Mother knows Best. Sometimes.


Hat and I are nearing the end of our first academic year at home school.


It’s been ok. Better than ok, we agree.


‘’It’s been good’’, says Hat.


Not perfect, not ideal, not always. But good. And good’s fine.


Hat’s school has been a motley amalgam of a formal correspondence course which we have worked at on the verandah, frequently accompanied by cats and dogs and the occasional lizard scuttling across the wall seeking the sun; regular forays back to Arusha where she was reunited with old friends in the international school she attended for six years and field trips conducted by her father: at the sea side when she stroked the octopus he caught in his hands so that she could feel its suckered tentacles against her skin and when, with her little fist firmly folded inside her dad’s much bigger one, he took her swimming beyond the reef – I watched them: her arm draped across his broad, brown shoulders. She was a bit scared, she told me later, ‘but I was so glad to have done it, Mum, I felt so grown up’.  PE has taken the form of bike rides along the dam, long walks, afternoons in the pool when Hat has insisted I race aginst her or dive for pennies to see who can collect the most. Only our guitar lessons disappointed: Hat hated those, George from the church came six times and taught the same song over and over until she wept with boredom. ‘And he sends text messages during the lesson’, she said, ‘and picks his nose’, as if I needed any more conviction that music lessons probably ought to be abandoned.  School has happened on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, in an abandoned refugee camp near the Burundi border and on board aeroplanes hanging high in a big sprawly white hot African sky.


Yet I still find myself defending our decision.


I have described Hat’s learning experience to numerous people who enquire ‘but where does she go to school?’ I teach her, I say, a bit. Mostly she teaches herself; she has produced a project on Dr Livingstone, has a map of Tanzania festooned with ribbons and post-it notes indicating where she’s been since we got here, she has designed a game to combat the spread of malaria, she is currently immersed in an investigation into India and Hinduism, simply because she wants to go there: India


Yes, yes, they say – as if to indicate that’s all very well. But. There is always a But.


What about her Social?


Ah yes.  That old chestnut.


By Social, of course, the sceptics mean the Social life I am denying my precious little girl: ‘what about the missed opportunity for playdates with children of her own age? Her own colour? Her own background?’


Socialising with whomever happens to be around apparently isn’t good enough.


That she chats happily to Asina and Salma, Sylvester and James in a funny vernacular spun of Kiswahili and English isn’t deemed socialising. That she accompanies her father and I to everything we go to here doesn’t count either. 


But why not? 


Hat is a friendly little girl. She understands, and she grasped this very quickly after we got here, that she needs to grab every chance to engage with other people.  Regardless of age, colour or creed. As a result she has bartered for a bunch of bananas at the front gate whilst the African ladies selling them to her giggled. Hat didn’t care; she was elated to have made her solo into the local business of biashara. As a result, Hat has played pool with a kind African man in a bar whilst her father and I enjoyed a beer close enough to watch. Playing on her own, he asked if he could join her.   I watched her smile and say, ‘of course’, and I watched her little face all serious in concentration as she lay her cue across the table to take her shot.  As a result Hat has attended barbeques and conversed with such an interesting cross section of people: a miner in his sixties; a mechanic from New York; a beauty therapist from Wales.


If there had been other children of her age about she wouldn’t have had those conversations. I am not suggesting adult company ought to replace those of her own peer group eternally, such a scenario wouldn’t be ideal either. But it does discount the accusation that is frequently levelled: ‘what about her Social …’


I am reading Robyn Scott’s Twenty Chickens for a Saddle. It’s a good book to be reading when you’re a mum in the bush suffering guilt-riddled anxiety attacks about your daughter’s Social.


When I’m not reading that, I’m flicking through the Spectator. Rachel Johnson suggests in a recent issue that some parents no longer see enough of their children. That makes me feel a bit better too; Hat definitely sees enough of me. Though she’s far too polite to say so.


Hat is sometimes an anxious little girl. She worries a lot. And before the critics react with an ‘Ah yes, well, bound to be some backlash with all this touchy-feely, tree-hugging home school nonsense’, I should tell you that Hat’s worrying has been a feature of her life for much, much longer than home school has.  If she were at boarding school she wouldn’t be able to articulate her anxieties like she does to me, and they might crowd her little head and would likely counter whatever advantages the Social of school was supposed to be lending to her young life.


This year at least, our decision to keep Hat at home and muddle along with our happy, faintly feckless, always versatile approach to her learning has unequivocally been the right one.   Whether it will be next year remains to be seen. 


