Tag Archives: school

Homeschool Update

Our first week of homeschooling has been rather blissful. Matilda is her usual lovely self and Christopher Robin has proven to be a joy to teach. He attacks his work with enthusiasm and is great fun to have around.  Life has been much simpler, too, without a lot of school admin to deal with.  It’s funny the amount of background stress that sort of thing creates for me.  I will cheerfully draw up schedules and curriculums for homeschool and happily spend hours researching the best resources and discussing plans with anybody who’ll listen.  But sort out uniform/school lunch/reader/form and money/permission slip?  Yech!  Spare me!

Christopher Robin has proudly started his own blog.  He calls it Bruce Bogtrotter’s Guide to Food and it’s all about his favourite subject in the world.  He has named himself after a gastronomically talented character in Roald Dahl’s Matilda (which we recently read together).   Christopher/Bruce has been formulating all sorts of ideas for upcoming posts, and I’m sure he would fall off his chair in excitement if you were to leave a friendly comment there…

A bunch of extracurricular sports and other activities start this week and in a fortnight we will join a weekly co-op, which thankfully will cover a lot of the subjects I tend to skim over (like PE, Music and Art!)  and give the kids a chance to work in groups.

This is just a little post, designed so that I can give you a small wave whilst in the thick of it.  I really hope to write something more interesting soon!


Organic, Free-Range Children

So Matilda’s gap year has come to an end. 2014 has been an adventure in homeschooling. I’ve had a teacher’s dream job – a classroom with one gifted student, eager to learn.

This is the year I made new friends, learnt Japanese, went on interesting excursions and got re-acquainted with our local library.  Matilda now plays guitar, tutors one of Christopher’s friends, plays a mean game of netball and can rollerskate with the best of them.  She also walks taller, stands up for herself and chatters warmly and effusively to her new friends.

She’s still a sensitive child – she wouldn’t be Matilda if she wasn’t – but her eyes have lost that hunted, anxious look, she eats her lunch and goes to sleep at night.

Of course, it hasn’t all been easy.  It’s hard work organizing regular social catch-ups for Matilda and regular sanity-breaks for myself, and I often feel I could be doing more with her (her brain is enormous).  It’s no picnic having to explain myself everywhere I go, either (No, she’s not sick, we homeschool.  You want me to explain my reasons for homeschooling in 140 characters or less?  Forget it.  She’s sick.)

But it’s a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be.

I love the lifestyle.  I love learning about how Matilda learns.  I love the rich curriculum and I love being able to tailor it to Matilda’s needs.  I love the freedom and the simplicity.  I love socializing with other families.  I love the space it creates for extracurricular activities.

I feel like the most stress I’ve dealt with this year has been related to Christopher’s school.  The pick ups and the drop offs.  The tiredness and crankiness.  The readers and the homework books.  The bullying and standard-issue cruelty.  And the endless, endless admin.

Homeschooling is rather strange, I guess.  But sending my children off to a one-size-fits-all institution for an inefficiently mass-produced education is a different sort of strange.  Not that I’m anti-school.  And not that I’m telling you to homeschool or judging you for not homeschooling or waiting for you to list the manifold reasons why you can’t homeschool.  I’m just trying to work out what works for my family.

All through the year, Christopher had begged me to homeschool him too and I’ve struggled to find a reason not to do it.  It was difficult saying goodbye to the school, but in another way, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

So, I’m committing to one more year of homeschool.  After this year, things get a little more complicated.  Harry will be old enough for school and Matilda will be in Grade 6 and might benefit from a year at school before she goes to high school.  But I’m only doing things one year at a time.  I will have a clearer idea of where to go later this year.  At least that’s what I tell myself.

Am I a mad person?

Book Week Fail: Part Two.

Before I start, I just want to say I am mortified at the amount of time it has taken me to write the sequel to this post.  I’ve been knocked about with a nasty dose of the flu and my laptop has been misbehaving a little as well.  The problem is, the longer the break since my last post, the more I avoid writing the next one.  I didn’t mean to build up this much suspense!  You’re going to find Part Two a bit of a let down after such a long wait!  Oh well, here goes…

I woke up super-early on the morning of the Book Week Parade.  Partly because I had plans to get everything organised and to arrive at school with time to spare (I was determined to get it right this year), but also because I had an early morning Skype-date with my sister, Jan.  I don’t say ‘conversation’, because these sessions are more likely to involve my children climbing all over me and shouting at the computer as they jostle for prime position.  They love their Aunty.  And the camera.

