"You sent them when?" It is the common attack query that mothers like me face on a regular basis.
My crime? I sent my twins to school "early" – so early, in fact, that the NSW Department of Education has revealed that less than two per cent of children were four on July 1 of their kindergarten year in 2016.
Two per cent – the figure leaps out at me like a slap.
My husband and I are in a rare club indeed. It's one that many other parents wouldn't want to be in given the weight of condemnation us brave early-senders face.
According to our critics, we sent our twins to school at four because we were either:
1. Selfishly wanting to do away with our eye-wateringly steep childcare fees in favour of the freebie NSW school system, or
2. Just complete ignoramuses unaware of the benefits of later school starts – thus condemning our children to everything from missing out on binge drinking with their friends in Year 12 to adult bed-wetting.
Think of Finland, these outraged critics say. Ah, Finland. Nothing against this lovely little nation, but really, being held up against their pedagogical tradition of sending children "late" – Finnish kids start school at seven and it apparently produces a nation of smarty-pants – is getting old. Quickly.
Finland's model works for them, I – and some brave academics argue – because they have a unique cluster of characteristics including a high-quality early childcare system, and a largely culturally homogenous society with a small population.
Indeed, holes are being punched into the Finnish miracle, with the Program for International Student Assessment showing that Finland's status is slipping (if you're going to judge things by standardised tests, that is).
In 2012 – the latest scores available – Finland fell out of the international top 10, with top PISA performers all hailing from Asia.
Australia, meanwhile, is a dog's breakfast of starting ages. In NSW, children can start kindergarten if they turn five by July 31 but by law they must be in school by their sixth birthday. In Victoria, by contrast, children need to turn five by April 30.
NSW parents are increasingly holding their children back. NSW Department of Education data revealed that in 2006, 19 per cent of children were six when they started school. Last year that figure was 22 per cent.
Six! No wonder my children, now in Year Five, share a classroom with boys with beards and girls with breasts bigger than mine.
For us, the stigma is heightened by the fact that in our neighbourhood, it seems, some parents would gladly hold back their spawn until puberty. At the local Rudolf Steiner pre-school, I see children taller than I was at 12. Ok, I'm shortish, but still. I can't help thinking as I go by: "why aren't you in school?"
So why did we send our twins at four? (specifically, it was four years and seven months; they turned five in June of their kindy year).
Lack of quality long day care, for one. I needed childcare until at least 6pm; like most working mothers, the option of pre-school with its laughingly anachronistic nine to three format was the stuff of dreams.
I felt like I had won the lottery when I found a centre that was nurturing and multicultural, but a few years down the track, it descended into Fawlty Towers-style anarchy after being taken over by another operator.
For me, the last straw was when I dropped in one day to find a room of bored kids watching Dora The Explorer on a sunny day. Dora, as every parent knows, is unimaginably bad – there is really no excuse to watch it ever, even on rainy days.
Why were we paying $30,000 a year (pre-childcare rebate) to have our children watch TV and play with glue sticks?
And the twins were curious, maddeningly so, always asking questions, wanting to learn. What are shooting stars, where do jellyfish come from, how do rockets fly, why are some people ticklish – they needed to be fed intellectually, not sedated and patronised in the modern-day holding pens that is bad (note, as opposed to good) childcare.
Perhaps if I had access to better long day care, I wouldn't have sent them. Who knows?
In any case, off they went to kindy the next year. Obviously a sucker for punishment, I also split them up ("don't twins have a special bond?," was the chorus this time).
My son's teacher approached us in the first two weeks, saying he was too young – take him out, she advised. I still feel the sting of guilt when I met the child who had already turned six in his class – a spread of over 15 months from youngest to oldest.
But my son was happy and keen to be there. And if I pulled him out, where would that have left his twin sister, equally thirsty to learn?
A body of research points to boys faring better if they start school later, but how does this help us parents of boy/girl twins? How does this apply on an individual level?
In any case, my children have remained in the NSW school system. They started their second last year of primary school this year (gulp) age nine, and yes, they share a classroom with 11-year olds with stubble. They enjoy learning (mostly), are in the middle of their cohort academically, have a good social group, do coding and debating, and play lots of sport.
Would we make the same decision again? Ah, that's a hard one. Perhaps. Perhaps not. We have to live with our choice – and a lifetime of second-guessing ourselves – unless we choose to repeat them.
But in the meantime, the kids are happy. That's enough for us for now.