My child will be disadvantaged. Or will they?

I slip in, occasionally, my thoughts about education or upward mobility. I slip them in vaguely, gently. “We prefer climbing trees to ladders.” I don’t say much more than that.

A year ago I started this blog post, trying to say more than that. I didn’t get very far. It’s easy to say “I’m not a fan of selection”. It’s harder to explain why and consider what to do about it.

My daughter was in P5 and I could see the AQE looming, unwelcome, on the horizon. It’s impossible to escape the language and panic surrounding it all and our kids pick it up even if we, the parents, are “not a fan”. We can refuse to hold performance and results as values in our home, but someone else will speak them loudly.  Next year will be the “big year”, our children are told, the “important year”.  Have we got a tutor yet?

I have overheard it in the hairdressers – and a dozen other places – the tutor conversation. The parent claims to be reluctant, but they have been told that everyone else gets a tutor for their child, so if they don’t, their child will be disadvantaged.

Or will they?

*

Jonathan Auxier (the New York Times best-selling author of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes) was pulled out of school for a year by his mum because she panicked that he didn’t have a love of reading. He knew how to read, but he didn’t enjoy it very much. A love of reading was non-negotiable to his parents, so he was ‘home-schooled’ for a year. He read for 3 hours a day and otherwise remembers it as a very ‘low work load’ year.

Was he disadvantaged?

Depends on the advantage you are aiming for.

*

We hear from a friend of the stress of getting their child through the AQE, replaced the following year with the stress from the pressures of life at the sought-after Grammar school.

Is this an advantage worth panicking about?

*

There are good arguments on both sides of the selection debate, I can see them both. It’s the language I hate, the importance it is given. The way it dominates calendars and prayer lists and talk radio. I hate how fear is spread and our own child’s advantage guarded and fought for.

My daughter is in P6 now and the disruption caused by remote learning, with no return date in yesterday’s announcements, means everyone is worrying about the P6s. They are missing out.

I see this a different way. Every morning my daughter hears her teacher’s voice and sees her face and engages with the most ridiculous enthusiasm in the activities set up for her on SeeSaw. She responds with written work, videos, voice recordings and ICT skills which I marvel at. I doubt there is anyone in the world more exited about Tom Crean’s expeditions to the Antarctic, at inventing her own Viking goddess or measuring how far she can roll a potato across the floor with her nose in one minute.  Will she be tested on this? Frankly, I do not care. Her love of learning is intact, her creativity is being encouraged, her interests affirmed. What do I want for her? This.

There are hard things right now, worth worrying about, different for each of us. There are uncertainties, impossible to predict. The AQE can wait. Maybe, it can be rethought.

Lend your voices only to sounds of freedom, no longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from.’ (Jewel)


PS For those of us who identify as followers of Jesus, we are just not called to be part of a culture of upward mobility. As Shannon Martin says “Jesus promised the opposite of what the world offers like a prized show pony… His life on earth was a decades-long exercise in rescuing us from the things we think we want.” We are not to fear scarcity, and we are certainly not called to spread that fear at the hairdressers.

Our Days

In January, Liv started publishing a newspaper, The Daily House. It landed rolled up at our bedroom doors with a thud. Breaking News! ‘IMOGEN ARNOLD TURNS 8!’ ‘CHRIS ARNOLD PACKS BOXES!’ Full Story Inside! There were pictures, quotes, a ‘Saturday Star’. It was a lovely example of Lockdown creativity and the beauty of boredom.

After a few days though… ‘Breaking News! NO Breaking News to report!’ Inside the paper informed readers there would be no more editions until Friday. (Or ever, as it turned out).

There is only so much you can write about 4 people and their lives in a small house, mid lockdown. And also, isn’t this how it’s going for all of us, this time around? We try to channel our Spring 2020 attitude, step back into that rhythm we found of making and exploring. We can’t get going, or it fizzles out. We have an idea, but we can’t be bothered. Little legs that cycled for endless hours, now object to walking around the block.