As bed-time in Britain was fast approaching, we bid farewell to Jan and I felt the familiar pang of distance.  I miss my sister so much.  But now it was time for weetbix and toast and uniform and matching socks and The Bunny Spoon (no other spoon will do for Annie’s breakfast).  I needed to get cracking on my own breakfast, too.  I’m one of those types who needs a proper high-protein breakfast to function on any level.  On a good day, I will have eaten breakfast and hung a load of whites on the line before the kids wake up.  I enjoy this semi-annual event, I really do.  Today, I was running a bit behind, but no matter.  I was able to beat eggs and shout at my children simultaneously (thankfully I didn’t get confused and shout at the eggs whilst beating my children).

Mr Knightley emerged wearing some hideous running clothes.  He was leaving early to drop the car off for a service (and would run to work from the mechanics).  I reminded myself that nobody would actually see his olive-green windcheater as he always kept a clean shirt and pants in his office and bit back any fashion advice I might have been tempted to share.

It was as I was saying goodbye to my husband that Harry somehow managed to tip an entire bowl of soggy weetbix onto his lap.  Ack!  I got busy with paper towels and the laundry sink and found him a clean set of clothes (“I hate the stripy t-shirt!”).  Things were starting to get a little hectic.  My FODMAP-friendly omelette was ready, but nobody seemed to be wearing shoes and I still had to make the lunches (too busy constructing costumes to remember to do it the night before…).

That’s when the phone rang.

It was my husband.

Here’s the general gist of our conversation:

  1. Before Mr Knightley left the house, we swapped keys.  He was taking the family car to the mechanics, I would drive the car he usually drives to work (on loan from my sister).
  2. The keys to his office were in my hand bag.
  3. He had an important meeting at 9am.
  4. He was wearing a truly dreadful sweatshirt.

I gaped.   I almost cried out “But you don’t understand – it’s BOOK WEEK!” before realising that things that are desperately important in Mummy Land bear no relevance in the rest of the world.  This did give me a moment of existential angst, I must say.  But then I took a deep breath,  allowed myself one look at the truly delicious omelette and steaming cup of tea before turning the stove off, clamping a lid over the pan and swinging into action.

I slapped sandwiches together whilst shouting “Shoes!  Mail Bag!  Put that down!  Time to go!”.  Then I scooped up the costume bits and ushered everyone into the car (after retrieving Christopher Robin’s shoes from under the trampoline).  We managed to get to Mr Knightley’s work by 9:05.  He’d already had a shower, so wouldn’t be too late for the meeting.  Then we raced back to school.


We were late, we were so late.  We had to park miles away and walk through the school carrying  the costumes and back packs and Annie (she wasn’t wearing any shoes).  When we got there, the parade had already started.  The kinder kids were already on the stage.  I wheeled around to face Harry. “Let’s get your costume on!” I said, in what I hoped was a cheerful voice.

Harry shook his head.

“Come on!”  I trilled, trying not to sound too maniacal.  “look at all your friends!  Won’t it be fun?”  I was already trying to dress him.  Harry started to panic.  “No!  No!”  he wailed, “I hate this!  I hate the Saucepan Man!  I want to be Woody!”

We don’t own a Woody costume, nor is Woody a character from a proper book (not counting spin-off merchandise), but I don’t think either of these arguments were going to convince Harry in this moment.  “Just the hat?”  I cajoled,

But Harry was shaking and in tears.

I should have known by now, Harry doesn’t do costumes (remember Christmas Eve?).  In fact, I really should have been grateful he was wearing clothes at all.  I heaved a big sigh, folded him up in my arms and found a place to sit.  His tears and snot were warm against my neck.

Christopher Robin had already gathered up his tray of Marvellous Medicine and hurried off to sit with his class.  I realised, too late, that I had never weight-tested the tray with all of its contents.  It was really heavy.  Christopher’s arms wobbled as he held the tray and his voice sounded a little strained as he told the school he was “George and the Marvellous Medicine”.  But he got through it like a champion.

Marvellous Medicine

This was the point where I was planning to sneak off home, but Harry was still sitting on my lap, his face firmly buried in my neck.  I had asked him coaxingly a few times if he’d like to sit with his class, pointing out all his little friends, but he just shook his head, without actually removing it from my neck.  I was going to have to watch the whole darn thing.

