There are moments I despair of our home education journey.
Take the heart-stopped minutes, locked in the mausoleum halls of the Natural History Museum. Where Tiger suddenly rips up her papers and shrieks at me through tears of frustrated rage that she cannot draw an accurate picture of a stuffed woodpecker. She hurls her crumpled woodpecker at my feet and squeals that now she would be better off not existing. Top that with the howl that her mother would be better off not existing either, then a flood of tears enough to drown the vaults.
In that moment, I might have felt able to pick up her scribbledout woodpecker and, with balanced breath, compose myself, had we not been surrounded by a school group of perfectly behaved microdots. Each barely out of toddler stage, uniformed in grey and white, sat neatly in horseshoe arrangement, dutifully completing their National Curriculum Attainment Science Worksheets (Target 3.4). With their perfect synchronised arm movements it wouldn't surprise me if they were composing superior calligraphed joineduphandwriting (Target 2.2) with 100% spelling (Target 5.1).
They, and their staff, turned like one body with sixty eyes to gaze at my feral child. All with the same curiosity and vague alarm that you might feel when you stare at a feral baboon going ballistic in a zoo. Here is the audience to my banshee. She, completely unaware, is howling, clinging to a decorative pillar. I fight the competing urges to smack her round the face, hug her, and use my feeble body as a shield to protect her loss of dignity from the rocks that pack animals might throw at the strange and unacceptable.
That moment happened maybe four years ago. It's just one of the many moments which has burned a hole in my brain. It marks misery and failure. But from it I learn. I learn that we hurt people we love. I learn that Tiger needs me to help her, and she resents that need. I learn that my daughter, the sensitive one, the one who hid in the nursery toilets, needs more tender dealing than I knew before. She is the one who deeply, keenly, knows that wound, even by the flimsy passing thought of it.
I know now from experience she needs a place to go; a place of safety where she can be wonderfully, completely, madly berserk. Then she can sit upright, her anguished face raw and blurred with tears, and nod. From my stand nearby, because I have stayed the course, I gently say for the thousandth time, Do you want a cuddle?
Yes, daughter, I know you do, because we are both from the same mould. You do not take after your father here: have you ever seen him make such an idiotic spectacle of himself as we are both capable of doing? After the humiliation we have both subjected him to, it is a miracle he still loves us.
Yet I think moments like this tell me what home education is about. It is not only the discussion about how society worked in Ancient Greece, and not simply arguing over whether the answer to 7x6 should be Is it time for lunch?
It is about learning through all our experiences; it is about experiencing many things, better to learn.
Such learning and living comes unpredictably in all dimensions, all circumstances, all moments, all places, all feelings. We can learn, even from moments that first seem humiliating, shaming, weird, or downright bizarre. And more. Choosing home education is to explore parenting and childhood. It is to wonder what makes us strange, messy, dangerous, human. It is liberating. It is 100% snot, sweat, tears.
Yes, in this filled-up life I would say this entire home educating family needs the patience of saints. And the compassion of angels; the awareness of therapists; nerves of steel; knuckles we can chew to the bone and - personally speaking - a kitchen bin I can kick the shit out of.
Then there are the other days. I am safe. I know we've chosen the right way, the best way, the most happiest, wonderfully filled, satisfying way. On these days I see my children exploring in freedom, with friends, at ease, feeling happy. They are wise, sharp, outpouring with observation and creation.
It can be a day as simple as a walk over stony fields, by the balancing pond, past the sluice gate, through the woods, over the stones, along the towpath, and under the bright blue sky.