I wonder how it is possible to feel opposing emotions at the same time, yet here I am: fearless while also afraid, triumphant while also overwhelmed, grounded while also totally uprooted. After two years of indecision I have finally hung up my stethoscope for the foreseeable future, and am creating a new life as a home educating parent. Not that I know everything that this really entails, or exactly what the journey ahead is going to look like, but if being a parent has taught me anything so far, it's to trust myself and my instincts more.
From the outside looking in, I probably look like the least likely person to embrace home education. Since I was five (no kidding) I have been working towards becoming a doctor. I didn't have time for boyfriends and parties at school- all that would surely follow once I had earned that magical two lettered prefix, insisted my Caribbean father, who had spent many years as a teacher and to this day adores the institution of formal school-based education. Top grades in all my exams, the status of "Head Girl", and an obligatory jam-packed extracurricular timetable lined me up to have my pick of top London medical schools, and I graduated aged 24 with two degrees under my belt. A couple of years later I gained a third, post-graduate degree, partly out of interest but also partly because I found comfort within the familiar walls of academia. I travelled widely, was in a steady relationship with my now-husband, and volunteered at church in a couple of different teams. I was an over-achiever in every sense of the word, I was every post-colonial immigrant parent's dream come true.
But now, admittedly wearing the rose-tinted glasses of hindsight, I question whether my ability to accurately regurgitate information in exams should have been praised as the attribute that labelled me more "intelligent" than the next kid. In retrospect, my self-esteem and sense of self was largely centred around my ability to maintain my reputation at school and at home as the good girl, the outstanding student, the "all-rounder". I put so much pressure on myself! When I look around at people I went to school with who didn't get top grades, who didn't get into the best universities, their lives look pretty fine now! Heck, some of them even own houses (ok rent them from the bank, but you know what I mean)- a feat that still eludes me to this day, and which I have concluded will only come to me through inheritance or a Euromillions win. They certainly aren't crawling around in the gutter unable to get a job or feed their families, as I subconsciously feared may be my fate if I wasn't the best at absolutely everything.
Fast-forward a few years, and you'll find me standing here as a home-educating, vegan atheist, who is currently working through issues of what "success" in life really means. My colleagues and friends are reaching the top of their respective career ladders to land well-paid, (but hellishly busy) consultant and GP jobs. I however, have jumped off of my metaphorical safety-tested aluminium ladder with clearly engraved rung-by-rung instructions, and picked up a wooden one (albeit ethically sourced and sustainably made) and moved it to lean up against a completely different wall. An uneven dry-stone wall with only a few faint instructions etched in random places by other home educators who have climbed this way before. I had never previously questioned the sturdiness of my ladder, but now as it wobbles beneath me with each tentative step upwards, I am having to engage long-neglected core muscles just to keep balanced.
Don't get me wrong, I consider it an honour to have walked alongside thousands of patients and their families at the highest and lowest points of their lives. I have fully participated in the (now endangered) "cradle to grave" vision of NHS care, having cared for newborns in their first minutes on this planet and sat with many people in their final minutes as they slip peacefully away. I have witnessed how the cruel lottery of life delivers unwanted jackpots to unsuspecting people every day: cancer to young children, psychosis to teenagers, suicidal thoughts to lonely widowers. I have learned the art of getting people to trust me with the most intimate (and I mean intimate) details of their lives within a few minutes of meeting me. My inner voyeur has become accustomed to having unrestricted access to look through the prisms of people's real everyday lives, which, while revealing the wide and colourful spectrum of human experience, also require careful handling to prevent them from smashing into thousands of tiny pieces. With great power...you know the rest.
But now, after eight years of carrying the weight of that responsibility, it's time for something different. I want to pour the benefits of all my experience and knowledge into the lives of the two most important little people in my life. Children have a way of refocusing your priorities and taking you back to basics in terms of what you want from life, from your career, from every single day. I know that these priorities will be different for everybody, but for me personally this means spending more time with the children and lovingly nurturing their growth into curious, resourceful, and kind adults. It means learning everything I thought I knew all over again through their eyes, experiencing and experimenting alongside them, being outdoors to preserve for as long as possible that instinctual connection with nature that modern life does its best to extinguish. It means valuing creativity over conformity, strength of character over popularity, genuine effort over competitiveness. I realise that this luxury of time spent with my children comes at the expense of a fancy car or trendy furniture or a mortgage, and I'm totally fine with that.