must be watching and tut tutting, I have to make that kidseh?wotchagonnado? face, tut and roll my eyes, when really I grind my teeth and think You little madam, right now I would like to dig a big pit in this common ground and dump you in it for 24 hours and let's see then if you do that lip and eye stuff.

But maybe that ahhhh cute forgiving feeling wells up in me, like the pain is all worth it, because, within minutes, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are all together like this, working alongside each other, snug and cute in the home ed animation workshop, led by a local creative group:

Just as well that warm mummy glow was there at all. Because then I see this.

That's right. It's called Mummy with a handbag.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Do you have any complaints?

Who did I pinch this trick from to stop those triplet complaints? Probably another triplet parent who is smarter than me, but thanks to that wise person, we now have a complaints procedure in this house.

This is the procedure.

1. Do not come to me saying 'I hate Shark/Tiger/Squirrel, she is a poopy because she is ... blah blah blah'... I will not listen. No. You have to write it down.

2. Write down the exact nature of your complaint, and leave it on my desk.

3. Then, we discuss the issue calmly all together in the house meeting (i.e. dinnertime).

There are clear advantages to this system, and for those I want to thank that wise parent from the bottom of my heart.

It has put a brake on the long line of sharkdidthisohyessharkdiddiddid.

This system also demands that everyone considers the exact nature of the complaint. It totally avoids the rehearsal of a long line of grudge. (Mostly because they can't be bothered to write it all out and they can't spell it all either.)

And, of course, with this system, everyone gets to write something everyday. Sometimes twice.

In fact this system has worked fine for a few days. I have been inundated with notes. Mostly from Squirrel, clearly destined for law: I don't like sisters calling me names. Tiger has my dolly coat. I don't like feeling excluded. Shark woke me up this morning by shouting. Tiger had a long time at the computer. Shark ate the last bit of pie.

But today when I walk in, there on my keyboard is the following terse message.

Endeavouring to stay one step ahead of this, I will inform Squirrel that we now have a complaints form, and all complaints must be filled in on that, or they don't count.

And if that doesn't get me anywhere, I will get her on the capital letters.

Monday, 13 October 2008

To the woods

Five years ago, looking for like minded people in local reach, I sought out a local home ed group. I found one.

How awful was that experience; how demoralising, how unlikeminded, how it was as if I had plunged into the deep blackness of the night countryside, and found myself a hundred miles from the nearest light, sunk in a ditch. I almost thought the game wasn't worth a candle, such a test of resolve and stamina those lonely months became. Made unsupported, unwelcomed, we made our own friends and investigated the local school.

Then by chance, a drive away, I found a second home-educating town and someone said, open and honest, What problem? Come along! No-one seemed to mind who I was, or much what I thought, did or said; no-one set me up in a spider's trap; they simply said Welcome! and asked Do you want tickets? and Would you like to join us? I left that bad experience and that alien group behind, and went on to enjoy what we did, shrugging my shoulders and waving my hand.

Then, five years on, right on my doorstep, there's a sudden flicker of movement, a sideways step, a vanishing, a welcoming email, some words, and now here's that alien group, reformed, local, all going down to the woods together; the children as kings, queens, artists and engineers.

Just for an instant before we set out to this woodland play, I had the urge not to go, perhaps in case that change was a deception and that it were not so different than before; that it became our Lord of the Flies. Perhaps I feared we couldn't make a safe retreat, and that when I crawled back I did so cursing, washing our wounds and vowing never again.

But I'm glad we went, because all that happened was that we grown ups exchanged understanding nods and quiet words and resolutions that things in the future would be different and the children played at being kings, queens, artists and engineers.

One step at a time. And maybe then we can stay longer, in this unreal world made in the woods, and do our best to make it real.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Six impossible things before supper

And we're off!

