Before the Cock Crows ...
It was early in the morning, and I was sitting in the back of a taxi. The taxi driver was telling me stories of his children. One was an undercover police officer; another was studying to be a doctor; the third was excelling at school and probably going to be a lawyer. All three were intent on making the world a better place. "So," he asked, "do your children go to state school?"
There are times when questions about my children's schooling set me on edge. I become immediately defensive.
"Oh yes!" I replied with an unnatural emphasis. I was thinking about the younger one as I spoke.
"The one at secondary school, too?"
"Oh yes." This sounded more like a whimper. I offered no further information.
Could the taxi driver see the chink in my armour?
This is not the first time that I have concealed the nature of our son's schooling. There are times when it is more convenient that ballet remains a hidden secret. Often, I find it difficult admitting that my son attends a private school, and even more difficult - on occasion - revealing that it is a ballet school. Sometimes harsh reality does not correlate with the desired image. The perceived privilege of ballet does not fit in with who I like to believe I am: egalitarian, left-wing, iconoclastic. I fear that people will judge me to be entitled, elitist and pretentious. There is every danger that this second list is perhaps closer to who I am. But, if I admit that I have a son who dances ballet, and that I am paying for his education, it will be indisputable proof that I have become the very person I loathe. It distils into something potent - shame and embarrassment.
Sometimes I tell people that he is at ballet school, but I add a caveat. "Yea, but I didn't want him to go" or "He was taken against our wishes," or the even more fatalistic, "It wasn't my decision." The cognitive dissonance between what I want to be and how I fear I'll be perceived is so loud that all I can manage is a meek apology for my identity, and that of my son and family. I imagine a stubborn lack of comprehension, and so I subvert and undermine before I have even given myself a chance. I suspect that this is a pattern. I do this often - even when ballet is not the dirty secret. There are other things I conceal: my love of doing nothing; how much I care about cake; my passion for teenage American television; my fascination with the X-factor. I pay three quid a month so that I don't get adverts when I watch ITV on catch-up. I don't tell many people this. It doesn't fit in with the image I cultivate. Perhaps it's time to drop the hypothetical image. I have a child at a private school.
The reality is that life at a ballet school is tough. Our son displays resilience, courage and determination daily. He is living apart from the family who love him and developing a wisdom and independence beyond his years. It might be an environment that suggests exclusivity, but it is certainly not one of entitlement and privilege. He works hard and sacrifices a great deal. He has decided that there is something bigger than himself which he is willing to dedicate his life to. These are complex concepts to explain at six-thirty in the morning in a taxi to Heathrow. And sometimes it is just easier to keep things hidden, rather than attempt an explanation.