I thought I’d give you a quick catch up of what is going on in the older children’s lives now they are adults.
Thomas works full time as a worship pastor at a fairly local church. He is completely independent and up until last week lived on his own in a small flat within walking distance of the church. As a contrast to his main job, Thomas joined the reserve army about two or so years ago. He LOVES being part of the army and it has afforded him many opportunities that he would not otherwise have. Probably travelling around the world, one place at a time, is his favourite thing but he has also learnt many different skills…sailing comes to mind as one of them!
Knowing that he does not want to continue in his job as worship pastor, he is exploring other avenues. He is as high up as he can go in his role in the church, unless he trains to become a pastor. He does not feel he is being called to pastor a church, and, as he says, he would want to be much older, experienced and wiser, before he even considered it! Thomas is like me. He needs to have goals to work towards and an obvious progression to his life. This is where the army comes in.
Right now, Thomas has taken a six month sabbatical from his job as worship pastor to figure out what comes next. The army are keen for him to join as a ‘regular’ (full time soldier). I think he would join in a flash but he has a very long term girlfriend to consider. During his sabbatical, he will be working for the army full time and staying in barracks whilst doing so. Fully salaried, this gives him some breathing space to consider his future. The army are also sending his away to foreign training sessions abroad and also some courses at home (for example, to get his HGV licence).
In his leisure time, he spends lots of time with friends and family. He and Charlotte are particularly close and Ads (Charlotte’s fiancé) is one of his closest friends. He loves to travel and has been away with his sister, girlfriend and Ads, away with the army and has just come back from Pompei where he spent a few days travelling on his own. Thomas continues to play the base, electric and classical guitar, as well as the drums. He and both his sisters have worked together on worship nights at our church. He also volunteers, walking dogs from the nearby dog shelter.
Thomas maintains close relationships with all his family. I talk to him multiple times a week and he often pops in to say hi. He prioritises family events like birthdays and Christmas. Most of all, though, he is happy and content and excited about the life that lies ahead of him, whether that be in the army, the church or something else completely different.
Last year, Lillie left the Art University she was attending after one year of graphic design because she was being bullied by one specific older male student. The bullying was relentless and cruel. With the support of the uni (who were aware of it and did their best to prevent it) and her family, she managed to finish out the year. She made the decision that she would leave once her first year was up. We are so pleased she did finish out the year because that one year gave her a stand alone HNC in Graphic Design.
Around the same time the bullying was happening, the youth leader at our church asked Lil if she would like to be the youth intern over the coming year. Lillie spent the summer following her HNC in America working as a camp counsellor and life guard on the same camp for adults with learning difficulties that Gary and I met at! When she returned in September she began her youth internship at church. This was just what she needed and Sean, the youth leader, spent a lot of time building her up and training her in youth work. Under his care, and the care of many others in church, she slowly rebuilt her confidence. Lil has always been our easy going child and so eager to please everyone around her. This year, Lillie has learnt how to say no, how to stand up for herself and how to put healthy boundaries around herself. We have all encouraged her to do this to hopefully prevent what happened at uni happening again.
February of this year, I got an excited phone call from Lillie saying she was going back to uni! She had healed enough to consider studying again and had found the perfect course, a degree in Visual Communication and Illustration. She wanted to work with traumatised children as an art therapist and this was her first step! The course she had found was for UAL, the number two art university in the world. She just had to get in. Three months later, after curating her portfolio to show her skill particularly in using her own art to heal (she had done her foundation diploma final project on her twin being ill and her final project for her HNC on bullying and how it made her feel), and writing her personal statement about her goals to become an art therapist, she received notification that she had secured a place on the course starting this September. Things were finally falling into place for her.
Lillie has two part time jobs. She runs a club for adults with learning difficulties and she has been asked to carry on in a part time capacity as youth leader at church until Christmas. She has a long term boyfriend who she met during the first week on camp in America. He lives in London and will be going to a uni close to hers. Life is rosy for Lillie. She received both her HNC certificate from Uni and her Youth Intern certificate in the same week – one signifying the difficulties she went through, the other signifying the healing from those difficulties. God works in weird and wonderful ways.
Charlotte is super busy right now! Over the past six months she has become more and more involved with worship at church. She has a beautiful voice and often leads worship. Having had a few months where her health improved to the point of looking for a job, she was very hopeful for the future. About six weeks ago, she began getting these weird head seizures. Charlotte has many chronic illnesses, one of which is non-epileptic seizure disorder. In the main, these seizures (they are related to the FND) are under control. The seizures in the past have been whole body seizures. These new ones begin in her head and make her phase in and out of awareness. She says she ‘feels pixellated around the edges’! These seizures make leading worship really hard but she refuses to give in. The support at church and by the rest of the worship band has been incredible. Charlotte and I have shed many tears over her health but I could not be prouder of her.
