My much-anticipated free time has mostly yet to actualize. To help Mabel with the transition to school, I went back at 10.15 yesterday and stayed the rest of the morning with her. She wasn't hicupping and on the verge of tears, as she had been last Wednesday (she only has school Mondays to Wednesdays, which makes for a very long weekend in which to get de-accustommed again), so today I left her till 11.00, which is the start of outdoor playtime before the regular pickup time of 11.30. Tomorrow I would quite confidently leave her for the whole morning, except that I'm co-opping - that is, helping in the classroom as part of our co-operative membership duties - so she'll be happy, but we may be back to almost square one next Monday. Baby steps, always baby steps.
I don't mind taking the time to ease her in gently. (If you can call it "gently" when I put a protesting child in the car, drive her to school, and leave her sobbing in my wake. But she calms down and cheers up quickly now.) I don't really have anything else pressing to do, anywhere else to be other than the very exciting supermarket or here in front of my computer blathering to you, or anyone else to be rushing home to attend to.
Yesterday morning, when I left her crying and didn't know if she'd cheer up in five minutes or be sobbing and heaving for the next hour, I felt all the requisite pangs of uncertainty. "We're not supposed to do this," I thought to myself. "She's too little. We should all homeschool forever. Why on earth do we feel compelled to send our offspring away from us and think, 'Well, if not now, she'll have to get used to it later and it'll be that much worse if she's been with me all day every day until she's three-and-a-half instead of two-and-a-half...' How is this any more civilized than sending a five-year-old into service, or up the chimneys, or to boarding school for months on end...? You can't make an omlette without breaking eggs? I don't even like omlettes! I don't want to break her!" All adding up to a pitiful internal wail of "Mah Baybeee!!", as Amalah would say.
Don't get me wrong: I have the greatest of admiration for those who choose to homeschool. I am in awe of their dedication and patience, and I have no doubt that they - assuming they are doing it with the right motives - will turn out exceptional and highly educated young people who can function excellently in society. I'm just not one of those parents. I'm not a teacher. (I don't delude myself that a love of pontificating on the Internet means I can teach children anything.) And when I'm not all caught up in the emotion of the first few days, I can work out why it is that I do this to myself and my beloveds.
At school my children get the opportunity to do things they don't do at home. They play with water to their hearts' content instead of until my patience gives out and I demand that they stop washing up and give me back my kitchen sink before the floor is completely submerged. They paint with paint, using big fat brushes, or their fingers, or sponges or wonderful implements like toy car wheels and spatulas and potato mashers. They get to make their own play-dough and turn it into sausages and spaghetti and spirals without being yelled at to stop walking it all into the carpet. They learn to sit at the table and help themselves to a snack served family-style, and see and maybe taste new foods because their friends are eating them too. They learn to be quiet and considerate so that others can hear the story, instead of being the only one ruling the roost.
These are all things I could do at home, but the one thing I couldn't do is be an adult who is not Mummy. Mabel is learning that she's not the planet around whom we all orbit - not all the time. She's learning that sometimes there are fourteen of you, all thinking that maybe you're the planet, and all finding out slowly that to make things work smoothly, you often have to wait your turn and stand in line and sit when sitting is called for - and also that when you need something, you have to speak up and ask nicely, and then you'll be helped.
And yes, you could say that my darlings are learning to be good little cogs in the machine, to do what The Man tells them, to never think for themselves but just follow along with the crowd, to submit to peer pressure. But I don't think that's how it is. I think they're learning to rely on themselves a little more and me a little less, to discover what they can do as individuals; and if a tiny bit of that involves throwing them into a very shallow deep end to help them see that they can paddle after all, then I'm just going to nut up and do it.