We will be living in England for six months to extend our travel experience while giving Oliver the opportunity to build friendships. But will it be that simple?
PART 4: FULCRUM
Once we had decided to live in Cambridge, England for six months during the next year, I started trying to find out if Oliver could attend school there. This seemed to be the easiest way for him to cut my apron strings and start building friendships with kids his age.
Oliver has another year of preschool before starting kindergarten in the U.S., but in England children as young as four start attending compulsory primary school. If we got there at the end of December, he could attend one and a half of the three school year terms, leaving at the mid-term break in May.
The question was whether he could attend public school at no cost, or if we would have to pay for a private school. Erin's parents had inquired about this while in England and thought he could attend public school as a resident, but my initial research online suggested that he could not, since we were traveling on passports, not a longer term visa. Private school could cost over $10,000 for two terms, which would be a big blow to our annual budget.
But was it worth it?
"No," said Erin, "we are not spending ten thousand dollars!"
We were in the Dominican Republic, walking down our beach to the far point at its end for the first time in the month we had been there. Erin's parents were staying with us and playing with the kids further back on the beach. The topic had come up the night before without resolution, and the discussion had gotten heated.
"But I don't think he can get into public school," I said.
"Are you sure?"
"No, I'm not. Everything online is vague, but it does say that international students on short-term visits are not eligible."
"Then we can't put him in school," she replied, disheartened. "The math doesn't work with just my income. It just doesn't."
"But he needs to do something," I argued. "It's not fair for him to spend all his time babysitting Vera with me."
"Then find things to do with him! That's why you're doing this, isn't it? There are tons of things to do in Cambridge. You just have to figure it out, like every other stay-at-home mom does."
"Of course I can keep him busy, but library storytimes are not going to give him the kind of socialization he needs with kids his age."
"No, but you can meet the moms and set up playdates. It's up to you to make those connections to help him make friends."
"That's not the point."
"Then what is the point?"
"It's the school year. Every other four and five year old is required to be in school. They won't be at the library, or the museum, or the playground, and they won't be looking for playdates. They'll be in school. They'll have their school friends. Oliver will be playing with two- and three-year-olds like Vera, like he does now. If we want him to spend time with kids his age, he needs to be in school with them."
We had reached the end of the beach and stopped at the sharp point of sand clear of the backdrop of palm trees, a fulcrum between our familiar beach and another undiscovered arc of sand curving away from us on the other side.
"Then why are we going to England?" Erin said in desperation. "If you think he has to be in school, why don't we just go back to Somerville, put him back in preschool, put Vera back in daycare, and put you back to work so we can afford it? Why are we doing this?"
I looked back down the beach for Oliver and Vera, but we had come a long way and I couldn't see them. I looked back across the point, following the curve of the beach beyond to where it vanished at another point, the new boundary of the unknown.
Jump, I thought.
"Because this is what we want to do."
It was a self-affirmation as much as an answer.
"I'll call the school district on Monday and see what they can tell us." I offered. "Then at least we'll know. If it doesn't work out, then we can look into other programs, after-school activities, weekend sports, music classes, whatever. We can make it work."
"What about homeschoolers?" Erin said. "There are a lot of them in Cambridge. They must have a network you can get involved with, and they probably have a lot of planned activities."
"Yeah. That could work."
It could work. We turned around and walked back down the beach to return to Oliver and Vera. We could make it work.
As I had thought, the school district told me that international students cannot attend public school for short-term visits - of six weeks or less. We just need proof of residency for our longer stay to allow Oliver to be enrolled.
So come January, Oliver will be
donning his uniform for his first day of school in Cambridge, England. Tally-ho!
To be continued...