It was around the time the Grade Fives were on the stage that Harry looked up from my neck.  “My tummy’s rumbling,”  he announced, “I haven’t had any breakfast!”

I realised, with horror, that the only weetbix Harry had encountered before I bundled him into the car was the bowl he’d tipped on his lap.  His tummy growled.  Mine growled back.

“I haven’t had any breakfast, Mummy!”  Harry repeated loudly and insistently.  Several teachers and parents turned to look.  I smiled brightly and tried to reassure Harry under my breath.  This was the day I was going to convince everyone that I had it all together and homeschool was working out just fine, thank you very much.  Would the Book Parade never end?

At last it was time to gather everything together and walk Harry to kinder.  But the student wellbeing teacher was honing in on me.   She looked at me with a glance that took in my face, barren of make-up, my bored-looking nine year-old, my dirty-faced, pyjama-clad two-year-old, and the quivering four-year-old firmly attached to my leg.  She gave me a trademark warm smile that seemed tinged with concern.  I smiled bravely back.

I think she was trying to talk to me about Matilda’s ‘transition’ back to school, but her face had somehow morphed into a hot cheese-chicken-and-spinach omelette with a fresh pot of tea on the side.  I nodded hungrily.


At Harry’s kinder, his teacher was taking photos of all the children in their costumes before they took them off to play.  At some point, I will receive a book week photo of Harry, dressed as  Harry, baring his teeth disconsolately for the camera.

I think I’ll put it in a frame.

Book Week Fail: Part One.

Last week was Book Week (actually, by the time I post this, it might be a little longer, but let’s just pretend it was last week).  Here in Australia, at a certain time of the year, Facebook news feeds everywhere become choked with pictures of school-aged children in costumes.  They all carry the same two word caption: Book Week.  This is the week the Children’s Book of the Year is awarded and suburban libraries try to out-do each other in creative celebrations.  Book Week represents everything I should love, so why does the mere mention of the word fill me with a vague sense of nausea and dread?

I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself on Book Week dress-up day.  When you’re a stay-at-home mum, you don’t often get the chance to prove yourself.  There are no clear-cut KPIs and no performance reviews in my line of work.  It all pretty much boils down to two tests:  visits to the Maternal and Child Health Nurse and Book Week.  As you may know, my previous performances at MCH visits have been underwhelming to say the least.  Book Week, therefore, would have to be Kate’s Time To Shine.

In the past, I’ve been disorganized and turned up late with costumes that didn’t quite work, like the time Matilda arrived half-way through the parade with tangled hair in a generic fairy dress as ‘Silky’, a last-minute substitute after I discovered that a five-year-old couldn’t manage the sheer weight of a Saucepan Man costume when it was made up of proper stainless steel saucepans.  We were both gutted.  I had planned to bask in the glow of good-costume-approval and Matilda had devised plans to pretend to be comically deaf all day (maybe she still did: she’s not easily deterred).

Hand drawn cartoon.  A wild-haired Kate is holding a saucepan and looking disconcerted:  her five-year-old daughter has collapsed under the weight of her saucepan costume.  Caption reads

Can you tell there’s a squashed child under all those saucepans? Can you even tell they’re meant to be saucepans??

This year was going to be different.  A week before the day and I was already thinking it over.  There could be no phoning it in.  No Shrek.  No Spiderman.  No Buzz Lightyear.  My children and their costumes would represent the richness and diversity of well-written children’s books.  The school librarian would nod approvingly and nudge the literacy co-ordinator.  “Do you see those children?  They will go far in life.  Their mother is doing an excellent job.”

I needed to think.  I majored in Literature in University.  I adore children’s literature.   This was a unique opportunity to exhibit my Sublime Literary Taste.  People would see me as a real-life Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail: how could you not know that?).

“What are you doing for Book Week?”  I interrogated Lovely M.

“Ugh!  Book Week!  Peter says he wants to bring his scooter.  Do you know any literary characters who ride scooters?” I shook my head doubtfully.  M sighed.

“Things would be so much easier if I had a little girl with red hair,” I mused, “think about it:  Anne of Green Gables, L’il Orphan Annie, Pippi Longstocking, Sunny Ducrow, Madeleine”

Nancy Drew,” added M, “Millie that red crayon girl”

“Do you think I can convince Christopher Robin to wear a red wig and a dress?” I asked wistfully.  M shook her head.  I sighed.  Lovely M started googling scooter-themed books.

