A few weeks ago, I was going to write about how May 2nd marked 21 years since one of the hardest and most significant events of my life: the day I moved back to London from Paris. Unfortunately, I never got round to writing the article because this May, another life-changing incident happened that has pretty much preoccupied my every thought and dominated most of my days. My husband and I reached a decision which (like the one to leave Paris) is for good reasons…but is nonetheless heart breaking and involves the hardest goodbye.
For some people reading this – especially those suffering intense trauma and hardship – my ‘sad life-altering’ event is just a precious first world problem… It’s probably one of those things you have to be a parent to understand too.
After 11 years at the same school, we are changing schools.
Yes I know! Nobody has died. We haven’t lost the roof over our heads due to war or financial crisis. Nobody (touch wood) is suffering an awful illness. We haven’t had our lives devastated by a natural disaster or a terror attack.
Yet in the years that have passed since that fateful day in 1997, few things have impacted me or caused me as much heartache as the thought of my children (and er…me!) leaving the only school we’ve ever known and all that changing schools entails (even if, as I said, we feel we are making the right decision). We started in 2007 with a then three year old Musical M who is leaving (aged 14) as one of the ‘longest attending’ pupils. 11 years of school socials, plays, concerts, class presentations etc. We were almost a part of the furniture!
So I won’t pretend the last few weeks have been easy.
Realising ‘we’re really doing this’ – looking at other schools and obtaining application forms (something I’ve not had to do since my 14 year old was 19 months old!) – sent my nervous system into shock.
As did this: Visiting a school that I just sobbed walking around, dealing with an archaic obstructive mentality that exists in certain school administrations, learning that certain schools teach specific subjects only in Maltese (a non starter for my kids), discovering that many schools (from both the government and the private system) set a COLOSSAL ten to twelve compulsory Matsec (Malta’s GCSE) exams in addition to the optional subjects, realising that some schools don’t offer art or design or music or drama at Matsec level and one school doesn’t teach geography or history at all!
The tears, they did flow.
Schools exist in all sorts of shapes, sizes, facilities, curriculum, teaching style and philosophy. State…private…grammar…international…a high scoring school that everyone’s desperate to get their kids into…or a jungle you wouldn’t send your worst enemy to…
Whatever the options available, there is no such thing as the perfect school. What you might see as a school’s best points might be my very reasons not to choose that school.
Were there things about our school I didn’t much like, that may possibly not be an issue after changing schools? Yep…
A preoccupation with encouraging Valentine’s Day and Prom celebrations in place of honouring World Book Day or culturally significant days, an inadequate language programme, increasingly expensive school events, modest facilities, a rather ‘relaxed’ health and safety approach in certain scenarios, a seemingly non-existent approach re teaching manners/enforcing a respect for authority and an inability/refusal to deal with bullying behaviour, which you may recall from that viral post I published last year.
But of course there were things I just loved. Things that made it so so very special. Things that I will sorely miss….
The cosy inviting feeling of the converted buildings and their wonderful historical significance.
The family/community spirit.
The nurturing, collaborative educational methods (at primary level).
The theme-based curriculum.
The EXCELLENT art programme and art festivals that used to leave me speechless with admiration.
The relaxed understanding attitude regarding absences and vacation time.
And the class sizes of 17 or so.
The list goes on.
My kids have been blissfully happy there for the most part.
So the more I researched alternative schools and
– heard stories of physical bullying
– spoke to friends who told me about teachers who simply don’t show up
– managed my children’s reactions and feelings
– got told by friends that changing schools will have a damaging effect on the eldest
– and discovered that two friends were pulling their kids out of the very school for which I’d applied only to be told by that school that we’re not in the right catchment area anyway (!),
I was a tad drained.
By the time I went to inform the Head of our current school of our decision, I thought I’d at least be able to get through the conversation in one piece, with no tears.
Wrong. Seriously, how were my tear ducts not exhausted?
Then there was this week’s Grade 8 drama show. The last time I’ll see my eldest sing at this lovely school. Once again she simply blew us all away with her strong moving solo. (No I’m not a stage mum. She’s got a great voice. Simple.)
As Musical M belted out the lyrics of This is Me, a song about self-empowerment and rising up against tormentors who try to drag you down, there were more tears. (I thank God for my enormous black Ralph Lauren’s without which my blubbing would have been totally exposed to everyone.)
The painful irony of M singing these lyrics, standing next to the very mean girls who’ve made her life a misery the last few years, was not lost on those people who know the situation.
How have the kids taken it?
M is very emotional about the move. And quite frankly terrified. Dreamy D (now 11) said “Mummy, it’s really hit me how I don’t want to leave my school”. M told me that Cheeky K (8yrs) burst into tears the other day about it all too.
Will I cry my eyes as we walk out the gates for the last time? No need for me to reply.
Will I lose sleep the night before they start at their new school, whereever that may be? No need for a reply.
Will I spend the long (even longer than we had in this current school) Maltese summer holidays staying strong for my kids? No reply needed.
BUT all three totally understand our reasons for and benefits of changing schools.
There hasn’t been one outburst or flash of anger or even plea to stay. Their reaction has filled me with pride.
I am convinced it will also do them good in so many ways.
They have spent years saying goodbye to at least two classmates at the end of each academic year. It’s the nature of the international school; students come and go all the time. It takes its toll. M has been heartbroken every single time a friend has left the island. This is their chance to make and hang on to more long term friends. And to be honest, 11 years for M and 8 for D is more than most students stay at this school! There are worse things in life.
As I finish this post in the small hours, before our last morning at this school, I feel strangely numb. There will continue to be many times when my heart is heavy but I also know there are several more reasons to have faith in our decision.
There are always reasons to be positive!
The earlier schoolday start and finish times sure as hell aren’t one of them though.
Fancy giving my kids a lift…?