This week my spirited middle daughter, Jess, completes 12 years of school life, and as I attend all the final ceremonies associated with the end of her childhood, my mind is flooded with flashes of all the priceless moments captured during the rollercoaster ride of her journey through school.
I can still see her bright, happy face so clearly on that very first day of ‘big’ school as she led me excitedly to the Grade 1 classroom. Jess at 5 and a half years was not the youngest in the class, but she was the smallest, and as the time for me to leave neared, she crept closer and closer to me until she was on my lap with her hand firmly in mine. I knew then that she would not let me leave without a fight.
I was so right! She was the only child who cried and cried when I left with the other mothers, and even when I reached the car park I could still hear her crying. When I returned to collect her that afternoon, she launched herself into my arms and announced to all that she was NEVER going back!
“All they do is teach you to read and write and I already know how to do that so there is no point in school for me” she proclaimed.
Jess had attended kindergarten and pre-school at the Montessori School three days a week for the preceding two years. She had taught herself to read at 3 years old and thrived with the independent learning approach of Montessori. She expected that school would be an even more exciting version of what she had become used to.
Those early years were a trial. She spent most of the time sitting on the floor waiting for everyone else to finish their work so that the class could move on and she cried each morning when I left her at the classroom door, right through Grade 1 and most of the way through Grade 2.
And that’s the way her schooling progressed. She complained endlessly of being bored and unengaged and insisted that she could complete everything she needed to in one or two hours each day rather than the 7 hours that school demanded. And although she excelled academically in her report cards, her teachers complained that she asked too many questions that were almost always a couple of steps ahead and to the side of where her classmates were.
Jess stopped putting up her hand in class to answer questions as her teachers ignored her, knowing that she knew the answers. Instead she started yelling the answers out. Her teacher’s response was to provide her with a ruler with a plastic hand attached, informing her that unless she stopped yelling the answers out and used the hand instead, she would have to stand outside the classroom.
As time went on, she learned how to tolerate school but she lost the love of learning and the joy of discovery that was so lovingly developed at the Montessori kindergarten and preschool. She learned early that with minimum effort she could achieve well enough to keep everyone happy, but she was never keen to get to school and always looked for any excuse to stay home.
Her health did not help matters and she missed weeks of school each year due to protracted recoveries from flu, asthma, bronchitis and countless other childhood illnesses. She was finally diagnosed with a major immune deficiency two years ago.
Animals have always been Jess’s great love, her major interest and a lifesaver in many ways. Growing up, she spent hours and hours with our pets, playing with the dogs, stalking grasshoppers and geckos, training the chickens to perform tricks on command, and attempting to train bees to form a bee circus!
At the age of 9 years, after begging us for many months, she started horse riding lessons and threw herself into a campaign to persuade us to buy her a horse of her own.
It took a couple of years but we relented and bought a “rescue” horse for Jess and her sister, Kathryn to ride.
Then came the huge problem of finding suitable agistment – somewhere to keep the horse with easy access for the girls to spend time there on a daily basis. This solved, we had to quickly become used to the idea of spending huge sums of money on agistment, horse food (as the grass was never enough), the horse dentist, worming, the farrier to reshoe the horse every few weeks when it’s feet grew or sooner if it lost a shoe or two, horse gear, show gear, … The list went on and on!
But, we told ourselves regularly, this would not last forever as surely Jess would outgrow this phase just like most young girls. Well, that never happened! Jess is now nearly 18 years old and we are supporting three horses … and two dogs, three cats and a turkey! And the list would go on and on if we let her keep every stray animal she has brought home over the years!
Somehow, through everything, we managed to keep Jess at school, even although at times it felt as though we were literally dragging her to school each day, and the animals played a large part in giving her the sense of balance she needed to cope in a place she really did not want to be.
And I am really proud of her. She will graduate this week with very good academic results and the opportunity to go on and do whatever she wishes to with her life.
Completing her education has given Jess the chance that so many girls in our world are never offered. It has allowed her to develop into a confident, real world ready young woman with the necessary skills of adaptivity, creativity, flexibility, autonomy and the ability to effectively communicate with others.
Though I feel sad that this child, who out of my three girls has always been the most fragile and most dependent on me, has grown up and is about to launch out into the great big world away from my constant care, I am incredibly proud of how much she has achieved and of what I know she will achieve in the future.