My mother told me don’t read Virginia Woolf it is depressing and dark and worldly. And I was obedient so I did not pull those books off the shelf, alluring as they were, till I was nearly out the door, ready to leave at seventeen. Also off limits was pop rock, tight skirts above the knee that might make men sin and television. There was so much to be frightened of. When I finally plucked up the courage to read a Room of One’s Own I didn’t know what my mother was talking about. I experienced Woolf’s writing not as a force of evil but as a tool of emancipation. I eagerly, guiltily read as much of her writing as I could lay my hands on in Latin America. I scoured the local ex-pat run secondhand bookshop for her work. Her writing made me feel alive.
Next autumn, R will start reception at school. We’ve been going to open days, discussing our local primary schools, looking at OFSTED reports and outside spaces for recess. I have fantasies of walking him there and waving goodbye at the gates, but then my heart goes cold. Who will he be spending his days with, I fear brutes and bullies and well-spoken pedants, correcting his unruly syntax. I feel the ache in my chest. And I feel the impulse to pull him close, too close, and s-MOTHER him, to keep him with me. I know I’m dreading separating from him. This is another birth, another pushing myself out as much as I’m pushing him out. I know I need to let go so I can grow, let go so he can grow, I want to set us both free, to let him become and me become. But that doesn’t mean it is an easy labour; I anticipate one long night of vigil and sweat and contractions.
The stirring in me is, I imagine, the same fear that stirred in my own mom and maybe my dad when they decided to unschool us. There is a whole world outside the nuclear family that could be unsafe and unholy and is certainly outside their, locus of control, my locus of control. Better to keep her close, hide her in long, ankle-length denim skirts and never face the sorrows and fears of separation.
But I know the buck stops with me- this is the end of that worldview. This weaning out of the family and into institutional life is an opportunity to heal a generational curse- he will go to school in all of its unholy lunchbox wars and charlatan headteacher nonsense and terrible influences. We will relinquish one another again and again over the years and discover what is so beautiful to both of us about the ‘worldly’ world out there.
Copyright Diana Smith 2018