Ever since his fourteenth birthday my son has been exasperated with me, and frequently asks why I do, oh, anything and everything.
I quickly learned to answer "Because I am old, and stupid."
He accepted this, and proceeded with the activities most dear to an adolescent.
Except one day he asked why I was doing something so obviously routine and necessary I answered "Because I am old, and stupid, and boring!"
He paused, thought about it, and replied "You're not boring."
Hilarious, accurate, and probably not intended as a compliment. My faults as a parent and human are numerous, but my offspring do acknowledge that I am interesting - exasperating, yes, but they say I provide high entertainment value.
The least offensive word to describe my antics is 'quirky,' but beyond my tendency to pontificate and obsess I have always kept them well supplied with novelty: moving to a new country, traveling the world, hanging out with scientists and historians and musicians and circus performers. We've had grand adventures.
And throughout our twenty years together they have rarely, and only very reluctantly, attended school. Because I do not approve of the formal institution, but also because they are. . . eccentric. My daughter was performing in front of thousands of strangers by age nine, my son has worn a suit and bow-ties ever since he could walk. They have strong opinions. About everything.
From the earliest age the children have made their own choices at every critical juncture. My daughter attended perhaps two years of school, total, before deciding to go to university. My son has clocked more time in regular classrooms, but he dropped out a few years ago.
What has he been doing with his time? Animation. Film. Theatre. Physics. And a few months ago he asked for tutoring in the core curriculum subjects - to catch up on dread topics like 'how to write a formal essay' and 'how to conjugate French verbs.'
Doom! Because this was the first step back to institutional learning. And there was no arguing with his desire, because as he pointed out, it is hard to make friends in a new place when you never meet anyone your own age.
I harboured a sincere hope that he would not be able to find a school, and the city cooperated - it is difficult to enter UK schools at age 14 because of the way the curriculum is structured, and central London is wildly oversubscribed.
I put him on the wait list for the nearest and least horrid school, and felt relief every few weeks when another letter arrived notifying us that there were no places available. In fact, he was taken off the list three times, as the default is that people in our position put the kid in private school. I wanted to tell him his wish was impossible to fulfil, but that would have been wrong. I just kept putting him back on the list.
Last week, the school called - a place had opened - did he still want to attend?
Every last shred of me wanted to say no, turn down the spot, lie to my kid if necessary. But to do so would be unethical and contrary to the very reasons I have kept the children out of school. I wanted them to learn from life, to make their own choices, pursue their own interests, make mistakes, fail, try again, on their own terms, for their own reasons.
Fundamentally it is up to my son to decide. And he chose. . . school.
This is England, so school means uniforms. Structure. Schedules. Tests.
Over the weekend we filled out his schedule. He had never been directly confronted with the fact that the school system is divided explicitly into college prep and vocational, even at this age. My kid is of course, before he even shows up on the first day, college prep. Because his parents and sister have attended university. No point debating, or even meeting the child, this is just the disastrously unfair way the system works.
The schedules are a morass of flow charts, acronyms, and conflict: if you take triple science, you cannot take media studies. If you take art you cannot take drama. If you take the college prep route you are excluded from the option of vocational skills classes, no matter how interesting. Does any of this make sense? Not if you care about education as opposed to test results.
My kid started arguing and I pointed out that school is about training clerks, soldiers, and clergy. I said "Don't think, just obey!" Then I started laughing wildly.
And this morning I waved as he walked away.