Marooned in the Modern World

In conjunction with my book "Swiss Family Suburban" this blog is from my diary; the diary of a wife and mum in a world where neither is valued highly. Beth Bill.

3oth April 2010

It really is time to get into the garden again, after the winter. Each year we put up a cheapy gazebo over the picnic table and Em often sits outside to do her schoolwork - even if it's raining. I really like listening to the pitter-patter noise, I find it really relaxing.

We've planted the obligatory beans and peas and I'm not sure whether to leave the top patch as a herb garden or to have a portage style patch where herbs and veg are mixed together. I might be lucky to have either as the neighbours cats have turned it into a kitty litter - gross! I don't fancy eating anything from there just now...

29th April 2010

It's 5am and I've been awake for hours! David went to 'sign off' a print from the printing press at 11.30 and didn't get home until 1.30am. His coming home disturbed my sleep, and now there's no point in trying - I'm wide awake. I think this is one of those bleak moments in family life. I'm overwhelmed by the responsibility of overseeing the development of three children and although home schooling exacerbates this it's a responsibility that we should all shoulder - the buck stops with us, not the teacher. I keep wondering if I've got it wrong and I'm inadvertently hampering the children's progress. What if they don't get into the University of their choice? What if we can't afford to send them? What if?...

In reality I think it's because, by nature, I'm not a born leader and yet I find myself at the front of the queue at times these days. Quite a few people come to me and ask me for advice about home education, the LEA send people to me to help them get going and the LEA have asked us to attend showcase events to discuss and promote academics in home education. And yet, here I am - just me, frowned on by those who disapprove of home education, or disappointed when those I encourage in their beginnings quit because of an imagined easier option. Individual cases are understandable on their own merit but 'en masse' it's disappointing to still be left alone in the field, after working so hard to help folks along - to no avail.

There are a very few families hereabouts who home educate, but often it's an excuse to not bother much. Perhaps I'm too exacting on the academic front. That's the whole point of home education though - quality. I do know of a family who home educate because of special needs, and they do a wonderful job. However, that only stands for a small percentage. I remember, after some debacle with my children, pointing out to them that I wouldn't be expecting so much from them if they weren't capable, instead I'd be stretching them in other ways. Either way I'd be stretching them! Unfortunately we are surrounded by an acceptance (even approval) of mediocrity - and I'm sick of it!

HA! And on top of all of this, now that the children are much older, I'm wondering if I should should step into the working world a little. I already teach privately a couple of evenings and I'm looking into teaching in schools, either classroom or peripatetic. In reality the children will have finished their compulsory education soon. Even now they just get on with it, and when they start their A level equivalent at home all I'll do is oversee the admin and give them some music lessons. So, like the closing chapter of Swiss Family Robinson, I'm wondering whether to stay 'on the island' in a make do and mend mentality, or should I venture back into civilisation (by degrees) and dip into the working world? After spending so many years building the home it's hard to shift focus, and yet I'm not sure that I'm needed in the capacity that I once was.

Perhaps it'll all make sense in the morning. Oh, it is the morning! Still waiting to make sense of it all...

23rd April 2010

Now here's the best type of home schooling: While Jonti and Em were at their computer course I gave Matt a piano lesson in Asda Cafe! Imagine that - a piano lesson with no piano, how creative! We really did...

Matt is skipping ahead to the next grade and so we just needed to recap the next batch of scales and remind him to play for 3 octaves now. He's already heard some of the pieces before so we had a hum through a choice of pieces and looked at the background blurb to help him decide which piece to look at first. He's opted to go for a twentieth century French piece. He's quite interested in Debussy at the moment, as I have been looking at La Fille Aux Cheveux de Lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair). It's even better as the composer was taught be Faure, and Em has been playing a lot of Faure flute music - so Matt's quite keen. It's not often the lads get that flash of inspiration so you have to seize the moment. So, he has his practise laid out for the week and we had a nice half hour with a coffee and a hot choc. Great! (I wish it was always that simple).

