Monday, June 29, 2009

One thing I really miss about South Africa is Christmas in summer...eating an enormous roast turkey and Christmas pudding and afterwards lolling around the swimming pool. Our Christmas traditions came from the UK and it was only when, after we were living in Europe, that a friend expressed surprise that I was making a salad to eat with the roast instead of cooked vegetables that I realised to what extent we had adapted them to suit our own climate.

Indeed it was only after moving to the northern hemisphere that I realised the point of Christmas, and other similar celebrations. Christmas is supposed to be at the shortest, coldest time of the year instead of the hottest and Easter is supposed to be in spring instead of in autumn. We lived practically on the tropic of Capricorn and it took me a while to get used to the fact, when I moved to the northern hemisphere, that the hottest part of the day was not just after midday, as it was in South Africa, but in the late afternoon, when I expected it to be cooling down. The summer and winter solstice had no meaning for us, as the difference between sunset in summer and winter was about an hour.

I absolutely adore the long summer days that we experience here, but I've never actually celebrated it properly (I'm not exactly the pagan type). Thus it was by chance that I got the opportunity to take part in a summer solstice celebration, thanks to Rowena's drama teacher, Dee, who was organising the torchlit procession. It really was a magical evening (well, except for the midges that were feasting on my delicious blood). I came away feeling somehow joyful, uplifted. A photographer from the Irish times was there, too, and he recorded it:

If you look carefully, you can see Rowena in the background at 1:43, (behind the hand of the woman lighting the torches), 1:23 (between the two people leading the procession), 1:02 (silhouetted in the middle) and in the next photo (from the back, talking to her friend Aisling).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I was reading a comment by a German-speaking blogger about 1000Sunny, a father in the process of deschooling (and one of my favourite bloggers). She is rather annoyed that he goes on about how bad school is and how wonderful unschooling is (of course it is wonderful, I agree ;-) ). She takes umbrage at the fact that he seems to reduce having children who are in the school system to the equation, "I don't love my children and I don't want to understand them".

Whilst I think that there is a bit of button pressing going on there and that this blogger might also want to take this as an opportunity to examine why she feels so annoyed by the stance he is taking (or seems, to her, to be taking) I can also understand (and maybe I, too, am just projecting) where he might be coming from. My mother-in-law says that people who give up smoking generally annoy her more than lifelong unsmokers. She calls them "reborn lungs". She is referring to people who are so taken up with the new joys of non-smoking that they have strong negative reactions to people around them who still smoke - who campaign loudest for anti-smoking legislation. (I, by the way, am a lifelong unsmoker, except for one occasion when I was 15). I have also seen this attitude in new mothers who come to my breastfeeding support group and go through a period of perceiving bottlefeeding as a form of child abuse, even though they had considered breastfeeding and bottlefeeding to be equal choices before they had children.

When making big, life-changing, philosophical decisions, most people tend to swing like a pendulum from one extreme to the other before settling somewhere in the middle. Maybe it is important for people to go through this stage of experience strong revulsion against and rejection of their previous lifestyle choices. Maybe deschooling truly happens when one can look at school and teachers and schoolpupils and their parents without having an emotional reaction.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Enjoying our freedom....

I was just reading a bit of officialese about the ins and outs of how the German educational authorities can make use of information about children registered in a community to enforce school attendance and I have to say that my feeling was one of overwhelming relief that we are not living in Germany - not even on a part-time basis. After we bought our house in Ireland, we did the back-and-forth thing a few times, with my husband remaining in Germany and the children and I spending time between both places.

The end result was that I felt as though I was living in some kind of spy film about East Germany. The school authorities had set one of the local officials to report on our movements to them and he went about a job with the utmost gusto. Luckily, this chap had a relative living in our very quiet street, so he had plenty of opportunity to stroll past our house and report that our car was parked in front of the house, our trash was being collected, our trampoline was still in the garden and often there were children playing in the garden on weekends. I started really paranoid - after all, who knew what neighbour was co-operating with the authorities.

Once my husband's job in Germany came to an end, there was no use staying in Germany at all and we thankfully decamped to Ireland on a permanent basis. Our children have now been registered as home-educated here in Ireland and we were visited by an inspector, who seemed quite impressed, if not a little overwhelmed, by the plethora of books and educational toys and games that clutter our house (other women buy handbags, I buy books).

I was at a conference here in Ireland last week, the main topic of which was actually breastfeeding (my other "speciality") but they had a well-known Irish parenting expert as the keynote speaker. Just by the by, the issue of homeschooling was mentioned three times in the question time after his talk (in contexts such as "homeschooling is not an option for us" - with a daughter who had been having a hard time at school - , "I would happily homeschool, but my daughter is looking forward to starting school" - with a daughter who is extroverted - and a comment from a home educating father). I was absolutely bowled over by the matter-of-fact attitude to home education, compared with Germany, where the topic is just plain taboo.