Our girl and the little boy next door are conducting a friendship through the gaps in the wooden fence that divides us. It’s cheap brown, the basic of garden dividers; a relic from when the development first went up. Others around have traded theirs in for something higher, fancier, sturdier.
In a flag-free estate with a mix of owners, renters, religious affiliations, political persuasions, cheese tastes, star-signs, careers, incomes, ambitions, dreams, and guilty pleasures – neighbours coexist in the maintenance of atomised lives.
Round after round of clothes are hung on the line and the weather is the only dependable chat-up line to spring on a neighbour hanging up hers. From across that fence, I’ve learned she had another baby recently, got hitched, and hopes her new husband gets a better-paying job soon. They are new residents, young; and like their predecessors, will move on from their impractical two-bed house first chance they get.
Our neighbourliness didn’t penetrate anything beyond the surface of small-talk but we retreated into our caves with the other half-stuffed in a box we guessed by the paltry number of cues unconsciously gleaned. Our names. The names of the children. It doesn’t take much. Welcome to Northern Ireland.
We are a little too high octane in our promises to reunite our little’uns on one side of the fence. They’re the same age with the same taste in fence-climbing and finger-pointing. It’ll happen, (Dastardly voice) if it’s the last thing I do.
I don’t want our child surrounded only by peers with twenty fadas in their name. Partly why I didn’t give her one. At two years of age the scene seems already set by the crèche. A prelude to conformity, the foundation of the status quo.
I would move from this impractical two-bed country the first chance I got, but that chance is increasingly elusive so we are sobering up to a future with an integrated school as our only viable option. It accommodates all religions and ‘none’. The none being the ‘other’ on the fringes of the two traditional shows in town.
We’re ‘no’ religion. And we’re no to discrimination based on it or carried out in its name. But we’re yes to integration and responsible education. We’re yes to not imposing a faith on children through formal education; by teachers who don’t subscribe to the faith they promote at the expense of precious learning time and parental responsibility. We’re yes to our children learning about religion in its wider existence and origins but not state school authorities monopolising religion to engender the formation of singular ideas on faith. We’re yes to our children learning to think critically and philosophically. We’re yes to the right of families to celebrate ritualistic celebrations at pivotal moments in their school-lives but not all exclusively directed and sanctioned by priests and bishops. We’re yes to our children learning alongside their neighbours rather than snatching glimpses of them through gaps in fences.
The concept of non-denominational education remains light years away. Enlightened education policy makers belong to the next generation, if they will ever be permitted to participate in a political structure that protects the permanence of sectarianism.
The others just have to put up or shut up. To a system that builds flimsy, cheap wooden fences of segregation. That confers ownership of the Irish language on one group of people. A language they will learn not to be able to speak with any great proficiency. A system that elevates the pageantry of Irish dancing among groups of people who’d laugh at the banging of a lambeg drum. Insularity is based on continuous assessment so the pass rate is always high.
The yellow registration form has been lying on the shelf since she was a month old. You could say I was a little anxious. I can’t seem to ever shake the feeling.