Harry’s costume, at least, would be easy enough.  At some point since our failed Saucepan Man attempt, we had managed to acquire a set of lightweight toy saucepans (I promise we didn’t get them just for Book Week.  At least, that’s what I keep telling myself).  Harry would be an adorable little Saucepan Man; I just needed to think up a decent costume for Christopher Robin.

I ran the idea past my siblings at Family Night.  They’re young and creative and don’t have kids.  This sort of thing is actually fun for them.   We were deep in discussion of proper construction methods of a giant peach and Cindy had just run off to fetch a teapot that looked a little like Aladdin’s lamp when Greg (or Peter) struck gold (they both are taking credit for having the idea first. I’m not getting involved)

“What about George’s Marvellous Medicine?”

The idea had real promise.  Christopher Robin could wear regular clothes and just carry a tray with ‘medicine’ ingredients on it.  Given that we were having this conversation the night before costume day, this plan had great appeal.

As soon as I got home from my parent’s house, I got to work stringing together toy saucepans and gathering household items to put on George’s tray.  I also filled up a bottle with water, put food dye in it and labelled it “Marvellous Medicine”, just to drive the point home.  When I went to bed that night, I was feeling rather smug.  My boys would look adorable.  My Facebook boast would get so many likes. For the first time ever, I was going to get it right on Book Week day.

At least, that’s what I thought.

Lunch Day Fail.

Zombie: eat flesh.

Please excuse my long absence from this blog.  I’ve been yearning to write, I’m just finding it hard to carve out time to do it in.  Also, I guess I haven’t found much to write about.  The first few weeks of school and homeschool have been very regimented, with everything working to a system.  I really wanted to write a decent ‘fail’ post.  I know they’re the favourites of many of my friends.  But, I guess I hadn’t had a proper, blog-worthy misadventure in a while.

This got me thinking.  What if I was finally getting the hang of this whole mothering malarkey?  Perhaps I was short on ‘fail’ material because I was finally experiencing unadulterated success?  Look at me: Capable Lady who makes sandwiches in bulk and freezes them, who writes fortnightly meal plans and shops accordingly, who gets the washing on the line before 8am.  I’ve made it.  I’ve finally made it.

But, even as my head swelled up to alarming proportions, I felt a small twinge of regret.  “Fail” posts are such fun to write and are such an important part of this blog.  I would miss them so.

That was yesterday.

Today, I slept in.

As I stumbled out of my room, I saw the small white envelope I had carefully placed at the top of the stairs, right where I wouldn’t miss it.  Ugh.

Last Wednesday, after school, Christopher Robin came rushing out of his classroom  “I have Subway Lunch!  The envelope’s in my bag!  We have to fill it out and get it in!”, he announced breathlessly.

Once or twice a term, Christopher Robin’s school does a deal with the local sandwich artists where the children can order a set lunch for $5.50 and have it delivered.  They usually do it on Healthy Lunch Wednesday (major marketing scam) with the money collected by Monday.

As soon as we got home, Christopher Robin dug the order envelope out of his mail bag, found a pencil and painstakingly circled his choices.  Ham.  Lettuce.  Cheese.  No tomato.  Orange juice.  Cookie.  Now all we needed to do was insert the $5.50 and send it back to school.

Except I had no cash.

No matter, we had plenty of time.  I got money out on Thursday, but still could not get exact amount together.  At any rate, Friday morning was such a manic rush, the order envelope never made its way to CR’s purple mailbag.  No matter.  We would get it all sorted out by Monday.

I spent the course of the weekend trying to preserve my $5 notes, only to have to spend them for various reasons.  I gave up all my 50c pieces at Mass when giving the kids coins for the collection plate – (the large ‘spiky’ coins are the only coins worth having, apparently).

On Sunday afternoon, we went to a cafe/bar to listen to my sister Cindy play some amazing original music.  I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but there is a lot of musical talent in my family.  Jan, Cindy and Bobby all write their own music and play multiple instruments.  This has nothing to do with the story, really.  I just wanted to boast.

Whilst my sister was busy being impressive, Mr Knightley worked systematically in his purchase of chips and hot chocolates to scrabble together $5.50 out of the change.  I zipped the precious coins up in my pocket.  Now I just had to get the envelope.

