“Which school does your son go to?”
The voice is unfamiliar. I don’t know the woman with a baby in her arms.
Yet hers is a perfectly acceptable question; a query, almost banal in its quality.
One cannot fault her for her presumption — that my four-year-old, now cycling behind a truck, spends one half of his waking hours in an institution.
“The Free Bird Institute”, I answer.
The young mother looks confused. “Where is that?”
My son does not go to school.
It wasn’t meant to be this way.
When I conceived, my dreams were every mother’s. They were distinctive in their details, but in all other ways, predictable. I’d work till I delivered, hire help, resume office duty. And when my son enunciated his first word, with a lump in my throat — ah, such a big boy already, but how? — I’d pack him off to school.
I had a school list. I had the phone numbers of principals. I had a satchel to bequeath.
That’s when something happened that altered my dreams. My son emerged.
And as I watched him do what so many babies do — clutch my finger, roll over, sit up, crawl, cruise, walk; as I watched him reach for those milestones without my intervention, my dreams started feeling synthetic, almost inert. As though they existed outside of my offspring.
My son was telling me something.
He was telling me that if he had, in the very first year of his life, hoisted himself up, waddled, walked, by observing, mimicking, aligning mind and body; if he had performed these remarkable manoeuvres without a tutor, without formal instruction, without a guidebook or a voice on a device, he was capable of continuing to challenge himself. He was capable of learning — yes, learning — by simply being a part of this world.
Learning wasn’t a thing that happened inside a building, under the supervision of a grown-up, within a set of allocated hours.
It was the stuff that happened, kept happening, almost insidiously, without his full knowledge, or my own, as he watched and played, as he dreamt and slept and woke.
And so it began, the process of deschooling myself. The task of tearing down and rebuilding my dreams as a parent. The attempt at trusting my son just enough that I could turn away from a formal educational system and tell him — you’re free.
You’re free to be whoever you’re becoming.
He’s free, now, as he cycles. As he studies the truck and its number plate. As he tells me it carries his favourite letter, an A.
This is his life. This is his life without school.
It isn’t perfect. It isn’t meant to be.
But he is in charge of where he goes.
Dharini Bhaskar is the author of These, Our Bodies, Possessed by Light. She is working on her next novel and can be reached at [email protected]