After breakfast Grit Dig and the Gritlets drive to Salcey Forest as fast as possible

to meet Linda Johns for her art tour which is so splendid and breathtaking that Grit says we are going to get out the chickenwire and do the same in the back garden

then dash straight to the lake where I do not know what comes over me but it seems like a good idea to put Shark and Squirrel together in a double canoe and that is probably the worse idea I ever had since I tied them together as toddlers in the three legged race which is the only time truly I have wet myself in public laughing because now they paddle out to the middle of the lake and proceed to smack each other around with paddles so the instructor comes over to see what the commotion is about

but I leave the water fight for Dig to watch and the instructor to umpire and I shove Tiger in the childrens playground

but at 4pm put Tiger in the car for the horseriding lesson

then drive back to the lake where Shark and Squirrel are fighting in the playground instead but I drag everyone out because we are due at the outdoor art exhibition

and the twilight glow in the dark party to see the drawings that Shark and Tiger completed yesterday afternoon with Sally Booth at her workshop

while Squirrel was busy with her ballet exam class and I am so glad glad happy that Dig is here all this weekend and especially today because if he were not we could not have achieved all this but I would have buckled under the strain to be in so many different places all at the same time and I might have been tempted just to stay at home and watch TV.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

10 reasons not to home educate

1. The house is trashed.
It's trashed the minute I open my eyes, to the minute I close them at night. Some days I don't open my eyes at all. Some days I photograph the floor, and call it installation art. Then I go berserk and threaten everyone with black dustbin liners. Whatever. Basically, the house is trashed.

I guess if you send the kids to school you can photograph your sofa cushions, and everyone says, that's nice. I cannot find my sofa cushions. They are made into a house for the unicorns. Probably, in the time it has taken to type this sentence, they are off the sofa, down the bottom of the garden, and up a tree.

2. There is no free time.
Really, none. Nope, not enough to shop alone, or slide off to the gym, or scoff a chocolate bar in secret under the stairs. I have tried. One of the little critters will come and hunt you down and find you and snatch that chocolate treat from out of your mouth before demanding paint and string and how do you spell the word microscope because a unicorn up a tree with your favourite cushion wants to be a scientist and, by the way, did you know the sink is orange?

If you send the kids to school I bet you can write novels, paint pictures, mend the fridge, go to work, and cut the hedge.

3. There is no privacy.
Of course you cannot have sex at all if you home educate. Not at all. Because the children are there all the time and don't think they're going to bed at 7pm. No. They are only starting to read TinTin and the Lake of Sharks and have no intention of turning out any lights before midnight, matey. By which time you and your desirable partner are both snoring away, utterly exhausted.

If you send the kids to school you can have sex on the kitchen table with the ironmonger while both of you wear saucepans on your head.

4. It is bloody hard work.
Of course it is impossible to be imaginative all the time. You cannot turn everything into a positive learning experience while desperate for a wee, a cup of tea and holding the door which has just fallen off the washing machine. But because you are a positive thinker, you think, give it 15 minutes and we'll learn how to fix the washing machine door, together. But then you discover you can't do that because of the all-day fight about a dolly's shoe. That's an invisible shoe by the way, because someone has lost it. This leads to demoralisation and feelings of hopelessness. Grit has found it relieves the pressure to wake up in the morning and say to herself I will be imaginative for only 20% of the day and if I make a positive learning experience out of anything, I am bloody doing well.

If you send the kids to school you don't have to bother making a positive learning experience out of anything apart from arriving at the school gates on time.

5. Home education is a BIG responsibility.
And can lead to feelings of ohmygodwearenotdoinganything. Then you hunt out a dog-eared maths book and shout in panic We are going to learn Pythagorasus theorum! What's more, to save time, we are learning it in Latin! Everyone immediately scarpers. In this general area of responsibility I would also include feelings of guilt, fear, mild schizophrenia, emotional trauma and tears of confusion because your two year old does not want to learn Latin, he wants to eat chairs.

If you send your child to school, it's someone else's responsibility and you get to complain about the homework.

6. Arguments.
Not between you and the offspring about CGP books, obviously. Between the offspring themselves. These arguments are worse. Much worse. These arguments are not, unlike the CGP arguments, ended with the promise of a chocolate bar.

If more than one child is home educated in your house you might have to listen to arguments all day long. Like yesterday. Shark is going to dial 999 now because Tiger has the dolly coat and she STOLE that coat and it is not hers and she can SHUT HER MOUTH and GET OUT OF MY ROOM and I NEVER WANT TO SEE HER PIG FACE EVER AGAIN.

If you send the kids to schools I guess you have this at weekends and holidays, but can photograph your cushions in between.

