People who know me at all IRL, or on the wider blogosphere, may know that I bang this little drum all about ‘scripts’. It goes like this... All around us are scripts that we can, very easily, find ourselves reading. We don’t consider our words or our actions – they fall into our hands and mouths as the ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ or ‘obviously best’ way of being.
In almost any sphere of our existence there’s an appropriate script. Born male? Here’s your script. Female? There you go. Reckon you're gay? Here’s the words. Mother? Father? Middle-aged? Define as ‘alternative’ in your parenting? Got a teenage child? Get the idea? There are ones about race and religion too, of course. It’s what is expected of us in the social world and, perhaps more significantly, it is what we come to expect of ourselves. I suspect I’ve ripped this idea off from stuff I’ve read over the years. Doesn’t Goffmann say things along these lines? I expect so. But, I have also thought about this a lot. As I have aged I am ever more aware of the scripts.
Being a parent is, undoubtedly, one of the most script-laden spheres of my existence. The language alone is incredible in its sheer volume. Is baby ‘good’? Does he sleep? Terrible twos? Tantrum, strop, paddy? Discipline in your home? Consistent? Nurture? Wholesome dinner? Routine? Jabs and checks? Homework? All this is the stuff of the mainstream. But, then, there’s the ‘alternative’ versions. Co-sleep? Attachment? Natural? Organic? Energies? The scripts are there too – for the taking. Other parents will watch you, listen, try to peg you on the line here. Is she as ‘normal’ as me? Is she as ‘genuine’? Watch what she says to her little one who hits... Watch the snack she gets from the bag... I know that there have been times when I’ve floundered in all this. And there have certainly been times when my refusal to adhere to the script has been profoundly uncomfortable.
Once I was in a group of parents who were attempting to support each other – bound together by a loose label of difference. The conversation turned to matters of discipline. The assumption, unspoken, was that we must, surely, all be wanting a ‘disciplined’ home? We must, surely, all see the need for punishment to achieve this? And, after all, no-one ever said they respected their parent for being nice, did they? Firm was what we had to be... I coughed and pointed out that I actually did respect my mum for being nice. I had no desire to be the boss. Nervous laughter and that horrible feeling of being ‘off-script’.
It’s easier not to be ‘off-script’ isn’t it? We all need some time when we feel ourselves safe, surrounded by the sameness of shared experience and outlook. We’re all women here, right? Or we’re all home educators? I don’t trash it. There have been times in my life when I needed, desperately needed, some time when I could relax and stop expecting the insults and hassle that came with being in a minority. The day we got attacked on our way to a Pride festival, I couldn’t have felt quicker healed, sitting bandaged and hugged in a park full of queers. But there’s a difference between finding company, solace and nurture for the different parts of ourselves and swallowing the book. Being aware of the script is a life skill, I reckon, and one we ignore at our peril.
In terms of home ed (just to keep this post vaguely on-topic) there are, of course, scripts. We grab them up as we embark. Working out how to label ourselves is key, isn’t it? Then working out what we’re supposed to say if we’re autonomous, or structured or whatever. However, one of the benefits of making an unusual choice is that there is more opportunity to write your own script. So, in essence, home ed is far less scripted than the role of parent who sends child to school. That’s certainly been my experience. As soon as P was in school I felt myself very heavily scripted. I had to smile at the teacher and thank her – regardless of her behaviour. I had to make sure I adhered to their rules of what I put in my child’s book bag or lunch box. I was ‘good’ in much the same way I was as a pupil. Just picked up the grown-up script and carried on.
Gender is, of course, a positive minefield of scripted interaction. It flows so deep that we barely hear it. When P was a little monkey toddler I’d take her to groups where mothers of boy children sat around and sympathised about how ‘boys never stopped’ and ‘they just climb everything’. On the floor, their little boys played, still and thrilled with train set. I found it hard to join in because I had to keep rescuing Pearlie from the top of the toy trolleys... Script said that boys had energy and girls were manipulative and men were hopeless at doing laundry and on and on. Of course, the little children couldn’t understand all this, could they? It couldn’t possibly be sinking in, settling in their little heads and shaping their view of reality? It couldn’t be how we learn that script, could it? I suspect it is.
I don’t claim any moral high-ground here. I do and say what is expected far more than I ever challenge it – or even think about it properly. We all do. But, as I grow older, I feel more and more liberated from the script. This is probably the slow, slippery path to the batty old lady at the bus stop who wants to tell you about her underwear. But I like it.