With the seizures, her (and I quote) ‘chronic fatigue has been fatiguing’! When she is well enough, and sometimes when she is not, she comes to the gym with me and goes jogging on her own. Charlotte still writes and has one book which is selling really well. It is a retelling of a Greek myth and is called Icarus Falls. The sequel is coming out at the end of this year. She has finished writing it and it is now in the editing stage.
Charlotte has also become a member of the church’s PCC. She particularly wanted to join the PCC to be able to help the church become more aware of disabilities, specifically invisible disabilities which are far more common following Covid. In addition to this, Lillie and Charlotte have been asked to do a series on ‘Disability Justice’ for Tearfund, so it seems to be where God is leading them both right now.
It is not easy finding your place in the world with so many medical issues, but little bit at a time, Charlotte is carving herself out a small but important role. She is tenacious, passionate and never gives up regardless of the pain she is in, the tiredness she feels or how anxious she feels. Life is not ever simple for Charlotte but through sheer determination she is making hers count.
I am often asked if I still think homeschooling was the right choice now we have adult children making their way in the world. This is quite a difficult question to answer. Homeschooling was something we were led to do, not something I had ever considered. When making the decision to homeschool I looked at all the research and Gary and I laid out a list of goals we wanted for our family.
The main goals were that the children had a strong faith going into adulthood, that we were a close family and that everyone knew they didn’t have to ‘do life alone’ because we would always have each other, and lastly, that they were able to think for themselves and weren’t easily led.
As you can see, these goals have very little to do with education. And these goals were met and then some! All my children (thank God) have a strong faith and love God with all their hearts. We could not be closer as a family, and for this I will be forever grateful. We truly are each other’s best friends and hopefully always will be. Lastly, my older children have led their lives unapologetically on their terms. They might not always make the decisions we would make for them but the choices they make are open, well thought out and most of the time (!) in line with our family values.
In all this, I could not be happier.
I also asked my adult children if they were pleased I had homeschooled them. The resounding reply was a heartfelt yes from all of them! Thomas thinks he would be in prison if he went to school! I think this is based on the fact that he was able to learn at his own speed and so was never bored (he was able to do his science GCSEs early) but also was not forced to do things he found hard until he was ready to do them (ahem, writing and his English GCSE!). He has been praised at work for his maturity, his work ethic and his self-awareness.
Lillie, who has surprised us all by being the most certificated child of the lot of them, said she was pleased she was homeschooled because we didn’t force her to take GCSEs or exams which she says she would have found really difficult. Instead, homeschooling allowed her to pursue her creative aspirations and take diplomas instead of GCSEs and A levels. It did not hold her back as she is now going on to university to study Visual Communications and Illustration.
Charlotte says she would be dead if I hadn’t homeschooled her!! She is nothing if not completely dramatic! On a more serious note though, she says that being homeschooled meant she could work at her own pace whilst she was ill, and rest when she needed to. She also thinks she would not have had the freedom to write the books she has written, which have been an awesome experience.
However, in terms of education, I find the question of home education tricky. The reason I find this question hard to answer is that I was privately educated and went through the traditional GCSEs, A Levels, Degree etc. I can’t help feeling a little like I’ve failed the children because only one of them is off to uni. It was so drummed into me at school that university was the only way to ensure you had a promising future, that it has been hard for me to shake the feeling that by not insisting they went to uni I have failed them.
Thomas made a very definite decision that he did not want to go into higher education. He did not want to be in that kind of debt and he thought his time would be better spent working in the adult world and learning as he goes along.
The reality is that I can not desire him (on the one hand) to think for himself and live his own life unapologetically, and then yearn for him to do what I would like him to do. I feel very strongly that my guys should live their own lives and make their own decisions so I do think it’s rather ironic that I have these conflicting feelings regarding university.
I also have to fight a type of sorrow which threatens to overwhelm me sometimes regarding the lost potential of Charlotte. Charlotte has always been my most intelligent, most studious and most ambitious child. It saddens me greatly that she has not been able to achieve her potential due to her ill health. That said, I also recognise that her ill health may be a result of her putting too much pressure on herself as a youngster. She had so many goals and ambitions that they maybe overwhelmed her to her detriment. As a mother of another Charlotte (Abigail), I am keeping a close eye on Abs to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
Lillie has surprised us the most! She decided at 13 that she never wanted to take an exam again (having just sat an English GCSE). Creative through and through, we allowed her to explore whatever took her fancy. It is only this year, when we look back on all she has done, we can see how perfectly everything has come together. From her British sign language courses to her voluntary work with disabled adults and children to the diplomas she studied for, she has taken a very untraditional route and yet it could not have been more perfect for what she wants to do with her life (art therapy).
I think I just need to remember that God has this. I need to take a leaf out of Charlotte’s book and accept that God knows what He is doing, even if I don’t! Charlotte’s ill health has, in many ways, been the making of her. It has matured her, made her very understanding of other’s suffering and given her a tenacity which I do not think she would have if it weren’t for her own struggles.
I need to remind myself that whilst university is man’s answer to a fulfilling future, God’s might be entirely different.
So long as each of my children has a close relationship with God, I know they will be exactly where they need to be.