*

I’ve been thinking of that Annie Dillard quote, ‘How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.’ I have always loved these words, they have always seemed important to me. Challenging and comforting, both.

In this weirdest of seasons, though, it seems important to release ourselves from many of our mantras and goals, from how we assess or value our days. Let’s not count *today* in the story of our life, with its excess of screen time and crappy lunch. Let’s not count any of January, actually, or next week.

*

Something beckons, though. The sunny morning, the Holy Spirit, that wise old quote.

We were not made for life on pause, for one endless duvet day (as lovely, and necessary, as those things sometimes are). We were not made for frantic, fragmented multi-tasking – tethered to devices for our work and our children’s education.

We go outside in the early morning, or late at night. We create a little space. We are intentional about something small. We name one thing that matters. We let it shape our days.

Back to School 2020

I felt a little sad looking at the photos on my phone of the past 5 months – a continuous stream of the girls on bikes and scooters, by the river, half-way up trees. It was a pretty epic classroom.

This morning their uniforms felt all scratchy and wrong. They have lived in leggings and T-shirts and, sometimes, just pants.

Beside my breakfast I had a post-it note of times and reminders to correctly navigate drop-off. Among the labelled Pritt sticks in their (disposable) supplies bag were labelled hand sanitisers. Everything felt a bit rigid.

We followed the rules and the footprints toward school and were welcomed by music and a sea of bubbles.

‘You are the peace in my troubled sea’ was the line we turned the corner to. After quick goodbyes they walked on in amid the bubbles as if they had just won a prize. Which they had, in a way. 

This is a place of pretty epic classrooms too.

July



We had a week’s holiday, an hour from home, and it was everything we needed – a change of scene, cheese toasties and ice-cream, the sea.

The play parks reopened and set the tone for the following week. They have this renewed allure, after months of being chained shut. My daughters yell for the hand sanitiser then take off in delight.

We check in on our friends by the water, count heads.  2 swans, 5 cygnets, 2 rats. We pause in admiration. We rush past in disgust.

*

We haul 3 bags of books back to the library, return them to the bottom of the stairs, wave up to our beloved librarian at the top. Are you ok? Yes we’re ok.

*

We own masks now – black, denim, leopard skin, neon. The girls rock theirs while we adults self-consciously avoid our reflections. It adds an extra layer of awkwardness to the grocery shop, but this is the season we’re in. The next right thing to do. (We think).

*

Every certain  rhythm of the year has become uncertain. The sign above the stationary and lunch boxes in Asda says “School Shop”, instead of “Back to School”. We start to sort out uniforms, think about school shoes but our checklists have been replaced with question marks, every tentative plan is ‘subject to change’. 

I remember my husband texting me the first indication that schools would close for at least 16 weeks. It seemed impossible. Unbelievable. There were horrified emojis exchanged. Now the return feels hard to imagine, that we might emerge from our kitchens to drop our children off at school. (To drop them anywhere).

August has some boxes filled on the calendar, it feels like we might turn some corners, subject to change. 

Another Month

We slipped quietly into July.

Tuesday: last day of home-school.

Wednesday: first day of home-holidays.

We marked it with a chippy.

I’m wondering how to mark the weeks ahead? How to upgrade them. How to turn another day into a holiday.

We are not going to Switzerland. We are going to the park, again. It’s disappointing.

*

I’m keeping an eye on my tree climbing daughters when a passer-by nods approvingly, says “I didn’t think kids did that anymore”. It makes me feel good. It’s not Switzerland, but it’s something.

Later my daughters start rescuing sticks, fake-panicking that the sticks are dying. They yell out symptoms, make diagnoses, rush them to surgery. There is space for this, in these days we aren’t sure how to fill. 

We visit the cygnets and find them with their mother. They have grown a bit. We consider whether or not they deserve to be called “ugly ducklings” and decide they do not.

*

We slipped quietly into July and I have been reflecting on June. I have been sitting with these questions:

Where did I see God in June? What’s one thing I’ve learned? What is the best thing that could happen in July?