I started looking for it after I tucked the boys into bed.  Christopher Robin had placed it carefully on his dresser, but it wasn’t there any more.  To make matters worse, there was no lightbulb in their room (one of Mr Knightley’s novel punishments for a previous night’s skylarking).  Eventually we found it under one of the beds all crumpled up and a little bit torn.  I smoothed it out and put the coins in.  This was the very envelope I encountered at the top of the stairs this morning.

crumpled envelope

While I was putting cornflakes into bowls and clothing onto children, I put envelope in mail bag and gave to CR to put in schoolbag.  Then I went and checked that his swimming bag was packed with towel and goggles and bathers and all of the bits.

It being St Patrick’s Day, Christopher Robin wanted to wear something green.  I pointed him in the direction of an emerald green jacket he hardly ever wears and started herding everyone into the car.  As Christopher clambered into his seat, I noticed for the first time the enormous Union Jack emblazoned across the back of said jacket.  How had I not noticed that before?  It seemed historically inappropriate, perhaps even culturally insensitive, but we were running late, so I let it slide.

It was only after I took Christopher Robin to school, having been admonished by a teacher for my incorrect execution of a proper kiss-and-drop (should be less kiss/more drop, apparently); only after I dropped Harry at kinder and signed the book; only after I raced home, started homeschool with our regular prayer and got Matilda settled into her maths, that I noticed it.  A purple mailbag containing a lunch order envelope containing $5.50 exactly.

I needed to sit down.

As I sat, I pondered.  The school always makes a point of emphasising that the orders need to be in by 9am-no-later on the day they are due as they are then collected by the relevant sandwich creation officials and taken away.  It was 9:15.  I formed a plan of attack.

  1. I would call the school.  It was a little embarrassing, but unfortunately they know me by now and are used to my scatterbrained ways.
  2. If there was still time to get the order in, I would pack the girls into the car and drive  back to school.  It would be a pain to disrupt our homeschool routine, but at least today’s maths was easy and straightforward.
  3. If the order had already been picked up, I would call the local sandwich manifestation facility and do some fast talking.
  4. If my fast talking is successful, I will pack the girls into the car and drive to the local sandwich self-actualising unit to deliver the blessed envelope.  Perhaps Matilda could take her books in the car with her?

I was considering drawing this plan up as a nifty flow-chart with boxes and yes/no arrows , when it struck me that time was of the essence, so I picked up my phone and called the school instead.  As I garbled out my predicament to the school’s ever-patient secretary, she gently interrupted me.

“It’s Subway lunch day”

“Yes, I know the orders are due today, but I was wanting to know if they’ve been collected yet…”

“No, Kate, you don’t understand – today is the lunch day.  The orders were due Friday…”

“Oh.”  I said in a small voice.  So much for steps two, three and four.  I had well and truly missed the boat.  “Oh.  Well, that answers that question for me”  I then launched into a detailed description of the lunch I had packed, dwelling in particular detail on the piece of chocolate cake with the post-it note that said “Happy St Patrick’s Day” next to my rather wonky approximation of a shamrock.  Surely that was just as much fun?  Who needs edible artworks that use bread as their medium?  Surely a sandwich is a sandwich?  I almost had myself convinced when it struck me that the kindly school secretary might have other work to do that day, so I somehow managed to stop myself babbling and got off the phone.

This was a major fail and it haunted me all day.  Was it just me or did Christopher Robin look rather woebegone as he stepped through the school gates that afternoon, wearing his bright green tribute to Mother England?  I swiftly moved into a desperate frenzy of over-compensation.  I sat the children down at the kitchen table and pulled out the lollies left over from Matilda’s birthday party that had been off-limits for Lent.  Everybody got a snake and I told them the story of St Patrick and the snakes, even though I’m pretty sure that one’s apocryphal.  Then I gave them a musk stick and tried, unsuccessfully to bend it to the shape of a bishop’s staff.  The jubes looked like jewels, which are precious like our faith.  And the lolly teeth…well, I’m pretty sure St Patrick had teeth too…

Then I took a photo of them doing something wholesome


and promptly posted it on Facebook to gather some affirmation in the form of ‘likes’.  (They are cleaning new potatoes from our garden.  And it’s St Patrick’s Day. LOL. YOLO. *wink* #winning)

But, as I tucked my brave little six-year-old into bed that night, I could tell it was still on his mind.  “All of the other kids kept asking me why I didn’t have Subway lunch.”  he muttered glumly.

I kissed his tormented brow and promised him a Friday-morning-lunch-order (and stopped myself from also promising a jacuzzi, new set of golf clubs, a 4WD and a pony).  I told him I planned to write a blog post about the whole thing and this cheered him up considerably.  He’s been wanting me to write about him in the blog for a while now.