22nd April 2010

Who would think of all the repercussions arising from this volcanic cloud over England? My friend, Mae, has been stranded in France (lucky thing) - and she has had our Grade 8 exam results sitting on her doormat! I have been advised, by some, to break in and get them! (But, 'Thank you Lord for teaching me patience!) Nevertheless, our suspense is over and we have passed! I got a plain and respectable pass - and am pleased, Em got a merit - and is disappointed! I do understand (she had a blonde moment in the aural questions and it cost her those few extra marks) - but it is a very good mark. Jonti passed his piano in his usual style - by the skin of his teeth. Sheesh, what can you do with these children - it's one emotional overload after another! Now that Mae is back Matt is going to start having Clarinet lessons with her, instead of me, and so today is quite an exciting day for him. Up until now he has only ever had music lessons with me at home, but I think he warrants a little more expertise now. I'll still teach all the children their piano and theory. I think it will do him good to see somebody else now. He was moved up to 2nd clarinet in wind band and 1st clarinet in clarinet choir, so a bit a of musical maturity from another teacher will be good. The first concert I played as 1st flute was momentous - I fell off the edge of the stage. "Ta daaah!" Yikes, I really did, how embarrassing. Amazingly nobody seems to have noticed, despite me ending up in the middle of the Timpani. We were playing Haydn's Surprise Symphony; it really was a surprise!

This cloud has also meant that I've been stranded and alone at choir rehearsals for a couple of weeks. Because my usual friends weren't there (Mae included) I had nothing better to do than to browse over the second hand books that are sold there to raise funds for the choir. This is always a dangerous thing to do because I am a compulsive reader. For me, reading isn't a gentle recreation - I get so sucked into the world of the book that everything else (literally everything) gets left. I also stay awake until the small hours reading, even when I am exhausted, because I can't put the book down - not a healthy approach I know. When the twins were babies I read The Lord of the Rings. David would leave for work in the morning (he had to get a job then, during a 'starving artist' phase) and I would be reading whilst dangling the tassle of a book mark in front of the babies to occupy them. I'd be in pretty much the same position when he returned home - he did ask if I had fed them at all during the day (of course I had!). Well, they do say that children should grow up with books and reading! Matt and Jonti have picked put this love of reading, though Em is more of a 'doer' than a reader - humph!

After a holiday it's always a relief to get back to the routine of term time. This is last term of compulsory education for the twins, so they have an awful lot of work to get done by the summer. However, in many ways not much will change as Jonti and Em are going to continue to home educate for their A levels. They can have a quality curriculum in the comfort of their own home (without the usual distractions) and - thanks to the local music service - can be part of several bands and choirs which far outstrip any school orchestra. The children already work under their own steam, so this will just continue. The only thing that will change is that Jonti and Em will no longer be inspected by the LEA. I'm just not sure what to do with my time now that they don't need me quite so much...

Just as we were wondering whether to commit Charity to the pot (I don't think we ever could really) her comb has shown the tiniest signs of growing back. I'm thinking that she just doesn't cope well with the cold. The comb is where a hen sweats, hence battery hens having such large combs (the environment of a battery farm is really hot) and so Charity may just be feeling the cold. She has a small black dot on the tip of her comb, which may be frost bite, and so might start to revive as the weather warms up. We spoke to a knowledgeable neighbour and he says that sometimes you just get a hen like that - a bit of a dud. We'll see how she goes, but hopefully she will pick up soon.

10th April 2010

After so many exams it's good to be off timetable for a couple of weeks. The trouble is that, after so many weeks of slogging at my flute practice everything else at home has gone to pot. I'd intended to spend this holiday 'playing house' - reducing the sewing/mending pile (one of my favourite jobs - I find it really satisfying doing little bits of sewing and saving clothing for that little bit longer), of course the ironing pile needs tackling and generally tidying and clearing out. However I've got taken over by events:

Although Jonti and Em are working through the holidays (they have so much work to get finished by the summer) their friends are allowed to join us so long as they let them get on with some work - a kind of relaxed homework club. Matt can have the fortnight off and so he is free to socialise. The result is that I've had 6 children here most days. I've really enjoyed having all the kids here, but I've kept moving off-task (my own fault) - nipping kids off for a coffee trip and a break etc.. I've also enjoyed helping Jonti's girlfriend with her school's textiles project, but this means that the ironing still isn't done. And, of course I haven't played my flute or piano for ages! I'm not very good at balancing things, it's all one thing and then another. I guess it's ok to spend a couple of weeks entirely on family, I'll just have to pull everything in later. I do envy those who manage to keep the house spotless, though. I did ask someone once where they kept their ironing pile. They answered that they never had one, they ironed everything as soon as it was washed and dried - now why didn't I think of that!