Our Family Are Playing 'Wait-And-See' With School. Here's The Reality Of That

To school or not to school? All the uncertainty is enough to make parenting columnist Robyn Wilder want to go completely off-grid.

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In retrospect, mentioning yurts was a mistake. We’d been debating whether or not to return our kids to school now lockdown was easing, and I was just starting to nudge my husband over to my way of thinking, when I said the word “yurts” and threw my whole argument in the bin.

Stupid yurts.

Ever since Boris Johnson passed his decree that schools across England would reopen in June (from which he’s since backtracked, of course), I’ve been sceptical. The high R number and crowded beach combination, the wildly varying official advice between England and Scotland, the very existence of Dominic Cummings – they all pointed toward the wisdom of extending lockdown and forgetting about schooling until at least September. It’s not as though GCSEs are looming for our children, who are just five and two.

My husband’s approach is more: “it’ll probably be fine; let’s wait and see; our kids need to socialise.”

Ada Yokota via Getty Images

Two weeks into June, and both our boys are still at home, sitting agape in front of some incomprehensibly dull Minecraft playthrough video on YouTube. School has yet to announce when Reception kids can return, and at our toddler’s nursery, the ceiling has caved in. “Why don’t we homeschool through the summer, instead?” I ask my husband.

I’ve read that family groups can share tutors; that kids can establish secure friendships and learn outdoors, at their own pace. I paint my husband a blossom-strewn picture of a creative, outdoorsy forest-schooling summer schedule of bug hunts, beachcombing, rockpooling, and woodland trails.

But I go too hard, too fast. Maybe the kids won’t even want to go back to school in September, I suggest. And maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe, given the embarrassing disarray of our government, we should sell up as a family, go off-grid, and become self-reliant.

We could change our names. Call both kids Sorrel. Never cut our hair again. We could be like the family in Paul Theroux’s The Mosquito Coast, except without all the madness and murder. Instead of the Central American rainforest, we could move to, perhaps, rural Scotland. We could buy an RV. Or – hey! – a yurt.

This is when I lose him. When the veil falls, and my husband sees me in my full conspiracy theory-addled, tinfoil-hatted crazy glory. Very gently and non-judgmentally, he asks how I’m going to achieve this educational forestry when I hate the heat, have incapacitating hay fever, and have been known to sprint away from my baby buggy if chased by a wasp.

Plus, he asks me – again, gently – when do I think we’ll have time to implement this amazing homeschooling routine? I want to tell him about my fantasy where one of us magically makes enough money for the other one to quit work altogether and become a full-time parent – probably him, because he’s the better cook and has the driver’s licence.

Having already gone full-yurt, I’m reluctant to get shot down again. I suggest we get a new childminder. My husband outright refuses, making the decent point that our kids would find a stranger’s house as confusing as socially-distant school. Instead, he proposes continuing as we have done.

“We work for half a day, and parent for half a day, seven days a week. It’s not ideal,” He shrugs. “But I can cope. Can you cope?”

Ada Yokota via Getty Images

I don’t know what my face is doing when my husband asks this, only that, while looking at me, he falters on that last word. Can I cope with parenting tiny active kids for half a day, and working for half a day – with no respite, very little downtime – for seven days a week throughout the summer and beyond?

To be quite frank, I barely feel I’m coping now.

This is evident from the out-of-control lockdown hair I never get around to detangling; by the way I keep humming and picking at my hormonal acne and eating exclusively from the “caffeine” and “sugar” food groups.

I feel as though I should be able to cope, but the idea gives me The Fear, and – on the back of that – a horrible case of the ‘You’re A Terrible Persons’ with a small side of ‘Why Are You Even A Mum?’

It takes a rare FaceTime with my best friend, later that day, to set things straight. She, also gently (everyone is being so gentle with me lately!) reminds me that I already had a few too many projects on the go and was entering a depression, anxiety and chronic illness spiral before lockdown even began. And that was back when our boys were in school full-time and nursery part-time.

Perhaps, she suggests, my feelings are understandable. She also reminds me – yet more gently if such a thing were possible – that my mother died. In April. In a care home, of Covid-19.

I hadn’t forgotten this, exactly, but aside from two weeks in bed that I don’t remember, directly following her death, lockdown meant having to jump straight back into constant working and parenting – only more sadly, and less ably.

All this considered, says my friend, perhaps an inability to cope and a fondness for tinfoil hats and yurt dreams is understandable. And that maybe we can find a third way to take some of the pressure off. I then go off and have a more reasonable chat with my husband.

Anyway, that’s the story of how I’m taking a “wait and see” approach with the schools reopening and, instead of shopping for a yurt, I’m now looking for a part-time nanny for the summer. A nanny who’s fond of forests, flower crowns and, crucially, not so afraid of wasps.

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