Yesterday, I had another run in my kid’s teacher – this time about his reading book. She told me rather tartly that he was obviously reading better at home than at school. “Obviously” I replied, dripping acid. On the way home, my son asked me if I was going to take him out of his school.
“Oh, OK” he replied, whirling off like a giddy whirling thing.
“I’m going to take you out of school and we’ll move to France and you can stay at home for 6 months and learn French by watching cartoons and playing with kids at the local pool”
“Yay!” he whooped.
Makes it all sound so easy, doesn’t it? Trouble is, it’s easy to make decisions for yourself as an adult – far harder when there’s a child’s future involved.
We’re all agreed that, once we make this move, there’s no going back – we simply don’t have the financial cushion to maintain a place in the UK. It’s do or die stuff which is wonderful for us, dangerous and liberating, but what about our son? Are we right to gamble everything and directly impact on the course of his life? After all, we’re asking him to make the biggest leap – into a whole new way of life, new friends, new school, new language. Is he ready?
If we could afford to move to Paris it would be (hate this phrase, forgiveness begged in advance for using it) a no brainer. He’d go in a heart beat on the expectation of being able to ride the metro – his favourite occupation bar none – day in day out. But we won’t be moving to Paris, we’ll be moving – in all probability – to a little village in the middle of nowhere without the wherewithal to put him in an international school. I’ve seen first hand what can happen to English kids in small village schools in France – books full of zeroes, being told to sit at the back and draw pictures, little or no support when struggling with the language barrier. Difficult to blame the schools – it’s hard to imagine the situation being hugely different if reversed – but it’s not a cheery prospect. Scary. As.
Of course, those kids weren’t my kid – my dreamy, imaginative, wonderful, off with the orcs and the elves 6 year old full of wit and smarts and with a vocabulary that makes me swell with pride. My kid who is being failed by 30+ class sizes and lack of attention. Who I’ve always wanted to home school but am painfully aware of the need for an only child to socialise. I worry that he’d spend his time staring out of the window in the more heavily academicised environment of a French classroom. I worry that I’d be jeopardising his abilities in two languages, setting him back because of my own gung ho stubbornness and desire to get out.
And then I look at the poems he writes, the notes he leaves me, the plasticine and lego models he crafts, the games we play and the books we read together and I wonder why I doubt his resilience, his innate intelligence, his equanimity. He cares about stuff – yesterday he asked me what I was doing to help the children who had nothing and whether we could do something on the internet? He is sensitive in the best way – not a delicate flower but emotionally astute. I know this could be an incredible opportunity for him to become truly bilingual, to grow and flourish in an environment where mum and dad have time for him, where dad doesn’t leave the house before he wakes up and comes home as he goes to bed.
I’ve been so envious of my friend L who has nothing financially and yet everything worthwhile – 3 great kids who she has had the luxury of being around every step of their childhood*. As parents we’ve missed so much of the first 6 years – I don’t want to miss out on any more. I want to step back, to be able to breathe,to relax, to watch him change and evolve, to engineer that luxury for all of us.
Moving to France is ultimately about improving quality of life for our family. I want my tow headed, chisel cheekboned boy to continue to grow taller and healthier and more confident. To grow his own veg and swim in the local lake and ride his bike down the local lanes. And take trips to Paris to ride the metro. I’m hoping that having relaxed, contented parents will facilitate that.
There’s a lot of ‘hope’ and blind faith involved in these decisions – but sometimes you just have to work with what you’ve got.
*FEMINIST DISCLAIMER I believe that mothers should do what’s best for them – whether that be staying at home or going back to work. Personally, I’ve grown to resent working because I feel like I missed out on a great deal. I don’t claim to speak for anyone but me and, truthfully, I never thought I’d feel like that – 30 years ago my attitude would have been quite different. I think it’s a lot to do with being an older parent, with feeling time’s winged chariot thundering at my heels, with him being the one and only.