Meanwhile, the sight and smell of Subway sandwiches still sends me into a cold sweat.  I am no longer yearning for blog material.  If only I could write fail posts without having to experience the fail first…

Homeschool – Week One (and a bit)

Oh, blog!  How I have missed you!

I have been homeschooling Matilda for a week now, and, while I’m sure we are still in our honeymoon period, it has been rather blissful.  My darling girl seems so much more relaxed these days, like a weight has been lifted from her small shoulders.  Annie and Harry have been easy to manage as well, and happy to potter about during school time.  We’ve had a few minor disasters, like Annie consuming an entire tub of butter and finding Matilda’s precious fruit-scented highlighters and doing this to Matilda’s Maths book:

scribbles on maths book

but this is no more than usual.  Matilda shrugged when she saw Annie’s handiwork and said philosophically, “At least it smells nice now!”.  Harry stuck blu-tack up his nose last week too, but that happened outside of school hours so it doesn’t count.

Lunch tends to be a relaxed affair.  We work really hard in the morning to get everything done, with a little break at 10 for morning tea.  Matilda loves to set up picnics for her brother and sister.

piccnic basket

Twenty minutes worth of peace for me to eat my own lunch was an unexpected bonus of this scheme…

For the first week, I’ve been sticking to the core curriculum (Maths, English and Inquiry Unit) and keeping it simple and achievable.  I’ve also done some assessment to work out what areas I’ll need to focus on most.  I keep a PDF of the Grade Four curriculum standards in my phone and I take sneaky peeks of it at times to make sure I’m keeping on track.  As we get more settled, I’ll introduce Art and Music, Religious Education, Japanese and Phys Ed, plus maybe some additional Science and Technology (some will be covered in the Inquiry Unit).

Which brings me to the most important thing: our Inquiry Unit for this term involves Matilda setting up her very own blog!  It’s connected to my account, I hold the password and will have to manually approve all of the comments before Matilda sees them, so I think I’ve covered my bases as far as cyber-safety goes.  Matilda’s much more motivated to write for me when there is a distinct purpose and real audience to write for.  I can’t imagine she would put the effort in if it were just a report for me to correct.

Matilda's First Post

Here is the link:


Matilda’s very happy to adopt the pseudonym I assigned her in my blog, Roald Dahl’s Matilda is one of her favourite books, after all.  If you get the chance, pop over there and leave an encouraging word or a ‘like’.  Comments give her such pure glee (so, she’s just like the rest of us, I guess)

So, all in all, it’s been pretty smooth sailing this past week.  Yesterday, Tilly was tired and reluctant to do her Maths.  I gotta admit, it was deathly boring stuff.  But inspiration struck and I pulled out the toy abacus and we did the problems that way.  Later, when Matilda was suffering from brain fog when trying to write a plan for her next blog post, I showed her a trick.    She wrote out any ideas she wanted to include as dot points in random order, then we got out the scissors and cut out strips with a dot point on each.  We shuffled the strips until we got them into an order that made sense, then stuck them back on the page.  Plan done.  Magic!

But, for all my boasting, it’s been keeping me humble as well.  When the Student Wellbeing Teacher from Christopher Robin’s school asked Matilda what she had been doing at school, Matilda shrugged and said “nothing much!”.  And when Matilda’s nanna asked what Harry and Annie do while school is on, Matilda announced “they just watch TV!” (OK, so they watch Play School while we do Maths, but they’ve always watched Play School in the morning.  It won’t kill them…)

I’m still learning, so if any of you know of any handy blogs or online resources I should check out, please let me know!

Matilda’s Gap Year

Woman and child reading

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cassatt_Mary_Nurse_Reading_to_a_Little_Girl_1895.jpg

Part One

I’ve been putting off writing this post for a while now.  I’m not sure how to tell you without making you thinking I’m totally bonkers.

See, this thing is, this year, when Christopher Robin trots off to Grade One, at our local Catholic Primary, Matilda will be doing Grade Four.

At home.

With me.

A few months ago, I was sitting with Mr Knightley on what we lovingly call our front ‘porch’.  Those of you who have visited me physically (and not just virtually) will know that this description is rather generous, but we love the chairs and table squished up next to our front door very much indeed.  As we sipped our coffee, we watched Matilda playing in our front yard, lost in her own happy world.  I sighed.

“I just don’t want her spirit to get crushed.”  I announced suddenly.

