Five years.

In September 2013, I watched my children play and climb a fountain on what would have been their first day of school.

Today, as they near the end of their fifth year officially being home educated, I sat in the same spot and watched the same thing.

What an excellent five years it’s been, and what a joy and privilege it is to watch my children ripen.

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All the time in the world. 


Should we make shields, should we make flags? Where are the bamboo sticks? I found the sticky tape!

Let’s play a card game. Let’s have a battle. Let’s swing from the chin up bar, hold the baby, spend an hour or two out in the drizzle. Ew, I found a dead earwig!

Where are the pencils, can I have some toast? Do you like the bread? I made it! Bring your teddy, everyone being the teddies upstairs. 

Let’s have enough popcorn that our stomachs explode. I’m doing Lego, let’s do that imagination game. Can I see the baby’s fingernails?

What’s this thing (abacus)? Look, I’ve made a pattern. Watch me, I’m pretending to fall to make you laugh. Hey, I read this sign hanging by your bed, why is it there?

Five and a half hours. They did stuff outside with paintbrushes, while we talked about the lies our siblings told us and the lies we told them. (I told my sister squirrels lived inside green beans when we were kids.) 

Five and a half hours of noisy shrieking, with interludes of peaceful quiet and absorption. Playing, creating, filling entire plates with mounds of popcorn. 

Not bad. Not bad at all. 

It helps. 

You don’t have to have hot air balloons bright and dancing on the day you turn seven, but it helps.

The smell of food stalls lining the paths, the glow of lights in every direction, music pulsing deep and loud as the balloons light up in beautiful rhythm.

You don’t have to spend the afternoon stretched on a picnic blanket, or eating lukewarm chips, or running in circles laughing on the day you turn seven. You don’t have to stay up late to watch balloons dance.

But it helps.

Adventure day. 

We’ve been so busy lately. Busy with all sort of ‘enriching’ things. Classes, time with friends, busy busy busy. Even though during the summer most groups and classes are off, we have been alternating our normal ‘busy’ with total crushing downtime.

Last night I thought it was time to get back to what life has always looked like for us – at least before the busy bug struck.

Time to explore new places, with no constraints to rush back to anything else. A day with just the three of us (though Suzy was missed); no friends to consider when we decided what to do.

Last night I had a little google, looking at English Heritage, the National Trust, the CADW, and plain old ordinary maps. That’s how I discovered we don’t live that far from a big ass chalk horse carved into a hill in Wiltshire. I decided that could be a loose destination, a way for us to be pointed in.

This morning I told the kids it was Adventure Day. As we drove, if we saw anything cool we’d stop. We did – at a garden centre cum pet supply shop, with a cafe charmingly named after the camp where Suzy and I met. We marveled at cactus displays, venus fly traps, compasses and swiss army style cutlery. Then we got back in the car.

Oh, white horse on the hill, how I love you. We drove up a very narrow, winding road to the top of a hill. The whole carpark was chalk; it was so white. We pulled out a blanket and had a picnic on the flat grass expanse, looking at books, chatting, laying back in the sun.

Eventually we headed off to see what we could see of an Iron Age fort and a white horse.

There were grasshoppers singing, blue skies, a gentle breeze rippling the long grasses. We had pastels and oil crayons, scavenger hunt books and a kite, and all the time in the world.  With nowhere to be, we found we were in exactly the right place for exactly the right amount of time.

We stood on the hill and searched for the other two white horses visible from the peaks. We walked ages along a chalky path (which made me feel sick at points, so high and steep were we!). We saw a train pottering along in the distance and wondered if the people onboard would notice the horse.

And I felt happy. Happier than I’ve felt in ages. It was just me and the kids, just me and this wild, gorgeous place, just me and all the time in the world. Never have I felt so enriched.

As we move towards September, we are rethinking how our days and weeks will be ordered. We are leaving some things behind, trying one or two new things, but largely – we will hopefully be exploring, be adventuring without having a specific day set for that purpose, wandering and thinking and making art.

We’ll invite friends along, and gladly go along with others, but I think we’ll try to have more time just us. More time drinking in the beauty of wild spaces, time lazy and ripe. Because, really, what could be better?

Insta-gratitude.

I joined Intagram years ago, posted about seven photos, then disappeared. Partly because i was poor and had a shit phone, partly because I’m well and truly sucked into facebook, partly because I didn’t see the point.

Then I started a daily, ongoing scavenger hunt with my children. We find things that are surprising, beautiful, weird.

So I went back to Instagram – but am too technologically stupid to know how to link to my account. My username is alisonmariemay, with the colourful t rex profile picture.

I posted some of the stuff we found. Things that delighted me, things I did not expect, things I noticed.

And it’s occurred to me: this is nothing more than a glorified gratitude journal. For I am grateful for the unexpected rhino covered in sequins, visible from the roof of a parking garage in Birmingham. I am aware of how awesome the stepping stones across a river, leading to a really old castle look. I am laughing when I find weird altars of animal bones on my children’s chest of drawers.

Again, I don’t know how to link. But come find me if you want. I am finding more purpose and more gratitude every time I find something that makes me laugh, or say ‘what the fuck,’ or just makes me more curious. So in that way, this little Instagram account with essentially no followers makes me thankful. It’s colourful, and honest, and full of tiny moments I probably wouldn’t think much about if I didn’t post the pictures.

But sometimes life is about the sparkly heart sticker you find in the park, sometimes it is about finding a tiny moment of joy so that you may survive the larger moments of darkness.

Perfect.

I posted this picture online, and I wanted to write the word ‘perfect,’ but I held back. I have so many problems with that word. Is it something we should aim for? Is it realistic? What does it look like, how does it feel, will I make others feel awful even as I feel suspended in the aftermath of a good day?

But you know what? There are perfect moments. And my children are lucky, perhaps, to not realise how perfect their childhood is.

Today we went to a friend’s house, and another family met us there. Three families, seven children, a few big fields and some time around a kitchen table. If that isn’t perfect, I don’t know what is.

My children have the freedom I felt every day after school and on the weekends, except I was mostly alone or with my sister. My children are mostly with other lucky children. And on this day, they strode through purple grasses taller than they were. They befriended caterpillars (and mourned unintentional caterpillar deaths), they climbed trees, they threw grass seeds at each other.

Of course there were small moments of drama, but there were these larger moments. Like the one in the picture. There they are, these small children in the picture, free and exploring and happy.

Perfect.