But this year has reinforced what I thought I knew anyway: sometimes mums really do know best.






Pretending? … Maybe



I like to pretend. I suppose it’s one of my hobbies. Anything can happen when you pretend. Sometimes I sit in the garden and pretend. Maybe I sneak around the house pretending to be a spy on a mission or maybe I’m an under cover detective picking up mysteries in sunglasses, a detective hat and a long coat complete with the latest gadgets. Or maybe I’m the world’s last hope and maybe I manage to save everybody from the deadly Dr Evil, and maybe my stories are good enough to be written down and maybe I send them to a publisher and maybe they make the Top Ten Terrific Tales and then maybe I become a child star! Or maybe I live in a huge castle with 500 rooms and maybe it has an enormous garden, with an orchard, a swimming pool the size of the Atlantic Ocean and a forest and maybe that forest is enchanted and maybe Pegasus comes and swoops me up into the clouds.


But maybe, just maybe, I am happy enough to sit in my garden and pretend …


By Hat, aged 11

29 Responses to “Mother knows Best. Sometimes.”

  1. guineapigmum Says:

    Reading your blog, I think that Hat appreciates what she has. I often wish that my children, at an ordinary school with ordinary friends and an ordinary social life, appreciated what they had. You have definitely made the right choice and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

    By the way, have you read ’20 chickens for a saddle’? I think that’s what it’s called. I heard part of it on the radio and it made me think of you. I’ll go and buy it one of these days.

  2. R. Sherman Says:

    It sounds like a marvelous education. As for the busybodies who insist on commenting, the best response is always, “None of your damn business.”


  3. Roberta Says:

    Brava! I wholeheartedly think you are doing the right thing. Look at that little girl’s face! You need not look any farther for an answer!!

  4. Tom Says:

    If there was one wish I could have ,it would be for ” I pretend..” to come back to me.

  5. Miranda Says:

    I was home schooled and have turned out very very well if I don’t say so myslef! Its’s the best decision my parents made (aside from having me in the first place, of course). Good for you.

  6. Kit Says:

    It sounds to me as if you have done a marvelous job with your precious little girl. Homeschooling worked beautifully for my daughters. At the moment the four of them are – one young mother home with her baby, one molecular biologist teaching, one bookseller, one college student majoring in history. Two married, two single. No disasters.

  7. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    GuineaPigMum – thank you. As to 20 Chickens for a Saddle, yup, reading it now. It’s a wonderful story, and published by one so young – she’s only 26. I am mid way through and just read the tale which obviously gives the book it’s title. Sweet, frank, fresh. And as a home-schooler, good ammo to hurl at the non-believers!

  8. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Mr Sherman – thank you. I hope I am: doing a reasonable job. And you’re quite right: nobdoy elses business, just Hat’s.

  9. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you Roberta. Certainly, she does seem happy … and that’s really all that matters. Once, years ago, when my eldest was having a horrid time at school he told me that children only learned when they are happy. He was ten at the time, such wisdom. But i have clung firmly to it. His words have recently described my response to another educational dilemma. But that’s another story …

  10. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Tom – I agree. I pretend … And I don’t think pretending to be blonde so that I can pretend to be younger than I really am counts?

  11. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Miranda – thank you. It is always gratifying to hear the end product articulate confidence in a system. Such as my fairly relaxed system is of course …!

  12. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Very well done you, Kit. I think that sounds like you did brilliantly. All your girls sound happy and well rounded – as you say, no disasters. Isn’t that all we want as parents?

  13. Dad Mzungu Says:

    I think that Hat must be one of the luckiest of little girls. She is receiving the most rounded of educations, rather than sitting in a stuffy classroom.
    If only more children could receive this sort of education, I believe that they would be far more aware of the world around them, eventually evolving into broad-minded, caring adults instead of the selfish, materialistic, self-centred morons that come off the production belt in the UK.
    Keep it up!
    Dad Mzungu

  14. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you thank you thank you Dad Mzungu! I intend to: keep it up. Until Hat fires me. Thanks for reading.

  15. Mozi Esme's Mommy Says:

    Absolutely in this case – mums know best!

    Sometimes I start lamenting all the social opportunities Esme would have back in our Oregon home. Reading clubs, mother’s groups, kiddy exercise clubs, art groups.

    Then I remember that she’s getting the best of it here. Not just meeting kids her own age, but people of all ages and various cultures.

  16. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    And I think you’re absolutely right: the reading clubs, the mother’s groups, the art classes – they’re not going anywhere. They’ll all be there, back home. But the opportunity for Esme to immerse herself in life in mozambique is to be had now – she is still so young. enjoy it.

  17. nuttycow Says:

    Well done Hat on a great story. Obviously has inherited your writing skills. I think there’s nothing wrong with home schooling. She is obviously bright, has learnt about interesting things and is far more sociable than many other kids her age!

    The only problem I can think of with home schooling is that it much make parent’s evening slightly difficult 😉

  18. Janelle Says:

    ah FANTASTIC and what a gorgeous pic…! frankly i think school are overrated…and i think as long as your mother loves you, you can be or do anything you want in life. Hat ROCKS and so do you dear A. so do you!!! salaams to dear uncle fuzz..hope he arrived safely…LOTS LOTS love to you xxxxx j

  19. Janelle Says:

    oh and re: previous posting…about my other blog…since i started ngorobob house i never write on the other one…its way too boring!!!! so there you have it…write what you like darling….you do it so so well….! never doubt yourself. never…go for it….! lots lots love xxx j

  20. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thanks nuttycow. oh no, evenings in the bush are better given hat’s presence: think sir jack, marcia the fortune teller, marcella the beauty therapist … imagine, i’d have nobdoy to do my nails or assure me of impending fame and fortune if it weren’t for them!

  21. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    dearest janellabella; thank you. that’s very kind. i agree: school, certainly conventional bell-ringing, uniform-wearing, rule-written, chalk-dust school is hugley overrated. if your mama loves you … and if she has a healthy amazon subscription i might add. or a good library. or understands that education really can come when swinging in a hammock, cat on lap, enid blyton to hand … xxx

  22. Kate Says:

    What a great time Hat seems to be having it reminds me of my days learning in Tabora around the age of 5, several years ago. My mother was an artist and she did a number of drawings and sketches of Stanley Livingstone house. Thanks for the memories. Hat is getting the best kind of education which she will treasure all her life

  23. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you Kate. and thank you especially for dropping by. I’m intrigued … when were you in tabora? what was your family doing? I’d love to see your mother’s drawings.

  24. Retired memsahib Says:

    I read your blog with great enjoyment. Your description of home schooling brought back many memories. Two of my three daughters were home schooled for 2 years and it was a wonderful experience for them. They have grown to be remarkable young women and one of them is considering home school for her own daughter. I encourage you to trust your own instincts and don’t listen to the critics. If other people can’t be bothered to take the time with their own children, don’t let them relieve their own guilt bysowing the seeds of doubt in your own mind.

    Hat sounds delightful. You’re doing a good job!

  25. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Retired Memsahib (btw I love your name!) – thank you for reading and for your encouragment. I am so glad that your own daughters enjoyed it so much that one is thinking of home-schooling her own; that’s got to be the best kind of endorsement. we are moving house soon, to a bigger garden, so i intend classes to reach outside to some chickens, a herb garden and some carrots and broccoli …

  26. Eugene Says:

    Whoa, “Pretending?” is brilliant! I can’t believe Hat wrote that. It’s not just that it’s written well, but her understanding of basic narrative structure and arcing is far more sophisticated than any publicly educated grade schooler I have ever met.

    Your daughter’s writing skills are at least ten years ahead of herself, easy.

  27. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you Eugene. That’s gratifiying. More imporatantly, Hat will be thrilled.

  28. summer Says:

    I’ve been behind on blogs as I had a baby 3 months ago so I just now came across this post of yours. Hat’s writing reminds me of my husband’s youngest sister (she too is 11) and she too is homeschooled. If Hat ever desires to have a pen pal I would love to give you my SIL’s info…they live part time on Whidby Island in Washington State and part time in Mexico. Right now her greatest love is horses…
    Anyway, the description of Hat’s last year is what I dream of giving my girls one day, what you have given Hat is a gift. Good for you.

  29. KatduGers Says:

    The photo of Hat is beautiful. She looks so happy – if you ever doubt that you are doing the right thing just look at that photo!

    If you’re wondering why I’m reading July 2008, I am still ploughing through trying to get up to the present day!

    Have you ever read Belle de Jour’s blog or Petite Anglaise? They have published sections of their blogs, plus extra bits, as books. Personally, I’d rather read yours, should you ever be able to publish.

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