I saw this sweet picture shared by MindBodyZenLife and I immediately thought about my magical, other-worldly niece.
My niece, at 23, retains much of her childhood innocence and clear view of the world. Indeed, she inspires much of my Young Adult Novel, An Evening In Wonderland – A Brief Story of Maths, Physics & The Universe (www.CatchingInfinity.com) which won the Purple Dragonfly Book Awards 2017:
For my niece is Alice. She has no desire whatsoever to fit in. And when school got too suffocating for her, she left. Later, she did an Open University degree in Biology, and I remember her making bird food pellets of different colours, which she put on a tree ledge in my parents’ back garden to study whether colours affect their choices. And there were the field trips to the magical New Forest, too, she, I and my parents, cataloguing fungi.
With a pang, I thought about my 17-year-old daughter. Only 17, but so burdened down with the realities of life already: last summer, she had her UK Clinical Aptitude Test for medical school, she had to prepare for British Medical Aptitude Test, she had to go to the job centre, the bank, do several long essays…..her summer was far too full to make bird food or walk around the New Forest.
But here’s the crux: my niece does not fit into the society she lives in. She exists in her own little world, living at home with her mother in the house she spent all her life in, situated 20 metres from her grandparents’ house, and currently doing a horticultural course at a local college. And from here, she will carry on in the same bubble and probably never leaving it. She is content and she has the full support of the whole family.
But what if your child wants more? What if you have a child who was born with a burning ambition?
Much as I was initially against the idea of formal schooling (my eldest son was homeschooled until he was 15), I have come to realise that a supportive school it is the best possible route for my ambitious child born to us hippy parents. We wanted her to be a free spirit, but also recognised early on that our path was not hers. So we filled her life with as much magic as possible (she was read to every night until she was 9-years-old), but for a few hours each day, she had to learn the less magical realities of life:
- Get on with her peers on a daily basis;
- Get on with children from all walks of life, including bullies, not only those cherry picked because of similar family values;
- Build resilience to face each day;
- Learn about the structure of society – being punctual, rules, the unfairness;
- Learn about boredom – this for me, is the key lesson in life, because life simply cannot be exciting and fulfilling everyday.
Of course my spiky daughter fought with her classmates regularly. Once she said to her father, “Daaad, can I have lunch in your office because I have NONE friends?”
She was only about 6 or 7 then, and I was tempted to pull her out of school. Why waste 6 hours a day not having fun whilst the exciting new world exists beyond the classroom walls? But unfortunately, most of grown-up society exists inside walls, be it walls of an office, a laboratory, a boardroom, a school, and it is peopled with, well, unlikeable people.
What we did then was to create a parallel world of magic and fantasy for her alongside the rigid world that she must exist in as an adult (should she wish to do so). After all, our role as parents is to open the doors of the world for them, rather than shut those doors based on our beliefs.
Photo: playing with friends in our garden after school. Childhood is made up of carefree days such as these.
And school can be fun, too. As part of her International Baccalaureate course, she has to do 180 hours of Community, Action, Service (CAS) which saw her cleaning out a schoolroom for Myanmar refugee children. For mathematics, she is modelling H1N1 epidemic as in a dystopia scenario. For english, she has been deeply involved in feminist studies and has been looking at symbols of female emancipation portrayed in literature. For spanish, more about feminism, as it is her topic of interest. She comes home, bursting to tell us what she did at school – a couple of days ago, it was dissection of heart and liver. She was really fired up by what she did at school that day and we could not sidetrack her from that topic. She is very fortunate too that she has a boyfriend for the past three years who fills her life with magic….I have this image in my mind of her dancing in his arms on the streets of Lisbon.
So how did we fare overall, after 12 years of enforced schooling? G is not as carefree, not as hedonistic and nor is she as magical as my niece. But she finds lots of joy in her world, which includes 6am football training several times a week, lots of school work and bedtime at 10pm sharp. She relishes the challenges thrown at her and meets them full on. She has lots of new experiences that she grabs with both hands, including working in a hospital in Jakarta and playing football in Portugal.
In summer, as she turned 17, I asked her, ‘Would you like a tattoo like your cousin’s?” My niece has a huge tattoo of a clock, similar to the one in Alice in Wonderland, size of a dinner plate, tattooed on her back.
“No, Mum!” Came the reply. “But I may have my tongue or belly pierced.”
Photo: my practical child in the magical setting of New Forest 13 years ago.