Mr Knightley looked at me and looked across to Matilda.  It’s not unusual for me to burst into a new topic of conversation like this.  I didn’t need to explain.  We both knew what a rough year Matilda had suffered.  The constant undermining and alienation from a group of girls who, while I’m sure are lovely individuals, seem to create a toxic culture when put together.

Tilly isn’t your typical eight-year-old girl.  She is an individual.  While she is articulate and has well-developed social skills, she would probably prefer to attend a political rally than a One Direction concert.  At my birthday party, after getting fed up with all the bonfire smoke blowing in her face, Matilda disappeared inside briefly, only to reappear nonchalantly sporting a pair of swimming goggles.  She was the hero of the party and pretty soon the other kids sent her back inside to fetch goggles for them too.  She wouldn’t have dared to stand out so much with her group at school.

It wasn’t often these days that we saw her relaxed and cheerful like this.  Over the course of the year, Matilda’s confidence had plummeted whilst her anxieties soared.  The school had valiantly tried different strategies, but none had worked for longer than a week.

The lowest point came a few months ago when Matilda confided in me that some of the girls in her group had accessed hard-core fetish pornography on their computers at home and were describing it in graphic detail over lunch time.  When Matilda objected to this topic, she was branded a baby.  Eventually, she made some excuses and nicked off.

I tried to write a post about this when it happened, but it was just too difficult.  Besides, I try hard to keep this blog PG-rated and I don’t think that would have been possible if I’d gone into any more detail than I have here.  It’s not that I’m prudish and think that eight-year-olds shouldn’t be curious about sex, and I’m happy to answer any questions (Matilda thanked me politely but said she didn’t feel she was ready to learn about sex yet.  She promised that when she did she would come to me, and not YouTube…), but I find it deeply disturbing that they have access to such damaging misinformation as porn.  It also struck me that, while I can go nuts with passwords and filters and monitoring screen time, I have no control over the boundaries that Matilda’s peers have with their computers.

Of course, I spoke to the school and the school spoke to parents (and I felt like a rotten snitch) and everybody was very shocked.  But a few months later, the girls were still talking about it, only this time, they banished Matilda from the conversation so that she wouldn’t dob on them again.

Mr Knightley sipped his coffee, “We could always try homeschooling,” he suggested.  I laughed.  Mr Knightley had been extolling the virtues of homeschooling since before Matilda was born.  But this was no off-hand comment.  Mr Knightley went on to put forward some very convincing arguments for giving Matilda a year of homeschooling, to give her a break from the stress, to challenge her gifted brain, to lean in to the relationship, and to give her back her childhood.  But it wasn’t this that convinced me, nor the excitement I felt bubbling up as I thought about curriculum and excursions and the fun we could have together.  A classroom with one student who itched to learn.  There was something else, quiet but persistent.

It was God.  He was poking me.


Pastel Fail

I’m really not enjoying the morning rush before school at the moment.  Today, I returned from my search for Christopher Robin’s grey socks to find Harry sitting in the corner at my little Repressed Creativity table with Mummy’s Special Oil Pastels spread all around him.  He had torn the wrapper off the one in his hand and held it in his two small fists.

“I snap it?”, he enquired animatedly, a mischievous glint in his eye.

“No!  Naughty!”, I exclaimed in horror.

“I snap it.”, the wretched imp asserted decisively and broke the pastel clean in half before tossing it on the table to join its fallen brothers.

I managed to get to Harry before he unwrapped his next victim, made a mess of disciplining him (it was mostly me shouting “how would you like me to break YOUR special toys??!” whilst Harry shook his head solemnly and reasoned “they’re MY toys, Mummy.”) and tried to salvage what was left of my lovely pastels.

As I matched aquamarine with aquamarine and crimson with crimson, it seemed a twelve-year-old version of myself manifested itself before my eyes.  There she stood, an awkward figure in her ill-fitting school uniform, clutching her A3 Spirax cartridge paper sketchbook and tin of 72 Derwent pencils to her chest.

“When was the last time you even USED those pastels?” she glowered at me,  “You haven’t even opened the box for months and months!  I think it’s been a YEAR!”

“Look, now’s really not a good time, Twelve-Year-Old Version Of Myself”, I muttered crossly.  And it wasn’t.  It was 8:25am and Matilda was still searching for her shoes, Christopher Robin’s reader still needed to be signed, Annie’s nappy was emitting a suspicious smell and Harry was off hunting for fresh mayhem.  But the sulky tween manifestation of my subconscious was insistent.

