Kathleen note: soon after I originally wrote this piece in December 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and we indeed took our children out of school – but not for travel!
We’ve made it through term one of my oldest child’s first year of school. We live in England and since he turned four before September he headed into Reception, which has the same curriculum as an American Kindergarten. He is thriving. I am not. I want to take him out of school and travel the world with him. Unfortunately, the rest of my family does not. My husband has a job, my preschooler loves his routine. So where does this leave my four year old and his wanderlust mother? I can’t take off for a whole gap year. Enter the child gap term.
First term at reception
Soon after school started in September I asked his teacher “are you sure he’s doing okay? Shouldn’t we keep him back a year?”. She answered that yes, he’s fine and no, you’re not allowed to keep children back a year in England. I knew then that my 15 years in England, including British citizenship, had not worn the American out of me yet. In the States, the concept is known as “redshirting” or sitting out for a year (named after university sports). Since redshirting isn’t a term in England, I’ll use one that is widely understood – gap year. But he turns 5 shortly, so we only have time for a child gap term.
Second term at reception
Slated for term 2 are some diagnostic tests around my son’s potential sensory processing issues. Also on the agenda – more letter forming and memorisation of sight words. I am not sure exactly why this fills me with dread but it does. All I see ahead of me are dark London winter days spent dealing with the after school fall-out of a four-year-old who is able to sit and concentrate and be inside all day but comes out ragged and unable to cope past 330pm. With a remote job and younger child that can go into full-time care and a husband to hold down the homefront, what if I concentrated on my eldest for eight weeks? Couldn’t I teach him skills like waiting? Again, the mother and child gap term. You’re getting the picture.
The child gap term
Listen, I’d like to just take off and be a full time “world schooling” family who lives in a van and teaches their children to navigate by the stars. Did I think this five years ago when I was pregnant and a city lawyer? No. But I also remember deferring my training contract to start as a city lawyer from September to March so that I could do one last hurrah of travelling before the real work started. I was a student for almost 20 years. More than he deserves some time off, I do. I cannot believe I have to get children off to school every morning for the next 13 years. I’ll be in my 50s by the time I’m done with this new grind.
I don’t have final thoughts yet but I have an idea – that from February half term until Easter we just hit the road. After he turns five there is no turning back in England, school is mandatory. I can find many single moms who have travelled alone with their children, but not many married women, especially those who leave one of the children at home. I’m searching for flights in another open window as I type.
Featured image by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen