Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Survival guide to home education: 'me time'

Someone asked me: when you home educate, do you ever have any 'me time'?

I'll be honest. I have a problem with 'me time'. But who doesn't?

It started when the sprogs burst from my innards like in Alien. At that second, the metamorphosis of my brain and body was complete.

Don't tell me you're any different. I bet, pre-sprog, most of you ladies tiptapped around in lovely patent shoes, wearing a shape alluring bra with hip hugging black skirt in tasteful Dior style. Then you idled around on the sofa flicking magazines and sipping martinis while your other half cooked a little salmon supper in a light white wine.

Post-sprog, you wear flat shoes. Bras that you can unzip in the shopping centre. And no skirts at all, because jeans are far more practical. Instead of the martini hour, you will be vacuuming the bread bin, monitoring the minutes of the laundry cycle, and disinfecting the sink. By 8pm your other half will be sleeping because you have put him on the 2am watch to make sure the baby stays alive overnight, even when you aren't watching.

And this defines my basic problem with 'me time'. Pre- to post-sprog, the 'me' has changed. Significantly.

(By the way, if you are first-time pregnant reading this, thinking, 'that'll never happen to me' just step back, open your windows, and listen to the knowing laughter of women all around this planet greeting your words.)

I freely confess that after babies I resented the loss of that 'me time' even though I didn't know what it was. I didn't know what it was because, before sprogs, 'me time' was 'all the time'.

All the time me time meant having no-one stop me when I wanted to brush my black suede shoes in anticipation of an evening out at dinner. It was the freedom to spend two hours shopping for a bracelet that perfectly matched the red dress last worn at the opera. It was having only one narrator in my head at any one time, as opposed to the four-way battlefield I now carry around my severed brain and which struggles over stuff like did Tiger see the dog?

Now, in practical motherhood moments, 'me time' is the fourteen seconds it takes each morning to pull on the jeans I wore all last week. And why? I need to get them over my enormous backside in less than one second because Shark is crashing down the stairs for breakfast STARVING and will discover there is no milk. 'Me time' is then the one-minute run to Costcutter for 2 litres of semi skinned and a loaf of emergency brown before the police are called to the domestic incident now kicking off in the homestead.

Very rarely, everyone is quiet and no one needs milk, or socks, or food, then for an hour I might stare at the wall and think of everything I could do in 'me time' if only I knew what to do. When the hour's up, and someone needs help with spelling would, could and should, I'm kicking myself because I stupidly wasted the 'me time' when I could have cleaned the jam off the doorhandles.

My point is, 'me time' is not a struggle of home education. It's a struggle with motherhood.

When the years tick by to nursery and school time, I know women where 'me time' looks sorted. They have a quiet house for hours at a stretch. They go to the gym. They work at a part-time job. They shop. They organise stuff on committees and they dust the furniture. Then they get together and shake their heads over the lost luxury of 'me time'.

From which I can deduce that whatever you do - kids in school or kids out of school - the multiple consciousness, laundry, disinfected sink, guilt and night-time anxiety - they're all part-share of the mothering time, and it ain't going away from your brain. Ever.

You've already made the shift into motherhood, so how and where you educate your child makes very little difference now to how you'll feel about the 'me time'. The deed is done. Life changed. And with it, the woman.

In practical ways in the life of home ed, I can offer you consoling words, like spaces open up in the day. There are workshops, which you can take part in, if you must. Or you can hang about outside, drinking tea. There are times when you're shooed away by group leaders and instructors, so you'll kick your heels and find someone to chat to.

But then there is a more fundamental change. The change in your perception of the time you have. The paradigm shift. You have the same, but it's different. The spaces in the day are under your direction. Your control. You're no longer dancing in time to the school. You direct your own life. You decide the hours, what to do, where to go. You help your child lead the way. If you want to make cake at 7pm, what's stopping you? If you want to read until midnight, then sleep in till 10, you choose. You decide how to live your life. You can go anywhere. Do anything. You are with your child, and you have the most perfect, most thrilling freedom. Who gave you that freedom? No-one. You took it. Is that enough 'me time'?

The spaces stretch longer, the older the children grow, and the more self-directed their learning becomes. They rely less on you and more on the skills you have taught them. They read alone for longer. They say 'I'm busy'. They say, 'Let's do that later'. They learn how to learn, and they scuttle off and direct time for themselves.

But if it helps, for the record, this is how in home ed life, I get my 'me time' right now, today.

I watch Tiger's face, studious, concentrating, thinking. She's writing a story, and I think, she's never written a story before like this, and she's writing for hours and hours. That is my delight. I see Shark clean her desk and sit demurely, opening book after book, making notes; a miniature researcher preparing her PhD. This is my anticipation. I look at Squirrel's face as her eyes widen and she jumps into our conversation to tell us how she read that space storms create aurora displays, and now can we go to Norway? Here is my excitement.

I see my kids learning, and I love it. I watch them achieve, and I am proud. I follow them playing, their long hair streaming out into the sun and the wind, their bright cheeks and sparkling eyes, their messy, muddy clothes standing as a record of their life, and this is my 'me time'. It is my satisfaction with our chosen lifestyle. It is the freedom, space, and time I can take, to look at and learn from, my kids and my life.


Nicola said...

I think this is one of the most wonderful, relevant and entertaining posts I have ever read.

Thank you so much for writing it - and so elegantly capturing the change in me time And I love the descriptions at the end of observing your children learn.

This post was an absolute joy to read. I practically inhaled my drink when I read your advice to first time pg women too! Brilliant.

MadameSmokinGun said...

First-time pregnant women have no business talking to people who already have children. They should be reading text books and magazines and doctor's pamphlets. That way they'll be sure to know everything they need to know. Until, obviously, they actually give birth.

Then let them come.

Let them read blog.

Let them screeeeaaaaaaaaaam!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sometimes they're fun when they've popped - 'cos sometimes they still know everything. And that is just SO much fun!!!!!!!!

Ceri said...

This is my me time. 1.45 in the blinkin morning.

sharon said...

And when your children, however educated, finally leave home you will have more 'me time' than you care to deal with!

Sally said...

I think you are right about the equal lack of 'me time' for schooling mothers. Perception is everything where me time is concerned. Also, as soon as your kids go to nursery, how many mothers feel they are supposed to do something useful and get a job?
People have actually suggested I get a job so that I can spend time away from my kids, like somehow work is more me time than being with my kids!
Beyond that, I have 4 hours to myself every Sunday by appointment, whilst DH takes the kids out on exciting trips, sampling run off from lime kilns and collecting mineral encased knapweed, or riding the swings in the park if it is warm.
I usually find myself doing much of what I would be doing with them around now a days ... but at least it is time in which to complete a thought unmolested.

Grit said...

thank you, nicola. that's a very lovely comment! i feel i should keep going a bit longer now.

mmesg, i was totally 100% unprepared for the sequence of bodily events post pregnancy. Did anyone tell me about the blood, sweat and tears? Why did I only now realise what it meant? And I still recall the moment of total horror when the nurses told me that actually that flap of skin hanging down over the caesarean cut was never going to go away. EVER. I am still learning to live with it.

ceri, this is also blogging time. late nite/early morning!

sharon, you are right, aren't you? I'm listening to your words. now i am wise, and i keep my ears open.

hi sally, i agree, it is mostly the uninterrupted thinking time that is most valuable, but the older the darlings become, the more things i can do around them too as i normally would. normal being like, er, beading lizards?