“Mrs Flannery said we were good at art.  She said it was in our soul

It was true.  I had a wonderful art teacher in Year Seven who had been kind and encouraging.  She had looked past my crippling shyness and made me feel like I was special.   And it was also true: I hadn’t used the pastels in at least a year.  My house seems full of empty sketchbooks, untouched paints and blank canvases that my twelve-year-old self would have itched to play with.

I could have argued that I didn’t have the time, that was my usual excuse, but I knew twelve-year-old Kate wouldn’t buy it.  The truth is, I’ve become terrified of Inner Critic.  Inner Critic is another version of myself (it’s very crowded to be me) who usually tells the Twelve Year Old to sit still and be quiet.  She also says things like “what if it turns out you’re no good at art?  Wouldn’t it be better not to try than to find out you’re only average?” and she sighs and sneers and rolls her eyes a lot.  It’s hard work keeping her happy.

Twelve-year-old Kate didn’t have an inner critic.  She just liked to play with colour.

Later, in that beautiful calm after Matilda and Christopher Robin were delivered safely to school, I formed a resolution.  Throughout the month of August, I will create some sort of art once a week, photograph it and post it on my blog.  And if Inner Critic has any comments to make, I’ll just say “quiet, you!”.  I’m a great admirer of proper-artist Ruby Hoppen, she is creating a portrait of her son every week this year.  It’s amazing to behold.  That’s where I got this idea.  But I won’t be doing portraits, and I’m only going for a month, but other than that…

If any other of you lovely bloggers would like to “play along”, please let me know in the comments and I’ll link to you.  You don’t have to be arty, that’s the whole point!  I think I’m going to call it “Art in August”.  Or maybe “Amateur Art in August”

artworkAnd, in celebration of this decision, here is my first piece.  It commemorates the destruction of my oil pastels and the miniature art festival this event inspired.

I call it “Shattered”.

Can’t wait till August!

Label Fail – The Sequel

Label ribbon everywhere!

Harry did it again with the label maker today.  I keep the label maker unloaded now, as a precaution, but he got his hands on the cartridge and pulled the tape out like so much pretty ribbon.  I tried, I really did, but it wouldn’t wind back in.

In honour of this occasion, I thought I’d share this story with you:

I was chatting with a knot of school mums at some “Meet and Greet the Teacher” malarkey the other night.  This might sound silly, but I struggle sometimes with School Mums.  Normally, I’m a loudmouth extrovert, but with school mums I get all awkward and reserved.  I feel Different.

So one of the mums starts talking about her new label maker and how much she loves it and I blurt out, “You really should read my blog!”, thinking of my recent Label Fail post.

Of course, I realised all too late she didn’t know what I was talking about, that it would just sound like a spot of random blog promotion.  I eagerly and ineptly tried to explain myself and she politely suggested that she might have better things to do with her time than to read my blog.

One of the school mums (I’m going to call her M) is a close friend of mine and now that she’s a school mum, she is a Delightful Exception to the Rule.  At this point in the conversation M (God bless her) leapt to my defence. and faster than I could say “Stop talking.  Oh, please God, stop talking.”, she launched into the following:

“Oh no!  You don’t understand!  Kate’s blog is really good!  She’s a proper Writer!  Like one time her two-year-old burnt the roast except she calls him ‘Harry’ or something.  And she’s really, like, creative?  She crochets cool hats and stuff in her spare time and then writes about them on her blog!  You really should read it!”

The look of mild shock that had registered on Label Lady’s face earlier in the conversation, when she discovered I had four children, now was gracefully developing into a look of sheer horror.  Her husband (“Label Man”?) wasn’t too far behind her.

I would like to write that at this point a lovely deep hole conveniently opened up in the floor in front of me and I stepped lightly down into it and it swallowed me up.  But, sadly, this did not happen.  So instead, I cringed inwardly, gave a strangled laugh and tried to steer the conversation forwards (“so, tell me about this new label maker of yours” I attempt.  Label Lady replies “what are you?”)

So, for those of you who have blogs of your own, I’m curious: do you talk about your blog to people in real life or do you keep it a secret?  How do people react when you tell them you have a blog?  Does it sound really lame when you try to describe it?  Do you inadvertently inject random blog promotions into every conversation?

I can’t wait to hear what you think.  In the meantime, I’m off to buy some more label cartridges (still waiting on that endorsement deal – Dymo won’t return my calls…)