It’s another way of marking the calendar turn, I suppose. It’s a way to close and a way to open. To pay attention. 

*

It rained hard today and there was no tree-climbing or stick-surgery or cygnet-spotting. 

There were pancakes and baths and, in a minute, early nights.

There were things, today, that marked it as Sunday for us. I love these things.

The school holidays stretch before us. They do not need upgraded.

Let’s look for sticks and for God and may we be blessed with the occasional nod of approval.

Week 10 and a half

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

 

The daffodils are gone but the world is still yellow, with buttercups.

For the first time since lockdown we find the park strewn with rubbish. The bins overflowing, the grass dotted with plastic packaging, chippie papers, tin cans.

We see the heron, of course. Always in a slightly different spot. He must see this place from every angle and perspective.

As for us, we vary our route but it’s  the same footpaths, the same fields and gates and river. The same day, on repeat.

We double check what day it is, what week number, as if they can no longer be differentiated

But I think of the words my friend Libby sometimes quotes, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Our perspective changes. We see a new angle. It is better. It is worse.

We are generous in how we view others, and then we are not.

We get used to things. They change again.

We are accepting and content. We count our blessings. We take it day at a time.

We are suspicious and outraged, we measure and compare. We are afraid of days to come.

We pay attention to any strange gifts this time has given. We note which cancellations made us feel lighter, freer. We know, now, what we do not miss. And what we do. We vow to choose more wisely,  “when all this is over.”

Outside of our control to choose, though,  the river journeys on. The landscape has shifted. Some things will not return.

The daffodils are gone but the world is still yellow.

I wonder where the heron will be hiding today?

 

Week 7

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.’

[Soren Kierkegaard]

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Some days, the things that always help don’t help.

Bad moods prevail outside. The birds sing and the the girls argue by the river. We can’t settle into our books. Quiet time is not. Even bathtime sours.

We’ve had better days, and worse.

Our behaviours vary.

Things rise internally, different for each of us.

There is a lot to learn, different for each of us. We pay attention, or we numb it all out. There is no quick solution, for the world, or our family.

It’s going to take a village, it’s going to take some time.’

There is no quick solution, no perfect posture we can hold day after day. I’d like to adopt the healthiest attitude, follow the right routine. I’d like a slogan printed on a hoody,  a verse, a totem, one word. I’m thinking of a new morning practice, maybe that will be the thing?

But there is no one thing. There are words that help, and tools we can use. There are practices that serve us well. (Sometimes). There is an invitation, ‘Come to the waters’. There is nourishment, physical and spiritual.

There are better days, and worse.

It’s going to take some time.

This side of the street /All the work is my own /Oh, but I don’t have to walk it alone

No I turn to the gold rule/ When I get stuck in my ways/ When I look at the impasse/ And start to lose faith

Every stranger is a neighbour/ I just don’t know his name/ I have to love local/ For the world to change.’

 

 

 

Week 6

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The cherry blossoms in the park seem to be blooming and falling at the same time. Does this always happen? Or are they in sympathy with the world?

The daffodils have over run the place, oblivious to the pause.

I notice things about my daughters. They are not new things, exactly, but I have more time to notice them.

They have daily ideas to send in to Blue Peter including a lake (which they believe they are building) in the stones at the front of the house. Imogen has 3 recipes lined up to bake.

There is loss, great sadness for people I know. Coronavirus takes, lockdown exacerbates.

People are ready for this to end now. We scan the news, looking for clues. We just don’t know.

It’s been raining, making some things harder, others not. We go for a walk, get soaked to our skin. Six times my daughter declares it to be the best day ever.

It’s the weekend, again, and we try to treat it as such. “What do you want to do today?”, we joke. We will find something, I hope. The same things, slightly different things. We will go for a walk and play a game and wish we could go to Nana’s. The girls will say something hilarious and I will be grumpy by bedtime.

There is opportunity, here, and there is struggle. There are cherry blossom, dancing in the wind.

