‘Big School’

The jollidays are long gone

Howdy-ho twitches! How have you all been?  I am sorry for the radio silence of late, it’s taken a little while to get back to some semblance of normality following les grandes vacances. Besides which, it’s been a pretty busy time Chez Blackbird.  You see, last week was my baby boy’s first at ‘Big School’.  Well, not big school as such.  Being an October baby, he isn’t due into Reception until next September.  But in order to prepare him for his transition from a private nursery to pre-school, we are calling it Big School.

Like most parents, I have enjoyed the last 7 weeks free of the usual morning ritual.  We have adventured in London, gone to the movies and generally had fun. More recently we have been camping in a Tipi and lounging on sun-soaked Welsh beaches, so time has been irrelevant at best.  Although glorious to have the luxury of waking at will, the last few days back at home had all of us seeking a return to normality.  What can I say?  We are a family who like structure, where we each know our place in this world.  The Girl missed her friends.  She was excited about going into a new school year, with new teachers and new challenges.  As for The Boy, well we had been telling him for months that he was beginning a new adventure at school, so he was chomping at the bit to start.  So much so, that when he tried on his uniform the day before (last minute double checks), he refused to take it off.

Show-time!

Anyway, it was now show-time. Full of anticipation, I set my alarm clock for the first time in 7 weeks (ouch!) to make sure that I looked halfway decent for the playground posse.  The kids were washed, dressed and breakfasted in record time.  We took the prerequisite doorstop photo and embarked on the first school run of the academic year.  We are very lucky in that school is just a stone’s throw from our house.  Invariably that means we are generally amongst the last to get there, but not on that day.  First day back we were eager beavers and there in time to let both kids settle in.  I waved my baby off and he didn’t even so much as give me a backward glance as he settled down in his carpet place to sing “Wheels on the Bus”.  So it was with a curious mixture of apprehension and relief that I skipped back home, dodging the bullets of rain.  I couldn’t quite bring myself to leave him for a full day, not yet.  What if he doesn’t like it? What if he gets anxious or, God-forbid, bored?  What if he misses me?  I know what you’re thinking.  But these aren’t just the standard concerns of a snowflake school mum.  You see, this is our second attempt at Big School.  When The Boy turned three in October last year, we naively assumed that he’d be happy enough to join his sister in her school’s nursery the following term.  We were wrong.

First Time Around

It is widely understood that generally, girls mature faster than boys.  I have found out, to my cost, just how true that is. With The Girl it was easy.  When she turned three, we moved house and changed nursery almost all at once and she has never looked back.  She was ready, more than ready for Big School.  But The Boy is journeying through life very much at his own pace and refuses to be rushed along.  Good for him.  But as a parent who has fallen into the comparison trap (“but The Girl was speaking in full sentences by his age!” etc.), it makes progress monitoring tricky and I am struggling to adjust my barometer for a new “normal”.  When we tried this school thing first time around with him, I was sure that it would work.  He loved nursery but seemed to be growing tired of the same old same old, resulting in increasingly unacceptable social behaviours. Did he really pull down his trousers and sh*t on the nursery floor in protest?!  So surely school would be the perfect solution?  For the first week, it seemed so.  He liked wearing the uniform and didn’t mind the more structured routine of pre-school.  But by week two it seemed to dawn on him that this was not a sabbatical. Once he realised that he was not going back to his beloved nursery, and that this school malarkey was for keeps, all hell broke loose.  By the end of the second week his teachers sat me down for a frank discussion and that was that.  He was asked to leave pre-school because he wasn’t “ready”.

I was shocked and unprepared.  Fortunately for me, the nursery was excellent. Having sent both my children to the same nursery I have become friendly with many of the staff there. For almost 8 years we have worked side by side to raise my two.  They have shared the highs and the lows, the milestones and the mishaps, especially with The Boy.  Although they were tight on space, they were willing to make a few changes to accommodate us and bring him back into the fold at short notice.  And as the months passed, I became increasingly grateful for the additional care they were taking to prepare him properly for school this time around.  There is no question that they went above and beyond to assist him in his emotional and social development.

