I adore our daughter. She is feisty, perceptive and challenging. Time spent with her can be exhausting and frustrating; but it can also be entertaining and rewarding. Her powers of perception astonish - surprising me again and again with her ability to assess pragmatically and clearly. I also adore our son. He exhibits a temperance that I find admirable. He can stop one of my rants with the bare suggestion of a sigh. He has the driest of sense of humour; the speed of one his repostes can be unsettling. His mind is as nimble as his body, and he always appears so sensible. Both of them inspire, amaze and entertain. Before I knew them, 'unconditional love' was just an abstract concept; now it is something tangible. I feel it endlessly.
It is a joy and privilege to be parenting our daughter, but I experience pain and frustration that our son is being brought up by people who are essentially strangers. I've said this before: this is not an ideal situation for me. It is not what I had imagined being a parent would involve; and there isn't a day of my life that it doesn't strike me as absurd.
The staff of the school are given to us. We do not choose these surrogates for our children. We have to take it on trust that they are the best for the job. Mostly, I approve. These people are passionate, focused and caring. However, they are also human, and we all have our flaws. I have unsubstantiated anecdotes which suggest there might also occasionally be behaviour towards our children that is capricious, neglectful, and even, very infrequently, cruel - we can't all be perfect all of the time.
If our son lived at home, we might stand more of a chance. When needed, we could dismantle or deconstruct what is happening to him in the evenings. Like most families, we would be able to offer support - or mockery - of each other's neuroses over dinner. His anxieties would have a voice and he'd have an immediate response to this sometime teaching methodology, which - reaffirming ballet stereotypes - might be considered a little brutal. It makes me question who is fulfilling this role of parent-adviser-negotiator during the week while he is away: a sympathetic teacher, or a 'house-parent'? I suspect that each group of children - with its naturally divided subsets - is, in a way, bringing themselves up. They are plunged deep into a Freudian nightmare: in the absence of the bolster of their families, they are having to parent each other - the adults are either absent, or even worse; they cannot always be relied upon.
At the weekend we help him when it's needed. Now and again we spend so long unpacking the baggage that I wonder what signal we are sending out to our equally precious daughter, or if she notices how much time it is taking. I wouldn't feel resentment if it were our son's baggage, or even our own; but often we are dealing with an issue that belongs solely to an adult we've hardly met, and I get irritated that these adults do not know any better than to keep some of this stuff away from our children. The information that he needs to hear over and over again is that it is not his fault. He's twelve and he is in an environment where we would expect the psychological contract to be such that the teacher teaches and the pupils explore and learn. This clear line of communication seems to become muddled sometimes. It possibly becomes something we might otherwise assess as hectoring: the children attempt to perform a task at hand and are chastised or shamed. Their expectations become warped with uncertainty, as an adult 'having a bad day' reinforces a culture of fear. On those weekends in which some unpacking is needed, we remind him - the teacher is a grown-up and you are a group of children. There are ways we expect adults to behave, and when they don't, it emphasises a deficiency in the adult not in the child, because at the end of the day, we would like all our teachers to behave with kindness. We also try to be compassionate and see it from the other perspective: They have a demanding job; This is a stressful time of year; It must be hard teaching children; Perhaps you've misunderstood the situation. For his sake, I'm slow to criticise and efficient at concealing my biased sense of injustice.
I've worked tirelessly to become one of those types of liberal middle class that many are understandably scornful of. My education came at a cost, and my ongoing years of searching and self-development come with an even greater price tag. I pay this price willingly because I was under the illusion that it would equip me to become the best parent I am able to become. It's a tough job and now it would appear that someone else is doing it - people who, to me, are essentially strangers.