The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Thursday, October 14, 2004

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Tough ON THE PARENTS
Why sending your kid to school is like sending kids to Iraq, because everyone's got an opinion about what you've done and wants to let you know what it is:
I explain that we sent our eldest away (aged 11) because we felt that it was the best thing for him. Generally, the other mother will examine my face throughout for obvious signs of insincerity.
"It's ghastly, actually," I say. "It's all right for him, but it's the family members left behind" - pause as I dab my eyes with a hanky - "who suffer, of course."
[...] The truth is we miss our son badly, but we are also convinced that we are doing the right thing. Although we can explain to interested parties why we are doing it, we cannot (as the phrase goes) apologise for sending him away.
So we know exactly how Mr Blair feels about public reaction to his war in Iraq, basically. We've discovered that a son's education is to other parents what foreign policy is to voters - a matter of passionate, shared concern. Everyone has an opinion and is happy to share it with you, especially if they feel you are in the wrong.
"Our news is that Ludo went to boarding school yesterday, which was a pretty shattering event emotionally, and the house feels so empty, with only two little bears' plates at breakfast and teatime . . . Have just had first email from him claiming to be having the time of his life and not missing me at all," I wrote to a friend in Washington DC, a mother of four, writer and soccer mom.
"How can you stand having him away?" she wrote back. "I feel hollow when one child goes on a sleepover, for heaven's sake."
I never realised that doing something all middle-class parents used to do as a matter of course (daddies would generally be on the telephone to Ludgrove and Harrow as soon as the cord was cut and he saw little Johnny's scrotal sac) would be so divisive.
One friend of mine, who has just sent her son away aged eight, has not yet dared tell two of her greatest friends, so fearful is she of their outrage.
I think I have worked it out. Where your children go to school is, for my generation, the biggest point of reference of all: a much greater signifier than where you live or what you do. People don't like it when you do things that confound their expectations of you, or do things that they have thought of doing themselves and decided against, or do things that risk your child having a better all-round education than theirs, at whatever cost.
"If I knew that the child was in a wholesome outdoorsy atmosphere, with cold porridge and warm fires, it might be tolerable," coninued my friend's email.
"But then I would get lugubrious about all the money I was spending to give them such a wonderful time and wish they would come home to go to a free local school so that I could afford to buy more pairs of pointy high-heeled shoes."
I know exactly what she means.