All Good Things …

Our eldest child leaves primary school next week. And the loveliest thing about that is that she very much doesn’t want to. After seven years of being nurtured, humoured and challenged by some wonderful teachers and support staff, she and her year group don’t want to go to school anywhere else, ever!

Many a person has been bored senseless in a bar by the endless prattling of parents caught up in the maelstrom of schools admissions. I know that I have prattled unforgivably in the past. So please un-forgive me as have so many others before you, whilst I explain that we moved into a new area of London at precisely the time when we entered the schools fray as novices, negotiating a bewildering world of admissions policies, OFSTED reports, local rumour and urban myth.

We would happily have sent our children to a community school, but we’re too far away from any of them for that to be an option. So on paper it was a tussle between two Church of England schools: the first being of the flagship, ‘Outstanding’, SATs-busting variety, where at reception level only churchgoers get in; the second having a good, solid, but less jaw-dropping academic record, and what was arguably a much more inclusive intake, among other factors in terms of faith background.

Enquiring about a visit to the flagship school we were told firmly that the head teacher was ‘too busy’ and the caretaker ‘too new’ to show us around. Then came the rather breath-taking line: ‘If you’re fortunate enough to be offered a place for your child we’ll give you a tour of the school then’, and as final encouragement a warning (contrary to the published policy) that ‘You do realise this is a church school which only takes children from Christian families?’.

Chastened and bemused, we nervously approached the other school. There we were swept up by a purple-clad and wonderfully warm admissions officer who smiled broadly and chatted to our daughter whilst showing us into the Hall. Everyone left that Open Morning fully reassured that this school would welcome as many of our children as it could accommodate. ‘I want to go to the school with the lady in the purple jumper,’ declared our 4 year old. And so she did.

I completely understand why people spend every last ounce of energy and emotion on getting their children into league-topping schools. Come the end of Year 6 the likelihood is that they too will be relieved that they made the right choice. Seven years into the game, I no longer make any judgment of any parent making a decision about their child’s education.

I do, however, rail against some aspects of the system. In particular, the churches and governors who ring-fence their resources for Christian children alone, only to wax indignant against the culture of strategic church-going which they themselves have created.

But that’s for another blog post and another time.

This week I rejoice in the deeply welcoming and inclusive culture that has shaped the past seven years of our daughter’s life. God bless that school, its staff, its pupils and its parents. I’m profoundly relieved that with two younger children still in their care I’m not the one who, next week, will leave the playground for the last time.

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Distracted by Envy

I’ve been thinking a lot, recently, about envy. This is not a new theme for me: which is a sad and sorry thing for someone with so many blessings in her life to admit. I don’t envy people’s smartphones, or holiday destinations, husbands, houses, handbags or lack of thread veins (actually that last denial is probably a fib). But I envy their gifts, skills, social capital, spheres of influence; and of course their impressive Twitter following and blog statistics.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sufficiently conflicted to genuinely rejoice in other people’s achievements and successes whilst simultaneously wanting some of what they’ve got. I’m energized by the new wave of younger female clergy who are articulate, well-educated and formidably able. Yet I do sometimes envy their confidence. I love to see women of my own, mid-life generation, beginning to occupy senior roles with a combination of gravitas and refreshing new perspectives. I absolutely do not want their jobs: I would much rather be part of the way in which they are equipped and encouraged to get there. Yet I do sometimes envy their achievements.

There are, of course, people who are so (enviably) comfortable in their own skin that they can rejoice in other people’s successes without even a slight twinge of ‘wish that were me’. But there are also many, I think, who share my tendency to the distraction of envy.

I think it’s time we got a grip on it. Even if it’s only a small part of ourselves, and a deluded one, that thinks it wants to be someone else, it distracts us from the unique and wonderful project of exploring our own God-given gifts, strengths and opportunities. It disables our thinking and our doing. It diverts us from the things-about-the-world-that-only-we-can-change-for-the-better.

None of us has the same combination of knowledge, wisdom, understanding and experience as another. We have access to different places. We relate to different issues and individuals. Our passions and interests, our social background, where we’ve lived and what we’ve seen, our particular competences and strengths and, yes, our fragility and mistakes: all of these things put each of us in an entirely unique position.

So we do need to accept that God is calling us, not to be someone else, but to take the heady risk of becoming truly, madly, deeply, all that we, and only we, can possibly become.