7. The daily struggle of emotional control.
In response to the challenges in point 6, i would like to scream SHUT THE F*** UP! But I do not. I say Ignore that. Do not rise to that. You are stronger than to take notice of that. These are usually pointless so I come into the office to let go of those spitballs as big as planet Jupiter, swear my guts out, kick the waste bin, scream obscenities at Dig because he breathed in a funny way and then I return to the war zone refreshed and say Ignore that. Do not rise to that. You are stronger than to take notice of that.

Thinking about it, emotional control has nothing to do with home educating. SHUT THE F*** UP! may be something that most people want to scream at lots of people, all the time, and especially at colleagues in the office. So I'm not counting number 7.

7. Children's prattle.
You have to listen to hours of this. For the first year it is delightful and engaging and then slowly it grinds you down. Now if someone was ever mad and blind enough to invite you to dinner again, you could use only this as your dinner party conversation:
this is the mummy triceratops and I have made her armour look mummy look and I made this out of wire and here is a magnet and this is from the time when there were no watties and the magnetic stones were all around the ground and then if I put the magnet near the armour look mummy look the mummy triceratops has a baby and the baby follows her armour and they are going to the shops and they might buy new armour ...etc etc etc.
If you send the kids to school your exposure to this type of blabber is curtailed. I bet your cushions look lovely though.

8. Neglect.
Not of children, obviously. Of self. As in, grey hair saggy bosoms filthy clothing no make up torn shirts eye infections. Clearly this is not true of all home educating parents, but it is of Grit. There is very little time in the home ed triplets day to look stunningly well dressed, and I admire those parents who somehow home educate while managing a stately home, turning out kids for Oxbridge and looking immaculate in the process. I think they have staff. Without staff, and with triplets, all this glamour is very hard work. Not surprisingly, something has to give. Possibly my Tesco value knicker elastic while I am trying to hoist Shark into an apple tree before she spies the man with the Chihuahua.

I bet sending the kids to school means you have manicures, go to the gym, do press ups, wear heels, colour your hair in the latest styles and spend two hours choosing a pair of earrings. Tell me it isn't true and I still won't believe you.

9. You are marginalised.
The ballet mums certainly hate me and turn away from me. Grit's family let her get on with whatever insanity she dreams up since they gave in long ago or died before the true and horrible consequences. On Dig's side we have mostly non-functional relationships, except for Aunty Dee who probably thinks we're as mad as a bag of badgers but babysits once a year anyway. The people at the local shop who have read the papers may think we're child abusers and I'm surprised the man at number 32 hasn't reported us.

If you send the kids to school and waft about the school gates dressed in Dior and clucking about ballet shoes and hairgrips, I bet everyone thinks you must be an ideal parent.

10. You develop a tendency to look over your shoulder.
The state is out to get me. The Local Authority is hunting me down to nail me up. The police are watching me. MI6 is hiding in the front garden behind the privet. The school down the road is sending out spies. I am wanted by the truancy officer who will clap me in irons and slap a school attendance order on me.

Most of these murky thoughts are quite wearing when you are trying to enjoy yourself at the local park. Most have probably been put there by conspiracists. I am sure they don't relate to my ordinary life and I have never yet been stopped by the truancy patrol. This does not stop me watching for the privet to move.

If you send your brood to school you won't have these thoughts. Unless you have taken them out of school and claimed it was a medical when really you were on holiday or on a day out, in which case you are guilty and MI6 is watching you too.

11. Squirrel gave me another. She says parents are an embarrassment to children.
Squirrel says it because parents are there. This, I tell Squirrel, is a job I am supposed to do. In fact, being embarrassed is not the preserve of home educated children, all parents do it to their children. It is normal. The day you were born Squirrel I signed a contract in my own blood. It said I protect your little head at every turn while making sure I am a total embarrassment to you throughout your life.

I suppose today she is referring to skulking at the back of the science workshop. This is embarrassing, obviously, having a parent as a chaperon. Especially one who is trying to discreetly scoff chocolate biscuits when they have been specifically told by the organisers no eating in this room. Ahem.

I know I said 10 but I'm warming to it now.

12. Your children will humiliate you about your educational choice.
When the child under your care, clearly not at school at 11.30 in the morning, starts to yell and bellow in the market square that life is so unfair because they cannot watch DVDs all afternoon, then, to the large assembled crowd, they announce 'I cannot read. I am home educated', you will probably want to die of embarrassment.

If you send your kids to school, they won't say this. But if they humiliate you, you can roll your eyes, tut Kids today eh? and blame it on Jessie in class 3G.

13. You feel you have to justify everything.
On that final note I will compile reasons 11-20, for later use, on why home educate at all.

Not that I am justifying anything, of course.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Why home educate? (10) Cheap holidays

Home education is expensive, right? Think of the cost! The lessons, books, resources, visits!

Um. Home ed can cost not much per term, especially when compared to a Max Mara overcoat.

And there's the hammer blow. The home ed is cheap; the salary loss is the real cost. That and the Max Mara, to which a body might have to bid a teary farewell (Grit then waved goodbye to the delights of Episode, Clarins and Waitrose cheese counter). That loss of income could turn what is potentially a cheap or low-cost educational option into possibly the most expensive private education available. It all depends on how much you're giving up.

But we're all in different circumstances, right? Like, now, unemployable. Because Grit is totally bolshy and no way is she going back to slog in an office, and everyone should be relieved about that, because you might get me on the end of a telephone help line or something, and then you would pay to keep me away from that telephone. But you know, the point is, we all cut our cloth according to our circumstances: we spend as little or as much on home ed as we think we can afford. Probably to the exclusion of all else, in Grit's case, but at the end of the day she will go in hock to the bank for a bottle of beer. She deserves your pity about that because basically she is a clapped out old banger and a bottle of beer is the highlight of her day.

But really, say we go away somewhere in the UK - Kent was fun, as was Cornwall, and Cheshire - and we don't actually call that a holiday, because we are doing educational things like visiting castles and measuring seaweed, and we stay in a caravan somewhere and go out-of-season, and that, compared to school holiday time, is cheap. That's out-of-season cheap. Come half term, the prices of that caravan or those flights literally rocket. No wonder parents want to take kids out of school for annual holidays.

So if we cost the cheap home ed out-of-season not-holiday, together with the lessons, books, resources and library fines, it probably equates to the cost of a week's holiday taken in peak season August with a few desperate weekend treats grabbed at Clarins.

You see, there are always ways and means of justifying what we do.

Give me five minutes more, and I'll actually have saved money by home educating, and be able to go and buy myself that Max Mara*.

There is of course that mother-thing which is a crap-thing, and skews the financial considerations. You know, that sort of thing that says, £2.99 for a tee-shirt that actually fits is a total rip off, but £15 for a cuddly pink hippo is a bargain. I think that's just a mother problem I have. I suspect I'm not alone.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Why home educate? (9) The Library

Despite weeing on the floor, destroying the audio tapes, fighting on the stairs, shouting, screaming and generally creating merry hell before having the effrontery to point a finger to the stairs and utter the magic words 'health and safety' to demand a children's handrail (it worked); all this, and routinely being so appalled at our own lateness in returning the library books - making it cheaper to buy the ruddy Dolphin Diaries outright and remove them from the library stock forever - I would still say, hand on heart, that the library is a very good reason to home educate. Because looky here:

All these ordinary photos could be snapped on any visit to our library these days. And I would say it is all thanks to the patience and goodwill of Linny and the many librarians who know us, and have grown older alongside us, and who weekly exclaim My! Haven't they grown!' and recall three babies at baby storytime, when really, they only saw us last week, but are just saying the equivalent of Hello! Welcome! How lovely to see you!'

And this gets us to the heart of home education in so many ways; it is community education. The resources are all outside, all around us, in the community, and only require us to ask for them, and engage with the people who can help us use them. Only a fraction of our education is done at home, or round a kitchen table. Most of our education relies on the goodwill, patience, and welcoming pleasantries of ordinary people in everyday jobs in the community around us. And this has to be integration into a community at its most practical, fulfilling and satisfactory level.

Indeed, we find so much routine acceptance of our chosen life, down the library, at the cinema, in the shops, at the community halls, in the sports halls, at the discovery park, and from all the people we meet while booking workshops and inquiring about student rates, that I have to conclude there isn't, right now, a deep social suspicion of home educators - who we are or what we do. There is simply the feeling that home education is now, something quite ordinary, and we are accepted for who we are and respected for what we do.

And that is probably something quite extraordinary. Thank you, Linny, and so many others in our community, for making that happen.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Why home educate? (8) Socialisation

Really, you meet all sorts in this home ed world. And you meet people that you share nothing in common with, apart from the fact that home education draws you together in this very same space, on this very same day, at precisely this moment. All for a rocket making workshop, or how to make puppets, learn how fish breathe, pour water over a four-inch sheep, or interrogate monks about what they really do on Sundays.

Yet, do you know, throughout this wild and wonderful assemblage of stuff, the kids mostly play together and learn together, while their adults mostly get on, have a chat, nod politely and drink tea.

And I'm not saying it doesn't happen: that two mummies don't coldly eye each other up and, in a parallel universe, wrestle each other to the ground and punch each other's lights out. Or that a daddy never stares in horror and takes a brisk sidestep when the 18-strong evangelical Christian family clamber out the Motorin' for Jesus bus. Or one in fury doesn't turn up, and then, late, scowls cross-armed for an hour because they've been railroaded into this home ed crap and sure enough here's a bunch of old hippies.

But kids our age, babies, teens, ankle-biters, lippy-just-turned-twelve; they all come along, and granny does too, as do great-grandma and sometimes her Irish wolfhound, because home ed involves the entire family and now everyone wants a cup of tea. And then there are the old hippies and the new hippies and the 4x4 folks who are home educating for the term while they wangle James into St Chris, mixing with the family who are self sufficient, carbon neutral and have named their twins Plasticine and Purple. Then there's that dreadful woman you want to avoid because she blogs every word you utter, and the settled family who just want to be left alone to be happy, rubbing along with the ancient Marxist who is still living the day the revolution comes.

And that whole tidal spread of humanity washes up at the rocket making session and has to get on together, otherwise that rocket won't get made. At that point we have to overlook our intolerances and differences, our irritation that someone else has different parenting values from our own, our insecure feelings that someone else is doing it all better, more wisely, more confidently, and with twelve kids, not just three. We have to find our shared goals, and help the kids make rockets or water sheep and then have a cup of tea together.

Here is that common binding element, which is home education. However we all came by it - drawn here from ideological bent, school issues, health, aspiration, bloody-mindedness, commitment, lifestyle, just trying it, anything at all - that thread links us all together. The kids of all ages, backgrounds, communities, have to meet each other, play together, fall out, make up, get on. And by picking up one of those loosened ends and entering into that open network you meet some truly wise and wonderful people, find inspiring, thoughtful friends, be welcomed with gentleness, comfort and smiles when there are troubles to weather and hard decisions to face. Here there are people who help and support and talk things through, and deal with sadness and doubt and for this you don't have to do anything creepy or weird like sign your soul to a sect or hand over your pay packet. It comes all for free with people being people.

We are fortunate to have these people around us. In our busy week Shark, Squirrel, Tiger, Grit and sometimes Dig all mix in with the loud, opinionated, ever-smiling, dazed, crazed and wacko. Every week we need to meet new people, find common areas of concern and pursuit, share knowledges and stories, aspirations and doubts, and never prejudge anyone, even when met by an eight foot crucifix or purple hair.

Now really, tell me, is socialisation a reason not to home educate?

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Why home educate? (7) Food

Squirrel cooks dinner today. And here it is. A sweet carroty soup...

a stuffed red pepper ...

and something ill advised, out of season, crippled-the-planet-with-air-miles and How much! For a punnet of strawberries! all on a pastry base.

Sadly, there are some things to which I cannot say No. Squirrel with her big eyes asking for sparkly shoes and strawberries being one of them.

And food is an excellent reason to home educate. We cook together, eat together, and plan dinner as a social occasion and family-bonding luurve thing. We also get some very good education via our gnashers about politics, food economics, food history, where in the world sweetcorn will grow (but not in our garden) and why our cabbages get eaten (by bugs). And right now I am glorying in all that food related education and feeling very, very, smug.

Now please look away and count to 10. And if the anger is still there, you can march right in and punch me in the face.

Or you come back in ten years time and take pity on me when I am pouring out my bucketfuls of sad heartache chronicling our teenage girl battles with anorexia and eating disorders.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Why home educate? (6) Uniform

Oh dear. Daisy is aged four*. And to celebrate this momentous event let's gather all the children round at the discount store and stare at all the dreary school uniforms that £3.99 can buy, available in any colour you like so long as it is grey. Look! The label says this skirt will not crease! will not stain! Why not just paint the child directly in waterproof stain repellent then rivet on a stainless steel girder and a garage door? They don't crease either until Jessica from year 3 kicks them in.

