I always thought the record would stand until it was broken.
— Yogi Berra
At Fern Hill, Nick’s teacher, Charity, had watched his tardiness get worse and worse. Nora and I had spoken to her about it. Nick liked school. As far as any of us could tell, he wasn’t having a problem with any of his schoolmates.
“You look frazzled,” Charity said to me one morning, as I deposited Nick in the schoolyard an hour and a half late.
“This isn’t working for Nora and me,” I said.
Fern Hill is not a place of rigid, imposed rules. Most structures and plans are negotiated between students and staff. There are no grades, no assignments, no schedules, no tests, no homework, no prescribed curricula. Students are free learn and do what they want when they want. They spend almost all their time in elaborate projects and games of their own devising.
There is one anchor point. Every day school begins with morning meeting, where kids are grouped by age. They air problems, makes plans, and share whatever is on their minds. Except for morning meeting, Nick wasn’t missing anything in particular by being late.
Still, Charity was concerned.
“Why don’t you take a breather,” she said. “Just give Nick the freedom to do what he wants and see what happens.”
“You mean, just let him be late? No push back?”
“Whatever he wants. Let’s try it.”
“We may never get to school,” I said.
“I’m fine with that for a few days,” she said. “If it doesn’t work, maybe all of us should have a meeting.”
It was a relief. Charity had taken the pressure off.
“What’s the record for being late?” Nora said.
“You’d be surprised,” said Charity.
The next day, Nora and I told Nick we wouldn’t be bothering him that morning, and to let us know when he was ready to go to school. Then we went about our business around the house.
Nick was all for it.
“No, you can’t.” Nora said. “It’s still a school day.”
Nick played with Lego, unperturbed. That morning we got to school at 11:30 am, a record for us. We tried the same thing the next day and arrived at 1:00 o’clock. My prediction that we might not get to school at all looked within reach.
That night Nora and I commiserated with each other. It seemed like we were running out of options. When he was little, if Nick was being recalcitrant, we could physically put him where we wanted when it was necessary. But Nick was a large, strong seven-year-old now. He couldn’t be forced into a car against his will, not that we would have tried.
Punishment was out—we neither punish nor reward in our house. Bribes and threats are also off the table.
We address problems at home by a process of open communication that we’d learned at Fern Hill. The approach involves respectful listening, consideration of limits, and negotiating differences. But that didn’t seem applicable here. We had told Nick that his being late was a problem for us, and he went right on being late, rejecting our proposed solutions, and offering none of his own.
What was left?
The next day was a little better. We arrived at Fern Hill at noon. But Nora and I were done. Our daily plans were in ruin. We were generally able to adjust our work schedules so that one of us could remain home with Nick during the day, but it was no way to live.
“We need a meeting,” I said to Charity. “We need it yesterday.”
“After school,” she said.
“What are we going to say to Nick?” I said.
“I don’t know,” she said. “It depends on what Nick says to us.”
. . .
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Childrens’ art credit: I am Really Happy When… Crayon and marker. Sravya K.,
Age 7. California, USA. ©2011 The Natural Child Project. Used by permission. The Natural Child Project provides resources on unschooling and empathetic parenting.
Express yourself! Any thoughts? Ever had a problem being late? I’d love you to add your comment below. I always respond here.