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