I want to meet the person who designed the graceless grey pieces of non-folding nylon shite that passes round here for school uniform. And I want to punch them in the face. Do they wear that garbage to work? Do they get up each morning and think to themselves, hmmm, now which should I wear, the grey cardboard itchy-as-a-goat and manufactured out of tarmac? Or the grey plastic shield with the special non-folding ability that feels like all four limbs have been shoved in a waste pipe?

And what is all this stuff about dirt and stains and OHMYGOD ...PAINT! So what? Who is it that convinces parents that children should not get dirty, covered in mud, ketchup, purple paint and grass stains? Who is that person? Are they normal? Have they concreted over their own garden?

Well you can tell Grit is in a big area of contempt here. And this may be an area that she has to deal with emotionally and may resolve to do that by opening a second beer, but this minefield really pisses me off. Call me an old hippy mother who actually went to primary school wearing what she liked! And did wearing my favourite blue skirt make me significantly fail? Get bullied? Get pregnant aged 12? Become a wildly out-of-control teenager who spat at old ladies on buses? Sorry. Nope. Cramming kids in uniform when they are barely out of nappies is about none of these things, no matter what arguments are held up in favour of grey sheet metal. It is about social control.

And it's not just the grey uniform children get to wear from age 4 these days, it's the uniformity of the day. Because lunch is at this time and in this space, always. Arrival is here and now, or else. Departure is then and you'd better not be late. I don't think the Digs and Grits of this world can live like that; to have our whole day structured by what's convenient from some institution down the road. And we'd be getting constant letters. You let your daughter wear her blue leggings AGAIN! Mrs Grit, we note you are LATE again and AGAIN. GRIT! DO NOT ALLOW YOUR DAUGHTER TO WEAR THAT PINK DRESS TO THIS SCHOOL EVER AGAIN. That horrible pink dress that she loves and loves and loves so much and says it is the most comfortable thing she has ever worn, and best of all, sometimes she can run around and play and play and she forgets that she's wearing anything at all. Oh, that one.

(You may be able to tell that any temperate and restraining influence on Grit's blasphemous mouth has just left the building on a long trip. Daddy Dig, everyone wishes you were here, probably even the long suffering readers of this blog.)

* Why oh why has age four now become the default for sending the kids to school? Let's get it over and done with and hand them over at two days.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Why home educate? (5) Creativity

It's raining. It's raining in bucketfuls, and no-one is interested in attending the fungi spotting wood walk this morning. Mostly because we will be swimming up to our eyeballs in mud while being stabbed in the head by spears of rain and thus unable to distinguish a fungi even when we have crushed it by accident.

So we do what a productive home educating family does. We start work on the various pieces of art that will compose the exhibition that mother, bored and pissed off by a Turner model on a toilet, has rashly announced we will create for next summer down the local community hall.

Well the gritlets are thoroughly enjoying themselves with this project, even though it means the bathroom has been reassembled as an artist's studio for the duration. I have propped up a step ladder over the bath and this serves as an easel. The bathroom shelf stands as a paint store and the paintbrushes can be conveniently ejected into the sink.

This project is going well, except I didn't get my choice of theme so am a bit sulky about that. I wanted rock, on the basis that rocks do not run away. The gritlets wanted animals, including lions, horses, fish and cheetahs, and they won. So we have visited Whipsnade safari park to collect preparatory drawings; we have brought those drawings home and looked at patterns, cropping and colour; we have looked at various art styles from our collection of art books, mostly gathered from second-hand charity shops and the library sale, and we are now committing ourselves to canvas, acquired fairly cheaply down the discount tat shop in a nearby town.

Here we go.

Art art art. This is one of the biggest reasons why I home educate, if not the biggest, most important, and dearest to my heart. I have seen art, craft, dance, music, drama, play, imagination and creativity, all steadily removed from the primary curriculum. That is a loss to children; that is a loss to all our lives. And I know I am not a lone voice in the wilderness shouting that one.

But complaining in a staff room didn't seem to be getting anywhere. Marching right in, taking control to put a creative education in place, changing a state of mind from consumer to producer, imagining ourselves doing, learning for ourselves, and getting out the paints. That's creative.