I go to work on Mondays and Tuesdays. I teach Art in a secondary school in the next town. After my maternity leave with Hannah I cut my days from three to two. I wanted to shift the balance of my focus more towards family life, especially with the home education. This puts more pressure on Jeff financially so it was not an easy decision, but Jeff was very supportive and keen to make it work for us.
I feel guilty a lot of the time when I think about my job. I’m not doing enough, I’ve let go of some of the responsibilities I had, I’m not as present to my colleagues, I don’t give as much to them personally. I’m trying to focus on the five classes I have, my 150-odd children, and do the best I can for them, teach them great lessons, help them enjoy and achieve as well I can. I have taken on the piano-learning project which takes up a break time and time at home practicing (I know that’s more for me than for the school!) and I’m trying to get a feminism society up and running. I help with another project in school though I’ve reduced my role in it. I represent the faculty at meetings about provision for “gifted and talented” students. It’s about as much as I can fit into two days. If it sounds like I’m trying to justify myself, it’s because I am. Every day a constant stream of self-berating, defensive thoughts…I wish someone would tell me it’s okay and I’m doing enough but honestly I feel like that would have to come from the headteacher for it to mean anything. Who else has the authority to say so?
Hm, that went in a direction I didn’t quite mean it to, but I’ll keep it now that I’ve written it.
While I’m at work, my parents have the girls on Mondays and Jeff’s parents have them on Tuesdays. Hannah is always super excited to be going to her grandparents. Freya normally has to be woken up in order to get there on time so is groggy and sometimes grumpy, but always keen, and she never wants to leave at the end of the day!
With my parents, reading is the order of the day. Hannah will bring book after book to dziadzio’s lap (though she has the habit of discarding each book a page or two from the end!) Babcia will read to them while they eat breakfast, lunch and tea. Freya will ensconce herself in the playroom where shelves are filled with my childhood books and wonderful finds from charity shops – my mum seems to have a knack for this! They go to the park, to the woods, to the grocer, to the coffee shop in the new sports centre over the road. They do crafts and games and playdough. In the spring and summer they’ll play in my parents’ beautiful garden, where I played so many imaginative games in my childhood.
With Jeff’s parents the girls, similarly, have lots of opportunities for reading, creating, baking and other activities around the kitchen table. Freya has recently asked if Grandma can give her a piano lesson every week. Their routine at the moment includes going to a library where Hannah joins in with rhyme time while Freya puts her head in a book. Afterwards they play in the playground before heading back for lunch. Grandma occasionally takes them to London to meet up with Freya’s best-friend-cousin, if she has an inset day or some such.
I love waking up on Wednesday mornings knowing I can spend the rest of the week with my precious children. And it’s the best day too! On Wednesday we’ve had a fortnightly, and more recently weekly, home ed meet up for the last couple of years. I love these mums and these kids. It’s already been incredible seeing them grow from toddlers into children who are learning to play together and negotiate with each other and fall out and make up and be kind and seek their own space when they need it. Who says home schooled kids don’t learn how to socialise?! (Actually, who does say that?) My adults friends in this group are patient and gracious and we’re figuring it out together. It’s good to have tea together and talk. I love to see how others parent their kids. I learn a lot.
This meet has tended to be in the afternoon, so we attend a preschool group at my mother-in-law’s church (she’s the vicar) in the morning. The people here are kind and gracious too! It was a very good place for me to come throughout the early weeks of Hannah’s life, in my utter exhaustion, to have a reason to get out in the morning but just to sit and be given a tea and for grandma to hold the baby for a moment! Hannah would still love to go every week for the fun and story and craft and especially the singing, she loves singing!, but I am prioritising the home ed group so if our meet up starts earlier in the day we skip the church group.