 

Week 4

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I got carried away with my egg decoration this year and felt a little sad about the inevitable end of my Narnian masterpiece. Egg rolling down a not-really-hill nearby was certainly not Lady Dixon’s with the grandparents, but it was something.

Our eating pattern is croissant, bagel, hot-crossed bun, chocolate egg.

We’re still hungry. Anyone want a slice of toast? Everyone wants a slice of toast.

I am reliving my childhood a little more each week. I WhatsApp my family to check the rules of Spit (with UNO cards). My dad can only remember playing “Spit” with cherrystones, which is exactly what it sounds like. He sends hilarious photo evidence.

We watch Catchphrase and eat Rich Tea biscuits. We are peckish and have a slice of toast.

My husband and I blow the dust of the Amish playing cards. (A Vonderful Goot Game!). Set up. Get competitive.

I perform a complicated ‘bin dance’ on the road side (kick out bins with foot, grab handles with wipe in hand, repeat). I realise I am being watched by an amused passer-by and we laugh at the absurdity of it all.

The man who lives across the road, whom I had been hoping to help, maybe shop for, gives *me* a bag of food. Recurring Life Lesson #25.

Yale researcher, Erika Christakis, says that children don’t need more creative opportunities; they need more opportunities to be creative. I write this down. Repeat it to my husband. Remind myself daily.

The LOL house stands empty. It’s residents and furniture all relocated to a new sprawling residence made out of cardboard boxes and toilet roll tubes.  Case in point. (And also, Recurring Life Lesson #39).

*

We who are sheltered clap and pray for those who are not, although it does not seem enough. We who are sheltered are changeable in our spirits and our moods. Our energy and gratitude rises and wanes. We are being schooled in living in the present.

It is a beautiful morning. We clap, and we pray.

Week 3

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My daddy is listening to Harry Potter on audiobook. He has found, at 71, another kindred spirit in the imagination of J.K.Rowling. My mum reports his enjoyment, his laughing out loud, his wonder.

The roads are quiet in our small town, every other car has a Domino’s sign on top.

My daughters play happily in the pile of stones. It is my life lesson, I think. The one I keep on learning.

I talk to my friend in Germany and she asks what the hardest thing is for me. “Not being alone”, I answer. (This is always my answer. Although sometimes I pretend it is not.)

I am tired of technology, even though it brings us many gifts. I have reached my capacity for tuning in and logging on.

I decide there are worse things than butter marks on books and Top Trump cards, and stop my fussing at the table. We wonder if our youngest is old enough for Rummikub and she answers the question by beating us all mercilessly.

I go for a walk in the evening, slowly past my friend Louise’s house, in case I can see her in her kitchen. Wave. Maybe shout across the road. Hello! Isn’t this weird? Are you doing ok?

My daughter counts down the days to Easter Sunday. I ask her what it is she likes so much about Easter and she gives the holiest of answers. CHOCOLATE.

*

Easter Sunday 2020 – chocolate, an early morning walk, online church.

It is not the same, although some things are.

I thought of Mary, of course, as I walked in the morning. I thought of the disciples, locked in a room. I thought about how much changed in the course of a week, from Palm waving to crucifixion, from joyful praise to uncertainty and grief. It didn’t turn out the way they expected. They were bearing witness to a story that was still unfolding, and they were bearing witness to their own changeable selves.

When we read The Lion , The Witch and the Wardrobe last year I had to pause at the paragraph where Aslan was killed. My eldest daughter could not bear to hear it out loud. I didn’t read it, but that is not to say we skipped it. She knew. It meant something. She feels the same about the crucifixion and I think she is right. There is something in pausing, in acknowledging how unwelcome it feels as the story unfolds.

I miss gathering in church, close-up, for communion and scripture reading and ‘Thine be the glory’. I miss real-life faces and voices and Amanda on the piano. We are forced to pause, to acknowledge how we feel as things unfold. We are in small rooms and we are afraid. We are walking in the morning and we are searching with hope.

It is not the same, although some things are.