Not Child’s Play…

I used to think that I would like to work with kids, until I had my own.  Now I regard those who willingly choose to spend their days caring for other people’s children as saints.  I know that I barely have enough patience for my two when things are getting fraught, let alone someone else’s offspring.  Who volunteers to change a stranger’s baby’s pooey nappy?  Not me!  I was curious as to who these angels of mercy are.  What inspired them to work in the field that they do and what keeps them coming back for more?  I know that despite the eye-watering cost of childcare, it is definitely not the money.  There are easier and less malodorous  ways to earn a crust.  To find out, I asked the manager of our nursery whether she’d mind having a coffee and a chat for this blog post, and the crazy fool said yes!  In fairness, there were chocolate biscuits on offer.  There’s not a lot I wouldn’t do for a decent biscuit…

*Felicity is the manager at my son’s former private day nursery and was Assistant Manager before then, so we have had lots of contact over the last seven years.  She has heard my parenting woes and held my hand on many a tearful doorstop nursery goodbye.  But until this interview, we had never had a conversation outside of the nursery gates.  It felt strangely familiar though seeing her seated in our living room.  The interviewing technique made us both uneasy at first, yet it wasn’t long before it felt like an overdue catch-up with an old friend.  Flick is clearly passionate about the work she does and I was curious to find out what makes her tick. So armed with caffeine and cocoa, I did just that.

You would never know it to look at her now, but Felicity had a tough start in life.  She is the consummate professional at work.  Kind, knowledgeable, caring and assertive, a far-cry from the young tearaway that she describes herself as having been.  Her dad was absent and her mother was a depressive, suicidal alcoholic who struggled raising her and her three siblings.  Flick, perhaps stereotypically, fell into the wrong crowd from an early age.  Aged 12 she was already bunking off school and hanging out with older kids.  It’s a story that we have all heard or seen before, but what is remarkable is how she managed to turn her life around the full 180.   Hers is truly a story of perseverance against all odds.  “I wasn’t brought up, I was dragged up” Flick jokes.  She was determined to break the vicious cycle of drink and depression that held her mum and brothers captive. But that realisation didn’t come until she was in her mid teens.  One day she woke up and decided that “this isn’t me” and she knuckled down and decided to build a better life for herself from then.

This Lady IS for Turning!

Originally Felicity dreamed of becoming a vet.  I smirked a little when she told me this, thinking that having worked with The Boy, her dream had largely come true.  Sadly, with the difficulties that she was having at home, studying was not easy and her grades suffered.  When she was thirteen, her seventeen year old brother had his first child.  To the young Flick, this was the coolest new accessory, a real live baby doll to show off to her friends.  He then had another when she was in Year Ten and Felicity became the primary care giver to her niece, since her mother’s drinking problem persisted.  When I was in Y10, my primary concern was wearing crop tops behind my mother’s back and sneaking the odd Hooch down the park with my mates.  Felicity on the other hand was struggling to manage child-rearing with increasingly demanding school work.  When it came to the day of her Food Technology GCSE exam, the school had to send a teacher to babysit her niece while Felicity sat her exam.  She passed them all, not with flying colours, but well enough for her to be proud.  In the July, she left school  and got an apprenticeship as a nursery assistant.  “It was the next best thing to do” after veterinary school.  She has stayed in childcare ever since.

This job, done right, should be a passion. It should be the sort of job that you can’t not do. “Childcare saved me as a teenager”, Felicity asserts. Most of the staff that she recruits share her passion and stay for years and years. This isn’t just a job to her, “it’s my life!”.  In a way I’m jealous. Not because of the nappy changing thing, but precisely because of her passion. I’m what’s known as a multipotentialite (check it out, it’s a real thing!). The kind of person who gets bored doing just one thing. But I’ve always wanted a calling, a passionate commitment to a cause that I just can’t not do. I’m still looking for it. But until then, I think that the earth belongs to such as these. Those who set their sights on something worthwhile and work hard to overcome any obstacles that get in their way.

So here’s to Felicity and all the other hard working childminders, nursery nurses, teachers and TAs who commit themselves to caring for our most precious gifts. Thank you for all that you do, because without it I couldn’t do what I do (you know, things like finishing a hot drink whilst it’s still warm or going for a poo in peace!). You are heaven sent.

 

*All names have been changed to protect the innocent.  Yada, yada, yada.