Once a fortnight on a Thursday I get to have a Day Off. This means no work AND no kids. By spring last year Jeff and I were already at our wits end. We’d had a year of no sleep. I went back to work on maybe four hours of broken sleep a night. I suggested that when I reduced to two days a week in the autumn term, perhaps Jeff could still take a day out of work each week (as he had done to cover my third day of work) but we could alternate who looked after the kids. That way we could each have a proper day off once a fortnight. Jeff agreed this would be a good way to try and look after ourselves a bit. It has been amazing and although a lot more self care is still needed, I feel a lot better now that I know it’s never more than 13 days before I can think my own thoughts or get a task done that I can’t seem to fit in around the kids and work. Often I do Konmari, or just housework, occasionally I go shopping (which is nearly impossible with Hannah though lovely with Freya, and the day I took Freya alone to buy a dress for a wedding was a really lovely day!) Every other Day Off, once a month, I write a blog post. I’ve been wanting to write something blog-like for about three years, but I’ve been too exhausted in the evenings, so it’s great to finally do that. I’m aware that Jeff may need to take over from his parents on Tuesdays at some point with their potentially changing work commitments, and that my Day Off is probably only temporary. But I’ll enjoy it while it lasts!
While I’m enjoying blissful solitude, the children are often investigating a museum with Jeff – he is on a bit of a mission to discover what’s near us and has found some real gems like the deHavilland Aircraft Museum, some that are a reasonable driving distance and others which include the adventure of a train into London – the Science Museum, Natural History Museum and Museum of London have all been visited in the last term. I’m so glad Jeff takes them. I would love to myself but I’m just not strong enough to manage both kids in a vast and busy space, or really I mean manage Hannah, who is fast and determined, whereas Jeff just pops her in the backpack carrier if he needs to.
Freya has had a huge passion for museums ever since we first took her to the Science Museum for her 2nd birthday and she gets all the more out of her visits now that she can read, and doesn’t depend on an adult to help her understand the exhibits. She also has a knack for finding a suitable staff member and asking them whatever she wants to know (or in the case of the blue whale at the natural history, “tell me EVERYTHING about whales.”) Then Jeff can leave her to it for a minute while he chases after Hannah who has, yet again, slipped under a barrier and is attempting to run off with an ancient artefact.
On the Thursdays I have the kids, we tend to have an unstructured day and that doesn’t necessarily work out for the best! I need something in the mornings to get the kids out to otherwise Hannah gets ratty but not tired enough for a nap, and then we have a grumpy afternoon and too much tv because I don’t have the energy to stage an activity. So getting out is good. I like to meet up with friends as often as possible, whether with other children or just one of my adult friends. Freya gets a lot out of spending time with another adult, it’s often the highlight of her day. I’ve not been brilliant at asking people to hang out, so that’s a target for this year!
If Hannah naps after lunch, Freya and I will have time to do one activity together: something arty or a workbook, some baking or a game like Tummy Ache. After the nap, because it’s Cold and Dark Outside, they will most likely play some kind of crazy game together like jumping on the bed or doing an assault course in the living room until they get too rough and need to be separated…and that’s when an early tea time comes in handy!
On Fridays I used to have the same grizzly-child problem if it was too unstructured, but now if we don’t make other plans I know I can take them to the Montessori playgroup in the morning, then they can play in the nearby park and then Hannah will definitely nap when we get home. Ah, I do like a nice predictable routine. I’ve just heard that a forest school may be starting near-ish to me fortnightly on Friday afternoons which we will definitely investigate. That would fit in nicely I think.
So…that’s what our week days look like at the moment. It is characterised by an emphasis on doing ordinary family life together, a belief that the children will learn through their self directed play and interests and everyday life, and being, hopefully, chilled out about ‘milestones’ like learning to write etc.
With better weather and more light I hope to get outside more, especially as the girls both got wheels for Christmas and they need some practice! The lawn that Jeff constructed has sprouted, patchily, and I hope very much that it will provide a decent, flat surface for the kids to play on in 2017! We’ve come a long way since waist high brambles but the garden hasn’t yet felt like an easy space to play in.
I hope to become better at identifying both girls’ interests and offering ways for them to expand on them.
I hope I can make more opportunities for Freya to play with friends.
I hope as Hannah grows it will become easier to do activities all together.
I look forward to time away together as a family – we’ve got plans for February half term, Easter, and the summer so far this year.
I hope to be less anxious and more present to my children. I hope I can see what’s important.
I hope I can show them they are loved and they are awesome little learners, and that the world is good and fascinating and that they can have an impact on it, too.
Linking up with Beautiful Tribe, Enchanted Pixie and Along Came Cherry for This Homeschooling Life.